SportsProf

(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.

Name:

Not much to tell.

Add to Technorati Favorites

Friday, December 31, 2004

Princeton 75 Loyola (Md.) 62

And it wasn't even that close, at least not for most of the second half, as the Tigers came out of the locker room after halftime smoking, pushing their lead out to at least 22 at one point, before emptying the bench and, relatively speaking, "holding on" for a 13-point win. Princeton is now 7-4; Loyola, under first-year coach Jimmy Patsos, is 1-8.

It was much closer in the first half, which ended with the Tigers leading 30-25. The Princeton lead should have been in double digits, but sloppy play on offense and some matador defense at times by Princeton against penetrating Loyola players enabled the Greyhounds to stay in the game. The sloppy play on offense included the failure by Will Venable, Judson Wallace and Scott Greenman to convert on layups and some bad sets on offense that resulted with the Tigers hurrying to take a shot before the time clock expired. At one point in the first half, with about five minutes to go, Princeton coach Joe Scott turned to his bench and said, "We are totally undisciplined on offense."

It didn't take a kid en route to a Princeton degree to figure that out. The Tigers offense wasn't nearly as precise as Coach Scott would like it to be (which in all likelihood is more precise than what Coach John Thompson III accepted as the norm in the previous season). Loyola played a man-to-man defense for much of the game, and Princeton normally exploits the living daylights out of overzealous defenders, but they didn't do so in the first half. Credit goes to Loyola for their hard-nosed defense to some extent, but the Tigers' offense just didn't have its customary zip. There were too many moments of indecision, not only by the freshmen starters (G Matt Sargeant and F Noah Savage) but also from the senior leaders (C Judson Wallace and G/F Will Venable). G Scott Greenman was the most consistent force for the Tigers in the half.

Okay, so it sounds like the Tigers were getting blown out of their own building before a crowd of about 4,000, that they had to come back from a 14-point deficit, but it just wasn't so. They didn't play that badly, it only seemed that way. My guess is that Coach Scott blistered his regulars in the locker room about precision and blown opportunities.

So what happened? The Tigers responded as well to Coach Scott's coaching as Seabiscuit did to the whip of jockey George Woolf during the home stretch of his match race against War Admiral at Pimlico (in Loyola's home town, no less) and came out of the gate determined to put a great distance between themselves and their rivals. On their first play on offense, Princeton passed the ball crisply, found Matt Sargeant in the corner for a three, and he was fouled on the play. Sargeant converted the foul shot, and the Tigers were up 9. If you walked in late from intermission, you missed this spark, and then the Tigers put their offense into gear. Two more threes by Sargeant and a few by Scott Greenman puffed the lead to about 55-33 at one point in the second half. The Greyhounds' press, which they deployed for most of the game, looked like the hoops verson of a sieve. All it ended up doing was tire out the visitors' starting five.

After that, it was garbage time, so much so that many fans started to leave, including me. After that, in the final minutes, my guess is that it was serious garbage time, as both coaches emptied their benches.

Here are some observations from the game:

1. The game seemed like it took forever, and, in certain ways it did, if for no other reason than the referees officiated as if they got paid by the whistle this afternoon. The Tigers shot 39 foul shots, the Greyhounds 35. Clearly, the ref (Joe DeMayo) who blew an obvious goaltend in the Tigers' heartbreaking loss at Temple 10 days ago was not on hand. Otherwise, Princeton would have shot 55 free throws to the Greyhounds 19. Both teams had more than 10 fouls per half, which meant, especially in the second half, that ticky-tack fouls earned the foulee two shots each time.

2. Princeton deployed a match-up zone defense for most of the game. The Greyhounds had trouble cracking the Tigers' defense, and only guard Charlie Bell was able to inflict much damages (22 points) against Princeton. At times, the Loyola guards (other than Bell) looked lost out there, unable to generate much offense. That said, I thought that Loyola was most effective when they found their big men inside, but they lost their patience in trying to do that too early in the game.

3. Princeton's guards shot 13 for 20, and in scoring 14 points Matt Sargeant had his finest offensive game of the year. He played with great intensity in the first say 7 minutes of the second half, the half in which he probably did some of his best work of his young career. Will Venable looked spectacular at times, and he had the line to show for it -- 12 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 5 steals, that proved that he was all over the floor all the time. Only his 4 turnovers, most, if not all of which came in the first half, were a negative for him in this game.

4. While Venable played his usual heady game to help lead the Tigers, G Scott Greenman looks to be the glue for the Tigers' floor game. He is a great ballhandler (and press breaker), good outside shooter, tough defender and he makes tough feeds for baskets. He doesn't have the talent of Venable, but he cannot be outworked (he had 13 points and 2 assists). That said, Sargeant's shooting has to be a good omen for the Tigers, who need to show that all five players on the floor can hit the open shot. They did that today.

5. While this Tigers' team doesn't look as fluid as, say, the championship teams of Princeton's past, they have a ton of talent for an Ivy team. SF Luke Owings returned and hit a three, and backup guard Max Schafer drilled a laser-like three from the corner at the end of the first half. Back-up C Mike Stephens didn't distinguish himself today (0 points in 9 minutes, although he had one block where he didn't have to leave his feet), and back-up PF Andre Logan is still shaking off the rust (he had 4 points and 3 rebounds in a solid outing), but none of the players in the rotation looks to be a weak link. Once Logan and Owings (who also is shaking off the rust from being out with a stress fracture in his foot and who looks much more buffed than last year) get into real game shape, the Tigers will have a solid nine-player rotation.

6. The Tigers' defense still needs a bit of work. At times the quicker Loyola guards penetrated inside, and there wasn't enough defensive help. Freshman forward Noah Savage has to work on his defense; he fouls too much (fouled out again today).

7. Princeton outrebounded Loyola 22-21, out-assisted the Greyhounds 17-9 and shot much better from three-point land (7-16 for the Tigers, 3-10 for the Grehounds). They also committed more turnovers, 16 to 13. Look for the turnovers to come down as the Tigers solidify their rotation. Under Coach Scott, I would expect the turnovers to drop to an average of single digits in the Ivy season.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Now You Should Really Remember The Name

I blogged about this guy about a month ago, and last night his team pulled off a nice upset, beating a ranked team. In 25 minutes, he scored 15 points, grabbed 4 rebounds, blocked 3 shots and had 2 steals.

Remember the name.

He'll be playing for money after this year.

Perhaps in your town.

Unique Journey for a Former Princeton Hoopster

In the late 1970's and early 1980's, Dave Blatt was a hard-nosed guard for the Princeton basketball team. During his tenure at Princeton, the Tigers tied for the Ivy title twice, going 1-1 in playoffs with Penn to determine which team would go to the NCAA Tournament. In his senior year, with Blatt relegated to less-than-full-time status because of the emergence of frosh PG Billy Ryan (who went on to be a two-time all-Ivy player) the Tigers thrashed Penn in their playoff game and then had the privilege of playing Danny Ainge and BYU in the first round of the NCAA tournament. It was a quick exit for co-captain Blatt and his teammates.

Most Ivy hoopsters don't play pro ball after they graduate. Almost none make it to the NBA, some play in Europe, but most move on with their lives like everyone else -- sales, marketing, law, medicine, investment banking, teaching, human resources, media, you name it, they do it.

But Dave Blatt was different. He went to Israel, played in their pro leagues for a while and then coached in the pro leagues there -- with great success. Now, after about two decades in Israel (where he last was an assistant coach with Maccabi Tel Aviv, the elite (pun slightly intended, as the last I heard the Elite Candy Company of Israel owned the team) team in the "A" league in Israel. Basically, Maccabi Tel Aviv has been to the Israel pro hoops league what the Boston Celtics were to the NBA during the Bill Russell era -- unstoppable.

But after all of those years in Israel, Blatt has moved on -- to Russia, where he is head coach of the 8-4 Dynamo St. Petersburg squad in the Russian "A" league. And while Blatt has taken some Israeli pro league stars with him, he hasn't taken the Princeton offense or even the Princeton defense with him. As this article from the Israeli daily Haaretz points out, the DSP squad plays a run-and-gun type of game, scoring about 90 ppg and giving up about 87 ppg. Not exactly Princeton-type numbers, relatively speaking, but given Dave Blatt's track record, who's to question the style or success. He obviously knows what he's doing.

And it's great to see that he's doing well.

So, while you read about Pete Carril's disciples doing well in the pro ranks (Eddie Jordan, for one, although Byron Scott's New Orleans team is rivaling the '72-'73 76ers for futility right now) and in college (Bill Carmody, Joe Scott, John Thompson and Chris Mooney), it's also great to see one of his former players faring so well on a road less traveled.

Even if he's not playing a purely Princeton-style of game. Because you can be sure that he's passing on a thing or two that he learned during Coach Carril's "classroom" session on the Jadwin Gym basketball floor.

Dave Blatt was always a very nice guy, very friendly, and he played his heart out. He didn't have the ability of some of his teammates, but he played the game with smarts and with heart.

As, I'm sure, the Dynamo St. Petersburg team is doing.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Whither Jaber Rouzbahani?

I posted a few times in June on my thoughts on the 2004 NBA draft, and one of the interesting items I picked up was that two Iranian teenagers had declared for the draft -- Jaber Rouzbahani and Hamid Haddadi. Both withdrew from the draft, and both have really not been heard from since.

According to the International Hoops Network (a message board) and the next link, Rouzbahani played for an Oakland semi-pro team in some shoe company tournaments, had a "tryout" with the Phoenix Suns and played in the Asian games and fared rather well. Still, there has been no mainstream sports media coverage, which means that right now he's just another big guy with an interesting story and a dream.

Rouzbahani gets (much) more coverage in cyberspace than Haddadi (actually, if you Google Haddadi, one of my earlier posts comes up #19). That's not to say that they're not going to be good players, because both are still very young. From the reports that I read, both need to develop physically, become more flexible, work on their overall hoops skills. Depending on their work ethic and their athletic ability, they could have a chance.

Of course, there are tons of big guys out there who might be better suited to setting up transportation schedules, teaching batik, running a hedge fund for the Sultan of Brunei, acting on television (the guy who played "Lurch" on The Addams Family apparently hooped for Stetson at one point) or writing feature pieces on creative uses for tofu than playing basketball at the highest level. After all, if you don't have the talent, you won't make it to the NBA. Many people would have told 5'5" Nuggets guard Earl Boykins that he wouldn't have had a chance to earn a DI scholarship let alone a spot in the best hoops league in the world, but he made it. Point being, if your tall, you're no more likely to make it to the NBA than a short person is to be a Hall of Fame jockey getting the best rides at Churchill Downs, Pimilico, Belmont and Saratoga. You have to have the talent. Earl Boykins definitely has the talent. Each year there are tons of guys 7 feet or taller mentioned on the various websites who are interested in the NBA draft. Each year, most of those guys don't get drafted.

So, if you know anything more about the two tall Iranians who could help ease the tensions between Iran and the U.S. because of their basketball-playing ability, please post a comment. If you're one of the more enterprising readers out there, keep Googling and perhaps go to the 10th and 11th pages and beyond of the returns on Jaber Rouzbahani and try to find out where he's playing this winter.

Rouzbahani and Haddadi were a good story in the spring. They had their 15 minutes of fame.

The question is, will they have anything more than that?

Monday, December 27, 2004

Where Is The Mainstream Sports Media On This Story?

When the news broke, I blogged about this, and I gave my (strong) opinion the topic. Plain and simple, I thought that the Cal Bears got the shaft, that they should have gone to a BCS Bowl as the fourth-ranked team in the country. They won out, as the vernacular goes, they held their place, and they should be playing Michigan in what would have been a classic Rose Bowl on New Year's Day. (And Cal-Michigan in the Rose Bowl sounds a whole lot better than Texas-Michigan).

But what happened was awful. Several voters lowered their rankings of Cal after they beat a good if not great Southern Miss team on the road by only 10 points, and those votes were enough to elevate Texas to a BCS Bowl game and to relegate Cal to a much lower payday (by about $10 million) in Thursday night's Holiday Bowl game against Texas Tech.

It says here that this really stinks to high heaven, and I haven't been able to locate any mainstream sports writers who have looked hard, in an investigative fashion, into what happened with this voting. For example, which BCS voters voted to lower Cal after the Southern Miss game? Which coaches? From which conferences? IWhich writers? What beats do they cover? I think that the football fans really have a right to know which coaches dropped Cal in the rankings.

Stewart Mandel of SI.com touched upon this topic, ranted on it, but didn't go further. He pointed out the changes in votes, but so far neither Sports Illustrated or The Sporting News has pursued this issue (and while I like TSN, it's not the type of publication that is known for doing investigative pieces). ESPN or USA Today you suggest? Well, they have a huge conflict of interest, so much so that it's almost impossible to call them journalists on this particular topic. Why? Well, it's hard to cover something objectively if you're a part of it, and the last time I checked the coaches' poll is entitled the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll. So don't look for them to create a scandal, where that scandal would bear their names.

That just will not happen. (And as for ESPN, at times it's difficult to tell whether they're part of the entertainment mix or whether they're journalists in the way that SI or your daily newspapers are journalists -- how many "investigative" stories do they break?).

There are some instances in which bloggers need to call the mainstream media (or MSM, as bloggers are wont to call them) to task, and this is one of them. Why don't the MSM sportswriters and other media go hard after this topic? My guess is either the BCS voters (or, more precisely, those who vote in the coaches' poll) are a tough group to crack or that precious access could be denied if writers go hard after the money machine that is the BCS. Or, perhaps there's another reason -- that we've become complacent about a flawed system, intellectual dishonesty or abject corruption, agree that it's become a part of life, and therefore give it a pass.

Cal and the Pac-10 asked that the votes be opened and that the voters who changed their votes be revealed. AFCA (presumably the American Football Coaches Association) head honcho Grant Teaff refused on the grounds that this isn't the way the DI-A football coaches do things. He also said that the coaches do their best to run a credible poll. As for how the BCS got to Texas instead of California for the Rose Bowl, click here and read this post, where you'll see the comments of BCS Chairman Kevin Weiberg.

By way of full disclosure, Teaff is a former Baylor coach (Baylor is in the Big 12), and Weiberg is the Commissioner of the Big 12. Texas, of course, is in the Big 12. Cal is in the Pac-10. It goes without saying that the Pac-10 dramatis personae should get more involved in various trade association posts to, in the least, increase the visibility and networking of their conference. I am not suggesting that Teaff or Weiberg have done anything wrong; I just hope that they're embarrassed at what happened to Cal, especially in light of the positions of trust that they hold. Because they should be.

I am not a believer in conspiracy theories, so the purpose of this post is not to suggest that the Big 12 rallied its troops -- its beat writers and its coaches who vote in the coaches' poll -- to change their votes in a way to cause Texas to slip past Cal in the BCS rankings. I have no evidence of that, and to do so would not be fair.

But in the absence of the coaches' poll's opening up of its voting records (and the Associated Press's doing the same), the questions remain. Who changed their votes? And why? And what, if any, pressure, was put upon the voters in the coaches' poll and even in the writers' poll?

There is a story waiting to be told here.

Or is there?

Without an opening of the books, many college football fans will believe that something untoward went on. And that impression could be dead wrong. It could well be that upon detached reflection of a complete season at the end of the regular season, coaches and writers from all over the country decided that Texas really was better than Cal. That story would reflect an interesting change in the behavior of BCS voters, that they really are reflecting on the season in the last vote before the BCS determines who gets slots in the BCS bowls. That could well be the more likely explanation. Or it could be that the chance of a conference losing its share of a $10-$14 million payday caused certain people to change their votes. If that's what happened, well, that story needs to be told too.

Grant Teaff wants a credible poll, and that's all well and good. But the only way his poll will regain its credibility -- which is sorely lacking because of what happened to Cal -- is to open its books and let the fans know which coaches changed their rankings of Texas and Cal in that fateful poll.

Here's one vote in favor of the coaches' poll doing just that.

Meanwhile, Cal plays Texas Tech on Thursday night, and here's to hoping that the Cal players come out mobile, agile and hostile. The writer John McPhee once wrote a book called "The Headmaster," about the one-time headmaster of the elite New England private school, Deerfield Academy, Frank Broydon, who would preach to his kids all of the virtues of fair play before a big game, and then say, "Now let's go out there and try to beat them by 40 points."

I don't want to see Cal run up the score, and I don't want to see them keep the first string in until three minutes to go, but in the spirit of the venerated headmaster, I hope that in as classy a fashion as possible, Cal goes out and beats the Red Raiders by, what the heck, let's add a few, 66 points -- or one for each point Cal lost in the fateful polls that lifted Texas into a BCS Bowl Game.

And then let the hue and cry begin again for the BCS and the coaches' poll to come clean.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

The Last Honest Man

Interesting article in the Philadelphia Inquirer today about the BCS madness today and whether ultimately there will be a playoff system. When you read the article, you'll wonder whether the same eight oligarchs who control post-Cold War Russia run the six largest football conferences as well.

And, if you're Joe Paterno, you should watch who feeds you your soup. You have to hand it to Coach Paterno, who split his vote for the #1 team among USC, Auburn and Oklahoma in the coaches' poll (and took grief for it), for his absolute honesty. Like most, if not all, coaches, he doesn't have a clue, really, which of these teams should be number one. Unlike most of them, he wasn't willing to vote based upon which team is in his conference, which coach once wrote to him for guidance, which coaching staff has traded ideas with his or whether some alumni of Penn State have a good connnection with the other school. Instead, he admitted that he didn't have the foggiest as to which of the three teams is the best.

The reason I say most coaches don't have a clue as to which of USC, Auburn and Oklahoma is the best team is because of how hard all coaches work. They spend so much time watching film of their own team and their opponents that they really don't have time to watch Auburn play Tennessee or USC play Arizona State, but, somehow, they still vote in the coaches' poll anyway, and that poll has become more important than ever (now that AP has pulled its poll out of the mix). That's just a fine way to determine who is the national champion, isn't it?

Talk about Division I college football's version of Russian Roulette.

Meanwhile, of course, there will be no playoff, for reasons which are unfathomable and which are owing, according to Penn State President Graham Spanier, more to the university presidents at the DI schools than to the coaches, a majority of whom apparently favor some sort of playoff. If that really is the case, then the presidents should look to their Division I-A, II and III counterparts, all of whom participate in post-season playoffs except the Ivies (which are somewhat hypocritical given that other teams' seasons are longer than football and that all other teams are eligible to participate in post-season tournaments). Because, if the DI presidents look at those schools, they'll see some that offer just as good if not better educations and whose sole priorities are on graduating their kids, because no matter how good a Mount Union or a St. John's (Minnesota) are, it isn't like Scott Pioli or Tom Heckert are going out of their way to look at their kids on film to see if they can sign them as free agents or steal them in the sixth or seventh rounds of the draft.

So, if the "other" NCAA schools can have a playoff system for football, why can't Division 1-A?

Is it because BCS schools like Auburn, USC and Oklahoma really care about graduating their players?

Or, is it because, as the character Gordon Gekko said in the movie Wall Street, "Greed is good." Which would mean, of course, that the BCS schools once again are cloaking their lust for the big-time bucks in sappy discourse about caring about the academic futures of players who major in topics that many schools wouldn't dare to charge parents tuition for.

Meanwhile, some people will scoff at Joe Paterno, say he's the modern day Don Quixote, that he's tilting at windmills trying to find his perfect world in the midst of the BCS madness.

And Coach Paterno is right, he may well be a voice in the wilderness.

And a powerful voice at that.

After all, his graduation rate exceeds the combined graduation rates of Utah (41%) and Pitt (31%), who are meeting on January 1 in the Fiesta Bowl.

Yet, it's Utah coach Urban Meyer and Pitt coach Walt Harris who are moving on to "bigger" jobs, at Florida and Stanford respectively -- who get rewarded, while Coach Paterno has been under siege at Penn State. True, his team's on-the-field performance has been found lacking in the past five years, but, in the midst of all of the hypocrisy out there in BCS-land, Coach Paterno is a shining beacon of integrity and forthrightness.

I had posted before as to whether Coach Paterno should step down, whether the game had passed him by, whether he had the right to determine when it is time for him to retire, and now I am taking a totally different tact.

Run, Coach Paterno, run as fast as you can.

You deserve a whole lot better than what the BCS cooks want to serve in their bowls.

The Big 10 Is In Trouble

Basketball-wise, that is.

At least, according to the latest dope on recruiting that I've been able to pick up from The Sporting News, via ScoutHoops.com.

There are several undecided players among the Top 100, but among those who committed, here's the breakdown:

ACC -- 19 players.
SEC -- 15.
Big East -- 13.
C-USA (or Memphis, Louisville, Marquette and Cincinnati combined) -- 13.
Big 12 -- 12.
Pac 10 -- 9.
Big 10 -- 5.
Atlantic 10 -- 2.
Mountain West -- 2.
Missouri Valley -- 1.

If you cruise this list, you'll note the following:

1. If you're a University of Washington fan, be very happy. Coach Lorenzo Romar has landed 2 of the Top 15 recruits, and now U Dub, as the locals call it, will be part of the annual conversation as to which Pac-10 teams will go to the Big Dance. Yes, Arizona still will be there, but Ben Howland at UCLA hasn't made much of a dent on recruiting yet, and Stanford and Cal seem to be slipping.

2. If you're a Louisville fan, be very happy. Rick Pitino has the old recruiting mojo back, and I counted at least 3 and perhaps 4 of the Top 100 headed to the "other" major hoops school in the Bluegrass State. If you're a Kentucky fan, you should be a little worried and hope that some of the remaining holdouts commit to Lexington.

3. Bill Self and Kansas landed 3 of the top 20 kids, and Mississippi State has landed two of the top 21. They should be excited in Lawrence and Starkville. Forget about football, you have serious hoops there.

4. The most highly touted prospect who is uncommitted is Andray Blatche, a 6'10" PF from the South Kent School in South Kent, CT, who is considering two powers (Syracuse and North Carolina), one school with a great reputation (Georgetown), one hoop pretender (West Virginia) and one hoop doormat (Penn State). That's a wide range of choices. If Blatche goes to Penn State, he'll be the guy, get double-teamed every night, and after two years end up wondering why he choose to play his college hoops in Happy Valley. It will be interesting to see where he ends up. Carolina is tempting, but since Roy Williams is a great recruiter, the battle for minutes in Chapel Hill will be fierce.

5. Also re-loading: Duke, NC State, OK State, UConn and Notre Dame and loading, period, UNLV, Marquette and a few others.

There are so many things to write about and conclusions to draw that I could write endlessly on this topic, but the best things for you to do are to read the list and draw your own conclusions. Remember, some of these schools are boarding schools, which means that the name of the town is not necessarily where the kid is from, which makes it harder to figure out why a kid is choosing what school (so chalk it up to AAU team connections and the hard work of assistant coaches everywhere). For example, the 21st recruit, Vernon Goodridge, from Philadelphia Lutheran Academy, is not from Philadelphia, and thus the curious connection to Mississippi State may not be so curious after all (as up until 2 years ago, when Germantown Academy's Matt Walsh matriculated at Florida and his teammate Ted Skuchas inked with Vanderbilt, Phila-area kids were not wont to sign with SEC schools). Still, it isn't that there is a direct route from Philadelphia to Starkville, Mississippi.

By the way, note that St. Joe's landed one of the Top 100 and three other highly rated prospects in what Coach Phil Martelli is saying is his best recruiting year ever. Which means, of course, that the magical season that was 2003-2004 with the best backcourt in America (Jameer Nelson and Delonte West, for those who forget) has paid major dividends for the little school that definitely could play.

Why Paul Hewitt Is The Fifth Best Coach

in his own league, that is.

Dave Sez has a very good post in which he ranks the coaches in the ACC. Now, before Georgia Tech fans take umbrage at this ranking, you have to consider who the other coaches are who outrank Coach Hewitt. Read the whole thing, and you'll see.

And, no, one of them is not NC State's Herb Sendek, perhaps the only Carnegie-Mellon alum in that school's rich history to go into major college basketball coaching.

He's sixth, and he's had a decent run in Raleigh.

Fierce competition?

No kidding.

The one thing about the ACC this year is that when all is said and done in the spring, it could well be that the fifth best team in the ACC wins the national title, or that the five best teams in the ACC end up ranked in the Top 10. Which could well mean that the fifth best coach in the ACC, who took his team to the national title game last year, could well be the fifth best coach in the country. Or, depending how his team does (i.e., if they win the championship), the fourth -- in his own league.

With plenty of upside before his own career is over.

The debate always will rage as to which major conference is the best basketball conference, because college hoops fans love lists and love that type of debate. But this year there is little doubt that the best basketball conference is the same one that was your dad's best basketball conference growing up.

And they also have the coaches to prove it.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

What Illinois and OK State Have In Common

Outside of the fact that both have orange in their color schemes, that is.

Both schedule teams that are beyond being creampuffs, they're the equivalent to free spaces on the Division I college hoops bingo card. Click here to read all about Longwood and see what I mean. (I posted a few days ago about a game that OK State played against NW Oklahoma State or someone like that).

There is no reason why this game was scheduled, and this game will not serve much, if any purpose, in Division I college hoops. Longwood is 1-13, and right now their season deserves the Little League baseball equivalent of the mercy rule. It certainly doesn't warrant or merit a game against the #1 team in the country.

The last time I check, the most famous use of the name Longwood was for a beautiful series of gardens right outside Philadelphia, the renowned Longwood Gardens. The only thing that Longwood the school and Longwood the gardens have in common besides the name is flowers.

How so, you ask?

Longwood Gardens has some of the most amazing floral displays in the world.

Longwood University right now should be a wallflower.

Perhaps they'll rise up after their first year of DI play, get a few players that UVA, VCU and Richmond miss, knock off a William and Mary or a George Mason, and get comfortable in a low-DI to mid-major conference. That may prove true in the future, but right now the present is all they have. And, on this great day for presents, the best present that the powers that be in DI hoops could give us is not to let the high majors schedule too many games like this any more.

Despite the fact that the (heavy) favorite will rack up tons of points and perhas a highlight worthy of SportsCenter, games like these are pointless.

Of course, I don't want such difficult schedule police that they create a rift between the Top 50 schools, on the one hand, and then everyone else. That wouldn't be right, you'd create a self-fulfilling prophecy of the Top 50 schools always being Top 50 schools, and you could end up with divisions like English football.

That said, there should be some scheduling limitations. Within reason, of course. I would love to see the Virginia-based DI schools play one another, the same way I would NJ-based schools or Florida-based schools, as those types of tourneys could be neat. I also would love to see a pre-season tourney ever several years of the Top 16 winningest programs of all time, as that would be great too. I just don't like 96-36 games, 25-0 runs, and games that will prove nothing come tournament time. I don't know how Illini coach Bruce Weber found himself in this predicament, but I admire the style of Temple coach John Chaney -- schedule everyone, anywhere, even in a hostile arena, but get yourselves on television.

Tough games build character and big-game tested toughness come tournament time. They're analogous to the right type of diet for a world-class athlete.

Pushover games build nothing other than a false sense of how good your team reallly is. They're analogous to eating too many creampuffs from your local donut shop and then trying to compete against the world-class athletes.

And that doesn't work for most people.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Is This League the Cradle of Coaches?

For those of you who are too young to have heard of the legend or too young to remember, Miami U. (to those in the midwest, the real Miami U., and not the poseur located in South Florida) was the cradle of coaches. This small school produced a bunch of top-notch football coaches, all of whom had the distinction of serving as assistant or head coaches at the Ohio school. Among the names: Notre Dame's Ara Parseighan, Woody Hayes, Paul Brown, Bo Schembechler, Sid Gillman, Carm Cozza and John Pont. That's a pretty good legacy, isn't it?

Well, for a small conference (and one that doesn't emphasize athletics), the Ivy League has produced its fair share of coaches, as illustrated by that high-powered public relations machine, the Ivy League. If you're an Ivy savant, you'll want to click the link and scour it to assess each and every person.

To needle both Penn and Princeton alums, I'll note that much smaller Princeton has more than twice as many people referenced than Penn, which has the Ivies' largest undergrad population. The significance of this, you ask? Penn alums will say (somewhat in jest) that this list proves that Princeton is really a jock school that places an unusual if not altogether untoward emphasis on athletics. Princeton alums would retort (again in jest) that all Penn alums care about is going to work on Wall Street to make money and further boast of the advantages that the Wharton School of Business conveys, contend that their school broadens more minds with its emphasis on a true liberal arts education (while Wharton narrows them), and that Princeton is producing more teachers, even if they happen to be coaches, than its much larger rival.

Many a truth is said in jest, but all this list really demonstrates is who is a head or assistant coach somewhere. Nothing more, nothing less, except if you look closely look at all of the opportunities women student athletes at these schools have. Okay, so Joe Paterno is really the only "famous" Ivy alum who is a head coach at a college or in the pros (in contrast, Bill Bellichik of the Patriots is an alumnus of Wesleyan University in Connecticut, an outstanding liberal arts college that is part of New England's Little Three). But the sheer number of alums who are in coaching says something about the well-roundedness of the conference.

Still, in the overall scheme of things, there's very little, if anything, that can top Miami U's list. Paul Brown? Woody Hayes? Bo Schembechler? Ara Parseighan?

It doesn't get much better than that.

Princeton Basketball Recruiting Update

For those of you who are interested (and in fairness to give some equal time to Princeton), the Trenton Times has reported on Princeton's recruiting class for men's basketball. Right now, I don't have enough information on the quality front, as it's hard to say how highly ranked these kids are on the national scene.

Three shooting guards, two 6'8" guys and a mention that 6'8"+ PF Harrision Schaen will be returning to school next year. The most recent 2G to commit to the Tigers is 6'3" Jason Briggs from Washington State, who chose the Tigers over Northern Arizona.

Which, of course, is interesting in and of itself, because how many kids in Ivy League schools generally choose between Princeton and the Flagstaff, Arizona school? My bet is that Briggs is the first kid to do so, but, then again, kids (and, remember, these are just kids) who place their sports high on their list of priorities may well focus on who wants them for their primary extracurricular activity rather than their school work. Such situations aren't unprecedented in the Ivies, and I'm sure that when you ask kids on Ivy rosters what their final choices came down to, you'll be surprised at the diversity of the answers.

The reason, in all likelihood, is that money is a big factor, and that the kids get tempted to take the scholarships because the cost of a college education is so expensive and it could well be that the Ivies, even with their generous financial aid packages, don't offer a full ride. Several years ago, Princeton lost 7' center Alex Graham to Long Beach State, and when I last checked the LBSU roster, Graham wasn't on it.

The Ivies can bring in lots of kids every year because the don't give scholarships, and it remains to be seen whether this practice is a good thing or not. Then again, you don't know who is burned out after his HS career, who will not get any better, and who fits into your system. In Princeton's case, they'll be losing seniors Judson Wallace, Will Venable and Andre Logan to graduation, so there will be plenty of holes to fill.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

We Like Ike

He's basically a journeyman, except his journey in the National Football League has been with only one team -- the Philadelphia Eagles. He's a special teamer, basically, although he does get into the game on defense to give a starter a blow or in some oddly configured defense that Merlin the Defense Coordinator Jim Johnson sets up from time to time. His name: Ike Reese.

The Ike Reeses of the world don't get blogged about. They can't throw laser-inspired passes to well-covered wideouts to win games, nor do they lead their team to defensive conquests the way a Ray Lewis does. They don't flirt with the bad girl of the hot TV show on Monday Night Football during the pre-game, and they don't have their jerseys sold in the local sporting goods stores. As for the latter point, if you look in the Philadelphia area for a McNabb jersey, or a Westbrook, a Kearse, an Owens or a Dawkins, you can find one. But a Reese? Not a chance.

So who cares, right? Well, for starters, his peers in the NFL do, because in his 7th season, Ike Reese has been elected to his first Pro Bowl as the special teams player for the NFC. For seconds, all NFL personnel directors love the Ike Reeses of the world. They play key roles on their rosters, they do a great job at what they do, and they are happy to be where they are. In essence, the Ike Reeses of the world form the foundations of successful football teams.

Ike appears on WIP in Philadelphia once a week, and from the sound of it he'll have a future in broadcasting when his career is done. But right now, all Philadelphia fans salute the 7th year back-up linebacker from Michigan State. The Eagles fans are happy that T.O., Tra Thomas, Donovan McNabb, Michael Lewis, Lito Sheppard, Brian Dawkins and David Akers got named to the Pro Bowl, because they're starters. And they're doing cartwheels for the recently returned prodigal son, Jeremiah Trotter, whose insertion as middle linebacker has turned the Eagles' defense from bendable to indestructible, and whose play has earned him a berth in the Pro Bowl too.

But, in their own blue-collar way, they'll reserve their biggest huzzah for the captain of the special teams, the guy who lays it on the line each week, the guy who carries his lunch pail, delivers big hits, and has his named called on play after play on special teams.

Ike Reese.

Philadelphia may be blue-collar, and it may be the core of a blue state.

But make no mistake about it.

They love Ike.

As they should.

What Purpose Did This Game Serve?

The shortest movie made is "Bambi Meets Godzilla." It lasted eight seconds.

What can we make of this?

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Is The Sky Falling In Philadelphia?

Eulogies have been written. Devout Eagles fans are wearing their black jerseys, not their green ones. The song "Fly Eagles Fly" is being sung more to fugue-like tones than to the boisterious anthem it had become. Todd Pinkston is getting compared to Andrew Johnson, Herbert Hoover, Todd Marinovich, Tony Mandarich, Brian Bosworth and other disappointments. Rumors are that life insurance companies will yank their coverage from Donovan McNabb, that the Eagles' chances for getting to the Super Bowl are through, that in South Philadelphia people are actually prone to saying, "Stick a fork in 'em, they're done." The radio talk shows are full of the doubters and the naysayers, the same people who wanted Donovan McNabb benched for A.J. Feeley and Andy Reid fired after the beloved Birds dropped their first two games last season.

Don't believe any of it. The Eagles have home field advantage, and they've beaten back a lot of adversity even this year. They lost 2 free agent cornerbacks, both all-Pros at one time, in the off-season, as well as a formidable RB with a lot of gas left in the tank. First-round pick Shawn Andrews went down in the first game with a season-ending injury. Starting DE N.D. Kalu got hurt in pre-season, as did RB Correll Buckhalter. FB Jon Ritchie went down about a third of the way into the season. Other players are banged up, including starting G Jermaine Mayberry, starting DE Derrick Burgess, rejuvenated DT Hollis Thomas and DE Jerome McDougle.

Yet they still have only one loss. They adapt, they improvise, they create new schemes, and they have talent not only on the field but in the front office, and they have coaches who can mold good players into a great team. They have young WRs in Greg Lewis and Billy McMullen who just need an opportunity, and Lewis is not only the fleetest WR on the team but also one of the most sure-handed. FredEx, Freddie Mitchell, might not have caught a ton of balls this season, but he catches tough ones and comes up big when it counts. All will get their chances to fill the void left by Terrell Owens and his injured leg.

Sure, they will miss T.O. Take marquis players off any team, and the team has issues. But this team has gotten it done week in and week out, and until someone knocks them off, they're still the favorites to win the Super Bowl. Did Atlanta's chances to overtake the Eagles get any easier? Absolutely. But this Eagles team has been disrespected all year. After they lost to Pittsburgh, they were called a paper tiger, a team that was much better on paper than on the field. They then tinkered with their defense a bit, putting Jeremiah Trotter in as middle linebacker and moving Mark Simoneau outside. The result -- a much tougher run defense. When they played Green Bay, everyone said that the Packers were a more physical team, that they would come into Philadelphia and beat the Eagles, that they were the second-best NFC team looking to be the first. And what happened? They got the stuffing kicked out of them, 47-17. An awful whipping for the whole country to see.

And still the Eagles don't get a ton of credit. You see, their other receivers aren't that good, their offensive line is banged up, their starting RB is brittle, their kick returners are hurting, their defense is suspect at linebacker, and their D-line can be moved around.

All of which may be true, but this team has shown up mightily in a year that began with everyone talking about how much they choked last year. Allowing for the doubting, they have gone at their schedule with a sense of purpose and have knocked off opponents week-in and week-out.

That's impressive, no matter how you look at the situation.

Are they more vulnerable?

Most definitely.

Finished?

Hardly.

The New York Times Discovers Columbia

Read all about the Columbia Lions men's basketball team and their resurrection under Coach Joe Jones. Now that St. John's has fallen mightily since the days of Chris Mullin and Mark Jackson and that the extracurricular incident on the road at Pitt last year was worthy more of the Post than the Times, the Times actually has some college hoops to write about.

A feel good story, as it were, because the Big Light Blue were getting powdered over the course of the last years of Armond Hill's tenure as coach. Now that Joe Jones and his recruiting magic have made Morningside Heights a preferred destination over other Ivies and even scholarship schools, there is a buzz about Columbia's men's hoop team. Thanks to Hoops Junkie for spotting the Times' article.

But does this story sound familiar? About four years ago there was a buzz in New Haven, where a new coach (who onced had assisted at Yale before moving to Ohio U.) returned to New Haven to bring some energy to a program that had won 4 games the year before under one-time Cal mentor Dick Kuchen. His name: James Jones, and, yes, he's the older brother of Joe Jones. James Jones talked a good game, perhaps too good for the liking of some Penn and Princeton fans, and he talked about how his team would be the best-conditioned and how they would take on Penn and Princeton. (In contrast, Joe Jones has maintained a much lower profile, and, most recently, his older brother has toned down his public statements about the opposition).

So what happened? James Jones did effect a great turnaround at Yale, leading the Elis to a tie for the Ivy title a few years back with Penn and Princeton. There was a three-way playoff, and after the Elis handled Princeton in the first game, Penn beat them handily for a spot in the Big Dance (ironically, many Princeton fans I know rooted for archrival Penn in that game, if only out of a feeling that the Ivy title was their shared plateau, and they didn't want an interloper to grab the title). Still, it was a great accomplishment, and James Jones proved to be an able recruiter, landing two top-150 recruits during his tenure in New Haven -- now-senior G Edwin Draughan and sophomore forward Sam Kaplan.

But this is a watershed year for the Elis, as PG Alex Gamboa and SG Draughan are seniors, and junior center Dominick Martin, the Princeton xfer, has yet to show why Stanford thought about offering him a scholarship, although he has played well in spurts. If Yale doesn't contend for the title this year (and I don't think they will), they'll cross paths with the Lions in years to come.

On their way down in the Ivy standings.

Because the Lions will be joining the Ivies' first division, while the Elis will exit it, at least for a time. Or, at least, that's what I'm thinking based upon what I've seen to date, and that's not meant to show disrespect to Kaplan, Martin or soph forward Casey Hughes, for whom great things have been predicted, but absent heady guards, winning titles is near impossible.

All that said, the best way for schools in the Ivies to challenge Penn and Princeton is to ensure that their travel pair is solid. What do I mean? Well, the Ivies play back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday nights during the Ivy season. Which means that schools get tag-teamed by Penn on a Friday night and then Princeton on Saturday, or vice versa, as the travel pairs are Penn-Princeton, Columbia-Cornell, Brown-Yale and Harvard-Dartmouth. Only when both members of another travel pair emerges as very solid will Penn and Princeton have a serious chance of stumbling. It's happened over the past several years because Yale and Brown have been strong at the same time, but Columbia also needs Cornell to stay tough in order to have a better shot at Penn and Princeton. It will be much easier to challenge the perennial favorites if you know that your travelmate bruises one of the them on the night before you have to play them as opposed to loses by 25.

As for the Lions, well, they're off to a great start, as many predicted they would be. Joe Jones has a good thing going in New York City, and the key thing is whether he'll be able to sustain it year-in and year-out. As his older brother can attest, the teams in Philadelphia and Princeton are still working hard, still out there recruiting the best players they can get.

It won't be easy.

Temple 48 Princeton 46

Just call me the Sports Prognosticator. Click here for yesterday's post and scroll down for my prediction (for those of you who can't stand the suspense, my prediction was Temple 48, Princeton 44). When Atlantic City opens its sports books, I'll be ready.

As for the game itself, I'll note the following:

1. Yes, Dustin Salisbery did commit a goaltending violation on Will Venable's layup with a few seconds to go. No, the refs did not make the call, and after Princeton scrambled to come up with a good-look last shot, the Tigers didn't convert, and Temple held off Princeton for the win. Princeton coach Joe Scott was so infuriated over the no-call that he chased the refs into the runway to protest, almost forgetting to return to the court to shake hands with John Chaney, who coached his 1,000th game.

2. No, the refs call did not cost Princeton the game. Yes, the officiating was plum awful, and it seemed at times during the stretch when Temple built an 11-point lead that the refs weren't going to call anything Princeton's way and that they were going to get John Chaney a win in his 1,000th game no matter what. That said, Princeton played tenatively for the first 33 minutes, turned the ball over too much, and simply shot horribly. Princeton G Scott Greenman plays like a house on fire in the last five minutes and has done so in many games that I've watched. He shot a respectable 3-7 from behind the arc (the rest of the team was 4-20) and hit two key threes down the stretch. He just needs to do a better job during the rest of the game.

3. Temple's star guard, Mardy Collins, was every bit the star, scoring 25 of Temple's 48 points. His long arms on defense created havoc for Princeton, as Collins seemed to be everywhere disrupting Princeton's offense from time to time. Frosh swingman Mark Tyndale also played well for Temple; he had 11 points. The shorter Tigers defended Temple very well and held Temple's 14 feet of inside players -- Keith Butler and Wayne Marshall -- to 4 points. Neither big man for Temple showed that he can either catch or handle the ball well inside, and there were numerous occasions when shorter Princeton players knocked the ball away from them.

4. Princeton frosh forward Noah Savage has a serious offensive game and gives the Tigers another outside threat. He fared well on offense, didn't shoot that well from behind the arc, and looked challenged on defense at times. Princeton frosh guard Matt Sargeant, who had 7 assists in a game earlier this year, laid an egg against the Owls. He looked overmatched on offense, threw too many telegraphed one-handed passes, and committed a bunch of turnovers. The bos score credits him with only two turnovers, but it seemed like he had 5. The Tiger bench overall contributed very little, as senior forward Andre Logan, in his first game back after knee surgery, looked rusty out there. Backup C Mike Stephens played a solid half of the game, and the Tigers looked most formidable when he and starting C Judson Wallace were out there together. The best lineup for the Tigers was when Greenman, Venable (who has no fear), Wallace, Stephens and Savage were out there together.

5. Here's the link for the box score. Princeton had 10 assists to Temple's 5, but 11 turnovers to Temple's 8. The teams tied 21-21 in rebounds, which is pretty amazing given that Temple's shortest player out there was 6'5" and Princeton only played 3 players taller than that. While the Temple fans shouted "midget" when 5'9" guard Scott Greenman touched the ball, the Tiger guard played very tough defense last night. At one point in the first half, Tyndale tried to take him to the hoop, Greenman made him stop his dribble, and Tyndale threw up a weak turnaround jumper that was off the mark. I'll take that "short" guy any day of the weak; he's a battler.

6. The Apollo at Temple is a very nice arena, great sight lines, but only had 3,500 in announced attendance last night.

7. The P.A. announcer might do great charitable work, shovel the walks of neighborhood widows with osteoporosis and appear at charity events for Philadelphia-area CYOs (and I'm only speculating here), but he sounds like a guy who was a second-team runner-up for the ringmaster at a tent-show circus that runs in the plains states during the summers. He was hard to tune out, and it made all of the people in my group pine for the late, great Dave Zinkoff, a Temple grad, who was the best P.A. announcer of all-time. He did the 76ers games from the 60's to early 80's, and was just wonderful. Long live the Zink! And, he does, as a banner hangs in the Wachovia Center honoring his efforts. It hangs alongside those of Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving and others.

8. Princeton Assistant Coach Howie Levy was wearing a light-colored sportcoat last night. At 6'11", Howie is hard to miss, but the dyed-in-the-wool Philadelphians in the crowd thought that the Princeton assistant should be reminded that light colors are not to be worn after Labor Day and before Memorial Day. Then again, if they were playing Miami on the road, the ensemble might have worked just fine.

9. Great quotes from Temple coach John Chaney about Princeton. Coach Chaney said that the Tigers reminded him of the Katzenjammer Kids in that they brought a frustrating brand of hoops to town, that if he drew Princeton in the NCAA tournament he'd send in a card saying "no thanks" and that he pities Penn coach Fran Dunphy, because Penn has to play the Tigers twice. He always refused to schedule Princeton when Pete Carril coached there, and agreed to this game when another school backed out of a commitment and ESPN2 came calling.

10. Finally, there are no such things as good losses. Ivy fans should take little comfort that Princeton lost by two last night, that Yale took Boston College to double overtime 2 nights ago before falling 82-80, or that Cornell played Syracuse tough last night before losing 82-69. The Ivies are in the bottom third in conference RPI, and there's a good reason for that. I'll take an ugly win over Temple over a valiant effort against a good BC team any day of the week. The Ivy teams need to win these games to gain more respect, and, right now, they're just not getting it done.

11. Meanwhile, the curious case of Philadelphia-area guard Harris Mansell continues to perplex me. He is a senior at Cheltenham HS (the HS that brought the world Reggie Jackson and Virginia AD Craig Littlepage, who played for Penn), which is a very good HS outside Philadelphia. He has a good academic rank, and someone closer to this situation than I reports that Mansell is a Top 200 or so recruit. The Philadelphia Inquirer featured him as a player to watch this year (actually, he was on the cover of their HS hoops preview), and last year he and his brother led Cheltenham to the brutally tough PA District 1 final game against perennial power Chester, only to lose by 5. Yesterday, Mansell and his brother, Patrick, who is a junior, led Cheltenham (who was missing its two big men) to a four-point win over perennial Phila. powerhouse Simon Gratz (who has produced, among others, Rasheed Wallace and Temple's Mardy Collins, to name a few). Mansell is interested in the Ivies, but the Ivies seemingly have had not interest in him. He signed a letter of intent to attend Rider University, which, quite frankly, is getting quite a steal. The Ivies may still have a chance (as the Ivies do not honor letters of intent because they don't sign players to letters of intent), and it may be that Rider is an excellent fit, but I am surprised that he hasn't drawn more Ivy interest. Stay tuned, although I doubt anything will change here.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Penn Lands Big Recruit

The Penn Quakers apparently landed their biggest recruit in many years when 6'8" SF Cameron Lewis of Washington, D.C. and that basketball factory known as Phillips Exeter Academy told the Quakers he's going to Penn. Thanks to www.ivybasketball.com's recruiting section for this piece of information. The Daily Pennsylvanian, in an earlier story, reported that Lewis was choosing between Penn and Columbia, and one of the Penn cognoscenti who sometimes e-mails me informed me months ago that Lewis is a Top-100-type recruit. In a fashion sometimes typical of partisans of any school, I think the e-mail was a big overbloated, as Lewis did not show up on any of the Top-100 lists. Still, this person on the scene usually knows what he's talking about, and I'm sure that Lewis is a good player who will contribute for the Quakers.

The linked article contains the usual bromides about the HS player, although one quote from Lewis's HS coach made me laugh out loud. The coach remarked, "If he had a jumpshot, he'd be going to Stanford." First, that's what the Ivies are all about, getting players who cannot play at the big-time schools because they are slower developers or have flaws in their game. Second, duh, if Chris Dudley had an offensive game he would have been Bill Walton.

Now, that being said, all coaches are prone to make statements like that. Princeton years ago had a swingman from Long Island who turned down a scholarship to St. John's to go to Princeton. Great kid, good player, but he wasn't the best ballplayer. Pete Carril, then Princeton's coach, hounded the kid to work on his ballhandling skills, figuring that the kid had a chance to be something really special if he dedicated himself to his ballhandling. Unfortunately for Coach Carril, basketball lost its lustre for this kid, and he quit the team.

Years later, a friend of this kid's runs into Pete Carril on the Princeton campus and introduces himself. He said, "Coach, I'm sure you don't remember me, but I was a friend of [this kid] and visited him on campus from time to time." Without missing a beat, Carril said, "Oh, [so-and-so], [so-and-so], if only he could have handled the ball, he would have played in the NBA."

Well, the kid in question is a friend of mine, and he recounted the story to me, and we shared a laugh. I told him that my response to Coach Carril would have been, "if [so-and-so] could have handled the ball, he would have gone to Duke, and not to Princeton." We nodded in agreement.

So, Cameron Lewis, show the Dukes, Stanfords, Vanderbilts and whomever elses that they misjudged you. Work on your jumper, dominate the Ivies and then play in the NBA.

And take advantage of a great education and a great coach while you're at it.

Because if the latter is all you do, you're going to come out way ahead.

The Significance Of Temple Versus Princeton Tonight

Tonight's Princeton-Temple game at the Apollo at Temple gives me pause to reflect on many topics near and dear to my heart, such as college basketball (and I admit that I've journeyed away from college hoops because college football and baseball have given me so much to write about), Philadelphia's Big Five, the Temple Owls and the Princeton Tigers. Read on, and you'll see how this game ties up many things in a big bow for me come this holiday season.

To most, this is just another game, a game between a Temple squad trying to define itself and show some discipline (its coach called the team out during an interview on local TV a few nights ago) and a Princeton squad showing more than it's a feisty Ivy program, that it can really hang with and beat bigger-time programs. Temple is no longer in the Top 20, hasn't been for years, and Princeton, while favored to win the Ivies, isn't favored to beat that many non-Ivy teams of note. Princeton's arch-rival, Penn, almost upset the Owls about 10 days ago, rallying to lose by one, 52-51. So, you must be saying, either Penn is not that bad or Temple isn't that good, and how you view that result depends on whether you're an Ivy fan or a big-time college hoops fan. Ivy fans will take heart from Penn's effort, while big-time hoops fans will dismiss it by saying that this isn't a Mark Macon (or even Marc Jackson) Temple team.

All of the above has merit, but this game has a greater significance to me, a personal one. You see, my father, who has been dead for a long time, went to Temple, and I went to Princeton, and the teams haven't played since the 1974-1975 season. I went to many college games with my father, learned a great deal from him, and developed my passions and interests in various teams because of him, but our alma maters never played for the short time he was alive after I graduated from college up until right now. He was great to go to a game with, always had interesting insights about strategy and great stories about the history of games, and, well, I just wish he could be sitting with me tonight, elbowing me in the ribs when Temple C Wayne Marshall makes Princeton C Judson Wallace look like he should be centering the Lilliput hoops squad, or nodding in acknowledgment that Princeton G Will Venable can hold his own against Temple PG Mardy Collins. I loved his stories about one of Temple's all-time best players, Bill Mlkvy, a two-time all-American who was known as "The Owl without a Vowel." We watched Harry Litwack's teams play and Don Casey's as well.

We went to full houses at the Palestra, watched the ECAC Game of the Week on NBC and watched Big 5 doubleheaders on UHF TV with Al Meltzer calling the games, mindful that you had to hit the UHF dial hard to make it stay in place, twist the UHF antenna just so, and hope that the dial didn't move while LaSalle was making its run against St. Joe's or while Penn was having its way with Villanova. There weren't tons of channels or games then, so the Big 5 on local TV was about as good as it got.

And it doesn't get, and hasn't gotten, much better than that. Storied programs, the best venue in college basketball, and kids who played at local high schools populating many of the local teams. Tough players, coaches who were destined for greater theaters of play, the intensity of the Palestra. Watching the games with my dad. Special, uncomplicated times, at least as far as basketball was concerned. In some locations you need to get by speaking a foreign language; in Philadelphia back then, if you could speak basketball, well, that was enough of a second language, depending on the circles in which you traveled.

It will be ten degrees tonight in Philadelphia, but for me the Apollo will generate a lot of warmth. I won't be wearing Princeton colors tonight (I don't have any cold-weather orange wear), but in honor of my dad, I've donned a cherry and white scarf (Temple's colors, for the uninitiated, which are most of you, as Temple's colors aren't as well known as, say, Michigan's), and I'll bask in the game not because it will have any greater meaning in terms of national rankings, but because, in a way, it brings my college hoops experiences full circle.

This game also marks my return to spending more time blogging about college hoops. I initially got the idea for a blog after about 8 years of sending e-mails to friends about Ivy basketball (with a focus on Penn, for whom I grew up rooting, except when they played Temple, and Princeton), and figured that I would post for a broader audience. I love the game of college basketball, particularly the Big 5 and my alma mater's perennial Cinderella status (which is basically the status of every low- and mid-major DI college basketball team). There are lots of great college hoops blogs out there, including several to which I have linked, so I only hope I can do them justice with my posts.

For what it's worth, my pre-game preview is that you don't know which Temple team will show up, the one that almost blew a big lead against Penn, only to win by one, or the one that played #7 Wake Forest hard only to lose by 5. Princeton plays physical defense, fouls a lot, and still is looking to find its shooting rhthym. There also a few players short, missing PF Andre Logan and SF Luke Owings, but they have some pleasant surprises in frosh F Noah Savage (who has shown impressive offensive ability) and G Matt Sargeant. Temple has an outstanding guard in Mardy Collins and some good big men inside, and, as usual, they are athletic. For Temple to win, they have to play tough defense, not turn the ball over on offense and keep their focus for a full 40 minutes. For Princeton to win, they have to defend well against the three, stay close to Temple on the boards and not end up with too many offensive sets that end up in a missed shot and a Temple rebound.

This will not be a pretty game for either team, and Temple will win because they're playing at home and have more talent. Princeton will have its moments, but in the end I look for a final score of Temple 48, Princeton 44.

But regardless of the frosty temperatures outside or the cold shooting percentages (potentially) inside, it will be a very warm night for me.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

The Arms Race Continues

If this were realpolitick, if this were something more than a Peter Sellers' movie about global diplomacy, if this were, well, the height of the Cold War with Nikita Khruschev banging his shoe on the desk in the well of the United Nations, we all would have reason to be concerned. We'd all pay contractors to build underground bunkers in our backyards, stock them with canned food, and wait for Armageddon to happen.

After all, the superpowers are stockpiling arms, not leaving much for the rest of the world, and they are priming themselves for a confrontation in 2005 that could change civilization the way we know it. No, it's not that Celtic fans in Scotland are switching to the Rangers, it's not as if Stanford alums are wrapping themselves in blue and gold and singing campfire songs with Cal Bear alums, and it's not as though rabid red-state Republicans are going to take up the causes of Al Sharpton and James Carville anytime soon. It's just that there are two baseball teams out there hell-bent on destroying each other, the rest of baseball be, well, darned.

And during this off-season, they're taking their competition to a new level.

The latest news in the arms' race is that the Boston Red Sox signed free agent pitcher Matt Clement to a three-year deal, thereby giving them a younger pitcher with a decent past and promising future who should prove to be a solid complement to the current staff. So, as we reach for comparisons, here goes:

Boston Red Sox

Curt Schilling
David Wells
Tim Wakefield
Bronson Arroyo
Matt Clement

New York Yankees

Randy Johnson
Mike Mussina
Carl Pavano
Kevin Brown
Your brother-in-law.

Those are two pretty powerful staffs, somewhat long in the tooth, but still a who's who of outstanding pitching talent past and present.

And then there's the NL East, where the stockpiling also is taking place, as follows:

Atlanta Braves

Tim Hudson
Mike Hampton
John Smoltz
John Thomson
Horacio Ramirez

New York Mets

Pedro Martinez
Tom Glavine
Kris Benson
Steve Trachsel
Victor Zambrano.

Those staffs are pretty impressive too. While the AL East will get most of the focus, there could be quite a competitive storm gathering in the NL East as well.

And while it is arguable that the Yankees' and BoSox' pitching staffs are aging and therefore vulnerable, they both have some outstanding names on their staffs. And they're both spending a lot of money.

And they are not finished.

The question is whether all of this is good for baseball. It's certainly good for the hot-stove talk, good for back-page headlines of the NY tabloids and good for the ESPN pundits in the off-season.

But is it good for the game?

The answer is that time will tell. If the Yankees and BoSox can replicate last season's drama year after year, then the answer is a resounding yes. But if there are major injuries, or if other teams really fall by the wayside because they cannot buy the latest talent, or because they lose the latest talent to the Yankees and Red Sox, then perhaps the answer is a resounding no.

Meanwhile, the stockpiling continues.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Pride of the Yankees

In 2004, the Boston Red Sox humiliated them, setting a baseball precedent in doing so by coming back from a 3-0 deficit in the ALCS en route to winning their first World Series in 86 years.

In 2003, the Florida Marlins, the fish with a bad fan base, beat them in the World Series, led by a 23 year-old pitcher and a 20 year-old outfielder. The symbol of the Yankees' problems was a 42 year-old portly portsider whose balky back caused him to miss a key start in the World Series.

In 2002, the Anaheim Angels bludgeoned them in the AL playoffs, reducing the Yankees' vaunted pitching staff into a pile of smoldering arms.

In 2001, their ace reliever proved to be vulnerable, and in Game 7 the Arizona Diamondbacks beat the Yankees in Game 7 of the World Series, thanks to a seeing-eye single by Luiz Gonzalez.

That's four straight years of disappointments to owner George Steinbrenner, although, truth be told, if these were the results in your city, you'd probably take them.

But not in the Bronx. And, after last season, a season in which the BoSox called his franchise the Evil Empire and basically called out the Yankees in public -- only to succeed -- the Boss vowed revenge. He didn't make a public demonstration the way he would have say twenty-five years ago where he was only slightly less hotheaded than his frequent manager, Billy Martin. He steamed behind the scenes, and he put his people to work to improve his team.

His front office has all but inked the prize free agent hurler in this year's crop, Carl Pavano, and just pulled off the trade that all Yankee fans have been waiting for, trading Javier Vazquez and two prospects to the Dodgers, who send Shawn Green, Brad Penny and a pitching prospect to the DBacks, who send the Big Unit, yes, Randy Johnson, to the Yankees. Click here and read the Newsday scoop all about it.

And the bet here is that they're not done, that they'll try to figure out how to rid themselves of Jason Giambi, how to sign Carlos Beltran and then move Bernie Williams to DH. But, even if they stand pat and do nothing further, let's compare their starting pitching staff to that of the Boston Red Sox.

Yankees

Randy Johnson
Mike Mussina
Carl Pavano
Kevin Brown

Red Sox

Curt Schilling
David Wells
Tim Wakefield
Bronson Arroyo

Each team, seemingly, has one starting pitching slot to fill. The Red Sox really could have used Tim Hudson, for whom it appears the Braves gave up very little. Now they'll probably have to overpay for Matt Clement, unless they can swing a deal for another front-line pitcher. I gave them a pass earlier for not signing Pedro Martinez, but that assumed, of course, that they were going to sure up their starting pitching staff in another way. Now, with the Yankees' apparently getting Randy Johnson, the urgency at Fenway Park is more pronounced.

I called the Mets lemmings earlier today because they weren't strong enough to resist the temptation to sign an aging star with much less than a full tank left. That said, what do you call the Yankees and Red Sox, except obsessed to spend each other into Chapter 11 in order to keep on winning world championships?

It's crazy, isn't it?

But it's certainly fun to watch.

Only two months until pitchers and catchers report!

Word on Dartmouth's Next Head Football Coach

Footballscoop.com reports that David Shula, the one-time Dartmouth wide receiver, Baltimore Colts' kick returner, Cincinnati Bengals' coach and father of a current Dartmouth QB, has been offered the Big Green's head coaching job, replacing John Lyons, who was fired last month.

True to the notion that life's a journey, if Shula gets the job, he'll have come full circle and back to a part of his football roots. Big Green fans are hoping that Shula will fare better in Hanover, New Hampshire than he did in southern Ohio.

Lyons won Ivy titles with Jay Fiedler during his tenure at the Ivy League school, only to have suffered several losing seasons in a row recently. Still, he remained very popular with his players, and, in certain respects, will be a tough act to follow.

Lemmings

I've thought about this topic for days, and I've grappled to describe the Mets in their attempts to jump back into contention in the NL East. So the headline is what I came up with.

It's pretty obvious, I think, what I'm blogging about, but if you need further clues, click here for the reason.

I know that baseball's different from football, but I think that the most successful teams resist the temptation to follow the herd and do what everyone else does and actually show some measure of restraint. For example, the Dodgers don't relish the fact that they overpaid for Kevin Brown years ago, and neither do the Rangers take particular joy in outbidding everyone else for A-Rod. In Brown's case, he got way too long of a contract (taking him to age 40, which is ancient for a righty power pitcher), and in A-Rod's case, he got way too much, as Tom Hicks of Texas paid about $7 or $8 million a year more than the next highest bidder offered.

Those are only two examples of outright folly by owners in baseball over the years. There comes a time, however, when a team has to take a pass. Pedro Martinez has an iffy wing to say the least, one which requires, at times, five days' rest. That's a lot of rest for a 33 year-old pitcher, and $56 million guaranteed over 4 years is a ton of money to invest in a guy who's really not a #1 starter. As for the Mets, how short is their memory? They got burned with the Mo Vaughn situation, and now they're setting themselves up to get burned again. (To further illustrate my point, the Cardinals apparently offered a four-year deal too, all guaranteed. Some teams just cannot help themselves).

With no bullpen and with two aging starters who can only go 6 innings (Tommy Glavine being the other one), the Mets will lose a lot of games late. True, they have two Hall of Fame pitchers on their staff, but when those guys get inducted, they'll be wearing the uniforms of the Braves and Red Sox, not the Mets. As some of the ads say, past successes do not guarantee future results.

True, Boston has some holes in its rotation, but they didn't exacerbate their problem by committing a boatload of long-term money to a guy who is unlikely to undergo a mid-career resurgence like Roger Clemens did about 8 years ago after the BoSox let him go. They also couldn't afford to risk $56 million on a pitcher with a bad shoulder when their best starter has a damaged ankle.

History doesn't always repeat itself, but in the case of aging players, the buyer should be very careful. Yes, of course, aging veterans help form the core of any team, but the real question is, at what price?

The Mets wanted to make a splash, and they did, but if you milk the diving analogy for all it's worth, making splashes puts you in last place in a diving meet. And generating sizzle with less steak on the plate does the same thing.

So it's up to Pedro? Will he help create a magical comeback in Queens? Or will he ignite a bonfire of Fred Wilpon's and Omar Minaya's vanities?

In a town best known for taking risks and risk management, the Mets have taken one of the biggest risks of all. If it pays off, think playoffs. If it fails to provide a decent yield, the short sellers, in terms of Met fans not coming to games, will be out there in droves.

First in War, First in Peace and. . .

Out of the National League.

Or at least out of Washington, D.C.

That is the Nationals, of course, nee Expos, the team without an owner and now, apparently, without a stadium and a home city.

Now, I love baseball, think it's a fun game and all of that, but something inside me tells me that D.C. is right, that they should insist upon some private funding, and that the town elders should use public monies on education, libraries, housing and public health issues than to provide the power elite in Washington with a close venue to watch the national pastime.

Major League Baseball, of course, is very upset and says that D.C.'s latest move is "wholly unacceptable."

Stay tuned, and tune in to Field of Schemes for more information.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Princeton Joins an Exclusive Club

Okay, so when you think of Princeton, you think of exclusive clubs, the fancy eating clubs that adorn Prospect Avenue, but, in fact, the Tigers joined one on Sunday when they beat Monmouth 56-52 for their 1500th career victory. In so doing, the Tigers are only the 14th NCAA Division I school to win 1500 games. Here is the list (going into the season):

1. Kentucky 1,876 (101 seasons)
2. North Carolina 1,827 (94)
3. Kansas 1,825 (106)
4. Duke 1,737 (99)
5. St. John's 1,668 (97)
6. Syracuse 1,630 (103)
7. Temple 1,623 (108)
8. Pennsylvania 1,572 (104)
9. Indiana 1,555 (104)
10. Notre Dame 1,548 (99)
11. Utah 1,541 (96)
12. UCLA 1,530 (85)
13. Oregon State 1,529 (103)
14. Princeton 1,495 (104)
15. Illinois 1,483 (99).

It would be neat to see a pre-season tournament with some title such as "Legends of the Game" that pits the top 8 teams against each other. The top 4 are a perennial Final Four, now that Carolina has rebounded from its recent slump. Number 5 Syracuse has been in college hoops' stratosphere as of late, and numbers 6 through 8 have a richer history than a present. Temple has had some down years, St. John's has had an even rougher time, and Penn's biggest dream now is to get to the Big Dance and actually win a first-round game. If you were surprised that UCLA wasn't one of the top 5 or so, just remember that it's a relatively newer university, about 15 seasons shy of some of its competitors on this list.

The Princeton Tigers have a rich history, and a line of coaches that traces itself back to Cappy Cappon, who coached Bill van Breda Kolff, a Princeton alum (Class of 1944, who actually got his degree at NYU), who coached Pete Carril when Carril was a student at Lafayette College. When van Breda Kolff left Princeton for the Los Angeles Lakers, Carril, who was coaching at Lehigh, succeeded him (reports are that two guys named Knight (Bobby) and Brown (Larry) interviewed for the Tigers' job in the mid-1960's, and both have fared okay after not landing in the Ivies). Bill Carmody, now the Northwestern mentor, succeeded Carril, and Carmody played his college hoops at Union College in New York state, where his coach was Gary Walters, now the Princeton A.D. Walters had played for Carril in HS in Reading, Pennsylvania, where Carril had his first coaching job and then played for van Breda Kolff at Princeton (he went on to coach at Dartmouth and Providence). John Thompson III, who had played for Carril (Carmody was a fourteen-year Carril assistant before succeeding his former boss), succeeded Carmody, and then Joe Scott, who was a teammate of Thompson's, succeeded Thompson after last season when Thompson left Tigertown for Georgetown. Scott had assisted Carril and Carmody.

Some schools embark upon elaborate searches, some pay the huge bucks, some go for the biggest name. The Tigers? They don't have to look very far.

And it's hard to argue with their record.

Sure, they're not Kansas, Kentucky, Carolina or Duke. But who are? 1,500 wins is 1,500 wins. And those wins put the Tigers in elite company.

More importantly, they've made their indelible mark on college basketball, the same way their arch-rivals, the Penn Quakers, have. Princeton has given the college hoops world Bill Bradley, who is regarded as the ultimate scholar-athlete, a Rhodes Scholar who was an all-American player. Pete Carril gave the world the Princeton offense and the most famous loss in college hoops history. In 1989, the 16th seeded Tigers lost 50-49 to top-seeded Georgetown (with Alonzo Mourning) in the first round of the tournament. I once wrote that there really is no thing as a bad win or a good loss, but the Tigers' effort on that particular day came as close to a good loss as is humanly possible (whether Mourning fouled Tiger center Kit Mueller on the game's last play is something Carril has vowed to take up with God when he gets there). College basketball fans talked about that game for years.

So before you say the Ivies aren't worthy of this company, just remember a few things. First, the best college hoops venue in the country belongs to an Ivy League school. Penn's Palestra is the best place in the U.S. to watch a college hoops game, and ask fans of Temple, St. Joe's, LaSalle and Villanova if that isn't so. The Palestra is at its finest when it's packed, which it usually is when the Quakers host Princeton. Penn has produced some great coaches (Dick Harter, Chuck Daly) and some fine players (Bob Morse, Corky Calhoun, Dave Wohl) of their own as well as a magical Final Four team in 1979, the last time an Ivy school went to the Final Four.
Second, Penn and Princeton form perhaps the best rivalry in college basketball, especially because the Ivies' regular season champ goes to the Big Dance. No post-season tournament for the Ivies.

Wimpy league? Weak schools?

You've got to be joking.

Just ask anyone who plays them.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Walt Harris to Stanford

So the headline gives it away, Pitt coach Walt Harris is going to be the head coach at Leland Stanford Junior University.

Questions for Pac-10 fans, Stanford fans, Stanford alums and anyone else within a stone's throw of "The Farm":

1. Has Stanford given up trying to be the best combination of sports and academics?
2. Is Stanford still considering itself an Ivy League peer?
3. Wasn't Ty Willingham good enough to return to Stanford (he graduated most of his players at Notre Dame)?
4. Is Stanford basically willing to accept Harris' track record at Pitt in terms of graduating players?
5. How much Teflon has the Cardinal given Coach Harris?
6. What type of Kool-Aid has the Stanford administration consumed?
7. Or, basically, are they just kidding when they talk about a commitment to academics now, to student-athletes.

Click here for my post that leads to Ivan Maisel's article about the graduation rates of teams in bowl games. If you're patient enough to put two and two together, you'll note that Pitt's graduation rate was about as good as Richard Nixon's approval rating when he left office in 1974.

Nothing to write home about.

A 31% graduation rate.

I'm sure that Stanford alums are complaining to anyone who will listen that Cal must have lowered its standards in order to finish second in the Pac-10 and end up ranked in the Top 10. I'm not an expert on Cal admissions, although I do know that it is perhaps the toughest public university to get into in the country, both for in-state residents and out-of-staters. And, you'll note, that Cal's graduation rate wasn't mentioned at the top or bottom of the pile in Maisel's article. Which means, then, that they're in the middle, which, of course, would have Stanford alums howling, because that would mean that their arch-rival isn't cultivating the scholar-athlete ideal that the mighty Cardinal does.

Or, that is, did, especially when Ty Willingham was there.

But now that they just inked Walt Harris, the Cardinal fans must be thinking that the Rose Bowl is within their grasp, because it wouldn't seem that the top-10 list for graduation rates in Division I-A programs is.

And it also doesn't seem that Stanford cares about the latter stat at all.

Which means, to the delight of Cal fans, the Stanford fans have to shut up.

After all, how can you really defend a 31% graduation rate?

Even if you're a graduate of Stanford, and are smart enough to come up with a creative defense.

But this isn't the debate team; this argument cuts to the core of what Stanford is all about.

Just win, baby.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

'Tis the Season for an Aging, Jolly Fat Man

Dear Santa:

I am an old man, at least in my profession. But a jolly one at that. So, we have something in common.

I am out of shape, really. A couple of years ago I had my chance to shine on a big stage, but my back just wouldn't cooperate. I had to let an understudy take my place, and, well, the performance was bad.

I spent the following year (last year) on an exodus in a sunny climate, where the healing powers of the sun and sea air did wonders for me. And I performed pretty well, even if the lights on the stages weren't quite as bright.

At this stage in my career many people retire to become coaches, broadcasters or spokesmen. Some give speeches. Others collect appearance fees, and I imagine I could do well at bike shows everywhere. And the memorabilia shows, too, because I've lived a lot of life and have lots of good stories to tell.

But this Christmas, all I am asking is for one more shot at the big-time. This ancient mariner (actually, that's a bad analogy because I never played for them) just wants one more chance to drive the biggest hog (that's motorcycle, as you probably travel with more genteel folk than I do) into the baddest ass biker town in the U.S. of A. Put into baseball terms, I want to stay in the Show for one more season, and I want the bright lights again.

God has blessed me by making me into a lefthanded pitcher who can make strong men weep as my tantalizing array of pitches dances by their flailing bats. And, at forty-one, I can still bring it (if I were a righty, I'd have been out of baseball in my late twenties and working as a Harley salesman in Yuba City). So please work with the powers that be at the World Champions and get them to give me a wonderful Christmas present.

A reasonable contract to pitch for the World Champions.

Years ago, they had a great pitcher named Lefty Grove, one of the five best pitchers of all time, I reckon'.

This year, let me be one of the best lefties to hurl (and I mean, pitch, as I've cut down on the beers to save my back) in the history of Fenway Park.

Thanks, Santa, you won't be disappointed.

Best wishes,

David Wells

Friday, December 10, 2004

How The BCS Is Like Figure Skating

The Sports Economist provides the back-up information as to how Texas overtook Cal in the BCS standings. I agree with his point that if the BCS were figure skating, there would be an international scandal. Certain adults will remember how they used to joke when someone fell that the East German judge gave the spill a 6 and the U.S. judge gave it a 9. Well, perhaps that joke is transferable now, and you can joke that the Big 12 voters ranked your team 20th, while everyone else ranked it 6th.

I disagree with Eric of Off-Wing Opinion (who has one of the best sports blogs out there) who said that Cal had the BCS in its own hands and didn't get it done. Well, they won the game, and I thought that college football had advanced passed the type of thinking where winning the game mattered, and not rolling up the score for the sake of doing so. In my mind, Cal held serve, got the job done (on the road) and deserved to keep its place. Reasonable bloggers, perhaps, will differ, but why isn't this situation a scandal when figure-skating voting by an obviously addled French judge at the Olympics a few years ago did?

That's the real mystery, and, as I blogged before, this whole situation really stinks. To high heaven. It's not the Olympics, perhaps, but today the Olympics has the stature of the United Nations, and that's not saying a whole lot, especially in some quarters. There definitely needs to be a playoff system, and I think many would agree with that (unless, of course, you're a half-baked public company that wants to sponsor the Mediocre Bowl). In the U.S., the top college teams enjoy status higher than that of figure skating, and they deserve fairer treatment. (Even Texas does).

This situation requires an investigation. Names need to be named. Voters need to be questioned. The NCAA and BCS need to ensure that Big 12 coaches didn't sandbag Cal for the sake of more revenue dollars for their conference and therefore their school.

Because if they did, there's a story out there that's more compelling than the breaking of the story in the 1960's that some of the whiz kids on the quiz shows actually were fed information. There's a story out there that resembles the scene in Casablanca, where the croupier at the roulette wheel presses a button to enable the young couple to win enough to buy the prized plane tickets to Lisbon.

Except this time, it would be the bad guys who pushed the button. And it would be the good guys who lost.

And no one likes a story like that.

Absent a public reckoning, people will always wonder who took a powder, who was in the bag, who was intellectually dishonest, and who was just plain clueless. And a cloud will remain over the entire process.

So, NCAA and BCS should welcome and investigation so that they can clear the name of the BCS and any misunderstandings or controversies that surround Texas's berth in the Rose Bowl.

Unless, of course, there is something to hide.

It's funny, because the BCS schools are in a no-win situation, in a sport where, given the recent voting, winning seems to matter so much.

Especially when the jackpot for a BCS bowl game appearance is about $14-$17 million.

Hopefully, the integrity of major college football is worth a whole lot more than that.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Murphy for Football Coach at Notre Dame

He's a perfect fit.

He's won everywhere he's been.

Most, if not all, of his players graduate.

Since he's been at his last stop, every kid on his team has been on a squad that's won a league title.

His most recent team dominated his league. They went undefeated.

They even overcame his league's 800-pound guerrilla. Relatively speaking, his school has higher academic standards than that of the team that they overtook (and beat to a pulp in this year's showdown for what was tantamount to the league's title game).

His wife's maiden name is Kennedy.

Who is this coach, you may ask?

Tim Murphy, that's who.

Who? Where?

Harvard. That's where.

And the idea isn't as far-fetched as you think. Murphy's record at Cambridge is now 66-43 (as this year's 10-0 season isn't reflected in the Harvard bio I linked to, which was written before tis past season began). He did well at Maine as a 30 year-old head coach, then turned around Cincinnati's program, and then did the same at Harvard, making the Blue States' version of the Crimson into an outstanding football program. And at least one Chicago-area writer has put Murphy on the Fighting Irish's "B" list of candidates. Murphy apparently was on Florida's short list when it chose Ron Zook to replace Steve Spurrier three years ago.

Okay, so you're still not convinced. Maine, Cincinnati and Harvard combined, you'd argue, haven't given Murphy the battle testing he'd need to weather the storms he'd face at Notre Dame, both internally and externally. A staunch "big-time" football fan or alum would argue that a Tim Murphy would wither in this type of environment.

Perhaps you'd be right, but it says here you'd be wrong. But this coach is a winner. He's won everywhere he's been, and he's figured out a way to do it. Winning begets winning, and it's fair to say that Coach Murphy has some algorithm floating around in his head that's a formula for success at any college. Including Notre Dame.

Oh, the alumni would kick and shout. The rivals would laugh, derisively, at the awful choice that Notre Dame made. "What next?" some would ask. "Are they going to ask to join the Ivy League? Are they going to drop Michigan and play Yale?"

Notre Dame would have to allow for the doubting. Playing Michigan in Ann Arbor would be a more difficult test than, say, playing Pennsylvania at Franklin Field in front of 29,722 people (less than half capacity) in the Ivies' biggest game. All that is true.

But Tim Murphy is a winner. You can't take that away from him.

And don't think winning at Harvard is easy. With Harvard's vast and differing priorities, and with its abundant prestige, it's not like the powers that be at Harvard really care whether any of their teams do really well. Oh, yes, their men's ice hockey team has had its moments, and now their football team is good, but outside of those achievements the Crimson have been in the middle to the bottom of the Ivy pack in almost everything. Other Ivies (Princeton, Penn) make their athletic programs more of a priority. Somehow, some way, Tim Murphy has figured out a way to make Harvard football, relatively speaking, as good as the Harvard English Department.

That's no small feat, either.

But many will laugh, chalk up this post to a utopian musing, and say, "Okay, now who do you really believe should get the job?"

Well, I've posted before about Penn State football and who should succeed Joe Paterno, and, quite frankly, I've been stumped. Especially in light of the mess at Ohio State and the posting of graduation rates at the schools who are going to bowl games. So, if Penn State has had its issues given its standards, Notre Dame's challenge is even more vexing because it's Notre Dame.

So, I'll pose the question differently, then.

If not Tim Murphy, who?