January 2, 2013

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Adrian Peterson barely misses Eric Dickerson’s record: I’ll admit that I was among the doubters not believing that Minnesota Vikings’ running back Adrian Peterson could break Eric Dickerson’s long-standing record of 2,105 rushing yards in a season. But Peterson shocked me (and probably a lot of other people) in rushing for 199 yards, coming much closer than expected. In the end, he fell only nine yards short of the goal and despite the happy face he may put on this week, it’s hard to imagine he’s not at least a bit disappointed. Peterson still should have a few more productive seasons ahead of him, but reaching the rarefied air that he did this year may never happen again. Even if it doesn’t, though, congratulations are in order for an MVP-type season and one of the best ever for a running back. Plus, the win over the Packers gave the Vikings a playoff berth and ultimately, that’s a pretty nice consolation prize for Peterson.

Drafted in April, Andrew Luck is now taking the Colts to the NFL Playoffs.

Avery Johnson fired as coach of Nets: The Brooklyn Nets made a fairly surprising move by firing head coach Avery Johnson. Assistant P.J. Carlesimo is leading the way for now, but the franchise also has an eye on Phil Jackson. For Johnson, it was a tale of two months. The former NBA guard had the Nets out to an 11-4 start in November and looking like one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. But then came a 3-10 stretch in December and that ultimately cost him his job. Part of the reason for that downfall can be attributed to the loss of star center Brook Lopez, who missed six games due to injury. But with so much talent, more was expected of the team at this point in the season. Johnson should get another opportunity with a different team down the line, though. Before serving as the Nets’ coach, he led the Dallas Mavericks to the playoffs in each of his four years with the franchise and also took them to the NBA Finals in 2006.

Hideki Matsui retires: Japanese slugger Hideki Matsui ended his long career by officially announcing his retirement last week. Matsui spent a total of 20 seasons playing Japanese and American baseball and in ten major league seasons, he hit 175 home runs and batted .282 with the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Angels, Tampa Bay Rays, and Oakland Athletics. Even factoring in his 332 home runs in Japan, Matsui still isn’t a likely Hall of Famer. But he was certainly an above-average major leaguer. Matsui finished second in the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 2003, was a two-time All-Star, and won a World Series Most Valuable Player Award.

Three Rookie quarterbacks make playoffs: When a rookie quarterback leads a team to the NFL playoffs, it’s a big accomplishment. When three do it in the same year, it’s probably time to call the Mayans for another apocalyptic prediction. That’s what happened this year as the ColtsAndrew Luck, the RedskinsRobert Griffin III, and the SeahawksRussell Wilson led their franchises to the postseason. The amazing thing is that none were just along for the ride, either. Luck broke the rookie passing record, throwing for more than 4,100 yards this season, while Griffin had the NFL’s second-best passer rating and Wilson tallied 26 touchdowns and more than 3,000 yards.

Kevin Ollie named permanent UConn head coach: Ollie, a former player, was named as UConn’s permanent head men’s basketball coach with a reported five-year deal. Following the retirement of Jim Calhoun, Ollie was given the job on a sort of trial run with only a one-year deal. But so far this season, he’s steered the Huskies to a 9-2 record and convinced the administration that he was capable of leading the program. Replacing Calhoun is a tough task and Ollie will have his work cut out for him if he wants to achieve as much as the former coach did. The key here is that the new deal will make things much easier for him on recruiting. Instead of telling prospective players that he hopes to still be on the job next year, he can now virtually assure them that he will.

Brandon Roy hopes to continue comeback bid: Just a few years ago, Brandon Roy was one of the top young guards in the NBA. In his first four seasons with the Portland Trailblazers, Roy averaged nearly 20 points a game and made three All-Star teams. But knee issues forced him to suddenly retire after a disappointing 2010-11 season. Roy made a comeback this year with the Minnesota Timberwolves, but is still suffering with the condition and has only appeared in a few games so far this year. Roy has weighed another retirement, but is hoping to get back on the court after dealing with the chronic knee pain. The decision has to be difficult for him. He’s still young enough that he could have several seasons in front of him if the pain can be treated. But at some point, the conditioning day in and day out to be able to play has to be a burden.

March 28, 2011

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Final Four as Unpredictable as the Regular Season

By: Anson Whaley

The Final Four is here and March Madness is coming to an end. This year’s tournament has proved to be just as unpredictable as the regular season. Sure, the way the UConn Huskies were playing, it wasn’t too much of a stretch to see them end up in Houston. But Virginia Commonwealth? Butler? Kentucky? This looks almost more like an NIT Final Four than an NCAA Tournament Final Four. We might as well throw in Jimmy Chitwood and the Hickory Hoosiers.

Let’s start with UConn – the Huskies won five consecutive games in the Big East tournament on their way to the Final Four. They were playing their best ball over the past month and because of that, were a trendy pick to get this far. Personally, I didn’t see it. The Big East is a brutal tournament, and Connecticut played those five games in five days. After a tough regular season, even with one of the best basketball players in the nation in Kemba Walker, I figured they’d tire at some point. It hasn’t happened yet, though, and coach Jim Calhoun showed why he’s a Hall of Fame coach. UConn isn’t only in the Final Four again; they also may be the odds on favorites to win.

Kentucky came out of the East region after taking out top seed Ohio State and No. 2 seed North Carolina. The fact that the Wildcats were almost upset in the opening round by 13-seed Princeton is the perfect example of just how crazy this tournament has been. Kentucky now gets the unenviable task of trying to slow down Walker’s Huskies.  Sure, they’re led by a freshman in Brandon Knight, but we’ve seen before that first-year players are capable of carrying teams on their backs to win NCAA titles (see Carmelo Anthony and the 2002-03 Syracuse Orange).

On the other side of the bracket, there’s Virginia Commonwealth. After the selection committee chose VCU as a part of the field, lots of analysts, including ESPN’s Jay Bilas, had a field day telling the world just why they didn’t belong. And while their magical run is truly amazing, Bilas had this one right.  Virginia Commonwealth’s improbable run doesn’t mean the selection committee did the right thing putting them in the tournament. Their tournament success should really be viewed independently of that selection. That said, they’ve definitely made the most of their opportunity and proved they have an excellent, well-coached team.

They’ll be facing the Butler Bulldogs, another surprise team. Butler reached the championship game last season, falling to Duke in the final seconds. Not many people gave them a chance to win even their first two games but after upsetting Pitt, Butler went even further in knocking off the Wisconsin Badgers and No. 2 seed Florida Gators. The Bulldogs not only have some quality players in Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack, but they have experience on their side as much of the team’s roster was on last year’s squad, and they know what it takes to advance in the tournament.

So now what? What should we expect? Well, after going 0-fer in Final Four predictions at the start of the NCAAs, the only prediction I feel comfortable making is this: the madness we’ve seen in March is very likely to spill over into April, and I can’t wait.