Thursday, January 31, 2013

1/31: Rudy Gay Trade, etc.

Greetings! Let's go...
  • In the first major NBA trade of the year, Rudy Gay is headed to Toronto as part of a 3-team deal. Detroit has also traded Tayshaun Price and Austin Daye to the Grizzlies, while Toronto has shipped Ed Davis to the Grizzlies, and Jose Calderon to Detroit. Opinions on this deal are wide-ranging, but I don't think it's a "steal" for anyone. Rudy Gay is obviously the main piece on the move, but he's having the worst season of his career, shooting 40% from the field and seeing general decline in his numbers on that team. The big question is: Did Memphis get enough? I actually like Ed Davis (a lot), but on a team with Z-Bo and Gasol (not to mention Darrell Arthur), it wasn't a need area, and the Prince/Daye combo doesn't inspire a parade. For Toronto, they've now committed 8 figures a year to both Gay and DeRozan to form a solid but unspectacular wing tandem. Eesh. And in Detroit, they basically rid themselves of two additional contract years of Prince for the expiring contract of Calderon. There's no downside there for the Pistons. Overall, it's kind of a "meh" result, and the winner of the deal lies solely on how you feel about Rudy Gay going forward. 
  • It occurred to me that we haven't touched on Te'o in this space much, and right when I thought that, this Dr. Phil interview with Ronaiah Tuiasosopo surfaces including that he was "in love" with Te'o. I don't even know what to say about it anymore, but one thing is for sure, it is one of the craziest stories (sports or otherwise) that I've ever followed. Is Tuiasosopo gay? and if yes, is Te'o gay as well? I'm wildly confused... let's move on.
  • Green Bay Packers WR Donald Driver is retiring after 14 seasons. This announcement won't make waves nationally, but Driver has over 10,000 receiving yards and is the all-time franchise leader in catches and yards for Green Bay. That's saying something in an organization that has been around that long. Big-ups.
  • Too short on time for full "round-ups" in college and the NBA last night, but the most noteworthy results were: The Lakers losing in Phoenix and Dwight Howard getting injured again. I don't even know what to say at this point, but one night they look great, and last night... not so much. In college, Stanford absolutely blasted #10 Oregon 76-52 in Palo Alto. No one seems to win on the road in college this year, but this was an annihilation of a top-10 team. 
What to watch for on Thursday...
  • 7:00 - NCAAB - Illinois @ #13 Michigan State (ESPN) - Ho-hum. Another battle of two Big 10 tourney-bound teams. I love this group that Izzo has.
  • 8:00 - NBA - Grizzlies @ Thunder (TNT) - Two of the West's elite facing off, and it's also a battle of the #1 offense (OKC) against the #2 defense (Memphis). Really, really entertaining game on the horizon. Keep an eye on Mike Conley, however, because if he doesn't play due to injury, that's a huge hit for Memphis. 
  • 9:00 - NCAAB - #8 Arizona @ Washington (ESPN) - Winning on the road in-conference. Nothing is more difficult in college hoops, and 'Zona will put that to the test here.
  • 10:30 - NBA - Mavs @ Warriors (TNT) - We don't know (at least definitively) who we'll see for Golden State, but we know they're better than Dallas at this stage. Also, looking forward to see if Bogut can look as spry in game #2. 
  • 11:00 - NCAAB - #7 Gonzaga @ Loyola Marymount (ESPN2) - It's not a "tough" game for the Zags, but they are really fun to watch, and, as mentioned above, any in-conference road game is difficult.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

2012-2013 NBA Mid-Season Review

Greetings! Now that every team in the NBA has played at least 41 games, it's time to take a look at where we are at the half-way point. Obviously, we can't get to everything in this space, but for reference, you can find my pre-season takes here (EastWestAwards, etc.). I'll take a different format for this one to cut it down a bit. Let's go!


  1. These are in no particular order, but I'll start with the Celtics. Without Rondo, we all know that the projections would be bleak for Boston, but before the Rondo injury. Boston was scuffling in a big way, and at 20-23 pre-injury, they were firmly entrenched in the #8 spot with a first-round exit looming against Miami. Before the season, I pegged Boston for 50 wins and the 3-seed in the East, and that looks to be embarrassingly wrong. Pierce and Garnett are still performing in a big way for Boston, with both guys posted PERs over 18, and both guys were deserving of All-star selections/consideration. The bigger issue is that a) those guys can't play the type of minutes necessary to "carry" a team, and b) the supporting cast has underwhelmed in a big way. Jason Terry is the biggest culprit, as the former Mavericks guard has struggled mightily to replace Ray Allen in their rotation. Terry is having the worst statistical season of his entire career (by a wide margin), and while the fit looked to be a good one on paper, he isn't the same type of catch-and-shoot assassin that Allen was, and the Boston offense can't run through Terry as much as it did in Dallas. To make matters worse, he's a non-factor defensively, so it's tough to play him over the defensively dominant Avery Bradley, or the two-way player in Courtney Lee. The other "big" acquisition in the off-season for the Celtics was the 4-year, $36 million deal for Jeff Green, and that doesn't look like a value at this point either. Green's PER is 11.8 (far below league average), and while he's a solid defender (who looked incredibly effective on Lebron during Sunday's game), his offense is sporadic at best, and his contributions certainly don't match his cap hold. In the end, this is now a two-man team with Pierce and Garnett, and they'll be in trouble to even make the playoffs in the absence of Rondo, but I have no problem admitting that my pre-season feelings were wrong... even before Rondo went on the shelf. 
  2. The Bynum-less Sixers. The hilarious part about my pre-season thoughts on Philadelphia is that I actually wrote this sentence: "I. do. not. trust. Andrew. Bynum." and then I still picked them 5th in the East! It's probably not a "surprise" that Philly finds themselves in the 9th spot in the East, but it's a surprise to some that Bynum hasn't seen the court thus far. The bad thing for Philly is that they've gotten just about everything they could possibly ask for from Jrue Holiday (All-Star!) and Thaddeus Young, and they're still lottery-bound at the moment. Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner have been "fine", but they clearly built this year's roster around the prospects that Bynum could be dominant for 60+ games, and that's just not going to happen. Philly's off-season plans have flopped in a major way, as even if you remove Bynum, they downgraded (willingly) from Lou Williams to Nick Young (and his 40% field goal percentage), and they're starting Lavoy Allen at the power forward spot. Yep. As of this moment, I still think Philly squeaks into the 8th spot as they could easily pass the Rondo-less Celtics, but that's about it. 
  3. Tom Thibodeau for President! Did you know that the Bulls are 27-17 and holding the #3 seed in the East? Well, they are. Did I mention that their backcourt consists of Richard Hamilton, Nate Robinson, Marco Bellinelli, Kirk Hinrich, and Marquis Teague? No really! That's the list! That team is 10 games over .500! The Bulls are doing this with an elite defensive team (3rd in the league in efficiency) and a probably unsustainable win rate in close games, but it's been a masterful coaching job from Thibodeau. It's certainly important to point out that they have one of the best front-courts in the league with Noah and Deng (both All-Star selections) joined by Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson, but anyone saying that they aren't surprised by Chicago's record without Derrick Rose would be lying. I firmly believe that Chicago is the biggest potential threat (whatever that means) to Miami's stranglehold on the East this year, but that would require a near-100% Derrick Rose by playoff time, and I'm not sold on that. Even so, they've gotten stellar play from Nate Robinson (18 PER) and a resurgence from Carlos Boozer to make up for some of that loss. Thibs is my Coach of the Year right now, and the job he's doing is nothing short of incredible. 
  4. I'll admit it. I thought the Magic were going to be an utter abomination, and they've really, really competed this season. I won't tell you that 14-30 is a positive record (lol), but when I picked them to win 17 games for the season, 14-30 looks pretty darn good. It's tough timing to write them up considering they've lost 6 in a row, but Jacque Vaughn looks to be the right man for the job, and with the roster limitations that they have in the post-Dwight era, I don't know what else they can expect. The two best players entering the season for Orlando were Arron Afflalo and JJ Redick, who happen to play the same position, and while Afflalo has actually been a slight disappointment (13 PER despite leading the team in scoring), Redick has been tremendous, and has turned himself into one of the most desired commodities on the trade market. The biggest bright spot for the new Magic is the play of Nikola Vucevic. He's averaging 12 points and over 11 rebounds a game, and at 22 years old, it looks like Orlando could have their starting center for the foreseeable future. In addition, Jameer Nelson has returned to semi-prominence by averaging 15 and 7 this season, and looking much more like the player he was during their Finals run than the disaster he was the last two seasons. Really positive news for Orlando despite their ugly-looking roster.
  5. Finally, the Heat are a surprise. Why, you ask!? They are, of course, the #1 seed at the moment with a 1.5 game lead over New York at the time of posting, but that certainly doesn't mean that they've lived up to expectations. The Heat are currently just 4th in Hollinger's statistical power rankings, they are barely hanging on to the top seed in the East, and lest we forget that they were an absolute lock for 60+ wins coming in to the season. There's no question in my mind that they are the team to beat in the East and that, with no injuries, they'll win the conference championship, but that doesn't mean it's not a little surprising to see them "struggle" a bit. Lebron has been Lebron this season, posting a PER over 30+ and again reminding us how much better he is than everyone else, but outside of him, no one has impressed. Wade has been significantly worse this year, the Chalmers/Cole point guard duo has been a borderline disaster, Shane Battier looks old, and they've gotten virtually nothing from Rashard Lewis and Mike Miller. I'm not in full panic mode on the Heat, but it would be foolish to flatly ignore their mini-struggles and anoint them as defending champs. 
  1. Let's get it over with. I, like everyone else, thought that the Lakers would be a legitimate contender in the Western Conference. I picked them 2nd in the loaded West and projected them for 57 wins. It's painful to even read that sentence. First, the positives. Kobe has been borderline masterful offensively, putting up his best statistical year in the last five, shooting the highest FG% of his entire career, and doing it with a 3-year low in usage rate. This has also been the best season in the last 4 years for Metta World Peace (who is actually putting up league average numbers offensively, somehow), and Earl Clark has been a revelation off the bench. That's where the positives stop, but I will say one thing. Offense is NOT the problem for the LA Lakers. In the midst of crapping on D'Antoni, people have lost sight of the real issue. The Lakers offense is #6 in the league in offensive efficiency, scoring nearly 106 points per 100 possessions, and while it hasn't always been pretty, they are scoring the basketball. There is room for improvement with integration of Nash and Gasol, but it's not the problem, at all. Defensively, this team has been a grease fire at times. No team that features Dwight Howard should be 20th in defensive efficiency, but LA is achieving that. Kobe has taken a giant step back defensively (he's a turn-style at times), Nash can't guard anyone, Metta is susceptible to smaller, quicker wings, Gasol is league-average at best, and Dwight isn't DWIGHT on the defensive end after his back surgery. Sounds great, right!? Put it all together and LA is 19-25 after 44 games. Now, to the future. I firmly believe that Dwight is better than he's shown this season, and whether it's environment, injury, or a combination of both, I believe he improves in the second half. That said, he can't cover up for every defensive mistake like some people (myself included) thought he could, and they'll need better from the rest of the perimeter defense. The biggest question is whether Pau Gasol can fit in this system, and the jury is out. I still wouldn't move Dwight Howard in a trade because his value is too great when he's going well, but the Dwight/Pau combo has serious flaws that Mike D'Antoni can't fix. He's not that guy. My suggestion? Either deal Pau for 80 cents on the dollar and a better "fit" or fire Mike D'Antoni (who shouldn't have been hired) and let Steve Nash figure it out for you with Bernie Bickerstaff at the helm. I could go for 500 more words, but I'll stop here. 
  2. Dallas is in the tank also, but fortunately for Mark Cuban and company, LA has taken the heat off of them. After winning 50 games every season forever, the Mavs are also 19-25, but they don't have the luxury of statistical trends in their direction like LA does. Dirk has taken a step back post-injury, and right now, he's a league-average player when it comes to stats. That's a huge problem for the way this roster is constructed, as Dirk needs to be super-human to get them wins, and he's not that guy right now. OJ Mayo has been a revelation, averaging 18 a game as the main option pre-Dirk, but he can't be asked to do much more. Outside of Mayo's acquisition, the other big moves that Dallas made have flopped. Elton Brand has been solid but they won't play him, Darren Collison hasn't inspired confidence in anyone but me, and Chris Kaman is a turn-style defensively. Other than that, things are great! I picked Dallas for the playoffs at 42-40, and they could still get there if Dirk turns things around, but no one thought they'd look as ugly as they have at times this year. 
  3. Let's go positive here. Golden State is playing out of their minds, and the crazy thing is, they are doing it on both ends. The Warriors are 10th in off. efficiency, and a shocking 12th in def. efficiency to propel themselves to a 27-17 record in the deadly Western conference. Head Coach Mark Jackson has this team actually guarding this year, and with big-time defensive advancement from their best two players (David Lee and Steph Curry), that helps. Speaking of those two, both guys are playing at star levels this year, averaging 20 points each, and with Lee grabbing his typical 11 boards per game, while Curry dishes out 6+ assists and shoots 45% from three. The supporting cast has also been tremendous. Jarrett Jack was an absolute steal, and he's closing games alongside Curry in the backcourt, Harrison Barnes has fit in from the beginning and he's cashing in on his lottery pedigree, and Carl Landry provides stability and efficiency in the front-court. This week, they're adding Andrew Bogut (who looked fantastic in his debut), and if he can anchor them defensively and get Andris Biedrins off the court, that's a huge win for an already promising team. Let's all take a minute to pray for Steph Curry's ankles....
  4. This one is injury-related, but the T-Wolves are in flux. Kevin Love has missed all but 18 games, and as a result, they are 17-24. Love wasn't even his typically efficient self when he was out there, and when you add in injuries to Pekovic (7 games missed), Rubio (25 games missed), and Chase Budinger (gone for the year), it gets ugly quick. I'm not burying Minnesota quite yet, but they're going to need an influx from an unlikely source. Ricky Rubio has really, really struggled from the field (shooting 25% in his 16 games) and Derrick Williams is shooting just 40% from a front-court spot. No one ever thought that offense would be the issue in Minnesota, but they're 24th in the league in off. efficiency with no signs of recovery. I have faith in Rick Adelman to bandage the wounds and get some wins, but I don't think it's a playoff team unless Love gets back sooner rather than later. 
  5. Finally, I think Oklahoma City is a bit of a surprise. No one buried them (obviously) after the James Harden trade, but I think it's fair to say that most people knocked them down a peg. They've responded by starting the season 34-11 (62-win pace) and leading the league in point differential (as well as offense). Kevin Durant has made yet another leap in production and he's the unquestioned #2 player in the league, averaging 30/7/4 with absurd shooting percentages of 52/42/91 that place him in historic territory. Westbrook has picked up the slack for Harden, pushing his assist numbers up, and Ibaka has taken a giant leap forward on both ends. I'm not convinced that they are as good as they would've been with Harden (a top-20 player) in the lineup, but they've done their absolute best to make everyone forget about that drop-off.
  • Most Improved Player - Andray Blatche (Brooklyn) - Blatche has done a remarkable job at rehabbing his career. His PER has jumped from just over 10 (dreadful) last season in Washington, to over 22 this season in Brooklyn. He's shooting a career-high 48% from the field, is rebounding the heck out of the ball (11.3 per 40 minutes), and even defending at a high level. The MIP award is always miscast and given to the guy who's opportunity jumped in a big way, but if you're looking at actual improvement, my vote goes to Blatche. Preseason Pick - Tristan Thompson
  • 6th Man of the Year - Ryan Anderson (New Orleans) - Before you ask, I already know he has no chance of winning.... but that doesn't mean he shouldn't. In a year where JR Smith and Jamal Crawford are getting story after story, Anderson has been a far better player than both of them. Anderson leads his team in scoring at 17 a game, he's shooting 40% from three, grabbing 7 rebounds a game, and has a significantly higher PER (19.67) than either Crawford (16.55) or Smith (15.15) and he's playing even more minutes. Anderson won't win the award because his team stinks, but he's the best bench player in the league in a year where Manu has been banged up. Preseason Pick - Kevin Martin
  • Rookie of the Year - Damian Lillard (Portland) - I'll say this before I start. The only reason Lillard is winning the award as of this moment is because Anthony Davis missed 13 games, and if he's healthy the rest of the year, I think he'll be the deserving winner. That said, Lillard has been tremendous. He's playing over 38 minutes a night on a fringe playoff contender and carrying their point guard spot single-handedly (Ronnie Price, really!?). 18 points, nearly 7 assists, 54% true shooting. He's been a wonderful player in his rookie year. He's clearly limited defensively, and I don't think he has huge upside, but he's very, very good. Preseason Pick - Anthony Davis
  • Coach of the Year - Tom Thibodeau (Chicago) - Scroll up to the East surprises for the full argument, but it's this simple. They are 27-17 without far and away their best player, and they gave away their entire bench in the off-season. He's been absolutely tremendous. Preseason Pick - Erik Spoelstra (yikes)
  • Defensive Player of the Year - Tim Duncan (San Antonio) - The old man! He's always in the right spot, he's averaging 2.7 blocks a game (2nd-best of his illustrious career), and Dwight Howard has taken a giant step back. Of every big in the league, if I needed just one to have for one game tomorrow, I'd take Duncan, and a lot of that has to do with his incredible defense. He's not the athlete he used to be, but his smarts are incredible, his positioning is spot-on, and his shot-blocking is an asset. Preseason Pick - Dwight Howard
  • MVP - Lebron James (Miami) - With all due respect to Kevin Durant (who's having an incredible season), Lebron shouldn't lose this award. He has the better rebounding rate, the better assist rate, the lower turnover rate, and he's the much, much better defensive player. There's no question that Durant is the better shooter and really, the more efficient scorer, but Lebron has the higher FG% and it's not as if he's a slouch in that department. Durant has closed the gap by virtue of his improvement, but there's no argument for who the better player is, and Lebron is the most "valuable" player to his team at least since Duncan in his prime, and if not back to Jordan in the late 90's. He's a monster. Preseason Pick - Lebron James
Five Predictions
  1. Rudy Gay or Josh Smith will be dealt... but not both of them. The basis for this one is that these guys fit a similar profile and the market doesn't seem to be yearning for mid-tier stars with 8 figure salaries. Smith's deal is, on the one hand, more enticing because it is expiring, but that could also work against him getting out of Atlanta because of the receiving team being assured nothing past this season. Rudy Gay seems more likely, but Memphis is also the much, much bigger threat to contend for a title so they're looking for on-court help as much as cap relief. I think one of them gets moved, but I have no clue which one.
  2. By the end of the season, Kyrie Irving will be considered the 2nd best point guard on Earth. This may already be true, but if he does it for 35 more games, he'll get even more love. Irving is already 3rd in the league among point guards in PER (behind Chris Paul and Tony Parker), he leads all PGs in scoring (24.2 per game over Russ Westbrook's 22.2 per game), and he's shooting 48%. I realize he's on one of the worst teams in the league, but if you take a look at the roster, no one short of Lebron could take that team to the playoffs. He's been an injury risk throughout his career, but if he stays healthy and maintains this level of production, he's taking a backseat to no one this side of CP3.
  3. Chicago will take Miami to 7 games in the Eastern Conference Finals. I see a Derrick Rose return in just enough time to provide the push Chicago needs to grab either the #2 or #3 seed in the East, and they'll dispatch of the Knicks in the East Semis before taking LBJ and company to the brink. I'm all-in on Chicago, and if Rose is even 80% of his full self, that's a scary, scary basketball team with how they defend. 
  4. The Lakers will make the playoffs. I may be insane here, but I think LA makes it. Hollinger's playoff odds have them at 31% with the fact that they have a mountain to climb, but their positive point differential shows that they may have been unlucky in accumulating their 19-25 record. This prediction is grounded firmly in the fact that I expect better from Dwight Howard in the final 38 games while a getting-close-to-full-strength Steve Nash improves the offense even more. They've dug a hole, but with only 4.5 games to make up on a struggling Utah team, it's manageable, and I think they pull it off.... only to get dispatched by San Antonio/Oklahoma City in round one.
  5. The Western Conference Champion will beat Miami in the Finals. You're thinking, "he's not even going to make a real pick!??!" and no, I'm not. I've gone back and forth between OKC and San Antonio about 100 times, and I can't decide until I see Manu at full-strength for San Antonio. If he's right, they are the best team in the league, but if he's not, they don't have the firepower to battle OKC's offense. Either way, I think both teams are better than Miami and would present serious interior problems for the Heat in the finals. I'm not one to count Lebron (or Pat Riley) out but if they don't grab a competent big off the scrap heap or get better production from their old veterans, they're not repeating.
It's been a fantastically entertaining first half, and I can't wait for the final 40 games and a riveting playoff drive. Enjoy!

1/29: Tiger, etc.

Greetings! My apologies on missing Monday... let's get it going!
  • I'll go ahead and apologize because I have to lead with this because I bleed maize and blue. The Michigan Wolverines are the #1 team in the country when it comes to college hoops. I'm fully aware that this is arbitrary, and a single loss to Indiana on Saturday (very possible, maybe likely) will send them spiraling down the poll, but I'm going to enjoy this while I can. Go Blue. 
  • Tiger Woods won for the eighth time at Torrey Pines yesterday, winning by 4 shots over Brandt Snedeker. It's really nice to see him actually dominate something, and even though it's a course he loves, it's blindly encouraging. He. Is. Coming.
  • In the midst of the Lakers explosion, Rondo's ACL, and never-ending rumors surrounding Rudy Gay and Josh Smith, the NBA trade market is heating up! The aforementioned Gay is the subject of the most "substantial" talks as Toronto is reportedly in discussions to grab him from the Grizz. Don't believe anything until it's done. 
  • In actual on-court news, Golden State toppled Toronto 114-102, but it wasn't without incident. Steph Curry left the game early with an injury (to his ankle again!) and Andrew Bogut returned from his season-long absence to notch 12 points, 8 boards, and 4 blocks in just 24 minutes. They are nothing if not entertaining. Memphis went into Philly and snuck out with a 103-100 win behind 27 and 7 from Marc Gasol, 26 from Rudy Gay, and 21 points & 9 assists from Jerryd Bayless in the absence of Mike Conley. Evan Turner put up 27 for Philly, but they continue to struggle without Bynum. Denver eeked by Indiana 102-101 in the Pepsi Center in the best game of the night. Danilo Gallinari led all scorers with 27, but the Nuggets basically had to hang on for dear life in the 4th quarter to get the win. And finally, Houston went on the road and crushed Utah 125-80 in Salt Lake. No, that's not a misprint, and the Rockets ran them out of their own building. James Harden led the scoring with 25 but it was a balanced effort, and Houston killed them on the glass and in turnover margin. Shocking result. 
  • In college hoops, Kansas won their 18th straight game with a 61-56 win in Morgantown over West Virginia. It was somehow the two schools' first ever meeting, and Kansas managed to win despite just 7 field goal attempts from Ben McLemore. Nice. Elsewhere, Louisville broke their losing trend with a 64-61 win over Pitt. Russ Smith had 20 for the Cardinals, and Gorgui Dieng added 14 points & 12 boards.
What to watch for on Tuesday... 
  • 7:00 - NCAAB - Wisconsin @ #11 Ohio State (ESPN) - The fact that Wisconsin is unranked is the biggest travesty of the polls, and Bo Ryan is my hero. That said, going to Columbus and winning would be a feat. 
  • 7:00 - NCAAB - #19 NC State @ Virginia (ESPN2) - Virginia will slow the game to a halt and they have a real chance at home. 
  • 9:00 - NCAAB - Kentucky @ #16 Ole Miss (ESPN) - Remember when Kentucky would've been favored here? I do, but Ole Miss is a veteran team and they should take care of business at home in Oxford. 
  • 10:30 - NBA - Hornets @ Lakers (NBATV) - Yay! More Lakers! (sarcasm font)

Friday, January 25, 2013

Weekend Viewing Guide (1/26 - 1/27)

Greetings! It's Friday, and that means we're almost to the weekend. Let's take a look at what is on deck for this weekend in the sports world. As always, we're in chronological order!

  • 11:00 am - NCAAB - #3 Syracuse @ Villanova (ESPNU) - This is a brilliant start time by the decision makers in Philly. Could have a sluggish Syracuse team in a raucous building. 
  • Noon - NCAAB - #5 Louisville @ Georgetown (ESPN) - This isn't your older brother's Georgetown, but they do have Otto Porter, and they'll be ready to go in this one. Louisville has been pretty inconsistent lately, and this is a tough spot. 
  • 1:00 - NCAAB - Maryland @ #1 Duke (CBS) - Duke probably won't be #1 after this weekend thanks to a mid-week loss, but the Blue Devils and Terrapins always play big-time battles and the crowd hates Maryland. 
  • 2:00 - NCAAB - #12 Minnesota @ Wisconsin (BTN) - It's a travesty that Wisconsin isn't ranked, and this should be an utter battle in Madison. What a gauntlet of a league. 
  • 4:00 - NCAAB - Oklahoma @ #3 Kansas (ESPN) - Ben McLemore!!!!!
  • 6:00 - NCAAB - Temple @ #9 Butler (ESPN2) - It's weird to me that this is a conference game and not a "Bracket-Buster" match-up, but it's still nice. Butler dropped a mid-week game to LaSalle so the luster is off of them a bit, but they're still a legit top-20 team. 
  • 7:00 - NBA - Bulls @ Wizards (WGN) - God Bless WGN for being national and giving us extra NBA options, even if they involve the not-so-fan-friendly Chicago Bulls. Ideally, this would be a Wall vs. Rose match-up, but we'll settle for Nate Robinson and company.
  • 7:00 - NCAAB - North Carolina @ #18 NC State (ESPN) - Big-time rivalry. Is there a more enigmatic team than NC State? They beat Duke soundly, but then allowed 86 points to lowly Wake Forest, and their defense is dreadful at times. UNC isn't their typical roster, but this will be competitive and high-level. 
  • 8:00 - NCAAB - #8 Florida @ Mississippi State (ESPN2) - Mississippi State stinks, but it's still a conference road game. That's all I have. 
  • 9:30 - NBA - Pacers @ Jazz (NBA-TV) - This is an awesome game for the NBA die-hard. Two quality teams who aren't "public teams", but this one is a battle. Roy Hibbert and David West against Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap (with Derrick Favors, too) will be fun, but I'd imagine the winner will be whoever wins the back-court match-up. 
  • 1:00 - NBA - Heat @ Celtics (ABC) - Now that football is (almost) over, we get treated to our first ABC Sunday slate! Boston is scuffling a bit right now, but Rondo is always better in these national TV games, Pierce hates Miami, and Garnett is Garnett. Plus, Lebron is playing. Done and done. 
  • 1:00 - NCAAB - #13 Michigan State @ #7 Indiana (CBS) - If you are a college hoops fan moreso than the NBA, this is for you. A top-15 match-up between Big 10 powers on national TV. Enjoy. 
  • 3:30 - NBA - Thunder @ Lakers (ABC) - Remember when this was supposed to be the Western Conference Finals preview?! This game will still draw ratings, but it'll be to watch the trainwreck that is LA right now. At least OKC will get to utilize the Dwight stopper in Kendrick Perkins. Woohoo. 
  • 6:00 - NCAAB - #2 Michigan @ Illinois (BTN) - Really tough game for Michigan. Illinois is yet another Big 10 team that should be ranked, and the Wolverines are likely playing for the #1 ranking in the country here. Trey Burke vs. Brandon Paul? Nice. Go Blue. 
  • 6:30 - NBA - Hawks @ Knicks (ESPN) - ESPN picked this one up really late, but I'm excited. Atlanta visits MSG and even with the weird start time, they get primary focus. My question is this, however: Who is supposed to guard Carmelo Anthony and JR Smith? Eesh.
  • 7:00 - NFL - 2013 Pro Bowl (NBC) - I would never, ever watch this game, but I know football diehards might. I still hate that it's the week before the Super Bowl, but then I catch myself not caring again. 
This is a tremendous hoops weekend, so as an appetizer for the Super Bowl in a week, enjoy it!

1/25: Upton, All-Star Rosters Announced, etc.

Greetings! Let's get it going... First with big news!
  • Justin Upton is an Atlanta Brave. Frank Wren and company shipped the beloved Martin Prado, along with Randall Delgado, Zeke Spruill, Nick Ahmed, and Brandon Drury to the D-Backs for Justin Upton and 3B Chris Johnson. I won't write an extensive recap of this one because it's been done everywhere else (here's an insider-only gem from Keith Law) but I love the deal. It's tough to give up Prado's versatility, but with his pending free agency, you're only giving up one year of control in exchange for three of Upton. There's an argument that Prado was as good or better than Upton last year, but it was a really, really down season from Upton coupled with the best of Prado's career. I think it's reasonable to suggest that Upton is better, and even significantly better, than Prado overall and when you add in the extra contract years, it's a steal. Wren also managed to hold on to both Julio Teheran and JR Graham in the deal (which is crazy), and while Delgado had been solid for Atlanta, he's a low-ceiling guy that probably won't haunt the Braves. Also in the deal, Atlanta acquires another option for 3B in Chris Johnson. He's a solid hitter from a statistical perspective, but his glove is awful so it's going to be ugly on defense between him and Francisco. That said, he's a valuable piece and shouldn't be forgotten in the deal. All hail Frank Wren. And oh, did I mention that the Braves have BJ Upton, Justin Upton and Jason Heyward for at least 3 more years?!?
  • The NBA All-Star reserves were announced last night on TNT. For my extended thoughts you can click here (my full roster selections) or here (for my thoughts on "snubs" over at Soaring Down South), but I'll say this. They did a reasonable job. The Western selections were perfectly reasonable, and there was only one really egregious choice in the East. That was Luol Deng. I'm actually a big Deng fan in general, and I've always felt that his contributions are underrated, but he didn't deserve to be there based on any statistical measure. His 15.25 PER is basically league average (and good for a whopping 63rd in the Eastern Conference) and while he's 32nd in both EWA (estimated wins added) and VA (value added), that is basically a result of solid play over a league-leading 40 minutes per game. At 17 points and 6 boards a game with good defense, I'm not crapping on Deng at all, but I can't see an argument for him over Brook Lopez, Paul Pierce, or Al Horford. Forgive me, Chicago.
  • Speaking of the NBA, there were 3 games on the agenda last night. The Knicks went into Boston and stole a 89-86 win in the TNT opener. Melo led the way with 28 points and 9 boards, but it was the Knicks D that won the game, holding Boston to 41% FG and 17% from the three on the night. Rajon Rondo had a 23/10/11 triple-double for Boston, but it wasn't enough. Later, Phoenix upset the Clippers 93-88 behind 24/8/5 from Goran Dragic. The Clips finally seemed to miss Chris Paul as they shot just 40% against a bad defensive opponent, and just couldn't generate offense outside of Jamal Crawford's gunning. No reason to panic though. In the non-TV game, Toronto went on the road and beat Orlando 97-95. Amir Johnson (21 and 10) and Demar Derozan (21 points) were the studs for the Raptors.
  • On the college hardwood, #6 Arizona was upset by UCLA at home 84-73. The Bruins blitzed them early and then managed to keep their distance down the stretch. Lottery pick Shabazz Muhammed had 23 points for UCLA and David Wear added 15/8 off the bench. In the other upset of the night, VCU lost on the road at Richmond 86-74 in overtime. You don't see too many 12-point losses in OT, but VCU just couldn't execute in the extra period. Kendall Anthony scored 26 points including 5 triples off the bench for the Spiders in the upset win. 
  • Name changes in the NBA! New Orleans formally announced their name change to the Pelicans effective next season, and with that... Charlotte petitioned for the possibility of acquiring back the Hornets! Everybody wins!
What to watch for on Friday...
  • 7:30 - NBA - Celtics @ Hawks (SportSouth) - It's always fun when these two get together. Boston is coming off of a back-to-back and traveling in so that's an advantage for Atlanta.
  • 8:00 - NBA - Spurs @ Mavs (ESPN) - The battle of Texas. It's a shame that Dallas is scuffling, but they could rise up and win here.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

1/24: Alive and Well

In the aftermath of the disaster that was Sunday afternoon in the Georgia Dome, I'm sure my absence wasn't surprising, but here we are again. Let's get to it, in a hurry....

  • #1 Duke got blasted last night in Miami by a shocking 90-63 result. In a way of wrapping this into a small bow, Miami shot 57% from the field including 9-19 on threes, held Duke to under 30% from the field and 4 of 23 on threes, and out-rebounded the Blue Devils 44-39. Done and done. I wouldn't indict Duke based on this loss, because it's college hoops and going on the road is troublesome always. 
  • The other upset in college hoops was much more surprising actually. #9 Butler fell at the hands of La Salle 54-53. The Bulldogs had been playing out of their minds, but again, going on the road in-conference is no small task, and they couldn't avoid the upset bug.
  • The Lakers are an unmitigated disaster. More losses, more trouble (including "reports" that Kobe went after Dwight last night), and Howard got injured again in last night's 106-93 loss to Memphis. Just another day in LA!
  • Justin Upton... Atlanta Brave? We've been here before with reports of a "close" deal, but never like this. Julio Teheran and more would be headed to Arizona, but dreams of an Upton-Upton-Heyward outfield for three years make up for that loss. Hopefully, this will be done today.
What to watch for on Thursday...
  • 7:00 - NCAAB - Purdue @ #2 Michigan (ESPN) - Go Blue.
  • 7:00 - NBA - Raptors @ Magic (League Pass) - I'm only putting this here to remind you that League Pass is free this week. That's the only reason.
  • 8:00 - NBA - Knicks @ Celtics (TNT) - Boston is in turmoil, but these two teams always play entertaining battles. 
  • 9:00 - NCAAB - UCLA @ #6 Arizona (ESPN) - Really, really nice Pac-12 game, and the fact that it's on the Worldwide Leader makes it more interesting.
  • 10:30 - NBA - Clippers @ Suns (TNT) - Who's idea was it to put the Nash-less Suns on TNT?
  • 11:00 - NCAAB - BYU @ #10 Gonzaga (ESPN) - One of the better games in the WCC this season. Brandon Davies is worth watching for BYU. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

2013 NFC/AFC Championship Game Preview

Greetings! Sunday is a huge day for the city of Atlanta, so even though I'm on the road (I don't want to talk about it), you knew I had to break down both games with some thoughts on each. Let's go!

AFC - Ravens @ Patriots (-9)

  • Where are the advantages for Baltimore? Off the top of my head, they have the better running back (Ray Rice), maybe the better secondary, and the better kick returner in Jacoby Jones. Did you notice that it isn't easy to find advantages? New England's offense is leaps-and-bounds better with three pass catchers (Welker, Lloyd, Hernandez) that I'd rather have than anyone on Baltimore and that's without Gronk in the lineup. The Pats offensive line is better than Baltimore's, and while the front sevens may be semi-comparable, Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs are certainly not RAY LEWIS AND TERRELL SUGGS (capital letters) anymore. If you look at DVOA rankings (Football Outsiders' metric to cover NFL "units"), New England has the huge advantage offensively (1st to 13th), a virtual push defensively (12th to 10th), and a virtual tie in special teams (3rd to 5th) because New England's coverage units are tremendous. Advantage, Pats.
  • The coaching match-up is really interested. John Harbaugh has one of the best records and playoff records of any young coach ever... but he's facing Bill Belichick. Sorry, Ravens fans. You usually have the big edge here, but not on Sunday.
  • Joe Flacco. We've now seen the "good" Flacco emerge as the Ravens put up 38 points in Denver against an elite defense. He's the unquestioned X-factor because he can either be abjectly terrible, or, if he plays like he did on Sunday, he could carry them to a win. The Ravens O-line is playing at a high level now with their new look (Oher at RT, McKinnie at LT), but this one's on Flacco offensively. Oh, and it would be a great idea to not avoid your top-3 running back.
  • Tom Brady is on the New England Patriots. I'm fully aware that I'm in the tank for guy to the point where my objectivity is even in question. I grasp that. With that said, there's no scenario where I could ever pick Joe Flacco (!) on the road in a must-win against Tom Brady. That's insane, and I don't care what anyone else says. 
  • The Pick - New England 34, Baltimore 23
NFC - 49ers @ Falcons (+4 or +4.5)
  • Yep. We're here. For the first time in their history, the Atlanta Falcons will host the NFC Championship game. And of course, San Francisco is the biggest road favorite in the history of this round in the NFL playoffs. Seems about right.
  • Falcons offense vs. 49ers defense - Matt Ryan is one of the 10 best quarterbacks in football. The list of guys I'd rather have for a game today (all things equal) than Matt Ryan is as follows: Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger (healthy), and maybe Russell Wilson. That is the entire list, and yes, I'm aware that RGIII, Luck, Cam, Romo, and Eli aren't on it. Sue me. That said, this 49ers defense is stout. They were 3rd in total yards allowed, 4th in passing yards allowed, 4th in rushing yards, and 2nd in points allowed per game. That is scary good, and while they haven't looked "dominant" in absence of a healthy Justin Smith, it's still probably an advantage for San Francisco. The big key to Atlanta's offense against Seattle was balance, and it may take another big-time effort from Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers here. Keep an eye on Aldon Smith, San Fran's all-pro pass rusher, who's been bottled up for about a month now. If he gets loose, it's trouble. 
  • Falcons defense vs. 49ers offense - This is the real X-factor me. Which Colin Kaepernick are we getting? The guy who went crazy against Green Bay with nearly 200 rushing yards and four touchdowns, or the guy who didn't complete 60% of his passes ONCE during the final month of the season, and hadn't ran for more than 53 yards since December 2nd. Mike Nolan will be up to the challenge, but the personnel for Atlanta simply isn't as good as SF's. The Niners O-Line may be the best in football, and Frank Gore will be rested and ready to rock. If Atlanta can keep Kaepernick's legs under wraps, this may be a "push", but that's the biggest hope.
  • Special Teams - Neither unit is particularly stout. San Francisco is 18th in DVOA on special teams, and Atlanta is 20th. Neither team is particularly explosive in kick returns, but the edge for San Fran will come in the punting game. Ted Ginn is above-average in the return game, and San Francisco punter Andy Lee led the league in net punting. On the bright side for Atlanta, Matt Bryant made 33 of 38 kicks on the season to just 29 of 42 from David Akers. Akers has been around forever, but he's been a weak link this year, and Bryant gets the edge there.
  • Other than Kaepernick being the obvious X-factor, I think this game is fairly even. San Francisco is the better team on paper, but you can't ignore the fact that a) Atlanta is at home where Matt Ryan and Mike Smith have an insane winning percentage, and b) Colin Kaepernick has nine career starts. NINE! If he hadn't put together an admittedly incredible 60 minutes against Green Bay, the entire world would be touting him as "unproven" and he'd receive no credit. What's different now after one game? 
  • With all of that said, there's not a statistical argument to pick Atlanta, even at home, and while I think they have a legitimate chance (40-45%?) to win this game, I have to take San Francisco as an analyst. 
  • The Pick - San Francisco 27, Atlanta 24
Enjoy the slate, and Go Falcons.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Viewing Guide! (1/17 - 1/20)

Greetings! Because I will be traveling this weekend with limited access, I went ahead and got two things together. First, I'm presenting a viewing guide that will cover Thursday-Sunday and what you should be on the look-out for, and of course, they are in chronological order. Then (posting Friday), I will break down the NFC/AFC Championship games and give my picks. Stay tuned! Let's do it...

  • 3:00 - NBA - Knicks vs. Pistons (NBATV) - You're thinking... "wait, an NBA game at 3:00 EST on a Thursday?! And the answer is... the game is London! I'll be honest and tell you that I had no idea this was coming until earlier in the week, and I'll apologize to English fans who have to watch the Pistons. Eesh.
  • 7:00 - NCAAB - #5 Michigan @ #9 Minnesota (ESPN) - What an awesome game. Michigan is coming off of their first loss of the year, and they are treated to a road game against a top-10 opponent. The Big 10 is a gauntlet this year.
  • 7:00 - NCAAB - #10 Florida @ Texas A&M (ESPN2) - If you're one of those Southerners who believe that sports don't matter north of the mason-dixon line, this one's for you.
  • 8:00 - NBA - Clippers @ T-Wolves (TNT) - Hopefully, Chris Paul is in the lineup to salvage the absence of Kevin Love for Minnesota. 
  • 9:00 - NCAAB - Georgia Tech @ #3 Duke (ESPN) - Duke is banged up, but it won't matter. Brian Gregory is building it back at Tech, but they aren't there yet. 
  • 10:30 - NBA - Heat @ Lakers (TNT) - There's no denying the appeal of this game, even with LA stuck in the mud. Kobe, Dwight, and Nash against Miami's Big Three is worth it.
  • 7:00 - NBA - Bulls @ Celtics (ESPN) - Always fun to see these two jerseys on the court together. Boston is playing much better in recent days, but Chicago will present a test for them offensively. 
  • 7:30 - NBA - Hawks @ Nets (SportSouth) - This is the second of a home-and-home in this series, and it's another shot to see Joe Johnson battle his old squad. 
  • 9:30 - NBA - Thunder @ Mavs (ESPN) - These two teams always play really entertaining/competitive games, but OKC is much, much better than Dallas right now.
SATURDAY (Jam-packed, btw)
  • Noon - NCAAB - Maryland @ North Carolina (ESPN) - Neither team is ranked right now, but both are tourney contenders and this is a nice warm-up. 
  • Noon - NCAAB - UConn @ Pittsburgh (ESPN2) - I could literally copy and paste the blurb from the previous game about this one. Not kidding. 
  • 2:00 - NCAAB - #4 Kansas @ Texas (CBS) - Texas being 8-8 really hurts this game, but at least they're at home.
  • 2:30 - NCAAB - #7 Arizona @ Arizona State (FSN) - Heated, in-state rivalry and two good teams. It's never fun to play a rival, especially on the road, so keep an eye on this one.
  • 4:00 - NCAAB - #6 Syracuse @ #1 Louisville (ESPN) - This is the game of the day on a day with a million good games. Two top-6 teams battling, and the first test for Louisville as the #1 team. Awesome match-up.
  • 4:00 - NCAAB - #12 Creighton @ Wichita State (ESPN2) - The Valley! It's a shame that this one is going head-to-head with that Big East battle, but Creighton is legit this year.
  • 4:00 - NCAAB - #21 Oregon @ #24 UCLA (CBS) - The 4:00 window is packed so no one east of the Pacific Time Zone is going to watch this, but it's still a fun game.
  • 6:00 - NCAAB - #11 Ohio State @ #18 Michigan (ESPN) - Another top-20 battle featuring two really scary teams from the loaded Big 10. Ho-hum. 
  • 7:00 - NBA - Spurs @ Hawks (SportSouth) - The one and only visit from San Antonio to the Highlight Factory this year. Never turn down a chance to see Tim Duncan if you can do it. 
  • 8:00 - NBA - Grizzlies @ Bulls (WGN) - God Bless WGN for playing these games on a pretty much national basis.
  • 9:00 - NCAAB - #8 Gonzaga @ #13 Butler (ESPN) - Did I mention that Saturday was loaded!?!?! This is the mid-major game of the year as the Zags travel to Indiana to take on Brad Stevens and company. Must-see. 
  • 11:00 - NCAAB - Utah @ Washington (ESPNU) - Only if you're up late...
  • 1:00 - NCAAB - #2 Indiana @ Northwestern (BTN) - The Hoosiers lost earlier in the week, so the ranking is out-of-balance, but if you need a TV warm-up before football...
  • 3:00 - NFL - 49ers @ Falcons - NFC Title Game (FOX) - We'll preview this later in the week as noted above.
  • 6:30 - NFL - Ravens @ Patriots - AFC Title Game (CBS) - Ditto.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

1/16: Ramblings!

Greetings! No "lead" story on this Wednesday, so a bunch of ramblings!
  • The Chicago Bears have hired the top coach in the CFL (Marc Trestman) to be their head coach. He does have NFL experience, but the concept of the top job on the market (for me, anyway) being filled by a CFL guy is startling. I won't say he'll fail, because I know nothing of the man, but it's bold.
  • Elsewhere, the San Diego Chargers have hired current Broncos OC Mike McCoy as their head coach. He was one of the "hot names" in the industry after teaming up with Peyton Manning this year in Denver, and this isn't a surprise. His challenge? Resurrecting Philip Rivers' career without the benefit of a single above-average skill player (yes, that includes Ryan Mathews). Eesh.
  • On the college hardwood, unranked Wisconsin went into Bloomington and stunned the #2 Indiana Hoosiers 64-59. I should've known better than to publicly denounce Bo Ryan's team and their chances to win this game, so I get what I deserve. The Big 10 is crazy deep, and the best league in America this year.
  • NBA Round-up! Indiana blasted Charlotte on the road by a final score of 103-76. It was Charlotte's inconceivable 13th straight home loss, and Indy was led by an insane 60-31 rebounding advantage. That's not a misprint. Brooklyn has won 7 straight following a 113-106 win over Toronto. Brook Lopez had 22 and 9 for the Nets, who are scorching hot under PJ Carlesimo. The Clippers won again without Chris Paul, this time in impressive fashion on the road in Houston. Jamal Crawford led all scorers with 30 for LA. Portland and Denver played a crazy game in the Pepsi Center that saw Denver hold off the Blazers 115-111 in OT. It was the 6th straight for Denver, and now that the schedule is balancing out, they are playing insanely well. Finally, the Lakers may be turning things around. They beat Milwaukee behind 31 each from Kobe and Dwight (who also had 16 boards), and have looked different the past two games. It's admittedly a small sample, and they need Pau at full-strength for depth reasons, but things are looking up a touch. 
  • Rafael Soriano is a Washington National. In a move that every Braves hated, the Nats inked the former Yankee/Brave/everything else to a 2-year, $28 million deal to anchor the Washington bullpen. The Nats may be the best team in the entire league on paper, and if he's as good as he's been lately, they are now set at the closer position to go along with their absurd rotation and impressive lineup. Sigh.
  • I don't care about Lance Armstrong. At. All.
What to watch for on Wednesday (in chronological order)...
  • 7:00 - NCAAB - #14 NC State @ Maryland (ESPN2) - Really nice game here. Maryland has a lot of talent, and NC State is coming off of the Duke upset. 
  • 7:30 - NBA - Nets @ Hawks (SportSouth) - Welcome back, Joe! Former Hawks star Joe Johnson returns to Philips Arena for the first time. Standing ovation, please.
  • 8:00 - NBA - Rockets @ Mavs (ESPN) - Dallas is playing better, but can they stop the gauntlet that is the Houston offense? Nice match-up between Mayo and Harden.
  • 10:30 - NBA - Heat @ Warriors (ESPN) - From a purely visual standpoint, this could be one of the more entertaining match-ups in the entire league, and the Oakland crowd will be alive with Lebron in town.
  • 11:00 - NCAAB - St. Mary's @ BYU (ESPNU) - Say hello to the WCC, again. Outside of Gonzaga, this is the best pairing that the conference has to offer, so if you're anti-NBA, this is for you.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

1/15: A Disaster of Epic Proportions

Greetings! Let's get to the lead story, and get it over with ASAP...

  • A 5-point quarter. A 20-point half. The NBA record for futility due to a 37-point display in the first 36 minutes. 58 points for the game. 29% shooting. A rebounding disadvantage of 20 for the night. A 39-point loss. All of these things happened in the Hawks game in Chicago last night. I could write 1,000 words on this here, but that's all you need to know. Completely and utterly indefensible, and really an atrocity.
Moving on...
  • More (and lighter) NBA talk! Break up the Wizards! Three straight wins capped by a 120-91 domination of the Magic last night. Nene led the way with 19 and 11 for Washington, but they got 18 each from Kevin Seraphin and AJ Price plus another encouraging game from John Wall. Nice work. Rajon Rondo posted a triple-double with 17 points, 10 rebounds, and 12 assists in an impressive performance. He's certainly on the short list of triple-double candidates, but it's a big game nonetheless. The Clippers went on the road to Memphis (a very tough spot) and absolutely annihilated the Grizzlies 99-73... without Chris Paul! The Clips D held Memphis to a laughable 30% shooting, and if not for the Hawks embarrassment, Memphis would be getting front-page news. Dallas has won 3 straight games after a 113-98 win over Minnesota. Darren Collison led the way with 23 points and 9 assists for the Mavs, and things may be turning the corner for Dallas a bit. In an upset, Utah toppled Miami 104-97 despite a 32/4/6/3/2 from Lebron James. The Jazz crushed the Heat on the glass (40-23) and got a big-time 23/11 from Al Jefferson in the win. Miami actually shot a blistering 54% from the field, but with the rebounding disadvantage coupled with 14 turnovers, they couldn't generate enough possessions. Finally, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined for 77 points as the Thunder won 102-90 in Phoenix. Durant's 41 points came on 15-30 shooting while Westbrook shot an impressive 14-24 in the game. Total domination from those two. 
  • On the college hardwood, the two top-5 teams in action both won easily on Monday night. Louisville went on the road and beat UConn by 15 points. They were led by 23 points from Russ Smith, and the Cardinals shot 50% as a team. In the late game, Kansas used their defense to beat Baylor by 17. Ben McLemore (17 points, 8 rebounds) was the best player on the court, but KU managed to win despite shooting just 37% from the field because they held Baylor to 23% from the field. The Bears shot just 13 of 56 on the night. Yikes!
  • Rob Gronkowski is out for the year for New England. This isn't shocking after he exited the divisional playoff win over Houston early, but Gronk is on the shelf until next year. New England has proven they can win without him, but you have to take their Super Bowl odds down a peg with this news. He's one of the elite players in football, and that can't be ignored.
What to watch for on Tuesday (in chronological order)...
  • 7:00 - NCAAB - #20 Notre Dame @ St. John's (ESPN2) - The Johnnies have taken a step back this year after the loss of a million seniors, but they'll still have MSG rocking here with the Irish in town.
  • 9:00 - NBA - Blazers @ Nuggets (NBATV) - Denver is finally getting some home games and they are dangerous (14-2) in that building. Ty Lawson and Dame Lillard match-up in a battle of young, scary point guards.
  • 9:00 - NCAAB - Wisconsin @ #2 Indiana (ESPN2) - I'm in the tank for Bo Ryan, but in Bloomington, they're probably in trouble. The talent disparity is pretty large here.

Monday, January 14, 2013

1/14: A Wild NFL Divisional Weekend, etc.

Greetings! A ton to get to so let's go, starting with the NFL...

  • Falcons 30, Seahawks 28 - This game gave the entire city a heart attack. The Falcons led 20-0 at the half after two botched red zone possessions by Seattle, and a great offensive half by the Falcons. Then, Russell Wilson took over. The rookie (who I love openly) threw for 385 yards and ran for 60, leading Seattle to 28 second-half points, and the Seahawks took the lead with under a minute to go. Then, Matt Ryan took the Falcons from their own 28-yard line with approx. 30 seconds to go, marched them down the field, and set-up a 49-yarder from Matt Bryant that he ice-colded after a botched "icing" of the kicker. It was an absolutely wild outcome.  Props to Michael Turner (14 for 98) and Jacquizz Rodgers (10 for 64) for giving the Atlanta offense a dimension that they lacked for most of the year, and Ryan was strong in this game despite 2 interceptions. On to the title game!
  • The other Sunday game was less exciting. New England controlled the game from the outset in defeating Houston 41-28. Brady threw for 344 yards and 3 TDs (zero INTs) and Shane Vereen came out of nowhere to score 3 touchdowns for the Pats. Houston put up a fight in the second half and actually gained 425 yards including 343 from Matt Schaub but the Pats offense was too much. All hail Brady and Belichick.
  • On Saturday, Baltimore and Denver played a classic, as well. The Ravens pulled the dramatic upset on the back of a last-second 70-yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones to force OT, and then got a 47-yarder from Justin Tucker to win the game in double-OT. The touchdown to Jones was the story of the day for me, as it was inexplicable to let him get behind the Denver secondary, and that DB will see images of that forever. I thought Flacco was pretty good in this one, outplaying Manning due to the fact that he didn't turn the ball over, and Baltimore actually gave Ray Rice 30 touches. It's amazing what that does! It's funny to me that people are SHOCKED about Peyton Manning coming up small in a big spot... This is Peyton Manning! Of course he threw the game-ending pick! 
  • And finally, on Saturday night, Colin Kaepernick had his break-out game on the national stage. The 49ers QB ran for 181 yards on 16 carries, threw for 263 yards, and totaled 4 touchdowns to lead the Niners to a 45-31 win over Green Bay. He was utterly terrifying all day, and the speed he showed when he hit the corner on a 56-yard TD run in the second half was the stuff of legend. Not even Aaron Rodgers could match him, and if the SF offense plays like that, they aren't losing to anyone. It's going to be a fun one on Sunday.
  • #1 and #2 went down in a heap in College Hoops over the weekend. Duke lost an 84-76 road decision to NC State on Saturday for their first loss of the season. NC State had 6 guys in double-figures led by 25 points from All-American CJ Leslie. No shock here, as the Blue Devils were bound to lose a road game somewhere, but it came early. On Sunday, #2 Michigan fell at the hands of hated rival Ohio State. I don't really want to talk about it yet, but the 28-8 early deficit did in the Wolverines before they fought back to lose by only three. There was no chance they were going undefeated in the gauntlet of the Big 10, but I would've preferred a loss to someone else. 
  • One NBA note... Dwight Howard returned unexpectedly for LA last night, and scored 22 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, and generally dominated against Cleveland. There's no recipe for playing without the best center alive, and LA needs him to win games. Big coup for LA to get him back this quickly.
What to watch for on Monday...
  • 7:00 - NCAAB - #3 Louisville @ UConn (ESPN) - This isn't the usual gauntlet UConn team, but playing at home, they'll give Louisville a competitive game here. 
  • 8:00 - NBA - Hawks @ Bulls (NBATV) - The local and national game tonight. Atlanta is in a tailspin all of the sudden, and Chicago's defense on the road probably won't be the cure.
  • 9:00 - NCAAB - Baylor @ #6 Kansas (ESPN) - Ben McLemore is worth watching. That's all I need to say.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The 2013 NBA All-Star Rosters - Rowland Edition

Greetings! Every year, the NBA All-Star rosters appear in mid-to-late January, and every year, I have a bone or two to pick with them. This year, the criteria changed as the positions have now changed to 2 backcourt and 3 frontcourt players instead of the traditional G-G-F-F-C format, and I'm going to follow the rules (including 5 total backcourt and 7 total frontcourt players on each team) when providing my picks. Please note that the "actual" rosters will be announced on January 17th (TNT) and these are simply my personal selections about what the rosters should look like. Let's get to it!

  • Backcourt - Kyrie Irving, Cleveland - Until recently, I had this as a dead-heat between Irving and Rondo. Kyrie had missed time and his Cavs were floundering in the standings. Then, he started going crazy, and now the debate is non-existent. There's a real debate for Irving as the best overall guard in the East, and he's averaging 24 points, 6 assists, and 4 rebounds a game for the season. I'm not someone who can fully discount a player's performance just because his team is bad (have you seen that roster?!), and Irving's resume is too good. Throw in a #7 overall PER in the East, and 5.1 EWA (estimated wins added) in just 26 games played, and it's a slam dunk.
  • Backcourt - Dwyane Wade, Miami - Let me get this out of the way. This isn't your older brother's Dwyane Wade. Gone are the days where he was a top-5 overall player, and his 22.9 PER, while still very good, is the lowest of his non-rookie career. With all of that said, the guy is averaging 21/4/5 as the #2 option (and the #3 on some nights) and in a conference that has a serious shooting guard issue, he shines above the rest. Easy choice. 
  • Frontcourt - Lebron James, Miami - The biggest no-brainer in the history of Earth. He's the best player in the world, and while Durant may have closed the gap (albeit slightly), I still believe it's a clear distinction. Leads the East (and the entire league) is PER at 29.81, has an absurd 12.2 EWA, averages 26/8/7 with a ludicrous 54% shooting and plays absolutely elite defense every single night. I could write 1,000 words on why he's the easiest choice in the entire league, but why? No questions asked.
  • Frontcourt - Carmelo Anthony, New York - Though he's been in the news for his spat with Kevin Garnett recently, Carmelo's play has been tremendous this year. He's second in the East, behind Lebron, in PER and EWA, is posting easily his best statistical season of his career, and has the Knicks as a virtual lock for home-court in the Eastern Conference first round. His shooting percentages, scoring rate, and turnover rate are at 5-year bests, and this is the Carmelo that we always hoped for after he came out of Syracuse. 
  • Frontcourt - Chris Bosh, Miami - At first, I didn't want to include Bosh based on the "three Miami players in the starting five" corollary, but then I looked around, and asked myself, "why?!". Bosh has been tremendous this season, averaging 18 points and 8 rebounds a game as the #3 option on the best team in the league, and he's playing out-of-position every single night. Also, he's been extremely durable, playing in 32 games, and has a top-10 PER in the conference (even when including guys like Andray Blatche and Andre Drummond). He gets the nod, albeit slightly over the guys coming off the bench. 
  • Backcourt - Rajon Rondo, Boston - Rondo is such an interesting case. Coming into the season, it was billed as "Rondo's Team!" and there were rumors that he'd jack up his scoring load this season. That hasn't happened, but it hasn't stopped Rondo from being an All-Star player. He's the league-leader in assists (11.2 per game), and he's dominating the category to the point where Jrue Holiday is 2nd at just 8.8 dimes per night. His scoring rate and shooting percentages are up from the last couple of years, resulting in his highest PER since 2009-10, and he's still an above-average defender. There's not really an argument against him as an All-Star, even in a down year for the Celts. 
  • Backcourt - Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia - Speaking of Holiday, he's made the mini-leap this year. The Philly guard is averaging nearly 19 points a game to go along with his 8.8 assists, and is clearly that team's best player in the absence of Andrew Bynum. He has better numbers than Deron or guys like Jennings and Ellis, and to go along with that, he's the best defender of that group. It's time for people to learn his name, and an All-Star nod should help with that.
  • Backcourt - Deron Williams, Brooklyn - Okay, you're thinking at least two things here. #1) Are there no available shooting guards that could make this team? and #2) Hasn't Deron Williams been terrible this year? In order, the answers are #1) there is a real argument (statistically) for Lou Williams as the 2nd-best shooting guard in the East so far this year behind Dwyane Wade. That's not a misprint. Do you think he's an all-star!? And #2) Deron Williams has been terrible for him this year. That's an important distinction because, well, he's still been better than everyone else available. He's averaging 17 points (17th in the East, 10th among guards) and 8 assists (4th in the east) per game, and his PER of 18.14 (at time of print) ranks him ahead of a lot of his competition including Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis, and Paul George. Lastly, he's been much better in January, and I firmly believe he's a better basketball player than anyone else he was competing with... even if I hate how he has played.
  • Frontcourt - Kevin Garnett, Boston - Top-15 in the East in PER. One of the best defenders in the entire league. The Boston defense (and really the whole team) falls apart when he's off the court. Still averaging 15 points, 7 boards, and a block a game in under 30 minutes of court time, and he deserves to be there, even at his advanced age. It isn't a clear-cut as it used to be, but he's one of the best 7 front-court players in the East.
  • Frontcourt - Al Horford, Atlanta - The lone Hawk! I'm sure there will be a groundswell for Josh Smith getting this spot, but I don't see it. Horford has the better PER (18.5 to 18.3), the better EWA (4.8 to 4.4), is the better defender (shot-blocking aside), and the better overall player. Couple that with the fact that Smith has taken a significant step back in production across the board this year, and that's not an argument. Horford's numbers (16 points, 10 boards, 1 block per game) don't blow you away, but he's as steady as it gets, and he slips in over David West in a photo finish.
  • Frontcourt - Tyson Chandler, New York - Tyson Chandler is an absolutely elite defender who happens to be having his best offensive season of his entire career. He's leading the East in field goal percentage by 15% (FIFTEEN!!!) and is averaging 13 and 11 to go along with his rim protection. Throw in a top-10 PER and the fact that he's 3rd in the East (behind only Carmelo and LBJ) in EWA and this is a no-brainer inclusion. Don't overlook his defensive value.
  • Frontcourt - Brook Lopez, Brooklyn - I really didn't want to do this, but he's been too good. Did you know that Brook Lopez has PER of over 25?! For all of the vitriol over his rebounding difficulty, his rebound rate has climbed from an abominable 5.3 per 40 minutes last year to 9.9 this year, and since that was his only real weakness, his play has shined in 2012-2013. He has undoubtedly been effective on the block (averaging 19 points and shooting 53%), and really has been the best player on the Nets this year. He's not the dominating presence that he could be, but there's no denying his efficiency and high-level play this season. 
Honorable Mention - Anderson Varejao (injury), David West (this one hurt), Paul George, Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis, Josh Smith, Paul Pierce

  • Backcourt - Chris Paul, LA Clippers - The title of "best point guard" never left Chris Paul in my mind, but now, anyone who left his camp has returned. He's leading the West in assists with 9.5 per game (2nd in the NBA behind Rondo), is shooting a crazy 48/35/90 slash line, and his 26.64 PER is second only to Kevin Durant in the conference. I'm absolutely in the tank for Paul and I won't deny that, but I can also back up my love for him with stats, and with his Clippers in the #1 spot in the standings, it's even easier than normal to praise CP3.
  • Backcourt - Kobe Bryant, LA Lakers - In the midst of the Lakers destruction, Kobe has been tremendous offensively. His shooting percentages are up across the board, his usage rate is down, his turnover rate is down, and he's posting his best PER since 2008-09. There's no question that his defense has slipped considerably, but he's not terrible on that end (although he's best against the dribble now), and when you score 30 a game while grabbing 5 boards and dishing out 5 assists, you can be average defensively. 
  • Frontcourt - Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City - As noted above, Durant is the clear #2 player in the league at this point (as Dwight has declined via health and whatever else), and the best pure scorer alive. His true shooting percentage is ludicrous at over 65%, his 52/42/90 slash line is Larry Bird-like, and he has OKC in the upper-echelon of the league again. Durant has also improved defensively, and while he'll probably never be Lebron on that end, he's now above-average, and uses his length very effectively to alter shots and stay in passing lanes. I absolutely love Durant, and he's the #1 player in the conference.
  • Frontcourt - Tim Duncan, San Antonio - The old man returns! Top-5 in the West in PER, one of the best defenders in the league (still), 3rd in the West in blocks per game, averaging 17 and 10 in only 29 minutes... Do I need to keep going? This is the best Duncan has played in 3 years, and he is still the best power forward in the league (unless you count Lebron, and I don't). It's unfathomable that he could play this well at age 36, but he's doing it, and I love it.
  • Frontcourt - Blake Griffin, LA Clippers - I was going with Dwight Howard... until the injury. Blake has been outstanding this year as he's finally improved his post game and his defense to the point where I can't crap on either one. He only trails Durant and Duncan among front-court players in PER, and his 18 points and 9 rebounds per game are outstanding when you consider that his minutes are down to a career-low 31.9 per game. I'm not the biggest Griffin fan, but in a year where Dwight is injured and not DWIGHT), he deserves the nod, and he'll get it. 
  • Backcourt - James Harden, Houston - Harden shouldn't win "most improved player", but if there was a "breakout player" award, he'd win it. He hasn't quite maintained his ludicrous 66% true shooting from last year, but any concerns about an increased workload have proved to be misguided. Harden's efficiency numbers are actually up this year, and he's now the clear winner of the "2nd best shooting guard alive" award after Kobe, with a charge on the #1 spot coming. He's carried Houston to a competitive mark this year, and it's impossible to argue with 26 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, and a 45/36/86 shooting line. Tremendous player.
  • Backcourt - Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City - Westbrook is scary good. He's come up huge in the absence of Harden, and while his efficiency has taken a hit, his raw numbers are very good. 22 points and 8 assists per game is enough right there, but when you consider that his usage rate is actually trending down, and that he's taken the pressure of handling the ball in crunch-time, it's a nice year from Russ. We all wish he would take care of the ball and improve his shooting percentage (and shot selection), but he's still a great player and a no-doubt choice.
  • Backcourt - Tony Parker, San Antonio - This was a photo finish between Parker and Steph Curry. Parker gets the nod based on his advantage in PER (22.68 to 18.86), EWA (6.8 to 5.0), shooting percentage (52% to 44%), and assists (7.1 to 6.4). Curry is the better pure shooter, but Parker's ability to penetrate and do Parker-like things pushes him over the top, and he's been utterly tremendous again for San Antonio. It feels wrong to leave Curry off, and I wish he was in the Eastern Conference, but Parker is still the better player, and he's my choice. 
  • Frontcourt - LaMarcus Aldridge - The best player on the surprising 19-15 Blazers. LMA is averaging 20.6 points and 8.4 rebounds a game with a PER in the 20 neighborhood, and his defense has taken a step forward this year. I've always thought he was underrated, and if this record continues, he'll start to get noticed more for what he's done with a pretty questionable roster. One of the best power forwards in the game for a few years now. 
  • Frontcourt - David Lee, Golden State - The Dubs get a representative! For as much as I've crapped on Lee for his defense, he has been awesome to watch this year. 20 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, and a PER north of 20 is enough to get you an All-star bid, but he's also shooting 53% from the field and over 80% from the line, and that's like stealing from a power forward. His defense is still very questionable, but there have been moments where I've seen flashes of solid play, and he's certainly not the catastrophe that he used to be. Very deserving of a nod, and the Warriors wouldn't be 22-12 without his stellar play. 
  • Frontcourt - Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City - Serge has made the leap. He is averaging career-highs in points (14.5 up from 9.1), rebounds (8.4 up from 7.5), field goal percentage (57% up from 53%), and PER (20 up from under 19). Granted, his usage his gone up significantly, but he's responded with positive play and he's an absolute game-changer on the defensive end. He gets the nod over Zach Randolph because of defense. 
  • Frontcourt - Dwight Howard *(injured) - I've noted Dwight here just because he won't play in the game, but he'd be there if he could. For all of the talk about how "down" he is, Howard has a PER of 20, he's 2nd in the league in blocks, leading the league in rebounding, and shooting 57% from the field while providing great defense. There's no question that he isn't the same player with his back injury that he was in Orlando, but he's still awesome despite all of the nonsense. 
  • Frontcourt - Marc Gasol, Memphis - This may surprise some people, but I think Gasol is better than Zach Randolph and more deserving of the final spot. Their PER numbers are virtually identical (Randolph with a slight edge), as are their EWA numbers (Gasol with a slight edge), so this comes down to one thing. Defense. Marc Gasol is one of the 10 best defensive players in the entire league, and Zach Randolph is below-average defensively. It's as simple as that. Yes, Randolph is the much scarier offensive player, averaging 16.9 points a game to just 13.7 for Gasol, but Gasol has the higher true shooting percentage, and is an elite passer from the center position. There's certainly an argument that this is a "preference" pick, but I'll take Gasol and his defense over Z-Bo. 
Honorable Mention - Nicolas Batum, Stephen Curry (see West, David), Al Jefferson, Zach Randolph, Paul Millsap, Kevin Love

There you have it! Let the debate begin...

Thursday, January 10, 2013

1/10: Wall-to-Wall Hoops, etc.

Greetings! Last night was jam-packed with basketball, so that's the focus today, but there's at least some other news sprinkled in...
  • Let's start with the Association! The Atlanta Hawks are really scuffling at this point, after dropping a 99-83 decision in Cleveland to the Varejao-less Cavs last night. Kyrie Irving was the best player in the arena with 33 points, but the real story was the woeful Atlanta offense. Bah. Elsewhere, in a battle of two teams that you wouldn't expect to play in the 70s/80s, New Orleans beat Houston 88-79. Both teams have bad defenses, but it didn't matter on this night, with both teams shooting 40% and guys like Eric Gordon (2-12) and Ryan Anderson (0-7!) shooting the ball badly. By the way, New Orleans won the game with those two efforts, eesh. San Antonio topped the Lakers 108-105 behind 24 and 6 from Tony Parker, and 19 points and 8 boards from Manu Ginobili. Kobe was Kobe, but the real reason that LA hung around in this one was a surprise flourish from Earl Clark, who had 22 points and 13 rebounds in 28 minutes off the bench. Could be something to watch going forward. The Clippers overcame a 4th-quarter deficit to knock off Dallas 99-93 thanks to 19 points and 16 assists (good lord) from Chris Paul and 5 triples from Matt Barnes. The hits keep coming for Dallas. And finally, Memphis got an impressive road win in Oakland over Golden State 94-87. All five starters scored in double-figures for the Grizz, and they also won the rebounding (43-38) and turnover (15-10) battles in this one. 
  • In another NBA note, Kevin Love had surgery yesterday and will miss a reported 8-10 weeks with that fractured hand. Huge blow to Minnesota, and the focus is now directly on former #2 overall pick Derrick Williams. It's time.
  • The Baseball Hall of Fame inducted... no one. This actually didn't surprise me, but the fact that the Hall of Fame exists without Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens is pretty funny/ridiculous. In the "non-steroid" group, I also think that Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Mike Piazza are hall-of-famers who were unjustly left out based upon some absurd voting trends. Alas, nothing will anger me about the Hall-of-Fame as long as the Braves duo of Maddux/Glavine comfortably get in next year on the first ballot. Oh, while we're here, Jack Morris should never be in the Hall of Fame. Just clarifying.
  • College Hoops! - Kansas escaped an in-conference upset with a 97-89 overtime win over Iowa State. This one was hotly contested throughout, and KU was lucky to steal it. Ben McLemore led the way with 33 points for the #6 Jayhawks. Michigan remained unbeaten at 16-0 after a 62-47 win over Nebraska in the Crisler Center. #8 Minnesota went on the road and pummeled #12 Illinois 84-67 last night. They got 29 points from Joe Coleman, 22/8/6 from Andre Hollins, and a 19/11 from Trevor Mbakwe to spark their impressive win. That's a scary team with Tubby Smith at the helm. And finally, New Mexico edged UNLV in a West-coast battle 65-60. The Lobos were able to hold All-American Anthony Bennett to just 12 points and 6 rebounds, and they got 23 and 9 from 7-footer Alex Kirk. Impressive win.
  • Also in college hoops, Duke lost one of their core players in Senior forward Ryan Kelly who exited Tuesday's game with Clemson with a foot injury. That would be a huge loss for Duke if it is for the season, as Kelly anchors their defense, and gives them a "stretch" presence from a front-court position. Keep an eye on how Coach K attempts to replace him. 
What to watch for on Thursday (in chronological order)...
  • 7:00 - NCAAB - #22 Michigan State @ Iowa (ESPN2) - First of a college hoops triple-header on ESPN2. Iowa got housed by Michigan, but they are better than they showed there, and at home, I actually think they beat Sparty.
  • 8:00 - NBA - Knicks @ Pacers (TNT) - Indiana is coming off a huge win over Miami and with Paul George on fire and Carmelo Anthony suspended, this could be a match-up that tilts in Indy's favor. Still worth a look.
  • 9:00 - NCAAB - #4 Arizona @ Oregon (ESPN2) - Really, really nice game here. Arizona is the class of the Pac-12, but Oregon has impressed early and they're hosting here. 
  • 10:30 - NBA - Heat @ Blazers (TNT) - Portland has surprised in a good way this year, starting 19-15 behind Lillard and Aldridge. They at least have Batum and Matthews to throw at the big two, and the Rose Garden will be raucous. 
  • 11:00 - NCAAB - St. Mary's @ #9 Gonzaga (ESPN2) - The rivalry is back! The WCC crown has gone through this game in recent years and this is the first match-up of 2013. I can't imagine the atmosphere at the Kennel for this one. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

1/9: RGIII, Hoops, etc.

Greetings! Let's get going...
  • Robert Griffin III has a torn LCL and ACL... at least according to reports. We covered this briefly yesterday, but the new reports have surfaced and I thought I'd reference them. Still nothing confirmed, but it looks like he may miss some serious time.
  • NBA! Minnesota blitzed Atlanta by a score of 108-103 in the Target Center last night. The Wolves built a 16-point halftime lead and hung on for dear life in the final minutes before an errant inbounds pass by Josh Smith (shocking!) clinched the game for Minny. Nikola Pekovic was the story, scoring 25 and grabbing 18 rebounds for the T-Wolves. Miami went down in a heap at the hands of the Pacers by an 87-77 tally. Dwyane Wade had 30 points and Lebron had 22/10, but Paul George's 29 points and the fact that Indy held Miami to just 41% shooting were the bigger factors. Nice win for the Pacers. The Bucks opened their Skiles-free era with a 108-99 win over Phoenix led by Brandon Jennings' 29 points and 9 assists. And finally, Houston blew out LA 125-112 led by a 66-point second half. The Lakers just had no answer inside with Pau and Dwight, and the Houston offense ran rough-shot. 
  • College Hoops was pretty ho-hum last night with four of the top-25 teams in action winning comfortable decisions... and then there was the Pitt/Georgetown game. Pitt went on the road to Georgetown as an unranked team, and beat them 73-45. The Panthers shot 55% from the field to 35% for Georgetown, dominated the glass 27-20, had 16 assists to 5 for GT, and won the turnover battle 16-10. Basically, a domination in every way. Trouble for JTIII and company.
What to watch for on Wednesday (in chronological order)...
  • 7:00 - NBA - Hawks @ Cavs (SportSouth) - Very winnable game for the Hawks and a chance to see the best super-young guard in the game in Kyrie Irving.
  • 7:00 - NCAAB - Nebraska @ #2 Michigan (BTN) - My Wolverines look like a gauntlet right now, and I don't want to jinx it.
  • 7:00 - NCAAB - #3 Louisville @ Seton Hall (ESPN2) - Seton Hall is 12-3 but without any real quality wins, and this is a big test for them.
  • 8:00 - NBA - Lakers @ Spurs (ESPN) - Exactly what the Pau-less, Dwight-less Lakers needed. A visit to San Antonio!
  • 9:00 - NCAAB - #8 Minnesota @ #12 Illinois (BTN) - Randomly, the game of the night belongs on the Big Ten Network as two top-12 teams square off. Illinois has going with Brandon Paul, and I'd pick them at home.
  • 10:00 - NCAAB - #24 UNLV @ #25 New Mexico (CBS College Sports) - I'm fully aware that most people don't have this channel, but if you do, you're treated to a really nice match-up. 
  • 10:30 - NBA - Mavs @ Clippers (ESPN) - It's been a nightmare season for Dallas fans (sorry, David), but at least with Dirk back there is some reason for optimism. Just maybe not in LA tonight.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

1/8: BCS Title Game Wrap-up, etc.

Greetings! A lot to get to this morning...
  • Alabama is your BCS National Champion. In case you missed it, you can find my live (and detailed) thoughts here, but suffice it to say that Bama cruised during the 42-14 victory. It was utter domination from the beginning, and ND really was never in the game. Manti Te'o vanished into thin air, the ND offense couldn't generate anything until garbage time in the second half, and Alabama had the best player on the field in Eddie Lacy. I could opine forever on this game, but Alabama was outstanding and they deserve the title. Cue the insufferable SEC fans and their claims on a title that exactly one team was responsible for.
  • Robert Griffin III has a full-blown injury controversy! One report had him missing 14+ months with a complete tear of multiple ligaments, now it is "reported" that he just tore his LCL. At any rate, we can agree that as long as he has a tear of anything, he shouldn't have been out there. Alas, this is a story worth following.
  • In an extremely random NBA moment, Milwaukee fired head coach Scott Skiles after midnight last night. The weird part about it is that Milwaukee didn't play last night. Why the midnight firing? Who knows, but Skiles had Milwaukee in the playoffs at 16-16, and I'm confused by this one. That said, Skiles has a reputation for wearing out his welcome, and I never understood the Ellis/Jennings backcourt with regards to how it would mesh with Skiles. The search begins.
  • There is trouble in Laker land. Pau Gasol (concussion) and Dwight Howard (torn labrum) are both out indefinitely, and Howard could miss months depending on the severity. It's been a full-scale nightmare since the opening tip of the season for LA, but this is the low point. Without Howard, they are going to be a disaster on the interior, and there are even whispers of Metta World Peace playing some center. That's not a joke.
  • NBA Check - Washington shocked the OKC Thunder by a 101-99 final last night in DC. Bradley Beal led the Wiz with 22 points, but the key to the W was their defense holding OKC to 43% FG and just 6-25 from 3-point distance. There's not a lot to take from this one, but it's certainly surprising. Could Boston be turning the corner? Just two days after a crazy, comeback win over Atlanta, the C's went into New York and defeated the Knicks without Rajon Rondo. Boston got 23 and 6 from Paul Pierce, and held Carmelo Anthony to a woeful 6-26 from the field in the win. In another upset, New Orleans topped San Antonio 95-88 thanks to a 4th quarter surge. Eric Gordon seems to be rounding into form with 24 points for the Hornets. Finally, Portland and Orlando played a barnburner in the Rose Garden that saw the Blazers eek out a 125-119 OT win. LaMarcus Aldridge (27/10/5), JJ Hickson (20 and 15), Wes Matthews (24 points), and Damian Lillard (18 points, 10 assists) all had big games for Portland in the win. 
What to watch for on Tuesday (in chronological order)...
  • 7:00 - NCAAB - Alabama @ #10 Missouri (ESPN) - Pressey and company are worth watching.
  • 8:00 - NBA - Lakers @ Rockets (NBATV) - Metta World Peace at Center! No, really!
  • 8:00 - NBA - Hawks @ T-Wolves (SportSouth) - Minnesota is battling big-time injury issues, but they're still 15-15 in the loaded West, and this is a tough spot.
  • 9:00 - NCAAB - #15 Ohio State @ Purdue (ESPN) - Every road game in the Big 10 is a tough one and this is no different.
  • 9:00 - NCAAB - Pittsburgh @ #19 Georgetown (ESPNU) - In a normal year, this game would never be on ESPNU, but that's where the Big East is at the moment.

Monday, January 7, 2013

2013 BCS Championship Game Liveblog!

Greetings! It's been a while since I've trotted out a liveblog, but since this is expected to be the #1 rated program in the history of ESPN (not a misprint) and I have no rooting interest in the game (I hate Notre Dame and the SEC equally), it is time! Stay with me throughout the game for whatever "insights" I may have and may the best team win!
Note: You will need to "refresh" at the top of the page in order to see real-time updates, or simply come and go as you please.
  • 5:37 pm - The countdown is on! Just under three hours to game-time and though I haven't felt this kind of fan experience since I was very young (the 1997 Michigan Wolverines to be exact), it must be driving folks from Irish and "Roll Tide" nation crazy. Stay tuned for pregame and kick-off closer to 8:30 pm. 
  • 8:21 - The TV is fired up and Brent Musberger is on the mic. Has there ever been a more perfect voice for college football? He always makes it feel like a big game, and along with the now-retired Keith Jackson, he's the voice of the college gridiron for me. 
  • 8:24 - Cut to a live shot of Notre Dame slapping the "Play Like a Champion Today" sign... how did it make it here from Miami? Oh, here comes Alabama out of the tunnel followed closely by the Irish and a fired-up Manti Te'o. This is fantastic. Two legendary programs, two insane fanbases, and all eyes on Miami.
  • 8:26 - Kirk Herbstreit isn't calling an Ohio State game! This is great for me! Where is Chris Spielman?
  • 8:28 - Notre Dame wins the toss and defers. Their only win of the night?! Okay, too soon. I can't help but be more inspired by confidence when I see Nick Saban than when I see Brian Kelly. That's not a shot at Kelly, but Saban is the best in the business. 
  • 8:31 - The ball is in the air! This is about as loud of a crowd as you'll ever hear at a neutral site in this big of a game. Think about Super Bowl crowds that you've heard... are they ever rowdy? This one is.
  • 8:33 - AJ McCarron with a perfect strike for a 30-yard gain to Norwood. That should slow the ND defense a bit as they were really flying forward on the first two snaps. 
  • 8:34 - Eddie Lacy is an absolute monster. 10 yards, about 4 broken tackles, and his helmet comes flying off. Suddenly Alabama is on the ND 27-yard line. How did that happen!?
  • 8:36 - Did I mention that Lacy was a monster? 20 yards to the house for the opening touchdown. That's an absolute march by the Tide. And, on cue, Musberger points out that it was the longest drive allowed by the Irish defense all season. Not quite an "uh oh" from South Bend, but certainly not a positive start.
  • 8:39 - Is this drive going to be huge as huge for ND as I think it is? If they go 3-and-out, Saban and company will start smelling blood, I think. 
  • 8:40 - X-factor of the night for ND's offense? Tight End Tyler Eifert. He's the Mackey Award winning weapon on the outside that could pose some match-up issues, even against a lightning-fast Bama defense. 
  • 8:42 - I know I just said that Eifert is the X-factor, but that doesn't mean I'd be iso-ing him on Dee Milliner. He's one of the top-5 corners in the country and has good size despite Eifert towering over him. 
  • 8:44 - Most under-covered story of this game is Everett Golson playing in his 12th career game. Yes, 12 career games, with the fact that he wasn't even the full-time starter all year. Somehow, with all of the coverage on the Irish defense, it's been overlooked that he's going into the Lion's Den against Saban and that speed. Enjoy that, Everett. 
  • 8:46 - Fumble!!? Alabama puts it on the carpet on the ensuing punt return, but the recovery is waived off due to a kick-catch interference call. Crisis averted, although that would've been a huge momentum swing and that fair catch signal was verrryyyyyy late. 
  • 8:47 - On second look, that's an absolutely awful call and Brian Kelly is losing his mind (rightfully so). They blew that one. 
  • 8:49 - Eddie Lacy is doing his best Trent Richardson impression. Ran through Te'o twice already. 
  • 8:51 - If AJ McCarron is this accurate, good luck to Notre Dame's defense. Multi-faceted offense from Bama = doom. 
  • 8:53 - Absolutely incredible run by Lacy down inside the 5-yard line. Two jump cuts, insane patience and great vision to get to second level.
  • 8:54 - 14-0, Alabama. The Irish defense is on its heels in a big way. Couldn't be a worse scenario for Notre Dame through the opening half-quarter.
  • 8:56 - I can't help but dread tomorrow's "SEC Rules!" response by the entire Southern United States. Have fun taking full credit for one team's performance! Can you tell I grew up in Atlanta as a Michigan fan? 
  • 8:58 - Remember when I said that opening drive was huge for Golson? Multiply that by about 10 on his second drive. At the very least, ND needs a couple first downs to let their defense regroup.
  • 8:59 - Oh. My. Goodness. Tyler Eifert just put the ball on the ground at the Irish 30-yard line. If that holds up, that literally could be the dagger for Notre Dame, and yes, I'm aware that there is 6 minutes left in the 1st quarter. 
  • 9:01 - Currently during the commercial break, but I think Eifert's knee was down. Second life for ND if they overturn it.
  • 9:02 - Irish ball. 
  • 9:05 - Zero separation from the ND receivers/tight ends so far in the game. Another punt coming from ND. Time for Te'o and company to get a stop before things get out of control. 
  • 9:06 - The first shot of AJ McCarron's girlfriend! Who had 9:06 in the pool? Wait, she's an Auburn student?
  • 9:08 - I won't tell you that he's made any highly difficult plays, but AJ McCarron has been flawless so far. Tide on the march again. 
  • 9:09 - A negative play for the Bama offense/Irish defense! Nicks absolutely blew up Barrett Jones and took away any chance for Yeldon to use his speed.
  • 9:15 - Touchdown, Alabama. At 21-0, this game isn't over, but it is the tallest of tall orders for Notre Dame. Consider this, the Irish offense only threw for about 2600 yards and 13 touchdowns this season, and they're going to ask Golson to heave it around a lot if they want to come back. The downside? It's tee-off time for the Bama defensive line.
  • 9:16 - Important for ND to not abandon the run entirely. They must keep the ND defense off of the field for a decent amount of time on this drive. They looked gassed and overmatched. 
  • 9:20 - Some life from Golson and company until they cross midfield... and then he makes the inexplicable decision to throw a deep jumpball on 4th and 5. Turnover on downs.
  • 9:21 - Nothing I hate more than that play call. When did it become an epidemic to be "cute" and throw deep on 4th-and-short? What's the percentage on that play's success? 15%? 
  • 9:23 - In all seriousness, if Alabama scores a touchdown here, this game is academic. Please don't give me the "Auburn did it with Cam!" argument for a comeback, because Everett Golson is certainly not Cam Newton. 
  • 9:27 - Alabama forced to punt! The dream lives!
  • 9:27 - Of course ND muffs the punt. That would've been comical if Bama recovered. That said, the Irish take over inside their own 10-yard line in desperate need of points. 
  • 9:32 - Yikes. An explosive safety blitz from Alabama shuts down ND for a loss of 5 yards right after ND finally had a positive running play. Golson follows with a short completion and a scramble, but Kelly sends the punting unit on for a 4th-and-1.
  • 9:33 - Musberger brings up a great point. How long before we see Tommy Rees for Notre Dame? Isn't he the better passer?
  • 9:36 - I think Eddie Lacy looks fantastic. I know I keep referencing him, but every run is patient and powerful. 
  • 9:39 - McCarron misses Cooper about about this much on the cut-your-throat deep ball there, and Bama will punt. Seems like Notre Dame's defense has awakened a bit, but they're still in need of rest and the Irish offense has let them down in a big way. 
  • 9:40 - Another special teams miscue? Notre Dame has now muffed a punt AND fielded one inside their own 5-yard line. I feel like young punt returners have literally forgotten about the "plant your feet on the 10-yard line" rule this season. 
  • 9:42 - I'm not crapping on him, but has anyone heard the name "Manti Te'o" tonight? It's not his fault that the secondary is getting torched, but he's been a non-factor in run support, too.
  • 9:44 - If you're an ND fan, aren't you dreaming of a 12-play touchdown drive here? If they can get 7 and milk the rest of the half, they're suddenly back in the game... right?
  • 9:47 - Almost on cue, Golson takes a soul-crushing sack. I don't even know what to say. Rudy was offsides, too. 
  • 9:48 - If you're Saban, I think you just ride the two running backs at this point. I don't think ND has shown you that they can score 21 points without any big swings/turnovers, and if you couple that with a monster offensive line and two gifted backs, it's a pretty solid recipe. 
  • 9:50 - Great point by Herbstreit. ND never misses this many tackles, and it's not like they haven't played against some serious runners this year (Denard, Le'veon Bell, etc.). Either Yeldon and Lacy are just incredible, or the Irish are folding. 
  • 9:51 - On cue, Te'o misses a tackle in the backfield. If that wasn't a microcosm of the night's events, I don't know what is. 
  • 9:56 - Eddie Lacy is a certified ballplayer. He spins into the endzone and the lead is now 28-0 with :31 left in the 2nd quarter. Over 100 total yards and 2 TDs for Lacy in the half. Wow. For all intensive purposes, this one is over, and we could be witnessing one of the most dominant title game performances of all-time. 
  • 9:57 - This is when being a "journalist" is difficult. I probably shouldn't flat-out call this game "over", but I'm having serious trouble conjuring up a scenario where ND gets back into this game. Punt return TD? Pick-six? Both? 
  • 9:59 - Halftime. 28-0, Alabama. We'll be back for the second half after a short recess. Stay tuned.
  • 10:16 - We're back! It's pretty indicative of the way things have gone that Desmond Howard and Urban Meyer are virtually cackling on the halftime set. Have to imagine that millions of TV sets have been turned to the "off" position after the 1st half.
  • 10:22 - Serious question, would you throw a single pass in the 3rd quarter if you were Nick Saban? I literally don't think I would. With their running backs and ND's refusal to play 8 in the box, they're going to move the chains enough to sustain without risking the ball through the air. It should look like an early 1970's Big Ten game in the second half. 
  • 10:27 - INT from Golson on the 1st drive. That's incredibly brutal for ND. I'm out of ideas.
  • 10:28 - I said this on the first drive of the game, but Herbstreit just banged the point home. Why on Earth is ND attacking Dee Milliner? He's an All-American! He's literally made every play he's been asked to make all night, and if they thought they saw something on tape, they didn't. 
  • 10:30 - 14 carries for 116 yards from Eddie Lacy. Scroll up to read me fawning over him endlessly.
  • 10:34 - I feel bad for Brent and Herbie. They're going to be in full-scale BS mode by the start of the 4th quarter. Anyone have a good TJ Yeldon story!?
  • 10:36 - On a positive note for Notre Dame, Nix is out there absolutely giving it up on one leg. That's the kind of stuff that makes sports special. They're getting absolutely housed, and he has no business out there, but refused to be left on the sidelines.
  • 10:37 - And in the same breath... Touchdown, Alabama. 35-0. I'll be wrapping this up soon if this continues. You've been warned. 
  • 10:40 - I would lay at least 20-to-1 that Brent Musberger will make a veiled Vegas reference if and when this game goes over the 40-point over/under total. He's in Cooperstown with regard to veiled references and by that point, it'll be the only thing left to talk about.
  • 10:44 - Openly rooting for ND to scratch. The SEC conglomerate will be at least 15% more insufferable if they get shut out. 
  • 10:48 - Touchdown, Irish! And the over hits! It's a celebration! I can't stop using exclamation points! Somebody stop me! 
  • 10:52 - I'm actually interested to see how Saban handles this now. Go for jugular with some play-action from McCarron or just grind with the running backs. To be honest, I don't think it even matters.
  • 10:56 - I've actually enjoyed Herbstreit tonight... until he starts talking about how Notre Dame "hasn't seen this speed all year." Come on, Kirk. You're better than that. 
  • 11:04 - $200,000 for Saban after the win tonight.... and he's worth every, single penny.
  • 11:06 - Kinda surprised that Bama is still throwing, but it's about as safe as it gets in the passing game for the most part. Dump-off city and they've been coached to stay in bounds it seems. Clock is rolling.
  • 11:07 - Eddie Lacy is the best player on the field tonight, and that's really saying something with the talent that is assembled.
  • 11:09 - Touchdown, Alabama. 42-7. And with that, I am signing off until tomorrow... 
Congratulations to the Crimson Tide on a dominant, national title-winning performance.