Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Clinton Portis Gets Some Bad News

Well, well, well... the Eagles moved, shall we say, aggressively, to shore up the linebacker situation. You know they really perceived a problem there- as they hate to spend money on ‘backers- and now they got two earning north of $4 million.

Certainly the Eagles got the singular better talent and the upside: Takeo Spikes is a great player when healthy. But Buffalo got rid of a lot of risk- a huge financial commitment to a guy who hasn’t played very much at the high level indicated by his contract for two years. So moving past who got the better of the deal- the more relevant question is “was it a good trade?” or “does it help?” I think it probably is and does.

First, Takeo Spikes can’t possible be worse than Dhani Jones- who was not only the worst linebacker in the NFC East playing regularly (for two years now!) but also the worst regular on the football team. Darwin Walker was a serviceable defensive tackle- a position where serviceable players are a premium. But the Eagles have depth, provided by young players with escalating contracts who need to play there to justify their financial commitment level- and the fact that Walker is a decent player at a premium position made him a chip that could be leveraged.

The money thing is a little less onerous than it looks on paper. Walker is scheduled to make $1.3 million this season (and realistically had to be traded or extended- so you have to count him really for more than that) and Dhani Jones something near that- plus a missing contract for the draft pick- probably absorbs two-thirds of what they are expecting to pay Spikes to jack up Portis and Eli.

Candidly? They dealt from strength to fill a problem- and consequently, the Eagles hand simply looks better at the ‘backer position. Every guy projected to be there: Trotter, Spikes, Omar Gaither, Chris Gocong, the certain to come first day draft pick- has issues- but now a whole lot less needs to “go right” to get an upgraded serviceable rotation out of that mix. And if Spikes plays like he did late in 2006 for a whole season, they might be darn good.

The Eagles could mess up their run in 2008 with the old mix of linebackers- and as importantly, the departure of Walker isn’t costing them a game one way or the other. Either Patterson, Bunkley, Reagor can play and contribute or can’t- Walker wasn’t going to tip the equation of quality defensive tackle play one way or the other.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

Stop Driving Aimlessly!

I’m not a curmudgeon. And I enjoyed the race at Bristol yesterday. I like when Carl Edwards’ flips. But I am increasingly convinced that part and parcel of this Race for the Chase is incomplete as designed. Whether you like the new format or not, it provides new competitive stresses on the nature of the competition- stresses teams are increasingly figuring out to the detriment of the weekly racing.

Teams always knew that all you had to do in these first 26 races was make the cut: the top twelve spots. But increasingly, the efficient methodology chosen to do that is to simply lock in top fifteen finishes every chance you get. Run seventh or eleventh or something similar- and then just make laps, run out the clock on the day.

Now teams have always sought to protect good days. But it is increasingly ridiculous and boring. The incentive structure has changed. Running just out of the Top Ten used to mean you lost points, possibly to multiple drivers, which would have to be made up. Now the drivers don’t lose anything, NASCAR makes it all up in one fell swoop- if you can get to their magic cut-off level. So that is the new carrot- not to stay close points-wise to the leaders- but to just get to NASCAR’s marker.

In the old days, with Gordon and Burton and Johnson holding an ever growing 200 point lead- guys like Carl Edwards and Clint Bowyer could not be content with riding around twelfth- without at least trying to change the status quo. But today, their tactics are rewarded. Put it this way. Prior to the Chase, Bowyer and Edwards would have been dissatisfied with their day at Bristol. Now, they are right on schedule- pleased as punch to have furthered their chances to make the coming cut.

NASCAR has to start rewarding guys now more for winning, or finishing top five, in the first part of the season. The enticement problem fixes itself in the Chase- so I don’t care- as you got to chase the leader then. The old way rewarded consistency over the season and encouraged high car counts (important in the 1970-90s)- so a bonus was actually counter-productive. The current system clearly provides an incentive to happy with eleventh place- so you gotta do more to discourage that complacency.

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

People: Memphis is C-USA!

Heavens, wasn't it a desultory week?- thus my low output level. The Phillies haven’t started, Tulane basketball is over, the Sixers (four back with thirteen to play- just running out of time) and Flyers are on their respective treadmills to finality. I dunno, you think of something to write about. I couldn't even muster the energy to spar with Saturday Morning Quarterback. Even the poor guys on SportsCenter are reduced to talking about the NFL draft every ten minutes.

So- some quick points:

1. Glad to see Memphis get through to the round of eight. Look, they are a little miscast for C-USA. We all know that. But they have that C-USA and mid-major moniker attached to them for another weekend- and a key part of having our League grow is getting a program or two to a glamour status, success in the tournamnet and the recognition that we are a quality mid-major league. Right now Memphis is doing the first two.

The old Metro had Louisville. The new C-USA gets a shortcut: Memphis is already there. Teams and Leagues grow together quality-wise. One reinforces the other. A few programs in C-USA will grow closer to the standard- if Memphis can keep it there.

2. Skipping out of work early, I got my first sustained look at the Phillies yesterday afternoon. Some character named K. Garcia played right. He must hit a ton- cause he seemingly has no ability to play the corner outfield: no wheels, bad angles to everything- the one ball the pitcher hit with two outs goes by him to the wall….

3. Andy Reid is back. Regardless of what you think of his sons and his problems, that is bad news for the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys. Of course, Norv Turner could coach the Eagles- and it would be bad news for Washington.

4. And a quick shout out to the girls of my alma mater, Cheltenham High School, for winning the state championship last night. I like the fact that it is still the “girls’ championship”- makes it more wholesome without detracting from the deterministic accomplishment.


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Sunday Morning Quarterback

Gosh, that is a nice clock: embroidered, under glass! How very Mississippi- I bet they sell a ton. It perfectly embodies just why the good people of the Deep South long to send their urchins to Tulane the minute they are of age.

Sunday Morning Quarterback is one of my fellow voters: you can find me listed under Tulane! He represents the University of Southern Mississippi- and has a curious and lengthy piece on the Green Wave up.

It is a little hard to take criticism from fans of a university that thinks the GMAC Bowl is a worthwhile goal- other than Tulane ain't so far from that sort of aspiration either. I found it readable because he is sort of close enough to observe Tulane- without being of Tulane- and accordingly makes some thoughtful points without having a real axe to grind (other than being from an institution that is the closest thing Tulane has to a rival)- particularly concerning the Superdome. Mind you, I don’t know the solution to the venue problem; it strikes me an unsolvable. But his observations about the joint are dead right and sobering coming from an outsider.

I also like the USM guy’s characterization of Tulane as a game that the USM community pencils in as a win pre-season- and are further unperturbed when USM does, in fact, win. But in the few days before kick-off the Golden Eagles brood a bit- because Tulane has periods of competence and some good players every so often.

Basically, the post is probably how USM fans- our closest real rival in football- see Tulane. Our schools recruit a similar geography and play the same League- and I'm sure that his post is close to what C-USA schools tell our recruits: Tulane plays in a vacant building in front of lousy crowds- where 2500 can't be bothered to show up for senior day. Tulane can't beat USM more than twice a decade.

Yes, yes, there are caveats to all of that of course. But isn't interesting that he doesn't mention Scelfo or coaching once? He thinks- and I bet do most people agree- that Tulane loses not because of the coach but because of, well, Tulane.


Friday, March 16, 2007

The Drizzle

When you write a blog, you gain a certain appreciation for columnists who write to a regular schedule. It is hard to think of things to write about after awhile. But one thing I’ve been kicking around for about a year now is the idea that one of the more overrated sports’ personalities in the past fifteen or so years is Coach K at Duke. Accordingly, I polled the few guys on the trading desk this morning- asking how many national titles Duke has won since 1993?- and no one was even close (Note: the correct answer is below).

Being honest, I don’t really follow college basketball outside of our glorious Conference USA closely enough to rail against or praise anything definitively. Although Day One was not encouraging to the forces of mid-majors at large: a lot of them got blown out, only VCU came through versus the worst Duke team I can remember.

But one of my fellow BlogPollers labors under no such restriction: The Drizzle. Okay, the blog is a little harder on Duke, Coach K and Paulus than I would be- but his points are kind of correct, his remonstrance not ungenerous- and there is a chuckle or two. Anyway, link is here for the whole thing- pertinent excerpts are below.

In the end, I’m not sure what I really think here myself- just think this post is interesting. And some ugly part of me thinks Coach K gets a lot of lavish praise for a guy who gets every player he wants and doesn’t have much in terms of ultimate success to show for it for an increasingly long time:
You'd assume we're talking about the dominant team in the nation in the last 10 or 15 years, but is that really in any way true?

Conveniently enough, it's been about 15 years since the back to back titles in '91 and '92, so we'll use that as the jump off point. Since that time, they've won exactly one National Title… including that season, they've been to 4 Final Fours over that stretch, which would of course be 2 less than Carolina's 6, and equaled by Michigan State's and Kentucky's 4, so we're hardly talking about any sort of national hegemony over that stretch. Now, I will give them credit for holding sway over the ACC Tournament, and to a lesser degree over the ACC regular season title, over the last 7 or 8 years. But, in my opinion, they've always been greatly benefited by the Duke factor when they're playing in ACC country, as any other ACC basketball fan will quickly corroborate. It's a lot easier to win games when you're playing every game with a free throw and foul advantage facilitated by the Cloak of Invisible Charges that every Duke defender wears. Of course, once tournament time hits, that protection goes away and the results become more indicative.

So that's why I'm no great believer in the overblown Coach K love fest. He's done no more in the last 15 years that a half dozen other coaches have also done, probably with less talent. In fact, you could argue that in some ways, he's underutilized the supposed wealth of talent that he gets and shows a marked lack of ability to adapt to overcome the same problems that plague in every year, namely an inability to develop any quality depth, which always come back to haunt him in March.

But now it's like Duke has reached some nadir of talent, but rather than call it what it is, they're going to try to continually convince me that Greg Paulus is an effective point guard. Have you watched this kid? Can you think of another primary ball handler for a top 20 team that is often completely unable to bring the ball up and initiate an offense against someone playing active defense on him?

Honestly, if making ill conceived passes and diving on the deck for loose balls that you created was a marketable skill he'd be in great shape, but otherwise, they need to start warming up the patented Wojo Asst. Coaching seat for him.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

We're Coming Orlando!

Marc Stein at ESPN campaigns for the Sixers’ resurgence:
This week's big developments are San Antonio swiping No. 2 from Phoenix and Philadelphia -- yes, Philly -- using a seven-game win streak and widespread struggles for teams in the 12-to-24 range to make an unexpected leap into the top half of the rankings.
Top half? In his actual rankings he goads the Sixers into the play-offs!

Of course, he is about a month behind in his observations of a 76er resurgence. Still, are the Sixers really in the top half of the League now?

This seven game winning streak could be considered a little duplicitous- achieved entirely at home (even bad teams in the NBA win most of their home games) and one trip to a disastrous Indiana situation. But it has two elements of relevance: the sheer length of consistent play and an outright win over Phoenix.

All these home games have certainly helped. And much like the Philadelphia Eagles fueled their late season run by finally being able to exploit the growing maturity and better health of their young roster, the Sixers are cashing a lot of similar drafts. Cheeks has also really shortened the rotation- only Korver and Smith really play now off the bench. You can’t play a whole season like that. But you can for two months or so- provided your rotation is generally healthy and the guys being asked to play 40 plus minutes night after night are pretty young: Iguodala and Dalembert. I suppose veteran Andre Miller is being asked to dig deep too- as Kevin Ollie has essentially disappeared- but the guy is both a warrior and a vet who knows when to use and save his legs.

For at least a little while, shortening the bench, a healthy top seven, and putting the pedal to the mat in terms of playing time has solved the Sixers chronic lack of quality NBA depth problem. Again, I don’t think this is a sustainable approach for a whole season- but for now, add some home games- and it is no surprise the Sixers have this surge. And yes, in a weak Eastern Conference, any team that plays well night after night within its capacity is a play-off style unit.

This week will go a long way to determining whether the play-offs are even a possiblity. It won't take much for the Sixers to lose touch being four back with about twenty to play- and a slate of @ Atlanta, Chicago and Utah- could undo a lot of good work real quick.


Friday, March 09, 2007

Memphis, Memphis, Memphis

Tulane posted their biggest win in quite awhile last night: 54-51 over Tulsa. Seriously, when was the last time Tulane beat a 20-win team? Away from home?

It was a gritty affair- but Tulane remained pretty organized despite the hard won natue of every point and possession. Thirteen turnovers are not that bad in that sort of game.

They did miss an absolute ton of free throws- including a real clutch pair late (although Kevin Simms did make a pair of “clutch-er” ones). Maybe Tulane didn’t shoot well either- but you know, Tulsa won those 20 games largely by playing great defense. For example, Memphis scored 72 and 69. Oklahoma scored 58. Their last seven league games: 58, 50, 65, 60, 64, 62, 51. Tulsa is a very good defensive team- for all their faults, they can consistently keep C-USA teams in the 50s, low 60s. It is what Tulsa does when they play well- and kudos to Tulsa, they did play well defensively.

And even if Tulane was not very good offensively; they were very solid on defense- particular on the perimeter- high effort and high discipline: nine steals, Tulsa had maybe six or seven real good looks from the arc all night, one trey in the whole second half. Tulsa didn’t shoot well either- largely because Tulane kept the answer to this question: “how many easy transition baskets did they have?”- to “acceptable”- particularly when you consider how many shots the Wave missed. If Tulane plays that sort of defense tonight- Memphis probably can’t get to the 85 needed to humiliate the Wave by 30.

You know, when two teams who really aren’t that bad, pretty close to NIT good- play a desperation game with a real commitment to physical defense (even a little thuggish, a little attitude at times), the product can look a little raw. Tulane hasn’t played a tournament game with real consequence in a long while- maybe we forgot what that sort of desperation looks like?

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Tulsa Tonight

Sam Donnellon does his share to keep the Era of Good Feeling going around here:
Just take some deep breaths from time to time, because the smell around here is getting better, sweeter. Not because of impending championships, but because of the people involved. Whether it is charismatic Kyle Korver talking about "growing together," newcomer goaltender Martin Biron likening the current Flyers to the pre-lockout Sabres, or newlywed Cole Hamels baring his soul about his past "lack of appreciation of what I do and a lack of focus," and vowing "to correct it," there is currently an abundance of athletes in this town who seem to get it. And thus, are easy to root for.
Of course, the Era will need help from the Green Wave tonight- who face a season-ending game as a one point ‘dog to Tulsa. Tulsa is probably narrowly better (they did come to New Orleans earlier this year and win) and, like Tulane, are playing well. But the earlier match-up was way close to a stone toss-up, and Tulane did not have to play yesterday. A pure 50-50 play- but this “win” isn’t really as necessary as the UAB victory last week to validate Tulane’s progress. Tulane is offically "better than average" again. Nothing that happens this evening will change that.

This blog will miss the classy John Vukovich.


Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Watch Out C-USA!

The historians among you can relate to a period of American history called the Era of Good Feelings. Tulane basketball is sort of right there, in that happy spot right, now.

No one, and I mean no one (me included), is unhappy with Dave Dickerson. Coach took over a real, real mess two years ago: eight conference wins combined in the previous two years, a really demoralized fan base, then a campus wrecked by Katrina. And now Coach is our modern day James Monroe!

And he’s made linear progress every month. Tulane has started to win more conference games than they lose, won a first round conference tournament game last year, have a real good chance to advance a round deeper this year. Faced with a chance to put a real capstone on the regular season, Tulane went on the road, as a seven point ‘dog, to play a classy mid-major program in UAB- and won the game. It was the biggest game of Dickinson’s tenure- and they went out and got it.

So, they move forward with, more importantly, all expectation to move forward again. They lose three seniors- but Chris Moore is one of the endless sized-challenged guys that attend Tulane in bunches who can’t score when faced with a real Division 1 perimeter defender. Andrew Garcia provided a sort of mid-major quality depth on occasion; but there were more than a few nights where he was simply overmatched.

The point is that the on-court losses, outside of that admittedly important “inside the locker room presence”, aren’t dramatic- which suggests the Wave might be a mere good recruiting class away. Or maybe even one new quality front court player with size- although yes, you could argue any class with a quality front court player in C-USA has a certain quality to it.

It is heartening. One frustration with the Finney era is that there was no excuse for it. You can make a logical argument that football is hopeless at Tulane given the current environment- but Tulane basketball has won, has filled their building, has been successful in the post-season, and has been flat out, well, fun! They’ll be a first division pick in the League next year- and with an incoming productive player in the front court, another off the bench, they could play in the NIT next year.


Thursday, March 01, 2007


Both the Tulane Green Wave and the Philadelphia 76ers basketball efforts have been pretty darned encouraging as of late, no? One could almost believe things are on the upswing.

Sixers first. Their win over Phoenix was classy, and their run of .500 plus ball is now at 19 games. With another 20 or so to play, many at home, they are a real threat to extend this run of winning basketball to the entire second half of the season. Again, I’m of the school of I’d rather see them play well then play as if to try and win the draft lottery. Isn’t this better, more hopeful, more indicative of being close to 45 wins and some degree of relevance by even next year?

And wow!, they are really putting a cramp on their chances of winning the lottery too. It is one thing to pass Boston and lose a ping pong ball or two. But now they seem real likely to overhaul a bunch of clubs. Milwaukee, Atlanta and Charlotte are all within two games- and another cluster of three teams two games from that. Even the Knicks seem reach-able: five games up but looking square at an injury to a pretty key piece. See, winning is more fun too.

I’m not sure if you started the season today, the Sixers would make the play-offs. The Nets and Toronto are still better than them- and that is just the lame Atlantic. But they now might be a legit .500- with coming reinforcements (three first round draft picks) & a better draft position than their second half record would indicate.

Speaking of better than average, the Tulane Green Wave season has been upgraded from "have they lost sixteen yet?" to a “little curious”. Their only chance for post-season play, due to their utterly unreal weak out of conference schedule, is to win the C-USA tournament outright. But they have fifteen wins, with at least two more get-able games out there. Of course, they could lose to UAB too- and a first round tournament game is always chancy. Bottom line: get two wins here at the end- and their RPI is nearer to 100 than it has been in a long time.

I almost kind of hope they don’t get the tie-breaker for fourth place (and thus a first round bye)- get another game against a weak conference sister: a #5 vs. #12 seed style game, another chance for another resume enhancing “W”. But seventeen wins, in Dickerson’s second year, a year after the hurricane leveled the place, is certainly ahead of schedule.

Add that to yet another win over LSU baseball up there in Baton Rouge- and it has been an encouraging week.

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