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BYU Wins Holy War

BYU Wins Holy War
George, like Collie and Harline before him, is now still open!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

How Does BYU's Vegas Bowl Win Over Oregon State Impact College Football?

BYU beat Oregon State last night 44-20. What did we all learn from last night’s game? What does that mean for BYU, Oregon State, the Mountain West Conference, and the PAC-10?

Not much.

The bowl season is a tradition in college football, and a part of that tradition is trying to extrapolate conclusions based on the results of bowl games.

Why?

The college bowl system is the most backwards system of postseason play in all of sports. Even the Salem Witch Trials laugh at the absurdities and backwards logic of college football bowls.

Add to the ridiculous nature of the bowl system itself the have-have-not system of the BCS. This turns every low level bowl game between automatic qualifying conference and non-automatic qualifying conference teams into a protest game against the establishment of college football.

Major college football experts would have people think, before the start of the bowl games, that if the non-automatic qualifying conference team wins it means the BCS is wrong, and if the automatic qualifying conference team wins then the BCS is right.

Of course, no matter which team wins, there is little to no change in the system of college football.

The anti-BCS crowd will use BYU’s victory over Oregon State as another piece of evidence against the asinine nature of the BCS. They will make the argument that BYU and Oregon State both ended the season in second place in their conference (Oregon State ended in a tie for second place in the PAC-10, although they finished lower due to tie-breakers); therefore, the Mountain West Conference must be better than the PAC-10.

This argument doesn’t hold water.

The BCS crowd will counter with excuses. The wind helped BYU win. This argument is hard to justify, did the heavens hold back the wind every time BYU touched the ball? The officiating favored BYU. While it is understandable for PAC-10 teams to miss their homer officials, both teams ended the game with an equal amount of penalties called against them.

Yet, these arguments are incredibly credible compared to the typical fallacies that BCS and automatic qualifying conference usually use. The automatic qualifying conference team didn’t have any motivation to play. It seems this argument is used far too often to explain an unexpected outcome. What, have football players magically transformed themselves into thespians? Do they need to have a drive and motivation in order to get into character?

The motivation argument is stale from use, but the new vogue argument of BCS supports is: Any team can play one game against an automatic qualifying school, but they can’t play a full schedule in a BCS conference. Wow! So you want teams from non-automatic qualifying conferences to have less money, be at a recruiting disadvantage, play games at neutral sites or on the road, and still discredit them when they beat a bigger name school. That is like asking someone to juggle five chainsaws blindfolded, seeing it, and then scoffing at the juggler because you don’t think he can juggle ten.

The arguments of both sides are normally ludicrous and hardly stand up to scrutiny; however, the arguments just reflect the system they are commenting on.

The reality is that teams like BYU, Utah, TCU, Houston, Boise State, Fresno State, and Air Force could compete just fine in the automatic qualifying conferences. Teams like San Diego State, UNLV, Idaho, and SMU would struggle if they were in a BCS conference. Yet, teams like Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Washington State, and UConn would struggle in the Mountain West Conference.

There just isn’t a huge difference between the average non-automatic qualifying conference team, and an average automatic qualifying conference team.

It didn’t take BYU beating Oregon State to prove that.

Or Utah beating Alabama.

Or Boise State beating Oregon.

Or Houston beating Oklahoma State.

Or TCU beating Clemson.

It doesn’t matter though because both sides, much like the current political landscape, have bunkered down to their separate ideologies. A college football fan is either pro-BCS or anti-BCS and there isn’t any room for a sane middle ground.

There are too many instant reactions in college football. Oregon State is a good football team, and they were beat by a better BYU football team in Las Vegas. No excuses, and sadly due to the current system of college football there cannot be any conclusions drawn from the game.

Until there is a change in college football’s postseason—arguments will try to decide what should be decided on the football field.


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Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Big Podcast Episode 36: Utah Jazz Edition

Should Utah Sell High and Trade Carlos Boozer?

Here is an outline of what hosts Jake Stowell and Mark Welling talk about in this week's podcast.

  • The problems the Jazz have had against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
  • The log jam at the two guard position.
  • The defensive problems of the Jazz.
  • What the Jazz have to do to win on the road.
  • Deron Williams vs. Chris Paul who is playing better?
  • Should the Jazz trade Boozer now that his trade value has elevated?
  • Matt Harpring doing Jazz broadcasts—good or bad?

Download here (Right click and save as) or listen with the player below.


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The Big Podcast Episode 35: 2009 College Football Bowl Preview

Predicting every single college football bowl game...

Here is an outline of what hosts Jake Stowell and Mark Welling talk about in this week's podcast.

  • Predicting the winner of every single college football bowl game.
  • Give an insight about each of the bowl games.
  • Both Mark and Jake pick five teams they feel are locks to win their bowl games.
  • Enjoy the variety of different, and absurd bowl names.
  • Give three bowl games that are must-watch.
  • There are two BCS bowl games which will be blowout this year, and two look to be instant classics. Which are which?
  • Even with five undefeated teams Texas vs. Alabama does seem like the right national championship game.

Download here (Right click and save as) or listen with the player below.


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The Big Podcast Episode 34: BYU Football Podcast

Breaking Down Oregon State and The Las Vegas Bowl...

Here is an outline of what hosts Jake Stowell and Mark Welling talked about in this week's podcast.

  • Oregon State has everything that BYU struggles to contain. Fast, athletic, play-makers.
  • James and Jacquizz Rodgers will cause problems for BYU's defense.
  • Sean Canfield and Max Hall should be a epic senior quarterbacking matchup.
  • BYU and Oregon State on paper are remarkably similar.
  • How will BYU compete with Oregon State's speed?
  • Will Brian Logan be the surprise hero of the Las Vegas Bowl?
  • Did Pitta deserve to win the John Mackey Award?
  • How big is the Las Vegas Bowl for the Mountain West Conference's aspiration gain an automatic BCS-bid.
  • Predict the winner and final score of the Las Vegas Bowl.

Download here (Right click and save as) or listen with the player below.


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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Utah Jazz First Quarter Report Card: Can The Jazz Be an Elite NBA Team?

The Jazz regular season is already a quarter done. It is time to pass out first quarter grades to Jazz players, coaches, and management.

Deron Williams—Williams is playing like an All-Star, again. It is hard to think that Williams has yet to go to an All-Star game in his career. From the initial balloting it appears that Williams won’t be starting in the All-Star game, but if he continues to plays at this level there will be no way to keep him off another team.

When the game is on the line you want the ball in the hands of Deron Williams. He has been able to take an important next step this season. This season Williams is able to take over games. He is able to put the Jazz on his back for long stretches of the game, and produce wins. This year’s team is Deron Williams’ team. The Jazz will only go as far as Williams is able to take them this season.

Grade—A+

Williams is the best player on the Jazz, and might be the best point guard in the NBA right now.

Wesley Matthews—The rookie who is playing like a veteran. This season Matthews has been able to plug holes, and defend bigger known NBA players. Since his insertion into the starting lineup the Jazz are 11-5.

Matthews is still a rookie and will make some serious rookie mistakes on the court. The difference is Matthews will recover and respond better to his mistakes compared to other rookies. He isn’t afraid to guard anyone in the league, and he is very good at doing the little things to help his teammates while he is on the court.

It is still amazing that Matthews went undrafted, and that he was basically gifted to the Jazz when they were in need of a steady two guard.

Grade—A-

He has exceeded every expectation placed upon him when the Jazz invited him to training camp. Yet, he is still a rookie, and he is still learning and making mistakes.

Ronnie Brewer—His new nickname really should be “Mr. Baseline.” Brewer is an artist in the Jazz offense at working the baseline and finishing around the hoop.

His defense has also improved this season which is a real surprise. Last season Brewer was able to increase his number of steal per game; however, Brewer struggled to stay on his feet and play physical defense against bigger players. This season Brewer is not only playing strong off the ball defense, but he is able to play physical defense and rebound the basketball.

The part of his game which is still lacking is consistency with his mid-to-long range jump shot. There were multiple times last season and this season when teams would simply dare Brewer to take shots.

Grade—B+

When Brewer’s game is going, the Jazz are very tough to beat. Yet, Brewer has the same holes in his game this season as last season. He lacks consistency from the free throw line and his outside jump shot.

Carlos Boozer—Boozer after a terrible start has now turned on beast mode. He was named Western Conference Player of the Week. He is averaging 20.1 points and 11.1 rebounds a game. He is also shooting 54.9% from the field this season, which is over his career average.

He is doing everything on the court he can to not only get back in the good graces of Jazz fans, but also to ensure a big free agent contract at the end of the year.

While there has been some token gestures by both Carlos Boozer and the Utah Jazz front office it seems clear Carlos Boozer is on his way out of Utah at the end of the season. Carlos Boozer is going to want too much money, and the Utah Jazz simply can’t pay him to stay. Nor do the Jazz really want him to stay for that matter.

Utah has invested in Paul Millsap, and they are going to have a high lottery pick which they will most likely use on a young power forward.

This means that the best thing Utah can do is to start shopping around Carlos Boozer now that his trade value has increased. He is going to be an All-Star this season, and he is going to produce for whatever team he is on, because it is his contract year. This will be the best opportunity for the Jazz to move Boozer, and get equal value back for him.

If the Jazz were to move Boozer now it would give the team time to acclimate to the new player in the rotation.

The Jazz can be a very good team, this season, with Boozer on the roster; however, the Jazz could be a better team, in the long-term, if they were to get equal value for Boozer through a trade.

Grade—A

Like him or hate him Boozer is an All-Star this season, and he is one of the major reasons the Jazz were able to rebound from a slow start. Boozer is trying to prove he is an elite post player in the NBA this season. He really needs to stay healthy to prove to teams he can make it through an entire NBA season.

Mehmet Okur—Moneyman has been making it rain from beyond the three point line this season. Okur is shooting 42.9% from behind the arc this season, which is well above his career average. Yet, Okur’s minutes are down from where they are in the past.

Fewer minutes for Okur wouldn’t be surprising if he was still finishing games for the Jazz. Sloan has elected to not finish games with Okur and rather end the majority of the games this season with Millsap and Boozer on the court.

This is odd considering Okur’s attribute of being a big-time clutch shooter at the end of games. What is keeping Okur off the court for the Jazz is the fact that Boozer needs to be on the court. There has been a problem with the Jazz’s defense whenever both Okur and Boozer are on the court at the same time.

Both Okur and Boozer aren’t great defenders, but each can play well when they are surrounded with another good post defender (normally Kirilenko or Millsap). The problem is when both Okur and Boozer are on the court it is the same as giving the green light to teams to penetrate and score in the paint against the Jazz. Neither will rotate on defense, and both play defense too much with their hands and not enough with their feet. This means they will swipe at the ball, and that leads to teams scoring easy points from the free throw line.

With Boozer playing so well the past few weeks there really isn’t a reason for the Jazz to elect to finish with Okur at the end of games.

Okur’s season did get off to a rocky start when he injured himself on basically the first defensive play of the Jazz season trying to take a charge. Memo is such an iron horse of a player it is hard to tell exactly how those early nagging injuries have been affecting his play this season.

Grade—B

Memo is still hitting big shots for the Jazz, but he is still lacking the ability to play on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court.

Paul Millsap—Millsap got paid in the offseason and it seems to be affecting his game. Millsap isn’t dogging it like many other NBA players after they receive big contracts; rather Millsap seems to be pushing himself too much during games.

Millsap has gotten off to a slow start this season because he has been pressing to prove on the court he is deserving of the new contract he received. The stat which is way down for Millsap is his rebounding. His ability to rebound the ball is what got him drafted, and got him a large contract from the Jazz.

As the seasons progressed and Millsap has relaxed his numbers have improved, although not to same level as last season.

Grade—B-

Millsap has been picking up dumb fouls and his rebounding numbers are down. Hopefully he will improve and return to form as the season progresses.

Andrei Kirilenko—Andrei got off to a great start at the beginning of this season. He started to hit his jump shot like the Andrei of old, and his over/under numbers are among the best on the Jazz.

What has plagued Andrei during his entire tenure with the Jazz continues this season. While he is one of the best players on the Jazz with the ball in his hands, he is also the worst player on the Jazz at taking ill-advised shots.

This Jeykll and Hyde mentality which Kirilenko has is one of the most frustrating things about being a Jazz fan. Kirilenko has the ability to control the game on both sides of the court without taking a shot. Yet, Kirilenko seems determined to play outside of the Jazz offense and defense at times.

Grade—B+

Andrei really did get off to a great start this season. He has been active and his shooting has improved. Injuries have hurt his chances to return to an All-Star level of play. It still remains to be seen if AK can play his active style of basketball and be effective with an injury. The simple fact still remains: The Jazz are a better team when Kirilenko is on the court.

CJ Miles—He came into this season in the best shape of his life. Then he was injured early in the pre-season. CJ even after the injury still looks to be in better shape this season compared to where he was last season. He looks more muscular, and he is able to play more physical defense.

CJ has a very good shot, but he hasn’t been able to bring a consistent shot to actual games. He has the ability to give the Jazz an instant spark of offense; however, he is just as likely to shot the Jazz out of a ballgame. Miles doesn’t seem to have the ability to pick the right time to shoot and stop shooting to help the team.

Miles has struggled with running the Jazz offense the entire time he has played in Utah. He doesn’t set good back screens, and he is stagnate when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands. Miles will go to a spot on the floor and stay there waiting to get the ball. This season is more of the same lack of effort from CJ to do the little things to help the Jazz win.

Grade—Incomplete.

It is too early to give CJ a grade due to injuries. CJ does look to be improved from last year in the few games he has played this season.

Ronnie Price—This was the year that Ronnie Price had the inside track to the backup point guard position for the Jazz. Even before he injured his big toe things weren’t going well for Ronnie.

Price’s shooting percentage is way down this season. He is shooting 35.7% from the floor and 22.2% from beyond the three point arc. He struggled to get the Jazz into the offense when he was on the court.

With the way that Eric Maynor is playing it will be hard for Price to earn back his minutes at the backup point guard position.

Grade—C-

The way Price finished the season in the playoffs against the Lakers most likely bought him another year with the Jazz, but he isn’t taking advantage of that opportunity to find regular minutes in the Jazz’s lineup.

Eric Maynor—Maynor took over the back-up point guard position from Ronnie Price after Price’s toe injury. Maynor has shown signs of promise this season, but he has struggled with consistency this season.

He is a terrible three-point shooter(averaging 19%), and he really lacks a full grasp of the Jazz offense. What Maynor does well is pass the basketball. He has made some great passes this season, and he has been able to give good enough minutes in order for Williams to get some rest on the bench.

Maynor is still a rookie, and still makes some very dumb rookie level mistakes during games. Maynor looks to be a very good player in the NBA, and as he gets more minutes he will improve.

Grade—B-

He needs to learn that it is okay to pass the ball at the end of the quarter. Maynor also struggles to run the fastbreak. He is a good backup point guard and he has shown flashes of brilliance this season when given extended minutes.

Kyle Korver—A favorite of the ladies, Korver played in his first game of the season against the Timberwolves. He didn’t look like he was ready to be back on the court.

The downside of Korver has always been his defense. He has a problem staying in front of faster and bigger guards in the NBA. His shooting ability is what keeps him on the court. Yet, outside of his first year in Utah his shot has struggled.

Last season, Korver suffered from a wrist injury on his shooting hand which hurt his shooting percentage. This season he didn’t look much better in his first game back against Minnesota.

It is too early to give a grade to Korver, but with the emergence of Matthews and the play of Miles it will be hard for Korver to find minutes in the Jazz rotation.

Grade—Incomplete

Korver will need to regain his long range shooting prowess in order to find playing time this season.

Kyrylo Fesenko—Fes has now entered the “puppy zone.”

When you get a new puppy dog you are happy with everything it does. It doesn’t matter if the dog is yawning, scrunching its face, or flopping its ear around—you are just happy that the dog is doing anything. The puppy is cute, loveable, and full of potential.

Fesenko is the new puppy for the Jazz. Every time he walks onto the court you aren’t expecting much out of him, which means if Fesenko does anything while he is in the game it is a bonus. The arena seems to erupt when Fes does the littlest things, like rebound the basketball (for that matter even catch the basketball).

He is being graded on potential, and therefore is on a completely different grading scale.

Grade—A Gold Star

Fes has shown flashes of brilliance, but it will be interesting to see if the Jazz will invest in developing Fesenko in the long term.

Kosta Koufas—Yes, he is still on the team. What it takes for Koufas to get on the court is another story. If your team only has nine healthy players, and you can only get on the court in the last few minutes of a thirty point blowout, then you know your place on the team. That place, in the D-leauge.

Grade—D-league All-Star

Koufas is not ready to be in the NBA. In hindsight staying in college would have been the best thing for Koufas. He needs playing time to develop, but even that playing time might not be enough for him to find a permanent home in Utah.

Jerry Sloan/Coaching Staff—Sloan has managed to right the ship quite a number of times already this season. The Jazz got off to terrible start, and there were many who thought they would simply implode. Sloan was able to get players to buy back into his system, and once again soothe egos for the betterment of the team.

Injuries have plagued the Jazz already this season, but Sloan was able to find a rotation with a nine man roster to win key games. The Jazz are still in contention in the West, and they now have a full healthy roster.

Now that the Jazz are healthy Sloan faces another challenge. His bench seems to be filled with players of roughly the same talent level. Jerry has to find the right amounts of minutes to not only help the team win, but to please Jazz players desires to be on the court.

Getting players to accept their roles is a very difficult task for any coach in the NBA. How well Jerry gets certain Jazz players to accept a lesser role on the team will really make-or-break the Jazz season.

Grade—A-

Considering the state of the Jazz when the season started Sloan has proven himself once again a Hall of Fame coach. He needs to now get his players mentally tough enough to get up for game not only against big named teams, but to be prepared to play every single night. He also has to find a way to get the Jazz to win on the road.

Front Office—The Jazz stood firm during the summer against the media, opposing GMs, and Carlos Boozer’s demands. The reward for the Jazz is now they have a more marketable Boozer who is putting together a strong All-Star season.

The Jazz now have many options for how they can deal with Boozer, but most importantly the Jazz have all the leverage to make the decision which is best for the team.

So far you also have to give the front office high marks for handling of the past draft. Maynor looks to be a solid addition to the team. Plus, Matthews was a great find and addition to the Jazz as an undrafted rookie free agent.

There have been some real boneheaded moves by the Jazz management. The marketing department and the ticket sales division have brought inferior products to the Jazz fan base. As a result attendance at Jazz games is well below where the Jazz have averaged in the past.

The hiring of David Locke as the radio play-by-play voice continues to be a terrible move for helping to create interest in the team. Plus, it hurts the creation of new younger fans who simply won’t listen to the worst play-by-play call in the Utah sports market.

The elephant in the room still remains. The Jazz are over the luxury tax this season.

The Jazz are a small market team, and that means they have a limited amount of capital to spend on player contracts. To keep the Jazz in Utah, the Jazz simply cannot go over the luxury tax and be fiscally viable.

The salary cap will most likely decrease again next season. That means it will be increasing difficult for the Jazz to shed the money required to be a non-luxury tax paying team.

Grade—B-

Getting below the luxury tax is the most important task for the Jazz front office. As long as the Jazz are over the luxury tax threshold the front office isn’t doing their job.

Utah Jazz Overall—Watching the Jazz this season is like watching a person who is afraid to succeed. The Jazz have proven they can play with any team in the league.

The Jazz have beaten the Lakers, Magic, and Trailblazers. They have also won the season series against San Antonio for the first time since 1997.

Yet, the Jazz have also lost to Minnesota twice, Sacramento at home, and Oklahoma City at home. All games the Jazz simply cannot afford to lose if they want to compete in the Western Conference.

This lack of consistent play, and the poor play on the road, points to a lack of mental toughness on the Jazz.

The team continues to take steps towards looking like a Jerry Sloan coached team, but right now they don’t have the physical edge which has been associated with Jazz teams of the past.

Overall Grade—B

The Jazz seem to be at a critical junction in their season. A place where they could really step up their game and be an elite Western Conference team or slack off and be a team simply fighting to make the playoffs. How the Jazz play in the next quarter of the season will really set where the expectations should be for the post-season.


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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Matt Harpring's Work On Utah Jazz Broadcasts a Holiday Gift For NBA Fans

Matt Harpring's playing career appears to be over, but hopefully his broadcasting career has just begun...

It is tough to see Matt Harpring back at Jazz games, but not on the court. Harpring after announcing his quasi-retirement (he announced he will not return this season and indicated that he would be unlikely to return in the future, but he has not made his retirement official) has now come to Utah to join the Jazz broadcast.

Harpring sat in on the television broadcast with Ron Boone and Craig Bolerjack for the Jazz game against the Spurs. He also plans on being a part of either the radio or television broadcasts for the remainder of the week.

As I watched the television broadcast before the Spurs game, I commented with my wife about how Harpring still looks to be in great playing shape. It would appear that Harpring really did give everything he had to try and get back on the court for the Jazz this season.

That hard work and commitment to training is really what made Harpring such a likable Sloan style player. When Harpring came into the game you knew exactly the type of play he was going to bring to the court. He was going to knock players around, play physical, and do the little things which win basketball games.

These attributes of Harpring made him loved inside the Jazz organization; however, other teams aren’t exactly sad that they no longer have to face him on the court. Players knew when they were facing the Jazz that Harpring was going to really knock them around the entire game. Other teams won’t miss the bumps and bruises they would have received from Harpring’s aggressive style of play.

The other thing which I noticed about Harpring is how he was improving the Jazz broadcast. Matt’s insights into the game were really on the mark the entire night.

Before the game Harpring joined the pregame show to walk through different plays the Spurs like to run against the Jazz. While this segment was not new to the Jazz pre-game show, Harpring was able to give more clarity to the segment and insights.

He highlighted before the broadcast the ability of the Spurs’ Matt Bonner to be a Jazz killer. He walked through the play the Spurs liked to run to Bonner to get him open for three point looks against the Jazz, Harpring also explained why it was important for the Jazz to close out on Bonner and not allow him to set his feet when he shot the ball.

Throughout the broadcast the Spurs would run the exact play Harpring outlined before the broadcast, and he would point out with great accuracy when the play was beginning to develop. He was also spot-on about Bonner’s ability to shot the ball better when his feet were set, as opposed to taking a shot on the move.

Along with the insight Harpring would give, not only on Bonner but the strategies of the Jazz, he brought a real excitement to the broadcast. An excitement which can sometimes be lacking among sports broadcasters. Just by listening to Harpring one can tell he has a genuine love for the game of basketball, and that love of the game is passed forward through his commentary.

Matt Harpring has the knowledge and the passion for basketball to be a great broadcaster; however his most important attribute is his ability to be well spoken.

When you listen to Matt Harpring he is able to make an intelligent well thought out point, and he is able to make his point during the flow of a broadcast. This ability to be well spoken really separates the good commentators from the great commentators. What is even more impressive is Harpring is able to be well spoken about what is actually happening in the game, as opposed to other commentators who view broadcasts as an opportunity to shot the breeze, with a game happening to be going on in the background.

Too often players who are likeable or who are a good interviews do radio shows or broadcasting and really are quite terrible. Case-in-point—The Deron Williams Show versus The Ronnie Brewer Show. Deron Williams is well spoken in post game interviews, and seems to have an interesting personality. Yet, Williams’ short lived train wreck of a weekly radio show with David Locke proved some people don’t have the ability to have a long well spoken conversation (Although he was really at a disadvantage dealing with wind-bag David Locke to begin with). Ronnie Brewer on the other hand had a similar weekly radio show with Gordan Monson and Kevin Graham. Brewer’s show is very compelling radio—why? He is a good conversationalist. He is able to string words his words together to make interesting points.

Harpring has that same conversationalist ability and he brought that ability to the Jazz broadcast against the Spurs.

Was he perfect on the broadcast? No. He was looking into the wrong cameras from time to time, and he would talk over Bolerjack or Boone at different times. Those problems seemed to be more lack of experience as compared to lack of talent. Even with his miscues he was still the bright spot on the broadcast for the Jazz.

He still is under contract for the Jazz this season, and it would be a shame if the Jazz missed out on the opportunity to make Harpring a fixture on the Jazz’s broadcasts.

The Jazz would much rather have Matt Harpring on the court helping them to win games, but they should at least have him do what he can to help the Jazz broadcasts. If Harpring brings the same work ethic to the broadcasts he did to the court, then he should be quite a success.


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Monday, December 7, 2009

Las Vegas Bowl: BYU & Oregon State Is A Must See Non-BCS Bowl

BYU and Oregon State's similarities should make for an interesting game...

The December 22nd Las Vegas Bowl Matchup of BYU and Oregon is one of the best non-BCS bowl games of the bowl season. The matchup of the Beavers and the Cougars has all the makings of an entertaining instant classic bowl game.

Both BYU and Oregon State are filled with offensive weapons. Both are teams with efficient senior quarterbacks, 1,000 yard rushers, and are loaded with a talented stable of pass catchers.

BYU ended the season ranked 14th in the BCS and Oregon State finished 18th; however, both teams had opportunities this season to go to bigger and better places.

Oregon State ended the season being a mere four points away from taking Oregon’s place in the Rose Bowl. BYU, after upsetting then highly ranked Oklahoma, was in National Championship conversations. That was until Florida State came to Provo and humiliated the Cougars on their home field.

Both teams have something left to prove in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Even though both BYU and Oregon State have 1,000 yard running back, both move the ball primarily through the air. The offensive stats for both teams are very similar to each other.

BYU is ranked 18th in total offense averaging 437.08 yards per game, with 148.17 yards per game coming on the ground (ranked 60th), and 288.92 yards per game coming through the air (ranked 12th). Oregon State is ranked 28th in total offense averaging 419.42 yards per game, with 144.17 yards per game rushing (ranked 64th), and 275.25 yards per game passing (ranked 21st).

Although BYU is higher ranked nationally, both teams’ numbers are virtually identical. The proportion of passing offense to rushing offense is especially shockingly similar.

On defense the similarities between the two schools continue. Both teams are much better at stopping the run than the pass. BYU is ranked 23rd in rushing defense allowing 112 yards a game, but ranked 65th in passing defense giving up 219.08 yards a game. Oregon State is ranked 25th in rushing defense holding teams to 114.25 yards per game, and ranked 87th in passing defense allowing 238.67 yards per game through the air.

Again BYU is ranked slightly higher nationally in both categories, but the actual numbers are remarkably similar for both teams.

The Las Vegas Bowl won’t be the first time both teams have played as Sam Boyd Stadium. Both teams faced off early in the season against UNLV. The Beavers needed a late field goal, after a game saving pass interference call, in order to best the Rebels 23-21. The Cougars on the other hand rolled to an easy 59-21 victory over UNLV, and had 611 yards of total offense.

While using the UNLV game as a comparison of the two schools is convenient and accepted in college football. The use of a common opponent is fallacious argument. BYU played UNLV after the Rebel’s were decimated by in-state rival Nevada. When the Rebels played BYU it was clear UNLV gave up on the game early in the second quarter.

On paper it looks like the Las Vegas Bowl should be a hard fought, and high scoring game between two offensive powers. Yet, for BYU this game is not only important to the school, but also to the Mountain West Conference’s claim to legitimacy.

Starting last summer the Mountain West Conference has made a big push claiming they play a high enough level of football to be considered a BCS caliber conference.

BYU is the second place team in the Mountain West Conference. In order to validate the Mountain West Conference’s claim to belong among the BCS conferences—BYU must beat Oregon State, a third place(after tie-breakers) Pac-10 team.

The Beavers come into the game with less pressure. They are the underdogs according to the rankings, and can play without the pressure of playing against the BCS system.

The game should be a fun one to watch. The Las Vegas Bowl pitting two ranked teams against each other, for the first time in the bowl’s history, is easily one of the three best non-BCS bowl matchups on paper—if not the very best non-BCS bowl matchup.


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Saturday, December 5, 2009

USC’s Gift for BYU & Poinsettia Bowl Turns to Lump of Coal After Cal Loss

How the Cal loss affected BYU and USC...

For BYU it seemed as if the best place for BYU this bowl season would be the Poinsettia Bowl. The Las Vegas Bowl hinted that they didn’t want the Cougars this season, and BYU always had a better shot at getting a better bowl matchup in the Poinsettia Bowl. Both sides seemed happy not to be affiliated this season.

USC’s losing to Arizona really helped out BYU. It meant barring a Washington upset over a ranked Cal team, the Trojans would be playing BYU in San Diego.

Well former BYU quarterback Steve Sarkisian played the role of Grinch for BYU fans. Sark’s unranked Huskies beat #19 California 42-10.

If there is one sure thing in the PAC-10 this season it is not to assume anything is a sure thing.

This means USC finished fifth in the PAC-10 officially, and they are headed to the Las Vegas Bowl. To make matters worse for BYU fans they will most likely face off against Utah.

The only hope for BYU fans is that Vegas will reconsider selecting the Cougars for the Vegas Bowl now that they have a chance to pair them with USC.

The Vegas Bowl has only hinted that they will take Utah. Their reasoning for taking a lower ranked Utah over BYU was economic. BYU fans are known for being frugal, and for their lack of gambling. Utah fans would travel just as well to Vegas as their BYU counterparts. The Vegas Bowl also has hinted it wants to become something more than simply the “BYU Bowl.”

The reasoning of the Vegas Bowl Committee didn’t take into account the chance of getting such a marquee team from the PAC-10 as USC. The chance of putting together a BYU vs. USC matchup might be too good for the Vegas Bowl to resist.

BYU will be ranked in the top 15 going into whatever bowl game they play. USC could still be ranked after losing to Arizona this week, but even if they aren’t the USC brand will attract a national television audience.

BYU won’t find out what bowl game they are going to until after the BCS bowl selection tomorrow. Why? The BCS still hasn’t released BYU from consideration—even though there is no possible way BYU will get a BCS bowl bid.

If the Vegas Bowl selects Utah as it is rumored to tomorrow it will be a very bitter moment for BYU fans. The Utes will get the chance to take on the talented, although underperforming Trojans.

USC’s loss to Arizona really appeared to be an early Christmas present for BYU fans, but it really did turn to a lump of coal when California was upset by Washington.


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USC’s Loss to Arizona Possible Holiday Gift For BYU and Poinsettia Bowl

USC's poor end of year performance might help BYU have a good bowl matchup...

*Author’s Note: I wrote this article before the conclusion of the California vs. Washington game. With Washington upsetting California the bowl scenarios changed. Here is an updated bowl outlook for USC, Cal, and BYU. "USC’s Gift for BYU & Poinsettia Bowl Turns to Lump of Coal With Cal Loss.” *

If BYU gets a bid to the Poinsettia Bowl (as expected) then their bowl opponent could be USC.

Yes, that USC.

The Trojans are having a very disappointing year. A team which was supposed to compete for a national championship, and at the very least a BCS bowl bid. Yet, now USC (barring Cal being upset by Washington) will finish sixth in the PAC-10 and that means they will fall all the way down to the San Diego County Poinsettia Bowl.

The Las Vegas Bowl has already hinted that they are reluctant to select BYU for a fifth consecutive year. It was rumored that unless University of Utah was blown out in the Holy War, the Vegas Bowl Committee would select the Utes. This means a higher ranked BYU would be happily selected by an ecstatic Poinsettia Bowl Committee.

(The only reason that BYU’s bowl fate is still undecided is the BCS has not released the Cougars from consideration—even though there is no possible way BYU would get a BCS bowl bid.)

The chance for BYU to play USC to finish the 2009 season would be a great bookend for the Cougars to go along with BYU opening the season by playing Oklahoma.

Even with USC having an off year it would be a marquee matchup for a second tier bowl, like the Poinsettia Bowl. BYU will be ranked in the top 15, and USC might be able to stay in the top 25 (mainly thanks to the USC brand name and lazy poll voters not doing their homework).

There are still a few variables which could wreck this bowl matchup. Yet, the way the current bowl picture looks BYU might have hit the jackpot by being snubbed by the Las Vegas Bowl.

BYU would have little problem selling their fan base on heading down to San Diego regardless of their opponent. Thanks largely to BYU’s large fan base in the San Diego area. BYU playing USC would virtually guarantee a sellout in the Poinsettia Bowl regardless of the interest the USC fan base would have in traveling to the game.

The Trojans might have given BYU an early Christmas present if they fall to sixth place and the Poinsettia Bowl.


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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Utah Jazz Happy to Have a Problem like Finding Minutes for Wesley Matthews

Will Matthews keep his starting spot now that Jazz regulars are coming back from injury?

If you are any kind of athletes you like to be able to point to some statistic in order to prove your worth. The ability for an athlete to be able to point to something tangible leads to an athlete getting millions of dollars worth of contracts.

New Jazz man Wesley Matthews has two major stats proving his value to Utah.

First, this season the Jazz have employed a new defensive grading system. After each game Jefferson Sweeney, the Jazz video coordinator, will look at the video of every defensive possession, and put together the grade for each player after each game. Which Jazz player has consistently received the highest grade for his defensive prowess? Andrei Kirilenko? Ronnie Brewer? Deron Williams?

Nope— it is undrafted rookie Wesley Matthews.

Matthews has been able to find playing time because of his defensive abilities. He will do the small things on the defensive end to help the Jazz win basketball games. Matthews seems to be fearless regardless of his defensive assignment.

For a coach like Jerry Sloan, the ability for a player to play tough hardnosed defense is paramount.

Second, the Utah Jazz are 7-2 with Wesley Matthews in the starting lineup, and 3-5 when he isn’t starting. The more minutes Matthews has played the better the success of the Jazz. Can Matthews really take all the credit for the Jazz’s recent success while he is in the starting lineup? No. Nonetheless it is a very impressive stat to show he is making some kind of difference for the team.

There are reasons why Matthews went undrafted. He is not the most athletic player on the court, and he can’t play above the rim like other wing players in the NBA. He is not the quickest player on the court, nor is he a sharp shooter like a Kyle Korver.

What Matthews brings to the court is an incredibly high basketball IQ, a large amount of self-confidence and poise for a rookie, and knowledge of how to play to make his teammates better. All of these traits are lacking in the current NBA. These traits are also normally associated with veteran players in the NBA, and not undrafted rookie players.

Kevin O’Conner stroke gold when he found Wesley Matthews; however, it was Wesley Matthews who took advantage of the opportunity given to him to find a place on this Jazz team. Matthews played for the Jazz’s summer league team, and wasn’t very impressive in any of the summer league games. When he did impress the Jazz decision makers it was during practices in the summer.

After playing for the Jazz in the summer league, Matthews went and played on the King’s summer league team. He didn’t get an invite to the King’s training camp. Instead of giving up on his NBA dreams and heading overseas, like many other players, Matthews got an invite to the Jazz training camp.

He was a long shot to make the roster. The Jazz had a log jam at the two-guard position, and the Jazz were already extended financially. The Jazz are a small market team and they have the third highest payroll in the NBA—the last thing the Jazz wanted was to carry another contract.

Despite all of the obstacles facing Matthews, he was impressive in the preseason. He benefited from a rash of injuries to Jazz players, and made the regular season roster with a non-guaranteed contract. Injuries continued to affect the Jazz until he was finally given an opportunity to start for the Jazz. Matthews was ready when his opportunity came, and he took full advantage of it.

Matthews’ fight to make it in the NBA is by no means over. He still doesn’t have a guaranteed contract, although it seems like it is only a matter of waiting for the January deadline for Matthews’ contract to be made official.

Keeping his playing time is now the key for Wesley Matthews. CJ Miles, Kyle Korver, and Ronnie Price are all on the verge of coming back from injuries. CJ Miles started practicing with the Jazz on Wednesday and appears ready to play in the game Friday against the Indiana Pacers.

Sloan has always had a belief that a player shouldn’t lose their position in the rotation due to injury; however, he hinted that he is reluctant to change the current starting five of the Jazz. What needs to be seen is whether Sloan is waiting for Miles to get back to 100 percent before giving him back the starting job or if he will continue to stick with the rookie Matthews as the starter regardless of Miles’ health.

The Jazz like to have the problem of having too many good players at a position. The trick now is to find the two-guard who will compliment the other players on the court. Matthews could make the case that he is the best fit at two-guard for the Utah Jazz.

While Korver is the best pure shooter of the Jazz’s two-guards, he is also a defensive liability when he is on the court.

Miles has never proven himself to be a consistent player. He is a great shooter when his shot is falling, but he will damage the Jazz with poor shot selection when his shot is off. Miles has also struggled to rebound the basketball, and lacked the size in the past to play physical defense. CJ bulked up in the off-season, in hopes of being a more physical presence on the court.

Price has always been stuck as an undersized combo guard in the NBA. He has too much of a shot first mentality to get the Jazz into the offense when he is running the point, and he is too small to contend with the bigger two-guards in the NBA.

Matthews’ game isn’t perfect. He is still making rookie mistakes when he is on the court, but Matthews does the little things to earn playing time in the Jazz system. Matthews is active on both ends of the court. On offense he will finish cuts, set strong hard back screens, and he concerns himself with the proper spacing the Jazz need to run their offense. Plus, he does the majority of his work on the offensive end without the ball. Something the majority of Jazz players and NBA players seem reluctant to do.

The current starting five for the Jazz are playing very unselfish basketball. Matthews helps to promote this style of basketball with his play. Most rookies think they must shot the ball in order to prove they deserve to stay on the court. Matthews is an adequate shooter at the two-guard position in the Jazz offense, but Matthews’ looks first to create easy buckets for the Jazz. This usually means he will pass the ball to a cutter, rather than taking a jump shot.

Defensively Matthews is very active. He allows the Jazz not to use Ronnie Brewer and Andrei Kirilenko to guard the other team’s best player. This allows Kirilenko and Brewer to play more off the ball and help defense, and that leads to more blocks, steals, and easy transition points for the Jazz.

There is also an X-factor that Matthews brings to the court. He will get on the floor to dig out a ball, and he isn’t afraid to get physical with players. The best example of this normally unheralded skill came against the Spurs in San Antonio.

Early in the game the Spurs were able to knock the ball away from the Jazz and pass it to a cherry-picking Tim Duncan for what appeared to be a wide open lay-up. Matthews, did not give up on the play, he sprinted from underneath his own basket and ran down Duncan from behind. He fouled Duncan hard, throwing the bigger man (cleanly) to the ground. Matthews didn’t catch Duncan, or help him up after the play. He sent a message to both the Spurs and to his Jazz teammates that nobody will score easy buckets on the Jazz.

Matthews cares about winning more than making friends around the league. A lot of current Jazz players need to follow his example, and emulate his attitude.

Small things like fouling Duncan hard on a breakaway lay-up are things which catch the attention of Jerry Sloan. One of the reasons he has given so much praise on Matthews this season.

Sloan recently commented: “He’s played pretty well all along. He plays smart. He’s not afraid.”

Matthews might not think much of such comments, but for Sloan this is high praise. For Sloan to be speaking like that about a rookie is as rare as Charles Barkley hitting a decent golf shot. Remember it when it happens and enjoy it, because it won’t be happening again.

Jazz fans like a blue collar, hard working, tough players like Matthews. So far he hasn’t been given anything in the NBA free, he has had to earn every single minute he gets on the floor. The Jazz have been searching for a solution for their problems at the two-guard, and it seems like Matthews is that solution.

Wesley Matthews beat the odds just to make the Jazz roster, and he defied all logic when he got a chance to start in the NBA his rookie year. Now he has the chance to beat out the Jazz’s incumbent two-guards for the starting role.

How? By continuing to play the style of basketball that caught the eye of the Jazz coaching staff—hard-nosed, smart, Jerry Sloan style basketball.

What do you do with a problem like Wesley Matthews? You enjoy it, and find him minutes in the rotation!


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