#1 – How Great is 68?
The inaugural 68-team NCAA tournament field was unveiled on Sunday night, and the early results seem to indicate that the additional 4 at-large berths added to the bubble controversy instead of quelling it. With the inclusions of VCU (who I lobbied for here last week) and UAB, the committee seemed to put some level of importance on insuring that the mid-major conferences saw some benefit from the additional 4 spots.
Making a case for any of the snubbed teams (Virginia Tech, Boston College, Harvard, Colorado, St. Mary’s or Alabama) is easy against either VCU or UAB, but much tougher against the next level of at-large inclusions. It seems the 4 (technically 3) additional spots in the field only added to the controversy. In football I’d argue that the controversy adds to the interest, but basketball doesn’t need any interest enhancers. College basketball has a built-in interest enhancer called the bracket pool. By putting play-in games on the 11 and 12 lines they may have screwed those up a bit too.
If the desired result was an outcry to see the field expanded to 96-teams…we’ll see. If the desired result was to reassure the good folks at the BCS that they’re doing okay…mission accomplished. While the BCS has far more critics than the NCAA tournament, the argument to emulate an NCAA style bracket or an add-1 National Championship formula is seemingly the biggest gripe against them, the controversy currently surrounding the 69th through 75th seeds in basketball surely at least illustrates that you can never add enough teams to make everyone happy. And in some cases, like this year perhaps, adding more teams seemed to make even more people unhappy. At least the BCS has a formula; no matter how tricky it is, determined by a computer. College basketball still goes about picking its playoff teams like beauty contestants arbitrarily based on what individual judges like.
#2 – O’s’ Ailing Early
The Orioles are still over two weeks away from the season opener and already injuries have become a concern. Free agent first baseman, and perceived middle of the lineup fixture Derrek Lee has yet to do anything resembling baseball since arriving on a 1-year flyer, Koji Uehara is looking more and more like the pitcher that O’s fans were frustrated with through the first 90% of his time in Baltimore and less and less like the encouraging final 10% or so that he showed at the end of last season. Justin Duscherer has made several unsuccessful attempts at pitching comfortably and isn’t looking likely for the season’s opener, and of course there’s Brian Roberts.
With Roberts more than seemingly any other player, the fan base seems polarized. As the longest tenured member of the squad, familiarity has led to contempt from some and staunch loyalty from others as it relates to Roberts as a member of the team. Additionally, Roberts (often rumored to be the object of Angelos’ affections) has reportedly been at the center of a number of squashed trade requests, giving those with a proverbial axe to grind all of the ammunition they need to call he and the O’s to task for what appears to be a career now quickly on its downside.
For all of the accolades that were showered on Buck Showalter after his arrival last season, it’s the return of Roberts at the top of the order that many look to as the biggest catalyst for the O’s late season turnaround. Replacing him at second base is one thing, but replacing him as the leadoff hitter quite another. If and when Roberts is healthy enough to be counted on though, you have to begin to wonder if the O’s would be better served employing him elsewhere in the lineup.
Clearly you’d still want him batting early in the order, he’s a disciplined hitter, adept at taking pitches and working counts, and he puts together loads of productive at bats, that part you don’t want to compromise. When it comes to the other things that you count on your leadoff hitter to do though (particularly running and stealing bases) those may not be things that you can’t consistently ask Roberts to do if you hope to have him around much longer.
Roberts’ propensity for stealing bases has clearly decreased in recent seasons, but at what cost to the team? Clearly he’ll be productive wherever you employ him, but could the O’s be more effective overall with a better threat to steal in the leadoff spot, to compel fastballs and keep pitchers off balance for the guys that follow him? Would Roberts be better or at least more available to the team if he could save his body a little more too? The O’s and their second baseman are locked into one another for the foreseeable future. How well both perform going forward will likely unify the schools of thought on Roberts in one way or the other. For now, it’s safe to say that most O’s fans are feeling Roberts’ pain in the neck themselves to some degree.
#3 – Harbaugh vs. Ozzie: The Blame Game
We are three years in to the Harbaugh experience here in Baltimore, and most I think are still reserving judgment. The body of work that he’s managed to put together in 3 short seasons is tough to argue with. The degree of credit/blame that he deserves for the successes and failures of the Ravens is what’s debatable at this point.
As fans grow weary of one side of the ball or the other they begin to look for scapegoats. If the head coach is perceived to be an expert on the side of the ball that has fans frustrated then he will be taken to task. If the problem is perceived to be on the other side of the ball, it’s the coordinator who’s taken to task by fans and media. In Harbaugh’s case, no one seems to identify him with one side of the ball or the other, so by default criticism has consistently befallen his coordinators. How long will Harbaugh enjoy this level of detachment? If you believe what you’ve read this off-season, that luxury may have run out. Harbaugh may have ended it for himself.
Some fans point to the draft record of Ozzie Newsome, and blame the Ravens problems on a front office that may have lost its impeccable touch. Surely the team has had their share of draft day successes in recent seasons, but with those have come more failures than the Ravens have been typically used to.
The big question that I have is how much of the teams (perceived) recent draft woes fall at the feet of the head coach too? While the historical track record of the Ravens is full of first round players who saw their talents through to fruition, the real keys to the teams success is the minds of many came from the multitude of late round and undrafted players who came in and over time grew into the system. The Harbaugh era so far has been most lacking from the standpoint of developing those fringe players into contributors, low paid contributors who provide salary cap relief while filling valuable roles. Without those, success in the NFL is tough.
Whether the blame for the Ravens’ recent deficiencies in those areas falls more on Harbaugh or Newsome is anyone’s guess. It’s safe to say though that despite his prolific track record so far, his legend can’t match that of Newsome. If blame has to be cast, we know upon whom it will most likely fall, and developing players this year will be especially tough with the work stoppage. Add that to the laundry list of issues that we as fans still seem to have with Harbaugh, who by all relative means is achieving an historical amount of success despite his perceived shortcomings.
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