Archive for February, 2011

Staring at the Madness: UGA’s all but in, Hewitt’s almost gone

Don't say it couldn't happen. It happened on Tech's court. (AJC file photo)

Don't say it couldn't happen. For Dennis Felton and UGA, it happened on Georgia Tech's court. (AJC file photo)

We’re 20 days from Selection Sunday, 22 days from the beginning of an NCAA tournament. By the Ides of March, we’ll know where Georgia’s going to play in the Big Dance, and we’ll know if Georgia Tech is in the hunt for a new coach. And if you read on, you might even have some inkling as to who’s going to win it all in Houston.

Best team at full strength: Duke, with a caveat. The Devils haven’t been at full strength for 2 1/2 months and mightn’t be again. They lost point guard Kyrie Irving to a toe injury, and coach Mike Krzyzewski doesn’t expect the freshman to return this season. (And if Irving doesn’t return to Duke this season, he won’t. Toe or no, he’ll be among the first five players drafted in June.)  Duke can get to the Final Four without Irving, but winning an NCAA title without his biggest talent might be beyond even the great Krzyzewski.

Best team if Irving …

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Why the Falcons shouldn’t pursue Bob Sanders: He gets hurt

Peria Jerry after hurting his knee in September 2009. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Peria Jerry after hurting his knee in Sept. 21, 2009. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

No sooner had I written a little something about the looming lockout and how the Falcons have little need to make a free-agent splash than I was inundated by various forms of electronic missives, all wanting to know: Should the Falcons pursue Bob Sanders?

And my answer — and I stress this is just my answer — is no.

I realize he’s a safety of high caliber when healthy, and the Falcons could still use help in the secondary. But those two words — “when healthy” — are the reason the Indianapolis Colts, who have defensive issues of their own, cut a safety of such high quality.

In 2007 Sanders was the NFL’s defensive player of the year. He has since worked a total of nine regular-season games. He has had knee surgery and torn both biceps.

Sanders might be a gamble a lesser team would take, but the Falcons don’t need to take such a risk. They’re pretty good as is. They like their young safeties — …

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Who benefits from a long lockout? Maybe the Atlanta Falcons

Smitty and Dimitty: You're in good hands with these guys. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Smitty and Dimitty: You're in good hands with these guys. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

You can’t really game-plan a work stoppage. How do you prepare to do something when nothing can be done? That said …

If the NFL lockout arrives as expected — the start (or stop) date is March 4 — and lasts into August or September, the Falcons figure to be OK. They don’t need a lot. They can subsist without buying a big-name free agent. And they are, you’ll recall, coming off a pretty fair season.

“We’re definitely preparing for a regular offseason,” general manager Thomas Dimitroff said this week. “That’s the only way we can do it.”

It’s the only way to prepare. What if the work stoppage holds for all of 10 locked-out days and then the NFL goes back to work? A GM can’t say, “I’m a little behind here — who’s a free agent this year?” He has to be ready to rumble. And the April draft will come off no matter what’s happening labor-wise.

But the great imponderable of Looming Lockout 2011 is …

Continue reading Who benefits from a long lockout? Maybe the Atlanta Falcons »

Baseball Prospectus sees the Braves finishing 2nd to Philly

Dan Uggla chats with the cat in the hat. (OK, Frank Wren.) (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Dan Uggla chats with the cat in the hat. (OK, Frank Wren.) (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Pretty much everybody awarded the 2011 National League East title to the Phillies when they landed Cliff Lee to go with Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt. Now Baseball Prospectus, the best of the many numbers-heavy baseball sites, joins the queue.

Writing for ESPN Insiders, Ben Lindbergh of BP projects the Philies to make it five division titles in a row. (Link requires registration.) Interestingly enough, Lindbergh doesn’t gush. Indeed, he and his numbers project 91 victories for a team that won 97 in 2010.

As for the Braves: Mr. Lindbergh has them finishing second in the East at 87-75, which would also mark a recession. (The Braves were 91-71 last season.) He forecasts that Dan Uggla will hit 29 home runs — nothing like being exact in a prediction, eh? — and thinks the Braves should outscore the Phillies. But here are Mr. Lindbergh’s quibbles regarding the Braves, and I quote it in …

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UGA’s Fox on his Hounds: ‘I think our team should be better’

Mark Fox got T'd up at end against Vanderbilt. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Mark Fox got T'd up against Vandy. He has cause for concern. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

There’s a difference between being better than you’re supposed to be and actually being good. Last season Mark Fox drew high-volume kudos –  I wrote he should have been the SEC’s coach of the year — for not going 10-20 in Year 1 in a difficult job. A year later Georgia could finish its regular season 20-10, but now we’re asking, “Is this all there is?”

The Bulldogs are 17-8, but it’s an unsatisfying 17-8. Their last significant victory came over Kentucky in the SEC opener. They’ve since gone 0-6 against teams of consequence, four of those losses coming at Stegeman Coliseum.

“There’s no question we’ve let a win or two get away,” Fox said Thursday. Then this: “I’m probably my biggest critic. I think our team should be better. And that’s my responsibility.”

It’s not as if the Bulldogs have been blown out by Nowhere State. All eight losses have come against teams ranked in the RPI top 50, …

Continue reading UGA’s Fox on his Hounds: ‘I think our team should be better’ »

UPDATE: There has been an arrest in Auburn’s tree poisoning

Toomer's Corner in happier times. (AP photo)

Here we see Toomer's Corner at a happier, healthier time. (AP photo)

UPDATE: An arrest has been made in this case, according to Birmingham TV station WBRC. The man charged with criminal mischief is a 62-year-old resident of Dadeville, Ala.

Some nut poisoned the ancient oak trees at Toomer’s Corner. Even if you’re indifferent toward Auburn — heck, even if you can’t abide Auburn  — this should make you ill. Because this isn’t a harmless little joke. There’s monetary harm in vandalism. More to the point, there’s psychic harm in knowing the game that stirs Southern passions could spawn an act as vile as this.

Georgia fans were incensed in 2008 when Tech players broke off a few sprigs of hedge after winning at Sanford Stadium. (Georgia fans were likewise incensed when Bo Jackson and his Auburn teammates did the same in 1983.) Imagine the Bulldog outrage if those hallowed hedges hadn’t just been pruned but eradicated.

On Jan. 27, an anonymous caller to Paul Finebaum’s Birmingham …

Continue reading UPDATE: There has been an arrest in Auburn’s tree poisoning »

The Thrashers could be gone because the Spirit, alas, is weak

"Keep this to yourself, Bruce, but we just lost another million." (AJC photo by

"Keep this to yourself, Bruce, but we just lost another million." (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

It was a nice idea until they started suing one another, which took just under two years. But in September 2003 the notion of a group with Atlanta ties owning the Hawks and the Thrashers seemed altogether preferable to the thought of a Texas car dealer owning two of our teams and deputizing his brother-in-law to run them.

In the cold light of hindsight, the Texas car dealer has been the only winner in this ongoing mess. David McDavid sued Turner Broadcasting for breach of contract and was awarded $281 million. We locals have been forced to sit and watch as the Atlanta Spirit, which cut in front of McDavid, took two of our teams and have succeeded mostly in trying our patience. And now we’re told these many owners require “outside investors” for the Thrashers to stay here.

Translated: Atlanta is very close to losing another hockey club.

Maybe some angel is willing to lose millions …

Continue reading The Thrashers could be gone because the Spirit, alas, is weak »

Hello/goodbye? Byfuglien stays, but the Thrashers could leave

That wouldn't be a wave of farewell, would it? (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

You make the call: A salute to fans or a gesture of farewell? (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

On Tuesday we witnessed that rarity: A big-time hockey player who actually wants to stay a Thrasher. Unlike Marian Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk, Dustin Byfuglien was willing to re-up with the local hockey club. But now we ask: How much longer will the local hockey club be local?

The Thrashers’ corporate brother is having a a lousy year at the box office: The Hawks are 24th among 30 NBA teams in average attendance, down nearly 2,000 paying customers a game over last season. And still that beats the Thrashers, who until lately were positioned to make the playoffs for only the second time in their existence; they’re 28th in the 30-team NHL in attendance.

As if on cue, co-owner Michael Gearon Jr. told esteemed colleague Chris Vivlamore on Tuesday night that the Thrashers could indeed sold and moved if the Spirit doesn’t find additional investors/cash soon. “A sense of urgency,” was Gearon’s …

Continue reading Hello/goodbye? Byfuglien stays, but the Thrashers could leave »

If Hewitt goes, who might Tech target? Glad you asked

Both of these men are Tech legends, but they're not on my list. (AJC file photo)

Both of these men are Tech legends, but they're not on my list. (AJC file photo)

I believe Georgia Tech will be in the market for a basketball coach within the month. I do not know this for a fact, but I work today on that assumption. But before I offer a half-dozen (or so) candidates I’d consider to replace Paul Hewitt, I should explain why some major names aren’t on the list.

• Brad Stevens isn’t on it because I’ll believe he’ll leave Butler only when I see it, and maybe not then. The same goes for Mark Few of Gonzaga.

• Tubby Smith isn’t on the list because the Tubby’s-coming-back-to-Georgia-to-coach-somebody rumor has become such an annual occurrence as to be discounted. (Didn’t take the Hawks job back in 2004, did he? Didn’t return to UGA in 2009, did he?) And Tubby Smith — who is, I should stipulate, among my all-time favorites as both a man and a coach — will turn 60 in June. I’m not sure you start over with a 60-year-old.

• Mark Price isn’t on the list because he …

Continue reading If Hewitt goes, who might Tech target? Glad you asked »

Tech in 2011: A get-well season for Paul Johnson and Co.

A fanfare for horns should again be heard at the Flats in 2011. (AP photo)

After a flat 2010, a rousing fanfare will again be heard at Georgia Tech in 2011. (AP photo)

Georgia Tech lost five of its final six games in 2010, the win coming against Duke. That saddled Paul Johnson with only the second losing season of his distinguished career. (The first came in Year 1 at Navy.) Paul Johnson hates many things, but he hates losing most of all.

By the end of 2011, he’ll be a winner again.

Tech had a bad schedule last season. It has a good one upcoming. The Jackets should be 3-0 — their first three games are against Western Carolina, Middle Tennessee and Kansas — when they face North Carolina here Sept. 24, and Butch Davis’ program is no longer seen as a rising star.

October brings five games, three on the road. But two of the games are against Maryland and Miami, each of which has a new coach, and another is against Virginia, which just went 4-8. And Clemson, for all its recruiting success, must play at Bobby Dodd Stadium on Oct. 29, and Clemson wound up …

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