Monthly Archives: January 2009

Weekend Games to Watch 1/30/09

Notre Dame @ Pitt (Noon Saturday-ESPN)

Luke Harangody vs. DeJuan Blair. That’s the story line that will be jammed down your throat all game. I think Harangody is one of the few guys in the country that can limit DeJuan on the glass, and I’m a little worried that Luke can extend his game a bit, and Blair struggles more than 5 feet from the hoop (better make that .5 foot). If DeJuan holds his own (and maybe even if he doesn’t), I think Pitt has a much better supporting cast. I think Jermaine Dixon shadows Kyle McAlarney all day and that’s a significant contribution even if he doesn’t score a single point. I look for Pitt to wear down Notre Dame. The Irish don’t have much depth at all. I think the most interesting stat to watch will be rebounds. Both teams are excellent at rebounding (especially through physical play), and are used to winning the battle on the glass.

Player to watch: Luke Harangody-Notre Dame

If anyone is going to single-handedly win this thing, it’s Harangody. I’m not putting him in here thinking he’ll have a great game. I’m putting him in here thinking he needs to have a great game for the Irish to win.

Prediction: I think Notre Dame is capable of catching fire from beyond the arc. If Pitt is mindful of that, and competes for rebounds, they’ll win.

Penguins @ Maple Leafs (7pm Sunday-FSN Pittsburgh)

So Pittsburgh just lost a heart breaker in Jersey (did you see that goal at the end of regulation? The hockey gods are definitely angry at the Pens). Luckily, they have a very winnable game up in Toronto to bounce back with the very next day. The Leafs aren’t exactly a physical force, so that will help. Especially on the tail end of back to back road trip games. I think you should look for the Pens to try to hold the puck in the offensive zone and win some of those battles along the boards. If they can’t do it against Toronto, they have some issues to address.

Player to watch: Matt Cooke-Pittsburgh

The cookie monster returns to the lineup after serving a two game suspension for a dirty hit. I liked how he looked giving some grit to the top line right before the all star break. Will he jump right back into form?

Prediction: These are the games the Pens have to come away with. Hockey is a funny game of funny bounces, but you’ve got to find a way to come away with 2 points in games like this.

Steelers @ Cardinals (6:28pm Sunday-NBC)

Of course I’ve gotta make a prediction on the big game. I think the Steelers will be able to move the ball on offense, but they have to take care of the football. Arizona is +9 in turnovers in the playoffs (mostly thanks to the Panthers). On defense, I think the Steelers blitz will force the Cardinals into some timing routes which will be much easier for the secondary to defend. I think Arizona will get at least one long touchdown pass, and we have to be mentally ready to respond. I think if we play a good game, the score will be tight at the end, and Arizona is very capable of making some big plays down the stretch. So, we need to be ready to put the game away when the time comes. Overall, it’s a good recipe for a lot of heart attacks in Pittsburgh.

P.S.: if you’re a truly sick betting man, the over/under on the amount of time it will take for Jennifer Hudson to sing the national anthem is 1 minute 57 seconds. Out of curiousity, and after some You-tube lookups, she averages a little over 2 minutes. I say she milks the Super Bowl spotlight and I’m going with the over.

Player to watch: Larry Fitzgerald-Arizona

Gatta go with Larry. He can really hurt the Steelers by punishing the few mistakes they may make. He’ll be the focal point. If he has a big day through the double teams the Steelers will put on him, it’s a long night for Steeler fans.

Prediction: Drum roll please……….I have to go with Pittsburgh. Great defense usually pays off on any day in any sport. It always gives you a chance to win. But that’s only a chance. I’m not nearly as confident with this pick as some fans seem to be.

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Quick Note

Just a quick note on something I’ve been looking at here.  It’s no secret that the Cardinals are playing much better in the playoffs.  Most of the credit has been going to their defense, and there’s a good argument for it.  In the regular season, the Cards gave up an average of 27 points per game.  Now it’s about 22.  They also have a ridiculous turnover margin of +9 in the playoffs (it was even in the regular season).  But there’s a flip side to this where the stats aren’t so drastic.  The total yards given up per game is pretty even: 331.5 in the regular season, 324.3 in the post season.  The number of first downs given up per game is also pretty even: 19.5 regular season, 19.3 post season.  It looks a lot like the Cards defensive stats in the post season have been the result of a few big plays rather than sustained improvement.  Their stats are a ‘house of cards’, if you will (insert rim shot and groan here).

I’d argue that the Cardinal offense has seen a bigger turnaround in the playoffs.  They’re scoring an average of 5 more points a game (32 vs. 27).  The yardage is pretty similar (366 ypg regular season 362 ypg post season), but the big difference is time of possession.  Arizona  had the ball an average of 30:10 minutes a game in the regular season: for all intents an purposes, exactly half the game.  In the post season, they’ve had the ball an average of 33:15.  That doesn’t sound like much, but that creates a gap of more than 6 minutes of possession between them and their opponents.  The cause of this is obvious: more balance with the rushing game.  Arizona averaged 74 ypg on the ground in the regular season.  That’s gone up to 111 ypg in the post season.  The balance is also evident in play calling.  In the regular season, the Cardinals were 65% passing plays 35% running plays.  In the post season, they’re 48% pass and 52% run.

The best receiving corps in the league just found a running game to ballance them out?  That’s got me a little nervous.

Stats from nfl.com and espn.com

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Weekly Beer Recommendation 1/29/09

This one almost feels like cheating. Unibroue is one of Canada’s (and in my opinion on of the world’s) greatest breweries. The Quebec brewery attempts and Belgian style with the Maudite and measures up just fine. I think it’s even better than a lot of authentic Belgians I’ve tried. They have the typical sweet taste of a Belgian beer that comes from the yeast, but they do the Belgian’s one better with some subtle fruit and spice flavors thrown in. The beer is extremely smooth and almost has a creamy feel to it. It’s a terrific beer for what I hope will be a terrific game on Sunday. Cheers!

Photo from http://www.worldclassbeverages.com/images/prodimages/Unibroue/lMauditeLogo.jpg

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State of the Team: Steelers 1/27/09

  • Congrats on reaching the top of your profession.  Now, embarrass yourself for a bunch of cameras.

There are a lot of theories out there on what will happen on Sunday.  Too many to link to, so I’ll just list some stories here that have been repeated a lot and give my take.

Coach Whisenhunt knows the offense: Ed Bouchette of the Post Gazette has this one pretty well nailed.  Coach Whis knows the gist of the Steeler blitzing schemes.  So does every other coach that looks at tape of previous Steeler games.  The real benefit here is that Whisenhunt knows the offensive players psyche’s better than anyone.  But the impact from that is minimal at best.

Wow.  The Cardinal receiving corps is good: Well, there’s some merit to this one, but I think this is akin to saying that Einstein was smart.  Everyone recognizes this as a major matchup, but no one know really how it will play out.  I’ve heard a lot of people suggest that the Steelers just need to get pressure on Kurt Warner.  Easier said than done.  But I think the Cardinal receivers are best downfield.  Making them go to quick timing routes would get them out of their comfort zone and be a good offshoot of blitzing even if we don’t get to Warner.

Will Hines play/be effective?: It’s obvious he wants to play.  I think with the entire off season to rest, I’d expect him to play.  Remember Terrell Owens a few years ago in the Super Bowl playing with a sprained ankle and fractured fibula?  As long as he can stand and he won’t do permanent damage, he’ll be out there.  As for being effective?  We’ll see.  TO had 9 catches for 122 yards in Super Bowl XXXIX (Wikipedia).  Hines is better and tougher than TO, right?

Arizona is a bunch of newbies to the Super Bowl.  The Steelers are experienced: I don’t buy this one as an advantage at all.  Just look at Super Bowl XXXVI (New kids on the block Patriots beat experienced Rams.  Start dynasty).  Or Super Bowl XLII (Inexperienced New York Giants beat said Patriots.  Hopefully end dynasty).

Overall, my impression of this game is that it will be one of tempo.  If it turns into a track meet, I don’t think anyone will favor Pittsburgh.  I think the Steelers will try to make sustained drives and just keep that dangerous Arizona offense on the sidelines.  I think the Cardinals will use their run game to open up the passing game and get a lot of big plays.  Just like a college basketball game, the slower tempo usually will win out.  However, the team that prefers the slower tempo doesn’t always win.  One of the beautiful things about football is that points are the result of sustained drives that require a lot of effort, but they can be gained through gambles in a pinch.  So one team can dominate a game, but if they don’t go up by 3 or 4 scores, the game isn’t over.  The Cardinals are very capable of cashing in on some of those gambles.

I see the Steelers blitzing as usual, and forcing some short passes over the middle.  It’s up to the secondary to turn those into incompletions.  I think our offense should be able to put up a few touchdowns on the Cardinals.  Although they have improved over the course of the playoffs, the Arizona defense is still one of the weaker defense we will have seen in the post season.  It’ll be an entertaining game at the very least.

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Special Feature: Bracketology

The Pitt basketball team played a heck of a game yesterday.  I really can’t complain about anything.  So, I decided instead of a state of the team rant for this week, I’d have some fun and do a bracketology experiment instead.  The bracket was made with the following procedure:

  • Pick out the current conference leaders.  In the case of a tie (which I define as equal number of conference losses), I used my own discression when picking a champ.
  • Fill out the rest of the field using my own discretion.
  • Rank them 1-65.
  • Split them into 4 team seeds.
  • Place the number 1 seeds in the closest regional.
  • Place seeds 1-4 in the closest first/second round location (if a location was closest to three schools, the top ranked teams got it).
  • Place the remaining seeds in by closest location (already defined by 1-4 seeds) and repeat matchups (teams that will already have played each other can not be in the same 4 team bracket).

So without further adu, here it is.  I won’t go into detail of why I seeded a team where.  This post is long enough.  If you wanna know…ask.

Memphis Regional

Greensboro, NC

#1 Duke (ACC Champ) vs. #16 Play-in (Alabama St. (SWAC Champ) vs. Morgan St. (MEAC Champ))

#8 Kansas vs. #9 Western Kentucky (Sun Belt Champ)

Portland, OR

#4 Arizona St. vs. #13 Dayton

#5 Villanova vs. #12 Tennessee

Kansas City, MO

#3 Texas vs. #14 Creighton

#6 Illinois vs. #11 Arkansas

Dayton, OH

#7 Davidson (Southern Champ) vs. #10 California

#2 Louisville (Big East Champ) vs. #15 Austin Peay (Ohio Valley Champ)

Boston Regional

Philadelphia, PA

#1 UConn vs. #16 Robert Morris (NEC Champ)

#8 Florida vs. #9 Missouri

Miami, FL

#4 Clemson vs. #13 Virginia Military Institute (Big South Champ)

#5 Purdue vs. #12 Siena (MAAC Champ)

Minneapolis, MN

#3 Marquette vs. #14 Temple

#6 St. Mary’s (CA) vs. #11 BYU

Miami, FL

#7 Minnesota vs. #10 Southern Cal

#2 Wake Forest vs. #15 Texas A&M Corpus Christi (Southland Champ)

Indianapolis Regional

Philadelphia, PA

#1 Pitt vs. #16 American (Patriot Champ)

#8 Baylor vs. #9 Virginia Tech

Boise, ID

#4 Gonzaga (WCC Champ) vs. Utah St. (WAC Champ)

#5 UCLA vs. #12 Illinois St.

Boise, ID

#3 Butler (Horizon Champ) vs. #14 Portland St. (Big Sky Champ)

#6 Memphis (C-USA Champ) vs. #11 Florida St.

Minneapolis, MN

#7 West Virginia vs. #10 Northern Iowa (Missouri Valley Champ)

#2 Michigan St. (Big 10 Champ) vs. #15 North Dakota St. (Summit Champ)

Phoenix Regional

Kansas City, MO

#1 Oklahoma (Big XII Champ) vs. #16 East Tennessee St. (Atlantic Sun Champ)

#8 Georgetown vs. #9 UNLV (Mountain West Champ)

Portland, OR

#4 Syracuse vs. #13 Long Beach St. (Big West Champ)

#5 Washington (Pac 10 Champ) vs. #12 Vermont (America East Champ)

Dayton, OH

#3 Xavier (Atlantic 10 Champ) vs. #14 Buffalo (MAC Champ)

#6 Notre Dame vs. #11 Ohio St.

Greensboro, NC

#7 Kentucky (SEC Champ) vs. #10 Virginia Commonwealth (CAA Champ)

#2 North Carolina vs. #15 Cornell (Ivy League Champ)

Joe Lunardi eat your heart out.

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Weekend Games to Watch 1/24/09

Maryland @ Duke (Noon Saturday-ESPN)

Pretty lame slate of games this weekend.  But there are a few interesting matchups.  Maryland/Duke is always a good rivalry (or not depending on who you ask) game.  It’s always entertaining to say the least.  Both teams can play awfully fast when they want to.  Coach K is famous for his matchup zone defense which always limits Maryland’s  penetration.  But Maryland has nipped the Dukies before through the transition game.  If this game turns into a track meet, Duke’s in trouble.  If Duke can slow the tempo down to about 100 miles/hour (down from the speed of light that the Terps usually prefer), then they win.  Either way, this should be a high scoring game with a lot of pretty transition layups that make the majority of people say ‘ooooh’ and make people that know the game of basketball say ‘why didn’t the defense get back in transition?’

Player to watch: Gerald Henderson-Duke

I like the heady senior with the quick hands on defense to make some plays.  I think he could cause some turnovers and get in the way of Maryland’s run and gun a little bit.  Expect him to score a few points, but make a huge impact in the steals column.

Prediction: This isn’t Maryland’s greatest team in recent memory, and I don’t think they can handle Duke.  Duke wins by about 15-20: 80 something to 60 something.

UConn @ Notre Dame (7pm Saturday-ESPN)

The Leprechaun Legion will be in full voice as college gameday is in the house (and being stupid for a chance to be on TV is a vital part of the college experience).   I think a lot will be made of the Hasheem Thabeet vs. Luke Harangody matchup, and rightfully so.  When two of the best players in the conference match up against each other, its a big deal.  I’m going to give the edge to Harangody on this one.  I think Thabeet is an excellent shot blocker, but he’s not the best at altering shots.  Harangody has some of the best post moves in the big east and I’m ready to pencil him in for 15 points right now.  However, the frontcourt matchup is a huge strength for UConn.  I think UConn’s guards drive all day on the Domer defense, and run away with this one.

Player to watch: Jerome Dyson-UConn

If Dyson plays his game and goes right at the ND defense, he will get some points and may even get some fouls on Harangody as a bonus.  That’s when you know it’ll be a really long day for the Irish.

Prediction: As long as Thabeet can hang with Harangody on the boards, I like the Huskies a lot in this one.

Pitt @ West Virginia (4pm Sunday-ESPN Regional)

This one’s going to be another game where the gym’ll be rocking.  Not only is the hated Pitt coming to town, but they’re bringing a top 5 ranking with them.  WVU’s been looking for respect, and they got some from Georgetown, but a win against Pitt would really put them on the map.  I was very impressed by the way WVU played against the Hoyas.  They rebounded extremely well.  They drove the lane hard and often.  That’s a good formula for beating Pitt if they can keep it up.  Defensively, they like to try to deny the inside.  So the game plan for Pitt might be to launch 3’s and let Blair go for rebounds to try and get the Mountaineers to extend a little bit defensively.  I think the good thing in this game is that WVU has struggled to score against physical defenses, and that is Pitt in a nutshell.

Player to watch: Sam Young-Pitt

I mentioned before that Pitt may launch 3’s and go after the rebound.  However, if Young can start driving the lane and drawing fouls (maybe look for Jermaine Dixon to do this too), it could be another way to score.  That would make things a lot easier for Pitt.

Prediction: I don’t like this matchup for Pitt at all.  Especially with the hostile crowd.  But I’m a homer who can’t pick against his teams.  Especially when they play WVU.

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Weekly Beer Recommendation 1/22/09

This week’s beer selection is just an all around good beer. It’s a little more common than the other three I’ve listed so far, but that’s a testament to Dogfish Head. They’re a microbrewery in Delaware that’s getting quite a following, but still maintains its quality. The 90 minute IPA offering has a definite citrus feel to it: both in the taste and the aroma. The only warning I have is that this IS an IPA, so it’s very hoppy. There are a decent amount of malts in there to balance it out a little, but this one’s not for those that hate hoppy stuff. For everyone else, however, enjoy.

Picture from http://www.thecookblog.com/images/90minuteipa.jpg

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