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All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-february-11-2015
Body:

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Feb. 11: 

 

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. I literally leapt from my chair that night. floating around the interwebs today.

 

• Kentucky nearly lost its unbeaten season last night. .

 

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• Watch an old geezer charge the mound at Rockies fantasy camp.

 

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

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - 11:32
All taxonomy terms: Jamie McMurray, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/jamie-mcmurray-2015-season-driver-preview
Body:

It would have been easy for Jamie McMurray to exit last season frustrated. Despite having a strong car early in many races, his No. 1 Chevrolet rarely finished where he felt it could. The team’s only winning outing came in the exhibition, non-points All-Star Race in May.

 

“When I look at some of the guys that made the Chase, I think we outran them in 95 percent of the races,” McMurray says. “They were able to be there at the end, whether it was good pit strategy or a (strong) restart. Whatever they did, they were just able to get a better finish.”

 

McMurray scored the 10th-best mid-race running position in the series (13.8). Leading a career-high 368 laps, he wound up 18th in the final standings but would have been 11th without the Chase, after a late-season surge that came far too late to make the playoff. That success has McMurray optimistic heading into 2015.

 

“I’ve been here long enough that I’ve seen the ups and downs,” McMurray says. “As far as our success last year, everything is pretty ‘scienced’ out. There’s a reason why we’ve done this, or a reason why we’ve not done that. It’s not just kind of a shoot-from-the-hip and see what happens.”

 

That knowledge and speed have McMurray, the Daytona 500 winner in 2010, confident that the No. 1 team can take the next step. Of the drivers who have run every season since the Chase’s inception in 2004, he remains the only full-timer not to make a single postseason field. “Speed-wise, I feel like we’re more than capable,” McMurray says. “It will just be about being a little more consistent.”

 

Athlon Sports’ 2015 Racing magazine delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2015 NASCAR coverage.

To do that, McMurray needs to learn how to close. It’s not just bad luck, like he had at the restrictor plate tracks in 2014. He scored zero top-10s at the plate races — his strongest tracks — often caught up in someone else’s mess. Many of his problems came late in events, like a Bristol race he dominated before a bad handling adjustment had him falling to eighth. Pit problems, flat tires, poor restarts — you name it, McMurray or his team knew how to foul it up in the final 100 laps. He ranked a disappointing 55th out of 73 drivers in NASCAR’s list of “Closers,” positions gained or lost in the last 10 percent of each race.

 

One aspect that won’t be the same for McMurray this season is the crew chief role. Keith Rodden returned to Hendrick Motorsports this year after just a single season on the job, jumping at the chance to return to HMS and run point for Kasey Kahne. (It’s notable that HMS now gives CGR engine support and information that have made them a de facto satellite operation.) McMurray’s team will now be led by Matt McCall, also a first-time crew chief who worked as lead engineer on Ryan Newman’s No. 31 last season.

 

“When things are going well at the end of the year, you don’t want it to end,” McMurray says. “You just never know how it’s going to start back off in February. But I probably feel better going into (this season) than I have in a while.”

 

No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

Primary Sponsors: McDonald’s, Cessna

Owner: Chip Ganassi

Crew Chief: Matt McCall

Year With Current Team: 6th

Under Contract Through: 2015

Best Points Finish: 11th (2004)

Hometown: Joplin, Mo.

Born: June 3, 1976

 

Career Stats

Years StartsWinsTop 5sTop 10sPolesTitlesEarned
13438752121110$59,970,520

 

Photos by 

Teaser:
Jamie McMurray 2015 Season Driver Preview
Post date: Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: Greg Biffle, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/greg-biffle-2015-season-driver-preview
Body:

Wheeling a car that feels comfortable and turns well is the goal of every driver. But that car also has to be fast. When a comfortable setup feels perfect, yet falls mid-pack or worse on the speed charts, the process to find speed becomes maddening. Welcome to Greg Biffle’s life at Roush Fenway Racing.

 

“It’s painfully obvious that we’ve been way off as an organization, not as a team,” Biffle says. “There’s a lot of times we go and look at the speed chart and our car is the fastest of the (RFR) group in 18th. That’s not worth ringing the bell on the back of the hauler.”

 

The reality of the struggle goes deeper than just a bad setup, Biffle says. Fundamental car design issues have RFR behind before they even get to the track.

 

“I’ve been telling the team guys,” Biff says, “and I’m convinced of this: NASCAR could cover every car at the track for five days — send everybody else home while we test. On the next weekend, we could go race and we would be better — don’t get me wrong — but we still wouldn’t be as fast as those top-5 cars.”

 

Ouch. What else is there to say?

 

There’s little hiding the fact that Biffle and the rest of RFR’s typically proud Ford operation woefully underperformed last season. Biffle made the Chase on points but was knocked out in Round 1 and was so uncompetitive that his No. 16 might as well have been invisible.

 

“It’s just not where we run as a company,” Biffle says. “We’re used to at least one of our cars being in the top 10, the top 5, leading laps every week. We never even led laps (last) year, really.”

 

Athlon Sports’ 2015 Racing magazine delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2015 NASCAR coverage.

That’s not entirely true, as Carl Edwards won twice and made the Round of 8 in the Chase. He’s no longer around for 2015, replaced by an inexperienced Trevor Bayne as the team starts rebuilding in multiple ways. For those who remain, trying to understand why the RFR Fords lack speed has become exasperating.

 

“Is it the drivers? It doesn’t look like it,” Biffle says. “Is it the crew chiefs? Is it the engine? Well, the Penske cars have the same engine and they aren’t missing. We aren’t breaking, not having any mechanical failures. What is it?”

 

At least the driver, who signed a multi-year contract extension in 2014 (joining up with new sponsor Ortho), is willing to stick around and find the answer, paired up with a fresh group of engineers. Leading the RFR newcomers for 2015 is Mark McArdle, the former technical head of Richard Childress Racing and Furniture Row. The industry veteran has a tough task ahead of him; according to Biffle, the team has tried every spring and shock combination on the car that RFR has used in the past 10 years. It’s produced little.

 

“We need to continue to try and figure out where our deficiency is,” Biffle says. “We know it’s aero. We know it’s maybe chassis. We know it could be some setup stuff. Are we going to fix it in three months? No. But, we’ve got to get it going the right direction.”

 

Finding that magic solution will take time. 

 

No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford

Primary Sponsors: Ortho, Cheez-It

Owner: Jack Roush/John Henry

Crew Chief: Matt Puccia

Year With Current Team: 13th 

Under Contract Through: 2017

Best Points Finish: 2nd (2005)

 Hometown: Vancouver, Wash.

Born: December 23, 1969

 

Career Stats

Years StartsWinsTop 5sTop 10sPolesTitlesEarned
134381988168120$69.445.013

 

Photos by 

Teaser:
Greg Biffle 2015 Season Driver Preview
Post date: Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: college baseball, Preseason, top 25, MLB
Path: /mlb/college-baseballs-preseason-top-25-2015
Body:
Spring training is just around the corner, but the college ranks get a jumpstart on MLB with their season getting underway on Friday. Defending College World Series champion Vanderbilt leads off Athlon Sports' preseason Top 25.
 

1. Vanderbilt (51–21, 17–13 SEC)

Do you like sequels? Well, this could be your year with the Commodores. The frontline pitching is a who’s who of future first-round MLB picks in righties Carson Fulmer (7–1, 1.98), Walker Buehler (12–2, 2.64) and Tyler Ferguson (8–4, 2.69). Sophomores Hayden Stone (4–0, 1.71) and John Kilichowski (0–0, 1.57) will head the bullpen corps. Seven returning starters include top hitters Bryan Reynolds (.338, 14 SBs) and Dansby Swanson (.333, 22 SBs).

 

2. TCU (48–18, 17–7 Big 12)

Despite losing World Series pitcher Brandon Finnegan — last seen doing some work for the Royals in the “other” World Series — the Frogs are well armed for another Omaha run. Preston Morrison (9–4, 1.32) and Tyler Alexander (10–3, 2.36) return to weekend duty and have flame-throwing Riley Ferrell (15 saves) to back them. Top hitter Garrett Crain (.324) joins solid infielders Keaton Jones (.265) and Derek Odell (.264). Also watch for incoming C Evan Skoug and Georgia Tech transfer Elliott Barzilli.

 

3. Virginia (53–16, 22–8 ACC)

Yep, those Wahoo sightings in Omaha will continue, especially with all three weekend starters back on the mound in Nathan Kirby (9–3, 2.06, 112 Ks), Brandon Waddell (10–3, 2.45) and Josh Sborz (6–4, 2.92). After losing flamethrowing closer Nick Howard, some bullpen re-tooling will be necessary, but the defense will be solid with 3B Kenny Towns (.278) and SS Daniel Pinero (.261). Offensively, top hitter John La Prise (.348) and Joe McCarthy (.301) wield lethal sticks.

 

4. Oklahoma State (48–18, 18–6 Big 12)

The Pokes have their guns up for a reason this year. The pitching staff returns 54 starts and a fleet of relievers, including Jon Perrin (8–5, 2.38), Blake Battenfield (4–0, 1.69) and Tyler Buffett (2–1, 2.95). If lefties Garrett Williams (4–1, 5.40) and Tyler Nurdin (4–3, 6.54) pitch to potential, look out. Offensively, C Gage Green (.310, 20 SBs) and SS Donnie Walton (.310) will lead a capable attack. Josh Holliday has built his alma mater into a national power in just a few short years.

 

5. North Carolina (35–27, 15–15 ACC)

Coach Mike Fox must be chomping at the bit to get 2015 started. Pitchers Trent Thornton (7–4, 2.73), Benton Moss (4–2, 3.62) and Zac Gallen (5–4, 4.64) combined for 46 starts a year ago. Not only that, but most of the bullpen returns as well. The offense needs a kick of adrenaline as Landon Lassiter (.305) and Wood Myers (.298) hope that Skye Bolt (.257) reverts to form.

 

6. South Carolina (44–18, 18–12 SEC)

Oh sure, some familiar names are gone — like Pankake, Greiner, English, Montgomery and Seddon. But seven pitchers with a sub-3.00 ERA and seven bats in the order return. Wil Crowe (8–3, 2.75) and Jack Wynkoop (7–6, 2.86) are solid weekend arms. 1B Kyle Martin (.336-5-36) is back despite getting drafted last summer and will join 2B Max Schrock (.299-5-20) and OF Connor Bright (.311) to wreak havoc.

 

7. UCLA (25–30–1, 12–18 Pac-12)

The Bruins are the Wall Street of college baseball — up, down and unpredictable. But they’ll have their entire weekend rotation back, led by junior James Kaprielian (7–6, 2.29) and All-America reliever David Berg (132 career apps, 36 saves), who turned down the Rangers as a 17th-round draft pick. Experienced stalwarts like OF Eric Filia and 3B Kevin Kramer return after missing all of last season.

 

8. Arizona State (33–24, 19–11 Pac-12)

Tracy Smith, the Indiana mastermind, comes to the desert and inherits a deep cupboard of talent. All three weekend starters are back on the mound, including lefty juniors Brett Lilek (4–5, 2.68) and Ryan Kellogg (8–3, 3.76), and fireballing bullpen stud Ryan Burr (3–3, 3.27, 12 saves) will back them. Last year’s youthful batting order has seven starters back.

 

9. Florida (40–23, 21–9 SEC)

Remember that outstanding freshman class from last year? Well, coach Kevin O’Sullivan has set their dials to “dominate” in 2015. Of the top 10 returning pitchers, six of them are sophomores, including ace Logan Shore (7–4, 2.16), A.J. Puk (5–2, 3.19) and relief specialist Kirby Snead (3–0, 2.40). Speedsters like CF Harrison Bader (.337, 13 SBs) and SS Richie Martin (.265, 18 SBs) are among seven returning fielders.

 

10. Louisville (50–17, 19–5 AAC)

Dan McDonnell’s troops have become Omaha veterans. He’ll have All-America candidates in Kyle Funkhouser (13–3, 1.94) and Anthony Kidston (9–1, 3.40) in the rotation, along with Josh Rogers (3–3, 3.63), who started in the postseason. Double-play combo Zach Lucas (.270) and Sutton Whiting (37 SBs) will team with OF Corey Ray (.325) to wreak havoc on the basepaths.

 

11. Houston (48–18, 14–9 AAC)

This is a dangerous team. A few roles need to be filled in the bullpen, but beyond that, all three weekend starters are back, led by All-America candidates Aaron Garza (9–5, 2.92) and Jake Lemoine (6–8, 2.87). Leadoff hitter Kyle Survance (.308, 31 SBs) is one of the most exciting players in the country and teams with Justin Montemayor (.298) for a good one-two offensive punch.

 

12. Texas Tech (45–21, 14–10 Big 12)

Tim Tadlock has something special brewing in the panhandle. His Raiders return their two wins leaders in LHPs Dylan Dusek (8–0, 1.94) and Cameron Smith (8–3, 2.79) and 11 of their 16 saves in the bullpen. Plus, Quinn Carpenter brings his mid-90s heat to campus. Tech features the best infield in the country with SS Tim Proudfoot (.309) and 2B Bryant Burleson (.272).

 

13. LSU (46–16–1, 17–11–1 SEC)

The Tigers lost their ace in Aaron Nola, but don’t shed too many tears for the boys on the Bayou — they still have All-Americans in SS Alex Bregman (.316-6-47) and OF Andrew Stevenson (.335), plus rising sophomore pitchers Jared Poché (9–3, 2.45), Parker Bugg (2–2, 2.75) and Alden Cartwright (1–1, 2.41). The No. 1-ranked recruiting class will keep the Tigers chugging along.

 

14. Rice (42–20, 23–7 C-USA)

It’s an ominous sign for opposing batters when Wayne Graham has a stocked staff. Junior lefties Blake Fox (12–0, 1.46) and Kevin McCanna (8–3, 2.69) will team with All-C-USA flinger Jordan Stephens (8–4, 2.43 in 2013), who missed nearly all of 2014. The offense loses four of the top five hitters, but seniors John Clay Reeves (.317) and Ford Stainback (.258) are experienced leaders.

 

15. Nebraska (41–21, 18–6 Big Ten)

Nothing makes a coach smile like experience. Darin Erstad has a senior-heavy team for 2015, including returning pitchers Chance Sinclair (9–1, 2.15), Kyle Kubat (5–2, 4.55) and Josh Roeder (12 saves) and top hitters Blake Headley (.323) and Tanner Lubach (.282). Also watch for a pair of dynamos in OF Ryan Boldt (.311) and SS Wes Edington, who missed 2014 with an injury.

 

16. Stanford (35–26, 16–14 Pac-12)

Try to look surprised, but the Cardinal will again feature numerous blue-ribbon hurlers. A full 100 percent of last year’s starts and 90 percent of their innings pitched from last year come back, led by sophomores Cal Quantrill (7–5, 2.68), Brett Hanewich (4–4, 3.17) and Chris Viall (2–3, 4.74), along with wins leader John Hochstatter (10–3, 3.36). Only three returning starters are behind them, but the No. 8-ranked incoming class will help.

 

17. Mississippi State (39–24, 18–12 SEC)

The Bulldogs hit a few bumps in the road a year ago but look like they’re back to contender status now. Buoying their hopes are returning senior starters Ross Mitchell (8–5, 2.53) and Trevor Fitts (5–3, 2.58), who have the potential to dominate on the mound. 1B Wes Rea (.245-5-41), OF Jake Vickerson (.264, 11 SBs) and Seth Heck (.299) all need to play to their potential for this team to excel.

 

18. Loyola Marymount (32–24, 17–10 WCC)

Yes it’s true — the hearts of the Lions will be big this year. The pitching staff got a few shots of adrenaline as third-round MLB draftee Trevor Megill returns, joining his incoming brother Tylor Megill to provide a pair of lively arms and big bodies. Friday ace Colin Welmon (10–2, 2.37) also returns. Freshmen All-Americans Austin Miller (.374, 25 SBs) and David Fletcher (.329, 17 SBs) were the top two hitters last year.

 

19. Ole Miss (48–21, 19–11 SEC)

Yes, there were some big losses to the roster, including every .300-plus hitter in the order and staff horse Chris Ellis. But Christian Trent (9–0, 2.05) and Sam Smith (5–4, 3.61) return to the rotation. Power-slugging Sikes Orvis (.294-14-53) will team with J.B. Woodman (.298, 10 SBs) and Errol Robinson (.294) to reload the offense. Watch for slick-fielding freshman Tate Blackman, a 20th-round Brewers draftee.

 

20. Cal State Fullerton (34–24, 14–10 Big West)

Hopefully the soap opera of 2014 is over. Obviously, without All-America aces Thomas Eshelman (8–3, 1.89) and Justin Garza (5–4, 3.22), the Titans don’t sniff the Top 25. They’ll have to lean heavily on the 10th-ranked recruiting class, which features five drafted players. Keep tabs on SS Tristan Hildebrandt, a 16th-round pick, and OF Scott Hurst, who led the Alaska League in batting (.429) as an incoming freshman.

 

21. Florida State (43–17, 21–9 ACC)

We don’t usually see the Seminoles this far down, but there was a small exodus from 2014. The offense still has All-American D.J. Stewart (.351-7-50) and mercurial Ben DeLuzio (.281, 16 SBs), but they are the only returnees hitting better than .268. Four-year guys like Mike Compton (7–3, 3.23), Billy Strode (2–1, 2.62) and Bryant Holtmann (5–1, 3.68) will be the building blocks of a retooled pitching staff.

 

22. Oregon State (45–14, 23–7 Pac-12)

The Beavers need to re-dam the stream and will rely heavily on a top-flight recruiting class that features five drafted players. Andrew Moore (6–5, 2.77) assumes the Friday role and will have Jake Thompson (3–2, 4.25) and Zack Reser (5–0, 1.71) behind him. There will be strength up the middle with CF Jeff Hendrix (.351), C Logan Ice (.250), 2B Caleb Hamilton and SS Trever Morrison.

 

23. Texas (46–21, 13–11 Big 12)

You may not see a better defensive team, as all five infielders return, led by SS C.J. Hinojosa (.298) and power-stick C Tres Barrera (.261-5-35). The mound is always a Longhorn strength, and getting Parker French (7–5, 2.41) back for his senior season was big. Also keep an eye on relief aces Travis Duke (2–1, 0.29) and Chad Hollingsworth (4–0, 1.15). The freshman class was ranked seventh nationally.

 

24. Maryland (40–23, 15–14 ACC)

The Terrapins make the move from the ACC to the Big Ten confident and loaded for another postseason run. Most of the arms corps returns, so losing ace Jake Stinnett won’t be hard to overcome. Mike Shawaryn (11–4) and saves ace Kevin Mooney (13 saves) lead a deep, experienced staff. Seven starters are back in the order, led by top bat Brandon Lowe (.348) and Jose Cuas (.279-5-42).

 

25. UC Santa Barbara (34–17–1, 12–12 Big West)

The Gauchos are still steaming over their NCAA at-large snub, despite finishing just one spot lower than Fullerton. Well, revenge starts with All-America hurlers Justin Jacome (8–2, 2.61) and saves ace Dillon Tate (12 saves, 1.45 ERA). Offensively, Robby Nesovic (.325) and speedsters Peter Maris (.272, 16 SBs) and Andrew Calica (.310, 10 SBs) should keep the pressure on.

 
 
—Written by Eric Sorenson for Athlon Sports. This is just one of the features that can be found in , which is available on newsstands and online now. Starting with 22 unique covers to choose from, Athlon 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.
Teaser:
The 2015 college baseball season gets underway Friday. To prep readers, Athlon Sports looks at college baseball's preseason Top 25.
Post date: Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: Austin Dillon, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/austin-dillon-2015-season-driver-preview
Body:

Austin Dillon’s career began with a bang as he brought back the iconic No. 3 car in grand fashion, taking the pole for the Daytona 500. After he finished ninth at Daytona, expectations skyrocketed for a driver many thought would be Rookie of the Year.

 

The rest of Dillon’s 2014 season? That was spent crashing down to earth. He slumped to 20th in points, missed the Chase and was a distant second for top rookie honors to Kyle Larson, making Dillon one of the year’s massive disappointments.

 

In his defense, when you bring back a number once synonymous with Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt Sr., there’s going to be a certain pressure to perform. For Dillon, the learning curve is steeper than he faced in either the Camping World Truck or Nationwide series, where the 24-year-old won championships. The competition in Cup is both deeper and fiercer; RCR, at this level, is also a small step behind its main rivals in equipment.

 

But Dillon did a lot of things right last season that set him up to continue to grow in 2015. Perhaps most important, he finished every race, running more laps last season (10,488) than any driver except Jeff Gordon. Bringing the equipment home in one piece is not something every rookie has done, but Dillon was able to do so on a consistent basis, compiling maximum information in the process. That only gives Dillon an edge coming into the new season.

 

Athlon Sports’ 2015 Racing magazine delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2015 NASCAR coverage.

What does he need to do in 2015? The answer is easy enough — turn those top-15 performances, of which the rookie had several, into top-10 results worth writing about. He has all the tools in the box to get it done, starting with RCR equipment that’s some of the most durable in the sport. It’s true that to finish first, a driver must first finish, and Dillon has cars that can do that; RCR had a total of one mechanical failure last year among its three cars. Speed, once the strength of this organization, is now its problem. Earnhardt-Childress racing engines were several miles per hour slower than their counterparts, including former powerplant partner and new Hendrick satellite Chip Ganassi Racing.

 

Dillon has a lot going for him, though. He has a talented veteran crew chief in Gil Martin, who has almost 20 years of experience in NASCAR’s top division. Martin has 16 wins and six top-5 points finishes on his résumé. The team has some powerhouse sponsors in Dow Chemical, Cheerios and American Ethanol — paired with loyal, smaller backers like Realtree — which provide a strong base. Teammate Ryan Newman found a new level of speed for the organization, and that could easily be filtered down the line.

 

Overall, Dillon is a solid driver who should continue to develop in 2015. All signs point to slow and steady progress, requiring the patience most athletes don’t get these days. But when your owner is also your grandfather — and he pairs you with an iconic car — you’re going to get every opportunity to make this No. 3 return a success.

 

No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet  

Primary Sponsors: Dow, Cheerios, American Ethanol, Realtree
Owner: Richard Childress

Crew Chief: Gil Martin
Year With Current Team: 3rd

Under Contract Through: Lifetime
Best Points Finish: 20th (2014)

Hometown: Lewisville, N.C.
Born: April 27, 1990

 

Career Stats

YearsStartsWinsTop 5sTop 10sPolesTitlesEarned
24901410$7,112,800

 

Photos by 

Teaser:
Austin Dillon 2015 Season Driver Preview
Post date: Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - 09:30
Path: /college-football/pac-12-team-recruiting-consensus-rankings-2015
Body:

Athlon Sports has averaged out the four major recruiting services — 247Sports, Rivals.com, Scout.com and ESPN — and created the Pac-12 consensus team recruiting rankings for 2015. Here is what we learned:

 

Continued growth out West

After the hire of Larry Scott to be commissioner, the Pac-12 has experienced remarkable growth and success. The hiring of elite coaches and the investment in facilities (and winning) have translated on the field and in recruiting. The Pac-12 trailed only the SEC with eight five-star signatures in this class, trailed only the SEC with five teams averaging a top-25 class (six made at least one Top 25 list) and trailed only the SEC with 23 top-100 signees. The Pac-12 has clearly separated itself from the rest of the college football as the No. 2 league and has its sights set directly on the SEC.

 

Men of Troy almost back

Under Pete Carroll, USC dominated recruiting, signing the No. 1 class (Rivals.com) three years in a row. It partially led to two national titles and a third trip to the BCS title game. But it also led to seven straight Pac-12 titles. In just two classes, Steve Sarkisian is starting to do his best Carroll impersonation by luring all of the West Coast's elite prospects. A few more classes like his first two and USC will be back dominating the headlines on Saturdays in short order.

 

The City of Lights

Los Angeles has always lured in top talent of all kinds but National Signing Day 2015 took it to a new level. UCLA dominated the morning and USC dominated the afternoon. Steve Sarkisian and the Trojans are the only team in years to challenge Alabama for a recruiting national title and the Bruins were clearly the No. 2 class in the conference. These two programs are stockpiling elite prospects. Now, they need to go coach them up.

 

Listen to the Cover 2 Podcast Recruiting Special feat. Barton Simmons:



Subscribe: |

 

New sheriff in town

Arizona State was ranked in the top 20 in recruiting by three of the four major services and . Todd Graham has changed the level with which the Sun Devils recruit in short order. In his first two full cycles, Graham has signed two Top 25 classes. According to 247Sports, the previous five classes before that ranked on average 42nd in the nation - no better than 33rd and as bad as 65th. Coach Graham not only has elevated Arizona State on the field but off of it as well.

 

In-state talent (or lack thereof)

Most programs in college football survive on in-state talent, regardless of the level of expectation. So it's quite a story when a Power 5 team doesn't ink one single in-state player. But that is what happened with both Oregon and Washington State. Additionally, Oregon State only signed one in-state product. For what it's worth, Washington led its Pacific Northwest brethren with six in-state prospects. Even Utah (5) and Colorado (4) did plenty of work within their own borders while Arizona and Arizona State combined to ink nine players from the Grand Canyon State.

 

   Total5-Star4-StarNat'l Avg247RivalsScoutESPN
1.USC264141.82113
2.UCLA1931011.31213911
3.Oregon221617.316172115
4.Arizona St230820.820201726
5.Stanford220523.524182527
6.Washington240526.826302328
7.Cal24033835283653
8.Arizona250140.842424039
9.Washington St22014946534354
10.Utah230052.344565356
11.Oregon St190066.868686368
12.Colorado190168.363687567

 

Teaser:
Pac-12 Team Recruiting Consensus Rankings for 2015
Post date: Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/barack-obama-and-michael-jordan-might-have-some-beef
Body:
Two of the most influential American men of the last quarter century, Barack Obama and Michael Jordan, appear to have entered into a battle of egos.

 

It all started back in October, when Jordan called POTUS’s golfing skills into question during an interview with Ahmad Rashad. “I never said he wasn’t a great politician,” , “I just said he was a s——- golfer.”

 

Obama was quick to fire back in a subsequent radio interview. ‘There is no doubt that Michael is a better golfer than I am,” he said.” Of course if I was playing twice a day for the last 15 years, then that might not be the case… He might want to spend more time thinking about the Bobcats — or the Hornets.”

 

Quite the bit of , Mr. President.

 

It now appears Michael was perhaps not to be outdone, though. , a recent New York Magazine profile of trusted Obama advisor David Axelrod reveals that Jordan signed a poster of himself for the president, and misspelled Obama’s first name as “Barrack.”

 

Either Jordan was tipsy, is a bad speller, or was trying to slight his man a little further — his “you still owe me dinner” line in the signature suggests it’s probably the latter reality.

 

This evokes the head games Jordan played with one of his all-time greatest victims: Bryon Russell, then of the Utah Jazz, whom M.J. hit his iconic final Chicago Bulls shot against, to seal his sixth NBA championship.

 

Jordan had previously belittled Russell by repeatedly referring him “Byron” in an interview. There are fewer forms of psychological warfare more effective than taking away a man’s very name — His Airness knows what he’s doing.

 

Who’s ready for the one-on-one game between Jordan and his president, on the White House lawn?

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, February 10, 2015 - 16:18
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/bubble-watch-michigan-state-lsu-texas-am-and-ole-miss-face-critical-week
Body:

The bubble watch is on.

 

Selection Sunday is less than five weeks away and the bracket is starting to take shape.

 

We’re pretty sure we know the teams in contention for the No. 1 seeds and teams that are safely in, which of course leaves the bubble — all the teams that have done some good things and some bad things through the first three months of the season.

 

For better or worse, most of those teams can get off the bubble, either solidifying their Tournament credentials or playing their way out.

 

Here’s a look at the 10 teams under the most pressure this week.

 

All RPI and schedule strength figures are from .

 

LSU (17-6, 6-4 SEC)

This week: Kentucky (Tuesday), at Tennessee (Saturday)

The good: LSU is 4-2 against the RPI top 50, including true road wins over West Virginia and Ole Miss.

The bad: The Tigers have lost to sub-150 RPI teams in Auburn, Missouri and Mississippi State.

The bubble: Handing Kentucky its first loss of the season would solidify LSU’s status in the field, but that road trip to Tennessee may be the more important game given LSU’s lapses in games it should win.

 

Seton Hall (15-8, 5-6 Big East)

This week: Georgetown (Tuesday), at Providence (Saturday) 

The good: Seton Hall is one of two teams to beat Villanova this season.

The bad: The Pirates have been swept by DePaul and Butler.

The bubble: Seton Hall is 3-6 since its overtime upset of Villanova on Jan. 3. The next four games are brutal with Georgetown at home and Providence, Villanova and St. John’s on the road next week. Not a good situation for a team already trending the wrong way.

 

Michigan State (15-8, 6-4 Big Ten)

This week: at Northwestern (Tuesday), Ohio State (Saturday)

The good: KenPom likes Michigan State better than the RPI, ranking the Spartans at No. 28 (compared to No. 52 in the RPI).

The bad: Michigan State is 0-4 against the RPI top 30.

The bubble: Saturday’s home loss to Illinois puts Michigan State onto the bubble. The Spartans can’t (and probably won’t) lose to Northwestern. Facing RPI No. 35 Ohio State in East Lansing will be critical.

 

Texas A&M (16-6, 7-3 SEC)

This week: Georgia (Wednesday), Florida (Saturday)

The good: Texas A&M is 7-3 in the SEC. 

The bad: The Aggies don’t have a top 50 RPI win.

The bubble: Second place in the SEC won’t be enough to guarantee an NCAA Tournament berth. The next three games against RPI No. 24 Georgia, No. 67 Florida and No. 51 LSU — all at home — are huge for the Aggies’ hopes.

 

NC State (14-10, 5-6 ACC)

This week: Virginia (Wednesday), at Louisville (Saturday)

The good: The Wolfpack rank 11th in strength of schedule and defeated RPI No. 4 Duke on Jan. 11.

The bad: After a loss to Wake Forest a week ago, NC State is already up to double-digit losses. The Wolfpack haven't won back-to-back games since early December.

The bubble: For NC State to stay in the discussion, the Wolfpack may need to split the week against top 15 opponents. NC State will face Virginia in its first game without guard Justin Anderson.

 

St. John’s (15-8, 4-6 Big East)

This week: DePaul (Wednesday), at Xavier (Saturday)

The good: The Red Storm are ranked No. 50 in the RPI and No. 27 in strength of schedule. St. John’s swept Providence for its two top-50 wins.

The bad: Providence may be the only NCAA at-large team St. John’s has defeated this season.

The bubble: A home loss to DePaul would be devastating. Road wins over Xavier on Saturday and/or Georgetown on Tuesday would put St. John’s back on the right track.

 

The Mountain West

This week: Wyoming at San Diego State (Wednesday), Colorado State at San Diego State (Saturday)

The good: Colorado State (20-4, 7-4 MW) has the best RPI in the Mountain West plus a home win already over San Diego State. Wyoming (19-5, 8-3 MW) completed a season sweep of Colorado State last week.

The bad: Neither team has a top-75 non-conference win.

The bubble: If Mountain West at-large bids go through San Diego State, this will be the key week.

 

Ole Miss (16-7, 7-3 SEC)

This week: at Florida (Thursday), Arkansas (Saturday)

The good: The Rebels are No. 39 in RPI and 3-3 against the top 50.

The bad: Ole Miss has home losses to Western Kentucky, TCU and Charleston Southern.

The bubble: Splitting the week would maintain the status quo. Two wins would further solidify the Rebels’ chances. Ole Miss already has wins against each of these teams this season.

 

Purdue (15-9, 7-4 Big Ten)

This week: at Rutgers (Thursday), Nebraska (Sunday) 

The good: The Boilermakers have three top 40 wins (Indiana, Ohio State and Iowa).

The bad: All of those wins were at home. So were bad losses to Gardner-Webb and North Florida.

The bubble: The Boilers are hanging on, but they’ll lose their grip if they don’t go 2-0 this week.

 

Illinois (16-8, 6-5 Big Ten)

This week: Michigan (Thursday), at Wisconsin (Sunday)

The good: Defeating Michigan State on the road was a signature moment, but Illinois had already picked up two top 20 wins before Jan. 7 (Baylor on a neutral court, Maryland).

The bad: Illinois has lost five games to teams ranked between Nos. 50-100.

The bubble: Asking Illinois to beat Wisconsin in Madison may be too much to ask, but the Illini need to beat Michigan to avoid a season sweep to the Wolverines.

Teaser:
Bubble Watch: Michigan State, LSU, Texas A&M and Ole Miss Face Critical Weeks
Post date: Tuesday, February 10, 2015 - 15:25
All taxonomy terms: AJ Allmendinger, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/aj-allmendinger-2015-season-driver-preview
Body:

Telling AJ Allmendinger that things happen for a reason used to get under his skin. The phrase irked him for its simplicity, as he felt there was always more to the story.

 

The last few years changed his mind.

 

Allmendinger lost a full-time seat with Penske Racing in the middle of the 2012 season when he failed a NASCAR drug test for taking Adderall without a prescription — a situation he says was a one-time mistake and not a long-term problem. The subsequent suspension and fallout dropped Allmendinger from the high point of his career to rock bottom. The path back to respectability seemed long. “I knew at that point that I had to make some changes,” Allmendinger says. “If (NASCAR) was ever going to happen again, I wanted it to happen the right way.”

 

In 2014, it happened the right way, and with a surge no one expected. After riding a part-time gig in 2013, Allmendinger took over full-time in the seat of JTG-Daugherty Racing’s No. 47, driving for a one-car team doing its best to throw punches at NASCAR’s behemoths. The organization had struggled before Allmendinger’s arrival, earning only four top-10 finishes in the last three seasons with veteran Bobby Labonte. Allmendinger had some struggles — he drove to just the 25th-best average running position of all full-time drivers — but he got the job done in his last, best chance to earn a spot in NASCAR’s postseason. Besting road course king Marcos Ambrose, Allmendinger earned his first career Cup victory at Watkins Glen in August.

 

Athlon Sports’ 2015 Racing magazine delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2015 NASCAR coverage.

Thanks to the new championship format, Allmendinger’s regular-season win earned the No. 47 car an unexpected Chase berth.

 

“I love that underdog role. I love the small team,” he says. “We’ve got to go out there and work harder just to compete. It has happened for a reason. I have found a home. I wouldn’t change anything.”

 

The Chase opportunity didn’t reinvent the No. 47 team — it was out after the first round — but it represented progress. RCR chassis and engine support, new in 2014, paid dividends, along with crew chief Brian Burns. Both are back. Allmendinger, who was signed to a long-term extension with his primary sponsors Clorox and Kimberly-Clark, understands he has a foundation to build from now.

 

“It’s baby steps,” he says. “It’s great to win a race, but I still look at us in general and know that we were about a 20th-place team. I want to get to be a 15th-place team. I want to get to be a top-10 team. We can get better every weekend, get more competitive.”

 

Allmendinger includes himself in the discussion of what needs to improve; he’s still inconsistent on the track and learning how to lead a one-car team off it. He knows that this year will still require heavy lifting and some good fortune to earn a second consecutive postseason appearance. “We have a long way to go,” he says. “But we know that if we can go out there and hit our best, we can win any given race.”

 

No. 47 JTG-Daugherty Racing Chevrolet

Primary Sponsors: Kimberly-Clark Products, Clorox

Owner: Tad & Jodi Geschickter/Brad Daugherty

Crew Chief: Brian Burns

Year With Current Team: 3rd

Under Contract Through: 2016

Best Points Finish: 13th (2014)

Hometown: Los Gatos, Calif.

Born: Dec. 16, 1981

 

Career Stats

YearsStartsWinsTop 5sTop 10sPolesTitlesEarned
9227173520$27,806,820

 

Photos by 

Teaser:
2015 driver profile for AJ Allmendinger on the NASCR Sprint Cup circuit.
Post date: Tuesday, February 10, 2015 - 14:00
All taxonomy terms: Martin Truex Jr., NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/martin-truex-jr-2015-season-driver-preview
Body:

Martin Truex Jr. is eager to start 2015 strong and continue the late-season momentum that salvaged an otherwise awful start driving Furniture Row Racing’s No. 78 Chevrolet. “Racing is never harder than when you’re not running good — just everything about it gets magnified,” Truex says. “The relationships get damaged, the confidence gets damaged, and everybody’s in a bad mood. It’s a constant downward spiral, and until you can stop that and turn it around, it’s hard to gain momentum.”

 

It’s a story Truex lived firsthand during his maiden voyage with this single-car program, his best option after the 2013 Michael Waltrip Racing Richmond debacle resulted in the contraction of MWR from three cars to only two. The cloud seemed to hang over Truex and his new team well into 2014. Right away, Truex blew an engine in the Daytona 500 and showed few signs of positive results until late in the 36-race schedule. The team lacked confidence and struggled to jell, leading a total of one lap all season.

 

After Truex missed the Chase by well over 100 points — and suffered through a personal nightmare of his longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex being diagnosed with stage III ovarian cancer — many wondered whether he would even stick around to complete his two-year deal.

 

Fortunately for both sides, a no-pressure Chase allowed Truex the opportunity to use the postseason races as a testing ground for 2015. Five top-15 finishes in the first five postseason races reminded both sides what this team is capable of; after all, other programs running Richard Childress Racing chassis, like AJ Allmendinger and JTG-Daugherty Racing, won races and ran competitively all season long.

 

Athlon Sports’ 2015 Racing magazine delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2015 NASCAR coverage.

In a surprising move, crew chief Todd Berrier was ousted in early December. Race engineer Cole Pearn earned a promotion, his first crew chief job, as the team hopes a “new school” approach will be the perfect match for NASCAR’s new rules. Hopes are high that the new pairing won’t miss a beat. Pearn, a former RCR employee, should strengthen the ties between the team and its engine and chassis provider.

 

A tire test at California in the fall instilled hope in Truex after the team tested the new aerodynamic package, one that decreased the height of the rear spoiler and featured other adjustments that added more front turning ability to the car.

 

Now, Truex must turn to 2015 with an optimistic yet cautious approach in the second and final year of his contract. “Realistically, you can’t expect to go from where we were and be the top title contender,” Truex says. “In the last third of 2014, we were consistently a top-15, close to top-10 car. If we can come out of the box doing that and then continue to improve, I would be happy with that.”

 

If that doesn’t occur, expect Truex to become one of the sport’s top free agents. Both he and FRR deserve better than the driver’s career-worst 24th-place ranking from a year ago.

 

No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet

Primary Sponsor: Furniture Row

Owner: Barney Visser

Crew Chief: Cole Pearn

Year With Current Team: 2nd

Under Contract Through: 2015

Best Points Finish: 11th (2007, ’12)

Hometown: Mayetta, N.J.

Born: June 29, 1980

 

Career Stats

YearsStartsWinsTop 5sTop 10sPolesTitlesEarned
113332329570$47,445,541

 

Photos by 

Teaser:
2015 driver profile for Martin Truex Jr. on the NASCR Sprint Cup circuit.
Post date: Tuesday, February 10, 2015 - 13:00
All taxonomy terms: Paul Menard, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/paul-menard-2015-season-driver-preview
Body:

A little food for thought: Paul Menard is coming off what could be considered his best career Sprint Cup season. He had career-bests in both top 5s (5) and top 10s (13), and while his points position was his lowest since 2010, the average finish was among the best of his career. 

 

Menard isn’t going to win Richard Childress a Cup title, but what he will do in 2015 is what he has done for the last several years — give the team some strong finishes and bring good information to the table that can be used to help the organization move forward. Menard has the tendency to be a little streaky — he can reel off a string of top 10s followed by several mid-pack finishes — and overall, that’s not going to be championship material. Unlike his teammate Ryan Newman, Menard isn’t consistently strong enough to make a title run out of a season that doesn’t include a win.

 

That’s not to say Menard couldn’t have an outside chance at the Chase; however, it’s likely that he’ll need to win to do it, and the odds aren’t in his favor with just one Cup win to his name. He can be a threat at some tracks — 10 of his 13 top-10 finishes last season came at tracks 1.5 miles or longer — but it’s more likely that he’ll be more of a top-15 threat than a top-10 one. And with the field as stacked as it is, that’s not likely to make the cut.

 

Athlon Sports’ 2015 Racing magazine delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2015 NASCAR coverage.

In Menard’s favor are solid equipment and sponsorship. While RCR might be a step behind the biggest teams, it is still among the sport’s elite, and Menard has equipment that matches his talent — not something every driver enjoys. He’s in a stable position in part because of his family-owned sponsorship, but he’s not merely riding the coattails of his family legacy. Because of that stability, Menard doesn’t have to look over his shoulder to see if a youngster with money is waiting in the wings, and he’s a solid enough performer that he’s an asset to RCR because of the information he can bring to the table.

 

His crew chief is a question mark for 2015. Justin Alexander took over head wrench duties after Slugger Labbe was promoted within the RCR organization. Alexander certainly has the credentials to be a successful crew chief, and Menard did post a top-5 finish during Alexander’s five-race test run in 2014, but this duo hasn’t been together long enough to be properly evaluated. Technology, more than ever, makes an impact

these days, and Alexander’s experience could move the needle.

 

Overall, expect 2015 to be a solid season for Menard, who has proven to be a steady driver. The biggest factor against him is probably the depth of competition in Sprint Cup right now. He’s capable of solid finishes, but so are many others, and that makes it unlikely that he will enjoy a season that exceeds expectations. He’ll put together some good runs, keep his cars in one piece and bring his team information it can use. All good things for a mid-tier driver like Menard.

 

No. 27 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet

Primary Sponsor: Menards

Owner: Richard Childress

Crew Chief: Justin Alexander

Year With Current Team: 5th

Under Contract Through: 2016

Best Points Finish: 16th (2012)

Hometown: Eau Claire, Wis.

Born: Aug. 21, 1980

 

Career Stats

YearsStartsWinsTop 5sTop 10sPolesTitlesEarned
112911154710$34,181,518

 

Photos by 

Teaser:
2015 driver profile for Paul Menard on the NASCR Sprint Cup circuit.
Post date: Tuesday, February 10, 2015 - 12:15
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-february-10-2015
Body:

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Feb. 10:

 

. I'd say she has a few good years left.

 

.

 

• Is Peyton coming back?

 

.

 

.

 

.

 

.

 

• Speaking of the Swimsuit issue, .

 

.

 

.

 

.

 

• The new "This Is SportsCenter" ad riffs on the Katy Perry halftime sharks.

 

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

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, February 10, 2015 - 11:03
All taxonomy terms: New York Knicks, NBA
Path: /nba/knicks-owner-james-dolan-sends-nasty-e-mail-fan
Body:

James Dolan is not the best — everybody knows that. The New York Knicks’ owner has a reputation for meddling and spreading dysfunction throughout his organization;  even new team president Phil Jackson is not safe from his wrath.


Weeks ago, it came out that Dolan reportedly lowballed potential coaching candidate Steve Kerr — now thriving with the Golden State Warriors — because Kerr did too much prying research into the Knicks’ infrastructure. This sin caused an old-school fan to lose his cool, and e-mail Dolan his piece of mind. Via Deadspin:


Subject: I have been a knicks fan since 1952


At one stage I thought that you did a wonderful thing when you acquired EVERYTHING from your dad. However, since then it has been ALL DOWN HILL. Your working with Isaiah Thomas & everything else regarding the Knicks. Bringing on Phil Jackson was a positive beginning, but lowballing Steve Kerr was a DISGRACE to the knicks. The bottom line is that you merely continued to interfere with the franchise.


As a knicks fan for in excess of 60 years, I am utterly embarrassed by your dealings with the Knicks. Sell them so their fans can at least look forward to growing them in a positive direction Obviously, money IS NOT THE ONLY THING. You have done a lot of utterly STUPID business things with the franchise. Please NO MORE.


Fans are emotional, so this letter comes as no surprise. The catch here is Dolan’s shockingly petty response:


On Fri, Jan 23, 2015 at 8:15 PM, James Dolan <[email protected]> wrote:


Mr Bierman
You are a sad person. Why would anybody write such a hateful letter. I am.just guessing but ill bet your life is a mess and you are a hateful mess. What have you done that anyone would consider positive or nice. I am betting nothing. In fact ill bet you are negative force in everyone who comes in contact with you. You most likely have made your family miserable. Alcoholic maybe. I just celebrated my 21 year anniversary of sobriety. You should try it. Maybe it will help you become a person that folks would like to have around. In the mean while start rooting.for the Nets because the Knicks dont want you.


Respectfully
James Dolan


If you’re not sick of laughing at Dolan after that, just take a listen to his comically corny blues band, JD and the Straight Shot:

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

 

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, February 10, 2015 - 10:14
Path: /college-football/sec-team-recruiting-consensus-rankings-2015
Body:

Athlon Sports has averaged out the four major recruiting services — 247Sports, Rivals.com, Scout.com and ESPN — and created the SEC consensus team recruiting rankings for 2015. Here is what we learned:

 

Roll Tide, Roll

According to the 247Sports composite rankings, there were a total of 33 five-star recruits in the entire 2014 class and 35 in the '15 class. Alabama has signed six five-star recruits in each of the last two classes. For 2015, the ACC as a league signed seven five-stars and the Pac-12 signed eight. Bama alone signed four more five-star prospects than the entire Big Ten (1) and Big 12 (1) combined this cycle.

 

S-E-C dominance

Of those 68 five-star recruits entering college football over the last two cycles, the SEC has signed 37. That’s six more than the other four power conferences combined. The ACC is second with 12 five-star signees over the last two years. The Pac-12 has 11, the Big Ten has five and the Big 12 is last with just three five-star signatures the last two years. The SEC placed 12 teams in .

 

Old recruiting power

Butch Jones and the Vols landed their second consecutive top-five class this cycle — the first time that has happened in school history. Not since 2010 (9th) had Tennessee posted a top-10 class and not since 2007 (3rd) had the Vols landed in the top five. Now, in Jones’ first two full cycles, he’s done it twice. The average national ranking for the Vols the three years prior to Jones taking over full time was 17.

 

Listen to the Cover 2 Podcast Recruiting Special feat. Barton Simmons:



Subscribe: |

 

Closing strong

Jim McElwain took over the job at Florida with a recruiting class with less than 10 commitments and ranked dead last in the SEC. After a big National Signing Day with a pair of five- and four-star signees, the Gators snuck into the Top 25 and jumped four teams in the league to finish 10th in the SEC.

 

Starkville, Miss.

According to Rivals.com (and including Texas A&M and Missouri), the ’15 class is Dan Mullen’s best at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have finished better than 11th in the SEC only once under Mullen and that was 10th in 2012. Finishing seventh in the league, ahead of teams that normally recruit at a higher level — like Florida, South Carolina, Ole Miss and Arkansas — is a huge statement for HailState.

 

Expectations still high

According to 247Sports, LSU signed another top-five class. In fact, it marks the sixth time in seven years Les Miles has landed a class ranked in the top seven nationally, giving LSU one of the best rosters of talent in the nation. Yet, LSU has gone from first to fifth in the SEC West over the last four seasons. With another elite class of players, Miles once again must manage the usual high expectations in Baton Rouge.

 

   Total5-Star4-StarNat'l Avg247RivalsScoutESPN
1.Alabama246141.51221
2.Tennessee291154.54545
3.Auburn271196.39637
4.Georgia282117.510758
5.LSU252118.8581210
6.Texas A&M253111112101012
7.Mississippi St28071718161816
8.Ole Miss220718.317211619
9.South Carolina3001019.819192021
10.Florida212323.321232920
11.Arkansas210723.324252222
12.Missouri23122425272618
13.Mississippi St210240.339354443
14.Vanderbilt180352.847487244

 

Teaser:
SEC Team Recruiting Consensus Rankings for 2015
Post date: Tuesday, February 10, 2015 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: Kentucky Wildcats, SEC, College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/when-will-kentucky-basketball-lose-its-first-game
Body:

Kentucky isn’t the only team chasing history in the SEC.

 

The Wildcats took another team’s best shot Saturday in a 67-61 win over Florida, but as has been the case in close calls all season, Kentucky continued its march to an undefeated regular season and more.

 

That Florida gave Kentucky a game is little surprise to John Calipari, who has come to expect that every team is looking for its signature moment of the season when it faces the Wildcats. 

 

A game against Kentucky is a game to end the streak, a chance to be the ultimate spoiler.

 

“There will be games where players play out of their minds,” Calipari said. “After the game, Billy (Donovan) said it was the best game by far they’ve played all year. ... That’s every game we play.”

 

Ironically, Kentucky was in this spot less than a year ago, knocking off a 35-0 Wichita State team in the NCAA Tournament. The end of the Shockers’ bid at 40-0 was only the start of the run for Kentucky. The only interruption between the NCAA Tournament a year ago and today was a loss in the title game to UConn.

 

On paper, Kentucky will be favored in every game — SEC or otherwise — until a potential Final Four, but a pristine record is far more fragile in reality than it is on paper.

 

KenPom.com gives Kentucky at least an 84 percent chance to beat each individual opponent during the final eight games. The same projection, however, predicts a 30-1 record at the end of the regular season and a 56.7 percent chance to go undefeated.

 

In other words, Kentucky will be a heavy favorite in each game to finish the season, but the chances of the Wildcats going 8-0 in totality is not quite as certain.

 

So when might that mystery loss occur? Here’s a look at Kentucky’s final eight opponents and if they might have what it takes to make history against the Wildcats.

 

Feb. 10: at LSU

LSU may have the most pro potential of SEC teams not named Kentucky, and the Tigers get UK in Baton Rouge only three days after a close call in Gainesville. That’s roughly 10 hours on a plane between Saturday and tipoff at LSU on Tuesday, plus two raucous atmospheres. LSU is one of the few SEC teams that may be able to match up against Kentucky’s size with 6-foot-10 Jarell Martin and 6-8 Jordan Mickey. Beyond the forwards, LSU also has a 6-6 emerging guard in Tim Quarterman (though he doesn’t have the bulk of the Harrisons). If point guard Josh Gray can play under control and Keith Hornsby is knocking down shots, LSU could give Kentucky fits.

Will Kentucky lose this game? Maybe

 

Feb. 14: South Carolina

One of Kentucky’s closest calls this season came in double overtime against Texas A&M. The Aggies — who are second in SEC play in 2-point defense — held Kentucky to 9-of-36 from inside the 3-point line. South Carolina doesn’t have the size and length Texas A&M does, but the Gamecocks nonetheless have a strong interior defense, holding opponents to 41.9 percent shooting from 2. There's also some history here. South Carolina defeated Kentucky in Columbia last season and took out a John Wall-led team in 2010.

Will Kentucky lose this game? Nope

 

Feb. 17: at Tennessee

Tennessee will be an interesting matchup, particularly for Kentucky point guard Andrew Harrison. The Volunteers lead the SEC in defensive turnover rate and steal rate in conference games, and Harrison, while improved this season, is as streaky as they come. Just in the last week, he played his best game of the year against Georgia (23 points, seven assists, one turnover) and then one of his worst against Florida (one point, two assists, three turnovers). Playing against Tennessee will require patience against the zone and patience against a team that’s averaging the fewest possessions per game in the SEC (62.9). Kentucky already had some difficulty with the next two slowest-tempo teams in the league, Vanderbilt and Florida.

Will Kentucky lose this game? It’s plausible

 

Feb. 21: Auburn

No team shoots more 3-pointers than Auburn at 20.7 per game. The problem is the Tigers make only 33.4 percent of them, ranking eighth in the SEC. Maybe Auburn will have a ridiculous day from the 3-point line as Ole Miss did on Jan. 6 when the Rebels went 9-of-17 in an 89-86 overtime loss. That is the only chance Auburn has to end a streak of its own: Auburn hasn’t defeated Kentucky since 2000 and hasn’t defeated Kentucky in Lexington since 1988.

Will Kentucky lose this game? Only in football

 

Feb. 25: at Mississippi State

This is as good a time as any to mention that Kentucky hasn’t been immune to the injury bug. The Wildcats haven’t had Alex Poythress, who went down with a torn ACL, since December. Forward Trey Lyles (7.5 points, 5.3 rebounds) has missed the last three games with an illness, leaving Kentucky’s guards to pick up some of the rebounding slack. Lyles probably will be healthy in time for this particular game, but the point is that no team makes it to March completely healthy

Will Kentucky lose this game? Nope

 

Feb. 28: Arkansas

Other than Florida, Arkansas is the only SEC team to consistently give Kentucky trouble during the last few years. The Razorbacks have won four of the last five meetings, including the last three. This season, Arkansas has one elite big man, Bobby Portis, who could go toe-to-toe with Kentucky’s front. He’ll be outnumbered, but he alone is still a better matchup than most. The question is what kind of game the streaky Michael Qualls will have. Arkansas is the highest-scoring team in the SEC, at least according to raw numbers, but the Hogs rank third in offensive efficiency.

Will Kentucky lose this game? In Fayetteville, maybe, but probably not in Lexington

 

March 3: at Georgia

The final scoresheet shows an 11-point Kentucky win Feb. 3, but Georgia had this to within five points with two minutes to go. In Lexington. Without Marcus Thornton. All of that is notable. In the return trip, Kentucky will visit Athens to face a veteran Georgia team that, presumably, will have its leading scorer and rebounder. 

Will Kentucky lose this game? We’re still picking Kentucky, but this is the one we like

 

March 7: Florida

Kentucky caught Florida right after the Gators played their worst game of the season in a loss to Vanderbilt. Maybe the Wildcats underestimated Florida. Maybe Billy Donovan finally woke up his team in time for Kentucky. The Wildcats still managed to escape an off game due to near-perfect free throw shooting and the continued emergence of Karl-Anthony Towns. Florida played long stretches without Michael Frazier, but the Gators also had plenty go their way, too.

Will Kentucky lose this game? No

Teaser:
When Will Kentucky Basketball Lose Its First Game?
Post date: Tuesday, February 10, 2015 - 07:45
All taxonomy terms: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/2015-nascar-driver-profile-ricky-stenhouse-jr
Body:

The statistics say Ricky Stenhouse Jr. endured a 2014 season that didn’t mesh with the lofty expectations that came with his move full-time to Sprint Cup racing after a pair of Nationwide Series titles in 2011 and ’12. The temptation is to call last year his sophomore slump. But Stenhouse didn’t perform below his ability. Rather, he was just another Roush driver who struggled to find competitive speed in a season in which the three-driver team rarely found any.

 

“We all drive different, have different setups and crew chiefs, but we’re all complaining about the same thing,” Stenhouse says of RFR in 2014. “At least we know there’s a problem there somewhere that we’ve got to get out.”

 

For Stenhouse, those handling issues translated to a season with just one top-5 result, five top-10 finishes and an average finish of 22.4 — a drop of 3.5 positions per race from 2013, his first full season in Cup racing.

 

It was a clear disappointment, especially when Stenhouse was gift-wrapped his All-Star crew chief from past Nationwide success (Mike Kelley). It provided the 27-year-old with sage learning moments, ones he’ll have to use in order to stay employed beyond 2015.

 

“I need to make sure I don’t ask the crew chief or engineers to fix my car in a way that I know they probably can’t,” Stenhouse says. “Taking a 12th-place and trying to finish fifth with it is tough to do in the middle of a race. We need to work on it a little bit at a time instead of trying to make big adjustments. I think that threw us off a bit (in 2014).”

 

Athlon Sports’ 2015 Racing magazine delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2015 NASCAR coverage.

Driver No. 17 also enters this season with a keen sense of what he has to do to improve the car more quickly each weekend. In 2014, Stenhouse started studying the at-track performance data of his Ford counterparts more closely. The homework, while not providing instant success, changed his driving style.

 

 “I like to drive in the corner hard, use the brake and then jump right back into the gas,” Stenhouse says. “But last year I found a lot of race tracks where you change it up and kind of roll into the corner and get back to the gas, you go faster.”

 

That’s a good thing, as 2015 comes with the mantra “no excuses.” His best friend Trevor Bayne is now a teammate, and the duo now has reasonable Cup experience. They, along with veteran Greg Biffle, had input on offseason personnel shuffles to boost the team. It’s not the playoffs or bust for Stenhouse … but it’s close.

 

Jumping from 27th in points to Chase contention is a bit unrealistic. That leaves Stenhouse optimistic that a Chase-berthing win is in reach — ideally during one of two Bristol Motor Speedway stops, where he finished a career-best second last spring. A short track win for Stenhouse would earn him a spot in the Chase and end his pursuit for a first career victory.

 

“I think there’s no reason we can’t win a race in 2015,” Stenhouse said. “I really want to get that marked off our list.”

 

No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford

Primary Sponsors: Fastenal, Zest, Fifth Third Bank, NOS, Ford, Ecopower

Owners: Jack Roush/John Henry

Crew Chief: Mike Kelley

Year With Current Team: 3rd

Under Contract Through: 2015

Best Points Finish: 19th (2013)

Hometown: Olive Branch, Miss.

Born: Oct. 2, 1987

 

Career Stats

YearsStartsWinsTop 5sTop 10sPolesTitlesEarned
47602810$11,343,905

 

Photos by 

Teaser:
2015 driver profile for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on the NASCR Sprint Cup circuit.
Post date: Monday, February 9, 2015 - 16:35
All taxonomy terms: Aric Almirola, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/2015-nascar-driver-profile-aric-almirola
Body:

Entering his fourth full season at Richard Petty Motorsports, Aric Almirola is a believer that a low level of offseason turbulence — a rarity for the organization — is reason to believe that his team can keep moving forward in 2015.

 

A Chase for the Sprint Cup contender for the first time last year, Almirola enters this season with the same crew chief (Trent Owens), the same core group of team members, a steady sponsor situation and a race team on substantially better financial footing.

 

“Everything being kind of status quo on that side is really good,” Almirola says.

 

RPM certainly hopes so, as its owners have opted to invest heavily in improving the program. The team moved into a larger race shop this offseason and started hanging the bodies on its cars, a step toward independence from fellow Ford team and technical partner Roush Fenway Racing.

 

“We’ll still work with (RFR) on the technical and engineering side,” Almirola says. “We’ll still share information, share wind tunnel time, all of those things. But we’re going to be putting the bodies on race cars in the way we think it should be done.”

 

The move in-house should have a positive impact on Almirola’s season, as RPM won’t have identical cars to those raced at RFR. It’s a solution that makes sense when considering RFR’s frustrating season-long 2014 slump.

 

Athlon Sports’ 2015 Racing magazine delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2015 NASCAR coverage.

However, striking out on its own is a long-term process for a team that still has distinct disadvantages. Just a two-car program, RPM is third on the Ford food chain, with financials that pale in comparison to both RFR and Penske, even with the increased support. Almirola must deal with a new teammate, Sam Hornish Jr., who’s had limited success on the Cup level.

 

Most important, Almirola — despite making the Chase — still has much to prove. He scored the fewest points in the 16-driver field, as mechanical failure at Chicagoland ended his title hopes in September. He earned just two top-5 finishes in 36 starts; believe it or not, that’s a career year for Almirola.

 

It’s a safe bet that his No. 43 team will need to score another win — like the unexpected one at Daytona last July in the rain-shortened summer race — to earn another Chase spot. Almirola is most confident that it could happen at a place where RPM can bridge the equipment gap, like a short track. Kansas, where the driver led a career-best 69 laps a few years back before suffering tire trouble, is another strength. It’s a running theme for the program — bad racing luck creeps up too often to kill consistency.

 

“We’ve had a lot of moments of brightness. We’ve had many weekends where we’ve run up front in the top 5, the top 10,” Almirola says. “But we just haven’t done that on a consistent basis.”

 

That means Almirola will likely pick and choose his opportunities to go for broke. If he hits, he’ll make the Chase. If he misses? Well, at least his team has a long-term plan for success; we’ll see if a midpack points finish has it staying the course.

 

No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford

Primary Sponsors: Smithfield Foods, STP, Fresh From Florida

Owners: Richard Petty/Andy Murstein/Doug Bergeron

Crew Chief: Trent Owens

Year With Current Team: 4th

Under Contract Through: 2016

Best Points Finish: 16th (2014)

Hometown: Tampa, Fla.

Born: March 14, 1984

 

Career Stats

YearsStartsWinsTop 5sTop 10sPolesTitlesEarned
7143151910$19,633,191

 

Photos by 

Teaser:
2015 driver profile for Aric Almirola on the NASCR Sprint Cup circuit.
Post date: Monday, February 9, 2015 - 16:32
All taxonomy terms: Brian Vickers, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/2015-nascar-driver-profile-brian-vickers
Body:

Brian Vickers became one of NASCAR’s feel-good stories of the 2013 season. He played the role of the comeback kid, the former young gun with a Nationwide Series title and Hendrick Motorsports on his résumé who overcame a near-fatal blood clot to return to the track. A 2013 win at New Hampshire put Vickers in MWR’s No. 55 Toyota full-time last season and carried with it some veteran expectations.

 

Vickers had the experience to become a Chase contender again. The problem was, his return to competition coincided with MWR’s return to the basement.

 

The first Toyota program, which had once DNQ’d for 22 of 36 races with one of Waltrip’s cars in 2007, had fought hard to build up into a Chase-level outfit. But then, teammate Clint Bowyer intentionally spun his car, resulting in the infamous “SpinGate” scandal in the fall of 2013 that saw MWR trying to fix the final results of a race. The team’s downward slide seemed almost instantaneous from there.

 

The results were what you’d expect after that type of doomsday scenario. Vickers earned just one top-5 result away from the restrictor plate tracks of Daytona and Talladega and led just 53 laps for the entire season. He finished a disappointing 22nd in the standings.

 

“Not having the third team changed a lot,” Vickers says of last season. “Having that one extra resource is nice. I wish we still had that. But we tried to make it work. The two teams still worked well together.”

 

Both Vickers and Bowyer failed to win a race or qualify for the Chase. The disappointing finishes were a result of what Vickers felt were missed opportunities. “We had a lot of races where we didn’t reach our potential because something happened — a blown tire, an engine, whatever it may be — and that’s what hurt us,” he says. “But I think we learned from it.”

 

Athlon Sports’ 2015 Racing magazine delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2015 NASCAR coverage.

The poor season notwithstanding, Vickers knows time can be a major asset to any team — especially one that’s had time to recover from a traumatic period like MWR’s previous offseason.

 

Vickers, however, now needs his own time to heal. He announced mid-December that he was forced to undergo heart surgery a second time, a necessity after his body rejected the 2010 attempt to plug a hole in his heart. The recovery will force him to miss an unspecified number of races. Depending on how long he’s out, Vickers may not even earn the medical exemption necessary in order to qualify for the Chase. (Drivers must attempt every regular season race to be eligible).

 

When Vickers returns to the No. 55, he’ll find consistency both in the pit box and on the fenders. Engineer-turned-crew chief Billy Scott returns for his second full season, while Aaron’s will again provide the majority of sponsorship funding. But MWR still has quite the hill to climb, and another health issue for their driver doesn’t help. With Vickers’ contract up at the end of 2015, this pending free agent is facing an uncertain future both with his team and in the sport.

 

Vickers, however, now needs his own time to heal. He announced mid-December that he was forced to undergo heart surgery a second time, a necessity after his body rejected the 2010 attempt to plug a hole in his heart. The recovery will force him to miss an unspecified number of races. Depending on how long he’s out, Vickers may not even earn the medical exemption necessary in order to qualify for the Chase. (Drivers must attempt every regular season race to be eligible).

 

When Vickers returns to the No. 55, he’ll find consistency both in the pit box and on the fenders. Engineer-turned-crew chief Billy Scott returns for his second full season, while Aaron’s will again provide the majority of sponsorship funding. But MWR still has quite the hill to climb, and another health issue for their driver doesn’t help. With Vickers’ contract up at the end of 2015, this pending free agent is facing an uncertain future both with his team and in the sport.

 

Vickers, however, now needs his own time to heal. He announced mid-December that he was forced to undergo heart surgery a second time, a necessity after his body rejected the 2010 attempt to plug a hole in his heart. The recovery will force him to miss an unspecified number of races. Depending on how long he’s out, Vickers may not even earn the medical exemption necessary in order to qualify for the Chase. (Drivers must attempt every regular season race to be eligible).

 

When Vickers returns to the No. 55, he’ll find consistency both in the pit box and on the fenders. Engineer-turned-crew chief Billy Scott returns for his second full season, while Aaron’s will again provide the majority of sponsorship funding. But MWR still has quite the hill to climb, and another health issue for their driver doesn’t help. With Vickers’ contract up at the end of 2015, this pending free agent is facing an uncertain future both with his team and in the sport.

 

No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota

Primary Sponsor: Aaron’s

Owner: Michael Waltrip/Rob Kauffman

Crew Chief: Billy Scott

Year With Current Team: 4th

Under Contract Through: 2015

Best Points Finish: 12th (2009)

Hometown: Thomasville, N.C.

Born: Oct. 24, 1983

 

Career Stats

YearsStartsWinsTop 5sTop 10sPolesTitlesEarned
1231632977120$38,266,887

 

Photos by 

Teaser:
2015 driver profile for Brian Vickers on the NASCR Sprint Cup circuit.
Post date: Monday, February 9, 2015 - 16:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Oregon Ducks, Pac 12, News
Path: /college-football/oregon-finds-its-replacement-marcus-mariota-transfer-vernon-adams
Body:

The battle at Oregon to replace quarterback Marcus Mariota was one of the biggest storylines set to unfold in college football’s spring practice, but coach Mark Helfrich found his answer on Monday with the announcement Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams would transfer to Eugene.

 

Adams has been a prolific quarterback at Eastern Washington for the last three seasons and was a runner-up for the Walter Payton Award (the FCS Heisman) in 2013 and '14.
 

Here are a couple of things to watch with Adams leaving EWU for Oregon:

 

He will be Oregon’s starter in 2015:

With Mariota departing, Oregon’s quarterback battle expected to feature Jeff Lockie (41 career pass attempts), Ty Griffin (a Georgia Tech transfer), Taylor Alie (a walk-on) and freshmen Morgan Mahalak and Travis Waller. Adams has the mobility, accuracy, arm strength and skill set to thrive in Oregon’s offense. He’s the best quarterback on the roster.

Stepping up in competition/Previous FBS games:
This is without question the biggest question mark in regards to Adams’ transfer. How will he handle the FCS to FBS move? There’s a small sample size to examine, as Adams has played two FBS opponents at Eastern Washington. In those two contests, Adams combined to throw for 886 yards, 11 touchdowns and completed 54 of 76 throws. Adams also rushed for 107 yards and two touchdowns against Oregon State in 2013.

Adams won’t be around at Oregon in spring practice:
Outside of how he transitions to the FBS level, the biggest concern for Oregon has to be getting Adams acclimated to the offense. The California native won’t arrive until the summer, which limits his time to learn the offense and practice with the supporting cast. Adams should thrive in Oregon’s offense, but it’s likely he gets more comfortable and succeeds even more as the year progresses. While Adams needs time to settle into the offense, there’s a critical non-conference matchup (with potential playoff implications) at Michigan State on Sept. 12.


Oregon is still the (significant) favorite in the North:

Had Oregon went into the season without Adams, it’s likely most preseason predictions would have featured more debate and discussion on the North Division favorite. But now that the Ducks have a potential All-Pac-12 quarterback and dynamic playmaker in place, Oregon has to be the clear favorite in the North. While a non-conference road trip to Michigan State awaits in Week 2, most of the Ducks’ toughest Pac-12 games – at Arizona State, at Stanford and USC – are later in the year.
 

Adams won’t have to do it alone:

It’s going to take Adams a few games to get comfortable with the offense and playing at a higher level, but Oregon won’t have to ask him to win games on his own. The Ducks have a deep supporting cast, including running backs Royce Freeman and Thomas Tyner, a standout group of receivers, headlined by Devon Allen, Bralon Addison, Byron Marshall and Darren Carrington. The offensive line has a few holes to address, but several players received significant snaps due to injuries in 2014.

 

Oregon opens its season with…

Eastern Washington. How’s that for a storyline in 2015?

 

Here’s a look at Adams’ stats at EWU from 2012-14:

YearGamesCompletionsAttemptsPass YdsTDsINTsRush YdsTDs
2012121312151,9612083421
2013153194864,99455156054
2014102513803,4833582856

 

I asked two writers that watched Adams during his career at Eastern Washington. What exactly does Adams bring to the table and what should we expect from the senior in 2015?
 

Kyle Kensing, (),  and

"Despite getting zero recruiting interest from Pac-12 schools coming out of Southern California, Vernon Adams has proven he can hang with Pac-12 competition.

 

He's done so twice, in fact. Last year, he accounted for seven touchdowns total against a Washington defense that was loaded with NFL-level talent. In 2013, he went off for six touchdowns in an upset of Oregon State.

 

No knock on Eastern Washington, which is one of the premier FCS programs, but imagine what Adams can do to the Pac-12 when he's surrounded by more Pac-12-quality players.

 

I would imagine that's the outlook Mark Helfrich has in adding Adams for this one season. He's experienced, talented and at EWU, he played a style similar to what will be expected of him at Oregon.

 

Beau Baldwin is one of the more innovative offensive coaches in the FCS, so Adams should transition smoothly at Oregon.

 

He can run and does, but he's not a 'running' quarterback. It's more a nice weapon he can unleash if he has to, but Adams thrives more as a passer. He has tremendous arm strength and delivers the ball well on the move. That latter attribute should result in Oregon utilizing the pop pass more in 2015." 

 

Craig Haley, (), FCS Executive Director for :

 

"Vernon Adams is an electric player and has a great chance to succeed at Oregon. He's a dual threat and will have to adjust from the spread to the read option, but he has the right skill set. He's already shown he can dominate Pac-12 competition. Clearly, he was underrecruited by the FBS when he was in high school. It's a huge loss for the FCS level."

 

Twitter Reaction:


 


Vernon Adams - Eastern Washington Highlights:

Teaser:
Oregon Finds its Replacement for Marcus Mariota in Transfer Vernon Adams
Post date: Monday, February 9, 2015 - 15:48
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/ranking-nba%E2%80%99s-title-contenders
Body:

10. Oklahoma City Thunder

Don’t count the Thunder out just yet. Even though they’re two spots out of the Western Conference playoffs at the moment, it would take just one signature winning streak to close their current two-game gap. And once Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook — the most talented duo in the whole game — are in the postseason, anything is possible.

 

9. Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers were climbing these rankings until Blake Griffin was taken out of action with an elbow infection that will require surgery and keep him out indefinitely. The L.A. depth chart is shallow behind Blake, so keeping things afloat will be a tremendous challenge. But if they can stay in the playoffs without their big man, then they’ll still have one of the best starting units around if he returns to action in the spring.

 

8. Chicago Bulls

The Bulls have been struck by a winter malaise that’s not common in the Tom Thibodeau era. And with starting forward Mike Dunleavy out and Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah still on the mend from injuries, Chicago has been hard to gauge. But we’ve seen them grab enough statement wins to know they’re still in this conversation.

 

7. San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs haven’t blown anyone away yet this season, but they’re also the consummate peak-when-it-matters squad. The dominance they showed in last year’s championship run evoked some of the best teams in NBA history, and if they can return to something resembling that scary form, they could become the favorites to take it all home once again.

 

6. Portland Trail Blazers

Through hell and the high water of injury troubles, the Blazers have improved by developing their bench into a unit much more effective than it was last year. Meyers Leonard and C.J. McCollum have become weapons as the Portland starting five continues to get better together, and the team’s defense has been surprisingly efficient. Now that they’re healthy again, we’ll see just how potent they can be.

 

5. Houston Rockets

James Harden might not win the MVP — Steph Curry’s eminent likability makes him the favorite in a media narrative sense, even if The Beard has put his team on his shoulders more than any other star this season. If Harden and Co. can continue to chug along with their defense-first attack, though, they’ll get Dwight Howard back in time for April and be a team who nobody wants to face.

 

4. Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks, by way of inertia, have proved themselves as contenders. No 42-10 team has ever not has serious potential to win the NBA Finals, and Atlanta’s newness to this realm shouldn’t disqualify them. Plus, as the Spurs showed us last year, no amount of star power is an appropriate match for a team that amasses into something much greater than the sum of its parts.

 

3. Cleveland Cavaliers

Ah, so, finally — the Cavs are who we thought they were. Winners of 13 of their last 14, they’ve begun to integrate Kevin Love into their offense in big ways, and their defense has been on a huge uptick ever since Timofey Mozgov came to town. It was fun to watch the Cleveland empire burn before it started, but now it looks like they’re building their throne quite effectively.

 

2. Memphis Grizzlies

Memphis’ grind-it-out style is moving in the opposite direction of the rest of the league. A spread-out, three-point-loving style has become the mark for most good teams, but the Grizzlies defy that trend by being so good at a slow, half-court style that they make you play it, too. It remains to be seen whether anyone has the antidote to this terrific, nostalgic molasses.

 

1. Golden State Warriors

The Warriors have simply been more impressive than any other team. Often ranking No. 1 on both offense and defense, they’ve even gone through their spectacular season without consistent health from multi-skilled center Andrew Bogut. Golden State can beat you in so many ways — they’re not just the jump-shooters many claim them to be — and they look poised to unleash their full arsenal this spring.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, February 9, 2015 - 13:41
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-february-9-2015
Body:

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Feb. 9: 

 

.

 

. And he did pretty well on the court, too: .

 

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.

 

.

 

• Apparently, .

 

• Interesting: . Romeo, hand me the 3-wood.

 

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• The Brow's legend grows with a walk-off 3.

 

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

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, February 9, 2015 - 11:43
Path: /college-basketball/remembering-legendary-north-carolina-coach-dean-smith
Body:

Dean Smith is one of the rare figures and perhaps the only figure who directly connects the birth of basketball to its modern era.

 

Smith played at Kansas for Phog Allen, the “Father of Basketball Coaching” who played for the inventor of the game, James Naismith. Smith then coached Michael Jordan. From Naismith to Allen to Smith to Jordan, it would be hard to find a better connection from the infancy of basketball to the modern game. 

 

Beyond the games, records and innovations, Smith was an integral part of bringing athletics into the future by integrating the ACC and taking the lead on social and race issues.

 

Smith died Saturday, leaving a legacy that was celebrated throughout the sports world. Smith was 83.

 

Smith was legendary not only for his basketball record or his role in championing civil rights, but also his way of remembering the names of every player he coached, from the Hall of Famers to the walk-ons.

 

“He made sure that we knew our teachers by their first names, not just the last names,” Tar Heels All-American Vince Carter told Athlon Sports in 2005. He’d come and ask you, ‘so, what’s your teacher’s first name?’ He’d have a coach who was assigned to be at the front door of every one of our classes, every player.”

 

The mantras started in practice.

 

Wrote Eric Montross, an All-American who played for Smith from 1990-94, in “:”

 

“The emphasis was on transforming young athletes into mature educated adults of good character, both on and off the court. In my experience, this perspective was emphasized by the unique way that Coach Smith began practices. Instead of beginning in a typical fashion with layup lines or fast-break drills, every Dean Smith practice started with a thought for the day, an impressive mix of life lessons and messages pertinent to the game of basketball.

 

“One such quote, which I have kept with me now for 15 years, reads: ‘When trying to move a mountain, you must first begin by removing small stones.’ Often the freshmen would be called upon to recite these lines, and if the player did not know the quote, the entire team would be sent to the end of the line to run sprints — that is, the entire team minus the player who made the mistake.”

 

Related:

 

By the Numbers

 

• Dean Smith won 879 career games, breaking Adolph Rupp’s career wins record of 876 in 1997. Smith now ranks sixth on the NCAA’s all-time wins list behind Mike Krzyzewski (1,003), Herb Magee (1,000), Jim Boeheim (963), Don Meyer (923) and Bob Knight (902).

 

• Only eight coaches have spent more games on the bench than Smith’s 1,133. On that list are Jim Phelan, Krzyzewski, Knight, Boeheim, Jim Calhoun, Lou Henson, Rollie Massimino and Lefty Driesell.

 

• Only three coaches in Division I history have more 20-win seasons: Boeheim (36), Krzyzewski (31) and Smith (30). Smith’s streak of 27 consecutive 20-win seasons is a Division I record by a long shot. The next longest streak belongs to Arizona’s Lute Olson at 20.

 

• Smith also set the record for ACC wins with 422, a mark that wasn’t broken until this season when Krzyzewski did it on Feb. 4. 

 

 

 

 

• This is a startling number, but perhaps understandable considering the standard Smith set at North Carolina. The legendary Tar Heels coach was only named national coach of the year three times in 1977, 1979 and 1993. The latter may be the most interesting. Smith won the Basketball Times and Naismith coach of the year awards. The other awards were swept by one of his proteges, Vanderbilt’s Eddie Fogler.

 

• By now, it’s too easy to forget the college part of college athletics, the University of North Carolina included. Even more important than Smith’s on-court records — and there are many — is that 97 percent of his players graduated. Even those that went to the pros returned to UNC to get their degrees. 

 

Trailblazing Legacy

 

Smith’s legacy cannot be removed from his stance on social issues. Smith was among the key figures in integrating the ACC and college sports. Willie Cooper was the first black player for the Tar Heels’ freshman team in 1964. Charles Scott was North Carolina's first black scholarship player in 1966 and one of the early African-Americans to play on scholarship a major Southern school. Scott helped the Tar Heels to the Final Four in 1968 and 1969.

 

What stuck with Scott was that Smith . Scott’s son, Shannon, is a starting guard for Ohio State this season.

 

Beyond Scott, Smith was outspoken on a variety of issues, including opposition to the death penalty, criticism for the Vietnam War and abolition to nuclear weapons. Such vocal and controversial stances are all but gone from college athletics today.

 

In 2013, though he wasn’t able to receive the award in person, Smith received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest national honor for a civilian. The list of other sports figures honored in such a way is staggering: Hank Arron, Muhammad Ali, Bear Bryant, Roberto Clemente, Joe DiMaggio, Billie Jean King, Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Pat Summitt and John Wooden, for starters.

 

In many ways, the Presidential Medal of Freedom was the perfect culmination for his career. When he started at North Carolina, John F. Kennedy was the president. Nine presidencies later, Barack Obama awarded him the Medal of Freedom. Smith reached his first Final Four when Lyndon Johnson was in office, won his first national championship with Ronald Reagan in office and reached his last Final Four with Bill Clinton in the White House. 

 

Smith retired in 1997 after reaching his 11th Final Four. Only John Wooden (12) reached more. Smith’s 23 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances from 1975-97 remains a record for coaches. His successors, Bill Guthridge and Matt Doherty, added four more to extend UNC’s streak to 27. Guthridge reached the Final Four twice in three seasons.

 

Smith completed his career one of only four coaches to win an NCAA championship, an NIT championship and an Olympic gold medal, joining Adolph Rubb, Pete Newell and Bob Knight. The 1976 gold is notable in particular after the United States lost to the Soviet Union in 1972.

 

Beyond a coaching tree that includes Hall of Famers Roy Williams and Larry Brown, Smith coached six players who went to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame themselves: Billy Cunningham (1962-65), Bob McAdoo (1971-72, James Worthy (1970-82) and Michael Jordan (1981-84).

 

 

Teaser:
Remembering Legendary North Carolina coach Dean Smith
Post date: Monday, February 9, 2015 - 11:36
Path: /nfl/grading-nfls-new-coaching-hires-2015
Body:

For the second offseason in a row, seven NFL teams have hired new head coaches. Unlike last year, however, the most recent coaching carousel took a few unexpected turns.

 

While Atlanta, Chicago and the Jets all fired their head coach on Dec. 29, the day after the regular season ended (also known as Black Monday), the most surprising dismissal came when Denver fired its head coach the day after the Divisional Round of the playoffs. This offseason also saw a mutual parting of ways in San Francisco and Buffalo’s head coach exercising an opt out clause in his contract.

 

Fortunately, the dust has settled and the coaching carousel has once again come to a complete stop. While it’s entirely too early to fully evaluate each team’s decision, here is an early impression on each hire.

 

1. Rex Ryan, Buffalo Bills

Previous Job: Jets head coach

Career Record: 46-50 (Jets, 2009-14)

 

While it didn’t end well for Ryan with the Jets, the Bills couldn’t have scripted a better ending to the strange Doug Marrone saga than to land their former foe. Marrone exercising his opt out clause, while costly, could be a blessing in disguise as the franchise now gets a chance to reboot with the brash, boisterous Ryan leading the charge. Ryan’s familiarity with the AFC East should not be overlooked nor the notion that the Bills have already become a more interesting team to follow simply because of his presence and personality. The only thing keeping Ryan from receiving a perfect grade is a questionable track record when it comes to quarterbacks, although he did get to back-to-back AFC Championship Games with Mark Sanchez at the helm. At least Ryan has a new offensive coordinator (Greg Roman) to help him try and change his QB rep with EJ Manuel (or whoever ends up getting the starting job).

 
Grade: A

 

2. John Fox, Chicago Bears

Previous Job: Broncos head coach

Career Record: 119-89 (Panthers, 2002-09; Broncos, 2011-14)

 

Similar to the Jets, unexpected circumstances played a big role in the Bears’ search for Marc Trestman’s successor. John Elway’s surprising decision to fire Fox a day after Denver’s home playoff loss to Indianapolis presented Chicago’s new general manager Ryan Pace with an opportunity to do something the franchise had never done before – hire someone with previous head coaching experience. Having won with both the Broncos and before that the Panthers, Fox seems like the perfect choice to get the Bears back on track. He brings instant credibility and a defensive mindset, which for all the criticism and barbs thrown Jay Cutler’s way was one of Chicago’s biggest issues this past season. Granted, Cutler also is at the top of Fox’s question marks and concerns, but a return to the Bears’ roots of defense and running the ball could make life easier for the quarterback too. Fox also gets high marks and praise for putting together an impressive staff led by defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and offensive coordinator Adam Gase, who has worked with Peyton Manning the past three seasons.
 
Grade: A

 

3. Dan Quinn, Atlanta Falcons

Previous Job: Seahawks defensive coordinator

Career Record: First season

 

Quinn may have been the last one to land a job on this list, but give credit to the Falcons for being willing to wait. The architect of the defense that played in back-to-back Super Bowls, Quinn finally gets his well-deserved shot at being a head coach. Mike Smith’s firing was somewhat surprising, given the success he had, but the transition from him to Quinn should be somewhat seamless given their similar backgrounds. It’s hard to gauge how successful a rookie head coach will be, but I like Quinn’s chances provided he’s able to upgrade his defensive personnel and stabilize the offensive line.

 

Grade: B+

 

4. Jack Del Rio, Oakland Raiders

Previous Job: Broncos defensive coordinator

Career Record: 68-71 (Jaguars, 2003-11)

 

John Fox's defensive coordniator in Denver the past three seasons, Del Rio has earned his second shot at being a head coach. A native of the San Francisco Bay Area, Del Rio grew up a Raiders fan and seems to fit their persona to a tee. It certainly didn’t hurt that owner Mark Davis thought the same thing, as he began his pursuit of Del Rio before the regular season ended. Del Rio has experience with young, rebuilding teams and a pretty good track record when it comes to defense. What’s more, Del Rio wanted this job, which is saying something considering how far this franchise has fallen. But with Del Rio now in charge, along with building blocks like linebacker Khalil Mack and Derek Carr, the Silver and Black could be heard from sooner rather than later.

 

Grade: B

 

5. Gary Kubiak, Denver Broncos

Previous Job: Ravens offensive coordinator

Career Record: 61-64 (Texans, 2006-13)

 

Kubiak initially stated he would remain in Baltimore, but then John Elway fired John Fox and everything changed. Drafted by Denver in 1983 and where he spent his entire playing career as Elway's backup, Kubiak is the logical fit from the franchise’s standpoint. Between his nine seasons as a player and his 11 as an offensive coordinator, Kubiak has spent as much time as a Bronco as his new boss. Kubiak also enjoyed success with the Texans, but his two playoff appearances were preceded by just one winning season in his first five and were followed up by a nightmarish 2013 campaign that led to his firing after a 2-11 start. On the field, Kubiak’s West Coast offense and Peyton Manning’s skill set do not seem like the ideal fit, and there’s also the matter of Elway not leaving any room for doubt when it comes to expectations. Keep in mind that Fox took this team to a Super Bowl while Kubiak has yet to make it past the Divisional Round. Welcome home Gary, now get to work.

 

Grade: B-

 

6. Todd Bowles, New York Jets

Previous Job: Cardinals defensive coordinator

Career Record: 2-1* (Dolphins, 2011)

 

Bowles opened many an eye with his work with the Cardinals’ defense the past two seasons (especially 2014), and he was able to parlay that into his dream job. A New Jersey native, Bowles should be pretty familiar with all of the attention, both wanted and unwanted, that comes with being the head coach of a team that calls the media capital of the world home. A former safety, Bowles’ playing experience should help him develop relationships with his new charges. He also has been a head coach before, serving as the Dolphins’ interim for three games in 2011 after Tony Sparano was fired. Unfortunately all of this experience doesn’t really prepare him for one of the biggest challenges awaiting him – finding out if Geno Smith can be a successful starting quarterback in the NFL.

 

Grade: B-

 

7. Jim Tomsula, San Francisco 49ers

Previous Job: 49ers defensive line coach

Career Record: 1-0* (49ers, 2010)

 

Nothing against Tomsula, but it’s hard to not perceive his hiring as nothing more than CEO Jed York and general manager Trent Baalke finding their yes-man. How else can you explain Jim Harbaugh leaving the 49ers to become the head coach at Michigan for the same amount of money and the subsequent search that included interviews with at least eight other candidates yet resulted in the hiring of the only one without any previous coordinator or head coaching experience in the NFL? Sorry, one game as the interim head coach in 2010 doesn’t really count nor does his one season as head coach of NFL Europe’s Rhein Fire, who didn’t even qualify for the playoffs that year. And even though Tomsula’s hiring has since been endorsed by the players, how can you justify choosing him over say an experienced head coach like Rex Ryan or a hot coordinator like Adam Gase, who the 49ers interviewed twice, or even in-house candidate Vic Fangio? And then there's the matter that after Tomsula was hired every assistant coach that served under Harbaugh was fired, except one. The popular opinion following Harbaugh’s decision to bolt for his alma mater was there was a power struggle between him and upper management. Tomsula’s hiring pretty much confirms this, no?

 

Grade: D

 

*Interim head coach

Teaser:
Grading the NFL’s New Coaching Hires
Post date: Monday, February 9, 2015 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/nba-remembers-dean-smith-1931-2015
Body:
Dean Smith, the legendary coach who spent more than four decades bringing up some of the finest to ever play the game, has passed away at the age of 83, after a trying battle with dementia.

 

From 1961 to 1997, Smith was the head coach of the University of North Carolina Tar Heels. His lengthy list of accolades includes 11 Final Four appearances, two national titles, four National Coach of the Year designations, and an Olympic gold medal won in 1976. He trained many notable NBA players, including Vince Carter, Rasheed Wallace, Sam Perkins, Jerry Stackhouse, J.R. Reid, Kenny Smith, Brad Daugherty, James Worthy, and of course Michael Jordan. Jordan , Sunday, in memory of Smith:

 

“Other than my parents, no one had a bigger influence on my life than Coach Smith. He was more than a coach — he was my mentor, my teacher, my second father. Coach was always there for me whenever I needed him and I loved him for it. In teaching me the game of basketball, he taught me about life. My heart goes out to Linnea and their kids. We’ve lost a great man who had an incredible impact on his players, his staff and the entire UNC family.”

 

Stackhouse sent out this tweet, and explained in an how Smith would even assist him with financial management.

 

Worthy kept it short and sweet:

 

And Worthy’s fellow Los Angeles Lakers trustee, general manager Mitch Kupchak, :

 

“Coach Smith was one of the most influential people in my life, and his passing brings me great sadness. However, he was a great man and someone I loved and respected greatly, and I celebrate the fact that I knew him and had him in my life for as long as I did. His influence on my life didn’t end when I left Chapel Hill, as he was a trusted and valuable advisor to me when I became a player, then an executive in the NBA. He had a hugely positive impact on the lives of hundreds of young men who were lucky enough to call him Coach, and I was blessed to be among them.”

 

Rest in peace.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, February 9, 2015 - 10:24
Path: /college-football/acc-team-recruiting-consensus-rankings-2015
Body:

Athlon Sports has averaged out the four major recruiting services team rankings for the ACC — 247Sports, Rivals.com, Scout.com and ESPN — and created the ACC consensus team recruiting rankings for 2015. Here is what we learned:

 

Florida State, Clemson and everybody else

It’s clear who the class of the ACC was in 2015 recruiting. The Seminoles and Tigers were ranked in the top five nationally by both Rivals and ESPN and the top eight by 247. No one else in the ACC was even close and North Carolina finished third with an average ranking just outside of the top 25. That said, for whatever reason, Scout didn’t agree, ranking both Clemson and Florida State outside of the top 10 nationally (take it up with them, fans).

 

Newest faces

Louisville and Bobby Petrino just completed their first full cycle as a member of the ACC and it appears the Cardinals will do just fine in their new league. The Cards ranked no lower than 32nd nationally by any service and finished solidly in the top half of the league. The same cannot be said about Pitt and Syracuse, who signed the worst two classes in the ACC this fall (mostly due to size for the Panthers).

 

Three-star classes

Florida State and Clemson signed all seven five-star recruits that the ACC landed this cycle. Those two programs, as expected, signed 19 of the 42 four-star recruits as well. Who didn’t sign a single five- or four-star recruit in the ACC? Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, Boston College and Syracuse were the only ACC teams that didn’t land a four-star recruit this year.

 

Middle of the pACCk

The middle of the ACC pack needs to show improvement. Miami was one of the after missing out a bunch of quality players and falling outside of the top 25. ESPN and Rivals barely snuck Virginia Tech into the Top 25 and North Carolina was 24th by Scout and ESPN. But those three programs are the next best recruiting brands in the league and have history of competing at a high level in the ACC. So if the league wants to be considered on the same playing field as the SEC or Pac-12 nationally, these three programs need to start threatening top-10 classes on the recruiting trail.

 

Listen to the Cover 2 Podcast Recruiting Special feat. Barton Simmons:



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Positive signs in Winston-Salem?

Using Rivals.com team rankings — because they date back the farthest — Wake Forest signed its best class of the modern era this year. Three of the four sites ranked the Demon Deacons 53rd or better, making it the highest-rated class for Wake Forest since Rivals began tracking team rankings in 2002. ESPN ranked the Deacs an exciting 42nd in the nation — ahead of quality programs like Maryland, BYU, Cal, Utah, Iowa and others. Things could be looking up for Dave Clawson.

 

2015 ACC Consensus Team Recruiting Rankings:

 

  Total5-Star4-StarNat'l Avg247RivalsScoutESPN
1.204104.833112
2.25397.884154
3.19042628282424
4.220527.326263423
5.240429.529244025
6.240231.532323230
7.23043430353833
8.270041.343394241
9.23014848445545
10.240053.553526742
11.25005460475851
12.180156.350616945
13.260059.363624963
14.140261.362726348

 

Teaser:
College Football: 2014 Consensus ACC Team Recruiting Rankings
Post date: Monday, February 9, 2015 - 09:30

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