Wizards

Bielema ready for rugged SEC at Arkansas

201212051722625378663-p2.jpeg

Bielema ready for rugged SEC at Arkansas

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long first met Bret Bielema while in Miami attending an end-of-season awards ceremony surrounding the 2005 national championship game.

Bielema was a 34-year-old up-and-coming assistant coach at Wisconsin, and Long was the athletic director at Pittsburgh, still a few years away from leaving to take over the Razorbacks program for the retiring Frank Broyles.

Always one to network and keep his emergency file of potential coaches ready, Long followed the career of that assistant he met on the beach. Little did he know that he would one day hire Bielema to coach Arkansas, helping end what had been a spiraling eight months for the Razorbacks following the scandal-ridden exit of Bobby Petrino.

The end of a secretive search came to an end Tuesday when the former Wisconsin coach agreed to take over the Razorbacks. The 43-year-old was introduced at a news conference the next day, giving Arkansas hope it can return to the upper echelon of the Southeastern Conference.

``I'm very relieved,'' Long said. ``You know, coaching searches are stressful searches. There's a lot depending on it. ... It's always good to have a search completed. But I really feel good about the coach we have to lead these student-athletes.''

Bielema, who left the Badgers after seven seasons, won't coach Wisconsin in the Jan. 1 Rose Bowl game against Stanford. Instead, he'll immediately step in the hyper-competitive world of recruiting in the SEC - home to the winners of the last six national championships.

The former Iowa and Kansas State assistant could have a difficult time initially selling an Arkansas program that was 4-8 this season and missed a bowl game for the first time since 2008. However, he won't have to go back far to remind recruits of success at the school, which was 21-5 in 2010-11 under Petrino and finished as high as No. 5 in the final rankings.

Given Bielema's background as a defensive coach, the rugged SEC seemed to him like the perfect fit. He said he had no apprehension about joining an SEC West already loaded with Alabama and LSU, among others.

``The thing I think probably intrigued me more than anything as I've watched over the years the SEC, there's a lot of coaches that have my type of background that have had success,'' Bielema said. ``I'm excited to work with the caliber of athlete the SEC can bring and what we can bring here to the University of Arkansas is very exciting.''

The Razorbacks had an equal amount of confidence in their new coach after meeting with him Wednesday afternoon, and they expressed little doubt Bielema could go toe-to-toe with the likes of Alabama's Nick Saban and LSU's Les Miles.

``I don't think, I know he can,'' Arkansas cornerback Tevin Mitchel said. ``You can see how confident he is. That's a good feeling for us as players.''

Bielema said he would interview each of the current members of the Razorbacks staff, though he'll he have to hire a new offensive coordinator since Paul Petrino left to become the head coach at Idaho. The Illinois native said he had six candidates in mind for the position, a critical selling point to recruits for a school that was among the country's best under Bobby Petrino.

Led by current Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, Wisconsin was sixth in the country in scoring in 2011. Bielema, who was 68-24 with the Badgers, preached a balanced attack and said he'll tailor the offense to fit the players. Wisconsin running back Montee Ball was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy last season, and he's second in the Big Ten this season with 1,730 yards rushing.

``I'm going to recruit a certain way and you'll get more and more specific what you want as the years go forward,'' Bielema said. ``But if you don't have the right dogs in the race, you're not going to win it.

``So whatever race we get into with our philosophy, we have to make sure we have the right people to run it.''

Bielema knew of Arkansas' fall from preseason top 10 this season, sending a letter of support to Long about how he handled Petrino's firing and the hiring of interim coach John L. Smith in April. He knows now that the challenge is to rebuild.

``I'm never going to lie,'' Bielema said. ``I'm never going to make something look better than it is. We're a 4-8 football team that a lot of people thought were going to be great in the beginning of the year and we weren't.

``... But right now we're going to embrace being the underdog. We're going to throw two arms around it. We're going to kiss it and make it feel good.''

Quick Links

Five observations from Wizards' loss to the Pacers despite Bradley Beal's big night

bealindy.png
USA TODAY SPORTS

Five observations from Wizards' loss to the Pacers despite Bradley Beal's big night

The Washington Wizards lost to the Indiana Pacers 109-101 on Monday night. Here are five observations from the game...

1. Another loss: The Wizards just can't seem to put together a full, 48-minute performance, a collective effort good enough to beat a team that isn't among the worst in basketball. On Monday, they saw a Pacers team that despite missing Victor Oladipo is still very good, and they fell short of what could have been an epic comeback.

The Wizards stormed back from down 25 points, only to collapse in the final minute and get outscored 11-4 to close the game. The final result was another loss, their second straight. They are 11-16 on the year with the Boston Celtics up next on Wednesday.

The defeat spoiled another big night from Bradley Beal. He had 30 points, the fourth straight game he's dropped 27 or more. 

2. Otto went down: The Wizards found themselves in a tough situation on Monday with only nine available players after Otto Porter Jr. left in the first half with a right knee contusion. John Wall and Dwight Howard were already out, meaning the Wizards were down three starters. Markieff Morris then got into early foul trouble, giving head coach Scott Brooks a real dilemma.

Though Porter's injury doesn't seem serious, the Wizards can ill-afford losing anyone right now. It's worth a reminder that, as bad as the Wizards have started this season, they have done so with few injuries to blame.

3. Oubre came through: Not long after Porter went down, Kelly Oubre Jr. stepped in to fill the void. He had one of his best games of the season with 23 points, five rebounds, three steals, and a block.

Oubre shot poorly against the Cavs on Saturday, but overall he has been playing very well lately. This was the fourth straight game he's reached double figures and the third time in that stretch he's scored 19 or more.

In addition to scoring, Oubre did a lot of the things Brooks wants him to do. He drew an offensive foul, brought down two offensive rebounds and forced a few turnovers. Oubre's best attribute is his length and his ability to cause havoc defensively, especially off the ball. He came into this game sixth in the NBA in total deflections and second in deflections per 36 minutes.

4. Dekker debuted: The lack of options for Brooks detailed above and the lopsided score at least brought one positive and that was the debut of Dekker, who checked in with just under four minutes to go in the third quarter. 

Dekker actually played fairly well considering the circumstances and happened to help key a nice little run for the Wizards. Washington closed the third quarter on a 13-0 run once he came in. On one play during that stretch, Dekker got a steal and then finished with a dunk on the other end.

The run with Dekker on the floor extended to 19-0 in the fourth quarter and kept the Wizards within striking distance the rest of the game. Maybe Dekker was the missing piece all along.

5. Turner is good: For the second straight game, the Wizards had no answer for an opposing big man. Last game it was Tristan Thompson, this time it was Myles Turner. 

Turner had a huge first half on the defensive end and found his scoring groove in the second half. He had a monster stat-line of 26 points, 12 rebounds, and five blocks.

The strategy for opposing teams at the moment appears to be to attack the Wizards in the middle, knowing they are just trying to make do with Thomas Bryant and a collection of small-ball fives. Teams may keep doing that until the Wizards stop them.

MORE WIZARDS NEWS:

Quick Links

Tom Verducci gives more specifics on Bryce Harper's 2016 injury

harper_dugout.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

Tom Verducci gives more specifics on Bryce Harper's 2016 injury

Entering 2016, Bryce Harper was ready to take over the world. After putting forth one of the most impressive offensive seasons in recent memory in 2015, he was rewarded by being named the youngest unanimous MVP in the history of baseball. The following season, he was prepared to take another step forward.

Instead, he slashed .243/.373/.441 with 24 home runs, and questions abounded about why he was struggling.

Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci, one of baseball’s most accomplished reporters, wrote a story late in the season about how Harper had suffered a shoulder injury, according to a source. The Nationals vehemently denied these reports at the time, claiming that their doctors were not aware of any medical issues with Harper’s shoulder. Mike Rizzo said he asked Harper directly if he was hurt and was told no.

At this year’s Winter Meetings, Verducci spoke with NBC Sports Washington, and he doubled down on his reporting.

“2016, of course, that’s when he injured his shoulder. It was a slide in Milwaukee, about one-third of the way into the season, was never quite the same.”

Whereas in 2016 Verducci simply referred to “a source,” it appears this information came from Harper directly.

“As he told me,” Verducci says, “He could not lift weights upper-body wise through the rest of that season, he lost weight, didn’t have the same kind of power. He was compromised even throwing on defense, he had to compromise by playing much more shallow.”

“The numbers in ‘16 really are a function of the injury.”

One concern Nats fans have about signing Harper to a major deal is how his numbers in the post-MVP years have failed to match 2015. According to Baseball-Reference, his combined Wins Above Replacement total from 2016-18 is 7.5. His bWAR in 2015 alone was 10.0. Still, Harper never had an OPS+ below 114 in that stretch. Even his “down” seasons would still be considered quality years for most big league hitters.

Harper is also just now entering his prime, however, so presumably many of his best seasons are still to come. For one MLB insider, at least, there’s no real cause for concern about a long term deal as long as Harper can stay healthy.

MORE NATIONALS NEWS: