Monday, 5 September 2011

Who Is The Third Best Team in the Big Sky?

This was originally posted on Big Sky Basketball.

From what I have seen, read, and know about the Big Sky, Weber State and Montana look like they will be ranked 1-2 in the conference this season, and in my mind, they look like the favorites. But the race is wide open for third. Ranking from (in my opinion and subject to change!) least likely to most likely:

- S State - It will be a tough season for Coach Katz. They were one of the worst offensive and defensive teams in the country last year, and I'm not sure there is a lot of reason to be more optimistic this season. Dylan Garrity looks solid, but there are simply not a lot of impact players on the Hornets roster.

- Idaho State - By all accounts Joe O'Brien is almost definitely on the way out after this season, so he will try to make it count. He shouldn't expect any miracles. He lost his two best players, and while there are some decent players back, the cupboard is not too well stocked right now. A lot of their hopes will rest on how quickly Melvin Morgan can become the leader of the team.

- Northern Arizona - In my opinion, spots 3-7 are all pretty close, and things could go any direction. I wouldn't want to bet against Mike Adras, but NAU did lose some good talent off a team that finished 4th in the conference. Gone is Cameron Jones and Shane Johannsen, with no clear replacements for either. Gabe Rogers will be called upon to be the star, and he does have the talent to the an All BigSky performer. Perhaps the biggest key will be the development of Danny Cheek, one of the top incoming recruits in the Big Sky. If he can be productive early, NAU will be very competitive.

- Northern Colorado - It is tough predict what UNC will do this season after losing 4 key contributors, notably Devon Beitzel and Neal Kingman. They have some talent and BJ Hill put together a nice recruiting class, but it is a team that relied heavily on Beitzel last year, so there will be an adjustment period. Who will step up and be the go-to guy for the Bears? I'm guessing even the coaches are wondering at this point.

- Eastern Washington - There are a lot of unknowns with a new coach, so it will be interesting to see how things play out for Jim Hayford (last year's first year coach in the Big Sky was BJ Hill, and that turned out ok). EWU has a lot of solid returning guards, and they have brought in a solid recruit in Collin Chiverton. If their frontcourt can produce, they will be dangerous.

- Montana State - The Bobcats will be very interesting, as they will be bringing in a ton of talented new guys, so they will be as good as the team can learn to play together and Brad Huse can find a consistent rotation. The word is that Antonio Biglow, one of their most highly rated newcomers, might not play until January (if he plays this year), which is definitely a blow. Still, JUCO wings Jamie Stewart and Xavier Johnson-Blount should be a nice duo. They have the talent to be one of the best teams in the Big Sky, but it is difficult to say how quickly Huse will be able to mold the talent.

- Portland State - Craw's Corner really opened my eyes that they could be the third best team in the Big Sky, and it seems like they now have the talent to do it. Two solid holdovers are Charles Odum and Chehales Tapscott, both seniors with a year of Big Sky experience under their belt. Lateef Mcmullan looks like he will be a nice contributor right away, Michael Harthun is ready to play after sitting out a year (after a transfer from Washington State), and Brandon Cataldo could be a big contributor if he is healthy. The Vikings are a bit of a darkhorse, but if they can find a way to improve the defense from last year, they will be dangerous.

Would love to hear thoughts on who everyone else thinks will be the third best team in the Big Sky. I also have a poll up, so please vote, and leave your reasoning in the comments. I think it could be a pretty fun debate.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Time for University of North Dakota to Drop The Fighting Sioux Nickname

Originally posted on Big Sky Basketball.

The University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux are set to join the Big Sky officially on July 1, 2012, but that may be in jeopardy.

For as long as I can remember (I am a UND graduate), there has been an intense nickname debate raging at North Dakota. The current nickname is the Fighting Sioux, and that has drawn angst from the NCAA. They have placed sanctions on the athletic programs, forced them to change their names, and it has had some affect on scheduling.

For a while, it looked like the issue was settled. Then the North Dakota legislature stepped in, telling the University to continue to use the nickname. It was seen as a short-term stopgap as they tried to continue to battle the NCAA on the issue.

All of this has come to a head though, as the Big Sky has told UND that continued use of the nickname could be an issue for the school joining the conference:

UND President Robert Kelley was told last week that continued use of the Fighting Sioux name and logo as mandated by a new state law has become a "concern" for them and could jeopardize UND's joining the conference next year.

As an alum, I love the nickname, and the history and tradition that goes along with it. But it is time for it to change. At best, keeping the nickname would keep the situation contentious and would probably still cause some scheduling issues. At worst, it could keep UND out of the Big Sky, which would be disastrous for the athletic program.

President Robert Kelley is doing what he can to change the nickname, let's hope the legislature follows suit. Otherwise, we could have one less team joining the Big Sky in July 2012.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

The Story of Jimmy Butler

Jimmy Butler is a basketball player that played at Marquette for the past few years, and he looks to be drafted in the NBA Draft in a couple of weeks. But that is not what makes him special.

I read this article on him the other day, and it is amazing the things he has overcome.

"His story," one GM said. "is one of the most remarkable I've seen in all my years of basketball. There were so many times in his life where he was set up to fail. Every time, he overcame just enormous odds. When you talk to him -- and he's hesitant to talk about his life -- you just have this feeling that this kid has greatness in him."

Butler is fine with that interpretation. But there's another one that he fears.

"Please, I know you're going to write something. I'm just asking you, don't write it in a way that makes people feel sorry for me," he said. "I hate that. There's nothing to feel sorry about. I love what happened to me. It made me who I am. I'm grateful for the challenges I've faced. Please, don't make them feel sorry for me."

Pity hasn't gotten Butler anywhere in life. Courage has.

Check it out and get inspired.

Monday, 2 May 2011

NBA Playoffs Round Two Predictions

With the second round underway, some predictions:

Bulls over Hawks in 6 games
The Hawks won Game 1, but I think the Bulls are simply the better team. Derrick Rose is the best player in the series, and the Bulls are the better defensive team. When you have the best player and better defense, you're usually going to win.

Heat over Celtics in 5
Suddenly the Celtics are showing their age, and they seem to be lacking a true identity ever since they traded away Kendrick Perkins. The Heat are still not firing at all cylinders (maybe next year when they are more used to playing together), but they are easily playing well enough to win this series.

Thunder over Grizzlies in 7
The Grizzlies dominated game 1, but I am not sure they quite have the firepower to bea the Thunder 4 times. The interior defense of OKC is too good to get abused by Zach Randolph like that every game. The Grizz have solid perimeter defenders to slow down Kevin Durant, but he is too good to be contained.

Lakers over Mavericks in 7

Dallas was game 1 in LA, giving them an upper hand early. But I like the Lakers to win, as they are too good down low. Tyson Chandler is as good as they come defensively down low, but he needs to more help, and I am not sure he will get quite enough on the defensive end. Pau Gasol needs to be huge in this series, and I think he can.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

NBA First Round Playoff Predictions

The playoffs are once again among us... some predictions for the first round.


1 Chicago over 8 Indiana in 4 games
The Bulls are the more complete, talented team. They are better offensively and defensively. This should be the least interesting series in round 1.

2 Miami over 7 Philadelphia in 5 games
As much as I want to see the 76ers pull one out, it is not going to happen. They don't have the firepower to hang with the star-studded Heat. Iggy can only guard LeBron or Wade.

3 Boston over 6 New York in 7 games
The Celtics come limping into the playoffs, trying to find an identity again after the Kendrick Perkins trade. Funny things can happen when the Knicks get into the playoffs... Game 7 in Boston, though, gives them the advantage.

4 Orlando over 5 Atlanta in 6 games
I'm not sold on the Magic as legitimate contenders, but I think they have the firepower to overtake the Hawks.


1 San Antonio over 8 Memphis in 6 games
This is an intriguing game since people think the Spurs are a weak 1 and the Griz a strong 8, but reports of an upset have been greatly exaggerated. The Spurs still have the big 3, and Manu Ginobili will be the best player in this series.

2 Los Angeles over 7 New Orleans in 5 games
If David West were healthy, this might be an interesting series. As it is, I don't see the Lakers faltering, even as poor as they have played down the stretch.

6 Portland over 3 Dallas in 7 games
The upset of the first round, I like the more athletic Blazers to take down Dallas, even though Dirk is playing as well as anyone in the NBA. The Mavs need Tyson Chandler to be huge in this series, but I am not sure he is up to it.

4 Oklahoma City over 5 Denver in 6 games
It should be the most entertaining series in the first round, as both teams get out and run. The difference is that one of these teams have Kevin Durant, and one does not.

What are your predictions?

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Sweet 16 Predictions

With 2 (or 3, depending on who you ask) rounds complete, it is time to make some predictions on who will make the Final Four.


1 Ohio St over 4 Kentucky

The Wildcats are just as talented as the Buckeyes, but there is no making up for the experience difference. When toughness is needed, I trust guys like William Buford, David Lighty, and Jon Diebler more than I trust anyone on Kentucky.

2 North Carolina over 11 Marquette
I think UNC caught a bit of a break when Marquette knocked off Syracuse, because UNC would have struggled with the Orange zone. Buzz Williams is one heck of a coach, so expect this to be a tight game, tighter than the talent difference would indicate. But in the end, Marquette doesn't have anyone as good as Harrison Barnes.

1 Ohio St. over 2 North Carolina
Much like the Buckeyes previous game against Kentucky, the Heels have the talent to stick with Ohio St., but not the experience. Buckeyes will not be denied, as nobody has looked better so far in the Tourney.


1 Duke over 5 Arizona

Arizona is very fortunate to have gotten this far. They needed a last second block by Derrick Williams to get past Memphis (when there arguably could have been a foul called on the rebound), and they needed a 5 second call on Texas (which arguably should have been a timeout granted for the Horns) before their winning basket. Derrick Williams is the X Factor, because he is playing as well as anyone in the country, but Duke just has too many horses for Arizona to stick around.

2 San Diego St over 3 UConn
The Aztecs won perhaps the worst March Madness double OT game in history, but don't hold it against them, they simply win. They got a bad game from their star and still beat a good Temple team. Against SDSU's big and athletic front line, Kemba Walker could find those holes to the basket closing more quickly than he is used to.

2 San Diego St over 1 Duke
If there is anyone that Duke is susceptible to, it would be an athletic team with a talented front line. The Aztecs fit that bill. While Duke will have a decided edge in the backcourt, look for SDSU's frontcourt to take command. Also, this game will be in Anaheim, making it a virtual home game for the winner of the Mountain West.


1 Kansas over 12 Richmond
Richmond is a great story, but they simply don't have the horses to compete against KU. The Jayhawks will be able to throw plenty of athletes at Kevin Anderson, and the Spiders need big things from him to advance. Not going to happen.

11 VCU over 10 Florida St.
The Seminoles were extremely impressive in their win over Notre Dame, but they had perhaps their best offensive game of the year, something we have not seen consistently from them. I don't think we will see it again this week. VCU is playing as well as anyone.

1 Kansas over 11 VCU
Don't feel bad for Shaka Smart though, he appears ready to cash in on a big payday.


4 Wisconsin over 8 Butler

Everyone (including myself) underrated the Badgers for their miserable Big 10 performance, but this is a very quality team. They don't turn the ball over, are efficient on offense, and have two studs in Jordan Taylor and Jon Leuer. This will be a slow game and won't be one to tell the grandkids about, but I like Wisconsin. First to 50 wins.

3 BYU over 2 Florida
Don't underestimate Jimmer. Not sure how BYU will be able to slow down Florida inside, but I like them to get up and down, and for Jimmer to score just enough. Hopefully we get another game like their first round battle last season.

4 Wisconsin over 3 BYU

The Badgers become the second Big Ten team in the Final Four, as Bo Ryan shows his genius by controlling tempo and frustrating Jimmer.

What are your picks?

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Early Conference Tournaments

On Saturday, three conference tournaments played their championship game, meaning 3 teams clinched their spot in The Big Dance. A quick look at all of them.

Big South - UNC-Asheville
They took care of top seeded Coastal Carolina, who was decimated by injuries and suspensions (they had 8 active players). UNC-Asheville was the 3 seed out of the Big South, and they took out 6th seed Charleston Southern and 7th seed High Point before taking down Coastal Carolina. Despite being a 19 win team, look for them to potentially be in the play-in game. They could win that, but their chances of winning a Tourney game are minimal.

Atlantic-Sun - Belmont
The Bruins are about to become very popular in America. That is because they are a 30 win team that has lost to Tennessee twice, Vanderbilt, and one fluky conference loss to Lipscomb. Other than that, they are unblemished on the season, and won their conference championship by 41 points over North Florida (who was the 6 seed in the conference). Look for Belmont to a be about a 13 seed and a popular upset choice in the first round.

Ohio Valley - Morehead St.
The Eagles are led by Kenneth Faried, one of the best big men in college basketball and one of the best rebounders in recent college basketball history. Though the much anticipated rematch with Murray St. did not happen, it was still an entertaining game in their win over Tennessee Tech. While I am not sure if they have the guard play to spring an upset (Demonte Harper notwithstanding), I don't think any team is going to be eager to take on Kenneth Faried in the first round of the Tournament. It is fitting for the OVC Player of the Year to end his career playing in the Tourney.

Do any of these teams have a chance to win a game in The Big Dance?

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Book Review: Scorecasting

I was fortunate to get a copy of Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports Are Played and Games Are Won, and it is a book that I have been enjoying immensely.

The book is like the freakonomics of the sports world... it looks at common assumptions in sports (homefield advantage, does defense win championships?, why coaches don't go for it on 4th down, etc) and why they are correct or incorrect. It gives strong statistical backup for all of their beliefs.

As a sports fan that also loves numbers (I am an accountant by trade), it has been a fascinating read. I have learned a lot about these commonly held beliefs, and certainly it will provide at least subtle changes to how I view sports and how I think about them.

If you like sports and like numbers, then I am confident in saying that you will enjoy this book.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Super Bowl Predictions

On paper, you couldn't really ask for a better Super Bowl.

We have star power, storied franchises, and rabid fan bases. Both teams are very good, and they are very complete teams.

The Packers are led by Aaron Rodgers, who is one of the most talented QBs in the NFL. He has a strong, accurate arm, and is sneakily one of the most athletic QBs in the League. They have a strong defense led by Clay Matthews, one of the best pass rushers out there. He is quick, fast, and has an attitude about him, leading their defense.

The Steelers are led by Ben Roethlisberger, one of the best playoff QBs you will find. He doesn't put up gaudy numbers, but he has a knack for making big plays when they are needed the most. He is a Super Bowl veteran and will be looking to add another to his trophy case. He is helped defensive by a strong LB corps, with James Harrison and Lamar Woodley, two hard-hitters and athletic defenenders.

In the end, I think Roethlisberger will make one more play than Rodgers. I like Mike Tomlin and the Steelers to be Super Bowl champions once again.

Steelers 27, Packers 24

Friday, 28 January 2011

Who should be the college basketball player of the year?

As we make our way into February, the POY race in college basketball seems to be down to three players: Kemba Walker, Jimmer Fredette, and JJ Sullinger.

Sullinger is probably in third right now, but that says more about the other two guys than it does about him. He is averaging about 18 and 10, and is the biggest reason why Ohio St is undefeated and ranked #1 even after losing Evan Turner, last year's POY. He is a force down low, and is the most skilled big man in college basketball. He is the best player on perhaps the best team in America.

Kemba Walker was the leader out of the gate, and he has done it all for Connecticut, who has been one of the big surprises of the country so far. He is averaging around 25 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals per game, which are ridiculous numbers on the college level. He has been one of the most clutch players in America, and has guided a young UConn team into the top 5.

Jimmer Fredette, though, is likely the leader in the clubhouse after his 43 point performance against 4th ranked San Diego St. He averages over 27 PPG, and has scored over 40 multiple times this year, even though he gets all of the attention from opposing defenses. He has BYU in the top 10 and looking like a potential Final Four team.

Who do you think the winner should be?