May 29, 2008

New NBA Flopping Rules Responsible for Coach K Staying at Duke?

The NBA announced today that it will begin fining players in clear cases of flopping. This is clearly a great idea, because flopping is a scourge on the face of basketball. The NBA has been out in front of this issue for a few years, starting with the creation of the no-charging semi-circle under the basket. The NCAA, and in particular the ACC, could learn something from the NBA in this regard.

The first thought that jumped into my mind when I heard about the new rules was "No wonder Coach K didn't take the Lakers job!" In 2004, the Lakers offered Coach K the head coach job to replace Phil Jackson. Krzyzewski turned down the job, claiming that he loved Duke too much to take a $40 million deal to coach one of the premier franchises in professional sports.

While that sounded like something so stupid only a Dookie could say it, something didn't sit right with me. Various explanations floated around the Internet, with some claiming that Coach K was worried about tarnishing his legacy like Rick Pitino. Others claimed that his coaching tactics wouldn't work with professional players. None of that seemed like an adequate explanation for turning down $40 million, until today.
Coach K's Duke teams have always been known for flopping. Dick Vitale might call it "taking a charge" and Mike Patrick might claim that the floppers are "sacrificing their bodies for the team" but any fan can see, it's a ploy to get a foul called. Referees in the ACC are so bad about calling charges that any fast break is guaranteed to have a defender flying to the floor in an attempt to get a call.

Coach K works over the referees enough to get more charges called than most teams, so obviously he has a vested interest in the status quo. Teaching his players to flop is a core part of his strategy. A change to the rules penalizing flopping with fines would be devastating to Coach K's entire methodology.

Obviously Coach K turned down the Lakers job because he had advance knowledge that the NBA would change the rules to crack down on flopping. That's the only explanation that makes turning down $40 million not totally insane.

May 28, 2008

Atlanta Braves, One Third of the Way

After almost two months of baseball and a third of the season (exactly, after tomorrow's game), it's time to look back at the season so far and assess their chances moving forward. The Braves are currently 28-25 and in 3rd in the NL East, 2.5 games behind the 1st place (!?!?!) Marlins.

Including tonight's debacle, the Braves are a miserable 6-18 on the road, including an 0-11 record in one run games on the road. Of those eleven losses, the Braves only scored 5 runs once, 4 or less in the rest. Clearly the offense has struggled significantly on the road. The last two games are perfect examples. Hudson went 8 IP and gave up 2 ER last night (ND, 3-2 loss), and Reyes gave up 1 ER in 7+ IP tonight (L, 1-0 loss). Those games are not on the starting pitchers. In both games, the bullpen either let a runner score (their own or inherited) within their first inning of work, but the offense is really to blame.

On the positive side, the Braves have the best home record in the NL, and Chipper Jones is out of this world right now. In a shutout tonight, Chipper was still on base after 3 of his 4 trips to the plate, and he is now hitting .418 and leading everyone in OBP and BA. He's not just hitting singles either, coming in 3rd in the NL in slugging. The pitching, especially the starters, have been great, and the bullpen recently had a stretch of 20+ IP with 0 ER.

Mike Hampton re-defines the term "injury-prone."

The injury bug hits every team, and the Braves are certainly no exception. Mike Hampton, who the Braves hoped would be the 4th starter, re-injured himself warming up for his first game and has yet to pitch an inning. Smoltz had a sore shoulder all April and has been on the DL since. Even the durable Tom Glavine spent a stint on the DL. Martin Prado, who was having a great April as the utility infielder, is hurt, and Mark Kotsay, known to have a bad back and coming off surgery, has missed the last three starts. Peter Moylan (ERA under 2 last year in 60+ outings) is out for the year, and Rafael Soriano, the supposed closer, has missed 6 weeks with elbow soreness.

Any smart Braves fan is thrilled to have "Z" over Andruw. (AP Photo)

Offseason brilliance:
The Braves' offseason moves look great two months into the year. Andruw Jones got paid huge bucks by the Dodgers, only to suck and now have knee surgery. In his stead, Kotsay has hit almost .300, is better defensively than Andruw this year, and has only missed 5 starts with his bad back, all for ~$10 million less. He's also experienced and a good solid guy in the clubhouse.

The Braves also sent stud SS Edgar Renteria to the Tigers. Edgar has played well up north, but the return was worth it. Jair Jurrjens, the "5th" starter, has been consistently outstanding in his rookie season, and a good minor league prospect came to Atlanta in the same deal. Also, Yuniel Escobar, the new SS, has looked great defensively and is hitting over .300. The Braves' front office did another great job.

Jair Jurrjens: What a great find, filling a huge need (see Chuck James). (AP Photo)

Starting pitching:
I'm just going to let the numbers speak for themselves. They've all been terrific (except Chuck James, and Reyes a couple times).

Campillo - 2 starts, 0.86 ERA, 1-0
Smoltz - 5 starts, 2.00 ERA, 27 IP, 3-2
Jurrjens (rookie) - 11 starts, 2.86 ERA, 66 IP, 5-3
Hudson - 12 starts, 2.90 ERA, 77.2 IP, 7-3
Glavine - 9 starts, 4.76 ERA, 45.1 IP, 2-2

That's 30 starts out of 53 games by pitchers with an ERA under 3, and all but James' 5 starts have been by pitchers with an ERA under 5, including the emergency starts by Jeff Bennett. What more could you ask? The Braves have not been blown out much.

"Yeah, I'm that good."

The Braves have great offensive numbers, the problem is inconsistency, especially on the road. The last two games against mediocre pitchers are perfect examples. Tonight, the Braves only managed 9 base runners, 7 of them from the top 4 spots in the lineup. Last night, of the Braves' 8 base runners, 4 came from the bottom 5 slots (including Hudson's double). The Braves will not win, no matter how great Chipper is, when the 4-5-6 part of the lineup is 1-10. Someone has to drive him in. It's hard to complain about the team statistics, but Tex and Francoeur need to pick it up if this team is going to the postseason. Neither of those guys should have slugging percentages at .420, and when they come alive, the Braves might be unstoppable. Jones, McCann, Escobar, Blanco, Kotsay, and Johnson are all at .294 or better. Chipper and McCann have slugging percentages around .600 from the 3 and 5 spots. Tex and Frenchie need to catch up and protect those guys from the 4 and 6 holes.

The Braves have a surprisingly solid pitching corps, and it should get better with the return of Soriano soon, and hopefully Smoltz shortly thereafter as the closer. A little consistency from the bats, especially on the road, would make this unquestionably the team to beat in the NL East. All the pieces are in place, they just need to execute.

May 27, 2008

ACC Rocks Men's Spring Sports

This post is for those of you who think the ACC only plays football and basketball or that there are no college sports in the spring.

ACC schools scored the #1, #2, #4, and #7 seeds in the national tournament, and the two top seeds made the Final Four before being upset. I was happy that Navy upset #4 UNC in the first round. Maryland and Virginia played in the second round, limiting the possible teams in the final four at 3.

The #1 Canes celebrate how good they are.

With the announcement of the NCAA bracket yesterday, the ACC claimed the #1, #2, and #4 national seeds, as well as 4 home sites in the first round. That means the ACC is expected to have 3 of the 8 teams at the College World Series.

FSU is #4 in the nation as a team and the host for one of the 4 regional meets this weekend prior to the national championships.

Back-to-back titles are worth celebrating for Somdev Devvarman.

UVA's Devvarman just finished a successful defense of his national men's singles title, and GT's Amanda McDowell won the women's singles title.

WNBA... Expect Great

So that is apparently the newest slogan from the red-headed stepchild of David Stern and Pat Summitt. I personally prefered "We've Got Next" because of how pathetically hopeful the slogan was.

Anyway, the following came across my office e-mail at 9:57 this morning. Names, offices, and everything else has been blocked out to protect the innocent (including yours truly):

I have 2 tickets to tonight's Mystics game against the Atlanta Dream. Center court, sixth row. Any takers?

Hmm.... rainy night so not good for outdoor activities. D.C. United has no game. Nationals on the road. So the Mystics are the only show in town. I'll update if necessary if there are in fact any takers. Who's with me though in hypothesizing that said seats will be pleasantly unoccupied and Verizon Center purple for about 2.5 hours tonight.

Although seeing this (Ann Strother from the Atlanta Dream):
might not be such a bad thing.