Thursday, March 24, 2011

How To Delude Yourself; The Inherent Notion of Fanhood

Over the past couple of months, I've been close to obsessively monitoring updates on the Bills draft strategy. The latest news on that front is that the Bills are going to take a quarterback with the #3 pick, presumably Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbert. (This article sums it up-

My completely rational, sensible fan side is screaming in agony at this news. The Bills gave up over 160 yards rushing PER GAME last year, along with just a terrible pass defense. A player like Marcell Dareus (DT, Alabama), Von Miller (OLB, Texas A&M), Da'Quan Bowers (DE, Clemson) or even Patrick Peterson (CB, LSU, and supposedly the best prospect in the draft overall) would instantly make the defense better and give the Bills a fighting chance in more games. These would be 'instant impact' players. They are among the safest picks in the draft (as safe as picks can be in the NFL draft, I guess).

As for the quarterbacks...well, obviously having a franchise quarterback is important to winning championships. But reaching for a quarterback at #3 if you don't believe he can be 'the guy' is a mistake that can set back a franchise for years, a la JaMarcus Russell. Watching Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert, I'm not convinced either one is 'the guy'.

But dear god, let me say that if the Bills do end up...*shudder*...draft a quarterback this year, I hope to god it is not Blaine Gabbert. I don't think there's ever been a prospect who was so mediocre in college who has gained this much attention. Seriously, Blaine Gabbert? I don't care about his physical skills or his apparent ability to fit into the NFL. This guy was nothing special in college. Seriously. Try and remember one weekend this college season where you said, "Man, I have to watch Missouri this week. Blaine Gabbert is KILLING it!" Never. No one besides fervent Missouri fans gave a crap about this guy (and yes, no one knew who Joe Flacco or Josh Freeman were before the draft, but no one talked about them as a possible #1 pick). Just go to youtube and type in 'Blaine Gabbert highlights". There's about two fan made videos, one of them embarrassingly bad (it shows an incomplete pass) and both featuring a ton of footage from the Mizzou-Illinois game. That's it (so yeah, no Missouri fans were hyped up enough to make a good one). And now he's the number one QB prospect in the draft? I don't know if the media needed to hype up another QB to go against Cam Newton in the pre-draft doldrums, but god, this charade has gone on too far. In 2010, Gabbert had 16 passing touchdowns. 16! At Mizzou against a creampuff schedule! Sure, his 63.7% completion percentage is impressive, but also a little inflated because of ridiculously good days against McNeese State and Miami of Ohio. Real tough games there. If you go and look at the aforementioned 'highlight' films of Gabbert, there's a lot of plays where Gabbert makes one read (it is a spread system, after all) and then starts running around like an idiot in the backfield, looping around from side to side before making a throw or scrambling for some yardage. Guess where that doesn't work? The NFL, where 300 pound defensive lineman and blazing fast lineman will catch up to you and destroy you (also, behind the Bills porous offensive line, yeesh). As Merril Hoge said (and I usually find Merril Hoge to be an idiot), Gabbert doesn't 'feel' pressure, he 'sees' pressure and runs from it. He's accurate, sure- but so was Trent Edwards. He has great combine stats, but so what? He doesn't pass the eye test.

Listen, I'm no huge Cam Newton fan. If the Bills have to take a QB, though, he's my guy. Newton's got arm strength, big play ability with his feet, and he's got...moxie, I guess (see the huge comeback against Alabama). He's a human highlight machine, and he played in the best conference in college football, against future NFL defenders (for the most part). Sure, he scrambles like Gabbert at points, but also had more designed runs and seems to react better to pressure. He was also in a one read, spread offense, but, like Gabbert, should be able to spend a year (or a little less) behind Ryan Fitzpatrick learning an NFL offense. I'm not saying this guy is perfect (in fact, there's a fair deal of similarity with him and Gabbert), but he definitely passes the eye test-he's got a flair for the big moment, he's a winner, and he makes plays (on the negative side, he feeds off attention, so Buffalo might not be the right pick). The Bills have been picking safe, accurate QB's in the third round or later as a general QB strategy. If they're going to take one in the first round, why not go for the one who pops off the screen, who could bring some real excitement? A backfield of Newton, Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller, with Stevie Johnson (and hopefully more...ahem, Lee Evans) at WR could be the foundation for an exciting offense, while the Bills build up defense.

Ok, so if you've been following at all, I hope the Bills will take a defensive stud instead of a QB at three, and if they have to take a quarterback, I hope it's Newton instead of Gabbert. But here's the thing. No matter what the Bills do, I'm going to inevitably end up supporting it until I see it's wrong. Call me naive, call me dumb, what have you. But that's the kind of fan I am. Maybe it's because I'm young, but I've taken my licks, and I'm ready to take more until, someday, improbably, I am rewarded for it. I've heard from plenty of other people who have 'given up' on the Bills, or the Sabres, or the Cubs, removing themselves from even following the team until they reach some arbitrary milestone in that fan's head that allows them to rejoin the faithful. Isn't that just hopping off the bandwagon? How would you feel rewarded once the team gets back to relevance? It would be hollow. Real fanhood is about believing in the future, the hope, however far off it is, that someday you will feel the joy of another win, a playoff appearance, or a championship. It's far off, but you can almost grasp it. If I don't believe, what else is there to do? Wallow in misery at some bleak future? No. I'll be the guy battered down, searching for some hope, finding solace in next year, next year, until it improbably becomes this year.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Sweet Sixteen Breakdown

Sorry for the long absence; school and water polo have been cutting into my time just a little too much. Also, I just zoned out in front of the TV and watched the first two rounds of the NCAA basketball tournament(yeah, NCAA, I'm not falling into your little trap. The first four is not the first round.) Every time I thought about writing something, well...on came another game. And I'm lazy. But now I'm here to break down the Sweet 16!

NOTE: My advice is probably awful. My bracket's already exploded in my face, so... take this as you will, I'm just trying to have some fun here.

East Regional

Teams remaining- #1 Ohio State, #2 North Carolina, #4 Kentucky, #11 Marquette

Matchups- OSU-UK, UNC-MU

Thank god for Marquette, or else this would be our only 1-2-3-4 regional. #1 Ohio State, so far, has been the only truly dominant team in the tournament. In their second round game against George Mason, they fell behind 11-2 early. After that, they went on a 50(!)-15 run for the rest of the 1st half. They have the best big man in the tournament (Jared Sullinger), ridiculous three point shooting (from Diebler and Lighty), and they can rebound better than pretty much every team. They look like the odds on favorite at this point (as if their #1 overall seed didn't say that already). #4 Kentucky has been spotty- they barely got by Princeton in the first round and eventually solved West Virginia's defense en route to a 71-63 win. They're a little too young, inconsistent and don't have enough size on the inside, especially not enough to take down Ohio State. We can say goodbye to them for this year (and remember, if they do manage to win, there's a good chance that the win could be vacated in a couple years. Gotta love Coach Calipari.) #2 North Carolina is like a better version of Kentucky. They've got a ton of talent in the back court, they are very young, and they rebound decently. They've had a little bit of trouble in both rounds, playing a closer than usual game against Long Island, and barely slipping by Washington in the next round. While they have the athleticism and talent to beat Marquette, it's not easy to see them losing in this round, or moving onto the Elite Eight and losing to a very complete Ohio State team. UNC is more of a threat next year, if their team stays together. As for Marquette...I'm going to be honest, I didn't watch a second of Marquette basketball. I was busy during the first round and the second game was on TruTv, and I don't get that after a cursory look-see, they run a fast pace. That plays right into North Carolina's hands, so I don't see them getting by. So yeah, going with chalk here- OSU vs UNC in the Elite Eight, with OSU taking it in the end.


Teams Remaining-#1 Duke, #2 San Diego St, #3 UConn, #5 Arizona


No double digit seeds? Boooooooooring. Duke easily dispatched their first round pansy, obviously, but then stumbled by Michigan, escaping 73-71. And you know what? I LOVE THAT. Michigan is a team with almost no rebounding ability that lives on streaky shooting. The fact that Duke struggled against this team is wonderful. Once they play a team with legitimate rebounding and consistent out. That team could be Arizona, who have a NBA talent in Derrick Williams and decent enough size (certainly better than Michigan's). I'm torn, because I'd love to see Duke lose now, but I'd also LOVE to see Duke and Coach K lose right as Coach K is on the precipice of breaking the all time wins record, making him have to wait until next season to get his win (invariably against some crappy team and not on a huge national stage). Seriously, I know its cliche...but I hate Duke. Anyways, San Diego State takes on UConn in the other game. San Diego State has a big front line, and were able to shut down Jimmer Fredette in their conference tournament. Why does that matter? Well, they're playing against UConn, a team built around the stellar play of Kemba Walker and...not much else. If SDSU puts Jimmer-type defense on Kemba, they'll win the battle on the glass and force other players on UConn to step up, which ain't happening. So, basically, SDSU should get by UConn and create more animosity towards the hype machine that created the myth of the Big East. SDSU against...uh... fine, Duke in the Elite Eight, with SDSU moving on (oh please oh please oh please).

Southwest Regional

Teams Remaining- #1 Kansas, #10 Florida State, #11 VCU, #12 Richmond

Matchups- KU-RICH, FSU-VCU

Now this is more like it! Only one single digit seed! Kansas rolled through their first game (as all #1 seeds do) and then played a closer-than-the-final-score game against Illinois in the second round. They basically play through the Morris twins (twins in sports...always just a little creepy) with a pretty good supporting cast. As for the rest of this's tough to figure. Richmond, Kansas' opponent, has beaten Vandy and Morehead St. with a combination of solid defense and crafty (read: Backdoor Cuts) offense. I don't think they have the talent to keep up with Kansas, unfortunately (not to say I won't be rooting for them.) Florida State harassed Texas A&M and Notre Dame and shot the lights out, while VCU won their play in game, beat a weak Georgetown team, and then destroyed Purdue (a team I thought would make the final four). They've got some great three point shooting and are clearly motivated after Jay Bilas pilloried them on national TV. With that being said, I'm looking for Florida State to shut down VCU's offense and move onto an Elite Eight match up against the Jayhawks, with Jayhawks moving into the Final Four. But a ten or eleven seed in the Elite Eight? That's cool.

Southeast Regional

Teams Remaining- #2 Florida, #3 BYU, #4 Wisconsin, #8 Butler


And now, welcome to the weakest side of the bracket! I mean, just look at these teams. I don't think any of these teams are capable of winning the national championship. In the first game, we have Butler against Wisconsin. Butler has won two very close games (a buzzer beater against Old Dominion and the wild finish against Pitt), while Wisconsin took care of business against Belmont and a very solid Kansas State team. Butler's guard play (Nored and Mack) has been exceptional, and they've been very lucky, but now they're running into the defensive powerhouse that is Wisconsin. Wisconsin won't wow anyone with offensive prowess, but they play shut down defense and shoot the three ball well. So this is where I think Butler ends their little run, although it'll be close. As for Florida and BYU, I'll be honest, I haven't watched any Florida basketball, but I know they lost to Kentucky and had a tough time against UCLA, so they haven't looked amazingly strong. BYU has Jimmer Fredette, who is a ridiculous scorer, and not much else. And I have absolute Jimmer mania, so I'll take BYU to beat Florida. That leaves BYU-Wisconsin, and I'd take 'Sconnie in that game, because they could shut down Jimmer.

So yeah, my Final Four (revised) is Ohio State, SDSU, Kansas, and Wisconsin. But I'm hoping for something unexpected and some double digits to get there! Bracket pandemonium, please.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The NBA is a Puzzle

And no, I don't mean that in a, "man, this regular season is wacky! I wonder who's going to win it all!?" kind of way; no, I'm talking about putting together basketball teams and starting lineups.

There's a movement in today's NBA towards building teams with multiple stars (well, more of a return to this idea, since so many teams in the 80s/90s were loaded). The idea before this was to get ONE star and build around him; but after the Celtics trades for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen gave Boston a championship (and then, the next two years, the Pau-Kobe combination in LA), the NBA has started to return to the multi-star mentality, with the Heat's Big Three, Boozer and Rose in Chicago, Westbrook and Durant in Oklahoma City, and the Knicks trading for Carmelo (and, in their own quiet way, the Spurs). But now, with all these deals, we can all see that there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. It's not enough to have the players at different positions; they need to play unique, complementary roles.

The Celtics, for instance, have an almost perfect combination. Ray Allen is a pick and pop shooter, Paul Pierce a driving slasher, Kevin Garnett a low post threat, and Rondo a brilliant distributor. (I would say the Bulls are trying to match that, with Rose as the slasher/distributor, Boozer the low post threat, and Luol Deng being a mix between pick and pop shooter and slasher, a poor man's Allen or Pierce. A shooter like Allen would make the Bulls so much better, and Korver does not count, for his lack of defense). Those four roles are what makes the Celtics the top of the East and a constant contender as long as they stay healthy. The Lakers have Kobe as the pure scorer and Gasol and Bynum in the low post, with Artest and Fisher to complement them.

And, if today's 87-86 Bulls win over the Heat was any indication, there's a wrong way to put together a team. It's the Heat. The Heat will always be able to beat bad teams with pure ability, but when faced against good defense, they will crumble, because they have two stars who are too similar. Dwayne Wade and LeBron James both need the ball to function; they both primarily drive to the basket. Bosh isn't enough of a presence to make a difference in the paint, so he usually stays close to the outside, allowing defenses to clog the middle against LeBron and Dwayne driving. The Heat, it seems, have about one person who can dependably hit threes (Mario Chalmers), so any kickouts from those drives are more often than not fruitless, and also don't have any 'true' distributors (as much as LeBron would like to say he is...he's not). In crunch time, in "need to hit it" situations, the Heat have a crisis- which driver to give it to, and what should the rest of the team do when he has the ball. The answer so far has been "stand around and let him drive or settle for a three". Oops! You put your team together wrong, Miami. Just because those three had fun on the Olympic Team (where they weren't all playing at once, against mostly inferior opponents, and had a real point guard), doesn't mean they can be an NBA Championship team. You'll see Boston, Chicago, LA, Oklahoma City (especially after the Perkins trade) and San Antonio in that group this Spring. Everyone on those teams knows their own unique role, for the most part. And that's what makes a winning team.

With this in mind, it'll be interesting to see what the Knicks do in the upcoming free agency period. They'll probably need to add a third star (Chauncey Billups is a good enough point guard, but not at his prime or a star). If they want Chris Paul or Dwight Howard (who will have to take a below-max contract), that would put them into the upper echelon. If they screw up and put someone too similar to Amare or Carmelo, then, we'll just have two overhyped teams in big markets without championships. Your move, Knicks. Make sure the pieces fit.