"I Know the Game Like I'm Reffing It"

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Dak Still The Man For America’s Team

It may sound weird even debating whether a quarterback with an 11-2 record and the NFL’s third best passer rating (second best QBR) is worthy of keeping his starting job. But, such is life when you are the rookie quarterback of “America’s Team,” and black, to boot.

To be fair, Dak Prescott, the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, is backed up by a good, if not great player in Tony Romo, who is a star, if not a super one. Fans have come to love or love hating Romo over the years, as much for his off-field success (see Jessica Simpson) as for his exploits on the field.

However, as much as the admiration for Romo may be driving the buzz or undercurrent of Dak Prescott doubt that persists among fans and media members, there is more to it than that, of course.

Yes, there’s that rookie thing.

Rookie success is rare, but far from unheard of, especially on an otherwise veteran team. Greats, such as Dan Marino, John Elway and Ben Roethlisberger have led their teams to playoff appearances and beyond in their rookie seasons. So have Bernie Kosar, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Andy Dalton and even Mark Sanchez.

Prescott could become great in the future, as this rookie season seems to suggest. In the alternative, one could surely see Prescott on a similar career path as a Ryan, Dalton or Flacco. But, there seems to be additional doubt when it comes to Prescott; more of a “well, they’ll figure him out soon” mentality that appears to exist for some, but not others, at the quarterback position.

Yes, it’s that black quarterback thing.

Unbelievably, it’s still a thing.

How could it not be? Police mistreatment and brutality is still a thing. Disparate treatment by the judicial system is still a thing. Donald Trump is now a thing.

So, surely little old football still has its issues.

Or, maybe I’m paranoid.

A lifetime of witnessing mistreatment can do that to you. But, as the saying goes: just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me.

Or, Dak Prescott in this case.

The long history of the plight of the black quarterback has been well documented, but doubt exists, just like there is doubt about the continued need for affirmative action, for example.

But, the black quarterback thing is real.

A study done last year by Brian D. Volz for the Journal of Sports Economics, found that from 2001 to 2009 there is evidence that suggests that black quarterbacks are between two and two and a half times more likely to be benched, when controlling for other factors, including injury, age, quality of the backup quarterback, and other factors.

According to the study, between 2001 and 2014, the percentage of black starting quarterbacks on opening day fluctuated between 16%-28%. That is pretty low when you consider that black players make up almost 70% of the entire league and account for over 80% of starters at the running back and wide receiver positions.

However, as referenced earlier, this is not an NFL problem, it’s a societal one. Even on a football level, discrimination of blacks at the quarterback position starts at the pop warner levels and is perpetrated by both black and white coaches.

But, I’m here to tell American football fans and media that your fears and distrust are misguided and unwarranted.

Dallas Cowboys' quarterback Dak Prescott addresses the media Sunday night.

Prescott has not been good this year, he’s been great, and he is the player most capable of leading this year’s Cowboys to their promised land.

After the Cowboys’ 10-7 loss to the New York Giants and easily Prescott’s worst game of the season, many jumped at the opportunity they had been impatiently waiting for: to clamor for Tony Romo to get his job back.

On a cold, snowy and rainy night in East Rutherford, NJ, Prescott was 17/37 for 165 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. The Giants played their best defensive game of the season and handed the Cowboys their second loss of the season.

After those two interceptions on Sunday night, Prescott now has a whopping four on the season, fewer than any year-long starter, other than Sam Bradford (three). His 20 touchdown passes put him in the top half of league quarterbacks.

Prescott is in the top ten in completion percentage and top three in passer rating and QBR (mentioned for the second time just for emphasis).

In Tony Romo’s 13-year career, he only reached or eclipsed Prescott’s current passer rating of 102.7, twice; in 2011 (102.5) and in 2014 (113.2). Needless to say, Prescott has been very impressive in this, his rookie season.

As for being a winner, it’s clear Prescott has that quality, as well.

“There’s been a theory in the scouting business that players that come from Mississippi State don’t really do well in the pros, for some reason, they’re just not good pro players,” Dallas Cowboys reporter Nick Eatman from DallasCowboys.com said on the Bill Rhoden On Sports podcast back in September.

“Dak Prescott put [Mississippi State] at #1 in the country for a few weeks,” Eatman continued. “He took that whole program – that whole state, really – and put it on his shoulders. So, you talk about a guy that knows how to win, he’s done that. I think he’ll do the same with the Cowboys when it’s his time.”

His time is now.

His boss seemed to agree, at least immediately after Sunday night’s loss.

“What’s he got four interceptions? Is it four?” Cowboys’ Owner Jerry Jones asked a group of reporters surrounding him outside of the Dallas locker room. “OK, so he’s got four interceptions in 13 ball games. I feel good about our quarterback.”

For his part, Prescott isn’t letting the Romo talk distract him and sounds like he’s looking straight ahead.

“You never want to say it’s good to lose, me particularly, I hate to lose, it’s a bad feeling,” Prescott said after the game. “But, it kind of gets you resettled, gets you back right. After we lost to these guys the first time, we went on that run, so maybe we can do something similar.”

Similar to how he’s played so far this season should sound good to the Cowboys’ players, organization, and their fans. The team appears to have a firm grip on reality, it’s the fans and some members of the media who need to let go of that old, misguided way of thinking.

Let the Cowboys be great again. Let Dak live.


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Whitehead Succeeding In Temporary Role

Lost in Sean Kilpatrick’s brilliant 38-point, 14-rebound performance in the Brooklyn Nets’ 127-122 double overtime victory over the Los Angeles Clippers Tuesday night, was the steady, if unspectacular, play of rookie Isaiah Whitehead.

Whitehead, who was playing at Seton Hall this time last year, easily eclipsed his career high in minutes, playing 46. The rest of his stat line looked pedestrian on paper – 6 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists – but he had zero turnovers, while playing the point guard position and guarded Chris Paul for pretty much the entire game.

At Lincoln high school in Brooklyn and then at Seton Hall, Whitehead was known as an alpha dog rugged, do-it-all guard who looked to score. Early in his NBA career, he is showing he can do whatever is asked of him.

“I’m just playing my role,” he said after the game. “When coach tells me to be more aggressive then I’ll be more aggressive, but right now I think my job is really just to play defense and when I have an open shot, take it.”

He is doing a great job in his current role, which should only grow with each solid performance.

“[Tonight’s game] definitely gave me a lot of confidence, just because of the way I played,” Whitehead said. “I think I played some good defense, I think I really helped my guys on defense, I mean, I think I just did a great job on that side, so it’s definitely giving me more confidence.”

Expect bigger and better things to come from Isaiah Whitehead.

Friday, November 11, 2016

2016-17 Preseason Bracketology

Preseason Bracketology

It’s officially that time, the start of the college basketball season. In honor of this wonderful occasion, I bless you with my preseason NCAA Tournament bracket. Take it to the bank!

The predicted field/seeding is highly likely to change from day to day or minute to minute.

*Automatic bids in italics

1 SEEDS: Kansas; Villanova; Oregon; Duke.

2 SEEDS: Wisconsin; Xavier; North Carolina; Louisville.

3 SEEDS: Kentucky; Gonzaga; Virginia; Michigan State.

4 SEEDS: Texas; Arizona; Maryland; Indiana.

5 SEEDS: Purdue; West Virginia; Connecticut; Butler.

6 SEEDS: UCLA; Saint Mary’s; Georgetown; Michigan.

7 SEEDS: Virginia Tech; Rhode Island; Syracuse; Creighton.

8 SEEDS: Dayton; Arkansas; Florida State; NC State.

9 SEEDS: Iowa State; Ohio State; BYU; Georgia.

10 SEEDS: USC; Miami; Seton Hall; VCU.

11 SEEDS: Colorado; Cincinnati vs. California; Oklahoma vs. Utah; San Diego State.

12 SEEDS: Akron; Valparaiso; Harvard; Wichita State.

13 SEEDS: UAB; Hofstra; Belmont; North Dakota State.

14 SEEDS: Long Beach State; Weber State; Vermont; Monmouth.

15 SEEDS: Winthrop; Florida GC; S.F. Austin; East Tennessee State.

16 SEEDS: Lehigh; New Mexico State; Arkansas LR vs. Texas Southern; Howard vs. Wagner.

LAST FOUR IN: Cincinnati; Oklahoma; Utah; California.

FIRST FOUR OUT: Oklahoma State; Baylor; Northwestern; New Mexico.

CONFERENCE BREAKDOWN: ACC (9); Pac 12 (7); Big Ten (7); Big East (6); Big 12 (5); SEC (3); Atlantic 10 (3); West Coast (3); AAC (2).

Monday, March 28, 2016

Kruger And Wright Downplay Oklahoma's Early Season Romp Of Villanova

The Final Four is set and familiarity abounds.

Of course, it makes sense that ACC foes North Carolina and Syracuse are familiar with each other, but the other National Semifinal match-up will also be a rematch.

Villanova and Oklahoma played each other during the non conference portions of their schedules in early December and the result was far from kind to the Wildcats. Oklahoma dominated Villanova, winning the neutral court contest in Hawaii, 78-55. 

The Sooners were paced by five players in double figures, led by Isaiah Cousins’ 19 points, 10 assists and 6 rebounds, along with Buddy Hield’s 18 points. Meanwhile, the Wildcats shot 32% from the field, including a putrid 4-32 from beyond the three-point stripe. 

That result doesn't seem to bode well for Villanova. However, both coaches downplayed its significance.

“I see very little carryover,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said during a Final Four conference call on Monday. “They're doing things differently, we’re doing things differently. It's almost like we played them last year.”

They did, actually.

Villanova coach Jay Wright elaborated a bit more.

“We were both ranked in the Top 10 going into that game,” he said during the conference call. “But, when that game unfolded, it was very clear that Oklahoma was playing like a top ten/top five team and we were not. We really used that [game] as a bar.”

It’s clear Wright believes his team is much better equipped this time around.

“[Oklahoma] was close to a Final Four team at that time of the year,” he said. “We weren't even close at that time. I think we just got to that point, Saturday night, of playing like a Final Four team.”

We’ll see which team is playing at a championship level on Saturday.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Food For Hot Take: Underwood Shows Mid In Mid-Major Refers To Money Only.

What a difference a few days make.

After beating West Virginia in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday in Brooklyn, Stephen F. Austin coach Brad Underwood genuinely sounded like a man not just happy to be the coach at SFA, but a man grateful to be at a so-called mid-major program.

“[Mid-majors are] able to get better players [than in the past] and keep them for their career and have seniors, so there’s maturity,” Underwood said. 

“One of the biggest discrepancies in college sports is the difference between an 18-year old freshman and a 22-year old senior. The maturity level is drastically different.”

After Stephen F. Austin’s heart-breaking second round loss to Notre Dame on Sunday, Underwood remarked that “the name [on the uniform] doesn’t mean anything. Stephen F. Austin is here to stay.”

Well, if that’s true, SFA will have to do so without their 89-14 head coach, who bolted Monday for more money, higher stature, and likely, perpetually younger and less mature players, at Power 5 school Oklahoma State.

I am definitely not blaming Underwood, but it illustrates what the “mid” in mid-major truly refers to. It’s no longer talent, great coaching, or good basketball teams.

It’s money. 

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Iowa's Fran McCaffery On NCAA Tournament: "There's no such thing as an upset."

Everybody loves the NCAA Tournament, or almost everybody. You can find a hater or two out there in the twitterverse if you try hard enough. But for the most part, it is a beloved event.

Why? Easy: the love of March Madness stems from fans’ love of the upset. We all love to see David come through from time to time and take down Goliath. The NCAA Tournament provides ample opportunity for these surprise results.

This year, the Tournament’s first round did not disappoint.

On Thursday, Ivy League Yale took down Big 12 power Baylor, Arkansas Little Rock came from behind to beat one of the Big Ten’s finest in Purdue, and in a slight upset, Wichita State pretty easily took care of Arizona.

Friday produced even gaudier results. Hawaii, who many didn’t realize fielded a basketball team, upset a talented, though injury bugged California team. 14 seed Stephen F. Austin took it to 3 seed West Virginia and in one of the biggest upsets of all time, 15 seed Middle Tennessee State took down mighty Tom Izzo and Michigan State.

Insert your favorite bracket busted joke here.

However, according to Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, there are no upsets in this tournament. That’s right, those random occurrences that we all love and root for do not really exist. They are figments of our imagination.

“There’s no such thing as an upset and I mean that sincerely,” McCaffery said after Iowa’s last second victory over Temple in Brooklyn. “I’ve had lower seeded teams that won. You’ve seen higher seeded teams lose.”

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery

“It’s really difficult [to win an NCAA Tournament game],” he explained. “You’re playing somebody that you haven’t played, on a neutral site. You’re trying to figure them out in a short period of time.”

Hmm, maybe he has a point, especially nowadays.

The mid-major teams – the good ones that end up in the NCAA Tournament – tend to be more experienced, upper-class dominant squads that have been together as a unit and with their coach for a number of years. That’s a sharp contrast from the now typical major program that is dependent on highly ranked freshmen, likely to leave the program before they are ready to take it to any significant heights.

Stephen F. Austin coach, Brad Underwood, sees some advantages to building a team at the mid-major level.

“We’re able to get better players [than in the past] and keep them for their career and have seniors, so there’s maturity,” he said after his team dispatched of West Virginia Friday night.

“One of the biggest discrepancies in college sports is the difference between an 18-year old freshman and a 22-year old senior. The maturity level is drastically different.”

So maybe there are no upsets and these are just a collection of good teams knocking each other off.

That’s likely the case, but don’t expect to hear that narrative. We don’t want to.

We love the upsets, real or not.