Friday, February 27, 2009

Free Kicks- Extended Ravenswatch 2009

Well I am out of town again this week, hence the late entry. However, rather than having 3 topics I decided to go with an extended Ravens free agency category, with just one topic about non-Maryland sports. I had to throw in my two cents about Marbury. Anyways, let us commence Ravenswatch 2009 as we line up for the kick…

Stephon Marbury: The Next Manny Ramirez?
With the Stephon Marbury buyout and his impending trip to the Celtics, I foresee an interesting phenomenon taking place this offseason. Regardless of what happens over the rest of this season in Boston, Marbury will hit the market looking for a big payday even at the age of 32. Look, I am making no statement as to Marbury’s skills- he can be a dynamic playmaker even at his age, and he will be looking to be paid as a premier guard in this league. This is where he becomes Manny. He won’t get the money. No where near it. In fact, he could be waiting until October (basketball’s equivalent to baseball’s March) still waiting for that starting job and, more importantly, starting money. The man has an ego and an attitude unlike any other in the NBA, but unfortunately doesn’t even have the skills that Manny does. He is not a first or even second team All NBA player even at his best, unlike Mr. Ramirez. He will wait, and wait, and wait to get paid. He should be used to it at this point, he has sat for the last 3 months.

Now I know he will be signing with the Celts for the veteran minimum of $1.3 million, but don’t expect that to stand when the offseason hits. Boston is too smart to sign him past this year- and it looks like most of the league is even smarter to pass up on him altogether.

Ravenwatch 2009 Officially Begins
Well, here we are. Baltimore fans are poised for one of the most anxiety-ridden (or exciting, depending on how you look at it) free agent periods in recent memory, with the Ravens not hoping to drastically improve but just hold on to the players they had this past season. As predicted by yours truly, it looks as though Bart Scott is leaning towards signing with Rex Ryan and the Jets for $40 million, a move that makes sense for Scott and at least knocks one name off of the list of players the Ravens need to keep. I am not nearly as worried about the Ravens linebacker situation (Tavares Gooden, Prescott Burgess, and others are all ready to step in and take some of the load off) as I am about their cornerback or offensive line situations.

I really like the signing of Dominique Foxworth, and not just because he is an ex-Terp and Maryland native. The 25 year old cornerback has a great deal of upside and should fit in with a similar player like Fabian Washington, particularly if Foxworth is not forced into a starting role right away. Additionally, Foxworth had to play deep with John Lynch at safety, who has about as solid coverage skills as Roy Williams with the flu. With the safeties coming into the box to support one of the league’s worst run defenses, Dominique was left on an island far too often to appear as effective as he could be. Last season in Atlanta he was in his first year in the system, and his performance should take a major boost behind one of the best run defenses in the NFL. His $28 million deal over 4 years is more than I would have liked to pay for a player who was traded for a 7th round pick last season, but it should still allow the Ravens enough room to resign either Ray Lewis or Jason Brown (Brown highly unlikely as he is close to a deal with the woeful Rams), and even pick up a mid-level free agent.

A potential bargain free agent wide receiver could be Nate Washington, Pittsburgh’s 3rd wideout who I have raved about in my previews. Keep an eye out for Washington as a deep threat with excellent speed and leaping ability- consistent hands have been an issue, but he often gets in a groove at times and will take over a drive at a critical point in the game (too often against the Ravens this season).

Meanwhile, Baltimore’s cross-town rivals just got much stronger on defense with the addition of Albert Haynesworth at defensive tackle and resigning of DeAngelo Hall at corner. People say Hall has an attitude problem, but I thought he would have been a worthwhile investment for the Ravens. However, this is the classic pattern of behavior for ‘Skins owner Dan Snyder, who perennially makes a big splash in free agency only to watch his team get marginally better- but for a team that needed a powerful presence in the middle, Washington now has it in Haynesworth.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Despite Strong Effort, Terps Fall to Duke 78-67

Honestly, it's very difficult trying to come up with a coherent analysis for this loss. Maryland seemed to play the better game last night for the most part, but Duke pulled away at the end with the help of some key miscues and questionable calls. I know, this is sounding very partisan (it is), but generally the heart of the student section is not where one wants to be for an unbiased view of the game.

Regardless of the fouls and minor controversies, Maryland has to be heartened by how the team played last night. Unlike the UNC game in which one player (Greivis Vazquez) had a transcendent performance, Maryland's success against Duke came from a wide range of contributors. Even with Vazquez out for nearly all of the second half, Maryland continued to play with poise and distributed the ball well across the board. No, Maryland couldn't pull it out, but they once again played far over their heads (quite literally) against a bigger and more talented Duke team. From an individual player perspective, Landon Milbourne is the Terp that sticks out for his scoring and blocked shots, but I for one was impressed with the play of Eric Hayes throughout the game. He played very sound basketball, taking care of the ball and making smart plays from the point. Given Mosley's rough outing, Hayes might have a case to be re-inserted into the starting lineup in the coming games.

Speaking of the coming games, what now for the Terps? Well, don't panic, disgruntled Terp fans. There is still hope for the Terps as they now go on the road to face NC State, then home against Wake Forest, and finally end the season at UVA. Maryland absolutely has to win two of those games, but they most likely will need to take all three. If they only take two, Maryland will need to make a significant splash in the ACC tournament to make it, given that they only have two truly impressive wins (MSU, UNC). It's very possible, but Maryland is going to have to bounce back strongly from last night's game.

The game last night is the sort of game that hurts in the worst kind of way. Your team plays their best, the atmosphere is electric, but everything just slips away at the end. For the Terrapin players and fans alike they need to look past the disappointment and see the positive; even in a defeat, they played like a tournament team. If Maryland keeps playing like that for the next few weeks they won't just look like a tournament team, they'll be a tournament team.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Terrapins Hoping for Revenge Tonight Against the Blue Devils

The stage is set for one of the biggest Maryland-Duke matchups in recent history tonight at the Comcast Center. The Terps currently stand at 6-6 in the ACC, needing at least two victories (probably three) in their next four games to have a legitimate shot at the NCAA Tournament heading into the ACC Tournament. A win against the Blue Devils would go a very long way to achieving this end, and enabling the selection committee to overlook the 41-point destruction of the Terps at the hands of these same Blue Devils earlier this season at Cameron.

Regardless of the standings, the Maryland-Duke game was always going to be a focal point for the Terps season, but the North Carolina win has maginfied its significance and infused a much needed jolt of energy into the fan base. Prior to the UNC game, the students at Maryland had been sorely lacking in enthusiasm and turnout through the season. With the win against the Tar Heels, the campus has been rife with passion for this upcoming matchup and it will most definitely be a major player in tonight's game. But the real question is, can the Terps pull this upset? Yes, but a few things will have to happen...

1. The crowd has to bother Duke's shooters. Duke is an outstanding jump shooting team that relies on superior guard play to win. If the crowd can get into the heads of those shooters like Paulus and Singler, their offense could get out of rhythm and help Maryland's defense. If Duke's shooters are made comfortable then they can rout Maryland straight out of the gym -- keept them off balance, Maryland could pull the upset.

2. Maryland has to win the three-point game. Maryland is not going to win a game in the paint, this has been very well documented, so if the Terrapins are going to take a big one they're going to have to rely on some big time performances behind the arc. Like in their win against North Carolina, the Terps are going to need efficient performances from Eric Hayes, Cliff Tucker, and Greivis Vazquez shooting from deep. If Duke is then forced to spread their defense, more lanes will open up for easy twos, but it all starts with making the three with some consistency for Maryland.

3. Maryland must keep the ball away from Brian Zoubek. For most teams facing Duke, Brian Zoubek is pretty far down the list of players to worry about, but his size can be absolutely devastating to Maryland down low. We have already seen Zoubek dominate Maryland in the paint, as the Terps have noone to counter him in the frontcourt. Therefore it will be imperative that Maryland not only deny the entry passes to Zoubek, but hopefully get him in early foul trouble by driving right at him with a quicker guard like Adrian Bowie.

4. Maryland has to minimize the turnovers. This always sounds cliche, but against a team like the Blue Devils it is absolutely essential that the Terrapins not play sloppy with the ball. Duke is a fast, guard-oriented team, who would like nothing more than to run up and down the court. Maryland cannot afford to waste possessions and have them turn into easy Duke baskets. It looks like Greivis Vazquez. will be playing point today, based on last week's success, so a large part of this will fall on him. But quite honestly, every Maryland fan already knows that a good part of this game is riding on Greivis' play.

Those are four points that leap out to me from a preliminary standpoint. Either way this will be a tough and emotional game, particularly for the Terps, so the Blue Devils should be ready for a fistfight regardless of what the final score turns out to be. One thing I would like to say before I close this up is this: the most underrated part of this Terrapin team is their toughness. I have never seen a team at Maryland play this scrappy, this hard, on almost every play as this year's team. This group has a chip on their shoulder and it shows in their passion. As a fan, you can't always rely on the Terps to shoot well or play smart, but you can rely on this team to play with every ounce they have.

(Photo Credit: Monica Lopossay/Baltimore Sun)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Around the Harbor Radio Show Tonight 11-12!

Windsor and I will have the WMUC airwaves from 11-12 tonight; just an hour show due to conflicts. Listen live!

The rundown tonight:
--Ravens ready for offseason, but who is coming back? Could Ray Lewis actually be gone?
--Terps defeat North Carolina, await Duke tomorrow, what needs to be done for Maryland to make the NCAA Tournament?
--Orioles spring training beginning, any surprises yet?
--ESPN's Maryland Mount Rushmore, who would be on your mountain?

Ravens Free Agent Picture Begins to Take Shape

Of all the “Big Three” linebackers the Ravens have up for free agency this season, the one I most suspected would be allowed to hit the market- Bart Scott- could be resigned in a Baltimore uniform within the next several days, according to agent Harold Lewis. At the beginning of the offseason, I had several key contentions: the Ravens would be willing to pay competitively for Terrell Suggs or spend the franchise tag on him. Secondly, the Ravens would make a strong play for Ray Lewis, and all accounts are saying that management will probably outbid anyone else for the services of the 33-year-old face of the franchise. Finally, I was certain that deep down inside, Bart Scott wanted to be a starter more than he wanted to be in Baltimore- I could easily see him in a Jets uniform at outside linebacker, for instance. Should Scott resign, it would indicate to me that Baltimore is unsure if they will get back Ray Lewis or that Scott is willing to take a discount to stay a Raven. Either way, it would surprise me.

Harold Lewis also represents center Jason Brown, easily the best offensive lineman on the team this season after moving over from guard after the 2007 season. Lewis intimated that EITHER Brown or Scott could resign, but not both- I estimate that Brown is more likely to hit the market. The fact is that offensive and defensive linemen can command a great deal as a free agent, as they are less likely than skill position players or linebackers or defensive backs to have their performance take a significant dropoff from one season (or team) to another. Additionally, the Steve Hutchinson deal in 2006 worth $49 million set the stage for blockbuster contracts for offensive linemen. He will likely be looking for something on the lower end of Jordan Gross’ 6 year deal which paid out $30.5 million over the first three years. He won’t get that, but that will be his starting negotiating point. With the bloated price for linemen, I would not be shocked if Brown decided to resign with the Ravens after free agency begins, but he would be foolish from a financial standpoint not to see what is out there- even in this economy.

However, don’t expect the feel-good story of this season to be back in a Ravens uniform. At the scouting combine late last week, Ozzie Newsome sent a rather clear message that this team could be parting ways with backup-turned-starter Jim Leonhard. Management has told him he would have to compete for a starting job with returning free safety Dawan Landry, and Leonhard obviously would like to be a starter somewhere. Unlike the other Ravens free agents, Leonhard has no tradition of being part of this organization and no inherent loyalty to the coaching staff outside of former defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, whom he has described as having taught him more about the game than anyone in his NFL career. Besides, there are significant reasons for the Ravens to avoid resigning Leonhard. From a financial standpoint, Landry is still under his rookie contract and won’t be up for a new one for another few seasons- it wouldn’t make sense to pay what it would take to keep Leonhard with the team. From a football standpoint, this team also has promising young safeties in Haruki Nakamura and Tom Zbikowski who could possibly fill the void a la Jarrett Johnson when Adalius Thomas left. Look for Leonhard to bolt for the Jets and serve as a top notch starting safety for another 6 years, while Baltimore takes their chances with another playmaker in Landry.

Finally, Newsome also updated the media on the status of negotiations with the only kicker Baltimore fans have ever known, Matt Stover. He implied that both the Ravens and Stover were looking at other opportunities, but that has not been corroborated by the kicker, who will be conducting his own negotiations with the team. It is clear that the 41-year-old wants to sign a new deal to stay with the team, but has not been contacted by anyone from the front office. I have no problem with the Ravens wanting to move on; Stover has lost his range in recent years and is now questionable with anything beyond 40 yards- Steven Hauschka was brought in for 50+ yard kicks and kickoffs- and Stover only converted 81.4% of his field goal attempts, his worst percentage since 1994. I am sure he can still play, but this might be as good a time as any for the franchise to move on to kicker #2.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Maryland Lacrosse Roundup of the Week

Our first interstate matchup ends in a close one as Towson heads to Loyola, the highest ranked team loses to its cross-town rival, and Johns Hopkins begins their season.

Loyola Takes Down Towson
Thanks to a very strong first three quarters, #16 Loyola earned their first win of the season, taking down Towson 11-8 in Baltimore. Loyola improves to 1-1, and Towson loses their first game of the season.

Loyola started strong, shutting out Towson 4-0 in the first quarter. Towson responded with two goals to start the second, but a 5-1 run into the third by the Greyhounds would be enough to win it in the end. Towson scored five of their goals in the final quarter, including the final three goals scored in the game.

Collin Finnerty once again led the way for the Greyhounds, scoring four goals mainly on hard shots, equal what he did last week against Notre Dame. Jimmy Daly's goal through a double team was the fourth goal in the first quarter. Freshmen Matt Lamon and Sean Maguire both scored two goals for the Tigers. Bob Wheeler did all right against the Loyola offense, but an own goal and constant shots were too much for him.

Loyola begins ECAC play next Saturday as they head up to Penn State. Towson will head to Denver for the Pioneer Face-Off Classic and will take on Denver and Air Force.

Maryland Upset by Georgetown
#3 Maryland got beaten in their home opener against rival #8 Georgetown, losing 13-10 after a devastating second half. Maryland falls to 2-1.

Maryland went into the locker room up 6-5 after fighting back from an early 2-0 deficit, highlighted by Jeremy Sieverts hat trick, but things went downhill for the Terps after that. Maryland switched to Brian Phipps in goal for Jason Carter. After an exchange of goals, the Hoyas went on a 6-0 run going into the fourth quarter over a span of 16 minutes to make the score 12-7 in favor of Georgetown. Maryland tried to fight back, but could not get back within reach.

After getting 10 points last week, Will Yeatman was nowhere to be found, handled well by the Georgetown defense. The offense was all done by the midfield, with Dan Groot and Jeff Reynolds adding two goals each to Sieverts's three. Grant Catalino also added two.

Maryland will now get ready for Inside Lacrosse's Konica Minolta Face-Off Classic as they take on ACC rival Duke on Saturday.

Johns Hopkins Defense Smashes Siena
Despite a slow first half, the #4 Blue Jays opened their season strong with an 11-3 win over Siena thanks to a shutout defense in the final three quarters.

For 15 minutes, it seemed as if the Saints would be a problem for the Baltimore squad. Siena was up 3-2 at the end of the first quarter, but Hopkins took the lead into the locker room 4-3. Steven Boyle then went off, scoring three of his four second half goals in the third quarter to add to his two assists from earlier. The third quarter was all Hopkins, holding Siena shotless 13-0.

Kyle Wharton scored a hat trick to add to Boyle's six points. Mike Gvozden didn't have much to do after the first quarter, but got eight saves while only allowing three goals.

Johns Hopkins will play in the first game of the Konica Minolta Face-Off Classic on Saturday as they take on Princeton.

Navy Can't Hold Off UNC's Late Surge
A dogfight between two ranked teams ended in #6 North Carolina victory over #9 Navy 9-8 in Chapel Hill. The Mids get handed their first loss of the season, falling to 2-1.

It was a game of runs, starting with a 3-0 run in the first six minutes by the Tar Heels. The Mids countered with a 5-1 run from the middle of the first quarter to the beginning of the third, with Tim Paul scoring the first and last goal of the run, putting the Mids up 5-4. UNC responded with another 3-0 run in just three minutes. Navy got back a one-goal lead with a 3-0 run, taking the lead in the fourth quarter 8-7. The lead would only last a few minutes, as UNC got two goals from Sean Delaney and held on to win 9-8.

Brendan Connors added two goals to Paul's three. Matt Coughlin was great defensively, with six saves, but in the end the UNC offense was too much. One of the big problems was faceoffs; Navy only won four of the 21.

Navy will head north to take on Bucknell next Saturday.

UMBC Runs Down Rutgers
#11 UMBC scored at least five goals in the final three quarters to take down Rutgers 17-10 in their home opener. The Retrievers are on a good start, improving to 2-0.

The Scarlet Knights shot very accurately in the beginning, taking an early 5-3 lead in the middle of the second quarter. Then the UMBC shots hit their marks, going on a 6-0 run then later a seperate 7-1 run after a Rutgers goal. Rutgers was only 14-23 on clears, helping UMBC got some valuable time on offense.

Peet Pollion led the way with seven points off four goals and three assists. Kyle Wimer got three goals plus an assist. Jeremy Blevins played well, sacing 11 shots in his play, which was just under 55 minutes.

UMBC will stay home this week and prepare for Colgate on Saturday.

As the games continue, we will keep track of how Maryland teams do against each other. Our rankings will be based on play in the state.
(overall record, in-state record), current rankings by Inside Lacrosse
The Around the Harbor Lacrosse Standings:
--Loyola (1-1 overall, 1-0 in-state), ranked #18
--UMBC (2-0), ranked #9
--Johns Hopkins (1-0), ranked #3
--Maryland (2-1), ranked #7
--Navy (2-1), ranked #10
--Mt. St. Mary's (0-0)
--Towson (0-1, 0-1), received votes

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Evolution of Cliff Tucker

Cliff Tucker never got much attention when he came to College Park. The entire College Park world was focused on hoping for Jai Lucas that most people overlooked the recruitment of this four-star Texan. A 6'6'' guard/forward who could drive well and shoot decently from three. In his freshman year, he was an important reserve that had good hustle on the court. Now coming into this season, Tucker was expected to compete for a starting job and at least get at least 20-25 minutes a game. It has not been an easy ride for him.

After missing the tournament last season, Maryland had only three starters set, Greivis Vasquez, Eric Hayes, and Landon Milbourne. Maryland needed another guard and front court presence. For Tucker's potential spot he was competing with Adrian Bowie and Sean Mosley. With Bowie, Maryland would use Vasquez as the swing man and have relied on Bowie's quickness. If the freshman Mosley started, Hayes would be locked on the point and Mosley would play on shooting guard. But with Tucker, Vasquez was more free to play the point with Hayes. Tucker would earn the starting spot with Braxton Dupree as the final spot as the big man. Maryland did not have the biggest expectations going into this season do to severe undersize and youth, but the Terps kept their head up high.

In his first start of the season against Bucknell, Tucker was a bright spot, getting 14 points despite just 19 minutes of play. It was a learning experience for the young Terps team, and it seemed as if he would be an important swing man to Maryland's flex offense. He showed decent shooting and the ability to drive towards the basket. After two average games, neither of which he saw more than 20 minutes, Tucker and the Terrapins began the Old Spice Classic. This tournament would change the outlook on this Texan for the season.

Maryland started with huge upset win over Michigan State, but Tucker was nowhere to be found. He only played seven minutes and did not score despite starting. In Maryland's next contest against Gonzaga, Tucker had a lackluster 18 minutes, just getting four points, not able to help in the Terps 22-point loss. The Georgetown loss made it official, not only did Cliff Tucker not start, but he was not even used much as a reserve, playing just four minutes. Maryland placed in Sean Mosley in the starting role instead of Tucker. His time was dawindling as Maryland set a new starting lineup with Vasquez, Bowie, Neal, Hayes, and Milbourne after the Terps win over Michigan. Tucker has not started since.

Tucker had been playing off the bench but for the most part was not a factor in Maryland's games. He was barely getting time going into ACC play. His concerns were voiced in the media about the lack of playing time. Gary Williams even responded to the media's questions about him, saying that players earn their time in practice. As the Terps headed to North Carolina, it looked that Tucker might finish the season and transfer out.

But Tucker returned to the court and lit up the Tar Heels for 18 points, his biggest performance since the Delaware State game. But even with that game, he again did not see much time in Maryland's next three games. But once again he would bring his best performance when it mattered. As Maryland was in big foul trouble early in their home game against UNC, Tucker got in and lit up the scoreboard. He was one of the best shooters of the night, hitting 8-12 with 22 points plus grabbing six rebounds against a very scrappy squad. It was by far his best performance of the season, and though he was not the best player of the night without him, Maryland would have lost. He stepped up when two players that replaced his starting time, Bowie and Mosley, were not effective at all.

So where will he go from here? The tendency of Gary Williams is to use a player more the next contest if he has a great game the previous time, as does most coaches. Maryland has a big game against Duke at home this week. We'll see if the evolution of Cliff Tucker continues.

(Photo credit: AP, Maryland athletics)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Terps Take Down the Heels!

Before tonight, the Maryland Terrapins basketball team looked like they were about finished. They were beginning a very tough ACC stretch, starting with a drubbing in Clemson. They were coming home to take on both of Tobacco Road's finest, both in the top-10. Gary Williams, though safe according to Deborah Yow, was under fire from the media and his own athletic department. Fans were depressed about the season. Maryland begun their game against #3 North Carolina, and despite playing good defense to start the game, they could not take full advantage of their opportunities. With the Tar Heels by 16 in the second half, and nine with 1:30 left to go in regulation, many were ready to pack it up and get ready for Duke on Wednesday.

But the men in gold weren't going anywhere. They upset #3 North Carolina 88-85 in overtime in one of the greatest comebacks in Maryland history.

With the home gold jerseys that had won them two straight, Maryland never gave up. Despite the foul outs in the front court, including Milbourne, Neal, and Gregory, Maryland did not quit. They came up with huge shots down the stretch to force overtime, eventually prevailing with solid defense and key shots. They played liked their jerseys, golden and representing Maryland like a true team.

Greivis Vasquez had Maryland's first triple double since 1987 with 35 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists. He scored Maryland's first 16 points; at one point it was North Carolina 17, Greivis Vasquez 16. As always he was the emotional leader and was one incredible player tonight. He was constantly creating his own shot and running hard every single possession. For once, Vasquez had all Maryland fans in the Comcast Center on his side.

One of the best players for Maryland was Cliff Tucker, who has earned his time on the court. He shot eight for 12 with 22 points, including an unprecedented 5-7 from beyond the arc. To think just a few weeks ago, rumors were he was thinking about transferring. He stepped up in the absence of Dave Neal, Sean Mosley, Adrian Bowie, and Dino Gregory, who combined for six points. Also factor in Eric Hayes, who despite a very slow start ended with 17 points, including two key free throws in overtime.

It was all about those three. They combined for 26-46 from the field, 13-25 from the perimeter, 20 rebounds, and 74 of Maryland's 88 points. Some of the other players had notable moments, like Dino Gregory's block on Lawson's fast break that made Sportscenter's top-10, but Vasquez, Tucker, and Hayes played their minds out tonight. No one outside of Danny Green had their normal big days, not Hansbrough, not Ellington, not Lawson despite his return to his home state of Maryland.

This does not clear everything up for the NCAA Tournament. There is a lot of work still to do. Sitting at 17-9, 6-6 in the conference, Maryland still has Duke and Wake Forest on their schedule plus away contests against NC State and Virginia. But this win not only gives them a huge resume victory over a top-10 team to add with Michigan State, but this win plus Vasquez's triple double has given Maryland a lot of national attention. Congratulations to Gary Williams, Greivis Vasquez, and the Terps, you earned it tonight.


(Photo credits: AP (crowd, players), Maryland athletics (scoreboard))

Friday, February 20, 2009

Free Kicks

For those of you who missed it (sorry for not posting a reminder), Falco and Windsor had one hell of a show on Tuesday on our Around the Harbor radio show on WMUC (every Tuesday night at 10 PM). Be sure to check out next week’s program, they save some of their best stuff for the show- you simply can’t get the same effect reading Windsor rant as you can hearing it when he just goes off on something. Now let’s line up for the kick…

Tech-nically Unsound
By signing a contract extension for 5 years yesterday, Mike Leach scored a major victory over some highly questionable employment decisions by Texas Tech University. After fighting for months to negotiate a new contract for the successful Red Raiders coach, Leach announced that he was ready to sign a new deal. However, as soon as he made the announcement, Tech went back and changed some of the language of his contract- including guaranteeing only 12% of his contract (most schools have upwards of 40%), mandating that Leach must get permission from the athletic department before he speaks with any other schools, and that all of his money from speaking engagements can be taken by the university. Look, I actually have no problem with these restrictions. I don’t care what it in the contract- but I care how it was done.

Texas Tech waited until Leach committed himself to the contract, and then changed the deal. What is this, Cloud City (sorry, had to make the reference)? After Leach rejected this sudden about-face (understandably), the Board of Regents decided to call an emergency meeting to discuss whether to fire him for not signing the extension. Come again? Who fires someone for not agreeing to extend with you? You keep them for as long as you can and hope you can work something out. Luckily this idiocy was stopped and a new deal was worked out. Don’t these Regents have something better to do? I don’t know, maybe something that has to do with educating students? I wonder how many emergency meetings were called about skyrocketing tuition costs…

So Much for Hometown Discounts
Okay, so forget all the hopeful words I said about Terrell Suggs, Bart Scott, and Ray Lewis coming back to Baltimore on a discounted deal to stay together. Apparently, like so much else said in the offseason, they were just thrown out there to assuage the fan base and earn good-will while the negotiations dragged on. Yahoo Sports is reporting that Terrell Suggs’ agent, Gary Wichard, is looking for the Ravens to pony up a Dwight Freeney-level deal for the DE/OLB, which would demand roughly $12 million a year. It is no surprise then that the Ravens were forced to use the franchise tag. This of course coming on the heels of Ray Lewis’ announcement that he is available to the highest bidder (that bidder will likely be the Ravens, but you would hate to see them put in that situation).

Against this backdrop it feels silly to have ever thought that Baltimore’s stars would take a discount to be in the city. As much as we love our pro athletes in this town, especially the ones who stay for their entire careers, I suppose they just don’t take discounts to stay. Nick Markakis’ deal contained no hometown discount whatsoever, as his deal was entirely in line with comparable players. Likewise, Brian Roberts would have probably gotten even less than he did from the Orioles in this free agent market (if he would even be employed- see Orlando Hudson). Both Baltimore teams have had faces of the franchise on the brink of free agency. Is it possible that the Orioles may do a better job of holding onto their talent this year than the Ravens?

Call Me an Optimist
I may be the only one in the world, but I think the Orioles starting rotation will be better than last year’s. Maybe not by a lot, but it will be. Windsor and Falco are watching for the sky to fall, but I would cite some big differences between last year and this year. First of all, the Orioles have more pitchers who are closer to major league ready (another year in the farm system does that). Last year they did not have Rich Hill, Hayden Penn (injury), or Dave Pauley to cushion the blow between Guthrie and having to call up Radhames Liz. That won’t be as big of a problem. The O’s also return numerous relievers from injury, including former closer Chris Ray, Danys Baez, and Jamie Walker could also return to form after an injury-plagued and ineffective season.

Troy Patton should be available later in the year, and let’s also not forget the acquisition of Koji Uehara who, even if he is not as good as he used to be, should be a serviceable pitcher in the majors for a couple years. No, the Orioles rotation is not good, but it has far more depth than ever. Baltimore won’t be dipping into AA nearly as early or often has they were tempted to last season. Invariably, some of this borderline talent will take strides, and there will be plenty of opportunities (and arms) to do so.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Roberts Extended: One More Check on the MacPhail List

According to the Baltimore Sun, the Orioles have confirmed that Brian Roberts has been given a 4-year extension through 2013 worth $40 million. The face of the franchise had originally not been sure if he wanted to stay with the Orioles, but with this extension he will be contracted with the team for the next five seasons.

Earlier in the offseason, many Orioles fans were wondering if Roberts was going to get traded. He was the most valuable person worth trading, a solid leadoff hitter that plays good defense at second base. The Cubs originally wanted him, but the Orioles got who they wanted without giving Roberts up. He had one year left on the original deal and had questioned whether he would be back due to the current direction of the Orioles.

This is not going to make the Orioles good, but this was important for MacPhail to do. Most of the moves this offseason did not contribute to the image of the Orioles. Obviously MacPhail is planning for the future and not buying a bunch of players for large amounts of money is the plan, but the Orioles still want to give the image that they are positive about the season. Most of the moves have not done this, notably not re-signing Kevin Millar, the clubhouse leader who wanted to stay here. This move, extending the face of the franchise, will make a lot of fans happy.

To add, there really isn't anyone in the farm system that can take over for Roberts right now. There are a few second basemen in the minors that have potential, like Ryan Adams and L.J. Hoes, but they are not ready. This offseason was mainly about getting stop gaps at certain positions, like Gregg Zaun at catcher and Cezar Isturis at short, but another one would have had to come here if Roberts goes.

This might be the last major act the Orioles make before spring training season starts. It was a good one.

(Photo credit: Baltimore Sun)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

McAlister Out, Rolle Next? Dealing with the Cornerback Situation

It was time, I suppose. Chris McAlister was just released by the Baltimore Ravens after his recent injury struggles and to free up $8 million in cap space, presumably to help this cash-strapped team sign its other free agents like Jim Leonhard, Terrell Suggs, Bart Scott and Ray Lewis (among others). This has become a perfect storm for the Ravens, one that Ozzie Newsome probably should have seen coming, but I am far from criticizing one of the best General Managers in the game. However, it does pose some questions moving forward.

From all appearances this would make cornerback the Ravens #1 draft need, leapfrogging the still dire need for a deep threat at wide receiver. I am fine with Samari Rolle and Fabian Washington holding down the fort until some young corner from this year’s draft is ready to step in full time. But now word is coming out that Samari Rolle wants out of Baltimore and will ask to be released at the NFL combine when he meets with Newsome to discuss his current deal. If the Ravens are down both Rolle and McAlister, cornerback suddenly goes from a need to a glaring liability. Fabian, for all his strides this year, is not by any stretch a shutdown cornerback, and without strong cornerback play the defense cannot execute its philosophy of attacking the quarterback with reckless abandon. Add in a new defensive coordinator that may be nervous about sending the house anyway or might not be able to compensate for a weak secondary, and this defense could look more like Minnesota than Pittsburgh. Minnesota lost games because they could not defend the pass nearly as well as they could stop the run- the Ravens cannot afford to have that sort of deficiency on that side of the ball.

This move would also increase the need to sign Jim Leonhard to enable the Ravens to keep another playmaker in the secondary to dissuade quarterbacks from taking them deep. Lacking superior cornerbacks has a ripple effect on the rest of the defense- the linebackers are forced to drop into coverage weakening the pass rush, and the safeties are forced to play deeper limiting their ability to come up and make plays on shorter routes. The Ravens will need a strong turnaround in personnel to make up for this.

However, this move also allows the Ravens more latitude in signing Scott, Lewis, and Suggs. It is reported that they may use the franchise tag on Suggs, who in my opinion is their biggest need of the three. If Lewis is resigned it may trigger the loss of Bart Scott, as it is unlikely that Baltimore will be able to keep all three. This could signal the dismantling of the defense that made up the core of this 21st century Ravens team, and although the team has a solid group of young linebackers ready to step in in Antwaan Barnes, Tavaris Gooden, Prescott Burgess and others, it will be interesting to see how many of them are forced into action this season.

For all the talk about the Ravens’ linebackers, I believe that much more is at stake at the cornerback position. If this team can put some younger players or underrated veterans at these spots it will have a much more positive impact on the team than having to replace one or two of their Big Three at linebacker. If there is one thing that Ozzie Newsome has been excellent at it is replacing talent- he will have his work cut out for him this offseason.


Photo Credit: Doug Kapustin/Baltimore Sun

Monday, February 16, 2009

Maryland Lacrosse Roundup

It is officially lacrosse season and the state of Maryland is ready to rock with lacrosse fever. This is one of the few states that has a good mix of teams, from the national contenders in Johns Hopkins and Maryland, and the tournament contenders in UMBC, Towson, Loyola, and Navy. Every year, the NCAA Tournament has at least three teams from Maryland plus they place one of the quarterfinal sites here.

It is really the one state where lacrosse rules; every other state has a more popular sport, but not the Old Line State. So without further ado, how did the teams Around the Harbor do over the weekend?

(Note: All ranking courtesy of Inside Lacrosse)

--Maryland Wins Two in the Sunshine State
Playing for "Face-Off For A Cause," #3 Maryland took down Presbyterian 18-3 then Air Force 15-4 the next day. Maryland now sits at 2-0 to start the season.

The Terps welcomed in attack Will Yeatman, transfer from Notre Dame, who scored 10 points over the weekend to combine with Grant Catalino's eight. Maryland's starting attack core still is not clear, as Ryan Young and Travis Reed, both starters last year, started one of the games, but did not play the other. Joe Cummings is also seeing time, getting a goal in each contest.

Maryland is continuing the two-goalie system of senior Jason Carter and Brian Phipps, and it worked very well this weekend. Both had a win; Phipps allowed three goals with ten saves in 60 minutes, Carter allowed four goals with nine saves in 60 minutes. This system did well last season, and it seems as if it will continue into this year.

Maryland will take on their cross-town rival Georgetown on Saturday in College Park.

Navy Defeats the Buckeyes
The #9 Midshipmen defeated #19 Ohio State in the fashion Navy's likes it, a drawn-out defensive battle 8-6. With this win Navy improves to 2-0 on the season.

The Buckeyes scored twice in the final two minutes of the third quarter to pull within one 7-6, but the Navy defense held their opponents to no goals in the final 15 minutes. Matt Coughlin stood strong in goals saving six shots and longpole Andy Tormey caused four turnovers in the victory. The first quarter was also a shutout 15 minutes for Navy.

Though Ohio State shot more, 33-26, Navy's shots were more accurate, 20 shots on goals to Ohio State's 12. Brendan Connors and Bruce Nechanicky scored twice each and Andy Warner notched three assists.

Navy will have their toughest matchup of the season thus far when they take on North Carolina on Friday night.

UMBC Roasts the Blue Hens
Thanks to powerful midfield play and a destructive 6-0 first quarter, #T-10 UMBC defeated Delaware 14-9 on the road, winning their first game of the season.

Kyle Wimer led the way with five goals as the first midfield of Wimer, Alex Hopmann, and Ohio State transfer Peet Poillon combined for nine goals. Attack Matt Latham also added three goals in an overall strong offensive performance.

Jeremy Blevins once again stood strong for the Retrievers. He had 14 saves in the contest and did enough to hold off any chance of Delaware coming back in this game. Only one Delaware player got multiple goals, that being Curtis Dickson with five.

UMBC will host Rutgers on Saturday in Baltimore.

Loyola Falls to Notre Dame in Georgia
The #17 Greyhounds fought hard, but in the end fell to the #T-10 Fighting Irish 10-9 in Atlanta. The Greyhounds fall to 0-1 to start the season.

At one point, Loyola was up 5-3 after a four-goal run and had the game tied at nine, but Dulaney High School grad Ryan Hoff scored the game winner in the middle of the fourth quarter to win it. Jake Hagelin had defended well between the pipes all game with 15 saves, but it was too much in the end.

Collin Finnerty ended with four goals, his highest ever in a college game, while also adding an assist. Jimmy Daly added a pair of scores.

The Greyhounds will return to Baltimore and play Towson next week.

The Around the Harbor lacrosse standings:
--Maryland (2-0), ranked #3
--Navy (2-0), ranked #9
--UMBC (1-0), ranked #11
--Johns Hopkins (0-0), ranked #4
--Towson (0-0)
--Mt. St. Mary's (0-0)
--Loyola (0-1), ranked #16

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Raise High the Gold: Maryland Gets Big Win over Virginia Tech

In their second straight home game wearing the gold jerseys, Maryland delivered a must-win game, winning against Virginia Tech 83-73 on Valentine's Day. They have now won three of their last four games, and although NCAA Tournament hopes are still bleak, this game was what Maryland needed, a strong game from start to finish.

Landon Milbourne and Greivis Vasquez led the way for Maryland with 23 and 17 point respectively as they were both strong against the Hokie defense. Maryland played an eight-man rotation with heavy guard play and fast-paced shooting. Maryland depended on the backcourt three-point shooting and did not try to challenge the frontcourt too much, though the transition play was killer.

I'm not sure what it is about the Comcast Center, but opposing star players do not do well here. Virginia Tech's big-3 did not do well as a trio. Malcolm Delaney, local kid from Towson Catholic, was very cold early on and didn't get the bulk of his 16 points until late. Jeff Allen had eight points and nine boards, but did not have an overall good game. A.D. Vassallo had 20 points, but the other two were not up to par. Add Delaney to the list of Silven Landesburg and Jack McClinton to players that did not play well in the Comcast Center.

Overal, this was a must-win game, and the Terps came through in good fashion. Maryland has three ranked teams in a row on their schedule, at Clemson, then back home for North Carolina and Duke. At the very least they need one victory, though two would be amazing for them. But if they lose all three, which odds in all of those say they will, then their tournament hopes are all but over.

(Photo credit: Baltimore Sun)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Free Kicks

I normally have a long, involved lead-in where I drop some personal anecdote, but this time I just feel like lining up for the kick…

Selig’s Talk is Cheap
Bud Selig, the man who turned a blind eye to steroid use for the mass majority of his tenure as baseball’s commissioner, is now once again reeking with the stench of hypocrisy as he has turned his judgment on Alex Rodriguez, saying that the All-Star and MVP “shamed the game” with his steroid use, and even going so far as to consider suspending him. Bud Selig is the one who has shamed the game. He enabled these sluggers by never doing anything beyond an occasional memo to curb drug use in his sport, by ignoring it until the public had started to walk away from the game. His long tenure is stained by his inaction and arrogance from on high, ridiculing the debauched state of the sport that he helped create.

Bud Selig has no right to criticize any steroid user; he is like the corrupt cop who does nothing to stop drug dealers on his beat. He knew what was going on- if not individuals than in general, and as the commissioner it was his job to tackle these problems head on. For all my criticism of David Stern (not much on this blog, but personally), he has taken aggressive action to clean up his game, and the first thing that Roger Goodell did when he became the NFL commissioner was to attack the problem of player conduct head-on. All the while Selig has sat by until it took the most incompetent group of individuals in the nation- Congress- to step in and demand answers. I guess Congress is only the second most incompetent group of individuals… aside from Mr. Selig.

Thoughts on the 2009 Schedule
Yesterday the UMD athletic department released the 2009 football schedule, and as a fan I am very pleased by it. Yes, it is backloaded like most Maryland seasons, with Virginia Tech, Florida State, and Boston College in consecutive weeks to end the season, but the Terps luck out on their home games this season. They get Clemson, Boston College, Virginia Tech, and Rutgers as key home games, though they will start the season with a major contest going across the country to face Cal in a rematch of last year’s Terps rout. Luckily, win or lose they will return home to face 1-AA James Madison, which will ensure that this team doesn’t get battered two weeks in a row, particularly after flying back. There are tough dates on October 10th at Wake and November 21st at Florida State, but that is a small price to pay for the other rewards this schedule offers. I am not that bullish on the Terps just yet, but it looks like their road might be easier than last year’s.

The Last Ever Favre Mention on ATH?
That’s right, this could be it. There isn’t much I haven’t said about Brett on this blog, from defending his decision to come out of retirement last year and blasting Packers management on through the offseason. I never said he would be great if he returned, but that he deserved the right to retire whenever (and how ever many times) he wanted. However, after watching his body break down towards the end of last season and his team listlessly flounder to a 9-7 finish after starting the season 8-3, I am glad to see this quarterback end his career for good. He has realized that, unlike last season, his body is now unable to perform at the level it used to, and it is time to walk away. This time the great gunslinger is out of bullets, and gets to ride off (much more quietly this year) into the sunset. I wasn’t all that into NFL football (as opposed to the college ranks) until 1998, when I watched Brett Favre lose the Super Bowl to John Elway and the Broncos- that game alone made the Packers my #2 team for the length of Favre’s career in Green Bay, and though he lost made me appreciate what a great quarterback he was. Enjoy Mississippi, Brett. While everyone else is saying good riddance, I still say good luck to you.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

In Defense of Maryland Athletics

Recently there has been an unending stream of criticism directed towards Maryland Men's Basketball for their recent failings and Maryland Football for the appointment of James Franklin as Ralph Friedgen's successor. While yes, some of this criticism is warranted, I think that we as fans get swept up in media criticism and are letting that point a one-sided picture of the situation. So rather, let's take a breath and think about the other side.

Maryland Football:
As I'm sure most of you know, Debbie Yow (Maryland's athletic director) and Ralph Friedgen have recently appointed James Franklin as the successor to Ralph Friedgen as the head football coach of the Maryland Terrapins. The common criticism is that James Franklin hasn't accomplished enough at Maryland and the idea of a 'successor' is just a copycat of other institutions across the country.

In my opinion, however, this was a move that illustrates excellent foresight and wisdom by the athletic department. There have been repeated questions, at least in recruiting circles, about how long exactly Ralph Friedgen will continue to coach. With Friedgen's deal running only to 2012, he cannot guarantee recruits who will be the coach when that time rolls around. It is imperative in selling recruits that they know who will be the coach and whether or not they would fit into that system. All indications are that Ralph will most likely hang it up after 2012, and the deal with Franklin states that if Ralph chooses to continue as head coach after that date, Franklin would be free to go wherever he wants.

Also, who's to say that James Franklin is not the guy for the job? He has an excellent offensive mind (even if it's not always executed on the field), and is a tremendous motivator. He is passionate and demanding in practice, but holds a calm and supportive demeanor come gametime. As a recruiter, James Franklin has strong roots in this area and can use his youth and charisma to draw in better prospects. It is for these reasons that Franklin has become an increasingly hot commodity, particularly in light of the recent push for more African-American head coaches. Maryland didn't hesitate in solidifying the foundation of a greater future for Terrapin football, and for that they should be roundly commended.

Maryland Men's Basketball:
In recent weeks, Gary Williams and the entire Men's Basketball program at the University of Maryland has come under immense scrutiny. It is no secret that Terps basketball has been on a steady decline since the 2002 National Championship, and that recruiting failures have been a large part of it. The Terps currently stand at 15-8 (4-5 ACC) and are staring down the barrel of missing the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in five years.

It's important, however, to realize that not all of this is Gary's fault. There have been several instances, such as the Gus Gilchrist transfer and the Tyree Evans debacle, in which Gary has brought in a player with exceptional talent but has had him slip away for reasons past his control. Let's imagine, for a minute, if Gus Gilchrist stays. Maryalnd then has a five star power forward who could dominate the paint and keep opposing defenses honest. I imagine then whether or not Gary Williams would be considered a 'has-been' as a coach.

When players give a commitment, coaches then have to assume that they will follow through and thus move on to fill different holes on the roster. Gary Williams has been caught in a few unfortunate situations where he filled the holes, but had those reopened because of late de-commits with little to no time to compensate. The 2009 recruiting class, with power forwards James Padgett and Jordan Williams should reinvigorate this team and make them a viable ACC competitor again. Jordan Williams in particular has broken out in his senior season, regularly putting up 40+ points in recent games, and has found his stock increase rapidly. Gary secured his commitment long before his breakout, seeing the talent before others did and bringing him into the fold; was this noticed and commended by the media pundits slamming his recruiting abilities? No.

Gary Williams needs to change certain things about his style, but by no means should he step down or be fired from his position. He is the face of Maryland Basketball, and by all means has maximized the talent he currently has. Instead of judging Gary by his recent record, look past the surface as to what has really brought the team here. Maryland basketball will be back, and it will be sooner than most people think.

(Photo Credit: Baltimore Sun)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Apologizing for Steroid Use is Just Smart Business

Add me to the small list of people not gushing over the apologies of some of these steroid users in baseball. Not because I think it is an unforgivable sin (I am not even sure it is one at all), or that they don’t feel really really bad about how all of this went down, or even than they want to turn public opinion around to make their lives easier. The fact of the matter is, apologizing makes smart public relations sense. In a game where millions of dollars are at stake and a player’s appearance to fans matters as much as their production on the field, public opinion is everything. Denials do nothing to ingratiate a player to their fan base, while a tearful (almost, but not enough to actually cry and thus appear weak), sincere reconciling of one man’s past with his present, splattered all over the most high-coverage venue his agent can find.

I believe this all started with Jason Giambi and his kind-of sort-of acknowledgement that he took steroids. After that, there was no story. Unless someone wanted to pry out who he got them from or how prevalent it was in the sport (far less juicy stories than the one-man drama), there just wasn’t a story there worth devoting resources too. Moreover, as a fan there is only so much hating you can do. After he has admitted it and come clean, it feels awkward to lash out and rip him for it, like the kid in school who would drop his books and laugh about it- what left is there to make fun of? Andy Pettite took this to a whole other level. He has garnered not only forgiveness, but it appears even that people forget that he took steroids at all. His lengthy, heart-wrenching (it had that impact on me, I will tell you) apology and press conference, in addition to his reputation as a stand-up individual just nullified any negative publicity he had received in conjunction with the steroids scandal.

Compare this to Roger Clemons, Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, et al. Their denials have just made suspicion turn into certainty, and made them villains in the eyes of many baseball fans. How different this situation might be if Roger Clemons had said that he “briefly” took steroids because he was feeling pressure to succeed and felt like he needed the edge, but after a year or two he stopped because he got his life back in order. Whether that is true or not is a moot point. The fact of the matter is that by admitting a small offense he is canceling out the larger offenses described by Brian McNamee. Barry Bonds might be the only exception to this, as he was known in the media as a bad character and not a man you wanted to be around anyway. However, even he could have held an interview where he “bore his soul” for the camera and talked about his tough exterior and how lonely he feels underneath and how the only way to make himself feel special was to go out and break records. Would you feel the same about Barry after that apology?

Which brings us back to Alex Rodriguez, and the possible fall out for Miguel Tejada. Scott Boras has seen this pattern, and he knows what happens to those who deny compared to those who confess something -anything- for the camera. I am certain that he told A-Rod that the only way out of this to salvage his reputation was to bear all in an interview that would not be as hard on him than one with the major networks. NBC News, 60 Minutes or even Dateline would have looked to fry him and put him in a real tough spot, but ESPN was going much softer than they could have with Peter Gammons. Boras is a smart man, and he did his client a huge favor by guiding him in the direction of apologizing. Do I believe it? I have no idea, I just know it is good business sense.

It has yet to be seen what this means for Miguel Tejada, but if I was his agent I would have one piece of advice- confess, and make it sound awfully sincere. Not even prosecutors would have the leverage to send him to prison after that.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Harbaugh Says Lewis Wants to be a Raven, Ravens Want Lewis Back

Head coach John Harbaugh has said that he is "convinced that Ray (Lewis) wants to finish his career as Raven. And there's no question the Baltimore Ravens definitely want Ray." All according to Ken Murray of the Baltimore Sun with the quotes being told to the USA Today.

One particular quote by Harbaugh probably won't ease anyone's worries about Ray leaving: "Ray Lewis is going to be a guy we're going to pay a lot of money to in order to keep." But it was assured that Steve Bisciotti would pay more than any other team. Still though, it is a little unsettling to talk about your defensive leader as a person you will "pay a lot of money to keep," as if you didn't want to but had to.

This situation has gotten increasingly difficult to maintain since the beginning. Some national football analysts believe Lewis is not coming back, but considering all that has been said, he should be in a Ravens uniform next season. Ray Lewis has every right to want top dollar for his performance, and John Harbaugh should want his defensive leader back. Bisciotti has not been the most fluent when it came to talking about the money matters, but he should be bringing him back. His own teammates, mainly Terrell Suggs, want him to return. Basically, anything less would be a tremendous disappointment. This situarion has not been handled well, but just because two big market teams want him does not mean they will.

Re-signing Ray Lewis is the #1 priority in the free agent period. Nothing else is as important. Harbaugh knows it.

He won't take a hometown discount, and he won't return for the goodness of his heart. But he knows what it means to be here and that the Ravens want him back. And he will, we all hope.

(Photo credit: Flickr)

Monday, February 9, 2009

Why Should We Forgive Alex Rodriguez?

As we all know, Alex Rodriguez tested positive for "performance-enhancing drugs" in 2003, and it was not released until now. In his interview with Peter Gammons, Rodriguez said he was sorry he took steroids and that he is clean ever since. He also pointed out that he was young at the time and didn't know any better.

Frankly, I don't believe you. I also don't care.

Rodriguez is not sorry he took drugs, he is sorry he got caught. He is angry about the fact the media is all over him. In that interview he kept calling out people in the media for unfairly attacking him. The fact is he lied constantly and he would have buried this forever had he been given the chance. He only apologized days after the report came out, before he said to "talk to the union." When he said he was young when he did this, he was 27 years old. He had been in the league many years, had the largest contract in the history of baseball, and knew exactly what he was doing.

I agree with him that this positive should never have been released, nor should he get punished for something that happened that long ago. He also gets a terrible rap from Yankee fans. But that does not change what he did and what he denied doing for years.

Already we have praised Rodriguez for coming out and apologizing. This seemed to be the norm after the Mitchell Report came out and players left and right came to apologize for their sins. But why should we forgive steroids users and the union that protects them who are destroying the integrity of the game? It does not change the fact they used steroids and possibly affected other possible careers with their cheating. We have destroyed the Hall of Fame possibilities for Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, and Rafael Palmeiro because of their actions. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are facing possible federal charges. Known users like Sammy Sosa and Jason Giambi stopped and their careers have never been the same. All of these men knew exactly what they were doing and made millions off it. Why should Alex Rodriguez be treated any differently? Just because he apologized? He has made millions off his play which may have been tainted, and if it were up to him, nobody would have ever had to know.

Think of it this way. Had the report not been released, it might have been Alex Rodriguez eventually saying "I have never used steroids. Period." Rodriguez, you may get some people forgiving you, but you don't deserve it. You better pray the Hall of Fame voters can forgive you some day.

(Photo credit: Askmen.com (Rodriguez), NY Times (Palmeiro))

A Win is a Win

Maryland will be at least happy they got a win after defeating Georgia Tech 57-56, but that is probably all they will smile about. This was a very ugly win that could have easily gone the other way. Maryland did not play a good game, but Georgia Tech played a worse one.

Maryland did not shoot well at all and could not take advantage of Georgia Tech's turnovers. The Terps tried to employ the newfound face-pace offense, but often found themselves slowing down due to their passing issues. The one thing that did go well was that they were pickpocketing the Yellow Jackets well, amounting 12 steals by the end of the night. And in a close game where no one led by more than four at any time in the second half, the Terps put enough together to win.

Greivis Vasquez had a solid overall day with 19 points and three steals. Eric Hayes had a good day on the stat lines with 15 points and three steals, though had six turnovers and had problematic ball control. He had to start for Adrian Bowie, who was suffering from the flu. In that regard, Maryland could not put their best team on the court, but they still looked very sloppy. Everyone else had less than desireable days, though Cliff Tucker is once again showing why he should get more time off the bench.

Gary Williams was real choked up after the game. No matter what the critics say, it is clear he loves this team and loves to coach.

Maryland will get some well needed rest, as Virginia Tech awaits them on Saturday it what will be another must-win game. The Terps currently sit at 15-8, 4-5 in the conference. If they want a chance at the NCAA Tournament, they will have to win five of the final seven ACC games; a very uphill battle considering they have Duke, North Carolina, Wake Forest, and Clemson left on their schedule.

(Photo credit: AP)

Sunday, February 8, 2009

College Basketball BlogPoll- This Week

On the second go at the blogpoll, Windsor and I have created an interesting top-25.

The top-4 were very easy, but then things get interesting. Most teams in the 5-12 range had losses this week; either a beatdown by a high ranked team or a loss to a low/unranked squad. Same went to teams around the 18-20 spot. It was a very difficult poll to round out in the end.

Some notes:
--ACC and Big East continue to fight to see which is the better conference. Both conferences have five teams in our top-25, with the Big East having three in the top-5 and both having four in the top-10. Originally is was the ACC with four and the Big East with six, but Florida State's entrance and Syracuse's exit evens things out.
--The SEC finally breaks into the poll, getting LSU in at #24. Florida is one of the last teams out, and South Carolina also has a chance to get in the ranking eventually.
--Dayton would have been in the poll if not for their loss to Charlotte.


RankTeam
1Connecticut
2Oklahoma
3North Carolina
4Pittsburgh
5Louisville
6 Duke
7Clemson
8Wake Forest
9Marquette
10Michigan St.
11Butler
12Memphis
13Purdue
14UCLA
15Xavier
16Villanova
17Kansas
18Arizona St.
19Gonzaga
20Illinois
21Utah St.
22Florida St.
23Washington
24Louisiana St.
25Missouri

Maryland Takes On Georgia Tech: A Must-Win

It seems like we are saying "this game is a must-win" a lot, but nonetheless it is true. Maryland heads to Atlanta tonight to take on Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets are 10-11 overall and are only 1-7 against the conference, including a win against Wake Forest and a loss against the Terps in Maryland's first ACC game about a month ago. Maryland currently sits at 14-8, 3-5 in conference play.

The loss to North Carolina did put a lot of hope into this season even if it might be a little late. Maryland put up 91 on a top-5 team on their home court, and when a team shoots 16-25 from the perimeter, it is hard to win against them.

But in that game Maryland seemed to finally start using their advantages. The Terps know they will likely not win the rebounding war by any stretch. But they have a number of fast guards and can play very well in transition, which was causing many problems to UNC's defense. The constant fast break shooting was very effective. Also, Maryland was not trying to force the 3-point shot, which has caused them major problems in the past. They were pulling off defenders and getting their shots from down low, ending 48% after starting 55.6% in the first half. They had 16 turnovers, same as UNC, 39 rebounds, same as UNC. Now the question becomes can this Terps team continue to play like this.

Maryland takes on Georgia Tech in a rematch from January 10th. Last time, Maryland needed a second half comeback to win. The Terps didn't shoot well at all but constant Yellow Jacket turnovers gave Maryland the opportunity to win. Like last time, look for Georgia Tech to use big men Gani Lawal and Alade Aminu to be big time players; the two combined for 27 rebounds last time as they both got double-doubles. They have lost six of their last seven games, but nearly all of them were close. Maryland will need to play fast and continue their fast-paced style that they developed against North Carolina. This game is a must-win.

(Photo credit: Baltimore Sun)

Saturday, February 7, 2009

ESPN's Maryland Mount Rushmore

ESPN has released Mount Rushmore for each state, emcompassing all sports. Here is the state of Maryland:
-Brooks Robinson: The "Vacuum Cleaner" at third base, the Hall of Famer had 16 Gold Gloves, 15 All-Star Games, an MVP award in 1964, plus two World Series rings in his 22-year Oriole career.

-Cal Ripken Jr.: The "Iron Man," at shortstop/third base, the Hall of Famer played in 2,632 straight games. He had 19 All-Star Games, two MVPs, had over 3,000 hits and 400 home runs.

-Johnny Unitas: The "Golden Arm," the Baltimore Colts Hall of Famer was a 10-time Pro Bowler, threw a touchdown in 47 straight games, and won three championships, including "The Greatest Game Ever Played" in 1958.

-Michael Phelps: Called by many as the best ever Olympian, this swimmer amassing 14 gold medals in the 2004 and 2008 Games out of 16 events in those contests. He currently holds seven world records.

For me, I would keep Robinson, Ripken, and Unitas. Though I feel Ray Lewis should be on instead of Phelps, just because of how much the Ravens have meant to the state, and Lewis has been the leader of the team throughout its history, including when they won the Super Bowl in 2000. But Phelps is a good choice. Overall, ESPN did a very good job.

So this is a nice Mount Rushmore. The question I pose to you all, who would be on your Maryland Mount Rushmore?
(Photo credits: SI (Ripken), Oriolesnumbers.com (Robinson), US Magazine (Phelps), Pro Football Hall of Fame (Unitas))

Friday, February 6, 2009

Breaking News: Baltimore Given 2010 and 2011 NCAA Men's Lacrosse Final Four

The NCAA announced today that Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium will be the host for the 2010 and 2011 NCAA men's lacrosse Final Fours. Boston has been chosen to be the site in 2012 and is currently the host of the event this season.

Back in January, Baltimore was recommended by the tournament committee to be the 2010 host, but not the other two years. With this, Baltimore will have the event for the first time since 2007 after hosting it in 2003 and 2004.

The hosts of the tournament will be Maryland, Johns Hopkins, UMBC, Towson, and Loyola. When Baltimore hosted the event in 2007, the number of hosts was a big problem due to communication problems. Hopefully this will be resolved come Final Four time.

The sport is continuing to grow in popularity, setting new attendance records in Boston last season. Let's see if Baltimore can do even better when the event returns to them.

Free Kicks

Well, I was going to have a whole Free Kicks about what to watch and not to watch this February as we await March Madness or any other championship season, but then the news broke of Maryland’s decision to designate a Coach-in-Waiting for Ralph Friegen, and I tore it up and pieced together a new one. As you will see, I am not happy with the situation in College Park. Let’s line up for the kick…

Another Coach-in-Waiting?
My God, it has happened again. At Maryland, no less! Offensive coordinator James Franklin has been designated as the eventual successor to Head Football Coach Ralph Friegen, and no one is more baffled than I am. Look, I am no huge fan of the mediocrity of Maryland football and the perennial underachievement of the last few years, but I can understand allowing Friegen to keep his job. However, the designation of a successor not only guarantees that Friegen will have the head job for a long while, but also puts in place a successor in Franklin who, while innovative, as not done enough with his offensive pieces to be considered a mastermind of anything. I will repeat myself once again the point I have made several times before on this blog: a coach-in-waiting does far more harm than good. If Franklin’s offenses struggle over the next few years, what happens to his job security? If Friegen’s team struggles over the next few years, is he fired and replaced with his own designated successor? That seems ineffective if the goal is to change things up. The only person this is good for is Ralph Friegen, as it assures him that he will likely be able to keep his job for years to come and leave on his own terms.

It makes a bit more sense to have a coach in waiting when you are a championship-winning coach with a long history of success and a hopeful future to look forward to, as in Texas or Florida State. It even makes sense when an aging coach close to retirement and beloved by his fans wants to designate a pupil of his as head coach, as at Purdue or in the NFL with Mike Holmgren and Jim Mora Jr. But it doesn’t make sense at Maryland, and it will very likely come back to bite them.

Avoid the Pro Bowl
I love the idea of all star games. You get the most talented players and put them on the same team, in theory leading to watching the best football. However, as any loyal fan can tell you, the best football doesn’t always come when the most talented teams play- it is when players are fighting because their season (or bragging rights) is on the line. The Pro Bowl is simply disheartening to watch, particularly if you are a Ravens fan. Sure, the coaching staff will be there, but it won’t be Ravens football- no blitzing, no hard hits, no tough football of any kind. I don’t blame the players, they have had a long grueling season and the last thing they want is to suffer another injury. I will let them bask in their glory and perhaps take a peek at some amusing skills challenges (they are so lighthearted that it makes it a lot of fun to watch), but aside from that I will take my Law & Order reruns over half-played football.

Getting out of the Kiddie Pool
Okay, as a recent Michigan grad who (technically) went to school with Michael Phelps and a Towson native who grew up in the same town, I have heard my share of stories about Phelps and aside from the ones on NBC Olympic coverage, they haven’t been particularly positive. I will reserve judgment on him as a person as I don’t personally know him, but this current story is being blown way out of proportion. He is not a kid who is known for his smart decisions or abstaining from alcohol, so I am not surprised that he would take a hit from a bong some time or another. Nowadays, everyone has a camera phone and invariably someone will see every misstep this kid makes. Up until now Phelps has gotten the kid gloves treatment from the media and now he has to answer for some things he has done. However, this is a tiny story and it is hypocritical of the media to suddenly chastise him after coddling him for the last 5 years.

James Franklin Named Successor to Friedgen........Really?????

According to Ken Murray of the Baltimore Sun, James Franklin, Maryland's assistant head coach and offensive coordinator, has been named as the eventual successor to Ralph Friedgen as head coach of the Maryland football program.

Franklin was hired by Maryland for the 2008 season after two years as offensive coordinator of Kansas State. He was the Terps wide receivers coach from 2000-2004 and is currently in charge of recruiting in certain Maryland locations, including the important Prince Georges County area.

This is becoming somewhat of a popular action by some college football programs, naming a head coach in waiting to the current one. Notables include Florida State, Texas, Virginia Tech, Oregon, and Kentucky. Maryland adds themselves to that list with the naming of Franklin as successor.

But my question is, why? What has Franklin done to deserve such an honor? He has only been a coordinator here for the last season, and it is not like Maryland's offense was anything special. In fact, one might say it was not living up to its potential. His playcalling often left Chris Turner in trouble and Darrius Heyward-Bey was never what he could have been here. He has done well during certain games, but like a lot of things Maryland, he seems very inconsistent. Will sponsors be happy about this? I'm not sure they will be.

He has spent just three years combined as a coordinator and he is not a Maryland graduate. I really don't understand why this has occured. Had Franklin had more experience or was a hands down great coach, then I would have no problem with this. But nothing about him makes me believe he deserves to be a head coach in waiting. Congratulations to James Franklin, though I really don't know why Maryland gave you the honor.

(Photo credit: Maryland athletics)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Ray Lewis Rules out "Hometown Discount"

A few weeks ago we discussed with cautious optimism the recent statements that Terrell Suggs made asking the three star linebackers heading for free agency (himself, Ray Lewis, and Bart Scott) to take a collective “hometown discount” so that they can stay together as a team. Leave it to the most unlikely of suspects to slash the optimism right out of that equation. According to an interview on the NFL Network, Ray Lewis has quashed any ideas of a hometown discount, and will play where he will get paid as competitively as possible. I can see Bart Scott or (prior to this offseason) Terrell Suggs making this sort of statement, but Ray?

Look, I have no problem with a player asking for money commensurate with his experience and ability, but I would hope that Ray understands that his role is far more than a player. He is not just “52”, he is a leader in the locker room. Even when he hasn’t played his personal best, he has raised the level of play of everyone else on that defense. I am sure that this is a major talking point for him and his agent in negotiations, but he misses one salient point. In the interview with NFL Network, he implies that he would be such a locker room force on whatever team he joins. I am not sure that would take place. He would be new to the players, new to the organization, and would be coming up against other leaders on the team. Ray has been the face of this franchise because all other potential leaders are subsumed under his fury and passion. I am not sure that other teammates would respond as well to his approach, and I am not sure that Lewis would be content to be a supporting figure in the locker room.

Moreover, one thing Lewis has been adamant about amidst the rumors of his diminishing abilities is that he must be a starter and take just about every snap. The Ravens have been loyal with him, passing over other young talent to keep #52 in his spot. Will his other suitors be so patient if he has an off-year next year? We all know Ray wants to play another 3 years, but what if his new team drafts a linebacker after next season and wants to put the legendary linebacker in a backup or mentoring role? Lewis is not that kind of player, and he should know that if he stays in Baltimore he will be a starter for just about as long as he wants. He has earned that- if he gets in another uniform, he won’t have earned that right.

What alarms me most about this report is that he specifically names two teams he would like to join, the Cowboys and the Jets. Why? He sounded more like a free agent hungry for dollars than the face of the Ravens franchise. I understand he can win with the Cowboys or the Jets, and he may get loyalty from new Jets head coach Rex Ryan, but the assumption that those situations would be comparable to his situation in Baltimore are preposterous. These comments also come on the heels of his announcing that he didn’t want to discuss his offseason plans, and I understood that to mean that he wanted to silence speculation. Here he is stoking the flames himself, either trying to force the Ravens to up the ante or get his money elsewhere. He should realize that if the Ravens are forced to pay top dollar for his services, they won’t have the money to resign important other pieces of the team or perhaps even their draft picks.

Ray has to pick which one he wants more from the Ravens, the money or the chance to win another Super Bowl. Based on this interview it sounds like he wants to go to the highest bidder. I understand this sentiment in principle, but I have trouble hearing it from the face of the Baltimore Ravens, it just doesn’t seem right. Ray Lewis the mercenary? I don’t want to believe it, I hope it is just posturing. I always thought he cared about the team’s rings, not just the ones on his hand.

Photo Credit: AP Photo

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

National Signing Day a Success for the Terrapins

Maryland won't find its way into the top 25 of many recruiting rankings, but Maryland has put together a strong class for this year. Currently ranked at #26 nationally by Rivals.com, Maryland has reeled in 6 four-star commits, 16 three-star commits, and 4 2-star commits to round out their roster. Here's the full commitment listing courtesy of the reliable folks at Rivals.com.

I'll have more detailed breakdowns later, but here are my initial thoughts on some of the prospects in this class:

- The late pickup of four-star guard Peter White could turn out to be huge for this team. The lack of depth on the offensive line was a major concern this year, and that's only been hurt by the loss of stalwart Edwin Williams at center. White adds some much needed depth and size to the interior of the line.

- It's going to be very interesting to see who shakes out at the linebacker position. The Terps are losing nearly their entire linebacking corps to graduation this year, and so Friedgen and his staff went out and recruited the position heavily. Thus, Maryland has commitments from seven three-star linebackers. None of these come into College Park with particularly high expectations, so it should be a dogfight to see who cracks the lineup because at least a couple of them will be needed to contribute as true freshmen.

- Friedgen has shown a knack for picking up excellent running backs in the past few years, and this year is no exception. Maryland has gained the commitments of much-sought after Georgia running back D.J. Adams and Good Counsel's own Caleb Porzel. Both are four star players and come in with a good deal of ability, but how they fit into the current rotation is a big question mark. Da'Rel Scott and Davin Meggett had excellent years this year and Da'Rel is entrenched as the No.1 running back. I expect one or both of these incoming backs to redshirt, most likely Adams because Caleb Porzel might be asked to use his reputed 4.3 speed on kickoff or punt returns.

- The additions in the defensive line and defensive backfield were huge for the Terrapins. This past season Maryland was able to generate little if any pass rush on a consistent basis and their pass coverage was suspect. Maryland was able to pick up 2 four star defensive ends in DeOnte Arnett and David Mackall, and a four star cornerback in Travis Hawkins. The Hawkins recruitment in particular was impressive, as Maryland was able to hold off the likes of Michigan, Florida, Georgia, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Virginia Tech, and Penn State. Very big win for the Terrapins.

More thoughts on this class in the coming weeks, but kudos to Ralph Friedgen and his coaching staff! For a school that is not by any means a 'destination' school, Maryland competed exceedingly well with the major college football powers.