Friday, February 27, 2009

The Works, sighing wistfully at days gone by-style

Hey! I remember that elevator! I remember that tennis court! After spending part of this week examining the intersection of Tennessee of Auburn in terms of their hotshot coaching staffs, it's only fair to give you the following YouTube video, which is 1. borrowed from The Pigskin Pathos, a blog designed around the intersection between Auburn and Tennessee 2. made by the Auburn-attending nephew of Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin a guy whose nickname, "Griffynkins," sounds like the Lane Kiffin nickname "Kiffykins." Here it is:



No, it will probably not win the Palme d'Or, but for those of us expatriates who only get to visit Auburn's campus on the rarest of occasions, getting a quick digital video-tour wrapped up with a charming, clever conceit and curiously appropriate song ... well, it was enjoyable. Definitely enjoyable. Kudos, "Gfiffynkins."

BONUS Pathos! More than one eyewitness has said Auburn's "White-out" for Wednesday's Ole Miss game was more like, well, a scattering of light flurries. Ben explains why:
Those responsible for getting the word out about Auburn's *insert color* outs suck. The information is either presented to the students by a sign placed at the most inconspicuous corner of campus or hidden in the This Week in AU e-mail between the Asian Club's "Henna and a Movie Night" and the "Biracial Couples in France and the United States" lecture news (no joke).

It is as if the Auburn PR people are playing a giant whisper game. It starts out "Whiteout Ole Miss Wednesday night" and by the time I hear it it's "Come dressed as a non-gendered Goblin Shaman." That is a mistake you don't want to make twice.
I lol'd.

Sports galore. For starters, this is a positively massive weekend for the Auburn hoops teams as

1. the men can take a huge step towards locking up that SEC tournament bye with an easier-said-than-done win on the road at Starkville

2. the women--more importantly--can clinch the SEC title outright with a home win against Aransas. Also, they're going to be waging War on Hunger and honoring the most productive class of roundball seniors Auburn's graduated since the Robinson/Ndaiye/Pohlman crew. So, yeah, it's a pretty big day for the women.

Your quickie preview is that there's no freaking way the women blow this one on their home floor. It's not happening. As for the men, both teams are similar in the way they play, with one quality big man down low and four perimeter-oriented guys surrounding him. Whoever gets hottest from outside and wins the turnover battle will likely win the game.

On the diamond, Auburn left a whole heap of guys in scoring position and lost their series opener to Florida St. Plainsman Parking lot has your recap, as well as a wonderful new method of charting how well the season seems to be progressing.

All of this weekend's HOTT Auburn action isn't just taking place on the hardwood or diamond, though--some of it's happening on the floor of Coleman Coliseum, where the gymnastics team has what one two different articles are calling the best chance Auburn's ever had to break the Tide's gajillion-meet head-to-head winning streak. Obviously, this is a capital-B capital-D Big Deal. No time like the present, Tigers.

Aycock goes on the record. Dontae Aycock spoke to the AJC about his, ahem, interesting late switch from Georgia Tech to Auburn and Paul Johnson's decision to yank his offer in retaliation for Aycock's visit to Auburn. The sense I get from reading Aycock's comments is that he very likely was in the bag for Tech--sure, he says "When I went to Auburn, they pretty much sold me on everything. Even if they didn’t pull my scholarship, Auburn is the place I was going to go," but he's hardly going to come out and say "Well, if they'd have taken me, no way I'd still be with this team I'm on now." Sounds to me like there's still some genuine regret with how everything played out ... which, again, makes me ask if this was really worth it for Johnson and Tech. Does anyone really think Johnson just up and stopped recruiting other similar prospects because of Aycock's silent commitment, or that he didn't put any pressure on Aycock to silently (I guess) commit when he did despite his only having taken the one visit? Please. If your alleged principles are costing your team pivotal, class-making prospects, I'll be just fine if Auburn's coaches aren't quite that principled. (HT: Blutarsky)

Bubblicious. I enjoyed Jay Coulter's thoughts on the basketball teams and totally agree that it's quite the pleasant surprise to have something Auburn-related to follow and care about during these dreary months. But man, I just cannot see Auburn snagging an at-large berth to the NCAAs, no way, no how. Auburn's still a hideous 4-8 against the RPI top 100, doesn't have a single victory away from Beard-Eaves over a top-50 team, boasts an RPI of 84 (the record for worst RPI for an at-large team is still 77), and has two home defeats to sub-100 teams. Sweeping Auburn's final three games and winning out to the SEC final would improve those numbers, and give Auburn a final record of 23-11 (12-7), which would probably at least get Auburn into the conversation. But for a team whose best nonconference win is Virginia (RPI No. 99) and who plays in a league as weak as this year's SEC, it's automatic bid or bust. There's too many other teams out there with too many other good wins that Auburn doesn't have to think it's a possibility, even in the best-case scenario.

As for the rest of the SEC, LSU's good to-go and South Carolina's in decent shape, but man, I wouldn't feel great if I was any of the other SEC contenders. Tennessee has two rough road games up next, Florida has no margin for error thanks to their awful road form (Auburn's still their best away win), and Kentucky's RPI numbers and home record are equally terrible. I'll be really surprised if all three survive to the NCAAs.

Oku. A lot of Internet-grade metaphorical ink has been spilled over the Fantastical Mr. Oku since the revelation he's moved to Nebraska to be closer to his girlfriend but not as a prelude to committing to the apparently uninterested Cornhuskers. And a lot of it has not been particularly kind to Oku.

So let me say this: I agree that Oku's decisions make him appear to be more indecisive and possibly more "eccentric" than most recruits. I have to wonder about the level of parental guidance he's receiving and if the choices he's making now are the best ones for his future as a football player and person. That said, I don't know David Oku. No one who's writing about him knows David Oku. Maybe he's "crazy," maybe he's "grandstanding," maybe he's "not worth the risk." Or maybe--here's a crazy though--he's a 17-year-old kid. I don't have any idea how he's going to turn out--he could be an All-American, he could be a team-dividing bust--and neither do you. This is one of those cases where I trust my team's coaches--who have met the kid, who have met hundreds of other kids, and who very likely do have an idea as to how he'd fit in on our team--far, far more than I trust whatever fourth-hand gut information I might have. If Auburn's coaches want him around, I want him around, too.

Etc. 2010 super-recruit Jeremy Richardson is getting a handwritten note from Auburn's coaches on a daily basis, which, forgive me, doesn't sound like the sort of thing the previous regime would have made the effort for ... War Eagle Atlanta and Kyle at Dawgsports argue that Auburn and Tennessee should have switched dvisions when the SEC expanded, which kind of makes sense until you realize the horrible, scarring psychological dissonance that would result from the Tide and Tigers being in different divisions ... and Acid Reign's flashback series continues with the 2004 Sugar Bowl.

Enjoy your weekend.

Bracketwatch: where we stand

Ahead of the final regular-season weekend of the season for the majority of mid-majors, it's time to take stock of where we stand vis a vis potential at-large NCAA Tournament berths ... not that this sort of thing isn't being done a thousand other places, but dammit, it fascinates me and I've spent waaaaaaaaay too much time thinking about it the past few days not to write about it.

Gonzaga is a lock and the A-10 aren't mid-majors, so I'm not discussing them. Elsewhere, in terms of likelihood:

1. BUTLER

Remaining schedule: vs. Cleveland St., Horizon tourney (at higher seed)

Odds: Just about airtight

Breakdown: With a glittering 8-2 mark against the RPI top 100 and half of those eight wins coming on the road, the Bulldogs would have to have some seriously freaky [excrement] go down to miss the NCAAs. Even a home loss tomorrow (to a good Cleveland St. team) and first-round shocker against one of the Horizon's lesser lights probably wouldn't evict the Bulldogs ... though it would at least pull them back into the discussion, and if enough leagues like the A-10, SEC, WCC, etc. hand their automatic bids out to teams that otherwise wouldn't qualify, the unthinkable could happen. Fortunately, that's not especially likely to happen.

Prediction: Butler closes out the regular season with the win and snares an at-large in the 8-9 range when one of the Horizon's desperate trio of solid runners-up (Cleveland, UW-Green Bay, Wright St.) takes them down in the tourney.

2. SIENA

Remaining schedule: at Niagara, at Canisius, MAAC Tourney (Albany--i.e. Siena's home court).

Odds: Better than 50-50, but not by much.

Breakdown: Not going to completely rehash my Siena arguments from earlier this week, but a win up at Niagara tonight would push them to a perfect 6-0 against RPI 50-100 opponents, with two of those coming on the road. The only two losses against sub-100 teams would be by two points each away from Albany, and Siena also has the advantage of scheduling no one outside of the RPI top 200. I think a run from here to the MAAC final gets it done. That said: a loss at Niagara would be a killer (it shouldn't be, but this is the world we live in) and I also happen to think the Committee didn't get the chance to outrageously snub a mid-major last year and is probably aching to do it again for old time's sake.

Prediction: This hurts, but I don't think the Saints pull it out on the road tonight. The Purple Eagles' joint is going to be jumping and Niagara has a hell of a team. The good news: hopefully that'll give the Saints just enough of an edge to take care of business on their home court at the tourney, which is what I expect will happen.

3. UTAH ST.

Remaining schedule: at Nevada, vs. San Jose St., WAC tourney (Reno, i.e. Nevada's home floor)

Odds: Can't say I like them

Breakdown: It's really, really sad that I can look at a team that's gone an incredible 13-1 in a good league like the WAC and say "I don't think they'll make it without the automatic bid," but there's just no way to spin that loss at St. Mary's as anything but devastating. USU is 5-3 against the RPI top 100, but every one of those wins has come at home in Logan. The SMC tilt was a chance to prove that USU could handle their business against a decent (if hardly "good," when you consider that Mills wasn't playing) team on the road as well as at home, and they flubbed it. The Committee's not going to like that string of sub-RPI 250 opponents on the schedule, either. A loss this weekend at Nevada ends just about all hope. If the Ags run the table up to the WAC final their final record will be gaudy enough that they'll be right on the cutline ... but results elsewhere would have to be very favorable for me to feel good about their chances. They deserve a bid, flat-out, no question, but I've seen too many teams like this get the back of the Commitee's hand to think optimistically.

Prediction: Nevada wins the WAC tourney on its home floor, USU goes to the NIT as one of the most hotly debated teams on the Bubble. Man oh man, do I hope I'm wrong.

4. CREIGHTON


Remaining schedule: vs. Illinois St., Valley tourney (St. Louis)

Odds: Not good

Breakdown: With just one RPI top 50 win and an "eh" average RPI win/loss reading of 160/100, the Bluejays would almost have to hang their hat on an outright Valley title. Too bad it looks like UNI is going to share it with them if the Panthers down Evansville at home this weekend ... because Creighton does have some things going for it, namely a 9-4 overall record against the top 100 (which would improve to 10-4 should they hold serve vs. ISU), four top 100 wins on the road, and a potential 11-1 record in the final 12 games. But it's hard to really see it being enough when the Bluejays have only even played that single game against the top 50 and have more losses outside that top 50 (all six) than basically any other team on the Bubble.

Prediction: It's my guess, however, that the Bluejays won't need the at-large. They've been the best team in the Valley by a mile and a half over the last month, and that should continue at Arch Madness.

5. ST. MARY'S

Remaining schedule: at Loyola-Marymount, WCC tourney (Las Vegas)

Odds: Pretty terrible, actually, unless the Mills injury just confuses the hell out of the Committee.

Breakdown: Mills or no Mills, the Gaels have all of three top 100 wins. All three are fairly impressive--vs. USU, neutral vs. Providence and San Diego St.--but that's not enough to build a tourney resume around. After getting trucked by Santa Clara and Portland without Mills, the Gaels have to both a) get Mills back b) beat Gonzaga to prove their at-large worthiness. But this is where we're in Catch-22 mode: if the Gaels have just beaten Gonzaga, that means they've just won the automatic bid, right? I don't see a set of results where the Gaels fail to win the WCC and can still get an at-large unless the Committee goes in for some 2006-style "St. Mary's looked so good in losing to Gonzaga by two points in the WCC final, we're letting them in regardless of their actual accomplishments"-style hijinks.

Prediction: Away from Moraga and with Mills likely rusty, the wager here is that Portland sends the Gaels to the NIT with a semifinal WCC win.

OTHER:

Their losses to Charleston (RPI 110) and the Citadel (151) aren't as bad as you might think, but with just a 2-4 record against the top 100 Davidson can't absorb a third SoCon loss and still have any hope of getting an at-large; Northern Iowa has a decent 7-4 top-100 record and earned four of those wins on the road, but six losses to sub-100 teams is way too many, even if Creighton hands them the outright Valley crown; nobody else is worth even discussing, really.

RPI figures and records ganked from the unbelievably useful Selection Sheets at BBState. You should subscribe.

Coachspeak: Grimes, Boulware

I took this one myself! Not really.

Continuing with our "coachspeak" series of the past several days...

Grimes: Quotes via Bitter, Goldberg, Tate, Woodbery.

Hey, whaddya know, he's not happy about the offensive line numbers. Grimes said he'd prefer 17 guys on scholarship on the line. Auburn will have 12 this fall. If there's any positives here, it's that only two of those 12 (Andrew McCain and Rudy Odom, the latter of which would be a redshirt senior and may not be renewed for the fall depending on how many of the current class qualify) will finish up in '09, so that's only seven guys to recruit this year! No wonder Grimes sounded a little frustrated at the pickle he's been placed in...
"Typically, you’re not going to have guys coming in and playing a lot as true freshmen. That’s not the way you’d like for it to be. We’d like for those guys to come in and redshirt and have a year or two and get ready to go. But that’s fixing not to be the situation for us. Most of the guys we have on scholarship are juniors. We’re really heavily stacked in the junior class, which will be great for this year and next year, but not great after that."
... for which I don't blame him. Likewise, it's not surprising he mentioned he might have to bring in a couple of JUCOs as a stopgap. Auburn pretty much has to to have a viable second-string in 2010, barring some serious, heavy-duty recruiting on the part of Chizik and crew.

Grimes isn't reinventing the wheel. Frankly, I was a little surprised that he came right out and said a few guys had a head start on starting positions thanks to their experience--even if that's gotta be the case 99 percent of the time, you gotta expect the "Everything's open, no one has a job, we're going into spring with a blank slate and see what happens, yadda yadda yadda" from new coaches. Instead, we've got a de facto starting five as reported by Bitter and Woodbery: from L to R, Ziemba, Isom, Pugh, Berry, and McCain. Grimes may talk about how open the jobs are ...
"We’ll certainly have a starting point but we’re not going to necessarily line up and say, ‘You guys are No. 1 until you lose the job.’ We’re going to say, ‘You guys have the opportunity to start out here,’ but this guy right here is right behind him and it may vary by day or by series."
... but if you're Jared Cooper, Bart Eddins, or A.J. Greene (the three guys Grimes mentioned as potential usurpers), you obviously have some work ahead of you.

Houston, do we have a problem? Bitter writes that Grimes wants Auburn's linemen to be "in the 300- to 310-pound range," but man, that seems awfully heavy across the board if you're expecting them to take 80 snaps a game. As we all know, they slimmed down to the 280 range for Franklin's O, and Malzahn's even more psychotic about pace than Franklin was ... I really have to wonder how this is going to work itself out, because in this interview, at least (where Grimes also states that a recruit has to "obviously, be big enough), we're not offered much in the way of compromise.

"'Tweeners." That's how Grimes labeled incoming linemen Andre Harris and John Sullen; in other words, no read yet on whether they'll play guard or tackle.

Smashin' mouths. Like his predecessor at OL coach, Grimes is at least talking the talk when it comes to shoving folks around out of a two-point stance. He uses the words "tough" or "toughness" five times is six sentences here, for instance, here says his guys will be "be physical on every stinkin’ play." Sounds great, but it's easier said now than done on the offense's 77th snap (and 36th passing play) at the end of the fourth quarter in Baton Rouge ... especially if the line's still carrying some excess weight. We'll see, but I think Grimes--because of the weight thing, the tempo thing, the depth thing, and even the "I've never coached east of the Mississippi or with a single guy on this staff before" thing--has his work cut for him as much as any coach on the staff, save possibly Malzahn.

That sucks. Grimes' first meeting with the media, and he's sporting a shiner acquired when he was carrying his sick dog to the car on his way to put it to sleep. That's all kinds of sad.

Boulware: Quotes via Bitter, Tate, Goldberg, Woodbery.

Lutzenkirchen. I saw more than a few references on Signing Day about Lutz being too thin and frail to compete for playing time right away, which rather confused me, seeing as Lutz had arguably the best hands in his class in the country and he's joining a team whose hands have been made of greased cement the past few seasons. Boulware sees it my way:
"Phenomenal athlete. Phenomenal athlete. Tremendous hands. We plan on Philip being a big part of what we’re doing next season. I think Philip is exactly what we’re looking for and I look forward to coaching him."
They might just need him: Trott won't be recovered from his ACL tear in time for spring and McKenzie, you'll recall, spent most of last year at defensive end. Quite honestly, I don't see how Lutzenkirchen doesn't find his way onto the field.

The mystery deepens. Durst is on the team, but that's still all we know. Is he on scholarship? Will he leave the team again if one isn't found after the current class enrolls? Is there some other arrangement in place? It's rarely so obvious that the coaches are hiding information this ... well, interesting.

He's right. Boulware made multiple comments to the effect that aside from the Auburn kickoff return and Wes Byrum's unfortunate stuggles, Auburn's special teams were excellent. And as much as that sounds like an "Aside from that, how did you like the play, Mrs. Lincoln?" kind of defense, that's pretty much the case: Auburn finished the season ranked 12th in Phil Steele's special teams rating. You can quibble with Steele's specific methodologies if you like, but it doesn't change the facts: Auburn's non-Shoemaker punting and returns were all terrific.

That's kind of you to say. Boulware called the current Auburn staff the best one he's been on, including the Texas staff he served as a graduate assistant. Awwwww. Perhaps more interesting among his non-Auburn comments was his description of how young Iowa St. really was last year:
He cited the fact that they had 33 freshmen and sophomores on the two-deep. "Which is unheard of in the Big 12," he said. "I definitely believe we were making progress. I believe we got better. I think if you ask the majority of people, they saw a quicker, faster football team in our second year. We were just really young ... They say you lose two games for every true freshman that you start and we didn’t have 18 games to play."
Boulware also claims according to Bitter that Iowa St. was close to winning several more games: he's correct on this point, as ISU went 0-3 in one-possession games, 0-4 if you include the 38-30 loss to Kansas St., and outgained Iowa by 85 yards in a game that hinged on a Hawkeye punt return. For whatever that's worth.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Coachspeak: Malzahn



It was Gus Malzahn's turn in the interview chair yesterday, and not entirely surprisingly, he had some interesting things to offer us us Auburn types craving off-season information and insights into Spread Eagle 2.0. Quotes came via Bitter, Tate, Woodbery (also the photo), and Goldberg.

The JCCW's impressions:

This is going to be Malzahn's offense and no one else's. Yeah, yeah, we heard that last year, but when we're told point-blank that the tackles are going to be in a permanent two-point stance, that they're going to run more than any line in the country, that he's counting plays and that Auburn had better run more than 80 ... it's going to be hard to do those things from the "downhill, two-back" offense Chizik was describing the other day. Also, Malzahn has clearly been studying up on his recent Auburn history (emphasis mine):
"Really, it doesn't take very long at all for players," Malzahn said of his desired pacing. "Once they get the communication down and they get going, it's a short period of time.

"Really the coaching is the difference. Coaches are so creatures of habit and are used to doing certain things a certain way. Once the coaches get to thinking quick and all the things that go into making decisions quicker and the communication, but for players, no, it happens extremely quick" ...

"It starts with all your coaches on the same page," Malzahn said. "When your coaches are on the same page, the players believe it better. I think there's great power in that. I'll tell you right now, our coaches are all on the same page. Coach (Gene) Chizik has done a wonderful job of hiring guys who are not only good coaches, but good people.
Translation: Taylor, Luper, and Grimes aren't going to be taking what I tell them and tossing it out a window, unlike some certain other coaches I could name.

Khrisodi Burn-Stodd has been retired. No Island of Dr. Moreau-like two-headed quarterbeasts this season, thank goodness, unless I'm reading more into "We will have one guy" than I should. And on the quarterbacking note ...

Kodi's going to have to earn it. Equal reps for all at the start of spring practice = truly open QB competition. If anyone's at a disadvantage here, it's Todd, who may not be at full strength for spring (or, we have to assume, ever). I guess you could read into Malzahn admitting he didn't know as much about Trotter as the other contenders as a knock against him, but the fact that Trotter hasn't played and was a three-star guy from Alabama--unlike the Arkansas-bred Burns and the four-star Caudle--just naturally means Malzahn isn't as familiar with him. I think it's genuinely best man wins.

If Rollison really does have a leg up on Moseley, Malzahn's not letting on. Completely grouping the two of them together and citing both of their accomplishments as a unit was a slick rhetorical move.

This made me LOL. From the Tate post, so polite:
On what he ran at Arkansas in 2006: "That was kinda two offenses and two philosophies put together."
And somehow it still worked. Of course, Darren McFadden may have had something to do with that.

We're going to see a ton of the Wildcat. That Malzahn is already comfortable saying that Fannin is in the Wildcatbird seat as far as taking snaps there and that he's got a shortlist of incoming recruits who wants to see there tell me he doesn't view the formation as a gimmick: it's an integral part of the whole thing. (Not that we didn't know that already.)

Not complicated. This quote from Bitter:
"I got different bits and pieces from different people," he said. "Just tried to have very few plays and tried to perfect them. ... For whatever reason people think we have so many different plays, but if you really break us down, we have a few base things and we’re going to try to be the best at those things and then we’ll try to build on those and this gives you the ability to take what they give you."
would definitely seem to support the evaluation Smart Football did of Malzahn's offense, namely that it doesn't really have all that much unique about it from an X's and O's standpoint. It really is all about the pace of play--which helps explain why Malzahn mentioned it so often.

Balance? Malzahn took the opportunity to emphasize that he would be happy to run the ball if the defense gave him the chance. No surprise there--frankly, after the "smashmouth" talk at his opening press conference, I would have expected him to talk more about running the ball and skip over the part where Tulsa threw for 500 yards. I'm not sure if most Auburn folks are ready to throw for 500 yards even if the team's capable of throwing for 500 yards. Hey, speaking of "most Auburn folks" ...

I guess the meerkat routine is dead. "We're not so much a no-huddle, look-to-the-side team," he said. All the old folks in the upper deck when I visited for the LSU game will be so pleased.

It really is all about the pace for him. Read over Bitter's transcript--Malzahn made pace his biggest, "who we are" point-of-emphasis and followed up with this:
"With the old rules, when they put the ball down, we're going to snap it within five seconds of when the referee puts the ball down. Boy, I tell you what, these new rules they put in last year, for us, are really good. We'll be extremely fast. As soon as the ball is handed to the referee, I'd say within 12-15 seconds after the guy's getting up, we'll have the ball snapped."
Gee, you think he's excited about how fast he can make his guys go? I have to worry about the impact this sort of thing might have on Auburn's D, but it's going to be a heck of a ride on offense, folks.

This week in mid-majordom is in danger of being crushed by a dwarf



Recognize the gentleman above? You should. Well, I mean, you should in the sense that you definitely would if you'd watched This is Spinal Tap a dozen times, and I think it goes without saying you should have seen Spinal Tap a dozen times, right? On the off-chance you haven't, though, that's Ian "Not a Big College Town" Faith, Tap's manager, as played by screenwrite and comedianTony Hendra.

So, what on earth does Ian have to do with mid-majordom? Well, I'm hanging out with a couple of friends at a bar last night, and we've got our booth's little mini-TV tuned to Navy-American (because you know, it's me we're talking about), and one of my friends says "Hey,that's that guy from Spinal Tap," and I look over, and a moment later he's back on camera AND HOLY HELL IT'S THE MANAGER FROM SPINAL TAP! Turns out his son is Nick Hendra, a backup sophomore guard for American. You'll never guess how many points Hendra scored in the win last night that sealed American's Patriot championship. Go on, guess. Give up? 11. Duh.

This whole thing of course means nothing at all to you, I'm sure, if you're not a Tap fan. (It's also possible you're aware of the connection already and I'm just rehashing common knowledge.) But for the uncontrollably geeky of us who run around saying things like "How much more black could the MAC's nonconference performance be? None. None more black," this was just about the awesomest thing ever. Not that I don't love all my mid-major friends equally, but maybe I'm going to have to start loving American just a little more equally.

(Oh, as for the game: I wasn't particularly impressed by American. They couldn't finish at the rim (36 percent on 2's? Ugh), didn't play particularly smothering D, and could very well have lost at home with a chance to win the league title if not for an awful, ticky-tack block call on Navy with the Midshipmen up one in the final minute. However: leading scorer Carrison Garr had an off-game, the Eagles shot the ball well from outside, and they've got enough size and experience on paper that they could prove nettlesome for a power-conference team ... much as they did last year against Tennessee. I was unimpressed when I saw American last year, too, so I'm thinking I may have just caught them on the wrong night.)

Bad luck. Most mid-major followers know that it's been forever and a day since the Valley regular season league champion failed to qualify for the NCAAs (1998, I think, was the last time), a possibility that most mid-major followers have likewise resigned themselves to if runaway leader Northern Iowa got picked off at Arch Madness.

At least, that was the case until Creighton reeled off nine straight wins to pull themselves up to 24-6 overall, 13-4 in Valley play, and generate some genuine at-large buzz. If the Bluejays grabbed the Valley crown and played their way to the tourney final, their wins over Dayton, St. Joe's, and New Mexico along with the championship of the RPI No. 9 conference might just do it.

But the league title is a big part of that equation, and it looks like the Bluejays are going to have to settle for being co-champions after Northern Iowa squeaked out a massive 69-67 road win over Illinois St. Tuesday night in double-overtime. The Panthers have only one game remaining, a home tilt against erratic (if rapidly improving) Evansville. Win that, and the best Creighton can do is equal UNI at 14-4. The Purple Aces will probably give it a good shot, but the odds are that the ISU game was Creighton's last best shot at cinching the Valley title.

If the Bluejays do indeed run the table up through the Arch Madness final, lose, and get the back of the Committee's hand, it'll be a shame--but worse, CU fans will also likely have to wonder if things would have been different had Illinois St. gotten just one more basket, just one more point in regulation or the first overtime.

Chaos. Delicious, delicious chaos. Conference tournaments start this Tuesday, if you can believe it, as the Ohio Valley and Big South get their underway. Two in particular that ought to offer more competitive bang for the buck:

Colonial: Four teams within two games of each other at the top of the standings, and the fifth team--Drexel--just got done losing to two of the threee co-favorites (Northeastern and George Mason) by a point apiece. Kyle's been screaming "George Mason! George Mason! George Mason!" all season, but all-seeing, all-knowing CAA scribe Michael Litos doesn't seem to have a favorite and Mason spent last night getting pushed to the edge by hapless UNC-Wilmington. I can't think of a league in the country whose semifinals are going to be as hard-fought as the Colonial's. Unless it's the ...

Southland: After a brief hiccup sent them to second (or even third) in their respective divisions, league cream Sam Houston St. and Stephen F. Austin have risen back to the top. But Nicholls St. and Texas A&M-CC have to reckoned with with their twin 9-4 records and lurking at 8-5 is UT-Arlington, who has far, far more Pomeroy juice than anyone in the league besides the two division leaders. A Sam Houston-SFA final would be phenomenal, but it just doesn't seem all that likely the brackets in this league are going to stay so neat.

So this is what competence looks like



The first thing I thought about after reading that Auburn had downed Ole Miss 77-64 in the suddenly-friendly confines of Beard-Eaves was "Cool. Good. As expected."

There's plenty of reasons that by now, a win like last night's is no big deal. Sure, the Rebels ran Auburn out of the gym not so long ago, but Auburn's still an upper-half (just barely, but still) SEC team playing at home against a team that's won one road game all season. Operating at the "normal" capacity established over the past couple of weeks would mean a comfortable victory.

And that's just what Auburn did. After slacking off on defense for a half, Quantez Robertson hit a miracle three to send Auburn into the locker room with some mometum ... but more importantly, the Tigers decided they'd actually better play some D in the second stanza. (Lebo's switch to a match-up zone likely had something to do with it as well.) The result was a 23-5 run to start the half and the sort of cruise to victory we've associated with the Auburn women this season. Ho-hum.

But that in itself shows why this victory is much more than "ho-hum." The Tigers have reached the point where a run-of-the-mill home win over a run-of-the-mill SEC team has become, well, run-of-the-mill. In previous years ... when this year started ... hell, even after that ridiculous home Vandy loss, I for one would never have expected that to be the case. This--77-64 home wins over Ole Miss--is what progress looks like. Please continue, Auburn.

Some other notes:

--Wow, when was the last time Auburn turned the ball over 13 fewer times than their opponent? (Actually, thanks to BBState, I know it was the Louisiana-Monroe game. But that's the only time this year.) That (and 13 more trips to the line) is how you win by 13 points on a night when you shoot or rebound any better than your opponent.

--Here's some more good news: Auburn's been even better than the score's suggested these last two games. After LSU went 20-of-21 from the stripe, Ole Miss went 15-of-16. That's a combined 95 percent! Safe to say Auburn's future opponents aren't going to be quite so flukishly fortunate from the line.

--Dewayne Reed's line: 19 points on 13 shots, 3-to-0 assist-to-TO ratio, 3 steals. Gettin' it done.

--This Saturday's game against Miss. St. is massive. Both teams have similar schedules, with one difficult opponent at home (LSU for Auburn, Florida for the Bulldogs) and one easier opponent on the road (Alabama for Auburn, Ole Miss for State). In the end, the schedules are about of equal difficulty, since Auburn has the tougher home date but State the tougher roadie ... meaning this Saturday's tilt should be for all the marbles. Well, marbles that in this particular case are the marbles of "SEC West runner-up and SEC tourney bye."

Elsewhere ... Auburn baseball blasted Lipscomb 17-4 Tuesday, though Plainsman Parking Lot (already a must-read if you care about this team in the slightest) says it was more Bison "ineptitude" than Auburn brilliance. We won't have long to wait for a bona fide measuring stick, though: the Tigers kick off a four-game series against No. 5 Florida St. today. PPL has all the previewin' you need.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

STAFF-OFF: Auburn vs. Tennessee (defense, conclusion)

Picking up where we left off ...

Yeah, like I wasn't getting this out of the JCCW blog closet again as soon as it got appropriate.

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR

M. Kiffin vs. Roof

I think I'm probably about as big a believer in Roof as there is: what he did at Minnesota and in his brief DC tenure at Duke was nothing short of remarkable, and if not everything was perfect at Georgia Tech, at least those defenses trended upwards. I think he was just about the best possible choice for Auburn.

But Monte Kiffin might be the best defensive mind in the sport of football. You might quibble with how much energy he'll have at his age or how readily his players at Tennessee will grasp his NFL-quality schemes (as well as how much patience Kiffin will have with them if they don't), but when it comes to designing a successful defense and calling defensive plays ... I mean, it's not likely to get any better than this, anywhere. Sorry, Ted.

Big Edge: Tennessee

DEFENSIVE LINE

Orgeron vs. Rocker


No point in trying to dodge the obvious: securing the Orgeron's services was a huge coup for Kiffin. I wouldn't let him within 100 yards of a head coaching position ever again, but tucking away at "defensive line coach" a man whose nationally-recognized obsession with recruiting makes the whole of Rivals look sane is a hell of a move.

That said: after what Tracy Rocker did with the Ole Miss defensive line (which, of course, the Orgeron was ironically responsible for recruiting) this past year, and with guys like Jamaal Anderson at Arkansas, I don't think it's a stretch to say that if Orgeron is more capable of recruiting a new d-line stud, Rocker might be the better of the two at getting the most out of said stud. Add in that Auburn had multiple recruits talk about how much they looked forward to working with Rocker, and ... well, I might be crazy, but I don't think this is totally one-sided.

Edge: Tennessee

LINEBACKERS

Thompson vs. Roof

I think Roof should do an excellent job with Auburn's linebackers--he's been coaching quality LBs his whole career--but we can't ask what he's adding to the staff when he's already the DC (the same rule applied to Chaney at OL, remember). And Thompson is a huge addition for the Vols--everybody goes nuts over his recruiting, but despite the whining of bitter Tide fans that Thompson won't be missed, 'Bama's linebackers have been the strongest part of that defense for two years running. Unfortunately, this is another heavy advantage for the Vols.

Big Edge: Tennessee

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Thigpen, Lolley vs. Garza


Tommy Thigpen is pretty clearly the biggest name here, having been stolen away from Butch Davis's staff at North Carolina after helping put together one of the better classes in Tar Heel memory. Filling out the tail end of his defensive staff with a guy who was making a lateral move at best from your once-and-future ACC kings was a big score for Chizik.

That said: Willie Mack Garza arrives after having spent four seasons as the defensive coordinator for North Dakota St., one of the brightest up-and-coming programs in I-AA (10-1 in 2007) and a former D-II power. DCing at a program of that caliber isn't anything to sneeze at. I think Thigpen's presence and BCS-level experience gives Auburn the edge, but I'm not sure how wide it really is.

Slight edge: Auburn

CONCLUSION

Scorecard That Matters a Lot Because This is an Extremely Scientific Process: Auburn--2x "Big edge," 1x "Slight edge"; Tennessee--2x "Big edge," 1x "Edge," 1.5x "Slight edge." (The .5 is for the "OTHER" edge from yesterday.) If we SCIENTIFCALLY assign 2 points for a big edge, 1 for a regular edge, and .5 for a slight edge, your final tally is Tennessee 5.75, Auburn 4.5. You cannot argue with this finding, because it's SCIENCE.

Comments: For all my sarcasm, I think that "Tennessee has a little bit better staff on paper than Auburn" really is about where things stand. It's fair to say that Malzahn, Taylor, Luper, and Grimes are a more impressive offensive crew than Chaney, Gran, Wilson, and Cregg; it's probably also fair to say that M. Kiffin, Orgeron, Thompson, and Garza are a substantially more impressive crew than Roof, Rocker, Thigpen, and Lolley, even for someone who has all the faith in the world that Roof, Rocker, Thigpen, and Lolley will accomplish some great things. It's worth pointing out that that Vols' staff comes at a much greater financial cost than Auburn's; on a dollar-for-dollar basis, you might call Auburn's better. Even on paper.

In the end, I think, deciding which staff you'd rather have (as a sage commenter pointed out on the previous post) comes down to how much emphasis you put on recruiting and how much you put on player development. I don't have much doubt that Tennessee will recruit a little bit better in the years to come than Auburn will. Kiffin, Orgeron, Thompson, and even guys like Reaves have way too much of a track record to think they're going to strike out on the trail too often.

But with guys like Taylor, Rocker, Roof, and Malzahn, you could argue that Auburn will get more out of its players than the Vols might. Maybe that's not the case on defense, but I don't see where in Kiffin's complicated NFL schemes, Chaney's old Purdue designs, or Reaves's or Wilson's tutelage that the Vols are going to get the most out of their offensive players. Then again, if Kiffin can recruit the second coming of Leinart and Bush, who cares about that?

So we'll see, but even with the slight edge to the Vols on paper, there's reasons both sides can go forward thinking they've come out with the better deal. And both sides will also agree, of course, that with the staffs they've put together that the rest of the SEC had best watch its back in a couple of years.

Before and After, 2/25

Before



at



Dayton at Rhode Island: Thanks to their traditional status as a multi-bid league, I don't really consider the A-10 a mid-major conference. I mean, Xavier? They're a multi-million dollar program in a glitter palace that rubs shoulder with Cincinnati every year for dominance of a major metropolitan area. There's nothing mid-major about them save that they happen to share a conference with the likes of La Salle, Duquesne, and Fordham.

So I'm a little hesitant to cover Dayton vs. Rhode Island in this space, but I am anyway because a) It's a stunningly light slate for good mid-major action for a Wednesday b) I'm intrigued by both these teams. Dayton because as long as they have Chris Wright healthy, they're a genuinely dangerous team--just ask Xavier, why don't you--but are an unbelievable 85th in the Pomeroy ratings, easily the worst mark I can remember for a team generally agreed upon the be an NCAA lock if they can just hang on through these final few games. The "lucky, or good?" question is going to haunt the Flyers until ... well, until either their season comes to an early end via a stretch collapse or they pull off a couple of NCAA tourney upsets and prove conclusively the answer was "good."

Meanwhile, Rhode Island is one of the few mid-majoresque teams that ... well ... I kind of don't like. Consider: 1. They employed college hoops' king sleazebag Jim Harrick 2. They took on Lamar Odom back when Odom wasn't a solid NBA cog but a destructive me-first Terrell Owens-like menace 3. They beat Valpo in the Sweet 16 back in '98, two rounds after the Bryce Drew miracle shot.

Sorry, Rams: I'm sure your current group of players has no resemblance to the transgressions of years past, and it's only fair to note that your late surge should be the fourth big story of the A-10's season (after Xavier, Dayton, and the annual late Temple charge) now that you're 20-8 overall, 9-4 in-conference, and can boast wins over Penn St., VCU, and Temple. I should just note that after losing five games by either three points or less or in overtime, you're as likely as anyone to emerge from the A-10 tourney scrum with the auto-bid, and ignore the thin permanent coating of slime that remains from association with scum like Harrick.

But honestly? I don't want to, because then I wouldn't have a rooting interest in this game ... and besides, Dayton needs the win for their at-large chances more than Rhody needs it for theirs (which happen to be nonexistent). Go Flyers.

After

Nevada 71, VCU 70: Man, you know VCU was already steamed about having to travel to Reno on short notice. I don't even want to think about how savagely they were cursing their BracketBuster fate after letting an eight-point lead with 4:18 left turn into a one-point defeat. The Rams still lead the Colonial by a game, but unless their two stars play a little more consistently--Eric Maynor shot 7-of-16 from the field, Larry Sanders an ugly 2-of-11--it's hard to see them negotiating the incredibly crowded CAA tournament field.

As for Nevada, the good news for the WAC comes in double doses here--not only did they get the nonconference win over a potential league champion, but Nevada didn't look so impressive that we'd expect them to upset Utah St. and spoil the Aggies' potential run to an at-large bid. Good times all the way around.

Don't panic ...

... though I wouldn't really blame you, John and Jane Q. Auburn Fan, if you did after reading this post at Blutarsky's. The good Senator contrasts some of Tuberville's "No, seriously, we're going to run out of the spread, even though the coordinator I've hired to set our spread up has never operated it like that in his career!" quotes with this tidbit from Chizik, courtesy of the Albany (Ga.) Herald:
As far as new coaches, the hiring of Tulsa co-offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn might on the surface imply the Tigers are leaning toward an all-out spread passing attack, though Chizik is not so sure.

“Well, there are so many different versions of the spread and what that means,” said Chizik, who won the Frank Broyles Award as the country’s top assistant (defensive coordinator) when Auburn finished the 2004 season undefeated. “I really see us more of a run-the-football type of team, so I’m not sure what the appropriate name of the offense is. Obviously, we’ll do some one-back, two-back things of that nature. It’s still going to be a downhill, physical running game.”
OK, breathe. Breathe. This is one quote delivered in February to a random Albany beat guy while Chizik happened to be in town for the E. Cleve Wester Scholarship Quail Hunt. It's not really all that different from the same kinds of chicken-soup quotes Chizik (and even Malzahn) have been offering to soothe the spread-hating Auburn soul ever since he was hired. But man ... no point in pretending it doesn't sound exactly like what Tubby was saying in defense of Franklin. Tubby's quotes ended up being not so much the typical media fluff as an indication of some deeply held, serious differences in offensive philosophy that eventually wrecked the entire team. Hearing something so similar come out of the Chiznick's mouth makes me awful nervous. But I think we'll be OK. Here's why:

1. As I've detailed before, this conception of Malzahn's spread as being an analog for the Mumme-Franklin Airraid (one perpetuatedis just flat wrong. Tulsa ran more often this past year than Auburn ran under Borges in 2007. It's decisively, unabashedly, a run-to-set-up-the-pass offense. What Malzahn's offense isn't is a "downhill, physical," "two-back" offense, but if what Auburn runs is similar to what Tulsa ran, Auburn will still be a "run-the-football type of team."

2. Given the Tubby vs. Franklin history, the relationship between Chizik and his new OC and how much input Chizik is going to have in the operation of Auburn's offense is going to be a h-o-double-t HOTT topic from now until kickoff this fall. To this point, we've gotten mixed signals--Chizik has made some noises like these about smash-mouth running that Malzahn's offense isn't really built to do, but both he and Malzahn have also stated repeatedly that Malzahn's going to be in total control of the offense. I think the best guess is that we'll wind up somewhere in the middle of those two poles: there's going to be a leeeeetle bit of compromise on Malzahn's end to Chizik's HULK SMASH wishes, but that the end product will still bear a much closer resemblance to what Malzahn ran at Tulsa than Franklin's Spread Eagle did to what he ran at Troy. Until we see it on the field, though, we can expect a whole lot of comments from both sides of both Chizik's and Malzahn's mouths as they to reassure fans that Spread Eagle 2.0 will be both entirely Malzahn's creation and as smash-mouth as Chizik wants it.

3. Whatever happens, Malzahn isn't going to hate the position coaches working under him and have the position coaches working under him hate him. That was pretty much a one-time thing.

So, do I wish Chizik would come out and say things like "We're going to run the ball, but we're going to do it from the spread, getting our talented guys into space and using the entire field to create mismatches, the same way Gus did at Tulsa. He's one of the best in the business, and I trust that he'll find a way to move the ball on the ground, whether that's out of the spread, the Wildcat, a two-back set, whatever. He'll make it work," rather than trying to sell us a bill-of-PHYSICAL! PHYSICAL! PHYSICAL!-goods? Yep.

But I also don't think we ought to throw our hands up and expect a second philosophical tug-of-war between Auburn's head coach and his spread-happy OC, either. (Not that anybody is, mind you--just for argument's sake.) Malzahn came on board for a reason and Chizik hired him for a reason. They both knew what they were getting from the other. They're going to be on the same page, or at the very least we'll have Malzahn on the front of the page and Chizik on the back. Or something. The point is that these are two very, very smart coaches--Chizik wouldn't have put together the staff he's built if he wasn't--and they'll figure out an offense where both of them will be happy, no matter what they're telling the Albany Herald.

The most important piece of news you will read all day ... week ... possibly life

This is happening, people. It's actually happening. I mean, I know it hasn't actually happened yet, and that Ron Howard could be eaten by a giant squid tomorrow or Jason Bateman could decide that he wants to give up the whole acting business and join the Peace Corps instead, but ... omigosh omigosh omifreakinggosh it's going to happen.

This calls for celebratory Youtubeness:





Tuesday, February 24, 2009

STAFF-OFF: Auburn vs. Tennessee (HC, offense)

First in a two-part series.

BOO

I'll be honest here: it's been a long, long time since I was all that interested in the goings-on at Tennessee all. Oh, I kept up with the Vols as much as anyone would--major SEC program and all that--but with Auburn's annual series with UT becoming an ever distant memory, Fulmer's 1998 national championship fading further and further into the background, characters like Miles and Saban and Nutt running around elsewhere in the league, and the SEC's definitive players of the last several years--Grossman, Greene, Cadillac/Brown, McFadden, Dorsey, Tebow--all plying their trade elsewhere, it's not like Tennessee's given Auburn fans any particular reason to pay attention to them. Ever since Tee Martin left, they've been that good SEC East team we beat every few years and not a whole lot more than that. Sorry, Vols.

That all changed this offseason, though, when Auburn looked in the mirror and suddenly saw a bright orange-clad, Rocky Top-singin', Eric Berry-worshippin' doppelganger staring back. By now, you're no doubt familiar with the multitude of similarities between the programs: despite increasing difficulties on the recruiting trail and some jarring 2007 losses, both entered 2008 with high expectations for their successful long-tenured head coaches and their new offensive coordinator hires. Unfortunately, both new offenses exploded in spectacularly craptacular fashion, resulting in a string of embarrassing losses, acrimonious squabbling within the fanbase, and eventually the departure of the long-tenured head coach. The programs responded by both hiring young coaches with plenty of successful coordinator's experience but rocky--to say the least--and ulitmately unsuccessful tenures at their previous head coaching gigs. Neither school paid what might be termed the SEC's "market value" for their new head coaches, but made up for it by quickly hiring a roster of highly-paid and well-respected assistants that have generated widespread optimism within the fanbase despite general media skepticism regarding the new head man. Also, both teams despise Alabama.

There are, obviously, a lot of differences in the two programs' narratives--Tubby's departure and Chizik's hiring were received with much more anger than Fulmer's and Kiffin's, the Vols' spending has been both more wanton and more scrutinized, the skepticism regarding Kiffin centers on his mouth and general callowness rather than his record, a la Chizik--but the similarities these days seems a heck of a lot more compelling. Which is why it's time for a TOTALLY UNBIASED source like the JCCW to decide using a SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN OBJECTIVE METHOD which program should really be happier with their coaching staff.

How? STAFF-OFF! We'll break it down position-by-position and tally everything up at the end. Starting with ...

HEAD COACH

Chizik vs. Kiffin

Not that I'm the first person to notice this, but the resumes here are exceedingly similar for one guy mostly greeted as a smart hire and another mostly greeted as the worst hire since Bill Stewart, and maybe even worse than that. That difference in opinion was probably powered by a) the general media preference for offensive coaches over defensive b) that Chizik's head coaching failures came at the college level rather than the NFL. You won't find any argument here that the pro and college games are different enough that Chizik's ISU failures should count against him more than Kiffin's in Oakland do against him; if that was all we had to go on, then I'd agree Tennessee has the edge here, since most of the reports out of Ames have described Chizik as a not-particularly-sound game manager and Kiffin's youth and obvious zeal for recruiting may give him an advantage there.

But that's not all we have to go on. We have their years spent as assistants, Kiffin under Chow and Carroll at USC and Chizik under tubby and Mack Brown. It's fair to call both wildly successful by the numbers: Chizik had the whole "two years undefeated" thing, Kiffin had the unstoppable 2005 USC juggernaut. However, I think it's fair to point out the situation Kiffin found himself at USC: namely, running the Trojan offense as constructed by Chow, one of the game's truly great offensive minds, and as executed by Leinart, Bush, White, and what's generally considered the greatest collection of offensive talent the college game has seen this decade. The odds of Kiffin failing in that situation were basically nil. The following season, despite playing in the Pac-10 and the Trojan offense still being loaded for bear--I mean, c'mon, it's USC--Kiffin's offense slipped to 26th in the country in yards-per-play, .1 yards ahead of such noted offensive juggernauts as TCU, Iowa, and Vanderbilt.

Meanwhile, while Chizik obviously had some very good players at his disposal and the oversight of Tommy Tuberville at Auburn, he never had anything like the machine Kiffin was handed the keys to ... and produced similar results, for longer. Maybe it's the Auburn fan talking, but I think Chizik's record as a coordinator is stronger than what Kiffin has to offer.

Which--along with the general uncertainty of how well either guy will do as the HC of a major SEC program--leads me to conclude neither side has a declared advantage here.

Edge: Even.

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR

Malzahn vs. Chaney

In case you missed it, Kiffin hired St. Louis Rams assistant offensive line coach and tight ends coach Jim Chaney as the Vols' offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. As unimpressive as "St. Louis Rams assistant offensive line coach and tight ends coach" might be, the real hook for Chaney is his time at Purdue: he was OCing for Joe Tiller during the Drew Brees/Rose Bowl glory years.

However: how much of the credit for those Boilermaker offenses should go to Chaney and how much belongs to Tiller is--at the very least--open to debate. It might not matter, since Tennessee's OC won't carry nearly as much responsibility as in other programs--Kiffin will very likely be designing the offense and calling plays himself. Chaney's probably more of a line coach who just happens to have the title.

Nonetheless, he's the guy who the Vols have in the slot, to even some Vol fans' disappointment. Auburn, meanwhile, has the coach who turned Tulsa in the country's most explosive offense in two years.

Big edge: Auburn

RUNNING BACKS

Luper vs. Gran

Man, this is tough. On the one hand, you've got the running back coach who helped produce the likes of Rudi Johnson, Cadillac Williams, Ronnie Brown, and Kenny Irons. On the other, you've got a guy who coached two different Oklahoma St. backs into the national top-20 in rushing--Dantrell Savage in 2007 and Kendall Hunter in 2008--and wears kick-ass orange sunglasses at all times. Both are just about the same age (though thanks to his stint in the Air Force, Luper has fewer "coaching miles" on him) and while Gran has an excellent recruiting track record, Luper has developed quite a reputation himself--both appear on this list of the SEC's best recruiters, for instance.

I think in the end you have to give a small nod to Gran on the basis of his experience and longer SEC track record, but it's awful close and both teams have to be really happy with who they've hired at this slot.

Slight edge: Tennessee

WIDE RECEIVERS

Taylor vs. Wilson

Wilson, for you Auburn fans, is Frank Wilson, who was Southern Miss's running backs coach this past season and was Orgeron's running backs coach the three seasons before that.

Taylor is ... well, hell, just for irony's sake I'll let some of the 'Net's wisest Vol fans tell you who he is. Suffice it to say Taylor will have a bigger impact on Auburn's staff than Wilson will have on Tennessee's.

Big edge: Auburn

QUARTERBACKS

Malzahn, sort of, vs. Reaves


Reaves is David Reaves. Here, you decide how impressive bio is:
David Reaves, a native of Columbia, S.C., and Kiffin's brother-in-law, spent the previous five seasons in various capacities under Steve Spurrier at South Carolina. He started as a graduate assistant and later became the quarterbacks coach and recruiting coordinator. In both 2006 and 2007, Reaves quarterbacks combined to throw for over 3,000 yards.
You'll notice first that no mention is made of what became of the SC QB's in 2008. You'll also note that the QB's in question for '06 and '07 were those noted legends of the game (note: sarcasm) Blake Mitchell, Tommy Beecher, and Chris Smelley, the latter of which improved so much under Reaves's tutelage he quite the port to become a baseball player. You'll also notice he's Kiffin's brother-in-law. Cronyism: fun for the whole family!

I know, I know, I shouldn't be so snarky: by all accounts Reaves is a top-notch recruiter who was well-liked by his players. But at some point from the Vols' perspective, don't you need guys who can develop all the talent your monster recruiters bring in? The consensus on the part of SC fans and evidence on hand from Smelley's and Beecher's development is that Reaves is not that guy.

Since it doesn't seem fair to count Malzahn twice, I'll leave the Edge here blank, but due to my skepticism regarding Reaves I'm not granting Tennessee anything, either.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Grimes vs. Chaney

Who knows? Grimes comes with a good reputation from out west and had some success recruiting out there as well. But while Chaney isn't really what you'd think of as a big-time offensive coordinator, all that experience and his time in the NFL have to carry some weight as well, and he also had some success luring some NFL-quality talent to a previous sinkhole at Purdue.

If you have to pick one of these two guys to be on your staff, you probably take Chaney, but as to who's actually going to be better for their respective offensive lines ... I don't think fans of either team really have any concrete idea. Since Chaney also sort of counted in the "OC" category, I'm going to call this ...

Edge ... Even.

OTHER

Boulware vs. Cregg

Jay Boulware will, as you know, split his time between special teams and the tight ends at Auburn while Tennessee will have former Raiders assistant line coach James Cregg coach their tight ends and "tackles." I'm assuming those are offensive tackles? What the hell, if Tennessee's going to double-team the offensive line and do it with a guy with NFL experience, I'll give 'em a slight nod here ... though we are talking about the guys at the tail end of the coaching roster here, so take for what it's worth. (Also: Boulware does have more college D-I coaching experience, so maybe I'm selling him short.)

-----------

OK, so, after the offense, Auburn's got a pretty big lead with two decisive edges to two much smaller ones for the Vols, including one in "Other." But you can look at the picture at the top of this post and figure out that their heavy hitters are on the other side of the ball. We'll wrap it all up in the second post.

ESPN's college hoops analysts can get seriously bent



"Siena, Davidson and Utah State had better win their conference tournaments. This isn't breaking news, but if you slice the results apart, you'll see that none of the three have wins that could stack up against some of the high-major teams' best wins, even those teams that had long losing streaks. The committee has 10 varied personalities, and it may value regular-season championships in lower-profile leagues more than we did, while also believing those smaller programs pass the eye test. But it could be a hard sell if those teams don't win their leagues."
-- Andy Katz, analyzing the ESPN mock bracket selection process


Andy, I mean this with all due respect and I genuinely hope you don't take this the wrong way, but I hope spiders lay eggs underneath your toenails. I hope your next door neighbors host this year's World's Loudest Bagpiper competition in the middle of the night. I hope ESPN names a guy named "Dogz" your editor just to spite you. I hope she just wants to be friends. In a word, Andy: Upyours.

Actually, not just up yours, but up all your non-Joe Lunardi colleagues, who contrived to take Maryland and Notre Dame over Siena and Utah St. in what has to be the stupidest, most biased mock bracket exercise ever performed. According to Lunardi, in the ESPN mock-up:
Niagara defeated Siena for the MAAC championship. This led to the most lengthy and passionate discussion of the day; namely, whether to vote the Saints into the field as an at-large. In a very close vote, Notre Dame became the final at-large team and Siena just missed the field (for the record, with the Irish reaching only the quarterfinals of the fictitious Big East tournament, I voted for Siena) ... Davidson (Southern Conference) and Utah State (WAC) failed to secure automatic bids in their leagues and received little to no at-large consideration.
Yet another why you should never, ever listen a thing anyone at the Worldwide Leader other than Lunardi or Tom Brennan (and possibly Fran Fraschilla) has to say about mid-majors. They hate them. They want them to go away. They take Notre Dame over Siena, and they do it every time.

This is despite the fact, of course, that Siena has had the better season by almost every metric we've got. Record: Saints 22-6, Irish 15-11. Conference performance: Saints 15-1 league champions of No. 13 RPI conference, Irish 6-8 9th place in RPI No. 3 conference. RPI: Saints 26, Notre Dame 72. Last 12 games: Saints 11-1, Irish 4-8. Record vs. RPI top 100: Siena 5-4, Notre Dame 4-10. Record vs. Sub-RPI 100: Siena 19-2 (.904), Irish 10-1 (.909). Road record vs. top 100: Saints 1-2, Irish 1-6. Average RPI win: Siena 158, Notre Dame 164. And the Saints play in the MAAC! So Siena is hotter, better in conference play, better against good teams, at least as good on the road, and a fraction of a percentage point worse at playing weaker teams.

"But wait," Digger Phelps will surely tell us, "Notre Dame has three RPI top-50 victories: Louisville, Texas, and Georgetown. Siena went 0-4 against the RPI top 50." This is true. But Notre Dame has also had 12 opportunities to win top 50 games, four of them coming at home. Let Siena play eight more top-50 games right now: how do you know they wouldn't win three of them? You don't. Let Siena host the likes of Marquette and Georgetown at home in Albany: how do you know they don't sweep them off the court? You don't. And before you suggest that Siena didn't challenge themselves out-of-conference, consider: they played just as many nonconference top-50 games as Notre Dame did, and played no opponents outside of D-1 or lower than 200 in the RPI. Notre Dame scheduled six such games.

Of course, none of that matters to ESPN, since Siena committed the awful sin of losing a single time in conference, as Mark Schlabach will tell you:
The Saints took care of business in their BracketBusters game Saturday, beating Northern Iowa 81-75 at home. But the victory won't do much for Siena's résumé, leaving it without a victory over an RPI top-50 opponent ... The Saints have wins over Saint Joseph's (road) and Northern Iowa (home), but they also have ugly losses to RPI No. 141 Rider and No. 146 Wichita State.
As Keeping Track of the MAAC points out:
Since when did losses to teams with RPI's in the 140s become "ugly" ones?

There are 343 teams playing Division I basketball. Even at No. 146, Wichita State ranks in the top 43 percent of all Division teams in the RPI.

Losing to teams, say, ranked 241 or 246 ... that would be ugly.

But losing to 141 and 146?
Siena wore their conference's biggest bullseye when it traveled to Rider and lost by two points, and Schlabach says we should hold it against them. Notre Dame was just another Big East team when they traveled to St. John's and lost by six points, and Schlabach says nothing about it. Rider's RPI is 142. St. John's is 149. And yet Schalbach and, no doubt, the majority of ESPN's analysts would like you to believe Siena's loss of the two is "uglier." You can't even call it a double-standard when the two losses aren't equal--because of the motivation Rider has for beating Siena, the Notre Dame loss is worse. It's Notre Dame's loss that's less explicable. ESPN is simply, flatly wrong about this, and should Siena beat Niagara on the road Friday but fall to the Purple Eagles in the MAAC tourney, what is right compels the real Selection Committee to realize that difference.

I don't expect ESPN to be any different, of course. As Kyle has pointed out repeatedly, when covering college basketball for a major media outlet is your job, you don't like things that make that job harder. And mid-majors like Siena make it harder. It's easy comparing Notre Dame to Cincinnati or Maryland or the rest of the power-conference mediocrity pack. Comparing Notre Dame to a MAAC team is ... well, I don't think it's all that difficult, but there's subtleties to it (like the St. John's-Rider comparsion) that it takes an effort to make. Guys like Katz and Phelps and Schlabach don't want to have make that effort. So they vote Notre Dame. It might not be fair, might not be accurate. But it's easier, and who cares what Siena fans think anyway?

Which is why I hope they collectively fall into an open sewer and die. As Mel Brooks said, that's comedy. It's what might happen to the likes of Siena if they don't pull out their automatic bid that's the tragedy.

Good news, "bad" news

Good. This:



wasn't nearly so bad as it looked:
An MRI on Monday revealed that (Chantel) Hilliard did not suffer a tear in her left knee during Auburn’s 65-59 victory over Georgia, an Auburn spokesman confirmed. The Auburn training staff would not divulge the nature of her injury, but it is not expected to be season-ending ...

The news was certainly outstanding for the Tigers, who dress just 10 players, regularly play eight and have been short on depth since
Jordan Greenleaf went down with a torn ACL in December.

“She is not out of the woods yet as far as playing with the team,” coach Nell Fortner said. “It was good to hear that there was no tear or anything and we are excited to have her back as soon as she can join us.”
You wouldn't usually see a player averaging 3.3 points a game as "critical," but Auburn has pretty much just the two backups in the frontcourt, Carrier and Hilliard, and as intimidating as Carrier might look she's clearly got a ways to go before handling major minutes. Hilliard was one of the few Auburn players who was actually having a good game against the Dawgs before she went down, and I think it's quite safe to say she's going to have to play for Auburn to have any shot at not wearing down over the course of the SEC tourney.

When it happened, I frankly assumed she was done for the year, so this quite the pleasant surprise.

"Bad." As you've no doubt heard by now, The Fantastical Mr. Oku has now moved to Lincoln, Nebraska and will apparently graduate from his new high school there. His motivation for the move is apparently to be closer to his Lincoln-based girlfriend, who he met on his official visit to Nebraska.

Staying far, far away from the merits of said motivation, I'm with the Syracuse bloggers in simply acknowledging that if you are choosing to play college football in either Lincoln, Auburn, Knoxville, or Syracuse, and you just got finished moving to one of those cities, it stands to reason you're most likely to choose to play in the city you moved to rather than move yet again. "Hopes," such as they were, are not up.

Which, of course, is fine. Oku is likely to be a quality running back and I'd be happy to have him at Auburn. But--once again--we just signed several quality running backs and we have several more already on our roster. Plus we're still just a bit on the "need to get the class down to 25" side. If he was an offensive lineman I'd be singing a different and substantially more desperate tune, but as is the travails of The Fantastical Mr. Oku are a fun story that's going to have a happy ending no matter how things turn out in the end.

Good. I mentioned yesterday that anyone who wanted to write baseball coverage for the JCCW would be encouraged. Nevermind: there's no point in anything but rudimentary "hey, this happened" talk here as long as new Auburn baseball blog Plainsman Parking Lot is around to provide the goods. A sample:
Just from three games, I can tell that the difference between Slater and CJP is night and day.

Fundamentally, we are better. We actually had successful bunts and *gasp* pulled off a hit and run.

But there are so many little, unrecognizable things, that are different from last year's staff.

The first is communication. If you have a chance to go to a game, especially late in the game, pay attention to the 1B coach. Late in the game Sunday, Auburn was trying to keep a close eye on the Elon bullpen. Every now and then you would catch the first base coach (I forget his name at the moment) keeping a close eye on the pen and signaling whether there was a RH, LH, or even a separate signal for a Submariner. So even before the pitcher was called in for Elon, Auburn knew what to expect and could adjust accordingly.

The second is attitude. Slater would rarely come out of the dugout to argue a call. CJP was out even during the first inning. Arguing a close play on a steal to second. That attitude trickles down to the players. I don't know how you would measure this, but even on Sunday, the team seemed, I don't know, happier. They were having fun. Better than that they were vocal, loud, and cheering their teammates on late in ninth when Auburn was trying to rally (even putting on rally caps). Something has changed in Auburn. Something has changed for the better.
Kevin has not one, not two, not three, not five, but four different posts on the Elon series. So, yeah, I think we've got that "Auburn baseball" thing covered for the time being. Visit and enjoy.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Works, sort of

OK, this is usually the part of the afternoon where I put together something Auburn-related to close out your and my blogging day, but I'm feeling just a shade under the weather and have some Real-Life stuff to handle. (Not that there's much going on: when Jay Tate comes out of his Gannett-mandated furlough and his first football post is a David Oku non-update, safe to say it's slow going news-wise.) So here's a quick handful of links, devoid of theme or much analysis or whatever, and then I'll be back tomorrow:

1. Dude, LaVoyd James missed nearly his entire senior season because he got hurt while holding an extra point? That's seriously unfortunate, particularly since we're talking about a broken ankle for a guy who's always going to have to rely on his speed to make a difference ta the next level. I aprpeciate the optimism from the story, but I don't think we're really going to know how well James is going to recover until he hits the training field this fall.

2. Ah, Nell Fortner, you're so, so awesome:
Auburn (26-2, 11-2) can win the title outright with a win next Sunday against Arkansas. The Tigers will share the crown if they lose to Arkansas and Vanderbilt wins out.

"I don't want to share it," Fortner said. "You want to win the thing. You don't want to share it if you don't have to."
That's right, ladies: your kindergarten teachers were full of it. Sharing is wrong and helping other people out is stupid. Keep playing like it.

3. More women's hoop: Charlie Creme dropped Auburn to a No. 2 seed in today's bracket projection, which isn't entirely surprising given that Auburn's previous two outings have been a loss and a less-than-impressive home win against a mediocre Georgia team. (It's noteworthy, that Creme cites the Georgia win rather than the Vandy loss for the drop, though.) Auburn would seem to be in competition with Louisville for that last No. 1, since the ACC's strong enough that whoever emerges from that league will likely land on the top line unless a sleeper takes the conference tourney. As for the Cards, they have slight edges on Auburn in RPI and schedule strength, and their second-place finish won't be held against them as much as it might normally be, since the first-place team is the UConn juggernaut. But their losses are definitely less explicable than Auburn's and an outright SEC title should still carry more weight than a runner-up finish in the Big East, 500-pound gorilla in the room or not. It'll come down to the conference tourneys.

4. Brian at MGoBlog (among others a little more receptive) responded to my prayer for the beat writers, and not entirely surprisingly for a guy with a historically tetchy relationship with his (our?) local rag, he wasn't quite so sympathetic to the beat writers' plight. His argument goes like so: if you've got six beat writers and they're all producing the same content and the content's all available for free on the Web, why have six when one will do? I have to begrudgingly admit there's something to this--there's a reason the three al.com papers now share two Auburn beat writers--but I think it misses a couple of points:

1) Even if you assume one guy can do the job, who's going to pay him to do it if newspapers kick the bucket in their web form as well as print? Beat writing can't be the exclusive arm of paysites or the athletic department's sports info departments--the latter can feed us quotes and results, but they're not going to dig up contract details or player arrest reports--or fans will suffer.

2) If you're down to one guy wielding a monopoly on free beat reporting, that's not so good. Not only are fans limited to that single perspective--take the recent Track Rocker quotefest for one example of how that might be a problem--but that means that any sources who aren't inclined to work with that particular reporter for whatever personal/professional reasons are now completely shut out of the loop. The more guys are on the beat, the greater the likelihood someone who knows something will talk to one of them.

So, yeah, Brian and I will have to mostly agree to disagree on this one.

5. I gotta admit, I find those freecreditreport.com spots insanely catchy and appealing--where were these guys on the Juno soundtrack?--but that doesn't mean you ought to actually visit the site they're pitching. Take the word of this guy, who quite ironically could fill in if the original guys ever make too many outrageous contract demands:



Sweet. See you tomorrow.

BlogPoll Week 3

The weekly balloting breakdown from yours truly is now up and available for your perusal hyah; because we have to have a legible version of the poll somewhere, that you can see right here:

BlogPoll Week 3
Rank Team PPB StdDev Delta
1 Pittsburgh (36) 25.0 0.2 3
2 Connecticut 23.5 1.0 1
3 Oklahoma (1) 22.2 1.5 --
4 North Carolina 21.6 1.6 2
5 Memphis 21.3 1.8 --
6 Louisville 18.9 2.5 1
7 Duke 17.0 3.0 2
8 Missouri 16.9 2.6 2
9 Michigan St. 16.1 3.5 3
10 Villanova 15.3 3.3 1
11 Marquette 14.8 3.6 2
12 Clemson 14.4 3.5 --
13 Arizona St. 13.3 3.1 1
14 Wake Forest 12.8 3.0 6
15 Kansas 12.1 3.7 --
16 Gonzaga 9.5 4.1 3
17 Purdue 8.9 3.4 3
18 Illinois 5.9 3.3 2
19 Washington 5.6 3.4 2
20 UCLA 5.4 3.1 2
21 Louisiana St. 4.9 3.1 2
22 Xavier 4.0 3.2 5
23 West Virginia 3.2 3.9 3
24 Butler 2.9 3.4 2
25 Texas 2.1 2.7 1

Also Receiving Votes: Florida St.(2.1), Utah(1.4), Dayton(0.6), Arizona(0.5), Michigan(0.5), Syracuse(0.5), Brigham Young(0.5), California(0.4), Utah St.(0.3), Siena(0.2), St. Mary's(0.1), South Carolina(0.1), Creighton(0.1), Wisconsin(0.1), Davidson(0.0), Ohio St.(0.0),

Oh, my beloved mid-majors, why are you having to make things so (relatively) difficult on yourself?