March 28, 2010

Final Four: Thoughts on Tom Izzo, Chad Millman, CBS television ratings, Bob Huggins, John Wall, and why Duke in the Final Four doesn't bother me.

Some thoughts on the Elite 8 matchups and the upcoming Final Four. Oh and hire Steve Lavin! Would love to see him back in the college game at St. Johns (even if I'm not sure how great of a hire that would be).

7) For my money, the breakout star of this tournament is not John Wall or DeSean Butler or even Brad Stephens. In fact, it’s not even a guy playing or coaching in this NCAA Tournament.

It’s Chad Millman from Hands down the biggest “winner” of this tournament from a career standpoint if you ask me. Ever since that Bill Simmons podcast, it seems like he has become the go-to guy for March Madness prognostication. Great addition by ESPN. It’s about time that ESPN finally brought in a Jimmy The Greek style gambling guru who knows just a little bit too much about sports betting and Vegas and the seedy side of sports in general. I think it’s a fascinating angle.

And I love that he has this band of gambling cronies working with him and that they all have nicknames like “Boston” and Teddy Covers. Teddy Covers! How great is that?? Just throw a “Covers” in as a substitute for his last name, and suddenly he has instant credibility.

How does the Millman Gang’s presence on change the overall tone of the ESPN operation?? I mean, this is an operation that openly refers to guys like Dickie V and Digger and Lee Corso and Mike Golic as “experts” in terms of prognostication and analysis. Half the guys in the ESPN stable have been mailing it in for a decade or longer. Dickie V has never even heard of Northern Iowa or Baylor let alone actually placed a bet on them. Meanwhile, the “wise guys” are dropping big dollars on all these teams throughout the year. Who are you going to trust for a pick....Teddy Covers or freaking Pat Forde??

ESPN has slowly embraced more of an intelligent sports fan niche in the last few years with additions like Keith Law and his SABR-oriented analysis and Hollinger and now a guy like Millman. My guess is that ESPN has seen how popular Bill Simmons has been with fans because he actually does his homework and has an intelligent perspective on sports, and now they want to capture more of those eyeballs. For a long time, the only columns I would read on ESPN were Simmons and Gammons and maybe some college football. If I wanted to read something more in-depth on baseball or football or some other sport, I was going elsewhere. Now, you can go to ESPN and read all sorts of interesting stuff. Fans are much smarter and more engaged than ESPN wanted to acknowledge, and it seems like they finally realized that generic commentary and "personalities" is not what the public wants.

I would love to see a daily “Behind the Bets” show on ESPN or ESPN2 where Millman and Covers and a few other guys from the gambling business sit around and discuss that day’s games. How great would that be on a college football Saturday morning?? Maybe like a 9am show right before College Gameday?? And then do the same thing before the NFL games on Sunday. I’m fired up just thinking about it.

By the way, Millman's crony, Boston, went 4 for 4 in Elite 8 picks. Even hit that Duke -5 line when probably 75% of America was loving that Baylor +5 line. How many of you out there had Baylor, Sparty, WVU, and Duke winning this weekend and hitting all the lines?? I'm guessing very few, if any. Color me impressed.

I like Sparty and West Virginia this weekend, so feel free to take Butler and Duke.

6) If Duke hadn't won that Baylor game, I think CBS executives would have been climbing out to the nearest ledge this morning. Baylor, Michigan State, West Virginia, Butler would have been atrocious for ratings. Heck, even with Duke, this is not exactly going to be a ratings bonanza. There's just not a lot of star power. West Virginia and Michigan State are blue collar teams with regional fanbases, Butler is a mid-major, and Duke just doesn't have the same brand name cache that they had 10-15 years ago. When you watch Duke, you know it's just not the same as it was when they were really a powerhouse. It's a whiter and slower version of Duke. Still well-coached, still super-skilled, gutty, and a great shooting team, but they don't pass the eyeball test. I mean, come on. They have 6 white guys in their 7 man core. How many times did a Duke guy take the ball to the bucket and just get stuffed?? Meanwhile, Baylor was on the other end throwing down monster dunks and seemed to have their way in terms of getting shots.

Credit to Duke for winning the game of course, but Duke winning a national title this year would be an indictment of college basketball in general. Comparing this Duke team to the great Laettner-Hill-Hurley teams (which were loaded and deep with guys like Antonio Lang and Thomas Hill and Brian Davis) and the Langdon-Avery-Brand-Maggette teams and the Battier-Jay Williams-Boozer teams is just not fair. Those teams had legit NBA players. I'm not even sure anyone on this team would even start for those teams.

The ratings are going to be brutal. Outside of the diehards, people are not going to set aside 4-5 hours of their time on a third straight weekend to watch Butler-Michigan State, especially now that the weather in the north is finally thawing out. Plus, you have baseball and The Masters coming right around the corner. For all the talk about "greatest tournament ever," this thing is going to limp to the finish line just like the 2006 tournament that had similar accolades in the early going.

Not good timing for the NCAA either with the March Madness contract coming up this year. Is there any doubt that the NCAA is going to 96 teams now?? They are going to need something to sell to the networks.

I fully expect ESPN to win the rights to the first 96 team tournament with Dickie V calling the title game. Ugh. Then again, at least ESPN will be able to show all the games on their various networks.

5) I will say one thing about Duke, and I can't believe I'm saying this. I actually agree with Dickie V about one thing. The constant Duke-bashing is over the top and feels stale to me.

It's one thing to not be a Duke fan (I'm not a Duke fan), but the outright hatred for them?? I'm not sure I understand it. It's not like they've been dominating college basketball for a decade and everyone is just sick of them. If anything, I actually find this team to be pretty likable in an overachieving sort of way. They win games, they graduate players, their players are solid citizens, they don't have a roster filled with neck tattoos and "one and dones", and for the most part, they aren't knee deep in the college hoops cesspool like some of these other programs. Sure, they get some favorable calls, but that's the nature of the beast. All of the high profile teams get favorable calls. When you are the biggest name in the sport and CBS/NCAA needs you for television ratings, you're going to maybe get the benefit of the doubt at times. How is that different from the Lakers or the Cavs or North Carolina or any other big time program?

I actually find their style of play to be refreshing compared to what you see around the country. It's been so long since Duke was nationally relevant this far into the tournament that I sort of forgot what watching them was like. Always making the extra pass, getting their hands on a lot of balls defensively, blocking out to get rebounds, good free throw shooting. Baylor threw the kitchen sink at them athletically, but Duke just hung in there and made shots and got stops on defense. If you took off the Duke jerseys, I think people would find them to be a pretty likable group.

Coach K has done a pretty impressive job in getting Duke to the Final Four this year. I don't care what the recruiting rankings say. Duke is far from the most talented team in the nation. To go to the Final Four with no real low post scorer, minimal depth, and a severe lack of athleticism is an impressive feat.

I think it's good for college basketball when Duke is good. I don't think this is a classically great Duke team by any means, but I'm looking forward to seeing them in the Final Four. Any time the most high profile program in the nation is around, it makes for more compelling television.

4) I feel like we say this every year, but how amazing is Tom Izzo?? I don't know why I would ever doubt him. If you see him in the tournament, just pencil them into the Final Four until proven otherwise. Somehow he gets his teams playing their best ball in March, even if they've looked middling going into the tournament. Durrell Summers went from a guy who was benched in the Big Ten Tournament to maybe the MVP of the NCAA Tournament so far.

What is the magic for Michigan State?? Quality recruiting and tough, physical play. It's a good mix of skilled guys and enforcers, so they can pretty much play any style. If you want to push it, they always have the guards to do it. If you want to bang in the halfcourt game, they have the bangers to do that. Izzo seems to have a great feel for how the game is going and makes adjustments to pull it out in the 2nd half. When you get into that last ten minutes, they always seem to make their move to get a win.

Rebounding has become a critical component of college basketball partially because teams miss so many shots nowadays. Seems like you need to have 3-4 bangers down low who can come in and get rebounds and either keep possessions alive or turn opposing possessions into "one shot and out" trips. Obviously, Sparty is the king when it comes to grabbing boards, but maybe the biggest beneficiary of that philosophy this year has been Duke. They are actually a really good rebounding team now and probably won the game against Baylor because of those 22 offensive rebounds. If Lance Thomas didn't keep alive all those possessions, they probably would have lost. I really hope Mike Brey is pounding on that all summer with ND's team. Dominating the glass should be a priority with all of our bangers.

Michigan State's recruiting is an underrated ingredient to their success though. It's not like Izzo is winning with a bunch of scrubs. Morgan is a 4 star, Lucious, Allen and Summers are 4 stars, Lucas was a 4 star, and Delvin Roe was a 5 star. I mean, that's a lot of talent. Pretty much every year, Sparty is bringing in a top 20 class. And they have another top 10 class coming in next year. You gotta have the horses, and Michigan State has them.

The key for Izzo in recruiting is that he always seems to land these top 50ish players who don't have the NBA "one and done" mindset. He doesn't seem to go for the elite top 10 type guys who are thinking about the NBA the second they get on campus. A guy like Derrick Favors is great to have on the roster, but what happens when he leaves after one year?? What have you really gained from him?? All you accomplished is a gaping hole in your roster that could have been filled for 3-4 years with someone a little less talented. Would you rather have Raymar Morgan for 4 years or Favors for one?? Or Chris Allen for 4 years vs. Eric Bledsoe or Jrue Holliday for one year?? I think the answer is pretty obvious. If you want to win, you need some of those veterans.

Either way, amazing work by Tom Izzo to go to the Final Four yet again without his best player. Two wins from backing into a 2nd national title. Hands down the best coach in college basketball today.

3) Speaking of teams that could benefit from some veterans.....the Kentucky Wildcats. Just goes to show that it is really really hard to win with a bunch of freshmen going up against juniors and seniors even if your freshmen are supertalented. When WVU really stepped up the intensity in the 2nd half, Kentucky came unglued. They hadn't really faced that type of adversity, and didn't really know who to turn to for big buckets.

Kentucky is going to have to find some of those "Izzo recruits" to go with the stars that they bring in. The so-called "program guys" who have been through the grind and can give you a steady hand in crunch time. I would guess that's exactly what Calipari is going to set out to find. The Chris Douglas Roberts types.

Even with a guy like Bledsoe, as valuable as he was this year, wouldn't Calipari rather have a solid 4 star type who can become the veteran leader of this program in a couple years?? If Bledsoe, Cousins, Wall, and Orton leave, they're basically starting all over next year with another crop of freshmen. That's unsustainable. At some point, you're going to swing and miss on some guys who aren't ready to contribute heavily in year one.

For what it's worth, I am astounded that a team would actually draft Eric Bledsoe in NBA lottery this year. Even if you like his potential, you have absolutely no idea what you're getting with him as a potential finished product based on his one year at Kentucky. To me, he's just a really fast guard who can occasionally shoot well. Sure, he might blossom into a star, but he could just as easily be a huge bust. I don't see how an NBA team has any type of read on him at this point in his career to justify using a lottery pick on him. Is the draft that weak this year??

Then again, that's the nature of the beast. The draft has become more and more of a crapshoot. If Bledsoe is actually considered a lottery pick (or even a mid to late first rounder) and wants to go right now, then by all means go to the league, get your check, and work on your game.

2) I always love it when there's a legit 1 vs. 2 debate for the NBA Draft. Last year was so clearly the Blake Griffin Sweepstakes throughout the tournament, but this year really does have a "Wall vs. Turner" feel to it. How can you not like both guys a ton, especially after the way they performed in March?? Do you take the guy who hit a 37 foot buzzer beater and came up big game after game or do you take the guy who dropped a 19-9-5 breathtaking performance against West Virginia??

As much as I love Evan Turner, I don't know how you can pass up John Wall. Amazing how explosive and fluid he is with the dribble and how he can get to the rim in a blur. His outside shot stinks right now, but he's only 19 years old. Once he has a chance to get in the gym every day and develop a shot, that will eventually come. He's got a nice stroke. Just needs some repetition. All these NBA guys eventually develop their shots. Look at Rajon Rondo. He never shot from the outside, and now he's completely fine out there.

If Wall actually played at Kentucky for three years, he would be unbelievable. I can't even fathom how dominant he would be. To do what he did as a true freshman is pretty amazing. He was the best player on the floor in that West Virginia game. Just couldn't get any help from his teammates.

I remember watching Evan Turner as a freshman, and he was so raw it's not even funny. You could see that he had ability, but every other time he touched the ball was a turnover. That "Evan Turnover" nickname still hasn't left him in Columbus. Now, he's three years into his career and a completely different player. Wall would be like that if he stayed for a few years.

Turner is about as safe a #2 pick as there is though. He's so smooth, has all the tools to be a scoring machine, always gets his teammates involved, and has the big game moxie that you want to see in a player. Plus, he's a really good guy. I would be stunned if he isn't averaging 20ppg as a two guard in 3-4 years. Can he be a franchise guy on a championship team?? Probably not. But he can be a Brandon Roy type as the leading scorer on a playoff team.

In fact, if I was the Bulls, I would offer my next three #1 picks to move up and take Turner to pair him up with Derrick Rose. That would be a phenomenal combination.

1) Finally, an ode to Bobby Huggins. Congratulations to Huggs on his second Final Four appearances. I don't think I could be happier for him, and I'm glad to see him getting the national recognition that he deserves even if it is not taking place at UC. In terms of pure coaching ability, you will not find many better coaches in America than Bob Huggins. I've always believed that, and I'm glad that he finally has a program and a team that has allowed him to thrive on the national stage. Huggins has always been a misunderstood figure (part of it is his own doing with his personal behavior and bad attire and low key personality), but I think the world realized how good of a coach he can be with that game plan against Kentucky. Just completely flustered UK's young freshmen and outwitted Calipari the entire game.

In hindsight, UC fans never knew how good they had it with Bob Huggins. People complained about Huggins in the latter stages of his UC career because of a slew of 2nd round NCAA Tournament exits, but he was the reason they even made the tournament in the first place. They were lousy before he was there, and they've been lousy since he's been gone. And they'll probably never have the level of success that they had in the 90s again.

In the end, it all worked out for Huggins. He now has access to better talent on the east coast, he doesn't need to rely on JUCOs to win, and it's a higher profile job in the best basketball conference in America. He is the perfect fit for West Virginia. And when you look at his roster, you don't get the willies like you did watching his Cincy teams. Sure, most of them have tattoos, but for the most part, they look like college kids instead of prison inmates. They play good, solid, team-oriented basketball, and Huggins has gotten everything out of that roster that he can.

Anyway, I'm pulling for West Virginia to cut down the nets in Indy. They've come through on big stages all year and have represented the Big East well, and I'm pulling for Huggins to get his first ring. If he does it, his Hall of Fame resume will look awfully strong.

Take me home, country roads!

March 23, 2010

March Madness: "Chemical" Ali Farokhmanesh, the return of the white man (and not just at Duke!), Calipari, and Notre Dame's "big stage" problem

11) Harold "The Show" Arceneaux, Bryce Drew, and now "Chemical" Ali Farokhmanesh. A new March Madness legend has emerged. The Michael Jordan of Iran with a dad who may or may not be Borat. Love this guy's moxie. Pretty sure he will be rejecting my Facebook friend request any minute now.

Great stuff. Hands down the best moment of the basketball weekend. I think every sports bar/living room/Vegas sportsbook in America collectively erupted when that 3 pointer went down. I don't even remotely feel bad for Kansas either. They didn't even show up to play until there were five minutes to go in the game.

How long before that Northern Iowa coach is pacing the sidelines at Iowa next year?? Just make the announcement now like you see before the college football bowl games. What if that actually happened?? A coach gets some monster offer during the middle of the NCAAs and they tell him that he has to leave immediately to start recruiting and he bails. That would be like the biggest scandal of all time. I think Dickie V would commit a homicide he'd be so upset.

10) By the way, can we go back to calling Bill Self a tournament underachiever again?? It's like George Costanza after he got rid of his toupee. Great to have the old Bill Self back. It was weird with him winning titles and things like that.

This sort of reminds me of the Mickelson Winged Foot meltdown after he had already won a couple majors. Even though we had all come to acknowledge that Phil was indeed a great champion and capable of closing out majors, all those "Phil the Choker" memories came flooding back as soon as he pulled out the driver and sliced that drive on 18 out of bounds in the US Open. It was always there lurking under the surface.

Same with Self. He's a GREAT coach, of course, considering all of his success (yes, recruiting does matter and shouldn't be discounted when evaluating a coach. Pretty sure I'd rather have Bill Self than Bo "Bench Coach" Ryan who loses in the 2nd round every tournament), but it was strangely fitting to see him with the Bill Self face going down the stretch of that game. It felt like 2005 all over again.

Oh well. I doubt he's too worried about it. He's got a ring, and Kansas is still loaded.

9) Is this tournament the year of the white man?? Between all the Cornell guys, all the Duke guys, Andy Rautins, Chris Kramer, Gordon Hayward, Jon Diebler, Jon Leuer, Ali Farokhmanesh (sorry Iran, I'm counting him in this discussion), that Eglseder guy from Northern Iowa and his compadre with the mutton chop sideburns, this is the most prominent role the white man has played in an NCAA Tournament in a number of years. Even Tennessee is trotting out a few white dudes off the bench (albeit no headband I believe).

And these aren't just token guys. A lot of these guys can really play. Everywhere I look, there's a white guy driving to the bucket or knocking down a jumper this year. By Sunday evening, I was 90% sure that Chris Kramer was scoring on that drive to the bucket against Texas A&M. When did the white man become a go-to guy?? Is this a product of all the "one and dones"?

My all White Team of the teams remaining:

PG - Rautins
SG - Scheyer
F - Singler
F - Ryan Wittman
C - Eglseder

Bench: Hayward, Kramer, Diebler, Farokhmanesh

I mean, that's a heckuva squad! That's a top 20 team I would guess. Maybe better. The forwards/wings on that team would be as good as any in America.

Meanwhile, Kentucky, the school that once refused to recruit a black player, is now running an all-black team out there and might have to face two legitimate whitewashes (Cornell and Duke) if they want to advance to the NCAA title game. How about that for irony??

8) Most impressive team: Kentucky. Just put the banner up at Rupp right now. And then take it down in two years. They have the best personnel and a great coach. This is really not that complicated sometimes.

Then again, Dino Gaudio did not exactly have the greatest game plan against them. Let's see, you're playing Kentucky and all their athletes, and your strategy is to get into a track meet with them?? Huh?? Why would you play them like that??

Needless to say, we were scrambling to try to pick up the rights to "" on Saturday night. I have feeling that will be a hot website within the next two years.

7) Nice work by Washington. The Pac 10 quietly went 3-1 this weekend. Amazing how cyclical college hoops can be. I remember coming back from Vegas last year buzzing about the Pac 10 and ready to pick all of these Pac 10 teams to make noise (you know who you are, Arizona State!), and then watched them lay a collective egg in the tourney. This year, the Pac 10 was widely-regarded as a complete joke, and the league is now 3-1.

And I love Lorenzo Romar's "Here's Looking at You" impersonation of Bubbles from "The Wire." Now all we need is a McNulty look alike (Bruce Pearl?) and a Bunk look alike (Draymond Green?).

6) Big East -- Complete disaster. In fact, I think the Big East has done enough damage to make the committee leery of ever giving the league eight bids again. Georgetown and Nova were wildly overseeded, ND choked, and Louisville never even showed up. The whole claim to fame for the Big East is that the teams beat each other up in conference play, and now that argument looks like it has less credibility.

The Big East members might want to play tougher OOC schedules next year because I don't think going 10-8/9-9 is getting you in next year based on conference record alone. Yes, Mike Brey, you should be taking out your pen and paper right now and writing that mental note to yourself. I'm going to post that once a week until you get that message and give us a top 50 OOC schedule.

Then again, I can't really figure out what happened to the Big East this year. All of these teams are littered with McDonald's All-Americans, so it's not like they were complete frauds who overachieved all year and then flamed out in the tourney. Maybe it was just a fluke year.

5) Let me just throw out this Final Four possibility for Indianapolis in two weeks:

Ohio State

Are you kidding me?? That might be the hottest ticket of all time. Kentucky can fill the Lucas Oil Dome by itself with the way they travel, and then you throw in Ohio State with Evan Turner's star power three hours up the road on I-70, plus the New York Yankees of college basketball in Duke, and a massive Big East brand name with major media presence in the biggest city in America. You couldn't ask for a better Final Four in terms of ticket sales and tourism dollars.

I'm picturing 40,000 bullpen-jacket wearing, Tayshaun Prince-jersied UK fans invading Indy en masse and mingling with a bunch of chardonnay-drinking Duke fans. That would be the highest of high comedy. I really need to head over to Indy if that happens.

Plus, how great would a Duke-Kentucky Final Four be??? Not only is it always special to see those two teams on the floor together, would that be the first potential "white vs. black" matchup since the famous Kentucky-Texas Western game?? Would black America just start rioting on the spot if Duke won that game?? Not that white people are really rooting for Duke either.

4) The All-WEISND First and Second Round Team:

I didn't watch every single game or player, so I'm just going with the guys I actually watched. For example, I didn't see any of Duke or Baylor and very little of West Virginia, so I'm not putting any of them in this grouping.

Here would be my All Star team so far purely based on guys I've watched in the first two rounds of the tournament:

G - Jacob Pullen - Just played incredible in the BYU game. He didn't impress me that much in the Kansas game in the Big 12 final, but I now understand what the fuss is about. Every time KSU needed a bucket, he came up with it.
G - Jordan Crawford -- Cold-blooded assassin. Every time it got a little scary for Xavier, he buried a jumper. And when he has the ball in transition, it's a bucket.
SF - Wes Johnson -- Scoring machine. Completely dominated. He was probably always a lottery pick, but now there's no question he's going top 5. Not sure if he'll be a great pro, but his draft status is through the roof.
PF - Ryan Wittman -- Are you kidding me?? Shooting machine.
C - Omar Samhan - This dude is wacky, but he's great. Should be interesting to see him go up against Baylor's big guys.
6th man - Quincy Pondexter -- That drive against Marquette was one of the best executed "clear out for the best player for the last shot" sequences I've seen. That formation almost never works, but he executed it perfectly. Set his man up, beat him to the hole, and made a tough shot. Great work.

How about all these ex-Indiana players/recruits in this tournament by the way?? Bassett, Crawford, Ebanks, Ben Allen, Holloway. Even a guy like Wittman should have been on the IU radar considering his dad was a great one there.

That might be the most underrated story of this entire tournament. If Indiana had that roster (which is not even remotely far-fetched considering all of those guys either committed or played at IU), they'd be playing this week in the Sweet 16. Not even a doubt in fact.

3) Say what you want about John Calipari, but here's the question I would ask. If your school was looking for a coach, wouldn't you want them to hire Calipari?? Me too. I wouldn't even blink. If ND hired Cal and announced at the presser that they would stop at nothing (that means you, Worldwide Wes!) to win, that would be one of the happiest days of my life as an ND fan. It would be worth it to see the banner up at the JACC for two years before it came down. Just win, baby!

Then again, Swarbrick and the collars would crawl into the fetal position at the thought of Cal at Notre Dame.

If you hire Cal, it's a sign that you want to win. Big boy college basketball. Nobody does it better in the game today. Maybe it's shady, but if Cal didn't sign John Wall, someone else would. Kentucky needed a coach who would get their swagger back, and that's exactly what Calipari has given them. I'm not even sure they remember the Billy Gillespie era at this point. Even if he leaves that program in shambles someday, it's still worth it to go along for the ride. Ultimately, the only thing that matters are the memories. The banners are just laundry.

2) Power Poll:

1) Kentucky - You never know when you have so many freshmen, but they have the best horses in this race. Just so much talent, and their freshmen don't really look like freshmen.

2) Syracuse -- They got their mojo back. I'll never doubt a Jim Boeheim-coached team. Definitely the backup frontrunner at this point.

3) Kansas State -- Sure, they are coached by a prison guard, but these guys are legit. I've now watched them back to back weekends, and really like how they play. They remind me a lot of Bob Huggins' early 90s Cincy teams only they are a little more skilled. Pullen and Clemente are the best backcourt in this thing, and they bring waves of 6'8" athletics wings and bigs at you. Very legit threat to win the whole thing.

4) West Virginia - I love Bob Huggins and think he's maybe the most underrated college basketball coach of the last 25 years, but I just can't get over the hump and embrace them as a title contender. Of the 4-5 truly great teams that Huggins has had in his UC and WVU career (the 92 Final Four team, the 93 Elite 8 team, the 96 Elite 8 team, the 2000 Kenyon Martin team, and this 2010 WVU team), it seems like they'd always run up against a team that was just a little bit too talented and skilled.

Huggins' coached teams win on grit and toughness and one or two star players. He's had that formula for as long as I've watched him. As much as I like them, I'm not sure it's enough to win a title. Not quite enough guard play, and not enough pure blueblood highly-skilled personnel (the Wayne Ellingtons of the world) to cut down the nets. Sometimes you have to have the look, and Huggins has never really coached teams that had that championship look.

I really hope I'm wrong. I would love to see him win a title to complete his resume as an all-time great in the coaching business.

5) Ohio State -- On paper, the Buckeyes don't make any sense as a title threat. They have no low post presence, they basically play 5 guys the whole game, and it's clear that they need superhuman efforts out of Evan Turner to pick up the slack when nothing else is working.

But it almost doesn't even matter. They are in such good condition, and David Lighty just shuts down one future NBA big man after another even though he's only 6'5". The Thad Matta "four out one in" style is perfect for this team's personnel, and they present a really tough matchup for any team that can't match their athleticism on the perimeter.

I'm surprised more teams don't build their team around going small. It's such a difficult style to play against, and it never hurts to have 4 guys on the court who can handle the ball and get out on a break. As long as you have one wing who is capable of playing big on the defensive end (which is really not that hard if you position yourself right), you can create a bunch of mismatches on the offensive end.

Buckeyes got a HUGE break with Kansas and Georgetown going down. Either team would have been a tough matchup with all their athleticism and size and depth. Tennessee is going to be a tough game, but the overall path to the Final Four looks a lot less imposing.

Can't see the Buckeyes winning this thing, but you never know. They need the bracket to continue to break just right for them. Syracuse and Kentucky would be awfully tough challenges, but Evan Turner is capable of anything at this point.

6) Duke - The bracket helps. Duke is playing really well though. Just seems like they are a little more physical and capable of banging in a halfcourt game this year.

Then again, Duke's bracket path is a joke. Purdue is running on fumes, and who knows what will come out of the other side of the bracket. Baylor is a threat, but they haven't exactly looked spectacular thus far.

7) Xavier -- I'm throwing Xavier in purely because they are really talented. Not sure how great their chemistry is, but they have the horses to keep winning. This is a different type of Xavier team. Xavier normally has 5-6 guys who all average around 10 points a game, and win with defense and chemistry and depth of quality personnel that includes good guards and good bigs.

This team is star-driven. Crawford is the most electrifying player Xavier has ever had in my opinion, but Xavier is completely reliant on him. If he gets out of rhythm, they stall out. Still, with a guy that talented and some other talented guys around him (Love, Holloway, Jackson, McLean, etc), they are extremely dangerous.

Chris Mack is proving this year that Xavier is just bigger than their coach. Mack was basically just a local grab as an alum who wanted the job, and he's already in the Sweet 16. I'm not even sure it matters who coaches them these days.

1) I'll preface these thoughts on Notre Dame by saying that ND still had a pretty good season in spite of the loss to Old Dominion on Thursday. Considering where we were at a month ago, getting to the NCAA tournament, finishing 10-8 in the league, and making a respectable showing in the Big East Tournament is not something I can ignore. At the end of the day, if you make the dance, it's a decent season overall.

But I will say that ND's "big stage" problems in football and basketball are really getting to me. We've come up small on big national stages more times than just about any other school out there. This isn't some brief downturn. This is a lost GENERATION of Notre Dame athletics. 1993 through 2010 and counting. What a waste of a brand name. When was the last time we've done anything meaningful or memorable in either sport on the national stage (shock a top seed, deep NCAA run, big college football bowl win, dominating performance, top 2 or 3 seed in the dance, NBA or NFL top 10 pick)? I honestly can't even remember. Our only memorable moments are losses (blowout losses, choke jobs, and "The Loss for the Ages" against USC in 05).

Our fans claim to have high expectations, but I think that has been beaten out of us. I really don't see these so-called high expectations. We've become like Bengal fans or Cub fans. An 8-4/9-3 football season with a Gator Bowl IS GOOD ENOUGH. We still talk about that 2005 team that lost THREE GAMES like they were a team for the ages. A 21-13 type basketball season with a 6 seed and a first round loss is also good enough. We seem content to cling to mediocrity. Meanwhile, Xavier has been to 4 Sweet 16s in 7 years, and they don't have anywhere near the brand name or national profile that we have.

And for the record, this isn't a criticism of Mike Brey. Mike Brey is a good basketball coach. If his bosses were half as committed to championship basketball as Xavier's administrators, he'd be in the Sweet 16 more often than not. I firmly believe that. Put a Jordan Crawford and a Jason Love and a Jamel McLean on his roster, and he'd be playing this weekend. But Brey doesn't have administrative support. You win with TALENT in the NCAA Tournament. Xavier has high level talent. They crank out NBA players every year, and have size and depth and athleticism.

How does Xavier get that talent?? Because they treat their players like royalty. This article about Xavier's program is fascinating to me. Xavier flies everywhere in a private jet. They have some of the best practice facilities in the nation, and they are spending top dollars to recruit in competitive recruiting areas. If Chris Mack wants a private jet to go scout a recruit, he's got it. Meanwhile, ND is taking the Greyhound bus back from New York, and Brey is probably rocking a coach Southwest flight to check out a player.

Xavier gets it. They are invested. They want to win a title or at least go to a Final Four. They are willing to play tough OOC games because it helps their brand. ND wants to win on the cheap. We want to revenue-grab by scheduling a ton of "buy games," we travel on the cheap, we have bad gear and bad practice facilities. Add it all up, and that's exactly why ND has made one Sweet 16 in 25 years and is only a fringe player nationally in college basketball.

March 15, 2010

Thoughts on ND's seed, the Brady Quinn trade, Jeremiah Masoli's troubles, spring exhibition college football games, and why I miss Billy Packer

6) Not sure I could ask for a better seed for ND. I'll admit that I was fully prepared for an 8 or 9 seed, and had resigned myself to hoping for a 10 seed to avoid that 8/1 second round matchup. I did not see this 6 seed coming. Guess we should thank two ND alums, Mike Bobinski (Xavier AD) and "Mean" Gene Smith (Ohio State AD), for maybe giving us a nudge up to that 6 line.

First round matchup looks tricky, but certainly manageable. From what I'm reading about Old Dominion, they are sort of a homeless man's West Virginia. Very deliberate, very good on the boards, but not a knockdown shooting team with great guards. They will create some problems for us, but that's a matchup I can live with. Our new defensive alignment and pace of play should keep things bottled up and under our control.

Don't know much about Baylor, but I'll take my chances with Baylor instead of Kentucky or Kansas or Duke. At the very least, we know Baylor has not been on the big stage, and I doubt they have the overwhelming talent that the big boys have. There are a handful of teams that could just "out-talent" us, and Baylor is not one of them as far as I'm concerned.

Looking forward to getting it all started on Thursday at noon. Man, those early Thursday games are going to have America's eyeballs. Hopefully we are up to the task and play well. I really don't want the egg on our face from another first round upset loss. Brey will have us ready to go.

One general thought on the field. Other than ND being in the dance this year, I'm not all that crazy about makeup of this field. Don't get me wrong, I love the NCAA Tournament and will watch every minute, but this has all the makings of a wacky tourney that will be awesome in rounds 1 and 2 and subpar from the Sweet 16 on. Sort of like the 2006 tournament where you had chaos in the first weekend and then suddenly George Mason was in the Final Four and the stretch run was anticlimactic. I think the tv ratings were an all-time low for that Final Four.

As much as I enjoy the upsets and thrillers, I sort of like seeing those heavyweight matchups in the the Sweet 16 and Elite 8. The Kentuckys and Carolinas and UCLAs and Dukes and Kansases and Syracuses and Georgetowns. We've been lucky the last couple years with relatively clean draws that led to great matchups on the second weekend and the Final Four. Lots of 1 and 2 seeds and traditional heavyweight powers.

This year, there's no Indiana, no Carolina, no UConn, no UCLA, and no Arizona. Nothing against Temple or New Mexico or Kansas State or some of these other schools, but they don't excite me.

I'm prepared for a slew of 1st and 2nd round upsets. The carnage will be fun, but then we'll be staring at a bunch of goofy Sweet 16 matchups. I'm sure I'll fall in love with some new programs and teams, but I can't really say I'm crazy about some Duke-Siena Sweet 16 matchup if those are the types of games we get in the second weekend.

Then again, if ND is the wacky underdog pulling off the "upset" against Baylor, then this tournament will be a whole lot more fun. I'll cross that bridge if/when we beat Old Dominion and Baylor.

4) Love this Brady Quinn trade to Denver. Good move for Brady's career. He'll have a realistic chance to compete with Kyle Orton, he's still young, and he'll be familiar with that offense. Couldn't ask for a better situation.

Terrible trade for the Browns. They basically got nothing for him. Should be interesting to see what Holmgren does in the draft. He's a good coach, but I'm not that impressed with him as a GM. He was a bust in Seattle and didn't really start winning until he fired himself as GM and limited himself to coaching duties.

Now I can go back to hating the Browns. I was conflicted about them as a Bengals fan once they drafted Brady, but they can go 0-16 next year for all I care now. And with Jake Delhomme at QB and Mangini coaching, that's probably not all that far off.

3) Color me intrigued about this spring game exhibitions idea that Dabo Swinney has been talking up. We've heard Rich Rodriguez talking about a preseason game in August, and now Swinney is saying he wants to play Georgia in a spring game exhibition. He suggests doing a home and home thing where you play at your place one year and the other place the next year. Maybe charge a little higher ticket prices than a typical spring game ($30-40) and get it on ESPN or something.

You're telling me there isn't a market for this?? I think this is a fantastic idea and would give the game a little more juice. I mean, I've been to like 10 out of the last 12 ND spring games or something ridiculous like that, but the spring game is relatively meaningless. It's basically an excuse to be outside and watch football for a couple hours in the spring. One of these days, I'll probably be more excited to line up a tee time at Warren after the game than I am about the game itself.

I mean, I still love going up to South Bend and talking myself into Hafis Williams as a stud interior DT based on a couple nice tackles at the spring game, but you don't really learn a lot about your team by watching it. It would be fun to see how we match up with someone like Wisconsin or Iowa or somebody like that. Maybe it would even convince Swarbrick and company that good home and homes are worthwhile on the real schedule.

In fact, I would like to see the ability to play two spring games. You play one spring game at home and one on the road. That way, every team lets their fans see the team at home.

It would be beneficial for coaches as well because you get to see how your team looks against other competition. When you are only going up against your guys, you can't really tell how good you are. How embarrassing was it that we read all these great articles before last year about how good our defense looked and then it was horrible all year?? We read about all these dudes like Brandon Newman and Hafis Williams, and they never sniffed the field. I think Weis deluded himself into thinking he had the goods going into every year, and he probably would have benefited from seeing his team going up against someone else in the spring.

Sign me up for this. Get NBC on board, get a good opponent, and let's do it. If we're having revenue problems, this would help. Maybe we could even do a couple neutral site games in Chicago or New York.

2) What a mess this Jeremiah Masoli thing is for Oregon. He's gone for the entire season! Are you kidding me?? He was a Heisman frontrunner. This is pretty huge story if you ask me.

Then again, how could Chip Kelly not suspend him for the year?? At some point, you have to figure that the school president got in his ear and said enough is enough. That program is turning into Florida State West. Just one legal problem after another, and it seems like they have accepted a lot of shady characters into the program in recent years.

General rule of thumb: It's never a good idea to have too many guys with "Le" before their first names. It's a dangerous mix. Once you get a couple LeMarcuses and LeMichaels and LeGarrettes, trouble almost immediately follows. Michael=good. LeMichael=trouble. Garrett=choir boy. LeGarrette=fighting fans in the stands.

Anyway, what does this mean for Oregon?? Where do they go from here?? You almost wonder if they're going to have to revisit their stance on all these JUCOs, but those guys have been a big source of talent. Oregon is not exactly a high school football hotbed, and in terms of population, Oregon is the 28th biggest state in the union with 3.4 million people. Mike Riley once said that there are maybe 10-12 Division-I prospects in the whole state from year to year. Assuming that Oregon gets half of them, they have to go outside the state for the bulk of their talent.

If Oregon takes a step back in the next couple years, that might open the door wide open for one of the other Pac 10 schools to make a surge. Between Oregon's issues and USC's transition, couldn't you see someone like Washington or UCLA making a move in the next few years??

In fact, I'll go ahead and say it right now. Washington wins a Pac 10 title in the next three years. The Nick Montana era! I'm really high on Steve Sarkisian. He seems like a really good young coach and a pretty good guy. I'd like to maybe see ND get Washington back on the schedule in the next 5-7 years.

1) Finally, if I have to stand alone on this bandwagon, so be it. BRING BACK BILLY PACKER! For the love of god, I don't know if I can take another Final Four with Nantz and Clark Kellogg. Maybe the most boring pairing of all time. I mean, I love Jim Nantz, but he is just not into college hoops anymore. I can't blame him. They bring him in for March after the NFL season even though he probably hasn't watched a game all year. You can just tell that his heart is not in it, and that he'd much rather be cozying up to the Doral tournament and gearing up for those dogwoods and pines at Augusta. Nantz is a football and golf guy these days. That's what he knows. Putting him in the mix of the hoops scene when there is a guy like Gus Johnson or Verne Lundquist who could do that job much better is a mistake.

And Kellogg is brutal. He's not funny, and I don't think I've ever heard him say anything interesting or insightful as an analyst. It's as if he speaks entirely in cliche. I find him to be completely boring. He's a good guy and lives in Columbus, but he doesn't do anything for me as an analyst.

Ideally, Jay Bilas would be the guy. He's the best there is, and it's not even close. He watches more hoops than anyone, he has great insight, and he's not afraid to express a tough opinion. I'd love to see the Raftery/Bilas combo in the Final Four. Heck, match them up with Nantz. He would probably enjoy working with those guys.

Otherwise, bring back Packer. Say what you want about Packer, but at least you listened to him. At least he made you think even if you didn't always agree with him. Packer had some annoying tendencies and was never funny, but at least he cared. Vitale spends half the game talking about Ben Roethlisberger or the Yankees. I think Packer was just so intense and dialed into the game that he couldn't help but come off as abrasive.

March 11, 2010

Notre Dame is Dancing: How far can we go the rest of the way??

I think it's safe to say that ND is now officially in the Big Dance. Looking forward to it. Great win last night. Just completely dominated the game and took Seton Hall out of what they wanted to do. How refreshing that we are the team causing other teams to wilt down the stretch instead of the opposite??

I'm amazed at what has transpired in the last 2.5 weeks. I threw in the towel on this team (admit it, you did too) after the St. Johns home loss that dropped us to 17-9 and 6-7 in league play with games looming against Louisville, Pitt, Gtown, UConn, and Marquette. I figured we would limp to the finish without Harangody and finish up around 7-11 with a first round NIT loss. I was prepared for a long offseason with lots of "Will we make the NIT next year?" talk heading into 2010-11.

And I'll even say that I was really wavering on the Mike Brey era and whether it might be time to start peeking around the corner at a future with a different coach. I consider myself to be a Mike Brey apologist and still have an active petition to name the JACC after the man, but the losses were getting to me. We were an offense-oriented team that played matador defense, had no inside presence, and wilted down the stretch. It's a formula to be competitive and quirky but not to win basketball games and certainly not a method to win championships.

Even though I have never questioned that Brey is a good basketball coach who gets more out of his roster than just about anyone in the Big East (look no further than what he has done with all these 2 and 3 star recruits in terms of player development), the bigger issues of program management and recruiting were really starting to turn me away from him in the last year or so. I wrote this post after last season, and it was the first time where I really started to question whether Mike Brey was holding this program back from taking it to the next level.

Incredibly, this season has turned out to be a great success story after playing like an NIT team for 2/3 of the season. Credit to Mike Brey. He has done perhaps the best coaching job of his career, and he actually has us playing our best basketball late in the year instead of limping to the finish line like we have done in the past. This team has become the complete opposite of a typical Brey team. Instead of playing the uptempo "loose" style that we've seen through the years, now we value every possession, we are patient, we work the shot clock, we wear the other team down, most importantly, we guard you and take away all the cheap scores. We've become like a Big Ten team all of the sudden (feel free to insert your "this will be great when we're playing in the Big Ten in five years" jokes right here). Just throw a sweater vest on Mike Brey the way we've been playing. It's like Tressel Ball on the hardcourt. Run the clock, play good defense, and finish strong down the stretch.

In many ways, this is probably how we always should have played with the type of personnel that ND typically brings in. We usually are a good ballhandling and passing team, and we have smart players who could easily adapt to a disciplined style of ball like you see at a place like Wisconsin. Half-court oriented, wear the other team down, good decisions, and eat up the clock until the other team wilts. You could see how frustrating it was for Seton Hall to play against us. They hated it.

It's also a great formula for winning in the postseason when you don't have elite talent. There are always going to be 4-5 teams that can just out-talent you like UNC or Kentucky or Kansas, but most of these teams are winning in the NCAAs by playing disciplined, halfcourt ball and getting stops on defense.

I'm glad to see that Brey has suddenly embraced this approach. Is this how we'll play going forward?? Brey seems to think that recruits want to play in a more ACC-style uptempo offense, but it's not like we've ever recruited that well playing that style for the last 10 years. I think recruits are more concerned with one thing: WINNING. If we win games, we'll get players. This style seems to be working for us. Maybe we will take on some sort of hybrid uptempo/halfcourt offense, but we should definitely be continuing some of the principles of this "burn" offense into next year.

What an interesting career Brey has had at ND. He's gone through a lot of peaks and valleys, and it seems like he has learned some things during his struggles. He had a stretch 4-5 years ago where we had some dysfunctional recruiting that sent us to the NIT for three straight years, and now he's fought through a tough 18 month stretch where the lack of big men and a defensive backbone has killed us. Hopefully he comes out of this as a better coach with a new vision for this program. Brey has us set up very well in the next couple years with Abro and Scott and Cooley and Nash and Martin, and I'm excited about the recruits he has coming in next year. We have a nice 2-3 year window going forward where we can legitimately talk about multiple NCAA bids and competing for a Big East championship.

At this point, I'll say that any debate about Brey's future should be put on indefinite hold. He's done a marvelous job with this team, and we have some very promising young pieces. Brey is a good basketball coach, and he apparently had a much better handle on the young guys on the roster (Carl Scott especially) than we thought. I had a stretch in the wilderness where I started to question the Mock, but those days are over for me. I won't be doing that anytime soon. The man is here to stay, and I couldn't be happier about it.

As for the rest of the Big East tournament, I think ND has the ability to hang tough with anyone at this point. I really can't say enough about how much the addition of Carl Scott has meant to this team. He's a gamechanger on the interior defensively. Just the threat of him blocking a shot has changed everything, and he and Nash are Windex men on the glass. It has completely changed the look of our team. We've now gone five straight games giving up under 65 points with three games holding our opponent in the 50s. When was the last time we've done that??

With our guard play and the new horses down low, we can be a factor in March. I expect to be anywhere from a 7 to a 10 seed depending on how the rest of the Big East Tournament goes. Would it surprise anyone if this team made a Sweet 16 run?? If we drew Duke in the 2nd round, would anyone be intimidated by that game?? The matchups don't look that daunting. Throw Scott on Singler, throw Tory on Nolan Smith, Nash on Zoubek, and Hansbrough on Scheyer. I can live with all those matchups. And that's before you get to "The Microwave" Luke Harangody coming off the bench with some instant offense. As good as Duke is, we could give them major problems with our style of play.

Can't wait for the Big Dance to begin! Great to have ND back in the NCAA Tournament. Finish strong in New York, and then get ready to win a pod next weekend.

March 03, 2010

Appreciating Tory -- The Warrior

Senior Night.

The stage was set for one final shining moment from the quintessential leader of the Hoopin' Irish. And "The Warrior" delivered in grand fashion. (Absolutely love the image of Tory's brother chanting "Champ" up and down the aisles during the 2nd half).

The little point guard who could lifted the Irish to a 3rd straight improbable victory, this time over a fellow bubble team who easily defeated them earlier in the season. Tory poured in 20 of his game-high 22 in the 2nd half, refusing to allow any bad memories sour this evening.

His evening.

The script for the night was supposed to revolve around the acclaimed All-American, a hard-working Hoosier son with a nose for the basket, triumphantly exiting with his name etched high atop the Big East and Notre Dame record books. Funny that Hollywood would reject that version.

Instead, the Best Supporting Teammate proved (again) why he's been the heart and soul of Notre Dame basketball for four years. #2 wears his emotions like the tattoos on his arms - loud and proud. He's never backed down from an opponent, a situation or a moment and finds elusive ways to succeed in spite of obstacles. His enthusiasm has been a constant breath of fresh air for teammates and fans alike - a kid who truly embraced the opportunity to play college athletics.

For their careers, Gody's statistics and media attention dwarfed Tory's impact, though present circumstances beg for some revisionist history as to the bigger influence on the team's success. Tory came in under the radar as a 3-star recruit according to Rivals, #118 overall and the #24 point guard in the country (quite a competitive list. In hindsight, I'd rank Tory as having the 8th biggest impact as a college PG and drop him somewhere in the 50's overall). He was recruited by USC and his home state Wolverines, but jumped at the opportunity to grab the reins immediately in Mike Brey's offense.

Flashes of Tory's brilliance were seen early on as a freshman leading the Big East in assists in conference games. His drive-and-dish mentality created easy buckets by attacking the paint. Along with a feisty defensive edge, Tory's play stood in stark contrast to the preceding Chris Thomas era. This year, Tory's assist/turnover ratio (2.67) bests all of CT's "glorious" four years. Normally the smallest player on the court, Tory routinely soared for rebounds in traffic, taking pride in the dirty work on both ends.

My favorite memory of Tory first grabbing the spotlight was his gutsy play in his first Big East Tournament. MSG's lights weren't too bright as he nearly willed ND to the title game with an inspired effort against an uber-talented Georgetown squad.

Never the best shooter, he saved his scoring bursts for the most opportune moments. His tough drives were sensational and his surprise outside shots spelled doom for opponents as he singlehandedly tipped the momentum meter towards the Irish whenever a bucket was needed most.

Tory played the position of point guard better than any player I've seen in person*. I'm confident I can speak for all of ND Nation in saying "We'll miss you a whole heckuva lot Tory. Fare thee well."

#2 truly stands in a class by himself.

*(min. 10 games)

March 02, 2010

NFL update: Thoughts on Golden Tate, the new overtime rule, the NFL labor situation, and why Urban Meyer should be nervous about the Tim Tebow saga.

4) I've never been one to get too worked up about labor issues in professional sports, but I will admit that I'm nervously paying attention to this upcoming NFL stuff. As a small market NFL fan, i don't like the idea of the NFL adopting a Major League Baseball model with a handful of teams in DC, Dallas, New York, and Boston as the major players and a bunch of hopeless pretenders in line behind them. I'm really hoping something can be hashed out that preserves the status quo.

As for the possibility of a lockout/strike, I do find it strange that NFL teams are allegedly having such a difficult time making money when the NFL has had record tv ratings and record interest in the league this year. I've read on multiple occasions that Bengals owner Mike Brown pockets anywhere from $25-50 million a year with his taxpayer-paid stadium and luxury boxes. Not only that, but the value of NFL franchises have shot through the roof in the last decade.

And yet owners are claiming that the league is in huge financial trouble?? It just smells of crying wolf a little bit. It's not like NFL players are getting these bloated, franchise-killing contracts like you see in the NBA. NFL players are already making less than NBA and MLB players as it is, and they don't have guaranteed contracts. And now you're asking them to take a 25% pay cut even though the Super Bowl just set an American television record?? Cmon.

Anyway, this labor thing is coming to a boil, and I see two big issues that concern me a little bit as an NFL fan.

1) Big market owners -- It's no secret that Dan Snyder and Jerry Jones would love nothing more than to become the George Steinbrenners of the NFL. Those two are revenue goliaths, and they have been hinting for awhile they'd like the big market teams to get a bigger piece of the revenue pie and don't want a salary cap getting in the way. Sort of like what the big market baseball owners did in the 90s (which basically killed major league baseball for the other 90% of the teams).

Color me concerned. If the NFL goes away from its parity model, I think it would be a disaster. The reason people love the NFL is that it's far and away the most equitable league. It's the only league where teams like Green Bay and Pittsburgh and Indianapolis can be championship-caliber franchises. This year, we had Indy and New Orleans in the Super Bowl, and no one even batted an eye. I don't think I read one story all week that two small market teams were in the Super Bowl. And ratings were as high as ever. Hopefully the NFL noticed that.

If you adopted a baseball style model, you risk creating a class structure that would permanently damage the small market teams. I can't even begin to explain how depressing it is to root for a baseball team that has no chance to win because of economics, and it hurts my interest in the game. Why should I care if Big Market Team A (Yankees) or Big Market Team B (Red Sox) happens to win the title this year with their $200 million payrolls?

If the NFL is dumb enough to follow that same model, I'll probably take the same attitude. If the Redskins and Cowboys have triple the payroll of everyone else and meet every year in the NFC title game, my interest in the league will fade.

The good news is that outspending everyone might not matter as much in football as it does in baseball. Signing a bunch of mid-career free agents who have grown up in some other NFL system is not a formula to win. It's not like the NBA or MLB where you can sign a guy and plug him in. In football, it's hard to do that. You are far better off drafting and developing your own players.

2) Rookie salary cap -- Ordinarily, I would support a rookie cap on salaries. The NFL Draft has been hurt by the fact that every team in the top 5 wants to trade down because they don't want to hand out huge contracts to guys who haven't played a down in the NFL. It's almost like a punishment when you get a top 5 pick. And no one wants to trade up into those spots because they don't want to pay those guys either. It sort of has killed the excitement of draft day trades.

So ideally, a slotting system would be in place where everyone gets a 3-4 year deal that is pre-negotiated like you see in the NBA. Then, the guys who prove themselves can cash in after that rookie deal with a big second contract.

Only one concern, and this goes back to the big market teams. Let's say Gerald McCoy signs a 3-4 year rookie deal with the Lions. That sort of stinks for the Lions because they'd only have control over him for the first few years of his career instead of 6-7 years like they have under the current structure of the CBA. Under the current CBA, the Lions can keep McCoy until he's almost 30, and by then, they're probably fine with him moving on If you put in 3 year rookie contracts, he'd like 25-26 years old and just entering his prime. So suddenly, he's running off to the Cowboys, and they're going to get him for his best years.

For the players, this would be a great deal. The good players would get huge deals for their prime years, and the busts would fade away. For teams, it's not a horrible deal since you don't have to shell out all that upfront money for draft talent, but you run the risk that you'll lose the good players that you draft after only three years.

Definitely going to be interesting to see how those two dynamics play out. The league has thrived under this current model of parity and revenue sharing and equity. I can understand why the bigger market teams want a bigger piece of the pie, but I think it would be a major mistake for the NFL to cave and go to a baseball model. Stay strong, Goodell!! No one wants a league where only 2-3 teams have a chance to compete every year.

3) Love the possible new NFL overtime rule. I’m not necessarily one of those guys who gets bent out of shape about the current overtime setup, but I’m tired of hearing about it. I think Mike & Mike are contractually obligated to talk about the NFL overtime rules at least twice a week during the season.

This new proposal is really good though and would make the league better. If you score a touchdown after winning the toss, you win. If you kick a field goal, your opponent gets another crack. I think that’s perfect. And teams will have a little risk/reward strategy on those 4th and 1s around the 30-40 yard line. Do you go for it and try to get six to end the game, or do you play it safe and get the points on the board and force them to match you?? Would anyone defer on the kickoff knowing that they’d get the ball back as long as the other team didn’t get a touchdown on the first drive?? It could happen, especially if you have a great D.

I didn’t like some of the other ovetime proposals either. I didn’t want the NFL to adopt a college-style “put the ball on the 50” overtime since it is sort of gimmicky and creates too many 4th overtime type games. I also didn’t like the “play a full 5th quarter” idea. It’s almost a punishment to make teams play a full 5th quarter when they’ve already been slugging it out for three hours. Plus, that is really hard on the fans who have been down there all day watching football on a Sunday. If you're some Green Bay fan who drove up from Milwaukee and know you have a 2 hour drive home, do you really want to sit there for an entire 5th quarter in the freezing cold just because the game went into OT?? Some variation of sudden death is still preferable for me.

2) This “Tebow changing his throwing motion” thing is fascinating to me, and even more so from an Urban Meyer perspective. How does this whole thing affect Urban?? Did Urban Meyer not know how to fix the problem?? Did he not care?? Urban’s explanation was that they tried to work with Tebow, but that he reverted back to his old ways whenever they got into game conditions. I guess that’s a reasonable explanation, but I find it hard to believe that an incredible athlete with a work ethic like Tebow couldn’t have fixed this problem in college. If it was so impossible for Tebow to embrace change in college, why does he appear to be embracing the idea now??

My guess is that Urban was never that enthusiastic about it because he didn’t want to risk any transition period. I realize his job is to win college football games, but doesn’t Urban Meyer owe it to Tebow to do everything possible to get him ready to play in the NFL?? If you spend four years with a kid who gives it everything he’s got for you, the least you can do is give him the basic tools that he needs to succeed in the league.

I realize the old adage of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but would it really have hurt the team to change Tebow’s throwing motion?? If anything, it would make him better. More compact, able to get rid of the ball more quickly, more accurate down the field. Wouldn’t that open up things for your offense and make you more versatile??

How will this affect Florida's recruiting?? I mean, if you are an elite QB, wouldn’t you be leery of going to play for Urban Meyer now?? Wouldn’t you wonder if he had the desire/knowledge to prepare you for the NFL?? I realize that NFL preparation is not the only thing that matters for high school recruits (winning is a huge factor of course), but isn’t it something that would have to be considered?

As for Tebow, I am pulling for him. I hope he can fix his mechanics, sit on the bench for a couple years, and play his way into a starting role in the NFL. I don’t know if he can pull it off, but I hope it works out for him. And if he can’t get it done in the NFL, there’s always two other options:

1) Republican politics
2) The next Billy Graham

He could be a superstar in either role, especially the second one. Can’t you picture Reverend Tim Tebow speaking at some White House “African hunger crisis” conference in 2026??

1) Fantastic combine for Golden Tate. It seemed like the elephant in the room for him was that 40 time, and he hit it out of the park. I was a little worried that he was going to pull a Peter Warrick and run a 4.6 or something like that, but 4.42 is a very solid 40 time for him. Now that scouts know that he has legit NFL WR speed, it seems like people are starting to get really excited about him. I can understand why. He brings so many other things to the table (body control, low center of gravity, explosiveness, spectacular hands, tough as nails, versatile), and now teams can really start thinking about him in the late 1st/early 2nd knowing that he’s got the requisite NFL speed.

To me, Tate is going to be one of those Hines Ward/Steve Smith types who just always seem to be open making plays or breaking free. I prefer taller receivers, but I can live with a shorter guy with all these spread offenses nowadays. If you use a guy like that right, you can get him the ball in a lot of different ways (Wildcat, returns, screens, reverses, bubble screens, long balls, underneath stuff,etc).

I’d love to see the Bengals take him in the late first round. He could be our Desean Jackson or Harvin or Steve Smith type guy. I know Bengal fans are scarred by Peter Warrick when it comes to smaller receivers, but Warrick is a different player than Golden Tate. Warrick was more of a finesse player with not much explosiveness. I don’t think he broke a tackle in five years in Cincinnati. Meanwhile, Tate is like a running back playing receiver. You give him the ball in the open field, and he was almost impossible to tackle with one guy. If Marvin and his staff were willing to be creative with how they used him, he could be a great fit on this team.

P.S. I just looked up Peter Warrick to check his stats. This is crazy. Peter Warrick is currently playing for the Bloomington (Il.) Extreme in the Indoor Football League. I’m just going to assume that he did not manage his money well if he’s still hanging around doing that.