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Morning Coffee Is Optimistic About Hoops Once More

Limas Sweed's big game debut.  Steelers rookie Limas Sweed might have had a forgettable AFC Championship Game last night had his only YouTube moment been a bobble and drop of what would have been an easy 60 yard touchdown score. Sweed made a terrific slow-and-go move to burn his man and get open and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw a gem that hit Sweed's hands in stride. Longhorns fans were shocked to see him drop it; Steelers fans groaned "Not again..."

Limas has struggled with drops during his rookie year -- something he had no trouble with while at Texas. But though his drop could have totally derailed him mentally for the rest of the AFC title game, Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin pulled Sweed aside and had a few words with him. A few minutes later, Sweed was on screen for another YouTube moment, delivering one of the most punishing blocks you'll ever see. Sweed's drop starts the video; the big block is at the 1:30 mark:

Though Steelers fans have become exasperated with his drops of late, Sweed's doing a great job doing what Kevin Colbert drafted him to do -- get open down the field. The rookie jitters will pass, he'll still be open, and the catches will come. Sweed not only has a bright future as a pro, but I think Sunday night's game will prove a decisive turning point for his confidence. Mark it down: Sweed scores a Super Bowl TD.

Can we just ban 'classy' stories altogether?  Dave Sittler of the Tulsa World thinks that Pete Carroll handled Mark Sanchez's decision to turn pro poorly (view the Carroll clip here) because he spoke candidly about the choice's pros and cons. A thumbs up and pat on the rump not only would have been more appropriate, Sittler argues, but would have made Carroll... wait for it... classy like Bob Stoops. (Not a typo.)

But after his antics at Sanchez's press conference, Carroll demonstrated he doesn't belong on the same field as Stoops when it comes to handling a player who decides to ignore his coach's advice and leave early for the NFL.

A day before Carroll tossed Sanchez under the bus, Stoops was beaming at an OU press conference when Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Sam Bradford announced he would play for the Sooners in 2009 instead of chasing the millions that await him when he turns pro.

Stoops beaming, huh? You don't say. Of course he was happy -- his selfish efforts to talk Bradford out of going pro had worked. The Big Game Choke Artist downplayed Bradford's NFL stock before the decision, and in talking to the press after it sounded very much like a guy trying to justify himself:

"People say, and this is an argument, 'Well, he won't have the same team around him,'" Stoops added. "Well, you don't think those guys watching tape know when you're driving a Cadillac and know when you're driving a BMW. They know what you're driving. It isn't like if he isn't protected quite as well next year, they're going to know that. I feel like we have a really good offensive line coming back. We have some decent experience coming back."

The bottom line is that Bradford probably didn't do what was best for himself; he did what was best for his coach and the Sooners football team. There's certainly nothing wrong with that, but if Bradford gets hurt or sees his stock fall this year, he won't be the first OU player to leave for the pros unhappy his coach was one-sided about the decision-making process a year before. Bob Stoops may say the right things to the press once the decision is made, but it's comical to suggest he's the class act behind the scenes, where he elevates his own interests above those of the players. Downplaying your quarterback's draft prospects before he makes a decision is as selfish and disloyal a move as one could make.

Not that Dave Sittler cares. He just wants Coach to smile and offer a thumbs up after the decision has been made. I'll give Stoops this much: he's browbeaten the local media into buying every bit of his BS.

Ahem. Mase was good before Saturday, you know.  Rick Barnes made some important changes for Saturday's road win at Texas Tech, inserting Gary Johnson into the starting line up for Dexter Pittman while taking Justin Mason off point duties, using much more the surging Dogus Balbay instead. I love the move for a number of reasons and way back in November was arguing that this team couldn't/wouldn't hit its peak until Balbay was a 25-minute a game player. 

What I don't like is the way Mason's efforts at point have been summarily dismissed. The Star-Telegram opened its Tech recap with, "Don’t blame Justin Mason for what has been a subpar season." If an 84-33 assist-to-turnover ratio is subpar, then Bob Stoops is a class act.

For all that Justin Mason isn't as a natural point, he was in my mind for Texas the non-conference MVP, stabilizing a terrible early-season situation when AJ Abrams was still handling on-ball duties. While I'll absolutely agree that Mason can and will offer more now that he can flow freely in an off-ball roll, to downplay what he did in emergency PG duties while Balbay came along is flat wrong and unfair.

Two roads diverged in Lubbock...  Speaking of the point guard situation, Florida transfer Jai Lucas has arrived on campus and though his impact on competition that counts for the standings is still a year away, his presence in practice is already paying dividends.

"He's made practices better already,'' Barnes said, "just by being there with his energy."

Lucas' arrival will only help Dogus Balbay progress over the coming two months, without which Texas is doomed to suffer from too many bogged down possessions in the half court. By going smaller and quicker -- and getting a point guard on the floor who can break down a defense on the bounce -- Barnes is taking advantage of this team's exceptional athleticism. Both Gary Johnson and Damion James should blossom in the more wide open system, Justin Mason will be at maximum efficiency in an off-ball/do-it-all role, and Abrams & Atchley should find themselves with many more open looks beyond the arc.

If as I wrote on Saturday Texas was approaching a fork in the road, I think what we saw on Saturday suggests strongly Texas' first step was down the right path. I'm encouraged once again.