A Poor Argument at Best: Shaughnessy on Jeter

A case was made at Sports of Boston over the weekend for the Red Sox pursuing New York Yankees’ iconic shortstop Derek Jeter, given the free agent’s unsuccessful contract negotiations with his former team. The argument seems to have gained some sway amongst the Boston sports media, as Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy wrote in Tuesday’s edition that the Red Sox should offer him a contract, and a big one at that. His reason: “to bust pinstripe chops for all the ages.” But, as with most things Shaughnessy, the minutiae of his argument do not hold up under scrutiny.

Hurting the Fans, not the Franchise

Shaughnessy is almost correct that, should the Red Sox sign Jeter, “the damage to the Yankees’ psyche would be inestimable.” He’s missing a key word, and that word is “fans.” Yankees fans would be incredibly dismayed to find their superstar heading to their rival team. But the team itself? Maybe not so much. Brian Cashman and the Steinbrenners have mad it abundantly clear that if Jeter can find the kind of money he’s asking for elsewhere, he should go ahead and take it. If the Red Sox give him the six-year, $150 million contract he wants, the Yankees ownership group will wash their hands and call it a fiscally sound move to let the shortstop go. The fans will be mad, but no organization runs itself at the often capricious whims of the fans. Not the Yankees, and certainly not the Red Sox, who have shown repeatedly that they will not budge on their fiscal plans just to keep popular players. And when (not “if”) Jeter starts to struggle, even Yankees fans will start feeling better about their team’s decision.

The Potential for Disaster

Shaughnessy also says, “there is simply no downside to making Jeter a massive offer. In the worst-case scenario he calls your bluff and you get the Yankees captain. I don’t care if Jeter is way past his prime or if the Sox would have to wildly overpay a player of his diminished skills.” Well, that’s actually a huge downside, which Sports of Boston’s KC Downey makes clear in his argument. Jeter, who will turn 37 next June, is already showing serious signs of decline. His RBIs have dropped each of the last three years, while his strikeout total has gone up. His batting average dropped 60 points between 2009 and 2010. Defensively, it’s more of the same. His putouts have dropped each of the last three years, as has his range factor. He is, in short, getting old. Should the Red Sox make Jeter a big offer, what’s more likely: that the Yankees top it or that they pull their offer entirely? If the latter happens, the Red Sox will be stuck with an almost unmovable player being paid so much they can’t fix the real problems they have (bullpen depth, third base). As a comparison, ask yourself this: who looked better after Pedro Martinez signed with the New York Mets? If Jeter can’t help the Red Sox win or, even worse, becomes a true liability, the Red Sox won’t have the last laugh just because they stole a key player. That honor will belong to the Yankees.

Where Would Jeter Play?

Finally, there is the problem that the Red Sox already have not one but two major-league caliber shortstops on their team. On that situation, Shaugnessy simply says, “Jeter could play third. Or you could trade Marco Scutaro and put Jeter at short.” Really? Jeter could play third? According to who? Jeter has never played third base in the majors. To repeat: not once in 2,274 games has Jeter ever played third base. And even if he could, that transition would mean a huge power downgrade from the 2009 season at that position, and you’d have to find it elsewhere, since Scutaro isn’t a power shortstop (that era has ended). Trading Scutaro for a power-hitting third baseman (or conceivably a first baseman) is an option, but you’d still have Jed Lowrie to worry about. At some point, the Red Sox will have to decide whether Lowrie is in their long-term plans, and they’ll never learn that until he finally gets a full season in the majors. If you sign Jeter, you either have to play him at a position he’s never played, or you have to sit Lowrie behind another shortstop who’ll be on the Red Sox for probably five more years. By that point, all of Lowrie’s potential will have been completely wasted.

Shaughnessy Being Shaughnessy

There is always the chance with Shaughnessy that he’s being facetious. He often comes off as phony in his articles, the tone he writes with sounding contrived, not genuine. When he says things like “forget about Jayson Werth,” you start to get the feeling that he’s just blowing smoke. There’s also a questionable use of the Spanish word for soccer in his depiction of Red Sox’s egregious spending habits. To use the term “futbol,” then give it emphasis, suggests that soccer’s popularity among Hispanic people somehow diminishes the decision to buy an English Premier League team. Did Shaughnessy do any research on the profitability of these teams? EPL players make very good salaries, so the league must be doing pretty well. It’s quite likely that with John Henry’s business savvy, New England Sports Ventures will make back its initial investment. And besides, last time anyone checked, “béisbol” is pretty popular too.

The bottom line is that offering Jeter any kind of competitive salary would be a mistake, simply on the grounds that Boston might actually get Jeter. And Shaughnessy’s final argument, that Jeter would make Red Sox games less boring, is as flawed as the rest of his points. Jeter is arguably one of the most professional, straightforward, undramatic, boring baseball players in history. How would signing him make the Red Sox more exciting? If you’re going to make an argument, Dan, make it right. Otherwise, don’t waste our time.

How to Be a Badger

Up until now, the Wisconsin Badgers have gone un-analyzed on the hallowed URLs of Goose’s Gabs. The main reason: an inability to remain impartial in analysis. But now the season is over. The Baders went 11-1 and tied for the Big Ten championship. Barring a completely unexpected change in voting patterns, Wisconsin will go to the Rose Bowl. Should they win, they will likely start the 2011 season on the inside-track to play for the BCS Championship. The question is, “how did they get there?” What changed between the 2009 and 2010 seasons that catapulted the Badgers from the Champs Sports Bowl to the Rose Bowl? The answer is four-fold:

1) Big-Game Wins: In 2009, Wisconsin lost consecutive games to Ohio State and Iowa. In 2010, they won both those games, including against a Buckeyes team ranked #1 in the country at the time. Wisconsin needed to show it can win the big game, and it did. Their win over Ohio State gave them a tie-breaker in the Big Ten, and it showed coaches nationwide that this team was for real. This victory makes it incredibly unlikely for Ohio State to leap-frog Wisconsin, since every coach knows that the Badgers beat the Buckeyes at the height of their power, and soundly at that (31-18). The win against Iowa showed that when it matters, Scott Tolzien could lead his team to victory. On Wisconsin’s game-winning fourth quarter drive, Tolzien was 3/5 for 23 yards, twice converting on third or fourth down. He also rushed for 5 yards. The Badgers had some huge victories this year, beating Ohio State, Iowa and Michigan for the first time in over 50 years. These high-pressure victories hopefully prepared them for their likely Rose Bowl showdown with TCU, a team better than maybe any they’ve faced before. But the Badgers know they can play well under pressure, and they should have plenty of confidence going into their final game.

2) Professional Mentality: Despite the Badgers’ consecutive losses last season, they were still in contention up through Week 10. Then they played Northwestern, and it all went to hell. The Badgers got cocky and assumed they’d walk over an un-ranked Wildcats team. They were wrong, and what might have at least been the Capital One or Outback Bowl became something even less important, if that were at all possible. This year, the Badgers have not made any mental errors. They have approached each game with an appropriate degree of concern and preparation. When they fell behind against Iowa, the defense stepped up and let the offense win it. But against lesser teams like Austin Peay, Minnesota and Northwestern, they jumped out to early leads. But instead of getting complacent, the Badgers kept their feet on the throttle in all three games. Some might accuse Brett Bielema of running up the score. A counter-argument is that he was making sure the other team had no chance of a comeback. How many times have even NFL teams built a large lead, relax their game plan, then see it all evaporate? Every Badgers game was played for a full 60 minutes, and the result was 11 wins, the only loss coming to an MSU team that currently sits at #8 on the BCS chart. And even in that game they played turnover-free football. They just couldn’t capitalize on the Spartans’ errors.

3) Balanced Running Attack: The running corps of John Clay, Montee Ball and James White has to be one of the best running trios in college football history. The three have combined for over 2,800 yards and 44 touchdowns. There is also great balance between the three. The difference between White, the Badgers’ highest-rushing running back, and Ball, their lowest, is just 165 yards, and Ball actually has the most touchdowns, at 17. In 2009, the difference between Clay and Ball, the next-highest rusher, was 14 touchdowns and over 1,100 yards. The addition of White has turned a lopsided running attack into a dynamic trio that don’t tire because they’re almost interchangeable. Clay may declare for the draft (so as not to risk another season marred by injury), but the Badgers have laid the foundation for a strong running program for years to come.

4) Understanding Tolzien: The Badgers have finally figured out exactly how much to use Tolzien. He is not Cam Newton. He will likely not get drafted, if he even applies. But in short bursts, he is more than capable, especially when he has Lance Kendricks, the best tight end in the NCAA, catching passes over the middle. Generally, it’s about a 2-1 run to pass ratio, and the results are dramatic. Tolzien’s passing attempts are down 83 from 2009 to 2010, but his completion percentage has gone up 10 points, from 64.3 to a pristine 74.3 percent. Both seasons he threw for 16 touchdowns, but his interceptions were nearly halved from last year, from 11 down to just six. Some of this may be due to the improved offensive line, which cut sacks from 21 last year to just 11 this year. But more of it may be the Badgers coaches cutting down on opportunities for Tolzien to shoot himself (and the team) in the foot. Given fewer opportunities, Tolzien screws up less. Against Ohio State and Iowa last year, Tolzien threw five interceptions. This year, it was cut to just one in each game. And in those two games, Tolzien threw the ball half as often in 2010 as he did in 2009 (70 vs. 39 passing attempts). Knowing how to use your offensive weapons so as to maximize production is the key to winning, and the Badgers have found the golden mean. The end result: the fourth-best offense in the NCAA, with only Oregon ranked higher than Wisconsin while featuring a higher-scoring offense.

So there you have it: the four factors that have contributed most to the Badgers’ dominant season. They stepped up in big-games while not overlooking lower-profile games. They balanced the load between their elite running backs, who themselves were used in the correct proportion to Tolzien’s passing game to maximize scoring while minimizing risk (just nine turnovers all season). Couple all of that with an above-average defense (decent number of interceptions with 14, not so much for sacks with just 23) and you have the most balanced, complete team the Badgers have had in quite a while. The only test left will be their biggest, but seniors like Tolzien, Kendricks and wide receiver David Gilreath will do everything in their power to end their time at Wisconsin on the highest note they can.

On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin! Fight on for her fame! You all know the rest.

Patriots Week 12 Report Card

The Lions took on the Patriots under tremendous pressure. Never before had so many teams challenged Detroit for the title of “Crappiest Team in the NFL.” Carolina, Cincinatti, Buffalo, all of them seem to want the right to say THEY are the NFL’s whipping boy, the dog at the end of Michael Vick’s rape stand. But this was Thanksgiving Day, damnit! The Lions always lose on Thanksgiving Day! And they’d be damned if they were gonna let some upstart punks take that away from them. So the Patriots won… convincingly. How convincingly? That’s for my semi-arbitrary rating system to determine!

Quarterback: A+. Tom Brady posted a perfect quarterback rating, completing 77.8 percent of his passes, throwing for 341 and four touchdowns. In the second half, he missed twice. How does he not get perfect marks? Brady took some hits in the first half from a Lions defense led by the unpronounceable Ndamukong Suh, who is a rookie, so he hasn’t learned that the Lions are awful and nobody plays hard because nobody lives in Detroit or cares how they do. But once Bill Belichick figured out how to beat the pressure, Detroit’s defense got to witness the full power of the Patriots’ fully armed (but not necessarily footed) and operational passing game.

Running Back: A. I couldn’t rank them as high as Brady, but the running backs definitely handled their business Thursday. BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead combined for 91 yards on the ground, plus 28 receiving yards between Woodhead and Sammy Morris. All that, and Green-Ellis scored two touchdowns. The running game did enough to sell the Lions on play-action passes, so that alone would merit at least a B. But Green-Ellis’ first touchdown, in which he straight-up ran over Alphonse Smith (who I think would get a an F if I was grading the Lions), cleared out New England’s cobwebs. After that score, even though the Lions led by a touchdown at halftime, everyone- including the analysts- figured the Patriots would come back and win the game.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: A+. Tremendous play from the wide receivers. Twice Deion Branch (three receptions, 113 yards) schooled Smith for touchdowns. The first time, Branch slipped behind him for an easy reception, then made two terrific jukes mid-sprint to turn Smith completely around. By the time Smith caught up to Branch, he was so unbalanced all he could do was give him a light shove. The second time, Branch made two quick moves at the line, cut inside Smith, and caught the ball for an easy score. Wes Welker, meanwhile, caught eight passes for 90 yards and two touchdowns, both times barreling through tacklers. While the tight ends did not score, they caught all seven passes thrown to them, all averaging more than ten yards per reception. Sometimes receivers made great moves, other times they ran great routes. But either way, they played great.

Offensive Line: A-. Another game, another sack. This team has shown it can protect Brady for 60 minutes, now they just have to learn how to do it every time. It might be unfair to judge them so strictly, but the guards get paid a lot, mainly for their ability to protect the quarterback. So if they can’t do their job, why are they here? Anyway, a sack and two 10-yard penalties hurt the line, but only a little. The sack came on New England’s first offensive possession of the game, so they can be forgiven for the same slow start that the rest of the Patriots had. Plus, they sprang the running backs for 91 combined yards. The line also kept their cool when the Lions, depressed because they briefly felt they could actually win a game for once, started getting chippy. The late hits started flying, but no Patriot responded. No one was ejected, no one will face suspension, but no one was hurt either. The Patriots line acted like professionals, not like teenagers, and that’s to be commended.

Defensive Line: B. No sacks. No quarterback hits. 129 allowed rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns. Not the best game from the defensive line, who were completely contained by the Lions offensive line. But the Lions running and passing success didn’t really hurt the team, and the Lions were held scoreless for the last 22 minutes of the game. So give the line credit as part of a terrific second-half defense. Still, the line shouldn’t be proud of how they performed.

Linebackers: B+. Two sacks (Pierre Woods, Gary Guyton) is terrific, but the linebackers had some problems containing the running backs. Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew also had a pretty solid day, catching five balls for 67 yards, mostly over the middle. The linebackers seemed to have a hard time covering plays in the middle of the field, either on the ground or through the air. They were more integral to the victory than the defensive line, but only just. Allowing the Lions to score on three of their first five drives is unacceptable, and it was really a victory for the coaches that the Patriots were able to turn things around on both sides in the second half.

Defensive Backs: A-. Part of this grade is scaled, since the pass defense has been atrocious at points during the season. The Lions had 277 receiving yards. That’s the fourth-lowest of any opposing team this season, though oddly enough the Patriots were 1-2 before this game when they allowed fewer than 300 receiving yards (and their victory was against Buffalo, which was a pretty ugly victory). The Patriots also knocked down 11 passes, and Devin McCourty continued to improve, picking off Shaun Hill twice. McCourty returned those two picks for 73 yards, and New England scored touchdowns on both ensuing possessions. The first tied the game 17-17 and swung momentum in the Patriots’ favor, and the second put the icing on the cake, with Patriots now up 45-24 with 3:14 left in the game. The Patriots defense held Hill to just 58.7 percent accuracy, when they were allowing an average opponent accuracy of 69 percent coming into the game. It wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty darned good for this Patriots secondary. And if the offense can continue to click like it did Thursday, the defense looks like it can make just enough plays to hold leads.

Special Teams: A. This grade is also partially scaled. Shayne Graham is not Stephen Gostkowski. We’re not gonna see four or more kickoffs per game flying out the back of the end zone for touchbacks. But Graham can get the job done. He nailed all six point-after attempts and converted the one field-goal attempt. On kick offs, his kicks usually wound up inside the 5-yard line, which is serviceable. I’m a little unhappy with the Lions averaging over 27 yards per return, but it didn’t really hurt the team. And on a fourth-quarter kickoff, when Detroit had committed two dead-ball fouls, placing the ball at their 40-yard line, Graham kicked the ball through the goal posts. It was good practice for a deep field-goal situation, and it was kind of a “screw you” statement to the Lions, after they had started getting mean. Zoltan Mesko, meanwhile, averaged 51 yards on his three punts. Mesko now has the seventh best punt-return average in the NFL (6.5 yards per punt-return).

Coaching: A. Yes, the Patriots got kind of manhandled in the first half. They did not know how to account for Detroit’s pass rush, and Brady was getting beat up. But all that time, Belichick was watching and learning. At halftime, he came up with a strategy to kill the Lions’ rush, and it worked perfectly. Brady was rarely touched and never sacked in the second half, and the wide receivers and tight ends found ways to get open for four touchdowns. The Lions had no chance in the second half, and much of that can be attributed to the strong game plan devised at halftime by the coaches. The Patriots consistently outwitted the Lions, and the Lions started to get frustrated. You could tell Detroit was getting angry because they started committing penalties and going for late hits. But Belichick showed some leadership skills late in the game, convincing his players to calm down and not retaliate. Good planning, good leading, good grades.

All right, that does it for this week. The next Patriots game is Monday, December 6, versus the New York Jets. Whoever wins that will likely win the AFC East and finish the season with the best record in the conference. Both teams will have had 11 days between games, so both teams should come out raring to go. Hopefully, the Patriots will have figured out from their Week Two defeat how to beat Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez.

Shaq too Big for Nets; Celtics Rally in Boston

At a conservative 325 pounds, Shaquille O’Neal outweighs the heaviest Net player by 60 pounds. That size differential was on full display Wednesday night at the TD Garden, where the Boston Celtics defeated the New Jersey Net, 89-83. O’Neal scored 25 points (including 7-13 on free throws, three times sinking both) and grabbed 11 rebounds, and the Celtics dominated in the paint 44-28.

Second-Quarter Woes, Third-Quarter Comeback

The Celtics led 18-17 after the first quarter, thanks in part to O’Neal’s eight points, but then seemed to mentally check out of the game. The passing, usually so crisp and often mesmerizing, became sloppy. Passes went too far over players heads, or were thrown at the wrong level through traffic, causing turnovers or at least deflections. And when Celtics caught the ball, they often dropped the pass or had to just stop it with one hand to collect it. This extra second continually gave the Nets defense a chance to reset and make shots harder. The Nets also shot 68.8 percent in the second quarter, and most of their shots came via the jumper, which the Nets were happy to take. The Nets led the game at halftime, 46-38, and built their lead to as much as 48-38 with 10 minutes left in the third quarter.

In the third, the Celtics finally began to close the gap. The shots started falling, with more help from O’Neal (six points in the third quarter), and the Celtics started closing the gap with strong defense. Marquis Daniels, who played 29 minutes, blocked a shot and stole two passes in the third. The quarter ended on a no-look, behind-the-back pass to Daniels from Paul Pierce, which Daniels dunked, cutting the lead to 63-61. Daniels finished the game with just four points and three rebounds, but he was characteristic of an energetic defense that clamped down in the third and allowed the Celtics to close the gap to just two points after three quarters.

Closing Strong

The Celtics tied the game 63-63 on free throws less than two minutes into the fourth, then gave up another jump-shot to the Nets, this time by shooting guard Anthony Morrow (18 points). But O’Neal then made both free throws to tie the game 65-65. The Celtics went up for good on an O’Neal shot in the paint from Ray Allen, then started to pull away. Allen made two three-point shots to extend the lead, and Pierce put it out of reach with two consecutive 16-foot jump shots and two free throws. Allen finished the game with 15 points, seven assists and four rebounds in 40 minutes of play. Pierce finished with 18 points, four assists and five rebounds in 39 minutes of play.

West Hurt in Second

Delonte West seemed to be finding his form in the second quarter. First he started a nice passing sequence where he brought the ball up the court, fed it to Pierce, who then found Kevin Garnett (eight points, five rebounds, three steals, one blocked shot) for the easy dunk, cutting the Nets lead to 33-28. Two possessions later, West took matters into his own hands, slashing pas several Nets for a a left-handed layup. However, contact in the air pushed West off-balance, and he crashed hard to the floor, grimacing in pain. West suffered a broken wrist, and Doc Rivers said he will likely be out several weeks.

Big Man Rises to Big Stage

Wednesday was O’Neal’s second consecutive game with a double-double, and the Celtics were a different team with him on the floor. O’Neal gave the Celtics a distinct advantage in the paint, where the Nets had no one who could match-up against him. Nets center Brook Lopez (16 points, just five rebounds) seemed content to pull O’Neal out from under the basket. Lopez’s strength is his perimeter game, so O’Neal was constantly choosing between giving up a jump-shot or giving up a lay-up. O’Neal usually opted to give up the jumper, which Lopez and other Nets made, but doing so allowed him to always be in proper position to collect the rebound, which came more often than not (despite their success, New Jersey still only shot 46.3 percent). And offensively, no Net could body up with O’Neal, leading to easy layups and dunks in the paint. By the time the Nets found a way to contain O’Neal (only one field goal in the fourth), the rest of the Celtics found their shooting strokes, and the offense returned to the balanced, well-distributed style that wins games. But all of that was only possible because O’Neal carried the team for all 32 minutes he played, the most he’d played in a game since January.

39 First Quarter Points Help End Celtics Skid in Atlanta

Shaquille O’Neal won the opening tip-off. That was the last time the Atlanta Hawks and the Boston Celtics were tied. After that, it was a constant up-hill battle for the Hawks, who fell more and more behind as the Celtics starters teed off in the first quarter and the Hawks could not respond. The Celtics scored 39 points in the first quarter, building a 26-point lead more than adequate to power Boston to a 99-76 victory in Atlanta Monday night. The Hawks never got closer than 18 points after the first quarter.

Double-Double, Toil and Trouble

Three Celtics had double-doubles, each uniquely contributing to the Celtics’ first victory in two seasons against the Hawks. O’Neal scored 13 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, including three offensive rebounds. O’Neal’s upper-body presence was on full-display on one particular sequence midway through the first quarter. O’Neal pulled down an offensive rebound, then missed a layup attempt. Refusing to give up, O’Neal continued to battle under the basket for another rebound, until eventually the ball found its way to Nate Robinson, who promptly buried a three-pointer. O’Neal then dunked it to push the score to 13-3, pulled down a defensive rebound, then dunked it again before sitting down with six left in the first.

Robinson, meanwhile, continued to excel as the fill-in starting point guard. Robinson scored 16 and dished out 10 assists. He sank four three-pointers Monday, including one from 23 feet away in the first. He also nailed two consecutive treys in the third to push the lead to 85-54. Robinson came up limping after his last three-pointer and was taken out of the game. Doc Rivers later said it was just cramps, but Robinson never re-entered the game, likely because he’d already played 30 minutes and the lead was insurmountable.

Kevin Garnett had the last double-double for the Celtics, scoring 17 and rebounding 11. Garnett was also the most accurate shooter for Boston, going 8-10. The Celtics starters shot very accurately in general, hitting 68.2 percent of their shots. Hawks starters, meanwhile, shot less than 30 percent and combined for only 27 points (Celtics starters combined for 68).

While Paul Pierce did not get a double-double, he did score in double figures, knocking down 13 in 27 minutes. Pierce also had an emphatic and-1 play in the third, where he grabbed a Garnett-miss midair, got fouled and still laid it in, screaming in the process. Pierce sank his free throw, pushing the lead to 79-47.

Clicking on All Cylinders

The offense was definitely firing on all cylinders Monday, with every Celtic scoring at least two points. They also won the assist battle 26-21. The play most emblematic of their balanced attack came with 25 seconds left in the second quarter. Robinson brought the ball up the court, then dished it to Garnett, who fed it Glen Davis (seven points, five rebounds) underneath the basket. Davis dribbled it and found he had no easy shot, so he passed to Ray Allen, who then dished it to Pierce. After Pierce up-faked the three, he drove to the basket, only to get stuffed. The ball started to go out of bounds, but Garnett leaped out of nowhere to catch it and hurl it back into play. Waiting for the pass was Allen, who sank the three-pointer from the top of the arc as the shot-clock expired. The trey put the Celtics up 64-42 going into the fourth, and for all intents and purposes was the last nail in the coffin for a badly beaten Atlanta Hawks team.

Defense Does its Job

What enabled the Celtics to keep building their lead and not suffer a typical late-game meltdown was their defense. The Celtics overpowered the Hawks, grabbing 50 rebounds to the Hawks’ 30. This overpowering was also evident in the paint, where the Celtics outscored the Hawks 40-24. But even when the Celtics had a huge lead and began exclusively using reserves, the defense refused to back down. They continued to rotate, run back on turnovers to prevent fast breaks (Atlanta only scored four), and swarm when they had to. They rarely looked out of position, forcing 12 turnovers and blocking six shots, with all six coming in the second half.

Marquis Daniels (four points, four rebounds) led the way with three blocked shots, but perhaps more impressive was Delonte West (six points, three rebounds, three assists). Both of West’s blocks came in the fourth quarter against larger Hawks shooting from point-blank range. His first came against center Zaza Pachulia, where West jumped slightly prematurely but hanged in the air long enough to swat Pachulia’s shot with his left hand. His second game against shooting guard Jordan Crawford, this time going up at the same time and again blocking the shot with his outstretched left arm. West’s high-flying antics were on display on offense, too, with West leaping in the air to collect his own rebound, then sinking it, in the first quarter.

The Celtics defense limited the Hawks to just 34.6 percent overall shooting, despite using their bench for a combined 111 minutes (starters combined for 128).

Patriots Week 11 Report Card

One week after re-establishing their elite status by beating the Steelers, the Patriots cemented it by beating the Colts, 31-28. They would have taken over the top spot in the AFC East and top conference record were it not for a last-minute Jets comeback against the Texans. But the Patriots can only control their game, and they took care of business on Sunday. So let’s look at what worked and what didn’t.

Quarterback: A-. Tom Brady played efficiently, going 19/25 for 186 yards. He also threw two very nice touchdown passes to Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez. Brady was used pretty equally between the two halves (14 first-half passing attempts, 11 second-half), but his accuracy slipped in the last quarter. Brady’s last four passes of the game were all incomplete. In a quarter where really one or two more first downs (or one touchdown) would likely have clinched the game, Brady could not deliver. The Colts brought all the pressure they could muster, and Brady did not respond to the challenge. His defense bailed him out at the last possible moment, but Brady can’t get top marks when he couldn’t close out the game.

Running Backs: A. BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed for 96 yards and caught for 4 more. Danny Woodhead rushed for 69 yards on seven carries, or 9.9 yards per carry, and added 21 receiving yards. Both scored touchdowns, and the duo combined for 190 all-purpose yards. Woodhead also contributed on special teams, making a nifty open-field on his 36-yard touchdown run’s ensuing kickoff. Even Sammy Morris contributed, converting both third downs he was brought in for. The running backs also fought hard for extra yards, doing their best to always fall forward or break tackles. And several times, it worked.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: A-. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are engaged in a highly entertaining battle for best tight end, and each week at least one of them steps up. Last week, Gronkowski caught three touchdown passes. Hernandez responded with one of his own against the Colts, running a nice slant-route and then fighting through a tackle to get to the end zone. But even when he wasn’t catching passes, Gronkowski was still helping, blocking the frightening Dwight Freeney to open up runs. Deion Branch, meanwhile, led all receivers with seven catches for 70 yards. Drops weren’t too bad a problem, although Julian Edelman really should have caught that pass to him in the end zone in the fourth quarter. It might have meant the difference between the Colts needing a touchdown to tie instead of just a field goal (not that they got either) on their last drive. Wes Welker also had a nifty 22-yard touchdown catch, faking out linebacker Pat Angerer. The wide receivers maybe could have gotten open a bit better, but the Colts brought so much pressure that Brady often had to fire quickly. The receiving corps did about as well as they could have, but they also lose points for being part of that offense that sputtered so much in the last quarter.

Offensive Line: A-. The line opened up 168 rushing yards, and only allowed Brady to get hit twice. One of those was a sack, however, and it killed a promising drive. They also should have been able to buy Brady a few extra seconds in the final quarter so Brady could find open receivers. If they had picked up the Indianapolis rushes better, perhaps it would never have come down to a final-play interception. So the line loses a few points, but not many. They also did not false start or hold once, so give them credit for disciplined blocking.

Special Teams: A. No gaffes by Shayne Graham (made his field goal, nailed all four points-after). Forty-four yards per punt by Mesko. Only 15.8 yards per kickoff return by the Colts. The Patriots special teams could not have done much better. They committed no penalties, long-snapped cleanly and kept the Colts from returning any punts. It wasn’t the multiple-touchback kicking performance Patriots fans are used to, but how can you penalize the unit when it made no mistakes?

Defensive Line: B. Yes, the line held the Colts to just 71 yards on the ground. But the line also has to get pressure on the quarterback, or at least tie up the guards enough to let the linebackers do it. Sunday afternoon, the Patriots defensive linemen got no pressure on Peyton Manning. They did not sack him once, nor did any lineman even hit him. Combine that with just two tackles for losses of any kind and you get a defensive line that was completely contained by the Colts offensive line. The lone bright spot was Jermaine Cunningham, who penetrated the line on the last Colts play, spinning Manning enough to force a game-saving interception. Had the Patriots lost, we’d be talking a lot about their inability to pressure Manning. The Patriots knew the Colts were not gonna rely too much on a running game, so they should have focused on a way to disrupt the passing game. They didn’t (Manning went 38/52, 396 yards, converted 11 third-down opportunities), so I can’t give them high marks.

Linebackers: B+. Although the Patriots did not sack Manning, the linebackers managed to hit him three times. They also stuffed a couple of runs for no gain, and Jerrod Mayo broke up a Manning pass in the first quarter. Mayo also led all tacklers with 15, pushing his league-leading total to 120 (21 more than the next guy). However, Tully Banta-Cain’s 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty gave the Colts the ball inside the 20-yard line, and they scored on the next play, cutting the lead to 31-28 in the fourth. When you play a team as strong as the Colts, who are always a threat to come back in the game, you can’t make mental errors like that.

Defensive Backs: B-. Oddly, the defensive backs were the best and worst players on the team Sunday. Yes, they made three interceptions (James Sanders, Brandon Meriweather, Devin McCourty). But they also allowed 396 yards in receptions, letting wide receiver Reggie Wayne torch them for 107 yards. Three other Colts (two wide receivers and one tight end) also caught for 60+ yards. Manning might be surgically accurate, but the corners have to get better, and quickly. The Colts aren’t the last offensive powerhouse the Patriots have on their schedule. They still have the Green Bay Packers, plus a rematch with the Jets. The safeties are starting to learn how to play the middle, and McCourty seems to be improving a little bit each game. But the rest of the cornerbacks have to improve if this team wants to go deep in the playoffs.

Coaching: B. Bill Belichick seemed to have a good idea how to stop the Colts in the first half, building a 21-14 lead. But once that lead got pushed to 31-14, the team seemed to get complacent. The defense switched to a prevent defense that neither stopped the Colts nor consumed clock time in the fourth quarter, as Indianapolis scored 14 points in less than five minutes. The defense definitely looked tired at the end, but that is also a coaching issue. Had Belichick come up with a better response to the Colts’ pressure, the defense likely wouldn’t have had to play as much. Good start, but weak finish for the Patriots. Had the Patriots lost, this would have hung as heavily on the coach as it would have on the defensive line or cornerbacks. The Patriots won, so Belichick gets decent marks. But it seemed like the Colts were out-thinking the Patriots on both sides of the ball in the fourth quarter, with only a terrific jump by Meriweather saving the victory.

So there you go: high marks for the offense and special teams, less so for the defense and coaching. Check back next week for a recap of the Patriots Thanksgiving Day game against the lowly Lions.

Manning’s Third Interception Ends Colts’ Comeback; Patriots Hold on in Gillette

Through the first nine games of this season, Peyton Manning had thrown only four interceptions. The Patriots nearly doubled it in just one game. The Patriots picked Manning off three times, including with 31 seconds to go from the New England 24-yard line, beating the Colts 31-28 at Gillette. The Patriots’ win kept them tied for both the AFC East and best record in the conference, as the New York Jets also beat the Houston Texans.

Defense Bends Hard, Doesn’t Break

The Patriots run defense was stellar against the Colts, holding their backs to just 71 yards combined on 20 carries. Without a running game, the Colts had to rely exclusively on the pass to score points. This was not a terrible thing, since the Patriots rank 30th in pass defense in the NFL, and the Colts rank third in passing yardage. But the over-use of the passing game allowed the Patriots to double-cover wide receivers and use decoys to trick Peyton Manning.

This worked especially well on their second interception, which came with 18 seconds left in the third. The Patriots looked like they were just sending their safeties deep, so Manning thought he’d have a one-on-one match-up if his wide receiver ran up the sideline. However, both cornerbacks also played their coverages deep, so tight end Jacob Tamme, Manning’s target on the play, cut back in. Manning didn’t see the change in direction, and threw the ball deep along the right sideline. Devin McCourty went up and easily caught the interception at the New England 39-yard line. The Patriots would later convert the turnover into a field goal, giving them a 31-14 lead with 10:23 left in the game.

While the Patriots rush was unable to sack Manning, on a few occasions they at least forced a rushed pass. This led to several incomplete passes, plus the game ending interception. With the Colts already in field-goal range, Jermaine Cunningham broke through the offensive line and got to Manning, While Cunningham could not bring Manning down, he spun Manning just enough to force a pass into double-coverage. James Sanders leaped into the air and came down with the interception at the New England 6-yard line. The Patriots then knelt twice to end the game.

Brandon Meriweather also intercepted Manning in the first, setting up the Patriots’ first drive on the Indianapolis 32-yard line, on an overthrown pass. The Patriots converted it into a touchdown, going up 7-0.

The Patriots defense made exactly enough plays to win the game, and no more. The pass defense was as porous as ever, allowing Manning to throw for 396 yards and three touchdowns. The Colts also converted 11 of 14 third down opportunities, including a third-and-10 in the second and a third-and-9 in the fourth. The Colts scored touchdowns on both of those drives.

Running Backs Triumph

Tom Brady did most of his damage in the first half (131 of his 186 yards, both touchdown passes), then challenged the running game to take over and preserve the 21-14 halftime lead. The backs responded, rushing for 122 of their 168 total yards and a touchdown in the second half. Danny Woodhead scored on a 36-yard run with just over one minute left in the third quarter. On second-and-3 from the Indianapolis 36-yard line, Woodhead took the hand-off and looked like he was going to run up the middle. However, using his small frame to hide behind the Patriots linemen, Woodhead then changed direction and ran to the right of the pack. Once he got up-field, Woodhead then juked safety Aaron Francisco and sprinted on a diagonal towards the front right pylon. Two blocks by Patriots wide receivers on cornerback Kelvin Hayden cleared his path, and Woodhead ran in for the score, putting New England up 28-14.

Woodhead rushed for 69 yards, averaging nearly 10 yards per carry, and added 21 yards via the pass. BenJarvus Green-Ellis was New England’s primary running back, rushing for 96 yards on 21 carries. Green-Ellis also scored on a 5-yard run up the middle midway through the second quarter, putting the Patriots up 21-7. And while Sammy Morris only ran for 5 yards on two carries, both were third down conversions, on which the Patriots went 7-11.

Brady Starts Strong, Finishes Less So

Brady threw two touchdowns in the first half. His first put the Patriots up 7-0 in the first, when Wes Welker ran up the field and shook linebacker Pat Angerer, then caught Brady’s pass two yards out of the end zone. Welker then barreled through a would-be tackler to land in the end zone. This second effort was emblematic of the Patriots offense in general, which was constantly shaking tackles, giving second efforts and falling forward after being hit to pick up two or three extra yards.

Brady’s second touchdown pass was an 8-yard throw to Aaron Hernandez, who also fought through a tackle to get into the end zone, giving the Patriots a 14-7 lead.

In the second half, Brady was much less effective, especially in the fourth quarter. Three of his six incomplete passes came in that quarter, and the Patriots went three-and-out on their last two offensive possessions (discounting Brady’s final two kneel-downs). The offense could not muster a final scoring-drive to clinch the victory, unable to get around the Colts’ speedy pressure. Were it not for Sanders’ final interception, the Colts likely would have at least tied the game, if not won it outright, having scored on their previous two possessions.

21 Second-Half Points Leads Harvard Past Yale

The word “rivalry” calls up powerful images in the minds of people from the Northeast. On the ice, one might think of cross-border battles so loud and ferocious that they threaten to become international incidents. On the gridiron, perhaps you’d imagine million-dollar superstars trading bombs, each trying to cement his legacy as the premier quarterback of the new millennium. On the hardwood court, it’s the epic battle of the coasts, complete with mythic warriors sporting nicknames like “Magic” or “Legend.” And on the diamond, the red stockings of the Boys of Summer shine in contrast to the drab grays and blues of their pinstriped opponents. And the college rivalry gets downright bestial, with birds and dogs ripping each other to shreds. Every rivalry is unique, every match-up built to historic proportions, every victory savored as the triumph of the season. But there is a rivalry older than all of them. It predates the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals, the NHL Stanley Cup and even the World Series. It is so old that it is referred to simply as “The Game.”

It is the Harvard-Yale rivalry, and it happened for the 127th time Saturday at Harvard Stadium. Yale led the overall rivalry, 64-54-8, but Harvard had won eight of the last nine games, dating back to 2001. On Saturday, that trend was pushed to nine of the last 10, as Harvard beat Yale, 28-21. Running back Gino Gordon led the Crimson attack, scoring two touchdowns.

Although Harvard played a sluggish first half, gaining only 77 yards through the first two quarters, the Crimson turned it around immediately in the second half. Down 14-7 at halftime, wide receiver Marco Iannuzzi caught Yale’s kickoff at the 16-yard line and began a diagonal sprint to the left sideline. Iannuzzi broke a few tackles, then several key blocks opened up a gap for him around mid-field. Iannuzzi juked the last few tacklers as he blazed across the rest of the field, not slowing at all until he was safely in the end zone. Iannuzzi’s 84-yard touchdown return tied the game just seven seconds into the second half.

Aside from tying the game, Iannuzzi’s touchdown also stole momentum from Yale. The defense came out on fire in the third quarter. On the first offensive drive following the kickoff-return, Harvard forced a three-and-out. On Yale’s second drive of the quarter, Harvard defensive tackle Josue Ortiz broke through the line and blocked Yale’s punt, which rolled out of bounds at Yale’s 23-yard line. Harvard eventually scored on a 2-yard touchdown run from Gordon, his second of the day, putting the Crimson up 21-14.

Gordon’s first touchdown tied the game 7-7 with 2:24 remaining in the first quarter. It capped off a seven-play, 64 yard drive- the longest by either team. The highlight of the drive came on first-and-10 on Harvard’s 49-yard line. Quarterback Collier Winters threw a screen pass to a wide receiver, who then ran back towards the center of the field, flea-flicking the ball back to Winters. Winters then floated a perfect pass to a streaking Iannuzzi, who easily caught it and ran all the way to the Yale 5-yard line before going out of bounds. Gordon then scored on a fourth-down option run from 1 yard out.

After Gordon’s second touchdown, the Crimson defense held once again, forcing Yale to punt twice in two drives, the second time as part of a three-and-out. Harvard then took advantage of great starting position- Yale’s 36-yard line- to put the game out of reach. Winters finished Harvard’s drive- and Yale’s chances- with a 12-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Alex Sarkisian at the front right pylon, putting the Crimson up 28-21.

Running back Alex Thomas was Yale’s star, scoring three touchdowns and rushing for 76 yards. Two of his touchdowns came in the first half, giving Yale leads of 7-0 and 14-7. His third touchdown cut Harvard’s lead to 28-21 with 3:15 left in the game. Harvard’s defense, however, held off several Yale incursions into the red zone, only allowing the touchdown after their offense fumbled a Yale fourth-down turnover after just one play, giving the Bulldogs the ball at Harvard’s 19-yard line. And even though Yale scored on that drive, they ate up so much clock time that they had almost no chance of scoring on their final possession. Harvard’s punt pinned them at the 17-yard line with just 2:02 to play. They could not cover nearly enough ground before time ran out.

Despite allowing 338 yards of total offense to the Bulldogs (nearly double the Crimson’s 178 total yards), Harvard’s defense was a force on Saturday. The Crimson sacked Yale quarterback Patrick Witt (17/28, 198 yards, one interception) six times, including once for an 11-yard loss inside Harvard’s 10-yard line. They kept the Crimson in the game long enough for the offense to figure out how to score.

There was a stadium-silencing moment at 9:53 in the fourth quarter. On second-and-6 from the Yale 32-yard line, Collier completed a 5-yard pass to Gordon, who then began to run laterally with his head down. He was met head on by Yale linebacker Jesse Reising, and their helmets collided. Both players fell to the ground and lay there motionless for several minutes. Gordon would eventually get up, walk off on his own power, and later return to the game. Reising, unfortunately, had to be taken away on a stretcher. He was taken to the hospital, however ABC News is reporting that it was for precautionary purposes only, and that Reising had movement in all of his extremities when he was carted off. Both players received standing ovations from teammates and fans alike.

Keep the BCS!

In last week’s Sports Illustrated, Austin Murphy and Dan Wetzel, who coauthored Death to the BCS, wrote an article outlining the reasons why college football still doesn’t have a playoff system to choose its national champion, instead relying on “an inexact, capricious, widely despised system that is propped up and defended, in the main, by the people who profit from it.” What follows is an explanation of where bowl money goes, which is used as a justification for dismantling the BCS ranking system.

Wetzel’s argument has merit, but there are several flaws in it. His response to the idea that a postseason would devalue the regular season (like in the MLB, where essentially every game before August 1 doesn’t matter) is to ask why Boise State dropped two spots after beating Hawaii 42-7. First off, his argument is incorrect. Boise State has not been ranked #2 since at least Week 8. They fell one spot between Week 9 and Week 10, switching places with TCU, and that probably has something to do with TCU beat #5 Utah by an even more impressive 47-7. Boise State, meanwhile, hasn’t played a ranked team since #24 Oregon State on September 25. Their highest-ranked opponent was #10 Virginia Tech in their season opener. #1 Oregon, meanwhile, beat a Top-10 team, #9 Stanford, as recently as October 2. And Stanford has gone up in rank since that loss, now sitting at #6. The last of the undefeated teams, Auburn, probably has a case that they should be #1, but they probably don’t care. Auburn has already beaten three ranked teams, including #6 LSU on October 23, and still has two to go, including Alabama. If they win out, they may take over the #1 spot. So, Mr. Wexler, if you’re going to talk about the overvalued importance of the regular season, get your facts straight first. But to make a larger point, what makes college football unique is that it’s not just that every one of a team’s regular season games is meaningful. Every game is important. You never know when a conference rival’s victory will impact your victory. That promotes conference unity. And with only 12 or 13 games a season, devaluing them is a bad idea. People will stop going if they know that as long their team makes the postseason, they still have a shot.

Turning college football into a smaller version of the NFL, with a postseason and unimportant regular season games, is a bad idea. To make it too close to the pros is to risk unfair comparison. Look at the WNBA. They play exactly the same as the men, except the shooting isn’t as accurate, the passing isn’t as crisp, and the dunking isn’t there… at all. So no one follows it. Women’s hockey, meanwhile, has avoided this by eliminating checking, which fundamentally changes the way they play the game. The product women’s hockey puts out is different enough that people get a unique experience watching it. If you create a postseason, you’re going to invite comparison with the NFL, where college football can’t hope to win. You’re also going to encounter the same problems fans hate about the end of the NFL season. If a team is 11-1 and has clinched its division, the team will rest its starters. You think fans will be a little irate if the Buckeyes rest Terrelle Pryor against the Wolverines? How about Mark Ingram not running through the Swamp? Devaluing the regular season hurts the fans, whose entertainment is the bottom-line goal of sports.

Murphy and Drexel also talk a lot about Bowl organizers and athletic directors, all of whom seem to profit from the Bowl system. Individual teams, however, take a bath, because they’re forced to buy up large quantities of face-value tickets, which they then have trouble selling. Bowl victors also usually split their winnings with the rest of the conference (all bowl victories are pooled). There’s anecdotal evidence that college football programs are rarely profitable because of equipment, recruitment and travel costs, to name a few reasons. But how will creating a postseason correct this problem? Drexel’s only evidence is a 2005 testimony to Congress, where Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said he thought a playoff system would triple or quadruple revenue. OK, great. But absent from this article is any more evidence. Why does Delany think this? Have studies been done? Have surveys of fans been taken? Who’s to say that, given a a playoff system with a hierarchy similar to the bowl system’s (a semi-final vs. a quarterfinal, the Sugar Bowl vs. the Outback Bowl), people would be less inclined to attend? If your team is the Big East champion, is anyone going to come to see you get beat by the SEC champion? At least with bowl games there are corporate sponsors, meaning a decent amount of advertising to draw television attendance. There’s a good chance Capital One isn’t going to sponsor the preliminary game of a four-round playoff system.

So why not regulate profit distribution instead of dismantling the whole system in favor of one that might not be better? If these bowl organizers are getting rich off the system, threatening to dismantle it might be good enough to get them to the negotiating table. What if bowl organizers could only take a small percentage of the bowl’s revenue? What if teams were given a share of the profits, not just the prize money? And if a game draws more television viewers than normal, why not give a share of the advertising revenue to each team? As for the athletic directors and coaches, how about setting a limit on bowl bonuses? Or what if the NCAA handed out all bowl bonuses instead of individual teams? It might seem authoritarian, but can anyone say this wouldn’t cause a problem? Eliminating the bowl system might eliminate bowl bonuses, but it might create a complicated tier system where coaches and athletic directors get more depending on how far into the playoffs they can get. Then you’ll have even more complicated contact negotiations, and stuff that really ought to stay behind the scenes will go public.

Murphy and Wetzel argue against the BCS, which they say is based on “a series of mathematically unsound computer formulas and often confused and ill-informed poll voters,” because teams have to eat the cost of unsold tickets, then give their bowl winnings to the conference. Well, why can’t the NCAA limit or eliminate those practices? Why not force bowls to cut back the number of tickets they force teams to buy, or offer a discounted buy-back on unsold tickets, so teams can recover a little? On the other hand, why not prohibit conference pooling? It makes no sense that, should they win the champion ship, Auburn should get less money because LSU bombed at the Cotton Bowl. And why should Boston College be entitled to any of Virginia Tech’s Orange Bowl winnings? Better regulation of bowl revenue and distribution could go just as far to improve college football as a playoff system, where corporate sponsorship may disappear for the unimportant and potentially under-watched preliminary games, could.

The writers of this article are bringing up a lot of problems, but they’re not offering a lot of answers. What will this playoff look like? How will teams be bracketed? Any playoff system would have to rely on strength of conference to decide who plays who. And if that’s the case, aren’t you just using the same system (Auburn and Oregon are above TCU and Oregon because the SEC and PAC-10 are traditionally stronger conferences than the MWC or WAC), just with a new coat of paint? If so, why bother killing the current system? You might fix a pothole by dismantling the BCS, but in so doing you might just as quickly dig a new one. The cars will still blow out their tires, plus now you’ve spent a lot of time and money on repairs. Why bother? Why not just regulate the ways in which the current Bowl system falls short?

The final reason to keep the BCS is that a playoff system would most likely regulate the schedule. Playoff games would have to be played at the same time and on the same day so that every team would get the same amount of rest. You know, just like the NFL. But what makes Bowl season great is that for about a month, when everyone is huddling in their dark and cold homes, at just about any time on just about any day you can turn the t.v. on and find bushy-eyed youngsters in sunny stadiums playing great football. After a hard day’s work, there’s nothing like sitting down and catching a random bowl, even if it’s the Emerald Bowl. Why strip the fans of all that randomly enjoyable entertainment? The BCS has flaws, absolutely. But let’s fix those flaws, not just throw the whole system out. Clamp down on unscrupulous practices like overblown bonuses, forced ticket sales to universities, and conference pooling. Force these bowl organizers to give back some of the money they’re making. Make the bowl season as pure as college football is (or ought to be). Then we can have a month of games where great football is played and universities reap the benefits of their seasons. Everybody wins.

Terrier Invitational: Next Stop, America East Conference Championships

“The key to swimming is to swim faster than the other swimmers.” – Kris “John Madden” Jenson (so where’s my $300?)

Seven of the strongest swim teams in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic will converge on BU this Friday for the fifth annual Terrier Invitational. Their goal: dethrone the reigning champion Terriers. Standing in their way will be a BU squad looking to gear up for the America East Conference Championships, where the men will try to take down six-time champion University of Maryland-Baltimore County, and the women will try to three-peat as conference champions.

The BU men and women will face the University of Massachusetts, Boston College, Yale University, the College of Holy Cross, and Drexel University at the Terrier Invitational. BU’s women will also take on the University of New Hampshire and Northeastern University. UNH is a rival school in the America East conference, and UMass has won the Atlantic 10 conference championship every year but once in the last decade. Competition will be fierce, but the Terriers are ready for it.

“This is definitely the strongest class we’ve had so far,” says captain Kyle Ernst, COM Class of 2011. Ernst is arguably the best breaststroker in the conference, according to swimmers and coaches alike, winning both the 100- and 200-yard breaststroke races at last year’s America East Championships. He is also on medley relay teams that have won for the past two years and have been dominating in dual-meets this season.

“Kyle Ernst is definitely a force to be reckoned with,” says captain Francesca Ferrante, CAS class of 2012. “He’s an animal in the water.”

And all the other athletes on those relay squads? They’re pretty great swimmers, too. “Individually, I’d say each swimmer on that relay can be the best in their respective event,” says captain Nate Everett, CAS Class of 2011. “When you put them together, it’s really just exciting to watch, because it’s such an all-star cast.”

From captains to coaches, everyone agrees that the best races to watch are the relays, either medley or freestyle, which will be the final events each night of the competition (except for the 200-yard medley relay, which will lead off Saturday’s competition). “It gets the whole team excited, and definitely the crowds and audience get really excited about it,” says captain Sarah Doersam, SAR Class of 2011.

Coach Bill Smith says the women’s relay racers “don’t appear to have any weaknesses.” Ernst says, “I don’t think we have a weak leg” on the men’s 200-yard medley relay squad.

The women’s freestyle relay team includes captain Maria McIntyre, SED Class of 2011, the reigning conference champion in the 50-yard freestyle sprint. McIntyre says she likes that race because its short distance makes it all about “raw speed,” where a bad start or a bad turn can break any racer.

The Terrier Invitational will be the Terriers’ first meet this season featuring a structure similar to the one used at the conference championship, with preliminary heats and finals. All told, there will be 36 races between the men and women. “A lot of swimming, a lot of time in the water, a lot of time to think about your races,” says Doersam. She also says the Invitational will serve as a “practice run” for the conference championship, and that “it’s a good chance to see how fast you can get yourself going in the heart of training season.” They also want to win the meet, of course.

Ernst says he thinks the Terrier Invitational will also be great for the younger swimmers. Those swimmers include butterfly and freestyle-swimmer Jeff Thomas, CAS Class of 2014, who just won three races last Saturday at Fordham University. Another name to watch for is Meaghan Grimes, CGS Class of 2014, who won the 200-free at Stony Brook University on Friday, then followed it up by winning the 1000-free at Fordham.

The strength of this Terrier swimming squad comes from its versatility and its unity. “Where one person falls off, someone else makes up,” Doersam says. “We really work off of each other, and it usually turns out if one person does have a good swim, it gets everyone pumped up, and sure enough more and more people will have those good swims.” This is one unified Terrier squad, with both men and women practicing together, often racing against each other.

The Terrier Invitational begins this Friday at the Fitness and Recreation Center’s Competition Pool. In Doersam’s words: “Come out and support us!”