Saturday, February 23, 2008

BB liveblog: Miami (OH) at Valpo

Announcement: I said the past two days I'd plow through the Kent St.-St. Mary's game tonight, too, but ... no one's reading. I seriously doubt I'll come up with anything interesting to add to the straight play-by-play, given that the well is already dangerously close to dry and that the game won't start for another three hours. And I'd like to watch a game that should be as good as that one without having to look down every few seconds to type something. So I'm bailing. I've got a brief wrap post planned for tomorrow and if I have anything to say about the Kent-St. Mary's game, I'll say it then. G'night.

Tim Pollitz: a star in a just world.

We're picking up this one on ESPN Classic and this one's for nothing more than the pure joy of watching basketball, and specifically, Miami's wonderful 6-5 power forward Tim Pollitz, one of those guys who makes up for his height deficit with a stunning overabundance of smarts and guile. He got them to the NCAAs almost single-handed last March (with the help of a buzzer-beating, banked-in three) and then carved up Oregon in the first round.

So, yeah, even after four other games already today, I'm looking forward to the last, let's see ... 13 minutes or so of this game.

7:24 p.m. And on cue, Pollitz pulls down a rebound, starts a fast break, and finds his brother Eric. Eric winds up on the line and makes two, and the RedHawks go up 46-42 after seeing a big lead sorta disappear over the last minute or two.

7:26 p.m. Valpo has their goofy Crusader logo painted in giant size across the middle of the floor, and let me tell you, having it 10 feet across does nothing to reduce the goofy. I'll give them credit for not following the sort of nationwide trend of picking out the most initimidating, bad-ass and ultimately corporate-looking logo possible, but ... seriously, the guy in this logo looks like he wandered in from a half-assed Nickelodeon version of Don Quixote. The switch to the Horizon means Valpo's going to be taking on Butler, UW-Milwaukee, Wright St., etc., and now they select a logo that looks like he's ready to take on windmills instead? I don't get it.

7:31 p.m. Jake Diebler hits a pair of free throws to bring Valpo within one, 50-49, despite his Phantom of the Opera mask. Somewhere, Rip Hamilton is asking his lawyer about the trademark infringement possibilities. (Yes, I know I should be above mask jokes, but I've been at this for eight hours now. Whaddya want from me? Besides, I know they're necessary and all, but they look silly and there's no arguing that.)

7:36 p.m. The last several minutes (the game's got 7:55 remaining)have followed the following pattern: 1) Miami turnover 2) Valpo score 3) crowd goes nuts 4) timeout 5) Miami turnover. I swear this cycle seems to have happened three times, minimum. Valpo's gone up six. And now Jarryd Lloyd hits a three for a nine-point lead. Too bad Miami's probably out of timeouts by now.

7:43 p.m. Wow, Diebler's got the Hamilton mask and it turns out Urule Igbavboa has the Ben Wallace 'fro. Now if they can find someone with some variety of baldspot, they can recreate the champion Pistons in their entirety. As is, they're at least doing a good job of mimicking the Pistons' tendency to win: they're still up seven, with six to play.

7:45 p.m. Pollitz hits a couple of free throws to bring the RedHawks within three. But he's got a knee injury and isn't moving quite as well as I recall. And as our color guy (apparently he's named "Cedric") points out, the Valpo dude he's covering on D (Shawn Huff) has sorta noticed. Huff hits a three as Pollitz gives him too much room in an effort to stuff the dribble. Valpo by six, 67-61, 4:17 to play.

7:49 p.m. In an explanation of some of Valpo's struggles this season, Cedric mentions the move to the Horizon, which is 10th in the RPI as of now. If you haven't noticed, that's higher up the RPI than 1. C-USA 2. the Colonial 3. the WAC. Quite an accomplishment for a conference for whom most casual hoop fans would say "Oh yeah, that's the league with Butler and ... uh, Butler."

7:54 p.m. Pollitz abuses the larger Igbavboa, so they switch Huff on him and he gets around him to draw a foul. So, so crafty--like the basketball Iago. Too bad he bricks both free throws. Just three minutes left. That hurts. Huff's basket hurts even worse. This one's just about done.

7:59 p.m. Yeah, you thought I was kidding when I said Miami had taken a whole bunch of timeouts. Well, they just took their final one with 2:20 to play. That's the earliest I've seen in quite a while. They're down five after a three-point play, but making it all the way back without a TO ... that's a rocky road to travel.

8:02 p.m. Oh, ye fickle three-pointer. Valpo used it to roar back and take their lead, but now Miami's used it to come within four, and Valpo's attempted three bounced over the backboard. Pollitz mind-warps Igbavboa into leaving him a clear path to the basket on the slip-screen and suddenly it's 73-71. This is three straight one-possession games. That'll do, Bracketbusters Saturday. That'll do.

8:06 p.m. Huff drives and scores--he's been cash money since I turned the game on. Miami's Kenny Hayes hits two free throws to bring the RedHawks within two, but there's only 34.7 left. It's foul or bust.

8:07 p.m. Or not! Huff finds whatever the opposite of redemption is by first letting himself getting tied up and then throwing the ball directly to Miami's Alex Moosman. Moosman's got a wide-open layup .. but he misses! But Pollitz is there! Tie game! Valpo back the other way, shot, no good, Igbavboa a fadeaway, it sits on the rim ... NO! Overtime! Man, oh man, BB is bringing it this year.

8:14 p.m. Huff finds actual redemption, draining a sweet, sweet step-back three to put Valpo up five. Pollitz pivots all over the lane but finds a way to get the ball up and in in his delightful Pollitz-esque fashion, though. It's 80-77, three to play.

8:19 p.m. Whoa, the Pollitzes' dad went to Valpo Awkward.

8:21 p.m. Valpo again looks to maybe have things sewn up, up six with two to play, and again Hayes earns a trip to the line for two. He hits them and Miami gets a stop, but Pollitz tosses the ball out of the bounds. On the replay it's pretty obvious Valpo deflected it, but hey, the call in Hayes's favor (a foul on Igbavboa for what sure looked like a clean block) was more than a little questionable, too. So the karmic officiating scales always even out.

8:23 p.m. Hayes blocks a Valpo three at the shot clock buzzer, Pollitz scoops up the loose ball and finds him streaking downcourt ... Hayes converts the and-1! It's a one-point game again. 40 seconds to play.

8:24 p.m. Igbavboa misses a dunk! But somehow--seriously, how?--it squirms right back into his hands and he puts it up and in. Hayes draws a foul, though, and hits both. 85-84, 24 seconds left.

8:25 p.m. Miami nearly forces a TO, loose ball ... scoop to Igbavboa, dunk! He dunked it! 16 seconds! Hayes brings it up, launches from the parking lot ... GOOD! HE HIT IT! Valpo comes back, three by Lloyd at the buzzer ... NO! Double overtime! This thing has stretched more than 30 minutes later than I expected and I'm hungry! It's worth it! w00t!

8:33 p.m. The announcers are discussing the fatigue angle as Michael Rogers scores and draws the foul, but as we watch the Valpo fans celebrate ... how about the fatigue for the fans, huh? They've been cheering their lungs out for a long, long time. Hope they've got water.

8:36 p.m. Cedric has the line of the night as Miami's guard Michael Bramos shot fakes and just barely keeps his left foot planted before going on a drive and drawing the foul. "He must have taken ballet," says play-by-play guy, to which Ced replies, "Or he's got some long toes!" Heh. Both teams are two exhausted and foul-ridden to play D: they swap two layups each. Valpo's up 96-94, 1:15 to play.

8:41 p.m. Miami bricks a three, Lloyd scores on the drive! 15 seconds left, Valpo up four, Hayes with a three ... no! That should do it.

8:42 p.m. Bramos misses! No more miracles! OK, that is worth storming the floor for. Man, hell of a game ... again.

BB liveblog: Drake at Butler

This dude: good.

Here we are at the marquee match-up of the day, two-loss Drake at two-loss Butler in the (packed) gym so incalculably cool they had to film "Hoosiers" there. This is going to be awesome. We're picking things up with about 12:30 left in the first half, Butler up 12-10 and both teams struggling from outside.

5:20 p.m. Here's one of the funny misconceptions about Butler: they don't really shoot the lights out on a night-to-night basis. Oh, they're explosive, but Graves has been a bit off all season and Green's not quite a Korver, exactly. He shows hat here again, barely drawing iron on a three as we head into the under-12 timeout.

5:27 p.m. What do you get when you combine two teams who love threes the way Rick Majerus loves room service and clamp down like vises inside the arc? The three-a-palooza we're getting now, with both teams firing away from anywhere inside 30 feet. Drake's Leonard Houston has been the only guy showing any inclination to go inside and he's been rewarded with back-to-back baskets to put Drake up 14-12.

5:32 p.m. The difference so far has been Drake's ability to poke some holes into that Butler interior D. Some tricky interior passing (and a switch that leaves Graves on a Drake post dude twice his size) nets an Drake and-1 and a 19-14 lead. Jonathan Cox gets another lob a moment later for 21-17 with 6:45 left in the half.

5:35 p.m. He may not be quite as good a shooter as his rep suggests, but good gosh does A.J. Graves do everything else. He finds Matt Howard on a 25-foot cross-court pass for a lay-in. Somewhere Steve Nash is nodding in approval.

5:37 p.m. The jitters have worn off and both teams are looking like the clinical offensive juggernauts they've been for most of the season. The Bulldogs start raining threes and Josh Young hits a pair from the field. A game that was in the single digits it seems like the blink of an eye ago is 31-28 with three minutes and change to play.

5:41 p.m. In case you haven't heard: Josh Young is awesome. He's a good 24 feet out, has just the slightest bit of space, takes an innocuous-looking pass, and from the moment even before he takes the pass he's shooting. Rises up, perfect form, buries it. The very essence of confidence. Someone needs to send a clip of that to the guys hawking those "Better Basketball" DVDs on late-night NBATV.

5:46 p.m. Young should also be getting his "Actor's Equity" guild card soon after falling over from a Graves tap on the arm. He hits all three freebies and despite a rain of Butler threes it's Drake with the one-point lead in the final minute of the half.

5:50 p.m. Green misses a short jumper, a Drake nudge under the hoop goes unpunished, and the teams walk off the court for halftime. The officials are very, very unpopular at the moment, what with the no-call there following another foul call that sent Cox to the line for two that pushed Drake's lead to three. Ho MAN this second half is going to rock.

6:07 p.m. The corollary to the "Butler isn't a phenomenal shooting team, just really good" theory is that they win by simply never turning the ball over and burying you under total shots rather than percentage. Your latest piece of evidence: precisely one turnover in the first half. Of course, they commit two in the first minute of the second half, but still.

6:08 p.m. Young pulls up in Howard's face and drills a three. Ho-hum. Drake's now up six, their largest lead

6:10 p.m. Of course, anyone surprised that Butler scores the next eight with the most recent four by Graves has an exceedingly low threshold for surprise. There's just no way this game isn't going to be close in the final few minutes.

6:13 p.m. I'd forgotten that Butler has a guy named "Streicher," pronounced "Striker" ... Striker, striker, striker, Striker! *punch* ... I'm going to be thinking about that all night.

6:15 p.m. Houston cans a three. Honestly, is it that much a wonder Drake is this good when they've got two guys in Young and Houston who can either get to the rim or nail threes and can surround them with players as smart as Cox and Klayton Korver ... and as I type that, Korver pretends to shoot a long three and instead it's an alley-oop to Houston, who jumps out of the gym to bring it in. Freaking awesome.

6:17 p.m. Butler runs a lob of their own to perfection to retake the lead. If you think a game like this isn't worth watching because of the names of the schools on the jerseys, you hate America.

6:23 p.m. If there's been fewer announcing complaints this game, it's being called by Ron Franklin, quite possibly the world's finest play-by-play guy, and the very sensible Fran Fraschilla. On behalf of mid-major fans everywhere: thank you so much, ESPN, for dumping Vitale on the Memphis and Tennessee fans.

6:26 p.m. Adam Emmenecker of Drake tracks down a ball everyone in the gym thought was out off of Drake, flicks it to Houston, and Drake gets a layup. Tie game at 52. This is my first look at Drake, and it's really not that hard to see why this team has run away with the Valley--they're really, really good.

6:30 p.m. Honestly, the way these teams play D and protect the basketball, who'd have expected we'd already be at 52-52 with more than 10 minutes left? And that's after both teams have gone scoreless the last few trips. Bottom line is that this game has been even better than billed.

6:35 p.m. Man, tough foul call on Butler on a drive by Houston. In a game as tightly contested as this one, you want to see the players decide it even more than usual. Fraschilla had his first sort of awkward moment, saying that Drake had trailed and won lots of times. Seeing as their only down 57-54, I don't think anyone had exactly written them off yet, Fran.

6:40 p.m. Butler's up four, 58-54, with 7:31 to play when Emmenecker misses the front end of a one-and-one. Good as they may be, I don't think Drake wants to let that lead sneak out to seven or eight. When guys like Graves and Green are on the other side, they're probably going to be not-too-bad at milking clock if need be.

6:43 p.m. Man, nevermind, Cox's tip-in ties the game at 58, Graves misses a 3, Korver connects from NBA range. As I said, this game was probably foretold by Nostradamus to be tight all the way. It was never going to be otherwise.

6:49 p.m. Not the best pair of possessions for Green. First he turns it over and Emmenecker and Young turn it into two on the other end (63-58), then he bricks the front end of a one-and-one, and after Butler recovers he has a shot blocked by the increasingly pestilent Emmenecker. Rough with a capital R, there. Howard gets things going again with an and-1, though.

6:55 p.m. Howard tries to force a pass inside and fails (Butler's ninth TO of the half ... not surprising, then, they're behind, is it?) and Drake, up four with under three minutes, start stalling. But whoops, block, Graves drives and goes to the line, two-point game again. Time out Drake, 64-62, 1:47 to play, this is awesome.

7:02 p.m. Holy crap, Butler tips a pass, the ball starts to fly out of bounds, Young recovers, but has his foot on the line. Then Green charges (Emmenecker once again. And--holy crap, again--after running 33 seconds off the clock Young gets fouled by Green as he launches a last-gasp three. The crowd makes a complete hash of FCC regulations (yes, that's the term that rhymes with "full spit" you're hearing clearly) in response. But I think it's a good call--Green immediately throws up his hands, the sign of the guilty. Young hits all three. 67-62.

7:04 p.m. Butler hits two, one-possession game, but just 14.2 remaining when Drake calls a timeout. And Drake, Franklin explains, has gone 33-35 their last two games. Goodness. Could a stat scream "fundamentally sound" any louder?

7:05 p.m. Houston breaks free! Houston scores! That'll do it! Man, what a game. The fans boo lustily as of course they will--that call on Green pretty much decided the game, proper though I think it was--but I tend to agree with Fraschilla that it was a pretty well officiated game. Besides, if Butler doesn't turn the ball over quite so much in the second half, they win the game.

7:10 p.m. So where do these teams go from here? Six-seeds, maybe worse. Butler was a little bit ahead on the "dominant mid-major conference titlist without a genuine top-drawer victory" see-saw, but I think this result evens things up. But the committee's not really going to give sufficient credit to either one. Remember a couple years ago when George Washington had this same resume and got dumped all the way to an 8 seed? If the Bulldogs (both sets) can avoid more than one debilitating conference loss down the stretch, a 7-seed should be the floor. But add more than one L and who knows. Hell, who knows anyway; this is the NCAA Selection Committee we're talking about. They hate these teams the way I hate mosquitos.

None of that changes the fact that both these teams are clearly outstanding basketball teams and that surviving them come March is going to be like any variety of painful dental procedure you'd wish to name. This was an incredible game and I can't wait to see what either one will do in the NCAAs.

BB liveblog: Creighton at Oral Roberts

Posting on this one is going to be slightly less frantic than in the previous two, since 1. I'll be honest, the rapier wit is getting a bit dulled after getting so much use (yes, that's sarcasm. I guess I wasn't being honest) 2. there's just not as much at stake in this one. Neither Creighton nor ORU was ever a factor at-large wise.

But that's not to say it's pointless, particularly for ORU. Picking off a solid Missouri Valley team, even at home, is quite a feather in the cap of a team from the Summit. In concrete terms, it could mean the difference between a near-impossible challenge as a 14 seed and a more manageable game as a 13 or 12.

For the Bluejays ... yeah, I don't think there's a lot at stake.

3:20 p.m. We're picking this up with 14 and change left in the first half after wrapping up the previous post and writing the above. ORU started off sorta jumpy but have settled down on both ends--they scored eight straight to go up 8-6 before Creighton scored four in response.

3:23 p.m. The ORU fans have an impressive "white-out" going on in the stands--not just the student section but the entire crowd. It's almost intimidating, since it gives the impression that every fan is taking the game seriously enough to dress for (the) success (of the team). In reality, the ORU fans probably aren't any more int oit than, say, the Ohio fans were last go-round. But they look like they are, and that's probably even more important.

3:26 p.m. Well, there's only so much t-shirts can do. ORU is wobbly on defense again and the Bluejays have run off 10 in a row. They're up 16-8.

3:31 p.m. You have to give Scott Sutton and the rest of the staff at ORU credit: they've lost some tremendous players over the past couple of years (Caleb Green, Ken Tutt, et al) but they've basically just reloaded every step of the way. They certainly pass the "eye test" athletically, in their general feel for the game, etc. They're still down 18-13, but at a glance there's no difference between this team and the last few editions of the Eagles. Not easy to do at this level.

3:34 p.m. Creighton's Booker Woodfox has to have one of the best names in all of college hoop. Not to employ too gross a generalization, but the name almost sort of embodies the Bluejays' approach vis a vis the quicker Eagles: Creighton's going to have to be more cautious, stately, reserved, fundamental, perhaps even "smart" or "Woodfoxian" to counter ORU's athleticism. So far it's working: they've gotten several intelligent passes under the hoop for easy baskets and are up 22-18 with six left in the half.

3:40 p.m. Pace speeding up, which I would think would favor ORU, but it's Eagle PG Robert Jarvis (possessor of some awesome Marquis Daniels-esque hair) who slows things up. Possession ends with an ORU free throw and it's 22-21.

3:42 p.m. The announcer says that the slow pace favors ORU rather than Creighton ... I mean, am I nuts (or a shallow thinker) to think otherwise? ORU was one of the country's quickest-paced teams the last couple of years, right? Creighton plays in the we're-not-Ivies-but-hell-yeah-we'll-slow-it-down-wand--Southern-Illinois's-our-champion MoVal, right? Maybe I'll stop trying to pigeonhole these guys and just watch the game, I guess. In which Creighton's hit a couple of threes and lead by four.

3:48 p.m. Hmm, Creighton, I don't think you want this crowd involved, whatever the actual impact of the shirts are. So that steal, breakaway, blocking foul, three-point play wasn't so good. Jays still up one, though, and that's before Woodfox drains a three to shut the crowd up again.

3:50 p.m. Jarvis for three, good! And ORU has their first lead. I think it's generally a good idea to cover someone with Jarvis's hair: if he has the confidence to pull a look like that off, you know he's not going to be afraid to pull the trigger.

3:52 p.m. Eek, Blue Jays miss the front end of a one-and-one. All the momentum with ORU. So as they have every time that's been the case this half, Creighton quickl turns it around. This time it's P'Allen Stinnett who drives right to the basket on the iso to retake the lead at the half, 34-33. Pretty sweet game so far and without question the most entertaining of the three first halves we've seen.

4:15 p.m. Stinnett has been Creighton's best player to this point, so good that our color guy (whose name I should really be paying attention to at the broadcast's start) has compared him twice to Manu Ginobli, which seems ... appropriate? He's got all four of Creighton's points of the second half two minutes in. But CU starter Dane Watts has three fouls and ORU has continued to look sharp on the offensive end. They're down 38-36, 17:28 to play.

4:19 p.m. Both teams playing solid basketball at this point--great move inside by ORU's Marcus Lewis doesn't get him a deserved basket, followed by a tough leaner on the other end by Creighton's Josh Dotzler. Wish we'd seen a little more of this in the first two games. Of course, the announcer punches a clean hole through my "Hey, these teams are looking good!" theory by pointing out that ORU is 1-of-7 this half as we head to the under-16 timeout. Oh well.

4:25 p.m. Jarvis hits one from downtown Tulsa. 43-41 CU.

4:27 p.m. Creighton has apparently been taking lessons from James Shuler--after Dotzler's tough-as-nails banked leaner a moment ago, Watts banks in a similar shot from the left side of the lane after solid D from ORU. We all know God should be on ORU's side (right?) but between those shots and a half-dozen Eagle layups that have rolled out, I'm starting to wonder.

4:31 p.m. Yeah, maybe I shouldn't have made Creighton sound so Princetonesque a few items back. They just tried to hit a backdoor cut. It went out of bounds with the pass target still a good several feet away.

4:33 p.m. Not sure why Jarvis isn't a starter--he's been ORU's best player by a wide, wide margin. It's his drive-and-score that puts the Eagles up 48-47. But again, the Almighty may be taking a peculiar and contrary interest in this game: Watts answers with a three off the backboard. Our color man says that "somebody opened a window and the wind blew in." That's one theory.

4:37 p.m. Hoo boy, Bluejay frosh Kenny Lawson sticks it back with the proverbial authoritah after a missed transition layup. If this was in Omaha the roof would have come off the place, as they say. Another basket later Creighton has a six-point lead, largest of the half.

4:42 p.m. After a three-point play halves the lead, Stinnett lives up to the Ginobli comparison in the lesser-desirable fashion by taking a n extra step in the process of getting his shot up. Kelvin Sango hits a bunny and it's a one-point game.

4:46 p.m. Whoops, it's Creighton up four after one of those nasty six-point swings: ORU's Moses Ehambe continues a nightmare shooting performance (2-of-13) with a missed three while Casey Harriman buries one on the other end.

4:47 p.m.Scott Sutton takes a very quick timeout after the three. I'm not sure one hit three after you've had the momentum for the last minute or so is always worth it, but ORU shows why he's a well-paid professional basketball coach and I am a blogger by scoring the next four to tie the game at 58. Five minutes left.

4:51 p.m. Under-four-minute timeout arrives with the teams tied at 60, and I legitimately have no guess who's going to win the game. It's been fun.

4:56 p.m. Jarvis has started to get a little wild--he's now taken three or four Kobe-esque, off-balance jumpers--but who cares when beasts like Lewis can go fetch the rebound for an and-1? He misses the free throw, though, and we're tied again at 62.

5:05 p.m. The defenses reign for the next several possessions and it goes into the final minute still tied at 62. Lewis misses, and Creighton catches a break when it looks like Stinnett walks again and a verrrrrrry late whistle sends him to the line for the one-and-one. Then it's ORU who gets the break as Stinnett misses the front end and Jarvis gets fouled in the ensuing scramble. But Creighton also gets a break as Jarvis turns his ankle in drawing the foul. He hits the first but'll have to hit the second to get subbed off the floor and not expose that ankle on D ... he does. Clutch. Would love to see this Jarvis guy in the NCAAs--seems the sort who'd really rise to the occasion.

5:07 p.m. Woodfox for three... GOOD! Creighton by one! 21 seconds left! Definitely an exclamation-point worthy game we've got here.

5:10 p.m. Adam Liberty with the fallaway ... no! ORU board, three for the win ... No! Putback's too late! Creighton wins! They end up celebrating in one of those standard huddles at midcourt despite the fact that ... well, this didn't really eanr them a thing. But if you've just a won a game that hard-fought and that down-to-the-wire, hell, kids, celebrate your heart out.

5:12 p.m. As Butler and Drake fire it up, what did we learn from CU-ORU? That the Eagles are legit--they're going to be every bit the threat they were in the NCAAs the last couple of years (yes, they didn't win either of those games and weren't completely even in either game, but ... the potential remains there) and that Creighton ... well, if they survive the MoVal tourney, they're going to be dangerous. But we knew that already. As for their chances at Arch Madness, you know someone's going to knock off Drake. And I didn't see anything here to suggest they can't be that team. Stinnett's exciting, Watts and Woodfox are solid, and Josh Dotzler (while not having the biggest impact today) is still Josh Dotzler. They'll be heard from.

BB liveblog: George Mason at Ohio

He sings the songs that remind of the good times, he sings the songs that remind him of the best times...

So this is the second entry in today's miniature "MAC-Colonial Challenge," with the CAA having taken the opener. Even less on the line NCAAs-wise than in the BB opener--neither of these teams has an at-large prayer--but I'm stoked to see the George Mason heroes from two years ago again. It must be what it was like for hockey fans to see Eruzione and Craig take the ice in 1983 or something.

1:09 p.m. Away we go, and George Mason has broken out the retina-searing "gold" (or as I prefer to think of this color, "stale butter") jerseys for the occasion. I realize you can't really wear green in Ohio's gym since the Bobcats also wear green, but ... these jerseys were a mistake the day they were stitched. Sorry, Patriots.

1:13 p.m. The first few minutes fly by and GMU leads 9-2 at the first TV timeout. Patriots looking very smooth on offense. After the last game, it's a welcome change.

1:17 p.m. GMU really looking to push after Ohio misses. Fortunately for them, guys like Folarin Campbell and Will Thomas can throw a hell of an outlet pass. Hasn't led to much the last couple of attempts, though. Still, they're up 12-5 ... Ohio a touch cold to open.

1:20 p.m. Tough call on Vlad Moldoveanu as he tries to stop an Ohio break and gets whistled for a block. These are CAA refs (visiting team brings the officials), but calls like those will get rid of any accusations of bias toot sweet. Jordan Carter and his magnificent fro get called for a 10-second violation (Ewwww) and Ohio pulls within 12-11 on a three. Crowd making noise.

1:23 p.m. Because if there's one thing George Mason needed, it was another smooth-as-silk 3/4 who can glide to the basket and finish, sophomore Louis Birdsong drives and scores with what looks like less than a maximum amount of effort. It sparks a quick 5-0 spurt for Mason and they're back up six.

1:30 p.m. Hmm, haven;t mentioned any Ohio guys by name yet. So I'll point out that it was No. 6 Bubba Walther (his name is Bubba!) who throws a bullet pass to the fans sitting behind the Ohio stanchion to hand the ball back to the Patriots. Campbell steals the ball on the Bobcat's next possession and forces a foul to prevent the breakaway dunk. With the exception of that one two-minute stretch, Ohio has looked less than sharp on offense. 18-11 GMU.

1:31 p.m. Mason makes four passes and never lets the ball touch the floor as they go from the backcourt to a layup. Pretty, pretty stuff. The announcers mention they're shooting 67 percent from the floor and on cue they drain a three. 23-11. It's been a clinic the last few possessions.

1:34 p.m. Ohio turns it over, it's a layup on the other end. And Will Thomas is owning the glass, they're one-and-done. Now Jerome Tillman misses a dunk. Not exactly going the home team's way at the moment, to put things mildly.

1:36 p.m. They've been running the newest DirecTV "movie character talks to the audience about DirecTV" advertisement on a continuous loop so far today. In this one, Kathy Bates's psycho from "Misery" takes a moment right before "hobbling" that actor whose name I can never remember to plug DirecTV. Look, I know it's a memorable moment from a memorable movie and all, but ... do you really want your product associated with one of the most grisly, hard-to-watch scenes I can think of? Do you really want it endorsed by a psychopath? I dunno, they probably have focus groups who loved it. Sigh.

1:39 p.m. Silly, out-of-control charge by Walther. Mason in total control, 28-11. Looks from the wide-angle shot like Ohio got a really, really nice crowd out for this one, and Mason has come in and icily shut them up completely. They're up 28-13 and John Vaughan (*the Auburn fan shudders*) is at the line.

1:42 p.m. Leon Williams (6-8 senior, probably Ohio's highest-profile player), gets a nice entry pass, turns, and scores. Campbell turns it over on the other end and I guess I should point out the game isn't exactly completely finished yet. I guess.

1:44 p.m. Wiiiiiiiiide open three for Ohio following a sweet Walther pass doesn't connect. That would have been nice.

1:46 p.m. Bleah. Campbell loses the ball trying for a reverse, it flies into the air as Campbell falls hard and stays down for a minute, and as he lies there the Ohio fans chant "airball." I know hoping for gentlemanly behavior from college student sections is always going to be more pointless than a brand-new pencil, but still, wait until the guy gets up, please.

1:50 p.m. Ohio's trimmed the lead a bit to 32-19 with less than a minute left in the half. Birdsong checks in and the play-by-play guy says "he's not a big guy, just 6-6, 230," which shows you that even at the mid-major level, the distorting effect of the game on players' heights is severe. Because I'm pretty sure that if you saw 6-6, 230 Louis Birdsong anywhere besides a basketball court, "not a big guy" is about the last thing you'd think.

1:52 p.m. 32-19 at the half, and on a personal note, it's time for lunch.

2:08 p.m. We're back!

2:10 p.m. In retrospect, my return from halftime wasn't really worth an exclamation point. Neither, to this point, has the teams' return: they come up emtpy for the first 1:30 of the half until Williams connects.

2:12 p.m. The little things that could really get Ohio back into this game (like that missed open three earlier) are still going against them. This time a Bobcat grabbed a rebound only to lose his footing after coming down for a travel. Still GMU by 11.

2:13 p.m. Bubba Walther (Bubba!) drills a long three and it's officially a game again ... another three by Walther! The crowd goes bonkers! Timeout GMU! His name is Bubba!

2:16 p.m. Not sure if it's a national ad or local, but we're getting a spot for "5-hour Energy," the hey-we're-better-than-Red-Bull-even-if-we-look-way-skeezier energy "shot" K-Dub admitted to using in his assault on the ESPN chat record yesterday. I'd just like to assure you that the JCCW all-day liveblog is running on perfectly legal coffee and any records broken will be completely legitimate.

2:20 p.m. Walther to Williams--those two have been Ohio's best players by a country mile--and it's 33-29. Mason not really running their offense--lots of jacked threes instead of getting Campbell and Thomas attacking the basket. Williams scores again and it's GMU by two. Looks like I might not have been the only person who basically thought this game was over late in the first half.

2:23 p.m. This is going to really stun you, but Larranaga was hella pissed after taking his second timeout in the space of a minute. Who'd have guessed? Big moment there--Bert Whittington (man, Ohio has some great names) missed a three that would have given them the lead and Campbell hits two freebies on the other end.

2:26 p.m. I suddenly realized I'm doing this game with the updates at the bottom of the post rather than the top, unlike the first one. Completely accidentally. Dammit.

2:30 p.m. Thomas finally gets GMU a second-half field goal after they started 0-12. Now both offenses are starting to heat up--Vaughan connects for GMU, Walther for Ohio. This has rather suddenly become a pretty gosh-darned exciting game. Still have to like GMU's experience down the stretch ... now that they've gotten the "Eh, we're up 12, I'll just launch this 25-footer rather than work it into the post" out of their system, you would think they'd be OK. You'd think.

2:32 p.m. The problem is that GMU refuses to take care of the basketball--a turnover leads to a Bobcat layup and they're down a point. Give credit to Ohio, they've been active and quick-handed, but the Patriots are also just being sloppy.

2:34 p.m. Campbell hits a three and freshman Cam Long hits a freebie to put GMU back up four. There's a shot of Larranaga and standing immediately behind him are a couple of GMU students. Um ... that's a heck of a road trip, fellas, for a non-conference game that's not really going to seal any bids the way the trip to Wichita did a couple of years ago. The JCCW salutes your dedication!

2:37 p.m. One of the cool things about springing for the cable company's "sports tier" is the wide array of regional networks who bring you random, wonderful mid-major games. For instance, the break in the GMU-Ohio game lets me check in on Northern Arizona hosting Wichita St. and old blog friend Gregg Marshall in their BracketBuster game. Wichita's up two, 29-27, in an effort to save the Missouri Valley the face they'd lose by seeing one of their highest-profile programs lose to a Big Sky also-ran. (Not that NAU is a bad team, and they have possibly the coolest nickname in all mid-majordom in "Lumberjacks.")

2:42 p.m. Back to ...wherever Ohio is (why don't I know this?) and a Thomas free throw is canceled out by Tillman slam from a Walther assist. Ohio up one again.

2:44 p.m. Vaughan scores, Mason by 1. Walther scores, Ohio by 1. We're due for a "X ties and X lead changes" comment from the crew any second now, I'd wager.

2:46 p.m. Walther and Whittington are breaking down GMU on the dribble--Tillman just got his second easy one and got the and-1 for his troubles as well. Thomas answers after another classic example of the "don't save the ball under your own basket" gaffe, getting his own and-1. 52-51 Ohio, 4:14 left.

2:48 p.m. What the hell got into Ohio in the halftime locker room? The team that jacked at will, didn't work the ball around, and generally missed even when open has been replaced by a different team that showed from tremendous, dare I say even San Antonio Spurs-esque "No, your shot is better" ball movement en route to a Whittington three. Then Walther comes up with a steal and drills a step-back transition three. Ohio's up seven!

2:51 p.m. Much as I respect the GMU seniors and shall treasure them always for their contributions to the miracle of 2006 ... yeah, Bubba "His Name is Bubba" Walther has been the best player on the court this game. Ohio doesn't score on this possession, but it's his sharp pass out of the corner that helps set up another wide-open look from three. GMU fumbles the rebound out-of-bounds. They're in more trouble than coaches whose name rhymes with "Melvin Trampson."

2:55 p.m. Williams hits his first three of the season at the shot clock buzzer. Yeah, methinks this game is over. Teams that lose don't hit Hands-of-Fate shots like that one.

2:57 p.m. Geez, that wasn't just Williams's first make, it was his first attempt from three of the year. Something tells me he's going to watch that one on film a few times. Mason responds through a Campbell three, though. They're down six.

3:01 p.m. Mason bricks a free throw and fouls Walther--who shatters no stereotypes as a scrawny white kid who is "not the guy you want to foul"--who hits both. Nine points, 65 seconds left. It's over.

3:04 p.m. The announcers are calling this a "great, great win" for Ohio, and hey, anytime you beat a team that still carries name recognition with Mr. and Mrs. Casual Fan on national television it's awfully nice and all, but ... they're not getting an at-large. The conference race is a bigger deal. The conference tourney is the only thing that really, really matters at this point. So yeah, it's awesome, but ...

3:06 p.m. ... now it's over and the students are storming the court and it's not that important. I'm super-glad BracketBusters creates this kind of atmosphere for these teams, but let's just keep it in perspective, shall we?

3:08 p.m. My final thoughts? Ohio looks precisely like the sort of team that could catch fire, win the MAC tourney, and snap into tiny pieces the NCAA hearts of Kent St. should the Golden Flashes lose to St. Mary tonight. Especially if Walther plays like that--he looked like a baller. If the Bobcats did make the NCAAs, eh, not sure. Not sure there's quite that much substance there aside from Walther and Williams.

As for GMU ... I dunno. Honestly, it seemed like Carter and Vaughan just weren't getting it done at the point--too many TOs, not enough clean sets, too much matador defense on on the other end. And it looked at times like maybe Campbell and Thomas were forcing things in response. It's weird--comparing them to VCU, you'd say GMU was the more polished and more talented team. But it was VCU that made the plays to win on the road today, and the Patriots didn't. We'll see if that's the case at the CAA tourney.

BB liveblog: VCU at Akron

Greetings and welcome to the First It Might be Annual JCCW Bracket Busters Saturday Liveblog. Sound the kazoos! I've got my "Basketball kicks ass!" Bally shirt on, a pot of coffee at the ready, and I'm going to be here all freaking day, covering the single biggest day in mid-major collge hoops. Schedule of games here--I'll probably start a new post with each game.

This being my first-ever liveblog, there are going to be hiccups--for instance, trying to figure out whether the updates should go at the top (under this little blurb) or at the bottom kept me up last night. (We're going to put them at the top.)

Hope you enjoy.


1:01 p.m. The more important question: if VCU does make the NCAAs what are their odds of pulling the upset or two? My guess is that there's no way they get blown out, regardless of opponent: the kind of D they showed today will keep them in any game you choose. But boy, they made things hard on themselves on offense. If they get a team like last year's Duke with a point guard Maynor can harass into submission and he and Shuler both bring their "A" games, then yeah. But that's twice I've seen VCU in the last couple of weeks (watched their recent thriller against Old Dominion, too) and I just don't see them putting up the points necessary to hang with the 4- or 5-seed they'll probably face, not without forcing a crazy number of turnovers. Hope I'm wrong.

12:58 p.m. As VCU wraps things up the announcers mention again that Akron hasn't lost back-to-back home games (as they just have) since 2002, which should say something about what this win should mean for VCU. But it doesn't. Wins over mid-majors that aren't at-large candidates just aren't taken seriously, which is a shame. If VCU runs the table from here to the CAA title game, after this .... maaaaaaaaybe they get an at-large look. But Drexel had a substantially better resume last season (at least, if you ask me) and got the back of the committee's hand, so I'm not optimistic.

12:55 p.m. The misses kept Akron within a possession at 52-49, but Dials's three is off-balance and short. Rodriguez pulls in the rebound and manages to get across halfcourt without turning the ball over (quite an accomplishment for him based on the last few minutes) and the Rams call timeout. Akron fouls with 8.3 to play, Rodriguez at the line ... hits both. It's over.

12:54 p.m. Hmmmm, Rodriguez (what is he still doing out there?) sort of takes a bunny hop before VCU calls timeout, but it's close. Maynor goes to the line and misses both!

12:53 p.m. Holy crap! Wood gets position down low and lifts a hook over Sanders only for Michael Anderson comes flying out of the proverbial nowhere to make the block. Crowd wants goaltending, I don't see it.

12:51 p.m. Apparently the brain farts aren't limited to one team. Akron fouls Shuler 40 feet from the basket. 52-49 VCU, a minute left.

12:49 p.m. Wow, the only way for VCU to lose this game is to commit a turnover that leads to an easy basket or take an earthworm-level stupid three-pointer early in the shot clock. Rodriguez does both on back-to-back possessions.

12:47 p.m. Akron's getting desperate--they've heaved up multiple hideous-looking threes the last couple of minutes. Dials has hit one and they're still getting offensive rebounds, but teams don't win by panicking.

12:45 p.m. Man, Shuler doesn't make things easy for himself. At least every other shot is of the "Hmmmm, really?" variety. But he makes a reasonable number of them, at least today. VCU now up 49-41, three to play.

12:39 p.m. Nick Dials is apparently Akron's leading scorer, but his little drive to draw a foul on Sanders feels like the first time I've heard his name all day. Which probably goes a long way to explaining why Akron has 41 points in a fast-paced game with four minutes left.

12:37 p.m. Wood inexplicably passes up a layup to try a spin-move-and-hook which predictably misses, and Shuler answers with a three. VCU suddenly back in control, which is what happens when you get six points out of two possessions.

12:35 p.m. Cedrick Middleton drains a three to give Akron the lead, but Maynor does his Maynor thing and sinks a runner off the backboard for an and-1. 41-39 Rams and this should be an exciting finish.

12:33 p.m. What kind of game has this been? Akron has shot 28 percent and trails by two. Ye gods.

12:29 p.m. Maynor realizes the solution to this: get to the freaking rim. 38-34, 7:43 to play. This game's not getting out of the 50's.

12:25 p.m. The game's turned frantic and sloppy again. VCU's Joey Rodriguez tried to draw a foul by throwing up a wild shot in the middle of a 3-on-2 and the officials correctly don't bail him out. The Rams follow up by bricking a couple of threes and Akron scores to come within two. If VCU ever starts shooting straight they'll run away with this, but it doesn't look like they're really capable of that kind of hot streak.

12:21 p.m. Akron hung a banner for "Zippy," their kangaroo mascot, being named Capital One mascot of the year. Uh, guys? Doesn't hanging a banner for your mascot winning a credit card company's fabricated ad-driven contest sort of cheapen what it means to hang a banner for an actual (you know, conference titles and whatnot) accomplishment? Boo.

12:18 p.m. Wood looks smooth down on the block, but he's missed what seems like a dozen four-foot hooks over Sanders. He needs to start hitting those or Akron needs to look elsewhere.

12:16 p.m. Whoops, as soon as I type that they say the Sanders "writes a good sitcom," so at least they're aware. Ed Nixon (see how I've got their first names now that I've got a box score to look at? Why didn't I do that to start the game? Oh well, live and learn) gets a three-point play. VCU with their largest lead since the 7-0 start at 36-30.

12:15 p.m. Sanders makes yet another incredible block and somehow the announcers avoid screaming "It's Larry Sanders' show right now!", so that's a disappointment.

12:12 p.m. OK, so I was sort of guessing at "Kashelnikov"'s name based on what I was hearing from the broadcast team, which was always a bad idea. Quick open of the ESPN boxscore ... turns out it's actually "Pishchalnikov." First name "Kirill." Sounds like a Russian boxer and after he takes an elbow just below the eye and leaves with blood, he looks the part, too.

12:09 p.m. The Rams' Kashelnikov is all over the boards and Shuler connects for the second time already this half, but Akron answers. Both teams much sharper on offense thus far this half. VCU up 33-30.

12:07 p.m. VCU starts the second half the way they did the first: turnovers, quick O, six points, the lead. They're up 29-24.

12:03 p.m. Aaaaaand we're back. Maynor had just four points in the first half and the announcers squawk about how VCU "needs more from him," but Maynor's done his usual hounding job on defense ... the biggest reason the Rams trailed at halftime was their struggles on the offensive glass, which was hardly Maynor's fault. I feel like if we had some magic stat that showed how many points a player had prevented while playing defense, comments like this one would be skipped.

11:51 a.m. I take the opportunity at the break to flip over to Fox Soccer Channel to check on Fulham, the English Premier League squad with half the U.S. National team on the roster. They're in danger of relegation (i.e. being forced into a "lower division), which wouldn't be so great for all those Americans. I arrive just in time to see West Ham score a flukish goal on a deflected attempted clear by the Fulham 'keeper. I also find out they're down a man. Enjoy the Coca-Cola League, fellas.

11:46 a.m. Shuler misses a wide-open three--frankly, that's the kind of half it's been for VCU on that end when not in transition--and the half ends with Akron up one. You get the sense that VCU is the better team--the Rams should be in better shape defensively if they can just box out every once in a while and I would guess they won't shoot as poorly in the second half as they did in the first. If the crowd wakes up and Akron gets some momentum that could cancel that out, but my hypothetical money is on the Rams.

11:44 a.m. Nice, nice pass out of the double by Wood gets Akron a couple of free throws. The announcers talk about the guy going to the line (Milam) isn't a good free throw shooter, a sure-fire guarantee he's going to hit his first. He does.

11:40 a.m. VCU's D is tightening up--they've forced TOs the last couple of Zip possessions and Sanders just swatted another shot. But Wood got a shot up and they gave up yet another o-rebound. It leads to a third foul for Dixon. So that's bad, but Sanders gets a three-point play on the other end to tie the game at 23, so it's not all bad for the Rams.

11:33 a.m. Joe Lunardi is one of the very best things about ESPN, but the guy has never looked comfortable on camera and his quick take on VCU's at-large chances (in a nutshell: it ain't happening) has all the flexibility, warmth, and charisma of one of Jupiter's frozen moons, or something.

Cripes, that's a bad analogy. This thinking on the fly thing is something I'll have to get better at.

11:30 a.m. Akron's Cedric (I think) Middleton rains in a ridiculous three from 25 feet late in the shot clock. Even when the Rams play good D, they don't play good D. All Zips at the moment, 21-14.

11:29 a.m.Again Akron's Chris McKnight grabs an offensive rebound and the Zips convert it into three. They're up 18-12, an 18-5 run since the 7-0 VCU spurt to start the game. VCU just a little helter-skelter on both ends.

11:26 a.m. Clips of VCU's Larry Sanders swatting away various Zip shots to emphasize my last point. Akron's getting after it on the offensive glass right now, though--particularly with Sanders on the bench, I'm not sure VCU has a good answer for Wood.

11:26 a.m. Not the smoothest game offensively to this point. Lots of good interior defense from both teams and it's still 12-11 after 10-plus minutes.

11:23 a.m. Does anybody in college hoops have stickier fingers than Maynor? He just flat robbed an Akron player as he went up for a layup on the break. Great play. Brings back memories of last year's CAA title game.

11:21 a.m. Full credit to ESPN for helping even get BB ever off the ground, but isn't the occasional "countdown" ticker for Memphis-UT kind of a bit of a maybe sort of an ... insult? "Enjoy these meaningless teams while you wait for the behemoth battle later tonight!" kind of thing? I dunno, think I may be being too sensitive.

11:18 a.m. Shot of VCU coach Anthony Grant, who I suspect is leasing rather than buying ... that he hasn't already gotten snatched up by some BCS school is kind of surprising. The teams trade threes and the Zips are up 11-10.

11:13 a.m. Akron brings on injured big guy Jeremiah Wood, who is not in fact a minor character in an Elmore Leonard novel as his name suggests, but one of the alleged best big guys in the MAC. The Zips go to Wood on two straight possessions for four points and then Wood picks up a dime on a fast break. 6-0 since he came in and Akron's up 8-7.

11:10 a.m. James shuler hits a three and VCU goes up 7-0. As starts go, yeah, this one could have been better for the Zips--crowd looks out of it already. Can't think the 11 a.m. start on Saturday morning was good for the students .

11:05 a.m. And we're off! Maynor wastes no time living up to the "good in transition" tag by leading a nice break in the opening seconds.

11:00 a.m. Things are kicking off with VCU at Akron, CAA at the MAC. Not really a hell of a lot at stake bid-wise in this one--VCU's recent home loss to Old Dominion probably ended the at-large hopes for the CAA, and it's Kent St. who have the at-large dreams in the MAC--but it should be a fun to game to watch. You may remember VCU from last March, when Bill Simmons man-crushee Eric Maynor earned the gratitude of a nation when he shot Duke out of the tournament. Seriously: does anyone who's not Duke like Duke?

Friday, February 22, 2008

BracketBusters liveblog announcement

I mentioned this in the post below, but it's sorta near the bottom and I'm imagining any mid-major fans who happen to stop by will have bailed long before that. So I'm sticking it up here, too. If I'm going to spend 10-plus hours liveblogging tomorrow, I want someone to be around for it.

Anyway, I'm going to be liveblogging the entirety of BracketBusters Saturday as an act of penance for shirking my mid-major hoops duties to this point. VCU and Akron kick it off at 11 EST, Kent St and St. Mary's will wrap it up at 2 a.m. Yours truly will be cracking wise and offering the JCCW's usual brand of half-baked observation and "analysis" the whole freaking time.

So tune in, or something.

The Works, Last Call-style

All right, so I've just got a few football-related loose ends that need tying up before I finally move on to loosing the endless reams of mid-major hoops thoughts that are cluttering up my head (Cornell! Kenny George! "Deserve's" got everything to do with it!), just as every no one's been hoping. There's also a lot of bloggin'-bout-blogs to be taken care of and a couple of updates about the site itself, but I'll at least put the actual semi-news-related items first. I don't blame you for not so much caring about the rest, given its very "Self-five!" nature ....

Anyways ...

Well, on second thought, maybe it's a little defensible. Pretty sure any regular reader here doubles as a regular reader of Phillip Marshall, so I'm sure we're all familiar by now with this blogarticle on the travails of Chaz Ramsey. The question: does reading about how Ramsey's 15-year-old brother has gotten harassed on Facebook make me regret posting this?

Well, to some extent. If this is how bad the response has been elsewhere, I should have made more plain that I don't hold Ramsey or Pugh personally responsible or believe they acted with intent. I should have taken a more even-handed tone and chosen a less inflammatory title for the post. When the rest of the college football is crying for Tiger blood, Auburn fans should probably respond with something a little more rational, right? Consider the outright anger redacted.

But the calls for action and suspension remain intact. However much Nall protests, other teams played freshman linemen on TV every week and didn't have them diving into the back of other teams' knees. Tubby should hold a press conference, cite every bit of the defense Marshall's reported, profess unequivocally Ramsey and Pugh's innocence, swear that neither he nor his coaching staff accept these results much less encourage them, offer a (second) genuine apology that this has happened on his watch ... and announce suspensions. I think Tubby (and probably a lot of Auburn fans) would likely see this as an admission of guilt; I think if done in the right way, it would be seen as simply an admission that Auburn is taking this issue seriously. And there's not really argument it needs to be taken seriously, is there?

And while we're linking to Marshall efforts ... Surprised the comment thread on this post was so un ambiguously positive after Franklin admitted "We always throw first and run second. That's always the rule. We are going to throw to run instead of running to throw," which I'm sure dealt a few aging Auburn Dye-hards their third heart attacks. I can't say I'm thrilled to hear it, either: you have to run and stop the run to win at this level, period. The Spread Eagle did a good job with the first and had no impact on the second in the Clemson game, but will the same hold true when the quick-out-for-five-yards-on-first-down is "the rule"? When "throw to run" is 100 percent ingrained in the philosophy of the team? Can't say we know. I'm still excited about the Franklin hire, yeah, but I'm not going to be totally comfortable with Auburn as a throw-first team until we see what happens next fall. (Mind you, I'm sure some Florida fans said the same thing before Spurrier showed up and again after the Meyer hire, so, yeah.)

We agree to disagree, but with f-bombs. Like Thanksgiving at Uncle Albert's! So the little RBR vs. MGo brouhaha I had a cameo in ended up (sorta) resolving itself in straightforward fashion: Bama bloggers believe if Saban has to make cuts it's no biggie; Brian believes the potential cuts and even that there's a legitimate "if" are, in fact, both biggies. I think my previous post made it just a wee bit obvious which side of that fence I'm on, so I won't repeat myself other than to say that if a high school football player's decision to attend classes and receive a degree at the University of Such-and-Such is (by the other side of the fence's definition, basically) irrelevant compared to said player's contribution to the football team, it's time to move the whole shebang off-campus, rename it the National Fake Amateurs Professional Football League, and be done with it.

And, forgive me, one more point I can't help making: the meme (I think started by Todd and picked up on by Pete Holiday and various Bama commenters in various places) that a student losing an academic scholarship for bad academics is equivalent to a football player losing their football scholarship for bad football is wrong, wrong, wrong. An academic scholarship gets lost for bad grades because the grades imply the student is wasting the scholarship; given that the purpose of a football scholarship is not, in fact, to build a football team but to educate the players who happen to be on the football team, I daresay the fourth-string nickelback who's on track to get their degree is still doing anything but wasting theirs. Depriving him of his promised four years because he's not a good football player is equivalent to the scholarship student suddenly getting fired from his job scrubbing floors in the Applebee's kitchen because he couldn't pull down a 3.0. The analogy sounds reasonable and I can see where Todd is coming from, but there really, really, shouldn't be a connection.

You really love me! So the College Football Blogger Awards are currently ongoing, and yours truly is up for "Best Post of the Year: Funniest" for the AD post. The cynical hipster in me wants to be too-cool-for-school on this sort of thing--oh, wow, blog awards, does that mean we'll walk the red carpet in our pajamas, har har har--but the truth is that people like Orson and SMQ would be incredible writers whatever medium they chose and that if anyone thinks my work is even as remotely funny as BHGP's "car-like substances" post or the Octonion posts, well, forgive me for thinking maybe I did some good work. In sum: it's nice. Thanks, Cabal, thanks to Todd and the SECFB for the nominations, and thanks to Kyle and TWER for their support.

While we're on the topic, let me say I really wish I could write-in a couple of votes for "Best New Blog," since it's criminal neither the Best of SEC Blogs nor the War Eagle Reader got a nod. TWER, in particular, has been freaking unstoppable over the past few months and I haven't linked their way nearly enough, particularly since they've been doing things like talking to the actual Joe Cribbs and providing the single awesomest shot of cheesecake on any blog this season:

More here! Go now!

Read them or FAIL.

One more quick piece of hot blog-on-blog action. I also want to give the brief proverbial shout-out to the JCCW's CFBA choice for "Funniest" and "Best Writing," Doug at HeyJennySlater. Doug's prose not only makes mine and virtually everyone else's look like a certain class of tearjerking poetry, I got lucky enough to meet the guy on his trip to Ann Arbor last November and can tell you: he's every inch bit of dead sexy you would expect from someone carrying the title the Chancellor of the Sexchequer, and that whole "hella funny" thing extends past the blog, too. If I may be so bold, ladies, you're making a huge mistake.

So in Doug's politically-oriented honor, here's some completely useless trivia my college buddy Hench J-Bug Stoner Aron e-mailed this week that I found way more fascinating than it is:

"You should check out a website called I have been learning all sorts of interesting stuff about Presidential elections the past couple of days. The best feature is an electoral map of every single Presidential election in U.S. history starting in 1789.

I spent a little time on there yesterday and learned some interesting stuff. I was looking at election results since 1900 and was looking for states with the best and worst records of picking the winning candidate. I thought you would all be interested to know that Alabama has picked the losing candidate more often than any other state in the 27 elections starting from 1900. We missed 14 out of 27 and are the only state to be wrong in the majority of elections in that time frame. Once again, we have beaten Mississippi, who came in second with 13 missed elections."

Good news for the Dems, I'm thinking.

Lastly, some navel-gazing. Tomorrow the JCCW begins its mid-major hoops coverage in style with a balls-to-the-wall liveblog of the entire BracketBusters Saturday, starting with VCU at Akron at 11 a.m. and rolling 'til 2 a.m. with Kent St. and St. Mary's. (There will be a break late in the evening when coverage shifts to ESPNU/360, as I don't get either of those.) Consider it a massive apology for the dearth of mid-major related posts here to this point.

Just so you know, Auburn fans: barring some huge development at spring practice, from now until the tournament's end it's all mid-majors here. I think you should stick around and enjoy the poorly-informed ride, but just so there's no confusion.

You should also know that I've been hearing the complaints (in comments and e-mail) about the white text on black background look of the blog. The current plan is to relaunch the site in early May (after hoops season and a certain major personal event long-time readers can probably guess) with its own URL and a new look, a look that I promise you will not be so tough on the eyes. So just bear with me for a few more weeks.

And as this is sorta the final Auburn post for the 2007 season, let me take a sec to thank each and every one of you have read this blog and offered your comments and e-mails (which I have to admit I've done a completely sh*tty job of responding to since about, oh, September) as we've rode the Auburn football snake together over these past several months.

Cool as something like a CFBA might be, your contributions and readership mean a hell of a lot more. Let's do it again sometime.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Coachbots are incapable of comprehending this concept you humans call "mercy"

Tide fans are apparently unfamiliar with the use of these devices.

I always feel a little sheepish when I learn about important articles in the Alabama media from bloggers in various far-flung parts of the country--finding said articles being one of the things I do, theoretically--but anyways, a big thumbs up to MGo/Fanhouse's Brian for bringing attention to this eye-opening article by Tim Gayle at the Advertiser.

Gayle breaks out the calculator on Alabama's roster-plus-signing class and finds out, whoops, even after non-qualifiers and medical departures Bama's still going to have promised 85 scholarships to somewhere in the neighborhood of 91 players come August. So unless six guys have a fantastic conversation with a representative from their local congregation of Latter-Day Saints and take off for a two-year mission in Estonia, Saban's going to have to, well, tell six guys they're now responsible for their own $12,000 a year if they would like to continue receiving a college education from the University of Alabama. Given that any player Saban chooses to cut is likely to also be the sort of player he can't find a use for on the field (given that if you are useful, he will find a way to get you on the field, by golly), those scholarships and the education attached possibly carry even greater importance to the players in question than most of the team. Oh well! Enjoy filling out your loan applications, kiddos. Or, I guess, enjoy I-AA or a year on Florida International's bench.

Brian's obviously not a fan of oversigning, but it's the heartlessness of Saban potentially stripping kids of their scholarships that's his essential point--a point completely lost on the Alabama bloggers who have responded to it. One of them is the Fanhouse's resident Tide supporter and thrower of stones in glass houses Pete Holiday, who blithely asserts that "academic disqualification, medical problems, early entries, team dismissals for rules violations" should solve Alabama's numbers issues (nevermind that draft entries for the year in question are long since past or that assuming six guys have horrific injuries or break rules really does make an ass out of U and me) while completely ignoring the whole, you know, guys getting their scholarship jacked thing. Even after a commenter helpfully reminds Holiday of the potential for cuts, Holiday reverts back to a no-more-than-25-in-a-class mantra, which is certainly true and all, but doesn't change the fact that Alabama has, according to Gayle, "70 non-seniors" on the roster and that 70 + 25 does not, in fact, equal 85. (In that comment Holiday also says "Spring enrollments are the only ones you need cap room for, and I don't think Alabama is anticipating having any of those" ... despite the fact that Gayle said two Tide signees had enrolled in January. Did he even read the article in question?)

But at least Holiday sort of recognizes that qualifying more than 25 players might be tricky. Meanwhile, at RollBamaRoll, OTS tells Brian, in response to his guesses at how many Tide signees won't qualify, that "you can eat those words six months from now when nearly all of this class has academically qualified." Again, back to Gayle:

The signing class will probably include several players who will not meet the minimum SEC academic requirements to earn admission to Alabama. That group includes Davidson tailback Jermaine Preyear, Mississippi cornerback Alonzo Lawrence, Huffman defensive lineman Marcel Dareus, Hargrave lineman Kerry Murphy and possibly receivers Melvin Ray and Devonta Bolton. If the remaining 24 players all qualify and at least two of those previously mentioned make the grade, Alabama coaches will have to delay someone's enrollment until 2009 or bring in a player as a walk-on, as former coach Mike DuBose's staff did with Terry Jones Jr. in the late 1990s.

Kid, we really, really need you to come play for the University of Alabama. You'll sign with us? Great! And hey, you studied all summer and got that ACT score you needed. Awesome! Welcome aboard! Oh, but we forgot to mention, you'll have to be a walk-on and that free tuition we promised you ... yeah, you're not getting that this year. Hope your parents have some dough stashed away. Or you can not play football for a year, that sounds cool, right? Not playing?

Apparently, either OTS is unaware of the 25-a-year cap (which I seriously, seriously doubt) or this scenario doesn't bother him. Promises, schmomises. We don't really know, since he skips the ramifications of all 29 guys qualifying to repeatedly make fun of Brian's hair (Stay classy, buddy).

OTS does, at the least, acknowledge that players are going to have to leave the team. "Players are going to leave and we all know it," he writes. "Many of the former staffs' previous signees, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, do not fit with the current scheme and may very well end up going elsewhere." Well, see, here's the rub--are they going to leave because they really feel they fit in better elsewhere, or are they leaving because they've been told, as Brian put it, to "get bent"? "No one is being 'run off' or anything sinister of the sort," OTS asserts, but for the Alabama coaching staff to simply--here comes that word again--assume that their kids are going to bail is ethically dubious to the Nth degree. What if they don't? What if they collectively decide that hey, this new signing class looks pretty sweet, I'm going to tough it out and play for a winner? What happens then is that kids have their scholarships taken away for not playing the game of football well enough to satisfy Nick Saban.

"Attrition is simply a part of college football," OTS writes. Good riddance," he said to potential "attrition" in December. Now, the kind of attrition where kids gets fed up and leave or get hurt or don't qualify, that attrition I can deal with. But the breaking of a $12-K-plus promise to a kid because the coaches don't think he's useful ... that kind I can't. I've said so before on this blog, and I remain fidgety about Auburn's oversigning for this very reason (Our side has had so many non-qualifiers this doesn't appear to be a problem, hooray hooray). Attrition of that sort should never, ever be a part of college football.

It must be pointed out that this attrition hasn't happened yet. I expect 'Bama to get their signing class down to 25 without forcing anyone to enroll as a walk-on. I'm sure a couple of players will decide on their own between now and August that Bama isn't the place for them. Add a couple to that category, suffer some fortunate debilitating injuries, and maybe Saban doesn't have to make cuts after all.

But that he would ever put his program in the position of hoping he's able to run kids off or that they get injured ... well, this is your soulless Coachbot at work, ladies and gents.

Disclaimer: RBR remains, of course, the go-to blog for the Tide, whatever I thought of OTS's post discussed here. Todd and Nico do great work and OTS is a sharp analyst when discussing, uh, less Saban-related matters--as, ironically, even Brian has pointed out.

UPDATE: Cripes. Perhaps before posting I should make sure in the future that nothing developed on the Auburn newswire late the previous evening that might make me look like a giant hypocrite. For the record: if Tubby pushed these guys out rather than having them simply decide to leave--one of them according to Marshall is about to graduate already, so at least he won't need the scholly in the fall--it's just not defensible. Likewise, the attitude of some Auburn fans in the comments that it's a good thing for Tubby to "rid the team of weight that is not performing" is, well, nauseating. I wish Daniels, Shrader, Miller, and Ferguson the best and really, really, really hope this is a decision they genuinely wanted to make, a decision that hopefully won't hurt an education they actually want. I'm not confident that's the case. Redacted. See below.

UPDATE THE SECOND: A helpful commenter and Brian his own self (in a post overly kind to yours truly) point out that two of the four Auburn departees will graduate before losing their scholarship, a third got his standard four years out of his, and that the fourth is apparently an injury departee, so there appears to be no harm or foul here in the (potentially) Sabanesque sense. (In the alternate universe where that Soros guy is an Auburn fan and pays Auburn bloggers to blog full time instead of wasting millions on starving African children or whatever, I look these things up myself and look them up before I get all twitchy. Oh well.) So the above angst on Tubby's part is redacted.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Open letter to Dax Dellenbach he probably will not read

"Probably," because unlike the two previous entries in this genre, I figure that Mr. Dellenbach's presence on the Internets isn't yet such that a self-Google indulged to page 25 or so when class is slow might not bring him here. Image to be explained momentarily.


Hi, my name's Jerry Hinnen. I'm a lifelong Auburn football fan and I write an Auburn football blog* called the Joe Cribbs Car Wash.

I'm writing because, of course, Wednesday was W00T-everybody-blow-your-kazoos-W00T-W00T National Signing Day, and you were one of the Good Guys who faxed over your LOI the way you said you would. So I'd like to tell you I'm glad you're going to be an Auburn Tiger.

Glad, I should specify, for several reasons. For starters, your presence should help Auburn minimize mistakes in the punting game, and an Auburn fan would have to have a very, very poor memory indeed to not understand the earth-shattering ramifications of those potential mistakes. Your pop had a long and successful NFL career, during which I think it's fair to assume he learned a few things about how to contribute to a winning football team which I think it's also fair to assume he's done his best to pass on to you. Plus, jumpin' jehosophat, there's only one other guy listed "OL" in your recruiting class and I like the idea that there'll at least be one person around in four years who can safely get the ball into our quarterback's hands, lest we turn into this past season's Notre Dame.

But mostly, Dax, I like the idea of you in Auburn colors because I think the name Dax Dellenbach sounds remarkably like that of an average long snapper who finds his true destiny as a swashbuckling starfighter pilot when the evil Cylargs invade our solar system. I mean, I'm not even entirely convinced your listed hometown of "Coconut Creek" is
an actual place or a name yanked at random out of the script for Flight of the Navigator. Seriously, Dax--should mankind's extinction be at hand unless a lone, humble-yet-undaunted hero rises like a phoenix from the massed ranks of the world's special teamers, I for one am counting on you.

For all that, though, Dax, I gotta be honest with you: I wasn't tooting all that hard on my kazoo when I read you'd been offered. It wasn't anything against you or your position, trust me; again, I'm of the position that if you find can't-miss guys for special teams, it's fine-and-dandy to offer, and I'm sure that's how Tubby and Co. see you. The problem, and I hate to even type it, is with your class as a whole.

I'm not a big recruiting guy. Don't subscribe to Scout or Rivals. Couldn't tell you anything more about any particular recruit than what I pick up via Phillip Marshall or the other Auburn bloggers or an occasional e-mail from a buddy back home. I've always felt that Tubby had proven he knew what he was doing and that there wasn't much point in getting worked into too much of a lather either way. The kazoo's mostly ceremonial, really.

But even I feel a bit uneasy when guys start decommitting, we're offering a third or fourth quarterback whose alleged next-best school of interest is Troy, and of course the archenemy is doing what the archenemy was long rumored to be capable of doing. It's not that I've given any particular Auburn signing a thumbs-down; every single guy on the signees list has a great chance at contributing. Or doing a lot more than "contributing." We're all aware of the long, blissful lists of no-star, unranked guys who wind up All-Americans, particularly at Auburn. Every single guy Tubby's picked out is well worth a flyer, I'm sure.

But you can understand, can't you Dax, that we as fans can't be completely happy with an entire class of flyers? That's a rank exaggeration, of course--there's a few Sure Things enrolling alongside you, no doubt, and there's almost 100 other DI schools out there who would like to say their class averaged a guru ranking of 18.75--but the evidence suggests pretty strongly to me and a lot of other smart people out there that the recruitniks aren't completely full of it when they say Team A likely got stronger than Team B did in a given class. When you committed, even halfway-interested Auburn fans like me were hoping for someone to move our needle closer to Team A, a recruit to quicken the pulse and make us feel like our team still had some of that supa-dupa-jojo-mojo recruitin' voodoo working as we approached Signing Day. Long snappers should move that needle, should quicken that pulse. But Dax, I think you know they don't. So, yeah, I didn't do any celebratory jigs or anything over your commitment. Sorry. I mean that.

I say all of that as both apology and explanation for what I'm speculating are heaps of nasty, nasty things being said about your recruiting class--and, I don't know, maybe even you if the paysite guys are being harsh--out there by Auburn fans on the Internets. Many Auburn fans are trying, Dax, me included, but I for one can't find a prism I can look through to make Wednesday's events look, um, rainbowy, so to speak. Your new coaching staff started the day hoping to nab five or six future teammates for you and finished the day without any of them. And in the meantime the archenemy celebrates with a vehemence I'm guessing they haven't felt in a long, long time.

Finally, I guess, Dax, that's what I'm writing you about: the archenemy. I don't have a clue if you're a reader or not, but you're probably at least a little familiar with Harry Potter, right? (Yeah, this is going to be get a little nerdy ... OK, more than a little nerdy. It's going to get crazy nerdy. Probably not a surprise after the starfighter business. But bear with me.) For Auburn fans, the year-plus since Saban's arrival in T-Town have been a lot like living in Rowling's "wizarding community" after Harry came back from the graveyard at the end of Book/Movie 4 telling everyone Voldemort (the long-thought-dead villain) had returned. Like the wizards, many Auburn fans scoffed outright at the idea of the archenemy reborn and ridiculed those who said it was happening. I would say the majority of us weren't so dismissive but adopted a easier-on-the-nerves position of remaining unconvinced until seeing the evidence of return first-hand. A very, very small handful believed the archenemy's full-bodied return was imminent, only a matter of time, which of course is what those on the Other Side have been saying for a while. 25 years, in fact.

As for me, Dax, well, I've hung out mostly amongst the more fidgety members of the wait-and-see camp. But Wednesday, I think, was all the evidence we need. Alabama's back. I'm not saying they're going to turn into national champions overnight, not saying the rest of the SEC is going to suddenly crumble to dust in their five-star fingers. You can pull in a consensus No. 1 recruiting class and never get fitted for rings.

But it's my opinion you cannot pull in a consensus No. 1 recruiting class and outright suck. Too much talent, too many freaks. The days of Alabama going 6-6 and 4-7 are done. There will be no more shutouts in Tuscaloosa for the forseeable future, no more games where the Tide QB be better off taunting black rhinos. Alabama is going to be very good, very soon.

Like the skittish Harry Potter wizards and Voldemort, there are Auburn fans who are so afraid of Alabama's return that they will go to great lengths to deny that it's happening. They are calling the recruiting rankings completely and totally meaningless. They are saying that Saban and Co. will not coach them well. Or that the Tide may have had a better class this go-round, but that it's a one-year aberration due to Alabama having plenty of playing time to offer and Auburn returning so many of the players who beat them last year--a viewpoint so popular even your new head coach slyly played along with it.

Don't buy it, Dax. If anyone has to be clear-headed about what you and your teammates are going to face over the next few years, it's, well, you and your teammates. Yes, Alabama is back. Yes, they are going to be SEC contenders again. Yes, eventually, they may even be the favorites entering the Iron Bowl.

I say: So?

Why should Auburn be afraid of a rebuilt Alabama? Is there some as-yet-undiscovered law of physics, some secret NCAA legislation that forbids both teams from being capital-G Good at the same time? Even if Alabama is back, haven't the last six years shown that where they're headed is where our side already is? Hasn't your new head coach stared into the great maw of the beast Saban built on the Bayou and battled it to at least a draw the last several years?

I'll be honest, here, Dax: a large part of me wants Alabama back. I want the Iron Bowl to mean something again, not just to us orange-and-blue diehards and the Bryant-worshipers on the other side, but to the whole sport of college football. I'm tired of announcers calling Michigan-Ohio St. this country's greatest rivalry without a second thought, tired of CBS passing over the biggest game on our schedule for other assorted lesser fare, tired of the rest of the nation looking at the Iron Bowl--the Iron Bowl--as just another "ranked team tries to avoid upset at the hands of its in-state rival" game, a Southern version of freaking Oregon-Oregon St. It has been a long, long time since both teams have held up their end of this bargain, and while I'm not really going to complain if the Tide somehow manages to continue its wallow in mediocrity and the streak stretches into the teens one 20-13 victory at a time, I'm not complaining about this, either.

I'm a dreamer, Dax: I want an Iron Bowl between undefeated teams, with an SEC West title at stake, with the greatest rivalry game in our sport and yes, maybe in all of American sports, finally given the attention and respect it deserves. Now--these next few seasons--seem like the best chance we've had for that in 20 years.

The other reason I'm not quaking in my proverbial boots over Alabama's return is because you can beat them. You and your teammates, Dax, your recruiting class, the classes ahead of you and the ones to come behind you--whatever the rating, you can beat them.

Yes, I wish Tubby had landed more of the guys he had on the line. Yes, I wish there had been a Carnell Williams or Tray Blackmon or Lee Ziemba in your class, someone we knew essentially beyond a doubt would leave their footprints on the game the moment they stepped into it. So there's disappointment, and when held up next to the Tide's resurgence, disappointment turns into the "uproar" (the opposite of the denial I mentioned above) Marshall described.

But uproar is one thing. Dejection is another. Only the most cynical, black-hearted Auburn fan would dare believe actual victory was decided on Wednesday. Victory, we will always believe, will be won by sure tackles, accurate passes, hard running, sound blocks, of course a fundamentally sound, secure, easily-caught snap to the punter.

I believe you and your class and your Auburn teams can do these things whatever you've been "rated," Dax. We're behind you. You're the space heroes hidden in Auburn uniforms.

Win, Dax Dellenbach. Snap us to the stars.

Jerry Hinnen

*Not that you care, Dax, but I also follow mid-major college basketball pretty closely and will write about it sometime in the near future, I think, even if you can't really tell by looking at the blog at the moment.