A Race to the Bottom: Villa’s Five Team Table

(Photo Credit Getty Images)

(Photo Credit Getty Images)

Another week and another much needed win for Aston Villa Football Club. The once moribund club has seen a resurgence under the eternally enthusiastic and exuberant Tim Sherwood, and it looks like Villa might just survive this season and give themselves a chance to achieve full mediocrity (good Lord what a delight that would be after this year) next season.

Over the last couple months Sherwood has taken a club which we all knew had more than enough talent to not just survive but succeed in the Premier League (but one which was horrendously devoid of confidence and energy) and finally got them to perform at the level we all knew they could. First and foremost among these player resurgences is the revival of Belgian Wunder-Striker Christian Benteke.

Benteke netted another two goals against Everton last weekend bringing his season tally to 12. This puts him staunchly in the League’s top 10 goal scorers (caught up in a 3 way tie for 8th actually) which only becomes more impressive when you realize that 9 of these have come in the last SEVEN games. Those are insane numbers. I don’t know what exactly Sherwood did, but whatever sorcery he employed on the brooding, sulky Belgian is much appreciated. Villa has gone from a team on pace to score the lowest goal total in Premier League history to a wide open flowing offence with the addition of Sherwood as manager.

And it isn’t just Benteke either. Delph’s play has shot up to top form in short order, and he currently looks like one of the best midfielders in the Premiership, and certainly the best midfielder on the English National Team. Tom Cleverley has recovered his long lost form with Sherwood’s blessing to embrace the kind of quick paced one touch football that compliments Cleverley’s game so well, and the Manchester United Loanee has netted two goals in his last two games. The defense has certainly suffered with the loss of Lambert’s discipline (along with injuries ravaging the back line) but the new Villa, Sherwood’s Villa, at least look like they want to go down swinging.

(Photo Credit: Kieran McManus via Daily Mail)

(Photo Credit: Kieran McManus via Daily Mail)

And hell, with this new style its looking more and more like they won’t go down at all at this point. Unfortunately, however, even after last weeks stellar victory, Villa don’t find themselves out of the woods just yet. Villa wasn’t the only bottom dweller to pick up points in a much needed upset last weekend as Sunderland pulled off a truly shocking upset over Southampton last weekend. This coupled with Leicester’s absolutely preposterous resurgence means that even though Villa has risen to 14th in the League Table, they’re still only 2 points out from relegation.

crappy 5 team table graphic

As my terrible MS Paint graphics will illustrate, moreover, Villa can more or less kiss an rise higher than 14th (or lower than 18th) goodbye. QPR and Burnley appear doomed to go down and Everton (in spite of the terrible form they were in last weekend) Crystal Palace (Fire Pardew!!) and sadly West Brom are all likely out of Villa’s reach now. The only thing left that matters, however, is that the Villans avoid relegation. And joining them in that endeavor, then, are apparently 4 other clubs.

Aston Villa are essentially now part of a 5 team table consisting of Villa, Newcastle, Leicester, Hull, and Sunderland. Of that bunch Villa are far and away the best team in my opinion. Leicester are certainly on a tear, and honestly I think they’ll finish ahead of us, but Newcastle is absolutely imploding, Sunderland may have dug themselves a hole too deep to crawl out of, and Hull, although not struggling per se, certainly don’t appear to be in as good of form as Villa.

In the end, then, I think (and hope) Villa will be safe this year and earn a chance to try again next season. However, I can’t help remembering that a very similar scenario was placed in front of Villa last season as well. Somehow in spite of the talent the club has been able to accumulate of late (major credit to Lambert there of course) they continually find themselves in a relegation battle to the end the season. This club is clearly sick, and while I’m certainly happy to see them turn things around at the end of the season here I can’t help but fear for the future.

(Photo Credit: Carl Recine, Reuters)

(Photo Credit: Carl Recine, Reuters)

Sherwood was undeniably the right hire to save the club this season and wake up the team’s sleepwalking locker room. However, several important roster decisions loom this offseason and Villa are new led by a man who has never once in his entire career signed a player. Lambert had undeniably lost the team and needed to go, but he was even keeled and an experienced manager on the business side of things. Sherwood is what this team needed on the field this year, but I worry that combining him with the disinterested Randy Lerner this offseason may be a recipe for disaster. Sherwood may be saving the team only to watch it fall flat next season.

Things may very well get better, but nothing will be “fixed” until Lerner manages to sell the club. Now, I’m not one of those people asking him to slash the price so that ANYONE (including someone who ALSO lacks money to pump into the roster) can buy the club, but I do hope that sooner than later this team can restore the excitement level from the top down, rather than relying on an excitable manager prone to pushing his club to simple mistakes and mental collapses. I am incredibly happy to see the way the club has come back to life to end this season, but I was equally happy to see them survive last season. I just want this attempt at redemption to stick. This season may have turned around, just like last season’s did, but if things don’t change at the top, Villa’s race to the bottom will continue in perpetuity.

Too Good To Go Down: Dreading the Finish Line with Aston Villa

(Photo Credit: Laurence Griffiths and The Mirror)

(Photo Credit: Laurence Griffiths and The Mirror)

So my first full season following The Villa is coming to a nail-biting conclusion, and I can wholeheartedly assure you that the results have been anything but what I expected. After Villa’s excellent start to the season I was expecting a staunchly mid table performance from the club which would give me amble time to familiarize myself with the Premier League without too much tension. Instead I now find myself sitting 4 games out from the end of the season with Villa only 2 points removed from relegation. Considering the fact that to start the season one of my beloved Men in Blazers (Michael Davies) chose Villa as one of his 3 preseason picks to get relegated, I probably should have been more prepared for a rocky ride, but I wasn’t. But in spite of it all I can’t help but attach myself to one pig-headed conclusion: this team is too good to go down.

And thankfully, that seems to be a point that many pundits are making too. And don’t confuse this with the nonsensical mantra I heard from many Villa fans during the worst parts of this season; that the club is too Big to go down. Newcastle taught us that that doesn’t matter in 2009 when they were shockingly relegated. But that isn’t what we’re talking about here. Rather, this Villa team is absolutely loaded with Premier League Caliber talent as evidenced by the fact that they just beat Liverpool in the FA Cup Semi-Finals and will be taking on Arsenal May 30th at Wembley with a chance to take home the Cup.

(Photo Credit: Glyn Kirk, AFP)

(Photo Credit: Glyn Kirk, AFP)

Those late season, on the field performances justified this notion, but in all honesty this proof wasn’t even necessary for me personally. Let’s rewind for just a second and discuss. Say what you will about Paul Lambert as a coach. This season the team had clearly quit on him meaning he needed to go. However, the guy is an absolute dream when it comes to player acquisitions. Not only did Lambert have a spectacular eye for talent, he was also a shrewd business man capable of operating within Randy Lerner’s increasingly finite financial restrictions on the club. Time and again throughout his tenure Lambert brought in excellent young players or cagey veterans alike, but always on bargain deals good for the club and for the disinterested owner.

Image via Getty Images

Image via Getty Images

This season was no different as, during the January Transfer Window Lambert not only managed to bring in the electric (though now sadly unused) Carles Gil in an attempt to revitalize the Villa offense (which he temporarily did practically single-handedly), but also a versatile and much needed winger in Scott Sinclair who is still in the prime of his career. Add to that the fact that he shrewdly avoided paying an inflated fee to keep the then under-performing Tom Cleverley AND stuck to his guns to keep the price down on Sinclair as well, and you had yet another superb example of Lambert’s expert ability to bring in Premier League talent at under-market value prices. An excessively important skill at a club with an ownership situation like the one Villa has.

Now, none of that helped the team win. I understand that. This same roster which is undeniably stocked with quality players (Delph and Cleverley have earned caps for the English National team, Benteke is a beast who still hasn’t even discovered the full depth of his abilities, Ciaran Clark and Jores Okore are a talented burgeoning duo of center backs paired with the stud Ron Vlaar, and Jack Grealish has been a revelation the last few games… to name just a few…) was drastically underachieving and didn’t seem to care that they were about to get a proud club relegated. A new voice was undeniably necessary, but in spite of the team’s abysmal performance it was obvious that the talent was there. In the end, then, I was sad to see Lambert go because of all the great work he had done putting this squad together, but grateful to see a change which would hopefully reignite the club.

(Photo Credit: Carl Recine, Reuters)

(Photo Credit: Carl Recine, Reuters)

I was not, however, pleased with who the club decided to bring in to replace Lambert. In my limited time following the club I had sold myself on Lambert as an intellectual type who would be much better suited to front office jobs, player analysis and acquisition than the fiery, on pitch tasks of a manager. However, I still enjoyed the idea of having someone who I felt was ‘smart’ running my football club. So it did not enjoy the idea that my club would now employ “Tactics Tim,” a manager almost universally ridiculed for his over-enthusiasm, and simpleton’s tactics. However, what I wasn’t considering was just how demoralized and desensitized the players had become under Lambert. In truth, Sherwood was exactly what the club needed.

Screw tactics. Screw technique. Screw intelligence. This team needed some freaking passion. And that is exactly what Tim Sherwood brings.

It may look comical. We may be mocked by other fans and pundits. But screw it, if it keeps us in the League who cares. With Sherwood at the helm the players are finally playing somewhere close to their talent level, and if we’re lucky that will be enough to keep us in the League.

Certainly there are still flaws, and certainly the club has not been built back up to the form it should be at. But the talent is there. The team give a crap. The fans finally have something entertaining to watch and have hope again. We just need to get through this season at this point. If we can just avoid relegation in these next four games (still a massive feat admittedly) it will all be worth it. I see no reason Villa can’t scrap together enough points to stay ahead of Sunderland, QPR, Burney, and even a resurgent Leicester. And heck, we might even have enough life in us to overtake a floundering Hull or Newcastle. This team does not deserve to go down. They have the talent of a Premier League Side and the last few weeks they’ve finally started playing like it. Under Sherwood the seemingly moribund team found  a pulse, and now we’re inches away from staying alive for one more year.

(Photo Credit: REUTERS)

(Photo Credit: REUTERS)

There will certainly be growing pains that we have to pay for next year. Sherwood has never purchases a player before. Ever. In his entire (albeit brief) career as a Premier League manager which could really hurt this off-season when compared to the successes of Lambert’s acquisitions. However, in all honestly the team shouldn’t even need much more talent. If the team stays up we should stand a fair chance at resigning anyone we need off of this year’s roster, and will likely only lose Vlaar who has become replaceable with the emergence of Clark and Okore anyway. As long as we stay up and don’t need to initiate an immediate fire-sale we should be able to bring back the vast majority of this year’s admittedly deep team, and hopefully without the lack of motivation and enthusiasm which plagued the club for long stretches this season (I mean… we had to cancel the goal of the month contest for October because we didn’t score a single goal all month…….) we should be able to leverage that talent into a staunchly mid table performance next season (which I for one honestly welcome at this point).

This team has talent to spare this season. Villa is a big club with Premier League caliber players and now (at long last) a little freaking enthusiasm and swagger coming on the back of their FA Cup Semifinal win. The battle is far from won thus far, but there is still no doubt in my mind that this club is too good to go down. A disaster could still come, and it would absolutely devastate this club, but for the time being I feel like we need a little optimism and faith. This team and these players belong in the Premier League no matter what their abysmal record is. Now let’s just hope we go out and prove it this weekend against Everton. I don’t care if the media mock us for it, I want to celebrate every point we get from here until the end of the season like we just won the freaking League. Because if we don’t get those points, we won’t even be in the League to get mocked next year.

(Photo Credit Michael Regan)

(Photo Credit Michael Regan)

The Plot Twist That Should Have Saved the Show

 

Theresa comes back

Nice touch MTV. Don’t get me wrong. They still screwed this season up big time, but this week’s episode was a nice step towards remedying old wrongs. But let’s start at the beginning. Regardless of whether or not Nia’s physical altercation warranted leaving the show, MTV could not leave her on the show after the various slurrs she used in last week’s episode. That being said, however, if anyone is mad at Nia for using those words (which they should be) they should be even more mad at MTV for putting that footage on national television. MTV is far more responsible for putting that footage on the air than Nia is for saying them if we’re discussing who is at fault for spreading that kind of hate speech to a wide audience. What MTV did was equally disrespectful, irresponsible, and wrong. They didn’t have to do that, just like they didn’t have to (and chose not to) release that footage of Snookie getting punched in a bar during Jersey Shore. Even censoring that material was irresponsible in my opinion, but that’s another matter.

What that meant for the show itself was that Hurricane Nia’s outburst got her kicked off the show. Leroy was left without a partner, and all signs pointed to MTV screwing up this season even worse than they already had.

cast without nia or theresa

Leroy and Nia were the only two individuals left in the cast who deserved to win this thing with Jay and Jenna coming as a distant second for the lol factor. But that still left us with both Johnny Devenanzio / Nany and Sarah / Jordan as our miserable duo most likely to win the thing. Things looked bleak. Even after Jordan and Sarah showed their true scumbag colors by double crossing Devenanzio and Nany (which is fine… no honor among thieves…) it looked like the King of Corruption was going to sneak by again as Nia would be sent home, Leroy would be disqualified for not having a partner, and this garbage season would continue on to its miserable finish.

However, MTV decided to use its arbitrary rulings for the side of good this time, and did so in the flashiest, best manner imaginable.

Theresa was so happy to be back and partnered with Leroy her nipples were literally hard with anticipation of destroying Nany

Theresa was so happy to be back and partnered with Leroy her nipples were literally hard with anticipation of destroying Nany

Meanwhile, Johnny and Nany were none too pleased to have the MTV magic finally turned against them

Meanwhile, Johnny and Nany were none too pleased to have the MTV magic finally turned against them

MTV decided to bring Theresa back to be Leroy’s partner, thereby easing at least some portion of the atrocity they turned this season into. It was still a joke of an excuse to call Leroy and Theresa “Exes” and it feels manufactured (although not as badly manufactures as the Johnny – Nany “relationship”) but hey… this is the way MTV wants to run their show, so who cares I guess… And, bringing Theresa back was only fair to her, and pairing her with Leroy is great for both of them. Theresa is the best female competitor left in this competition and Leroy is far and away the best male. We saw as much in their dismantling . And I love how when Johnny Devenanzio takes on Leroy its perfectly excusable to tell the cameras “Leroy broke my ribs” but yet its also ok for him to mock Wes for getting a concussion against Leroy. Give me a break. That kid is the worst. It was horrible for He, Nany, Sarah, and Jordan to make fun of Wes last week, and made me lose even more respect for them than I already had. They are all simply the worst. In the modern era where NFL players are retiring after their rookie season out of fear of concussions, and former players are committing suicide as a result of brain trauma they had no right to mock Wes during that event, and the fact that they not only didn’t hesitate to do so, but also relished in the experience shows what kind of scum they are.

So needless to say, I was MORE than pleased to watch Leroy embarrass Johnny Devenanzio (for a second time mind you)

Leroy Johnny Start Leroy Johnny Takedown Leroy Wins

and to see Theresa not only eliminate Nany (for a second time mind you) but stomp on her face and kick her straight out of the show.

Theresa and Nany Leroy Theresa win

Wes still deserves to be in this Final even though he likely would have gotten third, but to see Theresa back and paired with the best guy left is awesome. Also, I couldn’t be happier with the decision (whether it was MTV’s [likely] or Theresa’s) for Theresa to go in still in her Grey Jersey that she wore with Wes (rightful 1 seed) all season long. These two are now the favorites, and if they can win this thing it will redeem at least some small portion of this season’s abysmal finish. It makes me sick to think Jordan and Sarah get to be in a Final when they should have been eliminated the same week that Devenanzio was unfairly brought back onto the season, but hey… Sarah is a proven quitter and a weak competitor so I can always hope that they fail to finish, and Jay and Jenna hilariously get second while Jordan and Sarah fail to even get any money. Here’s hoping to some Leroy domination and a Sarah collapse.

all in one shotsarah resting jordan pacing

Suh: Saying an Early Goodbye to a Legend

Clevelan Browns v Detroit Lions

Last weekend it leaked that the Lions had lost Ndamukong Suh, a future hall of famer and hands down the best player on their team the last 2 seasons to the Miami Dolphins. Suh would reportedly sign a 6 year, $114 million deal with the Dolphins, and end his time with the Detroit Lions. And by the time the Free Agency window actually opened on Tuesday it was all over.

(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

This is the lowest I think I’ve ever felt as a Lions fan. I know I know… I watched every game of an 0-16 season, and over a 10 year span I watched them go 39-121. You’d think there were some sadder moments in there. Saying I’m sadder about this moment then any of those makes it sound like I’m not a fan of the team at all, but rather just a fan of 1 player on that team (well… who USED to be on that team…).

But here’s the deal. During that 10 year, 39-121 stretch between 2001 and 2010 everything surrounding the Lions was hopeless. I was certainly sad and despondent, but that was all I knew when it came to the Lions. (Come to think of it I have no idea why I stuck with them through all that?) But that all started to chang in the 2010 draft when the Lions selected Defensive Tackle Ndamukong Suh with the 2nd overall selection in the draft.

Ndamukong-Suh (1)

With Suh came hope. Everything was different. The Lions certainly began the rebuilding process by adding franchise cornerstones Calvin Johnson and Matt Stafford, but nothing really changed until Suh became a part of the team. And then EVERYTHING changed.

ndamukong-suh-aaron-rodgers-nfl-green-bay-packers-detroit-lions1-850x560 otkwiml139 suh-sacks-rodgers

It was a revelation. In 2010 Suh won pretty much every award in front of him (Defensive Rookie of the Year, Defensive Lineman of the Year, and like 4 different Rookie of the Year awards). Moreover, while the Lions only went 6-10 his Rookie year it was a lot better than 2 or 0 (their win totals from the previous 2 seasons). And then it happened. Suddenly the Lions were winning. In Suh’s second season in the NFL the Lions went 10-6, came in second in the NFC North, and made the playoffs for the first time in twelve seasons.

This was completely unheard of. The Lions hadn’t been in the playoffs since the Barry Sanders Era. But what was even more impressive was how much of this credit Suh himself deserved. The Lions secondary was atrocious, their linebacking corps wasn’t quite where it needed to be, but their Defensive Line was the best in football and that was more or less all thanks to Suh. There were certainly other good players on that like (Nick Fairley, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Cliff Avril, Willie Young) but Suh was the centerpiece. That’s the best thing about his play on the field. He makes EVERYONE around him better, and he was (and is) so dominant that he even made our secondary seem compitent simply because our pass rush was so dominant. All of a sudden, in the Suh Era there was always hope.

The rebuild process started with the drafting of Calvin Johnson. Continued with the firing of Matt Millen, hiring of Jim Schwartz, and drafting of Matthew Stafford, but after none of those moves did the Lions achieve any success. It wasn’t until Suh was with the team that the winning really started. He changed everything and brought hope back to the franchise. However, it wasn’t always a perfectly smooth road.

(Photo Credit: Andrew Weber, USA Today Sports)

(Photo Credit: Andrew Weber, USA Today Sports)

Suh was universally reviled outside of Detroit for his on the field actions. However, I’m not naive enough to think Football is as clean a game as the NFL wants us to believe. Theres dirty play constantly. Just watch any cornerback twist Calvin Johnson’s leg, throw an extra kidney punch at Matthew Stafford, or kick Larry Warford while he’s down. This is the way the game works. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that guys were doing things just as bad to Suh on the field. They just were smart enough not to get caught on camera. And whereas some of these guys make themselves look clean on the field, but are scum off of it, Suh couldn’t have been a better off the field guy.

(Photo Credit: AP)

(Photo Credit: AP)

In 2011 Suh donated some $2.6 million to charity, more than any other athlete that year. In a destitude and struggling city like Detroit a guy like Suh couldn’t have come at a better time. Not only did he give the city of Detroit something to hope for and feel good about on the field, he went out into the community and helped try to rebuild it from the inside. This is a guy who had no ties to the city of Detroit or the State of Michigan before coming to the Lions, but almost immediately after arriving starting working his ass off to help out. If that’s the kind of guy I’m dealing with off the field, rather than someone accused of domestic violence or animal abuse, I don’t particularly care what he does on a football field where violence is accepted.

suh

(Photo Credit: Ndamukong Suh Family Foundation)

I’d much rather have a guy like Suh than someone like Greg Hardy or Ray Rice. No matter what anyone says He gives back to sick kids, donates to the poor, and even sponsors classes at the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy in Detroit. He is EXACTLY the kind of star the Detroit Lions needed, and exactly the kind of person the city of Detroit needed. Perfect in every way and right on time.

But now the team has cut ties with the source of that hope. Why would they let this happen? Someone who was NOTHING but positive for the city of Detroit, and helped transform a moribund franchise into a playoff team. Well… I guess there were 114 million reasons why… Not that the Lions weren’t willing to give up the dollars to Suh. He obviously deserves that money (and then-some) and everybody knows it. But the Lions, unfortunately, could not fit him under their salary cap.

Let’s stop there for a second though. This is an excuse that comes up a lot in American sports, and it is always a miserable and miserly answer. Teams imply that its not their fault and that the system is preventing them from doing right by their players and their fans, but in truth teams have only themselves to blame. Everyone could see this disaster coming a mile away. Martin Mayhew has done a miserable job managing Detroit’s cap situation from day 1, just like Matt Millen did before him (oh… jeez… I wonder if we could have predicted this considering MAYHEW WAS MILLENS RIGHT HAND FREAKING MAN). Stafford and Calvin are very important to this team. Don’t get me wrong. But Suh is the single most important player on it. He is either the best or second best defensive player in the NFL (behind JJ Watt in Houston) and is the best player on Detroit’s team. So it only makes sense that the team should have known, as far back as that first playoff run in 2011, that they should do the best they can to lock him up. They did not, and they used the Salary Cap as their excuse. So let’s take a quick look at this upcoming season’s highest plaid Lions.

Lions 2015 cap hits

Image via sportrac.com 

The Lions have already paid Johnson and Stafford boatloads of money. They decided they couldn’t afford a third boatload or the whole ship would go down. They gave out huge dollars to Johnson and Stafford, which, again, I understand and can get behind, but here’s the problem. Suh is very much in his prime, and I’m not even certain that he’s halfway done with his prime yet. While Stafford, though in his prime, has probably peaked, and certainly has quirks that limit the team’s performance (although I have no interest in cutting ties with him) and I’m very worried that Calvin is actually on the back half of his prime.

calvin-record2

Injuries are finally beginning to catch up to him through absolutely no fault of his own. He is far and away the greatest wide receiver to ever play in the NFL. Jerry Rice can shove it. But for his entire career there was absolutely NO way any defender could LEGALLY slow him down or stop him. So what did they do? Twist his ankles. Throw late hits and cheap shots. Basically do anything illegal that the refs would let them get away with. Which as it turns out was A LOT. The NFL created unfair rules to try to limit Calvin’s impact on the game (which came back to bite them this post-season as it screwed over Dez Bryant and the Cowboys) and refs refused to give him the benefit of the doubt EVER as defenders took cheap shots at him constantly.

Well… all these extra hits and extra miles were bound to take their toll, and Calvin has undeniably slowed down this year. He missed large chunks of the season last year, and that wasn’t the only problem. The whole offense was sluggish and disappointing all last year. Detroit was 22nd in scoring in a year where they had Stafford, Johnson, and new high paid receiver option Golden Tate. In only 3 games last year did the Lions exceed 24 points (and half the time the defense was scoring at least 7, but up to 14 of those 24 anyway) and in 10 games they were held to 20 or fewer points. So the first question is, how much could those 3 guys REALLY be worth if for well over half the season they only account for 20 points? And the next question is, how did that team even make the playoffs? The answer to the first question is no and the answer to the second, of course, is Suh.

Mayhew has allocated $43,629,250 of cap space to Johnson, Stafford, and Tate. $38,279,250 to Stafford and Johnson alone, and has therefore decided that he cannot afford another $20,000,000 for Suh. Makes sense if Suh weren’t an all time great, but if my only options were to lose Suh (a surefire Hall of Famer and ALL TIME GREAT at his position who BY ALL ACCOUNTS should have retired with his original team) or overpay all three of them, I’m picking the overpay 1,000 times out of 1,000. It’s too late to take the money away from Johnson, Stafford, and Tate, and in truth I don’t really want to, but off all those guys if I can only have one I pick Suh every. Single. Time. We’re paying 35% of our cap to 3 guys accounting for maaaaaybe 15% of last season’s success and “unable” to pay 15% of the cap to 1 guy who accounts for something like 40% of our wins. Sounds like wise business planning to me. Keep up the good work Mayhew…

No, I'm not quite sure why I got the job either. I'm also not sure why I haven't been fired. Really I just keep cashing checks... (Photo Credit - Daniel Mears)

No, I’m not quite sure why I got the job either. I’m also not sure why I haven’t been fired. Really I just keep cashing checks… (Photo Credit – Daniel Mears)

I’d rather keep Suh at whatever his asking price was and be bad for the rest of his career WITH him than let him go and embrace whatever debacle is about to be inflicted on me for the next 5 years.

And the worst part? Cutting him doesn’t even solve any of Detroit’s cap woes. That money tied up in an under-performing offense is still there. We’re still paying big money to two tight ends, neither of whom are performing at the level we need them to. And the real kicker is this. Check this one out. Bill Barnwell brought this up last week on the Grantland NFL Podcast, and it is a hilariously depressing point. This is a list of the 5 highest paid DTs in the NFL next year based on average salary.

Top 5 DTs Salarys

Image via sportrac.com

But there is one name missing from this list. Ndamukong Suh. “But wait!” You exclaim. “He’s not missing! He’s right there at the top!” Yes he is friend, but you are forgetting the ghost of Ndamukong Suh. Because of the way the Lions restructured his deal when he was still with the team, Detroit still has exactly $9,737,500 worth of Ndamukong Suh on the books for this coming season. And yes, that means Ndamukong Suh is technically both the highest paid DT in football with his Miami figure as well as the 5th highest paid DT in football with his Detroit figure… If he was going to be eating up $10,000,000 of cap space either way, HOW could you not re-sign him??? The whole excuse was that we needed to move on for cap related purposes!!! Well we moved on and it sure doesn’t look like the cap is fixed!!! Moreover, refer back to that earlier image of the Lions 10 highest paid payers for next season… SUH IS STILL THE THIRD HIGHEST PAID PLAYER ON THE LIONS!!! Add that number to Detroit’s replacement for Suh (Haloti Ngata) and his $8,500,000 figure, and essentially you’re still paying $18,237,500 to your number 1 DT tackle…only $810,000 more than Suh’s figure anyway… so don’t feed me this cap crap Mayhew…

And Mayhew’s plan for replacing Suh? That was a real gem. We brought in Haloti Ngata who is a very good NFL player.

(Photo Credit: Tanya Moutzalias, MLive Detroit)

(Photo Credit: Tanya Moutzalias, MLive Detroit)

Used to be better, but his prime ended a couple years ago so what are you gonna do. He’s still very good, just not at the top of his game like Suh is. But that’s ok. We’ll take him off your hands Baltimore. We’ll give you a 4th and a 5th round pick for him because cap starved teams NEVER rebuild through the draft right? That would be stupid. Teams with cap problems don’t draft rookies on cap controlled deals, they trade those draft picks for old veterans with massive salary cap hits. That’s what smart GMs do, right Martin? Nevermind the fact that Baltimore GM Ozzie Newsome is the best GM in football who knows exactly when to cut ties with his own players, and nearly EVERY player Baltimore ever let’s go has a nearly immediate dropoff in production on their new team.

(Photo via NFL.com)

(Photo via NFL.com)

Haloti Ngata is still a very good player. Detroit needed some star power on the defensive line to plug the gap left behind by Suh. And Ngata will do that. For the next year… maybe two… but trading draft picks for him feels horrendously short sighted to me and seems akin to cutting off your right hand, and trying to duct tape it back together… it just isn’t enough.

Ndamukong Suh is one of the greatest defensive tackles to every play football. He’s one of the best players I have ever watched in my entire life. And he was on my team. He was my guy. I didn’t care about all the on field incidents of aggression, mainly because he was such a spectacular guy off the field. He came to Detroit at one of its lowest points in years (and let me tell you, there have been a lot of low points for the city of Detroit this past decade) and he helped put together something to be proud of and something fun to be a part of when the Lions and being a Lions fan has been anything but for for… ohhh… idk… my entire life.

Suh should have been allowed to retire a lion. When you have one of the best to ever play the game. When he is a first round draft pick for your team and turns out to be even more than you ever hoped for. When he is an ambassador and a pillar for your struggling community. When you have a guy like that playing for your franchise you do your best to make sure he becomes a lifelong member of your organization. You make sure he becomes a part of your family and stays a member of your family for life because invariably its those kinds of players who become ambassadors for the sport and your franchise for many years into the future. When Suh came to Detroit it felt like the franchise had FINALLY turned a corner. They finally had pieces in place with Stafford, Johnson, and especially Suh to be winners on and off the field. It felt like they had finally moved on from the Matt Millen debacle era, and learned how a great organization thinks. But clearly this is the same old Detroit with the some old ignorance and losing ways.

An Annual Tradition: Complaining about Bracket Selection

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The time has come at last. The brackets have been selected by the buffoons in their basement bunker in Indianapolis and as is tradition they have made some truly egregious picks. I’m not talking about some of the minor screw ups with seed numbers for smaller teams (Valpo could have been a 12 seed, UCI could have been a 14 seed… little stuff like that) or even bigger teams (Baylor scares me as a 3 seed and I would have been more comfortable with them as a 4 or even 5 seed), but rather talking about errors that frustrate the integrity of the process. So without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the worst looking decisions of this season’s edition.

Who Got Snubbed?

Let’s get the depressing part of the article out of the way first before we move on to the anger inducing portion. But first let’s buzz through the teams that played the lead role in their own demise.

The “Didn’t do enough… It’s your own fault” Division

First up on this list are the schools from major conferences that had everyone opportunity to secure major wins, but just didn’t come through. All these teams are Tournament caliber teams, but at the end of the day there just wasn’t enough on their resume to let them in.

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Texas A&M had great positioning to make the field, but an early exit from the SEC Tournament to a far inferior Auburn team (not to mention back to back losses to Florida and Alabama to close out the regular season) sank their battleship so to speak. No problems with Texas A&M being left out.

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Rhode Island would have been a FANTASTIC feel good story, and I was rooting for it as hard as anyone, but without any real signature wins on their resume, and with some ugly losses to the likes of Georgia Tech, UMass, and St. Joes we all knew they were likely out of it if they didn’t win the A-10. Still though, its a major disappointment after they had such a solid performance in an underrated basketball conference. Next year, however, they’re simply going to need to play a few more Big Conference teams in their non-conference slate if they hope to have enough of an insurance policy to make the Tournament. That early season win against Nebraska looked great at the time, but once Nebraska imploded over the course of the season, Rhode Island no longer had anything they could hang their hat on, and it cost them.

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Central Michigan had a stellar regular season. They were clearly the best performing team in a VERY good and VERY competitive MAC this year. They got all the way to their conference title game and even then barely fell short. They were never the most talented team in the MAC (Buffalo takes that crown and even Kent State and Akron may have had more talent across the board) but they played better than any of those guys all season long. At the end of the day, however, whereas teams like Buffalo went out of conference to play Kentucky, Wisconsin, and heck even Robert Morris who turned out to be a Tournament team, Central Michigan has nothing to boast of in their non-conference slate, and therefore anything short of a conference tourney win likely wouldn’t be enough.. and it wasn’t.

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Green Bay has come tantalizingly close to the Big Dance each of the past seasons without coming out on top in the Horizon. As such its especially sad to see them miss out again with this particular group of guys, but it’s awfully hard for an 8 loss Mid Major to secure an at large bid. Still, they went 2-4 against Tournament teams this year (and knocked off fellow bubble team and then #15 in the country Miami) and scheduled well in the non-conference (a home and home with Georgia State and a road trip to Wisconsin). In the end, however, the Horizon League beat up on one another too hard for more than 1 team to come out apparently and this time around Valparaiso came out on top.

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Richmond is a team that a lot of national people have discussed as a major snub, but I’m not as convinced. The major argument (and it is a good one) for why they should have been in boils down to how well they were playing right before the Tournament. 7-3 in their last 10 with a win over VCU. However, they really did nothing in the non-conference, and got pretty badly beaten up in the A-10 all year long, so to be completely honest I think they’re correctly placed in the NIT.

True Snubs: The “We did everything you asked us to do except win our Conference Tournament” Division

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Old Dominion is yet another sad case. They were the darling of the nation in the first half of the season after opening the season 13-1 with wins over LSU (Tournament team) Richmond (NIT team) VCU (tournament team and then ranked #14) Georgia State (Tournament team) and William and Mary and Mary (NIT Team). That is an incredibly impressive slate, and it seemed all but over that ODU would win Conference USA and punch their ticket to the big dance. However, they ended up losing 5 games in a very weak Conference-USA which apparently damaged their resume to the point that they needed to win the conference’s automatic bid to qualify. They did not, and they’re out. Personally I’m more mad about this one than any of the previous examples we’ve discussed. The Committee says they want tough non-conference slates for Mid Majors. Check. They say they want you to WIN those games. Check. They want you to dominate your conference. 13-5 was still good enough for 2nd place in C-USA, so I can’t see why they should be punished this hard for that. As far as I see it ODU did almost everything right, and STILL the Committee sat back and said “nah, don’t care.” Very frustrating.

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Iona is another frustrating one for me because they legitimately could have made some noise and provided some excitement in the NCAA Tournament with their high octane offense. Instead they’re off the to NIT. Admittedly their non-conference wasn’t great as they lost to Arkansas and Wofford but they beat several good teams in Florida Gulf Coast, and Wake Forest. Morever, I feel like they should at least be given credit for scheduling teams like Arkansas out of a division in the MAAC where Power Conference teams are loath to schedule you. Moreover, Iona absolutely thrashed the MAAC going 17-3, and I have a hard time understanding what sets them apart from a Davidson or an Ole Miss.

Temple

Next on the list is every Power Conference team’s Tournament nightmare Temple. Year after year they somehow manage to beat superior teams with little to no offense but infuriatingly tight and gritty defense. This year was no different as Temple BLEW OUT 2 seeded Kansas by 23 (!!!!!!!!) points this season and finished a respectable 13-5 in the American. All in all Temple definitely deserved a Tournament, but we had to make way for some jank so no cigar… because reasons…

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And this one is really depressing. The Mountain West Conference has worked its way up to a point where it now sits just outside the Power Five in both major sports, football and basketball. And yet their teams still get no respect when it comes to selection time apparently. Just like ODU Colorado State was a Mid Major darling to open the season after they ripped off 14 straight wins including wins over in state rival from a Power Conference Colorado, NIT Teams in UTEP, Montana, and Charleston Southern and 3 wins over NCAA Tournament teams with New Mexico State, Boise State, and Georgia State. As far as I can tell that is exactly what the committee is asking programs to do. Moreover, they finished a respectable 13-5 in a good Mountain West (that had 5 Tourney caliber teams but only put 3 into the field). Not to mention the little nugget that with 27 wins Colorado State and our next snub were tied for the highest win total to EVER be snubbed from the NCAA Field in its entire history. The fact that some of the teams we’ll discuss in a second made the field when Colorado State didn’t is an absolute joke.

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Murray State, just like Colorado State finished with 27 wins. Again, 2nd most ever for a team snubbed from the NCAA Field. Sure they lost to a good Belmont team in their Tournament Finals, but what is perplexing to me is that the Committee never even CONSIDERED them as an at large. They gave lip service to Colorado State, Temple, and even RICHMOND, as among the “First Four Out” but Murray State has been completely left out of the conversation. I get it. Their non-conference slate was bad. But the OVC was solid this year with good teams in Tennessee Martin, Belmont, and Eastern Kentucky and Murray went SIXTEEN AND 0 in conference. I can’t help but feel that some sort of change needs to happen in this system. No matter what caliber your conference is, if you go undefeated in Conference that should count for an automatic bid just like winning your conference tournament does. It frustrates me that we don’t reward teams like Murray for FIVE MONTHS of EXCELLENT work where they did nothing but win (literally… they didn’t lose a game between November 30th and March 7th) but do reward teams like Hampton who, with all due respect, were bad all year long, got hot for 4 days, and now get to play in the NCAAs. Murray was great all year, and would have been incredibly exciting to watch with sophomore guard Cameron Payne if the Tournament Committee had been able to remove their heads from their posteriors long enough to realize it.

If a team like Murray with the season they’ve had doesn’t make the Tournament then something in the system needs to be changed. That fact will only be all the more painfully obvious once we take a look at the teams that made it INSTEAD of Murray, Colorado State, and Temple.

The “Who has Naked Pictures of the Tournament Committee?” Division

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Good Lord?!?!?! How is this even possible?!?!!? UCLA is in the Tournament?!?! The Pac-12 has been the worst basketball conference of the Big 5 for several years now. Arizona is good, but after that it becomes uniformly crap throughout (with rare exceptions). And UCLA is no exception to this rule. They have beaten ONE ranked team all year long, (#15 Utah) and even that was at home which makes it less impressive. Especially when you consider the fact that they lost to Utah by THIRTY TWO POINTS when they played them in their building… In fact… 8 times this season UCLA has lost by double digits, and many of those weren’t even that close. These were brutal beatdowns. AND anytime they played anyone outside of the atrocious Pac-12 or any good team they got murdered.

November 27 vs. UNC – 22 point loss

December 13 vs. Gonzaga – 13 point loss

December 20 vs. Kentucky – 39 point loss (and they only scored 7 points in the first half!!!! SEVEN!!!!!!)

January 4 vs. Utah – 32 point loss

January 24 vs. Oregon – 18 point loss

This team is terrible. I have a hard time understanding why wins over Washington, Washington State, and USC (none of whom are in the NCAA Tournament or even the NIT mind you) and a 6 points loss to Arizona counts as “getting hot” and “playing better lately” to justify a tournament bid for the Bruins. This is clearly an example of favoritism on the part of the Committee, choosing to put a once great power program into the field to generate story-lines and ratings for TV (a theme we will unfortunately see again in this article).

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Ugh. The Indiana Hoosiers. While the Pac-12 is down and has been recognized as being down for some time, the Big 10 this season is still clinging to the remnants of its reputation from the last couple seasons as College Basketball’s premier league. Which it is not. Don’t get me wrong. Wisconsin may very well be the second best team in the country. However, the dropoff after them is staggering. There is no scenario where the Big 10 deserved to put 7 teams into the field, and the primary reason for that is the fact that IU should be in the NIT.

Unlike most Mid-Major teams which are lucky if they even get ONE crack at a power conference team on the road in a hostile environment, Indiana, like all Power Conference teams, gets multiple cracks at top tier teams to pad their resume throughout the year. And what did Indiana do with these opportunities? Well, in large part they squandered them. Indiana are 4-12 this season against Tournament Teams. So forgive me for asking, but why does a 25% win percentage against Tournament teams (which included a loss to 13 seed Eastern Washington IN BLOOMINGTON mind you) earn you a ‘secured’ place in the field (because lest we forget, Indiana weren’t even part of the “last 4 in” … the committee had them as a LOCK to make the field). Are you really trying to tell me that Murray State, Colorado State, or Temple couldn’t win 1 game out of 4 meetings with the likes of a rebuilding Michigan State, a one man band in Ohio State, Iowa (does anyone remember one impressive thing Iowa has done all year besides getting blown out by Texas and Syracuse in back to back games?) or Purdue (your typical “try hard team” they play well and work hard, and deserve to be in the field, but they’re not actually good). Give me a break. The fact that we threw out those bubble teams for the likes of UCLA and Indiana is a joke. Again… you have a blue blood program from the past making the field on a reputation which is 30 years from being fresh… cool… keep working those TV Ratings guys.

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Texas is a tough one for me to write about. If you look at their roster on paper, and even if you watch these guys on the court, they are, by all accounts, a Tournament team. The amount of length, athleticism, and general basketball ability on this team is absolutely staggering. This team should have been a top 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The only problem is their performance. They were absolutely abysmal this year once they got into Big 12 play. Now, the Big 12 was the best conference in college basketball this year so that might help explain some of this, but TEXAS WAS SUPPOSED TO BE THE REASON THE BIG 12 WAS SUPPOSED TO BE SO GOOD.

They were solid in the non-conference with an 11-2 record. Moreover, 1 of those losses was to #1 Kentucky (excusable) but the other was to Stanford… from the horrendous Pac-12… not good. And once they hit Big 12 play everything fell apart. Texas with 8-10(!!!!!!!) in the Big 12 to finish with a 19-12 regular season record… NOT a tournament team. Moreover, they didn’t help themselves in teh Big 12 Tournament, going 1-1 by beating Texas Tech in the opening round and then immediately losing to eventual Champion Iowa State. In fact, Texas went 4-12 against NCAA Tournament teams, and one of those wins was against #15 seed NDSU… They, just like Indiana, were given a myriad of opportunities to build an impressive resume and failed nearly every time. But hey… at least the Tournament Committee was consistent… just like an unequivocally positive regular season resume didn’t matter for Murray State… an unequivocally bad one didn’t matter for Texas… they just pick the teams they want regardless of what happened in the regular season.

Bonus Anger

My complaints aren’t restricted to teams that did or did not make the field, however, as I have a couple major complaints that I want to touch on really quickly in regards to seeding.

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Georgetown deserves to be in the field. That isn’t up for debate. However, the Committee, for some reason, gave them a FOUR seed… This would mean the Committee thinks they are somewhere between the 13th and 16th best team in the country in spite of the fact that they have never been ranked higher than 21 all season and have consistently LOST their ranking the week after they earned it all season long.

Georgetown’s situation becomes even MORE curious when you compare their 4 seed to Big East Conference-mate Butler’s 6 seed. Now, Butler, I feel, is properly seeded. However, I also feel that Butler and Georgetown at parity… ergo Georgetown should be a 6 seed. Butler and Georgetown both flirted with low rankings in the top 25 all season long, never handing on to their rankings for too long, but Butler actually topped off at a 15 ranking (too high) and more consistently was at 18 or 19 (probably accurate). Moreover, Butler actually finished 1 slot ahead of Georgetown in the Big East standings, so how, exactly, did Georgetown get a 4 seed and Butler a 6? Georgetown swept Butler in the regular season, and went a grand total of 1 game further in the Big East Tournament (where they both were upset by the same team, Xavier) so I could see Georgetown getting seeded ahead of Butler at perhaps a 5 seed, but the difference between a 4 seed and a 6 seed is far too great for whatever disparity may be present here.

Georgetown is definitely one of the 50 best teams in the country, but definitely not one of the best 20, let alone a pencil in for Sweet 16. This is yet another example of the committee unfairly rewarding programs for achievements from multiple decades ago. They think (probably correctly) that Georgetown drives ratings so let’s give them a 4 seed no matter how undeserved it is. Whatever. They’re probably going to lose in the first round to an Eastern Washington team that is playing like garbage anyway so who cares right? Well… here’s the problem… if Georgetown gets a 4 seed that they most assuredly DO NOT deserve… it means they took it from someone else…

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Georgetown probably should have been a 5 seed, but they got a 4. So who’s 4 seed did they steal? The Univeristy of Northern Iowa Panthers. UNI picked up only 2 losses in their non-conference schedule before obliterating the Missouri Valley Conference and ending the year at a staggering 30-3. There were a grand total of SIX total teams to win 30 games this year in NCAA College Basketball. Kentucky (34-0, #1 seed), Wisconsin (31-3, #1 seed), Arizona (31-3, #2 seed), Gonzaga (32-2, #2 seed), Villanova (32-2, #1 seed), and UNI (30-3, 5 seed). Notice anything funny lookin’ about that list? Like… ohhhh… I don’t know… maybe the fact that EVERYONE on that list is a top 2 seed except for UNI who is a FIVE?!?! seed?!?!?!

Now, I understand that going through the Missouri Valley isn’t as difficult as going through the Big 27, The SEC, or even the horrendous Pac-12 and Meh Big East, but the comparison to the West Coast Conference is where it all falls apart. There were 2 good teams and 1 great team in the WCC this year. Gonzaga was great, and BYU and St. Mary’s were both good. The MVC, on the other hand, had 2 great teams in UNI and Wichita State, and UNI came out on top. I’m not saying that UNI deserves a 2 seed, because they don’t. And I’m not saying Gonzaga DOESN’T deserve their 2 seed (they do… and had to work hard for over a decade to earn enough national respect to secure high seeds like this out of a mid major conference) but I have a very hard time believing the disparity is as large as 3 seed spots (aka 12 ranking spots).

Even more frustrating is the fact that historically 5 seeds are the most likely ‘high seeds’ to be upset by a double digit seed in the first round of the Tournament. So this isn’t just an issue of “ohhh its ok its not like the different between a 4 seed (which UNI deserved, but which the committee egregiously decided to give to an undeserving Georgetown instead) and a 5 seed (which UNI got) is that big” because it is. Now, UNI lucked out with Wyoming as their opening opponent, but I can’t help but look at these 2 seedings and be furious with the cavalier and irrational manner in which the Committee goes about organizing this thing.

These mix ups aren’t the end of the world. At the end of the day we still get to see great basketball, and most of the time the snubbed / undeserving / mis-seeded teams aren’t going to be winning any titles anyway. However, its really frustrating that this Tournament which is constantly billed as a great equalizer in sports, where Cinderellas are championed and “everyone gets their fair shot to enter,” is such a fraud. The Committee repeatedly rewards undeserving teams from major conferences with basketball pedigree and history instead of rewarding the teams who rightfully deserve it in a given season. But o’well… at least we can revel in Georgetown losing, right?

If there weren’t mis-seedings, there wouldn’t be upsets I guess.

Welp… That’s Enough of That…

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I’m out. This season of The Challenge has rapidly gone from potential All Time status to un-watchable. My thoughts haven’t changed since my last articles. It’s still all the same complaints, just exacerbated and compounded by time and repetition. It’s one thing for the players to unfairly stack the game against one another I guess, but what MTV has done this season is simply a terrible viewing experience. People watch real sports to see individuals or teams compete on an allegedly even playing field and root for whoever their chosen favorite ends up being. The leagues do not need to protect favorites, or even underdogs, because different people watch for different reasons, and in all honestly you need a somewhat reasonable balance of both for the product to succeed.

Photo via World Wrestling Entertainment

Photo via World Wrestling Entertainment

 

Even in a product such as the WWE were the physical competition is real but the outcomes are scripted, you still have a full and conscious understanding of what makes a good sports product. Professional wresting has their “heels” and their “babyfaces”… their villains and heroes, but they work out a balance between the two. Even in a scripted athletic event such as professional wrestling, the writers understand that stacking events too far in the favor of one camp or the other makes events inconceivable and preposterous, and therefore unwatchable. Hell, even when they forget this sometimes their fans vociferously elucidate the error (as demonstrated by the Roman Reigns fiasco in Philadelphia a couple months ago.

But hey… any publicity is good publicity right?? Right?!?! Not really…

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In sports or even pseudo sports like the challenge the “integrity of the game” (as baseball writers will tell you ad naseum) is valued above all else. What MTV has repeatedly done this season, however, is shred their game’s integrity and credibility to ribbons. My thoughts on how they botched the Battle of the Exiled were covered in last week’s article, but they made things even worse this week after unfairly sending the show’s rightful #1 seed home. They constructed a game whose rules were unclear, convoluted, and, as it turns out, unfair. See, they said Johnny Devenanzio and Nany beat Leroy and Nia, because they performed better “as a team”… not jsut as individuals. Sure… whatever… that’s all fine and good… we like teamwork in America sometimes right? But their justification was frustrating and ambiguous. Devenanzio and Nany both got to the 3rd stage of ropes before falling while Leroy completed the entire excercise (5 stages) and Nia got to the 2nd stage. So MTV claimed that Leroy and Nia only finished 2 Stages, Devenanzio and Nany 3… ergo Leroy and Nia lose. But wouldn’t it make more sense to calculate the total number of stages completed by the team? In that case Leroy and Nia completed 7 stages while Devenanzio and Nany only completed 6. It seems absurd to even ask Leroy to finish the competition (which MTV did do) after his partner fell if they were going to completely disregard the work he did thereafter.

At the end of the day I just cant help but think and feel that this shit is fixed. MTV has its chosen favorites from before the season even starts, and the outcomes are altered mid stream to ensure these favored candidates move on. It’s not secret that certain characters draw big ratings, either positively or negatively, and MTV seems to be doing everything they can to protect these characters in place of fostering competition. In fact, there is no competition. And if there is no competition in an athletic event (scripted or otherwise)… not even a GUISE of competition, then why watch? Why not just check the “box scores” after the fact, see if your favorite was granted the favor of the deus ex machina and move on. That’s where I’m at now. I’m not interested in watching anymore. I’ll keep an eye out to see if Leroy and Nia win this thing (the only acceptable outcome).

Go ahead and say I’m being petulant and bitter. Say its just sour grapes. But where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and if you had asked me about this season of the Challenge 3 weeks ago I would have told you it was one of the best ever… now I won’t even be watching the end. Something is broken here, and if MTV truly is trying to save The Challenge from getting the axe, they had better think of something better than this… because THIS is garbage.

Madness Previews: The SEC – The Most Underrated Conference in College Basketball

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March is a time of basketball related rejoicing. The NCAA Tournament starts midway through the month, but in the early weeks we get a flurry of fantastic college basketball with the various conference tournaments which will help decide the field for the Big Dance. I’m going to take a look at each conference, try (almost certainly unsuccessfully) to pick the winner, and determine whether anyone from that conference can make some noise, come Tourney Time. So with that, onward and upwards amigos! 

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The SEC get’s a horrible wrap in basketball season. Now, some of this is deserved, but this year in particular I think there’s a significant amount of close mindedness and inability to accurately asses events impacting the national college basketball media. See, people love to hate the SEC because of their football dominance. So over the past decade or so, while the SEC has had several down years I think they’ve been no worse than the Pac-12, for instance, but have constantly been painted as a distant 5th in the Big 5 Conferences during basketball season. Its a chance for the country to get revenge on schools they’ve learned to hate. However, no matter how you feel about how past SEC seasons have been judged, this year The SEC is a very good Conference, and probably the 3rd best in college basketball. That obviously starts with Kentucky at the top, but as we’ll see the conference has more teams deserving of an NCAA Bid than any conference but the Big 12.

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Now, they don’t compare at all to the Big 12’s depth in once sense. While practically every team in the Big 12 (Texas Tech being the lone exception) is competitive enough to warrant post-season conversation (the NIT and CBI at least if not all to the NCAA) the SEC has some reeeeeal stinkers at the bottom of the league. Frank Haith abandoned Missouri this year and left them in absolute shambles. They’re terrible. And Bruce Pearl will have Auburn in the top 4 in this league soon enough, but that time is not now. Mississippi State is terrible, and while South Carolina has looked very good at times this year, they were generally abysmal in conference. So admittedly the bottom of the SEC is very bad, but I would say no worse (and probably better) than the bottom of the ACC. And really, I so no reason in judging a conference on the worst teams in their league unless their worst team is actually good.

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BUT ANYWAY. The Middle of the SEC is every bit as good as those lower tier Big 12 teams (ie TCU). By all accounts Tennessee should have been horrible this year, but Donnie Tyndal, in spite of all the controversy surrounding him, has somehow built a .500 level club out of bubble gum and shoelaces. Florida has underachieved horribly, and are undeniably terrible BUT the talent on that roster, if they could ever get their heads out of their asses, should be a tournament team, and a top 8 caliber seed. Vanderbilt somehow came out of nowhere to throw together a competitive team, and Alabama is a Tournament quality team that simply underachieved to the point that they knocked themselves out of contention. I’m not trying to tell you that the Middle of the SEC are great, but they’re ALL competitive teams SO contrary to what many people believe, beating the Middle Tier of the SEC is not akin to beating the bottom tier of the WAC. National media writers like to beat up on the top teams in the SEC saying they haven’t beaten anyway, calling the rest of the conference some of the worst teams in college basketball which is flatly untrue. These aren’t Tournament caliber teams, but I could easily see a team like Florida or Alabama upsetting the Iowa States and Louisvilles of the world in their home gyms.

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So with that in mind, I think the good teams at the top of the league are not given nearly enough credit for the wins they have earned. Teams like Ole Miss, Georgia, and Texas A&M are fringe Tournament teams, but we’ve seen time and time again that when a fringe/bubble SEC team makes the Big Dance, they take advantage of their opportunity far better than Big 12 or ACC teams do. Last year, for instance, only 3 SEC teams made the Tournament; Kentucky, Florida, and Tennessee. All 3 of them made the Sweet 16. Tennessee came within inches of beating Michigan to make it to the Elite 8 (after needing a play-in game to even make the field), Florida made it to the Final 4, and Kentucky made it all the way to the championship game. This is why it makes no sense when the national media constantly say the SEC is bad. Yes they beat up on each other and it hurts their records, but when you throw the SEC up against the rest of the country, their superior athleticism really gets a chance to shine. So with that said I’d ask you to avoid any biased opinions of national media folk in considering the next 6 teams, all of whom could make the NCAA Tournament.

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A&M came absolutely out of nowhere this year to finish 5th in the SEC regular season standings. They have a top 5 recruiting class coming in next season so I fully expected them to be a program on the rise, but never expected it to be this year. However, they absolutely raided the transfer market and cobbled together a collection of talented transfers (specifically Danuel House) and upper classmen, paired them with the oldest looking little 20 year old you ever did see in Daniel Carusso, and they came out of nowhere to be surprisingly competitive in the SEC. Admittedly A&M probably don’t have much of a future in them if the make it to the NCAA Tournament (I’m thinking 1 game and done) and likely need to win a couple games in the SEC Tournament to even guarantee a spot in the big dance, but what they’ve done this season has been thoroughly impressive, and I for one hope they get rewarded.

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The Rebels are the next team on this list and I have to say, Andy Kennedy has put together a spectacular coaching effort this season. Ole Miss was supposed to absolutely collapse after the Marshall Henderson Era (hell… it almost collapsed DURING the Marshall Henderson Era) and Kennedy was going to be back on the hot seat. Instead, he finds this little firecracker Stefan Moody, (5’10” Jr. Transfer out of Florida Atlantic) who is absolutely lighting the league on fire to pair with Jarvis Summers, and Ole Miss suddenly has a competitive team! They are by no means perfect but for Kennedy to have pulled off 20 wins with this group is spectacular. They probably need to win a game or two in the SEC Tournament to lock down a spot in the NCAA Tournament, but they certainly could compete in the NCAA Tournament, and definitely deserve to be rewarded with a spot after this season.

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Next comes the Georgia Bulldogs whose roster, by all accounts, is crap. However, as it turns out Mark Fox is apparently an absolutely spectacular coach. This has managed to squeeze more out of this roster than I ever imagined possible and somehow has them in 4th place in the SEC and likely locked to make the NCAA Tournament. The guy is just smart. He’s gotten his team to play perhaps more competitively against the juggernaut Kentucky Wildcats than anyone in the country when he had less tools to work with than many others who attempted the same feat (UNC, Texas, Louisville, LSU, Arkansas and even Florida). The guy is a great coach and I hope his excellent coaching season is rewarded with a trip to the NCAAs.

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The Bayou Bengals have one of the best frontcourts in the country. Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin are stone cold killers and absolute beasts. Both these guys will play in the NBA sooner rather than later. However, their backcourt leaves quite a bit to be desired since the departure of Anthony Hickey. Transfer Josh Gray has been solid and sophomore Tim Quarterman has definitely outperformed expectations, but too often this year it hasn’t been enough. The larger problem, however, is that Johnny Jones is a horrendous coach. This man is an idiot. He botched that Kentucky game horribly and cost his team the win. The man is a spectacular recruiter (and he’s bringing in a top 5 class next year which includes the #1 player in the country) but his work on the court could use some major improvements. Even with these issues, however, they’re still 22-9, came closer than anyone to beating UK and will all the pros and the insane amounts of athleticism littered across this roster, LSU is going to be an absolute nightmare matchup for someone in the tournament. Ultimately the guard play and coaching will sink them, but they have at least a chance at a Sweet 16.

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Arkansas is slowly clawing their way back to being one of the best programs in the country. In the 90s they were an absolute menace and even won the title in 1994, but things got pretty rough there for a while. This year, however, Arkansas should be a guaranteed Sweet 16 team. Coach Mike Anderson is an undeniable dick according to preeeeeetty much every coach who plays him, but unlike Mr. Jones the man is undeniably great at his job. Moreover, he has two absolute studs on this years team in Bobby Portis (who is guaranteed to make an NBA roster some day) and Michael Qualls (who has a chance to make it in the NBA). Moreover, senior Rashad Madden is a spectacular distributor for this up tempo offense, and his length and athleticism (a theme among Arkansas players) can be an absolute nightmare for opponents. This team loves to push the pace, and against most teams can absolutely run them into the ground. Arkansas could easily wear down a superior team with this style and make a run at an Elite 8, but it all depends on the draw. With the right draw, however, this team could be really dangerous in the Tournament.

Kentucky

But the real reason to like the SEC is that far and away the best team in the country plays in their league. Its not even close. I won’t dwell on this point because everyone else already has but Kentucky is spectacular. This team basically consists of 9 NBA guys… would be 10 if Alex Poythress hadn’t been lost for the season. They are the best defense in the country, and its not even close. They struggle offensively at times, but it never seems to matter cuz they can get 5 straight defensive stops seemingly whenever they want. Which they often do, giving their best offensive threats (Devin Booker, the Harrison twins, and Trey Lyles) time to find a rhythm and dig them out of whatever hole they may have found themselves in. And I do mean WHATEVER hole. There hasn’t been a single moment this season where I felt Kentucky was in a position that they were completely out in a game. They’re just too good. They can do whatever they want as long as their heads are in the game. The only team that can beat Kentucky is Kentucky. They’re a monster. A Leviathan. They are Ragnarok. What John Calipari has done getting 10 NBA players to sacrifice minutes and play together on 1 college roster is unheard of. Hell… its unheard of just to HAVE 10 NBA players on one roster! He is easily the National Coach of the Year, and this is the best team in college basketball. Not even close.