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.

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