Tuesday, October 30, 2007

8 Minutes To Go: Thoughts on the New Jazz Season

49-33. This is what I predict will be the Utah Jazz's record this season. We will beat Denver by one game to win the division. Then we will lose in the first round, probably to the Rockets.
This prediction may sound pessimistic, but a quick evaluation of the Jazz and of the rest of the league makes this prediction understandable. First, the Jazz lost Derek Fisher, losing leadership, wisdom, professionalism, outside shooting, and our starting shooting guard and backup point guard in the process. Fisher brought all of these factors to the table. No matter what replacements Jason Hart and Ronnie Price do, it is unlikely that they can replace all of these attributes.
Signing Hart and Price is all we did in the offseason, along with drafting Morris Almond and Kyrylo Fesenko. Meanwhile, what did the rest of the league do? Well, Boston obviously took large strides forward with acquiring Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. How about in the West? Houston made their weak position a strength by acquiring Steve Francis (again) and Mike James from Minnesota, only getting rid of Juwan Howard, whose career is nearing its end. This basically pushes shaky point guard and '06-'07 Rafer Alston to the third string, if not the fourth, if former Oregon guard Aaron Brooks keeps playing the way he did in the Vegas Summer League. Meanwhile, Denver has Melo and A.I. together for a whole season, while Kenyon Martin and Nene will be completely healthy to make a strong front line when teamed with Marcus Camby.
For these reasons, I'm afraid that the Jazz will be slightly worse. We lost the intagibles that Fisher brought to the table, while Houston and Denver, the teams directly above and below us in the playoff seeding last season, made huge steps toward improvement. In addition, super sub Matt Harpring's effectiveness may be limited for a while with recovering from his surgeries. So our depth has taken a huge hit as well.
I love our team, and they still have a lot of core pieces that will carry the team, but the question is how far can they take them when everybody else around them in the West is so tough still, and improving?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Utah Football is on Fire, climbing the Mountain

Since the last blog about University of Utah football, the Utes have followed a huge 27-20 win over TCU in Fort Worth with a blowout of Colorado State 27-3, setting their record at a respectable 6-3 and setting the stage for a big November in which Utah could possibly find themselves in the thick of the Mountain West Conference race.
Against TCU, the defense gave up just 13 points to strong running back Aaron Brown and the Horned Frog offense, while the Ute offense did enough, behind Darrell Mack' 100 yards. The offense particularly came through in the first half and fourth quarter, to buoy the 'D.' The defense, however, helped themselves out when defensive end Martail Burnett returned an interception 55 yards for a touchdown late in the second quarter.
The Utes intercepted Frog quarterback Andy Dalton four times, with a fifth taken away by a horrible pass-interference call.
Utah then followed up the big win with a 24-point stomping of Colorado State yesterday. The Utes had two 100-yard rushers in Mack (142 on 20 carries) and junior Ray Stowers (123 on 11). Brian Johnson went 13-20 for 130 yards, marking his third straight so-so game following a fantastic performance on ESPN against Louisville.
However, it didn't matter as the defense was dominant, holding the Rams to 2-13 on third-down conversions and 0-4 on fourth-down attempts. Utah most likely faced longtime Rams coach Sonny Lubick for the last time, who is contemplating retirement.
Now, the fun is set following a bye next Saturday. The Utes are set to make a push for the title with games all in the state of Utah, with home games against Wyoming (5-3) and New Mexico (6-2), who is second in the conference and one game ahead of the Utes. If Utah can get the job done as they have the last five weeks in those games, then the stakes may be pretty high in the showdown in Provo.
Utah's five-game winning streak has not only awarded them bowl-eligibility and a rise in the conference rankings, but in the national hierchy as well. Following the Utes' loss to Air Force, they were at #89 out of 120 on the CBSSportsline.com rankings. However, after beating UCLA 44-6, they jumped to 78th before falling clear back to 94th after the embarrassing defeat to UNLV. However, with the winning streak, the Utes are up to #46, just nine spots behind BYU and are in good position to go to a bowl game.

BCS Standings Accurate Thus Far

Say what you want about the BCS, but the cold hard truth is that this year, the standings are right on so far.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Blue-White Individual Grades

Centers: C+
*Gary Wilkinson- Showed a various array of moves around the basket and played solid defense. He will make a major contribution to the team this year. A-
*Brayden Bell- Was lost on defense, had horrible shot selection on offense, and got his coach upset with his one decent play of the night. D
*Moduo Niang- The project showed that he has potential to help the program in a couple of years. C-

Power Forwards: B
*Steve DuCharme- The senior, who averaged 10.2 points and 5.1 rebounds per game last season, had a difficult time finding his place in the post on offense. Solid on defense, however. B-
*Tai Wesley- Worked hard in the post against bigger players, but had a couple TOs and went just 1-4 from the free-throw line. B

Small Forwards: B-
*Deundrae Spraggins- Was fairly impressive in this scrimmage. Showed he can probably hit the outside shot with consistency, is a good perimeter defense, and penetrated to the basket well. B+
*Nick Hammer- Struggled coming off of his collarbone injury, which kept him from playing basketball for three weeks. Played fairly decent defense, however. C
*Pooh Williams- The 19-year old freshman showed flashes of being a decent college swingman with his tremendous athleticism. He is one of the two or three most athletic players on the team. B-

Shooting Guards: A
*Jaycee Carroll- Leading scorer, hit the 3, nabbed many steals, threw down a fabulous dunk. Won't be surprised if he reaches second-team All-American this season. A+
*Brad Brown- The true freshman from Minnesota played the last four minutes of the game and missed his only shot from the corner with 7.2 seconds left. C

Point Guards: B+
*Kris Clark- The word that comes to mind every time with this guy is solid. The 2006 WAC assists-to-turnover ratio leader did a great job running the rotation players. A
*Desmond Stephens- Demonstrated tremendous quickness and a great ability to run the fast break. Should be a major ignition switch every time he enters the game. B
*Jaxon Myaer- This true freshman from Salt Lake City did a surprisingly good job, handling full-court one-on-one pressure from the older point guards and hitting a couple of nice three-pointers. B+

Whole Team: B

Aggie Basketball Team holds Blue-White Intrasquad Game

On Friday, October 26, five days in advance of their exhibition opener vs. EA Sports and two weeks in advance of the regular-season opener against Southern Utah, the Utah State basketball team held an intrasquad game. The scrimmage consisted of two ten-minute halves and a 10-minute intermission.
Standouts from the game included Jaycee Carroll, obviously, who went 2-4 from three-point land and had numerous breakaway steals. Carroll led the team in scoring with 18 points.
Also impressive were two of the newcomers: post Gary Wilkinson and swingman Deundrae Spaggins. Wilkinson demonstrated an array of moves around the basket, and had a strong take to the bucket in the first half. Spraggins showed that he has the capability of being the Aggies' other top three-point threat, in addition to being a strong penetrator. JC transfer, point guard Desmond Stephens, also demonstrated tremendous quickness and ran the fast break well.
A surprising strong performance came from true freshman Jaxon Myaer, who as the team's #3 point guard is expected to redshirt. Myaer hit a couple of three-pointers and commanded the offense impressively for a young player.
Returned missionary Tai Wesley, who came back just last May, did well working the post, despite being a bit undersized at 6-6 compared to the 6-9 giants Wilkinson and Brayden Bell, and the 6-8 posts Steve DuCharme and Matt Formisano. However, he went just 1-4 from the charity stripe.
However, a couple of other players showed a bit of rust. Small forward Nick Hammer's play indicated that he hasn't fully recovered from his broken collarbone injury. The senior hit a three-pointer in the first half, but was out of sync on offense most of the time. He was solid on defense, however.
Meanwhile, Ohio State transfer Brayden Bell, the all-state player from Brighton High School who redshirted in Logan last year, did not impress. All he did was fade away in an ugly fashion when shooting, was lost on defense, and when he did do one good thing, a behind-the-back assist to Wilkinson, coach Stew Morrill was upset with his unnecessary flashiness.
Also, DuCharme, who should still do well this season, didn't do to well in this particular mock game, with some awful passes out of the post that missed everything, including Coach Morrill on the sideline. It is obvious that DuCharme is having a little bit of trouble finding his place on offense in the post with Wilkinson and Wesley around. However, I have confidence that the senior will figure everything out by December.
In the first half, the Blue team beat the White squad 21-13. In the second, the Blue, with a new mix of players, beat the White 23-19.

Big Games in College Football, Week 9

#2 Boston College 14, #8 Virginia Tech 10: Matt Ryan threw two touchdown passes in the final 2:11 of the game to seal the win and avoid becoming the fourth straight #2-ranked team to lose, maintaining their ranking with four games left and a very manageable schedule remaining.
#5 Oregon vs. #9 USC: For the first time in four years, the Trojans head into a game as underdogs. This game marks the first time that Autzen Stadium will be hosting two Top-Ten teams as both squads look to stay one game behind both Arizona State and UCLA in the Pac-10 race, and work themselves into the national championship hunt. Ducks 31, Trojans 27
#1 Ohio State at #24 Penn State: Joe Paterno, speaking about this game, said it best earlier this week when he said "If we're good enough to win this game, then we will." In a season that is so crazy and complicated, it's good to see a wise football master like JoePa simplify it all. Todd Boeckman has done a fabulous job quarterbacking the Buckeyes (7-0) to another #1 ranking. But the hostile environment of Happy Valley may be too much pressure for him. Buckeyes 24, Nittany Lions 14
#7 Arizona State vs. #18 Cal: The suddenly reeling Golden Bears (5-2, 2-2 Pac-10) will try to play spoiler and end the Sun Devils' national title aspirations, a situation that California was in just two weeks ago. Surprisingly ranked #4 in the BCS, Rudy Carpenter should throw for plenty of yards in Tempe. Problem is, DeSean Jackson is on the Golden Bear side. Bears 42, Devils 38
#9 Florida vs. #20 Georgia: The stakes are high, but simple: the winner grabs control of the SEC East and gets the inside track to the SEC Championship Game in December. Matt Ryan's heroics yesterday may have put him on the inside track just before Gator QB Tim Tebow, giving Tebow the opportunity to make a statement of his own in the "World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party-" er, apologizes to the two prestigous universities who don't want to call it that anymore. Meanwhile, Matthew Stafford is a pretty decent quarterback himself, especially for a sophomore, who could make fireworks happen in Jacksonville. Gators 23, Bulldogs 13
#11 South Florida at Connecticut: Explain this: The UConn Huskies (6-1) are leading the Big East, one of the nation's four toughest conferences this season, with a perfect 3-0 record. They are the only undefeated team left in the conference. This means they are leading West Virginia, the Bulls, Cincinnati, and Rutgers, all who are ranked, yet they are not ranked themselves. Do not be surprised if UConn, the home team, hands the Bulls their second consecutive loss. This is the Huskies' chance to show the nation that they are for real. Huskies 27, Bulls 24
#15 South Carolina at Tennessee: Yet another huge game in the muddled, but extremely good, SEC East. The Gamecocks (5-2, 3-2) are tied for first in the division with Florida and Georgia, while the Vols (4-3, 2-2) are just a half-game behind the three teams. Steve Spurrier has done a great job with his squad, but faces a stiff test at the Rocky Top, particularly after their surprising loss to Vanderbilt last weekend. Volunteers 21, Gamecocks 20
#17 Texas vs. Nebraska: While they are 5-2, the Texas Longhorns feel that they have underachieved this season, especially when there is little chance that they can work their way into the Big XII Championship when they are two games behind Oklahoma in the Big XII South. Meanwhile, the Cornhuskers feel the same way at just 4-4 and two games behind Kansas in the Big XII North, a division they were supposed to win this season. When they were 4-3, New Husker AD and Nebraska coaching great Tom Osbourne said that it was OK; at least they were still having a winning season. I won't be surprised if his feelings drastically change in just two weeks when the team is a losing club with just three games remaining. Longhorns 34, Huskers 17

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Party Poopers lose Game 1

The Party Poopers, consisting of Rhett Wilkinson, Nick Blackburn, McKell Bowen and Ryan Reid, fell to the Hot Pockets Monday in a maximum of three games, 26-31, 31-16, 18-22. The Hot Pockets, who just needed to get to 21 to win, hit a three-pointer to end the close contest.
After dropping the first game, despite leading 18-13 at one point, the Poopers roared back in a dominating second game before losing a close battle.
Next Monday the Party Poopers play the second game of their four-game round robin group play.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Utes riding three-game win streak, to play TCU Thursday

The University of Utah has turned around a season that started 1-3 with consecutive victories over Utah State, a thrilling triumph over Louisville, and a solid win over San Diego State in Salt Lake City.
The Utes prevailed 44-35 Friday, October 5 against the Cardinals in Kentucky. Ute QB Brian Johnson threw for 312 yards and Darrell Mack rushed for nearly 160 as Utah maintained a 27-7 halftime lead.
The win was a stunner for both teams. The Cardinals, behind Heisman candidate Brian Brohm, began the season in the Top 10, favored to win the strong Big East, and viewed as a prime national championship contender. However, they are just 4-3 after defeating #23 Cincinnati eight days after the surprising loss to the Utes.
Meanwhile, Utah was facing a 2-4 record without the win, creating a must-win situation if they had any postseason hopes.
The following week, Utah defeated San Diego State 23-7 in Rice-Eccles Stadium to up their record to 4-3. Mack rushed for 131 yards on 22 carries, propelling the offense to productivity, behind a stellar defensive effort.
Perhaps the biggest surprise for Utah came from the defensive side, where true freshman linebacker Loma had a sack and a tackle-for-loss. Loma saw playing time due to the loss of senior linebacker Kyle Brady for the season.
The Utes now focus on TCU for tomorrow, October 18, for a showdown with the Horned Frogs (4-3, 1-2) at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas. The winner has an inside track for a bowl game, while the loser will be looking desperate for a berth, especially when considering that the Mountain West currently sports six of the nine teams with winning records. All of the other four teams- BYU, Air Force, New Mexico, and Wyoming- have better overall records than the Utes or Horned Frogs.
Kickoff is at 6 PM Mountain Time on Versus. The Frogs won the last meeting in Fort Worth in 2005, 23-20 in overtime, while the Utes prevailed last year in Salt Lake 20-6.

Aggies' woes continue

Since losing 34-18 to Utah at Rice-Eccles Stadium, the Utah State football team has fallen 52-37 to Hawaii in Honolulu and had a bye the last two weeks.
The Aggies resume play this Saturday, October 20, against the Nevada Wolfpack (2-4, 0-2 WAC), who nearly became the first-ever WAC team to win in Bronco Stadium after losing a heartbreaker to Boise State, 69-67, in four overtimes.
Utah State (0-6, 0-2) surprisingly gave Hawaii a game, leading 13-10 midway through the first quarter after a Peter Caldwell field goal before giving up a touchdown on the following kickoff.
The Aggies also knocked out fading Heisman candidate Colt Brennan in the second quarter with a vicious hit that involved linebacker Paul Igloebi.
The star for the Aggies was again receiver/kick returner Kevin Robinson, whose night included a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and a 77-yard catch-and-run reception for a TD.
The Aggies' game against Nevada will be in Logan and kickoff at 1:00 PM.

Koala Bears done after losing First-Round Game

The Koala Bears fell to the Delta Sig team 36-12 in the first round of the men's intramural flag football playoffs.
The K-Bears (3-2) opened a 6-0 lead to open the game, and made a crucial goal-line stand in allowing just 1 yard in three plays on Delta's opening offensive drive.
However, things mainly went downhill from there.
McKell Bowen threw two interceptions, both of which were in the red zone. Delta (3-2) also had a field day passing the ball.
Landon Bastian remained out with a sore ACL.

Friday, October 5, 2007

K-Bears wallop LLC Men's 46-26

The Koala Bears beat the LLC Men's team for a second time in group play, winning a high-scoring affair 46-26.
Landon Bastian was out of action recovering from a sore ACL. Meanwhile, Rhett Wilkinson missed the game serving a one-game suspension.
The K-Bears are now set on focusing for the Intramural Flag Football Playoffs, which begin starting Monday, October 8.

Final Group Play Standings:

Monday, October 1, 2007

The One-Game Playoff: San Diego Padres at Colorado Rockies

After finishing the season by winning 13 of their last 14 games, the Colorado Rockies have one thing to say to the San Diego Padres:
Let's play a 163rd game. 162 wasn't enough.
Despite leading the wild-card for most of the last month-and-a half, the Padres (89-73) find themselves deadlocked with Colorado (89-73) after 162 games. San Diego will send NL era leader Jake Peavy to the mound opposite Josh Fogg (4.52 ERA).
The reason for this game manifest themselves by Sunday afternoon, after San Diego had lost to Milwaukee 9-4, while the Rockies edged NL West Division Champion Arizona 4-3 behind a clutch three-run double by NL MVP canidate in the eighth inning.

Despite a dominant season, there is a good chance that Peavy will struggle against the Rockies. This season, Colorado has hit well against Peavy, particularly when compared to other teams. Meanwhile, Josh Fogg has risen to the occasion in big games this season, defeating Brandon Webb, Curt Schilling, Derek Lowe and Chris Young, among others.
At the same time, a major trend regarding teams that have been successful in the playoffs has been the indication of how well they have been playing in September to end the season. That theory definitely favors the Rockies, who had their 11-game winning streak snapped on Friday before winning both games over the weekend.

Prediction: Rockies 5, Padres 3.

Big Brother wins again

Behind the 132-yard rushing day of Darrell Mack, the Utah Utes defeated the Utah State Aggies for the tenth straight time, winning 34-18.
Things looked bad for the Utes when Utah State pulled ahead 7-0 in the first quarter after a long interception return. However, the Utes responded with two passing scores and a 75-yard return by Derrek Richards to seize a commanding 21-7 lead before taking a 24-10 lead into halftime.
However, on the first offensive possession of the second half, Aggie linebacker Jake Hutton intercepted Ute quarterback Brian Johnson on an errant throw, leading to a long run by Derrvin Spreight to the 1-yard line. However, the Aggies were stuffed for negative-4 yards on three successive running plays, leading to a missed 22-yard field goal attempt by freshman Pete Caldwell.
Utah appeared to have to punt the ball away soon after, however, before Louie Sakoda ran 22 yards on a fake punt on fourth-and-8 to maintain the drive, which lead to a 3-yard touchdown run by Darrell Mack and a 31-10 lead.
In a serious 34-10 hole late in the game, the Aggies narrowed the deficit to sixteen following a jumpball throw for a TD from Leon Jackson III and a successful 3-yard conversion run by Speight. The Aggies also recovered the onside kick and drove 47 yards before turning the ball over on downs at the Ute 13.
The Utes (2-3) play at Louisville (3-2) on Friday, October 5, while the Aggies (0-5, 0-1) leave the mainland to play offensive-minded Hawaii (5-0, 2-0) on Saturday.