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Just The Sports: 2006-11-05

Just The Sports

Friday, November 10, 2006

He Of The Broken Collar Bone

There is no college running back who has more national prominence than University of Oklahoma junior Adrian Peterson, who is currently recuperating from a broken collar bone. His exploits on the field as a freshman sparked useless debate about the NFL's draft eligibility rules and since then he has never been far from the thoughts of rabid college football fans. Also, it has been assumed that when Peterson does declare for the NFL draft he will be the first running back chosen. Therefore, Peterson has to be one of the most productive running backs in college football. He just has to.

Not quite. Even though Adrian Peterson possesses prototypical size and speed for a running back, his college numbers are really no better than Marshawn Lynch's and even Mike Hart has been a better running back than Peterson in at least one category. For his three years as a starting running back (minus four games in his sophomore year when he was injured), Peterson has a 50.1% success rate; Mike Hart's is 55.4% and Marshawn Lynch has a 55.8% success rate. As far as extra yards per successful run, Peterson's 6.91 extra yards per is behind Lynch's 7.96 but ahead of Hart's 4.49 extra yards per. He does fail to gain 3.45 yards per failed run, higher than both Lynch's and Hart's numbers there. It would seem to appear the best running back prospect has not necessarily been better than two of his junior peers.

In Adrian Peterson's defense, there are plausible explanations for why his numbers lack true impressiveness. It is not surprise that his best year success rate-wise was his freshman year when he got to play in the same backfield with Jason White, who was an above-average quarterback. Since then he had to play with freshman quarterback Rhett Bomar in his sophomore season who struggled as a quarterback and this year until he was injured had to play with Paul Thompson, someone who will never be confused for an NFL-type quarterback. This means that the defenses he faced only had one person to concentrate on when trying to stop the Oklahoma offense and that was stopping Adrian Peterson from being a successful running back.

Marshawn Lynch's worst season, his sophomore one, was also the one when he had to play on a team that lacked a true passing game. His other two, when playing with two above-average quarterbacks, were both very productive. Mike Hart has never had to suffer playing alongside a quarterback who did not have a grasp on how to succeed in the college game.

Another reason to explain Peterson's lackluster numbers is that Oklahoma chose to run the ball in a lot of long-yardage situations where it is tough for even the best running back to have a successful run. Again, this goes back to the lack of quarterback passing threat and the running game being the only thing the Sooners really have faith in. Still, though, looking at these numbers makes me wonder more than I would have otherwise if Adrian Peterson is as good as everyone seems to think.

One thing is certain. If he does choose to come back to play this season, he is not as business-savvy as he should be. Someone close to him should whisper in his year that the next time he gets injured, he should at least be getting paid to do so.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Miami Heat: With and Without Shaq

There is little denying that Shaquille O'Neal has been in decline since he signed his 5 year, $100 million contract with the Miami Heat. O'Neal is still an efficient scorer and one of the best centers in the NBA, but he cannot take on the offensive load he carried during his prime nor is he asked to anymore. One question I asked myself is if this decline shows itself up when O'Neal misses a Miami Heat contest. In other words, are the Miami Heat appreciably worse or appreciably better when O'Neal does not suit up to play.

Since he signed his monster contract, the Heat have had 168 regular season contests of which O'Neal has played in 134. Even though I am not necessarily interested in records, the Heat have gone 96-38 with O'Neal and 17-17 without. More importantly, though, I was interested in seeing if there was any significant difference between the two subsets, both defensively and offensively, in a number of basketball statistics. Before I get to the results, I should mention that in my research I did not include the last two games of either the 2004-05 season or the 2005-06 season. This is because coaches of teams with guaranteed playoff spots do not coach to win and the lineups and play of the team is affected, which was something I wanted to avoid.

Defensively, there is really no important difference with the Heat play, with or without the Big Aristotle. This makes sense because he missed the majority of those games last year and his back-up, Alonzo Mourning, prides himself on his defensive play so there is no real reason to expect any decline on the defensive side. Also worth noting is the Heat are not better on defense without O'Neal in the game.

However, when the Miami Heat have the ball in their possession, it is a whole other story because there are several significant differences between when they are playing with Shaq and when they are not. At the 95% confidence level, the Heat are noticeably better with Shaq in offensive efficiency (110.9 to 106.8) floor percentage (.53 to .50), field percentage (.44 to .39), true shooting percentage (.561 to .538), and assist rate (17.3 to 15.3) than they are without him.

Still, the Heat are not always better with Shaq on the court. Not surprisingly, the Heat are significantly better at free throw percentage when Shaq doesn't dress although they do average 4.6 less free throws per game when he does not play.

So even though I am still stubbornly convinced that Shaquille O'Neal is in a steady decline and the Heat will come to regret that contract over the next three years, the truth is that the Heat need him for their offense to work liked a well-oiled machine and without him, they have been just another average NBA team.


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Inegalitarianism In College Football

Anyone should continues to spread the lie that everyone in the country is created equal should stop now or suffer having their words rationed like candy on Halloween. Beyond the obvious economic and racial differences between people, there are also genetic differences that give advantages to some while inhibiting others. Some of us are given speed and agility while others are blessed with a lack of coordination that may inhibit them from taking part in many physical activities. Also, as if those things are not enough, people are treated differently based on physical attributes, be it attractive or athletic skill, and never is that more apparent than what college coaches hand down suspensions to players of unequal importance to the team.

Differing suspensions based on ability and notoriety are commonplace (just ask Laveranues Coles) so how Tennessee coach Philip Fulmer handled suspending Tennessee players Arian Foster, David Holbert, and Antonio Wardlow is nothing new, but it does provide another example of inequality.

Both Arian Foster and David Holbert were charged with disorderly conduct and underage consumption of alcohol so they received the same suspensions from Fulmer, right? Wrong. Holbert was suspended for the entire game against Arkansas while Foster was only suspended for the first half.

Wardlow was charged with those same two counts and public intoxication and has been suspended for the next two Tennessee contests.

The problem is that the two harshest suspensions don't really matter at all because those two players rarely play anyway. Holbert is the back-up fullback to Cory Anderson and so his presence will be missed not at all and his suspension is really just a paper suspension. The same goes for redshirt freshman safety Antonio Wardlow, who, unless I have missed something entirely, also is not #1 on any Tennessee football depth chart and who will also be missed not at all by anyone on the team.

Only one suspension is really important, Arian Foster's, and that suspension is only for one half and the Tennessee running game should still be fine without him since LaMarcus Coker is a superior running back anyway.

Therefore, Fulmer really didn't lay down the law on anyone. He made sure that the best player of the three was suspended for the least amount of time and that he came down the hardest on the two players who mean the least to Tennessee's success.

The lesson here is if you are going to get in trouble while playing for a college athletic program where winning is the most important thing make sure you are one of the better, most important players on the team.


Monday, November 06, 2006

Mike Hart and Marshawn Lynch

Even though Halloween has already passed us by, allow me to put on the costume of an NFL scout and take an intensive-but not really-look at two junior running backs, Mike Hart and Marshawn Lynch, who are eligible to declare for the NFL draft. Hart may not declare and shouldn't if Michigan doesn't win the national championship this year since they will probably have a decent shot at it next year. Lynch should leave if only because it would give us to watch Justin Forsett run the ball for an entire year. But I digress.

Those who have watched Mike Hart run the ball for Michigan know what kind of runner he is and his numbers back that up entirely. Hart is a solid runner who can keep the chains moving as his career 55.4% success rate on rushes indicates. Yet, he is not a spectacular running back. While occasionally he will rattle off a 40-yard run, these long runs come with such infrequency that you are more likely to question the speed of the defense he is running against than think the run is indicative of any special quality Hart possesses. This blandness in Hart's running style is demonstrated by him only gaining 4.5 extra yards per successful run. So the team that drafts him should be prepared for a 2005 version of Edgerrin James with the Indianapolis Colts and nothing more.

With Marshawn Lynch, I looked at his numbers differently from Mike Hart because he was used differently by the California Golden Bears. As a freshman, he was only used as a change of pace back and so I included those games whereas for Hart when I only counting games he started and finish uninjured. Now, Lynch, for California, has a 55.8% career success rate, comparable to Mike Hart in that category, but Lynch has a dimension to his game Hart simply does not possess. Namely, breakaway speed and at least one guaranteed long run a game, which is why he has averaged 7.96 extra yards per successful run.

Obviously, with this comparison, Lynch is the better draft choice and will probably be better at the next level. At least, he would be more exciting. Personally, an added reason I would draft Marshawn Lynch is because he is more versatile and I am not just talking about his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield because Mike Hart can do that as well. With Lynch, you can use him in two different ways. One way is to give him about 20-25 carries a game as your starting running back. Another way, and the way he should be used as a rookie, is the way New England has been using Laurence Maroney this year, which is to use him in tandem with a running back who does not possess the breakaway speed that he does.

Note: Lynch's numbers do not include his 2005 game against Washington State (25 carries, 160 yards) or his 2006 games against Oregon State (17 carries, 106 yards) and Washington State (25 carries, 152 yards).