February 10, 2014

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Winter Olympics open for business: The Winter Olympics began in Sochi last and while the talk in the early part of the week was focused on hotel rooms and some negative talk of the host city, that was quickly forgotten once the games started. The U.S. wrapped up the weekend with a solid start, winning two gold medals and four overall, sitting in second in the medal count behind only Norway and in a tie with the Netherlands.

2014 Winter Olympics

The 2014 Winter Olympics officially began this weekend.

Sochi Opening Ceremony fail: Four out of five ain’t bad!

Michael Sam announces he is gay: The NFL will in all likelihood have its first openly gay player next season as Missouri All-American Michael Sam made his historic announcement over the weekend. His interview could affect his draft stock, obviously, with some GM’s perhaps wanting to avoid the attention he would bring to their team. However, his talent won’t be overlooked and the former SEC Defensive Player of the Year will almost certainly be selected.

National Signing Day: College football’s National Signing Day came and went on Wednesday and the big winners were again the SEC teams. The conference had seven of the top ten recruiting classes according to ESPN and the rich just keep getting richer. The ACC, including the defending national champion Florida State Seminoles, made some headway, with three top 12 classes (Miami and Clemson were the others). But overall, it’s still the SEC’s world.

Maurice Cheeks ousted in Detroit: The Maurice Cheeks era in Detroit was indeed a quick one. The former player and current coach was let go by the club after only 50 games this season. While the Pistons aren’t having a great year, the move was a curious one as even at only 21-29, Detroit sat a mere ½ game out of the playoffs at the time of the firing. Whoever inherits the reins will be getting a team with some potential. With Brandon Jennings, Greg Monroe, and Andre Drummond, the team has solid young talent, and players like Josh Smith and Rodney Stuckey provide some quality depth. However, even in the weak Eastern Conference, the Pistons still are a couple of players away from making any serious noise until their young stars develop a bit more.

Tracy McGrady trying hand at baseball: That title isn’t a typo – former NBA All-Star Tracy McGrady is hoping to play professional baseball. The basketball star played some baseball in high school, but yeah, that’s about it. The first thing you should know about this is that it’s not a Michael Jordan-sized attempt. Jordan went into the Chicago White Sox’ minor league system in the hopes that he could reach the majors. McGrady will be trying to pitch for the Sugar Land Skeeters – the same team that gave Roger Clemens the opportunity to pitch for a few games in the past. The Skeeters are an independent team not affiliated with any major league club and even a successful stint there isn’t likely to land T-Mac on an MLB roster.

Nine out of Ten: Seattle Seahawks linebacker K.J. Martin says he wasn’t surprised at the team’s dominance over the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl last week. During an interview, Martin boasted that the team could probably beat Denver 90 out of 100 times with the Broncos maybe getting “lucky those other ten times.” Martin could surely learn to respect his opponent a bit more and while the Seahawks easily handled the Broncos, I’m not sure that any team could shut down that offense 90 times out of 100 – especially considering that Seattle figured out Manning’s hand gestures and knew what was coming most of the time.

Memphis Grizzlies tattoos: Who wants a free Memphis Grizzlies’ neck tattoo?!?! Don’t raise your hands all at once.

Ralph Kiner dies at 91: Former Pittsburgh Pirates star and Mets broadcaster, Ralph Kiner, passed away at the age of 91. Kiner started his career by leading the National League in home runs in his first seven seasons and later became one of baseball’s most recognizable announcers, calling games for the New York Mets. Kiner was one of the few players that was a Hall of Famer and able to transition over to become a quality broadcaster.

Damian Lillard Ironman: Portland Trailblazers star Damian Lillard has a busy weekend ahead of him. Last week, he announced he would participate in the Slam Dunk event, Three-Point Shootout, and the Skills Challenge during Saturday night of the NBA All-Star weekend. That won’t be all, though. On Friday, Lillard will play in the Rising Stars Game and then will take the court on Sunday for the All-Star Game. All in all, it’s the first time anyone has participated in all of the three Saturday events, let alone everything else during All-Star weekend. The ‘losers’ in this are actually the Trailblazers who could use a rested Lillard coming out of the break. Still, it’s impressive that he is willing to do so much and as a legitimate superstar, this is exactly the kind of the participation the league needs from its best players.

February 7, 2014

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2014 Sochi Olympics Men’s Ice Hockey Power Rankings

By: Matt Bowen

Before we begin let’s get one thing straight—nothing is better than the Olympics. The 2014 Sochi Olympics in no exception. Perfectly sandwiched between the end of the 2013 NFL season and the beginning of the 2014 MLB season the Sochi Olympics is a dream come true. The Sochi games begin February 6 and the Opening Ceremony is on February 7. All Olympic events are interesting for one reason or another but one stands out amongst the rest in these games. All eyes will be on the men’s ice hockey tournament as the best in the world play for pride.

Canadian Men's Olympic Ice Hockey Team

Will Canada's Men's Olympic Ice Hockey Team bring home the gold in 2014?

With that being said Olympic hockey is a bit different from the NHL. Unlike the 2010 Vancouver games which used the standard NHL rink size of 200’ long x 85’ wide the Sochi games will use a standard Olympic sized rink which is 200’x100’. Now the extra 15’ may not seem like that much of a difference but it changes the how the game is played. Also keep in mind that the bigger ice is the prevalent choice of leagues outside of NHL. Olympic hockey in an Olympic rink is much more of a symphonic ballet than the NHL. The presence of the forecheck is replaced with puck control and finesse. Many may think that speed will make up the difference but it will be stick handling that tilts the scales. In a sense it can become a game of cat and mouse, a game of keep-away. The teams with a pristine blend of veteran wisdom and youthful exuberance will do well here.

With that in mind, let’s power rank the top six teams in the 12 team tournament.

Group A: USA, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia

Group B: Canada, Norway, Finland, Austria

Group C: Sweden, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Latvia

Bonus Pick: Slovenia

This is the Olympics; the bonus pick is just giving credit where credit is due.

While these guys don’t really have a chance to medal, they’ll sure be fun to watch. Led by Los Angeles Kings star Anze Kopitar, Slovenia will put on a show. Although Kopitar is the lone Slovenian currently playing in the NHL that means the rest of the team is comfortable on bigger ice. This gives them a slight advantage.

Sleeper Pick: Czech Republic

Hey, it wouldn’t be a good article without a sleeper selection.

The Czech Republic sports a veteran-heavy roster with a touch of youth in Sochi. They make the list because of the playmaking ability of star Jaromir Jagr. He has a strong supporting cast but something seems to be missing on this roster. Still, with the puck in open space Jagr is magical. He’ll keep his country in the mix for a medal run.

No. 6: Slovakia

There are 14 Slovakians in the NHL and all are present on the national team for the Sochi games. Headlining the bunch are Zdeno Chara and Marian Hossa who will put it on themselves to lead their people to Olympic glory. Although they’ll represent themselves well they’ll miss the podium. Still, they are an exemplary model on why this is hockey at its finest. A team this rich in talent only measures in at No. 6.

No. 5: USA

From here on out is like pulling teeth. Yes, I’m an American but no, I don’t think we’ll medal in Sochi. I’ll be rooting for the team all the way, but I don’t expect much. The USA has a very good team with a lot of youth and speed, but something isn’t right. Beyond Patrick Kane, who will be the scorer? Who will be the guy that steps up and leads his countrymen?

Those are questioned that have yet to be and can only be answered in Sochi. Not to mention, if this was the World Cup, the USA would be in the dreaded Group of Death. Group A is straight stacked—it will be hard to advance to the medal round. With that being said, the USA loves to play the role of the underdog.

No. 4: Finland

Finland is as well-balanced as they come in Sochi. Led by star Teemu Selanne in his final Olympics the Fins may shock the world and win it all, but have been conservatively ranked fourth right now. Selanne is an all-world playmaker and the Fins are solid between the pipes with Kari Lehtonen, Antti Niemi and Tuukka Rask to choose from in the net.

Finland also has a young star named Mikael Granlund that will be the beneficiary of Selanne’s craftsmanship.  Beware of Finland. They may just spoil the party reserved for one at the top of the podium.

No. 3: Sweden

Whoa doctor! Call your mother the Swedes are good. Try to pick a weakness in their game—there are none. They have experience, youth and a world-class goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist. The most important thing they have is the young combination of Carl Hagelin, Marcus Kruger and Gabriel Landeskog. If you haven’t heard of them before now is the time.

These three kids will be the difference for their country in the tournament.

No. 2: Russia

What a debate it has been on just where to put host-country Russia. While they certainly have the advantage of playing at home all the pressure is on them. Alexander Ovechkin is the top goal scorer in the world right now and the mighty Russians will dazzle at times during the games.

Another young player that will announce his presence during the Olympics is Vladimir Tarasenko. He is simply something to see. Combined with the likes of Evgeni Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk and the Russians are stacked.

In the end the pressure will get to them in the final game.

No. 1: Canada

To many this is no surprise that the Canadians will be the last man standing. The defending Olympic champs look to repeat as gold medalist in Sochi. Their roster is basically the NHL All-Star team. Just looking at it is somewhat breathtaking. One can only think of power. If they have one weakness it may be in net but even that is a stretch.

Sydney Crosby looks to take his team to Sochi and leave where they started–on top. Albeit the favorite every opponent will give Canada their best shot.

Regardless of who wins the gold this tournament is something to cherish. The whole world is in for a treat.

January 15, 2013

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What I Will Remember About 2012 – Part 2

By: Joe Williams

Every year we see things we never thought we would and things we never want to see again. We see everything from the incredible to the inspiring to the sad and hilarious. Here’s what I will remember about 2012.

To read part one, click here.

July 23 – Penn State became the first school to receive NCAA sanctions because of criminal matters that did not directly deal with breaking NCAA rules. The penalties included a $60 million fine, a four-year ban on postseason play, a reduction of scholarships for the next four years and the vacating of all victories from 1998-2011.

July 31 – Michael Phelps won his 19th Olympic medal, making him the most decorated Olympian ever.

July 31 – The Fierce Five, the U.S. women’s gymnastics team, won gold at the London Olympic Games.

August 2 – Gabby Douglas became the first African-American woman to win the individual all-around competition.

August 5 – Andy Murray bounces back from losing to Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final to beat Federer and win the gold medal in front of his home country. He broke through again a month later, winning his first major title at the U.S. Open.

Miguel Cabrera winning baseball's Triple Crown is one of the biggest stories of 2012.

August 9 – Usain Bolt made his claim as the greatest sprinter ever by becoming the first man ever to defend his golds in both the 100m and 200m races.

August 9 – Hope Solo, Alex Morgan and the U.S. women’s soccer team won Olympic gold after a controversial semifinal against Canada and then getting revenge against Japan in the final after the shootout that ended the Women’s World Cup in 2011.

August 10 – The “Dwightmare” finally came to an end when Dwight Howard was traded from the Orlando Magic to the Los Angeles Lakers after months and months of indecision about where he wanted to play and who he wanted to play with.

August 12 – Rory McIlroy wins the PGA Championship. He would follow that with two more wins heading into the Tour Championship and cement himself as the top player in the game.

August 15 – Felix Hernandez threw a perfect game against the Rays and the Mariners won 1-0.

September 7 – In the midst of a pennant race and against his wishes, the Washington Nationals shut down their superstar pitcher Stephan Strasburg after 159 1/3 innings. The Nationals would go on to win the NL East and then lose in the NLDS in five games to the St. Louis Cardinals.

September 15 – The NHL labor dispute officially becomes a lockout.

September 24 – The Replacement refs fiasco came to a head on the final play of the Green Bay/Seattle Monday Night Football game. When the officials turned what sure looked to be an interception and a Green Bay win into a touchdown and a Seattle win, the NFL had no choice to settle the dispute with the regular officials.

September 30 – Team U.S.A. chokes the Ryder Cup away, blowing a 10-6 lead on the final day at Medinah. Justin Rose and Ian Poulter led the charge for Europe while Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk dropped critical 1-Up matches. The comeback almost didn’t happen when Rory McIlroy looked at his tee time in Eastern Time instead of Central time and needed a police escort to arrive at the course with just 10 minutes to spare.

October 3 – Miguel Cabrera goes 0-2 in the Detroit Tigers’ 1-0 win over Kansas City in the regular season finale but still manages to be the first player in 45 years to win the Triple Crown, finishing the season with a .330 average, 44 home runs and 139 RBI. He would be name the American League MVP.

October 10 – New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi pulls Alex Rodriguez in the ninth inning of Game 3 of the ALDS. Raul Ibanez took A-Rod’s place and homered to send the game to extra innings. Ibanez did it again in the 12th inning, giving the Yankees the win.

October 13 – Notre Dame comes up with a goal-line stand, stopping Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor on fourth-and-goal and then survives a controversial replay review to beat Stanford 20-13 in overtime to remain undefeated.

October 13 – The St. Louis Cardinals scored four runs in the ninth inning to stun the Washington Nationals and advance to the NLCS.

October 15 – Trailing 24-0 at halftime in San Diego and staring a 2-4 record in the face, the Denver Broncos score 35 unanswered second-half points to beat the Chargers 35-24 and improve to 3-3. They would not lose again in the regular season and finish with the best record in the AFC.

October 25 – Pablo Sandoval hit three home runs in Game 1 of the World Series on his way to earning the World Series MVP award.

October 28 – The San Francisco Giants completed an improbable run to a second World Series win in two years and did it after trailing 2-0 in a best-of-5 series against Cincinnati and then falling behind 3-1 to St. Louis in the NLCS

November 10 – Texas A&M upsets No. 1 Alabama 29-24, led by its redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel. It was a springboard for Manziel as he led the Aggies to an 11-2 record in their first season in the SEC, a win in the Cotton Bowl and became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy.

November 17 – Undefeated Kansas State and Oregon both go down and lose their shot to play for the BCS National Championship. Baylor beat the Wildcats 52-24 and Stanford knocked off the Ducks 17-14 in overtime.

November 21 – Jack Taylor, guard at Grinnell College (Division III), scored an NCAA-record 138 points against Faith Baptist Bible College.

November 22 – Two words…Butt Fumble.

December 1 – Georgia came up five yards short of scoring the game-winning touchdown against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. Alabama hung on for a 32-28 win and a spot in the BCS National Championship Game.

December 8 – Appalachian State’s Brian Okam quickly became known for the worst free throw ever after a video of his miss went viral.

December 16 – Tom Brady leads the Patriots on a furious rally after falling behind 31-3 against the 49ers. After the game was tied at 34, San Francisco retook the lead and won 41-34.

December 30 – Adrian Peterson runs for 199 yards against the Green Bay Packers after already eclipsing 200 yards twice this season, but he came up a mere nine yards short of the single-season rushing record.

July 27, 2012

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US Women’s Soccer: Good as Gold

By: Tyler Vespa

When the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team began play in the 2012 Summer Olympics, it was actually on the field before the opening ceremony. The soccer tournaments begin early in the Olympics so they can play a full tournament.

Coming in to these Olympics as the favorite to win the gold, the women’s national team began with a shocking start, as they found themselves behind 2-0 in the first 15 minutes as France got goals from Gaetane Thiney in the 12th minute and Marie-Laure Delie in the 14th minute.

These two goals were followed immediately by an American huddle headed by veteran forward Abby Wambach. Whatever Wambach said worked, as the U.S. came back with goals from Wambach in the 19th minute, and young star Alex Morgan in the 32nd minute to go into halftime tied at 2.

The US Women's National Team started off the Olympics with a win.

The second half was all U.S., as midfielder Carli Lloyd scored in the 56th minute to make it 3-2 U.S. And then it was Morgan again in the 66th minute to make it 4-2 and give the U.S. the lead in Group G.

To me, this comeback win proved why the U.S. Women’s National Team will win the gold. Not only did they show indomitable Olympic spirit in the comeback, but they also beat a France team that was ranked 6th in the FIFA Women’s Rankings.

The most significant part was how easy they made it look. After going down 2-0, goaltender Hope Solo and the rest of the team played the rest of the game as if the awful start never materialized.

In other words, if this team plays the rest of the tournament like this game, they will not lose.

The U.S. women will continue their quest for the gold with a matchup Saturday against Columbia at 12 ET.

July 24, 2012

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2012 Olympic Preview

By: Joe Williams

It’s hard to believe four years have passed since we saw Michael Phelps win eight gold medals and 16-year-old Shawn Johnson became America’s sweetheart. We are just a couple days away from the Olympic opening ceremonies in London. In the next few weeks, we will watch events we haven’t seen in four years and very few of the competitors will be names that we recognize. But it doesn’t matter. We will watch anyway. Here’s what I’ll be watching:

Can anybody beat Michael Phelps?

He won eight gold medals in ’08 and will compete in seven events this time around. It’s a safe bet he will get the three medals he needs to become the most decorated Olympian of all time. The real question is how many of them will be gold and will rival and fellow American Ryan Lochte be able to beat him?

Ryan Lochte will be a main focus at the Olympic Games in London.

Fastest man on the planet

The men’s 100 meters is always one of the most talked about events. Usain Bolt won the 100 and 200 meters in ’08 and holds the world record in both events. But another Jamaican (Yohan Blake) beat him in both races at the Olympic trials. Nobody has won both races in back-to-back Olympic games.

Women’s all-around

Nastia Liukin is not on Team USA to defend her title. Now we have Jordyn Wieber (the reigning world champ) and Gabby Douglas (winner at the U.S. Trials) that will look for a third straight all-around gold for Team USA. The U.S. team should also contend for the gold medal.

The Dream Team?

Kobe Bryant claimed that the 2012 squad could beat the original ’92 Dream Team. No way. But they won’t have to do that to win gold. Will they be able to defend the gold medal Team USA won in ’08 after losing several top players to injury? Oh and the women should continue to dominate. They have won 33 straight games and the last four gold medals.

Women’s soccer

Hope Solo and company will be aiming for a fourth gold medal in five Olympics for Team USA. They lost in last year’s World Cup Final against Japan in penalty kicks. Hopefully we get to see a rematch for the gold medal. And hopefully that leads to more appearances for Alex Morgan in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue.

Blade Runner

South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius (nicknamed “Blade Runner” because of the carbon-fiber prosthetics that he runs on) will be the first amputee ever to compete in an Olympic track and field event (the 400 meters and the 4X400 relay).

Others:

- Missy Franklin could be the first American woman to win seven medals at one Olympic games…and she’s just 17.

- Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh will try to capture a third straight gold medal in beach volleyball.

- Lolo Jones seeks redemption after a stumble in ’08 cost the gold medal.

- Men’s tennis dropped down to this part of the list when Rafael Nadal dropped out, but we could still get a Djokovic-Federer showdown and don’t forget about Andy Murray playing in front of his own nation.