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April 24, 2011
The Cougar Lounge - An Ingot Of Hope
"I think the Cougs raced hard today."
- Wazzu head rowing coach Jane LaRiviere after 17th-ranked Wazzu defeated 14th-ranked Michigan this weekend.
"We finally put a complete game together."
- Wazzu head baseball coach Donnie Marbut after unranked Wazzu defeated third-ranked Oregon State this weekend.
"Every school is a party school."
- Colorado University student Henry "Hank" Smith after learning that Colorado was named by Playboy to be the nation's top party school.
"Well, it's just a circus act, it's an absurd act. You know, it's a dress-up. It's a classic English thing of let's play dress-up. Let's pretend that these are special people."
- Actor-comedian Jerry Seinfeld, providing his impression of the upcoming royal wedding festivities this week in England.
In the days of prosperity, Wazzu fans and well-wishers think the millennium has arrived but the Lounge is not so sure. In football, the "arrival" of a semblance of an offense in the spring practice sessions has evolved into a sort of vision vaguely resembling an ingot of hope that has been stored deep in the vault of all Wazzu fans and well-wishers, awaiting the day it may be exposed in full view of daylight for what it really is - either a genuine golden moment or pyrite. In soccer, NCAA tournament appearances turned to dust last year and last week, an important member of that team - midfielder Morgan Castain - transferred to Fresno State, leaving Wazzu with another challenge for the coming season - replacing an experienced athlete and finding at least three more wins to get into the NCAA tourney discussions. In volleyball, what seemed like a new era after previous head coach Andrew Palileo took Wazzu back to the NCAA tournament two years ago, collapsed in shame last month when Palileo resigned after a last-place conference season and now the program once again faces a rebuild with former Cougar athlete and assistant coach Jennifer Greeny at the helm. Women's hoop once again finished with single digits in victories and no obvious reason to expect clearing the .500 hurdle in a season. Swimming has seen the retirement of head coach Erica Quam after moderate success in her nine-year career. Tennis still has a chance to make some noise at the Pac-10 championships. Clearly though, of all the sports whose seasons are complete, men's hoop has been the standard-bearer for success in the 2010-11 season and it is a shaky standard- enveloped in a cloud of marijuana smoke as it is. Still, despite absorbing triple hits to the solar plexus in the last month - a crushing loss to Wichita State in the NIT semifinals, the departure of DeAngelo Casto to the professional life and the possible full departure of Klay Thompson to the NBA - it still appears as though Wazzu has some seeds of success planted and ready to germinate in their men's hoop garden. It has not been a good year for Cougar athletics in the big picture, but there are slim ingots of hope - some more reality-based than others, but they are there, nonetheless.
The potential terminal loss of Thompson to the men's hoop team will be particularly damaging as there is no way for the Cougars - currently - to replace the production of the Pac-10's leading scorer. They can do it here and there with bits and pieces of duct tape as head coach Ken Bone has described with returning player Faisal Aden and Fresno State transfer Mychal Ladd coming into eligibility, but there will be no positive consistency with that package - at least not until deep in the season when Ladd has played in a few Pac-10 games and Aden can make it through the year as close to 100% health as possible. The replacement of Casto with the expected trio of Brock Motum, Abe Lodwick and Charlie Enquist may actually have a better chance of working - at least with somewhat more pleasant results. There are no shot-blockers - of the ilk that Casto was - amongst that group, but the trio should be able to equal or even surpass Casto's point and rebound production. Overall, with the men's basketball team, there are some viable reasons to see success - not measured by NCAA tournament appearances just yet - in the future season.
On the other hand, the football program enjoys no such luxury of pointing to NIT-similar post-season appearances or winning seasons or, even, many wins [there are only three of them in three years against foes from their own level of play] to bolster their hopes. A grand total of 4076 - not surprisingly, lowest of all the completed Pac-12 spring football game attendances - showed up to watch the Crimson Mostly First Teamers beat up on the Gray Mostly Second Teamers And Below which proved absolutely nothing. Without consistent success to point to on the field against Division I opponents and, more specifically, Pac-10-soon-to-be-12 conference opponents, the spring game and practice sessions were more of an exercise in promotion than a genuine indicator of what may happen in the 2011 season. A glance at the roster will show that a majority of the expected two-deep roster [and we have to go two-deep because this is football and injuries have been known to occur] have not played meaningful minutes in meaningful games. The good news is that most of those players who meet that criteria are on offense and that is why Wazzu fans and well-wishers are expecting the offense to have a good year [with the term "good" being relative, naturally - it should be better than last year. Maybe]. The defense and special teams are both still large question marks and while the team will be helped with what appears to be an easy schedule early on - there is no "gimme" after Idaho State for a program which has only won three games against non-Division I-AA [now FCS] teams in three years.
The real concern in autumn will be how the soccer and volleyball teams fare. Volleyball is going to have a high threshold of pain because not many will be expecting to see a return to the NCAA tournament this year. A few wins - preferably a conference win here and there - and most Wazzu fans and well-wishers will call it good as long as it looks like it is heading in the right direction by the end of the year. Soccer has a much higher bar. Beating the Huskies yet again was good but Matt Potter's NCAA tourney mini-streak was broken last year and he needs to get back or else the royal wedding gets called off right now. Potter's chances appear to have taken a hit when Castain left, but he does have several talented Canadians coming in this year who can - no, make that "need" - to contribute right away for Wazzu to make it back above .500 and put themselves into NCAA selection committee discussions. It will be a critical year for Potter and the soccer program in 2011.
Speaking of the royal wedding, the Lounge has some royal wedding gift ideas. There is the usual, boring royal tea set but we like - giving Canada back, a BP snow dome that spews oil instead of snow from a miniature oil rig in water, a Google gift card allowing the couple to both have a thought and express an opinion in China, the Guinness brewery and last but not least, a pair of matching soccer hooligans.
"What does it really look like for next year without the sugar-coating?" asks e.e. sneezelle, about Wazzu's football chances in their inaugural Pac-12 season.
It looks murky, e.e. The positive aspect has the Cougar offense, led by proven performers such as quarterback Jeff Tuel and receivers Marquess Wilson and Jared Karstetter as possibly being able to effectively move the ball but teams which have already played the Cougars will have one year's worth of film on Tuel, Wilson and Karstetter now and the returning offensive line will need to block better for the run and at least reduce their total allowed sack numbers to the 20s for Tuel to stay in one piece and wins to consistently appear this year. Defensively, there is no pretty way to put this, e.e. - they just need to get better somehow. If the offense can manage to get points on the board, the defense has to be able not to give those points back the majority of the time. But this is why the spring game was essentially a futile gesture - had first team defense gone up against the first team offense, there could have been an inkling of actual play to base expectations on this autumn. However, without that experience or even an indication of ability [such as might be gained from playing against your own team's offense], there is no way of knowing if the defense - and again, opponents they played last year will have a year's worth of film on the unit's top performers - is up to the task of consistently stopping a Division I opponent's offense. There is only hope and hyperbole. Special teams will likely take a nosedive as there is no punter of Reid Forrest's magnitude currently displaying his prowess on the team and kicker Andrew Furney will have to prove consistency in games this year before being anointed as a proven performer. Overall, the Lounge consensus is mixed - one faction sees hope as exemplified by the offense, overcoming most other aspects while the opposing faction sees numerals from last year and with no spring game to say otherwise, expresses doubt. Without the sugar-coating, the situation for success looks questionable but with clear-cut opportunities to make it successful.
"What has to happen to make it back to the NCAA?" asks Mr. Smarmy Whelk about the Wazzu baseball team.
Well, Mr. Whelk, as head coach Donnie Marbut would say - win more games! Seriously though, they do have to win more games - like, we are thinking, at least 15. Unfortunately, they have won only 15 games to this point in the season and winning 15 more means they will have to take at least two out of three from remaining conference opponents Washington, Arizona, Oregon and USC, sweep remaining non-conference opponents BYU, UNLV and Portland and take the non-conference matchup with Washington. While that sounds like a daunting task, Monday's game against BYU begins the first of a massive 15-game home stand before they go to Pasco to play the Huskies in late May and then finish up in Los Angeles against the Trojans. So - there is a definite capability to winning a double digit number of games in the last week of April and month of May. However, to do it, the Cougars will have to get a balanced, consistent effort from both batting and pitching like they did in defeating the Beavers this weekend to capture their only Pac-10 road win of the year so far. More efforts like that one and the Cougars can get above 30 wins and above double digits in conference wins and if they achieve both of those goals, they can put themselves into an NCAA tourney discussion. Why? Because, due to their tough schedule, even with a 15-19 record, their current RPI is 33 - the highest of any team in the country with a losing record. Add a few wins to that over the course of the next four weeks and that RPI should elevate into the 20s and if it stays there, Wazzu could still make an NCAA appearance. It ain't over until it's over and no fat lady is on the stage yet.
The Lounge inadvertently caught wind [pardon us] of the FX network last month when switching between March Madness games amongst the many channels made available to us in that tournament coverage and "holy sh*t snacks!" stumbled upon Archer - an animated James Bondesque show about a suave superspy and his network of cohorts who tackle international espionage, daunting undercover operations and blah, blah, blah but more importantly, as the show bio explains, these are "unmitigated occasions for the staff to undermine, sabotage and betray each other for personal gains, pleasure and prosperity". In other words - just like real life - and college football fans and well-wishers will be hard-pressed not to see the obvious correlations to the BCS Taliban.
Many children will be unhappy when they learn the Easter Bunny did not leave them any Google stock, a Nintendo 3DS or even a crappy iPhone and all they found in their basket was a Reese's peanut butter chocolate egg [we will take it!], Jerry Seinfeld is unhappy about the pomp surrounding the royal wedding and Wazzu fans and well-wishers are unhappy about numerous elements of their athletic programs. The Lounge Scientists decided to do something about this and enlisted the aid of a positive psychologist who discovered that mere small positive changes in behavior can eventually lead to an overarching feeling of well-being and even actual physical well-being.
"Well-being amounts to more than just positive emotion - relationships, meaning and a sense of accomplishment are just as important," says Lounge Scientist #5, Martin Seligman, a positive psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania who, reportedly, feels really good about Penn's chances at winning Playboy's top party school honor next year.
Suddenly, the Lounge feels really good this morning - like our ingot of hope has turned into a Reese's peanut butter chocolate egg.
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