Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Looking Ahead: Just A Fan Wondering About The Future

10/14/10 EDIT: The original version of this post omitted the section on Sam Houston State. I don't know what I was doing. I went in order of the teams in the right hand margin & for some reason the section on SHSU got left out. I stated I thought they'd finish at 8-8 in the wrap up, but didn't include their paragraph. I have put it in during this edit a few days late.

I am giving this disclaimer upfront: This is a post that coaches around the league just aren't going to like.

Coaches have the responsibility of getting their teams ready to play and believing that they can go out on the court night in - night out - and play to win. Expect to win. No coach says "Let's go win five of the next nine games - that'll be good". Coaches prep their teams for the next opponent and try and guide their team to give their maximum effort the next time out. We'll worry about preparing for three weeks from now when that opponent is on the horizon. All SFA should care about TODAY is going out and playing their best volleyball on Thursday night against UTA.

But.. we are fans, here. We can think about further out in the future... because that's what fans do. C'mon admit it: If you are an SFA Volleyball follower and you have watched our club over the past three weeks then you've asked this question in your head -- "Are we still in line to make the tournament at the end of the year?"

I want to remind each and every reader of something. Here is the hierarchy of my relationship to SFA Volleyball:

1) A Fan. I am a fan first. I have been a fan for WAY longer than I have been a PA announcer and blogger. Plus, with all due respect to my meager readership: I have been a fan of SFA Volleyball for a lot longer than most of you. Again, I say that with the up most courtesy. Notice, I am not saying I am more knowledgeable about volleyball than my readership. THAT would be a violation of one of the cardinal rules of writing. Most of you have been following volleyball as a sport for as long or longer than I have. Most of you are quite well versed in the fine points of the game. However, few of you will count yourselves fans of 'Jacks volleyball for 13+ years.

2) I am the PA announcer and this is subordinate to being a fan. However, the "fan" part of me is off while doing my job in Johnson Coliseum. Yes, arena announcers should/can use voice inflection changes to convey energy for the home team. After all, we are at home. You've all heard of "home field advantage". However, the "fan-boy" in me MUST take a back seat while announcing so as to be respectful to the opposition and complete in my descriptions of the action. The emotion displayed is simply arena announcer inflection - and it has little to nothing to do with SFA per se. For example, if asked to do PA for Nacogdoches High School volleyball, I would do it similar to how I do it for SFA even though I have no fan commitment to NHS Volleyball whatsoever.

[Now, those of you who know me are aware that the "fan" gets immediately turned back on after matches and while discussing the club during the week with other fans.]

3) I created this website. SFA Athletics website includes a link on their site to this blog, but I am not paid directly to write this blog by SFA Athletics. I am not paid to write this blog at all. I do it because I want to. So, I am loosely part of the general media, despite the fact that I am an SFA employee.

The blog definitely is here to support SFA Volleyball, but the writing here is not in the same style that Sports Information Directors (like Ben) should/must use as formal employees of their respective athletics departments. Plus, the writing here is not in the same style as someone who works for a newspaper or the conference. Those folks aren't employees of SFA at all and they are not dedicated to 'Jacks volleyball and frankly, they don't know the club as well as Ben and I do.

Let me digress a minute more... Ben is (under)paid to know this club. It is, in part, his job. He does a damn good job of it. Take the time to look at his "notes package" or read his write-ups. They are generally done in a more organized and professional way that what you'd find around the conference. Ben is a good writer. That's my opinion, anyway. By contrast, I am not paid to know this club. I am weird. I just decide to try and know this club - yes, for fun.

So, what we are going to do here is look at the remaining schedules of the other 11 SLC teams and give an opinion of how many games they will win as a way of trying to figure out how tough/easy it will be for SFA to gain a tournament birth.

This is not the type of exercise that would be done by anyone in print other than a blogger. The conference itself won't do it, the SID's at the schools won't do it. It would inappropriate. I am a fan. It is entirely appropriate for fans to look at schedules and ask: "What if?"

If you are a fan and have some knowledge of the conference, you might look at these schedules and come up with your own opinion and then share the differences you find in the comments or by email.

I will proceed in the order of the links to the other teams web pages in the right hand margin of this page.

Central Arkansas (7-0)
Home (3): TXST, Lamar, McNeese
Away (6): Lamar, McNeese, TAMUCC, UTSA, NICH, SELA
I think they win all but one. I think one team will get 'em at some point in the regular season.
Prediction: 15-1
Extra: Clearly the best team in the SLC. But, not invincible. They could run the table, but I don't think they will.

Lamar (4-2)
Away (5): McNeese, UCA, NWLA, SHSU, SFA
I think they win three at home and three on the road.
Prediction: 10-6
Extra: This team has surprised me a bit. I thought they were headed for a down year. Their loss to TAMUCC reinforces to me that they will still have a few bumps down the stretch.

McNeese (1-5)
Home (6): NWLA, UCA, Lamar, TAMUCC, SELA, NICH
Away (4): NWLA, UCA, SFA, SHSU
I think they win 2 at home and one on the road.
Prediction: 4-12
Extra: How's this for odd scheduling: All six of those home games are in a row and they start up this week. I just don't see much from reading about this club that convinces me that they'll be a factor.

Nicholls State (3-3)
Away (5): SELA, Lamar,McNeese, TX ST, UTA
I think they win 2 or 3 at home and 2 or 3 on the road. So, I'll split the difference and give them 5 wins.
Prediction: 8-8
Extra: The road game we have with them could be crucial. They beat Lamar & Lamar got beat by TAMUCC. Go figure. This is a team to watch because they should be on the border of making it in at the end.

Northwestern La (2-5)
Home (3): UTA, McNeese, Lamar
Away (6); McNeese, Lamar, UTSA, TAMUCC, SELA, NICH
I think they win 1 at home and 2 on the road.
Prediction: 5-11
Extra: They beat SHSU and SHSU beat us, so maybe they shouldn't be completely dismissed. But a 7-9 finish seems like an absolute generous ceiling. It won't be enough to make the tourney.

Sam Houston State (3-3)
Home (4): TXST, UTA, Lamar, McNeese
I think they will win two at home and three on the road.
Prediction: 8-8
Extra: Like Nicholls, this is also a team for SFA fans to keep an eye on as they will probably hover around the 'Jacks in the standings. That road schedule is pretty brutal especially with Corpus playing a little better. The only real lockdown game they have on the road is SELA. The 'Jacks have to hope I am generous with assigning them three road wins - if that three becomes only one, then we could leapfrog them in the standings. Our rematch in Nacogdoches holds a fair amount of weight.

Southeastern La (1-5)
Away (4): McNeese, Lamar, UTA, TX ST
I think they win one each at home and on the road.
Prediction: 3-13
Extra: Of the six teams we've played so far, they were clearly the one with the most issues. They got a bit of glory in making it to postseason last year. There just isn't a probable scenario that would lead to a repeat appearance.

TAMUCC (2-4)
Home (4): UCA, NWLA, SFA, SHSU
Away (6): NICH, SELA, UTSA, McNeese, UTA, TX ST
I think they win 2 at home and three on the road.
Prediction: 7-9
Extra: I don't know what to make of this team. I will do a complete write up on them before we go down there to play again. Will they fold? They have beat us and Lamar. They have lost to TX ST, UTA, SHSU and UTSA. Our loss to them at home and our rematch with them in Corpus looms large. I have to admit that I would not have thought that they would project as a possible tournament team, but they just might be. Graystone for coach of the year if they make it? Can't give it to McRoberts three years in a row, right?

Texas State (4-2)
Road (3): UCA, SHSU, SFA
I think they win 6 at home and one on the road.
Prediction: 11-5
Extra: Right now they don't impress me the way they have in years past. But, they always seem to get things together. It's truly too bad we couldn't take advantage of their two losses so far. Those three road games are all within the span of one week - otherwise it's home sweet home for the Bobcats. They've only played five matches at home so far all season compared with 15 on "neutral" courts or "away" courts. But, you know what? We've only played five at home too.. compared with 16 on neutral or away. I think that makes you stronger down the stretch, but especially in their case because they have 7 of 10 at home.

UTSA (5-1)
Away (5): SELA, NICH, Lamar, TXST, UTA
I think they win three at home at two on the road.
Prediction: 10-6, but a better chance at 11-5 than 9-7. Skewed left for all you stats fans out there.
Extra: They're legit. Maybe they hosted the SLC tournament a year too early.

UTA (3-3)
I think they win 4 at home and two on the road.
Prediction: 9-7
Extra: How do you rank these teams: SFA, SHSU and UTA? They may also be legit. Beating Texas State turned a few heads. See, SFA needs a quality win like that. That legitimizes things.

In summary:
UCA 15-1
TX ST 11-5
UTSA 10-6
Lamar 10-6
UTA 9-7
SHSU 8-8
NICH 8-8

That's eight teams. So, if I am anywhere in the ballpark, what does it mean for SFA? It means that 8-8 may be the absolute worst record that shows up in the tournament. We are 2-4. We have 10 games to go.

Think for a second. That makes this week really, really critical. Do you see now why I "drew the line" in a previous post about schedules at this point?

If we stumble some more and lose to UTA and Texas State on the road this week then we'll be 2-6 and probably needing six wins out of our final eight matches to have much hope. The last eight matches are:

Home (5): SHSU, UTA, TXST, McNeese, Lamar

If we are 2-6 with that remaining schedule, then six wins would require a major change of fortune since we would have previously lost to five of those eight teams.

You can ponder all the other scenarios, but the road games at Nicholls and Corpus look like they are of major importance even if we play well this week. I think 8-8 can get into the tournament. If we even our record at 4-4 this week, then I think you can look at those remaining eight games with confidence that we'd get at least four more.

I've been asked about "must wins" in the comments sections of these posts during the last few weeks. I've had more emails come my way in the last three weeks than at any time previous in writing at the blog. I think the only "must wins" are those games where you would be eliminated otherwise.

But, I feel very secure in saying that we are at the crossroads of our season.

So, where did I miss? Who am I overrating or underrating? Agree or disagree? Keep the emails and comments coming.