Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Cubs Spring Training Storylines Part 1

How will the Cubs work Schwarber into the mix at catcher?

It's important for the Cubs to continue working Schwarber behind the plate. It won't be his everyday spot going forward I don't believe and I'm also not sure they want him catching 120 games a year either. However his bat at the catcher spot is hard to find. If they can continue to work with him back there so he has the ability to be a part-time serviceable catcher it could pay dividends for years to come. I envision Schwarber getting 20-30 starts behind the plate this year. Let's face it, he isn't that good of a LF and the more starts he gets behind the plate the more starts Soler can get in the OF.  It is important with all of the flexibility on this Cubs roster that they don't have one or two players with the inability to move around the diamond outside of Rizzo. Here are some other outside the box ways of getting Schwarber some C time. 

-Personal catcher for Hendricks/5th starter
-Late inning substitution in blowouts 
-Starts w/Ross or Montero as late inning def replacement

Finally, without knowing if Contreras is ready to play big league ball Schwarber needs the experience in case of injury to Montero. 

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Big 12/SEC Challenge

As we reach the end of January and the heart of the conference slate the Big 12 and SEC are gearing up for an inter conference showdown.  The coaches hate this challenge being in the middle of the conference season and I don't blame them. As a college basketball fan I think it's great. This challenge wouldn't have had nearly the buzz on a Tuesday night in early December before Simmons and Hield proved themselves to be the best two players in college basketball. It would be fun if more conferences did this on the same weekend. They could even do it the weekend of the Super Bowl and cal it Super Madness?  They may not want to compete with the NFL so maybe Pro Bowl weekend is best. Anyway,  I'll attempt to preview the ten games and make an accurate prediction. 

One thing to keep in mind with this challenge is it includes all Big 12 teams and excludes the bottom four SEC teams. 

West Virginia at Florida (-1.5)

The loss of Holton hurts for West Virginia. Florida is starting to play better as of late and is at home in this one. My hope is West Virginia is able to find enough offense to scrape out a win on the road and keep their Top 10 status for Tuesday's showdown in Hilton. 

I think Press Virginia causes enough havoc and edges out a 2.5 hour win 71-66. 

Vanderbilt at Texas (-1)

Vanderbilt is a good team. Texas is starting to find its way on both sides of the ball. Texas has about as many quality wins as anyone in the country. I think Shaka gets them another one today in a faster paced game. 

Texas 81 Vanderbilt 76

Ole Miss at Kansas State (-7)

I admittedly don't know much about Ole Miss outside of Stefan Moody and that they are no long we appointment television like they used to be with Marshall Henderson. Kansas State as a seven point favorite is enough to convince me the young Wildcats will pull it out. 

Kansas State 67 Ole Miss 60

Iowa State at Texas A&M (-4.5)

This turned out to be a much bigger opponent than we all originally thought before the season started. It still would have been really fun to see Kentucky come in to Hilton with the roster ISU currently has. 

TAMU is good, very good. They are favored for a reason but the homer in me sees the Cyclones pulling this out. It will be interesting to see how much and how well Jameel McKay plays in this one. The Aggies have a talented freshman center. If Niang gets matched up on him though in a small ball game I think he can take his lunch. 

I look for the Cyclones to mix up some more zone in this game and see how the Aggies respond. I think this one goes similar to Oklahoma game in Norman but this time the Cyclones slow it down enough and control the game toward the end to pull out a win. 

Iowa State 79 Texas A&M 71

Texas Tech at Arkansas (-5.5)

Texas Tech is better than people think. Tubby has them trending in the right direction and Zach Smith is an athletic freak. However I think Arkansas backs up their big win Wednesday with a home win over Texas Tech. 

Arkansas 81 Texas Tech 67

Oklahoma at LSU (+4.5)

This matchup turned out like gold for ESPN. The best two players in college basketball matchup in this one. LSU is much better now that they are healthy. Simmons will get his, as will Hield but I have a hard time believing that Jones can out scheme Krueger. It will be a fun one. OU hits 13 3's and maintains their #1 ranking. 

Oklahoma 85 LSU 76

Georgia at Baylor (-11.5)

Georgia isn't very good. Baylor is. This one gets ugly and doesn't need any more analysis. 

Baylor 79 Georgia 61

Tennessee at TCU (+1.5)

I wish Tennessee was going back to Texas. Maybe next year. TCU misses Kyan Anderson big time. They just aren't very good this year. I think Rick Barnes notches a win at TCU. Something his former school couldn't do. 

Tennessee 65  TCU 60

Kentucky at Kansas (-5.5)

What a dynamite matchup this was preseason. Is this another year where Kentucky falls out of the Top 10 only to gain steam and wind up in the Final Four?  Kansas has some issues right now. Will Self continue to hold his diaper dandies hostage on the bench or turn them loose in order to reap the rewards in March?  It might be in KU's best interest to feed them to the wolves and risk ending their conference championship steak. I don't think Self will though. It's tough to bet against KU at the Phog but I think this ends up as the most exciting game of the challenge.

Kansas 74 Kentucky 72

Oklahoma State at Auburn (+1.5)

Remember the first Big12/SEC Challenge when ISU ran all over Auburn?  That was pre Bruce Pearl. Auburn isn't there yet but they are going to be soon. Juwan Evans vs Kareem Canty will be a matchup to watch in this one. I think Bruce Pearl and Auburn sweat out a win in this one at home. 

Auburn 80 Okie State 75


Final Tally 

Big 12 6 SEC 4

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Fixing the Cyclones

There is an old saying the goes something like "if it ain't broke, don't fix it".  While this may have been Steve Prohm's strategy coming into this year with extremely high expectations, he may have to rethink this strategy.  Let me be clear, this team isn't "broke" but they certainly aren't performing at maximum efficiency.  After losing 3 out of 4 fans have become restless and "experts" (and I use that term loosely) have begun to dig through this team with a fine tooth comb.  Things are never as bad as they seem (or good for that matter), but the Cyclones have some things they need to figure out before getting back to their winning ways.

Adjusting Expectations

Expectations are a funny thing.  The higher they are as a fan, the more miserable you generally become.  The higher the expectations, the less room there is to outperform them.  As a Cubs fan, last season was incredibly enjoyable.  The Cubs weren't supposed to be a playoff team yet.  They outperformed their expectations and it made it a blast to watch.  This year, the expectations will be much higher.  Losses will hurt more and wins won't feel as good because they are supposed to win.  This year, the fans that follow ISU basketball have fallen victim to their own expectations.  During the summer the fan base was buzzing with Big 12 championship and Final Four talk.  It only gained more steam in a snowball effect as experts came out with their projected Final Four participants and preseason Top 10 lists.  ISU climbed all the way up to #2 in the polls and even earned a couple first place votes while compiling wins in the non-conference that weren't convincing enough for the fan base.  So, after 3 losses in 4 games have fans adjusted their expectations?  Yes, they have.  Some are calling this team a bubble team and would be surprised to see them make the tournament.  What?!  Look the 'Clones are probably out of the Big 12 regular season championship talk.  That could be a blessing in disguise.  Lets look at some realistic expectations going forward.

The NCAA tournament is a complete crap shoot.  The very nature of this caused havoc on Cyclone Nation last March and could cause euphoria this March.  Its just the way it is.  I think its tough to put expectations on a team that say they should advance to a certain round in the NCAA tournament.  For me, I think you can gauge a lot about a season based on the seed they earn in the big dance.  Can we reset the goals on the year?  Sure, I am going to (for myself anyway).  How about a Top 4 finish in the Big 12?  I've wanted nothing more than for the Cyclones to dethrone the Jayhawks over this fun four-five year run.  They are behind the 8-ball this year.  Maybe this leads to less heartache later in the year?  How about a "protected" Top 4 seed in the NCAA tournament.  The last two years they have been a 3 seed.  Granted they have run the table in the Big 12 tournament but this team is still certainly capable of earning a 4 seed in the Big Dance.  There are still 14 conference games and a non-conference tilt against Texas A&M left on the schedule.  You can look at that as daunting or opportunity.  Let's not beat around the bush, this group plays big when the lights are the brightest.  Get in the tournament with a somewhat favorable draw and let the cards play themselves out.

Depth

I've never been a big "depth" guy in college basketball.  With egos as big as they are, I think it can create more problems than it can solve.  That is why I wasn't terribly concerned with the lack of depth coming into the year barring injury.  Well, injury happened and it happened to a key cog in the offense and defense.  When it comes to an 18 game conference season it has and will rear its ugly head a couple of times.  I think it has become a factor with the defense and with some shooting woes (namely Monte Morris).  It has made the margin for error thin and those small errors have shown up the last few games.  They won't every game, that is my point.  This group can score with the best of them and there will be nights when depth, defense and coaching won't come into play.  With as bad as the defense and depth have been we are still talking about a couple bounces from 15-1.  Hopefully Burton and Cooke start to find their way.  Last year there were a couple of games that they don't win without Abdel Nader off the bench.  Burton just about provided that spark at Oklahoma.  Hopefully he can help close the deal a couple of times over the rest of the season.

Defense

Oh boy.  It has been bad recently.  Like, Sandlot 2 bad.  We knew going into the season it wouldn't be great and it doesn't have to be great.  It just has to be average.  There are some bad defenders in the bunch, namely Georges Niang.  We were convinced Prohm would put his defensive fingerprint on this group.  The problem is that he has never been a defensive guru.  Under Hoiberg, the plan was to funnel everything to long two point shots.  If they get to the rim, they would be meeting Jameel McKay for a block party.  Prohm has McKay denying out on the wings and guarding athletics big men away from the basket.  This is not his forte.  McKay won his Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year award by getting blocks in help defense.  I think they need to get back to this in a way.  I wouldn't mind seeing a few possessions of zone defense or some other form of junk defense.  If they can create enough confusion a couple possessions a game for the opponent to "waste" a trip down the floor that might be just enough for the Cyclones to be able to outscore opponents.  Last, dating back to the Chris Babb era ISU would try to eliminate one player a game from the other team by shadowing him for the entire game and not helping off him.  Part of the reason ISU has given up so many three pointers this season is their rotations are late and they are left scrambling.  Maybe if they aren't helping off one person they end up giving up a two instead of a three or they take a team out of their rhythm by taking away a first, second or third option.  Once again, I think there is a solution or maybe even a band-aid good enough to help this team get to where it wants to be.  This will never be an elite defensive team, but they don't have to be.  Currently, the only thing they are taking away are opponent free throws.  I'm asking to just take away one more thing, whatever that might be.

Offense

I agree with some that say the offense hasn't looked as potent as it has in the past, but I think a majority of that comes the fact they aren't shooting as well (or as often) from three point range.  I also don't think they are running the break as well as they have in past years.  At the end of the day they still have one of the most potent offenses in the country.  I think there will be some regression to the mean when it comes to shooting percentages (in a good way) for the likes of Monte Morris and Jameel McKay.  At the end of the day they need to feed the ball to Georges Niang and let the offense initiate through him and Morris.  Possessions that end up with a Nader fade away or a McKay isolation are wasted possessions in my book.  If they can get Niang 20 shots a game I will be pleased going forward.  Iowa State has struggled so far to get to the free throw line.  Part of that might be their ability to keep opponents off the line.  Referees are human and have an innate tendency to even out the fouls no matter the situation.  One guy that could help get into the bonus is Abdel Nader.  If he could attack the rim under control he would be a foul drawing machine.

Coaching

I feel for Coach Prohm.  I truly do.  He has the toughest job in college basketball this season.  I think Prohm has handled himself really well this season, but his hands are a bit tied.  There is still that "step-dad" feel and he has done everything in his power to make sure the players get the credit and he takes the blame.  It is time for the players to buy in if they want to get where they want to get.  My biggest pet peeve from the Prohm era is his tendency to call timeouts when his team is about to make a run and his tendency to call time outs too late into an opponents run.

Going Forward

I think the Cyclones can right the ship and start playing well again.  They will lose more games, they will win more games.  Getting back to .500 in conference is their first priority and it won't be an easy task.   I can see the Cyclones going 10-8 in conference play and finishing with 21 or 22 wins.  Their seed will depend on their success in the Big 12 tournament however, whatever it may I don't think many teams will be happy to see them in their bracket.

I hope my optimism is proven true over the next two months.  Enjoy the ride Cyclone fans.


**1:20 PM edit

Hallice Cooke has been suspended for today's game leaving them with 6 players in the rotation.  Does Jordan Ashton get a look?  One can only hope he is able to come in and knock down some shots.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Naz

After reading a couple things on the Naz injury, obviously it hurts for this year.  Thomas is a good player and has shown increased confidence and better shooting so far, but there's a reason Naz passed him a couple years ago.  Naz was always the one to get in people's faces and be the vocal leader on the floor and that definitely hurts.  His ability and willingness to get to the rack so far this year has been undersold.  

That said, assuming, and I don't think it's a definite, he gets to come back next year, he'll be the bridge between past successful Cyclone teams and the future.  Thomas and maybe Monte would be the only other guys that've actually played more than a year for ISU on next year's team.  While the fan base (and that ESPN douche) don't give ISU much of a chance next year, Naz won't let the team slack.  Next year's team could really use an old voice on the court and sidelines. 

Most great teams have carryover from year to year to year and teams like Kentucky have built in expectations.  Without Naz and Monte next year, ISU would have neither.  Actually, next year the classes are pretty balanced so any success should be carried into future seasons.  I'm excited about the front court depth with Malou, Carter, Ernst and Young.  (Ernst and Young is one of the "big 4" accounting firms, look for it on future Cyclone bingo cards)  

So while the loss of Naz is a big blow to this year's team, it could possibly be just the thing needed to sustain ISU's success into the future.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Ten Stats That Will Leave You Optimistic About 2015 Iowa State Football

With college football season right around the corner I figured it was time to re-establish myself on the blog. After some research I've found myself more optimistic than most when it comes to the upcoming ISU football season.  Here are ten statistics that will leave you feeling the same. 

1) The last coach to go 5-19 over a two year span in Ames (Gene Chizik) won a national championship just two years later. Paul Rhoads is 5-19 in his last two seasons. 

2) The incoming freshman class has never lost a Big 12 game. NEVER. 

3) Top 10 good?  Maybe. ISU finished in the top ten in the Big 12 in EVERY statistical category last season. 

4) Playoff?! We're talking about playoffs?!  If they get there it's important to note that a likely opponent (Alabama) hasn't beat Iowa State since the 2001 Independence Bowl.  

5) Iowa State's only winning season in the last decade was preceded by a winless Big 12 slate the year before. Last season? 0-9 in the Big 12. 

6) The Cyclones have now had three 2-10 seasons in their history. In the previous two they responded with seven win seasons including a CHAMPIONSHIP in each of those seasons (2004 Independence Bowl, 2009 Insight Bowl). 

7) Lucky #7. Paul Rhoads is entering his 7th season as head coach. The last coach to make it to their seventh season won seven games (Dan McCarney 7-5 in 2001).

8) Las Vegas has Iowa State's odds of winning the Big 12 at 100-1. There are only eight teams with better odds. 

9) Last season ISU had a money line of +100000 to win the National Championship. This year? +40000.  Remember folks, in this case the lower the number, the better the odds. 

10) With the completion of the "South Endzone Project" Jack Trice will now have the third largest capacity in the Big 12 behind Texas and Oklahoma. This new "Big Three" trio of OU, UT and ISU has combined to win 10 out of the last 15 Big 12 championships. As Meatloaf says, "two out of three ain't bad"!


Cyclone fans let me caution you, #AStormIsComing

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Baylor's Hidden Advantage

Art Briles said something interesting at the Big 12 media days, this from an ESPN article:
Briles on playing in central Texas: "Get your map. Throw a dart. Try to hit the middle. It's gon' be right around Waco."
Briles on recruiting in Texas: "If I was coaching at Ouachita Baptist in Arkansas or at San Jose State, that would be my priority also. Which it is, for everyone, every university in the nation. Texas is the most heavily recruited state. That's what makes it so invigorating as a recruiter and football program to keep kids here." 
Briles on winning over the target demographic: "We're a young brand. You ask somebody [age] 10 to 30 who's the best football team in the Southwest part of the United States -- you know, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, New Mexico, the bordering states around here. They're going to say Baylor. Now 30 to 60, you might get a different answer. And 60 to 90 may be different. But those young kids, they associate with Baylor. That's something that's working for us." 
Both Baylor's football and basketball programs have risen to national relevancy over the past five or so years.  Baylor is a small private school, with no national following and not much local support to speak of.  So how did this happen?  Briles' statements will lead us to some interesting answers.

Art was close with his Texas geography.  Technically, Waco is about 100 miles east of the geographic center of Texas, but this puts it right in the middle of the "Texas Triangle" - Houston, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Austin and San Antonio.  Waco is only 50 miles from the population center of Texas.  A good place to be if you're trying to keep Texas kids in Texas.


How many people are we talking about?  We always hear about kids wanting to stay close enough for their families to see them play, which I assumed was within a three-hour drive, or about 200 miles.  This also allowed Baylor to be within reach of Houston, D-FW and San Antonio, areas all well-represented on their current roster.  This very cool site (http://mcdc.missouri.edu/websas/caps10c.html) allows you to search for population within a radius of any location.

More than 20.3 million people live within 200 miles of Waco.  That's a lot of potential recruits.  That number is higher than the University of Texas or either of the other Texas schools and roughly two to four times that of the former Big 8 schools.  Only West Virginia has a greater population within 200 miles.


Also worth noting is Baylor has the highest surrounding population growth of any of the Big 12 schools.  Their recruiting base is growing at a faster rate.  There really are millions of kids and young adults growing up in and moving to the region for whom Texas' and Oklahoma's dominance is a fading memory.  Baylor has more recently won a Big 12 championship (2), had a top 10 finish and Heisman winner than either UT or OU.  For kids in high school today, it isn't "Baylor is Baylor is Baylor" anymore.  Basketball is even more wide open in the state of Texas than football.  

Baylor capitalized on the opportunity in a big way.  The two head coaches seem to be perfect fits for the school, and are committed to signing Texas talent.  The school secured donations based on the recent success to build a brand new football stadium, which will undoubtedly attract more fans, players and money.  

Coda:  27 million people?!? I thought West Virginia was in the sticks?

We forget how much closer metropolitan areas are on the east coast than the rest of the nation.  Morgantown is no metropolis, indeed the whole population of West Virginia is only 1.8 million.  However, included within a 200 mile radius are Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Columbus, Richmond Virginia, Washington D.C, and Baltimore.  This is undoubtedly what attracted the Big 12 to WVU when it came to TV revenues.





Saturday, March 7, 2015

All Big 12 teams updated through 3/6

Baylor and Tech have already played their final regular season games.  Everybody else is up today, which means the All Big 12 teams will be announced tomorrow.  95% of the stats have been accumulated, the biggest question mark is final team standings, where 2nd place is up for grabs.  This will likely be my last update before the official teams come out.


Buddy Hield is still at the top, but Monte has closed the gap.  A surprising addition to the first team is Taurean Prince, who closed the season out very strong, scoring in double figures in his last 15 conference games.  I had Mason and Anderson tied, but I'd give the nod to Mason.  Two KU players on the first team is appropriate this year.

Jameel McKay made a huge leap in the rankings, benefiting from the increased minutes that come along with starting.  He's now 17th in scoring, 3rd in rebounding and still 2nd in blocks.  I feel very good about the other players on the second team, including Georges.

No big surprises on the 3rd team and honorable mention.

For the first time, I'll try to predict the other honors as well.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Buddy Hield

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR 
Jameel McKay

NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR 
Jameel McKay

FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR 
Miles Turner

SIXTH MAN AWARD
Taurean Prince 

COACH OF THE YEAR 
Bill Self

Big 12 All-Defensive Team
Jameel McKay
Ryan Spangler
TaShawn Thomas
Miles Turner
Rico Gathers
Buddy Hield
Big 12 All-Newcomer Team
Jameel McKay
TaShawn Thomas
Miles Turner
Kelly Oubre
Anthony Hickey

Most of the awards were straight forward, except for coach of the year, which is hard to quantify and all-defensive POY and team.  Looking at last year's team, the picks were pretty subjective.  For this first try, I used rebounds (probably should have just looked at defensive rebounds), steals, blocks and team rank.