Lineup Card: SEC Dominance Edition

Welcome to this week’s edition of Lineup Card. I was looking through some results from the last few weeks and came to a troubling conclusion: The SEC has absolutely owned the ACC this year in baseball. Let me explain

Featured image

1. SEC > ACC

Back in football season, all of us were confident after the ACC’s successes against the SEC. As usual, our success continued in basketball. Now as we transition over to baseball season, it doesn’t look good for the conference. The SEC is 9-3 against the ACC this season and could improve to 10-3 if USC beats Clemson tonight. There’s not really an explanation other than the fact that some teams (I’m looking at you FSU and Miami) are underachieving.

2. Palmetto State Fight

Clemson and South Carolina fought this weekend in their yearly battle for the Palmetto state. Game 1 was an easy win for the Tigers. They scored 8 runs in the first 3 innings and the Gamecocks wouldn’t answer until the 4th inning. A final score of 11-4 left Clemson fans feeling confident about the weekend. Game 2 started the same way, but Clemson’s 1 run in the first inning turned out to be their only run as they lost 4-1. Game 3 has been postponed to tonight and will be on SEC Network+. This would be a huge win for Clemson if could take the series from their in-state rival. If they want to get back in the polls, the would surely help.

3. Cavs stay perfect

Another week has gone by and Virginia remains undefeated. They hosted a tournament down in Myrtle Beach this weekend and cruised through all 3 games. Next week will be pretty easy as well facing VMI and Pittsburgh. I don’t see them losing a game until March 20th when Florida State comes to town. Even then, who’s to say UVA won’t sweep them too?

4. Low Scoring Games

7 ACC teams currently post ERA’s below 3. Even better, UVA and Duke post ERA’s below 2. This is an interesting stat since one of those teams, Pitt, owns a losing record. For the most part, if you keep teams from scoring, you’ll win games. Pitt has done just that, but hasn’t scored enough themselves to win. Other than Pitt, the other teams (UVA, Duke, Clemson, VT, Louisville, and ND) all post winning records.

5. Sophomores lead in Average

A couple of second year players currently lead the conference in batting average. Cavan Biggio (ND) and Preston Palmeiro (NCSU) both start the season above the .500 mark. The bigger story is how these averages have effected their teams. There’s no doubt that Biggio’s average has played a huge roll in the Irish improving to 10-1, but NC State is stuck at 5-3. On paper, Palmeiro has more talent around him, but Biggio’s Irish have been better as of late. I’m not completely sold on Notre Dame yet since their schedule has been a little weak, but 10-1 is still impressive.

6. More weather problems

More snow and rain messed with the ACC schedule this week. A total of 10 games were either postponed or canceled due to weather against the teams’ best efforts. NC State moved an entire weekend tournament to Savannah, GA only to have it rained out down there as well. Virginia was forced to postpone their weekday game, but played their weekend games after moving them to Myrtle Beach, SC. On a personal note, I love how easy it is for teams to reschedule games on the fly.

7.   FSU bounces back

The Seminoles returned to form this week going 4-0. A win over Jacksonville and a sweep of UNCW may have given the team its confidence back. DJ Stewart added a few more home runs as FSU put up 28 runs in their 4 games this week. When Florida State plays like this, they look unbeatable. When they play like they did the week before, they aren’t tough to beat at all. I’m not completely sure which team is the real one yet.

8.   ACC schedule opens this weekend

Of course this coming weekend will be an exciting one as conference play begins. Notable matchups include Duke traveling to UNC and Louisville hosting Miami. You should be able to find at least a few games on ESPN3 and I would encourage you to watch. As I’ve said many times before, ACC baseball is always fun to watch.

9. Here are my ACC Power Rankings

Virginia (9-0)

Miami (8-3)

FSU (7-3)

Georgia Tech (7-3)

Louisville (6-4)

Clemson (6-3)

Duke (7-1)

Notre Dame (10-1)

North Carolina (6-3)

NC State (5-3)

Wake Forest (6-4)

Virginia Tech (5-5)

Boston College (3-6)

Pittsburgh (3-5)

The Confidential’s All-Time Syracuse Basketball Team

Suppose you had to play one game… for all the marbles… and you could use your time machine (or TARDIS) to put together a team of 12 players at their peaks.  Who would you pick?  Well, the Confidential does not know who YOU would pick.  But here is who the Confidential would pick for Syracuse:

Continue reading

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

image

In case you didn’t know, the gentleman above is named Chris Jones. Perhaps you’ve heard of him.  If not and you claim to be a Louisville Basketball fan, then you’ve either been hiding beneath a boulder for the past week or vacationing at the North Pole.  Regardless of your familiarity, the soap opera surrounding the talented yet tumultuous senior point guard finally reached it’s final episode this past Sunday, less than 24 hours removed from a much needed home win over Miami.  And this episode of As The Jones Turns would not have a warm, fuzzy ending.  Consequently, the chances of a sequel or spin off are as likely as me playing in the NBA next year.  No more coming back, no more second chances, no more Oscar nominated flops, no more clutch jumpers……end of story, roll the credits.

Ironically, Jones would play well in his final game wearing a Cardinal uniform, tallying 17 points and igniting a UofL offense that up until the start of the 2nd half had stunk worse than a 3 week old dead opossum roadside in July.  On the periphery, everything seemed in place: Jones was back on the team, back on the floor and back to helping Louisville win basketball games.

And then………

image

Upon first hearing the news about Jones’ final dismissal from the team on Sunday afternoon, most UofL fans, myself included, were like……

image

But after the initial shock set in, confusion slowly turned to aggravation and angst for Card fans (or perhaps I only speak for myself).

How does a kid who was just reinstated following a suspension manage to get booted off the team again so swiftly?  But the more important question for some is why has UofL had so many discipline issues in previous years – all issues that ultimately kept critical players off the floor? Finger pointing and excuses are meaningless when it comes to trying to resolve that issue, yet it still leaves even the average Louisville fan searching for answers and grasping for straws. Look no further than the likes of Derrick Caracter, Carlos Hurt, Chane Behanan and now Chris Jones to best illustrate the “what could have been” storyline for other Louisville basketball teams.  Perhaps a separate blog should be crafted to discuss what I personally find to be some of the key issues contributing to the occasional off the court disarray.  But for starters, here’s one…

image

So in closing, Chris Jones now takes his next step in life.  As a fan, I am disappointed and borderline perturbed.  As a human, I am saddened and concerned.  Although short lived, Jones’ time at UofL will probably be remembered in both good and bad terms.  Was Jones a fan favorite, a lovable icon, or a Peyton Siva’esque figure that fans adored?  Louisville supporters both young and old would plausibly say “No”.  On the flip side, was CJ a tenacious defender, someone who played his tail off, and a player that single-handedly lifted the Cards to a few wins earlier this season (insert Wake Forest)?  Undoubtedly yes.  I wish Chris Jones a better, brighter future as I hope other UofL faithful will as well.  There is no need to take jabs and second guess his actions.  Besides, who are we to judge?

Life without Jones won’t be easy, especially for this particular UofL squad.  Want proof?  It came in the form of an epic struggle on the road at Georgia Tech last night.  A struggle that somehow resulted in a win so ugly that my eyes are still hurting from watching.  More about the ‘Tech/Ville game tomorrow, I’m calling it a day and hoping that more good news as opposed to bad await this group of Cards.

L’s Up

Lineup Card: Snowmageddon Edition

Lineup Card is a weekly roundup of ACC Baseball. Each week will feature 9 points including power rankings.

Featured image

Well all in all, it was a good week in ACC baseball. Most teams settled in with an opening tournament somewhere down south. Some teams went farther south than they originally imagined which brings us to our first point:

1. How ’bout that snow?

Teams north of the mason-dixon usually can’t use their own field until mid-March due to snow. This week though, a few southern teams fell victim to the weather. The south got its yearly dose of “Snowmageddon” and NC State and Louisville were forced to cancel games. Virginia planned ahead and moved all their weekend games to various sites in Charleston, SC. Thursday’s game took place at a high school with a reported crowd of around 50 people. They stayed perfect in those games to remain undefeated which says a lot about the team.

2. UCLA cruises to take series in Chapel Hill

UCLA took 2 of 3 from UNC, which was probably the best North Carolina could have hoped for. Yet, something still didn’t feel right about the Tar Heels. They seemed to play right into UCLA’s hands throughout the weekend. Benton Moss only lasted 3.2 innings during which he only gave up 2 runs on 4 hits, but threw 86 pitches. UCLA makes other teams beat themselves and UNC did just that. Let’s take the 6th inning for example. UCLA put up 3 runs on a wild pitch, passed ball, and a fielders choice. UCLA did virtually nothing and still put up 3 runs. Overall, UNC made 6 errors throughout the game which ended up being the difference in an 8-5 loss on Friday. They’re still going to be a solid team this year, but they can’t expect to beat the elite teams unless they can minimize the errors.

3. Disappointing weekend at the beach for NC State

NC State didn’t show well this weekend. They had hoped for some close games and a couple wins at Caravelle Resort’s Baseball at the Beach. An opening loss to Albany turned the whole weekend sour. The following day’s win over FIU did little to help the team’s confidence as it was followed by a 12-3 thumping by Coastal Carolina. The young Wolfpack team showed they have lots of room for improvement. The talent they need is on the field, but the team itself hasn’t quite come together.

4. Georgia Tech doesn’t go down easy

Also at Caravelle Resort’s Baseball at the Beach, Georgia Tech turned in an impressive showing in Myrtle Beach. They started off the weekend right by pounding FIU 16-9, but couldn’t quite get past Coastal Carolina losing 7-5. The Jackets capped off the weekend with a walk-off win over Albany. GT improves to 5-2 on the year with all 5 of those wins coming from behind. While it certainly makes for exciting baseball, I’m sure they wouldn’t mind having the lead a little more.

5. Miami couldn’t get it done in Gainesville

Two top 10 teams battled this weekend as #6 Florida and #8 Miami played a 3 game series. Miami played well, but dropped 2 of the 3 games. These aren’t bad losses but definitely some  winnable games for the Hurricanes. They are in the midst of tough times after losing 3 of their last 4.

6. More trouble in the Sunshine State..

#12 Florida State also dropped 3 of their 4 games this week, but all to unranked teams. The ‘Noles lost their weekday game to Jacksonville and then lost 2 of 3 to Georgia. There isn’t just one main problem either. With scores like 4-1 and 10-5, it’s clear that the offense can’t score and pitchers can’t stop the opposition from scoring. A 14 game homestand comes at a perfect time for FSU as they look to regroup.

7. They lost to who?

This week was not without some games that will make you do a double take. Upsets are pretty common in baseball, but it’s more noticeable since many of these upsets feature schools you may not have been aware played baseball. Aside from those already mentioned, Pitt lost to Wofford and East Tennessee State, Virginia Tech lost to Rider, and Louisville dropped a series to Arkansas State.

8. Problems in Louisville

#7 Louisville lost 2 of 3 to Arkansas State this weekend while stranding 20 runners on base in those two games. The Cardinals obviously need to find a way to get these runners in because you can’t expect to be in the top 10 for long only scoring 1 or 2 runs a game. They turned it around in the final game of the series with a 14-8 victory. I’m not completely sold on Louisville yet. One series doesn’t define a season, but when a team struggles early it tends to become a trend.

9. Here are my ACC Power Rankings

1. Virginia (7-0)

2. Miami (5-3)

3. FSU (4-3)

4. Georgia Tech (5-2)

5. North Carolina (4-2)

6. Louisville (3-3)

7. Clemson (4-2)

8. Notre Dame (7-1)

9. Duke (5-1)

10. Wake Forest (4-2)

11. NC State (2-3)

12. Virginia Tech (3-2)

13. Boston College (2-5)

14. Pittsburgh (2-4)

Disaster Avoided

image

After a week when Mother Nature decided to wreak havoc on the residents in the Kentucky area, it only made sense when a group of Hurricanes dropped into downtown Louisville and the Yum Center yesterday afternoon looking to cause major damage. This particular storm came in the shape of a Miami men’s basketball team that sat firmly on the NCAA Tournament bubble entering Saturday’s slugfest. Miami, a team that decidedly beat Duke on their home floor earlier in the season, entered yesterday as a team that was hungry, looking for something to eradicate. And, for 20 minutes Rick Pitino’s squad looked like the ideal victim – ripe for the picking.

Louisville’s first half display of basketball on Saturday afternoon was one of the ugliest performances in many moons – a highlight reel for viewers who enjoy poor shot selection, selfish one on one play and bad energy. The only thing that saved Louisville yesterday from being severely battered and washed away was a mandatory storm shelter – halftime.

image

So fifteen minutes came and went, and out from behind the clouds and wreckage sprang a second half Louisville team that showcased energy, teamwork and positive vibes. After opening the second half on a quick 8-0 spurt, the Cards had risen from the ashes and enabled themselves to strap on enough seat belts to endure a half of basketball that looked far more like the old school Big East brand of hoops than the present day ACC…..bodies on the floor, players banging on every trip down the lane, each shot being highly contested.  And in the spirit of not reviewing each single possession from yesterday, I’ll cut to the chase…..the game literally went to the buzzer when Angel Rodriguez’s last second game winning 3pt attempt blew to the right and UofL fans went from…..

image

To…….

image

…..in a matter of seconds.

Montrezl Harrell played huge for UofL (sound familiar?) particularly in the paint and most surprisingly from the free throw line where he hit 3 of 4 attempts inside a minute of regulation to help the Cards avoid losing their 4th out of their last 5 contests. Chris Jones found his way off local milk cartons and the missing person’s campaign to also play a major role in the win with his energy and timely offense down the stretch.  Terry Rozier had an off night and struggled from the field but his bucket inside the final two minutes and his deflection just inside a minute were irreplaceable.  All that to say: Cards 55, Canes 53.

But hold up, wait a minute……it’s worth noting that oddly enough, arguably the biggest story from yesterday’s game was not the fact that UofL managed to rip victory from the jaws of defeat, but instead how Montrezl Harrell looked like Peyton Manning (or insert your favorite QB) when accurately drilling Miami’s Tonye Jekiri square in the forehead on an overhead pass after coming down with the ball following a 1st half defensive rebound.  Enter a new American conspiracy that shall be labeled “Head Gate”

image

I won’t cast opinions either way, good or bad, just to say that the play itself was as strange as any in-game one I have seen in a couple years.  And to add to the awkward story line of whether Harrell did or did not intentionally pong Jekiri, Miami Coach Jim Larranaga reportedly informed the three game officials following the incident that Jekiri had suffered a concussion as a result of the play and would not return.  Yet, he made his way back to the court early in the second half and played the rest of the way…..Miami must have one helluva team physician.

Up next for the Cards is a road tilt at current ACC bottom feeder Georgia Tech. But despite the Yellowjackets’ current league standing the Cards will absolutely have to show up in Atlanta with a sense of urgency and a desire to play team-oriented basketball for 40, not 20 minutes.  The ACC doesn’t offer any nights off, a lesson Louisville must continue to grasp and carry well into March.

Wayne’s World

wayne

Call me fan-crazed or accuse of me having OCD, but I can still remember the day that I heard Wayne Blackshear had verbally committed to play basketball at the University of Louisville.

“Scha-wing!”

“Party time, Excellent!”

“Party On Wayne!”

Ok, for the sake of being truthful none of those famous movie quotes sprang from my mouth.  Instead, I can recall texting a few buddies of mine, all die hard UofL fans like myself, in doing my part to spread the good word.  Rick Pitino had landed a future McDonald’s All-American, the toast of high school hoops in Chicago, and a future Illinois Mr. Basketball winner.  To put it mildly, Wayne Blackshear could have been at that time (and may still be) the most decorated recruit Pitino has landed during his tenure at UofL.

So, with all the hype comes all the pressure.  You finish high school, you move away from home and you end up in a city that loves college basketball as much as only a few others could claim only to sustain a potential season ending shoulder injury before the season started.  This was Wayne Blackshear’s life four years ago.  And since that time, his playing days at UofL have had more ups and downs than The Beast at King’s Island.  His career would drive a sports psychologist crazy.  Even as I type this blog and reflect, I find myself stopping and scratching my head wondering who Wayne Blackshear really is, how good he truly can be at the game of basketball, and what on Earth the next month of basketball will look like for him., I will attempt to break down Wayne’s playing days at UofL into three areas…..

wayne1

THE GOOD

– After having only scored 37 points during an injury ridden freshmen season, Wayne Blackshear is only 97 points shy of scoring 1,000 (a measuring stick for many former Louisville players) for his career.  Don’t believe me?  Look it up.

– Blackshear was a key cog to not only one, but two Louisville teams that played in the Final Four – the most memorable being the 2013 National Champion squad

– Off the court he has personified what Louisville fans ask of beloved players: to be humble, professional and to stay out of trouble.

– By the end of his playing career at UofL, no former individual player will have been a part of more team wins

wayne5

THE BAD

- Blackshear, throughout his career at UofL, has been placed on more milk cartons than any player in the 21st century for his disappearing acts in big games

– At a critical moment in last year’s Regional Semi-final game against Kentucky failed to hit the front end of two free throws that would have tied the game inside a minute left to play

– Despite being a senior, Wayne has clearly been unable to connect with many of his under classmen teammates the past few years.  It doesn’t take long from a viewing standpoint to see that players don’t look to him for leadership

wayne2

THE UGLY

– Blackshear is coming off a game against Syracuse where his stat line after 19 minutes read as follows:  0 points, 0 rebounds, 0 assists, and 5 fouls.  He was so disinterested he looked like me in Algebra class.  Louisville, in the biggest way, needed Wayne to play a major role against the Orangemen after the loss of fellow senior Chris Jones.  Unfortunately, Wayne did not deliver – a result that Cardinal fans have grown overly accustomed to.

It’s hard to imagine a kid like Blackshear, who beat out former UK star Anthony Davis 4 years ago for the coveted Mr. Basketball award in Illinois, turning the corner before it’s too late.  Coach Pitino would disagree as he has continuously praised Blackshear for his practice performances of late and is convinced that Wayne will have a “big March.”  Card fans like myself sure hope so, but are not holding our breath.

And in conclusion this may come as a shock, but I really like Wayne Blackshear.  In fact, I think the primary reason I, and other fans, have been so disappointed at times is because we see a great kid, a model student athlete with a big smile and a lot of untapped talent. It’s still not too late for Wayne, as March is still a week away. Will it happen?  Will he get out of his own way, relax, and just play?

Time will tell, but there ain’t much left…..