Peeking at Oklahoma State

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Peeking at Oklahoma State

(Discuss on the BSL forums here)

It’s early in the week, but it’s never too early to start looking ahead to the Terrapins next (and second-most important) out of conference game of the year: the Oklahoma State Cowboys.

The Cowboys, at 8-1, may have lost to lowly South Carolina 75-49 on December 6, but that doesn’t mean this team is a slouch by any stretch. One could argue, first and foremost, that the game was a fluke. That was the lowest scoring output by an Oklahoma State team in five seasons and Travis Ford may have simply caught a case of bad luck against a South Carolina team. They were ice cold from the field, and clearly didn’t expect the Gamecocks to be that solid on defense.

But coming off that loss, the Cowboys obliterated a typically talented and well-coached Memphis team 73-55. Le’Bryan Nash is one of the best swing men in the country and a true senior leader who happens to be playing some of the best basketball of his career. Meanwhile, little speedster Phil Forte III is his typical self; a tiny combo guard who can get hot from the field and kill you with his speed. In other words, Oklahoma State is still Oklahoma State.

Playing Style

If you’ve seen one variation of a Travis Ford-led Oklahoma State team, then you’ve seen them all. They push the pace like few teams can, and they do so in a relatively efficient manner. They’re 44th in adjusted offensive efficiency, and they do that by getting to the free throw line a whole lot with guards that bulldoze to the basket.

As a team, they are incredibly balanced, with 43% of their points coming from two pointers and nearly another 27% of points coming from free throws. The other 30% is from the deep ball.

Because they are actually not a great three-point shooting team, they are aided by being 17th nationally in free throws attempted to field goals attempted. They score on extra opportunities, and how many of those they attempt makes the difference between winning and losing.

And much like every other Oklahoma State team, it’s the little things they do that make the difference. The Cowboys, per possession, force more turnovers than all but five teams in the nation. Often that’s a result of teams trying to keep up with their breakneck pace and inevitably failing because it isn’t their game. Trying to outpace this team will result in failure.

The Big Three

Nash, Forte, and Hickey Jr. are the three leading scorers on this team, and they complement one another fairly well. Hickey Jr. is the distributor of the group, averaging 3.7 to 1.2 turnovers per game. He’s the lead man in this backcourt, and a very fundamentally sound player for someone who’s definitely not 6 ft tall. He’s also one of the best rebounders on the team with 4.2 rebounds per game.

But the real talent lies with Forte and Nash. These two are very, very capable scorers and solid defenders as well. Nash is a prototypical small forward from a build standpoint. He’s strong, a solid shooter, and has all the physical tools to beat most players at his position off the dribble. Nash has a deadly first step, and can finish through contact like Dez Wells finishes through contact. He’s also a solid rebounder.

Stopping him will be the more arduous task for Maryland. Had they Wells, this wouldn’t be as much an issue, but Layman, Wiley, and Nickens will all have serious trouble staying in front of him without getting into foul trouble. The best bet might be sticking Jonathan Graham on him early on despite the obvious gap in talent.

Forte III is not as unstoppable, but don’t let his height fool you into believing he isn’t a competent player. Forte is a thief in the same way Aaron Craft was a thief in that he just scraps for every ball. But he’s taken a major leap this year in his ability to get to the free throw line. He’s already attempted half his free throws from last season in under ten games, and his rate has increased significantly. For a guy with limited athleticism, he’s killing it.

Of course, any one of Maryland’s shooting or point guards will be able to stay in front of this guy, and Trimble, Wiley, or Pack’s height will all prove an issue for Forte.

Maryland playing man-to-man against this team gives them a slight edge over the Cowboys mostly because of their height. Neither team has much to write home about from a front court standpoint, although if Smotrycz is back and healthy, the Terps have the edge there as well.

Travis Ford might be their weak point

3-7

3-5

1-9

That’s Ford’s record over the past three seasons against top 25 and tournament opponents. Ford has proven he can win some big games, but he has proven far more often that he is incapable of coming away with victories against really talented teams on a consistent basis. That’s been Ford’s biggest knock during his tenure at Oklahoma State, and that issue may rear his head against Maryland as well.

Even shorthanded, Maryland is playing like a resilient team that can win regardless of the odds. Not having Dez Wells for this game hurts, and Maryland is going to need to get performances from some of their younger players to squeeze enough out of the tank to win, but it’s still doable against Ford.

Jake Layman has progressed into an elite player and is only getting better. Where he used to have problems against more talented teams, he now thrives in different ways. Simply guarding him from the perimeter isn’t going to cut it anymore; Layman can beat you at the free throw line and use his length to score over slightly more athletic wings.

Combine that with Melo Trimble, and Maryland still matches up well with Oklahoma State tit-for-tat. The difference will be coaching, and Mark Turgeon is probably a better coach than Ford at this juncture.

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No excuse for losing. AFC North: Week 16

This is the portion of the week where I usually breakdown the AFC playoff picture. The Ravens were on the outside looking in last week, and after a 20-12 win against the Jaguars, a Chargers loss to the Broncos, the Ravens now find themselves in the sixth and final playoff spot with two games to play. Fortunately, the Ravens are in line to face two subpar quarterbacks in the final games. Thad Lewis or Case Keenum in the upcoming matchup in Houston. Johnny Manziel, first round pick, in the season finale here at home who was shutout in his first career start. Browns coach Mike Pettine has already declared to keep moving forward with Manziel.

Discuss your thoughts on this topic on our message board.

Needless to say, let’s not over think this. The Ravens continue to win and they are in the playoffs, and there is no excuse what so ever for losing the next two games. The Ravens have no business losing to the fourth or fifth quarterback options of the Texans, all while the Houston Texans are all but eliminated from the playoffs with their loss to Indy.  The Ravens have no business losing a home game against the Browns, no matter what. With a playoff spot, possibly a division title on the line, a Browns team trotting out their rookie with nothing really to play for except to be the spoiler, there is no excuse for not being more prepared then the opposition for that game.

The only way the Ravens lose the next two, is by beating themselves. The penalties continue to rack up at an alarming rate as they had the most pre-snap penalties in Week 13 (6) and 14 (5), and second most in week 15 (4). Pre snap penalties are, the common theme here, inexcusable. They are completely preventable. It’s not a ref blowing a PI, or illegal contact, or something of a judgment call. Last Sunday, even Jeremy Zuttah, the man with the ball, moved before he snapped the ball. How does that happen? They have to shore up the discipline issues, especially if January football is in their future where you have to play perfect games in order to topple the likes of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.

For more on the Ravens, check back often for great coverage all week leading up to game day.

Winning out gets the Ravens in, but to get the all-important home playoff game, they will need some help to win the division. If the Bengals win out, the division is theirs. If the Steelers win out, the division is theirs. If the Ravens win out, they need each of the Bengals and Steelers to lose one more game. Since they face each other in the final week, at least one of CIN and PIT needs to lose this weekend.

A Ravens loss at Houston means that they cannot win the division. Even if the other teams lose this week. Either the Bengals or Steelers will finish with 10 wins. The Ravens could also get to 10. If the Bengals do, it’s theirs by way of better record at 10-5-1. If the Steelers do, it would be by having a 4-2 division record, and the best the Ravens can do is 3-3.

Let’s take a look at the other two matchups of note on the horizon for the AFC North.

Cincinnati Bengals (9-4-1) vs. Denver Broncos (11-3): DEN -3 ½. Mon. 8:30

I’ve said it a hundred times. Good luck figuring this league out. The Bengals narrowly escape with a win against the lowly Bucs, get crushed by a division foe in Pittsburgh, then come back against an in state rival and decide to show up to the tune of 30-0. I understand it was all eyes on Johnny Football day, but a shutout is a shutout, and 30-0 in a division game is a statement.

After a mind boggling 22-7 loss to the St. Louis Rams, the Denver Broncos have won four straight, but not in very dominating fashion. Not in the way we have seen Peyton Manning annihilate teams. The Broncos have failed to break 30 points in their last three games. But they also haven’t allowed more than 20 in each of the last three either.

Manning last three games:

@KC – 17/34, 179 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INT
vs. BUF – 14/20, 173 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT
@SD – 14/20, 223 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT

 

When you can win games and not rely on Manning to do so, but know that he is there when you need him…that is scary. But is it not needing Manning, or is it limiting him? He was ill entering the Chargers game, requiring four IVs on Saturday and Sunday morning in order to suit up.  Two of those three games have been cold weather games. Monday night’s low temp in Cincinnati is estimated to hover around 32.

The more balanced attack by Denver has led to C.J. Anderson getting the heavy work load out of the backfield, with 27, 32, 21, and 29 carries in the last four weeks. He averaged 5.7 YPC in the first two games of that stretch, but only 2.9 YPC in the last games.

On the Bengals side, they will have a tough test on offense to beat the Denver defense. The only real weapon on the receiving side, A.J. Green, will face a tough matchup of Chris Harris Jr, and bracketed over the top by Rahim Moore, having a better career since the Ravens made him a scapegoat in 2012.

Jeremy Hill has unseated Gio Bernard as the workhorse back, and racked up 148 yards and two TDs  on 25 carries last week. But he’ll face the Denver defense that ranks second in the league against the run, allowing just 71.6 YPC on the ground.

Prediction: Broncos 23, Bengals 17

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Kansas City Chiefs: PIT -3, Sun. 1:00

The Steelers offense is clicking on all cylinders right now as Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, despite being the number one targets of opposing defenses, continue to roll over whomever they face. The defense however leaves a lot to be desired as they allow 24.2 PPG, and allow some subpar teams to hang around in games they have no business being in. Think that Atlanta, Tennessee, New York Jets, Jacksonville, and Tampa Bay all came down to the final whistle, and some of those we’re upsets over the Steelers.

On the flip side, they handle their business against the likes of Indy, Baltimore once, Cincy in their lone meeting so far.

Kansas City is fledgling right now, favorites in their last four games, and are 1-3 in said games. The lone win was a convincing one over Oakland last week, ending a three game skid started by a loss to the same Oakland team. One reason for the underachieving could be not utilizing their best player, Jamaal Charles enough. Before the 1-3 stretch they are on, the Chiefs won five straight, while Charles averaged 20.8 touches per game. In the last four games, three of them losses, 15.5 touches. PFF lists Charles as the third most elusive, and third best breakaway back in the game. So…get him the ball…a lot. Especially with the season on the line as a loss would all but eliminate the Chiefs from playoff contention, dropping them to 8-7.

It’s a big game for both as the Chiefs need this one, and the Steelers know they can win the division if they win out (vs. CIN wk. 17). Charles left the game last week in the third quarter, precautionary, after a shot to the head. If it limits him, forget it.

Prediction: Steelers 24 – Chiefs 23

Other games of note:

Chargers @ 49ers: SF -2, Sat. 8:25
Browns @ Panthers: CAR -4, Sun. 1:00
Bills @ Raiders: BUF -6, Sun 4:25
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They Said, We Say: Ravens Talk December 15th

Yesterday, the Baltimore Ravens improved to 9-5 with a 20-12 victory over Jacksonville. Around the web we go to review the win, and to preview the remaining two weeks of the season.

(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)

RantSports

RantSports

The links:

CSN Baltimore: Ravens Secondary suffers more injuries vs. Jacksonville

They Said: Rashaan Melvin – An undrafted rookie in 2013, Melvin saw his first NFL action Sunday after Jackson was injured. Melvin responded with five tackles and nearly made an interception. Melvin played with swagger, even raising his hands to the crowd on several occasions. “There’s nothing like the first real game,” Melvin said. “There’s nothing like Baltimore Ravens’ fans. I just want to give them excitement. I feed off the energy.”

We Say: The news on Terrence Brooks (torn PCL, possibly torn MCL) was disappointing. I had hoped that he was going to see some additional time to end the year. Fingers crossed about Asa Jackson, but that also did not look good. At-least there were some positives shown from Melvin (Russell Street Report’s Ken McKusick reviewed Melvin’s performance further here.). Antoine Cason was inactive yesterday. Not totally surprising there. Signed last Tuesday, he was dealing with new terminology, and schemes. The Ravens will need him to be ready this coming Sunday though.

Baltimore Ravens.com: Eisenberg’s 5 Thoughts vs. Jaguars

They Said: The Ravens are now 2-0 without Haloti Ngata, the centerpiece of their defensive interior, who is serving a four-game suspension for using a performance-enhancing drug. I thought they would have more trouble replacing their Pro Bowl tackle, but rookie Timmy Jernigan is filling in impressively. On Sunday, he was stout against the run and consistently brought pressure up the middle on passing plays. His stat line said it all – four combined tackles, two sacks, and five quarterback hits, the latter a team high on a day when everyone unloaded on Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles.

We Say: BSL Ravens Analyst Mark Bullock has looked prophetic in his recent proclamation that Jernigan was ready for an increased role. Ravens fans have to be excited about what Jernigan has shown, and the prospects of teaming him long-term with Brandon Williams in the interior. Having Jerngian being able to collapse the pocket from the interior, has only made the pass rush more ferocious.

Baltimore Sun: Ravens running back Justin Forsett encounters tough sledding against Jaguars

They Said: Ravens running back Justin Forsett encountered tough sledding against his former team.

We Say: With Forsett recently battling knee and ankle injuries, it was somewhat surprising to see Forsett active against Jacksonville. I’m sure the Ravens would have preferred to have rested Forsett against the Jaguars, but Taliaferro’s own ankle and knee injuries caused him to be the one made inactive yesterday. Baltimore has relied on Forsett’s breakout season for most of the year. During that emergence, the hope has been that Forsett could stay fresh the rest of the way; in-part due to the minimal amount carries he has had the past 3 years. The flip side of that is while he has not absorbed the typical cumulative punishment of a 29 year-old RB – he has now carried the ball 192 times this year vs. 115 carries over the past 3 seasons. It’s a tough position for the Ravens. A playoff position is still being sought, so he has to be used. If you get to the playoffs though, you want him to still have something left to give. It will be interesting to see if Fitzgerald Toussaint (recently promoted to the active roster) gets some carries these next two weeks.

Drew’s Morning Dish: Empty seats, empty offense in Baltimore

They Said: Over the years, there have been many of those “don’t ask questions, just take the win” games, but perhaps none of those outcomes were as fortunate as the one the Ravens scraped together yesterday in Baltimore.

We Say: Agreed with Drew Forrester here, it would have been a pretty horrific loss. You give some credit to Jacksonville which Drew did, acknowledge your own mistakes, and move on. Ultimately just the latest reminder of this being a week-to-week league. Who matches up with who? Who is available to play? How motivated / focused are the players? What caught my eye from this piece was the headline alluding to all of the empty purple seats yesterday. I’m someone who prefers to watch games at home. Yesterday’s crowd made me wonder if I’m no longer in the minority? My sense though is that it was more of an aberration. The fan-base apathetic about showing up against a poor and nondescript Jaguars team. That said, while yesterday was the extreme, some empty seats have been noticeable all year. The Ravens have been aware about the need to improve the stadium experience; one wonders if further investment is necessary?

ESPN: Breaking down Ravens’ season-ending scenarios

They Said: No. 3 or No. 4 seed and a home game in wild-card round: The Ravens have to win the AFC North to play host to a first-round playoff game. For that to happen, the Ravens need the Bengals or Steelers to lose this week. If they both win, the Ravens would be eliminated from the AFC North race, because the Bengals and the Steelers play in the regular-season finale. If the Bengals and Ravens win out, the Bengals would finish a half game ahead of the Ravens. If the Steelers and Ravens win out, the Steelers capture the AFC North based on a better division record. The Bengals play host to the Broncos (11-3) on “Monday Night Football” on Dec. 22, and the Steelers are home against Kansas City (8-6). In other words, the Ravens have to finish with a better record than the Bengals and Steelers to win the division. They don’t hold any tiebreaker advantage over either team.

We Say: Clearly all of Baltimore will be Broncos, and Chiefs fans this coming week. While winning the North remains a plausible dream, the focus remains on the Ravens controlling what they can control. Win these last two games @Houston, and vs. the Browns; and Baltimore will be back in the Playoffs for the 6th time in 7 years. As it is, I’d be pretty optimistic with the Ravens heading back to Indianapolis to face the Colts as the 6th seed in the AFC.  I certainly respect Luck (and Wayne, Hilton, Nicks, and Fleener), and I know the Colts are 2nd overall in Total Offense; but that is a very winnable game for the Ravens.

Football Outsiders: Audibles at the Line: Week 15

They Said: Ravens secondary is underwhelming, but I’m still surprised at how easily the Jaguars are moving the ball. At the half, the Jaguars have looked a lot better than the Ravens. The Ravens are lucky to still be within one score. 

We Say: Overall, you have to be pleased of where the Ravens are as a team. Despite the proliferation of passing offenses in the league – and the injuries and under-performance Baltimore has had in their Secondary; the Ravens are again in position to get back to the Playoffs. In the current NFL, it seems every team has some issue. The Ravens have a QB that typically makes good decisions, and an arm that always gives them a chance. A strong defensive Front 7. Plus Special Teams (aside from yesterday for those not named Darian Stewart and Kamar Aiken). An offensive line playing well to their scheme. A running game, and a number of offensive weapons capable of making plays (even if the offense lacks elite play-makers). It would be a shame if he Secondary eventually does in the Ravens, but what can you do? Hill has been playing well at Safety. Webb seems to be getting back into form here in the later stages of the season. We talked about Melvin above. We will see what Cason brings. We will hope for the best with Jackson. Levine has been useful. Would be nice if a light-bulb went off for Elam. Been a tough year for him, but you would like to see Elam show why he was a 1st round selection as he gets more time at his natural position.

Nationally, I don’t think the Secondary issues are recognized. Part of that is a lack of recognition about Smith’s abilities. We are starting to see Mocks for the 2015 Draft. It’s TBD of where the Ravens select, but have to think the Ravens will take a hard look at CB’s.

Bleacher Report: Mike Tanier’s Monday Morning Hangover

They Said: The Ravens’ offensive highlights were Torrey Smith drawing his 11th defensive pass interference penalty of the year (our calendar cover will be Smith clapping, with a bouncing football on his left, a yellow flag at his right and a complaining defender in the background) and a designed Joe Flacco sweep on 3rd-and-5 late in the fourth quarter to burn the clock.

We Say: Ha!

They Said: From the same Mike Tanier article.. Salvador Dali Melting Clock Trophy (Awarded for the strangest clock management of the week.) Instead of focusing on strange end-of-half or end-of-game decisions, let’s marvel at the Ravens, who managed to turn a 49-yard Justin Tucker field-goal attempt into a 54-yarder by committing a delay-of-game penalty on 4th-and-1 in the fourth quarter. Tucker’s slightly longer attempt bounced off the left upright. The Ravens cannot afford to get sloppy on long field-goal attempts, which historically make up much of their offense. They can remain as sloppy as they want in all other aspects of football.

We Say: That was brutal. I don’t watch enough other teams to know, but from watching the Ravens and their opponents – it typically feels like Baltimore’s clock management is an issue. Is this the bias of increased scrutiny, or a realistic observation?

Sports Illustrated / MMQB: NFL Week 15 Winners & Losers

They Said: For the Baltimore Ravens to be 9-5 this morning, and for the franchise to be in position to win its third AFC North title in four years, is a pretty amazing thing, considering 17 of the 22 starters from the team that won the Super Bowl 22 months ago are new. Usually when a winning team has turnover like that, the bottom has fallen out, or injuries have ripped the roster apart. Well, the Ravens are in the thick of the playoff race with this kind of turnover..

We Say: Turnover in the NFL is nothing new, but this is a testament to the leadership in the Ravens Front-Office, the Coaching staff; and the stability that comes with having a Franchise QB.

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