Navy’s streak of eight consecutive bowls is over. But with Thanksgiving on the horizon, it’s time to give thanks for the streak that was and look for positives amid its end.
1. Army-Navy has its own day
I wasn’t always a fan of the decision to move Army-Navy back one week. I worried about being one week colder in the stands; about Navy having one week less prep time/healing time for the bowl game; and about my brother, whose wedding anniversary is the once-safe Dec. 12.
The move sure looks smart this year. Even with the recent, and welcome, surge in patriotism in our country, I’m not liking the chances that Army-Navy would get the attention it deserves if it were on the same day as the SEC championship, the Big Ten championship, the ACC championship and, this year at least, a couple pretty compelling Big 12 games (Texas-Baylor and Oklahoma-Oklahoma State).
2. Navy has basketball teams
There is much new energy around the Navy men’s and women’s basketball teams this season. The Navy men’s team appears back to the defense-and-rebounding-first approach that made Patriot League games fun to watch (and somewhat winnable) under Don DeVoe. The women’s team is coming off an historic season with an NCAA tournament berth.
I lost Navy men’s and women’s basketball on my radar in recent years. It was still football season into late December with the bowl, then bowl recovery/analysis/handwringng/celebratory hangover. So by the time I turned attention to hoops, Navy usually had a sub-.500 record from nonconference games and lacrosse was dipping its toes into the frigid outdoors for preseason workouts.
It’s time to be reintroduced to Navy basketball and the excellent Pete Medhurst on the radio play-by-play.
3. The streak that was
How great was that eight-year bowl streak? The long drive against New Mexico. Slotback Frank Divis’s passes against New Mexico. Reggie Campbell’s touchdowns against Colorado State. The Navy defense going head-to-head against Matt Ryan of Boston College. The Navy offense going head-to-head against BJ Raji of Boston College. The successful onside kick in the final minute against Utah. For a D.C. native like myself, even the bowl game at RFK Stadium was enormous fun. The crushing win over Missouri.
And I still haven’t forgiven Mike Leach for the cheap touchdown celebration Texas Tech did in the fourth quarter of the 2003 bowl game. (What ever happened to Leach? Oh, wait a minute…)
So the bowl streak is over. And the CIC trophy streak. Neither was going to last forever! One streak that will resume next year is the streak of our enjoyment of Navy football continues. Maybe this dip will make all of us a little more hungry, a little more focused.
“Let us learn to appreciate there will be times when the trees will be bare,” Anton Chekov wrote, “and look forward to the time when we may pick the fruit.”
Thanks to my terrible work ethic, the M.O. for this blog over the last year or so has been for me to comment on things about a month after everyone stops caring (Man, the Casey Anthony verdict is making my Twitter timeline unreadable! And can you believe the U.S. women lost to Sweden?). But I can’t move on to other things without mentioning a few items of varying levels of interest, so let’s do that first.
LACROSSE: Obviously, item #1 on the docket is the hiring of Rick Sowell as the new lacrosse coach. Sowell comes to Navy by way of Stony Brook, where he went 47-26 over five seasons. The Seawolves won the America East regular season the last two seasons, and won the conference tournament in 2010. Stony Brook was a respectable America East program when Sowell took over, but the 2010 season was the best in the program’s short history, earning the #8 seed in the tournament and advancing to the quarterfinals before dropping a 10-9 decision to top-seeded Virginia. Stony Brook again advanced to the America East finals in 2011 before losing a heartbreaker to Hartford in the final seconds (or second, actually).
I like the hire. If Richie Meade had retired on his own terms instead of being forced to resign, I think most people would share my optimism. Unfortunately, the nature of Meade’s dismissal means that some people aren’t going to give any new coach a chance. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some legitimate questions to be asked, though. Is Sowell the kind of coach that the old-timers had in mind as they spent the last 5 years calling for Meade’s dismissal? He certainly isn’t as accomplished as Meade. He could be when all is said and done, but were the ’60s laxers expecting more of a sure thing? We’ll find out the answer when we see how long it takes for them to start complaining again. And make no mistake, they will; the kind of success that they want isn’t sustainable at many schools, let alone a service academy. Keep in mind that these guys were complaining before the struggles of the last two seasons. I’ll be happy if Sowell matches Meade’s record at Navy.
Some might question whether or not he can, but the basis for some of the criticism of the hire is unfair, in my opinion. While his record at Stony Brook was better, Sowell’s overall record is just a hair over .500 at 86-81. Not all .500 records are the same, though. Sowell took on some thankless jobs. Before taking the helm at Stony Brook, Sowell started the St. John’s program from scratch. Before that, he took over a Dartmouth program that had two winning seasons in the 16 years that preceded him. By the time he left the Big Green, he had won the Ivy League and had notched the program’s first win at Princeton since 1956. Seriously, he won the Ivy League at Dartmouth. I don’t think that can be said enough. They’ve had a steady downhill trend ever since he left. So yes, he’s about .500, but with some of the challenges he took on, that’s an accomplishment.
Everyone knows what I thought about Coach Meade’s dismissal, but none of that matters anymore. The program marches on– the Mids themselves will march on– and I’m excited to see where Coach Sowell can take them. Welcome aboard.
#@$%ING CBS: John Feinstein’s 14 years in the Navy football radio booth have come to an end. After having pitched the idea of an Army-Navy documentary for a while now, he was understandably upset when CBS decided to move forward with a documentary of their own. He says that he isn’t throwing a fit, but to watch CBS working on this documentary in front of him all year would be too much to take.
It’s a little bit like dating a girl for 10 years, getting dumped and then being invited to her wedding. I just don’t want to watch it.
It certainly does sound like a hissy fit, but I’m more than willing to give Feinstein the benefit of the doubt. One, because everyone I’ve ever talked to that knows Feinstein has nothing but nice things to say about him; and two, because I have no idea how much of a slap in the face this is professionally and can’t possibly relate to any of it. I might be a little disappointed in his decision since NAAA stood by John after he dropped an F-bomb on the air, but only a little; it wasn’t that big of a deal.
In fact, I’m actually sort of glad to see him go. I’ve never liked him on the radio. His ability to tell a story makes him a great writer (and probably would have made him a good documentarian for that matter), but that doesn’t translate much to an in-the-booth game broadcast. Yes, he’s a national media voice in a time when there aren’t many others who give a rat’s ass about the Naval Academy. On the other hand, I disagree with just about everything that comes out of his mouth on the air. I don’t know if losing Feinstein will lead to decreased interest in Navy radio broadcasts, but I do know that I’ll do less in-game yelling at people who can’t hear me, so my blood pressure likes the news.
I’m sure Feinstein will be back when he realizes how much he misses the postgame Juicy Juice benders with Socci.
THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THAT STORY: Showtime is going to air a two-hour documentary on Army-Navy!
SPEAKING OF CBS:They’ll be showing the Air Force game. That’s CBS as in CBS, not the CBS Sports Network as usual. That’s a big deal, but the cherry on top is that the game is now going to be played at noon. TAILGATERS REJOICE. Seriously though, noon game on CBS? The decision to partner with CSTV instead of ESPN looks better every year. Unless the game is preempted by some garbage ACC game locally, in which case I will embark on a murderous rampage (just kidding) (or am I) (I am) (maybe).
OTHER PEOPLE’S PROBLEMS: Georgia Tech has become the latest program to be flattened by the NCAA regulatory bulldozer. OK, “flattened” might not be the best way to describe it, but the punishment includes probation, a $100K fine, and forfeiture of all 2009 wins after November 24 (including the ACC championship). The From The Rumble Seat reaction ranges from acceptance to WTF as details of the story became public. Those details can be found here.
If the punishment seems excessive, it is. Remember, though, that Georgia Tech was already on probation when all this was happening, so any violations that happen during the probationary period are going to deliver an extra dose of boomshakalaka. Still, I don’t know if forfeiting Tech’s ACC championship makes sense. The school plans to appeal, and while it will probably be denied like most appeals are in the new NCAA process, that doesn’t mean that they don’t have a point. The NCAA forces a forfeiture of wins when it finds that ineligible players were used in these contests. While they did find that one of the two investigated players received “preferential treatment” by being given $312 worth of clothes from his cousin’s roommate, the NCAA did not say that either player was ineligible in its report. If either player was in fact ineligible, the NCAA should have made that clear. If they did not determine that the players were ineligible, then Tech shouldn’t have to forfeit any wins. As for the rest of the penalties, meh.
I bring it up because Paul Johnson’s connection might be of some interest to Navy fans. His involvement in all of this is apparently that 1) he was told of the investigation when he shouldn’t have been, and 2) he then told the players in question. I know, rules are rules, but if I was in Johnson’s position I don’t think I would have done anything differently; coaches make their living in part by earning the trust of teenagers. Keeping something like this from them might feel like a betrayal of that trust, and I suspect that part of the reason why the NCAA doesn’t want coaches to know about investigations like this is for the coach’s sake. Still, if it is normal practice for schools to suspend players pending the result of inquiries into their eligibility, how can anyone not know what is happening? That sort of lets the cat out of the bag, doesn’t it? Someone explain it to me.
Anyway, for his part Coach Johnson has been pretty quiet on the subject LOL NO HE’S NOT.
WHAT REALLY SHOULD BE AN NCAA VIOLATION: Army’s duck-hunter uniforms from 2008 were certainly a violation of something. The all-camo getup against VMI had a little more to offer in gimmicky appeal, but didn’t exactly raise the bar aesthetically. Hopefully Nike takes a different direction with the Pro Combat unis they’ll be giving Army and Navy this year.
IN OTHER SERVICE ACADEMY NEWS: Troy Calhoun’s solution for graduation rates? Bribery!
NIUMAT’S CONTRACT EXTENSION: It was really just a down payment for a plane ticket to Guam.
FEINSTEIN’S DREAM DEFERRED: John will have to wait another 15 years for the Navy-Notre Dame series to end. I don’t think he’ll mind playing Marshall, though.
My blog is sort of like the chicken pox virus: causes itchy bumps, then lays dormant for years before stress causes another painful breakout that can only be treated with herpes medication. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. If you’re institutionalized and miss the pain, though, don’t forget that you can find me on Twitter even when this place is gathering dust.
Navy bounced back after a very disappointing loss to Army, beating American at Bender Arena for the first time since the Eagles joined the Patriot League, 77-66.
It was an ugly game, with both teams shooting less than 40% from the floor. Navy was horribly, horribly outrebounded in the game; combine that with a 9-26 night from beyond the arc, and you have a game that not too long ago would have resulted in a Navy blowout loss. Not last night, though. Navy finally had an answer for a cold shooting night: team defense, taking care of the ball, and getting Greg Sprink to the free throw line. Sprink scored 36 points, including 17-18 from the line. Chris Harris pitched in 15. The two of them also combined for 6 steals. Navy had only 8 turnovers compared to American’s 17, helping to offset the extra posessions that AU got from their dominance on the glass.
Navy’s rebounding has cost them in the past, and will cost them again in the future. But taking care of the ball and finding a way to score when the 3-pointers aren’t falling makes this a much better basketball team.
Navy 77, American University 66 (Navy Player Stats)
Army’s defensive plan was simple: stop Greg Sprink at all costs. Whenever Navy’s best player touched the ball, he was met with a double-team. Navy probably would have done a lot better if they employed a similar strategy with Jarell Brown. Brown, Army’s only real scoring threat, scored 35 points, including the game-winning basket, to lead Army to a 69-67 win over the Mids at Alumni Hall. The loss dropped Navy to 2-3 in the Patriot League and kept them from pulling within a game of conference leader Lafayette, who lost to Lehigh on Saturday night. The Leopards are now tied with Bucknell for the top spot in the league.
Army started the game with an 11-0 run as Navy came out and looked lost. Once the Mids settled down, though, they started to play some good basketball. If there is anything positive to take from this game, it’s that other players stepped up when Army went after Sprink. In the first half, Adam Teague’s 3-pointers and steals helped the Mids to dig out of their early deficit and actually take a lead into the half. In the second half, Mark Veazey came out on fire, scoring points underneath the basket, blocking shots, and making some tough rebounds. Chris Harris added 20 points and 5 assists, although he was only 5-18 from the field. And despite Army’s efforts, Sprink actually had a decent game statistically, scoring 20 himself while pulling down 6 rebounds. While Army’s defense couldn’t stop Greg Sprink from scoring, they did force him into 7 turnovers. Greg tried to fight through double-teams to force fouls and get to the free throw line, but too often he came in out of control and gave up the ball. Army’s defense, though, wasn’t the cause of his biggest gaffe of the night. Sprink took a pass after a steal at half-court and missed what appeared to be some kind of hot-dogging, rim-rocking, wide-open dunk attempt. Navy actually got the offensive rebound, but the Black Knights got a steal and wound up with a 3-point play on the other end. The resulting 5-point swing may have been the difference in the game.
I can sympathize with Greg Sprink. I can imagine what he was thinking. This was Navy’s biggest rival in an important Patriot League game, but you’d never have known that by listening to the crowd– especially the Brigade. They were dead. But if Greg could pull off that dunk, maybe he could have shot some excitement into the Mids. Maybe he could have brought the crowd into the game. And a play like that can be demoralizing for the other team; maybe it would have broken Army’s back. At the very least, maybe whipping the crowd into a frenzy would have forced Jim Crews to call a timeout or something. Unfortunately, none of those “maybes” were more important than the actual 2 points.
Even with that 5-point swing, it was still a tie game inside of a minute to play. Army had the ball, and everyone in the building– well, those who were paying attention to the game, anyway– knew who was going to get the ball. Why, then, did Billy Lange put Greg Sprink, with his four fouls, on Jarell Brown? Greg couldn’t contest Brown’s shot because if he fouled out, Navy would be without their best player in a potential game-winning or tying situation. And as Brown drove down the right side, nobody slid off of their man to help out. Brown’s game-winning shot was a way-too-easy layup.
Navy has had significant second-half leads in each of its three Patriot League losses. With Billy Lange’s 3-point-happy offense, Navy can race out ahead of anyone. Unfortunately, it also means that anyone can come back to beat Navy as soon as the shots stop falling. Playing up-tempo and shooting 3s might not be the best way to handle situations where you want to limit the other team’s posessions. I’m on board with the basics of Lange’s offense. I wasn’t at the beginning of the year, but Chris Harris has stepped up as a scoring threat to take pressure off of Greg Sprink. Now Lange has to draw something up to help his team hold on to the leads they build.
You may not have noticed, but basketball season has started. Tucked in behind all the hoopla surrounding football season are the first reports from practice, and notes from Patriot League media day. Make sure you’re checking Pete Medhurst’s blog, and as usual you can rely on Hoop Time to keep you up-to-date on what’s happening around the conference. Ron Snyder takes his first look at the Navy basketball team here.
I desperately want to share Pete’s optimism about this year’s team, but I just can’t. The preseason poll of league coaches and SIDs picked Navy to finish 7th, ahead of only Lafayette. Right now, I’m inclined to agree. Navy has as many (or more) questions surrounding it as any other team in the Patriot League.
Filling In The Gaps: A lot of the high hopes that people have for this year’s Navy team are probably left over from the end of last season. Navy never exactly looked good once it entered the Patriot League half of the schedule, but they did have a short stretch towards the end when they won 3 out of 4. Calvin White was the only senior on the team, so out of the 1854 points that Navy scored last season, the players who scored 1852 of them were all coming back. With the graduation losses that other schools in the conference were facing, Navy looked like it was ready to not only make a run at finishing in the top half of the league this year, but perhaps be a dark horse candidate to win it all.
Then came the exodus. Corey Johnson left the team to play football. Trey Stanton transferred to Rice. Bobby Fenske made his way to Westmont College after a layover in Colorado. Johnson and Stanton started all year, while Fenske started 10 of the last 12 games. When the dust settled, what was going to be a veteran squad had turned into a rebuilding project.
It’s debatable how much the loss of Johnson and Fenske really hurts. Johnson was a Patriot League All-Rookie team selection at point guard in 2005, but never really seemed to progress since then. He was injured for half of the following season, and despite starting all 30 games last year his numbers didn’t match his freshman campaign. In terms of sheer statistical production, Derek Young can probably do as much. Johnson’s defensive contributions might be harder to replace. Fenske was considered a prize recruit after initially committing to Air Force, only to be turned away due to non-existent asthma. A 6-8 forward who can shoot, Fenske could have developed into a nice player. As far as this year goes, though, shooting forwards aren’t exactly in short supply. There really isn’t that much difference between Fenske and Adam Teague, T.J. Topercer, and Scott Brooks. Well, except that Teague is more experienced, Topercer is more willing to bang around underneath the basket, and Brooks is far more athletic. Navy would be better off with Johnson and Fenske on the team, but they probably aren’t irreplaceable. Nevertheless, that assumption has yet to be proven.
Trey Stanton is a different story. A 6-3 guard trapped in a 6-10 body, Stanton’s skillset is unusual for players of his size. He was never really comfortable as a post player last year, and this year he wouldn’t have had to be. With the addition of what Billy Lange calls “traditional centers” in Mark Veazey and Jeremy Wilson, Stanton would have been free to create matchup problems on the perimeter all year while the two plebes took care of the grunt work inside. Stanton would also have been the one player in the conference who could match up defensively (at least on paper) with Holy Cross center Tim Clifford, who stands at 6-11 but isn’t afraid to take the outside shot. Stanton was a Patriot League All-Rookie selection last year and had tremendous potential. With him, Billy Lange could have put 4 players on the court at 6-9 or taller this year without sacrificing perimeter shooting too much. Without him, Navy loses an opportunity to be one of the more unique physical matchups in the Patriot League.
Misleading: Something else that feeds optimism about the outlook for this year is the fact that Navy led the Patriot League in 3-pointers made last season. Don’t be fooled. The teams that finished 1-2 in 3-pointers made last year, Navy and Lafayette, were the two teams at the bottom of the conference. If you want stats that reflect the league standings, look at defense and rebounding margin.
Plebe Pressure: Have you ever seen so much pressure put on two plebes going into a season? Navy had serious problems last year with rebounding (on both ends of the court), scoring underneath the basket, and defense. Apparently the answer to all of these problems is supposed to be Mark Veazey and Jeremy Wilson. That’s a lot to ask of a couple of freshmen. While nobody would ever claim that the Patriot League is a big man’s conference, it’s tough to rely on freshman post players in any league. Veazey and Wilson are tall, but they haven’t exactly filled out. Wilson is 6-9, 233, and Veazey is a beanpole at 6-10, 215. Are they strong enough to hold their ground? And yes, I am aware of Ben Biles, but up to this point he hasn’t shown much ability to do anything other than be tall. Any production out of him this year would be a bonus.
The hope here is that the addition of Veazey and Wilson will allow Navy to match up better defensively with other teams. If Navy can abandon the matchup zone that they’ve played for the last couple of years and go back to being a man-to-man team, then they should be in better position to grab rebounds. If that’s the extent of what Billy Lange wants to do with them, then the two freshmen just might be able to handle that. But if that’s the case…
Sprink Pressure: …then somebody– anybody— has to step up as a consistent scoring threat alongside Greg Sprink. The “Vegas” offense looked great in the non-conference schedule until coaches figured out that all it took to stop it was to guard Greg Sprink. As the season progressed, Sprink was forcing shots because nobody else on the team could score. Someone needs to get the pressure (and the defense) off of Greg so he can be more selective with his shots. So who can do it? We don’t want to ask too much of the big freshmen. Kaleo Kina has shown the ability to create his own shots at times, but he dribbles the ball off of his own foot just as often. If he learns to play under control, he’s probably the best bet. If T.J. Topercer can bring a Matt Fannin-style inside game to match his outside shooting ability, then he’d be a legitimate scoring threat. Or maybe a streaky shooter like Chris Harris can find some consistency. That’s a lot of “ifs” and “maybes,” though, and we haven’t seen more than brief flashes of scoring out of anyone other than Sprink.
Crunch Time: Is Billy Lange coaching for his job this year? Chet has had a fairly short leash with other coaches that weren’t competitive in the Patriot League. Despite the wins in the non-conference portion of the schedule, Navy hasn’t been a factor in the conference for quite some time. I like Billy Lange, and I have no doubt that the team is better now than it was when Lange took over. But considering that the team was possibly the worst in Division I at the end of the DeVoe era, that isn’t saying much. With the way that DeVoe mailed it in at the end, anyone with Lange’s energy was bound to improve the team at least a little bit. Has the team reached a plateau, or can they take the next step and finish in the top half of the conference? This is Lange’s 4th year, the time when coaches are usually expected to produce results. Navy has won 7 Patriot League games in the last two seasons combined. If they are unable to at least match that number this year alone, then I think Chet will make a move.
(That is, if NAAA can afford to. With Paul Johnson’s (well deserved) salary, the money to lure a proven head coach might not be there. That’s life when football pays the bills, and it might be Lange’s saving grace if Navy struggles again this season.)
And Finally: The most productive all-around player returning to the Patriot League this year is Greg Sprink. The most exciting player might be Army’s Jarell Brown. So who gets named Patriot League Preseason Player of the Year? Neither. That distinction goes to Holy Cross center Tim Clifford.
In case you were wondering, Sprink was ranked higher than Clifford last year in scoring, rebounding, and assists. In conference games, Clifford had more rebounds than Sprink, although Sprink still averaged more per game on the defensive glass. Sprink led the conference with 17.9 ppg in Patriot League play last year, and is the league’s highest-ranked returning 3-point shooter.
That’s what Lehigh athletic director Joe Sterrett has to say about head basketball coach Billy Taylor’s decision to accept the head coaching position at Ball State. Coaching searches are never easy when you start less than a month before classes begin. It’s a tough blow to a team that’s returning four starters next year.
The Ball State saga, you might recall, involved the resignation of Ronny Thompson after it was discovered that he attended voluntary offseason workouts (an NCAA violation) and lied about it afterwards. Then it got uglier, with Thompson’s lawyer claiming that he left not because of the NCAA investigation, but because of a “racially hostile work environment.” Thompson’s concerns apparently didn’t phase Taylor. I bet Joe Sterrett wishes that they did.
As Hoop Time points out, it was always assumed that Taylor would take off sooner or later, although I doubt anyone guessed it would happen in the middle of August. Now the search for someone else’s bad timing begins.
UPDATE: The search ends as Lehigh stays in-house, promoting Brett Reed.