NCAA Basketball Thoughts

March 16, 2010

- See all 763 of my articles

No Comments

The state of basketball in Iowa

The state of Iowa will be represented by just one team in the men’s NCAA tournament – Northern Iowa.  My Iowa State Cyclones faltered down the stretch after three point bomber Lucca Staiger left the program to return to play pro ball in his native Germany (yes, in mid-season).  My team to watch during the tournament will be Syracuse, featuring former Cyclone Wesley Johnson.

The University of Iowa fired their basketball coach on Monday.  Todd Lickliter, who was the NABC National Coach of the Year in his 2007 during his final year at Butler, was just 38-58 at Iowa, including 10-22 this season.  A rash of defections from the program and flagging attendance spelled the end for Lickliter.  The university exercised the$2.4 million buyout to sever the relationship with Lickliter.

Who will the new coach be?  Suggestions I have heard include Tennesee coach Bruce Pearl and Baylor coach Scott Drew (see my article about Drew from last year).  This makes no sense to me.  Why take a step down from a top program to take over rebuilding a program at Iowa?  While Iowa has a good basketball history (including one Final Four appearances), it’s hardly an elite history.  Add to that the fact that Steve Alford and now Lickliter are coaches who had significant success before Iowa and failed to win consistently with the Hawkeyes.  Alford left Iowa for New Mexico and promptly reeled off three straight winning seasons – his Lobo team is  3 seed in the NCAA tournament. 

Who, then, to coach the program?  If you don’t mind a coach with some baggage, how about Tim Floyd?  He’s a coach who has lived in the state before (he coached at Iowa State in the 90s) and he might be had for a bargain price as he seeks to creep out of the shadow of the O.J. Mayo scandal.

The University of Northern Iowa Panthers were the one team from the state to make the tournament.  If UNI can get past UNLV in the first round, they’d likely face the hated Kansas Jayhawks in the second round.  Although my team is Iowa State, not UNI, I’d cheer wildly for the Panthers to take down Kansas.

In the women’s tourney, Iowa State, Iowa, and UNI all made the tournament.  Iowa State is a 4 seed and will face Lehigh in the first round.  8 seed Iowa will face Rutgers, led by former Iowa coach (and Hall of Famer) C. Vivian Stringer.  The UNI team surged to an unexpected win in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. Their reward – to be fed to the 30-1 Nebraska Cornhuskers.

NCAA Tournament

I’ll spend just a bit of time on the NCAA tournament.  My tournament bracket features Syracuse over Wisconsin in the title game, with Kansas and Duke also making it into the Final Four.  The odds of me nailing these picks is about as good as me getting struck by lightning.  I enjoy watching college basketball, but I’m hardly an expert.

Baylor is a 3 seed – this is a great testament to coach Scott Drew.  As I mentioned in last year’s article about Drew, this is a guy who had a complete uphill climb when he took over the Baylor program after former coach Dave Bliss left in disgrace.

I have Minnesota picked to get to the Sweet 16 largely because of their romp against Purdue in the semifinals of the Big 10 tournament.  Yes, they got killed by Ohio State in the tournament championship,  Yes, Purdue was playing without star Robbie Hummel.  Still, a Purdue team without Hummel is still a solid team, and such a decisive win cannot be completely ignore.

As is my custom, I picked three 12 seeds to advance (Cornell, Utah State, UTEP).  The lowest seed I have picked to win are the 13 seed Murray State Racers.  I have Murray State picked to upend 4 seed Vanderbilt in the first round and the aforementioned 12 seed UTEP in the second round to advance into the sweet 16.

My heart goes out to fans of Mississippi State.  They had the SEC title game – and the accompanying automatic bid to the NCAA tournament – seemingly locked up.  Then Kentucky’s DeMarcus Cousins hit a last second shot to send the game into overtime, and Kentucky escaped with the overtime win – and Mississippi State was left out of the tournament.

I’ll start the rallying cry – reduce the tournament back down to 64 games.  While having 65 teams in the tournament allows an mediocre team from a power conference to slide into an 11 or 12 seed, it looks just plain stupid on the sheet.  64 is enough.  If a bubble team gets left off, too bad.  That’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes.

The Soap Boxers pool

Make sure to enter our pool.  Details can be found here.

Sports wrapup

April 6, 2009

- See all 763 of my articles

No Comments


Today is the official start of the baseball season (although most teams begin games tomorrow). I have been waiting for this day since October. While most of you are watching the NCAA championship game tonight, I’ll be watching baseball.

First, let me provide a link to my earlier post of some of the best baseball web sites, in case you missed it. If you didn’t see this when it was initially posted, do yourself a favor and take a look at it now.

My Colorado Rockies have decided to keep top prospect CF Dexter Fowler with the big club to begin the year. I’m a big fan of Dex. He will be a reserve outfielder to begin the year, but hopefully he can play his way into the lineup and stay there. Fowler was a 14th round draft pick in 2004. He would have gone much higher, but he had basketball scholarship offers, and teams were not sue if he would sign a contract if he was drafted (many baseball players are drafted out of high school, and a lot f them decide to attend college rather than sign a pro contract.) The Rockies gambled, drafted him in the 14th round, and offered a signing bonus of $925,000 – much more than the typically bonus for a 14th rounder. So far, this appears to be money well spent.

It appears that Rockies prospect Ian Stewart will not take over the third base job, as Garrett Atkins has not yet been traded. Look for Clint Hurdle to get Stewie’s bat into the lineup often, playing him at 3B, 2B, and OF.

Another guy to watch is catcher Chris Iannetta. If you look at he stat, Iannetta actually had a breakout year in 2008, but a limited number of at bats kept his numbers down. If he can avoid having Yorvit Torrealba vulture some starts, Iannetta could emerge as an elite offensive catcher.

One of my fantasy leagues dried up. This was a bit disappointing, as it was a keeper league, and I had drafted for the long term when the league was created in 2007. My team was looking like it would be a very strong contender for a decade. I suspect that some other GMs came to this realization, and that this is a reason why the league folded.

Other stories from around baseball:

Potential Hall of Famer Gary Sheffield was released by the Tigers with 14M and 1 year left on his contract. Baseball contracts are guaranteed, so Sheffield will make 14M even if he does not play this year. If another teams signs him, they would only have to pay him the league minimum, with the Tigers picking up the bulk of the contract.

Andruw Jones is going to stick with the Texas Rangers. I guess he and hitting coach Rudy Jaramillio have a good thing going. I’m hoping Andruw bounces back after a horrible 2008.

NCAA basketball

North Carolina will face Michigan State tonight in the NCAA title game. Many people expected UNC to be in the title game; few expected MSU to be. Tyler Hansbrough will try to cap off a tremendous career with a national title, while Michigan State will attempt to get revenge for a savage beating suffered earlier in the year against UNC

Baylor, the subject of an earlier article, fell just one victory short of a championship, falling to Penn State in the NIT title game. Sure, it’s just the NIT, but after everything Baylor has been through, they should be extremely proud of their post-season accomplishments. The coach of the year awards aren’t typically given to the NIT runner-up, but maybe we make an exception this year? Great job, Scott Drew.


The Jay Cutler fiasco is coming to a head. The Broncos were involved in trade discussions for Matt Cassell (Cassell ended up going to the Chiefs) and Cutler has been very upset ever since. The Broncos have now said that they are looking to trade Cutler.

The police officer who detained Texans player Ryan Moats while Moats’ mother-in-law was dying in a hospital has resigned. Yes, Moats ran a red light, but this could have been handled much better. The cop could have taken Moat’s information, told him to report to the police station in he morning, and let him go. Instead, he kept him away from hospital room, despite the pleading of nurses and another cop. During this time, Moat’s mother-in-law died.

Donte Stallworth was charged with vehicular manslaughter after he hit a man with his car. Stallworth says he flashed his lights to warn the man, who was allegedly outside of the crosswalk. Working against Stallworth is a blood alcohol level in excess of the legal limit.

NFL prospect BJ Raji, though to be a top 5-10 pick, will likely slide down the draft board after a positive drug test. This could potentially cost Raji tens of millions of dollars.

Baylor finds success without Bliss

March 13, 2009

- See all 763 of my articles

1 Comment

Prior to the 1999-2000 basketball season, Baylor University hired Dave Bliss to coach the team and breathe life into a floundering program. Baylor had just completed a 6-24 season that included an 0-16 record in Big 12 conference play. Bliss had spent the previous eleven years at New Mexico. His Lobo teams had made seven trips to the NCAA tournament and notched an all-time best New Mexico record of 28-5 in 1995-1996. Baylor paid Bliss $600,000 per year to coach the team.

Baylor showed signs of improvement the next year, winning 14 games, including 4 in conference. The next year, 2000-2001, would be the high water mark for Bliss at Baylor, when his Bears went 19-12 (6-10 in conference) and went to the NIT tournament. The Bears were mediocre in 2001-2002 and 2002-2003.

In the summer of 2003, tragedy struck the Baylor basketball community. On June 14, 2003, junior forward Patrick Dennehy spoke with a friend. He was never heard from again. His body was found seven weeks later, and teammate Carlton Dotson was charged with Dennehy’s murder. Dotson was declared incompetent to stand trial, but later plead guilty to murder and was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

If was the end of the story, it would be a very sad story. Unfortunately, that is not the end of the story.

Eventually, questions were raised about Dennehy’s financial situation. Dennehy had transferred to Baylor from New Mexico and had been forced to sit out a year, as is standard procedure with NCAA athletes. During this time, he did not have an athletic scholarship. The amount financial aid he was receiving was not nearly enough to cover his expenses. Who was covered the other expenses?

The answer, of course, is that Dave Bliss had paid a portion of Dennehy’s tuition. He had done the same with another Baylor player. It was later discovered that Bliss had engaged in similar practices while he was the SMU coach in the early 1980s. This is a clear violation of NCAA rules.

Bliss, of course, did not want anyone to know this. In order to explain Dennehy’s source of cash, he told the team to spread the rumor that Patrick Denehy had been a drug dealer. There is little doubt as to the accuracy of these allegations – an assistant coach caught them on tape after Bliss threatened to fire him if he didn’t help with the scheme. Bliss, a supposed leader of young men, a man whom parents entrusted with their sons, had severely violated that trust.

Dave Bliss resigned in August, 2003 and has never held another college coaching job (although he did coach his son’s high school team and also coached a year in the CBA). The NCAA handed down severe sanctions – they were on probation until 2010, ineligible for post-season in 2003-2004, and had scholarships and recruiting visits reduced. Perhaps the most interesting penalty is the fact that Baylor would not be allowed to play any non-conference games in 2005-2006. They were not technically ineligible for post-season play that year, but with only 16 conference games plus the Big 12 conference tournament, it seemed impossible that Baylor could amass a win total that would get them into a post-season tournament.

Baylor offered to release players from their scholarships so that they could transfer to other schools. Four players, including Baylor’s top three scorers from the previous season, transferred to other schools. One of them, Lawrence Roberts, became a first-team All-American at Mississippi.

At this point, the Baylor program was in shambles. They hired Valparaiso coach Scott Drew, a man who apparently loves a challenge. Considering the shape the program was in, it was no surprise that Drew struggled during his first three years – 8-21 in 2003-2004, 9-19 in 2004-2005, and 4-13 in 2005-2006.

Baylor finished 15-16 in 2006-2007. For Drew, this was a considerable achievement. In 2007-2008, Baylor went 21-11 (9-7 in conference) and made the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1988. Baylor smartly signed Scott Drew to a 10 year contract extension.

What has Drew done for an encore? Baylor went 17-13 in the regular season (albeit 5-11 in conference). Baylor knocked off Nebraska in the first round of the conference tournament. Thursday, they beat #1 seed Kansas. Baylor will not likely earn an NCAA berth unless they win the conference tournament. With such turmoil in their recent history, how can your root against them? My favorite school is a rival Big 12 school (Iowa State, which has been eliminated from the conference tournament) but I’ll be cheering for Baylor this weekend.