Friday, March 09, 2012

03/09 (Northwestern) Quickie

Well, there will be no Northwestern in the NCAA Tournament bracket to trip up your picks. Even so, join the Quickish Readers group of the NCAA Tournament Challenge. Do it now!

So: About Northwestern. I'm trying to decide if I would have rather have had Northwestern not nearly be close to making the Tournament, rather than falling short in the way they did -- basically, by a single game. It didn't have to be yesterday's loss to Minnesota -- there were plenty of close losses against good teams throughout the course of the season. But it was right there: Just beat Minnesota, and NU was as good as in. (I read several bracket experts who said NU also needed to beat Michigan today, but that is a total mis-read of how it would have gone.)

It is epically disappointing. NU has never been this close. In the end, they had their chances. They controlled their own destiny. It was a game they should have won. They -- yes -- choked down the stretch. In the end, I'd rather be achingly close than not close, as painful as this is.

I think the way forward is pretty clear: It's time for Northwestern to fire Bill Carmody -- he has had 12 years to get the program into the NCAA Tournament (let alone turn them into a consistent Tournament team), and he has failed. It's that simple. Going over .500 for four straight years -- going to the NIT consistently -- it's just not enough. This year's team underachieved, and that is on the coach.

My dream would be for the smarties in Evanston to recognize that college basketball coaching salaries are dramatically undervalued -- that the $4 million Tom Izzo makes is a bargain relative to the value he creates.

I would love to see NU offer Butler's Brad Stevens or VCU's Shaka Smart $3 million a year over 10 years -- putting them in the Top 10 coaching salaries in the country, along with guaranteeing stability -- to turn Northwestern into the Duke of the Midwest.

Alas, I don't see NU being willing to pay up to get either of the two best young coaches in college hoops. Beyond that, I don't see Stevens leaving Butler for NU -- at any price, actually -- and I don't see Illinois being out-bid for Smart (even if I could make the case NU is a better job, long-term).

The alternative plan seems pretty obvious: Make an offer to longtime Duke assistant Chris Collins, who is more than ready to take over his own team.

Collins is from the Chicago suburbs, he is young and energetic (particularly in recruiting, where Carmody has been woeful) and he wouldn't cost a fortune. I could also see him being entirely comfortable with NU as a long-term home.

Let me continue fantasizing: He could make an instant splash by selling No. 1 high school prospect Jabari Parker on the idea of spending his one-and-done year in his hometown Chicago as the anchor for Northwestern's breakthrough team.

(Ironically, nearly 20 years ago, Northwestern nearly recruited lead Coach K assistant Tommy Amaker to take the NU job, only to see Amaker walk away when NU refused to allow him to recruit the same risky academic cases he was able to bring into Duke.)

If this season's epic let-down results in a regime change from the underwhelming Carmody era to a fresh start with Collins (or Smart or someone else), maybe some good can come of the bad.


*The Pac-12 deserves a single bid -- to its conference tournament champ. Its "bubble" teams (barely) -- Washington and Oregon -- both lost in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament yesterday, an utter (if predictable) humiliation.

*Big East: The conference-realignment stuff never really bothered me, but as a longtime watcher of the Big East Tournament, I will miss Syracuse's presence.

*Peyton will make up his mind next week: Entirely speculating, I'm going to say it's down to the Dolphins (who will offer the most money) and the Broncos (who would then ship out Tim Tebow to, say, the Jaguars). The Cardinals remain a dark horse.

Selection Sunday is so close. Join in the Tournament Challenge group and pop by Quickish for complete coverage of the bracket reveal and subsequent frenzy.

-- D.S.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

03/08 (Peyton and More) Quickie

Join in the annual Quickish Readers group of the NCAA Tournament Challenge bracket-picking game. Click here to join.

(1) Biggest day in the history of Northwestern basketball
: A win later today vs. Minnesota in the 1st round of the Big Ten Tournament all but assures NU of its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance. A loss? All but assures NU will miss the Dance. As big of a game as there is in college hoops today.

(2) Peyton-Colts Break-Up: Points for emotion, points for sincerity, points for handling it with maturity. You can respect Peyton's career and still recognize two important things:

*The Colts HAD to do this. Not only did it save them a ton of money on a questionable player but Manning -- for all his greatness -- was made obsolete by the chance to draft Andrew Luck to replace Manning immediately.

*I am baffled by the attention Manning is getting from other teams. I wouldn't touch him. He's expensive. He's a stop-gap -- at best. And, most of all, there is absolutely no guarantee that he will be "All-Pro Peyton." Hell, there's no guarantee he would be "Just OK Peyton." And there is no guarantee that even if he regains most/all of his arm strength, he'll even be able to play a full season, once defenses start hitting him.

The only team in a position to benefit from Peyton's upside while mitigating his downside is the Jets, who seem pretty ready to jettison Mark Sanchez after the 2012 season anyway, when Sanchise inevitably fails them. (Why wouldn't the Jets go big for Peyton, then try to trade Sanchez to a QB-starved team like the Redskins?)

(3) Congrats to LIU, Montana and Lehigh.

(4) Wizards inexplicably beat the Lakers: I was at the Wizards' win over the Thunder, and last night's Wiz win over the Lakers was arguably even more improbable (and just as satisfying), given the Wiz were down 20 in the 2nd half. Say this for the Wiz strategy: Good teams tend to get lulled into complacency while playing them.

(5) Two words: Lionel. Messi.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

03/07 (Peyton/Indy Split) Quickie

Peyton a little further below. First this...

(1) Join in the Quickish Readers Tournament Challenge group
. Do it now!

(2) This "Cubs win World Series!" ad is the best video you'll watch all spring.

(3) Congrats to Harvard on making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 60+ years. As a b-school alum, I get no claim, but my wife went there for undergrad (and is a huge NCAA Tournament fan anyway), so she is excited.

(4) I love March stories like Western Kentucky. Once 5-14 -- only the 7-seed in their own league tournament -- they stormed their way to the NCAA Tournament with a 15-18 record. It is the absurdity of the conference-tournament system that you can undo a season's worth of work by simply winning a few games in a row at the end, but I love it.

(5) The "apology" by Saints GM Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton felt more like "We're sorry we got caught" or "We're sorry you have a problem" than "We're sorry we did this."

(6) File it away: Randy Moss is going to have a great year when he returns to the NFL next fall.

OK, so Peyton splitting from the Colts:

*First, it's not like it's a surprise; we have seen this coming for months -- did Colts fans really think the team would keep Peyton, with all those risks and at that insanely high price and with the best QB prospect in the past 20 years available in the draft?

*Second, it's still entirely unclear Peyton will be able to handle the first time a linebacker rips him down by his neck, let alone the 20th or 30th time that happens.

*Third, teams still seem to be salivating at the prospect of having him, deluding themselves into thinking they'll get MVP-level Peyton, not out-of-football-for-a-year Peyton. Enjoy it, Dolphins/Redskins/Jets/Texans/whoever.

Today's divorce news conference is fascinating because of what Peyton has meant to the Colts franchise -- did the 49ers hold a joint owner-player press conference wishing Joe Montana the best before they jettisoned him for Steve Young? But it's about nostalgia, not what's next.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The Tradition Continues: Quickie Readers Tournament Challenge Group is Now Open

Click here to join in the Daily Quickie Readers Tournament Challenge group over at

It's been renamed "Quickish Readers," but remains one of the longest-standing Tourney groups out there. It's always a lot of fun. I'd love to have you join in.

(And, as always, you can join any other groups you want -- just make the Quickish group one of them!)

03/06 (Bounty & Basketball) Quickie

This on-air name-check from "Around the Horn" yesterday nicely sums up my take on the Saints/Bounty scandal:

I'd point you to the Quickish "Saints Bounty" stream for a great collection of takes, but the conventional wisdom is that the Saints are going to get crushed -- and Gregg Williams is going to get REALLY crushed -- even if GM Mickey Loomis astonishingly keeps his job (it is assumed Sean Payton will not be fired, even if he gets suspended for, say, half a season).

The CW is also that the league would prefer to contain and isolate the situation -- the worst thing that can happen is a string of "But it happens everywhere!" comments (and, from players, "We're fine with it!") This is partly why I think they'll obliterate Williams. Again: It's not that I think they'll give him a lifetime ban, explicitly -- I think they will, in addition to levying a suspension, make him unemployable.

The other big point is that this story isn't going away -- we've got weeks until the suspensions are laid down, then months of "how will that impact the team." And that's not even counting any new revelations that pop up, now that reporters know that fans can't get enough of hearing if their team participated in bounties. (Let's remember: What appears to set this Saints/Williams one apart was how institutionalized it was. This isn't a loosey-goosey, everyone-throw-$100-in-a-hat thing; this was part of a coach's strategic plan.)


*VCU is back! No Bubble drama for Shaka Smart and the Rams this year -- they will return to the NCAA Tournament to follow up last year's Final Four run by winning their conference tournament. It is Drexel's turn to sweat it out; I think Drexel is in.

*Loyola (Maryland) is in the Tournament! It's been a long time for the school, which has gone from bottom-feeding to brackets under longtime Maryland assistant Jimmy Patsos, who is as big of a character as you'll find in college basketball.

*Syracuse is in trouble! (Kind of! But not really!) "College athletes smoke pot" has to be one of the flimsiest bits of sensationalism you'll find this year in sportswriting. Pay close attention to Dan Wetzel's column that frames the story by putting the emphasis where it belongs: On the NCAA's broken system.

*Drew Brees is pissed! As if the Saints didn't have enough to think about (although I'm sure they love that there is a football story to talk about, rather than a national scandal). Can't imagine the team doesn't eventually give him a long-term deal.

*Matt Flynn is on the market! The Packers didn't tag him, so any team can sign him without worrying they would need to give Green Bay a high draft pick. The Dolphins are presumptive front-runners for him (although they really want a splashy import like Peyton Manning or RG3). Surprisingly, the Browns were reportedly in the mix to try to make a deal with the Packers for him. If the Browns drop out of the RG3 race -- and with their current mix of picks, they could give Flynn hot new rookie receivers like Justin Blackmon and Alshon Jeffery from Day 1 -- then the Redskins become the clear leader to trade for the rights to draft Griffin.

*The Big East Tournament starts today! The grandaddy of 'em all, so big that the top 4 teams in the league get to sit out TWO rounds before playing, leaving the rest of them in a scrum that starts today. The team to watch, of course, is UConn -- sitting on the right side of the Bubble, but if they lose today, could be out. If they win, their inclusion in the field is mostly presumed, even if they can't get past West Virginia in the league's "pre-quarterfinals" tomorrow. (Yes, it's that big.)

Give Quickish a look today. Great stuff being tipped all day long.

-- D.S.

Monday, March 05, 2012

03/05 (Bounty, Cont'd) Quickie

Let's re-affirm the core issue with the NFL's "bounty" scandal: It is not a sports story; it is a "Today Show" story.

Translated, that means this is one of those issues that goes beyond the interest of hard-core fans -- it is too easy to translate and understand (or, perhaps, misunderstand) to casual or non-fans. "Bounties" seem unfair and against the spirit of competition; that the players impacted by the bounties include the biggest stars in the league -- Brett Favre and Peyton Manning -- only makes them that much more accessible to average folks out there just trying to figure it out: "You mean the coach paid them to intentionally hurt Peyton Manning?"

That makes it even more of a p.r. problem for the NFL than it is a competition problem. Oh, make no mistake: The two are intertwined. Everyone is going to get punished.

But it means that it is in the NFL's best interests to frame the issue around a core bad actor (Gregg Williams), with levels of punishments dished out in concentric circles (suspensions for GM Loomis, coach Payton and players; lost draft picks at the organization level).

I have been saying that I think that Gregg Williams will get a lifetime ban from the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell (whom Williams meets with at NFL HQ today, in a conversation that will likely be frank and brutal -- and better include 100% transparency from Williams).

Let me revise that, slightly: I think Gregg Williams is finished in the NFL. Whether the NFL gives him a lifetime ban (which is as harsh of a punishment as they could deliver) or merely makes him unemployable (via onerous suspension or implied warning to teams that might hire him), his career is over -- it is a de facto lifetime ban.

The many layers of the story -- what will the punishments be? how will they impact the season? will other teams emerge in the story? does it reach to the college and h.s. levels? -- means that Friday was only the kickoff. Today it will get bigger, and when the punishments are levied, it gets even bigger than that. It is the biggest scandal the league has dealt with in a generation (maybe a few generations), and because of the NFL's place in sports, it means it is massive.

Keep up with the Bounty story through Quickish's stream

More from an absolutely loaded sports weekend:

*NCAA Tournament:

-Northwestern might have moved off its hyper-tenuous spot as "Last Team In" to merely the top of "Last Four In," but their Tournament hopes still depend entirely on a (winnable) first-round Big Ten Tournament win over Minnesota...

-It doesn't seem fair that the loser of the Drexel-VCU CAA title game will get shut out of the NCAA Tournament; the loser deserves an at-large spot. (Should this year's runner-up get credit for last year's run by VCU? Hell yes.)

-Kentucky (which decisively beat Florida to finish 16-0 in the SEC this season) will be the overwhelming favorite to win the national title (as they should be) -- I could see upwards of 80% of people nationally picking UK to win it all. It's hard to look at the landscape and see another team that could knock them off; even if Kentucky's shots aren't falling, its defense is so good that it will stay close enough to muscle its way past anyone. But in dismantling Duke, UNC seemed to showcase the profile to get it done (even if they couldn't on the deck of the aircraft carrier in November).

*Rory is No. 1: You can guarantee that Rory took a special (and immense) amount of pleasure in beating Tiger Woods in as close of a head-to-head match-up at the top of the leaderboard as they have ever had, especially because it vaulted McIlroy to No. 1 in the world, a spot Tiger used to have a lock on.

*NBA: Take your pick of great stories -- Deron Williams scoring 57? Rajon Rondo pulling out one of the most dominant triple-doubles of the past few decades? Kobe leading the resurgent Lakers past the Heat? Sunday was an amazing day in the NBA.

*NFL Offseason: Texans lock up Arian Foster. He is the face of the franchise and one of the most valuable players in the NFL, but that sure defies the trend that overinvesting in a "franchise" running back is an outdated idea.

*MLB: Pirates lock up Andrew McCutcheon. Even the woeful franchises need a centerpiece star, and McCutcheon is one of the best young players in the league. Still buy into a notion popular on Twitter when the deal was announced that it's unlikely he makes it to the end of the deal in a Pirates uniform; he is too valuable and could bring way too much back in return.

Big weekend behind us. Big week ahead. Pop by Quickish to keep up with all of it.

-- D.S.