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Separating facts from fiction during the run-up to the NFL Draft is tough enough.
Now, we’ve got to contend with bad Photoshops, or at least optical illusions.
Someone posted a photo of a tubby-looking Jameis Winston on Twitter on Saturday. Folks with a good eye drew attention to Winston’s shadow not matching up with his gut plus that absurdly skinny waist.
The image didn’t stand up to close scrutiny, but it was just enough to fool the NFL Network’s Rich Eisen.
George Whtifield, the QB coach preparing Winston for the draft, told The Big Lead the photo was taken in mid-January, and, no, Winston does not have a gut. Maybe it was a bad angle. Maybe it was that leash around his waist. Winston will be at the NFL Combine this week.
Sander Philipse of SBNation’s Bucs Nation traced the fakery back to Barstool Sports, a site that probably doesn’t adhere to the most strict journalistic standards.
Jameis Winston looking slim pic.twitter.com/IvQd5y2iU9— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) February 14, 2015
While the NBA All-Star festivities are underway in New York this weekend, some more weighty affairs may occur in league front offices. The trade deadline is February 19, or just six days away, and there are still some major pieces potentially in play.
The New York Knicks’ beleaguered big man is taking baths in red wine and seeking a buyout from Phil Jackson’s disastrous club. The Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Clippers and Stoudemire’s former Phoenix Suns team are all said to be in the mix for his services, with Phoenix in the lead.
The writing’s been on the wall for Jackson and the Oklahoma City Thunder, even since before OKC traded for ostensible Jackson replacement Dion Waiters. Jackson’s list of suitors is a little small, since he’ll be available in free agency this summer, so he could be viewed as a costly rental. But the Thunder seem to know they’ll lose him now or then, as it’s no secret that he’s unhappy coming off their bench. So they’d be wise to get a return on Reggie.
Arron Afflalo and Wilson Chandler
When the Denver Nuggets traded Timogey Mozgov — now thriving with LeBron’s Cleveland Cavaliers — it was seen as a potential white flag and ensuing fire sale from the Rockies franchise. Afflalo is a very useful two-way guard, while Chandler is dangerous at perhaps the NBA’s least deep position — small forward. The Portland Trail Blazers, Chicago Bulls, Sacramento Kings, Miami Heat and Clippers are all said to be interested in these two.
After putzing about in semi-retirement for the season, Jesus Shuttlesworth is now making his decision about which team deserves his shooting services. He’s said to have whittled his list down to the Golden State Warriors, Cavs, and Atlanta Hawks. We may see him making gigantic playoff shots in crunch time, once again.
Ray Allen free agency update: pic.twitter.com/rLdR55uI0x— Triangle Offense (@Tri_Offense) February 10, 2015
— John Wilmes
With MLB training camps set to open in Florida and Arizona, no doubt there are a few WAGs missing their sweethearts today. In honor of the Day of Love, we present the all-time Valentine’s Day lineup including Flowers, a Rose, Candy, a Cookie, a Jewel and an appearance by Cupid himself.
The former 33rd-round draft pick of the Atlanta Braves posted career highs across the board while catching 124 games for the White Sox in 2014. Flowers hit 15 home runs and doubled his RBI total (from 24 in 2013 to 50), but could use a little more discernment (159 SO , 25 BB) at the plate.
Every lady loves a little gold for Valentine’s Day, and the Diamondbacks certainly struck the mother lode with their first baseman, a future National League MVP.
The pudgy second baseman was one of the best players of his era, but has received only modest support for the Hall of Fame over the years. He amassed 1,721 hits over a 13-year career. All but 189 of those hits came in the 1800s while playing for the Quakers, Stars, Spiders, Perfectos and Orphans. He was a part of multiple trades, once for Gid Garner, another time for Cub Striker. Also known as Fats and Fatty, according to Baseball-Reference.com, the Grand Rapids Democrat called him “the most curiously built man in the baseball business ... he is as wide as he is long, yet there are few men who can get over the ground faster than the ‘dumpling.’”
Cookie was an all-star for Brooklyn from 1938-41, and then spent the next four years serving his country. Thank you for your service, sir.
Once a budding prospect in the Dodgers’ system, this Valentine was on his way to stardom in the city of Angels when a gruesome collision with an outfield wall derailed his career. With nearly 1,200 wins and one National League pennant in his 16 seasons as manager of the Rangers, Mets and Red Sox, Valentine also fits the bill as the ideal skipper for this unique team.
Jim Ray Hart
The sweet-swinging Hart averaged .290-29-92 with an OPS+ of 136 over his first four seasons in the bigs. Unfortunately, he was overshadowed by guys named Mays, McCovey and Cepeda in the same lineup.
No player ever got to first base more than the all-time hits leader. He wasn’t bad at scoring either.
No prudent base runner dared to sneak an extra base when this Valentine was throwing darts from right field.
Cain pitched in an offensive era in the 1930s for the Philadelphia A’s, St. Louis Browns and Chicago White Sox, so he didn’t win many games. Evidently, he wasn’t afraid to issue free passes. He led the league in walks once, logged more than 100 in three successive seasons and ended his career with 5.6 BB/9IP.
Abraham Lincoln “Sweetbread” Bailey
The righthander fashioned a non-descript career with only six starts and 46 relief appearances, but this name must be on any list compiled in February.
Signed as an amateur free agent by the Braves in 2007, this lefthander was a bona fide Diamond in the rough, going 18-22 from 2012-13 as a member of the Twins’ rotation. He showed considerable more polish in 2012 (12-9, 3.54 ERA, 31 BB in 173 IP) than '13 (6-13, 5.43 ERA, 36 BB in 131 IP).
At 6-7 and 195 pounds, we’re guessing his frame is the origin of the name. He won 13 games for the Yankees in 1918 and gave up only eight home runs in his career, but some who victimized him are memorable names: Swede Risberg and Hap Felsh of Black Sox fame, Smoky Joe Wood, George Burns and, of course, the Babe.
The journeyman won 193 games in the minors for eight different organizations, but pitched a scant 27 innings for the Phillies and Cardinals in the 1950s. Evidently, Lynn wasn’t exactly the loving sort. He was reportedly kicked out of the dugout by his own manager, Cot Deal, in the minors for complaining about a lack of defensive support.
Jewel Winklemeyer Ens
The first baseman didn’t see much action in the majors, but he played with Hall of Famers Max Carey, Pie Traynor and Kiki Cuyler with the Pirates. Yet there was only one authentic jewel on that team.
Diamond Jim Gentile
With a nickname like Diamond Jim and a surname pronounced “jen-TEEL” the slugging first baseman must be in the Valentine’s Day lineup. He was third in AL MVP voting in 1961, the year Roger Maris hit 61 home runs, Mickey Mantle slugged 54 and Norm Cash batted .361.
Averaging 29 home runs for the Brewers from 2010-12, Hart was broken during the 2013 season in what ended up being his final go-round with Milwaukee. He wound up in Seattle, but was no Hartbreaker for Mariners fans, hitting just .203 with six home runs in 68 games.
Rudolph Valentino Regalado
Yep, that’s his name. Whether or not the backup infielder made women in Cleveland swoon or not is unknown. But in 91 games for the Indians he had no effect on pitchers whatsoever.
A personal favorite of mine ever since his pennant-clinching pinch-hit for my Strat-O-Matic team in 1989.
Athlon Sports’ 2015 Racing magazine delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2015 NASCAR coverage. Click here to order your copy today!
1. Hendrick Motorsports
Team owner Rick Hendrick admitted that it was painful to arrive at the 2014 season finale in Homestead-Miami Speedway without a single driver remaining in the Championship 4 vying for the title, even though he began the Chase for the Sprint Cup with all four of his Chevrolet drivers in the hunt.
“I can’t remember coming down here when we weren’t in it,” Hendrick said at the time. “But hey, it’s racing, and we’ve still had a good year.”
Indeed, they did. Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. won four races apiece, and Kasey Kahne won one to give HMS a total of 13 on the season. No other organization registered more.
But let’s face it. Hendrick is in this to win championships. You can bet his teams will do a better job of making sure they get to the final race with a shot to do so next season — and it likely will start with Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus, who again will attempt to make history by winning what would be a record-tying seventh championship (the same as NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt). They were embarrassed by their performance in the Chase in 2014.
Two teams will have new crew chiefs in 2015, with Keith Rodden replacing Kenny Francis atop Kahne’s pit box and Greg Ives taking over for Steve Letarte on Earnhardt Jr.’s team, as Letarte heads to his new job as a NASCAR analyst for NBC.
2. Team Penske
Team Penske fell short of winning a championship in 2014. But for a two-team operation with drivers Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski leading the way, it was a mighty impressive season.
Keselowski failed to make the Championship 4 and didn’t make many friends during the Chase for the Sprint Cup, but he won a series-high six races in his No. 2 Ford and led a total of 1,540 laps — second only to champion Kevin Harvick. Logano won five races in his No. 22 Ford, led 993 laps and was in position to contend for the title at Homestead until a late pit-stop snafu cost him that chance.
There is every reason to believe that these two young drivers and their teams, with capable crew chiefs in Paul Wolfe for Keselowski and Todd Gordon for Logano, will be able to build on their success in 2015. They will, in fact, be among the early favorites to contend for the title next season along with the Hendrick group.
3. Joe Gibbs Racing
New driver Carl Edwards could be the key to a rebound season for Joe Gibbs Racing. It’s happened before, and recently. But after Matt Kenseth won a career-high seven races in his first season with JGR and finished second to Jimmie Johnson in the 2013 championship battle, another big year was expected of both Kenseth in particular and the organization in general in 2014.
It never happened. Despite making the Chase again, Kenseth didn’t win a single race all season. Driver Kyle Busch, who won four in 2013, won one. The same was true for Denny Hamlin, although he did heat up enough down the stretch to make the Championship 4, and he was seemingly in position to steal it until a late-race gamble by crew chief Darian Grubb failed to pay off. The bottom line is that Toyota Racing Development needs to be giving JGR’s drivers engines that pack more punch without sacrificing durability. It seemed to be moving in the right direction toward the end of the season, and it’s hard to imagine the team will suffer through another disappointing season in 2015 — especially with Edwards, who left Roush Fenway Racing to come to JGR, added to the fold in a fourth car.
There also has been a major shakeup in JGR’s crew-chief lineup, with Dave Rogers, who had been with Busch, moving to Hamlin’s team; Darian Grubb, who had been with Hamlin, moving to Edwards’ team; and Adam Stevens moving up from JGR’s highly successful Nationwide (now XFINITY) Series program to replace Rogers as Busch’s crew chief. Jason Ratcliff will remain Kenseth’s crew chief.
4. Stewart-Haas Racing
Kevin Harvick won his first Sprint Cup championship in his first season with his new team and new crew chief Rodney Childers, leading a series-high 2,137 laps along the way. Harvick and Childers are the new hot duo in the Sprint Cup garage and would have won three or four more races than the five they did win if not for miscues by the No. 4 pit crew. Assuming those will be fixed — Harvick switched pit crews with Tony Stewart for the Chase — they should contend for another title.
Harvick’s championship gave SHR two titles in the last four seasons, with co-owner/driver Stewart winning it in 2011. And while Stewart had a difficult year as he attempted to return from a badly broken leg and then missed three races after his Sprint car struck and killed a fellow driver in a non-NASCAR-sanctioned event, he’s a good bet to bounce back strong next season without all the distractions. He failed to win a race in 2014 for the first time in 15 seasons.
Kurt Busch, whose future was thrown into a gray area when a former girlfriend accused him of domestic abuse toward the end of last season, was also disappointing overall last season but still won the spring race at Martinsville Speedway to qualify for the Chase. Busch remains a considerable talent behind the wheel if he can get his off-the-track issues in order.
The fourth SHR driver is Danica Patrick, who needs to show improvement after finishing 27th and 28th in points, respectively, in her first two Cup seasons.
5. Richard Childress Racing
Richard Childress Racing started and ended the 2014 season with a bang. It was what happened in between — or failed to happen — that was the problem.
Rookie Austin Dillon, the grandson of team owner Richard Childress, began the season winning the pole for the Daytona 500 in the iconic No. 3 Chevrolet made famous by Dale Earnhardt Sr., which was making its return to the Sprint Cup Series after a 12-year absence following Earnhardt’s death in the 2001 Daytona 500.
Then Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 31 RCR Chevy, nearly pulled off one of the greatest upsets in the history of the sport in the Championship 4 season finale at Homestead. Newman ended up finishing second in the race to Kevin Harvick and thus ended up second in the final points standings despite failing to win a race all season and finishing in the top 5 only five times in 36 races.
In between those two big moments, however, RCR’s three teams were actually pretty mediocre, with Paul Menard (21st in points) wheeling the third car. They need to find more speed and consistency in 2015 to keep up with Hendrick Motorsports, Team Penske, Joe Gibbs Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing.
6. Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
The Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates operation always is a difficult one to figure out.
Since the inception of the Chase in 2004, only one Ganassi driver has qualified to participate (Juan Pablo Montoya in 2009). They failed to do so again in a 2014 season that seems highly disappointing at first glance. Yet a closer look reveals that not only was it exciting on some levels, but it also seems to have laid the groundwork for a promising 2015.
Kyle Larson did not win a race in what was his rookie season, but he finished second three times and third twice to serve notice that he wasn’t your average rookie. He also narrowly missed qualifying for the Chase and is generally recognized in the Sprint Cup garage as having the talent and potential to become one of the next great drivers in the sport.
Larson’s teammate in the two-car operation, Jamie McMurray, won $1 million by capturing the non-points Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May. McMurray also led a respectable 368 laps in points events over the entire season. Both drivers could take off and win multiple races in 2015, although again, it’s hard to say for certain. There have been times in the past when the Ganassi organization just hasn’t been able to transfer positive momentum from one season to the next.
7. Roush Fenway Racing
Roush Fenway Racing had a season to forget in 2014, and then it lost its top driver, Carl Edwards, to a rival organization.
That doesn’t bode well for 2015, when Edwards will be replaced by Trevor Bayne — who hasn’t done much since shocking the racing world by coming out of nowhere to win the 2011 Daytona 500 at age 20.
The two other RFR teams are led by Greg Biffle, who will be 45 years old by the time the green flag drops for the Daytona 500 and has won one race in the last two years, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., a two-time Nationwide Series champion who is more known these days for being Danica Patrick’s boyfriend than he is for doing anything notable in the Sprint Cup Series.
At the heart of the matter is that the organization has been leaking top talent in terms of engineers and other employees to rival teams that offer better deals, and it shows. Sadly, the situation seems likely to get worse before it gets better — especially with a driver lineup that frightens no one (except maybe Jack Roush himself, if he’s really honest about it).
8. Michael Waltrip Racing
As recently as late in the 2013 season, Michael Waltrip Racing appeared to be an organization on the rise.
That no longer appears to be the case after a 2014 season in which MWR scaled back from three full-time Sprint Cup teams to two and failed to win a single race with either of its drivers. Furthermore, neither Clint Bowyer nor Brian Vickers managed to qualify for the 16-driver Chase.
It’s possible that losing top-notch crew chief Rodney Childers to Stewart-Haas Racing, where Childers teamed with driver Kevin Harvick to win the 2014 championship, hurt the organization more than anyone realized it would. Remaining crew chiefs Brian Pattie (Bowyer) and Billy Scott (Vickers) no doubt could have benefited from bouncing data and ideas off a third team headed up by the talented, innovative Childers.
But the real blow can be traced to all the sponsorship money that fled the company in the wake of the 2013 SpinGate scandal triggered by Bowyer’s alleged intentional spin in the final regular-season race at Richmond, which is why MWR had to scale back from three teams to two and lay off 15 percent of its workers prior to 2014. The organization is still reeling from the cutbacks more than a year later.
9. Richard Petty Motorsports
After having driver Aric Almirola make the 2014 Chase and running well for stretches of the season, there is a sense on one hand that RPM has something positive to build on heading into 2015. But Almirola made the Chase by virtue of gambling to win the rain-shortened July race at Daytona International Speedway, so on the other hand there is a sense that luck played a huge role in his locking up a spot in NASCAR’s playoffs.
Then there is the loss of RPM’s other driver, Marcos Ambrose. He decided to return to his native Australia at the end of the 2014 season, and he will be missed, especially on the circuit’s two road-course races where he always was a legitimate threat to win.
The organization’s prospects in 2015 will rest on Ambrose’s replacement, Sam Hornish Jr., and how quickly and how well RPM is able to build a capable team around him. Hornish, a former IndyCar star, struggled while driving full-time in the Cup Series for owner Roger Penske from 2008 through 2010, with only two top-5 and eight top-10 finishes in a total of 106 starts.
10. JTG/Daugherty Racing
Driver AJ Allmendinger’s gritty victory on the road course at Watkins Glen International last August put the single-car JTG/Daugherty team into the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Allmendinger is back with the team for 2015, and as long as he’s behind the wheel, the No. 47 team is a threat to win on the two road courses at Sonoma and WGI. In fact, with Marcos Ambrose heading back to Australia and Juan Pablo Montoya already out of NASCAR and back in the IndyCar series, Allmendinger might even now be the favorite to win at both places.
That’s big for this small operation and bears close watching, as one win at either road course means another berth in the Chase.
The team seemed to benefit last season from a switch in manufacturers from Toyota to Chevrolet and by forming a new technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing that included getting its engines from Earnhardt-Childress Racing Technologies and engineering help. Crew chief Brian Burns also will return as crew chief for the No. 47 car, so he and Allmendinger will have a chance to build on what worked and work on what didn’t in 2014.
If they can find a way to improve performance on the oval tracks, they might surprise some people.
Top photo by Action Sports, Inc.
Sometimes athletes have to make their own luck. Or at least that’s what these guys think they’re doing.
On this Friday the 13th — a day when we’re all on the lookout for black cats in our paths or broken mirrors — let’s celebrate the athletes who think a bit, um, differently.
We thought that it was appropriate to find the 13 most superstitious people in sports, with their seriously strange quirks, habits and talismans, and present them here:
Men's Fitness magazine once named pitcher Turk Wendell, whose 11-year major league career (1993-2004) included stops with the Cubs, Mets, Phillies and Rockies, the most superstitious athlete of all time. Wendell wore a necklace made from teeth and bones of animals he had hunted. He would leap over the chalk lines and draw crosses in the dirt on the pitcher's mound. He insisted that his contract figures end with his jersey number of 99. Wendell would eat four pieces of licorice during games he pitched, but don't worry about his dental health — he would also brush his teeth in the dugout between innings.
Hall of Fame third baseman Wade Boggs didn't compile a .328 career batting average and accumulate 3,010 hits by accident. The superstitious athlete ate chicken every day before a game; took batting practice at 5:17; ran sprints at 7:17; and wrote the word "Chai" (Hebrew for "life") in the dirt before his plate appearances. Speaking of his love of chicken, Boggs' Twitter account is @ChickenMan3010.
They take their curses seriously in the U.K. The Birmingham City football club labored under a gypsy curse that came about due to the stadium's location atop the site of a Romany cemetery. Football club manager Barry Fry, who led the Birmingham City team from 1993 to 1996, took the advice of a clairvoyant to break the curse: He peed in all four corners of the St. Andrew's pitch. So did it work? "Well, we started to win and I thought it had," Fry said in an interview. "Then they sacked me, so probably not."
Slugger Jason Giambi (A's, Yankees, Rockies, Indians) addressed a hitting slump with his choice of undergarments. His personal slump-buster was a fancy piece of butt floss — a gold thong. If that’s not disturbing enough, try this: Teammates would ask to borrow it when they encountered slumps of their own.
How obsessed was power-hitting outfielder Larry Walker (Expos, Rockies, Cardinals) with the number 3? He set his alarm clock for 33 minutes past the hour, took batting practice in groups of three swings and was married on November 3 at 3:33 P.M. He bought 33 tickets in section 333 of Olympic Stadium to give to under-privileged kids during his time in Montreal. On one of his contracts, he asked for $3,333,333.33. Appropriately enough, Walker's career stats include plenty of threes: His career batting average was .313, and he hit 383 career homers.
Michael Jordan's superstition inspired an NBA fashion trend. Jordan insisted on wearing his North Carolina Tar Heels shorts under his Bulls uniform, and to cover up his old college basketball trunks, he started wearing longer shorts. Naturally, the rest of the NBA followed suit.
Mercurial NBA guard Jason Terry (Hawks, Mavs, Celtics, Nets) has the habit of sleeping in the shorts of the team he is playing the next day.
Beloved Phillies legend and Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn, who played in Philadelphia from 1948 to 1959 before ending his career with the Mets, slept with a lot of old bats in his day. Literally. In order to keep track of a bat that was treating him particularly well, Ashburn would take the bat to bed with him.
Chicago Black Hawks legend Stan Mikita, who led the NHL in scoring four times during a remarkable career that spanned four different decades (1958-80), also led the league in Most Unusual Superstition: Mikita would flick a lit cigarette over his left shoulder before taking the ice for a game.
Goalie Pelle Lindbergh, who played for the Philadelphia Flyers from 1981 to 1986, would drink a Swedish beer called Pripps during each intermission, with two ice cubes — no more, no fewer.
There must be something about goalies. Patrick Roy, whose career included stints with Montreal (1984-95) and Colorado (1996-2003), is considered by many the greatest goaltender in NHL history. He might also be the strangest, since he befriended the posts. That's right — Roy would touch and talk to the net posts, thanking them if a shot went awry or clanged off of one of them. Roy would also step over the red and blue lines on the ice, and he would avoid reporters on game day.
For the Celtics of the 1960s, Bill Russell's puke became a good-luck totem. According to Sports Illustrated: "If he threw up before a big game, the Celtics were sure everything would be all right. If he didn't, then Boston's coach, Red Auerbach, would tell Russell to go back to the toilet and order him to throw up." Russ must've done an awful lot of puking, considering that he led the Celtics to 11 championships in his 13-year career.
Rafael Nadal, who has won 13 Grand Slam singles titles, is a candidate for Greatest Tennis Player of All Time. He's also the GOAT when it comes to superstitious eccentricities, which he refers to as his "routines." His assortment of quirks is a category unto itself.
• Nadal has rituals involving his water bottles. He brings two bottles to each match, with one slightly warmer than the other, and sips from both during the match. The label of both has to be facing the court.
• During his recent run to the U.S. Open crown, Nadal ate the same meal at the same restaurant every night. The New York Post reported that Nadal consumed Chilean sea bass, fried rice and noodles at a Manhattan Chinese restaurant every evening when he wasn't playing a night match.
• Before every point, Nadal makes sure that his socks are pulled up at the same height. Prior to a match, he'll spend 30 seconds or more pulling his socks up and down.
• Nadal never steps on the lines before or after any point. He also crosses the lines right foot first.
Watch out, @TheOregonDuck, you’re about to have company as the best college mascot on Twitter.
@GoldyTheGopher is finding a fond place in our hearts — appropriately — this Valentine’s Day weekend with Valentines for the other Big Ten mascots.
Just like in elementary school, everyone in the class gets a Valentine.
If you like the Big Ten, Valentines and bad puns, this should be a delight:
Will the real Tony Stewart please stand up? In one corner, there’s the three-time Cup champion and certain Hall of Fame driver. In the other, there’s the guy who went winless for the first time in his career, en route to a nightmare no one could have ever imagined.
Which one will emerge in 2015?
Stewart’s 2014 season will forever be defined by a sprint car race that took place outside the insular world of NASCAR, a race where Stewart struck and killed a fellow competitor, Kevin Ward Jr., who got out of his car to confront him after a spin. Stewart was later cleared of any charges by a grand jury, but the damage wasn’t merely legal, as the events surrounding the accident clearly took an emotional toll on the driver.
Long before that fateful night, though, Stewart was struggling. He missed the last 15 races in 2013 after breaking his leg in a sprint car race and didn’t return until Daytona. That injury and subsequent surgeries presented a difficult obstacle for Stewart as he missed two offseason tests. He also had a new crew chief in Chad Johnston, new teammates in Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch and a new NASCAR rules package to handle. The team had fast cars, but the deck was stacked against him, and poor preparation left him three steps behind out of the gate.
So why should 2015 be any different? Stewart, recovering through his focus on racing, will come into the season as prepared as anyone. Teams won’t have the opportunity to test a new rules package in the offseason, putting them all on an even playing field. His equipment is excellent; the cars are prepared for the Stewart-Haas Racing drivers in-house, so they’re tailor-made to suit their driver/owner. Yes, there’s the question mark of offseason surgery on the leg he injured in 2013, but a spokesman called it “routine maintenance,” and the procedure was performed in early December, plenty early for Stewart to recover.
Johnston is still a bit of a wild card on top of the pit box. He had one win in three seasons with Michael Waltrip Racing driver Martin Truex Jr. and came to SHR with fellow MWR crew chief Rodney Childers, giving the two a leg up on working together. On the other hand, Stewart didn’t perform well with Johnston last year. This season will be the real test.
Stewart’s sponsorship situation is solid, with backers Bass Pro Shops, Mobil 1, Rush Truck Centers and Code 3 Associates set to return. His equipment will be the best available, and it’s equipment that’s taken eight of the last nine titles, including two of those by SHR.
But perhaps the most compelling reason to expect a rebound is Stewart himself. Despite that career-worst 2014 season, he’s still a three-time champion with 48 wins to his name, a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame and one of the best drivers of his era. Despite the setbacks, Stewart still has the talent and drive to win races and put his name in the hat for the title.
Falling star Stewart’s No. 14 team finished 29th and 25th in points in 2013 and 2014, respectively. Though injury and incident were responsible for some of that, the 43-year-old Stewart has showed signs of decline. The biggest is his inability to pass at the quad-ovals on which he has earned seven of his 48 career victories. He scored a below-par adjusted pass efficiency of 45.68 percent at the fast intermediates in 2014.
Not the leader Stewart hasn’t led more than 1,000 laps in a season since 2006. In 2013 and 2014 he led 114 and 125, respectively.
Chasing his unicorn One of the sport’s most talented drivers has yet to win at Darlington, one of its most unique tracks, but he’s been solid there in recent outings. Stewart finished in the top 10 in five of his last eight Darlington attempts.
No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
Primary Sponsors: Bass Pro Shops, Mobil 1, Rush Truck Centers, Code 3 Associates
Owner: Tony Stewart/Gene Haas
Crew Chief: Chad Johnston
Year With Current Team: 7th
Under Contract Through: Lifetime
Best Points Finish: 1st (2002, ’05, ’11)
Hometown: Columbus, Ind.
Born: May 20, 1971
|Years||Starts||Wins||Top 5s||Top 10s||Poles||Titles||Earned|
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Feb. 13:
• The SI Swimsuit megasite includes shots of Caroline Wozniacki. What were you thinking, Rory?
• Drake is everywhere, and it's getting on people's nerves. Including Paul Pierce.
• Is Charles Barkley's shtick tired? This writer uses a lot of words to say so.
• Meet the Michael Jordans of other disciplines, from yodeling to jousting.
• Is it possible that Marshawn Lynch has played his last snap of football? Let's hope not.
• In honor of All-Star Weekend, here's Larry Bird's winning 3-point contest three-peat from 1988. He actually did a lot of clanging, but everybody remembers the raised finger at the end.
• The end of regulation between North Dakota State and Denver was crazy.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Denny Hamlin walked into the Joe Gibbs Racing shop in December and noticed a change. As he was meeting with new crew chief Dave Rogers, Hamlin saw that yellow had largely replaced black on the cars and equipment for his No. 11 team. Even the hauler was different.
“I looked at him and said, ‘I guess I’m pretty much driving the No. 18 car,’” Hamlin says. “He said ‘Yeah, pretty much, other than we get to bring your pretty fast pit crew over here.’”
Hamlin won’t actually drive the No. 18 this season — he’s still in the familiar No. 11 Toyota with FedEx as the primary sponsor — but he will be part of a reshuffled program. Hamlin’s former crew chief Darian Grubb has been assigned to lead Carl Edwards’ No. 19 team as JGR expands to four Sprint Cup cars.
“I think it’s a great deal for me, and really Carl is stepping in to a great situation with Darian,” Hamlin says. “I know what he’s capable of doing. (Carl)’s really getting all of my A-team mechanics and everything, so no one got slighted on this deal whatsoever.”
Rogers moves to direct Hamlin after more than five years leading the charge for fellow JGR driver Kyle Busch. This season marks the first time that Hamlin and Rogers will have worked together at the Sprint Cup level — but not the first otherwise. They have previous experience as crew chief and driver for the JGR Nationwide (now XFINITY) Series program.
Rogers worked as Hamlin’s crew chief in NASCAR’s second-tier series during the 2006-07 seasons. Together, they collected five wins, 23 top 5s, 39 top 10 and 12 poles in just 57 combined races. Those were extraordinary numbers for a JGR program that, in 395 starts from 1997-2005, scored just three wins.
For this duo to dominate once again, JGR will need to improve. The organization won twice last season but only once on an intermediate track. Hamlin, despite making two serious championship bids since 2010, believes JGR is still trying to level up to its peers. “We’ve always kind of been that next-tier team, realistically,” Hamlin says. “We can compete for race wins week-in and week-out, but the championships have escaped us through mechanical stuff.”
Hamlin says the team sacrificed speed to fix that last year so now they can race without the worry of a DNF. Now, the focus will be on sharing information, a weak point for Toyota compared to other manufacturers but one JGR hopes to fix with an additional car and more personnel.
It’s been two full seasons since Hamlin, a 24-time winner in the top series, visited Victory Lane more than once in a single season (in a points-paying event). The pairing with new crew chief Rogers and the additional resources brought to the JGR team by Edwards — an elite driver in his own regard — may be the answer needed to change that. If not, the No. 11 team will become an interesting story to watch early. Hamlin’s contract is up following the 2015 season, and he’s arguably the strongest potential free agent. Stay tuned.
Dynamic drafter Hamlin proved to be last season’s most prolific driver at the restrictor plate tracks. At Daytona, he scored wins in the Sprint Unlimited and his Budweiser Duel race, and he finished second and sixth, respectively, in the two points-paying races. He scored his lone points-paying win of 2014 at Talladega.
He takes his talent to South Beach Since 2006, Hamlin has won twice, finished third twice and led 213 laps in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He led 50 laps and averaged a third-place running position in 2014.
Martinsville strength Fans of Hamlin are quick to discuss his ability at Martinsville, but the four-time Martinsville winner hasn’t scored a finish better than fifth since the fall 2010 race. Still, he has managed to lead 272 laps during his seven-race drought.
No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Primary Sponsors: FedEx, Sport Clips
Owner: Joe Gibbs
Crew Chief: Dave Rogers
Year With Current Team: 11th
Under Contract Through: 2015
Best Points Finish: 2nd (2010)
Hometown: Chesterfield, Va.
Born: Nov. 18, 1980
|Years||Starts||Wins||Top 5s||Top 10s||Poles||Titles||Earned|
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.
Celebrity game, 7 PM ET, ESPN
This goofy game will include entertainers and personalities of all kinds. The roster lists hold the the likes of actors Kevin Hart, Nick Cannon, and Michael Rapaport; Memphis Grizzlies owner Robert Pera — who once challenged Michael Jordan to a round of 1-on-1 — former league stars Chris Mullin and Allan Houston, rapper Common, and Arcade Fire singer Win Butler, among others. Spike Lee and Carmelo Anthony will coach one of the teams, going up against ESPN radio hosts Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg on the opposing bench.
Rising Stars challenge, 9 PM ET, TNT
This year’s rookie/sophmore showcase features an interesting twist — it’ll pit American ballers against those from the rest of the world. And the international squad, in this new generation, is the overwhelming overdog, featuring the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Andrew Wiggins from Canada, his Senegalese teammate Gorgui Dieng, Chicago Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic, Utah Jazz Australian point guard Dante Exum and the sensational Giannis “The Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo, of the Milwaukee Bucks. The U.S.A. roster boasts Zach LaVine and Shabazz Muhammad of the Wolves, Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton of the Orlando Magic, and Exum’s Jazz running mate Trey Burke. If last year’s explosive shootout between Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Dion Waiters is any indication, we know that this event can be extremely entertaining.
All-Star Saturday night, 8:30 PM ET, TNT
Event One: Shooting stars challenge
This one is a series of shooting obstacles, with four teams including one NBA All-Star, one legend, and one WNBA star. Russell Westbrook is matched with Penny Hardaway and Tameeka Catchings; Paul Millsap, with Scottie Pippen and Elena Delle Donne; Steph Curry with his father Dell and Sue Bird; Chris Bosh, finally, will compete with Dominique Wilkins and Swin Cash. The deciding sequence of this game ends with its biggest doozy — a half-court shot that must be made to win.
Event Two: Skills challenge
Watch as various NBA stars dart around through glorified cones and test their precision with a combination of dribbling, passing, running and shooting tasks. Mostly assembled from point guards, this season’s collection has the likes of Houston Rockets fireplug Patrick Beverley, a bit of double event duty from Orlando’s Payton, Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroeder of the Atlanta Hawks, Antetokounmpo’s Bucks teammate Brandon Knight, and Toronto Raptors general Kyle Lowry, who will be starting in the main event on Sunday.
Event Three: Three-point contest
This year’s three-point shootout might hold the claim of having the most potent field of shooters ever. The Golden State Warriors’ “Splash Brothers,” Curry and Klay Thompson, fight with Kyle Korver of the Hawks, Curry’s MVP competition in the Rockets’ James Harden, Wesley Matthews of the Portland Trail Blazers, J.J. Redick of the Los Angeles Clippers, Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and reigning three-point champion Marco Belinelli of the San Antonio Spurs. May the most accurate marksman win.
Final event: Slam dunk contest
A unique, young group will end the night and try to capture the imagination in a competition that’s been creatively lacking in recent years. Oladipo, Antetokounmpo and LaVine (the prohibitive favorite) will be met by Brooklyn Nets’ center Mason Plumlee. But there’s real hope for fireworks, this year: Read our preview of the dunk contest field here.
NBA All-Star game, 8:30 PM ET, TNT
The main event is a spectacle of sentiment, high-flying dunks, and a defense-is-optional form of basketball that rarely sees either the East or West team score any less than 150 points. See the full rosters for each side here. And if you’re curious about who’s been snubbed from the contest, go here, and have a terrific All-Star weekend.
— John Wilmes
Last year, the SEC welcomed 72 early enrollees. Even the SEC has outdone itself this year, topping its own record with 82 early enrollees.
It's a trend started mostly by the SEC and dominated by the SEC. There are countless benefits to enrolling athletes early, none the least of which is learning how to live life as a college student-athlete. Essentially, a player is more likely to contribute earlier if he enrolls early than if he shows up in the summer months.
Rankings according to 247Sports composite
After scoring 14 early enrollees last season, the Vols added an SEC-best 10 more this year. This haul features eight four-star recruits, including instant impact running back Alvin Kamara, two top 300 signal-callers and three excellent defensive line prospects. Kyle Phillips (if healthy) and Shy Tuttle could both play as freshmen.
|Kyle Phillips||DL||6-4||250||Nashville, TN||No. 36|
|Shy Tuttle||DL||6-3||315||Midway, NC||No. 53|
|Jack Jones||OL||6-5||300||Murfreesboro, TN||No. 128|
|Darrin Kirkland Jr.||LB||6-2||235||Indianapolis, IN||No. 163|
|Jauan Jennings||QB||6-4||200||Mufreesboro, TN||No. 167|
|Quinten Dormady||QB||6-4||200||Boerne, TX||No. 263|
|Andrew Butcher||DL||6-2||245||Alpharetta, GA||No. 270|
|Chance Hall||OL||6-5||315||Roanoke, VA||No. 676|
|Stephen Griffin||DB||6-2||185||Charlotte, NC||No. 729|
|Alvin Kamara||RB||5-11||195||Norcross, GA||No. 2 (JC)|
One of the prized gems of the Bama class is quarterback of the future, five-star recruit Blake Barnett. He is joined by five other four-star true freshmen, an instant impact defensive tackle in Jonathan Taylor and delayed 2014 signee Bo Scarbrough. The 235-pound back will pair with DeSherrius Flowers to give Alabama some quality depth in the backfield. Getting two elite safety prospects into camp early could help remedy the secondary issues in Tuscaloosa as well.
|Blake Barnett||QB||6-5||200||Corona, CA||No. 21|
|Delonte Thompson||S||6-2||180||Orange, TX||No. 44|
|DeSherrius Flowers||RB||6-1||210||Mobile, AL||No. 146|
|Ronnie Harrison||S||6-3||205||Tallahassee, FL||No. 197|
|Dallas Warmack||OL||6-2||305||Atlanta, GA||No. 229|
|Brandon Kennedy||OL||6-3||295||Wetumpka, AL||No. 303|
|Jonathan Taylor||DL||6-4||335||Millen, GA||No. 35 (JC)|
|Bo Scarbrough||RB||6-2||235||Northport, AL||No. 16 ('14)|
Jeremy Pruitt should be excited about an already improving defense getting front seven help in a big way this January. The Dawgs added three linebackers, two defensive linemen and two defensive backs with their eight early enrollees. Two of the top four players in this class will play in the front seven and are already on campus (Ledbetter, Patrick).
|Jonathan Ledbetter||DT||6-4||265||Tucker, GA||No. 66|
|Natrez Patrick||LB||6-3||255||Atlanta, GA||No. 88|
|Jackson Harris||TE||6-5||250||Columbia, TN||No. 191|
|Michael Barnett||DE||6-4||255||Dorchester, SC||No. 249|
|Johnathan Abram||DB||6-1||202||Columbia, MS||No. 692|
|Jarvis Wilson||DB||6-2||197||Tupelo, MS||No. 841|
|Chuks Amaechi||LB||6-3||220||Avondale, AZ||No. 69 (JC)|
|Jake Ganus*||LB||6-2||215||Chelsea, AL||-|
* - transfer from UAB
South Carolina (8)
Steve Spurrier talked openly about needing to improve his defense's ability to rush the passer and cover opposing playmakers. So after hiring Jon Hoke to run the defense, he brought in six defensive early enrollees. Look for Marquavius Lewis and Dexter Wideman to get snaps right away along the D-line.
|Dexter Wideman||DT||6-4||295||Saluda, SC||No. 1 (PS)|
|Sherrod Pittman||LB||6-0||215||Jacksonville, FL||No. 315|
|Christian Owens||WR||6-5||200||Griffin, GA||No. 349|
|Jalen Henry||LB||5-10||215||Foley, AL||UR|
|Jerad Washington||WR||5-8||150||Jacksonville, FL||UR|
|Marquavius Lewis||DE||6-3||265||St. Louis, MO||No. 3 (JC)|
|Ernest Hawkins||LB||6-1||210||Baltimore, MD||No. 101 (JC)|
|Darin Smalls||DB||5-10||170||Summerville, SC||No. 477 ('14)|
The Tigers enrolled a collection of four-star true freshmen but most won’t be ready to play right away. However, with three junior college prospects in this group, Gus Malzahn could see some immediate contributions from this haul. Look for Maurice Swain, Jason Smith and (finally) Jovon Robinson to make an impact this spring.
|Tyler Carr||OL||6-5||310||Southside, AL||No. 223|
|Tim Irvin||DB||5-9||190||Palmetto, FL||No. 287|
|Chandler Cox||HB||6-2||225||Apopka, FL||No. 333|
|Bailey Sharp||OL||6-5||285||Marietta, GA||No. 335|
|Tyler Queen||QB||6-2||230||Kennesaw, GA||No. 384|
|Jovon Robinson||RB||6-0||235||Memphis, TN||No. 1 (JC)|
|Jason Smith||ATH||6-1||185||Mobile, AL||No. 10 (JC)|
|Maurice Swain||DL||6-5||290||LeGrange, GA||No. 51 (JC)|
Texas A&M (7)
Kevin Sumlin scored three new pass catchers for his developing quarterback this January. Christian Kirk is a five-star speedster while JUCO Damion Ratley adds depth on the outside. That said, two other junior college signees (Justin Evans, Claude George) should help John Chavis attempt to rebuild the defense quickly.
|Christian Kirk||WR||5-11||191||Scottsdale, AZ||No. 25|
|Keaton Sutherland||OL||6-7||294||Flower Mound, TX||No. 183|
|Jordan Davis||TE||6-5||255||Texas City, TX||No. 230|
|Richard Moore||LB||6-1||210||Cedar Hill, TX||No. 383|
|Justin Evans||DB||6-0||193||Wiggins, MS||No. 29 (JC)|
|Damion Ratley||WR||6-2||188||Yoakum, TX||No. 48 (JC)|
|Claude George||LB||6-2||235||Lafayette, LA||No. 55 (JC)|
The Danish defensive end from Ohio, Hjalte Froholdt, is the highest-rated player in this class and will benefit from extra spring practice more than most. Toss in four more big uglies and Bret Bielema is adding depth right where he wants it — along the line of scrimmage.
|Hjalte Froholdt||DL||6-5||280||Warren, OH*||No. 143|
|Will Gragg||TE||6-4||250||Dumas, AR||No. 205|
|Ty Storey||QB||6-3||211||Charleston, AR||No. 224|
|Jalen Merrick||OL||6-5||350||Oak Hill, FL||No. 243|
|Zach Rogers||OL||6-1||318||Carrollton, TX||No. 370|
|Daytrieon Dean||DL||6-3||254||Fort Smith, AR||No. 767|
|Jeremiah Ledbetter||DL||6-3||271||Orlando, FL||No. 18 (JC)|
* - originally from Svenborg, Denmark
Mississippi State (6)
Dan Mullen didn’t get any of his elite true freshmen enrolled early, however, he added three wide receivers and two blockers to the mix — all of which should aid his star quarterback Dak Prescott. The top two enrollees are junior college prospects Donald Gray and Martinas Rankin, who could play right away on offense.
|Malik Dear||WR||5-9||226||Jackson,||No. 219|
|Deddrick Thomas||WR||5-9||170||Memphis, TN||No. 491|
|Michael Story||OL||6-4||290||Ripley, MS||UR|
|Donald Gray||WR||5-9||185||Memphis, TN||No. 8 (JC)|
|Martinas Rankin||OL||6-5||300||Mendenhall, MS||No. 9 (JC)|
|Johnathan Calvin||DL||6-4||250||Jackson, MS||No. 50 (JC)|
The first thing that stands out about Kentucky’s class is where the new faces come from. Five of the six early enrollers are from Ohio, two of which played for Nebraska last season. Tight end C.J. Conrad could be useful right away for new coordinator Shannon Dawson.
|C.J. Conrad||TE||6-5||245||LaGrange, OH||No. 290|
|Jordan Jones||LB||6-2||215||Youngstown, OH||No. 408|
|George Asafo-Adjei||OL||6-5||315||West Chester, OH||No. 448|
|Kengera Daniel||DE||6-5||250||Raleigh, NC||No. 701|
|Greg Hart*||TE||6-5||240||Dayton, OH||--|
|Courtney Love*||LB||6-2||245||Youngstown, OH||--|
* - transfer from Nebraska
Ole Miss (5)
As expected from The Magnolia State, four of these early enrollees in Oxford hail from the junior college ranks. D.J. Jones and Tony Bridges are two of the top JUCO prospects at their positions and both add quality depth to the defense instantly. Additionally, Chad Kelly, if he can prove to stay on his coach’s good side, could start under center if he plays well in the spring.
|Javon Patterson||OL||6-3||313||Petal, MS||No. 52|
|D.J. Jones||DL||6-2||310||Piedmont, SC||No. 4 (JC)|
|Tony Bridges||DB||6-2||190||Hattiesburg, MS||No. 7 (JC)|
|Chad Kelly||QB||6-3||220||Buffalo, NY||No. 37 (JC)|
|Terry Caldwell||LB||6-2||230||Wilmington, NC||No. 84 (JC)|
This is an LSU group if there ever was one. An elite five-star defensive back, two massive in-line prospects at fullback and tight end to go with an unheralded quarterback. Sound familiar?
|Kevin Toliver II||CB||6-2||192||Jacksonville, FL||No. 8|
|David Ducre||FB||6-3||239||Slidell, LA||No. 206|
|Hanner Shipley||TE||6-5||284||Meadowlakes, TX||UR|
|Justin McMillan||QB||6-1||177||Cedar Hills, TX||UR|
Florida (2), Missouri (2), Vanderbilt (1)
|Daniel Imatorbhebhe||TE||6-4||225||Suwanee, GA||No. 599|
|Kalif Jackson||WR||6-4||200||Neptune Beach, FL||No. 840|
|Tanner Owen||OL||6-5||275||Kearney, MO||UR|
|Malik Cuellar||OL||6-5||300||Fortuna, CA||No. 52 (JC)|
|Nehemiah Mitchell||DE||6-4||255||Hayward, CA||No. 71 (JC)|
Athlon Sports has averaged out the four major recruiting services — 247Sports, Rivals.com, Scout.com and ESPN — and created the Big 12 consensus team recruiting rankings for 2015. Here is what we learned:
Lone Star-sized statement
Charlie Strong and Texas signed the clear-cut best class in the Big 12 this fall. Getting the Horns back on top of the rankings was critical for Strong, who started relatively slowly on the trail in Austin. Equally as important, Texas landed some big name players that Texas A&M and other SEC teams were after. Taking back the Lone Star State for the Burnt Orange is critical for Strong’s long-term success and he accomplished that in the ’15 cycle.
What to make of the Sooners?
By most accounts, the Sooners signed another stellar top-20 class with 10 four-star prospects — significantly more than anyone else in the league not named Texas. However, Bob Stoops is accustomed to signing consensus top-10 or even top-five classes and that hasn’t happened of late for Oklahoma. In fact, Stoops hasn’t signed a top-10 class since 2010.
Middle of the pack
One of the charms of the Big 12 is the mix of teams that are relatively even throughout the top half and middle of the league. Nowhere is that more obvious than the recruiting rankings. After Texas and Oklahoma, five teams basically signed identical good-but-not-elite classes. West Virginia (31st), Texas Tech (33rd), TCU (35th), Oklahoma State (36th) and Baylor (38th) all finished within five spots of one another in the consensus national team rankings. Good luck sorting that out over the next few years.
Listen to the Cover 2 Podcast Recruiting Special feat. Barton Simmons:
Captain Ray Ban
A tip of the cap goes to Kliff Kingsbury and the Red Raiders. It finished third in the Big 12 with five four-star signings, including stealing JF Thomas from TCU — the highest-rated player in either class this fall. More importantly, Kingsbury has improved on the recruiting trail in each of his three classes, going from 46th (2013) to 41st (2014) to 33rd (2015).
Scout likes the Big 12
Of the four major services, Scout.com likes the Big 12 classes the most. Seven of the 10 teams in this league were ranked best by Scout, including the top five classes in the league. In fact, Scout.com was the only site to rank a Big 12 program other than Texas or Oklahoma in the top 30. Oklahoma State, Baylor, Kansas State, Kansas and Iowa State weren’t as lucky.
For better and worse, consistency explains Mark Few’s tenure at Gonzaga.
Over the past 16 seasons, Few has amassed 427 wins, 15 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, 13 conference regular season titles and 11 conference tournament championships … with zero national championships, zero Final Fours and zero Elite Eight appearances.
The model of consistency, for better or worse.
It seems that each season the debate begins again. Is this Mark Few’s best Gonzaga team? Is this the year Gonzaga finally makes it to the Elite Eight … or Final Four?
Yes, this is Few’s best Gonzaga team, and this is the Gonzaga team that can keep the Madness rolling to Indianapolis. This team is different. This team has star power. This team has depth in the frontcourt and weapons in the backcourt. This team has a great coach. And this team plays exceptional, tougher defense.
This Gonzaga team can break the mold and go to the Final Four. Here are the reasons why:
1. Kevin Pangos
A great college point guard must not only be able to score, but create for his teammates and set the tone defensively. Kevin Pangos does all of that, and then some.
According to KenPom, Pangos is the country’s third-most offensively efficient player (137.8), he’s 11th in true shooting percentage (67.5) and 26th in effective field goal percentage (63.4). But it isn't just Pangos' ability to score, especially from deep, that makes him arguably the nation’s best point guard. His ability to set the tone for the Bulldogs’ second-most efficient offense in the country is nothing short of fantastic, averaging nearly five assists to one turnover per game, and increasing his assist rate to 23.8 from 18.3 in 2014. Pangos’ development over the past four years has been a model in which to build a superstar point guard.
From his junior season to senior season, Pangos has improved his field goal percentage, 3-point percentage and assist rate while lowering his turnover rate. If the Zags want to crack the Sweet 16 code, Pangos’ formula of sharp shooting and offensive productivity could be the solution.
2. Backcourt Depth
The Bulldogs didn’t become the nation’s second-most efficient offense and the WCC’s best defense with just Pangos. No, it takes a team — and this team is loaded.
Gonzaga’s backcourt includes Byron Wesley, a senior swingman and graduate transfer from USC. Wesley is a reliable third option who hits 50 percent from the floor, averaging 11 points, five rebounds and three assists in 27 minutes per game. The Zags also feature another reliable shooting senior to complement Pangos, Gary Bell Jr., who chips in eight points per game to go along with a 40 percent 3-point shooting percentage.
3. Frontcourt Options and Weapons
The Gonzaga frontcourt gives opposing defenses headaches, and not just in the paint. Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer has been a revelation for Gonzaga and is the definition of a stretch four. In his first season in Spokane, Wiltjer has opened up Mark Few’s offense to new levels, posting a 16.4 points per game average while shooting better than 54 percent from the field, 44 percent from deep, 80 percent from the line, all while ranking eighth nationally in offensive efficiency rating (103.2).
Wiltjer has help from his post-up brethren. Seven-foot-one Prezemek Karnowski fits his role perfectly in the Zags high scoring offense. The Polish import scores almost 11 points per game with six rebounds, all while shooting 62 percent from the floor.
The son of former NBA center Arvydas Sabonis, freshman big man Domantas Sabonis has basketball in his genes. The 6-10 forward from Portland has played noticeably well for an 18 year old. Sabonis averages 10 points and seven rebounds off the bench for the Zags, complemented by his 70 percent field goal percentage and high offensive rebounding rate. Sabonis may be a role player on this Zags team, but he has the ability to go off, like he did against Pepperdine when he was 9-of-9 from the floor with 18 points and 12 rebounds, in a two-point win over the Waves on Jan. 15.
4. Defense Wins Championships
We can talk ad nauseam about the Zags’ prolific offensive attack, but as the old adage declares, defense wins championships. Gonzaga has kept teams under 60 points 13 times this season and allows rival offenses just 60.7 points per contest, best in the WCC and 33rd nationally. Efficiency wise, the Bulldogs are a top-tier team. According to KenPom’s defensive efficiency rating, the Zags rank first in the WCC (95.4) and 27th nationally (92.7).
A significant reason Gonzaga excels defensively is their ability to rebound. Gonzaga is first in its conference in preventing second-chance rebounds for opposing offenses and rank second behind BYU in total rebounds, defensive rebounds and rebound rate in the WCC. The Bulldogs get rebounding from all over the court, with four players averaging at least five boards per game. It’s hard to beat a team that doesn’t allow extra possessions for their opponents.
Gonzaga’s offensive arsenal headlined by Pangos and Wiltjer, accompanied by Sabonis, Bell, Wesley and Karnowski gives Few his best team since he has been in Spokane. With a lockdown defense and a little March magic, this could be the Zags team that breaks the spell and stays out after midnight, dancing in the glow of the downtown Indianapolis lights this April.
-By Jake Rose
There’s an old adage in racing that says, “Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.” For Kasey Kahne, that motto perfectly sums up his most recent Sprint Cup campaign. Kahne was good, and he had fast cars, but the luck just wasn’t on his side. He failed to finish five races in 2014, all due to crash damage in which he was almost always an innocent victim.
That’s not to say this team didn’t make its own luck; the No. 5 group, even when at its best, never quite hit the standard Hendrick Motorsports is known for. Although Kahne squeezed into the Chase with an eleventh-hour win in Atlanta, he slogged through the postseason and never became a true contender.
But Kahne has several reasons to look forward to 2015. The driver received a real boost when his contract with Hendrick was extended through 2018, putting an end to speculation that young gun Chase Elliott, who won the 2014 Nationwide Series title, would supplant him after this season. The vote of confidence should take some pressure off Kahne and keep him focused on the task at hand.
That’s important, as the mild-mannered Kahne will have to lead his team through a major adjustment. Kenny Francis is out as crew chief, moving on within HMS and ending a nine-year pairing between the two. Of Kahne’s 17 career wins, 16 have come with Francis, leaving the future a bit of an unknown. In for Francis steps Keith Rodden, a former Hendrick engineer who returns to the organization after spending a year with Chip Ganassi Racing and driver Jamie McMurray. Rodden helped McMurray score seven top 5s and 13 top 10s, the driver’s best season totals since 2010. Rodden, used to working with a laid-back personality like Kahne, has the potential to be a perfect fit.
Kahne’s best tracks are the high-speed intermediates that make up the bulk of the schedule, and the speed and durability of his HMS equipment is a combination that’s proven. Kahne hasn’t had a single engine failure since March 2012, and that is a testament to the driver, who can handle a car with finesse.
Kahne has strong backing for 2015, with primary sponsors Farmers Insurance and Great Clips back on board along with Time Warner Cable and Pepsi. LiftMaster also signed on for three races this season, and it’s likely that team owner Rick Hendrick will cover any unsold races with his HendrickCars.com brand.
There’s another weapon in Kahne’s arsenal, and it’s a powerful one — his Hendrick teammates. Hendrick Motorsports is known for maintaining an open-book policy among its four teams, and Jeff Gordon, with whom Kahne shares a race shop, had the best team overall in 2014’s regular season. The teamwork within the organization, which also includes Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr., makes it easy for a driver to play catch-up. Kahne was top 5 in points as recently as 2012 with HMS, and his success on a particular Chase track in each round (Loudon, Charlotte, Phoenix) makes him a true dark horse.
Rodden returns Kahne’s team lost positions during green-flag pit cycles at a high rate. In ’13, then-crew chief Kenny Francis and engineer Keith Rodden gained Kahne 16 positions during such cycles. Without Rodden, who became Jamie McMurray’s crew chief, Francis cost Kahne 30 positions during cycles last year. In 2015, Rodden returns to replace Francis and should keep Kahne moving forward.
Best tracks Kahne was still competitive on his signature tracks last year. He won at Atlanta, finished third at Kansas and led 22 percent of the All-Star Race at Charlotte.
Sleeper pick Kahne’s best average finish per track type last year (9.0) was on road courses. Rodden’s car, with McMurray driving, won the pole and had the highest average running position at Sonoma.
No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Primary Sponsors: Farmers Insurance, Great Clips, Time Warner Cable, LiftMaster, Pepsi
Owner: Rick Hendrick
Crew Chief: Keith Rodden
Year With Current Team: 4th
Under Contract Through: 2018
Best Points Finish: 4th (2012)
Hometown: Enumclaw, Wash.
Born: April 10, 1980
|Years||Starts||Wins||Top 5s||Top 10s||Poles||Titles||Earned|
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Feb. 12:
• Good news, fellas: Supermodel Irina Shayk is looking for a loyal man.
• Bill Belichick laughed on Letterman. We're in the end times.
• Tiger's taking time off to work on his golf game. Wish I had that luxury. Of course, Woods needs to heal from the humiliation of his recent struggles; good buddy Notah Begay says he embarrassed himself at Torrey Pines.
• Nick Young put Steve Blake on the floor with a nasty crossover.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
There are two ways to view Ryan Newman’s 2014 season, and both paint a picture of what 2015 could look like as Newman enters his second year driving for Richard Childress Racing. Statistically, it will go down as his best season ever in terms of consistency. Posting a career-best points finish (runner-up), he was just one Kevin Harvick slip away from becoming the Sprint Cup champion. His average finish of 12.7 was also the best of his 13 full seasons as a Cup competitor, as were his impressive 31 lead-lap finishes in 36 starts.
On the other hand, Newman scored only five top-5 finishes; it would have been the worst total for a NASCAR champion since 1949, and it made his appearance in Homestead’s Final Four controversial. He didn’t win a race all season, the first time that’s happened in five years. Newman led just 41 laps all year, ranking just 22nd in Cup in that category, and he never scored a pole, ruining a penchant for qualifying that was once “Rocket Man’s” trademark.
That makes Newman’s season and his future with RCR hard to gauge. Can he become the Chase Cinderella in 2015, or will the reality of being a 10th- to 15th-place car most weeks come back to bite him? Most likely, it will be a little of both. As the veteran of this three-car operation, Newman shouldn’t see his consistency drop off too much. Newman’s not getting the top finishes, but he is finishing races and making the most of his equipment.
Once Newman is in the Chase, he’s shown that he knows exactly how to play the system (see: mind-numbing top-10 finishes). He doesn’t take the risks that other drivers take, limiting rewards, but when the risks caught up with much of the competition, Newman was home free.
Newman will benefit from stability. In 2014, he had to learn to work with a new crew and organization, but the learning curve is now behind him. Newman and underrated crew chief Luke Lambert can concentrate on taking the momentum of their runner-up finish and improving their formula. Newman has stable sponsorship from Caterpillar, Quicken Loans and WIX Filters, so there should be few distractions.
The last piece of the puzzle for Newman is equipment. What RCR lacks in speed within the engine department, it makes up for in durability; exactly one car failed to finish a race due to mechanical failure. The question is whether racing luck can shine with that amount of regularity on one organization once again. Newman also ruffled feathers in the Chase, roughing up Kyle Larson in Phoenix just to advance to the final round and knocking out potential champion Jeff Gordon. One race of bad feelings carrying over is all it takes, especially for a team with such a limited margin for error.
If nothing changes over the winter, Newman and Co. will have to hope that lightning strikes twice. This team, despite having a great driver and crew chief, might not even win a race in 2015. But it has proven it can’t be overlooked, either, because top 10’ing them to death nearly worked in ’14.
Speed on soft intermediates Newman’s valiant effort in the season finale at Homestead resulted in his best finish of the season, but it wasn’t much of a surprise. At soft intermediate tracks — Homestead, Kansas, Kentucky and Chicagoland — he averaged a 7.4-place finish, his best average finish per track type of 2014.
A gainer at Talladega RCR equipment is used to running near the front at Talladega, but Newman’s laid-back strategy also worked in 2014. In the two ’Dega races, Newman finished 23.8 and 11.4 spots better than his average running positions, respectively.
Consistency kills Newman finished in the top 20 a series-high 32 times (88.89 percent of the season) in 2014. That might not mean much for fantasy owners, but the team’s point-padding ways should again put them in Chase contention.
No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
Primary Sponsors: Caterpillar, Quicken Loans, WIX Filters
Owner: Richard Childress
Crew Chief: Luke Lambert
Year With Current Team: 2nd
Under Contract Through: 2016
Best Points Finish: 2nd (2014)
Hometown: South Bend, Ind.
Born: Dec. 8, 1977
|Years||Starts||Wins||Top 5s||Top 10s||Poles||Titles||Earned|
Car photo by Action Sports, Inc.; Newman photo courtesy of HHP/Harold Hinson
The 2015 NASCAR season is revving up for another wild year. That also means that it's time for a new fantasy NASCAR season, which begs the question: What do I name my team? To help you come up with the funniest, craziest, silliest name possible we put together our 35 favorites for the 2015 season. Here's our list, in no particular order of awesomeness.
Kurt Busch's Secret Assassin Girlfriend
Gordon’s Last Lap
In the Chase Elliott
Losing Makes My Dick Trickle
Balls to the Wall All the Time
Dog the Labonte Hunter
Shake & Bake
Well Kyle Be Damned
Bad News Mears
No Kahne No Gain
Stewart Your Engines
The Blue Lagano
2 Girls, 1 Sprint Cup
Me So Hornish
Mears for Fears
Shaking the Busch, Boss
Ambrose Before Ho
A Country Gal Kahne Survive
A Little on the High Side
The Need for Scott Speed
Blaney’s Got a Gun
The Big Keselowski
2 Lbs. in the Rear Got Her Loose
Green Eggs and Hamlin
The Sum of All Mears
Go Left Young Man
Wise Johnsons Fear Burning Busch
UPS = Ugly Paint Scheme
The New England Patriots’ reign as Super Bowl champions is just beginning, but for everyone else the focus has already shifted to the 2015 NFL and fantasy football seasons. The offseason work has really yet to begin, with free agency still about a month away and the draft even farther out, but here’s Athlon Sports’ initial fantasy football rankings for the upcoming season.
Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell who piled up 2,215 yards from scrimmage is our pick for No. 1 (although the possibility of a two-game suspension could change our stance down the road), with teammate Antonio Brown checking in at No. 6 as the first wide receiver listed. Seven of the top 10 players are running backs, along with three wide receivers. This means no quarterback or tight end cracks our early top 10, not even MVP Aaron Rodgers or the mighty Gronk.
Again, this list will change as soon as free agency kicks off and once more following the draft. But for now, DeMarco Murray and Dez Bryant are Cowboys, Demaryius and Julius Thomas are Broncos, there are no rookies listed and no kickers made our top 150. While it’s anyone’s guess as to where these four prime free agents will wind up (my money is on the wide receivers staying put), there’s a pretty good chance kickers will be shut out of the top 150 even after the dust settles.
|14||Odell Beckham Jr.||WR||NYG|
|122||Robert Griffin III||QB||WAS|
OFFENSIVE SCORINGRankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system:
All touchdowns are 6 points
1 point for 25 yards passing
1 point for 10 yards rushing/receiving
Receptions are .5 points
Interceptions/fumbles are minus-2 points
Magic Johnson isn’t too thrilled about the decay of his former vehicle for glory, and he’s got a firm idea about who’s to blame: team heir Jim Buss, son to the late Jerry Buss.
"Jim is trying to do it himself and trying to prove to everybody that this was the right decision that [his] dad gave [him] the reins," Johnson said Tuesday on ESPN. "He's not consulting anybody that can help him achieve his goals and dreams to win an NBA championship.”
That includes general manager Mitch Kupchack, as Magic would have it. "If Jim would say, 'OK, Mitch. You run the show,' I think it would be a lot better for the Lakers, too. Mitch Kupchak knows what he's doing. He's great. He's smart. He's hard-working. He's at every practice. I think the fans would feel good [if he ran the team] as well.”
Magic even went so far as to say that if the Lakers strike out in free agency this summer, and fail to bring in a big name next to Kobe Bryant, that the Black Mamba should retire.
There are, of course, 24 million reasons that Kobe probably won’t do that.
But Johnson is right to wonder about the direction of the franchise. The team’s power structure is unclear in this current era, with the maligned Buss son and his sister Jeannie working in some sort of mysterious, and frankly ineffective, tandem with Kupchak.
The good news for the Lakers is that they’re the Lakers. Their brand is still one of the most powerful tools in sports, and the idea of being the star to resurrect their ship is going to appeal to an elite player later, even if it doesn’t now. This embarrassment isn’t built to last.
— John Wilmes
More than a year removed from “SpinGate” — NASCAR’s biggest controversy in a decade — Clint Bowyer and Michael Waltrip Racing continue to spiral downward in performance. Bowyer’s Toyota team has gone from a runner-up points result in 2012, his peak, to a career-worst 19th-place finish last year.
In fact, Bowyer’s 2014 cumulative results — no wins, five top 5s and 15 top 10s — were the worst he’s recorded in Sprint Cup since 2009.
The warning signs were prevalent as early as last spring. After the ”SpinGate” incident in the fall of 2013 cost the organization millions in sponsorship support, MWR decided to drop from three full-time teams to two. The company line was that streamlining operations was a positive. Instead it just put MWR at a greater disadvantage against the field, competing against four-car teams with twice the money and resources. “You never want to create a storm in any sport or for anybody — any of your peers, your friends, your family, anybody,” Bowyer said during NASCAR’s return to Richmond on September.
But what’s done is done. NAPA, the biggest MWR sponsor lost through the whole ordeal, is now throwing big money at HMS and Chase Elliott. Former teammate Martin Truex Jr. is gone, driving for the No. 78 team at Furniture Row Racing. Left behind are Brian Vickers and Bowyer, whose PR image slowly recovered — but not his on-track results. He went winless for a second straight season, led just 109 laps and posted five DNFs, a shocking number for a driver who once went two-plus years without one.
MWR remains a two-car team, staying the course with Bowyer and Vickers in the No. 55. They’ll start 2015 with a clean slate and decidedly less offseason strife to get in the way of research and development.
“We’ve got to figure out how to collectively get better with both cars,” Bowyer said in November. “We’ve got a lot of areas that we can improve on. It’s easy to point fingers on a lot of big areas, but in all honesty, in this sport and in this garage, it’s the little things that make up the difference.”
Those “little things” were what bit Bowyer at the worst possible moments. An ill-timed pit road mistake knocked him out of contention at Martinsville in the spring, costing him a win and an entry into the Chase. Then, a broken shifter ruined a strong run at Atlanta Motor Speedway, ending his hopes to make the postseason on points in early September.
Bowyer and MWR will welcome changes in the Sprint Cup rules packages that will level the playing field and give middle-tier programs a better opportunity to compete.
“The best thing that I can see is a completely different animal,” says Bowyer. “It’s the light at the end of the tunnel, starting from scratch again (this) year with a new car and new rules and everything else.”
What Bowyer needs now is a win — something positive that will finally make him forget his recent struggles.
A viable threat at Talladega Bowyer can weave through restrictor plate traffic with the best of them, evident from his two top-five finishes, after spot gains of 24.4 and 23.0 over his average running position in the two 2014 races.
Richmond favorite A two-time winner at Richmond, Bowyer scored one of his best finishes of the 2014 season there, a third-place result, after averaging a season-best 3.6-place average running position. He finished third or better in three of the last five races at RIR. As long as he can avoid mechanical failure or scandalous team orders, he’s a threat for the win.
Bad luck or just plain bad All of Bowyer’s awful luck or poor outings last season seemed to take place at the quad-oval tracks — Las Vegas, Texas, Charlotte and Atlanta — where he averaged a 26.2-place finish.
No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota
Primary Sponsors: 5-Hour Energy, Peak, AAA
Owner: Michael Waltrip/Rob Kauffman
Crew Chief: Brian Pattie
Year With Current Team: 4th
Under Contract Through: 2017
Best Points Finish: 2nd (2012)
Hometown: Emporia, Kan.
Born: May 30, 1979
|Years||Starts||Wins||Top 5s||Top 10s||Poles||Titles||Earned|
Car photo by Action Sports, Inc.; Bowyer photo courtesy of Michael Waltrip Racing
At this time last year, the folks with the Wooden Award and Naismith Award could have started engraving Doug McDermott’s name on the national player of the year trophy.
The Creighton forward started the season as one of the favorites and turned it into a one-man race early into conference play.
This season could have more drama. The player of the year race may be as heated as any 2010-11 when BYU’s Jimmer Fredette and UConn’s Kemba Walker battled for end-of-year hardware and the scoring title until late into the season.
This year might be the year two centers — unless a freshman guard in the Big Ten starts to make a late push — go for the top award at the end of the season.
The Wooden Award released its late season top 20 list Wednesday, so this is as good a time as any to survey the field.
We’ve ranked the top 20 players on that list by their likelihood of taking home the Wooden Award other national postseason honors.
1. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
Frank the Tank is even better than he was a year ago when he scored 43 points in a game and carried Wisconsin to the Final Four. His numbers are up across the board for a team that’s 21-1 when he’s in the lineup. He’s averaging 17.3 points per game (up from 13.9 last season) and 8.3 rebounds (up from 6.3). Perhaps what’s most striking for a seven-footer who hits 40 percent of his free throws is that he’s improved as a passer, averaging 2.5 assists per game. Kaminsky is the only player in the country averaging 17 points, eight rebounds, two assists and 1.5 blocks per game.
2. Jahlil Okafor, Duke
Okafor lived up to the hype and more. He’s the best true center in the college game in decades and arguably the best freshman since Anthony Davis or Kevin Durant. Okafor averages 1.6 points per field goal attempt, an outlandish number for a player averaging 18 points per game in a major conference. Okafor also ranks fourth nationally in offensive rating on KenPom.
3. D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State
Russell is making a late push for Big Ten player of the year and national freshman of the year, remarkable considering he’s in competition for those awards with Frank Kaminsky and Jahlil Okafor, respectively. Russell has become the most exciting player in the Big Ten, if not the country. His versatility at Ohio State is akin to 2010 player of the year Evan Turner. In Big Ten play, Russell is averaging 21.3 points per game, 7.2 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 1.6 steals. His offensive rating of 121.0 ranks third in the country, two spots ahead of Okafor.
4. Delon Wright, Utah
Utah’s multi-dimensional guard has put the Utes into Pac-12 contention. Wright is averaging 14.2 points and 3.1 assists per turnover while leading Utah’s standout defense. The 6-5 guard was one of the nation’s most underrated players a year ago, and now he could be an All-American.
5. Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
Harrell, the most important player to opt for school instead of the NBA Draft, picked up where he left off last season as one of the most imposing players in the country. He’s averaging 15.8 points and 9.2 rebounds — both career bests — for a top-10 Louisville team. It’s easy to see why. The big man has developed an all-around offensive game all the way out to the 3-point line.
6. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame
Grant has come back from his extended absence last season to average 17 points per game and plenty of clutch performances. Grant played his best game of the season against Duke (23 points, 12 assists, six rebounds in South Bend) and one of his worst games against Duke (3-of-10, seven points in Durham).
7. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky
Someone needs to be on the list to represent undefeated Kentucky, and it may as well be Cauley-Stein, the Wildcats’ most experienced player and anchor of the defense. Because of Kentucky’s platoon, it’s more useful to look at Cauley-Stein’s per-40 minute numbers. Cauley-Stein averages 14.3 points per 40 minutes to go with 9.9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks.
8. Justin Anderson, Virginia
Anderson would have been a compelling case for postseason awards. His 13.4 points per game don’t jump off the page — he ranks 19th in the ACC in scoring. With Virginia’s tempo and balance, that has to be taken in context. Anderson is arguably 21-1 Virginia’s most valuable player. That said, his stock for award season will drop due to the hand injury that will keep him out 4-6 weeks.
9. Bobby Portis, Arkansas
Even as Kentucky overwhelms the conversation in the SEC, it’s impossible to overlook the season Portis is having in Fayetteville. He’s one of the most improved players in the country, going from 12.3 points per game on an NIT team to 17.9 for a team that’s close to sealing an at-large bid. Portis has turned it up in conference play, averaging 19.3 points and 11 rebounds in the SEC.
10. Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
The Big 12 may be the best conference in the country, or at least the most balanced from top to bottom. Yet, the league doesn’t have a ton of guys in All-America contention. Oklahoma has been streaky this season, but not Hield. He’s averaging 19.5 points per game in Big 12 play, though OU might be better when the Sooners are more balanced. He averages 18 points per game in eight Big 12 wins and 22.5 points in four conference losses.
11. Ron Baker, Wichita State
Few 21-3 teams receive less pub. Part of that is the shadow of the Shockers’ 35-0 start a year ago. Baker, though, is as steady as ever. He’s averaging 15.5 points per game, up from 13.1 a year ago. He’s also up for 41.3 shooting from 3-point range despite shooting at a greater volume (six 3s per game) than a year ago.
12. Stanley Johnson, Arizona
Johnson turned the ball over seven times in his final non-conference game, a loss to UNLV. Johnson is averaging only two turnovers per game since to go with 14.7 points per game in conference play.
13. Tyus Jones, Duke
That’s two Duke freshmen in the national player of the year race, and that doesn’t count Justise Winslow playing at an elite level during stretches this season. All Jones has done is displace a senior at point guard for a top-five team and average 5.3 assists per game for a 3.8 assist-to-turnover ratio. He’s also proven to be a clutch 3-point shooter (39.5 percent).
14. Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga
Pangos’ scoring is down from the last two seasons at 12.1 points per game, but there’s no doubt who Gonzaga’s top player is. Pangos is the floor general of a balanced offensive team that is 24-1 and nearing a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. He averages 3.6 assists per turnover.
15. Georges Niang, Iowa State
Even as Iowa State has six guys averaging double figures, Niang is the focal point. The 6-foot-8 forward leads the Cyclones at 14.9 points and is second in rebounds (5.3) and assists (3.5). He’s the Big 12’s best mismatch.
16. Terry Rozier, Louisville
Rozier has slid into the void left by Russ Smith, averaging 18.7 points per game as a sophomore and leading one of the most aggressive backcourts in the country. Rozier is also averaging 5.7 rebounds after Wednesday's double double against Pittsburgh.
17. Chasson Randle, Stanford
At 20.3 points per game, Randle accounts for 27.1 percent of Stanford’s scoring, the highest rate for anyone on this list.
18. Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga
A forgotten man at Kentucky, Wiltjer has flourished at Gonzaga. The Bulldogs’ leading scorer, Wiltjer is 10th in the country in points per 40 minutes (24.9).
19. Juwan Staten, West Virginia
West Virginia is enjoying a turnaround season, and Staten deserves his due for two outstanding seasons in Morgantown after his transfer from Dayton. Still, West Virginia has been sliding in recent weeks due to struggles in the halfcourt.
20. Tyler Haws, BYU
Haws is second in the nation at 22.5 points per game and is second in KenPom’s offensive rating, but he plays for a fringe NCAA Tournament team. A tough sell.
Athlon Sports has averaged out the four major recruiting services — 247Sports, Rivals.com, Scout.com and ESPN — and created the Big Ten consensus team recruiting rankings for 2015. Here is what we learned:
Lapping the field
The Buckeyes are the clear-cut biggest dog on the block in the Big Ten when it comes to recruiting. SB Nation worked the math and proved that, relative to the rest of the league, Ohio State is the No. 1 recruiting power in the nation. In Urban Meyer’s three full cycles at OSU, the Buckeyes have signed 48 of the 156 four-stars who have signed in the B1G and three of the eight five-stars.
Enter new blood
Part of why Big Ten fans should be excited about the future of the league is the addition of James Franklin and Jim Harbaugh. Franklin’s impact has been felt right away, landing 13 four-star recruits and scoring the No. 2 class in the league this year without even entering the cycle with a full complement of scholarships. Harbaugh didn’t get off to a hot start with this class, finishing sixth in the league with a 40.3 national average. But fans in Ann Arbor should expect Harbaugh to push Ohio State and Penn State for Big Ten recruiting supremacy starting in 2016.
Dantonio starting to capitalize
Before the 2015 class, Michigan State had signed one top-25 recruiting class in the last seven years, ranking 23rd in 2010. After winning the B1G and Rose Bowl titles in 2013, Mark Dantonio has finally capitalized by inking the best class of his tenure in East Lansing. The ’15 haul ranked third in the B1G with a 22.8 national average and as high as 18th by Scout. This is the return on investment Sparty fans have been looking for since beating Stanford in Pasadena two years ago.
Listen to the Cover 2 Podcast Recruiting Special feat. Barton Simmons:
Kirk Ferentz has a plan… maybe?
The Hawkeyes are trending in the wrong direction on the recruiting trail in a big way. From 2010-12, Iowa landed three consecutive top-40 classes, including a high-water mark of 28th in 2011. However, in the three years since, the Hawkeyes haven’t been ranked better than 53rd nationally by 247Sports. Iowa was 12th in the Big Ten in recruiting this year.
Bottom half struggles
Iowa isn't the only Big Ten team struggling to lure talent to its campus. The SEC had 12 of its 14 teams ranked in the top 25 nationally. The Pac-12 had six in the top 25 and all but three ranked in the top 50 nationally this year. But the Big Ten had six teams rank outside of the top 50 in national recruiting rankings. This trend should be cause for concern for the Midwestern league.
The Illini have had a bizarre trend in recruiting over the last seven cycles. According to 247Sports, Illinois has alternated good and bad classes over the last seven years. This team was ranked 30th in 2009, 38th in '11, 49th in '13 and as high as 34th this year. In the even-numbered years, Illinois signed classes ranked 63rd (2010), 64th (2012) and 70th (2014). Maybe this better-than-expected haul helps Illinois return to relevance.
Last night, Houston Rockets’ general manger Daryl Morey wasn't too thrilled with what Chuck was saying. Barkley laid into the Rockets’ defense during a telecast of Houston’s 127-118 victory over the Phoenix Suns, suggesting they were the worst defense in the NBA, or close to it. At the moment, Houston ranks seventh in defensive efficiency, despite 20 missed games from their anchor Dwight Howard. So Morey is more than entitled to get a little — pun intended — defensive:
Best part of being at a TNT game live is it is easy to avoid Charles spewing misinformed biased vitriol disguised as entertainment— Daryl Morey (@dmorey) February 11, 2015
Barkley, of course, was not without response in the post-game show. He fired back with many not-nice words, including:
-“Just because you’ve got good stats doesn’t mean you’re a good team defensively. They’re not a good defensive team.”
-“I’m not worried about Daryl Morey, he’s one of those idiots who believes in analytics… I’ve always believed analytics was crap, and you know I never mention the Rockets as legitimate contenders, because they’re not. And, listen, I wouldn’t know Daryl Morey if he walked in this room right now.”
-“Analytics don’t work at all. It’s just some crap that some people who are really smart made up to try to get into the game, because they have no talent. So smart guys wanted to fit in, so they made up a term called ‘analytics.’ Analytics don’t work… the NBA is about talent. All these guys who run these organizations, who talk about analytics, they’ve got one thing in common: They’re a bunch of guys who’ve never played the game, and they never got the girls in high school, and they just want to get in the game.”
Here’s the full video of Barkley’s manifesto against the game’s analyst. Let’s look forward to the continued war between calculators and gladiators:
— John Wilmes
Former UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian spoke with Athlon Sports Monthly and CBSSports.com college basketball columnist Gary Parrish in an exclusive March 2011 interview, detailing his career, his thoughts on current coaches and his bouts with the NCAA.
Tarkanian died in Las Vegas on Wednesday, leaving one of the most compelling legacies in college athletics. He was 84. Tarkanian finished his career with the 1990 national championship, four Final Fours and 761 career wins. His feuds with the NCAA, including a Supreme Court case in 1988, were just as historic.
What follows is Tarkanian’s interview for Athlon Sports from 2011.
I was a teenager — a young teenager — living in the Central Time Zone in the late 1980s/early 1990s, which means I loved Guns N’ Roses, the Sega Genesis and staying up late to watch Jerry Tarkanian’s UNLV Runnin’ Rebels destroy overwhelmed opponents. They sprinted. They dunked. They made college basketball fun — and, yes, controversial. Every Final Four seemed to bring an investigation, which makes it tough to determine, even all these years later, whether Tarkanian is more proud of his success or bitter about the NCAA.
Here is what Tark had to say.
Athlon Sports: HBO Sports did a documentary on the peak of your career called “Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV” that recently debuted and is airing all month. I know you saw an advanced screening of the hour-long program at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas back in February. What did you think?
Jerry Tarkanian: The parts on me were really good. I just thought they went too easy on the NCAA. But that’s because I’m so bitter about them.
You are, clearly. I’ve talked to friends of yours about that. They’ve told you, at this point, to try to let it all go, haven’t they?
Yes, they have.
But letting it go is hard?
It’s very hard. You can’t believe what I went through with them.
You’re 80 years old and a college basketball icon. Your record as a head coach at the collegiate level was 729–201. You have a national championship. And yet that’s not what most people think about first when they think about you. The first thing that comes to mind for most people when the name Jerry Tarkanian is mentioned — if we’re playing word-association here — is your battles with the NCAA. So what you went through with them at least somewhat defines you and undeniably still hangs over you, which means what you went through with them is something you still deal with today.
Absolutely. I was investigated by the NCAA three different times — more times than anybody in the history of sports, probably. And every time, the NCAA itself said there were no major violations. No major violations. And yet I was hammered by the NCAA and by the media. Hammered. So it’s very hard to let it all go. Very hard. But I don’t want to talk about that anymore.
Then let’s talk about the Basketball Hall of Fame. By any measuring stick, your numbers suggest you should be in. Yes, you had NCAA issues. But, like you said, none of your programs — not Long Beach State, not UNLV, not Fresno State — was ever found to have committed major violations. People can debate what that means, and they do. But when you say you were never found to have committed major violations, that is a true statement. And yet you’re not in the Hall of Fame while Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun — a man whose program has committed major violations, a man whose program is currently on probation — is in the Basketball Hall of Fame. When I tell you that, does it bother you?
I’ve learned to move on from that.
College basketball today. How much of it do you still watch?
I watch it all the time. All the time. Almost every night.
When you see coaches playing at a slow pace, does it drive you nuts? Not many teams score the way your teams used to score.
I pretty much played a slowed-down game my first 11 or 12 years as a head coach. But then I went to a running game, and I loved it. It was fun because our guys played so hard and worked so hard, and we played an exciting brand of basketball. You know, there have been some really good teams that have come through — like the Michigan teams with Chris Webber and Jalen Rose. But I think we were better than most of those teams. We were so good defensively, and we just fit together so good. Our guys played so unselfishly. We led the nation in field goal percentage, and we were not a good shooting team. If you look at our players, Stacey Augmon was not a great shooter. Greg Anthony was not a great shooter. The only one who was a really good shooter was Anderson Hunt. But we still led the nation in field goal percentage.
You mentioned Greg Anthony, who is the most visible product from your great UNLV teams all these years later as a basketball analyst for CBS. Are you surprised he’s turned into what he’s turned into?
I knew Greg could do whatever he wanted to do. He was always very intelligent and very articulate. He was self-driven.
I must know, in your opinion, should Greg really have been fouled out of that classic game against Duke — the loss in the 1991 national semifinals that prevented you from being back-to-back national champions?
We went through the tape of that game, and three of his five fouls were phantom calls. He should’ve had two fouls in that game. I’ve never made excuses. But there’s no doubt that’s what happened.
What about Larry Johnson? He was the star of those great UNLV teams — the No. 1 pick of the 1991 NBA Draft. Do you still keep in touch with Larry?
I see Larry all the time. He’s here in (Las Vegas). He drove me to the UNLV game (against Wyoming at the end of February). I see Larry a lot.
Back on the subject of the NCAA. I know you despise the organization as it was and as it is. But let me ask you this: Is the NCAA fixable? Could the right person fix it?
Yeah, I think they probably could, and I do think they’ve made great progress since my battles. When I had my battles, they didn’t have any evidence of any kind, and they didn’t need any. They would just have notes that they took from an interview, but nobody even knew if the notes were accurate. They weren’t signed or anything. The investigator would just say, “I talked to this person, and this is what he told me.” Nobody ever signed a statement under oath. But the infractions committee would just say they were telling the truth. But I don’t even want to talk about them anymore. It just upsets me.
If you had to hire a coach to run your college basketball program, whom would you hire?
My favorite guy is Bobby Huggins. I love Mike Krzyzewski, too. And I’ve for years said Roy Williams is a great, great coach. And I love Bill Self right now. I love Bill.
I’ve seen you interact with most of those guys at the Final Four and other places, and I know they all think highly of you. They love being around you, listening to you tell stories. What’s it like to be so revered by current coaches? You are a legend to many of them.
It’s really nice. I have a radio show one night a week during basketball season, and I have every one of the top coaches on my show. I’ve had Self. I’ve had Krzyzewski. I’ve had Jay Wright. Every one of them, they come on.
John comes on my show all the time, too. John and I are very good friends. I think he’s without a doubt the top recruiter, maybe ever. I’ve never seen a coach get as many great players as John gets every year. I like John.
As you know, he’s the guy most fans compare to you because he’s had his share of battles with the NCAA, too. Have you ever talked with John about that?
We’ve talked about that some. You know, he feels like the NCAA picked on him, too. But not to the extent they picked on me.
Kurt Busch is a little like cracking open a fortune cookie — you never know what you’re going to find inside. The 2014 season was a wild roller-coaster ride for the driver who joined Stewart-Haas Racing after spending two seasons in relative exile with single-car teams following his release by Team Penske. When Busch was good in 2014, he was very good, as evidenced by his spring Martinsville win, where he outdrove Jimmie Johnson, owner of eight Martinsville grandfather clocks, in the closing laps for the victory. He posted top finishes at several of the sport’s toughest tracks, including Pocono, Daytona, Bristol and Watkins Glen.
But when Busch was bad, he was horrid. Collecting more finishes of 28th or worse than he had top 10s, Busch finished in the back 15 a dozen times. He failed to finish altogether six times, matching his number of top-5 finishes. His average finish was a lowly 18.9, and he’d have missed the Chase entirely if not for that Martinsville win. There was no one factor to pinpoint; there were mechanical failures, crashes, pit mistakes and sometimes simple bad luck. It wasn’t something that the team could easily fix.
But there’s also no good reason why Busch should be condemned to repeat last season’s struggles. He has all the resources a successful team needs and is an immensely talented driver when focused. With limited practice and no prior experience, Busch scored a top 10 in the Indianapolis 500. The man has long been capable of winning races, but, at some point, he needs to find a way to make his own luck.
In a surprise late-season move, SHR chose to swap crew chiefs between the teams of Busch and Danica Patrick, sending veteran Tony Gibson to Busch’s camp. Busch performed well in his limited time with Gibson, posting two top 10s in three races with his new crew chief at the helm. If the pairing continues to be successful, it could spur a turnaround for Busch, who has steady backing from Haas Automation, the multi-million-dollar business owned by team co-owner Gene Haas. Busch is a proven asset at SHR, and he has worked well with his three teammates despite early speculation that there were too many tempers to make a cohesive team.
There is, however, a cloud of uncertainty surrounding Busch. In November, he was accused of domestic violence by his ex-girlfriend, and the outcome of any legal proceedings could impact both the driver’s future with SHR and in the sport. NASCAR could elect to suspend Busch for one or more races, which would render him ineligible for the Chase, or the governing body could even force his release from SHR. Busch has burned enough bridges in his career that it could be difficult for him to find another top ride.
Provided Busch runs the entire season, there’s no reason he can’t win races and build championship-type consistency. Distractions appear to be a problem, though, and have made keeping his job — not winning a NASCAR title — the short-term priority.
Don’t trust Martinsville Busch’s lone win in 2014 came at Martinsville, but that was an apparent aberration considering his recent performances at the facility. Prior to his win, his most recent top-5 finish there had come in 2004.
Green-flag pit cycle improvement Last year, Busch was saddled with rookie crew chief Daniel Knost, who cost Busch 41 positions during green-flag pit cycles at non-restrictor plate ovals. His new crew chief, Tony Gibson, cost Danica Patrick 15 such positions. It’s still a loss, but it’s better than what Busch previously had.
Not much of a leader Unlike his brother Kyle, Busch doesn’t pad his laps-led tally. He has never, in his 15-year Cup Series career, led more than 1,000 laps in a season. He led 687 laps combined over the last three years.
No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
Primary Sponsor: Haas Automation
Owner: Tony Stewart/Gene Haas
Crew Chief: Tony Gibson
Year With Current Team: 2nd
Under Contract Through: 2016
Best Points Finish: 1st (2004)
Hometown: Las Vegas, Nev.
Born: Aug. 4, 1978
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Photos by Action Sports, Inc.