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Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-game-preview-and-prediction-arkansas-razorbacks-kentucky
Body:

No question, SEC basketball is better than it has been in a number of years.

 

The league should send its most teams to the NCAA Tournament since 2011, including the presumptive No. 1 overall seed in Kentucky.

 

The question, though, is if any of these teams can touch the Wildcats. Granted, few teams in any league can approach the Wildcats this season. There's no shame if Arkansas, Georgia, Texas A&M and Ole Miss can't finish off the Wildcats; Kentucky isn’t 28-0 because the SEC is a mediocre league.

 

At the same time, though, Kentucky hasn’t played a ranked team since a 58-50 win over Louisville on the road on Dec. 27. That changes Saturday when unanimous No. 1 Kentucky faces No. 18 Arkansas.

 

Does that mean that win streak will come to an end at Rupp Arena? Even though Arkansas is having its best season since at least 2008, upsetting Kentucky, at least so far this season, has been impossible.

 

Arkansas at Kentucky

 

Site: Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky.

Time: Saturday, 4 p.m. Eastern

TV: CBS

 

What’s up for grabs?

Kentucky’s undefeated season. If Kentucky is going to go to the SEC Tournament undefeated, this week may be the toughest stretch of the year. The Wildcats will face arguably the No. 2 team in the league in Arkansas and then face a solid Georgia team in Athens — the Bulldogs lost in Lexington on Feb. 3 without top player Marcus Thornton.

 

You’ll tune in to watch: Bobby Portis vs. Willie Cauley-Stein

The top contender for SEC Player of the Year may play for Arkansas rather than the nation’s No. 1 team. That’s as much of a reflection of Kentucky’s overall talent and balance as Portis’ season itself at 17.6 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-11 sophomore takes on the toughest assignment for any forward in the country against Cauley-Stein and Kentucky’s bigs. 

 

Pivotal player: Andrew Harrison

Kentucky’s sophomore point guard has been all over the place in recent weeks, 23 points and seven assists against Georgia one game, one point and two assists against Florida the next. Coming off of five points, three assists and no turnovers against Mississippi State, Harrison now faces the toughest pressing and trapping team in the SEC. Arkansas is 15th nationally in defensive turnover rate (23.3 percent).

 

Pivotal player II: Michael Qualls

Arkansas swept its regular season meetings against Kentucky last season largely due to the 6-foot-6 guard Qualls. The junior scored 18 points against Kentucky in Fayetteville and 14 points in Lexington, shooting a combined 11-of-17 from the field. Will Qualls and Anthlon Bell be able to knock down shots from the perimeter to keep Kentucky’s defense honest?

 

Biggest question: By how much will Kentucky rule the offensive glass?

This is the biggest advantage Kentucky will have against Arkansas, or most teams. The Wildcats lead the SEC in offensive rebound rate in league games (36.9 percent) while the Razorbacks are last in the league in defensive rebound rate. In Arkansas’ last game, an 81-75 win over Texas A&M, the Aggies destroyed the Hogs on the glass for 22 offensive boards.

 

Predictions

David Fox: Kentucky 70-60

Mitch Light: Kentucky 73-64

Jake Rose: Kentucky 81-65

Teaser:
College Basketball Game Preview and Prediction: Arkansas Razorbacks at Kentucky Wildcats
Post date: Friday, February 27, 2015 - 16:20
All taxonomy terms: Dallas Mavericks, Rajon Rondo, NBA
Path: /nba/things-are-going-south-fast-between-rajon-rondo-and-mavericks
Body:

It looks like it’s becoming safe to say that the Dallas’ Mavericks December trade for Rajon Rondo was a mistake.

 

The former Boston Celtics point guard was suspended for the Mavs’ 104-87 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday, after a dispute with head coach Rick Carlisle in a Tuesday night victory over the Toronto Raptors:

 

And now, we’re starting to see reports of Rondo’s desire to leave Dallas this summer — when he’ll be an unrestricted free agent.

 

Rondo has previously been linked to Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, particularly because of a well-publicized breakfast the two shared, and because of Bryant’s very transparent attempt to recruit Rondo to Tinseltown.

 

For Dallas, such a story can’t exactly be devastating. Before bringing Rajon to Texas, they were boasting the league’s best offense and winning at a .700 clip with a 19-8 record. They’ve been 20-13 since Rondo came to town — good for just a .610 mark — and they now trail the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers in offensive efficiency.

 

Rondo has visibly depreciated as a player. His shooting percentages have plummeted, especially his almost unbelievable 31 percent from the free throw line, and he can no longer take it to the rack and finish with flourishes of brilliant, spontaneous creativity like he used to.

 

When Rondo was one of the best players in the league during the Celtics’ run to the 2010 NBA Finals, his famously difficult personality was worth the trouble. But injuries and age caught up to him fast, and now he’s caught battling with a coach who wants him to keep the ball moving through pre-planned sets, instead of taking his time with the shot clock to try bending and breaking the court against the power of his vision.

 

When you’re great, you can get away with a lot. But Rondo looks more mediocre than great these days, and he’d likely do well by himself to keep his head down and trust the championship culture he’s in, instead of trying to transcend it.

 

But if he doesn’t, and he goes to the Lakers after a failed stint in Dallas, we can all look forward to an even more tragicomic NBA spectacle in Hollywood, where Bryant and Rondo run inefficiently amok on the fuel of former glory.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, February 27, 2015 - 14:37
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-february-27-2015
Body:

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Feb. 27:

 

Margot Robbie, who is slowly taking over the Internet, has a movie opening. Oh, and Will Smith's apparently in it, too.

 

Some guy caught a monster catfish. Nature is terrifying.

 

• Yesterday was dominated by the llamas. Oh, and the dress. The Internet is a weird place. 

 

• Of course, the self-righteous among us ordered us to stop focusing on the dress and think about more important stuff.

 

Kevin Stallings went a little nuts, but nothing like the hot takers online.

 

• Borrowing a page from his idol Seve's playbook, Sergio Garcia hit a ball that was totally submerged, and made par.

 

So why don't the Yankees just dump A-Rod?

 

The Jackie Robinson of the NBA died yesterday.

 

Jay Cutler has lost Jon Gruden. And Gruden loves everybody.

 

Grantland had a bracket to pick the best Second Banana of all time. His name is George, and he lives with his parents. This is the second contest he's won.

 

• Here's the offending Kevin Stallings comment, which ESPN's cameras helpfully picked up.

 

-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, February 27, 2015 - 11:43
All taxonomy terms: Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron James, NBA
Path: /nba/lebron-scores-42-cavs-spank-warriors-statement-win
Body:
LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers have now won 18 of their last 20 games, with their most recent victory being arguably their most impressive.

 

Cleveland tallied a 110-99 victory over the vaunted Golden State Warriors Thursday night, keyed by LeBron’s 42 points and 11 rebounds. The Cavs, for the most part, cruised through this one — they held double-digit leads through much of the second half. And the Warriors looked a rare form of frustrated, with head coach Steve Kerr getting so heated during a lecture to the referees that he had to remove some clothing:

 

Things are looking real good for Cleveland these days. With perhaps their biggest roadblock to the NBA Finals in a state of crisis — the now Derrick Rose-lesss Chicago Bulls — there’s seemingly only the Atlanta Hawks between them and a shot at the Western Conference champion in June. And if last night was any indication, the Cavs aren’t exactly intimidated by the West.

 

Maybe the most encouraging thing about their recent run is the chemistry of it. Kevin Love has begun to find his spot in the team’s system, crashing the defensive glass and throwing dazzling outlet passes to several strong finishers on the break, and getting loose for scoring assaults from behind the three-point line.

 

The Cavs’ acrimony of earlier in the season is becoming a distant memory, and it’s hardly difficult to see why: they’ve got the best player in the world. LeBron is not just a freak athlete; he’s also a one man system, and when he’s happy and healthy, his locomotive breakdown of defenses and passing vision is really all you need to get everyone involved.

 

Right here, right now, Cleveland looks every bit like the favorites to win the NBA title.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, February 27, 2015 - 10:46
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/kevin-stallings-yells-player-earth-spins-axis
Body:

No one is innocent in the latest edition of the Vanderbilt-Tennessee in-state rivalry.

 

Not Kevin Stallings. Not Wade Baldwin. Not the Vols coaching staff. And especially not the media.

 

Here is the incident in question after Vanderbilt topped Tennessee 73-65 in Knoxville on Thursday night (via ESPN):

 

 

This is a heated rivalry in which tempers can flare easily. It happens from time to time in sports and it happened on Thursday night.

 

But the Earth shouldn’t be spinning off its axis because a hard-nosed coach disciplined his player harshly. Or a player sort of maybe kind of lacked sportsmanship by clapping a few feet away from an opponent he just beat. Or a losing assistant coach tattling on a teenager.

 

And the media should be ashamed of itself for writing headlines that make readers think that Stallings threatened to kill his player.

 

Stallings has apologized. Baldwin is okay with his coach’s actions and has apologized too. The Vols took their medicine in the loss column.

 

 

Can we (the media) stop making this into more than it is and move on, please?

 

Teaser:
Kevin Stallings Yells at a Player, Earth Spins off Axis
Post date: Friday, February 27, 2015 - 10:10
All taxonomy terms: Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees, MLB, News
Path: /mlb/alex-rodriguez-con-man-returns-baseball
Body:

Alex Rodriguez asked for this. Remember that. On Feb. 17, 2009, upon reporting to the Yankees’ spring training camp for the first time as an admitted steroid cheat, Rodriguez told a packed news conference, with typical grandiosity: “The only thing I ask from this group today and the American people is to judge me from this day forward. That’s all I can ask for.”

 

Well, judgment day is upon us. Rodriguez returned to the Yankees’ active roster after the last out of the 2014 World Series, ending a season-long suspension for his latest dalliance with performance-enhancing drugs.

 

Incredible, isn’t it? Even in an era of rampant doping across the sports landscape, Rodriguez stands out as one of the slimiest characters of all. When he asked for that fresh start, it seemed like a reasonable request. Sure, his misdeeds with the Texas Rangers would always stain his glittering career record. But most fans are willing to forgive a lapse in judgment.

 

Yet look at what Rodriguez did with that second chance: The very next season he went right back to cheating, scheming for an illegal chemical advantage through a shady Florida clinic and its sleazy head, Anthony Bosch. When he was caught, Rodriguez did what he does best: lie. He didn’t know Bosch at all! He never used banned drugs! He’ll expose this “witch hunt” in court!

 

Wrong. The richest baseball player ever could not buy his way out of this one. Major League Baseball banned Rodriguez for all of 2014 — and, oh yeah, he admitted everything to the DEA anyway, as revealed by the Miami Herald.

 

Rodriguez did, in fact, pay Bosch about $12,000 a month for roughly two years. He did, in fact, get pre-filled syringes for hormone injections into his stomach. Bosch did, in fact, draw A-Rod’s blood in the bathroom of a nightclub.

 

What a guy.

 

The Yankees could have made a bold statement. They could have cut Rodriguez and told the world that the kind of person who makes such despicable decisions has no place in their uniform. But that’s not how things happen in the real world.

 

While the Yankees were thrilled to have Rodriguez’s $25 million off their payroll for 2014, they still want to save more from the ludicrous 10-year, $275 million contract they gave him after the 2007 season. The Yankees owe Rodriguez $61 million in salary for the 2015-17 seasons, and for all of their animosity toward him, the money talks loudest.

 

Athlon Sports' 2015 MLB Preview magazine covers the diamond and circles the bases with enough in-depth preseason analysis, predictions and other information to satisfy fans of the national pastime from the Bronx to the Bay and everywhere in between. Order your copy today!

If the Yankees had released Rodriguez before he suited up for them again, they would have been obligated to pay him everything they owe. But if Rodriguez breaks down physically while employed by the team — if he re-injures his hip, for example, and is forced to retire — then insurance could cover 80 percent of his remaining salaries.

 

Yet there is also a somewhat unsettling reason the Yankees are keeping their most notorious player in pinstripes: They just might need his bat.

 

Yes, Rodriguez missed all that time. Yes, he turns 40 in July, with a body he has treated like a science experiment for more than a decade; who knows the real effects of all those injections, testosterone “gummies,” surgeries and everything else? But when Rodriguez played for the Yankees in 2013, he wasn’t all that bad — at least by the low standards of the team he left behind in 2014. As the Yankees staged a year-long farewell tour for captain Derek Jeter, they staggered through their worst offensive season in more than two decades. Rodriguez’s OPS over 44 games in 2013 was .771. Of the 11 players with the most plate appearances for the 2014 Yankees, nobody had an OPS that high.

 

The Yankees have been careful to keep their expectations guarded. They say that they do not know what to expect from Rodriguez. They have talked to him about playing first base and getting starts at designated hitter in addition to his old spot at third. But they have also tried to advance a storyline that Rodriguez’s work ethic will serve him well.

 

“He’s fit,” owner Hal Steinbrenner said late in the season. “Alex is a hard worker. Alex will be ready. We’ll just have to go from there, see how he does, see how he responds to playing every day in spring training. Point is, he’s in good shape. And that’s not surprising.”

 

Rodriguez, a hard worker? Spare us, Hal. This is one of the all-time con men in sports history. Plenty of athletes deserve the honorific “hard worker.” The painfully insecure Rodriguez, who has repeatedly chosen to take shortcuts in his career, is not one of them.

 

Rodriguez was so desperate for a boost in the 2012 playoffs that he flew Bosch to Detroit. He and Bosch had code words for drugs: Rodriguez insisted on calling them “food” in their text messages. When Bosch slipped once, Rodriguez texted him back: “Not meds, dude. Food.”

 

That sounds like the ham-handed ploy of a Scooby-Doo villain, but Rodriguez was sophisticated enough to beat all the drug tests he took. That is part of the reason baseball investigated Bosch’s Biogenesis clinic so aggressively. It served as a warning to any other would-be cheaters: Even if you pass the tests, we will hunt you down and suspend you.

 

Now that Rodriguez has served his penalty, he faces the harsh judgment he said he welcomed in 2009.

 

Yankees fans largely cheered him in 2013, while he was denying wrongdoing while appealing what was first a 211-game ban. Chances are, those fans will cheer him again, simply because he is wearing their team’s uniform. Road fans will taunt Rodriguez, but that will be nothing new. Neither will the avalanche of attention from the news media, which is also familiar to the Yankees as a team.

 

“We’ll deal with it,” manager Joe Girardi said in November. “I know there’s going to be a lot of attention. But very similar to when he came back a couple of years ago, there was a lot of attention the first week and then everybody disperses and covers other stories around the country. We’ll have to deal with a lot in the beginning, but it’ll spread around the country. It always does.”

 

Girardi is probably right about that, and nobody seems to care much that the vibe around the team will be so polluted by the presence of baseball’s biggest disgrace. What matters to the Yankees now is the faint hope of saving money — and the perhaps even fainter hope that Rodriguez might actually be able to help the team win.

 

Even if he does, though, Rodriguez’s past decisions have put him in a box. How can he possibly play well without cheating when he has shown repeatedly that he believes he must cheat to succeed? If he somehow does play well, few will be gullible enough to believe it.

 

Rodriguez has 654 career home runs. His 660th, if it ever comes, will trigger a bonus of $6 million. So will career homers No. 714, 755, 762 and 763. The bonuses were supposedly included in his deal as part of a marketing arrangement between the player and the team to celebrate his pursuit of the career home run record. Really, though, it was a clever way to make an extra $30 million and push the total value of his contract over $300 million.

 

Knowing Rodriguez, he will feel no shame if he hits No. 660, which would tie Willie Mays for fourth all-time. Here’s hoping he does it on the road, so his magic moment is drowned out in boos — a full-throated verdict for a fraud who literally asked for it.

 

— Written by Tyler Kepner for Athlon Sports

Teaser:
Alex Rodriguez: A Con Man Returns to Baseball
Post date: Friday, February 27, 2015 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/ranking-college-footballs-rosters-2015
Body:

Recruiting rankings matter.

 

They are not a guarantee of future success but they are the foundation every national championship has been built upon. It takes great coaching, development and luck to win a title, but having better players is the only way to start.

 

In fact, the data backing up the value of recruiting rankings is impenetrable. For example, look at last year’s rosters. According to the rankings, three of the four best rosters in America belonged to Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State.

 

These rankings do not take into account attrition but that should be a constant for all teams and conferences equally. So strictly based on recruiting evaluations, here is how the rosters of the Power 5 conferences, American Athletic Conference, BYU and Boise State stack up against one another.

 

Ranking College Football's Rosters in 2015:

 

 Team'15'14'13'12'11RankW/LConf.
1.111111.048-628-4
2.3410324.448-728-4
3.732564.644-1027-5
4.5261476.841-1223-9
5.21112937.436-1624-12
6.6811857.640-1425-7
7.96131189.431-2115-17
8.21934119.629-2117-15
9.1017172410.031-2121-15
10.1310518911.037-15--
11.81815151013.242-1126-6
12.4724201413.822-277-25
13.151416121314.039-1326-10
14.1159163515.235-1717-16
15.162119131216.248-731-5
16.191620171617.640-1221-11
17.3820462618.831-2018-14
18.271214103319.228-2216-16
19.12197194520.435-1923-13
20.17158462021.226-2511-21
21.24135172223.442-1228-8
22.233023282125.025-2510-22
23.263718232425.631-2219-17
24.292721213626.833-2019-13
25.313522301727.037-1622-10
26.183825223427.432-2015-17
27.282928431929.428-2316-16
28.142430483129.430-2018-14
29.222537333229.842-1225-7
30.402832322531.435-1722-14
31.493229262331.819-3010-22
32.372627274632.640-1226-10
33.334146251832.626-2413-23
34.354839341534.216-339-27
35.414235293035.434-1722-14
36.392234503736.414-344-28
37.202340356536.634-1923-13
38.363631364937.628-2316-18
39.324736452937.839-1322-8
40.253943315739.036-1721-12
41.423144414841.230-2217-19
42.343338653941.839-1623-9
43.556050242743.232-2015-15
44.474526475644.227-2411-21
45.484341385244.420-3010-22
46.446347374046.227-2314-22
47.585358402847.427-2415-17
48.624433425847.825-2714-16
49.303459547249.826-2511-21
50.515142565551.014-346-26
51.636145444351.224-2615-21
52.457049643853.219-316-26
53.534652556253.626-2412-20
54.435476524453.833-2121-11
55.674053536856.214-347-23
56.544961745157.838-1427-9
57.466554586758.016-339-27
58.566755605358.243-1028-5
59.615766595459.425-2613-19
60.696863514759.637-1423-7
61.755548814260.210-382-34
62.505870626360.628-2415-17
63.645073616161.822-2811-19
64.605287714162.220-3012-20
65.715660675962.616-348-28
66.687668396463.010-394-32
67.526267666963.218-3111-21
68.657262497564.617-338-24
69.596664727066.234-18--
70.907456577370.034-1823-10
71.7059811015072.236-1625-7
72.797871686672.421-2915-17
73.917569797177.031-2022-10
74.737185738377.022-2612-19
75.727989927781.819-3013-19
76.9810565708083.615-339-21
77.928982838185.415-3510-22
78.1128079897987.824-2718-14

Conference Breakdowns:

 

No. 1 and it’s not even close

Fans in other regions don’t want to hear it, but the best rosters are in the SEC. It doesn’t mean Ohio State, USC, Texas or Florida State aren’t loaded (because they are). But no league can match the depth of talent of the SEC. Five of the top eight most-talented teams in the nation are from the SEC. Eight of the top 16 and 11 of the top 26 hail from the SEC. Vanderbilt is the least-talented team in the SEC (14th), but would rank eighth in the ACC, Big 12 or Big Ten. No other league has more than five teams ranked in the top 26.

 

SEC's average class ranking: 19.6

 

Defending champs

Ohio State tops the Big Ten charts by a wide margin with a greater disparity than any other league. Michigan is second in the Big Ten at No. 17 nationally (or ninth in the SEC). The Buckeyes would have the best roster in the Pac-12 and Big 12 as well. The message to the rest of the Big Ten is clear: Join the Buckeyes' recruiting party or get left in the dust. There is a reason OSU will likely enter 2015 as the No. 1 team in the nation.

 

Big Ten's average class ranking: 40.6

 

Pac-12 rising

The Pac-12 is the No. 2 league in the nation, closing the gap on the SEC over the last few seasons. It’s done so by hiring a great commissioner, adding a glut of great coaches and major financial investments in facilities and branding. It’s paid off on the field and on the trail. The Pac-12 trails only the SEC with five rosters ranked in the top 25. Additionally, three-fourths of the league is ranked 46th or higher — better than every other league not named the SEC.

 

Pac-12's average class ranking: 35.3

 

Dichotomy in the Big 12

The lack of elite-level talent in the Big 12 should be concerning. The league boasts only two teams (Texas, Oklahoma) inside the top 30 and is signing fewer top-100 players than any other league. The good news is the middle of the conference is fantastically competitive. The Big 12 has five teams ranked between 30th (Oklahoma State) and 38th (West Virginia). While this league may be lacking in elite, five-star talent, the heart of this league is extremely competitive.

 

Big 12's average class ranking: 37.4

 

What to make of the ACC?

Florida State is stacked and a proven commodity. Clemson has long been the second-most talented roster in this league. Miami has elite upside but is still mired in scandal/rebuilding mode. Otherwise, the better recruiting teams in this league have wildly underachieved of late (Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Virginia) and the last two Coastal Division champs have wildly overachieved based on talent (Duke, Georgia Tech). The middle tier of teams, which includes rising power Louisville, needs to elevate itself nationally if the ACC wants to regain national notoriety among its Power 5 brethren.

 

ACC's average class ranking: 40.1

Teaser:
Ranking College Football's Rosters for 2014
Post date: Friday, February 27, 2015 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: Louis Oosthuizen, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-29-louis-oosthuizen
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

No. 29: Louis Oosthuizen

Born: Oct. 19, 1982, Mossel Bay, South Africa | Career PGA Tour Wins: 1 (7 on European Tour)  | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 1 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $946,134 (101st) World Ranking: 44

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Oosthuizen is hard to put on this list, because the Tour’s ranges are littered with players whose veins are coursing with ambition, and sometimes one wonders if Louis has a pulse at all. And yet, one can not deny his obscene talent. Players, caddies and all who have a chance to witness his game in full flight are agog at what he can do with a ball, as we all were in watching him win the Open Championship by seven shots in 2010 with a driving exhibition that had longtime observers struggling for comparisons. His up-and-down game seems to rise with his interest, and with that being the case he ended 2014 on a high note. I would love to see him play with great intensity for an entire season, and if he did, he could easily do this year what Martin Kaymer did last year.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 25
Wins: 1

2014 Performance:
Masters - 25
U.S. Open - T40
British Open - T36
PGA Championship - T15

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - 2 (2012)
U.S. Open - T9 (2011)
British Open - 1 (2010)
PGA Championship - T15 (2014)
Top-10 Finishes: 3
Top-25 Finishes: 7
Missed Cuts: 12

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter.

 

Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, February 26, 2015 - 17:32
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-february-26-2015
Body:

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Feb. 26:

 

• Big news day for Ronda Rousey: She's embroiled in a verbal catfight with Arianny Celeste (pictured); she wants to win her upcoming bout so she can afford Pacquiao-Mayweather tickets; and she's rooting for Pacquiao cause he was nice to her.

 

Kevin Garnett got a nice welcome in his return to Minnesota.

 

• Sad: Josh Hamilton's apparent relapse. The booger sugar's bad news. 

 

Curt Schilling to Twitter creepers: Hands off my daughter.

 

• Picture this: LeBron James and LeBron James Jr., both in the NBA, circa 2024.

 

Here's video of Bill Belichick trying to figure out how to set the clock in his car.

 

Florida State's Xavier Rathan-Mayes scored 30 points in the final 4:39 of his team's loss to Miami. That's not a misprint.

 

Long read about the latest round of brouhahas over analytics.

 

• On top of everything else, Aaron Hernandez is a bad tipper. Or at least bad at math.

 

• Zach Randolph launched a halftime buzzer beater from beyond halfcourt.

 

-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, February 26, 2015 - 14:44
All taxonomy terms: College Football, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/sec-stadiums-enjoy-snow-day
Body:

A few SEC stadiums looked a little different on Thursday morning thanks to Mother Nature.

 

A late February snow storm provided a winter blast for a few SEC programs, which produced some cool images – and a snowball fight.

 

Here’s a look at a Snow Day in the SEC:

 

Tennessee

 

Arkansas

 

Ole Miss

Mississippi State

Teaser:
SEC Stadiums Enjoy a Snow Day
Post date: Thursday, February 26, 2015 - 14:41
Path: /nba/kevin-garnett%E2%80%99s-return-minnesota-was-very-exciting
Body:

Like Odysseus before him, Kevin Garnett has gone through a long, weird journey that’s led him back to the only true endpoint: home.

 

After a trade returned him to the Minnesota Timberwolves last Thursday, Garnett made his first appearance in his new/old jersey with the ‘Wolves last night, as they beat the Washington Wizards 97-77 at home.

 

A standing ovation and overall roaring performance from the crowd accompanied KG’s return. 

 

"I've been back before and I never paid attention to how much love is here still for me because I'm too busy being focused on the game," Garnett told reporters. "And tonight it was just over the top. I did not know the city missed me like this. I don't think that you can ever wish or ever think the city loves you like this. But to see it is reality and I'm very appreciative.”

 

His impact on the floor was minimal — despite starting, Garnett played only 19 minutes, scoring five points to go with eight rebounds. That’s about as much as the 38-year-old can offer now, statistically.

 

But there’s no mistaking the extra energy and inspiration his homecoming gave the team. A hungry young squad keyed by the burgeoning rookie superstar Andrew Wiggins completed a 35-point swing after a 15-point deficit early on, to wallop the slumping Wizards. Washington’s 77 points marked a season-best defensive outing from Minny.

 

"Tonight's event was bigger than the game," Minnesota coach Flip Saunders told reporters later. "It's about bringing a family member back home.”

 

The ceiling is high for Minnesota. Wiggins is surrounded by a lot of talented players his age, like Gorgui Dieng, Zach LaVine, Adreian Payne, Shabazz Muhammad and the recently overlooked Ricky Rubio. Let’s see if Garnett can help this roster mature quickly, and be more than the sum of its unseasoned parts.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, February 26, 2015 - 13:34
Path: /college-football/smu-unveils-new-blue-patriotic-helmet-2015
Body:

SMU made one of college football’s top offseason coaching moves when it hired Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris as its next head coach.

And Morris has wasted no time adding a new look to the Mustangs uniform assortment.

 

It’s uncertain when SMU will wear this helmet, but it’s certainly patriotic and a clean look for the Mustangs.

 

 

Teaser:
SMU Unveils New Blue Patriotic Helmet for 2015
Post date: Thursday, February 26, 2015 - 12:19
All taxonomy terms: Chicago Cubs, National League, NL Central, MLB, News
Path: /mlb/joe-maddons-arrival-signals-next-step-chicago-cubs-resurgence
Body:

The characters in that long-running Windy City disaster known as the Chicago Cubs’ World Series Disappointment are well known to all baseball fans. There is the Billy Goat. And Bartman. The Miracle Mets. Leon Durham and his “Gatorade glove,” not to mention a supporting cast both great (Ernie Banks) and small (Ernie Broglio, part of the infamous Lou Brock trade), all of whom have contributed to American sports’ most celebrated failure. If you don’t know that the Cubs haven’t won a title since 1908, you must be a soccer fan.

 

Over the past few months, there have been some names added to the marquee, and hope has returned to soon-to-be-renovated Wrigley Field. It actually began in 2011, when Red Sox architect Theo Epstein took over the team’s front office, spawning a small delirium among those who expected he could erase the goat’s curse, just as he had made the Bambino’s go away. Since the first three years of Epstein’s regime produced a record of 200–286, North Siders weren’t exactly camped out along the parade route in anticipation of a championship celebration.

 

That changed during the fall, when Epstein took advantage of a crack in Joe Maddon’s contract and extricated the Tampa Bay manager from baseball’s discount store. Maddon made friends immediately by promising to talk of contending in 2015 and even tried to curry favor with the media with an offer to buy a round of drinks. (Q: What are a reporter’s favorite two beers? A: Free and Free Lite.) Suddenly, that magic touch Epstein was supposed to possess looked a little more legitimate. Maddon’s ability to keep the Rays in contention — and reach the 2008 World Series — with an ever-changing roster of young players whose contracts never reached luxury levels would no doubt help the Cubs grow.

 

“What does it mean to have a dynamic manager?” Epstein asked at the November press conference announcing Maddon’s arrival. “It means that you have the potential to have an edge in everything related to the events on the field. Whether it’s preparation, decision-making in the game, knowing you can get the most out of your players, trying to ensure the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. All those things … it’s really nice to just have complete trust and faith that the person in charge of running that on-field operation is going to put you in the best possible position.”

 

That sounds pretty good, and in Maddon the Cubs have a manager with the kind of track record guaranteed to attract respect in the dugout and wins on the field. In December, the party continued when Chicago outbid Boston, among other suitors, for the opportunity to pay 31-year-old left-handed starting pitcher Jon Lester $155 million over the next six years. It was the kind of splashy signing the Cubs hadn’t had for a while, and Lester’s decision to join the team demonstrated the faith he had in the organization’s push for success. He wanted to play for Maddon. He wanted to be with a club that had an abundance of young talent. And he didn’t seem one bit worried that it has been 107 years since Chicago last won it all.

 

Lester has posted a career mark of 116–67 in nine seasons with Boston and the A’s. He’s a three-time All-Star who has won 15 or more games six times, and he gives Chicago the No. 1 starter it has lacked. More than that, his decision to be a Cub validates Epstein’s efforts and provides a big reason for the team’s fans to get excited. When he was introduced, Lester sounded as if helping the team win a championship would be as satisfying for him as it would be for those Chicagolanders who have experienced so much diamond anguish over the past century-plus.

 

“It’s one of those things you put at the top of the list,” Lester said, referring to winning a World Series title. “To be a part of something like that would truly be special and unbelievable. Obviously, that’s our goal, to do that.”

 

Athlon Sports' 2015 MLB Preview magazine covers the diamond and circles the bases with enough in-depth preseason analysis, predictions and other information to satisfy fans of the national pastime from the Bronx to the Bay and everywhere in between. Order your copy today!

Most baseball fans — even some on Chicago’s South Side — would agree that a Cubs World Series title would indeed be special. But after so many seasons, the unbelievable part is more appropriate. The franchise hasn’t just had a short run of misfortune, or even a long stretch of despair. This has been 107 years of misery. Sure, teams like the Mariners have never won a championship, but they have only been around since 1977. By then, the Cubs had endured 69 seasons of disappointment and at times comic failure. Their Wrigley home is “friendly,” but decades of day-only baseball might have contributed to the trouble. Then again, the Bartman playoff debacle took place at night. No one can pinpoint a reason for the failure; we just know the Cubs haven’t won it all for more than a century. Maddon and Lester are the biggest names on the latest edition trying to change that.

 

“Why wouldn’t you want to accept this challenge?” Maddon asked at his press conference. “In this city? In that ballpark? Under these circumstances, with this talent? It’s an extraordinary moment, not just in Cubs history, but also in baseball. This confluence of all these items coming together is pretty impressive.”

 

• • •

 

Maddon’s talk about contending for the NL Central title in 2015 is great Hot Stove fodder, and his track record and confidence have made the Cubs’ sales staff’s jobs much easier during the offseason. That’s what December and January are all about: the possibility of success. Maddon’s tenure in Tampa Bay gives him the bona fides in the dugout. But signing Lester and pitcher Jason Hammel — whom the Cubs traded away last year — and acquiring catcher Miguel Montero from the Diamondbacks aren’t necessarily enough to guarantee contention for a team that finished 2014 with a 73–89 record and was outscored by 93 runs.

 

That’s the reality behind the celebration. Chicago is headed in the right direction, but to herald the arrivals of Maddon and Lester as the final answers to a championship riddle simplifies the Cubs’ plight. There is really only one top-shelf hitter in the lineup — first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who hit .286 with 32 homers and a robust .527 slugging percentage (.913 OPS) last year. Fans may point to the excessive accumulation of talent in the Chicago farm system, and indeed Epstein has been hoarding young studs for future use or as trade bait. Names like Kris Bryant and Addison Russell may not mean a lot to fans in other cities, but Cubs supporters invoke them regularly as evidence of future success. The trouble is that they aren’t ready to be key pieces of a winner yet, and while Rizzo, Montero and shortstop Starlin Castro comprise a solid nucleus, too many of the others on the roster are not championship pieces. Even with Maddon in the dugout, it’s going to take some time.

 

“I like where we are as an organization,” Epstein says. “It’s nice to have an eye on competing, and we’re going to try to build it the right way and not force it or rush it. We’re mindful of the next offseason, as well as this offseason to find the right fits and the right moves and compete.”

 

If that doesn’t sound like a man who has job security, nothing does. Perhaps Epstein believes that if a city has waited more than a century for a championship, another few years won’t matter. But he is right that it’s important to build the right way. When quick fixes don’t deliver, a franchise is often left with a collection of underachieving veterans and no young talent on the horizon. By constructing a farm system that has been rated the majors’ best, Epstein has given the Cubs plenty of options. He can wait for the youngsters to blossom, or he can dish them for established stars. More likely, he will create a hybrid of new and old that is capable of winning for a while.

 

That’s why the Lester signing is so important. Chicago didn’t have to sacrifice any of its key pieces to get the top-of-rotation pitcher it needed. Lester has made at least 31 starts in each of the past seven seasons. Last year, he had a career-best 2.46 ERA with Boston and Oakland, and his 3.58 ERA in a career spent exclusively in the American League would indicate that the Cubs won big by signing Lester.

 

“This signing really marks a transition of sorts for the Cubs, the start of a period where we are clearly very serious about bringing a World Series to the Cubs and the people of Chicago,” Epstein said at Lester’s introductory press conference. “It’s a great day for our fans. They’ve been so patient with us, incredibly patient, over the past few years, and they truly deserve a pitcher and a person of this caliber to call their own.”

 

Epstein’s comments about a new chapter demonstrate that it is no longer time for assessing and accumulating potential future stars. This is his fourth year with the Cubs, and despite his praising the fans’ tolerance, it’s unlikely they will remain so docile if the next couple seasons don’t bring real progress. At a time when Pittsburgh can end a 21-year postseason drought with back-to-back playoff appearances, and Kansas City can reach the World Series, fans don’t want to hear too much talk about building, even if the Pirates and Royals did have long journeys to the postseason. There is a feeling that the NL Central is not as formidable as it once was, what with Ryan Braun’s post-suspension drop-off, Cincinnati’s pitching fire sale and St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina’s mortality-proving injury providing evidence that there is room to grow.

 

Make that win.

 

When Epstein took over the Cubs, he invited former Chicago pitcher Rick Sutcliffe, the 1984 NL Cy Young Award winner and three-time All-Star, to spring training and asked Sutcliffe to evaluate the team’s pitchers. Epstein probably wasn’t expecting a glowing report, but he couldn’t have been prepared for what he heard.

 

“I thought he would hit me when I told him the truth,” says Sutcliffe, who is now an ESPN analyst. “I told him that of the 60-some prospects I saw, there might have been three of them who could pitch in the majors.”

 

Sutcliffe has since seen the Cubs’ farm system develop into one of the best — if not the best — in the business. “I don’t think Theo would trade his farm system for anyone else’s,” Sutcliffe says. But someone has to take that talent and translate it to a successful team on the field. That’s where Maddon comes in. It’s not an understatement to say that he did some remarkable things in Tampa Bay. Five of his nine teams won 90 games or more, and four reached the postseason. And it was all accomplished without big-money stars or collections of proven veteran winners. Tampa Bay would hold on to its young talent as long as it could before free agency and then try to get something for it to avoid paying big money. Trying to win consistently under that constriction is not easy, yet Maddon did it.

 

“Being able to bring Joe Maddon is way above signing Jon Lester,” Sutcliffe says. “He has a proven ability to evaluate, and someone has to evaluate for the team to evolve. Nobody did it better or quicker than Joe Maddon did it in Tampa Bay.

 

“He has his five steps of success, and the fifth step is, ‘All I want to do is win.’”

 

Managers don’t hit or pitch. They don’t field or throw, but they are responsible for everything else on a team. During his time in Tampa, Maddon developed a reputation for knowing how to handle players, individually and as a group. He never showed up his team, and he always appeared — and by all accounts was — in control. Sutcliffe is right that adding Maddon is much bigger than signing Lester. First off, Lester only throws every fifth day. Maddon is in the dugout, clubhouse and office every game — and on off days, too. Secondly, without Maddon, there is no Lester in Chicago.

 

“When you make a statement like bringing in a Joe Maddon, that just adds to the decision-making,” Lester said about his choice to join the Cubs. “Makes it that much more interesting.”

 

Plenty of people in the Rays’ orbit groused about Maddon’s departure, since it came during a tiny window of availability. For many people, he was the franchise’s personality, with his northeastern Pennsylvania working-class sensibility, serial unflappability and ability to keep Tampa Bay in contention no matter how elastic his team’s roster was. He is now the Cubs’ face, and the team is elated that he has taken on that responsibility.

 

“Joe is a combination of just about everything we look for in a manager,” Epstein says. “Everyone associates him with new school, because they’ve used analytics in Tampa, and he’s so open-minded and progressive. But this is an old-school baseball guy with a wealth of knowledge. It’s hard to find that. It’s hard to find old-school and new-school in the same package.”

 

The Cubs have found that in Maddon. Now, all he has to do is lead the team to a World Series title.

 

What could be so hard about that?

 

— Written by Michael Bradley for Athlon Sports

Teaser:
Joe Maddon's Arrival Signals Next Step in Chicago Cubs' Resurgence
Post date: Thursday, February 26, 2015 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: Overtime, News
Path: /overtime/lebron-james-10-year-old-son-already-getting-college-scholarship-offers
Body:

LeBron James Jr. is already getting college scholarships offers...at the age of 10.

 

King James isn’t too thrilled about the early offers saying it should be a violation. Either way, LeBron James Jr. has some big shoes to fill, obviously. But that doesn't seem to intimate him.

 

Videos float around of LeBron Jr. making no-look passes and nailing threes, and don’t forget he is only 10.

 

Watch this highlight video of LeBron Jr. putting on a show at the John Lucas All-Star Weekend in New Orleans. 

 

Teaser:
LeBron James' 10-year-old Son Already Getting College Scholarship Offers
Post date: Thursday, February 26, 2015 - 11:29
All taxonomy terms: Overtime, News
Path: /overtime/nationals-second-baseman-espinosa-supporting-awesome-fu-manchu
Body:

Great facial hair in Major League Baseball is to be expected. All players reported to spring training over the last week, and one player’s facial hair stole the show.

 

Nationals' Danny Espinosa received all the attention for his impressively, thick Fu Manchu.

 

 

Some fans questioned how authentic the Fu Manchu really was on Twitter.

 

 

Also, Jayson Werth’s Beard showed excitement on Twitter too.

 

 

Whether Espinosa keeps the Fu Manchu or shaves it off before the regular season, baseball fans already found the best facial hair of 2015.

Teaser:
Nationals' Second baseman Espinosa Supporting Awesome Fu Manchu
Post date: Thursday, February 26, 2015 - 11:06
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-pre-spring-top-25-2015
Body:

The start of college football’s 2015 season is still a few months away, but spring practice is already here for a handful of teams. With each day of spring practice, the picture on every FBS team starts to clear, and the rankings and predictions for 2015 become more refined.

 

While many changes lie ahead as it relates to predictions and rankings for the upcoming season, it’s still never too early to think about them. With that in mind, Athlon Sports is here with its pre-spring top 25 for 2015. 

 

College Football's Pre-Spring Top 25 for 2015

 

1. Ohio State
Returning Starters:
Offense – 7, Defense – 7

It’s tough to go back-to-back as college football’s national champion, but the Buckeyes are in good shape to do so in 2015. Seven starters return on both sides of the ball, including standout defensive end Joey Bosa, linebacker Darron Lee, running back Ezekiel Elliott and three quarterbacks capable of contending for the Heisman Trophy. The biggest question mark in Columbus will be the development of the receiving corps and finding replacements on defense for cornerback Doran Grant and tackle Michael Bennett.

2. TCU
Returning Starters:
Offense – 10, Defense – 5

Gary Patterson’s team just missed the inaugural College Football Playoff in 2014, but the Horned Frogs are positioned to be one of the favorites in '15. Quarterback Trevone Boykin headlines an explosive offense, while the defense is reloading this spring with just five returning starters. The secondary and linebacking corps should get the most attention from Patterson in the spring, as standouts Paul Dawson (LB), Kevin White (CB) and safeties Chris Hackett and Sam Carter have departed Fort Worth.

3. Alabama
Returning Starters:
Offense – 2, Defense – 7

Talent certainly isn’t an issue in Tuscaloosa. Alabama has inked the No. 1 signing class in each of the last five years, but coach Nick Saban has plenty of work to do with just nine returning starters. While the defense has a few holes to address in the secondary, the offense is the biggest concern for Saban and coordinator Lane Kiffin. Is Jake Coker ready to assume the quarterback job? And will a receiver emerge to replace Amari Cooper?

4. Baylor
Returning Starters:
Offense – 8, Defense – 9

The Bears have won at least 10 games in three out of the last four seasons. Despite the departure of quarterback Bryce Petty, linebacker Bryce Hager and receiver Antwan Goodley, coach Art Briles’ team will be in the mix for a playoff spot. Whether it’s Seth Russell, Chris Johnson or Jarrett Stidham under center, the offense will be among the best in the nation. And the new starter at quarterback inherits a talented group of skill players and an offensive line that could be the best in the Big 12. Nine starters are back on defense, and this unit features talented playmakers like end Shawn Oakman, linebacker Taylor Young and tackle Andrew Billings.

5. Auburn
Returning Starters:
Offense – 5, Defense – 7

Alabama is a slight favorite to win the SEC West in 2015, but Auburn isn’t far behind. New quarterback Jeremy Johnson should push for All-SEC honors as one of the league’s top breakout players, and junior college transfer Jovon Robinson will be an impact option at running back. The addition of Will Muschamp as coordinator, along with the return of end Carl Lawson will help a defense that allowed 32.8 points per game in SEC contests last year.

6. Michigan State
Returning Starters:
Offense – 6, Defense – 7

Most of the offseason chatter in the Big Ten has focused on Ohio State’s bid to repeat as national champions, and Jim Harbaugh’s return to Michigan as head coach. While those storylines will be popular all offseason, Michigan State quietly goes about its business. The Spartans return 13 starters from a team that suffered its only defeats (two) last season against playoff teams (Oregon and Ohio State). Dantonio may lean on his offense a little more with coordinator Pat Narduzzi leaving to be the head coach at Pittsburgh. Quarterback Connor Cook returns, and four starters headline an offensive line that will be among the best in the Big Ten. End Shilique Calhoun is back for his senior year, but the defense has a few holes to address at linebacker and in the secondary.

7. USC
Returning Starters:
Offense – 7, Defense – 7

Can second-year coach Steve Sarkisian lead USC back into Pac-12 title contention in 2015? The pieces are certainly there for the Trojans to make their first appearance in the conference title game. Quarterback Cody Kessler loses top target Nelson Agholor and running back Buck Allen, but a young offensive line should continue to jell this offseason. USC is counting on its 2015 recruiting class to provide help at the skill positions, including running back Ronald Jones II and junior college recruits Isaac Whitney and De’Quan Hampton at receiver. Finding a replacement for end Leonard Williams and solidifying the secondary are two challenges for coordinator Justin Wilcox this spring.

8. Oregon
Returning Starters:
Offense – 7, Defense – 5

The Ducks are easily one of the most intriguing teams to watch this offseason. Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams is expected to replace Marcus Mariota at quarterback, but he won’t arrive on campus until this summer. While Mariota will certainly be missed, the Ducks can ease Adams into the starting job with a strong supporting cast. Replacing center Hroniss Grasu and left tackle Jake Fisher will be a challenge for coordinator Scott Frost. Oregon’s defense suffered a key loss at each level, but the biggest concern has to be up front after the early departure of end Arik Armstead.

 

9. Georgia
Returning Starters:
Offense – 6, Defense – 6

There’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding the teams in the SEC East next season. Tennessee and Florida should be better, but the Bulldogs have to begin spring practice as the favorite – almost by default. However, coach Mark Richt’s team certainly isn’t without question marks. There’s a quarterback competition set to begin in spring ball under new play-caller Brian Schottenheimer, and the receiving corps needs playmakers to emerge with the departure of Chris Conley and Michael Bennett. Six starters return from a defense that limited opponents to 24.4 points per game in SEC action last year, and this unit should take another step forward under coordinator Jeremy Pruitt in 2015.

 

10. Florida State
Returning Starters:
Offense – 3, Defense – 7
 

The Seminoles are 27-1 over the last two years, and even though there are some significant personnel issues to address, coach Jimbo Fisher’s team still has enough talent to push for 10 wins in 2015. The battle to replace quarterback Jameis Winston will be the top storyline to watch this offseason, but the defense loses a handful of standouts, including end Mario Edwards Jr., tackle Eddie Goldman and cornerbacks P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby. Sophomore running back Dalvin Cook should be one of the best in college football next year.


11. Clemson
Returning Starters:
Offense – 4, Defense – 2

 

It’s a toss up for the title of early favorite in the ACC Atlantic next season. Much like Florida State, Clemson has personnel concerns to address. However, there’s also a lot of talent returning to Death Valley for 2015. Quarterback Deshaun Watson headlines an explosive offense, which includes receiver Artavis Scott and running back Wayne Gallman. The departure of coordinator Chad Morris will have an impact on the offense, but Watson, Scott and Gallman should keep the unit performing at a high level. Bigger question marks exist on defense, as the Tigers were decimated with heavy departures in the front seven. How quickly can coordinator Brent Venables reload in the trenches?

 

12. Notre Dame

Returning Starters: Offense – 8, Defense – 10
 

The Fighting Irish have potential to climb even higher in the post-spring edition of the top 25. With 18 starters returning, a rising star at quarterback in Malik Zaire and better health on defense next year, Notre Dame could easily push for 10 wins in 2015. Zaire still needs to hold off Everett Golson for the starting job, but the sophomore should have the edge under center after a solid performance in the Music City Bowl. Scoring points shouldn’t be a problem with four starters back on the offensive line and a talented group of skill players, but the spring focus should be on a defense that allowed 29.2 points per game in 2014. Immediate help for coordinator Brian VanGorder should come in the form of cornerback KeiVarae Russell and end Ishaq Williams, both of whom were suspended in 2014.

 

13. LSU
Returning Starters:
Offense – 7, Defense – 6

If the Tigers develop their passing game this offseason, coach Les Miles' team certainly has the talent to win the SEC West in 2015. The battle between Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris could last into August, but the offense won’t stray too much from its plan of getting the ball to sophomore running back Leonard Fournette. New defensive coordinator Kevin Steele inherits six starters, and a secondary that should be among the best in the SEC. Can new line coach Ed Orgeron find the next standouts at defensive end this spring?

14. Ole Miss
Returning Starters:
Offense – 9, Defense – 7

The Rebels are trending up in coach Hugh Freeze’s fourth season. Over the last three seasons, Ole Miss has averaged a 13.3 finish in the national recruiting rankings. With better talent and roster depth, the Rebels are poised to push higher than last year’s 9-4 mark. Quarterback play will be under the microscope once again in 2015, as junior college recruit Chad Kelly headlines a three-way battle set to unfold in the spring. Regardless of which quarterback starts, the offense will benefit from a healthy Laquon Treadwell at receiver and an improving offensive line. Standout safety Cody Prewitt and cornerback Senquez Golson are the biggest losses for a defense that limited opponents to just 4.7 yards per play in 2014.

15. Georgia Tech
Returning Starters:
Offense – 7, Defense – 7

 

The Yellow Jackets emerged from a wide-open Coastal Division to finish 11-3 and claim the Orange Bowl title last season. Coach Paul Johnson has a few holes to fill this spring, but Georgia Tech should be the favorite in the Coastal in 2015. Quarterback Justin Thomas is back after a standout debut as the full-time starter, and seven starters return from a defense that forced 29 turnovers in 2014. The biggest question mark for Johnson will be finding new rushing options at the A-back and B-back positions.

 

16. Arizona State
Returning Starters:
Offense – 6, Defense – 7

Standout quarterback Taylor Kelly and receiver Jaelen Strong will be missed, but Arizona State still has enough pieces in place to contend in the Pac-12 South next year. New quarterback Mike Bercovici already has three starts under his belt, and the coaching staff hopes moving D.J. Foster to a running back/receiver role will help ease the loss of Strong. Coach Todd Graham likes an aggressive approach on defense, and this unit recorded 39 sacks last season. With nearly all of its key players returning, Arizona State’s defense should be able to cut its points (27.9) and yards per play allowed (5.6) from 2014.

17. UCLA
Returning Starters:
Offense – 10, Defense – 8

Quarterback play will be under the spotlight for coach Jim Mora this spring. Talented true freshman Josh Rosen enrolled in time to compete with Jerry Neuheisel this spring, but the battle may extend into the fall. Outside of replacing quarterback Brett Hundley, the Bruins return largely intact on offense. Running back Paul Perkins is back after a 1,575-yard season, and the line should be improved with the return of five starters. Three key defenders depart, but linebacker Myles Jack, end Eddie Vanderdoes and cornerback Ishmael Adams are plenty for new coordinator Tom Bradley to build around next season.

18. Arizona
Returning Starters:
Offense – 6, Defense – 5

 

While USC is considered the favorite in the Pac-12 South, very little separates the next tier between UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State. The Wildcats are the defending Pac-12 South champs and should be explosive on offense once again with the return of quarterback Anu Solomon and running back Nick Wilson. Replacing standout offensive tackles Mickey Baucus and Fabbians Ebbele, as well as continuing to improve on defense will be the spring storylines to watch in Tucson.

19. Wisconsin
Returning Starters:
Offense – 5, Defense – 7

New coach Paul Chryst inherits a team capable of winning the Big Ten’s West Division in 2015. Sure, running back Melvin Gordon will be missed, but Corey Clement figures to be Wisconsin's next standout ball carrier. This spring, the Badgers need to jumpstart their passing game and replace three key players on the offensive line. The return of coordinator Dave Aranda should keep Wisconsin’s defense near the top of the Big Ten. 

 

20. Missouri
Returning Starters:
Offense – 6, Defense – 6

The Tigers had a rocky start to their SEC experience, but since a 5-7 mark in 2012, coach Gary Pinkel’s team is 23-5 and has claimed back-to-back East Division titles. Pinkel and his staff will have plenty of personnel issues to address this spring, as both sides of the ball have key players to replace. On offense, quarterback Maty Mauk is looking to take the next step in his development, but the top three receivers – Bud Sasser, Jimmie Hunt and Darius White – are gone. New defensive coordinator Barry Odom was one of the top assistant hires in the SEC this offseason. Odom has few concerns in the back seven, but the line must replace ends Markus Golden and Shane Ray.    

 

21. Arkansas
Returning Starters:
Offense – 9, Defense – 5

The Razorbacks showed marked improvement in coach Bret Bielema’s second season. After finishing winless in SEC play in 2013, Arkansas won two conference games and lost four others by a touchdown or less. This team should take another step forward in the win column in 2015, especially if quarterback Brandon Allen and the receiving corps develops under new play-caller Dan Enos. And the running back duo of Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams will be among the nation’s best. The defense took a step forward under coordinator Robb Smith in the second half of 2014, but defensive end Trey Flowers, tackle Darius Philon and tackle Martrell Spaight will be missed.

22. Texas A&M
Returning Starters:
Offense – 6, Defense – 6

There’s little doubt Texas A&M will field one of the SEC’s best offenses in 2015. Quarterback Kyle Allen will be pushed by talented freshman Kyler Murray, but the Aggies have some of the top skill talent in the conference. But for this program to take the next step, the defense has to improve. That’s exactly what new coordinator John Chavis was brought in to do. Chavis is regarded as one of the top coordinators in college football and inherits a defense that returns rising star Myles Garrett at defensive end, linebacker Otaro Alaka and safety Armani Watts.

 

23. Oklahoma
Returning Starters:
Offense – 5, Defense – 6

Coach Bob Stoops certainly isn’t sitting idle after last year’s 8-5 record. The Sooners made staff changes after the disappointing 2014 season, as Lincoln Riley was hired from East Carolina to call the plays, Kerry Cooks was brought aboard from Notre Dame to coach defensive backs, Dennis Simmons from Washington State to coach outside receivers, and Diron Reynolds arrives from Stanford to work with the defensive line. The revamped staff inherits plenty to work with in terms of personnel, but Riley has the biggest challenge in trying to find an answer at quarterback.

24. Mississippi State

Returning Starters: Offense – 4, Defense – 3

 

Dan Mullen has clearly elevated the program, and the Bulldogs should be able to reload at a faster level than in previous years thanks to three top-25 recruiting classes over the last four seasons. Quarterback Dak Prescott’s return was huge for a team that returns just seven starters in 2015. The Bulldogs must replace running back Josh Robinson, three starters on the offensive line, receiver Jameon Lewis and key defenders in Benardrick McKinney (LB), Preston Smith (DE) and P.J. Jones (DT). The SEC West is brutal but having a quarterback like Prescott will help Mullen rebuild in 2015.

 

25. Oklahoma State
Returning Starters:
Offense - 10, Defense - 7

 

Mike Gundy’s team found a spark at the end of the 2014 season with the emergence of quarterback Mason Rudolph. Over the final three games, the true freshman had six touchdown passes and completed 65.4 percent of his attempts in the bowl win over Washington. Rudolph should be in the mix for All-Big 12 honors in 2015, but the Cowboys also need to solidify the offensive line and find a consistent option at running back. The defense returns seven starters, including end Emmanuel Ogbah (11 sacks in 2014), cornerback Kevin Peterson and linebacker Ryan Simmons.

 

Teams to Watch (alphabetical order): Boise State, BYU, Florida, Louisville, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Penn State, Stanford, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia Tech

Teaser:
College Football's Pre-Spring Top 25 for 2015
Post date: Thursday, February 26, 2015 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/nbpa-director-michele-roberts-thinks-media-access-should-be-reduced
Body:

Chris Paul is the president of the NBA Players Association — better known as the union — and LeBron James was recently named the vice president.

 

But the fearless leader of the organization is undoubtedly 58-year-old lawyer Michele Roberts, who continued to prove herself as a hard-liner in a recent interview with ESPN W’s Kate Fagan. The most telling piece of Fagan’s story was Roberts’ thoughts on media availability.

 

"Most of the time I go to the locker room, the players are there and there are like eight or nine reporters just standing there, just staring at them," Roberts said to Fagan. "And I think to myself, 'OK, so this is media availability?' If you don't have a f---ing question, leave, because it's an incredible invasion of privacy. It's a tremendous commitment that we've made to the media — are there ways we can tone it down? Of course. It's very dangerous to suggest any limitation on media's access to players, but let's be real about some of this stuff.

 

"I've asked about a couple of these guys, 'Does he ask you a question?' 'Nah, he just stands there.' And when I go in there to talk to the guys, I see them trying to listen to my conversation, and I don't think that's the point of media availability. If nothing else, I would like to have a rule imposed, 'If you have a question, ask it; if you don't, leave.' Sometimes, they're waiting for the marquee players. I get that, but there is so much standing around."

 

This one’s a prickly pear. The press has classically been an instrumental part of the NBA product, but revolutions in technology and media have made it increasingly easier for players to reach their fans directly — be it through social media or otherwise. Reporters who used to be essential middlemen are now fighting a difficult battle, in which it’s harder and harder to prove that their place in the locker room results in salient material.

 

For what it’s worth, I’ve been in a number of NBA locker rooms, a number of times, and yes: it’s awkward. Gigantic men covering themselves with puny towels before and after showers — and before they do their very difficult jobs — are not the best conversationalists, and quote-hungry reporters don’t tend to ask questions that exactly ease the tension of the situation.

 

Roberts, though, is simply playing a form of hardball that looks likely to be a trend for her in this new role. While the current system of media availability leaves some emotional comfort to be desired, and while it could very well be wise to reform the existing format, there are definitely more important fights to be fought in the name of players — like the probably impending work bargaining in 2017.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, February 26, 2015 - 10:18
Path: /college-football/ranking-big-12-football-rosters-2015
Body:

Recruiting rankings matter.

 

They are not a guarantee of future success but they are the foundation every national championship has been built upon. It takes great coaching, development and luck to win a title, but having better players is the only way to start.

 

In fact, the data backing up the value of recruiting rankings is impenetrable. For example, look at last year’s rosters. According to the rankings, three of the four best rosters in America belonged to Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State.

 

These rankings do not take into account attrition but that should be a constant for all teams and conferences equally. So strictly based on recruiting evaluations from 247Sports, here is how the rosters in the Big 12 rank.

 

Ranking College Football's Rosters in 2015:

 

 Team'15'14'13'12'11RankW/LConf.
1.1017172410.031-2121-15
2.151416121314.039-1326-10
3.402832322531.435-1722-14
4.372627274632.640-1226-10
5.334146251832.626-2413-23
6.414235293035.434-1722-14
7.363631364937.628-2316-18
8.544961745157.838-1427-9
9.755548814260.210-382-34
10.715660675962.616-348-28

 

Optimism in Austin

Texas regained its toughness under Charlie Strong in year one. On the recruiting trail, it got its mojo back by winning some key battles against the SEC, namely Texas A&M, and the rest of the Big 12. The Horns had the best class in the Big 12 in 2015 and boast the best roster in the league heading into the summer. The Horns are ninth nationally in terms of talent after sneaking back into the top 10 for the first time since the 2012 cycle. Oklahoma is second in the conference and ranks 13th nationally.

 

Big 12 concerns

The stats cannot be mistaken. The Big 12 has a recruiting issue. Texas and Oklahoma are 1-2 in talent in the Big 12 but would be sixth and eighth in the SEC. No other Big 12 team is ranked inside the top 30, the league isn’t sending players to the NFL and isn’t landing as many five-star or top-100 recruits as it’s accustomed to. Oklahoma used to land top-five classes and now they enter the season without a top-10 class on its roster. The Sooners' average rank is 14.0 nationally — which is good enough to compete for national titles (Oregon ranks 15th) but the margin for error is now razor thin for Stoops and company.

 

Power in the middle

The good news for fans in the Big 12 is the middle of the league. It’s extremely competitive and entertaining, and the talent levels indicate nothing will change. Oklahoma State (30th), Baylor (32nd), Texas Tech (33rd), TCU (35th) and West Virginia (38th) have virtually identical levels of talent nationally and their games have been extremely fun to watch on the field. With the fourth-ranked roster in the league, however, questions about Baylor’s staying power after two championships are warranted. Can the sixth-ranked roster (TCU) break through and win a league title? Either way, it’s going to be fun to watch once again.

 

More with less

The Big 12’s “more with less” award goes to Bill Snyder every year and 2015 won’t be any different. Kansas State ranked 56th nationally in terms of talent with an average class ranking of 57.8. According to the rankings, Indiana, Oregon State, Illinois, Northwestern and South Florida have better rosters than the Wildcats. And Snyder couldn’t care less. Like Gary Pinkel in the SEC or Jerry Kill in the Big Ten, Snyder continues to work minor miracles with his personnel.

Teaser:
Ranking the Big 12 Football Rosters for 2015
Post date: Thursday, February 26, 2015 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/ranking-big-tens-football-rosters-2015
Body:

Recruiting rankings matter.

 

They are not a guarantee of future success but they are the foundation every national championship has been built upon. It takes great coaching, development and luck to win a title, but having better players is the only way to start.

 

In fact, the data backing up the value of recruiting rankings is impenetrable. For example, look at last year’s rosters. According to the rankings, three of the four best rosters in America belonged to Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State.

 

These rankings do not take into account attrition but that should be a constant for all teams and conferences equally. So strictly based on recruiting evaluations from 247Sports, here is how the rosters in the Big Ten rank.

 

Ranking College Football's Rosters in 2015:

 

  '15'14'13'12'11RankW/LConf.
1.732564.644-1027-5
2.3820462618.831-2018-14
3.313522301727.037-1622-10
4.142430483129.430-2018-14
5.222537333229.842-1225-7
6.343338653941.839-1623-9
7.556050242743.232-2015-15
8.484341385244.420-3010-22
9.585358402847.427-2415-17
10.515142565551.014-346-26
11.457049643853.219-316-26
12.534652556253.626-2412-20
13.615766595459.425-2613-19
14.657262497564.617-338-24

 

Simply the best

There is a reason the Buckeyes are entering 2015 as the defending national champions. Urban Meyer promised an SEC blueprint and delivered ahead of schedule by out-recruiting the Big Ten by leaps and bounds. Ohio State is 24-0 over the last three years in league play because it has the best players. (Yes, we know coaching and development counts too.) This is the third-best roster in the nation entering ’15.

 

Harbaugh has work to do

Michigan is accustomed to competing for top-10 classes, Big Ten championships, Rose Bowls and even national titles. But that won’t happen with the 17th-ranked class nationally. Jim Harbaugh needs to get the Wolverines back into the top 10 when it comes to recruiting if the Maize and Blue want to knock off “Ohio” and get back into the national conversation. That said, this is still clearly the No. 2 roster in the league so the turnaround shouldn’t take long at all.

 

Mike Riley’s resources

Nebraska has as much support and tradition as any football program in the nation. Certainly, Mike Riley will have more resources at his disposal than he knows what do with after coaching at Oregon State for more than a decade. That said, Nebraska has seen its stock on the recruiting trail drop over the last 15 years and Riley is charged with reenergizing the brand. With the third-best roster in the league and the best in the West, winning a division title is the minimum expectation every single season in Lincoln.

 

Sparty starting to build

It has taken Mark Dantonio time to build a champion in East Lansing but after four or five years of elite football, the Spartans are starting to see their efforts pay off on the recruiting trail. This is a top 30 roster nationally and has closed the gap on Penn State, Nebraska and Michigan in terms of star power. The ’15 class was the best of the Dantonio era and his classes have improved three years running. The issue is the balance of power in the league, as four of the top five rosters in the league are in the East Division.

 

Eastern expansion

The reasons the Big Ten added Maryland and Rutgers have been covered ad nauseam. But one that should have fans excited is that both should be able to compete from a talent standpoint. The middle tier of talent in the B1G is Wisconsin, Rutgers, Maryland and Iowa. Adding the Terps and Knights has bolstered the middle of the league and both appear to have postseason staying power — as long as they get coaching. As a side effect, Kirk Ferentz finds his roster slipping further and further down the league’s hierarchy, now ranked ninth in the conference.

 

More with less

Jerry Kill wins the “more with less” award in the Big Ten as he clearly gets more out of his talent than anyone else in the league. With the 13th-best roster in the league, Kill had the Gophers a couple of touchdowns away from a division title and playing in the Big Ten Championship Game. Like Bill Snyder in the Big 12 or Gary Pinkel in the SEC, Kill works minor miracles in the Big Ten.

 

Teaser:
Ranking the Big Ten's Football Rosters for 2015
Post date: Thursday, February 26, 2015 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: Charl Schwartzel, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-30-charl-schwartzel
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

No. 30: Charl Schwartzel

Born: Aug. 31, 1984, Johannesburg, South Africa | Career PGA Tour Wins: 1 (9 on European Tour)  | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 1 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $1,997,482 (44th) World Ranking: 29

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Schwartzel has been ranked as high as sixth in the world and has won events overseas by 12, 11 and six shots, and in 2011 he won The Masters by birdieing the final four holes, which was an unprecedented accomplishment in the 75-year history of that tournament. With one of the most beautiful swings in the game, it is a wonder that he doesn’t win more often, The Masters being his lone PGA Tour victory, especially given that his Sunday scoring average was the lowest on tour for 2014. Looking closer though, it is clear that he plays his best golf, more often than not, when all chance of winning is gone; only one time on the PGA Tour in the last two years has he bettered his position on the final day of an event when he was in the top ten after 54 holes. His fourth-round 78 at the 2013 US Open, when he was just one off the pace starting the day, is a prime example. At 30 years old he has plenty of time to add to his already enviable record, but to do so he needs play like the man who stole The Masters from so many potential winners four years ago.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 32
Wins: 1

2014 Performance:
Masters - Cut
U.S. Open - Cut
British Open - T7
PGA Championship - T15

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - 1 (2011)
U.S. Open - T9 (2011)
British Open - T7 (2014)
PGA Championship - T12 (2011)
Top-10 Finishes: 3
Top-25 Finishes: 13
Missed Cuts: 11

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter.

 

Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, February 25, 2015 - 16:14
All taxonomy terms: National League, MLB, News
Path: /mlb/five-national-league-players-new-teams-watch-2015
Body:

Fear not baseball fans — Sunshine and warmer weather are on their way, and spring training is knocking on Old Man Winter’s door. Thankfully, it is almost time for baseball, as camps are in full gear in Arizona and Florida.

 

Many players are getting acclimated to new spring training surroundings, as these past few months proved to be busy for general managers, agents and players alike. Between blockbuster trades and free agents signing robust contracts with new teams, there has been no lack of player movement this offseason.

 

Lucky for you, Athlon Sports has kept a close watch on the MLB Hot Stove while you’ve been shoveling snow. So get your pencils and scorebooks ready as we list the Five National League Players on New Teams to Watch in 2015.

 

Max Scherzer, SP, Washington Nationals

It seemed like a foregone conclusion that the 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner was going to test the free agent market this offseason after Scherzer turned down a six-year, $144 million contract offer from Detroit last March. Instead of re-signing with the Tigers and fighting for a fifth straight AL Central division title, Scherzer headed to the National League and Capitol Hill, as he penned a seven-year deal worth approximately $210 million with Washington.

 

Last season the Nationals were the poplar pick to win the NL pennant, and rest assured they will be even more favored in 2015 with the addition of Scherzer. The Nats’ 2014 rotation was special, but this season has the opportunity to be historic. Manager Matt Williams’ starting five will feature (in some order) Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, Gio Gonzalez and Doug Fister, a teammate of Scherzer’s on the Tigers in 2011-13. While some in-season tinkering cannot be ruled out, if this quintet lives up to lofty expectations, it could be a historic season on the mound for the Nationals. And hopefully, it also will produce winning results in October.

 

With the Braves in full-on rebuilding mode and the Mets and Marlins considered fringe postseason contenders, the NL East is the Nationals’ to lose, and all eyes will be fully fixed on their new $210 million dollar ace.

 

Matt Kemp, OF, San Diego Padres

Four years ago Matt Kemp was the darling of MLB after he fell one home run short of the elusive 40/40 club and posted a slash line of .324/.399/.586 along with 126 RBIs, 115 runs, 195 hits, 353 total bases, an OPS of .986 and an OPS+ of 172. Sadly, Kemp fell short in the MVP voting to Ryan Braun, who was suspended 65 games in 2013 for his part in the Biogenesis scandal.

 

What’s even more despairing is that Kemp has never been the same since that 2011 season. Kemp, who is easily one of the most genuine and likable guys in sports today, was robbed of his prime due to constant, nagging injuries. Kemp has yet to top 30 homers, 100 RBIs, or 10 stolen bases since his near-MVP campaign, and baseball has been lesser for it.

 

In 2014, Kemp had a resurgence. He appeared in 150 games for the Dodgers, hitting .287/.346/.506 with 25 homers, 89 RBIs and 38 doubles. The bat was back for Kemp, but the range and defensive prowess in the outfield and speed on the base paths weren’t the same. The recipient of two Gold Gloves as a center fielder, Kemp spent most of his time manning the corner outfield spots last season, which led to noticeable frustration with manager Don Mattingly. 

 

Kemp is now 30, suffering from arthritis in both hips, and is just one of three brand-new outfielders San Diego acquired in the offseason, along with Wil Myers and Justin Upton. Kemp swears his hips won’t be a nuisance, that he’s happy in his new home, and ready for a full slate in 2015. Kemp and the Padres might be the biggest question marks coming into spring training. Most pundits don't know what to make of new Padres GM A.J. Preller’s extensive roster makeover, but here’s hoping that we witness the next chapter of the Matt Kemp Comeback that began in 2014. Baseball is better when Kemp is at his best.

 

Wil Myers, OF, San Diego Padres

Speaking of the Padres’ outfield…It’s funny how baseball works itself out. In December 2012 Myers, a third-round draft pick by Kansas City, was shipped to Tampa Bay for pitchers Wade Davis and James Shields. Last season, Shields and Davis helped the Royals reach their first World Series since 1985, while Myers was named the AL Rookie of the Year in 2013 when he hit .293/.354/.478 with 13 homers, 23 doubles and an OPS of .831 in just 88 games for the Rays.

 

After a disastrous 2014 in which Myers hit just .222 in 87 games due to a broken wrist, the Rays shipped him to San Diego in December in a three-team trade that also involved the Nationals. The funny thing is, Shields also wound up in a Padres uniform after signing a four-year, $75 million free-agent contract a few weeks ago. See, baseball is a funny game.

 

Myers, like fellow new teammate Matt Kemp, is looking for somewhat of a resurrection on the West Coast. Myers has already been named the starting center fielder by skipper Bud Black, and will find a spot somewhere in the heart of the lineup. Perhaps the opportunity of a fresh start in San Diego will be welcomed by Myers, who was tabbed as a “can’t miss” prospect.  However, the increased expectations of the new-look Padres could be a bit cumbersome for a player who just turned 24 in December and has yet to play a full season in the majors.

 

Jon Lester, SP, Chicago Cubs

As if breaking a 107-year old curse wasn’t stressful enough, tack on the pressure of $155 million over six seasons for a 31-year old pitcher. No big deal, right? Oh, don’t forget the eyes of the entire baseball world are upon Wrigley Field, as some publications are picking the Cubs as a World Series contender. Not to mention Chicago is home to one of the most loyal, obsessed, and passionate fan bases in all of sports. No pressure, Mr. Lester — no pressure at all.

 

Theo Epstein and the Cubs’ brass, and their rabid fans, are ready to start winning, and start winning now. The signing of one of the most reliable pitchers in baseball over the past decade is proof of this win-now mindset. After three seasons of sub-.500 baseball, prospect collecting, sign-and-trades, and big contract expulsion, the Cubs finally made their power play to sign Lester, the ace they so desperately needed. But there are still too many questions for this team before we anoint them as World Series-bound.

 

The Cubs know what they’ve got in Lester, a pure professional who has improved with age, who commands the strike zone as well as any pitcher, and delivers 200-plus innings of work.

 

Lester isn’t the issue. This issue is most of this Cubs lineup is still wildly unproven. Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Arismendy Alcantara, Addison Russell, and Kris Bryant are all fantastic prospects but none of them have a full season of big-league ball on their resumes. Heck, Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro are considered cornerstones, but are just 25 and 24 years old, respectively. That is a lot of pressure to put on a team built with kids in their early 20s.

 

The only way this contract proves to be a winner is if the Cubs win —Duh, right? But if Lester lights up the NL only to see the offense falter, the deal is a wash. If the Cubs’ young lineup lives up to the hype, but it’s Lester who doesn’t deliver over time, the deal will be regarded as too pricey for the results.

 

The only way this deal works is by winning an NL pennant, which seems plausible. But who are we kidding — it’s the Cubs we’re talking about. No matter the outcome of the 2015 season, the signing of Lester will be the signature of the Epstein regime in Chicago, for better or worse.

 

Jason Heyward, OF, St. Louis Cardinals

Remember when Heyward homered in his first big league at-bat off of Carlos Zambrano in 2010? Remember how quickly Heyward was anointed as the next big thing? That seems so long ago…

 

Since 2010, when Heyward finished second in NL Rookie of the Year voting, his inaugural batting average of .277 hasn't gotten higher than .271. Heyward’s power numbers are also a thing of the past, not hitting more than 15 homers or driving in 70 runs or more in three of the past four seasons. In his career, Heyward has never slugged over .500.

 

Maybe it’s time to simply accept that Heyward isn’t the big bat we all thought he might turn into. He did show flashes of what could be in 2012 when he hit 27 homers and drove in 82 runs, but has totaled just 25 homers and 96 RBIs the last two seasons.

 

The falling numbers and the Braves’ rebuild made Heyward expendable to the new Atlanta brass. After the death of elite prospect Oscar Taveras, the Cardinals needed outfield help, and Hayward became a perfect trade target — great glove with possible offensive upside.

 

Heyward, a first-round pick in 2007 and two-time Gold Glove winner, will only strengthen what already is one of the NL’s better defensive teams. If Heyward can tap into what worked at the plate in 2010 and ‘12, that would be a much-needed bonus for a Cardinals offense that lacked consistent run-producers a season ago.

 

Heyward’s glove has never been a question, which begs another question — where does Heyward’s bat fit in this lineup? Lead off? Second? Fifth? Seventh?

 

Heyward is just 25 years young, yet this will be his sixth season in The Show, so he’s no longer a kid in baseball time. The Cardinals, ripe with experienced veterans, are looking for Heyward to be the player that he was projected to be just a few seasons ago. How will Heyward respond in the baseball-crazed city of St. Louis?


- By Jake Rose

Teaser:
Five National League Players on New Teams to Watch in 2015
Post date: Wednesday, February 25, 2015 - 16:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/why-nc-state-will-be-ncaa-tournament-spoiler
Body:

Selection Sunday may yet be a dramatic day for NC State. Yet if and when the Wolfpack get into the field, NC State may be one of the most dangerous teams in the bottom half of the bracket.

 

A team that lacked back-to-back wins for more than two months is suddenly riding a three-game win streak. The latest was NC State’s biggest statement of the season as the Wolfpack defeated North Carolina 58-46 for the Pack’s first win in Chapel Hill since 2003.

 

The uneven resume — including losses to Wofford, Clemson and Wake Forest — means NC State will be in the bottom half of the bracket. But wins over teams like Duke, Louisville and now North Carolina signal a team solid enough on a good day to beat some of the nation’s best.

 

If you’re a fan of a top-five or -six seed, here’s why you don’t want your team to have any part of NC State.

 

Cat Barber is the Cat Daddy

 

No one has been more instrumental to NC State’s turnaround than Anthony “Cat” Barber, Mark Gottfried’s top recruit from the 2013 class.

 

During the last six games, he’s averaged 18 points per game. He’s taking more shots. He’s getting to the free throw line (10-of-13 against Louisville alone) and he’s become a more efficient distributor.

 

Compare his last six games to his first 21 this season:

 

Cat BarberPPGFGMFGAFG%A/TO
Last six games186.513.847.03.1
First 21 games103.27.444.21.72

And about that nickname? Does Gottfried call him Anthony or his childhood nickname Cat?

 

“I call him the Cat Daddy, and I want him to play like the Cat Daddy,” Gottfried said during the ACC conference call last week. “I think there's been times where he's tried so hard to run a team and get our team into the offense that he hasn't utilized that great speed and quickness that he has. Lately my message to him has been to turn it loose, cut it loose, let's go.”

 

BeeJay Anya is a rim protector

 

Barber’s 2013 classmate has been a fan favorite through his two seasons, but like Barber, he’s just now heating up. The 6-9 forward has 17 blocked shots in his last four games.

 

His six blocked shots contributed to an overwhelming defensive effort against North Carolina, which averaged just 0.77 points per possession against the Wolfpack. The Tar Heels make their living in the lane, but scored just 22 points in the paint — six in the first half — against NC State.

 

Trevor Lacey is a rock

 

The Alabama transfer has scored precisely 14 points in each of his last four games and 19 points in each of the two before that. That’s pretty remarkable when you think about it.

 

The larger point, though, is that Gottfried has a veteran forward on whom he can rely to score about 15 points in every game. Only two teams since December have held Lacey to fewer than 10 points, and they’re both low-possession, defensive-minded teams — Virginia and Cincinnati.

 

History may be on Gottfried’s side

 

While NC State and Gottfried have been part of some epic flameouts — a team ranked sixth in the preseason in 2012-13 lost as a No. 8 seed, for starters — the Wolfpack are four years removed from a surprise Sweet 16 run.

 

NC State went to the NCAA Tournament as a No. 11 seed in 2012 and upset No. 6 San Diego State and No. 3 Georgetown before giving No. 2 Kansas all it could handle in a 60-58 Sweet 16 loss.

 

At Alabama, Gottfried was just as erratic in the tournament. In 2003, he led a team that was ranked No. 1 in December but ended up losing as a No. 10 seed to Indiana in the first round. A year later, he presided over a team that went 8-8 in the SEC yet upset No. 1 seed Stanford and No. 5 Syracuse on the way to the Elite Eight.

Teaser:
Why NC State Will be an NCAA Tournament Spoiler
Post date: Wednesday, February 25, 2015 - 14:26
Path: /nba/russell-westbrook-surging-mvp-conversation
Body:

Not since the 1950’s has the NBA seen a team have consecutive MVP campaigns from two different players. Bob Cousy won it for the Boston Celtics in 1957, followed by Bill Russell in 1958.

 

The Oklahoma City Thunder currently look as close to matching that feat as anyone has since. With reigning MVP Kevin Durant sidelined about half of the year with foot issues, point guard Russell Westbrook has all but put the team on his back with his terrific play.

 

Westbrook has missed a number of games himself — 14, to be exact — or else he’d be mentioned as frequently as Steph Curry and ex-teammate James Harden in the MVP conversation. Russell’s been one of the very best players around this year — scoring at will, distributing with as much poise as ever, and affecting offenses from all angles with his relentless defensive athleticism.

 

Only Anthony Davis has a higher player efficiency rating than Westbrook’s 29.25 mark, as No. 0 is also second in the NBA in scoring — behind only Harden — fifth in assists, second in steals and first among fellow point guards in rebounding.

 

And, as has long been the case, Westbrook’s signature emotional style has keyed his team. The Thunder rally around his ceaseless energy and swagger, and perhaps no superstar can say they do a better job of leading by example in the intensity department.

 

The missing games and the Thunder’s relatively low .554 winning percentage are the best arguments against Westbrook’s candidacy. But if Durant continues to miss time and OKC keeps up their current pace (they’ve won eight of their last ten) with Westbrook’s excellence at the lead, more heads will start turning.

 

Whether or not Russell grabs the coveted trophy, though, he’s certainly playing at a level that has the rest of the league on edge as we approach the postseason.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, February 25, 2015 - 14:04
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Basketball, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac 12, SEC, News
Path: /college-basketball/court-storming-issue-resolved-college-basketball-rules-follow
Body:

If you hate court storming, you are labeled as a grumpy old person who wants to rip the joy from the youth of America.

 

If you love court storming, you have a blatant disregard for human safety and probably don’t understand that actions have consequences.

 

As it does every spring, storming the court has once again become a topic of debate. Kansas State fans mobbed the floor of the Octagon of Doom after beating archrival Kansas. Maryland students stormed the court after knocking off Wisconsin on Tuesday night. And more are sure to follow as conference tournaments begin.

 

A student’s shoulder made contact with a Jayhawk player but nothing really of note happened in either case and KSU has apologized. It hasn’t stopped sports talk radio, columnists and the Twittersphere from spewing venom from one side of the isle to the other concerning the issue.

 

Can’t we all just get along? In our seats and on the court?

 

There are plenty of incidents that indicate mixing fans with the people they adore (or hate) isn’t a good idea. It’s why fans are treated so abruptly when they decide to run onto the gridiron, diamond or pitch. This is especially true for drunken young people.

 

However, 99.9 percent of the time in college basketball, these court stormings are totally harmless.

 

So in an effort to meld the old man on the porch with the young whippersnapper in the stands, I’ve created strict guidelines for storming one’s court. From here, it’s on the teams and arenas to maintain order. Penalties should be harsh.

 

Court Storming Rules and Restrictions

The following rules and restrictions indicate when court storming is not allowed.

 

1. College hoops bluebloods

Rule No. 1 is pretty straightforward. College basketball’s bluebloods are NEVER allowed to storm a court in any circumstance, so act like you’ve been there before Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, Kansas, UCLA, Indiana and Syracuse. This list can change from over time but these programs are basically never allowed to rush the hardwood. Ever.

 

2. Teams ranked in the top 15

If your favorite team is ranked in the top 15, they have no business storming the court. In general, Top 15 teams are No. 4 seeds or better in the NCAA Tournament and those fans have no business streaming out onto the floor after a win.

 

3. Teams ranked higher than the opponent

If your favorite team is ranked higher in the polls or standings than the opponent, invading the court isn’t allowed or appropriate.

 

4. Teams that are favored

If your favorite team is favored in the game in question, why would you have any business running out onto the hardwood after a win? You were supposed to win the game in the first place. C'mon.

 

5. Recent national champions

If your favorite team has won a national title in the last 10-15 years, then storming the court shall not be permitted. National championships indicate the best of the best, so while your team may not be a “blueblood,” it’s still one of the best programs in the nation currently. Therefore, nix the court-storm. Looking at you Louisville, UConn, Michigan State, Maryland and Florida (whose fans can't really storm the court anyway).

 

6. During the NIT

This goes for any tournament game of any kind really — preseason or post — but is only possible in the NIT since games are played on home courts. This is the Clemson Rule after the silly Tigers rushed the floor after an NIT win a few years ago. 

 

Court storming is a generally a fun and harmless expression of joy. So let’s not dilute the fun by rushing the floor every time we want. We are better than that, aren't we?

 

If your favorite teams ends a long — like more than a decade long — losing streak against an archrival or pulls a monumental upset over a top 10 opponent or clinches a championship of some kind, then rushing the floor to celebrate is perfectly acceptable.

 

Otherwise, act like you’ve been there before.

Teaser:
Court Storming Issue Resolved: College Basketball Rules to Follow
Post date: Wednesday, February 25, 2015 - 13:37
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/maryland-students-execute-another-perfect-flash-mob
Body:

Flash mobs are still a thing, especially at Maryland.

 

For the third consecutive year, the Terrapins student section executed a flash mob during a big game, this time near halftime of last night’s upset against Wisconsin.

 

Pull off one of these when it’s the hot trend? That’s one thing. Pull off this kind of choreography three years in a row? We commend you, Maryland students.

 

Things start getting good around the 1:10 mark.

 

 

Here’s another angle from Tuesday night:

 

 

Here’s Flash Mob Part II during a game against Syracuse on Feb. 24, 2014

 

 

And the inaugural flash mob and Harlem Shake in 2013 (bonus points: see if you can spot ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt).

 

Teaser:
Maryland Students Execute Another Perfect Flash Mob
Post date: Wednesday, February 25, 2015 - 12:32

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