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Gasol

The Chicago Bulls came into this summer’s blockbuster free agency period with one big target on their minds, unfortunately for them, they came away with a “Plan B operation.” While it was disappointing not to land one of the most proficient scorers of the past decade, it may go down as the best alternate plan in Chicago basketball history.

The Bulls challenged Carmelo Anthony to turn down more money than most of us will ever see in our lives for the opportunity to contend for a championship with a former MVP, the 2013-14 Defensive Player of the Year, and a top five head coach. New York Knicks president Phil Jackson challenged Anthony to return to New York where he will play on a brutal team, BUT, with a nice fat paycheck coming his way.

Most realistic fans and analysts knew the chances of Anthony coming to Chicago were slim, however some thought maybe, just maybe, there was a possibility Melo wanted to silence his critics who say, “he will never be the best player on a championship team.”
However, it was not meant to be, and Anthony returned to the Knicks with a five-year, $124 million deal, which left Bulls fans wondering why [the Bulls] aren’t able to land the big free agents.

A valid question when you consider the front office’s failures throughout the last decade to lure top free agents to Chicago, instead settling for consolation prizes such as Eddie Robinson, Ron Mercer, and most recently Carlos Boozer.

So, with Melo following the money back to New York, what would the Bulls do next? What was their plan B? In the time it took for Anthony to make his decision most of the smaller fish free agents were already scooped up.

The Bulls decided to move on to their alternate plan, which included the 34-year old, 7-foot Spanish Forward, Pau Gasol. Gasol, a four time All-Star, had spent the last 6 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers and won two championships with the team, while also becoming one of Kobe Bryant’s all-time favorite teammates. Rumors of mutual interest between him and the Bulls had been swirling for about five years.

On Friday, the Bulls officially welcomed Gasol to Chicago with a press conference where he discussed how excited he is to compete for a championship in the new look Eastern Conference.

“It was a gut feeling. I thought Chicago was going to be the best fit for me,” said Gasol. “It’s a great challenge, but I’m driven by challenge. I look forward to it.”

While it was a solid pickup for the Bulls, would it be enough to make them the favorites in the new look East?

The Bulls, even without former MVP Derrick Rose, managed to win 48 games and make the playoffs for a sixth straight season last year. However, they once again struggled to find scoring at the end of games which was made loud and clear in their playoff series loss in 5 games to the Washington Wizards.

The good news for Bulls fans is that Gasol is an upgrade over Carlos Boozer. When the Bulls signed Boozer away from the Utah Jazz they had expected him to be a force, executing the pick-and-roll with Rose, much like he had been in Utah with then Jazz point guard, Derron Williams, running the show. The problem with that was Boozer had gotten older, lost a step, and instead settled for 16-18 foot jumpers.

With Gasol, the Bulls will not have to worry about finishing at the rim. Gasol is 3-inches taller, so he will be able to finish against bigger and stronger defenders, something Boozer struggled to do in Chicago. Gasol can also knock down mid-range jumpers and is able to keep defenders honest.

The Bulls are also excited about Gasol’s passing game. While Boozer and Bulls’ center Joakim Noah worked well together down low, Boozer averaged 2.9 assists per 100 possesions, Gasol averaged 5.2 and has not dipped below 3.0 since the 2003-04 season.

So, why were so many fans upset? Well, first of all Gasol is not really a guy who can create his own shot, and he is not going to average 28 points per game, even in his prime that would be unrealistic. Gasol is also 34 years old, and is coming off a season in which he battled foot injuries throughout the year. Also, while Gasol is a force defending under the rim (1,1484 career blocks), you would still figure it would be Taj Gibson and Noah closing out games at the 4 and 5, because they are tremendous defenders and work well together as rim protectors. But, the players who start and finish the game are the least of the veteran’s worries.

“I don’t know how it’s going to unfold,” Gasol said, “you know, who will be the starter, who’s finishing? Maybe we change as we go. We’re going to see once we get everyone out there together. We’re always going to do what’s best for the team.”

Bulls head coach, Tom Thibodeau, was not ready to discuss minutes just yet either. “It should be good,” Thibodeau said. “Pau is conflicted. One minute he wants short minutes, one minute he wants long minutes. We’ll find the right amount.”

The Bulls did not find their shot creator, so instead they have attempted to build a team similar to this seasons NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs beat the Miami Heat and LeBron James without having a “Melo” type player. They won with floor spacing, ball movement, and surrounding point guard, Tony Parker, with great three-point shooters.

With a healthy Derrick Rose playing the part of Parker, the possible return of sharp-shooter Mike Dunleavy, (at this time he is still with the team), second-year player Tony Snell, (who struggled at times last season, but has been looking improved in summer league), and the rookie, Doug McDermott, the Bulls hope to be a mirror image of last years Spurs team and improve on last seasons .348 three-point shooting percentage which was the worst in the league.

To add to the lineup they have been preparing, the Bulls also introduced European star, Nikola Mirotic, on Friday. Mirotic, (who was acquired by the team in a draft-day deal in 2011 from the Houston Rockets), signed a three-year, $18 million deal to play with the Bulls. Since it has been three years since he has been drafted, he does not have any obligations to a rookie contract.

While it is unclear how long it will take for Mirotic to pick up the NBA game and earn Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeaus trust, Bulls management is very confident in his ability to space the floor and knock down shots from the perimeter as a “stretch four”. On Friday, Thibodeau acknowledged Mirotic as being a real fit for the Bulls.

“He’s a big who is extremely skilled,” Thibodeau said. “He’s a spacing 4 who shoots the 3 very well. He’s versatile in that he can play inside or outside. He has a high basketball IQ and a good motor.” Last season, Mirotic shot 50.8% from the field and 46.1% from three-point range in 31 games with Real Madrid of the Lega ACB last season.

The Bulls offseason may not have gone exactly the way their managment and fans had hoped, but the team will still begin the 2014-2015 campaign as one of the favorites to come out of the East. While the Bulls will be much improved this season it will all come down to Derrick Rose staying healthy, and if he stay healthy throughout the season and be prepared for the playoffs, the Bulls will go as far as he will take them.

Full Audio from Fridays Press Confrence

kane and toewsThe Chicago Blackhawks held a press conference on Wednesday to officially announce the contract extensions of both Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews respectively. Kane and Toews signed matching 8 year $84 million contracts that will keep the pair together until they are both in their mid-thirties.

It’s crazy to think that the duo has been together for seven years already, as we have pretty much watched them grow up right before our eyes. Toews is known for being a trusted leader and always maintaining a serious attitude, while Kane is known as a cool, confident, party animal that loves to have a good time.

Throughout the years the duo has became the NHL’S “odd couple.” Two buddies that pretty much came up together and that continue to push each other to always be at their best.

“I think we have a friendly competition that, as long as we’re together, that competition’s gonna keep getting greater and greater,” Kane said on Wednesday when asked about playing another 8 years with Toews.

While both Kane and Toews could have probably made more money by splitting up and going to different teams they know that they have something special here in Chicago and are not satisfied yet, even with two Stanley Cups in seven years.

Toews said the pair agreed on the contracts because they were paid what they thought they deserved and it gives the front office enough money to try to keep the teams core together for another Stanley Cup run.

“I think there is a balance there,” Toews said. “I think as far as looking at the team that we have; I guess the truths that do exist as far as trying to keep a solid, successful team together with a lot of key parts that go beyond just the two of us. Like we said, we’re very conscious of that and the success we’ve had as individuals on this team has a lot to do with the great teammates we’ve had along the way. We’re very conscious of what goes into that as far as keeping this team together.

So while it has been fun watching Kane and Toews grow up the last seven years, the next 8 may prove to be just as exciting.
Below is the full audio from Weds Press Conference at the United Center

mcbuckets

In what looked like a match made in Heaven, the Denver Nuggets drafted Doug ” McBuckets” McDermott with the 11th pick in Thursday night’s 2014 NBA Draft.

The Nuggets are known for their run and gun style, high scoring, and lackadaisical defense. McDermott is known for his offensive instincts, terrific 3 point shooting, and at times, well lackadaisical defense.

The Chicago Bulls, who are known for being a gutty, hardworking, defensive minded team, saw something special however, enough to package picks 16 and 19 as well as a 2015 second-round pick for the rights to McDermott, who general manager Gar Foreman grew very fond of over the past few seasons.

“What excites us about Doug is we feel he’s more than a shooter,” Forman said. “He’s a guy who is crafty with the ball, can create his own shot, can go in the post some, has a quick release whether it’s from the perimeter or outside.”

McDermott finished his career as one of only three men in NCAA history with 3,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in his four years at Creighton, where he also played for his father.

While many people have ripped McDermott for his defensive efforts, most of that could be a reflection on just how much of the offensive load he had to carry at the college level. “McBuckets”,as nicknamed by fans, quickly became a fan favorite not only at Creighton, but with the Bulls organization as well.

Coach Tom Thibodeau worked with McDermott last summer for USA Basketball and saw much more than just a long range shooter

“If you view him as strictly a shooter, you’re not casting the proper light on him,” Thibodeau said Thursday night.

On paper the Bulls solved one of their biggest needs by drafting a shooter, (the team shot an awful 42 percent from the field, and an even more disgusting 33 percent from 3 point land) but the trade for McDermott, as well as possible moves to come, all serve as part of the “big picture plan”

The Bulls are planning on doing everything in their power to acquire free agent Carmelo Anthony, but other moves need to be made before this is possible.

The Bulls would possibly only free about $11 million of cap space, if they used the amnesty provision on Carlos Boozer. So more transactions, and lucky bounces will have to occur this summer for the Bulls to add another superstar.

In the second round the Bulls selected Cameron Bairstow from New Mexico, who averaged 20.4 points per game last season, and will attempt to follow in former Bull and fellow Australian big man Luc Longley’s footsteps.

Below is all of the audio from Tom Thibodeau, Gar Foreman, and new Bulls forward Doug McDermott.

joakim-noahFrom the Chicago Bulls and news wires….

NEW YORK, June 4, 2014 – The Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kevin Durant, the 2013-14 Kia NBA Most Valuable Player and winner of four scoring titles in five seasons, highlights the 2013-14 All-NBA First Team.  Durant was the lone unanimous selection, appearing on all 125 ballots as a First-Team pick while LeBron James of the Miami Heat garnered 124 First-Team votes.

Joining Durant and James on the First Team are Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers, James Harden of the Houston Rockets and Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls.  Harden and Noah captured First Team honors for the first time in their careers.  Paul is an All-NBA First Team selection for the fourth time.  Durant makes his fifth appearance on the First Team, while James earned his eighth All-NBA First Team nod.

Durant averaged a career-best 32.0 points to go with 7.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists, also a career high.  In capturing his fourth scoring title, he joined Jordan (10), Chamberlain (seven), Gervin (four), and Allen Iverson (four) as the only players in league annals to win at least four scoring titles.  He shot .503 from the field, .391 from three-point range, and .873 from the free throw line, leading all players in free throws made (703) and attempted (805).  Durant authored two 50-point games, topped the 40-point mark on 14 occasions, and turned in 17 games with at least 30 points and 10 rebounds.

James shot a career-high 56.7 percent from the field this season, marking the seventh consecutive season he has improved his field goal percentage.  He connected on 116 three-point field goals, the second straight season he has made over 100 three-point field goals while shooting at least 55 percent from the field.  He posted his ninth 2000-point season, becoming only the fourth player in NBA history to accomplish this feat, joining Karl Malone (12), Michael Jordan (11) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (9).

Noah, who appeared in 80 of Chicago’s 82 games, ranked sixth in the NBA in rebounding (11.3 rpg), 12th in blocks (1.51 bpg) and added 1.24 steals.  He was one of just three players (Detroit’s Andre Drummond and New Orleans’ Anthony Davis) to average at least 10.0 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.2 steals.  Behind Noah, the Bulls held opponents to a .430 field goal percentage, second-stingiest in the league.

Paul led the NBA in assists (10.7 apg) and steals (2.48 spg), while averaging 19.1 points and 4.3 rebounds as the Clippers won a franchise-record 57 games.  Paul became the seventh player in NBA history to top the 6,000-assist plateau before the end of his ninth season.  He’s only the fourth player in NBA history to reach 6,000 assists before his 29th birthday, joining Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas and John Stockton.

Harden finished fifth in the NBA in scoring (25.4 ppg), and added 6.1 assists and 4.7 rebounds. He was one of only two players (LeBron James) to average at least 25.0 points, 6.0 assists and 4.0 rebounds.  He finished second in the NBA in free throws made (576), topped the 30-point mark in 24 games and registered two 40-plus outings.  Harden also ranked fifth in the NBA in minutes (38.0 mpg).

The All-NBA Second Team consists of guards Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs and Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, forwards Blake Griffin of the Clippers and Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves and center Dwight Howard of the Rockets.

The All-NBA Third Team includes the Portland Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard and the Phoenix Suns’ Goran Dragic at guard, the Indiana Pacers’ Paul George and the Trail Blazers’ LaMarcus Aldridge at forward and the Charlotte Hornets’ Al Jefferson at center.

For the first time this season, complete media voting results for each NBA annual award will be posted on nba.com/official following the announcement of each winner.  The All-NBA Teams were chosen by a panel of 125 sportswriters and broadcasters throughout the United States and Canada.  The media voted for All-NBA First, Second and Third Teams by position with points awarded on a 5-3-1 basis.  Below are the results of the voting for the 2013-14 All-NBA Teams, with First Team votes in parentheses.  The balloting was tabulated by the independent accounting firm of Ernst & Young LLP.

 

2013-14 ALL-NBA FIRST TEAM

 

Position                             Player, Team (1st Team Votes)                   Points

Forward                             Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City (125)                         625

Forward                             LeBron James, Miami (124)                                       623

CENTER                          JOAKIM NOAH, CHICAGO (101)                  551

Guard                                James Harden, Houston (73)                                     502

Guard                                Chris Paul, L.A. Clippers (86)                                     540

 

2013-14 ALL-NBA SECOND TEAM

 

Position                       Player, Team (1st Team Votes)                            Points

Forward                             Blake Griffin, L.A. Clippers (5)                             350

Forward                             Kevin Love, Minnesota (2)                                    237

Center                                Dwight Howard, Houston (9)                                 226

Guard                                Stephen Curry, Golden State (65)                          489

Guard                                Tony Parker, San Antonio (14)                              210

 

 

2013-14 ALL-NBA THIRD TEAM

 

Position                          Player, Team (1st Team Votes)                    Points

Forward                             Paul George, Indiana (4)                                        171

Forward                             LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland (2)                          159

Center                                Al Jefferson, Charlotte (4)                                       191

Guard                                Goran Dragic, Phoenix (1)                                        115

Guard                                Damian Lillard, Portland (2)                                    115

 

 

Other players receiving votes, with point totals: Carmelo Anthony, New York,86 (1 First Team vote); John Wall, Washington, 70; Tim Duncan, San Antonio, 63 (1); DeMar DeRozan, Toronto, 56; Anthony Davis, New Orleans, 40 (1); Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas, 37 (1); Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City, 32 (1); Kyle Lowry, Toronto, 29; DeAndre Jordan, L.A. Clippers, 21; Roy Hibbert, Indiana, 17; Marc Gasol, Memphis, 16 (2); DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento, 14 (1); Kyrie Irving, Cleveland, 7; Dwyane Wade, Miami, 6; Mike Conley, Memphis, 4; Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City, 4; Zach Randolph, Memphis, 4; Joe Johnson, Brooklyn, 4; Lance Stephenson, Indiana, 3; Ty Lawson, Denver, 2; Paul Millsap, Atlanta, 2; Chris Bosh, Miami, 1; Andre Drummond, Detroit, 1; Monta Ellis, Dallas, 1; Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio, 1.

 

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.

 

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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.

 

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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.