Tuesday, March 26, 2013

NCAA Tournament Results & Aftermath through the perspective of My Bracket

So after a crazy last week and weekend I have finally had time to breathe and review my NCAA Tournament Brackets.  Going 24-8 in the main opening round of the tournament (now known as the “2nd Round”) I am in rarified air considering most people’s brackets are busted.  I have all my Final Four predictions intact.  But I still got some games wrong, so lets review the College Basketball weekend and the aftermath:

My Final Four: Louisville, Ohio State, Miami, and Florida

Obviously I didn’t exact take a major “risk” in my original Final Four picks by selecting a 1 seed, two 2 seeds, and a 3 seed but so far I am safe. 

Louisville because I believe they are peaking at the right time.  Peyton Siva and Russ Smith are finally playing up to their potential while Giorgi Dieng has atleast one block in seven of Louisville’s last eight games.  There are few teams in the NCAA tournament who have the combination of talented guards and aggressive front line big men to give Louisville problems.  The two biggest threats to Rick Pitino’s Cardinals, Michigan State and Duke, are set to play each other in the Sweet 16.  While Oregon will give them a good game, I see Louisville getting the win because they have better overall skill players.

I have been on and off the Ohio State “bandwagon” for the last few years.  I picked them to come out of the West Region this year is because I felt the bracket was weak.  Gonzaga proved to be the weakest number 1 seed (losing in the Round of 32) while the 3 seed( New Mexico) , 4 seed (Kansas State) and 5 seed (Wisconsin) all  lost in the Round of 64.  The only teams left standing in Ohio State’s way to the Final Four are Arizona, Wichita State, and LaSalle.  Not exactly “Murder’s Row”.  If Ohio State plays up to their potential, they will be in the Final Four.

Aside from the fact I have been a “U” fan for years, the University of Miami has never had great basketball program.  Head Coach Jim Larranaga has changed the basketball culture at Miami and has led a group of upperclassmen to a place where the school has never been before: a major basketball program that has a chance to win a national title.  Standing in their way at this time are two athletic, Big East tested schools (Marquette and Syracuse) along with the pre-season national title favorite (Indiana).  The road to the Final Four is not an easy one for the Hurricanes but I believe Shane Larkin, Kenny Kadji, Durand Scott, and Rion Brown are up for the challenge.

Florida Head Coach Billy Donovan is one of the most successful and seasoned Head Coaches in college basketball today.  At times the Gators have underachieved this year but in the Tournament they have really come to play after the “embarrassing” loss to Ole Miss in the SEC Tournament Finals.  Florida has won their first couple NCAA tournament games by an average of 23 points.  Florida Gulf Coast has had a good run but I think Florida has a more experienced coach and the athletes to neutralize the FGCU Eagles playing style.  While both Kansas and Michigan pose interesting matchups for Florida I believe the Gators have the team and the right head coach to be able to handle either of those teams in order to get to the Final Four.

I was wrong about: Pittsburgh, Wisconsin, Kansas State, Missouri, Colorado, UNLV

Obviously I am not some super genius because I was wrong about these matchups just like the other 50 percent of America.  Here is what I learned by these mistakes:

-I underestimated Wichita State, thinking since they had a few kids graduate; meanwhile Pittsburgh played underwhelming basketball and did not have enough offensive firepower to catch up after they got behind.   Proving it was not a fluke, Wichita State also went on to defeat number 1 seed Gonzaga.

-Did anyone, truthfully, believe Wisconsin would loose to Harvard?  The Badgers have solid talent and a very good coach Bo Ryan.  Watching Wisconsin struggle to execute their offense and hit jump shots was surprising.   

-Kansas State was one of the most athletic and underrated teams in the NCAA tournament field.  But   La Salle came into this game after winning the opening round/play-in game with the attitude that they could win any game.  A confident underdog is always dangerous and Kansas State didn’t play up to their potential.  And I was the guy who had Kansas State reaching the Elite Eight; that was a bad call.  Congrats to a hard working, talented La Salle team that got to the Sweet 16.

-Missouri and Colorado were two athletic teams that were considered top five teams in their respective conferences.  But both struggled against teams that presented bad matchups that they could not overcome.  It appeared both teams went into desperation mode and got away from what got them into the tournament.  But the two schools that defeated them, Colorado State and Illinois respectively, didn’t make it past the round of 32.

-UNLV had the dubious task of facing a team they defeated during the regular season at a “neutral site” that is within driving range of that opponent’s campus.  It was practically a home game for the California Bears and the weakness of UNLV was exposed: traditional point guard.  With all of their great skill players the Rebels had no one to run the offense and no one stepped up to be a leader on defense. 

I was right about: Florida Gulf Coast,  Oregon, Michigan, Marquette

-Why did I pick FGCU to make it to the Sweet 16?  Because I thought their style of play matched up well against Georgetown, San Diego State and Oklahoma.  With excellent athletes, good defense, and high intensity offense translates to many opponents because they do not have a surplus of NBA talent.  Also, FGCU beat the Miami Hurricanes earlier this season.  They passed my “eye test” and maybe I was one of the few people who thought so.

-Oregon was seeded so low by the NCAA committee it was pathetic.  Oregon was inconsistent through out the season, but part of that was due to injuries.  What Oregon had that their opponents Oklahoma State and St. Louis didn’t have was aggressive rebounders.  Oregon was very underrated and they showed they did not deserve to be a 12 seed after being one of the top teams from the PAC-12 this past season.

-Picking Michigan and Marquette wasn’t exactly a major reach since they are 4 seeds and well-known good teams.     But there were those who doubted them because they had tough matchups.  Marquette had to survive near defeats to Davidson and Butler.  Meanwhile Michigan showed that they are ready to handle any challenge put in front of them.  Having talented guards and forwards are the staples of what has gotten Michigan and Marquette this far.  It will be interesting to see if their talent can help them continue their journey in the NCAA tournament.

Minnesota and UCLA fire their head coaches, but why?

I was not too surprised when UCLA fired Ben Howland but I didn’t agree with the move.  Howland, who had a run of three straight Final Four appearances but there were those in the administration at UCLA who felt Howland had overstayed his welcome and he was not what they school wanted in the long run.  But who will take the position?  VCU’s Shaka Smart is not leaving Virginia and Brad Stevens is happy to stay at Butler.  I also do not see FGCU’s head coach leaving no income tax and suburban Fort Meyers, Florida for Los Angeles.  UCLA will have to do an exhaustive search to find a coach who can be the coach and recruiter than is needed to match the reputation and history of UCLA.

Meanwhile Minnesota fired the best caliber head coach in the school’s history.  Tubby Smith helped resurrect the reputation of the Minnesota basketball program that was marred by scandal in the 1990’s.  Smith brought credibility to the basketball program and the school.  But they school did not put out the work to support him.  The facilities have not been upgraded in over a decade while Smith is having to recruit against great basketball programs like Wisconsin, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Indiana.  Firing a great coach like Smith makes me question the perspective and outlook of the Minnesota athletic department that over the last ten years had struggles in many of their team sports’ programs.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh loses in the first round with a team that had more talent on their team than UCLA and Minnesota but their head coach Jamie Dixon loses in the first game in the tournament.  Dixon gets a long term contract extension.  Smith wins a game in the tournament with Minnesota but he gets fired.  Something is wrong with this picture.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Top Ten Thursday: Top Ten NFL Free Agency "Busts"

The NFL Offseason is here and free agency has had some surprises already.  But I cannot escape the memories of past free agency “busts”.  So, its Thursday and its time for my Top Ten for the week.  Lets review my list of Top Ten NFL Free Agency “Fails” from past off-seasons.

10. Jeff Garcia (Left the San Francisco 49ers, Signs with Cleveland Browns in 2004)

After being selected to the Pro Bowl three times in four years, Garcia was a hot commodity when he hit the free agent market in 2004.  The Cleveland Browns coveted a talented starting Quarterback after years of debacles at that position.  But signing Garcia to a 4 year, 25 million dollar contract didn’t fix anything.  Garcia was 3-7 as a starter and played mediocre.  Garcia showed though that the problem was the Browns, not him, because he resurrected his career in 2006 when he played stellar football for the Philadelphia Eagles then became a Pro Bowler again in 2007 in Tampa under the guidance of QB guru Jon Gruden. 

9. Ahman Green (Left Green Bay Packers, Signed with Houston Texans in 2007)

Green was a consistent performer in Green Bay rushing for 1,000 yards six times in seven years.  In 2007 the Houston Texans were still in the “football wilderness” trying to find the key to being a winning team in the NFL.  They thought one of keys to winning would be a good running back.  But when Houston gave Green a four year, 23 million dollar deal they did not know that Green would never again rush for more than 300 yards in a single season.  Maybe with a last name like “Green” he was only meant to ever be successful in “Green Bay”.  Of course, getting older and playing a position in the NFL that gets a lot of punishment might be a better explanation for Green’s career downturn.

8. Desmond Howard  (Left Green Bay Packers, Signed with Oakland Raiders in 1997)

After leading the NFL in Punt Return Yards and Touchdowns, Desmond Howard had a breakout game in the Super Bowl.  His 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown set the tone for the Packers as they would win Super Bowl XXXI.  That offseason Oakland Raiders pursued Howard hard and signed him to a four year, six million dollar deal.  While this is the smallest deal of the “fails” on this list, what made Howard’s tenure in Oakland a “bust” was the fact that the Raiders tried to convert Howard in to a playmaker at Wide receiver.  And the Raiders failed.  Interesting that Howard would return to the NFC after two seasons in Oakland and THEN he got selected to the Pro Bowl as a member of the Detroit Lions in 2000.

7. Nnamdi Asomuga (Left Oakland Raiders, Signed with Eagles in 2011)

There was a time in the NFL when Asomugha was in the discussion as one of the top defensive backs in the NFL.  After an season with eight interceptions then three straight Pro Bowl selections, Nnamdi was considered one of the top free agents available in 2011.  Asomugha got paid by the Philadelphia Eagles but that investment didn’t pay off on the football field.  Despite snagging four interceptions in two seasons Asomugha played average at best and never lived up to the hype of him as an elite cornerback.  He got beat on numerous plays and after two seasons the Eagles released him back into the world of free agency.

6. Elvis Grbac (Left Kansas City, Signed with Baltimore Ravens in 2001)

Elvis Grbac was coming off the best season of his career and a Pro Bowl selection.  People in the media thought Grbac was entering the prime of his career.  The Baltimore Ravens were looking to upgrade at Quarterback after Head Coach Brian Billick expressed his frustration with the previous starting Quarterback Trent Dilfer even though the team just won the Super Bowl.  When Grbac arrived in Baltimore he made the bold statement “This is a great team…I am going to make it better.”  Instead, Grbac played mediocre throwing 15 touchdowns and 18 interceptions and was outplayed by older, backup QB Randall Cunningham when Grbac got injured mid-season.  After losing in the playoffs, the Ravens asked Grbac to restructure his contract to help the Ravens with cap room, Grbac was indignant and the Ravens released him.  Shortly thereafter, Grbac retired unceremoniously. 

5. Larry Brown (Left Dallas Cowboys, signed with Oakland Raiders in 1996)

Another Super Bowl MVP who got a payday from the Oakland Raiders.  In Super Bowl XXX Larry Brown had the great fortune of being the “other cornerback” opposite of Deion Sanders and because the Steelers didn’t gameplan to avoid Larry Brown, he ended up with 2 interceptions and a Super Bowl MVP.  So when Larry Brown was given a five year, 12.5 million dollar contract, Brown should have given Deion Sanders a cut of that money.  Brown had more interceptions in that Super Bowl than the rest of his career, 2 in the Super Bowl, 1 in next three seasons.   

4. Alvin Harper (Left Dallas Cowboys, Signed with Buccaneers in 1995)

Another Dallas Cowboy who couldn’t perform up to the expectations of a big free agency contract.  After four seasons in Dallas Harper signed a four year, 10.6 million dollar contract and was expected to be the Buccaneers top receiver.  In two seasons in Tampa he caught three touchdowns total and was out of the league within four years.  Harper found out how hard it is to rack up big statistics and win games when you don’t have Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith as teammates.

3. Dana Stubblefield (Left san Francisco 49ers, Signed with Washington Redskins in 1998)

From 1993 to 1997 as a San Francisco 49er Stubblefield was a Pro Bowl selection three times and recorded 15 sacks in 1997.  In 1998 he received a six year, 36 million dollar deal under the expectations he would continue to be a great player.  Instead Stubblefield had a total of seven sacks and 87 tackles.  Underwhelming numbers for a guy who was making an average salary of six million per year.  Ironically he returned to the 49ers after being released by the Redskins and in two seasons Stubblefield produced a total of seven sacks and 53 tackles.  Seems like he should have never left San Francisco.

2. Jeff George (Left Minnesota Vikings, Signed with Washington Redskins in 2000)

Another free agency bust for the Redskins happened a couple years later when they didn’t realize Jeff George was “fool’s gold”.  After a surprising 12 game run in Minnesota when George racked up 2,816 passing yards and 23 touchdowns in just 12 games, he got “rewarded” a four year, 18 million dollar contract and the starting QB job in Washington.  He proceeded to throw 7 touchdowns, 9 interceptions in 8 games over two seasons and had confrontations with members of the media and the Redskins coaching staff.  The former number one overall draft selection has not played in a NFL regular season game since 2001.

1. Albert Haynesworth (Left Tennessee Titans, Signed with Washington Redskins in 2009)

For the Redskins, Haynesworth was more than just another free agency “bust”, he was an epic failure after signing a seven year, 100 million dollar contract.  Within three years Haynesworth found himself on the outside looking in as NFL teams banished him for his lack of work ethic, bad character, and his poor performance.  After being selected to the Pro Bowl in two consecutive seasons and racking up a total of 14.5 sacks and three forced fumbles, Haynesworth was obviously only in it for the money.  He made sure he worked the system and got around 42 million of that 100 million dollar deal he signed.  Apparently buying boats and criticizing other players was a better use of Haynesworth’s than playing up to expectations or his abilities.   

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Wednesday Sports Round Up: NFL Free Agency

Day 2 of NFL Free Agency and even a "Sports Geek" like myself is having trouble keeping up.  So I am keeping this as round as simple as possible...

Wes Welker heads to Denver

Whatever the breakdown in the relationship between the New England Patriots organization and Wes Welker, that breakdown turned out to be a benefit for the Denver Broncos.   According to reports Welker will be a new target at the price of 12 million over 2 years.  Not a bad deal for a guy who has been one of the top 5 receivers in the league for the last several years.  You think Peyton Manning had a great year last season just wait and see what Peyton does with Tom Brady’s ex-favorite target.   

Danny Amendola Replaces Welker in New England

Amendola has been compared to Wes Welker and the comparisons are abit uncanny.  Both went to Texas tech University, started their NFL careers as talented Special Team return specialists who were converted in talented Wide Receivers who led their former teams in receptions.  And, of course, both guys are under 6 feet tall.  But at 27 years of age, Amendola was considered to be more valuable to the Patriots compared to the 31 year old Welker.  Patriots Offensive Coordinator Josh Daniels featured Amendola when he was head coach in St. Louis so it is easy to think that McDaniels told management that Amendola could replace Welker in their offense.

Reggie Bush enhances the Lions offense

The Detroit Lions made a major upgrade by signing Reggie Bush to a 4 year, 16 million dollar contract.  The Lions, who have been in search of a talented, consistent running back since the retirement of Barry Sanders, have finally landed a talented running back with a track record.  The last couple seasons Bush has grown as a player on the field and in the locker room showing his value as starting NFL running back.  The Lions have upgraded their offense by gaining a balanced offense and taking pressure off QB Matthew Stafford and record-breaking WR Calvin Johnson.


Mike Wallace gets paid in Miami

Watching Mike Wallace’s press conference was comparable to listening to a guy who is exciting about getting a nice, new car for his birthday: “Im excited to be here”, “I love the south”, “This offense is going to be exciting”, “Good, young group of guys”, and my favorite “next season is going to be exciting”.  With his new money, Wallace should definitely buy a Theasaurus.  Meanwhile, this is a solid move for the Dolphins in get one of the top speed receivers in the NFL who can stretch the field and has a track record of scoring touchdowns.  But losing Reggie Bush means the Dolphins need help at running back but whether they address that need through free agency or the draft, only time will tell.

Buffalo Bills show Ryan Fitzpatrick the door

After giving him a chance as a starting quarterback the last couple seasons the Bills were dissatisfied with the Harvard graduate who had almost double the interceptions compared to touchdowns during his tenure in Buffalo.  The irony is that Fitzpatrick had trouble with consistency while playing for an offensive minded coach in Chan Gailey.  Ultimately, their new head coach Doug Marrone wanted to start fresh so expect the Bills to draft a quarterback in this years draft and don’t be surprised if that QB drafted is a guy who ran Marrone’s offense at Syracuse: Ryan Nassib.  Meanwhile, expect Fitzpatrick to have a future as a solid backup QB somewhere in 2013.


Chip Kelly sends a message in his first NFL offseason

After releasing Nnamdi Asomough, Cullen Jenkins, and Mike Patterson, the Eagles have signed Nose Tackle Isaac Sopoaga, Cornerback Bryant Fletcher, Safety Patrick Chung, and Tight End James Casey.  What do all of these new Eagles have in common?  Versatile and talented players who did not demand big money while being willing to buy into Kelly’s vision for the 2013 Eagles.  After leaving the University of Oregon the big question was how would Chip Kelly handle the NFL and the simple answer is he is taking a page out of Patriots playbook concerning free agency.  Kelly, who was brought in many years ago to consult the Patriots on the best way to utilize their hurry up offense, seems to have taken some tips; especially the idea that big name stars are not important to be a winning team.  Converting a roster to compliment Kelly’s offense and defense systems is always a process that takes some bold moves to make happen.


Is it “Culture Change” or “Rebuilding” in Baltimore after winning the Super Bowl?

Ray Lewis and Matt Birk retire, Danelle Ellerbe and Paul Kruger bolt for “greener pastures”, Anquan Boldin was traded away for low value draft pick, and Ed Reed is testing his value in the free agency market.  We hear all the time from the sports media about how “great” and “smart” Baltimore Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome is and his track record shows he is a good talent evaluator in the NFL draft.  But Ravens fans have to wonder “what is the plan” because the Ravens have been unloading players as opposed to rebuilding for another run at the Super Bowl.  If the Ravens miss the playoffs next season the fans and media will point at Joe Flacco’s 6 year, 120 million contract as the reason why the team couldn’t afford any talent that was needed to win football games.

So who is left in free agency

Well as of early Wednesday night, there is still a plethora of talent to be signed in free agency.  2012 St Louis Rams Steven Jackson and Brandon Gibson are seeing what is out there for them away from the team that drafted them.  Multiple time Pro Bowlers James Harrison and Charles Woodson looking for new teams as their careers begin the reach the “twilight years”.  Talented young cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Sean Smith are seeing how much teams value their services.  Menawhile talented veterans with some miles on their careers, Dwight Freeney, Adrian Wilson, Bernard Pollard and John Abraham, all looking for new homes after their old teams considered them “expendable”.  And of course, Greg Jennings and Ahmad Bradshaw are two former Pro Bowlers who have had injury issues in the past that are hanging over their heads as they search for new football homes.  The NFL landscape is constantly changing as the balance of power shifts as players pick new homes and teams have to worry about salary cap restrictions.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Monday Sports Round Up: Anquan Boldin, Percy Harvin, and New Jersey High School Basketball

"Back to work Monday" and its time for me to talk about whats on my mind in the sports world:

Anquan Boldin and Percy Harvin get traded to the NFC West

The Baltimore Ravens may have won the Super Bowl but the San Francisco 49ers just made sure they won’t repeat in one of the biggest steals in NFL history.  The Ravens traded Boldin to the reigning NFC Champions for a 6th round pick.  Yes, the Ravens trade a 3-time Pro Bowler who has seven receiving touchdowns in 11 playoff games and for his career has 772 receptions, 10, 165 receiving yards and 58 Touchdowns for a sixth round draft pick?!?  This is insane!  This comes on the same day that Ravens “franchise QB” Joe Flacco said “Without him, we don't win the Super Bowl. He's a huge part of this team and someone I want to see back” and his teammate Torrey Smith tweeted “This business is BS at times”.

Meanwhile, the 49ers rival in the NFC West the Seattle Seahawks traded a first round draft pick to the Minnesota Vikings for wide receiver Percy Harvin.  The deal is contingent on Harvin signing a contract extension.  Viking MVP Running Back Adrian Peterson reacted to the trade by stating: “The best all around player I ever seen or you'll ever see! Goes to Seattle! I feel like I just got kicked in the stomach. Several times!!!,"  Harvin, a one-time Pro Bowler who has dealt with physical issues over the last few years is still in his mid-20’s and has still not reached his potential yet.

So the question is why would two franchises trade two Wide Receivers who were very popular with their teammates, both former Pro Bowlers, get such drastically different forms of compensation in return?  There’s an old saying “A product is worth what you are willing to pay for it”.  The reason the Vikings got a first round pick in return for Harvin is because the Seahawks were willing to “overpay” for him.  I know Harvin is a super talent but even the Buccaneers in 1987 only received a second and fourth round draft picks from the 49ers for future NFL Hall of Famer Steve Young. 

On the flip side, Boldin is only in his early 30’s and is one of the top wide receivers in football yet Baltimore only got a sixth round draft choice for him.  Yet the Ravens traded a third and fourth round draft picks to the Arizona Cardinals in 2010 for Boldin, who at the time was the second best receiver on the Cardinals roster.  So when did Boldin’s value depreciate so rapidly?  I doubt that the best the Ravens could get in return for Boldin was a sixth round pick. 

The reality is that Smith is right, football is a business.  But even “good” business people make bad decisions.  The Ravens gave up a top tier wide receiver that is getting paid below market value salary for mediocre compensation while the Vikings traded away a top tier talent to the highest bidder.  The real winner in all of this is the 49ers while the biggest loser is the Ravens.  Funny how fast fortunes can change.  The Ravens won Super Bowl 47 with Anquan Boldin but they also enabled the 49ers to potentially become a dynasty by giving him to them and this all happened with the last six weeks!


Atlantic City High School Boys and Ocean City High School Girls win state titles

Congratulations to Atlantic City Boys and Ocean City Girls for their state championship wins on Sunday.  As both teams head in the New Jersey Tournament of Champions, each team has unique challenges ahead them but seasons that should be celebrated.

Ocean City won big on Sunday over Jefferson Township 50-37, the first time they have won a state title in school history.  It was truly a team effort as their star player Julia Duggan sat out most of the first half due to foul trouble.  Seniors Mary Kate Mateer and Natalie Landi both stepped up big for the Lady Red Raiders.  Mateer scored 14 points in the first half while Natalie Landi finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds.  Landi also hit a 30 foot 3 point at the buzzer as the 3rd Quarter ended that was like a dagger demoralizing Jefferson Township while energizing the Ocean City fans.

This is the ultimate team victory.  OCHS girls’ seniors step up this season after last years’ team failed to win the state title.  While last season’s team was more talented, this year’s Ocean City girls really came together as a unit and got stronger down the homestretch when they were forced to learn how to win without their star Julia Duggan.  Freshman Nicole Piergross and Olivia Briggs had big contributions throughout the season while senior Katie Johnson provided great leadership.

Atlantic City Boys’ road to winning a second consecutive state title was accomplished also when their guys came together as a team.  Head Coach Gene Allen got his team to buy into a system where he would play 10 players each game and would apply a full court press defense that I would refer to as “40 minutes of Hell-Light” (since the style reminded me of Nolan Richardson’s 1994 University of Arkansas team)  Many of the players for ACHS would have been star players if they were at other schools but Dayshawn Reynolds, Ga-Bril Chandler, Isiah Graves,  Dennis White, and Jahleem Montague all decided that winning a state title for the second straight season was more important than putting up big statistics from game to game.  Also, ACHS receive consistent contributions from players off the bench such as Tashard Reynolds, Dezja Chase, and Lamar Thomas all season long.  On Sunday Atlantic City came from behind and beat Linden High School 6-0-54, capping off a 29-1 season for the Vikings.

As both teams head into the New Jersey Tournament of Champions Ocean City Girls and Atlantic City Boys should take pride in their accomplishments this season.  For those unfamiliar with New Jersey’s setup, the easier comparison is the NJTOC is similar to the NCAA Basketball Tournament Elite 8.  Whether they either school wins or not, getting into the NJTOC is a major accomplishment.

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Friday Five: Derrick Rose, Kentucky Basketball, Steven Jackson, Nate Diaz and Knicks Dilemma

TGIF!  Time to get the weekend started with some quick sports thoughts to carry you through the weekend:

Derrick Rose says he is not ready even though doctors give him the "OK"

Some people are criticizing Chicago Bulls MVP Guard Derrick Rose for saying he isnt "mentally ready" to return.  Yes, he has been running in scrimmages with his team and, yes, the team doctors say his knee looks "great", but Rose is saying "no, not yet".  Rose has stated that when he can dunk off his left knee thats when he is ready to play again.
I do not blame Derrick for not rushing himself back.  I myself have had knee injuries and know it takes time to get over the injury mentally.  Physical rehab only gets a person so far, the next step is to mentally step out.  The Bulls dont want Rose sprinting down court on a fast break and him stoping or second guess himself because he wonders "what happens if I jump and I come down on the wrong angle and my knee buckles?" 

That mental barrier is something Rose must overcome before returning to NBA game action.  He has been a tough player during his basketball career in the NBA and college.  For explosive athletes like Rose, knee injuries mess with you head because you feel "vulnerable" and "weak" when you are use to feeling "tough" and "strong".  Give him time, he will atleast be back next season.  Worst case scenario he comes back before he is completely ready and gets hurt, again.

“I’m so disappointed in the job I’ve done with this team" - Head Coach John Calipari, Kentucky Men;s Basketball Coach

A record of 20-10 is nothing to be ashamed of but since the injury to Nerlens Noel, who tore his ACL on February 12th, this team has a record of 3-4 and are at risk of possibly not making it back to the NCAA Tournament.  Some of the "experts" claimed this group of freshman recruited by Calipari was one of his best recruiting classes.  Yet, they lose one player, all of a sudden they are struggling to win games!

I have to respect Coach Calipari for taking the blame on himself.  He has in the past had a way of getting his players to play up to their talent and potential.  This season, even before Noel got injured, they still had lost games they should have won (Alabama and Texas A&M).  This idea that kids can go to college for a year, be a winning team, then go pro is a bad idea for the college basketball game and brand.  The sad part is the mess at Kentucky wont stem the tide of "One-And-Done" kids using college as a stepping ladder to the pros, but it may hurt Calipari's brand when recruiting new kids.  Some will say "That National Title team didnt win because of their coach but because those kids were just that good together."  Even coaches need to grow and evolve, may Calipari needs to do self-evaluation and I think he is capable of doing so.

Steven Jackson: "Im a starter, not a backup"

The former Rams Running Back has opted out of his contract and wants to go play somewhere to be a starter.  The Rams had him share playing time with Daryl Richardson in 2012.

I admire Jackson for coming out and saying what he is looking for.  I also respect Jackson for not demanding money but wanting playing time.  Jackson wants to win a title and he believes he can help a team win that title.  He has rushed for atleast 1,000 yards for eight straight seasons, including 2012.  He also has caught a minimum of 38 passes for the last eight years also, showing he is not a one dementional player.  Also, in his favor is the fact he is a big running back at 6'3" unlike some guys that are "aging" runners who are smaller guys.  I could see a guy like Jackson being a starter for teams like the Packers, Cowboys, Steelers, and Colts in 2013.

Nick Diaz Goes off during UFC Media Call

For those who do not follow Mixed martial Arts, the UFC is the top MMA organization in the world and before their Pay-Per-View events they have media conference calls.  UFC 158's Main Event next weekend is a major clash of personalities and fighting styles: UFC Welterweight Champion George St. Pierre versus former Strikeforce Welterweight Champion Nick Diaz.  St. Pierre, an excellent wrestler, athlete, and striker, will face Diaz, an excellent boxer and black belt in Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu.  Diaz was suppose to fight St. Pierre in 2011 but Diaz's "unprofessional" behavior led UFC President Dana White to remove Diaz from the fight.

Now Diaz gets his second chance at the champ and during the media conference call Diaz let all the world who was listening know how he feels about everything and anything.  He claimed he feels disrespected, said that he respects George but dislikes his "fake ****", said he deserves to fight St. Pierre, and he went off on every subject he was allowed to talk about.  Nick was so unpredictable and "real" instead of "polished" that George called him a "uneducated fool" which caused Nick to go off even more because those "be fightin' words".

The old saying is "styles make fights".  This is what is missing from the boxing world, two guys who are elite fighters who have contrasting personalities and fighting styles.  I suggest you listen to the audio from the media conference call here for full impact and some comedic entertainment: http://www.ufc.com/news/ufc-158-conference-call

New York Knicks Almost Beat the OKC Thunder....without Carmelo Anthony

The New York Knicks came down to the wire against the Oklahoma City Thunder and almost won at the final buzzer.  All without Carmelo Anthony.  Anthony, who is out with an injury, is considered the best player on the Knicks.  But Anthony is a great scorer who does not facilitate to make his teammates better or bring out the best in their games.

So the question now is are the Knicks better off unloading Anthony?  Well the numbers say that the Knicks are better with Carmello, as without him they only win 44.4 percent of their games.  The real problem with the Knicks isnt that Carmelo is a scorer, its that he does have the teammates around him to help make his team great.

When Anthony was at Syracuse University he had two talented players with him and they won a NCAA National title.  One of those player is someone Anthony has never had in the NBA: a clutch Point Guard who is a leader, James McNamara.  Anthony has Jason Kidd with the Knicks, but Kidd is near the end of his career and cant do what he use to do.  Anthony played with Andre Miller in Denver, but Miller isnt a scorer.  So the Knicks management needs to take one of two directions: put better complimentary talent around Anthony, not players who are getting older and who play same style as him or trade Anthony and rebuild the team.  Decisions must be made, especially since the Knicks are not making it to the NBA Finals this season.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Top Ten Thursday: Top Ten Scorers in NBA History

Every Thursday I will post a top ten list and this weeks top ten was inspired by the discussion by Colin Cowherd of ESPN Radio about Carmello Anthony.  He brought up a excellent point I have said for many years: a Great Scorer is different than a Great Player.  For example, Carmello Anthony is a great scorer, but LeBron James is a great player.  Great players can score but they also play defense, rebound, and make their teammates better.  Great Scorers can become Great Players, but the two are not the same, as you will see by my top ten list.  Some of the all time greats are on there, but some names you may not recognize or remember. 

To be on my list, here are my requirements: Must of scored an average of 20 points per game in atleast 9 seasons and have led the NBA in scoring atleast once.  This standard eliminates

*Carmelo Anthony (who never led the NBA in scoring but has averaged 20 plus per game 12 times)

*Julius Erving (Who led the ABA in scoring 3 times, not the NBA, averaged 20 plus per game nine times)

*Tracy McGrady (Only averaged 20 plus ppg eight times but led NBA in scoring twice)

*Earl Monroe (never led NBA in scoring and only averaged 20 plus seven times in his career)

*Rick Barry (Led the NBA in scoring once but only averaged 20 plus ppg eight times in the NBA, four times in the ABA)

So here is my list:

10. Bernard King

*Averaged 20 plus points per game: 11 seasons
*Led NBA in scoring: 1 time - 1984-1985
While many people remember Bernard King for his amazing playoff scoring output while he was a New York Knick, he averaged 20 plus points for four different teams (Nets, Knicks, Bullets, and Warriors).  King was not the most amazing scorer in NBA history but he was consistantly a scoring threat for over a decade.  Remember, we put guys in the Hall of Fame for longevity, so why not a place for these guys on a top ten list?

9. Alex English

*Averaged 20 plus points per game: 10 seasons
*Led NBA in scoring: 1 time - 1982-1983
For ten seasons Alex English was a Denver Nugget and for those ten years who was an electric scorer.  He gets overlooked in NBA history because he played for the Nuggets when they were a lackluster franchise in the 1980's.  Yet English was a eight time All-Star and was more than a great scorer, he was also a good rebounder and defender.  Of course being a "good" all around player gets you money and staying power in the NBA.

8. LeBron James

*Averaged 20 plus points per game: 10 seasons
*Led NBA in scoring: 1 time - 2007-2008
James has average 20 plus points every year he has been in the NBA!  There is only one other player on this list who has gone his entire career averaging 20 plus per game.  The story of James' career is still being written but a scoring title, 3 NBA MVP awards, and nine All-Star Game selections is a great resume to start with.

7. Shaquille O'Neal

*Averaged 20 plus points per game: 14 seasons
*Led NBA in scoring: 2 times - 1994-1995 and 1999-2000
When I think of Shaq, I think of a dominant center and one of the all time greats in NBA history. But along with being 15 time All-Star and 3-time NBA Finals MVP, O'Neal was a dominant scorer. He would be higher on my scoring list if it wasnt for injuries as his career came to a finish and mediocre free throw shooting through out his career. In his prime if Shaq wanted to score, none of his peers were stopping him. And thats the truth.

6. Kobe Bryant

*Averaged 20 plus points per game: 14 seasons
*Led NBA in scoring: 2 times - 2005-2006, 2006-2007
One of the reasons Kobe is a great all-time scorer is because he is one of the most competitive players in NBA history.  Kobe has this "switch" which allows him to score at will and he is one of the most clutch scorers in the game.  He also scored 80 plus points in a game.  He may end up higher on this list when his career is over and may finish top three all time in scoring in NBA history.

5. George Gervin

*Averaged 20 plus points per game: 9 seasons
*Led NBA in scoring: 4 times - 1977-1978, 1978-1979, 1979-1980, 1981-1982
"The Iceman" was a leathal scorer and gets overlooked at times because he played for the San Antonio Spurs and Chicago Bulls back in the day when the Spurs and Bulls never made deep playoff runs.  He is one of the few players who was able to translate his game from being a dominant ABA star to being a great scorer in the NBA also. 

4. Allen Iverson

*Averaged 20 plus points per game: 14 seasons
*Led NBA in scoring: 4 times - 1998-1999, 2000-2001, 2001-2002, 2004-2005
The smallest player on this list is also one of the most prolific scorers in NBA history.  Iverson found numerous ways to score and he was able to do so even when his team had no other scoring option but him.  Everyone knew Iverson was going to score and defenses still couldnt stop him many times.  Being a steal master on defense also helped add to his threat as a scorer because of his blazing speed in transition.  Iverson also crossed up the legendary Michael Jordan and then scored on a jumper.  How many other players in NBA history can say "I crossed up Jordan and scored"?

3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

*Averaged 20 plus points per game: 17 seasons
*Led NBA in scoring:  2 times - 1970-1971, 1971-1972
The All time leading scorer in NBA history is not just because of longevity, it was because he had the ultimate weapon for player over seven feet tall: the Skyhook.  With that famous shot and his prowess for scoring, Kareem was more than a great scorer, he was dominant in an era with numerous talented big men attempting to stop him.  He also has the most 20 plus ppg seasons in NBA history on his resume.

2. Wilt Chamberlin

*Averaged 20 plus points per game: 14 seasons
*Led NBA in scoring: 7 times - 1959-1960, 1960-1961, 1961-1962, 1962-1963, 1963-1964, 1964-1965, 1965-1966
If leading the league in scoring for 7 straight years isnt amazing enough, Wilt averaged a minimum of 30 points per game nine times!  One of the greatest basketball players to ever play the game was such a prolific scorer the rules were changed to stop him.  From the NCAA banning dunking in the collegiate game to the Five Seconds In the Paint rule in the NBA, players and rules committees all tried to stop Wilt from scoring.  Instead of stopping Chamberlin, he found new ways to score each year.

1. Michael Jordan

*Averaged 20 plus points per game: 11 seasons
*Led NBA in scoring: 10 times - 1986-1987, 1987-1988, 1988-1989, 1989-1990, 1990-1991, 1991-1992, 1992-1993, 1995-1996, 1996-1997, 1997-1998
The man who is known by many as the "Greatest Of All time" was also the greatest scorer.  He led the NBA in scoring ten times, averaged minimum of 30 points per game ten times, and had numerous game winning shots through out his career.  He was the most competitive and driven man in NBA history and that attitude allowed him to score against all odds and see openings in defenses that other players never thought of.  Jordan was more than a great scored, he scored whenever he wanted.  Even at age 39, Michael was averaging 20 points per game.

Honorable Mentions for Great NBA Scorers: Jerry West (13 seasons 20+ ppg), Dominique Wilkins (13 seasons 20+ ppg), Dwayne Wade (9 seasons 20+ ppg), Pete Maravich (8 seasons 20+ ppg), Kevin Durant (6 seasons 20+ ppg)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Catholic 7, Mark Teixeira, & Darrell Revis: Sports Quick Hits for 3-6-13

As I write this blog post, the winds sound bad outside but I still have power and I am safe, thank God!  So, lets distract ourselves from the miserable weather of the northeast and talk some sports.

The "Catholic Seven" Get Even

While it is not official, the break up of the conference known as the Big East has crossed its biggest hurdle: money.  While the Big East was trying to keep up with the changing college sports landscape by adding more high profile football schools it was neglecting the historic roots of its basketball members.  With schools such as Syracuse, Rutgers, Norte Dame, and Pittsburgh leaving for "greener pastures" the Big East's "answer" to this was to replace these staples of the Big East with schools such as Temple, Navy, Memphis and Houston.  While all of these schools coming into the Big East have solid athletic programs, this really hurt the conference in their negotiations for a new TV contract.  Getting left out in the cold were the schools known as "The Catholic Seven".  Georgetown, St. John's, Villanova, Seton Hall, Providence, Marquette and DePaul are well known for their basketball tradition and basketball is the major financial athletic programs at those schools, not football.  So these seven universities have set the ground work to leave and create their own athletic conference.  But here's the kicker: its going to be called the "Big East" and they get to play their conference tournament at Madison Square Garden.  Also, these seven schools get to keep all money generated by their athletic programs for receiving bids to the NCAA tournament.

To all of this I say, good for them!  While college football is a major money maker for numerous universities, to neglect other schools in a conference for the sake of football and tv money is poor management by the Big East.  So now the "Catholic 7" get to keep the rights to the name of the Big East and keep the "basketball mecca" in New York City as their conference tournament home as a consolation prize.  Of course, the "left over" schools are going to make out well too.  Cincinnati, South Florida and Connecticut will receive a large portion of the exit fees being paid by the colleges leaving the Big East. 

So keep all of this in mind the next time you hear a politician or university president talk about how "this is about the kids" because we all know, its really about the money!

Mark Teixeira has a wrist injury, again

As a former high school athlete who suffered a serious wrist injury, I can understand what Mark Teixeira is going through.  He had to pull out of the World Baseball Classic after he injured his wrist during a batting practice session.  While reports claim he will miss 8 to 10 weeks, even when he is healthy again he has to get his swing back. 

Teixeira's wrist injury will probably haunt him for the rest of his career.  I played baseball in high school and some in college.  With a past wrist injury it will always affect your swing.  The speed of a baseball swing is in the wrist, all great hitters preach this in books and baseball camps.  For a really good hitter like Mark this will be a problem cause if his wrist does not heal or he does not rehab properly it will hamper his ability to hit for average.  I specifically focus on his average cause for his career Teixeira was a .302 career hitter before the last two seasons.  In 2011 and 2012 he had a batting average of .248 and .251.  This is a major drop off.  His power wont drop as much because the base of a hitters power is in the torque produced by his hips and the strength in his shoulders to generate the inertia.  The more torque and inertia is generated through a hitter's bat when he makes contact will determine how hard the ball is hit and how far it could potentially travel.

I know from personal experience that a wrist injury can forever affect one as a hitter.  While as a kid in little league I was a good hitter.  But after my wrist injury at 14 years old my swing was never the same.  When I made good contact I was able to generate some good hits and some power.  But my wrist was never the same in maintaining balance for an even swing through the zone.  I hope for Mark Teixeira's sake he is able to recover from this injury because he still has the potential for atleast a few really good seasons.  Only time will tell how much his wrist problems will hold him back.

Makes the Yankees wonder about their 100 plus million dollar investment in a few offseasons ago.

Darrelle Revis and his football future

Recovering from a major injury is always a fight uphill for any athlete.  But Darrelle Revis has more to worry about than just his rehab: where will he play next season?  The New York Jets have said all the right things in public, but behind the scenes they are shopping their Pro Bowl star.  Revis, who is considered one of the top Cornerbacks in football, is available to the highest bidder.  The Buccaneers have the cap room and the need for a top notch cornerback.  Some think he may end up with the 49ers because San Francisco has a plethora of draft picks to make a major offer..  There is also speculation that the Falcons would want to aquire Revis since they released Dunta Robinson and they need another ball-hawk in their defense secondary opposite of Asante Samuel.  The possibility for a Revis-For-Dummervil deal is a popular rumor and would work without either the Jets or Broncos under the salary cap.

But a bigger question for Revis is how will he perform in a new enviroment.  He has been a Jet his whole career and has played for defensive minded head coaches such as Rex Ryan and Eric Mangini.  Where ever Revis ends up people should lower their expectations for him because aside from coming off a major injury, he will need time to adjust to his new teammates, new defensive scheme, and a new football enviroment.  While I have no doubt Revis has the drive, work ethic and talent to excel with any NFL team, he may need some time to adjust.  The 2013 season may not be the best for Darrelle Revis, but expect him to bounce back and have a great 2014 season for sure, just to prove to his peers and competition he still has what it takes to be the best cornerback in the NFL.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Joe Flacco, Britney Griner, LeBron James: Sports Quick Hits for 3-5-2013

Instead of “pontificating” in articles about sports topics, I thought sharing my thoughts in a “pithy” fashion would be more interesting, since I certainly don’t want to take 25 minutes out of my day to read a long blog post either.  So here we go:


Joe Flacco Gets paid

I am a Baltimore Ravens but enough is ENOUGH about “Is Joe Flacco an elite QB” or “Did he deserve 120 million dollars”.  Lets be realistic, there are atleast ten NFL teams that if they are honest about their circumstances they would immediately take Joe Flacco and have him as their starting QB.  We can all agree Joe Flacco is not one of the top four quarterbacks in the NFL (Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees).  So where does that leave Flacco?  Well from 2008-2012 Joe Flacco has more passing yards than Jay Cutler (17,633), fewer interceptions than Matt Ryan, Eli Manning, Jay Cutler, and Eli Manning (56), and more regular season wins than Ben Roethlisberger, Rivers, Cutler, and Eli Manning (54).  On top of all of this, Flacco has been sacked 174 times, that is more than Rivers, Cutler,Eli  Manning, and Ryan but he has never led the NFL in interceptions, unlike Eli, Philip, or Jay.

So while I would not have payed Flacco 120 million over 6 years, he can definitely be considered a top 10 quarterback in the NFL today.  And for Baltimore fans, Flacco throwing 11 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, and winning Super Bowl might as well qualify him for the Hall of Fame considering the collection of “weak sauce” who have started at QB for the purple and black: Kyle Boller, Jeff Blake, Chris Redman, Anthony Wright, Elvis Grbac, and Tony Banks.  Also, there’s no more need for “We miss Trent Dilfer, what happened to that guy anyway? Remember when he was our Quarterback?” discussions.

Britney Griner is a living legend

She scored 50 points last night, a conference single game record.  She is on her way to the top three of every women’s college basketball statistical category.  She is 6’8” and is one of the most dominant female athletes in the history of sports.  But seriously, I do not care how she would do playing “against the boys” because that’s like comparing apples and lettuce!  Lets instead put her amazing college career into historical perspective by finding a male basketball comparison.  How about Wilt Chamberlin?  People forget how dominant while still raw Wilt was when he played for the University of Kansas decades ago.  While still learning how to maximize his skills, Chamberlin was a man among boys while playing in college.  Britney Griner is in college and she will be going pro and in the WNBA she will develop more and get better.  A scary thought for her future competition.  Unlike Wilt, there is no woman’s equivalent to Bill Russell playing in the WNBA who could slow down Griner.


Stop Trying to compare LeBron James to every NBA legend to quantify him

If LeBron James retired tomorrow he could be considered one of the greatest basketball players of all time.  So I do not understand the obsession with comparing him to Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson, and Oscar Robertson.  James is a special, unique athlete and a basketball player who has unique skills and natural abilities.  The closest comparison to James is Magic since they are both tall players who play like smaller guards.  But when I hear people say “Magic is a better leader and player than James could ever be” is a real insult to people’s intelligence.   Lets get some perspective:

When Magic was 20 years old, he helped lead his team to the NBA Finals and won his first title.  He was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers, a franchise with a rich history of great NBA players.  He also won a National title while playing in college.  On that Lakers roster Magic player with two NBA Hall of Famers (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jamaal Wilkes) and one of the top defensive guards of the 1980’s (Michael Cooper).
When LeBron was 22 years old, he helped lead his team to the NBA Finals and lost.  He was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers, a franchise with a mediocre basketball history.  He never played in college, went straight from high school to the pros.  On that Cavs roster that season there was NO hall of fame players, instead James had an oft-injured yet talented center (Zydrunas Ilgauskas), a hard working forward (Anderson Verajo), and three former first round picks who never played up to expectations (Larry Hughes, Drew Gooden, and Donyell Marshall).

So, I say again, stop comparing LeBron to others and trying to decided how good he is and how other players were “better” than him.  James is a great player and we should just respect how talented and special a basketball player he is. 
As a side note, Im not a “LeBron fan”.  Instead, Im a Dwayne Wade fan.  Just laying all my cards on the table.