Thursday, March 31, 2011
In line with Orioles President of Baseball Operations Andy MacPhail's standard approach to building a franchise, Baltimore didn't make as many big free agent signings or trades to acquire pitching talent as it did on the other side of the plate. MacPhail held true to his desire to develop pitching in the farm system, and acquire bats at the right price.
The acquisitions of Vlad Guerrero, Mark Reynolds, Derrek Lee and J.J. Hardy – all of whom are slated to be everyday starters – was matched with less notable signings of the injury-prone Justin Duchscherer, journeyman potential closer Kevin Gregg, and Gregg's former bullpen mate in Toronto, Jeremy Accardo.
So how do the O's expect their pitching to compete? The starting rotation has two definite members in Jeremy Guthrie and Brian Matusz. Brad Bergeson should also hold a spot in the rotation, though he has struggled through spring training. But those woes shouldn't keep him out of the Opening Day roster.
Duchscherer's signing fills another roster spot if the righty is healthy, coming off two hip surgeries and missing the better part of two consecutive seasons. The favorites to take the last spot in the rotation are Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman. Arrieta is considered the favorite, due to his success last season, which has carried over into spring training.
The last notable contender is top prospect Zach Britton, who has put up stellar statistics and led Baltimore in most pitching categories. Britton is more than likely going back to the minors for more seasoning, and to delay his free agency eligibility. At some point during the season, however, Britton will get a shot.
One of the concerning points for this starting staff is its ability to stack up against a left-handed lineup, as the only lefty starters are Matusz and Britton. This is concerning against the Red Sox, who boast five lefties in their lineup. However, the Blue Jays, Yankees and Rays each only have a few threatening lefties.
If last season's late success with manager Buck Showalter is any sign of what is to come, O's fans have reason to be excited. Under Showalter, the starters were much more effective than under the previous two managers. Baltimore's returning starters' ERAs dropped across the board after Showalter took over. With Showalter's guidance, catcher Matt Wieters' continued improvement behind the plate, and a revamped defense, there is reason to believe those late-season marks could return (or even improve).
This season, the O's staff needs to prove there is an ace in the mix outside of Guthrie, considering Baltimore has essentially told him he's not in their long-term plans. Should Baltimore fall out of contention, expect to see Guthrie traded for a few minor league prospects.
To see some success, the O's rotation needs to stay healthy. Duchscherer's health raises some questions, but there is depth behind him with Britton, Tillman and a number of long relievers in the bullpen.
Lastly, a random and rare tidbit about Duchscherer… something as rare as a winning baseball season in Baltimore. The man has a five-letter streak of consonants in his last name. Try thinking of another player who has a run of four. Jarrod Saltalamacchia (with one of the longest last names in baseball history) can only claim three consecutive consonants. Let's hope the addition of such a rarity to the roster helps bring that rare winning season to Charm City.
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Is resting injured star Alexander Ovechkin a gamble at all, with just six games remaining in the regular season?
Not at all. The Caps are doing exactly what they need to do, particularly with a playoff spot all but guaranteed at the time (and now clinched) – the most important thing is to make sure their best players are healthy, or as healthy as can be expected, heading into the postseason when the games REALLY matter.
Resting him during one of the last scheduling breaks not only minimized the number of games he had to miss but also made sure he'd have enough games left to get back into game shape before the playoffs.
Will the Caps make a push to capture the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, or will they be content with a No. 2 seed?
They'll make a push, but only in the sense that they want to be a) playing their best hockey heading down the stretch and b) working towards the best seeding they can get.
That being said, we've seen that some things might matter more (i.e. resting guys or being patient with injuries to key players) than winning the conference. They're well aware that the goal is always to go into the playoffs as high in the standings as possible... but they've also seen firsthand how pushing for it too hard can be meaningless. If they get the top spot they'll be happy, but I don't think they'll be any more or less content finishing as the second seed.
What – or who – is the biggest hurdle standing between the Caps and the elusive Stanley Cup?
Themselves. You can talk about tough teams in either conference, and there are plenty this team will need to get through in order to win, but ultimately the Caps have been undone in the past by either being too cocky or too fragile. They need to find that balance where they have a swagger and a confidence to know they can beat anyone while still being aware that it takes talent AND hard work to do so.
What's one Washington storyline to watch heading into the playoffs?
The underperforming power play. It's been a thorn in the team's side not just this season but since the end of last season and throughout the entire first round series against Montreal. There's no question that a number of games that ultimately went down as losses could have been won if the power play had connected – and with special teams being so crucial in the playoffs, having a great penalty kill might not be enough to give this team an edge against some of the offensive powerhouses.
And of course an undercurrent of that storyline will be the ongoing focus on the health and effectiveness of those charged with power play duties – namely Mike Green but also Alex Ovechkin (which brings us back to why resting him is always a good thing), Alexander Semin, John Carlson, etc.
Thanks again to JapersRink.com for taking the time out to answer our questions!
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
I really like Fowler's style (seen to the right, wearing neon green). That's weird, considering my distaste for preteen musical sensation Justin Bieber.
The main difference between Fowler and Bieber is that Fowler is the man, and Bieber may or may not be a man.
In all seriousness, Fowler is a part of the new up-and-coming generation of golfers, set to replace old fogeys like Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh. Nothing about those guys is cool.
Alongside Fowler, youngsters Anthony Kim (21 top 10 finishes, three wins), Dustin Johnson (18 top 10s, four wins) and Rory McIlroy (eight top 10s, one win) are names to watch in the near future.
But none of them seem to have Fowler's sense of humor. Or his sense of fashion.
The flat-brimmed hat and frequent head-to-toe color coordination make him not only more entertaining to watch, but also easier to spot on the links.
"Puma sends me the clothes. I put the outfits together," he told PGATour.com last year.
In addition to his colorful costumes, Fowler has gone slightly viral in putting together some videos to show his sense of humor and youth in a sport that, quite frankly, needs a healthy dose of both.
Check out this video, where he combines his two favorite sports: golf and motocross. Can you picture Ernie Els or Jim Furyk doing that?
Monday, March 28, 2011
So No. 11 VCU now faces No. 8 Butler for a spot in the National Championship. And while it's the first time VCU has ever reached the Final Four (and the second-ever time a Colonial Athletic Association team has done so), the Rams also made history in a few other ways.
According to ESPN's Stats and Info department, this is just the third year since 1979 where no No. 1 seeds reached the Final Four. The other two years were 2006 (No. 2 UCLA, No. 3 Florida, No. 4 LSU and No. 11 George Mason) and 1980 (No. 2 Louisville, No. 5 Iowa, No. 6 Purdue and No. 8 UCLA).
It's also a three-way tie for the lowest seed to reach the Final Four, along with 2006's George Mason and 1986's LSU, both 11 seeds.
In doing so, the 2011 NCAA Tournament combines for the highest seeds of any Final Four in history (26 total seeds): No. 3 Connecticut, No. 4 Kentucky, No. 8 Butler and No. 11 VCU.
But what makes VCU's run even more impressive than fellow CAA member George Mason's magical run in 2006 is the way the Rams have done it. Not only did they win a play-in game, but VCU has beaten BCS conference teams by margins of 13, 18, 18, 1 and 10 points, an average of 12 points per win.
The Rams had as tough a path as any, beating teams from the Pac-10 (USC), Big East (Georgetown), Big Ten (Purdue), ACC (Florida State) and the Big 12 (Kansas). And they could add to that with a game against the Horizon League (Butler) and a possible game against the SEC (Kentucky).
Not bad for a team ESPN analyst Jay Bilas ragged on for upwards of a week for not deserving to make the tournament field.
Friday, March 25, 2011
And yet the guy who's projected by several NBA mock draft websites as a top five pick in the 2011 receives far less love from the media than BYU's Jimmer Fredette or Connecticut's Kemba Walker.
But he's every bit as important to his team as either of those guys.
In a draft considered weaker than previous years, Williams could be one of two or three instant-impact big men to become the face of a franchise, a la the Los Angeles Clippers' Blake Griffin.
Williams has something Griffin doesn't, though: an outside shot. The 6-foot-9, 240-pound sophomore posted 25 first-half points (on 8-for-11 shooting and 5-for-6 from three-point range) en route to a career-best 32-point, 13-rebound night in last night's 93-77 win over Duke. And the Wildcats wouldn't have even been in the game -- or in the Tournament altogether -- if not for Williams.
While Fredette posted 32 points in an overtime loss to No. 2 seed Florida, the Slingin' Mormon hoisted 29 field goal attempts -- 41% of the Cougars' shots. And Walker put up a monster 36-point game in the Huskies' win over No. 2 seed San Diego State. But he took 25 of the team's 57 shot attempts in doing so.
Williams was far more efficient than either National Player of the Year candidate in the first half alone. He finished 11-for-17 on the night, scoring an average of 1.88 points per shot attempt (better than Fredette's 1.10 and Walker's 1.44 per shot averages last night).
Williams posted 19 points and eight rebounds this year for the Wildcats. But even more impressive was his ability to connect from deep. Williams led the Pac-10 in three-point percentage (60.4%) among players shooting attempting at least one per game.
And in addition to leading Arizona in points, rebounds and three-point percentage, he also led the Wildcats in field goal percentage, steals and blocks per game.
Talk about Mr. Everything.
Thursday, March 24, 2011
The 10-time Pro Bowler and two-time Super Bowl champion has done steroids, drugs, gotten divorced and remarried three times, been arrested several times, had a stint in pro wrestling and in 2009 appeared on "Dancing With the Stars."
But his most recent legal troubles, stemming from having sex with an underage prostitute, takes the cake.
He plead guilty to "sexual misconduct and patronizing a 16-year old prostitute," according to ESPNNewYork.com.
And in a recent interview with Fox News, Taylor didn't hold back. Highlights of the interview are below. They're too funny to bother analyzing. Enjoy.
"Taylor said he had asked the prostitute her age, and was told she was 19," ESPNNewYork reported.
"I'm not the cause of prostitution. And sometimes I make mistakes and I may go out there. And I didn't go pick her up on no playground. She wasn't hiding behind the school bus or getting off a school bus," Taylor said.
"It's the world of prostitution. You never know what you're gonna get. Is it gonna be a pretty girl, an ugly girl or whatever it's gonna be," he continued.
On the prostitute's age, Taylor said: "You can only ask. I don't card them. I don't ask for a birth certificate."
And lastly, Taylor added: "I'll take my punishment like I should, but my problem is at home with my wife, so that's really the only one I have to answer to."
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
But this is a new one.
Longtime Manchester Union Leader sportswriter Kevin Provencher was arrested last July (and convicted yesterday) of running a prostitution ring in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
What does this have to do with being a journalist? Well, Provencher "pleaded guilty to running a prostitution operation, saying he needed the extra money to make up for a pay cut because of the downturn in the newspaper business," according to CNHI News Service.
Hey, it turns out rapper Big Daddy Kane was right after all: pimpin' aint easy.
While it's kind of sick to make light of this guy's serious moral indiscretions, the guy's alibi is pretty entertaining (albeit sad). I mean, how hard is it to pick up a side gig freelancing, especially with 23 years of journalism under your belt? Hell, deliver pizzas on your off-day if it's that bad.
And Provencher was no slouch, either. He won New Hampshire's Sportswriter of the Year Award four times, presumably beating out at least three other journalists for the crown.
And while he'll now serve his two-and-a-half year sentence in prison, maybe he'll come out with a new lease on life. Or a Lifetime original movie.
Regardless, this story sort of seals the deal that my involuntary divorce with newspapers wasn't such a bad series of events after all. While I never had to flip burgers to get by, I also never led an organized sex ring, either. I'd say it all worked out for the better.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
The general idea is a reason to root against each team in the tournament. Doing a full write-up of the field of 68 would have meant much more research and a 1,000-word entry, so I waited until the Sweet 16 to reveal it. And unlike Deadspin's version, it's actually safe for work.
(1) Ohio State -- Hate them because they're a football school, and it's not fair when a football school is also dominant in basketball (see: Florida, Oklahoma, Texas). Pick one sport to dominate and leave the rest of us to fight for the other sports.
(4) Kentucky -- Well, this is easy. Head coach John Calipari is a known cheater. Hell, he's the only coach to have ever vacated two Final Four appearances (at UMass and Memphis). Here's to hoping a third is on its way.
(11) Marquette -- Marquette is 82% white, yet its basketball team is 93% black. The lone white guy on the team played just 1.9 minutes per game in 13 games this season. That's racist. And try to convince me he's not cheating when he's gotten eight kids from below the Mason-Dixon line to spend their college days in the frozen tundra.
(2) North Carolina -- It's easy to hate coach Roy Williams, who is woefully bad at actual coaching. Sure, he's a good recruiter, but he's subpar at the other half of his job. Yet he's always in the Sweet 16. Also, your fans are all old, cranky, rich white people.
(1) Duke -- Hate Duke because Duke is Duke. The Blue Devils have flopped their way to another Sweet 16. Yippee. Now the 99% of Duke fans who couldn't find Durham on a map are even more insufferable on Facebook than ever before.
(5) Arizona -- We knew you guys hired a good coach in Sean Miller, but it should have taken more than two seasons to sniff an Elite Eight. Also, star big man Derrick Williams seems to get every freakin' call. We sure he's not on Duke?
(3) Connecticut -- Cheaters. Head coach Jim Calhoun is clearly a cheater. He only got a slap on the wrist for "failure to create an atmosphere of compliance" (aka cheating) earlier this year. And he's responsible for creating a rule in the NCAA handbook that banned AAU teams from scrimmaging college teams for money. Yep, he came up with a new way of cheating that the NCAA hadn't even thought up. Plus, have you ever seen Storrs, Connecticut? It makes Cleveland look like Las Vegas.
(2) San Diego State -- Hate them because they're a No. 2 seed despite having a mediocre strength of schedule. San Diego State went 1-2 against ranked teams in the regular season. Doesn't sound like a team that should have a cupcake path to the Sweet 16 to me.
(1) Kansas -- Hate Kansas because the Jayhawks are always so damn good. It's just not fair. Head coach Bill Self has taken three different schools to an Elite Eight. Kansas has been there five times in his eight years. And hate them because this was supposed to be their down year. This was supposed to be the year where Kansas wasn't the odds-on favorite to win the whole damn thing.
(12) Richmond -- Easy to hate because the Spiders are one of two teams from Richmond in the Sweet 16. Share the wealth, guys. And hate them because their 3,048 student enrollment means their fan base is nonexistent. At least give a Sweet 16 spot to a team with a gigantic fanbase who travels well.
(11) Virginia Commonwealth -- When I visited VCU in high school, the student tour guides told us not to walk in groups of fewer than six people through downtown Richmond. Thanks for scaring me out of going to your school.
(10) Florida State -- Really? Head coach Leonard Hamilton has been to two Sweet 16s in 23 years of coaching. Hey, thanks for the Wizards' 19-63 season back in 2000.
(8) Butler -- Butler, a.k.a. Duke Lite, has no business even being here in the first place. The Bulldogs won their first round game on a buzzer-beater tip-in, and beat annual choke artist Pitt on the most boneheaded play of the whole tournament.
(4) Wisconsin -- How exciting to get a third game from the nation's 192nd-ranked scoring offense. But the Badgers make up for it as the country's 299th-best rebounding team, 124th-best shooting team and 152nd-best assisting team. I'd rather hang out at a retirement home.
(3) BYU -- The Fightin' Mormons kicked off one of the best players on their team for 'fessing up that he had premarital sex with his girlfriend. THEY KICKED HIM OFF THE TEAM. Good luck recruiting any non-Mormons ever again!
(2) Florida -- See State, Ohio. Also, nobody should ever be allowed to win back-to-back National Championships. The year after you win one, you shouldn't even be allowed into the NCAA Tournament.
Monday, March 21, 2011
Arizona State senior wrestler Anthony Robles won the NCAA Championship's 125-pound weight class title over the weekend. And before you roll your eyes and say it's not noteworthy, check this out: Robles was born with just one leg.
Read that again: the best 125-pound collegiate wrestler was born with a disability that would prevent the vast majority of athletes from ever wrestling in the first place.
Having covered some of the most competitive high school wrestling in the country in southcentral Pennsylvania, I can appreciate the hard work that goes into weight training, practice and constantly struggling to maintain the rigid weight classes.
So to not only wrestle at the collegiate level but to win the National Championship is unheard of.
According to a CBS Sports article, Robles was a three-year old when he removed his prosthetic leg.
"His father, Ron Robles, was into power-lifting and had a weight set in the garage, and Anthony wanted to lift weights, too. ... So one day Ron Robles was resting between sets when he heard someone else breathing heavily. It was Anthony, on the floor, doing push-ups. A few years later, Anthony broke his school's sixth-grade record for push-ups," CBS' Gregg Doyel wrote.
He used it to his advantage as a high schooler, where Robles was a combined 96-0 as a junior and senior at Mesa High School in Arizona. He continued that success by compiling a 68-4 record as a junior and senior at Arizona State.
Predictably, Robles' strategy is to get his opponents on the ground, the position in which he does his best work. Like a lion, he stalks his prey before ultimately twisting his opponents like a slinky.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
So watch this video, enjoy the memories it brings back, and remember that, while teams like Kansas State and Villanova may be in the Tournament this year, they don't have this:
(Note: It's OK to get teary-eyed.)
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
After all, these guys study the game 24/7, know the teams like the back of their hands and even know how to factor in the ninth man's head cold with the point spread.
So while you're struggling to pick your yearly No. 12 over No. 5 upset, sit back, relax and let Vegas take care of you in the first round. (Obviously Vegas doesn't have lines for the second round, since the matchups aren't determined yet. So you're on your own.)
We're not going to waste time with No. 1 or No. 2 seeds (or play-in games). No. 1 seeds are 104-0 and No. 2 seeds are 100-4 all-time in the NCAA Tournament. Those numbers should just keep improving this year.
(8) George Mason vs. (9) Villanova -- Vegas says George Mason, a one-point favorite, wins 52.4% of the time. More or less a coinflip.
(4) Kentucky vs. (13) Princeton -- Before you try and take the Tigers in an upset special, note that Vegas has Kentucky by 13, and advancing 91.5% of the time.
(6) Xavier vs. (11) Marquette -- Ah, the ol' higher-seeded-mid-major-versus-lower-seeded-high-major matchup. Xavier is favored by two, and wins 56.5% of the time, which means it'd be no surprise if Marquette took this one.
(3) Syracuse vs. (14) Indiana State -- Not a likely upset here. The Orange are favored by 11.5 and are 87.1% to move on.
(7) Washington vs. (10) Georgia -- While this game might look like a coinflip, Washington is actually a 5.5-point favorite, and Vegas says it wins 68.8% of the time.
(8) Michigan vs. (9) Tennessee -- Vegas leans Tennessee -- barely. The Volunteers are 1.5-point favorites and win 54.5% of the time.
(5) Arizona vs. (12) Memphis -- The least likely No. 12 seed to advance, Memphis is a 5.5-point underdog and wins just 29.9% of the time. Focus on upsets elsewhere.
(4) Texas vs. (13) Oakland -- Oakland would be a sneaky pick with Texas playing poorly, but it's not a good risk/reward. Texas is a 9.5-point favorite and wins 81.8% of the time.
(6) Cincinnati vs. (11) Missouri -- Surprisingly (for seeding, not for on-court results), Missouri and Cincinnati are a pick'em, meaning Vegas has this game 50/50.
(3) Connecticut vs. (14) Bucknell -- Conventional wisdom shows that UConn just won five games in five days, while Bucknell had nearly a week off before winning the Patriot League. Still, the Huskies are 10-point favorites and advance 84.9% of the time.
(7) Temple vs. (10) Penn State -- Temple is a 2.5-point favorite, and Vegas says the Owls are 57.4% to advance.
(8) UNLV vs. (9) Illinois -- The Runnin' Rebels are favored by a basket, which means UNLV advances 55.6% of the time.
(5) Vanderbilt vs. (12) Richmond -- An interesting matchup, the power conference (Vanderbilt) is favored by 2.5 points over the mid-major (Richmond). If you want another No. 12 over a No. 5, consider the fact that Vanderbilt wins this game just 57.4% of the time.
(4) Louisville vs. (13) Morehead State -- Vegas says Louisville by 9.5 points, meaning the Cardinals are 83% to advance.
(3) Purdue vs. (14) St. Peter's -- Purdue wins 91.8% of the time as the 14-point favorite.
(7) Texas A&M vs. (10) Florida State -- Bust out a quarter here, because Vegas has this game as a virtual coinflip.
(8) Butler vs. (9) Old Dominion -- An interesting matchup between last year's runner-up and a team that just won the CAA Tournament, ODU is favored by two points, which translates to winning 55.6% of the time.
(5) Kansas State vs. (12) Utah State -- Despite going on a hot streak to end the season, Kansas State is just a two-point favorite, and will win 55.6% of the time. Not a bad spot to pick the No. 12 over No. 5 upset special.
(4) Wisconsin vs. (13) Belmont -- If you insist on being gutsy, this is your best bet for a "told you so" type pick. Wisconsin is favored by just 4.5 points, and will advance just 64.9% of the time. It would be pretty impressive to call a No. 13 over a No. 4...
(6) St. John's vs. (11) Gonzaga -- Vegas likes St. John's, but not by much. The Red Storm are 1.5-point favorites and win 53.5% of the time.
(3) BYU vs. (14) Wofford -- Though BYU hasn't played well without its starting center for the past few games, the Cougars are still eight-point favorites and win 78% of the time.
(7) UCLA vs. (10) Michigan State -- The No. 10 seed is favored by 1.5 points here, which means the Spartans win 53.5% of the time.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
(1) Kansas (32-2) vs. (16) Boston U. (21-13) -- Yet another No. 1 seed moving easily past a No. 16 seed.
(8) UNLV (24-8) vs. (9) Illinois (19-13) -- The Runnin' Rebels are bitter right now, with several close losses to ranked teams this year. And after starting off 10-1, Illinois sputtered to the finish line. UNLV holds the advantage here.
(5) Vanderbilt (23-10) vs. (12) Richmond (27-7) -- It wouldn't surprise me to see Richmond beat Vanderbilt. The Spiders are 11-1 in their last 12, while Vanderbilt had a losing record over its last seven games.
(4) Louisville (25-9) vs. (13) Morehead State (24-9) -- Louisville may have some tired legs after reaching the Big East Tournament finals, but the Cardinals will beat Morehead State, a hot-but-undermanned team that has won 12 of its last 13 games.
(6) Georgetown (21-10) vs. (11) USC (19-14)/Virginia Commonwealth (23-11) -- Few thought USC or VCU would make it into the tournament field, yet the two teams play each other in one of the play-in games. Georgetown has been reeling since losing point guard Chris Wright, but he's back and the Hoyas will try to get by a pesky VCU squad. For a sneaky pick, take VCU.
(3) Purdue (25-7) vs. (14) St. Peter's (20-13) -- The Boilermakers have managed a No. 3 seed despite the loss of superstar Robbie Hummel just before the season. Purdue will face little resistance until the second round, and will get by St. Peter's by 15 or more.
(7) Texas A&M (24-8) vs. (10) Florida State (21-10) -- With star big man Chris Singleton back in the lineup, Florida State is a much different team. And Texas A&M couldn't keep the hot hand going after a 16-1 start to the season. Neither team will advance past Notre Dame, so close your eyes to pick the winner here.
(2) Notre Dame (26-6) vs. (15) Akron (23-12) -- Notre Dame was nearly a No. 1 seed, and it should have no problem getting by an Akron team in its third-ever NCAA Tournament.
(1) Pittsburgh (27-5) vs. (16) NC Asheville (19-13)/Arkansas-Little Rock (19-16) -- Not happening. Pitt wins.
(8) Butler (23-9) vs. (9) Old Dominion (27-6) -- It's always a shame when the committee pits two mid-majors against each other. Old Dominion has quietly put together a terrific season, ending with winning the CAA Tournament. Butler, last year's NCAA runners-up, may face an early exit this year.
(5) Kansas State (22-10) vs. (12) Utah State (30-3) -- Kansas State was one of the preseason favorites to win it all. But halfway through the season, the Wildcats didn't even look like a tournament-caliber team. The Wildcats got their act together, but it won't be easy to beat a 30-win Utah State team that has multiple reliable scoring options.
(4) Wisconsin (23-8) vs. (13) Belmont (30-4) -- If Wisconsin takes Belmont lightly, it could be dangerous. The Bruins won 30 games this season, including the Atlantic Sun Tournament, and two of its losses were to Tennessee. Wisconsin commits very few mistakes, but lost its last two games by 28 points (to Ohio State) and scored just 33 points against Penn State.
(6) St. John's (21-11) vs. (11) Gonzaga (24-9) -- St. John's has been a great story this year, but its main weakness has been playing away from home. Gonzaga won 11 of its last 12 games, including the West Coast Conference Tournament for the 10th time in 13 years. But St. John's has size and is led by an upperclassman corps. The Red Storm should move on here.
(3) BYU (30-4) vs. (14) Wofford (21-12) -- Without starting center Brandon Davies, who was dismissed for premarital sex with his girlfriend (all part of attending BYU, I suppose), BYU may have its hands full with a Wofford team that beat George Mason and lost in triple overtime to Xavier earlier this year. Don't be surprised to see Wofford give BYU a hell of a game here.
(7) UCLA (22-10) vs. (10) Michigan State (19-14) -- Six weeks ago, neither team was in tournament shape. But both teams have scraped together respectable seasons by winning key games down the stretch. Both UCLA and Michigan State are led by excellent coaches, but never bet against Michigan State's Tom Izzo's game planning. Don't be surprised if Michigan State pulls off the minor upset.
(2) Florida (26-7) vs. (15) UCSB (18-13) -- Florida as a No. 2 seed was surprising, but the Gators will take advantage with a clear shot to the next round.
Monday, March 14, 2011
(1) Ohio State (32-2) vs. (16) UTSA (19-13)/Alabama State (17-17) -- Not much to say about a No. 1 seed playing a No. 16 seed. The No. 16 seed has as much a chance of getting struck by lightning twice as it does winning this game.
(8) George Mason (26-6) vs. (9) Villanova (21-11) -- A brutal matchup for a team I thought could make a sneaky run into the Sweet 16 (George Mason). The Patriots face off against a Villanova team that has wins over seven other teams in the NCAA Tournament field.
(5) West Virginia (20-11) vs. (12) UAB (22-8)/Clemson (21-11) -- The Mountaineers lack much of an identity this year after losing stars DaSean Butler and Devin Ebanks from last year's Final Four squad. They play the winner of the UAB/Clemson game (likely Clemson), which would present a coinflip game, more or less.
(4) Kentucky (25-8) vs. (13) Princeton (25-6) -- One of the worst matchups for Princeton, the Tigers face off against a red-hot Kentucky team that just won the SEC Tournament and is riding a six-game win streak.
(6) Xavier (24-7) vs. (11) Marquette (20-14) -- Marquette is a tough draw for Xavier, but both teams have a chance to get hot and beat an overrated Syracuse team in the next round. Marquette is just 3-10 against top 25 teams this season, and will get a chance to improve to 4-10 with a win over Xavier. Flip a coin to pick the winner here.
(3) Syracuse (26-7) vs. (14) Indiana State (20-13) -- Syracuse is one of the streakiest teams in the country, starting off 18-0 before losing six of its next eight games, before regrouping to win six of its next seven. The Orange face off against an Indiana State team that wouldn't be sniffing much of a postseason if not for winning the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.
(7) Washington (23-10) vs. (10) Georgia (21-11) -- Washington ended the season on a heater, winning the Pac-10 Tournament. The Huskies play a Georgia team that fizzled a bit, winning just nine of its final 18 games. Washington's got a chance of knocking off North Carolina, if it makes it to the next round.
(2) North Carolina (26-7) vs. (15) Long Island (27-5) -- The Tar Heels managed to secure a No. 2 seed despite trailing by double digits in their three ACC Tournament games. But even if North Carolina sleepwalks through the first 30 minutes against Long Island, the Tar Heels should advance pretty easily.
(1) Duke (30-4) vs. (16) Hampton (24-8) -- Yawn. Duke by 25.
(8) Michigan (20-13) vs. (9) Tennessee (19-14) -- For some reason, this matchup bores me. Both teams are fairly blah, and either one will lose to Duke in the next round. Don't fret if you pick this one wrong.
(5) Arizona (27-7) vs. (12) Memphis (25-9) -- The region's most intriguing first-round matchup, the Pac-10 regular season champion faces a hot Memphis team coming off an emotional, come-from-behind win over UTEP. Arizona should win, but the No. 5 seeds always tend to be unlucky.
(4) Texas (27-7) vs. (13) Oakland (25-9) -- Oakland is a sneaky team that racked up a ton of wins this season, but has not fared well against high-major teams. The Golden Grizzlies do own a win over Tennessee, but that's the real standout on their resume. Texas should win, but don't be surprised if it's a bit close for comfort.
(6) Cincinnati (25-8) vs. (11) Missouri (23-10) -- An opportunity for amateur bracketologists to say "I called a No. 11 over a No. 6 seed," Missouri is the most dangerous double-digit seed in the field. Don't be surprised to watch Missouri coach Mike Anderson's squad wear down Cincinnati toward the end and advance to the second round.
(3) Connecticut (26-9) vs. (14) Bucknell (25-8) -- A sliver of hope remains for Bucknell, which can only hope that UConn's Kemba Walker goes cold for the afternoon. The Huskies won five games in five days to capture the Big East Tournament, and could fare the same as Syracuse did in 2006 after winning the Big East Tournament and losing in the first round of the NCAAs.
(7) Temple (25-7) vs. (10) Penn State (19-13) -- Penn State had an impressive run in the Big Ten Tournament, but the Nittany Lions' luck will run out when they play a Temple team that owns wins over Seton Hall, Georgia, Maryland and Georgetown this year.
(2) San Diego State (32-2) vs. (15) Northern Colorado (21-10) -- Despite being considered a "mid-major" by some, San Diego State can run with the big boys, and will show it with a convincing win against a Northern Colorado team that has played just one game against a top 25 team this season.
Friday, March 11, 2011
Here's the best of them, building up to the most exciting game at the bottom. Video embedded when possible, otherwise linked to ESPN highlights on YouTube.
8) La Salle 75, St. Bonaventure 73 (2 OT) -- the Explorers need two extra frames to put away the Bonnies, after trailing by seven points with just 1 minute, 22 seconds left in the first overtime period
7) Missouri 88, Texas Tech 84 -- the Tigers stave off a late comeback and nearly choke the game away, but hit a few clutch baskets and play great defense down the stretch to send Texas Tech home losers in coach Pat Knight's final game
6) Kansas 63, Oklahoma State 62 -- the Jayhawks pull away late and play fantastic defense on the final Oklahoma State possession to hold the Cowboys scoreless and escape with the one-point win
5) Rutgers 76, Seton Hall 70 (OT) -- Rutgers survives after Seton Hall guard Jeremy Hazell puts it into overtime with a pro-range three-pointer
4) Miami 69, Virginia 62 (OT) -- down 10 with 29 seconds left, Miami goes on a 10-0 run to put the game in overtime, where they win by seven points
3) South Florida 70, Villanova 69 -- a terrific coast-to-coast as USF's Anthony Crater makes the tough game-winning bucket to shock Villanova
2) St. John's 65, Rutgers 63 -- controversial last play results in the referees withdrawing from the Big East Tournament
1) UConn 76, Pittsburgh 74 -- star guard Kemba Walker hits the buzzer-beater
Thursday, March 10, 2011
On Tuesday night, Princeton (24-6, 12-2 Ivy) traveled to Penn facing the ultimate must-win situation.
A win and Princeton earned a share of the Ivy League regular season title -- a huge accomplishment in a league with no conference tournament. A loss gave the title to Harvard, which would have earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Princeton came out of the gates fired up -- perhaps too fired up -- taking an early 15-4 lead. Penn stormed back, going on a 23-4 run of its own to take an eight-point lead into the second half.
But Princeton kept its composure, caught up and played dead-even basketball with Penn until halfway through the second half. With a 44-42 lead and possibly just 8 minutes, 30 seconds left in their season, the Tigers kicked it into high gear, outscored the hosting Quakers 26-16 the rest of the way and escaped with a 70-58 win.
Led by sixth man Kareem Maddox's 21 points and five assists in the second half, Princeton showed not only Penn and Harvard that it meant business, but also every other tournament-bound team that had a day off yesterday.
Now, Princeton and Harvard (23-5, 12-2 Ivy) meet on Saturday at 4 p.m. for a one-game playoff. Winner goes to the NCAA Tournament, loser goes home empty-handed, without a guarantee of an NIT berth (like the regular season winner receives in every other Division I conference).
With everything on the line, neither team should be overlooked by its opponent after Selection Sunday. The two teams split the regular season with one win apiece, but either team is capable of knocking off a sleeping high-major team.
Princeton's tournament resume includes wins over Rutgers, Bucknell and Tulsa. Harvard owns wins over Colorado, Boston College and George Washington.
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
The news seems to be coming out of left field. After all, the 35-year old tailback is the Giants' all-time leading rusher, was a three-time Pro Bowler in 10 seasons with New York.
Things haven't been all peaches and cream for the University of Virginia graduate, though. Shortly after retiring, he publicly criticized team quarterback Eli Manning, mocking Manning's pre-game speeches and leadership skills. The Giants won the Super Bowl the next season.
He also publicly criticized head coach Tom Coughlin, and more recently "left his wife of 11 years, Ginny, for 23-year old Traci Johnson, a former NBC intern. Ginny was eight months pregnant at the time," Yahoo! Sports reports.
Possibly related, NBC then terminated Barber's lofty contract, citing its morals clause.
And almost definitely related to the news of his un-retirement is that last June, Barber reportedly could not afford to pay his divorce settlement.
Even Giants fans booed Barber "when [the] Giants unveiled their ring of honor in their new $1.6 billion stadium," according to Yahoo!
If a team does take a chance on him, history points to the Redskins being that team. And, like everyone else, he'll probably get a seven-year deal worth $50 million in guaranteed money.
Nobody has confirmed Washington's interest in Barber, but consider the Redskins one of the leading candidates.
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Locally, Towson's job opening wasn't that surprising. Former coach Pat Kennedy was just 71-144 in seven seasons, and his team's win totals had declined five years in a row.
And while Towson (4-26, 0-18 CAA) may not be a coach's dream job, the Tigers do play in an up-and-coming conference that could send three teams to the NCAA Tournament this year.
Towson will look outside the program to make the hire. Here's a few interesting possibilities:
Mike Lonergan, Vermont coach -- Lonergan has done a hell of a job at Vermont, leading the Catamounts to three 24-plus win seasons in five years. He's led Vermont to one NCAA Tournament appearance, one American East Conference Championship and two more runners-up.
Fran Fraschilla, ESPN analyst -- Fraschilla hasn't coached since 2002, but he's won everywhere he's been (Manhattan, St. John's and New Mexico). He's been to the NCAA Tournament three times, is a knowledgeable and intelligent analyst on ESPN, and would probably like the opportunity to coach again.
Todd Bozeman, Morgan State coach -- Basketball purists probably still cringe at the name Todd Bozeman, but the former Cal coach has done everything he can to wipe his image clean after a pay-for-play scandal got him the boot in Berkeley. Bozeman took his lumps, spent nine years away from the game, and has taken Morgan State to two straight NCAA Tournaments and a 72-33 (32-6 MEAC) record over the last three seasons. Plus, he wouldn't have to move or adjust much at all, having spent the last four years in Baltimore.
Karl Hobbs, George Washington coach -- Hobbs is 166-128 in 10 years at George Washington, and his time may be running out. It's been four years since GWU has reached an NCAA Tournament, but Hobbs did guide it to three in a row from 2004 to 2006. Though it would be a lateral career move, a job is better than no job. And for Towson, he'd certainly be able to get them to compete within the next few years.
David Cox, Rutgers assistant -- Cox spent several years as an assistant under Georgetown coach John Thompson III, and is currently the associate head coach at Rutgers. His D.C. Assault ties have helped him land several high-caliber recruits, and would likely prove to be a fruitful pipeline going forward.
Billy Hahn, West Virginia assistant -- The 56-year old Hahn hasn't had much success as a head coach, tallying a 90-117 record at Ohio and La Salle. But he's got 37 years of coaching experience and has coached and recruited 19 future NBA players. With Towson's plans for a brand-new, state-of-the-art basketball arena for 2013 and a rich recruiting base, it would seem to be a pretty good fit for a guy who has been to several NCAA Tournaments as an assistant.
Chuck Driesell, The Citadel coach -- Driesell, 48, is just getting his feet wet with a head coaching gig in South Carolina. But he's got local ties, his father was a legend in the area, and he served as Maryland's recruiting coordinator under future Hall of Famer Gary Williams. Driesell may not want to leave The Citadel after just one year, but it's much easier to win up here than down there.
Dave Dickerson, Ohio State assistant -- Another Gary Williams disciple, Dickerson had moderate success at Tulane before getting the boot. Dickerson was 71-85 in five years at Tulane, but was a longtime assistant under Williams. He's now an assistant under another terrific coach in Thad Matta. Dickerson has an impressive pedigree that includes being an assistant coach on Maryland's nine straight NCAA Tournament appearances, five Sweet Sixteens, two Final Fours and the team's National Championship.
Chris Caputo, George Mason assistant -- It's probably not a flashy enough hire, but Caputo has done a good job in Fairfax, bumping up the school's recognition from a recruiting standpoint. He's been on the staff while Mason has had its most successful five-year run in school history, and was mostly responsible for assembling what ESPN called the top mid-major recruiting class.
Keith Booth, Maryland assistant -- Booth hasn't made a huge name for himself as a recruiter, but he's been on Maryland's staff for seven years. He's responsible for coaching big men, which includes first-team All-ACC selection Jordan Williams, and is well-liked in Baltimore. Two years on the Chicago Bulls boosts his resume and recognition among high school prospects.
Monday, March 7, 2011
The rest of this week is dedicated to conference tournaments, appropriately nicknamed "Championship Week" by ESPN. Everything leads to Selection Sunday, when 68 lucky teams hear their names called. Unfortunately, barring a miracle, Maryland won't be one of those teams. And while that puts a damper on the event, it's still not enough to torpedo the greatest month of sports all year.
Tons of conferences have their tournaments this week, and I'm not going to pretend I can accurately predict the SWAC and MEAC conference champions. But I've seen plenty of the major conferences, enough to make a few predictions...
Who should win: Duke
Who could win: North Carolina
Cliffs Notes: Everyone else. This is a two-headed race in a down year for the ACC. And Duke's getting freshman phenom Kyrie Irving back at the perfect time. Meanwhile, the other conference contenders have looked pretty mediocre of late. With UNC's recent win over Duke to clinch the ACC regular season, this should be a Tobacco Road showdown on Sunday.
Atlantic 10 --
Who should win: Xavier or Temple
Who could win: Richmond or Duquesne
Cliffs Notes: Nobody else is worth paying attention to, but Xavier and Temple are the odds-on favorites, combining for a 29-3 conference record. Duquesne is a sneaky pick, as the 18-11 Dukes beat Temple earlier this season and had close-but-no-cigar losses to West Virginia, Penn State and George Mason.
Big East --
Who should win: Pitt or Notre Dame
Who could win: St. John's, Louisville or Villanova
Cliffs Notes: There's likely 11 teams from the Big East heading to the NCAA Tournament, which is ridiculous in and of itself. But only Pitt and (maybe) Notre Dame are built for a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. St. John's is a sleeper, as the Red Storm have been dangerous at home, knocking off six top 15 teams at Madison Square Garden, where the Big East Tournament is held.
Big Ten --
Who should win: Ohio State
Who could win: Purdue or Wisconsin
Cliffs Notes: Ohio State is a sure thing to be in the Big Ten Championship Game, and Purdue looked like a challenger before losing at Iowa (11-19) on Saturday. That's a black eye for a team that looked like a surefire No. 2 seed before that.
Big 12 --
Who should win: Kansas
Who could win: Texas or Kansas State
Cliffs Notes: The Jayhawks are the clear team to beat right now. Texas is reeling, losing three of its last five. But Kansas State, once a sexy preseason pick, is on a roll after being hot garbage for most of the season. The Wildcats have won eight of their last nine, and are on a six-game winning streak right now.
Mountain West --
Who should win: San Diego State
Who could win: BYU or UNLV
Cliffs Notes: San Diego State, despite losing twice to BYU, should take home the Mountain West this year. BYU is dealing with the loss of center Brandon Davies, who was kicked off the team for having premarital sex with his girlfriend. You read that right. It comes at the worst time possible for the Cougars (no pun intended). UNLV is the Mountain West team nobody's talking about -- probably because of its 0-4 record against San Diego State and BYU this season.
Who should win: Arizona
Who could win: UCLA
Cliffs Notes: What a crappy year for the Pac-10. Arizona is one of the more underrated teams in the country, one that nobody seems to be taking too seriously. That might have to do with its 0-3 record against top 25 teams this season. But the Wildcats are 25-6 (14-4 Pac-10) and are the favorites to win the conference tournament. UCLA is 13-3 over the last half of the season, and could steal it.
Who should win: Florida
Who could win: Kentucky
Cliffs Notes: The SEC is a prime example why conferences shouldn't have divisions. The SEC East features three ranked teams (Florida, Kentucky and Vanderbilt), while the SEC West's second-best team is 17-13. Nobody out of the West is taking the SEC this year, but Florida and Kentucky are the cream of the crop. Florida's the favorite, with an experienced lineup consisting of three seniors, a junior and a sophomore rounding out its starting five.
Friday, March 4, 2011
Of interest, the difference between being a Nationals fan and an Orioles fan is, not surprisingly, pretty small.
"I have a soul." Yes. (No goes straight to the Yankees.)
"I care if my team ever wins another game." No.
"What's in the thermos?" Can't say. (IC Light goes to the Pirates; Skinny latte, no foam goes to the Mariners; Gravy goes to the Royals.)
"Why not?" Too gross goes to the Orioles; Not allowed to goes to the Nats.
It's open to interpretation, but I assumed the Orioles "Too gross" was an allusion to National Bohemian, the world's worst beer that everyone in Baltimore drinks as a badge of pride.
"Not allowed to" is anybody's guess. Explain it convincingly in the comments section and win a prize (not really).
Other highlights include:
"My favorite tailgate food is..." Chowda goes to the Red Sox.
"I use sports to distract myself from the drudgery of my horrible life." Yes goes to the Mets.
"I have been a lifelong fan since..." 1997 goes to the Rays.
In other flowchart news, I enjoyed this "Which ACC school are you from" flowchart. To be a Terp, you answer:
"Are you from North Carolina?" No.
"Are you from the northeast?" Yes.
"Mid-Atlantic or south?" Mid-Atlantic.
"Do you find poverty gross?" No.
"Ever been mugged at school?" Yes.
"Was the mugger wearing overalls?" No. (If you answered yes, you were from NC State.)
Anyway, back to the topic at-hand. This year, Benched Press is expanding a bit, with plans to feature an Orioles "here's what you've missed because it's early May and Baltimore is already mathematically eliminated from the playoffs" every-other-week post from a friend of mine (and Orioles fan), Scott Brosig.
Scott is an accountant, which means once May rolls around, he's bored and has nothing to do but think about and watch the Orioles.
So look for a season preview in the coming weeks, as well as a ton more college basketball stuff as March Madness is right around the corner.
Thursday, March 3, 2011
The Deportivo Pereira defender had a lapse of judgment in a game on Monday against Atletico Junior. Junior's unofficial mascot, an owl, flew onto the field and directly into the path of the soccer ball during play.
Injured, the owl was on its back for a few seconds when Moreno came over and punted the bird off the field.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet the Colombian Michael Vick.
In the video below, you can hear the crowd's stunned reaction as Moreno cruelly kicks the animal.
The crowd chanted, "Murderer, murderer," to Moreno, who later claimed he was never trying to hurt the owl, but that he was just trying to move it off the playing field. Thirty hours later, the owl died after undergoing treatment at a veterinarian's clinic.
Moreno has since been suspended two games and fined $560. He's facing possible jail time and has become a villain in his home country, earning several scathing reviews in Colombian newspapers. He's also received threats.
After the incident, Moreno was filmed going to a zoo to learn more about owls. According to Reuters, Moreno has "promised to return once a month to do voluntary work."
Watch the video below.
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
After just two games in a Washington Wizards uniform, the 32-year old point guard is saying goodbye to the nation's capital.
Looking to free up some salary for next season, the Wizards wanted to buy Bibby's contract out. But Bibby, who came to Washington via Atlanta in a move that sent guard Kirk Hinrich to the Hawks before the NBA's trade deadline, "gave up his entire salary for next season," according to ESPN.com.
Bibby's contract expired after 2011-12, but he was owed $6.2 million. The Wizards were expected to buy him out in the offseason.
But ESPN's Chris Broussard reports that "Bibby is eager to sign with a title-contending team after clearing waivers, and sources say the Boston Celtics, Miami Heat and Portland Trail Blazers are interested in him."
In the day where many athletes are simply chasing the biggest paycheck, it's refreshing to see Bibby so desperate to win that he's willing to forfeit a handsome salary next season to get with a championship-caliber team immediately.
The amicable breakup works out well for Washington, too, as the Wizards owe just $38 million next year in payroll, or roughly $20 million below the salary cap. That affords Washington the ability to sign not only its rookies from the NBA Draft, but also a big-name player or two. Unfortunately, 2011 is not nearly as loaded a free agent class as 2010 was.
Obviously Carmelo Anthony is expected to re-sign in New York, but center Tim Duncan is on the free agent market after this season, as are big men Yao Ming, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and David West. Guard Jason Richardson is one of the few instant-impact wings on the market.
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
The 29-year old rusher spent the last seven years in Washington D.C., but struggled with injuries over the last two seasons, appearing in just 13 of the team's 32 games.
Portis reached the Pro Bowl twice, in 2003 (with Denver) and 2008 after amassing 1,487 yards and nine touchdowns on 342 carries.
But in 2009 and 2010, the fan-favorite Portis was limited to 178 carries for 721 yards and three touchdowns.
"It was kind of a mutual decision. They could have sat and held on and played around. They gave me an opportunity to further my career and go somewhere where I can help," Portis said.
Portis' fate was all-but-sealed when he went down with a groin injury in Week 4. Backup Ryan Torain, who entered with 15 career carries, took the opportunity to run for 742 yards and four touchdowns on 164 carries. Torain, with his $480,000 contract, showed he had fewer miles on his odometer than Portis, who carried an $8.25 million paycheck next year.
Portis leaves the team with as the Redskins' second all-time leading rusher, just 600-some yards behind Hall of Famer John Riggins.
Team owner Daniel Snyder wished Portis the best in a statement: "We have been through a lot both on and off of the field and we would like to wish him and his family the very best. He will always be a Redskin and go down as one of the franchise's all-time greats."