January 11, 2013

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NCAA Men’s Basketball Weekend Watch List

By: Tyler Vespa

Just about halfway through the college basketball season, we are beginning to find out who’s for real and who’s a pretender. After Arizona’s loss Thursday night to Oregon, there are only two more teams left undefeated; Duke and Michigan. Now were going to party like it’s 1992. Yes it’s been a little over 20 years since Duke played Michigan for the national title, with the “Fab 5” as freshmen. For Duke, almost nothing has changed, Mike Krzyzewski is still the head coach, and Duke is number 1 in the country. However, in Ann Arbor, pretty much everything has changed. The only slight similarity is the youth movement that features a starting 5 with 2 freshmen and 1 sophomore. The Big Ten has officially dethroned the Big East as college basketball’s top conference, and the ACC is having a down year without Florida State and North Carolina in the top 25. That being said, the Blue Devils will have to beat themselves to lose the ACC.

With that I give you the marquee matchups this weekend in college hoops:

1. Duke (15-0) (2-0 ACC) at 20. North Carolina State (13-2) (2-0 ACC) Saturday 12 noon (ESPN)

The Blue Devils are without starting senior forward Ryan Kelly who is out indefinitely with a foot injury. The Blue Devils don’t have the depth to replace a guy who averages 13.4 PPG and 5.4 RPG. The Wolfpack are balanced with 6 guys averaging double figures in scoring. Mark Gottfried’s club also ranks 1st in field goal percentage. Duke will have no answer for C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell on the interior.  Prediction: Duke-69 NC State- 73

Michigan State, a perennial Big Ten power, fell earlier this season to Minnesota.

8. Minnesota (15-1) (3-0 Big Ten) at 5. Indiana (14-1) (2-0 Big Ten) Saturday 12 noon (BTN)

Since their lone loss to Duke on November 22nd, Tubby Smith’s Golden Gophers have won 11 in a row including two big conference wins against Michigan State and Illinois. Indiana has won their last 5 since losing to Butler. The Gopher’s Andre Hollins may be the best point guard in the country. That in combination with Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams in the post is too much for the Hoosiers. The Gophers will do it by committee to pull the upset at Assembly Hall.  Prediction: Minnesota-67 Indiana-63

2. Michigan (16-0) (3-0 Big Ten) at 15. Ohio State (12-3) (2-1 Big Ten) Sunday 1:30 (CBS)

There hasn’t been this much excitement in Ann Arbor since the “Fab 5”. The Wolverines have 4 guys averaging over 12 points per game. Their backcourt is the best in nation with Wooden Award candidate Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. Big Blue’s frontcourt is also scary with two fabulous freshmen in Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III. This balance will be too much for the Buckeyes. The Buckeyes are 12th in turnovers per game while the Wolverines are 2nd. The Buckeyes will struggle to find high percentage shots and Michigan’s depth will dominate from start to finish.  Prediction: Michigan-66 Ohio State-58.

October 4, 2012

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Top 3 NFL Surprises Through the Quarter Mark of the Season

By: Matt Bowen

Each NFL season is full of surprises, never disappointing fans hungry for action. Never a dull moment, the 2012 season is no different as teams and individual players’ true identities have now begun to show.

IS RG3 the biggest surprise of 2012 so far?

Albeit only four games in, that means there are only 12 left. The parity in the league is what fans should love best, as the cliché “any given Sunday” is 100 percent true.  Through four weeks of play, 10 teams have a 2-2 record and only three remain undefeated. This promises fans a tight race to the finish as this year’s competition will hold surprises until the waning moments of Week 17.

That being said, let’s check out the NFL top three surprises through the quarter mark of the season.

RG3 is the Truth

OK—so this may not be a surprise, but Robert Griffin III has looked like he’s in contention for NFL MVP this season. He’s already totaled eight touchdowns and has only thrown one interception. This tells one that he is wise beyond his years when it comes to handling pressure in the pocket.

He’s thrown for 300-plus yards twice and most importantly the Washington Redskins are 2-2. What speaks volumes in regards to RG3’s remarkable blend of skills and smarts is his completion percentage, which sits at 69.4. This kid simply can’t play enough as fans would be willing to pay to see him play seven days a week.

The Minnesota Vikings are Looking Good

Who would have bet that the Vikings would be on top of the NFC North after four weeks of the season? What’s even more surprising is that the Vikings are in it for the long haul. Led by Jared Allen, their defense is as good as any in the NFL. They’ll keep the Vikes in every game this season.

Thanks to the somewhat miraculous rehabilitation of running back Adrian Peterson after knee surgery, one of the game’s best is still looking like… well, the best. He may only have one 100-yard game so far, but the way he’s bouncing in and out of holes means nothing but trouble for opposing defenses the rest of the season. He’s truly electric.

The biggest surprise for the team is that second-year quarterback Christian Ponder is making the organization look smart to draft him 12th overall in the 2011 draft. He has thrown four touchdowns and zero interceptions to this point. His completion percentage of 68.3 is a great improvement over his 54.3 percent last season, telling us that he is really learning the offense and is becoming comfortable as a starting NFL quarterback.

Don’t be shocked when the Vikings make the playoffs this year. After all, let’s not forget about Percy Harvin, who has proven to be more than just a flash in the pan and has solidified himself a legitimate threat to find the end zone every time he touches the ball. Wow!

The Arizona Cardinals are 4-0

Before the season started, there was much talk about the Arizona Cardinals being the worst team in the NFL. Role reversal, after four games, they are the best.

Quarterback Kevin Kolb has downright gotten the job done, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is as good as ever and their defense has only allowed 61 points, which is tops in the NFC right now.

So, will the Cardinals suddenly plummet? Don’t plan on it. This team now believes in itself and won’t take no for an answer. Week 5 against the St. Louis Rams will be Thursday Night Football. A win then will give the team a 5-0 record with 10 days to rest and improve.

Momentum is a hard thing to halt in the NFL. The Cardinals are for real.

September 19, 2012

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Five Impressive NFL Teams Through Week 2

By: Junior

With Week 3 in the NFL starting tomorrow, I wanted to look at which teams have been the most impressive through the first 2 weeks of the NFL season. Not the best. Not NFL Power Rankings. Just a list of impressive teams.

Certain teams have started the season much better than we thought, while others have stumbled out of the gate (yes, I am talking about the Saints). Here are the 5 NFL teams that have been the most impressive through 2 Weeks.

1.  San Francisco 49ers

Making two playoff teams from last year look average is no easy task. The 49ers went into Lambeau Field and were dominant. They invited the Lions to Candlestick Park and beat them soundly. Their defense has been relentless and their offense doesn’t look like one that needs the game to stay in single digits to win. They have been downright scary.

Alex Smith and the 49ers have been making everything look easy through Week 2.

2. Baltimore Ravens

Prior to the season, the Ravens lost Terrell Suggs for at least part of the season due to injury. The defense was classified as old. Yet the Bengals found out the hard way in the first week that Baltimore still has some fight left. They blew a late game lead to the Eagles in week 2, but their defense forced 4 turnovers and hit Mike Vick early and often. No offense will look forward to playing Baltimore this season.

3. Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles are on this list for an unusual reason. The Eagles have turned the ball over 8 times already this season and have won both their games by a combined 2 points. They looked average against the Browns and seemingly stole the game from the Ravens. However, it is impressive that while they have played poorly, they are 2-0. Something has to be said for finding a way to win and when the Eagles start playing the way Philadelphia fans have expected for the last two years, teams will take notice.

4. San Diego Chargers

A team notorious for slow starts is 2-0 to start 2012. Sure, it was against Oakland and Tennessee, which aren’t statement type wins, but for the Chargers, it is impressive. If San Diego can get to 3-0 against another undefeated team in Atlanta, they could have a good shot at being 5-0. San Diego at 2-0 is impressive to me.

5. Arizona Cardinals

I don’t expect the Cardinals to make this list often, but they beat the Patriots. Let that sink in. Arizona, with Kevin Kolb, who is technically their backup quarterback, went into New England and won. That isn’t impressive, it’s shocking. Unexplainable. Crazy. If I hadn’t watched it, I wouldn’t believe it. On top of that, the Cardinals are 2-0 this season. Arizona, through 2 weeks, screams impressive.

August 29, 2012

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NFC Preview

By: Joe Williams

The NFC is the definition of parity. Since the 2001-2002 season, 13 teams have made an NFC Championship Game appearance. Eight teams have played in the last four. Only the Cowboys, Redskins and Lions haven’t been there in this century. Will an NFC team reach the game for the first time in this millennium this season? I said it would happen last season and the 49ers proved me right (even though that isn’t the team I had in mind.) It’s pretty much the only thing I had right about the NFC so I’m going to press my luck and say that it happens again this year.

Will the Packers be returning to the Super Bowl this season?

NFC EAST

Once again, the Washington Redskins win in the offseason. But this time it’s because they moved up in the draft and picked Robert Griffin III to build the franchise around instead of overpaying for big-name free agents. And once again, someone else will win the division. But it won’t be the defending Super Bowl champs in New York. I picked the Philadelphia Eagles last year and it took them 12 games to get their act together. Philadelphia won its last four games and I believe they keep the momentum going to a division title. The heat is on in Dallas as the playoff win drought continues. Tony Romo is going to need better protection and more weapons to stay healthy. I say the Cowboys and Giants will be in a battle for the final wild card spot that won’t be decided until week 17.

Division winner: Philadelphia

NFC NORTH

It’s going to be a long season for Viking fans. Barring quarterback injuries, Green Bay, Chicago and Detroit will all be in the playoff hunt. Meanwhile, Minnesota is rebuilding. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers are still the class of the North and will be looking for redemption from last year’s playoff loss to the Giants. Detroit gets better every year and could make a deep run if the defense gets better. The Bears will be much more dangerous after bringing in Jay Cutler’s favorite target from his days in Denver in Brandon Marshall and worked out a new deal for Matt Forte (if the offensive line can keep Cutler off his back). The Bears visit Detroit in week 17 and the winner will move on to the playoffs.

Division winner: Green Bay

NFC SOUTH:

The Saints were mere seconds away from hosting the NFC Championship Game last season. Letting the 49ers go 85 yards in less than two minutes was the beginning of the end for this team. From the Drew Brees contract mess to the Bountygate scandal, there couldn’t be much worse of an offseason. That’s too much to overcome in such a competitive NFC. This leaves the door open for Atlanta in the South. The Falcons have plenty of weapons. They just need to put it all together. In Carolina, the Panthers should continue to improve along with Cam Newton but they are at least a year away from contending. It’s anybody’s guess what we will see in Tampa Bay. The Bucs went from a 10-6 finish in 2010 to losing 10 straight and 4-12 in 2011.

Division winner: Atlanta

NFC WEST

Thanks for nothing St. Louis. The Rams were by far my worst pick last season. I’m off the bandwagon but at least they know who the quarterback is going to be. Seattle just made a surprising announcement that rookie Russell Wilson will be the starter over their big-money free agent signing Matt Flynn. That could change with a rough start. In Arizona, the starter hasn’t even been named yet. Considering what they gave up to get him, Kevin Kolb needs to win the job. If he does, he will have a good defense to help him, but the Cardinals aren’t in the playoff class. San Francisco made a huge improvement last year and could be even better this year with the additions of Mario Manningham and Randy Moss at the receiver position.

Division winner: San Francisco

Wild Card winners: Dallas, Detroit

NFC champion: Green Bay

October 10, 2011

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Rebuilding the Yankees

By: Anson Whaley

Only two years removed from their last World Series title, the Yankees are far from a colossal disappointment. Winning 97 regular season games and losing in the fifth game of the Divisional Series is hardly an embarrassment. Still, anytime they fall short of winning the championship, fans aren’t happy.

‘Rebuilding’ is probably far too strong a term – the Yankees need a tune up, not an overhaul. It’s pretty obvious that this team is still stacked beyond belief. The roster features a host of current or former All-Stars and it’s difficult to find too many holes. That said, there are a few things the Yankees can do to have a better shot at winning another title in 2012.

Add Another Starter

Pitching, pitching, pitching. More times than not, the playoffs are decided with great pitching. Once the postseason arrives, nearly every team has it. The Yankees aren’t without quality pitchers. For starters, there’s the ace of the staff, C.C. Sabathia. Sabathia won 19 games this season and with an ERA of 3.00, was one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. But here’s the thing: After him, the Yankees don’t have a truly dominant guy next in line. Remember the Arizona Diamondbacks with Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling? Or last year’s San Francisco Giants team featuring Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain? Or those Red Sox teams with Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling (again)? World Series contenders are always better served by having two top of the line starters.

The Yankees do have young pitcher Ivan Nova who had an amazing year, winning 16 games. But with an ERA approaching 4.00 and at only 24, he might not be a true No. 2 starter just yet for a championship caliber team. Free agency pickings are always slim when it comes to finding aces, but if the Yankees could swing a trade for one, it would go a long way to helping their chances in 2012.

Another quality starter would help the Yankees' chance at another championship.

Let The Jesus Montero Era Begin … Now

Jesus Montero is largely regarded as the best prospect in the Yankees’ system. In limited action (18 games) this season, he smashed four home runs and hit .328. Montero is ready for the big stage, and, after hitting 39 home runs in the past two seasons in AAA and being named as the #3 overall prospect in the minors in 2011 by Baseball America, it’s clear he needs to play. Whether that means the Yankees start Montero as the everyday catcher and play him as the DH, manager Joe Girardi needs to find a way to get his bat into the lineup next year.

Will he come in and immediately dominate the league? Not likely. But the sooner the team can get him at bats, the sooner he can get used to life in the majors. He has the potential to hit 25-30 home runs eventually and that’s the type of power that could make him an elite catcher in the league.

Add a Power Bat in the Outfield

With Curtis Granderson’s 41 home runs, the Yankees’ outfield isn’t completely devoid of power. But the Yankees could use a few more long balls from the remaining two positions, left field and right field. Brett Gardner is unquestionably one of the best base stealers in the entire sport, but he hit only seven home runs in a full-time position. So while New York obviously needs to find space for his speed on the base paths, his lack of power as a corner outfielder clearly hurts at least a bit. Nick Swisher manned the other corner spot opposite him, and the duo combined for a total of 30 home runs between them. That’s not terrible, but 30 home runs from two corner outfielders is below average for a contending team. The Yankees would be wise to keep both of those players, but if they could add another 30-home run outfielder to the mix, the team would be even stronger since it would allow either Swisher or Gardner to come off the bench.

Will the Yankees rebound and reach the World Series next year? No one knows for sure, but making these moves would improve their chances.