Saturday, November 07, 2009

CFB Saturday Picks and Live-Comment

3 p.m.: Well, well, well. I know I hedged on today's Upset Special (N'western over @Iowa) below, but I have never been more thrilled to be "kinda right, kinda wrong." You can argue that Northwestern needed some "black swan" events -- not just an injury to Ricky Stanzi, but a fumble in the end-zone for a TD -- but Iowa had been living on the edge all season.

Today's Quickie is in the post directly below (
or just click here).

On those days when you don't see any upsets coming? That's when you know the upsets are coming.
I've had good luck with my Upset Specials this season, but this week's pick -- Northwestern over Iowa (at Iowa) -- is half-hearted. NU has owned Iowa in Iowa recently, but I feel like that karma is about to get balanced out in a big way. And yet: Hope IS a strategy.

1 Florida over Vanderbilt - Big day for Tebow?
2 Texas over C. Florida - It's already a rout.
3 Alabama over 9 LSU -- GOTW
Northwestern over 4 Iowa -- Upset Special (Halfhearted)
5 Cincinnati over UConn -- Another rout of a decent team.
6 TCU over @ San Diego St - Look ahead to Utah.
8 Oregon over @ Stanford - Classic trap?
10 Georgia Tech over Wake Forest - GT best of ACC.
16 Ohio State over Penn State -- GOTW. Really an upset?
12 USC over @ Arizona State - ASU pays for USC's Duck rout
13 Pitt over Syracuse - Irish next week.
14 Utah over New Mexico - Look ahead, Utes.
15 Houston over @ Tulsa - Take the over.
17 Miami over Virginia - Canes need big show.
18 Arizona over Washington State - Cats keep going.
19 Oklahoma St over @ Iowa St - In Ames? Hmm.
20 Cal over Oregon St - With Cal, you never know.
21 Wisconsin over Indiana - Ugh.
22 Notre Dame over Navy - But close.
24 Oklahoma over Nebraska - Fun... in 1985

Other Games of Note
Clemson over Florida State - Bowdenfreude
Purdue over @Michigan - RichRodFail
Kansas State over Kansas - Rivalry
Arkansas over South Carolina - Sucker for Hogs
North Carolina over Duke - But only barely!
Tennessee over Memphis - Vols going over .500
Idaho over Fresno State - Boise's next opponent

Top 5 Games for NEXT Week:
(1) Utah at TCU
(2) Iowa at Ohio State
(3) Idaho at Boise State
(4) Notre Dame at Pitt
(5) W. Virginia at Cincy (Fri)

Saturday 11/07 (Wall) Quickie

7:15 p.m. kickoffs make for very long Saturdays...

The John Wall Era is here: 27 pts and 9 ast in his exhibition debut for Kentucky. Folks who make preseason All-America teams really need to adjust, if they don't have the best player in college basketball on there. (15 years into the one-and-done era, I can't believe that All-America voters still have a bias against freshmen. Wait: Yes, I can.)

Boise State wins again -- but, as with the Tulsa win, it's not like they're beating their creampuff schedule decisively (like TCU is). Giving up 25 to LA Tech helps show that the defensive blanking of Oregon in the first week of the season was more because Oregon wasn't ready than because Boise's defense is particularly great.

Did not expect the Celtics' first loss to come to... the Suns. Biggest surprise of the NBA season so far: Phoenix.

LeBron (33 pts) helps Cavs dominate Knicks in NYC: The game was out of reach and boring for almost its entirety. Fans were booing. Exactly the kind of vibe that will lure LeBron!

Nuggets lose for 1st time this season, too... to the Heat.

Kobe youngest to 24,000 points: More impressed that he went over 40 (41) again this season.

Tyler Hansbrough makes his NBA debut: 13 points (hey, not bad -- I try hard not to make Hansbrough-Tebow pro-career comparisons... basketball and football -- particularly PF and QB -- are simply too different. Still, the analogy extends: The impacts will be modest but there.)

MLB Hot Stove: Manny will be back in L.A. Didn't think he'd opt-out of his fat deal, and things have been good for him in L.A. No reason to think they can't win the division next year, too. (But I don't think they can beat the Phillies in the playoffs -- btw, the Phils picked up a $9M option on Cliff Lee. Obviously.)

Urban Meyer fined $30K for criticizing refs: Pocket change. Fines have never and will never be a deterrent. (It's not like they're going to fine him a million dollars.)

Today's CFB Picks coming shortly.

-- D.S.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Follow-Up to D-League Post from Yesterday

Quick follow-up to yesterday's D-League post: I did discount one factor -- a star HS player will make ~$30K for the year he's in the D-League; he can make 5-10X that for one year in college.

I'm not being sarcastic, and it's not an insubstantial factor. (That said: If the D-League succeeds in becoming the prep-to-pro pipeline, they will figure out a way to create a "Beckham Rule.")

-- D.S.

Friday 11/06 Quickie: LeBron, Yanks,
NFL Week 9, Buckeyes, Hot Stove

I'm a big fan of New York Times NBA writer Howard Beck, who has a nice bit of analysis today -- in honor of LeBron's one trip this season to the Garden -- questioning whether LeBron even needs New York. (Short answer: He doesn't, at least from a business standpoint.)

I saw that piece AFTER I filed this morning's SN column, which leads with the opposite question: Does New York even need LeBron?

Would he make the Knicks better? Absolutely. But does the town need LeBron as an attraction? Hardly. And, the bigger question in light of the Yankees winning the World Series: New York brooks no losers -- is LeBron even up to the challenge of winning a title?

The only reference point we have is last season, when the Cavs were the No. 1 seed in the East -- and, really, missed winning the NBA title by a fairly wide margin, given the expectations. You have to put at least some of that on LeBron, who (or whose marketing campaign) has never shied away from putting Bron above the team, the individual brand above the championship goal.

But, honestly, that was the bracket for a larger (typically superlative) point I wanted to make: No team this decade -- in any sport -- was under more pressure to win a championship than these Yankees... and they did it.

On the one hand, it's easy for me to say "Well, they SHOULD have won it." On the other -- no matter how I feel about their anti-competitive spending, their fans' triumphalism, etc. -- I may not have any greater respect for a champ that was EXPECTED to be a champ.

It's actually an interesting debate: It's easy to love the team that unexpectedly wins a title -- it's hard to like a team that SHOULD win a title (and does). But it's easy to respect them.

More you'll find in today's column:

*NFL Week 9: The Game of the Week is Cowboys-Eagles, but I am mostly intrigued by the Vince Young-Alex Smith showdown.

*CFB Storylines: I am no fan of Ohio State, but I think they win the Big Ten title this year, starting with a win at Penn State (and continuing with a win next week vs. Iowa). Speaking of Iowa, my Upset Special is Northwestern over Iowa, but I know that's folly. (An Iowa win combined with an Ohio State win would also set up the Big Ten Game of the Year next week.) By the way, don't sleep on LSU at Alabama -- the toughest game on Bama's schedule before the SEC title game.

*The Tim Lincecum jokes are too easy. (Let's focus on the Red Sox getting reclamation project -- at Age 26! -- Jeremy Hermida from the Marlins.)

*I like West Virginia as a college hoops upstart, rather than a Top 5 team -- Huggins has always done better as the aggrieved outsider.

As always on Fridays, there's a lot more there. Would love your take on those opening ideas in the Comments. More later.

-- D.S.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Latavious Williams: New Brandon Jennings

I was so inspired by the novelty of Latavious Williams -- the first prep hoops player to jump straight from high school to the D-League that I sent a note to Henry Abbott over at TrueHoop, who graciously posted my argument why this is A Really Big Deal.

It's a little like Brandon Jennings skipping college for Italy a year ago, but because the Jennings Plan doesn't scale, this actually has the potential to be bigger.

It's better for the player.
It's better for the NBA.
It's better for college basketball.

It remains to be seen whether other prep players follow Williams' path -- they should think seriously about it, especially if they can pool their interests and cut a group endorsement deal with a shoe company to subsidize the admittedly low D-League salaries.

But Williams -- and those who follow him -- get pro coaching from people whose incentive is to get them to the NBA... not college coaches whose incentive is to maintain their job security.

That's just a taste. Check out the whole thing here. Would love to get your reaction in the comments.

-- D.S.

Thursday 11/05 Quickie: Yankees, A-Rod, Matsui, Spikes, Meyer, D-League, Magic

I had almost forgotten what "Yankees fan triumphalism" felt like. You'd never guess it had been 9 years since the last title -- Yankees fans effortlessly ride that bike again.

Speaking of triumphalism, I argue in the lead of today's SN column that a year from now -- or 5 or 10 or 20 -- all we will remember about this World Series is that it was A-Rod's breakthrough.

Nothing in sports -- not the most remarkable individual achievement, not the most brutalizing scandal -- changes the perception of an athlete like winning a championship.

Everything that tainted A-Rod -- the attitude, the steroids, the losing -- is eclipsed by "Alex Rodriguez, World Series champion."

(And I buy the theory that it was A-Rod's surgery that was the trigger to get him to stop worrying about stats and just playing to win. It also mitigated the steroids spotlight.)

You can be the most reviled player in your sport -- and A-Rod might have been that guy, up until now -- and still earn universal respect for winning a championship.

The Yankees might -- and probably should -- win a couple more titles while A-Rod is on the team. But he won't last for another 9-year drought. At the very least, he's got this one.

More you'll find in today's column:

*The most important moment in D-League history.
*The Magic ARE better without Vince Carter.
*Dwyane Wade > Gilbert Arenas
*I give Brandon Spikes a little too much credit.
*I solve Boise State's scheduling problem.
*It's put-up or shut-up time for Texas hoops.

See the complete column here. More later.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Wednesday 11/04 Quickie: Pettitte, Pedro,
Utley, Dirk, Purdue, Buffs, LeMoyne

I need my baseball specialists to help me with today's SN column lead, in which I contend that the Yankees' best strategy for winning a best-of-7 series was to concede Game 5 -- not tank, but certainly not start Burnett on short rest -- but set up their rotation for optimal performance in Games 6 and 7.

Now, Pettitte is on short rest for Game 6, which means that Game 7 is far more likely than had Burnett gone tonight and Pettitte gone in Game 7. It just seems to make sense to me, but I'm happy to be debunked. (But please don't use "You play to win the game." We all know that's not always true, and in the World Series, you actually "play to win 4 out of 7."

More from today's column:

*Dirk! (29 in the 4th quarter? Yikes.)
*How about those unbeaten Suns?
*Darrell Scott: Leaving Colorado.
*Anyone buy Purdue as the 7th-best CBB team?

LeMoyne's exhibition of Syracuse is not on par with a 16-over-1 in the NCAA Tournament, but it is pretty freaking shocking. For LeMoyne, this WAS their NCAA Tournament; for Syracuse, it was the first exhibition game of the season. Still: What a humiliation for the Cuse.

Complete SN column here. More later.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Tuesday 11/03 Quickie: Utley, Lee,
Saints, Spikes, Rockets, Bias, More

Chase Utley for World Series MVP: Is it THAT crazy, even if the Yankees end up winning the Series? His homers -- two of them, making 5 for the Series (tying Reggie '77) -- certainly qualified: The first to get the Phillies on the board; the second to provide the game-winning margin. Just allow it to marinade for a little bit -- you have until Wednesday night to decide (maybe further, if Pettitte can't get the job done and this thing goes 7).

More you'll find in today's column:

*My official position on the Brandon Spikes suspension: As usual, it's the cover-up that gets you, not the crime. Florida's half-game suspension is a half-measure that will leave no critic satisfied. What makes it all the more tone-deaf is that the Gators are playing Vandy -- like the D without Spikes couldn't have managed? This was an easy p.r. debacle to avoid, and it was a rare whiff for the normally media-savvy Urban Meyer.

*The best thing about the Saints: The defense.

*The Browns' farce of a season gets funnier.

*Houston bandwagon: Anyone STILL holding out that the Rockets aren't a playoff team?

*Duke is No. 8 in SN's college hoops preseason Top 25. Did they sign a great big man and point guard while I wasn't looking? How are they better than the Villanova team -- ranked 9th by SN -- that easily dispatched them a year ago in the Tournament?

*Rondo gets paid: The Celtics now have their Big One after the Big Three all fade away. Won't be enough.

*That Favre-Packers game? Yeah: A ton of people watched.

*How can you not love Stephen Colbert, new proud sponsor of US Speedskating.

*Tonight's "30 for 30" doc is about Len Bias. It's hard to say that Pat Tillman wasn't the sports tragedy of our lifetime, but given that I grew up a massive Bias fan -- and that his death happened when I was at the impressionable age of 13 -- Bias's death still troubles me. The biggest "What If?" player in the history of sports.

Tons more. Complete column here. More later.

-- D.S.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Monday 11/02 Quickie: Favre, A-Rod, STFU,
Oregon, BCS, Magic, VY, Moats, Eagles

Has there ever been a bigger "STFU" day in sports than yesterday? I don't think I can recall one.

First, Brett Favre walks into Lambeau -- "Lam-boo" (to Packers fans' credit) -- and walks out having torched his old team and tortured his old fans. It was so bad that it is nearly impossible to distinguish the insult, the injury and what was added to what. I mean: It even had a die-hard Favre-hater like me shaking my head in almost-respect for the guy. I had to pick one STFU moment from the weekend to highlight in today's SN column -- and this was it.

Then, A-Rod continues what I am calling the "A-Rod-emption" -- delivering the tie-breaking (and game-winning) hit against the Phillies to put the Yankees up 3-1... a seemingly insurmountable lead, even if Cliff Lee wins tonight (which he should).

No player has done more this year -- perhaps this decade -- than A-Rod has over the last month to silence the critics, quash the haters and -- more than anything -- tell everyone to "STFU." Winning a championship probably would have been enough; that he has played such a key role in the march to that championship takes him to another level.

There are two more "STFU" moments from this weekend, both in college football:

(1) Oregon destroys USC. When you compare the resumes, Oregon deserves to be ranked ahead of Boise State, even though Boise beat Oregon head-to-head in the first week of the season in Boise. Beyond the overall stronger strength of schedule, when you consider "quality wins" -- Oregon has now beaten USC *and* Utah, two teams I'd put in the Top 12 in the country. Boise has a win over Oregon. Without a more complete resume, I would rank Boise ahead of Oregon, too -- but at some point, schedule strength and quality wins beats one head-to-head loss. Oregon passed that threshold this weekend; the computer polls have that one right.

(2) Florida clobbers Georgia. The Gators have turned a corner. Or, should I say: The Gators' OFFENSE has turned a corner; its defense has always been the nation's best. The offense finally showed some spark, particularly deep in Georgia territory. And Tim Tebow played his best game of the season -- watch that Heisman momentum tick back up.

More you'll find in today's column:
*Talking points for all the NFL games.
*Next week's CFB Games to Watch
*Why the Magic are the NBA's best.
*Carmelo is destroying people right now.
*SN snubs Villanova! (But not me!)

Complete column here. More later.

-- D.S.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

BlogPoll Top 25 Ballot: Texas Up, USC Down

This week's BlogPoll ballot. I was impressed enough with Texas' biggest win of the season -- convincingly -- that I put them at No. 1, but I don't put last week's No. 1 -- TCU -- that far behind.

I think Florida proved enough to put them at No. 3, but only slightly ahead of Cincinnati. Alabama looks slightly better for Tennessee's convincing win over South Carolina -- but only barely.

I put Oregon over Boise State -- yes, Boise beat Oregon head-to-head, but Oregon's overall resume is stronger... much stronger, actually. (I am trying really hard not to discount Boise's win as coming in Boise the first week of the season, with the implication being that if the two teams played now on a neutral field, Oregon would win. Too much speculation; I'll stick with resume.)

I know I am ranking Iowa too low. But I watched that entire game yesterday, and I'm so unimpressed. And their resume is OK, but I would argue not as impressive as Oregon, which lost at Boise, yes, but also beat Utah and USC -- better than Iowa winning at Penn State? Individually, no; as a combination, yes.

As for USC, I would love to have dropped them further, but after the Top 10 or 11, I think things start to get really shaky, with teams having more arguments against them than for them.

Rankings follow. Please let me know how I should adjust.

1 Texas 2
2 TCU 1
3 Florida 1
4 Cincinnati 2
5 Alabama
6 Oregon 2
7 Boise State
8 LSU 2
9 Iowa 3
10 Georgia Tech 2
11 Utah 3
12 Penn State 1
13 Houston 2
14 Southern Cal 5
15 Ohio State 5
16 Pittsburgh 2
17 Miami (Florida)
18 Arizona 3
19 Virginia Tech 3
20 Oklahoma 2
21 Oklahoma State 6
22 South Florida
23 California
24 Auburn
25 Notre Dame
Last week's ballot

Dropped Out: West Virginia (#19), Central Michigan (#23), South Carolina (#24), Mississippi (#25).

Sunday 11/01 (Very) Quickie: Quack!

And that's the end of all that discussion of USC as a BCS contender. Thank freaking goodness. Don't you find it refreshing to see an end to USC's stranglehold on the Pac-10? Oh, I'm sure someone will find a reason to promote them for an at-large BCS bowl bid, but at least it won't be the Rose Bowl. (And it will be hard to pick USC ahead of Boise St, given that Boise beat Oregon head-to-head, but USC didn't. Although Boise DID win in Boise, and USC lost in Eugene...)

That's a good segue: In this week's BlogPoll, I'm vaulting Oregon over Boise State. The "head-to-head" argument only holds up until the "complete resume" overtakes it -- and, at this point, Oregon's resume is stronger than Boise's resume, even though Boise beat Oregon head-to-head. (On the other hand, Ohio State hasn't passed USC yet.)

Meanwhile, I think it's fair to say that Florida is back -- and so is Tim Tebow. It still isn't pretty, but it was finally dominating. (It helped that Georgia simply isn't a good team, although Georgia's loss to Tennessee was mitigated by Tennessee's whupping of South Carolina.) For better or worse, I think Tebow goes back to the top of the Heisman list -- those "double-double" (2 TD rushing/2 TD passing) games on national TV help.

Texas will be the No. 1 team on my Top 25 ballot. This was the toughest opponent they will face all year -- and the toughest circumstances -- and they just obliterated them. And if I had to pick the next-best team in the country, I'd stay in-state and take TCU (my No. 1 team last week). UNLV might not be any good, but TCU did exactly what you would want any contender to do to a sub-par opponent: Score a ton of points and shut the other team out. Done and done.

Last big point on college football: What to do about Iowa? I really thought they were going to lose at home to Indiana -- then again, I have thought they were going to lose virtually ALL of these games they go on to win.

Yes, they are winning ugly, but they are winning -- and doing it with the kind of character that if the name on the jersey was "Florida" in 2006 or "Ohio State" in 2002, we would be maintaining them near the top of the rankings. I just can't shake the idea that if they played another national contender, they would get punished. (No, Penn State doesn't count.)

More storylines this morning:

*The Yankees have all the momentum back. The bats are cranking, and they have CC going today on 3-days' rest -- and he's probably going to pitch even better than in Game 1. Cliff Lee will NOT be going on 3 days' rest... and the Phillies will likely pay for it. This games out as a Yankees' win for a 3-1 lead -- even if Lee pitches in Game 5 and wins, the Yankees go back to NYC for 2 games with a 3-2 lead. So maybe Game 3 *did* turn out to be "pivotal."

*NBA Last Night: How about those Rockets?... The Cavs are a much better team with Delonte West (then again, it was the Bobcats)... Brandon Jennings!... What does Gil Arenas mean for the Wiz? They can win games, even without Antawn Jamison AND Caron Butler.

Don't forget to set your fantasy rosters for NFL Week 8 today.

-- D.S.