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Just The Sports: 2006-10-15

Just The Sports

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Past Pathetic

The University of Miami football program is well on its way if it's not already to being the laughingstock of college footballs and not just for the felonious behavior of the players, but also for the mediocrity of the product put on the field. For a program of Miami's stature, with all of the built-in advantages a major college football program has, to struggle so mightily against what should be greatly inferior competition is inexcusable and that was never more on display than during that squeaker of a victory over Duke by only five points.

This Duke team Miami almost lost to and only scored 20 points against is the same team that was allowing an average of 30.2 points per game overall and 34.5 points in ACC play. Although Duke has been stingier with the run than I thought with their opponents only averaging 111.3 rushing yards per game, the fact Miami still only managed 37 net rushing yards is reason enough to fire every single football coach currently on the payroll.

As for Javarris James, he started the game, but it was Tyrone Moss who finished the game with the most carries. According to the box score, James was only given 5 carries for 11 for 2.2 yards per carry. However, by the play-by-play data, James had eight carries, with five of them being success runs with an extra 2.2 yards per run and the other three being failed runs by 5.5 yards per. No matter how you slice it, James had a sub-par game so he fit in perfectly with the rest of his teammates. Actually, this is what par looks like for Miami now.

Friday, October 20, 2006

A Very Good Signing

As a Wake Forest basketball fan from the days of Tim Duncan and Randolph Childress and Tony Rutland, I count Josh Howard as one of my favorite Wake Forest players during my tenure as a fan for no other reason than that he was a very good player at Wake. Therefore, when he went on to have success in the NBA I was happy for him and not that he has signed a lucrative contract extension with the Dallas Mavericks I am even happier for Howard, someone who doesn't know me at all and whose millions I will never see personally.

But the signing was not just good because it sets up Howard financially for many years to come. If he had not signed with the Dallas Mavericks, he would have been able to get his money elsewhere. No, this signing was most important for the Mavericks who were very intelligent to lock up a player of Josh Howard's caliber at least until the 2010-11 season.

My own personal feelings for Josh Howard aside, behind Dirk Nowitzki, he is the most important player on the Mavericks roster. He has the prototypical long NBA body and his versatility allows him to play either the guard and forward position, both offensively and defensively. Also, his offensive rating has increased each of his three years in the NBA, going from 107 to 108 to 115, on the strength of his shooting (career 48.2% eFG), rebounding, and passing. If he was to maintain this level of play for the next six or seven years, Howard will have cobbled together a career any NBA player would be proud to call his own.

This season, if Howard remains healthy for the entire season, there is no reason why he will not able to shoulder more of the offensive burden (hopefully taking away some of Jerry Stackhouse's possessions) for Dallas while maintaining his high offensive efficiency. Even if that is not the case, Dallas will certainly be rewarded for investing their money in Josh Howard and ensuring that the most important cogs of the roster will be playing together for a long time to come.

If only ever NBA player signing was this much of a no-brainer.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Taking A Long Look at Larry Bird the GM

The Knicks get all of the attention as being a poorly run NBA franchise, but the Indiana Pacers are no more better run and if they were not only the 25th largest media market in the United States, I like to think that the front office would not get the free pass it does. Of course I cannot be sure of that since the national media has chosen to focus on the Pacers' players' behavior instead of the executives who assembled all of these players and put them on one team together. Well, that stops now because I want to examine some of the moves Larry Bird has made, a lot of which have been questionable at best.

To be fair, the seventeen seasons the Pacers had under Donnie Walsh as GM were really no better even if they went to the playoffs thirteen of those times, but I do not want to turn this into a dissertation so I have elected to let Walsh off without too much criticism.

Larry Bird took over the GM post of the Pacers in 2003 and in his fourth transaction he let the NBA world know that he was not afraid to put his incompetence on display when he traded Brad Miller to the Kings for Scot Pollard. Brad Miller, who is only 29, is one of the preeminent efficient offensive players in the game right now and was so at the time of the trade, able to shoot at a high percentage while also having excellent passing ability for any player let alone for a center. He also is able to maintain his efficient play while playing significant minutes. Scot Pollard, on the other hand, while being better defensively was nowhere near as valuable as Miller because he simply does not play enough minutes since his skills cannot be used against every opponent. Truly, a horrible trade.

Another mistake, in my opinion, was the hiring of Rick Carlisle as his head coach. Not to overly impugn Carlisle's coaching ability, but he is at best a good regular-season head coach whose teams cannot win in the playoffs. As far as I am concerned, the combination of Larry Bird as GM and Rick Carlisle as head coach will never result in an NBA title for the Pacers.

His trading of Al Harrington for Stephen Jackson in the 2004 off-season is nearly defensible on a basketball level, but not really. Harrington is not as good a player as many people may think, but Jackson is no better and the point of any trade should be to improve the team. The only thing this trade improved was the crazy quotient on the Pacers roster; Jackson's craziness has certainly been on display, too, most notably during the Palace melee and also in the incident that happened outside a strip club while Jackson was on probation.

Bird's 2005 off-season was also one that will never find its way onto the how-to manual on being an intelligent GM. A couple months before the season began, he traded away James Jones to the Phoenix Suns for a second-round draft pick. Draft picks are fun to have, but even more fun to have are players who you already know will be good in the NBA and Bird did a poor job of assessing what kind of player he had in James Jones. Jones only played in six games his rookie year, but his sophomore stint saw him play in 75 contests and put up an offensive rating of 108 while playing league-average defense, very high for what was essentially his first year playing and provided a clue as to how he would probably improve over his career. Bird was clueless and traded him anyway and Jones went on to have an offensive rating of 112 in his first year with the Suns.

Bird's trading of Ron Artest was probably his most high-profile trade because of the notoriety surrounding the Tru Warier. Getting rid of Artest was necessary and he got a good player back in Peja Stojakovic, but maybe just maybe when you are trading away one of the best defenders in the game, you get in return a player who will wear your uniform for more than 46 games. Just a thought.

In this latest off-season, Bird has been busy making trades and it remains to be seen how they will turn out, but if his track record is any indication, they will not take the Pacers to the next level of anything.

I'm sure there will come a day when the whole NBA realizes there is no benefit to having former players be general managers and the sooner that day comes the better.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Was Rudy Carpenter All That Good To Begin With?

Had Arizona State Dirk Koetter not waffled on who his starting quarterback would be this year, one day picking Sam Keller and then the next day after listening to his players deciding on Rudy Carpenter leading to Keller's transfer to Nebraska, the decline of Rudy Carpenter's play would not be such a story, but since he did then it is.

For a little background on the story for those who may not be very familiar with it, last year was Sam Keller's first year as a full-time starter and he acquitted himself very well. During his six games of play (not including the Stanford game), he completed 58.5% of his passes, averaged 344.5 passing yards per game, and his pass attempts netted 8.3 yards per. Then he injured his thumb in the Oregon game and after playing only part of the Stanford game was done for the season due to torn ligaments in his thumb, which opened the door for one Rudy Carpenter.

Carpenter stepped in for Keller and ended the season as the leader in the nation in passing efficiency, seemingly putting up better numbers in his six games than Keller did. Carpenter completed 64.3% of his passes in those games, averaged 355.5 passing yards per game, and had 9.7 yards per pass attempt. In addition, he threw 17 touchdowns to only 2 interceptions.

Originally, I, too, was enamored with Carpenter's 2005 passing numbers and when he struggled this year, I thought he would turn it around quickly. When he didn't, I started wondering if he had ever been that good to begin with. Comparing the two quarterbacks' numbers, there was no statistically significant difference between any of their important numbers, meaning neither quarterback had started enough games to say for sure who was actually the better quarterback.

I also thought that Carpenter's numbers may have been inflated by the teams he played. Of the six teams he faced, only two of the teams went to a bowl game and one of those teams was his opponent in a bowl game; four of the six teams Keller faced went to a bowl game, meaning in theory he probably faced tougher competition. There was some truth to this, but not much. For the season, the teams Carpenter lined up against did allow more average passing yards per game (254.8 to 237.3) and and a higher yards per pass attempt (7.5 to 7.0) than Keller's opponents, but the differences were not statistically significant. The only statistically significant difference was in completion percentage with the teams Carpenter played against again allowing better numbers to quarterbacks (61.1% to 56.8%).

All of this I write to point out that Rudy Carpenter was probably never as good as he looked last year and this year seems to be his regression to the mean. Just as importantly, it is no guarantee if Sam Keller had been the starting quarterback for the Arizona State Sun Devils this year that he would be doing any better than Rudy Carpenter is. We will have to wait until more games are played to see that for sure since neither quarterback is appreciably superior to the other.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Tim Tebow For Heisman

The number one priority for a coach is to put your players in a position to succeed and that is why Urban Meyer's use of freshman quarterback Tim Tebow has been absolutely brilliant, especially in SEC play. Meyer knows Tebow will be his starting quarterback for the next three years and has made sure Tebow experiences success on the college level before he has to take over starting quarterback duties for Florida.

In SEC contests where the games are most important, using's play-by-play data, I charted thirty-five plays when Tebow was being seriously used to gain yards and not just in the game to run out the clock. Those thirty-five plays were a combination of runs and pass with most of them being runs to take advantage of Tebow's speed, one quality senior quarterback Chris Leak does not possess.

Of those thirty-five plays, Tebow has been successful in twenty-four of them, or 68.5%, a pretty high rate back a back-up. In many of those plays, Tebow is in there only to gain a few yards for the first down using his feet and even though the opponent knows that is why Tebow is in the game, their inability to stop him shows that Tebow is going to be a special player. Still, Tebow has managed an average of 6.8 extra yards.

Even when he does fail to gain the necessary yardage, Tebow only falls short by an average of 2.6 yards and that is why he gets the vote I don't really have for Heisman.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Like Cousin Like Cousin

If Javarris James was trying to make his cousin, Edgerrin, feel better by sharing in Edgerrin's futility, well, he succeeded. James was not the only Miami back to have a bad game as they did not even reach 100 rushing yards as a team (they came up 9 yards short), but since he is my new pet and still Miami's starting running back, I only care about what he does in a game.

James finished the night with 11 carries for 36 yards and if that was not bad enough, he decided it would be a good idea to fumble on Miami's 21-yard-line. Florida International, who only gained 114 total yards against Miami's defense, was unable to convert this turnover and good field position into points so James got a free pass with that miscue.

However, he and the Miami offensive line do not get a free pass for the rest of the night because he only had four successful runs out of his eleven carries. Even on those four successful runs, he only averaged an extra 2.75 yards, which is outweighed by the 4.3 average yards he needed on his seven failed runs. Not much went right for James, but playing against Duke next week will no doubt pump life back into his rushing totals as long as Tyrone Moss doesn't steal more of his carries.