Thursday, August 31, 2006

Month in Review: August '06

Da Sports Authority passed its 1-month anniversary on the 26th, and I think we've made a lot of progress in August, both in terms of designing the site and in writing posts.

Thanks to providing more commentary on current topics, we've started to draw outside hits and get linked to on various search engines and sports sites. Kevin's post on Chris Cooley's new haircut was the first time I noticed a little authentic buzz on the blog. It was clicked on 4 or 5 times from Google searches, as was my post on Vince Papale. Since then, and with the introduction of individual pages for each post, I've been watching the referral URLs more closely to see where site visitors are coming from.

For example, I saw that my short post on Stephon Marbury's new shoe line proved pretty popular, drawing nearly 50 views from Google and Technorati searches in just a couple days. Ning's excellent series previewing each division for the upcoming NBA season was not only very well written, it got us hits from many different basketball-related searches. Through the site meter (which you can check out yourself at the bottom of the right sidebar) I can also see when people are emailing one of our posts to a friend or when another blog links to your article. My post on how young starting pitchers often fizzle was one that drew a bit of attention this way.

I'm pretty excited that this site is getting a little notice and that Da Sports Authority already has a good web presence on major search engines like Google and Technorati. It certainly took a while longer for me to get noticed when I started my first blog, Citizens Band, almost two years ago. So hopefully we can keep making progress with this site, and see what happens.

Without further ado, below is a summary of what our writers covered this month:

JAY (41 posts):
Soriano stays; Invincible movie; change in NBA seeding; apology for Steinbrenner; ugliest sports uniforms; best area burger chain; rebuilding Team USA; Nationals' TV deal; Legg Mason semis; more on the HoF class; Livan Hernandez trade; Wizards let Jeffries leave; down time in baseball games; some football stat thoughts; Clarett arrest; D.C. defeats Real Madrid; NFL revenue sharing and salary cap; Junior Seau retires; Arenas and Portis hurt; Starbury shoes; preseason games are necesary; Chris Wilcox; two go 18 innings; good young pitchers can be fleeting; Lonny Baxter arrest; recovering from Tommy John; Seau unretires; evaluating Moneyball; U.S.-P.R. game; NL playoff chase; up next for Team USA; Jones, BoSox, Woods, and Roddick; Madden, Green, Rowand, Gatlin, and teammate fights; 'Skins get Duckett; measuring Pujols and Ruth; Julio Franco; improving Terps football; corporate naming; unwise NFL transactions; Agassi at U.S. Open; Dbk column on Terps

NING (10 posts):
The NBA division system; basketball for peace; next cut from Team USA?; USA Game 1 analysis; Atlantic Division preview; Central Division preview; Northwest Division preview; Pacific Division preview; Southwest Division preview; NBA playoff predictions

MOOSE (5 posts):
Defending divisional system; attacking NFL parity; on the HoF class; Jones' EPO result questionable; Cowboys preseason drama

KEVIN (1 post):
Skins preseason preview

Playoff Teams 2007

In order (by new NBA ranking system):

The West:

1) Dallas Mavericks: This team is too deep and too talented to let down from last year's performance, and should be near the top again. If Diop and/or M'benga develop offensively, this could be a downright scary team. If this team is able to rest Nowitzki for the last week or two of the season, it will be a godsend after a grueling 2006.

2) San Antonio Spurs: Last year's travesty will not happen again, as the Spurs will finish second in both their division and their conference. They could be weaker than their seeding indicates at this point, however, if Tim Duncan is worn down or they have lost either Ginobili or Parker to injury.

3) Phoenix Suns: This team has a shot at the NBA Finals, but it won't finish seeded higher than third because it will take some time for D'Antoni to figure out how to work all of his offensive weapons together into a cohesive whole, and with thoroughbreds like Dallas and San Antonio that uneven start to the season will already be too much for this team to overcome. With Stoudemire providing the inside game that the Suns were missing against Dallas during the Western conference finals last year, this team is poised for a finals run, barring a Steve Nash physical breakdown.

4) Denver Nuggets: No team in the Northwest is capable of challenging Denver's potential three All-Stars on their front line.

5) Houston Rockets: Shane Battier is exactly the glue guy that this team was missing to be successful. If even half of the young perimeter guns that this team added in the offseason pan out, they should coast to this spot. Whether or not both Yao and McGrady get there is another question, however.

6) LA Clippers: The Clips will have just enough issues at point to keep them from pushing Phoenix for the Pacific title. At this point, however, the transition to Livingston should be complete, and the stage will be set for a first round Pacific Division rematch and potential upset.

7) Memphis Grizzlies: The Grizz will make the playoffs like they always do. The Grizz will get swept in the first round of the playoffs-as they also always do.

8) New Orleans/OKC Hornets: Chris Paul will get this team to the dance, but just barely. It will be a victory for this building team if they can manage two victories against the best in the West.

The East:

1) Detroit Pistons: They'll still win 55-60 games, and they'll still top the league in the regular season-but how much will they have left? Tayshaun Prince must continue his development if this team is to be a contender for the Finals this year.

2) Miami Heat: The Heat are not as good a regular season team as the Pistons, but they are better in this regard compared to the rest of the league, and they have the playoff experience and veteran savvy on the floor and on their bench to be the playoff favorites in the current format of seven game series.

3) Indiana Pacers: This team is deep, and their depth will carry them to the three seed in the East. If Jermaine O'Neal can take the next step and a true point guard can emerge, this team will be more dangerous to the Heat's chances of repeating than the Pistons will be.

4) New Jersey Nets: There's simply no team in the Atlantic that can challenge the Nets for the crown.

5) Cleveland Cavaliers: The Cavs will become the poster children for simply seeding the NBA by record and guaranteeing the division winners a playoff spot only, as they will soundly outperform the Nets both in the regular season and the playoffs.

6) Washington Wizards: They will make the playoffs again, but until they find another interior scoring threat and/or strong interior defender they will not challenge the top three teams in the league with the possible exception of Detroit, who they match up very well against.

7) Chicago Bulls: The Bulls will struggle to score all season, but their defense will carry them to the playoffs, where they should prove to be a tough test for the older, less athletic Heat.

8) New York Knicks: They were my pick and I'm sticking with it: the Knicks will find a way to make the playoffs, and will possibly mount a challenge to the tired Pistons in their first round matchup.

Stay tuned when the season starts, as I will periodically update this throughout the season to see just how foolish I end up looking.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Diamondback: A Modest Proposal

My column in today's Diamondback is adapted from an earlier post I wrote about ways to improve the Terps football team. (Newest suggestion: cheerleader wrestling.)

Check out "A Modest Proposal".

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

NBA Preview: The Southwest

This division has the potential to be the powerhouse of the West, dating back to last year where the Mavericks had to settle for fourth seed in the west despite having the second best record. Stacked with star power from top to bottom, the races here will evoke memories of the old gunslingers and seedy saloons as the likes of Duncan, Nowitzki and McGrady gun for the crown of best in the West.

Head of the Class: DALLAS MAVERICKS. It's hard to pick against the team that just came within a game and a quarter of winning the NBA championship--and returns everyone except for ineffective Adrian Griffin and little-used Marquis Daniels. Dirk Nowitzki is the best power forward in the world, and the backcourt, 2 point guard combination of Harris and Terry brings game changing all-world speed to Dallas' transition and drive and kick games. The centers, mere placeholders on this team, proved themselves capable of shutting down an aging Shaquille O'Neal who is still one of the top two or three centers in the game offensively. Josh Howard is becoming a Shawn Marion type player, and seems to relish and thrive in that role. As long as Avery Johnson can keep the defensive intensity of this team at its current fever pitch for the entire regular season, the Mavericks have to be considered the favorites to win the division, and probably the conference as well.

Sleeper: HOUSTON ROCKETS. How can you not like this team? Sure, they gave up Rudy Gay for Shane Battier, but what they need to complement their All-Star tandem of Ming and McGrady is a role player like Battier, not a superstar who should demand touches to maximize his potential like Gay. Last year this was a team that desperately needed to get more athleticism and better outside shooting from players not named McGrady, and they addressed that in adding the gritty Battier (who can spell McGrady at the 3, something which is critical if the Rockets want to have his services for the entire regular season) and the sweet shooting Steve Novak. As with any team acquiring new pieces, how these players will fit into the defensive framework (particularly Novak) will be an issue, as is their lack of an athletic rebounder at the power forward position to spell Yao on the glass, (for he can't go hard for 48 minutes, either) but I feel that this team's rededication to role players will help to get it back into the playoffs.

Bust: SAN ANTONIO SPURS. I know, I know. The Spurs are the class of the NBA, their execs always make the right choices, they have an all-world center in Tim Duncan, they have ten players on their roster that could start for other teams in the NBA, etc, etc, but lying underneath all of the lustrous exterior lies an inside that is, while still solid, not as strong as it once was. Consider that Duncan's numbers have gone down each season for the past four seasons. Outside of Duncan, this team is remarkably weak at rebounding, having to depend on the services of Francisco Elson and the unproven Jackie Butler. The reserves (Horry, Finley, Barry, Oberto) that were once the strength of this team are all over thirty and are deteriorating physically. No one knows how Parker is going to come back from his broken finger, Ginobili is almost thirty himself, and Bowen is 35 years old. Having concentrated on only amassing veteran, proven talent for so long has begun to take its toll on the Spurs, as Udrih, Parker, and Butler are their only players under the age of 25, and of the three only Tony Parker can be considered a talent worthy of building a team around. I simply don't think that this team will make it through an 82 game regular season campaign with enough to make it back to the NBA finals at the end. While this isn't the normal definition of a bust, it is for the Spurs, who should finally fall off of their semi-dynasty that has brought them three rings under Duncan's leadership.

The Others: MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES. Finally the Grizzlies have a potentially explosive scorer to complement Pau Gasol on the inside in Rudy Gay, but I'm worried about this team's lack of clutchness. They routinely destroy the lower echelons of the NBA to make the playoffs, only to fall flat of their face once they get there. Once is unfortunate, twice is tragic, and three times is just playing soft and folding in the face of competition. Pau Gasol is not a scorer in the clutch; he has shown this time and again. Neither is Rudy Gay, who repeatedly deferred to less talented teammates when at UConn. The rest of their roster is similarly talented, and similarly not clutch, with the possible exception of Damon Stoudemire. Until the Grizzlies solve their problem with mental toughness, they will be a perennial 45-50 win team that is a guaranteed first round out in the playoffs.

NEW ORLEANS/OKLAHOMA CITY HORNETS. This is perhaps the most active team in the offseason, having added Tyson Chandler, Bobby Jackson and Peja Stojakovic in free agency and Cedric Simmons and Hilton Armstrong in the draft. I'm not sure how the chemistry and positions work out here, however. Cedric Simmons will back up David West, the Hornets' leading scorer from a year before, and share playing time with Brandon Bass. Both centers for this team are new, in Chandler and Armstrong, and neither is much of a scoring threat. Bobby Jackson is a slower, older version of Speedy Claxton, Chris Paul's backup from a year ago, and does not have the size to play alongside Paul that Claxton had. Peja and Desmond Mason, the small forwards, both have issues with defense and rebounding, a problem at the most athletically demanding defensive position on the floor. This team certainly has the talent to be good, and that should be enough to ease them into the playoffs, but it will take a masterful coaching job by Byron Scott and floor generalship from the incomparable CP3 to take this team past the first round.

Projected Finish:
1) Dallas Mavericks
2) San Antonio Spurs
3) Houston Rockets
4) Memphis Grizzlies
5) New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets

Go Agassi!

There is no better story than a top athlete going out on top, and I'm hoping that Andre Agassi (my favorite tennis player) gets to do that in his last tournament before retirement. I just saw him come out on top in an excellent first-round victory over Andrei Pavel at the U.S. Open. After dropping the first set 6-7, he won the next two sets 7-6 (coming back from 0-4 in the third) before finally wearing down Pavel in the fourth, 6-2, to take the match. That's right, a 36-year old Agassi tired a tough, determined, younger opponent in a 3.5 hour match. I'm glad I got to watch, because while I was clearly watching an older Agassi, it felt like seeing a vintage Agassi.

...Now I know the chances that he will make a long, magical run deep into this tournament are slim. His body may not hold up. His draw is going to be very tough--up next is the formidable #8 Marco Baghdatis. Etc, etc. But at least for now, with Agassi advancing one more round into the Open, we can hope for the best. His career is still alive. Good luck, Andre!

Monday, August 28, 2006

Dumb NFL Moves

NFL general managers across the league had their minds clouded today. Below, I weigh in on a few questionable transactions from this manic Monday:

The Tennessee Titans signed aging veteran Kerry Collins today, rewarding the old man with not just a contract, but word that he could apparently be the new starter in town. How this makes any sense, I don't understand, considering that incumbent QB Billy Volek, the backup in town the past 6 years, has put up good numbers in the limited action he'd seen. Not only that, but I guess Collins' signing means that rookie Vince Young moves a notch down the depth chart. Anyway, I just think Volek shouldn't be punished for the fact that he didn't win many games with the struggling Titans these past few years. He has earned the chance to prove that he can be the team's starter.

Volek's stats (past 3 seasons)

YearGamesCompAttYdsTDIntRating
20037446954541101.4
2004102183572,486181087.1
2005650884744277.6

Speaking of dinosaurs, the Oakland Raiders dusted off a veritable fossil today with the signing of Jeff George. Ok, we know the passing game in Oaktown is terrible, but the best you could do was this old hothead who hasn't thrown a pass in 5 years? Really? George, long known as a gunslinger QB who could never get along with his coaches, was last seen in a regular season game wearing a Redskins uniform for a couple games in 2001. I have to think that even if the sad-sack Raiders actually give him playing time (hard to imagine), George is good for not much more than laughs.

Lastly, in the day's most important move, the Philadelphia Eagles acquired WR Donte Stallworth from the New Orleans Saints. Before you ask me what beef I have with Stallworth, let me assure you that I come to praise Stallworth, not bury him. My problem is that it seems the Saints got hosed. The receiver-need, post-T.O. Eagles were dying for help at the position, and Stallworth (70 catches, 945 yards last year) fits the bill perfectly. However, to get him, the Eagles only gave up veteran LB Mark Simoneau (a special-teams player now) and a conditional fourth-round pick. If the Saints really think their young receiving corps outside of Joe Horn is ready to step up, good for them. I hope new QB Drew Brees feels that way.

NBA Preview: The Pacific

The season begins anew for the Pacific division, a division which contributed four teams (Kings, Suns, Lakers, Clippers) to the playoffs last year. All four of these teams have reason for renewed optimism this year and look to make 2006-2007 a season to remember for the west coast.

Head of the Class: PHOENIX SUNS. How do you pick against a team which has the back to back MVP in the NBA-and has another MVP-type player returning from injury? The 2006 playoffs were a revelation for the Suns in the art of playing without Amare Stoudemire, calling forth huge performances from new acquisitions Raja Bell and Boris Diaw. Marion had another Marion-esque season, and Steve Nash, as stated above, won the MVP-again. Next year's starting five looks to be Diaw, Marion, Nash, Bell, and Stoudemire, a starting five which I personally believe to be better than Detroit's highly touted starting five in talent at least. Stoudemire's return may cause chemistry problems with Diaw and Marion, and D'Antoni has to be concerned with the fact that both Marion and Stoudemire were sent home early from Team USA preparation because of minor injuries, but unless another team in the division takes a major step forward the Suns should win the division with ease and push Dallas and San Antonio for the Western Conference crown.

Sleeper: LA LAKERS. It's hard to ever call the Lake-show a sleeper for anything, but I put them in this spot because I believe that they are an up-and coming team who learned a great deal from their seven game series against a more experienced Phoenix team last year. Kobe Bryant will still be Kobe Bryant, and youngsters Farmar and Bynum should contribute right away. Lamar Odom has proven his worth as either a small forward or power forward, and Kwame Brown, if nothing else, is another big body to pull down rebounds. The Lakers seem to be building themselves into more of a defense oriented team that leans on Kobe in the halfcourt, something which requires the role players to step up. If their youngsters can help shoulder some of the scoring load earlier in games, then Kobe can avoid the exhaustion that plagued him last year and be him normal clutch self at the end of games. Depending on how all of these question marks turn out, the Lakers have the potential to be the surprise team in the West this year.

Bust: GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS. A team can hardly be called a bust when it has little recent history to live up to, but Golden State has managed that feat in my book. A move made for a team which won a mere 31 games last year is almost always better than a move not made, and yet that is exactly what Golden State failed to do. Baron Davis is the type of point guard who needs to be motivated by success or acquisitions to be successful, and the Warriors have added little around him except raw big man Patrick O'Bryant. This team needs to face reality: their team as-is is not very good, and is very limited on its potential to develop into a team that is very good, and any improvement that this team is to make must start by reconstructing its explosive but inconsistent backcourt. Until that is done, this team will not finish higher than fourth at the very best in this division.

The Others: LA CLIPPERS. The Clippers are coming off of a very good season that saw the emergence of Elton Brand that carried them to a seven game second round loss to the Phoenix Suns. The biggest issue with the Clippers this season is the transition from Sam Cassell to Shaun Livingston at point guard. These two have very different playing styles that play to their experience and athletic ability, respectively, and it will be very difficult for this team to make the adjustment smoothly over the course of a season as they will probably have to do next season. Corey Maggette is a perennial question mark: will he dominate, or will he be silenced? He is a player who needs to develop a more consistent game, starting with a jump shot that has a range of more than 10 feet away from the basket. Chris Kaman is quietly becoming one of the top five centers in the NBA, and his continued development should help ease the pain of transition. The Clippers will fall off some from last year, but they should still make the playoffs and have the potential to make some noise there if everything clicks for them once they get there.

SACRAMENTO KINGS. This team has really developed an attitude on defense after acquiring Ron Artest from the Pacers. Even though they lost Bonzi Wells in the offseason, (a loss that everyone expected) they still have good talent coming back in the form of Miller, Bibby, and Abdur-Raheem. If this team can continue to build off of the defensive intensity of a year ago they have the chance to push deep into the playoffs, barring another Ron Artest blowup.

Projected Finish:
1) Phoenix Suns
2) LA Clippers
3) LA Lakers
3) Sacramento Kings
5) Golden State Warriors

Saturday, August 26, 2006

NBA Preview: The Northwest

We begin our examination of the Western Conference with a look at the Northwest Division, a division from which only one team, the Nuggets, finished above .500 last year. That has the potential to change this season, however, as the Timberwolves and Blazers have both made savvy additions to their teams that have the potential to raise their teams back to respectability, starting with stud rookies Brandon Roy and Randy Foye, respectively.

Head of the Class: DENVER NUGGETS. While the other teams in the division have certainly made moves towards the top, the Nuggets must enter the season as the favorite to repeat atop this division. With Carmelo Anthony, Nene Hilario, Marcus Camby and Kenyon Martin rotating on the frontline, the Nuggets will have an All-Star type player at or near his prime coming off the bench, a luxury that most teams in the NBA cannot boast. Andre Miller continues to provide steady point guard play, and JR Smith arrives from the Hornets to finally supply the perimeter shooter needed to complement Carmelo Anthony's game. With so many weapons on paper, and with Anthony coming off of a career-defining stint with USA Basketball at the World Championships, Denver is poised to bring the noise and walk away with the Northwest crown.

Sleeper: MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES. The Timberwolves have made a number of savvy choices this offseason, starting with their acquisition of Randy Foye, a potential rookie of the year in the draft. Randy is an ideal fit for this team as the other perimeter scorer needed to complement the talents of Kevin Garnett and the mercurial Ricky Davis in a perimeter oriented attack. Further, Foye is an even better fit for this team than most players because of his experiences at Villanova, where he routinely played in lineups of 4 perimeter players. Some combination of Eddie Griffin and Marcus Blount will provide the rebounding for this team, and possibly even some of the inside scoring that Garnett does not provide from the power forward spot. If Mike James can revert back to a pass-first point guard, he should be able to run an efficient and dagerous T-Wolves team into the playoffs.

Bust: UTAH JAZZ. I simply do not believe in the moves that this team made in the offseason. Look at their additions in the draft: a 6 foot nothing point guard, a shooting guard who can't shoot who gets by on athleticism alone, and a power forward from Louisiana Tech who is not named Malone. It's not enough. Derek Fisher was brought in for leadership, but that's all you can expect out of Fisher at this point; he's on the wrong side of 30 and not looking back. Deron Williams has the opposite problem; he is simply not where I would want a franchise point guard to be in terms of development coming into his second year. Gordon Giricek and Matt Harpring are only OK options at the 2, and will probably only serve to confound playing time at the 2. The only chance that Utah has is to pray that Kirilenko, Okur, and Boozer are all healthy at the same time for an extended period next year, something which has yet to happen ever. Because of these factors, namely the smallish backcourt, combination of senility and inexperience everywhere and health problems in the frontcourt I foresee the Jazz struggling next year.

The Others: PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS. The Trailblazers remade a large part of their image and game this offseason, and most of their moves were for the better. LaMarcus Aldridge gives the Blazers a go-to scorer in the low post, a spot that Zach Randolph, talented as he is, struggled in last year. Randolph is a Marion-type player, in that he excells in the garbage man role but struggles when the team's offense must run through him. Brandon Roy is one of those players whose presence alone will mean an extra 5-10 wins for a team. For a rookie combo guard, you can't ask for much more than that. The Jamaal Magloire trade was huge for the Trailblazers in bringing a level of professionalism back to a team that desperately needs it. If Martell Webster continues to develop, and Darius Miles plays even close to the level that Darius Miles can play at, this team has the potential to surprise some people.

SEATTLE SUPERSONICS. In a wildly fluctuating Northwest division, this is the one team that has not made any major moves this offseason, and I think that it will hurt them. Keep in mind, this 'Sonics team only won 35 games last year after winning 50 the year before, so it's not like they have a great nucleus/winning tradition to build around. The problem for this team is that it can't guard anyone on the perimeter. The arrival of Saer Sene as apparently the next great shot blocker in the NBA helps this, but not as much as acquiring a premier perimeter defender in the Bruce Bowen or Ron Artest mold would have. There is no question that Ridnour, Allen, and Lewis can score; the issue is that the three of them can't stop anybody from scoring on them. Because the 'Sonics did little to address that this offseason, there is no reason to assume that they will improve. The one intriguing thing about this team is to observe whether or not Chris Wilcox will build off of his strong end to last season to become a dominant force down low, teaming with Sene and Swift to become a feared frontline in the NBA.

Projected Finish:
1) Denver Nuggets
2) Minnesota Timberwolves
3) Portland Trailblazers
4) Utah Jazz
5) Seattle Supersonics

Friday, August 25, 2006

Corporate Naming of Stadiums

When I was growing up in San Diego, the Chargers and Padres played at Jack Murphy Stadium. One thing I came to appreciate in hindsight, after seeing how virtually every stadium in pro sports came to be named for some corporation, was that "The Murph" was named for a beloved local sportswriter. And when I first moved to the D.C. area, the Redskins played at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium, named for the team's late long-time owner. Of course, Jack Murphy Stadium is now Qualcomm Stadium, and Jack Kent Cooke Stadium is now FedEx Field.

Nonetheless, I understand that naming rights bring in a lot of money for the team, and if that's going to help them win, I guess that's a sacrifice we have to accept. We're never again going to see the beautiful simplicity of "Yankee Stadium", "Dodger Stadium", "Fenway Park", et al. And I don't even mind corporate stadium names in cities where the company has close ties, i.e. Ford Field in Detroit, Wrigley Field in Chicago.

But in other cases, teams should at least try and be less ham-handed about naming their home. Don't select names that sound ridiculous. Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, and the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston come to mind. Like I said earlier today, Chevy Chase Bank just paid the University of Maryland $20 million to put their name on the field. There's a lot of money to be had in naming rights, which gives me an idea for this blog...how does "Campbell's Chunky Soup presents Da Sports Authority" sound?

A Modest Proposal for Improving Terps Football

Chevy Chase Bank is paying $20 million for 25-year naming-rights (just me, or does that seem cheap?) to the University of Maryland's football stadium. Welcome to Chevy Chase Bank Field at Byrd Stadium, y'all. (Full disclosure: my bank, my school.) Apparently, the money will help pay for renovations to that crumbling dump and add some more luxury suites.

No word yet if the most important improvement needed will be implemented: getting the idiots in the student section not to stand on the bleachers for all four quarters. Note to morons: you can root for your team very effectively without blocking the view of everyone else behind you, forcing them to also stand up, which in turns leads to the people behind them standing up, and so on and so on. My feet get ever so weary...

Anyway, since the Maryland football team has fallen on hard times, I say why stop at just naming the stadium? We could do with a lot more cash to help build a better program. Some suggestions:

- Sell the naming rights to the coach's title. Our head coach is Ralph "The Fridge" Friedgen, so I'm sure Whirlpool might be interested.

- Allow car dealerships to pay our quarterbacks money for work they didn't do. Actually, since all of our QBs are terrible, let's just get that guy Rhett Bomar they kicked out of Oklahoma.

- Charge students an exit fee if they leave the game early. Everyone complains about how Terp students show little support and don't deserve their free tickets. I bet they'd stay longer if you told those cheapskates they had to fork over a dollar to duck out at halftime.

- Switch conferences, to, oh, I dunno, the Ivy League. I heard those Yalies and Dartmouth nerds aren't very good either.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

NBA Preview: The Southeast

We round out analysis of the Eastern Conference with a preview of the Southeast Division. This division is a land of extremes, being home to both the World Champion Miami Heat and the sad sack Hawks. Some of the teams here have made strides forward, and some have taken a step back and it will be interesting to see how this division plays out with all of the changes that have occurred.

Head of the Class: MIAMI HEAT. The world champs return all five starters as well as every key reserve, but they are all a year older. While the age increase may not hurt Dwayne Wade and Udonis Haslem, the old guard of Payton, Mourning and Shaq may take a step backward simply due to diminished skills. The talent and the formation of the chemistry that finally brought the team together at the end of the regular season should keep Miami at the top of the Southeast division for next year at least, but past 2007 Pat Riley's club will need to bring in some young blood to maintain their lead on the other young and developing teams in their division.

Sleeper: ATLANTA HAWKS. If the NBA were played with streetball rules last year, the Hawks would have dominated. As it was, it wasn't, so they didn't, but there is great hope for Atlanta this next year because they have finally landed an NBA starting caliber point guard in Speedy Claxton. Even an average point guard would be a dramatic improvement over last year's platoon of Royal Ivey and Tyronn Lue, and Claxton is a better than average point guard. His addition will continue the development of Joe Johnson into the superstar 2 that he can be while increasing the value of the stable of young, athletic, and raw small forwards that the Hawks have accrued over the years. Sheldon Williams gives this team the no-frills workmanlike post player that Zaza Puchilla was not last year, and gives them a viable option down low in the half-court set. As it stands right now, Atlanta has a chance for 10 to 15 more wins than last year, approaching .500 and respectability.

Bust: CHARLOTTE BOBCATS. Is it just me, or are the Bobcats supposed to be saved every single year by their draft picks? Last year it was Ray Felton and Sean May, and this year it's Adam Morrison. I cannot remember one big move that Charlotte has made on the free agent market. (trading Jason Kapono doesn't count) Because of this, their team is continually young and inexperienced when compared against their opponents. For a team without an established superstar at any position who can take over the game, this weakness has the potential to be fatal. That trend will continue this year, especially as Ray Felton is set to take the starting PG spot from Brevin Knight and Sean May is set to return. Look for Charlotte to do better than last year by less than ten wins, and to remain in the cellar of the Southeast Division.

The Others: ORLANDO MAGIC. The addition of J. J. Redick in the draft automatically makes this a better team. Howard already dominates down low on the glass, (he led the league in rebounding last year)and as a 20 year old player his offensive game is only going to continue to develop. He is the type of player that demands a double team, and that should free up Redick and Jameer Nelson, maybe the deadliest sharpshooting duo in league, on the outside. Darko Milicic should continue to develop into a nice complementary post player to Howard, and will start the slow process of redemption from bust status. The SF position is a problem with Grant Hill's perennial health problems and Trevor Ariza not yet being ready to play, but if either Arize suddenly figures it out or Hill can remain healthy for an entire season this team has the potential to surprise some people and possibly worm its way into the playoffs.

WASHINGTON WIZARDS. This team really underperformed last year in finishing with a 42-40 record in the regular season, a record that does not match with their talent level, and the reason for their underperformance was their frontcourt and their defensive intensity. If the Wizards, specifically, Arenas and Jamison, have a cold shooting night, they cannot win; their opponents simply score too many points, and they have no go-to scorer in the low post. They are like the Dallas Mavericks on offense and like the Dallas Mavericks pre-Avery Johnson on defense. The Wizards, unless they make a move for a true low-post scorer or really turn up their defensive intensity, are looking at, once again, a 40-45 win season and a first or second round exit in the playoffs.

Projected Finish:
1) Miami Heat
2) Washington Wizards
3) Atlanta Hawks
4) Orlando Magic
5) Charlotte Bobcats

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Wanna Be Julio? Start with 20 Eggs!

My oldest memory of Julio Franco is selecting the then-Texas Ranger second basemen to my All-Star Team in a 1992 baseball video game for Sega Genesis.

Today, Mets 1B Julio Franco (the same guy) turned 48 years old. That's right, 48. Well, he might be even older, perhaps 50 or 51, because birth certificates from the Dominican Republic aren't always exactly accurate. But let's assume the paper has it pegged right, which means you've got a 48 year who broke into the league in 1982 still playing ball. He's not doing it as a designated hitter either.

Yahoo's Jeff Passan appreciates Julio Franco--read his chuckle-inducing take on what it's like being the muscled ageless wonder. "Every morning," Passan writes, "Julio Franco takes 20 or so eggs, separates the whites from the yolks and cooks them into a big, fluffy cloud of protein." If you can stomach a two-pound omelet upon waking--Passan tried and failed--then you have Franco's afternoon shake to look forward to, "made of beets, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, garlic, onions and, just to ensure the taste doesn't make him wretch, an apple."

In his 25th season as a baseball player, Franco's career is still alive. At 20 eggs a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days in a year, we're talking 7,300 eggs consumed a year. Not only have Franco's 2,500+ hits been a boon to the many clubs he's played for, his penchant for eggs must be a boon to many, many farmers. Maybe not the hens, though.

Albert Pujols vs. The Babe

Be sure to pick up the September issue of that bastion of sports reporting, GQ magazine, for an interesting report on a study of reflex tests given to both Babe Ruth and today's King of Swing, Cardinals 1B Albert Pujols. Whether these tests have any meaning or validity, and whether they can be accurately used to predict or assess athletic ability I don't know, but I'd be interested in reading the article when it hits newsstands.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch previews:

Researchers put Pujols through a range of tests, from finger tapping to visual responses to bat speed. He smoked them. And while the comparison has limitations, his results were strikingly similar to the Babe's.

In 1921, psychologists at Columbia University put the Hall of Fame hitter and pitcher through scientific tests to try to determine what made him so great. The New York Times heralded the results, proclaiming George Herman "Babe" Ruth "supernormal." He had faster than average reflexes, steady nerves, and superior sight and hearing.

At Washington University, clinical neuropsychologist Desiree White and cognitive psychologist Richard Abrams and their colleagues gave Pujols tests resembling the ones Ruth took. Both men were 26 years old and top hitters when they were tested. And both demonstrated they were above average - way above average.
And check out this video of Pujols being tested as he swings a bat:

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NBA Preview: The Central

I continue with the Central division, the most competitive division in the NBA, and possibly the most competitive division in all of sports except for maybe the NFC East or the AL Central. All five teams in this division have the potential to make the playoffs. In fact, they accomplished that feat just last year. That's how good they are. Without further ado,

Head of the Class: DETROIT PISTONS. They lost Ben Wallace in the offseason, but the remainder of their core is still intact. Even with an aging Rasheed, Tayshaun Prince, Rip Hamilton and Chauncey Billups still represents the most complete, offensively, defensively, and in terms of chemistry with one another, backcourt in the league. Flip Murray will help to produce the instant offense that this team lacked against the Heat in the playoffs last year, and Mohammed will be an additional scoring threat on the floor. He doesn't have the defensive presence of Wallace, but he also allows his team to not have to play essentially a man down on offense. With every other team in the division having improved, the Pistons won't be as dominant as they were a year before, but I believe they still have enough weapons to stay atop the Central.

Sleeper: INDIANA PACERS. This is a team that has shed all of the issues of the past save one: their lack of a reliable, durable point guard. Jasikevicius is not the answer, and Tinsley has not shown an ability to stay healthy. Despite this, however, the Pacers made out like bandits this offseason, securing the services of Al Harrington (for next to nothing, I might add) and Marquis Daniels, really addressing the team's issues at the 2-4 positions, respectively. If Tinsley steps up and Al Harrington can get on the floor at the same time as Jermaine O'Neal this team will be very difficult to deal with, and could push for the divisional crown.

Bust: MILWAUKEE BUCKS. It's difficult to pick a team to bust in such a loaded division, but if I had to pick one of these five teams to not make the playoffs it would be the Bucks. Nothing personal; they simply lack a starter-level player at the point guard position, instead relying on a platoon of Steve Blake, Mo Williams, and Charlie Bell. That's simply not going to cut it with the talent level of the other teams in this debate. The rest of the team, outside of Bobby Simmons, Michael Redd and possibly the still-developing Villanueva and Bogut are middling players at best at their respective positions. With so much youth on the team (no player is over 30 except for Ruben Patterson, a player hardly known for his leadership skills) and so much shakeup of the roster, (seven of the fifteen players currently on their roster are new faces) this team is simply not ready to compete with the other teams in the division yet.

The Others: CLEVELAND CAVALIERS. The Cav's fortunes are rising along with those of their star, LeBron James, but they will not truly be an elite team until they move Zydrunas Ilgauskas. He simply does not fit in the type of running, fast-break system that guys like LeBron, Hughes and Gooden flourish in. As he is also their second leading scorer, many times the Cavs find themselves slowing down the tempo of the game to accomodate the aching feet of their Center. Nevertheless, this team has LeBron James, and as such are a championship contender. The only thing keeping them from being listed as the best is that they are not as balanced a team as the Pistons are in that they are still missing a true point guard and that second perimeter scorer who can help space the floor for James and punish double teams by hitting the open 3's. If the Cavs can get a player like that, or if youngsters Gibson or Brown develop into that soon, then the Cavs are a championship contender.

CHICAGO BULLS. This team probably made the most noise and added the most during the offseason in #4 overall draft pick Tyrus Thomas, #13 Thabo Sefolosha, and prying Ben Wallace away from the Pistons. My only question is who will score for this team on the cold-shooting streches that inevitably occur in every season, as the only true low post scorer present is the 37 year old PJ Brown. If Brown ever gets hurt, as he has done the past several years, the Bulls will find themselves without a mid-to-high tier inside scorer, a necessity for a contender, particularly one with the offensive deficiencies of Chicago. If Sweetney or Malik Allen develop as such, then maybe the Bulls will make a run deep into the playoffs; otherwise, there's no way they will make it past the second round.

Projected Finish:
1) Detroit Pistons
2) Indiana Pacers
3) Cleveland Cavaliers
4) Chicago Bulls
5) Milwaukee Bucks

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

'Skins acquire Duckett

Not content to merely sit and wait for Clinton Portis's injured shoulder to heal, the Washington Redskins have gone out and got Atlanta Falcons' running back T.J. Duckett. The move came as part of a three-team deal that had the 'Skins sending an '07 third-rounder to Denver and the Bronocos sending receiver Ashley Lelie to the Falcons.

Duckett has been a solid backup RB in Atlanta for the past four seasons. Though his numbers dropped off a bit last year, he has been successful as a power runner and short-yardage grinder, averaging 8 rushing TDs a year in his career. His style should translate well to the 'Skins game, where he will nicely complement Portis's speed and agility.

More importantly, Duckett, at over 250 pounds, will be able to absorb a lot of blows. Portis, damaged goods that he is, will benefit greatly from having the other guy take a lot of the hits. But you fantasy heads out there, don't tell me later I didn't warn you that Duckett will infuriate Portis owners with several "vulture" TDs!

As the primary backup to Portis, Duckett's acquisition will have repercussions on the Redskins depth chart. Current reserve tailbacks Ladell Betts and Rock Cartwright will see a lot less action, and one of them may be moved. It's kind of a shame, because I've always thought that Betts could make a good starting back, and Cartwright has been a solid role player. Consider, by the way, that aside from Jon Jansen and Chris Samuels, Betts and Cartwright are the longest-tenured Redskins, dating back to 2002. (See Mike Wise's recent column on the humble, hard-working tandem.) Given that Betts has more trade value and that Cartwright is a key special teams player, I wouldn't be surprised to see Betts traded.

Cowboys Preseason Events

If you are a diehard Dallas Cowboys fan like me you probably know how the media likes to blow up anything that happens in Dallas. This year they are trying to make mountains out of two molehills: T.O. and Romo. First off, I'd like to address the T.O. issue.

T.O. will succeed in Dallas. Here's why. He has to. This is his last opportunity to prove that he can play, and he will prove that. It's unfortunate that he does have a hamstring injury, but give him a break. I personally think the Discovery Channel thing was quite funny. Yes, he hasn't played in the last two preseason games, but hopefully he'll be back soon. Then again, everybody was saying he wouldn't play in the Super Bowl, and he was the only Eagle who came to play. On top of that, Owens has been teaching rookie Sam Hurd to play receiver in the NFL, and Hurd has been oustanding in camp and during the preseason. So, T.O. will be a threat this year. The NFL better watch out.

Now, about Romo. Romo looks good--he looks pretty damn good. But Bledsoe will be the QB this year. Parcells needs to see if Romo can play as a backup this year, and if he is good enough to be a backup, then Parcells needs to see if Romo can start next year or the year after, whenever Bledsoe retires. Bledsoe looks damn good as well. If anybody watched the Cowboys-Saints preseason game, you would have seen Bledsoe making some absurdly sick touch passes. It's what Bledsoe has, and in this two tight end offense he has the capability to win because of the option of additional protection, and the fact that it's a timing based offense. If the Cowboys can develop a run game, they are legitimate contenders because of their defense.

But why the Cowboys are a Super Bowl contender will be for another entry. . .

Da Sports Zeitgeist (Aug. 22)

Observations on a few stories in the world of sports, brought to you today by John Madden video game aphorisms.



"Boom!" Madden 07 came out today; let the mayhem ensue. In past years, I'd be really gung-ho about this. After all, I've played every incarnation of the game since the '96 version. But now I figure I'll save my money, and in a couple weeks, find someone else who has it in their dorm room. While you stretch your thumbs, check out DJ Gallo's tongue-in-cheek analysis of the game's player attributes rating system. Sample grab: "98 -- The awareness rating for Ray Lewis. That strikes me as a bit high for a guy who for the longest time couldn't remember anything about a certain evening in Atlanta a few years ago, don't you agree?"

"That'll clear up his sinuses!" Shawn Green won't be a-snifflin' anymore. The veteran outfielder got his ticket out of Arizona punched today when the New York Mets acquired him in a trade. All it took was a waiver of the ol' no-trade clause to go from being stuck on a perpetually mediocre team to the only good team in the NL. Congratulations.

"They used to be able to put stick 'em on their hands..." Doped sprinter Justin Gatlin was never the world's fastest man. Yep kids, that's what happens when you get caught cheating. Gatlin, age 24, accepted an eight year ban from the sport today and had his 100 meters record from May '06 wiped from the record books. Eight year ban? Let's hope that doesn't foster any illusions about a senior citizen comeback. We already have Evander Holyfield to cringe over.

"Hey, where'd that truck come from?!" Just like it got irritating in the video game when Madden would say it over and over, Phillies OF Aaron Rowand must be wondering the same thing. Earlier this season he ran into the centerfield wall and broke his nose while making a spectacular catch, but the play sidelined him for weeks. Did someone say deja vu all over again? Last night Rowand had an ugly collision with teammate Chase Utley going for a pop fly. Rowand's likely gone for the season.

"He flattened him like a pancake!" A lot is being made about the argument between Toronto manager John Gibbons and pitcher Ted Lilly last night that apparently ended in a scuffle. Gibbons may or may not have wound up with a bloody nose. Not that we'll ever know, because the whole thing went down in the Jays' clubhouse, out of range of camera. The whole incident leaves anyone in the mood for some good old fashioned teammate-hate unsatisfied. I still remember when Redskins WR Michael Westbrook went psycho on RB Stephen Davis during training camp back in 1997. You may recall seeing this one on your telly: a sucker punch and a lot of pummeling, ring a bell? I've scoured the Internet looking for a video clip of this, with no luck. A shiny new donkey to anyone who finds one for me.

NBA Preview: The Atlantic

Greetings, and welcome to the first of six previews for the upcoming NBA season. I'd hoped to have a resolution for the Al Harrington trade before I began writing this, but it looks like that is unlikely to happen. I begin with the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference.

Head of the Class: NEW JERSEY NETS. It's difficult to see any of the other teams in the division catching up with the New Jersey Nets and their lethal backcourt trio of Jefferson, Carter, and Kidd. With the continued progression of Nenad Krstic and the utter steal of the draft in Marcus Williams, the Nets are better, not worse, than they were last year, when they won the division convincingly. With the addition of Josh Boone for frontline depth and studs at positions 1-4 on the floor, the Nets should easily coast to win this division.

Sleeper: NEW YORK KNICKS. This is almost sacrilege at this point, but I'm picking the New York Knicks to finish a surprising second in this division. This is not as ridiculous as it sounds: to finish second, all the Knicks have to do is get by a team built around aging versions of Allen Iverson and Chris Webber, a ridiculously young Celtics team and a Raptors team that, while talented, I feel has neither the chemistry nor the experience to have a solid grip on the number two spot. With the continued development of Frye and Curry, the consistent play of Lee, and the infusion of energy and defense from new Knicks Balkman (a player who, though probably never an all-star, is a fan favorite type for his gritty, all-out style of play) and Jeffries, look for Marbury and Francis to somehow lead the Knicks to 40-45, second place in the weak Atlantic, and a playoff berth.

Bust: PHILADELPHIA 76ERS. Every year someone says that Iverson is going to fall off the horse, and every year he proves them wrong with great individual statistics--while proving them right with either a first round exit in the playoffs or missing them entirely. No one doubts Iverson's heart or ability, but, past 30 as he is, everyone must have at least some doubts of his continued endurance and his ability to mesh with his team.

Even more disturbing than the limitations on Iverson at this point in his career are the limitations on the rest of his team. Webber is shot as a low post player, and even though he put up numbers last year you got the sense that the new Webber is containable, and more, is one-dimensional: stick a player like Josh Howard on him to guard him tight and harass his shot and his impact on the game will be limited. Dalembert has not shown that he can do anything on the offensive end, and Kyle Korver cannot defend. Iguodala is a talent, but Korver's defensive limitations and the lack of a true point guard forces him to play the two, a position he is not well suited for because of his inconsistent shot.

With Rodney Carney not yet ready to step up and no true ballhandler of any talent beyond Iverson, (the only other point guard on their roster is the ineffective Kevin Ollie) I expect the Sixers to get between 35-40 wins and fail to make the playoffs again, sparking yet another offseason of rumors of Iverson trades.

The Others: BOSTON CELTICS. This team really hurt itself by positioning itself to trade for and then failing to acquire Iverson. They now have two smallish poin guards in Rondo and Telfair, which would not be a problem except for the fact that they already had Tony Allen, Delonte West, and Orien Greene to play the point. That means that the only two true shooting guards on this team are Paul Pierce and the 6'2" Allan Ray. That's not good. Further, Al Jefferson is a weak play at power forward at this point in his development, and Kendrick Perkins/Theo Ratliff are weak starts at center because of their lack of experience/advanced age, respectively. The youth movement in Boston will eventually pay off, but the Celtics will not be the playoff contender that they would have been with Brandon Roy or Randy Foye.

TORONTO RAPTORS. So you're the Raptors. You grabbed the skinny Italian kid who scouts say will be the next Nowitzki from Benneton Treviso with the 1st pick overall. You traded Charlie Villanueva, one of the bright stars in your organization, for TJ Ford, the fastest point guard in the league, to run your team's fast breaking offense. You have an All-Star level player in Chris Bosh, and a developing Josh Howard-type in Joey Graham. So what's missing? Why are the Raptors listed here, and not being picked to unseat the Nets, or at least push for second place? The answer lies in their experience level. Their projected starting lineup of Ford, Peterson, Graham, Bargnani and Bosh combine for 13 years of NBA man-years of playing experience- and that's with Mo-Pete contributing 6 years by himself. I just can't see this team jelling that fast to push the Nets. Maybe in 2007 this team will emerge as a powerhouse, but right now, with their abject lack of an inside game and lack of experience in running the fast break offense this team will be limited to showing flashes of brilliance in a mediocre season.

Projected Finish:
1) New Jersey
2) New York
3) Philadelphia
4) Boston
5) Toronto

Monday, August 21, 2006

EPO Doesn't Add Up

This is Moose, resident sports biology expert, weighing in with my two cents...

I don't know why on earth Marion Jones would take EPO (see previous post). It's typically used by long-distance runners rather than sprinters because it increases endurance. EPO (erythropoietin) is a naturally produced hormone that your body releases in response to oxygen deficit to produce red blood cells. The increased red blood cells increase your oxygen capacity.

Now as a sprinter, you need oxygen for about 10 seconds--EPO will do nothing for you. I just don't understand the point. To improve sprinting you need to build muscle, so the natural choice for sprinters is steroids. EPO is only good for people like Floyd Landis who are endurance athletes. If Jones took it intentionally, which nobody can really judge, she was just stupid.

Da Sports Zeitgeist (Aug. 21)

Observations on a few stories in the world of sports, brought to you today by Britney Spears.

Oops! Someone cheated again. Embattled sprinter and former Olympic hero Marion Jones said today she is "shocked" that she tested positive for EPO at the recent U.S. Track & Field Championships. Now, I like to give everyone, including athletes, the benfit of the doubt, but in the aftermath of the Floyd Landis debacle, does anyone besides me think Jones is about as shocked as Captain Renault in Casablanca when he says "I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on here."

...Beat them one more time! This afternoon, the Red Sox dropped the last game of their series at home against the Yankees, mercifully ending the 5-game beatdown in which New York definitively snuffed out Boston's playoff hopes. Let's not pretend this wasn't a dagger, because the Yankees dominated in every which way. Today's 2-1 victory seemed like the Yanks' way of adding insult to injury: see, we can also win by pitching. If it's any consolation to Red Sox manager Terry Francona, at least his team's play wasn't as embarassing as Kevin Federline's "musical performance" (in the broadest sense of the term) at the Teen Choice Awards on Sunday.

His prerogative. Tiger Woods won the PGA Tournament yesterday, his 12th major overall. It looks like he's decided that he's not even going to pretend that he has any competition anymore. The tourney was still open to competitors going into Sunday, but Tiger puts his foot on the accelerator and winds up with a nonchalant, boring five stroke victory. Does anyone really think he has any challengers? Mickelson, by the way, finished twelve strokes back of him. Case closed.

(He's just begun) Having his fun... I'm referring to Andy Roddick, who got his first title of the year after beating Juan Carlos Ferrero in straight sets in some tourney out in Ohio. Roddick's finally healthy and he's got Jimmy Connors in his corner, but don't let that fool you into thinking he can stop the human juggernaut that is Roger Federer. On the bright side, we know now that win or lose, Roddick goes home to Maria Sharapova. In my book, that makes him a winner.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

USA Basketball: Slovenia, Italy, and Senegal Up Next



Ning had a good analysis of the U.S. team's play against Puerto Rico earlier, but in light of the 121-90 victory over Yao Ming and China earlier today, I think we're looking at a much more confident, well-rounded American team.

What I like so far is that different guys are stepping up for the U.S. each time. Everyone is playing solid overall (with the exception of maybe Brad Miller, who has seen scant playing time thanks to Dwight Howard's excellence) and the team isn't overly reliant on any individual player.

In the win over China, it was Dwayne Wade and Shane Battier who really stood out. It will probably be someone else next time. I'm looking forward to the next game versus Slovenia; we'll see if I can wake up at 6:30am to squeeze in some of the game on ESPN2 before going to work!

TV Schedule:
Tue. 22 - 6:30 AM - USA vs. Slovenia - ESPN2
Wed. 23 - 6:30AM - USA vs. Italy - ESPN2
Thu. 24 - 6:30AM - USA vs. Senegal - ESPN2

For any diehards out there who want to watch Team USA but don't want to deal with the odd hours, the games are available for download from iTunes at a nominal charge.
Not to be overconfident, but it looks like smooth sailing for the rest of the week. Slovenia (1-1) apparently has great outside shooting, something we have struggled to defend against, but that shouldn't be enough to beat us. Italy (2-0) is good, but is without 2006 #1 overall pick Andrea Bargnani of the Toronto Raptors; this will be our toughest match in group play. Senegal (0-2) should be a cakewalk.

Check out the current standings and live scoreboard over on ESPN.com.

In Anemic NL, Anyone Could be a Winner

I've always been a National League fan. Both my old hometown team (the Padres) and new (the Nationals) are in the "Senior Circuit". Fat guys don't have the option of being a DH, so they're forced to play the field. You don't have to deal with the obnoxious Yankees and Red Sox. So there are clear reasons to like the NL.

That said, it's impossible to pretend that the NL is as good as the AL this year. Look no further than the record of the Texas Rangers over in the AL: at 64-60 they are third in their division and 10 games out of the wild card race, behind 5 other teams including the 73-49 White Sox. By comparison, the Rangers' 64-60 record would be good enough to put them atop the NL wild card race, currently led by the Reds at 63-60. Did you know that the AL has 9 teams with winning records, compared to 5 in the NL? (Make that 4 if Arizona loses today.)

The AL has the terrific Yankees, Tigers, and White Sox. The very good Twins, currently at 71-51, probably won't make the playoffs, and the Red Sox certainly won't. Over in the AL West, Oakland has a small 4.5 game lead, but they'll have to fend off the respectable Angels and Rangers for the rest of the season.

Meanwhile, the NL has one legitimately good team, the NY Mets. Now while I think they'll be fine in time for the playoffs, it is worrisome that Pedro Martinez is on the DL and now Tom Glavine may be sidelined by a mysterious blood clot. How about the other division leaders? The Cardinals have been exceedingly mediocre this year, and I think the Reds will overtake them in the division. The NL West is a hodgepodge of crap again--all 5 teams conceivably could finish on top, but I'll give the edge to the incumbent Dodgers. Their deadline moves and recent hot streak will give them the division, but let's not confuse that with playoff respectability.

Heck, the NL's so wide open, it has turned July sellers into stretch-run buyers. Philly was dismantling at the trade deadline, shipping Abreu and Lidle, but I guess they still think they're in the wild-card race. They just acquired long-time Mariners pitcher Jamie Moyer to bolster their staff. Hey, in the Little League--oops, I mean the National League--the Phillies' sub-.500 record has them at only 2.5 games back from a playoff spot.

The numbers in the standings may be mediocre, but on the bright side, at least the NL will be good for one thing come September: pennant races!

Saturday, August 19, 2006

USA Basketball: Game 1 Analysis

News flash: LeBron is not the best player on the US team. Neither is D-Wade.

There is no question in my mind that the three best players for the United States right now are Carmelo Anthony, Joe Johnson, and Shane Battier, and here are a couple reasons why:

1. These three players do not need to handle the ball to impact the game.
If you look at the plays that these three players made, they all got the ball out of their hands in less than three seconds. Contrast this with Lebron or Wade, who are used as secondary ballhandlers by the team. I say secondary, not only because they do not do so quite as much as Paul, but also because they are less effectual. Multiple ballhandlers simply clog up a zone defense, where as a set offensive side to side flowing offense with minimal dribbling will actually do far more to break the zone. Moves in the international game must be decisive, and these three players excel at that.

2. They play stellar defense.
One of the few things that remained from the exhibition matchups against Puerto Rico was the large number of turnovers forced by the USA, and these three were a big part of that. Playing tough defense, shutting off the passing lanes, these three, particularly Battier, played the role of defensive wings perfectly.

3. They turn the game.
This is perhaps the hardest to quantify but most important part of picking these three. When they come into the game, something happens. They stop runs. They start runs. They take a charge. They swing the momentum back in favor of the US. This, above all else, is why these three players are indispensable to the US cause.

Watch for these three guys to take over the rest of the close games and really raise their stock by doing what needs to be done.

Live Blogging Team USA

It's halftime now in Team USA's first official game at the World Basketball Championships in Japan, and our boys lead Puerto Rico 57-51. If by chance you're awake right now, turn on the tube to ESPN2.

Here are a few quick observations from what I've seen tonight:

1) 'Melo continues to impress. Good shooting and a couple of aggresive plays on defense. This can be said about the US as a whole: 68% shooting and 9 steals in the first half.

1b)
Joe Johnson is maybe the lowest profile name playing for USA today, but I'm loving his 3-point shooting right now.

2) We need to make more free throws.

3) Two things different about the international game: guys like LeBron and D. Wade don't get cheesecake calls like they do from NBA refs. Also, 10 minute quarters.

4) PR's Arroyo is a monster; he has 15 points in the first half. I'm reminded of how he excelled against us in 2004. We need to stop him.

5) On that note, we need to step up our pentration defense, they seem to be able to drive almost at will.

6) Is it just me, or do international players bank a lot of their shots off the backboard, while we always go for the swish?

* * *

As it's past 2am East Coast time, I'm wishing Team USA luck in the 2nd half, and calling it a night. I'm sure Ning will have the whole scoop later.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Revisiting Moneyball

One of the most controversial ideas in baseball was put forth in the Michael Lewis book Moneyball, published in 2003, which documented the unorthodox approach Billy Beane's Oakland A's took in putting together their organization. The central premise of the book was that baseball's "conventional wisdom" on evaluating players was flawed, and that a complex statistical analysis (employing measures like on base percentage and slugging percentage) should be used instead.

The debate on which approach is right is still very much alive, though as with all things, I'm sure the answer lies somewhere in between. Having not read Moneyball, I unfortunately have to admit I am not the best person to discuss the book in detail. Nonetheless, I know many baseball fans have, and even those like myself who haven't would be interested in reading Jeff Passan's column "Rethinking Moneyball". Passan takes an evenhanded approach in evaluating the famous Moneyball draft class of 2002, which produced Nick Swisher, Joe Blanton, and Mark Teahen. His column is a must read.

Say What? Seau's Back

Well, that didn't last long. To be exact, Junior Seau's retirement lasted just a little longer than Britney Spears' first marriage (54 hours) and just a bit shorter than the televised run of FOX's Who's Your Daddy? (one week). Seau signed a deal today with the New England Patriots, who could do with help at the linebacker position after Tedy Bruschi's broken wrist.

Obviously Junior still wants to play, and it's too bad there wasn't a way to coincide his end with the Chargers' plans. But regardless of when he does quit the game for real, I wish him well. He'll always be my favorite Charger from when I was growing up in San Diego.

I just hope the Bolts don't run into him in the playoffs this year.

Life After Tommy John

This may interest only me, but a few days ago while looking at the box score from the Yankees game, I saw the name "O. Dotel". Now there is a name we haven't seen in a long time. Octavio Dotel came on in relief against the Baltimore Orioles on August 16, facing two batters. It marked his first appearance since May 2005, when he was closer for the Oakland A's before being shut down and undergoing Tommy John surgery.

For three seasons from 2001-2003, Dotel was the most dominant set-up man in all of baseball, and his future as a terrific closer seemed certain. Billy Wagner was sent to the Phillies before the start of the 2004 season, and Dotel stepped into the role. He recorded 14 saves through late June that year before being traded to the A's in the three-team deal that brought Carlos Beltran to Houston. Dotel became the closer for the A's and finished 2004 with 36 saves. Unfortunately, in 2005 he hit a rough patch a month into the season, and as recounted above, he didn't pitch again until this week.

For a pitcher, I imagine that undergoing Tommy John surgery must be like stepping into a time machine. One day all of a sudden you disappear for 18 months, and by the time you come back, most people have forgotten about you. Whether you can successfully revive your career or not is a question mark.

Wikipedia has a long list of players who have had the surgery; clearly there are those who have been able to rebound well, like Chris Capuano, John Smoltz, and Mariano Rivera. These days, it's pretty much accepted that the surgery is no big deal, but nonetheless, there are many cases where the pitcher is not the same again. Pat Hentgen, Kerry Wood, and Eric Gagne (the second time around) are names that come to mind.

Will Octavio Dotel become an effective reliever again? Impossible to say--only time will tell.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Why Lonny Baxter Pulled a Glock

Not that I want to turn this blog into the crime bulletin, but I figure Lonny Baxter deserves a mention here since we talked about his former Terp teammates a couple days ago.

Area sports fans certainly remember Baxter, a popular and successful component of the University of Maryland team that won a national championship in 2002. After being drafted in the 2nd round by the Chicago Bulls, Baxter struggled in the NBA, and had brief stints with Toronto, Washington, New Orleans, Houston, and most recently Charlotte. Now at age 27 and out of the league, he was apparently going to play basketball in Italy.

Two nights ago Baxter was arrested by the Secret Service after gunfire was heard near the White House. He was stopped in an SUV where spent shell casings and a Glock pistol were found.

Five reasons why Baxter may have went trigger happy near the most high-security place on the planet:

5) He decided white SUVs didn't have a bad enough rep after OJ and what we originally thought the DC snipers were riding.

4)
He wanted to establish his "street cred" in order to fuel a rap career.

3)
He needed to ensure his exile from the NBA so he could play overseas with Terp chumps like John Gilchrist and Nik Caner-Medley.

2)
He wanted to outdo Maurice Clarett.

1)
He's the bad guy from the movie The Sentinel, and it's up to Kiefer Sutherland to stop him!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Sometimes, Young Aces Don't Pan Out

This baseball season really has been the year of the rookie. It seems like half the teams in the league are being led by or at least helped substantially by a rookie. The Twins' Liriano, Boston's Papelbon, the Brewers' Fielder, etc. Check out Jeff Passan's column today on all of the rookies who are making waves across the league.

This year, despite solid hitters like Stephen Drew, Dan Uggla, and Ryan Zimmerman, the rookie crop is undeniably headed by some terrific starting pitchers. Lirano, the Angels' Jered Weaver, and the Tigers' Justin Verlander have the lowest ERAs in the AL, while the Marlins' Josh Johnson has the lowest ERA in the NL.

Many of the players Passan lists in his articles will undoubtedly go on to have very good careers, but since the most attention this year has focused on the rookie starters, it is there I want to sound a cautionary note. How many times have we seen a great rookie pitcher struggle the next year? Sometimes it's just a sophomore slump, but other times their careers never shine again. The reasons for this are varied, but usually it's injury (the Twins better be careful Liriano doesn't become the next Mark Prior) or hitters "figure out" the pitcher and he isn't able to adapt.

Remember last year's darling Zach Duke? He posted a microscopic 1.81 ERA in 14 starts for the Pirates. This season he's been wildly inconsistent, racking up a 5.09 ERA while walking more batters, striking out less, and being hit .309 off of (compared to .253 last year). Then there was Felix Hernandez over in the AL. He put up a 2.67 ERA for the Mariners in 12 starts while being even more electric than Duke: 77 Ks in 84 innings, a 1.00 WHIP, and holding batters to only a .203 average. In 2006, control has been an issue, especially after a terrible April and May, and he's only 10-10 with a 4.50 ERA and 1.37 WHIP on the year.

A season earlier, Bobby Madritsch had a 3.27 ERA in 15 games (11 starts) for the Mariners, and Luke Hudson had a 2.42 ERA in 9 starts for the Reds. Madritsch has pitched in exactly one game since then, and Hudson (now with the Royals) has had an ERA north of 6 the past two years.

What's the point of all this? Well, to use a fantasy analogy, I'm not telling you to not have Joe Saunders on your team. (He's on mine, after all.) However, for every Johan Santana you could get a Kazuhisa Ishii. The Kaz was electric before the All-Star break in '03, going 8-3 with a 2.94 ERA and 102 strikeouts in 104 innings. He's out of the league now.

Good young pitching is the lifeblood of any successful team. Everyone wants to develop the next Brandon Webb, John Lackey, or Scott Kazmir. Unfortunately, sometimes that guy turns out to be Oliver Perez. Check this post a year from now and see if we still remember all of this season's big names.

Long Night at the Ballpark

Earlier this evening, it took the Cubs eighteen innings (the length of two ordinary games) to finish off the Astros, 8-6. Now on the West Coast, the Diamondbacks have pulled ahead 2-1 going into the bottom of the 18th. Assuming that lead holds, there's two eighteen inning games in one night. I wonder if that's some kind of record.

[11:57 AM] I read this morning that Elias Sports Bureau says this was the first time in major league history that two games went as long as 18 innings on the same day.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Wilcox Re-Ups with Sonics



Former Terp and restricted free agent Chris Wilcox re-signed with the Seattle Supersonics today for a 3-year, $24 million deal. The 2002 1st round pick (8th overall) had been languishing with the L.A. Clippers, the team that drafted him, but blossomed after a trade to Seattle late last season. In 29 games he averaged 14.1 points and 8.2 rebounds in 29 games. As the Sonics' starting PF next year, Wilcox could finally become a breakout player.

At this point it seems fair to suggest that Wilcox has the brightest NBA future of his fellow Terp teammates, fellow 2002 1st-rounder Juan Dixon (17th overall) and 2003 2nd-rounder Steve Blake. Fan favorite Dixon (12.3 ppg in '05) and Blake (8.2 ppg, 4.5 apg in '05) remain unimportant reserves for the Trail Blazers and Bucks respectively.

Preseason Sanity

SI's Don Banks has the appropriate response to the ever-growing chorus of people who want to do away with preseason games after the latest star injury (in this case, Clinton Portis):

Thanks to Clinton Portis' shoulder injury and accompanying gripe session, here we go again with the debate on whether the preseason is too long and whether starters should be playing. Sorry, but it wasn't the fourth quarter when Portis got hurt. It was the first. And NFL head coaches already tip-toe through the preseason about as much as possible, for the most part playing starters a significant amount only in the third game, which has evolved into the dress rehearsal for a team's opener.

Somebody has to play in these games that club owners charge fans regular-season ticket prices for. There can't be 65 or so preseason games every year between teams of nothing but backups and camp bodies. Injuries before the regular season are going to happen, no matter what. Just ask Browns Pro Bowl center LeCharles Bentley, who was lost for the year during the first non-contact 11-on-11 drill of Cleveland's training camp. It's football. It's not an entirely safe sport, and that's part of the allure.

I agree with the dissenters who say that these games are not necessary from a fitness standpoint, because, let's face it, all of the players are in pretty good shape. It's not like back in the day when football players sold cars in the offseason. That notwithstanding, there are a few reasons why preseason games are important. The record book may consider them meaningless, but they certainly aren't to the majority of players looking to make a livelihood by proving they belong on a pro team or belong higher on the depth chart. To that end, four games seems fair to me.

Besides, these games are huge money-makers for the owners, because they still pack the stadium (season ticket holders usually have to buy tickets to preseason games) and they get good TV ratings. I think starters benefit from playing a little in the preseason, if only to get used to "game speed" and see some practical execution of plays. How much individual starters should play in these games is and should be up to the coach. Accidents are always going to happen, but that doesn't mean we should cover everyone up in Mylar and bubble wrap.

If you're an established starter, go in for your series or two, don't take unnecessary risks (a star running back sprinting downfield to make a tackle qualifies), and cross your fingers that you don't get hurt. Play ball.

Blog Housekeeping Note

I've been tinkering with the site's format a bit recently, and there will likely be more changes forthcoming. A couple of recent developments: each post will now be titled and will have its own page (click on "[link]" in the post footer next to the timestamp).

As a reminder to my fellow site contributors, please note that each post's link is formed from the post title, and will change if you change your post's title after it is already published. In order to avoid broken links, I ask that you not change a post's title after you have published a post. Because all posts prior to now did not have titles, I have retroactively added them in.

$14.98 is a Good Price for a Shoe

I didn't think I had anything good to say about the New York Knicks' point guard Stephon Marbury, but I really like what he's doing with his new "Starbury One" shoe. A basketball player endorsing a shoe brand is the norm; Marbury's new sneakers, however, will be sold at retailer Steve & Barry's for only $14.98. Marbury says he priced his shoes at this low level because he wants kids to save for and buy their own shoes instead of hassling their parents to buy them expensive brands.

Given that virtually all popular basketball shoes retail for over $100, it's natural to assume that the Starbury shoe will be made of cardboard and paper-mache, but that's not the case. To underscore the point that the Starburys are not throwaway shoes, Marbury has promised to wear them on-court during the basketball season.

At the risk of becoming a ballhog and taking too many ill-advised shots, I think I might pick up a pair or two of these to wear to the gym or something.

Monday, August 14, 2006

So Who's the Next Cut?

With the disappointing news about Gilbert Arenas, there remains only one more cut for Team USA to make. Let's see who that will be, through process of elimination.

Players that won't get cut:

1. Chris Paul - When you are the consensus best point guard on a team that just lost one of its three point guards to injury, you do not get cut. Also, has anyone else noticed the rather large number of times that Paul is on the dishing end of a highlight play? Over three games, the US has a +10 to -66 advantage over its opponents in Assists-Turnovers: That's 76 more scoring chances over 4 games. Paul is a big part of that.

2. Carmelo Anthony - The Lithuania game showed why this team needs Anthony. After barely beating Brazil without him, (and Wade, who fouled out early in the third, and yet seems to get little attention because of this) the US steamrolled Lithuania by 23 points in a game that felt like it was by 40. With Arenas out, Anthony's shooting becomes even more critical.

3 & 4. Lebron James and Dwayne Wade - When you are grooming two superstars to be the face of the NBA for the next decade, you cannot leave them off of a team like this, especially when they are your second and third leading scorers, respectively. In addition, LBJ and D-Wade's playmaking ability will become even more important as the US has lost one of its best ballhandlers.

5. Kirk Hinrich - You abolutely need two to three point guards who can play in international play. Period.

6. Dwight Howard - Howard is averaging two rebounds per game more than the next leading rebounder on Team USA. While 5.8 rebounds per game is not that impressive, it is volumes better than the next guy, who is averaging 3.8. Also, without Howard, the US team is simply devoid of a low post game, both offensively and defensively.

7. Antawn Jamison - His outside shooting game from the 4-spot meshes perfectly with international play. Simply put, currently he has the second most points per 40 minutes of play of any player on the US team except for Anthony. With Arenas out, Jamison becomes a must-have on this team for his zone-busting shooting, which opens up the lanes in the half-court game for the American athletes to exploit.

* * *

That leaves Johnson, Battier, Bowen, Miller, Brand, and Bosh. I believe that the team needs Miller, as his high-post passing game meshes very well with the international style of play, and he is also a natural center, the only player other than perhaps Howard on these thirteen players who is one. Joe Johnson can play any position from 1 to 4 in international play, and thus is in because of his versatility; he has also shown a distinct ability to put the ball in the basket on both the drive and from 3, a key in FIBA play.

So it comes down to two SF/PF's vs. two PF/C's. Let's match up each player against the other of his type, and eliminate the winners. Battier is averaging almost three times as many rebounds as Bowen, an area of key deficiency for the US, and has shown the ability to hit from outside, as opposed to the scoreless Bowen, so he gets the nod here. Brand is better than Bosh in every statistical category except for three-point shooting, (0-1 vs. 1-3) so he gets the slot over Bosh.

Finally, it comes down to Bruce Bowen or Chris Bosh. There are currently three players on the roster (Brand, Howard, Miller) who can play center; there are 5 (James, Wade, Anthony, Johnson, Battier) who can play the 3. Therefore, for another big guy on the floor when Howard or Brand inevitably gets into foul trouble, I'm going to have to go with Bosh over Bowen. So, even though I have perhaps the most respect for Bowen of all of the players on this team for the hardship that he has had to endure through his career, I cannot pick him for my final roster of twelve.

* * *
JAY adds: Considering that pretty much every sports writer in the universe has pointed to Bruce Bowen's inclusion on the team as the sign of a new, "complete team" approach, it would be disappointing to see him get cut. That said, it's hard to argue with what you wrote above.

Arenas, Portis Hurt; Redskins Struggle

Bad news for two Washington sports stars. The news out of South Korea today is that Gilbert Arenas strained his groin during Team USA's practice and will not be able to participate in the upcoming world championships. In an earlier post, I'd mentioned how Arenas was one of those players who was gung-ho about being on the national team, so I feel really bad for him. His departure means that there will be just one more cut from the team before the world tournament begins.

Meanwhile, the Redskins not only suffered through an ugly 19-3 loss to Cincinnati in their preseason opener, they also lost running back Clinton Portis. Despite the minimal time accorded to starters in the game, that was enough time for Portis to dislocate his shoulder. It happened not on a Portis carry but rather as he tackled a defender who'd intercepted an errant Mark Brunell pass. After the game, when asked how he felt, Portis responded "Like I just finished playing a football game that I ain't had no business playing in."

This latest high profile injury inevitably restarts the age-old debate of whether there are too many preseason games or whether they are even necessary at all. That's a debate for another time, but all I'll say for now is, they're not likely to go away considering the attendance and TV numbers these games generate. To Redskins fans though, all that matters is that Portis will be sidelined indefinitely.

Portis injury aside, the Al Saunders era did not get off to an auspicious start yesterday, as all three Washington quarterbacks threw an interception, the running game averaged 1.3 yards a carry, and no touchdowns were scored. Portis' 8 yards on his only carry made him the team's top rusher. Redskins backup QB Todd Collins was safetied in the first quarter. The only good performance in the game came from the 'Skins first team defense, who didn't give up a first down in the Bengals' first three series. However, that was Anthony Wright--enough said. Let's not forget that reserves Chris Clemons and Kerry Carter also suffered serious injuries.

Not a good day for Washington sports fans.