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.

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.

March 14, 2011

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Predicting the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four

By: Anson Whaley

 

    

With the NCAA Tournament bracket officially released, it’s time to take a look and see who’s got the best chance of going to the Final Four. Sure it’s weeks away, but while there are games in between, when it’s all said and done, getting to Houston is all that matters.

The East may be the toughest region in the bracket. While top overall seed Ohio State will play its first two games in Cleveland, the Buckeyes will have their hands full with potential games against programs such as Kentucky, Syracuse, and surging North Carolina. And if those teams stumble, there are plenty of others that are capable of giving the Buckeyes all they can handle, including Villanova, West Virginia, George Mason, Washington, and Xavier. All of those teams have been ranked at some point in the season and on any given day could challenge Ohio State.

At the end of the day, it’s hard to pick Ohio State or Kentucky to come out of this region because of their difficult path. Each school would need to beat the other, avoid other potential trap games and then beat a North Carolina team that is 14-2 over their past 16 games. I’ll take the No. 2 seed North Carolina Tarheels to come out of this region.

The West also features a difficult path for the No. 1 seed, the Duke Blue Devils. Duke should win its first two games playing in North Carolina, but can then look forward to potential matchups against Arizona, Texas, Cincinnati, UConn, and San Diego State. Texas could be Duke’s biggest challenge in this bracket and even though the Longhorns have struggled a bit lately, they have one of the best resumes in the country with wins against Kansas, North Carolina, and Missouri. A No. 4 seed was a slap in the face to this program, and I think Texas will play with a chip on their shoulders. UConn is also lurking in the region. They’re playing incredible basketball and are fresh off of winning five straight games to capture the Big East Tournament championship. And in Kemba Walker, the Huskies have one of the nation’s best players. Still, UConn can be a bit of a one-man show at times, so I’m taking the Longhorns in a bit of an upset in this region.

No. 1 seed Kansas has an easier time out in the southwest. Big East teams Notre Dame and Louisville could challenge the Jayhawks, but other than that, their path is fairly easy. Georgetown and Florida State have been solid teams this year, but are too inconsistent to make a deep run. I also find it hard to take Purdue too seriously. They have a big win against Ohio State at home this year, but after that, they have a fairly weak resume. The Boilermakers’ body of work includes an ugly loss to Iowa, one of the Big Ten’s worst teams, about a week ago. Purdue simply doesn’t have the manpower to match up with a team like Kansas that has several future NBA players. The Jayhawks should advance to Houston.

Pitt is the No. 1 in the southeast, and after a decade of regular season success, this could be the season they reach the Final Four. Standing in their way will be Kansas State, Wisconsin, Florida, BYU, and St. John’s. All quality teams, but none that the Panthers aren’t capable of beating. Pitt should also watch out for a potential second-round matchup against Butler or Old Dominion. Old Dominion, particularly, could pose problems as they would have a virtual home game against Pitt, playing in Washington D.C. But the Panthers should be extra motivated to reach the Final Four in a year when college basketball is down across the board. I expect Jamie Dixon to get to Houston and Pitt to finally get over the hump.

March 1, 2011

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Let the Madness Begin

By: Joe Williams

Insanity. Frenzy. Intense excitement. These words aren’t just a description of the Macho Man Randy Savage. They are also in dictionary.com’s definition of “madness”. Savage frequently referred to himself as “The Madness” and said “The Madness is running wild!”

The Macho Man may not be the world champion anymore, but every March the madness returns in the form of the NCAA basketball tournament. Every year millions of people around the country fill out their brackets and enter the office pool for one of the biggest sporting events in the world known as “March Madness”.

The 2011 edition of this tournament promises to live up to the “madness” billing and give us an exciting and unpredictable tournament. This year the madness started a couple weeks early. Kansas, Georgetown, Wisconsin, Texas (three times), Pittsburgh (twice), Notre Dame, Ohio State, Arizona (twice), Duke and San Diego St. are all top 10 teams in the poll who have lost in the last two weeks. Four of the top six lost this weekend, and the upsets should continue throughout the tournament.

The tournament itself will be different this year as well. The NCAA has increased the number of teams from 65 to 68. The last four at-large teams selected and the four lowest ranked automatic qualifying teams will play in the “First Four” on March 15-16. The at-large winners will advance to the main draw of the tournament, most likely as an 11 or 12 seed. The two winners of the automatic qualifiers will advance to face a No. 1 seed.

Television coverage of the tournament will also be different this year. The NCAA agreed to a new deal with CBS Sports and Turner Sports. Now, every game of the tournament will be televised nationally on CBS, TNT, TBS or TruTV.

As of today, Duke, Kansas, Ohio State, BYU, and Pittsburgh are likely in the discussion to be the four No. 1 seeds. The fight for the final spots in the tournament is much less clear. 31 teams will qualify by winning the automatic berth from their conference. That leaves 37 spots for the selection committee to fill.

Assuming the top teams in each conference win the conference tournaments, (which we know is not going to happen), there another 24 teams who should be a lock to make the field of 68. This leaves 13 tournament bids and somewhere in the neighborhood of 35-40 teams fighting for them.

The road to the Final 4 begins today with the Big South and the Horizon League conference tournaments getting underway. The first three teams will punch their tickets for the big dance on March 5, and when Selection Sunday rolls around on March 13 the field will be set, and the madness will be running wild. I’m sure the Macho Man will be watching.

Teams thought to be locks:

BYU, Connecticut, Duke, Florida, George Mason, Georgetown, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Pittsburgh, Purdue, San Diego State, St. John’s, Syracuse, Temple, Texas, Texas A&M, UCLA, Villanova, Wisconsin, Xavier

Teams in the conversation:

Alabama, Arizona, Baylor, Belmont, Boston College, Butler, Cincinnati, Clemson, Cleveland State, Colorado, Colorado State, Florida State, Georgia, Gonzaga, Harvard, Illinois, Kansas State, Marquette, Maryland, Memphis, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Missouri, Missouri State, Nebraska, Old Dominion, Penn State, Richmond, Saint Mary’s, Southern Miss, Tennessee, UAB, UNLV, USC, Utah State, Vanderbilt, VCU, Virginia Tech, Washington, West Virginia, Wichita State

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Fathead’s Top Trends in Sports this Week

December 29, 2010

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Breaking down Delaware

By: Guest Blogger

By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) – Bring up Delaware football and, not surprisingly, people often focus on Pat Devlin, who has carved his place in the long line of outstanding Blue Hens quarterbacks.

Talk to opposing coaches and attention goes right to the Blue Hens’ defense.

The Blue Hens enter the FCS Championship Game against Eastern Washington with a squad that has led the nation in scoring defense the entire season. They opened the season with a shutout, didn’t allow a touchdown until their fourth game and have an 11.5-point average that is a full three points better than the second-ranked team. They are fifth in total defense at 277.4 yards per game.

CAA Football coaches who know Delaware so well probably believe EWU (12-2) will need all three weeks of its preparation to find something to exploit against the Blue Hens (12-2) on Jan. 7 at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas.

“I think Delaware’s strength is their defense,” James Madison coach Mickey Matthews said. “I think the strength of their football team is their defensive backfield. I just think all of them are good. They’re probably not pro prospects if you’re talking to NFL scouts, but they are excellent, excellent college seniors. They cover the pass, they’re tacklers, they’re just really good players. I think their front seven is solid.

“They line up correctly, they play hard, it’s hard to make a big play on them. They’re just really good on defense.”

The all-senior starting secondary of cornerbacks Anthony Walters and Tyrone Grant, free safety Darryl Jones and strong safety Anthony Bratton has combined for 316 tackles and 16 of the Blue Hens’ 20 interceptions. Walters, a third- team All-America, has seven interceptions, and Grant another five. Sophomore cornerback Marcus Burley has provided excellent play off the bench.

The Blue Hens utilize a 4-3 alignment, and the line puts its excellent size to good use with a physical playing style. Junior defensive ends Chris Morales and Michael Atunrase have overcome late-season injuries. Combine them with starting tackles Siddiq Haynes and Justin Johnson and the four starters average over 271 pounds.

It’s not a blitz-happy defense, with only 17 sacks, but middle linebacker Matt Marcorelle and outside linebacker Paul Worrilow (team-high 104 tackles) are particularly active. Outside linebacker Andrew Harrison is the other starter.

Pat Delvin

“Defensively, they did a did a great job of matching our packages,” said New Hampshire coach Sean McDonnell, whose Wildcats were stopped by Delaware, 16-3, in a national quarterfinal. “I was very impressed with their second-level speed, especially at the linebackers and the safety positions. They closed in a hurry on our receivers and our running backs in open spaces, and they tackle very, very well. And their defensive front was physical and handled us up pretty well.”

“Defensively, people can’t move the ball on them,” said Rhode Island coach Joe Trainer. “Their front is enormous and incredibly physical. Their linebackers are physical. They have, I think, the best secondary in the conference.”

Most people will say the Blue Hens definitely have the best quarterback, too. Devlin, the CAA Offensive Player of the Year, has taken his game to a higher level as he heads toward being a middle-round selection in the 2011 NFL Draft. He has thrown for 15 touchdowns in the last five games, and overall has completed 239-of-350 pass attempts for 2,812 yards, 22 touchdowns and only two interceptions. His pass efficiency rating of 155.37 is third-best in the FCS.

He knows how to manage a game well. The Blue Hens have trailed less than 11 percent of the season and won all 11 games when scoring first. They are plus-17 in turnover margin.

“I think the quarterback’s good. He makes good decisions,” Matthews said.

“I think Devlin is the best thrower in the league,” McDonnell said. “You sit there and watch him on tape and watch how he goes through his reads … as coach Keeler calls full-field reads. He struggled early against us in the game and wasn’t on, but from the middle of the second quarter on to the end of the game, he put the ball on people, went through the reads, and we gave him some different looks and he found where people were open and got them the ball. Throwing the football in this league, he’s the best, best thrower in this league that we faced all year.”

The maturity of players surrounding Devlin has helped make the offense particularly dangerous. The offensive line was set back by injuries and allowed too many sacks last season. But three starters earned all-conference honors this season: 6-4, 294-pound left guard Gino Gradkowski (first team); center Rob McDowell (second team); and 6-5, 297-pound left tackle Shea Allard (third team), who teams with senior Kevin Uhll. In the championship game, Uhll and Zach Reed, the backup tight end and the team’s long snapper, will both set school records by playing in their 53rd career game.

The depth in the skills positions is outstanding. Running back Andrew Pierce (1,513 yards, 13 touchdowns; 28 receptions, three touchdowns), the CAA Offensive Rookie of the Year, is a between-the-tackles runner who went for 186 yards in a national semifinal against Georgia Southern. David Hayes, blessed with breakaway speed, has provided a nice lift recently.

Devlin spreads the ball to his receiving corps. Nihja White (55 receptions, six touchdowns), Phillip Thaxton (45 receptions, five touchdowns) and Tommy Crosby (38 receptions) were his favorite targets in the regular season, but junior Mark Schenauer has caught a touchdown in each of the Blue Hens’ playoff wins.

“The biggest reason they’re better offensively from a year ago is their offensive line,” Matthews said.

“I think the running back has really been a great find for them. He does a nice job, he’s a good solid player. I don’t think their receivers are great players. I know they’ve had a lot of drops this year at receiver. I think the quarterback’s really good, the running back, the offensive line.”

“You look at Delaware,” William & Mary coach Jimmye Laycock said, “and they have the real good young running back. And, of course, Devlin at quarterback is a very good player.”

The special teams have been solid. Place-kicker Mike Perry had a team-high 99 points and made 18-of-24 field-goal attempts, with a long of 47 yards. But he’s missed five of his 50 extra-point attempts.

Punter Ed Wagner has a 40.5-yard average. The Blue Hens haven’t returned any punts or kickoffs for touchdowns, but the coverage teams have performed well.

Delaware was the 2003 FCS champion and reached the 2007 title game before falling to Appalachian State. Ten of its players have played in six or seven playoff games each.

“When we played Delaware, they reminded me of Villanova from a year ago,” Trainer said. “There might be a better offensive unit. Defensive unit, it would be hard to argue. When we played them and saw them on film weeks after that, in term of offense, defense and special teams, I’m not sure there’s a better team in the country at this level. They really don’t have any weaknesses.”

Credit:

By Craig Haley, FCS Editor, The Sports Network

Reprinted by permission

Award notes:

The FCS Awards, presented by The Sports Network, recognize the outstanding players and coaches in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). Fathead is the official sponsor of the Walter Payton, Buck Buchanan and Eddie Robinson Awards.

The Walter Payton Player of the Year Award is presented annually to the most outstanding college football player on the FCS level. The award was established in 1987 and is named for College Football Hall of Fame and Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton. Payton played college football at Jackson State University, a member of the Southwestern Athletic Conference of the FCS. At the age of 23 Payton became the youngest player to be voted NFL MVP. While with the Chicago Bears, Payton was elected to the Pro Bowl nine times. Previous Payton Award winners currently playing in the NFL include Tony Romo (Eastern Illinois) of the Dallas Cowboys, Brian Westbrook (Villanova) of the San Francisco 49ers, Armanti Edwards (Appalachian State) of the Carolina Panthers, Erik Meyer (Eastern Washington) of the Seattle Seahawks, Jerry Azumah (New Hampshire) of the Chicago Bears, and Brian Finneran (Villanova) of the Atlanta Falcons. Other previous Payton Award winners include Steve McNair (Alcorn State) and Dave Megget (Towson).

The Buck Buchanan Award has been presented annually since 1995 to the defensive player of the year on the FCS level. The award is named for Junious “Buck” Buchanan, the NAIA All-American and Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive lineman. Buchanan was drafted No. 1 overall in the AFL draft when the Dallas Texans (soon to be the Kansas City Chiefs) bypassed Heisman Trophy winner Terry Baker of Oregon State. Buck Buchanan played college football under legendary head coach Eddie Robinson at Grambling State. Previous Buchanan Award winners currently playing in the NFL include Jared Allen (Idaho State) of the Minnesota Vikings, Kroy Biermann (Montana) of the Atlanta Falcons, Kyle Shotwell (Cal Poly) of the Kansas City Chiefs, Chris Gocong (Cal Poly) of the Cleveland Browns, Rashean Mathis (Bethune-Cookman) of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Edgerton Harwell (Western Illinois) of the Oakland Raidersand Dexter Coakley (Appalachian State).

The Sports Network established The Eddie Robinson Award  in 1987 and it has been presented annually to the top coach in the FCS. Eddie Robinson coached at Grambling State Universityfrom 1941 to 1997 and is college football’s all-time winningest coach with a record of 408-164-15. Over 200 Grambling State players have played in the NFL.