Charting A Course to March: 3 Games to Watch on Saturday

The NFL season is down to its final game and on Monday the calendar will flip to February, which means it’s about time for all of you fair-weather college basketball fans out there to start paying attention so you can sound like you know what you’re talking about by March.  I plan to be here to help by alerting you to some of the upcoming games you should be watching.  

For the rest of the season, just about every Saturday will be chock full of games worth watching, and this Saturday is no exception.  It’s going to be a frigid day too, so whip up some hot cocoa and kick back on the sofa to get a belated start on your ’09-’10 college hoops education.  And keep checking back for more of these updates and watching the games.  By the time Selection Sunday rolls around, you’ll be smoothly saying things like, “Syracuse’s length on defense reminds me of their ’03 title team; they have a shot at this thing.”

Three Games to Watch on Saturday, January 30th:

nolan smith#7 Duke at #11 Georgetown, 1:00 on CBS

Unlike the two games below, this game does not feature a front-runner in the national championship race, but it does feature two storied programs that could play a key role in your NCAA bracket victory, even if you won’t be penciling them into the Final Four. 

Over the past eight seasons, Duke always sits in the Top 10 for most of the season (with the exception of ’07 when they were mostly unranked), but can’t get past the Sweet 16 in March (with the exception of a Final Four appearance in ’04).  So the annual question has become, are the Dukies for real this year?  Despite a #7 ranking this week, a 17-3 record, and a trio of exceptional college players on the roster, the answer appears to be ‘no’, yet again.

First, let me give myself a little pat on the back for saying in November that Jon Scheyer was maybe the best player on the team, not Kyle Singler.  Scheyer has had a monster senior season and has supplanted Singler as Duke’s National Player of the Year candidate.  At the same time, allow me to place my foot in my mouth for proclaiming that Nolan Smith was a ‘question mark’.  All Smith has done is average 18 points a game, shooting 47% from the field and 48% from 3, while playing lock-down defense on the perimeter.  The bottom line though, is that, while the big men are improved from last year, they’re still not good enough.  If things break right for Duke, they could end up in the Final Four, but it doesn’t look like the Big Three will have enough help to get them there.

As for Georgetown, I must say that I haven’t see them as much as I should have so far.  Most of their publicity goes to sophomore center Greg Monroe, and rightfully so with his averages of 15 points and 10 boards.  But I got my first good look at the Hoyas during their loss on Monday night against Syracuse and he was virtually non-existent.  But he has had some huge games against top competition, including 29/16 against Villanova and 24/15 against Butler.  For me, the player that makes Georgetown go is veteran guard Austin Freeman, who has really found his shooting stroke after struggling from the outside last season.  He’s a smart player and a solidly built 2-guard.  Finally, junior Chris Wright is perhaps second only to Scottie Reynolds among Big East point guards.

#23 Vanderbilt at #1 Kentucky, 4:00 on ESPNcousins

Everyone will have plenty of opportunities to see Kentucky, as just about every one of their games has been televised nationally, but this will be their first game following their first loss of the season, and it will be against a talented Vanderbilt team.  What do we make of this Kentucky team?  First off, as I said a while ago, a loss was one of the best things that could happen to them.  I’m not a believer that it’s always good for teams to have a loss before post-season play, but when 3 of your top 4 players are freshmen, I think it’s a great thing.  Without a loss, it’s really hard to get these freshmen to keep practicing hard and to bring their A games every time out.

Also worth mentioning is that, considering the disappearance of North Carolina and the disappointing showing so far from UConn, Kentucky really doesn’t have any “marquee” wins.  We really haven’t seen these young kids match up with any of the top teams in the country and we won’t, at least until the NCAA tournament.  They clearly have the physical ability to play with anyone, but do they have it mentally?

Aside from the brilliant John Wall, track the continued development of freshmen DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe.  At the beginning of the year they looked like future lottery picks, and it’s looking more and more like that “future” could be in about 5 months.

I saw Vandy play for the first time on Wednesday night, when they picked up their best win of the year so far (at Tennessee) and improved to 5-0 in the SEC.  Their standout players against Tennessee were senior guard Jermaine Beal, with 25 points, and 6-11 Australian center A.J. Ogilvy,  who showed shot-blocking ability and a soft touch.  Their leading scorer is swing-man Jeffery Taylor.

pullen#2 Kansas at #13 Kansas St., 7:00 on ESPN

Obviously this is a major in-state rivalry game and the fans in Manhattan, Kansas will be giving a loud welcome to the Jayhawks.  Kansas, who would move back into the #1 spot with a win here, will have their hands full with the upstart Wildcats of K-State.  Kansas has recovered well from their first loss of the season, winning 5 straight and blowing out solid teams in their last two games.  K-State had a let-down loss to Oklahoma St. following their defeat of then-#1 Texas last week, but they came right back with a very nice win at Baylor, who will most likely be a tournament team as well. 

The excitement in this game may very well come from two diminutive guards that can really score: Sherron Collins and Jacob Pullen.  Collins, well-known to hoops fans at this point, is a leader and a big-game player that will surely have the ball in his hands if the game is close late.  Pullen is one of the better guards in the country that most people don’t know about.  He was a role player a couple years ago when K-State was thrust into the national spotlight thanks to fellow freshman Michael Beasley.  Now Pullen is the Man in Manhattan, averaging nearly 20 points a game for the season.

The Jayhawk’s star freshman guard, Xavier Henry, has seen his production decrease as the season goes on after a red-hot start to the season, but two frontcourt players have been picking up the slack.  Preseason All-American center Cole Aldrich has had two straight nice games and will have a definite size advantage against the K-State big men.  Meanwhile, Philly native Marcus Morris has become something of an X-factor, breaking out to average nearly 20 points and 8 boards over the last five games.  Finally, keep track of Tyshawn Taylor, a starter as a freshman last year, who has mentioned transferring because his minutes have been cut in favor of Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed.

For K-State, Pullen is joined in the backcourt by another small-ish guard, Denis Clemente, a tough and quick fifth-year senior who transferred in from Miami last year, and who just happens to be a second cousin of the great Roberto Clemente.

Well Said, Jim

As a guy whose passion is baseball and occupation is quantitative analysis, you would think that I would be head-over-heels in love with Sabermetrics.  Now, I do like it.  But, there is just so much complexity for the sheer sake of being complex involved in what we know, today, as “Sabermetrics,” that I find myself turned off by VORP and OPS for sheer fact that sabermetrics have become so elitist, without really grasping what they are trying to accomplish.  And, the two things that I always point to when making this point is the immediacy of the sabermatrician to scoff at statistics like Runs Scored for hitters and Wins for pitchers.  Ask your typical sabermatrician how (s)he values the Run Scored or Win and you will probably get an elitist answer marginalizing these stats that, quite simply, measure the desired end results of all their overly-complex (and, oftentimes, mathematically foolish, like the OPS) statistics.

Jim Caple, in his column on ESPN.com, eloquently defends the Run as the most underappreciated offensive statistic in baseball, and I could not agree more.  Now, if only someone had the cajones to do the same for the Win (the anathema of the Sabermetric statistical community), I would be overjoyed.

NOTE:  Maybe one day, I’ll get fired up enough to put in a long post about my true feelings about Sabermetrics and the “Statistical Revolution” that has overtaken baseball in the early stages of the game’s third century…

Two Rounds in the Books in Melbourne

Well, the first two round of the 2010 major tennis season have been completed and it is shaping up to be another great season on the men’s tour.  Let’s take a look at the goings-on in Melbourne so far with a bit of a third-round preview and then more of a look-ahead to this weekend’s Round of 16, as we will pick the 8 players that we think we still be standing after the next two rounds of play.

Federer Bracket – Top
(1) Roger Federer vs. (31) Albert Montanes
Federer, who is still working on one of the most amazing streaks in sports (21 straight Grand Slam semifinals), just does not lose early in a major.  He did, interestingly enough, drop his first set of this tournament to a rather tough unseeded player, Igor Andreev, but then turned it on and won in 4.  He then swept right through Victor Hanescu in the Second Round.  Federer’s third round opponent, Albert Montanes, won in a walkover in Round 1, but needed all of five sets in Round 2 to knock off Frenchman Stephane Robert.  Montanes, not commonly a seeded player, now has the biggest match of his life against Federer in the Third Round.

(22) Lleyton Hewitt vs. Marcos Baghdatis
Probably the Third Round match that we here at BSB are most looking forward to.  Not only does it involve the great Lleyton Hewitt (my favorite all-time tennis player), but it also involves one of the most charismatic and charming players of our generation, the Cyprian Marcos Baghdatis.  Baghdatis, after dispatching Paolo Lorenzi in straights in the First Round, got here with an epic 5-set win in the Second Round over 17-seeded David Ferrer (another BSB favorite, by the way).  Lleyton, on the other hand, had a couple of easy victories along the way, crushing Ricardo Hochevar in the First Round and knocking off young American Donald Young in straight sets in the Second Round.  Hewitt is playing great tennis in front of an adoring fan base, but Baghdatis is tough to beat anywhere.  This one is must-see tennis.

BSB’s Prediction
Clearly, we are going to take Federer to handle Montanes in straight sets in the first matchup of this part of the draw, but the other one is a bit tougher to predict.  We are going to go with Hewitt because, well, how could I not pick him?  But, with some objectivity, I would say that the 5-set marathon with Ferrer probably has the aching Baghdatis a bit fatigued.  We will take Hewitt in a black-and-blue 4-set war.  And, if Baghdatis brings his A-game, Hewitt will need everything in his tank, which will probably leave him without the necessary ammunition against the World’s #1.  Not to mention that Federer has absolutely owned Hewitt for many years now, so we are going to take Federer over Hewitt in 4 sets.

Continue reading “Two Rounds in the Books in Melbourne”

BSB NFL Playoff Challenge: The Divisional Round Recap & Title Scenarios

Well, three home teams won this weekend, with the only surviving team from the Wild Card Round being…the Jets?!?!?  The Chargers loss to the J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets did throw a wrench in the works of the Challenge this year.  All in all, O’Neill wins the round and puts himself in a position to possibly win the whole thing.  Josh and David also have big rounds, but Josh’s first round was slightly better and they have similar picks moving forward, so Josh is in a very good position to win the whole thing, while David is in a good position to finish second, but can’t win it.  Alexi had a nice recovery from a rough Wild Card round, but his title hopes have been dashed.  Scott also had a nice weekend, but he, too, is eliminated from title contention.  Waters, despite a tough weekend, is still alive to possibly split the title.  Doogan lost his cash cow, Arizona and, therefore, his dreams of winning the first BSB NFL Playoff Challenge.  And, Bry and Ina both got hammered this weekend (oh, and we did poorly in this Challenge, too), so they are both out of the running.

THIS ROUND:
O’Neill – 36
Josh – 35
David – 34
Alexi – 32
Scott – 31
Waters – 27
Doogan – 25
Bry – 24
Ina – 23

OVERALL:
Josh – 145
Waters – 143
David – 141
O’Neill – 141
Scott – 131
Alexi – 131
Doogan – 118
Bry – 111
Ina – 110

TITLE SCENARIOS:
Now, with 4 teams left, there are only 8 possible scenarios for this weekend.  And, there is a chance that the Challenge title is clinched before the Super Bowl.

If Indianapolis wins the Super Bowl:  Josh wins the Challenge
If the N.Y. Jets win the Super Bowl:  Josh wins the Challenge
If Minnesota wins the Super Bowl:  O’Neill wins the Challenge
If New Orleans beats Indianapolis in the Super Bowl:  Josh wins the Challenge
If New Orleans beats the N.Y. Jets in the Super Bowl:  Josh and Waters tie for Challenge title

This means that Josh can clinch the Challenge title this weekend if the two home teams win.

BSB NFL Playoff Challenge: Divisional Round Preview

Nine contestents started the BSB NFL Playoff Challenge, but after the Wild Card Weekend’s action, only seven remain with a possibility of winning the whole thing.  But, surprisingly, it is not the two with the lowest point totals who have been eliminated from title contention.  As we ran down earlier in the week in a post of all the scenarios for the challenge, Alexi, O’Neill, and Scott, who had the three lowest point totals after the first round, are still alive to win the whole thing, if things break the right way for them.

Anyway, it’s not just first place that we’re all playing for, so let’s preview the Divisional Round games and how they impact all nine entries.  We have listed below the impacts of each game.

Then, we listed each entry and their best possible scores for this round (strictly by points, not in relation to others) and their best possible final scores.  Then, we put a figure called percent chance of winning, which was calculated by the number of different scenarios that has that entry holding at least a share of the lead at the end.  However, this number has to be taken with the caveat that it was done under the assumption that every game from here on out is 50-50 between the two victors (in other words, the assumption is that a New Orleans-Indy Super Bowl is just as likely as a Jets-Cards).  Any given Sunday, right?

We start with each game, listing, in order, which entries will be most affected.

Arizona at New Orleans:
10 O’Neill (NO 11 – Zona 1)
9 Alexi (NO 12 – Zona 3)
8 David (NO 11 – Zona 3)
8 Josh (NO 11 – Zona 3)
7 Waters (NO 12 – Zona 5)
6 Ina (NO 8 – Zona 2)
6 Scott (NO 10 – Zona 4)
5 Bry (NO 7 – Zona 2)
1 Doogan (NO 8 – Zona 7)

Baltimore at Indianapolis:
10 David (Indy 12 – B’more 2)
10 Scott (Indy 12 – B’more 2)
10 Josh (Indy 12 – B’more 2)
9 Doogan (Indy 12 – B’more 3)
9 O’Neill (Indy 12 – B’more 3)
7 Ina (Indy 11 – B’more 4)
7 Alexi (Indy 8 – B’more 1)
5 Bry (Indy 11 – B’more 6)
2 Waters (Indy 10 – B’more 8 )

Dallas at Minnesota:
9 Bry (Dallas 10 – Minn 1)
7 Ina (Dallas 10 – Minn 3)
6 Doogan (Dallas 10 – Minn 4)
6 Waters (Dallas 7 – Minn 1)
5 Alexi (Minn 10 – Dallas 5)
3 Josh (Dallas 10 – Minn 7)
2 O’Neill (Minn 8 – Dallas 6)
1 David (Dallas 7 – Minn 6)
1 Scott (Minn 9 – Dallas 8 )

N.Y. Jets at San Diego:
11 Ina (SD 12 – Jets 1)
10 Doogan (SD 11 – Jets 1)
10 Scott (SD 11 – Jets 1)
9 Alexi (SD 11 – Jets 2)
7 Waters (SD 11 – Jets 4)
7 Bry (SD 12 – Jets 5)
5 David (SD 10 – Jets 5)
5 O’Neill (SD 10 – Jets 5)
4 Josh (SD 9 – Jets 5)

Waters:
First Place, 24 points

Best Possible After Divisional Round:  64
Best Possible Final Score:  158

Percent Chance of Winning:  35%

Thoughts: 
Waters not only won the Wild Card round, but he is has the most title chances.  If New Orleans wins the Super Bowl, there is only one way for him not to win.  If Baltimore wins the Super Bowl, there is no way he will not win.  But, he does have one land mine to avoid out there–Minnesota.  He gave them a 1, so if they advance, he could lose a lot of ground.  With Baltimore at 8, he is actually much better off if they knock off the Colts, even though he has 10 points in the Colts.

Bry:
Second Place, 23 points

Best Possible After Divisional Round:  63
Best Possible Final Score:  155

Percent Chance of Winning:  13%

Thoughts:
Bry’s title chances are almost exclusively limited to Super Bowl titles by either San Diego or Dallas with other factors.  However, he does have a couple fluke scenarios where he would win with a Jets Super Bowl title.  This week, Bry, like Waters, desperately needs to avoid a Minnesota victory.  He also has New Orleans rather low, so even though he has nothing invested in the Cardinals, an Arizona victory might not be such a bad thing for his entry.  He’s also looking for a B’more upset because he has them at 6.

Doogan:
Third Place, 21 points

Best Possible After Divisional Round:  62
Best Possible Final Score:  154

Percent Chance of Winning:  21%

Thoughts:
As we knew from the very beginning, Doogan’s chances are completely dependent on the Cardinals.  There are only two possible scenarios of Doogan winning it all without a Cards win this week (a tie with Josh if Dallas  and Indy meet in the SB after beating NO and SD in the Championship Games).  So, Doogan’s fate lies in the Cardinals.

Josh:
Fourth Place, 20 points

Best Possible After Divisional Round:  62
Best Possible Final Score:  156

Percent Chance of Winning:  21%

Thoughts:
Josh is actually in a pretty good position to win this thing.  He netted enough points in the first round and put enough faith in the top seeds, so that he will be the one standing if the top seeds advance.  He still has his top four point totals still alive, and none of them play each other, so if it goes his way (which would only require the home teams to win except for Dallas), he will have 9, 10, 11, and 12 left in the final four.

Ina:
Fifth Place (tie), 17 points

Best Possible After Divisional Round:  58
Best Possible Final Score:  150

Percent Chance of Winning:  0%

Thoughts:
Ina had a decent performance and will probably finish pretty high, but has been mathematically eliminated from title contention.  She has the biggest possible single-game implication this week with her 12-team, SD, playing her 1-team, NYJ.  She does have some big swings in the other games, as well, so this is a big week for Ina.

David:
Fifth Place (tie), 17 points

Best Possible After Divisional Round:  57
Best Possible Final Score:  151

Percent Chance of Winning:  0%

Thoughts:
David, like Ina, is mathematically eliminated, even though he had a decent week.  The big game for him this week is Indy (12) vs. B’more (2).  David should be able to finish pretty high, but he will not be the first BSB NFL Playoff Challenge Champion.

Scott:
Seventh Place, 16 points

Best Possible After Divisional Round:  58
Best Possible Final Score:  150

Percent Chance of Winning:  6%

Thoughts:
Scott has one of those well-rounded entries, where he’s in play with a variety of combinations.  Scott, like Josh, has his top four point totals all still alive and not playing one another this week.  Like Josh, if Dallas wins in Minnesota and the other home teams win, his final four will be his top four teams.

O’Neill:
Eighth Place, 15 points

Best Possible After Divisional Round:  56
Best Possible Final Score:  150

Percent Chance of Winning:  4%

Thoughts:
O’Neill, despite a difficult first round, is still alive to win this thing.  However, all his eggs have now been put in the Minnesota basket.  If the Vikings fall this week, O’Neill’s title hopes will be gone.  He also needs a New Orleans win this week because he has Arizona at 1.

Alexi:
Ninth Place, 11 points

Best Possible After Divisional Round:  52
Best Possible Final Score:  146

Percent Chance of Winning:  8.6%

Thoughts:
And, in the most interesting situation, Alexi, who had only one point more than the lowest mathematically possible score in the first round, still has a chance to win the whole thing.  And, the chances are not all that remote, either.  And, what is even more interesting is that Alexi (a die-hard Ravens fan who obviously had no confidence in the home team) is now actually counting on the Ravens, the team to which he gave a 1.  This is because he only had the Colts at 8, while seven other entries had them at 11 or 12 and the other had them 10.  So, a Colts loss would be huge for Alexi’s title chances, even though it means his 1-team advances.  He also needs Minnesota to go to the Super Bowl to win, and all his title scenarios but one have the Vikes winning it all.  So, obviously, with a bad Wild Card performance, Alexi needs a lot to break his way, but it’s not at all out of the question that he will pull off a miraculous comeback to win this thing.

Meet the Mets

Well the Mets are getting off on the right foot in 2010.  I’m sure they’re not worried though.  I mean, they do have Jason Bay.  Seriously though, nice job by Beltran and the Mets organization to wait three months after the season ended to get this surgery done.

And in other New York sports news, we have this from the Onion:  http://www.theonion.com/content/news_briefs/tom_coughlin_scores_2.  Not sure if I’ve ever seen a team not named the Mets finish a season as badly as the G-Men did.

Decade in Review: 2000 NFL Season

Now that we have turned the calendar on a new decade (I know, not technically, but in the sports world, the 00’s are over and the 10’s have begun), it’s kind of fun to look back on the last 10 years.  I am going to try and periodically throw out a post that remembers a sports season or so.  Since we’re in the middle of the NFL playoffs, I figured where better to start than the first NFL season of the decade.  In these (at least the NFL ones), I think I’m going to focus less on the Super Bowl and more on the playoffs leading up to it because most of us remember the Super Bowl, but may have forgotten the interesting drama that took place to get us there.

One interesting note is that I had forgotten how recent the four division setup was, as 2000 still had three divisions in each conference.  There were 31 teams (no Houston yet), and the AFC Central actually had 6 teams.  The odd number of teams led to some strange scheduling, like the Eagles having a bye week in Week 16.  Also, the playoffs started a week earlier than they do now (the season started the week before Labor Day until 2001), so there were playoff games on New Year’s Eve.  And, the Saturday playoff format was the same as Sunday, with two afternoon games; the primetime playoff games did not start until 2001 also.

NFC Regular Season
On Thanksgiving Day, when the Minnesota Vikings beat the Detroit Lions 24-17, it looked like the Vikes (who were now 11-2 and 2.5 games ahead of anyone else in the NFC) were going to cruise to the NFC’s top-seed and home-field advantage.  But, they lost their final three games, including a 31-10 drubbing in Week 17 to the Indianapolis Colts, to finish at 11-5, while the New York Giants won their last five games to win the NFC East by one game and the secure the NFC’s #1 seed.  The Vikings did still get the bye and the #2 seed.

The Eagles lost 15-13 in Week 14 to the Titans, which ended up costing them the division title and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.  The Birds finished 11-5 and took the NFC’s #1 wild card.  The big shocker was out West, where “The Greatest Show on Turf,” the defending Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams, were beat out for the division title by the Aaron Brooks-led New Orleans Saints.  Both teams were 10-6 and made the playoffs, but the Saints won the division via tiebreaker.  The third wild card was the Tampa Bay Bucs, who finished 10-6, just edging out their 9-7 division rivals in Green Bay and Detroit.

The worst teams in the NFC were the 3-13 Arizona Cardinals and the 4-12 Atlanta Falcons, who were both outscored by more than 150 points by their opponents on the season.  The Cards were especially bad, as they scored few points and gave up more points than any other team in the NFC.

Continue reading “Decade in Review: 2000 NFL Season”

Enough is Enough

Wow, another incredibly talented Eagles team fails to bring us a title.  Maybe it’s time to blow it up.  Think about it.

HEAD COACH:

  • 11 seasons
  • 1 AP Coach of the Year
  • 109-66-1 in the regular season, but…
  • 1-5 in big games (i.e. Conf Championship or Super Bowl)
  • 4 Conference Championship Games AT HOME
  • ZERO TITLES

QUARTERBACK:

  • 11 seasons
  • 1 MVP
  • 5 Pro Bowls
  • 34,246 yards, 183 TDs
  • 98-59-1 regular season record as a starter
  • 8-5 in playoffs, but…
  • 4 Conference Championship Games AT HOME
  • ZERO TITLES

This is the sign of a good head coach and a good quarterback who just can’t win “the big one,” right?  I mean come on, look at those numbers–and they have not won a Super Bowl in ELEVEN SEASONS???  Enough is enough, right…?

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the statistics referenced above are for the first 11 seasons in the careers of head coach Bill Cowher and quarterback John Elway.  Who did you think I was talking about?