Monday, 25 March 2013

College Hoops Round-up (March 25th)

Whenever Selection Sunday comes around, people tend to knee jerk their bracket picks, myself I tend to do the selection post it and then go back to it after doing some research.  Luckily, my final four is still in place after some third round heart attacks.

Most notably Ohio State who had to rely upon the clutch of Aaron Craft and some poor officiating to advance to the regional semi-final to play Arizona.  Iowa State will feel hosed following a questionable offensive charge call on Craft when his feet were moving, however the Cyclones clock management cost them as they allowed Craft the ball with 20 seconds to have a shot, and as he showed on the road at Indiana he is ultra-clutch and drained a three point jumper to win the game with 0.2 seconds remaining.

Kansas Jayhawks had an awful first half shooting against the North Carolina Tar Heels, luckily though so did Roy Williams' side as both combined to miss 50 plus shots in the first half.  Kansas exploded at the start of the second half with a 23-8 run to end the game before you knew it.  At the start, the Tar Heels crammed Jeff Withey for room in the paint, suffocating him for movement but Travis Releford stepped up in second half.  This is the Jayhawks key, they have enough playmakers in Withey, Releford, Ben McLemore and Elijah Johnson that someone will step up.

Unlike say Georgetown, Notre Dame and Wisconsin.

All three sides who are seminal names in the College Basketball landscape, yet they all fell to double-digit seeded teams who showed them up to be slow in tempo and stuck in their ways.

Wisconsin lost to Ole Miss, in this instance the Bo Ryan's Badgers can be forgiven as they lost to a team in Ole Miss who had to play hard down the stretch in the SEC to even be considered for the tournament, but a placing in the SEC final where they lost to Florida helped that matter.  Led by a vocal Marshall Henderson, who scored double-digits in the second half the Rebels beat Wisconsin 57-46.  Wisconsin usually dictate the tempo and make shots from three point range, on this occasion Ole Miss kept up the tempo and the Badgers could not keep up.

Notre Dame have a tradition of being a side who do well week-in,week-out in the Big East and yet come to the Dance they come up short.  They lost to #10 Iowa State, the fourth year in succession the Irish have lost to a double digit side, on this occasion it was embarrassing 76-58.  For me the Cyclones have the high tempo and great long range shooting to trouble the Irish, and they were my banker first round upset. Don't believe me check my bracket.

Looking at the Notre Dame offensive output of 58 points and a 18 point deficit, this weak offensive output is a staple of Big East play.  Whilst I believe Louisville will still win the National title owing to having the best defence, but they have the offensive firepower to explode if need be.  Whereas Georgetown Hoyas were overrated and should not have been a 2 seed.

Obviously, losing to Florida Gulf Coast Eagles was a seismic shock of epic proportions, the greatest 15 over 2 seed upset in NCAA history and yet looking back over the seasons of both sides is it really a surprise.

Georgetown average points is 64.6, whereas FGCU average 73.1 which is 49th ranked side in the country.  Georgetown's best win all season was a 53-51 win at home to then ranked #5 Louisville. FGCU beat Miami 63-51 in their second game of the season, Miami were ranked top 5 by the end of the season.  Georgetown rely too much on Otto Porter Jr who is meant to be a rebounding machine - Porter averages 7.4 boards a game, the team averages 32.9 (247th); the Eagles top rebounder is Sherwood Brown with 6.4 yet the team averges 36.6 (87th) so the team has more rebounds because they shoot more.

The key to the Eagles win was the high-tempo and they got ahead which is always a problem for any Big East side as they then panic and attempt long threes which Big East sides are not renowned for.  Gulf Coast play fast and play in space allowing easy dunks and points in the paint, they murdered the Hoyas in transition.

FGCU come from the Atlantic Sun conference, winning the tournament over regular-season champion Mercer 88-75 on Mercer's floor to win the automatic bid.  FGCU are tough nuts but want to hang with the best; they beat Miami as mentioned but they also scheduled games against Duke, Iowa State, St. Johns and VCU - all respected teams that they lost to. They themselves have been guilty of complacency losing to Lipscomb (12-18) twice and East Tennessee State (10-22); this indicates a team that if it plays with momentum and now confidence they should not be surprised by their potential and wins, they are on a seven game winning streak (average victory 11.1 points) that started by beating Mercer at home on February 28th, a month later they play inter-state rivals Florida Gators in Dallas Cowboys Stadium.

The beauty of this story involving the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles is that no-one gave them a chance, and that makes it all the more surprising.  Florida are an experienced side and Billy Donovan has a few more days to prepare for the four point guard system; a side that have 14 assists a game but they shoot a high field goal percentage of .460, ranked 49th nationally.

This weekend predictions:
WEST: Ohio State over Arizona, Wichita over La Salle - Ohio State to reach Final Four
EAST: Miami over Marquette, Indiana over Syracuse - Indiana to reach Final Four
MIDWEST: Louisville over Oregon, Duke over Michigan State - Louisville to reach Final Four
SOUTH: Kansas over Michigan, Florida over Florida Gulf - Kansas to reach Final Four

I'm sticking with the initial Final Four selections, the only worry will be Michigan State v Duke a close contest and Michigan v Kansas. If the Wolverines back court is consistent and avoids turnvovers, the Jayhawks may have problems but if Withey can control the paint it might be another story.

Follow me on twitter @JamieGarwood

Friday, 22 March 2013

Men in Black in the dark

Over the past weekend, the Premier League saw two of the least desirable refereeing performances of this season in the accumulated time of four hours.

On Wearside, Chris Foy and company had three hand-ball decisions to give at the same end of the football pitch in Sunderland and only got two of them right.  The first one was the most clear cut one with Norwich goalkeeper Mark Bunn racing out of his area to stop Danny Graham from giving the Mackems the lead.

Although the ball hit Bunn's midriff before hitting his underarm and tricep; the decision to dismiss him from the field of play for denying a clear goal-scoring opportunity whilst on the face of things may seem harsh was by the letter of the law correct.

Norwich had to play for nearly an hour without a full quota of men, not helped 10 minutes later by the award of a penalty against Sebastian Bassong for handball.  This was one of those that you have seen given and not given, a skidding ball hit the turf hit Bassong's chest then brushed his left bicep.  The decision to give the penalty fell onto the assistant referee, who did not hesitate.

Sunderland converted the penalty to level it up at 1-1.  However, more drama was to follow when in the second half, Norwich City were denied a penalty of their own when a clear handball was awarded but as a free-kick on the edge of the box and not a penalty.  The fallacy continues in replays when defender Danny Rose is shown to be inside the box when airborne and still inside the box when he lands.

The refusal to award a penalty makes it a bizarre double bill of wrong when you recall Marouanne Fellani's handball versus Manchester City at Goodison Park, when the Belgian blocked a Carlos Tevez shot a full three yards inside the box only for referee Lee Probert to award a free-kick.

The discussions between the referee and assistant referee's would be interesting and this is where I feel the need for transparency and the broadcasting of the dialogue needs to be a healthy step forward for officiating.

At my level, I am told by my match official whom I am assisting to help with matters regarding if it is or is not inside the box; on both of these occasions the referee can give the penalty and then look across to the assistant for clarification.  We are always told we also have more time than we think.

Ten days ago, Mark Clattenburg took the time to ask his assistant referee for clarification about a last minute penalty award.  Clattenburg blew for the foul, looked across conversed with his assistant and then pointed to the spot.  This upset the Southampton players (who have since been charged by the FA for failing to control themselves) because the penalty award was not instantaneous - the fact that the end result was correct was by the by.

Then in Wigan, we witnessed the most horrific tackle in recent memory as Calum McManaman launched himself over the ball to 'tackle' Newcastle midfielder Haidara who it is feared has sustained left knee ligament damage.  The most worrying thing about the whole incident was the award of not even a free-kick to Newcastle, let alone a booking for McManaman where a red card would have been the mandatory enforcement.

Yet the FA chose to not charge the youngster with violent conduct due to an agreed stance by the PGMO to not re-referee games in retrospect.  Ultimately, one official did see the tackle but did not bring it to referee Mark Halsey's attention.

So instead of getting the decision right at the end of the day, the FA have chosen to respect the referee's decision is final even when it is wrong.

It is fair to say that we are learning more and more that the referees in the Premier League need to be younger and fitter, both of the guilty referees are the wrong end of their 40s in the twilight of their careers and yet whilst the referees do do an excellent job.  For me at Level 4, such decisions are difficult to defend when talking to colleagues and the average fan.

The English game has been at the forefront of many things and in terms of refereeing we are regarded as the best in the world, yet the governing body is not helping matters and in some respects the referees are not helping themselves by remaining behind this veil of secrecy and pride - if you stay in the dark too long, you may become that what you want to be, invisible.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Will AVB stop tinkering?

Being a Tottenham fan myself, I do try to not write damning pieces about our side and reserve my judgement to a sobering reflection across a pint or two with similar fans.

Over two weeks ago, Tottenham won the North London derby at White Hart Lane against rivals Arsenal 2-1 thanks to two goals in three minutes from Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon.  Although they held on to the three points thanks in part to a solid rearguard led by captain Michael Dawson and Jan Vertonghen playing at centre back - the warning signs were there in the first half against the Gunners.

Until Gareth Bale scored the opener, it could be argued the lead came against the run of play with Arsenal enjoying the majority of possession and territory in midfield, albeit without engineering many chances of note.  The trio of Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla over ran the midfield duo of Scott Parker and Moussa Dembele of Tottenham, until Spurs engineered a sleek passing interchange which led to Bale's neat finish.  Two minutes later, a defence splitting pass by Parker met Lennon on a run where he rounded goalkeeper Wojech Sczezeny to give a two goal cushion.

However, with Tottenham things are never easy or as easy as they should be.  Having gained a 10 point lead over Arsenal, Tottenham should have been aiming to catch Manchester City in second place and yet in the last two league games away at Liverpool and home to Fulham, Tottenham have contrived to lose six points when at least four were there for the taking to cement their position in third place and secure Champions League football.

Leading 2-1 away at Anfield with 20 minutes remaining, Spurs conspired to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory thanks to two lobotomised moments of defending.  Kyle Walker suffering from 'second-album syndrome' played an ambitious across the pitch backpass that left Hugo Lloris somehow attempting to clear the ball, which he missed and Stewart Downing easily converted.  Then Jermain Defoe toe-ended and skied a clearance twenty-five yards from his goal back into the penalty area, landing at the feet of Luis Suarez who was fouled allowing Steven Gerrard to convert the winning spot-kick.

After giving up the lead, Spurs struggled to create any noteworthy chances.  Then they lost at home to Fulham, thanks to a winning goal by returning Dimitar Berbatov.  In this goal, Tottenham again failed to create chances and met Mark Schwarzer in inspirational form in the Fulham goal.

What was most striking about the Fulham defeat was the bizarre formation and team selection employed by Andre Villas-Boas.  Having just survived a Europa League tie at Inter Milan on Thursday night after extra time from a seemingly comfortable position (see how it is never easy for Spurs); AVB started five players who played the entire 120 minutes of the Inter game.  And then seemingly played a hot-potch of the best available players in an eleven seemingly there to go and get the job done before the international break.

AVB might have been responding to Arsenal's 2-0 win away at Swansea on Saturday afternoon, yet Spurs are the form team and yet played in response to the team Fulham played.

AVB played Steven Caulker at right back to probably nullify Damien Duff or the running of Giorgios Karagounis or Bryan Ruiz; whilst Dawson and Vertonghen could contend with Berbatov.  Then he played Kyle Naughton at left back with Benoit Assou-Ekotto at left wing.  This strikes you as bizarre given how Naughton's form this season has been less than impressive and he is predominantly right footed also the positioning of Ekotto at left wing left him rather exposed and wasted, is he meant to supply cover for the youngster or be an out and out wide threat which he is not.

Elsewhere, Parker and Dembele played in front of the back four with Bale and Sigurdsson behind Emanuel Adebayor who played up front on his own.  This left Tottenham shorn of creative wing play; whilst Bale has been on fire, he needs to play on the left wing to terrorise whichever poor soul is playing right back.  Yet the absence of him, has led many to suggest and correctly that Aaron Lennon has been more important to Tottenham's great undefeated streak than the Welshman.

Lennon has been playing better in recent months, yet again though he has succumb to a niggling injury and his invention on the right wing in parallel to Bale on the left had led to many chances being created.  On Sunday, the idea was seemingly give Bale the ball and something may happen, clearly something did not.  Tottenham were too narrow and constricted which played into the hands of Fulham whose midfield was marshalled by Steve Sidwell and Ashkan Dejagah whilst Sascha Reither bombed forward when possible on his right wing, his run and pass set up Berbatov's winner.

AVB must have felt that Fulham could be defeated by simply turning up, which is unfair to under-estimate a Fulham side whose away form whilst poor belies the football they try to play under Martin Jol - quick passing, counter-attacking which Tottenham allowed them to do in the first half which gained them confidence.

An observation aimed at AVB would be why play Adebayor whose still is even more laid back than Berbatov, but who looked even more lethargic on Sunday after having played two hours on Thursday.  Although he scored the vital away goal, his form has been woeful and Sunday demanded a start for Jermain Defoe who is coming back from injury.

Also, why has Lewis Holtby been used less and less in the Premier League yet more in the Europa League.  Holtby has the industry to unbreak many defences yet he was an unused substitute on Sunday (three strikers were brought on instead - Defoe, Thomas Carroll and Clint Dempsey) in search of an equaliser and played only six minutes as a substitute at Anfield, again in search of an equaliser.

The loss of Michael Dawson at half-time to a hamstring injury was unfortunate and led to Caulker joining Vertonghen in the centre, yet the substitute was Clint Dempsey. The correct change would have been move Naughton to right back, Ekotto back to his preferred left-back position, Bale to left wing, Sigurdssson to right wing and Holtby in behind Adebayor or Defoe, yet AVB felt more forward power would overcome Fulham; a hard task against a veteran backline of Hangeland, Senderos and Schwarzer.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Appleton sacked by Blackburn

Too often in football - much like the telegraphed ending in a by the number Hollywood thriller - you are left open mouthed by a footballing development.

This afternoon, Blackburn Rovers took the decision to sack their newest manager Michael Appleton from his post as manager after only 67 days.

Appleton leaves with a grand record of 15 games, winning four, drawing five and losing six.  His last match was Sunday's derby encounter versus Burnley when an injury-time equaliser by home-town boy David Dunn secured a valuable point in the battle to avoid relegation.  Blackburn sit in 18th position on 46 points, four points clear of 22nd placed Peterborough on 42.  Owing to a prolonged FA Cup run to the quarter-finals, Blackburn have one game in hand.

Yet the decision to sack a third manager in a season, smacks of the knee-jerkism becoming more and more associated with the owners, the Venky family from India.  The lack of stability and cohesion from the ownership downwards makes a mockery of the legendary side and the history enstilled in it by Jack Walker and Kenny Dalglish.

Blackburn might have bought the Premier League title in 1995, but they would not be able to buy a coffin from an undertaker.  The name is being dragged through the mud by these owners who are deluded to think that a new manager will save a sinking ship.  Nevermind the unbelievable season this has been for Appleton himself who leaves his third team of the season having started with floundering Portsmouth, leaving for Blackpool and only lasting two months before jumping at the chance to lead Blackburn.

The players will find it hard to adapt to a new managerial style in little or no time - it might be wise to just go with the talent and hope they can salvage the season.

The worry for Blackburn is that they are currently in an awful run of form - garnering only 10 points from the last 10 games.  Whereas relegation rivals, Barnsley (20) and Peterborough (16) are playing with a new found belief and vigour.

Nine games remain to save Blackburn from the dreaded double drop down into League One.  Many fans believe the drop will force the Venkys to sell the club and leave, yet will the fanbase remain if they play in a lower division.

The games remaining are tough, in England's toughest division - unfortunately they play three teams chasing promotion in Cardiff (a), Watford (a) and Crystal Palace (h) and also games against Sheff Wed (a), Blackpool (h) and Huddersfield (h) all teams not safe yet.

They can survive but this sort of change six weeks from the end of the season is not just plain barmy but an insult to the football club's history and supporters.

Follow me on twitter @JamieGarwood

Monday, 11 March 2013

IU v MICH: Tale of Two Teams

Sunday 10th March 2013, once the Men's College Basketball is over may well come down as an important date for the two teams who played each other that night - Indiana Hoosiers and Michigan Wolverines - with the Big 10 regular season title on the line.

For the Hoosiers, it was the opportunity to win a Big 10 title for the first time since 1993 when Bobby Knight was in charge; for the Wolverines it was the chance to get a tie of the same title and also warrant a top 5 ranking before tournament week.

Michigan were up, and yet contrived to miss three free throws which would have put a knife in Indiana.  And yet a team who have been hot and cold for much of the Big 10 conference play, decided to be anything but ice from the line and throw away the chance of a big time victory.

The failure from the free throw line, allowed Indiana to have a chance and if you allow a team containing Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo the chance to get a victory; those leaders will come to the fore.

That is conceivably the difference between these two teams who end up with only one more loss than each other; yes if Michigan had won, they would have finished 26-5 which is Indiana's finishing record.

Cody Zeller put away the go-ahead shot with 13 seconds remaining, yet it felt like an eternity as it rolled on the rim and then fell through the net to garner a 72-71 victory in Ann Arbor.

Whereas, Indiana could call upon two Wooden award nominees in Zeller and Oladipo to come up big and want to take the final shot; for Michigan it seems freshman Trey Burke went awol. Burke had 20 points but off of 20 shots, which is poor; Zeller had 25 points off of less shots.

Burke came to a standstill once Oladipo went man-to-man on Burke near the end of the 1st half, this caused Burke to worry and it did unnerve his play.  Oladipo gained another notch in his Player of the Year resume in  nullifying Burke last night.

What does this mean for both teams heading to the Big 10 tournament?  Indiana will not be concerned by losing their first round match, as it seems they are assured of a #1 seed in the tournament proper.  For Michigan, they would need to win the Big 10 tournament and hope teams like Duke, Kansas and Louisville all lose early also.

This loss could result in Michigan dropping from a #2 seed to a more likely #3 seed based on their level of wins this season - three of the six losses came by a margin of three points or less.  Their best win was probably at home to Michigan State Spartans by one point; there has been no dominant victory.  Unlike Indiana who beat Ohio State (then ranked #10) on the road 81-68.

The question marks remain again over the play of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr who whilst being a great backcourt pair; the pair have not got that marquee moment like Zeller has had on numerous occasions this year.  Nor can they explode like Ryan Kelly has for Duke, and nor is the supporting cast as strong as say Ben McLemore's fellow Kansas Jayhawks who can step up if the freshman is having a rough night.  For Burke and Hardaway; the pressure of carrying the team appears to be too much to burden them with; this makes them fallible to an early tournament exit if they cannot sort out their defence, they can score for fun but then so can their opponents.

In other Big 10 results last night; Wisconsin held off Penn State 63-60; Michigan State defeated Northwestern 71-61 and Ohio State beat up Illinois 68-55 at home.  The Spartans and Buckeyes would have shared the Big 10 title with Indiana and Michigan had the Wolverines held on.  But for Indiana, there was a party that had been delayed by 20 years, Cody Zeller was ready to celebrate.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

College Basketball March 9th Recap

In the 2nd Saturday of March for many sides it is the last game of regular-season games before the lottery of conference tournaments.  Yet it remains as the final opportunity for some teams to gain momentum before the  tournament.

In recent years, conference tournaments have lit the paper for college sides to catch fire just in time.  Look at UConn three years ago who were not even on the bubble but yet got into the NCAA tournament on account of winning the Big East tournament in Madison Square Garden thanks to Kemba Walker; they won five games in New York and then six more in the tournament.  Think also of VCU who won there conference title and eventually got to the Final Four.

On Saturday night however, we saw a lot of sides suspected of going deep into the tournament treating the final regular-season game as a means of trying out the bench; how else can you explain Kansas losing 81-58 on the road to Baylor, having known a victory would secure a Big 12 title.  Bill Self has to make do with his 9th consecutive conference title.

Syracuse are struggling big time on the offensive end after so much season hype, they were woeful on the road at Georgetown, as they lost 61-39 as the Hoyas secured a share of the Big East title.  The Orange are struggling because they have no cohesion, now they may look to Louisville and see that if you make a Big East title run you may make the Final Four, as the Cardinals did last year.  Louisville though had stingy defence, something the Orange do not employ at this current moment.

The Tar Heels from North Carolina had been gaining some momentum in recent weeks and secured an at-large tournament bid but they came undone at home to Duke who throttled them 69-53.  Duke remain a good team and with the return of Ryan Kelly to the line-up look a dead cert for a number one seed and another final four run for Coach K.  Although the ACC title went to Miami who beat Clemson 62-49 to secure the crown.

Current National Champions Kentucky did themselves no harm at all by defeating Florida Gators 61-57 at home, the Wildcats under John Calipari have done well to regroup following the injury to Nerlen Noels and should now have done enough to warrant a tournament bid.  A deep SEC tournament run in a weak conference field should secure it.

My dark horse tip for the tournament remains the UCLA Bruins, who won on the road at Washington 61-54 to secure the Pac-12 crown.  The talent the Bruins have in Shabazz Muhammed and Kevin Anderson make them an intriguing team and one some teams would like to avoid; their defence has got better and we know they can score.

The Big 10 climaxes today (Sunday 10th) with Wisconsin travelling to Penn State; Ohio State hosting Illinois, Northwestern travelling to #10 Michigan State and the titanic tussle between #2 Indiana at #7 Michigan featuring a star-studded line-up of eventual NBA talent: Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo, Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr.

Thursday, 7 March 2013


I'll be leaving never coming back
Changing my direction get on a new track
So take a look before I leave
cos I know I'm never coming back.

You hang around too long
and I'm getting bored of the road we were taking.
You'd never said the right things
so spent most of the night embarassing me
So don't expect a note or a call in a few weeks time
this is my goodbye for the last time.

You never treated me right,
you threw me around like a rag doll.
You would talk in your sleep and dream about other girls
You never kept your promises
but I'll keep mine.

I never want to see you again.