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Sportsland Oregon: 10/11/10

Tue, 10/12/2010 - 4:52pm
Carlos Molina
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Plenty of things to talk about in the Oregon sports world, including the Ducks ascension to #2 in the polls, the Beavers clawing back into the Top 25, MLB end of season awards, and a tearful goodbye to the Timbers this season. All that plus the usual segments, and Blazers talk

Check it out at:

SportslandOregon.blogspot.com 

or at blogtalkradio.com/oregonsportsradio

What "Northwest" is Oklahoma City in?

Wed, 10/06/2010 - 12:50am
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All of this talk about re-alignment started on the podcast with the troublesome idea that there is really only one team from the geographic Northwest in the “Northwest” Division.  The name made a little more sense when the Supersonics were still in Seattle, and it would have made even more sense had it become the Northwest division while the Grizzlies were still in Vancouver, but they’d already moved to Memphis by the time the NBA expanded to 30 teams. 

The more you think about it, the more other problems come up.  Are New Orleans and Memphis really “Southwestern” cities?  More so than Oklahoma City?  Shouldn’t the Wizards, who play 2 hours from the Sixers, and 3-4 hours from the Nets and Knicks (depending how fast you drive), be Northeastern?  The Bobcats are the Wizards’ closest divisional rivals, and it’s a 7 hour drive from D.C. to Charlotte.  Might as well drive an extra hour and be in Boston.  Besides, Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington are all old, historical cities.  This is where our founding fathers came from.  Where the ideas for our government were born.  These cities have heated rivalries for years not only in other sports, but in all walks of life.  Do you think any District residents hold any animosity towards retirees from central Florida?

Come to think of it, why does the NBA even have conferences anymore?  Just for the sake of the All-Star Game?  More on that later.  The major complaint (aside from duration of the season) over the past decade has been the quality of the lower playoff seeds in the Eastern Conference.  The 03-04 Celtics made the playoffs having won 36 games.  That would have been good enough for 13th place in West.  The 07-08 Hawks won 37 games and made the playoffs in the East, although 37 wins was good enough for 12th in the West that year.  Denver was the last seed in the West that year, and they won 50.  If you play in the weaker conference, against weaker competition more often, and still only manage 37 wins, you don’t belong in the playoffs.  Lousy teams shouldn’t be rewarded just because of lucky geography.  The conference system needs to go. 

In fact, the conference system only exists because of the antiquated version of travel.  It was in the league’s best interest to schedule more games between opponents close to each other in order to reduce travel costs and stress on the players.  Traveling on a coach bus with your knees slammed into the back of the seat in from of you from New York to St. Louis in 1959 is not the same as flying from Boston to Miami on the team luxury jet with your own recliner and noise canceling headphones in 2010.  When players arrive, they’re staying in five star hotels with the best food and service at their disposal.  They’re not staying in discount inns in towns where the best player on the team might not get served at whatever restaurant they choose.  The point is, times have changed. 

Without further ado, here is my proposal for NBA realignment, under the stipulations that there is no expansion or contraction, and all teams must remain in their current locations:

The Northeast Division

Boston Celtics

New York Knicks    

New Jersey Nets

Philadelphia 76ers

Toronto Raptors

Washington Wizards

The Great Lakes Division

Chicago Bulls

Cleveland Cavaliers

Detroit Pistons

Indiana Pacers

Milwaukee Bucks

Minnesota Timberwolves

The Southeast Division

Atlanta Hawks

Charlotte Bobcats

Memphis Grizzlies

Miami Heat

New Orleans Hornets

Orlando Magic

The Central Division

Dallas Mavericks

Denver Nuggets

Houston Rockets

Oklahoma City Thunder

San Antonio Spurs

Utah Jazz

The Pacific Division

Golden State Warriors

L.A. Clippers

L.A. Lakers

Phoenix Suns

Portland Trailblazers

Sacramento Kings

No more conferences, it’s just five divisions.  Come playoff time, the five division winners get the top 5 seeds based on their records.  The last 11 seeds fill in by record, regardless of division.  If all 6 Pacific division teams make it and only the champion from the Southeast, so be it.  In theory, the 16 most talented teams get to compete for the NBA championship. 

Despite the fact that travel is easier now, the divisions are arranged geographically for some semblance of organization.  Most NBA rivalries are geographic, anyway, and are more transient than rivalries in other sports.  There’s no Yanks-Sox, UNC-Duke, Michigan-OSU rivalry.  Those rivalries mean something no matter how bad the teams are.  Lakers-Celtics meant nothing from 1992-2007, so there’s no need to have them compete for the division every year.  Ideally, they’ll meet in the playoffs.  On the other hand, I wanted to create come sort of Gulf Coast division, but does anybody from the Magic Kingdom care about Houston?  Maybe those that remember the 1995 Finals, but that’s about it.

The Texas Triangle stays intact.  Lakers stay with pretty much everyone that hates them on the West Coast.  I hate to break it to you, but the Blazers-Sonics rivalry ended when they became the Thunder.  There’s no need to have them compete in a division.  It would just rub it in to the people of Portland watching Durant beat them out for the Division for the next decade.  New Yorkers hate New Englanders, let them have it, just like in every other sport. 

The division lineups aren’t perfect geographically.  The Central Division needs a better name.  Toronto could conceivably be a Great Lakes team.  Teams like Utah and Denver are in a location all their own.  Portland’s nearest rival is in Northern California, and Phoenix isn’t even in the Pacific time zone.  Phoenix and Utah are pretty much interchangeable, and I slipped Phoenix into the Pacific based on past divisional rivalries and the fact that Phoenix is closer to the Pacific coast.

But how will they play the All-Star Game?  They take my second favorite sports weekend of the year and make it even better.  Instead of voting for 5 starters for each conference, fans vote for their favorite players.  The top two vote getters become the captains of the teams, with the fan favorite getting the first pick.  Last year, LeBron would have had the first pick, Kobe the second.  The league coaches then select the other 22 players deserving of an All-Star nod that year, instead of just choosing the reserves.  The two captains then choose whoever they want from the pool of 22.  Winners get a yet-to-be-determined prize, on top of bragging rights.  If you think All-Star snubs are bad now, imagine what will happen when players choose?  All of a sudden, Brandon Roy goes for 40 against the Nuggets the first week after All-Star Weekend because LeBron chose Melo over him.

Ultimately, if you drastically improve the quality of competition of not one but two major league events (playoffs, All-Star game) without risking the health of the players, why not do it.  Any scheduling complications can easily be dealt with.  Coincidently and independently of each other, Mike Donovan and I came up with essentially the same idea, with the exception of a couple of different divisional assignments.  He went even further and thought out scheduling issues, so take a look at his thoughts, including the possibility of games in…[raised eyebrow: ON] Europe? [raised eyebrow:OFF].  

Sportland, Oregon #32

Tue, 10/05/2010 - 12:46pm
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In this week's episode, Los and the gang open up right after Pat Chung's amazing Monday Night Football outing. Then they move on to some Ducks and Beavers football, and weigh in on the possibility of PSU winning theBig Sky. Finally, the guys talk about the Blazers training camp, and throw out their personal suggestions for NBA divisional realignment.  Check it out at:

SportslandOregon.blogspot.com

or at blogtalkradio.com/oregonsportsradio

This Better Work

Sun, 08/29/2010 - 4:42pm
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Chip Kelly’s decision to go with Darron Thomas over Nate Costa at quarterback makes sense coming from a man known as a risk taker, but there may be one off-the-field risk he didn’t take into account when choosing his starter.  Costa, a 5th year senior who has fought back from injury over and over again, has more experience in the sense that he’s more familiar with the playbook, and was supposed to be the starter 2 years ago before hurting his knee.  This in turn has earned familiarity and respect from his peers in the locker room.  How much backlash could be coming from the upper classmen on the team over this decision to go with the inexperienced sophomore instead of Costa?

The Ducks Quarterback Controversy 2010 has been billed as experience vs. potential.  If you want veteran leadership and in-depth knowledge of the playbook, you want Costa.  If you want high-risk, high reward, big play potential, you want Thomas.  Just think back to the big 4th quarter explosion against Boise State two years ago, when Thomas went for 210 yards and 3 touchdowns in the period while almost rallying the Ducks back from a 19 point deficit.  After it all played out and the announcement was made on Friday, I’m not sure it was that simple.

Chip Kelly has a “win-now” mentality.  He realizes he has a very talented, experienced team (17 returning starters) that’s favored to win the Pac-10 this year.  The potential future benefits of giving Thomas the reins speak for themselves.  He could a 3 year starter, in the same mold of player as Dennis Dixon.  Since Kelly only cares about the now, not the later, this means Thomas most likely won outright in the competition against Costa.  He’s not in there for his potential.  He’s in there because right now, he’s the better quarterback. 

This drastically helps his case against any possible backlash.  Even though an older player will have paid his dues, if the younger player is simply better, then he should be the one taking the field.  Hopefully, most of the upperclassmen will realize this, despite any loyalty they may feel towards Costa. 

The real problems will come to a head should Thomas flounder in any of the early games.  The Ducks’ non-conference schedule could very well have them at 3-0 going into Pac-10 play.  First up will be New Mexico, a seemingly simple Mountain West opponent that only won one game last year.  Then the Ducks have to travel to Tennessee to take on the Volunteers in a very winnable matchup against an average SEC team.  Then they wrap up the non-conference schedule back home against the lowly Portland State Vikings, a Big Sky team whose biggest news this offseason was that they were going back to their familiar green jerseys.

The Lobos and Vikings games should be cakewalks for Thomas and the Ducks.  Any struggles he shows there should be red flags, and the concerned upperclassmen will have their concerns validated.  Mark the Tennessee game as the first genuine litmus test of the Darren Thomas decision.  An inexperienced, young, underclassman quarterback making his second career start on the road in the SEC will face a very uncomfortable situation at Neyland Stadium.  If he’s successful, this will be a good sign for the Ducks.  This year’s Vols team is of about the same quality as most other Pac-10 teams.  If he struggles, expect to hear cries to bring on the Senior.  Hopefully, for Thomas’, Kelly’s, and the Ducks’ sake, Thomas will not struggle early on, because locker room dissonance can only hurt the situation, especially during an in-season quarterback controversy. 

More Pressing Concerns Than Saturday's Decision

Tue, 08/24/2010 - 7:24pm
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Chip Kelly stated today he'll announce who the starting quarterback is on Saturday. The week before the season opener. Just like he said he would. Just like I said he should. Regardless of whether it's Costa or Thomas, the Ducks will be fine offensively as long as they are healthy.

Defensively, the experience is there, but a talented secondary needs to get its depth chart figured out. Talmadge Jackson will start at one corner, but the other side is still up for grabs. Cliff Harris, Anthony Gildon, Avery Patterson, Scott Grady now vie for the other side. Terrance Mitchell and Chad Peppars also have their hat in the mix.

Defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti and secondary coach John Neal are both pleased with the depth they have at the position. All of those guys are pretty good ball players, and many of them contributed or even started for arguably the best defense in the Pac-10 last year. Unfortunately, none of them has separated himself from the pack to become the clear-cut #2. This can be viewed as beneficial for the Ducks, since depending on what packages they send out there many of them might be on the field at once. In a field this deep and talented, it's good to know you don't lose much, if anything, the deeper you go on the roster.

At the same time, corners play on their own island. While the quarterback is the leader, he has a tremendous support system that starts with the experienced offensive line and continues on through the rookie-rushing record holder LaMichael James. The Ducks have shown you can insert different quarterbacks into this system and they will succeed because of the system. The corners, on the other hand, are out there on their own, and blown coverage will prove costly.

Aliotti says “The strength might be that we have three or four guys who can be pretty darn good.” Yes, it's good to be deep. But you want the players to know when and where they'll be out there, and what their responsibilities are. This is not a position you want to have to be tweaking as the season starts. If a quarterback makes mistakes, others can cover for him. If a corner makes a mistake, it's his and his alone. Neal believes "I don’t think any of them have my complete trust in terms of all the things we ask them to do in the scheme and the technique." At least Costa or Thomas will have the position sealed up before New Mexico. It doesn't look like the secondary will be nearly as solidified. Cliff Harris better figure out how to stay focused.

 

There's no time like the present to promote the future

Sat, 08/21/2010 - 5:22am
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This week has brought more news about icons from the Oregon Ducks' recent past as opposed to concrete answers about the future. LeGarrette Blount made headlines with another notorious punch after a scuffle during his preseason practice with the Tennessee Titans. Despite no official word from Houston Nutt, Ole Miss seems to have found its starting quarterback: Jeremiah Masoli. As for the Ducks, there is still no word on who will start the season under center. Between Nate Costa and Darron Thomas, it's still a toss-up, and the Ducks supporters are split into essentially two camps: those that want the older, more "experienced" Costa since he has more of a familiarity with the system, or the younger, more dynamic Thomas whom they believe should start getting playing time since he is the present and future of the program.

Chip Kelly announced Wednesday that a decision won't be reached until the week of the season opener against New Mexico, saying, "We're not going to do anything until the week of the game. We've got more scrimmage time, more situations. Those guys know. We're not going to turn around tomorrow and say 'Hey, this guy is starting or this guy is No. 2.' There is no reason for us to rush to judgment and put anybody in there."

He went on to explain his apprehension towards naming a starting quarterback this "early" might stem from the decision made on Costa in 2008: "We were just about to name him and he got hurt. Then, all of a sudden, you have to go to the other guys. There is no reason to name a starting quarterback, Our first game is 16 days away."

While there are plenty of reasons why having already named a starter would be beneficial to the program, in this case Kelly is quite frankly right. Neither player has separated himself from his competitor enough to warrant being named the clear-cut starter. They seem to be splitting time with the first team, but neither is making the most of his time, and both Costa and Thomas have given inconsistent performances. Consistency at quarterback remains one of the most important aspects for any team at any level, and Kelly has openly said, "We need more consistency out of both of them. There are times when, wow, that’s a real good play. Then there are other times where, 'Hey, we’ve got to get ourselves out of that play. There is a check system in and you didn’t get to it.' They’re doing good things and they’re doing bad things." Until one or the other does more good things than bad things, Kelly has no reason to hand over the reins to either.

Friday's practice had Thomas slide into the lead, but barely. According to John Hunt of the Oregonian, Costa threw a few bad picks, while Thomas ended up having to throw many balls away. Either way, the air game was struggling. How many of Costa's struggles might be the player feeling the pressure of competition, trying to make throws he wouldn't normally make with more on the line simply in order to separate himself from Thomas? How much might Thomas be throwing balls away due to the fact that he's seen coaches reactions to the picks, so he is now making conservative decisions he might not normally make? Either way, consistency is still an issue.

The Ducks gain a certain tactical advantage from not having announced a starter yet. On top of the fact that not much game tape exists for these two (71 career passes between them), without announcing a starter teams won't know who to prepare for. Or at least New Mexico won't. Hopefully, after that, the situation will have figured itself out. Although the real answer might lie in something Kelly said about his incoming freshman and apparent third-stringer, Bryan Bennet: "Our future is now. We’re not saving anybody for anything. If a person, I don’t care what class he is, gives us the opportunity to win a football game – I don’t look at and say let’s redshirt this kid for five years from now. You do that, you might not be here five years from now. If Bryan Bennett is the third quarterback by the time we get out of camp, he’ll be the third quarterback. We’ll figure it out … We’ve played young kids before." Sounds like Kelly won't have any qualms going with the sophomore Thomas.

 

Expectations are for a lot of "yes" men in Eugene

Fri, 08/13/2010 - 8:15pm
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Expectations are low for the Oregon football team.  After an offseason marred by numerous appearances on the police blotter, and a quarterback controversy with no real favorite, this team will be hard pressed to re-create last season’s success.

OR

Expectations are high for the reigning Pac-10 champs.  The 11th ranked team in the country returns 17 starters, including star running back LaMichael James, who set the conference rushing record for freshman with 1,546 yards last season.

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