After all the playoffs games were done last night I sat down and watched 60 minutes. Scott Pelley, one of the show’s senior reporters sat down with Texas Tech head football coach Mike Leach to assess the secret behind the Red Raider’s success. And the reality is, Leach didn’t even have a succinct explanation. And frankly, neither do sports writers. Also interviewed during the segment was sports writer Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball, a book on how small schools are able to become the cream of the crop (as in Tech’s case this season, holding the #2 overall ranking at one point). Even Lewis couldn’t provide a reasonable explanation other than glorifying Leach’s ability to get the absolute best out of his players. The perfect case in point comes when looking at Leach’s quarterbacks-most recently Graham Harrell-who’ve led the NCAA in passing six of the past nine years, and this year wide-receiver Michael Crabtree, whose skills lend himself to being a top ten pick this coming April should he decide to leave early for the NFL Draft. The spread offense Leach runs certainly is complicated, but only rooted on one basic principle: spread the ball around to ensure defenses don’t key on one guy. So what makes this story truly amazing? Well, for one, Leach hasn’t even been fully committed to football despite his team’s winning ways. 60 minutes mentioned his leaving the coaching ranks at one time to earn a law degree from Pepperdine. The even more amazing aspect? Leach is doing all this with a constrained budget and limited recruiting power. With Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M the local powers that be, Leach has been forced to bring in whatever’s left and become particularly innovative. CBS specifically mentioned a fan who became the team’s kicker after knocking a 30-yard field goal through at a halftime show for free rent. Pretty nuts. And despite all the forces they’ve had against working them, one recruiting ploy Leach just wasn’t going to let go to waste for the Red-Raider football program was being placed in the national spotlight. Just imagine what this guy could accomplish with some major recruits.
When the ball is thrown up in the air tonight to begin the 2008 Final Four in San Antonio, it ought to be special. Why? This is no ordinary year, as it’s the first time ever all four #1 seeds have made it this far. Combine the quality of these teams with an electric atmosphere, and it has a chance to be the best three games, on any level, collegiate basketball has ever seen. UCLA, Memphis, North Carolina, and Kansas- all perennial powerhouses with traditions of excellence. Not only is each team loaded with talent up and down their roster, from freshmen to seniors, but the four coaches combined, Ben Howland (293), John Calipari (374), Roy Williams (560), and Bill Self (347), have racked up an astounding 1,574 combined victories in their coaching careers. Rose (MEM), Collison (UCLA), Rush (KAN), Lawson (NC), Douglas-Roberts (MEM), Love (UCLA), Chalmers (KAN), Hansbrough (NC), Dorsey (MEM), Mbah a Moute (UCLA), Collins (KAN), and Ellington (NC) are just a short list of names you will hear constantly tonight, along with lots more; each of these teams can go 8, 9, even 10 deep if they need to. The outcomes? North Carolina and Memphis are playing extremely well, probably the best they’ve played all year judging by their performances last weekend. Not that Kansas or UCLA are slouches by any means, but they have definitely had their case of the hick-ups on their way. I’ll take North Carolina and Memphis tonight, with North Carolina cutting the nets down when it’s all said and done. Regardless of what the outcomes are, because unfortunately someone has to lose, cherish tonight, you may never see four teams this good paired together in a long, long time.
Update- 11:20 P.M. Once again my prognosticating abilities are put to shame. The common theme in this tournament seems to have been, “one team blows out the other, regardless of seeding.” I guess I can’t feel too bad though; I don’t think anyone expected Kansas to blow out UNC by 18, and Memphis to toss around UCLA by 15. Who knows, maybe the game of the year will end up being Western Kentucky’s dramatics against Drake in the first round. Who woulda thunk it.
Update- Monday- 10:55 P.M. Congratulations to both teams on their great seasons. The reason Kansas won it, 75-68? Well, just ask John Calipari how he feels about backing his team on the free-throw shooting now. Douglas-Roberts and Rose missed three from the charity stripe in the final minute of regulation, leading up to the game-tying three by Mario Chalmers. And as the phrase goes, “if you give them (Kansas) an inch, they’ll take a mile.”
As the Jordan commercial suggests, “There are no Cinderellas.” And they are exactly right. Despite their gut-wrenching loss to Kansas in the Midwest regional final, the Davidson Wildcats should have never been labeled as a surprise. The major networks acted as if this team had never experienced big games, calling their game versus Kansas a classic “David vs Goliath match-up.” Give me a break. As a #10 seed, Bob McKillop’s team was arguably the most battle-tested “mid major” in the country, squaring off (and playing very well) against some of the nation’s elite in North Carolina, Duke and UCLA. How many teams can say that? Not many at all. They were a highly under-rated and an obvious unknown heading into the tournament, but as they showed you these past few weeks, they were for real. So don’t give me this crap that they were a Cinderella, just because of that number slapped in front of their name. They were the ones who scheduled those tough games early on to prepare themselves for a serious run, and with the best pure shooter in the country (I think we can all agree on this one) in Stephen Curry, they were one tough out. Being a Badgers’ fan, I was baffled to see the dismantling of Wisconsin in front of a dominant UW-contingent in Detroit. The reason they lost? For one, they had no point-guard presence, as Trevon Hughes left early in the second half forcing an array of players to bring the ball up. And two, Bo Ryan made absolutely zero adjustments, and for that they were doomed to fail, and deservedly so. But please stop all this talk of how Davidson was never supposed to go this far because in truth, they were ready–with Gonzaga, Georgetown, and Wisconsin all witnesses. My only hope is everyone will return to read the title of my post next year, when the Wildcats return every key player from this year’s squad minus Jason Richards and Thomas Sander.
When the Badgers’ matchup flashed on the screen yesterday, I was upset. I don’t understand for the life of me why Wisconsin did not get a #2 seed. They did everything they could have done, including a 29-4 record, with both a regular season conference championship and the tourney championship. Couple that with a Duke loss to Clemson in the ACC tournament, and I thought for sure Bo’s Bunch would be destined for the second line. This is just a perfect example of how little respect the Big Ten gets, and how favored the ACC is. Even though Duke may be the better team, the fact that they loss to Clemson, previously unranked, show have merited a #3. Granted Clemson went on an impressive run and probably should have defeated #1 North Carolina, Duke has proved they aren’t at the level of a Kansas or UNC. As far as how in-state teams will do, I like Wisconsin to get past the first two rounds, but unfortunately, they should be upset in the sweet sixteen by Georgetown, purely because UW’s big men can compete with Roy Hibbert.
Other observations from Selection Sunday: Marquette received a pretty tough matchup against a Kentucky squad that has made some noise late in the season, without their star freshman Patrick Patterson. Despite that, I like Marquette to get past them and the #3 rated Stanford Cardinal in the second round. Their plethora of speed at guard will make them tough to run with, and I think Tom Crean’s Golden Eagles have found a rythm again at the ideal time.
Other teams I like to make a run in the Big Dance include Butler, Pittsburgh, Xavier, UCONN, and Clemson, who all have great balance.
With March Madness right around the corner, the bracketology has heated up. With a wave of freshman talents littering the NCAA level, so many big names come to mind. Memphis’ Derrick Rose, UCLA’s Kevin Love, Kansas State’s Michael Beasley, USC’s O.J. Mayo, and Indiana’s Eric Gordon just to name a few. But if you disregard all the publicized names, the crop remains ripe, starting in Syracuse, New York. The Orangemen have had enough games on ESPN to showcase their stuff, but I still get the feeling that people are sleeping on this team. While I focus on the Badgers’ and Golden Eagles’ progress as the conference tournaments draw nearer, I can’t help but admire what Jim Boeheim has done with his team minus their star Eric Devendorf, who suffered a serious knee injury early in the season. In the games I’ve watched, freshman phenoms Jonny Flynn and Donte Greene have taken over numerous times, leaving me wonder whether or not this team needs Devendorf to make a serious run in the Big Dance. You may ask, who are these two? They’ve averaged 32 points per game combined, and both play with so much confidence, you wonder if they are that young. Flynn, the admirable floor general, is versatile and plays scrappy, despite being 6-0. Greene, left, is a special talent. Ridiculous 3-point range and at 6-10, he can sky. He is a sure-fire top 10 possibly top 5 pick in the 2008 NBA Draft. I haven’t seen a pair of freshman dominate they way these two have this season, and I challenge anyone to find me one better. For those of you have had a chance to see Syracuse play, you know what I mean. And for all of you who haven’t: get a strong look at this team before you pencil in your brackets, because they have a legitimate chance come next month.
It’s tempting for present-day athletes to make that jump from the college ranks to the pros. Many sophomores and juniors who enter early don’t pan out, and it’s unfortunate. The trend was set by the infamous Maurice Clarett, left, who bent the rules, his stock plummeted, and look how far he’s gotten. In jail. On the other hand, for those few exceptional juniors and perhaps sophomores, the transition isn’t as tough. This is a very controversial topic, and no one has the right answer, but you can’t blame these kids for pursuing their multi-million dollar contracts. It’s sad this is what it’s come to, but it is definitely evident. So far, 53 underclassmen have declared early for the 2008 NFL draft. 52 juniors and one sophomore, tight-end Jermichael Finley out of Texas. The most notable juniors: Darren McFadden, who’s projected as a top 5 pick, and Miami safety Kenny Phillips and Cal wide receiver DeSean Jackson, both expected to go in the first round. Sure they are all explosive players, but just think how much better these players would be if they all stayed for their senior season? Not only would they have the opportunity to get better, the NFL as a whole would be better, and the players would smarten up, and wouldn’t be tempted into doing dumb stuff like Clarett. If it were up to me, everyone stays the full four years. Not to mention, if a player’s career happened to be cut short by injury or what have you, they could get a job like the other 98% of the population.
Not only is this rule harming the NFL, it’s running rampant in the NBA. Sure plenty of these frosh studs are great players, but the other half are left on the street primed for nothing other than trouble-making. It’s a joke. The world of sports is becoming a bunch of street punks making millions. What’s the worst that could happen, really? Fifty less players are arrested for marijuana possession? Commissioner Goodell, Stern try this and who knows, both leagues might be cleaned up within a few years. Maybe it’s just a mindless proposition, but something needs to change to return the purity in sports.
With the 2007 campaign coming to a close, I’ve decided to release my special edition name list. Over the past seasons, I’ve compiled a list of who I thought has the best name in college football. The best part about this list is these players not only have awkward names, but have succeeded and will continue to succeed in their sport. There was only one criteria I targeted; an incredibly unique first AND last name. Without further ado, my top 5 names in college football from 2007-2008: (click for ESPN player page)
1. Limas Sweed, WR, Texas– This guy’s name was an instant classic for me. The bonus is how incredibly talented he is. He will enter the 2008 NFL Draft as the top WR in his class, and should go in the latter half of the first round. The 6’5 senior, who missed 2007 to repair wrist ligament damage, caught 20 TDs in his four-year career at Texas, second in school history. His best season was 2006, when he caught 46 passes for 801 yards and 12 TDs.
2. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB, Ole Miss– Another instant classic (just couldn’t top Limas), BenJarvus was another very productive player at Ole Miss and Indiana. In his freshman year for the Hoosiers, Green-Ellis rushed for over 700 yards and 5 TDs, but then sat out his sophomore season, after the NCAA transfer rule prohibited him from playing for Ole Miss. Green-Ellis then took off in his final seasons for the Rebels, producing back-to-back 1,000 total yard seasons. Green-Ellis does figured to be drafted, but unless he has an amazing combine, will probably go in the later rounds.
3. Hoost Marsh, WR/KR, Wyoming– Wide-receivers must have a knack for having eye-popping names, and Hoost’s is no exception. Between himself and Maryland WR Darrius Heyward-Bey it was a close call, but because Darrius is a fairly common first name and Hoost is absolutely not, Mr. Marsh got the nod. After he was red-shirted his freshman season at Wyoming, Marsh found his niche rather unorthodoxly. After an injury the starting returner went down to injury, Marsh stepped in and exploded, netting a 13.5 yard/return average, earning First Team All-Mountain West honors. Although he didn’t catch a pass until last year, Marsh has made his mark as one of the greatest returners in Cowboy history. He may be drafted, but probably strictly as a returner.
4. Jabu Lovelace, QB, Rutgers– The lone underclassmen on this list, Lovelace gets special honors for having an exceptional name. Although he didn’t played much because of quarterback Mike Teel’s play, he received some time in 2007 and produced with his legs. Lovelace rushed 82 times, accumulating 332 yards and 4 TD’s, the team’s leading rusher behind only the Scarlet Knight’s star back Ray Rice. He should continue to push Teel, a junior, for the starting job next year, while seeing action as a option quarterback, setting him up for a standout senior year, barring a transfer.
5. Neefy Moffett, DE, Florida State– Got to get some defense in here! Watching a Florida State/Clemson game on ESPN earlier this year, I saw Moffett’s name appear on the screen after he had made a play, and I knew I had to submit his exceptional name on this list. He and his teammate, safety Mister Alexander both received consideration for this final spot, but unfortunately for Mister, Alexander is too common a last name for this exclusive list. Moffett, a junior speed rusher is one of the Seminoles more experienced defensive lineman, and should project well in next year’s NFL Draft, listed at 6-1, 254 pounds (a bit of a “tweener”).
Saturday marked an unprecedented legacy in a long line of talented UW-Whitewater football teams. Entering the week as 20-point underdogs to the Mount Vernon Purple Raiders, the Warhawks were hungry to right the ship after falling in back-to-back championship bouts to that very squad. However, one Whitewater senior that was not about to concede a third straight to the D-III goliath was running back Justin Beaver. The Gagliardi trophy award winner, which recognizes the most understanding D-III player, totaled 253 rushing yards and one touchdown in the game, leading the Warhawks to their stunning 31-21 over the Purple Raiders in Salem, Virginia. Mount Vernon, who came in winners of 37 straight games, turned the rock over three times, ultimately scripting their unfamiliar fate. While Mount Vernon sustained a blow to their illustrious program, perhaps the most heart-warming story laid within Whitewater’s head coaching department. After legendary coach Bob Berezowitz, who racked up a 124-67-4 record over his 19-year coaching tenure, left after his team’s second consecutive loss to end the year (35-16), Lance Leipold, a former Warhawk himself, took the reigns looking to take the team back to the title game–and win. And now, one year after his quest began for that very accomplishment, his team brought it home–with Berezowitz looking on from the sidelines. Congratulations Warhawks!