The evolution of college football has created a new reality. Thanks to the college football arms race in facilities, fan support, and money as well as the nascent playoff system, there are two types of college football programs:
Those that have a chance to win a national championship
Those that have no chance to win a national championship
There is no migration between the types of programs. You either have a chance to win it all or you don’t. The rich teams get richer, everyone else treads water or drowns.
While there are two types of college football programs, there are three types of college football fans:
Those fans who correctly recognize that their teams have a chance win a national championship
Those fans who correctly realize their teams have no chance to win a national championship
Those fans who incorrectly believe their team has a chance to win the national championship, when in reality, they have no chance.
No convinced? Take a look at the following videos:
These are, theoretically, facilities for college students. But we all know what these really are. Recruiting tools to draw top athletes to Texas and Texas A&M. These are “in-kind” payments to players who are ostensibly amateur athletes.
I have no doubt that the other programs with a chance to win a national championship have (or will soon have) facilities on par if not better than these. We all know the names of these programs – Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Auburn, Florida, Ohio St, Michigan, Clemson, Florida State, & Oklahoma. You could probably add Oregon, Tennessee, Notre Dame and a small handful of other programs to this list, but that’s it. No other programs have a chance.
It is not shocking for fans of programs like Virginia, Wake Forest, Duke, Boston College, Vandy, Kansas, and Northwestern that they have zero chance to win a national championship…ever. I think the fans of these programs understand that they will never have facilities like Texas or Texas A&M. They will never compromise their integrity to the extent that the contending programs must to get the numbers of top players needed to compete for a national championship. Fans from these programs and many more like them realize their role in the world of college football. They are fodder for the teams with a chance to win it all. They can have successful seasons and win bowl games, but they will never hoist the national championship trophy. Maybe that’s okay. The point of college, after all, is to educate young minds, not win national championships. College athletics is supposed to be entertaining, so if you recognize your place and revel in reaching the heights of success within the boundaries of your possibilities, college football is a great deal of fun.
What might be shocking to the vast majority of the fans of programs not listed above, is that their teams also have no chance to win a national championship. None, zero, zilch, nada… they just don’t realize it. Many programs fit this description…we can all name these programs with perpetually frustrated fans who mistakenly think they are on the cusp of breaking into the top tier of college programs – Virginia Tech, NC State, UNC, West Virginia, Michigan State, South Carolina, TCU, Baylor, Arizona, Missouri, Maryland, Iowa, Kansas St, and Arkansas among many others, have no chance to win a national championship. Unfortunately, their fans think they do.
Think about how excited fans of these programs are when they land a big-time recruit. A 5-star or high 4-star kid who is a “can’t miss” prospect. There are high-fives all around and dreams of winning the college football playoff. The sad reality is, the teams that have a real chance to win it all, get at least a half a dozen of these players – every year. Not one per year or every other year like the wannabe programs. So the teams with a real chance to win it all have 30 or more can’t-miss players on their teams. The wannabe teams might have 5.
None of this is lost on the best coaches in the industry either. Do you think Nick Saban is going to leave Alabama to coach Northwestern anytime soon? Urban Meyer going to Wake Forest? Which programs have huge donor bases that make space-age locker rooms possible? (hint: it’s not Duke and it’s not Virginia…nor NC State or West Virginia) The best coaches go to the programs with the biggest donor bases that pay the biggest salaries & fund the best facilities, which draw the best talent…and so the cycles continues.
Like gambling in Vegas, the college football game is rigged. Over the course of any season, there will be exciting times when wannabe teams beat the odds and score big upsets. But over the course of a full season (including the playoffs), a single wannabe program cannot beat the system. There are too many 30+ mega-recruit teams out there, getting better every day and one of those teams will win the national championship every time. It’s why house wins over time in Vegas. The swanky trappings of the Bellagio are not there because gamblers go home winners. The odds favor the house, so it always wins. The system favors the top programs, so they will always win.
As we begin the 2017 college football season, we could create a list of 18-20 programs with a chance to win it all. It would be the same list from 2016. The participants in the football championship will be from that list – with no chance for an upstart to crash the party. It’s like the list to get into the VIP section of a popular night club. Not on the list? Not getting in.
The downside of this could be that as more college football fans realize the game is rigged against them, fans will lose interest and the game’s popularity could begin to fade. Then again, Las Vegas doesn’t seem to be losing its steam and state lotteries continue to be wildly popular. Maybe the fans of the wannabe programs understand their fate better than they let on. Maybe they are like the lottery players, thinking that someone is going to win this jackpot, if I buy a ticket it might be me, so every season, misplaced hope springs eternal. Unfortunately, the odds of winning the Powerball are better than their team winning the national championship.
This is one of the moments when writing about current events in college football takes a very dark turn. These dark turns seem to be happening entirely too often lately. So often that it pains me to be a football fan, at times.
I love football and I have for years. I deeply respect and appreciate the hard work and dedication that teams and their staff put into every season. This is where things get complicated.
I also love feeling protected by university and local law enforcement. I love people, both athletes and otherwise, being held accountable for their actions. I love the idea of justice being served regardless of how important an alleged assailant is to an institution’s success. In light of recent events at Baylor University, I find one version of myself at odds with a different version of myself.
As a victim of sexual assault myself, I simply cannot stand by and support, or even respect, an institution or a coach that seems to allow sexual violence. I cannot support a team whose players have been allowed to disregard the safety of the women around them. I can, however, support a Board of Regents that steps up and takes action to investigate this hostile environment their athletic department may have created.
I might add that I am in no way saying any particular individual is completely at fault in this situation. Truthfully, we may never know who is most to blame here, but any silent bystander is guilty enough to be held accountable in a situation like this. This is especially true when that silent bystander is responsible for a team of athletes who clearly were not held to the standards they should have been.
Whether or not Baylor University head coach Art Briles is directly involved in any Title IX violation is not something the public has been made aware of. What we can seem to gather from the findings of fact report from the Pepper Hamilton law firm is that somebody in a position of leadership needs to be held accountable for what happened at Baylor University.
Ken Starr is no longer Baylor’s president. Initially, he remained with the school as chancellor, but he has now resigned altogether, staying on only as a professor. Athletic Director Ian McCaw resigned almost immediately after the hiring of a new head coach. Head football coach Art Briles is no longer part of the staff at the university in any form.
It seems to some that Ken Starr may have caught a break while Art Briles got the short end of the stick. In the end, Starr was smart enough to remove himself from the situation. With Athletic Director Ian McCaw resigning just a couple days ago, the program is now getting a much-needed total overhaul.
Art Briles’ Daughter Said What?
Art Briles’ daughter, Staley Lebby, was quick to defend her father on social media, making it clear she thought he didn’t deserve to lose his job. She referred to this situation as a “media witch hunt” and voiced overwhelming disappointment with the way the university handled the situation. I have a lot of things to say in response to what Staley Lebby posted.
First of all, this was not just some nosy reporter finding out about one incident of sexual assault that went unreported. This was not just a media witch hunt, even if the media did run with the scandalous story. This was an independent law firm doing an in-depth investigation into years of Title IX violations, many of which seem to have involved the football program. Since Briles is the head of said football program, he is the one who is held accountable for how his team is disciplined. And in this case, it has become clear that his team was not disciplined well at all.
Second, how is a failure to properly implement Title IX for years an issue that can be blown out of proportion? Victims of sexual assault go through so many different types of pain and agony, all of which are made worse when justice does not prevail. Is their pain less important than football? Is ignoring their well-being and not taking steps to prevent future violent incidents against women something that can truly ever be blown out of proportion? If one of your friends were a victim, would you be able to say the same thing? Would you tell your friend that the coach’s firing for standing by while his player got away with assaulting her was due to things being blown out of proportion?
Third, Lebby talks about how her father resurrected the program and alludes to this fact as being a reason to fight to keep him. I get it, Briles has been a blessing for the football program as far as success on the field goes. But, does that success on Saturdays even matter when you’re failing the women of the Baylor community? When you’re allowing young men to avoid facing the consequences of violent (illegal) actions, are you truly winning? Where are the football fans who are fathers of daughters that attend classes at Baylor? Those are the kinds of people that should realize his success on the field couldn’t possibly outweigh the safety of the women on campus.
Fourth, Briles’ daughter says Baylor took the “easy way out” in this situation. I may be wrong, but is firing the coach you say has resurrected the football program really easy for them? Not only do they have to explain the decision to get rid of the man responsible for creating a winning atmosphere, they have to replace him as well. If they don’t win without him then things definitely won’t be easy for the administration. Firing such a successful coach for a situation that has yet to be completely revealed to the public is not really the easy way out.
Last, Lebby ends her post by saying that Baylor “did the unthinkable to one that matters most.” You know what “the unthinkable” is to me? Allowing young men to get away with crimes against young women and continue on with their lives like nothing happened. These victims will never be able to go on with their lives the same way. They will never be able to watch another football game, during which the fans are praising their assailant’s name. They will never feel safe on their own campus. That is unthinkable. Firing a man who stood by while this happened on his football team? That makes sense. That is “thinkable.”
Maybe, Briles didn’t do anything directly wrong, we don’t truly know. He did, however, stand by while serious wrongs were committed in his program, wrongs that are actually unthinkable. Some of these wrongs, like those of the transfer athletes he accepted despite their questionable pasts, could have been prevented.
At the End of the Day Baylor Did the Right Thing…
I can try to put myself in Staley Lebby’s shoes here, and if I do then I understand being upset. My dad losing his job after pulling his company from the brink of bankruptcy would upset me, too. (If he had allowed all kinds of tax fraud in the process, though, things might be different.)
What I still don’t understand about Lebby’s post is what else she thinks there was for the university to do in this situation? At this point, all of the members of the leadership have either lost their jobs or resigned. Even if Briles had not been fired last week, he probably would have been forced to join the resigning parade by now.
A winning chapter in Art Briles’ career may have ended, but this doesn’t have to be the end of his football story, by any means. When the entire situation comes to light (like Lebby assures the public it will), then the court of public opinion may offer a new judgment. With what we know now, it is clear that the leadership for the football team, the athletic department, and the university itself should all be held accountable in a way different from how they disciplined their players. With the current information, firing Briles was definitely the right thing to do. Hiring Jim Grobe to replace him? Now that’s a different story.
This is obviously a subject I speak very passionately about, as a sexual assault survivor and as a fan of the game. Feel free to respectfully reach out to me with any opinions to add on Twitter by following @OGKristenB!
On Tuesday Baylor finally responded to the reports that Ken Starr has been fired from Baylor University. As of the latest report they still have not made a decision on whether or not they will fire Starr. The spokeswomen for Baylor, Tonya Lewis, said, “we will not respond to rumors, speculation or reports based on unnamed sources, but when official news is available, the University will provide it. We expect an announcement by June 3.” It is speculated that President Starr and athletic director Ian McCaw will be losing their jobs, but head football coach Art Briles will not. It will be interesting to see if it was just a rumor, but for the sake of Baylor I hope it isn’t.
The University of Texas has selected a new Longhorn steer mascot. The school had to select a new mascot because Bevo XIV, who was on the Texas sideline since 2004, passed away in October 2015. The mascot will be introduced for the 100th anniversary season of its first appearance. The longhorns will play Notre Dame on September 4, the first appearance of Bevo XV.
Nothing has been made official yet but from the sound of it Wil Grier will be able to play for West Virginia the first game of the 2017 season. Grier is enrolled at West Virginia but due to testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs he may not be able to play until mid season. According to Holgorsen this might change. Holgorsen said, “I fully anticipate him being eligible for the opening game of the 2017 season.” If there is a will there is a way. I wouldn’t be surprised if somehow the NCAA waives the rest of his suspension and lets him play the full season with the Mountaineers.
Bev Kearney sued Texas for at least one million dollars in damages in 2013. Kearney was the head track coach and had a romantic relationship with one of her sprinters over a decade earlier. It has taken so long for her to get justice because the University has been appealing the issue. Kearney is saying she was more harshly punished because she is black. A white male football coach did the same thing and was only reprimanded, not fired. Kearney is seeking statements from Mack Brown, former athletic director DeLoss Dodds, former school president Bill Powers and current women’s athletic director Chris Plonsky. The statements they will write are on how exactly they handled the situation at the time it was brought to their attention. This case has been swept under the rug recently due to the Baylor scandal, but it will be interesting to see what happens.
Sylvester Turner an alumni of the University of Houston believes that when Oklahoma comes to town on September 3, the Cougars will beat the Sooners by “14, or possibly 21 points.” Did I mention Sylvester Turner is also the mayor of Houston? He has turned a lot of heads by making this statement and has also provided some locker room motivation for the guys in Norman. The Cougars are coming off of a really great season, but I have a feeling the Sooners will be ready for them, especially after that comment.
As the time draws near, it looks less and less likely that the Big 12 presidents are going to vote against the Big 12 expansion. After all of the schools that have sold themselves to try to get into the Big 12 it looks like they will all be disappointed. Apparently, after six years, the Big 12 is not in the “decision-making” stage, so it probably won’t ever be. If no expansion happens I think the Big 12 will fall apart in the next couple of years and Oklahoma will be the first school to leave.
That’s what Texas Longhorns fans were saying for about 24 hours starting on the Tuesday before National Signing Day. Texas was sitting at 15 total commitments and ranked no higher than #30 in any of the recruiting rankings when the day started on Tuesday.
Then the first domino fell.
Running back Kyle Porter made the call to Coach Strong Tuesday afternoon, in what was a bit of a surprise. Then D’Andre Christmas-Giles decided to announce his verbal commitment to Texas on a New Orleans TV station (where he is from) that night. It was those two moments that we could feel a little momentum building.
It was one-after-another-after-another when it comes to verbal commitments, and eventual Letters of Intent being signed on National Signing Day itself. Strong pulled in an astonishing eight 4-star prospects in a 24-hour span. It was enough to make him start trending on Twitter by mid-morning.
Texas jumped 22 spots in ESPN’s class rankings to finish #10 with 24 total signees. No other recruiting service had them ranked any lower than #10. And this is a team that went 5-7 last year and 6-7 the year before.
Charlie Strong’s recruiting strategy was extremely gutsy. He went all-in with confidence that he was going to get the players that he wanted. There were a few that he didn’t get on signing day, but signing eight of his twelve targets in a 24-hour period wasn’t a bad showing.
Most coaches want players to commit to their school early. Not Strong. He told recruits to commit to him, but don’t announce it. Why? Because that makes them an easy target for negative recruiting by other schools. If other schools don’t know that they are committed to Texas, then they can’t talk as bad about them to persuade them to back out of their commitment.
That was the secret to Strong and the Longhorns winning signing day.
It wasn’t a surprise to him, even though it may have shocked the country. He knew what was going to happen. But even he admitted he had a couple of surprises that fell in his favor.
One of those pleasant surprises was landing one of the best safeties in the country in Brandon Jones. Jones picked Texas over Texas A&M and Baylor. If you’ve watched any college football over the past few years, you know that both of those programs have had better results on the field than Texas.
Chris Daniels is a defensive lineman that was once committed to Oklahoma.
Christmas-Giles was considering TCU and LSU.
Jeffery McCullouch was considering A&M, Notre Dame and Stanford.
The one thing in common that all those other programs have is that they’ve been better than Texas on the field recently. So how can a Texas team get these players when they’re coming off of a 5-7 season and a 6-7 season the year before?
The answer is trust.
It’s evident that these players trust that Strong will turn around Texas. They want to be a part of something special. Many of the players that Strong signed yesterday could have gone to a dozen or more schools, but they chose Texas.
So what does that all mean for Charlie Strong and the Longhorns?
Nothing if they don’t develop those players and start winning games.
Mack Brown was known as Mr. February during the later part of his career at Texas, since he was able to consistently bring in top-5 recruiting classes. But once the results started becoming non-existent on the field, he found his way out of the program.
This year’s big recruiting class or last year’s won’t matter either if they can’t find a competent quarterback to lead the team. Shane Buechele could be that guy, or someone else could step up.
On paper, this class could be more important than last year’s because it gives the Longhorns depth at just about every position. It will be shocking if more than 4-5 upperclassmen are starting for Texas next year. Because of the 50 or so players that Strong has brought in over the last two seasons, the excuses for losing are becoming few and far between. These are his players now and this is his team.
If Strong doesn’t start winning soon, then he could just be stockpiling the cupboard with talent for another coach to come in and win with his players. We’ve seen it happen with other programs. One thing for certain is that the players will play hard for Strong and will go to war with him any day of the week.
Texas may not be back at the top in 2016, but when Strong’s first two classes at Texas become sophomores and juniors, look out.
This is what November scheduling looks like in the SEC and it’s been like this for as long as I can remember. There were other SEC teams playing November non-conference games this past Saturday against opponents such as these, but Alabama, Auburn and Kentucky did a superior job in taking care of business.
In the grand scheme of things, opponents like Florida Atlantic have the same meaning if they are played in September or if they are played in November. However, there is a scenario where losing to the Citadel or Georgia Southern hold different meaning if they are played in September as opposed to November.
Do you want to know what made it possible for Ohio St. to win the 2014 national championship after suffering a loss that would have seemed to have been catastrophic? Timing.
If Ohio St. and the Big Ten used the SEC model for scheduling, the Buckeyes never would have made the college football playoff let alone win the national championship. If Florida, South Carolina or Georgia were truly in the discussion for a playoff spot, a close win or outright loss to one of these check cashing non-conference opponents would have sunk their final four chances. Like I said, timing is everything.
The SEC scheduling model is unique in scheduling non-conference games in November. This scheduling model is also unique because it creates more conference games in September. It is a trade-off that has paid off.
Other conferences use these non-conference games against the SEC. The SEC spews a lot of bravado in regards to their overall strength and the conference’s detractors use the November schedule against the SEC. When your conference isn’t the SEC, you have to cling to any criticism you can muster.
“I personally feel like strength of schedule is going to be a real important thing in the future. I know there are people out there who say we have fixed opponents that are very, very good teams. Well, let’s make a deal and let’s all play 10 good games. We’ll still play Virginia Tech or Wisconsin or West Virginia or Michigan or one of these teams in the first game of the year and go play nine conference games too.
“I think all those things make your team better and it’s really better for the fans. I think we should spend a lot more time thinking about the people that support and make college football what it is.”
Saban is correct and the SEC haters are just hypocritical.
Saban’s strength of schedule argument is a valid one. Power 5 teams have no business playing teams such as The Citadel, because there is virtually no benefit in beating a low level team like them. Beat them and everyone says that you should have beaten them. Lose and you look unmotivated and unprepared. You know, something about “shit through a tin horn.” The only way this will change is if an Alabama type of team loses one of these November games and thus misses out on the playoff.
As for the SEC haters, they’re completely hypocritical. Is there a louder SEC hater than the Big 12? No, no there isn’t. The scenario that would cause the Big 12 to write their best Taylor Swift song is if the SEC had multiple teams in the playoff while the entire Big 12 was shutout of the playoff. Bob Stoops would sing the “woe is me” song about the travesty of the SEC scheduling model. Baylor felt as if the Big 12’s “one true champion” model robbed them of their rightful place in the 2014 playoff. They seem to be positioning themselves for a similar “we were screwed” argument this year, but have you looked at the non-conference schedule for a team like Baylor? SMU, Lamar, and Rice. The Big 12 is a blank space. Their games will leave you breathless but in the end they just create a nasty scar.
If the SEC ever uses a 9 game conference scheduling model or stops playing a lousy opponent in November, it won’t be because they are striving for “one true champion.” It will be because a November non-conference opponent cost the conference a spot in the playoff.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s that time of year again.
Tuesday night the College Football Playoff Committee released their second Top 25 poll of the season. Now before you read any further, let me remind you that all of this is extremely fluid and is subject to change from week to week. For instance, Ohio State, last year’s eventual national champion was slotted at 16th in the opening poll of the season. Much can change between now and December 31st when the semi-final games are slated to be played.
With all of that said, Irish fans have to be extremely happy with the results that were revealed on November 10.
Notre Dame came in at fourth, the final spot of the playoff.
The high ranking does hold some weight however. Common thought would be that if Notre Dame is able to win their remaining four games they will not be held out of the Final Four. This is due to the fact that Notre Dame has a resume building win remaining on the schedule at Stanford, and some of the other teams may take care of themselves.
Left in the season are a few elimination games, or at least games that have the potential to strongly affect the Final Four.
Among these are many of the remaining Big 12 games, a possible matchup between an undefeated #3 Ohio State and an undefeated #5 Iowa in the B1G Championship Game, and Notre Dame’s late season trip to Palo Alto.
Last weekend, LSU was stomped in Tuscaloosa by the Crimson Tide. This caused LSU to fall out of the playoff picture for the time being, and Alabama sliding into the #2 spot that the Tigers briefly held. This, along with another Ole Miss loss, allows Alabama to control their own destiny on the way to an SEC Title Game.
Irish fans should root for:
With Alabama controlling their own destiny, and appearing to have a firm grip on a spot in the playoff, the best chance for a Crimson Tide loss would be this weekend in Starkville against Mississippi State, or in an eventual SEC Championship Game against the Florida Gators. Irish fans should be pulling for the Bulldogs and possibly the Gators as well. Although if Florida runs the table and wins the SEC, I would expect to see them garner a spot in the Final Four. As I said earlier I would be surprised if a two loss team would make the Final Four, but if it does happen, my money would be on it being Alabama.
The Big 12 is currently on the outside looking in as well. Baylor and Oklahoma State are both currently unbeaten, but find themselves sitting at six and eight, respectively. These two programs have played relatively weak schedules thus far, and also don’t play defense really well, if at all. The Cowboys do play much better defense than Baylor, but it is still nothing to write home about. That is just the way of life in the Big 12, and I think that the committee takes offense to that in their rankings. These two teams will square off on November 21st. It is very possible that Baylor could fall this week against the Oklahoma Sooners, a team that already has a loss. The Sooners lone hiccup is to Texas in the Red River Rivalry.
Irish fans should root for:
Oklahoma to win out. This would leave Oklahoma as the one loss Big 12 champion. It just so happens that the Sooners loss would come to a team that Notre Dame beat by 35 points. If there would be an undefeated team left out, my money would be on it coming out of the Big 12.
The Big Ten, or B1G as the cool kids call it these days, has two teams in the top ten in Ohio State (3) and Iowa (5). Yes, neither of them have been beaten thus far, but both have failed to notch an impressive win thus far. The Buckeyes have looked extremely average in a few of their games, but they have looked like a top team in a few others. Iowa has played well, however their best win is due to a last second, 57-yard field goal over currently unranked Pitt. A good win, but not a marquee one per se.
Irish fans should root for:
This scenario became a little clearer this past weekend with the loss of Michigan State to Nebraska. The hope is still for Michigan to win the conference, but now that is a little more likely to happen. If Ohio State can manage to defeat Illinois and Michigan State, and Michigan beats Indiana and Penn State, then that would set up a de facto B1G East Title Game on November 28 at the Big House between the Buckeyes and the Wolverines. Irish fans would be pulling for Michigan to upset the Buckeyes and later defeat Iowa to win the B1G. I would be very surprised to see a two loss B1G team sneak into the Final Four.
Out west, teams in the Pac 12 have not done themselves many favors this season. Stanford is the highest ranked team in the conference at seven, up four spots from last week. They are followed by Utah at ten. Every team in the conference has at least one loss at this point in the season. The best chance for a Pac 12 representative in the Final Four would be Stanford winning out.
Irish fans should root for:
Stanford to win the Pac 12 title, with a loss to Notre Dame along the way. Sounds simple enough, right? It also would not hurt if USC won out, coupled with a Utah loss to set up a Pac-12 title game between two teams that Notre Dame would have defeated, assuring a win over a Power 5 Champion.
In the ACC things are far less complicated for Notre Dame fans. Obviously, the lone Irish loss of the season came in Death Valley to the Clemson Tigers. The hope would be that Clemson is able to finish an undefeated regular season and win the ACC crown. This would ensure that the Tigers reach the Final Four, and likely give Notre Dame the best loss that anyone in the country has. I hate the term best loss, but it would be true in this case. Clemson has a key game against Florida State this weekend. It also wouldn’t hurt Notre Dame if Pitt wins the remainder of their games after their clash with Notre Dame.
Irish fans should root for:
Clemson to win every game, and look good doing it, until a rematch in the semi-finals against the Irish.
Elsewhere, Notre Dame fans should also be rooting strongly for Navy and Temple to continue their winning ways and meet up in the AAC Title Game. Navy has SMU, Tulsa, and Houston left in AAC play, and then the traditional Army-Navy game would be played after a potential AAC Title Game. The Temple Owls have USF, Memphis, and UCONN left on their schedule. Each team should be ranked in each of their remaining games.
Ultimately, none of this matters if Notre Dame is not able to win their next three games. The remaining slate for Notre Dame is Wake Forest at home, Boston College at Fenway Park, and finally a trip to Palo Alto for a showdown with Stanford. If the Irish take care of business, they’ll be playing on New Year’s Eve.
First of all, they were lucky. The committee was hoping that one team would separate itself from the other playoff contenders during Saturday night’s games. And holy Moses smell the roses did Ohio State ever come through. Despite being forced to start a third-string QB, the Buckeyes clearly established themselves as the team most worthy of securing the fourth playoff spot after a 59-0 domination of 16th ranked Wisconsin. If Ohio State had won, but done so in a less convincing fashion, the committee would have faced a far more difficult decision. So the committee should probably send gift baskets to Urban Meyer’s staff and players at Ohio State. Or at least a thank you note. But, hey, give the committee credit. When the final rankings were released, the committee had chosen the four most deserving teams, and that’s what matters most.
While the committee correctly selected the four most deserving teams, they have still certainly drawn criticism, much of it unwarranted, but some is justifiable. The foremost complaint is about the fall of TCU from 3 to 6. “They won by 52 points, so how can they possibly fall that far?” This question comes from a place of ignorance, ignorance that can be blamed on the committee. People were confused by the decision to drop TCU because the committee failed to be transparent enough in its process of selecting the playoff teams. The issue is that many fans and analysts are operating under an improper mindset. Because the committee has not been clear enough, many people do not understand that the weekly rankings are snapshots in time, not projections. TCU was ranked ahead of Baylor and Ohio State last week because the committee thought that they were the most deserving team at the moment. After Baylor and Ohio State earned impressive victories over highly ranked opponents, they became more deserving than TCU. Those victories substantially boosted the resumes of those two teams, while the win over a dismal Iowa State team was essentially insignificant to TCU’s resume. It was not that TCU fell, OSU and Baylor simply climbed.
To better understand the changes in the rankings, think about it this mathematically. All season long the teams are earning points for their wins and losses. Let’s say that last week TCU had 100 points, Baylor had 98 points, and Ohio State had 97. A victory over Iowa State, even a blowout, only earns two points, yielding a new total of 102. Baylor’s win over a very good Kansas State team earns 5 points, giving them a new total of 103. Ohio State absolutely shredded one of the country’s top defenses while shutting out an offense featuring the nation’s best running back, so they earn 7 points to bring their season total to 104. Obviously the numbers that I used are arbitrary, but they still demonstrate my point—OSU and Baylor earned more with their Saturday wins than TCU, and the wins were valuable enough for those teams to climb in the rankings.
While the committee’s decision not to include TCU in the 4-team playoff is defensible, one decision that they made was not. The committee ranked Florida State third. Really, third? We’re talking about a team that is the lone remaining unbeaten in the country, aced a Power 5 conference schedule including a conference championship game, is the reigning national champion, and is riding a 29 game winning streak. I’ll admit that the Seminoles have not won their games handily this season, but they have won. Wins and losses should be valued above all else.
Arguments against FSU center on the ‘Noles relatively ordinary score on the “eye test.” When evaluating teams to determine which will make the playoff, the infamous “eye test” is the most dangerous phrase in the world. It serves as a catch-all term that allows any sports pundits, talking heads, and common fans to pompously assign their own personal rankings based on which team they think looks the best. I am floored by how much traction this “eye test” phrase has gained, given that no sports champion has ever been crowned by such a ridiculous criterion. This isn’t a beauty pageant in which judges’ ratings determine who takes home the title. In college football, titles come down to wins and losses. The champion of this season will be determined by which team wins its two playoff games, not by who looks the best while playing them.
Further, the “eye test” also allows people to overlook provable information, like the fact that Florida State has not lost a game in two years. Sure, their wins may not have been pretty, but they keep getting the job done. And an again undefeated reigning champion deserves a chance to repeat. If FSU had lost even a single game this season, they would not deserve to make the playoff, but they have not lost. After all the close calls, their record remains unscathed. And for that, they deserve to play for the championship. Which is why I would rank FSU no lower than second. Imagine if this were a not the first year using the playoff system, so the BCS was still in use and only the top two teams earn the right to play for the title. How could anyone possibly justify leaving FSU out of that championship game? I could see if leaving out Marshall if they had gone undefeated, but FSU plays in a power 5 conference and returns the coach and Heisman Trophy winner from last year’s championship team. They have already proven their worth. They deserve to be in the top two.
In addition to correctly choosing the four teams to compete in the playoff, the committee scored one other major win—it understood its objective. The committee’s job was to select the four most deserving teams, not necessarily the four best teams. Judging which teams were the four best would have involved far too much subjective evaluation, whereas determining the most deserving teams places the focus on the measurable accomplishments of the teams. The committee members can consider tangible data, such as conferences champions, win/loss records and strength of schedule. Ideally the four most deserving teams will also be the best, but this is not up to the committee to decipher. The committee places the most deserving teams in a bracket and lets them hash it out.
But let’s not forget the real winner in all of this—the fans. We finally have our playoff. So let’s enjoy the action. It’s exactly what we’ve been asking for, and it’s exactly what we deserve.
With the Cleveland Cavaliers wrapping up important workouts later this week with top prospects, they should be close to determining who they will take with the number one pick (if they don’t trade it).
Andrew Wiggins will work out for #Cavs next Wednesday and Jabari Parker next Friday, source tells The Plain Dealer.
Last week I talked about center Joel Embiid and a week prior to that I focused on forward Jabari Parker. This week, I’ll end the look at the Cavs’ potential pick with Kansas freshman wing Andrew Wiggins.
Andrew Wiggins was the top prospect coming out of high school last year. Native of Ontario, he has a chance to become the third Canadian-born player to be drafted by the Cavs in the last four years (Tristan Thompson in 2011 and Anthony Bennett in 2013). Wiggins garnered a lot of hype coming out of high school, as any number one prospect in the nation would, and ended his season with mixed results. He became the top scoring freshman in Jayhawk history (597 points), surpassing Ben McLemore’s mark of 589 set the year prior.
However, Kansas’s season ended on a bitter note, being upset by #10 Stanford and their zone defense in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, denying head coach Bill Self’s team a Sweet 16 bid. Wiggins was highly criticized after this game, finishing with just four points, four rebounds, an assist, and four turnovers.
Overall, Wiggins gets lauded for his extremely rare athleticism, defense, and dunks. But some question his passiveness, ball handling, and shooting ability. Let’s take a look at which critiques are real and which are perhaps a bit exaggerated. (Games evaluated: v. #4 Duke, @ #19 Florida, v. #24 Baylor, @ West Virginia)
If you’ve heard anything about Andrew Wiggins, then you’ve heard about his out-of-this-world athleticism. Some will try to downplay this, stating that in the NBA, everyone is athletic which will compromise Wiggins’ abilities. While the former is true, Wiggins has athleticism that perhaps only a select few in the NBA will be able to match. This athleticism enables him to be a great player in transition and be a guy that plays above the rim.
(1:27:40-1:27:48) Wiggins’s teammate #34 Perry Ellis gets the steal and the former immediately starts to run the floor from the post. By the time he gets to the ball he’s in front of everyone and is able to dunk it home while taking a hit from Jabari Parker.
(34:28-34:36) #31 Jamari Traylor gets the rebound and gives a quick outlet pass to Wiggins. He turns on the burners past half court and then picks up his dribble as two Gators meet him. For most players, this would be enough to force them to just go into their half court set, but Wiggins takes the ball over the defenders and in just two steps is able to lay it up and in.
Wiggins’s athleticism also helps him be a heavy contributor on the boards, even on the offensive side (2.2 per game).
(44:29-44:35) Wiggins crashes the boards as soon as the shot goes up. He then tracks the ball off the rim and uses much of his 44-inch vertical to out jump everyone and grab the rebound.
(50:19-50:25) A few minutes later in the game, Wiggins gets another offensive rebound. This time, he shows that along with the ability to go up and get the ball, effort is critical in grabbing offensive rebounds. He taps it up to his right hand (probably by accident, but still) and taps it in with his right hand between two Baylor Bears.
Right away, Wiggins should be able to contribute on offense as a cutter/slasher, being able to get to the basket, especially off the ball. With the ball, he’s had some serious problems that he will need to fix to fulfill the potential he has on offense.
(22:23-22:29) This is a great overall play for Kansas. #21 Joel Embiid dribbles out of the post and Wiggins recognizes the gaping hole he leaves in the middle of the paint. He quickly cuts through the lane and Embiid gives him a nice pass for an efficient bucket.
(44:47-44:54) This is one of my favorite offensive plays I’ve seen from Wiggins. He gets momentum at the top of the arc on a pass by #1 Wayne Seldon Jr, who then sets a pick forcing Duke defender #2 Quinn Cook from Seldon to Wiggins. Wiggins is able to get initial penetration, but when Cook meets him, he’s able to perform a right-to-left spin move – a move he loves to use – to split him and his initial man, #5 Rodney Hood. From there, Wiggins is able to shoot it over Parker, through contact, and is able to bank it off the glass into the rim.
Wiggins isn’t just a supreme athlete that happens to play basketball. He has translatable skills going into the NBA on offense. He isn’t the most polished and has some serious work to do, but he has a pretty good foundation to start from, especially with his jump shot.
(1:20:49-1:20:54) In this game at West Virginia, Wiggins scored 41 points. He was able to show the promising range he can have in the NBA, coupled with his ability to get to the rim.
(50:23-50:29) Wiggins, above the arc, gets a pass from Embiid. He’s wide open for the shot, but jumps forward, causing him to miss long. I didn’t notice Wiggins make this mistake often, and his shooting mechanics are pretty solid. While he didn’t shoot at a high clip from 3, there’s no reason he shouldn’t (double negative!) be able to improve on that in the NBA.
Though Wiggins can get to the rim with the best of them, he has mixed results throughout the process, from beginning, to middle, to the end. What I mean by that, is that sometimes he is passive, which has been the narrative – one that I buy into right now. His ball handling and finishing have also been criticized, and rightfully so. These three aspects of his game aren’t atrocious, but will more than likely take some time to fix – especially his dribbling.
(1:05:11-1:05:17) Kansas struggled against zone defenses last year, which is what Florida runs. It was very hard for their wings to penetrate off the dribble. Wiggins has a great chance to do that here – he has a one-on-one matchup and at the very least could’ve drove middle to suck defenders in and then kick it out. He also could have, and probably should have, done a ball fake to the left and dribble right. I think sometimes he underestimates the athletic prowess he has over his opponents. Most of the time he’d have the upper hand athletically, giving him a good chance to drive. But sometimes, like he did here, he would just pass it up.
(31:58-32:03) Wiggins has two good options here, none involving turning the ball over like he did up top. It would’ve been reasonable had he taken that somewhat long 3. Also, his defender was closing so hard, he probably could’ve given a hard pump fake – something he should try more often – and drive to the hoop.
(37:16-37:22) Wiggins is an inconsistent ball handler, and just flat out struggles driving with his left. That’s exactly what happens here, as he tries to get into the paint but loses the handle as he tries to pick up is dribble. Losing the dribble is one thing, but this is also an example of Wiggins picking up his dribble too soon, which he does too much. As I said before, sometimes it seems as if he underestimates his ability when he can just blow past guys.
(40:37-40:43) Even though he drew the foul here, this is a shot I’d like to see him finish more often. He’s not a bad finisher through contact, just a bit inconsistent. He does a good job of using his body to shield the defender and then his long arms prevent the defender from blocking his shot. As Wiggins’s body fills out, he should be able to finish more shots in the paint through contact.
There are other parts of Wiggins’s game to be optimistic about. He’s made some good passes, none spectacular. He’s shown sparse post ability, though that would just be icing on top and not something he should grasp right away.
Also, like I touched on with Embiid, Kansas didn’t have great distributors that would set up teammates. Their point guard, #10 Naadir Tharpe, made some good plays for them, but sometimes was more interested in making a spectacular play than making the smart one.
(41:37-41:42) Tharpe gets doubled up top and has Wiggins wide open in the corner, but never sees him. Instead, he passes to Seldon, who drives and gets swatted down low.
If you’ve read this far, enjoy this picture of Dion Waiters’s buzzer beating game winning shot to make the Cavs go bonkers and steal a win in Detroit.
This is the part of Wiggins’s overall game that has the highest floor, due to his athleticism. He still has things to clean up, as every prospect does, but it shouldn’t be long until he’s someone’s lock down defender.
(16:12-16:17) I know it sounds like I’m beating a dead horse, but Wiggins once again shows off his athleticism. He’s able to cheat inside the paint as #14 Rasheed Sulaimon drives. He kicks it outside to the corner where #12 Alex Murphy thinks he’s about to get off a 3 pointer. Nope. Wiggins closes in on him in a hurry and is able to block Murphy’s shot right out of his hand.
Wiggins played a great defensive game against Baylor, and this play was no different. If my memory serves me correct, he was only driven on twice during this game and eventually Baylor’s sharpshooter (and fellow Canadian), #5 Brady Heslip, was getting hot from deep. Wiggins was then put on Heslip and was basically shut down whenever guarded by Wiggins. Here are two of those plays:
(53:53-54:00) Wiggins shows off his transition versatility, closing in on Heslip and makes him think twice about shooting that 3, making him look like a deer in the headlights.
(57:57-58:08) Here, Wiggins does a nice job of getting around the weakside screen and chasing Heslip, who gets the ball on the opposite side of the court. He knows Wiggins is behind him and gives a pump fake, which Wiggins does a nice job of not completely falling for. After Wiggins gets through a pick, with the help of Ellis’s hedge, he’s able to recover on Heslip and force him to shoot a deep, contested 3.
(25:27-25:35) Wiggins’s athleticism is nice, but that’s not the only thing that helps in transition, and he displays that here. He gets good positioning to deny the rim and is able to poke the ball out. After West Virginia regains possession and puts a shot up, Wiggins rejects it into the eighth row (not really, but it was pretty far).
(2:24-2:31) Gator #24 Casey Prather gets the ball on the arc and quickly drives to the paint. However, Wiggins gets great first and second steps to beat him to a spot, forcing Prather to pick up his dribble. He tries a shot from there, but Wiggins is able to block his shot. It’s just a well-read, executed play by Wiggins.
For all the good that comes with Wiggins on the defensive side, there are still some fixable things that he can get rid of.
(1:09:15-1:09:22) Wiggins is guarding Sulaimon one-on-one at the top where #21 Amile Jefferson sets a screen on him. Wiggins has enough space to go over top of the pick, but instead makes full contact with Jefferson, forcing Embiid to come out on Sulaimon. As Wiggins recovers, he and Embiid get tangled with each other, allowing Sulaimon to get initial penetration. At times, Wiggins doesn’t read the screen correctly, and also isn’t able to power through some screens. This is something that can be learned through repetition and improved by getting stronger.
(1:25:36-1:25:42) Wiggins gets a good first step as his man starts to drive. But as they get closer to the paint, Wiggins starts to pull away, perhaps trying to avoid a foul (he did have four at this point in the game, when Kansas was trying to make a comeback). Nonetheless, this is something that I’ve seen him do on multiple occasions. Instead of trying to beat his man to a spot – which I showed he has done – it’s as if he’s just following the movements of the ball handler and following him.
Bottom Line: Wiggins is an easy player to fall in love with watching. The level of athleticism (the “athleticism” count is up to 9, in case you’re wondering) he has will be beyond most that of the players already in the NBA. At the very worst, he’ll be a reliable defender, a good off-the-ball slasher and a versatile transitional player on both ends of the court. As I said earlier, he’s not as polished as, say, Jabari Parker is offensively. He will have to work long and hard to get his dribble to become a reliable/elaborate weapon – he’s already shown he can have an effective spin move. Luckily for him, he already has a respectable shot. That and his defensive ability should be able to keep him on the court a good amount of time as a rookie.
Looking at all three top prospects – Wiggins, Embiid, and Parker – they’re all great options for the Cavs. These guys would arguably be the top prospects in other drafts as well, so GM David Griffin has a tough decision to make between the three. The draft is less than two weeks away and I have finally come to a decision of who I want the most out of three…
A lot has been circulating around the Cavs this past week, ranging from possible coaching hires to veterans they could be targeting via trade. Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowksi had a busy day on Monday breaking somewhat (unsettling) Cavs news (that has since been refuted). But one thing remains constant: they still have to figure out who they will take number one in the draft later in the month.
Last week, I took a look at Duke freshman Jabari Parker as a possibility for the Cavs top choice. This week, I’ll be going over the first of two Kansas freshman: center Joel Embiid. I’m going to do things a little different this week, with more clips from actual games to highlight his strengths and weaknesses. With that said, let’s get into it.
The one thing that almost always came up when watching Kansas play last year was the story of how Joel Embiid came to play basketball.
Until about the 18 minute mark, you’ll hear ESPN’s crew talk about how Embiid was integrated into the sport of basketball.
The comparisons to Hakeem Olajuwon have been constant ever since, and for good reason. Starting basketball at such a relatively old age, he’s been able to limit the amount of bad habits one could pick up from playing a lifetime of basketball since middle school. Here’s a big reason why Embiid draws some Olajuwon comparisons:
Hakeem Olajuwon explains his patented “Dream Shake” (goes until about the 1-minute mark)
Embiid fakes twice and gets his man to hesitate (watch the defender’s head turn every which way). Embiid finishes him with his smooth, quick feet and his length allows him to under the rim and finish on the other side. Another thing I noticed on this, and other plays, was Embiid’s awareness of the rim, no matter where he was at – which is crucial for someone who does his scoring in the paint. That’s not to say he doesn’t have a good jumper, because he does.
He shot a respectable 69% from the free throw line, and could get better. He has a sweet stroke and showed off his soft touch wherever he shot from on the court – including the three-point line.
In the 4 games I delved into this past week (v. San Diego State, v. Oklahoma State, v. Baylor, and at Baylor), Embiid got doubled, if not most of the time, then every time. He usually did a good job of dribbling out of it and was able to show off his great court vision in distribution ability. Sometimes though he wasn’t convictive enough and would turn it over or get called for a foul.
Embiid gets doubled and dribbles to the outside to force one of the defenders to cover his original man. From there, he takes advantage of his quickness and destroys his man, drawing the foul.
This is downright impressive. Embiid gets doubled and as he dribbles out, he takes a peak across court to point guard #10 Naadir Tharpe. He takes another dribble to clear space and fires an accurate pass across court to set up Tharpe for the three and an assist for himself.
Embiid is too far outside to dribble any further, especially while being trapped in the corner like that. In this instance, he should’ve quickly passed it to #31 Jamari Traylor on the post but instead commits an offensive foul.
Embiid has to know with three guys on him to get the ball out. He had #1 Wayne Seldon next to him on the 3-point line or #34 Perry Ellis across the court from him – a difficult pass, yes, but one he’s made before. Instead, he tried to dribble out of it and gets it stripped.
Embiid committed a lot of turnovers even though he just averaged 23 minutes per game. Something that will help him is that if the Cavs were to pick him, he wouldn’t see as many doubles. Even still, at times he needs to be more decisive on what to do with the ball and utilize his great court vision.
Embiid is an athletic freak – not an understatement – for his position. He runs in transition exceptionally well and can dunk over just about anyone and catch just about anything.
Granted, this dunk is over 6’3 guard Marcus Smart, but it was heavily contested and he slams it home like there’s no one in front of him.
Embiid also has the potential to be a great defender as well as offensive player. His athletic ability alone enables him to do a lot of things that some big men struggle to do. This includes things like hedging on pick-and-rolls, recovering to his man, and leaping to block shots. While he still has some polish left to be done on this side of the court – i.e. better positioning, timing on blocks – his athletic ability is good enough to where at worst he’ll be a solid defender.
Embiid’s ball denial in the backcourt is astounding here. No matter where his man goes, Embiid is there to prevent him from getting the ball. He shows off his athleticism, quickness, and intensity.
Here’s Embiid covering ground on an inbounding play underneath the basket. As soon as he sees the guard cutting free to the basket, he’s right behind him and his able to use his length to block the shot. It’s an impressive play that Embiid makes look easy.
For all the great plays Embiid makes, he makes some fixable mistakes as well. A lot of his mistakes are due to either cheating inside the paint/on a hedge or jumping on a pump fake, allowing an easy bucket.
Embiid’s man fakes a screen and Embiid cheats to hedge Oklahoma State’s guard. Embiid’s man cuts to the basket and Embiid is caught out of position, giving his guy an open lane for a dunk.
Embiid comes off his man, who cuts to the post, to cover another Aztec cutting to the paint and getting the ball. Ellis comes to help, but Embiid jumps on #22 Josh Davis’s pump fake, leaving his original man open for a dunk.
Embiid is also a good rebounder. You would think I wouldn’t have to say that since he’s a 7-footer, but Ryan Hollins played for the Cavs so I feel like I should say it just to make sure. Sure, Embiid gets a lot of these rebounds because of his length, but he also puts effort into boxing out as well, something many NBA players don’t pay enough attention to.
Embiid is alone in the paint when the shot goes up. Some guys just feel around for the opposition when the shot goes up, but Embiid goes and searches for someone to put a body on. While he didn’t get the rebound, he prevented his man from possibly cutting into the paint and getting it.
Embiid powers through three San Diego State players to get the rebound and has the strength to go right back up and fish through contact to get the and-1.
Bottom line: One last thing I noticed about watching Embiid with Kansas is he set a lot of screens, both off the ball and on the ball. When he would set a screen for the ball handler, he would rarely be passed to.
Embiid is ready for the ball after he sets the pick, but Tharpe drives into 3 defenders and gets swatted.
The problem with Kansas’ offense was a lack of a consistent distributor. Tharpe was more interested in making a game-breaking play than setting up his teammates. This limited the amount of time Embiid got to see the ball, especially outside of the paint. With the Cavs, I would image whoever is brought in to coach would capitalize on Embiid athleticism and shooting promise, letting him star as a pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop player, along with being a lethal threat on the post. Embiid would also give the Cavs a legitimate rim protector, something they haven’t had in a long time.
If the Cavs pick him, the fan base will have to be patient with his progression. While he’s one of the more advanced big men to come out of the draft, it still takes time for his position to find their place in the league. Also, Embiid was in foul trouble quite a bit and will more than likely have to go through a growing period in this area. He only averaged a bit more than 23 minutes per game at KU, so don’t look for him to get more than that as a rookie.
The big issue with Embiid is his health. In early March, he suffered a stress fracture in his back that kept him out of the Big 12 Tournament and NCAA Tournament. There’s been huge speculation and argumentation about how serious this will be with Embiid in the future, but only the Cavs will truly know (insiders only) how serious or not serious it is. If they think it’s 100% sure it will be a problem going forward, then they can’t pick him. Anything less than that, he has to be heavily considered to be the pick for the Cavs at number one with Andrew Wiggins. Speaking of Wiggins, I will dive into why he could be the top pick next week.
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