Monday, February 26, 2007

Just When I Thought I Was Out...


Well, you have to hand it to the Hawkeyes. They get a MONSTER win over Purdue (a win that moved their RPI up by about 10 spots, as well), and they now have a legitimate chance to finish 10-6 in the conference and grab a #3 seed - yes, you read that right - in the Big Ten tournament. I know the RPI is low (it's in the 70's, as far as anyone can tell), but they've certainly sprinted to the finish.

The Hawks finish at Penn State and in Carver aginst ILLINI, and both are completely winnable. If they win both, and a couple of other things fall their way, they would finish third in the conference, ahead of MSU and IU, both of which should be in the tournament. They would likely face a mid-level opponent in the first round (maybe a rematch with Purdue), and would get a shot at Wisky with a win. Given the top-heaviness of the Big Ten (had she not died, there would certainly be an Anna Nicole Smith joke here), I think a run to the tournament final may be enough to get them in. Maybe. Possibly.

The only thing I know? I found myself watching Iowa Basketball with Steve Alford last night, and it wasn't because I lost a bet.

I'm leaving this morning for Chicago so I can take the Illinois bar exam. As a result, I probably won't be posting too much this week.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Well, That Should Just About Do It

Iowa's pretty well cooked. Any hope of making the tournament died with this weekend's loss. And, like every year, we can all thank Michigan State for that.

The game itself was so ugly that it temporarily turned me to stone. Needless to say, it doesn't warrant much more comment. But the larger issue here is Iowa's complete inability to play in the Izzone. Look at these numbers from the past five seasons:
  • 2007 - Michigan State 81, Iowa 49
  • 2006 - Michigan State 85, Iowa 55
  • 2005 - Michigan State 71, Iowa 69 (the one time we played well)
  • 2004 - Michigan State 89, Iowa 72
  • 2003 - Michigan State 82, Iowa 54
Take out the one anomaly, and that's an average loss of 26.75. That's beyond awful. So why does this happen every year?
  • Michigan State is better - Not necessarily. There is little doubt MSU is better than Iowa this year (though Iowa won at home). But last season, Iowa finished three games better overall and better in the conference. By any standard, Iowa was the better team. Probably applies to the other seasons, though.
  • Izzo is better - This goes without saying. However, it doesn't justify a 30-point spread, especially when you consider Iowa is 3-1 at home over that same period of time against Sparty at home (ironically, the only loss was also the only season where Iowa hung tough with MSU on the road).
  • It's a bad trip - And it is. There are few places worse than Iowa in February, but Michigan is one of them. Also, this game always seems to come at the tail-end of the season, which certainly doesn't help. But it doesn't stop Iowa from playing Michigan tough, so I don't think that's it.
  • The environment is brutal - Absolutely true. Ever since the students chanted "Grandpa Settles" and "Okie-holic" in the Dr. Tom era, it's been tough to play at the Breslin. The student surround the court and never quit. It's toughter than ILLINI or Indiana. But is it disabilitating? Nobody else seems to be as bothered by playing Sparty, and nobody else seems to have near the effect on the Hawks.
I guess it's a combination of all these factors, because there isn't any real answer. Just know that it's unequivocally true: When we go there, Sparty treats us like a red-headed stepchild.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Not That There's Anything Wrong With That...

I wanted to comment on The Worldwide Leader's ridiculous "coverage" of the John Amaechi non-story (after all, the guy was a thoroughly average NBA player - though this probably makes him the most famous Penn State basketball alum - and hasn't played for 4 years), but Sports Media Watch already did it for me.

It's not the first time ESPN has made a story where none exists. Hell, it's not the first time this month. But the recurring phenomenon of ESPN creating smoke and telling us there's a fire is getting very old.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Sayonara


I'm signing off until Monday. Enjoy your bracket busters weekend. Go Bluejays.

You Can't Spell "I Have No Idea What the Hell Is Going On Here" Without ILLINI

It's been an interesting year in Big Ten hoops, to be sure. But lost in the Greg Oden hoopla and the improbable success of Badgerland, there remains an unanswered question:

What the hell is going on at ILLINI?

In the last year, all of these things happened in Champaign:
  • Bruce Weber fails to recruit a point guard. Big mistake.
  • At the same time, Weber loses Eric Gordon to the Hoosiers. Kelvin Sampson obviously went over his alotted wireless minutes to get that one.
  • After non-conference losses to Maryland and Arizona, Weber publicly throws his team under the bus, calling it a "disaster."
  • His team responds by dropping three of its first four conference games, including an excruciating "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory" loss against MSU.
  • Two of his players are involved in a serious car accident, leaving one in the hospital in critical condition. Police reports indicate that, following the accident, Jamar Smith (the driver) DROVE THE CAR TO HIS APARTMENT with the injured Brain Carlwell still in the passenger seat, then left him in the car (and, for those of you who aren't living in the midwest, it's been unbearably cold for about two weeks now). By the way, Carlwell is now in fair condition, but will miss the remainder of the season.
Smith's Car: A visual reminder of the ILLINI's season...

  • This morning, I wake up to find out that Chief Illiniwek is dead.
  • For what it's worth, Lunardi moved them out of the field of 65 this week (they almost certainly need to win three of their last four, plus one in the Big Ten tournament, to get in).
And that pretty much brings us back up to speed. Earlier this year, there were a few who were calling for Weber's ouster, but it seemed overly harsh (we detailed the "good coach/lousy recruiter" angle in our ILLINI preview). Now? Maybe they were on to something. After all, if you are the disciplinarian coach of an undisciplined team, you've pretty well failed. In any case, there is no more dysfunctional or confusing team in the conference this year than Illinois. I just thank God it isn't Iowa for once.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

He's Wild, He's Zany, He's Jimmy Delany

The commissioner of the Big Ten throws down the gauntlet...

To Fans of the Big Ten and College Football

Feb. 9, 2007

Greetings from the Big Ten Conference,

With the conclusion of another tremendous college football season and the recent national signing day, there has been a lot written and said about the Big Ten's recruiting efforts across the country, including a recent article in the Chicago Sun-Times entitled "Big Ten needs to find new talent pool - fast" (see full article here). In response to these commentaries, it seems premature for us to lower our admission standards or give up on the tremendous talent pool in the Midwest. No doubt national programs must recruit nationally wherever the talented students and athletes live. Hats off to Florida and the SEC -- they had a great year. We believe that both the Big Ten and the SEC have been and remain two of the greatest college football conferences in the country. But you may want to keep in mind the following as you review the various recruiting services, listen to talking heads and reflect the blogosphere out there as they compare these two fine conferences. I think most people would agree that head-to-head competition is an effective method to compare relative strengths between competitive entities:

  • The Big Ten was 2-1 vs. the SEC in this past season's bowl games.
  • The Big Ten is 8-6 vs. the SEC in bowl games over the last five years
  • The Big Ten is 13-13 vs. the SEC in bowl games over the last decade.
  • Over the last nine years of Bowl Championship Series games, the Big Ten leads all conferences with 15 berths while ranking second with eight victories. The SEC tops all leagues with nine wins and ranks second to the Big Ten with 13 appearances.
  • In the last 10 years the Big Ten has produced two national champions compared to three for the SEC.
  • In the last 15 years the Big Ten has produced five Heisman Trophy winners, more than any other conference. Over that same time span, the SEC has claimed one Heisman.
  • While the SEC ranked first among various recruiting rankings, the Big Ten ranked second or third nationally with four to five programs rated among the top 25 recruiting classes.
  • The Big Ten has a history of developing players - the most recent Heisman Trophy winner, Troy Smith, was one of the last players to receive a scholarship from Ohio State.
  • The Big Ten has slightly less than 300 players in the NFL while the SEC has slightly more than 300; Sixteen former Big Ten players earned Super Bowl rings with the Indianapolis Colts earlier this month.
I love speed and the SEC has great speed, especially on the defensive line, but there are appropriate balances when mixing academics and athletics. Each school, as well as each conference, simply must do what fits their mission regardless of what a recruiting service recommends. I wish we had six teams among the top 10 recruiting classes every year, but winning our way requires some discipline and restraint with the recruitment process. Not every athlete fits athletically, academically or socially at every university. Fortunately, we have been able to balance our athletic and academic mission so that we can compete successfully and keep faith with our academic standards.

Let's see if the five- and 10-year trend lines hold or whether the recruiting services and talking heads are seeing a new day. We are quite proud of our history and tradition and remain optimistic about the future of Big Ten football.

Thanks.

Jim Delany

Well, Jim used many of the same numbers we did in reaching the same conclusion. But he went one better in making a thinly-veiled attack on the intellectual might of SEC football players.

I'll have more on this later (oh, you'd better believe I will), but this is about to get VERY interesting...

UPDATE: EDSBS is already on it, and destroying Jim's argument in a way you would only expect from students of a Big Ten institution.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Respect Their Authori-tah

This is pretty damn brilliant...

And this? Not so much. If only we could get Rick Majerus involved; it could be the most annoying interview ever!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

You Have Entered the Twilight Zone...

So, it's been a weird couple of weeks in Iowa basketball. Three wins, including an improbable come-from-behind victory at Michigan (which I thought would leave the guys at The M Zone and MGoBlog apoplectic...but it really didn't), bookended by losses to Wisconsin (one bad, one not so bad). So, a few thoughts on the past two weeks and the academic year in general.

  • He's frustrating as hell, but Adam Haluska is officially the most entertaining Hawkeye since at least Andre Woolridge. 33 against Hoosier Daddy, followed by 34 against Minny, is the stuff of legends. And that 35-footer, followed by the chest bump with the Golden Boy, was one of the greatest moments of Alford's tenure at Iowa.
  • And, no, I have no idea what we're going to do once he's gone...
  • For years, the inside rumor has been Rick Majerus as the next coach at Iowa (even predating Steve Alford). And, after yesterday's game, I am in complete agreement. If we brought in Majerus as coach, he would stop ruining the games on television. Oh merciful God, was that bad. Of course, if he were coaching Iowa, he would lose both games to Wisconsin every year; the Badgers are so magnificent that Majerus might just forfeit and save himself the embarassment.
  • The Michigan game could have been the end. They were AWFUL in the first half. But you combine a downright lazy defensive/rebounding team like Michigan, a slow-footed (and exhausted) big man, completely inept coaching from Tommy Ammaker, and a red-hot Hawkeye squad in the second half, and it's the recipe for an upset. And Michigan fans, I now know how you can deal so well with Lloyd Carr. Compared to Ammaker, Carr looks like Schembechler and Bobby Knight rolled into one. I have never seen a big-time college coach look so flabbergasted in the face of a comeback. The ineptitude was absolutely amazing.
  • I was at the Hoosier game, and it was the most entertaining basketball game I've attended since...Indiana last year. The coaches, the team, the fans, everyone was fired up. My dad kept talking about how much Alford wanted to beat Indiana after the slight of not even getting an interview last spring, but I think he always wants Indiana more. And so do we. This might be the only thing we have in common with the Golden Boy. Beating Indiana is special. And yes, I know it shows we don't have the tradition of IU, or the same standards of success. You know what? I don't care.
  • Oh, and by the way, there is one unmistakable observation to make after watching thatgame: Craig Neal is very quietly running this team. And it's a very good thing.
  • Beating Minnesota is always fun, even when their best player is the brother from "My Name is Earl"


















One last observation: For the last five years, we have all watched Hawkeye football teams which start sluggish but build as the season progresses, and we have all credited Captain Kirk for that. And we have watched a string of Iowa basketball teams start hot and implode in Big Ten play, and we have all blamed Golden Boy for that (repeatedly).

But this year, Iowa football positively quits halfway through the season - with very little blame placed on Ferentz - and the hoops team is slowly, steadily building toward the end of the year. Early losses to Arizona State (wha?) and Drake (huh?) are long-forgotten after inexplicable wins against Michigan and Indiana. Does this sound familiar? So where is the love for Steve? Let's face it, this team is not very good, and yet he has them in position to go 10-6 in the conference (go back and read my preview; I thought 7-9 was generous). Guys like Seth Gorney and Kurt Looby who couldn't possibly be worse in November are actually improving and contributing. And, while they might not get into the tournament, at least they're in the conversation and could run deep into the NIT. I'll be the first to admit that I've never given Alford a break, but I think he deserves one now. Bravo, Golden Boy. Bravo.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Smokin' Some Ombudsman

OK, I want to talk about Signing Day, and I want to talk Iowa hoops, but I have to address this article by ESPN ombudsman George Solomon.

For those of you who aren't familiar with Mr. Solomon's work for The Worldwide Leader, he basically comes out of a cave once a month to respond to reader/viewer praise and criticism of ESPN's coverage of...well...everything. His "ombudsman" title is meant to convey that he is above reproach for any criticism of the network/website/multinational Disney-fed conglomerate juggernaut. He is supposed to be a liaison between the public and the press. Unfortunately, he's little more than a shill for ESPN, criticizing TWWL's over-the-top coverage of everything under the sun in only the most nuanced and subtle language possible.* He praised ESPN's putrid coverage of the World Cup, defended its decision to place GameDay where the ABC game was played (and not at the best game of the week), and actually found a way to criticize THE REST OF THE MEDIA for the ridiculous firing of Harold Reynolds (especially when you consider the light treatment of Irvin, Salisbury, and Tirico). I have gotten to the point where I read his articles only to feed my inner rage and marvel at the hypocricy and myopia that pervades the behemoth.

Today's article might be the worst yet. This passage sums it up pretty well:

"Dungy and Smith clearly were the No. 1 story line of Super Bowl week -- a fact that obviously irritated some viewers who believed it was overdone. ESPN commentator Michael Irvin, however, put the subject in context after the Colts' 29-17 victory over the Bears, noting on SportsCenter, "I couldn't be prouder of Tony Dungy ... and I'd like to look ahead to the time when such an event is not monumental."

That time, however, has not yet arrived and ESPN's coverage of the race issue was generally all-encompassing, smart and creative."
You see? Do you see what's going on here? IT'S ONLY MONUMENTAL BECAUSE YOU SAY IT'S MONUMENTAL! Bizzare as it may seem, ESPN still sees itself as a reporter of sports news, not a creator of sports news. But by talking about the race issue day and night, by incessantly dwelling on the "black head coach" angle, Michael Irvin makes it an issue. Tom Jackson, Chris Berman, and Steve Young make it an issue. ESPN makes it an issue. After all, who else even has the audience or the financial where-with-all to set the storyline for the Super Bowl?

The idea that ESPN is merely a documenter of the games we play and the culture we live in is patently absurd. One SportsCenter lead, or ESPN.com front page story, changes the conversation. And so, when the entire two weeks leading to the game are filled with feature stories about Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy and their "monumental" accomplishment, that becomes the story. I will be the first to admit I know virtually nothing about the history of race in the NFL (and I didn't learn anything in the past two weeks, ironically enough), but the idea that this is culturally important on a larger level is pretty much absurd. Furthermore, the idea that the typical American man is so prejudiced that he didn't believe these guys could coach based solely on the color of there skin - the basic underlying premise of ESPN's angle on this non-story - is insulting. And The Worldwide Leader - George Solomon included - should be ashamed of itself for making it what it was. They didn't report the news. They made it.

* - Of course, in order to feed the image that Solomon is actually critical of the network, his archive summarizes his thoughts in much more forceful, and sometimes contradictory, language.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Super Bowl Prop Bet Roundup, Part 2 - Bears Props/Game Props

Sorry. For some reason, I haven't been able to log in for a couple of days. Now, without further ado...


I know. I can't believe I'm betting on him, either.

BEARS PROPS

There aren't that many Bears props that I like, but I'll take a few.

Rex Grossman first throw - Incompletion or INT (+110) - This goes without saying.

Thomas Jones rushing attempts over 17.5 - Again, this is self-explanatory, given my theory on how this game will play out.

Bernard Berrian longest reception over 21.5 yards (-130) - Even with the horrible vig, I think the Bears hit at least one pass for over 25, and it will go to Berrian...

Dez Clark longest reception under 16.5 - ...and not Dez Clark.

Dez Clark yards on first reception - under 10.5 - Does anyone else see a 5-yard out route on third and 4 here?

Robbie Gould total points over 7 - Cash money in the bank for a team that can't seem to finish a drive. Add in some conservative playcalling and this is a gimmie.



GAME PROPS

Coin Toss - Heads - My favorite bet of the year. And last year, tails was even money with heads at -120. I still haven't figured that out.

Who will receive first kickoff - Bears - This is a hunch.

Will either team score three consecutive times without the other team scoring? No (Even) - Remember, conversions are excluded. I always take this, and I almost always lose this.

First score of the game will be...non-touchdown (+115) - Field goals. Lots and lots of field goals.

Bad puns by Jim Nantz - over 4.5 - God, I wish this was available.

Longest FG - over 44.5 yards - Gould from 52. I guarantee it.

Total FGs for both teams - over 3.5 - Again, lots and lots of field goals.

Will there be a defensive/special teams touchdown? Yes (+135) - With the Bears prominently involved, along with Playoff Peyton Manning and Sexy Rexy in his usual form, this is a good line.

THE GAME - Colts (-7) vs. Bears

I've made one observation about NFL "strength-vs.-strength" games. While Tom Jackson is focusing on the Colts offense vs. the Ravens defense or the Saints offense vs. the Bears defense - and Mike Irvin talks about T.O. - you should focus on the other side of the ball. That, my friends, is where the money is.

So, while the Worldwide Leader dwells on Peyton Manning vs. Brian Urlacher, you should be looking at Thomas Jones vs. Dwight Freeney. And I think we all know that Thomas Jones wins that battle (even with Bob Sanders, if he's playing). The Bears keep it on the ground, with success, and Grossman has just enough to keep them honest. The clock runs right along with the Bears, limiting chances for the Colts. In the end, while I think the Colts win this game, the Bears and seven points are way too much. Colts 27-Bears 24

Good luck and happy hunting.