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UNC player Diamond DeShields  (Courtesy: Daily Tar Heel)

UNC player Diamond DeShields
(Courtesy: Daily Tar Heel)

For the HERO and ZERO of the week, we’ll go with 3 local Women’s Coaches!

When the Women’s bracket was announced, Duke coach Joanne McCallie quickly voiced her displeasure with the parings, which I believe had Duke as the #2 seed in the same region where UConn was #1.  She said they must not want Duke in the Final Four at all, to put them in UConn’s region.

I realize all of the “Coach-speak” about playing one game at a time gets old, but McCallie was a complete ZERO for thinking Conn. was the only threat keeping Duke out of the Final Four.   Duke was promptly bounced—on their homecourt—by #7 seed DePaul!    Maybe she meant putting DePaul in Duke’s bracket showed they did not want Duke in the Final Four.   It seems the sense of entitlement that is evident in the Duke men’s program is shared by the Women’s program as well.

Meanwhile, UNC made it to the Final 8, losing to Stanford—on Stanford’s homecourt, in the Regional Final.     Despite playing several freshmen a majority of the time, (and in Women’s program, hardly anyone leaves early, so they were playing against mostly upperclassmen), they had a good run in the Tournament, despite a somewhat inconsistent regular season.

They beat Duke twice in the season, but lost enough games to finish SIXTH in the league standings!   Then they beat 3 seed Maryland, (which as you know advanced to the Final Four), before losing a very close game to Duke in the ACC tourney semifinals.

Making UNC’s run even more amazing, was of course the fact that for the entire season they were without their Coach, Sylvia Hatchell, who is battling leukemia.     We’ll choose not only Hatchell, but also long-time Assistant Andrew Calder as HERO(s) of the week.  He did  a great job, with a very young team, while all of the time crediting Hatchell for the success.  He even said after their loss the other night, “Having a Hall-of-Fame Coach on the sidelines may have made a difference.’

Assuming Diamond Deshields [daughter of former MLB player Delino DeShields] or none of the other freshmen leave early, UNC should have a very good Women’s team for years to come!

spurs

spursIn a bit of NBA news that should surprise no one, the San Antonio Spurs are really, really good at basketball. After dismantling the hapless Sixers Monday night, the Spurs win-streak reached fourteen games. Over that stretch, the Spurs have beaten playoff teams such as Miami, Chicago, Portland, and Golden State by an average of 13.5 points per game. Their dominance this season is predicated on a perfect blend of basketball artistry and a system that exploits the weaknesses of their opponents. The Spurs, long deemed a “boring” team to watch, are the most aesthetically pleasing team to watch in the NBA today.

Marco Bellinelli Shotchart

Marco Bellinelli Shotchart

The Spurs are an offensive powerhouse. No player on the Spurs averages over 18 points per game, yet the team ranks seventh in scoring. No player averages more than 6.5 assists per game, yet the Spurs are first in assists per game. No player has gaudy statistics because everyone knows their role. Players like Marco Bellinelli, Boris Diaw, and Patty Mills thrive for the Spurs because they play in a system that emphasizes their respective strengths. For example, the Spurs have engineered their system to create open three-point opportunities in the corners. Marco Bellinelli, an excellent three-point shooter, has been put in the position to shoot these corner shots. He has taken advantage of this opportunity, hitting 46% of his corner three attempts.

In addition to taking advantage of the strengths of their roster, the San Antonio’s offense has used crisp ball-movement to dominate offensively. The Spurs are an unselfish team that is maniacal about creating the best scoring opportunity possible on every possession.Watch in this clip as the Spurs whip the ball around to generate an open look.

While the shot was missed, one can see how the Spurs adept passing can get the defense caught in problematic rotations. Their ability to move the ball is aided by a roster that features big men who are quality distributers. Tim Duncan and Boris Diaw are both above-average passing bigs. The Spurs can thus run an offense that takes advantage of Duncan and Diaw’s passing abilities to create scoring opportunites. San Antonio’s offense features a lot of off-ball cutting action. As you can see in this clip, the Spurs will use one of their bigs in the high-post to pass to open cutters.

San Antonio’s passing prowess creates open looks that increase offensive efficiency. The Spurs are the best three-point shooting team in the league at 39.8%. They also have the second highest true shooting percentage at 57.4%. The Spurs’ offensive percision and potency leaves opponents searching for ways to slow them down. To this point, no one has discovered the formula.

The Spurs ultimate success relies on several players who are advanced in age. Consequently, Head Coach Greg Popovich will probably elect to sit certain players before the playoffs begin, likely bringing an end to the streak. Still, one does not need to rely on a winning streak to realize how dominant the Spurs can be. Streak or no streak, the Spurs have established themselves as the elite team in the NBA.

michigan-wofford-2014-ncaa

Nik Stauskas, 6-6 Sophmore from Canada positions himself for an open three-pointer

Forget Christmas and the day the kids go back to school. This is one of the two most wonderful days of the year. It used to be New Year’s Day and all the Bowl games, but that has been whittled down as the good games are now spread out over the entire week.

That delectable honor now goes to the first two days of March Madness 2014.

I will either find myself glued to the easy chair in front of the big screen TV (and nowadays with tablet and smartphone in tow) or as sometimes happens, I hit the road when the hoops circus comes to town. The NCAA first round, now known as the second round, arrives with hurricane force winds at either Chicago or Milwaukee on a semi regular basis. ESPN gets credit for the staggered start times, and CBS/Turner gets kudos for making every game available on TV and the Internet.

It’s never a problem to forgo the multiple screen experience to watch live post season college hoops. NCAA tournament games are one of the few places that still seat more than a handful of media at court side. Given the number of journalists that only focus on one team, a real court side seat can be had if you get lucky. Sometimes we get that. On Thursday I was booked into the 200 section, but I found an unoccupied seat right at the corner of the hardwood, across from the home team’s bench in game one.  I wedged myself between a writer for the Arizona Republic and Dianna Russini, (@NBCDianna) an NBC sports anchor from Washington, DC, covering the Eagles.

Dianna Russini of NBC4 Washington, DC laments her team's demise and the end of coverage of the second round.

Dianna Russini of NBC4 in Washington, DC jokingly laments her team’s demise and the end of her coverage of the second round.

The hometown favorite Wisconsin Badgers used a late first half spurt to pull away from the American University Eagles, and kept padding their lead in the second half en route to an easy 75-35 victory. It was by far the most lopsided win of the day. The men in red shot a blistering 58% from the field in the final twenty minutes. Ben Brust outshone his supremely talented team mate Sam Decker, hitting 4-7 threes, and scoring seventeen points. Guard Traevon Jackson from Westerville, OH added 18 as the Badgers improved to 11-2 in their last 13 tourney openers.

Badgers coach Bo Ryan was asked about the second half blowout in his post game press conference. He replied, “You know, to go on a 40-6 run, no, you can’t imagine that. It doesn’t usually happen. Our guys took care of each possession and that’s what you have to do, whether you’re up or down.”

About the only thing remarkable regarding the Eagles was that one of their players shot his free throws one-handed.

Only on the hardwood can a duck take down a cougar.

Using speed, agility, and their physicality around the basket, Oregon dismantled Brigham Young 87 to 68. The ducks took advantage of BYU’s poor shooting to jump ahead 39-31 at halftime. The Cougars were content to sit back in a zone and let Oregon shoot over them, which they promptly did. Yet, at times, Oregon was still able to feed the ball inside.  Key moment in the game: OU called timeout as BYU cut their lead from 12 points to three with 12:01 left. Smart move, as the Ducks pushed their margin back above ten. With four minutes left it was 83-61 Oregon. BYU kept trying to push the ball up court, but missed too many shots  and follow ups (32.8% FG.) By the time the Cougars shifted to a man to man defense, it was  too late. Oregon sent out its scrubs in with 1:14 to go, up by 23. The Ducks had ten players who logged at least five minutes of court time and were led by Forward Elgin Cook, a red-shirt sophomore playing in his hometown, and netting 23 points.

In the second round, the arena crowd is cleared out after game two, while the media retreat to cover the post game interviews, talk to players in the locker room, or grab a meal.  As usual the NCAA steps up to the plate, literally, with a sit down lunch/dinner (it was before 5 PM after all) of chicken wraps, cheese quesadillas, salad, and soup.  The theme must have been Tex-Mex as they served churros, the popular Latin fried dough, for dessert.

In game three, the closest that the Wafford Terriers got to the Michigan Wolverines was when the two schools were knotted at 4 apiece. Even when the partisan Badger fans, which seemed to comprise about eighty percent of the fans in the Bradley Center, began cheering loudly for Wofford, as they managed to pull within seven with 8:34 to go, it was to no avail. Michigan responded with a 13-4 run of their own to seal the deal in their 57-40 victory. Karl Cochran led all scorers with 17 points in a losing effort. Michigan’s super soph Nik Stauskas paced his team with 15 points, including 3 of 6 from three point land.

As you see, the recaps get shorter as the evening progressed. After three games. I’d had enough, knowing full well that the culmination of the day’s games would probably be the most closely contested.  Nonetheless, either middle age got the better of me,  or I can rationalize and say the six days out in California that ended Wednesday evening, led to overtiredness, and I headed back to Chicagoland, just in time to see the last ten minutes of Arizona State – Texas.  True to form, the game nearly went to overtime, save for a last second put back by Cameron Ridley of an errant Longhorn shot with no time left on the clock leading to Texas’ 87-85 win.

All that action culminates in two #2 vs #7 contests on Saturday.  Michigan and Texas battle at 4:15 CT, and Wisconsin plays host to Oregon, in what will be another hostile Bradley Center crowd.

DePaul Blue Demons Coach Doug Bruno cuts down the net as Big East champions


I predicted my top seeds for the NCAA Women’s Bracket on my Facebook Token Female  page. Guess what they were…..Oh, never mind…..I’ll tell you:

  • UConn (34-0) #1 all year on the AP Poll
  • Notre Dame (32-0) #2 all year on the AP Poll
  • Tennessee (27-5) #3 or 4 all year
  • Baylor  (29-4) #4 to end the regular season

Your Token Female was right on three counts. The fourth? Dead wrong. Where was Baylor? They’re a #2 seed, right under undefeated Notre Dame. I forgot the Gamecocks! There they are, at the top of the NCAA Women’s Bracket. Damn you, South Carolina! How could you sneak up on me like that? Aleighsa Welch, Tiffany Mitchell, and Alaina Coates, you surprised me!

The steely stare of South Carolina's Dawn Staley with Aleighsa Welch, Alaina  Coates, and Tiffany Mitchell's joy. Hey, you're a #1 seed...lighten up!

The steely stare of South Carolina’s Dawn Staley with Aleighsa Welch, Alaina Coates, and Tiffany Mitchell’s joy. Hey, you’re a #1 seed…lighten up!

Well, here’s how they got to the top of the Stanford Region:

  • South Carolina (27-4) had won its most games in 34 years and earned its first-ever SEC regular-season title.
  • It’s  South Carolina’s third straight trip and 11th overall to the Big Dance

I didn’t think they were going to be a top seed…maybe #2 or #3, because they lost to their better competition in the University of North Carolina Tar Heels and the Tennessee Volunteers during the regular season. They lost in the SEC Conference Tournament to Kentucky. Credit their coach, Dawn Staley. She’s making her ninth NCAA appearance as a coach. The Hall of Famer led Virginia to three Final Fours as one of the game’s best players. They will open up against Cal State Northridge in the first round in Seattle. Stanford, who lost early in the Pac-12 tournament, still managed a #2 seed. They’re coming to the home of the ketchup and mustard of Iowa State in Ames to play the first two rounds. Penn State is the #3 seed and North Carolina, #4.  Closer to Home….

Chanise Jenkins leads the cheers for DePaul's #7 seed

Chanise Jenkins leads the cheers for DePaul’s #7 seed

Every time I hear someone say “There’s no Illinois team in the NCAA’s!” I JUST WANT TO FUME. For the  12th straight year, the No. 23/22 DePaul women’s basketball team is heading to the NCAA Tournament.  The Blue Demons are one of just nine programs to appear in each of the last 12 NCAA Tournaments.  They are joined in this elite category by Connecticut, Duke, Georgia, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Stanford, Tennessee and Vanderbilt. A dozen times, they’ve been in the BIG DANCE. What are they…chopped liver? The DePaul women are the only basketball program – men or women – from the state of Illinois represented in the NCAA Tournament field this season. And it was a well-deserved honor. DePaul had one of the most successful seasons in recent history and set programs records for points scored (2,763), 3-pointers (285), assists (654) and its 27 wins ties for the second-most in school history. I thought their #7 seed was a bit low, but they will face No. 10 Oklahoma on Saturday, March 22 at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C. DePaul and Oklahoma’s first-round game will be played 30-minutes following the Duke vs. Winthrop game which is scheduled to tip at 10:00 a.m. (CT). Both games will air on ESPN2. Duke was chosen as the No. 2 seed and Winthrop is the No. 15 in the Lincoln, Nebraska Region. The winners of Saturday’s first round games play on Monday. DePaul (27-6) is making its 19th NCAA Tournament with its first appearance coming in 1990. As readers of Token Female noted last week, the Blue Demons earned the Big East’s  automatic bid after capturing the league’s tournament title last week. #10 Oklahoma (18-14) reached the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament this season and is making its 17th NCAA Tournament appearance.  The Sooners are 4-6 in their last 10 games and are 0-1 in neutral site games this season. The Sooners started their season by making the championship game of the Preseason WNIT The Blue Demons and Sooners are meeting for just the second time ever.  The two schools last played when they opened the 2006-07 season in Norman, Oklahoma. The Sooners won the game 105-71. DePaul is 10-18 all-time in NCAA games and reached the Sweet 16 in 2011 and in 2006. The Blue Demons have reached the second round eight times, including in two of the last three seasons. Stay tuned for updates throughout the big dance. I’m expecting a serious dosey-doe.

After capturing the Big East title, the Blue Demons are hosting a party Monday at DePaul


The DePaul Blue Demons) are ready to step up and lead the Big East”

Coach Doug Bruno, DePaul Blue Demons

Welcome to a new era in Big East athletics.

No more UConn. No more Geno Auriemma.  No more Notre Dame. So long, Hall of Famer Muffet McGraw.

Hello, Coach  Doug Bruno.  You’ve been crowned.

After sweating  it out year after year for NCAA selection and seeding, the Blue Demons can take it easy on St. Patrick’s Day, aka Selection Monday for women’s basketball.

In winning the Big East Conference, the Blue Demons also punched their ticket to their 12th consecutive NCAA tournament.

This time, it’s an AUTOMATIC bid.

It seems like it’s all coming together…finally…for the DePaul Lady Blue Demons. They secured their first Big East regular-season title ever, and enter the NCAA Tournament with a 27-6 record.  They’ve won 16 of their last 17 games, and are ranked 23/22 in the nation.

“This was one of the best moments of my life,” said senior forward Jasmine Penny. “To see us work so hard all season and accomplish this is just amazing.”

Going into the Big East Conference tournament as the #1 seed, they battled Georgetown, Marquette, and finally,  #2 seed St. John’s to take the Big East Tournament title on March 11. It was the first women’s championship game for the realigned Big East since powerhouses Connecticut and Notre Dame departed last year for the American Athletic and Atlantic Coast conferences, respectively.

From the opening tip, the Blue Demons were intent on scoring inside along with attacking the basket. A back-and-forth first half ended with the Blue Demons on top, 30-29.

But as they approached crunch time, DePaul held the Red Storm off, maintained a five-to-seven point lead, until Brittany Hrynko‘s reverse layup gave DePaul a 53-46 edge with over four minutes to go.

Hrynko was aggressive from the opening tip as if determined to impose her will on this championship game no matter what.

“I came out ready to play,” Hrynko said. “I wanted to attack the basket. Once I got into the lane, I was patient looking for my teammates cutting to the basket.”

Senior forward Jasmine Penny was voted the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, and junior guard Brittany Hrynko was voted onto the all-tournament team. Megan Rogowski chipped in with 14 points while Megan Podkowa came up big with 12 points, nine rebounds, two steals and two blocks.

DePaul vs. St. Johns

And now…it’s time for a party!

Join the DePaul women’s basketball team on Monday, March 17 for the NCAA Women’s Basketball Selection Special.  Coach Doug Bruno and his team will gather at McGrath-Phillips Arena to watch the selection show on ESPN on DePaul’s big screen at 6 p.m. (CT).  The event is open to the public and doors open at 5 p.m.

The selection show party includes food and soda while admission is free. Parking is available for $6 next door to the Sullivan Athletic Center at the 2335 N. Sheffield parking facility. Fans that plan on attending the selection show should RSVP to Katie Ramsey at (773)325-7504 or cramsey1@depaul.edu.

 

drew

Northwestern wrapped up their 2013-14 home schedule on Thursday evening in disappointing fashion losing to Penn State 59-32 at Welsh Ryan- Arena , the outcome was not what they had hoped for as the Wildcats were ran out of the gym from the opening tip.

Drew Crawford, Nikola Cerina and James Montgomery were all recognized before the game as part of the “Senior Night Ceremony” but even the pumped up crowd there to celebrate could not get the Wildcats (12-18, 5-12) into the game as they would trail 32-15 at the half, after shooting just 6-27 from the field (22%).

Crawford, (who is the Wildcats all time leader in both games played and games started) struggled from the start, finishing with only 6 points in 38 minutes on 2-9 shooting from the field. He exited the game with 74 seconds to play and received a nice ovation from the crowd and his new head coach Chris Collins who couldn’t have been more proud.

“I’m sad I only got a chance to coach him for one year,” Collins said about Crawford in his post game press conference.

“More than anything, I just said, ‘Hold your head high,’” Collins continued. “Because he should. He’s one of the great players to play in this program but not even just the way he’s played, the way he’s carried himself. …  He’s the model of what I want this program to be about.”

Penn State ( 15-15, 6-11) was led by D.J Newbill who scored 12 points on 5-8 shooting in 30 minutes. Tim Frazier and Brandon Taylor also chipped in 11 points for the Nittany Lions.

Next up for Northwestern will be a road matchup against Purdue and unless they can pull off the victory they will be looking at the number 12 seed in the Big Ten Tournament next week.

durant and lebron

durant and lebronWe are in the midst of one of the best NBA MVP races in recent history. Kevin Durant and LeBron James are engaged in an epic fight for supremacy. Unfortunately for the rest of the league, it appears both players are going all-in on earning the award. Thus, we are likely going to see more see situations like the one in Charlotte where LeBron personally destroyed the Bobcats franchise. While it is a two-man competition for MVP, it is still important to note the performance of a handful of other players that have had fantastic seasons. So I have decided to formulate my list for the top five MVP candidates this season, including my opinion on who leads the Durant/LeBron debate.

Before we start, here are a few players who are putting together great season but did not crack the top five. I have also included some short notes as to why they did not make my list.

Dirk Nowitzki- Another fantastic year, but his numbers aren’t quite there.

Kevin Love- Crazy-good numbers, bad team.

Carmelo Anthony- Crazy-good numbers, horrendous team.

Dwight Howard- Putting together a great two-way season, but hasn’t been dominant.

As for the Top Five:

5. Stephen Curry

The Numbers:

  • 24.1 points  and 8.8 assists per game
  • 193 three-pointers made, most in the NBA
  • 615 points off of pull-up shots (Any jump shot outside 10 feet where a player took 1 or more dribbles before shooting). 139 more points than the second highest pull-up total, per NBA.com.

The Impact:

During his 2010-11 MVP season, Derrick Rose averaged 27.1 points and 7.7 assists per game. Curry has put up very similar numbers this season, carrying the Warriors to a 36-24 record. Curry’s MVP case is aided by the inconsistent play of his supporting cast this season. Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes have failed to make “The Jump” like many expected, leaving Steph to shoulder more of the offensive load for Golden State. In addition to his strong numbers, Curry is one of the most exciting players to watch in the game. Few players around the NBA cause Twitter eruptions like Steph does. Probably because few players can do things like this.

4. Joakim Noah

The Numbers:

  • 12 points, 11.4 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game
  • Opponents shooting just 44.5% on shots at the rim when being guarded by Noah, eighth best in the league, per NBA.com

The Impact:

Noah’s numbers are solid, but they only tell a fraction of his impact on the Bulls this season. Noah has helped write one of the most unexpected storylines of the year. After losing Derrick Rose and trading Luol Deng, the Bulls appeared destined for the lottery. However, Noah and Head Coach Tom Thibodeau would not let it happen. The Bulls are now 33-27 on the year and have won eight of their last ten games. They will likely end up as the three seed in the Eastern Conference and will be a pain in the ass for the Pacers or Heat to play in the second round. Chicago can thank Joakim Noah for staying relevant in what looked like a lost season.

3. Blake Griffin

The Numbers:

  • 24.2 points and 9.8 rebounds per game
  • Shooting 53.2% from the field, ninth best in the NBA, per NBA.com
  • Shooting a career-high 70% from the free throw line

The Impact:

Chris Paul’s injury on January 3 produced a fork-in-the-road moment for the Clippers. Would they hold their ground in his absence and maintain a top seed in the West or would they slip in the standings and end up with an unfavorable playoff matchup? The Clippers needed Blake Griffin to step up in Paul’s absence and lead the team. He produced with flying colors and the Clippers went 13-5 with CP3 out of the lineup. Not only was a Clippers collapse diverted, but Blake established himself as a top MVP candidate. His play has drastically improved from past seasons. Griffin has developed a solid low-post game with multiple moves on the block. He has become a reasonably dependable shooter from mid-range and the foul line, forcing defenders to respect those facets of his game. Finally, while he has always been an above-average passer, the Clippers are allowing him to make plays with the ball in his hands. This is especially evident on the fast-break, as you can see in the following clip.

 

As for numbers one and two on my list, let us compare the following players:

Player A- 37.3 mpg, 27.5 ppg, 58.3% FG, 38.4% 3FG, 7.0 rpg, 6.4 apg

Player B- 38.4 mpg, 31.6 ppg, 50.7% FG, 39.6% 3FG, 7.7 rpg, 5.6 apg

How the hell do you choose one?

What if we compare memorable moments?

Player A is LeBron James and B is Kevin Durant. The race for MVP, like their numbers, is incredibly close. Durant appeared to have the early lead, putting up video game numbers with Russell Westbrook out of the lineup. However, LeBron has roared back in the last four weeks, including a career-high 61-point face-melter against Charlotte. They are the two best players in the world, playing arguably the best basketball of their respective careers, and doing so on two of the top teams in the NBA.

What makes this race even more enjoyable is the competition level between LeBron and Durant. It seems as if they are fueled by media discussions about who is the MVP. When one player seems to gain an edge, the other responds with a huge game. It’s as if their box scores are battling one another from across the country. As fans, we are the beneficiary of this fantastic theater. It is important that during all of the debating about who is the MVP, we take a step back and enjoy these two players playing the game at unbelievable levels.

Let’s get to it. The MVP standings at this point in the season are…..

2. LeBron James 

The Impact:

LeBron is having another phenomenal year. His efficiency has been particularly impressive this season. He is the only non-center with a top five field goal percentage and his  66.2% true shooting mark is second best in the league, per NBA.com. Amid frequent lineup shuffling and injuries, LeBron has been the sole point of consistency for Miami. Now, the Heat are surging, having won nine of their last ten games, and they have the look of a team hunting for the one seed in the East. Thanks to LeBron, they will probably capture it.

1. Kevin Durant

The Impact:

Durant is putting together the strongest all-around season of his career. As I have outlined already this season, Durant’s playmaking and defense have improved drastically. Like Griffin, Durant was put in a position where he had to carry his squad without a key teammate. It was during this period when Russell Westbrook was injured that Durant solidified his MVP case. Despite Westbrook rejoining the lineup in recent weeks, Durant is still putting up monster numbers, averaging 32.6 points per game in the five games since Westbrook has returned. As long as Durant continues to get his 20 field goal attempts per game, he will keep putting up dominant numbers.

 

Follow me on Twitter: KevinMajor_SRN

Email me: KevinMajorSRN@gmail.com

 

Mike Conley has carried the Griz this season, but will they make the playoffs?

Mike Conley has carried the Griz this season, but will they make the playoffs?

Mike Conley has carried the Griz this season, but will they make the playoffs?

When Marc Gasol sprained his MCL on November 22, it seemed as if the Memphis Grizzlies season was over. Not only was Memphis going to be without their second best offensive option, but they would be missing one of the best low-post defenders in the NBA. Yet, despite playing in an ultra-competitive Western Conference, the Griz were able to tread water during Gasol’s nearly eight week absence. Thanks in large part to stellar play by Mike Conley (averaging nearly 17.9 points and 6.2 assists per game) and the ever-reliable Zach Randolph (averaging 17.3 points and 10.3 rebounds per game), the Grizzlies were able to stay within striking distance.

Now, Gasol (or as my friend Nolan calls him, Big Spanish) is back and Memphis appears poised to make a run at a playoff spot in the West. They find themselves trailing Phoenix by two games for the eighth seed and Dallas by just 2.5 games for the seventh seed. Along with the consistent play of Conley and Randolph, Memphis has relied on a ground-and-pound style to win games. Memphis plays at the slowest pace in the NBA, averaging 92.11 possessions per 100 possessions, per NBA.com.  Memphis’ slow pace results from an offensive system that focuses on getting low-post touches for their bigs. In fact, both Randolph and Gasol rank in the top five in touches within 12 feet of the rim per game (Randolph 7.3, Gasol 7.9), per NBA.com. The Grizzlies are particularly effective offensively when they utilize Marc Gasol’s excellent passing skills in the low post, as you can see from this clip.

While the Griz do a good job of running their offensive through the low-post, they are abysmal from behind the arc. Their poor three-point shooting could turn out to be the reason why the Griz fall short of the playoffs. Memphis takes the fewest three-point field goal attempts per game in the NBA at 14.2 attempts and makes just 34.3% of them, the fifth worst percentage in the league, per NBA.com. These statistics make the rumors of buyout-candidate Jimmer Fredette landing with the Griz seem more likely. Not only would Jimmer provide a credible shooting threat from, but he would also fill the backup point guard role. A role that has been open since Memphis traded Jerryd Bayless to the Celtics earlier this season. Three-point shooting

Memphis will play a handful of quality opponents down the stretch, including games against Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Indiana, and two against Miami. They would likely need to at least split these six games to stay in the hunt. Moreover, in a perfect bit of NBA scheduling, Memphis closes its season with games against Phoenix and Dallas. These games could very well decide who will hold the final two seeds in the Western Conference

If the Grizzlies do make the playoffs, they will prove a difficult matchup for any of the top seeds. Largely, this stems from the unique style of basketball they play. The popular trend of playing small-ball lineups never made it to Memphis. Rather, the Griz will continue to bully opponents down low and take advantage of their size. The Grizzles have a solid rotation of four bigs (Gasol, Randolph, Koufos, Davis), that can provide quality defense and excellent rebounding. The Spurs, currently the second seed in the West, must be particularly nervous about a first round matchup with the Grizzlies. Memphis has competed well against San Antonio in the playoffs over the past decade (sans last year’s beat down) and has the opportunity to take advantage of an older, oft-injured Spurs squad.

The Griz are one of my sleepers this season. If they get in the dance, they are a team that has the potential to make a deep run. Despite currently holding a pedestrian 31-24 record, no one will want to play the Griz come playoff time. Not even these guys.

 

Follow me on Twitter: KevinMajor_SRN

Email me at KevinMajorSRN@gmail.com

Oklahoma City is potentially one piece away from a title.

Oklahoma City is potentially one piece away from a title.

It’s one of my favorite times of the year- NBA trade deadline season! A time when unsubstantiated rumors are thrown around like insults at a roast. As a future NBA GM, I have spent countless hours on the ESPN Trade Machine figuring out ways to manipulate rosters to address team needs. This season, I have crafted five trades that would impact the NBA landscape. These trades comply with salary cap regulations as well as rules regarding trading draft picks. More importantly, I believe these trades to be mutually beneficial for the teams involved and interesting for the league. Without further ado, here are my big deals.

Evan Turner1. Evan Turner to the Bobcats

Bobcats receive: Evan Turner

Sixers receive: Ben Gordon’s expiring contract and Blazers 2014 1st Round Pick

Why it works-

The Bobcats are currently clinging to the eighth seed in the East. After years of ineptitude, the Cats need to give their fans some sense of hope. Turner is a solid all-around player, averaging 17.4 points, 6 rebounds and just under 4 assists per game. The Cats would have the option to insert Turner into the starting small forward spot or use him as their sixth man. Either way, Turner would be an upgrade over Jeff Taylor and Chris Douglas-Roberts.

Rumors are circulating that the Sixers will be active at the trade deadline. With an eye towards the future, GM Sam Hinkie will be looking to bring in draft picks and expiring contracts. Acquiring Ben Gordon’s expiring contract and the Blazers 2014 first round pick will do both of these things. It’s hard to imagine the Sixers giving Evan Turner a long-term deal in the offseason. Thus, it makes sense for Philly to get what they can for him now.

Greg Monroe2. Greg Monroe to the Warriors

Warriors receive: Greg Monroe

Pistons receive: Harrison Barnes

Why it works-

Golden State is one of the most entertaining teams in the league. However, they have had a disappointing season thus far and are only nine games above .500. One of the primary issues for the Warriors has been figuring out who to play in crunch-time. The addition of Andre Iguodala has left Harrison Barnes as the odd man out. As a result, Barnes has become expendable for the Warriors. By trading Barnes to Detroit for Greg Monroe, Golden State could add much needed frontcourt depth and solidfy their crunch-time five. A closing lineup of Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Lee and Monroe would be deadly on the offensive end and big enough to hold their own on the boards.

The Pistons have a logjam in the frontcourt. The experiment of playing Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith together has been an epic failure. Not only is Detroit’s offensive spacing terrible when those three are on the floor together, but they are also allowing 108.4 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com. Bringing in Barnes would give the Pistons a natural small forward who has the potential to grow into a very productive player.

Pau Gasol3. Pau Gasol to the Suns

Suns receive: Pau Gasol

Lakers receive: Emeka Okafor’s expiring contract, Miles Plumlee & Suns 2014 1st Round Pick

Why it works-

Some writers predicted the Suns to be in full tank mode this season (slowly drops his head in shame). Shockingly, the Suns are in playoff position and appear just a piece away from serious contention. Pau Gasol would be a great addition, bringing a reliable low post presence that could take some of the scoring pressure off of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe come playoff time. Gasol would make the Suns a difficult matchup for anybody in the West.

The Lakers are awful and it appears they will be for the near future. The goal for L.A. should be acquiring draft picks and slashing salary. Gasol has never fit in well with Mike D’Antoni’s system and it appears both sides would benefit from a change. The draft pick the Lakers would acquire will not be as valuable as many would have guessed before the season, but in a deep draft, the Lakers could add a nice young piece. Miles Plumlee has shown flashes of competence as a backup center and would be a key sweetener for the Lakers.

Jeff Green4. Jeff Green to the Rockets

Rockets receive: Jeff Green, Phil Pressey & Vitor Faverani

Celtics receive: Omer Asik & Aaron Brooks

Why it works-

The Omer Asik soap opera has to come to an end. The Rockets would do well to bring in Jeff Green, a player who can play the stretch-4 and space the floor for Harden-Howard pick-and-rolls. Green is shooting 36% from three-point range this season. While this is a respectable mark, I would expect this percentage to increase upon arriving in Houston as Green would no longer be the primary offensive focus of the opposing defense.

In Asik, the Celtics would acquire a quality big man who could anchor their defense for years to come (if they choose to re-sign him after next season). Pairing Asik with Jared Sullinger would give the Celtics a talented, young frontcourt pair. In addition, next season the Celtics would have Asik’s expiring contract as a trade chip to utilize in their rebuilding process.

Arron Afflalo5. Arron Afflalo to the Thunder

Thunder receive: Arron Afflalo

Magic receive: Jeremy Lamb, Kendrick Perkins & Mavericks  2014 1st Round Pick

Why it works-

The Thunder are playing excellent basketball this season. An upgrade from Jeremy Lamb to Arron Afflalo would put the Thunder in pole position to capture the NBA title. Afflalo is having a great season for Orlando, averaging 19.4 points per game and shooting 42.7% from three, per NBA.com. Unlike the James Harden trade, the Thunder should focus on the present rather than the future and go all in on a championship run. Adding Afflalo would signal the front office is doing just that.

Orlando is 16-38 with Afflalo. Trading him will only benefit the Magic by ensuring that they will lose more games and get a better chance at a high pick in the draft. What’s more, Afflalo will be 30 years old next season and it is unlikely that he will factor in to the Magic’s long-term rebuild. The Magic would be happy to acquire an additional pick and a potential talent in Jeremy Lamb. Perkins will also be in the last year of his contract next season, making him a possible trade asset.

 

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Blame Lolo Jones for Olympic bobsled fail?It could have been three American bobsleds, not two, in contention for women’s 2-man bobsled medals.

If not for a bad choice on the part of the USA Bobsled and Skeleton Federation.

After all,  USA-1 pilot Elana Meyers and brakeman Lauryn Williams, the most experienced of the bobsledders, are currently in first place with a two-heat time of 1:54.89, .23 seconds ahead of Canada-1 pilot Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse and .56 ahead of USA-2 pilot Jamie Greubel and Aja Evans, a Chicago native.

Where are the third American team…former Olympic track star Lolo Jones and and pilotJazmine Fenlator?  They are currently in 11th of 19 bobsleds heading into Wednesday’s final two heats. On Tuesday, their first heat brought them in 58.27 seconds. In the second heat, they were .19 seconds slower at 58.46.

“Everything went as expected,” Jones told theWashington Post. “We knew we would have to fight. We knew it would be four tough runs.”

She expected to come in 11th? I don’t think that’s why the Federation picked her.

Though anything can happen in the final two heats on Wednesday, Jones and Fenlator, according toUSA Today and other media outlets, are unlikely to medal here.

I agree.  Why blame Jones?

Actually, I blame the Federation, not so much Jones. They made two critical errors:

1) The Federation went for better publicity, not a better pushman

Yep my heart is hurting and moments like these I just praise and worship God. This song on repeat pic.twitter.com/eOIMGU0mBy

In this case,  Jones was selected over the blonde, beautiful, and experienced Palos Hills native Katie Eberling. She was an immediate favorite for the Olympic team after claiming the 2011 U.S. National Push Champion title in her rookie season. Eberling, 25, was left off the team despite three bronze-medal finishes in four World Cup races this season. She was the national team’s most decorated brakeman and the reigning world silver medalist in the two-woman bobsled. She won three bronze medals on the World Cup circuit this season and finished second behind Evans at the national push championships, which clock how fast athletes can thrust the sleds off the starting line.

Katie Eberling, who's an alternate on this year's Bobsled team after being passed over for Lolo Jones

Katie Eberling, who’s an alternate on this year’s Bobsled team after being passed over for Lolo Jones

Yes, Jones had two silver medals in four bobsled races, and ultimately bobsled officials liked Jones’ chances. She’s also ‘hot,’ she’s charismatic, she’s a Christian, reportedly a virgin, and has achieved worldwide fame for her looks, her omnipresence on social media, and her ability to bounce back from failure.  The Des Moines, Iowa native has a sad backstory, which always makes for good press.

And now, she’s a two-sport Olympian. More good press.

But she’s failed in heavy competition for any Olympic medal, let alone a gold.

The former U.S. track star missed bronze by a 10th of a second in the women’s 100-meter hurdles in the London Olympics in 2012, taking fourth place in her second attempt at the Summer Games. Her poor showing at the 2012 Olympics  kept her out of the “world class runner” tag she has long desired.

She won indoor national titles in 2007, 2008 and 2009 in the 60 m hurdles, with gold medals at the World Indoor Championship in 2008 and 2010. She was favored to win the 100 m hurdles at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but tripped on the penultimate hurdle, finishing in seventh place. She went on to win silver at the 2008 World Athletics Final.

2) They went with inexperience in USA-3

To earn her silver medal, Jones was paired with Elana Meyers, arguably the best of all drivers in US bobsled history. How much push was actually necessary?

Paired with Fenlator, their chances were weakened considerably.

Why would they have paired these two? Well, the bobsled federation cuts itself a wide berth when picking the Olympic team. The vaguely worded nominating procedures state that athletes should be selected based on current season results, past performance, push times, work ethic and driver input.

In her seven years as a ‘slider,’  Fenlator’s best finish was a silver during the 2012-13 season in Lake Placid, and a 5th in Park City.  She ran track at Rider University where her coach encouraged her to try a bobsled camp after graduation.

Maybe on paper, the team looked like they could maybe muster a respectable run.  But both lack the experience to win big in such an important event.

Yes, we have our publicity. But we also want our medals. Go USA?

But Elana Meyers, who I’m predicting will win gold on Wednesday, played the peacemaker on her Facebook page:

“In a sport where medals are won and lost by hundredths of a second, it is very important to analyze all the numbers and make the best decision to try to win Olympic medals for our country. Everyone may not agree with the decision, but the fact of the matter is, the numbers supported the selection committee’s decision and 3 athletes were chosen. The three that were chosen have worked hard to earn there spots, and I am proud to call them my Olympic teammates. “

 

Northwestern_Wildcats

Northwestern found themselves in unfamiliar territory coming into Saturday’s home matchup against Nebraska after winning four of their last five games in the Big Ten.

The Wildcats were actually favored to win for the first time all season in conference play when they hosted the Cornhuskers at Welsh Ryan Arena Saturday, and for a short time  it looked like they would pull off another win for first year head coach, Chris Collins.

JerShon Cobb led the Wildcats (12-12 5-6 Big Ten) with 7 points on 3-5 shooting in the first half, and Northwestern held Nebraska (12-10 4-6 Big Ten)  to 6-24 shooting (25%) to go into the break with a 22-16 lead over the Cornhuskers.

However, the second half was a different story as the Wildcats struggled to score, shooting just 9-25 from the floor and 5-15 from behind the three point line.

“It’s hard for us to score; that’s not new,” coach Chris Collins said. “So when we do get good looks or go to the free throw line, we have to make those.”

Nebraska forward, and star player, Walter Pitchford caught fire and scored 13 of his game high 17 points in the second half on 4-5 shooting including 3-3 from downtown, and it looked the Cornhuskers were ready to blow the game wide open by taking a 44-36 lead.

However, NU Star Drew Crawford did not give up. After missing his first three attempts from downtown, he drilled two straight to get the Wildcats back in the game and the crowd fired up, as well as Collins on the sideline.

Northwestern guard, Tre Demps, tied the score at 44 but that would be as close as it would get. Cobb would miss a good look on the next possession to take the lead, allowing Nebraska put the nail in the coffin.

Cornhusker forwards, Walter Pitchford (15 points) and Petteway, would eventually knock down two clutch three pointers to end the Cats comeback and put them away for good.

“They hit a couple big shots down the stretch and we didn’t,” coach Chris Collins said after the game. “That was the difference. We had been making those shots those last few games, and today, we didn’t. We got the game tied and they hit incredible shots at the end of the shot clock. Petteway’s 3 was from about 27 feet with a guy all over him.”

For the rest of coach Collins press conference click the link below.

Adam Silver, the NBA's new commissioner

Adam Silver, the NBA's new commissioner

Adam Silver, the NBA’s new commissioner. Photo courtesy NBA.com

The retirement of longtime NBA Commissioner David Stern became official Saturday. The new leader of the league is Adam Silver, a man who had served as deputy commissioner since 2006.  Silver inherits a league that is in a much better state than when Stern assumed the role in 1984. In Stern’s 30 years as head of the NBA, he grew the popularity and value of the league exponentially. The NBA’s annual revenue soared from $165 million in 1984 to $5.5 billion in 2013. Stern also oversaw the expansion of the league from 23 to 30 teams. Another key element of Stern’s tenure was the growth of the global popularity of the NBA. Thanks in large part to the success of the Dream Team in the 1992 Olympics, NBA games can now be viewed in 215 countries in 47 different languages. Above all else, Stern’s impact on the globalization of the game will be the defining aspect of his legacy. Well, that and his struggles with drinking bottled water.

Despite Stern’s vast accomplishments, the league is far from perfect. Tanking, poor officiating and college eligibility are just some of the issues that confront the league. With Adam Silver taking over as commissioner, now is the time to consider ways to improve the quality and entertainment of the NBA. Widely regarded as a fair and kind man, Silver is known as an outside the box thinker who is willing to incorporate innovative ideas to improve the NBA. He is also expected to run the NBA in a much less dictatorial way than Stern did. Thus, the NBA could see new ideas being incorporated to enhance its product. Here are some of the ideas I think would make the league better.

1. Trim the regular season to 66 games

We are now fully immersed in the “dog days” of the NBA season. That period of time between Christmas and the All-Star game that produces uninspired, low effort play across the league. One way to avoid the midseason drawl would be to shorten the season to 66 games. Shortening the season would cause teams to ramp-up for the playoffs sooner as each game is more valuable. Moreover, as part of the schedule change the NBA could eliminate back-to-back games. Back-to-back games are harmful to the quality of the NBA for both players and fans. Players are tired and face greater risk of injury due to fatigue.  Fans often miss out seeing star veteran players who are rested on back-to-backs like Dwyane Wade. A 66 game schedule is long enough to weed out pretenders but short enough to keep a quality product from the beginning to end of the regular season.

2.  Change draft eligibility rules

The NBA should implement a system similar to baseball. The new draft rules should be that players can enter the NBA straight from high school. However, if they choose to go to school, they would have to go for a minimum of three years. This rule change would allow for players who are ready for the NBA game like LeBron and Kobe to enter the league immediately. At the same time, players who feel they need to gain experience and seasoning in college are provided three years to develop. There are multiple benefits to having players stay in college for at least three years. First, players coming to the NBA after three years of college would be better prepared mentally, physically and emotionally for NBA life. Second, the college game would grow in popularity as fans would be able to watch recruits develop and contribute for longer than five months. Finally, the NBA game would increase in popularity as incoming rookies would have more popularity after being on the national stage in college for three years. Better players entering the league leads to a better product, plain and simple.

3. Create a centralized system for in-game reviews

How is this not a thing? Why do I have to sit through a five minute clear-path foul review during a Bucks-Bobcats game? It seems as if every eligible call is reviewed by officials. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as getting the call right should always be the ultimate goal. However, the NBA should find a way to make reviewing calls a much faster process. To accomplish this goal, the NBA should turn to the system the NHL uses to review plays. They should create a centralized office in the league’s headquarters that acts as a command center for all in-game reviews. No more having the referees waddle over to the monitor and look at 45 replays. Instead, someone watching each game at the LRO (League Review Office) can watch a a handful of replays in thirty seconds and then radio in the call to the head referee. For once, the NHL should act as a template for effective policy.

2015 Kwame Brown Tournament of Ineptitude Championship Game. Photo courtesy Andrew Carroll tuscpreps.com

2015 Kwame Brown Tournament of Ineptitude Championship Game. Photo courtesy Andrew Carroll tuscpreps.com

4. Create a tournament to determine the top four picks in the draft

This idea is an attempt to get rid of some of the tanking that occurs across the league while adding some excitement for fans in struggling basketball cities. Thus, I bring you the Kwame Brown Tournament of Ineptitude. The teams with the bottom four records in the league would face off in a tournament to determine the top of the draft order. If the season were to end today, Milwaukee would host Philadelphia and Orlando would host Boston. The winner of each game would face off in a game for the top overall pick in the draft. The tournament could take place over three days before the start of the playoffs. The final game would be played in the arena where the consensus number one overall pick plays, no matter if its Cameron Indoor or a small high school gym in Arkansas.

5. Allow teams to pick who they play in the playoffs

This is an idea that I have heard discussed in the past, most notably by the great Bill Simmons. The idea is that the top four seeds in each conference would pick which opponent they will face in the first round of the playoffs.  For example, top-seed Indiana would get to pick any of the playoff qualifying Eastern Conference teams to play in the first round. Maybe instead of facing the eighth seed Charlotte, they would choose to play the fifth seed Chicago because of favorable individual matchups.  The second seed, Miami, would follow with their pick and so on and so forth. Think about the bad blood that would come from naming who you want to play! This idea would create great drama in an often predictable first round.

While these five ideas may not be implemented, let us hope that Silver will pursue innovative ideas to increase the quality of the NBA product.

Follow me on Twitter: @KevinMajor_SRN

Email me at KevinMajorSRN@gmail.com

 

superbowl

As another wild and unpredictable football season comes to a close this Sunday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has  to be licking his chops with the feast fans will receive this Super Bowl XLVIII.

On one side you have the face of the league and arguably the greatest quarterback of this generation in Peyton Manning, on the other side you have the hard hitting Seahawks and their outspoken leader, defensive back Richard Sherman. Needless to say Fox does not have to worry about their ratings for this Super Bowl.

Before the big game, here is my preview for Sundays battle of the leagues best offense vs the leagues best defense.

 

WHEN DENVER HAS THE BALL

peyton

Peyton Manning has had a dream season, one Hollywood has to be dreaming of making a movie about. After an already outstanding career, Manning faced many questions regarding his future when he took over as the Broncos starting quarterback after spending 14 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts ,where he won four NFL MVP awards and one Super Bowl ring.

Manning had arguably the best season by a quarterback in NFL history – completing 68.3 percent of his passes for 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns (to only 10 interceptions) breaking Tom Brady’s previous record of 50.

While Manning remains the games top signal caller, he is not invincible. Manning has never been a mobile quarterback or able to move well outside of the pocket, and now that he has a titanium plate and four screws in his neck he likes to get hit even less.

The best way to slow Manning will be for Seattle to play tight press coverage which will allow their big and physical corners to get their hands on Denver’s talented receivers and disrupt the timing of their routes.

The matchup everybody will be tuning in to watch will be Seahawks defensive back Richard Sherman covering Broncos Receiver Demaryius Thomas; however,  we have to wonder if we will see that matchup all night long. The Seahawks usually like to keep their corners on their respective sides no matter if the opponents top reciver lines up on the left or right. We did see Sherman follow around 49ers reciever Anquan Boldin in Week 2 and hold him to one catch but in the NFC title game he mostly stayed home on his side.

While Thomas will see most of his targets on more physical routes, The Broncos other receivers Wes Welker and Eric Decker will look to get open using their speed and excellent route running. The Broncos will also split out tight end Julius Thomas to wide receiver to help spread things out.

I am intrigued to see if the Seahawks will stick to their cover 3 defense when they go up against Peyton Manning ,who has had two weeks to study and prepare for them. Most teams would change schemes in fear of dropping 7 guys back in coverage and risk  allowing  Manning to have the time to pick them apart. Seattle,however, does not lack confidence ,and I would be surprised if they changed schemes, instead I see them challenging Manning to make the plays to beat them.

If the Seahawks stick with their usual package, I would look for the Broncos to mix up their formations using bubble screens and ” rub” plays, along with their usual crossing routes.

Manning should also have the services of running back Knowshon Moreno, who is probable after suffering a rib injury late in the game against New England. Moreno has been the Broncos most consistent back this season rushing for 1,038 yards and 10 touchdowns in the regular season.

If Moreno is unable to go or receives limited touches, look for rookie Montee Ball and second year back Ronnie Hillman to split the carries. No matter who runs the ball for the Broncos, they will most likely have a rough time; the Seahawks front four has the potential to beat the broncos up over and over again.

Seattle will have a mismatch all day on the outside with Cliff Avril and Chris Clemons going against Broncos backup tackle Chris Clark and that will give Moreno and Manning headaches all game long. Clinton Mcdonald and Michael Bennet will be the defensive tackles in passing situations, and they both have been nothing short of spectacular this season, Bennet will be looking for big money this offseason after leading the Seahawks with 8.5 sacks on the year.

Everybody knows who Richard Sherman is now ,but few people may know opposite Cornerback  Byron Maxwell,  which is a shame. When Walter Thurmond was suspended, Maxwell took over and  has really made a name for himself since entering the lineup.   He finished with four picks despite starting just five games at the end of the season.

As mentioned earlier, Maxwell along with Richard Sherman will most likely press the Bronco recivers throughout the day. This will allow free safety Earl Thomas to play center field and play four underneath zones with strong safety Kam Chancellor, and two of their linebackers.One of these linebackers will be  play maker Bobby Wagner who recorded 120 tackles during the regular season.

While I would usually give Manning the advantage, it is harder than ever in this game. He has all the weapons he has always longed for: a great possession receiver in Welker, a burner like Eric Decker, and a big target in Demaryius Thomas. However, the Seahawks are just so fast and relentless on defense.

You would have to figure Manning has been watching tape for two weeks non stop now ,but check out Richard Sherman breaking down the corner positon courtsey of YouTube. It will be fun to watch these two great football minds battle for the biggest prize in the NFL.

 

WHEN SEATTLE HAS THE BALL

lynch

On one side, you have Peyton Manning ,the veteran and possible G.O.A.T ,on the the other side, you have new comer Russell Wilson ,who is in only his second season in the league. Wilson is a terrific game manager.  He is able to get outside of the pocket and really do some amazing things which helps make up for his lack of size and experience.

Wilson struggled at times during the final weeks of the regular season but all he really has to do is manage the game and not make any costly mistakes. In the NFC Championship against the 49ers, he did  throw the  eventual game winning pass on a 4th and 7 free play after a hard count drew the 49ers offside, and he found Doug Baldwin in the end zone for a 35 yard touchdown.

During the regular season, Wilson threw for 3,357 yards and 26 touchdowns ( to only 9 interceptions) and rushed for an additional 489 yards.

“He has that awareness that great players have,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “They don’t have to to see things happening; they can feel it. You couldn’t do the things that he does without that great spatial awareness and athleticism and stuff that goes along with it.”

Wilson benefits from having one of the best and most punishing running backs in the league in Marshawn Lynch who rushed for 1,257 yards during the regular season, his third consecutive season with at least 1,200 yards. The most dangerous thing about Lynch is that most of his yards come after contact, he rushed for 752 yards after first contact this season which will be a problem for the beat up Broncos defense.

The Seahawks do not have the same household names that the Broncos do in receivers. Yet, the availability of Percy Harvin as an X-factor changes things.

Harvin will be a tough matchup for either Dominique Rodgers- Cromartie or the old and wounded Champ Bailey, who has been thrown back in the mix after the injury to starting corner back Cliff Harris. I would  be suprised to see Harvin get any double teams only because that would mean more one on one opportunities for fellow recivers Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate, and Jermaine Kearse as well as tight end Zach Miller.

With just five TD passes and four interceptions in his last six games, Russell Wilson has hit a rough patch at the wrong time and he’s up against a defense that has been playing great football in the last few weeks (allowing just 15 ppg over the last four), even while losing their best player in linebacker Von Miller week 16.

The Seahawks will most likely try to pound the ball down the Broncos’ throats, and I have always said the best way to stop Peyton Manning is to keep him off the field with good clock management and a strong running game. I don’t expect Russell Wilson to be spectacular, but he will not cost his team the game either.

While the Seahawks are known as a power running team, they are not a one trick pony. They use alot of zone blocking to catch linebackers off guard and isolate Lynch on a safety. Surprisingly, they struggle with short yard runs, which is where it gets interseting because the broncos have a  very physical defensive line.

The man who could be the key to the entire game,  will be Broncos big defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, aka Pot Roast, The 6-3, 335-pound monster. In the AFC Champoinship game, the Patriots tried blocking him one on one and he blew up their run game by pushing blockers into the flow of the play and by utilizing a great swim move to elude blockers.

MLBs Paris Lenon and Wesley Woodyard and WLB Danny Trevathan are very aggressive and have done a great job stuffing the run.With Travathan, they get a backer who rarely has to leave the field. He’s very instinctive and has great quickness, which is why he’s excellent in pass coverage.  He does lack size though.

 

RYANS PREDICTION

It seems, even though the broncos are the favorites in Las Vegas, most ” experts” are picking the Seahawks. It is hard to argue that and like I said on my weekly radio show, Seattle came into the season with a chip on their shoulder and a can’t lose attitude,but I can’t help but cheer for the magic of Peyton Manning. Anyone who in their late 30s and goes through four neck operations to get back on the field is a hero to me. This guy has silenced all of his doubters so far this season; now all he has to do is win the big one. With the weather supposed to be in the 40s,I do not think that will play a huge role in the whole ” Peyton can’t win in the cold” myth, so I think we will see him throw for over 300 yards. I know the Hawks will put up a fight and they just may be the better team, but I am picking the magic of Peyton and the Denver Broncos as your 2014 Super Bowl champs.

Final Score

BRONCOS 28- SEAHAWKS 24

Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant The rest of the NBA must look back on it fondly. A peaceful memory of the way things were. A time, just a few short years ago, when Kevin Durant hadn’t turned. A time when he was still a mild-mannered star who, despite his immense talent, looked happy just to be in the NBA playing with his friends. Unfortunately, the rest of the league must wake from their daydream to the nightmarish reality that is Kevin Durant in 2014. A Kevin Durant that is no longer satisfied being second-billed to LeBron James. A Kevin Durant who has a chip on his shoulder bigger than Richard Sherman’s ego. A Kevin Durant who wants to destroy everyone in his path.

I first saw rumblings of Durant’s new nickname on Twitter. After a career-long search, had the NBA universe finally found an apt moniker for one of its biggest stars? I was hesitant at first, unable to commit to the new identity without investigating if it truly fit. Slim Reaper. Undoubtedly catchy, but did it really apply? Then I watched highlights of Oklahoma City’s victory over Portland, a game in which Durant took over the last three-plus minutes of the game to propel OKC to a comeback win. I was sold. It wasn’t that Durant scored 11 points in the final 3:30. Rather, it was the way he did it. In those final minutes, Durant had the look of an assassin. He appeared enraged that Portland would have the audacity to think that they could stop him. He wanted the win, but he also wanted it in the most cold-blooded way possible. With the shot-clock winding down and a four point lead, Durant coolly pulled-up from three and buried an “F-you for not double teaming me” rainmaker to seal the victory. A cold-blooded assassin on the court, a perfect fit for a name like Slim Reaper.

Shotchart_1390763151293

Durant’s play this season has been spectacular, especially considering the time Russell Westbrook has missed due to injury. His scoring has been well-publicized and deservingly so. In the 16 games Durant has played since Westbrook was sidelined on December 27, KD has averaged 36.2 points per game, per NBA.com. Additionally, Durant has scored 30 or more points in his last ten games, including a career-high 54 against Golden State. For the season, Durant is leading the NBA in scoring at 31.1 points per game. He is doing so while also leading the league in true shooting percentage at 64.3%, per NBA.com. His incredible efficiency has propelled him to a Player Efficiency Rating of 31.0, also tops in the NBA, per ESPN.com.

Despite his ridiculous scoring numbers, I would argue that KD has been just as impressive in other areas of his game. He is becoming a very good defender, using his length and quickness to generate deflections while also averaging just under eight rebounds per game. Durant is not quite on the Paul George/LeBron James level of two-way superstars, but he has greatly improved his play on the defensive end over the last few season. Moreover, Durant is averaging a career-high 5.2 assists per game this season. Like his defense, Durant’s playmaking ability’s have improved exponentially throughout his career. His assist numbers are even more impressive when one considers that the over-sized corpse of Kendrick Perkins is clogging the paint and Derrick Fisher is getting minutes despite shuffling around with a walker.

The battle for MVP will be exciting to watch as we enter the second half of the season. As I look at the field, Durant’s lava-hot play over the last month has moved him to the top spot on my list with LeBron and Paul George close behind. An MVP trophy will mark another step on Slim Reaper’s quest to take over the NBA.

 

Follow me on Twitter: KevinMajor_SRN

Email: KevinMajorSRN@gmail.com

nu

Northwestern came into Saturday’s home matchup against Iowa on a high note after winning 3 of 4, including a double overtime thriller against Purdue, and an upset victory over then 23rd ranked Illinois.

However, the Wildcats just did not have enough depth to hang with the 10th ranked Hawkeye’s, who beat them 76-50 Saturday afternoon in a rematch of the two teams’ Jan. 9 game in Iowa City, in which the Hawkeyes won 93-67 after shooting 64.3 percent during the second half.

Northwestern looked good in the first half, despite never having the lead, by once again emphasizing tough defense to make up for their lack of scoring and depth. Iowa turned the ball over 10 times and star player, Roy Devyn Marble, was held scoreless for the first 20 minutes.

The Wildcats went into the half down only 30-24, behind 13 points from Senior Drew Crawford. The second half was a different story as they could not buy a bucket and started to show fatigue.

“I think that’s why they won. I really do,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “Our guys were playing hard. That’s what I’m saying. This wasn’t like they played harder than us. Both teams played really hard. They’re just better than us.”

Point guard Dave Sobolewski made his return to the team after missing the last four games (concussion), but was unable to make a difference going scoreless in 10 minutes of action off the bench.

Crawford would finish with a game high 20 points on 8-17 shooting, but he only hit 3 field goals in the second half, when Iowa put the Wildcats away for good.

“Obviously Iowa’s a tremendous team. Give them credit, but we didn’t play our best, especially in the second half,” Crawford said. “I think that’s a team we’re capable of competing with for 40 minutes and tonight we weren’t able to do that.”

Iowa was led by 14 second half points from leading scorer Roy Devyn Marble, and Gabriel Olaseni added a double double of  14 points and 10 rebounds for the Hawkeyes (16-4, 5-2), who avoided losing consecutive games for the first time this season after a tough loss to Michigan on Wednesday.

The Hawkeyes shot 51% from the field and 41% from three point range, while Northwestern (10-11) shot only 36% from the field and 20% from downtown.

“Our margin for error is slim,” Collins said. “When we play a team this good we’re going to have to shoot well and we’re going to have to not turn over. We’re going to have to hope they miss some shots that they normally hit.”

Northwestern is now 10-11 on the year and 3-5 in the Big Ten. They travel to Wisconsin next Wednesday for a meeting with the 9th ranked Badgers.