Monday, February 23, 2009
I certainly can't say the Gophers are awesome after that horrid showing against Michigan, but I also can't say the sucked since the did everything I could have asked against Northwestern. More on the games here and here.
WHO WAS AWESOME
1. Siena. The Saints went out and did what the needed to do, beating Northern Iowa in their bracket buster game 81-75 in Albany. It ended up looking less impressive than it started out, as Siena took a 40-19 lead into the half, only to let Northern Iowa make a game of it in the second half, but it’s a win, and a big win at that. UNI isn’t an elite opponent, but they are close to the same level as Siena, and their RPI of 88 makes them the second best win the Saints had in non-conference, and just their fourth win over a top 100 opponent.
The Saints have dominated their conference, at 15-1, and played a good non-conference schedule, which ranked the 24th toughest in the nation thanks to games against Tennessee and Oklahoma State at a neutral site, and games at Pitt and Kansas. That’s pretty much all you can do, short of winning the conference tournament. They’ve already wrapped up the MAAC regular season crown, and if they can get to the finals of the conference tourney, they should be in. With Kenny Hasbrouck and the rest of the crew back from the team that upset Vandy in the first round last year, they could do even more damage this time around.
2. Florida State. The Seminoles may have just guaranteed themselves a spot in the NCAA tournament this week, going 2-0 with wins at home over Miami and on the road at Virginia Tech. Those two wins moved them to 8-4 in the ACC, tied for second just a game behind North Carolina. Toss in non-conference wins at Cincinnati, at Cal, and home over Florida, and they are suddenly a surprising lock for the dance.
Interestingly, they’ve done it through defense. Old school FSU teams, going back to the Cassell and Bobby Sura days even, relied more on offensive fire-power to win, but this year’s version play tough defense (ranked 11th in the country in defensive efficiency) and relies on the senior leadership of point guard Toney Douglas. He leads the team at 20.5 points per game, second in the ACC and the only double figure scorer on the Seminoles, and also leads the team in assists and steals. Not only all that, but he hasn’t committed a turnover in the team’s last three games.
The last four aren’t particularly easy, with home games against Clemson and Virginia Tech and road games versus Duke and Boston College, but they likely need to win only one of those to go dancing, and might not even need that.
3. DeJuan Blair. Ok, fine, you want me to say it? I will: Pitt is for real this year. But it has nothing to do with the eternally overrated LeVance Fields, it’s all about that incredible front line for the Panthers. Tyrell Biggs and Sam Young are awesome as well, but Blair has established himself as one of the best players in the country.
This season the sophomore is averaging 15.7 points and 12.8 rebounds (leads Big East, fourth in the nation) and is still getting better. In Pitt’s games this week, he put up 22 points and 23 rebounds in their 76-68 win in Storrs. And these numbers came against Hasheem Thabeet, a guy I touted on here as a Dikembe Mutombo clone. He just attacked and attacked and I don’t think Thabeet was used to it, as he ended up in foul trouble the whole game and finished with just five points and four boards. And just in case that wasn’t enough, he followed up Saturday with 20 and 18 in the team’s 80-61 win over DePaul. Kind of a tweener, so who knows what his NBA future might hold, but for now, he might be Big East Player of the Year.
4. Phoenix Suns. I know they lost to Boston on Sunday, and I don’t really care. They fired some guy as coach and let some other guy coach instead (and I’d love to tell you their names but it’s the NBA so I don’t’ know) and now sine they aren’t under the restraints of guy #1 the team is going crazy to Mike D’Antoni levels. They scored 140+ in three straight games, which is unheard of since 1989 Loyola Marymount (RIP Hank Gathers.) And also went 3-0 in those games, so it’s not like we’re talking the mid nineties Nuggets here (I heart Michael Adams).
Nash is back, with 10-12-8-11 assists in their last four games versus a season average of 9. Three players hit twenty points in game 1, Stoudemire hit 42 in game 2, Barbosa hit 41 in game 3, and, well, game 4 (vs. Celts) didn’t go so well as they gave up 63% shooting to Boston. But who cares, a team who scores that much is just plain old fun.
5. Bill Smith. The Twins’ GM has quickly changed my mind about him – well, not completely, but I feel a lot better than I did a week ago, when I had the team in the “who sucked” category.
It’s not only the signing of Crede that made this an awesome weekend, but the fact that Smith managed to sign him for just $2.5 million guaranteed (with incentives that could push to $7 mil) when it was reported that Crede wanted $7 mil guaranteed (with incentives to $11). I wanted him at $7, and to get him at $2.5 is nothing short of brilliant. Yeah, he doesn’t walk much or hit for a very high average, and in fact, if I was starting a team from scratch I would want nothing to do with him, but he brings a skill sorely lacking on the Twins’ roster – power. He can slug, and if he’s healthy he will bring another dangerous power bat to the team.
Additionally, it’s now being reported that the Twins have officially made an offer to reliever Juan Cruz, who would instantly become their top setup man if it works out. If an agreement is struck, they would have to work out a trade with the Diamondbacks to make it happen, due to MLB rules and their desire to not give up a number one draft pick.
Finally, it’s also being reported that the Twins are watching reliever Chad Cordero, who is recovering from shoulder surgery and is a free agent. Cordero saved over 100 games in three seasons for the Nationals as an elite closer from 2005-2007, but hurt his shoulder early last season and hasn’t pitched since April of last year. He’s still not at 100% yet, but he had a bullpen session that the Twins were reported to have watched with interest on Friday. If he looks like he’s recovered, and they can get him cheap, he would be another way to upgrade the bullpen in a hurry.
Crede, Cruz, and Cordero? No complaints here.
1. Davidson. The Wildcats have no officially put themselves in a bad position, losing to Butler in their bracket buster game on Saturday which followed up a loss to Citadel earlier in the week, giving them two losses in the SoCon and six for the season. The Butler game might hurt the most, since it was not only at home, but Stephen Curry had returned and was fully healthy and it was Davidson’s last chance to get a second win over a top 75 team (Butler’s RPI is 28th). Unfortunately for the Wildcats, Curry decided to suck once again against a good team, shooting 6-23 for the game, including 2-13 from three, and turning it over 7 times.
In his games against teams in the RPI top 120 (Oklahoma, NC State, West Virginia, Purdue, Duke, Butler, and Charleston x 2) he has shot 70-208 (34%) including 23-100 from three (23%), with a 47-44 assist to turnover ratio. Meanwhile, in his other games, he has shot 174-324 (54%) including 79-163 (48%) from three, and has a 105-47 assist to turnover ratio. Read that again. Thank god Blake Griffin is having the season he has had, otherwise this pretender might win player of the year. What a joke.
Feel free to pick Davidson to upset somebody in the first round (if they make it), because it ain’t happening this year.
2. Utah State. Looks like DWG Jinx is alive and well, as Utah State has been on the skids since I praised them after attending their game against Louisiana Tech. Since then, they lost their first conference game of the season, at Boise State, and then lost their bracket buster game to a Patty Mills-less St Mary’s team 75-64, the combination of the two may be enough to keep the Aggies from an at-large bid if they don’t win the WAC tournament – not an easy thing to do in Reno. Their best win is over #9 RPI Utah, and that I sone that will still hold up, but other than that the resume is pretty sparse, wins over Boise State (#86) and Nevada (#90) are the only other top 100 wins here. Combine that with a strength of schedule that ranks 179th, and USU is on shaky ground. I would think the WAC should be a two-bid conference, but there have been plenty of other years with just one. They would be wise to win the tournament.
Oh, and remember how I said Utah State had the quality inside guys to give Blake Griffin some difficulty? I take it all back, as they got shredded by Diamon Simpson (18 and 7) and Omar Samhan (17 and 12) of St. Mary’s who shot 15-22 between them; good players, but not Blake Griffin. Oklahoma would kill these guys worse than Michigan State against the Gophers. I’m such an idiot.
3. Ohio State. Did the Buckeyes just play their way out of the tournament this week? Could be, with losses at Northwestern at vs. Illinois at home. They are still on the bubble, but rather than being at the top – which is where they were prior to this week – they are now squarely in the same mix as Michigan, Wisconsin, and Penn State, all just behind the Gophers. With such a tight race and comparable resumes amongst the middle tier teams in the conference you can’t afford to lose winnable games, which includes any home game, even against Illinois, and even though going into Northwestern is tougher this year, you still need to walk out of Evanston with a win if you’re in the Buckeye’s situation.
Despite all that, Ohio State is still in pretty good shape thanks to how the schedule lines up. They probably only need two more wins to get themselves in, and have two home games left against Penn State and Northwestern. If they falter in one of those, they still have a road game at Iowa (and one at Purdue) to make up for it. In short, OSU is probably in pretty good shape, but they are making this a lot tougher than it needs to be.
4. Michigan. The win they picked up over the Gophers earlier this week was huge, but they erased that and then some losing to Iowa on Sunday. The big wins against UCLA and Duke will still hold up, but the Wolverines are on their last legs by continuing to struggle in Big Ten play. With just a home game against Purdue and two roadies at Wisconsin and Minnesota left, things look bleak considering there’s a good chance the Wolverines have to win all three. At a minimum they have to win 2, and then do some good in the Big Ten tournament.
5. Top NFL Prospects at the Combine. The NFL combine was this weekend, and all kinds of weird stuff happened with three of the top prospects: WRs Michael Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin, and OT Andre Smith.
First, likely top five pick and top receiver prospect Michael Crabtree was examined by doctors at the combine, who discovered he had a stress fracture in his foot that he apparently has had for a year. According to reports, rather than have surgery immediately, Crabtree plans to run a forty at the Texas Tech Pro Day on March 26th, and then have the corrective surgery that would keep him out of action for 10 weeks. That would keep him out until June or July, right up to the beginning of training camp. This means whichever team takes him in April’s draft will be taking him without really knowing how he’s recovering from surgery, which may cause Crabtree to fall (and probably be a bargain for somebody).
Of course, he may still end up being the first receiver picked, as there was some weird injury news that came out about 2nd ranked WR prospect Jeremy Maclin out of Missouri. While running a route in a drill, Maclin tripped and wend down hard – and didn’t get up. He was helped off the field and brought to a training table, and it was reported he wouldn’t be finishing his drills, fueling speculation on the extent of the injury, especially since he had blown out his knee previously in 2006. Of course, it turned out to be nothing more than a bruise, and Maclin ended up finishing the same drills it was reported he wouldn’t be able to get back to. Wrong again, liberal media.
Lastly, and most bizarrely, was OT Andre Smith out of Alabama. He is the top tackle prospect in the draft, but has had some questions surface about his character after being suspended for the Sugar Bowl after having improper talks with an agent, which sounds kind of sexy but really isn’t. He certainly didn’t answer the character questions, as instead of working out at the combine as scheduled he instead decided to fly home, and didn’t bother to inform anyone. He was supposed to work out on Saturday, but was completely MIA and wasn’t located until 30 minutes prior to his work out time. By then, he was already at home in Atlanta, claiming he decided he would rather just try to get back into shape by his pro day on March 11th, saying that he wasn’t in shape. So what amounts to basically your biggest job interview either, and not only are you not prepared, but you decide to just bail? Almost sounds like another Dimentrius Underwood here. Hell, let somebody else draft him, I wouldn’t touch him anywhere near the first round.