#1 – Ravens Draft PhilOzzophy
As the combine is in the books and April’s NFL draft begins to feel more real, fans can thankfully turn their attention away from the labor circus and focus on their teams’ on-field needs and the season ahead…whenever that may be.
From a Ravens fan’s perspective, despite the realization that Ozzie Newsome too is human, the moniker has always been “In Oz We Trust”. And from Ozzie’s perspective, at least what he allows the public to see, it’s always been “Right player, Right price” and even more famously “Best man available”.
This year, seemingly more than in year’s past, the Ravens have more than their share of holes and roles to be filled, so seemingly regardless of who comes up as the “best man available” when the Ravens find themselves on the clock, it will almost assuredly be someone that they could point to as filling a position of need. Some needs though are bigger than others, and this year more than any other (for all teams) may provide, along with the backdrop of labor unrest, reasons to consider breaking their usual draft profile.
Although the highest rated player on the board sounds good in theory, it’s tough to imagine the team not looking past a player who might play a position where they already feel reasonably well set. Ravens history certainly shows that they’ve managed to find a lot of their “best guys available” at positions of glaring need pretty regularly. Maybe they’ve just been lucky in that way. Or maybe Ozzie’s penchant for trading draft picks (especially trading back) shows his ability to balance both philosophies. Perhaps in the past when the Ravens have found themselves with someone they arguably didn’t need at the top of their board, they’ve traded back to acquire more picks, and to take a player they felt that they needed more in a spot where he projected to be at or near the top of their board.
Whatever the 2011 approach may be, draft day is coming, and for Ravens fans, that’s usually one to celebrate. Additionally, for the first time in a long time (possibly forever) we might suggest that Ozzie is due. With as many needs as the Ravens have, justifying a place for the best available player should be pretty easy, keeping the Ravens afloat and their window of opportunity open maybe not so easy. When it comes to Newsome’s draft wherewithal, I’m still confident that he’s the best man available to find the best men available.
#2 – 86 the 68
Now that we can safely (more or less) rule the Terps out of an appearance in the NCAA’s inaugural field of 68, maybe it’s safe for me to weigh in and say that of all of the ideas that were tabled last year for expansion of the NCAA tourney field, 68 teams may have been the worst.
How the committee seats the teams, and who winds up being the ultimate beneficiaries of the initial bids will be interesting to see. The NCAA said that each of the 4 play-in games would feature an automatic qualifier against an at-large team. Presumably that means that somewhere in what would have been the middle third of the overall 68 team field, the final at-large teams will be assigned to massacre the 4 lowest rated automatic qualifiers. After that the winners would enter the field on the seed line that the at-large team would have garnered in initial seeding.
Here’s why I think the idea is a terrible one. First, the three teams that we’re presumably adding all come into the field somewhere between the 10 and 12 lines; there’s enough history in a 64 team field to tell us that these teams have no reasonable chance of winning it all anyway. Second, the teams that we’re adding will all likely wind up being from power conferences. By adding the ACC’s #5 or the Big East’s #12 or the Big-12 or Big 10’s #7 to the field (again with no conceivable shot at winning) we’re taking the dream of tournament play away from the 4 teams that it really matters to. Wining the Big-Sky or the Great West or the Northeast Conference this year won’t likely get you into the tourney, to be massacred by #1 seed full of future NBA players that you can tell your grandchildren about. Instead it gets you a trip to Dayton to play an also ran from the ACC or PAC-10 that probably doesn’t deserve to be in the field in the first place.
If you really think about it, outside of the Ivy League and a few conferences that don’t allow their bottom dwellers into the conference tourney, everyone still has a shot at winning the national championship. Winning a conference tournament after all, gets you into the field, and from there a 6 game winning streak seals the deal. For the 16’s and 15’s of the world, just getting there insured the experience; they were just happy to be there anyway. Now they’ll still have work to do to get to the experience, hard work, and a 7th game to win on their way to an impossible national title.
Does anyone want to guess the collective record of the final 4 at-large teams this year…play-in games included?
#3 – Ripping Rip Hamilton
Give Rip Hamilton the early edge for 2011’s dumbass of the year. Not only has his inability to control his temper and to get along with head coach John Kuester relegated him to the end of the Pistons bench for most of the season, it has probably also cast him as the new likeliest bad guy in the leagues attempt to reel in it’s players in the upcoming round of collective bargaining.
In the days since the passing of the NBA’s trade deadline, and Hamilton’s ill-conceived team boycott of a shoot around last week, news has also now surfaced indicating that Hamilton himself nixed a deal that would have sent him to Cleveland where he could have played out the season, or negotiated a buyout of his current contract worth as much as $18 million and taken his services to a contender for the stretch run.
Not only should this move call Hamilton’s desire to play for a contender into question (the Bulls and Celtics would likely have been clamoring for Rip’s services), but also his ability to see the writing on the proverbial wall. If nothing else, last week’s trades of Deron Williams and Kendrick Perkins might indicate that teams holding the contracts of players up for free agency in 2012, aren’t altogether confident that there will be a next season in which to trade those players, and have therefore elected to get something for them while the getting was good, even as the Celtics make a run at the #1 seed in the east.
How much of next year’s salary Hamilton winds up seeing is questionable to say the least. Eighteen million birds in the hand and a ticket out of a miserable situation into one of his choosing would have seemed the ideal outcome for Hamilton. Ultimately Hamilton, Kuester and GM Joe Dumars may see the door in Detroit as a result of Hamilton’s decision.