April 14, 2014
UConn wins … again: The Connecticut men’s and women’s basketball teams both took home NCAA championships last week with their respective wins over Kentucky and Notre Dame. While the women were heavy favorites coming into the tournament, the men’s team checked in as a No. 7 seed. They were the lowest seed to win it all since the Villanova Wildcats’ 1985 championship squad, who were victorious as a No. 8 seed. The men’s championship game, in particular, which featured No. 7 and No. 8 seeded teams, proved that it’s difficult to write off nearly any team in the field.
John Calipari and the NBA: Shortly before the UConn-Kentucky game on Monday, former Wildcat Rex Chapman tweeted a rumor that Kentucky’s coach, John Calipari, would be leaving after the game to coach the Los Angeles Lakers. Chapman later retracted the statement, but the buzz was already generated. For what it’s worth, Calipari denied the rumor and says he intends to stay with the Wildcats. The coach leaving for the NBA, particularly the Lakers, seems intriguing – but it also would be the wrong move. Few collegiate coaches do well enough to have long careers in the league and while Los Angeles is a prime job, there’s no guarantee for success there with not much else around an aging Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. Los Angeles will have cap room this summer but still aren’t guaranteed to land a major star. Plus, Coach Cal has perhaps the best setup in the NCAA with top recruiting classes every year and a rabid fan base at one of college basketball’s historic programs.
Bubba Watson wins the Masters: Golfer Bubba Watson held off the field over the weekend to win the Masters. The victory on the sport’s grandest stage was his second in three years and his score of 69 in the final round gave him a three-stroke win over Jonas Blixt and Jordan Spieth. Crying afterwards and with his family close by, he just comes off as a guy that’s easy to root for. Despite the drama and popularity of the Masters, television ratings plummeted. A few reasons could be given, but the primary one is the absence of Tiger Woods. Love him or hate him, Woods’ appearances draw viewers. With his recent back injury knocking him out of the event, fewer viewers tuned in.
Rory McIlroy … and toast: A college lecturer bet $1,700.00 on golfer Rory McIlroy to win the Masters after seeing his ‘image’ on a slice of toast. Seems totally reasonable.
Ultimate Warrior dies: The Ultimate Warrior, one of the WWE’s brightest stars in the 1990s, passed away unexpectedly last week when he suddenly collapsed at the age of 54. Making the death even more eerie was that only days before, he had reconciled with the federation that made him a star after disagreements between the two sides that spanned many years. James Hellwig, who legally changed his name to Warrior, was inducted into the WWE’s Hall of Fame over the weekend then appeared on Monday Night Raw just prior to his death.
Shawne Merriman to the WWE: Speaking of pro wrestling, a former football player is reportedly on his way to the WWE. Defensive standout Shawne Merriman is hoping to make the jump from the NFL to pro wrestling, after debuting briefly at Wrestlemania as an announcer. Merriman is an outstanding athlete but my bets are generally against these sorts of things working out. Not only is wrestling a difficult art to grasp, but the schedule is incredibly demanding with the talent often working several dates a week with live shows and non-televised house shows. Traveling on the road makes it a difficult life and learning how to wrestle is just part of it.
Chad Johnson could land in Canadian Football League: Last we saw Chad Johnson, he was Chad Ochocinco and catching passes for the New England Patriots. After a disappointing year where he caught only 15 balls for 276 yards in 2011, he didn’t play another regular season game. According to ESPN, Johnson is now hoping to latch on with the Montreal Alouettes in the Canadian Football League. He may be able to still play at the age of 36, but using a stint in the CFL to revive his NFL career is unlikely. The wide receiver has been in steady decline since 2007 when he caught 93 passes for a career-best 1,440 yards. Since that season, he has had only one 1,000-yard season. His brief time in New England may have been a bit of an aberration since he wasn’t targeted very much. However, it’s been a few years since Johnson has even played competitively – let alone all that well.
April 7, 2014
NCAA Men’s Title Game Set: The Final Four got underway on Saturday with UConn knocking off overall No. 1 seed Florida while Kentucky topped Wisconsin. Both games were considered upsets and those outcomes ensured that a low seed will win the NCAA Title game on Monday. The Huskies were a No. 7 seed while the Wildcats were a No. 8. Heading into the tournament, UConn was ranked near the bottom of the Top 25 rankings while Kentucky was unranked. Monday’s title game is just another example of the unpredictability of the NCAAs.
NCAA Women’s Title Features Two Unbeatens: While the men’s basketball final features two unexpected teams, the women’s finale consists of the two teams many expected to be there. 39-0 UConn takes on 37-0 Notre Dame on Tuesday, meaning the champion will finish the season with a spotless record.
Desean Jackson Signs with Washington Redskins: The Philadelphia Eagles cut ties with star wide receiver, Desean Jackson. Last week, the Washington Redskins quickly signed him, sending the talented playmaker to one of the Eagles’ fiercest rivals. The idea that Jackson was let go due to his playing ability would seem to be ridiculous. Not missing a game last year, he set new career-highs in receptions (82), targets (126), and yardage (1,332), while tying his career best of nine touchdowns. The fact that Jackson now joins a division rival makes the move even more difficult to swallow for many Eagles’ fans.
Charity Hockey Brawl: A charity hockey game between New York’s firefighters and policemen included a bench-clearing brawl. Of course it did.
Toews Out: The Chicago Blackhawks are sitting their star Jonathan Toews for the remainder of the regular season. The captain is expected to return for Game 1 of the team’s first playoff series, but head coach Joel Quenneville said he has sustained an upper body injury. Rather than play him now, the team is hoping to get him to 100% for the postseason. Toews has been incredibly reliable and hasn’t missed any games since 2012. While he could probably play, at this point in the year the playoffs are the important thing.
Tennessee Titans Cut Chris Johnson: A few short years ago, Chris Johnson was regarded as the best running back in the NFL. On Friday, though, the Tennessee Titans released him, making him a free agent. Johnson has never rushed for fewer than 1,000 yard in the league and after his 2009 season when he racked up 2,006 yards and 14 touchdowns, he was setting the NFL on fire. Johnson hasn’t returned to that dominant form, but has still been a very good rusher, averaging nearly 1,200 yards per season. Johnson is finding the end zone less these days, but at only 28, should find plenty of suitors interested in adding him to their roster.
Masahiro Tanaka Shines in Debut: It’s only been one game, but so far the Yankees’ new starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka looks like a keeper. Tanaka scattered six hits over seven innings, allowing only two earned runs in his debut against the Toronto Blue Jays. He also recorded eight strikeouts and after earning the win, the Japanese pitcher is off to a solid start to his career in Major League Baseball.
Arian Foster Fail: A woman met a man that she thought was Arian Foster and after having her picture taken with him, tweeted it to Foster, saying she was happy to meet him. Only one problem – it wasn’t actually him, as Foster himself had to point out in replying to her. Oops.
Kevin Durant Tops MJ: Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant passed Michael Jordan on the NBA’s all-time list of most consecutive 25-point performances. Durant dropped 38 points in a loss to the Phoenix Suns on Sunday to pass Jordan with his 41st consecutive game scoring at least 25 points. The forward now sits in third place on the all-time list and while he can catch Oscar Robertson, who accomplished the feat in 46 straight contests, he’s unlikely to pass the record holder. Wilt Chamberlain stands atop the list after scoring at least 25 points in a whopping 80 games.
April 1, 2014
An Unlikely Final Four: After another crazy weekend of college basketball, an unlikely Final Four is finally set. Florida, the No. 1 overall seed, is there and the lone non-surprise. But Kentucky topped higher seeds Louisville and Michigan, UConn upset Iowa State and Michigan State, and Wisconsin beat No. 1 seed Arizona. Of the four teams standing, only Florida was a popular Final Four pick and this year is one of the best examples of what March Madness is really all about. By the way, I’ll take the Gators.
Northwestern Football Players Win Right to Form Union: Northwestern’s football players scored a historic victory when a court ruled that they have the right to create a union. We’re likely still a long way from anything significant happening on this, but in essence, it could open up the door for college athletes to earn money as employees. While the win holds some significance, I still find it difficult to believe athletes can get paid with things remaining the same in the NCAA. There are really too many hurdles with this – for example, who gets paid … the football players or all of a university’s athletes? How much do they earn? What about football programs that don’t earn boatloads of money? To me, the best solution always has been to allow high school athletes to go straight into the NFL Draft if they desire. The league could create a de facto minor league system, similar to the NBA’s Development League. For players that are good enough to be selected in the draft and want to earn money right away, that’s their ticket. For the others that wouldn’t be selected, they still have the option of playing in college for a scholarship.
Philadelphia 76ers Win: Typically a regular-season NBA win against a bad team isn’t big enough to garner much attention, but all eyes were on Philly after they defeated the Detroit Pistons over the weekend, 123-98. The Sixers had lost 26 straight games, tying an NBA record with the Cleveland Cavaliers for the dubious distinction. Philadelphia’s last win was a one-point victory over the Boston Celtics on January 29th.
Bowling for Records: A man nearly bowled a perfect game … backwards.
Mike Montgomery Retires from Cal: The head coach of Cal’s men’s basketball team is stepping down after a long career. Mike Montgomery gained fame from his 18-year run at Stanford, leading the team to numerous NCAA Tournament Appearances and a Final Four. After leaving that job for a brief NBA stint, Montgomery returned to the college ranks at Cal for six years. He led the Bears to six NCAA Tournament appearances, but couldn’t get the team past the third round. With a 21-14 record this season, Montgomery led Cal to the NIT, where they were eliminated last week by SMU.
Andrew Wiggins Declares for NBA Draft: Kansas freshman basketball star Andrew Wiggins suffered a disappointing loss when his Jayhawks were bounced early in the NCAA Tournament, losing to Stanford. Now, the phenom is ready for the next step and declared himself available for this year’s NBA Draft. Wiggins didn’t have a good game in that finale against the Cardinal and while he had some duds this season, they were few and far between. He averaged 17.4 points and six rebounds per game, and was a Second Team All-American, making the decision a no-brainer.
Maurice Jones-Drew to Raiders: Longtime Jacksonville Jaguars running back will continue his NFL career after being let go by the franchise. MJD heads to the Oakland Raiders on a three-year deal and should give running back Darren McFadden some much-needed competition for the starting job. Jones-Drew rushed for a career-best 1,606 yards in 2011, but became expendable when he had an injury-prone 2012 and lackluster 2013, rushing for a combined 1,217 yards in both seasons. Over those two years, he only found the end zone six times on the ground and last year, really struggled with a meager 3.4 yards per carry average – a career worst. As bad as Jones-Drew has been lately, though, there’s still a fighter’s chance that he wins the starting job. McFadden has been a career underachiever, and only once reached the 1,000-yard mark. Over the past two years, he’s averaged only 3.3 yards per carry and might even be the underdog against the older Jones-Drew.
UMass Leaving MAC: Conference realignment and expansion in college football has slowed dramatically in the past year. It isn’t over completely, though, as UMass will be leaving the MAC – their home for football. The Minutemen currently play many of their sports in the Atlantic 10 and were offered full conference membership by the MAC. However, they declined and the conference asked them to look for a new football home after the 2015 season. With teams like Bowling Green, Northern Illinois, and Central Michigan finding success in recent years, the MAC is becoming a stronger football league. Still, the Atlantic 10 is rising too quickly in basketball to leave right now and the Minutemen basketball program is much farther along than the football program, which just leapt to the FBS in 2012. It may be difficult finding a new football home, but the option to remain as an Independent exists.
March 24, 2014
NCAA Tournament upsets galore: The NCAA Tournament continued to produce upsets and last week saw quite a few of them. The biggest was No. 14 seed Mercer topping Duke in their first game, but plenty of others were surprises, too. A Kentucky team that underwhelmed for much of the season knocked off undefeated No. 1 seed Wichita State. No. 2 Kansas fell in the second round to tenth-seeded Stanford. No. 12 seeds North Dakota State, Stephen F. Austin, and Harvard all knocked off No. 5 seeds in their first-round games. And 11-seed Dayton pulled off two upsets, defeating Ohio State and Syracuse. Each year, the tournament features a host of upsets and this year was no exception.
Jets make quarterback changes: The New York Jets believe they have their franchise quarterback in Geno Smith, but that didn’t stop them from making some intriguing moves at the position last week. The team cut one-time franchise quarterback Mark Sanchez on Friday and essentially replaced him with veteran signee Michael Vick. The Sanchez dismissal was a long time coming since he had lost his job and fell out of favor. That meant New York had to go out and sign someone and Vick is an experienced signal-caller that will give the team a bit of insurance if Smith doesn’t work out.
Dodgers open season in Australia with two wins: The majority of major league teams are still finishing up Spring Training, but the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks have already kicked off the season. Opening Day took place in Australia and L.A. got off to a good start to the season with a pair of wins over Arizona on the backs of their starting pitchers. Clayton Kershaw struck out seven and gave up only one run in 6 2/3 innings in the first contest. Hyun-Jin Ryu came in for the second game and threw five scoreless innings in picking up his first win. The duo gave Los Angeles two of what they hope will be many more victories in 2014.
Bill Belichick sans hoodie: Bill Belichick showed up at the NCAA Tournament without his trademark hoodie. But his ensemble of an unbuttoned shirt complete with Florida Gators visor left a lot to be desired.
Roddy White backs out: Twitter is an interesting animal. Fans are not only given a more up close look at their favorite athletes, but they can also interact with them. Wide receiver Roddy White took to Twitter and after a fan told him Mercer would beat Duke in the NCAA Tournament, responded by saying he would give said fan season tickets on the 50-yard line. What happened next was nothing short of legendary. White responded to those who reminded him about the bet by saying he would give tickets to only the Falcons-Bears game. When others reminded him the bet was for season tickets, White then responded by saying it wasn’t even a real bet (and by proving he can’t spell the word ridiculous in the process). Well, then. The story obviously took off and instead of just buying the tickets and looking like a stand up guy, White’s stubbornness has now made him look foolish, cheap, and above human decency. Just pay up, Roddy.
Raiders trade for Matt Schaub: Oakland was in desperate need of a quarterback and addressed that issue with a trade with the Houston Texans for Matt Schaub. Schaub was benched last year after returning from an injury and Houston really had no future plans for him. The sixth-round pick they got for him wasn’t much for a guy that was a Pro Bowler as recently as 2012, but it was clear the team just wanted him out of town. Schaub had a down season in 2013, but the year before, completed 64% of his passes and threw for 22 touchdowns to 12 interceptions. At only 32, the guess here is that he has at least a few years left in the tank.
Andrew Bynum haircut fiasco: Indiana Pacers’ center Andrew Bynum was sitting out of a game with an injury and did what any normal NBA player would do – get a haircut. Bynum reportedly got the haircut during halftime of a game against the Chicago Bulls and continued to prove he doesn’t always do the right thing. Even if Bynum is injured, he’s still getting paid by the team. I mean, seriously – he can’t wait an hour or so until after the game?
March 10, 2014
Lakers Suffer Worst Loss in Franchise History: The Los Angeles Lakers are one of the NBA’s most storied franchises, but with a slew of injuries, the team is sinking to new lows this year. Another ‘benchmark’ was set as the team suffered a demoralizing 142-94 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers last week. After the Lakers were dominated 44-13 in the second quarter, the rout was on. With a roster featuring an aging Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, and not much else, the franchise is desperately in need of a roster upgrade in the offseason. Unfortunately, Gasol is one of the few real assets they have to trade and having failed to find a suitable deal to this point for the big man, the Lakers just don’t have many options heading into next season.
Doug McDermott Joins 3,000-point Club: Creighton star Doug McDermott joined the NCAA’s 3,000-point club with a 45-point performance in an 88-73 win over Providence. In the process, McDermott vaulted himself to the seventh-leading scorer in Division I basketball, passing Oscar Robertson and Hersey Hawkins. McDermott is having an incredible season and recently also passed Larry Bird, Danny Manning, and Elvin Hayes on the list. What makes his year even more special, though, is Creighton’s season as a team. The Bluejays finished 24-6 on the year in the regular season and are ranked among the nation’s top 15 teams.
Tommy John Surgeon Dies: Dr. Frank Jobe who pioneered the famous Tommy John surgery died last week at the age of 88. Jobe performed the initial surgery on pitcher Tommy John, replacing a torn ligament in John’s arm with a tendon from his forearm. Then a breakthrough surgery, hundreds of pitchers have since had the procedure and there’s no doubt that Jobe extended many careers in the process. John himself went on to pitch another 14 years following the procedure and there’s no telling how many pitchers’ careers would have been cut short without the revolutionary surgery.
Mike Modano Number Retired: Mike Modano’s No. 9 was retired by the Dallas Stars last week in a legendary ceremony. Not only were 20 members from the 1999 championship team present wearing jerseys with No. 9 patches, but other Dallas-area stars in other sports such as the Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki, and Dallas Cowboys Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach, were all present on the ice as well to celebrate the achievement. Modano, who finished his career with more goals and points than any other American-born NHL player, was surely deserving.
Shaq Video Game: Former basketball star/current millionaire Shaquille O’Neal and a video game developer not only want to create a video game, but apparently want fans to help invest in it. Seems legit.
Tie Hockey Game Results in Co-champions: Two high school hockey teams stood tied after an amazing seven overtime periods and decided to call it quits in an Ohio state championship game. Both teams, Sylvania Northview and Cleveland St. Ignatius, citing fatigue, agreed to a 1-1 tie and were declared co-champions. Calling the game early was probably the safe thing to do if both teams were literally too tired to continue. However, it underscores the need for a revised format – after all, why not have a shootout after three overtimes and declare a true champion?
It’s the Sleeves, Man: NBA star Lebron James had an off night last week in the San Antonio Spurs’ 111-87 rout of the Miami Heat. It wasn’t the recently broken nose that was the problem in his 6-18 shooting night, though. James said after the game that he wasn’t a fan of the sleeved jerseys the Heat and other teams were wearing this season. For the record, he didn’t want to use that as the official excuse, but James, like others, does think it’s affecting shots. On the surface it might sound petty, but James makes a good point in that there is little margin for error on a player’s jump shot. It’s easy to see that something as restrictive as a sleeved jersey could cause problems for certain players.
Harvard Kicks off March Madness: March Madness is officially here and Harvard was the first team to usher it in. The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament got its first participant as Harvard knocked off Yale, 70-58, to win the Ivy League Championship and gain an automatic berth. Many more teams will shortly punch their ticket to the Big Dance with conference titles in the upcoming week.
Hat Trick Shenanigans: Hat tricks in hockey generally elicit baseball caps being thrown onto the ice. In Dallas? Cowboy hats.