Tuesday, March 19, 2013

NCAA Bracket Rants: Did MTSU and St. Mary's Deserve Bids

by John Huffstetler

Did MTSU, St. Mary's, LaSalle, and Boise St. Deserve Bids?

MTSU- MTSU did not deserve to receive a bid. The Blue Raiders dominated the Sun Belt this season losing just two games at a decent Arkanasas St. team in OT and in the conference tourney to FIU. The Sun Belt, however, had a down year with a strong Denver team leaving to join the WAC. There were other teams that posted similar records in better conferences, like both LaTech and the previously mentioned Denver squad from a solid WAC conference, that did not receive consideration for an at-large bid. So why Middle Tennessee? That's a good question that I can't answer. They played 5 solid teams during the non-conference schedule: Florida, UCF, Akron, Ole Miss, and Belmont. They were blown out by Florida and Belmont, lost in OT to Akron, and beat Ole Miss and UCF. This means they beat two tourney teams this year in Ole Miss and the mediocre Western Kentucky squad that stole their Sun Belt bid. Mid-majors deserve a chance, but they need to accomplish more during their season than simply crushing bottom-feeders.

St. Mary's- In past seasons, St. Mary's has failed to receive at-large bids to the tourney because of their traditionally soft non-conference schedule. This year, their schedule was still soft, but they managed to receive a bid they didn't deserve. The Gaels have a strong squad, but their wins just don't stack up when compared to those of Tennessee and UVA. Their best wins this season came against Creighton, Utah St. (before injuries killed their season), and BYU twice. They also lost non-conference games to good, not great, Pacific, Georgia Tech, and Northern Iowa teams. If this St. Mary's team played any of their squads from the last 5 years, they would probably lose. So the timing of this bid considering their lack of quality wins is curious. Like MTSU, the committee seemed to award beating mediocre teams and amassing high win totals over beating quality.

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Monday, March 18, 2013

NCAA Bracket Rants: Maryland, Tennessee, and Virginia Left Out of the Tourney

by John Huffstetler

Maryland, Virginia, and Tennessee left out of the draw-

Maryland- As a Maryland grad, the Terps deserved to miss the tournament. Outside of their 2 wins over Duke, MD only defeated one tourney team (NC St.). They also lost to a fellow bubble team in UVA twice this year. Their soft non-conference schedule hurt their cause dramatically, and the Terps were not helped by their strongest non-conference foe Kentucky looking mediocre for most of the year. They also were unfortunate to draw a soft Northwestern squad in the ACC/Big Ten challenge. When I asked Mark Turgeon when I ran into him this year at Rio Grande in Bethesda, MD about the soft non-conference scheduling, he said they purposefully kept the schedule soft because most of the scheduling was done before he signed several key recruits. In other words, they wanted the schedule soft because he was unsure how good the team would be this year. Expect a tougher non-conference schedule next year and their first NCAA tourney bid in his tenure.

Virginia- Virginia deserved to be in this tourney based on how they played later in the season. UVA accomplished much more in conference than MD, but was essentially doomed by some head-scratching non-conference losses. The Cavs went 0-3 this year against Colonial teams! They lost early to both George Mason and Delaware and mid-season to ODU. Interestingly, this was universally considered a terrible year for the CAA with VCU leaving for the A-10 and perennial powerhouse ODU (who defeated UVA) going 5-25! UVA posted great non-conference wins over fellow bubble team Tennessee and at a solid Wisconsin team, but the Colonial losses tarnished their non-conference results.  In conference, they went 11-7 and posted two wins over Maryland and wins over NC St., UNC, and Duke. If you take out the first 3 games of the season, Virginia is a tourney team. The committee gave too much weight to the early losses to Delaware and George Mason. Remember, even Miami lost to Florida Gulf-Coast early in the year. Teams can start off the year slowly and still be among the best 68 teams in the nation.

Tennessee- Unlike Maryland, Tennessee played a brutal non-conference schedule and deserved to be rewarded with a trip to the tourney. Of their 12 losses, only 5 came against non-tourney teams (2 to UGA, 2 to Bama, and 1 to Ark) and even those losses weren't bad. UGA was considered a "bad loss" by ESPN when they showed the Vols tourney resume, but UGA played much better basketball in the 2nd-half of the season. In fact, I cashed several betting tickets supporting Georgia in their late-season surge. These losses, however, probably unfairly doomed the Vols tourney chances. One could point to the Vols wins and say there was a lack of quality, but the committee demonstrated by including St. Mary's and MTSU that having a lack of quality wins is not important in their decision-making process. Tennessee's quality wins over Florida, Kentucky, Mizzou, Wichita, Xavier, and UMass, while slightly lacking, put the wins of these aforementioned teams to shame. To compare, MTSU's most impressive wins this year came against UCF and Ole Miss, and their domination of the Sun Belt came in a down year for the conference following the departure of a strong Denver team for the WAC. Although I support mid-major teams getting an opportunity to prove themselves, there is a glaring problem with including MTSU and leaving Tennessee out when you compare their results side-by-side.

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Rants from Last Night: Boldin Traded to 49ers for Basically Nothing, Melo Back from Injury and Knicks get Pummeled, Iona -4 is the Gambling Bad Beat of the Year

by John Huffstetler

Monday March 11th

Joe Flacco and former teammate Anquan Boldin
Ravens trade Boldin to 49ers for a Bag of Peanuts- Anyone who watched the Ravens playoff run understands the value Boldin added to their offensive unit this season. When Flacco had nowhere to go with the football, he would throw it up for grabs to Boldin because he rightfully trusted that Boldin would either use his uncanny strength to come down with the football or bat the ball away. Flacco himself supported Boldin in his contract dispute and hoped for Anquan to return. Asking Boldin to take a pay cut is one thing, but for the Ravens to quickly unload him for just a 6th-round pick after he refused (while he was in Africa on a relief effort for that matter) is absolute lunacy. They received no value for a well-regarded player with high value following a Super Bowl run where he popped on film.   This is a guy Joe Flacco trusted enough to lob the ball to when nobody was open. Now Flacco no longer has his safety valve, and that can make a huge difference for a QB's confidence level. Now Flacco must find somewhere else to go when the under duress. This trade could cost the Ravens more than just Boldin. They could lose Flacco's confidence and happiness as well.

Update: Melo Returns and Knicks get Throttled- Carmelo Anthony left the Cavs game last Monday with his team down 22 in the 2nd quarter. After he left, the Knicks rallied to win by 5. In fact, the Knicks had outscored their opponents by 65 points since he left that game (3-1 record) with their only loss coming by 1 to a strong Thunder team. Melo returned to the lineup Monday against Golden State and the Knicks got crushed by the Warriors 92-63. Granted, the Warriors welcomed David Lee back to the lineup in a huge home game, but losing by 29 is unacceptable. Melo led the team with 34 minutes played, shot just 4-15 from the field, and the Knicks were -29 (the exact Margin the Knicks lost by) while he was on the floor. Plus/Minus is a complicated stat with many factors at play (fellow teammates on the court, opponents on the floor, etc.), but a -29 is dreadful no matter how you look at it. The Knicks need to limit his minutes, plain and simple. His role should be that of a solid 6th man who can provide an offensive spark off the bench. His defense is simply to poor to play him 30+ minutes a game.

Iona -4 is the Gambling Bad Beat of the Year- Put anyone who took Iona -4 last night on suicide watch today. Iona was up 8 over Manhattan with 6.2 seconds left, then read this link from Beyond the Bets to see what happened next. Truly a terrible beat.

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Monday, March 11, 2013

Rants from Last Night: ESPN's Latin Night is terrible, Michigan's FT Issues, and Derrick Rose's Unneccessarily Long Rehab

by John Huffstetler

Sunday March 11th

Kobe Bryant and Lebron James in their Latin Night Unis
ESPN's Latin Night or "Noche Latina" is Infuriating- Does anyone else hate this program? Essentially, ESPN and the NBA are trying to market games to the Hispanic community, but there are so many annoying elements. First, they change the names on each teams' jerseys and on ESPN's bottom line to some stupid version of their name in Spanish. For example, the Miami Heat become "El Heat" and the LA Lakers become "Los Lakers." Secondly, they call in Latin Night, yet it lasts an entire month. How about just calling it latin month so someone like me isn't watching all week saying, "wait, wasn't it Latin Night two nights ago?" Lastly, every game score on the ESPN/ESPN2/ESPNU bottom line involving Latin Night is followed by a long disclaimer explaining how the game is part of Latin Night, thus slowing down their score updates and wasting everyone's time. The idea to celebrate Hispanic culture for a day, a week, or even a month is terrific, but ESPN does a horrible job marketing it. Like most everything else they do, it comes off as cheesy and forced. America, and more specifically the Hispanic community, deserves better than this shamelessly self-promoting, poorly-conceived "Noche Latina."

Michigan's Trey Burke
Michigan can't make clutch Free Throws or Rebound- My beloved Wolverines blew a late lead (which they were fortunate to have to begin with) when Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke missed the front-end of 1-and-1 free throws on back-to-back possessions to relinquish a 5-point lead with under 1 minute remaining. Both free throw misses occurred with every other Michigan player back on the other end of the court, which is a foolish strategy I've noticed frequently this season in College Basketball. To start, you are allowing the other team to grab an uncontested rebound on any miss. Burke's miss hit the rim strongly and bounded back and to the left for what would have been a highly contested rebound available for either team. In addition, Burke and Hardaway are accustomed to shooting with the foul lane full of bodies. In a pressure situation, why are you changing the situation and adding stress for your players? It makes absolutely no sense, and I guarantee players shoot a lower percentage on free throws (would love anyone who can find the #'s to send them to me) in crunch time when their teammates are back on defense as opposed to beside the lane.

Beyond the late FT issues, Michigan can't rebound! If you get out-rebounded by 21, you are lucky to be in the game, plain and simple. Indiana frequently missed first shot opportunities, but grabbed a whopping 19 offensive rebounds. To be fair, Michigan plays a guard-heavy, ball-handling lineup in order to avoid turnovers (+8 vs Indiana) at the expense of their rebounding, but adjustments must be made to this strategy if the rebounding margin gets so out of hand. Here is a write-up of the game by Jeff Fogle on his Stat Intelligence blog that perfectly explains how Michigan was fortunate to hit 3's just to remain in the game, and how this bodes for them in the future. I've personally written them off for the NCAA tourney, but I hope I'm wrong.

Derrick Rose in street clothes...shocker
Derrick Rose's Vagina Hamstring hurts, delaying his return- Derrick Rose is delaying his return from an ACL tear because his hamstrings are "on fire" after workouts. He's been medically cleared for full contact for a month now, yet he remains on the sidelines despite his team's 7-11 record since the beginning of February. I would understand if he was playing limited minutes citing some discomfort in his repaired ACL, but he's talking about his hamstrings bothering him AFTER workouts. Did he ever think his hamstrings might be "on fire" because he's been sitting on his ass for 10 months? Shut up and get back on the court. Maybe then you'll be able to workout without your Vagina, I mean Hamstring bothering you. Grow a pair, and play a few minutes every night for your team.

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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Rants from Last Night: What you Missed

by John Huffstetler

Saturday March 9th

Melo and Amare would probably be more helpful
on the Sesame Street squad than the Knicks
Knicks cruise without Melo and Amare- The Knicks spanked the Jazz last night without their two most high-profile and most overrated players. The remaining Knicks held the Jazz to 84 points on 38.5% shooting, allowing just 38 points in the first half. This trend of improved defensive effort without Melo or Amare in the lineup has been noted over the past few seasons, but it is worth reiterating. The Knicks are simply a better team without them, and imagine the salary cap space they would have if these two weren't under contract. The true star of the Knicks is Tyson Chandler, who dominates defensively and facilitates his teammates offensively. With Amare's latest injury looking long-term, the Knicks will easily wrap up the Atlantic division and earn a top 3 seed in the East.

Gonzaga survives 1st-half scare, still doesn't deserve a #1 seed- The Zags pulled away late to beat a dreadful Loyola-Marymount team late last night. The Zags have played exactly 3 legit teams since New Year's (Butler, St. Mary's and BYU), yet Dick Vitale and Joe Lunardi seem to think they deserve a #1 seed. The West Coast Conference is incredibly soft this year (10th best in conference RPI), and the Zags have padded their wins based on this softness alone. This does not mean they can't have success in the tourney, but they shouldn't be rewarded for playing in an easy conference. Their non-conference wins over Baylor, Oklahoma St. (on the road), Kansas St., Davidson, and Oklahoma are impressive, but not enough alone to warrant a #1 seed. Give them a 3 or 4 seed this year.

Murray St. Head Coach Steve Prohm
Poor coaching and major choking dooms Murray St. in late loss to Belmont- Up 58-51 with 2 minutes left against Belmont, Murray St. looked poised to return to the NCAA tourney once again this year, but they forgot to finish the game. Belmont cut the lead to 2 with 1 min left, but the Racers answered with two free throws to put them up 62-58 with 48 seconds left. Belmont hits a jumper with 37 seconds remaining to cut the lead back to two. Here's where terrible coaching took over for the Racers. Belmont obviously must foul or be left with 2 seconds on the clock to tie the game, yet head coach Steve Prohm does not choose to get his best free throw shooters on the court. He keeps Ed Daniel on the court, whose 61.1 free throw % ranks 10th on the team! Belmont's pressure forces a pass to Daniel and, shocker, he misses both free throws. An inexcusable mistake by Prohm, and I hope Murray St. fans are questioning this poor decision-making today that allowed Belmont to force overtime.

Check back tomorrow for more rants.

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Saturday, February 2, 2013

Who Deserves to Win the Major NFL Awards

by John Huffstetler

With the NFL Honors Awards tonight, much debate surrounds the top awards to be presented. With that in mind, here's who deserves to win (not who will win) the major awards that will be given out tonight from New Orleans.


Tom Brady- Choosing between Brady and Peyton Manning this season is almost impossible. They have incredibly similar statistics in yards (4,827 to 4,659 Brady), TD's (37 to 34 Manning), and INT's (8 to 11 Brady), but I will give the slight edge to Brady because the Patriots played a more difficult schedule than the Broncos this year. Manning's Broncos had the 2nd worst strength of victory (.385) among all playoff teams this season. In fact, only 6 teams in the entire league had a worse SOV, meaning Manning was beating up on mainly inept bottom-feeding teams. So what about Adrian Peterson? No chance. As I wrote in a previous article, a running back should never win MVP because it is not a valuable position. Running Backs are largely the product of an effective offensive line, and the Vikings offensive line was ranked 3rd in the league (according to Pro Football Focus). I would vote for Brady, Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Robert Griffin III, and Matt Ryan over Peterson without hesitation. His remarkable rehab deserves attention (he should win Comeback Player of the Year), but awarding him MVP because of his amazing story would be a travesty.

Defensive Player of the Year

J.J. Watt- There are several worthy candidates here, but no one had a disruptive effect comparable to Watt. Despite critical injuries to the LB corps, the Texans finished in the top 10 in both yards and points allowed in large part because of his ability to disrupt the QB. He led the league in sacks with 20.5, followed closely behind by fellow contenders Aldon Smith (19.5) and Von Miller (18.5). What dramatically separates Watt from Smith and Miller, however, is his uncanny ability to deflect pass attempts at the line. He was tied for 10th in the league with 16 passes defensed, which is absurd for a defensive lineman. In fact, he's the only non-secondary player in the top 30 in the league. By comparison, Smith had 1 and Miller had 2. He also recorded more tackles than both Miller and Smith, despite the fact that LB's typically record more tackles than lineman. The only other worthy candidate is Charles Tillman because of his amazing ability to separate runners from the football this year. His 10 forced fumbles easily led the league, and he also recorded 3 Ints, 85 tackles, and 16 passes defensed. He would be my second choice for DPOY, but Watt's sack and passes defensed numbers are too impressive to ignore.

Rookie of the Year

Robert Griffin III- When was the last time there were 3 rookies so deserving of this award all from the QB position? It is a shame that of Wilson, Luck, and Griffin, 2 must lose this award. All 3 players turned around their teams in leading them to the playoffs while putting up terrific numbers. Griffin, however, separated himself from Luck and Wilson in several key ways. First, one would expect a rookie QB to make mistakes and throw several ints, but Griffin rarely did. His 5 Ints led the entire league among QB's with more than 2,000 yards. Wilson had a respectable 10 Ints, but Luck tied for 3rd in the league in most Ints with 18. Griffin's 65.6 comp pct was 4th in the NFL and Wilson was 8th at 64.1, while Luck completed a routine 54.1% of passes. These two stats alone eliminate Luck. When then taken head-to-head, Griffin edges Wilson in every major passing category while also gaining more yards on the ground (815 to 489) and scoring more rushing TD's (7 to 4). This award should be a no-brainer. Griffin had the best rookie campaign for a QB in my lifetime and deserves to hoist the trophy.

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Angry Rant: Adrian Peterson Does NOT Deserve to be NFL MVP

by John Huffstetler

To start, no running back ever deserves to win the MVP. Adrian Peterson had a terrific season (for a running back). He almost broke the single season rushing record and rebounded from a horrific knee injury on the atrocious dirt at FedEx Field (wait, that sounds familiar) to become one of the greatest stories of injury rehabilitation in pro sports history. As a result, he is overly credited with Minnesota's amazing turnaround this season from a 3-13 joke to a 10-6 playoff team. The team's dramatic turnaround in the defensive secondary and their jump to elite status along the offensive line with the addition of Matt Kalil are factors in the turnaround that are conveniently ignored. He is now garnering MVP support from people who frankly don't understand how the game of football works or the lack of importance of the RB position. Here is a link to my article from October discussing how every running back is essentially overrated because their yards gained are predominantly based on the blocking from the offensive line in front of them.

Vikings stud rookie OT Matt Kalil
When examining offensive line statistics from multiple outlets, Minnesota's offensive line consistently ranked in the top 10. This article from Pro Football Focus, which ranks offensive lines based on run blocking, pass blocking, and lack of penalties, has the Vikings o-line ranked 3rd in the entire NFL this season. Run blocking, obviously, has a large effect on rushing yards, and the Vikings were 2nd in the league in this category; additionally, penalty yards and pass blocking have a big impact on rushing yards because an offensive line that avoids penalties and sacks puts their team in a position to run the ball in shorter down and distances. The Vikings were 5th in penalties and 11th in pass blocking, meaning the offensive line not only was creating running lanes for Peterson, but they were also frequently keeping the Vikings in running situations.

As a result, Peterson was tied for 3rd in the league among RB's in % of snaps played at 74%. By comparison, however, EVERY top MVP candidate at QB played 97% or higher of the snaps (Manning (97%, Brady 98%, Rodgers 97%). Peterson frequently left the field on 3rd down, the most important down in the game, in favor of Toby Gerhart. This is understandable considering the nature of the RB position and the fact that Peterson was coming off a devastating injury, but the fact remains that every QB was on the field on every important 3rd down and Peterson was not. For a running back, Peterson's snap % was fantastic, but overall, it was below average. Peterson's 2,097 yards this season was easily first in the league among RB's by over 400 yards; however, in a passing league, 28 QB's had more yards and 8 QB's had more than DOUBLE the yards that Peterson gained. His 12 TD's ranked 3rd among RB's, but 12 QB's had more than double his TD production (3 had triple his TD's).

The Top Two MVP candidates: Brady and Manning
Of course QB's should have more yards and TD's than a running back, but isn't that the entire point? The NFL is a league where teams live and die on the play of their Quarterback. There is a reason that Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Aaron Rodgers always make the playoffs. There is a reason why their teams consistently perform despite the talent surrounding them or the injuries the team sustains. There is a reason why the Colts and Patriots, respectively, missed the playoffs when Manning and Brady were lost for the year with injuries in past seasons. Running backs should NEVER be considered for MVP. A great tackle? Absolutely. A dominant defensive player? Definitely. Running Back is the least important position on the field and giving an MVP to someone who plays such an overrated and unimportant position would be a complete joke. Who should win MVP this year? Take your pick of Brady, Manning and Rodgers. You can't go wrong with any of those choices. I would take Brady because he played a slightly more difficult schedule than Manning, and beat him head-to-head. QB's should win an overwhelming majority of the MVP awards because they are the most important player in a team's success. Failing that, a great o-lineman or defender. Never a running back.

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