Sunday, November 30, 2008

Coaching Matters

There are hard reminders that coaching, in fact, matters. Witness, for example, tonight's embarrassment of the Chicago Bears in Minneapolis. In particular, witness a first and goal from inside the two play call following a long Matt Forte scamper that involved a play action pass to the right side and a third and goal play call from the half yard line that could have been predicted by anyone who pays any attention to the Bears season thus far: fullback dive. Or, witness the defensive play calling -- in particular, a third and four, where the front eight sell out, but the design is for the defensive ends to stunt inside (with one of the defensive ends being the extremely non-speedy Israel Idonije). Or witness a team that had penalties called for an illegal formation and twelve men on the field during key moments of the game.

And then, of course, there are bittersweet reminders that coaching matters, today exemplified by the matchup of JTIII's Hoyas versus Gary Williams' Terps in the third place game of the Old Spice Classic. Thompson's Georgetown simply demolished the Univeristy of Maryland early tonight and the twenty-seven point margin of victory leaves the false impression that the game was much closer than it actually was. Here, JTIII spent his time telling a sideline reporter that, regardless of a significant lead at the end of the first half, Gtown needed to improve on rebounding and that the key was improving and getting better for later on in the season, while Gary Williams screamed obscenities at his players and the referees (earning a technical that should have been called much, much earlier in the game). Georgetown and Maryland will not meet during the regular season not just because the Hoyas would win four out of every five games, but because Georgetown, for the foreseeable future, simply outclasses Maryland in nearly every aspect of a basketball game. And that cannot be good for recruiting in College Park.

Finally, there are those unequivocally sweet reminders that coaching matters, most recently demonstrated to me by Sasho Cirvoski in Saturday's 2-1 revenge win over Cal in the third round of the NCAA Tournament. When the season began, I had a tough time understanding why Jeremy Hall was starting at left wing while Rodney Wallace wallowed at left back. Wallace, I thought, was more dynamic, more dangerous on the ball and a more potent threat to score. I was wrong. Maryland's second goal, the one that would end up proving to be the game winner, was a thing of majestic beauty -- a high shot that looked cursed to find its way towards the Crew in the stands behind goal that, instead, dipped sharply into the net. Hall placed the ball beautifully and sent yet another warning of the dangers of leaving him any space near the goal box -- Jeremy's amassed seven goals in his last ten games and validated all of the faith that Cirvoski has showed in him throughout the season. Maryland will have to beat Creighton at home next Saturday in order to advance to the final four.

Quick facts about the tournament: The elite eight features three ACC teams (Maryland, North Carolina, and 2007 Champion Wake Forest), two Big Ten teams (Northwestern and Indiana), two Big East teams (South Florida and St. John's) and Creighton. Three of the four fourth round matches will be hosted by the ACC teams left, while the fourth will be played on St. John's campus. The three highest seeds have all survived to the Elite Eight (Wake Forest, St. John's, and Maryland, respectively), as did the six, seven, and eight seeds (Indiana, Creighton, and South Florida, respectively), but one of the final four will be either thirteenth-seeded North Carolina or unseeded Northwestern, which took out fifth-seeded Akron, twelfth-seeded Notre Dame and unseeded Loyola (Ill.) to advance to the fourth round.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


There is something beautiful about the fact that all three of the professional sports teams that I follow in the winter are horrible. I caught portions of both the Lakers and Blazers games lost by the Bulls earlier this week and, wow. Derrick Rose is phenomenal. The rest of the team, not so much. The Bears played to the depths of how bad they are against the Packers, embarrassing Chicago in epic fashion. Nothing, however, can quite match Charlton Athletic in terms of futility: finally, Pardew Out!

But that's ok. Because Georgetown's season has begun and they are a fascinating team. Three freshmen saw substantial playing time in today's blowout win over Drexel. Only two of the major contributors to the team are upperclassmen (Jessie Sapp, senior; DaJuan Summers, junior), making it very difficult to imagine what the team's ceiling will be this year. In two games this season, Greg Monroe has been, by far, the best player on the court. But fellow freshmen (and local recruits) Henry Sims and Jason Clark have also been impressive. The two sophomore guards, Chris Wright and Austin Freeman seem to offer more potential than what they currently display on the court and may improve significantly as the season winds on. With what appears to be a solid seven player rotation, JTIII will nevertheless have to get something out of Julian Vaughn, Nikita Mescheriakov, and Omar Wattad, but that might not be possible and Wattad, in particular, has been overmatched and outclassed against Jacksonville and Drexel.

Regardless of how the season unfolds, this certainly an entertaining team to watch. The Hoyas will face their first major test at the Old Spice Classic on Thanksgiving Day with a game against Wichita State. The mini-tournament also features our local Terps, Gonzaga, Siena, Michigan State, Tennessee, and Oklahoma State, of which Gtown will play against two in addition to Wichita State. Agreeing to participate in the Classic explains why, outside of Memphis home and Duke away, the Hoyas' non-conference schedule lacks compelling match ups (Drexel, Savannah State, Mount St. Mary's, Florida International University, Jacksonville, and American do not exactly constitute must see basketball).

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Sun-Times' Obligatory Idiot Version 1.2

Although back in Chicago, I did not insist on exposing my infant child to the onset of early winter at Soldier Field today and instead took in the Titans-Bears match on television with family.

This is a very bad Bears team. And little of that conclusion is due to the actual players, who are, as a general matter, as talented as any of the players that they line up against. Instead, the poor performance -- exemplified again today -- appears to be the result of a stubborn coaching staff on both sides of the ball that refuses to make adjustments in response to in-game developments or to take responsibility for its own debacles. Yet again, Babich/Smith's pass rush failed to have any impact... every time Collins dropped back he had four to five seconds before even a hint of pressure was applied by the defensive line. Yet again, the inability of the defensive side to adjust led to absurd numbers posted by a subpar quarterback.

On the other side of the ball, more of the same. It looked as if Rex had one opportunity to make a throw that he is comfortable and competent at, a pass he overthrew to Devin Hester by three steps. Other than that, Grossman was repeatedly asked to make throws that are not within his wheelhouse, largely because they are the plays that Ron Turner likes to call. A horizontal passing game, versus the vertical game that Grossman has proven himself in the past to be adept at, was just a silly, bizarre approach largely responsive to Grossman's shaken confidence after the staff failed to challenge the play that resulted in Rex's sole turnover (and should have been reversed).

But I am less disappointed in the Bears' performance than I am in the mind-numbing continued idiocy of Chicago's sportswriters. The Tribune and Sun-Times reward peevish, small-minded, inflammatory commentary from their columnists in the same way that the Republican party now encourages willfully ignorant, mean-spirited, affected folksiness. Greg Couch's rant pinning blame principally on Rex Grossman for today's loss is fairly representative of the new genre. My bookshelf at home is replete with the works and compilations of great Chicago sportswriters who augmented my love of sports in the city as a child. Now, in the new vein of insufferable judgmental morons like Skip Bayless and Jay Mariotti, I am treated to analysis like that proferred by Couch when simply trying to read about how the coaching staff absolved itself of blame from yet another loss. Focusing on Grossman as the locus for the Titans' win is roughly equivalent to blaming Josh Brolin for how the film "American Gangster" ended up becoming a derivative piece of gangster-genre-film fluff destined to be ignored and forgotten (perhaps this is too forced, but when I think of this year's Bears team, I think of disappointment, and when I think of disappointment, I think of Ridley Scott's "American Gangster"). Gee, Greg, do you think that after Grossman completed the nine-yard pass to Olsen to begin the last drive, he then overruled Turner and called an off-right tackle run for Forte, seeking to run time off the clock rather than secure the tying score? Perhaps Grossman's inability to pressure Kerry Collins explains the 30-41, 289 yard, 2 touchdown performance from the 36-year old quarterback who came into the game having thrown three touchdowns in seven previous starts and who's previous best performance this season amounted to a 199-yard passing effort? And it was Hester's returns and not Maynard's punting (or Turner's playcalling?) that put the Bears' in poor field position throughout the game?

By no stretch of the imagination did Rex have a good game, but singling him out for criticism is stupid, unfair, and cynically intended to incite fans against a player who has already proved his mettle and worth by saving the Bears from a truly embarrassing loss to the Lions at home last week. I don't know what it is going to take to get good sportswriters back to becoming the rule and not the exception in this town, but surely the first step is booting every blowhard angling for face time on ESPN outside city limits.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


I missed a trip to Chicago earlier today, thereby missing my first trip to the United Center and a fairly impressive win by the Bulls tonight over the Suns. To augment the harm, I also missed Maryland's last regular season home game, their eighth consecutive win, beating the Tar Heels 2 to 1 and secure a #2 seed for the ACC tournament because I was sitting at my office until 10:30 this evening.

Life rolls on...

And this thing happened on Tuesday and I am having some difficulty shaking the effects. Thousands of people from around the world have written some pretty amazing things about what this year's Presidential election meant to them or to the country/world generally. Any comments I might have are undoubtedly derivative and certainly not any more interesting. But at the same time, it meant something to me. As the returns rolled in, I came to the realization that I was more excited about this than the prospect of the Cubs winning the World Series (which is how it should be, of course) and that when Wednesday rolled around this country would be different.

Since a young boy, I've been told that you can make yourself into anything you want to, in this country of endless opportunity. I believed in that shared myth more strongly than I believed in what I was taught each Sunday at mass -- I believed it so much, I won some ridiculous essay contest for my school district in the seventh grade on what the American flag meant to me. And then an experienced reality challenged the idyllic view of what was possible -- la migra stopping me so frequently that I have carried my passport every day from when I was thirteen years old until earlier this year; stuck in remedial classes as a freshman in high school despite being an honors student in junior high because, well, I don't know why; had my achievements in high school and community college that got me into a great college at the age of 16 wiped away by teachers telling me that any admission must be chalked up to affirmative action. Nevertheless, throughout, my faith in the country did not crack, and in two decades I have been able to take advantage of all the opportunities that have been there to take. For me, the promise of the American dream has been unquestionably realized, from the barrio to solid middle class in one generation.

But I've never been wholly convinced that my experience was not aberrational. That somehow or other I slipped through a net that ensnares almost everyone else in the same circumstances. But Tuesday night, while weeping reading the accounts of others as to what the election meant to them, I looked over at my sister who sat next to my wife, and I thought of my daughter and those doubts washed away. This is the country I have always believed in. This is the country that draws people to its shores despite great peril to those who seek to make the sojourn. This is the country that burns the dangerous light of hope in the hearts and minds of those that have little else.