Monday, April 24, 2006

SEC Offseason Musings


Spring has been good to the Gators; the Basketball team just won a National Championship and the four super sophomores have decided to return for their junior season.   Donovan's crew will be a definite Top 5 pick next year considering they also have a pretty good recruiting class coming in as well.  On the football field, Urban's Meyer's first recruiting class was ranked #1 by many scout services.   The Gators should be the favorite in the SEC East this season.



The Bulldogs spring practice was much ado about the QB race that will continue into fall according to Mark Richt.   During the spring, Joe Tereshinki, Joe Cox, and Matthew Stafford were all vying for the starter position.  Nobody seemed to break away from the pack, but I would not be surprised at all to see True Freshman Stafford starting by mid-season.   The QB is the only thing holding UGA back from winning the SEC East again; it will be very to repeat with a brand new face at QB.  Basketball started off promising this season, but lagged to the finish.   Felton's has been improving each year the Dawgs should be able to compete for a NIT bid next year.



Spring means new beginnings and that is exactly what Phil Fulmer wanted in Knoxville. David Cutcliffe has returned to be the OC, a position he held during the Peyton Manning years.   The Vols lost a fair amount of talent that will need to be replaced on defense though.  They will be back in a bowl game this year, but I can't see and SEC East title without more stability at QB.   The basketball season ended in disappointment after such a strong regular season.  Bruce Pearl and his crew should be back next season in contention for another title.


South Carolina-

Spurrier's second season under the helm in Columbia should be another one filled with high expectations.   The Gamecocks have had another spring to digest Spurrier's offense, but the defense lost some key players especially in the backfield.  I think S. Carolina will be good for one large upset in conference, but just doesn't have the talent to compete for an East title yet.   The basketball won its second straight NIT Title and defeated National Champion Florida twice (and took them to a wire a third time).  NIT titles are great and all, but I am sure the fans would like to see Odom move into the NCAA next year.



The Wildcats will struggle again on the football.  On the hardwood, Tubby Smith endured his roughest season in Lexington and will lose his best player Rajon Rondo to boot.  Kentucky has not recruited at the same level it has in the past, so I think you may see some more seasons like the one this past year to come.  



They lost Jay Cutler so what else do you want me to say.  The Commodores will play teams tough at home only to lose in the fourth quarter.   The basketball got hot late in the season, but couldn't bring it over to the SEC Tournament. 



With Matt Flynn's play in the Peach Bowl and highly-touted Ryan Perriloux redshirting last year, the Tigers have a quite a QB controversy.   Last season's starter JaMarcus Russell will be fully healed come August, but may not be the starter.  It is a nice problem to have for a team that will be highly ranked come preseason.   If the Tigers can win 10 games in a season like this past one, bet on it happening again this coming season.  John Brady got his basketball team to the Elite 8 and now he wants to see the rewards for it.    Brady is one of the lower paid coaches in the SEC (but one of the best IMO).  He will lose forward Tyrus Thomas, but Glen Davis will return for another season.   The Tigers should be strong again this coming season.



The Tide is another school who will see a new face at QB this fall.  John Parker Wilson is the leading candidate serving as Brodie Croyle's understudy last year.   Alabama has to travel to LSU, Florida, and Tennessee this fall, but does get Auburn at home.  The Tide returns the majority of its basketball team intact from last season.   A brutal non-conference schedule along with injuries hindered the Tide team early on last year.  They should be competing for the SEC West this year.



Last season began and ended on sour notes for the Tigers.  Luckily, most of their starters of offense return from last season, including RB Kenny Irons.   Defensively, the line will have to repaired, but Auburn has recruited pretty well over the last couple of years.  The LSU game could very likely determine the winner of the West.   Jeff Lebo's basketball team is a couple of years for competing for the NCAA Tournament.



Houston Nutt endured his roughest season yet as head coach just two years after turning down Nebraska to stay in Fayetteville.   QB Mitch Mustain was widely-ranked as the top Prep QB in the nation last year and will be given every opportunity to grab the starting job.  The running backs are going to carry the load until then, but the Razorbacks have one the best sets of running back in the nation.   On the hardwood, Ronnie Brewer left for the NBA.  The Razorbacks will have to rely on their role players from this season and the incoming class to make it back to the Tournament.


Ole Miss-

Ed Ogeron will not fail at Ole Miss due to a lack of effort.  One of the best recruiting classes in school history was bolstered when former Tennessee backup Brent Scheaffer joined the Rebels.  Still, Ole Miss doesn't have the depth of the top tier teams in the West.  They, like South Carolina , are a couple of years away from competing for a conference title.  In basketball, the Rebels faded fast down the stretch.  Right now, the future doesn't look bright in Oxford.


Miss St-

Sylvester Croom is through the honeymoon stage and now it is time to produce some results.  Recruiting has not gone as well as expected and the Bulldogs just lost their top player RB Jerious Norwood.   Rick Stansbury's basketball team struggled this season, but is heading back towards the top of the SEC West again.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Offseason Musings

The offseason brings about many predictions, anticipation for the upcoming season, and a lot of "well I think this is our year" discussion. I will touch a little bit on each team in the ACC regarding their prospects next year. Look for the SEC in the next couple of days.

The Hurricanes have a had a stormy offseason with their firing of almost their entire offensive staff. Kyle Wright returns for his second season as the starter and should be improved from last season. I think the Canes will be the favorite for the Coastal Division title as of right now. Basketball-wise, Miami will lose Guermillo Diaz from a somewhat underachieving team this past season. I think the Canes will struggle this upcoming season as compared to their first two in the ACC.
Florida St.-
The Seminoles showed what they can be in the Orange Bowl and will return a fair amount from that team including a more seasoned Drew Weatherford. The Noles will be the favorite in the Atlantic Division. FSU is on the upswing in basketball and should have a real good shot at making the Tournament next year.
Georgia Tech-
Tech will have the most experienced QB in the ACC this season and one of its most influential as well. As Reggie Ball goes, so goes Tech; the defense lost some, but the offense has more experience. 8 wins should be attainable this year, but a Championship Game appearance will be a very tall order. Paul Hewitt can look to next season where he has 2 McDonald's All-Americans joining a team that showed promise for 30 minutes of every game this season. Anything less than a second round Tourney appearance would be a disappointment.
The Tigers main question will be replacing Charlie Whitehurst. Other than that, the Tigers look pretty solid in every area, especially in the running game. The likely replacement, Will Proctor has spent 3 seasons in the Tiger system and steady play by him could land the Tigers in the ACC Championship. Oliver Purnell led the Tigers to one of their best seasons since Rick Barnes left for Texas. They have to replace some key players though; a NCAA bid is probably a long shot in the much improved ACC next year.
North Carolina-
John Bunting has another brutal schedule in front of him this season. A bowl bid will be very tough. But on the other hand, Roy Williams' crew will be one of the favorites for the Final Four next season. They bring in arguably the best freshman class in the nation and return most everyone except for David Noel. Chemisty will be a key for this team because they will be still be very young.
NC State-
Chuck Amato will rely heavily on his young studs at running back to carry the Wolfpack to another bowl bid. Mario Williams and Manny Lawson are gone off a punishing defense. A bowl bid should be attainable, but won't come easy. NC State fans may find out how lucky they were to have Herb Sendek this year. The team is still without a coach and is in danger of losing more recruits by the day (Chris Wright has already de-committed for 2007). Sendek led the Pack to 5 straight Tournament appearances. I think NC State takes a step back next year.
No need to discuss Duke football so we go straight to basketball. Coach K and Duke lose a lot in Redick and Williams, but may even lose more if Josh McRoberts leaves. I am sure K is working feveriously to get McRoberts to stay because if he doesn't then Duke may struggle to make the Tournament next year! I think McRoberts will stay, but Duke will struggle early on until K can get his kids to play his system. Once that happens, I think Duke finishes hot down the stretch. Still, Duke is a long way from its past years successes.
Wake Forest-
Wake will not be able to do much on the gridiron this year; 5 wins will be a successful season. Skip Prosser's time may be up at Wake. He rode the Chris Paul train for two great years, but now Wake loses Eric Williams. The Deacs have usually relied on developing talent rather than recuriting it. I think Wake is looking at a middle of the pack finish next year.
Virginia Tech-
Marcus Vick is gone, but that is not all good news because the Hokies didn't have any experience behind him. I think Beamer Ball takes a step back next year. They will contend for the Coastal Division title, but just don't have the talent they have had over the past few years. On the hardwood, VT struggled this season as everyone was prepared for them this time around. I think you will see much of the same next year.
Al Groh is experience some off the field issues with his team losing star LB Ahmad Brooks. The Cavs have failed to live up to their recruting rankings the last few years. A bowl bid willl be a successful season. Dave Leito led the surprising basketball team to a 7-9 record this season. I think things are looking up in Charlottesville with a new arena for next year.
Ralph Friedgen is fed up with the last two years performance on offense and is taking over coordinator duties. Still, the Terps will struggle to make a bowl again this year. Gary Williams is having the same frustrations with his basketball team. Maryland has not been able to uphold their Tournament championship of 2002 the last few years. With Georgetown back on the national scene, it will be harder for the Terps to recruit locally. Still, Maryland has one of the best atmospheres for a home game in the country.
Boston College-
The team every one forgets about in the ACC. The Eagles should be pretty good again this year on the gridiron though I think Clemson has passed them in the Atlantic Division. Al Skinner's basketball team could have played with anyone in the Final Four. I think BC has a shot this year to make a run in the Tourney if they get hot at the right time.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Wrapping up Basketball....Finally

It has taken me a little while, but I am finally going to do a little recap on the NCAA Basketball season that was. A team that started the season hot, ended it hot. The Florida Gators won their first 17 games (including preseason NIT) and then won their final 10. The Gators were never ranked #1 all season (their first loss came as #2 on the same day #1 Duke lost), but definitely showed up at the right times. 4 of their losses came to teams that did not even make the Tournament (S. Carolina) or lost in the second round (Tennessee).

The NCAA Tournament may not prove who is the best team, but who is playing the best the last 3-4 weeks of the year. I am not downplaying Florida's Championship because they dominated the Tournament with an average margin of victory in the double digits. Basketball has a much better system than College Football. I would say on any given night, Florida could have beaten UConn, Duke, and most defintely Villanova or Memphis.

It is still very early, but looking ahead to next year Florida looks poised for another memorable season. All of their players have said they want to come back. The main one I would be concerned with if I was a Gator fan is Joakim Noah. Noah is saying all the right things right now, but lets wait and see after the agents are done whispering in his ear; his stock will never be higher than it is right now. I hope Joakim stays because I love college basketball. If he goes to the NBA right now, he sits for the next 2-3 years.

Other teams that should be near the top are North Carolina, UCLA, Ohio St, and Kansas. Many other teams (Texas, UConn, Duke, LSU) hopes will depend upon who of their young phenoms decides to stay in school.

This year was an up and down one for my predictions. I finished the Tournament on a slide at 17-9. As for the season, I was a respectable 113-55 (67%) with a strong finish after a weak start.

Start looking for some Spring football coverage coming up. Early favorites for the National Title are Ohio St, Notre Dame, and Oklahoma!

Tuesday, April 4, 2006

Gator Bait, What's Next for Joakim

Congratulations to the Florida Gators for winning their first national championship.  They came out and played almost flawless basketball for 40 minutes having only 6 turnovers.   Florida shot over 55% in the first half against one of the best defenses in the country.   Kudos to the play on the defensive side of the ball for Florida especially for a dominating performance as well.  The UCLA defense was getting the press coming into the game, but Florida showed they can play some defense too.


Florida had all the pieces to the puzzle come together at the right time.  They had steady PG play (Green), a sharpshooter who could knock down 3's (Humphrey), a mismatch on offense and defense (Brewer), a low post threat (Horford), and an all-around playmaker (Noah).   I thought in this game that they got great help off the bench as well from Moss and Richard.  Moss, the lone Senior on the team, provided energy and toughness off the bench and allowed the Gators to keep on rolling when Noah went off the court.


I have been harping on Noah's play for a while now.  If they did the most valuable player award, I think he would be tough to beat.   You could argue Adam Morrison, but Florida would not have won the National Title without Noah.  His energy, defense, and ability to run the floor were the catalysts in the Gators Tournament run.  


Now, Noah will have a major decision to make in the coming days.  His draft will never be higher than what it is right now.   His performance has more than likely landed him in the Top 5 of the Draft.  Joakim (I finally learned how to spell his last name) has won a title in his Sophomore season and was the Final Four MOP; anything else might be considered a disappointment.   However, Noah has the look of a kid who really enjoys playing college basketball and I expect him to return unless there is a mass exodus from Gainesville (ala North Carolina last year).  


Congratulations to the Gators on their first title. 

Sunday, April 2, 2006

Number 12 For The Bruins or Number 1 For Florida

Both Florida and UCLA looked impressive on Saturday night. The Gators locked down on George Mason's outside shooters while providing some long range bombing of their own from Lee Humphrey. After keeping it even in early part, George Mason lacked the horses to run with the Gators and their deep bench.

LSU was never really in the game after the first TV timeout against the Bruins. UCLA matched the Tigers athleticism and at times made them look so on the glass and in hustling for loose balls. UCLA played their backups almost as much as their starters in the first half and still had a 15 point lead. The Tigers did have an off night shooting, but despite that their inside players did not seem like the ones we saw in Atlanta.

Onto Monday's Game...
Florida opened as a slight favorite in the Championship Game. Their coach Billy Donovan has been here before (2000) and the Gators had the largest margin of victory in the Tournament of the Final 4 teams. However, I don't think people are giving UCLA their just due. I think people underestimate the power of the Pac-10 and not just in basketball. The Pac-10 will have a participant in the BCS Championship Game and now the NCAA Tournament Championship. As I said before the Final 4 started, UCLA is the team nobody is talking about coming into Indianapolis.

Championship Game
#2 UCLA vs #3 Florida 9:00 ET CBS
UCLA really surprised some people with how they matched LSU's athleticism. Florida is another very athletic team, but the Bruins will be able to match it again. In the backcourt, Florida relies on the steady play of Taurean Green and sharp shooting of Lee Humphrey. UCLA will counter with PG Jordan Farmar and Aaron Afflalo who play offense and defense equally well.

The X-factor for Florida will be Corey Brewer, who at 6'8" can create matchup problems. Cedric Bozeman will be the most likely Bruin to matchup with Brewer who can slash to the basket and shoot from the outside. The good thing for the Bruins is that Brewer is not a strong post-up player.

On the inside is where Florida should have an advantage. UCLA's Luc Richard Mbah A Moute is 6'7" and will be likely tasked with Florida's Al Horford. Horford can put the ball on the floor or post up. Joakim Noah has been the Gator's spark plug all tournament, but will face his toughest challenge yet in 7'0" Ryan Hollins. Hollins matched Tyrus Thomas as a defensive force on Saturday night and should give Noah trouble with his length and quickness.

Bench play will be important because of the amount the play for these teams. Florida's depth is mostly on the inside while UCLA can truely go 10 deep as they did against LSU. I don't think either team has much of an advantage here, but Florida's backcourt cannot afford to get in foul trouble.

Billy Donovan started off this season 17-0, but then struggled during the confernce season and had some Gator fans wondering if he could get them past the second round. Well those fans should be happy now as Donovan is one of only 11 active coaches to make two appearances in the Championship Game. However, I do think Florida may have a sense of inflated self worth because they come from the SEC and UCLA is in the Pac-10. Ben Howland has brought his brand of east coast defensive toughness to the West Coast and it is paying dividends. If the Bruins win it will be a record 12th title for UCLA and maybe the last of John Wooden's life.

I think this game will be close throughout the game and go right down to the wire. Both teams have depth and athleticism to play at a high level of intensity for 40 minutes. In the end, UCLA I think plays better defense and will be able to control Florida's Horford and Noah like other teams have not. The Sons of Westwood claim their 12th title.
Prediction: UCLA

Tournament: 17-8