Thursday, May 31, 2007

NCAA Baseball Preview: Miami-FL

It’s pretty obvious that, while Louisville and Kent State have strong pitching and a few offensive weapons, Miami-FL represents the biggest obstacle standing between Mizzou and their second straight Super Regional. Last year, a 36-21 Hurricane squad travelled to Lincoln for the NCAA Regionals, and blew through three straight games to the Super Regional (and then the CWS). Granted, it helped that they never actually had to face Nebraska, who choked and died before they could even face Miami, but nonetheless...Miami went on the road and came up big.

This year, it’s a 36-22 Miami team making its way to Columbia for the NCAA Regionals (their 35th straight NCAA berth). Last year’s freshman star, Jemile Weeks, is one of many weapons Miami possesses, and though they’ve been a bit unsteady at times this year, you have to figure they’ll be ready to roll this weekend. Here’s their official site. Playing in the ACC, they’ve obviously gotten their fill of competition. On the season, they went 12-13 against NCAA tourney teams (3-0 vs UCLA, 0-3 vs UNC, 1-0 vs Rutgers, 1-2 vs Virginia, 2-2 vs Clemson, 1-2 vs N.C. State, 2-2 vs Florida State, 2-2 vs Wake Forest).

Unlike Louisville and Kent State, Miami’s strength lies in its offense. That’s not to say the pitching staff is totally devoid of talent. Their staff ERA is a decent 4.14, and of their four pitchers who have made at least 10 starts, three of them have an ERA of 3.51 or better. The Hurricanes staff is led by possible Friday night starter, junior lefty Scott Maine (5-5, 3.03 ERA), and freshman lefty Eric Erickson (10-3, 2.00). Their #3 starter—junior righty Enrique Garcia (7-4, 3.51)—is probably the best #3 in the region. The bullpen, led by senior Danny Gil (3-0, 3.68, 5 saves), is solid.

While the Miami offense hasn’t hit for as high an average (.293) as Louisville and Kent State, a) they’ve played a much rougher schedule, b) they get on base at an insane .395 clip, and c) their slugging numbers (.442 SLG, 53 HR’s, 111 2B’s) make them quite dangerous. The lineup is a bit top-heavy, with 5 of the top 6 in the batting order hitting .340 or better and a significant dropoff in the bottom third. But hey, when you have guys like sophomore 1B Yonder Alonso (.377 BA, .520 OBP, .719 SLG, 18 HR’s, 74 RBI’s, 13 SB’s...yikes!) in the middle of your lineup, you can afford a dropoff. Leadoff hitter CF Blake Tekotte (.341/.441/.473, 15 SB’s), is dangerous, but let’s face it—most of the lineup is. The aforementioned Jemile Weeks (.309/.401/.500, 5 HR’s, 5 3B’s) is actually only about the 4th or 5th best hitter on the team.

The Hurricanes’ up-and-down season was pretty accurately defined by their play at the ACC Tournament last weekend. As the conference’s 5-seed, they began play against 4-seed Clemson. Scott Maine pitched a decent 6.2 innings, gave up 3 runs (2 earned) while allowing 10 baserunners, but the score was tied at 3-3 after 9. And after 12. 3B Roger Tomas scored on an Alonso sac fly in the top of the 13th, but Miami reliever John Husey allowed 2 runs in the bottom of the 13th, and Clemson pulled off a 5-4 victory. In their second game of the tournament, Eric Erickson shut down 1-seed Florida State in the losers’ bracket, going 8 innings and allowing 3 runs on just 8 baserunners (Erickson is not a strikeout pitcher, but he does not allow many baserunners). Led by 3 RBI’s from Jemile Weeks (3-for-5 with a triple and 2 runs scored) and catcher Richard O’Brien, Miami pummeled the ‘Noles, 9-3. A win over Wake Forest on 5/26 would possibly send the ‘Canes to the ACC Title Game.

However, a night after hitting Florida State hard, the Miami bats couldn’t get going against the Demon Deacons. Combined with a poor start from Enrique Garcia (4.1 IP, 5 ER, 5 H, 4 BB’s), Wake Forest cruised to a 7-3 win. Weeks had another good game, going 2-for-4 with his 2nd triple in two nights, and O’Brien had another 2 RBI’s, but it never got going for Miami.

As I said at the top, you just have to figure Miami will have its A-game when it lands in Columbia. The Hurricanes are one of the most accomplished teams in NCAA history; they have a couple strong lefties and a solid all-around offense (led by Alonso and his insane stats), and if they can beat Louisville on Friday night, they’ll have quite a solid shot at making the Super Regional.

Go Tigers!


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

NCAA Baseball Preview: Louisville

The 40-20 Louisville Cardinals are making their second ever trip to the NCAA Regionals. They’ll play Miami-FL Friday, 1pm, at Taylor Stadium. Here’s a link to their official website. The Cardinals put up some pretty dominating numbers in the Big East (not exactly a power conference in baseball, though they did manage to send three teams to the tourney this year), and whereas I assumed they didn’t have much of a chance against Miami-FL when the pairings were announced, I’m not quite as sure now.

Like Kent State, the Cards are led by their pitching. Like Kent State, only 4 of their 13 staff pitchers had an ERA over 4.00. However, their team ERA (2.89) and their main cogs are far superior to those of the Golden Flashes. Their ace, Friday starter Zack Pitts (8-3, 1.78 ERA), has put up sick numbers, and their Saturday starter, Justin Marks (7-2, 2.44 ERA), was the Big East rookie of the year. Meanwhile, closer Trystan Magnuson (3-1, 0.92 ERA, 8 Saves, 49 K’s, 8 BB’s in 40 IP) is automatic. However, they haven’t exactly faced a murderous schedule. They loaded up on cupcakes in their non-conference schedule (Missouri fans think Missouri’s schedule was pretty weak? Louisville’s toughest non-con game was against Southern Miss.). How this staff will fare against two strong offenses—Missouri and Miami-FL—is up in the air.

Pitching is Louisville’s strength, but the offense is capable. The schedule might have been weak, but the numbers (.304 team BA, .375 OBP, .460 SLG, 47 HR, 406 runs, and an astounding 141 stolen bases) speak for themselves. The Cards are led by senior Isaiah Howes (.387 BA, 15 HR, 55 RBI, 1.122 OPS) and senior Logan Johnson (.372 BA, 13 HR, 55 RBI, 1.188 OPS). It appears that the offensive gameplan is, get on base, steal to get in scoring position, then let Howes and Johnson drive you home. Senior Boomer Whiting is pretty much the perfect prototype of a leadoff hitter (.457 OBP, 69 stolen bases, 64 runs scored). Guys like Whiting give mid-major teams the potential to scare the big boys—if he gets on base, he can create havoc against anybody.

So as far as I can tell, Louisville played 8 games against NCAA Tournament teams and went 2-6—1-2 vs Rutgers, 1-2 vs St. John’s, 0-1 vs Kent State, and 0-1 vs Southern Miss. Rutgers is the best team they played—a 2-seed in Virginia’s regional—so we’ll take a look at how the three games they played at last week’s Big East Tournament unfolded. After defeating Villanova in Game One of the tourney, the 3-seed Cards sent Justin Marks to the mound against the 2-seed Scarlet Knights on 5/23. Marks (who the Tigers would likely play if matched up on Saturday) went 6 innings, and while he had a 2-4 K-BB ratio, he only gave up 1 run; meanwhile, the Cards lit up Rutgers starter Casey Gaynor. Boomer Whiting had 2 hits, 2 runs, and 2 RBI’s, while Isaiah Howes and 3B Chris Dominquez added 2 RBI’s each, and Louisville coasted, 8-1. The win meant Rutgers would have to defeat Louisville twice to make the Big East finals—and they did.

The Cardinals sent Colby Wark to the mound to try to eliminate Rutgers on 5/25. He would tread water through four innings, but Rutgers scored 3 times in the 5th to take a 5-4 lead. Louisville retook the lead, 7-5, but a 6-run seventh (which included 4 unearned runs) gave Rutgers a lead they wouldn’t relinquish; the Knights survived 2 HR’s and 3 RBI’s from Howes and a late Louisville charge to win, 12-10, and force an ‘if necessary’ game later that same day. Everybody must have been dead-legged from all the baserunning in the first game—Louisville starter James Belanger gave up 3 runs in 5 innings, and Trystan Magnuson pitched three scoreless innings in relief, but it didn’t matter. Isaiah Howes’ third HR of the day was the only run Louisville could muster, and a 3-1 Rutgers win sent Louisville home to await the NCAA tourney committee’s decision.

Louisville is a team devoid of big-game experience, but they have just the right tools—one great baserunner, two power-hitters, lots of seniors, and a staff of strong pitchers who don’t walk a ton of batters—to compete with anybody. Teams like this make me nervous, but Miami-FL and Missouri have both beaten teams better than Louisville. If Pitts and Marks are out of their minds, they might shut down either Miami or Missouri on Friday and Saturday, but it’s unlikely they’ll pull off both, and in the end this region will still probably come down to the Miami-Missouri matchup.


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Mizzou Exchange: Chad Moller

(Here is a quick exchange I had with Mizzou Sports Information Director Chad Moller last week about the state of Mizzou athletics. Hopefully I will be having a short discussion like this with him at the beginning of each season of sports. Enjoy.)

The Boy: Baseball earned a #1 NCAA seed a year after making the Super Regionals. With a new brand new coach, Softball went from losing record to playing for the Big XII title on the last day of the season. Wrestling finished #3 in the nation. In a rebuilding year, Volleyball came within one game of back-to-back Sweet Sixteen appearances. Football's been to three bowl games in four years. Men's basketball made giant strides in their new coach's first year at the helm. A Mizzou golfer qualified for the Masters. It's too much of a softball to ask how you think things are going, but instead I'll ask a) what's been the biggest surprise for you in the last year or so, and b) what's made the biggest difference for the continued improvement of the athletic department as a whole?

Chad Moller: We have had a lot of high-level successes by individual sports over the past few years, so while every accomplishment is something we’re all excited about, for me personally, I’d have to say the biggest thing I’m most pleasantly surprised with has been the ascension of wrestling. I’ll digress a little bit first and tell you that when I got my start in the business (in 1992 as a graduate assistant in this office – which back then was known as the Sports Information Office, for what it’s worth), the sport I first handled was wrestling. My first year working with the sport, the great Shaon Fry made it to the title match at 167-pounds, and that was the most thrilling thing I’d ever experienced. I got totally ingrained with the program, hanging out with the guys on road trips (lots of stories I could tell there but probably better not – if you’ve never traveled with wrestlers, let me just say it’s a cultural experienceJ), getting to know them, getting geeked about wins and feeling really depressed about losses. I fell in love with the sport right away and the amount of hard work and dedication and sacrifice that I saw those kids make day after day was really impressive. I continue to say to this day that I don’t believe any sport takes more discipline and dedication than wrestling, and I don’t say that to demean the efforts of any of our other 19 sports, but that’s just how I see it.

Anyway, back when I was working with the sport, we were a top-30 to top-25 team nationally, which was good, but we were not competitive in the Big 8 – fifth out of five teams, and very far behind the fourth-best team. With all of that, the program kind of backslid over the next few years and had some character issues with some of the kids, and when the decision was made to change coaches in 1998 or so, there definitely was the consideration for dropping the sport altogether. I wasn’t part of the decision-making team at all, but I do know that it was a very big potential (maybe as much as 50-50) that we’d drop the sport because it wasn’t in such good shape, and then we’d be more in compliance with Title IX and it would help the budget, so on and so on. There were definitely some compelling reasons to do just that, but thankfully, we found Brian Smith and he was someone that was given a chance and he’s obviously taken the ball and run with it.

Coach Smith had some challenges, and I know he’s said before that while he always believed he could do it, that there were times when he wondered if it would be able to happen. Our facilities were just awful for wrestling when he took over, but when Mizzou Arena opened up, that allowed wrestling to take over the 4th-floor practice gym (where Kelly Thames and myself both tore our knees up playing basketball, doh!!), and they have converted that into one of the best wrestling rooms in the nation. It’s an absolute recruiting tool for the program, and Coach Smith has done such a great job of eliciting financial support for his program with his support club and other program benefactors, that he’s just a master to watch at that, in addition to his coaching.

So to get back to the more specific answer, I’d say that because of the state of the program – both competitively, and how bad the facilities were at the time he took over – I’d say that how wrestling has grown has been the most surprising. If you would have told me in 1998 that in 2007 we’d be maybe just a handful wins at the national meet away from winning a team national championship, I’d have thought you were crazy. It’s been fun to watch for certain, and it will definitely be interesting to see how they can keep it going with the loss of Ben Askren and Matt Pell, but with the recruiting class that Coach Smith has coming in, the future is definitely bright.

In terms of answering your second question, I’d say the biggest thing that has helped us step up overall is the development of our facilities. You can’t do those things without money of course, so you could argue that the money overall has been responsible, but the most tangible aspect of the money has been the facilities that we’ve been able to build because of the financial support. There hasn’t been one sport that hasn’t benefited immensely over the past 5-6 years from facility improvements, and that does nothing but help them in the recruiting battles out there. We used to get negatively impacted in recruiting because of our facilities, but now that is not the case. I remember back before the Mizzou Aquatic Center came online, Brian Hoffer wouldn’t take recruits over to see our old pool at the Natatorium because that was so awful that anyone who saw it would never come here. And not too far in the past, we didn’t have a softball, track, soccer or tennis facility, so I have no idea how we could have had any success in those sports (imagine the recruiting pitch – ‘well, we sure want you to come to Mizzou, we don’t have a track, but we want you to come run track for us’!!).

On an aside, we just had our annual Senior Staff Retreat, where the senior team sequesters itself for a couple of days and does the team-building and planning thing, and maybe the most interesting thing I took out of it was some thoughts that Pat Ivey, our strength coach, threw out there. He was talking about how we’re trying to build a championship-caliber program for all of our kids, and that he felt the new dining hall and all the other aspects of the newly-opened Mizzou Athletics Training Complex (MATC) has been the single-most important thing he’s seen. The dining hall, specifically, he feels is the best thing we’ve ever done for our kids. It might seem like a little thing, but in our previous facility, the dining hall wasn’t big enough to serve all of our sports, and really only football and maybe 3-4 other sports were able to eat there – the rest had to fend for themselves on campus or elsewhere. That created kind of a “class” system, where the sports who ate there felt privileged, while the sports that didn’t eat there felt second class, if you will. Coach Ivey really feels that since the new hall opened up, and every night now all of our kids get to eat there and interact, that it is a huge intangible for the mindset of our kids. It obviously is a positive for the sports who previously couldn’t eat there, but interestingly, he felt that the biggest benefit might be for the sports that could eat there before. He said that he felt that “brought them down a notch” so that they realized they’re not above anyone else, and kind of has helped instill a greater sense of community and things of that nature that he feels are really important to building a championship mentality.

So with all of that excitement, it’s time for us to finally break through and get some championships! It’s been absolutely amazing how we haven’t been able to win anything for so long – you would have thought that one would have washed up on the beach by now, but luck just hasn’t been on our side. This past year was a prime example – we had the best wrestling team we’ve ever had in our history, and a team that was the third-best in the nation. Unfortunately, it just happened to be the second-best in the Big 12 Conference, so no team title. If we had only won two or three matches that didn’t go our way at the Big 12 Championships, the title drought would be over, but that’s how it goes. I really believe that we will break that door down this next year somewhere, and hopefully it will open the floodgates.

I know I can’t wait for football to get started, I just feel like we’re on the verge of a special season. I hope that our fans will have something to rally behind and feel good about, because they deserve it, and our kids deserve it too...

Thanks for the chat, look forward to more of this anytime...
TB: Me too!


NCAA Baseball Preview: Kent State

Here's a link to Kent State's baseball page. In looking at their schedule/results, this is a pretty capable team. They are only 33-24 overall, but a) they're battle-tested, having played 10 non-conference games against tourney teams (0-3 against Wake Forest, 2-1 Florida!, 1-0 versus regional-mate Louisville, 0-3 versus Southern Miss), and b) they've won 16 of 17 overall.

The Flashes are very much led by their pitching, with three decent starting pitchers--junior Evan Smith (4-4, 3.18 ERA...Friday night's likely starter), freshman Kyle Smith (4-2, 3.84) and senior John Pacella (2-4, 4.21)--and a strong closer in senior Ryan Davis (6-3, 1.78 ERA, 8 Saves). They have a staff ERA of only 3.47. In fact, only 4 of their 13 pitchers have an ERA over 4.00. Very impressive. In their 10 games against NCAA tourney teams, they were outscored 51-39, which for college baseball is pretty damn low-scoring.

Mizzou will face an offense that gets on base a lot (team OBP: .357) and hits mostly singles (team SLG: .404). They have two power hitters in freshman LF Anthony Gallas (.322 BA, .424 OBP, 10 HR, 43 RBI) and sophomore DH Greg Rohan (.274 BA, .337 OBP, 11 HR, 42 RBI), and otherwise I guess they just try to single you to death. They averaged less than 1 steal attempt per game, so they don't really play small ball...I guess they just try to get somebody on base for Gallas and Rohan and hope that they win with a 3-run HR.

The most impressive item on the Kent State resume this year has to be their series win against Florida in late-February. After getting swept by a decent Wake Forest team the weekend before (by scores of 8-4, 8-6, and 8-7), the Flashes headed to Gainesville and took the Friday night game, 10-4, led by a 5 IP/0 ER performance by John Pacella and 2 RBI's each from Greg Rohan, 3B Andrew Davis (their other strong hitter, with a season BA of .336 and 7 HR's), and 1B Brad Winter. The teams combined for 9 errors. Saturday, the Gators struck back, nailing KSU starter Dominique Rodgers for 5 runs in 2 innings and coasting to a 7-0 win. Sunday, however, saw Kyle Smith start his first collegiate game and dominate the Gators with 5 scoreless innings. The Golden Flashes got a 6th inning HR from Andrew Davis, Ryan Davis got a 2-inning save and Kent State got a 1-0 win.

I assume Tim Jamieson will go with Aaron Crow on Friday night instead of trying to save him for Miami/Louisville on Saturday or something. I'd prefer need to tempt fate. This is a competitive team, and it is absolutely essential that Mizzou come away with a victory. I think they used a lot of karma by losing the first game in the Malibu Regional last year before ripping off four straight victories...would behoove them not to have to do that again...


Mizzou Links, 5-29-07

A short Links today...will make my Kent State preview a standalone piece.

  • In random news, Brandon Rush has a torn ACL. KU is optimistic that he'll be able to practice again by November. And meanwhile, Andy Katz has Memphis as the '07-'08 preseason #1. I almost agree with this. I downplayed Memphis all last season, and they came up huge in the tournament. They're big, strong, athletic, and experienced, and Chris Douglas-Roberts is big-time.
  • I hope everybody watched the NCAA Lacrosse finals yesterday. Fantastic stuff. When my parents lived in DC earlier this decade, I dragged them to the Finals in College Park in 2000. It's a great event. For midwesterners like ourselves, it was a little disorienting seeing thousands upon thousands of children wearing their lacrosse gear and twirling their sticks and cheering along. It's the rich, white sport on the east coast. The Duke saga last year brought the sport some attention, but not the good kind...I mean, yeah the charges were dismissed and the boys who were charged are now thought of as martyrs or something, and power to them I guess...they were still partying with hookers, and I'm pretty sure they still think they own the world, but in the end I guess that goes for a good chunk of college athletes. I'll just stop talking now. It's fun to watch. The end.


Monday, May 28, 2007

What If...Mizzou Joined the Big Ten in 1996? (Part One)

In late-February 1994, the Big 8 as it had existed for decades was about to change significantly. The Southwest Conference was falling apart, and there was a huge Texas TV market for the taking. The conference invited four SWC schools—Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, and Texas Tech—to join. MU Chancellor Charles Kiesler was skeptical:

The Big Eight needs to do more homework before finalizing a deal to bring four Southwest Conference schools into the league, and the union doesn't mean Missouri is in for the long haul, MU chancellor Charles Kiesler says.

“I want to emphasize I'm not badmouthing this deal,” Kiesler said last night. “It may well be the best thing that ever happened to the Big Eight and those four other schools. But it's a complicated deal, and we haven't treated it in a complicated way.

“If I went to the curators with a deal as complicated as this, with as many millions of dollars involved and said, `Trust me,' they'd give me my lunch pail and send me home.”
Others involved with Mizzou were also skeptical:

No pussy-footing around. I'm starting out against the proposed merger of the Big Eight athletic conference with four teams from the Southwest Conference.

If MU is going to join with teams from another conference, my first instinct tells me, let it be the Big Ten. Athletic implications are not all. Television revenue is not everything. Missouri's flagship campus would be in better academic company hobnobbing with the likes of Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois than with Texas Tech, Texas A&M and Baylor. We have more geographic affinity with the Big Ten. Missourians tend to look east instead of west.


I'm pleased to see that MU chancellor Charles Kiesler at least is skeptical. His stated concern is that it's a complicated deal, and he has not yet given it the complicated consideration he must before recommending it. The governing bodies of all the schools involved will have to sign off. If it comes to a conflict between a majority vote among Big Eight schools and dissidence from individual institutions, the dissidents no doubt would fall in line.

Kiesler made one intriguing comment. Even if the Southwest Conference deal goes through, that doesn't mean Missouri is in it for the long haul. Later, if the Big Ten comes knocking, MU might go that way. However, having made his caveats, Kiesler said he is happy with the Big Eight, has no intention of leaving the Big Eight, would no doubt vote with a majority that wanted the Southwest merger and that, superficially, the merger looks like a good deal.
So let’s say for a minute that Mizzou resisted the call of the soon-to-be Big 12, and let’s say for a minute that the Big Ten gave up on Notre Dame and invited Missouri to be its 12th member.

Now, before we go any further, I should acknowledge that the “Should Mizzou go to the Big Ten?” topic comes up about every 2-3 months on Missouri message boards, and it drives me absolutely crazy. I grew up in Western Oklahoma, following Missouri, OU, OSU, and Nebraska, not Illinois, Iowa, and Ohio State. I would have been a very hard sell. However, this is “What If...” Land, so it’s not really up to me.

This post will focus on football. It is, of course, tempting to go down the “St. Louis is basically Big Ten country, and if we were in the Big Ten, we might have ended up with some of those StL recruits we missed out on over the years” path, but I won’t. Nor will I think about Texas recruits we might not have gotten without as much Texas exposure. Instead, I will only aim—with the foolproof transitive property—to lay out about what would have happened if a 12-team Big Ten had begun play in 1996, and Mizzou had been involved with the exact teams they ended up with. I have to work through 11 seasons here, and if I started changing who was or wasn’t on the team, this post would end up 15,000 words long.

(Here are some more questions: what would this have meant for the Big 12? Would the deal have broken down if one team had backed out? Would someone like Iowa State have decided not to jump in either? Would everything have gone down exactly the same, only with TCU or Colorado State in Missouri’s place? And how the hell would divisions have been divided if TCU took MU’s place? They’d have almost had to split up OU and OSU! Anyway, it’s very interesting to think about the domino effect that might or might not have followed MU jumping from the train.)


The first issue on the table is, how would a 12-team Big Ten be divided? Geographically, there’s really only one answer:

West Division – Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Northwestern, Wisconsin
East Division – Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue
This keeps all the major rivalries—Michigan/OSU, Michigan/MSU, Indiana/Purdue, Iowa/Minnesota, Illinois/Missouri?, Iowa/Missouri?—intact, and it really does perfectly divide the conference up, east and west. Question is, would that be even remotely competitively even? Looking at the current state of those programs (in football), the answer is obviously no. However, divisions would have been formed in the 1994-95 range. What did the landscape look like then?

Here are the conference records for these teams between 1991-1995, the five seasons before division play would have started (brought to you by the always fantastically useful

West Division
Illinois: 21-17-2 (.550 win %)
Iowa: 21-18-1 (.538)
Wisconsin: 18-19-3 (.488)
Northwestern: 15-25 (.375)
Missouri (Big 8 record + record vs Big 10 teams): 12-28-1 (.305)
Minnesota: 8-32 (.200)

Total Record: 95-139-7 (.409) (Take out NW’ern’s 8-0 record in ’95, and this gets significantly worse.)

East Division
Ohio State: 32-6-2 (.825)
Penn State (Big Ten 1993-95): 19-5 (.792)
Michigan: 29-9-2 (.750)
Michigan State: 20-19-1 (.513)
Indiana: 16-24 (.400)
Purdue: 10-17-3 (.288)

Total Record: 126-80-8 (.607)
Okay, so it wasn’t balanced then either. Is there anything that could have been done about it, though?

- You have to have Michigan-MSU-OSU in the same division.
- You have to have Illinois-Iowa-Minnesota-Missouri in the same division.
- You have to have Indiana-Purdue in the same division, and those two teams have to be in the same division as UM-MSU-OSU to balance out the quality with their own lack thereof.

So that leaves Northwestern, Penn State, and Wisconsin without a division, and I think it just makes too much geographic sense not to stick NW’ern and Wisconsin with Illinois-Iowa-Minnesota-Missouri, right? Having an intra-division rivalry between Minnesota and Penn State (991 miles apart according to Google maps) instead of Ohio State and Penn State?

Let’s look at the other major revenue sport—men’s basketball—and see how these divisions would stack up there. Of course, I can only dig up records for 1993-94 and 1994-95—and since is flaky at the moment, I can only find overall records, not conference records—so we’ll work with that.

West Division
Missouri: 43-11 (.796 win %)
Minnesota: 39-22 (.639)
Illinois: 35-21 (.625)
Wisconsin: 30-24 (.556)
Iowa: 29-27 (.518)
Northwestern: 18-35 (.340)

Total Record: 194-140 (.581)

East Division
Purdue: 50-10 (.833)
Michigan State: 41-16 (.719)
Indiana: 37-19 (.661)
Michigan: 38-20 (.655)
Penn State: 30-24 (.556)
Ohio State: 18-38 (.321)

Total Record: 214-127 (.628)
Oops. Okay, so let’s try something different here. Before I dive into 11 years’ worth of results, I’ll solicit some feedback from you, the loyal Sanity readers. Even though it would result in relative imbalance, would the Big Ten have set up divisions in this East/West manner? Or would they have created more parity by sticking Penn State in the same division with Minnesota/Iowa/Illinois/Missouri?


NCAA Baseball pairings announced...

...there will be MUCH more to come this week. I'll be reading and posting about the other teams in the region, and hopefully trrip will have a decent amount to say too. In the meantime, I'll just post the pairings for Big 12 teams and share some initial thoughts...

Columbia, MO Regional
1 Missouri vs 4 Kent State
2 Miami-FL vs 3 Louisville

I kind of figured we'd end up with a Missouri Valley team or something simply for the sake of attendance. They surprised me, however, by setting up a regional where Louisville is the closest team. Miami-FL is the big name in the bracket, and I assume a few people will be predicting them to win this regional. I haven't read much about Louisville or Kent State, but Miami's played a lot of big names this year, winning and losing their share. They had a very strange ACC Tournament, falling to Clemson in extra innings, beating Florida State...and then losing to 8-seed Wake Forest.

For Columbia Regional ticket information, click here.

I will say that, if Missouri makes it out of this regional, they lucked out very much getting a possible matchup with Arkansas in the Super Regional. Arkansas is the 7-seed, and it's close enough that a few Missouri fans might travel.

And speaking of the Fayetteville Regional...

Fayetteville Regional
1 Arkansas vs 4 Albany
2 Creighton vs 3 Oklahoma State

Creighton ended up in Fayetteville instead of Columbia, and I thought OSU might still have a shot at a 2-seed. Arkansas is obviously the favorite here, but OSU will travel well, and 10 days ago, they were one of the hottest teams in the country. Six straight losses (including four to Mizzou) later, they're one of the coldest teams in the country. Strange. Who knows what to expect out of them?

Houston Regional
1 Rice vs 4 Prairie View A&M
2 TCU vs 3 Baylor

Baylor's won 6 of 7 and 10 of 14, and they will take on a TCU team with an insane record (46-12). The winner of that matchup will be rewarded with a game against the #2 overall seed. Baylor is hot, and they have experience against both higher-seeded teams in the region (they lost to TCU, 6-3, and Rice, 7-0), but I'm not altogether optimistic about their chances because, even though they've played plenty of solid teams, they haven't beaten many. If Baylor does emerge from this region, they might face a pretty familiar foe, Texas A&M.

College Station Regional
1 Texas A&M vs 4 Le Moyne
2 UL-Lafayette vs 3 Ohio State

ATM found themselves at the last possible moment. A loss to Nebraska on the first day of the Big XII tournament gave them five losses in six games, and they had no chance of hosting a regional or getting a 1-seed. But then they broke off three straight dominating wins, beating Texas, Kansas State, and Baylor by a combined 28-11 and winning the Big XII Tournament. They ended up getting (I think) the #15 overall seed and will face probably the toughest challenge from UL-Lafayette, a team who had a decent case for a 1-seed themselves.

It stinks that these four Big XII teams are paired together the way they are (Missouri/OSU, ATM/Baylor). If all four teams win win their respective regionals (not that that will actually happen), only a maximum of two of the four would make it to Omaha.

Austin Regional
1 Texas vs 4 Brown
2 UC-Irvine vs 3 Wake Forest

Big XII (sorry, Big 12) Champ Texas ended up with the #4 overall seed, and they've drawn a pretty favorable regional here. They didn't play all that well in the Big 12 Tourney, giving up 10 runs to K-State (they did score 19, however), getting whooped by ATM, and squeaking by Nebraska. However, I figure the odds are pretty good that an Augie Garrido team won't go 2-and-done two years in a row (they hosted a regional last year and quickly lost to Stanford and NC State). Chances are, they'll win this region pretty easily. If they win, they'll face the winner of the Wichita Regional (1 Wichita State, 2 Arizona, 3 Oral Roberts, 4 New Orleans) in the Super Regional.

Tempe Regional
1 Arizona State vs 4 Monmouth
2 UC-Riverside vs 3 Nebraska

Nebraska limped to a 5-8 finish, and their 30-25 record is far from impressive. However, they got credit for a) playing a brutal schedule, b) finishing 14-13 in the Big XII and c) being Nebraska. I wouldn't expect them to advance here, but you never know. UC-Riverside is obviously good (ESPN had some good commentary about all the emerging mid-major teams on the West Coast during the selection show today), but you can never know what to expect with highly-ranked mid-major teams. If the Huskers can take the first game, they'll be in pretty good shape...though they'll still have to beat the #5 overall seed, Arizona State, twice.

If they do win this regional, they'll face the winner of the Oxford Regional (1 Ole Miss, 2 Southern Miss, 3 Troy, 4 Sam Houston).

The notable snub in the Big XII was Oklahoma. They played well in the Big XII tournament, and they hoped that (and their decent 34-24 record) would get them into the NCAA's, but an 11-16 conference record probably did them in.

Alright, more to come in later days, but I figured that might whet everybody's appetite...


Saturday, May 26, 2007

Slightly mixed signals... Mizzou links today. (That should tell you everything you need to know about last night's MU-BU game.) Instead, I'll just mention that I just stumbled across this page, a nice 'bio' of the Big 12 conference. Pay close attention to the note on the right side of the page:

When referring to the Big 12 Conference, please remember the conference name (which is a registered trademark) should be listed as follows:

Big 12 Conference

The following should NOT be used in text when referencing the Big 12:

Big Twelve
On the left side of the page, you'll notice the Big 12 logo:

Um...they have a funny way of not referencing 'XII'...


Friday, May 25, 2007

Numbers Numbers Numbers: ‘Defensive Playmakers’ Edition

Well, I have officially finished entering play-by-play information for Mizzou’s 2006 football games. I endeavor to get all Big XII teams entered by the end of the summer, but in the meantime I thought I’d start looking into what the data is telling me so far.

As I mentioned to Dave Matter earlier this week, one piece of information I’ve investigated is “successful” plays.

[T]he writers of Football Prospectus ( define a "successful play" as...

- Gaining 40% of needed first down yardage on 1st down
- Gaining 70% of needed first down yardage on 2nd down
- Gaining 100% of needed first down yardage on 3rd or 4th down
As I entered play-by-play, I looked a few extra variables. Was the play a ‘success’ as defined above? What % of the first down did the play gain? What % of ‘success’ did the play gain? Et cetera. With this information, I thought it would be interesting to look at who the best “playmakers” were on the 2006 Mizzou squad.

This post will only look at defense.

For defense, a “successful play” would obviously be a play that prevented the offense from reaching the ‘success’ defined above. I also divided the plays into two categories: 1) plays when the score of the game was ‘close’ (i.e., the margin was somewhere between 0-15 points), and 2) plays when the score of the game was not close. I figure the best playmakers are the ones who earn their stats in closer games.

So what did I find? Well, as would be expected, using the standards above, defensive linemen are going to have a higher percentage of ‘successful’ plays simply because they start closer to the line of scrimmage than LB’s or DB’s. On the flipside, safeties are, by name, guys who are more likely to stop a big play than make a big play—and therefore, they’ll have the lowest percentage of ‘successful’ plays. The average Mizzou D-lineman had a ‘Successful Play to Non-Successful Play’ Ratio of 2.18. Defensive backs? 0.37. So if I’m trying to figure out a measure to use for any defensive player, I have to take their position into account. A defensive back with a 1.00 ratio is more effective than a defensive lineman with a 2.00 ratio. Makes sense, right?

So, for starters, I looked at what I’m tentatively calling the Position Playmakers Ratio. I’d call it the PPR, but giving it an acronym would make it seem like I’m sold on the name more than I actually am. I’m open to suggestion on the name.

What this ratio takes into account are two things: 1) the ‘Successful Play to Non-Successful Play’ Ratio (in ‘Close’ situations only...meaning, plays made when the score is within 15 points) mentioned above for a given player, and 2) the average Ratio for a player at that position. I basically just divide (1) by (2). If the ratio is above 1.0, then the player’s (1) is higher than the average player at their position. For now, I’ve only inputted Mizzou’s numbers, so (2) is only the average for Mizzou players. As I get more teams entered, (2) will change, and it will become an effective comparison of players from different teams.

So anyway, what are the PPR’s...I mean, Position Playmakers Ratios for last year’s Mizzou defensive players?

Lorenzo Williams – 1.95
Dedrick Harrington – 1.56
Xzavie Jackson – 1.35
Darnell Terrell – 1.32
Pig Brown – 1.25
Brian Smith – 1.19
Stryker Sulak – 1.17
William Moore – 1.03
Those are the 8 players who were above 1.00, meaning they had a better (1) than the average at their position.

David Overstreet – 0.96
Marcus Bacon – 0.91
DeMarcus Scott – 0.79
Brandon Massey – 0.76
Jaron Baston – 0.75
Jamar Smith – 0.67
Ziggy Hood – 0.63 *
Hardy Ricks – 0.57
Brock Christopher – 0.53
Tommy Chavis – 0.51
Domonique Johnson – 0.45
Now, there are plenty of flaws in this measure. It doesn’t take into account Takeaways, which are obviously the most effective way of ‘playmaking’. If we figured out a way to take INT’s, forced fumbles and fumble recoveries into account (and I’ll get there eventually), Marcus Bacon (2 INT’s, 5 FF’s, 3 FR’s) would move way up the list, as would Lorenzo Williams (2 FF’s, 3 FR’s, plus 2 blocked kicks!) and Stryker Sulak (1 FF, 3 FR’s).

* It’s worth noting that, in the first two games of the season, before he got hurt, 100% of Ziggy Hood’s tackles in ‘close’ games resulted in a success for the defense. Of course, there weren’t too many plays to make in ‘close’ situations against Ole Miss or Murray State since they became blowouts relatively quickly, but I think this does show that Hood was very obviously not the same player after his broken foot.

There is also another aspect to take into account regarding ‘playmaking’: in what percentage of your team’s plays are you involved? Success or no, close game or no, in what percentage of your team’s plays do you get a tackle or solo tackle? For this number, you’d expect LB’s to have a much higher % than DT’s or CB’s (you’d HOPE your CB’s aren’t too high), so let’s once again create a ratio out of the tackles a player made compared to what would be expected out of his position.

Taking injuries (and therefore fewer tackle opportunities) into account, here are the Top Ten Mizzou players in what we’ll call (for now) Tackles/Position Ratio (TPR?):

Darnell Terrell – 1.91
Xzavie Jackson – 1.59
David Overstreet – 1.55
Ziggy Hood – 1.47
Lorenzo Williams – 1.38
Brian Smith – 1.21
Marcus Bacon – 1.15
Stryker Sulak – 1.09
Brandon Massey – 1.06
Hardy Ricks – 1.06
You can tell pretty quickly that the players on this list were the ones who were likely on the field more—all these players started a good chunk of the season. So for now, this seems like as much a measure of tackle opportunities as it does anything else. However, considering how heavy the rotation was among the safeties—Overstreet, Massey, W. Moore, and Pig Brown—it is relatively impressive how high Overstreet’s ratio is here.

And the fact that Terrell had that many more tackles than could be expected of the CB position is a bit confusing—did he have more tackles because the guy he was covering had more catches than they should have (he was, after all, almost always single-covering the opposition’s best WR), or because he was better in run support, or both?

For now, let’s say that having a high ‘Tackles/Position Ratio’ is a good thing (which is obviously debatable). What if we created one ‘playmaker measure’ by multiplying this TPR with the ‘PPR’ from above (what would we call it, the TPRPPR?)? The higher the number, the higher tackles and ‘successful plays’ than others at their position. Sounds like a great idea, right? Let’s see what that number tells us. Here are the top ten Mizzou players (bold = returning in 2007):

1. Lorenzo Williams – 2.69
2. Darnell Terrell – 2.51
3. Xzavie Jackson – 2.14
4. Dedrick Harrington – 1.63
5. David Overstreet – 1.50
6. Brian Smith – 1.43
7. Stryker Sulak – 1.28
8. Marcus Bacon – 1.04
9. Ziggy Hood – 0.93
10. William Moore – 0.90
Lots of ground still to cover with these measures (and other ones I haven’t touched on yet), but I thought this would be something interesting to look at. The fact that Lorenzo Williams is that much higher than anybody else, I think, says something. What it says, exactly, will be more clear when I get other teams’ data entered. I bet you can’t wait.

As always, I open the floor here for feedback. Are there other things I should be looking at with this data?


Mizzou Links, 5-25-07

  • Yesterday's Big XII Baseball Championship results: ATM 7, Texas 3 (where the hell was that effort last week when we needed Texas to lose??) and KSU 4, NU 1. So yeah, all four teams gave the exact opposite performance as they did the day before, and we have a four-way tie at 1-1 in that pod. Fun.
  • Missouri plays Baylor at 4:30 today. They need to win and have OSU beat OU tonight. That would create another four-way tie at 1-1. That would set up a situation where MU has to beat OSU on Saturday while BU beats OU. In other words, MU doesn't exactly control its own fate here--they need to win twice, while OU needs to lose twice. Not impossible, but not a favorable scenario.
  • Here's some more about the Columbia's NCAA Mideast Track Regional...
  • Meanwhile, Big XII Spring Meetings just wrapped up, and it looks like the sites for the next few football and men's basketball championships were decided. I won't ruin the'll have to click on the link...
  • And finally, three Big XII teams will start play in the NCAA Super Regionals today. 3-seed OU hosts 14-seed DePaul, who ousted Mizzou last weekend; 4-seed ATM hosts 13-seed Florida; and 8-seed Baylor hosts 9-seed Michigan. Go Big XII, I guess. I know, that was very whole-hearted. Sue me, I'm bitter.


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Mizzou Links, 5-24-07

  • Not quite the start Mizzou was looking for at the Big XII Baseball championships. Stephen Holst and Kyle Gibson combined to give up 6 runs in 6 IP, Mizzou batters left 15 men on base (failing to capitalize on SIX Sooner errors), and #2 MU was knocked off by #7 OU, 7-2. They'll play Baylor on Friday. Pretty vital that they beat both Baylor and OSU.
  • In other action, #4 Nebraska beat free-falling #5 ATM, 5-3 (pdf); #1 Texas had to use five beat #8 Kansas State (who used eight), 19-10 (!); and #6 Baylor upset #3 Oklahoma State, 3-1. Tonight, it's Texas/ATM and Nebraska/KSU.
  • The Trib has a nice profile of Mizzou ace Aaron Crow. He needs to come up big Friday.
  • The NCAA Mideast Regional Track Championships take place at our very own Walton Stadium tomorrow! Mizzou will have 19 athletes competing, including...the Bomber from Barbados!! Also, 800m runner Trisa Nickoley.
  • Mizzou Swimming & Diving just finished four days at the Michigan Grand Prix. Does Michael Phelps have eligibility remaining?
  • PowerMizzou's thrown together a rough '2008 recruiting board' for men's basketball.
  • And just for fun, here's an article about Kenny Hulsof and the MU Presidency vacancy.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

It’s Official—I have no idea how to handle good news

I’ve obviously been a sports nerd all my life. My first memories—aside from breaking my femur bone slipping on a Bert & Ernie puzzle when I was 2—was of watching Tony Dorsett run the ball for the Cowboys and of watching Marcus Dupree run the ball for OU so well as a freshman (before getting hurt like 18 different ways). I was hooked on sports early on.

But, growing up in Western Oklahoma, not wanting to just adopt all the Dallas teams as my favorites (I did have quite the crush on the Cowboys for my first 10 years or so), and growing horribly sick of OU due to my obsessive relatives (“Charles Thompson was framed!”), I started picking out my own favorite teams in the mid- to late-‘80s. I was born in Columbia, MO (dad got his doctorate there), and I loved Norm Stewart, so I quickly adopted Mizzou. I loved the Bonds/Bonilla/Van Slyke outfield, so I adopted the Pittsburgh Pirates. I loved Dan Marino and Mark Clayton, so I adopted the Miami Dolphins. I loved Terry Porter and Clyde Drexler, so I adopted the Portland Trailblazers.

Think about this for a second. Swear to god, here are my top 10 favorite sports moments:

1. Mizzou beating Nebraska at Faurot in 2003.

2. Mizzou coming from 21 down to beat South Carolina in the 2005 Independence Bowl.

3. Mizzou beating UCLA in 2002 to go to the Elite Eight.

4. Pittsburgh coming from 3-games-to-1 down against Atlanta to force Game 7 in the 1992 NLCS.

5. Corby Jones to Eddie Brooks to give Missouri the lead over Nebraska in 1997.

6. Portland coming from 3-games-to-1 down against the evil Lakers to force Game 7 in the 2000 Western Conference Finals (and going up by double digits going into the fourth quarter!).

7. Portland going to the NBA Finals to face the Bulls in 1992.

8. Julian Winfield’s jumper to give Mizzou the lead over UCLA with less than 5 seconds remaining in 1995.

9. Mizzou basketball’s defeat of Iowa State, 112-109, in 4 OT’s in 2001.

10. Dan Marino’s fake-spike TD pass against the Jets in 1994.

Yup, those are some good memories. For grins, let’s see what followed each of those great memories.

1. Mizzou loses the Independence Bowl *.

2. Mizzou jumps to a 7-1 start in 2006...and finishes 1-4.

3. In the Elite Eight, Mizzou loses for the eleventy-billionth time in a row to Kelvin Sampson’s Oklahoma team...made horribly bitter by a) the wretched shooting performances of Clarence Gilbert and Arthur Johnson and b) my extreme hatred of Kelvin Sampson.

4. Francisco Cabrera.

5. Matt Davison.

6. Portland blows a double-digit lead in the 4th quarter of Game 7; Shaq throws Steve Smith into the 4th row without getting called for a foul.

7. Michael Jordan.

8. Tyus Edney.

9. Mizzou loses 3 games in a row.

10. The Dolphins beat the Jets, lose in the AFC Divisional Playoffs. Woo.

Other than proving that I’m a total masochist (and bringing to wonder why it is exactly that I’m a sports fan), what does this prove?

Basically, that I’m a pro at bad news. I know how to handle, rationalize, and move on from bad news.

Good news, on the other hand? Does not compute. My brain just freezes up. I wait for the other shoe to drop. Actually, no...I wait for the other shoe to kick me in the face.

This was on display last night as the Blazers, fresh off of one of the best drafts of all-time in ’06 (rarely do you manage to turn Sebastien Telfair into Brandon Roy, draft the Rookie of the Year, draft another all-rookie team member, and draft your potential point guard of the future on the same night), won the biggest NBA Lottery since the mid-‘80s.

My reaction (as The Beef can attest)? “Huh…”

That’s it. Granted, I’ve gotten more excited since then—my morning was spent reading “Oden vs Durant” articles and Zach Randolph trade rumors—but I seriously do not know how to process good news. And I need to learn quickly. If the Blazers do indeed trade Randolph (my favorite rumor involved Randolph and a sign-and-trade with Seattle for Rashard Lewis...who definitely wouldn’t be needed in Seattle if the Sonics got Durant), they could have a starting lineup of...

PG – Jarrett Jack/Sergio Rodriguez
SG – Brandon Roy
SF – Rashard Lewis
PF – Lamarcus Aldridge
C – Greg Oden

...for the near and distant future. That’s unbelievable. While I’m relatively pumped about this, I need to learn how to get excited. Portland’s about to have the most exciting young team (full of good people, no less!) in the NBA! Missouri’s about to have the most exciting football (and maybe basketball) team in the Big XII! The Mizzou/Nebraska game on 10/6 might kick off at 8pm (greatest tailgate ever!!)! Pittsburgh’s...okay, well, screw them. But there are plenty of reasons for me to shed the darkness and cynicism of the last 20 years, and it’s time for me to learn how not to be scared of success.

But you have to admit—my fear is well-founded. Seriously...I was on the wrong side of Francisco Cabrera, Tyus Edney, the kicked ball, Fifth Down, about 18 AFC Championship losses to the Bills, and the blown lead against the Lakers in 2000, all of which took place in my most formative decade. I was seriously ready to take hostages in 2000. If there had been anybody in the hallway of my dad’s apartment complex in DC when Shaq threw Smith into the stands, I’d be in jail right now. more! New beginning! I will only look ahead!

Until my next “What If...” write-up, anyway.

* It’s not very fair to the 2003 MU/NU game to summarize it like that. I did get to make snow angels on the 50-yard line after the game (it was wet, and those plastic pellets stick everywhere!), I did get to profess my undying love to Sonny Riccio during a TV interview, I did get to exorcise the 1997 demons, and I did get on the “Victory!” poster that they sold in stores after the game (I think I did anyway...I was wearing a gold hat and black jacket, not exactly the most distinguishable attire, but I think I see myself in it). It just says something that the sports highlight of my life was a home win in October against the #9 team in the country. The bar hasn’t been set all that high. Time to exceed it.


"At forward for your Kansas City Sonics . . . Kevin Durant!"

I was more than a little bummed that Kevin Durant's one season in the Big 12 came in an odd-numbered year, meaning that he would never visit Mizzou Arena. Though I'm normally interested in teams rather than players, he was the rare college athlete who I'd pay big bucks to see in person.

But two developments yesterday have created about a one percent chance that Durant could soon be playing forty-one games a year just ten miles from my front door. First came word that the Seattle SuperSonics will consider Kansas City as a relocation destination. Then the Sonics took second place in the NBA's annual Ping Pong Pandemonium event, giving them the number two choice in next month's draft. With Portland likely to take Greg Oden first overall, Seattle will have the easiest decision in the history of, well, anything, and will take the reigning national player of the year.

While drafting Durant is a no-brainer (if possible, it's even easier, like a no-central-nervous-systemer), the odds that team moves from the Emerald City to Cowtown are far more remote. The economics of the NHL seem to better suit KC, and Oklahoma City (despite the revenue-generating limitations of the Ford Center) appears to lead the pack in the SuperSonic Sweepstakes. But let me dream for a minute, wouldja? Having Durant as the Sprint Center's anchor tenant for the next dozen years, while twice annually hosting the Suns, Mavs, Spurs, Lakers, Oden's Blazers and the Warriors (yeah, the Warriors are fun to watch again, who'd have thought?) would certainly warm up the midwestern winters.


Mizzou Links, 5-23-07

  • Big XII baseball awards are out, and the Tigers are all over the board. First up, Tim Jamieson split Coach of the Year honors with Texas' Augie Garrido. There are really two ways to figure out coach of the year--either go with the coach of the best team or go with the coach of the most surprising team. Apparently half of the voters went one way, half the other. It's Jamieson's 2nd COTY award--he also won in 1996.
  • As for the player awards, junior OF Jacob Priday (.301 BA, 9 HR's, .330 BA in league play) and sophomore SP Aaron Crow (8-2, 2.62 ERA) found their way to 1st team honors, junior OF Evan Frey (.347 BA, 5 triples) to 2nd team, and freshman P Kyle Gibson (7 wins, 7 saves), sophomore P Rick Zagone (6-2), and sophomore IF Kyle Mach (.308 BA)got honorable mention honors. LOTS of young talent here, eh? And speaking of young talent, freshman catcher Trevor Coleman (.295, 8 HR's) was named Freshman of the Year. Congrats to all!
  • Meanwhile, it's getting harder to think of Mizzou Baseball as anything but a 1-seed in the NCAA regionals. Unless they bomb in the Big XII championships (knock on wood), the main question will be whether or not they get to host.
  • And finally, Dave Matter (friend of Mizzou Sanity!) has a nice Mizzou Softball post-mortem.


The Mizzou Exchange: Dave Matter (Part Two)

Let's continue with Part Two of my conversation with Dave Matter. In his last response, Dave mentioned Mizzou's lack of success against ball-control teams.

The Boy: The most frustrating game you mentioned was ATM. Iowa State moved the ball shockingly well, but that was a full-team collapse on Mizzou's part. With A&M, the Mizzou defense absolutely dominated in the box in the first half. Goodson and Lane had no room to run whatsoever. At halftime, Lane had 13 carries for 44 yards (19 of which came on 2 carries in the last minute when ATM was running out the clock...before that, 11 carries for 25 yards), Goodson 7 for 14. In other words, in the first 29 minutes of the game, ATM RB's combined for 18 carries, 39 yards. Mizzou got nailed by a couple ATM bombs in the 1st quarter (one play-action and one trick play), but that was fine. If ATM can't run the ball, they can't win.

The problem was, here was the time of possession for Mizzou's 1st half drives: 0:50 (ending in a fumble), 2:09, 1:31, 0:37 (fumble), 0:42 (fumble), 3:23. Three turnovers and a self-inflicted time of possession of less than 10 minutes in the first half pretty much spelled doom for the defense. Despite a strong defensive gameplan, Mizzou was gashed for 83 yards on 15 carries by Lane and 57 yards on 8 carries by Goodson. Yes, ATM was aided by curious Mizzou play-calling and the worst fake field goal attempt ever, but that game was decided in the first half, and it was in no way the defense's fault.

From that point on, though, the defense seemed gash itself just fine without help from the Mizzou offense (except against NU, anyway).

The way this discussion is headed, it really does sound like the most important Mizzou player in 2007 could be Ziggy Hood. He was unbelievable against Murray State and Ole Miss (that's not saying a lot), but after he came back from the foot injury he was pretty much invisible (though I believe he said he wasn't any better than about 70%). If he's an Okam-esque difference maker, the defense will have no choice to be solid. And if the defense is solid...well...

So let's wrap up the football talk with another quick pick. Quick—who are the most underrated and overrated players in the Big XII? Here are mine (sans Mizzou, since I can't contain my bias):

Underrated (offense): WR Adarius Bowman (OSU). I realize he was 1st-team All Big XII, making it hard for him to be underrated, but he so rarely gets mentioned among elite players, and his stats (60 catches, 1181 yards, 19.7 per catch, 12 TD's in 2006) are absolutely insane.

Underrated (defense): DB Reggie Smith (OU). He's gotten some recognition, but his impact on the OU defense has been beyond significant. In the two years before his arrival in Norman (2003 and 2004), opponents averaged 8.56 and 8.12 yards per pass. That's bad. In '05 and '06, opponents averaged 6.34 and 7.89. When he's healthy (not a given), he's a big-time difference maker.

Overrated (offense): TE Martellus Bennett (ATM). Got on the 2nd-team All Big XII list last year completely and totally because he was a 5-star recruit in high school. He had a nice year (38 catches, 3 TD's), but not as good as Martin Rucker or Chase Coffman. Really, though, this is just a) residual bitterness from his getting HM All Big XII in '05 over Coffman, and b) future bitterness from when he inevitably gets picked higher than Coffman in some preseason magazines.

Overrated (defense): LB Bo Ruud (NU). Really no better than Corey McKeon or Stewart Bradley last year. He had a fantastic game against MU (7 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 INT), but that was his only standout game. He was a big-play guy like Marcus Bacon (2 other FR's, 2 other FF's), but he only had three games with more than 6 tackles...not all too hot for an LB. In all, he's got a nice nose for the ball, but not so much a nose for the ball-carrier.

Dave Matter: Good points on the A&M game. The Aggies won't be any easier to beat this year. They'll have one of the five best running games in the country this year. Rugged, experienced O-line. A pulverizing powerback in Lane. And I think Goodson has a chance to be the best back in the Big 12 this year, though playing with Lane will affect his stats, especially touchdowns. I've been guilty of riding the A&M bandwagon in the past, but I was considering picking the Aggies to win the South until they stunk up the Holiday Bowl against Cal.

As for underrated/overrated...

Underrated (offense): Colt McCoy, QB, Texas. Bring on the hate mail. I'm going to get blasted for this because so many people outside of Austin think McCoy is overrated, but take a look at his numbers from last year: 68 percent completion; 29 TDs to 7 INTs; 161.8 QB rating (13 points higher than any other Big 12 QB). True, he only threw for 197 yards per game, but he also attempted only 24.5 passes per game, just the sixth-most in the league. He did all of this as a redshirt freshman who succeeded one of the greatest college players of our generation in Vince Young. Missouri fans like to credit McCoy's superior stats to Texas' supporting cast, but I don't buy it. Texas had a better O-line in '06, but I'd take Temple, Franklin, Coffman, Rucker, Ek, Perry, Saunders, Alexander over Texas' 2006 backs and receivers. In my opinion, McCoy didn't get enough credit for 2006. I love the QB rating statistic, and McCoy's was better than that of Brian Brohm, Brady Quinn, Zac Taylor, Chris Leak, Chad Henne and Chase Daniel ... and only eight-hundredths of a point behind Heisman winner Troy Smith.

Underrated (defense): Chris Harrington, DE, A&M. Not a flashy player but holds up well against the run (ranked fourth among Big 12 linemen in tackles last year with 59) and can get after the quarterback (7.5 sacks in '06). He seemed to make a lot of big plays last year in games I watched and was one of the more productive and versatile linemen in the league. Only made honorable mention All-Big 12, though. Silly voters.

Overrated (offense): Bret Meyer, QB, Iowa State. I hate this pick. I really struggled coming up with someone, so we'll pick on the Cyclones. I've never been really wowed by Meyer. His best season was 2005 when he threw 19 TDs to 10 INTs and had two great games in wins over A&M and K-State. But he took a huge step backward last year. Not all of that was his fault. The talent around him was depleted, but he threw as many or more INTs than TDs in seven of eight Big 12 games last year. This won't come off sounding politically correct, but because he's a black quarterback foolish people assume he's a dangerous runner. That's not the case at all. He's averaged less than a yard per carry the last two years. Great pick on Bennett. Though he does have some value steering A&M's run game, he's given way too much credit as a receiver when there are much better receiving tight ends around the league.

Overrated (defense): Alvin Bowen, LB, Iowa State. I don't doubt that Bowen might be a fine linebacker, but I'm always amused when the leading tackler on a horrendous defense gets recognition based on nothing more than his number of tackles. Most of the time that's just an indictment on what's probably a terrible defense that never gets off the field. To his credit, Bowen actually led the country in tackles last year...and was honored with first-team All-Big 12 recognition thanks to voters who do nothing more than read the stat sheet. Do you know who Tim McGarigle is? He's a second-year Rams linebacker (scout team last year) and he's the NCAA Division I-A career leader in tackles. He played at Northwestern from 2002-05. His junior year, Northwestern ranked 119th in total defense. That's dead last. No team was worse. But he got lots of tackles and was a consensus first-team All-Big Ten pick. You can't tell me Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa didn't have five or six better linebackers but had fewer tackles because their defenses didn't stink. OK, I've turned this into a rant, but I've always said it'd be much more enlightening to track missed tackles rather than made tackles.
TB: Because I'm a gigantic nerd, one of my summer projects is entering 2006 play-by-play data for Big XII teams and figuring out different measures of quality and success. For instance, the writers of Football Prospectus ( define a "successful play" as...

- Gaining 40% of needed first down yardage on 1st down
- Gaining 70% of needed first down yardage on 2nd down
- Gaining 100% of needed first down yardage on 3rd or 4th down

So as I enter the play-by-play data, I can start looking at what percentage of a defender's tackles prevented a 'successful' play for the opposing offense and what percentage of a QB's plays resulted in 'success' as defined. I'm also looking at the difference in success levels in close situations versus blowout situations. And again, because I'm gigantic nerd, I'm really looking forward to what this will all say. Unfortunately it takes about 45-60 minutes to enter one game, and last I checked, a lot of games were played last year. I'm through about half of Mizzou's season thus far, though, so I'm making some headway. And I'm always looking for suggestions regarding what else to look for in these stats...

Moving on to softball...Mizzou plays SIU at 4:30 Friday. These two teams played on March 21, and SIU scored a 1-0 no-hitter by Cassidy Scoggins to move Mizzou to a medicore 22-17 on the season. However, Mizzou got hot after that game, winning 15 of 20 to end the regular season. How different is this team than the one Scoggins (who I assume will start Friday's game) shut down eight weeks ago?

(Note: This message was sent a day or two before Friday’s NCAA Regionals. Dave’s response below was posted before Mizzou’s loss to DePaul on Saturday. My next response was made after Mizzou’s loss to DePaul on Sunday. Just thought I’d point that out in case there is any confusion in tenses here.)

DM: The biggest difference with the softball team has been the healthy return of junior pitcher Jen Bruck. After having a baby in January, she has remarkably played all season, but she's just now getting some pop back in her bat and building endurance to pitch with little rest. I've really been impressed with her poise and toughness this season. It's not like she's coming off an ankle injury. She carried a friggin' human being for nine months, gave birth in January, and a few weeks later was zinging fastballs and taking cuts at the plate. That's toughness. She's as intense a competitor and as I've covered at MU, and that includes a lot of football players over the years. She's turned what could be considered a tabboo subject into a blessing and hasn't let it affect her play. She slammed a home run to the deepest part of the park here in Carbondale yesterday. If she keeps that up and has enough strength to be effective on the mound (she's a finesse pitcher, doesn't overpower hitters with a lot of velocity and strikeouts) the Tigers should win this regional and could put a scare into Oklahoma at the Super Regionals.

Wow. That paragraph almost makes me sound like a softball writer.
TB: Looks like in the end, it appears the lack of K’s and easy outs cost the Tigers. Defense really seemed to hold Mizzou back in the last month of the season—for starters, Jen Bruck had 16 E’s! Mizzou gave up fewer unearned runs (53) than they scored (69), but most of their losses down the stretch were littered with unearned runs.

Softball is such a bang-bang sport that K’s and easy outs seem pretty vital. Luckily for Mizzou, they were very young this year. With another year of experience, Bruck means that she might be able to get a few more easy outs next season; plus, the likelihood of finding a strong #2 pitcher increases, as Jana Hainey (7-5, 3.25 ERA, 0.69 K/IP) was only a freshman and Megan Dennis (9-3, 3.55 ERA, 0.57 K/IP) was a sophomore; however, neither was much of a strikeout pitcher, so that leaves the door open for somebody else (no idea who...maybe incoming freshman Lisa Simmons?) to emerge.

Since we’ve crossed the 4,500-word threshold (!) at this point, I guess it’s about time we wrap this up. So I’ll hit you with three rapid-fire questions:

1) How far does Mizzou baseball go this year?

2) On a scale of 1-10, how much does Blaine Gabbert’s commitment to Nebraska hurt Mizzou?

3) I’m preparing for more “What If...” explorations this summer. I’m pulling together a “What If Mizzou Joined the Big Ten in 1996?” piece as we speak, and I’m sure I’ll be looking into Tony Van Zant as well (hopefully I can figure out how to pull box scores from that far back. Also, I stumbled across a recruiting article from 1996 saying that Sebastien Janikowski visited Mizzou that fall, so I’ll probably be exploring that one (glutton for punishment am I). Any ideas? Am I missing some obvious ones? I thought about the Fifth Down as well, but I’m not sure I’m mentally ready for that one just yet.

DM: 1. There's no reason to think Missouri baseball can't make it to Omaha for the CWS. Tigers will most likely host a regional and depending on the matchup in the super regional, they should have the pitching and defense to make a run. Before any of that business, they'll be hungry to capture that elusive Big 12 championship this week in Oklahoma City.

2. If 1 is pain-free and 10 is excruciating, then I'd put Gabbert's decision currently at a 6. Recruiting is way too unpredictable to accurately predict how this will affect the team, especially considering MU can still grab another highly ranked QB in this class. But MU would probably never had otherwise had a chance to sign the No. 1 QB in the nation except for the fact that he played in the state. Looking at it that way, it's a real blown opportunity.

3. Good question on the Big Ten scenario. Based on nothing more than budget and backyard talent-base, I'd say MU would be in the second of three tiers among the Big Ten's football pecking order. Right there along with Iowa, Michigan State, Purdue and maybe Illinois. A few steps ahead of Indiana, Northwestern and Minnesota, but nowhere near the power status of Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State. I think MU would tap into the Chicago recruiting market if it played in the Big Ten, maybe Michigan, too.

Across the board, there might be a little more parity in the Big Ten than the Big 12, and that fact could give MU a chance to make a splash there, especially with an offense that goes against the norms in that league. We've seen Northwestern and Minnesota put together some stunners over the years, and even Illinois assembled a contender or two the last 10 years. Over the same span, you haven't seen the bottom feeders in the Big 12 (Baylor, Kansas and to some degree Missouri) pull off those sorts of victories and special seasons.

This is way off topic of your question, but one thing the Big Ten has right now over the Big 12 is some exciting young coaching talent: Bret Bielema at Wisconsin, Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern, Tim Brewster at Minnesota and Mark Dantonio at Michigan State. Seems to be a little more energy in the Big Ten based on these younger coaches' arrivals.
TB: In a way, I think Big Ten Football is in a Big XII Basketball-esque state of flux. Lots of new blood (aside from Michigan and Ohio State, of course) and lots of uncertainty as to who’s going to end up where in the pecking order. Bielema took a perfect first step in replacing Barry Alvarez; Fitzgerald is going to go through some growing pains since not only is he super-young, but he was also thrown into the job with little preparation; the Brewster hire might have been a reach, but he seems to have gotten off on the right foot recruiting; and Dantonio was a relatively safe hire...and half the time, it seems like safe hires backfire.

And yes, I think we’d fit in pretty well there. Especially when you consider how the divisions would almost have to be broken up (if they did it geographically, anyway): Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Northwestern, and Wisconsin in the ‘West’ division and Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, and Purdue in the ‘East’. That doesn’t really seem too fair, but in the mid-‘90s, when they would have been creating the divisions, Northwestern and Wisconsin were almost on par with the UM/OSU/PSU troika, so it really might have happened that way.

Anyway, before I go too far down that are my quick answers to my own questions above:

1) I still worry that Mizzou relies on too many freshmen to make it to Omaha, but a regional as a #1 seed, there’s really no excuse not to make the Super Regional. And there, it will really depend on the matchup. Kudos to Tim Jamieson, though...a few years ago, a friend of mine from OSU told me that opposing schools loved Jamieson because a) he was an amazingly nice, thoughtful guy, and b) his Mizzou teams were always extremely beatable. He and his staff have really stepped it up a notch both in coaching and recruiting, and he deserves some serious commendation for the job he’s done this year.

2) I’d say Gabbert’s commitment elsewhere is a solid 8. He might be a total bust, just like he might have been had he come to Mizzou, but his biggest impact might have come with the 2008 recruiting class Mizzou could have compiled had he committed here. The way the dominoes were arranging themselves, this could have been a major seal-the-borders class. As it is, the class should be fine—especially if another solid QB comes Mizzou’s way and Mizzou does as well as they might do this year—but for now it’s another recruiting what-coulda-been.

Well, thanks for being the guinea pig on this experiment. I think it turned out pretty well! We’ll have to do this again sometime.

DM: No problem.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Mizzou Exchange: Dave Matter (Part One)

I’m totally ripping off Bill Simmons’ “Curious Guy” bit with this, but a new Mizzou Sanity feature is going to be The Mizzou Exchange, where I (or somebody from the blog) exchange e-mails with somebody at least remotely Mizzou-related. I promise it will be more interesting than it sounds.

First up? Dave Matter, football/softball beat-writer for the
Columbia Tribune. Dave also has a lovely football blog, Behind the Stripes, on the Trib website. This conversation got pretty long, so I've broken it up into two parts. Part Two will post tomorrow.

The Boy: We'll start with something relatively obvious. Gabe Dearmond of PowerMizzou recently made a preliminary 10-2 prediction for Mizzou football in '07. Last year I looked at the schedule and saw 9-3, so I gave Mizzou a 1-game 'get real' penalty and predicted 8-4 (I guess that would make Iowa State the 'get real' penalty). This year? I too see 10-2, so I guess that means I'm going with 9-3. Granted, we're still our months out, but...what are your general thoughts at this point?

DM: I tried to make this point on Chris Gervino's KOMU show the other night, but I'll try to explain it better within my preferred medium.

This time of year, when preseason polls start to mass produce, offense is overrated and defense is underrated. I have no doubt MU will have one of the five most prolific offenses in the country this year. But will that translate into 10 wins if the defense isn't better than average, too? I'm starting to have my doubts.

Consider this: If MU returned a top-10 national defense that only loses a lineman and one defensive back but has question marks all over the offense, I think the general expectations for the 2007 season would be severely different. Fans/media would be alarmed. The stout defense would be overlooked because everyone would be more concerned about who's going to be the leading rusher, receiver, etc. When it comes to making predictions, we (and I mean, all of us, media, fans, bloggers, etc.) don't seem to appreciate a loaded defense as much as we do a loaded offense. And it usually leads to bad predictions. Take Notre Dame last year. The return of Brady Quinn and all those spectacular offensive players hypnotized people into overlooking a seriously flawed defense that hadn't made any significant upgrades. The Domers were a popular top-three pick. What happened? Irish didn't play much defense and were outclassed by Michigan, USC and LSU. On the other hand, there wasn't a lot of hype for teams like Rutgers and Wisconsin even though they returned the bulk of their defense. Those two finished the year ranked No. 4 and 5 in total defense and lost a combined three games.

That being said, or typed, I only see three teams on MU's 2007 schedule that should cause much concern: Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Nebraska. All three play a physical style that Missouri doesn't seem to match for four quarters. The losses MU suffered to those three last year explain why Gary Pinkel has talked so much about the Tigers' needing to get more physical, especially up front.

Also, it'd be unwise to overlook both Illinois and Ole Miss. We fall into the trap of looking only at an opponent's previous season record, which would indicate MU will whip both these teams. But Illinois was competitive against the best of the best in the Big Ten last year. Ole Miss has recruited well, and duh, the game is away from Columbia.

Also to consider, Pinkel has never won in Boulder or Manhattan.

With all of that in mind, I still think MU can outscore most teams. I'm saying 9-3, with losses to OU, A&M and one we won't see coming. I'm still deciding if I'll pick the Tigers to win the North, and I'm leaning toward them over Nebraska. But I didn't leave the spring with a lot of confidence in the defense's ability to get off the field and become spectators of the Chase Daniel Show (like the rest of us are.)
TB: It definitely seems that there are many different forces at work for this team. On one hand, you have the 'they're clichés because they're true' clichés like "Defense wins championships" giving you all sorts of red flags. Looking at the personnel, this team almost shapes up like those Jerry Glanville-era Falcons teams (right down to the all-black jerseys!)...their offense could crush both opposing defenses and their own defense with its efficiency. On the other hand, you look at the schedule and realize that, barring injuries or an unexpected loss, Mizzou really might be favored in 11 of 12 games this season despite the defensive question marks. It's hard to get a grasp on what should be expected when so many factors take your opinion in so many directions.

The defense as a whole is obviously a giant concern, but really, to me it boils down to the defensive end position. Lorenzo Williams and a healthy Ziggy Hood (along with Jaron Baston and Charles Gaines) should be fine at DT; Sean Weatherspoon and a healthy Van Alexander should bring more attitude and speed to the LB position than Marcus Bacon and Deke Harrington did (though the team will obviously miss Bacon and Harrington's experience); the CB's should be strong; the safety combo of William Moore, Pig Brown, and Justin Garrett should be capable of replacing David Overstreet and Brandon Massey's production. Lots of "should's" there, but you get my point. It really comes down to whether some combination of Stryker Sulak, Tommy Chavis, Jaysen Corbett, Tarell Corby, and maybe John Stull can provide a pass rush. That group should be decent against the run, but if Mizzou can't pressure the QB, then the entire unit will obviously suffer.

Speaking of DE's, when I was doing my
spring previews last month, I noticed something quite strange. Almost everybody in the conference lost their top DE's from last year. Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Iowa State, Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma State all have to replace their top pass rushers. Combined with the fact that almost every top team (sans Nebraska and Oklahoma) now has an experienced QB running the show, I think we're going to see some unbelievable offensive numbers in the conference this season (led by Missouri, Oklahoma State, and obviously Tech). I might be placing too much importance on just one defensive position, but that discovery was still pretty interesting to me.

DM: I agree that they're should be some real explosive offenses in the league this year. Oklahoma State will be one of those under the radar teams that people will expect to make a push, but again, no D. When the Tigers and Cowboys play in 2008, expect another shootout classic.

What happened to Big 12 defenses? Not too long ago, the Big 12 consistently had three or four of the top defenses in the country. You could count on Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas State, sometimes Nebraska and A&M, having an elite D. That's not the case any more, and I'm not really sure if it's a trend or a coincidence. OU ranked No. 16 nationally, and that was the best D in the league. Next was Texas at 24, then MU at 39. I don't think it's a lack of talent. Texas had three of its defensive backs from last year drafted, two in the first round, but played terribly against the pass last year.

As for MU, even with the questions on defense, I think the Tigers will be favored in every game but the trip to Oklahoma, possibly the home game against A&M. But as long as the defense is shaky, you're vulnerable to one of those games like Iowa State last year where the offense goes into a lull and the pressure is put on the D to make a stop.

I like the tandem of Williams and Hood in the middle, but if you have an injury there, you're in BIG trouble. I never saw much out of the backups all spring.

I think there's great potential at linebacker, but we've said that for years with this team.

Weatherspoon plays with the kind of passion this team doesn't always display on defense, but you still have to tackle.

As for the secondary, I'll miss David Overstreet, one of my favorite personalities I've covered over the years. But anyone that put him on their postseason All-Big 12 ballot last year, and I know of at least one major newspaper in this state that did, should have their voting privileges revoked or at least put on probation. Let's just say I didn't think it was Overstreet's best season. He played on a bum knee most of the year, and it showed when he had to defend the pass. In retrospect, I think he would have made a better outside linebacker than a safety. He was a pretty good tackler in the box but couldn't cover many Big 12 receivers. I think the Tigers will be just fine with Willy Moore and Pig Brown, two athletes that can hit and play the ball.
TB: There's a feast-or-famine quality to William Moore's play. If there's a big defensive play, chances are Moore was involved. However, if there's a massive breakdown, chances are Moore was involved. He's going into his junior season, though, and knowing the progress that both Jason Simpson and David Overstreet made during the sophomore-to-junior jump, I'm pretty confident that Moore will reach a higher level of consistency in '07. That alone could make a significant difference in this defense.

You touched on another point—Mizzou is going to have some serious hitters this year. Granted, it doesn't matter how hard you hit if the hits come after 15-yard gains, but...Moore, Brown, Weatherspoon, and Alexander are all heavier hitters than their predecessors. Plus, guys like Brock Christopher and Darnell Terrell don't shy away from contact either. That could be important considering how much the defense will likely be on the field this season—it won't matter as much that they are losing their legs late in games if the opposing offense is too.

As you can see by now, I'm always able to talk myself into being encouraged by something, even Mizzou's defense. It's a natural talent, really. If/when I need a douse of cold water, though, I look at some numbers.

Something I looked at recently was per-game and per-play averages for Big XII teams—what a normal team would have expected to gain and give up versus teams on the schedule and what Mizzou (and other Big XII teams) actually did gain/give up. Here's what I found.

Against Mizzou's 8 Big XII opponents, a normal Big XII offense could have expected to gain about 135.0 yards on 4.0 yards per carry. Mizzou averaged 112.5 yards on 3.4 yards per carry...about 84% of the normal team. A normal offense could have also expected to gain about 221.7 passing yards per game on 6.8 yards per attempt. Mizzou averaged 273.5 yards per game on 7.6 yards per attempt...about 119% of the normal team. In all, Mizzou (386.0 yards per game, 5.6 yards per play) achived about 102% of what the normal offense would achieve—the 8th-best figure in conference (OSU was #1 at 119.3%). Not bad, but not quite as hot as one would have expected the numbers to be. Of course, the offense peaked in the final two games, and rarely does a team return nine starters (and every major skill position contributor) from a good offense, so I do still expect big things here (especially against the degraded defenses we mentioned), but that keeps things in perspective a bit.

As for the defense? A normal Big XII defense could have expected to give up about 150.3 rushing yards per game on 4.3 yards per carry against Mizzou's Big XII opponents. Missouri gave up 184.1 on 4.5 yards per carry (this figure was skewed tremendously by poor showings against KSU and ISU...Mizzou was right on average in the other 6 games)...about 115% of the normal team. A normal defense could have also expected to give up about 215.7 passing yards per game on 6.9 yards per pass. Mizzou gave up 191.5 yards per game on 6.9 yards per pass...about 95% of the normal team. In all, Mizzou (375.6 yards per game, 5.5 yards per play) allowed about 102% of what a normal defense would allow. This is a small sample size, but a few things stand out to me here—a) the Iowa State game destroyed the overall numbers, b) percentages for the defense got worse across the board after Brian Smith's injury, and c) opponents ran the ball more than normal against Mizzou, likely because the run defense was a bit worse than the pass defense, and more likely because ball control was quite important against the Mizzou offense. The offense may not have achieved that much more than the typical Big XII offense, but the threat of the Mizzou offense made the opposition change its own typical offensive gameplan.

DM: You touched on something there about the "threat" of Missouri's offense affecting the opponent's offensive strategy. I think that's a HUGE factor, and it's something Gary Pinkel talked about a lot this spring. Just look at what good ball-control teams did against the Tigers last year: Oklahoma gashed them with Allen Patrick, one of the most violent runners I've seen in the Big 12 the last few years; A&M used the Lane/Goodson combo to play keep away the second half; Iowa State's fullback turned into John Riggins for a day against the Tigers; and even though Oregon State's back didn't finish with 100 yards, the Beavers controlled the clock throughout the second half tossing short passes to the back and tight end and mixing in occasional runs. The Tigers were lucky to score a lot of points early against Kansas and Kansas State, or their running games would have been able to do the same.

I think the D's ability to toughen up against the run and take teams out of second-and short and third-and-short situations will define the season. I just don't understand why Missouri struggles so much in that area. I'm not big into Xs an Os, but playing a lot of zone D should theoretically free up your defensive backs to help against the run. And it's not for a lack of intensity among the coaching staff. I think it's more about personnel. Finding big, beefy D-linemen that can outmuscle offensive linemen AND run around and make plays is the hardest chore in recruiting. There just aren't a lot of players like Texas' Frank Okam, a guy that doesn't make a lot of tackles but he's so strong and powerful that his mere presence makes the guys around him better. I laugh when valuable pluggers like Okam are left off the all-conference teams while the D-end that racked up 10 meaningless sacks for some hack defense gets voted on.

I think Lorenzo Williams is a very productive college nose tackle and one of the best leaders Missouri has had in the Pinkel era. If he can play bigger than his size and combine with Ziggy Hood to give the D a solid nucleus in the middle, the Tigers can improve in that area. But I'm just not sold on the front four, not yet at least.


Monday, May 21, 2007

Stairway to Eighty-Seven

The greatest song of all time. But was the budget so low that Greg Church couldn't get a second take?


Mizzou Links, 5-21-07

  • The season ended yesterday for Mizzou Softball. DePaul bopped the Tigers, 3-0, in the first game on Sunday. Mizzou finishes the season at 40-24. Not bad considering they were 22-17 at one point. Jen Bruck, Amanda Renth, etc., all return next year, so the future's pretty bright.
  • Meanwhile, Mizzou Baseball continues to impress. Sweeping an OSU team (in Stillwater) that had won seven in a row? Damn! Mizzou wraps up the regular season at 39-14 overall, 19-8 in conference. They only lost one conference series all season. That's insane. Way to go, Tim Jamieson! (Here's the Missourian recap.) The Tigers will start play in the Big XII Championships with a game against 7-seed Oklahoma on Wednesday at 5pm. Their pod play will continue with games against 6-seed Baylor (Friday, 4:30) and 3-seed OSU (Saturday, 5pm). Winner of that pod will play the winner of the Texas-Nebraska-ATM-KSU pod at 1:30 on Sunday. Here's the bracket (.pdf file). You have to figure at this point that if Mizzou makes the finals, they're getting a 1-seed in the NCAA's, and they're probably hosting a regional. If they can just manage to win 2 of 3 in podplay, they should still be good on the 1-seed. Awesome season so far.
  • Let's see...what else do I have for you...Dave Matter interviews Big XII Commissioner Kevin Weiberg in his Sunday Q&A...
  • Billy Gillispie gets his man at Kentucky...
  • ...and ESPN previews Big Ten Football. Go Badgers! I really enjoy this series ESPN's been doing, by the way...SportsCenter's damn near unwatchable at this point (I'm angrily wagging my finger in your direction, Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless...), but continues to put together some good reading material.


Sunday, May 20, 2007

Mizzou Links, 5-20-07

It was an up-and-down Saturday for Mizzou...

  • Down: In softball, DePaul scored two unearned runs in the 6th to break a scoreless tie (one error was a Jen Bruck throwing error...her 16th of the season) and held on to beat Mizzou, 2-0, sending the Tigers to an evening consolation game against SIU. There definitely seems to be a need to work on defense in the's held Mizzou back the last few weeks.
  • Up: In baseball, Mizzou defeated OSU, 8-5, clinching their first series win in Stillwater since (according to KOMU last night) 1981. The win was their 18th conference win of the season--their most since Big XII play began--and brought the Tigers to within 1.5 games of Texas. If Texas were to lose to ATM in the evening, the Tigers would be within one game with one to play.
  • Up: Mizzou Softball defeated SIU in Carbondale for the second straight day, this time 7-4. Jana Hainey got the start and went 5 strong innings, but SIU scored 2 in the 5th and 2 in the 6th, prompting Ehren Earlywine to bring out Jen Bruck for a scoreless 7th to lock down the win. All-Big XIIer Amanda Renth had 3 RBI's. They play DePaul at noon today, and they need to win twice to make the Super Regional against Oklahoma.
  • Down: For the second straight evening, Texas scored late to beat ATM, 3-2, clinching the Big XII baseball title. Win or lose today, Mizzou will finish 2nd in the conference. Stupid Aggies.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Mizzou Links, 5-19-07 - UNLEASHED!!

Another fantastic Friday for the University of Missouri. Of course, every time I post about great Friday developments, Mizzou has a subpar forget I said anything.

  • Mizzou Softball (who apparently was indeed the #2 seed in the region) CRUSHED #3 seed Southern Illinois in the first round of the NCAA's, 8-0. It was the best possible development for MU. They really only have one pitcher--Jen Bruck--but they run ruled SIU, and Bruck only had to pitch 5 innings. Bruck gave up 2 hits and 2 walks over 5, plus she went 2-for-3 with a HR at the plate. And needless to say, SIU's Cassidy Scoggins (0.2 IP, 3 ER) wasn't quite as effective as when she no-hit Mizzou in March. I assume Bruck will be ready to go again today at noon against #1 DePaul, who run-ruled Mississippi Valley State, 10-0 in 6 innings.
  • Meanwhile, Mizzou Baseball outscored the all-bat-no-pitch OSU Cowboys, 9-6, in Stillwater last night. They are once again in sole possession of 2nd place in the Big XII. Aaron Crow was pretty decent, giving up 3 runs in 7 innings and striking out 9. Greg Folgia--0.2 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 0 ER--had a strange line in the 8th, but the Tigers held on. They couldn't make up ground on 1st-place Texas, however. They rallied for 2 runs in the 7th and 2 in the 9th to beat ATM, 6-4. Stupid Aggies. Texas has clinched a tie for 1st place but would have to lose the next two games (while Mizzou won two) to avoid sole possession of the championship. That's not altogether realistic...I'm just hoping for a strong start from Rick Zagone.
  • Oh, and you're welcome for this vital piece of information: Mizzou is no longer "On the Move"...they're now "UNLEASHED!" Feel the excitement! Actually, anything's better than the "It's a Great Time to Be a Tiger" tagline of the late-'90s (which seemed to coincide with the temporary downfall of Mizzou Athletics).