Thursday, December 30, 2010

Evidently CNN Can't Afford Newsworthy Photos

The Stanford Cardinal women's basketball team snap UConn's 90-game winning streak. And that poodle looks sleek.

UPDATE: Good to see CNN cares about women's sports.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

2010 USC Football

It's been awhile since I've written anything here. I was tempted to do this season write-up a few days but I figured I should enjoy the holidays a little longer.

2010 for the Trojans was marked with very few highs and many, many lows. First and foremost the USC program finally paid for the sins of former head coach Pete Carroll. With no chance at a bowl berth for this year and next USC lost some hope, the chance to play two extra games and highly-regarded OL Seantrel Henderson.

New coach and familiar face Lane Kiffin brought his father Monte and Ed Orgeron as assistants. Also a solid recruiting class were reasons for optimism. The returning players were good but certainly not top ten material. Oregon and Stanford were on paper (and it turns out, in reality) better teams than USC. Realistically the Trojans were looking at a four-loss campaign.

While the spring brought some optimism, most notably RB Dillon Baxter and Shareece Wright playing shutdown corner, DL Christian Tupou suffered a season-ending injury and highly-touted freshman, WR Kyle Prater, would likely redshirt.

Due to a lack of depth (thanks to poor recruiting and sanctions) Coach Kiffin opted for no tackling through the fall as a way to prevent injuries. The lack of physicality turned out to plague the defense all season, as poor tackling and missed assignments were commonplace.

Close games would define the season, as game-ending field goals against Washington and Stanford would prove to be crushing losses while nail-biting wins against Arizona State and Arizona kept the year from sinking. A tough loss to a rejuvenated Notre Dame and blowout losses to Oregon State and Oregon wrapped a five-loss campaign that many Trojan fans didn't see coming.

Matt Barkley had a season that I'd like to think of as two steps forward and one step backward. He was noticeably... err, less fat this year and his improved physique showed in increased mobility and less fatigue late in games. Matt grow into the unquestioned leader. He developed a great rapport with breakout WR Robert Woods during the first half of the season. As for the bad Barkley continued to make poor decisions, needlessly trying to whistle the football into tight spots. And the injury he suffered against Oregon State obviously took its toll, forcing him to miss the Notre Dame game as well as play ineffective against UCLA. Overall he had a good season and should grow into one of the Pac-12's best if not the entire nation in 2011.

Allen Bradford was the best Trojan RB -- that is, when he wasn't fumbling the ball. Marc Tyler had his moments and looks poised to anchor the running game next year. Dillon Baxter failed to live up to his YouTube hype and had a subpar freshman year with only a few highlights. Character issues were also a problem with Baxter, which reminded more than a few SC fans to be wary of a speedy backs from the San Diego area. Meanwhile Stanley Havili continued to be a rock for the Trojans from the fullback position; running, catching and blocking whenever his number was called up.

Robert Woods was by far the most pleasant surprise of the season. During the first half of the year he exploded with 200-yard receiving games and impact plays in the return game. Look for #13 to be Barkley's go-to-guy next year. Ronald Johnson had a good senior year that will unfortunately remembered for his dropped ball on what would have been a game winner against Notre Dame. Brandon Carswell and Brice Butler chipped in as decent third receivers while the tight end position was a wasteland between Rhett Ellison and Jordan Cameron.

The offensive line was a mess early on but gelled as the season progressed. Center Kris O'Dowd was the anchor and in my opinion the lone consistent positive. Right tackle Tyron Smith is leaving early for the draft and is projected as a first round pick. That blows my mind and deceives what my eyes have seen, but anyway. Michael Reardon, Khaled Holmes, Matt Kalil and Butch Lewis round out an inconsistent group.

Speaking of an inconsistent group, woo let's talk about the defense.

Safety TJ McDonald took over for incumbent Drew McAllister and proceeded to constantly hit high and out of bounds. Shareece Wright did a great job punching the football loose from ball carriers but didn't live up to the preseason hype as a cover man. True freshman Nickell Robey had his ups and downs but ultimately served a reliable defender who gained a ton of experience that will serve well down the road. Torrin Harris whiffed a lot.

The linebackers were bad, probably the worst group on the entire team. Malcolm Smith did cause several key turnovers and played the pass well. But neither Devon Kennard nor Chris Galippo could hold onto the MLB position. Galippo came on strong on special teams and in the second half but not before committing a boneheaded personal foul penalty that proved fatal against Stanford. Michael Morgan also failed to make a big impact.

The defensive line wasn't much better save for Jurrell Casey, who's leaving school early. Wes Horton had a couple nifty sacks. Nick Perry is an awesome pass rusher but rarely played for some reason.

The kicking game sucked but it's obvious assistant head coach John Baxter is working his magic on the special teams units. The coverage team is no longer aimlessly wandering around and the line breaks through during kick blocks. That was obvious during the game-winning extra point deflection against ASU. Even with limited scholarships Lane Kiffin is committed to bringing in a punter AND kicker for the upcoming season. And with Robert Woods poised to be USC is definitely going places and making a difference in the game of hidden yards.

USC is set to meet with the NCAA in January in regards to possible reductions in sanctions. The Trojans, led by new athletic director Pat Haden, have made huge strides to comply to the sometimes inane and archaic NCAA rules. Lane Kiffin has brought in a slew of JUCO players as the team prepares to hunker down to future scholarship reductions.

The future remains fuzzy for USC football. Only time will tell if the Trojans can regain their status as top contenders.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Cardiac Trojans Finally Win a Nailbiter

Late in last night's roller coaster of a game it seemed the Trojans were destined to suffer yet another tough loss. Joe Houston kicked a field goal to give USC a 34-33 lead with three minutes to go but everyone in the Coliseum knew the Trojans had lost on last-second field goals to Washington and Stanford earlier in the year. And as fate would have it the Sun Devils, led by gutsy QB Steven Threet, promptly marched down the field. The Trojans defense held firm inside their own territory and forced a 41-yard field goal that was pulled wide left.

Earlier in the quarter Tyron Smith busted through on an extra point kick and blocked the ball with his helmet, which Torrin Harris returned the other way for two Trojan points. Also USC blocked a punt in the first half. The shaky special teams probably affected Thomas Weber as he missed the kick.

But that wasn't the only tense/crazy moment in this game. Oh no, not by a long shot. At the end of a mostly mundane first half USC QB Matt Barkley drove the Trojans down the field, hitting David Ausberry on a quick two-yard slant with three seconds left. Ausberry also snagged a two-point attempt in the third quarter. That was preceded by Malcolm Smith's 74-yard pick six. And we can't forget LeQuan Lewis' 102-yard kickoff return or Omar Bolden's 66-yard INT TD midway through the fourth.

But truly he impact of the special teams on this contest can't be understated. Let's review all the insanity.

Houston missed two chip shot field goals but makes the eventual game winner for USC. The Trojans score two two-point conversions (playing offense and defense). The teams combine for over 280 yards of punt and kick returns, including Lewis' TD run. Weber punted for the first time this season and missed the go-ahead field goal.

What a wild game.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Tale of Two Defenses

In three weeks this USC defense has shown it all. First against Washington the unit displayed the worst defensive scheming I've seen since the Colts played the Saints in the Super Bowl. Three-man rushes, base Cover 2 and no containment on the edges. Jake Locker was mauled by the tough Nebraska Black Shirts in Seattle; against the Trojans he looked every bit the part of a Heisman Trophy candidate. The only high note for the USC D was a forced fumble for a touchback. CB Shareece Wright did an excellent job popping the ball out -- and that only happened after Locker scampered down the sideline for huge yardage.

The Trojans and Huskies went back and forth, fighting over who should lose before U-Dub kicked a field goal as time expired to win 32-31 at the Los Angeles Coliseum. The story of the game was how Washington constantly gashed the Trojans for 536 yards, including critical conversions on 3rd and 18 as well as 4th and 10. Supposedly Monte Kiffin was coming in and shoring up a defensive unit that was surprisingly average the past couple years. Instead the D was out on the breakers and getting gashed.

Then two weeks ago the defense let down the Trojans once again, this time losing to Standford 37-35 in an eerily similar fashion. At the end of a hard-fought battle the Men of Troy found themselves once more on the wrong side of a game-winning field goal. With a minute left the Cardinal drove across the field, aided by a reckless late hit by LB Chris Galippo and poor coverage/containment. Though Stanford's offense is quite good the USC defense was awful throughout. Safeties blew coverages, the front four didn't get penetration and the linebackers looked lost. Devon Kennard, the starting MLB because Galippo was demoted, was running around aimlessly grabbing receivers. Missed tackles and blown assignments were commonplace. Andrew Luck, an excellent QB, was given ample time and openings to complete over 70% of his passes.

It was safe to presume the USC defense would be a question mark the whole season. It's not like the D was amazing last year. Lack of depth due to injuries, sanctions and a new coaching staff would require a grace period. On Saturday, however, something clicked. Maybe Cal just had a horrific day but the Trojans defense looked especially fierce. The defensive front did a great job limiting the dangerous Bear RB Shane Vereen and pressuring QB Kevin Riley. For the first time in... a long-ass time the Trojans pressured with an array of blitz packages. Surprise, surprise it worked. The entire unit played as well as it has in years. Galippo in particular looked comfortable playing the outside linebacker. Safety TJ McDonald, who's had his share of late hits and blown coverages, snagged an impressive interception on a deep ball.

Obviously the Trojans offense, led by five TD throws by Matt Barkley, was on fire against California but the defense deserves a ton of credit as well. It's as ready as it'll ever be for the high-octane Oregon offense that's coming to town in less than two weeks.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Attitude Improving But Still a Problem for USC Football

There's little doubt in my mind the Trojans will beat the Washington State Cougars tomorrow. They had better because Wazzu is terrible. However this game will probably tell very little about USC. Instead we have the past couple seasons and a few contests into the 2010 season to comprehend how this team operates.

Perhaps first and foremost attitude problems have been a mainstay for the Cardinal and Gold. I don't even need to talk about the off the field stuff but USC also devolved into a reckless unit under Pete Carroll particularly in the last few years. It became typical to see late hits both out of bounds and on quarterbacks. There were the multiple false start penalties during home games. The near fight with UCLA. Pete was cool with making it rain on the Bruins but complained to Jim Harbaugh what his deal was after Stanford stomped USC. Hypocrite. But what disgusted me the most was seeing players sprint for the locker rooms after losses. They didn't even have the decency to shake hands with the other team and demonstrate a shred of sportsmanship.

Attitude also breed entitlement. The Golden Child Joe McKnight and The Freak Everson Griffen were immensely talented prep superstars who underperformed at SC. But they had bad performances and transgressions constantly forgiven. Competition seemingly gave way to favoritism as McKnight and Matt Barkley were given opportunities when they weren't the best available options.

The 2010 edition of the Trojans seems to be headed in the right direction in terms of off field discipline. New athletic director Pat Haden and Lane Kiffin appear to be doing the right things and there's definitely a noticeable less Hollywood approach to the team. The home sideline no longer is crammed with celebrities and scores of boosters. It's reassuring to hear the compliance office is ever present around the team. That being said the results haven't shown on the gridiron. The Trojans are one of the most penalized teams in the country though a few flags from the Minnesota game shouldn't have counted. It's gonna take time and perhaps a few recruiting classes (that will be restricted and thus extremely carefully constructed) to change the culture inside and out.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

USC Football Still Wreckless (At Least On the Field)

Costly holds, late hits, personal fouls and even an ejection.

USC football returned to Los Angeles for the first time following NCAA sanctions -- and a lot stupid things remained exactly the same. The Trojans played like fools, amassing 13 fouls for 140 yards in a sloppy 17-14 win over a Virginia Cavaliers team that's predicted to finish last in the ACC.

It was the same ol' story that USC fans have seen for the last two years as the team erased touchdowns and momentum with careless penalties, culminating with Rhett Ellison's head butt following an onside kick recovery that led to a 30-yard infraction and his disqualification. It was a a fitting finish to a terrible game.

The Cavs imploded on themselves with penalties as well though Virginia did rack up 340 yards in total offense against Monte Kiffin's supposedly vaunted defense. Kiffin runs a similar defense to what Pete Caroll did and the results were similar; a break but don't break D that failed to create much havoc. In fact the defense tried to sabotage itself. Safety TJ McDonald, who had an easy pick in the endzone, was constantly head-hunting and drew a couple of 15-yard penalties due to his high strikes. MLD Devon Kennard was consistently late at reading the running back and was often left in the dust. The defensive line managed two sacks but was manhandled by the Cavs O-line for most of the game. Poor tackling and failing to wrap ballhandlers led to plenty of YAC for the Cavs.

The offense was better but not by much. The stagnant running game averaged less than four yards a carry. Dillon Baxter looked fine in his collegiate debut. Once he ran vertical the yards followed. Nothing splashy but credit the Virginia defense for playing smart and hard the whole game. Marc Tyler looked nothing like the shifty bruiser from the Hawaii game. Tyler was slow and rarely had a second effort that went far.

Matt Barkley looked pretty good though his accuracy was a little off in the second half. Ronald Johnson was sensational. If not for a holding penalty RoJo would have been credited with a long TD haul. Also if Barkley had thrown a few better balls a 150-yard game was possible.

Jordan Cameron did a great job jumping up and snagging the onside kick late. He also did a nifty job reaching up for a touchdown. USC has lacked a TE option since Anthony McCoy graduated. Maybe Jordan is the answer at that position but there still plenty of questions as to whether the Trojans can play solid, disciplined football.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Raiders Primed For Adequacy

For the first time in years it looks like the Oakland Raiders have their act together. The 2-1 preseason doesn't mean too much but the level of cohesiveness and competence the team is playing with suggests the Silver & Black can rise above the laughingstock level it's been relegated to since being blown out by Tampa Bay in the Super Bowl.

Jason Campbell, acquired from the Redskins for a future fourth-round pick, provides stability to a position that was wasted on JaMarcus Russell for the past three years. And of course Jason had to be crushed in last Saturday night's exhibition and suffer a bad stinger. He also has a bum wrist but all signs point to a full recovery before the season open. That's good... because the Raiders recovery starts with him. Bruce Gradkowski can provide spells of decency but he's not a long-term answer.

Speaking of injuries Michael Bush has a broken thumb, which leaves Darren McFadden the starter at running back by default. Run-DMC has been injured and ineffective during his pro career but the talent is there. The onus will be on the returning O-line to provide good protection and open lanes. The center position will be manned by either rookie Jared Veldheer or Samson Satele and looks to be the weak link. It's not a great unit but another year in Tom Cable's zone-blocking scheme should lead to improvement.

The wide receiving corps is a major question mark. Louis Murphy emerged last year as the most consistent pair of hands on the team. But he's not a #1-caliber receiver. Chaz Schilens is injured again, Johnnie Lee Higgins is fast (but maybe not as fast as newcomer Jacoby Ford) and Darrius Heyward-Bey is a question mark. At least Zach Miller is a bomb tight end.

Two rookies hope to shore up the defense. First-round and second-round picks Rolando McClain and LaMarr Houston are penciled as the MLB and DE respectively. Houston joins a formidable front four that also includes Matt Shaughnessy, Tommy Kelly and Richard Seymour. Sandwiching McClain will be Trevor Scott, Kamerion Wembley and Thomas Howard in some combination. Nnamdi Asomugha leads the defensive backs. Chris Johnson keeps improving as the other CB but he's no Nnamdi. Tyvon Branch and Michael Huff are okay safeties.

SeaBass and Lechler are the two best kickers in the league. Ford and Higgins are likely the speedy returners.

The Raiders' schedule includes the six games against its division rivals (Broncos, Chargers and Chiefs) along with the AFC South (@Titans, Texans, @Jacksonville, Colts), NFC West (Rams, @Cardinals, @49ers, Seahawks), @Steelers and Dolphins.

Call me crazy but I think Oakland can play .500 ball this season.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Grading the Seattle Mariners Recent Draft Picks

So the Mariners suck... but at least there's hope for the future. Here's a look at how high draft picks under the new front office regime have fared:

Josh Fields, RHP, First Round
This was a Bill Bavasi pick back in 2008 but newly-minted GM Jack Zduriencik decided to sign the hard-throwing junior from Georgia. Fields has flashed good stuff when he's been healthy, striking out a batter per inning but also walks a batter more than once every other frame. He's been unable to pitch beyond AA and is 25 but should advance quickly to the M's bullpen. Whether he'll close or pitch the 7th or 8th innings... who knows? B-

Dustin Ackley, 2B, First Round
The consolation prize in the Stephen Strasburg sweepstakes was a no-brainer. Ackley came out of UNC in 2009 as one of the purest hitters in recent memory and after a rough start in AA he's done nothing to discredit that title. A promotion to Triple-A has ignited Dustin; he's hitting around .300/.360/.450 in Tacoma. For the year he sports an excellent 68/61 walk-to-strikeout ratio though the lack of power (5 total home runs) and sub-.700 OPS against lefties leave room for improvement. Ackley switched to second base after playing the outfield and a little first base in college. He has limited oomph on his throwing arm thanks to an injury but it shouldn't affect him too much at second. Dustin heading down to Arizona Fall League to continue learning the intricacies of the infield. And A- isn't out of the question but lingering questions remain. B+

Nick Franklin, SS, First Round
There was considerable debate whether the M's should have taken a Florida prep player with no standout tools. Well Nick's shut everyone the hell up. 20 home runs, 20+ stolen bases and a glove that looks like it'll stick long-term at SS will do that. He's certainly a Top 100 prospect and probably even cracks the 50s. I'm being cautious with the grade because he's so young and the power is probably a little fluky but M's fans have to be ecstatic with their first-round pick from last year. B

Steven Baron, C, First Round (supplemental)
Welcome to Disasterville. In 450 career at bats he has .200 batting and .300 slugging averages. But hey he's a good defender behind the dish. D-

Rich Poythress, 1B, Second Round
After a dreadful stint in AA the former Georgia Bulldog has (surprise) thrived in High Desert. The slugger is among the league leaders in homers and RBI. Rich's power projects to play in the majors, though Safeco Field will certainly sap some of it. B-

Kyle Seager, 3B, Third Round
Ackley's former Tar Heel teammate has had a breakout year in High Desert to the tune of .342/.414/.477. Then again, what hitter doesn't thrive in the Cal League? Kyle's shown good gap power and a decent glove at the Hot Corner. He wasn't thought of much following the draft but now he's a viable bench guy in the big leagues. C+

James Jones, RF, Fourth Round
Interesting toolsy outfielder has a long way to go. Good build, great athlete, still raw at the plate after pitching in college. With a promotion to High Desert on the way don't be surprised when James puts up some huge numbers in 2011. C+

I wasn't thrilled with signing Fields. Instead I think the compensation pick could have netted a player with more upside. That being said Josh is on the fast track to the majors and should shore up an iffy bullpen (so long, Sean White!). Ackley is who we thought he was while Poythress and Seager appear to be on their way to the big leagues. Whether they'll pan out as regulars though remains to be seen. James Jones still has a long way to go and the Baron has been a complete disaster. Franklin has been the huge surprise and it'll be great to see him continue to develop. Overall it was a good draft. I'm not as confident about the 2010 selections but it's way too early to put a stamp on anything.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

My SummerSlam Experience

Before last night's WWE SummerSlam at the Staples Center it had been 14 years since I attended a wrestling event. I used to be a pretty big WWE (then WWF) fan; renting tapes of old specials, playing the awful SNES game and scrutinize magazine rankings (where's the love for Razor Ramon?!). And of course watching copious amounts of RAW and all the good jazz that came with it. If yesterday proved anything it's that I've been away for too long.

The 15,000 in attendance were treated to a bonus match before the 4:45 PPV went air. The match was between... uhh, I don't exactly remember. They were lower-tier wrestlers who performed okay. It was a decent appetizer for those hungry for action.

After the initial pyrotechnics show Staples Center filled with smoke for about ten minutes, which looked awesome. Also the giant TV monitor malfunctioned for awhile; the screens down the middle went black (which you can see in the above photo).

The first official fight on the night was for the Intercontinental Championship. Dolph Ziggler and the challenger and crowd favorite Kofi Kingston (because h e's black??) performed okay. The match culminated with The Nexus rushing from the seats and bashing Kofi. Watching it live and it in person it was pretty wild to see seven buff dudes bumrush another buff dude and (pretend to) beat the crap out of him. If anything it added further fuel to the impending Team WWE-The Nexus showdown.

Next was Alicia Fox versus Melina, who looked like she was dressed for Carnival. This was the token Divas match and the least interesting twenty minutes of the night. Melina ended up victorious and tried to look emotional winning one of two fake WWE women's championship belts. It sorta worked. What surely would have been a heartfelt speech was ruined by LayCool, the tag team chaps and the two baddest bitches in the ring.

The Big Show is listed at 485 pounds. Even from a distance it's crazy how behemoth of a man he is. He eventually beat down the trio called SES. Actually The Big Show pinned two of them; Punk ran away. I don't know who the SES chick was but during the intro she kept screaming "excuse me!" while trying to speak, which predictably led the audience to scream whatever insults it fancied. Good times.

At some point during the show The Miz showed up and went on a ten-minute rant about how basically he's awesome (!!!) and everyone else sucks. He then declared that he would help Team WWE defeat The Nexus later on. I'm selling it short with my recap but it really was quite the speech.

Sheamus versus Randy Orton (probably the most popular wrestler with the LA crowd) was in my opinion the best fight of the match. First of all it was for the highest prize in the game, the WWE Championship. Secondly the level of intensity and wrestling was great and sustained. This was a long, arduous fight that culminated with a Sheamus DQ for a chair (at least I think that's what happened). Orton lost his shit and eventually slammed Sheamus onto the announcer's table. Rage!

The second-to-last fight featured Kane vs. Rey Mysterio Jr. for the Heavyweight Championship (I think). This was billed as a vengeance match as Kane accused Rey of attacking The Undertaker on Memorial Weekend and putting him in a vegetative state. Kane was so furious that he rolled out a casket before the match, promising to close it on Rey. Mysterio professed his innocence, claiming it was Kane who brained his brother. Kane, Cain?

The battle itself was fairly interesting. The contrasting styles between the hulking Kane and the acrobatic Mysterio was hot and cold. Seeing Rey jump on Kane and twirl around was spectacular.

Eventually Kane dropped a couple choke slams and was primed to dump Rey's ranchera corpse into an eternal of burning and suffering. Kane opened the empty coffin but the mercurial Mexican escaped! Some scuffling ensued, including Kane almost crashing into the coffin. The giant shut the lid and promptly Tomestone'd Mysterio. Finally, we would see someone stuffed into the damn coffin.

When Kane opened the lid again... The Undertaker was inside! No doubt the most thunderous applause were reserved for when The Prince of Darkness emerged. Of course I was wondering how the hell a 7-foot man lied relatively still for almost half an hour. I'm guess he sneaked under the ring before the match, then rolled into the coffin (which sat atop a draped table) on cue. But anyway... The Undertaker looked menacingly at Rey... before turning to his brother! Sibling wars! Kane usurped his brother once again, Tomestone'ing him. Fade to black.

Finally, the main event. The Nexus vs. Team WWE. After The Nexus took to the ring the WWE was announced one by one, starting with its leader John Cena. Bret The Hitman Hart received a well-deserved roar from the crowd. It was weird seeing a superstar from my childhood wearing a t-shirt to cover his gut. Other superstars included The Edge and Chris Jericho. When The Miz showed up he was promptly booted by the John Cena and replaced by Daniel Bryant... who I guess is a great wrestler and got kicked out of wrestling? These fake storylines are confusing.

The fight itself was good. Predictably it went back and forth until only The Baron and John Cena remained. Cena, who had been pummeled by The Nexus as well as The Edge and Jericho (due to extenuating circumstances and accidental friendly fire), fooled The Baron for a quick takedown.

Highlights during the melee included Hitman performing a Sharpshooter, then promptly getting DQ'ed for picking up a folding chair. The Miz also ran in and took out one of the WWE stars while the ref wasn't looking.

But the story of the match was Cena. He crowd loved or hated him, chants alternating between "Go Cena!" and "Cena Sucks! While not the greatest technical wrestler to ever grace the ring he demonstrated why he's a star. He has it. He's willing to have 20,000 pairs of eyes on him and accept the task of entertaining, make people believe this is real. When he pumped up the crowd during the match, people believed. When John was mobbed outside the ring, crashing against the step steels and slammed against the concrete floor people winced (okay, that stuff might have been really painfully). And after Cena emerged victoriously he stayed in the ring for five minutes to thank the crowd. And it responded.

Hell, even his upcoming wrestling movie with Patricia Clarkson and Danny Glover looks decent.

All in all it was a helluva fun time. Certainly more fun than the dozen or so Clippers games I've been to at the Staples Center. On my way out I couldn't help notice the kids sitting next to me. I was once like them; easily excitable from watching grown men pretend to beat the shit out of each other. And for one night I reverted to my former self. Thanks SummerSlam. Hope to see you next year.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

My Favorite Baseball Teams Replace Their Managers on the Same Day

Both firings came as a surprise yet the writing was on each of their walls. On Monday the Seattle Mariners and USC Trojans fired their respective baseball managers.

Don Wakamatsu's downfall seemed inconceivable back in spring training when whispers of a playoff run were being murmured by the media. Coming off an uplifting 85-win campaign and adding ace Cliff Lee to the team certainly made it appear the M's were on the upswing.

And then the season started. The offense never clicked -- particularly Ken Griffey Jr., whose unceremoniously exit from a glorious career probably derailed Wak more than anything. Once he lost The Kid he lost the Mariner family.

Don also had a maddening tendency to commit to a belief system even when it was painfully obvious changes were necessary. The lineup, for instance, would always see the horrific Jose Lopez bat either third or cleanup. Granted Wak was hamstrung by a lack of quality bats on the roster but there were better options than a free-swinging plodder. The pitching staff wasn't immune to befuddling choices neither. Sean White, probably one of the worst arms in a decent bullpen, was constantly thrown into high-leverage situations.

If Wak was predictable with the lineup he disciplined at a whim. He allowed for Lopez to be unproductive and lazy the entire season, tolerating mediocrity as it were. But when the unproductive but hard-working Chone Figgins made a mental mistake he was singled out. A dugout dust-up ensued and it was the beginning of the end.

Yes, Don Wakamatu was probably dealt a bad hand in 2010. But he didn't do much to salvage the situation. Conversely Chad Kreuter, despite having only minimal managing experience was hired to coach the most prestigious college baseball program in the country. After four years of the Kreuter Experience the Trojans failed to advance to the College World Series let alone win a title. In fact USC was oftentimes abysmal, punctuated by this season's 10th-place finish in the Pac-10 Conference.

Kreuter was an awful recruiter, focusing his efforts on elite national talents like Tim Beckham and Mike Stanton that had no intentions to play in college. And while USC is hamstrung by the NCAA's ridiculous baseball scholarship rule that hasn't hurt other private universities such as Miami and Stanford.

Simply put USC is expected to contend for titles and Kreuter failed miserably. He had to go.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Top Five Episodes of Bill Simmons' The B.S. Report

Bill Simmons' widely-popular podcast, The B.S. Report, now has a complete archive for your listening pleasure. I've listened to... something like 98% of the episodes and compiled a list of some of The Sports Guy's best.

Keep in mind this list skews completely to his older stuff. Frankly I think The B.S. Report has been getting too Hollywood for its own good.

UPDATE 12/28/12: The B.S. Report is doing a Time Machine Week, showcasing the "best of" Bill Simmons podcasts. So far the list includes the Bill and JackO "The Real World" episode so it's definitely worth checking out.

UPDATE: Evidently none of these links work. Well done ESPN.

1. 8/2/07 - Play | Download
Bill Simmons talks to Dave Meltzer about the WWE and the Chris Benoit tragedy. How can the WWE recover?

Absolutely riveting podcast regarding the double murder-suicide of one of wrestling's greatest talents. While Simmons does chime in with an occasional quip this is for the most part a grim odyssey into the sordid details of Benoit's personal demons and substance abuse. Most people enjoy the Sports Guy for his irreverence and comedy but I find his quiet thoughtfulness (like in his much-heralded farewell to The Dooze) his strongest suit. Meltzer has chronicled wrestling for well over a decade. His knowledge and passion for the "sport" clearly shines here.

4/10/08 - Play | Download
Bill and JackO stop being polite and start getting real as they relive 20 years of MTV's "Real World."

A non-stop riot between two college buddies babbling about two decades of sex- and drug-fueled reality TV. The easy, breezy back and forth with Simmons and JackO is what makes the duo so hilarious. Zingers abound, particularly the line where Simmons threatens to go on a shooting spree if his daughter sluts it up on a future show.

3. 7/19/07 - Play | Download
Bill Simmons addresses his feud with Jerry Remy and talks with Michael Wilbon about writing, chemistry in broadcasting, racism in Boston, and the death of Len Bias.

A wide-ranging chat with one of ESPN's best commentators, WaPo's Michael Wilbon. Simmons obviously has a huge connection with Bias, the #2 overall pick by the Boston Celtics who died from a cocaine overdose mere days after the draft. The PTI co-host covered the ACC during Bias' reign in Maryland. When the conversation turns to the rim-rocking forward is when the episode really hits its peak.

4. 11/27/07 - Play | Download
Bill gets lost inside Walton's World as he tries to find out what it was like to be a part of the 1986 Celtics.

I'm definitely a person in the Bill Walton camp. He's one of the brightest, honest and most-decorated athletes from the last fifty years. Bill can hardly contain his love for the '86 Celtics and it's fascinating to listen to Walton (one of the greatest champions in sports history) wax on about team chemistry.

5. 8/24/08 - Play | Download
Bill and JackO dissect the Mike and the Mad Dog split, try to bury the Yankees' 2008 campaign, discuss the Olympics, review some reality television and more.

The second time I insert JackO into the Top Five. He and Simmons click that well together. I don't understand why JackO hasn't started his own podcast yet. The John O'Connell Hour of Power with his rants about the Yankees, reality TV and Republicans. I would listen every week.

Monday, August 02, 2010

2010 Cliff Lee Facts

As of August 2nd...

* Cliff Lee has a 9-5 record.

* In 15 starts he has thrown seven complete games.

* His middle name is Phifer.

* In 147 innings he has struck 118 batters, walked 13 and allowed 126 hits.

* He has thrown one wild pitch.

* He walk rate is five times lower than the MLB average.

* Despite missing the first month of the season he has been the fourth-best pitcher in baseball, according to WAR.

* Ruben Amaro traded him for Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gilles and JC Ramirez.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Revisiting the Mariners Offseason Grades

Oh, hope sprang eternal in early April when I detailed how Seattle's Hot Stove was bubbling over with a couple of nice big-time acquisitions and a handful of low risk, medium-upside moves.

Well, the M's are now 35-56. It's probably safe to say in hindsight some of the transactions didn't pan out. Let's take a somewhat painful look back:

C Kenji Johjima filed for free agency (A)
Still no complaints about this. The M's roulette of backstops (Rob Johnson, Adam Moore, Josh Bard and... some other guy) has been horrible but this separation was the best recourse for player and team.

Signed free agent 3B Chone Figgins (B+)
Ugghhh... I still have hope Figgins will live up to the 4/$36M contract (with a 5th year option, no!). But Figgins looks absolutely lost at the plate and the numbers bare it out: .230/.325/.269. Hey at least he's walking! Plus the 24 stolen bases are nice, but when Chone isn't weakly flying out he's usually grounding into double plays (already 11 this year). Hopefully he's just pressing after signing a big contract and will revert back to form next season.

Traded RHP J.C. Ramirez, RHP Phillippe Aumont and CF Tyson Gillies for LHP Cliff Lee (A+)
Those trio of decent prospects and a half season of awesome Cliff Lee for blue chipper Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan and a pair of low-end AA players. Jack Z, you did it again.

Signed free agent LF Ryan Langerhans (B-)
A fine fourth outfielder who's battled injuries and... uhh, a manager who won't play him.

Traded RHP Carlos Silva for RF Milton Bradley (B-)
It pains me to see evil Silva succeed in the NL. Bradley meanwhile has been a disappointment (.206/.289/.358) save for a few big hits in late innings. While Carlos and Milton both needed fresh starts there's no question the Cubs definitely won this deal.

Traded RHP Brandon Morrow for RHP Brandon League and OF Johermyn Chavez (C)
Morrow has been a decent starter for the Blue Jays. 107 IP, 49 BB, 119 K. Nice to see he's still kinda crazy on the mound. League has been up and down for the M's. He relies too much on his fastball while his nasty splitter sits on the shelf. Chavez has banged out 20 homers in the Cal League so far. Granted, it's the Cal League but there's potential.

Signed free agent C Josh Bard (C-)
He's been solid as a backup catcher. Hell he hit a dinger against the Angels last night.

Traded 3B Bill Hall for 1B Casey Kotchman (C+)
Nope. While Kotchman has had a nice batch of recent games it appears his days as a Mariner are numbered. Picking up Russell Branyan and Smoak spells bye-bye to Casey.

Signed free agent LF Eric Byrnes (B)
Just read how Eric fucked up and fled the scene on a bicycle. Seriously.

Signed free agent LHP Erik Bedard (B-)
Erik recently felt discomfort in his shoulder while tossing. He's yet to pitch this year. Bedard is made of glass candy.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

My Sleeper in the Cliff Lee Sweepstakes

The national media and Mariner blogs have turned their attention to where Cliff Lee will be dealt. It's doubtful Seattle will keep its ace starter around past the July trade deadline as Lee will surely test free agency and leave the Pacific Northwest as a 2010 Type A free agent. The M's could hang onto Lee through this dismal season and snag a pair of supplemental first-round picks for a loaded 2011 amateur draft... but I'm inclined to believe (along with most others) that Jack Zduriencik will pull the trigger on a great offer -- if it comes.

Most people agree the Mets and Twins make the most sense for a potential swap. Both teams have rotation needs, playoff aspirations and enough high-impact, near MLB-ready prospects to pry Lee. But I also believe one team who could make the big splash is the normally quiet Tampa Bay Rays.

GM Andrew Friedman has to work with a limited payroll in baseball's toughest division. With the Red Sox and Yankees annually adding to their arsenals even reaching the playoffs is a tall task for the Rays. And All-Stars Carlos Pena and Carl Crawford are free agents after the year. It's doubtful Tampa Bay can afford to keep them both. That's why I think Friedman might pull the trigger this season. Adding Lee would give Tampa Bay a huge boost to the rotation and solidify their playoff chances as well as a possible World Series. During a short playoff series a pitching staff of Lee, David Price, James Shields and Matt Garza/Jeff Niemann/Wade Davis would be deadly. A deep playoff run would also add millions to the Rays coffers and further boost their national presence.

Assuming Tampa Bay is willing to buy Cliff Lee what would they have to give up? Seattle has holes everywhere, but what they need most are quality starters and impact bats.

Wade Davis is someone I'm sure the M's would love to acquire. It would be a high price for the Rays, as the 24-year-old RHP is among the most promising young starters in baseball not named Stephen Strasburg. But then again, this is Cliff Freakin' Lee we're talking about. Dude is sporting a 15:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He's one of the five best pitchers alive. He comes with two draft picks in addition to several months of awesomeness. Cliff Lee will cost a lot.

Okay. So let's say Wade Davis is the main piece in a trade proposal. What else could Tampa Bay throw the Mariners. It's unlikely anyone in the lineup would be dealt. SS Reid Brignac would fit nicely in Seattle but with Jason Bartlett's struggles I'm sure the Rays want to keep him around.

A Cliff Lee for Wade Davis and Reid Brignac would make sense for both clubs. It's a better deal for the M's... but then again, flags fly forever.

But presuming Brignac isn't available let's delve into the loaded Rays system. They're not trading Desmond Jennings or Jeremy Hellickson. It's also doubtful they would give up so soon on Matt Moore or Tim Beckham. The M's would have to dip deep into High A for someone like 1B Matt Sweeney -- and he's several years from the big leagues. OF Kyeong Kang is also an interesting outfield prospect but he's also just starting out. Adding those two would be a nice boost to the long-term health of the Mariners organization but perhaps Jack Z feels the need to add more immediate help.

Anyway, those are a few thoughts on how the Rays might acquire Lee. Though it probably won't happen I consider Tampa Bay the best run organization in baseball. It wouldn't shock me if they added one of the premier arms in the game to its team.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

70's Night at Dodger Stadium

Last Friday I went to the Dodgers-Braves game at Chavez Ravine. LA squeaked out a 5-4 with closer Jonathan Broxton striking out Braves slugger Jason Heyward (who K'ed five games!) to end the game.

Anyway, onto the visuals!

The first 20,000 fans in attendance got this hideous and hilarious Starsky and Hutch-themed poster. Personally I would have liked to have seen a Dolemite homage instead but oh well.

Singer of the national anthem and "God Bless America?" None other than Greg Brady. And surprisingly he had quite a voice. Who knew?

The LA crowd gave The Wizard of Westwood a two-minute standing ovation as Vin Scully appeared on the video board and said a few words.

Broxton and Garrett Anderson share the same stylist evidently.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Monday, May 17, 2010

Mariners Inevitably Falling into the Void

Sorry I haven't been posting lately. Then again, no one reads this shit.

But a lot of folks, including yours truly, follow the Seattle Mariners. And even though I have been crazy busy lately I've found time to keep up with this ghastly team. Yikes. The problems with the M's have been discussed ad nauseam but I'll break it down for those who don't follow the AL West.

Where to begin? How about Mike Sweeney and Ken Griffey Jr.? Why are they still on the team? Actually I get the Griffey part. He's old and terrible but the nostalgia factor wins brownie points with casual fans. Sweeney makes very little sense. He's not a better bat than Ryan Garko (who was cut by the M's and signed by the Rangers) and can barely play first base. And Sweeney's great team chemistry and leadership abilities have the team playing at a sub-.400 clip.

So those are two valuable roster spots taken up by players who are playing like AAA fodder.

Speaking of fodder, Ryan Rowland-Smith is crapping the bed once again tonight. I had high hopes for RRS. He's kinda like a bad Jarrod Washburn. That's not a recipe for a good pitcher but a soft-tossing lefty with flyball tendencies can definitely succeed in Safeco Field with Guti and Ichiro in center and right. But wow RRS has been awful. His strikeouts are down, walks and line drives are way up.

Another pitcher who's giving up a lot of hard hits is David Aardsma. D.A. threw up some flashy numbers last season thanks to some luck and a very lively fastball. So far in 2010 he's regressed a lot. David's giving home runs at thrice the rate he was last season and has blown a couple save opportunities in horrific fashion. This is a troubling trend worth watching since the rest of the bullpen hasn't been very good either.

These are only a few of the problems that will lead the M's to missing the playoffs once again. A season that a couple months ago that was so full of optimism is quickly disintegrating into something that resembles 2008.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Mariners Rebound Nicely in Week 2

Four straight wins sandwiched in between a pair of losses have the M's at 6-7 for the season. It's not great but the team is slowly righting itself.

After a tough loss to Oakland on Monday the Seattle Mariners rebounded to take the final two contests and win their first series of the young season. The second game was Milton Bradley's coming out party. In the eighth inning with two on and both teams scoreless Bradley timed a 2-0 inside fastball to perfection, slamming it into the right field bleachers and giving the M's a 3-0 victory. Doug Fister earned his first win of the year by scoring eight scoreless frames.

Wednesday's game, while not as memorable, was another win for Seattle as Milton and Franklin Gutierrez continued to provide most of the Mariners offense.

Friday was Jackie Robinson Day in Seattle as well as Ken Griffey Jr. Bobblehead Day and Felix Day. The M's got the weekend started in style with a season-high eleven runs. Granted there was only one extra-base hit and the offense was aided by a trio of Tiger errors... but still, the team will take it.

Detroit and Seattle split the other two games in the series, the M's earning a win against Justin Verlander and the Tigers pouncing on a struggling Ian Snell.

Quick hits:

* Rob Johnson has done a fine job of drawing walks at the plate. Good to see this offensively-challenged player making the opposing pitcher work. Of course Rob's still making his own pitchers work, what with all the passed balls...

* The ball jumps off Milton Bradley's bat. It's not as apparent as when a player like Albert Pujols or Jason Heyward squares one up but Milton's a very, very good batter.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Bad Debut for the 2010 Seattle Mariners

The first week of the baseball season is wrapping up and the Seattle Mariners did not get the fast start they were looking for. The team played everyday since Monday and managed a merely 21 runs, dropping five of its seven games. Only the upstart Orioles and all-around terrible Astros have a worse record coming out the gate. It's awfully early in the season but every game matters in what will likely be a tight AL West division.

Some quick points about the team:

* Ken Griffey Jr. looks really awful at the plate. His bat is so slow. Father Time is winning this battle. Plus his presence on the roster really hampers how flexibility the bench can be.

* Looks like the bullpen is regressing to its true talent. Sadly, the starters are playing to their true talent.

* The Mariners are definitely emphasizing speed on the basepaths. It hasn't always paid off so far but it's a positive development in my opinion. The M's are going to have to generate offense and might as well utilize one of their best assets.

* Franklin Gutierrez made a couple of fantastic catches this week including this amazing grab on Saturday that might have saved the game. If his bat keeps improving like it's showing... Matt Kemp, watch out.

* Adam Moore had two catcher's interference calls against him this afternoon. WTF? Stop molesting the batters Moore.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Grading the Mariners Offseason

It's been almost two years since the Seattle Mariners had such a drastic offseason. Coming off an 85-win season (following a disastrous 101-loss campaign) the M's look primed to take a balanced AL West for the first time since 2001. Jack Zduriencik and Co. certainly took it upon themselves to radically transform the roster in such a short time.

Let's take a closer look at the notable moves the Mariners made during this winter and spring.

C Kenji Johjima filed for free agency (A)
Kenji clearly fell out of favor with the Mariners pitching staff and his returning to Japan does a huge favor for Seattle's payroll, shedding about $8M from the 2010 roster. Of course, whether the M's gave Kenji a few million on the back end, we'll never know for sure. Johjima had a great debut with Seattle (homering in his MLB debut) but it's time to move on with Rob Johnson and Adam Moore.

Signed free agent 3B Chone Figgins (B+)
Seattle made the first big splash of the Hot Stove season by signing away a marquee player from its division rival. Chone stands to earn $36M over the next four years with a vesting option for 2014. He's a high-average hitter with good speed and is versatile enough with the glove to play all around the field. His defense should translate well with the move to second base and help form perhaps the strongest up the middle defense in the majors alongside SS Jack Wilson and Franklin Gutierrez manning center field. Figgins is an ideal player for Safeco Field who's locked up to a very reasonable deal and likely to remain productive throughout his contract.

Traded RHP J.C. Ramirez, RHP Phillippe Aumont and CF Tyson Gillies for LHP Cliff Lee (A+)
Welcome to Boner Land. If the Mariners one day erect a statue of Jack Zduriencik this trade will likely be one of the cornerstones for such a honor.

Seattle acquired one of the best pitchers in baseball for 1) a solid pitching prospect who's a couple years away, 2) another pitcher with great potential but who might end up in the bullpen and 3) a good hitter with inflated numbers from the Cal League.

Lee's acquisition immediately raised not only Seattle's national profile (it was without question the most talked about team this offseason) but greatly increased its chances of reaching the playoffs. Anytime you can add a 5-win pitcher you gotta do it. Spring injuries will dampen Cliff's impact early on in the season, but assuming he returns healthy he'll allow the M's to have the league's best 1-2 pitching combo and greatly improve the depth of the pitching staff.

If the Mariners collapse early on they can trade Lee before the deadline and recoup some value. If Lee leaves after the season Seattle will receive two first-round compensation picks. It's a win-win situation.

Signed free agent LF Ryan Langerhans (B-)
The team let go then brought back Langerhans, a player with limited offensive punch but who's a whiz with the glove. Having him on the bench gives the M's a fourth outfielder option for a low cost.

Traded RHP Carlos Silva for RF Milton Bradley (B-)
After the money exchanged this transaction boils down to Seattle essentially cutting Silva and signing Bradley to a 2-year/$6 million contract.

But Silva is an absolute sinkhole who's not even a decent MLB player at this point. In fact, he arrived into Cubs training camp out of shape and is still a terrible pitch-to-contact hurler with no discernible talent. It' says a lot about Chicago that they're willing to plug him into the starting rotation.

As for Milton AKA the self-professed "Kanye West of baseball" he's a very talented hitter with a high perchance for injuries and... err, bouts of rage. But if I'm a playoff contender I'd rather have a player with a decent chance of contributing than someone who sucks. Milton is a lot of things, and one of them is a talented ballplayer. If the M's can squeeze some production (a somewhat big if) out of him then it'll be a nice boost to a lackluster offense.

Traded RHP Brandon Morrow for RHP Brandon League and OF Johermyn Chavez (C)
I'm not entirely unconvinced this wasn't a part of gentleman's agreement to finish off the Cliff Lee trade. Either way the M's finally give up on Morrow, a pitcher who's definitely got electric stuff and maybe has the stamina to start. His career in Seattle was a roller coaster ride of tremendous highs and dizzying lows. League is a decent relief arm with upside and Chavez is a long shot prospect. Personally I think Toronto won the trade.

Signed free agent C Josh Bard (C-)
Don't expect him to play much behind Johnson and Moore. In fat, no team should really bother too much about the emergency third catcher.

Traded 3B Bill Hall for 1B Casey Kotchman (C+)
Kotchman has the unenviable task of replacing Russell Branyan's production at first base. He certainly won't slam 31 home runs (or even half that) but he is an interesting lefty bat and a great glove. I like Hall's versatile glove but the M's filled their biggest positional hole with this deal.

Signed free agent LF Eric Byrnes (B)
Seattle is only on the hook for $400K of Eric's $11M salary. If healthy Byrnes is an exciting sparkplug who'll see some playing time in left and DH. If Eric struggles like he did the past couple years with Arizona then Seattle can cut him loose and move on. Very low risk, medium-reward acquisition.

Signed free agent LHP Erik Bedard (B-)
Would you rather pay Bedard $1.5M with incentives, Rich Harden $7.5M with incentives or $10M for Ben Sheets. Erik, with his notorious injury history, will probably pitch the least effective of the trio (he's out until around June) but he very well might give his team the best bang for the buck.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Thought of Larry Brown Running and Coaching the Clippers Makes Me All Tingly

So the Los Angeles Clippers finally severed ties with Mike Dunleavy last night. Severed is the right word since, well, that's how the Clips describe it on their own press release.

ESPN LA's Ramona Shelburne hits it right on the nose: this was a message to Clippers fans. Yes, we've heard your complaints. Please don't leave us.

I've been attending Clippers games for a few years and the venom for Dunleavy was palpable. During last year's home finale (where the Clips were trounced by 41 points) he earned two quick technicals and got the hell out of Dodge City. Well, the fans didn't take this kindly and showered the arena with boos -- all directed toward the coward Dunleavy. It was a season's worth of angst for a man who didn't do nearly enough to deserve the power he held.

But now the dust settles on another lackluster season the question remain: what will the front office and coaching staff look like next year? Interim GM Neil Oshley and interim head coach Kim Hughes (who took over for Dunleavy last month) are no guarantees to return.

SI's Frank Hughes brings up an intriguing candidate to both jobs. Larry Brown has supposedly inquired about running the franchise. With the Charlotte Bobcats bringing in a new ownership group perhaps Brown sees the writing on the wall (even with UNC great Michael Jordan on board) and wishes to return to LA where he coached the Clippers to the playoffs in '92 and '93. The Browns also own a home in Malibu and his wife wishes to return to LA.

I've previously written about my fondness for Larry Brown. He's obviously an amazing coach and a bit of diva. EXACTLY what the Clips need. Excellence and pizazz. If Brown chooses to come back to the west coast he would inherent an intriguing team. Chris Kaman, (a hopefully healthy) Blake Griffin, Eric Gordon and Baron Davis form a solid nucleus. The Clips could overpay for Rudy Gay or draft Kentucky's Patrick Patterson to fill the hole at small forward. Or perhaps could the lure of playing in LA for Larry Brown but enough to entice one LeBron James? Probably not, but even without LeBron this team on paper is good enough to make the playoffs.

It's interesting that Brown is the one who took the initiative and reached out for the Clippers gig. Larry is notorious for being a nomadic coach who switches teams every few years. Perhaps he's going going, back back, to Cali Cali. And that would be B.I.G.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

A Quick Thought on Donald Fehr

Thank goodness baseball is here. And while there will be plenty written about players and teams throughout the next several months (hell, even I might muster the strength to write about the Mariners once in a while) I've been thinking about something, or rather someone who was instrumental off the diamond.

This is the first full season since 1984 where Donald Fehr will not be the executive director of the MLBPA. And while his tenure was far from perfect (1994 strike comes to mind) no one can say he didn't excel at his job. Here are some of the benefits Fehr negotiated for his union:

* fully guaranteed salary
* $400,000 minimum league salary
* no salary restrictions on amateur and international drafts
* no salary or yearly restrictions on player salary
* no hard salary cap
* no steroid testing until the early-2000s

NBA and NFL players are scratching and clawing for whatever leverage they can gain in the face of looming work stoppages. Meanwhile baseball players flourished under Fehr's reign. Maybe he didn't always do things in the best interest of baseball but you can't knock the man for not doing his job.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Sweet Win for Trojans on Valentine's Day

USC completed a season sweep against rival UCLA on Valentine's Day -- but it wasn't easy. While the game last month at Pauley Pavilion was a 21-point blowout this contest went down to the final minute, with the Trojans eeking out a 68-64 win.

Donte Smith came off the bench and energized the crowd with a pair of three point buckets, Dwight Lewis finished with 23 points and Mike Gerrity make key free throws down the stretch.

Marcus Johnson performed well on the defensive end for USC. He finished with five steals including one at half court that finished with a thunderous two-hand dunk that gave the Trojans momentum in the final minutes.

Michael Roll was the biggest contributor for the Bruins, nailing 4 of 10 shots from beyond the arc and finishing with a team-high 21 points. UCLA shot less than 40% but stayed in the game by outrebounding USC by a 36-23 margin.

USC managed to lead by three by halftime. It came employing a full court press starting the second period and maintained it the rest of the way. This was the true game changer. The Bruins' lack of a true point guard really cost them as the pressure resulted in multiple turnovers early and often. For the contest UCLA was picked 11 times and had 20 turnovers overall.

But USC did its best to give away the game late, first by carelessly throwing the ball (including an ill-advised alley-oop attempt) and giving UCLA extra possessions. The Bruins managed to get within four with less four minutes to go before Johnson's memorable steal and dunk.

Then Trojans inexplicably fouled the Bruins late four times in the final forty seconds, including on a three-point attempt. It looked like UCLA for life but it was only for a moment.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

At Least Get the Right Picture

Does this big black dude look like a "Nikola Vucevic" to you? If you said no, congratulations you're correct. That's actually Alex Stepheson. Why WeAreSC chose that picture to portray the Trojans' win over the Stanford Cardinal is beyond me.

If you actually click on the column Stepheson is not even mentioned in the game recap.

Well, I guess with USC athletics something's always bizarro; whether it's weird recap pictures, recruiting thirteen year olds or preparing for NCAA sanctions.

Monday, January 18, 2010

USC Football Toes Line with Talent, Trouble

What a tumultuous week for the Trojans football program. First Pete Carroll left the team after a spectacular nine-year career to lead the Seattle Seahawks. The timing couldn't have been worse for the Trojans. On the field they recently limped to a 9-4 record for the season, which is the worst finish since Carroll's first year in Cardinal and Gold back in 2001. A slew of underclassmen (Stafon Johnson, Everson Griffen, Joe McKnight) were already leaving the program and incoming recruits were left wondering what the hell was happening. And of course, there was the little problem with Joe McKnight's SUV situation and the looming sanctions for the football program regarding Reggie Bush and a general lack of institutional control.

USC quickly nabbed former USC offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin from Tennessee to lead the team. Lane brings with him an unimpressive record at the Oakland Raiders and Vols as well as a reputation for minor recruiting violations and running his mouth. But he's also only 34 (the youngest head coach in FBS Subdivision) and brings an All-Star coaching staff led by his father Monte Kiffin and recruiting coordinator (and former USC assistant coach) Ed Orgeron.

It appears the Trojans will retain most of its players and swagger. By making this hire Mike Garrett is clearly enamored with prolonging the Carroll era with one of Pete's disciples. Carroll amassed a 97-19 record but also earned a reputation for running a loose program.

Lane Kiffin represents the price of winning in college football. He's a rainbow and a rainy day.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Trojans Victory Ruined by Self-Imposed Sanctions

USC 47, Arizona State 37

The recipe is clear. Tenacious defense and a deliberate offensive is Kevin O'Neill's blueprint for success. So far it's working for the Trojans. USC defeated Arizona State to improve to 2-0 in Pac-10 play and extend its win streak to eight games. It was a brutal match with only 26 made field goals and 25 turnovers.

I wrote the above last night when starting a post about last night's game. Alas, all of the team's effort (yesterday and going forward) will provide no payoff in March. Today Athletic Director Mike Garrett announced self-imposed sanctions against the men's basketball team. The penalties are as follows:

* one-year post-season ban for the 2009-2010 season
* reduction of one scholarship for 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 seasons
* reduction of one coach who can recruit off-campus during the summer of 2010
* reduction of recruiting days during the 2010-2011 season

Clearly the first penalty is the most severe and pertinent for this season. What a shame that O.J. Mayo fiasco is coming back to hurt this head coach and these group of players. Further shame should be dealt to Garrett, who panicked in (basically) firing Tim Floyd and quickly levying these sanctions about the basketball program in hopes of steering attention away from the corrupt USC football team.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Trojans Hold Off Wilcats in Pac-10 Opener to Continue Hot Streak

USC 56, Arizona 50

USC basketball makes me feel differently than USC football. That is to say Kevin O'Neill's undermanned but tough-as-nails team brings me joy while Pete Carroll's underachieving, arrogant group of rule breakers leave me frustrated.

Now that football season is over (at least for USC after its unimpressive win in the Emerald Bowl) I can now concentrate on basketball. The Trojans have been one of the big surprises of the college basketball season. After struggling in the first eight games (including tough matchups at Texas, at Georgia Tech) USC was 4-4 and all the prognosticators that picked the Trojans to finish ninth in conference looked line geniuses. Following Tim Floyd's abrupt resignation following allegations of paying O.J. Mayo the Trojan program suffered an exodus of talent. Taj Gibson, Daniel Hackett and DeMar DeRozan all bolted early to the pros. USC also lost at least four recruits, including three (Lamont Jones, Solomon Hill and Derrick Williams) to Arizona.

But USC received a boost when Charlotte PG transfer Mike Gerrity and suspended forward Leonard Washington were allowed to play.

Washington brought some much needed depth to a squad that only has a single freshman on scholarship. But it was Gerrity who instantly fixed USC's ballhandling issues. He led the Trojans to an upset win over Tennessee. And since Mike's arrival the Trojans are undefeated, winning the inaugural Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii (including wins against St. Mary's and UNLV) followed by Thursday's victory.

Currently USC's RPI ranges in the 40's and the Trojans are on pace to reach the NCAA tournament, a monumental turnaround for a program that was in disarray only a month ago.