Monday, December 20, 2010

Hokies Neuter Bulldogs

The Mississippi State Bulldogs were relieved of their man parts on Saturday in a 88-57 loss to Virginia Tech. It was a dominant performance by the Hokies in every aspect of the game. The Hokies shot 50% from the field, 36% from the 3-point line, and 83% from the free throw line compared to 45%, 32%, and 54% respectively from the Bulldogs. VT outrebounded MSU by 15 total boards and by 8 when talking about offensive rebounds. MSU committed 16 turnovers versus 10 by VT. Tech dished out 17 assists compared to 10 for MSU. The list just keeps on going and going like that. It was the most extreme butt-whooping that our basketball team has put on a high-major opponent since... honestly I can't remember.

The only thing missing was THE GAME BEING ON TV! I don't know how it's even possible that a game with this much clout (the addition of high school All-American Renardo Sidney to the MSU lineup after having to sit out a season and a half for taking improper benefits during his high school recruiting) wasn't picked up by SOMEBODY. So when I was hanging out at a friend's family's river house this past weekend with a bunch of Hokie alumni, we had to settle for watching Cop Out rather than watching our basketball team smoke Mississippi State. Don't get me wrong, Cop Out was fairly hilarious, particularly after several Tom Collinseses's (how do you make that plural?), but what I really wanted was to watch the game.

Since I didn't see the game and didn't listen on the radio, the points I want to make have to be taken with a grain of salt and a shot of tequila and a lime wedge. It seems, and let's knock on wood here, that Seth Greenberg may have found his rotation for the rest of the season. Greenberg needed an energetic player to come off the bench and be a leader on the floor when the rest of the young bench was out there playing. Dorenzo Hudson showed that he can play that role extremely well. Zo came off the bench to play 23 minutes in this game, putting up 17 points. Starting in his place was Erick Green, who had a fanastic game. If you read my last post, you know that I really like how our team plays when Green is in there. He played 38 minutes in this one, putting up 11 points, 6 assists, 3 rebounds, and 3 steals to go along with ZERO turnovers. Erick is really taking care of the ball when he's in the game, and I love that. From what I can tell there was only about 7 minutes where Green and Malcolm Delaney weren't in the game, which means that Hudson played a lot at the small forward position, giving VT a 3-guard lineup. I like this look and I think we need to see it against a few more quality opponents. However, I don't like it for our first ACC opponent, Florida State. FSU's best player is 6'9" Chris Singleton, who plays small forward and gets more minutes than any other FSU player. I would want Terrell Bell to be the one guarding Singleton for the vast majority of his time on the floor.

It might be a little disrespectful to look past our next three opponents, St Bonaventure, USC-Upstate, and Mount St. Mary's, but in all honesty I'm mostly doing that because I know next to nothing about those teams. Only a small part of me is looking past them because they suck... because, let's face it, none of us would be terribly surprised to see VT play down to any of these teams and come away with a loss. We have too much experience with that to not see it coming. I wish just one of those 3 games could be on TV so we wouldn't have to wait another 3 weeks to see a VT basketball game. I guess I could drive down to VT for the Mount St. Mary's game... anyone want to do that on the 2nd? Phone me. Or if you tricked me into having a few too many Sam Adams Winter Lagers, then nudge me. HA... that's hilarious, nice one P@.

So to wrap up, what I'm looking for from the Hokies:
  1. Consistency. Let's keep Erick Green in the starting lineup and keep Zo as the first one off the bench and see what happens. I'd also love to see Malcolm Delaney continue what he has been doing on the court. Quietly, he's doing much better this year in just about every aspect of his game (other than turnovers, but that seems to be resolving itself), and he needs to keep it going through January, February, and March.
  2. Improvement from Cadarian Raines. He seems to be about as healthy as he's going to be with that crazy foot of his, and I think Seth Greenberg needs to get him a good amount of playing time in the next three games to help get him ready for ACC play. Against MSU, Raines had 3 fouls in 3 minutes with zero points, zero rebounds, and zero blocks. Raines was recruited to protect the rim and grab rebounds... he needs to show that he can do that not only in practice, but in games too.
  3. More time in general for the young guys. The starters need to build up enough of a lead in the next three games against inferior opponents in order for some of the younger players, namely Raines, Jarell Eddie, Manny Atkins, and Tyrone Garland, to get a good amount of playing time. Eddie won't kick his shooting slump in practice... he needs to see it happen in a game. Garland won't see the kind of pressure on the point in practice that he does during a game. Atkins and Raines need game experience to help defend the post when they come in. But it's up to the starters to play with intensity and build the lead for that to happen.

And so on and so forth.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

PSU and Turnovers

Virginia Tech won a game on Sunday and the losing streak ends! They defeated Penn State 79-69 in what was a pretty good effort for the Hokies. The Nittany Lions aren't going to scare anyone and are probably going to finish the season as the worst team in the Big Ten (or at least close to the worst). The post players for PSU aren't great, so Seth Greenberg was able to keep Cadarian Raines out of this one, giving his foot some more time to heal. The thing that pleased me most about this game, other than the Hokies actually shooting the ball well, was the limited number of turnovers. VT only had 10 turnovers for the game, which continues a nice progression lately.

In the first 6 games of the season, VT was giving up far too many turnovers, and it looks like Coach Greenberg has put an emphasis on taking care of the basketball since then. Since VT's poor performance against UNLV, the Hokies reduced their turnovers to 13 v Perdue, 11 v UVA, and 10 v Penn State. That range is definitely more reasonable, and the biggest contributor to that improvement has been Erick Green. Green saw 21 minutes against Purdue, 16 minutes against UVA, and 27 minutes against Penn State... committing zero turnovers during that span in spite of the fact that he was primarily playing point guard. Point guards tend to have the ball in their hands more often than the other players on the floor, so their turnover rates are usually higher. That's not true for Green... he has the best turnover rate of any Hokie averaging a turnover every 39.33 minutes. Surprisingly Victor Davila has the best turnover rate of the starters with a turnover every 28.90 minutes. Malcolm Delaney is the worst with a turnover every 7.84 minutes and Dorenzo Hudson is the second worst with a turnover every 11.08 minutes.

As you all have probably figured out, I've become a fan of Erick Green this season. Last season he was skinny and mistake-prone, in addition to unreliable as a shooter. Green still hasn't found his shooting stroke with consistency (it is better, but still not good), but in every other aspect he's an excellent player. He's our best perimeter defender, our most efficient passer, and a guy who will fight for loose balls. I'd like to see him get more playing time, and if that's at the expense of Zo Hudson, then so be it. Zo looks like he's been playing injured as he has lost a step trying to lose defenders around screens and he's been a poor finisher near the basket. That's not the Dorenzo Hudson that we saw on a consistent basis after the Seton Hall game last year. Something has got to be wrong, and until it's not wrong anymore, I would like to see Green get more playing time.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Jay Bilas Makes a Bad Point

I'm going to pick apart this article by Jay Bilas on because this is exactly the kind of garbage you can expect to see from the national media with regards to the Virginia Tech men's basketball team this season. I'm not saying it's entirely Bilas' fault... it's really hard to make general assumptions about a team that you haven't really seen play very much, but it still kind of bugs me.

In the article, Bilas makes the statement, "(Malcolm) Delaney's first instinct is to score, and the best thing that the Hokies can do is get him off the ball and allow him to concentrate on scoring. But to whom does Seth Greenberg give the ball? Five Hokies are averaging more than 31 minutes per game. Greenberg is not hiding a point guard on his bench." Therin lies the rub... Bilas seems to either have completely forgotten about Erick Green, or else figured he didn't make sense to include as a legit point guard off the bench. Either way, he made a mistake as Green has done a nice job at the point so far this season.

In reality, Delaney plays off the ball quite a bit. In the last game against UVA, Delaney played all 40 minutes, 16 of which happened while Erick Green was in the game playing point guard. That's 16 minutes where Delaney is technically playing off the ball. In reality though, I don't think he does anything different when he's playing point guard as opposed to shooting guard once the offense gets set up in the half court. He passes the ball off to a teammate, who then looks for another pass, and sometimes Delaney runs around a set of screens to get free for a shot and sometimes he doesn't. The same is true if he's playing shooting guard.

The other thing that Bilas doesn't consider is that Delaney came back for another year of college to show that he can play point guard in the NBA. He isn't big enough to play shooting guard in the NBA, so he needs to show that he can play the point. The only other player I can think of who regularly plays 2-guard in the NBA at the same size and weight would be Steph Curry, and Curry is a MUCH better shooter than Delaney (an ideal trait for a shooting guard). If Seth Greenberg comes to Delaney and tells him that he's going to play primarily at the 2, that screws over two players, Delaney and Dorenzo Hudson, which almost certainly would kill the team's chemistry.

Delaney is actually the best ballhandler on the team, so he IS the guy you want breaking backcourt pressure and setting up the half court offense. That's not where Malcolm's turnovers are happening. Delaney's turnovers are mostly from bad passes, which right now is the reason he's averaging over 5 turnovers per game. He's the first one to get the ball on a fast break, and he's been exceedingly poor once that happens. All three of his turnovers against UVA came right after a defensive rebound by the Hokies where Delaney tried to push the ball quickly and made a bad pass. If he cleans up this part of his game and stops going for the home run pass, he can show the NBA scouts that he is capable of being an NBA point guard. There's still plenty of time this season, as Bilas even points out himself at the end of the article.

I've been known to be critical of Malcolm Delaney because I know exactly what his faults are, and I know what he needs to do to improve on them. I've also said before that if Delaney can find a way to clean up those areas, he is undoubtedly an NBA talent. It just bugs me to see him get picked apart by people who don't know what they're talking about because they have only seen one or two games this season. To that end, I will pooh-pooh Mr. Bilas.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Little Bit of This and That

I just wanted to throw out some Tech-related things that are on my mind today.
  • Fantastic win for the football team against Florida State. I thought the Hokies thoroughly dominated the Seminoles in every aspect of the game.
  • It seemed like Danny Coale would just teleport himself to any spot on the field where the defenders were missing and just wait for a pass from Tyrod. That's how it seemed when watching at home because you couldn't see Danny running his drag route. It was a great play call, and I feel weird saying that about Stiney... he may be progressing with his play calls.
  • Similarly, the wheel route that David Wilson ran in order to get wide open for a streaking TD down the sideline was a thing of beauty, ran to perfection.
  • The defense gave up their opening drive score like usual, but this time it was only a field goal. That's progress!
  • FSU has a good/athletic defense, and we torched them for 37 points (I'm not counting Gouveia-Winslow's pick six). You have to like that and feel excited about what our offense could possibly do against Stanford's PAC-10 defense.
  • I definitely like the Stanford/VT matchup in the Orange Bowl, although I think it's going to be tough for Tech. Our defense was actually the less reliable side of the ball this season, and Stanford has arguably the best quarterback in the college ranks... or at least the one rated highest by the NFL scouts. Logic says this will be a high-scoring game, but logic rarely wins out in bowl games when teams have a month to prepare for each other.
  • The basketball team stunk out loud in their last two games. Losing to Purdue at home and then losing to an extremely young UVA team at home with our talent and experience is almost unforgiveable. There's still a lot of basketball to be played this season, but my hopes for an NCAA tournament berth are officially dashed. If this team can't win with Malcolm Delaney putting up 26 points on 67% shooting from the field, then I don't know any scenario where they get another win. That's drastic, I know, but man what a waste of a great performance.
  • I know it's only 8 games, but I love that overall Delaney is shooting the ball better this season. He's not looking for fouls *quite* as much, with the exception of the Purdue game where he shot 2-18 from the field. Overall, Delaney is hitting 45% of his shots, including 44% from the 3-point line. I don't know if he can keep that pace up during the ACC slate, but it's a significant improvement over last season and is the main area other than point guard skills where Delaney needed the show the most improvement for the NBA scouts. Unfortunately, Delaney's assist/turnover ratio is brutal right now and completely prevents any NBA GM from considering bringing him onto their team.
  • I like the improvement out of Victor Davila so far this season. After laying an egg against Campbell in the opening game, Davila has played soundly. He doesn't have good hands, his free throw shooting is abysmal, and his passing is fairly poor, but he's improved as far as boxing out & grabbing rebounds, blocking shots, and finishing his post moves on offense. I think he's playing with a lot more confidence this season, and it shows. In other words, he's starting to look like the player that Seth Greenberg thought he was getting when he recruited Davila. And one tiny thing that I love... Davila almost always grabs the opening tip off. He's 8-8 in winning the opening tip this season.
  • Ben Boggs is transferring after finals, although I'm not sure where he's going yet. He wants more playing time, and I can't say I blame him. On a VT team where Dorenzo Hudson isn't giving us much at the shooting guard position, I am honestly a little surprised that Boggs hasn't gotten a look. This move certainly hurts Virginia Tech's depth this season, but it's probably a good thing going forward. Seth Greenberg wants to bring in another recruit for next season, a shot-blocking & rebounding center of some kind, and that's definitely something VT could use with Allan Chaney's future up in the air and Cadarian Raines looking like he will have a chronic foot problem for his entire college career. Center prospect Adjehi Baru is off the table as he has recently committed to the College of Charleston (extremely shady considering this player's projected talent). Baru's legal guardian has a son who plays basketball for the same high school team as Baru. Guess where his son is going to college?
  • ESPN only shows two possible centers on Virginia Tech's radar right now, and neither are rated very highly. Ryan Rhoomes is a 2-star 6'8" power forward from a prep school in New Jersey and Blaise Mbargorba is a 2-star 6'11 center from a different prep school in New Jersey. Personally, I think Greenberg might offer Mbargorba. He's definitely a project, but there's a lot of upside there. This guy is still learning the game of basketball, but his raw athleticism in combination with his height makes him desirable. There's a reason Georgetown, Boston College, and Providence are also hovering around this guy. He feels like a taller Cheick Diakite to me, and that's not a bad player to have.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Touchdown Tech!

I hope to be hearing that phrase a lot this weekend. This Saturday, Virginia Tech will meet up with Florida State in the ACC Championship for the 2nd time. The last time was during the 2005-2006 season where Bobby Bowden and the Seminoles threw their weight around and beat Frank Beamer and the Hokies 27-22. I was at that game in Jacksonville, and was pretty crushed by the defeat. The Hokies were ranked #5 in the nation and only had one loss against Miami... at the time they still had an outside shot at the National Championship (even with noted headcase Marcus Vick manning the QB position). That all came crumbling down by the end of the 3rd quarter when FSU was up 27-3. The Hokies fought back with three touchdowns, but it wasn't enough.

I'm hoping this year will be extremely different. After the Hokies give up a touchdown on FSU's opening drive (which I think we should all just prepare for since it seems to happen every game), VT's offense needs to control the clock with the running game. I'm not saying we should go run-run-pass every 1st thru 3rd down, but we need to put the ball into the hands of our best players, and that's our RB corps. You could argue that Tech has had better running backs than Ryan Williams, Darren Evans, and David Wilson, but we've certainly never had three running backs in one season who are this good. I have a lot of confidence in our offense, but right now it's the defense that seems to be a little bit volatile.

VT's defense has plenty of talent, and plenty of players who make up the All-ACC team, but cohesion has been a problem this season. Have you ever seen the movie "Necessary Roughness" with Scott Bakula? Of course you have. Well I often find myself thinking of the scene early in the movie where the Texas State Armadillos are on defense, and everybody is trying to make the defensive call, and they're all just running around yelling, "Double wing! Double wing!" As it turns out, nobody ends up being in the right spot and they get picked apart. That's how I feel about the Hokie defense sometimes this season. The players are very talented, but they often make mistakes with regards to their assignments, which leads me to use far more profanity than I like to use.

The talent of Virginia Tech's individual players also makes them very dangerous, though. Tech is 2nd in the nation in forcing interceptions with 20 on the season (Alabama leads with 21). Jayron Hosley leads the nation with 8 picks. FSU's quarterback Christian Ponder is in no way a free-wheeling gunslinger like Brett Favre, but he is prone to the interception from time to time. For the season, Ponder has tossed 20 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. He has more touchdowns than last season, but when you look at the stats he's actually been less effective this year. He's been over 6% worse on his pass completions, and his passer rating is down 10 points. Ponder is not a threat to run unless FSU is at the goal line, where he's been pretty effective poking the ball throug... okay people this is not the time for "that's what she said" jokes. In comparison, Tyrod Taylor has just as many touchdowns with half the picks and a much higher QB rating. Not to mention TT is a dangerous runner when he doesn't see a good pass to make. I'll take Tyrod any day.

The ACC Championship game will be held in Charlotte for the first time ever. All I can say to that is "Thank God". With the vast majority of the ACC schools being nowhere near Jacksonville, FL, it made absolutely no sense to hold our conference championship game there. Not to mention, Jacksonville sucks. Seriously, it's really boring. It's not far enough south to go to the beach during December, and there's virtually no night life. Charlotte, on the other hand, is an up-and-coming city with plenty of money and a robust night life. Oh, and it's basically smack dab in the middle of all of the ACC schools, geographically speaking. Common sense finally prevails!

Look, I've taken some hard hits the past couple of days. First, the VT basketball game chokes away a 2nd half lead only to lose a game that would have significantly helped their chances at an NCAA tournament berth. Then my beloved Cleveland Cavaliers laid a smelly dump on the floor of Quicken Loans Arena with the hated LeBron James in town after getting some amazing support from their fans. I'm not sure I can handle VT laying an egg against Florida State this weekend. I need the Hokies to come out strong and confident. As the over-acting performer in the Virginia Lottery Redskins Scratcher commercial says, "Let's win this game!"

And to finish it off... the top 10 coaching rants courtesy of ESPN. Pure gold.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

My Thoughts On LeBron Returning to the Cleve

LeBron James is bringing his talents to Cleveland tonight, much to the masochistic joy of Cavalier fans. Their joy is also my joy. I can't wait to see that egotistical maniac squirm as the people who used to love him throw down insults and group chants in his general direction. I really enjoyed this article by Jason Whitlock of Fox Sports about the return of LeBron. My favorite quote:

Spoelstra has committed the felonious crime of yelling at LeBron in front of his teammates. Spoelstra won’t let LeBron be LeBron the way a parent won’t let a child be an unbathed child day after day.

I absolutely love that quote because it's so true. Even LeBron's coach is not allowed to tell him what to do, and his public relations team (that's kind of a joke because it's just his friends from high school) leaked the story because they somehow thought that the public would be sympathetic to James. LBJ is so sheltered and protected by his group of yes-man friends that he's convinced that most everyone loves him, and that he's incapable of doing wrong. When in fact, most everyone thinks he did a crummy thing during his "Decision" and handled it poorly afterwards by never apologizing to Cleveland fans.

He really hurt the Cavs franchise and fans. I'm not talking about sappy, "We loved you, but apparently you didn't love us" BS. I'm talking about how he never informed the franchise that he was going to be leaving, so they could never move on any of the big free agents. I'm talking about how he failed to live up to an actual promise that he made to the city to bring them their first NBA championship and that he would be there until he did it. Let's face it, the Cavs are a mediocre team at best without him. Before this season began, I wanted to believe that one player couldn't make that much of a difference, but if the team believes it, then in actuality it's going to be true... and I sincerely believe this team thinks they can't compete without James.

Tonight will be the culmination of a lot of feelings for some hardcore Cavaliers fans. I am hoping they don't do anything stupid. In fact, I'll be praying for it. I just want some furious scorn and some catchy chants... and I don't think that's too much to ask for the one intriguing game during this entire NBA season for the city of Cleveland.

Who's up for a rousing "Delonte Did Your Mom" chant?

The Opposite of Clutch

Well, I think we all know what happened yesterday, but for anyone who was stuck in a well, Virginia Tech lost in overtime to Purdue 58-55. The game was extremely close, with a lot of back and forth in the second half. This was an extremely disappointing loss for the Hokie fan base as a win would have strongly helped their bid to the NCAA tournament at the end of the season. Frankly, I'm having a tough time keeping this post from being too negative. Let's just get a few of the many negatives out of the way first.
  • Malcolm Delaney really struggled, going a career-worst 2-18 from the floor. Look, he had a bad game. That happens. Does it usually happen to this sort of dramatic degree? No. But it happens and I'm not going to pin this loss on Delaney. The biggest reason VT lost this game is they missed way too many easy put-backs, layups, and free throws. It just seemed like our team was cursed. This is definitely an area where having JT Thompson would have helped, but that's the breaks. A smaller reason for losing the game, and I can't believe I'm saying this because I love the guy, was Seth Greenberg's coaching. He apparently didn't call timeout to call up a play on our last possession of regulation time. The play he drew up for overtime seemed to have one option, Jeff Allen, and when he wasn't open the next option was for Delaney to dribble around and try to find a shot. In a game where Delaney is 2-18, I really don't want the guy taking this final shot. He has never proven to be a clutch player in his entire career, nor has any other player on this team. Instead, this team is the opposite of clutch. They always choke on the pressure of a big game.
  • I see our team having trouble with skilled big men all season. We don't have good depth, and at this point none of our bigs are good on-ball defenders. JaJuan Johnson is a nice player, but we made him look like the surefire Player Of the Year. Maybe Cadarian Raines can be our lock-down post defender by the time the ACC slate rolls around, but right now there's nobody.
  • Although 'Zo Hudson played better than in the UNLV game, he still is not back to his old self. To me, it feels like he is struggling with confidence issues again. Where is Seton Hall again when you need them?
  • VT hasn't exactly murdered their chances to get into the NCAA tournament, but they definitely took a large baseball bat and gave their chances a savage beating. The only high profile game left on the schedule is Duke, and they look like world-beaters right now. However, the possibility of a win against the Blue Devils is still there and would assure us of an NCAA tournament berth if the Hokies can win a decent number of conference games. It would be very unVT to miss out on the bubble fun during the NCAA tournament Selection Sunday... I'd hate for that to happen.

Okay, let's move on to the good... let's try to keep a glass-half-full mentality going here, people.

  • Victor Davila had his best game as a Hokie. It's hard to explain how well he played because his stats weren't THAT impressive. He was 6-8 from the field for 12 points, and he added 6 rebounds and 3 blocks. The reason that I was so impressed is because he did this against JuJuan Johnson, who is an excellent post defender and shot blocker. Victor really scrapped and fought for rebounds, and although you sometimes longed for him to have the same hands as Jeff Allen, if Davila did catch the ball he looked very dangerous with it. He played with a lot more confidence than I've ever seen from him. Hopefully this will be his "light switch" game going forward where he realizes he's good enough to compete with the other big guys in the ACC.
  • I really liked what Tech got out of Erick Green. He didn't shoot as well as you would hope, and you can probably attribute some of that to the calf injury he's still getting over. What I liked about him was that he was a reliable ball handler against defenders who were really hounding our guards, he defended exceptionally well, and he definitely caused several turnovers for Purdue with smart play. He had a couple drives to the basket that yielded good results... one was a wrap-around pass to Raines for an easy layup, and the other was a drive that got cut off, so he went up with a short floater that dropped in. He also got himself to the free throw line 3 times in 21 minutes, and hit all 3 shots. He's rounding into form nicely.
  • Jeff Allen was on the floor for 41 minutes! And it's all because he kept his fouls in check. He played very well, but I'd love for him to can the 3-point attempts... unless the shot clock is about to go off and he has no other play.
  • Terrell Bell grabbed 11 rebounds and was hustling all over. He's still not an offensive threat of any kind, but he's a player who is necessary to have to be successful. He was a big reason why E'Twaun Moore only had 9 shot attempts. Honestly, at this point I think he's the only senior that I'm going to truly miss next season.

Hey, I'm trying hard to still keep the faith for this season. I have definitely learned that this group of seniors, even if they make the NCAA tournament, doesn't have a chance to make the Final Four, let alone the Elite Eight. What they do still have is a chance to improve. They still have a chance to compete for the ACC regular season title. They have a chance to win the ACC tournament. They have a chance to get into the Big Dance. All of those dreams are still alive, and if I abandoned all hope now... well, I just wouldn't last very long as a fan of Virginia Tech and all Cleveland sports teams.

Suck it LeBron... you're going down tonight.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The 76 Classic

I'm back after a long weekend of turkey and sports! I have to say that Thanksgiving dinner with my wife's family was delicious, and I ate way more than a human being is meant to eat. We're still trying to kill off the leftovers. It was a pretty exciting weekend for Virginia Tech basketball as the Hokies took on Cal State Northridge, Oklahoma State, and UNLV in the 76 Classic in Anaheim, CA. VT handled Northridge pretty easily with a 72-56 win, then gutted out a comeback W against OK State 56-51, and finally dropped a stinker in the championship game against UNLV losing 71-59.
  • I don't have too much to say about the game against Northridge... Tech needed to win that game convincingly since the disparity of talent definitely favored the Hokies, and for the most part they did win convincingly. The Hokies were active on defense and forced 25 turnovers, which was nice to see since that is supposed to be Tech's identity under Greenberg. Malcolm Delaney shot the ball well and had more assists than turnovers (finally!)... although he still gave the ball away 5 times. Erick Green went down with a calf strain on a dunk attempt (where he still managed to put the ball in the basket), and had to sit out the rest of the tournament. This proved to be a pretty big loss for the Hokies as freshman Tyrone Garland was forced to deal with the pressing defenses of OK State and UNLV, and didn't do too well, although he was effective against Northridge. Defensively, Green is a much better play than Garland and his presence was missed every time an opponent blew by Garland.
  • You know what, I'm not going to go game-by-game... I'm just going to give my impressions for the weekend. The first is that somebody needs to go find Dorenzo Hudson. He was missing this weekend... I think he must have let some other dude from the Local Y play in his place. The guy wearing Zo's jersey was extremely ineffective all weekend and couldn't hit a bucket from distance to save his life. Whoever that guy was, he didn't seem to have any confidence in his shot.
  • Malcolm Delaney had a bit of a coming-out party against UNLV... it was his first dominant performance of the season. Too bad nobody else showed up for it. Delaney was 7-9 on 3-point shots and carried the Hokies when everything else seemed to go wrong. For the weekend, Delaney was 18-33 (54.5%) from the field, 10-17 (58.8%) on 3-pointers, and shot 17-22 (77.3%) from the foul line. That's dominant, especially considering the volume of attempts. He did average about 5 turnovers per game, and that's still way too high. However, overall, he was by far the best player for the Hokies in the 76 Classic.
  • Victor Davila was pretty decent, which was a nice change of pace. He didn't have a great game against UNLV, but when you look at his weekend as a whole, he was 9-12 from the field and averaged a little over 5 rebounds per game. The shooting that we were hoping to get from Davila last season seems to have arrived... let's just hope it hangs around for a while. That dude really needs to learn how to shoot free throws in games though. He shot 50% on the weekend. I said it once and I'll say it again: I have no idea how a guy with that nice of a shooting stroke at the foul line can fail so miserably.
  • Jeff Allen. I'm getting pretty sick of his shenanigans. I think we know now that he is never going to overcome his fouling ways. He gets too hyped up when everything is breaking down for the Hokies and commits dumb fouls. That's just what he does. He gets frustrated and reaches in to try to steal the ball or power his way through a grounded defender, and I think that's always how it's going to be. VT's ability to defend and rebound down low rests almost solely on this guy, and he's way too erratic to count on.
  • I was happy to see Terrell Bell get his act together when we needed him the most... against OK State and UNLV. He got hit with some hideous foul calls that he didn't earn, but for the most part he managed to overcome that and be a nice compliment to Delaney. Right now I would definitely call him the 2nd most important player on the team. He really fills up a stat sheet.
  • After a hot start, Jarell Eddie has definitely cooled off. I think he feels a little overmatched right now and it's showing in his shot selection and knack for picking up dumb fouls. When he is open, he has been able to hit his long-range 2's, but not his 3's. Granted, he's being asked to play the power foward position pretty often, and that's just not his spot. Eddie's production might be helped by Cadarian Raines' health and a home game or two (remember, VT has only played one so far!).
  • Speaking of which, Raines is definitely not ready to contribute as much as he needs to. It looks like Greenberg shut him down for most of the weekend and only gave him a few minutes here and there. During that time, Raines picked up a smorgasborg of fouls and didn't add too much.
  • I don't know if I like Greenberg's rotations right now. I think Davila and Allen are playing together too often, which occasionally leads to both players being pulled off the court due to foul problems. Cadarian Raines or Jarell Eddie needs to be complimented by either Davila or Allen so that VT has at least one offensive presence in the post. Man I wish we had either Allan Chaney or JT Thompson this season... they would have helped out so much. There's no use crying over spilled milk though.
  • All-in-all, the Hokies got a decent win against Oklahoma State, but failed to capitalize again on winning a game that the selection committee will value highly. They really need to beat Purdue this week. That's all there is to it... this has to happen.
  • I think the win against Oklahoma State could be a big X-factor for the Hokies down the stretch. They have a fairly easy out-of-conference schedule, with their only truly tough game coming against Gonzaga at the end of the month. There other two tests in the out-of-conference schedule are Alabama and Stanford... both winnable games for the Cowboys. As for their Big 12 schedule, they have a good one. They only play Kansas State, Kansas, and Missouri once... they get K-State and Mizzou at home. They get Texas and Baylor twice... plenty of chances for them to pick up a big win here and there. In short, I think Okie State has an outside chance to finish as a top-25 team in the RPI, and I have a hard time seeing them finish worse than 50th in the RPI. This should end up being a quality win for VT.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

It's Time to Give Thanks

Thanksgiving isn't just a holiday where a tribe of Native Americans taught the Pilgrims how to grow corn and squash, thus fueling them to last through the winter and destroy the tribe later (Nice job Squanto). I may be taking some liberties with that statement, but Thanksgiving is also the holiday where we traditionally give thanks for all the good things in our lives. I choose to thank Jesus Christ for those things, and I thank him with fervor... or at least I should. I have a good life and a lot for which I should be thankful. I have a great family including a wonderful wife who loves me. I have some awesome friends who bring joy to my life, too. I have a roof over my head, food in my stomach, and clothes to wear. I follow sports teams that continually break my heart, but at least I have the ability to watch them on TV, listen to them on the radio, and over-analyze them by reading and writing blogs. I have it pretty good... and my guess is that if you're reading this then you probably have a computer and that means that your life is pretty good too. What are you thankful for? From the looks of things, I would say spandex and Smittens: a lethal combination!

The only thing that kind of bums me out about the Thanksgiving holiday is the food. GASP! Could I really have just said that? Yep, I really dislike traditional Thanksgiving food. If I had it my way, Thanksgiving would be a holiday that mixes Italian, Mexican, and Thai food into one glorious meal that spans every culture... assuming there are only 3 other cultures besides "American". I really wouldn't know.

I also think that Thanksgiving is missing a mascot. Christmas has Santa Claus. Easter has the Easter Bunny. Halloween has the Devil. What if Thanksgiving had a gigantic purple turkey named Fester who brings wholesome foods to all of the good children who wish to fight childhood obesity? Fester enters your house through the basement while your family is sitting at the table eating Thanksgiving dinner, and he leaves these healthy gifts in your laundry basket. If you don't have a basement, it's widely-believed that he enters through the toilet. Fester's legendary love for techno music and beef stroganoff means that if you set up a little dance area for him complete with his meal of choice, he will bless your home's traditional Thanksgiving Night dance party with flax muffins and malt liquor. Do you believe in the magic of Fester on Thanksgiving? Even at 30 years old, I still believe!

Happy Thanksgiving everybody, and go Hokies! Gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble.

Monday, November 22, 2010

That's What I'm Talking About!

Virginia Tech ended up beating UNC-Greensboro 92-70 yesterday, and I'm a happy camper. This was the kind of beatdown that I expected VT to lay on Campbell. Here are some notes and thoughts from the game:

  • Malcolm Delaney only had 6 foul shots, and 4 of them happened after the game was way out of hand. He was 8-12 from the floor with 23 total points. What that tells me is that Delaney was trying to score and wasn't as worried about drawing fouls.
  • Dorenzo Hudson finally got his act in gear and scored 17 points on 6-10 shooting.
  • Jeff Allen also put in 17 points and grabbed 7 rebounds. Frankly, there weren't a lot of rebounds to be had in this game because UNCG turned the ball over so much. The Spartans handed the ball over 29 times, almost doubling VT's total of 15.
  • A nice surprise in this game was Erick Green putting up 10 points and 5 steals. He looked tough defensively and was really moving his feet to stay in front of his man. I'd definitely like to see more of this once we play some tougher teams.
  • Victor Davila also looked better. He was boxing out well, grabbed 6 rebounds, and scored 9 points. He had a solid block on a baseline jumper and somehow managed to grab 3 steals. His free throw shooting still leaves something to be desired. I have no idea how a guy with a shot that smooth ends up being a 50% foul shooter.
  • Unfortunately, this win doesn't mean too much. UNC-Greensboro probably won't be a factor in their league play, and I expect them to have one of the hundred worst RPI rankings in the country when the season is finished, for sure. All this game did was boost our players' confidence, which might help more than we think.
  • The next game for the Hokies is Thursday, i.e. Thanksgiving Day, against Cal State Northridge. This game is part of the 76 Classic tournament in Anaheim, CA. VT should roll this team... they are really not very good. They have already lost to UCLA and the Cal Golden Bears (they're not just good, they're golden!). They have one win against mighty Vanguard, who I think is a division 2 team. Their top player is 6'5" guard/forward hybrid Rashaun McLemore. McLemore is from Richmond, VA (shout-out!), but I have no idea how he ended up out in CA. Maybe it's a misprint... because of the movie "Coach Carter" with Samuel L. Jackson, I know that there's a city near Oakland called Richmond. Rich-what? Richmond! Rich-what? Richmond! It would be an easy typo to put a "V" instead of a "C" as the first letter in the state abbreviation. Otherwise that's one heck of a recruiting trip by the CSN coaches.
  • If VT wins against CSN, they will play the winner of the DePaul-OK State matchup. Neither team has played a decent opponent yet, so it's tough to predict the outcome, but you'd have to think the Cowboys are the favorite. The Blue Demons have already lost to Western Carolina, which probably makes their fans wretch at the thought of it. You probably won't find this very shocking, but I think I'd rather VT had to play OK State. Not just because I expect them to finish higher in the RPI rankings, but also because DePaul's new coach is Oliver Purnell, whose pressure-packed full-court defense usually gets picked apart by the Hokies, and then somehow Purnell's team always climbs back into the game and challenges for the win.
  • OK State's big men are pretty tough. Virginia Tech will definitely need Cadarian Raines for that game to provide some depth, so I hope he's healthy. OK State has 3 players who account for 2/3 of their total rebounds. To compare that to VT, our top 3 rebounders contribute about 54% of the total. 6'6" forward Marshall Moses is the high scorer for OK State with about 17 points per game and also chips in 8 rebounds per game. I'd imagine that Terrell Bell will be guarding Moses, and that should be a good matchup. VT needs to be competitive on the boards to challenge the Cowboys, although they don't have a lot of depth at the post positions either. If Delaney and Hudson can be intelligent about drawing fouls in the lane (especially against Darrell Williams), that should really hurt the Cowboys.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Ladies and Gentlemen, your 2009-2010 Hokies!

That was an extremely gut-wrenching game to watch yesterday. Virginia Tech ended up losing a slugfest to Kansas State by the final of 73-57. From the final score you might infer that Kansas State owned VT, but the truth is that the Hokies were competitive for 3/4 of the game and then fell apart after one extremely questionable foul call against Jeff Allen and one extremely questionable non-call that would have favored Malcolm Delaney. Those fouls really ignited a crowd that had been dead for most of the game. The call against Allen was especially brutal because it sent him to the bench with 4 fouls instead of sending K-State star Jacob Pullen to the bench with 4 fouls. Foul trouble for our bigs (all two of them + Terrell Bell) plagued us in a game that the referees called tighter than Katy Perry's clothes.

Look, let's face it, it was an extremely high mountain to climb. When referees call a game that closely, there's going to be a ton of fouls, and that is always going to hurt the team with no inside depth. VT was outrebounded 46-37 and gave up 5 more offensive boards than they were able to grab. There were large portions of the game where VT had to play with no true post players. VT gave up 17 turnovers and only forced 15. Malcolm Delaney turned the ball over 9 times. Brutal. Both teams shot TERRIBLY (with K-State going a shocking 14-28 from the free throw line), but the Wildcats easily bested the Hokies in shooting percentage. When you add up those things, you get a loss. Every time.

There are certainly some good things to take away from this game. Jarell Eddie continues to impress in his rookie season. That guy is going to be a star in the ACC by his junior year... I'm calling it now. Eddie led the team with 7 rebounds and 3 blocks while playing mostly out of position in the post. Victor Davila was active in going for rebounds and wrestled a few away from K-State players. Jeff Allen was a presence down low when he wasn't in foul trouble (but he made a bone-headed flagrant foul by swinging his elbow into Wally Judge's head on a rebound). Dorenzo Hudson was 2-4 on 3-point shots and Delaney was 8-9 on his free throws. That's probably about all of the positives we can muster though.

This brings me to the title of this post... this team (albeit through only 2 games) looks EXACTLY THE SAME as the team that failed to make the NCAA tournament last year. I guess that shouldn't be a huge surprise since we're basically looking at the exact same players. You just have to swap out JT Thompson for Jarell Eddie (a fair swap... Thompson is definitely a better defender, but Eddie seems to be a better scorer and ballhandler at this point). I really need to stop buying into offseason hype. It gets me every season for both basketball and football. I hear things like, "Malcolm Delaney is really working on his ballhandling and distributing this season. He's not going to be a volume shooter for us like he has been in the past," and for some reason I believe it. I hear that Jeff Allen is going to cut out the dumb fouls, and I believe it. I hear that the team is going to feed Victor Davila in the post and let him show his offensive game, and I believe it. I hear that Erick Green is practicing with much more confidence and is a lot stronger, and I believe it. I guess this is what riles me up the most about yesterday's loss: it's not that our team failed to compete, because man they played their butts off and should be commended. It's that maybe the players on this team have already reached the ceiling of their talents. The junior versions of Delaney, 'Zo, Allen, and T-Bell are as good as those players will ever get, and we can expect the exact same types of games from them that they gave us last season... and if that truly is the case, then we are NOT going to be a safe inclusion to the NCAA tournament on Selection Sunday.

But fear not Hokie fans, there are two reasons to keep hope alive. The first is hope for our current season... Virginia Tech gets to play two surefire top 25 teams at home in Duke and Purdue. Cadarian Raines should be back for those games and will give the Hokies some much-needed depth in the post. One win in either game would give us the signature win that we need on our resume. The second hope is for the next several seasons. Seth Greenberg is really recruiting well, and the players that are coming in next year have the chance to be the best Virginia Tech basketball team that has ever existed. It's exciting to know that our team is not doomed if this year's class doesn't perform up to expectations. There are still many years of Hokie dominance ahead!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Comments on Campbell v. VT

Not good enough. I said in my last post that I would be disappointed if Virginia Tech didn't end up winning by at least 20 points, and VT only won 70-60. So I am disappointed.

Let's start with the negatives:
  • Nobody besides Terrell Bell shot very well in that game. VT is going to have to shoot the ball better to have a chance at beating K-State since we will probably get killed on the boards.
  • Victor Davila was atrocious. He fouled out after 30 minutes of play against a very weak frontcourt. He did not attempt a single shot and was 0-3 on his free throws. The 5 rebounds are decent, but we need more out of him.
  • Tech turned the ball over 19 times versus only 17 for Campbell. I am sure first-game jitters were a part of it, but Campbell should have been even more nervous playing in the Cassell. 19 turnovers is not acceptable.
  • VT got really lazy on the defensive end during the second half, especially towards the end of it. You've got to play 40 minutes.

And now on to the positives:

  • Jeff Allen had an excellent game with 11 points and 14 rebounds. He also led the team with 5 assists, 4 blocks, and 2 steals. He filled up the stat sheet and was aggressive on both ends of the floor while only picking up 3 fouls in the game.
  • Terrell Bell also had a fantastic game and filled up the stat sheet. He had 17 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, and a steal. He also went 2-5 on his 3-point shots. Great production from T-Bell.
  • Jarell Eddie looks like a player. The freshman was 2-5 in the game with 6 points, but he was aggressive and scrappy and showed some ability. Greenberg wants to up his minutes from 15 in this game to 20-23 in the next game, and I definitely see why.
  • The Hokies pounded the glass in this game with 16 offensive rebounds versus 7 for Campbell. Overall VT outrebounded Campbell 41 to 24. Good to see considering our lack of height, although the Camels aren't particularly tall either. You could definitely say that rebounds were the biggest if not only contributing factor to the Hokies winning that game.
  • Davila's poor play can partly be attributed to some great play from Campbell's new transfer, Eric Griffin. Griffin looks like he can play ball and be an effective post player. He took 3 stupid 3-pointers in the game, but if you take out those shots, he was 3-6 from the field and 7-8 from the free throw line with 9 rebounds, 2 blocks, and a steal. He will help offset the loss of Campbell's best player from a year ago, Jonathan Rodriguez. I think Campbell will be one of the better teams in the Atlantic Sun Conference. But I still think VT needs to play a lot better.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Camels About to Get Toe Up?

Haaaa, what a great pun. I hope you enjoyed reading it about 50 times more than I enjoyed writing it. Let's move on... the Campbell Camels are in Blacksburg today and will be the first victims to enter Cassell Coliseum this season. Make no mistake, they're just not very good. They are fresh off of a 19-11 season which included wins over nobody of note, and they lost a substantial portion of their talent from last season. Their leading scorer and rebounder, Jonathan Rodriguez, is graduated and gone. They do return both of their starting guards in Atlantic Sun (yes that's a conference) Defensive Player of the Year Junard Hartley. They also return a decent shooter in Lorne Merthie, who led the Atlantic Sun conference in 3-point shooting last season (something like 45% from behind the arc). Hartley will not attempt to score... he'll mostly drive and kick amassing some good assist totals, and that's all his coach really wants him to do. If Merthie is shooting well, the Camels can put up a bit of a fight because Hartley's driving often pulls Merthie's defender, leaving him open for jumpers. The other players on the team aren't really worth mentioning... one or two of them might get all amped up and have a great game, but I'm not expecting much from anybody.

The crowd in the Cassell tonight needs to be loud and intimidating. The Camels are used to playing in front of tiny crowds at their home court, so a thundering crowd in Blacksburg could easily disrupt their game. My prediction is that the Hokies will not blow out this team like they should. VT just never seems to play well early in the season. In 2009, VT beat Brown by 14 points in their opening game, but the game was closer than the score indicates with a terrible Brown team staying within 5 points until about the last quarter of the game. In 2008 the Hokies beat Gardner-Webb by a mere 3 points at home. In 2007, Tech managed to eke out a 5 point win at home against Elon. For whatever reason, this group of players just doesn't shoot well right out of the gate, and I would love to see that change tonight. This is a team that VT should beat by 20+ points, and any other result will be a letdown.

Look for the Hokies to get Victor Davila and Jeff Allen involved early. Campbell's post players are not very good and should have a hard time handling our bigs. The Hokies really need to work the ball around in the half-court set to try to get high percentage shots... I'll be severely disappointed if our offense in the first half consists mostly of Delaney and Hudson shooting contested jumpers.

I'll also be looking to see what happens when VT's bench players are in the game. Our bench players should DOMINATE their bench players given the disparity in talent. JT Thompson lit up the Cambell bench for 17 points on 8-12 shooting last year. Jarell Eddie could probably do the same thing if he comes in with confidence. I'd really like to see Erick Green and Ben Boggs play well enough that Greenberg only needs to play Delaney for 32 minutes or so. He played 35 minutes last season, and that just shouldn't be necessary against a team this inferior to the Hokies.

The last thing I'm hoping that I DON'T get to see tonight... does Victor Davila stay in during crunch time? That's a question I would rather have answered against Kansas State because if it gets answered tonight, that means that the Camels are toe-to-toe with the Hokies in the final minutes (haha, another camel toe pun!). But that question is still out there... last season Seth Greenberg would usually opt to play JT Thompson in the final minutes instead of Victor Davila. Will Greenberg choose to play a smaller lineup late in games with either Erick Green, Manny Atkins, or Jarell Eddie getting playing time instead of big Vic? Hopefully we won't find out until Tuesday.

As for now... guard the Cassell tonight, Hokies!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Back for Basketball Season

Hello Hokie fans (and other random people who visit my blog)... I'm back! Frankly, I got a little tired of blogging and needed a break, but I'm rested and ready to go now that college basketball season is upon us once again. There's a lot to be excited about regarding Virginia Tech basketball, not only for this season but for several seasons to come. Let's start today with this season's team:

Virginia Tech will open their men's basketball season tomorrow night with a home game against the Campbell Fighting Camels. Yes, apparently there is such a thing as a camel that likes to scrap. The returning VT squad includes all 5 starters from last season. Malcolm Delaney will run the point, Dorenzo Hudson will play on the wing and Terrell Bell will start at the other wing spot, Jeff Allen and Victor Davila will anchor the post positions. It's a familiar lineup that head coach Seth Greenberg used in almost every game last season. I use the words "wing" and "post" when describing where players will position themselves in Seth Greenberg's offensive system because that's what makes the most sense. A shooting guard and a small forward do the exact same thing except on different sides of the court. The same is true of the power forward and center positions, so there's no reason to differentiate between the two. So with 5 starters back who know Greenberg's schemes extremely well and have had another offseason to improve both in the weight room and on the court, there's a lot to be excited about and expected from this group of 4 seniors and a junior.

Malcolm Delaney, the ACC's leading scorer a season ago, tested the waters of the NBA draft and found them to be too cold. NBA scouts informed Delaney that he should come back to school for his senior season and work on his point guard skills. Namely learning when to distribute the ball to teammates and learning how to defend the faster point guards in the ACC. I would agree with them, but would add one more thing... Delaney needs to stop looking for the foul on every single contested shot. He tries to sell a foul even when he isn't touched, and in many situations it causes him to lose form and blow the shot. I think this was a major contributor to his poor shooting percentages last season... he was way too concerned about getting fouled and not concerned enough about making the shot. Delaney is a fantastic player, and I think that if he works hard on certain areas of his game, he can turn himself into a viable NBA player, so I tend to be a little tougher on him in my reviews. One thing is certain though... he is the unquestioned leader of this team and he will definitely be missed next season.

Dorenzo Hudson returns as the ACC's most improved scorer. 'Zo added over 10 points per game from his sophomore to his junior season. The difference seemed to come from an increase in the number of shots he took and also from an increase in confidence. As a sophomore, Hudson chose to defer more to his teammates and was reluctant to shoot the ball. With encouragement from teammates, he began to realize his own talent as a junior... that the things he showed in practice could translate to a real game. Make no mistake, Hudson's jump shot is a scary thing. He doesn't exactly have the smooth stroke, even arc, and rolling release of Reggie Miller, but ugly or not the shots are falling and doing so consistently. In fact, if I see Hudson receive the ball as he curls around a screen near the top of the key, I get this warm feeling that everything in this world is going to be alright. 'Zo can hit that shot blindfolded. I see no reason why he would regress this season now that he has the confidence in himself.

Terrell Bell is a thorn in the opposition's side. He does everything. He plays tenacious defense and shows a knack for blocking shots anywhere on the court. He rebounds in traffic and negates second-chance points for the other team. He shoots the 3-ball as well as anyone on the team. He runs the floor and can finish in transition. He finds open teammates. Every good team needs a player like Bell, and I love that he's embraced his role. He's not a high-volume shooter. He's not a vocal leader. He just does a bit of everything at an above-average level. If he can continue to improve on his 3-point shooting, he becomes one of the most valuable players in the ACC. Bell will help out in the post this season as well. With JT Thompson out for the season with an ACL injury and Allan Chaney out for the season with a viral inflammation in his heart, Terrell Bell will be counted on to expand his base of skills one more time to include post defense.

Jeff Allen is primed for a big season. He knows that he needs to limit the number of reaching and screening fouls that he tends to pick up because his team needs him in the game. But will that knowledge translate to action? Jeff has been a bit of an enigma during his time at Virginia Tech. He's a fantastic rebounder and post scorer. As a defender, he's the best player on the team at coming up with blocks and steals. He has fantastic athletic ability, but his limitation has always been in his head. Will this be the season that Allen learns to stay out of foul trouble and give himself the minutes to amass even more impressive stats? I sure hope so.

I just need to see more from Victor Davila this season. He was not the offensive force that I expected in his second season with the team, and if his excellent post moves are not leading to buckets, then you aren't getting much from him. Davila does not rebound well for his position nor is he a shot-changer on defense. You wouldn't say he runs down the court so much as he lumbers. But there's a world of talent waiting with this guy... he does have the ups to be a good rebounder and shot-blocker. He does have some wicked post moves. I think he just needs to have that confidence click that 'Zo had last season. And with our limited depth in the post, we could really use it.

Those starters alone should be enough to get Virginia Tech to its first NCAA tournament since 2007, but just how far they get might depend on the guys coming off the bench.

Let's start with PG Erick Green, who had a pretty rough introduction to college basketball as a freshman. Green looked very impressive in limited time against weaker opponents early in the season, but as the season progressed you saw Green miss a lot of shots. A LOT of shots. He was pretty useful on defense and he ran the point pretty well, but the shooting is ultimately what kept him on the bench late in the ACC slate. Greenberg is expecting some seriously improved play from Green this season as he's bulked up a bit in the weight room and shown ability in practice. He could very well be the Hokies' most improved player this season.

F/C Cadarian Raines is a huge question mark heading into this season. As of right now, the answer to the question seems to be "No." Raines is still healing from a chronically injured foot and won't be ready to go for another 2 weeks or so. He is sort of the yang to Victor Davila's yin. Raines leaves a lot to be desired on the offensive end of the floor, but he's a beast on the glass and defensive presence that teams will need to respect. Not having Cadarian for the Kansas State game is a big disappointment as he really would have helped with our post depth, but he should be back in time for the 76 Classic tournament in Anaheim, CA during Thanksgiving weekend. Get well soon, Cadarian!

SG Ben Boggs is also back after showing spurts of goodness in his freshman year. Early on he was hitting 3-pointers like a mad man, but that pace eventually slowed down. If Boggs can become a reliable 3-point shooter off the bench, then I think he will see an increased role on this team. He's already a pretty good defender and can rebound for his position. He just needs to work on his ball-handling and 3-point shot.

F Manny Atkins is another guy whose future with the team is really up for grabs. He had some nice moments last season and helped contribute to a couple wins with some timely 3-point shooting. He also showed an ability to rebound in one or two games. The consistency just needs to be there for him to have an increased role on the team. I am also hoping he hit the weight room in the offseason as he looked a little bit slight at times compared to other forwards.

F Jarrell Eddie is an incoming freshman who I think is going to be a big contributor this season. Eddie has a wide range of skills, both inside and out. He can slash through the lane, he can create his own shot, he can hit open 3's, he can rebound the ball, and he can finish in transition. Greenberg seems cautiously optimistic about him and his ability to play both the wing and the post position this season. He was also surprised at Eddie's defensive abilities as a freshman. He can see his playing time skyrocket if he learns to defend post players effectively. Here is a sweet highlights video of Jarell from his high school days.

G Tyrone Garland is another incoming freshman with excellent scoring abilities. I just have a hard time believing he's going to see much time on the floor this season. Garland was more of a combo guard coming out of high school than a point guard, and PG is probably the only position that a player of his height can find some playing time in the ACC. He will need to work the hardest of anyone in order to have a permanent place on this team.

And of course, SG Paul Debnam will be back to pump up the bench and create a winning atmosphere for the rest of the team. I can't emphasize his importance enough... he needs to be the guy in practice who gets everyone to play hard when they're feeling lazy. He needs to be the one pumping up his teammates when they're having a bad game. He needs to be leading the guys on the bench so they don't check out of games. Paul Debnam creates team unity, and I love him for it.

The fans of Virginia Tech along with the national media have a lot of expectations for this year's team, and as Hokie fans we all know what that usually means... a let down. I am looking for this basketball team to brush aside the expectations and simply play to their full capabilities. If they go into each and every game, and play to their full capabilities, there is no reason why this team can't finish as high as they are expected to finish in ACC play, and there is no reason they can't make it to the NCAA tournament with a good seed. There's so much talent on this squad, and the intangibles to match it. Oh man, I'm getting goose bumps.

And this isn't helping me calm down.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The 23-Man Roster

Bob Bradley announced the 23-man roster, the final roster, for the World Cup today at 1:20pm. There were not any real surprises for me.

Goalkeeper - Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Marcus Hahnemann
Defenders - Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra, Jay DeMerit, Jonathan Spector, Steve Cherundolo, Jonathan Bornstein, Clarence Goodson
Midfielders - Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, Maurice Edu, Stuart Holden, DaMarcus Beasley, Benny Feilhaber, Jose Francisco Torres
Forwards - Jozy Altidore, Edson Buddle, Herculez Gomez, Robbie Findley

I think the only minor upset here was that Robbie Findley made the roster over Brian Ching. Bob Bradley seemed to indicate that Ching didn't make the roster because his hamstring was still bothering him, but I thought he looked extremely solid last night. Findley is still a bit of an unknown quantity and a very different type of striker than Ching. Findley is supposed to be the player with blazing speed who can push the ball forward and cause trouble for back lines. So far, Findley has failed to do that at the international level, but word from camp (via Bocanegra) is that Findley has been the best of the forwards, abusing the US defenders. Personally, I think that says a lot about the slow feet of the US defenders.

I liked every other move that Bob Bradley made, so I was extremely happy with the 23-man roster. There's a lot of versatility among the players selected, but there's also good talent. Every one seems useful in his own way. It will be up to Bob to pick the right matchups against each opponent in order to gain an advantage.

I am guessing the starting lineup against Turkey on Saturday will look like this:
Tim Howard - Goalkeeper
Jonathan Spector - Right Back
Oguchi Onyewu - Center Back
Jay DeMerit - Center Back
Carlos Bocanegra - Left Back
Clint Dempsey - Right Mid
Ricardo Clark - Center Mid
Michael Bradley - Center Mid
Landon Donovan - Left Mid
Jozy Altidore - Forward
Robbie Findley - Forward

I think Coach Bradley has a real love for Rico Clark, hence him being chosen. Ditto Robbie Findley. At any rate, the game against Turkey will be much better than last night's game. Rest assured of that.

Czech Friendly Review

Okay everyone... back away from the ledge, take your head out of the oven, and open the garage door. Yes, we lost 4-2 to the Czech Republic. No, they're not a great team... but they're not terrible. They are ranked #33 in the world according to the FIFA rankings, and they played the vast majority of their usual starters. The US, on the other hand, started one player who can definitely be considered a starter... Oguchi Onyewu, who returned recently from a long layoff due to an injured patella tendon in his knee. US players on the bench: Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Carlos Bocanegra, Michael Bradley, Jay DeMerit, Jonathan Spector, and Jozy Altidore among others. Coach Bob Bradley definitely used this match against the Czechs to determine who would be his back-ups heading into South Africa. The 23-man roster will be announced at 1:20 pm today.

So if the score of this game doesn't particularly matter, then what does?


  1. Heath Pearce - Left Back - Pearce was in a battle with Jonathan Bornstein for a roster spot, and Bornstein certainly left the door open with his play in the first half. Bornstein's passing was not particularly sharp and he got caught out of position a few times and was forced to foul. However, at least he made the smart foul, as opposed to Pearce, who failed to stay goal-side of an offensive player on one goal (incorrectly pleaded to the ref for an offside call), and who later tried to make a brash sliding tackle in the box, but got neither the ball nor the player, opening up the chance for another Czech goal. Pearce was also miserable with his crosses going forward... he just had a terrible night, and I can't see Bob Bradley bringing him to South Africa.

  2. Sacha Kljestan - Center Mid - Completely ineffective and didn't seem to play with any heart. Sacha had a few good passes, but was never useful in the final third of the field, which is exactly where he needed to shine. To make things worse, the fourth goal for the Czechs can be attributed to some reckless play by Kljestan where he gave up the ball in a bad spot, leading to a break away goal for the Czech team.

  3. Oguchi Onyewu - Center Back - He may still be recovering from his injury, and I'm not sure if that will be enough of a reason for Bob Bradley to excuse his poor play or not. Gooch just looked slow and his passing, which has never been great, was worse than normal. He did well to block a shot early in the game, but later let his team down by allowing a Czech player to climb up his back for a goal on a set play. Gooch is usually one of the strongest aerial threats in the game, so to see him get beat so easily was definitely out of the norm. I would not be entirely surprised to see him get left off of the 23-man roster if Bob Bradley doesn't think he'll be back to full strength in time for the World Cup.


  1. Clarence Goodson - Center Back - Goodson played the entire game and really looked sharp. His passing was solid, he never really got beat defensively, he was a beast in the air, and he even helped set up the 2nd goal for the US team by winning a header in the Czech box on a set play. Goodson's last two games in a US uniform have both been excellent, and I think you can count on seeing him on the 23-man roster.

  2. Herculez Gomez - He's not the biggest striker, but he continues to show a nose for the goal. Gomez put away an easy header from Goodson for the second goal of the game for the United States. However, the goal isn't what makes me believe that Gomez really helped his chances to make the 23-man squad. Herculez made sure to make a nuisance of himself while he was on the field and showed that he has the speed to fill Charlie Davies' void. He seemed like he would make a very good compliment to Jozy Altidore.

  3. Stuart Holden & Mo Edu - Center Mid - Both of these guys were always expected to make the plane to South Africa, so it was just good to see that they still wanted to bring their A-game. Holden's crossing was not up its usual par, but he did well possessing the ball and breaking things up defensively. Mo Edu had a bit of a lucky goal, but he did well to scrap and put it away. Besides that, Edu showed versatility starting at center mid and finishing at center back. His passing was crisp and he did well in breaking up some Czech possession. Both of these guys are key to the future of US soccer.

  4. Brian Ching - Striker - He's 32 years old and he probably can't go 90 minutes anymore at the international level, but he's good for 60-70 minutes and plays with wisdom. No one on the US squad holds the ball up as well waiting for the offense to catch up to him, and nobody does so well when it comes to winning fouls. I don't think Ching took any shots on goal, but he was always in the mix on the offensive end, making a spectacular nutmeg pass to Herculez Gomez, who should have shot better but put the ball straight into the keeper's arms. I've said it before and I'll say it again... Ching has a useful skill set that no one else on the US team has, and it might be useful to start him opposite Altidore and then replace Ching with Gomez as our super sub at the 60 minute mark.

  5. DaMarcus Beasley - Left Mid - Beasley looks like he is back to full speed after several years of injury issues. And when Beasley is at full speed, there are few playes who are faster than him. His touch looked good and he was active/involved all over the field. I really liked what I saw from him and I think he could be useful to the US team in South Africa.

I'd expect you will see almost all of the starters on Saturday as the US takes on Turkey at 2pm. Once the 23-man roster is announced, friendlies become more about preparing your starters for the World Cup. Turkey is a pretty good team. FIFA ranks them at #29 in the world, and they have some players who play for prestigious clubs around Europe. Bayern Munich's Altintop is a tricky player who plays on the wing and could cause some trouble for our defense. This game will be a much better barometer as to weather the US team will be effective in South Africa (haha, barometer... weather... get it?).

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

World Cup Talk Continued

The US Men's National Team will take on the Czech Republic tonight at 8pm on ESPN (with coverage starting at 7:30). This is an international friendly, so the result typically doesn't mean very much. However, there are plenty of reasons to watch the game tonight. For one, the United States has a chance to get some revenge on the team that abused us in the first game of the 2006 World Cup. Good Ol' US of A was thrashed to the tune of 3-0, looking feeble and impotent the entire match. I would very much like to see a different US team today. Secondly, you will get a chance to see just what form that our previously injured players are in. Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra, Jay DeMerit, and Stuart Holden are all coming back from injuries. The first 3 players listed also double as our top 3 options for the 2 central defender roles, so that's a key area to watch. Finally, you will want to keep an eye on these players as they battle for a spot on the final 23-man roster (the roster is currently at 30 men):
  • Jonathan Bornstein v. Heath Pearce - Left Back - There probably isn't room on the roster for 2 extra left backs. Pearce has more experience, more height, and seems less prone to mental blunders. Bornstein is the better athlete and the better man-to-man marker. I am looking for Bornstein to win the job as Pearce is basically a less impressive version of Carlos Bocanegra, whose starting job is not being questioned. Bornstein is also capable of playing a midfield role on the wing, adding to his versatility (and Coach Bob Bradley loves himself some versatility).
  • Chad Marshall v. Clarence Goodson - Center Back - If they're all healthy, you can go ahead and book tickets to South Africa for Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra, and Jay DeMerit. That most likely only leaves one more spot for a center back, and I am guessing it will be Clarence Goodson. Goodson has been in better form recently than Marshall. Marshall is an inch shorter at 6'3", but he's about 20 lbs thicker. Theoretically you would like Marshall to be the one to win the job because of that, but Beanpole Goodson is the better choice right now and has been starting for a Norwegian club, IK Start. Clarence is excellent in the air and gives you some of the same strengths as Onyewu. Goodson had the lone goal in the most recent friendly against the Netherlands and he's the type of player who could actually mark a giant like England's Peter Crouch on a set play.
  • DeMarcus Beasley v. Robbie Rogers v. Alejandro Bedoya - Left Mid - The spot behind Landon Donovan on the left side of midfield will be hotly contested. I envision 2 of these 3 players sitting at home watching the World Cup. Beasley gives you great speed, familiarity with players on the team, and experience, having played in 2 previous World Cups, but nobody really knows how good his form is right now since he hasn't played for his club team in weeks. Bedoya on the other hand is a young up-and-comer playing his club soccer in Sweden and blasting onto the scene with a strong showing against the Dutch on the last friendly. Rogers is both young and talented, but seems to wither in the clutch, and ultimately I see him heading home. I really think that the player who has the best showing against the Czechs will be the one to book their ticket, and I'm going to guess that player is DeMarcus Beasley.
  • Sacha Kljestan v. Jose Francisco Torres - Center Mid - This is another tough battle to call. One of these players will most likely head home, although I could theoretically see both of them being left off the final roster in favor of Bedoya or Rogers. But my gut tells me Bob Bradley will want another midfielder who players centrally more often than not, and that player would be either Kljestan or Torres. I like Torres better. He makes fewer mistakes with the ball and has a cleaner, tighter game. Kljestan has good skill, but he needs room to operate, and he won't get that room against the level of talent present in Group C. For every magnificent pass from Sacha there are 5 boneheaded passes to take its place. I like Torres as an option on the bench instead, and I am guessing Bob Bradley feels the same.
  • Edson Buddle v. Herculez Gomez v. Eddie Johnson v. Robbie Findley - Striker - 4 players for 2 spots, and it's anybody's guess who will get them. Johnson and Findley have the most experience with the national team, with Johnson having a huge advantage there. Eddie has been playing well for his Greek team, Aris Salonika, putting in several goals towards the end of the season. Robbie Findley is well-liked by Bob Bradley, but has never been able to stand out at the international level. However, you could almost say the same for Johnson, as he has not been a consistent scorer for the USMNT since around 2005. I like one of these two to go to South Africa, and my best guess is Johnson. That leaves one spot for a USMNT newbie, going to either Buddle or Gomez. Both are having tremendous success right now for their club teams. Gomez plays in arguably the better league in Mexico, while Buddle plays for a solid team in MLS, playing alongside Landon Donovan for the LA Galaxy. Gomez is lightning-in-a-bottle fast and furious. Buddle has size, strength, and the ability to score multiple ways. Ultimately, I think that Buddle's relationship with Landon Donovan will be what gets him on to the 23-man roster, and I'm totally fine with that. I'd love to see what Buddle can do in a super-sub role.
So you see, lots of hot action to check out in tonight's game. Maybe the phrase "hot action" just made you blush a little bit. That's okay, just let it happen. We're all friends here. The final 23-man roster will be announced tomorrow, I think. I could be wrong about that and if so I will apologize later. Go soccer.

(Speaking of soccer, my intramural team plays tonight at 8:15 for the chance to move into the quarterfinals for the Copa Bruce... a fun, single-elimination tournament for teams from the 2nd division to the 7th division and even the Veterans division, loaded with 40+ year old players. We play a team from the veteran's division tonight... I'm sure they will be crafty and physical, yet terribly slow. Our team, Great Scott, currently resides in the 3rd division and is looking to move up to 2nd division after winning the 3rd this season. Just wanted to brag on that for a sec. Okay I'm done.)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Slow Summer Days = World Cup Talk!

Hello everyone. With summer approaching, I thought I would take the time to warn you that this blog is going to be heavily focused on the World Cup from now until some time in July. I love Hokie Football and Hokie Basketball... you know this. But I just can't bring myself to be one of those blog writers who meticulously peruses the recruiting news for potential football recruits or who writes blog posts about a new assistant coach coming on board. I just don't care about that stuff. Wait, that's not true... it's not that I don't care, it's more that it takes up too much time to go sniffing around different websites looking for the latest news, and besides that, I always wanted this blog to be a commentary... not a news site. I can stand basketball recruiting better than football recruiting because basketball recruits have a better chance of contributing right away. Football recruits may get redshirted for a year, then they might play on the practice squad for a year, then they might play special teams for a year, and by the time they finally get some regular playing time, it's 3 years later and you forgot who they are. So I'll run and hide from the football recruiting talk over the summer.

I'd rather talk about the largest sporting event in the world. Besides that, I play soccer and I like to watch soccer. I would be admittedly less interested if the USA squad had zero chance of advancing past the first round, and I'd have no interest whatsoever if the USA team didn't even make it to the World Cup Finals (or what most people know simply as "The World Cup"). However, those statements are not the case. The US team has a very good chance to get out of the first round and even cause some noise in the knockout stage. Could they win it all? Yes. By comparison, the Atlanta Hawks had a chance to win the NBA championship... they are a good team with some nice components, but it's just not very likely.

If you don't like soccer, suck it... I'm going to talk about it anyway.

The World Cup works like this: There are 8 groups labeled A through H. In each group, there are four teams. For example, the United States is in Group C along with England, Slovenia, and Algeria. Each team in the group will play each other once in the first round of the tournament. A team earns 3 points for a win, 1 point for a tie, and 0 points for a loss. At the end of the first round, the scores in the group are tallied up and the top 2 teams from each group move on to the knockout stage. There are a bunch of tiebreakers if two or three teams all have the same point total. The first tiebreaker is how the teams fared in head-to-head play. If they tied in head-to-head play, then I think it comes down to goal differential, then goals scored, etc. In the knockout stage, there can be no ties, so teams will be "seeded" and matched up against one another, then will have to win to move on. If a team doesn't win in regulation time, then they will go to 2 extra periods. If they are still tied, the game will go to penalty kicks, 5 for each team. This happens more often than you would think... Italy won the World Cup final game on penalty kicks in 2006.

Now let's talk about the 3 other teams facing the United States in Group C:
  • England - an undeniably tough team, but a lucky draw for the United States. Why do I say that? Because only one other team that we could have drawn from the same "pot" is a better matchup for the US, and that team is the World Cup host nation, South Africa. But for the record, the host nation has never failed to move on to the knockout stage. I won't go into why the draw works out this way, but the United States could have faced Brazil, Spain, Holland, Argentina, Germany, or Italy instead. Since England has a style of play that the Americans are comfortable playing, this was a fortunate draw. England is fast on the wings, physical in the center, and has one of the most gifted players in the world in Wayne Rooney. They also have a Cleveland Browns-like penchant for choking and won their last World Cup around the same time the Browns won the NFL championship (I believe around 1961... not curious enough to fact check here, but I know I'm close for both teams). However, I think the new coach for England is doing a wonderful job there, and I fully expect them to win the group. This could be the year that they pull a 2004 Red Sox and beat their curse, but I am guessing that they will bow out in the quarterfinals.
  • Slovenia - it's a tiny country which was once part of Yugoslavia. When I say tiny, I mean that population-wise, it's as big as the Hampton Roads area of Virginia... roughly 2 million people. They are the smallest country in the World Cup, however they are stout defensively and only gave up 4 goals in the last qualifying round prior to the World Cup Finals. Their most notable player is midfielder and team captain Robert Koren. He can score the occasional goal, but he's more known as a playmaker and orchestrator of the offense. However, like I said before, this team is known for their defense. The back 4 are solid, but not many people know their names (including me). Expect the USA to defeat them, but a tie shouldn't surprise you either.
  • Algeria - Algeria managed to upset the favorites from their African qualifying group, Egypt, to book their ticket to the World Cup Finals. Algeria plays with flair and passion, but they do so with a weak squad. You should expect the United States to score more goals against Algeria than in either of their other two matches. Algeria is also known for having a bunch of hotheads... they were eliminated from the African Cup of Nations because they had 3 players get red-carded IN THE SAME GAME against Egypt (Egypt's revenge against Algeria for knocking them out of the World Cup picture, as they won 4-0). Algeria's best known player is probably Nadjir Belhadj, a left back who is more offensively focused making runs up the sideline than defensively focused. Algeria has a few players who can shoot it from distance, but shouldn't be able to mount much of an attack otherwise. Expect the US to defeat them in a game the US needs to win to move on.
Now let's run down some of the US roster to get you familiar with the players:
  • Tim Howard - Contrary to what you might think, the success of the US starts with its goalkeeper, Tim Howard. You will notice that I didn't put Landon Donovan here. You might think I have a little bias being a goalkeeper, myself, but I think most people in the know would say the same thing. Howard is one of the best goalkeepers in the world, and personally I would put him in the top 5 because I weigh shot-blocking and positioning much higher than other parts of a goalkeeper's duty, such as commanding the back line of the defense and distributing the ball on goal kicks and punts. The team will live and die depending on Howard's ability to come up with a few clutch saves.
  • Landon Donovan - I think it's fair to say Donovan is the second most important player to the success of the US squad. Donovan has a sublime combination of speed, technical skill, and passing ability. At the international level, he is known more for his ability to create opportunities for others than for being the one to put the ball in the back of the net. Coach Bob Bradley typically chooses to deploy Landon in the midfield on the left wing, where he is free to either cross the ball with his left foot or else tuck inside and shoot or create havoc with his right foot.
  • Clint Dempsey - If there is any player on the US squad who is known for being "clutch", it is Clint Dempsey. He scored the only goal for the US in their lackluster showing in the 2006 World Cup, and he has scored several key goals for his club, Fulham, in the English Premier League. He is a player with exceptional foot skill and has the ability to finish either inside the box, from long range, or with his head. His trickery with the ball can sometimes lead to bad giveaways, and that's really his only major flaw as a player. He's a potent offensive force.
  • Carlos Bocanegra - Boca is the captain of the US team and one of its most tenured players. He has the versatility to be deployed both in a central defender role or as a left back, but you can rest assured he will be a starter. Carlos is also known for occasionally putting the ball in the back of the net on corner kicks and set plays where he comes forward from his defensive position to use his best asset... his aerial prowess.
  • Oguchi Onyewu - Although his name doesn't sound very American, he is very much so. At 6'5" and 215 lbs, he is the size of an NFL free safety, and can hit like one too. In fact, he has a reputation for picking up fouls due solely to the fact that he's huge and other players can't withstand his awesome power. "Gooch" is just recently returning from injury, so his training sessions and play against the Czech Republic on Tuesday will go a long way towards showing Bob Bradley that he is ready to resume his starting role.
  • Michael Bradley - He may be the coach's son, but he's earned his spot in the starting lineup. Michael has an intense demeanor both on and off the field, so it's no surprise that he plays with hustle and passion. He has a good blend of speed and power, and is capable of scoring goals (put in 17 in a season for Herenveen in the Dutch league in 2007-2008). Bradley is also an asset defensively where he can tackle with the best of them. His only negative aspect is his fondness for picking up yellow cards... goes hand in hand with the intensity. He is not going to wow you with his foot skills, but he moves the ball effectively when it's at his feet.
  • Jozy Altidore - The most exciting player for the future of the US team. Altidore is big and strong, but is also skillful with the ball. Oh, and he's only 20 years old. So expect him to be around not just for this World Cup, but for the 2014, 2018, and possibly 2022 World Cup. Being so young, Jozy is prone to mental lapses and squandered chances, but his ability to create a goal at the appropriate time (see his goal against Spain in the 2009 Confederations Cup) is rare among forwards for the US team. He has a tendency to ramp up his play against better competition, so expect to see him full-tilt at the World Cup.
  • Brian Ching - An oldie but a goodie. At 32 years old, this will be Ching's last World Cup, but he brings the same components to the table that he always has. He's never been a gifted finisher and he was never going to shock you with his speed, but he battles hard to win the ball and holds it up well once he does. He's the kind of striker that can buy your team time to get forward and attack, and he will win a handful of fouls for your team creating set play chances near the opponent's box. A player like Ching is always useful to have.
That's it for now... I have run out of time and will comment on more players later. I'll talk a little next week about the friendly match against the Czech Republic on Tuesday evening as well.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Trials of a Clevelander

Is there a more miserable existence than the life of a Cleveland sports fan? Right now the Indians are getting dominated to the tune of 11-18 in the AL Central. The big hitting lineup that we were expecting for this season is about as evident as the reason for duck poop to be protected as a national treasure. It's completely non-existent. Strangely enough, the strength of the team has been starting pitcher a few random relievers, both of which were supposed to be sore spots for the team.

Take a peak over at the NBA playoffs and you will see the best player in basketball nursing a sore elbow and fluctuating between utterly dominant and invisible. LeBron James seems to be able to turn it on any time he wants to... but he only seems to want to about 50% of the time. The solid group of role players around LeBron is faltering as well. Mo Williams is bricking wide-open shots that he made all throughout the regular season. Delonte West is having brain farts at a frantic pace, probably because he's been thinking about how cool he looked with 3 illegal handguns strapped to his body as he whipped down the highway on his motorcycle. Anderson Varejao, one of the best offensive rebounders in the league in the regular season, seems to have the ups of my 81 year old grandfather, with the speed to match. With 3 games left, no Cavalier fan feels safe, and I think we are all quietly terrified of facing Orlando in the next round.

These recent events only add to years of misery as a fan of Cleveland sports franchises. I lived through the talented Indians teams of the 90s when the likes of Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Omar Vizquel, and Kenny Lofton were practically an unstoppable force. Except that even with 2 World Series appearances, the Indians squandered their chances. In 1995 they just couldn't match up with the starting pitching of the Atlanta Braves. Who could? Maddox, Glavine, Smoltz... all in their prime. That's a murderers row. The real shame was losing the 1997 World Series to the Florida Marlins. The Fish managed to scrape together enough cash to buy their way to the championship, but not without the help of Senor Smoke, Jose Mesa, who blew the save and the game (game 7 of the series) with a very unclutch performance. Those Indians teams define how I view Cleveland sports... no matter how talented they are, they will find a way to lose when it really matters.

The Cleveland Browns are nowhere near competing at a high level, and that's somewhat strange considering that they've been rebuilding since 1999. I think the correct word is "retooling" not "rebuilding" when the changes you make don't necessarily imply success. Most of this can be blamed on the Browns' drafts since 1999. Take a look at the first round picks from '99 to '08: Tim Couch, Courtney Brown, Gerard Warren, William Green, Jeff Faine, Kellen Winslow II, Braylon Edwards, Kamerion Wimbley, Joe Thomas, Brady Quinn. Only one of those players is still on the Browns (Joe Thomas) and only two have made the pro-bowl (Edwards and Thomas). Braylon Edwards had one good year, and fell back into oblivion. Honestly, Joe Thomas was the only good pick in that era. The second round picks aren't any better, but I'll spare you from them. Browns fans are dying a slow and painful death, and only new team president Mike Holmgren is capable of giving us the antidote. All we're asking you to do is to not waste our draft picks, Mike... can you do that?

I've placed all of my hopes of Cleveland ever winning a championship on the broad shoulders of LeBron James. I can't take any more losing... this is supposedly the best team Cleveland has ever had in any sport, capable of matching up against any team no matter what players they have. I will learn whether the curse of Cleveland is real or not by who ends up holding that championship trophy. If it's not LeBron James, you can kiss him goodbye, along with the hope I have in Cleveland ever winning a championship in any sport.

Monday, April 26, 2010

2010 NFL Draft Notes

Overall, not the best draft ever for Virginia Tech. Here are some of my thoughts from it:
  • Jason Worilds was the only pick that surprised me at how high he was taken. The Pittsburgh Steelers took Worilds in the 2nd round with the 52nd overall pick. This should be good news for VT fans who like to watch their favorites in the NFL... the Steelers have a knack for eying talent at the linebacker position and seem to have a way of producing the most productive players at that position. Jason Worilds should be pumped up, he couldn't be in a better position than he is right now.
  • The other Hokies selected were Kam Chancellor (Seattle Seahawks), Brent Bowden and Cody Grimm (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), and Ed Wang (Buffalo Bills). Bowden should be able to step right in and compete for the starting punter job for the Bucs. Cody Grimm was selected purely as a special teams player, and that's where you're likely to see him on NFL opening day (is "opening day" a baseball expression only? My mind is like goo right now). Kam Chancellor has good tangibles, but his intangibles suck... not sure if he'll amount to anything more than a special teams player, but we'll see. Ed Wang is probably a career backup at best, depending on just how terrible (or injured) Buffalo's offensive line is.
  • There were a ton of VT grads who didn't get selected. They were Sergio Render, Dorian Porch, Demetrius Taylor, Nekos Brown, Cordarrow Thompson, Stephan Virgil, Cam Martin, and Greg Boone. These players were pretty significant contributors for the Hokies, so that might hint at why VT's defense seemed to much more vincible than usual this past season. NFL teams didn't even think they were worth a 7th round pick. A few of them will be offered free agent contracts, but many of them will be working as insurance salesmen shortly hereafter. I heard Heath Shuler is hiring. Actually I just looked him up... he might be a congressman now. That is far less fun to make fun of.
  • As for the draft itself... I hate the new format. If you want to split it up among 2 days rather than 3, that is fine with me. Rounds 1-3 are by far the most interesting. However, the draft needs to start on Saturday. It just does. There are too many things competing with the draft, including NBA playoffs and NHL playoffs, both of which are entertaining. I like the draft to be its own event that you can savor and not worry about what your NBA team is doing at the same time.
  • My least favorite trend of this year's draft? The damn telephones. You knew what was going to happen a minute or two before each pick was selected because ESPN would show the players talking on the phone and looking emotional. I don't think there was a single player they showed talking on the phone who wasn't selected immediately afterward. It's so anti-climactic. I was sitting there thinking of all the wonderful possibilities the Browns had with the 7th pick of the draft and then I see Joe Haden crying into his phone, and it's like, "Oh... who is that on the phone? Is that the guy from Florida? Yeah, they just said his name. Okay I guess we're taking that guy." It takes all the joy out of a great pick and takes all the sting out of the "what the????" picks. The sting is what makes us feel alive! SCREW YOU ESPN!
  • I thought Pete Carroll and the Seahawks had a really good draft. I thought Jacksonville had a crappaliscious draft. I thought the Redskins were insane to let Jason Campbell go for a 4th round draft pick that they will get to use 2 years from now. Productive NFL players are horrendously undervalued. I'm not saying Campbell is a great or even good quarterback. I'm saying he's about average. What percentage of rookies even turn into average NFL players? 10%? 20%? That's not worth more than a 4th round pick who will be lucky to make the team as a backup? I just don't get it.