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All taxonomy terms: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder, NBA
Path: /nba/kevin-durant-likely-out-season
Body:

The Oklahoma City Thunder’s season just keeps getting worse.

 

In the same week that power forward and defensive linchpin Serge Ibaka was reported to be out for up to a month and a half, the team also learned that they’re losing reigning MVP Kevin Durant indefinitely.

 

A jones fracture in his foot caused Durant to miss a little more than the first month of the season, and he was then called out of action again in February, after appearing to have aggravated the injury again. The assumption was that Durant would return in time for the playoffs, but now that seems unlikely.

 

Thunder general manager Sam Presti called a press conference today to announce that Durant is being “removed from basketball activities… the goal is to get him back on the court healthy, whenever that is,” Presti said.

 

Presti appeared haggard during the announcement — as if we needed any further indication that he was delivering bad news.

 

The Thunder are quickly establishing an identity as one of the NBA’s great “could’ve been” teams. In Durant, the red-hot Russell Westbrook, and James Harden, they once had three MVP-caliber players on the same team, at a very ripe age. And with the similarly young Ibaka, one of the game’s best rim-protectors, they made up a quartet that promised spectacular things.

 

Harden was of course traded to the Houston Rockets, and injuries to the remaining three mean OKC hasn’t seen a title run with a full, healthy version of their amazing core since they lost to the Miami Heat in the 2012 NBA Finals.

 

Next season might be the Thunder’s final chance to make the most of the lightning they’ve caught in a bottle, as it’s the last on Durant’s current contract before he can test free agency.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, March 20, 2015 - 12:56
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-march-20-2015
Body:

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for March 20:

 

Enjoy these GIFs of spring training Hooters ball girls.

 

A wild day 1 of the NCAA Tournament included the goaltend call heard round the world.

 

Ron and R.J. Hunter provided One Shining Moment for the ages. I have a feeling they'll still be showing this footage in 2115.

 

• Even on a great day of basketball, nothing gets the degenerate gamblers going quite like a meaningless layup that results in a cover.

 

• Need a reason to root against Kentucky? How about the thought of this guy living forever with this tattoo?

 

USA Today went all access with Hampton, UK's round one sacrifical lamb.

 

The Tom Izzo huddle: There's nothing like it.

 

A soccer player helpfully marked an injured ref's body with vanishing spray. Next time just draw a chalk outline. 

 

Senators fans have a tradition of tossing burgers onto the ice after wins, providing Curtis Lazar with a tasty snack.

 

The most hilariously violent college fight songs.

 

The 63 best NCAA Tournament games of all time at each round and region.

 

• LSU's collapse culminated with a clumsy buzzer beater by NC State. Just how Mark Gottfried drew it up.

 

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

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, March 20, 2015 - 11:24
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/ranking-nba%E2%80%99s-best-available-coaching-candidates
Body:

9. Vinny Del Negro

The former leader of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Clippers, Del Negro doesn’t have the best reputation among hardcore NBA followers. He infamously got into a physical altercation with executive John Paxson before leaving the Bulls, and is widely cited as strategically challenged. He does get his name into reports for nearly every new opening, though.

 

8. Avery Johnson

Johnson, now an analyst with ESPN, has fallen off the radar for new coaching spots. It’s unclear whether this is because he’s no longer too interested in jobs, after a rocky stint with the Brooklyn Nets, or because front offices just don’t want to hire him. His bad relationship with Nets point guard Deron Williams has led some to believe he doesn’t relate well to contemporary players — but Williams, in Johnson’s defense, hasn’t gotten along well with many coaches. Avery was a Coach of the Year with the Dallas Mavericks in 2006, and any team looking for a defense-first approach may want to call him up.

 

7. Fred Hoiberg

Often mentioned as the most NBA-inclined of the NCAA coaches, Hoiberg runs an offense at Iowa State University that would certainly fit onto a professional court. The Minnesota Timberwolves have been previously linked to Hoiberg, and now the Bulls are believed to be in the running for his services, in the event that they part ways with Tom Thibodeau. One way or another, an NBA job will eventually be Hoiberg’s, if he wants it.

 

6. Scott Skiles

The rap on Skiles is that he can get your team to play hard and well for a few seasons, but will inevitably wear out his welcome by pushing too hard on the gas pedal, for too long. He burns his players out. It happened with the Bulls and the Milwaukee Bucks, and skeptics fear it may also happen if he joins the team he once played for, the Orlando Magic. Skiles may be a good fit for that team while they’re still young and impressionable — but for how long could that pairing really last?

 

5. Nate McMillan

McMillan coached the Portland Trail Blazers for seven seasons and the Seattle SuperSonics for five, racking up a solid .514 winning percentage. Now an assistant with the Indiana Pacers, he is mysteriously absent from talks about most head coaching vacancies. Don’t be surprised to see mentions of him return this summer, though.

 

4. Mike D’Antoni

There wasn’t much love for Mike D’Antoni with the Los Angeles Lakers or New York Knicks, but he’s still remembered as the leading figure in the NBA’s offensive revolution for his work with Steve Nash and the “seven seconds or less” Phoenix Suns. D’Antoni’s approach seems like a natural fit with the Denver Nuggets, if they decide not to hire beloved interim coach Melvin Hunt full-time. The heightened Colorado altitude, along with the pick-and-roll dynamism of point guard Ty Lawson, makes for a fertile soil for a D’Antoni renaissance.

 

3. Mark Jackson

Mark Jackson has become a subject of much mockery, for his often exhausting media presence and his self-righteous exit from the Golden State Warriors. He’s a hard guy to deal with, who burns bridges both in his locker room and in front offices. But there’s no denying the part he played in resurrecting the Warriors, and that he’s a world-class motivator who could improve almost any defense in the league. Jackson has been linked to the Cleveland Cavaliers — should things go south with David Blatt — due to sharing an agency with LeBron James.

 

2. Mike Malone

The Sacramento Kings never should have fired Mike Malone. George Karl is a Hall of Fame replacement, sure, but can he (or anyone else, for that matter) get DeMarcus Cousins on his side as thoroughly as Malone did? Cousins is one of the league’s most precious commodities: a once-in-a-generation big man talent whose powers are extremely difficult to unlock. That Malone had him happy, and playing the best ball of his life on both sides of the court, should be more than enough evidence to get him another head coaching job soon.

 

1. Alvin Gentry

D’Antoni paved the way in Phoenix, but few seem to remember that Gentry took them closest to the promised land. Fusing the pace-and-space offense with a strong-side defense that was equally progressive, Gentry’s 2009-10 Suns were a lot closer to a title than any previous Suns teams. Now an assistant with the league-leading Warriors, Gentry is known by wise NBA heads as one of the better strategists in the game, and an eminently likable one, to boot.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, March 20, 2015 - 10:07
All taxonomy terms: Billy Horschel, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-14-billy-horschel
Body:

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

 

No. 14: Billy Horschel

 

Born: Dec. 7, 1986, Grant, Fla. | Career PGA Tour Wins: 3 | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 2 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $4,814,787 (7th) World Ranking: 17

2014 Key Stats

      Ball Striking: 15 (3rd)

      Greens in Regulation Percentage: 70.43% (4th)

      Putting from 5-10’: 64.29% (2nd)

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Horschel has improved his position on the money list over the last three years — from 147th to 13th to seventh — and of course his late-season heroics with victories at the BMW and Tour Championship resulted in him winning the coveted FedExCup, bettering his 16th-place finish in the season-long competition for 2013. After a slow start to his professional career, owing to a wrist injury, Billy is fulfilling the big hype that preceded him on Tour. Much of his success can be attributed to his almost flawless golf swing, but his improved putting inside of 10 feet rounds out a technical game that is hard to match. His technical skills, however, may not be his biggest strength; as anyone who watched him rebound from a last-hole mistake at Deutsche Bank to win the next two weeks can attest, his belief in himself is unwavering and refreshing in an era replete with perfection-addicted and insecure golfers. He seems ideally suited to the psychological rigors of major championship golf, and in his first major, the U.S. Open in 2013, he was Hoganesque in hitting all 18 greens during the second round at Merion Golf Club, eventually finishing fourth. At 28 years of age, Billy is just now coming into his prime, with an attitude and golf swing that will continue to make him one of the best players in the world for many years ahead.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 8
Wins: 0

2014 Performance:
Masters - T37
U.S. Open - T23
British Open - Cut
PGA Championship - T58

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T37 (2014)
U.S. Open - T4 (2013)
British Open - Cut (2013, '14)
PGA Championship - T58 (2014)
Top-10 Finishes: 1
Top-25 Finishes: 2
Missed Cuts: 4

 

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

 

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

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, March 20, 2015 - 09:53
All taxonomy terms: Overtime, News
Path: /overtime/arkansas-player-throws-shoe-teammate-during-play-vs-wofford
Body:

The NCAA Tournament never ceases to amaze.

 

In the first half of Arkansas’ game against Wofford, Razorbacks’ guard Rashad Madden lost a shoe, kicking it into the stands.

 

Play never stopped, so one of Madden’s teammates threw a replacement shoe from the bench. Presumably they were the same size.

 

We’ll never know. Play stopped when officials called a delay of game warning rather than a technical foul much to the surprise of the TNT announcing crew.

 

See for yourself.

 

 

Here's the entire sequence:

 

 

Teaser:
Arkansas Player Throws Shoe to Teammate During Play vs. Wofford
Post date: Thursday, March 19, 2015 - 23:21
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/2015-ncaa-tournament-friday-round-64-preview-and-predictions
Body:

How is the NCAA Tournament going to top the first day of play for the field of 64?

 

Certainly, that’s going to be tough after two 14 seeds won early in the day and Ohio State beat VCU in overtime.

 

The fireworks might not be quite as pronounced — though if there’s an upset it will be a biggie. Three No. 2 seeds and two No. 1 seeds are in action Friday, meaning we’ll get a good idea of how some of the favorites will look in their first NCAA game.

 

Here's what you have to look forward to during the second day of the round of 64.

 

NCAA Tournament Round of 64 Friday Preview

All times Eastern

 

No. 15 New Mexico State vs. No. 2 Kansas

TV: 12:15 p.m., CBS

Site: Omaha, Neb. (Midwest Region)

Preview: Kansas is hoping Perry Ellis will regain his pre-injury form. Ellis played in the last two games of the Big 12 tournament, but went 6-of-21 from the field in those two games. The Jayhawks might not have too much trouble with New Mexico State, but Ellis’ recovery will be worth watching for KU’s chances of advancing into the second weekend.

Prediction: Kansas 67-57

 

No. 10 Georgia vs. No. 7 Michigan State

TV: 12:40 p.m., truTV

Site: Charlotte, N.C. (East Region)

Preview: Michigan State is one of the hottest teams in the country, winning four of its last five and taking Wisconsin to overtime in the Big Ten championship for its only loss. The Spartans have averaged 111 points per 100 possessions and shot 54 percent from 2-point range during the last five games. Meanwhile, Georgia has been the walking wounded with Kenny Gaines missing the Bulldogs’ last game with a foot injury.

Prediction: Michigan State 71-67

 

No. 12 Wyoming vs. No. 5 Northern Iowa

TV: 1:40 p.m., TBS

Site: Seattle (East Region)

Preview: Get read for a grinder in a flyover state special in the round of 64. Wyoming ranks 344th in adjusted tempo while Northern Iowa ranks 348th. Possessions will be low, but Northern Iowa still has Seth Tuttle and a top-20 offense and defense on KenPom.

Prediction: Northern Iowa 60-53

 

No. 12 Buffalo vs. No. 5 West Virginia

TV: 2:10 p.m., TNT

Site: Columbus, Ohio (Midwest Region)

Preview: Buffalo knows what it’s going to get out of West Virginia. The Mountaineers press and press and press, forcing turnovers on 28.2 percent of possessions. The Mountaineers will face a team that’s pretty secure with the ball. Upset brewing for the upstart Bulls?

Prediction: Buffalo 64-60

 

No. 10 Indiana vs. No. 7 Wichita State

TV: 2:45 p.m., CBS

Site: Omaha, Neb. (Midwest Region)

Preview: Three-point happy Indiana faces a team that ranks 14th in defensive efficiency. The Shockers allow opponents to shoot 34.4 percent from 3, a figure that ranks 185th nationally. Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker, Tekele Cotton and Darius Carter might have a field day against a Hoosiers team that struggles to defend.

Prediction: Wichita State 77-70

 

No. 15 Belmont vs. No. 2 Virginia

TV: 3:10 p.m., truTV

Site: Charlotte, N.C. (East Region)

Preview: This is not the Belmont team you may have picked in your bracket a few years ago. The Bruins finished third in the Ohio Valley before knocking off Murray State in the title game. At the same time, this isn’t the Virginia team from early in the year. The Cavaliers have been turnover-happy in recent games and are easy Justin Anderson back into the lineup. If Belmont can go crazy from 3-point range again, just maybe...

Prediction: Virginia 68-60

 

No. 13 UC Irvine vs. No. 4 Louisville

TV: Seattle (East Region)

Site: 4:10 p.m., TBS

Preview: Louisville has reached at least the Sweet 16 in each of the last three Tournaments, going back to an upset loss to No. 13 seed Morehead State in 2011. The Cardinals, though, bring a shorthanded team to the tournament without point guard Chris Jones, who was dismissed in late February. The Cards can’t shoot 3s, so they’ll have to get to the rim. A troublesome proposition with 7-foot-6 Mamadou Ndiaye on the other end.

Prediction: Louisville 70-60

 

No. 13 Valparaiso vs. No. 4 Maryland

TV: 4:40 p.m., TNT

Site: Columbus, Ohio (Midwest Region)

Preview: This is the rare game where the mid-major has the bigger lineup than the top-four seed from the Big Ten. Valparaiso starts Vashil Fernandez (6-10), Alec Peters (6-9) and E. Victor Nickerson (6-8). Maryland starts only one guy taller than 6-7 (Jake Layman). Maryland’s big guards of Dez Wells and Melo Trimble should have an advantage against the Valpo backcourt.

Prediction: Maryland 64-59

 

No. 9 Oklahoma State vs. No. 8 Oregon

TV: 6:50 p.m., TBS

Site: Omaha, Neb. (West Region)

Preview: Oregon won seven of its last eight to get into the field while Oklahoma State has lost six of the last seven. That’s a lot of momentum going in opposite directions. 

Prediction: Oregon 78-67

 

No. 16 Robert Morris vs. No. 1 Duke

TV: 7:10 p.m., CBS

Site: Charlotte, N.C. (South Region)

Preview: The 6-11 Jahlil Okafor plays a team from the Northeast Conference without a player taller than 6-9. It won’t be pretty.

Prediction: Duke 89-65

 

No. 10 Davidson vs. No. 7 Iowa

TV: Seattle (South Region)

Site: 7:20 p.m., TNT

Preview: Davidson is one of the best offensive teams in the country thanks to its prolific 3-point shooting — the Wildcats shoot 39.3 percent from long range and derive 40.7 percent of their scoring from 3-pointers. Iowa isn’t the offensive team it was a year ago, but the Hawkeyes have three bigs in Aaron White, Jarrod Uthoff and Adam Woodbury who will be a tough matchup for Davidson.

Prediction: Davidson 77-73

 

No. 14 Albany vs. No. 3 Oklahoma

TV: 7:27 p.m., truTV

Site: Columbus, Ohio (East Region)

Preview: Albany got into the Tournament on a wild shot by Peter Hooley against Stony Brook in the America East final. The Great Danes run into an Oklahoma team that ranks fifth in defensive efficiency and had its own clutch shotmaker in Buddy Hield.

Prediction: Oklahoma 75-65

 

No. 16 Coastal Carolina vs. No. 1 Wisconsin

TV: 9:20 p.m., TBS

Site: Omaha, Neb. (West Region)

Preview: Coastal Carolina beat Auburn, gave Ole Miss a game and played a tough first half against UCLA this season. Still, this will be a shock for the Chanticleers.

Prediction: Wisconsin 80-60

 

No. 9 St. John’s vs. No. 8 San Diego State

TV: 9:40 p.m., CBS

Site: Charlotte, N.C. (South Region)

Preview: San Diego State is winning on defense and only defense. The Aztecs rank sixth in effective field goal defense and 271st in effective field goal shooting. St. John’s will try to get out and run against a team that would prefer to bleed the clock.

Prediction: San Diego State 58-53

 

No. 15 North Dakota State vs. No. 2 Gonzaga

TV: 9:50 p.m., TNT

Site: Seattle (South Region)

Preview: North Dakota State will try to find a way to slow down Gonzaga’s balanced offensive attack with a Summit League roster and a short bench. 

Prediction: Gonzaga 79-65

 

No. 11 Dayton vs. No. 6 Providence

TV: 9:57 p.m., truTV

Site: Columbus, Ohio (East Region)

Preview: Dayton won’t have homecourt advantage after playing on its own floor for the First Four, but the Flyers might have their share of fans at Columbus. Kris Dunn and LaDontae Henton are stars for Providence, but forwards Ben Bentil and Tyler Harris could have success against Dayton’s thinned frontcourt.

Prediction: Providence 77-68

Teaser:
2015 NCAA Tournament: Friday Round of 64 Preview and Predictions
Post date: Thursday, March 19, 2015 - 21:14
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/watch-georgia-state-coach-falls-stool-after-sons-game-winner
Body:

Forget UAB, now Georgia State is our favorite moment of March Madness so far.

 

The Panthers defeated Baylor 57-56 on a 30-foot 3-point shot from R.J. Hunter with four seconds remaining, giving the NCAA Tournament its second win for a No. 14 seed over a No. 3 in the first three games.

 

Why is Georgia State the nation’s most interesting mid-major? Let us count the ways:

 

• R.J. Hunter scored 12 points in the final three minutes after scoring four before then. Hunter happens to be the son of the coach, Ron Hunter.

 

• Ron Hunter happens to be on one leg after tearing his Achilles when Georgia State won the Sun Belt championship to go to the NCAA Tournament. R.J.’s game-winning shot sent Ron Hunter from his stool. Read that again: COACH RON HUNTER FELL OFF HIS STOOL CELEBRATING HIS SON’S GAME-WINNING SHOT IN THE NCAA TOURNAMENT.

 

Just watch:

 

 

 

We should also point out that Georgia State played Baylor without point guard Ryan Harrow, who has been hobbled by a hamstring injury. If the name Harrow sounds familiar, it’s because he was the maligned point guard at Kentucky when the Wildcats fell to the NIT two seasons ago.

 

And Harrow is one of a few redemption stories on this Georgia State roster. The Panthers also have on their roster Kevin Ware, the guard who sustained a gruesome broken leg in an Elite Eight game with Louisville in 2013. Ware had four points and three assists in the upset of Baylor.

 

March Madness, man.

Teaser:
Watch: Georgia State Coach Falls From Stool After Son's Game-Winner
Post date: Thursday, March 19, 2015 - 16:21
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/uab-should-be-your-favorite-team-even-if-blazers-busted-your-bracket
Body:

Thanks to its own administration’s decision to shut down football, UAB is a football school. The basketball team made it all that more official.

 

If you’re still looking for a rooting interest in the NCAA Tournament, now you have one.

 

No. 14 seed UAB upset Iowa State 60-59 for the first major upset of the Tournament, sending the Cyclones home and busting brackets all over the country. UAB was the first team to hold Iowa State to less than 60 points since Texas Tech on Jan. 23, 2013.

 

UAB lost its final two games of the regular season and entered the Conference USA tournament at 16-15. The Blazers, though, were up for the task against an Iowa State team that won 25 games and had a knack for second-half comebacks in recent games.

 

Here’s how UAB closed out the game:

 

UAB fans haven’t had much to cheer as the administration elected to shut down football just as the Blazers wrapped up their best season in 10 years. 

 

If that’s not a reason to pull for UAB as it faces SMU or UCLA in the next round, maybe this will help:

 

 

Teaser:
UAB Should Be Your Favorite Team Even if Blazers Busted Your Bracket
Post date: Thursday, March 19, 2015 - 15:44
All taxonomy terms: Billy Horschel, Golf
Path: /golf/billy-horschel-tip-balance-power
Body:

Reigning FedExCup champion Billy Horschel has worked his way onto the short list of players to watch in the 2015 major championships. He’s also a viable candidate to do something no one else has done — successfully defend the FedExCup. In the pages of Athlon's 2015 Golf Annual, Horschel shares the tee-to-green points of emphasis that he and respected instructor Todd Anderson have focused on during his ascension to the top 15 in the World Golf Ranking.

 

Balance of Power

by Billy Horschel

 

To get the most out of your golf swing and feel the most powerful with it, you want to make sure you're balanced in your setup. You don't want to be too much on your left foot, because then when you turn, you turn around on your left side. With a driver, you want to feel like there's more weight on your right side — maybe 60-40, or 65-35. That allows you to feel like you're loading power into your right hip. From there, I try to feel like my left hip moves towards the target, while my upper half and my left shoulder stay closed.

 

With amateurs, when they get up to the top, the left shoulder and left hip move forward at the same time. To create power, you want to create a coil, or some resistance — more of a rubber band effect, where you stretch the rubber band even more in your left lat.

So when I get up to the top, I want my left hip to go toward the target while my left shoulder stays back behind the golf ball. From there, the left hip unwinds, and the upper body follows. The club feels more like a whip, following behind everything else.

 

Todd Anderson's Keys

• Load into your right hip on the backswing (above) to create coil between your upper body and lower body, keeping the right elbow in front of the chest on the backswing

 

• Unwind from the ground up and release the energy into the ball

 

 

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, March 19, 2015 - 14:31
Path: /college-football/cover-2-college-football-podcast-2015-acc-early-preview
Body:

 

Hosts Braden Gall and Steven Lassan go in-depth with an early 2015 ACC conference preview.

 

Has the ACC elevated itself into national prominence with the likes of the SEC and Pac-12? Who are the best quarterbacks in the league and who will start for Florida State?

 

Just how wide open is the Coastal Division? Are Miami and North Carolina the wild cards to watch? Can Duke maintain their current level of play? Which Tech school has the best shot to win the division?

 

The rise of NC State and Boston College combined with the addition of Louisville has helped boost the ACC's standing, but can any of the three challenge the balance of power in the Atlantic Division?

 

The fellas touch on every team and how the predictions might shake out in the ACC in 2015.


Send any ideas, questions or comments to @BradenGall or @AthlonSteven or email [email protected]. The podcast can be found on athlonsports.com, iTunes, Stitcher and our podcast RSS feed.

Teaser:
Cover 2 College Football Podcast: 2015 ACC Early Preview
Post date: Thursday, March 19, 2015 - 13:38
Path: /college-football/wvus-holgorsen-taking-more-responsibility-2015
Body:

West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen announced this past Sunday the hiring of former Mountaineer graduate assistant Mark Scott as the new special teams coordinator for the 2015 season. Scott had been a graduate assistant (GA) at WVU since 2012 working with the defense and was a favorite of both Holgorsen and defensive coordinator Tony Gibson.

 

With the hiring of Scott the Mountaineers' coaching staff is now set. Scott technically filled the vacant coaching position left by Tom Bradley, who was slotted to oversee special teams this coming season before leaving to become the defensive coordinator at UCLA. A position that was not filled was that of departed offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Shannon Dawson, who left WVU shortly after the Liberty Bowl to become the new offensive coordinator at Kentucky.

 

Holgorsen also brought on former Mountaineer Michael Burchett as a graduate assistant to help oversee the quarterbacks in practice. Burchett had been a GA at Kentucky overseeing the quarterbacks for the past three seasons. Despite bringing on Burchett, Holgorsen will fill the role of quarterbacks coach as well as offensive coordinator in 2015. “I’m going to coach the quarterbacks, I wasn’t going to go outside and hire someone to do it full time if I don’t have someone who knows exactly how I want it done," he said when asked about the coaching vacancy.

 

Listen to the Cover 2 Podcast: Early 2015 Big 12 Preview



Subscribe: iTunes | Stitcher

 

While Holgorsen will be the quarterbacks coach Burchett will oversee the position during practice. “He understands what we want to do,” Holgorsen said. “He will be able to do a lot of the drills. That’s the only thing I can’t do."

 

While this is the first time Holgorsen will be a head coach as well as quarterbacks coach it is not the first time he has taken on multiple coaching roles. Actually it is a responsibility he is accustomed to. Before coming to WVU in 2011 Holgorsen held multiple coaching responsibilities every season including being the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Oklahoma State in '10.

 

What will be interesting to watch is the development of three inexperienced freshman quarterbacks over the coming months and season. While Burchett is definitely capable of overseeing the position it will be ultimately be Holgorsen's responsibility to have this young talent develop into game-ready quarterbacks

 

— Written by Jeremy Simon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and editor-in-chief of BlueGoldSports.com, a must visit for any and all West Virginia Mountaineer fans. Follow BlueGoldSports.com on Twitter @Blue_GoldSports.

 

Teaser:
Holgorsen will take on more than just the head coaching duties in 2015
Post date: Thursday, March 19, 2015 - 13:00
All taxonomy terms: Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets, NBA
Path: /nba/dwight-howard-close-returning
Body:

One of the more missable stories of the NBA season has been Dwight Howard’s absence from the Houston Rockets’ lineup. The former three-time Defensive Player of the Year has suited up for just 32 contests this year, owing his most recent stint of missed games to a knee injury.

 

He claims getting back into shape hasn’t exactly been a cakewalk. "We did some extremely tough workouts on the treadmill. Anytime anyone says treadmill, I lose it," Howard said. "I don't think anybody understands what they had me doing on the treadmill. I was just begging them: 'Can I just play so I don't have to do this?' Rehab is harder than the actual practice and all of that stuff."

 

The Rockets, somehow, have managed to be quite an effective defensive team without their best linchpin. Ranking third in defensive efficiency, they’ve improved on the perimeter and seen surprisingly good work from Donatas Motiejunas and Terrence Jones down low. Houston’s gone 15-8 since Dwight was last called out, and it has a lot to do with James Harden’s MVP-worthy play.

 

Howard’s acclimation period back into the lineup will likely come with some growing pains, but having him on the last line of their defense most assuredly makes them an even scarier team. He also missed significant time down the stretch of last season, only to return and play some of the best basketball of his life in a first round loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.

 

The progressive Rockets seem to be handling Howard with safety gloves as he ages, preserving his increasingly problematic body through the regular season and making sure he’s fresh for when the games really matter. It’s a smart strategy, and it could be the key to a dark horse title run this spring.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, March 19, 2015 - 12:17
Path: /college-football/alabama-crimson-tide-2015-spring-football-preview
Body:

Alabama enters 2015 with high expectations, as coach Nick Saban’s team has the best roster in college football and has won 10 games in seven consecutive seasons. Last year ended on a down note with a loss to Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl, but the Crimson Tide figure to be back in the playoff mix once again. With plenty of victories on the recruiting trail over the last few years, the roster has a wealth of talent at every position. This spring is all about settling on a quarterback, reloading at receiver and addressing a few holes in the secondary.

 

5 Storylines to Watch in Alabama’s Spring Practice

 

1. Jake Coker’s Job to Lose?

After transferring from Florida State last offseason, Jake Coker was expected to win the starting quarterback job over Blake Sims. However, Sims started all 14 games, and Coker threw only 59 passes in relief duty. Sims expired his eligibility, which means it’s Coker’s job to lose this spring. He will be pushed by talented freshmen Blake Barnett and David Cornwell, along with Cooper Bateman and Alec Morris. Will Coker claim the job this spring? Or will the battle extend into the fall?

 

2. New Options at Receiver

Amari Cooper was the best receiver in college football last season, and he caught 124 of Alabama’s 290 pass attempts in 2014. Not only does coordinator Lane Kiffin have to replace Cooper, but Christion Jones (19 catches) and DeAndrew White (40) also depart. This spring is all about finding the next wave of standouts at the receiver spot. Talent isn’t an issue here, starting with tight end O.J. Howard and receivers Chris Black, Robert Foster and Cam Sims. Keep an eye on true freshman Calvin Ridley once he arrives on campus this summer. How quickly can Alabama reload at receiver?

 

3. New Starters on the Offensive Line

Three starters are gone from an offensive line that allowed only 16 sacks in 2014. Much as the case at receiver, Alabama has talent and options to restock. The rebuilding effort starts with rising star Cam Robinson at left tackle, while center Ryan Kelly is one of the best in the SEC. Finding three starters shouldn’t be a problem for line coach Mario Cristobal, especially with experienced options like Alphonse Taylor, Dominick Jackson and Bradley Bozeman available. Redshirt freshman Ross Pierschbacher is also expected to factor into the mix. Finding a starting five and allowing this unit time to jell will be critical for Alabama’s chances at a national title in 2015.

 

4. Finding the Right Mix in the Secondary

For the second offseason in a row, Alabama’s secondary will take the spotlight on the defensive side in spring ball. The Crimson Tide allowed 19 passes of 30 or more yards last season, and there’s question marks at cornerback and safety that must be addressed. Landon Collins and Nick Perry depart at safety, while the cornerback spot opposite of Cyrus Jones is up for grabs. Will sophomore Hootie Jones claim a starting spot to help alleviate the loss of Collins? Will Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey emerge at corner? Or will incoming freshmen Minkah Fitzpatrick and Kendall Sheffield push for snaps in the fall?

 

5. Replacing Trey DePriest at Linebacker

Alabama’s front seven has a chance to be the best in the nation in 2015. There are a few holes to address, but once again, talent is there to fill the gaps. Trey DePriest and Xzavier Dickson depart at linebacker, and this should be an opportunity for Reuben Foster, Shaun Dion Hamilton or Rashaan Evans to stake their case for more snaps.

 

Pre-Spring Outlook on Alabama in the SEC:

 

It seems like a broken record, but it’s worth mentioning again: Alabama’s roster is overflowing with talent. The Crimson Tide has won the “recruiting championship” five years in a row. Winning the national title is within reach, but Nick Saban’s team needs a quarterback to emerge, along with options at receiver to replace Amari Cooper. The defense will rank among the best in the nation once again. But the secondary – especially without Landon Collins – remains a concern. Road trips to Georgia and Auburn are the toughest games on the schedule and could determine just how high this team climbs in the playoff picture.

Teaser:
Alabama Crimson Tide 2015 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Thursday, March 19, 2015 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/2015-fantasy-baseball-big-board-rankings
Body:

Fantasy baseball leagues can be won from every location in the draft — early in the round or late — and with any variety of strategies. Some take pitching early while others wait on arms. Some like to go after veteran players in the twilight of their careers with low risk, while others go after youthful upside and the risk that comes along with it.

 

There are a ton of decisions to be made on draft day when constructing a fake baseball team. And while a fantasy league cannot be won in the first few rounds, it most certainly can be lost. Screwing up an early pick can decimate a roster in no time flat.

 

Enter Athlon Sports' consensus fantasy baseball Big Board. Rankings culled from CBS Sports (Scott White), ESPN, FOX, MLB.com, USA Today, Sports Illustrated (SI) and Yahoo! (in order) have been combined and averaged to offer the best possible fantasy baseball rankings on the web.

 

Note: Yu Darvish has been omitted from FOX Sports (33rd), Sports Illustrated (27th) and Yahoo! (36th) rankings due to his elbow injury, which resulted in season-ending Tommy John surgery.

 

Athlon Sports official preview magazine can be purchased here.

 

2015 Fantasy Baseball Big Board:

 

 NameTeamPos.CBSESPNFOXMLBUSASIY!
1Mike TroutLAAOF1111111
2Andrew McCutchenPITOF3233222
3Giancarlo StantonMIAOF5322456
4Paul GoldschmidtARI1B4454335
5Clayton KershawLADSP6565543
6Miguel CabreraDET3B21146874
7Carlos GomezMILOF11677687
8Jose AbreuCHW1B7988768
9Jose BautistaTOROF108911151210
10Edwin EncarnacionTOR3B971314111012
11Adam JonesBALOF191517109119
12Felix HernandezSEASP16101013141513
13Anthony RizzoCHC1B1213111620911
14Robinson CanoSEA2B17121412161414
15Jose AltuveHOU2B1319189182015
16Troy TulowitzkiCOLSS8141215171828
17Anthony RendonWAS2B/3B14201624121317
18Max ScherzerWASSP21211922132416
19Yasiel PuigLADOF18162118282118
20Adrian BeltreTEX3B24172032221619
21Chris SaleCHWSP23242621251720
22Michael BrantleyCLEOF25223019232522
23Hanley RamirezBOSSS35302320102821
24Ian DesmondWASSS38262228191924
25Jacoby EllsburyNYYOF27232817293323
26Josh DonaldsonTOR3B15322931322327
27Stephen StrasburgWASSP28253627372225
28Madison BumgarnerSFSP31283129243426
29Buster PoseySFC/1B39291523274332
30Freddie FreemanATL1B33182442343029
31David PriceDETSP20332733333535
32Ryan BraunMILOF30274134214030
33Corey KluberCLESP22312530354139
34Justin UptonSDOF40343825312634
35Bryce HarperWASOF34363536302931
36Johnny CuetoCINSP26383437435752
37Zack GreinkeLADSP42394947394238
38Jose ReyesTORSS49423238265456
39Starling MartePITOF67374326483253
40Albert PujolsLAA1B36484741405540
41Jon LesterCHCSP37415149544643
42Corey DickersonCOLOF65354635723141
43Carlos GonzalezCOLOF66493752413647
44Adrian GonzalezLAD1B51503960583833
45Jordan ZimmermannWASSP54445448475151
46Matt KempSDOF41546151454957
47George SpringerHOUOF60435046684745
48Cole HamelsPHISP43467162564544
49Ian KinslerDET2B57514443556554
50Evan LongoriaTB3B47405667525660
51Nolan ArenadoCOL3B44757966423755
52Billy HamiltonCINOF91576440535046
53Yoenis CespedesDETOF70475239825358
54Aroldis ChapmanCINSP79535545576661
55Todd FrazierCIN1B/3B50745391366350
56Prince FielderTEX1B92605864495842
57David OrtizBOSDH52526689694848
58Victor MartinezDETDH/C294559801043976
59Adam WainwrightSTLSP456842112625949
60Craig KimbrelATLRP74566554616762
61Kyle SeagerSEA3B78626382386063
62Joey VottoCIN1B59896087445259
63Nelson CruzSEAOF53597363667166
64Brian DozierMIN2B32676278518882
65Jonathan LucroyMILC617848535087104
66Julio TeheranATLSP63589175646871
67Greg HollandKCRP73637755738169
68Jeff SamardzijaCHWSP55616871767788
69Hunter PenceHOUOF758140-964437
70Alex CobbTBSP89558761677273
71Dee GordonMIA2B72947057708067
72Jason KipnisCLE2B86655756757993
73Matt HarveyNYMSP487676811036274
74Matt HollidaySTLOF58848295876164
75Jason HeywardSTLOF102798569467675
76Evan GattisHOUC4610283448494106
77Kole CalhounLAAOF-647565806986
78Christian YelichMIAOF88729258928679
79Carlos SantanaCLE1B/3B567784-6010365
80Jay BruceCINOF110878870657584
81James ShieldsSDSP807074867810983
82David WrightNYM3B82-6979749280
83Devin MesoracoCINC629778118639595
84Chris DavisBAL1B/3B10571451087989111
85Sonny GrayOAKSP8166981057110685
86Starlin CastroCHCSS-83675059112-
87Jake ArrietaCHCSP6499-731067889
88Tyson RossSDSP838511272-74102
89Dustin PedroiaBOS2B120808990939987
90David RobertsonCHWRP10410181849510591
91Hisashi IwakumaSEASP9011210968-8577
92Chris CarterHOU1B1196986-819096
93Gerrit ColePITSP96731061151018394
94Alex GordonKCOF87918097 12072
95Alexei RamirezCHWSS-93729494113105
96Kolten WongSTL2B10088999611598103
97Gio GonzalezWASSP11782968312110497
98Alex WoodATLSP68123103103-9792
99Mookie BettsBOSOF116100--977381
100Dellin BetancesNYYRP103118-1049182100
101Charlie BlackmonCOLOF--110102-7070
102Jacob deGromNYMSP8492124111-84112
103Matt CarpenterSTL3B779090-112-113
104J.D. MartinezDETOF71--85116114101
105Yan GomesCLEC93-1028883-122
106Jorge SolerCHCOF98----6478
107Pablo SandovalBOS3B-111107-8910290
108Mark MelanconPITRP-8611410611311098
109Carlos CarrascoCLESP6996-114-108124
110Marcell OzunaMIAOF-9895-90115117
111Kenley JansenLADRP-103---9668
112Jayson WerthWASOF109-118-8891115
113Salvador PerezKCC9711994107107  
114Brett GardnerNYYOF-1141041201249399
115Manny MachadoBAL3B99106108 102116123
116Daniel MurphyNYM2B-1249377--118
117Garrett RichardsLAASP107105-93-107-
118Josh HarrisonPIT2B/3B/OF85-115-86--
119Ryan ZimmermanWAS3B/OF10112112011399111-
120Elvis AndrusTEXSS-11311610085--
121Masahiro TanakaNYYSP11311611776--119
122Trevor RosenthalSTLRP-95111121114122108
123Mark TrumboARI1B/OF11210797-110125121
124Brian McCannNYYC---59109--
125Hyun-Jin RyuLADSP9510812398---
126Eric HosmerKC1B--101-77--
127Leonys MartinTEXOF-104-74---
128Melky CabreraCHWOF76--109---
129Shin-Soo ChooTEXOF---92-119120
130Neil WalkerPIT2B121-100119118--
131Koji UeharaBOSRP-109 110--116
132Kris BryantCHC3B108----101-
133Yadier MolinaSTLC125-105-105--
134Phil HughesMINSP94----117-
135Cliff LeePHISP--119-117123110
136Lucas DudaNYM1B111-----107
137Cody AllenCLERP-115-116--114
138Alex RiosKCOF----98--
139Howie KendrickLAD2B---99---
140Anibal SanchezDETSP----122121109
141Brandon MossCLE1B/OF-----100 
142Brandon BeltSF1B----100--
143Jean SeguraMILSS---101---
144Collin McHughHOUSP106------
145Jimmy RollinsLADSS--113123123--
146Homer BaileyCINSP-110---124-
147Doug FisterWASSP----108--
148Rusney CastilloBOSOF115---119--
149Ben ReverePHIOF--125-111--
150Matt AdamsSTL1B-117121----
Teaser:
2015 Fantasy Baseball Consensus Big Board Rankings
Post date: Thursday, March 19, 2015 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: Jim Furyk, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-15-jim-furyk
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They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 15: Jim Furyk

 

Born: May 12, 1970, West Chester, Pa. | Career PGA Tour Wins: 16 | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 0 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $5,987,395 (3rd) World Ranking: 7

2014 Key Stats

      Driving Accuracy Percentage: 73.18% (4th)

      Strokes Gained, Tee to Green: 1.684 (3rd)

      Scrambling: 69.33% (1st)

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Furyk will be 45 this year, and it is very hard to put someone that age so high up on a list that is prejudiced by youth and power, but I’m convinced that Jim is far from through with what at this point is a borderline Hall of Fame career. With his 16 wins, critics are quick to say that he hasn’t won enough, but his 29 second-place finishes are equal to Tiger Woods’ career total over only a slightly longer time period. No, Jim has not won on the PGA Tour since 2010, but his third-place finish on the money list last year without winning set a record that may never be beaten. Besides Sergio, no one on Tour keeps the face of the club squarer for a longer period through impact, thanks to an unorthodox golf swing that requires him to aggressively use his lower body on the downswing, which allows him to stabilize the club through the hit. In addition to his consistency from tee to green, he is the Tour’s best scrambler, which is why, even as a short hitter, he plays so well week in and week out on courses that are continually beefed up. In his last five majors, he has a second, a fourth and a fifth. I’ve been saying this for years: There’s no way Jim ends his career with just one major, but time for both of us is running out. And yet, once again, I’m betting on him.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 77
Wins: 1

2014 Performance:
Masters - T14
U.S. Open - T12
British Open - 4
PGA Championship - T5

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - 4 (1998, 2003)
U.S. Open - 1 (2003)
British Open - 4/T4 (1997, '98, 2006, '14)
PGA Championship - 2 (2013)
Top-10 Finishes: 22
Top-25 Finishes: 39
Missed Cuts: 15

 

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

 

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

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, March 19, 2015 - 10:13
Path: /college-football/florida-state-seminoles-2015-spring-football-preview
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Florida State’s three-year run from 2012-14 was one of the best in college football. The Seminoles won 39 games during that stretch, claimed the national championship after the 2013 season and made the playoffs last year. It’s hard to stay at the top of the nation with personnel losses and early entries to the NFL Draft, and coach Jimbo Fisher will have a busy spring ahead if Florida State is going to win at least 12 games for the fourth season in a row.

 

5 Storylines to Watch in Florida State’s Spring Practice

 

1. Quarterback Battle

There’s no doubt all eyes in Tallahassee will be on the quarterbacks this spring. Jameis Winston leaves big shoes to fill, and junior Sean Maguire enters spring ball as the favorite to win the job. Maguire made one start in 2014, completing 21 of 39 passes for 304 yards against arguably the nation’s No. 1 defense (Clemson). He will be pushed by redshirt freshman J.J. Cosentino, sophomore John Franklin III and incoming freshmen De’Andre Johnson and Deondre Francois.

 

2. Reloading the Receiving Corps

Talent certainly isn’t an issue here. Travis Rudolph and Ermon Lane ranked among the top six receivers in last year’s signing class by 247Sports Composite. The Seminoles also inked George Campbell (No. 19 overall prospect), Da’Vante Phillips (No. 99) and Auden Tate (No. 265) in 2015. Which players will emerge to help replace the production lost by Rashad Greene? Also, who steps up at tight end to replace Nick O’Leary? Redshirt freshmen Ryan Izzo and Mavin Saunders are two names to watch.

 

3. Offensive Line Replacements

Four new starters are slated for Florida State’s offensive line in 2015. This unit struggled at times in 2014 but was bolstered late by the addition of tackle Roderick Johnson into the lineup at left tackle. Johnson is expected to anchor that side of the line once again, but the other four spots are up for grabs this spring. Junior college recruits Chad Mavety and Kareem Are redshirted last season and are expected to prominently factor into the mix.

 

4. Focus in the Front Seven on Defense

After leading the ACC in fewest yards per play allowed in 2013 (4.1), Florida State’s total jumped to 5.5 in 2014. And even though seven starters are back for 2015, there will be growing pains on this side of the ball. Linemen Mario Edwards (DE) and Eddie Goldman (DT) earned first-team All-ACC honors last season and will be playing on Sundays next year. Who emerges as a key contributor in the trenches? Will tackle Demarcus Christmas or end Lorenzo Featherston have a breakout season?

 

5. Reloading the Cornerback Position

Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams departed Florida State for the NFL, leaving a big void at cornerback this spring. Much like the other positions mentioned here, the Seminoles aren’t hurting for talent, just need a few names to emerge. Jalen Ramsey is expected to slide to cornerback, which should solidify one spot. Converted running back Ryan Green and Marquez White are two players to watch, but freshmen Tarvarus McFadden, Marcus Lewis, Calvin Brewton and A.J. Westbrook also factor into the battle throughout the offseason.

 

Pre-Spring Outlook on Florida State in the ACC:

 

With the talent in place, combined with one of the top coaches in the nation, it’s tough to count out Florida State from contending for a playoff spot in 2015. However, the Seminoles are likely to take a small step back in the win column. Even if Sean Maguire performs at a high level this season, this team still has concerns on the offensive line and on defense. Running back Dalvin Cook will be an All-American candidate and figures to shoulder more of the offensive workload next year. Road trips to Clemson and Georgia Tech could determine whether Florida State wins the Atlantic or falls in second behind the Tigers. A finish among the top-10 teams in the nation wouldn’t be a surprise. But the Seminoles seem like a team poised to rebuild in 2015 – and contend for the national title again in 2016.

Teaser:
Florida State Seminoles 2015 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Thursday, March 19, 2015 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News
Path: /mlb/best-baseball-players-35-and-over-2015
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Derek Jeter has retired, but MLB still has plenty of elder statesmen who are proving that age is just a number. While the crop of younger superstars and impact players continues to grow, there are more than enough “old” guys still getting the job done. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the list below and one could put together a pretty solid All-Star team of players who are 35 years old and over, starting with a trio of sluggers who combined for nearly 100 home runs last season.

 

Related: 25 Best Baseball Players 25 and Under

 

So with all due respect to MLB’s elders, here is one fan’s list of the best baseball players who are at least 35 years old as of Opening Day (April 6).

 

Opening Day (April 6) age listed in parentheses

 

1. David Ortiz, DH/1B, Boston Red Sox (39)

Big Papi turns 40 in November, but age has yet to catch up to his mighty bat. Ortiz cranked out 35 home runs last season and drove in 104, making it the second straight season he had gone 30-100. The heart and soul of the Red Sox, Ortiz is 34 home runs shy of 500 in his remarkable career.

 

2. Victor Martinez, DH/1B, Detroit Tigers (36)

Martinez was nothing short of spectacular last season, batting .335 with a career-high 35 home runs and 103 RBIs, finishing second in the AL MVP voting to Mike Trout. The power was the most surprising aspect of Martinez’ production, as he had hit only 13 the year before. Basically a full-time DH, VMart should continue to produce at the plate, provided he shows no ill affects from the surgery he underwent in February to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee.

 

3. Albert Pujols, 1B/DH, Los Angeles Angels (35)

The only one on this list who even approaches Pujols’ career numbers is Ortiz. However, there’s no debate that “The Machine” is not the player he once was. But then again, Pujols in his prime was truly something special, as evidenced by the fact that his 2014 line of .272-28-105 is considered a “down” year. Pujols’ best days may be behind him, but he’s still a very good hitter and someone pitchers don’t care to face.

 

4. Adrian Beltre, 3B, Texas Rangers (35)

Beltre turns 36 the day after Opening Day and he will start his 18th season just five home runs shy of 400. Beltre has been a model of consistency over the past five seasons, averaging .316-29-96 with a .899 OPS during this span, to go along with four All-Star invites and two Gold Gloves. The run production (19 HR, 77 RBI) was down somewhat last season, but that should bounce back with better health and lineup protection around him.

 

5. Matt Holliday, OF, St. Louis Cardinals (35)

Holliday has now hit 20 or more home runs in nine straight seasons. A career .308 hitter, he is 29 shy of 300 round-trippers while continuing to show a knack for getting on base (.370 OBP in 2014). Holliday also has averaged 95 RBIs and 90 runs scored over the last three seasons, while remaining a mainstay (454 GP of a possible 486) in the heart of the Cardinals’ lineup.

 

6. Jayson Werth, OF, Washington Nationals (35)

Werth got off to a rough start in Washington after signing a seven-year, $126 million contract in 2011. He slumped at the plate his first season (.232-20-58) before a broken wrist limited him to just 81 games in ’12. Since then, however, Werth has averaged a respectable .304-20-82 with an OBP of .396. He may never hit 30 home runs, but Werth has become a key piece in the Nationals’ lineup.

 

7. Torii Hunter, OF, Minnesota Twins (39)

After two productive years in Detroit, Hunter is back in Minnesota with the team that drafted him 20th overall in the 1993 draft. The Gold Glove standard in center field from 2001-09, Hunter has batted .301 over his last three seasons. He may no longer be an All-Star, but Hunter won’t hurt a team with his bat or glove either.

 

8. Jimmy Rollins, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers (36)

For the first time since 2003, Rollins will have a new double-play partner, as his offseason trade to the Dodgers broke him and Chase Utley up after 1,187 games together with the Phillies. Rollins’ best days at the plate are behind him, but he’s still capable of providing both power (17 HR in 2014) and speed (28 SB) from the leadoff spot for his new team. The four-time Gold Glove recipient also will greatly improve the Dodgers’ infield defense.

 

9. Chase Utley, 2B, Philadelphia Phillies (36)

Injuries have taken their toll, but Utley showed last season that he still has something left in the tank. He was named to his sixth All-Star team on his way to batting .270 with 11 home runs, 78 RBIs and 10 stolen bases. Additionally, the 155 games played were his most since 2009. He may no longer be the power hitter he once was, but Utley still led all NL second baseman in RBIs and extra-base hits (53), and he continues to provide solid defense.

 

10. Mark Buehrle, P, Toronto Blue Jays (36)

Buehrle has won at least 10 games and pitched 201 or more innings in 14 straight seasons. He made his fifth All-Star team last season, going 13-10 with a 3.39 ERA in 32 starts. He’s never piled up the strikeouts in his career, but he rarely hurts himself with free passes (career 2.54 SO/BB ratio) either.

 

11. Adam LaRoche, 1B/DH, Chicago White Sox (35)

LaRoche signed with the White Sox after enjoying a successful four-year run with the Nationals. Following an injury-shortened 2011, LaRoche averaged 26 home runs and 85 RBIs for Washington, while providing Gold Glove-caliber defense at first.

 

12. Fernando Rodney, P, Seattle Mariners (38)

Rodney won just one game in seven decisions last season, but he also led the majors with 48 saves. An All-Star in his first season with the Mariners, Rodney matched his career high in saves while posting a 2.85 ERA.

 

13. Koji Uehara, P, Boston Red Sox (40)

Not as dominant as he was during Boston’s World Series run in 2013, Uehara still collected 26 saves while posting a 2.52 ERA last season. The Japanese import continues to baffle hitters, as evidenced by his 80 strikeouts and only eight walks (0.917 WHIP) in 64 1/3 innings.

 

14. Michael Cuddyer, OF/1B, New York Mets (36)

The 2013 NL batting champion (.331) played in just 49 games last season after breaking his left shoulder socket diving for a ball. The good news is that Cuddyer maintained his hitting stroke (.332-10-31) in the 190 at-bats he got, so the Mets are hoping their new starting left fielder will pick up where he left off.

 

15. Kyle Lohse, P, Milwaukee Brewers (36)

Lohse has never been an All-Star but that shouldn’t diminish the consistency he has shown on the mound. He’s won 11 or more games four straight seasons, including 2014’s 13-9 record. He’s not a strikeout artist (141 K in 198 1/3 IP), but he doesn’t walk many batters (45) either and he also tossed two complete game shutouts.

 

16. John Lackey, P, St. Louis Cardinals (36)

Lackey actually fared better in the AL with the Red Sox (11-7, 3.60 ERA) than he did following his July 31 trade to the Cardinals (3-3, 4.30 ERA). However, a full season in the NL and with Yadier Molina behind the plate should help Lackey post double-digit wins for the 12th time in his career.

 

17. Aramis Ramirez, 3B, Milwaukee Brewers (36)

Ramirez announced prior to spring training that his 18th season will be his last. A three-time All-Star and a career .285 hitter, Ramirez will probably come short of 400 home runs, as he enters this season with 369. When healthy, Ramirez is still a productive hitter that can provide solid defense at the hot corner.

 

18. Marlon Byrd, OF, Cincinnati Reds (37)

The offseason trade to the Reds means Byrd will play for his sixth team in four seasons. Following a disappointing 2012 marred by a 50-game suspension, Byrd has discovered his power stroke, clubbing 49 home runs over the last two seasons.

 

19. Bartolo Colon, P, New York Mets (41)

The seemingly ageless Colon will turn 42 in late May and will still probably make his usual 25-30 starts for the Mets. A 15-game winner last season, Colon was both durable (202 1/3 IP in 2014) and fairly precise (30 BB) with his location in his return to the NL after pitching nine seasons in the AL.

 

20. R.A. Dickey, P, Toronto Blue Jays (40)

Dickey hasn’t been able to repeat his 2012 NL Cy Young form, but he’s gone 14-13 in each of his first two seasons with the Blue Jays. The knuckleballer has given up a fair number of hits, but he’s been durable (68 GS, 440 1/3 IP in 2013-14) and has gotten his share of swings and misses (350 K) too.

 

Best of the Rest

(alphabetical order)

Carlos Beltran, DH/OF, New York Yankees (37)

Basically a full-time DH now, Beltran’s production took a nosedive last season, going from .296-24-84 in 2013 to just .233-15-49 (in 109 G).

Jason Grilli, P, Pittsburgh Pirates (38)

Replaced by Mark Melancon as the Pirates’ closer, Grilli rebounded some following a trade to the Angels, posting a 3.48 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 40 games with his new team.

Ryan Howard, 1B, Philadelphia Phillies (35)

After playing in just 151 games in 2012-13, Howard appeared in 153 last season, finishing with 23 home runs and 95 RBIs, but also leading the majors with 190 strikeouts and hitting just .223.

Cliff Lee, P, Philadelphia Phillies (36)

This is more a tip of the cap, as it’s possible Lee’s career is coming to an end. He has been placed on the 60-day DL with a left forearm strain and also is dealing with a tear in the flexor tendon. The 2008 AL Cy Young Award winner is 143-91 with a 3.65 ERA and 1.20 WHIP in 13 seasons.

Joe Nathan, P, Detroit Tigers (40)

Despite collecting 35 saves, Nathan’s first season with the Tigers didn’t go as planned, as he finished with a 4.81 ERA and 1.53 WHIP.

Ichiro Suzuki, OF, Miami Marlins (41)

Suzuki will continue his pursuit of 3,000 hits (156 shy) with the Marlins after 14 seasons in the AL playing for the Mariners and Yankees.

Teaser:
Best Baseball Players 35 and Over
Post date: Thursday, March 19, 2015 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News
Path: /mlb/nl-centrals-top-storylines-watch-2015
Body:

The tide could finally be turning in the National League Central division. The St. Louis Cardinals have long been the class of the division, as they have appeared in the last four NL Championship Series. The Pirates and the Cubs have other ideas, and the Brewers have redemption in mind following last season’s meltdown.

 

The NL Central could be the best division in baseball in 2015, full of fantastic narratives that will develop over the course of the summer. Here are the top storylines to watch for the NL Central in 2015.

 

The Return of Joey Votto

Joey Votto told members of the baseball media this week that he is feeling “normal.” Normal for Votto isn’t the same normal for you and I. When Votto is healthy, he is normally an All-Star and MVP candidate. Last season Votto was anything but his “normal, missing 100 games due to knee and quad issues.

 

Even when Votto was in the Reds’ lineup in 2014, he wasn’t the same, hitting just .255 in 62 games, 55 points under his career average. There is no way around it, the 2015 Reds are going to live and die with Votto. Him feeling “normal” is great news for fans in the Queen City.

 

Votto is entering his age-31 season and approaching the heart of a contract that will pay him approximately $206 million over the course of the next nine seasons. That amount of money makes Votto the cornerstone of this Reds franchise, which has to make the front office in Cincinnati a little uneasy as last season was the second time Votto’s left leg caused him to miss significant time.

 

Votto has proven that he can return to form after injury. In 2012 Votto had arthroscopic knee surgery and missed 51 games but still hit .337 and led the NL in on-base percentage (.474) for the third consecutive year. In 2013, Votto played in all 162 games, hitting .305 with 24 homers and once again led the NL in OBP (.435) and walks (135). The Reds are hoping that their franchise player can return to his 2010 MVP form, when he slashed .324/.424/.600, posting a  1.024 OPS, along with 37 home runs and 113 RBIs, in 2015.

 

After trading away starting pitchers Alfredo Simon and Matt Latos, it’s clear that the Reds are planning for the future, but having a healthy Votto, along with Jay Bruce, Homer Bailey and Brandon Phillips, for all of 2015 will make the allure of contention in ‘16 seem more realistic.

 

Cubs’ Youth Movement

A lot has been made about the Cubs’ offseason, and reasonably so. Some publications have even gone as far as to pick the Cubs to win the World Series. Let’s pump the brakes on the Cubs popping champagne in ski goggles in October.

 

No doubt about it, the Cubbies made great moves this offseason signing manager-savant Joe Maddon and ace Jon Lester, trading for leadoff man Dexter Fowler and catcher Miguel Montero. Those are all great moves that puts this team in contention for the NL Central, but don't forget about all the youth the Cubs have waiting on deck.

 

The Cubs’ lineup is currently built around shortstop Starlin Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo, the team’s All-Star tandem and current cornerstones of the franchise entering their age-25 seasons. Maddon’s lineup card also could have several “new” faces in it, as Jorge Soler, Arismendy Alcantara, Javier Baez, eventually Kris Bryant, and possibly even Addison Russell, are expected to be the first wave to come from the Cubs’ stocked farm system. Besides being highly regarded, this group of prospects have two things in common — none of them are older than 23 and none of them have played a full season in The Show.

 

Soler, Baez, and Alcantara all spent time with the big club last season. Alcantara hit just .205 in 70 games, but showed his versatility in the field and pop at the plate. Baez, whose swing has been often compared to Gary Sheffield’s, hit nine home runs but also struck out 95 times in 52 games. Soler was the brightest highlight, hitting .292 with five homers and 25 RBIs in just 24 games, not a big sample size.

 

But none of the Cubs’ prospects are generating more buzz than Bryant. The 2013 Arizona Fall League MVP and 2014 Minor League Player of the Year according to USA Today and Baseball America, Bryant is pacing the field with six home runs in spring training. He’s also making plenty of news off the field, as the debate of service time and his Opening Day status has heated up, thanks to an assist from super agent Scott Boras. Last season Bryant hit .325 with 43 home runs (most of any player in baseball in 2014) and 110 RBIs for Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa. Barring something unforeseen happening, Bryant will the Cubs’ starting third baseman, although his debut may be delayed until later in April.

 

While all of these prospects and new additions are legitimately raising expectations in Wrigleyville, it is too early for that amount of pressure for young players that haven’t even played a full big-league season. If there is one certainty in baseball, it’s that prospect projections are always a crapshoot.  Let’s see how these young guns develop over the course of 2015 before we give the Cubs the Commissioner’s Trophy.


Related: Joe Maddon's Arrival Signals Next Step in Chicago Cubs' Resurgence

 

Cardinal Power Shortage?

We all know about The Cardinals’ Way. Great pitching, reliable defense, solid managing, roster depth, advanced scouting and timely hitting have been the ingredients to the Cardinals’ great success over the past decade. All of those special elements can be expected in 2015, but one thing is missing. Where is the power?

 

The NL Central will be decided by power, whether that be the Cubs’ young bombers or the Pirates’ slugging depth. The Cardinals are clearly lacking in this field. Coming into 2015, the Cards have just two players that hit at least 20 home runs last season, that being the aging Matt Holliday and Jhonny Peralta who hit 20 and 21, respectively.

 

The rest of the St. Louis lineup doesn't appear to provide much more pop, as Matt Adams is third on the team in returning homers with 15, followed by second baseman Kolten Wong (12) and third baseman Matt Carpenter (8). Wong, in his second season, could turn out to be a complementary piece to Peralta both in the field and at the plate. Newly acquired infielder Mark Reynolds hit 22 last season for the Brewers, but his batting average was just .196 and he drove in in only 45. He’s expected to add some pop, but only in a limited role off the bench.

 

The NL has been long known for small ball and as the Royals proved in last season’s World Series run, power isn’t everything. However, this season could be a pivotal one for the Cardinals. The Pirates are no longer bottom dwellers in the NL Central, the Cubs’ young talent is starting to bloom, and the Brewers could easily play spoiler. I’m not sure the Cards have what it takes at the plate to power their way back to October. 

 

- By Jake Rose

Teaser:
NL Central's Top Storylines to Watch in 2015
Post date: Wednesday, March 18, 2015 - 15:00
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/nba-season-too-long
Body:

82 games is a lot of games. That’s how many they play every year in the NBA, and it doesn’t always produce the best results for fans — in fact, it rarely does.

 

Commissioner Adam Silver is a smart man, so — in spite of what he says — he probably knows this. But the volume of the season is directly related to the bottom line of his business, so it’s unlikely he’ll be modifying the the schedule much.

 

"I'm not looking to reduce the length of the season," Silver recently said to reporters including Candace Buckner of the Indy Star. "It's no secret, it's an economic issue for the league and the players if we were to cut the number of games in a season and I don't think that's the issue. Frankly, as I travel, people only want more NBA, not less NBA.

 

"We're going to look at everything but to me, in the first instance, we've got to look at how we can do a better job scheduling within the existing number of dates. Then beyond that, should we be starting a little bit earlier? Can we go a little bit later? Those are also the kinds of things we can look at to try to stretch the season out a little bit."

 

There’s an old adage that’s generally true, and it definitely is in this case: quality is better than quantity.

 

This season, the league has seen prolonged injury absences from the likes of Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Anthony Davis, Paul George, Chris Bosh, Bradley Beal, Carmelo Anthony, Blake Griffin — all of whom only begin the list.

 

It’s also seen a playoff race that, save for a spot or two at the bottom of each conference, has largely been over since mid-December. Everyone already knows who’s going to the big dance, as 53 percent of the league does so every year. Plus, many teams don’t take seeding all that seriously — they just want to be sure that they’re in. 

 

So our season is rife with games that offer little more than a chance to watch squads fine-tune themselves, for when the competition begins in earnest come springtime. Exciting, heart-on-the-sleeve, competitive showdowns are the exception for NBA viewers in this reality, not the rule. Unfortunately, this doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, March 18, 2015 - 14:39
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/2015-ncaa-tournament-thursday-round-64-preview-and-predictions
Body:

The field of 64 hasn’t even started, and already we have a full dose of March Madness.

 

From Albany’s wild shot to get into the NCAA Tournament on Saturday to a 94-90 Ole Miss win in the First Four, we hope college hoops has given us only an appetizer of what’s to come.

 

With three No. 3 vs. No. 14 games kicking things off and the fourth finishing the opening day, this Tournament could set the tone for upsets right from the start.

 

Here’s what you’ll need to know to get through the first day of round of 64 action.

 

No. 14 Northeastern vs. No. 3 Notre Dame

TV: 12:15 p.m., CBS

Site: Pittsburgh (Midwest Region)

Preview: Notre Dame has been bounced by a double-digit seed in each of its last four trips to the NCAA Tournament, including three times in the first round. This wouldn’t seem to be one of those times. Northeastern, which ranks 170th nationally in defensive efficiency, is going to have a tough time guarding Jerian Grant.

Prediction: Notre Dame 80-68

 

No. 14 UAB vs. No. 3 Iowa State

TV: 12:40 p.m., truTV

Site: Louisville, Ky. (South Region)

Preview: The first day of the field of 64 starts with another 3-14 game between a high-powered, up-tempo offensive team against a sub-100 defensive team. UAB’s best hope will be to slow the pace. The Blazers rank 218th in possession length while Iowa State ranks second.

Prediction: Iowa State 78-65

 

No. 14 Georgia State vs. No. 3 Baylor

TV: 1:30 p.m., TBS

Site: Jacksonville, Fla. (West Region)

Preview: Georgia State’s hopes to upset Baylor may rest in the health of point guard Ryan Harrow. The Kentucky transfer has played six minutes in the last two games while nursing a hamstring injury. The best pro prospect on the floor may be Georgia State’s R.J. Hunter, a 6-6 guard who averages 19.8 points per game. The Panthers will need to get him going against a Baylor team that hasn’t lost in the first weekend in its last four trips to the Tourney going back to 2008. Baylor plays a zone defense, but the Panthers’ 3-point shooting (31.9 percent, ranked 272nd nationally) may be ill-suited for the upset.

Prediction: Baylor 65-59

 

No. 15 Texas Southern vs. No. 2 Arizona

TV: 2:10 p.m., TNT

Site: Portland, Ore. (West Region)

Preview: Texas Southern is the second-lowest ranked team on KenPom.com in the field, but the Tigers have two high-major wins on their ledger this season (Michigan State and Kansas State) and have lost only twice in the new year. Arizona, ranked third nationally in defensive efficiency and 11th in offensive efficiency, shouldn’t have much trouble.

Prediction: Arizona 67-50

 

No. 11 Texas vs. No. 6 Butler

TV: 2:45 p.m., CBS

Site: Pittsburgh (Midwest Region)

Preview: Texas will have a major size advantage with Jonathan Holmes, Myles Turner and Cameron Ridley in the frontcourt against a Butler team with one regular taller than 6-foot-7. The 3-point shooting of Butler guards Kellen Dunham and Alex Barlow, who shoot a combined 40 percent from long range, will be key. Texas is plenty talented, but the Longhorns found a way to lose 13 games this season.

Prediction: Butler 72-68

 

No. 11 UCLA vs. No. 6 SMU

TV: 3:10 p.m., truTV

Site: Louisville, Ky. (South Region)

Preview: Larry Brown is back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1988, and he’ll face one of two teams he took to the Final Four. UCLA was the most controversial pick in the bracket, and it’s easy to see why. To win its first NCAA game since 1988, the Mustangs will have to beat a team that ranks 76th in defensive efficiency, ranks 241st in free throw rate and has no depth to speak of.

Prediction: SMU 71-62

 

No. 11 Ole Miss vs. No. 6 Xavier

TV: 4:10 p.m., TBS

Site: Jacksonville, Fla. (West Region)

Preview: Ole Miss went from one of the last teams in the field to one of the must-watch teams. The Rebels scored 62 points in the second half of a 94-90 win over BYU in First Four. The must-watch matchup will be the 5-10 dynamo Stefan Moody and 6-10 center Matt Stainbrook.

Prediction: Ole Miss 76-71

 

No. 10 Ohio State vs. No. 7 VCU

TV: 4:40 p.m., TNT

Site: Portland, Ore. (West Region)

Preview: One of the nation’s best freshmen and prettiest passers, D’Angelo Russell, takes on VCU’s havoc defense in a first-round game. That makes this one of the most intriguing matchups of the first day of the Tournament. VCU’s defense is weakened without Briante Weber, but this is still a tough draw for an Ohio State team that picked up few wins over top teams this season.

Prediction: Ohio State 64-60

 

No. 16 Lafayette vs. No. 1 Villanova

TV: 6:50 p.m., TBS

Site: Pittsburgh (East Region)

Preview: Villanova ranks fourth in the nation in offensive efficiency. Lafayette ranks 337th. See you in the second round, Wildcats.

Prediction: Villanova 85-60

 

No. 9 Purdue vs. No. 8 Cincinnati

TV: 7:10 p.m., CBS

Site: Louisville, Ky. (Midwest Region)

Preview: An 8-9 game that includes only three guys averaging double figures this season. Winner gets Kentucky. They can’t all be classics.

Prediction: Purdue 65-59

 

No. 13 Harvard vs. No. 4 North Carolina

TV: 7:20 p.m., TNT

Site: Jacksonville, Fla. (West Region)

Preview: Harvard was a preseason top 25 team with guys like Wesley Saunders and Siyani Chambers returning to an Ivy team that has won first-round games in each of the last two Tournaments. The Crimson, though, might not be able to keep up with North Carolina’s offensive track meet.

Prediction: North Carolina 80-70

 

No. 12 Stephen F. Austin vs. No. 5 Utah

TV: 7:27 p.m., truTV

Site: Portland, Ore. (South Region)

Preview: This will be a heck of a 12-5 matchup. The Lumberjacks have lost once since Nov. 24 while Utah hasn’t defeated a team in the field since Jan. 4 — and that team was UCLA. Stephen F. Austin moves the ball as well as any team in the country, ranking fourth in assists per field goals made while Utah is an elite defensive team on the perimeter.

Prediction: Stephen F. Austin 67-65

 

No. 9 LSU vs. No. 8 NC State

TV: 9:20 p.m., TBS

Site: Pittsburgh (East Region)

Preview: Who knows what we’re going to get out of this game. The seasons for both teams were marked by inconsistency. There’s plenty of talent on both rosters, but these teams combined for 23 losses. Between LSU’s end-of-game mishaps and NC State point guard Cat Barber’s hot-and-cold game, this could be a wild one.

Prediction: NC State 69-66

 

No. 16 Hampton vs. No. 1 Kentucky

TV: 9:40 p.m., CBS

Site: Louisville, Ky. (Midwest Region)

Preview: At least Hampton coach Edward Joyner Jr. is a good sport about the mismatch that’s on its way. The Pirates entered the MEAC Tournament 12-17 and has one regular taller than 6-7. This won’t be pretty.

Prediction: Kentucky 87-50

 

No. 12 Wofford vs. No. 5 Arkansas

TV: 9:50 p.m., TNT

Site: Jacksonville, Fla. (West Region)

Preview: This will be a battle of tempo — Arkansas presses and runs at the 11th-fastest tempo while Wofford is a methodical team ranked 316th in tempo. The question is how Wofford’s undersized lineup will find a way to stop Arkansas’ forward Bobby Portis.

Prediction: Arkansas 67-60

 

No. 13 Eastern Washington vs. No. 4 Georgetown

TV: 9:57 p.m., truTV

Site: Portland, Ore. (South Region)

Preview: Georgetown has lost to a double-digit seed in each of its five trips to the NCAA Tournament since the 2007 Final Four. Now the Hoyas have to face a dynamic offensive team led by Tyler Harvey (22.9 points per game). Eastern Washington can’t guard at all, so this might end up being a shot-for-shot game between Harvey and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera.

Prediction: Eastern Washington 78-76

Teaser:
2015 NCAA Tournament: Thursday Round of 64 Preview and Predictions
Post date: Wednesday, March 18, 2015 - 13:16
All taxonomy terms: NCAA Tournament, College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/bluegoldsportscoms-guide-picking-your-ncaa-tournament-bracket
Body:

Have you not yet filled out your tournament bracket for the BGS NCAA Pick’em Contest? Need help figuring out who you should pick? David Schmulenson has all the answers. Notice which team Dave picks first through his scientific selection process.

 

 

 

— Posted by Jeremy Simon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and editor-in-chief of BlueGoldSports.com, a must visit for any and all West Virginia Mountaineer fans. Follow BlueGoldSports.com on Twitter @Blue_GoldSports.

 

Teaser:
BlueGoldSports.com's Guide to Picking Your NCAA Tournament Bracket
Post date: Wednesday, March 18, 2015 - 12:30
All taxonomy terms: Arkansas Razorbacks, College Football, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/arkansas-razorbacks-2015-spring-football-preview
Body:

Arkansas opens its third set of spring practices under coach Bret Bielema hoping to improve off last year’s 7-6 record. This team showed considerable progress in 2014 and is poised to take another step forward with 14 starters back in the mix. Bielema will have a new offensive play-caller with former Central Michigan coach Dan Enos hired to replace Jim Chaney. However, the formula for success in Fayetteville isn’t going to change, as the Razorbacks remain a run-first and defense team in 2015.

 

5 Storylines to Watch in Arkansas’ Spring Practice

 

1. Development of the Passing Game

Arkansas showed marked improvement with its passing game in coach Bret Bielema’s second year. After averaging just 148.5 yards per game in 2013, the Razorbacks improved that total to 188 in 2014. Quarterback Brandon Allen was hindered by a shoulder injury in 2013 but stayed healthy until late in the year and finished with just six interceptions on 339 attempts. Allen should take another step forward in his development this spring, especially with the return of tight end Hunter Henry and receiver Keon Hatcher. How much of an impact will new play-caller Dan Enos have on the offense in 2015? It’s up to Enos and Allen to continue to build off a solid 2014 season by the offense.

 

2. Shuffled Offensive Line

With four starters returning, the Razorbacks should have one of the SEC’s best offensive lines in 2015. But there’s a couple of tweaks coming to the front five this spring, as guard Denver Kirkland has shifted to left tackle, and Dan Skipper is shifting from left tackle to the right side. This move should only strengthen the offensive line, but this spring will be about meshing all of the pieces together and building a cohesive group once again.

 

3. Development of Wide Receivers

In addition to Brandon Allen’s development, Arkansas needs its receiving corps to take a step forward to help the passing game grow in 2015. Keon Hatcher (43 catches in 2014) is the leading target, and tight end Hunter Henry is one of the best in the nation. But who steps up to replace A.J. Derby as the No. 2 tight end and who emerges as a solid No. 2 or No. 3 option for Allen at receiver?

 

4. Restocking the Trenches

Robb Smith was one of the SEC’s top coordinator hires last season, and the Arkansas defense allowed only 28 points in its last four contests. In order for Smith to build off that total in 2015, he needs to find a few replacements for standouts in the trenches. Trey Flowers (six sacks) and tackle Darius Philon (11.5 tackles for a loss) have departed, leaving a void up front. It’s up to players like JaMichael Winston (DE) and Taiwan Johnson (DT) to pickup the slack in the trenches. Perhaps this unit won’t have an All-SEC player, but the overall depth and ability to rotate will be a strength.

 

5. Replacing LB Martrell Spaight

Spaight was one of the SEC’s most underrated defenders in 2014. In 13 contests, Spaight recorded 128 tackles (10.5 for a loss) and earned first-team All-SEC honors. Brooks Ellis (72 tackles) should be the leader of the linebacking corps in 2015, but sophomore Khalia Hackett is a name that will be watched closely in spring ball.

 

Pre-Spring Outlook on Arkansas:

 

The SEC West is not only the toughest division in college football, but it’s also one of the most intriguing races to watch in 2015. Arkansas made considerable progress in Bielema’s second year and showed improve once again in 2015. But the schedule isn’t easy, featuring crossover games against likely top 25 teams in Missouri and Tennessee, along with road trips to Ole Miss, LSU and Alabama. How high the Razorbacks can climb in the West likely depends on the development of the passing game and how quickly the defense can reload in the front seven. 

Teaser:
Arkansas Razorbacks 2015 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Wednesday, March 18, 2015 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-march-18-2015
Body:

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for March 18:

 

SI swimsuit model Samantha Hoopes gets you ready for March Madness.

 

• Strange times at the 'Cuse: AD Daryl Gross is out, and coach Jim Boeheim will retire in three years.

 

Watch March Madness announcers imitate each other's signature calls.

 

• The Madness has begun: Hampton's coach called Jesus during his postgame presser, and the big guy hung up on him. Also, the Hampton bench players pulled off a Major League free throw celebration. Too bad they won't be around long.

 

This WSJ writer throws cold water on the whole nasty business of March Madness.

 

• In case you're interested, here's POTUS revealing his bracket

 

• The Spurs allowed a Larry Bird-style performance from some guy named Alexey Shved in a loss to the Knicks, prompting Gregg Popovich to call his team "pathetic."

 

Reggie Jackson was shocked to learn he had 20 assists last night.

 

The office of NFL Commissioner is too dignified for Between Two Ferns.

 

• DeAndre Jordan fulfilled a fantasy that many of us harbor: He wiped boogers on JJ Redick.

 

• Watch Kevin Nealon describe his pranking at the hands of the Manning brothers.

 

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

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, March 18, 2015 - 11:20
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Georgia Bulldogs, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/georgia-bulldogs-2015-spring-football-preview
Body:

Georgia opens spring practice as the early favorite in the SEC East. The Bulldogs just missed on a division title last season and return 12 starters for 2015. Coach Mark Richt’s team will be busy this spring, as this team has question marks on both sides of the ball and three new coaches are spending their first spring in Athens. Offensive play-caller Brian Schottenheimer was the biggest coaching move from the offseason, but Rob Sale (offensive line) and Thomas Brown (running backs) are also under the spotlight.

 

5 Storylines to Watch in Georgia’s Spring Practice:

 

1. The Quarterback Battle

Hutson Mason has expired his eligibility after starting all 13 games for Georgia last season. Mason threw for 2,168 yards and 21 scores in 2013. Replacing Mason is a three-way battle, headlined by Brice Ramsey (24 of 39, 333 yards, 3 TDs). The sophomore has the edge in experience, but Faton Bauta and redshirt freshman Jacob Park will push for time.

 

2. Replacing David Andrews at Center

The lone departure on Georgia’s offensive line was a big one. Center David Andrews expired his eligibility after earning All-SEC honors last season. Who steps up to replace Andrews? It’s expected Isaiah Wynn and Hunter Long will have the first opportunity to fill the void at center.

 

3. Options at Receiver

Chris Conley and Michael Bennett depart after catching 73 of Georgia’s 217 passes last season. Malcolm Mitchell missed nearly all of 2013 due to a knee injury and returned in 2014 to catch 31 passes for 248 yards and three scores. Can Mitchell regain the form from his first two seasons (85 catches)? And what other receivers will emerge as key targets in 2015? Will Justin Scott-Wesley return to full strength after only playing in six games last year?   

 

4. Secondary Shuffling

The Bulldogs ranked near the top of the SEC in pass defense, limiting conference opponents to just 10 passing scores in eight games. But this unit loses top cornerback Damian Swann, and coordinator Jeremy Pruitt isn’t afraid to mix and match personnel. Will Aaron Davis and Devin Bowman start at corner? Or can Malkom Parrish claim a starting job in his second year on campus? The safety spots are also up for grabs, with Quincy Mauger and Dominick Sanders as the favorites.

 

5. New Faces on the Defensive Line/Linebacking Corps

Three seniors depart from a defensive line that allowed 172.9 rushing yards in SEC contests in 2014. And it’s a safe bet coach Mark Richt and line coach Tracy Rocker are only writing their spring depth chart in pencil here. Freshman Jonathan Ledbetter will participate in spring ball, but No. 1 recruit Trenton Thompson won’t arrive until this summer. At linebacker, standouts Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera must be replaced. Junior college recruit Chuks Amaechi is a name to watch, along with the development of sophomore Lorenzo Carter.

 

Pre-Spring Outlook on Georgia:

 

As we mentioned above, Georgia is the very early No. 1 pick in the East. But is that almost by default? Florida has a new coach (Jim McElwain), Missouri has significant personnel losses, and Tennessee might be a year away. Georgia’s schedule certainly doesn’t provide many breaks, as this team has road trips to Tennessee, Auburn and Georgia Tech, along with a home date against Alabama. The Bulldogs have one of the league’s best players (running back Nick Chubb) and four starters back on the offensive line. The defense returns six starters, but there are question marks in each unit as spring practice opens. The quarterback battle is the biggest storyline to watch this offseason, along with the development of the offense under new coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Even with question marks on both sides of the ball, Georgia has enough returning talent and potential to be a top 10 team in 2015.

Teaser:
Georgia Bulldogs 2015 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Wednesday, March 18, 2015 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: ACC, Clemson Tigers, College Football, News
Path: /college-football/clemson-tigers-2015-spring-football-preview
Body:

Clemson has won at least 10 games in a row in four consecutive seasons and enters the spring as one of the favorites to win the ACC in 2015. Quarterback Deshaun Watson is a rising star and is expected to return at full strength from ACL surgery by the fall. In addition to Watson, the offense is loaded with talent at the skill positions, including Artavis Scott and Mike Williams at receiver, along with Wayne Gallman at running back. Play-caller Chad Morris left to go to SMU, but coach Dabo Swinney promoted from within (Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott) to ensure continuity.

 

The defensive side of the ball is undergoing renovations with the loss of several key players. Only two starters return from a group that was arguably the best defense in the nation in 2014. While the losses are heavy, there’s young talent in place to prevent a major drop in production.

 

What’s ahead for the Tigers this spring? I asked David Hood (@MDavidHood) of TigerNet.com to help us preview Clemson and answer some of the key questions and storylines to watch:

 

1. With Chad Morris leaving to be the head coach at SMU, the focus shifts to co-coordinators Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott to keep Clemson’s offense among the best in the ACC. Should this be an easy transition for the Tigers? Or will Clemson’s offense take a step back without Morris calling the plays?

 

Clemson scored 40 points in the Russell Athletic Bowl win over Oklahoma, and with Tony Elliott calling the plays the offense moved the ball pretty well. Both Elliott and Scott have spent the last few years calling the plays in the scrimmages and the spring games and learning the art of calling plays under Morris, and head coach Dabo Swinney made the transition easier by saying that the offense is a "Clemson offense" and not changing the scheme or plays. As long as quarterback Deshaun Watson is healthy, the offense shouldn't miss a step without Morris.

 

2. The offensive line loses three starters from a unit that allowed 27 sacks last season. How big of a concern is this for Clemson with quarterback Deshaun Watson recovering from a knee injury? Also, can true freshman Mitch Hyatt factor prominently into the offensive line rotation this year?

 

I think this is the biggest concern on the offensive side of the ball. The good news is that two of the new starters - left guard Eric Mac Lain and right tackle Joe Gore - have each started games over the last few seasons and have played significant snaps. Add in center Ryan Norton and left tackle Isaiah Battle and the Tigers have plenty of experience at four of the spots. That leaves right guard Tyrone Crowder to prove he belongs. If the Tigers get back center Jay Guillermo - who is out this spring - Norton can move to the right guard spot and Clemson would then have five starters who have started games in the past. Mitch Hyatt has all the tools and came to camp at 282 pounds, and he will see action this season. His best position is left tackle, but with Battle (who has NFL talent) in front of him those snaps will be limited. If he sees action, it could be at the right tackle spot. Gore didn't impress against Georgia and South Carolina State last season, and another rough start might mean Hyatt gets thrown into action early.

 

3. In terms of skill talent, Clemson should have one of the best groups in the ACC next year. Is this Wayne Gallman’s job to lose at running back? Or will the Tigers use a committee approach? And at receiver, how much more involved will Artavis Scott be in 2015?

 

The job is Gallman's to lose. For now. Tyshon Dye missed the first part of the season in 2014 recovering from an Achilles tear and didn't make an appearance until late October. Swinney has said that Dye - who is a bigger back - fits more into Clemson's style of attack and that Dye just needed a spring practice to get fully invested in the offense and completely healthy. He is getting that chance this spring, and will push Gallman for that starting spot. However, Elliott told us last week that because Clemson wants to run 80-plus plays per game there will be plenty of playing time for everybody. Artavis Scott came on strong at the end of last season, and you have to figure he will be even more involved in the offense this season. He is playing in Sammy Watkins' old spot, and Elliott can get him the ball on the run, in the Wildcat, orbit motion and down the field.

 

4. The defensive line was hit hard by departures, including standouts in end Vic Beasley and tackle Grady Jarrett. But this unit returns a rising star in Shaq Lawson at end and some promising talent from the recruiting class. How big of a drop-off will there be in 2015 for this group?

 

There isn't too much of a drop-off in terms of talent - the Tigers have recruited well the past few years - but will sorely lack in experience. There will be new starters across the board in the front seven, and despite the talent I am sure there will be growing pains. But don't expect too much of a drop-off. While earning the title of the nation's number one ranked defense probably isn't feasible, it isn't out of the realm of possibility that this group can still be Top 20 nationally.

 

5. Outside of Lawson and cornerback Mackensie Alexander, who are a few players that might step up on defense this year to help replace some of the departed standouts from 2014?

 

Defensive tackles Carlos Watkins and D.J. Reader have both started games, as have linebackers Ben Boulware and B.J. Goodson. Boulware started for Stephone Anthony in the bowl game and returned an interception for a touchdown, and he is a tackling machine whenever he's on the field. He's also a fan favorite with his reckless style of play. Safety Jayron Kearse came to camp at 6-4, 217 pounds and appears ready to take that next step into elite playmaker after a solid season last year. There are also some freshmen in Christian Wilkins and Albert Huggins - both highly-recruited defensive linemen - who could see major playing time. 

 

- Visit TigerNet.com for the latest Clemson news and analysis for the 2015 season.

 

Clemson’s Pre-Spring Outlook in the ACC Atlantic:

 

Despite the personnel losses and movement on the coaching staff, Clemson is still one of the favorites to win the ACC and should push for 10 wins in 2015. The Tigers and Florida State are considered the No. 1 and No. 2 teams (in some order) in the Atlantic next season. The transition from Chad Morris to Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott will be a key storyline to watch in the fall. However, there’s no question the offense is loaded with talent with quarterback Deshaun Watson and talented skill players. The offensive line is the biggest concern for Scott and Elliott this spring. The defense must be revamped, but coordinator Brent Venables should be able to quickly reload to prevent a major drop in production. With Florida State visiting Death Valley in 2015, the road to the Atlantic Division title is favorable for the Tigers.

Teaser:
Clemson Tigers 2015 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Wednesday, March 18, 2015 - 10:30

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