Thursday, March 27, 2008

Putting a cap on the Utah State basketball season

This season, the Utah State men's basketball team met one of two goals: first, they won the WAC regular-season championship, tying with Nevada, New Mexico State and Boise State but securing the #1 seed for the conference tournament; and secondly, they came short of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament, the 65-team field that promises the chance for a national championship, known as March Madness.
Once the Aggies didn't qualify for the NCAA Tourney, they got a pairing against Illinois State, one of the top teams to not make in in the Big Dance, in the National Invitation Tournament, losing 61-57.
Before the NIT game, Utah State traveled to Las Cruces to play in the WAC tourney, winning the first game against San Jose State 85-65 before failing to beat Boise State for a third time this season the next day, falling 88-79.
The Aggies tried to crowd the post against the Broncos, which led to open three-point looks for Boise. Once these early makes got them in a rhythm, there was no stopping them, not even seldom-used bench player Aaron Garner, who averaged barely over one point per game heading into the third meeting against USU before shooting 4-5 from the three and scoring 14 points.
Utah State players and supporters felt a little better the next night, after Boise State defeated New Mexico State on the NewMags' home floor for the WAC Tournament championship and ensuing automatic NCAA berth, taking a 107-102 triple-overtime thriller.
I mean, let's face it, northern Aggie fans: the Broncos brought their best ball into the weekend. Beating a team who they tied for the regular-season title on the road in a championship game is proof of that.
Still, it was admittedly hard to see Utah State allow the looks that they gave to the Broncos to only give them more rhythm and confidence, and also see USU get out-physicalled by BSU, who simply turned the tables from a 88-69 loss to Utah State at home just eight days earlier.
In the NIT, the Ags played hard in a defensive struggle, but when they got limited chances to take the lead on the road, they couldn't make a play. The Redbirds would come up with a steal, or get an offensive rebound, to boost the lead back up to two to three possessions in the last couple of minutes, before Utah State's last attempt to take the lead came up dry when Jaycee missed a good-looking 3 from the corner with 20 seconds left in the game.
Looking back, a week-and-a-half after the season ended, there were a lot of positives out of the season. The team went undefeated (17-0) at home, won the regular-season conference title, and saw Jaycee Carroll break or build on ten school records, including becoming the leading scorer, and also witnessed coach Stew Morrill become the winningest coach in Utah State history.
Not easy tasks.
Next year, the Aggies should compete for the conference championship again, despite losing three seniors, including Carroll. USU does return three starters, two that are sophomores, and five players from their rotation this past season. Nine of the thirteen players will be back, as the four leaving will be the graduated seniors (Carroll, Kris Clark, and Steve DuCharme) and a redshirt from this past season, Brad Brown, who is headed on a mission.
Sophomores Tai Wesley and Tyler Newbold will continue to play alongside upcoming senior Gary Wilkinson in the starting lineup. The open starting positions are at the point guard and wing positions. Point guard will likely be filled by upcoming senior Desmond Stephens (2.3 ppg, 1.2 apg, 11.8 mpg) or redshirt freshman Jaxon Myaer. The other wing who will start alongside Newbold will be sophomore Pooh Williams or Jared Quayle, an incoming JC transfer from Western Wyoming who will be a junior. Quayle shot 52 percent from the 3-point line in junior college this past season.
Other players in the mix are senior DeUndrae Spraggins (F/G) and sophomore posts Matt Formisano and Moduo Niang, one of whom will need to replace DuCharme's production off the bench.
The other incoming players are high school commits, one who is a point guard and the other, a center.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Extra Practice News Story 8: Business

Google makes hostile takeover bid of Time Warner
Posted: March 21, 2008 8:31 PM

SAN JOSE, Calif.- Google made a bid to take over Time Warner, Inc. in a hostile offer Thursday, wanting to buy the company despite objection from Time Warner's board of directors.
Despite the resistance of the heads of Time Warner, Google CEO Dr. Eric Schmidt feels the time is right for the takeover given the landscape and conditions of the media industry at the current time.
"Google strikes while the iron's hot, and the iron is hot right now in the media industry. This is the correct move at the correct time for Google," he said.
In Dr. Schmidt's mind, that is especially the right move considering that Microsoft CEOs also had their eye on the takeover of Time Warner Inc., an indication that Google aims to become a stronger media conglomerate before other large companies have the chance to capitalize the way that Schmidt feels his company is doing with this takeover.
Analysts, meanwhile, are hopeful that a hostile takeover by Google would enable the media industry to improve even more than it currently is, given their success as a search engine that has increasingly been pushing search engine rival Yahoo off the map, the primary reason for their diminishing presence in the media market.
Yahoo also wanted to get bought by Time Warner, but with their primary competitor aiming to make the purchase, Yahoo would be upset to be owned by their rival.
This move by Google Inc. would make Yahoo even less relevant in the business landscape.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Practice News Story 8: Business

Google makes hostile takeover bid of Time Warner
Posted: March 20, 2008 10:19 AM

SAN JOSE, Calif.- Google made a bid to take over Time Warner, Inc. in a hostile offer Thursday, wanting to buy the company despite objection from Time Warner's board of directors.
Despite the resistance of the heads of Time Warner, Google CEO Dr. Eric Schmidt feels the time is right for the takeover given the landscape and conditions of the media industry at the current time.
"Google strikes while the iron's hot, and the iron is hot right now in the media industry. This is the correct move at the correct time for Google."
This is especially the right move considering that both Yahoo and Microsoft CEOs had their eye on the takeover of Time Warner Inc. as well, an indication that Google aims to become a stronger media conglomerate before other large companies have the chance to capitalize the way that Schmidt feels his company is doing with this takeover.
Analysts, meanwhile, are hopeful that a hostile takeover by Google would enable the media industry to improve even more than it currently is, given their success as a search engine that has increasingly been pushing search engine rival Yahoo off the map. This is a primary reason for Yahoo's discontent, as this move by Google Inc. would make Yahoo Inc. even less relevant in the business landscape.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Do the majors get less bids than they're accustomed to this season?

There is no doubt that more and more parity is reigning in college basketball. This is especially evident when a conference like the West Coast could get three bids and the Sun Belt may get two. One of those two scenarios is likely to happen.
Most of the season, it was believed that the Big East would receive seven bids to the Big Dance. However, with the regular season having wrapped up, it's looking more like half of the conference may qualify for the NCAA playoffs, especially if Syracuse can beat Villanova in the first round of the Big East tournament.
Six teams- champion Georgetown, Louisville, Connecticut, Notre Dame, Marquette and Pittsburgh- are definitely in, while West Virginia is all but qualified. Both Syracuse (19-12, 9-7, low-40s RPI) and Villanova (19-11, 8-8, mid-50s RPI) are on the bubble, and conveniently for the selection committee, they play each other in the first round. The Orange are most definitely in with a first-round win, while the Wildcats may need to both beat the 'Cuse and possibly either show well or win the second round too.
Among the ACC, both Virginia Tech and Maryland are vying to be the fifth ACC team to make it. Va. Tech has come around strong to end the regular season, earning them consideration. Conversely, the Terrapins have been shaky down the stretch, and lost a bad one against Virginia on Sunday. Only one club will qualify, to be sure, and if both bow out in the first round, then the ACC may only be a four-bid league this season.
The SEC is intriguing, because right now it features more bubble teams than it does locks, in four to three. Arkansas (low-40s RPI) and Kentucky both can't feel completely safe about where they stand in the committee's eyes, though after a win over Florida the Wildcats can feel better if they can at least make the semifinals of the SEC tourney. As for Ole Miss and Florida, things are looking bleak, especially for the defending national champion Gators. With an RPI in the mid-60s, an SEC tourney title may have to be the key to giving them a shot to defend their championship.
The Big XII has a great chance to field six teams this season. Two are locks- Kansas and Texas- while two are near-locks- Oklahoma and Baylor- while Texas A&M (22-10) and Kansas State (19-10) are on the inside track of the bubble. I don't know if the selection committee could actually keep K-State freshman phenom Michael Beasley from the Big Dance.
The Big Ten should only get four teams in this season, unless Ohio State (18-12) can somehow upset Michigan State for a second consecutive game. If they can't, with a low-50s RPI the Buckeyes, who like Florida lost four starters last year, including three to the NBA, should be NIT-bound.
The Pac-10 has been rumored to have up to seven teams qualify for the Dance this season, but with the quality of mid and non-majors abounding this season, they really shouldn't get more than five. Four are locks, while Arizona, Oregon, and Arizona State are battling for what may be as few as one berth. Arizona (18-13, 7-9) has plenty of losses, but with a strength of schedule of #1 in the nation, they get an RPI in the low 30s. That is ridiculous. The Wildcats can hardly even win a game the last three weeks, as they have lost eight of 11. That is a fact that should tarnish their resume enough to force them out of the Dance, especially when you consider that their rivals for the bid, ASU and OU, swept them this season. Oregon most recently got a win over the 'Cats, last Saturday, to put their record at 18-12 and 8-8 in the conference. With an RPI of 49, the Ducks might be the lucky ones here, especially considering that ASU (18-11, 8-8) has an RPI of 75.

My Picks: Big East (8), Big XII (6), ACC (5), SEC (5), Pac-10 (5), Big Ten (4)

What mid-majors need to prove themselves this week to belong in the Field of 65?

There are several mid-majors that sit squarely on the bubble, including three or four in the Atlantic 10 Conference alone. With the early exits of non-majors St. Mary's, South Alabama, and VCU, will that take bids away from the mid-majors? Will it take the Mountain West Conference from three bids to two? Conf. USA from two to one? The Atlantic 10 from three to two, or even just one? We already know that the WAC will get just one team in this year, as opposed two two bids that they have received every year from 1993-2007.
The A-10 has a lock in #10 Xavier, who was clearly the cream of the crop of a very balanced league, but half the league is trying to propose a case to get in. This includes Massachusetts, Dayton, St. Joseph's, Temple and Rhode Island.
UMass is 8-4 in their last 12 games, an indication that they are playing well to end the season, and have an RPI in the low 30s. The Minutemen are a safe bet to make the Big Dance, and are a guarantee if they win their semifinal game to which they have a bye.
Dayton has an RPI in the high 30s, but at just 8-8 in the conference, putting them at the #8 seed for the tourney, the Flyers need to at least reach the championship game to receive consideration.
St. Joe's is 18-10 with an RPI in the mid-to-low 50s. They looked like they might slip in after defeating Xavier a week ago, only to follow it with a loss to one of the worst teams in the A10 just two days later. Like the Flyers, St. Joe's may need to reach the tourney final to get consideration.
Temple sits at 18-12 with an RPI in the mid 50s. With no marquee victories, the Owls will need to win the tournament at this point.
The same goes for Rhode Island, a 19-12 team whose RPI sits in the low 60s. I nearly didn't put R.I. on this list.
In its nine-year existence, the Mountain West Conference has gotten two teams into the NCAA playoffs six times and three teams in three times. If New Mexico (24-7, 11-5, 51 RPI) manages to get past Utah in the first round, and then either beat or play tourney host UNLV tough in the semifinals, then they should get in. BYU (26-6, RPI 22) is a lock and in the hunt for a #6 or possibly a #5 seed, while UNLV (23-7, RPI 30) simply needs to win their first round game against TCU to guarantee their spot.
Conference USA has been dominated all year by #2 Memphis (29-1, 16-0), but could another team in the form of UAB or Houston slip in under the radar? UAB (22-9, RPI mid-50s) could if they reach the tourney final and at least give the second-ranked Tigers a great game, as opposed to how they played against Memphis last week when they lost by 30 to badly hurt their cause. Houston, with a 66 RPI, must win the tournament and get the automatic bid.
As a Utah State student, I must give mention to the WAC, a traditional solid mid-major conference. It's really too bad that as the 20th-ranked conference out of 32, there is no way the league will get more than one bid. The best RPIs in the conference belong to the Aggies (72) and Nevada (74).
That leaves it up to the Ags, who have won 23 games for the ninth straight year and have the #1 seed in the tourney, to win it all on a floor that is hosted by fellow co-champion and #3 seed New Mexico State, who has 13 losses due to a bad 7-9 record against a brutal non-conference schedule. Both schools, and also Nevada (20-10) and Boise State (22-8), finished 12-4 to create a massive share of the WAC crown.

My picks: the Moutain West gets three bids, the A10 two, and Conf. USA one, especially since a small conference as mentioned at the start of the article may get more than their traditional one bid.

With no conference tourney title, which non-majors will be Dancing?

The past three days of conference tournaments have only muddied up the bubble picture when trying to determine Who's In and Who's Out of the NCAA Tournament just five days before Selection Sunday. After games in three conference tourneys in particular, with "early" conference exits, three teams will be sweating it out through Selection Sunday:
St. Mary's, South Alabama, and Virginia Commonwealth.
All three of these schools won their regular-season conference championships, only to bow out earlier than expected. This only serves to make the selection process even more difficult for the selection committee.
What do you do to teams who ran up impresssive won-loss records, dominated their conferences in the regular season, and possibly even spent time during the year in the Top 25, only to fall early in a tournament of a conference that traditionally only gets one bid?
Such is the case with these three. Let's examine each of their cases to get in the Big Dance:
ST. MARY'S. The Gaels (24-6) took the West Coast Conference regular-season title with a 13-1 record over #22 Gonzaga and WCC Tourney champion San Diego. Their only WCC loss was at Gonzaga. St. Mary's spent most of the season in the Top 25, only to fall out in the second-to-last week of the season.
SOUTH ALABAMA. The Panthers (26-6) spent a week in the national rankings, tied for first in the Sun Belt with a 12-2 record, and beat Mississippi State and UAB for quality wins. One thing that may work in the Panthers' case is that there has been speculation for most of the season that the Sun Belt may be a two-bid league this year, especially since the WAC, which has gotten two bids to the Dance every year since 1993, will only get one this season.
VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH. VCU (23-7), the darlings of last season's Dance when as a #11 seed beat Duke in the first round, won the Colonial Athletic Association, but fell in the semifinals of the tournament to William & Mary. 2006 Final Four darlings George Mason proceeded to beat W&M last night in the final. The CAA has gotten two or three teams in the Dance for a few years now, so it wouldn't be a complete shock to see VCU join Mason in the field. However, people were skeptical if VCU would make it BEFORE St. Mary's and USA bowed out unexpectedly early.

Unfortunately, I think that only one of these three teams will make the NCAA Tournament, and I feel like that team will be South Alabama. I can hardly see the West Coast Conference given three bids, and VCU has no quality non-conference win on its resume to prove they can truly compete with the big boys this year outside of the CAA. With 26 wins, USA deserves to go dancing in my book.

Monday, March 10, 2008

End-of-regular season grades for USU basketball

Post Players
Gary Wilkinson: A- Center
Wilkinson's game improved over the course of the season, especially on the road. He particularly became a better rebounder and defender, whie averaging 13.4 ppg and 6.8 rpg. This improvement was reflected in a second-team all-conference honor.
Tai Wesley: B+ Power Forward
Wesley was a pleasant surprise to become the team's starting power forward as a redshirt freshman. With averages of 10.4 ppg and 4.2 rpg, Wesley would often have problems with foul trouble, but occasionally respond with 24/9 or 23/7 games as he did against Hawaii and La. Tech.
Steve DuCharme: C Power Forward/Center
DuCharme wasn't much above average, even in a better second half of the conference season, but rose to the occasion with great games on Senior Night last week and a huge 20-point game at Boise State when the Aggies needed it from him most if they wanted a piece of the conference title. Inconsistent, but there when USU needed him.
Overall: B+

Jaycee Carroll: Valedictorian Shooting Guard
What more can you say. WAC Player of the Year, Senior Class Award Finalist, holds 10 school records, with more accolades headed his way. He averages nearly 22.3 points a game, while bumping it up to 24.5 in conference play, while averaging 6.2 rebounds per game, good for second on the team, as a 6-2 guard. Leads the nation in three-point shooting (50.2%) and is third in free-throw shooting (92.0%), while he is 12th in the nation in scoring average. Beyond the stats, he took his game to another level when USU needed some way to stay in tough games. In the second half of conference play, he routinely scored close to 20 points or more in the second half. All in all, Carroll should be an All-American and hopefully will get to display his shooting ability in the NCAA Tournament.
Tyler Newbold: B+ Small Forward
Newbold is a terrific defender, and is the consumate play-within-yourself type of player. He shoots 47 percent from the three when he does shoot them (averages about 1.5 attempts per game). To consider that he has three more years of eligibility in Logan has to please Aggie fans from anywhere.
Pooh Williams: B- Small Forward/Shooting Guard
"Excrement" made tremendous strides as a defender and even as a minor offensive contributor in the second half of the conference season. Pooh was a huge part of Utah State's amazing final-week finish of the regular season.
Overall: A-

Point Guards
Kris Clark: A-
Clark, for the most part, played well in the final handful of games of the regular season, including setting the USU single-season record for assists on Senior Night, despite turning the ball over five times in that game. He still dished out nine dimes in that game. Clark is not a good shooter, but did improve from last season. He hit a critical 3 against Boise State on Thursday.
Desmond Stephens: B+
You didn't exactly know what you would get out of Stephens, but Aggie fans got a better idea by the final four or five games of the season, when Stephens played his best basketball. He did a tremendous job playing extra minutes that he's accustomed to when Clark dealt with foul trouble at Boise. This is a welcome sign given Stephens will probably be the starting point guard next season.
Overall: A-

Team, Overall: A-

WAC CHAMPIONS!...Word on the Tournament

Jaycee Carroll is WAC Player of the Year; Gary Wilkinson makes All-WAC second team

What an amazing week for Utah State last week, going 3-0 with two road wins to make a late surge all the way to the top of the WAC standings and a #1 seed. These wins including a fantastic 79-66 win over Fresno State on Senior Night, followed by a shocking 88-69 win at previous sole WAC leader Boise State and a 78-58 victory over Idaho on Saturday to clinch the #1 seed.
Carroll played great in all three games. This included a 33-point showing with six three-pointers on Monday in his last home game, followed by back-to-back 23-point games. This last-week surge by his team helped him earn the WAC Player of the Year honor. This is indeed deserving for a player who is now just 69 points away from passing Keith Van Horn as the state's all-time leading scorer.
I must also commend Gary Wilkinson for his deserved second-team honor. Wilkinson improved, especially on the road, as the season continued, and the Ags wouldn't have been able to surge to the top of the league last week if his play hadn't improved on the road as it did.
Too bad that the WAC Newcomer of the Year award didn't go to redshirt freshman Tai Wesley; rather, it went to Nevada freshman point guard Armon Johnson.
Carroll's point guard running mates Kris Clark and Desmond Stephens also played fantastic games. I was especially proud of Stephens for picking up the load at Boise when Clark got in foul trouble early. Stephens indicated that he may actually be ready to be USU's starting point guard once next season rolls around.
Wings Tyler Newbold and Pooh Williams continued to play solid. For the week, Newbold went 3-6 from the three-point line, but more importantly was primarily responsible for stopping lights-out BSU outside shooters Tyler Tiedeman and Matt Bausche. Together, they average 24 points a game, and Newbold and Pooh held them to nine on just 3-15 shooting.
The posts struggled through foul trouble, particularly Wilkinson and Wesley, but DuCharme stepped up his play off the bench, particularly against Boise, when he scored 20 points and grabbed seven rebounds in 31 minutes of play. Matt Formisano also saw significant time in both games in the state of Idaho, and was solid. His steady play was needed when Wilkinson and Wesley both got in foul trouble in Boise.
The Aggies really are playing as well as they have all season heading into the WAC Tournament beginning on Tuesday. They shouldn't have a problem with either San Jose State or Louisiana Tech in the first round- but then again, SJSU has already beaten the Aggies this season. If USU wins that game, it will definitely be tough to beat the Broncos for a third time in the semifinals, as that matchup will happen if BSU defeats the slumping Hawaii Warriors.
At least they avoided matching up with home team New Mexico State until the championship game, assuming (hoping) both teams can get that far. With the WAC only getting one bid this year, the fact that the tourney is hosted by a co-champion of the league has huge implications. If the NewMags get the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament by winning the tourney at home, then they will probably get a low seed in the form of even a #15 seed, since their 13 losses and RPI down at 121 is not impressive. Same goes for Boise State if the Broncos win, since their RPI is 101.
On the other hand, if the Aggies or Nevada win the tourney, they can probably manage to get a better seed due to RPIs of 72 and 74, respectively. Perhaps a 12-14 seed could be in the works for USU or the Wolfpack if they can win the three-day title.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Posted: Nov. 19, 1863

Practice News Story 7: Speech
A 'Great Task Remaining before Us'
Lincoln captivates the audience in his gripping "Dedication to Devotion" speech

GETTYSBURG, Penn.- President Lincoln gave a stirring address in the dedication of the Gettysburg battlefield, yesterday, November 19, 1863.
On a hot, humid afternoon, where 1,500 people sat ready to hear the dedication given by the Union’s president, Lincoln aroused the American spirit with notes “of honored dead” that as Americans “take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion” and promises “that we (American people) here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.”
Lincoln caught hold of the audience with these notations and promises of a greater future ahead for a fledging country that has only been developing for, as Lincoln phrased it, “four score and seven years ago”- the 87 years that has seen this continent be thrust into a Revolutionary War, only to fight itself over additional rights, in a climactic, blood-ridden three-day battle that took place at this very site four months ago.
A strong theme evident in Lincoln’s speech was his point that no matter how much dedication goes towards Gettysburg, nothing can truly amount to honor the greatness that the men and women served on a grounds that saw 7500 soldiers killed in a mere three days. Lincoln constantly noted that while the dedication “is altogether fitting and proper… in a larger sense, we can not dedicate… we can not consecrate- this ground.”
Only a man as dignified and as respectful for this struggling nation as Lincoln could address these issues in such a gripping and relatable manner. It didn’t take him much words, but it had great affect on his audience yesterday afternoon.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

WAC Title hopes still possible for Aggies

Utah State followed up a well-played 72-59 ESPN BracketBuster victory over UC Santa Barbara with a solid 86-59 dominating win over Louisiana Tech on Thursday in a return to conference play, setting their record at 20-9 overall and 9-4 in the WAC.
The Aggies are among two other teams- Nevada (11-4, 19-10 overall) and New Mexico State (10-4, 17-13) with four conference losses, behind first-place Boise State (12-3, 22-7).
I was impressed by the play of both Gary Wilkinson and Tai Wesley in both games in the Spectrum. Wesley totaled 24 points and nine rebounds against the Gauchos before following that up with a 16-point, eight-rebound night versus the Bulldogs. Meanwhile, Wilkinson went 14/12 against La. Tech after going for 19/10 against Santa Barbara.
The play of the Aggies' bigs is pivotal to the final three conference games of the regular season, particularly on Thursday against Boise State, when they will take the floor against forward Reggie Larry and center Matt Nelson.
While Jaycee had a personal shoddy performance against the Gauchos with just 15 points, he followed that up with a quiet 30-point night against the Bulldogs, earning most of his points with drives to the hole and aggressive play in the open court during the second half.
Isn't that funny how, because of the standards that Carroll has said for himself, that I can actually say that 30 points can be "quiet" for him?
Kris Clark was shaky, but with nine assists against La. Tech, he set the single-season record for assists at Utah State after totaling nine against the Bulldogs.
The wings were particularly impressive in both games, especially Pooh Williams in Thursday's game, where he scored a personal career-high of six points on 3-3 shooting with two assists, a steal and no turnovers. Meanwhile, Tyler Newbold, in addition to Williams, played fine defense. What might be surprising for some people to know is while Jaycee remains first in the nation in three-point shooting percentage at 50.3 percent, Newbold is shooting at a 48.2 percent clip at 22-46.
Tomorrow's game against Fresno State is going to be packed both in the stands and in the emotions of loyal Aggie fans, especially those who have witnessed the play of Carroll over his four years in Logan. To be honest, it might be tough for me to hold it in as they introduce Jaycee Carroll for the final time. Well, at least I will be able to see him in Las Cruces at the WAC Tournament, and who knows, possibly in a home game in Logan if the Aggies fail to reach the NCAA Tournament and receive a home game in the NIT.