Friday, April 3, 2009

Final Four

Michigan State will play well in this game, they’ll be gutty, they’ll play great defense, Suton will hit shots, and UConn will win this game by 10 points. Michigan State was on fire against Louisville from downtown and I just don’t see that happening again in this game. They will be forced to shoot and UConn is not a stupid team, like Louisville is. They’ll be patient, they’ll be tough, and they will win. Jeff Adrien is playing horrendously on the offensive end for UConn, but he’s a tough defender and he gets garbage points. As long has he doesn’t shoot his nasty corkscrew-looking jumper, he’ll be fine. Stanely Robinson is playing really well on both ends and I see no reason why he won’t keep it up. I’m in love with Kemba Walker’s game and Michigan State will try and neutralize him, but he’s just too good, even if he is a freshman. Hasheem Thabeet will block many and alter more. I just don’t see any way how Michigan State wins.

I’m all over Villanova’s jock. If they play like they did against Pitt, they’ll have a great chance to win this game, but for some reason, I don’t see it happening. They have a tendency to shoot ill-advised shots from time to time and since they play such good defense, they can afford to do that most nights. But this UNC team has shown itself to be so wildly efficient offensively (on drives and on jumpers) and Nova isn’t going to be able to jack up shots and not pay the price. Danny Green has been killing it (his smooth jumpers off of the glass make me weep). Wayne Ellington has a sweet J and it’s been working for him. Ty Lawson is going to be MOP of the Final Four. He’s killing it and everyone like Arnold in “Running Man.” They really don’t even need Hansbrough, but there he is. I’m predicting a 17 and 8 night for him, while taking like 9 shots from the field. Not great, but very solid. Sadly, I see UNC running away with this game by 15. I want to be wrong about this, but UNC is way too strong.


Every year I follow the combine and pro-day workouts leading up to the NFL Draft in late April. And every year, I become enamored with certain players and hope that the Hawks draft them. Sometimes I gravitate toward a player because he fills a perceived Hawks need, sometimes I just think that the guy is really good and that the Hawks can always use good players.

In the leadup to the 2004 NFL Draft, the object of my draftaffection was Jason Peters from Arkansas. I never saw the guy play, but I saw what he did during workouts and was blown away. Yes, I know, beware of workout warriors. But hear me out. He played tight end for the Razorbacks, which isn’t remarkable. He was remarkable because of his size and the fact that he played TE in the first place. Here is a sampling of some of his workout numbers:
Height: 6’4 ½
Weight: 328 lbs
40 Time: 4.93 (at the combine); 4.85
(at Arkansas’s pro day)
Bench 225 lbs: 21 (at the combine); 25 (at Arkansas’s
pro day)
Vert: 29 (at the combine); 33 ½ (at Arkansas’s pro day)
Jump: 9’ 7”
Simply put, there is no way that a guy that size should be able to move like that. He was projected to be a tackle in the NFL simply because of his size (which makes me wonder what the hell Arkansas was doing playing him at TE). Because of the position switch, he wasn’t going to be a high draft pick, but it seemed like a team should definitely take a flyer on in the third or fourth round. I desperately wanted the Hawks to do so. Instead he wound up not getting drafted at all. Tell me, how does a guy with that much crazy, freaky ability not get picked? He turned out to be one of the best LTs in the game as evidenced by being selected to the Pro Bowl in ’07 and ’08 and was second team all pro both years. How can I, with no playing experience beyond bad high school football, be pining for this guy (and be right about him) when all 32 other teams take a complete pass on him? I don’t get it. Sure, hindsight is 20/20, but I wanted him then, as well as now.

As I dismount from my high horse, it’s only fair that I get my foot caught in the stirrups and fall flat on my face because I was over-the-moon enamored with Champ Bailey’s younger brother, Boss, who ended up getting drafted in the second round by the Detroit Lions in ’03. He has had a decent, but not fantastic career and is now in Denver with his brother earning 17.5M over 5. I couldn’t get over his size 6’3 235 and numbers, which were an astounding 4.38 40 and 48 inch vert. Cornerbacks and receivers would bury their mothers for those numbers and this was a guy who played at a high level in the SEC at Georgia finishing second in both the Butkus and Lombardi awards (linebacker and lineman/linebacker awards). His production and numbers convinced me that he’d be a fantastic linebacker in the NFL and I was wrong, he’s merely decent.

Also, in the ’05 draft I wanted the Hawks to take OLB Daryl Blackstock out of Virginia. Instead they drafted both Lofa Tatupu and Leroy Hill. I guess I’ll give them a “pass” on those two.

Most recently, I’ve focused on production in college with the caveat that if a player is surrounded by subpar talent then he’s upgraded in my mind.

There are many objects of my draftaffections this year based on what I’ve seen and they are as follows:

First-Round Guys
· Eugene Monroe, 6’5 309 LT, University of Virginia
I’m going off of the guys from National Football Post on this one. The Hawks need a good LT and they seem to agree that this is the guy. Jason Smith out of Baylor is supposed to be amazing as well, but he might end up in Detroit and if not there, then most certainly he’ll go to St. Louis since Orlando Pace wasn’t resigned (and hasn’t been the same in two years, good luck with that, Chicago.)

It’s difficult for normal fans to “scout” offensive lineman (on TV) since we really don’t know what to look for and the focus isn’t on them. We certainly can tell if they continually maul someone or if they give up sacks, or if they get blown up on running plays (like Chris Gray did two years ago and Rob Simms did last year, and the year before. Look, I love Chris Gray, the guy was very solid, but he got his ass handed to him on several occasions. I guess playing with a possible broken neck isn’t very good for you).

I’m told that Monroe is technically sound, strong, and athletic. If he falls to the Hawks, they’ve got to take him.

· Knowshon Moreno, HB, Georgia, 5’11 217
He’s an electric runner who did some pretty damn amazing things at Georgia the last few years. When I watched him play, I saw a shifty back who makes people miss and can catch the ball. He ran pretty pedestrian times at the combine and at Georgia’s pro day (4.6ish), but his initial burst is what makes him interesting. Plus, he’s bigger than I thought he was. I figured he’d be around 190, maybe 200, but he’s nearly 220. I don’t know if he gained weight after the season (which would explain the slower times) but if he’s able to run like he did in college at that size, he’s going to be really good.

He’s probably going to go in the first round anyway, and the Hawks certainly shouldn’t pick him at No. 4, but if he does fall out of the first round, I hope that they nab him.

· Matthew Stafford, QB, Georgia (6-2, 225)
· Mark Sanchez, QB, USC (6-2, 227)

I’m torn between these two guys. I liked both of them during the year. They’re nearly identical physically at 6’2 and around 225, although their weight must be distributed differently because Stafford kind of looks fattish (like Rex Grossman) and Sanchez almost looks skinny. Both of them seem to be smart and affable. Both are very similar athletically: they ran 4.8+ 40s and had nearly the same verts, 32.5 for Sanchez 30.5 and for Stafford, and broad jumps 9’8 for Sanchez and 8’11 for Stafford).

Statistically, they were eerily similar last year:

235-383 3459 yards 61.4% 9.03 per attempt 78 long 25 TDs 10 INTs 17 sacks 153.54 rating

241-336 3207 yards 65.8% 8.76 per attempt 63 long 34 TDs 10 INTs 17 sacks 164.64 rating

Stafford has a ton more experience than Sanchez and has a stronger arm, but I don’t know how much that matters if the arm is good enough. The knock on Stafford is that he lacks sound decisionmaking at times and trusts his arm too much because it is so strong. Maybe that’s true, but if it is, I’m fairly certain that kind of thinking would be beaten out of him by an NFL QB coach, offensive coordinator, and head coach. Either that or the 30 interceptions he’d throw during the year would get him to change his stripes.

Sanchez does not have the same stunningly-strong arm that Stafford has, but his gun is plenty strong enough. He is also very poised in the pocket. I like his completion rate a little better than I like Stafford’s, he was simply more efficient with his throws.

I’ll put it this way, I would be happy with either one of these guys and if one or both is available at No. 4, I’m hoping that the Hawks take one of them. I’d love a lineman, but these guys are good players and I’m very concerned about Hasselbeck’s ability to stay healthy this year and next.

· Jeremy Maclin, WR, Missouri, 6-0, 198
· Percy Harvin, WR, Florida, 5-11, 192

These two guys exemplify what’s wrong with perceptions and workout numbers. Anyone watching these guys play last year and previous years can tell that they both possess explosive, gamebreaking speed and agility. But the lament from scouts is that neither one of them put up insane 40 times. The fastest time that I’ve seen for Maclin is a 4.43 and the fastest I’ve seen from Harvin is a 4.41 that he ran at the combine. Were they supposed to run 4.2s? Would 4.39 have been fast enough? These guys can catch the ball, separate, make people miss, and score. I’d love to have either one playing for the Hawks. I’d take Maclin over Harvin because it seems like he’s a better route-runner and doesn’t get hurt as much as Harvin does, but I’d take either one in a heartbeat. Of course, the Hawks will pick neither one at No. 4 and they’ll be long gone by the time they pick in the second round.

· Clay Matthews, OLB, USC, 6-3, 240
I’m hoping that Matthews falls out of the first round on draft day, although he’ll probably go in the teens. He’s got fantastic size, speed, and explosiveness. The National Football Post guys had a great article on the 10-yard dash part of the 40-yard dash and how that time is the true measure of a defensive end/linebacker. Clay Matthews turned in a time that would have been outstanding for a cornerback, which means the guy can get off of the ball and make things happen, which is exactly what he did for USC last year.

Second-Seventh-Round Guys

· Brian Robiskie, WR, Ohio State 6-3, 205
Now here’s a guy that the Hawks have a shot at in the second or third round. He has good-enough speed (ran a 4.49 at the combine), but I’m more impressed with what scouts are saying about his “polished” route-running ability and great hands. It would be ridiculous if those things weren’t the case since his dad is a damn WR coach in the NFL, but still. Also, I didn’t know he was as big as he is. I’d absolutely love it if the Hawks picked him up.

· Sean Smith, CB, Utah 6-4, 214
A big CB is just what the doctor ordered for this Hawks team. Evidently the guy ran his 40s in the high 4.4-range at Utah’s pro day, but more impressive than that was his agility and smoothness during his position drills. I read that he moved around like he was 5’10, which if he was that height, the Hawks would knock over their grandmother’s to draft because they love undersized CBs. They need a guy like this back there. Badly.

· Willie Tuitama, QB, Arizona 6-3, 234
He’s probably a 5-7th round guy and it would make a ton of sense for the Hawks to go after him that late. He’s a very accurate passer (64.9% … 23 TDs 8 INTs) who is marginally athletic, but who would be perfect to groom for a starting job down the line. I saw him light up UW like a brushfire on several occasions, but that’s not saying much.

Thoughts on Jay Cutler
I have a friend, Mike, from Chicago and I was going to tauntingly call him on Wednesday and say something stupid like “It’s too bad the Bears don’t need a QB because Cutler’s available.” Since I thought it would be dumb and mean for me to do, I didn’t make the call. They, along with Seattle, were about the last teams that I thought would actually pull the trigger on a deal to land him. He’s handled this thing like a spoiled kid with bad Donald Trump hair. I don’t care if McDaniel’s screwed this thing up, it’s never good to act like a petulant baby; it just doesn’t keep with being a leader, but maybe he doesn’t care about that.

Nevertheless, he’ll be very good for Chicago, however, they need some receivers in a bad way. He’s not throwing to Eddie Royal and Brandon Marshall anymore (although, it could be said that those guys were made better because of Cutler… I suppose we’ll see).

Denver came out of this looking OK. They’re getting a guy in Kyle Orton who is not terrible, necessarily, but certainly not in the same stratosphere as Cutler. But is he much different than Matt Cassel? If McDaniel is as good of an offensive coach as he seems to be, then Orton is going to be fine, and so is Denver’s offense; but it wasn’t the offense that screwed them last year.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sounders FC

I’m not sure if you’re heard or not, but evidently Seattle has a Major League Soccer franchise now. On Sunday, my friend, Joel, asked me what I thought about this. I told him that I had no opinion whatsoever. Yet. After thinking about it for a few minutes, I decided that the MLS will work here, but I don’t know if I’ll be interested.

Soccer is Not a Mainstream Sport
The MLS will work in the Seattle area because it’s not a mainstream sport in the national sense. The major media outlets cover the sport, but not in the comprehensive format that they cover the big three of football (NFL, NCAA Football), basketball (NBA, NCAA Basketball) or baseball (MLB). Actually, they cover the NHL more than they cover the MLS, but that may change over time. However, there is no chance that the MLS unseats any of the big three. The Seattle area has a large mix of people and a great many of them are die-hard sports fans. Some support the local teams fanatically and some support other teams because Seattle is also home to many people who come from elsewhere around the country (and the world).

Contrarians Live Here
But, there is another relatively large contingent of people who are sort of counterculture contrarians. There are intellectuals (some pseudo, some actual) who look down at sports and who prefer to watch operas, go to the symphony, or read; or smoke, drink coffee, get tattoos and piercings, play “ultimate Frisbee,” and try to out-cool people by being unconventional and ironically uncool. As if enjoying sports is mutually exclusive from engaging in any of these activities. There are outdoor enthusiasts who like act superior and tell people that they would rather do something than watch something, or as they like to put it “I don’t need to live vicariously through guys getting paid millions.” There is no arguing with these people, better to just let them go hike, bike, kayak, ski, or eat my fist. There are other types, but these guys are top of mind for me. As my friend Rob says about some of these guys, “they just have real hard time being dudes.” Well said.

Some of these people don’t like sports because they were never good at them and/or they were picked on by people who were. I get that. Some can’t get past how much money professional athletes get paid or how much money is in sports generally. I get that, too, but to a lesser degree because that person would look past the money if they actually liked the sport. And some people just don't like sports because they don't like sports, sort of like how I don't like most reality TV.

Since soccer is not a mainstream sport, at least in the U.S., and is considered almost counterculture in its own right, it may appeal to these non-sport-loving Seattle-area people. When I was growing up, soccer was always an alternative sport. Generally, the kids who played the sport were also the kids who were skateboarders. They had longer hair and were a little different. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Youth Soccer
While soccer on a professional level in the U.S. has not taken off, youth soccer has. With the amount of youth leagues around the country that has grown steadily for years, soccer has to be one, if not the, fastest growing sports among kids in the country. It makes perfect sense that the kids who grew up playing the sport (who are probably in their 30s now) will become fans of the local professional team. By extension, all of the parents who have driven their kids to practices and games over the years have been exposed to the game. They have no choice but to learn things about the game by seeing so much of it. I’m guessing that at least some of these parents are not big-three sports fans, and they may even be some of the other folks that I described above. The youth soccer market in the Seattle area exponentially grew over time without a professional franchise to rally around and that’s probably why the league will be successful here. The professional team wasn’t forced on these people. The demand was there because the grassroots stuff (youth soccer) tilled the ground for the MLS. People who grew up playing the sport, and their parents who watched them, know all of the nuances of the game and are therefore interested in watching professionals performing the game better than they’d ever seen in person before on a consistent basis.

Kevin Calabro
Don’t underestimate the Power of Calabro. People around here love him, for good reason, from his days calling games for the Sonics. I may tune in simply to listen to him call the game because I’m curious and I know that he’ll bring the proper amount of enthusiasm and knowledge to the game. He’s never done this before, but I’m guessing that he doesn’t want to embarrass himself by not understanding the game. He's a big draw for a non-soccer fan like me.

The Euro Factor
People around the Seattle area are Europhiles (myself included) and because soccer (futbol) is so pervasive in Europe I would be surprised if people weren’t fans of soccer, generally, because of this. It’s probably the reason people love to drink Heineken (me? I love the bottles).

Startups have a robust culture in Seattle. We’ve had a number of successes (when I say “we” I mean most everyone but me) in this area and we’ve had some fantastic flameouts (now I can be counted). Regardless, people here love startups and the Sounders are definitely that. Taken further, the MLS is a startup league. It’s cool to be part of something new; it makes people feel like they’re in on something, sort of like being part of a club. Being an early fan of the Sounders is considered a cool thing. It’s an intriguing aspect and cannot be discounted.

Player Salaries
MLS salaries are very low compared to the big-three sports. According to this Sports Illustrated story, the median income for players is $88,000, which is good money for playing a sport, but it’s nothing compared to the NFL, NBA, or MLB. The story also reports that the league minimum is $34,000 (40 players make this amount) and the “developmental” minimum is $21,100 (12 players make this amount). Because the majority of guys are making good, but not even close to great, money regular fans can relate to them more easily. These guys are also more likely to be a little more grounded simply because they aren’t unfathomably rich and can’t buy Boeing field if they wanted to. I’m guessing that many MLS players also play in other leagues, overseas, but still. They have more in common, salarywise, with WNBA players than they do NBA players.

The MLS season is perfectly timed with the best weather days of the year in Seattle. While the season ends in November, when it gets rainy and dreary here, the bulk of the season is in the sunny months. And people around here love to be outside during this time. This is another reason why the Mariners have such great attendance in Safeco Field. Obviously the success of the team right before and around the time they moved into the stadium had a lot to do with it, but trust me when I say that going to games in the Kingdome when I was a kid in the middle of July when it was 80 degrees out was a horrible experience (because we were inside and because the team consistently shat the bed). Being outside is a huge plus for the MLS in Seattle.

Game Time
One of the best things about soccer, regardless of the quality of play, is that there is constant action and there are no real breaks except for halftime. There are nominal breaks like penalty stuff and out-of-bounds stuff, but really the game keeps moving. Additionally, the 45 minute running halves is awesome. The fluidity of the game is one of its best attributes and makes the game very fan-friendly.

I don’t know if this has already happened with the Sounders or not, but European soccer leagues all have songs that are pretty much yelled by fans throughout the games. It's fantastic. During the World Cup, the fans of Countries sing songs and I have no idea what they're saying and it's great. If one hasn't been created for the Sounders already, I hope that one emerges. It would be great if the song develops organically because of something that happens surrounding the team. Or they could ship in a bunch of Brazilian Betties with whistles and tube tops and have them cavort around. Either way.

What I’ll Do
I’m not sure what I’m going to do. To this point I have ignored the Sounders. Not because I dislike them or dislike soccer, but I guess I just don’t care yet. I have several impediments to Sounders, or MLS, acceptance. They are, in no particular order:
  • I don’t know the game, I don’t know how to tell if a player is doing something right or doing something wrong. And for me to enjoy something, I need to know what the hell I'm talking about
  • All I can tell is if a guy is fast and can handle the ball and make precise passes
  • I can’t tell why a guy, who everyone says has great ball control, can miss a goal by kicking it 20 feet wide or over the goal. To me, it seems like a good jumpshooter shooting 15 percent but when he misses, he airballs by five feet. I don’t know why this is so and perhaps I’ll learn, but having never played the sport I don’t know how hard it is to do some of the things they do. That said, they’re professionals, so anything I could have done would be laughable by comparison.
  • I don’t know how many teams are in the MLS
  • I don’t who what cities are represented
  • I don’t know how many divisions there are
  • I don’t know how many teams make the playoffs
  • I don’t know the playoff format
  • I don’t know what the championship game is called even though I heard two weeks ago that the Sounders will host the game at Qwest Field
  • I don’t know how many players are on the roster
  • I don’t know if there is a salary cap
  • I don’t know if it’s a young man’s game or if veterans rule
  • I don’t know how many games they play
  • I’m not 100 percent sure if I could describe the offsides rule
  • I don't know the league will survive

I may take the time and effort to learn any of those things and get involved in with the team. But I don’t know if I’ll truly ever care. One of my big hang-ups is that I may feel like a poser for jumping on board; kind of like some of the “football” fans who decided that they liked the Seahawks in 2003.

The team won’t miss me, but will I miss my chance to get in on the ground floor? It wouldn’t be the first time.

My Zimbio
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