Sunday, December 12, 2010

Thoughts on the Spurs so far

As a Spurs fan, this season has been a nice surprise with the quick start that San Antonio has jumped out to; after last season's slow going, it's great to see them picking up early wins. It's interesting to hear how some national commentators are discrediting their 19-3 run out of the gate. Though I think it is fair to question the sustainability of this pace and health, it seems that several people, if not many, believe this to be a flash in the pan, not a testament to the potential that exists in this team.

Labels are difficult to overcome and I've always been bothered that the Spurs have often been referred to as boring. They've proven to be methodical and defensive-minded, playing to their strengths, which isn't necessarily boring basketball, rather a different type of skill set and focus. It's also been bothersome to see teams like the Celtics get lauded for their defensive focus, but not garner the boring tag along with it due to a perceived difference in personality and make-up of the team.

This year, though, has brought a change in pace to the Spurs' games and one that has been able to be sustained so far. I read in the preseason that Pop hoped to push the tempo last year, but wasn't able to make that happen due to Parker's injuries. This year, with a healthy Tony, things look much different. Not only is Tony healthy, but Manu Ginobili is as well. Add Richard Jefferson's growing comfortability in the system and George Hill's continued growth as a defender and scorer, and this team looks a lot more threatening than it did going into last year's playoffs. Duncan's minutes are down, with hopes to save his legs and strength for a deep run in the spring. Dejuan Blair is showing the improvement in season that was hinted at in the preseason. Matt Bonner and Gary Neal are making significant and specific contributions from from the bench, which further allows Manu to get his minutes with the starting unit and not have to come off the bench with the second team to provide a spark and points.

As the season progresses, I think Tiago Splitter will grow into a bigger threat and end up making a great difference for the Spurs, especially as they match up with the longer, taller Lakers and Mavs. I think February will be a big month for him, as he will hopefully get some great experience on the road games the Spurs will play.

As long as health remains a close friend of the team, they should be in great shape for the playoffs. I like that they are showing the league the type of team they can be. They should be fun to watch

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Week 9 Bowl Projections

A look at how I see (or, maybe more accurately, hope) the bowls will turn out:

Tostitos BCS National Championship Game: Oregon vs. Alabama
Allstate Sugar Bowl: Auburn vs. Boise State
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl: Baylor vs. TCU
FedEx Orange Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. Pittsburgh
Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO: Wisconsin vs. Stanford

Top 10, Week 9

I guess it's taken me several weeks to get over Alabama's loss to South Carolina. Part of it was being out of town a couple of Sundays ago; part of it was laziness; a lot of it was disappointment in not being able to keep Bama in the top spot. But, their week off has reinvigorated me and hopefully will have been a good time to re-energize the Tide. With that, here's my Top 10.
  1. Auburn (9-0) The Tigers from the Plains have been practically impossible to stop offensively. Their talent in unmistakable on that side of the ball. Their defense has quite a bit of talent as well, and though the depth has improved over last season, it's still not what they'd like. But, so far, the offense has been able to cover for them. A match-up against Oregon would be incredible to take-in.
  2. Oregon (8-0) They've got crazy balance in their offensive production. They play fast and they don't stop. They should win out and show up in Glendale, but it won't necessarily be easy. Playing in nine conference games is tough and that could prove to be the downfall of the Ducks. 
  3. TCU (9-0) I don't know if this is more a shot at Boise State or a reflection of a bit of a tougher schedule for TCU than the Broncos. In keeping with the guideline of undefeated rank ahead of teams who've lost, TCU stays up here. Huge game with Utah coming up.
  4. Boise State (7-0) They haven't done anything wrong and while it's tough to fault them for playing their schedule, in the end, the body of work will not be as impressive as the potential zero in the loss column. 
  5. Utah (8-0) Their next two games (against TCU and Notre Dame) will bring a lot of attention to them, especially if they keep winning. They could be the surprise non-AQ team that sneaks into the conversation; the Pac-12-to-be has to be excited about their addition.
  6. Alabama (7-1) The Tide went into their off week with a lot more momentum than they did last year, finishing with a strong second half against Tennessee on Rocky Top. Hopefully that momentum carries over into their final four games, the first of which is the only road game of that stretch. Saban won at LSU in overtime in his first trip as a visiting coach to Tiger Stadium; LSU also had an extra week to regroup to focus on Bama, so they should be rested and hungry. Should be a great one.
  7. Stanford (7-1) Their only loss was to Oregon, so they vault the other 1-loss teams due to that, as well as the way they've played so far. 
  8. Wisconsin (7-1) The Badgers are in good shape to take a share of the Big Ten title. 
  9. Oklahoma (7-1) I wouldn't want to gameplan to stop DeMarco Murray. I don't know if anyone left on their schedule can, although I hope Baylor will.
  10. Ohio State (8-1) They, too, can take a share of the Big Ten title, but will have to go through Iowa on the road to do so. 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Public Enemies

For anyone claiming to be a college football fan, the following link is a treasure trove of fun:

What you'll find are the ballots for everyone voting in the AP Top 25 College Football Poll. You can see individual ballots and how they compare with their peers' votes. They also highlight voters who are extreme -- votes that are the highest or lowest for each team, or are within one or two of that high or low. This week, Alabama finished with 58 first-place votes, gaining the vote of Greg Lesmerises of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. That leaves two voters putting a team other than the Crimson Tide at the top of their ballot. As such, I'm beginning a new feature called "Public Enemies."

Public Enemy #2: Pete DiPrimio
Pete writes for the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, the hometown paper of my wife. It is utterly disappointing, as she has also stated, that a bad name is being given to this great city because of the silliness of one of its sports writers. I agree with a few of DiPrimio's votes that are marked extreme: he's got Auburn at #7, which is their second-highest vote; he's got Oklahoma at #8, which is their lowest vote. However, while voting is an individual choice, I have to disagree that having Boise State in front of Alabama is a fair choice. I'm not sure what games he's been watching, but it's a tough argument for Boise State to be on top.

Public Enemy #1: Greg Archuleta
The Albuquerque Journal employs Greg Archuleta as a sports writer and somehow he has been chosen or found his way to an AP vote. With that responsibility, he has placed Ohio State #1, Boise State #2, and Alabama #3. While I'm sure he's got some reasoning behind these choices, it is difficult to find it. Ohio State finally played a road game and didn't do much to impress against an unranked team. Boise State played one of the worst FBS schools on the road, but haven't played the competition the Tide has faced so far. It may seem like crying over spilled milk that two voters did not choose Alabama for the top of their ballot; I choose to see it more of highlighting what I consider to be Les Miles-type incompetence in assessing the football season so far.

Strangest Voter of the Week: Scott Wolf
This guy seems to be gearing up for some time on the Public Enemies list. He gave six teams their highest ratings (including Oklahoma at #2) as well as two teams their lowest ranking (including Ohio State at #6); he's also got two teams ranked in near extreme positions. I remember looking at his ballots last year and wondering how a writer from the Los Angeles Daily News scavenges a vote; I bet it has something to do with an underhanded deal involving USC.

Top 10, Week 5

  1. Alabama (5-0) Impressive first half against Florida carried them through an underwhelming offensive showing in the second half. This year's defense is bending a lot more than last year's, but so far, they've not broken when it's mattered. They are playing with confidence and forcing poor decisions. Watch for next week's game against South Carolina to be more similar to the Arkansas game than the Florida one.
  2. Ohio State (5-0) Playing on the road is rarely easy, particularly when you're a team that's supposed to put opponents away without trouble. Good job by the Buckeyes holding on and not letting it be any closer than it was. Their road to the BCS Championship is still perilous.
  3. Oregon (5-0) The Ducks continue to succeed in the second half, especially on defense. After getting down in the first half to Stanford, they pulled together and finished in distinctive fashion. Their path, like Alabama's and Ohio State's, is still a minefield.
  4. Boise State (4-0) Big win in New Mexico, but their strength of schedule starts falling like a Black Diamond ski slope. They are not any less talented, but with college football's regular season often being one of attrition, I think they are going to need other teams to falter in order for them to have a chance to finish on top.
  5. Auburn (5-0) This seems to be a much different 5-0 Auburn squad than last year's 5-0 team at this point in the season. They easily took care of Louisiana-Monroe as they should have and continued to build Cam Newton's confidence. They hit the road for the first time in three weeks with a game at Kentucky, which is followed by home games against Arkansas and LSU. The Wildcats shouldn't pose too much of a threat, but it might be a bit of a trap game for the Tigers.
  6. TCU (5-0) Not very convincing wins the past two weeks drops them down a bit. Future dates against Air Force and Utah might jump them back up near Boise State, though.
  7. Nebraska (4-0) I'm sure some Husker fans were saddened by the Longhorns loss to Oklahoma yesterday, as it somewhat diminishes their year-long plan for the showdown in Lincoln. Though they have not played too rough a schedule and have at times looked non-elite, I'd still take them over Oklahoma right now and look for the two teams to meet in the Big XII Championship. 
  8. Oklahoma (5-0) They took care of business against a Texas team that's having to find and establish its identity (much like an alligator-related team in the South). I'm not convinced that they are an elite group, but wins have a way of building confidence, no matter how they come.
  9. Arkansas (3-1) They know who they are and I think their loss to Alabama will free them from the pressure of having to be perfect, which should allow them to play looser and with more focus. After a big game against Texas A&M this Saturday, they head to Auburn for what should be a great shoot-out on the Plains.
  10. Florida (4-1) As much as I'd enjoy dropping them from the Top 10, I think they'll still be around by the end of the season. For all the talk about this game being circled on the Gators' schedule in the way Alabama had done with the SEC Championship Game the previous season, I didn't think there was really enough time yet for that to really provide the focus needed to walk into a hostile environment and take away a win. For all that the Gators did wrong, they also showed they could stop Alabama's offense, their punter is amazing, they can move the ball with some ease, and, for some stretches, their offensive line can dominate. The turnovers will skew how this game is viewed, but the mistakes that were made are correctable and the Gators can still find their way to Atlanta in December.
Moving on:
Wisconsin (4-1) Having to play on the road against a team whose coach was laid up in a hospital bed due to a heart-attack and blood clot was quite the hurdle placed before the Badgers by the football gods. Or, it was just due them after the crazy escape from the Arizona State game with a win.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Top 10, Week 4

  1. Alabama (4-0) The young defense grew up during the second half of the Arkansas game. The coaches were slightly hesitant to make complex, attacking defensive calls in the beginning, worrying that their trouble with the more simple ones indicated they'd have much more trouble. It turned out the defensive unit was much more comfortable attacking and mixing up the looks, only allowing Arkansas three points in the second half. The offensive line, Mark Ingram, and Greg McElroy took care of the rest to close things out.
  2. Ohio State (4-0) The Buckeyes finished up their non-conference schedule with a thumping of Eastern Michigan. Terrel Prior and his troops leave the Horseshoe for the first time this season next week when they travel to Illinois for the start of their Big Ten slate. Illini, beware: Ohio State is playing with confidence and having a lot of fun. 
  3. Oregon (4-0) The Ducks picked off three interceptions in the fourth quarter to secure their first Pac-10 win of the season. While they gained over 400 yards on the road, they gave up 597 and had the ball almost 10 minutes less than Arizona State, which could be worrying signs for their upcoming showdown with Stanford on Saturday night in primetime.
  4. Boise State (3-0) Boise is a scary match-up because I think they can beat anyone on any given Saturday. Their offense is explosive, they've got a great home field advantage, and they are experienced on defense. They took care of the two BCS-conference teams on their schedule and are in great shape right now.
  5. TCU (4-0) The Horned Frogs took care of SMU on Friday night and are poised to make another run this season. They are flying under the radar, even with a Top 5 ranking. 
  6. Auburn (4-0) I wrote last week that they would move up to this spot if they took care of South Carolina, which they did with another strong second half. Cameron Newton looks like an unstoppable force as each game draws to a close; these come-from-behind wins will give him a lot of confidence going forward. Their front line on defense is tough and their linebackers are smart. Here's hoping for an undefeated match-up in the Iron Bowl.
  7. Florida (4-0) Where has Meyer been hiding Trey Burton? Florida decided it was about time to start finding some type of rhythm with a visit to Tuscaloosa looming. Great job in not overlooking a solid Kentucky team, though they'll face a much more difficult defense next week. And I can't help but think that the Bryant-Denny faithful will be ready with a kind greeting for the visiting Gators.
  8. Nebraska (4-0) Eeking out a win (17-3) at home against South Dakota State drops you one spot in this poll. Though with the way Texas and Oklahoma have been playing, the Huskers shouldn't worry too much about being challenged by either one of them in the championship game.
  9. Wisconsin (4-0) Their final tune-up before Big Ten play was very similar to Ohio State's; their first game is going to be more difficult. The Badgers head east to Michigan State for a Top 25 match-up with the Spartans.
  10. Arkansas (3-1) Losing at home to the No. 1 team in the country shouldn't drop you too far in the poll. Though Mallet pressed a few too many times, it was the team's lack of a running game that really doomed the Hogs. I think the crowd took their defense to another plane, but the Razorbacks will be a tough game for their remaining challengers.
Honorable Mention:
Stanford (4-0) Nice win on the road at Notre Dame, although that's not as meaningful as it used to be. Their game against Oregon this weekend will be a much tougher test.
UCLA (2-2) Surely some Bruin mentioned to a Longhorn or two something along the lines of "Too bad you won't be joining us in the Pac-10 for regular beatings like this."

Moving on:
South Carolina (3-1) They played three great quarters on the road, but fumbled and threw it away in the fourth. I don't think Spurrier helped his team with the way he handled Garcia; some of the play calls were just as much to blame for his fumbles, in my opinion. Garcia took a big hit, too, which should have sent him to the bench before his second fumble. They get a couple of weeks now to prepare for the Tide.
Texas (3-1) I should have gone with my instinct last week and dropped Texas from the Top 10 then. Embarrassing loss at home to a Bruin team that hadn't shown much so far this season.

Overused word(s) of the week:

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Top 10, Week 3

  1. Alabama (3-0) Lots of offense in a short amount of time against Duke. Good to see Ingram yesterday; he looked fresh and ready to steamroll anyone in his way. Another freshman (Phelon Jones) got a start in the secondary; next week will be a big test for the defense as a whole. The Crimson Tide, overall, looks very strong.
  2. Ohio State (3-0) They're taking care of the teams they're supposed to beat up on. The offense is producing a lot of points and Prior keeps getting stronger. 
  3. Oregon (3-0) The Ducks are flying high at home -- they've scored 141 points so far without giving up any at their place. They travel to Arizona State this week, which should be a good match-up; it will be a better test for the Ducks than the Vols were.
  4. Boise State (2-0) Took care of business at Wyoming while only giving up 6 points. They're going to hang around my Top 5 until other teams get into tougher stretches on their schedules and force consideration based on the quality of opponents.
  5. TCU (3-0) Great showing against Baylor jumps them into this Top 5. 
  6. South Carolina (3-0) They are playing pretty well and have been a much more complete team than Florida. Though the Gators have been hanging out in the Top 10, the Gamecocks are much more deserving at this point in the season.
  7. Nebraska (3-0) Though Washington and Jake Locker are quite overhyped, winning on the road against an out-of-conference BCS school does count for something. The Huskers have been the class of the Big 12 so far this season, out-pacing Texas and Oklahoma. 
  8. Arkansas (3-0) Ryan Mallet picks up his first SEC road win at Georgia against a Bulldog team that desperately needed to win. The coolness he demonstrated in the final minute was impressive; the move by Greg Childs was even better. Their defense will face much stiffer competition next week against Greg McElroy and company.
  9. Wisconsin (3-0) Two great plays (a tackle right before half-time and a blocked extra point) kept them on the winning side at home. 
  10. Texas (3-0) I originally dropped them from the Top 10, but winning on the road, especially in Lubbock, keeps them around. They've played better than Florida and Oklahoma, but there's still some growing to be done for this group. Their next three games (UCLA, Oklahoma, Nebraska) will greatly determine the conference championship game.
Honorable Mention:
Auburn (3-0) Good come back win at home after getting down 17-0. They could trade places with South Carolina in the Top 10 if they beat them next week.
Michigan State (3-0) Incredible call in OT for a fake field goal to win the game. Several commentators I've listened to this morning have mentioned that, even though it worked, it wasn't the right call -- they were at home, it was risky, etc. Whatever. They practiced it and worked; the situation presented itself in a game and they delivered. Great call.

Moving on:
Florida (3-0), Oklahoma (3-0), Michigan (3-0)
Florida's offense is sputtering a bit. Oklahoma is letting teams stick around more than they should. Michigan needed an onside kick to bounce out of bounds to secure a win at home. These teams may make a bigger push as the season progresses, but don't have the mettle for the Top 10 right now.