Tuesday, June 29, 2010

At Long Last, Your Tour de France Preview!

This is the week anxiously anticipated by all college basketball fans.  National and regional bicycle championships are being raced all over the world and le Tour de France ("the Tour") commences this Saturday, July 3rd, with an 8.9 km prologue around Rotterdam. 

Many USA sports fans who follow only this race rather than the sport of professional cycling likely get the bulk of their information from televisions The Versus Channel.  There are many good things to be said about the way that group provides cycling coverage for the USA, but the casual viewer needs to remember that Versus is a ratings  oriented mechanism and that for the past few years ratings in this country have born a direct relationship to Lance Armstrong.  Versus has gone to great lengths to high lite Lance every time he has raced the past two seasons and has suggested that this year's Tour will be nothing more than a show down between Lance and his former teammate and protoge', Spain's Alberto Contador.  Controversy also makes for great ratings. 

Armstrong v. Contatdor is one possible scenario, but it should not be accepted as the most likely.  Rather than puppet the Versus hype, I would like to look at some of the various announced teams and try to analyze how some of them might be expected to perform.

Other than Lance Armstrong, Christian Vande Velde who rides for USA the based Garmin-Transitions team, probably is the American with the best chance to win this year's race.   Fans had high hopes for home boy Christian in 2009 after he had finished fourth in the Tour the previous year, but he simply did not have the legs to win when it really counted.  His chances are further compromised by the fact that his team will hope to win at least one stage supporting their American sprinter, Tyler Farrar. 

By way of explanation, the race is run over 21 distinct course on 21 separate days. The portion of the race that is ridden on each day is called a "stage."  The overall winner of the race is the rider who finishes the entire, three-week race in the shortest cumulative period of time.  That person is called the General Classification ("GC") winner.  The overall lead usually changes hands several times during the course of the race and the leader at the start of each day wears a yellow jersey. 

There are several other very important races within the GC race;  one of the most important being the battle to be the winner at the end of each day's stage.  Some stages are ridden over mountains and others over primarily flat land.  Most teams have a sprinter on their roster whose specialized task is to produce an explosive burst of speed over a short distance at the end of these flat race days to try to capture that day's stage. 

The race to win the GC is a battle of attrition as much as anything else, and every ounce of energy a team's riders expend to try to help a sprinter win a stage takes away from that same team's capacity to help and protect their GC contender for the full three weeks.  Any team that divides its support between both a GC  contender and a sprinter in a three week race has virtually doomed. 

Christian will enjoy a strong support team this year, including Julian Dean, Robbie Hunter, David Millar, Ryder Hesjedal and reigning US Time Trial Champion David Zabriskie.  Unfortunately for Christian, it seems highly unlikely he and his team will be able to produce a podium position (meaning one of the top 3 GC riders at the end of the race).  As much as I like him, both as a rider and as a person, I will be surprised of Vande Velde is able to reach his dream of winning the Tour, especially given the strength of this year's field.  He would be one of my two, out-side hopes however. 

While on the subject of American teams, let's look next at one of last season's most successful teams, HTC-Columbia.  They will be led this year by my sentimental favorite to win the GC, Aussie Mick Rogers.  Rogers was the virtual leader on the road in the 2007 Tour when he had a very dangerous crash on a mountain stage and suffered a broken collar bone that took him out of the race.  He was lucky in a sense because Rogers could have died if he'd flown over that guard rail and plummeted down the side of the mountain.  Rogers will be helped over the mountains by youthful German phenom Tony Martin, Kanstantsin Sivtsov (winner of the Brass Town Bald stage of the 2008 Tour of Georgia) of Belarus, and Belgium's Maxime Monfort.  Montfort and Martin both have been riding very well this season. 

Unfortunately for Rogers, HTC-Columbia also is the riding home of Britain's Mark Cavendish (both shown in the photo above), perhaps the best sprinter in the world right now.  After enjoying an extraordinary win last season that included six stage wins in the 2009 Tour, Cavendish has experienced a number of medical problems that resulted in a slow start this season.  "Cav" also is missing George Hincapie, the reigning US Road Champion, whose experience was invaluable in helping the Columbia lead-out train navigate through the crowded finishes all last year.  Columbia's stated goals are to help Cavendish win the Green Sprinter's jersey and Rogers win the GC yellow jersey.  If they strive for both they likely will win neither in this year's very talented field. 

Speaking of Hincapie (photo at right), he will be riding this year in support of the man I expect to win this year's Tour, reigning world road race champion, Aussie Cadel Evans (photo below).   After several years with the Silence-Lotto team where he was forced to share team goals with renowned sprinter Robbie McEwen, Evans moved to the BMC team where he was assured that supporting his efforts to win the Tour would not be compromised.  Hincapie is aging but he is the only person who rode in support of every one of Lance Armstrong's 7 Tour de France victories and his strength and experience should prove invaluable to Cadel.  Evans has been riding much stronger and more aggressively this season than in any other I've followed and I'm hoping the World Champion rainbow jersey on his back will push him to new heights in this year's Tour.  Other notable riders supporting Evans will be Italy's Alessandro Ballan (former world road champion), German Marcus Burghardt, Switzerland's Mathias Frank, and Dutch riderKarsten Kroon.  BMC does not appear to be fielding one of the strongest teams in the field, but I am hoping they and Evans will find a way to produce an extraordinary result. 

No list of potential Tour favorites can ignore Team Saxo Bank and Luxembourg's Schleck brothers, Frank and Andy (left).  Fabian Cancellara (a/k/a Spartacus) from Switzerland almost certainly will win the first day's prologue and wear the yellow jersey until the race enters the mountains.  Andy Schleck has struggled a bit in the mountains this season.  Perhaps he has been holding off in an effort to peak for the Tour.  With support from experienced riders like Jens Voigt, Stuart O'Grady, Matti Breschel, Chris Anker Sørensen, Jakob Fuglsang and Nicki Sørensen, it might be difficult for Andy not to at least earn a podium place, if not the entire race.  If anyone is fairly new to racing, I suggest you carefully watch German Jens Voigt any time he find himself near the front of the race.  Voigt does not have the prettiest riding from in the world, but his old-school, muscle his bike over the mountains style always seems to produce a high lite or two during the Tour every year.

Giro d'Italia winner Ivan Basso and Roman Kreuziger will be co-leaders of this year's Liquigas-Doimo Tour team.  If the team's Director had not elected to leave this season's biggest breakout rider, Slovakian Peter Sagan, off the team he probably would have been the odds-on favorite to win this year's white jersey that is awarded to the best GC rider under 23 years of age.  Liquigas is fielding a very strong team and their chances of winning the GC cannot be discounted. 

Rabobank will be led again this year by Russian Dennis Menchov (right), Dutch youngster Robert Gesink, and three time world road champion Spanish sprinter Oscar Freire.  My guess is that Menchov's or Gesink's best chances of winning the Tour would require that either of them capture the yellow jersey late in the race because I am not sure the team built around them will be strong enough to protect them from a field of this caliber.

Cervelo Test Team will again be led by the 2008 Tour winner Carlos Sastre of Spain and Norweigan sprinter and 2009 Green Jersey winner Thor Hushovd (right).  Sastre has not shown his best form this year, but he always seems to find a way to grimace himself over the mountains in a position that gives him a chance to win the race.  As much as I'd like to see Cavendish win the green jersey this year, in the absence of Tom Boonen I'm not sure Thor won't take it again this year. 

If Cadel Evans cannot win the Tour, then I think I'd like to see Team Astana's Alberto Contador (left) of Spain win it again, but he will have his work cut out for him.  Kazak rider Alexandre Vinokourov, who is just returning following his two-year suspension for blood doping violations, is Alberto's best supporter.  Many fans will be watching to see whether Vino will be content to stick to his supporting role.  If he does, then his help could be formidable, but after him the talent level drops quickly.  Contador probably is the most capable rider in this race, but he is young and does not enjoy the support of a very strong team.  If Alberto does wear yellow again in Paris it will be a testament to the young Spaniard's willingness to adapt and to the leadership of  Directeur Sportif Lorenzo Lapage.  I would love to see Contador at least finish ahead of Lance Armstrong again this year.  I never attended a single team meeting, but I never appreciated the way Lance and Johan Bruyneel treated Alberto during last year's Tour.  What 24 or 25 year old man would not feel threatened if his Directeur Sportif had gone out and hired his best friend and seven time Tour de France winner to come and compete for the leadership of the team he had been promised he would lead. 

The most experienced and probably the strongest team in this year's field is Team Radio Shack, the new from the USA consisting primarily of the best rider's from last year's Astana team who all were cannibalized to help support their leader, Lance Armstrong.  (As my father once asked, if he rides a bike why isn't his name Lance Legstrong?)    Johan Bruyneel is thought by many to be among the best team directors in the sport today.  Johan loaded his team with long-time Lance supporter Yaroslav Popovych from the Ukraine, two former Tour podium finishers in German Andreas Kloden and USA's Levi Leipheimer, and long time Terry McEwen support rider Chris Horner (seen at right above helping a competing rider reach the end of a stage in this year's Tour of California) who also hails from the USA.  Just to add insult to injury, Lance announced earlier today that he would retire again at the end of this season and that this would be his last Tour.  If Lance is not doing all this just to try to harm Alberto Contador, then he might as well go ahead and do it anyway because it sure looks like that is his primary objective this year. 

Lance Armstrong was a great rider, and he might prove to be one again during the next few weeks, but I am ready for him to ride into the sunset and leave the sport to the next generation.  I wish him no ill and I would love to see Chris Horner ride on a Tour winning team (Levi already has accomplished that feat), but not at the price of seeing Lance wear yellow on the podium in Paris one more time.  But that's just me. 

No matter who wins, this promises to be an exciting tour because it is filled with talented riders.  I know this is a hoops website, but if even one of you can learn how to appreciate pro-tour cycling while watching this year's Tour de France then all my typing (however ignorant the opinions expressed may be) will be more than worth it.

Torrance signs with the Heat

Will play summer ball in Vegas. I would love to see him make the team and stick. link.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Former Player Report

I ran into former player Mikhail Torrance at a branch of the local YMCA a few minutes ago.  I introduced myself as a Bama Basketball fan (not many people will be seen in public wearing and old Mark's Madness shirt so it probably was not hard for him to believe me), told him I was sorry about the NBA draft and thanked him for all he had done for my university.  Mikhail was more than courteous.  He seemed relaxed and told me everything was okay.  His accompanying smile seemed genuine and persuaded me that the young man was in a good place.  He was accompanied by his older brother, so I did not want to delay him more than briefly.  Here's hoping that Mikhail's relaxed smile means that he has an agent who is giving him some promising news. 

Tide Signs 7'1" Swedish Center, Carl Engstrom

Alabama has added a late addition to its 2010 recruiting class with Swedish 7'1" center, Carl Engstrom. Engstrom has apparently only been playing basketball for 14 months so it may be asking a lot of him to be a major contributor next season. However, due to the lack of frontcourt depth Alabama was facing prior to his commitment, his size will be welcome. Other programs hoping to sign Engstrom were Seton Hall, Florida State, Baylor and Georgia Tech so Grant and his staff were obviously not the only ones who see potential in this kid. As you can see in this video, the kid does indeed have some skill. With a year or two of seasoning, Engstrom could prove to be a steal.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

$tay cla$$y M$U... $tansbury drops player 4 classes from graduating...

... now this is pretty damn low if true.

STARKVILLE — Phil Turner, a versatile player who started 27 games as a sophomore two seasons ago, said late Friday night that he was told he is no longer part of Mississippi State’s basketball team. And he wasn’t happy about it.

“I just got a letter in the mail, and that was it,” Turner said, “that my scholarship wasn’t going to be renewed.”

MSU coach Rick Stansbury didn’t return a call placed to his cell phone and didn’t return a text message late Friday. Team spokesman Gregg Ellis wouldn’t comment.

But here’s Turner’s version of events:

He said he was in Atlanta earlier this week when he got a phone call from his mother, who said a letter had arrived from Mississippi State saying his scholarship was not being renewed.

Turner chalked that up to him not taking summer classes, but his mother convinced him to call and find out for sure.

He talked to an assistant coach, who told him he wasn’t being brought back to the team.

“I was like, ‘Really?’ ” Turner said.

Turner said he spent two days attempting to get in touch with Stansbury and finally did that Friday.

“He was giving me a bunch of excuses, really,” Turner said.

Read the rest here

Friday, June 25, 2010

Mikhail Torrance Goes Undrafted

Well, after months of seeing his name on every mock draft out there being selected mid-second round, Mikhail Torrance was not fortunate enough to be selected in tonight's NBA Draft.

Jonathan Givony of Draft Express tweeted that Torrance went undrafted due to medical red flags surrounding a heart issue. This is the first I've heard of this supposed heart condition. If anyone has additional information, please share.

The second round of the draft was the most random round I can remember with college and international role players (at best) such as Magnum Rolle (Louisiana Tech), Ryan Reid (Florida State), Jeremy Evans (Western Kentucky) and some Frenchman named Pape Sy who averaged a staggering 6 ppg in his French league last season being drafted ahead of the likes of Mikhail, Samardo Samuels (Louisville), Matt Bouldin (Gonzaga), Artisiom Parakhouski (Radford) and Jerome Randle (California).

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Ranking the SEC CBB coaches 1-11

By our crack staff... I'm surprised that for the most part we pretty much agree where the coaches stand in the SEC. Pelphrey at the bottom, Grant lower 1/2, Stallings top 1/4.

1) Cal - good first year, but where there's smoke....

2) Pearl - plays a "fun" style which can occasionally still get it done. Still don't like the guy tho

3) Stallings - does alot without the Demarcus Cousins, etc. of the world

4) Donovan - definitely would not have been this low a couple of years ago, but has been a victim of his own doings with the Orlando job and assistant turnover.

5) Kennedy - Is this the year he finally gets them to play as strong as Rob Evans' Ole Miss teams?

6) Fox - I really thought Auburn might try to get him. Bobby's right, UGA needs to hold onto him like grim death.

7) $tansbury - the Bill Clinton "soundalike" had a subpar year to his standards.

8) Grant - I think we have a good coach, but not-so-great on the PR side. It's bad when Barbee has been more newsworthy for the Aub's decrepit program...

9) Johnson - looks like last year may have been a blip on the screen. This year is obviously crucial to our perception of him.

10) Horn - with Parnell gone at Clemson, can Horn elevate SC's program a bit. Still too early to tell.

11) Pelphrey - Arkansas' hoops program is like Alabama's football program. If you have the right coach, then it is a GREAT vehicle to win in. Pelphrey is not the guy....

1) Cal- Moreso for his recruiting than actual in game coaching.

2) Pearl- Classless nutjob, but he’s a winner.

3) Donovan- has faded some since the Championships, but still a good combination of coaching and recruiting.

4) Kennedy- He has old piss relevant again in the SEC West, which is an accomplishment.

5) Stallings- Maybe the best X’s and O’s coach in the conference.

6) Fox- If we do this again in a few years, I suspect he will be higher, assuming he doesn’t leave for greener pastures

7) Grant- Still unproven. Teams play hard, but questions remain about can he recruit and win at this level.

8)$tansbury- Sleaze bag who should do more with the amount of talent he buys on a yearly basis.

9) Horn- Decent coach, but for some reason it’s impossible to recruit to South Carolina

10)Pelphrey- Arkansas clearly picked the wrong former Kentucky player, this guy is no Travis Ford.

11) Johnson- That team should not have been THAT bad last year, and on paper they may be even worse this year.

*Note: Based solely on recruiting thus far, I would put Barbee ahead of Grant and behind Fox. Of course, much like Grant, it remains to be seen what he can do on the court at this level

1) Cal- dirty as hell, but effective

2) Pearl- puts his team in position to win more times than not regardless of talent swing

3) Stallings- it's Vandy and he's been consistent there

4) Donovan- living off the B2B NCs... still in the top 25% in the conference

5) $tansbury- as dirty as Cal... not as successful.

6) Fox- I think UGA found them a gem... they better hold on tight.

7) Kennedy- his problem is his teams fade in February.

8) Johnson- inherited a lot his first year... down year last season, but played hard at the end.

9) Grant- I'm not sold on him yet... but we play hellacious D.

10) Pelphrey- the shine is gone... and I'm not sure what kind of a team he's trying to field.

11) Horn- more a result of where he is. He's the Lebo of South Carolina.

Msmilie (he put in Barbee to make it 12)
1] Bruce Pearl - He really impressed me last season with his ability to keep his team motivated and hungry after the suspensions that resulted in Tyler Smith being dismissed. The team responded and had a great run to the Elite Eight. If Pearl remains in Knoxville, he may just bring home a national championship for the men's program.

2] Billy Donovan - Recruiting has been up and down since the national championship teams, but it's hard to argue with what Donovan has accomplished during his time in Gainesville.

3] John Calipari - His coaching acumen has a tendency to be overlooked due to his repeated brushes with the NCAA and the uncanny amounts of talent he recruits on a yearly basis. He's won every place he's been and will win multiple national championships at UK if the NBA or NCAA doesn't get him first.

4] Kevin Stallings - I'm not sure if Kevin Stallings has received his due for the job he's done in Nashville. Vanderbilt had success before he arrived, but not with the consistency exhibited under Stallings. His teams have had a tendency to burn out in March, but he was also one missed traveling call away from going to the Final Four a few years back.

5] Rick Stansbury - Say what you will about the guy but he's kept Mississippi State relevant during his tenure there. His only drawback is he hasn't been able to get past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament and he has a tendency to recruit guys with one eye on the pros from day one, resulting in a string early defections and rebuilding.

6] Trent Johnson - Won at Nevada, won at Stanford, and has shown if he has talent he can win at LSU. The lingering question is whether he will be able to recruit the necessary talent to bring LSU back to the level of that first team?

7] Anthony Grant - Still has to prove himself at this level, but there is no denying he got maximum effort last season out of a team that had been notorious for lack of effort prior to his arrival. His tenure at VCU proved he's capable of beating anyone (ask Mike Krzyzewski), but he faces a continuing rebuilding job in Tuscaloosa. His team's play over the next two seasons will determine his place on this list as well as his coaching future.

8] Tony Barbee - His knack for recruiting alone gives him a chance. Took advantage of a weak C-USA (translation: Memphis was rebuilding) this season to win the title and make the tournament. He must have a little more success before I move him up the list.

9] Mark Fox - Won at Nevada, but must prove he can get it done long-term after Thompkins and Leslie (probably) move on to the NBA next season. The jury is still out.

10] Andy Kennedy - It's hard to place him very high until he coaches in an NCAA tournament game, but he's done a solid job recruiting and his teams have been competitive for the most part.

11] Darrin Horn - Horn is recruiting very well. If he's got the coaching chops and Carolina fans are patient, he could prove to be a great hire down the road apiece.

12] John Pelphrey - This picture pretty much sums up Pelphrey's tenure in Fayetteville so far (http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_ss8vG4tFASk/SgqLYLryljI/AAAAAAAAC_g/3FRwasgZE8A/s400/JOHN-PELPHREY-01.jpg). People criticized Stan Heath, but I don't think anyone can argue the program was in better shape when Heath was unceremoniously fired after back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances. Pelphrey's lone tournament appearance with the Razorbacks was accomplished with players recruited by Heath. Pelphrey has, at most, two years to get things turned around or he will be hitting the bricks. Just as the East needs Kentucky to be relevant, so too does the West need Arkansas back to strength in order to bolster its image within the conference.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

All this talk about expansion... this is who I'd like the SEC to acquire

1) Missouri- traditionally strong basketball and somewhat decent right now in the pigskin. It would give Arkansas an actual rival. Downside... it's a long way to Columbia.

2) Louisville- basketball power and would give Kentucky the conference rival they so desperately want. I'm aware of the rivalry already, but being in the same conference would jack it up big time. Football... they are suped up Ole Miss... good enough for me. I don't see the downside with them.

3) Kansas- they seem to be the one left out of the expansion party and without a date. Bring them into the SEC and we instantly become relevant in the CBB world. Kansas would make the SEC West competitive. Downside is it a long way to Lawrence... unless you fly.

4) Florida State- they have all the tools to be a good basketball program... just haven't found the right fit. While their football has taken a nosedive I suspect they'll be back after they fahr Jimbo Fisher. The downside... Tallahassee is a dump. Upside- it's actually in the southeast.

This is a basketball blog so I'm obviously biased toward making the SEC a better basketball conference. Saying that, the SEC is the premiere CFB conference and that won't change if the PAC 10 and Big 10 expand.

Friday, June 04, 2010

ESPN Grades Bama's 2010 Recruiting Class

ESPN recently graded the SEC recruiting class for the 2010-11 season. No surprise, Kentucky came in first place. Hit the link to check it out.

Here is what they said about the Alabama class:

After a season of adjusting to the players who were already in the program, the Crimson Tide staff needed to get players who fit coach Anthony Grant's pressing style. Trevor Releford (Shawnee Mission, Kan./Bishop Miege) is a controlled speed demon who will dictate tempo, while Charles Hankerson (Miami/Coral Reef) will stretch the defense with his perimeter shooting ability. A huge late pickup was 6-8 Jason Carter (Houston/Christian Life), who may be one of the biggest sleepers nationally and should challenge for heavy minutes as a face-up power forward. Junior college transfer Kendall Durant (Washington, D.C./Weatherford) should compete early for minutes at either guard spot.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

SEC Considering Changes To Men's Basketball

Update: SEC coaches and administrators have decided not to make a decision at this time regarding changes to the seeding process for the conference tournament, therefore allowing the top two teams from the West division to earn byes for mediocre seasons.

It would have made sense to reseed since the East has owned the West the last few years (The East's top four seeds are 73-23 vs. the West division since 2006-07.....that's absurd), but obviously the Destin backdrop (at least until the oil comes ashore) provided far too many distractions for the committee to come to a consensus.

Here are the three options that were discussed:

1] Leave the tournament format as it is, rotating seeds between divisions (Terrible idea)

2] Seed 1 through 12 based on overall record. (This is the format used by the other major conferences)

3] Award byes to the top two division winners and then seed 3 through 12 based on overall record. (This is actually the best option, in my opinion)

The SEC is considering making changes to the current basketball format. The proposed changes could include scrapping the divisional set-up or, most likely, re-seeding the teams for the SEC Tournament.

Personally, I like the divisional set-up. I'm all for changes to the SEC Tournament seeding process though. I've never liked the fact that byes were given to the top two divisional teams regardless of their overall conference finish. The West division has, for the most part, benefited from the current set-up so expect some grumbling from their respective spokespeople. My advice to them is if you have a problem with that change, then your program needs to step up and stop being the doormat of the conference.

Coming soon- rating the SEC Head Coaches 1 to 11

Based on their careers in the SEC only. It's been a while since we did this here.