Monday, April 28, 2014

NFL Draft buzz (and revised odds for the Texans)

This is one of many stories that I've seen suggesting the Texans are shopping the first pick in the draft. 

From the beginning, when I first handicapped the Texans likely pick, I stated that my preference would be, were I in charge, to trade the pick and stock-pile additional picks in the 2nd and 3rd round to plug the many holes appearing in the Texans 2-deep.

Of course, in his guessing game designed to generate page views of a mock draft series, John McClain of the Chronicle has disagreed, suggesting for his last three versions that the brain-trust on Kirby is ready and willing to select Jadeveon Clowney number one with no reservations.

However, I am starting to think that a trade is more and more likely, as more and more national news sources indicate that the Texans are shopping the pick.  Because of that, I'm updating my handicapping odds, but I'm still not putting "other" (which would mean a trade) as the favorite because I've yet to hear any strong buzzing regarding a trading partner.

Odds for potential Texans Round 1 draft picks:

2/1 - Jadeveon Clowney - I still think the DE from South Carolina is the slight favorite. He's the best player in this draft at any position. If the Texans don't trade the pick they should select Clowney and then turn JJ Watt loose on his motivation levels.

3/1 - Other (Pick traded) - This is starting to feel more and more likely. I think Coach O'Brien might have spent a little bit of time examining his current roster and is now fully understanding of how shallow the talent pool really is.

30/1 - Blake Bortles/Johnny Manziel - This might be a little high, but I don't get the feeling the Texans are very high on either of these two QB's

100/1 - Teddy Bridgewater - Amazingly, if he's still on the board, I think Bridgewater would be just about even money to be the Texans 1st pick in the 2nd round.

1000/1 - Don't trade pick/other - All of the Khalil Mack/Aaron Donald noise is just that. I don't put much stock in it.

On another note:  The Cowboys taking Manziel would just be Jerruh being Jerruh, which is why it could happen.

The Dallas Cowboys are a mess.  they have a ton of needs higher than QB that need to be addressed, which is why I could see Jerry Jones taking Manziel.  Jones loves media attention and there is no player in this draft that would provide more.

Of course, in typical Cowboys fashion there would be little on the front line to protect his QB which means they would be near the bottom of the league in sacks allowed. They also won't have much in the way of a pass rush, so they'll rank near the bottom of the league in sacks as well.  There is a certain symmetry to that one supposes.

You take too long NFL.

For years the NFL has been a marketing monster. As Sean Pendergast of the Houston Press recently noted, the timing of this year's draft has been one of their rare missteps. I realize the thinking in this case was "more is better" (chatter and coverage I mean) but what it's really done is lay bare just how silly the entire process really is.

Fortunately, by next Sunday, the draft will be a distant memory and we can start looking forward to the second round of OTAs.  Of course, my thought would be to have the draft before the first round of Spring workouts but that would just make too much sense.

Yes, we HAVE learned a lot from the Rockets, but no one is ready to say it.

Down 3-1 in their series against Portland we're starting to hear rumblings from media that perhaps this incarnation of the Rockets are not as good as previously reported. My problem, however, is that the Chron's Jonathan Feigen doesn't go far enough.

For starters, this is a poorly coached team. Especially at the end of games where Kevin McHale seems to be all out of ideas as the clock gets closer to zero. I've long had a feeling that, should the Rockets not get out of the first round, McHale is a goner since GM Daryl Morey is seemingly incapable of admitting that he has not put together the strongest of teams.

In short, this Rockets roster is deeply flawed, consisting of several players whose strengths do not complement the others' weaknesses.  Their star, inarguably Dwight Howard, has been OK, but lacks a true point guard to feed him the ball while in the post and their 2nd best player is really nothing more than an instant-offense sixth man (ironically: the role in which he excelled for OKC) playing the role of team leader.

That's not to say that James Harden is no good.  He is very good, and would be very good, coming off the bench for this Rockets team, filling up the score sheet, and then heading back to the bench when defense needs to be played. To call Harden a defensive liability is an understatement. He's a defensive black-hole.

At point guard, the situation is even more dire. While Patrick Beverley would make a nice change-of-pace 2nd string point guard for a contending team he's not near versatile enough of a player to take the full-time reins.  Jeremy Lin is just not an NBA caliber point guard and has no self-control in the clutch.

Chandler Parsons is a good role player, but he should be limited to that as he tends to run very cold in the areas where he's not hot. I think the sample size is too small on Troy Daniels but what he's shown so far has been promising.

In all however there's not enough defense to go around while the offense is manned by selfish players who need someone to get them the ball to get off a good shot. Unfortunately, the Rockets don't have the quality needed at the point position to complement them.

I'm not sure what Morey will do in the off-season but I would have to think that finding a new coach, and working on a trade for a real 2nd star would be on the top of the list. At minimum, I would give Minnesota a call and see what would be required to get Kevin Love.  Yes, I would even tell them that Harden is not off-limits.  They also need to find a point guard, which could be addressed in the draft, most preferably (in my eyes) by Shabazz Napier.

One thing is for certain, the current crop of players has zero chance at making a deep run in the playoffs, they're too undisciplined, too selfish and too flawed defensively to play in the half-court game that the NBA playoffs demand.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Disastros

The first Major League Baseball game I saw in person was an Astros game in the Astrodome. Despite this, I was still a proponent of blowing up both the team, and the Dome itself when both were still an open question.

While I still think bringing down both the Astrodome and the Astros remain good ideas, I remain concerned that the rebuilding plans in the aftermath of both implosions are lacking. John Royal, of the Houston Press, stated much the same in a stream-of-consciousness post this morning bemoaning the lack of Major League talent in Houston's Major League ball team. From the on-field talent to the coaching the Astros are not yet ready for prime time. While there are glimmers of hope, the starting pitching for one, being an Astros fan these days remains remarkably frustrating as many players seemingly ready for promotion are brought along slowly, if at all.

Add in factors such as the ComcastSportsNet Houston mess and customer unfriendly policies like dynamic pricing (which price tickets to games people might want to see [The Yankees] higher than games people don't care much about [The Athletics]) and you have a recipe for fan apathy.

Fortunately, for the Astros, the city's one playoff team is off the local sports radar as well. The Rockets are in the same boat as the Astros TV-wise. Even worse for them, when they did debut, last night in the playoffs, they threw a stinker out for all to see. For many Houstonians who don't pay attention to the Association before playoff time last night's debacle was their first real glimpse of Rocket-ball.

At least they watched. The Astros have famously drawn a 0.0 television rating (twice) which places them below even KGOW in terms of fans. By any metric, the Astros have lost the City in which they play. They've also probably chosen to lose a generation of baseball fans, which makes their rebuilding job all that more difficult.

The situation becomes even more frustrating when you realize that there is real talent in the Minor League system that many observers say is ready, or close to ready, right now.

Carlos Correa - Many baseball observers feel he's close to ready NOW. Not in 2015 or 16 but right now. The Astros seem content to have him bang away in A League, but there's ample evidence that they should fast track him to see what he can do.

Mark Appel and Vince Velasquez - Two starting pitchers that aren't too far away and definitely should be fast-tracked to the big club. The Astros again seem to be content to let them stagnate in Class A ball.

Jonathan Singleton - Singleton is batting .326/.453/.698 in AAA while the Astros Major League 1st baseman, Chris Carter is hitting .123/250./.461 and has 26 strikeouts in 19 games. That's stunningly bad.

These are just a few of the prospects that are languishing in the Minor Leagues with no good baseball logic holding them back. Before last week, George Springer was languishing in AAA as well. All he's done since joining the big team is bat .273/.304/.673. Yes, Springer's strikeouts (7 in 5 games) are high but this can be explained away by his newness to the Majors. Chris Carter has been around long enough that there's no expectation he's ever going to not be a strikeout machine.

I might be different than some Astros fans, but I'm OK watching the team lose provided there's hope that they can win at some point in the future. As long as the Astros keep burying their best prospects behind AAA players who just happen to be on a Major League team that optimism is not there.

They'll continue to be the Disastros, a laughing stock and Mattress Mack can laugh all the way to the bank.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The NBA Playoffs

As promised, here are my playoff picks for the Association:

Round 1:

Western Conference:

San Antonio (1) vs. Dallas (8) - I haven't seen anyone credible picking a Dallas upset. San Antonio in 5.

Houston(4) vs. Portland(5) - I really enjoy watching this Rockets team. Given that injuries are an unknown I'm taking them in 6. 

Los Angeles Clippers(3) vs. Golden State(6) - Ironically, I think the Clippers would have gone deeper in the playoffs had they fallen to four.  Clippers in 5.

Oklahoma City(2) vs. Memphis(7) - OKC is one of my favorite teams to watch right now. Thunder in 4.

Eastern Conference:

Indiana(1) vs. Atlanta(8) - One of the weakest #1 seeds in recent memory.  If only Atlanta were stronger I'd pull the trigger on the upset. Pacers in 7.

Chicago(4) vs. Washington(5) - To see just how BAD the Eastern Conference is this year compare this matchup with the same seeds in the Western.  No matter who wins, we all lose. Chicago in 6.

Toronto(3) vs. Brooklyn(6) - Not a believer in Jason Kidd. Give me the Raptors in 5.

Miami(2) vs. Charlotte(7) - At some point the Heat are going to turn it on right?  Miami in 4.

Round 2:

Western Conference:

San Antonio(1) vs. Houston(4) - This is a match-up call. I like the Rockets in 6.

Los Angeles Clippers(3) vs. Oklahoma City(2) - Had the Clippers played San Antonio in the 2nd round, I'd pick the upset.  Against OKC?  Thunder in 7.

Eastern Conference:

Indiana(1) vs. Chicago(4) - Indiana is a mess, Chicago is not that good. I'll take not that good over a mess in 6.

Miami(2) vs. Toronto(3) - Every fiber of my being wants to take Toronto here except one, my brain and memory.  Miami in 7.

Conference Finals:

Western Conference:

Oklahoma City(2) vs. Rockets(4) - Here's where the Rocket runs out of fuel. Horrible match-up and OKC is just a better team. Thunder in 6.

Western Conference:

Miami(2) vs. Chicago(4) - Easy. Heat in 5.

NBA Finals:

Oklahoma City vs. Miami - Yes, we've seen this before and yes, people are going to be saying it's the Heat again.  I'm not so sure.  This OKC team is better than the team in 2012 and they seem to have answered the loss of Hardin.  Give me Oklahoma City in 7 games.

The Stanley Cup Playoffs:

Although few watch it, the NHL's Stanley Cup Playoffs are one of the most exciting events in professional sports.  In terms of sheer drama and intrigue, I'd place it right behind The World Cup and March Madness.

The NBA Playoffs are less dramatic. With a too-long format and ridiculous scheduling designed to get the best teams on at the best times for television, much of the drama is sucked out of the proceedings while waiting 5 days for the Heat to play Game 3.

That said, there are some very quality matchups this year in both brackets so, without further ado, here are my picks for the NHL, to be followed by the NBA on a separate post.  As is usual, you get what you pay for these so here at Sharp, Like a Marble we are suspending our money-back guarantee.


Round 1:

Western Conference

Colorado(1) vs. Minnesota(4) - I like the Avalanche in 4, possibly 5 if they take a night off.

St. Louis(2) vs. Chicago(3) - Hard to go against the defending champions in round 1. I say it takes them 6 or 7 games though.

Anaheim(1) vs. Dallas(4) - Anaheim is already up 1-0. I don't see the Stars winning a game in this series.

San Jose(2) vs. Los Angeles(3) - If Quick gets hot, the Sharks are in for some tough sledding. I like the Kings in 7.

Eastern Conference

Boston(1) vs. Detroit(4) - I am a Red Wing fan. That said I think they're lucky to extend this to six games. I have to say Boston in 5.

Tampa Bay(2) vs. Montreal(3) - Even though the Lightning are down 1-0 I still like them to win it in 7.

Pittsburgh(1) vs. Columbus(4) - Welcome to the playoffs Blue Jackets, sorry your stay will only be for four games.

New York(2) vs. Philadelphia(3) - I like the Flyers in 7, I will admit this is in most part because I want to see the Penguins/Flyers rivalry renewed.

Round 2:

Western Conference:

Colorado(1) vs. Chicago(3) - I'm still riding the Blackhawks, in 7 games  for sure.

Anaheim(1) vs. Los Angeles(3) - I think the Ducks just have to much. Anaheim in 6

Eastern Conference:

Boston(1) vs. Tampa Bay(2) - In my upset special the Lightning pull the upset in 7.

Pittsburgh(1) vs. Philadelphia(3) - The Penguins, also in 7. (Yes, because I WANT to see a game 7 between the two rivals)

Conference Finals:

Western Conference:

Anaheim(1) vs. Chicago(3) - Here's where I jump off of the Blackhawks bandwagon. Anaheim in 6.

Eastern Conference:

Pittsburgh(1) vs. Tampa Bay(2) - This could be one of the best series of the tournament. The fighting Sidney Crosby's in 7.

Stanley Cup Finals:

Pittsburgh(1) vs. Anaheim(1)  - Game 7's in a Stanley Cup Final are among the best spectacles in any sport, anywhere.  I hope, hope, hope this goes to one.  Penguins in 7.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

How NOT to do a mock draft story (Part II)

In this chapter of the mock draft follies we expand our view to the national sports outlets where the Yahoo! based Shutdown Corner blog has presented this stinker by Eric Edholm.

In his blog, Edholm tries a novel approach to draft prognosticating, telling us who he thinks the teams will pick, and then who he thinks they should pick.  This is all well and good, except that Edholm's logic goes missing on quite a few picks.  Take the Vikings who Edholm says should pick Johnny Manziel:
We admit: We just want to see what a Manziel-Mike Zimmer-Adrian Peterson-Cordarelle Patterson-Norv Turner situation would produce. It would be fascinating and get people pumped about the Vikings again.
No, it wouldn't be fascinating, it would be a disaster.  Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer has already publically displayed his disgust with Manziel and, while that could all be misdirection, it's never a good idea to project a team pick just for the entertainment value.

The funny thing is that Edholm spends half of his post complaining about people "flaming" him for his picks.  Well, when you make picks based on logic this faulty you're bound to get flamed.

Turning back to ChronBlog we find that they've done it wrong again. Not only was McClain's Mock Draft 2.0 presented AGAIN in reverse slide-show fashion (32-1 instead of the normal 1-32 format) in a blatant grab for 32 page views but, according to talk radio (no, I didn't click through all 32 photos) he's changed his Texans pick from Bortles to Manziel.

When you consider that both Manziel and Bortles had equitable pro days, that little has changed since McClain's mock 1.0 and it's obvious that McClain has absolutely NO inside information coming from the new regime, it's very clear that the Manziel pick was only selected for publicity's sake.  Again, that's a horrible reason to do a mock draft.

The REAL problem here is that there are too many people with no idea what they're doing dipping their toes into the mock-draft kiddie pool.  Beyond that, mock drafts are useless in their entirety, even the best prognosticators get less than 50% of the picks correct year after year.  They also rarely take into consideration trades, which can (and do) throw everything off.  There are people I like to go to for draft analysis, Mike Mayock, Todd McShay etc. but there are very few mock drafts that I take all that seriously. Neither should you.

On a (sort-of) related note: Last week I tried my hand at handicapping the Texans' first round pick. I might be at a point where I'm going to adjust those odds based on Coach Bill O'Brien's comments at an event re: Jadeveon Clowney that included specific ways the team might use him in their defense. That being said, I'm going to give it a day or two to see how O'Brien addresses Bortles and Bridgewater to see if stating details such as this is just his style, or if there's meaning there.  If O'Brien doesn't offer the same detailed analysis of the other first-pick contenders after meeting with them, I might be making some changes.

Monday, April 7, 2014

NCAA Basketball Freshman: right goal, wrong argument.

After what has been arguably the best NCAA Men's Basketball tournament in recent memory we're now going to be subjected to a bunch of emotional hand-wringing by the Nation's moral police over the dire state of NCAA athletics and the desire (of some) to put an end to the "one-and-done" rule that allows players to declare for the NBA draft after one season in College.

The first salvo was launched by Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari who has a starting five consisting of all Freshman.  What this means is that, next year, Calipari is likely to lose his entire starting line-up to the draft.  Closely following this was NCAA President John Emmert who concurred that the rule is bad for basketball.

This has lead to the emergence of the moral-outrage brigade who are constantly here to remind us that the NCAA is a dirty monster who's only goal is to exploit the athletes at every turn. While I'm no fan of the NCAA, I also don't think that they are decisively anti-athlete.  What they are is pro-member institution. And the NCAA should be pro-university, because they (not the athletes) make up the membership.

So the argument against one-and-done is not one of athlete concern, nor is it about making money for either the NBA, the NCAA members or the athletes. It's an argument for better basketball at all levels.

Calipari and Edelmen can glower at each other all they want, bang their ideologically pure chests and scream to the heavens that the system is short-changing the players but, in reality, what they are each doing is forwarding an idea that is to their own benefits. Calipari would most certainly benefit from keeping players around longer and Edelmen would benefit professionally from having his published ideas confirmed. While Edelmen likes to paint himself as ideologically pure, there is a financial benefit in the marketplace of ideas to being correct. No one pays attention to someone who is wrong frequently, unless that person has the surname Krugman.

I've little patience for chest-bangers. In the long-run they typically are outed for the personal-attention/glory seeking mongrels that they are.  Give me someone who admits they stand to gain financially from something and I'm more likely to trust their motives.  From that standpoint, I can understand what drives you and I can believe that you really care about this issue.

All that being said, I'd like to see the end of one-and-done because I believe it will result in a better quality of basketball. And yes, that's a selfish motivation because I enjoy watching sports played at the highest level.

But, wait. Didn't I just say that we are exiting one of the best men's tournaments in recent history?

Yes, I did, but what we're not seeing any longer are the best TEAMS in recent history. The games are close, but the quality of play is spotty.  Because of a lack of player development NBA games are borderline unwatchable, and for every Kevin Durant that makes it big there are 100's of other stories of players leaving early only to wash-out.

If I had my way we'd return to the days when you had to complete your eligibility in College before going pro. I understand that this is not feasible in today's "get rich now" society and I also understand that some players lack the book-smarts to make it through College. In the latter cases I would propose four years in the D-league as a substitute for being able to sing an Alma Mater.

None of this is ever going to happen however, because we've bastardized sport into a corporate game where profits win and the fans lose, always, without question. I propose eliminating one-and-done to make basketball a better game, but the owners and honchos aren't concerned about that, they want a more profitable one.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Handicapping the Texans first draft pick.

They say mock drafts are like assholes.  Everybody has one and they all stink.

OK, they don't say that but they should because the likelihood of any mock draft even coming in around a 30% accuracy rate for the first round (That's around 10 of 32 picks correct) is slim to none.

Still, companies keep churning them out with picks ranging from  Blake Bortles to Teddy Bridgewater to Johnny Manziel and so on. There are even Jadeveon Clowney proponents who feel that the Texans can find their quarterback of the future in later rounds.

I've long been a fan of the Texans trading the pick if possible, and getting more draft picks in the 2nd or 3rd rounds to shore up a roster that is long on verbal promises but short on overall talent. 

With that in mind, and the fact that trades make mock-drafts a little worthless, I think the best thing might be to handicap the potential top picks Sports Book style:

Player - Odds

Blake Bortles - 2/1: Of all the potential quarterbacks who are projected to go in the top 10, Bortles gained the most from his pro day.  On the heels of the Johnny F*****g Football rock concert, and Teddy Bridgewater's disaster against air, Bortles came out and looked the part.  That said, I don't like this pick because he reminds me much of a QB a couple of years prior who had "the best pro-day" some commentators have ever seen: Blaine Gabbert.  If you track Bortles' stats and compare them to Gabbert the two are eerily similar. Still, if the Texans can't (or won't) trade the pick and are bound and determined to select a QB I believe he is #1 on their list.

Jadeveon Clowney - 4/1: I'm putting Clowney this high based on two factors only: 1. He's the top player in the draft. 2. Coach Bill O'Brien has been more specific in his comments regarding Clowney than any other player.  If the Texans keep the 1st overall pick, I'd like to see them move this way.

Trade pick/Other - 10/1: As I stated earlier, I still think this is the way to go. The Texans are a team that has a serious talent deficit brought on by dodgy drafting, horrific salary cap management and simple change that occurs when a new coach is hired. Trading back, and grabbing a QB in a later round, would give the team a chance to try and plug numerous holes.

Johnny Manziel - 20/1: Oddly enough, were Kubiak still in charge I would probably make his odds lower.  However, given the Texans organizational DNA, JFF seems like too much of a reach for me to take the possibility too seriously. I realize that he's currently the flavor of the month and would be the favorite of (some) fans but I really think he's close to off the board for the group over at NRG stadium.  That said, I think out of the top 3 QB's, Manziel has the best chance of becoming a quality NFL quarterback.  I think either Cleveland or Jacksonville is going to be very happy with him.

Teddy Bridgewater - 30/1: Normally I don't put much stock in pro days.  They're scripted, well-rehearsed and nothing more than a fashion show and a chance for players to show that they're not 100% stupid.  That said, when a QB struggles as Bridgewater did against AIR you have to take a step back on wonder what is going on. He has always struck me as a man who is destined to be remembered as a good college QB with no pro-career.  That a mock draft or two is still predicting the Texans to take him at #1 is mystifying.

Other (Without trading pick) - 1000/1: Outside of the big 3 QB's and Clowney, I don't see anyone on the board that the Texans might seriously consider.  Yes, there was conversation surrounding Khalil Mack but I don't see the value at #1 overall for him.  That said, I do think he's going to be a monster NFL linebacker and will make someone in the 6-10 range very, very happy with their draft. The only other player worth mentioning is Jake Matthews of aTm and again, I just can't see him going #1.

Unfortunately, the draft is over a month away so I would call this: Texans handicapping round 1.  A lot can change (and will) before the selection is handed to Roger Goddell in New York.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The 2014 UH Men's Football Schedule is a snoozer.

Cougars Schedule

DateOpposing TeamTime or Final Score
courtesy of Yahoo! Sports

Whatever your rooting interest for the city's namesake University I see little on this list that draws much interest at all.

I guess SMU is the rival now but wow that schedule is weak.  At BYU and against UCF at home are the only two games that would draw any potential interest at all outside of the respective alumni bases.

Anything less than 10-2 and it could be argued that Tony Levine isn't getting the job done.

From a betting perspective I would imagine that UH will be very large favorites in every game except for the aforementioned two, and possibly Cincinnati if they're any good under Tuberville (which is not a given)

The Amway Conference is looking to be a very good from a basketball point of view, but it's sure looking weak from a football perspective.

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