Tuesday, December 12, 2017

12 DEC Bracket Analysis

To qualify the changes, the "pre-season" bracket, though published around the first of December, was primarily informed by my preseason picks with little statistical influence, and maybe one of two anecdotal results.  I also leaned heavily toward schools in the FBI's crosshairs taking the burden of proof off the NCAA and taking the postseason penalties as soon as possible.  Right now, I really only see Louisville (as a culmination of events) and Auburn (warming up the bus to back over basketball to spare football) as being "locks" to remove themselves from participation.

Everything has been reprogrammed to extract the required data regularly.  It's just a matter of following a pattern to consistently manage the data to build a product.  The metrics I am rating on are same as last year.  First, a "Basic" measure that indicates as to whether or not they play good basketball (do they score more per possession/do they allow fewer points per possession).  Next, there is a "Strength" measure that digests RPI and schedule to verify the results.  Finally, there is a "Trend" measure that addresses the when and where of results.  Typically, the analysis is done independent of record until that matters (closer to March).  Basically, a 5-4 team now (like Florida, URI) doesn't just topple out of the field, nor does an undefeated team (I hate using the Georgetown example because it is extreme, so Syracuse) with good metrics immediately drop other proven teams.  A four metric blends the three to give a broader picture.

Logic is also applied, such as MTSU has a blistering RPI, but the C-USA doldrums will dampen their seed.  Schools outside the Big 6 will need sterling resumes.  Come March, since the NCAA shares their RPI breakdown, that will be used as a tie breaker, because the exercise is to project the field, not argue who deserves it more.

One of the criteria that DOES NOT help analyze and project the field is looking at Top 25, 50, 100 wins and losses.  First, rankings change hourly, and your snapshot is as good as the last result.  A top 25 team can topple out of the Top 50 with a sprained ankle, and then that win is worthless.  The Big East was a mess of who beat who and when last year.  The Pac12 and Big12 had teams jockeying the 50 line every night, with some teams losing as many as 6 "Rated" games a night based on results, only to have a few pop up the next night when more results come in. 

The other things that do need to be considered: health, ratio of games played away, non-conference schedule balance, and avoiding unexplainable losses.

Here is a snapshot of the tool:

Numbers-minded folks probably recognize some of the value sources, but it is really how you interpret the committee's mindset AT THAT TIME as to how you balance the formulas.

That said, the bracket:
After Duke LOLed in Chestnut Hill (don't be fooled there), it created firm separation between Villanova, MSU, and the other 349 teams. The curve smooths after that, with Duke and Wichita State riding shotgun for the other #1 seeds.  I was pretty relaxed with the regions and had no problem dropping UVA out west.  Despite Nova's roll, I still like Xavier to pace them in the conference, and a 2 seed fits their numbers.  UNC and WVU continue their silent assaults.  A&M, Kansas, and Gonzaga are next up.  The biggest surprises falling into the chaos? Kentucky is struggling a little, Notre Dame crapped the bed, Cincinnati should be much closer to the Shockers, and Florida has entered the abyss.  Minnesota was hot, then suddenly not.  The Gaels are on life support now... getting swept by the Zags again with boot them.  The Pac12 is a dumpster fire.  Surprises emerging? Tennessee, Temple, Clemson, OHIO STATE (maybe it was all Thad's back), and of course Arizona State.

Breakdown by conference:
A10: 2
AAC: 5 (yes, 5)
ACC: 8
Big Ten: 5 (Wisc/NW implosions have left their mark)
Big 12: 7
Big East: 6
MVC: 2
MWC: 1 (but oh so close Boise)
Pac12: 2 (I see 4 here again, but what a miserable non-conf run)
SEC: 7 (yeah, I had to wtf that one as well)
WCC: 2
22 one bid leagues

Teams that are closest to the bubble:
Virginia Tech, Ohio State, Temple, Minnesota, Saint Mary's
The major conference teams just need to defend their home court and not lose to the dregs on the road and their numbers will remain steady.  The Gaels and Owls will likely be on a weekly SOS rollercoaster as to whether or not they are safe.

Last 5 in:
Alabama, Houston, Providence, Saint John's, Northern Iowa
The Panthers need help from a middling MVC.  Bradley has rebounded to give the league a sixth decent team, but Valpo, the Redbirds, Bears, and Braves are all going to be eyed as NIT at best, even with a strong conference run.  Loyola and Northern Iowa need to stay on top of that middle class and hope it keeps their numbers strong.  These aren't Creighton and WSU from the old Valley though.  The Big East has 3 team log jam, and that could break at any point.  WSU's move to the AAC should buoy Temple and Houston's numbers for the rest of the season; double digit conference wins will be huge.  The SEC is so strong that Alabama went from potential Top 3 to "just hope to stay in the top half."

First 5 out:
Syracuse, Butler, Maryland Boise State, UCLA
UCLA is a solid cut below the other 4.  Depending how I prioritize the numbers, Cuse, Butler, MD, and Boise replace any of the 5 teams ahead of them (and Minnesota).  UCLA is really just there, not bad, but in need of big wins in the state of Arizona to really have a shot.  Boise needs good seasons out of Fresno, SDST, UNLV, and New Mexico to boost the conference numbers.

Next 5 out:
Penn State, Iowa State, Marquette, Utah, Oregon
If you were looking for the Pac12, you have found the mortuary.  Marquette can jump into the BE mix again if they get hot. Penn State is exactly what you expect from the middle of the pack in the Big 10.  Decent numbers, a few notable win, and no idea whether or not they are any good.  When I was originally programming the spreadsheet, the first run pumped out 9 teams (OKST was DOA).  Kansas lost and KSU lost and OKST lost.  Iowa State has a ways to go, but the ground work is there.  Better shape than UCLA long term; no bad losses in the Big12.

In the Hunt:
BYU, KSU, Miss St, Georgia, Fresno, SDST, NCST, Towson!, UNLV, Northwestern, UCF, ODU, Wisconsin, Wake Forest, and I swear-to-freaking-god Boston College.

Anomoly:
I have Hawaii as my Big West pick... but UC Davis looking really good.


12 DEC Bracket

Work is interfering with posting the analysis, but should have that up before I get out of here for hockey.  Villanova is the number 1 overall, Houston and Northern Iowa are last teams in, Maryland and Butler first teams out.


Thursday, December 7, 2017

Confirmed... and some things I did not see coming

A new segment that will likely exist primarily on Twitter. Basically a quick take of a couple of the results of the night that help explain some of the thought behind selections and seedings for this year's bracket.

6 DEC
Confirmed suspicions... that they are going to make a run in The Valley
Loyola 65, Florida 59: Loyola is a very slow, frustrating team to play.  Not necessarily like Virginia, who grinds the game to a halt, but a team that doesn't give away a lot on the offensive end as far as poor shot selection. 3 point shots are taken in rhythm to maximize conversion rate and prevent breaks the other way.  Extra passes in and out of the paint make 8-footers 6-footers, and 6-footers vulnerable for an easy backdoor cut.  I was not expecting that Florida would enter the SEC slate undefeated, but a couple losses to Duke, FSU, even Cinci or Clemson next week would risk their 1 line status... Loyola though?  Maybe Loyola is an at large caliber team.  Which is good because Valpo is a wildcard right now, hot, but untested.

Blindsided... Just because Lorenzo Romar couldn't have been THAT bad
Washington 74, Kansas 65: KU had beaten UK, blown out tourney front runners S Dakota St, Oakland, and Texas Southern, and humbled Syracuse.  I get the game was in KC as opposed to Allen, but the Huskies ran with this one late.  Typically, the better team gets behind early and just can't get enough rhythm or opportunity to comeback.  But not this time.  UW won every stage of the game and Kansas, playing more like a feisty underdog, kept up early, but just couldn't make the plays a top team would make to close out inferior competition.  And this is not indicative of the Huskies level of play.  They have struggled to beat their "peers" in the mid-level rankings (100-200) and were quite convincingly dispatched at MSG last month by Top 50 squads.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Preseason Bracket

So the preseason bracket is a month late.  Most of the conference picks were made between the first of November and Thanksgiving, but the bracket layout and seeding has been delayed for a few reasons.

  1. My computer, iPad, thumb drives, etc, were all stolen in San Francisco this summer.  Lesson: In SF, if it isn’t tattooed or pierced to your body, it will likely be stolen.  Be warned.  Because it was a new folder, I had not set the permissions to back-up any of the data to the Cloud or my Airport.  Well, that’s on me.
  2. It’s OK, because I was constantly playing catchup, everything was hand-jammed to spreadsheets.  This year, I have tried to make my data acquisition a little more efficient, which has required some up front coding…
  3. I suck at coding.
  4. I do most of this during work down time (last year I was on the final extension of a contract, which equates to blowing off real work) which there has been little of…
  5. Too many kids.
  6. This whole NCAA-FBI thing.  This type of selection bias goes well beyond KenPom, RPI, endowment dollars, etc.  Clearly there is so much wrong going on in college basketball right now to circumvent the rules, how do you punish those who have been caught in this one scheme, versus what is known to be occurring at numerous other programs? Especially when the NCAA administrative body has proven that they have know idea what a student athlete is.
  7. I am lazy.

I’m not here to hold ethical or moral judgment. It amazes me Pitino got pinched before Calipari. It bothers me a coaching lifer like Larranaga is thrown into the industrial wasteland that has become NCAA recruiting.

In other words, I moved several schools into a category reserved for schools at risk, whether it be administrative turmoil, APR, or investigations.  Of these schools, only two are in my field: UCLA and Miami.  The damage done at USC, OK State, Louisville, Arizona, and Auburn will likely result in internal punishments to cover this season.  In the case of Louisville, the NCAA may even rule on that sooner than later due to the amount of specifics already out in the public.  Alabama is on the cusp of flushing their best squad in years down the drain, so here’s hoping they come clean in the next few weeks.  They are good enough to be playing the second weekend

This has moved my PAC12 outbid from Arizona to Oregon.  Also, at print time, I have had enough of Harvard and will roll with Steve Donahue’s dark horse Quaker Oats team.



The bracket:
Duke has had enough near deaths to make me believe that ACC regular season will humble them.  They have done enough to hold their 1 seed, but they may not even win the regular season title (hint- they don’t have to).  Same with Michigan State.  The Big12 is loaded and TCU gets the first #2 seed.

I really like Villanova, but I am going to stick with my gut that a senior-laden Seton Hall and frustrated by circumstance Xavier team will test them off the top 2 lines.  Wichita State is out making me look like a buffoon right now, but I still like Cincinnati to beat them to the top AAC spot.  PAC12 is really gutted without Arizona and USC.  Oregon and UCLA just aren’t mature enough to do much better than the 5 line.  

Mid Major alerts:
I like Nevada.  They have improved a lot the last few months, and the MWC is receiving nicely, thanks to hot starts from San Diego St., Boise St., and UNLV.  I have Wyoming holding a play-in spot, but that could very likely be one of those aforementioned schools.  Gonzaga reloaded quickly, but the WCC only goes as far as the Gaels can take them, and they are not strong enough to get into the preferred pod position.  The Bonnies took a week 1 hit to the resume, but still will be a factor Selection Sunday.

The One Bid leagues will likely be buried, much like UT Arlington and Middle Tennessee were last season.  However, the numbers continue to insist that these are fringe Top 25 schools, not Top 100 fodder.  The CAA was in this position last season, but without UNCW driving the train, CoC gets screwed.  Vermont, Florida Gulf Coast, Bucknell, and South Dakota State are the schools nobody wants to draw.  It will be very difficult to keep the winners of the HBCs out of the 16 seed play-in games, as only Texas Southern is remotely to playing at D-1 standards right now.

1 SEEDS
Kansas, Duke, Michigan State, Florida

2 SEEDS
TCU, Notre Dame, Texas A&M, Xavier

WILD CARDS (Teams that can blow this up)
Villanova, Arizona (Not in Field), Wichita State/Cincinnati, Gonzaga

LAST FIVE IN
Oklahoma, Northwestern, VCU, Central Florida, Wyoming

ENJOYING A SOFT BUBBLE
Maryland, SMU, Mississippi St, Texas, St. John’s, St. Bonaventure

TEMPORARILY NOT CONSIDERED (that matter)
Arizona, USC, Louisville

FIRST FIVE OUT
Alabama, KSU, Temple, San Diego St., Utah

NEXT FIVE OUT

Clemson, PSU, Washington St., UConn, NC State

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Small Conferences

OK, my honest bad... the Sun Belt has no business being lumped in here, but they fall at the end of the alphabet and I forgot them.

That being said... this looks like the "New Valley"... the mid major that is growing competent basketball programs and finding new player pipelines.  Scott Cross has UT Arlington humming, Troy is sharp, GSU and GSU are winning talent over their BCS counterparts.  The bottom of the conference has fallen mightily, as it seems just yesterday Little Rock was rocking Purdue.

Liberty was killed by injury last year, but should be back to top Asheville and Winthrop.

The Big West was maddeningly mediocre last season.  Long Beach looked like they blew an easy slate, but it turns out that they are not very good.  Reggie Theus is probably missing the days of easy recruiting and homecourt advantage in Las Cruces; Northridge isn't getting much better this season. Davis will slide back to the field after last year's run.  I expect Hawaii to pull it together for a run after having to sit last year out.

The Northeast Conference is a total wild card.  St. Francis PA looks the deepest, but I could see any of the top 8 sneaking into Dayton and making some noise.

Florida Gulf Coast is so much deeper and more prepared than the rest of this conference it is not even funny.  In other seasons, I would give Lipscomb some hope, but I'd expect FGCU to nearly run the table.

The Southland is balanced.

MEAC is much stronger than the SWAC this year... the SWAC is really struggling right now, both on and off the court, but Mike Davis at least seems to have Texas Southern competing at the level of the other small conferences.  The top 4 in the MEAC look OK.


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

One Bid League Predictions

Once again, no slights intended as to who's who here.  I just know that despite gaudy records, these regular season champions have no shot of catching the eye of the committee for an at-large:


Not much to say about the MAC, other than there doesn't seem to be any continuity or esteem here anymore. A hot season or two in the MAC used to be a launching pad to a nice BCS gig.  Instead, Keith Dambrot gets exiled to Duquesne for his accomplishments.  Duquense would be at the bottom of the MAC, and it's not for a lack of trying from Everhart or Ferry.  That said, the MAC still gets coaches, they still get players, but they just don't build the resumes they used to and have fallen behind the likes of the MAAC, Summit, and Southern.  I would not see any of these top 4 hanging with the Ivy top 4 over the long haul.

The WAC is up for grabs.  UVU doesn't quite have the horses to maintain their pace for a full 40 and will struggle against the top 3.  Bakersfield has been on a nice run, but with GCU eligible for postseason, it makes their path more difficult.  The Aztecs looked ready to run the regular season table until the road went through the other top schools.  This should be an entertaining race, but I expect Dan Majerle to get GCU to the promised land in their first season of eligibility.

The Ohio Valley has been a lot of Belmont, but without Bradds, that should change.  Jacksonville St. finished on the upswing and will continue that way.  Too much turmoil elsewhere in the conference to feel anyone else is a sexy pick.

The Summit is simple: the Dakota schools are good (the monopoly will be more apparent with UND coming over next year), ORU and Western Illinois are not.  Fort Wayne had their window close, and Denver is recovering from Joe Scott. 

This is the worst Big Sky I can remember.  NAU, ISU, SUU are among the worst teams in the country again.  There was a time when the Sky would park one team down there only to have them bounce back.  I like the skill players at Idaho (Sanders) and Montana St (Hall) to drive those teams to the top of the standings.

Duggar Baucom has his system and players in place, but I think the opposition is on to his pace and The Citadel can only go as far as their defense takes them.  UNC Greensboro has a fun team, but I don't think they have the overall consistency to take the regular season crown from Furman.

Vermont probably won't be on the fringes of the at-large discussion, but they should roll through the AE again.  Albany provides a nice foil, but UNH is several steps below after that.

Bucknell has a NCAA weekend-caliber team.  I don't see anyone in the Patriot gaining ground, though the work that Ed DeChellis has done, and Navy should improve their league win total for the 6th straight year.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Preseason bracket

I'm a little delinquent, but should have an opportunity to comb through and seed it Friday, when all is quiet because the Internet exists to do my holiday shopping.

2017-2018 Mid-Major Conference Previews

There is not a slight between these 8 conferences and the 8 referenced under “One-Bid” (coming soon) other than I feel that the 2-3 best teams in these conferences are more likely to be a factor on the bubble come February.



The Mountain West is still several seasons away from being a legitimate multi-bid threat again.  It’s a shame, because the old WAC was home to some of the nation’s most exciting basketball.  When the MWC broke away, they took the heart of the conference.  It has fought small battles of attrition to football, but it looks to be taking its toll.  New Mexico and UNLV have been staggering aimlessly for several seasons.  Wyoming, Fresno St and Utah St are consistently unable to break through. Nevada was a very fringy Bubble team last year (likely “Next Four Out” had they not claimed an auto bid). San Diego State could go either way.  I’ve never been a fan of the coaching coattails, but the word out is that Dutcher has been doing the grunt work here for much more of their run than I would have believed.  Eustachy has the Rams pointed in the right direction, but they are not deep at all.  The conference just doesn’t draw from the Big 12/PAC 12 reservoir the way it used to.

The Missouri Valley has reloaded about as well as it could from the Creighton and Wichita defections.  The conference had survived the losses of Tulsa, Cincinnati, Louisville before that.  The difference is that those are larger cities that have their own sports world.  Valpo falls into mould of the other schools (ISU, ISU, SIU, NIU, MSU), with great tradition, but not much happening in a small town to sell recruits on MVC over Big East, AAC, or even Big Ten.  The MVC needs a winner in Loyola to pipeline talent back into the conference.  The play deliberately, and with the Redbirds and Panthers struggling, there isn’t much resistance.  Bradley will be a shocker, as they have been left for dead for several seasons.  Not seeing much more than an auto bid here, unless somebody pulls together 30 wins.

Not much to say about the West Coast Conference.  Gonzaga reloaded, but St. Mary’s has the NBA talent this year, and should be able to take 2 of 3.  BYU will be exciting until Emery has a meltdown on the road and costs them a couple winnable games.  Too much turnover in the conference the last 2 years to generate many other threats.  Santa Clara is building a solid system and base, but they need way more talent to crack the top 3.

The CAA was a potential multi-bid league with UNCW and Charleston playing tight most of the way, but Charleston fizzled, now the Seahawks have graduated most of their diamonds in the rough.  Elon and Towson are competent enough to make a run. The Tribe lost some of their underrated talent that made Williamsburg a very difficult place to win the last few years.

The loss of Valpo from the Horizon makes this a very unappealing slate of teams.  The Norse are on the map in the wake of Alec Peters late season injury, but it is unlikely Oakland craps the bed again like they did last season.  The Phoenix never figured out how to score at that tempo, and that doesn’t figure to change this season.

The Ivy is a tale of 4 Haves and 4 Have Nots.  Any one of the top 4 can steal the auto bid, but I’m not sure anybody is going to catch the scheduling breaks to be at-large worthy.  Dartmouth, Brown, and Cornell are several steps down from the top four, and there is a pretty large break between the Tigers and Lions.  Princeton has lost the most from last year, though it still can run away with this.  My money would be on the FBS-level talent at Harvard, or the depth at Yale, but never rule out the ability of Penn to spread and shoot.

Monmouth’s stranglehold on the Little MAAC (though what’s it say about the MAC that they rate below here) is over with nary an NCAA bid.  Manhattan has assembled a formidable team.  Iona has been solid for years and are not going away, though Fairfield could be the sleeper here.  Also, never count Siena out in the MAAC tourney.


Conference USA is where things typically go to die, and there isn’t much coming out this year.  ODU will bore you to death, and both Charlotte and Marshall will ignore defensive obligations, making MTSU the favorite again.  UTEP and LaTech will win 20 games and be thorns in their side.  The most interesting pieces are North Texas and UTSA, both of whom can make an unexpected run up a weak conference… the Hilltoppers dream about what might have been, though the concern to me is how Stansbury lined that deal up.

Monday, November 13, 2017

2017-2018 Major Conference predictions

I have been a little delinquent starting the previews and preseason bracket.  The FBI sting took some of the wind out of my sails.  I could write for days on that particular topic, but that has nothing to do with the bracket.  I do feel that it would be ignorant not to take the investigation into consideration, as well as other legal implications, so I highlighted teams that I felt were in limbo for this season... not that the NCAA sanctions or postseason bans are imminent or likely (though that is a possibility) but this will affect the longterm mental health of the program.  Maybe not so much the players on the court, but everything that goes into the sausage (recruiting, coaches, practice, travel, media, etc) are going to change for those teams in the immediate future.



Notes:
The PAC12 is a disaster. Arizona, USC, and UCLA looked to be frontrunners, but who knows where the investigation leads, and how China expedites their legal process, which I can only imagine to be like Brokedown Palace.  Cal is bankrupt, Oregon is embroiled in its moral and ethical quandries, and every school north of the 44 degree parallel sucks.  Arizona has the depth to prevail, but my guess is that the investigation breaks Miller before the postseason.  If so, the PAC12 is wide open.

ACC is messy, but the teams currently involved were outside the "lock" status.  Miami and Louisville had tourney potential, but will likely be just impacted enough to tumble to the middle of the ACC standings, with self sanctioning a bargaining chip. Not quite as high on Duke's likely outcome versus the "upside" outcome.  Notre Dame is flying under the radar despite being sound, deep, and experienced.  They have a better shot at an ACC title, while Duke could go all the way if they peak at the right time.

The state of Alabama shot itself in the foot big time.  Auburn looked close to a contender last year, while Alabama pulled a few upsets to remain in the selection discussion until the SEC tourney.  Both are already in the midst of damage control, and I can't see Pearl lasting through Christmas.  Florida and Kentucky are the class of a flat conference again.  Media is high on Missouri because of the Porter effect, but both Fultz and Simmons played for the draft, not necessarily for the postseason.  I can see the Tigers getting off to a fast start and fizzling once NBA scout confirm his draft status. 

The Shockers are jumping to the AAC, which will put a strain on their typical road dominance.  Cinci didn't lose enough to warrant overlooking (SMU did) so I think that chip on their shoulder will be enough to win the league while everyone prematurely puts WSU in the Final Four.  UConn could be the wild card again.

Venue issues will change the fortunes of both Villanova and DePaul.  While the Wildcats are basically playing neutral or road all season, DePaul finally has new digs of their own near campus.  The edge goes to Xavier and Seton Hall to play up that advantage, while DePaul could finally be trending out of the cellar.

Oklahoma State should plummet back to early, while the Dixon effect has taken root at TCU.  Kansas hopefully exhibits a less ambiguous standard toward moral turpitude on the roster.  Over the years, Self has never worn the same stink of other embattled coaches.  I doubt there is any dirt there, but come on, show some discipline.

I have nothing to say about the Big Ten, other than they were very overrated in the seedings last year, and the overall talent seems to have slipped, though little Pitino has a sleeping giant.

Mike Rhodes could keep VCU's stream open, but the Rams have been good for 13 years now.  Typically the bubble bursts on mid-majors and someone has to rebuild from scratch, but that doesn't seem to be the case here.  Ironically, the man who broke their drought, Anthony Grant, will be presiding over continuity at Dayton.  The Bonnies and Rams have the best 5's in the conference, and without much competition, they won't need the depth to win.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Before Getting to Basketball, I Have to Get This Soccer Rant off My Chest


In 1990, I got my first taste of the World Cup.  I was living in Frankfurt at the time and the country literally shutdown for 4 weeks.  Our club even gave everybody little scorecards (like golf) to mark off the results as they happened.  This was still a time where we watched WEST Germany drop England in a crazy semifinal outside at the Volksfest on the 4th July, followed by fireworks.  Good times!  What was not such good times was in the weeks leading up to the tournament, when German friends and coaches would ask who I would be cheering for, to which I would reply, “USA, of course.

- insert laugh track
“Kein Mannschaft!”
“Haha, viele Gl├╝ck!”
“Sie sind sehr schlecht!”
“Oo-Ess-Ah, oder Oo-Ah-Aye?” (Yes, this was them stating that the United Arab Emirates was a more viable team.)

It took a family friend to explain that the US had no chance to win a game, let alone advance, because NONE of their players played professionally in a major league, and that the team that that they had qualified with had less professional and International experience than many second and third division clubs, let alone the big teams like Eintracht.  This was almost completely true- Paul Caliguiri was playing for Meppen in the Bundesliga 2, but the other 20-some guys were all college or semi-pro players under 27.  In retrospect, the group was also an impossibly bad draw, as the cup was in Italy, and the other 3 teams in the group were Italy, Austria, and Czechoslovakia, all of whom were within a day’s drive of the venues.  US got predictably blown out by a loaded Czechoslovakian team and fell behind early against Italy and Austria.  This was considered an overachievement, as the 2 scored goals shocked most experts.  The silver lining was that the team was young and was going to improve.  

Most people remember the fireworks in 1994 (Wynalda’s free kick against Switzerland, Escobar, Leonardo rearranging Tab Ramos’ to give the US a glimmer of hope before Romario and Bebeto  stomped it out) and the peaks and valleys that have followed. But even when things were the worst (losing to fucking Iran, getting stomped by CZ again), the American soccer product appeared to be trending upward.  However, the last 12 months have revealed that US Soccer, as it is currently configured, is too inept and corrupt to execute a plan to bring it level with European and South American counterparts (and let’s be honest, Asian nations have closed the gap considerably).  For several years, Bruce Arena worked magic with a diverse group of players, as did Bob Bradley.  But both those guys were hamstrung by a federation was only concerned with quality of product when it resulted in bad publicity (crashing out of tournaments).  The primary focus is always money, typically from sponsors.

After the second Ghana loss, the focus was less on “how do we sustain this Top 10 status so we can break through?”, but more on “how do we capitalize on the momentum of Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore?”  That 2010 team had warts, but it had a young core (I cringe when I think about what could have been if Stuart Holden’s ACLs weren’t made of balsa) that was playing in all the leagues, from Mexico across Europe.  But the rub was that four of those players were active in MLS, and only Donovan was a bar-hold name, let alone a household name.  After rushing to chase off Bob Bradley after a flat, but nearly victorious 2011 Gold Cup (like seriously, they really expected a win with a back line of Goodson, Bernstein, and Lichaj? lol), there weren’t many better options out there.

Klinsmann’s hire was inspired, but ultimately flawed. Klinsmann is a true German treasure, right up to the cold, direct personality that expects no compliments and delivers succinct truths. Softer players that had grown up in a “participation trophy” environment were quickly replaced with younger, faster players that understood that it wasn’t that the coach’s word was the law- far from it- it’s that it was fact.  Playing abroad was better preparation for International competition than playing at home in the MLS.  However, one by one, those faces of the USMNT, Dempsey, Bradley, Beasley, Donovan, etc, all took favorable contracts to play in the MLS.  And when they showed up for final preparations for the 2014 World Cup, because their club season had just started, the MLS players looked horribly out of shape.  It did not help that US drew the Group of Death with Germany (best team in world), Portugal (top 5 team, plus arguably best player), and long-time nemesis Ghana. To even advance from that group was going to be a challenge, let alone with a squad out of synch and out of shape.  Yet somehow, they almost found their way through to the quarterfinals (drawing another top 10 team in Belgium).

Yes, Klinsmann went pretty far to bring in dual citizen players, but it wasn’t about talent.  It was purely about culture and the difference between competing professionally for your club and competitively for your country.  I remember years ago American basketball players turning down International gigs because, “Pay to play.” Fine, whatever. That really wasn’t this issue here, but US basketball had a much deeper pool from which to draw 12 players.  Klinsmann wanted to greatly increase his pool, both width and depth.  The fact that scrubs like Chris Wondolowski continue to get looks is baffling, which is why he made strong pushes for guys with much higher upside like Julian Green and Aron Johannsson.  And you know Johannsson has got to be kicking himself.  Iceland has been one of the most compelling stories the past two years, and, yes, with a pool of 332,000 (as opposed to 332,000,000) they qualified.  Klinsmann’s grass roots strategy was working from a talent development standpoint, but he did a terrible job managing the personalities and tactics on the field.  His hire should have been seen as a 2-3 cycle process, but the first major struggle and he was gone too.

The Iceland comparison really doesn’t do it justice.  One-thousand times the pool, one-thousand times the resources.  One tenth the production on the field.  Bruce Arena proved this isn’t an X’s and O’s problem.  This is a marketing and advertising problem that limits are pool to the players that are being seen as being able to return investment, not broadening or deepening (is that a word?) the pool to have the most tools available to win at any time on any soil. I am not kidding, but had Pulisic had not burst on the scene last summer, he probably would have been buried on the bench or not on the roster at all due to the coaching change despite being far and away the most talented player right now.  

US Soccer needs to get its shady corrupt head out of its ass and embrace what makes sports around the globe tick. First, the club structure, each being private entities COMPETING for the right to play in league and cup event, puts the power and impetus on the club itself to build a credible team and marketing strategy to raise money.  The owners and investors CHOOSE how they will go about it and spend accordingly.  For instance, MLS is spending a shade under $215M on player salaries this year. Seems reasonable in a vacuum, right.  But now consider that Paris St. Germain just dropped over $260M just for the right to pay Neymar even more (yes, one player) money, and will likely invest over a billion dollars for the roster they roll out in the 2018-19 season. It’s like that “orders of magnitude” thing again… the best opportunities for American players continues to be overseas, period. Basically, the American “system” encourages players to play for free in high school and NCAA, and those amateur organizations benefit.  The best players, however, (and yeah, if you haven’t figured out by 16 that you are good enough, you aren’t, so go get that Calculus book) are capable of signing for reasonable, sustainable wage, to train with the other 0.01%.  The MLS is broken because it relies so heavily on an amateur draft full of college players that, for the most part, have already peaked because they have spent the previous 8 years beating up on other amateurs and bonging beer out of each others butt cracks while ditching Sociology 101. 

Even if I am control of DC United, I cannot go out and compete for the best talent in the world. MLS (and to a lesser extent the US government as the NFL has learned) dictates how I manage my club, how much I spend, who I can spend it on, when I train, etc.  Screw that. Do you think the Bundesliga or German government tried to control or cap Dietmar Hopp’s investments transforming Hoffenheim (which, no shitting was probably about as professional a club as our over 30 beer league team) to an annual Champions League contender.  The “franchise” model adopted by the American government is designed to control growth.  Why else would you need a draft (like, what is this, conscription?), salary cap, non-guaranteed contracts, restricted free agency, etc? The franchise model eliminates any risk an owner may have developing a competitive team, as the American government prevents competition from other leagues and bars other teams from entering the system.  And because of that, there really is no incentive to get better except to sell more tickets and not be a laughing stock.  I mean seriously, have you seen the Cleveland Browns the last 20 years?  They should have relegated that smoldering bag of crap owner back to the Missouri Valley Conference years ago, where they would probably lose to North Dakota State.

There is reason to be excited about Gedion Zelalem, Matt Miazga, Weston McKennie, Cam Carter-Vickers, Josh Perez, etc, teaming up with Pulisic, Yedlin, and Nagbe.  These are players that jumped to foreign clubs in their teens (for decent money) and are already seasoned professionals.  Some of them should have been on the field in Couva last night.  The current system shuns them for taking stock in their value as a professional and moving overseas for higher levels of competition and compensation.  US Soccer does the same on the women’s side of the ball as well. These young players are enough to get get the US through CONCACAF qualifying for 2020, but we’ve been there before.  But the only way American soccer gets on par with its European and Latin counterparts is to embrace an open market in which the best talent is identified, scouted, and groomed early, and sought after by the best clubs in the world, not just the MLS.  On the flip side, American club sports tend to end after kids turn 18.  But why?  Every village across Europe that has more than 3 dairy cows or sheep has an athletic club that houses soccer of all ages.  Not all pay wages to play, but they all compete for something, at some obscure level.  American clubs would be attractive to youth if they had an adult counterpart, not just to scout or train, but to also provide a air of legitimacy. Instead, for that 332 million population, we have a few dozen legitimate clubs combing for the best players.  Talk about a needle in a haystack. But at least we got that sweet CONCACAF participation trophy.


Sie sind immer noch sehr schlecht.