Friday, August 22, 2008

Summer sports (long post)

As I'm only tertially interested in football (it's better than reality tv, I suppose....), and have never been a true Olympics fan (it's great to see the world competing in a collegial spirit, but really, most events finish predictably). However, there were a few cool stories I've followed.

1) US Women's Soccer team claims gold!
If you are a casual soccer fan, you're probably scratching your head over any fuss about this win. Isn't it old hat? No. There were a lot of great storylines in this championship. If you watched last year's Women's World Cup, you probably saw the crushing debacle that was the 4-0 thrashing that Brazil laid on the US, which culminated in the inexplicably-benched keeper Hope Solo getting booted from the team. You probably also saw coach Greg Ryan ride great goal-scorer Abby Wambach (who's name should be on a level with Michelle Akers & Mia Hamm) into the ground. For all of the recognition that Germany's Birgit Prinz got, Abby had a harder job and still did more. So you would've been *ahem* concerned in the first game of the Olympics when the Americans got beat 2-0 by Norway and lost Wambach to a busted wheel. But the US came back from that thumping and scratched their way to the medal round, to face Brazil, again. So what happened next? A 1-0 overtime win where the US actually outshot (on goal) the Brazilians and proved that the American women still are made of championship material. What did it mean?

A) Redemption for Hope Solo:
After saying "I would've made those saves," Solo got a chance to back it up and did, becoming Sierra Mist's Woman of the Match, not only making 6 saves (including a couple of great ones) but also controlling the air and snuffing dangerous situations that developed from Brazil's deadly offense.

B) Job security for Coach Pia Sundhage
The Swedish coach proved that she could put together a winning team even shorthanded, and although the US was the top seed, they were in no way favored going into the knockout stage.

C) A salve for the bitter WWC defeat.
When the US Women's team got back to the hotel after the 4-0 thumping, the Brazilian women were waiting for them in the lobby, drumming, singing, dancing, and doing a victory samba that the US players wouldn't soon forget. I'm not sure what Solo was doing with a couple of novelty medals, but it was a great comeback for her and the whole Women's team after last summer.

2) Phelps-mania
As a former high-school athlete in this sport, I'm happy to see it grab international attention, and I'm glad to see an incredible degree of excellence with some very exciting races in the record chase. My uncle was on the Hoosier team after Mark Spitz left, and I've come to understand that Spitz was such a "swell guy" that is own teammates rooted against him. I'm glad Phelps has eclipsed Spitz, even if he was a former Hoosier.

3) US men's basketball is learning from the world
That the US now has a basketball team instead of an All-Star squad is making a huge difference in its team defense. The defense keys the transition offense, which is where the Americans can really separate themselves from the pack. Greece, Spain, Argentina, and evidently Lithuania (I've not seen them play, so I'm taking others' word for it), are still better pure shooters and passers, but I've been enamored of our rotation, in particular the forward combo of LeBron James (great shooting & passing) and Carmelo Anthony (a real knack for getting to the basket and drawing fouls) as well as the dual point-guard backcourt of Chris Paul & Deron Williams. Kobe Bryant and Dwayne Wade have gotten some due credit, but I've been a bit puzzled by Michael Redd getting stuck on the bench so much. The guy is a great zone-buster, and if you overplay him he can get to the hoop in a hurry. But what am I going to tell coach K?

Speaking of basketball, I've got to plug this Big Ten overview from CBS due to this great line about the Hoosiers. "Remember when the original Cleveland Browns skulked out of town to become the Baltimore Ravens, then a few years later the NFL granted Cleveland a brand-new franchise that retained the Browns' name, colors and history? That's essentially where Tom Crean and the Indiana Hoosiers stand."

IU Men's soccer has started playing again, and the freshmen are already making an impact. If forward Will Bruin brings some punch back to the offense, and Tommy Meyer holds down the stopper position, the Hoosiers could end up being a top title contender again. Back Ofori Sarkodie and do-everything midfielder Brad Ring are already being tabbed as All-Americans, but the Hoosiers desperately need more scoring either from the newcomers or a healthy Darren Yeagle.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

For next season (Big Ten Basketball Wonkery)

I posted my final 2008 Big Ten conference per-possession stat-crunching efficiency ratings a few months ago. However, I finally got around to one commenters' suggestion that I break it down by who's returning, and at what position. So I cobbled together my per-possession & per-game efficiency stats, and tried to figure out who has a good chance to succeed with more minutes available, and for good measure tried to figure out the overall rankings of the freshmen/jucos/redshirts/transfers and which players are likely to start for which team. I moved a couple of players around from the spots they played last year to where I think they'll be needed next season (Iowa's Cyrus Tate moves to Center, Minnesota's Damian Johnson moves to the 4-spot, and I'm guessing Demetri McCamey probably takes over the point duties full-time at Illinois).

You can check out my basic rankings here. Again, you can compare to the raw data report (sorted by school), but let me know what surprised you or where you think I'm crazy.

Updated: I corrected a couple of typos on my ratings sheet, and now have all the expected starters for the Big Ten Basketball teams in bold on the spreadsheet.