Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Hoosiers Handle Spartans, Down Another Top 5 Opponent

Cody Zeller led the charge on the offensive end with 18 points, and the Indiana Hoosiers beat the #5 ranked Michigan State Spartans 70-55 last night in front of a raucous home crowd at Assembly Hall.

Victor Oladipo pitched in 13 points while Christian Watford had 10 points and 14 rebounds, a career high.  The Hoosiers dominated this game from start to finish, and it is looking like they have gotten past their January slump that saw them lose games to some inferior opponents like Nebraska.

These Hoosiers looked good from start to finish last night, dominating on the offensive end while making life difficult for MSU players not named Draymond Green.  That man was an absolute bear last night, yet the Hoosiers weren't afraid and decided to let Green try to beat them single-handedly.  The crowd was insane, and I am bold enough to say that the IU crowd/fans are in the top five in the country when it comes to loudness.  Duke and UNC are right there, but Hoosier nation is revitalized and roaring these days even more than usual.  Even during the previous three years of losing teams, Indiana games sold out.  But now the Hoosiers are must-see television and are performing at an amazing level in the biggest games.

You can just see the confidence this team is playing with right now.  Head coach Tom Crean has them sold on what they are doing, and they are peaking at the right time now.  I know that had an ugly loss to Iowa, but these Hoosiers are looking to continue to play well and strengthen their seed in the tournament.  Having beaten the likes of Kentucky, Ohio State, and Michigan State, all top 5 opponents, the Hoosiers play great in these pressure situations.  These statement wins prove they can do it come March.  The remarkable thing about this whole turnaround is the fact that they only really added Cody Zeller to the mix this year.  Next year, the #2 recruiting class is coming in, so these Hoosiers can be scary good for years to come with guys wanting to come play at IU.

Regarding the game, there isn't much more to say other than reiterate the dominance of this effort.  With one more tuneup before the Big Ten Tournament, IU looks ready to make some noise.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Bulls Thoughts With Mahoney

The All-Star break is upon us, and with that comes a first half evaluation of the injury-ridden Chicago Bulls. Who would have thought Carlos Boozer and Omer Asik would be the only two players to make it through the first half of the season unscathed while playing in every game? Boozer’s health may be attributed to his extended time on the bench in particular 4th quarters, but that’s only speculation. However, even missing Derrick Rose couldn’t keep Tom Thibodeau’s defensive scheme from having success. As it stands the Bulls are in second place in the East with a record of 27-8. With that being said I give you my 1st half grades for your Chicago Bulls!

At center, from Turkey, Omer Asik (and Destroy). On offense grab it, pass it, or dunk it. The same goes on the defensive end, minus the dunk. Asik’s main goal is to be a bruiser, fluster the opposition with his length, and use his ability to run the floor. Thus far, he has done all the Bulls can ask him too. His effort, defense and rebounding cannot be questioned and though it’s a small step, he has become the tiniest bit better at catching and putting the ball up. A few times, he has even taken a dribble and made a jump hook, something his game did not have last year. With 6 fouls to give and all the energy in the world, Asik will continue to be a valuable defensive piece. Best case scenario he gives the East’s Beast’s such as Dwight Howard, Amare Stoudemire, and Chris Bosh fits come playoff time. Mid-Season grade: B+

At forward featuring a contract that makes the Bulls payroll jump higher than he can himself…Carlos Boozer. I’ll start with the positives. As mentioned earlier, he has been healthy. He hits open jump shots, and is an above average passer. He also leads the league in “Gimme that Sh*t’s” and “Grab it Jo’s”. The positives were short lived, onto the negatives. Boozer is often a black hole on offense. He jab steps and shoots fade-away’s like he’s Dirk Nowitzki. The problem, he doesn’t make them as often as Dirk, and when he misses it’s almost a sure rebound for the other team. There have also been countless situations where his effort can be questioned. Highlights have shown Boozer avoiding giving up a foul on plays at the rim and him being out-hustled by his man on the fast break. This is simply unacceptable. If he continues to stay healthy and brings a new level of intensity in the playoffs he can be a helpful piece. He's a threat to hit the open jumper, but he needs to be more of a force on the court. 
Mid-Season grade: B-

Ronnie Brewer knows his role and has thrived in it. He is active on offense and has clearly worked on his jump shot. His on-ball defense brings back memories of Scottie Pippen. If he were and inch or two taller he would be the dream matchup to guard that James character in Miami. However, he will be asked to take down the two guards in the East. Thibodeau will have to decide how to balance Brewer's defense and Hamilton's offense come playoff time. Brewer seems capable of being a significant contributor down the stretch. Thus far he has done his job. Mid-Season Grade: A-

Now for the rook, Jimmy Butler. I would hate to be the guy he has to guard in the final two minutes of a blowout. He brings intensity no matter what. He is out to prove he can perhaps replace Ronnie Brewer one day as a bench swing man with a tough defensive style. He has performed well in his limited playing time and has shown the ability to finish at the rim. Overall he has given the Bulls his all when asked to. Mid-Season Grade: B
Luol Deng finally got his due and made the All-Star team. The issue concerning Deng is his wrist. He bypassed the surgery that would have finished his season. Though I like his tenacity, his health concerns me based on his track record. His defense is impeccable and his outside shot is becoming more reliable as the days go by. If he can utilize his playoff experience and become a clutch go to option for D Rose, things will go well for the Bulls. Mid-Season Grade: A

The 7-foot-4 wingspan known as Taj Gibson has done all that he has been asked this year. His numbers are down a bit due to Boozer's health, but he is still effective on the defensive end. If he could improve his jump shot and his free-throw percentage, Boozer would see even less playing time. As it stands, Gibson will see time when a defensive presence is needed. Hopefully he has a few more dunks up his sleeve for this years playoffs. Mid-Season Grade: B

Gimme that Hot Sauce! It's pretty simple when it comes to Kyle Korver. He is either a spark or a dud. He has been shooting the rock well this year and is a dangerous passer off of a screen, but his defense consists of taking a charge and an attempted strip. This simply will not cut it when he has to guard players such as Dwyane Wade and Joe Johnson in the playoffs. He is a formidable matchup with the Mike Miller's and Steve Nowak's of the world, but beyond his stroke from the arc, he brings little to the table. Simply put, be spaces the floor and gives Rose more room to operate. Mid-Season Grade: B

Good old Johnny L as I call him. That's about all of the nice things I have to say about him. The man will forever be remembered as the guy who missed the free throws against the Nuggets and the chump that LeBron jumped over. This wouldn't be so hard to stomach, but when Lucas enters the game he feels like he has the ability to shoot the ball like he's the MVP himself. He needs to quite taking ridiculous jump shots and run the offense. I was disgusted when he achieved his career high of 25 points on 28 shots. At this point I'd consider him the 4th string point guard behind Rose, Watson, and savvy veteran Mike James. However, Thibodeau doesn't see things the same way as he continues to play him. Let's just hope Rose and Watson stay healthy throughout the playoffs and this issues blows over. Mid-Season Grade: D

Mike James. Like his tenure with the Bulls, I'll keep this short and sweet. He keeps the offense moving, isn't afraid of pressure, and he D'd up Rajon Rondo like he wanted to keep his job. Though his impact has been limited, he's done more than enough during his ten-day contracts. Mid-Season Grade: B

Quick-Draw McGraw Joakim Noah is next. Though I don't approve of his pistol celebration with a 4-2 lead over Boston, his effort of late has been remarkable. Over the last month Noah has been averaging 11.8 PPG and 11.5 RPG. His 15 foot jumper has become cash money and he always brings the intensity. Though he started off slow, the only legitimate complaint I have is that he needs to become a better finisher around the rim. When D Rose drives and misses, Noah needs to clean up the loose trash (see Mighty Ducks series). Mid Season Grade: B

Too big, too fast to strong. Reigning MVP Derrick Rose is fun to watch. Thibodeau has clearly been resting him to assure he is full strength come playoff time. His jump shot continues to improve, making him scarier for defenses around the league. He also has the type of swagger necessary to carry a team. With the talent pool Miami brings to the table, the story will always be do the Bulls have enough around Rose to compete. At this point all I know is that there is no one else I'd rather have steering the ship then Rose. I have no doubts he will be giving it his all injury or not come playoffs. Call me a homer but... Mid-Season Grade: A+ this dude's unreal.

Scal-a-brine! His chance to make headlines came earlier this year when he missed a game winning 3 against the Pacers. Either way, he is an extremely positive bench presence and knows Thibodeau's defensive scheme like the back of his hand. Not to mention Stacey King brings out his "A" material when this man steps on the floor. Whether it's getting up to celebrate with teammates or checking into the game, it's always good news when Scalabrine stands up. Mid-Season Grade: C+

Last but not least CJ Watsooooon. His shooting percentage isn't very hot at 38%, but with Rose sitting out he has been asked to do a lot. Watson has the speed and the jump shot to be an effective scorer. I only support his shot selection due to his track record. When John Lucas drops 41 in an NBA game I'll let a few reckless shots slide. For now, I think Watson is the perfect back up to Rose. His offensive game allows for the Bulls to run a similar offense as to when Rose is available. As the season presses on, his shots should fall more frequently. Mid-Season Grade: C+

Rip Hamilton I will give an Injured Reserve Pass. In his limited time I like his ability to be a shooting and passing threat off of screens. He has playoff experience and hopefully come back healthy and gain some chemistry with the team. If Rose can drive and dish to a slicing Luol Deng and a free Richard Hamilton, the offense will become much more potent. Hamilton brings the type of offense Korver does with better D.

Thibodeau has the Bulls playing at a high level. Anytime they play a weak team, they put them away. They will likely finish as the one or two seed in the Eastern Conference. The real question is will their teamwork and camaraderie be enough to get them past teams such as Miami or Oklahoma City? Overall Mid-Season Grade: A-

Guest Blogger of the Week-Shane Mahoney

Before you ask about the ridiculous picture to the side of this writing, I'd like to introduce you to our guest blogger of the week, Shane Mahoney.  This is a ridiculous picture of Mahoney when him and I were at a DePaul-Detroit basketball game in November of 2008, sitting courtside at the game.  His coat was obviously wild and suited for just about any temperature, as we called it "The Anteater Coat".

Mahoney is a Prospect '08 grad and student at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio.  Him and I have attended numerous sporting events over the years and also dueled in out on the basketball court frequently.  The reason I bring Mahoney on here today is because he specializes in all things Chicago Bulls.  I don't admit to watching every minute of every Bulls game, but I'd be surprised if he hadn't budgeted his time so far this year to watch basically every minute of every game.  Because of his passion  for the Bulls, I think he is well-equipped to grade out the Chicago Bulls as we are at the midway point of the NBA season.  This fiery redhead will give you his fiery perspective on the Bulls.

Take it away Mr. Mahoney.

NBA All-Star Weekend 2012 Thoughts

As I've grown older in age, I have become less and less interested in this particular weekend on the NBA schedule.  As a kid, I used to love watching the likes of MJ, Kobe, Shaq, etc play in the All-Star game.  These guys were superhuman to me, and it was just simply fun to watch.  My eyes used to light up as I saw the likes of Vince Carter doing amazing dunks thought unthinkable previously.  Even the Freshman/Sophomore (now the Rising Stars Challenge) kept me entertained as I got to see the greatest young players play at the same time.  The three point contest featured marksman from the stripe, as they tickled the twine with big scores.  I even watched the celebrity game just to see who was in it.  But now, at age 23, I am extremely jaded when it comes to the song and dance known as NBA All-Star weekend.  Here is a little recap of how my All-Star weekend went and some thoughts I had:

Friday
-I did not watch a second of the celebrity game.  I simply had no interest and I feel it would have been a total waste of time. I have no interest in trying to summarize the game or try to draw any significance out of it because there is none.

-Despite the Linsanity, I did not watch a single second of the Rising Stars Challenge.  It no longer interests me to see games in which no defense is being played and the players really don't care.  I don't know if I can blame them, though, because they don't want to get hurt.  And besides, I thought the "talent" in the game this year was pretty mediocre in general.

Saturday
I watched the entire slate of action on Saturday night and was actually more entertained than I thought I would be.  Here's how I break it down:

-Shooting Stars-Allan Houston and the New York team won this one, and I actually enjoy this competition because I enjoy watching these players attempt half court shots.  I can make a half court shot, but the fact that they do it with the clock running and make it look pretty easy is still a remarkable thing to me.  They practically line it up like a long jumper, fire away, and find bottom of the net within a few attempts.

-Three-Point Shootout-I miss the days when guys lit it up for 20-25 a round.  Kevin Love showed his range by hitting 17 to win, but it still wasn't that impressive to me to see such a low number win.  Some pure shooters were left out of the competition this year and that disappointed me.  Anthony Morrow's tribute to the late Drazen Petrovic was pretty touching.  Here's the link if you didn't know about it: http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/nba-ball-dont-lie/anthony-morrow-pays-tribute-drazen-petrovic-three-point-030144993.html

-Taco Bell Skill Challenge-Tony Parker ended up winning this one because of the blunders of Rondo and Williams.  Williams looked the smoothest in the competition, but he messed up on the jump shot station that cost him a chance to win.  It is pretty neat to watch these players make some of the things look so easy.

-Slam Dunk Contest-Unheralded Jeremy Evans ended up winning this competition, though he did only receive 29% of votes.  His dunking of two balls was pretty impressive, and his other dunks were good enough to get him consideration.  Paul George did some interesting stuff, Chase Budinger can really jump for a white guy and had an impressive Ceballos-esque blindfolded dunk, and Derrick Williams had one good dunk.  The contest was better than what I expected, but the NBA needs to push to have the likes of Griffin, James, Howard, and the big boys in the contest.  Fans don't pay to come see Paul George dunking.  They want to see the best the NBA has to offer, and the players should have the courtesy to make the fans happy and make this a must-see event.

Sunday
-All-Star Game-I did not watch a second of this as I was busy last night.  I read about it and will probably watch some highlights of it, but I don't think it would have held my attention for four quarters anyways.  I saw the West held on for the victory and Durant took home MVP.

For me, All-Star Weekend is for the fans, and I just think the various competitions need to step their games up regarding who is in them.  The stars who can electrify need to be in them.  This weekend is better than the pointless Pro Bowl, but it can be made better in order to provide the best viewing experience for the fan.  I want to have child-like excitement when watching this weekend rather than wondering why Jeremy Evans is winning dunk contests.

Feel free to chime in on what your favorite moment was on the All-Star weekend or if you agree/disagree with me on my belief that the stars need to be in the competitions.



Sunday, February 26, 2012

Hunter Mahan Takes the Cake at WGC Accenture Match Play Championship

The WGC Accenture Match Play Championship reached its conclusion today, as American Hunter Mahan defeated Irishman Rory McIlroy 2&1 to capture the crown and deny McIlroy a shot at being world number 1.  Mahan hit pinpoint iron shots and struck it beautifully off the tee.  While both players had some minor struggles and it was still a great match.  In the morning, Mahan got by fellow American Mark Wilson and McIlroy beat Englishman Lee Westwood in a very good matchup that saw Rors come back from 3 down through 4 holes, string some birdies together, and ultimately edge Westwood.  The stage was set for a duel in the desert, and Mahan got the best of McIlroy.

I am still extremely proud of my Mark Wilson pick more than anything.  It was gutsy, but that pick wasn't enough for me to make a statement as I screwed up my other guys I had going deep (Baddeley, Day , Woods).  This is such a great event and I enjoy watching it every year.  I finished with 50 points in my bracket, but I was quite all right with that and happen to see Mahan win.  I like him and think he is good for the game of golf and is a great player.  He made a splash in his "Golf Boys" video, but his game did the talking this week as he proved he can be a force on the PGA Tour.  I wouldn't be surprised to see him near the top of the leaderboard at Augusta this year.  He hits the ball well off the tee, is a great iron player, and has a great feel on the greens, a perfect combination for a course like that.

My apologies for not doing my analysis/insight on the blog the last few days, but I will do my best to cover the most stuff possible in the coming weeks, especially with March Madness and The Masters lurking.  Hope everyone enjoyed watching

Thursday, February 23, 2012

WGC Accenture Match Play Championship First and Second Round Thoughts

As much as I love to compete and win when it comes to brackets, I would prefer to have a great tournament rather than get all of my picks right and it be boring.  This is the case for this year's WGC Match Play bracket.  Through two days and with 16 players remaining, I only have one member of my Final Four remaining and two guys with the potential to make the Elite 8 that I picked (Mark Wilson and Matt Kuchar).  With that said, just like the NCAA Tournament, I can throw my bracket into the furnace and be o.k. with things if the rest of the action is riveting.  Now that I am unlikely to win any bracket pool, I hope the golf matches remaining will be thrilling and capture my attention.

Looking at Round 1 from yesterday, the biggest surprise of the day had to be Ernie Els' 5&4 drubbing of tournament #1 seed and #1 player in the world Luke Donald.  I'll admit Els played steady, but Donald was a disaster and not in good form at all, dunking balls in the water and even shanking a shot.  Kyle Stanley beat K.J. Choi in a pretty good match and proved that he can hang with the big boys.  Also in the Jones bracket, the bracket lost its #2 seed as Adam Scott fell apart late and let the hatless wonder Robert Rock beat him 1 up.  I'll admit Rock hit some good shots, but Scott threw this away and I wasn't too disappointed because I had Scott losing to Wilson in the next round anyways.  Jim Furyk also blew a golden opportunity to beat Dustin Johnson, as he had him on the ropes throughout, allowed things to slip away, and blew it in the playoff hole where he was in much better position than Johnson.  In the Hogan bracket, everything pretty much went according to plan except for Oosthuizen edging Baddeley (much to my chagrin because I had Baddeley going deep) and the big upset may have been Y.E. Yang over Graeme McDowell, but I didn't really see it as an upset because Yang plays well under pressure and has slayed some giants in his day.  In the Player bracket, "The Mechanic" Miguel Angel Jimenez nipped Sergio Garcia in a minor upset, while Sang-moon Bae beat Ian Poulter, a winner at this event previously.  Poulter seemed way off and needs to figure out his game again to be able to compete at the high level he's capable of.  One of the best comebacks of the day was from Jason Day, who was three down with three to play, won the final three holes, and threw a dart in the first playoff hole to beat R.C. Bello.  In the Snead bracket, Matteo Manassero edged #2 seed Webb Simpson for an upset, but most wouldn't call it a big one because Manassero advanced to the third round last year.  In the bottom part of the bracket, Ryo Ishikawa stormed back to beat #3 seed Bill Haas, who was fresh off a win last week in dramatic fashion at Riviera.  Finally, Tiger Woods did not play well, but he earned a 1 up victory over Castano.

In today's Round 2, there were some good matches to be noted.  Brandt Snedeker once again got the best of Kyle Stanley in a tight one, while Matt Kuchar bested Bubba Watson.  Steve Stricker eeked it out against Louis Oosthuizen, while Hunter Mahan continued his strong play in throttling Y.E. Yang.  McIlroy kept it rolling, and The Mechanic beat recently hot Keegan Bradley.  John Senden worked a struggling Jason Day, while Sang-moon Bae edged Masters champ Charl Schwartzel.  In one of the marquee matches of the day, Nick Watney beat Tiger Woods 1 up, as Woods missed a 5 1/2 footer on 18 to force extra holes.  Tiger's putting killed him today, as he missed five putts inside of 10 feet that doomed him.  He hit it decently, but isn't making the putts he used to and it frustrates to see that.  When one part of his game has been spot on, the other part usually fails to live up to his lofty standards.

Looking ahead to tomorrow, here are my predictions of how the matches will go:

Jones Bracket:
#9 Peter Hanson vs #5 Brandt Snedeker-I see Snedeker winning.  Hanson is hot, but I like Sneds in this one.
#10 Mark Wilson vs #3 Dustin Johnson-I have to roll with Wilson here because I have him to make the Final Four.

Hogan Bracket:
#1 Martin Kaymer vs #4 Matt Kuchar-Both players are strong in this event, but I will go with the slight upset and take Kuch.
#2 Steve Stricker vs #6 Hunter Mahan-Mahan is playing really well and momentum is building, so I will take him.

Player Bracket:
#1 Rory McIlroy vs #13 Miguel Angel Jimenez-I am going with an upset special here and saying The Mechanic pulls it out.
#10 John Senden vs #11 Sang-moon Bae-I am going with Senden because he putts very well.

Snead Bracket:
#1 Lee Westwood vs #4 Nick Watney-I think Westwood executes shots and wins.
#10 Martin Laird vs #11 Paul Lawrie-I am going with Lawrie in this one for no particular reason.

Happy watching to everyone tomorrow! Let the fireworks begin!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

WGC Accenture Match Play Championship 2012 Preview/Predictions

We have arrived at one of the most entertaining and unpredictable weeks of golf of the year.  The match play championship is always fun and brings the unexpected to the table.  This year is no different as the top players in the world duke it out in the desert at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club at Dove Mountain in Marana, Arizona.  This is such a unique tournament because of the match play style.  It's a blast to see these guys square off in do-or-die matches and have to perform.  This five day marathon will be an exciting one this week, and I look forward to it as usual.  Picking the bracket for this is nearly a crap shoot, but I am here to unveil my picks and also provide some insight on the first round matches I am most interested in tomorrow.  I will start off by talking a little bit about the matches tomorrow that will catch my eye.

Jones Bracket:
#1 Luke Donald vs #16 Ernie Els-It's hard to believe Els is such a low seed, but Donald better not think this match will be a walk in the park. He is not in midseason form yet and Ernie could sneak up on him, but it all depends on if he can make any putts.

#4 K.J. Choi vs #13 Kyle Stanley-The Tank is in for a tough one as Stanley has played great this year and blossomed into a good player.  The Tank is tough though, so Stanley will have to utilize his length and play solid golf.

#3 Dustin Johnson vs #14 Jim Furyk-The classic case of power vs finesse here.  Johnson can hit it a mile, but his touch around the greens is suspect.  He doesn't play great in match play and Furyk is a tough competitor.

Hogan Bracket:
#5 Bubba Watson vs #12 Ben Crane-The "Golf Boys" take center stage, but this time they will be dueling it out.  Crane's sluggish pace will be matched against Watson's pink driver bombing it deep.

#6 Hunter Mahan vs #11 Zach Johnson-A number of people have Mahan making a deep run, but he has to beat the always scrappy Johnson first, who is tough as nails in match play.

Player Bracket:
#5 Keegan Bradley vs #12 Geoff Ogilvy-Perhaps the best match of the first round will feature a young, up and coming stud against a match play stalwart in Ogilivy.  Ogilvy isn't in midseason form, but he always seems to flip the switch on for this event.

#4 Sergio Garcia vs #13 Miguel Angel Jimenez-This is an interesting one between the majorless Sergio and the cigar-smoking Jimenez.  Could go either way, but I look for Garcia to pull out a win.

Snead Bracket:
#5 Tiger Woods vs #12 Gonzalo Fernadez Castano-Woods squares off against this unknown and hopes to make a big showing here and prove to the golf world he's back.

#3 Bill Haas vs #14 Ryo Ishikawa-Haas is fresh off a dramatic win, but Ishikawa could sneak up on him.


Here are my predictions/picks in my bracket

Jones Bracket: Donald, Snedeker, Wilson, Furyk in the Sweet 16
Hogan Bracket: Kaymer, Kuchar, Baddeley, Mahan in the Sweet 16
Player Bracket: McIlroy, Garcia, Day, Schwartzel in the Sweet 16
Snead Bracket: Westwood, Woods, Simpson, Rose in the Sweet 16

Final 4: Wilson, Baddeley, Day, Woods
Championship: Baddeley vs Woods
Winner: Tiger Woods
Third Place: Day

I am going out on a huge limb with these Final 4 picks, but I think Wilson can play great golf, Baddeley is an excellent putter, Day is a fierce competitor, and Tiger has the will to get it done this week.  He is furious coming off of blown chances to win, and I really want to see him pull this thing out.  There you have it, folks. Feel free to comment and let me know what you have in your bracket.  Let the fun and good golf begin!



Monday, February 20, 2012

Naismith College Player of the Year Talk


First of all, I would like to thank Bill for inviting me in as the guest blogger this week. We have attended and watched countless sporting events together, and it is nice to see your opinions documented on this blog. There is less than three weeks until one of the greatest sporting days in the year, Selection Sunday, when Santa “Greg Gumbel” Claus and his loyal elves (the selection committee) unveil the 68 team bracket.  As the season runs down, on candidates for the National Player of the Year for the 2011-2012 basketball season.

1)      Thomas Robinson, Kansas (17.7 ppg, 11.8 rpg)
After being buried behind Markieff and Marcus Morris on the Jayhawks’ depth chart his first two seasons, Robinson has finally been provided with an opportunity to be the anchor of the offense. The 6-10 237 pound power forward has seen his playing time increase from 14.6 mpg as a sophomore to his current level of 31.1 mpg. A force on the low block, Robinson also has soft touch on his 10-12 foot jump shots, a key attribute needed to play the 4 in a Bill Self high-low offense. In addition to his ability to draw and exploit double teams, Robinson’s other valuable asset is his defensive rebounding, where he rebounds 32% of opponents’ misses, which ranks best in the country. After a 2010-11 campaign in which he lost his grandmother, grandfather and mother, it is great to see Robinson handling adversity in a positive manner.
2)      Doug McDermott, Creighton (23.2 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 61.7% FG%)
If Doug, who plays for his father Greg McDermott, had a novelty name like Jimmer Fredette, or unique appearance like Adam Morrison, he would be getting more national attention. However, the sophomore has been flying under the national radar while putting up staggering numbers for Creighton. His effective field goal percentage, which factors in and awards players for taking and making three point shots, is 67.1% (4th best in the country).  As a comparison, Fredette’s eFG% was 53.3% as a senior, and Morrison came in at 55.6% in his final collegiate season.  McDermott’s suburb shooting includes a 3 pt percentage of 48.9%, which makes him a tough cover at 6-7. Even more impressive is that McDermott attempts 34.3% of Creighton’s field goals while he is on the floor, and still manages to shoot such a high percentage.  Much like Fredette from a year ago, defense is not a strength for McDermott, as the Bluejays allow 1.1011 points per possession, which ranks 171st in the country. However, the team’s efficient shooting will make Creighton a tough matchup in March.

3)      Draymond Green, Michigan State (15.4 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 3.7 apg)
Green’s biggest asset is his versatility, as he is on pace to become the first player from a BCS school to average 15/10/3 since Tim Duncan at Wake Forest in 1996-97. In addition, Draymond has had 5 games of 20+ pts, 10+ reb and 5+ assists; no other player has more than two.  Michigan State was unranked at the start of the year, and Green is the number one reason the team is in position for a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. His versatility has been on display lately, as he has handled the ball in the backcourt more often with backup point guard Travis Trice missing games due to injury.  Draymond also possesses the important intangible of leadership, as coach Tom Izzo has compared his leadership to former Spartan greats Magic Johnson and Mateen Cleaves, two national champions. Scary thought: Green had originally committed to Kentucky; if he had signed with the Wildcats, everyone else would be playing for second place.  Granted, his numbers and playing time would be down, but Green thrived as a role player on the Spartans’ 2009 and 2010 Final Four teams. 

4)      Jared Sullinger, Ohio State (17.5 ppg, 9.2 rpg)
Sullinger would be higher on this list if the Buckeyes had a formidable center. Sullinger is a natural power forward forced to play center, and would benefit from a center to take pressure off his double teams. This is where Jeff Withey (Thomas Robinson) and Derrick Nix/Adreian Payne (Draymond Green) help other power forwards ranked above him on this list. Nonetheless, when Sullinger catches the ball deep in the paint, he is going to score or be fouled. He draws 6.2 fouls per 40 minutes, and shoots 76.9% from the line, so it is pick your poison if Sullinger gets isolated in the post.

5)      Isaiah Canaan, Murray State (19.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 3.8 apg)
Finally a guard! This has been a weak season for point guards, as Jordan Taylor, Tu Holloway, and Kendall Marshall have all had their share of struggles. I know Canaan’s level of competition has not been elite, but without him Murray State probably is not an NCAA tournament lock. Much like McDermott, Canaan is an efficient shooter, as his effective FG% of 61.6% ranks him 38th in America. Isaiah has had some monster individual performances, and at this point should be a first-team All-American.

On the cusp: Marcus Denmon (Missouri), Tyler Zeller (North Carolina), Mike Scott (Virginia)
Someone missing?

A lot of experts have been penciling in Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis as the Player of the Year, and I am extremely disappointed by these individuals.  Let me preface by saying Davis is a tremendous defensive talent;  15.1% of the two point field goal attempts made by Kentucky opponents are blocked by Davis, the most by a BCS player since Mississippi State’s Jarvis Varnado in 2008-09. In addition, his instincts on help side defense are incredible, allowing Kentucky’s long perimeter defenders (Lamb, Kidd-Gilchrist, Miller) to play very aggressive and disrupt passing lanes. With that being said, there is a Defensive Player of the Year award, which Davis will win. The National Player of the Year award puts a bigger emphasis on offense, where Davis is extremely raw. Davis is a prime example of why you should not necessarily get caught up in numbers; very few of his 13.9 points/game is due to his offensive game.  Next time you watch a Kentucky game, observe Davis’ positioning on offense. He is almost always located on the opposite block, as the other four players on the Wildcats execute John Calipari’s dribble-drive offense. If a talented offensive player such as Marquis Teague, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, or Terrance Jones drive past their defender, the opposing center is forced to leave Davis to stop penetration, leaving easy dump-offs and alley-oops for Davis to finish.  Davis’ possession usage is indicative of this style of play; he is used in only 18.5% of Wildcat possessions when on the court, which is defined as “Role Player” status in statistician Ken Pomeroy’s rankings. For the sake of comparison, here is a breakdown of my top 5 POY candidates in terms of possession usage:
-Robinson: 28.6%
-McDermott: 28.4%
-Green: 26.7%
-Sullinger:  26.7%
-Canaan: 26.3%

Note: %Possession assigns credit or blame to a player when his actions end a possession, either by making a shot, missing a shot that isn’t rebounded by the offense, or committing a turnover.

The gap between Davis and his competition is as laughable as his unibrow. So while Davis is the clear-cut defensive player of the year, that is where his accolades should stop.  He will have highlight reel dunks that look attractive on Sportscenter, but other than free throws and close baskets, Davis is extremely limited offensively at this juncture in his career.

Unrelated to NPOY, but the Final Four is 6 weeks away, and here are four teams that I can see ending up in New Orleans: Kentucky, Michigan State, North Carolina, Florida.
Thank you Bill for having me contribute as a guest blogger. Go Blue Demons!

Guest Blogger of the Week-Steven A. Latos

It is my honor to introduce this week's guest blogger of the week, Steven A. Latos.  He is a Prospect '08 graduate and will be a Xavier University class of '12 graduate in a few short months.  While Steve and I have had many spats over sports in past years, we have come to a mutual respect of each other when it comes to sports knowledge.  I do not know anyone that has the same passion and fire as I have for college basketball and professional golf.  I have attended college games and various sports events with him over the years.  Additionally, we have gone on camping/golfing trips and played many rounds of golf together.

Steve and I have attended the John Deere Classic and three PGA championships (Medinah, Hazeltine, Whistling Straits) where we met and watched the best some of the best players in the world.  We are both the biggest Tiger Woods fans you will meet.  We both share in the frustration of the past few years of his career, but we both chat regularly about golf and fist pump when Tiger does well.  We haven't given up on him and want to see him do well.  On the golf course, we seem to understand each other's game and play at a good speed too.

Regarding college basketball, we are both obsessed with Selection Sunday when the tournament field is finally unveiled.  But Steve and I watch college basketball starting in November and regularly discuss at length about the world of college basketball.  Today, he will be discussing the race for National Player of the Year in college basketball and will touch on a few other things.  I feel like Steve is very highly qualified to speak on this matter because he watches a ton of college basketball and has an analyst's mind.

Without further ado, take it away Mr. Latos.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

DePaul Falls to Louisville in Overtime Saturday

I practically had to drag my brother Matt out of bed Saturday morning to get him to go to this game.  I think he's glad he got out of bed and went to the 11 a.m. tip with my dad (pictured on the right) and I.  I knew Louisville usually traveled pretty well, but I didn't anticipate the zoo of fans that they would bring to this contest.  They easily had 70% of the fans at the game, essentially making it a home game for them.  DePaul had just been waxed by bumbling UConn earlier in the week, so I wasn't knowing what to expect.  But boy did I see a great game.

Louisville started off with the game's first 4 points, but the Demons stormed back and began hitting shot after shot as they went on a 16-4 run.  The first half was a great one for the Demons as they forced the Cardinals into numerous turnovers and continually carved through Louisville's zone with great passing.  The Demons fans, myself included, were fired up, but I was distracted for a part of the half as I was asked if I wanted to be a part of the shooting competition during the under 8 minute timeout.  I nervously agreed, and sure enough I was on the court in a shooting competition during the timeout.  I'll admit my first jumper from the elbow was an air ball, but I got better even though I only shot set shots.  I banked in my first three point try and ultimately beat my opponent, a 50-year-old nice lady who I would have been humiliated to lose to despite my lackluster performance.  I qualified for a contest on March 3rd against Seton Hall where I can potentially win a brand new Volvo.  I hope my luck can somehow win me a nice, new car!  Well, the rest of the first half went pretty well for the Blue Demons.  Like many teams, Pitino decided to put the press on late in the half in hopes of closing the gap, but Clahar was not in the game to turn it over in those pressure situations.  Taking a 10 point lead into the half, I felt very encouraged and hopeful that one more half of good basketball would earn a big win.

In the second half, Louisville clawed back and the opposing crowd whipped into a frenzy.  But the Demons would not be pushovers today, as they fought tooth and nail with the Cardinals and refused to go away.  The atmosphere at this game was amazing as both teams traded big bucket after big bucket.  For the Cardinals, it was Kuric who hit many big threes, but Brandon Young of DePaul finally played pretty well.  I've been ragging on him for some time now, but he played a lot better yesterday.  In the closing seconds with the Demons down two, he was able to split a triple team and find McKinney under the basket for a layup to tie it and send it into overtime.  Normally I am a pretty subdued fan, but I was really into this game and genuinely upset with the lack of respect the DePaul players got from refs.  Purnell said it in his presser because he is sick of his team not getting calls or just fair treatment, and I felt like the refs got off the Louisville bus in certain instances.  I usually believe bad calls and officiating evens out, but I just felt like DePaul somehow would lose this game.

In overtime, a few costly, backbreaking turnovers by Young were the difference as the Cardinals took them for easy transitions baskets.  The Blue Demons put up an amazing fight, but came up short in losing 90-82.  The Cardinals knew they got away with one yesterday and Pitino better start preparing that team for the closing to the season.  I genuinely was upset after this game and just felt so frustrated as a DePaul fan.  The plight of a Demons fan is unlike any other in Chicago sports.  Unless you watch this team play, you don't understand just how frustrating it is to see them blow these halftime leads and come up just short.  The guys played really hard today and I want to commend Charles McKinney for an amazing hustle play he had late in the second half yesterday.  Young made some mistakes, but these guys played so hard yesterday in front of a chaotic crowd.  I just want them to finish out this season with that type of effort.  I am also building a strong dislike for Louisville for some reason.  It hurts to see a tough lose like that.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Non-Sports Related Story of the Week


Where is the Snow?


A fierce winter of biting cold temperatures and heavy snowfall sent TIU’s campus into a deep freeze last winter.  However, this winter in Chicago has failed to show its teeth as lower snowfall totals and warmer temperatures have abounded.

As the calendar turned to February last year, Trinity was hit with an astonishing “snowpocalypse” that saw Mother Nature dump nearly 2 ½ feet of snow on Trinity’s campus.  Classes were cancelled for two days as roads were unsuitable for driving, temperatures began to plummet into the single digits, and students helped each other dig out their cars that were enclosed by massive amounts of snow.

This winter, minus a few instances of campus closing early to allow teachers and commuters a safer drive home, the snow has not seemed to have quite the same impact.  Also, the two major snowfalls of the winter were quickly erased by warm temperatures and rain in the days following them.

“We tend to remember the big years,” Chemistry and Earth Science professor Don Erickson said.  “Some years are whoppers.”

According to the National Weather Service Forecast Office that has measured seasonal snowfalls from 1884-present, Chicago received 57.9 inches of snow in 2010-2011 (from July-June).  This winter season, however, has seen around 20 inches of snow up to date.  It did not snow in November, snowed 1.7 inches in December, 12.2 inches in January, and February totals are still being accumulated.

December’s 1.7 inches was on the low side from a normal total of about 8.5 inches for the month, but January’s 12.2 inches actually fell on the high side compared to the normal 10.8 inches received for the month on average.  February’s normal is 9.1 inches, and statistics for snowfall this month are yet to be tabulated.  Last February, a record 29 inches of snow fell, an all-time high for the month since data was recorded in 1884.

Despite only two major snowfalls this winter season, Erickson had a different take on it.

“This is actually close to an ordinary, average year,” he said. 

Since 2007-2008 seasonal snowfall totals, the lowest snowfall total has been 52.7 inches until this year, so that may be another reason why people were expecting more snow.

This winter has also felt unseasonably warm as frigid temperatures haven’t been as prominent. According to the National Weather Service, Chicago’s normal temperature mean for November is 40.3 degrees, and November 2011 ranked above that mean with an average of 44.9 degrees.  December’s normal mean temperature is 27.7 degrees, but December 2011 eclipsed that by averaging 35.2 degrees.  January’s normal mean temperature is 23.8 degrees, but January 2012 saw mean temperatures at 30.2 degrees.

People may jump to the conclusion that this is due to global warming, but Erickson said we would have a hard time proving it.  He explained that there are simply too many variables and contradictory statistics, and he dispelled the notion that this one particular season could possibly prove that global warming is happening. 
Erickson said that one would have to look at statistics for hundreds of years, but even then acknowledged that shoddy research is possible. 

“If you have the right stats, you can prove anything you want,” he said. 

Erickson explained that while birds are tending to migrate south later in the year and glaciers are melting earlier than usual, we often don’t take into account other factors that play into the equation. 

Spring is around the corner, but a surprise snowstorm could come when we least expect it.  

Thursday, February 16, 2012

March Madness

Just thought I'd  post this video to get you fired up for March Madness as we get closer with each passing day. Gus Johnson has been on the call for many memorable games, and I hope this video makes you anxious for the NCAA Tournament.

Thoughts on Last Night

Looking back at last night, things went just about according to how I thought they would.  Linsanity raged on, as Jeremy Lin had 10 points and 13 assists in 26 minutes in a blowout win at MSG against the Kings.  He still turned it over a bunch, but he realized his role as a distributor and did a great job getting all of his teammates involved.  With the possibility of Carmelo Anthony returning tomorrow, we may see more distributing from Lin, but I still think he will get his points.

The Indiana Hoosiers their 20th win of the season last night with a 71-66 win over visiting Northwestern, who needed a win to bolster their resume and give them a shot at making the tourney for the first time ever.  Cody Zeller played great, and many other guys pitched in to pull out the victory late.  Verdell Jones III stepped up big late despite nagging injury.  This has been an outstanding turnaround for the Hoosiers as Crean has done a wonderful job in Bloomington.  Indiana fans have always been loyal, but they become downright wild when their team is winning.

Regarding DePaul, they lost 80-54 to UConn, a team desperate for a win and hoping to take it out on the Blue Demons.  DePaul was only down 10 at the break, but they got sloppy in the second half and again could not finish a game strong.  Melvin went scoreless for the final 17 minutes and the Blue Demons just got waxed.  I read an article from the Chicago Tribune the other day interviewing Oliver Purnell.  He feels the team is making progress and is close to turning the corner, but I need to see more to indicate that.  He needs a great recruiting class to survive in the Big East or else DePaul will continue to toil in poor play on the court.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Linsanity, Northwestern/Indiana and DePaul/UConn Previews for Tonight

I hope everyone had a great Valentine's Day with their sweetheart last night.   If you didn't have a sweetheart, I hope you choose to embrace Jeremy Lin as your sweetheart last night.  The man did it again, hitting a three-pointer with 0.5 seconds left to beat the Toronto Raptors in Toronto.  He also had a huge four-point play late in the game.  A Lintastic finish for the Knicks, who got Amare Stoudemire back following the death of his brother.  This is definitely rivaling Tebowmania and will continue to do so as long as Lin keeps dazzling with some more crazy moments.  He finished with 27 points, 11 assists, and 8 turnovers on the night.  The turnovers are a bit of a cause for concern, but everything else he is doing has been brilliant.

Looking ahead to tonight, the Indiana Hoosiers have a chance to get to 20 wins if they pick up a win at Assembly Hall tonight against the Northwestern Wildcats.  The Hoosiers are 19-6, 7-6 in the Big Ten and the Wildcats are 15-9, 5-7 in the Big Ten and in need of a huge resume building win.  They have never made the NCAA Tournament, and I still find that amazing and shocking.  I saw them play at home against Baylor this season, and they got flat-out smoked.  They were 7-0 and playing good basketball until that point, but Baylor was their first true test and they failed that test miserably.  They don't have the athletes to match Indiana, but they can scrap and play well as a team to try to get the win.  I was at IU last year when Northwestern beat them, and Indiana simply needs to play their game and they should win this win.  I know Northwestern and Shurna can sneak up on them and steal a win, but I think the Hoosiers will pass the test tonight.

Regarding DePaul, they face a tough test at UConn  is pissed at their play in recent weeks and may take it to the Blue Demons at home.  Unless DePaul comes out on a mission from the opening tip, I see Lamb and company running the Demons out of the gym.  Melvin and Crockett have to continue to play well, and I think Kelly needs to step up again for DePaul to have any chance.  This also has to be Brandon Young's time to get his head on straight and start playing basketball the right way. Also, I just want one game where Purnell calls off the press and lets his team defend in the half court.  They do a decent job of it, but have given up so many points of late because of their propensity to give up easy buckets off the press.  I know Purnell wants his guys to buy in, but he needs to make adjustments to better fit his personnel.  If it hasn't been working, try scrapping it for a game.

Well those are my thoughts on Linsanity and tonight's contests.  Feel free to weigh in on the discussion.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day Edition-What I LOVE About Some of the Major Sports

As most of you know, I am a sports junkie and can never get enough of the great things that go on in the world of sports.  So, for Valentine's Day I decided I would talk about the things I love in the world of sports.

NFL:
-I love watching Tom Brady pick apart defenses.
-I love watching Ray Rice snake his way through defenses.
-I love relaxing and watching games all day on Sunday.
-I love watching Ray Lewis fire up his team before a game.
-I love the song "Rise to Glory" by DJ Quik that is played before games start on CBS.
-I love hearing Nantz/Simms and Gumbel/Dierdorf call the action.
-I love watching the Super Bowl.
-I love the skill and precision that goes into the game.

NBA:
-I love watching D Rose do ridiculous things around the rim.
-I love cheering against the Miami Heat.
-I love watching Kevin Durant hit big shots.
-I love exciting playoff games.
-I love watching Kobe Bryant hit fadeaway shots from the corner.
-I love hearing Marv Albert call a game.
-I love seeing NBA players who don't just play for the money.

College Basketball:
-I love the crowds at college arenas because they blow the NBA out of the water.
-I love Selection Sunday.
-I love the process leading to Selection Sunday, where I watch dozens of games from start of the season til tournament time.
-I love the unpredictability of each game.
-I love seeing the Indiana Hoosiers a revitalized program.
-I love going to DePaul games and cheering on the Blue Demons.
-I love seeing players represent their school by playing hard and passionately.

Golf:
-I love watching Tiger Woods play golf through thick and thin.
-I love and embrace everything about The Masters, the greatest golf tournament on the planet.
-I love watching guys like Mahan, Cink, Day, and Stanley.
-I love playing golf.
-I love knowing how hard it is to do what the pros do.
-I love going to tournaments as I've been to '06, '09, '10 PGA, John Deere Classic, and I hope to get tickets to the Ryder Cup at Medinah.
-I love watching pros hit balls on the range.
-I love trying to emulate what the pros do.
-I love reading golf magazines and anything golf related.

MLB:
-I love the 2011 playoffs and how they rejuvenated my energy for baseball.
-I love playing baseball, as I've done so my whole life.
-I love looking at my baseball trading cards and reflecting on the memories.
-I love watching Ken Griffey Jr. swing a bat.
-I love hot dogs at Wrigley Field with extra grilled onions.
-I love the sound of vendors shouting out things such as "getchur peanuts, cotton candy, lemon chill, and hot dogs!".
-I love knowing how difficult it is to hit a 90+ mph fastball and a good curveball
-I love watching exciting division races.

Those are just a few of the things I love about the world of sports.  Feel free to comment/chime in on what you love about particular sports.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Randy Moss Is Back?

Making news today was Randy Moss, who announced using live webchat on his 35th birthday that he would be attempting a comeback in the NFL.  He sat out all of last year for what he described as off the field issues that needed to be resolved.  In 2010, he gave a half-hearted effort with the Patriots, Vikings, and Titans, and then he decided to retire.  But Moss is back, or at least he hopes so.

Potential landing spots could be the Patriots, Ravens, Bears, 49ers, Jets and other teams that are need of help at receiver.  The Patriots make sense because Brady loves Moss and they've had great success in the past.  The Ravens make some sense because Boldin and Smith are good, but Lee Evans basically cost them a shot at the Super Bowl.  My team the Bears makes sense because they are just flat-out thin at wide receiver and lack a big, fast guy like Randy Moss.  I bet Cutler would love throwing to a target like that.  The 49ers make sense because of their ineptitude at receiver as Crabtree is starting to look like an average player at best.  Vernon Davis is a freak, but he can't do it alone.  The Jets may make sense because they are probably going to lose Plaxico Burress in free agency.  I'm sure other teams may be interested as well.

The problem, though, is that any NFL team wants to know if he is really committed to playing football at the highest level he can.  Moss has been known to give up at times despite his immense talent and speed, so teams want to know if he will be committed or not.  He will definitely get back into football shape, but it's just a matter of how bad he wants to be successful with his comeback.  Teams can take this gamble, and they are just hoping it'll pay off in a big way.  Randy's outlandish ways are fun, but teams just want to know if he can give maximum effort on the football field at age 35.


Benko Is Burning


Boy, oh, boy where do I even begin with this team right now?  I had the distinct displeasure of witnessing Saturday’s debacle in Phoenix, the 8th straight loss for the once Western-Conference leading Hawks.  There isn’t exactly one specific issue that plagues this team but rather a combination.  Let’s start with the special teams.  With a powerplay ranked 16th and a penalty kill at 28th, it’s hard to see this team making too much noise come April unless these change in a hurry.  The penalty kill has been terrible all season long and the triangle and 1 setup that Mike Kitchen has implemented needs to be trashed immediately.  The opposing D-men have way too much time to set up in the Hawk zone which almost lets the opposition set up as though they have a 5-on-3 since the top point man can’t go side to side quick enough.  If you make note of most the power play goals against the opposing d-men can walk right up to the circle and fire a shot for a big rebound or a deflection goal.  More time needs to be spent pressuring the points aggressively instead of letting them dictate the play.  The powerplay is another head scratcher at 16th especially with the personnel this team has.  The famous back-door play they have been using for the better part of the last 3 years has been figured out and there doesn’t seem to be any alternative.

Defense and goaltending are two more areas this team has come up short in all year long.  The 2nd pairing of Nick Leddy and Nik Hjalmarsson is overmatched on most nights and the 6th D spot has been a revolving door of Sean O’Donnell, John Scott, and Sami Lepisto.  That won’t get it done.  Duncan Keith continues to an enigma as Hawk fans don’t know on a nightly basis if the former Norris trophy winner will show up or the Keith from last year that was wildly inconsistent.  Goaltending has been another hole lately especially since Ray Emery has cooled off in the backup role and Corey Crawford has been average for the majority of the year.  The Hawks are still the only team in the league that has yet to record a shutout this year and the goaltending has not helped.  As of right now they seem to be splitting the duties and going with the goaltender that has let up the lower number of soft goals, in this case Emery.

So what can be done to fix this team going forward?  Stan Bowman is once again in the spotlight as his past two trade deadlines have underwhelmed.  The area that is in most need of a shake-up is on defense where the Hawks are said to be looking for a 4-6th type defensemen who will be a UFA at season’s end.  In this case think of eastern conference teams that might be selling come trade deadline day:  Montreal (Hal Gill), Carolina (Bryan Allen), and Washington (John Erskine?).  Goaltending is another area that needs to be shored up with the Hawks being linked to goaltenders such as former Hawk Nikolai Khabibulin and New York Islanders goaltender Evegeni Nabokov despite Bowman insisting that they are satisfied with the status quo.  In terms of forwards we’ve heard names like Tuomo Ruutu and Derek Roy but those would appear to be a stretch at this point with too many other contenders bidding for their services.

It’s hard to really pinpoint what needs to be at this point right now because one win could snap them out of this funk or they can continue with their inconsistent play like they have up till this point in the season.  With a goals against average of exactly 3.00 it’s hard to envision this team making a deep run the way they’re currently constructed.  It appears that there are too many holes at this point that need to be fixed and not enough solid players on the trading block to choose from.  I still feel as if Toews and Sharp may still be playing injured as we have not heard from them much on this trip.  With a brutal week coming up consisting of Nashville, the New York Rangers, and St. Louis at home on Sunday the slide looks like it will continue for at least another week.  The best we can hope for is to pull a few wins out and make a deal or two to shore up the defense for the stretch run and hope this team remembers how to play the solid playoff type hockey that they’ve shown they can at times the past two years.  Let’s Go Hawks!  

Guest Blogger of the Week-Steve Benko

I would like to introduce my honorary guest for this week, a man by the name of Steve Benko.  Steve is a senior at Arizona State University currently, and he was previously a student of Indiana University for two years, where he was my brother's roommate for their freshman year and then shared a place with my brother and two friends for their sophomore year.  It seems like this has been the case for many of my guest bloggers, but he is also a Meadows '08 grad who enjoys watching and playing many sports.  My fondest memories with him include good times at IU, but many memories date back to way before those days. Camping trips to Baraboo, Wisconsin were memorable as we played golf, did some rock climbing, swam, and heard negotiations between two eight-year-old kids from a nearby campsite as we woke up one morning.  Additionally, I have vivid memories of battling it out in ping pong in his basement and playing Halo 2 while inhaling copious amounts of Coca-Cola soft drinks.

Regarding his contribution to this blog, Steve is a die-hard Blackhawks fan, and he is hear today to talk about the Chicago Blackhawks' recent woes and what they can do to right the ship in the coming days.  He watches every minute of every game, so I trust he will provide us with some great hockey insight.

Take it away Mr. Benko.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Mickelson Takes AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am

On the PGA Tour the last three weeks, guys who entered the final round a pretty good distance off the lead all came back to win on Sunday.  It started with Snedeker, then came Kyle Stanley a week after his monumental collapse that let Snedeker win.  On Sunday at iconic Pebble Beach, it was Phil Mickelson who stormed back to overtake Charlie Wi on Sunday as he fired a final round 64 to win the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.  Phil was paired with Tiger on Sunday, who faded badly and shot an ugly 75 to finish 9 shots off the pace set by Mickelson.

Let's first start with Mickelson.  Give the man credit for what he did.  I am not a supporter of him as a golfer as most of you know, but he played pretty brilliantly today.  The pins were in difficult spots, especially on the back, but he found a way to hit some pretty great shots and he putted exceptionally.  It is weird how he is so streaky at times.  In previous weeks, he didn't have control of his game, but then he just has the propensity to play out of his mind in an event like this.  Take for example two years ago at The Masters, where I didn't feel like he was in the limelight for his early season play, but he just comes out and plays a great week.  I feel like he is comfortable at courses like Pebble and Augusta, and I guess that's why he has the capacity to turn it on like this.  I still won't cheer him on, but I have to tip my cap to what he did on Sunday.

Let's talk about Tiger Woods.  Where to start with my frustration?  His putting was great on Saturday, but it seems to tense up so much on these Sundays of late.  I used to be able to go grab a drink or snack when he was standing over a three-footer because it was guaranteed going in, but now I legitimately am nervous when he stands over those.  It used to be a lock, but now he looks uncomfortable on the greens on Sunday afternoons.  After he missed the short putts, it shook his confidence as he made some crooked swings of the tee and with his irons.  It is so frustrating to watch because he looks great for three days and simply has faded on Sundays of late.  There is definitely time to cure things before The Masters, but he needs to play a good final round somewhere for me to feel confident.

I thought Charlie Wi played great Sunday after his slow start.  Four-putting his first hole for double bogey was a rough way to start, but he hung in there and hit some great shots after that.  He only lost to Phil by two strokes and has to be kicking himself for that four-putt.  I will say that I don't believe he blew the tournament like the guys in past weeks have done.  Mickelson won the tournament.

We will head to the Northern Trust Open next at Riviera Country Club.

Saturday College Hoops Recap

It was a busy day of college hoops on Saturday as I was able to catch a lot of the action.  Let's start by looking at my teams, and then we will look at the rest of the action.

The DePaul Blue Demons had an early 11 a.m. tip at Notre Dame, and they hung in there for the entire game but ended up falling 84-76.  I was really encouraged by the play of Jeremiah Kelly, who came on strong with 17 points on 6-for-7 shooting yesterday.  I know he fell out of favor with Purnell a bit, but this may help him get his starting job back that Clahar took recently.  If he can continue to knock down shots from deep, he can be an asset.  Brandon Young dare I say it again was the goat of this game.  In a tight game, he gets a technical foul, and it just swung the whole momentum in the late stages of the game.  Not too mention that he was awful from the field and exhibited average hustle at best.  He needs to get his head on straight or he will be riding a lot of pine in the coming games.  Melvin and Crockett were steady again, but the Blue Demons just can't play a full 40 minutes of solid basketball now.

The Clemson Tigers came up and played a beautiful game against Wake Forest, winning 78-58.  They shot nearly 60% from the field and Tanner Smith lit it up to the tune of 8-for-9 shooting and 20 points.  He stepped up as a senior and the Tigers improved to 4-6 in ACC play.  It also looks like Milton Jennings has his head on straight, as he is playing better and harder for Brad Brownell.  They face a tough game at home against Virginia coming up, but they played them tough last time so you never know what can happen.

Let's look at other action from Saturday: UNC thumped Virginia to get back on the winning track after that stunning loss to Duke the other night.  Zeller played like a man possessed and pissed off following Austin Rivers dropping that 3-pointer in his eyes the other night.  This will be an interesting race for the ACC title.  UConn continued its free fall as the Cuse put it on them late at the Carrier Dome.  Syracuse is so deep and talented that it was hard for the Huskies to keep up despite cutting the lead to 2 with under 7 minutes left.    Baylor got thumped by Missouri at Missouri, and one can begin to wonder if Baylor will ever win a big game.  They certainly have the talent, but they seem to be lacking the mojo in big games.  Perry Jones III disappears in these big games, and they have played some brutal second half basketball lately.  Tennessee stunned Florida on their home court yesterday, and one can wonder if the Gators thought this would be a cakewalk following a beatdown at the hands of Kentucky earlier in the week.

The last two games that caught my eye were the MSU-OSU game and Kentucky-Vanderbilt.  In the first one, the second half was just an atrocious display of shooting by both teams as MSU gutted out a 58-48 ugly victory.  Draymond Green doesn't always make it look pretty, but he wills his team to victory in a lot of games like this.  Sullinger had 17 points and 16 rebounds, but he also committed 10 turnovers.  I've never had high regards for him and question whether he can play effectively on the next level.  He has lifted his team to victory in some games this season, but 10 turnovers from any player is just dreadful.  Giving up 10 possessions in that way is just decimating to your team, and you cannot be a leader and perform like that.  Finally, the nightcap saw Kentucky pull out an exciting 69-63 victory at Vandy.  I'm still enamored by Vandy's arena, it is so unique and a one-of-a-kind experience.  The game was a great one as Kentucky had a big lead at the half, and Vanderbilt stormed all the way back to take the lead.  Kentucky was just too much in the closing minutes and held on for a win.  Calipari wanted this type of game, though, because he needed a true test to see what his team was all about in a tough situation.  They certainly answered the calling, and will remain atop the polls come tomorrow.

Well, we will see the shakeup in the polls tomorrow and look forward to another week of some good basketball.  Selection Sunday is nearing, and I couldn't be any more excited to get the NCAA Tournament underway.  Most people don't watch games from November-March leading up to the tourney, but I simply love the journey and process of getting there almost equally as much as the thrills of the NCAA tournament.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Linsanity Hits the Lakers at MSG

I'll admit I didn't buy into this hype through his first three games because I simply hadn't seen him play.  But now, wow....Linsanity is in full force, as evidenced tonight by Jeremy Lin's incredible performance at MSG to defeat the Lakers 92-85.  He matched Kobe shot-for-shot and had a remarkable 38 points and 7 assists tonight.  As many of you know, I've been down on the quality of play in the NBA this year, but this Linsanity might be the shot in the arm the NBA needs to get back on its feet following the lockout.

The remarkable thing about all of this is that it is rivaling Tebowmania.  Tebowmania, however, took weeks to develop as they only play one game a week.  These games were very dramatic and crazy, but Lin has done all of this damage in about a week's time.  Knicks fans are rejuvenated and they probably fear the return of star Carmelo Anthony because of what it may do to Lin.  But I think even Melo has to buy into the hype and let Lin guide this team and put his own personal agenda to the side.  Lin has a great basketball IQ and really made the guys he was playing with better tonight.  Jeffries, Novak, and company are nobody's, but Lin made them valuable tonight, valuable enough to beat Bryant/Gasol/Bynum.  This is the first time I saw Lin play, and I'm starting to believe this isn't all a fluke.  He is really big for a point guard and just imposes his will on the court.

Tebowmania had many slogans and phrases to live by, but Linsanity might even have more because the last name Lin lends itself to many rhyming words.  This whole Linsanity is becoming must-see television.  This is also great because it is with a big market team, the New York Knicks.  If Lin were doing this on the Hornets or Bobcats, it really wouldn't have as much impact as it does with him lighting up Madison Square Garden.  I am going to watch him play and see how this pans out in the coming weeks.  Lin, an undrafted player from Harvard, is a true feel-good story that makes people happy to see him doing so well.

Listening to his post-game interview, he seems like a really humble guy.  He gave credit to Jared Jeffries for his prowess on the offensive glass.  He didn't brag or take credit for himself, but instead focused on how his teammates and him were able to beat the Lakers.  He even showed respect for the Lakers and said he was just happy to get a win against a great team.  The Knicks were a mess a week ago, but now they may be able to move up in the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference.

Let the Linsanity roll on.

Non-Sports Related Article of the Week

Here's an article I wrote for my school's newspaper this week.


TIU Students Teach Abroad

As Division of Education seniors make their impression as student teachers in local schools, two Trinity students have taken their knowledge and experiences to different countries, where they have begun student teaching in foreign lands.  Lydia Swanson and Rachel Osborn have embarked upon this journey, as Swanson is teaching in Brazil and Osborn has taken her passion to Costa Rica.

For Swanson, an Elementary Education major with Concentration in Math, she is teaching fifth and sixth grade at the Brasilia International School in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil.  Swanson said the main thing she likes about the school is that is a Christian-based school with a Christian mission statement and values, but their student population is very diverse, with students representing over 20 nations and various religious backgrounds.

“The school and teachers are really intentional about integrating faith into their learning,” Swanson said.  This is another thing that TIU talks about, but to see real people (in Brazil) actually living this way has been such as encouragement.”

In her fourth week of teaching now, Swanson has slowly gained more control of her classroom as she has been able to teach lessons in almost every subject while getting to know the makeup of the school and student body.  Swanson has also been able to share her passion for soccer by playing with her students at recess.

 She also pointed to her cooperating teacher as being extremely helpful by giving feedback and offering ideas of how to teach certain subjects.  Swanson will gain full control of her classroom by the end of February and will continue to student teach until May. 

Osborn, an Elementary Education major with emphasis on Middle School Science and Language Arts, is currently teaching second grade at Miriam Baker School in San Jose, Costa Rica.  While school did not start until Jan. 23, Osborn came to Costa Rica Jan. 2 so she could adjust and see some of the sights before she started teaching. 

Osborn is also slowly being eased into the teaching world as she has begun teaching Social Studies this week.  With each week, she will add on a subject until March, where she will be in full control for three weeks and then begin a gradual decrease of control.  Additionally, her cooperating teacher, with over 30 years of experience, has been a blessing for her and even has already let Osborn help grade papers, decorate the classroom, and lead an art activity among a variety of other tasks around the classroom.

While Osborn likes to note this positives of her experiences so far,  things have not been easy and carefree all of the time. 

“God has instilled in me a sense of adventure, risk taking, and a great love for people and children,” Osborn explained.  “However, in coming to Costa Rica I realized that I was withdrawing from many of these things.  God showed me that I was dealing with “miedo”-the Spanish word for fear.”

Osborn also has to overcome a cultural barrier with her students.  She said she has to put herself in the shoes of her students to make sure they are on the same page. 

Osborn has stayed in touch with some of her professors from TIU, asking for advice on how to handle certain situations.  Finally, Osborn has started a blog to share her experiences with her friends and family back in the States. 

Swanson and Osborn will continue to gain valuable experience student teaching in their respective countries before they begin the hunt for teaching jobs.  

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Reaction to Gronk/Light Dancing it up after Super Bowl XLVI

Since I didn't get the chance to touch on this earlier in the week, I just wanted to talk a little bit about this particular incident shown in the video above.  I understand Gronkowski had probably been drinking heavily and probably couldn't feel the pain of his ankle, but this is just something you don't do after a loss in the Super Bowl.  It's just a dumb thing to do.  You tried to battle through your ankle injury in the Super Bowl, and that is to be admired even though you were unable to perform your best.  But you do not go out and party after a loss like this.  I understand he may be young and dumb, but he has to understand that chances at a Super Bowl do not come often.  Also, they lost the game, which means there is nothing to celebrate.  Additionally, I don't claim to be a dance pro, but his moves are pretty atrocious, intoxicated or not.

It's simply a bad image to portray to your teammates, coaches, and organization.  The Patriots usually don't put up with nonsense like this, but because he had such a monstrous year, they will definitely keep him.  If he were of less importance to the team, I guarantee you Belichick and company would cut him very soon.  Tom Brady, Wes Welker, Vince Wilfork, etc were devastated by this loss, and here they see their young stud partying it up on a bad ankle.  Look, I understand a bad ankle may affect your ability to play football more than it does hopping around wildly on a dance floor at an after party, but you lost the game.  As a competitor, the last thing you should want to do is go party it up with LMFAO and Maroon 5.  I would have rather seen a video of you crying your eyes out than one of you being a fool.

If Gronkowski was either too drunk or stupid to realize that footage of this would get out, then shame on him.  He should know better than to something like this.  I just hope he gets the message and learns how to be a professional about things.

A Night to Remember-Rivers Stuns UNC

I found myself on the couch for over four hours last night, gyro sandwich and root beer in hand.  Last night was a great night in college hoops, with six of the top eleven teams in the country going at it against each other.  The most memorable moment of the night was an instant classic, as Duke freshman guard Austin Rivers beat the buzzer from 3 to give the Duke Blue Devils an improbable 85-84 win over their rival North Carolina Tar Heels in their own building.  It was a great end to a great game that left Duke fans ecstatic and UNC fans with the life sucked out of them.

Duke came up hot early in this game, draining threes and playing pretty well generally.  However, UNC started to claw back on transition baskets and hitting the glass hard as Tyler Zeller had 19 points and 8 boards by halftime.  The Tar Heels finished the half on quite a surge as they took a 43-40 lead into the locker room.

The Tar Heels dominated the second half for about 17:45 of it, and they held a ten point lead with 2:10 to play.  Up to this point, Harrison Barnes went batty in the second half as he had 19 in the half.  Kendall Marshall constantly sliced and diced the Duke defense, and the Tar Heels still held a big rebounding advantage.  That's when everything began to tip in favor of the Dukies.  Mason Plumlee began to hit the glass hard, Rivers and Curry hit big shots, and Kelly hit a big jumper to cut the lead to two.  In the closing seconds, Zeller went to the line with UNC up one and he made the first and missed the second.  Rivers now had the ball in his hands with the game on the line.  He dribbled up court, received a pick that was switched to have Zeller on him, and now the other eight guys on the court were insignificant.

It was just Rivers and Zeller.  Curry encouraged Rivers to do something by dribbling and attacking the hoop with a clear speed advantage over Zeller.  But Rivers just stood there dribbling the ball.  With two seconds left, Rivers had space, pulled up, and fired over Zeller...Splash!  Bottom of the net, and the Blue Devils set off a raucous celebration.  What a way to end the ballgame.

UNC definitely choked to some degree by missing free throws and tensing up in the final two minutes, but you have to credit Duke for being relentless and not giving up.  Both teams are now 20-4, 7-2 in the ACC and the race for the league crown got a lot more interesting.  With Florida State's astonishing loss to Boston College last night, three teams sit at 7-2 atop the ACC and much will be decided in the coming weeks.

Another exciting ballgame took place in the Carrier Dome as Syracuse pulled out a 64-61 win over Georgetown in overtime.  It came down to the final few possessions, and Kris Joseph delivered with a huge 3 to give him 29 points and put the Orange ahead for good.  This was a great game, but the Duke-UNC game is more deserving of my attention today.

Also, Kansas flat out whooped Baylor last night in the closing minutes of the first half and the entire second half, winning 68-54.  The Bears showed no energy in this big home contest and one has to wonder whether they have the drive to make a deep push come March.  They just laid down for Kansas as Kansas imposed their will with ease.  Perry Jones III really needs to look in the mirror today and come out these next few weeks with some fire.  He is supposed to be lottery pick talent, but the way he just disappears in some of these games is astonishing.  He is a big reason why they have lost some of these big games.  Pierre Jackson has emerged as a great talent for Baylor, but often times he is trying to do it on his own when Jones III disappears.

Those are some of my thoughts on last night's epic slate of games.  I'm curious to hear your reaction on the Duke-UNC game and anything else that may be on your mind related to college basketball.