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Default Sports Central Newsletter - #96 - In Defense of Offense

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The Sports Central Newsletter
February 9th, 2003 - Issue #96
http://www.sports-central.org
===================================

|-- WELCOME --|

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|-- IN THIS ISSUE... --|

- Words From the Editor
- The O-Files: "In Defense of Offense"
- What's new at Sports Central?
- Feature Article: "Pitino, Calipari Meet Again"
- Marquee Matchups (NBA)

====================================================

|-- WORDS FROM THE EDITOR --|

Hello folks,

Incase you've been living under a rock this week, we've released our 2003 edition of our Sports Central Awards. Find out who won SC Columnist of the Year, Pro Athlete of the Year, and more. We also welcome your feedback on this year's staff-selected winners. Check it out: http://www.sports-central.org/featur...rds/2003.shtml

It may be the football offseason now, but that doesn't stop diehards from debating and analyzing controversial issues such as overtime, officiating, and more. With that in mind, Brad Oremland focuses on the importance of offense vs. defense in his latest O-Files column below. Check it out to see if the old cliche, "defense wins championships," is truly accurate.

Until next time,

- Marc James
mailto:[email protected]

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|-- THE O-FILES--|

"In Defense of Offense"

By Brad Oremland

Defense wins championships. A great defense beats a great offense. Offense sells tickets, defense wins games. You've heard them all, especially since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers crushed the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII. It was the first time a No. 1 defense (Tampa) had met the No. 1 offense (Oakland) in a Super Bowl, and the outcome has apparently led everyone -- especially the folks at ESPN -- to conclude that this is the end of the debate: defense is better.

There's something to that argument: 26 of the 37 Super Bowl winners allowed fewer points during the regular season than the team they faced in the big game. 26 of the 37 allowed fewer yards, as well, although only 22 allowed fewer points AND fewer yards. Still with me? It's a pretty good case for defense at this point.

But what about offense? Turns out 21 of the 37 winners scored more points during the regular season than the team they beat in the Super Bowl. But only 18 -- less than half -- gained more regular-season yards, and only 14 led in both points and yards. Another point for defense.

These numbers aren't too statistically significant, but they do suggest that a good defense will beat a good offense in the Super Bowl. Getting that far in the first place is a different story, though.

In the 37 years the Super Bowl has been held, the team with the top scoring defense advanced to the Super Bowl 15 times, with 11 wins. The team that gave up the fewest yards on defense only made the Super Bowl 10 times, though, with seven wins.

In contrast, the highest-scoring team during the regular season made the Super Bowl a remarkable 18 times -- almost half -- and won times. The team with the most yards on offense has been to the Super Bowl 12 times, with seven wins.

In other words, while defense may beat offense in the Super Bowl itself, a great defense is no guarantee of success in the regular season or the playoffs. In fact, offense appears to be a slightly better indicator of a team's chance to be one of the last two teams standing.

The records of the great defenses since the AFL/NFL merger back this up. Below is a list of the five teams that have allowed 10 points or less per game, followed by their records and eventual finishes.

1) 1977 Atlanta Falcons, 7-7, missed playoffs
2) 1975 Los Angeles Rams, 12-2, lost in playoffs
3) 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers, 10-4, lost in playoffs
4) 1971 Minnesota Vikings, 11-3, lost in playoffs
5) 1971 Baltimore Colts, 10-4, lost in playoffs

Yards allowed isn't much more charitable. The fabled "Purple People Eaters" top the charts: the 1970 Vikings, who made the playoffs but missed the Super Bowl, are No. 1, with barely 200 yards allowed per game.

1) 1970 Minnesota Vikings, 12-2, lost in playoffs
2) 1971 Baltimore Colts, 10-4, lost in playoffs
3) 1973 Los Angeles Rams, 12-2, lost in playoffs
4) 2000 Tennessee Titans, 13-3, lost in playoffs
5) 1984 Chicago Bears, 10-6, lost in playoffs

The great offenses of the past -- and present -- stack up slightly better. All of the top-five in points per game got within a game of the Super Bowl, and two of them won it.

1) 1998 Minnesota Vikings, 15-1, lost NFC Championship Game
2) 1983 Washington Redskins, 14-2, lost Super Bowl XVIII
3) 1999 St. Louis Rams, 13-3, won Super Bowl XXXIV
4) 1984 Miami Dolphins, 14-2, lost Super Bowl XIX
5) 1994 San Francisco 49ers, 13-3, won Super Bowl XXIX

The Air Coryell Chargers, who averaged almost 450 yards per game in the strike-shortened 1982 season, top the list of total offense leaders.

1) 1982 San Diego Chargers, 6-3, lost in playoffs
2) 2000 St. Louis Rams, 10-6, lost in playoffs
3) 1984 Miami Dolphins, 14-2, lost Super Bowl XIX
4) 2001 St. Louis Rams, 14-2, lost Super Bowl XXXVI
5) 1998 San Francisco 49ers, 12-4, lost in playoffs

This method of examining the offense vs. defense question, though obviously flawed, is not without value, and it seems to indicate that a great offense is better than a great defense.

The Purple People Eaters never won a Super Bowl, even with four chances and Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton at quarterback in three of them. Denver's "Orange Crush" lost its only Super Bowl appearance, in 1978. The Rams teams featuring the "Fearsome Foursome" of Lamar Lundy, Rosey Grier, and Hall of Famers Merlin Olsen and Deacon Jones, finished with a winning record only once and never made the postseason.

Dick Vermeil's Eagles choked in Super Bowl XV, and the team never won a playoff game during Buddy Ryan's 5-year reign as head coach. The Bears' Ryan helped to craft before his move to Philadelphia were the dominant defensive team of the '80s, leading the league in total defense three years in a row -- an accomplishment that has never been equaled -- but they made only one trip to the Super Bowl.

Marty Schottenheimer built great defenses in both Cleveland and Kansas City, leading the AFC in total defense four times and finishing in the bottom half of the conference only once in 15 seasons, but has never led a team to the Super Bowl. The Buccaneers were perennial playoff contenders under Tony Dungy, but playoff success was elusive until Jon Gruden joined the pirate ship this year.

There are plenty of great defenses that DID win championships, but there are obviously quite a few that did not. Which brings us back to the question for which there is no right answer: "Which is better, a great offense or a great defense?" The question which does have an answer is: "Does defense win championships?", and the answer is: sometimes.

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Brad welcomes your feedback on his column: mailto:[email protected]?subject=O-Files

====================================================

|-- WHAT'S NEW AT SPORTS CENTRAL? --|

Revisiting the new articles for the period of 02/03/03 - 02/09/03:

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COLUMN: Amico Report: All-star stuff
By Sam Amico

The Amico Report is a free e-mail newsletter/column from pro basketball columnist Sam Amico. Sam covers the NBA for various newspapers, magazines, and web sites, including Sports Central.

http://www.sports-central.org/columns/amico_report

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NBA: Sonics a sign of times in NBA
By Joe Kaiser

The popularity of the National Basketball Association isn't what it was a decade ago. Look no further than what has happened to the Sonics in Seattle, says SC's own Seattle native, Joe Kaiser. It's hard to put a finger on the decline, but over the past decade, something has changed. And it's changed for the worse.

http://www.sports-central.org/sports...cle165_3.shtml

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MLB: Dear Derek Jeter...
By Eric Maus

As President of the Official Derek Jeter Fan Club, I'd like to say what a jerk George Steinbrenner is. The Boss wants you more focused. Says your mind is not totally on baseball and more so on extracurricular activities. Doesn't he realize whom he's talking to? You are Derek Jeter, the greatest player in Major League Baseball history.

http://www.sports-central.org/sports...ticle165.shtml

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NFL: Inside Mike Vanderjagt's head
By Kevin Beane

This week, SC's Kevin Beane picks the brain of the rabble-rousing, non-sports-fan Mike Vanderjagt, and finds some interesting things there. He also finds time to engage Sports Central head football honcho Brad Oremland in debate. Oh ... and did we mention it's January 2004?

http://www.sports-central.org/sports...cle165_2.shtml

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COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Let the bubble-watch begin
By Sean McDonald

You might as well get used to the word being used, unless you purposely mute every SportsCenter and every game over the next month. SC's Sean McDonald takes a look at the major conferences and clues you in on who needs to make a move and who is moving the wrong way as March Madness approaches.

http://www.sports-central.org/sports...cle165_2.shtml

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TENNIS: A look back at the future of tennis
By Jeff Comer

Let's be honest, tennis just isn't a popular sport in the United States. It lacks devious scandals and personality. Yes, tennis is boring to most because it lacks the off-court drama that could make it more than just a couple of guys hitting a ball back and forth to each other. It is more than that, but Americans want drama, dirt, and gossip. Here's a satirical look back at the future of tennis from 2013.

http://www.sports-central.org/sports...ticle165.shtml

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COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Madness on the horizon
By Eric Williams

Well, the calendar has turned to February. The hangovers from New Year's Eve parties have vanished and most New Year's resolutions have already been forgotten, too. But, more importantly, February means that the college basketball season is in full swing, says SC's Eric Williams.

http://www.sports-central.org/sports...ticle165.shtml

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NBA: Recognizing our true heroes
By Derek Daggett

SC's Derek Daggett had reserved this space for recaps of who should, or should not, have made the NBA All-Star Game. However, in light of the tragic event that took place over the weekend, he takes a different look at the world of the NBA and addresses an issue that has long needed addressing: athletes are not heroes ... they are simply athletes.

http://www.sports-central.org/sports...cle165_2.shtml

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NFL: Sudden-death by coin toss?
By Jeff Zaginailoff

Jim Nantz of CBS is leading the charge for changing the NFL's overtime format. He doesn't like the fact that some of the time the team that loses never has possession of the ball during OT, and therefore the team that wins the toss has an unfair advantage. It would seem that Mr. Nantz is decrying a gross injustice. But is he right? Is it unjust?

http://www.sports-central.org/sports...ticle165.shtml

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COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Pitino, Calipari meet again
By Doug Graham

John Calipari owes a lot to Rick Pitino. The two coaches were once the gold standard in college basketball, what everyone aspired to be as a coach. They went to the NBA, and now try to restore their images as they restored the images of UMass and Kentucky, says SC's Doug Graham.

http://www.sports-central.org/sports...ticle164.shtml

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NBA: Should fans pick the all-stars?
By Bill Ingram

After fans voted in a strange cast of 2002-03 all-star starters, the question must be asked: should fans get to choose the all-stars? All you have to do is look at the questionable selections of Allen Iverson over Jason Kidd, Yao Ming over Shaquille O'Neal, and Vince Carter over Antoine Walker to see that coaches deserve to select the teams.

http://www.sports-central.org/sports...ticle165.shtml

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|-- FEATURE ARTICLE --|

"Pitino, Calipari Meet Again"

By Doug Graham

They were once the poster boys for the word "slick."
John Calipari built a UMass program out of scraps, while Rick Pitino took a once-great college basketball institution burdened with NCAA sanctions and returned them to glory.

Then, they gave the NBA a try.

Pitino was supposed to restore glory to the Boston Celtics in much of the same way that he restored the Kentucky program. He famously exited after a press conference that keyed on telling fans that the legends of Boston lore wouldn't be returning to the parquet floor.

Calipari went to the Swamp of the Meadowlands, where no one but Julius Erving could find success. Calipari sought to bring his "Refuse to Lose" attitude of the Minutemen to the NBA.

Is it even worth it to go until detail about how the two fared in their new gigs? Those are roads that Calipari and Pitino don't even want to head down.

Currently, John Calipari is in his third season coaching the Memphis Tigers and Pitino is in his second, back in Kentucky, only coaching the Louisville Cardinals.

Calipari's first major move as a head coach was to bring in Camden, New Jersey native DeJuan Wagner for his second season coaching Memphis. The Tigers were now back in the national spotlight with the nation's top recruit. Calipari wouldn't get the Tigers back to March Madness, but did take them to the NIT Tournament.

Unfortunately for Calipari, Wagner high-tailed it to the NBA after his first season. Who can blame him? I hear life as a Cleveland Cavalier is amazing.

Despite losing Wagner, Calipari came into the 2002-2003 basketball season with expectations of taking Memphis to the Big Dance, somewhere Memphis hasn't been since 1996. After getting off to a solid start, the Tigers have stumbled a bit upon entering conference play. There has been bickering in Memphis and slowly people are beginning to ask whether Calipari still has what it takes to steer a college program.

At Louisville, Rick Pitino couldn't be happier with what has happened. The Cardinals are a Top-10 program, and Pitino already won the big one when they defeated Kentucky earlier in the season.

It might be blasphemy to see Pitino walking the sidelines as Louisville's head coach, given the rivalry between the two schools that was already in place. In reality, though, it was the perfect fit. Pitino would return to Kentucky, the state where his basketball legacy was made. Louisville is a mid-level program in an up-and-coming conference and it fit Pitino perfectly, especially after the Boston debacle. Pitino needed to go to a program where the only direction was up -- yes, it was an image thing, but to succeed anywhere, you need to have that image.

Imagine if Pitino had chosen to coach at a traditional national power and failed to produce tournament winners in his early seasons as coach. It wouldn't be a comfortable situation by any means. At Louisville, Pitino can relax, knowing that his job isn't in jeopardy any time soon.

Granted, the last thing Pitino is going to do when he takes hold of a program is relax, but the comfort level of the program suited what he needed after Boston.

Memphis is seemingly the perfect situation for John Calipari, but that might not be the case. Memphis fans are restless, they want that return to the tournament. After Calipari's slips in the early conference play, talk began already that Calipari wasn't the man for the Memphis job. Talk was that Calipari couldn't bring the "Refuse to Lose" attitude of the UMass Minuteman to the Memphis Tigers.

In part, they are right. Calipari built the Massachusetts team off of a premise that they weren't given any hope at success. They were insignificant to the college basketball landscape. Success would have to be their own making, no one would hand them anything.

The players Calipari brought in the Massachusetts ate up everything Calipari fed them. They succeeded because night in and night out, their work ethic was at a higher level then their opponent. The teams that Calipari fielded weren't laden with NBA-potential, he recruited players that he knew would work hard, that he knew would play as a team. When Calipari was at Massachusetts, he was the example of what a coach was supposed to be.

Granted, he whined a little too much, which led to Calipari's short-lived but oft-remembered feud with Temple basketball coach John Chaney.

Calipari recruited better then anyone had done before at Massachusetts and he coached. Calipari may have fallen off in that last category because of his time in the NBA, which has possibly left him a bit jaded as to what the coaching landscape entails.

Now both coaches are leading a conference, bringing instant recognition to a conference that plays a high quality of basketball. Competitive and entertaining, that's Conference USA. Growing is another word to describe the conference, Pitino and Calipari should help a great deal in the growth of the conference.

They were college basketball's glamour boys, each time they meet now in C-USA play, flashes of what used to be, and what might once again appear come forth.

The biggest matchup between John Calipari and Rick Pitino came in 1996. It was the Final Four and a culmination of what Calipari had done with the Massachusetts program since taking over in 1988.

Before the meeting, Pitino heaped praise upon Calipari, even saying that he wished for a different opponent, because then he'd "have a chance to win the national championship."

Pitino was wrong that season, because he did go on to win the national championship, defeating Calipari. But Pitino's praise for Calipari and what he had done was understandable.

Pitino was a UMASS graduate in 1972. In the spring of 1988, Pitino was still coaching for the New York Knicks. While he was coaching, Pitino was contacted by his alma mater to help find a coaching for a Massachusetts program that had endured 10 consecutive losing seasons. Finding a coach for a team in that dire state was not a simple task, but Pitino quickly found the man that he would not only recommend, but push for.

Pitino saw in Calipari's potential and pushed for him because he knew that Calipari would make an excellent head coach somewhere. It was somewhat risky, staking your reputation as an alumnus on the line for a 29-year-old with no head coaching experience.

But it worked. After a losing season in his first campaign, John Calipari found postseason play for the Minutemen. Two seasons of NIT play and it was on to the Big Dance, five seasons, five Atlantic-10 championships.

Massachusetts was no longer the doormat of the Conference. With the success, came a new basketball arena and national recognition. Calipari would lose that 1996 Final Four game to Pitino, but would then accept a job with the New Jersey Nets as Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations and Head Coach. He lasted only three seasons with the Nets in an up-and-down tenure. Losing 56 games in his first season, but coming back strong in his second season with 43 victories and New Jersey's first appearance in the NBA playoffs in five seasons.

However, high expectations turned into three wins in the first 20 games of the 1998-1999 season.

Calipari was done as a head coach. Back in the collegiate level, Calipari has a strong future ahead of him. He is building the Memphis program up slowly, both Calipari and Pitino reached the NIT Tournament in the first seasons with their programs, Calipari winning it last season.

Maybe they underachieved last season with DeJuan Wagner, but after losing their top talent of a year ago, Calipari has a team ready to make that first appearance in the tournament since 1996. The games before the showdown with Pitino will be important for the success of Memphis this season.

On February 19th, Pitino and Calipari will meet again.

It's just a basketball game, but it's also more. They were two coaches who once dictated the future of college basketball. They'll attempt to do so again.

To say the least, the sidelines will be entertaining. They always are with this pair.

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We welcome your feedback on this column: mailto:[email protected]?subject=Feature_Article

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|-- MARQUEE MATCHUP --|

--> National Basketball Association

By Steve Goldstein

San Antonio Spurs (33-16) at Portland Trailblazers (32-16)

Tuesday, February 11, 2003; 10:00 PM EST; The Rose Garden; Portland, OR; TV: FSN

Maurice Cheeks and Greg Popovich both deserve a lot of positive attention for the work they've done in making their teams into contenders. Most of the attention in the NBA's Western Conference has gone to Dallas, Sacramento, and the defending league champions in Los Angeles. But Portland and San Antonio are threats to make the playoffs very difficult for the aforementioned trio of teams.

Cheeks has finally found a rotation that works. He's decided not to worry about the hurt feelings of a benched former all-star like Damon Stoudamire or a benched seven-footer like Arvydas Sabonis. By making Scottie Pippen the team's point-forward, Cheeks has given scorers like Rasheed Wallace, Bonzi Wells, and Derek Anderson more room to operate. Plus, he still has Dale Davis doing a lot of dirty work on the boards.

Wallace seems like less of a distraction this year, despite the seven-game suspension for allegedly threatening an official Pippen is rejuvenated with the ball in his hands creating for his teammates, rather than clanking three-point attempts off the back iron. The bench has been strengthened, too, by the consistency of its use. Ruben Patterson and Jeff McInnis are both energy players who are great in 6-8 minute stints to play tough defense and pick up garbage baskets.

In San Antonio, Coach Popovich is also doing an impressive job. The Spurs have a tendency to win ugly, but the key word is "win." Tim Duncan has been impressive as usual, and David Robinson has been giving the Spurs strong minutes. Robinson's especially important because of his ability to guard the opposing team's center -- and helping to keep Duncan out of foul trouble.

The Spurs are one of the NBA's weaker offensive teams -- at least as far as contenders go. But their interior defense is one of the league's best, and point guard Tony Parker continues to develop as a ball-handler and defensive stopper. San Antonio could provide major problems for Dallas, Sacramento, and the Lakers because of that intense defensive effort.

[ Game Breakdown ]

Offense -- Portland
Defense -- San Antonio
Coaching -- San Antonio
Intangibles -- Portland

Predicted score: Portland 91, San Antonio 87

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You are welcome to post your thoughts on the message boards at:
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====================================================

(Thanks for reading! Next issue set to come out on 02/23/03.)

Contents copyright 1998-2003 Sports Central.
No part of this newsletter may be reproduced without permission.
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