Archive for January, 2009

Size & speed make Panthers a playoff threat

January 26, 2009

With all area high-school basketball teams deep into their district schedules, the playoff contenders have started to rise to the surface. 

In summary – the Navarro boys and Marion girls seem to be virtual locks to make the post-season, and are currently in the driver’s seats to win their respective district championships.  The Navarro girls have three district losses, but will have chances to avenge close defeats to Karnes City and Nixon-Smiley in the coming weeks, so they’re still in the picture.  The Marion boys have to put a serious rally together to get in, and both Seguin teams are out of contention.

I want to talk about the Navarro boys, since I just saw them dismantle Karnes City 63-41 on Friday.  This was a close game at halftime, but the Panthers tightened the screws on the Badgers defensively in the second half, Zach Hernandez found his shooting touch, and it turned into a blowout quickly.   In fact, Navarro coach Bob Ermel said after the game that his team turned in “the best defensive effort since I’ve been at Navarro” in the second half. 

Coach Ermel once again has a nice blend of size and athleticism to throw at opponents.  The Panthers lost two skilled big men in Clayton Warren and Wes Ply off last year’s team that went two rounds deep in the playoffs, but the improvement of the returning players and their replacements has mostly made up for those losses. 

Of course, it all starts with Hernandez, who continues to be a scoring machine and also has remarkable court vision – he can thread the needle with no-look passes in transition or in a half-court set.  Forward A.K. Williams, always smooth and athletic, has added bulk to his frame and mixes a nice mid-range jumper with his ability to attack the rim.  His ball-handling skills have improved, so he’s a tough matchup for anybody assigned to guard him.  Will Valdez continues to be Will Valdez – a rock-solid, athletic defensive stopper who can run the floor, finish the fast-break, and make smart decisions with the ball.  The new additions to the starting lineup – Tyler O’Brien and Cameron Kallies – are both strong, physical defenders in the paint, and Kallies is a force on the backboards.  He’s just one of those players who has a natural instinct for rebounding – does a great job putting a body on his man and going after the ball, and he’s got great hands.  Once Kallies corrals a rebound, it isn’t getting stripped away by another player.

So we’re talking about a team with a great point-guard and a surrounding cast of tall, versatile, athletic players at the other positions.  They play hard, they share the ball, and they defend.  Sounds like a team poised for a playoff run to me.


The Diminutive Dozen…

January 10, 2009

…that’s my new nickname for the Big 12, because the conference was anything but “big” during college football’s bowl season. 

Oh sure…the three teams from the North Division (Mizzou, Nebraska, Kansas) beat their unranked or fringe-Top-25 opponents in lesser bowls.  But with all apologies to resident Jayhawk Sennett Rockers, those aren’t the games anybody paid attention to in judging the conference’s national merit this season.

The four teams who spent significant time ranked in the top 10 in 2008 come from the South Division, and their performance in bowl games delivered a resounding thud. 

The South went 1-3 in bowls.  Oklahoma State lost by 11 to a team from the allegedly inferior Pac-10.  Texas Tech got blown out by Ole Miss (suddenly making Florida’s loss to the Rebels look much more respectable than UT’s loss to Tech).  Texas won the Fiesta Bowl, but had to come from behind in a squeaker over an Ohio State team with a one-dimensional, pedestrian offense from that pedestrian conference known as the Big 10.  The Texas blowout we all expected never materialized. 

Then there’s Oklahoma.  The Sooners made a respectable showing against Florida in the BCS title game & would have been in great position to win the darn thing had they not failed to come away with any points on two trips inside the Gator 10-yard line in the first half.  It was still a 14-14 game in the fourth quarter before Florida pulled away for a 24-14 win.

But the pundits from the Deep South were correct in their assessment that OU’s record setting offense would stumble against a “real” defense from the SEC.  After scoring 60+ points in five straight games against Big-12 competition, OU was held to 14 by the Gators.  That says as much about the defensive ineptitude of the Texas Techs, Oklahoma States, and Missouris of the world as it does about the prowess of the Florida defense. 

Overall, the Big-12 did finish a respectable 4-3 in bowl games, but the highly ranked teams from the South who played in the national spotlight went 1-3 and were two minutes away in Glendale from going 0-4. 

So for now, I’m calling my favorite conference the Diminutive Dozen.  They can be the Big-12 again when they show me a little bit more in January.