Sunday, February 29, 2004

How the NFL Draft has Evolved
Here's an interesting story about how the NFL draft has changed in the fifty-plus years it's been in existence. The Baltimore Sun follows one of the top QB prospects, Ben Roethlisberger, as he prepares for his new line of work. The article also talks about how the Steelers scouted their eventual first round draft pick in 1956:
"...In its formative years, the NFL took a more carefree approach to sizing up picks. The process was about as intricate as thumbing through a magazine. That's exactly what the Pittsburgh Steelers did in 1956, when they made Colorado A&M defensive back Gary Glick the first overall pick. They saw his name in a magazine's list of top players and figured: Why not?"
I'm sure some fans would argue that the Steelers have employed similar strategies in more recent drafts.

"I can't be mad at anybody." No, that's not Red Sox owner John Henry talking about the Yankees acquiring A-Rod, it's Red Sox left fielder Manny Ramirez discussing why he's not upset the Red Sox tried to trade him this winter for said shortstop. He went on to say:
"I'm happy to be back with the guys. What happened in the winter happened, and it's in the past...In this business you do what you have to do. I'm not going to get down on myself. Being with the guys has always been what I look forward to. I have five years left, and I'd like to stay here and finish my career in Boston."
Who would've thought that Ramirez could give lessons to Henry on maturity?

Nomar almost a Yankee?
From today's Boston Globe:
"Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter wanted no part of any talk that Nomar Garciaparra might wind up with the Yankees next season -- as a second baseman. "They already hate me in Boston," said Jeter. 'I am not saying anything.'"
Major League Baseball--without Steroids
Here's a nice break from all the BALCO talk--a piece on the Red Sox new 2nd basemen, Pokey Reese, and how he persevered on his way to the majors.

Sports Reporters weigh in on Jamal Lewis
Today on ESPN's 'The Sports Reporters', Sal Paolantonio (who spent six months of his life covering the Ray Lewis murder trial), Mike Lupica and Mitch Albom all were cautious in proclaiming that Jamal Lewis is on his way to the big house. Lupica: "If it's one thing we have learned over the years,...allegations are not arrests, arrests are not indictments, and indictments are not convictions."

Post Gazette revisits Steelers needs for 2004
Ed Bouchette talks about what personnel needs Cowher & Company hope to fill before training camp. It's not news that the Steelers need help at (in order of importanct) CB, OT, RB, QB, OLB, but what is worrisome is that Bouchette reports that the Steelers are interested in QB Philip Rivers and RBs Steven Jackson and Kevin Jones with the 11th pick. As I've written before, just-as-productive QBs and RBs can be obtained in later rounds--shutdown corners are typically drafted before the 2nd round. So barring any free agent signings, the Steelers should draft a cornerback in the first round.

Saturday, February 28, 2004

Maybe the Steelers Should have Cut Chad Scott
Stan Savran writes today that keeping Jason Gildon is a mistake. The Steelers may be keeping him as insurance in case they can't resign Clark Haggans. I can buy that--Gildon's effectiveness has certainly slipped the last few years and Haggans has performed well when he has played.

But here's something I don't understand, and I've been saying this since the end of the season when it was rumored that DeWayne Washington would be cut. Why not cut Chad Scott and keep DeWayne Washington? (of course, I might be in favor of cutting them both, but that's not realistic given their depth at cornback right now)

I know Washington struggled with his confidence (as a result of his coverage skills), but I got the feeling that he wanted to atone for his mistakes. I got no such feeling when watching Scott. I would be interested in knowing who gave up more big plays, had more penalties against, and had more pass interceptions or pass breakups (I think I've found my next article). I suspect it's Scott.

When I say keep Washington, I don't mean start him. Restructure his salary and let him play in the nickel and dime defenses. With the emergence of Deshea Townsend and Ike Taylor, and the possibility that the Steelers may get a cornerback in the draft or through free agency, they'll have their starters solidified. The good thing about the nickel (and dime) defenses, is that Washington doesn't have to cover wideouts. Instead he'll be playing zone, or covering slot receivers, tight ends and running backs.

I think that Chad Scott can still be exposed in the nickel/dime packages. He plays very soft, giving up a lot of passes undereath. It was reported last year that he pleaded with Tim Lewis to play more bump-and-run, and as a result he gave up some plays deep. There have also been rumors that Scott might be moved to safety. I can think of two (and maybe three) reasons why that shouldn't be the case: Troy Polamalu and Chris Hope (and Mike Logan if they decide to resign him). And what finally cemented for me that Scott should be cut was his performance in the Cincinnati game in Pittsburgh. He blew two coverages and they resulted in two touchdowns. The Steelers lost by four points.

The Steelers have often been accused of keeping veterans too long. I don't think that would be the case here because they are pretty thin at corner back. I suggest keeping Washington for one more year (long enough to groom another third or fourth CB) and then let him go.

It seems like Washington's mistakes are physical (he slips, he gets beat one-on-one, etc...) while Scott's mistakes are both physical and mental (blown coverages resulting in touchdowns, for example). As a result, using Washington in the nickel/dime package could hide some of his physical shortcomings, but the only place to hide Chad Scott is on the sidelines.

Friday, February 27, 2004

TO's gaffe is funny, especially in comparison to Jamal Lewis's problems. There is a chance that Lewis could be suspended up to one year or get a heavy fine, despite the fact the alleged crime took place before he signed with the Ravens. What's more puzzling is the fact that Lewis's mother was a warden in the Georgia Department of Corrections. Apparently, he was absent the day the school took the "scared straight" field trip to the local prison.

The TO fiasco will certainly benefit everyone except TO. He was expecting to get a $15m signing bonus in free agency with the 49ers content to let him walk. Now, it looks like the 49ers will try to trade him for a high round draft pick. And unless TO refuses to play until his new team negotiates his contract, he won't be getting the money he was expecting. This new development should be particulary enticing to both Philly and Baltimore--two teams very weak at receiver. Although Baltimore may also be looking for a running back.

2004 Free Agents
The Sporting News grades the 2004 list of free agents. Here are positions of interest for Steelers fans:

OT: Sleeper--Lewis Kelly, On the Rise: Damion McIntosh
CB: Sleeper--Shawn Springs, On the Rise: David Macklin
QB: Sleeper--Shaun King, On the Rise: Billy Volek, Best Value: Shane Matthews
RB: Sleeper--Stacey Mack, On the Rise: Mike Cloud, Best Value: Kevin Faulk

I can see the Steelers signing an OT or CB through free agency, but Shane Matthews and Kevin Faulk are "best values" for a reason--they're not very good.

Six Steeler FAs get Contracts--sort of
The Steelers sent contract offers to all six of their free agents. Each player received the lowest contract offer, which allows the Steelers to maintain their rights. As a consequence, this will allow the Steelers to match any offers made from other teams before April 16.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Should the Steelers take a QB with their First Pick? Probably Not.
The Steelers will have the 11th pick in the upcoming NFL draft and Cowher and company are still deciding their draft strategy as April 24th approaches. This, however, has not stopped fans from offering their opinions on which players would best meet the needs of a team trying to rebound from a 6-10 season. You can spend all day on message boards discussing the merits of taking a quarterback in the first round, getting a halfback in the second round (because there are plenty of good halfbacks in this year's draft) and maybe signing a cornerback through free agency. Scenarios like this will play themselves out daily until draft day. And unlike ten years ago, the countless mock draft websites give fans easy access to player statistics and scouting reports.

Of the mock drafts that I have seen, many are projecting the Steelers to select among two halfbacks (Kevin Jones and Steven Jackson), two cornerbacks (Chris Gamble, DeAngelo Hall), a quarterback (Philip Rivers) and an offensive lineman (Robert Gallery-who in all likelihood will be long gone when the 11th pick rolls around).

Who should the Steelers take with the first pick? That depends on who you ask-and more importantly, whether the Steelers are trying to win now-at all costs, or build a team that makes it to the postseason year in and year out.

We know that Mark Bruener and DeWayne Washington are gone (and Amos Zereoue may soon follow), and let's assume that Chad Scott and Jerome Bettis restructure their contracts. That leaves the Steelers with immediate needs at halfback and cornerback. Not to mention the void left on the offensive line from the departure of Wayne Gandy and the subsequent injury to Marvel Smith (add to that Kendall Simmons being diagnosed with diabetes at the start of training camp, and you've got an O-line that gave up 43 sacks). Needs that are less immediate, but should be addressed include: quarterback, defensive end, outside linebacker, tight end and fullback (if the Steelers can't resign Dan Kreider).

Draft a Halfback First?
With the 11th pick, many people contend that the Steelers should take either halfback Kevin Jones (Virginia Tech) or halfback Steven Jackson (Oregon St.). Their argument goes something like this:

"The Bus is out of gas, Zereoue proved that he's not a starter in this league and we have the chance to get the top back in the draft. Maybe we can keep Jerome around at a reduced salary, and he can serve as (insert name of your halfback of choice)'s mentor. We can get back to smash-mouth football and be right back in it next year!"

Maybe. But history and statistics might suggest otherwise. It has long been the mantra among most general managers, coaches and scouts that you don't take a running back high in the draft unless he is the next coming of Jim Brown. The theory goes as follows: There are too many running backs with very similar abilities, so it doesn't make sense to take a back early when a back of similar skill will be around later-instead, address hard-to-fill positions first.

This theory is also supported with statistics.

FA* 3.7 8.2 11.9 0.15
1 4 8.3 12.3 0.35
2 3.8 8.3 12.1 0.28
3 3.6 8.1 11.7 0.17
4 3.8 7.5 11.3 0.15
5 4 7.8 11.8 0.17
6 3.4 7.9 11.3 0.15
7 3.7 8.2 11.9 0.17
Average 3.8 8.1 11.9 0.2
The table above shows that despite the round drafted, halfbacks average 3.8 yards per carry (YPC) and first-rounders do slightly better at 4.0 YPC. This might give one pause when contemplating picking anything other than a halfback with the first pick, but a quick glance down the table shows that fifth round picks also average 4.0 YPC. Well, maybe it's the case that halfbacks taken in the first round prove to be better receivers out of the backfield. Again, the table shows that seventh round picks and free agents do almost as well as first rounders in terms of yards per reception (YPR).

So the question then becomes, do you want to pay first round money to a player that you can get in a later round and will give you the same production? Unless you are a team with only needs at halfback, I would say no-you can get comparable value later in the draft at a fraction of the cost.

Draft a Quarterback First?
Because Tommy Maddox will be 33 when the season starts and because Charlie Batch will be a free agent in 2005, many people think the quarterback position should be addressed sooner rather than later. This is true, but where that quarterback is taken in the draft is very important. Almost all of the mock drafts have Philip Rivers available at the 11th pick-and a fair share have the Steelers selecting him. Again we can ask the question, "Can a team get comparable value from a quarterback taken in later rounds instead of a quarterback drafted in the first round?" I think the answer is a resounding, "Yes."

FA* 0.53 6.5 0.95
1 0.54 6.5 1.09
2 0.54 6.3 1
3 0.55 6.6 1.14
4 0.53 6.1 0.81
5 0.52 6.4 0.93
6 0.51 6.5 0.88
7 0.53 6.4 0.88
Average 0.54 6.4 0.98
Since 1970, third round picks have averaged slightly better numbers than first round picks (completion percentage, passing yards per attempt, and passing TDs per interception thrown). And as you get deeper into the draft, the numbers do not vary by much-for example, seventh round picks complete only two percent fewer passes than first round picks. So why would you pay first round money to a player you can get in later rounds?

Maybe an argument can be made that even though all quarterbacks have similar numbers (on average), quarterbacks drafted in the first round are often more successful. Let's say it's reasonable to assume that if a team makes it to the Super Bowl, their quarterback has had a successful season (a notable exception might include Trent Dilfer in 2001). If we look at quarterbacks participating in the Super Bowl since 1967, those not drafted in the first round account for 53 percent of the total. Included in this 53 percent are players taken in rounds 3-5 (21 percent), players taken in the sixth round and later (19 percent) and free agents (5 percent).

So again, we have more evidence against taking a quarterback in the first round. And as we found with running backs, unless there is a Peyton Manning or Dan Marino available, drafting a quarterback in the first round is a bad idea because there will be players with similar abilities in later rounds at much more reasonable prices (two names that come to mind are Brett Favre, taken in the fifth round and Tom Brady, drafted in the sixth round).

So where does that leave the Steelers? Well they still have immediate needs at cornerback and offensive line. The next question you have to ask is, how deep are the pool of talented cornerbacks and offensive linemen? Is the drop off in ability between the top cornerback and the fifth cornerback large? Can you get a solid offensive lineman in later rounds?

Because there are no readily available statistics on cornerbacks, I was unable to draw comparisons as I did for running backs and quarterbacks. However, looking at the cornerbacks drafted since 1995, I was unable to find one "shutdown corner" ("shutdown corner" is an ambiguous term, but here I'm referring to players like Ty Law, Bobby Taylor, Brian Dawkins, Shawn Springs, Samari Rolle, Patrick Surtain, Charles Woodson, Champ Bailey and Chris McAlister) drafted after the second round. So while teams unearth late-round gems like Tom Brady and Rudi Johnson, that has not been the case with cornerbacks.

Knowing this, the Steelers should take a cornerback with the 11th pick. There is speculation that it could be either Chris Gamble (6'1", 198lbs) or DeAngelo Hall (4.38-40, 5'10"). Will Poole from USC is also moving up the draft board after a strong showing at the combines and might also figure in the mix. The Steelers then have six more picks to address their needs at halfback, quarterback and offensive line-not to mention any acquisitions through free agency. Using this strategy also eliminates the problem of overpaying halfbacks or quarterbacks taken early, when players producing similar numbers can be obtained for lesser value later in the draft.

Let's hope that Cowher and Company come to these same conclusions and takes a cornerback early. They can then address their other needs with the remaining picks, or through free agency. Otherwise, we might be having this same discussion again next year.

Steelers Notes:
The Steelers' eight unrestricted free agents are not expected to re-sign with the team before testing the market when the free-agency signing period opens Wednesday. They are strong safety Mike Logan, fullback Dan Kreider, linebacker Clark Haggans, long snapper Mike Schneck, defensive tackle Kendrick Clancy, tight end Matt Cushing, wide receiver Chris Doering and offensive tackle Barrett Brooks.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

And this time it's not Ray-Ray
Jamal Lewis is expected to turn himself in on Thursday in Atlanta after being indicted on federal drug charges. What is it with Atlanta and the Lewises? On a positive note, even though it's a felony offense, at least Jamal Lewis is not being charged with murder.

Names to look for in 2004
Dan Pasquarelli lists 11 players on the rise (for Steelers fans, the list includes three QBs, 2 CBs, 2 OL and a RB) and nine players that are slipping as a result of their performances at the combine. Hopefully the Steelers will take the best available CB with the 11th pick and then address their other needs--namely RB, OT & QB.

Raymond Felton to the NBA?
Here's an interesting story on Ray Felton's season to date. This quote from the article may be of particular interest to UNC fans:
"Before this season, Felton said it would be 'crazy' for him not to leave if he thought he would be a top-10 draft pick. He said that hasn't changed."
The Red Sox might have trouble resigning Pedro, Nomar
Well, it's only the first week of spring training and one Red Sox player has already voiced his displeasure with how he's been treated--and it's not Pedro. Nomar Garciaparra, not happy about the whole A-Rod fiasco says it might be very difficult for him to return to Boston after his contract expires this year.

What will be more interesting is how new coach, Terry Francona, deals with all the extraneous, non-baseball stuff as he still tries to win games. While Grady Little apparently couldn't manage on the field, many players cited him as the glue that held last year's team together through some rough patches. Francona could be the smartest baseball mind in the world, but how will he respond when Manny decides to call in sick to work, and then proceeds to have drinks at the hotel bar with the enemy?

Bruce Arians Profile
The new Steelers wide receiver coach is profiled on Here's what he had to say about Hines Ward:

"I have all of the respect in the world for him. The hardest thing in the world is to get wide receivers to do is block and his reputation is fierce. We want to keep that up and keep his leadership quality at the same level and even greater."
Bettis not worried about reduced role or reduced salary
"I don't have a problem with that (a backup role)...It is to be decided on the field."
-Jerome Bettis, talking about his role with the Steelers in 2004.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Bettis might be back in Pittsburgh
Jerry DiPaola writes in today's Pittsburgh Tribune Review:

"The Steelers are talking to running back Jerome Bettis about reducing his $3.617 million salary this season, but the two sides are not close to a resolution. When the deal is finalized, it could pay Bettis, 32, about $1 million, plus incentives, for 2004."
Steelers cut Washington and Bruener
Ed Bouchette writes that the Steelers are cleaning house--sort of. They will cut CB DeWayne Washington and TE Mark Bruener--both lost their starting jobs last season. The Steelers have also restructured OLB Joey Porter's contract, will probably try to do the same with OLB Jason Gildon, and are still deciding what to do with Zereoue (release him now or try to trade him after March 3).

The Steelers are positioning themselves to resign free agents LB Clark Haggans, FB Dan Kreider and SS Mike Logan, go after free agents from other teams, and have enough money to sign players taken in the upcoming draft.

Portis to the Redskins for Bailey?
It looks like Joe Gibbs has taken one step closer to being committed. Apparently the Redskins are interested in acquiring Clinton Portis from Denver in exchange for Champ Bailey and a second round pick. This doesn't even make sense in theory. All Joe Gibbs has to do is look around the league and see that teams are succeeding with running backs taken in later rounds. Just last year the Broncos got Quentin Griffin in the fourth round and he had a breakout game against Indianapolis, and is slated to replace Portis if the trade goes through. In 2001, Travis Henry was a second round pick and Rudi Johnson was a fourth round pick--both had productive years last season.

How many great cornerbacks are there in the NFL? Whatever the number, one thing is certain--there are far fewer great cornerbacks than great running backs. Knowing that, why doesn't Gibbs just draft a running back with the second round draft pick he's willing to give up to obtain Portis? That solves two problems (better running game and strong pass defense) instead of creating one (filling the void left by trading an all-pro corner).

The 2004 NFL Draft
There are two good stories on about safety Sean Taylor from Miami being the best player in the draft and how this year's cornerback crop are decidedly undersized.

Monday, February 23, 2004 profiles the top CBs in the draft.
"One thing you can't teach defensive backs is playing the ball in the air...(Gamble) does that because he played receiver. A guy who has played receiver and (is a good cornerback) ... he's a guy who's going to go very, very high."
-Jets coach, Herm Edwards, a former NFL cornerback

Should your Quarterback Outweigh your Center?
University of Kentucky QB Jared Lorenzen weighed in at a hefty 288 lbs during the combines and will probably be drafted in April. I'm guessing he'll prove invaluable on reverses and goal line situations (think Warren Sapp).

Sunday, February 22, 2004

How Important is it to make your Free Throws?
After watching UNC go 21 for 37 from the free throw line yesterday in their ragged victory over FSU, I got to thinking about how important free throw shooting is to team success. On the surface, it makes sense that the more free throws a team converts the more likely they are to win. But what exactly is that relationship? Are commentators correct when they proclaim, "Missing free throws is killing this team!"? I decided to take a look at the numbers and here is what I found.

I got data for the 2003-2004 season on 326 NCAA Division I teams. The data include (winning percentage, FT%, FG%, assists per game, steals per game, 3-point FG%, turnovers per game, team scoring average, rebounds per game and assist-to-turnover ratio). Given all these variables, how important is free throw shooting percentage in contributing to a teams success?

First, let's break down FT% by team winning percentage:

Win pct. Avg FT% by team
win>75% 69.7
75%>win>50% 69.6
50%>win>40% 67.5
win<40% 66.5
Total 68.5

Looking at the table, there doesn't seem to be a large difference between the FT% of those teams winning 75% or more of their games (they convert 69.7% of their free throws) and teams winning less than 40% of their games (they convert 66.5% of their free throws).

However if we run a t-test between the FT% of teams winning 75% of their games or more and the FT% of teams winning less than 75% of their games, we find that the FT% for very successful teams (winning 75% or more of their games) is significantly more than the FT% for less successful teams (winning less than 75% of their games). So even though it seems that 70% and 67% are about the same, statistically, they're very different.

Now looking at team FG% by winning percentage we see that teams that win a lot shoot better from the field--no revelation their.

Win pct. Avg FG% by team
win>75% 45.8
75%>win>50% 44.8
50%>win>40% 43.1
win<40% 41.6
Total 43.8

Finally, comparing assist-to-turnover ratios (ATR) by winning percentage we again see that teams that win a lot have higher ATR than teams that don't win as much.

Win pct. ATR avg.
win>75% 1.11
75%>win>50% 0.97
50%>win>40% 0.87
win<40% 0.79
Total 0.93

What's interesting here is that there seems to be a larger discrepency between the best and worst teams when looking at ATR compared to FT% and FG%. We can run a regression to see exactly what effect these variables have on winning percentage.

After looking at the data, I decided on the following model:

Winning percentage is a function of: FT%, FG%, steals per game, rebounds per game and ATR.

FT% has the smallest effect size of all the variables mentioned above when predicting team winning percentage (TWP). More explicitly:
*for every additional 0.1 assists a team gets per game, TWP will increase by 3.1%
*for every additional steal per game, TWP will increase by 2.6%
*for every 1% increase in FG%, TWP will increase by 2.2%
*for every additional rebound per game, TWP will increase by 1.7%
*for every 1% increase in FT%, TWP will increase by 1%
Note: the statistics above assume that all other variables are held constant. For exampe, for every additional steal, TWP will increase by 2.2%, keeping every other variable at its currentl level.

So even though all five variables help predict TWP, improving team free throw percentage by one percent will only increase TWP by one percent. On the other hand, increasing assists and keeping turnovers constant (or better yet, reducing them) has a much larger impact on TWP. For example, if a team goes from an ATR of 2 to 1 to an ATR of 2.3 to 1 (over the course of a season), the model predicts that their winning percentage will increase by roughly 9%.

Given this, maybe teams should spend less time practicing free throws and more time working on ball-handling/passing drills. In the long run maybe recruiting efforts should focus on point guards with high ATR, regardless of how well they shoot from the field or the line. This could be especially pertinent for mid- to low-level NCAA teams who have trouble recruiting blue chip high school players (of course, they may already do that). But what seems to make the most sense, if in addition to recruiting players with high ATR, teams continue to work on free throw shooting (and rebounding and FG% and so on), because in the end, all improvements contribute to winning. But if a team is looking for a quick turnaround, the fastest way to winning may be found in players with high ATR's.

Anyway, knowing all this will probably not prevent me from yelling at Sean May the next time he misses what I think to be a crucial free throw--no matter how many assists he has.

(Note about the data: All models are estimated with some error, so the estimates above are not absolutes--you can always find teams that may have very high ATR's but only win 40% of their games. Why would that happen? These models simplify very complex relationships into a few variables and as a consequence they invariably don't do a good job of predicting extreme examples. But all in all, it's a good way to get an idea about the underlying relationships and a starting point for more research).

Ed Bouchette writes about rookie Steelers O-coordinator, Ken Whisenhunt today in the Post-Gazette.
"This may be his first time as a coordinator in the NFL, but he has this calm presence about him that he will function as if he did it all his life. He never panics and he's absolutely brilliant."
-Bill Curry, Whisenhunt's head coach at Georgia Tech

Quotes from the UNC vs. FSU Game

Here's one of my favorites:
"...He's probably the most discussed player I've ever had and he's just getting better and better. That doesn't mean that he hasn't given me a lot of these grey hairs because he's responsible for a lot of them. In the old days I'd yell and say 'don't do this and don't do that' and there would be no response. Right now, not only does he look at me and say yes or shake his head yes, but he understands it before I yell at him. That's really pleasing"
-Roy Williams, discussing Rashad McCants' improvement since the start of the season

Crouch wants one more chance

After two years, Eric Crouch may have finally figured it out. He now wants a chance to be a DB in the NFL. He has already had unsuccessful attempts at WR and KR, so the natural progression (I guess) is to DB. Given his penchant for quitting in the preseason, I guess if he makes to September, it's a victory of sorts. That said, playing DB is not a position one takes up because they can't play WR. DB isn't the little league equivalent of 'right field' in professional football.

His insistence on playing QB the last two seasons has not worked, and maybe if he had accepted that fact he would have been successful in the league. Hines Ward and Antwaan Randle El are two players experiencing a lot of success in the NFL as WR after playing QB in college. I'm guessing Crouch will 'retire' for the third year in a row before the season starts (which raises another question--can you retire from professional football if you've never played?).

Saturday, February 21, 2004

It looks like things are getting worse in Washington
Len Pasquarelli
writes that Patrick Ramsey's agent had a sit down with Redskins owner, Daniel Snyder Friday to discuss his clients future--and it doesn't look like it will be in Washington. Miami, Buffalo and Dallas were mentioned as being very interested in Ramsey's services.

More on Patrick Ramsey

Nunyo Demasio
reports in the Washington Post today that Ramsey will more than likely request a trade now that the Redskins have acquired Mark Brunell. While Gibbs has stated that he is not interested in trading Ramsey, he does have a history of getting rid of young, disgruntled QB's (see Jay Schroeder in 1987, who was traded to the Raiders after complaining about playing time after being benched for Doug Williams).

It also looks like the Redskins are looking for a blocking TE. Mark Bruener quickly comes to mind as one of the all-time great blocking TE's in the league who will probably be looking for a new team in the coming months. The Steelers restructured his contract before the start of last season, so he would certainly be attractive to the Redskins based both on his abilities and his salary.

Under the category of wishful thinking, I can envision a trade where the Steelers get Patrick Ramsey in return for this year's second round draft pick and Mark Bruener. And as long as I'm on fantasy island, maybe the Steelers will take a RB in the first round and a CB in the third round and sign an OT. There is also the scenario, where if available at the 11th pick, the Steelers would love to have Robert Gallery, the top rated OT, then take a RB in the third round (anyone but Clarett), draft a CB in the fourth round and try to sign someone like Shawn Springs (they can't afford Bailey or Woodson). I would also not hesitate to cut Chad Scott and restructure DeWayne Washington's contract and use him as the nickel back. Let's hope something happens.

Jerry Dipaola brought to my attention that Mark Bruener only restructured his contract for 2003. He's due to make a base salary of $2.4 million in 2004 which probably will precipitate the Steelers releasing him. If the Redskins are in fact interested in signing him, they can do it then because they probably don't want to make room under their cap for a 31 year old blocking TE at $2.4 million.

Dante Calabria Update

What is one of my all-time favorite Tarheels up to? Adam Lucas tracked him down. After graduating in 1996, Calabria has been playing all over Europe.

Lucas also caught up with Ranzino Smith, Shammond Williams and Hubert Davis

Steelers Notes:

Marvel Smith restructures

Marvel Smith has agreed to restructure his contract to help the Steelers get under the $80 million salary cap by March 2.

Gerry Dulac writes that the Steelers have other restructuring options they may also explore. Defensive end Aaron Smith and cornerback Chad Scott, two of their highest paid defensive players, could have their deals re-worked to pull the Steelers even further under the cap.

Haggans in the can for DUI
Clark Haggans, backup LB, must serve a 10-day sentence from a DUI conviction last summer in Colorado. At the time of his arrest, his blood alcohol level was 0.24.

Faneca has successful surgery
(from the Pittsburgh Tribune Review)
Steelers All-Pro left guard Alan Faneca had shoulder surgery last week that turned out to less invasive than what doctors anticipated. Doctors believed they would have to reattach ligaments in Faneca's shoulder, but that was not necessary and they merely cleaned up some arthritis, according to Faneca's agent Mark Bartelstein. Faneca will resume weightlifting soon and will be able to participate in the Steelers' spring minicamps.

Friday, February 20, 2004

Kevin Jones Update

If Kevin Jones is around for the 11th pick of the draft, there is a chance the Steelers might take him. Here's the take from one scout at this week's NFL combines on Jones:

"Right now, the majority of our scouts feel like Kevin Jones (of Virginia Tech) is the best back in the draft. But there's my hangup with him: You see him break a lot of long runs on tape, but you don't see him break a lot of tackles, you know? He's got some 'long strider' to him, and I'd like to see him running in some tight spots, where he's got to chop his steps more and maybe make a hole for himself once in a while."
The scout also talks about Chris Perry, the RB from Michigan whose stock has been slipping and might be a potential second round possibility:

"Another running back I haven't been impressed with, as far as his inside strength, is (Michigan's) Chris Perry. Now he's a guy who is supposed to run hard, right? But I looked at maybe three tapes of him last week and I don't see the explosiveness and the power I thought I would. On the plus side, he has a little more wiggle than people told me he did. He won't run away from safeties or anything, but he does know what to do when he gets into the secondary. I'd just like to see him knocking the linebackers back a little more because, let's face it, he isn't a speed guy. I'm thinking he's about a 4.55 guy (in the 40) and so he'd better get his pads down when he's running. Oh, yeah, another plus is that he's a very, very positive kid and, from what we gather, a real leader."
Ramsey a Steeler?
Why Joe Gibbs is dead set on signing Mark Brunell isn't clear. You can talk all you want about veteran leadership, but Patrick Ramsey has proven that he deserves to start in the league. A quick look at the first two-year statistics of John Elway, Dan Marino, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Mark Brunell and Patrick Ramsey show that Ramsey finished higher in every category than Brunell except rushing attempts, rushing yards, and rushing TDs. Overall, Ramsey finished behind Marino, Manning and Elway. While the first two years in the league don't necessarily guarantee a successful career, Ramsey's numbers thus far should not only be encouraging, but probably should result in him remaining the starter.

It looks like the Redskins only have to give up a third round pick in the trade for Brunell. Ramsey, through his agent, also discussed the possibility of requesting a trade if Brunell ends up in Washington. One team that would love to have Ramsey is the Pittsburgh Steelers. Tommy Maddox will be 33 when the season starts and the Steelers have identified the QB position as a future need. If the Steelers can get Ramsey with having only to give up a second round pick, they should do it. Ramsey has proven he can play, so there's less uncertainty about his abilities at this level than there would be with a rookie QB; and given that last year's second round pick, LB Alonzo Jackson, did not dress for the last 14 games, giving up a second round pick seems like a no-brainer.

Of course Gibbs has stated that he has no intentions of trading Ramsey, so more than likely, the possibilities are remote that the Steelers even get a chance to sniff Ramsey. Either way, it'll be interesting to watch.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Clarett probably shouldn't be in the NFL

Maurice Clarett has decided not to participate in the upcoming NFL combine because he wants more time to get into playing shape.

Tom Donohoe, Bills GM, isn't buying it. "That's a farce...that was expected but that's ridiculous."

"I'm kicking it in the next four weeks...I want to put myself in the best position possible," Clarett said. Let's see, Clarett hasn't played organized football since January 2003 and apparently, 13 months isn't enough time prepare for his professional future. The combine didn't sneak up on Clarett and he's currently about 10 pounds over his playing weight--that really sounds like someone who takes this opportunity seriously.

Good news however, because Clarett promises to leave his old ways behind him once he gets to the NFL--"I think I'm going to keep my mouth shut at this level."

This is the same song and dance we hear every few years about tremendous athletes who are marginal human beings. Two words immediately come to mind: Lawrence Phillips. Maybe teams will remember that on draft day.

The Luxury Tax is not a Problem for Big Spenders
After acquiring A-Rod, it's a safe bet that the Yankees aren't really concerned about taking a luxury tax hit. Mark Madden writes that if Major League Baseball operated as a free market, instead of a cartel, we could see three or four teams in the metro NYC area and maybe some semblance of competitive balance. This argument has been made for as long as there has been the long-term contract, but Madden offers some insight.

The Blue Pill or the Red Pill?

"We were just trying to play mind games...One team tried to punk the other, and the other team wasn't going to let them punk them. It was just mind games to see if anyone was going to be scared off and if there was any way we could gain any type of advantage."
-Chris Duhon, explaining why he had to resort to jedi mind tricks when his physical shortcomings were exploited in the loss last night to Wake Forest.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

John Valentin has some Advice for A-Rod

From Today's Boston Globe
"I'll tell you this, don't be surprised if he gets bored and says, 'I don't want to do this anymore.'...I'm not A-Rod, obviously, but there were many days I was playing at third base or second base, and I said to myself, 'I'm a shortstop playing third base,' and I didn't want to be there."
-John Valentin, who made the switch from shortstop to third base under duress for the Red Sox, talking about A-Rod's move to third base.

It was also reported that Valentin signed a minor league contract with the Houston Astros and will conceivably battle Roger Clemens for the title of oldest, heaviest former Red Sock still in professional baseball (the competition has intensified now that perennial front-runner, Mo Vaughn has retired).

In a related story, Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake caused a scare in Boston earlier this week when he left a bag of cocaine in the booth where he earns a living as a toll collector and a subway rider thought that it was anthrax.

AFC North Comings & Goings

FB Kreider will test Free Agency
Jerry DiPaola reports that Dan Kreider, one of eight unrestricted free agents for the Steelers, is looking for a better deal. He may have only carried the ball 16 times in 2003, but one would certainly think he would be an integral part in reviving a running game that ranked near the bottom of the NFL last season. One complication however, is that the Steelers are currently $4.7 million over the salary cap.

Kordell might be out in Chicago
It looks like Kordell Stewart has worn out his welcome in Chicago--and this time it only took one season. Apparently, Stewart still thinks he can be a starter somewhere. This may have all been moot if Stewart's agent, Leigh Steinberg, had not turned down a four-year deal worth roughly $12 million with the Cardinals. At the time, Stewart thought he was making the right decision in signing with Chicago because, as John Clayton wrote last year:

"What appealed to Stewart about the Bears situation more than the Ravens job is that there is less likelihood that Chicago will use its first-round choice on a quarterback. The Ravens might use the 10th pick on a quarterback."

Well, the Bears did use their first pick on a quarterback, but Stewart was benched in favor of Chris Chandler even before Rex Grossman saw any action.

If Stewart is let go, the Ravens might be a good fit for Stewart if he's willing to be the backup. Billick has already named Boller the starting QB, but Anothy Wright's contract is up and he may not be back.

In retrospect, maybe Cowher was on to something with the whole Slash thing.

Holcomb has Shoulder Surgery
Tim Couch took one step closer to entrenching himself as the Browns starting quarterback for the 2004 season when Kelly Holcomb had surgery on his right shoulder that will keep him out for six months. The primary concern for the Browns is if they can convince Couch to restructure his contract (he made $7.86 million in 2003 and is scheduled to make $9.26 million next season--not bad for a guy who started eight games last year and has a career QB rating of 75.1).

Of course if Couch doesn't agree to restructure, the Browns would be forced to trade him, release him, sign a QB via free agency (which doesn't seem likely), or draft one. Carmen Policy, the Browns owner, denied that the Browns were interested in restructuring Couch's contract with the sole purpose of trading him.

UNC's Version of the Glove

"More than anybody else on the team, Jackie Manuel has bought into what makes North Carolina's team do well," Williams says. "He's bought into all the little things. He's bought into complete intensity when he's out there. He's playing with a sense of urgency...He tries to do everything he's asked to do. On the defensive end of the floor, even when he makes a mistake, it's because he is trying to do too much. It's never a failure of omission"
-Roy Williams

"He blocked a couple of my shots early, and after that it was in the back of my head...I started rushing things, and I never really caught the ball in rhythm. He is one of the quickest at recovering to my shot. He's probably the toughest defender I've faced."
-J.J. Redick

Adam Lucas writes an interesting story on the transformation of Jackie Manuel from a mediocre player to one of the best defenders in the country.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Random Havoc

Affleck, J.Lo & the Sox
Bill Simmons writes on Page 2 that all is not lost for Red Sox fans in '04. He gives 33 reasons why there is still hope, including my favorite (#20):

"Another silver lining: This A-Rod fiasco made us realize that Ben Affleck needs to be stopped. I loved "Good Will Hunting" as much as anyone, but did you see him ranting and raving at the Daytona 500? Since when did Ben Affleck become The Voice of Red Sox Fans? Who nominated him? Would a true Sox fan ever propose to a chick with a big ass from the Bronx? In a million years? I really think we should vote on this -- let's have an election and everything. Ben Affleck needs to be stopped. I'm not kidding.

(And really, who is Affleck to lecture us about someone ruining the sport of baseball? Isn't this the same guy who sold out with "Reindeer Games," "Paycheck," "Pearl Harbor," "Armageddon," "Gigli" and everything else? Has any actor cashed in as gleefully and gratuitously as Ben Affleck? How is this different than A-Rod weaseling his way to New York? And when you think about it, isn't working for the Weinsteins basically the Hollywood equivalent of playing for the Yankees? I thought so.)"

Doherty finds work
On Saturday, the Raleigh News & Observer reported a Matt Doherty sighting--in the Dean Dome no less--with Dean Smith.

NFL Combines has an extensive list of invitees to the upcoming combines. While the Steelers haven't intimated what they might do in the April draft, several mock draft sites have them picking among the likes of RBs Kevin Jones and Steven Jackson, CBs Chris Gamble and Deangelo Hall and QB Philip Rivers. Kendrell Bell also talks about his experience at the combines in 2001.

Monday, February 16, 2004

Should Antwaan Randle El have been a 2nd Round Pick?

During the 2003 season, Mark Madden, the Pittsburgh sports radio personality mentioned on more than one occasion that the Steelers could have better used their 2002 second round draft pick. His comments were precipitated (I think) by what he viewed as the inconsistent play of WR/PR/KR Antwaan Randle El.

Could the Steelers have better used the 30th pick in 2002? His comments motivated me to actually see how Randle El stacked up against other 2002 second round draft picks. Out of the 33 picks in the second round, only 13 were either RBs or WR/TEs. I decided to use players from one of these three positions (at least for this analysis) because without better measures, it is hard to compare, for example, a DE to a WR based on readily available statistics. That said, the 13 players were rated first on their rushing and receiving statistics for 2002 and 2003 (the 13 players listed by when they were taken in the second round: Jabar Gaffney (1), DeShaun Foster (2), Josh Reed (4), Tim Carter (14), Andre Davis (15), Reche Caldwell (16), Clinton Portis (19), Maurice Morris (22), Doug Jolley (23), Ladell Betts (24), Antwaan Randle El (30), Antonio Bryant (31), Deion Branch (33)).

When compared to the 13 players in 2002, Randle El ranked first in receptions, third in receiving yards, fourth in receiving TDs and 10th in yards per reception. When looking at his rushing statistics for 2002, Randle El ranked fourth in attempts and yards, third in TDs and second in yards per average. Randle El ranked 42nd in the NFL kickoff return average in 2002, ahead of all the players mentioned above who returned 10 or more kicks. He ranked 48th in the league in punt return average, also ahead of all 2002 second round picks with more than 10 returns.

In 2003, Randle El ranked sixth in receptions, ninth in receiving yards, sixth in receiving TDs and seventh in yards per reception, where compared to the other second round draft picks. When looking at his rushing statistics for 2003, Randle El ranked fifth in attempts and eight in yards, sixth in TDs and third in yards per average. Randle El ranked 94th in the NFL kickoff returns 2003 behind only Ladell Betts, who ranked 92nd. He ranked tenth in the league in punt return average--ahead of all 2002 second round picks (in fact, no other player was in the top 50).

Looking strictly at the numbers it looks like Randle El had a much better 2002 than 2003 season. This can be explained by several things. First, some of the other second round picks did not get much playing time their rookie season and as a consequence, simply by playing, Randle El outperformed them. Also, 2002 was Randle El's first time playing WR/PR/KR on a full-time basis. Despite his declining offensive numbers in 2003 (which in part can probably be attributed to teams wary of Mularkey's penchant for trickery--usually involving Randle El, Ward, or both), his punt return numbers ranked him at the top of the league.

After two years I think it's hard to argue that Randle El was a bad 30th pick. In fact, if anyone were certain he would be this effective and versatile, he probably would have been an early second round pick in 2002. Of course an argument could be made (and was made) for taking Antonio Bryant, but with Burress and Ward firmly entrenched at WR and the versatility Randle El offers, I think it was the right pick.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Duhon in the NBA, part 2
I mentioned Friday that Chris Duhon probably wasn't good enough to play in the NBA. I decided to show statistically why that's the case.

On his website, John Hollinger has created a formula (he calls it PER) rating NBA players based on a myriad of variables and standardizes it so that 15.00 is the league average. Anyway, after looking at the site I decided to use his top 50 point guards for the 2002-2003 season to try and predict how Chris Duhon might do if he were to play three years in the NBA.

To do the analysis, I took the 50 top point guards, got their game stats from their last three years of college and their first three years in the NBA. It should be noted that the sample size of 50 was reduced to 27 because of several factors. First, players in the league fewer than three years were dropped from the analysis (It can be argued that any data--even if it's just a rookie year--is better than nothing. Probably, but this analysis is a first pass, just to see what the data may look like). Also, finding college stats for players not drafted proved difficult, and as a result they were also dropped.

So what are good predictors of performance? Maybe the first question to ask is, "Are college statistics a good predictor of professional statistics?" Well, looking at points scored, rebounds, assist-to-turnover ratio and field goal percentage seems like a good place to start. [Before we go any further, I should note that I converted all statistics to output per-minute. For example, points per minute (PPM) were used to compare individuals across leagues (college and professional) based on their points scored per minute. The thinking here is that many professionals do not get a lot of playing time early in their career and scoring per minute seems like a better way to compare performance.] The correlation between PPM in college and PPM as a pro was 0.59, which indicates a positive relationship--as one increases, so does the other. Rebounds per minute (RPM) on the other hand had a correlation of 0.18, which indicates a pretty weak relationship between the number of rebounds one has in college and the number of rebounds one has as a pro (this may especially be true for point guards who may spend less time inside as a pro than they did as a collegian). Assists per minute (APM) had a correlation of 0.67, field goal percentage (FG) had a correlation of 0.66 and assist to turnover ratio per minute (ATRM) had a correlation of 0.68, all of which indicate a pretty strong, positive relationship between amateur and professional numbers.

After looking at the correlations, I decided to run four regressions--one each for PPM, APM, ATRM and FG. To estimate PPM as a pro, I simply regressed PPM(pro) on PPM(college). I follow the same procedure for APM, ATRM and FG.

As an NBA player, Chris Duhon's three year averages are predicted to be:
(Rankings are based on 27 point guards currently in the NBA)

*Points per game: 7.1 (which ranks 26 out of 28--ahead of only Charlie Ward and Eric Snow. Larry Hughes was 1st)

*Assists per game: 5.0 (which ranks 15 out of 28--Mike Bibby is 1st and Rafer Alston is 28th)

*Assists to turnover ratio: 2.7 (which ranks 3 out of 28--only behind Moochie Norris and Mark Jackson)

*Field goal percentage: 42% (which ranks 11 out 28--Scottie Pippen is 1st and Rafer Alston is 28th)

If we average Duhon's rankings in these four categories he's 14th -- which puts him right in the middle of the pack. I should note that all of these numbers are estimated with some error. For example, I'd be much more comfortable stating the following: I'm 95 percent sure that the actual number of assists per game Duhon will have after three years in the NBA is between 2.0 and 3.3. Of course that really offers no insight into how he might fair because 3.3 would rank him 1st and 2.0 would rank him 24th.

In any event, if we just concern ourselves with the point estimates above, I'd have to say that Duhon would do much better than expected. The statistic that really sticks out is his assists to turnover ratio. You could easily overlook his low points per game total and field goal percentage if he were able to maintain an assist to turnover ratio close to 2.7. In light of this analysis, maybe Duhon would make an above average pro. Just kidding. I still think he's undersized, a poor shooter and can't beat people off the dribble.

So, where does that leave us? In looking at the analysis, I think it's important to remember a couple of things. First, I only looked at 27 point guards currently playing in the NBA (the fact that of the original list of the 50 top point guards, nine went undrafted says something about the process of selecting players and probably should be looked into). Looking at say, all the point guards to play in the NBA over the last 10 years would probably give more precise estimates of a player's future performance. Second, are college statistics a good predictor of professional statistics? This is a question I raised earlier and one that still needs to be addressed. It's not clear that points, assists, rebounds, assist-to-turnover ratio and field goal percentage are the best predictors of future performance. That said, I think it's a good place to start. For example, the models did a very good job of predicting how Mike Bibby, Sam Cassell and Tyronn Lue would perform as pros. However it did a poor job of predicting how Rafer Alston, Stephon Marbury and Charlie Ward would perform (which in part might explain why Alston was last in assists per game and field goal percentage in the estimates above). To go one step further, if we project how Damon Bailey would do after three years in the league based on his numbers at Indiana, he would average 8.3 points, 4.4 assists, an assist to turnover ratio of 2.3 and shoot 41% from the field. For the record, Bailey didn't score a point, get a rebound or register an assist in the NBA.

So the bottom line is: a) making predictions is tricky (see Portland and Sam Bowie), b) the more information you have, the better, and, c) there are certain to be other variables that help predict performance. After going through all this, I'm sure Chris Duhon is destined for a pedestrian career in the NDBL and in three years will be sitting next to Chris Collins and Johnny Dawkins on Coach K's bench.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

How Many Games will the Steelers win in 2004?

With only six months until the start of the 2004 season, here is my prediction on how the Steelers will fare. Before I get to the prognostications though, let me give some background on how I came to the win-loss total.

First, let me say that these numbers are based solely on the Steelers win-loss performance from the last 30 years. They do not account for Hines Ward having a 100-catch season, Jerome Bettis rushing for 1,000 yards or Tommy Maddox throwing for 3,000 yards. That said, this is more of a statistical exercise than one based on roster moves and draft picks. Either way, it gives me a way to kill time until the start of the season.

Looking at the Steelers winning percentage over the last 30 years (including playoffs and Super Bowls but not preseason) we notice the following trend:

From 1971 to 1980 the Steelers won 71 percent of their games. From 1981 to 1990, they won only 49 percent. During the Bill Cowher era (1992-2003), the Steelers won 60 percent of their games.

Using a time series model that estimates the Steelers winning percentage for a given year based only on past performance, we get the following results:

From 1971 to 1980, the model estimates that the Steelers won 74 percent of their games (compared to the actual winning percentage of 0.71). From 1981 to 1990, the model estimates that the Steelers won 47 percent of their games (compared to the winning percentage of 0.49). Finally, with Bill Cowher as head coach (1992-2003) the model estimates a winning percentage of 59 percent (compared to an actual of 60 percent).

Using 30 years of data, the model predicts that in 2004 the Steelers will win 53.2 percent of their games. Multiplying 16*0.532 = 8.51 (where 16 is the number of games played in a season, 0.532 is the estimated winning percentage in 2004 and 8.51 is the number of games won), which I will round to 9. So according to the Steelers win-loss record over the last 30 years, they will go 9-7 next year. Of course I would love nothing more than to have them go undefeated all the way through the Super Bowl, but based on their past performance, they're more likely to win 9 regular season games. Let's hope that's an underestimate.

Friday, February 06, 2004

Keep Nomar & Manny

(This is a little dated, but the season is still a few months away)
While many Red Sox fans were salivating over the prospect of getting ARod for Manny, I don't think it would have made the Red Sox a significantly better offensive team. The first thing Epstein would have done after getting ARod would be to trade Nomar for a left fielder. One name that was mentioned a lot before the whole deal went south was Magglio Ordonez (more on him later). The additional cost to the Red Sox (at least monetarily) seems to outweigh any on-field gains. Bill James aside, comparing Nomar and ARod over the last five years on a per game basis, we see that their numbers are pretty similar (AR is Alex Rodriguez and NG is Nomar Garciaparra).


Over the course of a 162 game season we'd get these stats:


The big difference is in home runs (51 to 28 for ARod), doubles (51 to 32 for Nomar) and strikeouts (130 to 59 for ARod). It can be argued that the difference in hits is offset by the difference in walks and they're essentially a wash.

Given these numbers (and an ounce of common sense), there's no disputing that ARod is the best player in baseball. And he has been more durable over his career than Nomar, but I'm not sure that necessitates giving up two former batting champions to have the best player in the world at $25 million a year. Of course I recognize this analysis is based solely on the numbers and does not account for presence in the clubhouse, relationship with fans and (maybe most importantly) defense. Many would argue that Manny is an out of touch, pampered, spoiled athlete who should be traded--probably true. But Nomar is one of the most popular athletes in New England, and some might contend the cornerstone of this Red Sox team. And together these two have been very productive in the middle of the lineup and I'm not sure that ARod and Magglio would improve on their numbers. In fact, looking at the combined per game averages of ARod and Magglio (A/M) versus Nomar and Manny (N/M) we see that the team of Nomar and Manny is, on average, more productive than ARod and Magglio.


Again, if we project these numbers over the course of 162 games we'd get these stats:


Nomar and Manny win every category except home runs and strikeouts. Despite 10 fewer home runs, Nomar and Manny have 30 more hits, 18 more doubles, 11 more walks and 8 more RBI. Looking solely at these stats and the fact that ARod makes $25 million a year, it's hard to justify how acquiring ARod and Magglio will make the Red Sox a better team--at least offensively, when compared to last year.

Of course, if Nomar had signed the contract Epstein offered at the beginning of the season this would all be moot. But then what would Red Sox fans talk about all winter other than how much they hate Jeter.
Thoughts on Duke v UNC, Duhon in the NBA
Overall, the Tarheels played well last night despite too many turnovers and a defensive let down at the worst time to maybe the worst player on the court. Although criticized much of the season for lack of conditioning and lack of effort, or both, Sean May had a big game last night. Seemingly, for the first time this season, he battled for tough rebounds (18 total)--and got them against a solid Duke frontcourt. He did miss way too many layups, but that is easier to forgive when you step it up on defense (see Jackie Manuel).

Speaking of Jackie Manuel, I thought he had one of his top games of the season. He did a pretty good job of shutting down Reddick and made a couple of big plays on the offensive end of the court. David Noel also had his biggest game of the season, and showed a little more confidence in his jump shot. Reddick did a pretty good job on Melvin Scott, although the few looks he got he converted. I still wish he would make better decisions with the ball when he runs the offense.

Ray Felton had his usual high-impact game, breaking down the best defense in the country and creating easy shots for his teammates. Billy Packer commented last night that "Duhon's and Felton's numbers are so similar it's scary." Scarier still, is that Packer had the cajones to bring it up. I don't think even the most ardent Duke fan would prefer Duhon to Felton. In fact it could be argued that UConn's Diana Taurasi might be a better fit (she certainly has a better handle and jump shot).

Today Andy Katz talks about how important Duhon is to this Duke team. Katz talks about how he's battled back from his woes the last two years when trying to pick up the slack left by Jay Williams. How Coach K and his teammates have the utmost confidence in him and as Daniel Ewing put it, "the Blue Devils wouldn't be the team they are without him." It's hard to argue with one loss through the first week of February, but I suspect that would still be the case if Duhon hadn't played one minute.

I'm not sure you're the go-to guy, or now have regained confidence lost by making one shot to decide a game while continuing to shoot in the high 30% from the field--or shoot 65% from the line. Reddick is someone who looks to have a lot of confidence; and so does Ewing (and they should). Confidence is the result of being successful often enough to have faith in your abilities. It's been said that the Spud Webbs', Muggsy Bogues' and Doug Fluties' of the world had to have a lot of confidence to make it as successful professional athletes. That may be, but we shouldn't overlook the fact that these guys were great athletes--and performed with a lot of success for a sustained period. That claim can't be made of Duhon. Last year he shot 27% from 3, down from the 34% he shot the previous year. That's horrible. All this ranting brings me to this point (which you may have already picked up on): simply stated, Chris Duhon is not good. Yesterday Andy Katz had another article on about how Duke players have historically been mediocre pros. He mentioned that this year's team has 4 or 5 future pros (Williams, Reddick, Ewing, Deng, and I quote, "And it wouldn't be a total surprise if senior point guard Chris Duhon winds up playing in the Association next season").

What? I have no doubt that Williams, Reddick, Ewing and Deng will play in the NBA, and probably be successful. But there is no way an undersized guard with a below average jump shot, lackluster defensive skills and an inability to beat people off the dribble, can play in the NBA. Taking a quick look at the point guards currently on NBA rosters, Duhon is easily at or very, very close to the bottom (with the likes of Brevin Knight and Jacques Vaughn--both of whom are still much better than Duhon).

Maybe Duhon is the inspirational leader of the Blue Devils (perhaps more in the mold of Rudy Ruettiger, than Jay Williams) and has willed them to several victories this year, but as a lifelong UNC fan, I'll take Ray Felton every time.