Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Volunteers Defend the Honor of the SEC

What an incredible game last night between Tennessee and Memphis. I thought both teams played pretty good basketball, but Meimphis' defense against Lofton was amazing. Still, it wasn't enough as the Tigers fell to the Volunteers.

Michael David Smith at Fanhouse saw it as an example of just how tough it is to go undefeated:

Tennessee will be the new No. 1 team in the country, and the old No. 1 isn't undefeated anymore. The Volunteers' 66-62 win at Memphis Saturday night changed the top of the college basketball rankings and showed just how hard it is to make it through a season unbeaten.
Jon at Fulmers' Belly saw this as a team win, no MVP necessary:
Is there an MVP for this game? No. Why? Because this was as big of a team win as there has ever been. What would be an individual performance that you could single out? Lofton’s ice cold free throws to seal the game? Tyler Smith’s multiple baskets and rbounds? JP Prince’s ridiculous second half? JaJuan Smith’s insane first half? Brian Williams or Duke Crews’ presence in the paint? This, was a team win.
I think he is largely right, although I would have given Tyler Smith the MVP if it was up to me. Smith hit the big shot that put UT ahead for good, and Tennessee sealed it with good free throw shooting.

Michael David Smith at Fanhouse also blogs Bruce Pearl's rather physical interview with Erin Andrews, and includes video:
Andrews asked Pearl, "Coach, what has Memphis done to Chris Lofton in the first half?"

Pearl responded, "Hold him. Drape him like this." At that point, Pearl proceeded to put Andrews in a bear hug, and a shocked Andrews said, "OK."
Indeed. Andrews was obviously very surprised and embarassed by the contact, although I thought she handled it quite professionally. Memo to Bruce: Keep your hands of the sportsbabes, dude.

Bobby O'Shea at Vanderbilt Sports Line says the Commodore's upcoming game with Tennessee doesn't get any bigger:
Vanderbilt's game against Tennessee is the biggest regular season game the Commodores have played in a long time...maybe ever. If that seems hyperbolic, trust's not. The Tennessee/Memphis game was one of the best games of the season, and one that most sports fans were watching. That means they'll be watching Tuesday at 9. The "they," in this case, is America. Vanderbilt's "big games" are often limited to regional coverage or ESPN Full Court and Raycom. Not Tuesday. Vanderblit hasn't lost in 30 games at Memorial, they've won 6 straight in conference, and beat the #1 team in America last season at home.
All that is true, but if the Commodores try to beat Tennessee at their own game, like they did in Thompson-Boling, they will be in for another beating. You must slow Tennessee down to have a chance to beat them and minimize the impact of their depth. If you try to run with them, you will lose.

Well done, Volunteers. You are #1 in the land for the first time in history. As a Kentucky fan, I can't say I know what the first time ever feels like, but it has been a while since the Cats were up there, and I know I enjoyed it when they were.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Fulmer vs. Adams

The Tennessee blogosphere is abuzz today about Coach Phillip Fulmer's response to this article by John Adams of the Knoxville News-Sentinal. In it, Adams calls for a head coaching change, his reason being:

Two years ago, USA Today did an in-depth story on the off-the-field problems of UT football players in 2005. But the same story would have been as relevant in the mid-1990s.

It would be just as relevant today.

Bottom line: UT has surpassed Miami as the poster team for bad behavior in college football. It's the college equivalent of the Cincinnati Bengals.

That's a stinging accusation, and I think reasonable people would have to say that there is some truth there. I do think the Miami and Cincinnati comparisons are somewhat hyperbolic, since we have not seen the Vols misbehaving on the field like those other two worthies. Still, college football can't be confined just to the field of play and I think the perception, right or wrong, is that Fulmer either places too much weight on what happens on the field or not enough on what happens off it. Either way, the effect is the same.

Adams goes on to cite a list of the most heinous crimes committed by UT players after they left the program. Now, no doubt that does tarnish Tennessee's reputation, but laying that at the feet of Fulmer is, quite frankly, absurd. Adams claims not to be doing that, but if so, why bring it up? Players from every walk of sport who were well-behaved during their college days sometimes become run afoul of the law after graduation -- OJ Simpson, anyone?

Adams continues with this:
When a football program is winning big, virtually everything is forgiven. This just in: UT isn't winning big. It hasn't won an SEC championship since 1998. It hasn't been to a BCS bowl since 1999, nor finished in the top 10 since 2001.
Say what? So this would all be forgiven by Mr. Adams if the team were coming home from a BCS championship instead of just a victory in the Outback Bowl? Seems like Adams is being hypocritical here -- first, his beef is with Fulmer sacrificing discipline on the altar of winning, now we find that it's really all about winning after all.

Coach Fulmer, rather than let that article sit out there unchallenged, responded with this interview at GoVolsExtra. Money graf:
At no time in my tenure has a player's football skill or athletic success been a factor in the way he was disciplined. Never. Our internal discipline is based on one factor alone: the course that is most likely to help that individual young man make amends and get his life straight. We make these decisions after much deliberation and with the input of administration, professional staff, counselors, and when necessary, law enforcement. This is not the easy way to mete out punishment. It requires judgment and leadership to keep the entire team focused and respectful of rules and basic morality, but it is the method that best serves the interest of our young men. In my 15 years, I've undoubtedly made some mistakes, but I try to do what I think is in the best interest for each young man.
OK, so there we have it. The two combatants staking out their claim to righteousness. But it seems to me, at least, that Fulmer gets the better of it, owing to the fact that Adams does not know the UT process, and is drawing conclusions only from the most egregious failures of it. Not only that, Adams fails to give Fulmer credit for a number of things, and given the coach's response, makes Adams look like a man with an axe to grind rather than a case to make. And what are we to make of Adams' suggestion that these discipline problems would be ignored if Tennessee were competing for BCS championships?

I guess the real question is, does Tennessee trust Fulmer's judgment on the matters for which he is responsible? I see no indication, other than fan restlessness for on-field results, that they do not. Adams is certainly within his rights to question Fulmer's results, even though he is, in Fulmer's words, "partially informed." But Fulmer shouldn't and didn't stand still for the suggestion that his discipline is purely based on winning and losing, and I think any coach in his position would take umbrage at that -- Adams draws that conclusion from thin air, and I don't blame Fulmer for being insulted.

Now for some Blogspheric reaction. Jon at Fulmer's Belly has a post up, in which he lowers his "hate rating" of John Adams because he fears it could be the end of him:
This is the type of controlled fury that emanates from the head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers that people have come to know and love, and people at the wrong end of it, learned to fear. Not necessarily a fear of being outed to the public of being a no-good hack of a writer, but rather, mortal, bodily fear of possibly being eaten, and introduced first hand, to the namesake of this little website.

Therefore, the John Adams Hate-O-Meter will be rated somewhat lower due to sadness for John Adams’ future to be uncertain, whether or not he’ll continue working for the Knoxville News Sentinel, or Phillip Fulmer’s next meal.
Watch your back, Mr. Adams. Fulmer the Cannibal could be working up a recipe.

VolsToTheWall at Third Saturday In Blogtober also weighs in on the debate. He says that Fulmer was right to defend himself:
Coach Fulmer did the right thing in standing up for himself when Adams’ attacked his character. In fact, he probably should have been even harder on him. John Adams obviously has no respect for Phillip Fulmer, and after this article I have no respect for Adams. I’m happy to have Fulmer as our football coach. Sometimes he has probably been more lenient on some players than most would be, but I trust his judgment.
There is a partial answer to my earlier question about Fulmer's judgment -- I haven't done any polling, but my guess is that this is the majority opinion among Volunteer supporters.

Finally, I have to note that I was less than complimentary of Fulmer's discipline of Colquitt earlier this week, and I still think perhaps he should step back and get some peer input on his discipline process, just as a sanity check. But Fulmer's response to Adams leaves me somewhat chastened in this regard. It's easy to be a critic, but for a fact, we don't have all the information necessary to make informed judgments about the coach's performance in this type of situations. Fortunately, the University does (or should), and that is what matters most.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Commenting on a player who's name I can barely spell

I feel I have to comment a bit on the Ryan Perrilloux situation. It is always a shame when a promising football player goes off the reservation and acts the idiot, but quite frankly, it seems to go with the territory. While we may never understand this young man's motivation, I'm not really sure that we are required to.

Richard Pittman at Geaux Tuscaloosa has this post that, I think, strikes just the right tone:

I've read a lot of very strong opinions on this situation lately, mostly in the vein of "kick him off". People are saying he's a bad kid, a distraction to the team, a potential cancer, etc. This is all well and good, and everyone is entitled to their opinions, but there are some important things to keep in mind.
Pittman goes on to describe several reasons why we should not be so quick to judge Perrilloux or the actions of the LSU coaching staff too harshly. I think that is right.

LSU Tigerbait has a number of links to mainstream sports media articles and blog posts that have advice for Miles. For example, Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated:
While there's certainly nothing wrong with giving a guy a second chance, clearly Perrilloux is far beyond that point. LSU fans have become fed up enough to call for the quarterback's head on Tigers fan sites like, where the site's namesake wrote Wednesday that "a good 90 percent of [his] e-mails are in favor of Les Miles dismissing Perrilloux from the team."
Well, that's it, then. We put it to a popular vote among the fans, what a great idea! Not. Pelican State Sports has this:
I think it safest that LSU fans accept the notion that Perrilloux may never take another snap as a Tiger. And truth be told, he probably shouldn’t. He has had numerous chances, and somehow his name keeps coming up in bad situations. I don’t know what he has done this time, but I am going to get ready for the idea that Jarrett Lee will be the Tiger starter next year.
Perrilloux has had numerous chances to get this right, and he has obviously failed. But I'm not sure that abandoning a troubled young man is necessarily the best thing. It may be, depending on the circumstances, but Les Miles apparently isn't ready to give up on him. We do have to remember that Perrilloux is not just a piece of meat that runs fast and can throw a football.

But the bottom line is, Perrilloux is not a first-time offender, and there comes a time at which you just have to let a guy go who hasn't made a good-faith attempt to take advantage of second chances. The "You can lead a horse to water ..." truism comes to mind.

Whatever happens, I feel bad for the young man and hope Tiger fans will give Miles a chance to sort this out. It's too bad, but it is an all too familiar situation in college sports these days.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Something needs to change at Tennessee

After reading most of the blog posts, I think I won't hand out a Best of the SEC bloggers award for today. Instead, I think the Britton Colquitt situation at Tennessee deserves a bit more exposure.

Lawvol at Gate 21 has written a stern and comprehensive critique of Philip Fulmer's "disciplinary" actions. This is a great post which you should read in it's entirety, but here is the crux of the biscuit:

While I have been a pro-Fulmer voice for a very long time, if this sort of trend continues, that voice will change — not due to Fulmer’s performance on the field, but due to his inability to control his players while off the field. I am not willing to have the University of Tennessee and its reputation denigrated by a bunch of young men who apparently feel that the law does not apply to them.

Winning is not that important…

Furthermore, in my opinion, the penalty imposed by Coach Fulmer on Colquitt — while substantial — is not enough. I understand Fulmer’s desire to temper his discipline with mercy, but Colquitt has proven that he does not understand his mistakes. He has already been given more second-chances than anyone should receive. I understand that his family has a long tradition at the University of Tennessee, and that they have been wonderful supporters of the program.

Lawvol is exactly right. It isn't as if Colquitt is a first-time offender, or was just committing a one-off offense that most people were guilty of in college whether or not they were caught. The fact of the matter is that there has to be a point, a line, a barrier -- something -- that defines where behavior becomes so unacceptable that the only fitting punishment is dismissal from the team. Britton Colquitt would seem to have exceeded this threshold by a wide margin with this latest debacle.

Volwalk at Third Saturday in Blogtober is sick and tired of this crap:

Like Ghost, I believe Fulmer is a good, moral man, but where does this crap stop? This just tells me how important Coach Cutcliffe was on and OFF the field. I believe he was THE LAW around the Tennessee football facilities when he was there.

I believe it is time for Phillip Fulmer to go. The man has done great things in Knoxville, and I will always have respect for him and for what he has brought to Knoxville…but it’s time. Time for SEC Championships, time for consistent Top 10 rankings, time for the police blotter to be quiet in Knoxville…and I don’t think Coach Fulmer can bring any of these things anymore. I know there are Tennessee fans who are going to disagree with me, probably some on this blog site will say I am 100% wrong, and if so thats ok with me.

I am not a Tennessee fan, and I am reluctant to agree with his conclusion that Fulmer should be dismissed. But I do think the AD should have a conversation with Fulmer about how much damage the perception of his lack of severe punishment for severe transgressions is doing to the Volunteer football program. And make no mistake, it is. Parents do not want to send their children to programs where scofflaws run amok with only mild consequences. It gives one the feeling that the football program is like an old boys club or a corrupt police department that would rather cover up and make lawbreaking go away than face the reality that too many of the players are simply not held accountable for their lawlessness by the athletic department.

It's bad for Tennessee, bad for Fulmer, and bad for the kids. The AD at Tennessee needs to have a "come to Jesus" meeting with Fulmer, and express (hopefully) his dissatisfaction with the perception that Tennessee is a lawless program bereft of even the most rudimentary discipline, and that players must commit major felonies to have any chance at all to be actually dismissed from the team. It's an image that Tennessee needs to begin shedding, and that right soon.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Best of the SEC - Weekend Edition

And the nominees are:

And the winner is MaconDawg at Dawg Sports.

Folks, this is everything a great blog post should be. MaconDawg strikes exactly the right tone in discussing the pros and cons of Dennis Felton's coaching career at Georgia so far. Dennis Felton has done a lot of good things at Georgia, but he can no longer duck the fact that he is responsible for the problems he now has:
Let's get this out of the way right now: Dennis Felton is in fact to blame for the majority of the "bad luck" that has befallen his team this season. I'm a firm believer that you cannot expect a coach to cook dinner unless you let him shop for the groceries. But when a coach routinely whips up cheezewhiz on crackers with shrimp flavored Ramen, he has to take the heat for it. I was willing to give Felton the benefit of the doubt when he was kicking Jim Harrick's players off the team.
He is exactly right. Felton is responsible for bringing in Takais Brown and Mike Mercer. They were his best players, and either they were so badly behaved or he is so stringent that they are off the team, a casualty of discipline that has been the only meaningful hallmark of Felton's tenure so far except for tough defense.

I understand that a coach can only do so much when it comes to evaluating players. Sometimes, they all make mistakes. But I think MaconDawg is right to wonder about what he calls "a rash of reactive discipline." His conclusion:
Today's Tennessee game was a gutsy performance by a team that was outmanned and outgunned but refused to back down. I think that we'll see some more of those performances this season. But we don't go to Stegeman Coliseum to see gutsy losing basketball. And Dennis Felton has yet to show that he can do much other than deliver gutsy losses. 5 years in, the guts are keeping him from getting fired. However "the state of the program" is going to remain a topic of discussion as long as the losses keep coming as part of the package.
Gutsy losses are great for the first year or three of a new coach. But after five years, some hard questions should be asked. I personally like Dennis Felton a lot, and hope he brings Georgia back from this mire of irrelevance in which they are currently entrapped. But sooner rather than later, Felton had better produce some tangible results, or the next giant sucking sound we could be hearing in Athens is Felton's career headed down the drain. Herrick is long gone, and he is out on that limb all by himself, saw in hand.

May this be the last word on the subject

Pete Holiday at Fanhouse has produced this response to the now-protracted debate about Alabama's oversigning of players. As we have noted, this has been a very passionate, and lately, downright nasty debate between Alabama fans and, essentially, Michigan fans lead by Cook. Lots of pixels have been darkened in angry invective, which makes it all the more appropriate that Pete's commentary has a nice, calm, reasoned tone in spite of putting down Cook for his ... uh, rather purple prose.

But once we're past the Fanhouse Baby, Pete gets to the point:

The crux of Brian's argument is that if, come August, a team has more than 85 players who should be getting football scholarships, the overage will need to be unceremoniously dumped to come within the NCAA's limitations. This is an undeniable fact. Brian would have you believe that makes him right and everyone else stupid, but there's more to it than that. First, it's a hypothetical situation which has not yet come to pass and is far from a certainty. Second, there's a lot of room for reasonable people to differ on "who should be getting [a] football scholarship[]."

The responding posts by Alabama bloggers tend to focus how the 86+ scholarshipped class will not come to pass. One factor for which Brian did not originally account was non-athletic scholarships. He attempts to dismiss this by asserting: "Anyone on scholarship and on the football team counts against the 85 limit."

This, of course, is false. Take, for example, Bryant Scholarship players (the Bryant scholarship is given to sons and daughters of his former players), as demonstrated quite clearly by The Capstone Report (whose author continues to butcher my last name) by simply citing the NCAA rule. The gist of it is this: non-athletic scholarships don't count until "the student athlete engages in varsity intercollegiate competition." So, with all due respect to Mr. Cook, he needs to take another read through the NCAA Bylaws.
Pete's essential argument boils down to the same one I made earlier, only fleshed out considerably. I said, "Let's wait and see what happens," and Pete is saying not only that, but, "Here are some of the ways Alabama could get around the problem of having to dismiss qualified players." That makes a lot of sense, and I know at UK we have been able to offer some of our players scholarships in other sports, academic, or hardship scholarships. All of these are perfectly valid and not at all a sign of abuse, scofflaw, or moral or ethical turpitude.

I think Pete is exactly right in his analysis. Brian is correct in asserting that this is a situation where abuse and unethical behavior are certainly a possibility, but he seems to be saying that there is no ethical way out of this situation. That seems patently false to me, and surely Brian is smart enough to know better. If he isn't, well, at least Holiday is attempting to enlighten him.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Alabama grabs a generous mittenful of the Deadly Yellow Snow ...

Great googly-moogly! This Brian Cook vs. the Alabama Blogger Universe has truly reached the point of a genuine throwdown. There are so many posts on this subject that I simply must look at as many as possible before my fingers fall off.

By the way, the "Best of the Day" will be back tomorrow. I'm running low on time today.

OK, into the breach. First, we have His Blognificance, Orson Swindle at EDSBS noting the dustup for the second time this week, and linking to OutsideTheSidelines post at RBR:

Roll Bama Roll responds to Brian Cook’s slam of Alabama’s 4732 scholarship class this year. Many insults are paid to Brian’s hair, but as someone with an NHL-worthy playoff beard right now, we can’t say shit other than Brian is oversimplifying the case a bit (Alabama skoolz, represent!), but he’s not totally wrong here.
What is the whole hair thing about, anyway? So Brian looks like I did in 1975 -- at least he still has hair, unlike yours truly.

So, perhaps understandably, Brian Cook responds from his own blog, MgoBlog, rather than Fanhouse where he started the dustup. He decides, for whatever reason, to expand his scorn to the entire SEC rather than just Alabama:
There are two separate issues here.

Issue #1. Alabama is unlikely to actually have the nation's top recruiting class because a large chunk of it isn't going to get to campus. This is an irritation I have with the guru rating services and not an issue with Alabama per se. The best example of this phenomenon was Auburn's class last year, thirty-strong and top-ten on signing day but reduced by a third by the time fall practice rolled around and decidedly not top-ten.

This is indisputable. We even looked up the numbers last year. SEC teams often sign guys with little or no chance to qualify, and their swollen classes end up looking better than they actually are. The average SEC team experiences an attrition rate double that of the average Big Ten team, but this is not accounted for.
Does this remind anyone of the famous Jim Delaney letter to Big Ten fans? That's where Delaney essentially suggests that Big Ten schools were simply too good for many of the recruits that wind up in the SEC:
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.
Brian Cook took up that cause in this post, and Senator Blutarsky at Get the Picture had some fun with what Brian had to say:

The rest of Brian’s post, which purports to be an examination of the “ethical obligations” schools have with regard to educating their recruits, reminds me of that famous quote from Bismarck about sausages: “To retain respect for sausages and laws, one must not watch them in the making.” Anyone who wants to watch college football without being consumed by doubt over the academic standing of the kids suiting up needs to become a fan of the Ivy League, fast.

For the rest of us, the issue isn’t (or shouldn’t be) whether some kids are admitted to college with lesser academic credentials, or that somehow these same kids are able to progress towards a degree once in school. We know that happens at all D-1 schools, and for a variety of reasons, like legacies, financial contributions, affirmative action, athletics, etc.

Uh huh. The current debate is essentially a belated and expanded continuation of the one started by Delaney's letter, with Cook and MGoBlog carrying the water for him. Not that Cook's original Fanhouse post pointed this out, because that was all about Saban and Alabama, but with his recent comments Cook has now expanded it to include the earlier debate.

Meanwhile, Roll Bama Roll isn't quite done yet. Todd at RBR decides he needs a crack at Brian Cook to go along with OTS's earlier remarks:
I won't bother with Issue #1 since it's a personal beef between Cook and the recruiting services, and I couldn't care less about how or why he thinks Alabama shouldn't be considered the #1 recruiting class in the nation until the fall. But Issue #2? Fuck you. He can blather on and on about OTS's "voodoo math" and moronic points since OTS called him out on his haircut (and in this very post I've already referred to him as a "dick") and therefor name calling is fair game, but this is where he's a gigantic ass that should shut his whore mouth:
I could do without all the gratuitous profanity from both bloggers, and the whole "hair" thing as well. Personally, I think #1 is kind of important, and there was a lot more there for my interests that perhaps for Todd's. I reject the condescending argument that essentially boils down to "The SEC is better because it sets low academic standards so they can sign better athletes." That is wrong on so many levels. First of all, if the Big Ten places their academic standards so as to exclude more people from joining it's hallowed halls and getting an education, I'm not sure that's something to be particularly proud of. Second, the Big Ten may think of itself as the Ivy League, but it isn't. What this boils down to is just more excuse-making for a brand of football who's time has largely come and gone.

But on his second point, Brian Cook and I are in far more agreement than disagreement:
The fucking point is that fucking Alabama is going to kick kids off the fucking team for no fucking reason. The point is not that violating the NCAA's made-up limit is evil. The NCAA limit is there because the NCAA would like you to not kick kids off the fucking team, but for various reasons the rule's pretty easy to skate around. The issue is not 32 > 25. The issue is that 70 + 32 > 85.
I'm not sure he's right about the reasoning for the rule, but I agree that kids should not be kicked off the team if they are offered a scholarship, accept it and qualify for it. We have had this discussion around UK circles (albeit for the basketball team -- we never have to worry about a surfeit of talent in football), and I am firmly on Cook's side of the argument. If Alabama does wind up withdrawing scholarships from qualified players just to bring on a better player, that is a real problem, and they should be ashamed.

But before we get into all this bitterness and foul language, shouldn't we wait for that nefarious event to happen? Bobby Petrino did just this very thing a player a few years back, only he did it before the player actually made it to campus. In other words, he just blithely broke his word to another young man who had committed to a scholarship offer because he found someone better. That is just plain unethical.

Moving right along, Third Saturday in Blogtober has a few words for Brian, and the most relevant point he makes is this:
But what I do want to hit on is the fact that Brian is guilty of the same thing he’s often called out members of the MSM for over at MGoBlog. Knowing not of which he speaks. Brian has no clue how many players Bama signed aren’t going to qualify, no matter how many hacks he references. Even if he did know, he makes it out like it would be the school’s fault for the player not having the grades.
This is a fair point, and one, I think, Brian Cook would have done well to consider. If Alabama engages in unethical conduct by getting rid of players who came in good faith, fully qualified, then he has a right to scream to high heaven. But the truth of the matter is, attrition due to grades, injury, lawbreaking, etc. are unfortunately routine and the high probability is that at least 15%-25% of not only Alabama's class, but of other large classes all around the USA, will wind up not qualifying for one reason or another completely unrelated to how well they play.

Why take on this issue now? The only reason I can figure is that he wants to make a partisan case, an excuse, really, for the fact that the Big Ten has failed so miserably against the SEC, and continues to look like maybe the third or fourth best football conference in the land. I could be wrong. He'd probably tell me I'm wrong. I don't care. That's what I think, this is my damn blog, and ... there you go!

Finally, the Tide Druid weighs in and says it's all about getting licks in on Saban, and basically says that Cook is no better than the World Wide Leader in that regard:
When you’ve been fed the ESPN spin that Saban is worse than Bobby Knight himself, it is probably a natural urge to take a pot shot at Saban to make your new coach look better. Of course, it could just be due to the fact that Saban used to coach at Michigan State.
I don't know, I suppose he could be right. Who knows what loathing lurks in the hearts of bitter rivals, and sometimes a coach that you hated at your rival carries the burden of that hatred with him forever and ever, amen. Still, if Cook is just trying to gig Saban, why is he whacking on the whole SEC at the same time?

Finally, Nico at Roll Bama Roll decides it's time for everyone to chill:
Okay everybody. Calm down. Bama fans calm down. Michigan fans calm down. This has turned into a parade of ridiculousness on both sides. I don't have time to fully address this right now since I'm about to go out of town for the rest of the day, but suffice it to say that I think both sides have escalated this well beyond where it should be. It's okay to disagree but I don't like the personal attacks and I don't like the generalizations about people because of their place of origin. This has all gone way too far.
I think he's right. When the ugly language comes out, it's time to pull ourselves back in to rational debate, not wild invective. It befits neither side of the argument to descend into complete emotional chaos over this, and cooler heads need to prevail.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Best of the SEC Blogs: Valentines Day Edition

OK, the SEC blogs were busy on Valentine's day -- maybe it was their significant other's gift to them to be able to freely blog for a day, who knows. The nominees for Best of the SEC Bloggers for today are:

And the winner is:

Jerry Hinnen at the Joe Cribbs Car Wash. Jerry makes a very strong argument against the Alabama argument (Jerry's an Auburn fan, so who can blame him?). Earlier I lauded the reasoning of the Alabama bloggers against Cook, but this is a fine defense of Cook's position, arguably better than Cook's own. Here is a taste:

Brian's obviously not a fan of oversigning, but it's the heartlessness of Saban potentially stripping kids of their scholarships that's his essential point--a point completely lost on the Alabama bloggers who have responded to it. One of them is the Fanhouse's resident Tide supporter and thrower of stones in glass houses Pete Holiday, who blithely asserts that "academic disqualification, medical problems, early entries, team dismissals for rules violations" should solve Alabama's numbers issues (nevermind that draft entries for the year in question are long since past or that assuming six guys have horrific injuries or break rules really does make an ass out of U and me) while completely ignoring the whole, you know, guys getting their scholarship jacked thing. Even after a commenter helpfully reminds Holiday of the potential for cuts, Holiday reverts back to a no-more-than-25-in-a-class mantra, which is certainly true and all, but doesn't change the fact that Alabama has, according to Gayle, "70 non-seniors" on the roster and that 70 + 25 does not, in fact, equal 85. (In that comment Holiday also says "Spring enrollments are the only ones you need cap room for, and I don't think Alabama is anticipating having any of those" ... despite the fact that Gayle said two Tide signees had enrolled in January. Did he even read the article in question?)
Strong stuff. Hinnen goes on to assail OutsideTheSidelines' post at Roll Bama Roll, noting for the record that RBR is an excellent blog (no doubt) and that the scholarships have not been revoked yet. And in a final twist, perhaps not having a chance to read my admonition about making sure your coach is in order before assailing others, adds this:
UPDATE: Cripes. Perhaps before posting I should make sure in the future that nothing developed on the Auburn newswire late the previous evening that might make me look like a giant hypocrite. For the record: if Tubby pushed these guys out rather than having them simply decide to leave--one of them according to Marshall is about to graduate already, so at least he won't need the scholly in the fall--it's just not defensible. Likewise, the attitude of some Auburn fans in the comments that it's a good thing for Tubby to "rid the team of weight that is not performing" is, well, nauseating. I wish Daniels, Shrader, Miller, and Ferguson the best and really, really, really hope this is a decision they genuinely wanted to make, a decision that hopefully won't hurt an education they actually want. I'm not confident that's the case.
Heh. That always tough to recover from, Jerry. Good luck with that.

Runner up: Lawvol at Gate 21. What an excellent post he had today. Here is a taste:
Larry Munson is one of the few remaining patriarchs of the golden age of college sports radio broadcasting. He has been broadcasting Georgia games since 1966. Up until the last season, he had missed only one football game in that time. This past year, due to debilitating arthritis and back problems -which made travel, and at times even walking, extremely difficult for the 85 year old — Munson only broadcast home games from Athens, leaving the road games to younger men. Mississippi State’s salty and sarcastic Jack Cristil has been at it even longer than Munson, having begun his stint behind the microphone in 1953. Up until 2006, Max Falkenstein of Kansas had been broadcasting for an unbelievable 60 consecutive years. Falkenstein had been broadcasting so long that, when dubious clip of him calling the final game of Kansas’ last undefeated basketball season appeared on the internet, that I’m sure some thought it was some probably thought it was authentic … despite the fact the game was played in 1909. This select band of broadcasters served as the eyes for fans all across the country, and in their heyday every school had its own “voice” which was as unmistakable as the mascot and the school colors.
Awesome post, Lawvol.

Worst of the SEC Blogs for Thursday

As you know, I rarely write Kentucky-related posts on here. I am a UK fan, but I do try to cover the SEC fairly honestly. I admit my bias, and unlike many in the mainstream media, I don't pretend to be able to put it aside and be completely dispassionate. Instead, I just try to stay away from the school for which I have a partisan affiliation. But sometimes it is impossible, and this is such a time.

I am very rarely surprised to read anything in the blogsophere. Sometimes you have people lose it. Sometimes, people just spew stream of consciousness crap. But this one really floored me. It starts with an article by Lexington Herald-Leader sportswriter John Clay about a Kentucky fan who goes to school at Vandy, and was sitting in the front row of the student section. His name is Eric Delong, and he was focused on a number of times by the ESPN cameras as he was the only guy in blue sitting in the front part of the Vandy student section. Clay writes this about his plight:

DeLong had arrived three hours early for his front-row seat, stood outside Memorial Gym for 90 minutes before the doors finally opened before tipoff, then sprinted to that prime position near mid-court where he was quickly enveloped by Commodore supporters.

"One of my friends -- well, he's not really a friend, just someone I play basketball with -- tried to physically remove me from my seat," said DeLong. "I didn't like that very much."

Then, somehow, his cell phone number was distributed and, as Vandy started using the Cats as a speed bag, DeLong received upwards of 65 text messages.

"My mom's not going to like that," he said. "The bill goes to her."

OK, I admit I think the fans were classless, but they are kids, so we have to give them a bit of a break here. They should certainly not have run up the charges on his phone by texting him, but I have seen and even participated in worse pranks in college, so I think his mom is just going to have to suck it up and tell her son to be more judicious about who he gives his cell number to. All that is fine, and I think we can say it pretty much falls under the rubric of, "the college experience." What floored me was the response from the blog, "Who ya With." To begin:
I hate this kid and I have never met him. This Douche is all that is wrong with Vandy athletics wrapped up in a gay little blue package. His name is Eric Delong and he was the faggot who wore his Kentucky shirt in the front row of the Vandy student section on Wednesday.
Well, let's see, where to begin? How is this a problem for Vandy athletics? Would you have them enforce a dress code on students, and require that they bow down and cheer for the university they matriculate to whether or not it is their favorite team on the floor? Not only that, isn't the fact that he was being abused by Vandy fans sufficient punishment without having aspersions cast on his sexuality by a Vanderbilt blogger? To continue:
I remember watching the game and thinking, "Oh well he is a Freshman who grew up in KY and still has allegiances." I as many others understand that it may take a little time to become a full blown Dores fan, but this queer is a fucking Junior. By that time your allegiance should be to the University you attend, not some team you grew up cheering for. I demand that this person transfer from the university or at least be shamed by the others living in Southerland House to do so. He does have a Facebook page and WYW would turn their heads to any public shamming you deem necessary.

Remember, this guy is a JUNIOR, and there is no place for him at the University we love.
I have no words for this drivel that I can print. I went to Western Kentucky, but nobody ever suggested I should be thrown out of school because I wore Kentucky clothing. Not only that, half of the student body were Kentucky fans. Comes now Mr. Jesus Quintana with the recommendation that Delong should leave because after three years at Vanderbilt, he is still a Kentucky fan. Then again, maybe it's all just a poor attempt at sarcasm and old farts like me just can't see it. It's possible (hey WYW, I'm offering you a way out here!).

I wonder if Mr. Quintana is so quick to change all his allegiances? He certainly seems to demand that others be. And to think, all this time I thought college campuses were all about free thinking, tolerance and rejection of the doctrinaire. Who knew?

'Bama responds to Brian Cook; Gators undone by Tigers

Yesterday, I noted in my runner-up for the best post of the day two dueling diatribes by Fanhouse authors Brian Cook and Pete Holiday.

OutsideTheSidelines, who blogs for Roll Bama Roll, takes dead aim at Brian Cook's piece. I know it's a shock, and maybe it's just me, but I don't detect a whole lot of love emanating from RBR over Cook's accusations against Nick Saban. But anyway, here is a taste:

In the blogosphere, you tend to get a bit accustomed to running across drivel masqueraded as legitimate commentary, but occasionally something comes up that simply takes the cake. Today I ran across one of those pieces. It seems Brian Cook, a Michigan blogger -- and no I'm not sure how in the hell he feels qualified to discuss Alabama football on that basis -- isn't too big of a fan of our latest recruiting class. In this piece of analytical garbage, if it even deserves that high of acclaim, he labels Saban a "Snake Oil Salesman," essentially states that our class is very overrated due to over-signing, and bemoans the practice of over-signing itself.
OTS goes on to analyze Cook's piece, and I think he really puts the screws to him. I don't know Brian Cook, but I will venture a bit of advice -- when you attack another team's head coach for doing something, make damn sure your coach isn't doing the same thing. Otherwise you will lose, and not just the argument, but credibility as well. Credibility is the coin of the realm in the Blogosphere, and in this blogger's humble opinion, Cook just went on a spending spree. But in the larger sense, since Big 10 and SEC fans aren't exactly on the best of terms these days, perhaps he made up for it in the eyes of Michigan fans.

But lest we be guilty of representing only one side of the argument, His Blognificance Orson Swindle has weighed in on the debate:
Nick Saban can’t count. Or worse yet, he can: Brian is shocked, shocked! in finding out that again, an SEC school has signed more recruits than they can possibly put on scholarship. Even more shocked, shocking! is the fact that it’s Nick Saban, an old hand at juggling massive signing classes: greyshirts, JUCO guys, and the old reliable: forcing people off the team because you want to put another player in his place. It’s not quite as bad as Brian paints it…but it’s cold, opportunistic roster manipulation more often seen at the NFL level. Meaning: bad.
With all due respect to Orson, I don't think his argument is quite as compelling from a reasoning standpoint, but he is correct to condemn "opportunistic roster manipulation," especially forcing people off the team because you want to replace them. If that happens at Alabama, I think it should be roundly condemned by all. We will have to wait and see about that, but either way, you still have the fact that other coaches are doing this also, and why is it bad at 'Bama and not at other schools?

Finally, I think we have to note that Florida suffered a surprising defeat at the hands of a resurgent LSU. After John Brady was rudely dismissed from his head coaching job, the Tigers have been playing much better under Butch Pierre. Geaux Tuscaloosa has the LSU side:
Congratulations to the Tiger basketball team and to Butch Pierre for the biggest win of the season last night. Granted, Florida is not a national power this year, but they're still a good team, likely headed to the NCAA tournament, and we beat them in their own house by a convincing 85-73 score. Only 6 players scored points, but 5 were in double figures, with 3 getting 19 points or more.
From the Gator side, we have Mlmintampa at Alligator Army:
Young teams are supposed to lose three of four. But no team should allow an opponent to shoot 59%, when their average in conference play was 39%. Or allow them to score 23 points more than their season average.

LSU played extremely well, so I don't want to take anything away from them. However, I've seen intramural teams play better defense than the Gators did tonight. There was no focus or effort on the defensive end and Florida was never able to build any momentum. This is now three of four games the Gators have lost where they looked completely lost at several points in the game. Against Arkansas it was understandable. That was a road game against a NBA-sized team. The Tennessee loss was fine too because of the quick road turn around and UF's lack of depth. But there was no excuse tonight.

I have already warned Gator fans about the problems with Florida's defense. Florida is a very good offensive team, but they play defense very poorly. I'm sure Donovan will be working hard on that.

Still, the gators seem poised for another invite to the NCAA tournament if they don't have any really bad losses between here and the SEC tournament, or they do well there. They aren't likely to get a high seed, but they will still get in in my opinion. But they do have work to do.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Kentucky gets "Commodored," and the posts of the day

So I suppose you are expecting me to dodge the whole Kentucky-Vanderbilt debacle. Nah. As much as I hate to talk about it, it is what it is. Heaven knows what happened to Kentucky, but one thing is for sure -- Vanderbilt was excellent. Sennsm at Vanderbilt Tailgate was a bit surprised:

Ok. WTF happened last night? I dont think anybody saw that coming in a million years. I hope we can play with that intensity for the rest of the year. UK couldnt do anything right.
Yeah, that's pretty much right. Geaux Tuscaloosa goes into a bit more detail:
It was ugly. I turned it off and went to bed with just under 10:00 left in the game, after Vandy took out all of its starters. Vandy was winning by about 40 at the time. The game ended 93-52. I'm here to tell you it could have been worse. Kentucky had 11 points at halftime, and was losing by 30. The opening minutes of the second half were no better, as Vandy quickly built its lead to 40, and just cruised that point on.
Ugly is right.

Moving on (can you tell I don't want to think about that anymore?) to the best blog posts of the day, the winner today is Jeffrey Macloud at LSU "Tigerbait". Jeffrey looks at the strength of the SEC using the AP poll. He does a nice job of analysis and references his sources. Here is a taste:
In an effort to binge post, here's another longish entry. This was motivated by a comment made by one of my compatriots on TigerForums. Paraphrasing, he said that he thought the SEC was the strongest it had ever been.

This sounded right to me, but I wondered. So I looked into it. Here's what I found.
Go check it out.

The runner(s) up come from Fanhouse, in a tit-for-tat between Brian Cook and Pete Holiday. First, Brian Cook:
If you wandered over to the various recruiting sites on signing day you probably noticed big banners proclaiming Alabama's return to power via the nation's top recruiting class. This is due in large part to the enormous number of recruits that put pen to letter of intent for Nick Saban: 32, a full seven more than the NCAA's yearly limit of 25. Only Miami managed to stretch the boundaries of the rule further, signing 33.
Brian's point is that the "oversigning" of recruits is essentially unethical, and how the NCAA needs to do something about this abuse.

Of course, Pete Holiday is an Alabama fan and had his own response to Brian's accusations. According to Holiday, and contrary to the impression left by Cook, Saban isn't the only and arguably not the worst "violator" of this policy. In fact, Pete cites Brian's own favorite team's coach, Rich Rodriguez:
It's also not unique to the 2008 recruiting year. Clearly Brian didn't like having his team's coach called out, and he went to bat for Coach Rodriguez, defending him against the "snake oil" comment made by Purdue's Joe Tiller. Now he's saying that over-signing is what a real snake oil salesman would do, so let's take a look at Coach Rodriguez's recruiting numbers at WVU. In the six seasons from 2002-2007, Rodriguez signed fewer than 25 only twice (2004 and 2006), and on two occasions signed 33 (2002 and 2005). He signed 25 and 28 in 2003 and 2007 respectively. So, in 6 years of recruiting, Rodriguez sold snake oil (to use Cook's metaphor) half of the time.
Ouch. I think this round goes to Holiday.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Best blog posts of the day in the SEC

The post of the day was this outstanding analysis by Saurian Sagacity. Mergz blogged about an analysis he has done on 111 D-IA football teams' recruiting efforts, basing his talent estimates on ratings over the last four years.

This is quite an impressive undertaking. Here is a taste:

It does show however those schools that have been most successful over the past 4 years in attracting the big names – the talent every school wanted. Thus in that way it shows where the most desired recruits have chosen to play their college ball in the past 4 years.

It also shows, if the near past is any indication, the limited pool of possible schools from which a mythical national champion will be named as in the past 4 years, the eventual MNC was a name somewhere in this top ten list.
It's amazing and somewhat frustrating to those of us who cheer for schools not in the top ten, or even top 25. The only consolation I could find for the Kentucky Wildcats is that they are about mid-pack, and given our limited football tradition, I don't expect that to change radically in the next decade or so.

I have always wanted to do an analysis like this, and now I must think of something else to write about.

Runner up for today is this post by OutsideTheSidelines at Roll Bama Roll looking at the University of Alabama's domination of it's home-state recruits, and the substantial failure of Auburn to make inroads into said domination. This is an interesting, complex (and quite lengthy) read detailing the failure of the Auburn program to recruit well at home, even among recruits that were Auburn fans growing up. Here is a taste:
The only real success that Auburn had in recruiting this year was with former commitments to previous classes, and they did not even have complete success in that area. Raven Gray was a commitment to the 2006 class, and he has enrolled, admittedly a very big signing. Jermaine Johnson was a good addition, but he was an academic casualty from the 2007 class, and may not qualify this year either. Enrique Davis would have been a huge commitment, but he ended up going to Ole Miss after Auburn changed directions with the offensive coordinator.
I would love to hear an Auburn response to RBR's post, not so much because RBR is indicting Tuberville for recruiting malpractice -- they are 'Bama fans, for heaven's sake, what would you expect? -- but more because their larger point seems to be that Auburn is doomed to second-class status in the state very soon even though they have been dominating Alabama. The big question that I have is about this assertion:
Saban is as at least as good of a coach as Tuberville, and likely better, and at the current rate the talent level that Alabama will have will dwarf that of the Auburn roster in the very near future.
So what say you, Auburn fans? Has Tuberville's lack of recruiting doomed you? Is Bama about to dominate your future? Is Saban a better coach?

We will see, I guess.

Bring on the cupcakes

Schedules, schedules. This is the biggest complaint about football teams every year. Every team's partisans makes the case that it's team is better, regardless of who they play. But as reported by Charles Rich of Fanhouse a while back, the cupcakery is becoming not just a nasty trend, but a strategic plan. What I think we are seeing is coaches and athletic departments noticing that despite Hawai'i's ludicrously weak schedule, anyone who can manage an undefeated or one-loss record has a chance at a BCS bowl and the big bucks that go along with it.

We have already seen this tendency even among the elite of the most topheavy conferences like the Big 10. Ohio State had either the 53rd or 54th toughest schedule in the land, depending on who's numbers you use, while Hawai'i clocked in at either 112th or 132nd. Kansas clocked in at either 74th or 80th. All these teams wound up in BCS bowls (OSU in the BCS championship). What is the lesson here?

True, LSU was a 2-loss team and wound up in the BCS championship, so we can't say that schedule strength isn't a factor -- it clearly is. But the lesson here appears to be that unless you really are the best football team in the land, you'd be better off to schedule like Hawai'i and Kansas than LSU. Having the toughest schedule in the land didn't really help Ole Miss or UCLA.

Quinton McDawg of Georgia Sports Blog suggests that teams aren't holding up their end in scheduling, and proposes a solution:

Many teams have done their part simply because they have a rival they hate. Florida has Florida State. Florida State has Miami. Georgia has Georgia Tech. South Carolina has Clemson. Meanwhile, teams like Texas, LSU, and Penn State can pick and choose when they want to play these games and when they want to sit out a year. (By the way, I'm not picking on those teams because they typically do a decent job of nonconference scheduling, but they don't have a team out of conference that they have to play. They have a choice.) It seems unfair to have one power team with the option to play a big nonconference game while others do so as a matter of course.
I would respectfully suggest to Quinton that this is not by accident, but by design. These days, teams are looking harder for I-AA opponents than they are BCS opponents. Could the NCAA enforce a scheme where all BCS teams were required to schedule at least one BCS out-of-conference opponent? I don't think Duke could handle the load, they'd be getting calls from every team in the nation.

The tendency these days seems to be "schedule easy, go to a bowl." Let's face it, no matter how much derision weak schedules draw from bloggers like Quinton and I, the bottom line is, going to a bowl means the big, sweet dollars and exposure for recruiting. Given the choice between having a few journalists and bloggers laugh at your schedule and a visit to the Orange Bowl, I think most coaches and AD's would say "I'll take the Orange Blowl, keep your praise."

Until there is a true and enforceable penalty for scheduling pastries, this problem is bound to get worse before it gets better.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Rumors of my demise are exaggerated, but understandable

Has this blog died? No.

Unfortunately, I have been in the throes of a very difficult time. I am starting a second business, and it has simply overwhelmed me despite my best intentions.

Those of you who had been reading me up until the Holidays when my posting frequency went all to hell, hang in there. I will be back very soon, hopefully better than ever. I am trying to find a way to better integrate my blogging into my busy day, and I think I may have found a way.

In addition to finding a way to get my blog-stuff together, I have decided to simply dedicate this blog mostly to football. I have tried without much success to integrate basketball coverage also, but the pace of the season is a bit too quick for me to cover the entire SEC with any sort of coherence. I will blog about basketball, but more from a macro perspective over the entire conference than particular teams. Also, I have found that the SEC bloggers with the exception of UK, Vanderbilt and Florida generally don't pay that much attention to basketball, at least from a blogging standpoint. This is a football conference, and even a UK fan like me can see that. Why fight it? When in Rome ...

So for those of you who were wondering what had happened, have faith -- Best of the SEC Blogs will be back stronger than ever very shortly. This is just the kind of thing that seems to always happen to bloggers when real life encroaches, but I am quite dedicated to this effort and will not give it up. So hang with me, I am almost to the point to where I can resume my passion. I'm sorry for the unavoidable interruption, and I expect to be back up to speed beginning this week.

Thanks to all for reading!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Arkansas kicks Florida to the curb. Vols handle Dawgs.

I said just below that the Gates were not as good as their shiny new #20 ranking, but I do believe that they are much better than they showed in the 19-point drubbing they just took in Fayetteville. I predicted and Arkansas victory, but I most surely didn't expect a blowout, and the final score does not even come close to reflecting the absolute domination the Razorbacks visited upon the hapless Gators.

GatorPilot at Orange and Blue Hue has this:

When the shots don’t drop, this team will lose. When young teams get behind, things can occasionally snowball. That is what happened for this group today. Arkansas starts three seniors and have lights-out sophomore guard in Patrick Beverly. They showed why they were a pre-season SEC contender and they were in top form today. With the two-time defending national champs in the building, the crowd was loud and wanted blood.
I think he is exactly right. The Gators just threw in a clunker this game, much like Vanderbilt did in the O-Dome last weekend. They are young and tender, and the tough, grizzled old Razorbacks just took them to the woodshed. Florida will have a few games like that one this year, and they really must improve their defensive intensity.

Mlmintampa at Alligator Army sees it this way:

I think it's significant to mention this today because while Arkansas is not back at the level of "40 Minutes Of Hell", their defense is good enough, with a home crowd, to stop UF's offense. Is Florida better than the Hogs? Maybe. Records say yes but Arkansas has an RPI of 41 with a SOS of 61. The Gators are 43 and a SOS of 150. We again are having the same conversation we had before the Kentucky game; who is better? A tested team or a talented team?

There is really no knowing the answer to his question, but a lot can be said for experience. Talent is important, but you have to suffer a few depredations at the hands of SEC foes before you can really toughen up enough to be a major force in this league. Florida probably needed this lesson, and may be better for it. Eventually.

So far, nothing really out there from the Razorback faithful. I'll try to catch that up later.

Moving on to the Tennessee vs. Mississippi State game, I called this one much more correctly scorewise. I didn't see the game like I did the previous one. However, a perusal of the statistics provides some insights:

  • Turnovers -- Tennessee forced the bulldogs into almost 24% turnovers. Unlike most teams who don't always hurt you off turnovers, the Volunteers almost always do. Here is a classic example -- MSU scored 8 points off 13 UT turnovers. The Vols scored 18 points off 16 MSU turnovers. The ten point differential was more than enough to win the game for the Vols.
  • Three point shooting -- Tennessee put up 63 3-point shots, which effectively nullified MSU's great shot blocking. Even so, MSU blocked 10 shots, but that wasn't enough.
  • Free throw shooting -- In the end, when MSU came back by getting open looks in the half court and knocking down shots, they couldn't finish because they had trouble making free throws. MSU shot a dismal 59% from the line.

Not much so far from either team's bloggers (basketball just doesn't quite draw the immediate reaction that football does in the SEC), but I will update this post when we do have reaction.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Groundhog day: The big games in the SEC

What are the really big games in the SEC this weekend? Let's see:

  • Mississippi State hosting #7 Tennessee
    This game is significant for both teams. Tennessee has won two in a row after dropping one on the road at Kentucky, and the serious roll that MSU has been on through the SEC schedule was derailed slightly at Arkansas earlier this week. MSU needs a win against a ranked foe to propel them into the top 25. Conversely, A second loss in four games would hurt the Volunteer's quest for a 1 or two seed in the NCAA's.

    Tennessee will try to get the pace into the 72+ possession range, and if this happens, MSU is in trouble. MSU also tends to turn the ball over a lot. MSU can win by keeping the tempo down -- Tennessee is not a good half-court team, and MSU is 5th in the nation in defensive points/possession.

    My Pick: Tennessee wins a squeaker, 79-75

    Blog Commentary:

  • #20 Florida at Arkansas

    The Gators are on a three-game roll, and last week ran a feckless Vanderbilt team out of the O-Dome. As a consequence, they jumped up to #20 in the polls, but trust me when I say that these Gators are not the 20th best team in the nation just yet, especially as unproven as they are with an RPI of 43 and a #150 strength of schedule (compare to the Razorbacks #41 and #61). This is a matchup between two very even teams with different strengths and weaknesses.

    Arkansas must handle the Florida pick and roll, and nobody is more capable than former UF assistant, John Pelphrey. Keeping the ball out of Nick Calthes' hands is critical to Arkansas' success, because Calathes has proven that he can kill teams all by himself if you let him touch the ball where he wants to. Arkansas has the edge in athleticism, but they must avoid falling into the wide-open running game that Pelphrey enjoys. Florida is simply better at it, and their biggest weakness is their half-court defense. If Arkansas can force Florida into the half court, the Razorbacks' athleticism will assert itself.

    My pick: Arkansas takes down the Gators in a close game, 75-73.

    Blog commentary:

  • Gators: GatorPilot, Orange and Blue Hue:

    O&B Hue’s Keys to Victory:

    • - Get a true inside out attack going with Speights.
    • - Play Billyball. Wear them out so we can win the game in the final 5:00.
    • - Use the press.
    • - Make the extra pass and keep searching for the open look.
    • - Get points in transition.
    • - Make the shots.
  • Razorbacks: HogBlogger:

    So what’s my winning formula for these guys?

    • Play very intense defense…including using a strong press often. I think the use of the Wooden-era, UCLA-type ‘token’ press has been the root of many of the lazy habits shown by this team.
    • Pass the ball on offense — don’t dribble it unless for a specific purpose. Quick ball movement is the key that will allow these guys to play better on offense.
    • Emphasize a controlled fast break with secondary options — no long passes.
    • Use ball rotation and pick and roll to get the ball into the paint.
    • Ride Sonny Weems early and often. Post him up…get him the ball in scoring positions…put this team on his back.
    • Play inside-out with Weems and Beverley.
    • Make the post players kick the ball out to the shooters (this means you Charles Thomas — quit getting your shot blocked).

Friday, February 1, 2008

The SEC: Up is down, and Vandy is really down

Who is getting it done in the SEC in basketball this year? There are a few surprises, a few disappointments, and a few real stinkers.

First, the standings:

Overall Standings:

# Team Conference Overall
W L Pct W L Pct

East-1 Tennessee 5 1 0.833 18 2 0.9
No surprise here. They are the odds-on favorite
East-1 Florida 5 1 0.833 18 3 0.857
Gators expected to be good, but not this good. Favorable early schedule so far, though.
East-3 Kentucky 3 2 0.6 9 9 0.5
Maybe about right, but their overall record stinks.
East-4 Georgia 2 3 0.4 11 7 0.611
About to get worse, most likely.
East-5 Vanderbilt 2 4 0.333 17 4 0.81
What a surprise, but their schedule does get easier.
East-5 South Carolina 2 4 0.333 10 10 0.5
About right. Could move up.
West-1 Mississippi State 5 1 0.833 14 6 0.7
Significantly better than expected. The remainder is a bit tougher, but not that much. Can win the West
West-2 Arkansas 4 2 0.667 15 5 0.75
About right, but beating MSU has them on the move up.
West-3 Mississippi 3 3 0.5 16 3 0.842
Surprised early, but having road trouble. Still have to go to Arkansas, Kentucky, and Alabama.
West-4 Auburn 2 4 0.333 12 7 0.632
Maybe better than expected, but likely to get worse.
West-5 Alabama 1 5 0.167 12 9 0.571
WTF? Loss to Georgia on the road. They still have to play the tough road games.
West-5 LSU 1 5 0.167 8 12 0.4
I'm not sure I expected them to be this bad.

Right now, The SEC has 4 teams in the AP top 25 with one on the verge, and 5 in the coach's poll. The SEC currently ranks 5th in the RPI just below the Big East. The ACC is on top of that measurement. As of right now, you would have to figure that the SEC will get 5 teams into the tournament, although six is a real possibility if things don't change too much at the top.

Up until Wednesday, the Mississippi State Bulldogs were looking very strong, but that stopped abruptly at Bud Walton Arena on Wednesday. Joswalt at RazorBlog has the details:

Jarvis Varnado can't block shots while he's sitting on the bench.

He also won't block them if he's under the basket and the other team is shooting 3-pointers, and Arkansas made more than enough perimeter shots for a 78-58 win over Varnado and Mississippi State (No. 25 ESPN/USA Today) on Wednesday night.

Vanado has been a holy terror this year, leading the nation in blocked shots. But if you stay away from him or keep him on the bench, he can't help, and the Razorbacks defeated a rising MSU team by 20 points. Arliss at Mississippi State Basketball is a man of few words about this one:
That was ugly! Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. I'm glad that one was over. It makes me sick to talk of it anymore. Lets move on and rebound against the Vols on Saturday. Go Dawgs!!!
Sometimes, it's better to forget the bad ones and just look forward. MSU has been tough this year, and they get to find out just how tough against the Vols in the Hump this weekend. A quick look at the Bulldogs' turnover statistics (15.2/game) against a team that is better than anyone in the league at prying the ball away doesn't give me a whole lot of confidence in the Dawgs' chances. Not only that, Chris Lofton is on something of a tear lately, and as joswalt said above, Varnado can't block three pointers.

But the Dawgs have the 5th best defensive points/possession statistic in the entire USA, and are holding teams to 31% 3-point shooting (well, except for Arkansas). But the Vols get a lot of their offense from turning people over in the backcourt and getting layups. If that happens, MSU is in deep doo-doo.

Vanderbilt is surely tanking at the moment. They lost ugly Wednesday to Ole Miss, and are the Commodores worried? Well, Bobby O'Shea at Vanderbilt Sports Line says that Vandy fans may have reached a good time to ... panic!
I know it's hard to tell over the radio, but something about the way this team is playing leads me to believe we are either lazy or dumb. It's possible it could be both. Still, I am now giving VSL Nation permission to panic.
A perusal of the stats finds much more than rebounding as an issue. Vandy's offensive efficiency was an incredibly dismal 89.2, and their effective FG% was only 42.8%! Butt-ugly, that is the term for Vandy's offense, and without their offense, they are way vulnerable. Shan Foster, who was shooting a remarkable 50% from 3 as little as two weeks ago, has gone 9/35 in the last 3 games for a whopping 28%. Won't get it done. No way. Andrew Ogilvy, who was dominant in the paint up until the Kentucky game, has gone from a 65+% shooter to 37% from the floor the last 4 games. The object of the game is still to put the ball in the basket, guys.

Parish Alford asks, was it good D or bad O:
Good D or Bad O: A little of both I think. I saw Ole Miss work hard at contesting shots, but I also saw Vanderbilt get back, get feet set and get some good looks that were just missed.
On the whole I think shots were contested better. Even a few 3s the Commodores hit were made over defenders charging out and hands extended.
Having not seen the game, I can't speak to his point authoritatively, but I can say this -- when we look at the stats over the last 4 games for Vandy's offense, I think there is a much stronger argument for bad O than good D. No knock on Ole Miss, but Vandy has been cranking out some stinkers lately. But then again, you don't get to 89% OE without some help.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Gators maul the Commodores

I must confess, I had serious doubts about Florida's basketball team's ability to beat a good team. They certainly proved me wrong, and that in spades.

Florida obliterated Vanderbilt in a game that demonstrated how a good offensive team doesn't have to play defense at all to win. Florida took a page from Vanderbilt's book and ran the Commodores off the basketball court early in the first half. Vanderbilt missed at least ten layups in the game, and even though a couple of them were tough, there is just no excuse. Not only that, the Commodores played lousy defense that wouldn't have stopped a high school team.

But the Gators deserve credit for taking advantage of Vandy's early struggles and just completely burying them in a barrage of hot shooting. Florida cooled off considerably in the second half, but were still much the best team yesterday. Here's a look a the box:

Now, let's go to the blogs. Let's let Orange and Blue Hue start on the the Gator side:

It’s time to remove the qualifiers. This is a VERY good team which has the firepower to beat any team in the conference. Nick Calathes is the leading contender for SEC freshman of the year honors and should be first-team All-SEC. Marreese Speights has arrived. Three games in a row he’s shown us an aggressive, powerful presence in the low post. The switch has been flipped. Big Mo is now arguably the best big man in the SEC.
I think he is correct. The Gators are capable of beating anyone in the conference, and even though this wasn't Vandy's best, you have to admire the maturity and execution of their young basketball team. Their defense is highly suspect, in my opinion, but they run the offense beautifully, and many times wound up with layups by running the Commodores off screen after screen. Combine that with the savvy and outstanding court awareness of Nick Calathes, and you get a beat down of the 14th-ranked 'Dores.

Mlmintampa at Alligator Army doesn't seem to recognize his own team:
Who were those guys out there? I saw players wearing white jerseys, then I saw the team make a 23-0 run and I seriously doubted that Speights, Werner, Calathes, Lucas, and Hodge were on the floor. It was a run reminiscent of older teams who knew how to destroy people.
Heh. I was wondering the same thing. Very impressive.

For the Commodore side, we have Save the Shield first. Philipvu94 says that he didn't see the game, but now he sees the 'Dores and the SEC in a bit of a different light:

But man, it’s clear that our OOC record that made us look like the best team in the SEC, right up there with Tennessee, was really flattering us. In reality, here’s how I see the SEC:

Serious Final Four contender: Tennessee

Mediocre-to-good; might land a 5-to-8 seed with a strong February: Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, State, Vanderbilt*

Low-mediocre: Arkansas, Georgia

Flat-out terrible: Alabama, Auburn, Carolina, LSU

I'm reluctant to agree with the idea that the Gamecocks are terrible -- they certainly are more capable than I previously thought, but their record is poor. Then again, so is Kentucky's.

Bobby O'Shea at Vanderbilt Sports Line says it's not time to panic ... yet:
As Aaron wrote in the comments section for the Florida Preview, no one who watched today's game can be happy with the Commodores performance. It's not just that we lost the game, it's that we were never really in it. Let's give credit where credit is due: Florida is a very talented team that played one of, if not their best game of the season. The fact that Vanderbilt opened up the game 2-16 from the field and allowed Florida to go on a 23-0 run didn't help matters either. During the first 12 minutes, it honestly appeared as if there was a lid over the basket. We must have missed 6 or 7 shots around the basket early, and of AJ's 6 missed from the floor (he was 2-8), all of them were within 3 feet of the basket.
He's right. Vanderbilt played very badly, and did a lot of self-inflicted damage. I don't mean to belittle the Gators effort, though. I'm not at all convinced anything but the final score would have been different if this was the Vanderbilt of late December. With all that said, the Commodores definitely do need a win now. They have been hit hard lately, losing 3 out of the last 4 games, and things don't get any easier when they travel to Ole Miss on Wednesday.

For the Gates, they have almost a week off before they take on the Razorbacks in Fayetteville. Both those games are highly interesting to SEC basketball fans.