Friday, December 29, 2006

Assorted Peach Bowl Thoughts

And no, I'm not going to call it the Chik-fil-A Bowl, partly out of respect for tradition and partly because the Chik-fil-A at South DeKalb Mall wasn't open this morning when I was getting my driver's license renewed and thus, I was deprived the chicken biscuit that motivated me to get out of bed this morning. (Incidentally, I was in and out in ten minutes, which is the second straight time that I've had no problem getting my driver's license renewed. No one ever acknowledges the few occasions that state government shows itself the be efficient, so here's to you, State of Georgia! I digress.)

My initial caveat is that bowl games are inherently unpredictable for a host of reasons. The teams have been off for over a month, so it's possible that one or both will be stale when toe meets leather. With the hoopla surrounding bowl games, the preparation is totally different than for a normal game, further damaging the ability of players to focus. ("I know you're all tired after the knockwurst eating contest, but we have practice in ten minutes.") Seniors and NFL-bound juniors often approach bowl games with less than total intensity and with their minds elsewhere, so one or both teams might have players operating at half speed. Players sometimes return from winter break with Kuato bulging from their midsections as a result of Mama's cooking, adding another complication to the story.

I really should have passed on that last piece of pumpkin pie.

All that said, the bowl games this year have mostly followed form. Games that looked like mismatches beforehand like Oregon-BYU and Kansas State-Rutgers went like they were supposed to. Teams with lame duck coaches like Alabama and Arizona State played like you would expect them to: poorly. (I know the Tide came close against Oklahoma State, but who really thinks that their defense played up to its potential yesterday?) So maybe the better team really will win tomorrow night. And who is the better team? I'm glad you asked.

My initial inclination was to downplay the difference between Georgia and Virginia Tech because of Virginia Tech's "Bill Snyder's Wet Dream" schedule. With Southern Miss, Cincinnati, Kent State, and Northeastern comprising the non-conference slate and North Carolina and Duke, two of the worst BCS Conference teams, on the docket, Tech had six free wins and it wasn't as if the rest of their ACC opponents will be confused with Florida, Auburn, and Tennessee any time soon. Then I thought for a second about Georgia's schedule and remembered that I thought before the season that it also had six free wins: the Mississippi teams, Vandy, Kentucky, Western Kentucky, and UAB. The difference is that Georgia actually lost to two of its gimme opponents, whereas Virginia Tech beat all of their tomato cans quite handily and only lost to Boston College and Georgia Tech, a pair of nine-win teams.

And then I started to look at the numbers for the teams and that's when I really started to conclude that Virginia Tech is a better outfit. For one thing, Sagarin's predictor rating (the one that takes margin-of-victory into account) has Tech as a nine-point favorite over Georgia. Virginia Tech is the #12 team in the country according to the predictor rating; Georgia is #37. For another thing, Virginia Tech's defensive numbers are truly outstanding. I know that they played few, if any competent offenses this year, but still. The Hokies have allowed 29 points in their last six games. They threw four shutouts this year, held seven opponents to single digits, and held ten of their 12 opponents to 13 or fewer points. They're #1 in the nation in scoring defense, total defense, and yards per play allowed. They're #2 in the nation in pass efficiency defense and yards per pass attempt allowed. Even with their sucky offense, they average 1.2 yards per play more than their opponents. Georgia, by comparison, outgains their opponents by .99 yards per play.

Crap, he's back at it with the number talk.

So when I'm thinking about this game, the hope for Georgia against a defense that will likely present major, major problems for Matthew Stafford is to force Sean Glennon to turn the ball over and to capitalize on short fields. Georgia beat Auburn and Georgia Tech because it took advantage of two sub-standard quarterbacks and Glennon isn't any better than Brandon Cox, I'm not going to go that far. Unfortunately, it's not very likely that the Dawgs will dominate the Hokies in turnover margin. Georgia is 108th in the country in turnovers lost with 30; Virginia Tech is 32nd in the country (tied with Georgia) with 26 turnovers forced. Virginia Tech played extremely conservatively on offense this season, knowing that their defense could stop just about anyone from driving the length of the field, and thus, they didn't turn the ball over much (19 turnovers all year). (See: Tech's win over Virginia, which was stalemated trench warfare until Virginia made the first mistake with a critical turnover and then Tech bludgeoned the Cavs to death.) Tech was a team whose strategy and tactics jibed very well with the talent on hand. They had the perfect Frank Beamer team.

Georgia, on the other hand, ran Mark Richt's normal offense, with heavy use of the shotgun and multiple receiver sets. That was the right approach to take because: (1) Georgia's defense wasn't dominant and thus the offense didn't have the luxury of being conservative; (2) Georgia didn't play nearly as many dreadful offenses as Virginia Tech did; and (3) Matt Stafford is only going to get better if he has the opportunity to make the complicated reads that Richt's offense demands. Georgia does have more ability to come from behind that the Hokies do, so Georgia could profit greatly if they force turnovers early, take a lead, and force Virginia Tech to attempt to move the ball through the air. (See: Boston College and Georgia Tech games.) That said, it means that Georgia is likely to lose the turnover battle against the Hokies.

So that leaves Georgia with one other big hope for overcoming a superior opponent: dominating Virginia Tech on special teams. That oughta happen.

They do this a lot.

And another factor that should worry Georgia fans: look at what happened to the teams that played above themselves to win big rivalry games at the end of the season, namely UCLA and Texas A&M. Both of them upset their arch-rivals and clearly viewed those games as their big accomplishments for the season. Thus, they didn't take their bowl games seriously and laid huge eggs against Florida State and Cal, respectively. You think that Georgia might fall into the same category after they played far better against Auburn and Georgia Tech than they did for the rest of the season?

So in other words, no, I don't think that Georgia is going to win on Saturday night, but a loss won't erase the progress that Georgia made in the final games of the season and it won't mean that Matt Stafford is behind schedule or that the roof is collapsing on the program.

One aspect of the game that will interest me greatly is to see the approach that Georgia takes offensively. On the one hand, Richt might elect to be very conservative at the start, knowing that his defense can stop the Hokies and that avoiding turnovers is going to be critical. On the other hand, the combination of Neil Callaway (an offensive line guy) leaving, Mike Bobo (a quarterback guy) becoming the offensive coordinator and playcaller, and Matt Stafford being the future of the progam indicates that Georgia is going to be a more pass-oriented team in the coming years. Does this mean that Georgia is going to try to attack the Virginia Tech defense through the air? I don't think that the Hokies have seen an offense that effectively uses the tight end this year, so is the antidote to Tech's aggressive style heavy use of Martrez Milner over the middle? And have I turned into HeismanPundit by predicting the result of a game based on one team using its tight end more than the other? And if so, should I jump off the 17th Street Bridge or simply cower in my basement for a month?

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

I Know the Diners are Better in Jersey and all, but...

When I explain to people why I reflexively dislike New York teams, I usually start off with some sort of diatribe about how New Yorkers view their teams as being at the epicenter of the sports universe and that every player or coach would (or should) crawl on hands and knees to play in New York. (After that initial statement, I'll proceed to mention [in no particular order] Jeffrey Maier, the '86 Mets, the '94 Knicks and '95 Devils doing their best to make their respective sports unwatchable, Gary Thorne's fellatio of the Rangers marring the otherwise outstanding '94 NHL Playoffs, George Steinbrenner, Mike Francesa's inept stint as a studio college football analyst for CBS in the late 80s and early 90s, the San Diego assistant coach who got concussed by a flying piece of ice in a late-season game at the Meadowlands, and Derek Jeter Driven. I digress.)

Mike Lupica, for example, can be counted on to make a statement on just about every edition of The Sports Reporters. My favorite Lupicaism was his OUTRAGE! when Peyton Manning had the temerity to return to Tennessee for his senior season when he knew full well that the Jets had a high pick in the Draft and needed a quarterback. Lupica opined that Manning was missing the chance to play in "football nirvana" by staying in the Draft an extra year. Somehow, I suspect that Lupica has never been to Knoxville on a Saturday or else that exceedingly provincial statement might never have escaped his lips. I wouldn't care so much if Lupica was just a twerp writing for a paper in another city, but when ESPN holds him up as an analyst on allegedly national topics, then I have a right to expect a little more from him than the apparent belief that no one cares about football in Tennessee.

This little trip down memory lane was jogged this morning by a similar piece of FiveBoroughCentrism from some schmoe in the New York Post (HT: SportsFrog), who automatically assumes that Charlie Weis would would leave his self-professed dream job and come crawling to New York if the Giants offered him a position. Here's the offending paragraph:

The Giants were his dream job then, and the Giants would be his dream job now, maybe the only job that would lure him away from the dream job he has now.

I guess what annoys me so much about this statement, aside from the belief that Weis would do anything to coach in New York, is the underlying assumption that NFL jobs are inherently superior to college jobs, so it's obvious that Weis would surrender arguably the best job in college football for an NFL job that's pretty much the same as 31 other NFL jobs, save for the fact that there are 67 newspapers second-guessing everything you do as opposed to one or two. The statement touches the same nerve that ESPN's "Saturday: it's just two days until Monday and you can kill time by watching college games" ads touched this fall. Gee, do you think that Weis might decline the opportunity to coach the Giants and have Jeremy Shockey mouth off every time he doesn't get the ball? Or Plaxico Burress quit on every other route he runs? In other words, you think Weis might enjoy coaching players who are something other than verbose mercenaries? You think he's capable of opening a sports section and seeing how Romeo Crennel, the other highly-touted Patriots coordinator, is doing in Cleveland?

I'd love it if Weis actually took the Giants job because he scares me a little coaching Notre Dame. He clearly knows what he's doing offensively and if he ever has a Spurrier "Nebraska's players can't be THAT hard to tackle" epiphany that leads him to hire the modern version of Bob Stoops, he'll have an excellent product on the field. (The one area that would cause me concern if I were a Notre Dame fan is recruiting in the defensive front seven. Weis's weakness might be that he overrates the effect of a great offense and doesn't pay enough attention to the defensive side of the ball. See: Neuheisel, Rick.) That said, I just don't see him leaving Notre Dame in the next few years, no matter how much money the Giants throw at him.

Not a Good Period for Michigan Icons

Our only unelected president, the one who originated the phrase "our long national nightmare is over" that I use every time one of my teams ends a losing streak, is no longer with us. Despite being parodied as a purveyor of malapropisms (that's one expensive education rolled into one tidy sentence), Ford was a pretty good turner of a phrase. Unfortunately, something tells me that this quote following the Vietnam War is going to take on new meaning in a few years:

"Today, America can regain the sense of pride that existed before Vietnam. But it cannot be achieved by refighting a war that is finished as far as America is concerned."

And this op-ed from 1999 in support of Michigan's affirmative action admissions policies is one of the better defenses of the program I've read. The argument that the country would have been better off in terms of race relations if its leaders in the 40s, 50s, and 60s had attended better-integrated colleges and universities is a sharp one. But what am I talking about? Prejudice is a thing of the past...

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Words Fail Me

So how about some numbers for the Falcons' franchise player:

9 completions in 20 attempts, 109 passing yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions. Even if you add in his rushing yards and subtract his sack yardage, Vick accounted for 5.25 yards per play today against a team that objectively quit last week at home against Pittsburgh.

(Incidentally, I wanted to have a nice, pithy cap figure for Vick, but his deal is too damned convoluted for words. I think his cap number this year is $5.1M, but that understates his expense because he has received $37M in bonus money in the past two seasons and he has a ten-year contract, so if the Falcons ever try to get rid of him, they'll be hit with a massive cap hit as all that bonus money that's supposed to be spread out ovre ten years comes due at once.)

Today was a perfect illustration of all the limitations of Mike Vick's game, such as it is at this stage in his career. He was indecisive when dropping back to pass, leading to a number of instances when he had time to throw, but couldn't pull the trigger. The most obvious instance was on the team's penultimate drive, when he rolled right, found nothing, broke away from a rusher and came back left, only to run around left end for five yards. You can't tell me that none of the Falcons' receivers were able to break open when Vick came back to his left and the play was already about five seconds old. We've made excuses for Vick for the past several years because he's saddled with a mediocre receiving corps, but what about the reverse proposition? Isn't being a receiver for Mike Vick like playing pick-up basketball with a lead guard who never passes? At a certain stage, you just stop moving without the ball, right?

Then, on the final possession, the Falcons had a manageable third and four with 90 seconds to go and Vick simply threw wildly on a basic sideline route, overshooting an open Michael Jenkins. Vick then followed that up by having a pass batted by a defensive lineman several yards away from him on the final meaningful offensive snap of the season for Atlanta. Thus, Vick illustrated the inaccuracy that blends so nicely with his slow decisionmaking process. Yeah, I'm sure that the offensive suckitude is all the fault of Greg Knapp.

But hell, since this is one of the last times I'll get to mock Knapp, let's spend a moment on the Falcons' calls on short yardage plays. On at least two occasions today, the Falcons had 3rd and one plays on which they lined up in the I formation and predictably ploughed the ball into the middle, despite the fact that their undersized offensive line absolutely sucks at the basic running plays that are necessary in short yardage when a stretch play isn't going to work. Riddle me this: if the Falcons couldn't stop the Panthers from converting a number of third downs when they lined DeAngelo Williams, a running back with no discerable ability to throw a ball from point A to point B, at quarterback, then why can't the Falcons convert a third down when they are blessed with a quarterback who is at least as good a runner as Williams and can ostensibly complete passes? How uncreative can an offense be when it has Mike Vick and Warrick Dunn, yet it cannot convert in short yardage situations?

Of course, I'm not the only one knocking Knapp. Here's the Falcons' quarterback, showing his ability to take responsibility for a bad performance:

You just can't come out there and just try to wing it. I'm not saying that we did that, but either we've got to come out and throw the football or come out and try to establish the run.

Think about the stupidity of that statement for a second. For an offense to succeed, it needs to either throw or run, but it apparently can't do both. You sure about that, professor? And then, not content to simply blame his offensive coordinator, Vick then went on to blame the defense for allowing one long drive in the first quarter:

We kind of had a rhythm going, and to be over there for that length of time wasn't good for our offense.

Yes, it must be the defense's fault that the offense was held to three points. That damned defense that allowed 194 yards all game, including a whopping 11 yards passing. That's the reason we lost! Obviously. Well, that and your attempt to complete a pass to Laurie on third down with 90 seconds to go.

Gratuitous cheesecake shot so something positive comes out of this post.

And while I'm piling on Vick, how about the stat flashed yesterday that he hasn't thrown a fourth quarter touchdown pass in 18 games. I thought this guy was supposed to be clutch? What happened to the Vick who played the game of his life in the Sugar Bowl against Florida State? Now, when the Falcons fall behind, they're as dead as doornails. If that isn't a reflection on the quarterback, I don't know what is. The fact that Vince Young, as a rookie, already seems to be ahead of Vick is going to be an awfully touchy comparison for Michael this offseason.

Here's the worst part of yesterday: after their first drive, the Panthers basically gave up trying to score. Their offense looked like the Jeff Bowden offense with a little more commitment to the ground game; it was nothing more than runs and fly patterns. (See what you missed, Mr. Weinke?) The only innovative aspect was the direct snap formation to DeAngelo Williams and that would have been snuffed out by a good defense. So, with the Panthers doing the NFL equivalent of ten behind the ball after scoring an early goal, the Falcons could not manage any offense. How much do you suck when you lose when the opponent stops trying to score after taking a 7-3 lead at the outset of the second quarter?

And finally, a word about the Falcons' special teams, which were truly wretched yesterday. Despite the fact that Carolina could not cross the midfield stripe in the second half, the Falcons never had very good field position because the punt return unit was dreadful. There was one roughing the punter call on Demorrio Williams (seriously, does anyone in the NFL ever block a punt?) and then a series of weak returns that allowed Carolina to punt themselves out of trouble time and again. The one time the Falcons did manage a good return, it was called back because of an obvious clip on Michael Jenkins, who put his Ohio State education to good use by whacking a Carolina defender in the back. My memory of the play is a little fuzzy, but I think the clip had nothing to do with Allen Rossum breaking the return, so well done, Mr. Jenkins. It was fitting that the Falcons' season would end as the result of a screw-up by a wide receiver.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Outsourcing the Thrashers Analysis

Work and babycare duties have forced me to cut back on my sports consumption this winter and unfortunately, that's meant that I haven't been able to spend much time watching or thinking about the Thrashers (naturally when the team is finally good). Fortunately, my friend Ben is one year ahead of me on the propagation of children front and has been able to pay rapt attention to the local hockey collective this year. This is the first of what I hope is a regular feature on this page...


(My comments are interspersed in italics.)

I want to address the question you posed in your last e-mail first: is the Thrashers' 20-10-6 record a mirage because of their only +5 goal differential? (I read too much of the Baseball Prospectus and now I have to get all Pythogorean with the NHL.) Having watched just about all their games either live or on TV, I will say their record is not a mirage. In fact, they should be a touch better than their record. The goal differential matters a lot in the long run, and recently they have been a huge scoring slump (which I will get to later). Since the calendar flipped to December, they have been outscored by 12 goals, a fairly hefty number which has significantly reduced their differential. This has also coincided with their 5 game losing streak, and present 7 game streak in which the opposing team has taken at least 1 point from them. The points left on the table are obvious, Tampa on 11/24, and Washington on 12/5. In both of these games they allowed scores with fewer than two minutes to go. To sum up, goal differential is not all that bad considering what has happened in the past month. However, and there is always is a however, these losing streaks under Hartley are beginning to concern me. Three in the past calendar year of over 5 games.

My real concern is that the Thrashers have played well in October and November on a number of occasions (2000-1, 2003-4, and 2005-6) and then have been pegged back down to earth in embarrassing fashion when the rest of the league starts playing hard (not unlike Virginia Tech in the several years after Michael Vick when 7-0 would become 8-3 every November). I'm worried that the slumpy December is the real team and not the torrid October and November, but I don't watch every game, so take that with the salt in the Dead Sea.

I think there is one major problem on this team; lack of any support up the middle. Their centers are non-existent. Well maybe the exist, but the suck, and are very old. Mellanby is close to 40 and does not create chances for other players beyond the fore check. He is not a table setter. Holik and Rucchin are good defensive center men who win a ton of face-offs, but they also do not set up any easy goals for teammates. Kovy scores so many of his goals on the power play because he is set up at the point. I wish we had a center man who would do the same for him, otherwise I feel a funk developing. (As a side note, last year with Savard at center, Kovy had 52 goals, 27 on the power play with Savard setting him up there as well. This year he is only on pace for around 41 goals, and 21 on the power play, a significant decline). I don’t know if it is due to planning or frustration, but I have seen Kovulchuck carry the puck into the defensive zone much more recently. Granted he is much more under control than his younger years, but he is not having any success carrying the puck over the blue line and firing on goal from 40 feet with the net minder set in perfect position.

This implies that things aren't going to get a whole lot better as the season progresses unless the team trades for an offensive center who can play Adam Oates to Kovalchuk's Cam Neely or Petr Bondra. I don't really fault Don Waddell for this. The Thrashers' weakness throughout franchise history has been terrible defensive play and he's spent most of his picks and free agent money on improving that side of the ice. Now, the Thrashers are much better defensively with Lehtonen between the pipes and Sutton, Exelby, Havelid, Vishnevski, McCarthy, de Vries, and Coburn in front of him, the team doesn't ship goals by the bushel like they used to. The downside is that they spent their high picks on players like Lehtonen and Coburn and their cap space on a player like Vishnevski, so there wasn't money for Marc Savard. It seems impossible to put together a truly complete team in the NHL these days unless you absolutely rock in the Draft and/or find players who play far above their established value.

Hossa is having a great year, but if you watch, Kozlov is acting like a center for him, looking and finding him whenever they are on the ice together. I think we are getting shut down now because teams are getting accustomed to this and jumping all over him right when Slava has the puck. When the other teams' defensemen only have to concern themselves with two forwards on the Thrashers, stopping them is much easier. After his past two shootout performances, I really think Slava has a great shot and wish he would use it more, but then again, he is reduced to the role of the playmaker when Sim or Kapanen or Metropolit or Slater is on the same line as them.

Waddell has talked about making a move, and we have a few extra blue liners, so I hope he makes a move to get somebody, who is available, I have no idea what would work for the cap, but I would love one more dynamic offensive player, and then I will believe in our chances at winning the cup. In the meantime, I have seen our defensemen pinch a bit more the past few games in an attempt to keep up the fore-check and create offence. Coburn can do this because he is such a great skater, McCarthy is good as well. Look when they are paired and on the ice next time, they really jump into the play nicely. This style seems to really wind DeVries and Hnidy, so I hope they don’t have to keep doing it.

Sounds reasonable, but I worry about this style being dangerous at playoff time when the hockey is more defensive and the risks of pinching go up. Then again, just being able to discuss the Thrashers' style applying to the playoffs would be such a welcome treat that beggars can't be choosers.

For some reason, I have Mike Comrie in mind as a good addition to the team if he would fit under the cap. OK, I have him in mind because he's a Michigan guy, but he was the first player who popped into my head when I was thinking about a smallish, table-setting center to put alongside Kovalchuk and improve the Thrashers' scoring depth. He's currently toiling for the dreadful Coyotes, so he couldn't be that hard to acquire, could he? And we'd make Michigan grad Billy Jaffe happy...if only he was still the color guy for the radio feed. I loved watching Jeff Odgers fight and I treasure my Odgers bobblehead, but he doesn't exactly exude charisma over the air waves. And what happened to the sweet, bushy fu manchu?

Our schedule gets brutal pretty soon. We really need to win these next two because we go on the road for an extended period of time in January, come home for 7/8 and than go West for 7/9. The good news is that we finish with 11 out of 17 at home, so a final push sets up nicely if we can just get through the winter doldrums and not repeat last years Jan-Feb slide.

Having the last two Stanley Cup champs on the heavy rotation doesn't help, although Tampa is a shadow of their former selves without the Bulin Wall.

Here is what excites me about the Thrashers as a whole. The Hawks are not creating any kind of buzz, and with the huge blown lead this week, many fans are probably thinking same ol' Hawks, true or not. The Thrashers have a chance to capture this market and really build something. For all the talk about failure of hockey in this area, Carolina and Tampa have won big recently and they are both in the top half of the league in attendance, with Tampa at #3. The Thrashers have a real chance with the Falcons failure, and the Hawks mediocrity, to be front and center of the sport page every day with a little streak here. That is very exciting stuff. Now just get me a playmaker, and it will happen.

I totally agree with this. Although the Hawks are certainly a better story than they have been for the past couple years, if they don't string together some wins in the near future, they're going to be out of the playoff picture, such as it may be in the Eastern Conference, and mostly off the local sports radar. Once the Falcons' season ends with a loss in Philly, there's going to be a void that should be filled by the Thrashers. Tech basketball doesn't look terribly promising this year, and while the Georgia hoops team looks good, they've never moved the meter that much. Finally, the Braves' fan base isn't exactly geeked for the coming season with Time-Warner's complete non-chalance to improving the product, so the Braves aren't going to be a huge story in February and March.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

We Learn Two Things about Terrence Moore this Morning

1. He is capable of criticizing an African-American sports figure. For years, Braves fans noticed Moore criticizing certain players, typically Caucasian, and advocating for others, typically African-American. This morning, he's doing his inept best to rip Billy Knight, the one African-American general manager in town. I suppose one can come back with the argument that what he's doing is sticking up for Mike Woodson, the one African-American coach in town, by arguing that he doesn't have much to work with, but that seems unlikely to me. So kudos to Terrence for disproving a stereotype about his opinions.

2. Terrence still can't make an argument worth a damn.

Here's his effort at examining Billy Knight's record as Hawks' GM:

To see how far the Hawks haven’t come during their journey from self-inflicted implosion to wherever their slew of bosses say this franchise is headed, just study the other guys Wednesday night at Philips Arena.

After doing so, you’re allowed to scream as loudly as you wish.

Those other guys are the Utah Jazz. In 2003, the year before Hawks general manager Billy Knight did the right thing by blowing up the messy roster that he inherited, the Jazz prepared to go from sweet to sour notes on the court after the retirement of John Stockton and the departure of Karl Malone. If you combine those losses to the Jazz’s stated goal of rebuilding, you had their version of Knight ousting the likes of Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Jason Terry, Boris Diaw, Antoine Walker, Rasheed Wallace, Theo Ratliff and Al Harrington.

We're OK so far...

The thing is, while the Hawks are now closer to the cellar than the penthouse of the Southeast Division with the NBA’s worst overall roster not in Philadelphia, the Jazz are roaring among the elite at 18-7. Not only that, the Jazz have a three-game lead in the Northwest and a future as bright as the Hawks’ is cloudy.

And now we've completely blown it. The Hawks' roster isn't anywhere near the bottom of the NBA. What GM in his right mind would take the Knicks' roster, laden with similar players possessing untradeable contracts, over the Hawks', which has a number of promising young players and is cheap enough that the team has flexibility to go after free agents when the opportunity arises? Or take Minnesota's roster, which has one aging superstar, one promising young player, and then a series of dreadful players. I was hoping that Minnesota could trade for Iverson because Iverson and Garnett are two players who have never had the benefit of playing with another superstar and they deserve the chance to play with one another, but the Wolves had virtually nothing that interested the Sixers.

Why the contrast? Well, here are the CliffsNotes: The Jazz get it right more often than not when it comes to drafting, and the Hawks don’t. You also have that gambling thing. The Jazz aren’t afraid to seek the big payoff at the roulette wheel (Mehmet Okur and Carlos Boozer), and Knight prefers the nickel slots (Speedy Claxton and Lorenzen Wright).

This is just unbelievably wrong. Maybe Bobby Knight is right about journalists? First of all, Knight did sign one big ticket free agent during his tenure. You might have heard of this Joe Johnson fellow, Terrence. He's currently 5th in the NBA in scoring while shooting 50% from the field. Second, Carlos Boozer was viewed as a complete bust for his first two years in Utah, when he was overpaid, could not stay healthy, and was an essentially decent power forward when he was on the court. The fact that he's having a renaissance this year does not change the fact that if Moore was in Utah, he would have killed that franchise for two years for lavishing so much money on Boozer. Third, the fact that Utah has signed two big ticket free agents who, in Terrence's make-believe world, were great signings does not change the fact that the NBA's free agent market, like baseball, consists of players who typically get far more than they're worth. Remember when Knight was killed in the press for failing to acquire Sam Dalembert, Tyson Chandler, or Eddy Curry? Right now, the Hawks get equivalent production from the much cheaper Zaza Pachulia, while the Sixers can't offload Dalembert, the Bulls have offloaded Chandler, and Curry was a massive disappointment in New York last year. (He is playing better this year.)

To be fair, the Jazz had a shot to build walls and a roof around a solid foundation named Andrei Kirilenko. It’s just that the Jazz also had the guts and the wisdom to add paneling by giving $50 million to Okur and $68 million to Boozer as free agents. Now the three comprise one of the league’s most potent frontcourts.

In contrast, the Hawks don’t have one of the league’s most potent anything. Knight is so obsessed with not overspending on players that only the Charlotte Bobcats have a lower payroll than the Hawks’ $45.6 million. Plus, the Hawks are nearly $8 million under the salary cap, which means they have the money. They just don’t like to spend it.

See above. Knight has refused to spend money on free agents who tend to be massively overpaid. The one big ticket free agent that he signed has turned out to be better than any of us had hoped. Additionally, the Hawks have the young players and cap room to sign a free agent if a good one becomes available, but even if they don't, the Hawks have an extremely young team that should get better and better as time goes by. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that approach. For example, that's how the Bulls built their team and they only went after a pricy free agent (Ben Wallace) once they had assembled a young core and it had started winning. But since Utah is in town tonight, the Bulls don't exist.

It shows. Beyond Joe Johnson, the Hawks’ only legitimate star, at least five of their 12 players are marginal by NBA standards. Royal Ivey. Matt Freije. Cedric Bozeman. Esteban Batista. Solomon Jones. The Hawks also haven’t a starting point guard (again). Instead, they use a couple of career backups in Tyronn Lue and Claxton in that role. Josh Smith remains a project, and several of his teammates are constant reminders of what the Hawks should have done in past drafts but didn’t.

Here's the bottom of the Jazz's roster; let me know if any of these names are synonymous with "good":

Rafael Araujo
Jarron Collins
Derek Fisher
C.J. Miles
Roger Powell

As for the starting point guard issue, the Hawks brought Speedy Claxton in to be that guy. He's been hurt for much of the start of the year, so writing him off seems silly. This weekend, for instance, he had 10 points and 11 assists against the Bulls and 19 points and 11 assists against Memphis. Not bad for "not a starting point guard." Finally, the criticism of Josh Smith is interesting, since Knight took him with the #17 pick and Smith has significantly out-performed his draft position so far in his career. Ironically enough, Utah had the #14 and #16 picks in that Draft and came away with Kris Humphries and Kirk Snyder. Humphries is currently averaging 2.7 points per game for Toronto; Snyder is currently averaging 5.7 points per game for Houston. Billy sure screwed that pick up.

For instance: The Hawks made Shelden Williams the fifth pick in this year’s draft, and he has yet to impress. In fact, he has yet to do anything worth mentioning. That’s opposed to Rudy Gay, just named the Rookie of the Month in the Western Conference. He was picked in the draft by the Memphis Grizzlies — you know, right after the Hawks picked Williams.

Rudy Gay - 15.2 points per 40 minutes, 6.9 rebounds per 40 minutes, .385 FG%

Shelden Williams - 10.9 points per 40 minutes, 10.3 rebounds per 40 minutes, .435 FG%

And that leaves aside the facts that: (1) the Hawks could not take Gay with their existing roster; (2) I don't recall Terrence Moore screaming for Gay on Draft Night, so this smacks of "let me figure out which rookie is off to a fast start and rip the Hawks for not drafting him; and (3) judging draft picks on the basis of their first 20 games is typically a terrible idea. At this time last year, the Jazz were getting killed in the press for taking Deron Williams instead of Chris Paul.

Then there was the 2004 draft near the start of the Hawks’ rebuilding. They took Josh Childress, which was OK, when they could have selected from among Luol Deng, Al Jefferson and Andre Iguodala, which would have been better.

Childress, by either the model or the Wages of Wins model, is an extremely valuable player. He defends well, he rebounds, he moves without the ball, and he shoots at a very high percentage (.567 this year before he got hurt; .552 last year). The Hawks' stumble after a fast start can be attributed pretty closely to Childress's hairline fracture. If the Hawks start playing well when Childress returns, you think we'll see Terrence Moore acknowledge his mistake? I'll expect that right after he acknowledges that trading for Juan Pierre might have been a bit of a boo boo last year for the Braves.

No, I didn’t forget about 2005. I saved that draft for last. That’s when the Hawks took Marvin Williams instead of Chris Paul, the starting point guard that they still need and the former Wake Forest whiz who eventually was named Rookie of the Year for the New Orleans Hornets. Anyway, the Hawks also skipped over somebody else in that draft. We’re talking about Deron Williams, among the league’s most efficient point guards, and guess who was omniscient enough to get him?

The same team whose omniscience caused them to take Kris Humphries and Kirk Snyder in the 2004 Draft.

If you mentioned the Jazz, you may scream a little louder.

That said, the Hawks still have a chance to get it right. Come this summer, you’ll have stellar point guards Chauncey Billups and Mike Bibby as free agents. You’ll also have Vince Carter, Darko Milicic, Gerald Wallace and Rashad Lewis, all considerable talents, all available at the right price to turn the Hawks into something in the vicinity of the Jazz. Or at least farther away from resembling the Hawks.

Billups and Bibby would be interesting, but we'd have to see if they wanted to play for Atlanta. Rashard (that's with two "r"s, Terrence) Lewis would be interesting if he could play the four, but he'd likely add to the logjam at the forward spots. Still, he's an excellent player, so I wouldn't be totally opposed to signing him. Vince Carter is an inferior version of Joe Johnson: a scorer who doesn't get to the line that much, only Vince shoots a signficantly lower percentage and is also an insufferable ass. What is it about Darko's 7.5 ppg that makes him so appealing? Gerald Wallace is a small forward and no improvement over Josh Smith. He'd likely sit on the pine behind Smith, Childress, and Marvin Williams, so yeah, Terrence, that would be a great idea, just like everything else you've advanced in this totally unsupported, worst form of Monday Morning Quarterbacking that you call your livelihood.

Look, if the point is that Utah has rebuilt faster than Atlanta and we all wish that the Hawks looked like the Jazz right now, then yes, that would be reasonable. If you want to criticize Billy Knight for taking Marvin Williams over Deron Williams or Chris Paul, then that's fine too. Marvin might turn out to be a great player and that will lessen the magnitude of the mistake, but Knight still passed on a chance at two excellent players at a hard-to-fill position for an excellent (we hope) player at an easier to fill position. If the Hawks don't show improvement this year (35 wins or so) or don't make the playoffs next year, then Billy Knight will likely be fired for that mistake. (Or, the Hawks' owners could lose in Belkinkampf! Scheisse! and then Knight will be gone the next morning.)

That said, Knight has made some excellent decisions, namely: (1) identifying Joe Johnson as a free agent target and overpaying to get him; (2) drafting Josh Smith 17th in the 2004 Draft; and (3) signing Zaza Pachulia at a very reasonable price while passing on a number of free agent centers who turned out not to be worth the contracts that they signed. I'd probably add drafting Josh Childress to the list of successes, as he's really won me over. In making a limited point, Moore completely loses the plot and makes a series of one-sided arguments with little or no basis. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

That Sucked, Part Two

The Hawks blew leads at the end of regulation and overtime on Saturday night to blow a winnable game against Chicago. I have a theory on why the Hawks struggle so much in end-game sitations. Most NBA teams attack on those possessions by getting the ball to their best penetrator to either score or draw contact, usually the latter (real or imagined in Dick Bavetta's mind's eye). In those situations, the Hawks get the ball to Joe Johnson, who is an excellent scorer but he's not great at attacking the basket and getting to the foul line. The solution, ultimately, will be Marvin Williams maturing into the guy who has the ball in his hands at the end of a close game.

Incidentally, there's unfortunate, very unfortunate, and then there's watching Ben Wallace hit two free throws to tie the game in the final minute.

That Sucked, Part One

I'd like to tout my "take the Cowboys on Saturday night as long as the spread is less than seven" pick from last week, but then I remember that I'm supposed to like the Falcons and the franchise is not looking good right now on a number of different levels. (Incidentally, I will mention that I got a good chuckle out of the Mayhem in the AM hosts repeatedly stating that they viewed the game as a toss-up. They illustrated everything I have ever said about human beings and recency...but I'm not getting sucked back into the Florida/Michigan thing again...but I'm so tempted to take a shot...but the title of this blog...but I'm still feeling stabby about it...there, it passed.) Let's examine how the game was an indictment of the management of the franchise right now:

Arthur Blank - I've been out of town for the past couple days, so I haven't heard the full extent of the local reaction to Jim Mora's plea for the Yoo-Dub job, but does anyone else get the sense that Mora actually wants to be fired? Initially, I thought that Mora had again demonstrated that he has a lack of self-control, which is in itself an indictment of his coaching. But then, I thought that his statements were over the top even for a Mora. No one actively states that they covet another job...unless they want to give their current boss a reason to fire them. Take Mora's statement alongside his father's statement that Mike Vick is a coach-killer (and I always thought that that statement was more calculated than Daddy let on) and you have a lot of smoke for the "Mora wants out of Atlanta" fire. What I can't figure out is why Mora would need to force Arthur Blank's hand as opposed to simply resigning at the end of the year? Contractual reasons relating to the cause of termination, perhaps?

And why would Mora want out of Atlanta? It wouldn't have anything to do with having an owner who insists on talking to him during fourth quarters, even when the game is close, would it? That seems to be the most likely culprit, with the second being that Mora is totally wedded to Greg Knapp and has recognized that his quarterback is an ill-fit for Knapp's offense. 2a would be that Mora believes that Vick is a conundrum because he's likely to get injured in the offense that is best-suited to his talents: the Texas/West Virginia read-option system.

Rich McKay - Let's look at how the big ticket performers on the Falcons' defense played on Saturday night as the Cowboys shredded Atlanta for 31 points, including a soul-crushing 11-play, 80-yard march in the fourth quarter to salt the contest away.

Edgerton Hartwell - Notable only for the number of occasions that Marion Barber II ran right through him. Life's not so grand without Ray Lewis next to you. He's turning out to be the Peerless Price of the defense, with Eric Moulds replacing Lewis in the last sentence for Price.

DeAngelo Hall - Yes, that was the Falcons' top ten pick getting roasted by Terrell Owens on Saturday night. I'll say two exculpatory things about Hall, at least as pertaining to the decision to draft him. First, Hall was quite capable of handling Terrell Owens in the 2005 opener against Philly, so he might have regressed this year, which is on the coach rather than the GM. Check that, Hall has absolutely regressed this year. Second, it probably isn't a good idea to judge Hall based on a game in which he was covering one of the best receivers in the NFL (when he's not dropping the ball) with minimal safety help. I'm not sure if the Falcons' safeties were preoccupied with preventing the festival of points that would have been Allen Rossum covering Terry Glenn without assistance or if they were blowing their assignments. And speaking of Rossum, McKay has done a positively lousy job of stocking the cornerback position. I know that Rossum was supposed to be a dime corner, but does anyone think that Jason Webster was going to do any better against Glenn?

John Abraham - Did he play on Saturday night? I can't recall.

Rod Coleman - The one Falcon defender who acquitted himself well on Saturday night, although I would want to re-watch his performance on that final drive to see if the Cowboys were gashing his spot. Dick Vermeil was all over Coleman's good play in the first half. Why is it that Vermeil knows more about football than any of the schlubs calling college or pro games and yet he's relegated to the back-up spot on NFL Network? The Danielson-Vermeil-Jaworski crew that called the San Diego-Oakland game to start the year was outstanding, so naturally, we haven't heard from any of them again.

Jim Mora - If you have indeed decided that you want to leave and used your interview with your college roommate as a platform to make that escape come true, could you have maybe done so at a time other than the Thursday before the biggest game of the year? And could you be any more bush league to openly state your affection for a job that's currently filled? Are you taking advice from Glen Mason? Schmuck.

Greg Knapp - If your offense gets thwarted running the ball on third and one, don't you think that a pass is a pretty obvious call on fourth down? And don't you think that rolling Mike Vick out to the left is even more obvious? Just asking.

I can't wait for the Falcons to beat the dead man walking that is Carolina to get to 8-7 and then promptly lay an egg in the finale in Philadelphia. That is unless the team has a collective mutiny because the coach obviously wants to be elsewhere and the Falcons-Panthers game turns into the Bowl.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Giles for Nothing

Two years ago, I was hoping that the Braves could lock up one of Marcus Giles or Rafael Furcal for the long term because I really enjoyed having the two of them manning the middle of the infield for the Braves. Last year, I was assuming that Giles would end up leaving the Braves after the 2007 season in the same way that Furcal left after 2005: in a blossom of insane free agent dollars from a team with more money than sense like the Cubs or Dodgers. Today, Giles is gone without a peep, as the Braves declined to offer him arbitration because they didn't want to pay him roughly $5M.

First and foremost, this is another bad sign for the direction of the team under Time-Warner (and possibly Liberty Media, if they have a hand in decision making as owners-in-waiting). In December 2002 when the Braves had to offload Kevin Millwood for pennies on the dollar because they couldn't afford to keep him and Greg Maddux, I first recognized that the Braves were not operating as a big market team anymore. And so it's been for the past four years, as the club has waved goodbye to Gary Sheffield, J.D. Drew, Rafael Furcal, Javy Lopez, Greg Maddux, and Tom Glavine because, on each occasion, the team did not have the resources to compete with a bigger market team. In the past two years, the situation has gotten so dire that they lost the much-beloved Julio Franco to the Mets (and he wasn't exactly expensive), they lost Tom Glavine despite the fact that he apparently wanted to come back because they couldn't even make an offer for him, and now they've lost Marcus Giles because they couldn't fit a $5M contract into their payroll.

I've always shied away from the "corporate ownership sucks!" line of thinking, mainly because the Falcons were always the worst-run franchise in town and they were family owned for years, but it's getting hard to ignore the fact that Time-Warner is bad for the team. Either that or Braves fans are finally being punished for lukewarm attendance. Oh, and the third factor is that TBS used to be a huge asset for the Braves, but because of declining ratings and MLB jacking up the rights fees for national cable systems, it no longer provides Atlanta with a significant revenue stream.

The worst aspect of the Braves' extreme tightfistedness is that revenue is apparently exploding for the rest of baseball. Because of new revenue streams such as satellite radio and web broadcasts, as well as good deals from ESPN and Fox, teams are rolling in money right now. Furthermore, a new labor deal has made teams more confident in the long term sustainability of those revenue streams. Apparently, those factors apply to every team in baseball other than the Braves, who are now in the worst of all worlds: they are becoming more penurious as the rest of baseball is becoming more profligate. (When I get angry and have a beer, I start whipping out the $.50 words like nobody's business.) There are two possibilities here:

1. The Braves really aren't generating as much local revenue as they should as the result of declining TV ratings and lower attendance. 14 divisional titles created a sense of ennui in the fan base and Time-Warner is feeling it in the bottom line.

2. Time-Warner isn't treating the Braves as a cash cow without investing anything in them. The team could be a profitable operation, they could be creating revenues in ways that only someone with an LLM in tax law would understand, or they could be a loss leader for Time-Warner, but regardless, Time-Warner is making money from the team and isn't ploughing the money back into baseball operations. Or maybe they figure that Schuerholtz is such a magician that he doesn't need frivolous items like payroll or a second baseman to win games.

I suspect that we have a combination of both factors going on right now.

As for the baseball implications of the move, I'll start with the fact that Marcus Giles hadn't panned out like we all hoped he would after the 2003 season. That said, it's idiotic to let a pretty good second baseman go when he wasn't going to be paid that much and the free agent market is completely insane right now. If Juan Pierre (5 years, $45M), Jason Marquis (3 years, $20-28M), and Dannys Baez (3 years, $19M) are all cashing in with major deals, then what are the Braves doing letting a younger, cheaper player go with nothing coming in return? If the market is such that average to below-average players are getting major deals, then how are you letting an above-average player go? (Giles, in the worst year of his career, was 15th in the majors in OPS for second basemen.) The fact that the team is seriously considering Kelly Johnson, who, despite being the subject of my man-crush in 2005 because of his batting eye, is an outfielder coming off of Tommy John surgery, as a replacement at second base is a significant concern. And, uh, remember that Wilson Betemit guy that we gave away last year? You think he might have come in handy now? The Braves have been able to get away with substandard offensive performances from their corner outfield spots for the past two years because they get good offensive performances from defensive positions like centerfield, catcher, and the middle infield spots. In the words of Yoda, now, matters are worse.

I'm also going to point out that Giles is likely going to rebound in 2007, at least to his 2005 numbers, if not to the 2003 output that caused Baseball Prospectus to refer to him as a potential MVP down the road. Giles' on-base percentage fell last year from .365 to .341, but his walk and strikeout rates were almost the same and his dip in homers from 15 to 11 was not huge. Translation: he was unlucky on balls put in play. Some team is going to get a bargain with Giles, although the way the free agent market is going, he might go for $12M per year, in which case he isn't much of a bargain. (I kid with that last number, but who knows in this market?)

Just a Thought

Hundreds of thousands of words have been wasted in the blogosphere, as well as in the mainstream media, on the Florida-Michigan "Who's Number Two?" debate (and I'm as guilty as anybody), but has anyone stopped to think that it all might end up being irrelevant? A brief glance at the results of national championship games under the BCS indicates that neither Florida, nor Michigan would have a great chance to win the game because they are one-loss teams facing an unbeaten, #1 ranked opponent:

1998 - Unbeaten #1 Tennessee beats one-loss #2 Florida State

2000 - Unbeaten #1 Oklahoma beats one-loss #2 Florida State

2001 - Unbeaten #1 Miami beats one-loss #2 Nebraska

And if we go back to the Bowl Alliance:

1996 - Unbeaten #1 Florida State loses to one-loss #2 Florida

1997 - Unbeaten #2 Nebraska beats one-loss #3 Tennessee

So what's the lesson, other than the fact that Florida State has lost a number of national title games? That the unbeaten team is 4-1 in match-ups against one-loss teams, and that one exception is one that Florida fans might choose to forget this time of year. You know, that precedent where a team vaults to the top of the rankings with a decisive win on the road in September against the pre-season Heisman favorite, stays in the top two all year, loses a three-point game on the road to its arch-rival, and then gets a rematch on a neutral field for the nationa title? Yeah, that one.

My point in reciting this precedent (admittedly, one with a very small sample size, but when has that stopped me before?) is not so much to show that Florida is unlikely to win in Glendale, but instead to point out that the argument between Florida and Michigan isn't really that meaningful because Ohio State has shown itself to be superior to both teams over the course of the season by not losing against a reasonable schedule. (The notion that Florida lost a game is apparently news to Tony Barnhart, who picks Florida to win the national title game because he "get[s] this feeling that the Gators, as they have all season, will find a way to win this game?" Barnhart, incidentally, shows his inability to be objective on a debate between an SEC team and an Auslaender in that column [or at least an inability to resist playing to his audience], claiming that a statement that Michigan is a better team is "subjective," but then goes on to argue that Florida has played a tougher schedule, which is equally subjective. Wait, wasn't the whole point of this post to argue that the Florida-Michigan debate was likely irrelevant anyway? I digress.)

My favorite example for this argument is 2001. That season concluded with 10-1 Nebraska getting the nod over 10-1 Oregon for the right to play 11-0 Miami. Nebraska promptly got abused by an epic Miami team, thus leading to predictable caterwauling that the wrong team played in Pasadena. As a result of the complaining, the BCS, perfectly illustrating an elite mollifying the discontented masses with symbolic means, removed margin-of-victory from the BCS rankings since that factor had led to Nebraska beating Oregon for the second spot in the Rose Bowl. In so doing, the BCS took a bad formula and made it worse, at least according to just about anyone who has ever looked at the factors that are relevant in measuring teams against one another. What was lost in the post-massacre griping was the fact that Oregon wouldn't have done any better. Specifically, leaving aside the fact that Oregon had a series of narrow wins over average teams (31-28 at home over 5-7 Wisconsin, 24-22 at home over 6-6 USC, 21-20 over 7-5 UCLA, and 17-14 at home over 5-6 Oregon State), the Ducks were 75th in the nation in yards per pass attempt allowed. They were 81st in total defense and 110th in pass defense. How would they have hoped to stop a Miami offense with Ken Dorsey throwing the ball to Andre Johnson, Jeremy Shockey, and Kellen Winslow, Jr. and handing off to Clinton Portis and Willis McGahee, all with Bryant McKinnie and Joaquin Gonzalez blocking? If Google would help me out, this would be a good place to paste the picture of Mike Bellotti's face when he was interviewed at halftime of the game, because Mike couldn't even muster the strength to complain about not being in Pasadena, but instead, he had this dumb "thank goodness we played Colorado instead of Miami" grin on his face.

Anyway, if history is any guide, it's more than likely that Ohio State is better than either Michigan or Florida and we're all fighting over the right to lose to them. Or course, I reserve the right to pretend that this post never happened while whining and complaining as per tradition if Michigan wins the Rose Bowl and Ohio State wins in Glendale by more than three points. This is me tying myself to the mast before sailing past the Sirens.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Quick NFL Thoughts

This is the time of the year in which I usually start paying slightly more than casual attention to the NFL, mainly to divert myself from the sadness that is the end of college football, but also because this is the part of the season in which the contenders have made themselves apparent and I can focus on watching teams that have a chance of making noise in January. One of those teams, sadly, is the Falcons. I'd be willing to overlook an untidy performance against one of the worst teams in the NFL if it appeared to be an aberration, but this Falcons team came into Tampa on the heels of four straight losses, including two against very bad teams (Cleveland and Detroit), and a win over a similarly bad Washington team. In short, I am not going to get excited about this two-game winning streak and I would take the Cowboys on Saturday night as long as the spread is less than seven.

Why am I so glum about the Falcons? Maybe it starts with the fact that the team had two good drives all game. The first one ended on an interception in the end zone that was the result of either an inaccurate pass from Vick (where have we heard that before?) or a screw-up by Ashley Lelie not getting to the right spot in the end zone (and Falcons receivers NEVER screw up. Speaking of which, I loved it that Fox had the montage of drops by Falcons receivers all cued up the moment an Atlanta receiver, in this case Alge Crumpler, dropped a pass.) The second drive was a nice 71-yard march that ended with Justin Griffith, the team's fullback/third tailback, faking Will Allen into the ground at the ten-yard line and waltzing into the end zone. Tampa has a decent defense, but there's no excuse for the Falcons to fail to score against them in the first half.

The team won the game, in all likelihood, because of John Abraham stripping Bruce Gradkowski of the ball. (Nice to see you, John!) The Falcons then enjoyed the good fortune of the ball popping out of a scrum right to Demorrio Williams' feet. Demorrio isn't very good at playing the run, but he did show that he's extremely fast for a linebacker. That play put the Falcons up 7-6 and then they finally stopped pressing. The defense does deserve a lot of credit for shutting Tampa down, but that's one crappy offense, so who knows how much we can tell from it. I'm not as positive on Atlanta's ability to match Allen Rossum up against either Terry Glenn or Terrell Owens on Saturday night. The Falcons do one thing well - run the ball - and their two starting tailbacks are questionable. This does not look good.

Speaking of the Cowboys, I thoroughly enjoyed watching the Saints destroy them last night. I know I'm not supposed to like the Saints because of the whole "rivalry" between them and the Falcons, but I tend to think that most rivalries in the NFL are BS, anyway. Additionally, both teams have miserable histories, so their rivalry seems to me to be like a military rivalry between France and Italy. Finally, it's hard for me to dislike any team from New Orleans because that town is so cool. I can certainly work myself up to dislike teams from Tampa, knowing the hordes of IROC-driving, RATT-listening mullets that worship the Bucs. In a pinch, I can also get myself to dislike teams from Charlotte by convincing myself that it's the U.S.'s Frankfurt, but even then, I find it hard to really get the blood boiling. (I was probably spoiled in college, where it was just so easy to root against teams from central Ohio or South Bend. You've been to those places, right?) Long story short, I've had a great time every time I've been to the City that Law Forgot and I felt this way long before they became America's team.

I had a strange feeling of deja vu when watching the Saints last night and then I was able to put my finger on it: they're the NFL version of Ohio State, at least offensively. They both enjoy great success against good defenses by spreading their opponents out and then just passing them silly. Brees reminds me of a slightly-less mobile Troy Smith (more kudos to Herbstreit for making the comparison); they're both slightly undersized, but they're great decision-makers, they're accurate, and most importantly, they have a terrific sense for how long they have to get rid of the ball. This is the key to making a four- or five-wide set work. The natural defensive response is to blitz or at least to rush four and get pressure, knowing that there are no backs or tight ends to help the offensive line. A quarterback without a feel for the rush or the ability to make decisions quickly (like, say, the Falcons' starter) would be a disaster in that offense, but Brees and Smith are untouchable in it. New Orleans also has the other elements that make the Ohio State offense so good: a blindingly-fast game-breaker (Reggie Bush and Devery Henderson both play the Ted Ginn role); a classic, between-the-tackles runner to keep the defense honest (Deuce McAllister plays the Antonio Pittman/Chris Wells role); depth at wide receiver; and a line that pass-blocks well. I'm not at all sold on the Saints' defense and that might ultimately be their undoing, but their offense is excellent. A Saints/Bears NFC Title Game would be outstanding, featuring the Bears' cover-two against the Saints' spread sets.

One other aspect of the game last night that tickled me: my friend Ben is a huge Saints fan. My friend Ben also proclaimed years ago that the spread is dead. Now, his team looks like a Super Bowl contender, largely by virtue of a spread offense. Paging Alanis Morisette...


Not bad for Chelsea's right back. For those keeping score, this is twice in recent weeks that Chelsea have fallen behind one of the other "Big Four" in England, then rallied for a 1-1 draw after moving Michael Essien to right back, where he's very dangerous. The move also allows them to take off Geremi, who is probably their weakest starter (other than Hilario when Cech and Cudicini are both injured). Prior to Matthew Flamini's opener for Arsenal and then Essien's equalizer, the game was primarily marked by a bunch of macho shoving and posturing between the players, culminating in a truly hilarious, Masterpiece Theatre-caliber encounter when 6'3 Jens Lehmann and 6'4 Didier Drogba took dives after minimal contact with one another. A lot of shouting and gesticulating resulted before two inconsequential yellow cards were issued and the game went on.

By the way, it occurs to me that there is one aspect of the Premiership that I'd love to see the SEC mimic: the coaches actually sit in the crowd, basically across the aisle from opposing fans. I'd pay $100 to see Phil Fulmer do that in Tuscaloosa.

And while I'm showing highlights from the weekend, it's not every day that I get to show a defensive Barcelona highlight, but here you go:

The defending is charitable, at best, but what a stop by Victor Valdes.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Don't Snitch!

The Hawks got their biggest win of the year last night, 98-96 over the Nuggets in Denver. This Western swing had the potential to destroy the good work that the Hawks put in in the first 14 games of the season. The team has been terrible out West in the last several years. (OK, they've been terrible everywhere.) They're playing without Marvin Williams, who should be the #2 scoring option at some point this year, and Josh Childress, who is their glue guy and, by a couple statistical measures is their most valuable player after Joe Johnson. Josh Smith, the guy who becomes absolutely critical with Marvin and Childress out, has been playing dreadfully and now has to sport goggles after getting poked in the eye. (When Childress, Marvin, and Smith were out in the second half against Cleveland, the Hawks were reduced to possessions where Lebron was being guarded by Matt Freije. This guy:

That ended about as well as one would expect. I like Freije and every team needs a crazy energy guy who will play his ass off for ten minutes and make a shot or two, but that guy doesn't need to be guarding Lebron James.)

In short, I was worried about a 1-4 or 0-5 trip, but the Hawks just beat the 10-5 Nuggets after trailing by 17 in the fourth quarter and now just need a split of their games against the Lakers and Kings to have a winning trip and to return to Atlanta at 9-10, which is good for about the 5th seed in the East right now.

Last night was an illustration of the importance of Josh Smith to this team. He has been lousy so far for the Hawks. He's shooting 38% because his shot selection is dreadful and he settles for a jumper that isn't falling way more than a guy with his athleticism should and he averages three turnovers per game. He's good for at least a couple "smack your palm against your forehead" moments every game. Last night, he scored 15 points on seven shots because he was getting to the line (eight free throw attempts) and he had 11 rebounds and five assists to go with his customary three turnovers. Smith has gotten better over the course of each of his two seasons in the NBA. Last year, he started playing like dreck and ended the season as one of the Hawks' best players. If he makes that improvement again, then this team will be, dare I say it, good?

One other thing: I'm of the opinion that Tyronne Lue has always been a good offensive guard whose negative was his inability to play defense. With Shelden Williams and Solomon Jones getting minutes now and with Josh Smith's emergence as a great weakside shotblocker, those defensive lapses are less critical and he becomes a somewhat valuable player. In other words, don't be shocked that he's a productive piece now.

And I need to say this in every Hawks post I make: Joe Johnson is friggin' awesome.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Top 25

1 Ohio State --
2 Michigan 1
3 Florida 2
4 Southern Cal 2
5 LSU 1
6 Louisville --
7 Oklahoma --
8 Wisconsin 2
9 Auburn 2
10 Arkansas 2
11 Boise State 2
12 Tennessee 2
13 Virginia Tech --
14 California 6
15 Wake Forest --
16 Oregon State 7
17 West Virginia 1
18 Notre Dame 1
19 Brigham Young 7
20 Rutgers 2
21 Texas A&M 2
22 Texas 1
23 Nebraska 7
24 Boston College --
25 Georgia 1

Dropped Out: Georgia Tech (#25).

Let's Not Make History Today, Shall We?

Barca tries to avoid becoming the first defending Champions League winner to get knocked out in the group stages today. On the one hand, they have some ready-made excuses, namely the facts that: (1) this is an extremely difficult group containing, in all likelihood, the best teams in Spain, England, and Germany; and (2) Barca are struggling without Samuel Eto'o and Leo Messi. Messi is somewhat replaceable because Ludovic Giuly is a fine winger who played very well in the Champions League last year, but Eto'o is not because he's really Barca's only true striker and his understanding with Ronaldinho is not replaceable. Eidur Gudjonsson is going to have to play the game of his life today. I'm already trying to prepare myself for the possibility that Barca could go through on a Gudjonsson dive, although surely the UEFA refs are prepared for that possibility after seeing Eidur's performance for the past few weeks in the Primera. I would feel better today if Henrik Larsson was still in the side. I wasn't wild about him last year, but he came through when it counted against Arsenal and the game today is the equivalent of a Champions League Final. Ultimately, I think today comes down to whether Good Ronnie or Bad Ronnie shows up. Bad Ronnie showed up at Real Madrid and Chelsea in Barca's two losses this year and he didn't play especially well at the Weserstadion in the team's first meeting. He has shown signs of life in recent weeks and if his tail is up, Barca are going to score. Whether they can keep Miroslav Klose off the board

What do I know about Bremen? Well, they have outscored their opponents 36-10 since the 1-1 draw with Barca on September 27, including wins over Bayern Munich and Chelsea, and they have only lost once during that period of time. They're starting four members of the German National Team: Klose, Per Mertesacker, Torsten Frings, and Tim Borowski. They were minutes from knocking Juventus out of the Champions League last year until keeper Tim Wiese fumbled a ball under little pressure and Juve got an undeserved winner. They strike me a little as being similar to Lyon: a mid-sized club that are in a terrific up period right now and have been knocking on the door in the Champions League without breaking through. My gut tells me that they get a 1-1 draw today and go through.

2:42 - I'm not ashamed to admit that I've tried to find the Champions League anthem on ITunes. Sing it with me: La la la la la THE CHAMPIONS doo doo doo doo doo! Gives me chills every time.

2:45 - We're underway. Barca have tried to go down the left on their first two attacks to no avail. Klose has the beginnings of a mullet. Just feeling one another out right now.

2:49 - Ronaldinho is playing well. Barca are going to win. He played a pass with his back, then he found Giuly with a cross-field ball that gave Giuly the space to cross dangerously. Gudjonsson couldn't get to the ball. Come on, Eidur!

2:50 - Wiese just kicked the ball off his own defender and it came right back to him. Nerves, anyone?

2:51 - This is the Romans and the Christians right now. Iniesta and Giuly combine to free Deco for a shot that goes straight to Wiese.

2:56 - Life from Bremen as they threaten and Puyol snuffed it out. I love that guy. Then Giuly launches a drive from the head of the box and Wiese gets down to it. Everyone on Barca are playing well right now. Deco and Iniesta are linking up well, Ronnie and Giuly are dangerous...

2:58 - RONNIE!!!

2:59 - Ronnie knocked the ball under the wall as they jumped and inside the near post. Wiese had no chance. 1-0 to the Blaugrana. Wiese is screaming at his defense. I hope the word "ACHTUNG!!!" was in there somewhere. Ronnie also drew the foul to set up the kick about 22 yards out and slightly to Wiese's left.

3:01 - Zambrotta is holding his throat...and he did actually get hit there with an elbow. Whjy did I think that the replay would show him getting tapped in the ribs?

3:03 - LIONS AND CHRISTIANS!!! Ronnie sprays the ball right after drifting into the center. Giuly breaks the offside trap and Gudjonsson has a tap-in. 2-0 to Barca. Ronnie's World Cup slump is over and Giuly is rampant. He just knocked another shot just wide of the far post. Tommy Smyth is giving it to Pierre Wome for getting undressed by Giuly. Isn't Wome the guy who missed the penalty that kept Cameroon out of the World Cup. If so, then Sammy Eto'o is probably grinning ear-to-ear.

3:10 - Replay of the second goal and Gudjonsson was offside when the ball was played wide to Giuly. Passive offside? I'm not sure on the ruling.

3:11 - Klose just kicked Puyol on the left leg for no apparent reason. Carles will have his vengeance, in this life or the next.

Don't screw with this guy.

3:14 - 1-0 Chelsea over Private First Class Levski Sofia.

3:15 - Gio clears over his own net. That guy terrifies me, a Sherman in a fleet of Tigers and Panthers. Then Bremen get off a header from the resulting corner. If Barca's defense keeps playing like this, then two goals won't be enough. That said, Gio just knocked in a dangerous cross, so he's a danger to both keepers.

3:19 - Bremen get a free kick on a non-existent foul on Ronnie, but Puyol heads away.

3:20 - This is hard to describe. Deco runs for about 70 yards after Puyol's header, then hits Gudjonsson on the right. Eidur beats Bremen's entire defense with a great piece of dribbling, then pings the ball off the post. The ball rebounds to Giuly six yards out with an open net and he hits the ball over. One of the easiest sitters I've ever seen missed, and from a guy who hadn't put a foot wrong up to that point. I repeat, though: Lions and Christians.

3:27 - Bremen have had more of the possession so far, which is very rare for a Barca opponent.

3:28 - Smyth is singing Puyol's praises as we spreak. Like nectar for my ears. Now just say that he's better than John Terry and I'll climax.

3:29 - Wome does a nice job of getting some space on the left and puts a low ball just past the back post as Klose is a second late pouncing. Klose did get free of Marquez there.

3:32 - Almeida tries his luck from about 35 yards with predictable results. 98,000 Catalans whistle at him for his efforts.

3:33 - The Swiss ref Massimo Busacca whistles for halftime. The game is going so well that I haven't needed to invent ethnic insults for the Swiss. Barca have looked excellent. They aren't as patient with the ball as normal. Instead, the midfield is getting the ball forward quickly and Ronnie and Giuly have been using every opportunity. Little wasted motion from the side. Everyone is performing their role. Motta hasn't been mentioned in the first half, which is often a good sign. Bremen has managed nothing through the middle, which means that Motta is doing his job. Puyol is cleaning up everything in the back. Zambrotta looks excellent supporting Giuly. I'm probably babbling at this stage, but this has been domination. Ronnie is stepping up on the big stage, unlike...nah, I'm not going to say it.

I gotta figure out what Carles is endorsing here so I can blindly buy it.

OK, just figured it out; it's Catalan milk and cheese. Good enough for Carles, good enough for me.

3:48 - Borowski sneaks in at the near post as the second half starts and manages a touch that doesn't trouble Valdes, who hasn't been troubled by much at all in this match. Barca start the half more patiently than they did the first half. This is starting to look like the last five minutes of the Champions League Final.

3:50 - Puyol gets a yellow for a foul committed by Motta. Swiss cheese-eating motherf***er! Gudjonsson heads the resulting free kick away, then Iniesta blocks the second attempt. Bremen get another cross in down the defensive left. Amazing how opponents find so much offensive space on Gio's side.

3:54 - The announcers are really going after Motta, who's been a fouling machine in the second half. Personally, I prefer Edmilson to Motta, but Thiago has been doing his job so far. Incidentally, the Bremen attacks are still coming down Barca's left. Would now be a good time to mention that Holland was knocked out of the World Cup by a Portuguese goal that came through the Dutch left?

3:56 - Zambrotta snuffs out Diego's run on the right. That's why Bremen prefers the left.

3:57 - Klose gets past Marquez and Gio to get a great chance, but misses the near post. Danger, Will Robinson!

3:59 - On the break, Ronnie takes the ball in his own half, rides a challenge, and hits a beautiful long ball to release Gudjonsson. Eidur's shot is deflected by Nando onto the keeper. Eto'o probably finishes that and then wheels to the corner flag with his arms waving wildly.

4:01 - Diego gets free and then hits a ball in front that Almeida touches right to Valdes. You'll never guess what side the attack came from.

4:03 - Jensen hits a cross from the left and it hits the junction of the post and crossbar. Almeida overruns the rebound. Valdes was nowhere to be found, as he clearly thought that the cross was going to head over.

4:05 - Thuram on for Motta, which likely means that Marquez will play the defensive midfield role. I was just thinking that Thuram should come on, but I would have put him on the right defensive flank (where he used to play for France and Juve) and moved Zambrotta to the left with Gio coming off. With a 2-0 lead, Barca doesn't need offense from the outside of defense.

4:07 - Wome hits a terrible backheader that Wiese has to clear before Gudjonsson has a breakaway. Wome won't be sending this tape to Bayern Munich anytime soon.

4:09 - This is why I love Puyol. Iniesta gets kicked in the heel by Frings (Dirty Kraut!), but the ref (Dirty Banker!) sees no foul and Bremen come forward. Puyol then tackles the ball from two different Bremen players and kicks it out while gesticulating wildly.

4:13 - I just took a brief detour to take a picture of the 11-week old son in his new cowboy jacket. Did I miss anything? Probably not.

4:14 - Did Tommy Smyth just say that we haven't seen much from Ronaldinho tonight? No, nothing other than a perfect free kick goal, a pass to set up the second goal, a pass to free Gudjonsson for a breakaway, and a pass with his back. Ronnie has clearly set the bar too high when a performance like this isn't enough.

4:16 - Keeping track of the players on the pitch: Iniesta off for Xavi, Almeida off for Klasnic. Iniesta was a little quiet, but he did his job. Almeida will rue the touch that he directed at Valdes, as well as the fact that he wasn't in the right place (though no fault of his own) on the ball that came back off the woodwork.

4:18 - Barca have been stouter defensively since bringing Thuram on and moving Marquez into the defensive midfield role that he fills for Mexico. This might be the best line-up for Barca going forward. Essentially, it means trading Thuram for Motta; who doesn't make that trade? I know that Rijkaard would like to keep Thuram in reserve as a third central defender behind Marquez and Puyol, but for the Champions League games, all three should be on the pitch.

4:21 - As soon as I sing Thuram's praises, Klose gets around him and centers, but there's no one trailing to finish the play off. Aaron Hunt on for Wome, who was crap all day.

4:23 - Here's why Ronnie is great. He leads a break after a Jensen turnover. Gudjonsson makes his run too soon and goes offside, so Ronnie finds Giuly on the right and frees him for a breakaway. Wiese is off his line quickly to knock the ball away at the top of the box. Great play by Wiese, but all set up by Ronnie's pass that isn't mentioned by Tommy Smyth (whom I like, by the way).

4:26 - Puyol finally makes a mistake on the left, but his buddies clean up for him. Carles then makes up for it by deflecting Diego's shot away for a corner.

4:27 - Smyth says more nice things about Puyol. Santi Ezquerro comes on for Giuly, who has been outstanding other than missing a chance that my 85-year old grandfather would have knocked home with ease.

4:29 - Tommy Smyth now says that Bremen have dominated the second half like Barca dominated the first, but Barca scored when they dominated. Uh, yeah, if you ignore the two breakaways that Barca has created in the second half, as well as the fact that I don't recall Bremen getting two shots at open nets in the second half. This has been a rout with occasional chances for Bremen in the first half of the second half when they played well and Barca's defense was a little unsettled.

4:33 - "You'd be hard-pressed to vote for Ronaldinho as FIFA player of the year on a performance like this." Tommy Smyth is still rooting for Arsenal in the Champions League Final. One goal, one pass to set up the second, two breakaways created for teammates, and one bitter Scot.

4:35 - Valdes spills a rebound right in front and Thuram beats Klasnic to the ball. Well done. Valdes hasn't been 100% safe in this one.

4:38 - On cue, Valdes makes a nice save on a stinging shot at his near post.

4:39 - You have to feel for Bremen. On their current form, they would qualify from just about every other Champions League group, but they bumped up against the two favorites to meet in the final. They failed to make it out of the group despite taking four points at home against Chelsea and Barca. They lost 2-0 in both of the road legs while creating chances in both. That said, Tommy Smyth's attempt to make it seem as if they were undone only by 20 bad minutes is rich, as they didn't create anything in the first half and gave up an open net chance 35 minutes in.

4:40 - And we're done. The Barca anthem is ringing out and the players look very relieved. I'm anxious for the draw for the round of 16.

I'm not giving it up just yet. Now drink your milk!


Childcare obligations and wireless internet connection permitting, I'll be liveblogging the Barca-Bremen game this afternoon at 2:45. Scheiss Bremen!

Monday, December 04, 2006

I Just Can't Let It Go

Just for fun, I've decided to paste a number of quotes from a friend of mine who is a Florida booster. We'll call him "Unnamed Florida Booster" or UFB for short. The two of us usually exchange e-mails once or twice a week to discuss the games from the previous weekend. UFB is a very realistic fan, which is part of why I like corresponding with him; I generally feel smarter about the Gators after reading his e-mails, although I think he can sometimes be too critical, as we all are. Anyway, here are his thoughts on the Gators during the season; ask yourself if this sounds like the description of the second best team in the country:

November 13, 2006

I had heart palpitations on Saturday during the Florida-South Carolina game. The Gators are going to kill me if they don’t stop playing these games so close. Beating Spurrier was oh so sweet; I’m thankful for Meyer that he pulled it off... Unless Earl Everett and Brandon Siler get healthy before the SEC title game I’m not sure UF can stop Arkansas rushing attack.

November 6, 2006

Florida has won its first SEC East title in six year; so why do I feel guilty? Is it because our offense is so damn pedestrian? Is Spurrier’s lasting influence such that you only enjoy a victory if it was pretty and by a large margin? Granted Vandy has better athletes today than they did in the 1990’s, especially on offense, but I still think Florida has many more than the Commodores. Given our struggles to stay on the field on offense I now expect UF to have 3 losses when they arrive in Atlanta; they will lose to South Carolina and Florida State. I kid you not.

October 30, 2006

So why do I fee like I have to apologize to every Bulldog fan I meet for winning that game on Saturday? My word that was one ugly ass game! I think Stafford is going to be a great QB for UGA. He has a rocket for an arm and he can really run as well. If not for some dropped passes at key moments, UGA could have won that game.

The Gators offense is awful. That’s the only way I can describe it. Our passing game off play-action is decent but our drop-back passing is atrocious, mainly b/c the offensive line cannot protect Leak for 3 seconds. For all my Gators friends who are clamoring for the Gators to make the BCS title game all I have to say is, “Michigan or OSU would kill us”. And I really mean that.

To be honest with you I expect South Carolina to beat us in 2 weeks unless Meyer and the offense discover some magic. Charlie Strong’s record against Steve Spurrier as a defensive coordinator is terrible. We can win the game, but our offense will need to score 30 points to do so and I’m not sure they have that in them.

I hope you have a great week. I’ll spend mine worrying endlessly over Vandy b/c they too can beat us if our offense plays that badly in Nashville.

[Ed. Note: I added the bold and italics there because I find that quote to be fairly telling this morning.]

October 16, 2006

Leak is a 4th year starter. Are you telling me he isn't to blame for
not being able to tell when the defense is going to blitz? Are we the only team in college football that can't call an audible? Given our issue with penalties we would likely suffer one for doing so, but come on. The OL blocked the 5 guys who were accounted for; it's Leak's job to know where #6 is coming from.

Leak is no more capable of making reads and check-downs than Tim Tebow and he doesn't have the excuse of youth. No, I'm not advocating pulling Leak for Tebow but I sure as hell would understand why that decision was made. Frankly we need both of them to win a championship b/c Leak isn't man enough to do it on his own...

One of the analysts on ESPN2's coverage of the Florida-Auburn game said that "At best Chris Leak is a second day pick in the NFL draft. NFL scouts view him as a 6-foot version of Drew Bledsoe." I think the person was Todd McShay. I think he was being unfair to Drew Bledsoe.

Will Muschamp said after the game, "We noticed that he tends to lock on one guy. He also has trouble making multiple reads...if you pressure him, he makes mistakes...How does a senior quarterback, a three-year starter, throw the ball into the middle of the field like that?" Good question, Will.

In case you haven't picked up on it yet, I can't stand him. It has nothing to do with his race, creed, or religion but it has everything to do with what I see as a lack of toughness. You can't win an SEC Championship with a QB that has no stones; it could be argued that Leak never has had them although I think Ernie Sims probably knocked them loose on his 2nd quarter sack of Chris during the 2004 FSU-Florida game
in Tallahassee. If we make it too Atlanta it will be because we have Tebow to lean on when we need someone to "nut-up" as Urban Meyer says; you can't nut-up when you don't have nuts. If I'm being unfair, ask yourself this question, "What play has Chris Leak made this season that another QB could not have made?" I think the answer is none!

September 25, 2006

How do you amass 500+ yards of total offense and only get 26 points? Ask Urban Meyer. Geeez! That was ugly. UK does have a good QB though.

September 11, 2006

I know it was only UCF, but they were a bowl team in 2005. UF looked better on Saturday night than they have at anytime during Meyer’s tenure. Even with four turnovers by freshmen it was still an absolutely marvelous performance. With Tebow at QB the true “spread & shred” was featured prominently; I’m sure it will be shelved until 2006 b/c the bullets are for real this coming Saturday.

September 5, 2006

I like the Gators defense but I am concerned about the lack of pass rush from the backup DTs. With the starters being suspended we used the 2 and 3 guys and they were clearly ineffective. Pass rush from the DEs is only effective when the QB can’t simply step up to avoid the rush. I think Reggie Nelson may already be the 2nd or 3rd best safety ever to play at UF.

Conversely I am just as disappointed with the Gators offense. They can’t run the ball for sh*t out of the spread. Hopefully Meyer will stick to what he said last year "against the faster teams you will see more of a traditional I-formation look." Against FSU last season Florida ran the ball out of the I-formation on 12 plays and averaged more than 8 yards per carry; out of the spread the Gators averaged less than 2 yds per carry.

Leak looks good as does Dallas Baker, Cornelius, the freshman Percy Harvin, and a couple others. The young offensive line made some mistakes but overall excelled in pass blocking.

Maybe all of this can just be dismissed with "congrats Michael, you found a pessmistic Florida fan and you don't delete e-mails." That's possible, but personally, I think this is a reminder that few people, Florida fans included, thought that Florida looked like a really good team this year. I know that they won 12 games and won the SEC and 2002 Ohio State and all, but when there is so little to separate two one-loss teams, shouldn't the fact that a team just didn't look very good matter?