February 26, 2009

Mitch Mustain

Pretty good article on the USC quarterback situation. I'm actually surprised that USC is headed for an all out QB battle this offseason. I sort of expected to see Mustain anointed as the man in LA, but it sounds like this thing will not be settled any time soon.

It seems like USC has been enamored with Aaron Corp ever since they landed him. It would not stun me if he wins the job.

And then you have Matt Barkley coming in as the #1 prep quarterback in the nation. Who knows. Maybe he'll work his way into the mix. He's already enrolled at USC and working out.

Should be interesting to see what the USC offense looks like next year. They have their entire offense back other than the quarterback, so whoever wins this job is basically going to be a game manager type who takes advantage of a great line and all those skill weapons and doesn't screw it up. How long will it take for the new QB to get settled though?? If Mustain or Corp is shaky in the early going, that could knock USC out of the national championship race. Would Barkley get a look if Mustain and Corp struggle?? Hmmm. Then again, USC never seems to have problems reloading at any position.

USC also has an all new offensive coaching staff with John Morton moving up to OC and Jeremy Bates coming in from Denver. Are these guys going to embrace more of a wide open attack?? It seems like USC fans have complained a lot about conservative playcalling (although we never seem to see that against ND).

Either way, I'm expecting USC to be really really good next year, which brings me to my next point. I'm seeing a lot of chatter on the ND message boards lately about how ND needs to beat USC next year and how that game is the defining game for 2009. Really?? I am kind of stunned that our fanbase is even having these discussions. We were 7-6 last year!! They beat us 38 to freaking nothing and we didn't get a first down until the 3rd quarter. And we're talking about them like it's some sort of toss up and breaking down their roster like it's the Game of the Century? What USC fan is even remotely thinking about us as one of their tougher games?? This is the equivalent of Stanford or Arizona talking about this stuff because that's where we stand in the football world right now. Maybe everyone has really embraced this "audacity of hope" thing, but it seems a little silly to be talking about USC as some sort of defining game. How about we beat freaking BC or Michigan State first?? Or how about we just beat Nevada before we start talking about how we match up with USC??

Don't get me wrong, I think ND can have a very good team next year if things break right, but I'm certainly not going to be talking up how we stack up with USC in February. Until I see it with my own eyes, we are an inferior team and an inferior program no matter who is on our roster and who is on their roster. The defining game of 2009 is not USC. It is Michigan State and BC and Pitt and Purdue. Until we show that we can beat those teams year in and year out, we have absolutely no business comparing ourselves to USC in my opinion.

I'm hoping that we are 5-0 heading into that USC game and the crowd is fired up with College Gameday in the house, but I'd rather just wait and see for now.

February 24, 2009

Around the Nation - College Hoops

Some college hoops thoughts as we head into March:

9) I wanted to start with a team from the state of Indiana. The best program in the state of Indiana in fact. Not Purdue. Not ND. Not IU. The Butler Bulldogs. Great win for them on Saturday over Davidson, but I have to ask one question.

Why is Butler even in the Bracket Busters event?? It's an insult to them as a program!!

In the last 12 years, Butler has played in the NCAA Tournament seven times with an eighth on the way this year. They've been to 2 Sweet 16s since 2003, and they've also had two other years where they went to the NCAA 2nd round. Last year's squad went 30-4 and got screwed with a 7 seed before losing an epic matchup to Tennessee in the second round. They've dominated their league and cemented a reputation for beating bigger name programs throughout the Midwest. By every measurable out there, Butler has been one of the 25 or so best programs in the nation this decade. If Butler is in the Bracket Busters, why isn't someone like St. Johns or Seton Hall in it as well?? Butler is every bit as high-profile as those programs.

In my eyes, schools like Butler and Xavier and Gonzaga are no longer "mid-majors" these days. If you are playing Butler on a neutral court, that is a 50/50 game at best for most of the major conference teams out there. They might have a lot of white guys, but they know how to play basketball and they can play half court offense and defense as well as anyone.

And Butler is young this year. They have zero seniors, and their three leading scorers are freshmen and sophomores. Gordon Hayward is only a freshman and is going to be a superstar, and Howard is a really good college big man. Just go ahead and pencil them into a Sweet 16 in 2010 and 2011.

8) How bad is the SEC this year?? I know the SEC gets a bad rap for not being a basketball league and because no one down there cares about hoops, but there have usually been at least a couple teams capable of making a run in the tournament. Kentucky, Florida, Tennessee, Arkansas, even Bama and LSU and Vandy have done some damage.

But this year, the league has really fallen on hard times. My god, the team currently leading the SEC right now is an LSU team that beat absolutely no one in OOC play. LSU lost to Texas A&M by 11, lost to Xavier by 10 at home, and lost to Utah by 30 on the road.

Then again, the SEC is one of those leagues that always seems to overachieve in the NCAA tournament because there are so many athletes down in that league. LSU basically rolled the balls out a couple years ago and made the Final Four as a 4 seed. The league looks bad on paper, but someone will probably emerge and make a little run.

My sleeper pick this year from the SEC: South Carolina. I've been casually following them because Devan Downey transferred out of Cincy down there during the Huggins fiasco. Downey was a stud at UC as a freshman, and now he's one of the best players in the SEC scoring 20 a game. He's a lot of fun to watch. They are a young team, but have been getting steadily better. If they end up as an 9 or a 10 seed or something like that, I think they could end up giving a top team all they can handle.

7) For the recruiting gurus, I watched a very interesting Outside the Lines story the other day on the hunt for this John Wall guy. This one seems to be destined for another OJ Mayo situation. He's already on his 3rd high school in five years, he's been kicked off a team for attitude problems, he's linked with a shoe company, and he's already announced that he is only playing one year in college before heading to the NBA. Sounds like a real asset to the college game.

And yet Coach K wants him badly!! Apparently Coach K is realizing that the "whitewash" method of recruiting doesn't get you past the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament. You aren't going to win games just because you wear Duke uniforms and slap the floor a lot. You need athletes.

I have no idea who will land him, but Baylor is the frontrunner at the moment. Why?? Because they hired Wall's AAU coach as the director of recruiting development and another guy is enrolled at a JUCO in Waco, Texas near the Baylor campus.

I'm not normally one to get all high and mighty about recruiting and other shenanigans in college sports, but I think this "hire the AAU coach as an assistant" thing is a little bogus. Why not just give the guy an envelope full of cash while you're at it?? When you are hiring the kid's dad or AAU coach as an assistant, how is that all that different from him having an agent?? There's just too much smoke around it, and it looks silly when Calipari and others are saying that they hired the guy for long term basketball reasons instead of just as an incentive to get a recruit. Does anyone expect me to believe that Calipari would have hired some recruit's dad as an assistant if his kid wasn't a top recruit??

It just feels slimy, and there is an obvious solution. Ban this type of activity. If you want a kid, you can't hire his dad or his coach or any of his associates. And if you don't want to go that far, just put a timeline on it so that you can't hire a guy for three years or something like that. If Calipari wants to hire some kid's dad three years later, then go ahead once the conflict of interest is gone.

6) Jim Calhoun is my hero. This is awesome.



Could this "activist" be any dumber?? Listen you hippie clown, the budget deficit in the state of Connecticut currently sits at two BILLION dollars. Calhoun makes $1.6 million. Even if you cut his salary down in half, the budget deficit remains at $1 billion, 999 million or whatever. Grandstanding about Calhoun's salary is absurd when you consider that his salary makes up for very little of the state budget.

And if you are going to go after "overpaid" state employees, why go after a guy who actually MAKES money for the state?? As Calhoun stated, he made $12 million for the UConn athletic department. He is a profitable employee in every way. Why isn't this degenerate going after some tenured anthropology professor at UConn who makes $400,000 and doesn't bring in a dime of revenue for the state?? Of course, that wouldn't give this clown any publicity, so he goes after the high-profile guy.

I thought Calhoun's response to this guy was perfect. The only thing that would have made it better would have been if Calhoun had finished his answer by saying something like "maybe I should think about leaving UConn for a job at a private university or at another state school where I don't have to deal with questions like yours." This guy wouldn't have made it five steps out of the interview room before some raging UConn fan beat him within an inch of his life for angering Calhoun.

5) As of right now, Joe Lunardi has 7 Big Ten teams in the NCAA Tournament, including Ohio State. Buckeye fans, do you feel even remotely safe about the NCAA Tournament?? I think it's time to start getting concerned. They have gone from an NCAA lock playing for a good seed to a 7-7 team that appears to be fading yet again. I think the Buckeyes need to go to at least 10-8 to feel solid going into conference tournament play.

The Big Ten standings are really getting interesting.

Michigan State 11-3 21-5
Purdue 10-4 21-6
Illinois 10-5 22-6
Penn State 8-6 19-8
Minnesota 8-7 20-7
Wisconsin 8-7 17-10
Ohio State 7-7 17-8
Michigan 7-8 17-11
Northwestern 5-9 14-11
Iowa 4-10 14-13
Indiana 1-13 6-20

There are three locks at this point, but how many teams from the Big Ten are getting in?? I don't see 7 teams getting in out of the Big Ten. Out of the bubble teams, here are their remaining schedules.

Penn State (RPI - 61) - @ Ohio State, Indiana, Illinois, @ Iowa

Minnesota (RPI - 34) - @ Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan

Wisconsin (RPI 28) - Michigan, @ Minnesota, Indiana

Ohio State (RPI 43) - Penn State, @ Purdue, @ Iowa, Northwestern

Of those four teams, I think Wisconsin is probably in the best shape. An RPI at 28 and a borderline lock to get to at least 10 conference wins. They have the easiest path to an NCAA bid. Minny probably needs to win that Wisconsin game to feel good. And Penn State is still in pretty good shape to get to 10 wins.

That leaves the Buckeyes. I think a best case scenario for Ohio State is to get to 10-8 in the league, and even that would require a road win at Iowa that has not treated them kindly in recent years. 9-9 in the league is going to put them in a very tough spot. I know the Big Ten has a good conference RPI this year, but does anyone really feel comfortable saying that the Big Ten is getting 7 out of 11 teams into the dance after all the Big Ten bashing that has gone on in football and basketball in the last few years?? I don't. I think you gotta get into that top 6 to feel ok about yourself.

On paper, Ohio State should be an NCAA Tournament team. My god, Evan Turner is an all-conference player and a future NBA first round pick, Mullens is a lottery pick right now, and Buford will probably be a lottery pick after next year. How is this team on the bubble?? That amazes me. I like Thad Matta, but he's had second straight shaky year. Bad program management has really hurt him, and his team seems to be wilting in Big 10 play. When you have this many young guys, your team is going to hit the wall. If you are tired, you take bad shots and don't guard people. They need to figure out a way to get better quality depth and more upperclassmen who stick around. The Final Four in 2006 was great, but back to back NITs would be a severe blow for the momentum of the program. I think Matta needs to take a serious look at this program in the offseaon and make some long term changes in his philosophy for recruiting.

The conference tournament wll probably also have a say in things. I still think there will be only 6 teams getting in from the Big 10 (at best), so you may have a Minny-OSU type matchup on Friday that amounts to a play-in game.

4) I'm annoyed by Memphis. Not in the sense that I dont think they are a good team. I haven't watched them in months, but I have no doubt that they are probably really good right now. Just looking at what they have been doing to people lately, they are bludgeoning teams. And Memphis' reputation speaks for itself in the NCAAs of late. Memphis has talent and Coach Cal. That's a good start.

But here's the thing about Memphis getting a #1 seed. They don't deserve it based on who they have played and beaten this year. I would have understood it last year based on a tough OOC schedule and a dominating regular season, but this year's team lost to Syracuse and Xavier at home and Georgetown on the road in OOC play. They really haven't beaten anyone of note in OOC play other than Gonzaga. I just don't think it's fair to give them a #1 seed even if you think they are one of the four best teams in the country. Those seeds are for what you have accomplished and who you have beaten. Memphis has destroyed the CUSA. That's not enough for a #1 seed (or even a #2 seed in my opinion).

3) As for the Irish, I don't know what to say about this team. I still think we are a longshot, but the Lunardis and Katzes of the world are basically stating that ND will get in if we can get to 9-9 in the league as the 8th team out of the Big East. Based on Lunardi's track record, why would I doubt him?? He gets the whole bracket right almost every year. If he's saying ND is in, I'm listening.

With that said, my feeling is that it is still too early to judge what the bubble is going to look like in a few weeks. I can't get really comfortable about ND's chances until we see how the conference tournaments shake out. I think ND would be in good shape if the bubble stands exactly as it stands today in three weeks, but you know there are going to be some upsets in the conference tournaments that eat up at-large bids for the bubble teams. For example, the A-10 tourney this year is in Atlantic City. Is it inconveivable that someone like Temple will win the A-10 tourney this year?? The A-10 suddenly would go from a 2 bid league to a 3 bid league since Xavier and Dayton are most likely getting in. What if Butler doesn't win the Horizon?? The Mountain West has a few viable at-large teams, and you have Utah State out there at 25-3 in the WAC. Plus, there's Gonzaga and the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. Even though it doesn't look like it, I bet the MVC will get at least 2 teams this year. That heartland Peoria/Omaha/Des Moines area of the country is a college hoops hotbed, and the NCAA is going to want to make sure that league is represented in the NCAAs.

And that's before you even get to the heavyweight leagues. Last year, Georgia won the SEC tournament and got in as a 14 seed. There have been quite a few of those "out of nowhere" conference tournament winners that take up a bid.

If there are upsets in the conference tournament (and there always are), all those leagues suddenly become multi-bid leagues and knock other teams off the bubble. It seems like that happens every year. I remember several teams were considered "safe" until conference tournaments started last year, and then they got pushed off the bubble as the "Championship Week" went along.

Add all that up, and you are talking about 4-6 extra bids that are unaccounted for at the moment. If you are on the bubble headed into Championship Week, you are getting knocked out unless you definitively play your way in by making a run in the conference tournament. How many times have we heard the "all they need to do is win one conference tournament" game thing and then the team gets knocked out anyway when they do that?? You gotta go the extra mile.

9-9 with all those quality wins would give us a shot, but I still think it's a long shot at the moment. I still think we'd have to make a serious run into the semis at the BET. Beating the #16 and the #8 teams in the BET would establish us as the 8th best team in the Big East. Is that going to be enough?? I don't know, but I do know that the 8th team from the Big East is probably going to be one of the first teams knocked out if the committee gets in a jam and needs to make some cuts.

The 9-9 conference record isn't bad in itself, but the RPI rating at 72 is killing us. Our best case scenario would be to get that RPI down into the high 40s/low 50s. I won't even address the OOC scheduling issue because we've been talking about this for at least 5 years. If you still don't understand the RPI and why scheduling 250+ RPI teams instead of 100ish RPI teams for your home OOC games is a bad thing, you never will. Apparently Mike Brey is determined not to learn this lesson, and our RPI remains an albatross because of it.

With that said, I hope we win all four and end up at 10-8. If we do that, we're a lock. Our RPI would be solid, we'd have a winning conference record, probably be in around 7th place in the league, and we'd be the hottest team in the Big East. That said, I'm obviously not counting on a win at UConn even without Dyson.

Either way, I'm not going to complain if we don't get in. We dug ourselves into the hole, and finishing 9-9 in your league with a bad RPI is asking for the committee to leave you out. If you are on the bubble, it's a complete crap shoot.

Oh well, I'm glad we are at least back in the conversation.

2) One final thought on Brey while I'm here. I have always been a Brey champion, but this season has really created some bouts of pessisism for me about the state of the ND basketball program. The pattern that has emerged with this program is that we are only good when we are off the radar. In other words, in the years when no one is talking about us, we tend to "surprise" and have a good regular season. Or when we are sitting at 3-7 in the league and dead to the world, we suddenly will show signs of life and surprise some teams to get back in it. We are at our best when no one is focusing on ND. I almost think Brey prefers to be that "off the radar" team that other teams underestimate. The fact that we trot out all these white guys only adds to the aura of us being an overlooked team.

But as soon as you stick a target on our back, we fold up. In the NCAAs, we have been mediocre at best. In years when we were highly ranked in the preseason, we have come up short of expectations (including this year). In the Big East Tournament when every team is scrapping and fighting to advance, we bow out early.

Why is that?? I think it's because our style of play is more designed to try to catch teams off guard. We hope to come out and get a bunch of open 3s before other teams wake up and adjust. When that is working and the other team isn't ready for it, it's great. But it also goes cold in a hurry when teams are focusing on us and locking us down defensively. In a setting like the NCAAs or the BET where every team is going all out to advance to the next week and bringing that extra level of intensity on defense, that formula isn't built for success. We have never shown the ability to win a bunch of games with our defense, so it's tough to get wins when the shots aren't falling.

Anyway, I'm not completely down on Brey or anything. I like Brey, and I want him at ND. He's a good coach who has done a lot of good for the program and has generally produced winning teams. But the pattern that has emerged with this program tells me that we are pretty much maxed out on the Mike Brey era. It might get a little better than this at times when we are off the radar, but any hopes of big time success are probably not realistic after nine years.

1) WEISND power poll:

5. Michigan State
4. Oklahoma
3. UConn
2. Pitt
1. North Carolina

That's my top five for now based on who I think is the best team in the country regardless of record or recent losses or whatever other criteria is used for the polls. I don't think they are necessarily going to win it all, but North Carolina is still the team that has the best chance to win it all in my eyes. If they could ever commit to locking down defensively, they would win this thing going away. No one else has their combination of talent and experience. Because I consider them a mortal lock to make the Final Four and can't say that about anyone else right now, they are my #1 team in the land.

I think this NCAA Tournament has the chance to be really really wacky. Last year, we had four really good teams that were just better than everyone else: UNC, Memphis, UCLA, and Kansas. All those teams were far and away the best teams in their particular region of the country and were never in any real jeopardy until at least the Elite 8. This year, the only team I would say that about is UNC. Everyone else is beatable as early as the 2nd round. I think we're going to see at least one 3-6 seed type team in the Final Four and maybe two.

Look at some of the #2 type seeds out there right now. Marquette, Duke, Clemson, Missouri, Nova? Does anyone feel that great about any of those teams?? Me neither. Every one of those teams has major flaws.

I'm not even sure what to make of the #1s either. I love this Pitt team, but how will they play once you take them out of the rough and tumble Big East and into a more tightly-officiated game?? They seem to run into that problem every year. They also have free throw issues and shooting issues at times.

As for UConn, they are the other team that I would have put down as an elite team until that Dyson injury. Now, I don't know what to make of them. It's tough to retool this late in the year.

Looking forward to the Madness!

February 22, 2009

2009 Recruiting Roundup


I'm obviously a little late to this party, but now that things have calmed down a bit and the Irish are about to get into spring practice, let's take an in-depth look at Charlie's 2009 class.

Most of this info is lifted from ND's Scout and Rivals sites, so I'll thank the boys at Irish Eyes and Irish Illustrated in advance for all the hard work they do to give us recruitniks our proper fix all year round. I neglected to include any of the ESPN rankings because, well, I'm just that lazy. And the predictions are all my own, so feel free to hunt me down when they don't come true.

DEFENSE

Tyler Stockton - Princeton, NJ
Scout: 4-star, #13 DT
Rivals: 4-star, #16 DT
(#4 Run Stuffer)
Offers - USC, PSU, GT, UNC, Tennessee

One of the most important recruits in the class, given the need at his position and the timing of his commitment. Stockton verballed at the Spring Game, and along with Cierre Wood, helped to keep the momentum from the huge 2008 recruiting class going. His impressive offer list speaks volumes about his perceived potential. Stock rose throughout the year, especially at the Army All-American Game where he was considered one of the best DT's all week. A short, stout run-stopper, Stockton also boasts a non-stop motor that allows him to be effective in pass-rushing downs as well.

Ceiling: Given the likely impending move to a 4-3 under Tenuta, Trevor Laws seems like a nice comparison, given the effort he puts forth, along with his somewhat short, squat build.

Prediction: His status as an early entrant will certainly help him get on the field sooner. It doesn't seem far-fetched to assume that Stockton will see time in a rotation this year, and become a full-time menace by 2010. Barring injury, there's no reason to believe he won't achieve a Laws-type ceiling and have a similar impact over the course of his career.

Manti Te'o - Honolulu, HI
Scout: 5-star, #1 ILB
Rivals: 5-star, #2 ILB
(#1 Best Instincts, #2 Best Run-Stopper)
Offers - USC, UCLA, BYU

Without a doubt, the headliner of the class. Finally gave Irish fans something to cheer about on Signing Day when he slipped on an ND hat, providing Weis a huge recruiting victory over his arch-nemesis, Pete Carroll. Enough has been said about this guy on Irish sites all over the internet, but he's generally considered one of the more polished HS kids ever seen on a recruiting highlight video.

Beyond his own accomplishments, the recruiting and commitment of Te'o may open a door to a state and culture that has been mostly overlooked by ND coaches to date. Doug has covered the Polynesian issue in previous posts, but if Weis can start injecting one or two of these guys into the front 7 every year or so, it might go a long way to bringing our defense back to the top of the college football world.

Ceiling: A multi-year starter and All-American certainly isn't out of the question. Limited only by the posibility (probability?) of an impending Mormon mission which would take him away from a regimented workout program, and may require Weis to recruit him all over again. Kory Minor was the last 4-year starter at LB for the Irish. He seems like a good comparison.

Prediction: He'll see the field this year. The only question is whether he'll be the starter and QB of the defense in the Nevada game. The defense as a whole might greatly benefit from a move back to the outside by Brian Smith, who has not had the same impact since being forced to the inside by necessity. Should Te'o play a bunch his freshman year, might he be dissuaded from leaving for the mission if the Irish will be finding themselves in position for a title run in 2010?

Carlo Calabrese - Verona, NJ
Scout: 4-star, #14 ILB
Rivals: 3-star, #25 ILB
Offers: Florida (?), BC, Pitt, Rutgers

Your prototypical big, hulking, mean ILB, Calabrese loves to hit people and it shows in his highlight videos. Questions about his footspeed may limit his playing time, but he's pretty polished at this point as well. If ND chooses to switch around to a 3-4, Calabrese would certainly be more likely to find his way on the field.

Ceiling: Ultimately, I believe Carlo is a guy who's more effective in running situations, and may need to come off the field on passing downs. If he fills out a bit more, he sounds like a Corey Mays-type LB.

Prediction: Calabrese offers some depth at another position of need for the Irish. Although ND has had sufficient bodies at ILB, no one has distinguished themselves, forcing Brian Smith to the inside where he's probably out of position. A move to a 4-3 defense probably limits his chances to see the field, but my guess is if Carlo doesn't see the field in his first 2 years, he probably won't see much of it at all.

Zeke Motta - Vero Beach, FL
Scout: 4-star, #10 OLB
Rivals: 4-star, #5 OLB
(#2 Best Instincts, #8 in FL's Postseason 100)
Offers: Florida, FSU, Auburn, UCLA

HS safety who has already been pencilled in for the Harrison Smith - OLB position at ND. Stock rose significantly as the season went on, including at the Army All-American Game. Rivals has identified him as a possible "Impact Freshman" in 2009 and moved him up to #54 in their Top 100 list. Motta's verbal gave Weis another victory over an arch-nemesis: Urban Meyer and the Gators, who desperately tried to woo Zeke as the months went on.

Ceiling: Difficult to analyze at this point. ND seems to be leading the charge in converting athletic safeties into OLBs to combat spread offenses, both in the run and in the pass. But given his talent, multi-year starter and perhaps even All-American might not be out of the question.

Prediction: The second of three early entrants, Motta's presence on campus will hopefully allow him necessary time in the weight room and in the film room to get him on the field sooner. He's being tossed into a fairly deep group, so competition for playing time will be fierce.

Since Weis has always preached that he wants to have the 11 best players on the field, I wouldn't be surprised to see Zeke moved back to a strong safety/rover type position, based on depth chart issues. ND is going to be hurting for safeties in the very near future and Motta may be too good to keep in an OLB rotation.

Dan Fox - Rocky River, OH
Scout: 3-star, #22 OLB
Rivals: 4-star, #13 OLB
Offers: Pitt, MSU, Stanford, WVU, UVA

Love to see those Ohio catholic high school kids making their way to South Bend. Fox hails from Cleveland St. Ignatius, the same school that produced current Irish players John Ryan and Robby Parris. Fox is another example of an athletic OLB prospect who can cover TEs and RBs out of the backfield. Will definitely need a few years in the weight room to fill out, but could develop into a nice rotation player down the road.

Ceiling: Maybe Rocky Boiman? Boiman was a much higher-regarded prospect out of HS, but the similarities are there. Good HS program, tall, athletic, good in coverage.

Prediction: Another guy who might be a victim of a numbers crunch, but I think by his junior year, he could see some significant PT on passing downs, and against teams like Michigan or Purdue, if the Boilers continue to try to run a spread-type offense.

EJ Banks - McKees Rocks, PA
Scout: 3-star, #26 S
Rivals: 3-star, #45 ATH
Offers: OSU, FSU, Clemson, Pitt, Va. Tech

The only addition to ND's defensive backfield, Banks is a former HS QB who suffered a season-ending knee surgery which required off-season surgery. Generally considered a CB prospect, Banks' best chance at getting on the field may come in special teams. That of course will depend upon his recovery from ACL surgery. Banks is currently on campus as the 3rd early entrant in this class.

Ceiling: His film shows incredible quickness with great moves in space. If he is marked for special teams, an Allen Rossum comparison might be a bit lofty, but not out of question.

Prediction: The CB rotation looks a bit full right now, but will certainly be thinning in the coming years. Figure at least a full year to recover adequately from the knee surgery, followed by a year as a nickel back, and a starting job as a junior (likely RS sophomore).

DEFENSE ANALYSIS:

Positives: For the first time in the Weis regime, the best recruit in the class was on the defensive side of the ball. Te'o, Motta and Stockton will likely all see the field very early, and Te'o may even threaten the starting lineup right off the bat. The LB class is outstanding, and Rivals ranked it as the "nation's top group by a long distance."

Negatives: Weis continued to build depth in the LB corps, but added only one guy each to the defensive line and the backfield. The 2008 DL haul allowed Weis to be selective, but not signing a single DE is troublesome and makes DL a priority in 2010. Similarly, the defensive backfield is definitely a strength right now, but will start thinning out in the next few years. The current state of college football, with more receivers and an increased emphasis on the passing game, requires a host of solid safeties and corners. The outlook would have been much different if either Jawanza Starling or Byron Moore had chosen ND over SC on Signing Day, but safety and corner are now big, big concerns for the upcoming classes.

SPECIALISTS

Ben Turk - Fort Lauderdale, FL
Scout: 3-star, #3 P
Rivals: 3-star, #6 K
Offers: Cincinnati

An NFL legacy from a school that's fast becoming an ND hotbed (St. Thomas Aquinas), Turk is in line to take over the punting duties in 2010.

Ceiling: 3-4 year starter following in his dad's footsteps as a long-time NFL punter. Craig Hentrich?

Prediction: He's got the bloodlines and the coaching from a world-class HS program to be successful in college. ND has been pretty fortunate with their punting of late with smooth transitions between Hildbold, Fitzpatrick and Price. Turk is next in line.

Nicholas Tausch - Dallas, TX
Scout: 3-star, #4 K
Rivals: 2-star, #9 K

Tausch had interest from a few other suitors, but no offers listed. ND offered two kickers this year, and Tausch jumped on board first. Tausch is the 3rd kicker taken by ND in 4 years. Disappointing that the Irish have been unable to secure consistent performance from either Ryan Burkhart or Brandon Walker to date, but Weis obviously felt he didn't have quite enough.

Ceiling: Not a terribly highly rated kicker coming out of HS, but his videos show he's got plenty of leg. If he can provide consistent kickoffs to the goalline or deeper, he'll have a job the minute he walks on campus. Ideally, he supplements Walker for the next few years, and takes over when Brandon graduates.

Prediction: Hoping to take the pressure of the kickoff return team, Weis gives Tausch kickoff responsibilities immediately and the freshman responds, giving the Irish a successful kickoff specialist for the first time since Nick Setta graduated.

Jordan Cowart - Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Scout: 2-star, #33 C
Rivals: 2-star, NA

Cowart also hails from St. Thomas Aquinas in Ft. Lauderdale and served as the long snapper for all 4 years of his HS career. During that time, he successfully completed over 330 snaps in a row, both in punting and FG situations.

Ceiling: Provides 4 solid years of consistent long snapping, allowing Irish fans to relax a bit more in FG and XP situations.

Prediction: Although Weis seemed a bit reluctant to admit as much, there were obvious problems in long snapping during this past year. Several punt blocks and multiple muffed snaps on FG tries have driven Irish fans crazy over the last few years. Cowart steps right in and ends any problems with the special teams snapping.

SPECIAL TEAMS ANALYSIS

Positives: Picked up a punter to take over after Price graduates. (Hopefully) picked up a kicker who can get the ball to the goalline consistently. A scholarship to a long snapper? Well, if its a need, and you find someone (from a great HS program) who is very good at it, you might as well snap him up. Continuing to foster a relationship with one of the best HS programs in the country can't hurt either.

Negatives: Another scholarship kicker? A scholarship to a freaking long snapper?

OFFENSE

Chris Watt - Glen Ellyn, IL
Scout: 5-star, #1 OG
Rivals: 4-star, #2OG
Offers: OSU, PSU, Michigan, UVA

A big, bruising interior lineman from Illinois. That's one recruiting battle the Irish cannot afford to lose. And Jim Tressel put up one heck of a fight. Until Watt pulled the trigger in July, there were plenty of recruiting experts who thought he was destined for Columbus. Watt's Glenbard West team rolled up tons of rushing yardage in 2008, and Watt was named a US Army All-American, impressing many analysts during the week of practice. Watt went up against the best of the best during the AA game, stoning such talented defensive linemen as Will Campbell, John Simon and even our own Tyler Stockton. Much like Trevor Robinson last year, ND was able to score their #1 interior line target, and even had to weather an 11th hour scare with the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Ceiling: Watt's got the size and strength to become one of the best interior linemen in ND history and make very early contributions. Multiple All-American? Outland winner? Sure, why not.

Prediction: ND likely has sufficient depth on the interior that would allow Watt to get a little seasoning. But if pressed into service, Watt certainly has the skills to play right away. I'm betting he sits this year, but sees time in a rotation come 2010, eventually becoming a multi-year starter, and a damn good one at that.

Alex Bullard - Brentwood, TN
Scout: 4-star, #7 OG
Rivals: 4-star, #15 OG
Offers: Florida, Alabama, Michigan, Auburn, Tennessee

Bullard has gotten lost in the mix a bit, I think mainly because he remained so loyal to Weis throughout the process and wasn't involved in any of the big all-star games. But going into Tennessee and stealing one of the best OL prospects in the state was a huge blow to the Vols. Bullard played tackle in HS, but appears to be headed to the interior when he gets to campus. He and Watt provide a very nice 1-2 punch at the guard position.

Ceiling: A great run-blocker at the HS level, Bullard needs work in the passing game, but certainly could project out to a multi-year starter and an eventual NFL offensive lineman.

Prediction: Bullard's apparent limitations in pass blocking will likely keep him from having an immediate impact at ND. Provided he can develop that mean streak so necessary to succeed as an NCAA lineman, a solid rotation guy and possible eventual starter is not out of the question.

Zach Martin - Indianapolis, IN
Scout: 3-star, #24 OT
Rivals: 4-star, #22 OT
Offers: Michigan, UCLA, UVA, Illinois

Another extremely important recruit, Martin will likely be the only incoming OT in the '09 class. Considering the impending graduations of Paul Duncan and Sam Young, there will be a need for tackles on the offensive line in the very near future. An impressive showing during the ESPN Under Armour game boosted Martin's stock a bit, and rumors abounded that Kirk Ferentz thought he was one of the best tackle prospects in the country.

Ceiling: A very strong run-blocker, Martin needs work in pass protection, but his athleticism and quickness bode well for a productive future as a RT. Rotation guy and multi-yeat starter sounds about right.

Prediction: He'll get a year to mature, but after that, he'll absolutely be in the discussion for at least a rotation spot. Here's guessing that Martin and Dever will battle over the RT spot for years to come.

Tyler Eifert - Fort Wayne, IN
Scout: 3-star, #25 TE
Rivals: 3-star, #24 TE
(#5 Best Hands TE)
Offers: Purdue, Wake Forest, Cincinnati

Received his offer when he showed up to ND's summer camp and caught everything thrown in his vicinity. Committed almost instantaneously, bringing some much-needed depth to the TE position at ND. Its always great to see a lifelong ND fan get a chance to fulfill his dream by coming to South Bend and playing under the shadow of the Dome.

Ceiling: He absolutely reeks of John Carlson. Has a long way to go to get there, but Clausen, Crist and others are going to love throwing to this kid for the next few years.

Prediction: Needs at least a year, and probably more, to build up the adequate bulk to play the position. But his receiving skills will almost certainly guarantee that he make an impact in the passing game at some point during his career.

Jake Golic - West Hartford, CT
Scout: 3-star, #54 TE
Rivals: 2-star, NR
Offers: UCONN

As his brother did a year before, Golic got the ball rolling for the 2009 recruiting class by pulling the trigger in April. Was a bit overmatched during Army All-American Week, including a few drops during the course of the game.

Ceiling: Probably as a 2nd or 3rd TE. Not his fault really. ND has amassed some solid TE talent over the last several years.

Prediction: When you've got guys like Mike Ragone and Kyle Rudolph playing your position, you're going to have a tough time finding the field. But as with Eifert, Golic does provide valuable depth at a position that needed some more.

Cierre Wood - Oxnard, CA
Scout: 4-star, #6 RB
Rivals: 4-star, #8 RB
(#5 Best HR Threat, #8 in CA's Postseason Top 100)
Offers: USC, Florida, UCLA, UNC, Cal)

Another one of the most important recruits in the class. Wood committed (along with Stockton) during the Blue-Gold weekend, again carrying over the momentum from the #1 208 class. For the majority of the 2008 season, Wood was the best offensive player in California and the best RB in the country. His stock took a tumble when he suffered some minor injuries during his senior year and failed to blow away recruitniks at the Army AA Bowl. An explosive athlete, Wood gives the Irish the HR threat that's been missing from the ND offense during the Weis era. Has very good hands as well, so its certainly possible that that Wood may make his largest impact in the slot, or perhaps even on defense (SC apparently recruited him as a DB). Also sure to have a positive effect on the largely dormant Irish return game.

Ceiling: I fully admit that this is one heck of a stretch, but Wood's closest comp at this point might be Rocket Ismail. Heresy, I know. He won't be as fast as Ismail, but Wood's big-play potential and versatility haven't been seen on Irish recruiting videos in some time.

Prediction: Wood wins the primary return job the minute he steps on campus, finds the backfield too crowded for his taste and eventually moves into a slot WR position, giving the Irish offense the explosiveness that's been lacking.

Theo Riddick - Somerville, NJ
Scout: 4-star, #28 RB
Rivals: 4-star, #10 RB
Offers: PSU, Pitt, BC, Rutgers

Wood gets the press, but Riddick is more ready to take the reins to the Irish running game right now. A somewhat diminutive fellow, Riddick is more than willing to run between the tackles, take a hit and keep on ticking. By locking up Wood and Riddick early, Weis had completed his 2008 RB recruiting by the end of April.

Ceiling: A more explosive Darius Walker.

Prediction: The logjam in front of him may make it difficult to see the field early, but Riddick provides the compact, explosive package that Weis seems to prefer in his RBs. He'll be a primary back at some point during his career, but he might have to wait for Hughes and Allen to graduate.

Shaquelle Evans - Inglewood, CA
Scout: 4-star, #12 WR
Rivals: 4-star, #24 WR
(#17 in CA's Postseason Top 100)
Offers: USC, Oklahoma, UCLA, OSU, Michigan

Raise your hand if you thought Notre Dame would be able to go into Inglewood and convince a stud WR to come to South Bend. Perhaps more amazing is that ND once again stole away a CA prospect that Pete Carroll had offered. A testament to the recruiting prowess of Brian Polian, who is finally starting to get some positive pub for his efforts. Shaq is another game-changer, an explosive athlete who's liable to take a 5-yard slant route all the way. Michael Floyd and Golden Tate have seemingly locked up the outside WR positions for years to come, leaving an opening in the slot. Evans will no doubt require some polish, but its going to be tough to keep him off the field.

Ceiling: Evans reminds me of David Givens, a guy who wasn't able to fill up the stat sheet at ND mainly hecause his incompetent coaching staff had no way to get him the ball. Hopefully the same won't be the case with Weis and Ianello.

Prediction: The slot position is his, but I think he'll probably need a year to get there. Once he does, the Irish might have one of the best WR corps in the country.

Roby Toma - Honolulu, HI
Scout: 3-star, #103 WR
Rivals: 3-star, NR
Offers: UCLA, Hawaii

Te'o's teammate and best friend received an offer approximately 3 weeks before Signing Day when Nyshier Oliver decommitted and jumped on the Lane Kiffin Express. Fearless over the middle, Toma has great hands (including winning the Hands Competition at the ESPN Under Armour Game) and is fearless over the middle.

Ceiling: Joey Getherall. Doesn't have the wheels, but you've got to love the little guy that can go over the middle and make plays for his QB.

Prediction: Another candidate for the open slot position, Toma can help push guys like Evans and Kamara to work harder and get better in practice. Tough to see him making a big impact on the field, but stranger things have certainly happened.

OFFENSE ANALYSIS

Positives: In landing what amounted to his top two RB targets, Weis stocked the depth chart with even more talent, providing new RB coach Tony Alford with an embarassment of talent in the backfield. He also landed two potential slot WRs to participate in what will likely be an ongoing battle over that position. The interior lineman are very, very good and will provide additional depth and possible early time (Watt). The TEs are very raw, but Eifert in particular has great hands which might allow him to see the field before the rest of his body is ready.

Negatives: Weis offered a few QBs, but after failing to nab some of his top targets, he was willing to take a pass on the position. Clausen and Crist provide a nice luxury in that regard, but that depth chart is pretty thin should someone go down with an injury. The only other criticism I have comes on the offensive line, particularly at the tackle position. Weis seemed to pin his hopes to Xavier Nixon (and rightfully so, the kid's going to be a stud), but when Nixon left him high and dry, he didn't have much in the way of a backup plan. Martin is a nice get, but I'm not sure he could afford to be so choosy with such an important position. He's placing quite a bit of pressure on himself to land a bevy of OTs in the 2010 class.

OVERALL

The general consensus is that this represented a very good "filler" class for Weis and the Irish. He followed up the #1 class from 2008 with some very good star power in Te'o, Wood, Evans, Watt, Motta and Stockton. All 6 have the potential to make immediate impacts in 2009. Guys like Riddick, Bullard, Martin and Banks provide necessary depth at positions that require such. The specialists will almost certainly see playing time at their respective positions throughout the course of their careers.

However, Weis does have some sizeable needs to fill in the coming classes, and the 2010 recruiting class will definitely need to address the following positions (note the positions reference depth chart issues post-2009 season):

QB - Clausen will have one more year of eligibility, and Crist will be the only backup on scholarship. Weis will almost certainly need to take 2 here.

OT - The interior looks pretty good, but Young and Duncan will graduate, leaving the both tackles in the hands of players who have seen very minimal time to date. There are bodies available (Romine, Dever, Clelland, Martin) but no signigicant experience. Hopefully 2009 will see some of these guys make strides to get on the field. Fortunately, the Irish are already in good shape with quite a few OT prospects in the 2010 class, and have even scored a verbal from Christian Lombard from Illinois. I'd feel much more comfortable if Weis could get 2-3 more high-quality guys to join up.

DL - This area is pretty thin across the board. Run-stuffers and pash-rushers will be at a premium, and Weis will need at least 2 of each to continue to build up the defense. The early verbal commit from Chris Martin, a LB/DL from California, is unspeakably huge, as Martin will almost certainly be one of the best defensive players in the nation in the class of 2010.

S - After 2009, Kyle McCarthy and Sergio Brown will be gone, leaving Harrison Smith and Dan McCarthy as the only safeties currently on the roster. Weis needs at least 2 in the 2010 class, and I'd be happier with 3+.

February 20, 2009

Dodgertown and the Decline of the Florida Grapefruit League

Great article here about Dodgertown and the changing dynamics of spring training in Florida. I've been following this story from afar for the last couple years primarily because the Reds decided last year to move from Sarasota to Goodyear, Arizona beginning in 2010. It seems like a lot of teams are chasing the promise of new facilities and new opportunities in the Cactus League. The Dodgers, White Sox, and Indians are moving their spring training to Arizona this year, and the Reds are following them next year.

While I am not exactly a regular spring training attendee, I am sad that the Reds are leaving Florida for Arizona. To me, spring training means the state of Florida and these random towns like Dunedin and Bradenton and Kissimmee and Lakeland and Port St. Lucie. These towns are synonymous with March baseball in my eyes, and I know that spring training serves as a rallying point and an economic engine for these small towns. I always figured that I would start taking regular trips down to Florida someday for spring training to see the Reds and some other teams on the west coast of Florida. Now that the Reds are moving to Arizona, those plans are not really viable.

As is almost always the case, a lot of the upheaval is about money. Some of these newer cities in Arizona are building brand new stadiums and amazing facilities to lure teams out of the state of Florida, and the Florida towns can't keep up. The city of Sarasota put up a referendum for a new stadium to keep the Reds, and it got voted down. With all the senior citizens down there, it's tough to win a ballot initiative for a new stadium. Anyway, this spring training scene has turned into a bit of an arms race, and now cities all over Florida are scrambling and competing against each other. Unfortunately, historic baseball towns like Dodgertown are getting left behind, and these Arizona cities keep coming up with cash and facilities to lure teams there (which is inexplicable given the housing and economic crisis in Phoenix and the entire Valley area).

While I can understand that baseball teams always need to be looking for new revenue streams, isn't there something to be said for brand development?? By moving to Arizona and chasing the stadium dollars, the Reds are tearing down a long tradition of playing spring training baseball in Florida. There are tons of people from Ohio and Kentucky who go down to the Sarasota area for Reds' spring training. Groups of guys who go down every year for a week, families with kids, Spring Breakers, retirees, you name it. And that's before you get into all the Reds fans who live in southwestern Florida who like to head over to Sarasota to see the Reds play in spring training. Florida is an easy 2 hour flight away from the Cincinnati area, and it's still on the Eastern time zone. The Reds have cultivated a long history in Florida, and Reds fans have embraced the southwest Florida area as a result.

By moving to Arizona, you take all that away. What Reds fans are going all the way out to Arizona for spring training?? There are no connections for Reds fans out there. No history with that area, very few retirees out there from Ohio, and it's a long flight and a lot of hassle. I have zero desire to go out there for spring training. And I know that I am not alone. You could make the same case for Tribe fans after 16 years at Winter Haven. I'm sure the new ballpark in Goodyear is a phenomenal facility, but is it worth it for your brand?? Isn't part of the reason you have spring training so that you can build some excitement for the upcoming season with your fanbase up in Cincinnati??

Anyway, it will be interesting. I personally think it's a mistake for the Reds to move out there. And as for Florida towns like Dodgertown and Sarasota, I hope they eventually get the last laugh and bring major league baseball back to their towns. Nothing beats the Grapefruit League for me.

February 19, 2009

Dud Deadline Deals

Is it me or has the League morphed into an uber-business model on us, jumping the shark on what "Trade Deadline" conventionally meant. Gone are the blockbusters and shrewd deals to find the last piece of the puzzle for contenders. We're now left with GM's clamoring to eschew luxury tax deadweight on their rosters and find those "diamond in a rough" expiring contracts. By my estimation, there were 3 impact trades: Jermaine O'Neal & Jamario Moon for Shawn Marion; Brad Miller & John Salmons for Drew Gooden & Andres Nocioni; and the last-minute Rafer Alston for Kyle Lowry and Brian Cook. That third deal is stretching the definition of impact, but it boosts a legit title contender a legit PG to fill Jameer's absence. That's what deadline day is for.

Alas, majority of deals are made with the impetus to dump salary. I understand the reason teams need to do this as a way to I'm just worried that it's a growing trend that will continue for years to come. This happens in MLB as well when the pretenders realize it's time to cash their chips and reload. But NBA deals like Larry Hughes for Tim Thomas, Jerome James and Anthony Roberson is more a "which crap looks better in which jersey." Neither team benefits on the court from the pu pu platter of bodies changing hands.

The real problem is teams foolishly rewarding players with exorbitant and bloated salaries, then putting these players on a carousel of teams once they don't match their unrealisitic "worth." I'll throw blame towards players' agents on the other side, equally responsible for driving up these ridiculous contracts. But sooner or later, teams have to say no. We're entering a new world order where "fiscally responsible" is the catchphrase. When Brian Cardinal gets an obscene contract, it affects the organization as owners have to raise ticket prices and inflate the rest of the "NBA experience" to offset these terrible deals. If Obama can make Wall Street executives be more accountable and responsible with their business moves, why shouldn't professional sports follow suit and do the same? I love the tighter purses currently dictating MLB free agency. It's a step in the right direction. I pray no team bows to Manny Ramirez' preposterous demands and he comes back to the Dodgers with his afro between his legs and accept their more than generous offer.

I'm sure you're all wondering who Raptors #5 is above. Shame on you for not recognizing the signature piece of a huge 3-team deal - undrafted 30 year old, Will Solomon. What a dud day.

February 18, 2009

Breaking Down the Big East Bubble: How many get in?

Ok, it's getting to be crunch time here, so let's take a peek at the various bubble teams from the Big East right now.

Overview: First of all, this stretch run is going to be phenomenal if you are a Big East fan but potentially excruciating if you are a fan of any one of these teams. I think this race is probably not going to be resolved until the Big East tournament. It is probably going to be a little uncomfortable from a conference solidarity standpoint because there are going to be about 5 teams fighting for 2-3 spots. Get ready for some beauty pageant type squabbles if things get really close (Poise counts!). Either way, it's probably not going to be cut and dry, and I think the relationships within the Big East will be tested.

How many teams from the Big East are getting in?? Tough to say. I just don't think there is a compelling case for more than 8 teams from the Big East this year. Before the year when you had like 8-9 ranked teams in the Big East, I would have bought it. But right now?? I'm not seeing it. Once you get past the big five, there's a lot of mediocrity out there. I don't think anyone anticipated that the teams considered 7-9 would be along the lines of Cincy and Providence and a .500 WVU team. I'd actually say that the Big East is a little overvalued this year. It's still a great league, but not the juggernaut that it was projected to be. It's a little top heavy, and ND sitting at 5-7 and Gtown sitting at 4-8 have hurt the overall profile of the Big East. Since I don't think you can justify more than half the league getting into the NCAA Tournament when so many teams are having mediocre years, I'm capping the Big East total at a maximum of 8 for now.

I don't even know that the Big East will get 8. Just throwing that out there. I think "our league" (as Brey likes to say) can justify 8 teams, but it would not stun me if "only" 7 get in. In fact, Joe Lunardi has steadily fluctuated between putting 7 and 8 teams in (more on that in a bit). That might lead to some angry cries from places like Providence or Morgantown or Clifton or even South Bend, but that's the way I see it. Now, if only 6 get in, that would be a crime against humanity, and I will scream bloody murder for all of March.

Either way, I am going to be scrutinizing those NCAA brackets to see how the snubbed Big East teams stack up with some of the othe invites.

I'm breaking down the Big East by category here with remaining schedules listed next to each team.

Already In: Connecticut, Pitt, Louisville, Marquette, Villanova

All five of these teams are straight-up locks, and I'm not even discussing them. Nova is probably the only one that would need to do the slightest bit of work, but they are getting into the dance. At 8-4 with several likely wins left on the schedule, they are playing for seeding at this point. As for the others, start calling your travel agent to make plans for March.

The only thing I wanted to add here is that I continue to be unimpressed with Louisville. Maybe I have just seen them at their worst every time I've watched them, but I don't like their chemistry at all or their offense. Then again, they have beaten Pitt, won at Villanova, and won at Syracuse, so I don't know what to make of them. I'm hoping that they end up as a really high seed because I'm picking against them in the 2nd round this year. Sign me up for some feisty 7 seed to knock them out.

Looking Good:

Syracuse - 19-7 (7-6) - (Villanova, at St Johns, Cincy, Rutgers, at Marquette) - RPI #19, Pomeroy #33

I still don't know what to make of Syracuse. When I watch them, I'm so impressed with their offensive skill level and talent but their defense is horrible. There is no excuse to give up 85+ points in regulation to anyone, especially a crappy offensive team like Georgetown. Syracuse doesn't guard at all. I can't believe they are still running that 2-3 zone. It is like a sieve. You can pass through it and around it with no problem. If they would ever commit to clamping down, they could really be a great team. But it probably won't happen.

One other thing about Syracuse that I've noticed. Even though Devendorf is a pretty good offensive player and a good shooter, he takes so many bad shots and gives up just as many points as he scores (if not more) on the defensive end. I think he has some ability, but he has the wrong role on that team. Boeheim gives him the freedom to hoist up any shot that he wants, but he really should be more of a role player who can knock down the big 3 and handle some of the ballhandling duties. The engine that makes the Cuse go is Jonny Flynn and their big men, and that's who you want creating and taking the bulk of the shots. Devendorf would make them a much better team if he embraced the idea of being a role player instead of a go-to-guy.

As for a bid here, I think they are in really good shape. I'm not ruling out a typical Syracuse fade down the stretch and they very nearly blew that game against Gtown the other day, but it seems like they are in good position at the moment. They should get to at least 10 wins in the Big East, and that would make them a lock with their strong RPI and OOC wins over Memphis, Florida, and Kansas. Plus, Syracuse is always a threat in the Big East Tournament. If they make a deep run in the BET, they are not only in but looking at a high seed.

By the way, I know I've had some thoughts on here about the Big East dissolving into separate "football schools" and "basketball schools" leagues, but then I see rivalry games like Syracuse-Gtown that go back thirty years and think to myself that there is no way those teams are breaking up. Syracuse-Gtown IS the Big East. Those games are what made the Big East what it is today, and you could feel the electricity in the Carrier Dome for that game even though Gtown is struggling this year. I can't see Syracuse and Gtown not being in the same league.

Syracuse - IN

West Virginia - 17-8 (6-6) - (Notre Dame, at Rutgers, at Cincy, at South Florida, DePaul, Louisville) - RPI #16, Pomeroy #6

West Virginia has work left to do, but they are probably the other team besides Syracuse that I would put as a likely team in the NCAA Tournament. With their ridiculously high computer ratings right now, all they are going to have to do is get to 9-9 to get in I would imagine. Every game they have left is winnable, so I think they'll get what they need. They might be in a position where they need to win a first round BET game, but I think they'll probably be in before that. They got their signature OOC win at Ohio State, and they just smoked Villanova the other day. I'm not sure there has ever been a team with an RPI that high that didn't get in.

Now, if the Irish go to Morgantown and knock them off on Wednesday night, they might find themselves with their backs against the wall. But I still see likely wins over USF, DePaul and Rutgers plus an opportunity to beat Louisville in the last game of the year.

Speaking of computer ratings, how much stock can you put in a system where West Virginia is rated as the #6 team in the country?? Isn't that a little silly?? They are 6-6 in their own league right now and sitting at 9th in the Big East standings. And yet Pomeroy has them as #6 in America?? Come on. I know there needs to be some sort of "objective" ratings system, but I hope the NCAA committee looks at these computer rankings with some level of skepticism.

Then again, this is Bob Huggins we're talking about! Huggins INVENTED the RPI manipulation technique about 10 years before the MVC and other teams caught on to it. I wrote about this a couple years ago when we were still a fledgling blog. Whoops, we still are a fledgling blog! My bad.

Go back and look at WVU's OOC schedule to see how a master does it. There are all sorts of winnable games against 80-100 RPI type teams (Iowa, Ole Miss, Miami (OH), Duquesne, Cleveland St, etc), and they won all those games. Huggins scouts these teams and gets them on his schedule. He should teach a course on OOC scheduling. I would personally pay for Mike Brey to attend it.

West Virginia - IN

Need a Signature Win and 10 wins:

Providence - 16-9 (8-5) - (at Louisville, Notre Dame, Pitt, at Rutgers, at Villanova) - RPI #69, Pomeroy #73

Providence is an interesting story. They definitely have a shot to get to 10-8 this year, but how good would that 10-8 really be?? Their best win in conference play has been a win last month over Syracuse, and they have beaten Cincy twice. That's not bad or anything, but is it really enough to excite someone from the NCAA commitee?? Providence has been extremely fortunate to have a weak Big East conference schedule this year. The NCAA committees studies this stuff these days after so much complaining from various leagues about unbalanced schedules, and they are now aware that 10-8 against a weaker slate is the equivalent of 8-10 against a tougher slate. Providence has had opportunities for big home wins over Nova and Marquette, and they have lost both games.

Plus, Providence's OOC record is an abomination. They played exactly two BCS schools in OOC play this year (Boston College and Baylor) and lost both games. They also lost to St. Mary's. Their best OOC win this year is probably over Rhode Island.

Providence is widely considered to have that coveted 8th spot in the Big East right now based on their conference record and the two wins over Cincy, but they would probably be the team that gets axed if the committee decides to only take 7 teams (and I refuse to believe that the committee doesn't take into consideration how many teams they take from each league even though they say they don't).

The only way I think they become safe is by getting to 11-7 in league play. That would mean wins over ND, Rutgers, and one "signature" win over Pitt or Villanova. Either that or they make a run in the BET. I don't see all that happening. Anything less would put them at 18-12 and 10-8 in the league with no signature wins.

When I look at Providence, I don't think their profile is all that strong right now based on the weak OOC record, the weak RPI, and the lack of signature wins in conference play. Beating up on the weak sisters of the Big East to get to 10 wins is not a formula to get in from what I have observed in recent years. I think they'll come up just short, and I think people in the Providence area will be outraged about it, especially if another Big East team steals that 8th spot from them.

Providence - OUT

Cincinnati - 17-9 (7-6) - (Louisville, West Virginia, at Syracuse, at South Florida, Seton Hall) - RPI #48, Pomeroy #63

As for Cincy, I'll start with this latest brouhaha involving Mick Cronin and Joe Lunardi. Mick apparently has been reading too much Bracketology lately. When Mick found out that only 7 Big East teams were in the NCAAs last weeking according to Lunardi, he went off:

"To me, that's ridiculous," Cronin said. "I would tell Joe Lunardi he needs to buy the ESPN Full Court package. Are you telling me that Syracuse wouldn't win the A-10? Does somebody want to give me that answer? I'd like to have that argument with somebody.

"You're going to tell me that Syracuse, with their McDonald's All-Americans and their talent, would not win the A-10? They're eighth in our conference. For us to not get at least eight is only a by-product of us beating up on each other and being penalized for having too good of a conference."


Not surprisingly, these comments did not go over well in two camps: Joe Lunardi's camp and the A-10. Xavier fans were furious and interpreted it as a shot across their bow by Mick Cronin. Lunardi shot back in his ESPN column by pointing out the flaws in Cronin's argument. Feisty!! I'm assuming Mick Cronin will not be on Joe Lunardi's Christmas card list this year.

I think Mick Cronin has a tendency to come off as a whiner and a bit of a weasel (he's clearly angling for Cincy to get in with these quotes since they were above the Cuse in the standings at the time but not projected in the NCAAs), but does anyone disagree with the substance of what he is saying here?? He's right!! It's about time someone stood up for the Big East. Does anyone think Syracuse wouldn't be right there to win the Atlantic 10 this year?? They have more talent on their roster than most of the A-10 rosters COMBINED. And I'm saying that as someone who likes the A-10 a lot and pulls for Xavier and Dayton and just about everyone in the league.

I'm glad someone is making the case for the Big East to get eight teams. I'm tired of Tranghese and the suits over at Big East headquarters bending over and taking it from the NCAA committee. The Big East seems to come up one bid short of what is projected every year, and I think part of it is that we don't have strong advocates making the case for how deep and competitive the league really is. The 8th-9th best team in the Big East might be one of the top 2 teams in the A-10 or the MVC, and it's time for someone to try to make that argument.

While I will not get bent out of shape if the Big East only gets 7 teams in this year (depending on who else is in of course), I think everyone in the league should be going to the mattresses to make the case for the league to get an 8th team in. That includes Mike Brey. I want every coach in the Big East (including Calhoun and Dixon and Pitino) shouting from the mountaintop about 8 teams getting in. For all we know, UConn and Pitt will be on the bubble next year and will need that same boost to get in themselves.

The Big East needs to man up and stop deferring to these small-time conferences. Set the bar high and demand 8 teams. If you don't go all out and lobby for 8, then you'll probably get 7. The committee loves to spread the wealth, so give them a reason not to do it.

With all that said, if the season ended today, Cincy would not belong in the NCAA Tournament. As Lunardi points out in his rebuttal, they haven't beaten one team currently projected in the NCAA Tournament other than UNLV. They've played three other likely NCAA teams in OOC play (Memphis, Xavier and Florida State) and lost all of them. As for conference play, Cincy's best wins were over Georgetown and Notre Dame. They are going to need to beat someone in the NCAA field to validate a spot in the tournament. Ten wins over nondescript Big East teams is not going to get it done.

Luckily for UC, they have a series of opportunities coming up to get some quality wins, and they are currently at 7-6 in the league with a pretty solid RPI. If they can get to 10 wins, I think they will be right on the fence. The only reason people aren't projecting them in the NCAAs right now is that they don't believe UC will get to 10 wins. While that's certainly possible, UC is playing much better basketball of late. Deonta Vaughn has become Steve Logan Jr. for the Bearcats with a good inside-outside game, and this Yancey Gates guy is a low post beast. If Gates sticks around for a few years (you NEVER know with UC players), he is going to be Dejuan Blair type player for UC.

I still think UC has a shaky overall profile though. They have been off the radar for most of the year. These NCAA committee guys talk the talk about paying close attention to things, but these guys are human. They are just as susceptible to name recognition and publicity as the average fan, and the reality for UC this year is that they have not been on the national map at all until very recently. The only way for UC to really make a splash and get the attention of the committee is by winning some big games down the stretch. If they beat Louisville at home this weekend (obviously a huge if), that might be the game to really put them on the radar with the committee. Suddenly, UC would be 8-6 and staring at 10+ Big East wins, and the talk involving UC would be that they are a young team surging at the right time. These bubble campaigns are a little like political campaigns. You need a theme and a slogan to get someone to lobby for you. Making a "numbers" argument alone by pointing to your 10-8 conference record and 8th place conference finish is not going to get it done.

The other thing UC could do is make a run in the BET. If Mick Cronin thinks his team belongs, go win a couple games in the BET and play your way in.

I would love to see UC play their way in, but I think they are on the outside looking in right now. They are going to need to something significant to draw attention and get on the right side of the bubble.

Cincinnati - OUT

Lurking -

Notre Dame - 14-10 (5-7) - (at West Virginia, at Providence, Rutgers, at Connecticut, Villanova, St. Johns) , RPI #74, Pomeroy #36

Let me just start by saying that I hope I'm wrong here. I hope that Mike Brey uses this post to tell his players that even our own fans don't believe in this team, and that Zach Hillesland prints this out and puts it on Luke Harangody's locker to get the big fella fired up. I think we have a shot at making a run after that Louisville performance. We are sort of in control of our own destiny, so I'm not ruling it out by any means.

But if I have to make a call on whether or not this team is going to make the NCAA tournament, I think there are too many obstacles in our way. Assuming that Syracuse and WVU gets those 6th and 7th spots, there is going to be only one spot left at best. If we want to distinguish ourselves from Cincy (who we already lost to) and Providence for that potential 8th spot (not to mention the competition with the other bubble teams in other conferences), we're going to have to have to bring something to the table that they don't.

I think this team is either going to have to get to 10-8 in the regular season or get to 9-9 and make a run in the Big East Tournament to get in. Our RPI is not all that strong, so getting to 9-9 is probably not going to get it done alone. Between our struggles on the road and our historical struggles in the Big East Tournament, it's a tough hill to climb. If we finish 9-9, will there be a compelling case to put us in?? The committee always seems to look for a reason to leave out the 9-9 type teams from power conferences. We've seen it happen several times to bubble teams in the expanded version of the Big East conference. I think we'd need to make a run in the BET to get in under that scenario. Going to the BET and winning our first round game is not going to get it done. Our history in the Big East tournament would suggest that it will be difficult to make a deep run.

As far as running the table to get to 10-8 in the league, that is going to require running the table against WVU, Providence, and Villanova. I just don't see it happening. We've already lost to Cincy and St. Johns on the road. I don't see back to back wins at WVU and Providence and then also beating Villanova. Maybe we've turned the corner, but I've seen too many shaky performances out of this team to think we are going to flip the switch for the next six games all of the sudden. I'd love to be wrong, but I think it's going to be awfully tough.

There are a few things working in our favor though. First, the name power. Not only do we have the usual attention of being ND and carrying that stigma of being a high-profile school, we also have the added factor that we were a preseason top 5 team in a lot of polls. Pollsters don't like to be wrong, and a lot of people banked on us being really good this year. I think that is part of the reason why people are still talking about us. It's almost as if the pundits are saying to themselves "now this is the ND team I've been waiting for all year!!" So for that reason alone, we remain on the radar even at 5-7 and even after that long losing streak. People want to give us a chance to play our way into the tourney to validate the preseason hype.

Second, star power matters. We have Luke Harangody. Harangody is probably one of the five most recognizable college basketball players this year. Everyone knows Gody. Part of it is because he's white and has a bad haircut and is a lunch pail guy, but part of it is just that he's really freaking good. Whether people love him or hate him, he attracts attention and viewers. I would bet that the NCAA committee would love to somehow get Harangody in the tournament this year. If ND slips in as a 12 seed, we would be a sexy matchup for CBS with Harangody and the ND brand name and the possibility of a first round upset. Just about everyone would be hyping that game up as one of the first round highlight games.

Third, ND has two MONSTER wins already over Texas and Louisville and has an opportunity to add a third against Villanova. ND has been inconsistent (you could also insert the word bad in there), but we've also shown the ability to beat some good teams. There are very few teams on the bubble with those types of wins. We aren't in the position of Cincy and Providence that need to get some wins to gain some credibility.

One final thought on ND. I think the season comes down to this West Virginia game. If we go there and beat West Virginia in Morgantown, things suddenly could start looking good. I don't know, I've been beaten down by this team and can't seem to shake out my pessimistic thoughts. The back to back Cincy and UCLA debacles took the wind out of my sails, and it has been hard to reconcile those performances with any real thought about us becoming an NCAA Tournament team again.

Notre Dame - OUT

On Life Support-

Georgetown - 13-10 (4-8) - (at USF, Marquette, Louisville, at Villanova, at St. Johns, DePaul) - RPI #38, Pomeroy #22

I personally want to take them off the bubble, but Lunardi and Seth Davis and others continue to insist that they are firmly on the bubble with a legitimate chance to play themselves into the tournament even if they don't get to 9-9. I'll take their word for it I guess.

Georgetown is another computer darling with an RPI in the 30s and a Pomeroy at 22. I don't understand it. They are 4-8 in the league!! They have lost twice to Cincy, they got blown out at home by West Virginia, and they lost to Seton Hall. I don't see how they are even on the bubble at this point. I know they have played a really tough schedule and have beaten Memphis, UConn, and Syracuse, but they've also lost to just about every other bubble team in the Big East and currently have lost 7 of their last 8 games. If they get in at 8-10 over a 10-8 team like Cincy or Providence, that would be a joke if you ask me.

The only thing that could save Gtown in my eyes would be if they get close to .500 and then go on a red hot run in the BET. If they win 2-3 games and knock off a ranked team or two, that would probably put them at around 19-13 or something like that. Maybe that would get them in. Maybe.

Either way, I don't think they are even that good this year, and I see them losing a few more games in the regular season and knocking themselves out.

Georgetown - OUT

Bye bye -

Seton Hall - 14-11(5-8) - (at Marquette, at St. Johns, South Florida, Pitt, at Louisville, at Cincy) - RPI #88, Pomeroy #81

How long did that Seton Hall "Bubble Watch" last?? Three days?? I think that will go down as the quickest appearance and exit on the bubble in Big East history.

The Hall has an outside shot at 8 conference wins, but their distant hopes for the NCAAs ended with that UConn loss.

Seton Hall - OUT

Bottom Line:

As of right now, I'm saying that the Big East will only get 7 teams into the NCAA Tournament. I think we can justify 8 teams, but the profiles of the 3 contenders for that 8th spot are not all that compelling at the moment. Cincy and Providence have inflated conference records because of unbalanced scheduling, and Notre Dame has dug itself into a huge hole and still has a number of obstacles ahead. Obviously, the resumes of any of those teams could match up favorably against the rest of the bubble and get them a bid, but none of those teams have really earned it on the merits at this point. Based on the recent history of the Big East getting jobbed, I'm expecting more of the same this year.

I will not be surprised if the Big East Tournament is going to have a big say on things. You KNOW that someone is going to come out of nowhere and get hot in the Big East Tournament. It seems to happen every year. If it is ND or Cincy or even someone like Georgetown, the committee might have no choice but to put them in. Hope it happens. I'm also not ruling out that someone in really good shape plays their way out of the tournament.

Looking forward to the stretch run!

February 17, 2009

2004 NBA Draft Revisited

I just got done watching parts of Dwight Howard's utter destruction of Emeka Okafor to the tune of 45 points, 19 rebounds and 8 blocks. Wow. Meanwhile, Okafor mustered up a 14 and 9 while fouling out after getting abused by Howard. Kind of got me thinking about two things. The overration (is that a word?) of UConn big men over the years (Okafor was strongly considered for #1 - can you imagine the reversal of fortunes of Charlotte and Orlando if Okafor went to the Magic and Superman came to Charlotte?). Josh Boone and Hilton Armstrong have both been first round busts, and Charlie Villanueva has not been a whole lot better. But UConn guards like Rudy Gay, Rip Hamilton, Ben Gordon and Caron Butler have all been really good pros. Just kind of weird. UConn always seems to have big athletic guys in the middle who block shots but can't really do a whole lot on offense. Villanueva was really the only one of the group who was more prolific with the ball in his hands, and his game has translated well at times in the league.

Also, one of my favorite things to do and read are redrafts a few years down the road. Did you know that Luke Jackson was 10th pick in the draft that year? Can you imagine if the Cavs had picked a guy like Josh Smith or Al Jefferson? How good would they be right now. Anyway, the '04 NBA Draft was actually semi-loaded with talent, so here's one man's opinion of how it would have gone down if there was a redraft today. Actual pick listed second.


1. Orlando - Dwight Howard (Howard) - No surprise here. Only the best big man to come into the league since Timothy Duncan.


2. Charlotte - Al Jefferson (Okafor) - I just spent 35 minutes going back and forth with this pick. Okafor has averaged 14 points and 10 boards along with 2 blocks for his career. Not bad. But he's never really been the type of guy you build around - and he's never gotten significantly better. He's pretty much put up the same numbers for the last 3 years. Jefferson meanwhile, is a legit building block. He was averaging 24-11 with 2 blocks before he got hurt this year. Last year it was 21 and 11, the year before that, 16 and 10. In other words, he's getting better. And he's two years younger.


3. Chicago - Okafor (Ben Gordon) - Strongly debated Josh Smith or Andre Iguodala here, but Okafor is too consistent to pass up. I just think that he's been playing out of position his whole career. He's really a 4.


4. Clippers - Josh Smith (Shaun Livingston) - Livingston was probably a reach to begin with, but after suffering a disgustingly horrific knee injury, his career was effectively ended. The curse of the Clippers.


5. Washington - Andre Iguodala (Devin Harris) - Iggy is one of the more maddening players to root for, because he fancies himself a jump shooter when he's really a slasher. But, when you look at the numbers and watch his game, he is like a cross between a poor man's and homeless man's Lebron. For his career, he's averaging 15-6-4-2, per game, and he's gotten better every year, culminating in last years 20-6-5-2.1.


6. Atlanta - Luol Deng (Josh Childress) - Atlanta went with the best 'fro available. Apparently, the strategy should have been best Brit available between Deng and Gordon.


8. Toronto - Kevin Martin (Rafael Araujo) - Toronto, Toronto, Toronto. What the heck were you thinking? I remember when they made this pick and laughing along with everyone else. This guy never had a chance. As for Martin, do you realize that he has averaged 20 a game for the last three years, and is currently putting up almost 25 a game. He's been on some terrible Sacramento teams, and has a little too much of the Ray Allen stat line going (3 boards and 2.5 assists a game), but I'll take the points at the #8 spot in the draft.


9. Philly - Jameer Nelson (Iguodala) - I debated here between Gordon and two late bloomer point guards in Devin Harris and Nelson. I just had to go with the hometown guy who has always been solid, but this year has taken 'the leap' until he blew out his shoulder. He was averaging 16 and 5 while shooting over 50% and an incredible 45% from 3.


10 - Cleveland - Ben Gordon (Luke Jackson) - I'm probably underrating Gordon by dropping him to 10. He seems to have gotten the 6th man label stuck on him, but he's averaging 20 a game and 18 for his career. Not too shabby. I'm sure Cleveland could have used his shooting the last few years.


11. Golden State - Andris Biedrins (Biedrins) - What the heck - I'll give Golden State exactly who they drafted. He's still only 22, he's 6"11, and is averaging 13-12. Plus, he can run, so he fits in well into NellieBall instead of a traditional center.


12. Seattle - Devin Harris (Robert Swift) - Another colossal bust. Yo, NBA GM's, do you sense a trend here. All three of the busts were white guys, and two of them were big men. Harris has resurrected himself in New Jersey and is now a legit Top 10 NBA point guard. I bet you didn't know he's averaging 22 a game for the Nets.


13. Portland - Anderson Varejao (Bassy Telfair) - Varejao has never had to play big minutes, but he's always productive and his rebounds per 40 is off the charts. He's 6"10, and though limited offensively, will provide hustle, defense and rebouding that few can provide. Plus, he has to lead the league in overdramatic injuries and ridiculous flops.


14. Utah - Delonte West (Kris Humphries) - Lots of ways the Jazz could go here, with JR Smith, Sasha Vujacic, Trevor Ariza and Chris Duhon still available. Delonte has averaged 10-4-3 a game for his career and is playing a lot better with the Cavs now that he is not being miscast as a point guard. Wow, the talent really dropped off after Devin Harris. Delonte West should not be a lottery pick.


Well, there's the lottery. Besides Howard, there wasn't really another superstar in the draft, but there are a ton of second level stars and glue guys. Xavier was well represented in the 2nd round with Romain Sato and Lionel Chalmers. Still can't believe that Sato, being the freak athlete that he was, couldn't make a roster somewhere as a defense and rebounding type. When you can't shoot, it's really tough to make it in the league. It was really a putrid second round, with only Varejao, Duhon, Ariza and Royal Ivey still collecting paychecks. Lots of foreigners that never even sniffed American soil. Shockingly, the 7 foot 3 monster from South Korea, Ha Seung-Jin, never made it into the Association.

A Look at the Proposed NCAA Rules Changes in College Football for 2009

Ok, the NCAA football rules committee came out with a few recommendations the other day. It doesn't appear that any of these changes are as drastic as some of the time clock changes that have been made in recent years, but there could be some impact from all these rules. Let's take a look at all these proposed rules one by one:

1) Live Ball Penalties for Celebrations Before the Goal Line

Of all the changes that have been proposed, I think this one has the biggest potential to end up being wildly controversial to the point where we have a hysterical Mike Lupica screaming until he's blue in the face over a call that affected the outcome of a big game.

My understanding of this proposal is that players would be penalized for celebrating BEFORE they get to the end zone. The "somersault into the end zone" stuff so to speak. And the penalty would be from the SPOT OF THE FOUL and nullify your touchdown. An excessive celebration on the way into the end zone is not only taking away your touchdown, it would take you from the 1 yard line back to the 16 yard line. That's a huge change in the rules. Is there any doubt that one of these penalties will affect the outcome of an important game?? I want to say that Larry Fitzgerald celebrated a little early on his big touchdown at the Super Bowl this year. Would his td have been taken away if it was under these proposed college rules?? If something like that happens in a big college game and the scoring team gets a touchdown taken away and a penalty takin them back to the 15 yard line, there might be rioting in the stands.

While I think this rule could prove to be really controversial at some point, there is an obvious solution for players to avoid this penalty. DON'T DO IT!! It's really not that hard. When you are going in for a breakaway score, run into the freaking end zone. You don't need to do a flip into the end zone or hold the ball out to taunt the guy behind you. Just run in and celebrate with your team. It's not that difficult.

The only thing I ask out of college officials is that they use some discretion!! Cmon zebras, use your head here. You are dealing with emotional college kids and need to take into account the game and the situation. If it's a tie game between OU and Texas and a kid breaks free for a long touchdown run and raises his arms to the crowd as he's crossing in, you better not throw that flag. Use some common sense. It is one thing if a guy from Texas is holding the ball out or diving headfirst during a 56-3 beating over McNeese State. It's another thing if he is about to score the biggest touchdown of his life and shows a little emotion. Taking away a touchdown there would be the ultimate act of an official getting himself too involved in the outcome of a game.

We don't need another Jack Locker redux. That was one of the most disgraceful things I've ever seen in college football. The guy was just excited about a potential game-tying touchdown that he got a little carried away, and the officials took the game out of his hands with that absurd penalty. There was no reason to make that call for excessive celebration. The same thing applies for the Bobby Brown Michigan-ND game in 1999. This pre-end zone penalty would be even more significant since you are nullifying the touchdown and issuing a 15 yard penalty.

College football is a game of emotion. You can't legislate your way out of the fact that kids will be kids at times. There is a time and place to enforce sportsmanship and rein players in, but sometimes you need to just let things go.

Show some discretion with this rule. That's all I ask.

2) Punters are fair game outside the tackle box

This rule is a reaction to the rugby style kicks where the punter moves several steps before kicking the ball on the run. If adopted, opponents could not be called for roughing or running into the kicker if the punter is outside the tackle box.

I love this rule. I actually can't even believe that it is not already in place. If a kicker starts to run, he should be fair game to be hit. At that point, he is no longer a defenseless kicker in need of protection. He has made some athletic steps, and is in position to potentially run. I don't see any reason why a no-contact rule would be in place for a guy like that (other than late hits penalties of course).

Michigan used this gimmick last year under Rich Rod, and they actually got away with a couple fake punts by doing it. I think it will change things if these guys become fair game.

What is the purpose of the rugby style anyway?? Is it to put your kicker in better position to fake it, or is it a punting thing?? Do some guys just prefer punting on the run? Is it easier to angle it to the sideline for your coverage teams if you are running in that direction??

3) Colored jerseys for both teams

I love this proposed rule that allows both teams to wear their colored jerseys if there is a contrast in colors. It would officially sanction the UCLA "blue" vs. USC "cardinal" uniform game that we saw last year. How great it would be to see a Notre Dame-USC "navy vs cardinal" game?? Or an Ohio State-Michigan "scarlet vs. blue"? Or a Florida-Georgia Cocktail Party where both teams wear their home uniforms?? There is some great potential. I love seeing the colored unis on the field.

I'd love to see an ND "blue" vs Texas "burnt orange" or Tennessee "bright orange" game. Unfortunately, we don't schedule those teams any more. I guess I'll have to find out what color UConn wears at home or something. We'll probably do our first color contrast game with Syracuse or somebody like that. Yippee.

Pitt beats UConn

Big win for Pitt last night. They definitely have the inside track on a #1 seed. I really enjoy watching them play. They aren't super talented, but they play together and are TOUGH and extremely well-coached. I really hope they make a run to the Final Four this year. They deserve it. DeJuan Blair was a monster last night. 22 points and 23 boards. Wow.

The Big East MVP race is going to be very interesting this year. Do you go with a guy like Blair who has been dominant on a great team or a guy like Harangody who has the big time stats??

As for UConn, what are the lingering effects of this Jerome Dyson ACL injury?? How do they replace him?? I thought UConn was the best team in the country before Dyson got hurt, but that is a huge loss for them. That 3-headed monster of Price-Dyson-Walker is suddenly not quite as talented. I'll be curious to see how UConn adjusts to playing without Dyson for the rest of the year.

If Housh is gone, why should Bengal fans be happy?

The Reds probably deserve the majority of my attention at this point, but I had to get in some thoughts on this TJ Houshmanzadeh thing going on in Cincinnati. The Bengals made the decision yesterday to put the franchise tag on kicker Shayne Graham instead of Housh (who is also a free agent). TJ announced immediately after the decision that he was 99.2% percent likely to leave Cincinnati. So if you're scoring at home, the move looks on the surface like the Bengals let their best player walk in favor of tagging their kicker.

Anyway, I figured I would try to gauge the reaction of Bengal fans to this move, and let's just say that people are not pleased. If you look in the comments section on the Cincinnati Enquirer website under the article on the move, there are people who are literally clinging to their guns and their religion in fear over the move. It wouldn't even surprise me to see a "Breaking News: Bengals fans with pitchforks burn down Bengal owner Mike Brown's home" headline coming across the ESPN ticker any minute. If you're a Bengal fan, the move looks like the Bengals are trying to drive the final stake into the hearts of Bengal fans who had any hope left for this franchise.

But is that really the case?? Am I the only Bengal fan who actually LIKES this move?? Oh my, that's maybe the first time I've used the words "Like this move" and "Bengals" in the same sentence other than my annual "talk myself into the pick" state of mind on NFL Draft day about two hours after complaining about the Bengals' pick.

Seriously though, this is not a typical Bengals move. A typical Bengals move would have been to tag TJ, watch him grumble all offseason and not show up for any offseason activity, undermine Carson and Marvin all season, beg out of games/practice with phony injuries, and then run to the media every five seconds about wanting out. We've seen this a hundred times. The Bengals drag these guys along with no plan of action, use the franchise tag on them in desperation, and then watch as the guy sabotages the team in protest. NFL players do not want a a franchise tag when they know the team they play for has no desire to sign them to a long term deal. TJ is a really good player, but he's 31 years old. Putting a $10 million franchise tag on a 31 year old receiver is a complete waste of resources. Just let the guy walk and rebuild with young players.

I'm actually relieved that the Bengals don't appear to have a desire to sign TJ to a multi-year deal. Does anyone really think that would been a smart allocation of resources?? The Bengals have tried this move in the past with long term deals for Rudi Johnson and Willie Anderson and even Chad Johnson, and it has backfired. Older NFL players aren't worth the money that you pay for them. If you are locked into big contracts for old guys, you lose roster flexibility.

Look at the Steelers. They do this every year. They let players walk when they get old, and then they go all out to replace them. It allows them to be flexible as a franchise. Antwan Randle-El is a perfect example. The Bengals would have panicked and kept him. The Steelers let him leave and replaced him with Santonio Holmes. They probably used the cap savings to sign a lineman and maybe a linebacker, and they maybe even are more willing to trade down in the draft to get extra picks because they have more money to spend. That's what smart organizations do. I'm glad the Bengals finally did something smart.

In the NFL, you win with younger players and linemen. Focus on the draft to get your young players (linemen and defense in the Bengals' case), and then use your remaining dollars to go after targeted free agents that fit your system (ie - the Steelers always seem to get one really good LB in free agency that fits their 3-4 defense). If the Bengals have learned this lesson, they may actually be learning some lessons from all of their inept decisions of the past. The Bengals have always been dumb thinkers, and that always annoyed me. If they make smart decisions, I can live with them even if they don't work out. Just have a plan.

Obviously, the Bengals are still a mess, and past mistakes still haunt them. The decision not to trade Chad Johnson last year for #1 and #2 picks from the Washington Redskins will probably loom over this franchise for a long time, but there's nothing they can do about it now. They need to either get what they can get for the guy even if it is just a #2 pick or something like that and build the franchise the right way with guys who embrace the team concept and want to be there. The Steelers win with TEAM guys who want to be there. The Bengals can learn a lot of lessons from their neighbors to the east.

As for the WR position, I'm not even worried about the position, and I am PRAYING that the Bengals don't use their pick on Michael Crabtree. Please please please do not draft this guy. He's a system WR. Just go ahead and change his name to Ashley Lelie right now. I don't trust any Texas Tech players in the pros (yes, I know Wes Welker is a TT alum) If that happens, I'll join the pitchfork crowd again (I've spend enough time in that crowd that I can easily fit right back in). I am fine with the Bengals WRs even if they don't have Chad Johnson. Chris Henry is capable of being a #1 WR, Caldwell is a good young WR who played great when TJ was hurt last year, and maybe Jerome Simpson can fill the #3 spot. I'd probably try to find a solid Derrick Mason type vet to fill the void if one of those young guys can't contribute. That's not a great WR corp by any stretch, but you don't win in the AFC North with your WRs. The Ravens had Derrick Mason as the their #1 receiver and went to the AFC Championship game.

Is today's move a sign that the Bengals are finally embracing a new line of thinking or just a blip in the radar of a long history of being completely inept?? The Bengals obviously don't deserve the benefit of the doubt, but there are some signs that they are making progress. Letting Willie Anderson walk last year and TJ this year along with recent drafts emphasizing youth and defense is a sign that they are adjusting a bit.

The Bengals may end up being the worst team in the NFL with no TJ and maybe even no Chad, but I'd rather take two steps back followed by five steps forward than the typical Bengals parade of two steps back followed by two more steps back.