What a strange game Kentucky won last night. They scored 102 points to beat Sam Houston State, but they let the Bearkats score 92 points. That’s a bit disturbing, but it’s hardly the strangest part of this game. Kentucky used just four bench players in the game, and those players spent a total of just 35 minutes on the court – less than nine minutes a piece. The strange part, though, is that none of those four players scored a single point. Yes – the five starters scored all 102 points. John Calipari doesn’t always strive for a balanced offense, but that’s ridiculous. I don’t even know how it is possible. On the plus side, this total lack of balance meant that we got to see that all five of the starters can score – Darius Miller was the least productive, and he still had 15 points. The lack of bench production has to be a real concern for the team. So does the fact that the Bearkats sunk 15 three pointers on just 26 attempts – a 58 percent rate. That’s scary. This team has obvious talent, but they are not yet playing like the fifth best team in the country.
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Three big personnel moves occurred in the NFL yesterday, and each of them is worth a discussion:
Ronnie Brown – The Dolphins’ impressive but fragile running back has been put on the IR, and that means he’s out for the season. This time it his right foot that is the problem. Back in 2007 it was his right leg. Maybe he should just amputate that leg and start over again. Needless to say, this is a big blow for an already fragile team. Only three teams have run better than the Dolphins this year, while only two teams have passed worse. Add in Brown’s impact as one of the only players in the league who can effectively run a wildcat and you have a big hole. They aren’t totally without hope – they still have Ricky Williams and he has looked good this year. Williams is a far more straight ahead, less versatile back than Brown is, though, and it’s doubtful that Williams will be able to lead a similarly effective running attack – if he can even stay healthy for the rest of the season.
Ryan Fitzgerald – Perry Fewell needed to make an impact quickly as the new head coach of the Bills, and he found the easiest way to do it – he changed his quarterback. The ineffective Trent Edwards has been benched in favor of the ineffective Ryan Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald has had significant play in three games so far this year, and the team has earned two of their three wins in that time. He has thrown twice as many touchdowns as interceptions, and has completed less than half his passes, so it’s not a perfect solution. The Bills have been a truly terrible passing team this year, though, so it won’t hurt. None of it gives me any reason to even consider backing the Bills now or into the future.
Bruce Gradkowski – It took far too long, but the Raiders have finally come to their senses. They have benched JaMarcus Russell and given Gradkowski the reins. It’s not just a fleeting thing, either – coach Cable says that Gradkowski will be given a real chance to settle in and play. Gradkowski is not a great QB and he is in a brutal situation, so this isn’t going to make a significant change for the team. It still was the only thing to do. Russell has been absolutely terrible, and he is making absolutely no progress while he is playing. He probably won’t make any progress when he isn’t playing, either, but at least he won’t be making more truly terrible plays and crushing his final shreds of confidence and self respect. I can’t imagine that the team will be anything other than relieved by the change – it might even give them a boost. The good news is that Gradkowski barely has to do anything to be just as good as Russell.
What a great day of college basketball we enjoyed last night. There was a lot to feast on and digest. Here’s a look at the five most interesting games played:
Kansas and Memphis – Kansas got the win, but it was surprising difficult against a scrappy Memphis team. The Tigers get a lot of credit for their play, but the real lesson from this is that Kansas has some work to do. There is no reason that this team should have had to barely squeak out a win. They turned the ball over 21 times, and were far, far too sloppy. It was also the first time in two years that Kansas has scored less than 60 and still won. The game also showed how long it can take for even the best freshmen to find their stride consistently. Xavier Henry wasn’t terrible, but some things were better than others. He had 11 points after potting 27 last time around, and he turned it over four times. He did have six rebounds and three steals so there were bright spots, but it seems like it will take a while for him to settle in and become the steady beast we know he will.
Michigan State and Gonzaga – The Bulldogs aren’t supposed to be quite the team that they were in recent years, but they still almost managed a big upset at Michigan State. It was a gritty, hard fought game that came right down to the end. There was a lot of good play, but one player in particular stood out on each side. Raymar Morgan showed just how incredibly tough he is. He entered the game while recovering from a sprained left ankle, and then he tweaked his right ankle as well. Despite that, he came off the bench and provided 16 points. That kind of attitude is what is going to make this team so dangerous. On the other side, Gonzaga’s freshman forward Elias Harris was a revelation – he tied for the team lead with 17 points, and added nine boards for good measure. Harris came over from Germany, so it wasn’t certain how quickly he would fit in. The other top scorer for Gonzaga was also a good sign – seven foot sophomore center had 17 points in just 19 minutes. Michigan State got a character win, but Gonzaga earned a lot of respect in my eyes with the win.
Duke and Charlotte – after a rocky offseason and some discipline issues, no one needed a bigger start than point guard Nolan Smith. He has the potential to be a real star, but only if he can keep his mind on the game and stay out of trouble. He got off to a big start – 24 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals. It came against a very outmatched opponent, but it was still a good sign. Smith probably isn’t the most talented player on the team, but he may be the most important.
UConn and Hofstra – If UConn senior guard Jerome Dyson plays like he did for the first 25 minutes of the game then the Huskies could be in trouble. If he plays like he did in the last 7:11 – 15 consecutive points – then this team can do some real damage.
Oklahoma and Louisiana-Monroe – Willie Warren needs to be the man in Oklahoma, and he played like he knows it tonight. He had 24 points and four assists and was the best player on the court for much of the game. Despite that, and despite the win, coach Jeff Capel was not a happy man. The team needs to rely heavily on their freshman class, and they mostly played lousy this time around. They combined for 64 points in their first game but came back with just 20 the second time around. They need more consistency if they want to be a serious contender in March. This is the deepest recruiting class they have ever had at Oklahoma, so they need to take care of business.
The Bills did the inevitable thing today when they fired head coach Dick Jauron. He was just 3-6 this year and 24-33, in his career with the team after three straight 7-9 seasons. Jauron had no long term future with the team, and he had played his last ace when he fired offensive coordinator Turk Schonert right before the season started, so it was just a matter of time. There are reports that Jauron and the team were both caught off-guard by the move, but I don’t see how they could be. The fourth quarter against Tennessee last weekend was quite possibly the worst quarter of football a team has played all year. After they had played a solid game to tie it at 17 through three quarters they allowed 24 unanswered points. 14 of those points came from two interceptions returned for TDs, and in both cases the receivers did a pathetic job of earning their money on the plays. It was a clear sign that the coach had lost the team, and the only thing that made sense at this point was to make a change and get a head start on next year.
Wow, Cleveland is bad. So, so, so bad. Brady Quinn isn’t the answer. Is there an answer?
It was interesting watching the debut of John Wall in Kentucky tonight. It was pretty obvious why people are so excited about him – there is a lot of talent there. He turned it over too much, and he and fellow super-frosh Eric Bledsoe are going to have to learn to share the back court better, but he played well, and he scored the winning basket at the end of the game. He’s going to be a good one. That being said, that was one scary game from Kentucky. Miami of Ohio is a decent team with a very nice incoming freshman class, but they clearly aren’t of the caliber of Kentucky, and they were 17.5 point underdogs. Despite that, they were the better team for much of the game, and could very easily have pulled it out. Miami led for more of the game, and for much of the game they seemed to want it more. Kentucky simply needs to be much, much better to play with the big boys. They have a few easy game to work out the kinks, but a deadly four day stretch at the beginning of December in which they play UNC and UConn looms. They need to be much better than they were tonight if they want to survive that duo of potential disaster.
1. How in the world does anyone lose to Washington right now? Denver should be ashamed. It’s a sign of just how good Kyle Orton has been this year – the team self-destructed when he was hurt and the terrible Chris Simms had to take over.
It’s another big weekend of college football action. Here are the storylines that are the most intriguing:
Tennessee (+6) at Mississippi – The large majority of the bets have been on the Vols, but the line is on an elevator up – from 3.5 where it opened to six now. That isn’t what you would expect, and that means that some smart money is hitting Mississippi fairly hard. It will be interesting to see if Mississippi can back up the faith.
I’m not sure that anyone out there is still cutting Jay Cutler any slack, but anyone who still is needs to stop it immediately after last night. There are a lot of excuses for why he is struggling – the team has no running game of note, their offensive line is deeply troubled, and they can’t seem to consistently snap the ball. None of those can account for why Cutler is leading the league in interceptions, though, or why the Chicago offense no longer seems to exist. A couple of Cutler’s interceptions yesterday weren’t entirely his fault, but at least two – including the last one – definitely were. Cutler insists on trying to force his passes into places where he should know better than to try anymore, and he is getting locked n on a receiver and not looking past him – even when clearly better options exist elsewhere. We knew that there was going to be an adjustment period for Cutler in Chicago, but this is way beyond acceptable. This year is lost, and next year he very likely will have to get comfortable with a new coach and a new system. The guy already clearly doesn’t seem to adjust well to change, so it’s hard to be optimistic about next year, either. It’s obviously way too early to say that the Cutler trade was a mistake, or that it won’t work out, but you definitely could look at this as a warning against elevating a player to a level that he isn’t deserving of. The interceptions have reached a new level of ridiculousness this year, but Cutler has always forced his passes and turned it over way too much, so why did people assume that he would suddenly be a superstar when you put him on a team with a weaker offense line and significantly worse receivers?
The Hornets have become the first team to fire a coach this year by booting Byron Scott just a year and a half after he was named NBA Coach of the Year. The team had limped out to a 3-6 start, and two of those win hardly count because they were against the Clippers and Kings. I’d sum up the way the franchise handled this with two words – inevitable and stupid. It was inevitable because Scott had to go because of the start and because of the way the season last year went – a disappointing regular season and humiliating playoffs. Chris Paul was frustrated and the team has no more important task than keeping Paul happy. They are already over the luxury tax threshold so they can’t overhaul the roster in a meaningful way, so Scott was the only real option. The move was stupid, though, because of their choice of a replacement. The new head coach is general manager Jeff Bower. He has been with the team since 1995 and he built the current team so he knows them well, but he has never been a head coach and a couple of assistant stints atMarist and Penn State a hundred years ago are his only real bits of (barely) relevant experience. They have also hired Tim Floyd as Bower’s top assistant. Not only if Floyd coming off a disgraceful exit from USC, but his last coaching experience in the NBA was with the Hornets – and they fired him in 2004 after one season because he didn’t do a good job. I have no problem with getting rid of Scott, but only if they replace with a coach with a good chance of being better than Scott was. I just don’t really see that here.
The Bulls lost a crushing game last night when their last second winning jumper was overturned after ten minutes of replay review. That has to hurt, but there were a couple of good Chicago notes to come out off the game. The first was that Derrick Rose continues to show how versatile and effective he can be. Just check out the line – 22 points, 5 assists, 2 blocks, a steal, a rebound, and no turnovers. The guy does a little bit of everything. He’s one heck of a player. Joakim Noah also had his second straight incredibly good game. He followed up a 16 rebound performance with 21 boards last night. This isn’t the first time Noah has strung together good games – he was brilliant in the playoffs last year. What he needs to do now is to find a way to keep his confidence high and his play strong like this over a more extended period. He has the capability to be an elite player if his normal output more closely approximated his best output.