Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Search for the Next Terps QB

From 2001-2003, Ralph Friedgen's Terrapins football team were on the rise, with three consecutive seasons of at least 10 wins. Then, setbacks. Two 5-6 seasons in 2004 and 2005, before a minor resurgence last year. But even though the Terps returned to postseason play (a win over Purdue in the Champs Sports Bowl), it was hard to overlook the fact that they were outgained by every single one of their 11 Division 1-A opponents.

The primary reason for recent struggles? It's not for lack of talented players (think E.J. Henderson, Shawne Merriman, Vernon Davis, Darius Howard-Bey, to name just a few of late). No, it's been the lack of a good QB to lead Friedgen's offense. Since senior Scott McBrien graduated at the end of the 2003 season, the position has not been filled by anyone capable.

Terps fans have had to struggle through a terrible season by Joel Statham, then maddeningly inconsistent play by the talented-on-paper Sam Hollenbach. Jordan Steffy made cameo experiences every now and then, but was never able to prove himself.

Now it's Steffy, a junior now (he redshirted in 2005), who goes into spring practice for the first time as the Terps' starter. His grasp on the job may not last long though, as the transfer of highly regarded sophomore Josh Portis (the Skins' RB's cousin) from the University of Florida has created a bona fide QB competition. Despite Portis's career statistics of 6-for-11, 1 INT, that last name has people excited.

Today's D'back poll shows that Terps fans are in favor of change--66% want Portis. Should be interesting to follow.

Nationals: Rational Exuberance?

Amidst all the naysayers talking gloom-and-doom about the season the Washington Nationals are certain to have this year, the Post's Tom Boswell stands out for his unbridled enthusiasm about the team's future. Make that near future.

His column opens by declaring that starting next year, the Nats will be the new Yankees, with loads of money to spend to acquire top talent. "Now, the Nats are pitied. Soon, they will be feared. That's not a prediction as much as it is a virtual baseball certainty. The reason is simple: money, tons and tons of money."

In the next three to five years, he says, we can outspend the Dodgers, Red Sox, and Cubs (as hard as that is to believe) and rival the Yankees in their ability to attract free agents. This year, the Nationals will field the 3rd lowest payroll in all of baseball, having dumped an astonishing 19 of their top 25 most expensive salaries from last year. Soriano isn't the only one gone--adios Livan, Vidro, Guillen, Armas, and almost everyone else making a substantial paycheck.

Maybe Boswell's drinking a little too much of the Kool-Aid by the end of his column, when he starts fantasizing about our current roster not being too bad. Shawn Hill, he notes, has a 0.96 ERA in five starts, and Cristian Guzman is looking a different man from the .219 hitter he was in 2005.

Uhh...I'm not sure if I'm ready to expect anything good from this year's Nationals team, and even Boz seems a little doubtful that the Nats won't lose 100 games this year. Nonetheless, his comparison of our team to the Tigers a few years ago is exciting. That was a 43-119 team that got a new ballpark, groomed young talent, and steadily stockpiled veteran free agents. In three years, they won a championship.

Is that what's in store for the Nationals? I'm starting to feel a bit rationally exuberant myself!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Reassessment: NBA Playoff Hunt West

A few days back I looked at what I picked in the East, and that was at least respectable. The West? Apparently not as predictable.

Current Standings
1. Dallas Mavericks

1. Dallas (58-11)
2. San Antonio Spurs

2. Phoenix (53-17)
3. Phoenix Suns

3. San Antonio (50-20), 8.5 GB Mavs
4. Denver Nuggets

4. Utah (46-24)
5. Houston Rockets

5. Houston (45-26), 14 GB Mavs
6. L.A. Clippers

6. L.A. Lakers (38-32), 15 GB Suns
7. Memphis Grizzlies

7. Denver (35-34), 10.5 GB Jazz
8. N.O/O.K.C. Hornets

8. L.A. Clippers (34-36), 19 GB Suns

Yeah. About that Memphis pick... and the Nuggets winning the Northwest... and completely missing the boat on the Utah Jazz... what can I say? I completely underestimated the development of Deron Williams, and Boozer, Kirilenko, and Okur have all been inexplicably healthy this season.

I thought Memphis would be bad with Gasol out (note: this pick was made before he got injured at the WBC's), but what I didn't guess was that they would be a bad team even when Gasol got back. 17-54? Wow.

The Iverson trade set back the gelling of the Nuggets team around two superstars as opposed to one, and dropped them in the standings, but I think it will help them more in the long run.

Injuries are the main story so far of this season, and props go to one team that has overcome them with more aplomb than any other, the L.A. Lakers. Think about who they have had get hurt: Luke Walton, Lamar Odom (twice), Kwame Brown, Chris Mihm, Vladamir "Super Jump" Radmanovic--basically their entire rotation at the start of the season with the exception of Kobe and Smush Parker.

Despite this, however, the Lakers are still 38-32 and second in the Pacific, a dangerous first series opponent that nobody wants to play because of Mr. 24 and his suddenly healthy teammates.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Nationals Park Rising

If you weren't already thrilled about how cool the Nationals new stadium (due April 2008) is going to be, this article from our neighbors up north (Baltimore) should have you feeling giddy. Methinks they might be just a little jealous now that the 90's era ballparks that Camden Yards spawned is over.


If all goes according to plan (and of course, in D.C., that's always a big IF), we'll have:

- Views of the don't get that at any other ballpark.

- Cherry trees in a plaza beyond the outfield...reminds of me how back in San Diego, the Padres played in a park with palm trees behind the HR fence, a nice differentiating touch to include a city icon.

- Dimensions aren't rigged...this is going to be the Goldilocks stadium, not a pitcher's park (too big) or a hitter's park (too small).

- Much smaller than Camden Yards...Baltimore's park seats 48,000 while ours will only seat 41,000. Hopefully that means that seats throughout the park are closer to the field, the atmosphere will be cozy, and we will sell games out!

I am dying to go down to D.C. in the next couple weeks and check out how the construction is going. I'll have pics up first chance I get!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Impossible is Zero

Gilbert Arenas getting some national exposure in a terrific new spot for Adidas' "Impossible is Nothing" campaign:

The song in the background, by the way, is "Tourist" by Athlete (2005).

Peyton Manning on SNL (United Way video)

Peyton Manning was the host of SNL last night. While he generally played it pretty safe, he had a couple of really funny moments. One was during his monologue, after he introduced his famous NFL father (Archie) and brother (Eli) in the audience. He then introduced his mother and proceeded to rip on her because she “didn’t make the NFL."

"She was cut by the Dolphins," be explained, adding "she tried in Canada for a while but didn’t make it there either. She’s kind of a disappointment to the family but we love her anyway.”

His funniest bit was this parody of the NFL/United Way commercials about players helping their community. There's just something deeply gratifying about seeing Peyton abuse a group of kids, talk about snitching, and drop the F-bomb a few times. Check it:

(If it doesn't work, it's because NBC is warring with YouTube and is planning to start its own rival online video service, so they keep taking down the SNL clips. Nothing I can do about it.)

Stop the Proliferation of Dickie V

Dear Advertising Executives,

Rumor has it that there are actually a couple of people on this planet who find Dick Vitale entertaining or endearing in an odd or eccentric way. I'm not one of those people. I can't stand him.

But until now it's been easy to avoid him by changing the channel away from ESPN everytime an irritating old man starts blathering about Duke. I say "until now" because someone had the horrid idea of having this man make TV commercials.

First there was that execrable spot he did for Hooters, which has had the effect of ensuring I will never, ever go there. Just now, while watching Georgetown come back against UNC (side note: the Tar Heels made their first FG in overtime with 5 secs left...their first in ~15 minutes!), I saw Vitale's ad for DiGiornio pizza. At least that's another product I wouldn't ever actually buy.

But we are at a critical, Chamberlain-at-Munich junction. Someone has to stand up and put an end to this before people get hurt. Please. Please stop making ads with Dickie V.

Thank you for your consideration.



Saturday, March 24, 2007

NBA Reaps Payoff from Making HS Kids Wait

Last year, the NBA instituted a rule change that meant that high schoolers could no longer make the jump straight to the pros. Under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, from the 2006 draft on, players must be at least one year out of HS before they can play in the NBA. This meant that guys like Greg Oden and Kevin Durant would spend a year in college.

This year, those two became not just the poster boys for college basketball with their spectacular play, they've demonstrated how the NBA's new rule actually helps the league. Should they turn pro this year (and I have to think it's likely), Durant and Oden are expected to be the top two picks in the draft.

They would enter the draft not just as spectacularly talented basketball players, but by virtue of their time in college, they would enter as immediately marketable superstars. Both are nice, hard-working, mature kids who haven't just polished their game a little, they've developed national name recognition and legions of fans.

Instead of being prospects not well known by the mainstream, Oden and Durant are going to be able to sell a lot of seats and jerseys and put their team's games on TV. So the league gets more money, the kids get to ease their transition to the pros. So far, so good. Here's hoping O.J. Mayo doesn't screw that up (either by injury or with his ego) next year.

Kobe's 50: Quality Shots

Yep, Kobe did it again. Last night he dropped 50 on the Hyphenated-Location Hornets. That's four straight games with at least 50 points, the longest streak since Wilt (who did seven!). Check out this highlight video below showing Kobe's scoring plays yesterday. (Skip forward 30 seconds to get to last night's game.)

What amazes me is that virtually all of them are mid- and long-range shots, or shots where he is double-teamed, or both--and he is stroking them. I recently voiced how impressed I was that he was shooting 54% through the first three games of his hot streak. Last night against Okla-NO he was even better, going 16-for-29 (55%) from the field.

So how long can he keep this up for? Obviously the conventional wisdom says to bet against him, because it's rather unlikely he or anyone else scores 50 points in a game, let alone several games in a row where every defense is focused on him. And yet, it's hard to doubt him right now, since he's shooting so well regardless of how defenses play him.

Furthermore, he faces two more soft defenses next: Golden State on Sunday night, and Memphis again on Tuesday. Golden State gives up more points per game than any team in the NBA (128 to the Wizards last night). Memphis, whom Kobe already hung 60 on, gives up the 2nd most points in the league. Bryant's first real challenge, then, comes on Friday when the Lakers take on Houston. The Rockets have the #2 defense in the league, allowing a meager 90.9 points per game.

I'd love to see Kobe keep his streak alive against GS and Memphis, but at that point he'll be at 6 in a row, and I don't see him doing it to Houston. Regardless, I can't wait to see what happens!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Hoyas Live!

#2 Georgetown was down by one with 14 seconds left, but Jeff Green drove, dropped the ball, picked it up, pivoted, shot over two Vandy defenders, and kissed the ball off the backboard for the game-winner with 2.5 ticks left. Great comeback by the Hoyas, who were surprised by Vandy in the first half and went into the break down eight points.

(The official, better-quality CBS video is here--they disabled embedding so I couldn't put it up.)

By the way, some people are already complaining about how Green traveled on his game-winning shot. He did. The refs didn't call it. That's how basketball goes--dozens of times during a game, you're going to have a call overlooked. Props to Vandy coach Kevin Stallings, who said afterward, "I'm certainly not going to take away from the dignity of this game [by complaining]...Don't care to. He made a great shot."

Fantasy Advice: Don't Stress About Closers

Baseball's Opening Day is only a week and a half away (yes!), and for many fans, the next 8 or 9 days are going to be chock full of fantasy baseball drafts. Strategy-wise, one of the most debated issues is how to go after a closer.

Plenty of people are going to tell you that you might as well try and lock in two top-flite closers (a Mariano, Hoffman, Jenks, Ryan, et al.). The idea is you won't have to worry about the closer position for the rest of the year.

Assuming your golden boys stay healthy, that idea has merit. But it may not be the smartest move, given that by going early for those closers, you're sacrificing the chance of going after other positions that could help your team much more across the board. Besides, saves can be found for a lot cheaper later on.

Probably a dozen major league teams, at least, make a signficant change in their closer situation during the season due to injury or ineptitude. Below are as many examples I could think of from last season of free agents in most leagues who saw significant save duty:

- Justin Duchscherer
- Joe Nelson
- Salomon Torres
- Armando Benitez
- Mike Stanton
- Dan Wheeler
- Akinori Otsuka
- Francisco Cordero
- Jose Valverde
- Jorge Julio
- Eddie Guardado
- Todd Coffey

Most of these guys were only good for a month or so at a time, but they're exactly the ones you want to make a move on in order to dominate the saves category. If it means you can focus on more important areas in the draft, and still be competitive in saves through a bit of recycling, then why not?

Instead of spending high draft picks on two or three of those A-list closers, I would go for one, and pick up a second mid-level closers (projected for 20-30 saves, a Cordero or Fuentes or Dempster) much later in the draft. Your third closer will be a rotation position, which you fill whenever opportunity strikes during the season when someone gets newly anointed with a closer's job.

Whether he's filling in for injury or ineptitude, he'll help you win games for a few weeks. If he doesn't hold onto the job, get rid of him and wait for the next opportunity. As the list above demonstrates, there will be plenty of chances!

Tom Brady, Trading Up

Last year Tom Brady didn't have anyone to throw to, and his New England Patriots still made the AFC Championship. It was a rare non-Super Bowl season for Brady. So if this offseason is any indication, he's shaking up his professional and personal life to ensure he gets back on top.

New England has spent money on bringing in two very good receivers: Donte Stallworth and Wes Welker. Both are serious upgrades to last year's unit, which had only Reche Caldwell, he who seemed to have more drops than receptions. Last year Brady had his lowest passing total since 2001. Next year, he is going to top 4,000 yards, guaranteed.

In his personal life, it could also be argued that Brady's overcome a few speedbumps. He split from longtime gal pal Bridget Moynahan (the hottie from I, Robot), and even news that she was pregnant with his kid didn't seem to derail him. A month later, he was getting with this:

("This" being Gisele.)

In short, Tom Brady is having a better offseason than you. Look out AFC, Brady's better than ever!

Nationals: Bad Now, But Maybe Good Soon?

Yesterday, Yahoo's Jeff Passan raised the spectre of what all of us Washington Nationals fans are dreading: an epically bad season. It's not far-fetched to think so. The Nats are coming off three consecutive last place finishes, and this year are without our only superstar, Alfonso Soriano. (You broke my heart when you left, you bastard!) We are minus our cleanup hitter, Nick Johnson, out with a broken leg indefinitely. But worst of all, we are without a pitching rotation.

I'd give $10 to anyone who can name a Nationals starter besides John Patterson (our putative #1, he would make a decent #3 on a good team). Manager Manny Acta would match my offer, because it's not like he knows either. We opened camp with the goal of sorting through 37 pitchers in the hopes of finding some warm bodies to eat innings this year.

Ok, so everyone knows we're in for a long, difficult year. But are we making progress toward rebuilding into a quality team? One thing we have going for us is that we don't have the Orioles' ownership--the Lerners have got Stan Kasten (architect of the '90s Braves) and I trust Kasten to do a terrific job.

My favorite column on the Nationals was Tom Boswell's comparison of the Nats right now to Kasten's early Braves teams--and apparently we're on track, even ahead of schedule. Yeah, the rotation's still lacking, but at least the lineup is coming together nicely.

All indications are that Ryan Zimmerman is going to become one of the league's next superstars, and he's going to be with us for years to come. A healthy Nick Johnson brings more power to the lineup. Last year's trades for Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez also fill key positions with competent players. Then there's Brian Schneider, who Nats fans love. I wish he hit better, but he is a good defensive catcher and the perfect guy to manage a pitching staff.

Boswell also identifies Chad Cordero, our solid closer, and Patterson as the remaining core Nationals players this team will be built around. There's also a host of young players on this squad that have a lot of potential. Also, with the new stadium on pace to open next year (check out this sweet site tracking the progress), the Nats have money to spend on attracting quality free agents.

This team is just two good starters away from being a competitive team, and only a few more pieces beyond that from being a top-flite contender. The Nationals bandwagon hasn't started rolling yet, but I'm fully confident in a couple years everyone's going to want a piece of that curly 'W'!

It's Kobe's World...

...we're just living in it.

Kobe Bryant dropped 60 on the Grizzlies tonight, joining Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, and Michael Jordan as the only players in history to score at least 50 points in three consecutive games. For those keeping track at home:

Mar. 16 against Portland - 23-of-39 FGs, 65 pts.
Mar. 18 against Minnesota - 17-of-35 FGs, 50 pts.
Mar. 22 against Memphis - 20-of-37 FGs, 60 pts.

Yeah, those are three teams not well regarded for their defense, but that doesn't dilute the spectacular nature of Kobe's current scoring binge. With the Lakers having just recently lost 7 straight--the longest drought in coach Phil Jackson's career--Kobe has put this team on his shoulder and carried them.

As weird as this sounds, Kobe hasn't even had to throw up shot after shot to score. Yeah, he's averaging 37 shots a game over the past three, but he's hitting 54% overall, and a very nice 15-of-28 from beyond the arc. Hot!

I'm one of those guys who hated Kobe all those years that the Lakers had the Shaq-Kobe-Phil dynasty. Only last year did I come around and start appreciating him, and only because he started playing a more team-oriented ball on a depleted Lakers team. This year though, with the Lake Show struggling through injuries, #24's had to go back to being The Man. For some reason--maybe it's becuase he's a mature Kobe now--this time around, he's not annoying, he's exhilirating.

For my money, Kobe Bryant is the best player in the NBA right now. What remains to be seen is whether that's good enough to carry L.A. past the first round of the playoffs.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Reassessment: NBA Playoff Hunt East

Let's take a look back at what I predicted at the start of the season as to who would make the playoffs in the East:

Predictions Current Standings
1. Detroit Pistons 1. Detroit (43-23)
2. Miami Heat 2. Cleveland (41-27); 3 GB Pistons
3. Indiana Pacers 3. Washington (37-29)
4. New Jersey Nets 4. Toronto (37-31)
5. Cleveland Cavaliers 5. Chicago (39-30); 5.5 GB Pistons
6. Washington Wizards 6. Miami (37-30); 0.5 GB Wizards
7. Chicago Bulls 7. New Jersey (31-37); 6 GB Raptors
8. New York Knicks 8. Orlando (31-38); 7.5 GB Wizards

Wow. While I have to give myself some props for predicting the Heat to finish high in the playoffs (it took injuring their best player to spark them, but it happened), I wince every time I look and I see that I picked the Pacers and Nets to finish above Cleveland, Washington, and Chicago.

In retrospect, however, it was to be expected. The Pacers (30-37, 13.5 GB in the division) destroyed their offensive talent when they traded Al Harrington and Stephen Jackson for Mike Dunleavy and not much else. Jermaine O'Neal has been playing hurt since at least the All-Star break, and their point guard situation still sucks.

The Nets...well, they've played like a team with one superstar knowing that he's going to get a huge paycheck no matter what he does this year (Carter) and another superstar who is 35 years old and, more importantly, not a scorer who can take over at the end of close games (Kidd). Throw in a season-ending injury to their only inside scorer in Nenad Krstic and a long span without Richard Jefferson and you have the makings of a failed season.

I stand by my belief that the Knicks (30-37, but only 6.5 GB in division) will somehow make the playoffs behind Stephon and Eddy Curry, though injuries to Jamal Crawford and David Lee will hurt their cause.

How about the Raptors, though? They sure came along fast and submarined the Nets. Chris Bosh this year is doing what Elton Brand did last year--cementing his reputation as an All-World player on a likeable team. Everything seems to be clicking for this team...I'm just not sure if I would pick them to beat anyone in the playoffs. I just don't quite feel it with them.

Similarly, unless Caron Butler comes back and comes back healthy, I wouldn't pick the Wizards to get past the second round of the playoffs, either.

I'll be back later with my on the West.

The Only Site on the Internet Worth Reading... the Gilbert Arenas blog. Probably every Wizards fan, and even every basketball fan, already knows that this is the funniest and most interesting daily update direct (sort of) from Agent Zero. Here's where you find out about his latest catchphrase ("Don't watch me, watch TV!"), locker room practical jokes ("Let's just say...[Andray Blatche] doesn't want war anymore."), and just what the hell it is DeShawn Stevenson does with his hands after he scores (it's a Lil Wayne reference--"I can't feel my face!")

On the blog Gil talks candidly about teammates, opponents, refs, family (he's already trash-talking his newborn son), and anything else that pops into his head. His reaction to Chuck Klostermann labeling him "the rock star of the NBA?" "I’m not getting women like I’m a rock star."

Everyone loves Gil, but he's not a rock star. He's weird and he's freaking hilarious. Gil's the court jester of the NBA!

Next Year's Jeff Garcia?

By that I'm referring to Matt Schaub, traded yesterday from Atlanta to the Houston Texans, where he is now the new starting QB. Schaub, a third-round draft pick from 2004, had been backing up Michael Vick. In the limited action he saw filling in when Vick was hurt, he looked pretty decent, and for sometime now I've considered him one of the top backups in the league.

As the new man in H-town, I think there's a good chance he could be this year's Jeff Garcia--the guy most people had forgotten about it who steps in and immediately produces. Schaub is a definite improvement over David Carr, who--bless him--had all the skill he once had beaten out of him from years of taking sacks. (Carr was sacked an unbelievable 249 times in his five seasons as the Texans' QB. 249!)

Houston wasn't as bad as the name suggests last year: a 6-10 record, 4-4 over the last 8 games, including victories over Jacksonville and eventual champs Indianapolis. Schaub will have a revived Andre Johnson (103 receptions last season--how?!) and still-survivng Eric Moulds to throw to.

Now of course, the Texans still don't have much of an offensive line, still don't have a reliable running game, and the defense is still worse than mediocre. So I'm not saying Schaub is gonna be the Texans' savior as Garcia was for the Iggles last year. But I do think that with Matt Schaub, Houston is good enough to at least win 6 games again. Maybe even 7, or 8 if they've really bought into coach Gary Kubiak in his second year.

Hey, if you're a Texans fan, that's progress.

"Dice-K" is the Stupidest Nickname I've Ever Heard

Opening Day is less than two weeks away, so it's time to start thinking about baseball seriously again. I hope to nip the most pressing issue in the bud right here and now so we don't have to deal with this again. The problem: the nickname that new Boston Red Sox ace Daisuke Matsuzaka has received.

Dubbed "Dice-K" by the Boston media, that abomination of a nickname has somehow been picked up on a widespread basis. Now we have to deal with ESPN anchors trying (and failing) not to look stupid as they refer to "Dice-K's" spring training, warmups, etc. On what planet (other than New England) could that name sound cool or edgy or menacing or whatever it's supposed to convey?

If Matsuzaka (or his famously inept translator) could speak better English, maybe he could weigh in and tell us how stupid he thinks the names TomKat, K-Fed, and Dice-K are. He also might wonder why fellow Japanese star Hideki Matsui, the Yankees slugger, gets to be "Godzilla" while he has been slapped with "Dice-K". He might wonder why he can't still be known as "The Monster", his nickname in Japan, which isn't great--but a lot better than Dice-K.

So, you might ask me, what should we call him by? Since apparently he needs a nickname--Daisuke Matsuzaka just isn't going to cut it--and needs one soon, here's a suggestion: "The Greek." For two reasons. 1) His cool new pitch is the gyroball. 2) He's definitely not Greek.

"The Greek" works a lot better than "Dice-K". You can see the sports headlines now: "The Greek tosses 8 shutout innings." "The Greek picks up 10th victory." And of course, what might become more familiar to the Red Sox nation: "The Greek lasts 5 2/3, gives up 4 runs."

Agent Zero Silences Seattle

Those of us who stayed up last night to see the Wizards struggle against yet another NBA bottom-dweller did get the unexpected treat of watching Gilbert Arenas get a game-winning layup at the buzzer. This erases (slightly) the sting of his failed buzzer beater against Portland the game before, and the sting of having Chris Wilcox put up 27pts/22reb on us:

"Don't watch me, watch TV!"

Da Sports Authority is Back!

Since this site's inception in late July 2006, nearly 200 posts were written by year-end. In 2007 we've been on a bit of a hiatus for several reasons. In the interim we've completely overhauled the site's design, added a comments feature, and an easy-to-navigate archive feature. More features will be coming really soon, including ability to view posts by sport or by author, a new stat-tracking system, etc.

Spread the word, we're back.