Friday, November 30, 2007

Quick Sean Taylor note

Some people say the most depressing thing in life is wasted talent. Well, I think that's only partly true. The saddest thing in life is when those with fully realized talent die so young with so much left to give. Sean Taylor had seemingly turned over a new leaf, a new, better chapter in his life, and in the blink of an eye, it's over.

I loved watching Sean Taylor on Sundays, and I'll definitely miss that. I hope that some good can somehow come from his loss, but right now, that's pretty difficult to fathom.

I don't know what else to say other than this: Rest in Peace Sean Taylor.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Trying to figure out college football

(still under construction)

For several years now, the argument of whether or not NCAA football (Bowl Subdivision) needs a playoff. Some people have called for a simple four team bracket and others for eight teams to be involved. But even though there have been some controversial issues in the past, this season more than any other demands a new system.

Many coaches, college officials, and analysts have been rejecting a playoff for a long time. They always use the same excuses: it would be too time consuming, too difficult to figure out, not fair to the players, it would make the regular season less important, etc.

First of all, many of these excuses are just ridiculous. A playoff would be too time consuming? Fine, so great teams are forced to schedule less games against terrible opponents. Yes, it's a shame that a team like West Virginia will get less chances to blow out someone like Western Michigan or William and Mary. Fans are definitely missing out on those classic contests. A game like Michigan vs Appalachian State can still happen where a stunning upset can occur, but the opportunities just won't be as often.

The playoff wouldn't be too confusing, either. What's really confusing is the BCS formula. Some of the matchups fans have seen over the years have been terrible and haven't correctly had the right teams play each other. There's no better way to determine that than to actually have the teams play each other and determine their own fates instead of leaving the choices to a computer. No more confusing co-champions like in 2003 with LSU and USC.

A playoff would definitely be fair to the players as well. Teams may be forced to play a tougher game or two, but then again, certain teams already play uneven schedules. Put Ohio State in the SEC and see if they still come out with only one loss. It's not fair to have certain teams play soft schedules and still get into a big BCS game. Hawaii may have a smooth ride through its regular season in the future, but if there's a playoff, fans would get to see them matched up against an LSU or USC and then see how they'd really fare. The Bowls could also still be used as a reward for teams who played well, just not well enough to make the playoff.

And finally, the biggest myth of all is that adding a playoff would negate much of the importance of the regular season. Just about every other major sport has a regular season and a postseason, and the entire sequence is important. Teams want to do well in the regular season so they can get a better seed and more of an advantage if possible. If teams don't play well to begin with during the regular season, then they don't get in the playoff anyway.

Though these are just some of the reasons some people have used to argue against having a playoff, they only get in the way of what's really important -- that millions of people want to see a playoff system. People are intrigued to see what would happen if college football added a playoff format at the end of the season. Sure, it would force the NCAA to change the way it does the Bowl games, but there definitely wouldn't be any money lost (since that's usually the main concern for those in charge.)

Even if cinderella teams, like Hawaii and Kansas currently, were to get blown out in a playoff game, they would earn the right to be there. Many people would pay to see those games just to see what would happen. Instead certain teams usually just get one chance against another team that didn't quite reach the top of the standings. Even though some Bowl games turn out to be outstanding battles, there has to be some limited motivation when teams know they can't be number one, just number four or five.

In the end, the dilemma basically boils down to one main issue -- I'd like to think fans would rather see a playoff format where four or eight teams meet to earn the right to be in the championship game by actually beating the other top teams rather than the Bowl atmosphere where there's one championship game and the other Bowl games only serve to prove where teams rank after number one and two.

In this case, fans should get what they want. They're usually right anyway.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

NBA rookie watch

(Posted on Frostburg's The Bottom Line here)

The two biggest names in the 2007 NBA Draft, obviously, were Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. Durant is already playing significant minutes for the Sonics and is making a huge impact on the franchise. Oden, on the other hand, is out for the season after having microfracture surgery on his right knee, but he should be fine when he returns next year and may be one of the best centers in the league for years to come.

Besides Durant, several question marks remain about which rookies will step up this year and take their games to the next level. Many have to overcome a tremendous learning curve, and minutes for young players may be hard to come by. Nevertheless, here are some top rookies to look for in the 2007-2008 season:

Al Horford, PF/C, Atlanta Hawks – The Hawks have been one of the worst franchises in the NBA for several years now. Over the past eight seasons since their last playoff berth in 1998-99, they’re a combined 218-438. After making some bad picks in the draft for a while, the Hawks seem to have assembled plenty of young talent, including Horford. Through the first three games of the season, Horford has started at center each game and has averaged almost 30 minutes per contest. He’s also averaging 6 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.7 steals, and 1 block through the first week of the season. Sure, it’s still early, but there aren’t many rookies around the league playing as much, let alone starting for his team, like Horford is. Horford will only get better as he learns and improves his post-game, but he’ll need to work on his free throw shooting.

Jeff Green, SF/PF, Sonics – Drafted out of Georgetown, Green is looking to make his mark alongside fellow rookie Durant. Green has averaged about 18 minutes per game off of the bench through the Sonics’ first four games of the season. An athletic forward, he’s averaging 7.3 points and 3.5 rebounds in an improved up-tempo offense. Green is known for his great defense and slashing ability on offense, but he’ll need to improve his long-range shooting to increase his minutes as the season progresses. Since he can defend quick guards and power forwards, he’s versatile enough to be one of the bright spots for Seattle this year.

Yi Jianlian, PF/C, Bucks – Many NBA analysts were critical of this pick because they were unsure if Yi would actually report to Milwaukee. Yi tried to warn several teams, including Milwaukee, not to draft him because he wanted to play in a more popular area. Unfortunately for Yi, the Bucks called his bluff and drafted him sixth overall. The move, though, has been beneficial to both in the beginning of the season. Yi has started at power forward for the Bucks’ first four games, averaging 25 minutes along with 9.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1 steal, and 2 blocks per game. He seems to be a good player with a solid all-around game that includes the ability to defend, dribble, pass, shoot, and play in the paint. As he gains more experience, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t improve as the season rolls along.

Jared Dudley, SF/PF, Bobcats – Many teams were afraid to draft Dudley because he doesn’t seem to have a natural position. He’s a little too big for small forward, but as a power forward, he’s slightly undersized. Dudley was one of the top players in the ACC at Boston College during his college career, and he has the talent to play better than his draft slot (selected 22nd). He’s averaging 6.7 points and 4.7 rebounds off the bench, and his playing time should slowly increase now that Sean May and Adam Morrison have suffered season-ending injuries. He may not fit into a specific position, but he can definitely play.

Rodney Stuckey, PG/SG, Pistons – Stuckey is out six weeks because of a broken left hand, so he hasn’t been able to get on the court yet this season. But he’s a young guard with a knack for scoring points in bunches, which is something the Pistons definitely lack off of their bench. In two years at Eastern Washington, Stuckey averaged more than 24 points per game, and he possesses many skills. When his hand heals and he returns to the floor, he should help solidify a strong Pistons team and an improved bench.

Some other rookies who could also have solid seasons include Corey Brewer, Acie Law IV, Al Thornton, Joakim Noah, Luis Scola, Daequan Cook, and possibly Arron Afflalo. Mike Conley, Jr. and Julian Wright could have good rookie seasons too, but they’re currently blocked by veteran players. Guys like Jason Smith, Glen Davis, Dominic McGuire, Brandan Wright, and Chris Richard may be some other names to look for down the road.

But that’s the thing about players just coming into the NBA – no one knows exactly what they’ll bring to the table.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Going through the motions

For the third time in four nights, the Wizards seemed very uncomfortable on the floor as they lost to the Magic on Saturday night. The Wiz were unable to feed off of the crowd in their home-opener and looked flat, uninterested and just plain sloppy.

Under Eddie Jordan the Wizards seem to be notoriously slow starters, but this season's start has been horrendous. They've looked competitive only at certain points and are finding ways to lose. The excuse in the past has usually been that the team always changes it's starting lineup and personnel, but this season, that reasoning won't work since the team kept the same starting five of Arenas, Stevenson, Butler, Jamison and Haywood. Sure, they've only played three games, but there are plenty of issues at this very moment.

First of all, what has happened to the Wizards' shooting? As a team, the Wizards are shooting 35% from the field and 20% from three-point range. Yes, 20% -- that's embarrassing for any team, not to mention an NBA team. Caron Butler (45%) and Brendan Haywood (52%) are the only Wizards shooting over 40% from the field, and Nick Young is the only player shooting over 30% from three, mainly because he's only taken one three-pointer and made it.

To make matters worse, the Wizards aren't even taking care of the ball while they chuck up brick after brick. They're averaging almost 18 turnovers per game, with Butler and Arenas totaling about five per game each. Last year, the Wizards were great at limiting their own turnovers while forcing other teams to lose the ball. They averaged under 14 turnovers per game and forced just under 16. The Wiz also totaled about eight steals a game last year and are only getting about six now.

If I told you before the season that Brendan Haywood would average 10 points and almost 14 rebounds through the first three games, you never would have guessed that the Wiz would start out 0-3. Haywood has played the best so far this season with Butler right behind him. But besides those two, no one really comes in at a close third. Arenas hit that amazing game-tying three-pointer in the team's opener against the Pacers, but he's currently shooting 1-17 (6%) from three. He has shot poorly in certain stretches before in his career but never that badly.

Meanwhile, as the starters have obviously struggled, the bench really hasn't been much better. Songaila has played well so far, but usually the team has to take out Haywood when Songaila comes in because neither one can really guard another team's power forward. Songaila isn't big enough or quick enough, and Haywood is a little too sluggish to defend tall, athletic power forwards like Chris Bosh, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Amare Stoudemire, Dirk Nowitzki, Carlos Boozer, etc. That's the area where Andray Blatche was supposed to step in and help this team, yet he's averaging less than 10 minutes per game. He's definitely struggled, and somehow he's only grabbed three rebounds in three games while scoring a whopping four points. Now that's what I call living up to the hype.

Guys like Roger Mason and Antonio Daniels are playing the way they normally do, but they can't carry this team and are just supposed to compliment the big three. As for the rookies, Nick Young isn't ready yet and apparently Dominic McGuire isn't either. Eddie Jordan has been very reluctant to putting either in, and neither has impressed with the sporadic playing time they've received.

Obviously through three games, the Wizards haven't looked very good. And even though DeShawn Stevenson has played very poorly too, he got it right in one of his post-game comments after the loss to the Magic.

"I think we need to get into the gym and just go at each other," said Stevenson. "We need to get one of those tough practices where everybody doesn't like each other, get that trash-talking going and make each other uncomfortable. I think right now, everyone is too relaxed and we don't play like that. Normally, we play with a chip on our shoulder. We have to get that attitude back."

He's exactly right. I know the season just started, but I've rarely seen a team play who looks so relaxed and comfortable while playing so horribly. There's no sense of emotion or energy, and many of the players look like they believe that just because they show up and have talent that they're supposed to win the game by default. It doesn't work that way. Just because Arenas writes in his blog that he's going to score 50 or lead the Wiz to victory doesn't mean it'll happen just like that. It happens on the court against quality opponents, not in front of a computer.

The Wizards won games last year with scoring, hustle and timely buckets. They aren't a good defensive team, and I doubt they will be with this core of players. Arenas looks lost on the defensive end, Jamison is undersized and struggles against both bigger and quicker players, and even the team's "best" defender, Stevenson, has his own weaknesses when guarding other shooting guards off the dribble. But they don't have to be one of the best when limiting other opponents, evident by having the Eastern Conference's best record before the all-star break until untimely injuries to Arenas and Butler ruined last season's promise.

I want the Wizards to get mad. I want Arenas to get angry at these losses and start wrecking opposing defenses the way he did last year. I want Jamison to throw up more crazy floaters that always seem to find the bottom of the net. I want Butler to stop turning the ball over like this was an And-1 game. And I want Blatche to show his skills on the court like he's capable of doing.

But mainly, I want the Wizards to show some heart on the court and stop getting stomped on like they're one of the worst teams in the league. They're definitely not, and it's time to get their identity back from previous seasons.