Sunday, January 26, 2014

Cougs Basketball: Drop the Bone

Checking my phone this morning, I saw that the Washington State Mens' Basketball team was going to host the Oregon Ducks later in the afternoon. As a season ticket holder, it's my duty as a two-year Pullmanite to go to these games and root for the Crimson and Gray. However, I was not looking forward to spending two hours at Beasley Coliseum for a few reasons. Firstly, I was going to have to miss the first half of the Arizona Wildcats' Mens' Basketball game as they would take on Utah. Secondly, I knew the Cougs were going to lose by large margin. And lastly, going to these basketball games has become painful.

Perhaps my standards have been set a bit too high as I grew up in Tucson, AZ and have grown accustomed to successful basketball teams year in and year out. But then again, Pullman has had a few successful basketball teams as of late, coached by Tony Bennett and future NBA stars like Klay Thompson. However, why would they retain a coach who is 21-30 overall in the past two seasons and 5-21 in Pac 12 play in these past two seasons? Let's take a step back away from the poor basketball that has been on the court since I became involved here and look at what this team and program is capable of. The Pac 12 conference is The Conference of Champions; however, football has been on an upward trend while basketball has been placed on the back burner. While this conference does boast the number 1 ranked team in the nation, they only have one team ranked in the AP Top 25 (Arizona). WSU has been spending plenty of money on athletics in order to compete in the conference, giving Mike Leach a large contract, building a beautiful press box at Martin Stadium, and adding a large office building next to the stadium. But wait a second… That money is being spent on football and football alone. Why put your resources into the football team when they have to compete in the strongest conference in the nation? The team has vastly improved as of late which was nice to see, but a New Mexico Bowl berth is hardly something this program can boast about. It is a stepping stone and this team is on the rise, but don't you think it would be a shame to see the Cougs put together one of the best offensive teams in their history, only to miss out on a Pac 12 North title to the powerhouse that is Oregon, to the defensive force that is Stanford, or to the rival that is Washington?

Now where am I trying to get with this rant? The bottom line is that now is the time. Not in football necessarily, since the conference is so strong right now. Rather, the Cougs should focus on building their basketball program. As a matter of fact, they had been enjoying success, even under Bone, as they made it to the NIT Semifinals in 2011. The truth is that this Pac 12 university deserves a better coach for their mens' basketball program. With Beasley Coliseum, a decently sized basketball arena that can get quite loud with 11,671 fans, many players would be more than happy to play in front of such a crowd. Since Pullman is not unreasonably far from British Columbia or Seattle, there are quite a few quality basketball players who wouldn't mind playing as a Coug. However, they would mind if there team was a Pac 12 bottom dweller.

Ike Iroegbu
Que Johnson
This current roster is dealing with being a joke, and it's not all their fault. Sure, you can blame some of these players for not playing as well as they are capable of. However, you can also blame coach Ken Bone for not using the team correctly. For example, Royce Woolridge is not a point guard, he is a scorer. Running the point takes away his opportunities to score, which has greatly diminished his confidence. Instead, Bone should start Ike Iroegbu at the point so that the young freshman from Oak Hill Academy can get more playing time in order to cement himself and get comfortable in this role he'll have for the next four years. I also remember against Stanford, the Cougs had a small lead, but Bone inexplicably took out leading scorer Que Johnson, a redshirt freshman who was absolutely red hot, which took the Cougs out of the game as Stanford got on a big runs and never looked back. They shouldn't hold onto the ball for 30 seconds and then try to score with five seconds remaining. They should play faster with as many guards as possible along with forward DJ Shelton. The Cougs are not good enough to hold onto the ball and play possession basketball. This is exactly why they aren't winning: they aren't scoring points. And how do you score more points? You take more shots. The problem is Bone isn't running the team to their strengths but rather to their weaknesses.

Royce Woolridge
So how do we approach this predicament? Well, the first part is simple: fire Ken Bone. WSU never should have trusted the former Portland State coach with their basketball program. What they should've done was hire a different coach coming from a small program in a more successful conference with consistent success, but also, more importantly, a coach who has tasted success in the postseason. Ken Bone was consistent at Portland State, building a respectable win-loss record; however, he was ousted in the first round of the NCAA Tournament twice in his last two seasons at PSU. One could argue that a coach who hasn't broken through with a smaller program could easily do so if he had the tools, and one could just as well argue that Bone found success by going far in the NIT. However, one of the more important aspects of coaching is recruiting. Bone is now working with his own players. He is working with players that should be tailored to his system, but the team is performing poorly as of these past two seasons. Last season, they only picked up four conference wins, two surprise wins coming from an LA school sweep. Four wins sounds poor, and it is, but it could've been a lot more. The Cougs were in most all of their games last season. They lost to #10 Gonzaga on a late layup, Washington by two possessions, at Arizona State by four, at USC by four, Oregon State by one, #23 Oregon by two, at Washington by four, and again against Washington in the Pac 12 tournament by two. You may find this as a stroke of bad luck; however, something doesn't add up. The Cougs only had one win that came down to the final moments as opposed to eight losses coming in the last minute. That is not bad luck, that is bad coaching. That is a poor utilization of your own players, players scouted and recruited specifically by the coach, only to come up short at the end of the game. I've heard countless times people exclaim at the end of a Cougs home loss saying, "Oh, we were so close" or, "We'll win next time." I am sick and tired of hearing that. How about we win those games. How about we get a coach who will come up on the winning end of these games.

So what can the Cougs do to stop the bleeding? I'm sorry, but if you are okay with a team that makes SportsCenter by only scoring seven points in a half or getting blown out at home during their "Gray Out" to Oregon by a score of 71-44, you don't appreciate the competitive nature of sports. I'd say this is a culture problem as of now. Hearing those fans who consistently say, "better luck next time" don't realize that there has been a losing culture already slowly settling into this program. It is a weed, a virus, a leach (no pun intended) that will make a program into a joke. WSU is not on the same trend as losing close games. Instead, they are losing only slightly at halftime, before getting blown out of the water in the second half. The Cougs need to make a statement in order to climb out of the bottom of the Pac 12. A statement unlike any other is firing the coach. Even though the Cougs have lost all hope for this season (which is a shame really), they should fire Bone right now as I type this article. Actually, they should have fired him when I was writing this title. Bone has a base salary of $850,000 and is under contract till 2015-2016. WSU would show guts and that they are serious about their basketball program with this firing. An interim coach could inspire some of these players to play better and stay with the program until better things come so that Ike Iroegbu and Que Johnson don't think about transferring away. Another positive about an early firing is that other small time coaches who are looking for that "stepping stone" program will take notice. There are many coaches that would love to spend some time at a Pac 12 program as they build there way up or coaches who are currently assisting but would like to take over the reigns, kind of like Tony Bennett.

Bottom line. Washington State needs to stop fooling around with their future. They are becoming a joke. They have talent. They lose games they shouldn't. They are in a conference where they can be
successful. They aren't making the effort they should to make this basketball program relevant. They have resources. They should make an effort. They should drop the Bone.

Drop the Bone.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Fan-Addict's Power Rankings: NCAAF RBs

1. Ka'Deem Carey: Carey is the best running back in the nation, hands down. He possesses the three most important traits that all of the greats have: burst, vision, and durability. If you'd like to check out any game film of his that demonstrates Carey's rushing prowess, take a look at the Oregon game film. he carried the ball 48 times en route to a 206 yard and 4 TD performance to upset the #5 team in the country. The average of 4.3 ypc during that game may seem pedestrian in the day of explosive running backs in college football; however, Carey brought the fight on every single carry. Towards the end of the game, when it seemed as though the most valuable player of a decent Arizona Wildcat's team should have been resting on the bench, Carey bullied Oregon defenders who were ready to say goodbye to any hope of winning the PAC 12. I understand that Ka'Deem will not be found at the top of many lists for collegiate running backs due to a lack of west coast coverage; however, his career at Arizona is chock full of marquee moments. He has been Mr. Consistency, rushing for 100+ yards in his past 16 games and rushing over 100+ yards in 22 of 25 games these past two seasons. Has he missed a game due to injury? Not yet (knock on wood). If he indeed does declare for the NFL draft, his last season at Arizona was a quality one as he was the reason for most of their wins, finishing with 1885 yards, 19 TDs, and an excellent rushing performance in the Advocare V100 Bowl at Independence Stadium with 169 yards and 2 TDs over Boston College and their Doak Walker winner in Andre Williams. I think he should be the first running back drafted and when NFL GMs watch his game film, he will be the first, taken early in the draft. A late 1st round pick or a 2nd round pick seems to be fair for the Arizona record breaker who can be a durable, consistent workhorse in the NFL.

2. Bishop Sankey: Being the second best running back is good enough to be the second best running back in the nation. That is how strong the PAC 12 is. Sankey, who has already declared for the NFL draft, was actually considered the better PAC 12 running back by many during the early stages of the season by both educated and uneducated fans. Smarter fans mentioned that he had a greater knack for the home run play than Carey while some east coast analysts and lesser watched fans took to the stat sheet to say that Sankey was the better running back. Now that both Sankey and Carey's seasons are over, Ka'Deem has eclipsed Sankey while playing one fewer game. However, 1870 yards is nothing to scoff at, and I hope NFL scouts will watch Sankey's game film against some of the better defenses. He has lacked consistency, with a terrible 22 yard rushing performance against Arizona State, but he also demonstrated a level of vision and explosiveness similar to Carey's against great defenses in Stanford and BYU. I expect Sankey to be drafted in the 3rd round and if he is taken by a team with a solid O-line, he is going to enjoy his fair share of success at the next level.

3. Carlos Hyde: Hyde is an absolute beast. When I watched him play this season, he reminded me a lot  about Chris "Beanie" Wells, a former 1st round Buckeye. I think when all is said and done, he will be a much better running back than Beanie Wells was in the NFL (not that that says much). Through 10 games, he has rushed for 1408 yards this season with 7.7 ypc. That rushing stat line is made even more impressive when you realize that Hyde is not a lil fellow who likes to take the ball on the edge to run. No, he is a bruiser in a stout 6'0", 242 lbs build. He also has excellent balance and speed for a big man, which has given him a knack for finding the end zone. Just take a look at his #SCtop10 run against the Iowa Hawkeyes. I have never seen a big man with as much body control as he displays in that play. Having Braxton Miller as his QB serves as a nice distraction as teams focus on stopping the QB running game as well as Hyde's own; however, you could very well make the argument that Hyde could have more yardage if his team relied on him more. All in all, I think he is strong and durable enough to become a solid running back in the NFL. I expect him to be drafted in the 2nd or 3rd round. Whoever drafts him will have to take some time to clear up his troubled background, but I think he has greatly matured this season.

4. Tre Mason: Mason is a big play running back. He's extremely explosive and produces with the big play. However, I wouldn't take him over the other two RBs in front of him because I think many of his yards can be credited to the scheme that Auburn runs. With a dangerous running QB in Nick Marshall in Gus Malzahn's clever and sneaky offense, a lot of attention is drawn away from Mason on each individual play. With 128 attempts for 848 yards, more than half of his 1621 yards on 283 attempts came when the game's margin was 15+ points, meaning that Mason runs wild when the game is not close. Putting up as many yards as he has in the SEC is impressive, but it's not as impressive when you take the yardage you should be able to take on the ground against lesser teams such as Western Carolina and Florida Atlantic. It'll be very interesting to see how he'll run against Florida State's defense on January 6th. If he can earn big play yardage against Florida Sate, he would prove his explosiveness against a top defense and cement himself a title as an explosive pro prospect. As it is now, I expect him to be drafted in the 2nd round, but used as a third down back in his first season.

5. Andre Williams: People on the east coast may trash me for putting the Boston College product, but I am by no means biased against him. After all, I almost went to Boston College High School. I have a great respect for the university, it's football program, it's head coach Steve Addazio, and it's MVP Andre Williams. However, if you take away his rushing performances against NM State, Maryland, and NC State, all of which possess a mediocre defense, then Williams wouldn't have enjoyed the 897 yard spurt to his 2177 yard total that really catapulted the hype he received late in the regular season. With a hot streak entering a regular season finale against Syracuse, Williams was stonewalled and injured by the Orange defense. With time to get healthy after receiving his Doak Walker Award, Williams was stoned again by a sub-par Arizona Wildcats' defense in the Advocare V100 Bowl to end his collegiate career. I think I speak for many when I say college football appreciated Andre Williams' senior campaign. His story is an excellent one meant for the story books as he has demonstrated determination in his rise on BC's depth chart and on the field as a physical running back. I think he will enjoy some success in the NFL as a short-yardage running back, taken in the 3rd round.

The Fan-Addict's Power Rankings: NCAAF QBs

1. Jameis Winston: The Heisman Trophy winner rightfully took home the hardware this past season after an outstanding freshman campaign. Even though he has been spoiled by outstanding talent all around, you could sense something was special about this kid ever since his 25/27, 356 yard and 4 touchdown performance against the Pitt Panthers in Florida State's first game of the season. Putting all of the negative attention Winston has garnered aside, he has performed effectively in all of his games, blocking all of the negative attention. Given Florida State's offense, Winston figures to make a smooth transition into most pro schemes. I expect him to declare for the draft at the end of next season and I think he will be drafted early in the 1st round.

2. Teddy Bridgewater: I've been high on this kid ever since his freshman season because I think he has all the tools to succeed as a quarterback. He is deadly accurate and athletic; however, he also demonstrates a drive and will to win. Just look at last year's Sugar Bowl. Louisville has not faced many challenges this season and the team could not execute late in their lone loss to an upstart UCF team. However, Bridgewater has consistently demonstrated his knack for football and his smart decision making. I personally think that he was too highly touted at the beginning of the season because the media covered him as if he was the lone bright spot for a very solid Louisville team. Give him credit for maintaining a workmanlike approach to football and not making a stint on the social scene. Teddy is a smart, humble quarterback who showed tremendous upside this season, especially in his last two games against Cincinnati and Miami (FL). He refused to be tackled before converting a key 3rd-and-long late against the Bearcats and he was superb against Miami, leaving the Hurricanes scratching their heads and wondering what could have been if Bridgewater had been their signal caller instead of Stephen Morris. I expect him to be drafted early in the 1st round.

3. Johnny Manziel: Manziel has always attracted attention, both positive and negative. After winning
the Heisman Trophy last year, everyone wanted to see how he would develop. Sophomore slump? Nope. Maturation as a passer? You betcha. Manziel and Texas A&M have not enjoyed the success they experienced last season, but Manziel has become a much better passer. We all knew he could scramble, improvise and throw on the run, but this season, he has been able to sit in the pocket and make all sorts of throws. College football's public enemy #1 can come off as arrogant, but he is a competitor nonetheless. Just look at his last game of the season, a comeback 52-48 win over Duke in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. He has benefited by throwing to Mike Evans, a quality NFL prospect, so given the team Manziel is drafted by, he could enjoy similar success with a good receiving corp. My bet is that he will land on a team that has talent, but just missed out on the playoffs since I think he will go in the middle of the 1st round. Any NFL team that picks him up will be sure to straighten out his behavior off the field.

4. Marcus Mariota: Even though Oregon did not win the PAC 12 in a year that may be considered disappointing by some in Eugene, Mariota has demonstrated that he has the natural tools to succeed in college football as one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks we have seen in a while. He has a good pocket presence and makes good reads and throws. He is also deadly fast. His decision to stay at Oregon for another year is a good one because I think that he needs time to develop more facets to his game, or else he won't be able to adjust to the NFL with just speed and a knowledge of the zone read offense. I think he draws comparisons to Colin Kaepernick due to similar build and a similar style of play. However, when Kaepernick came out of Nevada running the pistol offense, he wasn't ready for the NFL. His throwing motion was raw, and it still is to an extent, and he managed an college-style offense. I expect a team to take Mariota very early in the 1st round in next year's draft, but that team would be wise to develop his football IQ for professional offenses and defenses by sitting him for a years.

5. Derek Carr: Everyone was thinking, "Not another overrated Carr" when Fresno State and its signal caller gained national recognition. The thing is, the younger Carr is better than his brother and has proved it over his senior season. It's been a long time coming for Carr to prove his mettle as he is one of the few highly touted senior quarterbacks in college football; however, he has grown with Fresno State. His teammates have gotten better and he returned the favor this past season by slinging the ball for 5082 yards and 50 TDs with 8 INTs. He has the physical tools to perform; however, my concern is how he will manage NFL defenses since they are much, much better than anything he has seen in the Mountain West. His performance is the Las Vegas Bowl was not a red flag, per se, but it did show that he needs developing. That is why I think he will be drafted late in the 1st round by a team that has a solution at quarterback, but would like to develop Carr for seasons to come.