February 11, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Antawn Jamison talks Michael Jordan comeback: Los Angeles Lakers forward Antawn Jamison talked a bit about Michael Jordan this past week to reporters. That fact isn’t all that surprising considering he and Jordan are friends and North Carolina alums, but what was surprising was the context of the discussion. Jamison insisted that Jordan could not only average double figures in scoring if he returned to the NBA, but that he wouldn’t be all that surprised if Jordan did make a comeback attempt. Ever since he retired from the Washington Wizards, talk of an MJ comeback has been widely discussed. But Jamison’s recent comments just add fuel to the fire with Jordan’s 50th birthday coming up this week. Could Jordan come back? I’d never rule it out and the thing about him is that he thrives on trying to do the impossible. Playing at 50 would be an incredible feat and if he were able to contribute to any team, that’d be even more impressive. For now, file this one in the ‘not likely, but certainly possible’ category.

Despite a loss last week, Indiana remains the #1 team in the nation.

Another ‘one’ bites the dust: With Indiana’s loss this week to Illinois, there’s likely to be a new No. 1 when the latest college basketball polls are released. No. 1 teams lose every now and then, but this will be the sixth straight week another team takes the top spot. With all of the changes this season, it proves one thing: there’s no truly dominant team in the sport. By the end of the season, we’ll have a champion. But if you played the NCAA Tournament ten times, you might come away with ten different winners this year. No. 4 Duke would be my pick to regain the top position since the teams ahead of them in the rankings, Indiana, Florida, and Michigan all lost this past week. (Update: Indiana remains the #1 team in the country, with Duke coming in at #2.)

Super Bowl power outage caused by … equipment designed to stop power failures: Strange as it sounds, the massive power outage in the Super Bowl appears to have been caused by equipment that was designed to prevent outages. All of the details aren’t yet known, but the utility company (Entergy) installed a device and the settings apparently played a part in the outage. Because Baltimore ended up winning the game after jumping out to a big lead, this won’t be discussed all that much. But if San Francisco had completed the largest comeback in Super Bowl history after taking control of the game after the outage, it’s a moment that would never be forgotten.

Big East split in 2014?: Even with Pitt and Syracuse due to enter the ACC in time for the 2013 football and basketball seasons, the Big East may have another year before major changes take place. Notre Dame, which participates in the conference’s non-football sports, announced it would be staying for 2013. They are slated to join the Panthers and Orange in the ACC for all sports except football, but it won’t be this season.. The biggest impact, though, is that the Catholic 7 (non-football playing members) may be staying in 2013 as well. They previously announced they would exit the conference to create a new league, but the chances of that happening in time for next year are looking slim. Notre Dame’s decision to stay in for 2013 was partially based on the premise that the non-football schools are likely to remain for another year as well. If that’s true, that’s good news for the Big East. Even though the conference is losing those members, another year gives them more transition time to look for new schools to join and figure out a viable plan to make the conference relevant.

Mexico wins Caribbean World Series: Mexico won the Caribbean World Series last week, defeating the Dominican Republic. To many of us that may not have watched, the win itself may not have been all that noteworthy. What was, though, was the length of the game. The contest between the two teams lasted 18 innings and took a whopping 7 ½ hours to complete. Well, then. I’m all for extra-inning baseball, but 7 ½ hours is long by anyone’s standards. But in a championship game, there’s no choice by to continue playing – despite the game ending at 4:30 a.m. The 18 innings and nearly eight hours of play were records for the event.

National Signing Day ends in bizarre tale: I could go on and on about college football’s National Signing Day on Wednesday. But instead of talking about the best classes, we’ve got bigger fish to fry. In case you missed it, Alex Collins, one of the top running backs in the nation was all set to send in his paperwork to Arkansas to sign with the school. But reports said his mother had other ideas, and she’s alleged to have taken the necessary papers and went into hiding. This, of course, set off all kinds of jokes about an SEC running back not being able to catch his own mom. The bizarre story was capped off by Collins’ father signing the letter of intent for Collins and the running back is now officially at Arkansas. But yeah, what a weird tale.

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.

June 27, 2011

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2011 NBA Draft Winners and Losers

By: Anson Whaley

This past week’s NBA Draft wasn’t very star-studded according to most experts. Unlike the 1996 Draft, which was one of the best in recent memory producing future Hall of Famers such as Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Ray Allen, and Allen Iverson, this year’s class isn’t expected to have as many stars.

That said, as always, some teams still found a way to draft wisely while others left us scratching our heads.

WINNERS

Washington Wizards – I know all about Enes Kanter taken by the Utah Jazz at No. 3, but Jan Vesely could end up being the best international player in this field. Vesely is a true athlete that has an NBA-type game and will be a perfect fit for John Wall and the Wizards’ young team. At 6’11”, he has three-point range and could cause huge mismatches for opposing teams’ frontcourts. Washington also landed Chris Singleton at No. 18, a great defensive weapon, and Butler’s Shelvin Mack in the second round. Mack was listed as a late first-round pick in many mock drafts and the Wizards could have gotten a bit of a steal.

Detroit Pistons – The Pistons picked up a relative steal in getting Brandon Knight at No. 8. Knight is the second-best point guard in the draft and averaged more than 17 points a game as a true freshman – something virtually unheard of. Getting him that late (especially when there’s a premium on point guards in the NBA these days) was a big coup for General Manager Joe Dumars. The Pistons also ended up with Kyle Singler, who played a big role on some winning teams at Duke and as a second-rounder, was a smart pick. And while Vernon Macklin (No. 52) isn’t a star, he shot more than 60% during his entire collegiate career and has a chance to be a serviceable backup center.

Sacramento Kings – Sacramento reeled in the draft’s most prolific scorer in BYU’s Jimmer Fredette. Even better for the Kings is that he should be an excellent fit for their team. Fredette will fit right in alongside Tyreke Evans and give the Kings a great backcourt for years to come. He’s not a stellar defender and will need to improve if he wants to play 30 minutes a game, but he knows how to score – and that’s the primary function for a shooting guard. Tyler Honeycutt was a solid second-round selection and, unlike some other teams to be named later, the Pistons secured a good proven talent in guard Isaiah Thomas with the last pick in the draft instead of going for an unknown international player.

LOSERS

Los Angeles Clippers – Man, the Clippers’ just can’t catch a break. They were so desperate to unload Baron Davis’ huge contract that they traded him away with an unprotected first-round pick back at the trade deadline in February. Little did they know that pick would turn out to be the No. 1 overall selection. So to recap, the Clippers traded away Davis (a former All-Star) and the No. 1 overall pick for Jamario Moon and Mo Williams? Yeah, how’s that one working out? Look, I understand the desire to move that contract, but the fact is that Davis is still a solid NBA player. Instead of having Kyrie Irving or Derrick Williams to pair along with Blake Griffin, the Clips are still a few players away from being able to compete. The bottom line is that trading unprotected lottery picks away simply to dump large contracts is a very bad idea and this is why the Clippers are the Clippers.

Los Angeles Lakers – Even without a first-round pick, the Lakers still had a chance to make an impact in the draft. Unfortunately, even with four second-round selections, Los Angeles failed to add much substance to their team. Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock were reasonable picks, but that’s when things got a bit crazy. With talented players like Scotty Hopson and Ben Hansbrough still on the board, L.A. somehow decided it was a good idea to draft Ater Majok (a player who averaged less than a point per game in the NBDL) and Chukwudiebere Maduabum, an international project with no discernable talent. In their defense, Maduabum was later shipped to Denver, but with some solid players still available, the Lakers had the chance to add two quality prospects instead.

Philadelphia 76ers – Philadelphia took a huge gamble by taking big man Nikola Vucevic at No. 16. Nothing about him screams superstar and the 76ers could have done much better with more of a proven commodity. At No. 50, Lavoy Allen out of Temple was a solid, but unspectacular player in college. What strikes me the most about him is that he didn’t seem to improve much during his time there. His stats over the past three seasons remained virtually unchanged and his shooting percentage actually dropped the last two. It can be sometimes hard to find real value that late in the draft, but Allen had undrafted free agent written all over him. This move reeks of drafting a hometown kid just for the sake of a nice story. And a team needing as much help as the 76ers can’t afford to make those types of picks.

June 22, 2011

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NBA Draft Day Stories

By: Rick Jarrell

Since Joe already beat me to the mock NBA draft, I’ll take a look at story lines to watch and potential trades that may go down this Thursday. Around this time each year, the rumor mill begins churning full throttle as the draft becomes near and free agency begins. This year, with the NBA lockout looming over our heads, potentially limiting the free agency period, there is even more excitement around the draft.  Excitement despite a widely believed weak draft class, which coincidentally, is attributable to the expected lockout. Is your head spinning? It may spin a little more after reading this.

Cleveland Tries to Replace LeBron

As a lifelong Cavalier fan, I’m willing to realize that we Cleveland fans might be the only people extremely interested in this NBA draft. Not only will we get a building block to revamp the team, but two. But despite Cleveland’s feelings regarding LeBron post-decision, I don’t think anyone believes he can be replaced. Two picks in the top five is a start, though.

Despite the smoke signals being sent out by the front office, I fully expect them to take Kyrie Irving numero uno. He’s the safest bet in a risky draft, and coach Byron Scott needs a strong point guard to build around and run his offensive system. Baron Davis is great when he wants to be, but is on the back end of his career. And Ramon Sessions showed signs of progress at the end of last season, but he’s better suited as a scoring option off of the bench. Irving has to be the pick.

With the fourth pick, they’ll take…? If they keep the pick, they need a stronger front court, leaving it a tossup between Enes Kanter and Jonas Valanciunas. Contradicting reports have surfaced recently regarding who they favor, but now that Valanciunas’s European buyout won’t allow him to join the NBA until the 2012-2013 season, the Cavs will likely pick Kanter. If it was me, I would take the European with higher potential, knowing they’re years away from competing anyways – why not take the risk? But I’m sitting on my couch watching Seinfeld right now, and they’ve been thinking about these picks nonstop since the lottery last month.

There’s also chatter they may trade down/up, but the rumors surrounding that notion are so vast and likely lack substance, until something happens, it’s better assuming they keep the pick.

Timberwolves and the #2 Pick

Minnesota has publicly admitted to shopping the second pick. The team, who’s had trouble rising from the bottom tier of the NBA since trading Kevin Garnett, has enough young talent to potentially make a jump. Kevin Love was an All-Star, and Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph possess high potential. Not to mention the highly touted Ricky Rubio is finally leaving Spain to join the T-Wolves. So the team doesn’t need another young talent, but a few veteran pieces to help them move forward.

Kevin Love

Likely trade partners are those interested in taking Arizona forward Derrick Williams. The list includes Cleveland, the Washington Wizards, and Phoenix Suns, to name a few. But with Minnesota likely waiting till the last minute for an offer to “blow them away,” there’s a chance they hold on to the pick and take Williams, potentially trading his rights after the draft (Note: Lockout likely will begin the next day, so this option is murky at best).

Who Will Exceed Expectations?

Other than Irving, there are a lot of question marks surrounding the 2011 NBA draft class. Even more, after the first few picks, the draft order becomes fluid. Players like Kanter, Valanciunas, Kemba Walker, Jimmer Fredette, Kawhi Leonard, Jan Vesely, and Bismack Biyombo could go from the 5th pick to as low as the 15th. Internal battles inside front offices will weigh the value of potential over need. So who will rise to become NBA studs and all-stars in the next few years?

Predicting this year’s rookie class’s impact on the league in a few years is as easy as deciding between Megan Fox and Brooklyn Decker. But ignoring the impossibility of this task, Vesely will be the best player out of this group. He’s tall at 6’11, but fits the mold of small forward, looking to run in open court and stretch the floor. If he falls to the Wizards, they’ll be ecstatic.

One prospect to keep an eye on is Norris Cole, point guard out of Cleveland State. Draft pundits are raving over his workout performances, and the buzz is if he would have gone to a big time school, would be a top ten pick. Depending on where he lands, if he’s in the right situation, Cole may become the steal of the draft.

May 18, 2011

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NBA Draft Predictions

By: Rick Jarrell

Last night was the NBA Draft Lottery. Finallysomething to distract us from the incredible postseason basketball we’ve been subjected to so far (kidding). Pre-draft coverage is often over hyped, and the draft lottery is a great example. It’s not the actual drafting of players that may or may not (probably won’t) be superstars, but a random drawing of ping pong balls to decide who gets to gamble on the most recent highly touted players in hopes they can turn around a franchise. ESPN managed to drag a process that should have taken five minutes into a thirty minute “extravaganza.” But hey, it’s not as demoralizing as “The Decision,” and for those fans currently outside of the playoffs, it provides a small shred of hope.

With that in mind, rather than perform a mock draft, as most media outlets will do in an astonishingly redundant fashion, let’s take a look at different types of draft strategy and which lottery teams are likely to employ each one.

Draft for Potential

This strategy is nearly mandatory for those fortunate enough to win one of the top picks, especially when it comes to this year’s widely agreed upon weak draft. Most years, there seems to be a few players clearly above the rest, if not a single player perceived as the hands down top pick. For this year’s draft, that player is Kyrie Irving. Despite playing only a small portion of his freshman season at Duke, Irving is seen as the only sure NBA talent with potential to become a superstar. Expect the Cleveland Cavaliers, who those around the league say love Irving, to take him first.

After Irving, the draft becomes more of a mystery. And with such a shallow talent pool, I fully endorse any team taking a huge risk on an unknown like Bismack Biyombo. The likely best case scenario for a lot of these players is a strong rotational player, maybe a starter on a decent-good team. The odds are against any of this draft class leading a team to a championship, so why not take a risk? If you’re wrong, you get another high pick next year, with hopefully a better selection.

Draft Best Available

Selecting the best available in the draft is usually a strategy most commonly used by teams who need to improve in a lot of areas. Typically that includes the majority of the top end of the draft, and this year is no different. The Cavs, Minnesota Timberwolves, Toronto Raptors, and Washington Wizards all have multiple areas of glaring weakness. Where they’re slotted in the draft now, taking the most talented player is logical.

Personally, I’m a big fan of this strategy, whether or not the best available player would be redundant on the team. You can find time to play two players, even if they play identical positions. And you can’t count on one player staying with the team their entire career. They’ll either be traded or leave via free agency. So you can also use the “redundant” player as a trade asset. But with this draft, the best available is unremarkable, and this strategy may not be as strong as it would be in most years.

Draft for Need

Traditionally, you’d see teams that seem to be one piece away from a playoff appearance, or a playoff team who acquired a lottery team’s draft pick, in this position. But the team that would have fit this mold the best, the Los Angeles Clippers, traded their pick to the Cavs (a pick that defied the 2.8% odds to gain #1). The Golden State Warriors, Phoenix Suns, and the Houston Rockets could enact this strategy, but with the 11th, 13th, and 14th picks, respectively, in a poor draft doesn’t leave them with much option. The rest of the high lottery teams are in such disarray, they are likely to select either based on talent or best available. 

The one team that may use need-based drafting that could shake things up is the Utah Jazz. A playoff team a year ago, the team was uprooted midseason as they sent Deron Williams to the New Jersey Netsand longtime head coach Jerry Sloan resigned shortly afterwards. Williams is a great player, but he wasn’t the entire team. There’s still talent on the team. But the front court is currently crowded with Paul Milsap, Mehmet Okur, Al Jefferson, and Derek Favors, who they received from the Nets. So despite having the third pick and the ability to select Williams or Kanter, the Jazz may go for a need and select a guard to pair with Devin Harris, such as Brandon Knight or Kemba Walker.

Wheelin’ and Dealin’

Every year, there are a few draft day trades – either before a player is drafted, or right after the player is drafted. In general, the NBA is a constantly evolving mechanism. But with the Collective Bargaining Agreement set to expire this summer, it’s going to be difficult for a team to makes any serious moves without knowing what the future holds. Also, with the lack of talent in the draft (have I said that already?), teams are even less likely to take a risk. If any of the teams with higher draft picks this year is offered a future draft pick, I think they’ll strongly consider. Having said that, the Rockets are a team that is always looking to make a move, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that holds true next month. The Wizards, looking for a sidekick to team with John Wall, may have fallen just short of being able to select a talented front court player, and may be open to a trade.

The NBA Draft is June 23rd. Until then, PLAYOFFS! It’s only getting better…