Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Say it with me: Benefit of the Doubt

In today’s world people feel the need to render immediate and radical judgments based on the events that happened in the preceding moments. Columnists and television personalities grab pens and microphones and attempt to say the most shocking thing they can think of in an effort to grab attention.

Need evidence? Look at all the columns that buried Notre Dame Football in December and said they were doomed to be irrelevant forever. Want evidence outside Notre Dame? Look no further than that frequent guest on Outside the Lines (Feinberg? Feinman? I can’t remember his name—he’s bald with glasses, looks like he’s about 50, and has not smiled since his 9th birthday) who pronounced the University of Florida football program dead the week after Urban Meyer said he was stepping down.

“Experts” on ESPN get in front of a camera or computer and spout off for millions to see without any sort of fear repercussions for how inaccurate and ignorant their statements turn out to be (we should name this the Colin Cowherd Corollary). I suppose it makes sense then that countless people follow suit on the internet. Armed with $9.99 a month accounts on premium sites like Rivals and Scout they storm message boards, attacking those who disagree with their opinion while offering up irrational and short-sighted arguments in bulk.

Lately on the Notre Dame boards it has been constant showdowns over the Irish struggles in the waning days of this recruiting cycle. There are those who believe Brian Kelly can win national championships whether it’s with 2-stars or 5-stars. On the other hand are people who think the lack of success on the recruiting trail these past six weeks is all the evidence needed to show he’s going to be a complete and utter failure. Let’s break down exactly what each side is screaming at the other.

“In the last two weeks we’ve had Blake Lueders decommit, missed out on long-time ND legacy Anthony Barr, and Gio Bernard has one foot out the door. All were four stars. Meanwhile, Kelly is handing out offers to three stars like hot cakes. Kelly is a terrible recruiter who will never get it done relying on three-star talent!”

Pump the brakes, Sparky. Any time a new coaching regime rolls in there will be some turnover with recruits. It’s unfortunate that we missed out on these specific guys but it’s not entirely unexpected and it’s certainly not the end of the world. Lueders opted for Stanford where Randy Hart (who recruited him to Notre Dame) is now on the coaching staff. With Anthony Barr there seemed to be other circumstances in play (girlfriend transferring to UCLA, best friend is Neuheisal’s son) that led people to believe that even though it made sense he’d go to ND he was never the stone cold lock most assumed. Bernard is the lowest rated of this trifecta and frankly I don’t think anyone is too upset about losing him, they’re just dismayed by the trend.

In terms of the three-star offers going out, these aren’t panic decisions. Kelly recruited these players during his time at Cincinnati and is well aware of their capabilities and how they’d fit in to what he’s trying to do. It’s true that you can’t win championships relying totally on three-stars, but it’s also true that they can be key cogs in getting there. Kelly has shown through the years that he’s a winner who is quite capable of developing talent. He needs to be given the benefit of the doubt on these calls until proven otherwise.

Let’s also not forget that we’re still in the hunt for monster recruits Seantrel Henderson and Christian Jones and in good position for other highly touted prospects like Matt James and Dietrich Riley. I’m sure inking 2-3 of them will soothe some of the dissenters. I’m even surer it won’t silence all of them.

“Look at what Kelly did at Cincinnati with two and three star talent! He doesn’t need five star players—he can develop three stars into five stars! If the so-called best in the nation aren’t interested in us then we won’t be interested in them.”

This is flat out wrong as well. What Kelly did at Cincinnati was incredibly impressive but the whooping Florida put on the Bearcats in the Sugar Bowl only highlighted the fact that you’ll never take home the ultimate prize with a roster chock full of two and three star talent. That result doesn’t even remotely take away from the accomplishment of taking a perennial doormat like Cincinnati to back-to-back BCS games. The stats don’t lie—Kelly is a great football coach…but part of building a national champion is not only excelling on the field but also on the recruiting trail. This is something he’ll have to learn to attack with the same vigor he approaches coaching.

Part of the reason ND slipped in recruiting was the fact that we adopted an arrogant attitude about it. We thought that because of our name and brand the top players would line up to play under the dome. That’s simply not the case anymore. In today’s recruiting world we need to go out and make very clear the fact that five star recruit X is vital to our program and sell the living crap out of how he fits in to it. If that means coddling a few egos along the way in order to get where we need to get then so be it.

Charlie Weis’ biggest contribution to the Notre Dame program was the blueprint he provided for luring the top talent in the country back to South Bend. He worked harder than anyone in college football, developed fantastic relationships with players and their families, and did everything in his power to show recruits why ND needed them and why they needed ND.

This is the first time Kelly has been involved with a program on the highest level of college football and there will be a learning curve. The fact that he’s been a head coach for so long means it won’t be as steep as it was for Charlie Weis or Bob Davie, but there will still be one. That being said, the guy’s record is impressive and everything we’ve seen and heard from and about him suggests he’s a sharp guy who will make whatever necessary adjustments he has to in order to be successful. This is another situation where patience must be exercised.

Irish fans need to stop, take a deep breath, and be reasonable. I think it’s safe to assume that if you’re paying to be a member of a Notre Dame site you’re a fan of the Irish. It’s time to stop all this friendly fire. The constant attacks back and forth within our own fanbase are borderline embarrassing.

The fact is Brian Kelly is still over 200 days from running out the tunnel of Notre Dame Stadium for the first time. He’s still months away from coaching his first official practice at Notre Dame. To start handing out verdicts one way or the other is completely ridiculous. There will be plenty of time to dissect and pass judgments ad nauseum this fall in terms of the product on the field. Off the field we're still a full year away from an appropriate time to start passing judgment on Kelly's recruiting prowess.

I realize “giving the benefit of the doubt” is going the way of Atari, typewriters, and Urban Meyer's concern for his health and family, but it’s a mantra that every Notre Dame fan needs to drill into their brain over the next eight months.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Cards Walk the Plank in Newark

Last night's Louisville-Seton Hall game was huge for both teams. The Cards came in on a 2 game losing streak, while this year's much-improved Pirate outfit had just 1 conference win to their credit, despite giving teams like Syracuse and West Virginia all they could handle at home. Louisville's trip to the Prudential Center was a glaring reminder of just how far they have fallen this year, just how much they lost from the previous season, and just how much it's going to take to make a run at a tournament berth. Ever since Rick Pitino walked on campus in 2001, their has been a certain intensity to his teams, especially on the defensive end. The suffocating full-court press and quick rotation on defense has fallen by the wayside this season. No longer are Edgar Sosa and Jerry Smith able to watch quick guards blow by them, only to have Earl Clark or David Padgett send their shots several rows deep in the stands. No longer can Samardo Samuels play soft on the interior, or be a step slow on his rotations, because Terrence Williams isn't there to come over from the weak side and deny what would have been easy looks at the basket had he not been there. This year, the Cards are surrendering almost 70 points a game to their opponents, and to fans like myself, that number seems woefully inadequate to describe the deficiencies on the defensive end. Like most Cards fans, I'm used to seeing the boys give up about 55 points a game, swallow up guards with their full-court press, and push opposing offenses away from the basket and into challenged shots. This year has been a sobering wake up call. As Pitino said after the game, not one Louisville defender is capable of defending off the dribble, and this causes the team to be in constant flux, rotating and rotating to more and more open shooters. The problem is, the team lacks the athleticism and quickness of last year's squad, and is too slow to keep up with any team that moves the ball well around the perimeter. The intensity and sense of desperation that used to strike fear into opposing offenses is gone, and with it goes the chances of a top-tier finish in the Big East or of a deep run in the postseason (unless we're talking about the NIT). Some quick-hitters from the game last night:

-Seton Hall became the 3rd consecutive team to shoot over 50% from the floor against Louisville. Last year, and in years past, there weren't 3 teams that did that over an entire season.
-Although the Pirates undoubtedly came out scorching, when they did miss they usually came up with their own rebound, grabbing over half of their missed shots over the course of the game. The inability to hold teams to one shot per possession and deny second chance opportunities has been a glaring weakness of the this year's team. Clark and Williams are gone, and although he has improved his pursuit of the ball and his blocking out, Samardo Samuels is nowhere near the kind of rebounder he needs to be for this team to go anywhere.
-The Cards were 14 of 25 (56%) from the line last night, including 1 for 3 performances from Sosa, Smith, Samuels, and Reggie Delk. This horse has been beaten well past dead, but just a few of those misses turned into makes changes this game completely.
-Jeremy Hazell lit up the Cards again, making 9 of his 12 shots from the floor, 3 of 6 from behind the arc. Granted, a couple were prayers that found their way into the net, but the interior and help defense has to get on him quicker when he makes his way to the basket. Too many easy buckets for the Pirates' star.
-Louisville had 9 assists on 28 made field goals, including just 2 from Sosa. The ball movement and execution in the half court has to improve dramatically for this team to do anything this year.

All that being said, there are a lot of bright spots and silver linings in this year's team, and a lot of hope for the future. Peyton Siva continues to improve. He is learning to play more in control and set up his teammates, and he made several great decisions in traffic last night. Rakeem Buckles is raw, but when he reins in his offensive game, the kid is going to be a beast. The freshman Mike Marra scored 10 points in 19 minutes of action, and looks more and more comfortable shooting the ball. However, for me, many questions remain. Why does Terrence Jennings only get 12 minutes a game? He is the longest and best shot-blocking defender on the team, and scored 8 points in 8 minutes last night. Kyle Kuric had been averaging about 20 minutes a game in the previous 3 contests, but never came off the bench last night. He is, for my money, the best pure rebounder on the team despite being just 6'4. Surely we could have used him on the boards last night, and maybe he could have cleaned up a few of the missed opportunities that led to easy 2nd chance points for the Hall. I will hopefully be interviewing Kyle soon, and we'll see what he has to say about this year's team and what it needs to do to be a player in the conference and NCAA tourney race. For now, let's hope the Cards can rebound and play well in an absolute must-win game against Cincinnati on Sunday.

And don't think I forgot the clearly blown call at the end of the game. Jerry Smith hits a 3 with .7 seconds left, and with the ref clearly counting off the seconds, Keon Lawrence steps about 2 feet into the court, and with no call from the ref, reestablishes himself behind the end line. It was a horrible call on a clear violation, and would have given the Cards a chance at a game-tying or even game-winning shot.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Train Stops in Philly

Last night's Xavier-Temple showdown was undoubtedly one of the biggest games of the Atlantic-10's young life. The two programs that have historically dominated the conference came into their meeting undefeated in conference play and on a roll, Temple getting ranked up to 17th in the country along the way. There was a great deal of hype surrounding the meeting and many thought the eventual A-10 champion would be the winner of this one. In the end, the Owls proved too much at home for the young Musketeers and handed them a 77-72 loss, their first L since a double-OT thriller at Wake Forest on January 3rd.

Xavier, now 12-6 overall and 4-1 in A-10 play, blew a huge opportunity to get a marquee road win and cement themselves into the NCAA tournament in March, having won 6 of the past 7 games and back on their way to national attention. The first half continued back and forth for most of the time with numerous lead changes and quick play. The Owls ended up leading 39-34 at halftime but X quickly mounted a 2nd half surge, going on a 7-0 run just before the 15 minute mark and grabbing the lead at 48-47. The very next Temple possession really was symbolic of the game, however, as Juan Fernandez drained a 3 to give his team the lead back. Xavier was never able to hold a consistent edge in the 2nd half and always seemed to be on the verge of surging in front, although they never actually made it happen. They pulled it to within 3 points in the final minute but Temple was able to ice the game at the free throw line, crushing any chance the Muskies had at a miracle comeback.

There's no question that the loss was disappointing for X, but it doesn't crush their chances for the postseason as there are still many opportunities to improve the resume. A win was possible in Philly, but Temple was clearly the better team on this night, shooting 60% from the field as a team (ridiculous) and relying heavily on their starters to carry them (no starter played under 36 minutes). Senior Ryan Brooks led the charge Wednesday, scoring 22 points on 7-12 shooting and grabbing 7 rebounds while Lavoy Allen also had an excellent game by scoring 16 and tallying 7 boards also. The Owls deserve a good deal of national respect, now having beaten Xavier, Villanova, Seton Hall and Rhode Island, and are certainly helping to prove that the A-10 is a legitimate conference this season and will be dangerous come postseason play. This return to prominence for Temple and Xavier's recent success set up one great matchup and gained some much needed national focus for an underappreciated conference.

There are many good things that came out of this game, but the fact remains that Xavier lost when they could have won. Here's 2 main reasons for last night's setback:

1. Kenny Frease- There's not much left to say about Kenny anymore. Coach Mack has given the big center numerous chances to start games and become a key factor in this team's success. Frease has continually gotten worse and worse, however, as his opportunity has increased. Last night Kenny couldn't even grab rebounds let alone contribute anything on the offensive end and turned the ball over multiple times. If you aren't getting boards at 7 feet tall, there's no reason for you to even be playing the game, Kenny's minutes have to decrease from here on out.

2. Poor help defense- Temple was consistently getting open jumpers and easy layups all night because of their solid screening away from the ball and attacking the hoop. Xavier did a terrible job of recognizing the plays that the Owls were running and where they were going and really failed to help each other out when there was a defensive breakdown. This doesn't seem to be an overall glaring issue for the season, but Mack better work on this with his squad if they expect to stop other talented offenses down the road.

The schedule doesn't get any easier for X after this loss as they host the red-hot Rhode Island Rams on Saturday at the Cintas Center. The Rams will come into the game at 15-2 overall and 3-1 in conference play, having beaten Providence, Boston College and Oklahoma St. out of conference. This game now looms huge for the Muskies as they search for another quality W to post on their schedule and try to get into the NCAA tourney and improve their seed. This is an important junction for Xavier and Coach Mack certainly knows it, look for another great A-10 showdown on Saturday night.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Worst Things in Life are Free: Cards Lose Heartbreaker to Pitt

It's often said in college basketball circles that games are won and lost on the free throw line. Memphis' 2008 NCAA runner-up squad can certainly attest to this adage, and relate to the feeling of handing a sure victory to an opponent on a silver platter. Louisville found out what that feels like today, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory against 20th-ranked Pittsburgh today at the Peterson Events Center. Pitt had a 30 game winning streak going at the Pete, but the Cards had emerged victorious in their last two visits to one of the nation's toughest home court advantages. It looked for all the world like Rick Pitino's outfit would complete the trifecta, but the charity stripe proved anything but charitable in the game's final moments. Admittedly, I missed most of the game. Returning from a trip, I caught the start of the second half on the radio, coming home to pull up a chair in front of my laptop and catch the last 4 minutes of regulation on ESPN360. It was all I needed to see. The game was a perfect microcosm of Edgar Sosa's four years in red and white. High expectations and early success were followed by disappointment and failure. The NYC product played one of the best games I've ever seen by a freshman in the 2007 NCAA tournament, scoring 31 points in a thrilling second round loss to Acie Law and Texas A&M. What people might not remember is that it was a pair of missed free throws by Sosa that halted the comeback effort and preserved the victory for Texas A&M. After a pair of mediocre efforts in his sophomore and junior seasons, Sosa looked to be putting together his finest season as a Cardinal, improving his decision-making, his shooting, and his mental approach to climb out of Rick Pitino's doghouse. Today, however, showed why he will never be remembered with the likes of Reece Gaines, Francisco Garcia, DeJuan Wheat, and Taquan Dean in the pantheon of great Louisville guards. Sosa missed 4 of his 5 free throw attempts in the final 1:30 of the game. He missed front ends, back ends, and all manner of freebies, allowing Pittsburgh to come back and eventually force overtime. All told, the Cards were 1 for 6 over that fateful minute and a half span; Jared Swopshire, normally a stellar free-throw shooter at 83%, missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with Louisville leading 68-63.

Make no mistake; the game's final minutes were in no way the sole fault of Sosa. Defensive miscommunications led to a wide open three from the corner by Brad Wannamaker that pulled the Panthers within 2, and the final play of regulation saw Jerry Smith commit a needless foul as Wannamaker tried to weave his way through a trio of Cardinal defenders in an effort to throw up what would have undoubtedly been a very, very low percentage attempt to tie the game. That being said, Sosa is one of just 2 senior starters on this team, and he has to step up and make a few from the foul line in the game's closing minutes. He's a 70% free throw shooter on the season, and if he makes even one of two on a trip to the line, the game is over, and those clutch shots by the Panthers become meaningless. This would have been a huge win for Louisville for a lot of reasons. It would have snapped Pitt's 30 game home winning streak and represented the signature win that the Cards so desperately needed to add to their tournament resume, which now looks pretty barren. Opportunities to beat ranked teams on the road, especially in the Big East, are few and far between, and you have to take advantage of them when they do come around. The loss drops the Cards to 3-2 in the Big East, with a road trip to Seton Hall coming up on Thursday, followed by a home date with Cincinnati. Both are winnable games, but neither would look nearly as good as this one would have. This was a devastating loss, and Sosa surely feels worse than anyone, but at some point he has to take this team on his shoulders and play the senior he supposedly is. Louisville wasted another stellar effort by Samardo Samuels, who made 12 of his 20 field goals on the way to a 25 point, 6 rebound effort. He was dominate throughout the game, and made several huge buckets down the stretch to keep Pitt at arm's length. Also lost in the heartbreak was a breakout game from Preston Knowles, who finally regained the sharpshooting form he had last year as the conference's best three point shooter and lost for several games after sustaining a thumb injury on his shooting hand. The junior from Winchester, Kentucky scored a season-high 21 points on 8 of 12 shooting, 5 of 7 beyond the arc, where he had been connecting on just a 27% clip to this point in the season. Once again, the lack of leadership that has plagued this Cardinal team throughout the season came to a head at the Pete. Sosa did have 13 points and 5 assists, but it's just sickening to watch him clank free throw after free throw with a chance to close out a huge W. Jerry Smith continued his anemic play, missing all 3 of his attempts from the field as he was held scoreless in 22 minutes of action. The senior duo have never shown the ability to lead their team and close out games, and nowhere was it more important than in this game today. I'm tired of trying to find silver linings in these deflating losses. It was a heroic effort for 39 minutes at one of the nation's toughest places to play, and Samuels continues to be a dominant force inside. At some point, the seniors will have to step up and take this team with them. Until they do, Louisville isn't going anywhere this season. It's time to step up, boys. Answer the bell or have fun in the NIT.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Two Dudes, One Post: Ringin' in the New Year

After a one month hiatus Two Dudes, One Post has returned! We're only two weeks into the offseason but it's already been even more eventful than the entire 2009 regular season. There's plenty to dissect from LA to Gainesville. GIDDYUP.

1. Let's start out West with Southern Cal. What are your thoughts on Pete Carroll bolting and Lane Kiffin taking his place? Does Southern Cal stay as dominant as they have been this decade over the next five years with Kiffin at the helm?

Mattare: I think over the last couple years it had become evident that Carroll was getting a little restless and wanted to take on a new challenge. The thing is he had such a cushy situation at Southern Cal that he wasn't going to leave for just anything. He was willing to wait as long as necessary until a job opened up that would allow him the control he thought he needed in order to be successful on the professional level. The Seahawks not only gave him that power, but they gave him $7 million and gave him the opportunity to stay on the West Coast. With the exception of the 49ers, Chargers, or expansion LA jobs coming open this was probably the best possible scenario for him to make the leap.

Now on to Lane. Goodness gracious, what a risk Southern Cal is taking with this guy. He's yet to proven he can be an effective head coach, yet to prove he can stay out of trouble, and yet to prove that he's not a timebomb ready to go off. The guy has the potential to lead the Trojans to even greater heights as a younger, more energized version of Pete Carroll but he also could be responsible for driving the program into the ground. Yes, the guy recruits like a maniac and has an elite staff coming with him to Los Angeles, but that will only go so far. As a Notre Dame fan I'm thrilled that he'll be on the Trojan sideline come fall. For all the potential he has to be great I think there's even more potential for him to totally implode. And to top it off, the fact that the odds of him taking a potshot at Notre Dame are somewhere in the 85-90% range means he no doubt will become the most villianous and hated coaching rival since Jimmy Johnson. And you thought we couldn't hate Southern Cal anymore than we already did...

Bill: I think the Pete Carroll situation will play out further down the road. Everyone is waiting to see what happens to the USC athletic programs. If they are cleared of the allegations, then I have no problem with Carroll’s move, they were excellent this decade. If they are not, it certainly looks like he bolted before everything surfaced and I’m suddenly unimpressed and a little angry.

Lane Kiffin? I hope he does terribly at USC. He accuses the SEC of being full of cheaters, runs his mouth at Meyer before losing to him, his players get arrested, then leaves for a school that may have a dirty program. And lastly, he didn’t leave a school like Vandy, or Indiana behind. He left Tennessee whose fans are just as, if not more passionate than USC fans and the expectations are just as high. It was a move that stirred up a whole bunch of drama, and it almost seemed lateral. I do realize he has roots out West, but still.

2. Pretend for a second you're a Tennessee fan. First, in ten words or less explain your feelings on Lane Kiffin at this moment without expletives. Next, who do you think they need to target going forward?

Mattare: Ten Words for Lane - "You probably killed Davey Crockett too, didn't you?"

The Vols need to go out and find a long-term solution, someone who is totally committed to the University of Tennessee and will immmediately add necessary stability to a shell-shocked program. The previous two coaches (Majors and Fulmer) had been there for over a combined 30 years and were totally devoted to the school. Now this slick-talking turncoat has tossed them into a coaching search for the second time in 14 months. The ideal would be Will Muschamp because he's a young, dynamic defensive mind that understands recruiting in the South, but I just don't feel like it's realistic to think they can pry him from Texas. David Cutcliffe is a respected coach who understands the culture but his age and health issues make me think he'd be more of a quick fix.

At the top of my list would Kyle Whittingham from Utah. He's not a spring chicken, but he's an up and comer that plays smashmouth, confident football. He went into the Sugar Bowl last year with a bunch of two and three star recruits and totally dismantled a top five Alabama team that was undefeated in the regular season. There would be some legitimate questions as to whether he could recruit in the cutthroat SEC, but remember there were those same questions levied at Urban Meyer when he arrived in Gainesville six years ago.

Bill: Ten Words for Lane - "I’ll hit an old man in public."

Hire Mike Leech, I don’t think he deserved to be fired for what he did to begin with. He’ll bring a swagger in with him and if his system can be effective in the SEC it will change the way teams have to play D in the conference.

3. Urban Meyer turned the college football world upside down right before his team's bowl game when he stepped down as head coach of the Gators...but then decided after watching a good practice that his health issues weren't really that bad and he'd just take a leave of absence. What was your take on the entire situation?

Mattare: I understand that Meyer has a right to make whatever decision he likes, but I think the way he yanked around the country--but far more importantly his team and program at Florida--and over the course of a week did a complete 180 made him look terrible. First of all, I don't understand how one positive practice made him suddenly forget the terrifying health issues he's endured over the course of the season. Second of all, his "time to put family first" shtick followed by his daughter being quoted as saying "I get my Daddy back" followed by him going "PSYCH!" makes him look disingenuious.

This is a difficult situation for Meyer to be in and the public needs to be sensitive to that. That being said, I question the timing of the decision (the week leading up to your bowl game...why not wait and think it out in the offseason that was arriving six days later?) and if it turns out he's not coming back and he's just playing this game for recruiting purposes he'll go down as one of the all-time sleezes in sports history.

Bill: I think he had some sort of episode that triggered the resignation (cardiac arrest?) and he got spooked and told himself he would give up coaching to get his health in line, then once he was better he decided he could do both at the same time.

4. There have been an unheard of twelve coaching changes in the BCS conferences this offseason, including at powerhouse schools like Notre Dame, USC, Florida State, and Tennessee. What do you think was the best hire, the riskiest hire, the most underrated hire, and the worst firing?


Best Hire - Brian Kelly (Notre Dame)...I'm not saying he's a guaranteed success, but ND locked up one of the most dynamic, up and coming coaches in the country fresh off an undefeated regular season where he was named the AP Coach of the Year. I suppose the runner-up would be Charlie Strong at Louisville.
Riskiest Hire -
Lane Kiffin (USC)...
Like we went over before, he could be great but he could also be a complete and utter disaster (fingers crossed for the latter).
Underrated Hire -
Mike London (UVA)
...This is a young, intense guy who has experience in the pros, ties to UVA (coached there on two different occassions), and won big in his first head coaching job at Richmond. Hokie fans can't be thrilled about this development.
Worst Firing: Mike Leach (Texas Tech)...
All you have to do is read the published letters that were exchanged between the AD, the Chancellor, and a prominent booster and you realize how stupid/egotistical the leadership at Tech is. Yes, Leach is quarky and did nothing to help the situation, but it's obvious the people at the top had no appreciation for what Leach did to resurrect their football program.


Best Hire: goes to Texas Tech...I’ve always been a Tommy Tuberville fan and I feel he can shake up the Big 12. The conference is deceivingly weak and lacks good defensive play. I think Tuberville sweeps Texas in one of his first three seasons.
Riskiest Hire:
goes to USC...Did they really think this one through or did they just try to ease the Carroll situation as quickly as possible? Lane Kiffin will be solid, but I doubt if they will be able to maintain the standard set by Carroll. The Pac-10 has some strong teams right now and Kiffin has yet to put together an excellent season as a head coach.
Underrated Hire:
goes to Florida State...Everyone knew it was going to be Jimbo Fisher but I feel this is a real chance for them to return to prominence. They have the talent, it's time to put the pieces together. I realize this is slightly hypocritical coming from a JoePa supporter especially since I didn’t necessarily agree with the move to fire Bowden, but I like how they had a head coach in waiting and I think it was the right guy.
Worst Firing:
goes to Notre Dame...I enjoyed the Charlie Weis era so much.

5. This offseason more than ever there has been incredible fallout and resentment when a head coach chooses to leave one job for another. Many recruits have adopted the practice of committing to a coach more than they do the school and are somewhat left behind and cheated when the coach they committed to jumps ship. Does the rule need to be changed so that they can transfer without sitting out a year in these situations?

Mattare: I don't think the rule needs to change, I think the players' attitudes need to change. If there's one thing that these situations show it's that they SHOULD be committing to a school, not a coach. Think about the repercussions of allowing transfers without penalties: when a coach gets canned it will essentially make all of the players free agents who can pick and choose where they want to finish out their careers. If you think recruiting high school kids is ridiculous imagine how the sharks would circle if teams were allowed to poach from rosters when a coaching change was made. The mass exodus that could occur after firing a coach would essentially amount to a program death penalty in some situations. Allowing the ability to freely transfer opens a can of worms the NCAA is just not going to want to deal with.

Instead, it's time for players to tweak their attitudes on why they choose to go where they go. If there is a situation like Ryan Mallet's where you just don't fit the new scheme the new coach is implementing then take your medicine, sit out a year, and go where you need to go.

Bill: I think so. Remember we’re talking about 18 year old kids here. I don’t think it’s fair to penalize them. It would be similar to a school drastically changing the curriculum of my major while I’m a sophomore in the college. I would be resentful. People are sticking up for these guys saying “it’s a business” and it is--for the school and the coach. But what about the student athletes?


Bill: The cast of Jersey Shore hits up Atlantic City on tonight's episode. Are you pumped?

Mattare: Pumped, but not as pumped for when they hit McFadden's in DC next Tuesday. I want to hear Pauly D's strategy on everything from Black Jack to the War on Terror.

Mattare: Penn State basketball sits at 8-8 on the year including a sterling 0-4 Big Ten record. Did you break any bones jumping off that bandwagon?

Bill: One word: Repeat. It's the NIT for us. Dechellis shuffled the starting lineup Tuesday against Illinois and we almost pulled one out. Almost.

Bill: How excited is DC about Shanahan? The last thing I need is for the Skins to be good.

Mattare: Cautiously optimistic because we've been burned by plenty of big names in the past decade so no one is "all in." Dan Snyder is still the owner.

Mattare: I have to cut Mikey a check for fantasy football since he came in second place this season. I put "Your Chlamydia Medication" for the description on Tim's check (he won the league), what should be the one on Mikey's?

Bill: Gerbil Retrieval Surgery.

Bill: What's your Super Bowl pick?

Mattare: It pains me to say it, but I really think the Cowboys are the team that emerges. I feel dirty even saying it.

Mattare: Let's go back to Penn State basketball (which you've done a great job covering so thoroughly for the blog). Did you attend more ND football games or more PSU basketball games in your four years of college?

Bill: Coverage - Battle is the only person I trust on the team. Answer - PSU BBall 3-1.

(Editor's Note: Bill was at the ND-BC game in '04 and the ND-PSU games in '06-'07...that's 3-3 for those keeping track at home)

Bill: McGwire says steroids didn't help him hit home runs. That's like saying being super skinny didn't help you fit into your sister's sweatpants. Since you're still my friend, should Big Mac be in the Hall of Fame?

Mattare: No, he shouldn't. Ever. He's a complete moron for thinking they didn't help. And I'm going to stab you in the neck next time I see you.

Mattare: If your girlfriend had Tim Tebow's number in her phone and talked with him regularly how would you feel?

Bill: I'd feel confident knowing her best guy friend was uglier and less athletic than me.

Bill: They're finding ANACONDAS in Florida. Do you have Jon Voight and/or Ice Cube's number?

Mattare: Anacondas? I'm assuming there's a Tiger Woods joke hidden there. If not give Mr. Yack a call, he wrestles anacondas in his spare time.

Mattare: Snooki, the 4'6" creature from Jersey Shore whose brain cells commit mass suicide whenever she speaks, revealed that she wants to have her own veterinarian practice one day. I'm staggered. What would Vegas put the odds at of that dream coming to fruition?

Bill: 0.3%. She would diagnose a stuffed animal if you put it in front of her.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

BREAKING NEWS: Lane Kiffin's House in Knoxville

Strangely, the Knoxville Fire Department has refused to acknowledge that there is a fire at that address.

More reaction on the whirlwind that is the college football offseason to come this week. It's never a good sign when the offseason is more compelling than the regular season was.

Who knows if Billy will crawl out from under his '02 Nissan Altima that he's been working on after work every day and post something as well. Maybe I'll lure him out with a Two Dudes, One Post. We'll see, but regardless we'll spend some time breaking down Urban, Poodle, and the Most Hated Man in the History of the State of Tennessee. The lull our faithful readers have had to endure has officially come to a close.

My Wish for 2010...

Tell me this wouldn't be a just punishment for all Southern Cal's trangressions...

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Climbing the Mountain(eers)...Juuuuuust Barely

Wow. What a game. The Irish played one of the strangest, most bipolar games I have ever seen tonight at Purcell Pavilion. Earlier in the day in the wacky Big East, Georgetown overcame a 19 point second half deficit to beat UConn by three at home, and West Virginia certainly tried to take a page out of the Hoyas playbook tonight. I'm a stats guy, and this game gave us some weird lines. A quick glance at the box score and you think ND must have won by double digits. We shot 54% to West Virginia's 37%. First team All-Big East selection Da'Sean Butler was 4 for 20 from the field. Devin Ebanks was held without a point. The Irish had 21 assists on 23 field goals, 10 of which came from Psycho B (Ben Hansbrough), who fell just 4 points and a rebound shy of a triple double. The boys shot 21 free throws to the Mountaineers' 4. Surely this was the box score of a comfortable home win, right? Not so fast. Notre Dame jumped out to a 20 point halftime lead, shooting a scalding 75% in the process. We got anything we wanted, whenever we wanted it, and I have never seen a Bob Huggins team look so silly on defense. Huggy Bear is like the toilet paper on your shoe that you just can't get rid of. As a Louisville fan, I'm more familiar than any one should be with his style of play and how difficult is to beat one of his teams. In the first half, the Irish looked like a pro team; we were getting inside with ease, dominating a stout defensive interior and knocking down every open look we got from the outside.
The second half was a different story. West Virginia came out loose, free-flowing, and with nothing to lose, and it showed. They started knocking down their outside shots, and were simply not going to be denied the offensive glass. Here's where the stats begin to explain the flow of the game, and how it came right down to the wire: West Virginia had 18 offensive rebounds, scoring off nearly every one of them, and turned it over just 4 times. They didn't use the dribble-drive to run their offense, instead looking to get out in transition with extended, pressing defense, work the ball around the perimeter, and when they missed, go up and get the rebound. WVU has a stable of talented athletes, and is longer and faster at almost every position than ND. In the end, though, the first half was the difference. The Irish played the game like it was a must-win, and it was. They outhustled, outworked, and outplayed the Mountaineers for most of the game. In the end, it was the luck of the Irish that came through, as Butler's buzzer-beating prayer went halfway down and came right back out, preserving Notre Dame's first signature victory of the season. This was huge for ND, and it might be the game to turn around the season. Ty Nash was enormous tonight; he played 31 minutes, scoring 13 points and pulling down 6 rebounds. Brey only uses 7 players, and even Joey Brooks got into the action tonight with 5 points and a big three ball in the first half. It's going to be tough to play the starters all 30+ minutes a night in the physical Big East, though. Carleton Scott has taken a leave of absence from the team for personal reasons, and the Irish will miss his length and spark off the bench if he is gone for any extended period of time. Make no bones about it, though, this was an enormous Dub for Brey and the boys, the signature win we desperately needed, especially at home. We will have plenty of chances over the course of the year to record big W's, but getting them at home when you can is paramount if you want to make a run at a top tier finish in the Big East. Brey always makes these games interesting, for better or for worse, but a win is a win is a win is a win. Our defense has to improve; we can't expect to win games forcing only 4 turnovers, and we have to get better at boxing out and playing with toughness under the rim. Nash will continue to be a huge factor in our success this year, as will guys like Brooks and Johnathan "Party" Peoples off the bench. It almost makes some sense that we don't expend nearly as much energy on defense as we do on offense, because if all 5 starters are going to have to play 30 or more minutes a night, it's hard to expect a do-or-die effort on both ends of the floor. With only a couple subs to spare the starters, it's more important that they stay out of foul trouble at all costs. On the plus side, the Irish have 2 true point guards in Tory Jackson and Hansbrough. The tandem ranks 2nd and 5th nationally, respectively, in assist to turnover ratio, and their sure-handedness and poise with the rock in their hands is a huge reason for how well the offense looks when we really get it going. Defense, and bench contribution, will be the keys to a successful conference season for the Irish, but for now, let's enjoy the big win and get ready for Cincinnati next Saturday!

Looking Ahead?
On my last day home of winter break, I went to see Louisville take on St. John's at Freedom Hall. For most of the game, it looked as if the Cards were caught looking straight ahead to their Monday night showdown against Villanova on what will be a White Out night at home. They were sluggish and lacked energy for most of the afternoon. Several times the Cards allowed Red Storm players to sneak behind their defense and pick up easy buckets, or get loose on the baseline. These lapses need to be fixed before Nova comes to town in a couple of days. In the second half, Preston Knowles provided the spark Louisville had been looking for all day. He scored 6 consecutive points to put the Cards back on top, and consistently found open teammates and knocked down his own open looks whenever he got them. Edgar Sosa was quiet for most of the day, until a span of just a few minutes in which he knocked down a trio of 3 pointers to extend the margin to double digits. Jared Swopshire posted 15 points and 7 boards today, though, to make up for the largely unremarkable performances of Samardo Samuels and Terrence Jennings inside. Samuels needs to be quicker to the hoop and more aggressive defensively, and Jennings needs to apply the same intensity he does for spurts for an entire game. Jerry Smith continues to struggle to find his shot, but made up for it at the line, where he went 12 of 14 and kept the Red Storm at arm's length for the game's final minutes. When Villanova comes to town, guard play will be HUGE. The Wildcats play a 4 guard lineup, one whose quickness and scoring ability is difficult to match up with. Samuels needs to be a force on the inside, and the focus of the Cards' offense for this game. They need to work inside out, establishing the interior before looking to launch from beyond the arc. Knowles, Smith, and Sosa will win or lose this game for the Cards. Their ability to keep Reynolds, Redding, and Stokes in check will be the difference in the contest. Personally, I can't wait for it. Villanova is an upper echelon team who may well end up winning the Big East, and this will be a great barometer for the Cards. Louisville has yet to post a signature victory, and what better time to do it than Monday? I fondly remember the last whiteout at Freedom Hall, dominated by the spotless white suit of Pitino and a nice win over Georgetown at home. I can only hope this year's edition works out the same way. Is it a long shot? Yes. But is it a winnable game? Absolutely. I can't wait to see how the Cards match up with the league's elite, and this game should go a long way toward proving that they can compete with the big boys. Let's go Cards, and bring on the Wildcats!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Road Warriors: Louisville Takes out Providence

7:04- Cards off to a great start with three balls by Reginald Delk and Edgar Sosa. Providence has turned it over twice in their first 3 possessions and Brian McKenzie missed an ugly jumper. Pressure defense from Louisville seems to be causing all kinds of problems, always a great sign for Rick Pitino teams

7:05- Sosa knocks down another 3, drawing a quick timeout from the Friars. Louisville now leads 9-0 after a strong effort from Samardo Samuels to get his own rebound twice, dive on the floor, and make the kick-out pass that led to the Sosa three

7:11- The under 16 minute timeout sees the Cards up 11-0. They’re launching from beyond the arc with absolutely no conscience, and it looks as if Providence will give them those looks throughout the game. When they start to clang off, Pitino’s squad will need to look inside to Samuels and establish the interior. Providence looks flustered and put off by Louisville’s pressure defense, and they’re taking ill-advised, off-balanced three-pointers in an effort to start digging out of the hole they’ve dug for themselves

7:13- Samardo Samuels goes up strong for an offensive rebound, gets the put-back and the foul. This is exactly what we’ve been looking for from him since his freshman season, and his rebounding has clearly improved this year, but that kind of effort needs to be a constant for Samuels as the physical play of the Big East begins to redefine the team’s needs

7:19- Louisville leads 19-10 at the 12 minute timeout. Providence has reeled off 5 straight points, and the Cards are clearly playing faster than they need to play. Mike Marra just nailed a three from the corner, though, and it’s nice to see the Rhode Island native finally find the shooting stroke Louisville fans have been waiting to see all year. Rick Pitino said he was the best high school three point shooter he’s ever seen, and he doesn’t dole out that kind of unabashed praise liberally. Hopefully Marra continues to show confidence in his shot as the season progresses.

7:24- Providence has whittled the lead down to five at 19-14. Providence seems unwilling to work the interior, but Sharaud Curry’s driving ability is starting to create some offense. Edgar Sosa made a horrible decision trying to sneak a pass through the press to Samuels, who has hands of something harder than stone, and predictably lost the ball, leading to a layup. Momentum is all on the home side now.

7:26- As I speak, Marshon Brooks knocks down a three and gets fouled, drawing the Friars within three. He misses the free throw, but Providence comes up with the rebound and gets fouled again. The Friars are not a great team from the charity stripe, and it’s showing. If they could knock down some freebies, they’d have the lead now.

7:29- The under 8 minute timeout sees the Friars even closer at 25-23. Mike Marra stroked another three and looks to have found his range from the outside, but Marshon Brooks snuck behind the D for a layup in transition to pull Providence within two. Louisville isn’t really running an offense right now; they’re tossing lazy passes around the perimeter and launching threes from all over the court as the shot clock winds down. The problem is, this isn’t a great long-range team, and Edgar Sosa has been the difference here, knocking down a trio of them to keep PC at bay. The Cards would do well to try to establish some semblance of an interior game.

7:36- Well, it was only a matter of time before this happened. Providence knocks down a few more threes and takes a 31-29 lead into the 4 minute timeout. Edgar Sosa has single-handedly kept the Cards in the game, and he’ll be going to the line to pull the Ville within 1 when play resumes. Providence has found their rhythm; they’re working the ball around the outside with purpose and precision, in stark contrast to the uninspired play of the Cards. Pitino has kept Samuels on the bench for extended periods of time, and as a result Louisville has scarcely glanced inside. The Cards need to keep PC at arm’s length and take a lead into halftime to feel better about losing that 14-0 lead.

7:50- A quick first half comes to an end with Providence leading 42-37. Samuels comes through with a big three-point play before the half to stop the bleeding a little bit, but Pitino needs to make some changes in the second half, especially on the defensive end. Louisville’s pressure defense forced some turnovers at the beginning of the game, but they haven’t been able to score consistently enough to set up their press. They’re 6 for 20 from beyond the arc, and that includes the 3 for 3 they started the half with. Hopefully Pitino will realize he needs to work inside-out and try to establish Samuels and Terrence Jennings on the low post. Otherwise, this could get out of hand in a hurry.

8:05- The second half is under way…COME ON CARDS GET SOMETHING GOING. Providence clanks a three to start, and I’m hoping that’s a good sign of things to come. The Friars finished the first half a blazing 15 for 20 from the field.

8:09- HUGE alley-oop flush from Bilal Dixon, who absolutely posterized Edgar Sosa on his way to the cup. Jerry Smith knocks down a three from the corner, though, and the boys are back within a bucket at 46-44. If the Ville can get some stops, they just might work their way back into the lead.

8:17- Louisville rolls off a nice 13-7 run to take a 57-55 lead into the under 16 minute timeout, which actually comes at 13:18 left. Samardo Samuels is absolutely dominating inside, and it seems Rick has taken my advice to heart. The Cards are working it to him down low and he is muscling his way to the cup every time down the floor. If they continue to work inside out, the outside looks will get better and better. If Providence starts to finally miss a few shots, I like our chances to come up with a big road victory in the conference. That’s a HUGE if with the way the Cards have been playing D, though.

8:30- The 12 minute timeout finds the Cards with a 59-56 lead, and Jared Swopshire, a.k.a “Swop,” going to the line for a pair. Louisville has done a much better job of controlling tempo in the second half, and is methodically making this a slower, more interior-dominated game. They need to continue to run their offense and not go into a run-out-the-clock, delaying type of game to keep the Friars at arm’s length.

8:33- A lightning quick 6-0 run finds the Cards back up 9 at 67-58. Sharp-shooter Preston Knowles stepped into a rhythm three, knocked it down, and Marshon Brooks launched a contested three over 6’ 10 Terrence Jennings, leading to a run-out and another Mike Marra bomb from long range. Two huge shots for a team desperately seeking some momentum. Timeout Providence.

8:41- An extended 20-3 run gives the Cards a 16 point lead at 74-58. Hopefully we can keep up this high level of play for the rest of the game. Providence is more than capable of big runs, and if they make a couple threes, Louisville needs to stay composed and let Sosa penetrate and set up his teammates.

8:50- Louisville coasts into the home stretch with a 79-61 lead at the 4 minute timeout. The Cards have a 42-19 advantage in the second half, and are dominating in all phases of the game. Whatever Ricky P said at intermission must have struck a chord, because his boys have come out like gangbusters. Barring a monumental collapse, Louisville should be looking at an impressive road win and a 2-0 record in the Big East.

9:04- Louisville continues their hot play and finishes out the game 92-70 winners with a highlight reel dunk by Edgar Sosa, who finished with 26 and really saved the Cards tonight.

Some Final Thoughts

This was a big game for Louisville for several reasons. It was a homecoming of sorts for Pitino, who took Providence to the Final Four before coming to the great state of Kentucky to coach the Cats and Cards, and he’s never lost to his old team. Also, any time you can go on the road and get a win in the Big East, you have to take advantage of your opportunity. A quick glance at Louisville’s Big East schedule reveals very few gimmies, so this was huge for their confidence. The Cards come back home to play St. John’s on Saturday, and should get to 3-0 in conference play before taking on Villanova in a white out game on Monday night. As far as the game goes, I thought it was very encouraging. The Cards came out on fire, took a haymaker to the mouth, and then took over the game in the second half. They got back to their pressing style of defense and added some balance to their offense, working from the inside out and trying to establish Samuels on the interior. Once they did that, the looks from outside got better and better, and Sosa was simply on fire from the opening tip tonight. It was great to see the freshman Marra step up with 11 points in his home state and get meaningful minutes in a conference road game. The Cards’ role players will be hugely important as the season progresses. Jared Swopshire, Kyle Kuric, Mike Marra, and Reginald Delk need to continue to provide efficient minutes off the bench. I think Terrence Jennings is a big X-Factor this season. The 6’10 sophomore is athletic, lanky, and an excellent shot-blocker. With the departures of Earl Clark and Terrence Williams to the NBA lottery, the Cards’ weak side defense has really suffered, and Jennings has shown himself to be the only reliable roadblock to opposing offenses in the defensive interior this season. Pitino said he spent most of his offseason working on his jump shot, which is clearly not what he needs to be working on. If he can come out with the intensity he shows on an intermittent basis from game to game, he can be a huge piece of an NCAA tournament team. Overall, very impressive win for Louisville tonight. Pitino’s modus operandi has been slow starts and blistering finishes, and I can only hope this edition continues the trend. Louisville has won a shocking 12 of their last 17 Big East road games, and Pitino is clearly very effective at getting teams ready to play in hostile environments. The Cards appear to have put that slow start behind them, and look forward to taking on the Johnnies at Freedom Hall this Saturday with a chance to go to 3-0 on conference play before their showdown with Villanova.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Livin' on the Edge

The Irish squeaked out a barnburner at South Florida tonight, 74-73. The boys had a chance to step on the Bulls’ necks midway through the second half but let USF off the mat and had to sweat out a close one. It was a pretty ugly victory but I’ll take an ugly W over a pretty loss any day…especially over a conference opponent at home. As I was regaled with another enthusiastic commentating job by the one and only Dan Wenzel I jotted down some thoughts. And awaaaaaaay we go!

* Luke Harangody went through some stretches where he was ice cold and some where he was absolutely on fire. His finally tally (36 points, 13-for-23 shooting, 4-of-5 3pt) is impressive and there’s no chance in hell we win this game without his heroics…that being said, his first free throw attempt came at the 3:36 mark of the first half. He needs to go back and watch some tapes of Tyler Hansbrough—Psycho T made a living of getting to the free throw line. Harangody is such a deadly free throw shooter—he has such a repeatable motion with so few moving parts, it’s a thing of beauty—that it’s a waste when he doesn’t force the issue and draw fouls inside.

* Thanks to his early season performances Tim Abromaitis is now a marked man. The Irish really need to find a way to get him involved in the offense more. He wasn’t at all in the flow of the game in the first half and you could tell he began to press. He’s a really smart player who’s just starting to get his feet wet in big time college basketball. Learning how to get his shots will be part of the maturation process.

* There was a point at the beginning of the second half where Stan Heath attempted to go small. I absolutely loved how we just pounded it inside immediately. Abro had a nice little “and-1” on the first possession after the substitution and the Irish followed that with three offensive boards and a Harangody put-back the next one. That USF lineup lasted less than two minutes before Heath had to pull the plug and call timeout. Great, smart basketball there by ND.

* Carleton Scott is a freak athlete who needs to be on the floor more and more as the season wears on. Brey gave him a bigger dose of playing time tonight (it was still small at 8 minutes) and he responded with two blocks and five rebounds. He’s so athletic and has such a wide wing span that despite his slight frame he can anchor the 2-3 and be the shot blocking presence we’ve sorely been lacking. One small thing that probably went unnoticed by a lot of people was how he was calling for the ball the possession after he hit his three from the corner. I LOVED that, we need him to embrace that attitude. He’s definitely still raw, but he’s got such a high ceiling that it’s worth taking the lumps that will undoubtedly come with growing pains. Unleash the kid Mike, no excuse to be cautious with such a paper thin bench this year.

* When Harangody gets on a roll like he did today it’s only natural that the opponent will eventually double and even triple team him as soon as he makes a move toward the basket. Coach Brey needs to work on getting Luke to not just put his head down and barrel full-steam into the traffic—it’s almost like an old NBA Live video game where when you’d hit a button to start a move it’d go through on autopilot to the shot. I harped on this last year and it’s the same story this year: he has to find the open shooter in those situations and not just plow into traffic when he doesn’t have any sort of position or alley. USF had three guys swarm him at one point, he has to heighten his court awareness and make the defense pay.

* Tory Jackson and Tyrone Nash deserve all the credit in the world for stepping up and knocking down clutch free throws late in the game. These are guys who are normally atrocious from the charity stripe (both below 60%) that stood up when their team needed them and delivered. Worthy of a Bob Davie Silent H (H)UUUUUUUUGE.

* During the 12-0 South Florida run in the second half our offense was totally out of synch. Those situations are when having no offensive sets to fall back on kills us. It’s inevitable that a time will come in the game where the free-flowing offense we employ will stall. When it does our answer seems to be have someone try to stop the bleeding by taking their man off the dribble. That’s really not our strength. I don’t know exactly what the answer is—perhaps a simple flex set or something of that nature—but I feel like if in Year 10 Brey hasn’t felt the need to come up with one he won’t suddenly chose to try to find an solution now. If his answer was that four corners-esque look at the three minute mark when we were up two (it led to zero points and no look from Harangody inside) then he needs to keep searching.

Quick Hits

I love the effort Tyrone Nash has been giving—frankly, he’s the only one who goes after the boards hard on every play—but on the offensive end he needs to learn how to finish better around the hoop or he’s doomed to be the rich man’s Rick Cornett…Is it me or without fail do we always let the opponent crawl back into the game when it seems they’re dead? The notable exception was that demolition of Louisville last year…My beloved color commentator Dan Wenzel—a subdued Mr. Wenzel by the way, due in large part to the fact that he spent all his energy doing his best Howard Dean “BYAAAH” impression last night at the College of Charleston game—gave an insanely stupid analysis during a timeout of what Mike Brey was writing on (a white board), what he was writing with (a marker), and what he was drawing up (an inbound play). I half expected Will Ferrell to come out dressed as Dan Fouts and explain how the team that scored more points was most likely going to win the game…ND half-asses screens so much it disgusts me…I’ve never seen a coach sit in a little chair on the court during a timeout to talk to his team like Brey did at the end of the game. I can’t imagine trying to fire the team up from a portable stool…Final play by Harangody was a legit foul but he was bailed out when USF hit him because there was a wild shot that was about to be launched. I will take him at the foul line with a chance to win any day of the week though…How pissed off were the gamblers that laid wood on the Irish (giving 1.5pts) when he clanked that second free throw?

A win is a win is a win is a win. We’ll take it and move on.


3 Up, 3 Down, 3 Just About Right

As 2010 gets underway, let's take a look at which teams have surprised (for good or for bad) and which were rated just about right in the preseason.

3 Up:

1. Syracuse: The Orange came into this season unranked in the AP Poll and 25th in the ESPN/USA Today. I think we see now that they were vastly underrated. They're balanced, explosive, and well-coached, and have a slew of impressive victories over Cal, UNC, and Florida to their credit. Had the coaches and pollsters known how good Wesley Johnson was going to be, their preseason ranking would have been higher, but Syracuse has exceeded expectations in a big way this year, regardless of their recent home loss at the hands of Pittsburgh.

2. Kansas State: Frank Martin's squad was picked to finish 4th in the conference in the Big 12 Preseason Poll. While in all likelihood they'll only finish a slot higher than expected, nobody thought the Wildcats would get this good this fast. The boys from Manhattan (Manhappenin' as the locals call it) come out of their nonconference slate with a 13-1 record, with solid victories over Xavier, UNLV, Alabama, and Dayton, with their lone loss coming to a good Ole Miss team. Jacob Pullen is the undisputed leader of the team, and the guard is shooting absolutely lights out from beyond the arc. The experience of Denis Clemente has made for a strong back court, and the Wildcats have several able-bodied big men at their disposal. If they get consistent play from their front court, K-State could be a major factor come March.

3. Temple: I might have picked Wisconsin here, but in the interest of conference variety, I'll go with the Owls. Home massacre at the hands of Kansas aside, Temple has wildly exceeded their preseason expectations so far this season. Picked to finish 5th in the Atlantic 10, the Owls have solid non-conference victories over Siena, Virginia Tech, and Penn State to their credit, as well as a signature win over the 6th ranked Villanova Wildcats. Fran Dunphy's squad has been bolstered by the breakout play of guard Juan Fernandez, who forms a nice back court tandem with experienced senior Ryan Brooks. The blowout loss to the Jayhawks certainly exposed them, but I expect the Owls to be serious contenders in the A-10 and a trendy upset pick come tournament time.

Honorable Mention: USC, New Mexico, Wisconsin, Pittsburgh

3 Down:

1. Oklahoma: Picked to finish 3rd in the Big 12 this season, the Sooners have struggled out of the gate, finishing non-conference play with a pedestrian 9-5 record littered with losses to mediocre teams like VCU, San Diego, and Houston. OU needs better play from star guard Willie Warren, who has an assist to turnover ratio of just 1.13/1. He needs to do a better job of getting his teammates involved, and senior Tony Crocker needs to step up and shoulder a more significant leadership load as the conference slate unfolds. Gotta love the ironically named Tiny Gallon, though. Did anyone see him absolutely shatter a backboard against Gonzaga?

2. Michigan: John Beilein's Wolverines have not lived up to their substantial expectations for this season. They entered the 2009-2010 college basketball year ranked 15th in both polls, but instead have struggled to keep their heads above .500 for much of this early season. A home win over Ohio State on Sunday took them to 7-6 and evened their Big Ten record at 1-1, but Michigan has been a significant disappointment in all areas this year. Manny Harris and Deshawn Sims have been consistent producers on the offensive end, but the role players simply have not stepped up to the plate. Beilein's offense relies on good 3-point shooting, and Michigan simply doesn't have it. They'll need Zack Novak, Laval Lucas-Perry, and Stu Douglass to up their level of play to contend for a top 4 or 5 finish in the Big Ten.

3. UCLA: The Pac-10 is way down this year, and the Bruins are a major reason why. At 6-8, they're making 3 consecutive Final Four appearances under Ben Howland seem light years behind them. I don't think anyone expected the departure of Jrue Holiday to have such a huge impact, but few teams could rebound from the level and amount of NBA talent the Bruins have lost in the past 3 or 4 seasons. They're young and inexperienced, and it shows. While they appear to be showing signs of improvement, they have a long way to go to think about finishing in the top half of a weak Pacific 10 conference. They look balanced on paper with 5 players averaging in double figures, but live and in person it's a different story. Young guards Malcolm Lee and Jerime Anderson have struggled to run the offense and the experienced "leaders" of the team like Nikola Dragovic and Michael Roll haven't shown that they can help to right the ship.

Honorable Mention: California, Butler, South Carolina

3 Who Have Lived up to the Hype:

1. Kansas: If it looks like a rat, smells like a rat, then it probably is a rat. KU is a legitimate #1 team in college basketball, and to my eyes, they look they the best team in the country and the favorite to cut down the nets in March. They are balanced, experienced, and have a stellar freshman in Xavier Henry leading them in scoring, which has been an indicator of championship teams in the past (Carmel Anthony, Derrick Rose, etc). They can hurt you in so many ways, and with so many scoring options, can withstand the occasional bad game from Collins or Aldrich. The Jayhawks would be my pick to win the whole thing if the tourney started today, followed closely by....

2. Texas: Texas was picked 3rd in both polls before the start of the season, and have lived up to those expectations and more, giving college basketball fans the country over an intriguing 1-2 battle between teams in the same conference. Questions about their legitimacy abounded until they posted impressive victories over Michigan State and North Carolina in Cowboys Stadium. They have a legitimate go-to scorer in Damion James, a vastly improved big man in Dexter Pittman, and a stable of guards to run their offense. Once Florida transfer Jai Lucas learns that offense and begins to mesh with the Killer B's (J'Covan Brown, Avery Bradley, Dogus Balbay), Texas will be a major title contender in March.

3. Purdue: The Boilermakers join the Jayhawks and Longhorns as one of 4 remaining undefeated teams. I love this Boiler team. They are balanced, experienced, and play a brand of defense unlike what most teams are prepared for. They really get out and defend, pressure passing lanes, and force opponents out of their comfort zones. Chris Kramer is as efficient a point guard as you could ask for, and although he may be slightly overvalued, I like Robbie Hummel a lot. JaJuan Johnson has been a consistent force on the low block this season, and E'Twaun Moore has provided the same consistency from the shooting guard spot. Expect the Boilers to make a deep run in the tourney this year.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

PSU Plays of the Decade

Taking a page out of well, everyone's book, I have compiled the top 5 Nittany Lion football plays of the Zeros. Let's get it.

No. 5: Rich Gardner's pick six against Nebraska in 2002 (1:40)

No. 4: Game Winning Drive Against Northwestern 2005

No. 3: The Fumble 2

No. 2: The Fumble 1

No. 1: LJ Runs for 2000

Temple Basketball 2010: The Latest Preview...Ever

Are we already in to the conference season of college basketball? Sure, but that doesn't mean it's too late for Temple's favorite son John Yackabonis to unleash his season preview for the Owls. Buckle up and enjoy the ride.

Dear We Never Graduate Followers,

It's me, John. You might know me from all of the subversive, groundbreaking work that changed the face of this website. Or perhaps you’re familiar with all of the generous charity work I imagine I’ll get around to one of these days. Most of you have wondered, where is John? Is he working for another website? Did he die from making love to too many women? Is he living on the moon? Well in short.... yes to the last two.

Let me start off this masterpiece with taking some time out to deal with my first great writing that most critics proclaimed as Nobel laureate worthy. Well Temple Football you sure did make my face red after this season. Yes, I never believed you could turn it around. Then you did and made me eat a huge helping of humble pie. Well ya got me. Unfortunately we lost to UCLA in the Eagle Bank Bowl, but hell, I never thought that we'd even be there. Hopefully we can build from here on out and make this work.

But now onto my assignment from Editor Matt Mattare's desk: Temple Basketball preview. Well... it seems Temple is 11-3, but I'll go on with the preview for our other A-10 writer Mikey.

G Ryan Brooks Sr - Ryan has done a great job, doing everything Temple fans I assume think he'd do. He's our do-it-all guy. He's our best defender and he's lived up to the billing. A solid all around player that I'm sure there's a lot of teams out there that regret not recruiting this guy. He's the leader of this team and he's been spectacular so far in his Temple career.

G Juan Fernandez Soph - Here is a guy that I thought was completely over hyped when he came to Temple last year. Once again I was proven wrong. Fernandez, has come into his own this season and has put up big numbers against quality opponents. Forget about the Kansas game, everyone played terrible, Fernandez has been living up to his hype and I could not be happier.

G Luis Guzman Sr - Guzman is hands down my favorite player on this team. Now it's my time to go off on this with my opinion. It seems every year Temple fans jump on one player and bash him till no end. I have also been guilty of this. This year it's been Guzman. Well Mr. Guzman I have your back. Two years ago everyone was on Tyndale, last year everyone was on Inge, this year it's Guzman. Guzman is a D1 starting point guard and I know for a lot of people it's hard to understand how talented he actually is. Guzman played for the Dominican Republic National Team, he's got talent. Just because he doesn't score as much as people would like does not make terrible like people make it seem. He's an excellent defender and I do not know him personally, but from his first few years with Temple and his playing time not being that great, you know the guy has a great attitude for sticking with us and working his tail off to earn the starting PG spot this year. The guy has lead us to a 11-3 record! Get off his case. I'll take a winner anyday and that's what Guzman is. So Luis Guzman I got your back.

F Lavoy Allen Jr - Allen is another guy who has lived up to his billing. Every now and again he does not show up offensively like I want, but then like most fans forget he does not have a lot of help down low. Allen has a lot of talent, A LOT, but he needs some help. He really is not getting any right now and his basically playing the entire game, which is even more credit to what he's done and shows how good he really is. He a beast on the boards and his offense is still turning out better than I thought. He might be the best player on this team right now and that's saying something.

C/F Michael Eric Soph - The jury is still out on Eric. He's been battling injuries this season and has not been playing that much. He seems like a talented young guy, but give this guy time. Remember what our coaching staff did with Sergio? I think Eric has a higher ceiling than Sergio, so let's give him some time. Remember too it usually takes longer for big men to develop. He's very serviceable right now so here is to hoping he keeps getting better during the season.


We aren't the deepest this year, but a lot of guys have been stepping up from game to game.

F Craig Williams Jr - Williams is a puzzle to me. So games he's great, some games I do not even know if he plays. I know it's frustrating for some fans that Williams is not your traditional big man, but he does have a sweet stroke from outside. Consistency is something Williams needs to bring to the table and that has been a problem so far.

G Ramone Moore Frosh - Moore has provided a spark off the bench in a few games. Moore seems like he could be a key contributor to this team, but instead he's just another player who needs to be more consistent.

F Rahlir Jefferson Frosh - Jefferson has been a pleasant surprise for at least for me this season. What I have seen from him this season he's shown flashes of brilliance. Once again though, he's a young guy. Give him time and I think he's going to turn out to be a beast.

F Scootie Randall Soph - Maybe it's just me, but I am just trying to figure out Randall. He has had one good game this season for us and that was pretty much it. He seems like he can help this team. I hope he puts it together and maybe everything will work out for this young guy.

As of right now, I'm pumped for this season. To be honest after losing Christmas, Inge and, Olmos I thought this would be a rebuilding year. We it does not seem that way.

And before you start going and saying how I'm an idiot and how I'm not informed or have no real team insight, this is my opinion. You didn't have to read it. You can start your own blog and go off about how I'm a moron. I wouldn't read it, but I'm sure it would get a lot of hits. I'm pretty rockin

We Never Graduate Extra

I do still go to open gyms at around the Lehigh Valley and Darrun Hilliard is a great young man that Temple does have interest in. He's an excellent player already and he is still growing. He's a silky smooth lefty with a nice touch. He would be a great addition to this team, but he wants to go to Syracuse. Hopefully for us he'll come to Temple though. No matter where he goes Hilliard is an upstanding young man and I'll be a fan of him no matter what his decision is.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Dear Diary...Notre Dame-UConn

It’s a new year and after recharging over the holiday season, we’re back and ready to roll in 2010. Let’s kick off the decade with a little running diary of the Irish and Huskies this afternoon. UConn comes in ranked #10 in the country but fresh off a controversial loss to Cincinnati. The Irish are only a seven point underdog which seems a little tight considering ND’s historical ineptitude at UConn, but this is a perfect opportunity early in the conference season for the boys to announce their presence.

I have a feeling this season is going to play out either like the 2005-2006 campaign where we overachieved and were in a lot of games but never finished, or it’s going to be like the 2006-2007 campaign where we surpassed all expectations en route to clinching an NCAA berth. Here’s hoping it’s the latter.

2:04 Harangody gets things started off right with a long two after some great ball movement and a good kickout by Tyrone Nash. There are plenty of things to criticize Brey for, but you really have to admire how he’s able to piece together teams that year in and year out have such incredible ball movement.

2:05 Absolutely fantastic start by Tyrone Nash. On the first possession he drew a travel, the second possession he found Harangody for an open two, and the third possession he banged inside, missed his shot but tipped the rebound out to the perimeter and eventually got the ball back and finished. Just looking at him man up on defense he seems like a totally different and motivated player. He could be a HUGE difference maker if he can consistently give this sort of sustained effort.

2:06 Hansbrough picks Kemba Walker’s pocket and takes it the length of the court where Nash cleans up for another bucket. 6-0 Irish and Calhoun calls a timeout as he incredulously looks at his team on the court. Doesn’t seem like UConn knows the game started.

2:16 The Huskies have officially woken up. The Irish got up 10-4 but the size, speed, and athleticism of UConn is starting to show through as the Huskies cut it to a one point deficit with about 13 minutes left. They’ve already got four blocks including one where Stanley Robinson sent a Ben Hansbrough shot into the third row.

2:19 We head into the 12 minute timeout with the Irish leading 15-11 thanks to a Tory Jackson three from the corner. The Irish are doing a good job staying out in front and not letting UConn get on any sort of sustained run. The Huskies have a ton of size and athleticism—especially on the interior—and there are times when you wonder how ND is going to be able to keep up. If we’re going to stick around late in the game we have to continue to keep UConn somewhat off-balanced when we’re on offense and perhaps most importantly force them to go one and out on defense. If we can find a way to keep the rebound battle close we’ll have a shot. Otherwise they’re going to be able to gradually wear us down.

2:21 The announcers are talking about how well Abromaitis and the team in general does in the classroom which is great, but please for the love of God don’t say our team is “full of smart cookies” ever again. Smart cookie is a term mothers used in the early 90’s.

2:27 We’re at the eight minute timeout and the Irish are clinging to a 1 point lead, 19-18. These announcers (Clay Matvick is the play-by-play, Bob Wenzel is the color) are ridiculously excitable—every time UConn fast breaks they make it sound like you’re watching Magic and the Showtime offense. Every time Tory Jackson does something Wenzel gushes about him. They’re just loving everything which is borderline annoying. Gus Johnson should be the ceiling for excitability and at this unexciting juncture in the game he wouldn’t be imitating Pepper from Dodgeball like these guys are.

2:33 UConn is on a little run here and takes the lead 26-22 on a pair of Edwards baskets so Brey calls a timeout to settle things down. The last four possessions we’ve thrown out a 2-3 zone, a 3-2, and straight man. When we go man-to-man it really highlights the athletic mismatches we face at just about every position. We’re going to sink or swim based on how effective our zones can be.

2:37 At the four minute timeout Notre Dame is back out in front 27-26 after a little 5-0 run. Carleton Scott is getting significant playing time for the first time in awhile which is good to see. He’s been shaky shooting the ball thus far—I think he’s 0-3—but it’s good to see him out there. Scott is one of the few that can match up athletically in this game. He’s like a taller, lankier version of Russell Carter. On the other hand you have Jonathan Peoples who is having a rough outing to say the least. He proved against Providence that when teams forget about him he can jump up and bite them, but against a team like this his deficiencies are really evident. We’re still hanging tough though, have to be happy with this start as an ND fan.

2:44 Harangody hits a shot in the lane with two seconds left to pull the Irish within two points at halftime, 34-32. The Irish did a nice job weathering a UConn run there. Meanwhile Wenzel is about to run out on the court and start dry humping the Big East logo. Good Lord, someone spike his drink. Yes, it’s been a good game thus far but give me a break.

2:48 Quick halftime rundown:
* Great first half from Tyrone Nash, best half of basketball I’ve seen him play his entire career. He finished around the basket (9pts) and was the presence we need on the defensive interior.
* Also an effective first half for Ben Hansbrough. He did a great job staying patient for the most part and did a good job getting in the lane every now and then in an attempt to get to the free throw line. He doesn’t take many bad shots.
* Quiet half for Abromaitis. The announcers keep talking about how he looks jittery. I don’t really sense that, he just hasn’t had many opportunities thus far.
* Harangody finished the half with 12 points and five boards but he has to be more efficient on the offensive end and provide some semblance of defense.
* This UConn team is very much what I’ve come to expect of Jim Calhoun units. They’re incredibly talented and athletic but they look borderline disinterested for lengthy stretches. The Huskies never seem to be able to keep the foot on the gas for an entire game—a lot of times they let inferior teams hang around like the Irish are right now and occasionally someone jumps up and bites them even though they’re clearly the better team (see: George Mason in 2006).

3:00 We come out of the break with some halftime stats. 26 of UConn’s 34 points have come in the paint, but they also on have four second chance points. What does that mean? That the Huskies don’t need a second chance because they’re making it the first time they shoot. It’s time to man up on defense inside and stop giving up easy looks.

3:06 We’re at the first TV timeout of the half and the Irish are still down two (43-41). Harangody has a couple buckets and Nash threw one in as well. Harangody’s game has really evolved over the course of his career. He does have an effective jumper now and he’s got a Tyler Hansbrough-like arsenal of running/awkward shots that find a way in the hoop, but part of me wishes he channel his inner freshman a bit. His freshman year he just hurt people whether it was his own teammates in practice or the opponents. I wouldn’t go as far as saying he’s become a finesse player, but when’s the last time you remember him banging people around like he did as a freshman? He seemed like the big kid who didn’t know how to play with the little kids that year—we used to call him “Bam Bam.” I’d loved to see some of that again.

3:12 Notre Dame is forced to call a timeout at the 14:24 mark after Stanley Robinson gets his own rebound twice and throws home a monster dunk over Jonathan Peoples on what’s sure to be a Sportscenter Top 10 play. The color guy just blacked out he was so excited. Irish are down by 6 and we need to stop the bleeding fast.

3:19 We head into the 12 minute TV timeout with the Irish down only three after back-to-back threes by Hansbrough and Abromaitis. The three by Hansbrough was set up by some fantastic ball movement where ultimately Tory ended up finding him in the corner on the break. We need to find a way to stay close and then hope for a spurt at the right time. Abro’s been quiet, maybe that bomb from the corner woke him up.

3:23 Irish back on top 54-53 after back-to-back jumpers by Harangody. Tory Jackson has done much on the scoresheet today but with few exceptions he’s played a very steady game and has set the table extremely well. He found Luke for his last bucket on a nice little kick off of dribble penetration on the baseline.

3:33 UConn has started to open things up with a 10-2 run and the commentators are continually mixing up Harangody and Hansbrough. They just had an entire conversation on how effective Hansbrough’s jump hook is (it was Harangody who made the shot) and how Harangody had his pocket picked at the top of the key (Hansbrough was the one who was stripped).

3:40 We’re at the four minute timeout and the Irish are down by six. Abromatis and Jackson hit back-to-back threes to keep us close but UConn is wearing us down. Stanley Robinson has 20 points, 12 rebounds, and has been a pretty dominating presence on the defensive interior. It’s going to be tough to make up this deficit—I like Abro, Hansbrough, and Tory, but that trio doesn’t have the outside firepower last year’s squad had with McAlarney and Ayers. COME ON IRISH, MAKE SOMETHING HAPPEN.

3:43 Tory misses the front end of a 1-and-1 out of the timeout. That’s far and away his biggest Achilles heel. UConn promptly goes down and runs a beautiful pick and roll out of a 30-second timeout that leads to an Edwards dunk. Instead of being down four we’re now down eight. Devasting swing right there.

3:52 UConn has put this game away and now it’s just a matter of what the final will be. Disappointing

3:58 UConn wins 82-70.

Three Snap Judgments

1. Not a bad performance by the Irish. They hung around with a top ten team on the road for about 35 minutes which is a positive. However this game also highlights how far the team is from being elite. We played a very good game, UConn handed in a lethargic performance, and we still lost by 12.
2. Stanley Robinson is an impressive athletic specimen. He had his way all day with an overmatched Irish front line, posting 22 points and 16 rebounds. This UConn team should be a top ten outfit with the combination of Robinson-Dyson-Walker-Edwards but their effort and focus is inconsistent. They had enough talent to blow ND out of the building but let them hang around until late in the second half. Mark my words: the Huskies will be a high seed in March that gets knocked out earlier than they should.
3. Like I said at the beginning of the game, for all of Brey’s faults as a coach no one can debate how well his team works the ball offensively. Very rarely does an opponent get them out of synch (Washington State in the NCAA tournament was one that sticks out); normally when the offense doesn’t hum it’s just because they aren’t making shots. The team didn’t shoot particularly well today (40% from the field, 36.4% from 3pt range) and didn’t get to the foul line nearly enough (only 8 attempts compared with 23 by UConn). Those are two big reasons ND lost. The other main reason is UConn just wore the Irish down inside over the course of the game. As the second half wore on the boys had no answer for the combination of Robinson and Edwards.

The Irish don’t have the high octane three point attack we’ve been accustomed to seeing over the past five or six years. Having that ability to go on 9 and 12 point runs in the blink of an eye covers up a lot of flaws. We’ll find out over the next two weeks whether or not ND can survive this year without that three point safety net.