Sunday, March 31, 2013

NL West Preview

Did the Dodgers spend enough to win the West?  I think so.  Lincecum still looks like poo and the Dodgers keep adding players like they're team stacking in a fantasy league.  My rankings for 2013:

1. Los Angeles Dodgers
2. San Francisco Giants
3. Arizona Diamondbacks
4. San Diego Padres
5. Colorado Rockies

Los Angeles Dodgers o/u 91 --- TRE says Over

Los Doyers won 86 games last year without a full year of Beckett, Crawford and new Angry Adrian Gonzalez.  Not to mention a healthy Matt Kemp is back.  They've also added Zack Grumpy and Korean Hyun-Jin Ryu to the rotation.  They basically have about 7 dudes that would be the number one starter for the Twins.  The rotation is now Clayton Kershaw, Greink, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Josh Beckett and Chris Capuano.  Hanley is already hurt for a couple of months and Chad Billingsley is also on the DL.  If there is a weakness on the team it may be the back end of the bullpen with Brandon League and Kenley Jansen.

Player to Watch:  Yasiel Puig - The Cuban outfielder signed a 6 year, $36MM deal and ripped apart spring training like I tore apart my Easter ham.  The 22 year old has been optioned to AA, but he could fast trak his way to the majors this year.  Carl Crawford is not the healthiest dude in the world, after all.

San Francisco Giants o/u 88.5 --- TRE says Under

Lincecum went to super clips
Got a haircut and cut that thing off his lower lip
Looks like Gordon Leavitt
So the lady's still will have it
No power so velocity still slips

The Giants will miss Melky Cabrera and Lincecum still isn't looking very good so I don't expect a bounce back.  Brian Wilson is also gone...he's waiting to sign with someone later this year once he's healthy.  It's basically a hairless year for the Giants.  They still have a good all around team and Brandon Belt could finally breakout with a full year at 1B, so they are a playoff contender.

Player to Watch:   Barry Zito - Zito was good for 15 wins and a 4.15 ERA despite a fastball that is about as strong as my 3 year old's.  The guy makes $20MM this year and has a team option for $18MM that vests if he pitches 200 innings this year.  It has a $7MM buyout, so either way you're pissing away some money, but you can bet if he's approaching 200 innings they'll be tapping on the brakes.

Arizona Diamondbacks o/u 82.5 --- TRE says Over

Kirk Gibson likes his players extra gritty
Too bad most of them are fairly shitty
With Mark Grace in the clink
for getting silly with the drink
Even the announcing will suck, what a pity

The rotation seems solid with Ian Kennedy, Wade Miley, Trevor Cahill and Brandon McCarthy.  The lineup however, has a few questions especially with Adam Eaton now out with an elbow injury.  Paul Goldschmidt is an up and comer at 1B, Miguel Montero is a solid catcher and underrated with the bat.  Prado and Kubel are also underrated offensively and Aaron Hill is coming off of a monster year.  So there are some good players, but they are featuring Cliff Pennington at SS and AJ Pollock is now in CF.  Gerardo Parra is a great 4th outfielder, but I'm not sure he's a guy you want playing full time for you.  And Prado would look much better as your second baseman than playing 3B as he's got very little pop.

Player to Watch:  Paul Goldschmidt - The JewBear is 6'3" and 250lbs and hits BOMBS.  In his first full year he hit .286 with 20 homers and a whopping 18 stolen bases. He also cranked out 43 doubles.  Look for a lot of those doubles to turn into homeruns this season.

San Diego Padres o/u 74.5 --- TRE says Under

All-star Headley jams his thumb on a base
Jed Gyorko comes in to replace
It's pronounced jerk-o you fool
and mocking its cool
Just try not to do it to his face

The Padres have been looking up in the standings for a few years now and I don't think it changes this year especially with the Headley injury news.  Their rotation in subpar with Volquez, Richard, Stults, Marquis and Tyson Ross.  Cory Luebke is an interesting upside starter, but he has to get healthy. The bullpen is also scary with perennial DL-guy Huston Street at the back end.  With Headley, Yonder Alonso, Cameron Maybin and Everth Cabrera they were building a decent young core of quality bases guys.  However, none of the others have made the leap like Headley did and I only think Alonso has the capability to do so.  Carlos Quentin can hit, but needs to DH somewhere and Yasmani Grandal is an intriguing catcher option when he's not juicing.

Player to Watch:  Jed Gyorko - Gyorko is a 3B that was blocked by Headley pre-injury so he's been busting his butt trying to learn second base.  Now that Headley is out he's back over to the hot corner.  He hit 328/380/588 with 24 homers in 92 games at AAA last season.  He's not super big, but he has a great swing and if he's not dicking around with position changes too much he could have an impact.

Helton Mug Shot>>>>Grace Mug Shot

Colorado Rockies o/u 71.5 --- TRE says Under

The Colorado staff is held by duct tape
The silver kind not the one with the great ape
If Tulo is healthy 
and Helton's not relfy
The cellar they might just escape

The Rockies' staff has 3 pitcher trying to return to form in Chacin, De La Rosa and Nicasio and that's the plus side of their rotation.  The rest is Jeff Francis and Jon Garland.  Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki are legit stars though even though they are banged up a lot.  Wilin Rosario and Dexter Fowler are young guys that are looking to make the next step from their breakout 2012 seasons.  Fowler is an OBP machine in CF and Rosario hit 28 bombs at catcher. I'd like to see them sunset Todd Helton's career and move Cuddyer to first so they can get Eric Young Jr on the field.  He has blazing speed that the team could use.  

Player to Watch:  Nolan Arenado - It seems like I'm always talking about the next 3B prospect in Colorado.  From Chad Tracy to Ian Stewart and now Arenado.  Arenado has yet to have a AAA at bat, but he's already the best third baseman they have and if Pacheco and Chris Nelson can't cut it, there's a decent chance Nolan is up by mid-season.  

NL Central Preview

The new NL Central is without the Bottom Feeder Houston Astros, but should be tight at the top as usual.  Here's my projected finish:

1. Cincinnati Reds
2. St. Louis Cardinals
3. Milwaukee Brewers
4. Pittsburgh Pirates
5. Chicago Cubs

Team by Team Preview:

Cincinnati Reds o/u 91 wins --- TRE says: Over

Aroldis Chapman decides to barter
Out of his role as a starter
His arm is a rocket
And although he does knock it
A starters' role is is much harder

The Reds should once again compete for the division crown after winning in 2012 and 2010.  Their biggest additions were Shin-Shoo Choo who will lead off and play center field and Jon Broxton who WAS going to close until Aroldis Chapman decided he would prefer to be in the pen instead of start.  Nevertheless, the Reds do have a strong rotation with Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo and Homer Bailey.  The bullpen was strong before Chapman's move and is now elite.  Joey Votto could be the best hitter in baseball and is surrounded by Choo, Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips and Todd

Player to Watch:  Billy Hamilton - Billy Hamilton is making the move from shortstop to the outfield.  He is a terror on the base paths, stealing 155 bags over 132 games in A and AA ball last season.  He also appears to have a good eye as he collected 86 walks in the same period.  Ryan Ludwick is a solid  cog for the Reds, but if he should falter or a player should get injured, Billy will literally sprint onto the scene.

St. Louis Cardinals o/u 86 --- TRE says Over

Beating the Reds will be hard
and although they're not loaded with stars
They have the depth to compete
and a Kozma named Pete
Is 2013 the year of the Cards?

To me the Cardinals don't have enough with aging start Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday to win the division.  David Freese is already hurt and although Allen Craig can hit, he's also frequently injured.  Stud prospect OF Oscar Taveras is probably one more year away, so they need to hold on with what they have.  The starters are led by newly inked Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn who are both good.  Jaime Garcia is also solid and Jake Westbrook is serviceable.  The bullpen is also good with Jason Motte and young flamethrower Trevor Rosenthal.

Player to Watch: Shelby Miller - Starter Shelby Miller could be a rookie of the year contender.  The 2009 first round pick has a big fastball with movement.  His two seamer has some sinking action and he has a 12-6 curve not unlike Adam Wainwright.  He has the #5 starter job and he could be a difference maker for this team.

Milwaukee Brewers o/u 79.5 --- TRE says Over

Speculation of Ryan Braun goes on
The HGH user list he's upon
If Selig comes calling
the Brewers will be falling
And hopes of post season will be gone

The Brewers have some good players surrounding Braun, but none exceptional.  The pitching staff is led by Yovani Gallardo and there are some young arms on the back end.  Kyle Lohse has recently signed as well, which at a minimum adds depth and at maximum adds an all-star.  Corey Hart is hurt and will be out until at least May.  Rickie Weeks is coming off a poor season and Norichiki Aoki and Carlos Gomez are coming off surprisingly good seasons.  I expect all three to return to the mean.

Player to Watch:  John Axford - The Brewers don't have the best bullpen and John Axford is coming off a poor season.  His ERA jumped from 1.95 to 4.67 and his walks went from 25 to 39. 

Pittsburgh Pirates o/u 77.5 --- TRE says Over

When you're sucking for so very long
Every move seems to go wrong
But you get some first rounders
That don't come up and flounder
And your fans will sing a different song

Superstar Andrew McCutchen and the Pirates continue to grow and hope springs anew.  The interesting thing about hop in Pittsburgh is that playoffs isn't so much the goal as getting to .500.  The starting pitching is OK with AJ Burnett, James McDonald and Wandy Rodriguez.  Young phenom starters Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon are still in the minors but on the verge of cracking into the majors.  The corner outfield situation is a bit of a mess and Pittsburgh is looking for Starling Marte, Travis Snider or Jose Tabata to make a step forward.

Player to Watch:  Pedro Alvarez - Two years ago Pedro Alvarez was expected to be a big time homerun threat and instead he hit .191 and spent much of the year in AAA.  Last year, opinion was not so high and Alvarez came through and hit 30 homeruns.   This year projections are once again high.


Chicago Cubs o/u 72.5 --- TRE says under

Another bleak year in Wrigley ahead
or at least that's what many have said
Anthony Rizzo can hit a ton
but as long as they got Scott Hairston
Their chances of the playoffs are dead.

The Cubs haven't been in the playoffs since 2008 and working on a rebuild.  They signed my boyfriend Edwin Jackson who I badly wanted the Twins to land and they also brought in Carlos Villanueva, Scott Feldman and Scott Baker.  Baker is already on the 60 day DL (shocker), so he'll miss at least the first two months of the season.  Jeff Samarzija might be the ace of this staff; he struck out 180 batters last year..  They are shopping Alfonso Soriano and really Rizzo and Starlin Castro are the only above league average players they have.  Jorge Soler and Javier Baez await  opportunity in the minors and it will probably be sooner than later.  In addition, you can expect the Cubs to be active in the free agent market next season -- perhaps targeting someone like Ellsbury.  Until then it's Luis Valbuena, David DeJesus and pray for Rizzo.

Player to Watch:  Anthony Rizzo - If you're watching the Cubs lineup, you're watching for Rizzo.  Last year as a 22 year old he hit 342/405/696 in AAA and then upon call-up he hit 285/342/463 with 15 homers in 337 ABs.

NL East Preview

Nats Park

I have succumbed to baseball fever and I'm looking forward to the season.  I'll do a review of each division on this blog, hopefully finishing up by opening day or at least that week.  Let's not get greedy.  I'm not doing haikus this year because apparently ESPN is doing that now and screw them.  Let's try something else.  I'll also list the projected o/u for wins and give you my take.

The NL East is has two great teams, one very good team and two clunkers and I project the finish to be as follows:

1. Braves
2. Nationals
3. Phillies
4. Mets
5. Marlins

Team by Team Preview:

Atlanta Braves o/u 88 wins --- TRE says: Over

The Braves got two brothers named Upton
Together in the outfield they'll be sumpin'
They'll be soul patrollin' the yard
With sweet swinging Heyward
And an old guy on the hill named Hudson

The Braves load up with both Upton brothers and have Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward coming into their own as legit stars.  The bullpen is among the best in the game with Craig Kimbrel coming off perhaps the best season for a relief pitcher in baseball history.  Veteran Tim Hudson leads the staff, but Kris Medlen had a fantastic 12 starts at  the end of 2012.  Mike Minor had a capable first full year and is the lone lefty on the staff.

Player to watch -- Julio Teheran:  Julio was once considered among the top pitching prospects in all of baseball.  He sucked the big one in AAA last year with a 5+ ERA, but came into spring firing bullets.  In 26 innings, he had a 1.04 ERA and struck out 35.  He had a 0.62 WHIP, giving up just 7 hist and 9 walks.  He has a big fastball but now seems to have a handle on the sinker and the curveball as well.

Washington Nationals o/u 92 wins --- TRE says: Under

Bryce Harper's a cock and you know it.
Paints his face and cries and throws shit.
Not too many complain,
Even though he's pain
Since the scoreboard might break from homeruns hit.

Most have the Nationals winning the division and I don't blame them.  They may have the best starting rotation in baseball with Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Haren and Detwiler.  They've added Rafael Soriano to an already strong bullpen that features Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard.  Twins fans are aware the Denard Span is now patrolling center field and phenom Bryce Harper has moved to left field to accommodate him.  The infield is filled with vets that have had success, including third baseman Ryan Zimmerman.  However, Zimmerman and LaRoche both have injury histories and the Nationals will need a full season from them both.

Player to Watch: Ian Desmond - The shortstop had a breakthrough 2012 where he had a 17 homer increase over the prior year (25).  Just as importantly, his average and OBP also jumped 40+ points.  He still doesn't walk a ton, but if the power and average remains he can be a difference maker at short. He enters the "golden" 27 year old season this year, which many consider the peak season for a MLBer.

Philadelphia Phillies o/u 85 wins --- TRE says: Over

The Phils are old and disgusting
Howard and Utley have swings that are rusting.
Roy Halladay's arm
Is causing alarm
And in left-field Delmon be hustling!

The Phillies still boast a solid starting rotation with Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay.  However, Halladay appears to be struggling this spring.  He's been beat like a pinata and has had some velocity issues.  His last outing he was up to 89-90 mph though, so this could be much ado about nothing.  If you think the pitching staff is old, get a load of the infield.  Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins are the core of the team and each have the ability to drop like flies during the year.  They  added Michael Young so the average age of the infield would go down.  Ben Revere and Dominic Brown are the youth movement and could provide a needed punch.

Player to Watch:  Dominic Brown - Brown has been hyped as a top Phillies prospect for years now.  He'll finally have a job all to himself after a massive spring.  In 90 at bats he posted a 1.047 OPS and hit 7 homers.  In 2011 he was the top prospect in baseball, it's amazing how players can be forgotten in 2 years.

Duda Cowboy
New York Mets o/u 74.5  --- TRE says: Under

Amway out front of the gate
The Mets need some cash - Donate!
The Citi Field is nice
Just take my advice
To see decent baseball just wait

The Mets are in the midst of a rebuild that's been going on for oh, 7 years?  They do have some young pitchers that look ready to step forward.  Jon Niese is 26 and is coming off of a 15 season.  Dillon Gee and Matt Harvey both will be experiencing their first full season in the majors.  Harvey is a 2010 first round pick and has big time stuff.  Shaun Marcum and Johan Santana were supposed to fill out the rotation, but Santana is already gone for the year again and Marcum is banged up as well.  The offense is led by David Wright and the power of Ike Davis.  The outfield is a mess with Collin Cowgill, Marlon Bird and Lucas Duda out there.  Duda is the only one with potential to have a big year as he has loads of power.

Player to Watch: Travis D'Arnaud:  D'Arnaud was the main piece the Mets received in the R.A. Dickey trade.  He's a catcher that's shown big time power, albeit in the PCL.  The Mets are saving another year of control by sending him to AAA for the start of the season, but he's likely to be up this year.


Miami Marlins o/u 64 --- TRE says: Over

Marlins trade all in a sale of fire
With just Stanton left things are dire
7 months after a new park
Is a bit early to jump the shark
Jeffrey Loria once again in the mire

What to say about the Marlins?  They traded most of their players of note in the off-season after opening a brand new stadium in 2012.  Do you remember the hype of 2012 with Ozzie Guillen, Jose Reyes, Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle all coming over?  I do, and it fell on it's face.  They're all gone now as is long time Marlin Josh Johnson.  While the Marlins are going to be pretty bad this year, Jeffrey Loria's method of breaking it all down and starting anew has worked for him the past.  They kept masher Giancarlo Stanton to build around, but there really isn't much else.  Rob Brantly is a nice catching prospect that will have his first full season in the majors.  He came from Detroit in the Anibal Sanchez deal.  Top prospect Christian Yelich will likely be fast tracked to the majors.  Top pitching prospect Jose Fernandez has already made the rotation.

Player to watch:  C'mon, you're not watching the Marlins are you?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Swing and a Miss (bring on Flip)

You have to hand it to Norwood Teague, the man's got balls.  To fire Tubby Smith after the Gophers won an NCAA Tournament game for the first time in forever was gutsy.  To do it so quickly after the Gophers were ousted by Florida said to me that Teague had a plan in place and was moving quickly to make it a reality.  And now, with Shaka Smart signing an extension through 2023 to stay at VCU I fear things are going to becoming quite icky.

In my mind there's only one more home run hire, and that's Flip (and yes, Brad Stevens but you can forget it).  Flip comes with plenty of question marks (but who doesn't) but he's the one I think can be an almost instant program changer.  Three things I love:

1)  He has a love for the program and the city loves him.  There's something about bringing passion to your team that goes deeper than just being the coach that seems to resonate, and having a town behind you can raise the excitement level further which can only help with recruiting and fundraising (which is needed for a practice facility which I'm told is needed to aid recruiting).

2)  He already has a relationship with the Big 3.  Going beyond that his connections within NBA circles are only going to make playing for him that much more enticing.  If Flip ends up being the hire in my opinion getting all three of them at the U suddenly is actually a possibility and I would almost guarantee at least one would stay home.  If the hire ends up being anybody else, I'm not optimistic even one becomes a Gopher.

3)  He can play a pro-style offense.  There's evidence that playing an NBA style game can work at the college level (Florida Gulf Coast's coach is an ex-NBA assistant and he has them playing an NBA type game) so not only can that help win games but it's exciting - which recruits love - and helps players prepare for the NBA - which recruits love.

Last coaching search I was anti-Flip because he was an NBA guy, not a college guy.  This time I am all in on Flip for the opposite reason. 

My concern is that Teague might not even consider him, because of ego (and I'm not using ego in the negative sense here).  Firing Tubby when he did was Teague's way of announcing that this is his athletic department and this is his chance to make a big-time hire, but I can't help but wonder if he'd view hiring Flip as more of Saunders making the decision to come here rather than Teague hiring him.  What I mean is, I can see it being looked at as a "Flip hire" rather than a "Teague hire" and I don't know how else to explain it so if you don't get it either you're an idiot or I am and I'm betting it's you. 

I think part of it is the Villa 7 thing they've built up, and I don't doubt it's a great thing for all involved, but I can't help but wonder if they're limiting their options by using Villa 7 exclusively when evaluating their options.  The top 2 names out there right now seems to Buzz Williams (/makes wanking motion) and Anthony Grant (/yawn) and both have connections to Villa 7.  Oh and by the way, there's no reason Buzz Williams would come to Minnesota from Marquette.  None.  So just stop it.  Neither is Fred Hoiberg or any other dream candidate. 

I think the plan was Shaka or bust, and they've gone bust.  Time to reevaluate and strongly consider Flip Saunders if you're looking for a game changer.  Anybody else and we're looking at a slow build, and we just went through a slow build that ended with a whimper on the eve of the best recruiting class the state of Minnesota has ever produced.  I can't believe I'm typing this, but the Gophers need Flip. 

But I'm pretty sure it's going to be Anthony Grant, which may very well turn out to be great in the long run.  I'm just sick of the long run.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Where to now?

Things move pretty fast.  Before I could even finish wondering what I was going to write about the Gophers this weekend while trying to piece together what actually happened from Bogart and Bear, the Gophers are done, Tubby is out, and it already feels like old news that the Gophers won a game, so it's time to move one.  A few notes from our weekend in Chicago:

1.  Andre Hollins is awesome, and would be even more so if he didn't have to be the #1 ball-handler.
2.  I think I'm going to miss Rodney Williams more than any other Gopher I can remember, just because you knew he was going to do something in almost every game that would make your jaw drop.
3.  When the waitress describes a Tucson Trashcan as "basically a Long-Island Iced tea but with red bull instead of coke and it comes in a 32-oz glass" you're probably better off skipping it, and it's definitely not wise to have each person order their own particularly at one in the afternoon.
4.  The biggest danger of firing Tubby, in my opinion, isn't that it might hurt getting Travis, Vaughn, or Jones because I have yet to hear or read anything that makes me think Tubby was remotely close to landing any of those guys.  I think the biggest danger is losing anyone off this year's team, specifically the Hollins's or Elliason because I don't know how you'd replace any of them.

So now what?  I know the majority of hardcore Gopher fans either straight up wanted Tubby fired or, like me, certainly don't have a problem with it but the odds are just as great this is a step back as much as it is a step forward.  Despite all the issues and wasted opportunities Tubby Smith certainly wasn't a "terrible" coach even if I called him such in the heat of the moment.  He brought respectability back to the program, getting top 100 recruits to come to Minneapolis (and some of them even stayed), keeping the top Minnesota kids home (except for the one who got kicked out), and bringing the Gophers to 3 NCAA Tournaments in six years, a monumental task when you look at the years prior to his arrival, even winning a game this year. 

Given all that, from the outside I can understand some of confusion about this move around the nation, even if the anger is pretty clearly misplaced and coming from somewhere it shouldn't, but anyone who follows the program knows this is as far as Smith is taking the Gophers, that much became clear and despite what some analysts think I believe we can get more out of this program.  There is plenty of risk as I mentioned because it's not easy to recruit here - no practice facility, it's freezing during the biggest recruiting period (which means all the girls are bundled up which gives southern teams another advantage), and although if you grew up with the Barn you love it you could make a pretty compelling argument to a 17-18 year old kid that it's a dump.  With Nebraska throwing all that money at the basketball program, Iowa returning to respectability, and Iowa State and Fred Hoiberg suddenly a hot destination things are just going to get tougher.  Remember when Glen Mason was fired for being consistently mediocre which led to the program falling off a cliff?  That's why this hire needs to be a home run.

Who would be a home run?  I see three different tiers of hire:

1)  The dream hires.  Shaka Smart starts this list, and with his past with Teague and Ellis it's more possible than many seem to think, although with UCLA out there as well that makes it a bit more iffy, in my opinion.  He has risk - specifically if he can recruit at this level if Havoc will work in the Big 10 (Michigan says no) - but he's still the #1 hire out there because every other dream hire has risks as well.  I'd put just three other guys up here and two of them (Gregg Marshall, Brad Stevens) would have recruiting questions (and I don't think either would take the job) and Flip Saunders certainly has connections but who knows if he can coach or recruit at this level?  Based on the success of Hoiberg in Ames, however, as well as Flip's clear passion for the program that jumps out if you follow him on Twitter he's won me over from "Meh" to "Yeah, I'll call him a dream hire."

1a) There's a few guys I can think of who although I wouldn't consider them "dream hires" I wouldn't hate them like the tier 3 guys below either - Chris Mack (Xavier), Anthony Grant (Alabama),  Josh Pastner (Memphis), Buzz Williams (Marquette) - and a few others I can't think of off the top of my head.  Although I'd be on board with these guys and others, I doubt any of them take the job.  If they do, we re-evaluate, but I'd consider any of those guys as a good pick up. 

2)  Good hires who will underwhelm based on name alone.  Closely related to tier 3 below, it's tough to really call out any of these because by definition they're guys very few of us will have heard of who Teague and Ellis identified thanks to the Villa 7 program.  This could be anyone from the Florida Gulf Coast guy (I trust these guys can recognize a flash-in-the-pan vs. an actual coaching genius) or an assistant from some other program (although please not anyone from Wisconsin, I couldn't handle that style of play).  This will be the kind of hire that will get plenty of less informed fans all riled up and get guys like Mike Wilbon to gloat about the Gophers making a mistake letting Tubby go.  Trust me, if Teague goes in this direction you should consider that a positive.  The real mistake would be hiring someone from tier 3.

3)  Bad hires with name recognition.  Chris Mooney would be a terrible hire because he's just like Dan Monson, who got hot at the right time and then sucked.  Richmond has been horrible since they're sweet 16 run a couple of years ago.  Ben Howland would be terrible because he was just run out of UCLA and would just be another Tubby Smith hire.  I kind of feel the same way about Jay Wright from Villanova, but I'd place him a step above these guys I guess.  Bruce Pearl is super duper annoying and can't really coach although he's a hell of a recruiter as long as he's cheating, and I've always supported cheating but I still don't really want this guy.  

Bottom line?  I think Teague was pretty much ready to make a change when he arrived, and this season confirmed in his mind that he could do better.  I think he and Ellis are very confident in their ability to land a coach who can bring this program to the next level after their success with Anthony Grant, Shaka Smart, and the overall success of coaches connected to the Villa 7 program.  I was ready for a change as well, so I'm willing to believe in them until they give me a reason not to.  I was behind Tubby for five years, so I'm willing to give the new management at least that long.


Monday, March 25, 2013

Tubby Time Is Up

"You see, we started like this, and then..."

DWG is right that this isn't a time for celebration, but it was definitely the right move to send Tubby packing and move on.  It appears many want to make excuses for Tubby and give him the benefit of the doubt for 6 years of meh; but I'm done giving him a break.  Years ago I was the guy that would laugh at those that called for his head as he dealt with players leaving and injuries and disappointing finishes.

However premature those people were, they weren't necessarily wrong.  I thought this year might be the year that Tubby finally came through on the promise of being a B1G contender and he gave us a tie for 7th place with an 8-10 record?  After going 15-1, they finish out going 6-12?  They sported a 3-8 record on the road?  For all of the big wins this team had, and they had plenty, they doubled up on mediocre and disappointing performances.  Hell, even Dan Monson had two seasons in his chocolate fountain of a tenure where he was above .500 in B1G play.  Tubby never managed to do it and finished 46-62 in the Big Ten overall.  He did manage our first non-abdicated tourney win since 1990, which is pretty awesome.  Basically we haven't done shit since I've had a side-spike unless we were cheating.

Based on the press conference today, Norwood Teague sounds serious about turning this program around.  It's nice to hear some conviction in a time where most are probably ready to help tear down the Barn and sell the pieces for scrap.  Norwood for one is satisfied with getting kicked in the nuts every February and neither am I.  Now we also find out how well Teague can rally the boosters and gather funds as well as conduct a coaching search.  I think many expect a new practice facility and other perks (private jets, yo?) might be part of the pitch to lure a new head coach into Minnesota.  In addition, moving quickly allows the new coach to take a stab at changing some minds in recruiting as well as keeping what players Tubby did sign in the fold.

He Gone

I certainly wasn't expected to be writing this post quite this quickly, but it's now confirmed that Tubby is out at Minnesota.  I actually thought the first round win over UCLA would save him, but apparently not and so it's time to move on.

I expect there to be plenty of shock and outrage in the National Media talking about "who do the Gophers think they are" and what not, but I'm sorry there's not reason this program shouldn't be at least the NCAA hunt every single year.  Perhaps worst of all was watching Smith's seemingly inability to coach, whether game planning before the game or in-game adjustments. Add in the state of recruiting and the importance of getting at least one of Tyus Jones, Rashad Vaugh, or Reid Travis and it makes sense to move quickly  The simple fact alone that I wrote like four different posts wondering what was wrong with Smith tells me all I need to know about it being time to move on.

So now we wait.  I'll have plenty more posts coming about the coaching possibilities as well as recapping the Gophers weekend and trying to remember anything that happened in Chicago this weekend, but I wanted to get these thoughts up quickly.  I'm not celebrating Tubby's firing today, but I do think it was the right move.  Hard to believe it's been that long since the Smith hiring and the program is only slightly better off that where it was when Tubby took over.  Hell, I started this blog within a few days of his hiring, so it would probably make sense to shut 'er down along with Tubby - but I'm not going to.

I'll be back with more later.  Probably.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

NCAA Game #1 Preview: Gophers vs. UCLA

The Gophers are seeded 11th in the NCAA Tournament this week, which was a good break because the sixth seeds as a group are fairly week and pretty vulnerable.  Even better, the Gophers couldn't have secured a better match-up than UCLA, which is why, despite all their warts and their limping into the tournament, the Gophers actually find themselves a 3-point favorite.

The biggest issue for UCLA is with an injury, as freshman swingman Jordan Adams, the team's second leading scorer, broke his foot in the Pac-12 tournament semi-final win over Arizona and will miss the remainder of the season (the Bruins then lost in the championship to Oregon by 9).  With transfers of some key pieces to begin the year (both Josh Smith and Tyler Lamb bugged out) the Bruins now have just seven players who appeared in more than five games this year.  Considering UCLA is an up-tempo team (35th fastest team in D-I) who knows how this affects their game plan, and if there is any foul trouble at all they could be in bad shape quickly.

Also putting them in bad shape?  They have absolutely nobody who can guard Trevor Mbakwe.  I mean nobody.  Their two big men, David and Travis Wear, and neither athletic nor particularly strong.  They are finesse bigs, kind of like a really poor man's Cody Zeller, and if you recall Mbakwe had a double-double in both games against Indiana including a 21-12 at Williams where he destroyed Zeller.  The Wears do have a couple of inches on him, but I don't expect that to matter.  The only other option Ben Howland will have is bringing freshman Tony Parker off the bench, but Parker is raw, fat (6-9, 275 lbs.), and Howland clearly doesn't trust him (averaged just 6 minutes per game and he's played a grand total of 14 minutes in their last six games).  Parker may have the strength to at least both Mbakwe a little bit, but in the athleticism department he gets blown away.  Another possibility is 6-8 freshman Kyle Anderson, but he's more of a perimeter player (despite averaging 8.6 rebs per game he's not a "on the block" kind of guy).  They literally have no other options.

I'm going to stop right here and say this again.  UCLA HAS NOBODY WHO CAN GUARD TREVOR MBAKWE.  They don't.  The Gophers need to feed him the ball.  Over and over and over.  He should touch the ball in or near the paint on every single possession he's in the game.  It's that simple.  It should become clear quickly they'll have to double him, and then it will come down to if the Gophers can make open shots.  Either than or UCLA will switch to zone, in which case the Gophers offensive rebounding should kill them because the Bruins are a horrible rebounding team.  If the Gophers make Mbakwe the focal point of their offense on Friday they should win this game.

I could stop right here, but I want to type more.

First, I don't trust Tubby and/or the players to get Mbakwe the ball on every possession.  I'm hoping for the best, but wouldn't be shocked to see him with 4 field goal attempts again.  Well, actually he should have more than that because he should end up with 5-8 offensive rebounds himself, but you know what I mean.

Secondly, UCLA has maybe the best individual player in this tournament in Shabazz Muhammad, and that's always a bit terrifying (ask Duke re: Derrick Williams).  Sometimes a player like this can get so hot, so dialed in, that nothing a defense can do can stop them and they can carry their team to victory after victory.  Muhammad is that kind of talent.  He can score inside, he can score outside.  He can drive to the paint, he can hit the jumper.  If he's fully engaged he's a handful - but therein lies the rub for UCLA.

There have plenty of articles I've seen asking if Muhammad already has one foot out the door to the NBA and pretty much announced he was one and done before recruiting even got serious.  Howland already announced he was leaving after this year, and the vibes coming out of Westwood it just feels like everybody's ready to pack-up and move on.  From the issues that came out last year with Howland and Reeves Nelson, overall team discipline issues, and several transfers it just feels like everybody is ready to be done and move on (note: sounds like Howland is likely gone, which really creates extra competition for Shaka Smart if the Gophers move in that direction).  With a kid who has had "NBA lock" written all over him for years it's not surprising Muhammad has mailed it in a few times this year (double digits rebounds just 3 times this year, 20+ points just once in his last 6 games, one steal in the last 4 combined, the game when he shot 11 three-pointers despite making just two).  Who knows what UCLA gets out of him?  I read he seemed more intense during the Pac-12 Tournament so maybe they get a fully focused Muhammad, but maybe not.

Outside of Muhammad the offense basically breaks down into North Carolina cast-off Larry Drew (yes, he transferred but the Heel fans were happy to see him go) breaking down his man off the dribble and creating opportunities for the other Bruins (Kyle Anderson, both Wears, and Norman Powell are all decent jump shooters even if none are even mediocre three-point threats).  Drew isn't much of a scorer himself but he does do well getting into the lane to set-up others.  Outside of not letting Muhammad go off (this is a wonderful test for Rodney Williams to prove his draft worthiness if he gets that call, FYI, although personally I think Austin Hollins is probably a better play) having Dre Hollins be able to handle Drew 1-on-1 is the #1 defensive key to the game.

Let's face it - this game sets up perfectly for the Gophers.  What's their #1 strength? Rebounding.  What's UCLA's #1 weakness?  Rebounding.  What's the Gophers #1 weakness? Guarding against the 3 and half-court offense.  UCLA?  Don't shoot the three at all (and their #1 guy was Adams) and try to run-and-gun which should give the Gophers plenty of transition opportunities.  The Bruins #1 strength? They don't turn the ball over, but the Gophers don't rely on turnovers anyway (and they create their additional opportunities from offensive rebounds).  Think the "vibe" around this team is off?  It's even worse at UCLA where Howland's dismissal slip is probably already half-filled out and most of the players are sick of him (I don't think the Gophers and Tubby have reached this stage yet).

The scariest thing about this game for the Gophers is how perfectly it sets up for the Gophers.  As a life long Minnesota sports fan I know that's when things usually go wrong, and yet, as a life long Minnesota sports fan I keep getting sucked back in.  I'm buying.

Gophers 73, UCLA 66.  Round 2:  Gophers 60, Florida 88.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Welcome Back to the NCAA Tournament

Well the Gophers are back in the NCAA Tournament and I gotta say despite everything else it feels damn good.  I'm also pretty pleased with the 11 seed, because it keeps the Gophers away from the #1s and #2s as long as possible, although a possible second round match-up with Florida would probably be every bit the bloodbath you'd see against a #1 or #2.  I'll be back with a preview of UCLA on Wednesday night (and then will go radio silent (except twitter) until the next week as we take our annual trip to Chicago to watch all the games from the Dayton Bar with Bogart.)  I've also been informed that the Dayton Bar is also an Ole Miss bar so I'm looking forward to watching them hopefully beat the Badgers.

Anyway, here are the toughest things I'm struggling with as a fill out my bracket:

1)  Florida or Georgetown?  There were three teams I wanted to put in the final four for sure:  Louisville, Florida, or Georgetown.  Unfortunately, now I can't do that and need to make a choice between the Gators and Hoyas since they'd play in the Sweet 16 if everything holds.  I love Florida because they have so many weapons and can score inside or out, and they compliment that with great defense.  Georgetown is also an amazing defensive team, and they have Big East Player of the Year Otto Porter who is good enough to carry that offense on his back a la John Wallace or Kemba Walker.  I hate that I have to choose, but I'm going with the Gators.

2)  What do do with Wisconsin.  I hate this.  I was all set to have both Wisconsin (because I hate them) and Kansas State (because they, and Bruce Weber, suck) to lose in the first round, but it all broke wrong.  Wisconsin gets an Ole Miss team who I don't think can compete with them, and Kansas State gets the play-in winner of LaSalle and Boise State, neither of whom is very good at all.  I almost have to take K-State and Wisconsin to both win their first round match-up, and if that happens there's no way K-State can beat the Badgers because Ryan can coach circles around Weber and the Wildcats are perfectly undisciplined enough to fall right into Wisconsin's traps.  So I have Wisconsin in the Sweet 16.  Feels really wrong and icky and dirty, but since they're always the luckiest team in America you can't rule it out.  I'm still rooting against them though.  If you don't it means you hate America.

3)  Who comes out of the West?  In every other region it's come down to one or two difficult decisions between teams I think are good enough to make the Final Four, while in the West I'm decided who is least flawed among the contenders.  Gonzaga and New Mexico are good teams no doubt, but neither has been tested as often or as consistently.  Both have some good non-conference wins of course but Gonzaga ran through a pretty crappy conference and although New Mexico played in a good MWC I just don't know if I'm buying it.  That leaves Ohio State, about whom there are no questions regarding having been tested, but unless their offense continues to be about more than DeShaun Thomas they're going to struggle.  If anything wacky happens I'm betting it's in this region, because there are some really weak teams for their seed (Arizona, K-State, Wisco, etc.).  Right now I'm going to buy the Buckeyes.  The team's offense is coming together with Thomas finding plenty of help, the defense is top-notch as usual, and the coaching is solid.

4)  Can Louisville Survive?  I think the Cardinals are the best team in the NCAA and my pick to win it all, but holy hell is the Midwest Region a bitch.  I consider Oklahoma State, St. Louis, and Michigan State as dark horse Final Four candidates and sure enough, they're all here.  The only real saving grace is that Duke is the #2 here and Duke sucks so at least they catch a break there.  Even some of the really high seeds (#12 Oregon, #14 Valparaiso) are pretty dangerous.  Whoever gets out of this region is going to have to have done some seriously good work.  Luckily Louisville hits my check list - come in on a high note (not necessarily a conference tournament victory but just playing well), good guards who can make free throws, great defense, and a team who can shoot without being dependent on the 3.  So yeah, despite the tough region Louisville is my champ.

5)  Who upsets Kansas?  I know Kansas has kind of shed that choker label, what with the two Final Fours since 2008 and all, but there's no way this version of Kansas is Final Four bound so the question becomes where do they get bounced?  I'm betting they don't get out of the first weekend with North Carolina knocking them out as one of the toughest 8 seeds I can remember.  I know Carolina has been talked about as being "down" this year and maybe they are with 10 losses, but do you realize their worst loss this year was to Texas?  And after that their worst loss was to Butler?  The rest are 3 losses to Miami, 2 to Duke, and one each to Indiana, Virginia, and NC State which means the Heels don't have a single loss to a team outside of kenpom's top 100 teams.  They're probably a little too perimeter dependent to make a significant run, but they should dispatch Villanova with ease and then in a one-time game against Kansas?  It could happen, kids, it could happen.

6)  How good is Miami? That's an important question, because I don't believe in Indiana and I don't believe in Marquette, which means it's either Miami or Syracuse coming out of the East for me.  I do expect Syracuse to beat the Hoosiers and face the Canes with a Final Four berth on the line, so it becomes a matter if I think Miami is good enough to handle the Cuse.  As it turns out, I think they are.  They're experienced enough to not get rattled and they have the guard play needed to break down the Orange's zone with four guys who are lights out from three, and they play excellent defense, rebound well, and come in off an ACC Tournament Championship.  Their free throw shooting is a bit suspect, but otherwise Miami is another team who looks really, really good and I have them in my Final Four.

That's it for now, back later with a Gophers/UCLA preview.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

And we're Spent

I was going to write about everything that happened today, but I write the previews and stuff first and then go back and write the introduction and I'm really quite tired and I don't think that's something that I'm going to do.

ATLANTIC COAST CONFERENCEI still have fond memories of watching the ACC Tournament every March (on TV of course).  Those were the days of Randolph Childress and Dennis Scott and Curtis Staples when every ACC team, top-to-bottom, was awesome and the conference was head and shoulders above everyone else.  They're still a quality conference (kenpom ranks them 4th) but that's because they're strong at the top.  The bottom of the ACC is horrible, which makes the tournament much less fun since you can probably pencil in the top seeds to the semi-finals.  Except Duke.  Eff them.
FAVORITE:  Duke.  Of course it's Duke.  With Ryan Kelly back Duke is one of the top five teams in the country no matter how much you hate them (and you should).  It's easy to forget, but this team is 18-0 this year when Kelly is healthy (and 9-4 without him) with wins over Ohio State, Louisville, and Miami - all Final Four contenders.  Kelly kind of sucks at everything other than shooting but there's no doubt Duke is a much better team with him than without him.  Also did you know every single Duke basketball fan also roots for the Lakers, Cowboys, Yankees, and Notre Dame football?  It's science.
SLEEPER:  Virginia.  The Cavaliers probably need to do something here to secure at at-large bid, because despite their huge wins (Duke, NC State, Wisconsin) they've balanced them with some horrendous losses (George Mason, Delaware, and 5-25 Old Dominion) and an 11-7 conference record.  They're a bit of a Wisconsin clone with their style of play (BORING) but it can work, obviously, and they've beaten every other ACC Contender so far this year other than Miami, so they can certainly win this.
W's PICK:  Duke.  This is what Duke does.  They have a great regular season, win the ACC Tournament, and then lose in one of the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.  And I love it every year.

Honestly I couldn't even tell you who is in the A-10 anymore.  And even if I could, it wouldn't matter because teams are leaving next year anyway.  And did you know there are actually 16 teams in the Atlantic-10?  So the Big 10 has 12 and is about to have 14, the Big 12 has 10 teams, and the Atlantic 10 has 16.  Gotta say, I think the whole idea of naming your conference after the number of teams is looking like a pretty crappy idea.  Hell at this point we can't even name them on their geographical region any more.  We're going to have to start naming conferences after things pretty soon, like the Lamp Conference.
FAVORITE:  St. Louis.  The Billikens are streaking.  They won 12 of their last 13 (with the loss being in overtime @ Xavier) with those wins including a win over VCU and a sweep of Butler, but even so they're sneaking up on everybody.  You watch, they're going to be anywhere from a 3-6 seed when the pairings come out and I'm betting nearly everybody will have them getting knock-off the first weekend.  They're a great defensive basketball team who spreads their scoring around with five guys averaging between 9.8 and 12.9 points per game- don't underrate them.
SLEEPER:  Xavier.  A rare down year for the Musketeers sees them tied for sixth in the A-10 with seven conference losses, but in a pretty wide open conference there are plenty of teams who could get hot and win the auto-bid.  Not only did Xavier just beat St. Louis in the second-to-last game of the season, they also beat Memphis a couple of weeks ago.
W's PICK:  VCU.  I can't help it, I love VCU.  They play the game like a bunch of crazy lunatics and, in the tradition of the old UNLV and Arkansas teams, it works.  They're a bit under the radar nationally this year since they have seven losses, but those seven are Duke and Missouri in the Bahamas, @ Richmond, LaSalle, @ St. Louis, and @ Temple.  That's a pretty good list.  It serves to give them a worse seeding, which will make them a genius pick to make the Final Four, although with all their recent success I'm sure plenty of others will feel the same so maybe the real genius pick will be to take them to lose in round one.

Big West teams always seem to grab a nice upset or two each year.  This year Cal Poly beat UCLA, Pacific beat Xavier and St. Mary's, and UC-Irvine beat USC.  The Big West lacks the big-time sleeper NCAA Tournament threat like they had the last couple of years with Santa Barbara and Long Beach, but there are a number of teams here who could get a victory if they get the right match-up.
FAVORITE:  Long Beach.  Say what you want about Dan Monson, and I have, but he knows how to build a program to dominate a terrible conference.  The 49ers are once again the #1 seed in the Big West, and even though they aren't as dangerous a team as they were last season they'll probably win this tournament.  Although things may be unraveling at the end of the season here a bit with LBSU losing three of their last four games.
SLEEPER: UC-Irvine.  The Anteaters were horrendous at the beginning of the year, starting out at 5-7 with ugly losses to Pepperdine and Sam Houston, but buttoned it up to close out the season, finishing out with a 10-5 swing which included wins over Long Beach, Pacific, and Cal-Poly - the top three Big West teams.  Plus they're the Anteaters - that's pretty sweet.
W's PICK:  Irvine.  There's nobody here who looks like they could run away with this thing, and with the Anteaters coming into the tournament as the hottest team I may as well pick them.  Plus they're Anteaters. 

The Big Sky has always been one of my favorite conferences, mainly because my wife and her entire family attended school there (for at least a semester) and I've been on their campus a bunch of times and have some hats and shirts and such and since they're the dominant program they're always relevant, at least for a low-major.  And this is a low major, at least this year.  Weber (24-5) and Montana (23-6) took care of business, but there isn't a single other school in the conference that finished better than .500.
FAVORITE:  Weber State.  Technically Montana is actually the #1 seed but they lost their leading scorer to a foot injury and although they've gone 4-1 without him (the loss was in overtime to Davidson) Weber State is probably the better team now.  The Wildcats have won eleven straight, including a 14-point victory over Montana and really they haven't missed Damian Lillard much at all this season thanks to three double-digit per game scorers and the nation's #1 three-point shooting team at 42%.
SLEEPER: Montana State.  Weber and Montana are much better than the rest of the field here, but if anybody is going to crash the party it will probably be Montana State.  While the majority of the conference was just getting beat up by the two top teams, the Bobcats were able to hang tough, actually beating Weber State at home and losing by just 8 on the road, and although they were swept by Montana the Grizzlies only beat them by 3 and 5 (in overtime). 
W's PICK:   Weber State.  It feels like the Wildcats have dominated this conference, but they actually haven't been to the NCAAs since 2007 since they can't get over the hump and actually win the conference tournament.  This year should be different, and hopefully Harold Arceneaux's ghost will come back and bring them to a first round upset.  Also, for your education, it's pronounced WEE-BER.  Don't you feel like a dummy?

BIG 12 CONFERENCE[NOTE: This apparently started Wednesday night.  I had no idea]
The Big 12 is actually shockingly deep this year.  With only ten teams they have six ranked in the Top 50 according to kenpom, which is awfully damn good for a conference I thought was pretty crappy.  Of course, the teams in the top 50 include Baylor, who sucks, and Oklahoma, who sucks, so maybe the ratings aren't exactly accurate.  Besides, games are played by real players on the court, not in your mom's basement using a computer, nerd.
FAVORITE:  Kansas.  The Jayhawks won the Big 12 for the ninth straight year and are the favorite once again, but unlike previous years they aren't a prohibitive favorite as the B12 is pretty wide open this year at the top.  Kansas had losses to Oklahoma, Baylor,  and Oklahoma State this year, should have had two losses to Iowa State, and lost to the worst team in the conference TCU.  They have one of the best guards in the country in Ben McLemore, one of the best centers in the country in Jeff Withey, and very little else.  KU is very vulnerable, and that goes for the NCAA Tournament as well.
SLEEPER:  Iowa State.  The Cyclones finished with the 5 seed and will probably be in the NCAAs as a 10 or 11, but it really should have been so much better.  They lost to Kansas once on a banked in KU three-pointer and once thanks to the worst call of the season (which even B12 officials said it was a blown call), and both at Texas and Oklahoma State on last second plays.  The shoot a ton of threes, make a ton of threes, and play at a fast pace - a really fun team to watch.
W's PICK:   Oklahoma State.  The Cowboys have gone ahead and transformed themselves into a dark horse Final Four contender.  They've won 11 of their last 13, the two losses were @ Iowa State (can't fight Hilton Magic) and a double-OT loss to Kansas, and included in those eleven wins were victories over Oklahoma, Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor, and Iowa State.  All you really need to know is that OK State's third best player is LeBryan Nash and he'd probably be the best player on 90% of NCAA teams (when he's engaged and paying attention, sort of has a disappearing thing going on). 

Well here's the biggie, and I mean that not only because the stupid Gophers are in it, but because in reality I think it's hard to argue against this as the best conference in basketball.  I mentioned the Big 12 having a bunch of well rated teams at kenpom, but the Big Ten has nine of their twelve ranked in the top 62 and nobody worse than #146.  Add in that outside of Northwestern anybody can beat anybody else on any given day and this could really be wild.  The Gophers and Michigan are fading, while Iowa and Purdue are rising which bunches the teams together even further.  There are 8 teams who wouldn't shock me if they won this.
FAVORITE:  Indiana.  It's interesting to me that Indiana started as the big favorite in the conference, we spent the entire conference season wondering who was really number one and trying to figure out how good Indiana actually was, and now that we're done the Hoosiers come out as looking like pretty clearly the best team in the Big 10, don't they?  I don't know, for my money they're clearly the top team in the conference.
SLEEPER: Illinois.  If I wasn't a Minnesota fan I'd say the Gophers since they still have a really impressive list of good wins and have played well on neutral courts, but since I am a Gopher fan I know how freaking awful they've been so I refuse to support them in any way.  I also think Illinois really sucks, but Iowa sucks worse, and everybody else is either too good to be a sleeper or too crappy to have a prayer.  Illinois shoots so many stupid three-pointers they could conceivably get hot enough to win a couple of games, even if they don't have a chance of winning this thing.  The Gophers, on the other hand, actually do have a chance to win the B10 Tournament, but I refuse to care enough to care.   That's not a typo.
W's PICK:  Michigan.  Maybe this goes back to the old Steve Fisher days, but Michigan always strikes me as a damn good tournament type team.  The Fab Five never flamed out early and made two Final Fours when they were all together, they won the first ever Big Ten Tournament, and other than last year I can't remember them ever losing early in the NCAAs.  By the way, now that I look it up to try to avoid looking like an idiot, it turns out the reason I don't remember them flaming out early is because Michigan didn't make a single NCAA Tournament between 1998 and 2009.  For serious.  That is ridiculous.

Sorry if you were looking for more Gopher specific stuff, but I don't know what to write anymore.  They're good enough to beat anybody in the Big Ten and bad enough to lose to anybody in the Big Ten.  Illinois chucks a shitload of threes, and if they're making them the Gophers are screwed.  If not, the Gophers have to execute their half court offense to win.  Does any of that sound manageable?  I just don't even know anymore.  Here are my last thoughts on the Gophers.  This is all I got, bro.  At least until I see how they play against Illinois.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Even More Tournament Information

Congrats go out to Long Island, South Dakota State, and Valpo for grabbing their league's autobids last night.  Absolutely nothing else of significance happened.  I, for one, can't wait to hear way too many stories about Nate Wolters as we wait for the real tournament to get going.  Here's what's kicking off Wednesday.

Welcome back, Pac-12.  After several years of crappy play and getting just 1-2 teams in the tournament, the Pac will likely have five teams receive bids this year.  The teams are still mostly terrible, with the exception of UCLA who is talented but mind-boggling, and I am going to definitely take the UNDER on Pac-12 wins once the brackets are revealed and the lines come out, but it's at least a step back towards respectability.
FAVORITE:  UCLA.  Despite a rough start to the season that included an OT win versus UC-Irvine and a loss to Cal Poly the Bruins figured it out and won seven of their final nine games to take the conference regular season title.  Good thing too, because they're easily the most talented team.  Shabazz Muhammad is legitimately good enough to pull a Carmelo and take UCLA to the Final Four.  The real problem is that Larry Drew is erratic enough to lead them to a first round loss. 
SLEEPER:  Washington.  Tough to find a sleeper in a league this tightly bunched, but I'll go with Washington.  Lorenzo Romar seems to get the Huskies to play well in March, and you can't go wrong rooting for circus ball.
W's PICK:  Cal.  They're annoying because they have Justin Cobbs, but they're also an NCAA Tournament team and one of few from the Pac-12 who I think might be able to make the Sweet 16 because of him.  Cobbs and Allen Crabbe give the Bears two big-time scorers and assist guys and guards are gold when it comes to March basketball.  They're ramping up as well, having won seven of their last eight heading to the tournament including wins over all four of the other NCAA bound Pac teams.

And as we speak about moving towards respectability we must also look at the other side of Two-Face and look at moving away from respectability and that's what's happened to the SEC.  Outside of Florida these teams are awful.  Missouri is the only other team who is solidly in the tournament last year and they've been horrendous and lost to a 15 seed last year and will probably be an early out again.  Kentucky is down this year despite being talented because they aren't talented enough to overcome Calipari's inability to coach during a game and other than a rare decent year from Ole Miss every other program is in a major downward arc, with Mississippi State quite possibly the worst major conference team in history.  I'm not kidding.  They lost to Vanderbilt by 41.  At home.  Dontae Jones is rolling over in his grave.
FAVORITE:  Florida.   The Gators might be the heaviest favorite in any conference and that includes the smaller ones (maybe Davidson).  Currently the #1 team on kenpom with a top 5 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and enough depth and balance to survive a rough night from any of their players.  That being said, it's a bit concerning that Florida is 0-5 in games with a final margin in the single digits this year, so if "not knowing how to win the close ones" is a real thing they could be in trouble.  Then again, they have 24 wins this year and every single one was by at least 11 points so maybe it doesn't really matter.
SLEEPER: Arkansas.  The Razorbacks should have been better than 10-8 in a down SEC, and they showed how good they can be when they basically ran Florida out of the gym in Fayetteville.   They struggled this year with "can't win away from home"-itis, but at home they beat not only Florida but also Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, and Oklahoma - basically as the home team they were probably the second best team in the SEC.  Unfortunately for them, the SEC Tournament isn't played in Arkansas so they're probably in trouble.
W's PICK:  Ole Miss.  The Rebels were looking good earlier this year at 17-2 and 6-0 in SEC play, but have limped down the stretch with a 5-6 finish that included ugly losses to South Carolina and Mississippi State that, along with a horrid non-conference schedule lacking any big wins, have them in rough shape to make the tournament.  They benefit because Florida will gain very little with a win out and Billy Donovan knows it, where the Rebels need this more an anyone other than Tennessee.

College basketball is crazy year after year, but if there's one thing you can always count on it's the SWAC being terrible.  In the last 10 years they've ranked as the worst conference eight times (kenpom) and second to last the other two.  Looking at their schools I can't remember a single one of them being remotely relevant in the NCAA Tournament - ever.  This year Grambling went 0-27 and ranked dead last in both offensive and defensive efficiency, which I'm pretty sure means they're the worst team of all-time.  Using kenpom's metrics, he would predict that Penn State would beat Grambling 82-48, the Gophers would win 92-44, and Florida (#1 team) would win 96-39.  Hell, the second worst team in the country (New Orleans) would have a projected victory of 72-57.  This is a stunningly bad team.  It's almost admirable.
FAVORITE: Southern.  They finished in second place behind Texas Southern, but Texas Southern is ineligible for the postseason because of NCAA violations.  Additionally the team who tied with Southern for second, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, is ineligible for the post-season due to low APR scores as is Mississippi Valley State.  So basically these schools all suck at basketball and at academics and cheating.  Are we sure these are even colleges?
SLEEPER:  Jackson State.  Ok I lied when I said Florida or Davidson might be the heaviest favorite because it's clearly Southern.  With the only other two teams on their level banned from tournament play there really is no dark horse because Southern should walk.  They're ranked 163rd at kenpom and the next best eligible team is #312.  I picked Jackson as my sleeper simply because they're the only other team who finished at .500 or better who will be playing in this thing.
W's PICK:  Southern.  It doesn't matter because they're going to get blown out by whomever they play (if they get through the First Four) but they should at least have fun destroying teams in getting there.

Similar to the SWAC the Southland is pretty terrible and is every year, but the difference is the Southland occasionally develops a respectable team (and will more often since Oral Roberts moved there this year for financial/geographic reasons).  This is one of those years with Stephen F. Austin actually looking like a pretty decent squad (they beat Oklahoma and Long Beach).  They will try to continue the Southland's first round tradition of kind of scaring teams but then fading away in the second half, although I still thank baby santa jesus for this moment, which I believe to be the most linked video on this blog:

FAVORITE:  Stephen F. Austin. The Lumberjacks are actually an outstanding defensive team - as in the 6th best team in the country in defensive efficiency.   And they're really well rounded on that side of the ball as well - the defend the two and the three well, don't allow offensive rebounds or commit many fouls and they cause a bunch of turnovers.  Unfortunately their offense is brutal.
SLEEPER:   Northwestern State.  Not only are the Demons awesome because of what they did to Iowa, but they're also awesome because they not only score the most points of any team per game in the NCAA but they also play the fastest pace of any team in the NCAA.  You know how fun it would be to watch them play somebody like North Carolina?  God that would be fun. 
W's PICK:   Northwestern State.  SFA would actually have a much better chance of scoring an upset with their super slow pace and tough defense, but seriously if I wanted to watch that kind of basketball I'd just move to Wisconsin.  The Demons would at least be fun - mostly for the other team and their fans - but what can I say I'm a sucker for circus ball and NW State fits the bill.  I'm kind of excited for them already, so they better not let me down or there'll be hell to pay.  Hell.

It's Memphis and everybody else.  Again.  Memphis, who you might remember the Gophers actually beat, rolled through conference play on the way to a 16-0 record and have locked up their at-large bid.  What this means, since this is Memphis and Josh Pastner, is that they'll likely lose focus and interest in the conference tournament and somebody else will have a chance to win it.  The only question is if anybody is actually good enough to do so, even with the Tigers chasing butterflies or whatever.
FAVORITE:  Memphis.  When it comes to talent the Tigers are on a completely different level than everybody else.  The only other team who can play there way to a possible at-large is Southern Miss and they finished four games behind Memphis in the standings and the lost to the Tigers by 13 and 16 in their two meetings.  Maybe Memphis is the biggest favorite of anybody in any conference tournament.  This stuff is hard.
SLEEPER:  Houston.  If I had to pick a non-Memphis or Southern Miss team to win this I'd go with UTEP, but Houston is a better "sleeper" since they're a middle of the pack squad who comes in a bit hot after winning their final three regular season games.  Normally you'd say that's not a big deal since it's only three games, but for a team this young (top four scorers are all freshmen or sophomores) with some real talent (at least one Rivals Top 150 recruit has signed with the Cougars each of the last two years) this could be a sign of them coming together and figuring it out.  Probably not, but maybe.
W's PICK:  Memphis.  Honestly there are only a couple teams Memphis will even to try to beat in this tournament, and none of them are very good and this thing is so wide open they might all lose early.  Good thing Memphis is finally leaving that shitty conference because it's just getting worse and worse.  Probably time to shut 'er down.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Tournament Season now Hits the Big Guys

Ok I missed the Monday tournaments.  That's okay though, because I'm going to cover them today along with Tuesday's kick-offs which is when some of the big dogs come out to play.  I know many of you were lost on Monday night, wondering about the MAC and the MEAC and for that I apologize, but like a beacon in the dark I am here to walk you through.

Lots of stuff happened this weekend, including Kentucky, Baylor, and Boise got the big wins they needed while Iowa State, Ole Miss, and Cincy avoided what would have been crushing losses.  Belmont made there be one less bubble team by winning the autobid in the OVC (Davidson won the SoCon's autobid last night but they probably weren't getting an at-large in any case), and Oklahoma (probably still in), Colorado (probably still in), and Louisiana Tech (needs autobid now) picked up ugly losses along with the Gophers.

What does this all mean?  Well, along with the pairings coming out and showing the Gophers taking on Illinois in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament it means the Gophers are in no matter what.  Illinois's RPI is 42, which means a loss is just fine and a win would be a very good win.  With most projectionists putting the Gophers in the 8-10 range there's no way a good loss knocks them out.  So congratulations?

Ideally the Gophers would beat Illinois and Indiana and jump up to a six seed to avoid facing a 1 or 2 in a quasi-home game situation, but to be honest I'm just hoping they don't embarrass themselves again.  It's good to have goals.  On to the tournaments!

For most of the season Akron was a fringe-y bubble team.  They had dominated the MAC, going 13-0 with just four out-of-conference losses (3 in overtime) marring an otherwise perfect record - losses to Oklahoma State, Detroit, and Creighton are acceptable, losing to Coastal Carolina is not.  Unfortunately a non-conference slate then with only a win over Middle Tennessee and a whole slew of cupcakes kept them from serious at-large consideration, and a loss to Buffalo last Saturday (RPI #226), the suspension of starting point guard and leading assist man Alex Abreu for possession of five pounds of pot, and a follow up loss to Kent State (RPI #146) have the Zips not only on the outside looking in of an at-large bid, but no longer the favorite in this tournament.  
FAVORITE:  Ohio.  With Akron's issues with Smokey the Bobcats, who despite finishing out MAC play at 14-2 would have to describe this season as disappointing.  This is an exciting team with a kick-ass point guard in D.J. Cooper (and the money he took) who will look for answers but that ain't fun so he'll get in the pit and try to love someone.  Seriously though this is basically the same team who beat Georgetown in the tournament two years ago and made the Sweet 16 last season, they just whiffed on every opportunity to get a good win and had a super shitty schedule, thus win or in.  Dangerous team.  I hope they win.   
SLEEPER:  Eastern Michigan.  Kent State probably has a better chance of winning but I wouldn't really consider them a sleeper the way EMU is.  They 7 seed, the Eagles interest me because they are the top MAC team in 3-point defense, shot blocking, and stealing the ball.  They're a pretty dynamic defensive team so you never know.  They're also horrific offensively so you kind of do.
W's PICK:  Ohio.  Bawitdaba da bang a dang diggy diggy diggy said the boogy said up jump the boogy.

Let's just get this out of the way:  the MEAC is terrible, and they're terrible every year.  Outside of the SWAC there's no other conference more guaranteed to end up in the play-in game.  On one of the old college basketball games on playstation I used to have you had an option to to start from a bottom of the barrel program and try to work your way up by winning enough games - of the 10 options at least five of them were MEAC schools and it might have been more.  That being said, of the six #15 seeds to knock off a #2 in round 1 two of them (Coppin State and Norfolk State) were MEAC schools. So I guess that's something.
FAVORITE: Norfolk State.  Despite losing their top two scorers from last year's Missouri beating squad, the Spartans crushed the MEAC going 16-0.  For some reason I now have a very uneasy feeling that if Tubby is let go by the Gophers Norfolk's State guy is going to come up far too often for my tastes.
SLEEPER:  North Carolina Central.  Interesting that Norfolk went 16-0, UNCC went 15-1, and they never played each other.  They also don't have a single win between the two that remotely resembles a quality victory, but that's far less surprising.  UNCC could be tricky because they are the top ranked defense in the conference in almost every single advanced metric.  Of the eight main ones the Eagles (what's with all the Eagles, man?) rank 1st in six of them.  Seems relevant.  
W's PICK:  Norfolk State.  I've spent too much time on this conference as is, so I'll just take the team that's been there before and has the #1 seed.  Why complicate things?

If you remember when I wrote about the Sun Belt (this would make you kind of a weirdo) I said I was rooting so hard for Middle Tennessee because I wasn't sure they'd get an at-large if they lost and I really wanted to see them in the tournament (they lost in the semis and it's looking dicey).   This is relevant because before last week Louisiana Tech looked a lot like Middle Tennessee but less fancy.  They were 16-0 in the conference and 26-3 overall, and even if the computer numbers weren't in their favor they were going to be tough to ignore if they ran the table and then fell in the WAC Tournament Final.  Luckily for the seeding committee they decided to go in the tank and got crushed by both New Mexico State (by 18) and Denver (by 24) and that is that.
FAVORITE:  Denver.  Although La Tech retained the #1 seed despite that late swoon, Vegas recognizes them for the pretender they were and installed Denver as the favorite.  With good reason, considering the Pioneers rank tops in the conference in both offensive and defensive efficiency.  It could all be fraudulent since Denver is another team that fits the Wisconsin/Virginia mold, but they're an interesting team who would absolutely have a chance to bore a team into a loss if they make the NCAAs.
SLEEPER: Utah State.  I'm a huge fan of the Aggies, as you would know if you paid more attention to me you asshole, and this is a bit of an off year for them since they usually dominate these WAC dorks. You can't really count out a Stew Morrill led USU team, can you?  Other than this year, I mean.
W's PICK:  Louisiana Tech.  Yes, the Bulldogs only played one non-shitty team in non-conference and lost to Texas A&M by 12.  Yes, they somehow lost to McNeese State and Northwestern State.  Yes, when they had a bye mid-week late in the season they scheduled Central Baptist College and won by 70 rather than having a decent team on the docket.  Maybe, I'm starting to rethink this pick but it's too late to go back now.

And here we go.  Big time conferences get rolling starting with the old Big East in it's last hurrah.  Plenty still to play for, as Georgetown has as shot at a #1 while Louisville could possibly get it as well depending on what happens around the country.  Syracuse is looking to find whatever it seems to have lost and Marquette wants to show it's more than just a home court bully, while both Villanova and Cincinnati are looking to shore up their at-large bids.
FAVORITE:  Georgetown.  The Hoyas, Louisville, and Marquette tied a top the conference at 14-4 with G-Town getting the favorable draw thanks to tie-breakers.  They should also be considered the favorite because they are also coming in hot.  The Hoya defense is coming on strong (the last team to score 70+ in non-overtime against the Hoyas was Pitt on January 8th)  and Otto Porter is starting to give off a big John Wallace type vibe where I can see him putting the team's offense on his back and the Hoyas riding the defense deep into the tourney.  I'm having a hell of a time trying to convince myself not to put them in the Final Four.
SLEEPER:  Providence.  They're a bit of a deep sleeper what with the 9 seed and all, but with so many good teams to find a true sleeper can be a little bit tougher in a conference like this.  The Friars boast the league's leading scorer in Bryce Cotton and after a rough start to the season that included losses to Penn State, Brown, and DePaul they've started to really come together.  Providence has won seven of its last nine with the only losses to Syracuse and UCONN on the road.  Winning four games is probably a bit much but, you know, it's happened before.    
W's PICK:  Louisville.  The number one defensive team in the country who both causes a ton of turnovers and holds opponents to terrible shooting percentages.  Their record this year is 26-5, and the five losses are to potential number 1 seed Duke by 5 (neutral site), by 2 to Syracuse when they were still good, by 9 at Villanova when the Wildcats were on that tear where they also beat Cuse, at potential #1 seed Georgetown by 2, and at Notre Dame in five Overtimes.  There may be more exciting teams and more upside-y teams, but the absolute safest bet, regardless of 1 or 2 seed, to get to the Final Four this year is the Cardinals.

The conference that has risen the most in national rankings over the last few years, the MWC actually ranks third at kenpom behind the Big Ten and Big East.  As good as it is, however, there's not really much to play for here.  New Mexico, UNLV, Colorado State, and San Diego State are already locked in, and Boise State, by way of wins over SDSU and CSU in the last week and a half is probably in as well, and with an opening round match-up against the Aztecs again they can't hurt themselves.
FAVORITE:  New Mexico.  Believe it or not this a damn good league, and the Lobos going 13-3 in league play is damn impressive.  There are nine teams in this league and five of them rank in the top 50 (kenpom) with two more in the top 100.  The Lobos not only rolled the league, but also picked up wins over Davidson, UCONN, Valpo, and Cincy this year.  You're going to be tempted to underrate New Mexico when you fill out your bracket, but I'd disrecommend that.  
SLEEPER: Air Force.  It's tough to find a sleeper in a league where the top 5 teams are awesome and the bottom two suck (well, Wyoming has sucked after a great start after kicking leading scorer Luke Martinez off the team for something as innocent as getting a 15-yard running start before kicking an unconscious person in the head in a bar fight), but Air Force fits the bill well enough.  They play in the Wisconsin/Virginia style of slow but efficient play and that can always fuck people up and they've beaten four out of the five top teams in the MWC this year.  They've also been terrible outside Colorado Springs, and the tournament is not in Colorado Springs, so they're probably hosed.  
W's PICK:  UNLV.  The tournament is not in Colorado Springs but it is in Las Vegas, and more specifically at the Thomas & Mack Center which just so happens to be the Runnin' Rebels' home gym.  In a league that tightly packed at the top home court could make all the difference.  Plus I had this picture.