Friday, January 26, 2007

Erstad Signing

Sox GM Prepares to enter lions' den

By any measure, Darin Erstad has been a pretty bad baseball player over the past six seasons. You do not have to be a stats geek to come to this conclusion. I'm not sure if Mark Gonzales looked at any stats before writing the garbage. Here are some choice selections out of his column today:

Erstad signing may take some of the heat off Ken

General manager Ken Williams will bring much welcomed relief to douse the verbal flames directed at him Friday when sold-out SoxFest opens.That break will come from Darin Erstad, who will bring more than 11 years of solid production when he's introduced to fans craving a return to the postseason after a one-year absence.

Are any fans excited about this signing? Most people I know just hope he won't be worse then Pods or Brian Anderson.

And if Erstad is recovered fully from a right ankle injury that limited him to 40 games with the Los Angeles Angels last season, he could provide the Sox with the same type of bargain Jermaine Dye has during his two seasons after being hindered by leg injuries.

Well, Erstad and Dye are the same age, so the chances of Erstad having a breakout season ar age 33 are much less than they were for Dye at age 31. Dye was also a much better hitter than Erstad throughout his career.

As a former Nebraska punter, Erstad provides manager Ozzie Guillen with the athleticism the Sox lacked last year. Erstad can bat anywhere in the top of the order, and his ability to bat second could allow Tadahito Iguchi to slide down to more of a run-production spot if leadoff hitter Scott Podsednik recovers from a sports hernia operation.

If Erstad was actually an athletic, top of the order type hitter, he would have commanded much more than a one year, one million dollar contract as a free agent. The Angels only offered Erstad a minor league contract.

The Sox most likely signed a player who is done, and the chances of him being out of baseball by the end of they year are greater than him earning a starting spot in the outfield.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Bubble Watch

I wanted this to look better but unfortunately Google spreadsheets don't quite work like I thought they would. Anyway, in the future I will include a chart of the teams that should be in but for tonight I will just list my bubble teams and how I would rank them right now. I know you can get this information in a lot of places but my main focus is to see where the Illini stack up.

At most, eight of the following bubble teams will be selected for the tournament. Of course there will be some conference tourney upsets that will push a team into the tournament that would not have been otherwise invited, thereby reducing the amount of at-large bids available. You can expect five or six teams of the teams listed below to get an at-large.
  1. Maryland - RPI 29
  2. Florida State - RPI 27
  3. Georgia Tech - RPI 35
  4. Michigan - RPI 36
  5. West Virginia - RPI 54
  6. Stanford - RPI 38
  7. Kansas St. - RPI 58
  8. Illinois - RPI 42
  9. Vanderbilt - RPI 55
  10. Bradley - RPI 34
  11. Georgia - RPI 41
  12. California - RPI 45
  13. Northern Iowa - RPI 47
  14. LSU - RPI 63
  15. Virginia - RPI 66
  16. Xavier - RPI 49
  17. Miss. St. - RPI 74
  18. New Mexico St. - RPI 82

Illinois and Bradley find themselves just outside the bubble, but they only need to pass up a handful of teams to play their way in.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Countdown to Rexstasy

I was going to write a snarky post about how the city was a lot more excited about the baseball playoffs in 2003 and 2005 then they were about this years Bears team. There were even 6,000 no shows for last week's game against the Seahawks. Now that had a lot to do with the huge price tag - but I can't imagine the same thing happening to the Sox or Cubs in the playoffs.

But this week was different. Even if may fans are a bit pessimistic (at least I am) there is a palpable sense of excitement in the city for the game this week. Yet, I still don't think it compares to the what the city experiences during the baseball playoffs, but that's an argument for another day.

As for the game this weekend its hard for me to make any predictions. I do think the offense is good for 21 points. The bigger worry is the defense. They're just pretty mediocre without Tommie Harris and Mike Brown.

But the Saints are not as good as everyone thinks. Jason Whitlock's this week column was pretty enlightening. He argued the Saints are making a big mistake by splitting carries between McAllister and Bush, as Whitlock argues:

Deuce was averaging damn near 10 yards a rip. But Payton kept sending in
New Orleans utility back Reggie Bush to do grown man’s work. Bush was having
decent success. But every carry he got was once less chance for Deuce to break
Jeremiah Trotter’s arm ripping through a hole on a simple isolation.

Siragusa kept subtly pointing this out every chance he got. For some
reason, Moose Johnston was reluctant to fully pick up on what was obvious to
Siragusa and anyone with a brain. New Orleans’ marketing scheme, Reggie Bush,
was stopping the Saints from putting away the game.

It's hard to argue with Whitlock as Bush only averaged 3.8 yards per carry this year with a long run of 18 yards. Bush is still a dangerous weapon in the receiving game, but the Bears may be better off with him taking a lot of hand-offs.

So who do I think will win? Well, as a Bears fan, there is no way I'm putting that in pixels.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Going Nowhere - Illinois Division I B-Ball

There is no movement in the rankings of the state teams as they all continue to tread water (or sink at the bottom). In reality, there is not much difference between the top four teams. If they played a four team tournament I would be hard-pressed to predict who would come out on top. Illinois and DePaul have the biggest upside and both teams have a chance to prove their worth in upcoming games against top competition.

1. Southern Illinois (14-5 overall, 2-1 last week) The Salukis have lost their last three road games including their last one Wednesday against Evansville. The Purple Aces are the lowest rated team Southern has lost to with an RPI of 98. Salukis have a chance to redeem themselves Saturday at Creighton.

2. Illinois (14-6, 1-1 last week) Illinois has blown a second half lead in five of their six losses this season. This week it was a nine point halftime lead over Michigan State that the Illini couldn't hold. They came back to beat Minnesota on the road on Wednesday. This week they have Wisconsin and Indiana at home. If they win both they shoot right back into the field of 65. Split and they remain on the outside looking in. For Bruce's sake, at least beat the Hoosiers.

3. Bradley (13-7, 1-1 last week) The Braves got a good win at Indiana St. last week, but lost at Creighton. Still looking at an NIT bid.

4. DePaul(12-7, 2-0 last week) DePaul won two games they should have won, at Rutgers and home against St. John's. The Demons have a chance to make some noise over the next two weeks with games against Georgetown, UConn, and W. Virginia.

5. Loyola (12-7, 1-1 last week) They lost at UIC but remain ahead of them in the rankings, thanks to the Flames losing at UW-Milwaukee and the Ramblers winning at Detroit. The Ramblers play their next four games at home and look to improve upon their 4-3 conference record. Butler comes to Rogers Park next Thursday.

6. Illinois State (10-9, 1-2 last week) Beat reeling Wichita State on Thursday but dropped home game to Missouri State.

7. UIC (9-10, 1-1 last week) Beat Loyola then turns around a drops a road game to UW-Milwaukee (RPI 178). Three winnable games coming up against Wisconsin-Green Bay, Detroit and Cleveland St.

The rest:
8. Chicago State (7-15, 0-1 last week) they played Oral Roberts (who beat Kansas) tough on the road before losing 59-53.

9. Northern Illinois(4-12, 0-2) Things don't look like they are going to be getting easier for Rob Judson up in DeKalb.

10. Eastern Illinois(5-15, 0-2) Boy, I had some good times in Charleston. None of those good times involved basketball.

11. Western Illinois(4-14, 0-2) I spent a weekend in Macomb too. Let me tell you, its no Charleston. Western has an RPI of 335 out of 336 teams. I think the Leathernecks should set up a game against Denver (RPI 336) to determine exactly who has the crappiest D1 team in the nation. And congratulations to Larry Dumas, from Bloom High School, on your scholarship to Western. Go Trojans(or whatever your calling yourselves these days)! I hope you're part of the solution and not the problem.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

State of Illinois Basketball - Division I

The state has seen better years when it comes to college basketball. Illinois will be lucky to have one team make the tournament in 2007 as the top teams all look pretty mediocre. None look like a top 25 team. Here are my rankings of the state's division I programs:

1. Southern Illinois (12-4 overall, 1-1 in-state) The Salukis have been the most consistent team in the state although their resume is not that impressive. Their best win came against Virginia Tech (RPI 44) and they have lost to the other four top 50 RPI teams they have played (Arkansas, Indiana, Bradley, Northern Iowa). All four loses have been road/neutral games. The Salukis are experienced and play great defense which makes them the most likely team from the state to make the NCAA tournament.

2. Illinois (13-5, 2-0 in state) The Illini suffered injuries and shooting slumps during the non-conference slate and did not pick up a signature win. Wins over Bradley and Missouri are nice but will not get them in the tourney come judgment day.

Weber has taken his lumps for a couple of poor recruiting classes, but the most disappointing players on this team were from Self’s last class: Randle, McBride and Carter. McBride and Carter, seniors, seem destined to leave Illinois without fulfilling their potential.

I’m more optimistic regarding Randle. He had his groin surgery less than two months ago, and understandably looked tentative his first few games back. But he showed the explosiveness fans have come to expect from him in Illinois’ victory over Iowa.

I’m less sanguine about the prospects for the team as a whole this year. They have the potential to make a run in conference play. If Randle continues to make progress coming back from his groin injury, if Carter doesn’t disappear in games, if they can get the ball to Pruitt down low, if Frazier can stay healthy, if McBride and Jamar Smith can consistently hit the outside shot, they can be good. But that’s a lot ifs and an 8-8 conference record and NIT invite wouldn’t surprise me.

3. Bradley (11-6, 4-1 in state) The Braves are the most surprising team in the state as they lost Patrick O’Bryant and Marcellus Sommerville from last year's Sweet Sixteen squad. The Braves lead the nation in 3-point shooting at 45% and have beaten Iowa State, Southern Ill., DePaul, Loyola, UIC and Rutgers. They only have one bad loss (Tennessee Tech, RPI 190) but are still a long shot to make the tourney. Probably NIT bound.

4. DePaul (9-7, 2-2 in state) DePaul has the best scalps of any team in the state, Kansas at home and Villanova on the road. So then how does this team lose to Northwestern and St. John’s? DePaul is not consistent enough to do great things in conference play, so unless they win their conference tourney, they are looking at an NIT bid.

DePaul is easily the most disappointing team in the state right now. Wainwright appears to be a better recruiter than coach. I thought the opposite was true when they hired him.

5. Loyola (11-6, 0-1 in state) My alma mater. This was supposed to be the year we made it back to the tournament. The preseason favorites out of the Horizon league are not living up to their lofty expectations. Their biggest win to date is against Northern Iowa. Butler’s great start means the Ramblers are no longer expected to win the Horizon and with UIC’s upset of Butler on Wednesday, it’s questionable if they are the best Horizon team in the state.

6. Illinois State (9-7, 1-1 in-state) Best win over Northern Iowa. Beat UIC. NIT is the goal for this team.

7. UIC (8-9, 1-3 in state) The Flames are playing better with Jimmy Collins on an indefinite leave. They did beat Butler last night in overtime, but I actually don’t think they will do much in the Horizon as they do not have a win on the road and have five losses to teams with a RPI of +100.

The rest:
8. Chicago State (7-14, 0-1) No conference, few home games, just trying to survive division. At least they’re doing better then the teams below them. Didn’t Kanye West drop-out of Chicago State? Why doesn’t he help the Cougars out? Maybe he doesn’t care….

9. Northern Illinois (4-10, 0-1) They are going to need a great coach to compete in the MAC. The Big Ten, Big East, ACC, Big 12 and SEC heavily recruit the state’s best players. Those who feel snubbed are likely to try and catch on with a MVC team. Where does that leave Northern?

10. Eastern Illinois (5-12, 1-1) Bad. Only team they have beaten in the past month is Western.

11. Western Illinois (4-12, 0-1) Very bad. Only two wins against Division I schools.