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.

January 10, 2013

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What I’ll Remember About 2012 – Part 1

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.

January 1 – Matt Flynn and Matthew Stafford combine for 971 net passing yards in 45-41 Green Bay win.

January 8 – The Denver Broncos make short work of the new NFL overtime rules, scoring an 80-yard touchdown on the first play of overtime to beat the Steelers 29-23 in the first round of the AFC playoffs.

January 9 Alabama actually scored a touchdown in its rematch with LSU in the BCS Championship Game, winning 21-0.

January 14 Tom Brady shredded the Denver Broncos for five touchdown passes in the first half and another in the third quarter to tie the postseason single-game record in a 45-10 win.

January 14 – The 49ers and Saints combine for 34 points in the fourth quarter and four lead changes in the final five minutes as the 49ers outlasted New Orleans 36-32 and advanced to the NFC Championship Game.

January 22 – Joe Paterno passed away.

January 22 – The Baltimore Ravens had a dropped pass in the end zone that prevented them from winning the AFC Championship Game in New England and then missed a 32-yard field goal that would have sent the game to overtime.

January 22 – The New York Giants advanced to the Super Bowl with a 20-17 overtime win against the 49ers after a fumbled punt set up the game-winning field goal.

February 4Jeremy Lin came out of nowhere and led the New York Knicks to a win with 25 points, five rebounds and seven assists in the first of an incredible 13-game stretch in which he averaged 22.3 points and 7.4 assists. His heroics were celebrated worldwide and he ended up on the cover of Time and Sports Illustrated and one of the biggest celebrities in the league.

Jeremy Lin was one of the biggest stories of 2012.

February 5 – The New York Giants beat Tom Brady and the Patriots in another Super Bowl, 21-17, led by Eli Manning and another fourth-quarter comeback.

February 5 – Tom Brady’s wife, supermodel Gisele Bundchen, gets caught on camera blaming Patriot receivers for New England’s Super Bowl loss, saying that her husband cannot throw and catch the ball at the same time.

March 8 – The Indianapolis Colts announced that they will release future hall-of-fame quarterback, Peyton Manning.

March 13 – The First Four was worth watching on this night. First, Western Kentucky rallied from a 16-point deficit with 4:51 to go and beat Mississippi Valley State 59-58. Then BYU followed that up by erasing a 25-point deficit and beat Iona 78-72.

March 16Duke and Missouri, both No. 2 seeds in the NCAA tournament, go down on the same day. Norfolk State upset a 30-win Missouri team 86-84 and then later that night Lehigh defeated the Blue Devils 75-70. Only four No. 15 seeds have ever knocked off a No. 2 seed in history before it happened twice that day.

March 20 – Peyton Manning picks the Denver Broncos.

March 21NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell laid down the law on the New Orleans Saints for their bounty scandal, effectively ending the Saints season before it ever got started. This story never went away due to the continuous appeals of the suspensions.

March 26 – The Denver Broncos trade Tim Tebow to the New York Jets.

March 11 – Tiger Woods withdrew from the final round of the WGC Cadillac Championship with an injury. The blimp that was covering the golf tournament then followed Tiger as he left the golf course, a scene usually reserved for a high-speed chase.

April 1 – I.K. Kim takes the honor for worst golf shot of the year after she missed an 18-inch putt that would have won the LPGA’s first major of the year, the Kraft Nabisco Championship. She ended up losing in a playoff.

April 2 – John Calipari and his Kentucky squad that consisted of six future NBA players wins the national title, beating Kansas 67-59.

April 3Baylor completed a perfect season at 40-0 and won the women’s national title, beating Notre Dame 80-61.

April 8 – Bubba Watson hits one of the greatest shots in Masters history; a miracle 40-yard hook shot out of the pine straw on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff with Louis Oosthuizen. Two putts for par later and Watson was wearing the green jacket.

April 21Phil Humber pitches a perfect game at Seattle, striking out nine in the White Sox 4-0 win.

April 26Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III are drafted by the Colts and Redskins.

May 8 Josh Hamilton hit four home runs and had eight RBI against the Baltimore Orioles.

June 3 – Tiger Woods hit an incredible flop shot from behind the green on 16 that trickled into the hole on his way to winning the Memorial Tournament.

June 7 – LeBron James overwhelms the Boston Celtics with a 45 point and 15 rebound performance in a 98-79 win over Boston on the road to force a Game 7 in South Beach.

June 7 – Novak Djokovic outlasted Rafael Nadal in a grueling marathon in the Australian Open final (5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 7-5) in a match that took five hours and 53 minutes and didn’t end until 1:37 a.m.

June 11 – The Los Angeles Kings win their first Stanley Cup in 45 years after barely squeaking into the final playoff spot in the West and going on one of the greatest runs in playoff history.

June 13Matt Cain pitched a perfect game in a 10-0 San Francisco win over the Astros.

June 21 – LeBron James and the Miami Heat win the NBA championship after beating the Oklahoma City Thunder 121-106 in game five.

June 27 – A four-team college football playoff was formally approved to begin in 2014.

June 30 – The third round of the AT&T National was played with no spectators on the golf course because of safety concerns after a powerful wind storm left trees uprooted all over the golf course.

January 8, 2013

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

NHL labor agreement in sight: The NHL lockout wasn’t officially over as of this weekend, but it’s looking like it could be soon. A tentative agreement has been reached by the players and owners and barring anything crazy, we should have hockey this year. The good news is that assuming this is finalized, the tentative deal is for a reported ten years, according to ESPN. That should mean several years of peace between the two sides without any interruption. Lockouts always hurt any sport and hockey surely has many disgruntled fans as a result of the recent work stoppage. But with the NFL winding down, the NBA will be the only major professional league in season. For non-basketball fans, that leaves few options.

RGIII was more heralded coming into the playoffs, but Russell Wilson and the Seahawks were the ones advancing to the next round of the playoffs.

Russell Wilson outlasts Andrew Luck and RGIII: Russell Wilson was one of three rookie quarterbacks to reach the NFL playoffs this season. But of the trio, he was clearly the least heralded. The ColtsAndrew Luck and the RedskinsRobert Griffin III were the league’s two top picks in last year’s draft and Wilson was a bit of an afterthought. But after the Colts were soundly defeated by the Baltimore Ravens and RGIII’s Redskins went down at the hands of the Seahawks, Wilson is the only one still standing. What’s more is that many will give Seattle a chance to knock off the top-seeded Atlanta Falcons next week. Wilson’s magical season might not be ending right away and the rookie could find himself in the NFC Championship game with another good game.

Timberwolves’ injury woes continue with Kevin Love hand injury: The Minnesota Timberwolves have been crushed with injuries this season. Josh Howard suffered a season-ending injury and was subsequently waived. Star guard Ricky Rubio has missed 20 games. Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger, and Malcolm Lee are all currently out with various injuries. And now, the team’s best player, forward Kevin Love, is out with a hand injury. Love was out for several weeks earlier this year with a broken hand and the injury appears to have resurfaced. Timberwolves’ fans have to be frustrated particularly because it’s easy to see a world of potential with this team. Even with all of the players missing time, Minnesota is still .500 on the year with a 15-15 record. The team is only a ½ game out of a playoff spot and without the injuries, they would arguably be among the conference’s top eight teams.

Syracuse’s Doug Marrone reportedly leaving to coach NFL’s Bills: The Syracuse Orange were dealt a bit of a blow when it was announced over the weekend that their head coach Doug Marrone was likely on his way out to coach the Buffalo Bills. Syracuse’s football program had been struggling mightily since the 1990s, but Marrone seemed to have helped them turn the corner. The team won eight games this season, tied for the most victories they’ve had in the past decade. It was also only the second time during that span when the team has finished over .500. The program can and will go on without Marrone, but heading into the ACC next season having to find a new coach isn’t an ideal situation.

Dontrelle Willis trying to make comeback with Cubs: When a young Dontrelle Willis burst onto the Major League Baseball scene in 2003, he was heralded as one of the league’s brightest stars. But after a few successful seasons with the Marlins, Willis’ flame quickly went out. He was named the National League Rookie of the year and won 44 games over the next three years. But since then, it’s been all downhill for the pitcher. After an ERA of over 5.00 in 2007, Willis was dealt to the Detroit Tigers where he was even worse over the next three seasons. He struggled with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Cincinnati Reds in 2010 and 2011 and has been out of the majors ever since. The deal with the Cubs is reportedly a minor league one and Willis will have to earn a spot if he wants to end up back in the major leagues. At only 31, he could still have some productive seasons if he’s able to turn it around. But having struggled through several seasons, the odds are probably against him.

January 4, 2013

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Why the Seattle Seahawks Are The NFL’s Most Dangerous Playoff Team

By: Matt Bowen

Coming into the 2012 NFL season the Seattle Seahawks were the league’s most puzzling team. Now, just days away from the playoffs, the Seahawks are the NFL’s most dangerous team.

Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks are taking a lot of momentum into the playoffs.

Last offseason the organization brought in quarterback Matt Flynn to be the starter, a move that was promising but unproven. Bringing in a career backup quarterback to become the franchise cornerstone hasn’t had positive results of late in the NFL.

Draft day brought them a first-round pick in defensive end Bruce Irvin from West Virginia that caused Twitter to explode with laughter. The Seahawks got the last laugh as Irvin tallied eight sacks in his rookie campaign. His speed off the edge gives every team a dynamic they must have to be considered a winner.

Heading into training camp, the team had a three-way duel for the starting quarterback with incumbent Tarvaris Jackson, the aforementioned Flynn and surprise rookie quarterback Russell Wilson from Wisconsin. Jackson was traded before the season even began and Flynn has only thrown nine passes all season long. It was Wilson who won the job outright and has made the most of his opportunity.

In a season that was touted as the best quarterback class to ever enter the NFL, Wilson is a major reason why. Sure, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and Washington Redskins shot caller Robert Griffin III went Nos. 1 and 2 in the 2012 NFL draft, but it was Wilson who tied Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning for touchdown tosses by a rookie with 26.

So, why is Wilson so good?

Because he doesn’t do much wrong, he makes smart plays and doesn’t try to be a hero on every snap. One would say he’s wise beyond his years. In comparison to Manning’s rookie season, Wilson has thrown just 10 interceptions all season while Manning chucked up a whopping 28.

Wilson’s mobility also helped in his success this season, knowing when to tuck-and-run while having the football IQ of when to get down and live to see another day. His solid 5.2 yards/carry on 94 runs with four touchdowns proves to be a viable weapon in his arsenal.

He doesn’t wow all the time, but his calm demeanor in the face of adversity is to be respected. Truth is he does just about everything right. His quarterback rating of an even 100 is evidence of this, which was good for fourth-best in the league this season behind Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers, Manning and Griffin III.

Nothing helps a rookie like a proven, tough-as-nails veteran running back like Marshawn Lynch. “Beast Mode” is his nickname and he fits the bill. He finished with 1,590 rushing yards this season and has 2,794 in his first two full seasons in Seattle. Thanks to the balance that Lynch brings to the offense it must be a nightmare for opposing coaches to try to create a game plan to stop the Seahawks.

Not to be overlooked, the team has arguably the loudest fans in the league and their 8-0 record at home this season gives weight to this debate. The “12th Man” is impressive on a weekly basis.

Another reason why the Seahawks are so fierce is their ferocious defense. Yes, the team is currently riding a five-game win streak in which they’ve scored 193 points, but the defense has set the tone in every game and even contributed with four touchdowns during the streak.

The core-four members of the secondary, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner have appropriately been dubbed the “Legion of Boom.” They wreak havoc on a play-by-play basis and are out to prove that they are the best in the entire league.

They will get their chance to show the football world just that when they travel to the nation’s capital to face the Washington Redskins on January 6, 2013 as the anchor game on Wild Card Weekend. This is a game of things to come for the NFL. This game guarantees to be a great matchup as these teams will be two of the best for years to come.

Wilson vs. RG3, Lynch vs. Redskins rookie running back Alfred Morris, who set the all-time franchise record with 1,613 rushing yards this season, what more could fans ask for?

Just remember, the Seahawks are built to win now.

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.