Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Sweet Music by Ronnie, Milsap

The second year of an NBA career often produces what is called the "sophomore slump" in many players. Fortunately for the Jazz, their two sophomores, Ronnie Brewer and Paul Milsap, led Utah to an exciting 103-101 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers Wednesday night.

Brewer and Milsap are off to great starts in their second seasons, quickly dispelling the notion of a sophomore slump. Brewer is perhaps the biggest surprise and after 5 games is averaging 16 points per game, shooting 60% from the field, and contributing big on defense with just over 3 steals per game. Quite the contrast to his rookie season when he only appeared in 56 games and scored just over 4 points per game. For Milsap, it was a career high in scoring with 24 points, raising his season average to over 11 per game (compared to 5.9 in his rookie year).

You have to credit the Cavaliers for hanging around and staying in the game. You can't argue with the fact that they just didn't play their best game. They were out-shot, out-rebounded, and out hustled for most of the night. However some big shots down the stretch from the perimeter kept them in the game. When Lebron hit a huge 3-pointer with 6 seconds left to tie the game, it seemed like the Cavs where going to win a game they had no business winning. Then a quick inbounds pass caught the Cavs defense relaxing, and Deron Williams drove the length of the court for the winning lay-up with just over one second remaining.

Related Reading: A pretty good Cleveland Cavaliers blog can be found at the MVN.

Quick Shots:
  • While Brewer and Milsap stole the show, Boozer and Williams still put up some good numbers. Boozer produced 23 points and 12 rebounds, and Williams posted 15 points and 12 assists. To be fair Williams did have 8 turnovers as he seemed a little out of sync at times and forced a few bad passes.
  • One myth is melting away - and that is that old school Jerry Sloan doesn't play young guys. Milsap and Brewer are both making major contributions in their second year, and you have to credit Sloan for building maturity beyond their years in Boozer and Williams. Maybe a more accurate statement is that Sloan doesn't play young players - if they aren't good enough yet.
  • At 3-2, the Jazz are off to a solid start. Given that all 5 games have been against NBA playoff teams from last year.
  • The Jazz entered this game leading the NBA in scoring with an average of 113 points per game. It's a wonder what playing the defenseless Golden St. Warriors two times can do for you.
Up Next: The Jazz travel to Seattle Friday night for their first view of top rookie Kevin Durant. To learn more about the Sonics, read one of the best NBA blogs on the web: SuperSonicSoul - where you'll find some great stats and writing. The Sonics may stink, but this blog does not!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

A-Rod, The Jazz, and JC Penney

A few things of note this week. Some are obvious tops, like Alex Rodriguez or the Utah Jazz, but I certainly didn't start the week thinking about JC Penney. A-Rod opted out and I read an amazing stat that is hard to believe, the Jazz kicked off the 2007-08 season, and I bumped into one of the funniest things I've read on the web in many weeks.

To begin, I'm a Yankee fan. I've also been an A-Rod fan, feeling for the most part that the media and fans are doing the same ole, build somebody up, and then tear them down when they fail to live up to the unreal hype. I knew A-Rod was likely to opt-out of his contract, though the Yankee fan part of me wanted him to stay, under the condition he'd let the Yankee's extend his current contract. I understand the business decision he and his agent made to opt-out, but the way they did it has caused me to officially jump off the A-Rod bandwagon. For his agent to leak the story to the national media during the World Series was a selfish and classless move. To top it off, he did so prior to telling the Yankees of their decision. I hope the Yankee management sticks to their pledge to not negotiate any further and use their massive amounts of money to pursue pitching and younger players. As for A-Rod and Boras, I doubt they'll get the wish list they've created: $300 Million, a roster spot with a legitimate pennant contender, and a team where A-Rod can play shortstop. I think I'd prefer to quote that old Saturday Night Live skit with the flight attendants and tell A-Rod, "Buh-Bye". (related link of interest: The New York Times blog shares an A-Rod stat that is hard to believe.)

As for the Jazz, I'll analyze them deeper as time goes on, but I think at this point it's fair to quickly comment on expectations for the season. I think the National media for the most part is correct, the Jazz will have a tough time cracking the top 4 in the Western Conference. Here in Salt Lake City however, I think many people are expecting the team to get close to 60 wins and make another run to the Western Conference finals. I expect the Jazz to be better than they were last season, probably in the 52-56 win range and battle with Denver for the division title. The playoffs however will be very challenging in the West, so I think the Jazz are a probably another year away from being one of the best teams in the conference.

It's not sports related, but....Last mumble for today is about that JC Penney catalog review - that I'm sure many of you have heard about already. It's certainly not sports, but this article will definitely hit your funny bone. Why is a JC Penney catalog funny? Well, the fact that it's the 1977 JC Penney catalog is the main source of the humor.

Friday, September 30, 2005

The Truck That Ran Over UNC

The big red truck is rolling into Chapel Hill. On the side of the giant rig it reads the "“University of Utah Utes"”. What truck you ask? The big red one that ran over the UNC Tar Heels last season 46-16 and left the Tar Heels wounded and wondering "“Did anyone see the name on the truck that hit us?" Truth be known, this season'’s version of the big red truck is hardly the same as the one led by Alex Smith and Urban Meyer last season. In fact, UNC looks to be a better team than the squad that was bombed at Rice Eccles last season and Utah looks to be dangerous but doesn'’t seem to be capable of the same type of demolition.

Big Rig

The Tar Heels are solid where it matters most and the result is optimism abound. On offense they are getting big plays out of new starting quarterback, senior Matt Baker, and feature a dangerous tailback Barrington Edwards who is coming off a career high 129 yards. Perhaps the strength of their team is found in the trenches, with their offensive and defensive lines, two areas where they were dominated last season by the Utes. The Tar Heels, playing at home, are feeling confident and wanting to avenge last season'’s embarrassment.

In fact, revenge is sounding like the big motivator for UNC.

"They kept their foot on our throat," linebacker Tommy Richardson. "Even though they were in control of the game, they were passing a lot and running trick plays. I'm looking forward to this game."

"This team's always going to have fighters on it," wide receiver Jesse Holley says. "The head coach is a fighter, and he recruits fighters. This game with Utah is personal and it means something. We want to get back to .500. And we owe them."

University of North Carolina Tar Heels Full Size Replica Riddell Helmet

Not wanting to burst the Carolina revenge bubble, but the spread offense doesn'’t just become "“un-spread"” because you have a lead. Utah was able to play many players off it'’s bench in the thrashing of Tar Heels last year and they could have run it up, which they did not. In fact the 46 points Utah scored last year was pretty much a typical scoring night for the high powered Utes who averaged 45.3 points per game last year. It even could be argued that Utah did in some way call off the dogs as the offense didn'’t score in the final 12 and half minutes. In fact, in only one other home game (Texas A&M) did Utah score fewer points (41). It is true that Utah set a UNC record for most yards allowed to an opponent of 669. UNC'’s offense was just as bad as their defense as they only mustered 221 yards. Was it Utah'’s fault that the ACC team probably over-looked the Utes? Was it Utah'’s fault that the ‘Heels probably thought the Ute offense was a gimmicky and finesse system prior to the game? Of course not on both counts. So apparantely it must be Utah'’s fault that they physically dominated the Tar Heels in a game in which 9 Tar Heels were injured and didn'’t let their opponent feel as though they had a chance. Memo to the Tar Heels, "“You were nothing special, the Utes destroyed every opponent last year." ” Actually some of the blame for last season's result could be shouldered by the UNC. If I remember correctly the Tar Heels had three players suspended for marijuana use the week of the Utah game, including a top receiver and a key defender.

So now forgetting the past, this year'’s Utes must show some toughness on the road. It would seem that Vegas believes Utah isn'’t ready to do that and has established UNC as a 3 ½ point favorite. To be honest, most of the talk is making this out to be a very tough game and not one that Utah will win.Utah Utes replica mini helme utah utes replica mini helme

How good is UNC? The Talk and The Truth

The Talk is that UNC has a strong and quick defense that has held up pretty well against some good competition. The Truth is that UNC is still giving up about 22 points per game, and while their opponents have been solid, none of them are offensive juggernauts (Georgia Tech, Wisconsin, NC State). Also, the supposedly improved defense has yet to make an interception in the first three games.

The Talk is that Matt Baker is a good QB and a great leader. The Truth is that he only has 4 TDs on the season and 5 Interceptions. He has made a couple big plays, including an 87-yard touchdown pass, but is still completing less than half his passes. Statistics show he is hardly the strenghth of their team.

The Talk is that UNC'’s offense is improved this season and starting to hit it'’s stride following a 31-24 victory over NC State. The Truth is that they are only averaging 19 points per game on the season and 9 of their 57 points were scored by their defense. Add to that another TD the offense scored after getting the ball inside the 5-yard line, and this low scoring team has had nearly 30% of their points resulting from their defense on the season.

Thinking about what will happen...

I think Utah is the probably the best team UNC has faced so far this season. If this game was in Salt Lake City, I'’d say Utah would win by 7-10 points. The fact this game is in North Carolina, and this Utah team hasn'’t yet cleared the road game hurdle, is what makes this game very close. You can argue that UNC is a faster team than Utah and better on the defensive line that the Utes, but you'’d have a hard time arguing the ‘Heels are better than Utah in any other area.

The Questions:

Can Utah limit UNC'’s running game better than they did at TCU this season?

Keeping UNC from grinding out long drives on their home field should be a key. Especially early on, as Utah'’s defense could get wore down late in the game if forced to stay on the field too much. Air Force also had similar rushing success early in the game against the Utes.

Can UNC mix it up enough on defense to confuse or slow down Brian Johnson?

TCU did this by getting Utah to expect blitzing, but then playing more zone coverage later in the game. Odds are that the same tactic won'’t work again against the quick learning Johnson. However, he hasn'’t been played enough to have seen it all yet. Also, if UNC can limit UtahÂ’s first down yardage and force the Utes to have 3rd and long, they will put a lot of pressure on the Johnson, as Utah hasn'’t excelled on 3rd down this season as they did last year.

The Outlook:

I think the odds makers have this game about right. I want to be wrong. But, I have a feeling that Utah will lose a close game in North Carolina. This will be Utah'’s first chance to surprise us this year and if they jumped up and bit the ‘Heels, it would be a huge step in the growth of this team. But, I'’m not sure they are ready for that step. I don'’t think they will walk away feeling like UNC was a better team, in fact, I'’d guess UNC won'’t even get the vindication they are seeking. The fact that this is a road game and not an easy trip on Utah will cause them to be less efficient than normal. Don't get me wrong, I don'’t expect Utah to make a lot of mistakes, but I think perhaps the big play will be missing this time around. UNC will run well enough to keep the tempo to their liking and eek out a victory 23-20.

Want to read more about the North Carolina Tar Heels? Visit the Tar Heel Blue website.

Want to know what a Tar Heel is? Here are two definitions I found:

(a) In the civil war a regiment from the state of North Carolina held their line while their foe retreated. Hence, they held the line like they had tar on theidefinition (this is probably the preferred defintion).

(b) An old derogatory term relating to areas of poverty in North Carolina. The people in the area were so poor they didn'’t have shoes and as a result had tar on their heels.

Incidently, The Daily Tarheel is also picking a narrow victory for boys in powder blue. You can read more about their projected 28-24 victory for the home team.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Utah facing the big WHAT IF

That quietness is hard to shake. The sizzle has cooled. The University of Utah and their 18 game winning streak are back to square one. They now say things like, "“You can'’t win them all"”. Oh sure, now you tell us. The fans where brought back to earth last week in a tough overtime loss to TCU. The Ute players and coaches are giving us other cliches like, "“We'’ll see what we are made of"” and "“It'’s important how we bounce back"”. The truth is the University of Utah hasn'’t had to bounce back from anything in almost two years. While we like to think they are resilient and will be ready to put up a big game in a crucial situation and against a quality opponent at a critical time, but we just don'’t know. That little inner battle of self confidence versus self doubt will be one of the most intriguing things to see tonight and the result will set the path for the rest of the season.

What we know so far:

TCU is a good team. Not a great team, but good. Them beating OU and Utah, two of the top five teams in the country last year, is a good accomplishment, but it doesn't mean quite as much as it sounds like it does. OU is down. Way down. Utah isn'’t unbeatable anymore either. And for the Frogs one loss, well SMU apparently isn'’t as awful as people think. Certainly SMU is now capable of standing up and winning if the opponent doesn'’t overlooks them and lays an egg, as TCU did in their lone loss on the year. TCU plays in BYU in Provo this week, so we'’ll have another chance to gauge them.

Utah should be unbeaten. Utah'’s loss to the Horned Frogs shouldn'’t have happened. It'’s true there were a couple bad calls that went against them, including the offensive pass interference that wasn'’t called on TCU on the winning touchdown in overtime. But, don'’t misunderstand, the referees weren'’t the cause of the loss. Utah had chances to win this game. Utah was up 17-7 in the 3rd quarter and instead of seizing the game, they let the Frogs stay in the game. Also, Utah had the ball at midfield with something like three minutes left in the game. Yet they didn'’t seize that opportunity either and ended up in an overtime game. You want to know what happens to road teams in overtime when they are playing in that hot humid Texas air? The same thing that happens to teams that come to Utah and try to battle out a close game at altitude. You begin to look a little tired and you lose your edge. Case in point - Utah'’s star running back Quinton Ganther developed cramps and wasnÂ’t there to be the hammer late in the game. Shoulda, coulda, woulda sums it all up. Last year, Utah simply DID.

Air Force can definately win this game tonight. Utah and Air Force have had battles in recent years. Sure Utah thumped them last year, but in years prior we'’ve seen triple overtime and close wins by both teams. Vegas says the Utes are favored by a touchdown. While that number is easy to rationalize and I could see a 37-27 score in favor of Utah, history says this game will be closer than that and come down to the final two or three minutes.

The big WHAT IF-

What happens to Utah if they lose? It would be the first time in 30 games that the Utes have lost two in a row. It would be two conference losses and make winning the conference outright pretty much impossible. In fact, it might make even sharing the conference title an extreme long-shot. Would the surge in popularity for the Utes be gone? The bandwagon, which has lost a few members already, would certainly have plenty of vacancy if Utah were to drop to 2-2. The young QB Brian Johnson who looks like he can be terrific, would have a large case of doubt cast into his promising career. Instead of being a rising program, a loss would further give credence to those people claiming the last two years as flukes and nothing more than the "“Urban effect"”.

Mumbling on the outcome:

No way Utah'’s defense stops the Falcon offense. I expect Air Force to score a minimum of 27 points and expect perhaps the mid-thirties. Utah must be efficient and avoid early turnovers. That seems to be a basic element to any game, but the key is early turnovers. If Utah comes out and scores a few times early, they will be able to survive some errors later in the game. If Air Force causes some blunders by Utah and gets an early lead, the whole game changes and the ground game will hurt Utah. Surely the game won'’t be over if the Utes go up early, but the style of the game will change to what Utah might prefer. Air Force, unlike past Falcon teams, is passing the ball fairly well. QB Shaun Carney is very elusive and tricky with the ball. His ability to throw off an option play brings new dangers to defending the Falcons. That said, these Falcons still do most of the damage on the ground and not in the air. Air Force is 13th in the nation in rushing yards per game at 258.

I was wrong predicting the outcome of last weekÂ’s game, so take this with a grain of salt. While I expect the Utes to serve the Falcons a big dose of Quinton Ganther, I also think they'’ll make a concerted effort to allow both QB Brian Johnson and WR Brent Casteel to make some big plays. Utah has a 9 game home winning streak and should win this game. I'’ll give in to history and go with a close score of 37-34 in favor of Utah.

Big Numbers in 1988

Scott Mitchell, set a then NCAA record, and still holds the Utah record with 631 yards passing in a game when Utah lost to Air Force in 1988. Why did they lose? In the same game, Air Force rolled up a whopping 640 yards rushing against Utah. Let those numbers sink in. Next time you see a running team go nuts for 450 yards, realize that is still about 200 yards short. Next time you see a big air show and the QB posts something like 450 yards, realize he isn'’t even close.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Nation’s 2nd longest winning streak in jeopardy

There is a little game day tension circulating in Salt Lake City. The Utes have knocked off 18 straight opponents. A streak that now extends into parts of three different seasons. Confidence is in the air, but today there is also something else. Tension. TCU’s victory over Oklahoma gave the Horned Frogs instant respect and has given everyone the impression that they will be conference contenders. Even though TCU wasted some of that respect with a loss to SMU the following week, their strong defense has people noticing.

The Utes are still favored to win, albeit narrowly, as Vegas has posted a 3 ½ point spread. The game will be televised nationally by ESPN and features a couple of great reasons to watch. First, Utah will try and push the nation’s 2nd longest winning streak to 19 games. USC is #1 and isn't expected to lose anytime in the near future. Second, this is TCU’s home opener and first ever game in the Mountain West Conference.

This is Utah’s first road game of the season and should be the toughest test thus far. Are the young guys ready to step up in a situation that is bound to present some adversity? Mainly, will Brian Johnson make the right decisions and help Utah’s offense be close to error free? Will Utah’s defense cause enough turnovers to keep TCU’s offense from breaking lose? This game actually has the feel of the New Mexico game last season. New Mexico was featuring a tough defense, the game was on ESPN, and everyone was wondering if Utah would be able to win a big road game. Utah answered the bell in a pretty physical game by winning 28-7. That game vaulted Utah to 6 straight games of scoring 45 or more points. Answering the challenge tonight could also vault this season’s Utes. However, what will happen to the young team and the bandwagon fans if things don’t go Utah’s way?

What will happen? I think Brian Johnson, who set a school record for efficiency in his last game by going 18-21 passing, will be solid and make enough big plays to keep the offense moving. Also, the Utes will actually test TCU’s defense. TCU’s defense is drawing praise for their performance the first two weeks, but I’m not sure we know how good they are. OU had no passing game and the Horned Frogs were able to stack the line of scrimmage to slow Adrian Peterson. SMU is better than in recent years, but also doesn’t possess a potent offense. Utah’s offense is much younger than last year, but is still explosive and features four big playmakers in Brian Johnson, Quinton Ganter (RB), Brent Casteel (RB/WR), and John Madsen (WR). TCU has the talent to win this, especially if QB Tye Gunn is able to play up to his reputation of a dangerous and poised leader. Turnovers will be a key as usual, but I would expect both teams will make a similar number of mistakes. I think this game will be close, but expect Utah to make just enough big plays to hold-on and keep the streak alive. Utah 23, TCU 16.

Mumbling about College Football and an Ex-Ute:

  • What is going on in Norman Oklahoma? The Sooners lost to TCU and didn’t play very well in beating Tulsa in week 2. This week OU is a 6 ½ point underdog at UCLA. How hard is it to get a QB when you have the national reputation the Sooners have? Apparently Jason White’s 12 years as QB left OU without the focus on recruiting for that position.
  • Urban Meyer is also in jeopardy of losing his first game in the last two years as Tennessee plays at Florida on Saturday. For all the nay-sayers who have said Urban’s spread offense was gimmicky and wouldn’t work against big time talent, this is a big week.
    Notre Dame isn’t crying over losing Urban Meyer. The Fighting Irish are coming off back to back wins under Charlie Wiess and draw Michigan State this week for a chance at 3-0.
  • From the “I wish you were here, and I bet you do too” category is Steve Savoy. Savoy was a big playmaker and all conference wide receiver for Utah last season. Savoy chose to go pro early, although the never was much of a press conference or explanation as to why he was making that decision. Savoy went undrafted and then made another bad choice by selecting Detroit as the team to attend camp with. Detroit featuring many young high draft selections at wideout was a dead end before he even go there. Savoy was cut and is not playing football on Sundays. Or Saturdays, or even Thursday nights on ESPN.