Tell Me I’m Crazy – This Season Isn’t Over

If the Eagles don’t make what would be, admittedly, a pretty astounding comeback to win the NFC East this year, it will be one of the bigger disappoinments of my sporting life.  In fact, I think it will be The Biggest Disappointment if you look at it from a full-season standpoint.  Yes, the Phillies losses in the last two playoffs were devastating, but they did win 97 and 102 game, respectively, more than anyone else in the game, so was the whole season that disappointing?  Yes, the Eagles back-to-back NFC Championship Game losses to Tampa and Carolina were (as I’ve said many times), two of the three most devastating single games of my life (the third being Temple’s second-round defeat to Seton Hall in the 2000 NCAA tournament).  But, like the Phils, were the whole seasons that disappointing?

Think about it:  after adding SIX Pro Bowlers and losing essentially nothing from a young team that won 10 games team and the division title last year, I would argue that this is the most talented Eagles roster of my lifetime.  And, with the Giants and Cowboys pretty mediocre and the Redskins atrocious, this is, almost inarguably, the worst NFC East of my lifetime.  So, HOW THE HELL AREN’T THEY GOING TO WIN THIS DIVISION?!? 

Add to the mix the fact that this team would be 9-1 if all games ended after 3 quarters, and it’s enough to make you want to pull your hair out.

Well, I’m here to say that all hope is not lost.  After looking at the schedules and playing around with ESPN’s amazing “Playoff Machine,” I am of the opinion that is not far-fetched to think that this team may actually win this division after all. 

There are two things that absolutely have to happen for us to even have this discussion:

  1. The Eagles lose no more than 1 of their final 6 games
    While, obviously, running the table and getting to 10 wins would clearly be ideal (I would even argue – later in this post, actually – that a 10-6 Eagles team that does NOT win the division will be a real surprise), it’s not absurd to believe that this division may be won at 9-7.  Obviously, 8-8 will not win this division (nor should it), no matter what kinds of crazy tiebreakers a team holds.
  2. They beat the Cowboys on Christmas Eve
    There are no two ways about it.  It’s nearly impossible to concoct a conceivable chain of events that has the Eagles winning the division without that chain including a Week 16 victory in Big D.  Not only would this give the Cowboys another much-needed L, but it would then clinch every tiebreaker scenario for the Birds against both Dallas and the Giants.

Let me say that again:  If the Eagles beat Dallas in Week 16, they will clinch every single tiebreaker against both the Cowboys and Giants.

So, how do we get ourselves tied?  Let us start with the easy answer:

WIN OUT – If the Birds sweep their final 6 games, they will be 10-6 and almost a lock to win this division because it’s hard to really see the Cowboys getting to 11 wins, and it’s even harder figuring a way for the Giants to get there.  In fact, with the Giants and Cowboys playing each other twice in the final 6 weeks, it’s safe to say that if they split these games and the Eagles win out the Eagles will win the division.  But, let’s look at other ways each team could get to 11 wins:

Cowboys -> 7-4 after Thanksgiving win over Miami
Left on the schedule:  Two with the Giants (Weeks 14 & 17); One with the Eagles (Week 16)
And, road games at Arizona (Week 13) and Tampa Bay (Week 15)

Working under the assumption the Eagles are going to win out, then the Cowboys would pick up their 5th loss in Week 16 against the Birds.  So, that means, to get to 11-5, the ‘Boys would have to win their other 4 games, which would include sweeping the Giants and winning a pair of road games against a Tampa team that brought back the same young core from a 10-win team a year ago and an Arizona team that has been pretty feisty as of late.

Giants -> 6-4 after Week 11 loss to the Birds
Left on the schedule:  Two with the Cowboys (Weeks 14 & 17); One with Washington (Week 15)
And, a trio of brutal games – at New Orleans (Monday night); home to Green Bay (next week); and at the Jets on Christmas Eve (Week 16)

In order for the Giants to hit the 11-win mark, they would have to find no more than one single loss among that brutal slate of games.  That means that they would either have to sweep their remaining divisional games (2 with Dallas, 1 with Washington), which is never easy in the NFC East OR beat the Saints and Packers in successive weeks AND beat the Jets in a raucous MetLife Stadium on Christmas Eve.

So, can we all agree that if the Eagles run the table and get to 10-6, they will most likely win this division, considering they own all the tiebreakers and the schedules ahead for Dallas and the Giants almost eliminate them from 11-5 potential?

Good. 

Now, can we all agree that winning out (which would be 7 straight) for this incredibly inconsistent team that is just now getting hit with its share ofinjuries, is not something we’re willing to bet the farm on? 

Okay, so, now what?  Well, we have two choices – we can either (a) pour a stiff drink and try and figure out what the hell happened to make this team blow FIVE 4th-quarter leads in their first 10 games, including a home loss to the lowly Arizona Cardinals with a backup quarterback and blowing a 20-point lead to the not-so-high-flying offense of San Francisco…or (b) we can take a look at the schedule and see how 9-7 wins this division.

I will choose the latter for the time being, but I reserve the right to exercise the former at some future period.

So, we’re trying to find a playoff spot for a 9-7 Eagles team, huh?  Well, for starters, let’s reiterate again that, as long as that 7th loss isn’t to Dallas in Week 16, the Birds will hold all tiebreakers over both the Giants and Cowboys for the title, so they would only lose out to a 10-win team.  Let’s look at the possibilities that this happens based on the results of the two head-to-head games Dallas and NY have:

Scenario 1:  The Giants and Cowboys split
This situation makes it difficult for the Birds (mostly because the Redskins and Dolphins can’t make field goals), but not impossible.  The split adds a 5th loss to both teams, plus we can tack another of one on to the Cowboys for the Week 16 loss to the Eagles, for a total of 6.  So, to hit 10 wins, the Cowboys would have to win both of their other two games – on the road – against Arizona and Tampa Bay.  While I don’t hold a ton of hope in the Cards, there is at least a chance, right?  And, then the Boys would have to go into Tampa Bay and beat a decent Bucs team (albeit a team probably not playing for anything by that point).

Now, for the Giants.  They get their 5th loss against the Boys.  That would mean that the Giants would have to beat three of these four teams – Packers, Saints, Jets, Redskins.  How likely is that?

Scenario 2:  The Giants sweep Dallas
This would probably be the best-case scenario because it would eliminate the Cowboys from getting to 10 wins (2 L’s to NYG and 1 to Phi would be 7 for the season).  The danger is that the Giants would only need to go 2-2 in their games with New Orleans, Green Bay, Washington, and the Jets.  Still tough, but a lot easier than needing three of them.

Scenario 3:  The Cowboys sweep the Giants
This is probably the worst-case scenario for the Eagles because that would give the Cowboys 9 wins in the bag and all they would have to do is beat Arizona OR the Bucs on the road.  I had planned on writing this post at the beginning of the week and, trust me, it would have looked even brighter had the Cowboys, somehow, not squeeked by against in back-to-back weeks against the Skins and Phins.  But, we can take solace in the fact that they struggled mightily to get by against a couple of 3-win teams going nowhere.

So, what does this all tell us?  That if the Birds can run off 6 straight (the toughest one being this weekend), they should be considered the favorites to win the division.  But, even 1 loss puts them in a position that is not nearly as dreary as it might otherwise seem.  Keep up hope, my friends, all is not lost.

Come on, tell me I’m crazy!

The Mid-Major Report: Teams to Watch (Part One)

Let’s take a break from the “rich” conference previews to preview my favorite part of college hoops – the little guys.  With 700 cable channels and a DVR, I have fallen in love with mid-major basketball.  Every year I become more and more addicted.  I just love the fact that the game still revolves around coordinated personnel decisions and strategic lineup adjustments, as opposed to “I think my 5 studs are better than your 5 studs.”  I also like the fact that you can see a freshman or sophomore come off the bench and envision what the team will be like when he is a starter.  Whereas, in the big conferences, you know that the best players on the team this year will be gone, regardless of their class, and they will be replaced by new “best” players that are not on the roster yet.  And…there are countless other reasons, but I’m sure I’ve expressed it all before.

And, I wanted to get in this post now because, unlike the big conferences, these teams play some of their biggest games in November and December because they get to take their shots at the big boys.  So, let’s get to it.  This is the first of a two-part series on my “Sweet 16” of mid- or low-major teams that are not going to get any national attention, but definitely deserve some. 

Long Beach State

This is, by far, my favorite non-major team this season.  I have been excited for this season in Long Beach for over a year now, even writing about this year’s LBSU team last year (I know, it’s kind of embarrassing, but, hey, this stuff is my vice).  Their three best players (a triumverate of seniors) would probably be a competitive top three in any conference in America – and if you don’t believe me, then you obviously didn’t watch them dominate #9 Pitt on Wednesday night in one of the toughest arenas in the country.  I was loving every minute of it.

The Big Three
It all starts with Casper Ware, the 5’10” do-everything point guard, who may become a household name before this season is through.  Ware, the defending Big West POY, was 2nd in the league in scoring (17.2) and assists (4.4) last year.  But, he does it on both ends, averaging 1.6 steals per game en route to becoming the first Big West player to ever win the POY honors and Defensive POY honors in the same season.  But, while LBSU’s success may start with Ware, it certainly doesn’t end there.  6’8″ T.J. Robinson, who averaged a double-double last year (13.6 ppg, 10.1 rpg) combines an elite athleticism and quickness with an aggressive, powerful, physical style of play.  He seems to enjoy banging in the halfcourt almost as much as getting out on the break and showing off his high-flying athleticism.  And, rounding out their “Big Three” is 6’5″ Larry Anderson, a thoroughly complete player and the perfect complement to the jet-quick Ware and the athletic and physical Robinson.  Anderson, an extremely well-rounded offensive player, can beat you with a jumpshot, a drive to the hoop, or even with his back to the basket.  He completely filled the stat sheet last year, averaging 14.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg, and 3.3 apg.  But, he also is a stellar defender, who can guard just about any position on the floor and led the Big West with 1.9 steals per game.

The Supporting Cast
If the 49ers were just those three, they would still probably be worth metioning, but there’s more.  While all three of their stars are vying for their third selection to the Big West’s all-conference team, they also have a 4th senior to help carry some of the load.  All-Big West honorable mention last year, 6’6″ senior Eugene Phelps helps down low on both ends of the floor.  They also brought in three newcomers to bolster their team in “the year.”  James Ennis is a JUCO transfer that should slide right into the starting lineup.  A huge addition, literally, Ennis is a 6’7″ combo guard, was a prolific scorer in the JUCO ranks, but also knew how to distribute, averaging over 5 assists per game.  Throw in another JUCO transfer, Kris Gulley (a lights-out shooter) and a highly-touted freshman, Shaquille Hunter, and you’ve got yourselves the makings of a fantastic season for head coach Dan Monson.  Oh ya, I almost forgot to mention it – their coach is only the guy who basically built the mid-major dynasty at Gonzaga, so he kind of knows what he’s doing.

My Take
Like I said, this team will, most likely, become my “darling” this season.  They play a brutal non-conference schedule, so we will all get a chance to see them a lot.  I can honestly see this team cracking the Top 25 and maybe even making a Cinderella run in March.  But, no matter how it turns out, this team is so much fun to watch and is absolutely, completely loaded.

UC-Santa Barbara

But, as good as Long Beach State is, and as generally poor the Big West is, there is a team in their conference that can spoil “the year” for the 49ers.  The Gouchos of Santa Barbara could challenge LBSU out west this year.  In fact, they believe that they may even be better.  (I don’t, but I respect the confidence.)

The Scoring Punch
This team revolves around 6’5″ senior Orlando Johnson, the Big West POY the year before Casper Ware won it for LBSU.  The scoring champ last year at 21.1 ppg, Johnson is also one of the better passers in the league, averaging over 2 assists per game last year.  He will be bolstered by another 6’5″ wing, James Nunnally, who averaged 16.3 ppg last year along with 5.3 rpg.

Interior Defense
While Johnson and Nunnally handle most of the scoring, the Gouchos are also rugged defensively, as they led the league in blocked shots last year, thanks in large part to 7’3″ center Greg Somongyi.  Also, senior PF Jaime Serna plays a lot bigger than his 6’7″ frame, averaging a block a game last year.

My Take
I put them on this list because I think they deserve to be mentioned, however, I do not think we will be seeing much of them on the big stage, unless they can upset LBSU in the conference tournament (again).  If that does happen, I would only hope that the 49ers do enough to get into the at-large conversation – which would be a heck of a feat coming from this low-major conference.

Harvard

The history books will show that last year’s Harvard team was probably the best team in the history of the program.  But, that is not how the season will be remembered.  It will be remembered by the buzzer-beating loss to Princeton in the Ivy League playoff game, followed by the at-large snub by the Selection Committee, which effectively ended the dream of making the NCAA tournament for the first time since…get this…1946!  But, fear not Big Red fans, the best team in Harvard hoops history DIDN’T LOSE A SINGLE PLAYER! 

Loaded!
That’s right, everyone is back from last year’s team that had an RPI in the 20’s.  And “everyone” includes the following:

  • defending Ivy POY, 6’8″ PF Keith Wright
  • sharpshooting point guard who had a 2.34 assist-to-TO ratio, Brandyn Curry
  • the nation’s best free-throw shooter (at 92.6%) Oliver McNally
  • the Ivy League Freshman of the Year two years ago, Kyle Casey
  • a 13.3-point per game SG, Christian Webster
  • another SG, who only averaged 11.0 ppg game off the bench as a freshman last year, Laurent Rivard
  • a 6’10” senior center, Andrew Van Nest
  • a 7-foot sophomore center, Ugo Okam
  • and, a guy who plays much bigger than his 6’7″, Jeff Georgatos

So, yes, they are LOADED.  Oh, and just in case you thought that Tommy Amaker was only building for this year, he also brought in a 6-player freshman class that is, by all accounts, the best recruiting class in Harvard history.  There might be a new sheriff in town in the oldest conference in America.

My Take
Princeton is good, Penn is good, and Yale is much-improved, but Harvard is far and away the best team in the Ivy League.  And, as the only a conference without a conference tournament, it seems very likely that the Big Red will finally reach that 2nd NCAA tournament appearance that has been eluding them for SIXTY-SIX years.  And, don’t be surprised if this team stands up and gets noticed in March – they may even be playing in the second week of that tournament.

Iona

The Iona Gaels were picked to win a decent MAAC this year BEFORE they found that the most talented player on their roster would be cleared to play immediately.

Mo-Mo
Lamont “Mo-Mo” Jones.  Does that name sound familiar?  It should – Jones was the starting point guard for an Arizona team that went to the Elite Eight a year ago.  And, Jones was (after NBA lottery pick Derrick Williams), the best player on the team during that tournament, and may have been destined for big things in the desert.  But, over the summer, his mother (who lives in upstate New York, not far from the Iona campus) became ill, and Mo-Mo decided to move back to take care of her full-time.  He appealed to the NCAA for a hardship transfer that would enable him to play at Iona right away and (in a surprisingly compassionate decision by the NCAA), they approved it.  Now, Mo-Mo joins a rather talented team ready to make a run to the postseason.

More Than Just Mo-Mo
As good as Mo-Mo might be (and as a former Pac-10 starter, he is most likely the most talented), he may be the best bet on the team to take home conference POY honors this year, especially because he will probably be playing the 2-guard for a year because the Gaels already have a pretty decent PG.  6’1″ senior Scott Machado (who averaged 13 points and 4 rebounds a game last year, all while leading the league in assists at 7.6 per game) might be the best PG in the MAAC and has a decent shot at MAAC POY.  But, Machado is not the favorite for the award.  The favorite is his teammate, 6’7″ senior PF, Mike Glover.  Glover (originally signed by St. John’s), averaged a ridiculous 18.4 ppg and 10.1 rpg last year and is ready to get even better with the stellar backcourt of Machado and Jones.

My Take
With three guys as good as Jones, Machado, and Glover, the MAAC is probably not equipped to handle Iona this year.  Fairfield is good and Loyola (Md) is cautiously optimistic, but Iona is just flat-out better.  This team could cause some headaches for the big-conference teams in November and December and then again in March.

Weber State

Even though last year was a disappoinment in Ogden, it came with a blessing – and that blessing was a medical redshirt that may allow Weber State to be nationally relevant for this year and next.

Defining “Most Valuable”
Damian Lillard broke his foot last December and the WSU season was effectively broken with it.  Not only was Lillard, who was the conference POY as a sophomore two years ago (just a year after winning the Freshman of the Year), but he was the point guard on a team that runs an incredibly intricate and complex offense that involves a strange system of colored cards and signals from the bench.  Because of his understanding of the offense (not to mention his 20 point, 4 rebound, 4 assists per game averages), Lillard may have been the most indispensible player in the nation.  Well, now he’s back (for this year and next), and so is Weber’s Cinderella status.  Not only heady, but immensely talented, Lillard may have taken his game to yet another level this summer, as he was invited to an exclusive Adidas camp, where he refined his skills alongside OSU’s Jared Sullinger, Duke’s Mason Plumlee, and Kansas’s Thomas Robinson, among others.  Before it’s all said and done, Lillard might be the best player the Big Sky has ever seen.

The Supporting Cast
The leading scorer without Lillard is back this year in 6’6″ PF Kyle Bullinger.  Also back is 6’2″ junior SF Scott Bamworth, a lights-out shooter who almost hit 50% of his 3-pointers last year.  And, ready to possibly break out now that he has a true point guard is 6’7″ sophomore C Byron Fulton, who won the honors of Big Sky Freshman of the Year last year, even without Lillard distributing and taking some pressure away from the inside.  While the team is really Lillard & Co., they are skilled – five different players, last year, had at least 20 three-pointers, so there are shooters all over the floor to keep defenses honest.

My Take
Lillard is worth the price of admission, so if you are ever up late and a Weber State game is on, tune in.  You won’t be disappointed.  As for Weber’s chances to make a run – they will have to beat a big boy or two, as the Big Sky rarely allows for a seed higher than 13 or 14, but they have the talent to give someone a headache.

UT-San Antonio

Okay, I will be honest here, I know next to nothing about the UTSA squad this year, other than that they have one of the coolest nicknames in the sport (the Roadrunners), and that Brooks Thompson is a head coach somewhere makes me feel pretty old because it doesn’t seem that long ago that he was a heady shooting guard at Oklahoma State.  But, despite the conference in which they play (the Southland) being one of the lowest levels of D-I hoops, they are worth mentioning for several reasons.

Last Year
The Roadrunners shocked everyone by running through the Southland tournament and grabbing the automatic bid, despite a so-so regular season.  They also won a game, albeit the “opening round game,” but it still provided great experience for the young team to (a) play on the grand stage and (b) get the chance to play the #1-team in the country, Ohio State.

This Year
And, that experience and confidence is not lost on this year because, well, EVERYONE is back!  But, even with everyone back from a tournament team last year, UTSA still wasn’t really on the my mid-major radar, until the season started and the results started coming in.  Game One: 9-point win at UTEP.  Game Two: 1-point win over a really good Oral Roberts team.  Game Three: an overtime loss AT OKLAHOMA STATE, in a game which UTSA thoroughly dominated for 39 minutes, before a ridiculous comeback that can even be seen on YouTube.  Go to this link for the entire crazy comeback.  If you only want to see the final furious 18 seconds, fast-forward to about the 7:50 mark – it’s worth it.

My Take
Well, it’s hard to say because the Southland is such a low-level conference, but the early results for UTSA are incredibly promising, so who knows?

Long Island

Another conference that doesn’t exactly produce many ground-breaking upsets is the NEC, but they did have an exciting and highly successful team last year that gave UNC a run in the first round of the tournament.  Well, that team was Long Island, and the Blackbirds return 10 guys from the best team in program history.

It’s a Team Game
A team like LIU that runs and guns and substitutes at will needs a long bench of experienced players, so having 10 guys back from last year’s team is a nice start.  Their uptempo, pressing style gives teams fits and when they can run people in and out, they get a huge advantage.

Two Standouts Among the Anonymity
While the fast-paced, quick-subbing style doesn’t necessarily lead to breakout stars, there were two Blackbirds last year that really stood out – and they’re both back.  Julian Boyd, a 6’7″ forward, averaged 13.0 ppg and 8.9 rpg last year and is ready to make another big jump in this is junior year.  Another 6’7″ junior, Jamal Olasewere mans the SF spot and is very athletic with a very balanced game on both ends of the floor.

My Take
Boyd and Olasewere are both now entering the junior years and could become even better than they are currently.  Surrounded by a slew of good, fast, athletic players and this Blackbird team should find themselves back in the dance, making life hard for the UNCs of the world all over again.

Davidson

We all remember Davidson’s magical run, fueled by the lovable Steph Curry, but after two down years, it seems like a long time ago.  But, there is always a legacy from runs like that, and it usually takes a year or two to manifest itself – the recruiting swoon.  Well, it’s hitting now for Davidson, as the sophomore and junior classes (the ones most boosted by Curry’s team) are taking over the program now, and they are talented.

The Juniors Shall Inherit the Team
This class of juniors were seniors in high school when Curry went to the Elite Eight, so they came to Davidson with that glow.  Now, it’s their turn to shine.  6’4″ combo guard J.P. Kuhlman can score, rebound, and pass.  Kuhlman will probably start at the point because 6’3″ SG Nik Cochran might be ready to step up and take a lot of the scoring load.  Down low, the Wildcats will lean on 6’10” C Jake Cohen, who may be the best big in the SoCon this year.  Adding to the junior class is a bruising and athletic PF Clint Mann, who is transferring in from Iowa State.  Mann averaged 7.4 points and 4.5 rebounds in the Big XII, so there’s a chance he is a superstar in the SoCon.

The Sophomores Shall Follow Suit
As good as the junior class is, the sophomore class is on the same level.  6’7″ PF De’Mon Brooks averaged 9 points and 5 boards as a freshman and was named to the National Mid-Major All-Freshman team.  Another 6’7″ forward, Chris Czerapowicz, from Sweden, was hampered by injuries last year, but when healthy is immensely skilled.  They also have a true point guard in Tom Droney, who also happens to be 6’6″ tall, so he sees the floor very well, often finds himself open, and can even bring his defender to the post and go to work.

My Take
They will never get another Steph Curry at a school with 1,200 students and intense academic standards.  But, just having Curry has boosted the program – it just took a year or two to reap the benefits.  This year is probably the year that Davidson returns to the top of the SoCon, but I kind of think that they’re still a year away from emerging on a national level.  But, they’ve got a shot because this team is very talented.

BSB College Hoops Conference Preview: ACC

Well, here we are, my friends, on the precipice of another college hoops season.  And, with the seemingly warranted threat of an NBA lockout, we actually have a lot more returning talent to the college landscape than the past several years (most of it sitting in Chapel Hill, NC, and Columbus, OH, but still…).  And, there is a decent influx of talented freshman and other upperclassmen that will be given the keys to their respective programs all across the country.  The one sport that never, EVER disappoints has begun, so buckle up, it’s time to go.

Over the next week or so, I am going to try and give quick editorials on the relevant teams from individual conferences across the country.  I am going to start in the mid-Atlantic with the ACC, not because it is the best conference (and it’s probably not close), but because, well, it gets the most airtime around here and houses the preseason #1.

The Favorite – North Carolina

Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller, and John Henson all decided to forego NBA riches (and lockouts) to try and match what a couple of Heels named Hansbrough, Lawson, and Ellington did a couple years ago and put off pro ball for a year for a shot at a national title.  And, they certainly have a shot, as they enter the season #1 in the country – and there is very little debate about it.

The Guy.  Every team has some that is “The Guy” on their roster.  But, not every team has a guy like Harrison Barnes.  After a slow start due probably to the untenable expectations, the top-rated recruit in the country, Barnes, started to become the player everyone thought he was going to be by the end of the year.  Now, this year, while everyone is touting guys like OSU’s Jared Sullinger or UK’s Terrance Jones as potential national players of the year, I think Barnes will be the nation’s best player this year.

The Frontcourt.  With Barnes, Tyler Zeller, and John Henson, the Heels don’t just have the best frontcourt in the nation this year, but they have, in my opinion, the best frontcourt the college game has seen since Joakim Noah, Al Horford, and Corey Brewer were busy winning back-to-back titles down in Gainesville (right before all three were selected among the first 9 picks of the NBA draft the following year).  Barnes, Unless, of course, they don’t need him to do it all because of the load that Zeller and Henson can take off of him.  Zeller little jump hook is almost unstoppable, and Henson’s length gives him the potential to be the best interior defender in the country with a little work.  This frontcourt is loaded with reinforcements off the bench.  The best of the subs will probably be 6’9″ freshman James Michael McAdoo, who can give time at both forward spots.  Recognize the name?  Yes, he is a distant relative of Bob McAdoo, who was an okay player in his day.  They also brought in a talented center in 6’10” Desmond Hubert, who could use a little size, but should contribute 8-12 decent minutes off the bench.

The Backcourt.  The backcourt – while overshadowed – isn’t too shabby either.  Kendall Marshall was thrust into the starting lineup last year when Larry Drew quit the team 12 hours before a game.  Well, it might have been the best thing that happened to the Heels because Marshall was worlds better than Drew – and in just the way the team needed.  He loves to pass, and he loves to do it in the open floor.  Is there a better style of point guard for a team with quick, athletic, great finishing bigs?  Is there a better style of point guard for a Roy Williams coached team?  Probably not.  Now, don’t get me wrong, Marshall is not going to make anyone forget the names Ty Lawson or even Raymond Felton, but, when it comes to fullcourt offensive distribution, he is typecast.  And, Marshall’s running mate, Dexter Strickland, is also good in the open court.  But, there is a problem, though.  How good are these guys in the halfcourt on offense, and, more importantly, are they going to stop anyone on the defensive end?  And, furthermore, how many minutes – in this uptempo style – can these two play?  And, if it’s not 35+, then how big of step back will the team take with Reggie Bullock or P.J. Hairston on the floor.  The frontcourt depth took a shot with the injury to Leslie McDonald, so we may even have to see a lot of Justin Watts, which wouldn’t be a good sign.

Strengths.  Overall, the Tar Heels are absolutely loaded with talent and experience, particularly in that monstrous frontcourt.  Just Barnes, Zeller, and Henson alone would make this team a real contender, but they also have McAdoo off the bench and Marshall, who could become a dynamic playmaker for this team.  Just imagine how unstoppable they would become if they get a breakout season from either Strickland or Bullock at the 2-guard – which is entirely possible because they are both supremely talented and will never be the target of opposing defensive gameplans.  

Question Marks.  The only real vulnerability this team has is if Marshall isn’t equipped to handle a full workload at the point.  They don’t really have anyone else to step in if he is in foul trouble or is just simply getting abused by his opposite number (which is entirely possible with all the quality lead guards out there).

Their Ceiling.  Anything short of a Final Four would an unmitigated disaster for this team, and anything short of a national title would be a letdown.  The ACC is somewhat weak, so they should walk away with a conference title and a #1-seed.  I fully expect Roy Williams to bring yet another title to Tobacco Road.

My Favorite – Virginia

I have been doing these previews for a couple of years now, and I have a somewhat consistent format.  I will give the overall consensus favorite to win the league (“The Favorite”), followed by a team that I’ll dub “My Favorite.”  It is going to range from teams that I think are true, legit contenders to unseat the presumed favorite to teams that might jump up and shock the league all the way to teams that I just find a LOT better than what appears to be the general accepted opinion of them.  I’m not entirely sure where the Cavs fall on that continuum, but, either way, they are My Favorite in the ACC this year, for several reasons.

I am a huge fan of the Bennett family coaching tree.  Dick Bennett was phenomenal at every stop, and his son, Tony, is picking up right where dad left off.  This is now his third year in Charlottesville, and it looks as if he might be finishing up the revitatlization of this one-storied program. 

The Guy.  Mike Scott – no doubt.  Scott is a force inside and could be a first-team all-ACC performer this year if everything goes to plan.  A 6’8″ 5th-year senior missed 21 games last year due to a knee injury and was granted a medical redshirt.  Now, he’s back and ready to pick up where he left off – which was pretty good (15.9 ppg, 10.2 rpg).

The Frontcourt.  Scott is joined by a 7’0″ senior center from Senegal, Assane Sene, who, like many West Africans, is a menace on the defensive end of the floor and on the glass, but unlike many West African bigs, is not a total liability offensively, shooting well over 50% from the floor last year.  Sene will be very important to keep Scott out of foul trouble, so he can get to work on the offensive end.  While the team will likely play a three-guard lineup (and should with all the depth back there), they are overly shallow (though inexperienced and unproven) in the frontcourt, either.  Sophomore Akil Mitchell is an active rebounder at 6’8″ tall; 6’9″ redshirt freshman James Johnson is a widebodied bruiser, and a lean, athletic 6’8″ freshman Darion Atkins was actually a McDonald’s All-American finalist from Clinton, Maryland.

The Backcourt.  The only real significant loss from last year’s team was a guy who wasn’t even supposed to be a big loss.  But, Mustapha Farrakhan surprisingly exploded last year to be, arguably, the team’s best all-around player.  Farrakhan is gone, but left behind are some really talented guards, plus a pair of potentially super freshmen.  The point guard position will be much as it was a year ago – a split between 6’1″ senior Sammy Zeglinski and 5’11” junior Jontel Evans.  Zeglinski is more of a “glue guy,” while Evans is the feitsy competitor coming off the bench to rattle the opposition’s second-team.  The 2-guard position vacated by Farrakhan should be capably filled by a couple of sophomores, who are both poised to burst onto the scene.  Joe Harris, though not a starter, played almost 30 minutes a game last year at a variety of different positions, including some power forward.  While Harris will probably start somewhere this year, he will probably play mostly the 3-spot, so that Bennett can get another budding sophomore, KT Harrell, into the starting lineup.  Harrell can flat-out score and, if given the time, could be the perfect complementary outside threat to Scott’s inside presence.  And, if those four guys weren’t enough, the Cavs also welcome a couple of huge and hugely talented freshman to the backcourt.  6’5″ Malcolm Brogdon was voted Georgia’s Mr. Basketball last year and could see time at any of four different positions, including the point.  Yet another Mr. Basketball, Paul Jesperson, is a 6’6″ sharp-shooter from Wisconsin, and forces defenses to guard him anywhere on the court, so could be a nice way of stretching defenses to create more room for guys like Scott and Harrell.  This backcourt is young, but potentially loaded.

Strengths.  First of all, they have a great coach in Bennett.  Second, they have an elite player in Scott.  And, third, they have a ton of young talent that is good and eager.  If Sene continues to shine on the defensive end and the glass, it’s hard to see the holes in this team.

Weaknesses.  I think there are two potential issues of concern for this team.  One, do they have a second scorer after Scott?  I don’t think Sene will ever provide more than 5-6 points per game, so they probably need one of the shooting guards (Harrell or Harris) to make up for at least some of the 14 ppg lost with Farrakhan’s graduation.  The other is frontcourt depth.  I like Mitchell as an energy guy off the bench, but they need at least one of the freshmen, Johnson or Atkins, to emerge and give them a solid 8-10 minutes a night.

Their Ceiling.  I love this team, but I can’t let myself get too excited because they still don’t have any elite players other than Scott.  I think they could probably get into the top 3 or 4 in the ACC and, with a little luck, they might even be wearing white in their first NCAA tournament game in about a decade.  But, in reality, this looks like a borderline Top 25 team, at best, with a very, very outside shot at a surprise Sweet 16 appearance in Scott’s swan song.  But, the future is very bright in Charlottesville.

Elite – Duke 

The Dukies will always be good as long as Coach K is at the helm.  But, as for their preseason #6 in the country?  I just don’t see it.  I know that they are loaded with McDonald’s All-Americans, and I know that they finally welcome in Austin Rivers, but am I the only one that remembers what they lost from last year’s team?  Now, I know that Kyrie Irving didn’t play much, so it’s hard to say that that’s a “loss,” but do you know who did play a lot?  Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith.  They played a whole lot, and now they’re gone.  Now, there are players on this roster that could pick up some of what they lost in Singler and Smith, but will they?  I’m not ready to bet on it.

The Guy.  Remember how good Kyrie Irving was last year?  Well, Austin Rivers, son of Boston Celtics coach, Doc Rivers, is supposed to be considerably better.

The Backcourt.  Along with Rivers, who will play any of the three spots on the perimeter, the Dukies do have some guys who can score the ball.  Most notably, is another high-profile son of an NBA star, Seth Curry.  Curry, the son of Del Curry (the NBA’s all-time leader in three-pointers) and brother of Steph Curry (the former Davidson star and current Golden State Warrior), has shown the signs of the family tradition.  He can shoot.  The question is – can he run the point?  That remains to be seen.  The third guard in the tradition Duke three-guard offense will be a guy who you might think is yet another son of a former NBA star, but Andre Dawkins has no relation to former Duke and 76er point guard Johnny Dawkins.  The good thing about Dawkins is that when the Devils do play all three guards, they can lean on him to do some of the dirty work in the post on the defensive end and on the glass.  He is a strong 6’5″ and can rebound.  The question mark about him, though, is whether or not he can contribute enough at the guard spot to even render this discussion meaningful.  If Dawkins is not an ACC-caliber starting guard, then Coach K will have to mix and match to find a good combination.  Then again, there’s an outside chance he becomes a star – Nolan Smith did.  The only other two guards that will get significant minutes should be sophomore Tyler Thornton, who emerged as a solid floor general when Irving went down last year, and a 6’0″ freshman from Oak Hill Academy, Quinn Cook.  Cook was one of the top recruits in the nation as a junior, but tore his ACL, and there are people who doubt he will ever be the same player again.  If he can regain what made him the Washington DC High School POY as a junior, he could be a real find.

The Frontcourt.  If Dawkins doesn’t force Coach K’s hand to play all three guards, the Devils have plenty of bodies to use in the frontcourt.  If you want tall, overhyped, mediocre bigs named Plumlee, well Duke has cornered the market, as they now have three of them.  Mason Plumlee (the middle child) is the best of the three right now and is probably the best option this team has in the frontcourt.  Miles Plumlee is the eldest of the three, yet probably won’t start his senior year because he just never developed into the star people thought he would.  Mason and Miles are cut from the same mold – quick, agile, skilled bigs, who lack a certain toughness to go along with their supreme talents.  Marshall Plumlee, only a freshman, may actually have that toughness, but, alas, may also lack the athleticism and skill of his older brothers.  More of a back-to-the-basket player, Marshall is a bit more of the plodding big, as opposed to the open floor big that his brothers are.  But, the jury is still out on Marshall and the questions won’t be answered this year because it’s unlikely that he sees a ton of minutes because there are a couple decent options ahead of him.  The one guy Krzyzewski really wants to make the leap is 6’11” junior, Ryan Kelly.  If Kelly becomes the star that many people believe he can be, then this team looks a whole lot better on paper.  I have my doubts, but we shall see.  The Devils also have a possible star in Alex Murphy (the younger brother of Florida forward Erik Murphy – and son of former NBA’er, Jay Murphy).  Murphy, dubbed by some as the next Kyle Singler, could give the Devils some solid minutes right away.  Duke can also lean on 6’7″ freshman Michael Gbinije, who is freakishly athletic, but rather raw, particularly on the offensive end (yes, he’s on Duke’s roster…).

Strengths.  First of all, they will always be better than their talent because their coach is that good.  Second of all, they will always have elite talent because their brand is so good.  That means they will always be in contention for a national title.  If Austin Rivers is anywhere near as good as advertised, then this team will be exceptional.  If any of the plethora of potential breakout stars makes that leap, then this team could be downright special.

Weaknesses.  As good as Rivers is supposed to be, I still struggle to see how they are going to replace the production of Singler and Smith.  I think it’s safe to say that the eldest Plumlee (Miles) is nothing special.  The middle Plumlee (Mason) might be great, but who knows, and the youngest (Marshall) is still green.  Is Ryan Kelly the answer?  What about Andre Dawkins?  Is Seth Curry good enough to excel when defenses key on him?  Still don’t know that either.  A lot of questions are out there yet to be answered.

The Ceiling.  I know it sounds as if I’m really down on this team.  I’m not.  They are very, very good.  I’m just not sure they have enough individual or collective greatness to be special.  Rivers is going to turn heads, but he’s still a freshman – and a freshman with a reputation as a shaky decision-maker, at that.  I think Curry is good as a 3rd or 4th option.  I think Dawkins could emerge, but that’s a big if.  And, the same goes for the entire stable of bigs.  Would I be shocked if they won the national championship?  Not really.  I would actually be more shocked if they won the ACC because they’re better suited for a tournament than a grueling season where they could really be exposed.  So, I would say that, while this team could win the title, I don’t see them doing it as a favorite come March.  I’m thinking a 2- or 3-seed, at best, and a pretty solid second-place in the ACC.

The Sleeper – N.C. State

Last year, I had the Wolfpack as “My Favorite” in the ACC.  Well, I’d like to take a mulligan on that because, well, Sidney Lowe can’t coach.  But, the ‘Pack – after an embarrassing number of coaches passed – has found themselves a coach…and he’s a good one.  If you don’t remember Mark Gottfried was the first coach to ever achieve a national #1 ranking at Alabama.  He had up and down success, but he proved (at least to me) that he is a great coach.  And, now, he is at a basketball school with some talent left over.

The Guy.  If this team is going to do anything to make me not feel like a fool for touting them in back-to-back years, it is going to be 6’8″ sophomore forward C.J. Leslie.  Leslie, probably the most celebrated recruit to come to N.C. State in several decades was one of the most disappointing freshmen in the country last year.  That is not to say he didn’t show flashes of why people think he’s so special (supreme athleticism, a soft touch, great length, and flat-out hops), but what he didn’t show was any sign, whatsoever, of maturity.  He was a malcontent whenever things started to go in the wrong direction and he seemed to compound each and every mistake either he or a teammate committed with a bad turnover or piss-poor shot selection.  Now, he may never find the maturity to turn it around, but there are two things that make me think that he will become a better teammate and, therefore, a better player.  One is the coaching change.  One thing that Sidney Lowe is not famous for is being tough.  Gottfried, on the other hand, will not allow Leslie’s laziness to continue.  And, second, is Leslie’s decision (after a meeting with Gottfried) to withdraw his name from the draft.  It seemed last year and if he was just using N.C. State as a showcase for his professional talents (which he probably was).  But, he probably had a large piece of humble pie when he heard that he would most likely be a second-round pick and not the top 5 that he anticipated.  If he puts it together, this team could be a lot better than people think.

The Backcourt.  While the names might not jump out at you, this backcourt is solid and big.  Junior shooting guard Scott Wood is the team’s standstill jumpshooter.  At 6’6″ and deceptively quick, Wood can find open shots and, like any good Indiana kid, can knock them down when he gets them.  Lorenzo Brown, a husky 6’5″ sophomore, may not look like the prototypical ACC point guard, but he really grew into the role last year and could emerge as one of the tougher matchups in the country at the 1-position.  Backing up Brown (or maybe playing alongside him in certain sets) will be 5’10” jet Alex Johnson.  Johnson, a senior transfer from CS-Bakersfield, should provide a steady presence on both ends of the floor if Brown finds his opposing number too quick.  6’4″ freshman Jaqawn Raymond may eventually be a star, but he has a lot of work to do to have the results match up with his elite physical talents.

The Frontcourt.  While the backcourt is actually pretty steady and set, the frontcourt (other than Leslie), on the hand, may still be a work in progress.  Gottfried might not have a choice but to play 6’5″ senior C.J. Williams 30+ minutes because he is just too valuable on the defensive end.  With Williams (who can play some 2-guard, as well), Leslie would slide to the PF spot.  Rebounding issues resulting from the smallishness of this frontcourt may be mitigated by (a) the elite athleticism of Leslie, (b) the sheer size of the starting guards, and/or (c) 7’1″ center Jordan Vandenberg.  Vandenberg, an Aussie, who has really struggled on the defensive end, could emerge to be the team’s starting center, which would mean that Williams and Leslie would easily slide into the forward positions without fear of vulnerability in the middle.  However, if Vandenberg cannot cut it defensively (which will probably be the case, at least early), then Gottfried will have to use some combination of 6’8″ senior Richard Howell or 6’9″ sophomore DeShawn Painter.  Howell is more the polished workman, while Painter has raw skills and struggles defensively and with shot selection.

Strengths.  This team is a lot more talented than people may think, even after losing star senior Tracy Smith.  And, if Leslie can emerge to his potential (possibly even a first-team all-ACC performer), then watch out because the complementary pieces are in place, particularly in the backcourt.

Weaknesses.  Their biggest possible strength is probably also their biggest possible weakness – C.J. Leslie.  It wouldn’t shock me if his season was anywhere from off-the-charts spectacular to wholly forgettable and embarrassing.  It’s that unpredictable.  And, as is probably obvious, the Wolfpack’s season relies a lot on where, in that continuum, he falls.  The other vulnerability is their frontcourt size, but that can possibly be compensated for by the size of their backcourt (6’6″ and 6’5″).

Their Ceiling.  They will not contend with UNC for an ACC title, nor are they likely to challenge the Dukies in any legitimate way, but it is not out of the question that this team could be the third best team in the ACC.  If so, they will be in the tournament.  But, even if everything goes perfectly, it’s hard for even me to believe they will still be playing into the second week of the tournament.

Contender – Florida State

There is a ton of hype surrounding this Seminole team this year, and, quite frankly, I’m not sure I’m seeing it.  Honestly, I think that the public perception is that they are probably the 3rd best team in the ACC (which I don’t think I would argue) and the 3rd best team in, historically, the best basketball conference has to be an elite team.  And, historically, that has been true – where the 3rd best team in the ACC often found itself easily in the top 10 in the country.  But, times have changed, and this is not your older brother’s ACC.  UNC is phenomenal and the Dukies are elite.  After that, there is a huge dropoff, whether or not the public wants to believe that.

The Guy.  At least last year, they could answer nay-sayers like me with two words:  Chris Singleton.  But, the stud forward is gone to the world of labor unrest and lockouts.  In the wake of the Singleton departure, there are any number of candidates to step up and be “the guy” on FSU, but I have my doubts about whether any of them actually will, which is why I am not so bullish on the ‘Noles as some.

The Backcourt.  The funny thing about the love for FSU this year is that I’m not even sure that Singleton was their biggest loss from last year’s team.  They also lost their leader and floor general in point guard Derwin Kitchen.  They will now turn over the reigns of a team desperate for consistent guard play to a 5th-year senior, Luke Loucks, who has never shown any real consistency.  Fortunately, the 2-guard will be manned by a guy much from the same mold as the departed Kitchen, in Michael Snaer, and may even go with the three-guard lineup by starting Lithuanian sharp-shooter Deividas Dulkys.  They also have the well-traveled Jeff Peterson off the bench.  Peterson played two years for Iowa, before transferring to Arkansas.  After one year on the Razorbacks, he transferred again to FSU for grad school.  And the big wild card might be sophomore Ian Miller.  Miller, who was highly-touted as a recruit last year, suffered a groin injury that slowed him down.  If he can find his form, he might be just what the doctor ordered for this otherwise forgettable backcourt.

The Frontcourt. The key to the whole season for the Seminoles lies in their 26-year old center, Bernard James.  James, who didn’t play organized basketball until his days in the Air Force, has emerged to be a certifiable ACC big man.  The real question remains however, that despite his being a very inspirational story, can this guy who never played organized basketball on any level, be the go-to guy on a contending team?  I have my doubts.  One thing that could temper that could be an emergence of Okara White, who looked real good as a freshman last year, so could be ready to make the leap as a sophomore.  And, who knows, maybe 6’11” senior Xavier Gibson might actually put it all together and be the superstar people were saying he would be for three years now.  Or, maybe 7’0″ first-year senior (yes, that’s right), Jon Kreft will emerge.

Their Ceiling.  You see, here is the thing with a overly-inflated public image of a conference, as a whole.  When the Seminoles win double-digit ACC games this year (and maybe a shocker over Duke or UNC), everyone is going to feel vindicated in their preseason top 25 ranking of FSU, and the committee will give them a 7-seed, even though, if you really looked at it, their resume will not really have any meat on it.  But, they will take this 7-seed, throw their ridiculous athletes at a 10-seed that is either an undersized mid-major or a middling major conference team playing out the string and win a game before bowing out silently to a far superior 2-seed.  And, the tournament win will vindicate all these “prognosticators” even more.  Needless to say, I think their actual “ceiling” is a lot higher than I even think it should be.

The Others

I honestly do not think that any of the other teams in this league are all that relevant this year (with apologies to all my Maryland fan followers), but I’ll give a quick editorial line on each.

  • Virginia Tech.  I love Coach Greenberg and think that there is talent here in Blacksburg, but they lost their three best players from a team that wouldn’t have made a 65-team field.
  • Maryland.  I cannot say enough about how great of a hire I think Mark Turgeon is, but the surprise departure of Jordan Williams leaves this team in irrelevancy.  But, it looks like it might be just one year, as the early returns have Turgeon killing it on the recruiting front.
  • Clemson.  As a big supporter and defender of Clemson basketball the past few years, I can say this with no regret – they aren’t relevant this year.  Too much talent has left this program (Demontez Stitt and Jerai Grant, most recently) without enough talent brought back in.  That being said, I totally believe in Coach Brownell and think that he will make the Tigers an annual contender.
  • Miami.  Frank Haith is gone…not sure that’s a bad thing.
  • Georgia Tech.  Paul Hewitt is gone…not sure that’s a bad thing.
  • Boston College.  10 freshmen?  Sounds like they’ll be lucky to finish in 10th place.
  • Wake Forest.  Nowhere to go but up…

BSB’s 2011 MLB Awards

Well, while BSB has been dark for a while, as major life changes has thrust themselves upon our fearless Believers, but we may be back up and running here, just in time to mourn a crushing end to the Phillies season and a throw the last bit of dirt on a nearly as demoralizing season for the Eagles.  But, first, let us catch up on some less depressing business, as we will unveil the results of our 2011 MLB Awards balloting.  We had seven really good, knowledgeable, and relatively objective submissions for this year’s awards, so we have a nice collection of opinions depicted in these awards efforts on these awards.  So, without further ado, let’s get to it, starting with…

(NOTE: Points are 5 for 1st-place vote, 4 for 2nd, etc.  The two numbers in parentheses indicate, first, the number of ballots on which the player appeared, followed by the number of first-place votes they received, if any.)

Most Valuable Player – National League

We always knew he had the talent, but before this season, it looked as if he might never find "it"
  1. Matt Kemp – 31 (7/5)
    Despite a very disappointing year out in LA, Matt Kemp put up a season for the ages, coming up 1 HR shy of 40/40.  He also had a legitimate shot at a Triple Crown up until the season’s final weekend.  Also, for all of you condescending, weak-minded Sabermetric-obsessed people who discount any analysis that doesn’t include WAR, Kemp blew away the competition in that stat, as he was, according to baseball-reference, worth 10 wins to the Dodgers this year (a full 2.3 wins better than anyone else in the league).  Kemp received 5 of the 7 first-place votes and appeared on all 7 ballots.
  2. Ryan Braun – 27 (7/1)
    While Kemp seemed to dominate the voting, he did not win by the landslide you might expect, as another 30-30 guy, Ryan Braun finished a somewhat close second place, despite only receiving a single first-place vote.  Unlike Kemp, who did receive a 4th-place vote, Braun was in the top 3 on every ballot.  Braun’s first-place vote came from BSB’s own, Doogan, who had Kemp 2nd.
  3. Prince Fielder – 18 (7)
    Braun’s teammate, Prince Fielder and his .415 OBP, finished 3rd on our list, as he also appeared on all 5 ballots, though did not receive a single first-place vote.
  4. Troy Tulowitzki – 9 (4)
    Tulo did receive a second-place vote from Yours Truly, but I am (and always will be) quite partial to anyone who plays the most important position on the diamond.
  5. Justin Upton – 9 (4)
    The surprise team of the National League was the Diamondbacks, so it’s no surprise to see their offensive leader make a top 5 MVP showing.
  6. Albert Pujols – 8 (4/1)
    King Albert did enough to draw a 1st-place vote, but not enough to get any higher than 5th-place on any of the other 6 ballots.  While I think he has suffered from the Shaq ailment (should have been MVP every single year if not for boredom of the voters), but this year was an admitted down year for the Best Player of All-Time.
  7. Joey Votto – 3 (2)
    The defending MVP had, quietly, another outstanding year and was actually put ahead of Prince Fielder on Bry’s ballot.
  8. Lance Berkman – 1
    What a comeback year for the Puma.  It’s a nasty little secret, but he actually had a better year than that teammate of his that finished 6th on this list.

Most Valuable Player – American League

Last season he was just Brady Anderson; but add this year to the mix and he's closer to Babe Ruth
  1. Jose Bautista – 24 (6/3)
    In a very close vote, the winner goes to the only guy on the list that doesn’t play in New York, Boston, or Detroit.  Though he was left completely off one ballot, and received first-place votes on fewer than half, Jose Bautista wins our vote by the same margin that Matt Kemp won the NL award.  Bautista led the league in home runs and had an OBP just shy of .450.  Wow.
  2. Jacoby Ellsbury – 20 (7/1)
    The only AL player to appear on all 7 MVP ballots, Ellsbury just had too many 4th- and 5th-place votes to challenge Bautista.  Ellsbury sure did put up some incredible numbers this year, finishing with a .928 OPS, 39 stolen bases, and stellar defense in centerfield.
  3. Miguel Cabrera – 20 (6/1)
    Another incredible season was put in by the Tigers firstbaseman, Miguel Cabrera, who won the batting title, with 30 HRs, 48 doubles, and 108 BBs.  Again, BSB’s Doogan took the contrarian route, taking Cabrera (and Ellsbury) over Bautista here.
  4. Justin Verlander – 17 (5/1)
    One of the game’s most timeless (and meaningless) debates:  can a pitcher be the Most Valuable Player?  Well, if this is any indication, the majority of voters here believe that not only should a pitcher be eligible, but that this pitcher was worthy of at least mentioning on the list.  He even received a first-place vote from loyal reader, GregDoc.  For the record, I am an ardent opponent (with misplaced and irrational passion) of pitchers being voted MVP and would have left Verlander off my list if I had to make 20 choices.
  5. Curtis Granderson – 7 (2/1)
    If you listen to talk radio in the Big Apple, you would think that Granderson is the guy to beat in this race.  But, apparently, 5 of the 7 voters here disagree so much that he didn’t even make their ballots.  In Granderson’s defense (and RyanDoc’s, who voted him #1), I think runs scored is a very underrated statistic (yes, may the Sabermetic holier-than-thous strike me down), and Granderson had 15 more runs scored than anyone else in the league.
  6. Dustin Pedroia – 6 (3)
    With a 3rd- (from me), a 4th-, and a 5th-place vote, the diminutive Red Sox secondbaseman finishes in 6th place on our list.  Need we be reminded that he plays elite defense at a premium position?  Or, do we all feel the backlash against the guy for already winning one?  Or, am I just way too protective of middle infielders?
  7. Adrian Gonzalez – 5 (3)
    If September had never happened, A-Gon might win this award going away.  But, the Red Sox collapse and the media backlash against its media darling put a black mark upon an otherwise excellent inaugural season in Beantown for Mr. Gonzalez.
  8. Robinson Cano – 4 (1)
    While I would absolutely take Robinson Cano ahead of all but a handful of players in the league to start my franchise with, I am not so sure his 2011 season justified his receiving a 2nd-place vote here.  But, that being said, it is nice to see a middle-infielder with a TON of talent get some due.  Lord knows, he needs it playing in the media exile of New York City.

Cy Young Award – National League

Simply the best...
  1. Roy Halladay – 31 (7/4)
    Before we start screaming about the homerism of this blog, let us stop and think for a second about all the outside factors that could work against a starting pitcher, from a statistical standpoint.  The most prominent of things that could be underlying factors to inflating pitchers’ stats are ballpark effects and level of competition.  And, in an argument between Halladay and the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw, it is rather inarguable that both of these factors work for Kershaw and against Halladay.  For this reason, I (and, presumably the other 3 that went this way, including Doogan) voted Halladay #1.
  2. Clayton Kershaw – 29 (7/3)
    Don’t worry, Clayton, you are probably going to win the actual award because everyone loves a good story and, most of all, because people get fatigued with back-to-back winners.  That being said, Kershaw is very deserving, as he had a lights-out season, including being one of only 2 starters (Cole Hamels, the other) to have a WHIP under 1.00.
  3. Cliff Lee – 18 (6)
    Lost in the brilliance that is Roy Halladay and the subpar April, Cliff Lee had a pretty incredible season for the Phightins’.  I just wish he was able to hold a 4-0 lead in his biggest start of the year.  Lee was left off of one ballot, but that ballot only felt three pitchers were deserving of votes.
  4. Ian Kennedy – 14 (7)
    Kennedy – the real surprise in the desert – appeared on all 7 ballots, most likely because of his 21 wins and sparkling 2.88 ERA.
  5. Cole Hamels – 9 (5)
    Hamels and his sub-1.00 WHIP made a pretty strong case for being the best #3 starter in the history of baseball (and this from a man who is still enamored by the Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz era Braves teams).  It’s hard to believe that Hamels finished 14-9 on the season.
  6. Chris Carpenter – 1
    Not sure if this was a bit of a “lifetime achievement” vote or a “valuable to his team” kind of vote from longtime BSB reader, Boot, but I definitely respect it.
  7. Matt Cain – 1
    I had both Cain and Kennedy as my #5 choices because I think that, despite not receiving the recognition or run support, Cain may have had the better year.  Either way, the numbers are too similar to speak so highly of Kennedy and not at all of Cain.

Cy Young Award – American League

It's unanimous
  1.  Justin Verlander – 35 (7/7)
    Our only unanimous winner of any award is, to no one’s surprise, Justin Verlander.  Verlander was dominant in any way you want to judge it, be it “traditionally” or “Sabermetrically.”  This one was easy – everyone else was just playing for second-place.
  2. Jered Weaver – 22 (6)
    A pretty solid season in SoCal for the laid-back Weaver, who was inked for a team-friendly long-term deal because he loves the way of life out there.  Don’t mistake it, though, he’s a bulldog on the mound.  One ballot only had Verlander, so Weaver did make every other ballot.
  3. James Shields – 15 (5)
    While he will never live up to his absurd nickname of “Big Game James” (there is only one Big Game James, and he played a different sport), Shields was sensational this year, including an amazing FOUR compete-game shutouts.  Shields was on 5 ballots, but the ones he missed only had Verlander and Weaver, so he made every ballot with more than 2 names.
  4. C.C. Sabathia – 8 (3)
    Unlike the first three, who were on every ballot that went that deep, Sabathia was left off of 2 ballots that filled out 5 names.  Another outstanding year for Carston Charles, who did receive a pair of 3rd-place votes (including mine) and a 4th-place vote from Doogan.
  5. Josh Beckett – 3 (2)
    The bottom four were sort of also-rans in this race, but it is worth mentioning because they all had outstanding years, including the ever loveable Josh Beckett.  I will refrain from making a Popeye’s Chicken joke here, for fear of overkill.
  6. C.J. Wilson – 3 (2)
    Introducing the next vastly overpaid starting pitcher:  C.J. Wilson.  But, hey, he picked a great year to have a great year.
  7. Dan Haren – 2 (2)
    On a list of a outstanding pitchers that do (or are about to) get plenty of public recognition, Dan Haren doesn’t quite fit.  Quite possibly the most underrated pitcher in a decade, Haren continues to dazzle without nearly enough fanfare, and he put up yet another quietly excellent season in 2011.
  8. Felix Hernandez – 1
    At 14-14, it was the greatest follow-up season for this award’s defending champ…but, then again, he was only 13-12 last year when he won it.  However, the other numbers weren’t nearly as overwhelming this year.  That being said, it’s hard to quibble with a guy this good.

Rookie of the Year – National League

This decision won't get near the controversy and debate that it possibly deserves
  1. Craig Kimbrel – 26 (7/4)
    In the closest race of any award, the Braves closer, Craig Kimbrel takes the BSB NL Rookie of the Year award, ny the narrowest of margins over two others.  Like everyone, I did have Kimbrel on my ballot (in 4th-place, though), but I am not too keen on voting closers for any award (other the the Rolaids Relief Man Award) because the guy only pitched 77 innings.  Would you vote a guy MVP if he only logged 306 plate appearances?  Well, Kimbrel only faced 306 hitters this year.  I wish his numbers weren’t so staggering or I would have left him off completely, and the award would have went to…
  2. Vance Worley – 25 (6/2)
    Out of nowhere came a mohawked, bespectacled kid to break an all-time Phillies record when the team won 14 consecutive games started by the Vanimal (I don’t remember who held the record, but I think he just went by the moniker “Lefty”).  Worley received two first-place votes and was in the top 2 on 5 of the 7 ballots.  But, being left off of one probably cost him the award.
  3. Freddie Freeman – 25 (7/1)
    The third horse in the three-horse race was Braves firstbaseman, Freddie Freeman, who put together a really solid rookie campaign (.795 OPS over 635 PAs).  Freeman, who appeared on all 7 ballots, only received 1 first-place vote, which slips him into 3rd place on this tally, despite being a single point behind the winner.
  4. Brandon Beachy – 10 (3)
    And, the Braves make it 3 of the top 4 on this list, as starting pitcher Brandon Beachy finishes fourth.  Only appearing on 3 ballots, Beachy was bolstered by a pair of 2nd-place votes, including mine.  Just to reiterate, Beachy pitched twice as many innings as Kimbrel – so, again, who was more valuable to his team?
  5. Josh Collmenter – 7 (4)
    Quite a season for the converted reliever out in the desert.  Kirk Gibson’s got these guys playing to their full potentials, huh?  Collmenter appeared on more than half of the ballots.
  6. Cory Luebke – 5 (2)
    While possibly aided by the expansive PetCo Park, there isn’t much negative to say about the season turned in by Padres rookie starter, Cory Luebke (1.07 WHIP, 3.29 ERA over 139.2 IP).
  7. Lucas Duda – 2 (2)
    Apparently a favorite of the website, Lucas Duda received 5th-place votes from both of the BSB writers.
  8. Danny Espinosa – 1
    While struggling, at times, during his rookie season, I have to commend RyanDoc for putting Espinosa on his ballot, as the kid showed real flashes this year, and was a pretty important piece to a Nationals team that nearly finished .500.

Rookie of the Year – American League

It appears as if stud starting pitching prospects grow on trees down in Tampa
  1. Jeremy Hellickson – 28 (7/3)
    Despite receiving fewer than half of the first-place votes, this Tampa starter won this award by a considerable margin.  Appearing in the top 3 on all 7 ballots made this an easy choice.  Yet another star Tampa pitcher on the horizon – how do they do it?
  2. Eric Hosmer – 18 (4/2)
    This guy is going to be really good, and may be the cornerstone of a pretty good Royals team in the not-so-distant future.  Hosmer collected 27 doubles and 19 home runs this year, as he looked ready for The Show from day one.
  3. Ivan Nova – 16 (6)
    An impressive rookie campaign for the Yanks hurler led to his being chosen as the Bombers #2 starter in the playoffs.  While Nova was very good – that is a bad sign for a team with a $200 million payroll.  Nova appeared on all 6 ballots that submitted more than 2 names.
  4. Mark Trumbo – 15 (5/1)
    An interesting finish for the Angels slugging thirdbaseman, as he registered one 1st-, one 2nd-, one 3rd-, one 4th-, and one 5th-place vote among our voters.  And, there can be an argument made that he had a considerably better season (31 doubles, 29 HRs) than our runner-up, Eric Hosmer.
  5. Michael Pineda – 10 (3/1)
    If 13-12 can win you the Cy Young while pitching for the Mariners, why can’t 9-10 win you the Rookie of the Year in the Great Northwest?  Apparently I am the only one who believes that, as not only was I the only first-place vote Pineda received here, but he only made two other ballots.  At least J agreed with me somewhat, as he had Pineda in second-place, behind only Hellickson.
  6. Jordan Walden – 5 (2)
    Apparently Walden’s season as a closer, which admittedly wasn’t quite as impressive, did not strike people in quite the same way as Kimbrel’s did in the NL, as Walden only found himself on two ballots, despite 32 saves and a very low WHIP and ERA.
  7. Dustin Ackley – 3 (2)
    The Mariners have a good one in Ackley, who probably came up just a little too late to really make a push for this award.
  8. Desmond Jennings – 2 (1)
    Speaking of coming up too late, Jennings was even 100 PAs behind Ackley, but what he did in a little less than half a season was good enough for me to put him #4 on my list…but I was the only one.
  9. Jemile Weeks – 1
    Have I mentioned my affinity for middle-infielders?  Well, Weeks played a decent secondbase, stole 22 bags, and hit over .300.  That, to me, is good enough for a spot on my ballot.

Manager of the Year – National League

Do you think winning the NL Manager of the Year will be the greatest moment of Kirk Gibson's life?
  1. Kirk Gibson – 17 (6/5)
    In a runaway, Kirk Gibson wins this award with 5 first-place votes and appearing on 6 of the 7 ballots.  A well-deserved honor, as Gibson was terrific this year for the D’backs.
  2. Charlie Manuel – 9 (4/1)
    People never think that managers on talented teams should win this award, but that makes no sense to me.  Charlie dealt with a ton of adversity and injuries to still guide this team to the best record in baseball and in franchise history.  Give the man his due.
  3. Tony LaRussa (2/1)
    A Hall of Famer with a championship as his swan song…not bad.  But, what he may cherish the most is the first-place vote from J in the 2011 BSB awards.  I agreed with my bro, as he also made my list for leading a team that lost a Cy Young-caliber pitcher in spring training to a terrific come-from-behind playoff appearance.
  4. Clint Hurdle – 3 (2)
    At one point this season, it looked like they might rename this award after Hurdle for the job he was doing in the ‘Burgh.  But, the wheels fell off and they lost 90 games again.  That being said, it looks like he’s got the Buckos going in the right direction for the first time…in a very long time.
  5. Ron Roenicke – 2 (2)
    Roenicke led his Brewers to 96 wins and a division title.  Yes, he had a nice rotation and a duo of absolute studs in the middle of his lineup, but the team did seem a lot different this year than in th past.  BSB writer, Doogan, was one of the two that tipped his cap to the job Roenicke did this year.
  6. Freddie Gonzalez – 2 (1)
    I guess all is not lost on RyanDoc after the Braves collapse, as he recognizes Gonzalez for taking over for a legend and leading a team that is not very talented (at least offensively) to the brink of the playoffs.
  7. Don Mattingly – 1
    I can only guess that T-Bone put Mattingly because of the commitment to the team he showed in the face of an unearthly number of distractions all year in LA.  I have to say, I don’t fully disagree.  Donny Baseball – in his first year as a ML manager – dealt with more “crap” than anyone else in the game.

Manager of the Year – American League

Well, I'll tell you one person who definitely agrees with Joe Maddon being named Manager of the Year - Joe Maddon
  1. Joe Maddon – 13 (5/4)
    I will save my opinion of Joe Maddon (mostly because he gives enough opinion of himself for the both of us…want to know how smart he is?  Just ask him, he’ll be sure to tell you…).  I will say, however, that he probably wouldn’t be the first choice of manager is BSB had a baseball team, as the only two voters to leave him off the ballot were Doogan and me.
  2. Jim Leyland – 9 (4/1)
    Leyland, Doogan’s pick for Manager of the Year, did another terrific job in MoTown, leading the Tigers to an AL Central title, despite a top-heavy roster.
  3. Joe Girardi – 5 (2/1)
    See my comments above about Charlie Manuel.  While I don’t like him much at all (pretty much for the exact same reasons I don’t like Maddon), I think he deals with more pressure, more scrutiny, and more prima donnas than anyone else except maybe Boston.  And, he just keeps on winning.  I know, I know, everyone will cite the ridiculous payroll he’s got, but the guy did win 97 games with a rotation of Sabathia, an old washed-up guy, another old washed-up guy, an unheralded rookie, and a $20 million guy with an ERA hovering around 6.00.
  4. Manny Acta – 4 (2/1)
    Great to see a good guy like Acta bring some promise to a good sports town like Cleveland.  Acta even got a first-place vote for his efforts this season.
  5. Ron Washington – 3 (2)
    A surprisingly low finish for a guy who, I would say, had quite the successful season.
  6. Ned Yost – 1
    I guess when the Royals don’t finish in last place, someone has to take the credit, right?  Yost may have proven enough to still be around when this team gets good.

Pleasant Surprise – National League

Because there was no award for Best Physical Stature, Michael Morse will have to settle for Biggest Surprise
  1. Michael Morse – 10 (4)
    Despite not receiving a single first-place vote, Morse is the only one to appear on more than two ballots, and he was on all four that submitted players (some went outside the box on this one).
  2. Lance Berkman – 9 (2/1)
  3. Justin Vogelsong – 7 (2/1)
  4. Jeff Karstens – 6 (2/1)
  5. Matt Kemp – 5 (1/1)
  6. R.A. Dickey – 4 (2)
  7. Javier Vazquez – 4 (1)
  8. Miguel Montero – 3 (2)
  9. Emilio Bonifacio – 1
  10. Johnny Cueto – 1
  11. Pedro Sandoval – 1
  12. Mike Stanton – 1
  13. Shane Victorino – 1

Further, as several people thought outside the box (which we love), I have to mention that the Arizona Diamondbacks received two 1st-place votes and the Pittsburgh Pirates picked up a 2nd-place vote.

Pleasant Surprise – American League

The future of the Royals is so bright that they might actually hit 75 wins in the next couple of seasons
  1. Alex Gordon – 13 (4/1)
    An absolutely huge year for the future star of the Royals, Gordon pretty much ran away with this award.
  2. J.J. Hardy – 10 (3/1)
  3. Doug Fister – 9 (2/1)
  4. Bruce Chen – 5 (1/1)
  5. Miguel Cabrera – 5 (2)
  6. Bartolo Colon – 5 (2)
  7. Curtis Granderson – 5 (2)
  8. Alex Avila – 3 (2)
  9. Brandon McCarthy – 3 (1)
  10. James Shields – 3 (1)
  11. Jacoby Ellsbury – 2 (1)
  12. Elvis Andrus – 1
  13. Kyle Farnsworth – 1
  14. Jeff Francoeur – 1
  15. Freddy Garcia – 1
  16. Ian Kinsler – 1
  17. Justin Masterson – 1

And, from our out-of-the-boxers, we have a 1st-place vote for the Tampa Bay Rays and a 2nd-place vote for the Cleveland Indians.  And, my personal favorite is a first-place vote for most pleasant surprise for the collapse of the Boston Red Sox.

Biggest Disappoinment – National League

I hope the money is greener on the other side because the grass sure ain't...
  1. Jayson Werth – 14 (4/1)
    On every list that submitted players for this category, the big free agent signing wasn’t exactly worth the money.
  2. Hanley Ramirez – 10 (2/2)
    The only guy that got multiple first-place votes for this category was the enigmatic (aka…lazy) Marlins shortstop was really bad this year.
  3. Jason Heyward – 4 (2)
  4. David Wright – 4 (1)
  5. Carlos Zambrano – 4 (1)
  6. Ubaldo Jimenez – 3 (2)
  7. Derek Lowe – 3 (2)
  8. Miguel Tejada – 3 (1)
  9. Pedro Alvarez – 1
  10. Jason Bay – 1
  11. Ian Desmond – 1
  12. JA Happ – 1
  13. Casey McGehee – 1
  14. Brett Myers – 1
  15. Ricky Nolasco – 1
  16. Mike Pelfrey – 1
  17. Scott Rolen – 1
  18. Ian Stewart – 1
  19. Drew Stubbs – 1
  20. Edinson Volquez – 1

The collapse of the Atlanta Braves received a first-place vote, while the Diamondbacks bullpen took a second-place vote.  And, again, Boot comes in with my favorite disappointment by pegging the Dodger fans as the National League’s biggest disappointment.  And, he makes an eloquent explanation why:

“No, I’m not opposed to them bailing on their sorry excuse for a franchise.  And I’m not even talking about the shameful opening day violence of a few idiots (just imagine what they’d say if that happened in oh, say, Philadelphia?).  No, I’m talking about them booing Kirk Gibson.  Dodger “fans” booed Kirk Gibson!  How quickly they forget!  In contrast, Diamondbacks fans cheered Craig Counsell in the playoffs!  This isn’t to overly praise the Diamondback fans – they did the right thing.  But if Diamondback fans know the right way to appreciate Craig Counsell, surely those in LA should know how to treat Gibson.”
 

Biggest Disappointment – American League

A funny thing happened on the way to the Hall of Fame...
  1. Carl Crawford – 16 (4)
    Despite not getting a single first-place vote, the Red Sox high-priced leftfielder was pretty terrible all season.
  2. Adam Dunn – 12 (3/2)
    There are really only two numbers that should explain the season that Adam Dunn just submitted to the record books:  .074 (his slugging percentage against left-handed pitching in 2011) and 15,000,000 (the size of his contract).
  3. Alex Rodriguez – 6 (2/1)
  4. Joe Mauer – 5 (1/1)
  5. Chone Figgins – 4 (3)
  6. J.D. Drew – 4 (2)
  7. John Lackey – 4 (2)
  8. Justin Morneau – 4 (2)
  9. Francisco Liriano – 3 (1)
  10. Magglio Ordonez – 2 (1)
  11. A.J. Burnett – 1
  12. Shin-Soo Choo – 1
  13. Kyle Drabek – 1
  14. Jorge Posada – 1
  15. Grady Sizemore – 1
  16. Ichiro Suzuki – 1
  17. Vernon Wells – 1

The Boston Red Sox did receive a first-place vote in this category, as did the prosecutors in the Roger Clemens trial, which is a fantastic call.

So, that’s that.  Thank you to the seven amazing submissions.  Hopefully, this post can take a little bit of your mind off the misery that is Philadelphia sports right now.  Then again…who needs football when we’ve got TWENTY-FOUR HOURS OF COLLEGE HOOPS TODAY!  Expect some serious college hoops coverage coming up on the blog over the next couple of months, starting this week, when I am going to try and get out some conference previews.