March 26, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Sweet 16 set in the NCAA Tournament: The first week of the NCAA Tournament is complete and, as usual, there were a fair share of big upsets. The big ones in the first round were tiny Florida Gulf Coast shocking the world by beating No. 2 seeded Georgetown and No. 3 seed New Mexico being ousted by Harvard. Lots will be made about some of those weaker teams being underseeded, but the fact is that if you played the tournament a dozen times, you might have a dozen different champions. Any team is capable of losing on any given night and if a team like Florida Gulf Coast played Georgetown ten times, it’s difficult to believe they’d win the majority of those games. But that’s the beauty of March.

Brian Urlacher appears to be on his way out of Chicago.

Brian Urlacher leaving Chicago: A bit of a surprise in NFL free agency was that the Chicago Bears didn’t re-sign longtime linebacker Brian Urlacher. Urlacher, a mainstay on the team for the past 13 years, couldn’t come to terms with the team. He had come down considerably from his initial asking price for the 2013 season, but that still wasn’t enough to get the Bears to move from their $2 million offer, as reported by ESPN. Reportedly, his agent has already talked with the Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, and Arizona Cardinals. Now at 35, Urlacher is surely slowing down – his tackles have dropped each of the past two seasons. But the bet here is that some team will take a chance on him. With no other options, his asking price may have to come down, though.

Denver Nuggets dominating with 15-game winning streak: With everyone focused on the Miami Heat’s remarkable streak, the Denver Nuggets have gone under the radar. The Nuggets won their 15th straight game this past weekend, beating Sacramento on Saturday. As a result, Denver has soared up to the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference, passing the Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies in the process. The Nuggets have been winning this year on youth and depth. The team has only three players over the age of 25 and only one of those, Andre Miller, is over 30. Also, nine players average more than eight points a game, but none average more than 17. With so much youth and balance, if the Nuggets keep their core together, this is a franchise that could compete for years to come.

Hanley Ramirez out for two months: The Dodgers got some bad news with Opening Day just around the corner. Star shortstop Hanley Ramirez had a torn ligament in his thumb and required surgery last week. Because of it, Ramirez will miss about eight weeks recovering. That’s a tough break for the Dodgers, who picked him up in a trade last season. In 2012 splitting time with the Dodgers and Marlins, Ramirez hit 24 home runs and drove in 92 runs, having one of his best offensive seasons of his career. Not having him until close to May could mean the Dodgers get off to a slow start.

Sergio Garcia hits golf ball … from tree: The final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational was on Sunday. You might assume that the real news was that the event was suspended due to weather, but you’d be wrong. The big highlight came from Sergio Garcia hitting a golf ball while atop a tree branch. Don’t believe me? Here’s the video. Whatever your interest level is in golf, there’s no denying that shots like these make it interesting. Still, I’m not sure Garcia’s move was all that wise. A slip of the foot could have meant a nasty fall and possibly even an end to his season. Not to mention that Garcia double-bogeyed the hole anyway and later withdrew. Still, if we’re going by entertainment value, this one’s a ten all the way. And as a spectator, I’d much rather see Garcia take a gamble like that.

U.S. Soccer wins match over Costa Rica despite snow protest: You read that right. The U.S. Soccer team defeated Costa Rica 1-0 in the qualifying for the FIFA World Cup in the snow in Denver. Costa Rica protested during the match and also filed a formal protest immediately afterwards. Typically, this is where I’d say that both teams had equal playing conditions so Costa Rica should suck it up. But I also understand the point in protesting. Soccer isn’t like, pardon the pun, (American) football where snow is considered as a part of the playing conditions. When you think of soccer, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? For most of us, it’s not white stuff falling to the ground. I don’t mind a match being played if it’s a little bit of snow, but the field was covered to the point where Costa Rican players were complaining that they couldn’t even adequately see the lines. Keep in mind, this is also the qualifying for the World Cup – it’s not a meaningless preseason MLB game. With so much at stake, postponing the game would have made more sense. Similarly hilarious is the fact that a qualifying match was even scheduled in Denver when there’s always a chance of spring snow.

March 18, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

The NCAA Tournament is here: It’s NCAA Tournament time. The NCAA released its tournament bracket yesterday and while the field is generally wide open, that’s even more so the case this year. In case you missed it, the four No. 1 seeds were Louisville, Indiana, Kansas, and Gonzaga. There’s been no truly dominant team in college basketball with the No. 1 spot changing hands nearly every week. I haven’t hashed out my bracket yet, but my early pick to win it all might be Louisville. The Cardinals fell a bit off the radar in the middle of the season after three straight losses to Syracuse, Villanova, and Georgetown, but they lost two of those games by a total of four points. And as we found out, those are three pretty good teams. Louisville went on to win 13 of their last 14 games and the one loss was a five overtime thriller to Notre Dame.

Should the Cowboys move to the NFC South?

Team USA bows out of World Baseball Classic: Team USA lost games to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico and was knocked out of the World Baseball Classic. Most amusing was the attitude by some players on Team USA who were none too pleased with the way the Dominican Republic celebrated after their victory. First things first – the tournament means much more in general to the other countries playing. Team USA’s players want the World Series, not the World Baseball Classic title. I’ve got no problem with the enthusiastic celebration by the Dominican Republic.  It’s not only a big deal to them, but it was a dramatic victory as they scored two runs to snap a ninth-inning tie. Team USA being upset about the celebration is akin to a ranked college basketball team losing on the road and then being angry that the home team’s fans storm the court. Want to know the best way to avoid opposing teams celebrating? Win.

Tony Gonzalez Un-retires: The NFL season has barely ended, but Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez couldn’t wait to get back onto the field, despite saying he was retiring during last season. Gonzalez is expected to now return for 2013 and his coming back isn’t really that much of a surprise. He’s still in great shape and with 93 catches for 930 yards and eight touchdowns in 2012, he not only was productive but had one of the best years of his career. What is surprising, though, was that Gonzalez made the announcement to come back so quickly. It’s only March and training camp isn’t any time soon. By making his decision so soon, it only shows he was never all that convinced that retirement was for him. You could make the argument that the team was pushing him for a decision in order to figure out what path they might need to take in free agency. But Gonzalez is a future Hall of Famer who’s still producing, so they would have given him a bit of leeway.

NHL Realignment for 2013-14: In a move that’s gone somewhat under the radar, the NHL will undergo some realignment for next season. The Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets will move into the Eastern Conference while Winnipeg will head to the west. Simply put, the move makes a ton of sense and the only hope is that other professional leagues will follow suit. Don’t hold your breath, though. While it would make far more sense for the Dallas Cowboys to be playing in the NFC South and the Carolina Panthers to move to the NFC East, things like that aren’t likely to happen for one big reason: rivalries. Unlike the NHL, with a limited schedule, the NFL can’t have all of its teams face each other every year. And Cowboys fans wouldn’t be all that thrilled with losing annual games against the Giants, Eagles, and Redskins.

The Miami Heat keep winning: In case you’ve not noticed, the Miami Heat are pretty good at basketball. The Heat have been winning, and winning … and winning. The team won their 22nd straight game on Sunday and is a threat to challenge the Los Angeles Lakers’ 33-game record streak set in 1971-72. Can the Heat break the record? Sure. But even though they’re steamrolling the rest of the league right now, there are a few things that will stand in their way. The Heat have many road games coming up in the next couple of weeks including some that should be tough. Among those stops are trips to Boston, Chicago, and San Antonio. The Heat have had several near losses during their streak. Four of their wins have been by five points or fewer and one has gone to overtime. If that’s not enough to convince you, consider this – the Heat have already clinched a playoff spot and have a large lead on the rest of the Eastern Conference for home court advantage throughout the playoffs. At some point, you’ve got to imagine the team will try to rest some players and that could bring an end to the streak.

March 12, 2013

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Wooden Award Watch

By: Tyler Vespa

College basketball’s player of the year race is starting to heat up. In this wide open season where we’ve seen top 5 teams go down almost every week, the Wooden Award Watch has also been sent into a frenzy. We’ve seen so many teams picked to finish in the middle or the bottom of their conference rise above expectations. This parity has put names on the Wooden Award Watch that nobody saw coming.

Will Indiana's Victor Oladipo win the Wooden Award?

With that, here are my top 5 players (in order) that could take home player of the year honors:

Victor Oladipo- Indiana

His incredible quickness helps him do so many different things for the Hoosiers. Oladipo is one of the best I’ve seen at turning defense into offense. He averages 14.0 ppg, 2.1 assists, 6 rebounds and 2.3 steals and to top it off, he is shooting 63% from the floor. His play has been so consistent it’s hard to put anyone ahead of him at this point.

Otto Porter- Georgetown

The Hoyas swingman rises to the occasion in big games. Porter scored 33 points in a win at Syracuse, and scored 21 of his 22 points in the second half of a double-overtime win against Connecticut. Porter shoots 51% from the floor and averages 16.6 points. 2.5 assists, 7.6 rebounds, 2 steals and 1 block. The Hoyas have won 11 in a row, and Porter is averaging 19.2 ppg in the last 13 games. In other words, he single handedly took the Hoyas to the top of the Big East.

Rodney McGruder- Kansas St.

The Kansas State senior guard is averaging 14.9 ppg and 5.3 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1.3 steals. This play by McGruder has helped the Wildcats win 5 in a row and take over 1st in the Big 12.

Deshaun Thomas- Ohio St.

In the toughest conference in the country, the junior forward has averaged 19.8 ppg, 1.3 assists, and 6.1 rebounds.  This consistency, along with Thomas’ 84.5 free throw shooting has helped the Buckeyes win 4 of their last 5, putting them 2nd in the Big Ten.

Marcus Smart- Oklahoma St.

The freshman guard is averaging 14.6 ppg, 5.6 rebounds, and 4.3 assists and 2.9 steals. Smart does it all for the Cowboys, who have now won 10 of their past 11, with their only loss coming against Kansas in double overtime. They now sit just one game behind Kansas and Kansas St. in the Big 12.

I would be in shock if one of these 5 didn’t win player of the year. Even with the conference tournaments and the NCAA Tournament right around the corner, these are the top guys in the top conferences in the nation. I can’t wait to see how these guys perform down the stretch in the race for a national championship.

March 4, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Magic Johnson offers $1 million dunk challenge offer to Lebron James: Each year, nearly all of the NBA’s biggest stars forgo the league’s slam dunk contest held during All-Star Weekend. Once a marquee event that featured some of basketball’s biggest stars such as Michael Jordan and Julius Erving, the dunk contest now showcases some smaller, and even obscure, names. Magic Johnson is the latest person to challenge Lebron James to partake in the event … but he’s backing it up with his wallet. Magic offered James $1 million to participate in next year’s dunk contest. More specifically, he’s willing to put the money up as a prize to the winner and LBJ is reportedly thinking about the offer. Here’s the thing – while it would be cool to see the best player in the league show up, only doing so after a significant purse is put up makes James look bad. The dunk contest is supposed to be about the fans, but if Lebron participates now, it looks like it’s all about the money. One way James can dunk next season and not look greedy? Donate the money to charity.

Joe Flacco is now the highest paid player in the NFL.

Joe Flacco becomes highest paid player in NFL: Funny what a Super Bowl win can do for you. First, wide receiver Jacoby Jones gets a Dancing with the Stars invite, and now Joe Flacco is in the news. Heading into this season, Baltimore Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco was widely regarded as a solid, but unspectacular, player. He had the always-popular ‘Can’t win the big one’ tag and no one knew that he’d ever shake it. But this season, Flacco took a fairly unheralded Ravens’ team and not only bulldozed their way through the AFC, but knocked off the favored San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl. Flacco parlayed that into a record NFL contract and is now the highest paid player in the league. Does he really deserve it? Probably not. There are many players more valuable to their respective teams and Flacco may never again reach another Super Bowl. But kudos to the Ravens for stepping up and paying their franchise quarterback. He’s still young and should have a lot of seasons ahead of him.

Mike Trout to make near minimum after historic season: By most accounts, Mike Trout had one of the most astounding rookie seasons in baseball history. It was so historic, that he nearly won the American League’s Most Valuable Player award. But if you think Trout was due for a big raise, think again. The Angels could have renewed his contract for a significant amount, but chose to give him only slightly more than the league minimum. The club is perfectly within its rights to pay Trout what they want since he’s not yet eligible for arbitration, but low-balling him after he proved he’s one of the game’s top players could come back to bite them when it comes time to re-sign him. Trout hasn’t openly complained, but I can’t imagine he’s too happy right now.

Randy Moss could leave San Francisco 49ers: Randy Moss didn’t have one of his biggest seasons, but he fit in with the 49ers this past season, helping the team reach the Super Bowl. It seemed like a good fit, but the wide receiver tweeted this past week that he wished the team good luck, indicating he may be moving on. If Moss does leave, it will be interesting to see what teams want to pick him up. He just turned 36 this month and is surely on the downside of his career. There just may not be many suitors for his services.

Catholic Seven to keep Big East name: The Catholic Seven, otherwise known as the non-football members of the Big East, decided recently to leave to create their own conference. The schools aren’t only leaving, but they’re reportedly taking the Big East name with them, according to ESPN. Assuming that happens, that’s the right move. When you think of the Big East, you think of schools like Georgetown, Providence, and St. John’s – not SMU, Houston, and Tulane. And frankly, the Big East name just wouldn’t fit the conference anymore once new members join since so many of them are away from the east coast.

December 17, 2012

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Josh Hamilton joins Los Angeles Angels: The balance of power could be shifting in the AL West as the Los Angeles Angels have signed Josh Hamilton, formerly of the Texas Rangers. Hamilton’s deal is a reportedly $125 million over five years. Give the Angels credit for making such a splash yet again in the offseason. Over the past two winters, they’ve had the biggest signings in baseball with Hamilton this year and slugger Albert Pujols last year. One thing’s for certain, though – if L.A. somehow misses the playoffs again, ownership won’t be happy after investing a boatload of money for the next several seasons.

Josh Hamilton going to the Angels was the biggest story of the week.

Andrea Bargnani bashes team: Toronto Raptors forward/center Andrea Bargnani recently spoke to an Italian newspaper, reportedly calling his team ‘pretty much the worst team in the NBA.’ Few would dispute that with the Raptors and Washington Wizards battling it out for rights to shack up in the league’s basement. Bargnani’s honesty should be lauded as far too often, players dance around questions. Unfortunately for him, though, making the comments while he collects dusts on the bench recovering from an injury looks bad. The franchise needs him healthy to even have a chance at respectability and calling the team he’s not able to help right now among the worst in the league implies that his teammates aren’t all that good.

High school girls’ basketball team wins 107-2: No, 107-2 isn’t a team’s record over several seasons. Rather, 107-2 was the score of an actual, singular game. Indiana’s Bloomington South High School defeated Arlington by that ginormous amount, drawing the criticism of many. There are two sides to the argument, of course. If you’re Bloomington, do you continue to play as hard as you can or take your foot off the pedal a bit? I don’t necessarily have a problem with either approach in college or the pros, but in a high school contest, that’s probably a bit ridiculous. To his credit, the Bloomington coach played all nine of his players. Hopefully, the reserves logged a ton of minutes in the game.

NHL lockout gets uglier: If you were hoping for a timely end to the NHL lockout as an early Christmas gift, you’re probably out of luck. Word broke last week that the players could break up their own union and things could go downhill from there. According to ESPN, by voting to disband the group, players could be protected by antitrust laws, which prohibit companies from locking out employees not a part of the union. If they are locked out, laws require said companies to pay triple the amount of wages owed to employees … er, players in this case. The NHL quickly reacted, filing a class-action complaint in federal court and an Unfair Labor Practice Charge with the National Labor Relations Board. Eventually, things will still end up with Sidney Crosby scoring goals and owners entertaining clients in their private suites since there’s simply too much money to be made. But when that happens remains a big question mark.

Enter … Pokertox: Okay, so we could debate for hours if poker is really a sport, but just go with it for now – I promise, it’ll be fun. Dr. Jack Berdy in New York is introducing Pokertox to the world. Pokertox, essentially is Botox for poker players. The procedure would ideally reduce telltale facial reaction players might make in certain situations while playing the game to give them a better poker face. Sounds a bit strange, but when you think about it, it would have to help, right?

Non-FBS Schools reportedly leaving Big East: For years, the Big East has endured a bit of a power struggle. The schools that played football have wanted to improve that side of the conference, but there were many members that either didn’t play football or didn’t participate in the FBS. With the recent defections from the conference, reports are now that the Big East’s non-FBS football members (that’s Georgetown, DePaul, Villanova, Marquette, Seton Hall, St. John’s, and Providence if you’re scoring at home) plan to leave. Reports have the seven potentially ending up in the Atlantic 10 to create a new basketball super-conference. Others say that the seven schools could join forces with other Catholic basketball-focused colleges and create a new league. Either move really makes significantly more sense than remaining in the Big East since each member would have the same goals. They would also be less prone to being affected by the recent realignment nightmare since the other conferences are heavily football-focused and wouldn’t be as interested in adding a non-FBS football member.