Sports

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Pitarresi: Tiger's loss nails networks

Oops!

 

Tim Clark defeated Tiger Woods in the second round of the Match Play Championship today, and you know the people at the Golf Channel and NBC just hate the little - 5-foot-7, 165 pounds - South African's guts now.

 

I don’t know what GC’s ratings were for the first two days of the tournament, but I’m guessing, given that this was Tiger’s first action in about eight months, that they were very, very good. They won’t be good the next three days. Not with Tiger out. You have to be a golf fanatic to care who wins now. Erik Matuszewski, writing recently on Bloomberg.com, said that when Nick Watney won the Buick Invitational two weeks ago, final round ratings on CBS dropped 60 percent from last year, when Woods won the tourney for the four straight time. Matuszewski quoted former CBS Sports boss Neal Pilson as saying Tiger’s participation in a tournament usually results in a 30 to 40 percent ratings jump.

 

So the Golf Channel will take a big hit. So will NBC, which will split coverage with GC Saturday and Sunday, televising the afternoon action.

 

As we noted the other day, Tiger is the best thing and worst thing to happen to golf. Now, for a weekend, anyway, the worst has happened. Tiger is out of it, and the networks will suffer.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Pitarresi: Rangers' Tortorella played here briefly

 

John Tortorella is the new coach of the New York Rangers.

 

Most dedicated Mohawk Valley hockey fans know that Tortorella coached the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Stanley Cup championship in 2004. Few probably know that Tortorella briefly played hockey here in 1983.

 

Former New England Whalers star Rick Ley was coach of the Mohawk Valley Stars in the Atlantic Coast Hockey League that year. Tortorella, a former University of Maine star who played about a dozen games in the league the previous year with Erie and Virginia, came to camp with the Stars. I thought he showed very well in a couple of exhibition games. He was a fireplug at 5-foot-8, 175 pounds, and was a smart player, a pest, and a firebrand.

 

Ley cut him. I don’t remember what he said when I asked him why. I guess he didn’t think he was good enough, or he already had enough right wings. Obviously, Rick Ley knew and knows a heck of a lot more about hockey than I did or do, but a quarter century later I still think he made a mistake.

 

Tortorella went back to Erie and then Virginia, and had 25 goals and 37 assists in 60 games that season. The next after that in Virginia, he scored 70 goals and had 113 assists in 123 games. In three-plus seasons in the ACHL he was way over a point a game. I think we could have used him.

 

Again, I’m not trying to give it to Rick Ley here. It’s just to let you know what a Stanley Cup coach who now is running the Rangers was once, for a very short time, a local player, and a pretty good one.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Pitarresi: Tiger Woods is back

Tiger Woods is back from his knee injury.

 

That’s good for golf, and bad.

 

I’ve long thought that Woods, who might be the best player ever and has plenty time to become that if he isn’t now since he is just 33, has been the best thing and the worst thing to happen to the game. The best because his consistent excellence – superiority, really – put a focus on golf that hadn’t been so sharp since the heydays of Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. The worst because if Tiger isn’t playing or isn’t in contention, the interest level tends to drop precipitously.

 

I think the greatest thing about Woods is that, while blessed with hard to believe talent, he also has incredible desire to improve, a lot of smarts, and a cutthroat competitive attitude.

 

I also think he has handled his fame with as much class as any young person in his position could manage. In fact, if there is a knock on him, it’s that he is a little too buttoned down. He rarely, if ever, lets you see the man behind the golfer. That’s fine, but you kind of wish he would. He does show emotion after big shots and putts, but in a way that some people find annoying, including me on occasion.

 

Still, the guy is very, very good and very, very admirable in many ways.

 

Welcome back, Tiger.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pitarresi: No reason for bad fan behavior

There was an altercation between Syracuse University fans and a much smaller group of Georgetown fans in the student section at the Orange-Hoya game Saturday.

 

I wasn’t aware of it at the time, probably because it happened in the upper deck of the student section behind press row. It has become an issue in the Syracuse media, with some SU fans defending the throwing of water bottles and beer in the name of school spirit, revenge or whatever, and the claim that the Georgetown fans started it. Some didn’t regard it as no big deal, something that is just part of college sports.

 

I don’t see it that way at all. There are a multitude of reasons why physical and verbal altercations are a bad thing, but I guess youth – although not every boorish fan is a student, for sure – and alcohol tend to fog people’s understanding of such things.

 

I’m not interested in arguing about this being normal behavior, or about who started it, or “we’d get the same treatment there” or how it is just a show of support of “our” team or whatever other excuse you can come up with. I think it’s all horse manure. I’ll just give you the old “Stop playing with that stick; don’t you know you could put someone’s eye out?” argument. I’ve have seen people suffer broken bones and get trampled when fans charged the court after a big win – “Sorry! Sorry! Sorry everyone!” as John Cleese’s character in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” said after mistakenly dispatching half the guests at a wedding reception – and no one seemed to care. However, if your mom or your little girl is close to that melee and people start flying around, how are you going to feel about it? Somebody is going to get hurt, and then everyone is going to be sorry, and it’s going to be because a few people got upset about a basketball game.

 

You write this stuff and college kids and some others figure you’re an old fogy. Maybe so.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Pitarresi: SI story has unqiue perspective

 

I saw Jack McCallum at the Syracuse-Georgetown game Saturday.

 

I thought the veteran Sports Illustrated writer was just covering the game, but no, McCallum hung out with the basketball team for a week, and wrote a story on life in the Big East, pretty much from the Orange point of view.

 

McCallum got access – to practice, the bus, the pre- and post-game locker rooms – that hometown writers just don’t get. I’m a little jealous of that, but I understand it. The bigger your publication, the more people it reaches, the more most coaches let you into their little worlds. When I spent four months at USA Today more than 20 years ago, I could get about any sports figure in the country to talk to me. They wanted their voices heard. As I recall, the only person who didn’t call me back was broadcaster and former Cincinnati Bengals tight end Bob Trumpy. Maybe he didn’t get the message, but I hate the guy to this day and think he stinks as a commenttor.

 

In any case, look for McCallum’s story. I don’t think anything in it will surprise you – in fact, I think McCallum could have spent more time finding out just what makes the Big East such a tough basketball league – but the story has a fresh, unique perspective.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Pitarresi: Baseball here a little too early

The major leaguers have reported for spring training.

 

I am not excited.

 

Spring training? Already? What? Okay, ballplayers have six weeks down in Florida and out in Arizona to get ready for the season. Good for them. I like baseball a lot, but I’m not even thinking about it right now. We have seven weeks of college basketball left, and endless weeks of professional basketball and hockey.

 

Heck, I was caught by surprise when I realized that Colgate and Syracuse had already started their lacrosse seasons the other day. When I was in college, the season started about the first of April and you played 12 or so games in six weeks. Of course, back then there was no artificial turf. There would be two feet of snow on the fields, making it impossible to play. You’d have to wait for rains of late March and early April so you could play in two inches of mud instead. That was possible.

 

Anyway, I won’t pay much attention to spring training. It doesn’t interest me unless someone of note gets hurt and screws up some team’s season. Other than that, there is too much else to hold my attention.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Pitarresi: Thabeet beats Orange

Hasheem Thabeet beat Syracuse University’s basketball team tonight.

 

It wasn’t just Thabeet’s rebounding (16) and shot blocking (7) that did in the Orange. No. 1 Connecticut pushed the ball inside to the big (7-foot-3) guy repeatedly, and although he rarely scored, he kicked the ball out to open shooters, breaking down the SU zone. The Huskies made only a modest 6 of 18 3-pointers, but that and SU’s very poor shooting (19 of 60) was more than enough.

 

In one sense, the loss isn’t devastating for SU, even if the Orange have lost six of their last eight, which means they are a .250 team since the grueling portion of their schedule began Jan. 14 at Georgetown. They are 6-6 in the Big East and 18-7 overall, which lines about right with the eighth-place finish the league’s coaches picked them for before the season. Jim Boeheim figures if his team goes 9-9 in the league – there are six games left in the regular season – they’ll be in the NCAA tournament.

 

Probably so, but, gosh, what are the Orange going to do when they get there? SU is not playing good basketball. If the Orange were in this game most of the way, and they were, it was largely thanks to UConn’s 20 turnovers. They got sub-par games from Paul Harris, Eric Devendorf and, 16 points or not, Jonny Flynn. That trio shot a combined 12 of 36 with six assists and 11 turnovers. Arinze Onuaku is still playing hurt and isn’t effective, Rick Jackson didn’t do much and neither did Andy Rautins, who got hurt once again.

 

The guy who did play well was Kristof Ongenaet, who had eight rebounds, three steals and three blocks – he even blocked Thabeet! – and again played with great energy. But the kid can’t score.

 

The season is still salvageable, but … 

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Pitarresi: A-Rod sins hardly surprising

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, it was very common for baseball, football, hockey and basketball players tospend their off-seasons on the speaker circuit.

 

So, one time or another, before I was in high school, I got to meet and/or hear Jim Brown, Lou Groza, Phil Rizzuto, Cookie Gilchrist, Rocket Richard and many others in person. When I was about 10 or 11 years old, Alex Webster, then the star running back of the New York Giants, came to Niagara Falls to speak at a dinner. Afterward, as we were leaving, my father spotted “Big Red” in the bar of the restaurant and told me to go get his autograph. I went in with my pen and a piece of paper, and there was Alex sitting with a couple of friends and what seemed like a forest of empty Black Label bottles spread out on the table.

 

I was a little dubious, but I politely asked Alex for an autograph, he graciously signed, and I returned to my father.

 

“Dad!” I said in amazement. “He was drinking beer!”

 

“Well, that’s okay,” my father said, or something like that.

 

I was to learn somewhere down the line that drinking beer isn’t necessarily bad, but back then? Whoa! I thought athletes and especially football players were somewhere on a level with George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and John Wayne, all of them virtuous and all them, in my mind, unlikely to drink beer.

 

Well, watching Alex Webster suck down a couple of brews was the beginning of the end of that idea. So …. the far, far greater transgressions of Alex Rodriguez hardly surprise me. The last 15 years has been a tragic era in sports. Chemically-assisted performance has junked record books, skewed the estimation of players’ abilities and muddied the waters of sports history.  

 

We’ve come to expect it. What I’m worried about is that such things will turn all of our legitimate sports into professional wrestling. That’s a depressing thought.

 

 

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Pitarresi: SU needs more maturity

Where do you start with the Syracuse University basketball team?

 

There a lot of familiar elements went into today’s loss at Villanova. Poor defense. Poor shooting. Poor decision making. Poor rebounding

 

Plus, and I’m sure Jim Boeheim would shoot a withering sidelong glance and then roll his eyes at me for saying it, there also is a lack of mental discipline. That’s what it looks like, anyway. Too much woofing. Too much complaining. Too much chest pounding. Not enough focus. These are very talented players, but they need to be more business-like. Someone has to become the leader. Point guard Jonny Flynn is the natural choice, but he is playing with too much emotion. And, believe me, there is such a thing.

 

More than anything else, the team needs more maturity. With it, the other things will take care of themselves.

 

Mostly.

 

I’m not sure any degree of maturity will help the defense. After being almost air-tight through most of the victory over West Virginia Wednesday, the 2-3 zone was extremely leaky against the Wildcats. Or maybe it was something else. There is no doubt the zone was extremely active and aggressive against WVU, but the Mountaineers didn’t do much to break it down, either. The Wildcats did. They flashed to the post, rotated through, got the ball in and out, moving it very quickly. They made SU work hard, got the Orange chasing and moving faster than they wanted to, and found a lot of holes. Really, they ate the zone alive.

 

Boeheim switched to man-to-man in the second half. If you’d like to know why he didn’t make the switch sooner, he had a ready answer. Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson, he said, could not guard Villanova center Dante Cunningham. That makes sense, I guess, but Cunningham was doing whatever he wanted against the zone from the first minute.

 

Again, it’s not really about defenses or whatever. SU has lost five of its last seven games, and maturity has a lot to do with that. The Orange are facing a lot of adversity – and play at No. 1 UConn Wednesday - and it will take a grown-up attitude to get through it.

 

 

 

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Pitarresi: SU trashes the PPI

The Pitarresi Power Index got blown up Wednesday.

 

The PPI is my own basketball and football power rating system that I half-seriously use to try to predict the outcome of games. Except when it works. Then I’m very serious about it and brag to people how the PPI had predicted a win or a loss.

 

It’s based mostly on statistical information, plus a little tweaking and intuition, with strength of schedule, injuries, road and home sites and trends mixed in. You can’t employ it until approximately halfway through a season, when enough games have been played to make it somewhat legitimate.

 

If it is legitimate at all. Sometimes it works. I will say, however, that it does give me some idea of relative strengths. And I think if I ranked all 16 Big East basketball teams according to their PPI, the list would look very much like the current standings.

 

Only it didn’t work Wednesday for the Syracuse-West Virginia game. At all.

 

In the PPI, the lower the number, the better the team. WVU had a PPI of 119 going into Wednesday’s game. SU had a PPI of 137. The way I do things, that made the Mountaineers nine points better, all things being equal. However, SU was playing at home and maybe has played a tougher schedule, good for maybe five points. That was cancelled out because SU’s Arinze Onuaku was hobbled. WVU’s point guard, Joe Marzullo, was hurt, though, which meant the Orange got those points back. So, WVU should still have been four points better.

 

Well, they weren’t. SU, playing its best defensive game of the season, had things in hand most of the way and won 74-61. The PPI failed miserably, probably because there was no way to know that the Orange would suddenly get a huge fire under their defensive butts.

 

The PPI might need a little retooling.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Pitarresi: You've got to love Kristof Ongenaet

Kristof Ongenaet sat in front of his locker, ice packs taped to his left shoulder and right knee.

That's typical for Syracuse University's senior basketball forward from Ghent, Belgium. If Ongenaet has played well, he's all beat up. So is the other team.

That's the way it was tonight. Ongenaet, who was buried deep in Jim Boeheim's doghouse because he was less than efficient finishing plays or rebounding or handling the ball the last four or five cames, escaped in a big way and played a key role in helping the Orange to a 74-61 Big East victory over West Virginia. He scored six points - including a very important, hard-earned rebound basket with four minutes to play to protect a double-digit lead - grabbed seven rebounds, blocked three shots and had an assist and no turnovers in 21 minutes.

If that doesn't sound spectacular, it isn't, but Ongenaet is more than numbers. When he is playing well, he adds toughness, fire and determination to the Orange, and the fans love that. Ongenaet is a gritty, blue collar guy, and it seems everyone pulls for him when he gets into a game. They don't mind that he is unlikely ever to score 20 points - his career high is 13 - or hit several long 3-pointers or make you go ooh and aah. He is like the hockey player who bumps and grinds and works the corners, the character actor you don't really pay much attention to but who makes the movie so much better.

The player in recent SU history he reminds me of - not that he has as much offensive talent, but in attitude and team-mindedness - is Josh Pace, who did so much dirty work for Boeheim's national championship team in 2003 and for two seasons afterward.

 

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Pitarresi: Steelers earned this one

 

I really wanted to see Kurt Warner and the Cardinals win the Super Bowl. It would have been a great story. A team that is without a championship since 1947. A quarterback who has made one of the greatest comebacks ever ... and who still has a sensational arm and a great competitive spirit. I hope he comes back.

 

I can’t be too upset, though. Ben Roethlisberger, Santonio Holmes, James Harrison and the Steelers earned this one.

 

And so did Dick LeBeau, the Steelers’ ancient defensive coordinator, even if his team gave up more than 200 yards in the fourth quarter. I always liked LeBeau as a player – a former star for Woody Hayes at Ohio State, he played in a great Lions secondary with Night Train Lane and Yale Lary – because he was good, because he wore number 44, which at the time I thought was a very cool number, and because he had an interesting name. LeBeau means “the handsome” or “the beautiful” or whatever. Hey, I was like 11 or 12 at the time.

 

There were any number of big plays in this game, but perhaps the biggest was Harrison’s 100-yard interception return for a touchdown at the end of the first half. The Cardinals were set to go up 14-10 or at least tie the game, but that play made it 17-7 Steelers. Who knows what would have happened if the Cardinals had scored, but maybe they would have been rolling and wouldn’t have had to make that furious fourth-quarter comeback.

 

The play was a great one by Harrison. I thought perhaps LeBeau, working off tendencies, decided to fake a blitz and get Harrison in the way of a quick slant. Harrison said, however, the Steelers had a maximum blitz called, but he didn’t go and instead guessed. He guessed right, dropping a couple of steps right into the passing lane in front of Anquan Boldin. If Warner saw him, he saw him too late, and threw the ball right to him. The rest is history.

 

LeBeau called the played the greatest defensive play in Super Bowl history. It’s tough to argue with that.