Wednesday, March 31, 2010

National League: First Pitch

National League Predictions: The NL is as closed off as it has ever been. The McCourts are turning the L.A. Dodgers into a reality show built for Hollywood. The Cubs & Mets are about as tired as their payrolls and fan bases. Till the phenom Steven Strasburg arrives in D.C., we don't have much to look forward to in the National League. Get After it . .

National League West Colorado Rockies. No shock here, winning the Wild Card a season ago, the Rockies aim to take the next step in 2010. While their bullpen may take time to come together, due to injuries to both Huston Street and Rafael Betancourt, the Rockies have a ton of talent to get them through. Starting right-handed pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez has shown strides in each of his first three full seasons. Jimenez improved in strikeouts and earned run average each year from 2007 through last season. Between 16-game winner Jorge De La Rosa and Jimenez, the Rockies have a solid one to punch in the NL West. The Rockies offense will lean heavily on of course the veteran Todd Helton but also young sluggers Brad Hawpe (23 HR's, .285) and Troy Tulowitzki (.297, 32 HR's). The core of this team is no joke, and they've been to a World Series, how soon we forget.

National League Central St. Louis Cardinals. We said it on The Podcast, in last year's season preview, and we'll say it again this year, as long as Albert Pujols is a Cardinal, they've got a shot every season. While Albert is good for his 30 homers and 120+ RBI while hitting at a .330 clip every year, he isn't the only reason the Cardinals have been successful in recent years. After turning in career years last season, Cardinals starters Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter give St. Louis a great reason to expect big things this season as well. Both starters had earned run averages south of 2.70 and struck out over 140 batters. As for the Cardinals pen, closer Ryan Franklin is coming off the best season of his 10 years in the majors, a season which he saved 38 games in 44 chances. Yet pitching aside, it still comes back to Pujols. With a legitimate hitter behind him in Matt Holliday, the Cardinals slugger is going to see some pitches to swing at, and judging by Holliday's monster second half after being acquired by the Cardinals, they know exactly how to attack National League pitching. Stay healthy, the Cardinals will win 90+.

National League East Philadelphia Phillies. Back to back World Series appearances, and now they add the games best pitcher? When Philadelphia added Roy Halladay this offseason, a pitcher who notched 37 wins over the past two seasons, the National League got real scared. For a pitcher whose been pitching in the American League East over the past 12 years, the National League is going to make Doc feel like he died and went to heaven. The City of Brotherly Love went from a laughing stock runner-up franchise to the best franchise in the National League very quickly. Between Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, a ton of depth, the Phillies look just as good as they have each of the last two seasons. Hoping that Cole Hamels can return to the form he was two seasons ago, the Phillies will trot out two big-time starting aces who can compete with any staff in both leagues.

National League Wild Card Atlanta Braves. The Braves are about as much of a sleeper as their highly hyped 20-year old rookie center fielder, Jason Heyward. Who does legendary Braves manager Bobby Cox compare to Heyward to? Try Hank "F******" Aaron! Everyone in the organization is raving about this kid, to the point that Cox claims Heyward is so good that his rookie season will do more than make an impact on this team. Aside from the excitement surrounding Heyward, the Braves are led by the veteran Chipper Jones who is looking to send Bobby Cox out with one last run on the Braves bench. Brian McCann, Nate McLouth, and Martin Prado are about to lead the Atlanta Braves on a deep run this season toward a playoff spot. If Tim Hudson's Spring Training display is a sign of things to come, the Braves may not even miss 15-game winner a season ago, Javier Vasquez whose now a Yankee, again.

National League MVP Albert Pujols. Why pick anyone else? Pujols will have another monster year in which he puts up mind bending stats. He gets a full season with Matt Holliday in his lineup, the same Matt Holliday who came over in a trade and watched his OPS rise nearly .200 in the jump from the AL to NL. An MVP in 2010 would be his third straight and fourth in six years. Safe bet.

National League Cy Young Roy Halladay. Is it as easy as saying Halladay's jump from the rough and tumble American League East to the National League will result in 5-10 more victories? Maybe. However, I'm going to say that Halladay has been waiting to be on a contender for a long time and he's the type of bulldog pitcher who will show up in a big way. Make no bones about it, Roy Halladay is the best pitcher in the game.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Indianapolis Bound

A Final Four staple, the best in the ACC, the slighted number two seed, and of course a team headed back to their home state to play for a National Title. After four games between Saturday and Sunday, four games that left us speechless, the Final four is set and it couldn't be more exciting.

From the Midwest Region, the Michigan State Spartans (5). Back to the Final Four, a familiar place for Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo. Since 1999 the Spartans have reached the Final Four six times, and this might be their most impressive. Coming out of the Midwest Region, a region which included Kansas, Ohio State, Georgetown, Maryland, Tennessee, Oklahoma State and tournament darling Northern Iowa, yet at the end of the day only Izzo and the Spartans remain standing. What else is left to say about Tom Izzo? Losing a starting point guard with plenty of time left against Maryland, State shrugs off the Terrapins, Northern Iowa, and Tennessee without missing a beat. It wasn't easy for the Spartans, winning each game of the tournament by an average of just 3.25 points, the Spartans were tested. Yet with moments remaining in their 70-69 victory over a Volunteer team that had become used to knocking off teams just as good as Michigan State, the Spartans watched Raymar Morgan bury a go-ahead free throw and punch their ticket to Indy. Say what you will about the Big 10 Conference, but it's about time we stop overlooking Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans, at least in March that is.

From the West Region, the Butler Bulldogs (5). This will be the last season you call Butler a mid-major. With the Butler Bulldogs reaching the Final Four, going through both Syracuse and Kansas State to get there this weekend, they can no longer be considered a Cinderella. Winning 24 straight games, with their last loss being on December 22nd, Butler is a serious contender to cut down the nets in Indianapolis and stun the basketball nation. Led by sophomore guard Gordon Hayward, Butler dispatched of an exhausted Kansas State team and did it in tough fashion. Each of the past two games, against both 'Cuse and K-State, Butler watched a late lead slip away only to come roaring back and take a victory away from top seeded teams. The Horizon League champs aren't a team who just got hot and played it out over the two week stretch of the Big Dance, they've been preparing for this all season long. Scheduling non-conference games with fellow tournament teams Georgetown, Clemson, Minnesota, oh and fellow Sweet 16 teams, Ohio State and Xavier, both of whom they defeated in the regular season. This 32-win team is no Cinderella, they're a quality team who has quality wins to go with it, and it just so happens this this year they broke through, joining Xavier and Gonzaga as tournament heavy-weights from Non-Big Time conferences.

From the East Region, the West Virginia Mountaineers (2). Bob Huggins and West Virginia left no doubt about it, they should have been a top seed in this tournament, and proved it on Saturday night. The 7-point victory which featured one of the poorest shooting performances, just 16-29, for the Kentucky Wildcats, punched the Mountaineers ticket. With near-consensus top pick John Wall on the floor, it was West Virginia's Da'Sean Butler who stole the show. The 6'7" senior scored 18 points including 4 three-pointers in 40 minutes pulling down 6 rebounds in the process. Four starters in double figures, the Mountaineers are one of the most balanced teams in the country. Guard Joe Mazzulla had another great game pouring in 17 points. For all that has been said about teams from The Big East not showing up in this tournament and much was valid, West Virginia did in a big way. Winners of the Big East Conference Tournament who now find themselves preparing to play for a hopeful National Title, West Virginia is perhaps the best team remaining. For Bob Huggins who hasn't been on this stage in over 15 years, this is his second program to lead to this point and it puts him in rare air. Can West Virginia win it all and bring a title back to Morgantown, simple answer, Yes.

From the South Region, the Duke Blue Devils (1). The Blue Devils shouldn't have any doubters remaining after dropping a hyped up athletic Baylor team. On the backs of Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer who shot 9 for 16 from behind the arc to combine for 49 points, the Blue Devils advance to the Final Four. Listening to the all the hype surrounding fellow number one seeds, Kentucky, Kansas, and Syracuse, the Blue Devils are the only top seed remaining and deservedly so. As we said before, Scheyer is still one of the more underrated players in college basketball, he displays everything Duke is and the reason they are in the Final Four. With five rebounds and four assists, the Blue Devils senior guard again did all the little things and kept the Blue Devils alive throughout this tournament. With Coach K, what else can be said? He's got the Blue Devils back in it and playing for a national title. As down on the ACC as everyone was this year, Duke knocked off Cal from the PAC 10, Purdue from the Big 10, and finally Baylor from the Big 12. No one is down on the Blue Devils going forward, no one.

Thanks for reading as always.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Order Restored

Cinderella, please report to the team bus: Game Over! Tournament darlings Cornell, Northern Iowa, and St. Mary's return to the storybook they came from, and names like Farokhmanesh and Samhan fade, order has been restored heading into the 'Elite Eight.' Less than twelve hours before tip-off on Saturday afternoon, it's time we bite off our piece of the tourney . . .

Getting After It

If this was American Idol, the judges would use their power and bring back Jordan Crawford and the Xavier Musketeers. Led by their sophomore guard, Xavier pushed the second seeded Kansas State Wildcats to two overtimes and within seconds of the tournament brink. Not since Jake LaMotta have we seen someone take as many hits as Xavier took and not fall over. Guard Terrell Holloway buried three game tying free throws in one of the most pressure packed situations you could fathom. Down 87-84 with seconds remaining in the first overtime, Crawford nails a game tying three-pointer. For two halves and two overtimes, rarely did Xavier not come out fighting every time the bell rang. Combining for 58 points, Holloway and Crawford strapped the Musketeers to their back and refused to quit in one of the most exciting games we've seen. In a losing effort, none was more impressive than Xavier, hats of in their first season of the post-Sean Miller era.

I've said it three times now, Bruce Pearl's Tennessee Volunteers are the only team which can boast wins against both Kansas and Kentucky this season, so why are you shocked their in the 'Elite Eight'? Add the 29-win Buckeyes to their hit list. Watching the Volunteers up close in this tournament your left thinking just one thing, they're as good as anyone. Led by senior Wayne Chism, Tennessee plays with a chip on their shoulder and the swagger of a team that fears no opponent. Sound like another SEC team? As Ohio State and Evan Turner watched their Final Four dreams fall short on Friday night, Tennessee advanced to the furthest their program has ever been. Out rebounding Ohio State 36-23 gave Volunteer "bigs" Chism and Brian Williams a ton of second chance opportunities, something they've been doing all year long. If Bruce Pearl has been waiting all season for this team to mature, they are doing it at the best possible moment. After smacking down two straight schools from the state of Ohio, Tennessee takes aim at traditional tournament heavyweight Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans. Yes, they might just be headed to Indianapolis.

The legend grows in Lansing, doubt Tom Izzo in the NCAA Tournament? Never again. As the CBS brass sat on pins and needles dreading a Northern Iowa Final Four appearance, the Spartans took care of business. Down one near 15 ppg. guard, Michigan State shook off the doubters and sent Northern Iowa packing just one week removed from their upset victory over the top seed Kansas Jayhawks. Durrell Summers and backup guard Korie Lucious picked up the Spartans and outscored Northern Iowa guards 29-12. At this point, who is going to bet against Michigan State when it comes to big time tourney games? They don't lose. In the wake of their buzzer beating victory over Greivis Vasquez and the Maryland Terrapins a week ago, almost immediately people were hitching themselves to Northern Iowa given the injury to Spartan stud guard Kalin Lucas. Now what do you do? A surprise Final Four appearance a season ago, and now on the cusp of returning, Michigan State is cementing themselves as THE tournament heavyweight, if they aren't already. Quick note: The Spartans success can be directly linked to their play on the glass. Michigan State has out rebounded each of their tournament opponents to a combined total of 103-73, for you math majors that's 30 more rebounds than their competition. Ball game.

How good is Duke guard, Jon Scheyer? Clearly he doesn't garner the same respect as players like Kentucky's John Wall or Ohio State's Evan Turner, but after watching Scheyer take control on Saturday night, he has left me wondering. Is Scheyer as good as I'm beginning to think? The 4-year Blue Devil could be dubbed Mr. Intangible. He can handle the ball, slow the game down, pass, rebound, and scores when he needs to. In their win over Purdue, Scheyer did a little of everything. Five rebounds, including four defensive boards, four assists, eighteen points, and a steal. What can't he do? Scheyer's impact on the game is immeasurable. Friday night was just a regular night for a player who averages 18 points, 5 assists, and 4 rebounds a night, these are the games he turns in. No matter where Duke plays, they're the most hated team on the floor, similar to the Yankees, Lakers, and Cowboys, Duke is the college basketball equivalent and Scheyer loves every minute of it. The more we sleep on Duke and Jon Scheyer, the more dangerous they grow and based on their careful disection of both Cal and Purdue in this tournament, they are growing quick. Seconds left, National Championship on the line, my ball is in the hands of Jon Scheyer, nuff said.

Calipari v. Huggins, Whoa! Did the committee have this match up in mind when they seeded the Syracuse Regional? The SEC Champs v. The Big East Champs, John Wall v. Da'Sean Butler, and John Calipari v. Bob Huggins, two of the games finest. When West Virginia (2) squares off against Kentucky (1) let the fireworks begin. Anytime the winner of a game becomes the favorite to win the National Title, I'm all in and that's where we're at. Neither of these two have had much in the way of a close call throughout the entire tournament. To get to this point, both West Virginia and Kentucky have all but cruised to victories. Kentucky dismantled any hopes Cornell had of advancing with a 17-point victory. West Virginia handled Washington with a 13-point victory. The only region that comes down to a (1) v. (2) is bound to give us a great game. Calipari looking to reach the Final Four in his first year in Lexington and Huggins looking to lead his Alma Mata to the Final Four. Both of these programs are about to reach the next level on the games biggest of stages.


Salt Lake City Regional: Butler will crash the Final Four party, Kansas State suffers the wear and tear of Thursday night less than 48 hours later.

St. Louis Regional: Tennessee cuts down the nets and heads to Indianapolis leaving Michigan State in their path. Wayne Chism shows up yet again in a big way.

Houston Regional: Baylor knocks off the Blue Devils, on Friday night the camera flashed to former tourney hero Bryce Drew in the crowd watching his brothers Baylor Bears shut down St. Mary's. It's a sign, Baylor is the team of destiny.

Syracuse Regional: West Virginia drops John Calipari and the Wildcats of Kentucky. You don't leave two programs with vacated victories and go unpunished by the basketball gods.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

How Sweet It Is

Down Goes Frazier! Down Goes Frazier! Or in this case, the Kansas Jayhawks. When the Northern Iowa Panthers stunned the number one overall seed on Saturday night, the scramble began. With the Jayhawks out of the picture and the Sweet 16 set, who will step up and take over?

The Favorites

Judging by the way the (1) Kentucky Wildcats and (1) Syracuse Orange played post-Jayhawk exit, they smell blood in the water. Kentucky roared out of the gate smashing Wake Forest to the tune of a 30-point blowout. On Sunday morning, the Orange tipped off against Gonzaga and never looked back beating the bulldogs by twenty-two points. Kentucky's super freshman John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins showed up in a big way. Wall scored 14 points and added 7 assists while Cousins scored 19 points to go with his eight rebounds. While leading Syracuse to a blowout victory, Big East player of the year Wes Johnson scored an eye-popping 31 points and got 14 rebounds. For two of the three remaining top seeds, nothing proved they were ready for a National Championship run like a blowout victories this weekend. For Syracuse and Kentucky, their statement victories will put them in the front of anyones short list.

The Two's

While the Villanova Wildcats were knocked out on Saturday morning, they were the only (2) which saw the exit. (2) Kansas State, (2) West Virginia, and (2) Ohio State all advanced to the round of sixteen with big wins. As their in-state rival Jayhawks were bounced, Kansas State junior guard Jacob Pullen had other intentions. Pullen drilled seven three-pointers en route to a season-high 34 point performance. For the Mountaineers, on the back of their senior forward Da'Sean Butler, the same senior forward who led them to a Big East Tournament Championship, would watch him go off yet again and drop 28 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 assists. Then the Buckeyes, the team most elated with the fall of the mighty Jayhawks, would drop Georgia Tech in a tough game. Junior guard and possibly the best player in the country, Evan Turner, would dish out nine assists in the game and score 24 points. Led by great guard play and top scorers on each of these squads, the #2's advance to the second round with championship hopes in mind.

Because We Doubted Them

Strong programs, good seasons, and still we said they didn't have it. The (6) Tennessee Volunteers, the only team to bust up Kentucky and Kansas in the regular season are through. The (4) Purdue Boilermakers, without Robbie Hummel, are through. The Pac-10 Tournament Champs, the (11) Washington Huskies, are through with authority. The (5) Butler Bulldogs, who've been here before and know how to win, moved through. (6) Xavier Musketeers, the Atlantic-10 program which has reached their third Sweet 16 in a row, are back. The Michigan State Spartans (5), attempting to reach yet another Final Four, are through. Heading into next weekend, each one of these teams have proven they can win big games against teams in any conference under any circumstance. Purdue was forced to beat Texas A & M in overtime. Tennessee thumped an Ohio team which shocked Georgetown in the first round. Washington moved through a (3) seeded New Mexico team that many deemed a sleeper in this tournament. Xavier took down a Big East heavyweight in Pittsburgh, refusing to be denied. Michigan State saw their win against Maryland slip away only to steal it back in just seconds with no time remaining. Going to be tough to call any of these teams an easy out into the next round.

The Surprises

St. Mary's (10), Cornell (12), and Northern Iowa (9), you all have our attention now. St. Mary's led by 6'11" Omar Samhan pushed over a number two seeded Villanova squad as their center scored 32 points and flat out dominated. Cornell isn't any type of team to sleep on, shooting over 50% from the three-point line has helped the Big Red averaged nearly 85 points over the last two victories against Temple and Wisconsin. Then there is of course the biggest shocker because of what they did. The Northern Iowa Panthers defeated the Kansas Jayhawks by wall to wall out playing the overall top seed. Why not their next opponents? What is to stop St. Mary's from advancing? Can anyone stop Ryan Wittman and Louis Dale from Cornell? Is it possible Northern Iowa is just better than every team in this tournament and they proved it by dropping Kansas? Rock Chalk Panther, don't count these guys out just yet.

Still Sleeping?

How are (3) Baylor and (1) Duke on a crash course to play each other in the elite eight and still we're sleeping on them? It's easy, with teams like Syracuse and Kentucky sprinting up and down the court and outscoring their opponents by thirty points, and the Jayhawks being bounced, we did forget about Duke advancing yet again. Stud guard Jon Scheyer only scored seven points on Sunday, still Duke beats a tough Cal team who got a big win against Louisville in the first round. As for Baylor, with Villanova falling around them, LaceDarius Dunn and Tweety Carter combined for 38 points as they head into the Sweet 16 with a victory over Old Dominion. With St. Mary's up next, it's a big possibility they'll be exposed by the length and speed of Baylor, something the Gaels have yet to see. But still both teams are being slept on. One of these two will be in the Final Four come next Sunday night, we better wake up . . .

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Bracket Breakdown: West Region

The West Region is all about (1) Syracuse, and they open in Buffalo for pete sake. At this point, the Big East regular season champions can only get upset. It's Final Four or bust for Jim Boeheim's squad. With five players averaging 10 points a game or more, the Orange spread it around. The last week in February, the country decided to get on board with 'Cuse. They'd won four straight including a four point win at conference rival Georgetown, and also a blowout home win against a very good Villanova team, a game which proved how big and physical Syracuse could be. So who can slow them down? (Besides the injury to Arinze Onuaku, which has now become their excuse.)

(2) Kansas State Wildcats Led by two uppperclassmen guards, a key for K-State, the Wildcats are dangerous. Junior guard Jacob Pullen comes to play in big spots. Against Baylor in the Big 12 tourney, Pullen scored 26 points including five three-pointers and got to the free throw line to shoot ten free throws. Senior guard Denis Clemente is of the same caliber. Averaging 16 points per game on the season, Clemente shows up in big spots as well, 23 points in a road win in Lincoln, 30 at Iowa State, and 27 in Norman against the Sooners, all road wins for the Wildcats. Can this team beat a Big East team? If they play Pittsburgh before 'Cuse, you bet.

(11) Minnesota Golden Gophers Tubby Smith's team had to play tough to get into the tourney, but play tough they did. Sitting at 18-12 heading into their end of the season conference tournament, things weren't looking good for Coach Smith. Till his boys came to play and ripped off three straight wins including two against ranked Michigan State and ranked Purdue. Yes, they were dispatched by nearly thirty-points against Ohio State, but they have a quality coach in the big dance, and that matters. The conference tourney wasn't the only time Minnesota played well, they lost alot of close hard faught games, a 1-point loss at Purdue when Robbie Hummel was playing, a 3-point loss at Indiana, a 9-point loss against Ohio State, but this team is quality. Sophomore guard Devoe Joseph will have to be up for the task of playing in tight spots if they're going to get anywhere. Averaging nearly 15 points a game in the Big Ten tournament got them there, if they want to continue, they'll need more of the same from the Ontario bor guard.

(12) UTEP Miners Yes I said it. Now that everyone has gone ahead and jumped on board, here's why. The Miners have played against good opponents this year and done well. They jumped all over Memphis and played both BYU and Texas Tech tough. I understand that Butler is a tournament tested team and for them to win that first round game would shock a few people, but they are capable. With just three underclassmen, the Miners are loaded with veteran players who been playing together for a while. Junior guard Randy Culpepper, who has a game this season which he went off for 39 points including nine three-pointers! Smell tournament upset yet? Big man Derrick Caracter, the junior forward 6'9" forward who has had at least eight games in the last two months where he pulled down at least eight rebounds, including three where he went over 12 boards a game. The Miners have Sweet 16 upset bid writte all over them.

(3) Pittsburgh Panthers In mid-February this pick looked much better. Pitt had won five straight games including two huge victories against a 4th ranked West Virginia squad and 3rd ranked Villanova team, don't forget they caught a Marquette team in their own building as well. However, since February 24th they themselves got caught into the Notre Dame game, slow it down and play halfcourt and the Panthers showed their weaknesses. So why is Pitt on a short list of teams that can knock off the top seeded Orange? Because they already have once this season. On January 2nd, the Panthers went up to the Carrier Dome and handed the Orange a ten point loss on their turf. Guards Ashton Gibbs and Jermaine Dixon went for a combined 45-points that night and cruised to a late game victory. In their victory against West Virgina it was Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker who stepped up scoring a combined 48-points. Think Pitt has what it takes now? Head coach Jamie Dixon has big time Tourney experience after their elite eight run a season ago, if they want to take it one step further, it'll have to go through 'Cuse to do it.

The West Region isn't as up for grabs as some would lead you to believe. While the Orange may have to open without Arinze Onuaku, they've got other players all over the floor. Including junior forward Wes Johnson, who may be heading into his final showcase for NBA scouts everywhere. Including Andy Rautins, the senior guard who has at times shown his ability to go off, in back to back road wins against Georgetown and Providence, Rautins went for 26 and 28 respectively. The 'Cuse are in charge of this West Region, but they'll need some big time players to return to where they were just weeks ago.

Bracket Breakdown: South Region

Can the (1) Duke Blue Devils, a top seed, be underrated? The Blue Devils never lost at Cameron Indoor this season. Their worst loss? At North Carolina State, a non-tournament team which does have victories over not only the Blue Devils, but tournament hopefuls Wake Forest, Florida State, and Marquette. Since January 30th the only contest the "Dukies" dropped was a seven point loss at Georgetown. Easily the most unlikeable team in the country, they also seem to be the team everybody is considering dead. A 29-win conference tournament and regular season champion underrated? You bet. That's the story of the South Region.

Stand Up Big East Foes: Between (9th) seeded Louisville, (6th) seeded Notre Dame, and of course (2nd) seeded Villanova, the committee has decided Duke is going to have to earn this one the hard way, against the Big East.

Starting with (2)'Nova, they've lost 6 of 10 heading into the tournament. A season removed from their Final Four run, the Wildcats still have horses in the stable. Leading Jay Wright's Wildcats is Scottie Reynolds, the senior guard having career highs in both points per game and field goal percentage. For 'Nova to get back to the Final Four, they'll need monster play from Reynolds, like his 36-point outburst at Louisville on January 11th.

As for the (6) Irish, it'll take more than the 'eyes of March' for them to dance on. More specifically, it'll take them forcing opponents to play their style of basketball, which not many can do. Keep the points down, the game close, and play halfcourt basketball. For Notre Dame to win, they've got to play within themselves, with a month leading up to the tourney, the Irish did just that. Wins against ranked Pittsburgh and ranked Georgetown were the result of that exact style of basketball. Since February 24th, Notre Dame outscored opponents on average 62-54. A stretch which saw them win six of seven including a heart breaking 53-51 loss to West Virginia in the Big East Tournament. In their three games prior, the Irish were giving up 83 per and lost each one. See a pattern?

Then there is Rick Pitino and (9) Louisville. They're streaky, very streaky. At times this season, Pitino's squad played up to their competition, hence the two victories against (1) seeded Syracuse including a 6-point win in the Carrier Dome. Then there are the losses to Charlotte and Western Carolina? With just five upper classmen, the Cardinals are loaded with younger players. Younger playes which include sophomore Samardo Samuels, the 6'9" forward who scores about 15 points per game and pulls down 7 boards a night. The question marks surround senior guard Edgar Sosa. In his final year at Louisville, Sosa is turning the ball over almost three times a night. That loss against Western Carolina, Sosa turned the ball over seven times. That being said, Pitino's teams can win big games and are most definately not an easy out.

(3) Baylor Lays In The Cut:

Wouldn't this be the story of the year? Woudln't the (3) seed Baylor reaching the Final Four be a fantastic story? Yes, and that is why every analyst this side of the Mississippi River is stealing the pick from me. The writing is on the walls in Waco, Texas. Baylor is a team which has gone out of conference to beat a tough Xavier team, they've beaten Texas both in Austin, in Waco and on a neutral floor, and they tacked a loss to Oklahoma State as well. Think this team is ready to take the leap? This Baylor Bears team is stacked with long and athletic talent. Four players at least 6'9" or taller including two 7-footers. Ekpe Udoh, one of those 6'10" big men, is averaging 13 points and nearly 10 boards a game. This Michigan transfer put down twenty five points and eight rebounds in Baylors most recent beatdown of the Longhorns. With their height and great guard play, from LaceDarius Dunn (19.4 ppg), Baylor was the sleeper till everyone jumped on board in the past week. If Baylor can get past Notre Dame, their road gets even brighter, being the biggest and most athletic team in the South Region.

Can He Who Sleeps Go Dancing?:

Between Richmond (7), St. Mary's (10), and Siena (13) we've got a few teams who can find their way into the Sweet 16 without luck. Richmond is a 26-8 team who dared go to Wake Forest and play the Demon Deacons tough into overtime. They've beaten Atlantic-10 top seeds Temple and Xavier. With a win over St. Mary's and an upset over 'Nova, the Spiders would be through to the Sweet 16. For that St. Mary's team, they took it to the Pac-10 this season. The Gaels dropped both Oregon and California en route to a tournament birth. Furthermore, they gave Gonzaga a 19-point loss in the conference tourney, the first in nine games against the Bulldogs in recent years. Their best performance may have been forcing a 2nd place in the SEC Vanderbilt to play them hard in a very close hard fought loss for St. Mary's. Could it possibly even be Siena. A team which had early season non-conference losses against Temple, St. John's, and Georgia Tech. Could they finally put it together with a reeling Purdue team and find their way through to the Sweet 16 with another win?

At the end of the day can Duke pull this off? You know the two veteran guards, Jon Scheyer and Kyle Singler. Are they ready to take the next step after years together at Duke. Sheyer is having career highs in both points and assists, Singler is pulling down alot of boards and scoring alot of points, 20+ in four of his last six games. The Blue Devils have some challenges, but if they don't have a leg up on the other number ones, I don't know who does.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Bracket Breakdown: Midwest Region

The #1 overall, a Big East heavyweight, and not one but two Big Ten powers. Welcome to the Midwest Region. You want questions? The Midwest Region has plenty. Which (6) Tennessee will arrive in the Big Dance? The one which got beat by Vanderbilt twice or the one that beat top seeded Kentucky and top seeded Kansas in the regular season. Will Tom Izzo have (5) Spartans Raymar Morgan and Kalin Lucas playing well enough to reach the Sweet 16 for the third consecutive season? With all the young talent in college hoops, will it be the veteran led (1) Kansas Jayhawks who cut down every last net? Game on.

The Contenders: Midwest Region

(1)Rock Chalk Jayhawk No? Tell that to junior center Cole Aldrich and senior point guard Sherron Collins. The leaders of this team who've been to a National Championship and have brought the Jayhawks as close as they can get them, now it's up to the others. Collins averages 15 points and 5 assists, Aldrich, the center, is putting down a double-double every night. Why are the Jayhawks the odds on favorite? Because they play defense and move the ball better than most every team in the country. The class of the Big Twelve, Kansas headlines an all-star conference which includes Baylor (25-7), Kansas State (26-7), Texas A & M (23-9), all highly ranked tournament teams which Kansas has at one point or another shredded.

(8) UNLV Rebels Believe it. His name is Tre'Von Willis. His game is tearing up the Mountain West Conference all season long. The junior guard, a transfer from Memphis, is in his second season in Nevada and making an impression. His Rebels finsihed the season fourth in the Moutain West, yet still good enough for an eight seed in the Tournament, in large part to their monster wins. Two victories against a 29-win ranked BYU squad and another victory against 29-win ranked New Mexico. In those victories, Willis averaged nearly 24 points per game. In the early going, UNLV went to Arizona and won a close game proving their road toughness. Remember the name Tre'Von Willis.

(6) Tennessee Volunteers Do I really believe a team which got dispatched on a neutral court in the SEC Tournament to the tune of a 29-point loss actually has what it takes to apply pressure to the Jayhawks? Yes, Yes, and Yes. The Volunteers can say one thing no other team in the country can, they put fear into both Kansas and Kentucky. Having a victory against each of these top seeded squads, albeit on their own turf, means something. Bruce Pearl's young squad is going to have to shake off losses like their most recent and put together beat downs like they did in Starkville back on March 6th. Junior Brian Williams put together a double-double and sophomore Scotty Hopson went for 14 or more in his fourth straight game. The Volunteers are going to have to put together complete games if they want to take some shots in this tourney.

(4) Maryland Terrapins Hear me out, prior to them getting the boot in the conference tourney, the Terrapins had won nine of their final ten and seemed to shake off early season losses to non-conference foes. In their second meeting of the season with the Duke Blue Devils, senior guard Greivis Vasquez scored twenty points and recorded more than a hand full of assists. Can Vasquez' senior leadership be enough to overcome tournament pressure? Maybe, but for a player whose fought tooth and nail for four seasons in College Park, reaching the Sweet 16 would be a huge feather in his cap. In a January 2-point loss at Wake Forest, Vasquez drilled four three pointers en route to a 3o-point night.

The Pretenders: Midwest Region

(7) Oklahoma State Cowboys That win against Kansas is about as fraudulent as they come. The Cowboys caught a Jayhawks team napping on the road in the first half, and then were outscored by eight in the second half, luckily they did just as much as they needed to do to pull out a victory. Let's be real about Oklahoma State, they were 9-7 in conference and went out of conference against Stanford in a down year, against Utah in a year which they didn't make the tourney, and Rhode Island? The Cowboys needed to do more than lose by 19 to Kansas State in the Big 12 tourney. No way they get past a one and done. (Disclaimer: If James Anderson can carry this team against Georgia Tech, they do have a shot, but it goes through him and him alone. When they beat Oklahoma, he went for 31, when they beat Kansas, he went for 27. Picking up what I'm putting down yet?)

(10) Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets They went 3-6 down the stretch in a relatively soft ACC, if not for their performance in the conference tourney, they'd be perhaps be on the outside looking in. Do we really think a team with a 7-9 conference record, the ACC for that matter, is going to do anything short but roll over? No. The Duke Blue Devils dropped them twice after being upset including in the conference championship game. Sophomore guard Iman Shumpert is going to have to do better than 3-7 with seven points to give Georgia Tech a shot, their performance in the ACC Championship game was another example of how bad the Atlantic Coast Conference was this season.

The Question Marks: Midwest Region

(2) Ohio State Buckeyes Is Evan Turner the best player in the country? He very well might be. In the case of the Buckeyes, he certainly is their most valuable. In Turner's absence, the Buckeyes are just 3-3, with him they are 24-4. In his junior season, Evan Turner is really putting the pressure on the Big Ten, his points per game up are up by three, his rebounds and assists each by nearly two more per game. Winners of twelve of their final thirteen, the Buckeyes are peaking at exactly the right moment. Averaging 20.3 ppg, 9.2 rebounds per game, and 5.9 assists per game, Evan Turner is a stat leader in nearly every category on his Ohio State team. Wall may be flashy, but Evan Turner is putting up huge numbers. This gives Columbus a very good chance, I think.

(3) Georgetown Hoyas Georgetown is without a question playing well heading into the tournament, but do they have enough? Just 7-6 from since February 1st, the Hoyas are going to have to lean on their stars. Austin Freeman, the junior guard averaged 15 points per game over their last five, when he missed a game against West Virginia, they smoked the Hoyas by 13. Greg Monroe, scoring nearly 17 a game is the reason they almost took the cake at Madison Square. When Monroe scored eight points at Syracuse in late January, they got beat up by 17 points. Stars play well, they have a shot, if they don't, it'll be a quick trip. A trip to the round of 16 seems more and more evident.

(5) Michigan State Spartans Love the Spartans in the tournament. If any team plays better in the tourney than they do in the regular season, it's Michigan State. Tom Izzo and company are going to have to turn it on. Between Kalin Lucas and Raymar Morgan, the leadership is there to see Michigan State make a deep run during the tournament. Against both Minnesota and Michigan, Morgan made at least one impression, his game is as far as the Spartans go. Shooting 10 of 15 en route to a 22-point night against Michigan, and shooting 7 of 12 against Minnesota keeps State in it. The glaring concern must be the last month from junior guard Kalin Lucas. Lucas hasn't shot well in nearly a month and most recently shot six of seventeen in a loss to Minnesota. Their earlier season losses against North Carolina, Florida, and Texas hopefully won't be a sign of things to come. Either Michigan State puts on their tournament shoes or they start walking back to Lansing.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Bracket Breakdown: East Region

The 32-win Kentucky Wildcats have a tough road to the Final Four as the top seed in the East Region. How tough? Before the weekend is over, John Calipari and his super freshman squad could be playing a Texas team which opened up with seventeen straight wins. From (2) West Virginia on down to the (14) seeded Montana, the East Region is filled with landmines looking to knock off Kentucky.

From the Atlantic-10 come the Temple Owls (5), heading into the tournament on the heels of nine straight victories the (5) seed Owls are looking to make some noise. Temple has one thing that you look for in a sleeper, veteran guard play. The Atlantic-10 Conference champion Owls are lead by senior guard Ryan Brooks, a 3-year starter whose developed into one of the best guards in the conference. Just how good is Temple? They're a 29-win team with a victory over Villanova, a (2) seed in this tournament and a 1-point loss to Georgetown a (3) seed. Landmine 1.

Winners of 15 of their last 16, the Lobos of New Mexico (3) are locked and loaded headed into the tourney. The Lobos have won some games, a couple wins against BYU, Texas Tech, and California to name them. One win shy of a 30-win season, New Mexico is led by junior guard Darington Hobson whose peaking at the right time. Over the last three weeks, Hobson has averaged over twenty points a game and he's ripping down close to ten rebounds a game as well. Can the Lobos make some noise in this tourney? Of course. Landmine 2.

Then there are the Marquette Golden Eagles (6), Big East tested, Marquette is a tough out for anyone and Washington is about to experience that. Marquette has notched big time victories against conference foes Villanova and Louisville, and they've also taken Georgetown and Syracuse to the brink before losing close games. Just 12-8 at the end of January, Marquette would go 10-3 in their remaining games punching ticket tourney ticket, and it was that Villanova win that sealed the deal in the Big East Conference tourney. Look toward junior guard Jimmy Butler to advance Marquette, averages nearly seven assists a game and doesn't turn the ball over. Landmine 3.

Can the Ivy League really show up here? Is Cornell the sleeper (12) seed? For starters, I don't buy it. They've got to open against Temple who as I just wrote, is legit. Furthermore, their next game would most likely be against the Wisconsin Badgers (4), who are going to show up in a big way. The Badgers beat Purdue with Robbie Hummel. They beat Michigan State when the Spartans were ranked #5 in the country. Early in the season Wisconsin went east and dropped Maryland before pinning a loss on Duke, a top seed in this tournament. Every year Wisconsin brings it in this tournament, that's why they are dangerous. Landmine 4.

Finally, Kentucky's biggest challenge is going to be West Virginia (2) and head coach Bob Huggins. Why? Because they're that good. The Mountaineers came to play in the Big East tournament and went out and took the championship back to Morgantown. Da'Sean Butler, West Virginia's senior horse is carrying them to this tournament. Winners of eight of their last nine games, Butler is averaging twenty points a game and steering them in the right direction. Atheltic enough to take on Calipari's bunch, West Virginia has got a deep squad. This month alone, West Virginia has banged up Georgetown not once but twice. They put enough points on the board to beat anyone in the country. Landmine 5.

The Kentucky Wildcats are as advertised, between freshman John Wall (16.9 ppg. & 6.4 assists per game) and DeMarcus Cousins (15.3 ppg. & 10.1 rebounds per game) they are as bad as they want to be. The SEC regular season and conference tournament champions continue to battle and make their way to the top of the mountain. What started off a brash cocky team which everyone thought would eventually come down to earth as developed into a title contender and more. The biggest example of that previous statement is their 29-point smackdown of Tennessee in the SEC Tournament, the same Tennessee team which handed them their second loss of the season just two weeks prior. Think the big stage is the right place for Coach Calipari and his freshman phenoms? You bet.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

Over the next four days we'll dissect The Field Of 65. Setting you up for bracket dominance, tell your co-workers to tread carefully. For now, this Selection Sunday, we're giving you The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly. First reactions . . .

The Good

The story of the 2010 NCAA Tournament could both begin and end with the Big East Conference. Bar none the most loaded conference in college basketball and to prove it they'll be sending eight teams to this years dance. Of the eight teams the Big East is sending, two are seeded (3), two are seeded (2), and Syracuse punched their ticket as a number one seed. Impressed yet? Of the remaining, Notre Dame a (6), Marquette a (6), and Louisville a (9) are no slouches either. The Irish finished the season winning six of their final seven including Big East conference tournament wins against Seton Hall and Pittsburgh. Determined to reach the tournament, Marquette also won six of their final eight games, including a statement victory over Villanova in the conference tourney. As for Rick Pitino and Louisville, the Cardinals hold not one but two victories over top seeded Syracuse, including a six-point victory at The Carrier Dome. Primed and ready for tournament dominance, each region should advance with caution. In the Midwest Region, (3) seeded Georgetown boasts a record that includes victories over two top seeds, Syracuse and Duke. In the East Region, the Big East conference tournament champion West Virginia Moutaineers, seeded second, have what it takes to knock off a young Kentucky Wildcats team. In the South Region, Jay Wright will try to get his 24-win, second seeded Villanova Wildcats back to the Final Four for the second straight season. Finally, the West Region where the Syracuse Orange will open in upstate New York as the top seed in the region, before hopefully making their way to Indianapolis and the National Championship. The Big East Conference is looking to make a statement in March, if they haven't already.

The Bad

Tough to be a Boilermaker fan. Winners of their first fourteen games this season, the Purdue Boilermakers looked destined for a deep tourney run. As of February 24th, Purdue sat at 23-3 and eyeing a top seed. After their 24th win, a one-point win at Minnesota, the Boilermakers tourney run looked bleak. Star junior forward, Robbie Hummel, the glue holding together the Boilermakers went down for the season with a torn ACL. Hummel is more than just nearly sixteen points and seven rebounds a game, he's the key to Purdue's defense and makes their offense tick. In their big win against West Virginia back on New Year's Day, Hummel went for eighteen points and shot seven of eight from the floor. Since playing without him, Purdue was smacked down by both Michigan State, on their home court, and a near thirty point loss to Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament. Embarrassed by an 11-point first half, Purdue is going to have to recover during the tournament, and it won't be easy. Opening the tournament as a four seed against thirteenth seeded Siena is a tough task. Siena has played tough opponents this season. The MAAC tournament champions already played fellow tournament teams Temple, Butler, and Georgia Tech, Purdue won't be the first tough test for them. Without Hummel, the Boilermakers are about to be upset and watch their tournament hopes end.

The Ugly

While 65 teams await dreams of cutting down Big Dance nets, there are always a few who came up short. In the case of the Mississippi State Bulldogs, they're on the outside looking in. The Bulldogs made their biggest push over the last several days of the SEC conference tournament. On their path to the championship game, Mississippi State stunned both Florida and Vanderbilt, two teams who got into the tournament on Sunday evening. To take it one step further, the Bulldogs played SEC Champion Kentucky twice this season, once in Starkville and once this afternoon in the conference tournament championship game, and played well. A six point loss back in early February in which Mississippi State pushed a one loss Kentucky team to overtime for the first of two times. Then again, with their backs against the wall, the Bulldogs took it to #1 in the East Region Kentucky, again before losing in an overtime game. For the Bulldogs they did everything they could to make a last push for the tournament, but it seems as though the only way they were getting in was with a tournament automatic qualifier. Their early season losses to the same teams they beat this weekend was all the committee needed to hold the Bulldogs out. An tough loss to Kentucky and then to find out it wasn't good enough, ouch.

For the next several weeks, the country will be focused on college basketball's most elite showcase. Right up there with a weekend at Churchill Downs and baseball in The Bronx, the NCAA Tournament is legendary. . . .GET AFTER IT!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Rough Times In Beantown

Having celebrated three Lombardi Trophies, two World Series Championships, and an NBA Title over the past decade has built up a certain expectation in New England. Unfortunately, all that winning may also have angered the Sports Gods. From Tom Brady's ACL tear two seasons ago to Kevin Garnett's knee injury last season, the Gods are slowly and painfully unleashing havoc on New England sports fan, and it ain't pretty.

As documented in Green With Little Envy, a column I wrote last month, the Boston Celtics are beginning to realize their rapid decent into mediocrity. After escaping with an ugly 3-point win at home against the 21-40 Washington Wizards on Sunday night, the Celtics have dropped each of their last two games. First a terrible 3 for 13 shooting night from All-Star Paul Pierce against Milwaukee, which led to a two-point road loss. Then, an embarrassing 33-point first half performance against the Grizzlies in Boston. The Celtics ultimately dropped their first game to Memphis since 2006, a 20-point loss to boot. What happened to that Celtics team which refused to lose at home? Over the previous two seasons, Boston had lost a total of 12 home games, amassing a 70-12 record in two seasons. This season? The Celtics are 18-12 in their own building, a far cry from the dominance they just recently displayed. However, even with their home woes, no one is making excuses for a team that is quite frankly just old. Once the youth conversation gets past 24-year old Rajon Rondo, it ends. Their two most recent losses came against very young teams. Milwaukee puts out a starting five with an average age of 25, including 20-year old rookie stud Brandon Jennings. Memphis puts out a starting five with an average of 24, including 22-year olds O.J. Mayo and Mike Conely. As for the Celtics? Get out your AARP magazines, the average age of the Celtics starting five is 29.8 years old, and you wonder why they can't play the whole game and get dominated in the fourth quarter? We took an NBA Title, but we may have signed over our wish to see longtime Celtics dominance once again. The Sports Gods have spoken.

Forgot about the Red Sox? 'Cause I have. On Wednesday morning the Red Sox announced a ceremonial one-day signing of former Boston great, Nomar Garciaparra. Garciaparra played shortstop for the Boston Red Sox for the better portion of more than eight seasons, and unfortunately never got to celebrate a World Series victory in Fenway. Sure, they awarded him a ceremonial ring after the 2004 championship season, a season which he played just 38 games in Boston, but did he get rewarded in the same respect as Curt Schilling? Of course not, but for a team which was willing to send standup guy Mike Lowell packing this offseason, the Red Sox were in desperate need of a "good feeling," enter Nomar Garciaparra. Today, the Red Sox are in spring training with newcomers Adrian Beltre, a .265 hitter with only eight homers a season ago, and Mike Cameron, a .250 hitter, these are the Red Sox who had raised two banners? Expect more banners to be raised in the near future? Not likely. With the New York Yankees currently carrying the title of "defending World Champs," and signing big names like Curtis Granderson and Javier Vazquez, are we about to see a return of the past? As we watched the retirement of Nomar Garciaparra take place, is it crazy to believe the retirement of the Red Sox short lived run as front runners is near? When the Red Sox went out and outspent the rest of the major leagues, it worked, and now that their headed an alternative direction, maybe the gods are speaking?

Even the puck faithful, otherwise known as Bruins fans are being tormented. The Bruins, who were expected to be an otherwise cup contending team this season, have gone slightly the other way. The Bruins are now forced to swallow their pride in finding out that center Mark Savard will be out the majority of the season remaining with a concussion he suffered during the Bruins recent loss to the Penguins. Savard was struck with a cheap shot from Penguin thug Matt Cooke, and the NHL has decided not to punish the Penguins or Cooke for the dirty play which left Savard on the ice motionless. Since returning from the Olympic break the Bruins have been criticized first for the Milan Lucic fight in which Lucic appeared to disengage early allowing the ref to step in between he and Toronto Maple Leaf Colton Orr, and now for their lack fire to retaliate against Matt Cooke and allow the NHL time to determine his punishment. It's one thing to be knocked for not having enough talent or refusing to pay the talent you have, it's another to have your manhood called into question. The Boston Bruins have gone from a team on the cusp to a team on the brink, the gods have spoken.

Between both the Bruins and the Celtics in-season struggles and the offseasons which are leaving something to be desired for both the Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots, questions are really becoming more and more negative toward the Boston sports scene. If the Bean isn't crying yet, she's about to start.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Prince James Ponders

Preparing to shake the NBA up for years to come, the 25-year old LeBron James is less than four months away from making a career decision that will send shockwaves through professional basketball. From Miami to Chicago, from Cleveland to New York, Prince James' decision where to take his earth bending talent will no doubt have a massive impact on the game. Checkbooks open, LeBron James is about to break the bank.

Cleveland Cavaliers Why the Cavaliers? Because it's home, and that is about it. For seven seasons in Cleveland the Cavaliers faithful have cheered for LeBron and watched him grow from wide-eyed rookie into international phenom. The Akron born James knows no other basketball home than the state of Ohio, and they've got that going for them. Jordan owned The Windy City like Kobe owns Hollywood, so the question becomes: Has LeBron outgrown Cleveland? Yes. Don't fool yourself. The Cavaliers management may have made a valid effort at retaining his services by surrounding him with talent good enough to win a championship, given their 49-15 best record in the league, it may just happen. Even that can't keep LeBron in Cleveland. As hard as it will be for him, an image conscious athlete as he is, LeBron is bigger than Cleveland. A league which is claiming to lose nearly $400 million dollars this season, can be much improved with their #1 star taking up residence just blocks from their main offices. Not in the Ohio. Like a future celebrities first girlfriend, Cleveland is on borrowed time, because it's only so long before LeBron realizes he needs to be walking the red carpet with someone who photographs much better than Cleveland.

New York Knicks The City That Never Sleeps fits Prince James. Madison Square Garden, Spike Lee, The Big Apple, Basketball Mecca, add LeBron James and it seems to fit very nicely. With Kobe Bryant entering the back nine, it'll be that much more important the NBA holds an elite talent in 1 of the 3 major media markets. Is that important? Very, Very Important. The Knicks are known across the continent, it instantly becomes the hottest ticket in town, aside from killing basketball in Cleveland, there is no bad which comes from it. LeBron would own New York, Knicks #6 jerseys would be sold from coast to coast, and in a very short time, you'd see a ticker tape parade for said Knicks, just like the Giants and Yankees in recent years. James would have building size billboards plastering him all over Times Square, he'd be high fiving Spike Lee after the game winning three pointer, he'd be coached by Mike D'Antoni, possibly the games best coach. Let's compare apples to apples, pun totally intended: D'Antoni or Mike Brown? D'Antoni. Madison Square Garden or Quicken Loans Arena? MSG. Statue of Liberty or The Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame? Statue. Whatever Cleveland can give you, New York will double it. This is the type of girlfriend you get when you become the greatest player on the planet.

Chicago Bulls The brunette rocking the leather pants. How sexy is The Windy City? They are a top three media market who has played host to such greats as Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. LeBron has moved on from wearing #23 to avoid any problems with moving to Chicago. This is a city which can also support him, hell they already have two baseball teams, a football team, and a hockey team. He won't be the only young superstar in town, between Blackhawks stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, they've got plenty. However, the Chicago Bulls set themselves apart with a 21-year old 6'3" point guard who goes by the name of Derrick Rose. Chicago immediately becomes the favorite to win the Eastern Conference with the addition of LeBron James paired with Rose, a 20 points per game point guard. On the other hand, LeBron would have to walk past the statue of a living legend outside The United Center every day. Furthermore, he'd be staring at six championship banners in the rafters and a number that he'll never wear again. Constantly being compared to Jordan, he'd have to have the hardware to to ever reach that level. Does LeBron want that? Or does Prince James want his own legacy that is separated from all of that? As sexy as Chicago may be, LeBron may not ever want to enter that ring of fire.

Sitting on the cusp of one of the greatest careers we may ever see, LeBron James is going to have to make a decision which is life changing. Name another sports story more captivating? Another story which has a bigger impact? A story to follow than will provide as much drama? Sitting on pins and needles, this is about to get more exciting every day.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

All Combined Up

You need a mock, you want a mock. Not so fast. However, LynchyRightNow is going to deliver a tease. With the NFL Combine under their belt, NFL GM's are diving into hours of homework. Tough decisions lie ahead, and huge debates:

Let's Get After It!

Oklahoma DT Gerald McCoy v. Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh

What seemed like a non-debate at the end of this college football season, has become the most hotly contested topic of pre-draft season. The 2009 Outland Trophy, Nagurski Award, and Bednarik Award winner Ndamukong Suh, was the no argument lock of the NFL prospects after his performance in the Big XII Championship game. The 6'4" 300lb. defensive tackle recorded twelve sacks during his senior campaign in Lincoln leading a Nebraska defense which allowed just 11 points per game. Ndamukong Suh turned in one of the most dominating seasons of any defensive player in Big XII history. However, Suh wasn't the only defensive tackle to take the Big XII by storm in recent years, Oklahoma Sooner Gerald McCoy would be the other. Labeled as one of the more aggressive defensive players in this draft, McCoy has fantastic speed and can play against both the pass and rush. Leading the Sooner defense since his sophomore year, Gerald McCoy disrupts high powered passing Big XII offenses on a regular basis. This seems to be the consensus, while Suh is clearly the stronger of the two, McCoy could be the safest choice. A player like Suh who had one mind numbing season, or a player like McCoy who put together quite a college career. LynchyRightNow Pick: Oklahoma Sooner Gerald McCoy, you don't teach experience and that is what McCoy already has. I'll take a guy compared to Warren Sapp over a guy compared Richard Seymour any day.

Notre Dame QB Jimmy Clausen v. Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford

You know the pedigree. Clausen from a pro-style offense, learning under the same coach who put the finishing touches on Tom Brady. Bradford? Tearing up the Big XII Conference, Heisman Trophy under arm. The question now, whose the better top overall selection? Erase the notion that the #1 pick "won't" be signal caller. The St. Louis Rams can't head into 2010 with no idea where to go under center, plan has to be in place. That plan starts with a young quarterback the Rams intend to groom. So Sam Bradford or Jimmy Clausen? The downside to a big California quarterback like Jimmy Clausen, his swagger. In college football that works, in the NFL, they take you pile driving into the ground, you've never seen speed come at you harder, and you've never seen corners work you like they do in the NFL. Confidence works in the NFL, arrogance rarely does. For Bradford? He's more accurate, would have been the #1 a season ago had he chose to come out, and has just as big of an arm as Clausen. Unfortunately, he's got a shoulder with major question marks. Multiple shoulder injuries put an end to his season and sent him toward the draft with bigger problems than he could have dreamed. LynchyRightNow Pick: Oklahoma Sooner Sam Bradford, It's about stability in the NFL. Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Mark Sanchez, Matthew Stafford, confident and humble quarterbacks. Jay Cutler, struggles, hasn't proven to be a leader of men, that is what Jimmy Clausen is. I'll take injured AC joints over brash, arrogant 22-year olds.

Bigger Risk: Oklahoma State WR Dez Bryant v. Southern California S Taylor Mays

Major questions surround these two athletic beasts. For Dez Bryant, the same guy who has already been compared to Texans wideout Andre Johnson, it's his maturity. For Tyalor Mays, it's his ability. One thing is for sure, neither of these athletes are missing much physically. Dez Bryant stands at 6'2" and has a near 230 lb. frame to support his jaw dropping skill. You tell me if this sounds like an NFL receiver; "Runs angry after the catch and is a load to bring down in the open field, sometimes shows a lackadaisical attitude when on the back side of plays or when asked to block." I think Dez Bryant should fit in just fine. As for Taylor Mays, the film rarely lies. An extremely dissappoiting senior season in Southern California, Mays has major question marks about his game. Does he fail in coverage often enough, is he smart enought to pick up an NFL defense right away, does his drive to make the big hit cloud his game? All fair questions for the 235 lb. strong safety. However, showing quality speed, record breaking or not, at the combine did alot for the former Trojan safety. We know he can hit, we know he can run, let's put the kid in the right spot, fair enough? LynchyRightNow Pick: Oklahoma State Cowboy Dez Bryant. Personally I don't care if he acts like a five year old off the field, as long as he shows up with that speed and those hands on game day. Period. Dez Bryant could have put up mind numbing stats throughout this season had he not been suspended, but you got a taste. 107 yards per game in 2009, and four touchdowns in just three games. Impressed yet?

Want one more to close you out? The fact that the St. Louis Rams have passed on both Mark Sanchez and Matt Ryan in recent years should give you an indicator as to where they are going. Don't listen to the hype. As Always, Get After It!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Gathering My Thoughts

I know I watched something important on Sunday afternoon. I know for once, I actually became excited for these Winter Olympics. But what was it exactly? Was it a recognizable face such as 22-year old Stanley Cup Champion Sidney Crosby? Was it the United States playing an underdog role? A role which we don't play often. Was it the possibility that I'd witness one for the ages? Truth be told, whatever it was I wasn't just impressed, I was stunned.

Three Stars:

* Patrick Kane & Zach Parise Just as our friends north of the border can celebrate their young superstars Crosby, Rick Nash, & Jonathan Toews, we have a few of our own and over the past two weeks in Vancouver they were on display for the world. In the gold medal game alone both Kane & and Parise showed up in a big way. Down 2-1 watching 'Kid Crosby breakaway toward Ryan Miller, it was 21-year old Patrick Kane who caught him from behind never allowing him to get a shot off. The Chicago Blackhawks star raised an eyebrow or two with comments like "I came here to score goals and produce points . . " and "Right now it seems bigger than the Stanley Cup, especially when you look at it. How many times has the U.S. hockey team won gold?" The former rookie of the year currently sits 8th in total points in the NHL, after these Olympics, I can't wait to see him come playoff time. As for Parise, let's just call this guy next. Parise exploded onto the scene for non-hockey fans during these Olympics. He played fast, he played smart, and it was his goal with little time remaining which pushed the gold medal game to overtime. As the U.S. out shot teams throughout the entire Olympics, it was the New Jersey Devils left winger who led the team in shots on goal keeping the pressure on stud NHL goalies like the Swiss' Jonas Hiller and Finland's Miikka Kiprusoff. Young and ready to run, these two American-born puck stars are giving U.S. hockey fans something to cheer for.

* * Team Canada The Canadians did what they had to do and sometimes that is the toughest task to accomplish. Post-getting slapped around by Team USA on February 21st (5-3), Team Canada would rebound outscoring Germany & Russia to a combined score of 15-5. Heading into the gold medal game, Team Canada had everything to lose. Playing on their soil, in front of thousands of their own, playing as a favorite with the absolute best of the best wearing their colors, anything short of gold would be a disappointment. Sure, it took them overtime to get it done but the Canadians got it done. Sidney Crosby rebounded from his earlier game woes to score the winning goal right through the toughest American born goalie there is. That line of the highly touted and previously mentioned Sidney Crosby, Rick Nash, and Jarome Iginla, delivered in overtime. As the nerves had to be building up once the American tied the game and overtime was on the horizon, Canada played very well. In one of the most anticipated games of the Olympics, against Russia, Canada peppered their goal tending scoring seven goals on 42 shots. With losing not being an option, the Canadians showed up when it counted most.

* * * Netminders, Bobby Lu & Ryan Miller. Just like it is in the NHL playoffs, goaltending plays the biggest part of winning in big time hockey. In the Vancouver Olympics, not much was different. The United States would immediately point to their goalie, Michigan born Ryan Miller. During the Olympics no hockey player broke out like Miller. Allowing just five goals in five games prior to the gold medal game, Miller was dominant. That is against THE BEST the world has to offer. As much as I want to say Ryan Miller was hands down the best, you have to give credit to Vancouver Canucks and Team Canada goalie, Roberto Luongo. Playing in relief of Martin Brodeur, a legend in his own right, in front of his own fans, Roberto Luongo turned in a great performance in these Olympic games. 5-0 in these games and pitching one shut out, Roberto Luongo took center stage in front of his fans. With a 92% save percentage, and allowing just two goals on 36 shots in the gold medal game, Roberto Luongo held Team Canada down. Good goaltending wins, no doubt Ryan Miller and Roberto Luongo are the reason 26.7 million tuned in.

At the end of these Olympics I won't remember some carrot top kid winning an X-Games event in Vancouver, I won't remember a couple overhyped American skiers, but I will remember this past Sunday as for the 26.7 million previously mentioned, you can bet they'll remember as well.