It's a day late, but couldn't be helped. Hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas.
As always, a couple of random thoughts to start:
"Bear down, Chicago Bears…" Enjoy that extended practice and week off, boys. In talking about yesterday's game, though, I have to wonder what the heck Mike Sherman was doing. No wonder Lovie Smith looks like such a great coach of the year candidate (not to diminish what he's done this year, by the way). When you're compared to the triumvirate of Mariucci/Jauron, Sherman and Tice, almost anyone could look good.
A couple weeks ago, in the FOX Sports blog, I wrote about Dick Jauron and his questionable decision-making. Today is Sherman's day under the microscope for what I thought were a couple of questionable decisions on Sunday. First, he essentially threw away both of his challenges in an attempt to be a "players coach". The first challenge was the Noah Herron goal line plunge that came up a few inches short of a touchdown. FOX was quick on the replays, and at least two angles showed Herron's knee down before he had stretched the ball to the goal line. Yet Sherman challenged, anyway. Herron's run was second down. Even if he was six inches short, that gave the Packers two plays to score a touchdown from there. Instead, Sherman lost the challenge, lost a timeout, and lost the opportunity for a third challenge later in the game. And for what?
The second challenge was on Antonio Chatman's "did he or didn't he catch it?" crossing pattern late in the first half. After diving for it, Chatman jumped up and down like his pants were on fire, begging Sherman to challenge. While the replay in this second case was a little slower in coming, Sherman didn't even wait to throw the challenge flag, trusting Chatman. And for all any of us know, Chatman did catch the ball. The problem, of course, was that the ruling on the field was "incomplete", and it would take conclusive evidence to overturn it, of which there was none on video replay. It was a key play, but I don't think Sherman even thought about the repercussions as quickly as he threw the challenge flag.
Finally, I found the sequence of plays around the two-minute warning to be a bit questionable, and I thought Sam Rosen and Bill Maas in the announcing booth blew it by not mentioning about it. At 2:30 to go in the fourth quarter (according to nfl.com), Brett Favre threw a dump pass to Tony Fisher that was stopped at the Bears' 7. Favre was trying to reset his troops quickly, but the play didn't come in as fast as he would have liked. Favre was trying to squeeze two plays in (a third and possible fourth-down play) before the two-minute warning. That way, the Packers would have had three timeouts PLUS the two-minute warning. Instead, the third-down play was snapped at 2:06, the ultimate result of which was a pass play, stopped inbounds, for a one-yard loss, and the play ended at the two-minute warning. The second-down play at 2:30 was after a clock stoppage. Why didn't the Packers have plays ready to call on third and fourth down? Thirty seconds, while tight, is enough time to get off three snaps. The Packers had a chance to save a timeout and missed it.
Then, on the kickoff, Sherman elected to kick it onside rather than deep. Was that the right thing to do? Maybe, but I was surprised that Rosen and Maas didn't at least debate the point. The Packers had all of their timeouts. Why not kick it deep, hope to stop the Bears on three running plays, and pick up better field position for the possible game-tying drive? Instead, the Packers got the ball at their own 9 with roughly 90 seconds to go. They still nearly got into serious scoring range, but it would have been much easier had they had 30-40 yards better field position.
Against the Ravens the week before, it was evident that the Packers quit on the game. This week, they fought against the Bears, but I wonder if the coaching staff used their cerebellums as well as they could have during the game. Either way, I feel both results are a reflection of the head coach, and Mr. Sherman wasn't performing at optimum level, in my opinion.
Commercial of the Week: The folks at Vonage have an A+ marketing department. They were the ones who had a campaign a while back which said, "People do stupid things. Paying too much for phone service shouldn't be one of them". Meanwhile, they would show home movies of people doing stupid things – a boy losing his grip on a bat and taking out a glass patio door, a guy cutting down a tree and having it land on his pick-up truck, etc.
Well, they now have a new entry that I saw for the first time this weekend. A woman is sitting in her house, doing a serious interview about phone service and how much she loves Vonage. In the far background, you see her husband come into the shot, and he's doing some sort of dance. The interview keeps going, and the guy keeps dancing. Finally, the woman turns at the end of the commercial to see her husband making a fool of himself.
Between this commercial and last week's Nextel commercial, I think we've come up with at least one truth in advertising: watching white guys try to dance stylishly is funny. (And if you don't agree, I've got a commercial for Red Stripe beer to show you.)
This Week in the Big East
Cincinnati: The Bearcats had a fun week in Las Vegas, beating both Dayton (81-63) and LSU (75-72) to run their record to 8-2. They have a final busy week of the year, playing a semi-home game against Miami (OH), then hosting North Carolina A&T.
Connecticut: We already talked about Connecticut's only game of the week, a pasting of Morehead State 129-61, to move to 9-0 overall. The Huskies also have two games this week to finish out the year, hosting Stony Brook and Quinnipiac.
Georgetown: Georgetown keeps winning, but their RPI rank keeps falling. They have six wins, and not a one versus a team that has an RPI rank as of Monday better than 175. Their only win this week was over woebegone Savannah State 78-49 to move to 6-2. This week doesn't get too much better from the RPI perspective, as they play Colgate (an RPI in the 250s) and a team to be determined in El Paso.
Louisville: Another week, more unimpressive home victories for the Cardinals as they move to 9-1. They beat Middle Tennessee, College of Charleston and Detroit, although none were a rout. This week, they host Fairleigh Dickinson, then spend New Year's Eve in Sunrise, Florida, playing Miami.
Marquette: The Golden Gold are now 9-3 after home wins over Oakland (90-69) and Delaware State (60-48 ). They have a tune-up against non-Division I Lewis this week, and that's it for 2005.
Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish keep beating up the East Coast mid-majors this week, as they scored wins over Niagara (80-59) and Columbia (75-68 ) at home to move to 7-2. This week holds two more of those games against Fordham and Wofford.
Pitt: The Panthers are 9-0, but judgment day is coming. They beat Coppin State (77-51) at home for their only game this week, but upcoming, they go to South Carolina then come home to play Wisconsin. If they get to 11-0, that "0" in the record is legitimate.
Providence: Providence got back on track this week, beating both Northeastern (92-70) and Yale (76-63) at home to move to 5-4. They only have one game this week, at home versus San Diego State, to finish the year.
Rutgers: Rutgers stumbled at home this week to Charlotte 85-82 in a game that would have given them some credibility. Instead, at 8-3 they have a home win over Temple and not much else. They have one more tune-up before BIG EAST play, hosting Princeton. (Take the "under".)
Seton Hall: The Hall had the week off before they test their 6-2 record in two home games upcoming against Morgan State and a surprisingly dangerous Iona team.
St. John's: The Red Storm (5-4) put up a fight at Cameron Indoor Stadium, but finally succumbed to the Dukies 70-57. St. John's has a home game against Columbia in the first game of a holiday invitational on Tuesday, then play "the dreaded TBA" on Wednesday.
South Florida: South Florida is putting up the good fight, but they are now 6-5 after going 1-2 in Hawaii last week. They lost to Iowa State (83-74) and Oregon State (61-56) before scoring a victory over Loyola Marymount (54-50). The Bulls finish up non-conference season hosting Bethune-Cookman and UAB.
Syracuse: The Orange cruised to a 9-2 record with their eighth home win of the season against UIC last Wednesday, 75-61. Tonight, they play Towson at a neutral site, followed by their tenth home game against Kent State on Friday.
Villanova: In Villanova's only game last week, they creamed LaSalle (98-57). On New Year's Eve, they have another "Big Five" battle against Temple.
West Virginia: The Pittsnogles scored a very nice win for the BIG EAST over Oklahoma 92-68 on Thursday. As a reward for moving to 6-3, they get to fatten up on Canisius in their last pre-conference game.
Bradley: The Braves went to Southern Mississippi last week and did what everyone does to Southern Mississippi these days – beat them and hold them under 60 points. The Braves are now 6-2, and let the battle begin: they host Northern Iowa, then travel to Wichita State in their first two Missouri Valley games.
Northwestern: Well, if Northwestern can't beat DePaul, at least they could beat DePauw (69-36). Of course, DePauw is a Division III school who is more concerned about their rival, Wabash, but at least the Wildcats tried to stay sharp as they await a visit from Northern Colorado on Sunday. Interesting fact about Wabash, while I'm talking about them – the best basketball player in the history of their program is Pete Metzelaars, the old Buffalo Bills' tight end, who still has the record for most points in a Division III championship game (45). That's not really relevant to anything; I'm just showing off.
Northern Illinois: Maybe Northern won't be such an RPI rank anchor this year after all? They scored a home win against a previously 7-1 Kansas State team in overtime (75-70) to move to 4-2. Now they go to a neutral-site tournament in Montana to play San Jose State, followed by "the dreaded TBA".
Creighton: Can't you just feel all these Missouri Valley teams getting ready to rumble, like the scene in "Anchorman" when all the news teams come together and fight? Creighton moved to 6-2 with a tune-up victory over Norfolk State (63-47) this week. They start the season-long "March to the Arch" by hosting Missouri State, then traveling to Illinois State.
Bucknell: The Bison moved to 7-1 against Division I teams with a nice home win over St. Joe's (63-51). They're also off to some holiday hoops invitational in Santa Clara, California. First, they play Boston University, then, say it with me, "the dreaded TBA".
UAB: UAB (6-3) took care of business twice this week, with home wins over Centenary (72-58 ) and Old Dominion (85-57). So, to summarize: DePaul loses to Old Dominion by 44, and Old Dominion loses to UAB by 28, which means that DePaul is…four points better than UAB? To quote Chris Berman (and I'm sure he's quoting someone else), "THAT'S why they play the games." UAB is hosting Oklahoma State on Wednesday, then as mentioned above, travel to South Florida.
Dayton: The Flyers (7-5) started the week by beating Florida A&M (73-48 ), but didn't have as good a time in Las Vegas as Cincinnati did. First, they lost to the Bearcats (81-63), then took one on the chin from Northern Iowa (74-67). They only have one game this week, a home game against Vanderbilt.
Wake Forest: In a slugfest, the Demon Deacons won at Richmond (47-40) to take their record to 9-2. A home game against Charleston Southern awaits this week for Wake Forest.
Old Dominion: Bummer week for the Monarchs (7-4) losing at Richmond in overtime and UAB. They have a home game against Virginia Tech to close out the year.
California: After the loss to DePaul, Cal's (6-3) hanging out, waiting for Pac-10 to start this week. They begin by making the trip to the southern California schools, USC and UCLA on Wednesday and Friday.
Florida International: On the "MolsonBlue" watch, at least Florida International (2-6) gave it a game effort at LaSalle before falling to the Explorers in overtime (70-61). FIU has a busy week, hosting a holiday tournament against St. Bonaventure, then "the dreaded TBA" before coming to see DePaul on Saturday.
Aggregate overall D-I record: 65-34 (.657)
Other Games of Note This Week
Ed Hochuli "Power Game of the Week"
In a pretty destitute week, one game stood out: West Virginia 92, #8 Oklahoma 68. So that makes 0-for-2 against the top of the BIG EAST for Oklahoma. And who led the way for West Virginia? Our hero, Kevin Pittsnogle, with 25 points (8-11 from the field and 6-6 from the free throw line) and six rebounds was the player of the game. And if you can't get enough pictures of the goofiest-looking (yet effective) center in America, here you go: scout.scout.com/PictureGa...Pittsnogle
By the way, you all saw who was refereeing the Patriots-Jets game last night, right? No alcohol was served at last night's game because of the concern about fan fighting. They almost rescinded the ban on alcohol when they found out Hochuli was refereeing the game, knowing that he would go in the stands and break up any fight that might have erupted.
Pittsnogle and Hochuli in the same section…can the apocalypse be far behind?
Other games this week…
Northern Iowa 54, LSU 50. Shhh, don't look now, but Northern Iowa is 8-1 against Division I, with wins over Iowa and LSU, and their only loss was on the road to Iowa State. They may be the best positioned of the Valley teams for an at-large if they don't win the conference.
UNLV 83, Houston 73. Yup, the shine is completely off the Cougars' wins over Arizona and LSU, losing to a 3-5 Runnin' Rebel team.
USC 74, North Carolina 59. This was almost the "power game of the week" until I looked and saw that USC hasn't really beaten anyone outside of North Carolina. Of course, North Carolina remembers going out to the West Coast and getting beaten by an unranked opponent last year, too, and that season turned out pretty good for them.
Oklahoma State 89, Tennessee 73. I don't really know what this result means, to be honest. How does Tennessee crush Texas and lose to Oklahoma State?
Portland 80, Oregon 72. I guess this would be an acceptable result for the Ducks if they were playing the Portland Trailblazers. Unfortunately, this was against the Portland University Pilots. Another NIT season shaping up in Eugene, perhaps?
Until next week, let's go, Demons.
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