Category Archives: Basketball

TV Ratings for the NHL and NBA

This post is a bit of a momentous occasion for the Rally Cap – it’s the first post written in response to comments left on this blog and on our facebook page.  A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post detailing attendance figures for both the NHL and NBA.  This post prompted some feedback from readers mentioning that attendance only tells part of the story when it comes to a franchise’s business success.   Those readers were correct, most modern sports get a large portion of their revenue from HUGE television deals.  While I briefly covered television deals in a post about MLS back in March, the Rally Cap has yet to  explore television ratings.  Note: Since then, the NHL signed a new, massive (for them) television contract with Versus/NBC Sports.  The contract will average $200 million per year for 10 years.  While the NHL’s television contract does not come close to either of the other Big Four sports, this is a substantial step in the right direction for the league.

NBA local television ratings. Some of the statistics are pretty interesting. (Source: SportsBusiness Journal)

As with attendance figures, the SportsBusiness Journal is a great source for those interested in TV ratings (click for an explanation of what the ratings measures are) for teams around the NHL and NBA.  The April 18-24 issue of the SBJ has an article about television ratings in the NHL; the SBJ website posted a corresponding article on the NBA.   The numbers used are through April 11, which accounts for virtually the entire regular season (minus a game or two). The numbers presented in the SBJ article on NHL attendance are a bit incomplete.  While the NBA numbers are missing two teams (New Orleans and Toronto), the NHL numbers are missing the 6 Canadian teams (Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton and Ottawa).

Now to the interesting part – the numbers.

Things we learned:

Teams without competition do well – Some of the top performers are teams that are in one team markets (those that have either an NHL or NBA team, but not both).  The San Antonio Spurs lead the NBA in local television ratings with an average 10.19 rating, which was almost double second place Utah (5.6). Pittsburgh led the NHL in local television ratings at 8.68, Buffalo was second with a 7.03, and the St. Louis Blues were a surprising fifth with a 3.07.  Clearly it helps being the only thing in town.

The Cavs fans don't miss LeBron. TV ratings and attendance were still strong despite James taking his talents to South Beach.

Cleveland doesn’t really miss LeBron – Despite the largest season-to-season drop in ratings (54%) in the NBA, the Cleveland Cavaliers (another team from a one team market) were still 7th in the NBA in local ratings (3.93).  Combine the TV ratings with the attendance figures and it’s pretty clear that Cleveland loves their Cavs, King James or no King James.

New Jersey Hates its Teams – The Garden State just doesn’t support the Devils or the Nets, despite the fact that they are the only two teams that play in New Jersey that actually admit it.  The Nets played before the lowest average attendance in the NBA and had the lowest ratings in the NBA by a wide margin.  The Nets averaged a .29 rating, which is over three times lower than the Clippers (.99) who were next to last. The Devils just missed the bottom 5 in NHL TV ratings and attendance, posting a .47 rating and playing before under 15,000 fans per night.  The bright side for the Devils is that they posted better numbers than the Nets in both categories.

Atlanta Hates its Teams Too – The Hawks ranked 22nd in the NBA in attendance, drawing around 15,600 fans and are the only team in the playoffs to end up in the bottom 5 in average ratings at 1.17.  The Thrashers were second to last in local TV ratings in the NHL (.23) and played before an average of 13,400 fans.  Maybe a deep run in the playoffs, they already knocked off the Orlando Magic, will help the Hawks.  The only thing that will help the Trashers is moving somewhere cold.

Boston Loves its Teams – While New Jersey and Atlanta could care less about their NHL and NBA franchises, Boston is the only city to appear in the top 5 in local ratings for both the NBA and the NHL.  The Celtics averages a 4.73 ratings, while the Bruins pulled down a 3.12.  The cold New England winters have to help (what else are you going to do?), but most of the success comes from the fact that both teams were battling for the top spot in their conferences for most of the season.

Some Markets Like Hockey More than Basketball – One of the those markets is Washington, D.C.  Not exactly known for being a hotbed of hockey enthusiasm, the Capitals drew a 1.8 rating, while the Wizards drew a 1.15 (check out the article here).  As mentioned above, even though New Jersey hates its sports teams, the Devils outperformed the Nets.  Complete numbers for all teams were hard to come by, but based on previous years numbers Philadelpha loves the Flyers more than the Sixers and Minneapolis/St. Paul supports the Wild more than the Timberwolves.  I’m guessing the numbers might be different, but the outcome is still the same for both Philly and Minneapolis.

The NHL Needs to Give Up it Warm Weather Pipe Dream – As mentioned in my post on attendance, warm weather teams are not well supported.  Seven of the bottom ten teams in the NHL in attendance are located in the South or California.  Four of the bottom 5 NHL teams in the television ratings are in warm weather cities (the Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, Atlanta Thrashers and Florida Panthers).  The only team in the bottom 5 of the NHL ratings not in a warm weather city are the Islanders.  It will be interesting to see if the NHL thinks about moving any of these teams now that they have their lucrative new TV contract.

The NBA Had a Good Year – Attendance was up for the NBA; television ratings too. According to the SportsBusiness Journal, “Overall, the local ratings story was a good one for the league. Fourteen of the 28 teams that SportsBusiness Journal obtained ratings on saw double-digit increases, including big market teams like the Los Angeles Clippers (up 130 percent on Prime Ticket), Chicago Bulls (up 91 percent on CSN Chicago) and New York Knicks (up 89 percent on MSG).”  ESPN reports that national numbers mirrored the increase in local numbers, “…[the NBA’s] three national TV partners all had their most viewers ever this season, topped by a 42 percent increase for TNT. ABC was up 38 percent and ESPN had a 28 percent jump, the league said Friday.”  Not bad for a league that might not have a season next year.

… And So Did the NHL - According the The Triangle Business Journal, citing information from the Sports Business Journal, the NHL on Versus saw a 19% increase in viewership and NBC saw a 3.9% increase.  Not earth shattering numbers, but moving in the right direction.

Next season the NHL could be presented with a unique opportunity – it could open the season (or play the entire season) without competition from the NBA.  If the NBA labor situation isn’t resolved, will the NHL benefit?

Disagree/agree/just have a something to say, leave a comment.

Attendance in the NBA and NHL

While Cavs fans might feel betrayed by LeBron James, they have shown their support for the team despite a 19-63 record. (Mike Cardew/Akron Beacon Journal/MCT)

Beyond my interest in sports as fan, my interest in the business of sports has grown over the past several years.  One of the aspects of sports business that I find the most interesting are attendance figures for teams in the various leagues. I’m interested in the raw numbers, but also in what cause fluctuations from year to year or within seasons.  A helpful tool for my odd obsession with attendance figures is the SportsBusiness Journal’s Turnstile Tracker.  The SBJ, in its April 4-10 issue, published the latest Turnstile Tracker for the NBA and the NHL and some of the statistics were surprising.  Let’s take a look at the NBA first.

NBA – A couple of things jumped out at me as I was perusing the figures.  These numbers are through March 29, which accounts for between 35-38 of an NBA team’s 41 home games.

1. The Cleveland Cavaliers are 2nd in the NBA in overall attendance at 763,636 fans through 38 games (the Chicago Bulls are first by a wide margin – 803,874 fans through 37 games).  While the average (20,096) isn’t 100% of capacity (which is 20,562 for the Quicken Loans Arena), it’s still pretty impressive.  Cleveland wasn’t competitive this season, finishing just 19-63, and lost LeBron James to the Miami Heat in the offseason. It’s almost like the fans in Cleveland came out to support the team as a way to stick it to LeBron.  Impressively, 24 home games counted at the time of publication, were played before an arena holding 98% or more of capacity.  The only other teams – the Boston Celtics, Chicago, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami, New York Knicks, Oklahoma City Thunder, Orlando Magic, Portland Trail Blazers, and the Utah Jazz,  to match that are in the playoffs or in Utah’s case are the only thing in town (no offense to Real Salt Lake who don’t play for most of the NBA season). Several playoff teams – the Philadelphia 76ers, Indiana Pacers, Denver Nuggets, Memphis Grizzlies, and Atlanta Hawks – couldn’t match Cleveland’s support.

2. The Philadelphia 76ers played the most games (25 out of 35) in front of crowds that were less than 75% of capacity.  This surprises me.  The 76ers got off to a rough start, but were competitive throughout the season and made the playoffs.  On average only 70.8% of the seats in the arena were filled on any given night.  It’s pretty clear that the Sixers have slipped to #4, and maybe even #5 behind the Philadelphia Union, in the pecking order of Philadelphia sports.

3. Only two teams (the New Jersey Nets and the Indiana Pacers) played before crowds of fewer than 10,000 fans.  New Jersey played a game before just 8,866 fans, and Indiana played before 9,466.  An interesting fact about the Nets – despite playing before the lowest crowd in the NBA this season, the team has enjoyed an 8.6% increase in attendance from last year.

4. Overall, the NBA has seen a 1% increase in attendance vs. last season and is playing before arenas filled to 90.1% of capacity.

It seems like a lot of fans will be missing the NBA if the current labor situation does not get resolved before the start of next season.  The current collective bargaining agreement expires on June 30 and the possibility of a lockout looks more and more likely. That said, there are clearly a couple of markets that probably wouldn’t miss the hardwood too much if the 2011-2012 season if the NBA shortens or cancels its season.

NHL – The NHL, more than the NBA, relies on putting fans in the seats to pay the bills, and is having a pretty good year overall.  The numbers cited below account for between 37-40 of the NHL’s 41 home games. Some interesting numbers:

1. The NHL is averaging only a couple hundred fewer fans per game than the NBA – 17,071 for the NHL to the NBA’s 17,262.  Not bad for a sport that is a distant 4th in the pantheon of American sports.

2. While it might have seemed sad that the Nets and Pacers played before fewer than 10,000 fans, they have nothing on the NHL.  The New York Islanders played a game at Nassau Coliseum in front of just 3,136 fans.  It is worth mentioning that this game was played during the post-Christmas blizzard that blanketed much of the Northeast in over a foot of snow, but other teams were still able to but fans in the seats.  There were 4 other teams that played before crowds of fewer than 10,000 fans – the Atlanta Thrashers (8,461), the Columbus Blue Jackets (9,128), the New Jersey Devils (5,329) and the Phoenix Coyotes (6,706).

3. Of the teams with the 10 lowest average attendance figures (click here to see the list from ESPN – this list doesn’t match the SBJ list exactly, but it is illustrative), 6 are located in the South and 1 is in California.  It’s pretty clear that the NHL’s strategy to expand into the South isn’t working and some of those teams need to be relocate to areas that will support the teams.

4. Chicago loves it NBA and NHL teams.  The Blackhawks and Bulls are the leaders in average attendance for both leagues.  While part of this can be attributed to the United Center’s ability to hold nearly 20,00o seated fans for hockey and nearly 21,000 for basketball, both teams are playing to capacities of over 100%, meaning fans are flocking to see the Blackhawks and Bulls play and are willing to stand to do it.  Impressive.

Philadelphia fans have been turning out in bunches to see the Flyers, but have abandoned the Sixers.

5.  While Philly has seemingly abandoned the playoff bound Sixers, the Flyers have seen an uptick in attendance compared to last season.  The Flyers are 3rd in the NHL in average attendance and have played before 100.9% of capacity over the course of the season.

It will be interesting to see if the NHL capitalizes on the potential NBA labor strife.  If there is a shortened or canceled NBA season, will that mean more fans going to see hockey?  Time will tell.

Sweet Sixteen – Will the Upsets Continue?

Is your bracket as busted as mine?

If there is one thing that is true about the NCAA tournament, it is that things rarely go as people anticipate.  Just take a look at my bracket, there is a lot of red ink on that page (and mine isn’t even among the worst in my office’s competition).  Every year March Madness proves that on any given day a team like Louisville or Purdue can be beaten by teams like Morehead State or VCU.

This year there are more “Cinderellas” still alive than in recent years.  Though I’m a bit reluctant to call Florida State/Marquette (power conference teams with double-digit seeds) or Butler (they were in the national final last year) Cinderellas.  There are really only two teams that fit that bill still playing – VCU and Richmond.  Oddly, as ESPN pointed out, both hail from Richmond, Virginia – not exactly a hotbed of college hoops.  The biggest question is can either of these Cinderellas continue their journey, or will the clock strike midnight?

Let’s break down the Sweet Sixteen.

East Region -

Ohio State vs. Kentucky – No upsets here.  This is a matchup that many predicted, including me and President Obama.  Ohio State, ranked #1 in the country, comes into the game playing extremely well, easily defeating both University of Texas-San Antonio and George Mason.  The Buckeyes are led by Final Four vet David Lighty and talented freshman Jared Sullinger, but are much deeper, with a cast of talented players that know how to play as a cohesive unit.

Kentucky, like Ohio State, comes into this game on a roll.  While the Wildcats had trouble with Princeton in the first round, they haven’t lost since a 77-76 OT defeat by Arkansas in Fayetteville back on February 23.  The Cats are led by two dynamic freshmen, Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones.

Either team has the talent to make a run to the national title game, but I believe that Ohio State’s experience will win out.  Kentucky is a young, raw team while Ohio State has several savvy veterans leading the way. As much as I would like to see the Buckeyes go down, I don’t see it happening.

North Carolina vs. Marquette – While many saw the first matchup in this region coming, this game comes as at bit of surprise.  Marquette entered the tournament with a 20-14 record overall and a 9-9 record in the Big East.  The Gold Eagles were inconsistent throughout the year, defeating West Virginia and Syracuse twice, Notre Dame by 22 points but losing to Seton Hall by 13.  Perhaps the Golden Eagles have found some consistency, as they needed wins over Xavier and Syracuse (two teams ranked in the top 20) to get to the Sweet Sixteen.

North Carolina, the regular season ACC champions, were lucky to escape their 3rd round game with Washington.  Other than this close call, and a thorough defeat by Duke in the ACC title game, the Tar Heels have played some good basketball.  Led by impact freshman Harrison Barnes, and junior Tyler Zeller, the Heels have a high-flying offensive attack, averaging 77 points per game.

While Marquette is physical and plays some good D, I think their inconsistency will come back to haunt them in this one.  Expect to see the Heels marching on to play the Buckeyes.

WEST REGION -

Duke vs. Arizona – Another matchup of college hoops heavy weights. The West Region saw no major upsets (only Arizona beating 4 seed Texas – if you can call that an upset), and has served up some intriguing games.  The Blue Devils have lost just 4 games all season, but struggled to hold their lead against Michigan in the 3rd round.  Duke’s own star freshman, Kyrie Irving, has played in both games after being out since early December.  Irving’s return has altered the way the Blue Devils play, especially Nolan Smith’s role, and it will be interesting to see how this affects the Blue Devils against Arizona.

Arizona, like Duke, is a traditional power and is making their return to the Sweet Sixteen after failing to qualify for the tournament last season.  The Wildcats, Pac-10 regular season champions, have won their games to get to this point by a combined 3 points.  The Cats are led by 6’8” sophomore forward, Derrick Williams who led the team in points and rebounds.

This game should be a good one, with the Wildcats taking the Blue Devils down to the wire.  That said, I think Duke’s size (when was the last time anyone could say that about the Blue Devils?) will ultimately be the deciding factor.  The Plumlee brothers and Ryan Kelly give the Blue Devils the advantage.

UCONN vs. San Diego State - A match of the nouveau riche against old money.  San Diego State, needed two overtime periods to defeat Temple in the 2nd round, but you can’t argue with the team’s success over the season.  Led by sophomore forward Kawhi Leonard (who has one of the best names in the field of 68)  the Aztecs have been ranked inside the top ten in the polls since the 6th week of the season.   Steve Fisher has San Diego State in the tournament for the 4th time during his tenure, with this season being the Aztecs deepest run into March.  The Aztecs also posted a school-record 34 wins this season.

UCONN is a bit of an enigma.  Which team will show up against the Aztecs? The team that ran through the Big East tournament? Or the team that finished just 9-9 during the Big East regular season?  If Kemba Walker keeps playing at his highest level, the Huskies are a very dangerous team.  As Joe Lunardi points out in this article from ESPN, “… SDSU’s only two losses came at the hands of a single great scorer (Fredette) and Walker is probably the only other player left in the tournament with that kind of potential.” If Walker dominates, the Huskies could be headed to the Elite Eight.

Also like Lunardi mentioned, “This is a classic encounter of “team” versus “individual,” and I’m going with the better team (especially in Anaheim).”

SouthEaST REGION -

Butler vs. Wisconsin – This is a battle of two teams that are tournament tested.  When Butler lost their star Gordon Hayward to the NBA following their loss to Duke in last season’s final, many predicted the Bulldogs would struggle this season.  They were right, as the Bulldogs struggled out of the gate; however, since February 5, Butler has won 11 games in a row.  While the Bulldogs have won their two tournament games by a combined 3 points, they are deep and experienced.

Wisconsin is a team that plays great defense and tries to win by wearing their opponents down.  For example, the Badgers, led by Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor, lost to Penn State in the Big Ten tournament 36-33 (one of the lowest scoring games since the shot clock was implemented).  The Badgers aren’t flashy, but they are smart.  They play within their system and they do it well.

It will be interesting to see how two veteran teams match up against each other with an Elite 8 bid on the line.  Both have to think that if they can win this game a Final Four trip is a realistic possibility.  Given Butler’s experience and hot streak, I’m picking the Bulldogs.

BYU vs. Florida – A rematch of a first round game from last season (BYU beat Florida 99-92 in 2OT, and the world met Jimmer Fredette) this should be a fun game to watch.  BYU is 8th in the country in scoring at nearly 82 points per game and Jimmer Fredette (the country’s leading scorer) is a one man wrecking crew.  The Cougars have responded well to Brandon Davies‘ suspension, beating Wofford and Gonzaga, but have yet to play a team of Florida’s caliber in the tournament.

The Gators get a chance for revenge against the Cougars.  The SEC East champions have been on roll with just two losses (both toe Kentucky) since February 1. Florida won their second round game comfortably, but UCLA hung with the Gators in the 3rd round.  If Florida is to win this game, somebody needs to stop Jimmer Fredette.

I’m picking the Cougars here.  I think Jimmer will throw BYU on his back and take down the Gators just like last season.

SOUTHWEST REGION -

Kansas vs. Richmond – Finally we’ve come to the Southwest Region.  The Region of upsets.  This is the first time that 3 double-digit seeds have reached the Sweet Sixteen in one region since the tournament expanded to its current format in 1985.  While there have been upsets galore in this region, don’t expect the run to continue with this game.  The Jayhawks are, in my opinion, the best team in college basketball.  With just two loses (1 to Kansas State, the other to Texas), the Jayhawks are one of the most powerful offensive teams in college hoops.  Led my the Morris twins (Markieff and Marcus), Kansas will be looking to prove last year’s loss to Northern Iowa in the 2nd round was a fluke.  The Jayhawks are deep, talented and on a mission

Richmond, despite what their coach might say, is just happy to be in the Sweet Sixteen.  Making it this far is a triumph for the Spiders, the Atlantic 10 champions.  The Spiders’ signature win this season is an 11 point victory over Purdue back in November.  Of the double-digit seeds, the Spiders had the easiest road to the Sweet sixteen.  They defeated an overrated Vanderbilt team in the 2nd round, and knocked off fellow Cinderella, Morehead State in round 3.  While the Spiders have’t gotten much press, they do have some talented players, particularly Justin Harper and Kevin Anderson. If Harper and Anderson can get hot, the Spiders could scare the Jayhawks.

That said, I expect the Jayhawks to continue their march to the Final Four.

Florida State vs. VCU – There is one thing we know about this game – a double-digit seed will make the Elite Eight.  Which one will it be?

VCU finished the season 23-11 and many complained about their inclusion in the field of 68 (this blogger is included).  The Rams easily defeated an undeserving USC team to make it into the second round and hasn’t looked back.  With back-to-back, convincing victories over Georgetown and Purdue, the Rams are for real.  They have won both by playing good defense (against G’town) and by attacking (against Purdue).  Jamie Skeen, who leads the Rams in both scoring and rebounding, is the man to watch for VCU.  He has been quiet in the tournament, but he is capable of big things.  Others to watch are Bradford Burgess and Joey Rodriguez, who killed my beloved BU Terriers last season in the College Basketball Invitational semifinals.

Florida State, under Leonard Hamilton, have become a thorn in the side of North Carolina and Duke in the ACC.  The Seminoles are a dogged defensive team, probably the best in the tournament.  They allowed just 61.7 points per game this season, but have trouble scoring.  Chris Singleton, the ‘Noles’, best player has played very little since breaking his right foot in early February, but has played in both of FSU’s games in the tournament.  How large a role will he play against VCU?  If he plays, I think the Seminoles will find an answer for their scoring woes.  If he doesn’t it may not matter that the ‘Noles only give up 61 points, they might not be able to score that many.

I am going to go out on a bit of a limb here and pick VCU to win this game.  They seem to have a swagger about them.

March has been mad this season, with upsets aplenty.  And I see a few more coming this week.  Here’s, a quick recap of my picks:

Ohio State
UNC
Duke
San Diego State
Butler
BYU
Kansas
VCU

Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year…

 It’s that time of year again;  the most wonderful time of the year for college sports fans.  The NCAA Men’s basketball tournament field was just revealed and people around the country are preparing excuses for why they suddenly developed illnesses on Thursday and Friday.

Selection Sunday is one of my favorite days of the year.  I love watching the conference tournaments leading up to the selection special, and I love to watch as they reveal the teams.  Today was no different.  My alma mater, Boston University, won the America East in dramatic fashion yesterday and awaited their fate.  Barely 20 minutes into the program, Terrier Nation found out where and who our team would be playing.  The Terriers drew a 16 seed and the unpleasant task of facing the University of Kansas.  While a 16 seed has never defeated a 1 seed in since the tournament took on its current format in 1985, an alum can hope.

The Selection Committee, as usual, has given pundits, bloggers and fans alike plenty to talk about.  Did Pitt and Duke deserve #1 seeds? How did USC, Clemson and Virginia Commonwealth (VCU) make it into the field of 68, while St. Mary’s, Colorado, and Virginia Tech are on the outside?  Is Florida really a #2 seed? Why is Utah State only a #12 despite a 30-3 record? Check out my quick reaction to each region.

Who runs your office pool? It is estimated that March Madness costs employers between $1.4 billion and $3.8 billion in lost productivity per year.

East Region – Ohio State, as much as I hate to say it, deserved the top seed in the tournament.  The Buckeyes lost just two games all season, both on the road against highly ranked teams (Wisconsin and Purdue).  They easily won the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles and have played well all season.Georgia is lucky to be in the tournament and lucky to be a 10 seed. Many people thought the Bulldogs were squarely on the bubble.  ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had them as one of the first 4 teams to miss the tournament. By handing Georgia a 10 seed, the Committee tells everyone that Georgia made the tournament easily. Georgia deserved being in the tournament (they have an RPI of 46 and a strength of schedule of 43) but a 10 seed was generous.

I am surprised that University of Alabama-Birmingham and Clemson both made the tournament. Both teams were on the bubble.  Joe Lunardi had UAB as one of the first four out, and Clemson as one of the last 4 in, I think it should have been the other way around.  UAB had a very good season, going 22-8 and winning the Conference USA regular season title. The Blazers enter the tournament with an RPI of 31. Clemson finished 21-11 and had an RPI of 55.  Either or both could have easily missed the tournament.

The East is top-heavy.  The top 4 seeds (Ohio State, North Carolina, Syracuse and Kentucky) are all capable of winning this region and the tournament. The 5 seed – Xavier, could make a run.  My potential sleeper in the region is the 9 seed, Villanova.  Nova is just two seasons removed from a Final Four appearance and started this season 17-1.  While the Wildcats have disappeared in the second half of the season, they have the talent and the coaching to make some noise in the tournament.  They could just as easily lose to George Mason in the first round.

West Region -Duke deserved a number 1 seed, but being shipped to the West Region is hardly a reward for the Blue Devils.  As pointed out on the CBS selection special, Duke may have preferred a 2 seed in the East and potential games in Newark.  I think the Blue Devils earned their seed with their win over North Carolina in the ACC Tournament championship game.

Can Duke defend its national title? San Diego State, UCONN and Texas stand in their way in the West Region.

San Diego State gets the 2 seed in the West, which is a reward for the Mountain West champions.  If they make it to the Sweet Sixteen, the Aztecs will get to play in front of a virtual home crowd in Anaheim. I am happy that the Committee didn’t seed SDSU lower simply because they aren’t from one of the “Power” conferences.

There are some tough teams in the West, UCONN just won 5 games in 5 days to win the Big East. Texas was #1 earlier this season. Arizona has tons of talent and won the Pac-10, and Tennessee is more talented than their record indicates. Temple is seeded too low at 7. Michigan, Tennessee and Penn State are  seeded too highly.

Lots of pundits are picking Oakland to upset Texas but I just don’t see that happening.  I think Missouri has the best chance of the double-digit seeds to make the Sweet Sixteen.

Southwest Region – The Southwest is tough. Kansas could have easily been the #1 overall seed. Many predicted Notre Dame would be a 1 seed. Purdue finished 2nd in the Big Ten, Louisville made a run to the Big East title game.  Beyond the top 4, Georgetown has more talent than its 21-10 record indicates and Texas A&M could make a run.

Illinois got a gift with a 9 seed.  The Illini are 19-13 and finished 9-9 in the Big Ten.  How did they get a higher seed than Florida State who finished 21-10 and 11-5 in the ACC?

USC is extremely lucky to be in the tournament. USC has an RPI of 69, plays in a weak Pac-10 and finished the season 19-14. Their opponents in the First Four, VCU (23-11, RPI: 51) lost the Colonial Athletic Association title game to Old Dominion, which is probably what got them their bid. How did USC make it over Colorado or Virginia Tech? Colorado had a better record (20-13), better RPI (66) and wins over Kansas State (3 times) and  Missouri. Virginia Tech also had a better record (21-11), RPI (60) and wins over Duke and Florida State (2 times). USC being in the tournament is a surprise.

GO BU!

The 16 seed in the West are the Boston University Terriers.  Get ready to be surprised America. The first 16 over 1 upset in tournament history is about to happen.  Mark it down!

Southeast Region – The Southeast Region is the easiest region of the four. Pittsburgh has a clear path to the Final Four. The 2 seed, Florida, is overrated. Charles Barkley says it is so, and I agree. BYU earned a 2 seed but the Selection Committee snubbed the Cougars.  Many of the other teams in the Southeast are also overrated – Wisconsin at 4, Kansas State as 5 and St. John’s at 6.

While I believe Kansas State and St. John’s are overrated, both have the talent to make some noise in the tournament.  Perhaps this potential is what the Selection Committee used when assigning K State and St. John’s their seeds. Kansas State was a preseason top 5 pick, and seem to have found themselves late in the season following a midseason swoon.  St. John’s has wins over Notre Dame, Duke, UCONN and Pitt, so the Johnnies certainly have the ability to win the big game. On the flip side, St. John’s has also lost games to Fordham and St. Bonaventure.  The Red Storm are unpredictable. They could make a run to the Sweet 16 or they could lose to Gonzaga in their first game.

Gonzaga (11) and Utah State (12) are seeded lower than expected. Joe Lunardi had the Zags and the Aggies as 9 seeds.  Utah State finished the season 30-3 with an RPI of 18 yet is a 13 seed! Come on Selection Committee!

Belmont is getting a lot of press as a potential giant killer.  I could see that upset happening as Wisconsin is a weak 4 seed, and Belmont played both Tennessee and Vanderbilt close during the season. The Bruins lost to Tennessee by just 1 point back in December.

St. Mary's will be playing in the NIT, but should b in the field of 68.

Biggest snub: St. Mary’s – The Gaels finished the season ranked 48 in the RPI with a 25-8 record.  They tied Gonzaga for first place in the West Coast Conference and have a win of St. John’s and Gonzaga, as well as a 1 point loss to BYU. St. Mary’s has shown that it is capable of playing with the big boys and certainly deserved to make the field of 68 more than USC or VCU.

Mr. Holland’s Opus: BU’s Going Dancing!

Boston University will be playing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2002!

 

So this is what it feels like. This is what it feels like to watch a meaningful basketball game in early March. This is what it feels like to stand in a crowded arena jumping up and down as your team makes a furious comeback to secure a win at the last second.  This is what it feels like to see the crowd spill from the stands onto the court to celebrate the school’s first NCAA tournament birth since 2002.

Boston University fans storm the court following BU's 56-54 win over Stony Brook.

I am a huge college basketball fan, and have been for most of my life.  I became enamored of the Duke Blue Devils when I was a kid and have cheered for them through the good times and the bad (though the times have been mostly good). Today, however, was unlike anything I have experienced in my 29 years of college fandom.  I was lucky enough to see my alma mater, Boston University, secure a bid to the NCAA tournament earlier today. To be in the arena when your alma mater is playing for an NCAA tournament bid is something special. The atmosphere was electric (even in a less than full Agganis Arena), the tension was high. While I always feel anxious when Duke is playing in a big game, my anxiety was at a new level cheering for the Terriers.  Duke makes the tournament almost every year, but to make the tournament is something special for Boston University.  The Terriers have made the tournament just 7 times in their history!

The game was not particularly well played.  Neither team shot well (31.5% for Stony Brook, 31.3% for BU). There were a total of 41 fouls (24 for Stony Brook, 17 for BU) and the final score was 56-54. Despite its obvious flaws, that game was exciting. BU stormed back from 15 point deficit (41-26) with 16:48 left in the 2nd half to tie the game at 54 with 1:03 left, and take the lead with just 2.3 seconds left.  The story of the game wasn’t that BU stormed back, it was that John Holland took the team on his back and willed the Terriers into the NCAA tournament.  After being largely anonymous in the first half, the America East player of the year exploded for 23 points in the 2nd half. As a friend put it, “John Holland decided the Terriers were going to the NCAAs. And it was so.” Holland, in the 2nd half, showed why he was the conference player of the year, and proved that he was the best player on the floor.  After the Terriers went down by 15 it was like he flipped a switch and kicked his game into a higher gear. Holland saved his best for his last game on Commonwealth Avenue and ensured that he would play at least one more game in his superlative career.

BU fans love Coach Chambers, with good reason! Coach Chambers is taking the Terriers to the NCAA Tournament in his 2nd season.

I tweeted after the game, that this was the beginning of something big, and I believe that.  Patrick Chambers has injected a new energy into the program, and has taken the Terriers into the postseason in each of his first two seasons.  Last season, the Terriers played in the College Basketball Invitational, making the semifinals and defeating Oregon State along the way.  This year, the Terriers get to go to the big dance.  With a young team (Holland is the only senior), and several new recruits coming, Boston University could be on its way to a run of postseason births.

If you’re interested, check out some pictures taken at the game in my Flikr stream.

Time to Move On

What is there to say about yesterday’s loss to the Green Bay Packers?  The Eagles cost me $5!  Any time the Eagles play the Packers or 49ers (she lives outside of San Francisco), my wife’s grandmother calls to set up a bet.  The Packers were my wife’s grandfather’s favorite team.  He grew up in Wisconsin and was a life long Packers fan.  He and I used to bet on the games, and now my wife’s grandmother has continued the tradition.

Beyond the Eagles costing me 5 dollars, this paragraph should suffice. The Birds played poorly in every facet of the game.  It’s easy to blame David Akers for the loss, his two missed field goals are the most glaring mistakes; however, this is just not accurate.  The defense was porous, giving up points at the most inopportune times.  Sean McDermott’s squad gifted the Packers points (see the offside penalty that extended Green Bay’s fist scoring drive), and the tackling was atrocious.  The other side of the ball wasn’t much better.  Michael Vick and company were unable to mount sustained drives when the team needed them most.

With that brief discussion of my thoughts on yesterday’s game out of the way, I am moving on.  While I clearly support the Eagles and Phillies the most vocally, I am a fan of both the Sixers and the Flyers.  Some might not know it, but there are other sports going on in Philly.  The Flyers sit atop the Eastern Conference with a 26-10-5 record and have played well all season.  They are fun to watch and I suggest Philly sports fans going through withdrawal should check them out. The Sixers sit 8th in the Eastern Conference, despite a 15-22 record.  Not to shabby.

With over a month until pitchers and catchers report, I will be focusing most of the blogging on the Flyers and Sixers.  I will also be looking to blog more about soccer and college basketball (Duke has started the season 15-0, and BU look like they will compete for the America East title).

What to Do?

This weekend was a tough one for Philadelphia sports fans.  Our beloved Phillies flamed out in the NLCS against an inferior opponent, and the Eagles forgot how to hold a lead against the Titans.   I could easily write a post full of recriminations of both the Phillies and the Eagles (hello Ryan Howard, how do you not swing at that pitch!? But don’t blame him, as set out in this post on FanGraphs) but those topics have been covered to death by both the mainstream media and in the blogosphere.  Instead of harping on that mistakes that were made (Kenny Britt and his 225 yards and 3 TDs against the Birds), I am asking – where to I turn my sporting attentions after this tough weekend?

The baseball season is over, and with the Phillies already committing $143 million to just 16 players in 2011 there will be no major signings to keep the hot stove hot during the winter.  Very little chance of entertainment or something interesting happening in that area.

The football season does not look promising either.  This Eagles team is deeply flawed, but then again so is the rest of the NFL, and looked lost in the second half against the Titans.  While Sunday’s game should settle any talk of a quarterback controversy, it didn’t provide much hope for the future.  With the Eagles facing just two teams with records currently under .500 the second half of the season could be rough.   While I haven’t given up hope yet, the NFC is a conference of parity, the Birds will need to get their act together to make some noise.  Plus, this week is a bye.

It’s much to early to care about the NHL or the NBA in a meaningful way.  Sure I will catch some games here or there, but these leagues don’t consume my attention until well into the spring (read when they get to the playoffs, with over half the teams making the postseason the regular season is rendered irrelevant).

Cameron Indoor Stadium, home of my favorite team - the Duke Blue Devils.

We are still weeks away from college basketball tipping off, but here again is another sport where I just can’t bring myself to focus more than a small amount of my attention before conference play starts in January. Sure there will be some early season marquee matchups (Duke-Michigan State on December 1 or a rematch of last year’s title game – Duke-Butler on December 4) that will draw my interest, but the season doesn’t really start until you are in conference play.

College football provides me with some distraction, but with Penn State floundering my interest is only in seeing Boise State crash the BCS title party.  What is a sports fan to do? Where do I turn for my sports distractions?

I am counting on Rhett and the Terriers to deliver me some sporting hope.

It appears college hockey, a realm where my alma mater – Boston University is a contender, and world soccer will be my areas of interest for the next several months.  While I can never quit the Eagles, I need more than just one team to fulfill my sporting needs.  So here’s to the Terriers! Here’s to Arsenal and Reading FC!  My sporting hopes lie with you, don’t let me down.

Suggestions are welcomed.

The Field of 68… Or How Will This Affect My Bracket

A mock 68 team bracket. From CBS Sports.

Yesterday afternoon the NCAA announced its new plan for an expanded 68 team NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament. Their decision and its timing were both shrewd maneuvers by the NCAA. They chose to announce their new plan during one of the two days a year without majors sports, and they chose to blend the two most popular potential formats for the newly dubbed “first round.” One of the most popular formats would have had the 8 lowest seeded, automatic qualifiers (teams from small conferences such as America East, Big Sky, NEC and MEAC) play 4 games to determine who would be the 16 seeds. This would have expanded on the current “opening round” format, as the two lowest seeded teams currently play for the right to be the last 16 seed. Under this scenario, at-large teams would benefit the most. More spots would be available, taking teams off the bubble. The other format suggested was to have the last 8 at-large teams play for the right to be the final 4 at-large teams in the tournament. In all likelihood, the teams that won these games would have been slotted in as 11 or 12 seeds.

By choosing to blend the two formats, the NCAA avoided thoroughly angering both the large conferences and the small conferences. If the NCAA had chosen either format, there would have been backlash from the conferences affected. I believe that if the smaller schools and conferences were forced to contest all of the play-in games we could have seen a repeat of lawsuits and potential Congressional interference similar to the what is taking place with the BCS. In forcing 4 of the lowest seeded teams to play for 16 seeds, the NCAA is hoping to create better match-ups in what has now been renamed the 2nd round (previously the first round, I know this is getting confusing). Basically, ever team between 11/12 (wherever the NCAA decides to put the at-large play-in winners) and 16 will be seeded 2 slots lower than they would have in the previous format. This should lead to better match-ups between the lowest seeded teams and their higher seeded counterparts. If the NCAA had chosen to make the at-large teams play all 4 play-ins, the power conferences would have been up in arms and several important fan-bases would have been angered. Since in the end, this is all about money the NCAA did not want to anger fans of teams that sell a lot of tickets. The decision to make the last 4 at-large teams play for the last 2 at-large spots does create come compelling basketball between middling teams from the power conferences. The standard of basketball will likely be higher in these games than in the games between the future 16 seeds, and in theory, the winners will be better teams providing better match-ups for the higher seeded team waiting to play them. One positive I could see about the new format is that mid-majors could benefit.  With the last four at-large teams playing, perhaps a few mid-majors might sneak into the tournament by winning the play-in games.

While, on the surface this might seem like a perfect compromise, I think the NCAA chickened out with this decision. While the early indication is that coaches seem to like the compromise, I think the play-in games (or as the NCAA has now dubbed them, the First Four) should have been between the last 8 at-large teams. This would have produced the most compelling basketball, and would have ensured the best television ratings for the NCAA. Since it is all about money, and television rights are the largest source of that money, why wouldn’t you want to make the best match-ups in the play-in games? I also think that the NCAA penalizes the small schools with this decision, assuring that one more school from a small conference will not see the full-fledged tournament. If the NCAA doesn’t want to include the smaller conferences, then there should be some restructuring of the divisions. Perhaps the smallest Division I conferences should be a new Division I-AA, similar to football. Given that there are over 300 teams that play Division I basketball, this could be a workable solution. Nobody seems to be unhappy with the current division of NCAA football (I’m not saying football is perfect, there should be a playoff).

Short of a landscape changing new order, I say let in the small schools. If they win their conference championship, why not allow them to compete against the other conference champions for the overall NCAA title? We don’t relegate the weakest division or conference champions in professional sports to play-in status. If we did that, the NBA Eastern conference would almost never make it to the NBA Finals and the 82-80 San Diego Padres from 2005 would not have made the playoffs. Instead of penalizing the small schools, I say make the bubble teams work for it. As I mentioned before, this would produce more compelling games and would mean that the small teams still get their one moment in the limelight. The middling teams from power conferences bound for the play-in games had all season to show they were worthy of making the tournament and weren’t quite up to that task. While these teams are undoubtedly better than the conference winners from the smaller conferences, they are just as unlikely to win the NCAA title. As Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said to ESPN, “I always thought it should be the last four in. I think if you’re one of those teams, you ought to just be happy to be in.’’  I wholeheartedly agree with this comment.

As for the bracket ramifications, it will make running the office pool infinitely more difficult. With teams being selected late Sunday and the First Four games taking place on Tuesday or Wednesday, the amount of time to fill out the bracket is cut in half. It will also make the bracket much more complicated visually and will lead the casual fan into utter confusion. I can already see my co-workers missing picks and scratching their heads as they try to fill out their bracket. Many of my co-workers had a difficult time filling out the bracket in its previous format, I can only imagine the chaos that will ensue.

Post LeBron Reaction

I, like everyone else with even a passing interest in the NBA, spent part of my night watching the LeBron James decision special on ESPN.  He announced that he was “going to take [his] talents to South Beach” and sign with the Miami Heat.   He did this, despite saying that it was tough, with little emotion on his face.  While he said that the decision was tough, his actions were those of a man who had made his mind up a long time ago that he was leaving Cleveland.  He may not have known where he would land or, if you believe some of the information in Bill Simmons’ article, he had an idea that he would land wherever Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh landed.  The fact remains, that despite what LeBron said, he may not have the best chance of winning in Miami.

Miami will use roughly $49.5 million of their salary cap space on Wade, Bosh and King James.  With the NBA setting the salary cap at $58 million.  That leaves the Heat with $9.5 million to fill the remaining 9 slots on their roster.   They currently have Mario Chalmers on the books, as well as Michael Beasley.  It is unlikely Beasley will remain with the Heat, so his salary would come off the books.  Chalmers is scheduled to make $850,000.  That leaves the Heat with $8.65 million to fill the rest of the roster.  They have to hope that some veterans will take WAY less than market value to play in Miami with the Trinity.  There are rumors going around the Mike Miller might be interested in signing with the Heat.  Even if Miller signs, the Heat still need a legit center, and back ups for the Trinity.  I don’t buy that the Heat need a point guard because with Chalmers, LeBron and Wade on the court, there is more than enough ball handling skills to run the offense.  As it stands right now, Bosh, James and Wade will have to play most of the night due to what could be a lack of quality on the bench. What would worry me if I were the Heat management is Wade’s injury history.  Success is predicated on the Trinity playing together, if one of them goes down, who will the Heat replace him with?  Will the Heat luck out the way the Celtics did when they got P.J. Brown, James Posey and Eddie House for nothing to play along side the Big Three?  Who knows.  Without quality back ups, this team will still be a contender in the East and under the right circumstances a contender for the title.

After hearing the decision, the real question to me is: why didn’t he go to Chicago where he could play with Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, and Derrick Rose?  While Chicago obviously wasn’t as flashy as signing with Bosh and Wade on South Beach, I believe it would have presented a better, long-term opportunity for LeBron to win.  He would have been playing along side a legitimate future all-star point guard in Rose, an all-star power forward in Boozer and the emerging Noah.  Chicago also has Luol Deng coming off the bench under this scenario. Beyond those four players, Chicago would have still had money to fill out a team that would have been better than anything Miami could put together.

After watching part of the special, I began to wonder if Cleveland was ever really an option?  They didn’t have the resources to build a good team to play around him.  Bosh was adamant that he would not play in Cleveland, despite the fact that the Cavs and Raptors had a preliminary sign-and-trade lined up that would have united Bosh and LeBron on the shores of Lake Erie.  If LeBron had stayed, could Cleveland have spun a trade to steal a player the way the Lakers stole Pau Gasol from the Grizzlies?  A more pressing question is where do the Cavs go from here?  I don’t profess to have a great deal of knowledge about the Cavs roster, but I suspect they will be hoping the ping-pong balls bounce their way come next June.

Thoughts on the NBA Draft

Evan Turner - Is this the man that will return the Sixers to the promised land?

As usual, the NBA draft had its share of surprise picks, trades and drama.  The beginning of the draft started the way many mock drafts had predicted, with John Wall going 1st to the Wizards, followed by Evan Turner to the Sixers, and Derrick Favors to the Nets.  First, I must say that I am glad the Sixers took my advice and drafted Evan Turner (quite possibly the only Ohio State Buckeye I will ever like).  I think he has the potential to be a star in the league and gives them a player to truly build around for the future.  He seems to be a stand up guy and plays well on both ends of the floor.  The Sixers have struck gold with this pick.  Given that his was the Sixers’ only pick in the draft, they made a splash.  I know that it will create some over-crowding at the wing and guard positions, but this pick was the best for the franchise.  Hopefully, Ed Stefanski isn’t done trading and can clear out some of that over-crowding while bringing in some new talent.  As, I stated in a previous post, the gutsy move is to trade Andre Iguodala, who would likely fetch some good pieces (picks or players) in return.

Some other moves that I liked:

Oklahoma City Thunder – The Thunder were active in this draft.  I liked what I saw from them.  They had a total of 4 picks in the draft, but didn’t keep any of them.  They spun their picks into: Daequan Cook, a young shooting guard who will give them depth in the back court; Cole Aldrich, a good, young big who will add depth to the front court, Morris Peterson (who will provide veteran leadership off the bench) and a future 1st round pick (lottery protected).   The Thunder made these trades both for the future and in order to win now.  They had 4 picks in the draft and already are loaded with young talent.  They did their best to not overload themselves with players that are too young and not ready to contribute.  This team can win now, they already have a talented core and gave the Lakers a run for their money in the playoffs.  With their moves, I think they can push the elite in the Western Conference.

Miami Heat – The Heat made some shrewd moves in this draft.  The first, As John Hollinger of ESPN wrote about their trade of Cook to OKC, “Miami is in the process of buying out James Jones, whose deal is only partially guaranteed next year, and if in addition the Heat can find a taker for Michael Beasley they’ll have enough cap space for three max contracts — allowing them to potentially unite the holy trinity of LeBron, Wade and Bosh on one roster.”  Can you believe that?  How crazy would it be if Miami had Bosh, King James and Flash on the same team?  They would be unstoppable.  In addition, the Heat made 4 picks in the 2nd round and like several of them.  Getting Jarvis Varnado, the all-time NCAA leader in blocked shots, in the middle of the 2nd round is great value.  He will be great off the bench as a defender/rebounder.  The Heat also drafted one of my favorite players from the NCAA tournament, Da’Sean Butler.  He injured his knee against Duke in the national semifinal, but will provide the Heath with good value when he recovers.

Utah Jazz – The Jazz picked Gordon Hayward, the unlikely star of this past NCAA tournament.  I love what Hayward can do.  He can shoot, play D and has a good motor and feel for the game.  I think he fits in with this team perfectly.

Washington Wizards – Obviously, John Wall was a great pick.  He allows them to move Gilbert Arenas to the SG position, which makes both the PG and SG positions better.  I also liked their pick of Trevor Booker from Clemson.  He adds size and toughness in the paint.  Include their trade with the Bulls, where they got Kirk Hinrich (who can act as a mentor to Wall and provides a solid backup in the back court), and I think the Wizards have gone a long way to getting themselves back to respectability.

One move that I did not like was Portland’s firing of GM Kevin Pritchard.  The way they fired him and the fact that they fired him at all is just ridiculous.  Paul Allen, the Blazers’ owner, fired Pritchard just hours before the draft.  Pritchard conducted the draft admirably, making a trade that makes the Blazers a better team.  He was able to acquire Ryan Gomes and the rights to Luke Babbitt from the Timberwolves for Martell Webster.  I like this trade because I am a fan of Gomes.  I like him when he played for the Celtics and I think he is a great addition to the Blazers.  I also like Babbitt, who played college ball at Nevada.  Pritchard also drafted Elliot Williams, who will add depth to the Portland back court.  Pritchard should be able to find work elsewhere as he was responsible for rehabilitating the Blazers’ image and rebuilding the franchise on the court.  He did an excellent job in both departments and to see him go out like this is just pitiful.  Could this be the start of the Pritchard Curse?  It would serve Paul Allen right if it were, but the Blazer fans deserve better.

Musings on Baseball, Basketball and the Longest Tennis Match in History

So many sporting events during the last day, and so little time to blog about them.  I’ve decided one post to cover the most interesting non-World Cup sporting events of the last day was the way to go.

Baseball - Good night for one of my teams, not so good for the other.  The Phillies were able to pull off a late game rally to defeat the Indians 7-6. Maybe Jimmy Rollins‘ absence meant more the Phillies than I thought.  His walk-off homer secured the victory.  Coupled with a sterling pitching performance from Jamie Moyer on Tuesday the Phillies are on a modest 2 game win streak.  Maybe the Phillies need to play the AL Central more often.  Hopefully, the Phillies can use this to propel themselves into a good stretch before the All-Star break.  If the Phillies can play well going into the Break, I think they have an excellent shot of catching Atlanta and winning the division.  In the past several years, the Phillies have been excellent after the All-Star Break, posting a .599 winning percentage over the last 5 seasons.  If the Phillies can go into the Break within striking distance, I believe they will heat up after the break and catch the Braves.

On the other side of a walk-off were my 2nd team, the Red Sox.  They were facing Ubaldo Jimenez, who has been historically good this season, so who could have blamed them for losing.  The funny thing is that the Sox actually got to Jimenez, chasing him after 5 2/3 innings in which they scored 6 runs.  To put this in perspective, Jimenez had only given up 13 runs total in his previous 14 games!  In the month of May, Jimenez pitched 6 times and gave up 4 runs in the whole month!  The 5 2/3 inning outing was also the shortest of the season for Jimenez.  John Lackey put in a valiant effort on the mound and at the plate (he had 2 hits) and deserved better.  The Sox rallied from an early 4 run deficit to take a 6-5 lead into the 9th.  Jonathan Papelbon came on, so the game should have been over.  Instead, Papelbon gave up two home runs and the Rockies walked off with the victory.

Tennis - The longest tennis match in the history of the sport is finally over.  I couldn’t go without mentioning that John Isner finally won his match against Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon.  The match started on Tuesday.  Tuesday night the match was suspended and play was resumed on Wednesday.  The players played for the entire day Wednesday only to have the match again suspended due to darkness.  Isner was finally able to break Mahut’s serve in the 138th game of the 5th set.  The match is truly an epic, taking more than 11 hours over 3 days to complete.  The match was so compelling that it even got me to stop watching soccer yesterday afternoon.  The Ghana-Germany and Serbia-Australia matches took a backseat to history in the making.  Like Isner said “This will never ever happen again”.  Both men deserved better than for the loser to be knocked out of Wimbledon.  Bravo to both men.

NBA – The lead up to the NBA draft continues with the top of the draft coming more into focus.  John Wall is a lock to go at #1 to the Wizards.  It appears the Sixers are going to take my advice and draft Evan Turner.  The Nets are now leaning toward Derrick Favors.   After that things get fuzzy, as there could be a lot of movement due to trades.  It should be an interesting night.

Note to the Sixers Before the Draft: Please Use Some Sense!

I know that most of my posts have been about soccer.  What is a sports fan to do when it’s World Cup time?  The event comes once every four years.  Lost in all the soccer madness is the fact that the NBA Draft is tomorrow night.  I love the NBA Draft because it represents the time of year when every fan has hope.  Hope that your team will get its next franchise player and return to respectability (I’m talking about you New Jersey Nets).  Hope that your team will draft the missing piece that will propel them to the playoffs and beyond.  Hope that your team might make a blockbuster trade.  I better stop with the hope bit (otherwise I might sound like an Obama campaign commercial).

My team, the Sixers, fall into the category of team looking for a franchise player and respectability.  The Sixers have been mediocre, at best, for most of the decade and haven’t posted a winning record since 2004-2005.  In the 9 seasons since the Sixers played in the NBA Finals following the 2000-2001 season, they’ve compiled an overall record of 348-390.  On the face of it, that doesn’t sound that bad.  Over nine seasons they are only 42 games under .500.  But when you stop to think about the fact that they have had just 3 winning seasons and 1 .500 season in that time span things get a little more depressing.  Thanks to playing in the generally weak Eastern Conference, the Sixers have actually made the playoffs in over half the seasons since 2000-2001.

In an effort to address this mediocrity, the Sixers splashed out some major cash to sign Elton Brand following the 2007-2008 season (a season in which the Sixers finished just 2 games under .500).   What the Sixers got in return for their investment was 1 more win the following season.  Not exactly what you pay $82 million over 5 years for.  Brand played in just 29 games his first season in Philadelphia and was a shadow of his former self this past season.  This is clearly not what the Sixers were expecting and the contract has hurt the Sixers’ ability to make moves in the future as Brand is owed $51 million over the next 3 seasons.

In an effort to shed some salary, but I also think make the team better, the Sixers traded Samuel Dalembert to the Kings for Andres Nocioni and Spencer Hawes.  The trade gives the Sixers a good forward to come off the bench in Nocioni and replaces Dalembert with Hawes.  The Sixers give up something on the defensive end with this switch, but Hawes is younger, cheaper and has room the develop.  Besides, Dalambert was unhappy in Philly.  Who really wants an unhappy player on the team anyway?  The problem with this trade is that it gives the Sixers another small forward.  They already have two starting quality small forwards in Andre Ig0udala and Thaddeus Young.  I know that Iguodala plays shooting guard for the Sixers, but his best position is SF.  The Sixers lack a starting quality center and power forward for that matter (unless Brand has a bounce back season).  I like Jrue Holiday at the point.  If the season were to start right now the Sixers starting line-up would probably look like this:

PG – Holiday
SG – Iguodala
SF – Young
PF – Marreese Speights/Brand (Brand gets the nod if healthy)
C – Hawes

They would have Lou Williams, Nocioni, and Jason Smith and assorted other players on the bench.  This line-up isn’t bad, but it certainly isn’t good.

I believe the Sixers have a chance to make an impact with this draft.  I know that a lot of people think the Sixers should draft for need, but I think the Sixers need to take the best available player with the #2 pick.  I know this analogy crosses sports, but the Vikings took the best available player on the board when they drafted Adrian Peterson and I think they are happy with that decision.  Unless you are a playoff team already, I think you have to take the best player on the board over drafting for a specific need.  Clearly, if you have the #2 pick you don’t exactly have and amazing team, how can it hurt to pick the best player?  Finally, after nearly 700 words, I get to who I think the Sixers should draft: Evan Turner.

Evan Turner is, after John Wall, the best player in the draft.  He is long, athletic, can play both guard positions and a good defender.  Chad Ford of ESPN says that this pick is a near lock after some of the other prospects (Derrick Favors, DeMarcus Cousins) the Sixers were looking at failed to impress in workouts.  If the Sixers draft Turner, I could see them trying to move a player to make room in a crowded backcourt/small forward rotation.  I think the gutsy move would be to trade Iguodala.  He clearly cannot carry the team.  The Sixers could get back a some decent players and maybe some picks in exchange to Iggy.  I know that it is tough to trade away the guy you started to build a team around, but clearly Iggy is more Scottie Pippen than Michael Jordan.  This would allow the Sixers to start Holiday at PG, Turner at SG, and Young at SF.  They would still have some decent options off the bench and whomever they received in return for Iggy. However, instead of trading somebody, I think the Sixers will slot Turner in a PG and use Holiday as a sparkplug off the bench.  I could also see the Sixers look for another trade (perhaps to unload Brand’s contract if anyone will take it).

If the Sixers don’t draft Turner, a player that will bring immediate help to the team and provide a star for the future, they will regret their decision.  Clearly Brand and even Iguodala are not the future of the franchise and the Sixers have lacked an identity since Allen Iverson was traded.  Evan Turner can provide that identity and make the team better, what’s not to love?