Tuesday, February 26, 2013

2013 MLB Preview #28: Minnesota Twins

Greetings! We're back with the used-to-be-interesting Minnesota Twins!

Projected Starters - Joe Mauer (C), Justin Morneau (1B), Jamey Carroll (2B), Pedro Florimon (SS), Trevor Plouffe (3B), Josh Willingham (LF), Aaron Hicks (CF), Chris Parmalee (RF), Ryan Doumit (DH)

Let's start with the positive. They have a really nice collection of middle-of-the-order bats... when they're actually on the field. Joe Mauer is still the 2nd-best catcher in all of MLB (behind Buster Posey), and he's actually coming off of a year where had 641 plate appearances. He's a 5-6 WAR player when he's healthy and a fantastic cornerstone guy despite being violently overpaid. After that, Josh Willingham is a proven slugger who slugged .524 last year (in a pitcher's park) and hit 35 home runs. Justin Morneau isn't near the player that he was pre-concussion, but he showed signs last year. The reason that Minnesota's offense is scheduled to take a step back this year, however, is the loss of both of their table setters. Denard Span (and his nearly 4 WAR last year) and Ben Revere have departed in favor of the completely unproven duo of Aaron Hicks and Chris Parmalee. Yikes. Ryan Doumit could be a nice X-factor, but his really value would come if he could catch (he can't) and he's probably just league-average if he's playing 1st base or DH-ing. It's not a disaster here, but they're going to need a lot from Aaron Hicks and he's never touched the field in a MLB game.

Projected - Vance Worley, Brian Duensing, Kevin Correia, Scott Diamond, Liam Hendriks/Mike Pelfrey

This is the problem. No Minnesota pitcher reached even 3 WAR last season, and they've done nothing to upgrade the rotation. Vance Worley was brought in as the return for Ben Revere, and while he's actually pitched reasonably well, he's never reached even 140 innings in a season. Duensing, Correia, and Diamond are all in the mold of a low-end (aka 4th or 5th) starter, and none of those guys have even the slightest tick of upside. Hendriks was an abomination last year in his 16 starts (5.57 ERA, 1-8 record) and he'll be pushed by former Met Mike Pelfrey. It's not pretty.

Projected - Glen Perkins (closer), Jared Burton, Alex Burnett, Anthony Swarzak, Casey Fien, Josh Roenicke

They lost Matt Capps! I'm being sarcastic because, well, Matt Capps isn't a very good pitcher, but let's move on. Glen Perkins produced the 3rd-best WAR on the team despite pitching just 70 innings (lol), but he's actually very good. He struck out 9.98 batters per 9 innings and posted a 2.56 ERA while pitching in mostly high-leverage spots, and there's no reason to expect that to decline. After that, however, is a giant pile of question marks. Minnesota has gone ultra-cheap, and that can be seen in the bullpen.


In a bad division (after Detroit), I guess it's possible that Minnesota could put it together and semi-compete, but I don't see it. With the low-impact rotation that they'll trot out, there's really no upside, and they'd need their bullpen and lineup to be outstanding to have a chance. It's time to develop some arms and/or spend some money to take advantage of the prime of Joe Mauer and company. Remember when they opened Target Field and there was that revenue influx?


65-97, 5th in AL Central

2/26: Brady, etc.

Greetings! With MLB Previews in full effect, this one may be a bit brief.
  • Tom Brady reportedly has agreed to a 3-year, $27 million extension to stay with the Pats for the rest of his career in all likelihood. It's a brilliant move by the Pats as they lock him up while keeping cap flexibility, and (another) great move by Brady to take less money to help the team. It's important to note that Brady isn't "giving up" money, but rather taking a team-friendly extension. The man is a legend. 
  • In the NBA, the dueling stories of the night belonged to (shockingly) the Lakers and Celtics. Los Angeles fell 119-108 at the hands of the Nuggets in Denver to fall short of reaching the .500 mark. Denver shot a blistering 56% on the night and turned the ball over just 9 times, basically doing whatever they wanted on the offensive end throughout the night. LA did shoot 55% on their own end and they got a 29/9/6 from Kobe, but it wasn't enough to beat a dominant Denver home team. Elsewhere, Boston went into Utah and stole a 110-107 overtime win in Salt Lake. Paul Pierce led the Celtics with 26 points, 8 assists, and 7 boards in an old-school throwback effort. On the Utah side, Gordon Heyward led the way with 26 points off the bench, but it was a lack of offensive execution at times that let Utah down in this one. Finally, the Hawks beat up on the hapless Detroit Pistons, 114-103. Al Horford matched his career-high with 22 rebounds in a monster effort that also included 23 points (on 10-13 shooting), 2 blocks, and 2 steals. It was a fantastic performance from Horford, but the contributions of Jeff Teague (20 points, 12 assists) and Josh Smith (9 of 17, 23 points, 7 boards) also were big in the win.
  • College Hoops! Kansas "squeaked" out a road win 108-96 over Iowa State. This game was much, much closer than the final score indicates (it went to overtime after all), but the Jayhawks basically ran them out of the building in the extra frame. Elijah Johnson had the best game of his Kansas career, scoring 39 points on 13-22 shooting and dishing out 7 assists. Huge. In the other ESPN game, Marquette snuck out a home win over visiting Syracuse. The Orange actually shot a higher percentage in this one (48% to 43%), but Marquette got to the free throw line at will (attempting 35) and they converted at a high rate to make the difference. The Big East is always a gauntlet, and this year is no different. 
  • NFL Draft news! I generally hate the combine, but the fact that Manti Te'o actually ran is a story. He ran a 4.82 40-yard dash, and the while the story wheel turns, it's important that he actually gets on the field, in a hurry. Also, star Utah DT Star Lotulelei reportedly has a heart condition. He's considered to be a top-5 pick, and it'll be interesting to see how far (if at all) he falls as a result of this. 
What to watch for on Tuesday...
  • 7:00 - NCAAB - #1 Indiana @ Minnesota (ESPN) - The Gophers are in a bit of rut right now, but they are fully capable of rising up (at home) and making this a game. 
  • 7:00 - NCAAB - #19 Memphis @ Xavier (ESPN2) - The Tigers are unbeaten (13-0) in hapless Conference USA but this is a true road game against a good team. Really nice.
  • 8:00 - NBA - Cavs @ Bulls (NBATV) - Can Kyrie outscore the entire Bulls team?! That, of course, is a dig at the Bulls and their putrid offense, but it'll be interesting to see if they can actually score against a bad defensive team. 
  • 9:00 - NCAAB - #8 Florida @ Tennessee (ESPN) - Another top-10 team hitting the road in-conference against a decent opponent. My bet is that one of them is tight. 

2013 MLB Preview #29: Miami Marlins

Greetings! We're back with the suddenly putrid Miami Marlins. Hurray.

Projected Starters - Rob Brantley/Jeff Mathis (C), Logan Morrison (1B), Donovan Solano (2B), Adeiny Hechavarria (SS), Placido Polanco (3B), Juan Pierre (LF), Justin Ruggiano (CF), Giancarlo Stanton (RF)

When I see this lineup, I think "FIRE SALE!" Only Morrison and Stanton are back from that "vaunted"-looking offense of 2012, and things are ugly in a hurry here. On the positive side, Stanton might be the guy with the most pure power in the entire major leagues and, at age 23, he's one of the best assets in the entire league. Morrison has a career OPS of over .780 and has the talent to be a big-time hitter, but he's been a walking position change, and hasn't had a "breakout" campaign yet. After those two, it's pretty brutal. The only other players in the lineup who have ever been MLB regulars are Placido Polanco and Juan Pierre. Polanco hasn't had a good year since 2010 is now a 37-year-old full-time 3rd baseman with no power, while Pierre can still run (37 steals in 439 PA's last year), but has a career slugging percentage of .363 (not a misprint) and maybe the worst throwing arm of any major-league outfielder. The future could be bright if all of the young guys work out, but 2013 isn't going to be fun.

Projected - Ricky Nolasco, Henderson Alvarez, Jacob Turner, Wade LeBlanc, Nate Eovaldi

Eesh. In the midst of the fire sale, Miami jettisoned Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle to Toronto, and Anibal Sanchez has landed in Detroit, so the pitching cupboard is virtually empty. Ricky Nolasco is the prime example of a guy who looks great, but isn't always effective. His career ERA is 4.49 (which he matched nearly perfectly with a 4.48 in 2012) and I don't think Miami can expect much better from him. If that's your #1 starter, it's not a strong projection. I actually like Henderson Alvarez, but his K-rate dropped drastically last year (to under 4 per 9), and while he was clearly injured (by all accounts), it's not clear what he will be this year and going forward. Turner was the prize of the Anibal Sanchez trade and he's a former top prospect. It seems that he stopped striking people out sometime during 2011, but the stuff is high-end and he'll have every opportunity to get it right in Miami in that huge ballpark. LeBlanc and Eovaldi are "meh" guys who are both fringe 5th starters, and they'll be near replacement level. If Alvarez and Turner both hit it big, this could be a league-average rotation, but I doubt that happens in 2013.

Projected - Steve Cishek (closer), Mike Dunn, Ryan Webb, Jon Rauch, Chris Hatcher, Jose Ceda, AJ Ramos

Cishek was actually very good in 2012. He had a K-rate of nearly 10 per 9, an ERA of 2.69 and has "established himself as a closer" (insert laughter here) with 15 saves. The closer role is misguided (especially on a bad team), but he's a good pitcher. Ryan Webb was equally effective last year, and the Rauch/Dunn combo can be devastating if they have it going. The end of the bullpen isn't strong, but they aren't short on arms (I'm trying here). Cishek and the bullpen core likely won't be the reason they lose games.


The ridiculous ownership (looking at you Jeffrey Loria) is the reason that this team is a disaster on the field. They went and spent millions upon millions to establish a workable core of Reyes/Johnson/Buehrle/etc. and subsequently blew it up after one season. Now, they are mired in franchise disaster land, and there are even rumors of a future trade of Giancarlo Stanton that would drive the final nail in the coffin. If everything (and I mean everything) goes right this year, they could catch the Mets and Phillies for 3rd place, but it's easily the worst roster of the three, and they'll finish last.


63-99, 5th in NL East

Monday, February 25, 2013

2013 MLB Preview #30: Houston Astros

Greetings! As we embark on yet another marathon of an MLB season, it is time to preview all 30 teams. This year, I've decided to go in a new direction when putting together the preview, so the teams will be posted (in reverse order) based my prediction of their record and not broken down by division. Don't worry, their overall record (standings) and division prediction will be included. Let's get to it, starting with the "project" that is the Houston Astros.

Projected Starters - Jason Castro (C), Carlos Pena (1B), Jose Altuve (2B), Tyler Greene (SS), Matt Dominguez (3B), Chris Carter/JD Martinez (LF), Justin Maxwell (CF), Fernando Martinez (RF), Brett Wallace (DH)

At first glance, this is an absolute disaster. Jose Altuve is the only guy in this lineup (we can argue about Carlos Pena, I guess) that would be a legitimate starting player on the majority of the 30 major league teams. Read that statement again. He's the only one! Altuve had a .340 OBP with 7 homers and 33 steals last year in 630 plate appearances. He's an absolutely fine second baseman to have... but as your best player?! I could go down the list and break down all of these guys, but it's more of a who's who of "Four-A" type player sprinkled with some guys getting their first chance at relevance. Chris Carter may hit 30 homers, Justin Maxwell may put it all together and post a 3-4 WAR season, or Brett Wallace may actually reach the basement of his projected ceiling. Those things may happen, but this lineup is going to be wretched either way.

Projected - Bud Norris, Lucas Harrell, Jordan Lyles, Philip Humber, Erik Bedard/Dallas Keuchel

Remember when I described the lineup as wretched? Think of a synonym... and then apply it to the rotation. First, I'll acknowledge that Bud Norris is a guy that many, many teams would like to have. He's the highest-paid player on the roster (just over $3 million) and he strikes hitters out an a very good clip (almost 9 per 9 innings) as a starter. His stats trailed off a bit in 2012 (4.12 xFIP in 168 innings), but he'd be a solid back-of-the-rotation pitcher for most teams. Harrell is the 27-year-old righty who is coming off of a season where he was actually worth 2.8 WAR (fangraphs), and he's probably the most exciting guy in the rotation. After that, it gets ugly (and that wasn't pretty anyway). Lyles had an ERA over 5.00 in the NL Central last season, and while he's just 22 years old, he may not be ready for the American League just yet. Humber threw a perfect game in Chicago, but he was below replacement-level last year (yikes) and has a career 4.87 ERA over 316 innings. The 5th spot? I guess there is a 5% chance that Erik Bedard could be healthy and effective... but come on.

Projected - Jose Veras (closer), Wesley Wright, Xavier Cedeno, Josh Fields, Sam Demel, Hector Ambriz, Rhiner Cruz

This is almost comical. Veras could be a sneaky fantasy option, simply because when the Astros win (and they have to, at least once or twice), it'll likely be a tight game. That said, he's 32 years old and has a career ERA/FIP/xFIP over 4.00. Good luck. The rest of the 'pen is made up of cast-offs and projects. I don't even want to get into it.


In short, the Astros are moving to the AL West (a very good division) from the NL Central (a very bad division), they have little-to-no talent, and their payroll is so laughably low that it's almost begging for the #1 overall draft pick in next year's draft. It's a comedy of errors for the Major-league club, and it'll stay that way.


48-114, 5th in AL West

2/25: Hello, Monday

Greetings! Let's go!
  • Let's kick things off with a look at the NBA, shall we? Kobe Bryant exploded for 38 points, 12 boards, and 7 assists to outlast a big-time effort from Dirk and the Mavs. It was a throwback game for Kobe in the face of "rumors" (not rumors at all, but speculation at least) about a potential amnesty provision on his contract. That was old school Kobe at his best. Golden State went into Minnesota and knocked off the T-Wolves 100-99 behind a big game from Jarrett Jack. The former Georgia Tech standout had 23 points and 8 dimes for the Dubs. Another day, another win for Miami, who has now won 11 straight games. Lebron had 28/8 and Wade finished with 24/6/5. It's insane. Memphis snuck out of Brooklyn with a win in the ugliest game of the day by a score of 76-72. Z-Bo led the way with 16/14, but it was the Grizz defense that won this game. And finally, Chicago's offense is a complete disaster. They went into OKC and got blown out by 30 points, but the story was their putrid shooting. Chicago shot just 29.1% from the field on the night, including 4-18 on threes, and committed 17 turnovers to boot. This is becoming an alarming trend for one of the East's top teams, and they need a spark (ahem, Derrick Rose) badly. 
  • Jimmy Johnson won the Daytona 500 and Danica Patrick finished 8th. That is all I have on this topic. 
  • Yankees CF Curtis Granderson fractured his arm yesterday while being hit by a pitch, and will reportedly be sidelined until May. This is a blow for an already-depleted NY lineup, and the focus shifts (even more now) to Brett Gardner as he returns from an injury-laden season. Not a great start to the year for the Yanks. 
  • For reasons passing understanding, the OKC Thunder appear to be in talks to re-sign veteran PG Derek Fisher. Fisher hasn't posted a PER north of 10 (which is still far below-average) since 2008-2009 and he's basically a bad player. Score one for "veteran leadership". 
What to watch for on Monday...
  • 7:00 - NCAAB - #8 Syracuse @ #17 Marquette (ESPN) - Syracuse is coming off of a huge home loss to Georgetown, so they'll be angry. That said, nobody (besides Georgetown lol) seems to be winning on the road, and this is a tough spot. 
  • 7:30 - NBA - Hawks @ Pistons (SportSouth) - Few things are more exciting than a trip to Detroit in February!
  • 9:00 - NBA - Celtics @ Jazz (NBATV) - Kevin Garnett faces a huge challenge in the picture of a 4-man gauntlet of a front-line from Utah. Should be an interesting style match-up. 
  • 9:00 - NCAAB - #9 Kansas @ Iowa State (ESPN) - The Jayhawks face a tough battle in Ames against Fred Hoiberg (the Mayor!) and the Cyclones. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Weekend Viewing Guide (2/22 - 2/24)

Greetings! We've arrived at another February weekend, and it's time to take a look at what's on tap. Let's go! As always, we're in chronological order as that is the easiest way to follow these things.

  • 7:00 - NCAAB - St. Louis @ #15 Butler (ESPNU) - The Billikens are 9-2 in the A-10 this year, and they are fully capable of beating a suddenly struggling Butler team. Nice game. 
  • 7:30 - NBA - Kings @ Hawks (SportSouth) - Josh Smith is back! Oh wait, he never left! Anyway, the full-strength Hawks take on the Thomas Robinson-less Kings in a winnable spot for Atlanta.
  • 8:00 - NBA - T-Wolves @ Thunder (ESPN) - Do you think the NBA is regretting all of these national TV games for Minnesota? Yikes.
  • 10:30 - NBA - Spurs @ Warriors (ESPN) - San Antonio is coming off of a throttling in LA, but this is the 2nd of a road back-to-back and Golden State should be ready to roll. 
  • 2:00 - NCAAB - #14 Oklahoma State @ West Virginia (ESPN2) - It's been a disappointing year for Bob Huggins and WV, but at home, they'll battle. 
  • 4:00 - NCAAB - #11 Georgetown @ #8 Syracuse (CBS) - Old school Big East game here. The Carrier Dome will probably be insane in this match-up. I like the 'Cuse. 
  • 4:00 - NCAAB - NC State @ North Carolina (ESPN) - Two rivals squaring off and neither of these teams is assured of a tourney spot at this moment. This is an important game.
  • 8:30 - NBA - Hawks @ Bucks (NBATV) - These two teams went to the wire in discussing a Josh Smith trade, but this game will double as the JJ Redick debut in Milwaukee. 
  • 9:00 - NCAAB - Missouri @ Kentucky (ESPN) - Kentucky is without Noel, but Missouri has been an awful road team this year. That makes for a riveting match-up of futility. 
  • 1:00 - NBA - Lakers @ Mavericks (ABC) - Two sub-.500 teams rarely meet on national TV, and they never meet on ABC, but here we are. Dwight looked very good on Wednesday night against Boston, so maybe he's getting things together. 
  • 1:00 - NCAAB - Illinois @ #7 Michigan (ESPN) - Michigan needs a convincing home win, and this is a good spot for it. Brandon Paul vs. Tim Hardaway and Trey Burke is really interesting, too.
  • 2:00 - NCAAB - Cincinnati @ #25 Notre Dame (CBS) - Not the "sexiest" match-up, but these are two tourney teams facing off on a network. Done and done. 
  • 4:00 - NCAAB - #4 Michigan State @ #18 Ohio State (CBS) - The Big 10 is awesome and this is no exception. Michigan State is playing really, really well, but I can't pick against Ohio State in Columbus. Home court means too much.
  • 7:00 - NBA - Grizzlies @ Nets (ESPN) - I can't wait to watch Marc Gasol and Brook Lopez go at it in the post. Am I the only one?
  • 9:30 - NBA - Bulls @ Thunder (ESPN) - Chicago better be able to score here. That's where I'll leave it. 
Enjoy it!

NBA Trade Deadline Recap

Greetings! Before we get started, I am going full-on with self-promotion by linking to my 2nd installment on the FanSided front page. Check out my Bulls/Heat recap here, and without further ado, let's break down the let-down that was the trade deadline. 
  • First of all, the Hawks (and Danny Ferry specifically) decided to hang on to Josh Smith. I wrote up a full post on this (seen here), but there are pros and cons to this "move". Obviously, I wanted Josh Smith to be shipped out, and I felt like there almost had to be a package out there that was worthy of taking. With that said, if there literally wasn't one deal that provided a) expiring contracts and a pick, or b) a young, quality asset combined with expirings, then holding onto Smith (and subsequently, next year's flexibility) is the right move. The two "publicized" trade offers came from Milwaukee and Brooklyn, and while both deals weren't complete disasters, they both featured the Hawks taking on some serious money past this season, and that was something that Ferry was adamantly against. Letting him go in the off-season or getting a small haul in a sign-and-trade is just fine, but the real choice comes in July. 
  • The "biggest" deadline deal surrounded JJ Redick and his move to the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks acquired Redick, Gustavo Ayon, and Ish Smith in exchange for Tobias Harris, Doron Lamb, and expiring contract Beno Udrih. On the Milwaukee side, they obviously get the best player in the deal in Redick, but with Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings still manning the backcourt, it's unclear what the plan was. Also, this is a pure rental for Redick, as his contract expires, and I'm not sure what this deal really does for their playoff hopes other than ensuring that they make the playoffs as the 8th seed. I'd love to see Milwaukee let Ellis go (they should be praying that he waives his player option) and re-sign Redick to pair with Jennings going forward. For Orlando, they moved an expiring in Redick (he wasn't re-signing there) for some small value. Tobias Harris is the "prize" for them, as a 20-year-old who is already an active contributor in the league. Otherwise, business as usual for the woeful Magic. 
  • The Hawks made two trades! First, Atlanta dealt Anthony Morrow to the Mavs for Dahntay Jones. On the surface, this was a "huh?" trade, but in the end, it's basically a pure salary dump. Both guys have expiring contracts, but Atlanta will save about $400,000 in real cash for the rest of the season, and that's the reason for the deal. Apparently, Larry Drew had decided that Morrow wouldn't be returning to the rotation, and they moved him for a cheaper piece with a different skillset. There was certainly an argument that Morrow's skills overlapped with Korver and Jenkins, so Jones provides a defense-first, athletic wing to pair with the oft-injured Stevenson. The second deal is even smaller, as the Warriors send young big man Jeremy Tyler to Atlanta for a conditional 2nd-round pick. Tyler has the distinction of being the first guy to leave high school early to turn pro, but the 20-year-old is really raw, and has only played 63 minutes in his career. It's a flier. 
  • There were also three "peripheral deals" that could, at least mildly, affect things in the league this year. Jordan Crawford is bound for Boston in exchange for Leandro Barbosa and Jason Collins. Crawford could provide some scoring punch for a Boston team that needed a guard, and while I hate his game, he's very talented. They also dealt absolutely nothing for him, and I have no idea why Washington would do this, even if we're assuming that Crawford wanted out. Eric Maynor has finally been dealt by OKC. He lands in Portland and immediately becomes their best bench player, and OKC gets the rights to a European player, but the prize is a trade exception that lasts until next year's deadline. Finally, OKC made another deal and acquired Ronnie Brewer from the Knicks for a 2014 2nd-round pick. Brewer seems semi-redundant with Thabo Sefolosha, but he's a little bigger, and provides another body to throw at Lebron in the Finals should they get that far. They got him for nothing, and this is a nice depth move. 
In the end, this was a let-down of a trade deadline, but it provided endless hours of chatter and it's the best. Enjoy the festivities. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

2/21: The 1st Trade!, etc.

Greetings everyone! On the morning of the NBA trade deadline, we have a lot to get to, so let's go.
  • On the eve of the deadline, there was a bit of a shocking deal in the NBA. Sacramento sent Thomas Robinson (the #5 pick in this year's draft) to Houston as part of a 3-team trade. This was surprising for two reasons. #1 is that the Kings are effectively bailing on the 5th pick after just a half-season of evaluation, and #2 is that they didn't really get value in return. Patrick Patterson is the "prize" acquisition for Sacto, but he is probably just a league-average power forward at this point, as he averages 12 and 5 in that uptempo Houston system. The Kings also receive Toney Douglas, Cole Aldrich, and cash, but it's just a weird match for Sacramento. For Houston, they effectively turn Patterson and Marcus Morris (who was shipped to the 3rd team, Phoenix) into Robinson and some future monetary flexibility. It's a buy-low on Robinson, but I firmly believe that he'll be, at worst, a really good energy guy/rebounder in the league and I like the move. For Phoenix, they pair the Morris brothers together as Marcus joins Markieff, and they only sacrifice a 2nd-rounder to do it. A rare, positive move for the Suns.
  • On the court, the NBA had a full night as well. Miami scored 40 4th-quarter points in a 103-90 come-from-behind win in Atlanta. It was the 8th straight win for the Heat, who were led by 24/6/11 from Lebron James and 17 bench points from Shane Battier (including 5 threes). The story of the night for Atlanta was 19 turnovers, and it was a mess down the stretch. James Harden exploded for 46 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists in Houston's 122-117 over Oklahoma City. This looks just like a case of a player abusing his old team, but Harden is a monster in this league at this point. Thabo Sefolosha had 28 points (randomly) for OKC, but it wasn't enough here. Indiana hung 125 points on the blindsided Knicks in a 34-point home win. The Pacers dominated the glass (54-39), shot 53% from the field, and basically dominated from the jump. The Lakers got a 113-99 win over Boston as they played their first game following the passing of Jerry Buss. Dwight Howard led 6 Lakers in double-figures with 24 points and 14 rebounds, but it was a 49-34 rebounding edge that keyed the win for LA. Finally, Golden State got 20+ points from Klay Thompson, Steph Curry, and Jarrett Jack in a 108-98 home win over Phoenix. This snapped a six-game losing streak, and the Warriors desperately needed the W.
  • On the college hardwood, Kansas and Oklahoma State played a barnburner in Stillwater. Kansas escaped with a 68-67 win in double overtime, but this was a wild one. First of all, the score (in the 60s) is indicative of how bad the offense was, as both teams shot 41% or lower, and the combined three-point output was 5-32. Eesh. Marcus Smart (2-14) and Ben McLemore (3-12) struggled mightily in a battle of sure-fire NBA lottery picks, but the Jayhawks stole the win.
What to watch for on Thursday...
  • 3:00 - NBA Trade Deadline! - Okay, this isn't an "event" to watch for, but it had to be mentioned. As the afternoon goes along, there are sure to be deals, and all eyes are focused on the Josh Smith chase as the highest-profile player on the market. It'll be fun.
  • 8:00 - NBA - Heat @ Bulls (TNT) - This is a road back-to-back for Miami so that's an interesting spot. Also, I'm covering this game for Fansided, so check that out when it comes (shameless self-promotion). 
  • 9:00 - NCAAB - #6 Duke @ Virginia Tech (ESPN) - This isn't a great game, as VT has taken a significant step back this year, but it's still a road game inside the conference.
  • 9:00 - NCAAB - Cal @ #23 Oregon (ESPN2) - If you're looking for a more "even" match-up at 9:00, this is it. 
  • 10:30 - NBA - Spurs @ Clippers (TNT) - Will both teams be unchanged? A lot of rumors have surrounded both rosters, but it's certainly possible. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

2/19: Jerry Buss, etc.

Greetings! Let's go.
  • Jerry Buss, long-time owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, passed away at age 80 yesterday. Buss was regarded as one of the best owners in the history of North American sports, and his teams won 10 titles during his tenure as owner. He had been hospitalized for the better part of 18 months, but his death still surprised many (myself included) who didn't know the severity. For more in-depth analysis, click here for a great piece by Bill Simmons on Buss, but for now, just know that the NBA lost a big piece on Monday. 
  • Chicago Bulls PG Derrick Rose took part in his first 5-on-5 drills since his ACL tear during last season's playoffs. This is a huge story as the "will he or won't he?" heats up surrounding a possible return. In my opinion, a Rose-led Chicago team would be the most difficult match-up in the Eastern conference for Miami, and his status should be monitored closely. 
  • In college hoops on Monday, Notre Dame went on the road and got an impressive, but grinding, win over Pittsburgh by a 51-42 final. Neither team cracked even 40% from the floor (yikes), but the Irish dominated the glass (36-22), and were able to convert six threes against zero for the Panthers. Nothing is exciting about a game where the teams score 93 total points, but this is a really nice win for ND. In the late game, Kansas State cruised to a 71-61 home win over West Virginia. The Wildcats had 5 players in double figures and shot 50% in the home win. Ho-hum. 
What to watch for on Tuesday...
  • 7:00 - NCAAB - #1 Indiana @ #4 Michigan State (ESPN) - This is probably the best game of the entire week in sports. Two top-5 teams facing off in a hostile environment in East Lansing, and this is the type of March "preview" that college hoops fans love. Sparty doesn't have the star power, but they can certainly win here at home. 
  • 9:00 - NCAAB - #5 Florida @ Missouri (ESPN) - It's still very weird to think that this is a conference game. Missouri is 14-0 at home on the season, and while they are a brutal road team (1-6), this game is in the friendly confines of Columbia. I'll fall short of predicting an outright win for Missou, but this is a really nice game. 
  • 9:00 - NBA - Celtics @ Nuggets (NBATV) - The NBA is back! After several days off, the league picks back up and this is the first national TV game. Denver is a gauntlet at home, and Boston will be in rough shape on the road in this spot against a rested Nuggets team. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

2/18: All-Star Weekend, etc.

Greetings! A ton to hit on today...

  • NBA's All-Star Weekend is in the books... and it was a good one. First, for my extended thoughts on the slam dunk contest and 3-point contest, click here and here. Terrence Ross outlasted Jeremy Evans in the Slam Dunk finals, but was almost overshadowed by the shortcomings of James White (sigh) and Gerald Green. In the 3-point, Kyrie Irving put on a display and cruised over Matt Bonner (Red Rocket!) in the finals. On Sunday night, the West defeated the East 143-138 in a pretty entertaining exhibition. The defense wasn't there (it never is), but there were great passes, highlight dunks, and athletic feats, and that's all you can ask for. Chris Paul was named MVP after scoring 20 points (on 7-10 shooting) and dishing out 15 assists in 27 minutes. He's the perfect ASG point guard, and it's one of the reasons he was put on the planet. Outside of Paul, Kevin Durant had the line of the night for the West with 30 points while Carmelo Anthony put up a 26/12 for the East. No analysis here.
  • In college hoops this weekend, the lead story was #2 Duke going down against Maryland on Saturday. The Terps won the game 83-81 thanks to a blistering 60% clip from the field, and they outrebounded Duke by a ridiculous 38-17 margin on the night. It's almost amazing that the Devils kept the game that close. Elsewhere, #20 Wisconsin routed Ohio State in Madison on Sunday by a 71-49 margin. I absolutely love Bo Ryan, and I'll get sucked in (again) at tourney time. Other than that, it was a "business as usual" weekend in college hoops... and those are rare.
  • Spring Training has begun in full effect... in case you haven't noticed. Hope springs eternal in 30 cities.
What to watch for on Monday...
  • 7:00 - NCAAB - #21 Notre Dame @ #16 Pittsburgh (ESPN) - This is about as "Big Monday" of a match-up as I can think of (lol). I really like Pitt, and at home, they are the clear favorite here.
  • 9:00 - NCAAB - West Virginia @ #10 Kansas State (ESPN) - Did you know that K-State was #10 in the country? Have you heard a word about them all year? That's impressive.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Weekend Viewing Guide (2/15 - 2/17)

Greetings! It's that time of the week again, so let's look ahead and briefly touch on what is on tap for the upcoming weekend in the sports world.

  • 7:00 - NBA - All-Star Celebrity Game (ESPN) - I would watch this, but the only reason that I would is because ESPN's Ryen Russillo is playing in the game.
  • 9:00 - NBA - Rising Stars Challenge (TNT) - This will be always be the "Rookie/Soph Game" for me, but now that the teams are mixed up, they've renamed the game. It'll be entertaining for the casual fan, as not a single defensive possession is taken seriously, and they'll be some highlight dunks. Kyrie Irving and Ricky Rubio are involved, too. 
  • 9:00 - NCAAB - #15 Georgetown @ Cincinnati (ESPN) - A rare, quality match-up in the Big East on a Friday night. Cincy is an interesting NCAA tourney case, and they could really use a win here. 
  • 1:00 - NCAAB - #16 Pittsburgh @ #18 Marquette (CBS) - After a crazy slate the past few weeks, this is the default "best" match-up in college on Saturday as these two top-20 teams meet up. I really, really like Pitt, but Marquette can win here at home. 
  • 2:00 - NCAAB - Purdue @ #1 Indiana (ESPN) - It's an in-state rivalry and all, but Indiana should handle business (at home) in easy fashion here. 
  • 3:00 - NBA - D-League All-Star Game (NBATV) - This is just for NBA diehards, but the level of play will be much, much higher than your typical All-Star game because these guys want an NBA job. 
  • 6:00 - NCAAB - #2 Duke @ Maryland (ESPN) - Duke is Maryland's biggest rival (not the other way around, but still) and the Terrapins should be all kinds of jacked up for this one at home in College Park. I wouldn't be surprised if this is a tight game despite Duke being the much better squad.
  • 8:30 - NBA - All-Star Saturday Night (TNT) - The Dunk contest is going to be awesome because of the guys in it and the 3-point contest always delivers. The skills challenge and shooting stars competitions are awful, but that's life as we know it. 
  • Noon - NCAAB - Penn State @ #4 Michigan (BTN) - This game is a welcome break from the gauntlet for Michigan. Easy win awaits.
  • 1:00 - NCAAB - #13 Ohio State @ #20 Wisconsin (CBS) - Absolutely no one wants to go to Madison to play Wisconsin. No. One. That said, Ohio State can be competitive here.
  • 8:00 - NBA - All-Star Game (TNT) - For as much as I love the NBA (and basketball, in general), I'm not a huge fan of the All-Star Game. Now that you've picked your jaw up off of the floor, it is because of a) game quality (poor), and b) nothing at stake. The last 6 minutes when everyone actually tries? Count me in. 
Enjoy the slate!

Simply, A Link

In lieu of a post this morning (I woke up late), I am simply going to link to the Heat/Thunder recap that I wrote last night for Fansided.com's front page. Enjoy!


Thursday, February 14, 2013

NBA All-Star Quick Picks!

Greetings! It's time for the NBA's All-Star festivities, and, of course, I have to weigh in on the Saturday night slate. This year, there is an East vs. West feel to everything (I have no idea why), but I don't care about that. Let's go!

Participants - Jrue Holiday, Jeff Teague, Brandon Knight, Tony Parker, Damian Lillard, Jeremy Lin
  • First, I don't care at all about the skills challenge, but it's at least semi-interesting. I don't understand the fascination with Brandon Knight (why is he here!?) so let's remove him now. Then, Jeremy Lin is only in this competition because his name is Jeremy Lin. I'm not blown away (at all) by his "skills" or speed, so let's take him out too. Jrue Holiday's biggest value is on the defensive end, and he doesn't strike me as a pure skills guy. Tony Parker has won this before, but is he going to go hard? He's old, after all. In the end, I'm saying this is between the speedy Jeff Teague and rookie Damian Lillard. Teague is faster, and while Lillard is the far superior shooter, I don't think that plays. Call me a homer, but it's really about taking the fastest guy with the ball. That's Teague. Winner: Jeff Teague
Participants - Paul George, Kyrie Irving, Steve Novak, Ryan Anderson, Matt Bonner, Stephen Curry
  • My first reaction (written here) is that Kyle Korver is a glaring absence in this competition, but after that, this is a really nice field. I think it's pretty unlikely that either George or Irving wins this thing. Both guys are high-level players who can really shoot, but they aren't shooters along the lines of the other 4 guys. Steph Curry is the lone small guy, but that does that hurt him? Is the "effort" higher for him? Basically, I think one of the bigs win it. Bonner has been openly yelling to be included, so I think he performs, and Novak is one of the worst players in the league who doubles as one of its best shooters. Anderson is the darkhorse because he can bomb, but I'm taking the guy who desperately wants to be there. Winner: Matt Bonner
Participants - Gerald Green, Terrence Ross, James White, Eric Bledsoe, Jeremy Evans, Kenneth Faried
  • Let's start with the guys who have no chance. Kenneth Faried isn't winning this competition unless he comes up with a gimmick that is beyond all things. He's a pure power guy who I can't see doing enough. Eric Bledsoe is explosive and athletic, but I've never seen him do anything spectacular/flashy so I'm taking him out. Evans is the defending champ, but it was more of a consistent performance than anything else, and he's not the purely explosive wing player like the Eastern conference guys. He could win it with consistency again, but it also hurts him that he doesn't play, at all, anymore. Gerald Green is back, and the 2007 winner is about as explosive as it gets. He's got one of the best dunks that no one ever talks about (throwing it down in socks!) to go along with his cupcake gimmick. Terrence Ross has been one of the best game dunkers in the entire league this year, and he's reportedly got some tricks up his sleeve. And finally, James White is here. White is now 30 years old so I'm not positive that the James White that I know will be in Houston. But I'll say this: James White is the best dunker (not named Vince Carter circa 2000) that I've ever seen. This guy has earned the "flight" nickname since high school, and his free throw line dunks are the stuff of legend. I don't care that he doesn't play. I don't care that he's 30. I'm picking him, and you should, too. Winner: James White
Enjoy the festivities!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

2/13: Michigan Massacre, etc.

Greetings! It was a rough sporting day...
  • ... because Michigan got housed in East Lansing. Sparty dominated the glass (40-28) and 48% from the field while holding the Wolverines to under 40% on the night. It was a dominant effort from the jump, and a reminder of how Tom Izzo always gets his teams ready as we head into February and March. I'm not terribly worried about Michigan, as bad shooting nights do happen (especially on the road), but it certainly wasn't a good night.
  • In the other college hoops battle, Florida knocked off Kentucky 69-52. However, the lead story ended up being that potential #1 overall NBA Draft pick Nerlens Noel (of Kentucky) went down in the second half with what looked to be a devastating knee injury. You never want to see something like that, so that's obviously the focus. On the court, Florida just executed all night and showed that they are the cream of the crop in the SEC. Plain and simple. 
  • Lebron James is a mutant. He became the first player in NBA history to score 30 points and shoot 60+% from the field in six consecutive games. Lebron finished with 30 points (on 11-15 FG), 9 assists, and 6 boards on the night to lead Miami to a 117-104 win. What else can you even say?
  • Around the NBA, Toronto got a late basket from Rudy Gay to seal a 109-108 win over visiting Denver. The Nuggets shot 52% from the field and got an impressive 29-and-9 from Ty Lawson, but Toronto hit 10 threes and converted 21-23 free throws (91%) that proved to be the difference in the game. Memphis got 24 points and 12 rebounds from Marc Gasol to lead them to a 108-101 over the hapless Kings. The Grizz also shot 55% from the floor on the night in an impressive offense showing for a usually offensively-challenged team. The Jazz throttled Oklahoma City 109-94 at home in the most "surprising" score of the night. Hilariously, the Thunder shot 56% from the field and still lost by 15 points thanks to 20 turnovers and an uncharacteristicly terrible free throw shooting performance (13-23 FT). Utah had 6 guys in double-figures and dominated the rebounding battle (38-26) to key the win. The Lakers Traveling Road Show got a 91-85 home win over a bad Phoenix team. Dwight Howard looked spry with 19 points and 18 rebounds, but the story of the night was Kobe Bryant. Bean shot just 1-8 from the field and seemed to refuse to shoot (think back to those Smush Parker days). The bad part? He also committed 8 turnovers. Yikes. And finally, Houston went into Golden State and refused to let the Dubs avenge that embarrassing loss from a couple of weeks ago. The Rockets won the game 116-107 behind 21 points, 8 rebounds, and 9 assists from Chandler Parsons to go along with 27 points from James Harden. The Warriors simply have no defensive answers against Houston.
  • Four Alabama football players (all freshmen) were arrested on Monday. Robbery and fraudulent credit card use were the charges. I don't even have a joke here, but this is the SEC! (send hate mail now)
  • Remember the issues with the Felix Hernandez contract? Well, they were elbow-related... and apparently not that important, as the deal became official yesterday. 7 years, $175 million. That's a lot of money.
  • Wrestling is no longer an Olympic sport. As of 2020, the IOC has removed it, and there is some outrage in the community. It does seem pretty insane to me that wrestling would be removed when you consider some of the sports that are still active, and with no professional version of this sport (at least in real terms), the Olympic removal could really, really damage things. I don't like it.
What to watch for on Wednesday...
  • 7:00 - NBA - Hawks @ Magic (SportSouth) - The final Hawks game before the All-Star Break is a welcoming face-off with Orlando. They are wretched right now (having won 3 of their last 26 games), but it's still a divisional road game.
  • 7:00 - NCAAB - #6 Syracuse @ UConn (ESPN) - Tough road game for the Orange here. This isn't the typical elite UConn team, but they're capable of stealing one.
  • 7:00 - NCAAB - #3 Miami @ Florida State (ESPN2) - Miami is a veteran, awesome team, but road games in-conference (again) are really tough, and doubly so against rivals.
  • 7:30 - NBA - Bulls @ Celtics (NBA-TV) - No Rondo! No Rose!
  • 9:00 - NCAAB - North Carolina @ #2 Duke (ESPN) - This game doesn't have nearly the build-up that it usually does because UNC isn't UNC this year, but this is the best rivalry in college hoops and that carries some cache. Duke should have no trouble at home here, but would anyone really be surprised if the Heels rose up and competed?
  • 10:30 - NBA - Rockets @ Clippers (NBA-TV) - One of the more entertaining style match-ups in the league. Houston can score on anyone, and Chris Paul directs one of the league's best offenses in LA.
  • 11:00 - NCAAB - #23 Oregon @ Washington (ESPN2) - 11:00 tip-offs are awesome. Period.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

2/12: Bourn, Vick, etc.

Greetings! Let's go.

  • Michael Bourn is a Cleveland Indian. The former Brave inked a 4-year, $48 million deal with incentives to move over to the AL Central. He had gone through a very long free agent process, mostly centering around the fact that the teams who actually wanted to sign him, didn't want to give up a draft pick. Cleveland decided that the benefit outweighed the cost and here we are. A lot of Braves fans are yelling about this, saying that Cleveland is paying Bourn less than Atlanta is paying BJ Upton, and while that's true, it isn't as simple as paying the "better player". Bourn is 30 years old and the absolute definition of a guy who will decline when he loses his legs. His value is almost exclusively defensive and on the base paths, and while he's better than Upton today, the length of the deal evens it out. It's an odd fit in Cleveland (who already had Drew Stubbs and Michael Brantley), but Bourn can play.
  • Michael Vick... is staying in Philly!? Most people people had his Philadelphia obituary written, but Vick inked a 1-year deal to stay with the Eagles and Chip Kelly. The deal is heavily incentive-laden, but I actually like that they'll give him a shot under the new system. It'll either be spectacular or a disaster with no in-between.
  • NBA Check! The Hawks got a 105-101 win in Dallas last night. Josh Smith went for 26 and 13 as well as a dagger (and horrendous) three that helped clinched the result. The real kudos go to Al Horford (21 and 10 on 10-14 FG) and Jeff Teague (20 and 9) for splendid efforts. Chris Paul is lighting up the league (again) post-injury as he led the Clips to a road win last night with 21 points and 11 assists. What else can you say? Boston finally lost without Rajon Rondo as they went down in a 94-91 decision to Charlotte. Eesh. And finally, San Antonio went into Chicago without Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker.... and still dominated the Bulls. I don't know how Pop does it, but the 103-89 win was impressive. They got 26 points from their default best-player in Kawhi Leonard, 18 points from Danny Green, and 16 a piece from Tiago Splitter and Gary Neal. That's real life.
  • In college, Kansas blew out their in-state rival in K-State by a 83-62 margin in Lawrence. Ben McLemore went for 30 points on just 13 shot attempts, and the Jayhawks looked "right" again after that disastrous 3-game slide. Impressive win. In the early game, Georgetown knocked off Marquette 63-55 despite shooting under 40% from the field as a team. Otto Porter is looking more and more like a lottery pick for the Hoyas with 21 points and 7 rebounds.
What to watch for on Tuesday...
  • 7:00 - NCAAB - #25 Kentucky @ #7 Florida (ESPN) - Probably the game of the year in the SEC... for whatever that's worth. 
  • 7:30 - NBA - Blazers @ Heat (NBATV) - Can Lebron keep this pace? Really?
  • 9:00 - NCAAB - #4 Michigan @ #8 Michigan State (ESPN) - Easily the game of the night. This is a really tough spot for my Wolverines, as Sparty is always tough at home and they have a big size edge as Jordan Morgan continues to sit. This will be a barn-burner.
  • 10:30 - NBA - Rockets @ Warriors (NBATV) - The rematch! In the last match-up, Houston was going after a 3-point record (aggressively) and Golden State got their back up. Can't wait for this one.

Monday, February 11, 2013

2/11: Josh Smiff, Lebron, etc.

Greetings! We have a ton to get to this morning despite being low on time, so let's get straight to it!
  • ESPN's Chris Broussard is reporting that the Brooklyn Nets are trying to move heaven and earth to acquire... Josh Smith! I'll save every single joke I have about a Josh/Joe reunion, and simply say that I don't think Brooklyn has the assets to grab Smith without moving Brook Lopez (and they won't do that). The reported deal would center around Kris Humphries and Marshon Brooks.... and that's not nearly enough, especially when Humphries makes equivalent money to Smith (i.e. way too much for Kris Humphries). It's nice to have options, though, and Danny Ferry seems to be acquiring them on a daily basis.
  • Lebron James is not from this planet. The King has now made 49 of his last 65 shots (an absurd 75% clip) over the past handful of games, and the performance has basically sent the blogosphere into a frenzy. He's been absolutely insane, and even though Kevin Durant has taken a step forward, I think it's possible that Lebron has even widened the gap on him just through shear dominance. The Heat got a 107-97 win over the struggling Lakers yesterday, but LBJ is the story.
  • Elsewhere in the Association, the Clippers beat New York in MSG by a 102-88 tally, and they did so despite allowing 42 points to Carmelo Anthony. These two things seem to be mutually exclusive, but Chris Paul (25 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, 4 steals) and Jamal Crawford (27 points) were tremendous in the win for LAC. Boston survived a 3-OT thriller with a 118-114 win over the Nuggets. Jason Terry had the best game of his Boston career with 26 points on 10-22 shooting, but Paul Pierce was the key factor, as he put up a massive 27-14-14 triple-double for the C's. What a performance. Orlando beat Portland 110-104 to stop a 12-game losing streak. Congrats to them! Finally, San Antonio went into Brooklyn without the services of Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili... and still beat the Nets by 25 points. Tony Parker's 29 points and 11 assists were the impetus for the Spurs, but they shot 59% from the floor and 63% from three as a team, and wouldn't be denied.
  • On Sunday in college hoops, #1 Indiana held serve with a rare top-flight road win as the Hoosiers defeated #10 Ohio State 81-68 behind a career-high 26 points from Victor Oladipo. He's a monster. #4 Duke escaped Chestnut Hill with a 62-61 nail-biter win over BC. They just haven't been the same team without Ryan Kelly, but the Devils are still a legit threat to win the whole thing. There were also two home-court upsets, as #7 Arizona fell on their home floor to Cal by a 77-69 score, and #18 Minnesota fell to a suddenly rejuvenated Illinois team by a 57-53 final. 
  • No, I don't want to talk about the 40-foot game-tying heave by Wisconsin on Saturday. With that said, there was a 5-OT game on Saturday night, and that's worth talking about (even on Monday). Notre Dame defeated Louisville 104-101 after 65 grueling minutes of game time that saw ND's entire front-line foul out... before they won anyway. It was a riveting game that seemed to be a giant conspiracy to end up tied. Awesome stuff. 
  • King Felix and the Seattle Mariners have reportedly hit a snag concerning his elbow. This is huge news as it indicates that the deal isn't final yet, and that their could be trouble in his future health-wise. Stay tuned.
What to watch for on Monday...
  • 7:00 - NCAAB - #24 Marquette @ #20 Georgetown (ESPN) - Big Monday! These certainly aren't the marquee teams in the Big East this year, but both are tourney-bound, and this will be a battle.
  • 8:00 - NBA - Spurs @ Bulls (NBATV) - Really nice match-up here. San Antonio is still without Tim Duncan, but against Chicago, that excuse won't play. Both teams will battle, and we know that.
  • 8:30 - NBA - Hawks @ Mavs (SportSouth) - Dallas is struggling pretty badly, but road games are what they are in this league. Nothing comes easy. 
  • 9:00 - NCAAB - #13 Kansas St. @ #5 Kansas (ESPN) - By the time this game tips off, Kansas will definitely not be ranked #5 anymore. They've lost three straight games, and their arch-rivals arrive in Lawrence ready to make it 4 straight. I actually like KU in the game, but it'll be a war.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Weekend Viewing Guide (2/8 - 2/10)

Greetings! It's another big weekend of sports (read: basketball), and there's plenty to watch. Let's take a look at how to plan your viewing calendar! As always, we're in chronological order.

  • 7:30 - NBA - Hornets @ Hawks (SportSouth) - Not the best Hawks match-up to watch, but New Orleans could be pretty entertaining. They are good offensively when Austin Rivers isn't on the court, and Anthony Davis is nice.
  • 8:00 - NBA - Clippers @ Heat (ESPN) - I really, really wish Chris Paul was playing here.
  • 10:30 - NBA - Bulls @ Jazz (ESPN) - Kind of a weird game for ESPN to choose, but should be fun. These are two of the deepest front-courts in the league, and it'll be a bloodbath up front.
  • Noon - NCAAB - #3 Michigan @ Wisconsin (ESPN) - The Big 10 is such a gauntlet. Michigan is coming off of a huge, emotional win against Ohio State... and they get the present of visiting Madison and playing a totally different style against Wisconsin. Awesome game. 
  • 1:00 - NCAAB - Ole Miss @ #21 Missouri (CBS) - At first glance, you'd have no idea why this is the CBS match-up, but both teams are tourney locks. Ole Miss is filled with veterans and they are capable of winning on the road here.
  • 2:00 - NCAAB - North Carolina @ #8 Miami (ESPN) - Did you know that the 'Canes are undefeated in the ACC? They have a 2-game lead, and they are the favorite right now despite Duke's lofty ranking.
  • 4:00 - NCAAB - #5 Kansas @ Oklahoma (ESPN) - The Jayhawks got run by TCU on Wednesday night... and they'll be angry
  • 6:00 - NCAAB - #23 Pitt @ #17 Cincinnati (ESPN) - Another ranked match-up! Neither team is a real title contender, but they'll grind and grind.
  • 7:30 - NBA - Nuggets @ Cavs (NBATV) - Cleveland is wildly entertaining with Kyrie and their youth up front, plus Denver is a different team away from the Pepsi Center. This could be a close game.
  • 9:00 - NCAAB - #11 Louisville @ #25 Notre Dame (ESPN) - Not the highest of high-end ranked match-ups, but a really tough spot for Louisville on the road.
  • 1:00 - NCAAB - #1 Indiana @ #10 Ohio State (CBS) - The Buckeyes are coming off of the crushing road loss in Ann Arbor, but they can certainly win this game at home. Probably the best game of the entire weekend.
  • 1:00 - NBA - Clippers @ Knicks (ABC) - Kind of a cool match-up. If Paul doesn't play, the Clippers have little chance, but there's a lot of talent on the court either way.
  • 3:00 - NCAAB - St. John's @ #9 Syracuse (ESPN) - In-state battle of classic rivals. Always nice.
  • 3:30 - NBA - Lakers @ Heat (ABC) - LA is certainly playing better... but road games in Miami don't help anyone, especially without Pau Gasol. It should, at the very least, be a riveting contrast in styles.
  • 8:00 - NBA - Spurs @ Nets (ESPN) - The funny thing is that this is probably the best NBA game of the day, and it gets 3rd billing on ESPN. San Antonio is without Duncan, but they are still playing at an absurdly high level.
Enjoy it!

2/8: Indiana Goes Down, Felix, etc.

Greetings! Happy Friday to everyone. Before we begin, I want to let everyone know that there is a "weekend viewing guide" posting midday in this space, so that will explain the lack of a "what to watch for" here. Let's go!
  • Illinois 74, Indiana 72 - The #1 Indiana Hoosiers went down in a heap last night in Champaign, Illinois. The previously 2-7 in the Big Ten Illini played out of their minds (and probably for their season) and it came to a head with a Tyler Griffey lay-up at the gun to get the 2-point win. Brandon Paul and DJ Richardson each went for 20+ points for Illinois, who won the game despite allowing 50% shooting to Indiana and losing the rebounding battle 29-21. For the Hoosiers, this is a blip on the radar, but for Illinois, it could've been a season-saving win.
  • Felix Hernandez will reportedly be a Seattle Mariner for the next seven years, and he will do so with the highest annual salary of any pitcher ever. The extension will be for 5 years and a total of $135.5 million for an average of $27.5 million a year... and he's worth every penny if he can replicate what he's done in the last few seasons. Felix will be 27 years old as the season begins, and while his fastball velocity has decreased over the past five years, he's still been a dominant pitcher as his approach changes. Plus, I'm in the tank for the guy. It's probably too much money for anyone, but it's good to see Seattle ponying up the money.
  • Kevin Garnett became the first player in NBA history to score 25,000 points, grab 10,000 rebounds, dish out 5,000 assists, and rack up 1,500 blocks and steals. Yes, you read that right. He's the first and only player to reach these numbers. That's pure insanity, and if you didn't recognize KG as an all-time great before this, you will now. Congrats to the completely insane, but still respected Garnett.
  • Speaking of Garnett, he led the Celtics to a 116-95 win over the hapless Lakers in Boston last night. Paul Pierce keyed the victory with 24 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists, while the entire C's team shot 53% from the field and won the battle on the glass while holding LA to 41% shooting. Kobe was tremendous offensively, as usual, for the Lakers, but without Gasol, they needed more than 9 points each from Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, and just 5 points from MWP. What an ugly game.
  • In the late game, Denver ran Chicago out of the building in a 128-96 win in the Pepsi Center. The biggest story (other than the lopsided overall result) was Wilson Chandler's performance. Chandler played just 19 minutes, but scored 24 points thanks to 8-9 shooting from the field and a blistering 5-5 from 3-point range. Kenneth Faried also got in on the action with 21 points and 12 boards, while Ty Lawson spearheaded the offense with 16 points and 12 assists. It was startling to see Chicago have absolutely no defensive answers in this one, but there is certainly a level of kudos to Denver for excellent execution.
  • Lastly from the league, there is a widespread rumor surrounding a potential trade between those same Chicago Bulls and the Toronto raptors that would swap Carlos Boozer and Andrea Bargnani. I firmly don't believe this would happen, simply because a) Tom Thibodeau would probably murder Andrea Bargnani, b) why would Toronto want Boozer when they have Amir Johnson?, and c) I don't believe any trade rumor ever. Done and done.
  • On the college hardwood, Duke scored an absurd 58 1st-half points in route to a 98-85 win over NC State in Cameron last night. Mason Plumlee led the way with 30 points and 9 rebounds, while Seth Curry (26 points) and Quinn Cook (21 points) also went off for the Blue Devils. That's probably the best Duke has looked offensively all season. Texas A&M got a nice home win in their 70-68 defeat over #21 Missouri. The Aggies shot 50% from the field to overcome the fact that they grabbed only 19 rebounds in the entire game. Colorado went on the road and upset struggling #19 Oregon by a 48-47 tally. Both teams shot just 36% from the field in this battle of ugly offense, but Colorado shot better from three, and got to the line effectively. Ugly, ugly, ugly. Finally, Gonzaga blitzed Pepperdine 82-56 in a balanced effort. Ho-hum.
  • Nate Wolters is a player. You probably have no idea who that even is, but the 6'4 guard from South Dakota State scored 53 points last night. He hit nine triples in the game, and 53 points is this year's season-high in Division 1. Also, this isn't your typical small school explosion, as Wolters is an almost certain draft pick (currently #36 on NBADraft.net) who draws some nice comps. Just wanted to shed some light on him.
Enjoy! And stay tuned for the Weekend Viewing Guide to come...

Thursday, February 7, 2013

2/7: Signing Day, etc.

Greetings! Lots to get to...
  • College football's National Signing Day has come and gone! As always, there were some surprises, with the biggest one being the late surge from Ole Miss (not a misprint) to grab the nation's #1 player (DE Robert Nkemdiche), #1 O-Lineman Laremy Tunsil, and #1 Wide Receiver Laquon Treadwell. This propelled the Rebels to a top-5 recruiting class nationally and, of course, brought widespread rumors of paying players. Of course it did! Anyway, Alabama and Florida went 1-2 in most rankings, and both of those programs are utter gauntlets. They were flanked by Ohio State, Notre Dame, Michigan, and LSU. It was a sweat-free day for Michigan fans, as all 27 signees were accounted for before the madness began. It's better that way.
  • LA Lakers PF/C Pau Gasol is reportedly going to miss 4-6 weeks with a tear in his Plantar Fascia. This a big blow because a) they are playing much better, and b) Dwight Howard is banged up. Trouble in Laker land...
  • Staying in the Association, The Hawks got a nice win over Memphis last night by the score of 103-92. Jeff Teague paced things for Atlanta all night, finishing with 22 points and 13 assists, while Josh Smith (19/11) and Al Horford (17/11) put up double-doubles. We just won't talk about the decision to start Anthony Tolliver. Let's move on. Washington snapped the Knicks' 5-game win streak with a 106-96 win. The Wiz were led by 21 points and 9 assists from John Wall, and they're really playing pretty well since he's returned. Eric Bledsoe scored 27 points and led the Clippers to a road win in Orlando. It's starting to get scary when Chris Paul is still out, but they got right against a dreadful Orlando team. Miami got 30+ points from both Lebron and Wade to hold off the surging Rockets 114-108 in Miami. James Harden put up 36 points and 12 rebounds for Houston, but they fell short thanks to some blistering shooting from the Heat. OKC beat up on Golden State 119-98 as the Warriors ran out of gas down the stretch. Durant, Westbrook, and Kevin Martin each had 20+ points for the Thunder. And finally, the Spurs won their 11th straight game, and while 104-94 wins over Minnesota (even on the road) aren't always impressive, they won this one without Duncan and Ginobili. Tony Parker (31 points, 8 assists) and Danny Green (28 points, 8-12 from three) set the pace for San Antonio, and they held Minny to just 40% shooting. Impressive.
  • Even on a busy night in college hoops, there's only one score that stood out. TCU 62, Kansas 55. I'll just list some facts for you. TCU was 0-8 in the Big 12 prior to this game. Kansas scored 13 points in the 1st half. I didn't even mention the game in my "what to watch for" yesterday... because it seemed unwatchable. And finally, TCU was a 17-point home underdog in this game. It was the second loss in a row for Kansas, and Bill Self described it as "the worst Kansas team ever". Yikes. 
  • The New Orleans Saints have reportedly hired Rob Ryan as their defensive coordinator. There's a ton of fuss about Ryan, probably a combination of Rex Ryan's brother and his ridiculous hair/antics, but he's never done a ton as a DC. I'm happy (as a Falcons fan) with this move. 
What to watch for on Thursday...
  • 7:00 - NCAAB - #1 Indiana @ Illinois (ESPN) - Remember when Illinois was a tourney lock after beating Gonzaga in non-conference? Well, they could be playing for their lives at home here, as the Illini are now 2-7 in the Big 10. Eesh.
  • 8:00 - NBA - Lakers @ Celtics (TNT) - Do you think TNT envisioned a combined record of 47-49 from these two teams? LA is playing better, however, and it's always fun when these two hit the court.
  • 9:00 - NCAAB - Washington @ UCLA (ESPN) - Neither team is ranked, but UCLA is wildly interesting and Shabazz Muhammed is worth the watch.
  • 9:00 - NCAAB - #21 Missouri @ Texas A&M (ESPN2) - If you get sick of Lakers/Celtics...
  • 10:00 - NCAAB - Colorado @ #19 Oregon (ESPNU) - West Coast hoops!
  • 10:30 - NBA - Bulls @ Nuggets (TNT) - Chicago is certainly not the most entertaining team in the league for the casual fan, but they defend like crazy, and this is a really intriguing style match-up.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

2/6: Strike Up "The Victors"

Greetings! Let's get it going...
  • Normally, I'm very impartial in this space. Today, at least for one bullet point, is not that day. Hail to the victors, valiant! #3 Michigan defeated #10 Ohio State in overtime last night by a final score of 76-74. Trey Burke (16 points, 8 assists) and Tim Hardaway, Jr. (23 points, 6-9 3-pt) led the way for Michigan, but it was another tremendous game from freshman Mitch McGary up front as he scored 14 points, grabbed 6 boards, and actually made 4 steals in the win. The offense stalled for much of the second half, settling for late-shot-clock jumpers and not really running much of anything (personified by the final possession of regulation, yikes), but it was a gritty performance on the defensive end. For Ohio State, it's always difficult to say nice things, but this one is undeniable. Aaron Craft is one of the best on-ball defenders I've ever seen at any level. He completely took penetration out of Trey Burke's (who happens to be a leading National POY candidate) game, and beat him up all night. What a performance. This was one of the best college hoops game of the season... and the right team won.
  • Elsewhere in college hoops, #2 Florida took it on the chin at Arkansas by a 80-69 tally. I mentioned yesterday that Arkansas was unbeaten at home and that it would be a test for the Gators, but it was that and more. The Hogs committed just 8 turnovers (to 16 for Florida) and shot nearly 50% on the night. It's a small blip for Florida, but it, once again, shows the difficulty of winning on the road in college hoops.
  • ESPN's Keith Law released his Top 100 prospects column yesterday, and while it's only available on Insider (click here), it is Christmas for baseball diehards. For anyone without Insider, the Braves' placed only two guys on the list, as Julio Teheran came in at #28 (down from #18 last year) and JR Graham hit the list at #94. Really a great read.
  • In the NBA, Indiana knocked off Atlanta 114-103 to take their home winning streak to an impressive 15 games. Paul George led the scoring with 29 points, and Indiana had seven players score in double-digits. For the Hawks, it was a woeful Josh Smith performance (4-12 FG, 9 points, 4 turnovers), Al Horford fouled out in just 28 minutes (despite playing well), and Kyle Korver shot 3 for 13. On the bright side, Atlanta still managed to score 103 points against one of the league's best defenses (thanks to Jeff Teague and John Jenkins, mostly), but allowing 114 to Indiana is an abject disaster. Elsewhere, Kobe Bryant threw down a monster 4th-quarter dunk and led LA to a 92-83 road win in Brooklyn. #24 led the way with 21 points and 8 rebounds, but it was a total team effort in the absence of Dwight and Metta World Peace, as Earl Clark (14 and 12), and Steve Nash (17 points, 8 assists) picked up the slack. Memphis lost at home 96-90... to the Suns!? The early returns on the Gay trade are wayyyy too early to come in, but allowing Phoenix to shoot 51% from the field and win the rebounding battle is a bit scary. Finally, Houston scored 140 points in regulation last night. That's not a misprint. The Rockets tied an NBA record with 23 three-pointers made against the Warriors, and shot 51% from the field to go along with 58% from three. They had a staggering 8 players in double-figures, led by Jeremy Lin's best game of the year with 28 points and 9 assists. Just an absolutely dominant offensive performance.
  • St. Louis Cardinals' pitcher Chris Carpenter will likely miss the 2013 season, and may be forced to retire after a setback having to do with an old nerve injury in his throwing arm. This is a big blow to the Cards' chance to repeat, as Carpenter would've provided some steady innings if healthy, but it's a shame if it ends like this. The guy was a beast in his prime, and I hope he gets back on the mound before it's all over.
  • Merril Hoge actually went on television and proclaimed (with a serious, straight face) that Joe Flacco was "clearly" the best quarterback in the NFL. This actually happened. I have no words. 
What to watch for on Wednesday...
  • All Day - College Football National Signing Day (ESPN/ESPNU) - This is becoming more of a spectacle every year. I'm not the biggest recruiting guy, but there's certainly viability to it, and it can be entertaining to see where these kids are headed. Go Blue.
  • 7:00 - NCAAB - #18 Minnesota @ #12 Michigan State (BTN) - Another ho-hum battle of Top 20 teams in the Big 10. This one will be a slugfest.
  • 7:00 - NCAAB - Baylor @ #22 Oklahoma State (ESPN) - The Cowboys were wildly effective in knocking off KU last week on the road, and this is their defense of that game.
  • 7:30 - NBA - Grizzlies @ Hawks (SportSouth) - Memphis is very, very good, but Atlanta did beat them on the road earlier in the year, and this is a team that won't punish the under-manned Hawks on the perimeter.
  • 9:00 - NBA - Spurs @ T-Wolves (ESPN) - Ricky Rubio played his best game of the year on Monday, so that gives hope to Minnesota... but nothing is as important as Tim Duncan's health for San Antonio, and he's going to most likely miss this one.
  • 9:00 - NCAAB - Stanford @ #7 Arizona (ESPNews) - This is so random. First, Bill Walton is the color man (awesome, but ridiculous), and secondly, this game is live on ESPNews. I don't get it, but it's happening.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The NBA Love/Hate

Greetings! In reading a post by Grantland's Zach Lowe (seen here), I was inspired to think about my "favorite" players. I get this question all the time, and while I have a few clear-cut guys that I always use, I wanted to ponder on a full squad of "my guys". They aren't necessarily the best players in the league (although some of them are), but these are my guys. For reference, I built the roster in a legitimate positional way, even to the bench, and I'm blatantly ripping off Matthew Berry (out of love) with the title of this post. So with 2,500 words to come, Let's go!

  • PG - Chris Paul - I absolutely love Chris Paul. It isn't because he's the best point guard in the league (which he is), but rather for the type of game he plays. He's the epitome of the point guard that I've always talked about because he is the perfect balance of pass-first with a touch of scoring ability. His vision and understanding are at an elite level, and he's also hyper-competitive with a type of win-at-all-costs persona that I really enjoy. Plus, he can become the primary scorer down the stretch and score in a wildly efficient way as a career 47/36/86 shooter. He's the best.
  • SG - JJ Redick - This one goes back to college, because, as a Duke supporter, I saw a ton of Redick, and have always enjoyed him. He handled himself incredibly as probably the most hated college basketball player of all-time, and he's still the most staggering shooter I've ever seen as a freshman in college (or even a high school senior making BOMBS at the McDonald's game). Kills himself on defense despite being physically limited, perfect shooting stroke, and he's even created a dribble game after getting to the league. I have a soft spot for JJ.
  • SF - Jared Dudley - This one will probably surprise everyone, but I have a full-on man-crush on Jared Dudley. From the off-court hilarity (he's a legendary Twitter follow), to the on-court beast mode, I really, really enjoy his work. He has a really, really high basketball IQ, he's transitioned himself into a perimeter player (by request) and done it smoothly even without high-end athleticism, and he defends like crazy. Remember when he was grabbing double-doubles in college as a power forward? I do, and now he's starting at the 2 in Phoenix. Big-ups.
  • PF - Tim Duncan - My favorite basketball player of All-Time. Not Jordan. Not Lebron. Not even Magic or Larry (who I love). Tim is the definition of "my guy". He's the reason that the Spurs are my de facto #2 team, and if you try to argue against him as the greatest power forward of all-time, I may come across the table at you. The "Big Fundamental" personifies everything I love about basketball. He shoots 18-footers off the glass, his defensive positioning is legendarily good, all reports have him as one of the best locker room guys ever with everyone wanting to play alongside him, and oh, by the way, his numbers are ridiculous, too. How about career averages of 20.2 points, 11.2 rebounds, 2.2 blocks, with 51% shooting for sixteen years?! He even gets a little bump in my "love" list because he's so shockingly underrated (even now) that it makes me want to scream about it even more. You never hear any controversy around Duncan, and all the guy wants to do is play hard, win titles, and go home. I could go on all day, but Timmy D!
  • C - Al Horford - I've seen more of Al Horford than I care to admit. He gets the benefit (for this list, anyway) of being on my favorite team, and as such, my appreciation of him is even higher. He's Duncan-like in that he's the type of fundamentals/no flash guy that I like who stays out of the limelight. He'll never be as good as Duncan (or close, really), but there's something to be said for 16 points and 10 board with great positional defense, and that's what he's going to give you. Big Al is the rock of this current Hawks team, and one of the best 25 players in the league right now... even if no one talks about him.
  • G - Kyle Lowry - For some reason, I have always loved Kyle Lowry. It started at Villanova, when he was the 3rd guard on that awesome guard-led team with Randy Foye and Allen Ray, and it's continued ever since. He's an absolute monster on the defensive end, with his stocky frame bringing raw power, and he can smother opposing ball-handlers like few other players. Offensively, I could do without some of his shot-jacking (lol), but it's a pleasure to watch him attack the rim at 6-feet-tall (if that), and he plays really, really hard.
  • G - Ricky Rubio - My favorite guy to watch with the ball in his hands with the exception of Paul. I know that he can't shoot (at all!), but Rubio is one of the best passers that I've ever seen at any level, and as a whore for passers, he climbs my list. Add in a touch of flash and that outrageous court vision and he'll be a staple on this list whether he can shoot or not. Also, he's a really, really good defender with incredibly long arms, and that helps too.
  • G - Lou Williams - This is an outrageous homer pick, but I don't care. Lou Williams played his high school ball about 5 miles from my house, and I played against him in middle school followed by watching him play probably 30-40 times in high school. The guy just gets buckets. I, admittedly, had doubts about his game translating to the next level, but he's silenced them. He's one of the most efficient scorers in the entire league, routinely putting up PER ratings of 18+ despite being a 3rd-guard. He gets to the line in sneaky ways, can get his shot whenever he wants it, and is the picture of a guy who would've been underrated by traditional stats, but now is properly rated when you factor in efficiency. Did I mention that I'm a homer?
  • F - Kenneth Faried - Energy. I saw Faried play at Morehead State, and it was absolutely startling to watch him fly up and down the court. Needless to say, that hasn't changed. He's an elite rebounder despite being maybe 6'8, and he shoots an absurdly high percentage because of the shots that he takes (and doesn't take). Energy guys are underrated perpetually, and he's the cream of the crop when it comes to that type of player in the league right now. Plus, he has great hair.
  • F - Shane Battier - All you need to know is that I wore #31 in middle school/high school for the express purpose of emulating Battier. He's one of the smartest defensive players I've ever seen, and he's always the right place and making the right play. On offense, he never forces anything, but can be lethal as a shooter and again, makes the right play. He's certainly not the player athletically that he used to be, so he's declined a bit, but he was in the running for my "starting lineup'. Oh, and he was good enough on offense to be the National Player of the Year in college averaging 20 points a game in the ACC. 
  • F - Taj Gibson - I've been flag-waving for Taj Gibson since before they even signed Carlos Boozer. He's the reason that that move made no sense at all, and it still doesn't. He's a great defender, who's versatile enough to challenge some small forwards, while physical enough to guard centers in a pinch. Plus, he's so smart on the defensive end that he allows the other guys (namely Boozer when they play together) to roam and be terrible in peace. He'll never be an all-star player, but he's the type of guy that every single coach in the league wants.
  • C - Omer Asik - I wish Asik hadn't gotten more popular... at least for this list. He's one of the best defensive players in the entire league, period. His positioning is on par with a Duncan or Marc Gasol, he is athletic enough to fly around and block shots, and his rebound rate is 4th in the entire league (behind Reggie Evans and the injured Kevin Love & Andy Varejao). No casual fan would want to watch Asik play because he's hideous to watch on offense at times, but his defense more than makes up for it, and he's the type of guy you can get on a bargain because people don't value defense like they should. I love him.
  • Mike Conley - Even though he went to Ohio State, I've had a man-crush on Conley forever. Pass-first point guard who can really defend, he's left-handed (a plus), and ferocious at the rim. 
  • Jarrett Jack - Underrated guard who's finally getting his due this season in Golden State. Loved him on the 2004 Georgia Tech team that went to the Final Four and he's so physical that he just overwhelms other small guards. 
  • Kirk Hinrich - I'm his last fan. Love you, Kirk!
  • Ray Allen - Any guy who does that pre-game shooting routine and gets his jumper to look like that deserves a spot on my squad.
  • Joe Johnson - It STILL isn't his fault that Atlanta gave him that second contract. He has his flaws (ball-stopper, etc.), but was one of the elite 2-guards in the league for a half-decade.
  • Kyle Korver - Similar to Ray Allen. Gets a bad wrap on the defensive end, but he's surprisingly solid and does everything right. Plus, the jumper speaks for itself.
  • Kevin Durant - Held him off the team because he's so unfathomably good that everyone knows already, but I love his game. Effortless scorer who carries himself the right way on and off the court. 
  • Lebron James - It's too easy to include him, but I've loved his game since high school. Some of the best court vision I've ever seen and he's a plus-plus defender even when he doesn't have to be.
  • Chandler Parsons - Really, really fun to watch him play. Good passer, really skilled and incredibly long.
  • Luol Deng - Kills himself every night at 40+ minutes. Does everything right. No flash, but solid as ever.
  • Kawhi Leonard - No frills. Elite defense. He rebounds the ball at a huge level for a small forward, and never kills you on offense. Plus, Pop loves him.
  • Michael Kidd-Gilchrist - See Deng, Luol. His motor is absurd.
  • LaMarcus Aldridge - The superstar that no one ever talks about. He's unguardable.
  • Nick Collison - Does every bit of the dirty work for OKC, and never says a word about never touching the ball. Been with that franchise forever, and he's a perfect end-of-the-rotation player.
  • Marc Gasol - Great passer. Perfect team defender. Still underrated even at this point.
  • Zaza Pachulia - This one doesn't even make sense, but I love him unconditionally.
Okay, Okay... while we're here.... let's do a quick "most hated" list!!!
  • Russell Westbrook - The funny thing is... I've actually come around a little bit on Westbrook and he still finds his way here. I've always been against the shoot-first point guard and that's the epitome of what he is. Add in the ridiculousness of his demeanor and actions (just watch his behavior with Thabo from Thursday night) and I'm all set with Russ. That said, he's still a very, very good basketball player.
  • Tyreke Evans - He's got a hideous jump shot, he's a ball-stopper, and he's a guy who should be an elite defender, but instead, he's average at best on that end. Any questions?  
  • Monta Ellis - Has some of the worst shot selection imaginable. It's pretty much that simple, but when you also don't try on defense and your team is always better when you're off the court, it's a sign.
  • Greivis Vasquez - I've always hated Vasquez. He's actually made himself into a solid NBA player (which I was wrong about), but his disposition is absurdly ridiculous... always. Also, he's painfully slow of foot, and again, has bad shot selection despite being a good passer.
  • Rodney Stuckey - He's a shooter who can't shoot. He's not a point guard but he's not big enough to really play the 2 effectively (on D especially). Oh, and he helped stage that mutiny in Detroit. Fantastic!
  • Willie Green - This one is kinda funny. Willie Green just doesn't do anything well, and I can't fathom how he still has an NBA job, but yet, he has one every year. It's dumb-founding. Also, another bad shot selection guy. 
  • Jordan Crawford - He may be the king of bad shot selection (are we sensing a theme yet?!). Also, he's one of the worst defensive players in the entire league.  
  • Evan Turner - If I forgot who Evan Turner was and I just saw him play basketball, I wouldn't hate him. That said, I can't un-see that 35-foot game-winner against Michigan in the Big 10 tournament or the fact that he masquerades as a good player, when he's really just a do-everything guy who is solid, but won't ever be great.
  • Josh Smith - I could write 2,000 words on this, but you don't need me to. He has the worst shot selection of any non-guard in the entire league, and he's the best overall player on this list. He is so tremendous when he actually does the things that he should do, and because of that, it makes him even more maddening. As I typed this, he just took another contested 18-footer and he's probably making a sour face and screaming at Larry Drew as if it was his fault. Oh, and he wants to be a "max" guy. Sigh.
  • Boris Diaw - I know. It's not his fault that Billy Knight wanted him to play point guard. Yes, the 300-pound Diaw started his career PLAYING THE POINT in Atlanta before literally playing center in Phoenix and San Antonio. You can't make this stuff. I'll always hate him, though. 
  • Roy Hibbert - He's somehow shooting 41% this season at 7-foot-2, but I hated him even before that. He's scarily slow, and still has stamina issues despite being in the league for more than a half-decade. All accounts have him as a good guy, and he's certainly not a bad player, but I'll never enjoy him. 
There you have it! A small window into my basketball mind... 

2/5: Ramblings!

Greetings! Let's get it going...

  • The Nation's #2 ranked college football recruit is named Reuben Foster. Earlier in the recruiting process, he verbally committed to Auburn and subsequently got a War Eagle tattoo (permanent). Then, Mr. Foster decided yesterday to switch his commitment... to Alabama. Alabama!!!! He has an Auburn tattoo!!! I thought this was fascinating.
  • NBA! The Wizards knocked off the injury-depleted Clippers 98-90 in Washington. Martell Webster (yes, that Martell Webster) led the way with 21 points for the Wiz. Indiana knocked off Chicago 111-101 in a shocking game simply because both teams cracked 100 points. David West had 29 and 9 for Indiana while Paul George added 21 and 11 for the Pacers. Both of these teams are top-3 defenses... that didn't show up. Lebron James had a ho-hum 31-point, 8-rebound, 8-assist night last night in a 99-94 win over Charlotte. It's becoming comically routine. Oklahoma City pounded Dallas 112-91, and it wasn't that close. Kevin Durant scored 19 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in just 28 minutes, while Russ Westbrook had 24 points and 7 assists in 29 minutes before they took their foot off of the gas. Finally, Portland outlasted Minnesota 100-98 despite allowing a staggering 40 points to the T-Wolves in the 4th quarter. LaMarcus Aldridge had 25 points and 13 rebounds to go with the game-saving block in the final seconds, and both Damian Lillard and Wes Matthews cracked 20 points for the Blazers. On the T-Wolves side, they got the best game of the season from Ricky Rubio (15 points, 14 assists), and 23 points off the bench from Dante Cunningham. Wild game.
  • On the college hardwood, Syracuse beat up on #25 Notre Dame by a 63-47 final. CJ Fair led the way for the Orange with 18 and 10 but it was the defense that was the key. Notre Dame shot just 35% on the night, and never had a chance to win on the road with that clip. 
  • The Detroit Lions released Titus Young yesterday. This is absolutely insane when you consider that he was basically their #2 receiver coming into last season and they spent a high draft pick on him, but when your own guy was reportedly running the wrong routes on purpose, it's bye-bye time. 
What to watch for on Tuesday...
  • 7:00 - NBA - Hawks @ Pacers (SportSouth) - Let's hope Indiana's defense hasn't woken up from its slumber just yet. This is a winnable road game.
  • 7:00 - NCAAB - #2 Florida @ Arkansas (ESPN) - Florida is much, much better, but Arkansas is unbeaten at home and nothing comes easy on the road inside the conference.
  • 7:30 - NBA - Lakers @ Nets (NBATV) - Really quality offering from NBATV tonight, as the Lakers have shown signs of turnaround, and the Nets are entertaining.
  • 9:00 - NCAAB - #10 Ohio State @ #3 Michigan (ESPN) - Well, this is obviously my game of the night. Go Blue is looking to avenge their early-season defeat in Columbus, and this is an angry team after Saturday's loss in Bloomington. Must-see TV.
Stay tuned this afternoon for a special post on my NBA Love/Hate. Enjoy!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Super Bowl Wrap!

Greetings! It was a wild night in New Orleans. If you missed my timeline on Twitter, it can be see in full here, but let's take a look at what transpired during the Ravens' .
  • The lead story... was a power outage! If you were buried under a rock and missed it, there was a 34-minute real-time delay in the 3rd quarter as a result of an unexpected power surge that knocked out half of the building's power. I wish I was making this up. In fact, CBS lost their play-by-play microphones instantly, and the combination of Steve Tasker and James Brown had to carry the telecast for a half-hour. It was madness. The outage came on the heels of the Jacoby Jones 108-yard kickoff return, and it seemed to murder any momentum that Baltimore may have had. I firmly don't believe that it was the "turning point", but at the least, it allowed the Niners to regroup and charge to get back into the game. What a wild scene.
  • Joe Flacco was named the MVP of the game, and while I thought this was actually the wrong choice (I would've gone with the guy who made the two biggest plays of the game in Jacoby Jones), he was tremendous throughout. Most importantly, he made no mistakes (zero INTs), but he also made huge throws to Boldin and even though Jacoby Jones made the other huge play in the passing game, Flacco's arm was a threat throughout the game. He had already made himself a huge contract, but this performance cemented it, I'm sure. I'm still not terribly high on his work, but Flacco was unquestionably a key to their Super Bowl run.
  • Speaking of the Ravens offense, I can't stress how insane it is that a team that fired their offensive coordinator mid-season just won the Super Bowl. For every joke about Jim Caldwell (and there were several, mainly that he never blinks!), he did a nice job of setting Flacco free, was more consistent in giving the ball to Rice (and Pierce), and used Boldin's skill-set to his advantage in a big way. And while we're here, this was certainly not the dominant Baltimore defense of the past, as they finished 17th in total defense during the regular season and allowed a ghastly 468 yards on Sunday night. Props to their offense for carrying the day. 
  • On the other side of the field, San Francisco made an insane comeback in the second half last night. Kaepernick struggled mightily in the opening half, but things opened up post-power outage and he settled in. However, the biggest strength for the Niners last night was certainly their offensive line play. They are often hailed as an elite unit, and they proved it, firing off the line against a good front 7 for Baltimore and dominating at the point of attack. Kaepernick had time to throw all night, and SF averaged over 6 yards a carry as a team on the ground. At times, I wished they would've gave Frank Gore more looks, but when you trail by 3 scores, it is tough to grind and grind in the run game. 
  • One underplayed storyline was the LaMichael James' fumble. With Baltimore leading 7-3, San Francisco mounted a really nice drive, taking the ball to the Baltimore 25-yard-line before James put the ball on the turf. This resulted in a march by Flacco and company and suddenly, it was a potential 14-point swing. I wouldn't put it on par with either of the Jacoby Jones plays (which were absurd), but this one stood out to me, even post-game, as a huge swing in the game. 
  • Speaking of Jacoby Jones, I mentioned earlier that he was robbed of the MVP award, and while "robbed" is certainly too strong of a word, Jones made the two biggest plays of the game. It's hard to overstate that the #4 pass catcher on the Baltimore Ravens would deserve the Super Bowl MVP, but the kick return was absolutely electric, and the play he made on the 56-yard touchdown pass late in the first half was a haymaker. All from a guy who had 406 yards receiving on the season. 
  • The sequence that everyone will remember from Sunday's game (sans power outage) was the goal-line stand from Baltimore on the final San Francisco drive. The Niners absolutely marched down the field, going 73 yards in the first five plays of the drive to set-up a 1st-and-goal on the 7. Then, they went super conservative with a LaMichael James' (who I assume was only in the game because of Gore's 33-yard run before this, but really!?) run on 1st down. Then, Kaepernick ended the drive with three straight incompletions, and looked bad doing it. I absolutely hated the 4th-down play call, as a fade pattern is about as low-percentage as it gets in that spot, and the thinking is simply out-dated. I'll give Harbaugh and company some benefit of the doubt by assuming that there were other options (because the pressure came up the middle), but if that was it, that's an ugly choice. At no point in the final three plays was Kaepernick a threat to run, and that's the major sticking point. Baltimore was able to make him a pure passer, and with the shortened field, the throwing lanes didn't exist. They'll be replaying that sequence in Baltimore for years to come.
Overall, this was a very, very entertaining evening of football. The power outage took the game from simply competitive and fun to utterly surreal, but the quality of play on the field was high, and that's all we can ask for. It had two young QB's throwing punches, two of the top-10 running backs in the league, high-level defense, and two brothers coaching against each other. Yet another awesome Super Bowl, and while we go dark on football until the Draft, this one will leave a good taste for everyone. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Super Bowl Live!

Originally, I had planned to go all-in with a Super Bowl live-blog but with a combination of issues including personal health (argh) and the failure of Cover-It-Live, I'm going to simply tweet the game tonight.

Hit me up over at @btrowland on twitter for my insights throughout!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Super Bowl XLVII Preview

Greetings! With two weeks to prepare, the time period between the Championship games and the Super Bowl always feels incredibly long, and this year is no different. With that said, we've had plenty of time to dissect the two teams, and it's time to pull out a massive Super Bowl preview breaking down each positional group against one other with a couple fun things thrown in. Let's go!

  • San Francisco - Carlos Rogers, Terrell Brown, Dashon Goldson, Donte Whitner, Perrish Cox, Chris Culliver
  • Baltimore - Corey Graham, Cary Williams, Ed Reed, James Ihedigbo, Bernard Pollard, Jimmy Smith
This is an interesting battle. Baltimore has the one huge name with future Hall-of-Famer Ed Reed, but San Francisco has been the better unit all season. The Niners allowed the 4th-fewest passing yards in the NFL this season, and while their pass rush obviously helps that, their secondary is better than you think it would be. Baltimore lost Ladarius Webb earlier in the year and since he was their best cover guy, that was a significant blow. Both teams were opportunistic all year (14 and 15 INTs respectively), and whoever makes the big play will likely "win" the match-up. Slight edge: San Francisco

  • San Francisco - Aldon Smith, Navarro Bowman, Patrick Willis, Ahmad Brooks (questionable), Clark Haggans
  • Baltimore - Courtney Upshaw, Ray Lewis, Dannell Ellerbe (Questionable), Terrell Suggs
One of the more higher profile positional match-ups. Ray Lewis is the biggest single story of the game (outside of the Harbaugh brothers phenomenon) and while he's a sure-fire hall of famer, he's not the same player he used to be. Throw in a less-than-100% Terrell Suggs (all season, really) and a banged-up Ellerbe, and the Baltimore linebackers could suddenly be average or worse. On the opposite side, Aldon Smith is an All-Pro, Patrick Willis is an All-Pro, and Navarro Bowman is playing very, very good football. For years, Baltimore has had the best of it in the linebacking corps, but not here. Also, please note the intentional lack of Ray Lewis/Deer Antler coverage. This means nothing for the game, and there's no risk of a college-football-like stripping of wins. Godspeed, Ray. Edge: San Francisco

  • San Francisco - Justin Smith, Isaac Sopoaga, Ray McDonald, Ricky Jean-Francois
  • Baltimore - Paul Kruger, Haloti Ngata, Ma'ake Kemoeatu, Pernell McPhee, Terrence Cody
Really close battle here. For San Fran, it is absolutely huge to give Justin Smith two weeks off as he tries to get to 100% health. He's an absolute terror and would be the best player on either defensive line if he's going right. Next to him, the Niners don't have any stars, but they are deep and effective. For Baltimore, I'm cheating and putting Paul Kruger on the D-Line because he's a pure pass rusher for the most part. Ngata is still a tremendous player even though he's taken a small step back, and they have some quality depth including the run-stuffer in Cody. Because both teams play 3-4 systems, pass rush isn't the real key to their defensive line at all times, but if either team can get pressure without out-right blitzing, that'd be huge. Edge: Push

  • San Francisco - Anthony Davis, Alex Boone/Leonard Davis, Jonathan Goodwin, Mike Iupati, Joe Staley
  • Baltimore - Michael Oher, Matt Birk, Marshall Yanda, Kelechi Osemele, Bryant McKinnie
Probably the biggest mismatch of them all. The San Francisco offensive line may be the best in the league right now, with absolute studs everywhere and cohesion to boot. It helps to have a mobile quarterback, but the SF O-Line is also dominating in the run game, and the left side is scary good. For Baltimore, they have finally found a 5-man unit that works for them with Oher on the right side and Bryant McKinnie in the lineup. That said, they only have one real stand-out (Yanda) and even with the new and improved look, they're still likely only a league-average unit. Big edge: San Francisco

  • San Francisco - Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss, Vernon Davis, Ted Ginn Jr., Delani Walker
  • Baltimore - Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin, Dennis Pitta, Ed Dickson, Jacoby Jones, Tandon Doss
I've combined receivers and tight ends because it makes sense to me (lol) and this is certainly not the strength of either of these offenses. Crabtree is the best pass catcher on either team, grabbing 85 catches for over 1100 yards and 9 touchdowns this year. Outside of him, however, San Francisco struggles to make waves. Their #2 wideout (Mario Manningham) is gone for the year, leaving them with Randy Moss, who actually had a good game against Atlanta but who is pretty washed-up, and Vernon Davis as their secondary pass receivers. Vernon Davis has the name of an elite tight end, but he certainly didn't perform like one this year (41 catches for 548 yards) and outside of a break-out against the terrible-against-the-tight-end Atlanta defense, he's been a non-factor. For Baltimore, Torrey Smith had a nice season (855 yards and over 17 yards per catch) but Anquan Boldin is the X-factor. He's been huge in both playoff games, and he's the type of gritty, over-the-middle guy that could come up huge against San Francisco. Throw in Dennis Pitta, who is emerging as a high-level tight end, and Baltimore isn't bad on the perimeter after all. Edge: Baltimore

  • San Francisco - Frank Gore, LaMichael James
  • Baltimore - Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce
Most of the time, San Francisco gets an advantage at the running back spot. Frank Gore is a perennial top-10 back who ran for 1200+ yards and 8 touchdowns this season, and LaMichael James provides a very nice change-up with some game-breaking skills. I don't expect to see James a ton in this game outside of 3rd downs and obvious passing spots, but he's capable of being electric. With all of that said about San Francisco, Baltimore has a top-5 RB in the game in Ray Rice, and a suddenly awesome backup in Pierce. Rice ran for "only" 1143 yards and 9 TDs this season, but that was mostly a product of Baltimore's refusal to actually hand him the ball, and he also caught 61 passes for 478 yards to bring his total over 1600 yards from scrimmage. He's an elite player. Pierce has really blown up ever since his start in Week 17, going for 103 yards against Indy in the wild card game and over 50 yards against New England. You'd have to imagine that Rice gets a huge portion of the touches, but look for Baltimore to use Pierce as long as he as effective to spell Rice. Edge: Baltimore

  • San Francisco - Colin Kaepernick, Alex Smith
  • Baltimore - Joe Flacco
This is the match-up that everyone will focus on and rightfully so. Colin Kaepernick has a total QBR over 76 since taking over as the starter mid-season and that number would place him behind exactly two QB's in the NFL. Their names are Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. That's the list. I am in no way saying that he's on that level, but with the way that he exploded against Green Bay (mostly on the ground, but still) and the way he led the comeback in Atlanta, he's earned respect. There's still some legitimate worry about his lack of experience from me, but he's really, really talented. I've noted Alex Smith because I can see the scenario where a) Kaepernick gets hurt because of the way that Baltimore swarms ball carriers, or b) he's a deer-in-the-headlights and Harbaugh elects to go to Smith in the 2nd half. Unlikely? Sure, but not insane, and San Francisco could still win this game with Smith under center. On the Baltimore side, it's becoming comical around Joe Flacco. On the one hand, he was 25th in the league in QBR this year behind such giants as Jake Locker, Ryan Tannehill, Christian Ponder, and Sam Bradford. On the other hand, Flacco has already won two road playoff games in this post-season (bringing his career total to a record six), has 8 touchdowns and zero interceptions, and continues to make plays in big spots. I'm on the record as a Flacco detractor overall, thinking he is way too inconsistent to be an elite QB, but if he plays like he has in the last three weeks, Baltimore is going to win this game. ESPN is already on record in their "scouting report" saying that Baltimore has the QB advantage, and most people seem to be leaning that way. I'm not there yet. I'm going to make Joe prove it one more time. SLIGHT edge: San Francisco

  • San Francisco - David Akers (K), Andy Lee (P), Ted Ginn and LaMichael James (returns)
  • Baltimore - Justin Tucker (K), Sam Koch (P), Jacoby Jones (returns)
According to Football Outsiders' famous DVOA ratings, Baltimore has a significant special teams advantage, and I don't disagree. They have a huge edge at kicker with Tucker (who made 30 of 33 in the regular season) against Akers (who was the worst kicker in the league this season not named Mason Crosby), and one of the best return men in the league in Jacoby Jones. For San Francisco, they really, really need a super-human effort from Andy Lee, and they just may get it. He's one of the best punters in the league and actually led the league in net punting. He's their best chance at a special teams edge, but Ted Ginn can also be electric, so that's the hail mary chance. Overall, the kicker is the most important thing for me, and I can't take Akers. Edge: Baltimore

  • San Francisco - Jim Harbaugh
  • Baltimore - John Harbaugh
DID YOU KNOW THAT THE TWO HEAD COACHES ARE BROTHERS?! THEY ARE REAL, LIVE BLOOD RELATIVES! THIS IS INSANE!!!! Okay, that was the media from the last two weeks coming out in me. The funny thing is that I don't see a coaching edge, and I guess that is fitting. Jim has gotten the huge, huge props nationally for transforming that San Francisco team from the ruins under Mike Singletary to a perennial power. The thing is, isn't it possible that Singletary was just SO bad that the difference isn't that big? Jim Harbaugh is a great coach (and a Michigan man), but he's not Vince Lombardi. On the other side, John has done nothing except make the playoffs every season that he's been there, and somehow continues to win at this level with Joe Flacco, the corpse of Ray Lewis, and without a single top-40 pass-catcher in the league. Both guys are great. Edge: Push


Overall, San Francisco has the 4-3-2 edge in "units", and that sounds right to me. The Niners were the better team (easily) through the regular season, and while they haven't had quite the level of wins (beating the Packers at home and Falcons on the road isn't as good as the Denver/New England road wins), they're the more talented squad. Baltimore is riding the emotion of Ray Lewis and his last stand, but that can only take you so far with two weeks to prepare and everyone being jacked up because it's the Super Bowl. As cliche as it is, I firmly believe that whoever plays better between Flacco and Kaepernick has the significant edge, but if the two of them play to a draw, San Francisco is the better team. As a result of that, I'm going with: San Francisco 30, Baltimore 23