Podcast (Episode 27): Sterne School Handball Coach, Craig Brewer

The Sterne School Dolphins, 2017 Youth Cal Cup Champions

This past November, The Sterne School of San Francisco won their 2nd consecutive Youth Cal Cup title. Joining me on the podcast is their head coach Craig Brewer.  Craig was the 2016 USA Team Handbal Youth Development Handball Coach of the Year and has been involved with education for 20 years.  We discuss the genesis of the Sterne School handball program and how the San Francisco Cal Heat Club has helped develop Middle School and High School Handball in the Bay Area.  We also discuss the challenges of starting a High School handball program and brainstorm some options for further handball growth in American Schools.

Sterne School: Link

SF Cal Heat: Link

Video of Sterne School vs Bayhill:  Link

Youth CalCup 2017: Bayhill vs. Sterne – 2nd half

Posted by San Francisco CalHeat Team Handball Club on Saturday, November 18, 2017

 

Link to commentary on football positions ideal for handball: Link


The Unofficial sponsor of this podcast episode was ehfTV and the 2018 Men’s European Championships.  Catch all the action from 12-28 January, for free, live and on demand on ehfTV. The world’s best option for handball web streaming.


If you would like to advertise on the Team Handball News Podcast contact John Ryan at john.ryan@teamhandballnews.com

Subscribe to the Team Handball News Podcast in iTunes: Link

Or use this RSS Feed to sign up for the podcast in your favorite podcast aggregator: Link

Well, it Had to Happen Sooner or Later:  Barcelona’s Unbeaten Streak is Snapped after 133 Matches and What it Says about Long Shot Chances in Handball

Big News in Spain: Barcelona played a Liga Asobal handball match and didn’t win it.

In the midst of the Women’s World Championships this past December a pretty significant Liga Asobal Men’s club match was played in Guadalajara, Spain where the host team managed a 26-26 draw against, Barcelona, one of the best club teams in the world.

Why was that draw significant?  Well, because not since May 18, 2013, when they lost to Naturhouse La Riolla, 33-31 had Barcelona failed to win a match in Spain’s top competition.  A staggering 133 straight victories and 4 straight undefeated 30-0-0 seasons from 2013 to 2017.  Back in 2013, I wrote a commentary on how the financial crisis in 2008 had set in motion the tumbling of what was once the World’s 2nd best league to merely an afterthought competition.  Essentially, Barca and everybody else.

Still, 133 straight victories?  No upsets along the way? This is not simply a matter of amateurs vs pros.  The other teams in the league aren’t what they once were, but they are sides still mostly, if not entirely, composed of professional athletes.  Granollers and Leon have had decent teams the past few years.  Perhaps if you ranked every single club in Europe, they’d be somewhere in the top 30.  Top 50, for sure. They’ve each had 8 shots at taking Barca down.  Plus, the home court advantage for half those games.  Crazy things can happen with “home cookin” if you know what I mean.  I don’t care how much better the opposition is.

One couldn’t imagine such a string of victories in American professional sports.  There’s just way more parity even if there have been some pretty dominant teams over the years like the present day Golden State Warriors.

Just how lacking in parity is the Liga Asobal?  Well, I would ascertain, that Barcelona has the league’s best player at every position.  Probably, the 2 best players at every position.  Heck, there might not be another athlete on all the other teams combined who could find a spot on their roster.  OK, that might be a stretch, but for sure nobody playing on any of the other teams would start for Barcelona.  And, not only are the players better at every position they are significantly better.  There’s a huge gap in talent.

Still, 133 straight victories?

Handball is Just Not the Sport for the Big Shock Upset

But, then again maybe 133 straight wins isn’t such a shocker.  When you’re looking for the really big upset in sports there are several factors that come into play.

  • How hard is it to score? Games with a lot of scoring are less prone to upsets because the odds dictate that the better team is going to get its points and the weaker team will be faced with the prospect of matching and scoring more.  But, if the the prospect of scoring is challenging even for a great team it open the door to the possibility of a huge upset by even totally outmanned opposition.  And, no other sport demonstrates this as ably as soccer where a game can be won, 1-0.  Entirely amateur sides have knocked off dramatically superior opposition in such games over the years.  More often than not the top side wins 5-0, but every once in a while a lucky goal goes in off a corner kick and the dramatically inferior side puts 11 players in the box and prays the pro side can’t find the back of the net.
  • How many opportunities are there to score? This essentially relates to the variability in outcomes over time.  The longer the game, the more chances to score, the more likely it is the better team will eventually come out on top.  It’s just statistics really.  For any 5 minutes in a 60 minute game, the weaker team might outperform the stronger team.  A team will miss a shot, but if they get to keep shooting, it’s only a matter of time before talent wins out.  But, if there are fewer opportunities or it’s a game of shorter duration then the upset becomes more possible.  There are a couple of sports that demonstrate this well.  One is Rugby 7s where a minor rugby nation like the U.S. can knock off New Zealand without causing much of a real surprise in this 14 minute compact game.  Whereas a USA Rugby 15s victory over New Zealand would be epic.  Another game:  Beach Handball where a USA victory over a top team would be a minor surprise, but the same win over a European team in court handball would again be epic.
  • How much difference can one player’s great performance make? In some sports an incredibly great game by one athlete can make all the difference.  A great pitcher in baseball can throw a no-hitter.  A basketball player can shoot out the lights from 3 point land.  The closest thing to something similar happening in handball is a commanding goalie performance.  And, I’ve seen it happen, on occasion, but in reality such a performance might realistically mean chopping the talent gap 4-5 goals.

Handball is a game where 2 of these 3 factors always work against the dramatically weaker team.  And, even the 3rd possibility of a great individual performance is muted somewhat in its effectiveness.  Upsets do happen in handball.  But, those upsets typically occur in matches where the talent gap between the two sides is actually somewhat modest.  Think, the French women’s recent upset of Norway.  There was a gap in talent, but not a chasm and goalie play/defense overcame it.  But, the bigger the gap widens in terms of talent the chances of a shock upset increase dramatically, probably exponentially.

Unwittingly, a Test Case for Other Handball Odds Assessments

I’ve written a couple of commentaries (Link 1, Link 2) where I’ve tried to critically assess the odds of the U.S. National Teams to qualify for the Olympics and the World Championships.  As, I did my assessment I struggled a bit to try and quantify the differences between long shots, big long shots and really, really long shots.  It’s a theoretical contemplation for sure to entertain the differences between 5-1, 10-1, 50-1, 100-1, 250-1, etc.   And, the USA Women are never going to play Brazil a thousand times to get some good data that might back up assertions on just how long are the odds for a long shot upset.

But, Barcelona’s 133 straight victory run over the past four years probably serves as a pretty good approximation.  Heck, one could argue that the gap in talent between Barcelona and the typical also run Liga Asobal team is less than the gap that exists between the U.S. and Brazil Women.  Much like the gap I described above I don’t think a single American would make the Brazilian roster.  The Brazilian roster is composed mostly of athletes playing on tier 1 teams in Europe.  The U.S. has maybe a couple of players that with some more competitive experience could possibly make the roster of a tier 2 side in Europe, but the bulk of the roster, while hard working is tier 3 at best.  Even with Brazil’s disappointing World Championship performance there is still a massive talent gap.  We could argue as to whether the possibility of an upset is a 100-1, 250-1 or 500-1 proposition, but there should be little doubt that it’s a big number.

And, the double whammy the U.S. Men face in having to beat 2 significantly superior sides, Brazil and Argentina is aptly displayed.  Seriously, what do you think the chances are of Barcelona losing 2 games, back to back in the Liga Asobal anytime soon?   As, I previously highlighted needing 2 upsets means a really big number.  Maybe the 2,500 to 1, is even right on the money

I wish this was all simply a total nonsense speculative assessment.  I wish the U.S. had a realistic shot at Olympic qualification. I also wish we would stop kidding ourselves and start thinking long and hard about how to transform the sport of handball in this country.  To take advantage of the 10 years we’ve been given leading up to the 2028 Olympics to do things right.  I’m beginning to think the odds of that happening, though, maybe isn’t much better than our 2020 Olympic Qualification prospects.  Call me Don Quixote if you will, but, I’ll keep advocating and asking the burning questions until somebody starts thinking maybe we should try to answer them.

And, here’s a closing thought for you.  Barcelona’s 133 game victory streak may be over, but the 136 game unbeaten streak marches on.  Yeah, the match in question was a draw.  I’m thinking if there had been extra time Barca would probably have kept their winning streak.  And, Guadalajara also ran into Barcelona in the semifinals of the Copa Asobal a few weeks later with the opportunity to show everyone that the draw was no fluke.  Final score?  Barcelona 36, Guadalajara 22.

USA Women’s Trip to France:  Summary of Results and Top Level Analysis   

USA Women on defense vs Belgium

The USA Women recently traveled to France for some training and friendly competition.  Here’s a summary of their match results based on information obtained from French Club, the Belgian Federation, USA Team Handball website and various social media accounts:

16 December  USA vs Paris Saint-Germain 26-18 (Halftime 12-10)
17 December  USA vs Belgium 29-31 (11-12)
19 December  USA vs Belgium 21-31 (13-14)
20 December  USA vs HBCSA 19-31 (10-13)
21 December  USA vs Lomme Lille Metropole 24-29 (11-14)

Background on the Competition

Here’s some very top level analysis on the competition Team USA faced during the trip.  “Very top level” in that other than a few video clips I did not see any of the matches.  The relative quality of the French club team can be assessed by the division they play in.  Unlike their male counterparts (one of the world’s top clubs), the Paris S-G women play in somewhat obscurity in France’s N2F, effectively the 4th Division in France’s confusing club hierarchy nomenclature.   They entered the winter break with a 3-1-4 record and are in 7th place in their pool.   HBCSA plays in France’s 2nd Division and they had compiled a 4-1-3 record so far this season and are in 5th place.  Lomme Lille Metropole plays in France’s N1F (effectively the 3rd level) and had a 4-2-2 record and are in 4th place in their pool.

As far as to the level of the Belgian Women’s team there’s not very much in terms of recent results to assess how good they are.  According to Belgian native Jan Vanderstraeten, who plays for the Portland Sasquatch the Belgium ladies have only recently restarted their program after 13 years of not playing in international competition.  Overall, handball in Belgium is a significantly lower level than most countries in Europe, but they are now taking steps to develop their program.

Team USA Makes Do with Thin Roster

The U.S. was missing several key players and was particularly lacking in backcourt experience.  Further, with 3 goalies on the 13 player roster leaving only 10 court players available such a thin roster had to be a concern going into the trip.

Team USA Roster

Taking into account the thin roster, a 1-4 record with 2 lopsided losses against modest competition is not a surprise to me.  Playing 5 matches in 6 days is really demanding for a team with a full roster of experienced players and the U.S. was clearly short handed. Truth be told, it could have been worse and the U.S. is commended for easily taking care of the 4th division team, playing Belgium close in the first game and then playing the 2nd Division side close for a half.  Again, having not seen the matches I can only guess that the U.S. ran out of gas in the 2nd halves of the 2nd match vs Belgium and against HBCSA.

Finally, if one compares this trip’s results to the trip taken last January to France there are signs of progress.  For sure, last year’s trip had a more robust roster, but yet actually compiled more disappointing results against similar competition.  If the U.S. roster had included Andersen, Butler and Van Ryn helping out in the backcourt this team would surely have fared better.

Photos: USA vs Belgium Link Link

Belgian Federation Reports on matches: Link Link

Handzone.net (France) Report on match vs HBCSA: Link

Photos: USA vs Lomme Lille Metropole: Link

USA Team Handball Preview of Trip: Link

 

Podcast (Episode 26):  Japanese Women’s Handball Coach, Ulrik Kirkely

Japan’s Head Coach, Ulrik Kirkely urges his team on at the World Championships

The Japanese Women’s National Handball Team had a breakthrough performance at the 2017 Women’s World Championships with wins against Montenegro and Tunisia, a draw vs Brazil, and a 1 goal loss to Russia in Group play.  They then played arguably the most entertaining match of the tournament in the round of 16 losing by 2 goals in Extra Time to the eventual bronze medalists, the Netherlands.

Coach Kirkely and I discuss Japan’s performance at the World Championships, handball organization/development in Japan and the future prospects for the Women’s team heading into the 2019 World Championships and 2020 Olympics, both of which will be hosted by Japan.


This podcast episode was brought to you by Nord VPN.

Ever go online to try and live stream a great handball match only to get the dreaded geo block notice telling you that the match isn’t available in your country?  When you would even be happy to pay to see it, but can’t even do that because the network that owns the rights chooses not to broadcast?  Sometimes it just makes you want to give up and go watch some more football.

Well, I can’t guarantee you that Nord VPN will solve all your handball viewing problems.  I can only state, that I personally am a very happy camper now and with plans as low as $3.29/month it’s worth every penny and then some.

Finally, I bet you’ve seen the ads from sketchy websites offering you matches for free as long as you download their customized video player.  And, after hesitating a bit you caved in only to be inflicted with incredibly slow computer speeds or worse, viruses.  That’s a legitimate concern with those sites, but not with Nord VPN which has top ratings and reviews from PC Mag, Wired and others.

Sign up for Nord VPN today: Link


If you would like to advertise on the Team Handball News Podcast contact John Ryan at john.ryan@teamhandballnews.com

Subscribe to the Team Handball News Podcast in iTunes: Link

Or use this RSS Feed to sign up for the podcast in your favorite podcast aggregator: Link

USA Men’s Club Rankings (1st Poll and Some Background Info)

First USA Men’s Club Poll (December 2017) (Rest of the Top 25: Link)

The first poll ranking the top men’s clubs in the U.S. has been released with the New York Athletic Club (NYAC) edging New York City (NYC) for the top spot.  NYAC’s resume so far this season consists of a 5-0-0 record and a Michael Lipov Tournament title in Chicago this past October.  NYC is also undefeated with a spotless 6-0-0 in Northeast Team Handball League play.

Rounding out the top 5 are Chicago Inter, Revol and San Francisco CalHeat.  Chicago Inter has a 16-1-1 record and is dominating play in the Midwest Team Handball League, placed 2nd to NYAC at the Michael Lipov Tourney and won the inaugural Texas Cup earlier in December.  Revol, a new side consisting mostly of current and former Residency Program players at Auburn has a 3-0-2 record from the Chicago Tourney where they took 3rd place.  Rounding out the top 5 is San Francisco Cal Heat with a 6-0-4 record, a 4th place finish in Chicago and a 2nd place finish in Texas.

Background on the Ranking Process

The bulk of the credit for this undertaking goes to Bryan Cothorn with the DC Diplomats and Northeast Team Handball League.  Bryan has compiled the results and tabulated several different ranking statistics at this website:  Link

Further, he rounded up several volunteers to review this data plus factor in their own personal observations to come up with their own individual ranking.  These individual rankings are then combined to produce the overall club ranking: Link

Background on Rankings (in General)

The concept of “rankings” may be common knowledge to many American sports fans, but as there are a fair number of expats involved with handball in the U.S. here’s a brief explanation/history as it relates to sports rankings.

First off, let’s be clear:  These rankings have no “official” bearing.  They are not endorsed by USA Team Handball and they won’t be used to select teams for the Elite National Championship bracket.  That process for selecting will card teams is defined in the rule book and those current standings are here: Link

It’s possible that these rankings could be used by some tournament organizers to seed pools, but that’s not officially defined anywhere.

As far as guidelines for the voters, much like the NCAA polls used for college sports there are no hard and fast rules.  Voters are free to weigh different factors as they see fit.  I’m one of the voters and I’ll tend to put more emphasis on key head to head results.  But, if two clubs are close to each other I’ll probably reward the club that plays in a league and practices once in awhile.  You don’t like that?  Tough. As Bobby Brown once told America over and over, “It’s my prerogative, I can do what I wanna to do

So what’s the purpose of the rankings, then?  Well, it’s simply for fun and recognition.  To acknowledge teams for their performances on the court.  Bragging rights, if you will.  To give some context to matchups that are taking place.  It may not be official per se, but it adds a little bit more to your pregame pep talk to say that you are taking on the #1 team in the nation.  And, it can really mean a lot for a newcomer team crack the top 10 after years of being just another team.

And, for sure, part of the fun are the debates that inevitably arise. The chip on their shoulder a team gets when they are somehow ranked way lower than they think they should be.  Stupid voters! How come we can’t get any respect?  East Coast bias!  NYAC shouldn’t be #1.  Those lazy mercenaries don’t even bother to play in the Northeast League any more. Chicago Inter may have 16 wins, but how many of those W’s are just beating up on weak Midwest opponents? etc, etc.

Future Considerations

We’ve already gotten some great feedback and we’re looking at adding a Women’s poll.  I’m adding a college specific poll that will place extra emphasis on college vs college results.  And, I’m also planning on adding some Wiki style pages that will make it easier for everyone to see the results of different competitions.  And, better yet, hopefully for players and coaches to enter the results themselves.

Finally, we would like to get some more balanced representation from other parts of the country so if you’re interested in voting please contact Bryan Cothorn.

 

2017 Women’s World Championships Odds (Update for the Round of 16)

Russia beat Norway 38-37 in an epic semifinal at the 2016 Olympics. We could be looking at a rematch in the Quarterfinals.

The knockout stages of the World Championships start today and the bracket certainly has some interesting matchups both in the Round of 16 and potentially in the quarter finals.  Most notably, Sweden’s surprising upset of Norway on the last day of pool play created a bottom half of the bracket which is loaded with pre-tournament favorites.  Here’s a breakdown of the 4 quadrants of the bracket (listed in parentheses is each team’s current odds courtesy of Nordicbet to win the championship).  The winner of each quadrant will advance to the Final Four.

Watch all the matches in the knockout stages on Fubo TV:  Link

Quadrant 1

Sweden 16-1
Slovenia 74-1

Germany 23-1
Denmark 16-1

Well, conspiracy theorists thinking that perhaps the hosts and the IHF wanted to give Germany a good shot at making the Final Four might have some pretty solid arguments backing their case.  This is the weakest bracket and for sure the prospect of Germany knocking off Sweden in the quarterfinals is far better than it would have been against Norway.

Quadrant 2

Hungary 20-1
France 7-1

Serbia 17-1
Montenegro 14-1

France is the favorite in this bracket, but really all four teams here have a decent shot at advancing.

Quadrant 3

Romania 14-1
Czech Republic 149-1

Japan 149-1
Netherlands 7-1

It looks as if it’s preordained for Romania and the Netherlands will battle in the quarterfinals, but then again the Netherlands had a surprising loss vs South Korea in pool play.  The Japanese are smaller than the Koreans, but even quicker so the Dutch better be ready for them.

Quadrant 4

Spain 40-1
Norway 1.3-1

Russia 4.5-1
South Korea 39-1

This quadrant could almost have been a Final Four with 3 of the top 7 pre-tournament favorites.  A likely quarterfinal match between Russia and Norway could easily have been the gold medal final.  Honestly, the way this shapes up it’s as if Norway wanted to make the knockout stages as interesting as possible for the fans back home.

Podcast (Episode 25):  Women’s World Championships: Pan American Update

Brasil comes up short vs Denmark. Can they beat Montenegro in their last pool play match and sneak into the Round of 16?

Argentinian sports journalist, Laura Agena, is in Germany following Group B and we discuss the World Championships with a focus on Pan American sides, Argentina and Brazil.  But, we can’t help but talk about the Norwegian dominance and a surprising Japanese side.   This discussion took place on Wednesday night so we are a little more than half way through Pool Play

This podcast episode was brought to you by fubo.tv.  Watch all the World Championship matches on beIN Sports thought the Fubo TV app.  Sign up for Fubo here: Link

 

If you would like to advertise on the Team Handball News Podcast contact John Ryan at john.ryan@teamhandballnews.com

Subscribe to the Team Handball News Podcast in iTunes: Link

Or use this RSS Feed to sign up for the podcast in your favorite podcast aggregator: Link

2017 Women’s World Championships Odds

Netherlands has been in the Finals of the past two major tournaments. Can they make it to the top rung this time?

I’m going to pass on predictions for the Women’s World Championships because I haven’t followed the women’s game very closely since last December’s European Championships.

If you’re looking for some good insight check out the Handball Hour’s podcast with Bjorn Pazen and Sascha Staat’s preview commentary at Stregspiller:  Same Old Story?

I will say, though, that if you take their commentary and cross reference it with the published odds, you’ll see that the bookmakers might be undervaluing the Netherland’s chances.

Of interest to followers of handball in Pan America, will be whether Brazil, which has stumbled a bit in pre-tournament friendlies can perform better in the actual tournament.  Meanwhile Argentina, if they can spring a surprise might just have their best opportunity in their first match vs the Czech Republic on Saturday.

 All odds courtesy of Nordic Bet

Odd to win the 2017 Women’s World Championships

Norway                1.2 to 1
Russia                   6.5 to 1
France                  7 to 1
Netherlands       11 to 1
Spain                     15 to 1
Germany             15 to 1
Romania              15 to 1
Sweden                19 to 1
Denmark             21 to 1
Brazil                     23 to 1
Hungary               24 to 1
South Korea       29 to 1
Serbia                   49 to 1
Montenegro      49 to 1
Poland                  199 to 1
Slovenia               249 to 1
Angola                  299 to 1
Czech Republic 499 to 1
Japan                    999 to 1
China                     1499 to 1
Argentina            1999 to 1
Tunisia                  2499 to 1
Paraguay             2999 to 1
Cameroon           2999 to 1

Winner of Group A
France                  11/13
Spain                     2/1
Romania              5/2
Angola                  40/1
Slovenia               40/1
Paraguay             500/1

Winner of Group B
Norway                2/9
Sweden               9/2
Hungary               15/2
Poland                  30/1
Czech Republic 30/1
Argentina            149/1

Winner of Group C
Russia                   9/14
Brazil                     29/10
Denmark             29/10
Montenegro      8/1
Japan                    249/1
Tunisia                  599/1

Winner of Group D
Netherlands       11/13
Germany             8/5
South Korea       5/1
Serbia                   13/2
Cameroon           100/1
China                     100/1

Watch the 2017 IHF Women’s World Championships on Fubo TV

USA handball fans can watch every match of the Women’s World Championships on Fubo TV

Tomorrow at 6:45 PM (CET) (12:45 PM EST in the U.S), hosts Germany will take on Cameroon in the first match of the 2017 IHF Women’s World Championships.  In the U.S., all matches can be seen live on the beIN Sports digital platform, beIN Sports Connect.

And, now even if you don’t subscribe to beIN Sport through your cable or satellite TV provider you can still access all 84 matches on beIN Sports Connect via Fubo.tv.  Yes, Fubo.tv, the premiere home for streaming soccer for the next 17 days will also be the home for streaming handball.

With a subscription to Fubo TV you can watch matches on your computer, tablet, phone or my favorite , a connected TV.  Yes, you can stream all 10 of the beIN Sports Connect channels on TV via your Roku just like you stream Netflix or Hulu.  This can be done by first adding the Fubo TV channel to your Roku and then logging in with your Fubo TV account information.  (But, don’t delay, it took me a couple of minutes to load it in and you don’t want to wait till match time.)

Fubo TV offers a free 7 day trial so it won’t cost you to see how well it works with your computer and/or TV.

Fubo TV Trial sign up: Link

(Note: An earlier version of this article indicated that Canadian residents could also watch the World Championships on beIN Sports Connect/Fubo TV, but I have since learned that only 3 beIN Sports channels are available.  It may be possible, however, to use VPN as a workaround.)

Handball Bar Stool Discussion:  Ever Wondered What a Basketball Game Would be Like if Teams had to Play a Man Down?  Or Two Men Down?  Just Like in Handball? (Well, Now We Know)

Alabama on defense with just 3 players. Nice to see the NCAA experimenting with the adoption of handball rules. What might be some other cross over possibilities?

This past weekend a pretty bizarre basketball game was played between 2 NCAA Division 1 College teams, Alabama and Minnesota.  With 13:39 remaining in the game a fight broke out on the court between the two teams and upset, the entire Alabama team left the bench to join the fray.  And, unfortunately for Alabama the penalty for leaving the bench is ejection leaving Alabama with only the 5 court players that were playing at the time of the incident.

From then on it just kept getting more bizarre as shortly thereafter Alabama’s lost 2 more players, one due to fouling out and one due to spraining an ankle.  With 10: 41 remaining in the game Alabama was down 11 points and down to 3 players.  What ensued?  Well, basketball fans got to see the Collin Sexton show as he finished with 40 points and single handedly kept Alabama in the game.  Indeed with 1:30 left Alabama actually cut the lead to 3 points!  Only to end up falling short 89-84.

The match is pretty interesting to watch and this article describes what happened in more detail and has a link to the video.  As a handball fan I watched with handball knowledge and was a little befuddled that the Minnesota coaching staff couldn’t figure out how to put a team away with a 2 man advantage.  A double team or even a triple team on Sexton (a future NBA lottery pick) probably could have done the job.  And settling for outside shots, even if uncontested, is not the best strategy either.

And, naturally it rekindled one of my favorite barstool topics regarding basketball and handball, two similar sports, but with different rules that lead to different strategies.  Remember handball’s last minute rule problem?  The silly situation that led to really unsportmanlike hard fouls to ensure that the other team couldn’t get a shot off.  It’s become a distant memory as handball adopted some basketball like penalties to make such fouls a really bad idea.

But, there are so many other possibilities for transfer between the two sports that would certainly change how handball or basketball would be played.  Highly debatable as to whether they are good ideas or not, but have another round of beers and discuss.  Here are my favorites

What if basketball adopted these handball rules?

  • On the fly substitution. Paint a couple of substitution lines on the court and see how coaches work the offense to defense player changes.  No more tall guys sitting at mid-court waiting for the buzzer to sound.  Really, what purpose does checking in at the scorer’s table serve anyway?
  • Two minute penalties. Give teams the option of taking the free throws or having the fouling team play down a man for two minutes.  All kinds of unintended consequences here, though.  Would the game become even softer as teams become more reluctant to foul.

And, what if handball adopted these basketball rules?

  • Shot Clock. Passive play has got to be one of the silliest rules ever.  Really?  Leave it up to the officials to decide whether a team is making a good faith effort to attack?  Can you imagine what basketball would be like if that was the rule instead of a shot clock?  Quit nibbling around the edges handball people and just cave in and adopt a shot clock.  But, as in basketball it’s needed for the higher levels.
  • Start and stoppage of the time clock. Of course if you adopt a shot clock, though, you’re going to have to rethink the running clock.  Otherwise, defenses will adapt their strategies to delay the offense.  Additionally, it would eliminate referee decisions as to what is deemed worthy of stopping the clock.
  • 4 quarters and more timeouts. Professional handball players bemoan the numbers of games they have to play a year, but somehow the NBA plays even more with the only big complaint being back to back games.  I realize that basketball is a softer game that’s a bit easier on the body, but the greater amount of stoppage time in an NBA game also helps.

Anyway, those are some of my favorite possibilities.  Feel free to chime in with your opinion on Facebook or at the barstool after your next match.

Team USA Olympic and World Championship Qualification Odds (Part 2):  Assessing 2024 Olympic Qualification Odds Based on Level of Investment

Projected U.S. Olympic Qualification Odds based on level of investment. Does this reality suggest a strategy that forgoes investment in the near to mid term in favor of  maximizing national team performance in 2028?

In Part 1, I highlighted the long odds USA National face in the next couple of years.  In Part 2, I project what the odds are for the 2024 and 2028 Olympic Games.  I also get a little philosophical as to whether those odds suggest a re-evaluation of USA Team Handball’s near to mid- term priorities.

2024 Olympic Prospects

With under 2 years to get ready for the 2020 Olympics it should come us as no surprise to anyone with even just an inkling of handball knowledge that the U.S. Men and Women do not have a realistic chance of qualifying for those Olympics.  Perhaps, some folks don’t fully realize to the extent of just how unrealistic it is, but most people are aware that it’s not very likely to happen.

But, even if there is virtually no chance to qualify there is still an obligation to make a good faith effort to do so.  Further, one can make the case that efforts to qualify for 2020 will have the benefit of setting up a stronger and more realistic attempt to qualify in 2024.

For an Olympics qualification run that is less than 2 years away it’s fairly straight forward to assess how successful such a campaign might be.  This is because the teams that compete in those qualifying tournaments will bear a strong resemblance to the teams of today.  Sure, there will be some roster changes to both Team USA and its competition, but on the whole it’s pretty unlikely that there will be a dramatic drop off or gain in performance.

6 years out, however, is a bit more difficult to project.  Will Argentina’s Diego Simonet at age 33 still be as big of factor? Or will Argentina even be better with some promising newcomers complimenting the wily veteran?  Will the Brazilian women be as strong with less sponsorship and support then what they received in the run up the 2016 Olympics?  Could Cuba’s economy improve such that they are competing on a regular basis?

And, what of the U.S. teams?  Could the U.S. Women continue to improve with several newcomers joining the program to replace some veteran athletes due to retire?  Could the U.S. Men show steady improvement with a mix of dual citizens and top athletes learning the game at Auburn?  Or, might the U.S. teams simply tread water playing with a measure of respectability, but lacking the depth and talent needed to challenge the likes of Argentina and Brazil.  Or, could the U.S. sink even further in terms of relative competitiveness?

Projecting the 2024 Competition

I could set up a table of possibilities as I did for 2020 qualification, but doing so would be pointless.  There are simply too many variables to project out that far.  That being said, I think some top level crystal ball projections can be made in regards to our competition.

  • The Brazilian Men are poised to be very good for years to come. Multiple players in their early to mid 20’s are playing for top clubs in Europe.  Their domestic league is also respectable and they’ve fielded Jr and Youth National Teams with great depth.
  • The Argentinian Men are also solid, but lack the depth Brazil has. They’ve got Simonet, though, and if he’s playing well Argentina will continue to be a threat for a gold medal.
  • No other Men’s PHF team appears to be on a trajectory to challenge Brazil or Argentina anytime soon. Chile and Greenland have decent teams, but their lack of depth is even more pronounced than Argentina’s.
  • The Brazilian Women have a Golden Generation that is starting to age out. I doubt that their replacements will be as good, but on the whole they have tremendous depth. Brazil’s 2nd and 3rd teams could have taken silver and bronze for the last several years if they had been allowed to participate in PHF Tourneys.
  • The Argentinian Women have yet to show that they can improve to the level of Brazil. Solid technical players, but they have to find a game changing athlete that can take them to the next level.
  • No other Women’s PHF team appears to be on a trajectory to challenge Brazil, but several sides are probably capable of mounting a challenge to Argentina
  • As an aside, the Cuban Men’s and Women’s programs are a real wild card. If properly resourced they surely could contend with other 2nd tier programs and perhaps even challenge for a PANAM Games Gold Medal.

Projecting Team USA in 2024

But, what about the U.S. Men and Women in 6 years time?  Taking the court in Santiago, Chile, the likely host of the 2023 PANAM Games.  As discussed, there are a lot of variables to factor in, but there is one simple thing that can be done:  Just add 6 years to the age of every athlete in the current talent pool.  If one does this simple addition to the Sr Team rosters for the past few tournaments, you’ll reach a quick conclusion:  That there will likely be only a few hold overs between now and then.

With the U.S. Men the roster change will likely be pretty significant.   The last major Men’s competition was the 2016 Pan American Championships I would assess that perhaps 4 or 5 players from that roster will be on the team in 2023.   I would then add 1 or 2 players from the current team at Auburn and then 4 or 5 dual citizens that have shown promise in Jr Events.  There’s some overlap with those 3 groups, but all told I think 10 athletes could come from our current player pools (Sr and Jr).  And, that would mean 6 athletes that aren’t even playing or perhaps just started playing would be on a 2023 roster.

And, such a roster would have some major question marks.  The biggest one being who would be the reliable, consistent scoring threat in the backcourt?  Perhaps a 39 year old Gary Hines will still be starting at backcourt, but I’d like to think he’ll have gently been nudged into retirement by some up and coming players.  Or at best he is a veteran reserve playing key minutes a la France’s Daniel Narcisse by then.

With the U.S. Women the change will be really dramatic.  I would assess that from the 2017 Pan American Championship roster the only holdovers could very well be just 3 or 4 younger dual citizen athletes.  Perhaps there will still be a couple of U.S. based players from the 2017 roster, but they will all be 31 or older and right in that age range where “life issue” decisions related to career and family could become more pressing.   Yes, there could be as many as 11 athletes on the U.S. Women’s Team in 2023 who are not even playing handball right now.

Now at first glance, particularly to our European friends, the prospect of the U.S. National Teams qualification for the 2024 Olympics with much of the roster consisting of newcomers might seem pretty farfetched. But, it is possible to take a quality athletic talent who has never played the game before and turn them into a decent handball player in 6 years time.  Possible, but not easy.  And, not cheap either.  It requires recruiting great athletes, providing them a quality training atmosphere and relatively frequent competition opportunities for those athletes.  I’ve written ad nauseum that the program at Auburn has not provided any of those key components for the past 4 years.  Don’t get me wrong.  Those athletes and coaches are working hard and doing the best they can, but there simply has not been enough financial support to do the job properly.

Playing the percentages (or the percentage gain)

But, what if we could properly fund our National Team programs?  Would it make a difference?  Would we then have a real shot at Olympic Qualification?

Those are very important questions.  Questions that should be asked, researched, and answered by USA Team Handball.  The short answer is that, of course, it would make a difference and it surely would improve our odds of qualifying.  But, the real questions are “How much would it improve our chances?” and “Is that percentage gain in improved chances worth the investment?”

For illustrative purposes, I’ll outline 3 possibilities in terms of investment to support or National Teams over the next 6 years and assess at a top level what our chances of qualification will be:

Minimal Investment:  This is the status quo and would mean relying on dual citizens and the continued recruitment and development of athletes at Auburn under the current austere circumstances.

Modest Investment:  This would be a modest investment in the neighborhood of $500K to 1.5M/years to beef up support to the residency programs.  This investment would be used to improve the Residency Program with partial college scholarships, stipends for athletes and travel support for multiple trips/year for overseas competition.  This should improve recruiting and also improve the development outcomes for those new athletes.  Overall, this would be roughly comparable to the U.S. residency programs of the 80’s and 90’s, particularly as you get closer to the $1.5M end of the scale.

Robust Investment: This would be an investment of $1.5-3M/year and would be an all in effort to fully maximize the performance of our teams in time for the 2023 PANAM Games.   The Residency Program would be further improved with select athletes receiving full scholarships and/or salaries.  A full time recruiting director would be hired.  Top athletes would be placed overseas via training arrangements with top European clubs.  This would be an unprecedented level of support perhaps comparable to what Olympic Sports currently under the NCAA umbrella receive.

Taking those 3 possible investment scenarios into account here’s how I would assess the likelihood for USA qualification in 2024.  (You’ll see that for illustrative purposes I also include the odds for 2020 and 2028)

USA Women

 

Excepting, Brazil and to a lesser extent Argentina, the competition in Pan America is relatively weak.  This means that a modest investment if properly executed could put together the 2nd best team in Pan America fairly quickly.   The U.S. would still not be nearly as good as Brazil, but capable of pulling off a 1 in 10 upset of Brazil in a one off Gold Medal match.  If more resources are provided with a robust investment I could see that being upped to a 1 in 5 upset possibility.  However, I don’t see it going higher because 6 years, regardless of investment, is just not enough time to put together a roster of that caliber mostly from scratch.

USA Men

 

Recall from Part 1 that Olympic Qualification for the USA Men, in most scenarios would require successfully beating both Argentina and Brazil.  That’s very likely to still be true in 2024.  For our current team this is really daunting and for 2020 Olympic qualification would require winning two 50-1 upsets or a 1 in 2,500 proposition.  For 2024 I think a modest investment would improve our team such that odds of an upset would be in the neighborhood of 10-1, but again the double whammy is a real killer meaning the odds of doing it twice are still 1 in 100.  A robust investment would further improve our National Team, but as with the Women, 6 years is just not enough time to reach Argentina and Brazil’s level.  We could improve our odds for an upset to perhaps 1 in 5, but again that means performing a double upset which would be about a 4% possibility.

Significant Investment for Minimal Gain

So, if we have no further investment to beef up our residency programs we face really, really long odds.  And, if we do provide additional investment we essentially change “really, really long” to “really long”.  With the Men’s program such an investment would have almost no value.  Spend a little or spend a lot, it just won’t move the needle much. With the Women’s program there is some small value, but it’s certainly nothing to get excited about.

Bottom Line: Significant investment directed at improving our National Teams with the intent of securing a 2024 Olympic Qualification slot makes very little sense.  Even our current investment is highly questionable.

Now, if Los Angeles had been awarded the 2024 Olympic Games, the whole dynamic changes.  “Really long shot qualification” replaced with “automatic qualification”.  The discussion would then become how do we put the most competitive team possible on the court in 7 years time?  And, that would logically lead to a near term strategy with some really aggressive recruitment.  And, even I would advocate some investment in such a strategy.   But, 2024 didn’t happen.  LA got 2028 and that reality should lead to a totally different approach and strategy.

Why it All Matters

I’ve spent a considerable amount of time outlining the long odds.  And, sure as the sun comes up every day, I will get some grief along the lines of “Why are you always so negative about things?  Why always, with the glass half empty?”

My response is that I’m an analytical guy.  I’ve looked at the data and I’m sorry, there’s just a lot of reasons to be negative.  The glass isn’t half empty.  There’s barely any liquid in the glass at all. Quite frankly, if you’re all sunshine and roses about our prospects for qualification in 2020 and 2024 you’re either lacking information to understand the big picture or kidding yourself big time.

There’s a time and place for optimism.  Certainly when you’re getting dressed in the locker room against a superior opponent it’s appropriate to be optimistic.  To go out there and give it your all.  The odds be damned.  Certainly, that was my attitude in my brief and unspectacular national team career.

But, when you are trying to map out a future for the sport in this country?  Sorry, Optimism must take a back seat to reality especially when you take into account all of the shortcomings the sport in this country needs to address.  Every dollar spent, every man hour directed toward near term national team support is a dollar and man hour that could have been spent on development and the building of a player base that could actually make the U.S. competitive in 2028.

Further, while USA Team Handball’s current incoming revenue is minimal (2015 was only $348K) that should change.  Sponsorship support will increase with the lead up to the Olympics.  The IHF could even kick in with funding support.   Am I concerned that way too much of that funding will be directed towards near term National Team support?  Propping up Residency Programs that are way too austere.  That our once in a generation Olympic opportunity will be squandered?  Yeah, I’m concerned.  Big time.  And, so should you.

USA Men Go 1-2 in First Leg of Super Series

Alex Recker led Team USA in scoring this past weekend with 19 goals in 3 matches

The USA Men travelled to Quebec this past weekend and played 3 matches against Canadian teams from Quebec, Alberta and Saskatchewan/Manitoba.  The U.S. opened play Friday night with an easy 44-26 victory over Canada Central, a team composed of players from the provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Alex Recker led the U.S. with 9 goals, while Ty Reed added 7.

On Saturday night, the U.S. took on hosts Quebec and fell short 38-31.  The U.S. was again led in scoring by Alex Recker with 7 while Chris Morgan and Michael King added 5 each.  Quebec was led in scoring by Christian Toth with 11 and Etienne Mercer with 10. and  Video of the first half is available on Youtube and the U.S. struggled on defense against Quebec’s 7 player alignment.  The half ended 17-14 in favor of Quebec and likely would have been worse except for some tellar play in Goal by Alden Mezick

On Sunday afternoon the U.S. finished the weekend series of games with a 27-22 loss to Alberta.  The U.S. was led in scoring by Sean Zimber with 8 and Michael King with 4.  Alberta was led by Tyrell Johnston with 6 goals

Results

Standings

Handball Quebec Facebook Page:  Link (source for results)

Handball Canada Summary: Link

Video: USA vs Quebec (1st half): Link

 

Podcast (Episode 24): College Potpourri

Luke Albu is investigating Pittsburgh as a location for another Residency Program.

Luke Albu is this episode’s guest and we discuss a wide range of topics including the length of the handball season, a summer pro league, weekend tourneys, a Collegiate Final Four packaged for TV and his investigation of Pittsburgh as a possible location for a new Residency Program.

Towards the end of the podcast we discussed some of the different plans and proposals that have been shared on the collaborative Google Drive:  Link

Michael Gordon’s USATH Growth through Colleges: Link

Ryan Peterson’s Handball Proposal: Link

Original Commentary Highlighting the need for planning: Link

 

If you would like to advertise on the Team Handball News Podcast contact John Ryan at john.ryan@teamhandballnews.com

Subscribe to the Team Handball News Podcast in iTunes: Link

Or use this RSS Feed to sign up for the podcast in your favorite podcast aggregator: Link