Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The All Decade X-Men

As 2010 approaches and every single aspect of life is getting together an all-decade list, I figure there's no reason Xavier should fall to the wayside. Here is the all-decade team for Xavier, one of the top college basketball programs of the past 10 years with two Elite 8 appearances and making it to at least the second round six times (that's right).


Center: David West (2000-03)

He's the no-brainer. In fact, he was named to the college basketball All-Decade team by Sports Illustrated. He's the school's second all-time leading scorer with 2,132 points and third all-time leading rebounder with 1,308 boards. He was the Associated Press National Player of the Year in 2003. Not much else left to say after that.

Forward: Josh Duncan (2005-08)

Duncan was in a race for the last spot on this squad. The reason I placed him here instead of BJ Raymond or Brian Thornton was because of the intangibles. Duncan was a primary piece of the puzzle each of his four years at XU (averaging at least nine points each season) and in his senior season was the leading scorer and heart of the team that advanced to the Elite 8. He averaged 12.4 points and 4.3 rebounds his final year. He averaged 18.3 points a game in the NCAA Tournament that year, a stat that shows he was a leader in key situations and why he was always a winner at X.

Forward: Justin Cage (2003-2007)

Mr. Consistency for the Musketeers, the 6-6, 225-pound forward averaged in the vicinity of 10.5 points and 5.5 rebounds for the final three seasons of his Xavier career. Cage consistently played inside and out, taking on any challenge that was laid out in front of him, playing over 30 minutes each of his final three seasons. He also had 25 points in a losing effort against Ohio State in his final game, nearly beating them by himself until the refs decided otherwise (a big screw you to Greg Oden and Ron Lewis also).

Guard: Lionel Chalmers (1999-2004)

As one of the three major players in the 2004 season, he assumed much of the scoring responsibility left behind when West bolted for the NBA. Chalmers caught absolute fire in the final 15 games of his senior season, torching No. 1 St. Joseph's in the Atlantic 10 tournament and leading Xavier on a run that would end in the school's first Elite 8 appearance. He led the Muskies in scoring with 16.6 points a game that season and earned himself a spot on the LA Clippers because of his senior heroics. Lionel finished with 1,397 points in three seasons as a Musketeer and will certainly go down as one of the best to ever play PG at X.

Guard: Romain Sato (2000-04)

X became known as "Forward University" over time thanks to the success of Tyrone Hill, Brian Grant, Aaron Williams, James Posey and David West. Guards like Sato and Chalmers sort of changed Xavier into "Guard U" over the course of this decade with their dominant performances and leadership. That's why Sato will take a third guard spot on this squad, he's pretty much a no-brainer as well if the team is going to have 3 guards. With his 16 points and 8 rebounds a game his senior year, while also making it to the Elite 8, Sato was a true force for the Muskies and demanded serious defensive attention every time he was in. He ended up averaging at least 16 points all three seasons he played at X, solidifying him in this spot.


Sixth man: B.J. Raymond (2005-08)

The man who hit one of the biggest shots in XU history in the 2008 Sweet Sixteen victory against West Virginia just misses out on the all-decade starting 5. Raymond was a perfect sixth man for most of his career at Xavier, hitting meaningful 3's in a good amount of games and playing lock-down defense every second he was in. Raymond has to be a part of this team as his heart and senior leadership in his final season propelled Xavier to their second Elite 8 of the decade. More than the tournament that season, he averaged 14 points and 4 rebounds as a senior.

Brian Thornton (2004-06)

The current XU Director of Basketball Operations is the "what could have been" player of the decade for the Muskies. He transferred from Vanderbilt and gained a lot of hype when he chose X, but only had two years of eligibility when he came in. On top of that, he went down with an injury 21 games into his senior season, really ruining his shot at making a deep tourney run (a shame because he definitely could have made one). When he was in a Xavier uniform, however, he was phenomenal at almost every moment. He averaged 15.3 points and 6.8 boards a game during his senior season and had 10.7 and 5.8 as a junior.

Justin Doellman (2003-07)

Doellman did a little bit of everything for X, playing a sort of guard-forward hybrid role because of his excellent 3 point shooting ability. By his senior season in 2007, Doellman led the team in scoring with 13.7 points a game. For his final three years with the Musketeers he averaged double figures and was a contributor to the 2004 Elite 8 team as a freshman. He almost single-handedly carried them to a 79-77 first-round win agaisnt BYU in '07 at Rupp Arena (glad I was there to see it).

Stanley Burrell (2004-08)

Burrell was the picture of consistency at Xavier, though some would argue his performance as a senior was disappointing. Still, he averaged more than 30 minutes a game for four seasons with the Muskies and averaged 12.7, 14.4 and 12.4 points a game his first three years before dropping to 9.7 his senior year. Burrell's dropping PPG came with an increased emphasis on his defense, however, and he consistently shut down the opposition's best guard. I'll never forget his game-winner against George Washington at the buzzer as a freshman (that one's for you Matty).

Drew Lavender (2006-08)

Had he spent all four years at Xavier, he would have been a candidate to start on the team, but instead he transferred from Oklahoma after his sophomore season and immediately made a splash with the Muskies. The little 5-foot-7 point guard dished out at an average of 4.6 assists a game his junior and senior year and hit over 40-percent from 3-point range. X won a lot of big games with Lavender at the point, and personally I never felt more secure at the PG position than when he was handling the ball.

Honorable Mention: Derrick Brown and Jason Love.

Monday, December 21, 2009

All-Decade Series Part III: QB of the Decade

Now that we’ve covered the defensive side of the ball it’s time to shift focus to the offense. The biggest debate on this entire team—offense and defense—comes at the quarterback position. Frankly, it’s a tough enough decision that I’ve decided to devote an entire entry to it.

QB: #10 Brady Quinn (’03-’06) vs #7 Jimmy Clausen (’07-’09)

The case for Brady: He was a phenomenal leader who captained the two best seasons of the decade. Under Charlie Weis’ tutelage in 2005 he took the leap from mediocre quarterback to bonafide superstar. He had a penchant for coming up big in the clutch, engineering dramatic comebacks against Michigan State and UCLA in ’06 and finishing off the go ahead touchdown in the epic ’05 clash with Southern Cal with just two minutes left in the contest. He never missed a game as a four year starter—in spite of getting tossed around like a ragdoll in ’03…go look at his first start against Purdue—and ended his career as one of the most beloved players in school history.

Brady's Best Season – 2005: 158.40 PR, 3919 yds, 64.9% comp, 32 TD, 7 INT

The case for Jimmy: This past season he pieced together arguably the greatest season for a quarterback in Notre Dame history. He led fourth quarter comeback victories against Michigan State, Purdue, Washington, and Boston College. His gutsy performances while battling an injury against Michigan State and Purdue were ones worthy of their own chapter in Irish lore. He threw only four interceptions all season and it can be argued that only one of them (the bad pass deep over the middle to Floyd against Pitt) was really his fault. He was a deadly accurate passer, as clutch a performer in crunch time as Joe Montana, and a gritty competitor who answered the bell even when he was banged up.

Jimmy’s Best Season – 2009: 161.43 PR, 3722 yds, 68.0% comp, 28 TD, 4 INT

The Debate

Frankly I believe Jimmy Clausen was a better quarterback than Brady Quinn. In fact, I think Jimmy Clausen was the best quarterback in school history this past season. But Brady was a natural leader that people gravitated toward while you always got the impression that Jimmy’s act was at least a little contrived.

Dan Marino may have been a better quarterback than Joe Montana and posted video game level statistics over the course of the 1980’s, but the quarterback of the decade was Joe Cool. Why? Because of the success he led his team to on the field. The fact of the matter is Jimmy’s best season at the helm was a 7-6 campaign while Brady led the team to a pair of BCS bowls.

The main thing that tipped the scales though was their attitudes toward the school itself. From day one Jimmy made it clear he was at Notre Dame to learn under Charlie Weis and use Notre Dame as a stepping stone to the NFL. He never gave off the impression that he cared an iota about the school—he was out for Jimmy and only Jimmy. With Brady it was very apparent how much he loved and appreciate the school, loved the program, the traditions, and the fanfare. He embraced the spotlight that came with being the most recognizable face in college football and took on that responsibility with great pride and poise. Brady stayed around for four years—even though he was a sure-fire top pick had he left after his junior season. Jimmy chose to turn pro after his junior season, leaving behind an opportunity to cement his place as the greatest quarterback in the illustrious history of Notre Dame football for the chance to chase dollar bills.

Jimmy will be remembered as a great quarterback that could not deliver on the bold statements he made when he controversially cast a 100,000 watt spotlight on himself at his commitment ceremony at (of all places) the College Football Hall of Fame. Thirty years from now Brady will forever be remembered as a winner. That’s why he’s the quarterback of the decade.


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Dear Diary...Notre Dame-UCLA

Ladies and Gents, it’s time for the first basketball running diary of the year! Today the Fighting Irish take on the UCLA Bruins. This diary comes to you live from McLean, VA where we are totally snowed in by about 17 inches of snow.

This will be my first time seeing the Irish this year so I’ll be curious as to how they look. The Bruins limp in at 2-6 with some pretty brutal losses—including a 74-47 beatdown at the hands of…Portland?!?—so I’m hoping our boys can jump on them early and cruise.

Let’s fire it up!

2:04 Purcell Pavilion looks great. I’m totally thrown off now that the students are apparently on the other end of the court and the benches have been switched (ND on the left, visitors on the right). Also, when and why did Tory decide to switch numbers?

2:06 Good bucket on a drive by Hansbrough. The scouting report on him is that he’s a slasher who is capable of getting to the hoop and finishing. Good to see it right away.

2:08 Hansbrough hits a three after a great hustle play by Abromaitis. I have a feeling I’m going to really like Abromaitis.

2:08 Harangody has already missed a three and another deep two while giving up two buckets inside on defense. I’m terrified of him falling in love with the three; we need him to be pounding it inside. It’s 9-5 UCLA three minutes in, not the ideal start.

2:11 Ben Hansbrough with the three AND HE’S FOULED. Well, somebody came to play today. We head into the first TV timeout at the 15:26 mark with the Irish down 11-8 and Ben heading to the line with a chance to complete a four point play. My initial impression is it’s the same ol’ same ol’ for the Irish. Defensively we look borderline indifferent. On the plus side, you have to be impressed with Hansbrough’s effort and production.

2:17 Harangody clangs another three. He’s currently taken zero shots inside of 15 feet. Jiminy Flipping Christmas Luke, GET IN THE POST AND DO SOME WORK.

2:20 We head into the second TV timeout down by five. UCLA is shooting over 60% from the field, due mostly to wide open or relatively uncontested looks at the basket. This year’s Irish outfit does not have the firepower to get into shootouts and hope to outscore people even against sub-par teams (see: Loyola Marymount), there needs to be SOME sort of emphasis on defense and getting stops. I know Brey’s philosophy is sacrifice defense for offense but that’s just not going to work this year, he needs to find a way to adjust or it’s going to be a long, long conference season.

2:25 Jonathan Peoples with a pair of buckets coming off the bench, both inside the paint! After UCLA scores he gets down the floor and gets fouled. After making both it’s six straight points for #20—People’s Court is clearly in session.

2:28 We’re at the 8 minute TV timeout mark and there’s not much good news to report. Abromaitis has gotten to the hoop a couple times but hasn’t converted, Jackson has taken his guy off the dribble a couple times but has come up empty-handed as well. We’ve yet to get Harangody one look inside, which is absolutely inexcusable. We should be doing that every single possession.

2:32 Harangody scores a bucket off a great inbound play drawn up by Brey. I’ve never seen us run that one before, or if we have it’s certainly never worked that well. Irish cut it to four.

2:34 Tory snipes a long three to put the Irish out in front 27-26 and Ben Howland needs a timeout. ND is on a 7-0 run spurred by what? DEFENSE! First, Nash drew a charge then we came up with a strip that led to a fast break and Tory’s eventual three. Turn up the pressure and we blow UCLA out of the building boys.

2:36 Harangody scores back-to-back buckets in the paint. He’s 3 for 4 inside 10 feet, 0 for 5 outside…this trend should be noted Luke.

2:38 We’re under the four minute mark. Harangody is beginning to exert his will inside which isn’t surprising. I know he wants to improve his outside shot in preparation for going pro, but when he jacks up six or seven deep shots a game it doesn’t help this team especially when he can clearly do whatever he wants in the paint.

2:42 PARTY PEOPLESSSSSS FOR THREE FROM THE CORNER! He’s well on his way to his best game ever.

2:48 The Irish close the half out up four, 40-36. UCLA is shooting the ball well while the Irish are controlling the boards (9-1 on the offensive side of the ball).

3:06 Second half starts with me being bitter that they didn’t show what Brian Kelly had to say to the crowd at halftime.

3:07 BEN HANSBROUGH FROM KYLE MCALARNEY LAND FOR THREE. The Irish kick off the second half on a 8-3 run in the first two minutes spurred by some great shooting on open looks. Then again, I don’t think there was a person in the building who expected Hansbrough to unload from 30 feet away. He was actually standing on the mid-court shamrock. Come on, let’s BURY these guys.

3:08 Sidenote: do you think K-Mac would’ve made a point of knocking down a shot from each part of the huge clover over the course of the season had he been on the team this year? My guess is yes.

3:10 They showed a snippet of what Brian Kelly had to say to the crowd at halftime. I’m fist-pumping in my living room.

3:15 We’re at the first TV timeout and the Irish have a nine point advantage. Good start in extending the lead; it’s time to step on the gas.

3:21 Starting to blow the game open now. We’re up 11 with 13 minutes left. UCLA has knocked down a couple threes to keep it reasonable but we’re really starting to dominate inside. That’s going to start opening up looks for our shooters. As a side note, I’m really impressed with Hansbrough’s passing. He’s got surprisingly fantastic vision. Now let’s see if the Irish can step on their throat and put it away early.

3:28 Annnnnd here come the Bruins. UCLA’s three point barrage cuts it down to a six point Irish lead. This isn’t something that’s unique to this year’s squad—in the past when we’ve gotten a big lead it’s almost like we forget to lock down on defense and the opponent gradually crawls back in to the game.

3:30 Abromaitis with a nice little three point play to push the lead back up to nine. If this is the first time fans are seeing Abromaitis they have to be pleased with his game. He’s got an incredibly calm demeanor. As I type that he snipes another three. He’s got 13 points this half (15 overall) and is 3 of 4 from behind the arc.

3:37 Alright, we’ve got a ten point lead with 7:41 left in the game. UCLA is 4 of 6 from three point range this half and that’s the only way they’re even within shouting distance. We have to put the clamps down on defense and this game is over (this is a constant theme in case you haven’t figured this out by now).

3:40 Tory knocks down a deep three as the shot clock is winding down to put the Irish up by 13 with under five minutes to play. That could be a back-breaker right there. That was a very methodical possession for the Irish, just squeezing the life out of the Bruins.

3:48 PHENOMENAL defensive play by Hansbrough on a UCLA fast break starts it the other way where Harangody finishes. Great hands there by the Hanbrough that doesn’t look like a muppet.

3:49 Nash misses a shot in the lane but gets his own rebound, kicks it out, and the offense resets. That’s just so deflating for a team to defend well as the shot clock winds down, force a bad shot, and then watch the opponent snatch an offensive rebound to start the process all over again.

3:51 UCLA gets a couple quick baskets to cut it all the way down to 6 but a quick fast break started by Nash gets Harangody a wide open dunk. That was a very heady play to be looking up as opposed to just getting it back to a guard. Nice job cherry-picking there by Luke. Was that a back-handed compliment? Maybe.

3:57 Down the stretch the Irish have been great knocking down their free throws as UCLA begins to foul—specifically Harangody has been on the money. It’s so nice to have a big man who is usually automatic from the stripe.

4:00 Game over. The Irish prevail 84-73.

Some quick hits on the game:
1. Coach Brey needs to remind Harangody why he’s a preseason All-American. It’s not because of his three-point shooting, it’s because he can dominate games inside on the offense end.

2. Tim Abromaitis was the most pleasant surprise through the first month of the season and now seeing him in person you can understand why. He’s a great threat from outside, he can mix it up inside, and he has the perfect demeanor for the big time college basketball. He just comes across as an incredibly calm and confident guy. I can see him knocking down shots late in the game without batting an eye.

3. I really like Ben Hansbrough’s game. He’s not a superstar and I don’t think he has the ability to somehow morph into one, but he’s a very smart, scrappy player who can make a significant contribution over the next two years. He’s a streaky shooter who can knock down the open three and I was very surprised about how good a passer he is. He’s a bit like Colin Falls was except more athletic and not as good a shooter.

4. Defense, Defense, Defense. We will be eaten alive by the upper level teams in the Big East if we don’t find a way to improve our defense. There were times today where we really buckled down but there are far too many lapses for three and four possession stretches. This was not a good UCLA team and they managed to shoot 49% from the floor and 50% behind the arc. It wasn’t like they were knocking down circus shots either, most of the time they got open looks. I don’t know if it’s realistic to think the team can suddenly become a consistent defensive team, but some sort of adjustment needs to be made.

5. I have such high hopes for Carleton Scott, but he didn’t have much of an opportunity to do anything today. I really hope Brey doesn’t bury him on the bench during Big East play. With how thin we are I don’t think Coach will have a choice, but it still bares mentioning.

Overall, a good win for the Irish today. It wasn’t a dominating performance by any stretch and I was probably hyper-critical just because it was my first time seeing them this year, but we had great balance on the scoresheet (all five starters were in double figures) and cleaned up on the boards (35-24 overall and 12-7 on offensive rebounds). It’s definitely a performance the team can build on.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The All-Decade Team: The Best College Basketball Players of the 2000's

Now that I’m home for break, I’ve had plenty of time to dissect the best and brightest of the past decade. You’ve seen my assessment of the top 10 college basketball games of the 2000s, and now I’m going to get a little more particular with the 10 best players of the decade. This list was considerably harder to compile; players, while easier to remember than individual games, are also much more difficult to grade.

With the advent of the mandatory one year of play rule in college basketball, there have been several once-in-a-generation talents to come through the hardwoods of America in recent years. Some, like Carmelo Anthony, led their teams to national titles, while others, like T.J. Ford, Kevin Durant, and Michael Beasely (among others), changed the face of the game and compiled some extensive national hardware in the process. Evaluating the impact of one-and-done players was an especially difficult aspect of this process, but in coming up with this list I took a few key factors into account: individual success (measured by scoring averages, etc.), team success, and overall impact on the game during their time in college.

There’s sure to be a lot of debate about this one, but here goes my list of the 10 best college basketball players of the 2000s. Like my last top 10 list, there are a couple of ties, as some players were nearly impossible to separate, and indeed were almost never mentioned apart from each other during their time in college, while others were simply too good to leave out, and I had to find some way to include them.

10. Stephen Curry, Davidson

-Curry announced his arrival to the college basketball scene in a big way, scoring 32 points in his second career game against Michigan in 2005. He averaged 21.5 points per game as a freshman, setting the NCAA freshman record for 3 pointers in a season, and was selected to represent the U.S. in the FIBA U19 World Championships. In his sophomore campaign, he led Davidson to the Elite 8, scoring 40, 30, and 33 in upsets of Gonzaga, Georgetown, and Wisconsin before coming within a missed 3 of the Final Four. He averaged just shy of 29 points per game during his junior season, although the Wildcats just missed out on the tournament. Curry changed the face of mid-major basketball forever, and improved vastly during his 3 years in the college game. He never shied away from the spotlight, playing up to the stellar competition of March Madness. He had a great handle, elite basketball intelligence, and had one of the quickest releases I have ever seen in a shooter. The kid could get a shot off from anywhere, at any time. In the 2009 NBA Draft, Golden State selected Curry with the 7th overall pick.

9. Emeka Okafor, Connecticut

-The man originally named Chukwuemeka Ndubuisi Okafor was the best defensive player this decade has ever seen. Although hindered by injuries for much of the 2003-04 season, Okafor played a huge role in leading the Huskies to their second national title in 6 seasons, during which he was named the NCAA Tourney’s Most Outstanding Player. During that season he was named Defensive Player of the Year, leading the nation in blocks and setting the stage for UConn to do the same for the next five years.

8. (tie) Adam Morrison, Gonzaga; J.J.Redick, Duke

-During the 2005-06 season you could hardly turn on the T.V. without hearing these two superstars mentioned in the same breath. They ended up being co-National Players of the Year and were the face of college basketball for this star-studded season. Redick finished his career as the NCAA record holder for career 3 pointers, but developed a formidable slashing and driving game as he matured under the guidance of Coach K. Morrison became one of the more surprising NBA busts, selected 3rd overall by the Charlotte Bobcats. In college, however, his all-court game was spectacular, with a mid-range game that drew many comparisons to Larry Bird.

7. (tie) Carmelo Anthony, Syracuse; Joakim Noah, Florida

-Although he didn’t have the numbers of Beasley or Durant, Anthony certainly dominated the college game during his brief stay at Syracuse. What’s more, he led the Orange to their first and only national title in 2003, over Kansas. Anthony was named a Second Team All-American, and was the best player in a tournament that included Dwyane Wade, Kirk Hinrich, Nick Collison, and T.J. Ford. He would go on to become a star in the NBA. Had he not won an NCAA championship, Anthony may not have made the list, but how many freshman have we seen put their team on their back and take them to a title? I may get some disagreement from my choice of Noah. Noah played a stellar three seasons in Gainesville, and was the best and most highly regarded player on Florida’s repeat national championship teams. Had he declared for the draft after the Gators’ first championship run, he may have been taken first or second overall. That’s all speculation, but what isn’t is that he was the leader of a team that accomplished one of the most difficult feats in sports: winning back-to-back titles.

6. (tie) Jameer Nelson, St. Joseph's; Juan Dixon, Maryland

-Nelson stayed all four years in Philly, leading the Hawks to a 30-1 regular season and within a shot of the Final Four during his senior season, which culminated with winning the Wooden and Naismith Awards. One of the great four year college players of the decade, Nelson has gone on to become one of the better point guards in the NBA, and his role as the head of St. Joseph’s remarkable 2004 run won’t soon be forgotten. Dixon was not going to be denied a title the 2002 NCAA Tournament, which culminated in a championship victory over Jared Jeffries and the Indiana Hoosiers. Dixon is the only player in NCAA history to record 2,000 points, 300 steals, and 200 3 pointers. He was the undisputed leader of an NCAA Champion, and any time you’re the only man in college basketball history to do anything, you’re something special.

5. (tie) Kevin Durant and Michael Beasley, Kansas State

-Hard to think of these two separately. Although they played in different seasons, no two players dominated college basketball as freshman like Durant and Beasley. Both won Big 12 Player of the Year and National Freshman of the Year honors during their singular campaigns, with Durant also winning National Player of the Year honors, an unprecedented accomplishment for a freshman. Both of these players were clearly NBA-ready, and it showed, giving college basketball fans the world over a brief glimpse of unparalleled greatness.

4. Blake Griffin, Oklahoma

-Griffin was a freak of nature during his 2 stellar seasons in Norman. No one was more dominant, more feared, or more successful than Griffin during his sophomore season, during which he had about as good a season as a player can have. He had 30 double-doubles, and won a few awards during his remarkable campaign: Wooden Award, Naismith Award, Unanimous First Team All-American, SI Player of the Year, Sporting News Player of the Year, Oscar Robertson Award, and Adolph Rupp Award. Anybody who watched him play knows what a dominant force he was, and I don’t think we’ll see another forward like him for a long, long time.

3. Jason “Jay” Williams, Duke

-One of the sadder stories in basketball of the decade was nevertheless a shining star during his three years at Duke. Williams was involved in a serious motorcycle accident that ended his promising NBA career far too soon, but anyone who watched him play in college knows what an impact he had on the game. He led Duke to a national title in 2001, won the Naismith and Wooden Awards in 2002, and finished his three year career in Durham with over 2,000 points and a retired jersey at Cameron Indoor Stadium. His career blossomed early, as he secured National Freshman of the Year honors during his first season at Duke.

2. Shane Battier, Duke

-One of the greatest college basketball players of all time, Battier stayed all four years under Coach K. He led the Dukies to 2 national championship games and a title in 2001. He was as much a defensive star as he was an offensive force, taking home National Defensive Player of the Year honors 3 teams. He remains a defensive juggernaut in the NBA, and although his offense has declined considerably with his national recognition, this was certainly not true of his brilliant college career.

1. Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina

-As much as many of you, including me, may have hated Psycho T during his career at North Carolina, there isn’t a person in the world who wouldn’t have killed to have him on their team, and I don’t think there will be much disagreement over his merits as the top player of the decade. He averaged 20 points and 8 boards over his four years, and swept all of college basketball’s individual honors after his senior season, which culminated in a dominant run as national champions, the final piece missing from his spectacular career. He wasn’t the smoothest or the most athletic player, but his tenacity and will to win was unmatched in the college game. His individual accolades are too extensive to list here, but he is the ACC’s all-time leading scorer and my choice for the top college basketball player of the 2000s.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

All-Decade Series Part II: The Greatest Plays

Let’s take a look at the greatest plays of the past decade, starting with #5. Plays were chosen not only for how great the individual play was, but also for the impact it had at the time on the overall game.

#5 – SHARK ATTACK (Purdue 2005)

Purdue was Notre Dame’s last hurdle before the showdown with Southern Cal in Charlie Weis’ first year at the helm. A lot of people forget but the Irish were actually underdogs that game, a night contest on ESPN at Ross-Ade Stadium. There were a lot of questions as to Notre Dame was the real deal that year and quickly those questions were answered.

When Brady let go of this ball I initially had thought it was a duck because he kind of got hit as he let it go. I was wrong…

#4 – “HOLY RUDY!” (Michigan St 2002)

This was right about the time where I began to think Ty Willingham could walk on water during his first season. Charles Rogers had just made the most amazing touchdown catch I’ve ever seen not made by someone named Tyrone Prothro and Irish backup quarterback Pat Dillingham trotted out on to the field since starter Carlyle Holiday was knocked out of the game.

What happened next was a tiny bit of payback for the Herb Haygood incident from 2000 and an opportunity for Brent Musberger to whip out one of the corniest calls ever…

#3 – “HE MAY GO!” (Nebraska 2000)

Nebraska fans embarrassed the Notre Dame faithful by totally invading Notre Dame Stadium, making it seem more like a neutral site game than a home game for the Irish. When Nebraska scored to take the lead 21-7 in the third quarter it seemed like the #1 ranked Cornhuskers were on their way to a convincing victory.

Julius Jones responded with a 100-yard return on the ensuing kickoff to cut the deficit to a touchdown. Then after Notre Dame forced a three and out 5'7" sparkplug Joey Getherall went back to field a punt…


Things were all knotted up in the second quarter when the Irish forced a punt. As Tom Zbikowski trotted back to field the kick my buddy Jon Don turned and said knowingly to us that “Zibby is a tough runner but he’s just not a threat to take it to the house, he’s just not fast enough.” Jon Don confirms to this day that crow never tasted so good…

#1 – “HE’S GOING IN!” (UCLA 2006)

This was the biggest rage I ever experienced in the student section. I had gotten to the game right at kickoff (thanks to some flight delays from fall break) and sat with my buddy Gabe in the senior section. When Samardzija crossed the goal line literally people just turned and tackled the person next to them. It was just a huge dogpile on the benches, absolute carnage.

I think the reason it was so wild (you know, other than the fact that we’d saved our season and come back against all odds to win with under 30 seconds left) was because the students had an entire game’s worth of emotion pent up. Prior to that play it was an incredibly boring, bland, uneventful game. Sitting through 59:30 of crappy football is worth it when in an instant all is saved…


* Nick Setta’s game-winning field goal against Purdue as time expired in 2000
* Julius Jones’ ridiculous touchdown run to take the lead against Washington State in 2003
* Brady Quinn stretches over the goal line to take the lead against Southern Cal in 2005
* Lambert takes the lead against Michigan State in 2006
* Golden Tate’s entire career
* Robert Hughes’ pile-pushing 2-pt conversion against Washington this year

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The All-Decade Series: The Best College Basketball Games of the 2000's

Like Mattare, I too am a sucker for all-time teams and things of that nature. As the decade winds to a close and the college basketball season is in full swing, what better way to look back on the best of college hoops from the 2000's than with my list of the 10 best games of the decade. And, yes, there's a tie for 6, so I guess there's really 11 on the list. Call it a cop-out, I call it a little extra. The Big Ten has 11 teams, right?

10. Oklahoma State 105, Texas 103 (3OT: 1/16/07): Clutch shots, future NBAers, unbelievable momentum swings, and Sean Sutton almost fainting on the sidelines: What more could one want from a game? Mario Boggan matched Kevin Durant with 37 points and the game winning three pointer in triple overtime, just seconds after KD's 3-point play put the Horns up 1 with 10.5 seconds left. 15 ties, 16 lead changes, and a bevy of unreal shots highlighted this one. The most memorable may have come in the first half, before any hint of the bedlam to follow: Terrel Harris threw one in a fadeaway half-courter after chasing down a bad pass, nearly crashing into the stands in the process.

9. Connecticut 79, Duke 78 (Final Four, 2004 NCAA Tourney): Duke led by 8 with under 3 minutes to go, but UConn rattled off 12 straight points over the game's final minutes. Emeka Okafor picked up a couple of quick fouls in the first half and played just 4 minutes in the game's opening salvo. He came off the bench to score all 18 of his points in the 2nd half, lifting the Huskies to the win and a spot in the national championship game, where they would go on to defeat Georgia Tech.

8. Louisville 93, West Virginia 85 (Elite 8, 2005 NCAA Tourney): Maybe it's my emotional investment in this one that has it ranked a little higher than some might have it. Call me crazy, but this was one of the best games I've ever seen, and a game after which I joined half the city of Louisville in a massive downtown celebration. The Cards trailed by as many as 20 in the first half, but survived one of the most remarkable 3 point barrages the tourney had ever seen. WVU made 18 of their 27 attempts from behind the arc, and some were way behind it. The coach's son knocked one down while falling into the Cards' bench and another from about 30 feet away, and Kevin Pittsnogle, one of the greatest white trash players in college basketball history, simply could not miss. With future first-rounder Francisco Garcia saddled with foul trouble, hometown hero Larry O'Bannon poured in 24 despite crippling cramps, and Taquan Dean, the pride of Neptune, NJ, added 7 threes of his own. A furious second half rally and a few overdue misses from the Mountaineers later, Rick Pitino had taken his third team to the Final Four.

7. Gonzaga 109, Michigan State 106 (3OT, 2005 Maui Invitational): The game was played in front of just 2,400 fans, but boy were they treated to a show. Adam Morrison poured in 43 points and 4 lead changes highlighted the last 1:14 of regulation. Maurice Ager scored a career high 36 points, including the game-tying shot at the end of regulation. If this one had been played in March, it would be several spots higher, and maybe it still should.

6 (Tie): UCLA 73, Gonzaga 71 (Elite 8, 2006 NCAA Tourney): Some of Gus Johnson's finest commentary ever, as Jordan Farmar stole it from J.P Batista and fed it to a wide open Luc Mbah a Moute under the basket for the lead. After another steal, Aaron Afflalo made one of two free throws. The Zag's inbounds found an open Batista, who turned and nearly nailed a Laettner to force OT. Instead, UCLA was on to the first of 3 straight Final Fours, and I think we all remember what happened after that:

6. Villanova 78, Pittsburgh 76 (2009 Elite 8): Six lead changes in the final six minutes and Scottie Reynolds' game-ending shot highlighted a spectacular finish and Villanova's first trip to the Final Four since 1985. Believe it or not, Reynolds still plays for Villanova (I was saying that last year too; I feel like this is his 6th or 7th year).

5. Michigan State 94, Kentucky 88 (2OT, 2005 NCAA Elite 8): Again, maybe it's my proximity to this one that gives it such a high ranking, but you can't imagine the bliss of seeing the Cards on to the Final Four and the Cats sent home packing just a night later. Sparty lead by 8 with 5:43 to play, but a Patrick Sparks 3 that bounced around the rim several times before finally falling tied the game and forced OT. I remember watching this game and having no clue even after the closest close-ups modern replay technology can give showed where Spark's feet were on the shot. I still think he had a toenail on the line, but no matter, ball don't lie and UK lost in double OT.

4. George Mason 86, Connecticut 84 (OT: 2006 NCAA Elite 8): George Mason had already beaten UNC and Michigan State. Exactly 4 people picked them to go to the Final Four on's bracket, and you can bet those 4 people were women who either liked their colors, their mascot, or went there. UConn came in #1 and had far more talent. Quick, name a player from George Mason's 11th seeded squad? I got 2, Will Thomas and Folarin Campbell, but I doubt anyone could name more. Now do the same for UConn: Marcus Williams, Hilton Armstrong, Rudy Gay, Josh Boone, and Denham Brown started for the Huskies, and don't forget Jeff Adrien and Craig Austrie. George Mason would lose to Florida in the Final Four, but they left a Cinderella slipper that will never be worn again.

3. Kansas 75, Memphis 68 (OT, 2008 NCAA Championship Game): We'll all remember Mario Chalmers' unreal 3 to tie it and force OT, but what we might not remember is the Mangino-sized egg the Tigers laid at the end of the game. Questions about their free throw struggles abounded throughout the year, and the critics got it right in this one. Two future NBAers, including #1 overall pick Derrick Rose, missed 4 of 5 attempts from the line in the game's final minute. That 20% mark is probably a little higher than the percentage of questions D-Rose got right on the SAT, but it was enough to give Kansas a shot at winning a game they had no business winning at the end.

2. Syracuse 127, Connecticut 117 (6OT, 2009 Big East Quarters): I was in Dublin for Spring Break during this one, but I wish I had stayed up until 8 or 9 in the morning or whatever it would have been in Ireland to watch this one. I looked at the recap the next day and was flabbergasted. One of the biggest regrets of my sports life has been missing this game. This is why people love college basketball. Nuff' said.

1. Illinois 90, Arizona 89 (OT, 2005 Elite Eight): 6: Number of NBA players in this game. 1: Illini losses during the regular season. 15: deficit overcome by Illinois with 4 minutes left in regulation. Hands down the best game I have ever seen. Watching the comeback now is just as electrifying as it was 4 years ago. You don't come back from 15 down with 3:55 to play without some help, and the Illini certainly got that, but Dee Brown, Luther Head, and Deron Williams orchestrated one of the greatest comebacks in sports and cemented this one as the best college basketball game of the 2000s. Best team of the decade to not win a title? I don't see how there's one better.

Disagree? Let's hear it.

All-Decade Series Part I: The Defense

I’ll be honest: I’m an absolute sucker for Top 10 lists, all-time teams, greatest this and greatest that, all things of that nature. I love the process of ranking, love the debates that follow, love everything about them. That’s why in this lull between the end of the football season and the beginning of Big East play in basketball I’ve decided to put together a little series recapping a decade of Notre Dame Football.

Let’s kick off the series with the Irish Defensive All-Decade Team.

DE: #44 Justin Tuck (’02-’04)
Best Season – 2003: 73 tackles, 13.5 sacks, 19 TFL, 3 forced fumbles

When he burst on to the scene in 2002 as a redshirt freshman he was used strictly in passing situations. It seemed like every time he got inserted into the game he either got to the quarterback or drew a holding call. If you remember his speed rush against Michigan in 2002 was responsible for the Skunkbears being flagged for a safety in the Irish’s two point victory.

By the time he was a senior he had re-written the Notre Dame defensive record books. He ended his career with 24.5 sacks, including 13.5 his junior year. Both still stand as Notre Dame records. I’m thoroughly convinced that if he would have returned for his senior season that the Irish would have gone undefeated in the regular season. With the way Abiamiri was abusing Winston Justice on one side, can you imagine if Tuck was the one hunting down Leinart instead of Frome/Talley from the opposite end of the line? Let’s move on, I’m getting upset.

DT: #98 Trevor Laws (’04-’07)
Best Season – 2007: 112 tackles, 4 sacks, 8 TFL, 3 blocked kicks

Trevor had one of the greatest seasons for a defensive player in school history during the 2007 campaign. In a year where seemingly nothing went right he was the sole bright spot. In spite of constant double and triple teams he registered 112 tackles while managing to block three field goals. He had a never-ending motor and was a leader during Notre Dame’s darkest hours.

When some players were interviewed after games in ’07 you could tell that they had come to grips with what was happening and were resigned to the fact that losses would continue to pile up. Whenever Laws had a microphone in front of him you could just tell how mentally and physically drained he was not only from leaving everything on the field, but also from carrying the weight of the season on his shoulders. I’ll always remember and appreciate the fact that never once did he throw up the white flag even though he had every reason to do so.

DT: #98 Anthony Weaver (’00-‘01)
Best Season – 2001: 53 tackles, 7 Sacks, 21 TFL, 3 forced fumbles

Weaver split time between end and tackle but for our cause of putting the four best defensive lineman on the team we’re going to stick him at tackle. Weaver was a huge contributor who earned a starting spot his freshman year and never let go. He wasn’t as explosive as Tuck or as visible as Laws, but he was consistently a disruptive force registering 42 tackles for a loss in his four seasons.

Perhaps his finest moment came in 2000 against Michigan State when he made an unbelievably athletic play and picked off a Jeff Smoker pass. He returned it down to the two-yard line and set up what should have been a game-winning touchdown run (burn in hell Herb Haygood, burn in hell). He often gets forgotten just because his game didn’t have any sort of flashiness, but he without a doubt deserves a spot on this team.

DE: #95 Victor Abiamiri ('03-’06)
Best Season – 2006: 43 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 15 TFL

Abiamiri came in as the highest rated recruit Ty Willingham ever lured to South Bend. He started every game of his last two years and specifically terrorized the Stanford Cardinal. In the 2005 and 2006 contests he accumulated a total of seven sacks, including a pair that came in back-to-back plays that ended Stanford’s last ditch comeback attempt in ‘05.

While the statbook may say those were his two best games in a Notre Dame uniform, any one who watched his performance against Southern Cal in 2005 would disagree. Vic introduced himself to Matt Leinart early and often that day, tossing around future NFL teammate and noted Philadelphia Eagle turnstile Winston Justice like a rag doll. He stepped his game up to another level that day; it was far and away his most dominating performance.

LB: #39 Anthony Denman (’00)
Best Season – 2000: 84 tackles, 5 sacks, 14 TFL, 2 forced fumbles

Denman was an absolute rock for the Irish front seven during the 2000 season. If you were to describe him in a word it was reliable—you could never recall him blowing an assignment, missing a tackle, or screwing up when he had an opportunity to make a play. He was voted the team’s Most Valuable Player in the Fiesta Bowl season by his peers and was named 2nd team All-American that same year by the AP.

His greatest performance was hands down his game against #1 Nebraska in 2000. He came up with 13 tackles, 2 tackles for a loss, and a sack in containing the vaunted Nebraska option attack led by eventual Heisman winner Eric Crouch. That day it seemed like he didn’t just tackle Cornhuskers—every time he made contact he LIT UP ballcarriers. Bob Davie went as far as to say it was the “greatest performance by a linebacker in his time at Notre Dame.” Unfortunately though, like many other phenomenal performances of this past decade it is largely forgotten because it came in a losing effort.

LB: #33 Courtney Watson (’00-’03)
Best Season – 2003: 117 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 15 TFL, 2 interceptions

Watson really burst on to the scene as a leader at linebacker on the vaunted 2002 defense. His performance in that “Return to Glory” year under Willingham earned him a spot as a first team All-American on ESPN. Against Florida State that season he turned the tide with his interception of Chris Rix in the third quarter, which started a stretch of five Seminole plays that resulted in three turnovers.

Prior to his senior year he was a preseason candidate for the Butkus and Nagurski Awards. While he posted statistics worthy of consideration for those awards, Notre Dame’s sub-par season doomed any chance he had of bringing home hardware. I always loved the story about his name. Apparently his father hated the fact that his mother named him Courtney, so his father never once called him by that name—he called him “Spunk.” The story made me like his Dad even more than I liked him.

LB: #30 Rocky Boiman (’00-‘01)
Best Season – 2001: 42 tackles, 4 sacks, 11 TFL, 2 fumble recoveries

To fill out our linebacking unit we’re going to tab Rocky. His stats aren’t all that impressive compared to players like Brandon Hoyte and Maurice Crum, but his numbers are a bit deceiving since there were times where he was asked to play with a hand on the ground at defensive end. I feel comfortable that if Irish fans were asked who they’d like to see at the third linebacker position Rocky would be at the top of the list. His impact on the field went beyond the numbers—he had the perfect demeanor for a linebacker and was a relentless competitor.

My favorite memory of Boiman came from the 2000 season. My buddy Brian and I were freshmen in high school and had snuck up into the student section during the Boston College. We were sitting with some random guys from Knott Hall who happened to be friends with Rocky and they said that he was an absolute maniac. The kid said that Rocky’s goal for the Purdue game that year was “to tear Drew Brees’s arm off of his body.” When’s the last time we had a player as tough as he was on our defense?

CB: #42 Shane Walton (’00-’02)
Best Season – 2002: 68 tackles, 5 TFL, 7 interceptions, 7 PBU, 2 TD’s
S: #20 Gerome Sapp (’00-’02)

Best Season – 2002: 71 tackles, 3 TFL, 4 interceptions, 7 PBU, 1 TD
S: #19 Glenn Earl (’00-’03)

Best Season – 2002: 81 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 interceptions, 4 PBU
CB: #34 Vontez Duff (’00-’03)
Best Season – 2002: 36 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 interception, 6 PBU, 1 TD

The All-Decade secondary quite simply consists of the 2002 quartet that was largely responsible for the magical run that took the Irish as high as #4 in the AP poll. There are a few other potential players worth noting, most notably Tony Driver and Chinedum Ndukwe, but the 2002 secondary was one of the most clutch and productive units we’ve seen in a long time. It’s impossible to separate them.

Shane Walton was the heart and soul of the best defense of the decade. He came up with huge play after huge play after huge play the entire 2002 season. His seven interceptions were the most in a single season since Tom Carter in the early 90’s, his seven passes broken up paced the squad, and he even stuck his nose in there 68 tackles (five for a loss).

I was out in South Bend for the infamous Neon Green Jersey Game against BC. In the second half the entire stadium was deflated after one of Notre Dame’s sixteen fumbles that game (is it possible that Marcus Wilson had more fumbles than runs for 4+ yards over the course of his career?). The defensive team came on to the field during the ensuing TV timeout and suddenly Walton just started flipping out, getting up in each defenders face and shoving them. He then went over in front of the student section and went nuts. By the time the TV timeout was over the team and entire student section were in a frenzy. First play of BC’s drive: interception. We don’t need to rehash what happened the rest of the game, but that moment was awesome.

George Sapp was a huge recruit that Davie plucked from Texas but until his senior season he had a pretty non-descript career. His final year was of course the 2002 campaign. Like Walton he came up with huge plays throughout the year, like his 54 yard fumble return for a touchdown in the Purdue game—a contest where Notre Dame scored three defensive touchdowns and zero offensive touchdowns…ahhhh the Ty Willingham years.

Glenn Earl vs Tony Driver was the toughest debate for me on the defensive side of the ball. What pushes Earl over the edge though isn’t just his stellar 2002 campaign, but his special teams contributions earlier in his career. In 2000 alone he blocked three kicks, including a chip shot field goal against Air Force as time expired that kept Notre Dame’s BCS hopes alive.

Lastly, we have Vontez Duff. He only had one interception in 2002 but he made it count—he returned it 33 yards for the clinching touchdown in the fourth quarter against Purdue. He was a solid contributor that entire year in a secondary that gave up just 12 touchdowns, picked off 21 passes, and allowed only 204.8 passing yards per game and a 49.2% opponent completion percentage. In other words, cut what our team allowed this year in half.

Truth be told, it was pretty slim pickings for the second best cornerback of the decade. Who else could it have been though? Mike Richardson? Terrail Lambert? Preston Jackson?

Stop, no more. Yes, Duff was second best.

P: #17 Joey Hildbold ('00-'02)
Best Season – 2001: 42.2 avg, 19 punts inside the 20, long of 59 yards

Hildbold was exactly what you need in a punter: a consistent and reliable performer. He wasn’t spectacular but you always knew he'd go out there and get off a solid punt. Hildbold was also a master of looking like he was taken out by a sniper whenever a defender so much as breathed on him. I would guess that he drew more roughing the kicker penalties than Eric Maust had punts that traveled 40 yards in the air this year.

Let the debates begin!

COMING UP NEXT: Offensive All-Decade Team

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Crosstown Classic

I realize not everyone has ESPNU ( and it's a shame that's what channel it was on) but you missed one of the great games of the college year if you missed Sunday's Xavier/UC showdown. I would've posted this sooner if not for the double-OT game last night or an economics final tonight (after which I told my professor I'd donate $1,000,000 to charity if I ever used economics in my life again) but I took notes at Cintas last night and want to re-live some of the experience.

Walking into the arena 5 minutes before tip, it was obvious that the atmosphere was electric and Xavier's recent losing streak was moved to the back of every fan;s mind. UC won the opening tip and began the scoring with Cashmere Wright's free throw at the 19:03 mark. Then in the ensuing three minutes, Xavier's Dante Jackson drained two 3-point field goals, Jordan Crawford dropped in a deuce, and Mark Lyons swiped the ball from Deonta Vaughn and charged up the court for a lay-in to give Xavier a quick six point lead at the under 16 timeout.

The Bearcats fought back with a 14-0 run that included two threes from Darnell Wilks and a pair of baskets by Yancy Gates. Gates didn't start this game but started out (and finished) incredibly well, I was worried about stopping him all night. Suddenly, the Muskies momentum had shifted in favor of the Bearcats as UC led 19-12.

This is right about the point when tempers flared between the two teams as the pushing and shoving escalated, players left the benches to join in the shoving match, and select players from the two teams needed to be restrained. I'll admit to thoroughly enjoying the scuffle as Xavier had come out really flat the past few contests and was finally showing signs
of life.

After the melee settled down and double technical fouls were assessed to Crawford and Rashad Bishop, Terrell Holloway and Xavier responded on the court in a big way. Holloway, who was scoreless up until that point, scored six quick points as the first half wound down to lead a 10-2 Xavier streak. That put the X-Men back on top 24-21. Unlike last Tuesday at Kansas St., we showed the ability to bounce back from a deficit instead of continuously digging ourselves a hole that's impossible to get out of.

After that little Xavier spurt, Cincinnati tied the game at 26 with a few minutes left in the first half. Holloway responded again for the Musketeers though and finished off the half by converting two free throws as well as draining a three with 0:55 seconds to play to push X ahead 31-26 going into the second half.

At the half I kept thinking about what Chris Mack could possibly be saying to his team. Mack was a part of 9 Crosstown Shootouts himself, both as a player and assistant coach, so there was no need to tell him what this meant to the players or, for that matter, everyone in the building. Mack was fired up the entire first half and was hopefully passing on some controlled energy to everyone around him, it felt like it was going to be a long night.

Early on in the second, Xavier extended its lead to seven points, 35-28, and looked poised to put the Bearcats in a tailspin. Xavier and UC traded baskets over the next few minutes and the Muskies kept UC at bay for the time being. Cincinnati did climb to within four points, 39-35, on a Gates' dunk, but then X reeled off six straight points to jump out to its largest lead at 45-35.

Trying to climb back into the game, the Bearcats administered fullcourt pressure with around 13 and half minutes to play. UC was really able to disrupt Xavier's rhythm and execution as it charged back into the game and started to noticeably turn the crowd. This switch kept on as the Cats spouted off a 20-6 run that actually put them ahead at 55-51 with 5:38 to play. This was the first time I felt like we were going to lose, all early season signs on this team pointed to it.

X proved me wrong though and came back quickly to tie the game at 55 with 4:07 left. The teams then traded buckets and the let the lead shift back and forth over the next few minutes.
With 0:32 second left to play in regulation, Holloway came up big again and hit a jumper to move X in front at 61-59. UC then called a timeout in which they setup a play for Lance Stephenson, their freshman phenom who had been "chatting" with the Xavier bench all game and wasn't looking to stop at this point. Stephenson, who finished the game with a career-high 22 points, drove the ball to the hoop to lay in a game-tying basket (seriously the easiest clutch basket I've ever seen, this kid is HUGE).

Xavier had one more possession to try and win it during regulation, but a Holloway jumper was errant and Dante Jackson's follow was a half-second too late (thought it was good initially) as the buzzer sounded with the score knotted at 61.

As overtime started this game had the feel of a special one: stars playing great on both sides and back and forth play the whole time down the stretch. Things began looking bleak for the Musketeers early on in overtime as they gave up the first few buckets to UC and were in an early hole. The Muskies bounced back at the free throw line a little but still found themselves in a 72-67 hole with 58 seconds remaining. Holloway again put the team on his back though by getting fouled and drilling four free throws to pull the team within one, 72-71, with 27 ticks left. UC's Dion Dixon then converted both foul shots of his own at the other end to give UC a three point advantage.

Needing a lot to happen with little time remaining, things were looking bleak for X as the shooting had not been very stellar all night. Again though, Terrell Holloway came through with his biggest play of the game. The sophomore guard drove the ball hard past a Bearcat defender on the right side to record an old-fashioned 3-point play, the foul was legitimate even though Mick Cronin tried to jump high enough that anyone not under 5'4" would notice his outrage. That tied the game at 74 and sent the contest into a second overtime for the first time in Shootout history.

Charting into new territory in the rivalry, the arena was louder than it had been the entire game at the start of the second OT. Nobody in Cintas seemed distracted by other things like Brian Kelly going to ND (which was noted by the XU student section numerous times during the game) or that the game was reaching 3 hours in length, it was all about the basketball and every single fan desperately wanted their team to pull it out.

Xavier again found itself trailing early in double overtime as UC was consistently scoring inside now and it was getting harder for X to stop as the fouls started piling up. The Muskies bounced back again though and tied the game at 79 on a Jason Love layup with 2:12 remaining. Love had been coming up huge all evening on the glass and was scoring every time we needed him to, true signs of a leader.

Then, with 0:40 seconds left in the second OT, Xavier regained the lead on two Jason Live free throws and would be in control if they could get one defensive stop. Even though I thought that was almost impossible on this night, we force UC into a bad, off balance jumper that ends in an X defensive rebound with 20 seconds left. The Bearcats fouled and Xavier had a chance to almost seal the victory with some clutch free throw shooting. Dante Jackson stepped to the stripe and calmly knocked down 2, essentially guaranteeing the W for Xavier. A few UC three point jumpers missed and the final horn finally sounded, announcing an 83-79 victory for the Muskies. The entire arena erupted, the players in white especially, and the party was on. Another year, another hard fought win over UC.

The victory really felt like a turning point as the Muskies improved to 6-3 and should carry some confidence into the rest of their tough stretch before conference play. Love carried the team on the glass as he tied a career-high with 19 rebounds, also adding seven points in 41 minutes of action to round out his final Crosstown Shootout as a Musketeer. The player of the game though was the floor general, PG Terrell Holloway
. Holloway finished with 26 points and a highlight reel of assists that got a lot of easy buckets for his teammates and kept the offense flowing. He also took on fellow NYC product Lance Stephenson defensively and did his best to disrupt his timing and made it hard for him to put it on the floor most of the night. I'm hoping this is a sign of things to come with Holloway as our lack of a leader at the point has cost us some losses already and would help the rest of the offense if someone could solidify that role.

Now with a solid victory under their belts, the Muskies still have numerous chances left to gain more notable wins for their run to conference play and the postseason. The next significant matchup occurs this Saturday at historic Hinkle Fieldhouse at Butler University where X will take on the Bulldogs at 2 PM. The game will be on ESPN with the great Bobby Knight (both as an analyst and a coach) calling the action so there's no reason to miss it. The run starts now, GO X.

A Weeklong Queen City Smackdown

We Never Graduate Teams 2, Cincinnati 0

More from Mikey on the Crosstown Shootout later today.
More from Mattare on Brian Kelly returning ND to glory almost every day from now on.

(Rough week Bearcat fans. Sorry we're not sorry.)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Two Dudes, One Post: 12/11/09

The regular season has wrapped up and somehow we've managed to pry Bill away from working on his car and getting bombed every other night at Epcot to submit his first post of December. That's right, the alleged "lightweight champion of hip hop" is back. I know, I know, the ladies have already grabbed their paper bags in an attempt to fight hyperventilation. One last Two Dudes, One Post before bowl season. GIDDYUP.

1. This year's regular season comes to a close with five teams undefeated. Is this season the perfect proof that it's finally time for a playoff? Do the three teams that went undefeated and don't have a shot at the title have legitimate beef?

Mattare: No, I don't think this situation is any sort of impetus. This happens every so often (see: 2003 Auburn) but I still don't believe we should move to a playoff. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I love the debates that happen every year and the fact that every single game as the season winds down is an absolute must-win. If we had a eight or even a four team playoff then it wouldn't have mattered all that much who won the Florida-Bama game because the loser would still have a great shot at the national championship--maybe even over the team they beat in the SEC Championship. I know I may be in the minority but I like the bowl system. It's not without flaw (there are too many bowls, too many terrible matchups when there could be entertaining ones with some flexibility, and the unforgivable shift away from January 1st being the premier day), but I think it beats the alternative of a playoff. Eight teams? Four teams? A plus-one model? There are just too many variables to take into account if you attempt to make everyone happy. The current system provides college football with something unique, do-or-die regular season--and I'm all for it.

The only team I see with a truly legitimate beef this year is TCU, who played a tougher schedule than Texas and took care of business in big way each time they played a high profile opponent. I have absolutely no idea how Texas is only a four point underdog against the Tide--I think they're going to get squashed. Cincinnati deserves a ton of credit and could make a good argument as well (they went to Corvallis and beat Oregon State), but they also lack a head coach right now (wait, let it set in...wait for it...waaaait for it...there it is...sorry I'm not sorry Bearcat fans). The Bearcats have a much stronger case than Boise State, but just not quite up to TCU's level.

Bill: I think it is. What do these teams have to play for? Cincinnati is in a BCS conference just like Alabama. Is there an unwritten rule that the SEC is greater than the Big East (I know it is, not the point)? What confuses me now most is the creation of the BCS in the first place. This is no different than just having the coaches and press vote on the best teams each year, it's no more objective. Now we just have some bogus conference hierarchy and computers telling us who the best is. I'm shifting my stance on this slightly: the only logical solution from here is to have a playoff featuring the winner of EVERY conference, conference tiers have to go. A playoff between Big Six winners and two non BCS teams isn't good enough, because eventually there will be 3 non BCS undefeated. So then what?

2. The Heisman will be handed out this Saturday. What's your final ballot look like?

1. Toby Gerhart, RB...He was the best running back in the country who showed up the biggest over the second half of the season (223 and 3TD's against Oregon, 178 and 3TD's against USC, 205 and 3TD's against Notre Dame).
2. Mark Ingram, RB...He made the Tide go against tough SEC defenses, but he has less yards on the ground (1542 vs 1736) and less TD's than Gerhart (18 vs 26).
3. CJ Spiller, RB...Electrifying player who did everything for the Tigers. I feel like he isn't getting his due propers for the phenomenal year he had.
4. Ndamakung Suh, DT...Dominant defensive force and in a year like this who knows, maybe he can steal it...but I just can't put him above the top three.
5. Golden Tate, WR...Call it a homer pick, I don't care. He's got a ridiculous highlight reel, 93 catches, 1496 receiving yards, 7.4 average yards per carry, and 18 total touchdowns. The guy was awesome this year.

1. CJ Spiller, RB - Doesn't have the numbers of a Gerhart, but who would you rather have on your team? Spiller breaks games wide open, he has that Peterson like athleticism where you can tell he's going to be faster than everyone even when he reaches the NFL.
2. Mark Ingram, RB - The same Gerhart comparison carries here, and he's a premier weapon on a team going to the national championship and he showed up big in the conference championship.
3. Toby Gerhart, RB - Definitely still in the conversation with 26 touchdowns this year, and might end up winning it because he had such a good second half of the year. Only knock on him is that he didn't have a huge game without getting the ball 20 or more times. I think there is a long list of D1 running backs that can get 223 yards on 38 carries against Oregon.
4. Big Suh, DT - I only saw this man play in the Big 12 title game and that's really enough for me. Texas could prove to be the best team in the country and they had no idea what to do with this guy.
5. Golden Tate, WR - I hate that my list looks exactly like yours but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't impressed every time I saw him play. The bad news is, how many games do they win without him this year???? 4????

3. There are five undefeated teams and a lot of good stories. If you're handing out the coach of the year award who is it going to?

Mattare: Chip Kelly from Oregon. The only thing that could've made the start to his coaching career worse was if someone would've died in the postgame mini-melee. Somehow he steadied the ship and led the Ducks back to the Rose Bowl for the first time in fifteen seasons. The way in which he handled the Blount situation was brilliant--he immediately diffused the situation then very slowly integrated him back in by the end of the year. Kelly made good on his promise to make LaGarrette Blount earn his way back on to the team and help him emerge from the odeal as a better man. Tip of the cap to you Chip Kelly, you were the 2009 coach of the year on and off the field.

Bill: Nick Saban. Back to back undefeated regular seasons and a BCS title game bid this year. He even had a slumping quarterback in the middle of the season and managed to keep the ship steady.

4. In the spirit of the awards season, dish out the hardware for your team: Offensive MVP, Defensive MVP, Freshman of the Year, Biggest Disappointment, Most Underrated Contributor, and someone that's under the radar now that you're looking to step up next year.

Offensive MVP - Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate...It's just impossible for me to separate the duo. They were both one of the best in school history at their respective positions, the most prolific offensive pair of all-time.
Defensive MVP - Kyle McCarthy...One of the sole bright spots on the defensive side of the ball. He was one of the few who consistently made tackles and was the only one we could count on to come up with a huge play with the game on the line (see: Michigan, Michigan State, Boston College).
Freshman of the Year - Manti Te'o...We knew during the first month of the season that he was the real deal. He is a physical specimen with fantastic instincts and closing ability that's unlike anything we've seen at Notre Dame in the past two decades. He has the tools to be an all-time great.
Biggest Disappointment - Harrison Smith...There were very high expectations for Hayseed when he switched to safety, but the move was a complete and utter failure to say the least. It was borderline flabbergasting how such a great athlete and a former all-state safety was so inept in the secondary.
Underrated Contributor - Eric Olsen...I realize he was voted lineman of the year at the banquet, but Olsen deserves all the credit in the world for switching positions and never missing a beat. He was the anchor of a much improved line and we'll miss him dearly next year.
The 2010 Leap - Kapron Lewis-Moore...I was impressed with his progress as a redshirt freshman. He's still growing into his body and learning the position, but he's a great athlete and surprisingly sturdy against the run. The talent dearth on the defensive line isn't as bad as people make it out to be. While it's definitely lagging behind almost every other position on team (specifically DT is lagging), there are some pretty good pieces for BK to work with.

Offensive MVP - Daryll Clark...He set school records for season passing yards and touchdowns this season with a scaled back game plan. He deserves credit for managing 10 wins with young receivers and a young line.
Defensive MVP - Jared Odrick...Double teamed all year and anchored a line that only gave up 94 yds/g on the ground.
Freshman of the Year - Stephon Morris...Saw significant time in all 12 games for us this year and will likely have a starting CB spot next year as a true sophomore.
Biggest Disappointment - The Iowa game...This team was very predictable from the start, all speculated areas of concern turned out to be a real concern. We beat every team we should, except Iowa. Seeing them and us more throughout the year I really feel like we should've had that. At home? Revenge game?
Underrated Contributor - Dennis Landolt...Despite a down year for the offensive line he held down the left tackle spot all year.
2010 Leap - Gerald Hodges...This kid has the physical tools to be great, but this is very wishful thinking because I'm nominating him for this in the hopes that he beats out Astorino for the starting free safety spot next year.

5. Let's take a look forward to the bowl season. What BCS bowl are you looking forward to most and why? How bout non-BCS bowl?

BCS Bowl - Boise State vs TCU (Fiesta)...This is a fantastic coaching matchup between Petersen and Patterson. I think TCU is the better team but I also feel like Petersen will pull out every stop. Last year they met in the bowl game and the game was decided by a single point. I'm hoping for something along those lines this year.
Non-BCS Bowl - Virginia Tech vs Tennessee (Peach)...I don't know why but I just feel like this could be a helluva game. Tennessee showed some flashes of being a very good team this year (with a potentially nasty defense) while Hokie running back Ryan Williams has already established himself as one of the top ten backs in the country as a freshman.

BCS Bowl - Boise St and TCU...Everyone, including me enjoys watching Boise in bowl games, but TCU's D might steal the show.
Non BCS Bowl - C'mon, PSU vs. LSU...Two teams with good defenses that get shut down by other teams with good defenses. Awesome!


Bill: How long you think Tiger's been rollin' like this?

Mattare: You're the one who lives down the street from him, you tell me. I just can't wait until Minnie Mouse comes out and says Tiger made a pass.

Mattare: Barry Alvarez says the Big 10 is looking hard for a 12th team so they can have a conference title game. Who's your pick to fill out the league?

Bill: PITT. They're our implicit rival and we never play them. Don't know why but I hate them.

Bill: Watching the FX series The League right now. Do you have a favorite character? (You should).

Mattare: Whoever the dude is that does Shiva Blasts, followed by Ruxom who has AAA Premium so his car can be towed home from the bar when he's hammered.

Mattare: Speaking of tasteless TV...please share with our readers your thoughts on the most-ground breaking show of our generation Jersey Shore.

Bill: These are especially terrible people and I won't miss an episode from here out. My favorite is Pauly D.

Bill: How many years before Brian Kelly gets fired?

Mattare: Seven years after JoePa dies. Or the day after one of your raps appears on a Billboard chart. Whichever comes last.

Mattare: Last one, how nervous/fearful are you about Notre Dame's imminent and inevitable Return to Glory?

Bill: As nervous as I would be if Bob challenged me to fight in the Octagon.

Shootout Memories

After the trouncing X took in Manhattan the other night, I've come to the conclusion that it's going to be a looong season. If Mattare can suffer through Notre Dame though there's no excuse for me to get down on Xavier. This Sunday is the 76th edition of the Crosstown Shootout, one of the country's most overlooked rivalries. Xavier and the University of Cincinnati have been facing off since the 1927-28 season with the Bearcats leading the all-time series 47-28, mostly thanks to a 12 game win streak in the late 50's and early 60's. Lately though Xavier has dominated UC in the matchup, winning 8 of the last 12 and moving our program up in the national spotlight. I will have a more detailed preview of this year's game in a day or two but for now here is the end of the absolute greatest Xavier game I've ever seen. Hopefully some of this year's team will view it this weekend and get inspired.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A New Era Begins

Welcome Coach Brian Kelly


A Quick Note on Bob Davie

I like Bob Davie the announcer. I think he's pretty good in the booth and offers a lot more insight than most of the pieces of furniture that ESPN and ABC give mics to during football season. As time passed my animosity toward him and his tenure in South Bend had waned...but each of the last two Notre Dame coaching searches has reminded me why I couldn't stand him and was thrilled he got canned.

Bob Davie was a good football coach. He led us to arguably the two best years since Lou left and always had a very good and well-coached defense. In '98 we were one freak injury to Jarious Jackson away from going 10-1. Two years later he took us to the Fiesta Bowl and frankly we were thisclose to being undefeated (our first loss was to #1 Nebraska in overtime, where our QB played the entire game with a broken wrist after a late hit in the first quarter...our second loss was on a 69 yard TD late in the fourth against MSU where we had a tight end--In Godsey We Trust--starting for us at quarterback).

That being said, he was the worst clock manager in the history of athletics--his ineptitude transcended college football. It was almost as if he never figured out that teams get three timeouts PER HALF, not PER QUARTER. The other thing was every year without fail we had one game where we had our doors blown off before we even knew what hit us (in '98: down 42-3 at halftime to Michigan State, in '00: completely curb-stomped by Oregon State 41-9 in the Fiesta Bowl).

But the thing that made my blood boil most was what he did off the field: complain. If he spent half the time gameplanning, studying Sun Tzu's second book (The Art of Timeouts), and figuring out how to win that he did whining and offering as excuses as to why he COULDN'T win he may still be our coach. He's someone who never quite understood Notre Dame and never embraced the tradition, history, and fanfare.

In 2004 he got on ESPN and proclaimed he advised Urban Meyer against taking the Notre Dame job because he didn't think it was a place someone could succeed. Now he's at it again going on College Football Live suggesting that Notre Dame needs to change things around to be like other schools in order to compete. He pointed to the fact that the schedule was too hard to make a run at a title, that ND couldn't recruit every player in the country because some didn't qualify academically (note: the average SAT's of Bob's recruiting class was around 900), that players had to *GASP* live in dorms with other normal students, and finally (God forbid) the coach was required to do things outside of football like attend and speak at the pep rally Friday night and go to a Saturday luncheon.

You'll never get it Bob. That's why every Notre Dame fan wants to forget you ever coached under the Dome and why no other college football program cast its lot with you. You may know your stuff (and love to lick your hand repeatedly while on the sideline), but you spend too much time offering up excuses for your failures instead of overcoming them.

There's no crying in football Bob (that goes for you too, Tim Tebow). That's why in the end you were made for the booth, not the sidelines.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Who are we? The Wildcats!! Who are we gonna beat? The Wildcats!!

It's been a while since I optimistically predicted Xavier to come out and blister the rest of the Old Spice Classic field in Orlando. Needless to say that never happened, it wasn't even close. Let's look at X's results from the tourney:

Game 1- vs. Marquette, L 71-61

Game 2- vs. Creighton, W 80-67

Game 3- vs. Baylor, L 69-64

The first game against Marquette wasn't a very shocking loss to any one who saw the game. The Golden Eagles are ripe with fast, young guards and kept the pressure on the Muskies all game. Knowing X had a frontcourt that they couldn't compete with, Buzz Peterson established a game plan that kept our bigs from becoming less of a defensive factor than they would like by pressing the ball and making jumpers. It also didn't hurt that Lazar Hayward had an outstanding game offensively (27 points), showing how tough it will be for any PF to guard him on the perimeter.

Despite Marquette's superior play, Xavier still had every opportunity to win the contest because of one reason: Jason Love. In totaling 21 points and 19 rebounds in the game, Love completely shut down Marquette's chances of scoring inside while he scored with ease on the offensive end. He looked like a clear leader on the floor during all 40 minutes and was the only reason the game was close near the end.

For as good as Love was during the game, his teammates were equally as bad. Jordan Crawford couldn't make shots all day, but instead of trying to find other open players around him he continued to shoot and miss. Kenny Frease seemed to turn the ball over every time he touched the ball on the offensive end, not knowing what to do with his 7-foot frame in the paint. Our PG's Lyons and Holloway seemed frustrated by the quick pace of the Eagles' game and it caused them to turn the ball over a combined 6 times. In the end there were just too many poor performances to counter Jason Love's breakout and cost Xavier their first loss of the season.

Positives: Jason Love, that's it

Negatives: Jordan Crawford playing like Allen Iverson, Kenny 'The Turnover' Frease, coaching not knowing how to adjust to pressure in-game

Game 2 was against Creighton, one of the top mid-majors of the past decade and a team that has built a nice rivalry with Xavier recently (see David West vs. Kyle Korver in the 02-03 season). The Bluejays are a solid squad again this season and posed a threat to the Muskies as this definitely felt like a letdown game.

The Musketeers came out hungry in this battle though, showing a great deal of early energy and hustle. Creighton played tough too and the game was anybody's contest at halftime. This seemed a lot like the Marquette game at half and I was just hoping it wouldn't be another late collapse we'd have to go home with. The Muskies came out of the locker room with increased defensive intensity, and used a big run midway through the second half to finally gain control. The defense then kept the Bluejays at bay the rest of the game to bring home a victory and set up a 5th place game matchup.

Jordan Crawford really led the way offensively in this game, making a great deal more shots than in the Marquette game and totaling 22 of the team's 80 points. Lyons and Holloway also protected the ball better which helped shut down Creighton's fast break points and gave the Muskies more control of the basketball. The defensive intensity was also more visible on the court. There was a great deal more of on-the-ball pressure in this game from X and we didn't seem content with just letting Creighton shoot 3's if they wanted to. With this much better overall effort, Xavier seemed prepped to win 2 games down in Orlando while learning some important lessons from the Marquette loss.

Positives: Team defense, Crawford finding his offensive groove inside and outside, no letdown

Negatives: Not enough coaching intensity (Mack needs to focus on this area if we're going to get a fair shake from refs in bigger games)

The final game of X's tournament schedule found them taking on the Baylor Bears. The Bears are a solid team, reaching the postseason each of the past 2 seasons, but this game seemed like it was Xavier's to lose. The Creighton effort showed that this team had some heart early on and that they realized you have to bring it every game or else risk losing to anyone.

Early on, though, Baylor came out on fire from deep and jumped out to a 12-0 lead. Xavier quickly bounced back, mainly with Jamel McLean hitting the boards hard and getting to the free throw line nearly every time down the floor, and it was a tight one at half. I remember thinking to myself at halftime how there was no chance we could lose this game. We were killing Baylor inside and Tweety Carter wasn't going to hit all of his 3's again as he did in the 1st half.

Consistent with the rest of the tournament though I was dead wrong. X pounded it inside consistently but ended up going 11-21 from the free throw line, none of our open shots from our guards fell and Tweety Carter hit 2 huge 3's near the end of the game to seal the win. The perfect end to a perfect weekend.

Positives: Jamel McLean, the tournament ended

Negatives: FREE THROW SHOOTING, Crawford again looking like Iverson, a real lack of offensive flow most of the game

The tournament was obviously disappointing, but we still showed some good signs and early season losses are bound to happen on any young team. Crawford had 2 horrible shooting days in the losses to Marquette and Baylor while not sharing the ball either, our defense had some tough mismatches in the Marquette game, our PG's need more game-time to learn how to play with their teammates and Coach Mack still needs time to adjust to the head coaching role in real game situations. These aren't exactly excuses but rather rooms for improvement for X going forward. There are still a good deal of important games on the schedule and we'll need to learn from these losses if we hope to win them.

Speaking of important games, there happens to be one tonight for the Muskies as they travel to Manhattan, KS to take on the Kansas St. Wildcats. Flying a little under the radar at the beginning of this season, the Wildcats have started 7-1 and are picked to finish right behind Kansas and Texas in the Big 12, demonstrating the respect Big 12 voters have for them. Their most significant win so far has come over Dayton in the Puerto Rico Shootout where they outrebounded the Flyers 44-32 and won the game by 8.

Kansas St. has a pair of excellent guards manning their backcourt. The first is senior Denis Clemente, a transfer from Miami (FL) who can really light it up from deep. The other is junior Jacob Pullen who is more of a combo guard, doing his offensive damage from both inside and outside and getting some serious looks from NBA scouts. These two can really push the Wildcats attack on offense but also play a stifling, trapping defense that tries to cause as many turnovers as possible. X will need to handle the pressure these two guards can create and pass the ball extremely well to avoid their traps.

Inside Kansas St. starts Curtis Kelly, a 6-9 250 lb junior who transferred from UConn and can really hit the boards. Freshman Wally Judge starts alongside Kelly and is a lean 6-9 220 lbs. who comes in as a McDonald's All-American . The other starter is Dominque Sutton, a junior who works hard and does all the dirty stuff inside. The Wildcats are very talented down low and will certainly challenge X on the boards this evening.

It's going to take a total team effort if the Muskies want to pull out a win against Kansas St. Mack will have to monitor his team early and keep calm if things start to get hectic in the game. They'll have to share the ball with each other if they want to control the clock and stay out of traps from the pressing Kansas St. defense. I think Mack will have them prepared for a new style tonight and can hopefully stick to a gameplan early. If they can I think X will squeak one out on the road and post their first big win of the season and hopefully build some confidence for the tough road ahead.

Coming soon: Sunday 12/13, Xavier vs. The University of Cincinnati, The Crosstown Shootout. Look for numerous posts during the week as the game nears.