Sideline chatter: A Herald sports blog

Early-season Big Ten basketball projections

Nov. 22, 2011

That magical time of year is upon us. Some of us get giddy; others tense. I tend to fold myself into a ball and yell, “Come on!” a lot.

College basketball season is back.

Fair warning, this is such a sensitive subject that all sense of decorum and human decency tends to escape me, but I’ll do my best to control myself. (You’re safe for now, IU. I’m a professional.) As a recent graduate of Purdue and basketball writer for the school’s paper, my heart goes a little tender for the Big Ten. I wasn’t always this way. As a kid I fought in favor of the Big East, growing up a Notre Dame fan. But with the certain demise of that conference on the horizon and my switched allegiance, there’s no time like the present to proclaim the Big Ten the best in the land. I’m nothing if not flexible.

But this year — Oh, this year! — is going to be a fun one in Big Ten land. The league looks to be one of the strongest around, even in a down year. There’s plenty of parity there, with Penn State looking like the only team that could truly bite it.

2010-11 record
: 34-3, 16-2 Big Ten
So far
: 4-0
Current national ranking:
  No. 3
Why they’re here:
Plain and simple, Jared Sullinger. The Buckeyes have experience coming back in Aaron Craft and William Buford, but Sully’s the man. The sophomore is poised to seize the National Player of the Year honor without media darling Jimmer Fredette stealing the spotlight, and with JaJuan Johnson out of the picture, I see no reason for him not to be crowned league MVP as well.

2010-11 record:
25-9, 13-5 Big Ten
So far:
Current national ranking:
  No. 11
Why they’re here:
The Badgers get their leading scorer back with senior Jordan Taylor again running the offense. Taylor’s the only starting senior on the team, but Wiscy’s rife with young talent including junior Mike Bruesewitz and sophomore Josh Gasser. Freshman Traevon Jackson could also make an immediate impact. Plus, the Kohl Center is one of the most intimidating venues in sports and Wisconsin will get some of its tougher challenges at home, especially with Michigan State on Jan. 3 and Ohio State on Feb. 4.

2010-11 record:
21-14, 9-9 Big Ten
So far:
Current national ranking: 
No. 15
Why they’re here:
The Wolverines lost standout Darius Morris to the NBA (big mistake, Darius), but they’re hardly hurting for talent with Tim Hardaway Jr., Stu Douglass and Zack Novak back. Plus, they just issued a beatdown on 10th-ranked Memphis in Maui. Nice.

2010-11 record:
26-8, 14-4 Big Ten
So far:
Current national ranking: 
Why they’re here:
I will try to keep this short, so bear with me. I’ll probably get some flak for putting the Boilers here, but hear me out. Yes, Matt Painter and company lose roughly 40 points a game without E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson, but Robbie Hummel has shown very few ill effects in his twice-surgically repaired knee. He’s averaging 20 ppg so far and he’s getting a lot of help all over the floor. Senior Ryne Smith will always be lights-out from 3 and Lewis Jackson is looking as shifty as ever, even on a sore foot. The Boilers have already faced three NCAA Tournament teams in Iona, Temple and Alabama and won two of three. If nothing else, they’ve shown they can win tight games.

2010-11 record:
19-15, 9-9 Big Ten
So far:
Current national ranking: 
Why they’re here:
Sparty gets a reprieve for the slow start because they opened with stacked North Carolina and Duke. MSU’s without Kalin Lucas, and Delvon Roe was forced to give up basketball with a chronically injured knee, but a lot of pieces return for a team looking to avenge a stunningly mediocre 2010-11. Draymond Green is always tough, Keith Appling has had strong moments and the Spartans also benefit from Valpo transfer Brandon Wood. The conference is wide open and Sparty’s in a good position to ruffle some feathers.

2010-11 record:
20-14, 7-11 Big Ten
So far:
Current national ranking:
Why they’re here:
Every year is high expectations. Every year they seem to fall flat. John Shurna is a beast, but I don’t think he can carry a whole team. That, and they can’t play defense.

2010-11 record:
12-20, 3-15 Big Ten
So far:
Current national ranking:
Why they’re here:
Prove me wrong, Tom Crean. The Hoosiers are off to a swift start and Cody Zeller seems to be doing well, but IU has had a bunch of 3- and 4-star guys for a few years and Crean still has only eight Big Ten wins to his name. They’ve got some nice players — Christian Watford, Verdell Jones III, Jordan Hulls. My question is if Crean is for real. We’ll see.

2010-11 record:
17-14, 6-12 Big Ten
So far:
Current national ranking:
Why they’re here:
Many thought Tubby Smith’s Golden Gophers would once again plant itself in the Top 25 last year, but they stumbled throughout the conference season and lost to Xavier in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. They have a strong core returning, so they could do some damage. How much is yet to be seen.

2010-11 record:
20-14, 9-9 Big Ten
So far:
Current national ranking
:  N/A
Why they’re here:
Perennial underachievers. The Illini will miss Demetri McCamey. A lot.

2010-11 record:
19-13 7-9 Big 12
So far:
Current national ranking:
Why they’re here:
Welcome to the Big Ten.

2010-11 record:
19-15, 4-14 Big Ten
So far:
Current national ranking:
Why they’re here:
Fran McCaffery is doing some good things in Iowa City, but the Hawkeyes are still building and we might not know how much until season’s end.

2010-11 record:
19-15, 9-9 Big Ten
So far:
Current national ranking:
Why they’re here:
The Nittany Lions are without Talor Battle, Andrew Jones, David Jackson and Jeff Brooks, with not much filling the void. Good luck with that.

— Joanne Norell

Regional football picks (hopefully more accurate, this time)

Nov. 11, 2011

I can surely do better than 53 percent. (I’m rounding up from 52.5 percent because I need all the help I can get.) That’s how accurate I was in predicting the state’s sectional football champs three weeks ago.

Even after getting just 21 of 40 correct, I’m showing my face again, bound to do better for the regional round. Things usually return to predictable form from the regional onward, so these picks come with more confidence. (Famous last words.)

Crown Point (9-3) at Penn (12-0)
Pick: Penn. Could be closer than records might reflect, but Penn’s always a good pick.
Hamilton Southeastern (11-1) at Fort Wayne Snider (8-4) Pick: Hamilton Southeastern. Royals used to be routed through the southern semistate and get caught up in the carnage of Warren Central, Ben Davis and the like, so I’m guessing they’re not too upset about a long road trip if it means they’re set up for a longer run.
Carmel (11-1) at Ben Davis (10-2) Pick: Carmel. The Greyhounds, who I picked to lose in the sectional, probably now have the inside track to win the state title after they picked off Warren Central. But of the teams remaining, Ben Davis might be the one that can give them the best game.
Center Grove (8-4) at Bedford North Lawrence (9-3) Pick: Center Grove. Win-win for Center Grove: Trojans were spared having to play Castle (which BNL upset last week), and their regional road trip is considerably shorter, too.

South Bend Washington (9-3) at Hammond Morton (11-1)
Pick: South Bend Washington. Two faraway teams without much history or heritage to judge from. So I’m just crossing my fingers here.
Leo (12-0) at NorthWood (9-3) Pick: Leo. Lions trampled Fort Wayne Dwenger last week and could be the newcomer that announces itself this season in the usually predictable state finals field. Winning at NorthWood, in a football-rich pocket of the state, won’t be easy.
Indianapolis Cathedral (9-3) at Pendleton Heights (11-1) Pick: Indianapolis Cathedral. Fighting Irish don’t have an easy road from here on out to win their fourth state title in the last six years. But I still like their chances.
Evansville Central (7-5) at Columbus East (11-1) Pick: Columbus East. Jasper saw how good one Kiel (Dusty) was the Cats played Columbus East in the regional three years ago. The current Kiel (Gunner) is even better and should be able to stack up points on Central.

South Bend St. Joseph’s (10-2) at Jimtown (10-2)
Pick: South Bend St. Joseph’s. Literally picked this one on a coin flip. Heads, St. Joe wins.
Bellmont (6-6) at West Lafayette (11-1) Pick: West Lafayette. Bellmont squeezed through a sectional that had a couple better teams, but it’s tough to make the good fortune last.
Indian Creek (8-4) at Indianapolis Chatard (10-2) Pick: Indianapolis Chatard. A year ago these two met in the semistate, which Chatard won 21-3, and Indian Creek was a better team last season.
Corydon Central (10-2) at Evansville Memorial (7-5) Pick: Evansville Memorial. Memorial got its starting quarterback back recently, and last year aside, the Tigers have had the magic touch in the tournament the last few seasons.

Bremen (12-0) at Wheeler (12-0)
Pick: Wheeler. Wheeler made one of the first power moves of the tournament, knocking out Andrean.
Fort Wayne Luers (10-1) at Tipton (8-4) Pick: Fort Wayne Luers. The final few games will be tougher, but nothing’s stopping the Luers machine this week.
South Putnam (10-2) at Guerin Catholic (9-3) Pick: Guerin Catholic. Both these teams knocked out undefeated squads in last week’s sectional final. I’ll go with the home team.
Triton Central (7-5) at Evansville Mater Dei (11-1) Pick: Evansville Mater Dei. Long drive down for Triton Central. Even longer drive back.

Lafayette Central Catholic (12-0) at South Newton (11-1)
Pick: Lafayette Central Catholic. Records indicate this will be a good, close game. It won’t.
Adams Central (7-5) at Sheridan (9-3) Pick: Sheridan. Class 1A’s best public-school program rolls onward.
Indianapolis Scecina (9-3) at North Vermillion (7-5) Pick: Indianapolis Scecina.
Milan (11-1) at Linton (12-0) Pick: Linton. Could be one of the most competitive regional matchups statewide. Will be interesting to see how Linton (57.3 ppg) holds up now that it’ll start seeing teams with better defenses.

— Brendan Perkins

What doesn’t always come across in print

Nov. 3, 2011

I think, sometimes, there is this misperceived notion that players and coaches have to talk to us, the media, after their game, match or meet.

They don’t.

We can smile, offer compliments, beg, plead or bribe — all of which I’m sure has been done before — and if the coach or player in question responds with a “no,” there’s no recourse for the reporter.

The only thing I’ve ever done is politely ask for a few minutes of their time and wait. You’d be amazed at how well that works.

Still, not every situation is the same. Coaches and players are always more eager to talk after a resounding victory, or any victory, actually, than after absorbing a defeat that leaves them muttering to themselves. It has nothing to do with manners. It’s just human nature.

I’m guessing I’ve done around 500 interviews since I started at The Herald last August — wow, that sounds like a lot when you say it out loud — and I continue to be amazed by how thoughtful people can be literally moments after experiencing a gut-wrenching loss. Sure, it’s sports and nobody’s mortgage doubles after a loss, but it’s obvious to anyone who regularly attends prep sports in the area that this stuff matters.

That’s why I’m always appreciative of the time, even if it’s only two or three minutes, I’m afforded to try to gain some insight. The passion is also what made last weekend a little tough.

After regularly covering the Jasper volleyball team throughout the season, I felt like I could step in for coach Deborah Giesler, yell out the offensive plays and not have the Wildcats fall out of line. I had talked to just about everyone on the team at some point, and got to know the girls a good amount. I also never saw them lose.

Until Saturday night.

That’s when Jasper nipped at a state finals bid, grabbing the first game and nearly forcing a fifth before falling to Indianapolis Chatard in the semistate championship at Cabby O’Neill Gymnasium.

By the way, I could cover an insect fair at Cabby and still be enthralled. I’m convinced you immediately become cooler as soon as you walk through the doors.

Back to Saturday night. I was leaning against a doorway, watching the Wildcats’ friends and family console them after their season-ending loss. Career-ending in some cases. It was nearing 10 p.m. and I had the fourth quarter of the Penn State-Illinois game recorded and waiting for me at my apartment. I didn’t mind hanging around one bit.

So when Jasper senior Erica Welp finally made her way over to discuss the match, her season and having to say goodbye, I didn’t immediately stick a recorder in her face and ask her how the team’s offensive rhythm was thrown off during parts of the match. That’s not something you ask a player in that type of moment.

I thanked her for her time and asked her to tell me about her season and what she’ll remember most. She opened up. Same with fellow Wildcat senior Megan Sternberg.

Sometimes I worry I’m not doing a good enough job of describing the entire scene on nights like last Saturday. I find what happens afterward is just as compelling sometimes as what transpires during the contest.

More than anything, I suspect the passion of the local sports scene spills over so much it’s difficult to condense it all in an 800-word story.

But there’s no denying it’s a lot of fun trying.

— John Patishnock

Big Ten Power Rankings/Bowl Projections

October 27, 2011

I still couldn’t believe it when I saw the Big Ten schedule. Teams will be playing into December. I understand why Lucas Oil Stadium was chosen as the site, but if ever there was a conference not suited to play its championship game on a surface meant for electric offenses and fast play, it’s the Big Ten.

For a look at who ends up where, and how teams currently compare, brace yourselves for my first Big Ten midseason breakdown extravaganza.

No. 1 — Michigan State (6-1, overall, 3-0 Big Ten; 1st in Legends Division): A quality win over Michigan and that insane comeback victory over Wisconsin last week has Sparty sitting on top. If Michigan State makes it past this weekend’s road test at Nebraska, it will definitely play for the conference title. The Spartans end their season by playing Minnesota, Iowa, Indiana and Northwestern. Once in Indy, though, they’ll lose, and fall lower than they should in the bowl pecking order because Penn State and Nebraska travel better.
Bowl projection: Gator Bowl vs. SEC opponent

No. 2 — Michigan (6-1 overall, 2-1 Big Ten; 2nd in Legends Division): Michigan mostly thumped its way through its first six games before falling to the Spartans. A weak schedule toward the end ensures the Wolverines won’t have more than a pair of losses before their bowl game.
Bowl projection: Capital One Bowl vs. SEC opponent

No. 3 — Wisconsin (6-1 overall, 2-1 Big Ten; tied for 2nd in Leaders Division): Funny what happens when you don’t play UNLV and South Dakota, huh, Badgers? Still, Wisconsin should manage to beat Ohio State this weekend, and if that happens, the Badgers’ regular-season finale at home against Penn State will likely be for the Leaders crown. I love my Nittany Lions, but that’s a matchup that doesn’t favor them. Wisconsin makes it to Indy, pulverizes Michigan State by at least two touchdowns and heads to Pasadena.
Bowl projection: Rose Bowl vs. Pac 12 or BCS opponent

No. 4 — Nebraska (6-1 overall, 2-1 Big Ten; 3rd in Legends Division): The Huskers nearly followed up their Wisconsin debacle with an unexplainable home loss to Ohio State. But Nebraska recovered, beat the Buckeyes and then bruised Minnesota pretty good last week. Back-to-back road games at Penn State and Michigan and a home game versus Iowa probably means two more losses for the Huskers.
Bowl projection: Insight Bowl vs. Big 12 opponent

No. 5 — Penn State (7-1 overall, 4-0 Big Ten; 1st place for Leaders Division): I just want to preface this analysis by saying I’ve watched more Penn State football this season than everybody who will ever read this blog post combined. I wanted to put the Nits higher, but the lack of a real quality win and my abhorrence for nearsighted homers has Penn State in the middle of the pack. The Nittany Lions finish strong (Illinois, Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin) and if they can manage to win three more (fingers crossed), they’ll finish second in the Leaders Division and earn a spot in the Outback Bowl, where they’ve played four times in the last 15 years.
Bowl projection: Outback Bowl vs. SEC opponent

No. 6 — Ohio State (4-3 overall, 1-2 Big Ten; 5th in Leaders Division): The Buckeyes’ much-needed road win last week against Illinois is a bit devalued because of Illinois’ past history (skim below for more details), but I still have more faith in the Buckeyes than the traditional middle-of-the-road conference teams that manage to pull off a decent win once a year — You got yours last week, Purdue, hope you enjoyed it.
Bowl projection: Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas vs. Big 12 opponent

No. 7 — Illinois (6-2 overall, 2-2 Big Ten; 4th in Leaders Division): The Fighting Illini have a more impressive win on their schedule (at home over No. 21 Arizona State), so they still land ahead of the Boilermakers. The Illini are the college version of the New York Giants. They play great with no expectations, then score seven points in seven quarters against unranked Ohio State and Purdue after running off six consecutive victories to begin the season.
Bowl projection: TicketCity Bowl vs. Conference USA or Big 12 opponent

No. 8 — Iowa (5-2 overall, 2-1 Big Ten; 4th in Legends Division): Congratulations, Kirk Ferentz. You’ve somehow managed to convince people Iowa is a national program while winning only seven games a year. Or in other words, barely finish above .500. Now go have fun playing a bowl game in Detroit.
Bowl projection: Little Caesars Pizza Bowl vs. MAC opponent

No. 9 — Purdue (4-3 overall, 2-1 Big Ten; 3rd in Leaders Division): Pout all you want Boilermaker fans, but look at Purdue’s schedule and then tell me where two wins can be found. Even if I grant you a win over Indiana, the Boilermakers still have to beat either Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State or Iowa.
Bowl projection: None

No. 10 — Northwestern (2-5 overall, 0-4 Big Ten; 6th in Legends Division): I’d say my surprise team of the year, on the negative side. Especially given Northwestern opened the season with a road win over ACC opponent Boston College. Actually, never mind. I just looked and saw the Golden Eagles’ record this year is 1-6. Yikes. As for the Wildcats, they score nearly 28 points a game. The bad news? They yield almost 31 per contest. And I thought Pat Fitzgerald’s forte was defense.
Bowl projection: None

No. 11 — Indiana (1-7 overall, 0-4 Big Ten; 6th in Leaders Division): Blah, where do I even begin? I outlined most of my thoughts in a recent column and don’t feel like piling on. The Hooisers aren’t any good. There, that’s it.
Bowl projection: None

No. 12 — Minnesota (1-6 overall, 0-3 Big Ten; 5th in Legends Division): The Golden Gophers rank 109th or worse in the country in passing yards, points scored and points allowed per game. And they just signed coach Jerry Kill to a seven-year contract extension. Chew on that, Gopher fans.
Bowl projection: None

— John Patishnock


Sectional football picks, 1 to 40

October 20, 2011

First off, know that I am lousy at anything involving predictions or luck.

I always play along whenever I see the Pick 3 drawing on TV, trying to predict which numbered ping-pong balls will come up. “7, 9, 3!” I shout, convincing myself I’ll be right. Nope. 1, 1, 8.

So with that caveat, I’ll give a shot at predicting sectional winners at each of the 40 IHSAA football sectionals that kick off Friday. This in all in fun, so don’t be offended if I don’t pick your team. And since I haven’t seen any team north of Crawford County this season, I’m basing much of this just on records and tradition. Judging by my lotto picks, it may be a good thing if I don’t pick your team.

Winners are noted with their current record.

Sectional 1
— Merrillville (6-3). From the little I know about northwest Indiana, the larger-class sectionals usually seem to involve upsets in a lot of sports. I’ll go with Merrillville in a first-round game with Lake Central (8-1) and over the rest of the field.
Sectional 2 — Penn (9-0). Kingsmen have gone two years without a sectional title, which is basically light years in Penn terms. That skid won’t last.
Sectional 3 — Homestead (9-0). The Spartans can score (50.1 ppg) and usual frontrunner Fort Wayne Snider (5-4) is uncharacteristically down.
Sectional 4 — Hamilton Southeastern (8-1). With neighboring Carmel realigned to the southern semistate, HSE could be team to beat in 5A north.
Sectional 5 — Warren Central (9-0). Amazing that this sectional final will be of state finals caliber. Carmel will likely be waiting, and these two teams are ranked 1-2 in the Sagarin ratings and couldn’t be closer — with Warren Central ranked higher by eight-hundredths of a point. I’ll take the razor-thin margin.
Sectional 6 — Ben Davis (7-2). Not a shabby sectional here, either, as Ben Davis, Avon and Brownsburg are ranked 4-5-6 in the Sagarin ratings.
Sectional 7 — Center Grove (5-4): Bruiser of a schedule should help CG through.
Sectional 8 — Castle (9-0). Knights have proven they’re tops in southwest Indiana. Will be interesting to see how they stack up in regional and beyond.

Sectional 9
— Hammond Morton (8-1). They won by 30 over the team with the second-best record in the sectional. And their mascot is the Governors, and that’s just cool.
Sectional 10 — South Bend Washington (6-3). Always-tough Lowell could sneak in for an upset.
Sectional 11 — Wawasee (7-2). Total tossup, since it looks like any of four teams could win here.
Sectional 12 — Fort Wayne Dwenger (5-4). Leo is 9-0, but Dwenger plays far tougher schedule.
Sectional 13 — Pendleton Heights (8-1). I’ve got to make at least one big, bold prediction, so I’ll say top-ranked and unbeaten New Palestine won’t survive the sectional final.
Sectional 14 — Indianapolis Cathedral (6-3). Don’t be thrown by the record; the Irish are probably the best team in 4A. By plenty.
Sectional 15 — Columbus East (8-1). Gunner Kiel and Co. should get through but East Central (8-1) is tough.
Sectional 16 — Jasper (6-3). Sure, maybe it’s a homer pick. But the Wildcats, who drew a first-round bye, basically need to play one good game to win the sectional. I’ll take those odds as Central (4-5), Reitz (6-3) and Boonville (7-2) are on the other half of the bracket. And this isn’t the same Reitz team as years past; if not for three wins by one point and other in overtime, the Panthers could be 2-7.

Sectional 17
— South Bend St. Joseph’s (7-2). Best draw, plus the Indians reached the state finals last year.
Sectional 18 — Jimtown (7-2). The Jimmies are good, and they’ve got a great nickname. A winning combo.
Sectional 19 — Eastbrook (6-3). Wondered why Eastbrook was still so highly ranked despite three losses — upon further inspection they haven’t lost a game on the field but were forced to forfeit three contests.
Sectional 20 — West Lafayette (8-1). I love me some good defense, and WL has surrendered more than a touchdown just once this year.
Sectional 21 — Indianapolis Chatard (7-2). As usual. Next.
Sectional 22 — Greensburg (4-5). No clue who’ll end up winning here, but it ain’t going to be pretty against Chatard in the regional.
Sectional 23 — Heritage Hills (7-2). For the same reason I’m picking Jasper — a little bit of the bias effect, and the Patriots got a great draw and have to play one good game in the final. And, never bet against Bob Clayton.
Sectional 24 — Evansville Memorial (4-5). Tigers aren’t as good as they’ve been, but they’re still the best in a meager sectional.

Sectional 25
— Andrean (9-0). Andrean was good in 3A and should be even tougher after moving to 2A.
Sectional 26 — Bremen (9-0). Lions have four more wins than the three teams in their half of the bracket combined.
Sectional 27 — Fort Wayne Luers (7-1). In football and girls hoops, I’m not sure I’d pick Luers to lose in the sectional. Ever.
Sectional 28 — Fountain Central (9-0). So Luers and Fountain Central have to play each other ... in the regional: Ouch. That’s a nasty trip for someone.
Sectional 29 — Shenandoah (9-0). I’ll take the farm kids over well-to-do Guerin Catholic (6-3), which has a higher Sagarin rating.
Sectional 30 — Indianapolis Ritter (7-2). Probably foolish to bet against last year’s 2A state runner-up, but North Putnam (9-0) would likely have to go through three teams with a combined 22-5 record.
Sectional 31 — Providence (5-4). Coin flip between the Pioneers and Paoli (7-2).
Sectional 32 — Evansville Mater Dei (8-1). Southridge and full-strength Forest Park would be capable of winning other 2A sectionals. (See: Sectional 31.) But Mater Dei is looking like the team that’ll end up at Lucas Oil Stadium on Thanksgiving weekend.

Sectional 33
— Culver (5-4). I’m nearly out of clever things to say. So I’ll just admit that I’m going off Sagarin ratings and Culver has the best one.
Sectional 34 — Lafayette Central Catholic (9-0). Poor Pioneer. Panthers are 9-0, ranked second in the state, and they’ll be disposed of on the first day of the state tournament because LCC is sharpening its claws for a third straight 1A state title.
Sectional 35 — North Miami (6-3). Other seven teams in the sectional have combined for 14 wins. Ick.
Sectional 36 — Sheridan (6-3). Sheridan’s Bud Wright (366 wins) can overtake Jasper’s Jerry Brewer (368) on the career wins list with a sectional title.
Sectional 37 — Indianapolis Scecina (6-3). Two Indy teams will likely win sectionals, and instead of playing each other in the regional, both would both play teams from west-central Indiana. Hmmm ..... another odd decision courtesy of the IHSAA.
Sectional 38 — Rockville (7-2). Rox can’t spell, but they can win a sectional.
Sectional 39 — Indianapolis Lutheran (7-2). Still trying to figure out how Indy Lutheran, Milan and Springs Valley all wound up in the same sectional.
Sectional 40 — Linton (9-0). Some good small-school teams have populated this sectional recently, but most have slipped into a down cycle. And no one’s going to touch Linton, who’s been doling out beatdowns reminiscent of IU-Wisconsin scores: 81-20, 77-0, 56-6.

— Brendan Perkins

Social media creating an everlasting imprint

October 13, 2011

Last Saturday morning after I had just arrived at Bretzville to take in the Class 1A girls soccer sectional championship between Forest Park and Heritage Hills, I checked my iPhone to glance at that morning’s sports headlines.

Usually, I scope out the daily, national sports scene before 10:30 or so in the morning, but I had locked my keys in my Jeep the previous night — long story, don’t ask — and was feeling behind and a bit out of sync.

Then I was sharply awakened by the top headline on

It read: “Breaking news: Raiders owner Al Davis dies at 82.”

I wasn’t sure how to react at first. I knew Davis was getting older, so it wasn’t a complete shock, but still, I was surprised.

In a weird and unexplainable way, part of me thought Davis was going to live forever. Or for at least as long as I was around.

Sure, Davis was a visionary and a leader who owned just about every position imaginable in football. And I’ve even been told the Raiders were perennial Super Bowl contenders at some point in the last quarter-century — that’s true, right? Heck, the way some people have talked lately makes me think he was also a Renaissance man. At least once upon a time.

I never saw Davis in that light. And never will. It’s not that I don’t care for Davis, but I can only go off of what I’ve seen myself. And the image of Davis belitting former Raider coach and current Southern California coach Lane Kiffin by way of showing a letter on an overhead projector — if that doesn’t tell you Davis was behind the times, nothing will — at a press conference three years ago is seared into my memory to the point that image is never leaving.

That’s just one example of the, let’s be nice and say goofiness, Davis exhibited in his later years.

But listen to coaches, players and analysts talk and all you’ll hear is how they think everyone will remember Davis for his virtues, and not his volatile nature.

The old, tired analogy sports writers use is no one ever remembers Willie Mays scuffling around the outfield when he ended his career as a New York Met.

Well, guess what. That was in the early 1970s before the advent of social media, 24-hour news cycles where you can see the same highlight a few dozen times in a night and an endless amount of windbags on every outlet talking about what happened the night before representing the most pivotal moment in sports history.

The reason nobody remembers Mays as a Met is because the only footage available is grainy, shaky and probably in a tin can in the basement of some television network’s towering office.

If that scene had transpired nowadays, the highlight would be shown on ESPN around 100 times (I’m not exaggerating), linked everywhere in the blogosphere and commented on endlessly on Twitter.

Can you imagine Colts owner Jim Irsay tweeting about Mays? It’d probably read something like this: “oH My God!?! mays goes 2 otField & drops ball!!!!”

Yes, everyone reading that just got a little dumber. And if you think I’m exaggerating Irsay’s inability to write coherently 140 characters at a time, please check out his news feed. I’m beginning to think Irsay’s tweeting is the genesis of Peyton Manning’s neck injury. I know it doesn’t really make sense, but I’m becoming a cantankerous, grumpy old man who blames all the world’s problems on Twitter. Or at least on people like Irsay who are too lazy to figure out it isn’t a vehicle to converse like you’re hanging outside a fraternity at 2 a.m. on a Saturday night.

Lots of other examples can be inserted here. For the sake of argument, I’ll go with Brett Favre, everyone’s favorite lawn-mower riding, text-message sending good ol’ boy. As an aside, for his sake, I hope he doesn’t partake in those activities simultaneously. On a serious note, take your average, young NFL fan who’s been watching football the last half-dozen years. He or she is more likely to have seen more highlights and had more conversations around Brett Favre as a Jet, Viking and Wrangler Jeans spokesman than as a Super Bowl winner wearing green and gold in Cheddar Land.

I’m not saying it’s either good or bad. It’s just the truth.

My point isn’t that these later transgressions should be avoided or that social media should be regarded as evil.

But for everyone who read an article or watched a television broadcast that listed all of Davis’ positive virtues, ask yourself if a 20-something kid was telling you about how the former Raider was a trailblazer in his heyday. Chances are probably not.

Again, that isn’t good or bad in itself.

Just that, if you’re a public figure, don’t expect the younger generation to bypass all the embarrassing moments you have later in life and remember your glory days.

After all, how good could they have been without Twitter, right?!

— John Patishnock

Fielding an official name

September 15, 2011

Jasper has Jerry Brewer Alumni Stadium. Southridge’s home turf is Raider Field. Heritage Hills has two monikers for its field — Patriot Field as the upright name, and “The Jungle,” unofficially.

Forest Park isn’t quite sure what to call itself.

The Rangers have yet to ascribe a name to their soccer-field-turned-football-venue. It’s “Ranger Field” to some. In other instances — and as it’s been called in print in The Herald — it’s referred to as the milquetoast “Forest Park Field.”

The Rangers finally have varsity football and a chunk of grass to play on, so they’re not really stressing about what name technically goes on the birth certificate. Forest Park athletic director Doug Louden said the topic hasn’t come up — though it did spark some thought recently.

“I don’t think it’s been discussed amongst coaches or myself or (Superintendent Rick) Allen or the administration,” Louden said. “I was thinking about that last week when I saw Raider Field and Patriot Field (in The Herald), and I think ours said ”˜Forest Park Field,’ and that didn’t look right to me.”

Count Ranger head coach Terry Wagner among the unconcerned; he’s still molding a fourth-year varsity program and said the potential process of settling on an official name would come down to “all politics.”

If the Forest Park community is inclined to pin down a name, one of Ferdinand’s chief industries might be an ideal name to play off of.

Best Home Furnishings is central to Ferdinand’s identity, so how about “Best Home Field” if the company and school hash out the terms to make it work? Former Herald sports editor Jason Recker floated that idea, and it’s the ultimate trump card in naming rights. Go ahead, everyone else, trumpet your venue as the most perfect place to play a football game. But ours really is the Best Home Field. And we’ve even got the capital letters to prove it.

Just a suggestion, in the vein of NASCAR’s Subway Fresh Fit 500 and the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

As of now, there seems to be no rush to nail down a name. The Rangers are whatever they say they are, and Louden’s OK keeping it simple.

“For now,” Louden said, “I think we’re Ranger Field unless somebody tells us differently.”

— Brendan Perkins


Arrival of the inevitable: NFL season kicks off next Thursday

September 1, 2011

A week from now, the NFL season will kick off as the New Orleans Saints saunter into Wisconsin to tackle the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, and everything will seem to make sense once again in the sports world. Or maybe just the world in general.

Trust me, the beginning of the NFL regular season was never in as much jeopardy as media outlets and supposed “insiders” and “experts” wanted you to believe. Sure, details needed to be hammered out over the summer as the NFL endured a lockout for the first time since 1987, but the end game never changed for the owners.

They aren’t in the same situation as their counterparts in the NBA. The NFL owners were a bunch of guys arguing over who got what as everyone went through a buffet line. The NBA owners are standing outside the restaurant, staring through the window.

That’s why whenever the daily reports came out about which side was demanding what in the NFL squabble, I came back to an unwavering axiom: Rich guys didn’t get rich by letting money slip through their hands.

Compromises are made in the NFL seemingly everywhere, which is one reason why the NFL is the most popular league in history. Commissioner Roger Goodell hasn’t hesitated to incorporate new rules, the league caters to what works best for broadcasting companies in its late-season flex schedule and recent games have been played in Canada and London. Not all changes benefit teams equally, but that doesn’t stop Goodell from doing what he thinks is best for his product.

But one thing always holds true: The owners always get paid.

Numerous reports detailed NFL owners stood to lose a combined $250 million if Week 1 of the preseason schedule was postponed. Image the numbers that roll in once the games start to count.
Like I said, rich guys didn’t get rich by letting money slip through their wallets. 

Not only am I all right with that, I applaud it. I love capitalism and I’ve never overtly been jealous of someone else’s cash flow. Any subterfuge notwithstanding, I figure if you want something more than the next guy and you’re willing to work for it — whether it be money, a degree, a great job or simply the last tuna sandwich at your corner deli — then God bless you.

That’s why I love the NFL. Nowhere else in major team sports does that thinking apply. To succeed as an organization in the NFL, you have to grind, study film, draft well, be prudent in free-agent signings and hire fantastic coaches. In baseball, money rules. In the NBA, one player can prompt such a drastic turnaround (Tim Duncan, LeBron James, etc.) that teams are actually rewarded for finishing near the bottom.

Not so in the NFL. It doesn’t care who you are, only what you can do. That’s why heavenly heralded Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow will be wearing a ballcap this season and undrafted Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison will continue to make noise as one of the league’s hardest hitters.

Welcome back, NFL: where hard work, grit and determination is rewarded, the smart guys win and oh yeah, the guys in suits will get their greenbacks. None of it was ever in doubt.

Here are my 10 irrefutable predictions sure to possibly come true this season:

10. The Philadelphia Eagles, the team that has been stockpiling catchy free agents all offseason like the New York Yankees, will not make the playoffs. The Cowboys are on a definite uptick, the Giants always do well when nothing is expected of them and the Eagles’ offensive line is horrific. And I’m still not sold on Michael Vick leading a team for an entire season. And never will be.

9. The Fighting Peyton Mannings — wait, I mean, the Indianapolis Colts — will win their division. Barely. And only because the rest of the AFC South is too timid to take it away from them. I could write an entire thesis on how the Houston Texans are overrated every year. But I won’t, because that doesn’t sound like fun.

8. I’ll partake in a mini celebration when every week passes where no one from the Pittsburgh Steelers says or does anything asinine. You know the team needs to settle down with its comments (Rashard Mendenhall, James Harrison) and reckless behavior (Hines Ward's DUI) when Ben Roethlisberger is becoming one of the better- behaved players.

7. Rex Ryan will do or say something stupid just because he knows the New York and national media will create a front-page story out of his antics. (Memo to all ESPN and national media member who openly question why Rex Ryan, TO, Chad Ochocinco, etc. act like a five-year old at times: The answer is because they know you’ll react, analyze and debate, all while ignoring players like Wes Welker, Andre Johnson and anyone else who manages to not act like a preschooler.) One final note on Ryan: He coaches and talks like a man without a long-term plan, kind of like a guy who doesn’t care if gets a speeding ticket because he’s crossing the border and isn’t coming back, anyway.

6. Jay Cutler will continue to do what he wants, and I’ll continue to support him. Maybe I like Cutler a little bit more now that I’ve been fortunate enough to cover the awesome high school football landscape in southern Indiana, but I’ve always sort of rooted for him ever since he took a backseat behind Matt Leinart and Vince Young in his draft class. If you’re talented enough to nab a job as one of 32 starting quarterbacks in the NFL, you can do what you want, short of breaking the law. Besides, it’s not Cutler’s job to create stories for journalists. Maybe that sounds strange coming from a writer, but journalists needs to go out and find stories, not expect to have them delivered to them, especially from top-level athletes in some of their most disappointing professional moments they’ll ever experience.

5. The St. Louis Rams and Denver Broncos will each finish 8-8. The Rams because they have a great, young quarterback playing in a weak divsion, and the Broncos because they’ve decided to jettison The Chosen One for Kyle Orton. By the way, if I’m Orton, I’m wondering to myself, “When did I become such a bad guy?” when every argument for Tebow begins with, “He’s such a good guy, someone you want to root for.” Do a simple Google search and you’ll find Orton dressed up as a celebrity Santa last year for his preferred charity, Denver Rescue Mission’s Champa House, which offers long-term support for single mothers and their children. Sounds like Orton is a guy worth rooting for, too.

4. Owner Mike Brown and the Cincinnati Bengals will finish with the worst record in the NFL, and still won’t be smart enough to draft Andrew Luck, everyone’s can’t-miss prospect, in next year’s draft. Instead, Luck will fall to Jim Harbaugh and the San Francisco 49ers at No. 2, where that duo will form the modern-day version of Bill Walsh and Joe Montana (and no, I’m not being sarcastic). As for the Bengals, I could pile on, citing numerous reasons why they’re an embarrassment. But since an area football coach, one whom I respect a great deal, is a lifelong fan of the Bengals, I wont.

3. The entire nation will eagerly await the new Coors Light press conference commercial that features former 49ers coach Mike Singletary, he of the infamous “pants-dropping” halftime pep talk. 

2. Norv Turner will continue coaching the San Diego Chargers, sustaining one of America’s greatest unsolved mysteries. Have you ever seen Norv Turner during a game, and how confused he always looks? Maybe he’s just as perplexed as to how he’s still employed as a head coach in the NFL. Or he just scarfed some calamari and isn’t sure if it’s going to stay down. Either way, he’s the skinny man’s Wade Phillips, the last person you would trust to do anything that requires the skill level above that of a sixth-grader. 

1. We’ll have a sequel in the Super Bowl: Steelers 31, Packers 23. Book it.

— John Patishnock

Finding a little confidence from a big name

August 25, 2011

Though modern technology has come to apparently require of people my age that a detailed synopsis of our life story appear on every social networking site we sign up for, I tend to be more reserved.

I can’t — and I really don’t care to — spill the all the beans here, either. Instead, I think a brief story will do quite nicely as an introduction.

Late in my career at Purdue University, I found myself with the very cushy and lucrative responsibility of covering Boilermaker basketball. Having spent the past year as an assistant sports editor and facing turning over an entire staff, I essentially assigned myself the beat before the new bosses took over. If anything needed to be done and be done well, it was coverage of that team.

It was easily my best semester of college. Even though I was busy all the time and often driving to various Big Ten venues, it was just a fun experience. I thought I was doing a great job and didn’t need any affirmations. But I got one anyway.

While working on a story about the team’s chemistry, I attended one of the bi-weekly team interview sessions. As usual, the flock of reporters gathered around the big-name guys like JaJuan Johnson, Lewis Jackson and E’Twaun Moore first. I hit up Jackson and Ryne Smith, who were my favorites for quotes, before getting Johnson and Moore. I was asking them all pretty much the same questions: What makes you guys click so well when it seems like so much drama infests nearly every other team?

I got the standard answers: brotherhood, longevity, being on the same page, respect inherent to the program. I didn’t expect anything more, I just needed it on tape.

I was the last one left talking to Moore as I asked him these things. Nothing was overtly difficult or very technical, so I really wasn’t expecting what came next. As I thanked him and turned to leave he spoke up (a rarity for Moore) in what I can only describe as the “E’Twaun Twang”: “Man, you really sound like you know what you’re talking about.”

Taken aback is one way of putting how I reacted to this.

Apparently Moore didn’t read the paper all that often, not that I expected him to. Still, I thanked him and, at a loss for words, mumbled something about “not trying to fake it,” and walked away smiling.

Maybe it was because I was a girl that my basketball acuity surprised him. I can’t really be sure. But when one of the best players in America respects you like that, you don’t really argue with how he came to his conclusion. I do know what I’m talking about (most of the time) so it was kind of nice to hear, even if I didn’t think I needed it reaffirmed.

Corny as it may seem, this experience is something of a microcosm of my life. I’ve found myself in unique situations more often than not, and I can point to this moment and express how lucky I’ve been too see the things I’ve seen and do the things I’ve done. It’s what makes this job worth it.

Joanne Norell

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