The Problem With Last Year’s Bulls, New Illini Basketball Schedule, the Blind Side, United Stock Scare, and Exception to Idiots-Out-Walking-Around – Land-o-Links for 9/10/2008

As both White Sox and Cubs fans watch their respective teams plummet, here are some links to take your mind off of Chicago baseball:

(1) Knowing is Only Half the Battle in Chicago (Wages of Wins Journal) – The always fascinating Wages of Wins Journal takes an in-depth look at why there was such a drop-off in wins for the Bulls from 2006-07 to 2007-08.  Through statistical analysis, the problem was simple to identify – offensive shooting efficiency was way down last year.  Of course, improving upon this is another matter.  As one of the commenters to the post noted and anyone who watched the Bulls regularly last season noticed, the team appeared to have a significant increase in the number of attempted jumpshots as opposed to shots in the paint.  I think this is a result of the Bulls’ previously weak-to-average post presence in P.J. Brown leaving for Boston, which left the team with no post presence whatsoever.  The key to Derrick Rose turning this team around over time is setting up those high percentage shots from the floor for his teammates.  I have been high on Rose since he was a high schooler and think that he’s up to the challenge, but Wages of Wins correctly notes that the immediate impact that he’ll have next season will be up in the air considering that you have to expect lower performance from a rookie (no matter how talented he might be).

(2) 2008-09 Illini Basketball Schedule Announced (Illini Basketball Fans Blog) – The test will be to see how the Illinois can get through the non-conference schedule in November and December without the services of Alex Legion.  For the team’s sake (but not for the sake of fan interest), the non-conference slate is a bit easier than last season.  Interesting games to note include a road game at Vanderbilt in the third game of the year on November 20th, Clemson at the Assembly Hall in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on December 2nd, Georgia at the United Center a few days later on December 6th, and the Braggin’ Rights Game against Missouri in St. Louis being moved to the Tuesday right before Christmas on December 23rd.

(3) NFL Salaries: Believe in the Blind Side (New York Times: Freakonomics Blog) – Here’s a look at the average salaries at each position in the NFL, which reinforces what well-informed football fans know already: after the quarterback, the next highest-paid position in football is the left tackle.  As the referenced Michael Lewis book “The Blind Side” noted, this makes logical sense since the left tackle protects the blind side of the right-handed quarterback (if a quarterback is left-handed like me, it’s the right tackle that becomes the key offensive lineman), so it’s essentially an insurance policy to protect the most valuable player on the team.  (By the way, Lewis is one of my favorite writers on business and sports.  His first-hand account of being a bond trader in the 1980s in “Liar’s Poker” is a classic and entertaining read regardless of whether you’re interested in finance.)  Even more interesting is how little most running backs are paid considering how much they handle the ball.  This actually makes a lot of sense to me – while there are a handful of running backs today such as LaDainian Tomlinson and Adrian Peterson that are truly unique talents, the success of most RBs is almost entirely dependent on the offensive line.  Hence, teams such as Pittsburgh and Denver that have historically had strong offensive lines have been able to plug in a number of running backs over the years yet continue to get great production.

(4) Google, Tribune Co. At Odds Over Spread of United Story (Chicago Tribune) – Speaking of financial matters, United Airlines stock plunged on Monday when a report from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel came across the newswires that the company was filing for bankruptcy.  It was later discovered that the report was a copy of the original Chicago Tribune story that was posted on the Sun-Sentinel website from when UAL filed for bankruptcy back in 2002.  Drive and Dish goes through a great analysis of how all news organizations and websites need to take greater care in getting accurate facts.

More disturbing, though, is a follow-up today about a squabble between Google and the Tribune Company (which owns both the Tribune and the Sun-Sentinel), where it appears that the Google News engine put Monday’s date on the old Sun-Sentinel story.  Thus, this shock to the markets appears to have been caused by a news aggregator putting a wrong date on a link.  If you’re an investor like me, the speed with which the market reacted to what turned out to be an old news story is absolutely frightening.  It’s clear that there are journalistic standards that news organizations need to stand by in terms of getting stories accurately reported.  However, what obligation do news aggregators, who are in essence posting links from those news organizations, have in terms of ensuring that the date and time stamps to those links are correct?  The United scenario that played out on Monday has probably just opened up a whole new area of the securities litigation – shareholders that saw their stock dive as a result of wrong date and time stamps might have some ammunition against Google and other news aggregators.  Whether those shareholders could actually prove that Google and other news aggregators have some type of legal duty to the general public with respect to checking these date and time stamps, though, is another matter that can’t be answered at this time.

And finally…

(5) Black Heart Gold Pants – Once you get past the initial shock of discovering the existence of literate Iowa graduates, this college football blog devoted to the Hawkeyes and, by extension, the rest of the Big Ten will vault to the top of your must-read list.  Even the occasional/frequent thrashings of the Illini are entertaining enough that all is forgiven (and the blog’s love of all things J Leman has become legendary on the interweb).

Parlay picks for this weekend are coming over the next couple of days.  Until then, let’s hope that the White Sox can stem the tide of awfulness that is taking them over.

(Image from Arbiter Online)

A Rosy Trip Despite a Thorny Game

j-leman-illinois-fighting-illini-rose-bowl.jpg

It’s time to rehash my trip to Pasadena over New Year’s, which was pretty awesome with the exception of the playing of the actual Rose Bowl. The Illini simply still has a talent gap compared to a program at the caliber of USC and it showed. I really didn’t think Illinois necessarily played badly for the majority of plays, but the gravity of our mistakes was too much for any team to overcome. Two fumbles within the red zone on potential touchdown drives certainly will do that to a team. Plus, when USC can mess up a lateral that bounces on the ground and still turn it into a 65-yard gain, you know that the football gods aren’t with you.

As disappointing as it was to get seriously thumped (the hangover from this game was every bit as bad as the Bears loss in the Super Bowl last year), this season was obviously a whole lot more than any rational Illini fan could have ever hoped for. I was hoping for the Motor City Bowl berth back in August, but we ended up at the Grandaddy of Them All in an amazing turnaround story. The Rose Bowl venue itself is spectacular – stepping out of the front gate and seeing the field with the mountains in the background for a college football fan is akin to a baseball fan getting to step into Wrigley Field for the first time. Equally amazing was the Rose Parade. I’ve watched the event on television for years, but it’s difficult to understand the amount of work and detail that goes into each of the floats unless you see it in person. Finally, in the days leading up to the game, nothing was as heartwarming as seeing fellow Illini in orange all around Los Angeles, whether it was on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills (my Hollywood celebrity moment of the trip was my wife and I sitting next to Jon Voight fresh off of his reconciliation with Angelina Jolie at Spago), up in the mountains at the Getty Center, or taking in the rides at Universal Studios. If anyone ever questions why the Rose Bowl insists on inviting Big Ten teams, one only needs to take a look at how its members’ fans simply blanket L.A. every New Year’s. Say what you will about whether we have an answer to the urban legend of “Southern Speed”, but we definitely travel en masse.

Back to the field of play, what’s especially important is that, unlike the Illinois run to the Sugar Bowl in 2001 which was mostly led by players in the their senior seasons, this team will be bringing back much of its core (save for the broad shoulders of J Leman and Rashard Mendenhall) next year. Judging by the demise of the Bears, the lackluster play of the Bulls, the offensive offense of the Illini basketball team and the fact that the White Sox just traded away its entire farm system for, um, Nick Swisher(?), the start of the 2008 Illinois football season is pretty much the next thing that I’ve got to look forward to on the sports front. Looking ahead on the calendar and assuming Chase Daniel is still at the helm at Mizzou, the Illinois-Missouri opener in St. Louis on Labor Day weekend could very well be the most significant non-conference game that the Illini have played since the days of Dick Butkus.

In the end, I got the chance to see my favorite team play in the Rose Bowl, which was very close to one of my most foremost sports dreams coming true. We’ll just need to win the game the next time around to fulfill it.

(Image from Chicago Tribune)