vicious electronic questioning
SH: That hasn't been the sense I've gotten, but this is squishy and unquantifiable.
BC: The inevitable 16-team end game isn't even a conference anymore. You get one game against the other division. One!
SH: Yup. Current lineup in the SEC still has two, but yes. In a 16 team format you get one, unless we're talking about adding more games. We are inevitably talking about adding more games.
BC: At least there's that. If there's anything good that comes out of all of this it's the reduction of bodybag games like last weekend's SEC schedule. But what does one game do? It means you play the teams in the other division once every four years, ie less often than ACC teams will play Notre Dame. I stop caring about those teams when I don't play them. Instead of having a rich history with Iowa I have a vague relationship with them.
I think we should insert "Someone I Used to Know" here.
SH: Framed against a pic of Adam Jacobi.
Rest of it at the link. I'm apoplectic and this was before I'd found out what the divisions were going to be!
What's the deal with your quarterback rotation? Who is Michigan going to see more of?
The deal with it is that Northwestern decided to get experimental when there was sort of no need to. Basically Northwestern started the year with Kain Colter at quarterback, which was working, then decided to bring in Trevor Siemian for some drives. Siemian, you see supposedly has a better arm while Colter's the better runner, which gave teams different looks, plus allowed Colter to split out to wide receiver. This eventually translated into Colter coming in for drives with lots of run plays or short passes and Siemian running drives with lots of pass plays. This eventually translated into defenses realizing what was going on and stopping it, because duh.
However, I think that idea is over: Siemian only threw one pass in the team's last game against Iowa. I think Colter's the guy going forward - he's not an awful passer, and really has the moves to make guys miss on scrambles and options. I just wish he'd been playing all-time QB all year long, because I think NU would have won one of the games we lost. Against Iowa, Colter was finally given the green light to throw a deep ball, and lo, it was like a 60 yard touchdown.
[ed: if you're reading this, Roger, do not make an attempt to decipher the picture at right. that way lies madness]
Northwestern had a really highly touted wide out corps coming into the year - the best in the conference, according to them! - with a lot of tall, quick guys with a lot of upside. It hasn't really panned out yet, but I think two years down the line that statement could be true, but right now it isn't there. That said, part of it is the balls aren't getting to them because of the QB's and another is that Northwestern's running game is so effective the pass just serves to spread the field.
Prater's a really weird story - he's obviously got the physical skills that made him the top wide receiver in the country in high school, but something just isn't right. I think he's a step slower than people think, and Northwestern's offense tends not to center around getting one receiver the ball every time it's in the air anyway. He did have a one-on-one downfield a few weeks ago and had his guy beaten, but the pass from Siemian was way underthrown.
Are you disappointed in the offense? It seems to alternate between thumping bad teams and surviving on a surfeit of fortune against good ones and Minnesota.
The dilly-dallying between Colter running and Siemian passing was really stupid and dumb and I hated it. It was cool for exactly one week that Kain Colter would split out wide and make some catches. Then teams keyed onto it and it stopped being fun, because unsuccessful gimmicks are still unsuccessful. The offense is still the highlight of Northwestern, and its excessively enjoyable to watch Colter run the option with Venric Mark, but the playcalling has lacked imagination at times.
Is the Northwestern secondary as reliably Northwestern-y as usual? I notice you've given up a ton of passing yards but the efficiency number (48th) is less depressing than normal.
A lot of the poop happened when Northwestern gave up 470 yards to Syracuse Week 1. It was everywhere, but mainly on Demetrius Dugar's side of the field. The poop, that is.
Northwestern has looked okay against the pass since, but lockdown freshman Nick VanHoose is hurt. Without him, problems? I don't know.
One of these mammals is Fitzgerald Toussaint. One is Henri, the Otter of Ennui. BUT WHICH ONE
How are the Wildcats against the run? Do you have guys who can run at tailbacks while completely unblocked and tackle? That's really all they have to do. I don't even think you have to answer this question.
After literally decades where this was not true, Northwestern seems to have a passable run defense. David Nwabuisi is a competent tackler at middle linebacker, as are Damian Proby and Chi Chi Ariguzo at the outside spots. There were some problems against Penn State - understandable, you know, like the old saying goes, Zwinek and Zordich and pray for umm... zirconia? Zagreb? - but for the most part, this is a rare Northwestern unit that likes wrapping up tackles when they're meant to be wrapped up.
Knicks 2011-2012 : Linsanity :: Knicks 2012-2013 : ???
The Knicks resign John Shurna after cutting him at the end of training camp. I mean, he wouldn't play ever, but I'd probably be just as excited about seeing him at the end of the bench every time I watched games as I was during the height of the Lin thing.
What is wrong with this damn conference? You guys are smart. Figure this out.
I ran this past some guys in the Northwestern science department, which is not an actual department. We took the Big Ten standings for the past 15 years and organized them using the Hernstrom-Cafferty Coefficient, which is something I just made up. By putting on goggles, taking some blue liquid in one graduated cylinder and pouring it into a yellow liquid contained in a beaker, as well as nodding and taking notes when the liquids changed colors, we determined that there is, in fact, a statistically significant dip in the Prager-Pellini Quotient of the 2012 Big Ten conference, which is another thing I just made up. After looking at the results, we can safely hypothesize that the main problem with the Big Ten is, beyond a preponderance of a doubt, caused by something we've coined the Cook Microprontomial Factor, which is a fancy science term for all of your dicks. The problem with the Big Ten is your dicks. Your scrawny, unceasingly pathetic dicks.
[ed: : ( ]
In other news, I have a degree from Northwestern University, but I'll be damned if you ever ask me what my GPA was. I got my transcript mailed to me in about July and I threw that nonsense in the bottom of my sock drawer before even I could read it.
Do you sometimes wish that Northwestern's journalism school didn't exist?
Yes. If Northwestern's journalism school doesn't exist, I don't apply to Northwestern. I don't apply to Northwestern, I apply some place where the sports teams don't finish up every game by scooping your non-vital organs out with a melon baller and eating them in front of your eyes, then scooping your eyes out with the same melon baller without washing it, likely getting lots of gross gastric juices inside of your brain cavity. If Northwestern did not have a journalism school, I wouldn't have to follow Northwestern sports, and therefore I'd be able to go on job interviews and talk to girls without people asking me about why I have a friggin melon-baller shaped gouge mark in my chest, dripping entrails.
[ED: I was just hoping for a Darren Rovell zinger.]
I hit up Hustle Belt's Matt Sussman to enquire about the OHIO Bobcats. Matt's a BGSU man himself but has taken in scads of MAC basketball this year. Hit his site Hustle Belt or follow him on twitter. Curling tweets!
Matt was also good enough to clarify the origin of Ohio being OHIO: "if you gander at ohio.edu you'll see the all caps damn near everywhere. Just doing what they want, to the extreme." The Mountain Dew of schools. Still, they annihilated GT.
It's a terrible strain on OHIO football fans to get mentally prepared for, say, Kent State then suddenly hear in the news that they might be playing Michigan, spend $50 on a one-game ticket, watch film on Denard then finally realize what Brady Hoke is doing. All this money adds up especially when compounded with student loans and translates directly into 4.6 points per basketball contest.
There are a few things that leap off the page when you hit up OHIO's Kenpom sheet:
1) Turnovers forced. The Bobcats are second nationally. DJ Cooper has an Aaron Craft-like steal percentage. Can he give Trey Burke as much trouble as Craft, or is he more of a high-risk, high-reward type of guy? Do they use weird zones or is this just a man to man D that gets into passing lanes really well?
Coop (the kids call him Coop) is kind of a risk-taker and they'll go between zone and man. Really I think the entire team is so solid defensively that they can allow Cooper (sportswriters call him Cooper) to really frustrate his man.
2) Three-point defense. Pomeroy has dedicated a series of posts this fall to the idea that three point D is basically luck and that the real number to look at is the number of threes conceded. The Bobcats are great at the former (19th nationally, 30%) and not good at the latter (36% of opponent shots are from three, 261st). Not to denigrate the MAC, but is this a league with a lot of hopeless late-clock chucks?
Well, four of the five first team All-MACers were power forwards, so ... maybe kinda. (The fifth was DJ Cooper, FWIW.) Couple theories on this: the one you mentioned, or that their interior defense is better than advertised so all they have left is to shoot the three. I can think of one "chucker" in the MAC and he plays for Buffalo, a team they beat three times despite having two outstanding forwards and a better seed in the MAC Tournament.
3) Speaking of a lot of hopeless late-clock chucks, if you click the conference toggle for the Bobcats Kenpom tells you they're dead last at shooting threes (barely over 30%) and take a ton (38%). These guys are just going to shoot over guys without even trying to find an open shot a lot, right?
Is this another question about DJ Cooper? Because yes. I think the ghost of Tommy Freeman does inhabit the occasional Bobcat from time to time. The only one who usually makes them is Clark Kellogg's son Nick, and if CBS wants to run that storyline into the ground they'll find a way. And yes, they are prone to going three-happy, and risk-taking in general on offense. Oh, that can sometimes have hilarious results.
As far as individual matchups go, it looks like OHIO is actually bigger than Michigan. M rotates Evan Smotrycz and Jordan Morgan at the five and will have both on the floor for a few minutes per game; it looks like Ohio has a 6'8" two-headed center and an actual power forward named Ivo Baltic. How much of a post force is he? Can Zack Novak reasonably match up against him?
Anytime I see Baltic play, he has some nice quick moves whether it's to the basket or to separate for a 10- to 15-footer. He's a reliable 4 but I wouldn't call him one of the tops in the MAC ... just one of the many sound interior players along with Reggie Keely and Jon Smith.
DJ Cooper (right) has a monster assist rate, draws a ton of fouls, shoots well from the line... and is pretty horrible at all other shots. Poor man's Lewis Jackson: fair comparison? What does he have to do to make Michigan worry?
The team is nothing without him but he can't be everything. When he stays as a true point guard he's at his best. He can score 20 points as long as he lets Baltic and Keely and Kellogg and Offutt also score 10 or 15 points. If those other guys are getting into position and he can pass to them regularly, then he's going to put Michigan in a world of hurt.
While he can sometimes get the big shot, he's not particularly known for it. Dangle that carrot in his face that the game depends on his very next shot with 12 minutes to go and that may be the key to his undoing.
Is there anything in what Ohio does that seems likely to give an undersized, outside-shooting-dependent, shallow Big Ten team issues?
You gave away the answer already! Three-point defense. Take Northern Iowa for example. Big-time reliant on the 3-point shooting, not a lot of inside size. OHIO's guards contested lots of threes, rebounded well, and they put UNI away by several points on the road. It was a big win at the time that looks progressively worse with age, but that's basically the blueprint. Strong guard defense, get everybody involved on offense.
Two years ago OHIO took down three-seeded Georgetown by 14, with Cooper featuring. Anything other than a coaching talking point to be taken from that? Repeatable due to scheme and talent?
Keely got some points, Baltic had a cameo appearance, but other than Cooper's great game and John Groce being present and clapping and stomping I'm not putting much stock into that anomaly. Let's remember that OHIO was a NINE seed in the MAC tournament that year. They were about as inconsistently hot that year as a Hot Pocket. It's been two years since the Georgetown upset and I still can't figure out how it happened other than to say it was just the best two-week stretch of Armon Bassett's life and maybe he was bitten by a radioactive basketball.
On an upset alert scale ranging from "Captain Renault is shocked that Kansas underperformed its seed" to "Sixteen seed takes down one," how would you rate this 4-13 matchup?
Sir Lancelot, played by D.J. Cooper, single-handedly storming the castle where a wedding is being held, but never gaining ground. Like many other 4-13s: can happen, might happen, probably won't happen, not willing to wager money it won't happen.
MAC rivals have started calling the Bobcats "Ohio State," right?
That's not really fair to a team that will actually travel to a MAC school for a game.
In preparation for Michigan's College Gameday-featured extravaganza against Ohio State on Saturday, I asked Sarah Hardy of Eleven Warriors a handful of questions about the Buckeye hoops squad. For a Buckeye, she provided some very insightful answers, which you can find below. I did a similar Q&A over at 11W; you can check that out here. Thank you to Sarah—who you can follow on Twitter @sarbucks—for taking the time to provide the OSU perspective on the game.
Other than free throw percentage (9th in the Big Ten), the Buckeyes don't appear to have a weakness. OSU's record supports this. Am I missing something?
Jon Diebler. Or, I should say, Ohio State is missing Jon Diebler. With him, this team could easily be undefeated. Instead, there’s no reliable outside shooter, and without that threat, it allows the defense to focus most of their efforts on Sullinger and, to a lesser extent, Buford. By forcing the opponent to account for him at all times, Diebler’s mere presence opened up the floor for his teammates.
Now, Ohio State’s most accurate three-point “specialists” are Sullinger (11/23) and Lenzelle Smith Jr. (19/47), neither of whom attempts enough treys to make a significant impact. That really levels the playing field against a team with less talent but one that can score from behind the arc with regularity.
I'd ask about the Michigan State loss, but the Spartans are about as different a team as possible from the Wolverines. Illinois and Indiana did manage to beat Ohio State. What did they do to make that happen?
The Illinois game was one of those situations that OSU falls victim to at least once a season: an opposing player (Brandon Paul in this case) turns into an evil sorcerer for the night, and no matter how closely he is guarded, his black magic will not allow him to miss.
Still, it was a close match throughout and it ultimately came down to Ohio State’s Achilles’ Heel: three-pointers. They hit just 5/15 from downtown while the Illini were 11/18 (the Dark Lord alone was 8/10). At the end of the game, Paul came through with key shots and no one for the Buckeyes stepped up to do the same.
Against Indiana, they again couldn’t close it out, but the circumstances leading up to those final minutes were different than in the loss to Illinois. Visiting Assembly Hall, where refs must have PTSD from the days of Bobby Knight, Ohio State was getting called for ticky tack fouls that ended up dictating the game. Sullinger and Craft were both in foul trouble early, and in the second half, everyone was too scared to play defense, so they gave up an unusual amount of easy baskets.
Also, the Bucks were uncharacteristically sloppy with the ball, especially Craft with a career-high six turnovers.
In the first matchup, Michigan effectively limited Jared Sullinger by playing a lot of zone, which is unusual for the Wolverines. Have other teams deployed this strategy with any effectiveness, or do you see that as a one-time occurrence? Do you think Sullinger bounces back in this game?
Against Minnesota on Tuesday night, Tubby Smith switched to the zone after the Buckeyes went on an early 20-0 run. After that, Ohio State finished the first half with 8 points on 2/10 shooting. I checked with one of our lead basketball writers at 11W, Chris Lauderback, and we agreed that the main reason they struggle against the zone is because they start jacking up 3s, often unsuccessfully.
In January when these teams met, the zone helped limit Sullinger to 13 points and 5 rebounds. He was also in foul trouble early, so I have to believe Beilein will employ it again. It’s Michigan’s best bet to counter against someone who presents the kind of matchup problems that Sully does.
However, if the Minnesota game was any indication, he will play better this time around against the Wolverines. On Tuesday, he notched 23 points and 8 rebounds and even when Andre Hollins tossed an inbounds pass off his crotch, he wasn’t as visibly frustrated as he was versus the likes of Michigan and Michigan State.
I think most Wolverine fans are aware of Sullinger, Aaron Craft, and William Buford as being the main stars for OSU. Who else should Michigan watch out for on Saturday?
Lenzelle Smith Jr. came up huge the first time these two teams met (17 points, 12 rebounds). He has that jack-of-all-trades quality that made David Lighty such an invaluable member of the Buckeyes for all his 20 seasons. Like everyone except Sullinger and Craft, Smith is not always consistent, but he will the ability to emerge when his teams needs him.
While Deshaun Thomas is still a gunner, his shot selection is better this season than last, when his sometimes poor decision-making cost him playing time. His defense leaves a lot to be desired, and he’s erratic from behind the arc, but he’s proficient around the basket, grabbing boards and putting back missed shots.
Although Matta has gone with a deeper rotation than in years past, there’s usually not a lot of production from the bench unless the game is a blowout. Lately, freshman Sam Thompson has been the first one off the bench. Similar to almost every other player on the roster, he needs to work on his jump shot, but he’s extremely athletic and can block shots, hit the glass, and throw down glorious dunks. Even other teams’ fans seem to enjoy his gravity-defying moments.
How do you expect the Buckeyes will try to neutralize Michigan's offense, which is mostly predicated on getting to the hoop with screen-and-rolls and creating open three-pointers?
Last week, Mark Titus wrote a Grantland article that discussed how Ohio State’s defensive weakness is defending ball screens. Depending on the opponent, Matta uses a variety of strategies, which sometimes leads to information overload. Then, the defenders become out of sync with one another. In that case, they’re most susceptible to allowing open 3s or easy layups.
Still, Ken Pomeroy ranks them #1 in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency. Matta will probably stick with the same strategy he used the first time against UM, when they only put up 49 points. He’s a simple Midwestern man, so for him, if It ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
I'll ask the same potentially-blasphemous question you asked me: If you could add one Wolverine to the Buckeye roster, who would it be?
I want to say Trey Burke, just so Michigan wouldn’t have him on the roster for another three years, but I don’t know where he’d play. While Aaron Craft does not have the same offensive production as Burke, I wouldn’t trade him for any other PG in the country. His inimitable defense means that Matta trusts him more than anyone else, so he doesn’t come off the floor much.
Really, what Ohio State needs is someone who is experienced and can make shots from long range. As difficult as this is to admit, and I may be ostracized from the OSU community for doing so, I guess I’d have to go with Zack Novak. He’s a senior utility man connecting on 43.3% of his three-pointers, and he’s stout on the defensive end, too.
Piggybacking off that last answer, do you think Thad Matta made a huge error by not recruiting Trey Burke? Note: Michigan fans will believe this regardless of your answer.
Again, I’d love it if Burke were wearing Scarlet and Gray, if only to keep him away from the Wolverines, but I don’t think Matta had much of a choice in the matter. There are only so many spots on the roster, and Craft, just a sophomore, is a four-year player. Shannon Scott pledged to become a Buckeye early on, and it wasn’t until after when Burke really started making a name for himself.
At this point, it’s hard to compare Scott and Burke because Michigan has asked the latter to do much more, and to his credit, he’s responded. In the offseason, Scott needs to work on his offensive game, and then maybe we’ll see him on the court with Craft more next year.
Even though he decided to play for The Team Up North, an epithet I guess we have readopted, I harbor no ill will toward Burke. He’s a hometown kid who probably would have played for Ohio State in a heartbeat. There was just no room for him.
Is there really any way you see Ohio State losing this game? What's your prediction, and how do you expect the game to play out?
Especially on the road, Ohio State is hardly infallible. Michigan absolutely has a chance of winning, particularly if they’re hitting their 3s because most likely, Ohio State won’t be able to counter from distance.
At Minnesota, Buford and Sullinger each came up huge, and while I’m not predicting 20+ points from them, I think both will score more than they did last time against the Wolverines. As for UM, I imagine they’ll also be more effective on the offensive side. Someone, probably Hardaway or Novak, will decide to shoot lights out.
Given that Michigan has a perfect home record this season and has played Ohio State tough in recent years in Ann Arbor, I’ll call a close game. A loss is certainly possible, but I already said something complimentary about Novak and I’d have to turn in my Buckeye card if I picked the Wolverines, too: Ohio State 66, Michigan 62
Talking turkey (HA!) with The Key Play, a Virginia Tech blog of some renown.
It looks like VT's vaunted special teams are mediocre or worse this year. What's with the net punting under 34 yards? Blocks, fumbles, a bad punter? Has VT made its usual complement of the gamechanging special teams plays that might not show up in the conventional numbers?
The starting punter going into the season, Scott Demler, had a lower back injury from his freshman year in 2008 that compromised his leg strength. Beamer went with him early, but it became clear he could not do the job. Beamer turned to true freshman Michael Branthover who has tremendous leg strength, but is woefully inconsistent with his drop due to inexperience with two-step punting. When he became so erratic that it threatened to cost them games, Beamer turned to receiver Danny Coale, who has kicked much better, but it has limited his touches in the passing game.
The Hokies were blessed with an outstanding return game the last two seasons. Beamer decided to benefit from Hosley and Wilson as returners, and taking field position, rather than blocking kicks. This season, the Hokies have been poor with their blocking on kickoff returns, and teams have kicked away from Wilson to Tony Gregory, who is in replacing an injured Dyrell Roberts.
On the punt return, every team has rugby and directionally punted away from Hosley. It has neutralized any attempt to block kicks (although the Hokies got a hand on punt versus Clemson that the ACC officials said never happened), but the Hokies have often benefited from a short field.
David Wilson: scary dude. What are his strengths and weaknesses? If you had to compare him to a back familiar to Big Ten fans who would that be?
Wilson has Michael Bennett-like speed, he set all sorts of Tech records in the weight room, and is a very tough runner. At times, he looks to make the big play rather than the smart play. If you need three and he has a small hole, he will still look to bounce, causing a large number of plays that would result in first downs to go backwards. He doesn't have Ryan Williams's field vision, and he looks for lanes going towards the sideline, rather than finding the cutback lane. That running style has caused the Hokies to abandon much of their one-back zone plays. At the same time, the kid runs really hard, and can make chicken salad out of garbage.
How did Clemson hold Wilson to 36 yards on 11 carries in the championship game?
Simple. The Hokies could not run up the middle because the inside of the o-line was dominated, so much so that Clemson moved both of their safeties up like 3-4 outside linebackers. Aside from Logan Thomas on designed runs, the Hokies have found their success running outside. If you take that away, they have been hesitant to even try up the middle.
Thomas is not as natural of a runner as Newton, nor as quick. However, they have similar builds and Thomas is a much better thrower at this point in his career. When asked to, Logan is essentially the Hokies' power back. On third and short, he is getting the ball. I think the 32 yards per game is misleading. He was not used as much against weaker teams, and he has taken a bunch of sacks in close games. He has delivered a highlight-reel-worthy steamroll on at least one guy every game this year. (Here is much more on Thomas.)
How is the passing game? Who are the dangerous guys?
If Michigan plays cover 3 or soft man, they are screwed. The Hokies have struggled against effective press coverage. They run a ton of deep combo routes, and bubble screens. Other than the bubble screens, most of their patterns involve all the receivers going deep, so they take time to develop.
Chris Drager has been effective on short curl routes from the tight end spot. Jarrett Boykin tends to be effective on double move posts and deep curls, but even with humongous hands he is good for one drop a game. Danny Coale is an outstanding blocker, and has a knack for always getting open, but Logan Thomas can miss him while looking deep. Marcus Davis has the speed and jumping ability to be a tremendous deep threat, but he is a poor blocker and terrible route runner. DJ Coles is physical, outstanding at blocking and catching the ball on screens, and he probably is the best Hokie receiver running after the catch. His route running could be sharper. He was the Hokies' best player against Clemson in the ACC Championship.
Virginia Tech's had a weird season, blowing out a pretty decent Virginia team 38-0 and putting around that much on Miami and GT but struggling against some of the worst teams on the schedule in a 17-10 win against ECU and a 14-10 win against Duke. What's the deal with the offense? Is it really that schizophrenic?
I think the offense was erratic due to matchups. If the Hokies could not run outside the tackles, or if the opposing team took away short throws and could rush the passer, the Hokies struggled.
On defense, I'm sure we're going to see a lot of eight man fronts. How has VT done against spread option teams this year?
The defensive ends will crash on the dive, leaving Robinson one-on-one with either Kyle Fuller (right, #17) or Tariq Edwards. [ED: Edwards is a linebacker, Fuller a S/LB hybrid actually listed as a CB on the VT roster because he is basically a corner. Fuller may be the only corner to ever rack up 14.5 TFLs. VT's defense is weird and aggressive.]
The Hokies defense dominated the four offenses that played the same style as Michigan (Appy State, ECU, Marshall, and Arkansas State), but none have Michigan's talent.
Do you think VT will blitz Robinson or lay back for him to make a mistake? (I think I know the answer to this one, but...)
They will blitz him.
Who should Michigan look out for on defense? Who is your insane undersized pass rusher du jour?
Kyle Fuller is one of the best open field tacklers I have seen in college football. He started the season at corner opposite Jayron Hosley, but moved to Whip linebacker after starter Jeron Gouveia-Winslow was lost for the year and his backup Alonzo Tweedy suffered a high-ankle sprain/didn't play well. Senior corner Cris Hill comes off the bench to replace Fuller at corner. Expect a lot of "nickel personnel" out of our 4-3 looks and scheme. The Hokies will use robber coverage and show man to bait Robinson, then jump routes from zones.
Once the Hokies got into the meat of the ACC schedule, aside from UVa, they could not generate pass rush from just the front-four. Sophomore James Gayle was the guy most of us thought would be the next big time defensive end at Tech. He's an athletic freak and won the Excalibur Award, the highest honor in the Hokies' strength and conditioning program. He has 7 sacks in 12 games, but has been hobbled by a sprained left ankle since Miami.
What makes you nervous about the game? What gives you confidence?
A possible lack of focus makes me nervous, and if we were in the Orange Bowl, again, I'd be even more anxious. More often than not bowl games are won by the team who wants it more. Being that it's Michigan's first BCS game since the 2007 Rose Bowl, and they're coached by a new staff looking to make their mark, I have to believe they're going to be super focused. At least more than the team who has only missed out on the BCS once in the last five seasons.
What gives me a little confidence is that I'm wrong a lot. After getting crushed by Clemson, the Hokies thought they'd finish out the season against an irrelevant SEC team in the Peach Bowl. Ho-hum. Then the Sugar Bowl came along and raised them up. (I went there.) The players and coaches are extremely excited for the game and matchup. They have a real second chance, an opportunity to end the season on a big stage with a win against a ten win team.
I'll take the Hokies in a close game.
Does VT actually jingle keys? If so, can we start a movement to redirect the scorn Michigan gets for that activity to its proper place? Michigan used to but hasn't in five or so years.
"The Key Play.com" /coughs
I don't think I've ever heard any opposing fan in Lane, on the road, or in a bar hate on us for that. I guess they never get tired of saying, "go win a national championship." [ED: Why do we get so much guff for it, then?]
World Cup content ahoy. The below is a conversation with War Blog Eagle proprietor, guy who is basically dog blood comprised of 90% cocaine during the first round of the NCAA tournament, and gracious host for the MGoRoadtrip to Auburn-LSU Jerry Hinnen. If you're trolling for more WC content, Stars and Gripes remains highly recommended, and I'd add the Shin Guardian to that list despite the fact that more than one of their contributors advocates a Robbie Findley start on Saturday.
I'm in bold; Jerry is plaintext.
So I know that after this whole Demar Dorsey thing you're ready to think about something totally non-stressful and anti-depressing. Let's talk about the U.S. central defense! Do we battle Wayne Rooney with the guy who plays (regularly!) in Norway and spearheaded the defensive "effort" against Mexico in the 5-0 Gold Cup loss? Or the guy who hasn't played more than 45 minutes since October and runs like your grandfather?
Probably the guy who not only runs but looks like my grandfather, if my grandfather was Greg Oden. As soon as Onyewu sprouted that hellacious neckbeard it was like it had always been there. Bradley said he was ready to go 90, and while that might be a smokescreen the USA backline actually started clearing crosses before they hit the ground when he came in against the Aussies.
With England seemingly set to start Emile Heskey, strength will be at a premium over speed, and it's not like Goodson is that quick or agile anyway. I think you deploy two destroyers in front of the central D and hope.
What would you do? Leave a comment below!
Ives, I agree. If Slovenia or Algeria were the opening match, I'd advise playing it safe with Goodson and giving Onyewu another few days to get the beard up to "Eliminator" standards. But England is the damn-the-torpedoes, high-variance, all-or-nothing match. Onyewu's ceiling is so many thousands of miles higher than Goodson's.
Plus Demerit seems to not be suffering a prolonged seizure when Gooch is out there, too, plus plus thanks to B. Bradley's marathon training sessions--as in "let's be fit enough to run one"--we may be OK burning a sub in central defense if we have to. So that's one of the two big lineup questions. The other: who are your forwards?
No, seriously: send Bornstein home with a bruised ego and bring in Ching. Seriously. No foolies.
Do I hear a second? Sustained.
Failing that, I would go with Jozy and Dempsey because I'd rather have Holden on the field than Buddle. Given Buddle's ability to score goals when they are put on a plate, though, I'd be okay with having him start if you're dead set on having Dempsey in the midfield.
Findley: absolutely not. I will be stabby if he gets 90.
What, you're not interested in having his speed stretch the defense? But the defense! It'll be stretched! Because of his speed! That's far more important than his ability to, you know, score in an empty net from three yards.
To be fair, one of those was from like... eight yards.
You're right, I'm being too harsh on the guy who scored once in 12 MLS games this year. Me, I start Altidore and Buddle. Dempsey just seems so much more comfortable starting in midfield and moving up later, and for my money "how can we get the most out of Dempsey?" is a more important question than the Buddle/Holden dilemma. Besides, dude, Buddle was visited by some sort of magical goalscoring fairy last offseason.
I won't be mad if it's Buddle-Altidore. I will only be mad if Findley starts. I can see him as a 60th minute sub against an old and creaky English defense, but that's all. I mean, aren't Jozy and Buddle somewhat close to his speed?
Yes. They are not slow. I wonder if Bradley believes they are because they are not short.
You left out one positional debate: midfielder who is not Bradley.
Who should start next to Bradley? Leave your thoughts below!
We can discuss our choice for not-Bradley defensive midfielder, but I'll eat a raw egg if it's not Clark. Donovan said after the Aussie match B. Bradley had used it to get his guys used to playing 90 at altitude. That Clark played that 90 (until his weird hamstring/thigh injury that no one is allowed to talk about, ever, for some weird reason) tells me it's not even a matter of debate.
Does that bother you at all? Clark sucked against Turkey. Pulling him off for Torres turned that game around. Against Australia the midfield provided almost no resistance, leaving the back four exposed. He's supposed to be a destroyer but I don't remember one tackle from the friendlies. How effective can Clark be if he's not even picking up yellows? I don't even know if that's a joke.
He was balls against Turkey but I think you're selling him a little short against the Aussies; he wasn't great, but he had a handful of decent plays, and he played the cross-field ball to Cherundolo that set him up for the run-and-cross to Buddle.
I'd start Edu myself, but I don't think England is the right game for Torres. Because jobs No. 1, 1a, 1b, and 1c for whoever starts alongside Bradley are: Mark Frank Lampard. Possession is awful nice, we all know that, but taking Lampard out of the game and unshackling Bradley from that kind of dirty work might be even nicer. If you disrupt Lampard, maybe Gerrard has to come forward to try and get something going in the middle, maybe now we've got even more space on the counter for Bradley. I think Edu could manage that assignment and give us some ball control, but I'm all right with Clark.
I'm just leery of Clark because he's basically Onyewu. He has hardly played since the end of the last MLS season. The difference in the midfield is that the US has options. Edu's battled injury problems of his own but got some significant run for Rangers towards the end of the season and just looks more ready to play. I know some of the soccer insider folks have been suggesting he will start and Clark's friendly experience was an effort to get him fitness, fitness that Edu already has. I'm hoping that's the case.
I agree that the US will be playing to absorb pressure and will be thrilled with a draw, so Torres will not and should not start. If the US is behind at the half, I think he might be a quick sub, but that's only if things aren't going well.
Here's to hoping the insiders are right. I'm not losing sleep over Clark (not more than I'm already losing anyway), but there's loads more potential for a transcendent, England-beating performance with Edu.
There's seems to be a growing consensus out there that Torres needs to start against Slovenia and Algeria, though. We're part of that consensus, right? Is anyone not?
I am so on-board with that consensus. Going back to the "form" argument, Torres has logged a ton of time for Pachuca, way more than the other viable options. He takes pressure off a central defense that will feature Demerit and someone who is not Bocanegra. Bocanegra is pretty good with the ball at his feet and takes pressure off his central defense partner when he's in the middle; when he's not the US has hoofers. Having Torres drop back to pick up possession, relieve pressure, and release freakily accurate balls to attacking players makes the US way more likely to score from the run of play.
You and I are charter members of the Jose Torres fan club, though. At halftime of the Costa Rica game in CR we were ready to fly down there and scream at Bradley for yanking Torres at the half.
I don't know if I've ever been more confused by any coach I've followed, in any sport, than Bob Bradley. He makes so many decisions that make me think a ferret with a Ouija board could do better. But the results are there: 1st in the Hex. Confed Cup finalists. Even these two friendlies; 2-1 over Turkey and 3-1 over Australia (both of those teams something close to their respective A-sides) are light years ahead of what we saw in the '98, '06, and even '02 run-ups. I can't decide if I want to hug him or strangle him. Maybe start to hug him and turn it into a strangle.
In any case: no more ambivalence after Saturday, which is nice. You on the panic side or the 1776 all over again side?
I'm not expecting a win. That Onyewu injury is haunting. Right after everything with the Confed Cup that got him the Milan transfer, a meaningless game against Costa Rica, the injury... the total lack of field time... I mean, I think the US is a good bet to score against England but unless Timmah puts on a Spain-like show I think they're going down.
My personal prediction is a 2-2 draw with the U.S. going up 2-1 early in the second and just barely--like, batting cage-style bombardment on Howard's goal--hanging on for the point. I'm thinking we really need a point at least, though, because I've to the conclusion that Slovenia could be nightmarish. It's _so_ easy to see an early mental lapse in defense, a 1-0 deficit, and 80 minutes of useless pounding away at the same defense that did just that to Russia. (Russia as coached by Guus Hiddink, nonetheless.) Tell me why that won't happen. Please? I'm begging you. Seriously, I'm on my knees here.
Russia doesn't have Jose Torres.
No, just Andrei Arshavin.
I cannot tell you anything about Slovenia other than the vague overviews, but that's totally possible. The US is only 56% to advance according to Nate Silver's crazy computer, but the Slovenians are just going to sit back and hope, really. Their defense is fantastic; their offense is piddling. I think that's the game Torres comes in and maintains possession like a mofo.
That video does fill me with hope. Still, I think the most likely path to progression for U.S. remains England draw, Slovenia draw, Algeria win, five points is good for second. I do think progression is the most likely outcome, since Slovenia (despite my worries) and Algeria are still Slovenia and Algeria. But thanks to the defense, I'm still clutching my knees to my chest and singing Amazing Grace to myself twice daily.
What do you think of the U.S.'s chances of getting out of the group? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!
I'd rather look at the broader picture with Slovenia: they had a weak group and bombed out of Euro '08. Algeria is widely regarded as the weakest team outside of the pure minnows (North Korea, New Zealand, and Honduras) and may be eliminated already. And England has a rich history of wobbly play. I do think Silver is about right and the US is only 60-40 to get out of the group, but 60-40 isn't bad.
But there is nothing that can possibly calm my nerves. What if they played college football once every four years and made the season 3-6 games? You would die, and nothing could prevent you from doing so. Thus the World Cup.
There is something both soul-crushingly horrible and soul-stirringly fantastic about being the kind of soccer fan--a species I'm going to hyperbolically claim is unique to the U.S., and which I believe represents the both of us--who love the sport, never attached themselves to a club side for geographic reasons, and root exclusively for the national side. Our team plays, essentially, three games that matter every four years. They mean absolutely everything. There is no next year, no fallback, no safety net of a club for our investment as fans. Defeat is unbearable. But victory a la 1994 or 2002 is ... it's hard to describe. I mean, remember the Portugal game? My dog could have been run over by the girl who wouldn't go out with me in seventh grade and I'd have written her a check for tire damage. Or something.
I do. That was the greatest day of soccer fandom ever for me, because I was in Ireland and the next game was the famous 1-1 draw with Germany that basically put the Irish through to the second round. May some day this month equal it.