Wednesday, February 18, 2009

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Should Illinois be Ranked Higher?

By all accounts, this season has been a giant surprise for Illinois basketball. After a 13-18 record last season and the loss of two of their "best" players, hopes were not high for Illinois. Then they won 13 of their first 14 games and everyone thought this team might be decent.

Now we are certain that this is a good team, that can combine fantastic defense of the past few seasons with a more balanced, efficient offense. In fact, the Illini sit in second place in the Big Ten with 21 wins against 5 losses. This is great for Illinois fans; so great that they may be overlooking something fans are typically very wary of: a lack of respect.

A lot of the teams ahead of the Illini are very good, and it's hard to argue for one over the other, but a couple things stand out when you take a look at the top 25. First, Illinois has one more loss than Missouri, yet the Illini beat the Tigers earlier in the year at a neutral site by 16 points. Mizzou also stacks their resume with losses to Kansas State and Nebraska. Nebraska!

The second problem I have is that Michigan State is ranked so damn far ahead of the Illini. They're number five! Michigan State is a good team, probably the best in the Big Ten, but they aren't top five good if Illinois is out of the top 15. We're talking about a team that lost by 22 to Maryland, lost by...wait for it...35 to North Carolina in Detroit, and lost to Penn State and Northwestern at home. They beat two Big 12 teams that are both ranked below Missouri, and aside from the two terrible losses have been solid in conference play, including a six point win in East Lansing against the Illini.

Illinois' schedule is not as tough as Michigan State's according to RPI numbers, but a close loss to Clemson and a win over Missouri look as good as anything on MSU's out of conference resume.

I'm not saying Illinois is better than Michigan State, and I wouldn't dare put out my own version of the top 25 because somehow I've become a cynical college basketball fan that thinks there are only a few good teams in the country, but all of this information leads me to the conclusion that either Michigan State and Missouri are severely overrated, or because they have exceeded the "experts'" expectations, Illinois has become the victim of a blatant lack of respect.

Dwight Howard Plays Pranks On Other All-Stars and Rookies

Apparently this is 2:30 am the morning the night before the all-star game. Howard orders food for Duncan, knocks on Rose's door and runs away, orders more food for Chauncey, and then starts screwing around on a security guard's walkie talkie. Even if you don't think hes all that funny, you have to admit he seems like a fun guy. What a goofball. Here's the video (via NESW):

Lou Hints Soriano May Not Lead Off, Cubs Fans Thank Their Respective Gods

Lou Pinella seems like an intelligent man to most of us. Though he is a bit stubborn at times, he clearly has an understanding of the game of baseball. While not exactly a sabermetrician, he does not make retarded Dusty Baker-esque comments like "we don't want to draw a lot of walks, it clogs up the basepaths."

Even though he seems to understand baseball, there are still a few questionable moves he has made. Foremost among those was his insistence that Soriano lead off. It appears that he is finally starting to budge on that one:
Cubs manager Lou Piniella has stuck by Alfonso Soriano as his leadoff man the last two seasons but on Monday said he may drop the left fielder down in the order. Piniella said he talked to Soriano at the Cubs Convention about it. One reason for the switch is that Soriano doesn't run as much as he used to.
I will just ignore that comment about how he doesn't run like he used to (running is overrated and in fact can be detrimental to the team if the success rate is not very high, it is also almost completely irrelevant to the effectiveness of a leadoff man). While he is not a terrible leadoff man, his numbers are clearly not conducive to getting on base, the most important thing from a leadoff man. It's not that he is bad at it, he actually had a .344 OBP last season. The thing is that he has a high slugging percentage at .532 which makes him far better suited to the 3, 4, 5, or even 6 spot in the lineup. On top of that, there are 7 everyday players that have a higher OBP than Soriano: Johnson, Lee, Soto, Ramirez, Theriot, Fontenot and...the player everyone loves to hate...Fukudome! Yes all 7 of those players had better OBPs. I don't hate Soriano, but I do hate him in the leadoff spot. Hit him 5th or 6th and have a Theriot, Fontenot, Johnson, or, dare I say it, Kosuke, lead off. Make it happen Lou.

And yes, I'm just as excited as you that baseball is almost here.

The White Sox are Getting Creepy


President Barack Obama will be in the Phoenix area this week and a Chicago sports franchise has taken notice. Did the Bulls ask him to put in a good word to help get Amare to Chicago? Do the Cubs want him to hit in the leadoff spot? Come on now, we know this is going to be about those creepy Obama-stalking White Sox, who invited Obama to check out their new training facility. Hard to pass that up!

I get that Obama is a White Sox fan and that's fine; cool for the White Sox even. However, the Sox are starting to look like the girlfriend of the NBA star that just got into the league. She doesn't realize her man is busy now, and frankly isn't paying as much attention. I'm not saying Obama doesn't care about the White Sox anymore, that's his team, just quit inviting him everywhere.

First it was to come and throw out the first pitch on opening day. That's a great idea, but it seems like every couple of weeks I'm reading that the offer still stands. You don't say? Don't stop reminding. Now they want him to tour the new training facility. Unless Ozzie is interrogating suspected terrorists there, it's hard to imagine any interest.

A rant against the White Sox here might be a little premature, but with four or five announcements since the election, it might be time to scale back on the public invitations. It's nice to show him you're still interested, but left unchecked this ends with Kenny Williams calling the White House switchboard and hanging up before making a scene on a public tour.

**Update: Now the Cubs are getting in on the act. Seriously Chicago teams, enough President stalking, he doesn't want to visit your shitty winter homes!

Amare Stoudemire, Chris Bosh, And Other Big Men Rumored To Be On Their Way To Chicago

I'm having trouble keeping up with the rumors, so bear with me. By the time you read this it will probably be old news, but here is a roundup of the latest that is out there right now about the Bulls trade rumors:
  • Everyone knows about Amare Stoudemire. The deal that most news outlets are reporting has the Bulls shipping out Gooden's expiring deal, Tyrus Thomas, and another player, possibly Noah, Thabo or both. Picks would also be involved in this deal. This deal was a fact until about 24 hours ago, when people started reporting that the deal was basically dead, because the Suns were taking Amare off the table. That seems like something of a negotiating ploy by Kerr to try to get more for Stoudemire, but it's possible that the coaching switch has changed the mindset of the Phoenix management.

  • Just last night, a new wrinkle was thrown into a possible Amare deal. Apparently there is a three-way trade being discussed that would send Amare to Toronto, Bosh to Chicago, and a bevy of young players and picks to Phoenix. I'm not sure why Phoenix would be more interested in this than just the straight up swap with the Bulls. It seems like they would be getting back similar pieces. Maybe the Suns just want to help out their friend and old GM Colangelo?

  • Some sources are reporting that the Bulls have made an offer for either Chris Kaman or Marcus Camby. It is unclear whether this is a deal that might happen with the Amare deal or instead of the deal. It is also unknown what the Bulls were offering.

  • And of course, what would a report on Bulls trades be without the latest Sam Smith nonsense. I love this one. Apparently he believes the Jazz have interest in Kirk Hinrich and would send Boozer to the Bulls to get him. I know they are trying to get something in return for Boozer before his contract expires, but I just don't see how Hinrich pairs well with Deron.
I love all these deals. I think the Bosh one is most appealing, but I like Amare a lot. Pairing any of these big men with Rose for the foreseeable future sounds like a wet dream. Only two more days of the trade rumors, try to keep up.

Qualified Links

Monday, February 16, 2009

What Does Your Game Say--New Jordan Commercial

This new Michael Jordan commercial is amazing. Enjoy (via Docksquad):

Was Derrick Rose Even Trying?

It sure didn't look like it took much effort on Rose's part to win the skills challenge. He is on another level when it comes to speed, strength and athleticism. His dunk at the end is monstrous. Sign that kid up for the dunk contest!

Frazier Leads Illini to Second Straight Road Win

After being lauded as a defensive stopper, Chester Frazier slipped into the role of offensive hero for a little while Sunday, as Illinois held off Indiana in Bloomington for a 65-52 win.

Illinois streaked to a 21 point lead in the first half, but saw Indiana claw back to within six with just over six minutes remaining. While Illinois' offense slipped into a "road mode" that is easily identifiable by a lot of passing around the perimeter and taking buzzer-beaters against the shot clock, Chester Frazier was gearing up for a run. Frazier hit a huge three to put Illinois up nine, then made a layup with about two minutes left to make it a 12 point Illini advantage.

Frazier finished the game with nine points, seven rebounds and seven assists; not a bad offensive night for a defensive guy. Mike Davis had another double-double with 16 and 10, and Tisdale chipped in with 16 of his own.

Illinois moves to within a game and a half of Michigan State for the conference lead and the Spartans travel to Purdue on Tuesday. The Illini will play host to Penn State Wednesday, a game that looks tougher every time Penn State plays, then travel to Ohio State Sunday.

I know of no one that could have told me with a straight face that Illinois would be 21-5 right now. It has truly been a remarkable season for the Illini and the goal now has to be to build momentum and secure a top four seed for the NCAA tournament.

Chicago Baseball Teams Have Weak Farm Systems

For the Sox, who are in a rebuilding year, this might be very disturbing. For the Cubs, who are playing for right now, this is not as bad, but still unsettling. The Cubs and Sox have a combined 5 players in the Baseball Prospectus Top 100 Prospects. Combined. Ouch. Here's the list:
#28--Gordan Beckham (SS) Chicago White Sox
#34--Josh Vitters (3B) Chicago Cubs
#74--Aaron Poreda (LHP) Chicago White Sox
#85--Jeff Samardijza (RHP) Chicago Cubs
#99--Brandon Allen (1B) Chicago White Sox
I don't get how this works. Does Samardijza still count as a prospect? I guess he would need a full season in the Majors to be ineligible for this list. Without him the Cubs have only 1 player in the Top 100. One. They better win soon, because the future may not be so bright.

Paxson's Bulls Legacy

While it remains unclear when or even if Paxson will be stepping down as GM this year, it has become obvious that he will probably not be GM past this season. Many Chicagoans have turned on him in recent years, but I have maintained that he was given some difficult circumstances. That being said, he clearly hasn't been a great GM, I just don't believe he was the worst. Over at Luol's Dong, they took a look at what Paxson has done. I agree with their analysis for the most part, but let's take a look at all the major moves he made in chronological order and give my own little analysis.

  • Signed 38-year old Scottie Pippen (Summer 2003)--Much fanfare but lacked any real impact.

  • Traded Jalen Rose for Antonio Davis (Late 2003)--A good move, selfish players under the old guard had to be shipped out. Though Davis was not extremely effective on the court, he was a great locker room presence that would be necessary with all the young impressionable players Pax would later bring in.

  • Fired Bill Cartwright/Hired Scott Skiles (Late 2003/Early 2004)--This was one of his best moves as GM. The players were tuning out Cartwright and Skiles would lead the team to its first playoff berths in years.

  • 2004 Draft Class (Summer 2004)--This was hailed as one of the best drafts ever (though perhaps that verdict came in before all the facts had been heard). Gordon, Deng, Nocioni and Duhon all were drafted by Paxson, and all contributed to various degrees.

  • Traded Curry and Davis for Sweetney, Tim Thomas, and draft picks (Fall 2005)--The picks would later turn into Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah. This trade inspired the famous Bulls blog "Thank You Isaiah" for the perception that Pax had completely fleeced the Knicks GM.

  • Drafted Tyrus Thomas and Thabo Sefolosha (Summer 2006)--While LaMarcus Aldridge (whom Pax traded to get TT) has been very good offensively, TT is a better rebounder and defender and it is still unclear whether this was a good move. If Pax can somehow convince the Suns to take TT for Amare, then it will make the pick look like a huge success.

  • Signed Ben Wallace (Summer 2006)--Paxson's first (and only) big free agent signing was a complete bust. Wallace was over the hill and his contract continues to tax the team's salary cap situation to this day.

  • Didn't trade for Pau (Early 2007)--Was it really possible that this trade was even offered? And if so was it really Pax who wouldn't pull the trigger, or did Reinsdorf not allow Pax to deal Deng for Pau? No one will ever know.

  • Drafted Joakim Noah (Summer 2007)--A decent pick at the spot he was drafting. The second year player is showing signs of life, but it is too early to tell.

  • Fired Scott Skiles (Late 2007)--It had to be done. The team was completely tuning him out and the defensive intensity that had identified the Bulls under Skiles was all but gone.

  • Traded Ben Wallace For Larry Hughes and Drew Gooden (Early 2008)--This was a move that traded one team cancer (Wallace) for another (Hughes). The fact that he got Gooden out of the deal makes it a winner, but none of this would have been necessary if he hadn't flopped on the Wallace signing.

  • Drafted Derrick Rose (Summer 2008)--Though there was never much doubt that Pax would take Rose over Beasely, so far it appears it was a win-win situation, as both rookies are playing well. Although they are both good, Rose appears to have the potential to be one of the premiere point guards in the league.

  • Hired Vinny Del Negro (Summer 2008)--Really? Vinny Del Negro? I'm still shocked by this hire and Vinny has done nothing to prove he has what it takes to coach at this level (or any level). It's hard to blame this one on Pax though. He wanted to hire D'Antoni but Reinsdorf purposely tanked the deal leaving Pax scrambling for a 2nd or 3rd choice.
Beyond the Ben Wallace signing, the above resume doesn't look all that bad. The problems weren't the moves he made, but the ones he didn't. Whether Pau, Kobe, and KG were ever really on the table is irrelevant. The bottom line is that at some point in the last 5 years, with all the young talent Pax had assembled, there were numerous trades he could have made. He fell so in love with his picks that he was never able to pull the trigger on anything. He has one more big move to make (or not make) before the deadline this week. Will he finally come through and make a good move, or will he sit on his hands again? We'll find out soon enough.

Qualified Links

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Something to get you Ready for the Dunk Contest

Top ten slam dunk contest moments. This is a hell of a video, but obviously it's all up for interpretation. NQTC is giving best dunk contest show to Wilkins and Jordan in '88, while I've unilaterally decided that Vince in 2000 was the best set of dunks individually. A couple other moments that didn't make the cut that I liked were the Amare off the backboard, off Steve Nash's head, and the slam, as well as AI to the new AI from behind the hoop. Who tops it tonight?

Zambrano Spent Winter Starring In Cheap Porno

This picture is real. Apparently Z has decided to go the moustache route. I couldn't be more pleased. Bruce Miles confirms it, in case you still can't believe this awesomeness is true.

Hard Proof That Umpires Are Blind

Are you one of those people that gets frustrated with umpires when you're watching a Major League baseball game and starts yelling "Are you blind, ump?" Well the question may have been rhetorical at the time, but it appears there may be some proof that umpires really are blind. This picture comes from the LA Times Blog:


Yeah, that's braille. But let's not make a big deal out of this, ok? It's just so that all the blind umps make sure they go in the right doors.

Your Weekend Viewing Guide

With no great matchups in college basketball this weekend, it was shaping up to be a pretty slow couple days in sports. Until I remembered the NBA All-Star Game was this weekend! But then I remembered how much that sucked too. But then I remembered the dunk contest, three-point contest, and skills challenge! But then I remembered it's Valentine's Day so I won't get to watch them. Dammnit. At least I can think about that unreal 'Nique windmill as I'm wasting money on flowers and chocolate.



Saturday:

11:00 AM [NCAAB] Georgetown at Syracuse - ESPN
12:00 PM [NCAAB] UCLA at Arizona - CBS
12:30 PM [NCAAB] Minnesota at Penn St. - BTN
2:30 PM [NCAAB] Kansas at Kansas State - ABC
3:00 PM [NCAAB] Purdue at Iowa - BTN
3:00 PM [NCAAB] Cincinnati at Pitt - ESPN
4:00 PM [NCAAB] Memphis at S. Miss - CBS
*4:00 PM [NBA] Inside The NBA with H-O-R-S-E (G-E-I-C-O) - TNT
*7:00 PM [LIFE] Valentine's Day - Don't forget to set your DVR!
*7:00 PM [NBA] Dunk Contest, Skills Challenge, 3-Point Shootout - TNT
*7:30 PM [NHL] Stars at Blackhawks - WGN

Sunday:

*12:00 PM [NCAAB] Illinois at Indiana - CBS
1:00 PM [NCAAB] Michigan at Northwestern - BTN
7:00 PM [NBA] NBA Allstar Game - TNT

Friday, February 13, 2009

Chester Frazier Does Magic

It's true. It's so magical and mysterious you don't even know it's happening during the game. You can see Frazier the whole time and you can see the poor soul he is guarding, but it's all an illusion. It's like LOST without that feeling that it's being written by a drunk guy making up a story. Chester Frazier actually makes an opponent's best player disappear.

Joe College from the Daily Herald relayed a story in which he overheard NBA scouts talking about Illinois' senior point guard. Obviously, the scouts weren't raving about Frazier's scoring ability or his jump shot. They actually were all agreeing that the test for whether a player can make it in the NBA is if he can score on Chester Frazier.

Of late, Big Ten players aren't exactly making the cut, or passing the Chester Test. Here's a rundown of recent victims:

  • E'Twaun Moore (Purdue): 6 pts, 2-9 fg.
  • Trevon Hughes (Wisconsin): 0 pts, 0-7 fg and 13 pts, 5-13 fg.
  • Evan Turner (Ohio State): 4 pts, 2-7 fg.
  • Kalin Lucas (Mich. State): 10 pts, 3-13 fg.

All four of those guys would surprise no one if they made 1st team All Big Ten. Turner's four point night against Illinois was his only single-digit performance since the first game of the entire season, and he is averaging about 23 points per game in his five outings since Frazier shut him down.

We praise McCamey for his scoring, Meacham for his shooting, and Tisdale for his pure awesomeness, but Frazier is at best a "look who also played well" when it comes to a game recap. He gets his four rebounds and five assists, with at most one turnover and we give him the golf applause. It's time for more Frazier love. The guy is invaluable to Illinois.

And as Joe College points out, he absolutely deserves to be the Big Ten Defensive POY. If not, at least he has a future playing one-on-one at some NBA scouting combine; or, you know, that magic thing.

Obama Is A Bulls Fan Suckas

Fantasy Baseball Preview - 2B

Because of the shortage of time between now and opening day, we at NQTC decided to roll with a position by position preview as opposed to going team by team. 2B preview is up today - look for the 3B preview on Tuesday. And just so we're clear - this is not a list of the top seven guys at the position but rather seven guys I felt like writing about - that's just how I roll.




1. Chase Utley 2B Phillies - Far away the best offensive 2B in baseball, Utley is somewhat of a ? this season, as no one is really sure when he will be able to return from off-season hip surgery. The three time All Star has been saying that he might be ready by opening day if he is able to avoid any setbacks, but a late April/mid May return is more likely. Even with Utley missing a month of ABs, the case can be made for him to be the first 2B selected off the board - in 2007 when he played in only 132 games, he still put up a line of 104 R, 22 HR, 103 RBI, 9 SB, and a .332 AVG.



2. Ian Kinsler 2B Rangers - If Kinsler doesn't get hurt last season, there's a good chance he finishes the year in the top 10 overall players in fantasy. At 26, he's just now hitting his prime and as long he can stay healthy, should be one of a top performer in baseball for years to come. He plays in a great ballpark and is surrounded by plenty of mashers in the lineup, and while Texas most likely won't contend in the AL West due to their lack of pitching, they should have no issue scoring runs. The only knock on Kinsler is that he has never played more than 130 games in a season, and he also seemed to wear down after the All Star break. If he can find a way to stay healthy and stay productive throughout the season, a 30 HR 30 SB season is definitely possible.



3. Dustin Pedroia 2B Red Sox - The 2008 AL MVP is on the rise in fantasy drafts, and rightly so. With a line of 118 R, 17 HR, 83 RBI, 20 SB and a .326 average, Pedroia is without a doubt a five tool guy - providing significant production in all five standard categories. The only question being asked about Boston's newest sensation is whether or not he can do it again, and considering that his average draft position on mockdraftcentral.com is 25, most people seem to think that he can. It scares me a little to use a late 2nd/early 3rd round pick on someone coming off a career year, as I really don't think that there is any room for improvement in his numbers, but even if he comes close to matching his stat line from last season, he should still be able to back up his draft position.


4. Brandon Phillips 2B Reds - If there was any way for Phillips to boost his average back up to even the .276 mark he hit in 2006, you would be looking at a fantasy goldmine at 2B. His .262 lifetime average is the only thing holding Phillips back from being considered one of the top all around fantasy players in the game. Hitting cleanup, he doesn't score as many runs as other SB thieves do, but should provide you with about 25 HR and 80-85 RBI, and when you add the 25-30 SBs - that ain't half bad. Again, his average could hurt you, but as long as you're not expecting anything over .265, you shouldn't be disappointed with his overall production.



5. Dan Uggla 2B Marlins - Mr. Thuggla is a three category beast , averaging 100+ Runs, 30 HR and 90 RBI over the past three seasons. Like Phillips, Uggla's average will hurt you, but owners will have no problem looking past that as long as the NL All Star 2B continues to rake. Personally, I don't want anything to do with Uggla, as his 1st half/2nd half splits in 2008 were pretty horrendous, and unless you can send him off to another owner after the break, I would be quite concerned that a repeat performance might be in store.



6. Alexei Ramirez 2B White Sox - The Cuban Missile was a fantasy monster last season, putting up a line of 65 R, 21 HR, 77 RBI, 13 SB, and a .290 avg in only 136 games. However, when you take a closer look at his numbers, he only walked 18 times in 480 AB, meaning it would be almost impossible for him to maintain his .290 average unless he significantly improved his BB rate. Depending on where he bats in the lineup, Ramirez should be able to match all of his other numbers from 2008, but I wouldn't be looking for any large jumps in his HR or RBI totals.



7. Jose Lopez 2B Mariners - SLEEPER ALERT. Lopez had a phenomenal year at the plate last season, posting a line of 80 R, 17 HR, 89 RBI, 6 SB, and a .297 average. At 25, there's still plenty of room for improvement, and considering that Lopez isn't getting selected until the latter half of most drafts, he could be a major steal in 2009. In 2007, Lopez had a great first half of the season but struggled mightily after the All Star break. After finally putting together a productive full season in 2008 though, it looks like Lopez may be climbing the fantasy charts. If you miss out on the top 2B early in the draft, the once highly touted prospect should definitely be on your radar.
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