What a beautiful Saturday it was yesterday. Let's just keep it sunny and 75 for the next 5 months, and we'll all be much happier. Eli and I went down to Ole Miss for the Grove Bowl, which was obviously much more interesting than usual, what with Ed Orgeron's coaching debut, and all the recent talk about a potential buyout in the Ole Miss/Memphis series.
What did I see? Good question--on the field, I still contend Ole Miss has a long way to go. Micheal Spurlock threw several very impressive passes, but he also threw in a number of average to below average ones. It has to be a positive for Ole Miss that he seemed to have developed a real connection with Taye Biddle--Biddle caught two touchdown passes from Spurlock on the day. Biddle did have a drop, though, as did a couple of receivers. Still, I think the receivers will contribute quite a bit this year--Biddle and Mike Espy, especially. The biggest problem with Spurlock's performance was his refusal to run the ball when he had open field in front of him--he would wait and wait and wait some more, only to complete a pass of just a few yards. In almost every case, he would have gotten more yardage running the ball. Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone has to be a little concerned about the indecision. The offensive line is still in need of a LOT of work--Michael Oher, where are you? Because of that, the running game was just sort of there--I think Jamal Pittman is the 1st choice at RB, though. He had several impressive runs and I would expect that if he stays healthy, he will beat out Voshon Pearson for the job. Hard to say this early.
Defensively, the Rebels were up and down--I saw some positive things on the D-line, where they got penetration and snuffed out outside running on a regular basis. Clearly, it is an area close to Ed Orgeron's heart, since he was the defensive line coach at USC. The linebackers are getting better, I think, and will be improved by the time Labor Day rolls around. The secondary did not look great, honestly, but I think the secondary is always one of the toughest areas to judge in spring football, because of the general inconsistency of the passing game.
Here's my pal Michael Wallace's take on the Grove Bowl. Michael will be on the show Tuesday to wrap up the Grove Bowl and get into the topic of the Memphis/Ole Miss series--will it be bought out?
Speaking of that, I can give you a little preview of that very topic, as we talked extensively about it in the press box during the game. Michael has reviewed each of Ole Miss' football contracts (he does so from time to time to check on where they stand), and he said the Memphis series only is contracted until the year 2007 (not 2011 as some have said). He also said the buyout would only apply for each of the road games of the series. The comparison between that scenario and the scenario that would apply for a buyout of all games between now and 2011 (as we've discussed on the show, and as George Lapides originally reported) is striking. Under the 2011 scenario, every game would be bought out, at $200,000 a pop, for a total of $1 million. Under the scenario Michael Wallace laid out after reviewing the contracts themselves, only the 2007 Liberty Bowl game would have to be bought out, for just $200,000.
I haven't seen the contracts, so I don't know which scenario would apply if Ole Miss wanted to buy out the series--it should be noted that there is a 4 year, $800,000 discrepancy to account for (between the scenarios), and I hope it can be cleared up soon. Michael saw the contracts, so I'm inclined to believe him.
However, the most important point Michael passed along is that no one he's spoken to, including Ole Miss AD Pete Boone, has expressed any interest at all in ending the series prematurely. None at all. He said, rightly, that Ole Miss sees it as almost a home game--there are so many Rebel fans in Memphis that the Liberty Bowl is the friendliest road stadium they could possibly play in. Michael also mentioned that he doesn't think Ed Orgeron has much pull at all in scheduling games, so the scenario where Orgeron would add Tulane or some other bayou school to enhance his recruiting prospects down there seems farfetched.
We'll talk to him Tuesday and try to clear this whole thing up.
After the Grove Bowl, I went to the Hoop Summit down at the Forum. The US beat the World 106-98. Jim Masilak (or Jim Maslik, according to his media pass last night) has his report here. If you read my earlier post on the subject, you know how I feel about some of the kids. I feel vindicated that the two kids I pointed out for special praise (Tyler Hansbrough and Martell Webster) were the two most impressive players on the court. Maybe I should start a 900 number like Weinberger next...
Or not. Hansbrough played exactly like he practiced, which is to say he works his ass off. I think he's going to be very good at North Carolina next season--he has the right attitude and understands the kind of player he is. Martell Webster might go pro--he's got a pro body already. He showed me tremendous vision in the Hoop Summit game--his shooting and smarts I knew about, but he threw a number of great passes last night. He's a solid kid.
What may turn out to be a little bit of a controversy was J.P. Prince's playing time. Jason Smith wrote an article on the subject for this morning's CA. J.P. might as well have not been there. He played about five minutes and recorded pretty much nothing on the statsheet. The belligerent fan referred to in Jason' article was sitting next to Eli and his wife throughout the night--I sat down and caught the last 3-4 minutes of his tirade. I don't blame the guy at all. Tom Diener is a good coach and a nice enough guy, but to play Prince for just 5 useless minutes in his hometown was asinine. This was not a real game, Tom. It was an exhibition--yeah, J.P. Prince was a little overmatched out there, sure--it was readily apparent in practice and in a scrimmage. Diener took this thing so seriously (as you may have read in my last post) that he did not want to play J.P. for fear of losing. That was ridiculous.
It was nice to see Matt Devlin last night--Matt's the TV play by play voice of the Charlotte Bobcats. I'm glad he's doing well, because he's a great guy.
One other thing--way to give up, Timberwolves! Losing to Atlanta was a stroke of true brilliance. There is no better way to completely roll over on your season than to lose to a team that had lost its previous 14 in a row and was 1-27 over the last 28 games. Kevin McHale may literally choke a reporter out later this week. If Minnesota doesn't make the playoffs (and they won't), I think it will be the first time in NBA history that both Western Conference finalists from the previous year didn't even make the playoffs.
Those are your culprits. Either way, the Grizzlies' magic number is now just two.