Iona Gaels Beat Richmond; Tim Cluess Gets First Win

NEW ROCHELLE—Tim Cluess is a first-year coach. This was the fourth game of the season. So it was surprising to hear him say this after Iona’s 81-77 win against Richmond last Thursday: “We needed [this win] for the kids’ psyche. My concern was that if we came in here and laid an egg, I could lose them this early in the year. They’d say, ‘We worked really hard, Coach, and we still didn’t win.’”

He was completely serious, which almost makes you wonder, just for a moment, whether he was joking when he laughed and said, “I figured if we lost this one I’d have to see if I was still working here come Monday.”

It was no secret that it was a critical win for Iona, even though it likely didn’t have postseason implications for the Gaels. The 0-3 start at the World Vision Classic in Cleveland was horrendous. Iona had late-game breakdowns against Kent State and Bryant, which posted a 1-29 record last season. The Gaels lost by a combined three points in those two games and shot 32/54 (59 percent) from the free throw line.

Many fans started to doubt Cluess, some of whom likely didn’t care for the hire to begin with. Cluess had coached—and won—a lot of games, but until Thursday he hadn’t won at the D1 level. Cluess still believed his style, his schemes, and this group of players could turn it around. “They worked so hard when we came back (from Cleveland),” he said. “After that road trip I said, ‘As beat up as we are, we’ve got to practice. We’re not going to get better unless we do that.’ Guys were hurting, but they didn’t complain; they worked their butts off. I knew they had it in them.”

They responded with an exhilarating double-overtime victory against a team that reached the NCAA Tournament last year, returned the Atlantic-10 Player of the Year, and was picked to finished third in the conference this season.

Scott Machado led the way with a career-high 28 points to go along with six assists, five rebounds, and three steals. “As we keep learning the offense and trusting in it, we’re going to get better,” Machado said. “We have to buy into it.”

Even in this photo you can tell Scott Machado is fast.

Part of Cluess’ strategy against Richmond was to shorten his bench. Or, more specifically, limit the reserves’ minutes. Senior Rashon Dwight, who started 25 games last season and two in Cleveland (averaging 21 minutes per game), didn’t play against the Spiders. You’ve got to imagine he’ll be worked back into the rotation, but in what was essentially a must-win game, Cluess decided Thursday was not the time to let Dwight shake his 6-for-22 shooting slump.

Each of the five starters—Machado, Jermel Jenkins, Kyle Smyth, Michael Glover, and Alejo Rodriguez—logged at least 37 minutes; all but Smyth played at least 44. Nine Gaels saw action, but only guard Trinity Fields reached double-digit minutes. Others were simply used to give the starters a quick breather.

These two big men, Alejo Rodriguez (under basket) and Michael Glover, were instrumental in Iona’s victory

“Conditioning is what got us through the game—us working hard every day in practice,” Glover said. The Gaels also converted the important foul shots. Machado hit all four of his attempts in double-OT, the second putting his team ahead for good. “Coach emphasized free throws,” the junior said. “We needed to knock down our free throws down the stretch. That’s what messed us up in Cleveland.”

This one game doesn’t vindicate Cluess or this year’s Iona team, just as the first three didn’t seal their fate. But Cluess’ postgame sigh of relief could be heard in Mount Vernon.

College Football Blind Resumes: 2002-2010

Below is a chart (click to enlarge) showing the win-loss record, winning percentage, number of BCS bowl appearances and BCS bowl wins, and win-loss record in bowl games between 2002-2010 (this season counts towards the overall record).

This is just a snapshot, but it shows 10 programs that have great college football tradition or have been incredibly successful the last decade. I could have chosen 10, 20, or even 50 more teams, but I think even this small sample size is interesting.

There may be nothing here that surprises you, but the “blind resume” helps remove biases, if only for a few seconds before you realize which teams are represented. Strip away the jerseys and helmets from some of these prestigious programs and they simply don’t compare to the truly elite programs of the past decade.*

*I didn’t go back to the start of the decade because I didn’t think it was necessary. In 2002, current college seniors were around 12 or 13 years old. Kids in next year’s incoming class were 8 or 9 at that time. The following chart shows how 10 well-known programs performed during these kids’ football-watching, “where should I go to college?” years.

The obvious:

  • Team A’s winning percentage is unreal.
  • Seven BCS appearances in the last eight years is unbelievable, too, and Teams B and C both did it.
  • Speaking of BCS appearances, if you rank them by that category, suddenly Teams A and D, who are near the top as far as winning percentage, sink to the bottom.
  • 9-4 equates to a .692 winning percentage. Given all the cupcake games, you really don’t want to be under 70%, yet four teams here are (Teams G-J).
  • Teams I and J have won less than two-thirds of their games, have lost a combined five of eight bowl games, and have not won a BCS bowl game despite appearing in five.

OK, so if you’re a serious college football fan and you spend more than a minute looking at the above chart you can probably replace the letters with the actual schools. But here they are, anyway, for simplicity’s sake:

Like I said, I wasn’t going for the “wow” factor here. But you may have shared some of my reactions, which expand upon the previous bullet points:

  • So, yeah, Boise State has won a lot of games the last eight years.
  • Were you not slightly surprised by Ohio State’s impressive numbers? Perhaps I had simply been blinded by my obligatory hatred for the Buckeyes.
  • When it comes to BCS invites, Boise and TCU are at obvious disadvantages since they don’t play in conferences with automatic qualifiers. I can say with 100% confidence that, many of these years, they have been more deserving than the Big East and/or ACC champ, and often times have had a better team than the champs from other AQ conferences.*
  • Shame on you, Miami, Alabama, Michigan, and Notre Dame, four historical powers. Miami was a national title contender at the start of the decade but played .500 football from 2006-08, while Alabama won it all last year but had some down years as well. As for Michigan and ND…
  • …well, 3-9 doesn’t help your winning percentage. As far as the BCS appearances, Ohio State’s success and inclusion in three national title games certainly didn’t hurt Michigan, often the Big Ten’s second-best team. Notre Dame was helped by being, well, Notre Dame, and the Irish were painfully outmatched in their two BCS appearances.

*To clarify: In some years, we’ve seen some weak teams in BCS bowl games, teams I know Boise and/or TCU (and sometimes other non-AQ teams) were better than, even when you consider the schedule strength. In other years, Boise and others may have had great (possibly even undefeated) seasons, but given the disparity in schedule strength one can’t say whether they were truly more deserving. The latter is obviously why many fans would prefer a playoff.

So that’s what recruits know. They know Florida and their two national championships. They know USC and Ohio State consistently playing in high-profile bowl games. They know Boise and TCU and the often-overlooked Virginia Tech churning out the 10-win seasons. And, sadly for me (a Michigan alum) and many of my readers (Michigan and ND fans), they know Michigan as a very respectable but not dominant program that fell apart in 2008 and is still trying to rebuild, and Notre Dame as “just another team.”

Programs rise, programs fall, but tradition lasts forever. I’m not sure any of the highest-profile schools will ever completely fall off the national radar, even if more room is needed for the newcomers.

But depending on what recruits value—and that’s another argument altogether—it may become harder for the historically significant but currently dysfunctional programs to return to their winning ways, as more and more elite players grow up knowing the college football landscape that is represented in the above chart.

Michigan vs Penn State 2010 Preview

he question Michigan fans seem to be asking most heading into tomorrow’s showdown with Penn State: Is this a must-win for Rich Rodriguez?

The answer: I really hope not.

I say this not because I think Michigan will lose on Saturday, but because they definitely could lose (the Wolverines are only a three-point favorite) and I don’t want Rodriguez to lose his job if they do.

First of all, let’s go over two assumptions regarding Michigan’s four remaining opponents after Penn State:

Michigan will lose to Wisconsin and Ohio State. Even the most optimistic Michigan fans counted these two games as losses in the preseason. Not enough has changed since then to think otherwise.

Michigan will beat Purdue and Illinois. These two games get a W next to them, but we should write them in pencil, as opposed to the ink used for the L’s. If we’re considering these wins, perhaps we should consider Penn State a win, too, but I still think Penn State on the road is tougher than Illinois at home or Purdue on the road.

With a loss in Happy Valley, Michigan (5-2) gets to 7-5 at best and potentially finishes 6-6, which would mean the 2010 collapse was just as bad as last year. But I don’t think Rodriguez should be fired even if this does happen.

Football, especially college football, is not like the other major sports. A new coach, even a good one, often sets you back three or four years as he implements his system and gets the recruits he needs to make it work. Look at a once-proud program like Notre Dame. Michigan does not want to go down that road.

If Rich Rodriguez looks like this in tomorrow’s press conference, it could spell doom for the Michigan football program. (Credit: Greg Dooley/

Rodriguez is in Year Three in Ann Arbor; you might argue that is enough time to show meaningful progress and another season without beating a quality opponent should mean he gets fired. I’d argue he has shown meaningful progress. Remember the Wolverine offense in 2008, Rich Rod’s first year? A walk on started games at quarterback and not just because of injuries. The offensive line resembled a group of oversized matadors. Two years later, Michigan has the second best offense in the country as far as yards per game. If that’s not progress, I don’t know what is.

The defense and special teams have regressed since Lloyd Carr left, but astute Michigan followers know this is not all Rodriguez’s fault. Carr’s defensive recruiting was extremely weak in his final year and there have been an unusually high number of transfers. I’m not making excuses for Rodriguez, and I still think he should be held accountable at the end of the day, but I have reason to believe the defense can be competent next year and more Michigan-esque in 2012 and beyond.

The good news? New athletic director Dave Brandon seems to understand this. He’s repeatedly said there’s not a win quota for Rodriguez to keep his job. I think it will take a truly epic collapse—winless from here on out—for Brandon to replace the head coach. On the other hand, there is pressure on Brandon to get the football program on the right track. Even if it goes against his gut he could feel obligated to axe Rodriguez; I view this is doubtful, however.

Regardless of who starts at quarterback for Penn State tomorrow (it is rumored to be a walk on sophomore; sound familiar?) or how many injuries the Nittany Lions have on defense, a victory in Happy Valley still means something—in this case, it also means a trip to a bowl game (and in my opinion a guaranteed seven wins and really good shot at eight, which would exceed all but the most optimistic preseason projections).

A loss would be bad, no doubt, but if it leads to Rodriguez’s firing it would probably be the program’s most devastating loss in 25 years.

Iona Gaels Basketball: Maroon Madness 2010

I attended “Maroon Madness” at Iona College last Friday night and had a great time. The event served its purpose, which was to get fans excited for basketball season. I think it could be a banner year for the men’s and women’s programs. Look for my MAAC preview in a few weeks, but right now I’d rank both the men and women a No. 2 in the conference, but both squads have a legitimate shot at winning the league title.

Below you will find photos and videos from Maroon Madness. If uncredited, it means I took the photo or shot the video. Click a photo to enlarge it. Enjoy!

Obligatory shot of Killian, the Iona mascot:

The veterans: player-turned-coach Thazina Cook (left), seniors Catherine Lutz and Suzi Fregosi. Iona women’s head coach Tony Bozzella told me, “To say I miss Thazina Cook as a player would be an understatement. But she brings a lot to the table as a coach. She has great insight in our meetings. She really understands what it takes to be a great player and she tries to talk to our players about that.”

The women’s team on the court, but not in their usual hoops attire:

A closer look:

A nice wide shot of Hynes Athletics Center. The court was redone in the offseason and looks great (Credit:

The men’s team is introduced. That’s first-year head coach Tim Cluess slapping hands with Killian:

Shortly after the team was introduced, they formed a layup line which quickly became a slam dunk show:

After that, Ra’Shad James put on a one-man show. Here he is jumping over teammate Scott Machado. Hard to believe James is still ascending here. Check out video of this dunk attempt below (Credit:

View from the opposite side. You can see James is starting to lose control of the ball (Credit:

After a few misses, the crowd chanted “One more time!” as Ra’Shad James attempted to jump over teammate Scott Machado, and dunk. It looks like he has it, but the ball bounces off the back rim (scroll down for more James dunks):

Tony Bozzella addressed the crowd and then passed the mic to Cluess (see video of Cluess’ speech below):

Here is video of Cluess addressing the crowd:

Then James did a nasty 360 jam:

And followed it up with a windmill, which he makes look easy:

But James’ most impressive dunk was probably this through-the-legs throwdown. I filmed this, but Killian got in the way! Here’s a much better version courtesy of

That’s me getting my sportswriter on with Bozzella, who told me the theme for this year’s team is “Next level, next step” (Credit:

Talking with Cluess, who said “it’s always better coming into a situation where the previous coach had started to establish the program.” Now it’s his job to keep the momentum going (Credit:

Well, that’s all I’ve got. It was a great evening. Check back here for a MAAC/Iona preview before the season starts.

World Series 2010: Texas Rangers vs. San Francisco Giants

The 2010 World Series begins tomorrow night as the San Francisco Giants host the Texas Rangers, making their first appearance in the Fall Classic. Much like the Giants’ tussle with Philadelphia, this is a matchup of great starting pitching.

There are plenty of hot hitters in this series, too, including some lesser-known guys that have helped their club get to this stage. I won’t take you through the entire roster, but instead focus on five key players for each team, with notes on various other players as well.

For those of you who haven’t followed these two darkhorse teams, consider this your World Series “Who’s Who” guide. Let’s start with the Texas Rangers:

Cliff Lee, Starting Pitcher
In 2008, things simply clicked for Cliff Lee. Having been wildly inconsistent his first four full seasons in the majors, Lee went 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA in ’08, winning the Cy Young.

The details of the transformation deserve their own study, so suffice it to say that Lee’s been dominant ever since. And that’s why after this World Series, Lee will become the highest-paid player of this free agent class. Whether he stays in Texas, dons the pinstripes, or ends up in some other city will be the most closely followed event of the offseason.

His Game One duel with Tim Lincecum is yet another must-see pitchers matchup of this postseason.*

Josh Hamilton, Outfielder
Hamilton’s rise to glory is even more interesting than Lee’s. The left-handed hitting machine didn’t struggle on the field, however; his problems came off of it. The first overall pick of the 1999 draft (by Tampa Bay), drug addiction derailed his career. Long story short: Hamilton has obviously gotten back on track; he’s a front-runner for the MVP award.

The Yankees started to fear Hamilton to the point where they were intentionally walking him to get to a future Hall of Famer who hit .300 with 29 home runs this year. How the Giants decide to pitch to—or around—Hamilton will be an interesting subplot of this World Series.

Hamilton is one of the most feared hitters in baseball. (Credit: Keith Allison)

Vlad Guerrero, Outfielder
This is the future HOFer I was referring to. When he’s in the batter’s box, he’s one of the most fun players to watch. He is similar to teammate Jeff Francoeur in that he will swing at anything—the difference between the two is that Vlad will usually make contact.

The question with Guerrero, 35 (at least), is whether he can play the field. He is the Rangers’ DH, but his bat is too valuable to leave on the bench in San Francisco. As long as he doesn’t cost Texas with his limited range, he could actually be a defensive asset—his arm is that good.

Ian Kinsler, Second Baseman
Kinsler missed a good chunk of 2010 due to injury, but his play the last few weeks certainly suggests he is healthy. Kinsler leads the Rangers with nine RBI this postseason. He’s hitting .342 and has swiped two bags.

Kinsler is also fun to watch, but more so because he can do a little bit of everything, which is especially rare for a second baseman.

Nelson Cruz, Outfielder
Cruz also battled injuries this season, otherwise he could have challenged Hamilton for the MVP. Yes, the 30-year-old from the Dominican Republic is that good. He’s slugged a team-high five home runs during the playoffs to go along with a .375 batting average. When Cruz is hitting fifth, you know the lineup is deadly. I expect a big World Series from him.

Best of the Rest: Michael Young is a lifer—this is his 11th season with Texas, the only team he’s played for. An underrated player his entire career, Young has been an important postseason contributor. Neftali Feliz is the 22-year-old closer who came out of nowhere to save 40 games for Texas this season. His fastball often touches 100 mph. Elvis Andrus is another exciting young player. I’m partial to shortstops, but I think Andrus will be one of the best at his position in a few years.

This Rangers team is highly likeable, but it may be even easier to root for the San Francisco Giants. Let’s start with Lee’s Series-opening counterpart on the mound:

Tim Lincecum, Starting Pitcher
The Freak was freakishly bad in August, but found his groove in September and it has carried into the playoffs. Lincecum’s unorthodox windup and nasty movement on his pitches make him an amazing talent to watch.

He threw a complete-game two-hit shutout (14 K’s) to get the Giants’ 2010 playoffs started and set the tone for the NLCS by beating Roy Halladay. I highly doubt he’ll be intimated by Lee or nervous about pitching on the biggest stage.

Wild hair, crazy delivery, nearly impossible to hit. (Credit: SD Dirk)

Buster Posey, Catcher
I know nobody wants to hear about someone else’s fantasy team, so I’ll keep this brief. Having gone through a handful of horrendous backstops, my co-manager suggested we get Buster Posey. Who? I asked, before figuring why not? If he struggled, that first name would make it easy to criticize the move. But Posey didn’t struggle. The 23-year-old hit over .300 and is a Rookie of the Year contender.

So yeah, I feel a nerdy connection to Posey and I want to see him do well. He shoulders a lot of pressure, not only catching this incredible staff but batting clean-up.

Brian Wilson, Closer
“Fear the Beard” has become San Fran’s playoff mantra thanks to Wilson’s thick, dyed beard. Yes, he went all Walt “Clyde” Frazier and dyed his beard jet black. Hey, whatever works, man. Wilson has yet to give up a run in the playoffs and has recorded five saves.

He made arguably the most important pitch of the season when he replaced Lincecum in the eighth inning of Game Six against the Phillies. With the Giants up a run and the Phils threatening—first and second, one out—Wilson needed only three pitches to induce an inning-ending double play.

Juan Uribe, Infielder
I followed Uribe’s 2010 season somewhat closely (yes, because of fantasy, OK?!) so I know how remarkable it has been. It was fitting that he hit the pennant-clinching homer since he clubbed 24 home runs this season, the most in his 10-year career.

Other than that memorable blast though, Uribe has struggled mightily this postseason. The Giants are counting on him to have a much better World Series.

Aubrey Huff, First Baseman
The Giants were near the top of the league in home runs in part because seven guys were in double digits and four had at least 18. That included Huff, who led the way with 26. But so far in the playoffs, San Fran has gotten all of two homers from guys other than Cody Ross, and Huff did not hit either of them.

The tall, versatile defender had a stellar season after a horrendous 2009, and the Giants can’t afford any regression from Huff at this point.

Best of the Rest: Madison Bumgarner is a critical part of this team. Why? Because no team the Giants have faced has offered a better fourth starter. Texas will be no different. Andres Torres finally got a chance to play everyday and he proved to be a very capable leadoff hitter and centerfielder. He’ll be counted on to jumpstart the Giants offense. Jonathan Sanchez has a little bit of Oliver Perez in him, and that is definitely not a good thing. Even so, the Giants won two of his three postseason starts, and he has the stuff to dominate any lineup.

AT&T Park in San Francisco is a beautiful venue for baseball. (Credit: Daniel Schwen)

As far as a prediction, I’m not foolish enough to make one. I wasn’t right about too much this postseason, so I’m going to sit back and enjoy what I hope is a seven-game series.

*Of course, I’m going to have to leave home to watch it. Cablevision, a cable television service provider with the largest subscriber base in the metropolitan New York viewing area, is in a contract dispute with FOX and is no longer carrying the network. I note that Cablevision also owns the Knicks, so New York sports fans were not happy with the company to begin with.

2010 MLB Playoffs; ALCS, NLCS Previews

Update 10/26/10: Check out my World Series preview.

Update 10/14/10: This update comes as the 2010 MLB playoffs have dwindled down to four teams. The ALCS begins Friday night in Texas while the NLCS starts Saturday in Philadelphia. I only predicted two of the teams to make it this far, but I like my chances of getting the World Series matchup correct. Sound off in the comments section to let me know your thoughts.

American League
Texas Rangers vs. New York Yankees

Despite opening on the road, the pressure is on the Yankees in the first two games of the ALCS. They will send CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes to the mound and won’t have to face Texas ace Cliff Lee. If the Rangers can take even one of these games, I like their chances to win the series. Why? Because Lee will start Game Three, and after stifling Tampa Bay twice, his career playoff numbers are 6-0 with a 1.44 ERA. In Game Four, Tommy Hunter opposes AJ Burnett and his 5.26 ERA.

While the Yankees do have the advantage in the opening games, it might not be as great as you think. Neither CJ Wilson nor Colby Lewis gave up a run in their starts against Tampa. They are more than capable of at least limiting the potent New York lineup. You know I prefer the other New York baseball team, so take this prediction with a grain of salt: Rangers in six.

National League
Philadelphia Phillies vs. San Francisco Giants

In Philadelphia’s sweep of the Reds, their pitching was absolutely dominant. Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels each threw complete games, and the staff pitched to an even 1.00 ERA. The Giants can match the Phillies arm for arm. Their staff is pitching to a 1.66 ERA in the postseason. We’ve got Halladay vs. Tim Lincecum in Game One. Does it get any better than that?

But when you look at the lineups, the Phils clearly have the edge. The Giants put a ton of pressure on their pitching staff as is; it’s only going to be tougher against Philadelphia’s top-tier starters. Guys like Buster Posey, Aubrey Huff, and Juan Uribe have exceeded expectations, but they don’t strike fear in the opposition like Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Jayson Werth.

I don’t expect much of a drop-off in the quality of pitching we saw in the Division Series, but the Phillies have more room for error given their multitude of sluggers. I predicted these two teams would meet before the playoffs started and I’m not changing my prediction. Phillies in six.

Michigan-Michigan State Preview

There’s a photograph from 2004 that was taken during the pre-game tailgate in which my friends and I are wearing short-sleeve shirts, our baseball caps shielding our eyes from the sun. I think if you look close enough you can even detect beads of sweat on our foreheads.

When Michigan State broke a long touchdown run to extend its lead to 27-10, it was dark and the temperature had dropped to near freezing. In Ann Arbor, the weather can change just like that. So can a football game.

When Garrett Rivas kicked a field goal (this was back when Michigan could kick field goals) to make it a two-score game, many students had already left the Big House. Even as a freshman watching only my fifth game at Michigan Stadium I knew this was unacceptable. I also had a feeling they were going to miss out on something special.

It was Halloween eve, after all, and the Wolverines had a few tricks left.

Rivas’ field goal came with 6:27 left in the game to cut the deficit to 27-13. Michigan recovered an onside kick and two plays later freshman Chad Henne found senior Braylon Edwards for a 36-yard touchdown.

Michigan got a defensive stop (this was back when Michigan could get defensive stops), and once again, two plays later, Henne hit Edwards for a long score. The first catch was probably better—he really had to go up and snatch it away from the defender—but this one was certainly impressive, as Edwards contorts his body to snag it while the defensive back waits for a ball that never reaches him. Michigan had tied the game.

In overtime, Jason Avant made a spectacular catch for Michigan’s first touchdown, but it was Edwards who sealed the deal, slanting towards the middle of the field, hauling in a pass around the 10 and racing into the endzone. Michigan stopped the Spartans and won 45-37 in three overtimes. Edwards finished with 11 catches for 189 yards and three TDs.

Looking back at the box score, I was shocked to discover that freshman Mike Hart ran for 224 yards. In the highlight reel in my head, every Michigan gain is a bomb from Henne to Edwards. Can you blame me?

In the Big House, a beautiful afternoon can quickly turn into a chilly evening. (Credit:ThatsHowIRoll)

I still enjoy watching those highlights. Mike Tirico, an Ann Arbor guy, rises to the occasion and brings great energy, despite one of the other announcers constantly questioning the referees when they rule in favor of Michigan.

But what I remember most about this game was that it lasted fours hours and 31 minutes, ending at 8:11. Before that game I had never considered what happened when Michigan had 3:30 kick-offs; the answer was of course temporary lights.

I also remember thinking that Edwards had a legitimate shot at winning the Heisman Trophy that year (he finished 10th; 9th if you don’t count Reggie Bush). He was, simply put, a man among boys. What he was doing didn’t even seem fair. The defensive backs trying to cover him looked like dwarves.

I remember noticing Henne lock his eyes on Edwards basically as soon as they broke the huddle, and never looking anywhere else as he dropped back and eventually released the ball. This probably hurt Henne at times during his sophomore season—he sometimes seemed to forget how to scan his available receivers. That is of course a small criticism in what was a remarkable four-year career, and speaks a lot towards Edwards’ impact.

Finally, I’ll remember that walk home after the game. I was still freezing, but I didn’t really care anymore. I had just witnessed one of the greatest sporting events of my life.

One man's writing in one place.