Friday, August 12, 2011

The Crimson Quarry rocks! (Har!)

I won't be exactly discontinuing this blog, but the laudable John M. over at The Crimson Quarry has asked me to pitch in with the occasional post. I've been a fan of The Crimson Quarry since it launched, and my first headlines post is up over there. I'll still keep this blog open for my most wonkiest or vehement posts, but I will be directing the greater part of my blogging energy over there.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Arguments about Stuff and Nonsense

Speaking of nonsense, is the #1-rated (pro-style)QB in the nation coming to Indiana? I hope a solid string of O-Line recruits is also in the offing. Still, that's some great nonsense!

Another less-great nonsense thing I've seen floating around lately is that the US Women "choked" away the World Cup. I'm not sure that fits with my view of "choke" so much as a missed opportunity. Given the US WWC team barely got into the tourney at all, barely got past the first round, and never had more than a one-goal lead on the Japanese, it's hard to justify the term "choke" with this case. The US & the Japanese got hot at the right times, and while the US played better, the PKs just fell the other way. I think maybe the US team let expectations be set rather high when it comes to PKs due to their ice-veined finishes against Brazil. From a lifetime of watching (and occasionally playing) soccer, let me tell you that nothing other than PKs is a clearer distillation in sports of the metaphor "sometimes you eat th' b'ar, sometimes the b'ar eats you."

Anyway, at some point I hope to put together an Indiana men's soccer preview. I need motivation, tho, as family, summer reading, and job searches have kept me pretty busy.

Some college basketball stuff is happening, too. Bright young light Drew Cannon over Basketball Prospectus posted an interesting top 100 NCAA players list, and then was part of a wrap-up discussion with regulars Pelton & Gasaway and newbie Todd Dybas. This is on the heels of his "what to expect from freshmen" article from which I've been doing some number-crunching of my own - post upcoming! What I want to nitpick is his picks for all-conference, especially the Big Ten.

First team: Draymond Green, Robbie Hummel, Jared Sullinger, Jordan Taylor, Deshaun Thomas
Second: William Buford, Tim Hardaway, Trevor Mbakwe, John Shurna, Christian Watford
Third: Melsahn Basabe, Aaron Craft, Jordan Morgan, Brandon Paul, Brandon Wood

I think Green, Hummel, Sullinger, and Taylor are all smart picks. DeShaun Thomas I shake my head at a little bit - not that he doesn't have potential, but next season the ball goes first into Sullinger's hands in the paint. Thomas will get PT 'cause he can shoot the three, but he had a hard time carving out minutes last season when there wasn't another true 4 on the team, and now he'll have to compete with McDonald's All-American Amir Williams and talented transfer Evan Ravenel for minutes. I just think Thomas won't be featured as much as, say, William Buford, who I think should be on the first team.

The second team I have no problem with except for Indiana's own Christian Watford. Watford should benefit from Cody Zeller's presence and from hopefully being healthy, but I don't foresee his two-point shooting percentage or his block, steal, or offensive rebound rates rising enough to boost him to the top of the league. He should be a solid scorer for the Hoosiers next season, but top-ten? I'm dubious. I'd boost Basabe and probably the unmentioned Lewis Jackson onto the second team before Watford.

For the Third team I won't debate Brandon Wood (defensible, but wouldn't be my pick) but I will debate the inclusion of Jordan Morgan and Brandon Paul. I cannot see including Jordan Morgan over Ralph Sampson, Luka Mirkovic, and what would be my pick- Delvon Roe. Furthermore, Morgan can obviously rebound, but I'm pretty interested to see what kind of shooting numbers he can post without Morris breaking down the defense to feed him a diet of open lay-ups. And of starting centers, only the graduated Jarryd Cole & Andrew Jones had lower shot-block percentages than Morgan. Brandon Paul could be worthy of all-conference selection, I suppose, but it just seems unlikely. He's always been a gunner, and next season I expect his assists to go up, sure, but I also expect his turnovers to rise and his shooting percentage to fall. I would suspect a sophomore like Josh Gasser or true points like Tim Frazier or Bryce Cartwright would do better than Paul both statistically and in efficiency terms - even if their teams are less talented overall. And for that matter, Verdell Jones did better in my per-possession efficiency ranking than Paul last season, despite playing the bailout role and struggling through injuries.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

B1G basketball 2011 final efficiency stats

I know, they're crazy late. Apologies, but I still think it might be interesting to consider the player performances now that the sturm und drang of the conference season has settled.

Essentially, there was a pretty clear top three with Jordan Taylor, Draymond Green, and JaJuan Johnson, with probably Jordan Taylor with the slightest of edges over the other two. Jared Sullinger's play declined in the second of the season, but he still finished a very solid fourth ahead of Trevor Mbakwe, Jeff Brooks, and Melsahn Basabe. Anyway, the final stats and the school-by-school notes are now available.

In short, the Big Ten will get a lot of top players back next season, but a lot of the 2nd and 3rd best players have moved on. It's hard to envision that the conference will be quite as tough as it has been the couple years, but it won't be too down either.

I'll have number crunching on Nebraska up before too long, to see how the Huskers' 2011 conference season compares to the rest of the returning B1G players.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Bright side of the US WWC

First of all, hats off to the Japanese- an amazing tournament for them even as they came in as a sleeper pick, they showed tremendous ability in taking down favorites and hosts Germany, and outright beating down the third-place Swedes (who were the only team to outright beat the US), and tying the US twice to send it to PKs. Great heart, great ability, and surely a great salve for the nation recovering from tragedy. Btw, was anyone else touched that before each and every game they displayed that banner thanking the friends around the world for their support? Nicely done, there.

And for the US... yes, the penalty kick result was disappointing, and the fact that the US was minutes away from lifting the trophy (twice!) has to be heartbreaking for the members of the Women's team. It's as if all of the karma that USA spent in the Brazil game (late comeback won on PKs despite being outplayed) and against France (generally being out-passed and out-shot yet just not quite finishing - the sound of the ball hitting the pipes was less pleasing this time around) came back around against the Japanese. You then throw in the fact that one of the US' top offensive threats (Lauren Cheney) who had scored or assisted in four of the previous five games was almost instantly hobbled and eventually had to come off. And no discredit to the Japanese, but it's hard to look at the game or break down the stats and not think that the US was the better team that should have won. However, I would suggest that this was a tremendous success for both Women's Soccer and the US team in general. I won't say much about the Women's Soccer aspect (Hirshey has that covered), but it was a great tournament and a great final showed that soccer can about drama and scoring goals - this was certainly a far more exhilarating tournament than the 1999 World Cup where the US almost ran out of gas. After Michelle Akers went out in 1999, it was pretty clear that the Chinese were every bit as good and possibly better than the US. That wasn't the case here with the US after the injured Cheney was subbed out at halftime.

And the US doesn't quit, after dominating the first 30 minutes, and then reasserting itself after the loss of Cheney, it could've folded when Japan first tied it up. The US looked the better team through the OT, and still, it continued to look like it could pull off an outright win with late chances from Wambach and when Morgan was taken down late on her way to what seemed to be a winning goal, it was the 121st minute? The US team is making a name for itself with its level of endurance. Also, even though Wambach may have been the only player with the presence of mind to congratulate the victors, the US generally went out with class - the Japanese may have held them off for the PKs, but the US made them get issued first ever Women's World Cup red card prevent a winning goal - smart, but hardly laudable.

And finally, let's not forget that the US came in rather shakily - having to beat Italy in a playoff to assure its place in the WWC. And then, they looked like they might be heading for disappointment when they couldn't quite tie Sweden and faced Brazil in the first round. The US' thrilling success against Brazil and France made the nation sit up and notice the WWC again, and playing like the best team in the final of the WWC has re-established the Americans' international reputation as the heavyweight in Women's Soccer again. And furthermore, although we were already well aware of Wambach and Solo's dominance at their positions (I would submit them for all-time all-world), it was a coming-out party for Alex Morgan, who came into the Cup with a mere 16 caps, and just got better as the games went on. The US was familiarized with both domestic and international stars, which is great for the struggling Women's Professional League. Although I think Morgan (and perhaps Rapinoe) will be the US's next breakthrough marketing star, for the team it's good that the potent Lauren Cheney has also come into her own as a reliable creator, and best of all...

the Olympics await next summer!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Quick July Flame links

Since the Women's World Cup game on Sunday is the big to-do, if you want to listen to a couple of analysts with some humorous insights about the semi-final games, here's ESPN's Off the Ball podcast

Drew Cannon over at Basketball Prospectus talks about predicting freshmen performance. There's nothing shocking here, but it's a nice review to back up the truisms like "bigs develop more slowly" or "too much is expected of incoming freshmen."

In Big Ten basketball news, promising incoming Junior College player and interesting storyline Anthony Hubbard has left Iowa due to "homesickness." Iowa still has four starters coming back as well as incoming frosh Josh Oglesby & Gabe Olaseni who should contribute off the bench, and Aaron White might be a sleeper, but now the Hawkeyes are really going to need improvement out of Devyn Marble if they hope to get to the postseason. And uh, also some combination of Archie and Brommer to hold down the center-spot, which may be a much taller order.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

US Women triumph, face Japan in finals

Following the American women has been amazing this year. Just a true enjoyment with a lot of great storylines. At any level of Men's or Women's soccer, I have only once seen as stellar a cross as Megan Rapinoe swung into Wambach in the 122nd minute against Brazil (and that was Virginia's Clint Mathis against Indiana in the 1994 College Cup). And I've never seen that play resolved so dramatically with such high stakes. And then against France, in the World Cup semi-final, coach Pia Sundhage makes two second-half substitutions that pay off brilliantly and change the entire complexion of the match. Also, a true rarity to see subs have such an effect in a world cup game.

I did get to watch the second half versus France on my lunch break at work, so I can make some observations. Despite each having a couple of misplays, Wambach and Solo are all-world stalwarts. They've carried the US, and give the other players a wide margin for error. I thought Rapinoe & Morgan should've come in earlier, but holding them off until France ran themselves down a little (and had seemingly gained control of the match after tying it up) ended up working out incredibly well. The game swung cleanly to the US after Rapinoe came in and was effectively over after Morgan's counter-attack (sprung from a slightly deflected pass from Rapinoe), and France could do little to get themselves back into the match in the last 10 minutes.

Cheney had a nice game with a classy finish on the first goal, and beautiful bender of a corner to Wambach on the Game-winning corner. Also, she seemed to play a lot better off of Rapinoe than Lloyd, but maybe Morgan & Rapinoe's speed just gave her more room to work with.

Megan Rapinoe did the tough work of calming down the US midfield and zipping past the French defenders on counter-attacks, stretching out the field and giving the US room to work with. Her pairing with the shifted Cheney makes for a very effective midfield, but her fresh legs helped her also retain possession against the French, who had run circles around Carli Lloyd, et al. I saw one hustle play where she flew to an overplayed ball and knocked it down to a teammate that otherwise would've been a French throw-in.

Alex Morgan looked big, fast, and physical against the French. A bit like Abby Wambach in 2007. That said, she could've had a hat-trick with a bit of luck in the second half with a bit more placement on that follow (where I think she was ruled offside) and then simply a great save from the keeper nullified that beauty of header from Wambach to free her. She redeemed herself with the perfect timing and placement on that chip to the far corner. With all of the praise for Wambach & recriminations for the French goalie, the one thing I think everyone missed in Wambach's game-winning header was Alex Morgan busting free from her defenders and "posting up" the goalie, both slowing keeper down and blocking her vision of the cross until it was too late. A perfect intangible assist on the play.

The US will have another tough match-up with international darlings Japan, who are giving a nation recovering from incredible tragedy a great feel-good story. Even more problematic is Japan's ball-control style which is not dissimilar from the French style that gave the US fits for the majority of the match. On the other foot, Japan is likely to have even more trouble covering the US air attacks, but if they can shut down the flanks... well, it will be an interesting match.

Go USA!!!

Friday, July 01, 2011

Chart of the Day

This one is about David Stern's new plan for player salaries, via an interesting article by Tom Ziller.