April 29, 2013
NFL Draft: The popular NFL Draft was held over the weekend and it was, as usual, a big attraction. The true popularity of the league was on display as millions and millions tuned in over the three-day event. The NFL not only has the most popular on-field product in American sports, but has managed to nearly turn its draft into a national holiday. One of the big surprises was West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith falling to the second round. Smith, once considered a potential No. 1 overall pick fell and fell … and fell. But when it was all said and done, he landed in a pretty good spot with the New York Jets. Starter Mark Sanchez has fallen out of favor for a couple of years now and backup Tim Tebow is rumored to be released. Smith should have a chance to not only play in 2013, but win the starting job.
Russell Westbrook out for NBA Playoffs: The Oklahoma City Thunder caught an unbelievably tough break when starting guard Russell Westbrook went down with an injury in Game 2. He suffered a tear in his knee and will miss the rest of the season after having surgery on Saturday. Westbrook is often the subject of criticism for his questionable shot selection, but he still averages 23 points a game. And his seven assists and five rebounds per game make him one of the more complete point guards in the league. Once considered a team that could knock off the Miami Heat for their first NBA title, I’m not even sure OKC makes it out of the western conference now.
College football sets playoff system: College football and the BCS announced their plan for the new playoff system set to begin in 2015. Six bowl games will rotate sharing semifinal games – The Rose, Sugar, Fiesta, Orange, Chick-fil-A, and Cotton. Each year, two of those bowls will host the semifinal games while the other four will hold significant BCS-type games. The first title game in 2015 will be held in Cowboys Stadium. The real winner in all of this? The fans. Not only will there be a four-team playoff, but there will be two additional big time games. Currently, there are the four major bowl games and the BCS Championship. But now, there will be a total of seven major matchups. And in addition, the two semifinal games and the remaining four contests will be held during New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Two tripleheaders over the holiday should give you plenty of reasons not to leave your couch.
Rick Pitino gets tattoo: Yes, this is real news … just go with it. Rick Pitino promised his Louisville Cardinals team he’d man up and get a tattoo if they could win the National Championship. That happened and Pitino didn’t back down. Here’s a picture of it. Not great, but not horrible, I suppose. And props to the coach for not going with a small one-inch tattoo on his ankle or something.
Aaron Rodgers signs new deal with Green Bay Packers: In a move that could keep their star quarterback in a Packers’ uniform for the rest of his career, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers signed a five-year, $110 million extension to remain with the franchise. If he plays out that contract, he would remain in Green Bay for the next seven seasons, through 2019. That would keep him in a Packers jersey until he’s 38. He could play longer, of course, but if nothing else, the bulk of his playing career should be in Green Bay.
UNLV plans Jerry Tarkanian statue: The Las Vegas Sun reported that UNLV is planning a statue for former head basketball coach, Jerry Tarkanian. Tarkanian, recently elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame, and the school have been on the outs for a while with the relationship mending a bit in recent years. And the coach had long been targeted by the NCAA for a variety of issues involving his teams. But wherever you come out on Tark, the one thing that can’t be debated is his ability as a head coach. He won more than 80% of his games and led UNLV to the 1990 National Championship.
November 1, 2012
With college football’s BCS bowl picture just vaguely starting to take shape, speculation is already running rampant about which teams will play for the BCS National Championship. We have a long way to go before we find out, but Week 10 in college football could help shape the futures of a lot of teams. We look at the 5 biggest games of the weekend and how they could change the BCS picture.
Alabama at LSU
This game could drastically change the BCS National Championship game. Alabama has long been penciled into the BCS National Championship game and a loss to LSU could be devastating. LSU has been very successful in Saturday night games at home, but they are still thought to be heavy underdogs against the Crimson Tide. If they can pull off the upset, they would have one loss and be launched back into the national championship conversation. Not to mention potentially take Alabama out of it.
Oklahoma State at Kansas State
Kansas State has been one of the most surprising teams this college football season. They are averaging over 44 points a game and giving up only 17. The Wildcats have dominated their last two opponents, #13 West Virginia and #14 Texas Tech, and are contending for a spot in the BCS National Championship. Oklahoma State has two losses and this will be their first of 4 straight games against ranked opponents. A win against the Wildcats would start their streak off on the right foot. A loss puts Kansas State one step closer to their goal.
Oregon at USC
No team scores quite like the Oregon Ducks. The undefeated Ducks average 53 points a game and, at 8-0, have been pretty successful winning games. The knock on Oregon is that they don’t play tough competition, but they beat Arizona, a team that beat USC just last week. USC would like nothing better than to bounce back and spoil Oregon’s season. Both team’s look set for a rematch in the PAC-12 championship game, although a loss to Oregon would put USC’s chances in jeopardy.
Texas A&M at Mississippi State
Both of these teams are facing season-defining games these next two weeks. If #16 Texas A&M can win this week against Mississippi State and then upset #1 Alabama, their BCS resume would be looking great. The Aggies would be 8-2, with their only losses being to Florida and LSU.
However, if #15 Mississippi State can beat Texas A&M and then turn around and upset LSU, they would be 9-1 with their only loss coming to Alabama. Regardless of the outcome of this game, one of these teams will have a chance to make some noise in the BCS picture in the next few weeks.
Texas at Texas Tech
Both teams are 6-2 and fighting for ranking spots not only in the Big 12 but in the national polls as well. While they both have two losses, Texas’ came at the hands of West Virginia and Oklahoma, while Texas Tech lost to Kansas State and Oklahoma. The winner of this game still has a chance to go to a big bowl game later this year if they can win out the rest of the season. That task will be a little harder for Texas, who still has to play Kansas State in their regular season finale.
March 28, 2012
Last week, after a terrible start, my Elite Eight picks ended up 5-3. I didn’t have time to write an article predicting who would advance to the Final Four, but I am back to predict the Final Four winners and project the NCAA National Champion. The NCAA Tournament is lacking a major Cinderella, but it still has given us our share of upsets. Only one #1 seed, overall top seed Kentucky, has made it to the Final Four, accompanied by two #2 seeds. Louisville is the highest seed left at #4, but when you are coached by Rick Pitino,you aren’t the prototypical underdog. So with all of the teams seeded fairly evenly, let the predictions begin!
Louisville vs. Kentucky
The excitement kicks right off with the Battle for Kentucky. Louisville and Kentucky will be the first teams from the same state to square off in the Final Four since 1962. Louisville upset Michigan State in the Sweet 16 and proved it was capable of taking down a top seed. This won’t be Louisville’s first shot at the Wildcats, though. They played each other on New Year’s Eve and while Kentucky came out on top, Louisville gave them all they could handle. Kentucky has grown a lot since that game and has shown that they are the best team in college basketball during the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats blew out a solid Baylor team to make it to the Final Four, and put 102 points on Indiana in the Sweet 16. I think Louisville peaked at the right time and has played great basketball in the tournament, but Kentucky will be the team advancing.
Ohio State vs. Kansas
This game is also a rematch of an early season matchup. Kansas beat Ohio State earlier in the season 78-67, but Jared Sullinger didn’t play. That will make a big difference this time around, as Sullinger led the Buckeyes in points and rebounds in the regular season. Ohio State dominated their competition in the first three rounds of the tournament, before knocking out #1 seed Syracuse. Kansas has walked a finer rope this tournament, but also knocked out a #1 seed in North Carolina to make it to the Final Four. I think this game could go either way, but I also think both teams have the ability to run away with this game. Ohio State is a very talented team, but I think Kansas will take the opportunity to show that their victory earlier in the season wasn’t only because Sullinger wasn’t in the game.
Kentucky vs. Kansas
Both these teams have been highly ranked all season long, so it is not surprising that they would end up playing each other for the National Championship. Many people have Kentucky in their Championship game, but I don’t think Kansas was a favorite to make it. Nonetheless, this will be a great NCAA Championship game, with two major programs looking to notch another National Championship. In sticking with the rest of these games, Kentucky and Kansas also played earlier this season. In only the second game of the season, Kentucky beat Kansas 75-65 when they pulled away in the second half. Both teams have gotten much better as the season went on, but Kentucky might have grown more than any team this season. I don’t think Kentucky can be stopped and I don’t know what would happen if Calipari loses to Kansas again in the Championship game. I think Anthony Davis leads Kentucky to their first NCAA National Championship in the Calipari era.
February 9, 2011
In an era focused on individual stars, one NCAA team reminds us that basketball is still a team sport: the Ohio State Buckeyes. The Buckeyes are 24-0 and ranked No. 1 despite losing last season’s college player of the year, Evan Turner. In a well-respected Big Ten Conference and at a school best-known for football, Ohio State has quietly become a national power on the hardwood, winning 38 of their past 40 games. I have to think even Aretha Franklin would agree: It’s time for the Ohio State basketball program to start getting the respect it deserves.
Team basketball was meant to be played the Ohio State way. Four OSU players average double figures per game: Jared Sullinger (18.0), William Buford (13.6), David Lighty (12.5) and Jon Diebler (11.2). The Buckeyes can beat teams inside or outside, driving past defenders or shooting over them. If the defense collapses on freshman sensation Sullinger, Ohio State has four guys shooting more than 40 percent from 3-point range. If their opponents guard against the 3-pointer, Sullinger can destroy them in the lane.
And if Ohio State is off their offensive game, they can survive with athletic man-to-man defense led by sixth-year senior, Lighty—the best and most versatile defender in college basketball. At 6-foot-5, Lighty is quick enough to cover smaller guards and athletic enough to guard larger forwards, earning him value well beyond the box score. All in all, the Buckeyes are talented and selfless, a rare combination in today’s sports world.
Ohio State is the total package. I haven’t even mentioned Aaron Craft, the freshman point guard who comes off the bench and averages nearly 7 points, 5 assists and 2 steals while playing terrific defense. And true freshman Deshaun Thomas, the seventh guy in the rotation, is the third-leading scorer in Indiana high school history and averages nearly 9 points and 4 rebounds per game. Throw in defensive and shot-blocking specialist Dallas Lauderdale at the center position and Ohio State is one very complete team.
In the modern game, high school superstars often play only one season at the college level. Nobody knows this better than Ohio State coach Thad Matta who, in the past five seasons, has lost six freshmen and one senior to the NBA Draft. Since the most talented players leave early, any team wanting to make a national championship run needs to strike the right balance between talent and team leadership.
There are teams that take the opposite approach and avoid players likely to leave after only one year of school. Such programs attempt to beat teams consisting of raw superstars (e.g., Memphis) with solid veterans (e.g., Pitt). In this year’s Buckeyes, Matta has the best of both worlds. His seven-man rotation features three seniors, one junior and three freshmen. So the question remains, how do experienced teams with good players or inexperienced teams with great talent beat an Ohio State team with both? No one seems to know the answer.
I am not guaranteeing that Ohio State will cruise through March Madness en route to their first national championship since 1960, when some guys named John Havlicek, Jerry Lucas and Bobby Knight roamed the floor. Winning a national title takes talent and experience, but also good health and luck.
Truthfully, with seven regular season games remaining and the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments yet to begin, I feel comfortable saying Ohio State will not end the season undefeated. The last team to do so was the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers. Theirs was an era of less parity, no conference tournaments and a 32-team NCAA tournament. Like a lot of things in life, “it was easier back then.”
The 1976 Hoosiers finished 32-0. In order to have a perfect season, Ohio State would have to go 30-0 in the regular season, 3-0 in the Big Ten tournament and 6-0 in the NCAA tournament, for a total record of 39-0. Such a feat would be the greatest team basketball achievement since John Wooden and the UCLA Bruins won 10 titles in 12 seasons between 1964 and 1975.
With the 14th ranked Wisconsin Badgers eagerly awaiting the Buckeyes’ arrival in Madison, Wisconsin this Saturday—a venue where Matta is 0-7 as Ohio State’s head coach—the Buckeyes face their toughest challenge of the season. A road test against Purdue and home games against Michigan State and Illinois still loom.
In the end, the odds of a perfect season are long and the road to perfection nearly impossible. However, the Ohio State basketball program is announcing its presence with authority on the national scene and deserves some well-earned R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
The respect of analysts and fans isn’t important to this team. The pursuit of an elusive perfect season is a dream for the players, but the ultimate goal is a national championship—perfection in itself.
To make it all the way, Norman Dale, coach of the Hickory Huskers in the iconic basketball movie, “Hoosiers,” has some advice that rings true for any basketball team competing at any level in any era:
“Five players on the floor functioning as one single unit: team, team, team. No one more important than the other.”
It may be the wrong state, but these Buckeyes are the right team. And they’re playing a brand of basketball not seen in years. March Madness can’t get here soon enough.