Thursday, July 28, 2011

Impact of Butch Davis being fired on this football season

No caption necessary
Last week I began working on a UNC 2011-2012 season football preview post.  I wrote from the angle that because of all the hoopla surrounding the NCAA's investigation, people were somehow ignoring a team that could build on the previous season's success and compete for an ACC title.  Included in what I had written last week was this quote:

Also, despite the cries by some media members for Butch Davis's head, I think his job is safe at least for this season.  Despite all of the allegations Davis still has plausible deniability, regardless of whether John Blake was doing some pretty devious stuff.  Also if UNC was going to fire Davis they would have done it already.  It would make no sense to fire Davis with only a little over a month before the season kicks off. 

Fast forward to Wednesday evening at about 5:00 PM.  Over the last 24 hours Butch Davis was suddenly fired without any real warning (unless you believe Art Chansky has a huge pull on Holden Thorpe) and UNC Athletic Director Dick Baddour basically fell on his sword, announcing that he would step down as AD as soon as his replacement was found.  My immediate reaction to all of this?

Lest you think this overstatement, remember the state of UNC football before Butch Davis was hired.  UNC was bringing in mediocre recruiting classes and putting together 3-11 seasons (trust me I was there for it my first two years at Carolina).  Given how this went down and the NCAA allegations cloud still ominously looming over the football program, UNC fans shouldn't expect any blockbuster hire.  UNC's recruiting, which Davis helped elevate to a level of competing for (and actually gaining commitments from) 4 and 5 star prospects, is about to take a serious nosedive.  UNC also is liable to lose some of their better young players to transfer.  Ultimately, even if Carolina can come away with a surprising hire, the Tar Heels are almost guaranteed a few lousy years in the not too distant future, and if things go wrong they could end up in the same place NC State basketball has been over the past 5 years.

Consequently, the current season could be a last hurrah for what looked only a little more than a year ago to be such a promising future for the UNC football program.  The Blue Zone has been completed, but if things go poorly this season the sight of the sparsely filled seats of the massive expansion in the east end zone could simply add salt to the already festering wounds of the UNC fanbase.  At least for one season it is IMPERATIVE that the seats be full, and for that to happen Carolina is going to need to go out with a bang. 

While no one would really fault this year's team if this firing coupled with the NCAA investigation ultimately proved to distracting to allow success on the field, the fact remains that even minus a head coach UNC has a pretty talented roster.  Defensive Coordinator Everett Withers has been promoted to head coach and it is conceivable that Davis' firing may not have too much of an impact on in-game play calling given that Withers and Offensive Coordinator John Shoop remain in place.  There is always the possibility that the NCAA comes down hard on UNC in October, delivering a postseason ban and ending any hope for "one last run," but my guess is they will avoid that particular punishment now that everyone associated with the scandal has resigned, graduated, been deemed ineligible, or been fired.  Now with regards to the actual football team...

Renner's play will dictate how good UNC is on offense
On the offensive end of the ball, the Tar Heels will have a (relatively) new face at quarterback with Bryn Renner set to take over after a couple years of waiting in the wings.  Renner has received almost unanimously positive reviews while at Carolina, and going into last season some expected him to usurp the starting position from TJ Yates.  That said, Renner remains an unproven commodity and the Heels will go as far as he takes them this year.  Renner with be facing the biggest uphill battle mentally given that in addition to the pressures of any new started, Renner also has to deal with the distractions of the looming NCAA investigation and the firing of his head coach a week before camp.  Luckily for Renner he is surrounded by a strong supporting cast on offense.  Dwight Jones really broke out during the second half of last season and could be one of the best receivers in the nation in 2011.  Erik Highsmith and Jhay Boyd have both shown flashes of brilliance in their first two seasons but could really help the team out by becoming consistent threats.  The backfield is not as deep as last season, but has talented experience with Devon Ramsay and Ryan Houston.  Not surprisingly Renner's play will be the real tipping point here.  If he struggles Carolina will be mediocre at best on offense.  If he plays to the flashes of brilliance he has shown in the past two springs UNC could have a dangerous offense.

On the defensive side of the ball, Carolina will field what could be the nation's best defensive line with leas season's breakout star Quinton Coples at one end position and another potential breakout star in Donte Paige-Moss at the other.  At the tackle positions Tydreke Powell, Jordan Nix, and newcomer Sylvester Williams make up a pretty fearsome trio.  The next level of the defense should also be strong with Zach Brown and Kevin Reddick returning at linebacker.  While standouts Quan Sturdivant and Bruce Carter graduated, both Brown and Reddick looked ready to step in and be stars last season and will likely be joined by sophomore Darius Lipford.  The secondary is much more of an area of concern after the departures of Duanta Williams, Kendric Burney, and Da'Norris Searcy.  Charles Brown returns after missing last season due to suspension as a result of the NCAA investigation and he will be joined at the cornerback spot by sophomore Jabari Price who showed flashes last season in a few starts.  At safety Jonathan Smith will be joined by either Tre Boston (moved from CB) or Brian Gupton.  Carolina's success on defense will be contingent on solid play from some young players in the secondary combined with the ability of the defensive line to create constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Ultimately the future of UNC football that seemed to shine so brightly only slightly more than a year ago has been replaced by anger, frustration, and perhaps what is worst of all, the threat of slipping back to irrelevance.  Writing those last two paragraphs gave me hope that perhaps a memorable season can be salvaged from all this wreckage.  A lot of that is contingent on how much the players are able to distance their thought from these massive distractions and focus on football.  One way we as fans can help is to show up to games and give the team the unyielding support they will need.  All the online threats of wanting season tickets back and boycotting the program/administration is understandable but ultimately detrimental to the players and the program we love.  Kenan Stadium should be packed and as loud as ever as we cheer on what still could be a very exciting team.  Hell it may be the last chance for us to do so for a long time.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Top 10 Television Drama Seasons (That I've watched)

Following Dallas' defeat of the Miami heat we entered the doldrums of the year with regards to sports.  With the exception of the NBA draft, for the next few months Sportscenter will be dominated by MLB highlights from relatively meaningless games, NFL/NBA lockout discussion, and in all likelihood a unrelenting dissection of why LeBron's fingers are still conspicuously lacking of any jewelery.  As I find any one of these topics as boring as the next, I figure it is time for my third non-sports related post (which is quickly becoming an annual summer tradition).  In a nice twist of irony my breakdown of the LOST finale last summer remains the most viewed entry in this website's history.  While LOST may be over, another show has captivated an hour of my time on a weekly basis.  Indeed, LeBron's title hopes were not the only source of drama over the past few Sundays.  HBO's new series Game of Thrones just wrapped up an excellent first season this past Sunday night.  Consequently, I decided ranking the best single TV seasons would make for a fun break from sports posting.

Before I begin with the rankings, let me announce a few stipulations.

Firstly, I am only ranking television seasons that I have watched, so while I don't mind people sharing their feedback on their favorite seasons, don't rip me for not including a season of Mad Men, The Sopranos or Breaking Bad.  I'm sure those are excellent shows and ones that I would love to watch had I infinite time, but at the moment I do not and thus they are not included in the list.

Secondly, I have limited this list to only include television drama, because I feel including drama and comedy shows in the same category is comparing apples and oranges.

Lastly, because the write ups for the seasons on the list are SPOILER heavy, I have split them onto separate pages which you can access by clicking on the title of each season on the list below.  I know this may be slightly obnoxious, but it was the only way to ensure avoiding accidentally spoiling great seasons of televisions for readers of this post.  Having said that, if you want to avoid having a show spoiled for you, don't click on that particular link in the countdown.  With that said let's begin!

Honorable Mention: Heroes, Season 1

10) House Season 1

9) 24 Season 1

8) LOST Season 4

7) Dexter Season 1 - Guest Written by Daniel Tobben

6) Game of Thrones Season 1 

5) The Wire Season 1 

4) 24 Season 5

3) Band of Brothers (Mini Series) - Guest Written by Michael Tobben

2) The Wire Season 4

1) LOST Season 1

Friday, April 22, 2011

UNC 2011-2012 - Fun with Rosters

The Black Falcon is Back, and he will have plenty of help
As you undoubtedly know by this point, Harrison Barnes announced on Monday that he would be returning for his sophomore year.  It proves that Barnes is a unique type of superstar and has goals for his college basketball career beyond making it to the NBA.  While Barnes is being lauded for passing up sure money people also need not forget about John Henson and Tyler Zeller who also passed up guaranteed first round money to come back and make a run at the national championship next season.  I'm holding off on proclaiming UNC the undisputed preseason #1 until it is assured that at least Knight and Jones (and hopefully Liggins as well) are done at Kentucky, but at the moment it does look like UNC will be expected to cut down the nets in New Orleans.

Since the expectations for UNC and Barnes' decision have been discussed ad nauseum, I figured I'd go a different way with this post and play around with some possible lineups UNC could  throw out on the floor.   In addition to having a star-studded starting lineup, UNC has one of the deepest rosters in the nation.  Justin Knox was the only player who saw significant minutes this past season who won't be on the team in 2011-2012 and the Heels get back a (hopefully) healthy Reggie Bullock as well as a 5 man recruiting class ranked #4 in the nation by  Consequently the number of lineup possibilities are endless. 

Starting Five - no real explanation required here. 

PG: Kendall Marshall
SG: Dexter Strickland
SF: Harrison Barnes
PF: John Henson
C: Tyler Zeller

UNC should be starting the exact same lineup they started this past season.  The only concern with this group remains 3 point shooting, but I would expect Marshall and Barnes to both improve in that category.  Strickland keeps the starting shooting guard spot due to his defense.  He showed at times how dangerous he can be in transition and when attacking the rim.  If he improves his shooting and becomes more assertive driving to the basket, he could perhaps be the most improved player on the team next year.  The frontcourt is absolutely loaded.  They could barely be stopped last season and might become completely unstoppable next year.

Make it Rain - The ultimate 3 point shooting lineup

PG: Kendall Marshall
SG: Leslie McDonald/PJ Hairston
SF: Reggie Bullock/PJ Hairston
PF: Harrison Barnes
C: James McAdoo

I'm not sure we see this lineup much, but with these players out on the floor, UNC has good shooters at every position.  McAdoo showed off his three point range in both the McDonald's all All American game and in the Jordan Classic.  McDonald, Bullock, and Hairston are all pretty interchangeable at this point with regards to shooting.  As mentioned above, Marshall will probably be an improved shooter as well, but his main role in this hypothetical lineup is finding the open shooter (which shouldn't be too hard).

Murderous Press- stealing this one from Bill Simmons' book, in which he took the idea from Rick Pitino, who said that if he went back into the NBA he would take 5 of his bench players and have them press relentlessly 5 minutes each half.  It doesn't seem likely UNC will do this next year, but I like the idea and think it would be interesting if UNC adopted the concept and went to this lineup a couple times a game.

PG: Stillman White
SG: Dexter Strickland
SF: Justin Watts
PF: Jackson Simmons
C: Desmond Hubert

White, Hubert, and Simmons are all middle to lower level recruits coming in next season who probably won't see significant playing time.  I put Strickland on the press due to his great defense/to have a second ball handler.  Justin Watts may see his minutes diminish this year but he would be PERFECT for this press.  Hubert could be replaced with Henson if he isn't able to execute this, but I wanted it to be mainly composed of bench players

The Monstars - Go big or go home

PG: Kendall Marshall
SG: Harrison Barnes
SF: James McAdoo
PF: John Henson
C: Tyler Zeller

This lineup has been talked about quite a bit already and ESPN's Eamonn Brennan's called it the "'screw it, I'm doing it' video game lineup" in one of his chats earlier this week.  While I doubt we actually see this lineup much on the floor, Barnes could potentially play the 2 guard and McAdoo is thought by some to be a hybrid forward along the lines of Marvin Williams.  They may have issues keeping up with smaller guards on defense, but on the offensive end a lineup with 4 players 6'8" or over would be a nightmare for opposing teams.

Lockdown Defense
PG: Dexter Strickland
SG: Reggie Bullock/PJ Hairston
SF: Harrison Barnes
PF: John Henson
C: Tyler Zeller

Dexter Strickland takes over at point for Kendall Marshall whose one weakness is on the defensive end.  Once again if Bullock is healthy he could give opposing shooting guards problems with his 6'7" frame.  Alternatively Hairston is 6'6" and also seems like a solid defender from what I've seen.

Crunch Time -the lineup in the last minutes of a close game when UNC needs to score/make free throws

PG: Kendall Marshall
SG: Leslie McDonald
SF: Harrison Barnes
PF: James McAdoo
C: Tyler Zeller

A good case for Strickland, Hairston, or Bullock could be made at the 2 guard position, but I ultimately think that I may trust a junior Leslie McDonald the most to knock down a big shot.  Marshall, Barnes, and Zeller are no-brainersMcAdoo the edge at power forward due to having a better offensive game and being a better free throw shooter than Henson.

and just for fun The Best Biscuits Lineup Ever!
PG: Stillman White
SG: Patrick Crouch
SF: Justin Watts
PF: Jackson Simmons
C: Desmond Hubert

Outside of crouch I actually think all of these players are/will be solid college contributors, but with the talent UNC has on their roster they may not see the floor too much until mop up time.  Still this is definitely a roster that can get you from 94 points to 100 points in the last couple minutes.