First edition of the new style blog, The Strike Zone…where you won’t read anything more about what a great, awesome guy Ray Lewis is (or isn’t) or how Manti Te’o is gullible (or worse) or how Lance Armstrong lied. We’re moving on from Diva-vile.
I’d totally forgotten that. Great coach, yes…but who recalled that Jim Harbaugh was once a Pro Bowl quarterback (in 1995) as well? My bad. I don’t remember Jim being that great under center. Then again, Jay Cutler was once tabbed (in 2006, when he was tossed into a swimming pool by Peyton Manning) and Brian Griese was an injury re-placement in Hawaii (in 2000, along with the immortal Elvis Grbac) so it’s not inconceivable. What’s more memorable from Harbaugh’s past is his horrific “smack-off” call to The Jim Rome Show back in 1998. Now THAT was embarrassing.
Don’t look now but the Air Force men’s basketball team is playing good ball and staying in the thick of the rugged Mountain West race.
Strike one: Not having much of an issue with things like Performance Enhancing Drugs, etc, to worry about, the NBA’s big off season furor centered on the art form known as “flopping.” It had become an epidemic. Guys like Chris Paul and Manu Ginobilli had practically perfected the tactic of taking the slightest bump and making it appear like they’d been shot by a sniper from the 25th row, complete with bodies flying and screams of agony.
This past off season, the NBA came out and stated again, for the record, that they wanted to put an end to flopping, so in early October they announced a new effort to enforce rules to stamp out flopping. Any player who flops during the regular-season game would get a warning for the first offense, then be fined in increments of $5,000 for each successive flopping episode during the season. The fines could increase to as much as $30,000 for a fifth offense. After that, a suspension would also be considered. Just a handful of guys, including former Nugget Reggie Evans (now considered the best/worst flopper of them all) of the Brooklyn Nets and ultra-pest J.J. Barea of the Minnesota Timberwolves have gotten warned and/or fined so far.
Even though there was much debate and complaints from the players when the league announced the crackdown, it seems to have worked. Very few players have gotten fined, and at least from a complaint standpoint, you aren’t hearing nearly as much talk about flopping/floppers this season. That’s a very good thing, because guys like Paul and Ginobili are too good of players to have flopping be a part of their legacies.
“Ya, it is getting better, so I guess it has,” says Denver Nuggets broadcaster Scott Hastings, one of the move vocal critics of flopping, when asked if the league’s new mandates have helped solve the problem. “It doesn’t seem like as many defensive guys are doing it, but the offensive guys (trying to draw fouls) still are. They aren’t even trying to score half the time. Guys like Barea just throw their body into a defender looking for the call. I really hate that part of the game. I wish they could do something about that too.”
Strike two: Cardinal Mooney High School in Youngstown, Ohio is the school that Nebraska head football Coach Bo Pelini attended. So did Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops and his brothers, including new Kentucky Head Coach Mark Stoops. They’ve all been friends, co-workers and rivals. Right now, it seems that Pelini isn’t getting the benefit of those relationships.
Nebraska has recruited several players out of Cardinal Mooney High, including solid contributors like receiver Tim Marlowe and back-up center Mark Pelini (Bo’s nephew.) The latest star-to-be from CMHS was running back Braylon Heard, who was a solid contributor to the Huskers as a back up last season and was slated to get more carries in 2013. Then Heard decided – unbeknownst to his head coach – to transfer.
His move came on the heels of the de-commitment of four-star safety Marcus McWilson, another Cardinal Mooney product who’d been committed to sign a letter of intent with Nebraska for the past 11 months before switching his pledge to Kentucky and Mark Stoops last weekend. Entering his first year as a head coach, Stoops hired a new tight ends coach – former Husker grad assistant Vince Morrow, a close family friend of the Heard family. You guessed it. Marrow is another Cardinal Mooney grad.
Not sure that’s a class reunion you’d want to attend.
Strike three: How many basketball games are won or lost at the free throw line? For the Denver Nuggets, there are at least five games, if not more, that they can point to and say if we had shot our free throws just decently, we could have won that game. So instead of being 28-18, the Nuggets could be more like 33-13 and sitting in third place in the ultra competitive Western Conference standings. Just by making the easiest shot in basketball.
Here’s an example, courtesy of our Colorado State Rams: In their big home win over UNLV, the Rams went 19-21 from the line and won by five points, 66-61. When they lost by the same score to New Mexico five days later, CSU hit just 13-23 free throw attempts. Then, in a road win at Fresno State three days later, it was back to hitting a stellar 29-34 from the stripe in a nine-point win. It’s pretty simple: Hit your free throws and win basketball games.
Then there are these Nuggets, currently the worst free-throw shooting team in the NBA, now hitting a robust 68% from the line for the season. Just imagine what this team could do if they could simply be a middle of the pack free-throw shooting team? In the harrowing (lucky?) win over Indiana Monday night, the Nuggets won on a last second free throw from Andre Iguodala. So Iggy was the hero, right?
Sure, he made a great defensive play and then hit the winning free throw. But Igudola had six free throws attempts in the waning minutes of the game and made ONE. One of six. And the Nuggets, who blew a double digit fourth quarter lead, won by that single point. Hit four or five of those charity tosses and the last second dramatics would not have been necessary. For the game, Denver missed nine of 30 attempts – a better-than-their-average 70% from the line.
During this season, the Nuggets have lost five games to poor to mediocre teams largely because they could not make more than 72% of their free throws. At Orlando, the Nuggets lost 102-89. They made just 18-27 free throw attempts (67%). At Utah, a 105-103 loss, it was a horrible 56% – just 18-for-32. They were better against Knicks at Madison Square Garden, 21-29 for 72%, but eight misses in a six point loss, 112-106. A pair of losses to the sorry Minnesota Timberwolves included a 58% FT (14-24) performance in Minneapolis in a 108-105 defeat, followed by a pathetic 55% (11-20) in an explicable 101-97 HOME loss. Then there was an even more dreadful 112-108 loss to the lowly Washington Wizards, where the Nuggets hit just 19-31 free throws (61%). Five games they coulda-woulda-shoulda.
It’s the easiest shot in basketball, isn’t it? No one in guarding you. You can take all the time you need. You can practice the same exact shot as much as you want or need to, as often as you want, under any conditions you want to create. Really, is there any excuse for professional or college players not to hit 75%-80% of their free throws, minimum? Do those people waving the oversized heads and balloons behind the basket actually work?
At least one guy I’ve met could make closer to 95% of this free throws. So here’s a suggestion for Nuggets coach George Karl. Three words: Hire Dave Hopla.