Happy 3rd Birthday The Sports Bank!!!

By Paul M. Banks

This weekend, it became 3 total years since The Sports Bank went live online. And today TSB is stronger than ever. January’s daily traffic average is well ahead of December’s pace; which itself was about 3x the previous month’s high. In fact, we’ve seen steady consistent growth in readership each of the past five months. We’re just half a month into 2010, but our annual daily page views for this year is 4x that of 2009. Which itself was double that of 2008.

Mostly, it’s been our twin mock drafts: the NFL Mock Draft and NBA mock Draft, produced by TSB President Paul M. Banks and Vice President David Kay respectively that have spurred this growth. And we couldn’t have done it without all the mock draft databases out there. You guys truly are the wind beneath our wings. But let’s also give an assist where it’s due: to Erin Pageviews. I mean Erin Andrews, and Jenn Sterger.

Well, to be more accurate- Jenn’s big fake chest, and Erin’s naturally bangin’ body. This just helps “bringing ’em in” and “pack the house” over here. But whatever the reason, business is booming, times are good and for that we thank you! You the reader, you’re the one who makes this all possible, we are eternally grateful and we have a special treat for you on this occasion.

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Illinois Basketball’s Key: Improved Depth

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By Paul Schmidt

A very different Illini team is taking the court this season in the Assembly Hall in Champaign, and this fact gives the Illini options a-plenty.

Though defensively the team has seemed to take a step back, offensively they have as diverse and dynamic of an offense as the team has displayed in 20 years — Yes, since the Flyin’ Illini.

One of the more exciting aspects for the Illini is that the offense will push the limits this season, for certain.

“I want to run; that’s our strength, our athleticism,” Illinois head coach Bruce Weber said. “Last year, when I wouldn’t run, that’s all I heard was, ‘Why don’t you run??’ So now, we’re running.”Illinois

Weber was obviously not buckling to the pressure of the media, and was kidding in those post-game comments. It does illustrate the point that everyone knows that this team is deep and has a bunch of moving parts that can come in and out of the game.

Following the 78-64 win over Wofford, the toughest game they’ve had all year, Bruce was candid about the clash in styles between this year and last.

“Tonight we still had 78 points, and last year that would be like a season high, so we’ve obviously made some strides this year,” Weber said about the game.

He had some great things to say about his reserves after their 80-61 win over Northern Illinois.

“I thought Tyler Griffey and Richard Semrau both played well, Griffey really gave us some nice minutes,” Weber said.

“Dominique Keller gave us a nice spark, and Bill Cole, though he did not take a shot, played 14 very solid minutes, good defensively, did the little things and didn’t try to do too much defensively. We have a +/- chart (illustrates whether the team has a positive or negative scoring margin while you are on the court), and it’ll be interesting, because I believe while he was in there we had some pretty good runs.”

Indeed, the play of the reserves will be extremely important as the season progresses. Weber currently runs the rotation 10-deep, and as fatigue and/or injuries take hold during the season the bench players’ minutes will progress.

“That’s the best thing about our team,” Weber said. “We’ve got other people we can put in that can do some things and help us survive some runs when we get in trouble.”

“I honestly believe that we have 7 or 8 guys on this team that could start, and then a couple more that could play big minutes anywhere in the country,” Weber added. “At least I hope we do, because that’s my mindset. I know a lot of these guys would love to start. The key is that we need everyone to buy into their role.”

Demetri McCamey is one of those players that has had to adjust to a different role this season. Once thought to be the next great Illini scorer, McCamey has had to take a back seat in the scoring and become a more-true point guard, distributing the ball and getting everyone else involved.

This hasn’t bothered McCamey in the least and you get the impression that that unselfishness runs all the way down the roster.

“I think we’re gelling pretty fine. It’s like I said last week, you never know who is going to score, whether it’s me, Mike Davis, Brandon (Paul), D. J. (Richardson), Alex (Legion)…we’ve got a lot of guys that can score, so different nights, it’s different people,” McCamey said. “As long as we’re happy, and winning basketball games, we all don’t have to go out there and score.  Everyone will be gelling, and we’ll all be on one page.”

The biggest issue with the depth is inexperience. The Illini are, largely, a young team, and still learning how to run and gun the entire game, yet remain controlled with the basketball.

“It’d be nice if we could win all of our games by 40, but I don’t think that that’s going to happen,” Weber said. “We’re going to have game situations and runs by teams where you’re going to have to learn how to deal with it. You have to learn how to play when you have a lead, and how to run the clock.”

For Weber, however, it’s always about finding the style of basketball to fit the roster, and with the amount of webercontributors this team has, a faster pace is the way to go.

“I don’t mind pushing the basketball and outscoring people,” Weber said. “I always want to push the basketball. But I also want to win, so if we don’t have scorers, we have to play possession basketball. Then you’ve got to guard, you’ve got to play in the halfcourt. I think that’s the one thing that I learned from Coach Keady, working with him for all those years — You’ve got to be flexible. A good coach is flexible, and he changes with his talent.”

Juice Williams, All-Big Ten Selection!! Wait…Juice Williams, All-Big Ten Selection????

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By Paul Schmidt

Let me be the first to say, I love Juice Williams, and I want you to, too. 

I think he’s a great kid. 

I think he was the most deserving player of all that received mention as a Big Ten Sportsmanship Award Nominee. The grace with which he handled his demotion, and the teaching capabilities he showed with Eddie McGee and Jacob Charest surprised even me, an ardent supporter.

But an Honorable Mention nomination at quarterback?  Really?

Let’s go through some numbers…

Your first team QB was Darryl Clark, the conference’s leader in passing efficiency. That’s a good choice.  Your second team QB was Mike Kafka. While Kafka was fifth in passing efficiency, he was second in per game averages of total offense.  Again, a very defensible selection.  I might have gone with Purdue’s Joey Elliott (the conference’s leader in total offense per game), but either way, Kafka is a fine choice.

Now…here’s the honorable mention QBs: Juice Williams, Ben Chappell, Ricky Stanzi, Kirk Cousins, Scott Tolzien, Terrelle Pryor, and the aforementioned Elliott.

Now, I know you’re looking at that and thinking, holy crap, that’s nine of the 11 starting QBs in the conference.  Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. Given that list, it would be tough to leave Williams off, right? 

Wrong.

The only top ten list Williams’ name appears on on the conference statistical leaderboard is, surprisingly, in passing efficiency, where he ranks tenth.

He’s not on the total offense list, a place that a running QB like him should be a lock to make.

Not on the top ten list for the conference’s top passers in terms of yards, either.

Heck, he’s not even in the top ten of games started by quarterbacks in the conference, mustering only nine appearances and eight starts.  That’s right, an honorable mention Big Ten selection was benched halfway through the season.  That alone should result in automatic disqualification from the award…

The simple solution? Nine QB’s mentioned in the all-conference awards, one way or another, is just too many. Dropping the number of players named would not only raise the prestige of the award but lend some legitimacy, as well.

But, assuming that you’re locked into that number of players appearing on your final award sheet, one deserving player was not named.  Remarkable, considering the number that appeared, I know, but it’s true.

Where was Minnesota’s Adam Weber?

I know that the Minnesota writers here will slam this thought, but bear with me. 

First, when naming nine QBs in the awards, you have to consider that Weber, though awful at times and someone who took a major step backwards this season, still was statistically one of the top nine QBs in the conference this season. He finished 8th in passing per game and 10th in total offense. 

Plus, he was never benched this season.

Look, while I do applaud the Big Ten Conference for honoring as many players as possible, having nine QBs mentioned is simply too many.  There must be a way to pare this down some, lest you face looking foolish on a national stage.

Of even greater importance would be to eliminate players like Juice Willams from contention, perhaps not a step the conference wants to take. Even given that, instilling some sort of a minimum performance barrier, or giving the voters qualified names to vote for would be a good step for the conference to make; awarding 81.8% of your conference’s starting quarterbacks some type of All-Conference award is just patently ridiculous.

I would have gone with Clark as the first team selection, and Elliott at second team, followed by honorable mention selections for Stanzi and Cousins.  That’s it.  Four guys is still more than a third of the QBs in the conference, and more than enough nomination-wise.  Plus, naming just those four guys doesn’t make your conference look patently ridiculous.

Perhaps the most damning evidence against any awards for Juice comes from a web page listing his national ranks this season — 91st in the nation in passing efficiency and 93rd in total offense.

That page?

His biography page at www.fightingillini.com.  Ouch.

A Glimpse Into The Illini Future: Quarterback Jacob Charest

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By Paul Schmidt

While the Illini were falling to the Northwestern Wildcats, essentially ending their long shot run at a bowl bid, Illini fans did get an extended look at next year’s early leader in the starting quarterback race, Jacob Charest, the redshirt freshman out of Butler High School in Matthews, North Carolina.

Charest posted some modest numbers but, after being benched to start the second half, led two fourth quarter touchdown drives to make things interesting in their 21-16 loss to the Wildcats.

Charest was a little surprised at how easily things came in the fourth quarter, but knew that practice, in this case, definitely helped.

“(The two minute offense) actually wasn’t…it wasn’t as different as I thought it would be,” Charest said. “You know, in practice, that’s such a huge part of the end of practice.  Everyone goes 100 percent on that, so it’s kind of like a game situation.”

The start of the game, however, was a little different for Charest who thought things definitely paced differently.

“It was a little different,”  Charest said. “If nothing else it was a little bit quicker. It wasn’t too bad.”

It did seem that Charest started the game in a little bit of a groove, and that could have been due to the scripting of the first several plays of the game — Charest knew what was coming.  However, he believed that it was just a few errant throws that took his momentum away.

“The first few plays of the game are scripted, but we don’t necessarily stick to them. But we try to script them, yes,” Charest said. “I was in a rhythm early, but then I don’t really know what happened. I missed a few throws, and things kind of went from there.”

As for being benched heading into the third quarter, he did know that was coming, as he was told at halftime, but the coaches also let him know that he would most likely see more action as the game went on, so to not get his head out of the game.  Charest wisely used that as a learning experience, and it certainly translated into results, as he went 9-13 Charestpassing in the fourth quarter.

“It helped a little bit, I could kind of see the coverage from a different point of view than actually being on the field,” Charest said.  “I could see what the DBs were doing on the field without having to deal with the pressure of the pass rush. It didn’t make a huge difference though.”

The giant elephant in the room was certainly Charest’s interpretation of the last play of the game on offense, and whether or not it was a reception for Jarred Fayson, or an interception for Sherrick McManus.

“Yeah, Jarrod caught it, and the other guy came up with it somehow, but I thought that Fayson caught it 100 percent, not that it was an interception,” Charest said. “We all really didn’t think that, because we were heading up to the line getting ready for the next play. It seems like nobody thought it was a pick except for the referee. Well, when we saw the call when we were all running over to the line, and we were just stunned.”

Still, it is a good sign for Illinois fans that Charest was exhibiting great confidence on the field, and with some young offensive skill players he could cement a solid offensive future. The best sign from Charest after the game? His response to the question of what he was thinking about heading on to the field prior to their Illini’s last drive of the game.

“I thought 100 percent we were going to go down and score when we got the ball back,” Charest said.

Online Obsession with Erin Andrews gone way too far

Erin Andrews Video Stalker (and Blazers Fan) Released on Bond

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By Paul M. Banks

The demented weirdo accused of secretly videotaping ESPN sideline princess Erin Andrews through a peephole leading to her hotel room was released from court yesterday. Michael D. Barrett (not the former Cubs catcher, may I remind everyone) is an insurance executive accused of uploading videos of Andrews, and other unsuspecting nude women to the Internet. According to the Federales, Barrett makes his videos by modifying peepholes in hotel room doors, using a hacksaw and a cell phone camera, and then tries to sell them to celebrity gossip site TMZ.

Barrett, the pride of Westmont, Illinois, was released on $4,500 bond and ordered to wear an ankle monitoring bracelet, follow a strict curfew (this should put a damper on his obviously bustling social life) and stay off the Internet. He’s next due in court on the 23rd. After being released late afternoon yesterday, this ladykiller avoided commenting publicly and left in his yellow Mustang. Andrews’ attorney Marshall Grossman, has not publicly commented yet.

More on this from the Huffington Post. Excerpts of this article are in italics, my commentary in bold

Barrett continues to be a danger to Andrews and “a danger to other women,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Grimes told U.S. Magistrate Judge Arlander Keys during Barrett’s bond hearing Monday.

Magistrate? People still use that word? it makes me think of Braveheart, and inspires me to start talking in ye olde English

“Yes, Judge, there are other women,” Grimes said. “He has used his computer to disseminate these videos to the world.”
Grimes said the government has confiscated two computers and cell phones used by Barrett, and “feels strongly that those items will provide further evidence.”

Of course, those other women, who are just as victimized as EA, don’t get to go on Oprah
Like the Andrews videos, the videos of the other women were shot through a door peephole and uploaded to the Internet under a name Barrett used, “GOBLAZERS1,” Grimes said.

Barrett’s parents are from Portland. Trailblazer nation, be proud. You have a sick person with a distorted view of the world within your community, but enough about Zach Randolph…

…Of course, you were able to trade him out of town, so maybe you can get Barrett off your bandwagon too.

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Andrews appears in at least eight videos nude. An FBI affidavit said Barrett specifically asked for a room next to Andrews at a Tennessee hotel where seven videos were likely taken. An eighth video may have been shot at a Milwaukee hotel. Barrett was described by his attorney, Rick Beuke, as having plenty of money and a good track record at work. Beuke said his employer, the Combined Insurance Co., based in Glenview, where he is in insurance sales, is “very supportive.”

Well, if he’s such a great North Shore guy, why is spending his time on this stuff? If he has so much money and stability, why can’t he find a woman to willingly take her clothes off for him?

But Combined Insurance spokeswoman Amy Burrell-Tichy said later Monday that Barrett has been suspended from his job and “there is no timeframe with this suspension.” She declined say whether he would be paid while suspended. She said the company is cooperating with the FBI and conducting an internal investigation because the affidavit alleges Barrett may have used Combined Insurance computers in the alleged crimes.

So remember that the next time your computer at work kicks you off Facebook.