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All taxonomy terms: Jim Furyk, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2014-majors-no-14-jim-furyk
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They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2014 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

No. 14: Jim Furyk

Born: May 12, 1970, West Chester, Pa. | Career PGA Tour Wins: 16 | 2013 Wins (Worldwide): 0 | 2013 Earnings (PGA Tour): $3,204,779 (15th) World Ranking: 24

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Jim Furyk is already close to Hall of Fame numbers, but at 43 he still has another five good years left to add to his resume. With this being a Ryder Cup year, Jim perhaps feels an extra motivation to make the U.S. team to avenge his painful play in that event in 2012. The Ryder Cup aside, the 2003 U.S. Open champion continues to play at a very high level and is still one of the most consistent players on tour. His second-place finish in last year’s PGA Championship was his 20th top ten in a major, and with The Open Championship returning to Hoylake, a place where he finished fourth in 2006, Jim looks to be, sooner or later, a multiple major winner.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 73
Wins: 1

2013 Performance:
Masters - T25
U.S. Open - Cut
British Open - Cut
PGA Championship - 2

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - 4 (1998, 2003)
U.S. Open - 1 (2003)
British Open - 4/T4 (1997, 1998, 2006)
PGA Championship - 2 (2013)
Top-10 Finishes: 20
Top-25 Finishes: 35
Missed Cuts: 15

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

 

Athlon's 2014 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Dustin Johnson, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 - 11:20
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-march-26-2014
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This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for March 26.

• My Michelle Jenneke obsession continues. Click here and see why.

The Buffalo Bills left a single light on to honor late owner Ralph Wilson.

Enjoy this time-lapse video of the creation of the Final Four floor.

USF couldn't hire Pitino protege Steve Masiello because he never got his degree from Kentucky, even though his resume said he did. Details, details.

Meet one of the guys who parachuted off One World Trade Center.

This Nick Young highlight is truly classic. He pulled the Larry Bird celebrate-the-three-before-it-goes-in. With one problem.

Here's a rundown from the owner votes on proposed rules changes from the NFL's Competition Committee. Five rules changes in all. Moving the extra points got tabled. They rejected expanding instant replay to include personal foul penalties, which I would support. Jeff Fisher also says they're cracking down on taunting.

Guess who's donning the shades and other tings of dis nature to play the T-800 yet again? Yep. Ahnuld.

After 250 years, women will be allowed to join the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. What's next, letting them vote?

More evidence that the NCAA is just the worst.

• I don't really follow hockey, but I think this is frowned upon.

 

-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at links@athlonsports.com

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 - 10:59
Path: /college-football/virginia-tech-hokies-2014-spring-football-preview
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After eight straight seasons of at least 10 wins or more and dominating the ACC since entering the league, Frank Beamer has stubbed his toe over the last two campaigns.

At least, relatively speaking.

Virginia Tech is accustomed to competing for conference titles and playing in BCS bowls so 11 combined losses in the last two years doesn’t sit well with the passionate fans of VPI. Yes, Beamer hasn’t missed a bowl game since Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992, but his offense, in particular, has grown stagnant over the last two seasons.

After changes on the staff a year ago — and one massive departure under center this year — Beamer is hoping to return to the ACC title picture in 2014.

And finding a replacement for the turnover-prone and oft-embattled yet record-setting quarterback Logan Thomas will be his first order of business this spring.

2014 Schedule
DateOpponent
Aug. 30William & Mary
Sept. 6at 
Sept. 13
Sept. 20
Sept. 27
Oct. 4at 
Oct. 11Bye Week
Oct. 16at 
Oct. 23
Nov. 1
Nov. 8Bye Week
Nov. 15at 
Nov. 22at 
Nov. 28

Virginia Tech Hokies 2014 Spring Preview

2013 Record: 8-5 (5-3 ACC)

Spring Practice Opens: March 27

Spring Game: April 26

Returning Starters

Offense: 8

Defense: 5

Three Things to Watch in Virginia Tech's 2014 Spring Practice

Is Mark Leal the answer?
Leal, a rising redshirt senior, is the most experienced quarterback on the roster and he threw just four passes during the regular season a year ago. The most action he saw was in the Sun Bowl blowout against UCLA when Thomas was hurt. He completed 11-of-24 passes for 128 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. His performance in that one game isn’t indicative of his potential success or failure in 2014 but it certainly looked like he was in over his head. This means that rising junior Brenden Motley and sophomore-to-be Andrew Ford should get plenty of chances this spring to prove themselves. All three need to make waves this spring before talented Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer arrives this summer. Leal is the frontrunner but will have to play very well to hold off the more pro-style Brewer once fall camp opens. A great spring for Leal would go a long way to settling the QB debate in Blacksburg.

Fill holes along the defensive line
Defensive coordinator Bud Foster is as proven a coaching commodity as there is in college football and fans can bet his unit won’t take a big step back in 2014. That doesn’t mean, however, that he doesn’t have his work cut out for him on the D-line this spring. Luther Maddy, the team’s leading sack artist (6.5) returns but James Gayle, Derrick Hopkins and J.R. Collins are all gone from the rotation. That trio posted 149 tackles, 30.5 tackles for loss and 16.0 sacks a year ago. The return of Corey Marshall, who missed all of last year with an injury, will help replace Hopkins at tackle. Otherwise, Dadi Nicolas, Ken Ekanem, Seth Dooley and Dewayne Alford will all compete for playing time up front. Maddy is a solid pass rusher but this group needs to be developed around him if Tech wants to stop the budding offensive rushing attacks in the ACC.

Find leadership at linebacker
Foster must replace Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum at the back end of his defense, but since his roster is so loaded (SEE Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson), the linebacker position is of much greater importance this spring. Jack Tyler and Tariq Edwards are gone after a combined 174 tackles a year ago and Tyler’s leadership, in particular, will be missed. Josh Trimble isn’t going to be a superstar but he has the most experience and the inside track on a starting spot. Ronny Vandyke is back after missing all of last year with a shoulder injury but will be moving slowly (and carefully) in spring camp. Otherwise, it’s a lot of unknowns competing for time at one of the most prestigious defensive positions in the ACC. Playing linebacker for Foster is an honor and names like Chase Williams, Deon Clarke, Dahman McKinnon, Derek DiNardo and Drew Burns are all vying for snaps this spring. Beamer has always had elite linebackers at Tech and he will need to find his heir apparent after losing both Tyler and Edwards this offseason.

2014 Early Projected Win Range: 7-9
Nationally, some are wondering what the future of the Hokies' program is after two “down” years in Blacksburg. The ACC has gotten a lot better around Tech over the last few years and that makes it tougher on everyone. Beamer and Foster are proven winners and will have another salty defense this year. But coordinator Scot Loeffler’s offense needs to improve in short order without a proven signal-caller if Virginia Tech wants to win the Coastal Division. The good news is the schedule. There is no Clemson, no Florida State and no Louisville on the slate in crossover play and games with Georgia Tech and Miami take place in Blacksburg.

Teaser:
Virginia Tech Hokies 2014 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/michigan-state-spartans-2014-spring-football-preview
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Mission accomplished.

It was 1987 the last time Michigan State won an outright Big Ten championship or played in the Rose Bowl. Mark Dantonio ended both of the streaks in one awesome performance against undefeated Ohio State in the Big Ten title game last fall.

Then he capped the emotional trip to Pasadena by suspending his senior captain and MSU legacy and still managed to topple mighty Stanford for a Rose Bowl championship — winning a school-record 13 games in the process.

Now Dantonio, a coach who has built his legacy on elite defensive football and a power running game, faces arguably his toughest rebuilding test — in particular, on defense. Six senior starters are gone from the defense and three All-Big Ten players have moved on from the offensive line.

So if Sparty wants to repeat as Big Ten champs, this coaching staff will have to plug holes in the back seven of the defense and in the trenches along the offensive line.

2014 Schedule
DateOpponent
Aug. 30Jacksonville State
Sept. 6at 
Sept. 13Bye Week
Sept. 20
Sept. 27
Oct. 4
Oct. 11at 
Oct. 18at 
Oct. 25
Nov. 1Bye Week
Nov. 8
Nov. 15at 
Nov. 22
Nov. 29at 

Michigan State Spartans 2014 Spring Preview

2013 Record: 13-1 (8-0 Big Ten)

Spring Practice Opens: March 25

Spring Game: April 26

Returning Starters

Offense: 6

Defense: 5

Three Things to Watch in Michigan State's 2014 Spring Practice

Find leadership at linebacker
Max Bullough didn’t play in the Rose Bowl, but he was as big a part of a title run as any player in school history. He hails from a family steeped in Spartans' football history and was a four-year starter. He and playmaking linebacker Denicos Allen have expired their eligibility and that leaves major leadership voids in the middle of the Spartans defense. Taiwan Jones (67 tackles) has some experience and may be looked to as the future leader of the unit as he moves inside to middle linebacker. Ed Davis, Jon Reschke and Darien Harris got limited playing time a year ago and should gain more prominent roles as well. Dantonio and coordinator Pat Narduzzi have plenty of options to choose from as MSU always seems to find quality bodies at linebacker, (SEE: Kyler Ellsworth) but this group needs to come together quickly this spring as the Spartans enter a dramatically more intense offensive division in the East.

Fill holes along the offensive line
Connor Cook developed into one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten last year. Jeremy Langford returns with All-American aspirations in 2014. And the receiving corps is quietly becoming one of the deeper units in the league. But the offensive line — Michigan State’s bread and butter — needs to fill three large voids left by right tackle Fou Fonoti and guards Blake Treadwell and Dan France. Jack Allen returns to anchor the O-Line and Jack Conklin started 13 games at left tackle, so Dantonio has two quality pieces to work with before trying to fill the other three spots. Donavan Clark, Connor Kruse and Travis Jackson should figure in the mix prominently and are listed atop the spring depth chart currently. How quickly this group comes together may determine how far Sparty can go in 2014. It’s one thing to have a great backfield and great playmakers on offense, but if you cannot open up running lanes or protect the passer, it can all go to waste.

Rebuild the secondary
Darqueze Dennard was considered the best defensive back and top cover corner in the nation when he was awarded the Thorpe Award. He and honorable mention All-Big Ten safety Isaiah Lewis were mainstays for Sparty on the backend and will be missed in 2014. Safety Kurtis Drummond returns to anchor the safeties, and Trae Waynes has loads of upside at cornerback, but little in the way of experience returns to the secondary outside of those two. Demetrious Cox and RJ Williamson will play a bunch at safety and should replace Lewis capably. Jermaine Edmondson, Darian Hicks, Arjen Colquhoun and Ezra Robinson will try to fill the massive void left by Dennard at cornerback. Hicks and Cox are listed as the starters in the spring depth chart and have the inside track on earning starting positions.

2014 Early Projected Win Range: 9-11

With at least 11 wins in three of the last four seasons, Dantonio has proven that he reloads rather than rebuilds. This team has some glaring holes to fill at offensive line, linebacker and in the secondary. However, the roster has steadily improved over time and replacing talent is getting easier for the Spartans. Cook and Langford is arguably the top QB-RB tandem in the Big Ten and the offense, shockingly, could carry this team through an “easier” early schedule. Removing a premier national non-conference game with Oregon in Eugene (which doesn’t impact the Big Ten race obviously), the Spartans should be heavy favorites in their first six (maybe seven) games. Following an off weekend, the slate toughens up in the final month but both Ohio State and Maryland come at home. A repeat as Big Ten champs will likely come down to two November games with the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions.

Teaser:
Michigan State Spartans 2014 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketballs-top-coaches-without-final-four
Body:

The NCAA Tournament will go on without Mike Krzysewski, Jim Boeheim and Roy Williams.

At least as far as the Final Four is concerned, that means new blood.

Of the 16 coaches left in the NCAA Tournament, only six have been to the Final Four. Some of the others are young coaches making their first major impression (Dayton’s Archie Miller, UConn’s Kevin Ollie), but the Sweet 16 is more notable for the coaches who have accomplished nearly everything they can in their career without reaching the Final Four.

Bo Ryan and Sean Miller may be on anyone’s top 10 or 20 coaches in the country, but neither have reached the Final Four. That may change, perhaps in a meeting between the two of them in the Elite Eight.

As the NCAA Tournament moves into the regionals, we’d be shocked if one coach does not reach his first Final Four, though it’s certainly possible all of them get left out yet again.

Suffice to say, no one wants to be on this list next season.

Top 20 active coaches who have never been to the Final Four

1. Bo Ryan, Wisconsin
Closest call: Wisconsin lost to North Carolina in the 2005 Elite Eight.
Ryan’s approach is consistent as they come, going back to when he won four Division III titles at Wisconsin-Platteville. Thanks to unflinching player development and disciplined defensive play, Ryan's teams have never finished worse than fourth in the Big Ten. Success in the NCAA Tournament has eluded him. Ryan’s Wisconsin teams have made it out of the first weekend three times since 2005 and stalled in the Sweet 16 each time. With a No. 2 seed, only the second time he’s been seeded this high, Ryan may have his best chance to reach the Final Four of his career.
Can he reach the Final Four this year? Yes, but he’ll have to go through Scott Drew (2-0 in the Sweet 16) and either Sean Miller or Steve Fisher to do it.

2. Sean Miller, Arizona
Closest call: Arizona lost by 65-63 to Connecticut in the 2011 Elite Eight, and Xavier lost to UCLA in the 2008 Elite Eight.
In 10 seasons as a head coach, Miller has reached the Sweet 16 five times and the Elite Eight twice with two schools. He has restored Arizona to its place as one of the premier programs in the West and should reach the Final Four sooner rather than later. At 45, Miller's first Final Four probably won’t be his last.
Can he reach the Final Four this year? Yes, with a No. 1 seed, Miller’s Arizona team will be the favorite in the region.

3. Jamie Dixon, Pittsburgh
Closest call: A No. 1 seed in 2009, Pitt lost on a buzzer-beating layup by Villanova’s Scottie Reynolds in the Elite Eight.
Dixon has been remarkably consistent at Pittsburgh in the Big East and the ACC, missing the NCAA Tournament only once in his 11 seasons as a head coach. Dixon’s two best teams, though, lost in heartbreakers in the NCAA Tournament. His 2009 team lost on a buzzer-beater by Villanova in the Elite Eight. And two years later, Pittsburgh committed two late fouls that enabled eighth-seeded Butler to hit the free throws to advance to the Sweet 16.
Can he reach the Final Four soon? Probably not. Pitt may be heading into another rebuilding year with Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna leaving next season.

4. Mark Few, Gonzaga
Closest call: An Adam Morrison-led Gonzaga team lost in a 73-71 heartbreaker to UCLA in the 2006 Sweet 16.
Gonzaga was a Tournament darling when the Bulldogs reached the Elite Eight under Dan Monson in 1999. Now, Gonzaga may be more well known for busting your brackets. The Bulldogs’ first No. 1 ranking and No. 1 seed was marred in 2013 when Gonzaga lost to Final Four-bound No. 9 seed Wichita State. Few has reached the Sweet 16 only once since 2006.
Can he reach the Final Four soon? Probably not, and it will take a special group to get him there. Gonzaga has been seeded higher than seventh only twice since 2006.

5. Bruce Pearl, Auburn
Closest call: Tennessee lost 70-69 to Michigan State in the 2010 Elite Eight.
Pearl’s second exile from coaching ended a week ago when the former Tennessee coach was hired at Auburn. He’ll have an uphill battle at one of the SEC’s least successful programs over the last 10 years, but if Pearl can’t win at Auburn, few coaches could. Pearl has reached the Sweet 16 four times in his career, three times at Tennessee and once at Milwaukee.
Can he reach the Final Four soon? No, but making Auburn relevant in basketball may be a bigger challenge anyway.

6. Buzz Williams, Virginia Tech
Closest call: Williams led Marquette to the Elite Eight in 2013, where the Golden Eagles lost 55-39 to Syracuse.
After missing the postseason for the first time in five seasons at Marquette, Williams decided to try his had at the ACC by taking one of the league’s toughest jobs at Virginia Tech. Williams has a style all his own, with a focus on on advanced statistics and finding players with chips on their shoulders. Given Williams’ own background, he’ll grab more players from the junior college ranks than the typical major-program coach.
Can he reach the Final Four soon? No. Virginia Tech went from a perennial bubble team to winning six ACC games in two seasons under James Johnson.

7. Tony Bennett, Virginia
Closest call: Bennett led Washington State to the Sweet 16 in 2008 where the Cougars lost to top-seeded North Carolina.
Bennett led Washington State to its first regional semifinal in 67 years and Virginia to its first regional semifinal in 19 years. He can coach, but running a slower offense doesn’t always translate to NCAA Tournament success, as Bo Ryan can attest.
Can he reach the Final Four this year? Yes, but his toughest game will be in the Sweet 16 against Michigan State.

8. Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State
Closest call: Iowa State lost on a late basket by Ohio State’s Aaron Craft in the round of 32 in 2013.
The Mayor returned to Ames to revitalize Iowa State basketball, leading the Cyclones to three consecutive NCAA Tournaments. This year’s team is Iowa State’s best since 2001 when the Cyclones lost to 15th-seeded Hampton in the first round.
Can he reach the Final Four this year? It will be tough. Iowa State looked like a Final Four contender at the end of the season, but that was before Georges Niang was lost for the remainder of the year.

9. Dana Altman, Oregon
Closest call: Oregon lost 77-69 to Louisville in the Sweet 16 in 2013.
Altman has taken three teams to the NCAA Tournament and failed to win 20 games only once since 1999. Though he wasn’t the first choice at Oregon, he’s breathed new life into the program in the last two seasons.
Can he reach the Final Four soon? Maybe. Oregon is still a notch below Arizona and UCLA, but Oregon is the kind of program that could catch fire in a season or Tournament to reach the Final Four.

10. Scott Drew, Baylor
Closest call: Baylor lost in the Elite Eight in 2010 and 2012
Drew is a divisive coach for some reason, despite taking over one of the toughest situations in college basketball and creating a viable Big 12 program. Drew has twice led Baylor to the Elite Eight where the Bears lost to the eventual champions (Duke in 2010 and Kentucky in 2012)
Can he reach the Final Four this season? Sure. Baylor has the talent to compete with Arizona and Wisconsin in its bracket and just blew out Creighton.

The next 10:

11. Fran McCaffery, Iowa
Iowa is the fourth program McCaffery has taken to the Tournament, which has yielded two wins, both at Siena.

12. Kevin Stallings, Vanderbilt
One of the best offensive Xs and Os coaches in the league, Stallings may have missed a window for a deep Tournament when John Jenkins, Jeffery Taylor and Festus Ezeli left.

13. Mick Cronin, Cincinnati
Cronin needed four seasons to pull the Bearcats out of the cellar, but he’s reached four consecutive Tourneys since.

14. Matt Painter, Purdue
Like Stallings, Painter may have missed a window when his nucleus of Robbie Hummel, JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore couldn’t stay healthy.

15. Leonard Hamilton, Florida State
Hamilton has seven NCAA appearances at Miami and Florida State, two programs not used to going to the Tournament.

16. Tad Boyle, Colorado
Have we mentioned how much luck is involved in going to the Final Four? This was Boyle’s best team until Spencer Dinwidde got hurt.

17. Tim Miles, Nebraska
Miles is a rising star who has built Colorado State and Nebraska into NCAA contenders.

18. Steve Alford, UCLA
Alford wrestled some demons by defeating lower-seeded teams from Tulsa and Stephen F. Austin. Beating Florida is another matter.

19. Mike Anderson, Arkansas
If only NCAA Tournament games were played in Fayetteville...

20. Bob McKillop, Davidson/Rick Byrd, Belmont
Two great coaches in one-bid leagues continue to pile up wins, but their ceilings are limited. Unless Stephen Curry happens to be on the roster.
 

Teaser:
College basketball's top coaches without a Final Four
Post date: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /nascar/nascar-rookie-report-larson-makes-statement-fontana
Body:

Welcome to the Athlon Rookie Report, where each week David Smith will evaluate the deepest crop of new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series talent since 2006. The Report will include twice-monthly rankings, in-depth analysis, Q&A sessions with the drivers, and more.

Today, David attempts to isolate each rookie from his team and equipment and properly rank the driving chops of each driver in this year’s rookie class.


Auto racing is an unfair game. Organizations aren’t spread across the country in rich and poor markets like franchises in basketball or baseball, but there is an equivalent to big market teams. Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing aren’t located in Los Angeles or Manhattan, but they’d certainly be comparable to the Lakers and Dodgers and Knicks and Yankees.

Naturally, if there’s an equivalent to the big spenders in their given sport, then there’s an avatar for the small-budget operators as well. Where we see the major difference between the haves and have-nots is the results sheet.

When NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookie Kyle Larson finished 19th at Phoenix driving for Chip Ganassi Racing, a team ubiquitous across various forms of four-wheel motorsports, his post-race response on Twitter was subdued, as if he expected more. When Josh Wise, a journeyman driver with upstart Phil Parsons Racing finished 23rd two weeks later at Bristol, he was over the moon.

Finishing 19th is better than finishing 23rd, so the reactions seem peculiar. They’re odd only because both drivers are realistic about their goals. Not every team has the personnel or equipment necessary to make a top-10 finish a barometric basement for a decent weekend. That’s why I attempt to extract a driver’s ability independent of personnel and equipment in my Production in Equal Equipment Rating, or PEER, an objective measuring of a driver’s results-getting ability.

PEER is key in this week’s ranking:


Kyle Larson1. Kyle Larson, No. 42 (previous ranking: 1) — Larson had a realistic chance at the end of the Fontana race to pull a Carl Edwards — that’d be winning both his first career NASCAR Nationwide Series race and first Cup race in the same weekend — before settling for a second-place run behind Kyle Busch. There will be more shots at a trophy, if PEER is any indication. Among all series regulars, Larson ranks 13th with a 1.850 rating. That rating is tops among rookies and is sort of a rarity nowadays; the only rookie since 2006 to finish a season with a PEER above 1.000 was Denny Hamlin. 49.8 percent of Larson’s laps are being run inside the top 15, which is probably why he’d view a finish of 16th or worse, like the one at Phoenix, as unacceptable.


Austin Dillon2. Austin Dillon, No. 3 (previous: 2) — Last I ranked Dillon, I harped about his poor pass efficiency, both through the first three races and in 2013 across Cup and Nationwide. Don’t look now, but Dillon — without the aid of a single green-flag pit cycle at Bristol or Fontana — has pushed two straight races of 50 percent efficiency or better to the middle of the table, demonstrating something we aren’t used to seeing from him. He’s not a serviceable producer, a la Larson, as he’s in a Cadillac compared to what most other drivers have and has just three finishes of 11th or better to show for it.


3. Justin Allgaier, No. 51 (previous: 5) — Two weeks ago, Allgaier took to a Bristol track on which he has a Nationwide Series win. His acumen at the half-mile facility translated from one car to its higher horsepower brother, as he finished 17th. The result wasn’t a fluke by any stretch. Allgaier averaged a 21st-place running position on the day and recorded an adjusted pass efficiency of 54.17 percent, almost five percentage points better than his average running position’s expected output. He ranks third behind Larson and Dillon in PEER among all rookies.

 

NASCAR Mailbox: I Never Did Like The Taste of Crow

 

Cole Whitt4. Cole Whitt, No. 26 (previous: 3) — Whitt isn’t running in the top 15 much — he’s done so in just under four percent of all laps this season — but proved himself capable of finishing just outside the top 15 last Sunday in Fontana, driving his Swan Racing entry to a season-best 18th-place finish. For those keeping score at home, that was the best result for the Swan Racing operation since the 18th-place at Texas last November by Parker Kligerman.


5. Parker Kligerman, No. 30 (previous: 4) — Kligerman has had a forgettable first five races of the 2014 season, so bad that he’s already let me know he intends to make history out of his poor start. The latest was an incident sparked by Casey Mears in Fontana. His 0.000 PEER represents exactly what he’s been able to produce (nothing), which, if his accolades in Nationwide or Trucks translate, could easily be corrected with one clean race weekend. That rough-and-tumble Martinsville, a track that saw over a fifth of its race run under caution last fall, is next on the schedule and might not appear appetizing for a driver with 0.60 crash frequency.

 

Couch Potato Tuesday: If You Make TMZ, It's Never A Good Sign

 

6. Michael Annett, No. 7 (previous: 6) — With each passing race, Annett finished better than he did the race prior. His most recent handiwork was a 19th-place run at Fontana, a fairly large overachievement noticed by someone who can sympathize with having to overachieve. Amazingly, it could have been better. Running 17th with less than 30 laps to go, Annett’s team was penalized for a tire rolling outside of his pit box. He then proceeded to drive from 29th to 19th in the remaining laps.


7. Alex Bowman, No. 23 (previous: 7) — A PEER of 0.000 reflects a 31st-place average finish, but doesn’t yet reflect “the little things” Bowman has been doing. He finished 10 laps down at Bristol, due primarily to the battery falling out of his car in the first quarter of the race, but he still managed to score the race’s highest passing value (a plus-23.43 percent, along with a 67.74 percent adjusted efficiency). He and crew chief Dave Winston have also been dutiful closers, retaining their position with 10 percent of a race to go 100 percent of the time and advancing an average of two positions per race during that final window.


Ryan Truex8. Ryan Truex, No. 83 (previous: 8) — Among Cup Series regulars with at least four starts, not one driver has a worse top 15 running percentage than Truex’s 0.1 percent. It’s still incredibly early in the season and there’s plenty of time to remedy some of the freshman foibles Truex has, but at this juncture, he’s struggling. His 40.46 percent adjusted pass efficiency for this initial stretch of races is one of the three worst efficiencies in the series, his closing (a position retention difference of minus-0.7 percent) is a negative against cars deep in the field and his average finish (35.8) stands out as one of Cup’s three poorest.


David Smith is the founder of Motorsports Analytics LLC and the creator of NASCAR statistics for projection, analysis and scouting. Follow him on Twitter at @DavidSmithMA.

Photos by Actions Sports, Inc.


 

Teaser:
A weekly ranking of the rookies in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Post date: Tuesday, March 25, 2014 - 18:44
Path: /college-football/dfa-test
Body:

It took just two seasons, but Todd Graham led Arizona State to the best conference record in the Pac-12, despite Stanford and Oregon ranking as preseason top-10 teams, and UCLA (according to some) the overwhelming favorite in the South.

Taylor Kelly and Will Sutton were clear leaders for the Sun Devils — one loaded with senior producers — and State went on a wild 2013 ride that ended with an 8-1 league record and a Pac-12 championship game in Sun Devil Stadium.

Returning for the defending South Division champions is a host of elite playmakers, including star three-year starter Taylor Kelly at quarterback. Sure, replacing Marion Grice and Chris Coyle will be key in the playmaker department and filling a couple of holes on the O-Line is important, but Graham’s tallest order is replacing nine of 11 starters on his defense.

There will be a noticeable theme with ASU’s “three things to watch” this spring.

2014 Schedule
DateOpponent
Aug. 28Weber State
Sept. 6at
Sept. 13at 
Sept. 20Bye Week
Sept. 25
Oct. 4at
Oct. 11Bye Week
Oct. 18
Oct. 25at 
Nov. 1
Nov. 8
Nov. 15at 
Nov. 22
Nov. 28at 

Arizona State Sun Devils 2014 Spring Preview

2013 Record: 10-4 (8-1 Pac-12)

Spring Practice Opens: March 18

Spring Game: April 19

Returning Starters

Offense: 7

Defense: 2

Three Things to Watch in Arizona State's 2014 Spring Practice

Find playmakers along the D-Line
Will Sutton was a two-time Defensive Player of the Year in the Pac-12, and he cannot simply be replaced. But more than that, the Arizona State defensive line is also missing All-Pac-12 picks Davon Coleman (15.0 TFL), Gannon Conway (7 TFL) and hybrid end/linebacker Carl Bradford (19.5 TFL). Replacing all four starters up front is virtually impossible for any team, but this group combined for over 200 tackles and 24.5 sacks in 2013. Finding guys who can pressure the quarterback and play behind the line of scrimmage is imperative for Graham and new co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson. Jaxon Hood returns and has plenty of upside at nose tackle, and Marcus Hardison might be the best returning pass rusher on the roster. This duo will try to fill the void on the inside, while Sean O’Grady, junior college transfers Edmond Boateng, Kweishi Brown and Demetrius Cherry will attempt to stake their claim for playing time as well this spring.

Find playmakers at linebacker
Bradford's departure also impacts the linebacking corps, as this unit has to replace Chris Young (112 tackles), as well as contributors Anthony Jones and Steffon Martin (combined 72 tackles). Salamo Fiso returns as one of the few with starting experience but other names like Antonio Longino and Carlos Mendoza need to step into bigger roles. The same can be said for early enrollee D.J. Calhoun, redshirt freshmen Chans Cox and Alani Latu as well as JUCO transfer Darrius Caldwell. This group wasn’t as talented or productive as the defensive line departures but there is still a glaring lack of experience among the returning players. Graham and Patterson will spend plenty of time this spring rebuilding the linebacking corps.

Find playmakers in the secondary
The theme for ASU spring practice should be fairly apparent by now. Much like the defensive line and linebacking corps, the secondary is in rough shape after three All-Pac-12 picks moved on to the NFL. Robert Nelson was a first-team All-Pac-12 coverman and Osahon Irabor was one of the biggest playmakers in the league from his cornerback position. Finally, Alden Darby must be replaced at safety, and he was also a first-team all-conference selection in 2013. Free safety Damarious Randall returns with the most experience (71 tackles), and Lloyd Carrington got plenty of snaps last year as well at cornerback. Otherwise, Graham is looking for guys who were contributors last year to develop into stars in 2014. Hybrid safety-backer Viliami Moeakiola, Ezekiel Bishop and Rashad Wadood all saw the field from a year ago and must step into bigger roles this year. Redshirt freshmen Marcus Ball and Jayme Otomewo could help out as well. Either way, this unit is lacking in star power, playmaking ability and leadership and that will need to be addressed in a big way this spring.

2014 Early Projected Win Range: 8-10
Kelly leads an offense with big-time talent from a playmaker standpoint (DJ Foster, Jaelen Strong), and the offensive line should be able to rebuild quickly. But this defense has just two starters back and lost eight All-Pac-12 selections from that side of the ball. This is why Todd Graham brought in five junior college front seven signees. Needless to say, Graham has his work cut out for him on defense, but his offense will be in great shape. The issue with a repeat as South Division champs may be the schedule this season - not the overhauled defensive depth chart. Crossover games with Stanford, at Washington and at Oregon State are challenging, and the round robin with USC, UCLA and Arizona will be even more difficult this season. Could this team challenge for a division championship? Certainly. But Graham will have to do serious work on his defense this spring for that to come to fruition this fall.

Teaser:
Arizona State Sun Devils 2014 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Tuesday, March 25, 2014 - 14:14
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /16-biggest-disappointments-ncaa-tournament-so-far
Body:

The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament is in the books. And as usual, March Madness tipped off with a bang. Cinderellas were busy Big Dancing to the Sweet 16, while traditional powerhouses were belly-flopping and Bracket-busting all the way to Warren Buffett's nearly $60-billion bank account. Since, shockingly, no one has a flawless Billion-Dollar Bracket, here's a look at the other most disappointing moments of the NCAA Tournament thus far.

1. Lord have Mercer! The Dookies went one-and-done
Coach K and the mighty Duke Blue Devils lost in the Round of 64 for the second time in three seasons — falling to Mercer this year after being upset by Lehigh in the 2012 Tourney. Unfortunately for internet trolls and Duke haters alike, Coach K was classy in defeat, visiting the Bears locker room after the tough loss. "You have a hell of a basketball team," the four-time NCAA champ and two-time Olympic gold medal-winning head coach said. "I love the game and you guys play the game really, really well and your coach coaches it well. If we had to be beaten, I'm glad that we got beaten by a hell of a basketball team. So, good luck to you." That's disappointing.

2. Clock operator in North Carolina loss to Iowa State
Tar Heels joined Blue Devils to cry in their beers on Tobacco Road following a surreal finish to UNC's 85–83 defeat to Iowa State. Cyclones clutch guard DeAndre Kane hit a sweet go-ahead bucket with 1.6 seconds to play. Then all Heel broke loose. The clock operator failed to push the all-important "button that starts the clock" following a panicked inbounds pass. When time-out was finally granted Roy Williams, as the ball reached halfcourt, it was too late. Officials huddled. Coach Roy grabbed his knees and hung his head. Game over. 

3. Dougie McDermott's lack of Tourney McBuckets
Sadly, Mr. 3000 didn't teach anyone how to Dougie in this year's Big Dance. The nation's leading scorer and favorite to win every national player of the year award saw his brilliant college career end not with a bang but a whimper. Dougie McBuckets scored 15 points on 7-of-14 shooting, going 0-of-3 from downtown and just 1-of-2 from the charity stripe, during Creighton's 85–55 blowout loss to Baylor.

4. Marcus Smart's sophomoric season finally ends
Oklahoma State's go-to guy famously (infamously?) shunned the weak 2013 NBA Draft in favor of returning to play for the Pokes and roll the dice with the historically strong 2014 NBA Draft. After a disappointing 8–10 Big 12 season that included a three-game suspension following a not-so-Smart physical altercation with a fan in the stands at Texas Tech, Smart's amateur hour is over. The combo guard didn't show the shooting touch NBA scouts are concerned with, going 5-of-14 from the field, 1-of-5 from 3-point range and 12-of-19 from the free-throw line in a 89–77 Round of 64 loss to Gonzaga.

5. Mayor Hoiberg apologizing for Sweet 16 dance moves
After Iowa State took down North Carolina, Cyclones coach Fred "The Mayor" Hoiberg broke it down in the Iowa State locker room with a few dance moves that would make Michael Jackson proud. So why did he apologize to his daughter and son via Twitter? There should be no shame in your game, Mayor. No reason to apologize, even as a formality. Own it, baby. You deserve to dance after advancing to Iowa State's first Sweet 16 since 2000.

6. Nebraska' Big Ten Coach of the Year Tim Miles ejected
There is a coach that should be embarrassed by his moves, these coming on the court. After being picked last in the Big Ten preseason, Miles led the Huskers to their first NCAA berth in 16 years. But the coach appeared to be out of his element, picking up an early technical foul before being tossed in the second half after running out onto the floor to (correctly) point out that the shot clock was not running. "The official came over and T'd me up. I said, 'It's the shot clock. It never ran,'" said Miles. "I'm like, 'I'm just trying to get the game in line, that's a correctable error.' He's like, 'It's too late. You're gone.'"

7. Kansas State walk-on assessed pregame technical foul
Sure, Brian Rohleder only saw 31 minutes on the court for K-State this season. But that didn't stop the sophomore walk-on from costing the Wildcats in a tough 8-9 matchup with preseason No. 1 Kentucky. Unlike LeBron James' NBA pregame dunk contest routine, it is against the rules to dunk during pregame layup lines at the college level. Rohleder, however, threw down a two-handed hammer prior to KSU-UK tipoff. He was spotted and T'd up. Kentucky's Andrew Harrison sunk the free throw and K-State started the game trailing 1–0. 

8. Other Gumbel brother fails to identify other Miller brother
You would think Greg Gumbel would sympathize with famous brothers being misidentified as their more famous sibling. How many times do you think Greg has been confused for Bryant? But that personal experience didn't stop Greg from confusing Dayton coach Archie Miller with his more accomplished older brother, Arizona coach Sean Miller. CBS pulled the plug on the interview after it got weird — because it didn't take a "Gumbel 2 Gumbel" detective duo to figure out the obvious error. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

9. Grant Hill's "white on white hate" analysis of Duke
In an interview with Bleacher Report, the two-time Duke national champion and NCAA Tourney analyst introduced a new theory on why there is so much nationwide schadenfreud when his alma mater loses. "The funny thing is — and I played with Bobby Hurley and Christian Laettner and they were despised when we went on the road," said Hill. "But you look into the crowd and it was nothing but white students at the games, so it was white on white hate. It’s sad."

10. Aaron Craft unable to hustle his way to Sweet 16
Does that explain why Craft gets treated like he goes to Duke? Because he's white? Well, it's all over for the hustle-haulic from Ohio State. No more rabid defense or GPA updates. Nope. The Buckeyes' Goliath fell to Dayton's David in a classic in-state Round of 64 showdown that produced an incredible local headline, which went viral immediately. There's plenty of reasons to have loved the college career of Craft. Even in crushing, disappointing defeat, he left us all an enduring Meme of his postgame reaction after missing the potential game-winner.

Teaser:
The opening weekend of March Madness was a letdown for many, including Coach K
Post date: Tuesday, March 25, 2014 - 13:25
All taxonomy terms: Jordan Spieth, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2014-majors-no-15-jordan-spieth
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2014 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

No. 15: Jordan Spieth

Born: July 27, 1993, Dallas, Texas | Career PGA Tour Wins: 1 | 2013 Wins (Worldwide): 1 | 2013 Earnings (PGA Tour): $3,879,820 (10th) World Ranking: 13

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods are the only two players to have ever won the U.S. Junior Amateur multiple times, and last year Jordan did something Tiger never did, winning a Tour event while still a teenager. The win propelled the former No. 1 amateur in the world all the way to 10th on the money list after starting out the year with no status. Star status will follow the young Texan everywhere he goes in 2014 as we all watch him continue to do unprecedented things, thanks largely to a razor-sharp putter and a maturity that cannot be explained.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 4
Wins: 0

2013 Performance:
Masters - DNP
U.S. Open - Cut
British Open - T44
PGA Championship - Cut

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - n/a
U.S. Open - T21 (2012)
British Open - T44 (2013)
PGA Championship - Cut (2013)
Top-10 Finishes: 0
Top-25 Finishes: 1
Missed Cuts: 2

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

 

Athlon's 2014 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Dustin Johnson, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, March 25, 2014 - 11:04
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-march-25-2014
Body:

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for March 25.

• Our kind of bracket: The cheerleaders of the Sweet 16 face off. I think Florida might be the favorite.

Mets marketing dept. in midseason form.

Vincent Lecavalier's chip shot goal missed by hitting all three posts. A hat trick of fail.

The Twins punk'd pitcher Mike Pelfrey. Cruel but funny, like all good pranks.

Drew Brees and his wife dressed in costume to go see "Noah." Nothing like some Biblical cosplay.

Jadaveon Clowney tries his hand at photobombing. Needs some work.

A tremendous gallery of NBA flopping GIFs. Haven't seen overacting like that since Nick Cage in "Wicker Man."

Bob Knight goes to the rape analogy well yet again.

George Takei brings the funny to Twitter. Oh, my.

• My favorite part of spring training: the premature slides that start about 15 feet short of the base. Still working out the kinks.

• Nerd alert: The Durham Bulls will wear R2D2-themed jerseys for an upcoming promotion.

• Some insane daredevils base-jumped off New York's Freedom Tower. You'll have to watch it for me; I'm scared of heights.

 

-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at links@athlonsports.com

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, March 25, 2014 - 10:36
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News
Path: /mlb/46-things-never-happened-baseball-until-2013
Body:

Major League Baseball has been around in some form or fashion for nearly 150 years. From the days of Babe Ruth and Ted Williams to the time when Hank Aaron became the home run king or the more recent exploits of the likes of Mariano Rivera and Miguel Cabrera, one of the things that have always been synonymous with America's pastime are the statistics and the history associated with them.

Along those lines, one of the unique things about baseball is that history can be made on any given day or night at the ballpark, especially if you are paying close enough attention. The 2013 season was no exception, as players and teams alike added their names to the record books. Here is a rundown of some of those baseball "firsts" that may have initially gone unnoticed.

IN 2013, FOR THE FIRST TIME IN BASEBALL HISTORY A BATTER…

Struck out more than 10 times in the first four games of his team’s season (Brett Wallace).

Drove in 16 runs in his team’s first four contests (Chris Davis).

Had both a hit and a strikeout in 15 straight games (Joe Mauer).

Owned a Triple Crown line of at least .340-15-60 at the end of May (Miguel Cabrera).

Hit 12 home runs in a month, yet did not draw a walk (Domonic Brown in May).

Collected 10 total bases and five RBIs in a game in one of the first two contests of his career (Yasiel Puig).

Hit two extra-inning home runs, one of which was a walk-off grand slam, in the same game (John Mayberry Jr.).

Tied an extra-inning contest with a grand slam (Kyle Seager).

Hit a home run in consecutive at-bats against Mariano Rivera (Miguel Cabrera).

Amassed 13 hits and 18 RBIs over a four-game span (Alfonso Soriano).

Homered twice in a game after the 13th inning (Matt Adams).

Knocked home a run in each of his first six postseason contests (Pedro Alvarez).

Supplied an outfield assist and a walk-off hit — both in extra innings — in a playoff game (Carlos Beltran).

Reached base in 31 consecutive postseason games (Miguel Cabrera).

Hit a second career go-ahead grand slam in the playoffs (Shane Victorino).

Charted multiple hits and multiple RBIs in all three World Series openers in which he’s played (David Ortiz).

Drove in 13 runs in his first eight World Series games (Mike Napoli).

A PITCHER…

Beat both reigning Cy Young Award winners in back-to-back starts (Justin Masterson).

Struck out 35 batters in a season before he issued a walk (Adam Wainwright).

Fanned more than 10 batters in a start of less than five innings (Alex Cobb, 13).

Pitched nine scoreless innings, walked none, struck out at least 12 and allowed only hit, yet failed to win the game (Matt Harvey).

Struck out at least 14 men, walked fewer than two and did not allow an earned run, yet took the loss (Chris Sale).

Began a season 10–0 despite not throwing a complete game (Max Scherzer).

Defeated former Cy Young Award winners in each of his first two major- league starts (Gerrit Cole).

Won five consecutive starts for one team, then made his next appearance for another (Matt Garza).

Threw a second career game in which he whiffed at least 14 batters, allowed no more than one hit and walked fewer than two (Yu Darvish).

Struck out more than 40 batters in a calendar month while issuing no more than one walk (Cliff Lee, 54).

Struck out 100 batters, but allowed fewer than 10 walks in a season (Koji Uehara).

Punched out 12 batters without allowing a hit in a playoff game (Anibal Sanchez).

Walked one batter over a span of five postseason starts (Wainwright).

Lost a postseason start in which he allowed no earned runs and two or fewer hits (Clayton Kershaw).

Started, won a World Series-clinching game for a second team (John Lackey).

A TEAM...

Allowed no runs and struck out at least 15 foes in back-to-back games (Texas Rangers).

Hit a walk-off home run in four consecutive home games against the same opponent (Rangers vs. Los Angeles Angels).

Went 407 contests without a complete game (Milwaukee Brewers).

Boasted nine players with 200 career home runs on its roster at some point during the season (New York Yankees).

Hit 100 fewer home runs in a non-strike season than they did the year before (Yankees).

Fanned at least 13 times in each of the first four games of a season (Houston Astros).

Finished its season with 15 straight defeats (Astros).

Won four elimination games in four different cities in six days (Tampa Bay Rays).

Trotted out nine pitchers in a nine-inning playoff game (Rays).

Carried no-hitters into the sixth inning of three postseason games in a row (Detroit Tigers).

Failed to get an RBI from its cleanup hitter in 17 consecutive postseason games (Tigers).

Won the first two games of a postseason series despite batting below .150 (St. Louis Cardinals).

Won a World Series game in which all three of its pitchers used were under the age of 24 (Cardinals).

Won two straight World Series games with the winning run scoring on an error in the seventh inning or later (Cardinals).

—Compiled by Bruce Herman for Athlon Sports. This is just one of the features that can be found in Athlon Sports' 2014 MLB Preview magazine, which is available on newsstands and online now. Starting with 21 unique covers to choose from, Athlon covers the diamond and circles the bases with enough in-depth preseason analysis, predictions and other information to satisfy fans of the national pastime from the Bronx to the Bay and everywhere in between. Order your copy now!

Teaser:
46 Things That Never Happened in Baseball Until 2013
Post date: Tuesday, March 25, 2014 - 07:45
Path: /college-football/arizona-state-sun-devils-2014-spring-football-preview
Body:

It took just two seasons, but Todd Graham led Arizona State to the best conference record in the Pac-12, despite Stanford and Oregon ranking as preseason top-10 teams, and UCLA (according to some) the overwhelming favorite in the South.

Taylor Kelly and Will Sutton were clear leaders for the Sun Devils — one loaded with senior producers — and State went on a wild 2013 ride that ended with an 8-1 league record and a Pac-12 championship game in Sun Devil Stadium.

Returning for the defending South Division champions is a host of elite playmakers, including star three-year starter Taylor Kelly at quarterback. Sure, replacing Marion Grice and Chris Coyle will be key in the playmaker department and filling a couple of holes on the O-Line is important, but Graham’s tallest order is replacing nine of 11 starters on his defense.

There will be a noticeable theme with ASU’s “three things to watch” this spring.

2014 Schedule
DateOpponent
Aug. 28Weber State
Sept. 6at
Sept. 13at 
Sept. 20Bye Week
Sept. 25
Oct. 4at
Oct. 11Bye Week
Oct. 18
Oct. 25at 
Nov. 1
Nov. 8
Nov. 15at 
Nov. 22
Nov. 28at 

Arizona State Sun Devils 2014 Spring Preview

2013 Record: 10-4 (8-1 Pac-12)

Spring Practice Opens: March 18

Spring Game: April 19

Returning Starters

Offense: 7

Defense: 2

Three Things to Watch in Arizona State's 2014 Spring Practice

Find playmakers along the D-Line
Will Sutton was a two-time Defensive Player of the Year in the Pac-12, and he cannot simply be replaced. But more than that, the Arizona State defensive line is also missing All-Pac-12 picks Davon Coleman (15.0 TFL), Gannon Conway (7 TFL) and hybrid end/linebacker Carl Bradford (19.5 TFL). Replacing all four starters up front is virtually impossible for any team, but this group combined for over 200 tackles and 24.5 sacks in 2013. Finding guys who can pressure the quarterback and play behind the line of scrimmage is imperative for Graham and new co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson. Jaxon Hood returns and has plenty of upside at nose tackle, and Marcus Hardison might be the best returning pass rusher on the roster. This duo will try to fill the void on the inside, while Sean O’Grady, junior college transfers Edmond Boateng, Kweishi Brown and Demetrius Cherry will attempt to stake their claim for playing time as well this spring.

Find playmakers at linebacker
Bradford's departure also impacts the linebacking corps, as this unit has to replace Chris Young (112 tackles), as well as contributors Anthony Jones and Steffon Martin (combined 72 tackles). Salamo Fiso returns as one of the few with starting experience but other names like Antonio Longino and Carlos Mendoza need to step into bigger roles. The same can be said for early enrollee D.J. Calhoun, redshirt freshmen Chans Cox and Alani Latu as well as JUCO transfer Darrius Caldwell. This group wasn’t as talented or productive as the defensive line departures but there is still a glaring lack of experience among the returning players. Graham and Patterson will spend plenty of time this spring rebuilding the linebacking corps.

Find playmakers in the secondary
The theme for ASU spring practice should be fairly apparent by now. Much like the defensive line and linebacking corps, the secondary is in rough shape after three All-Pac-12 picks moved on to the NFL. Robert Nelson was a first-team All-Pac-12 coverman and Osahon Irabor was one of the biggest playmakers in the league from his cornerback position. Finally, Alden Darby must be replaced at safety, and he was also a first-team all-conference selection in 2013. Free safety Damarious Randall returns with the most experience (71 tackles), and Lloyd Carrington got plenty of snaps last year as well at cornerback. Otherwise, Graham is looking for guys who were contributors last year to develop into stars in 2014. Hybrid safety-backer Viliami Moeakiola, Ezekiel Bishop and Rashad Wadood all saw the field from a year ago and must step into bigger roles this year. Redshirt freshmen Marcus Ball and Jayme Otomewo could help out as well. Either way, this unit is lacking in star power, playmaking ability and leadership and that will need to be addressed in a big way this spring.

2014 Early Projected Win Range: 8-10
Kelly leads an offense with big-time talent from a playmaker standpoint (DJ Foster, Jaelen Strong), and the offensive line should be able to rebuild quickly. But this defense has just two starters back and lost eight All-Pac-12 selections from that side of the ball. This is why Todd Graham brought in five junior college front seven signees. Needless to say, Graham has his work cut out for him on defense, but his offense will be in great shape. The issue with a repeat as South Division champs may be the schedule this season - not the overhauled defensive depth chart. Crossover games with Stanford, at Washington and at Oregon State are challenging, and the round robin with USC, UCLA and Arizona will be even more difficult this season. Could this team challenge for a division championship? Certainly. But Graham will have to do serious work on his defense this spring for that to come to fruition this fall.

Teaser:
Arizona State Sun Devils 2014 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Tuesday, March 25, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-coaches-hot-seat-2014-spring-practice-edition
Body:

The start of spring practice for all 128 college football teams is a chance to start fresh and forget the bad results that came along with 2013.

For a handful of coaches, spring practice is also the first opportunity to turn around a program and save their job for 2015.

Florida’s Will Muschamp sports a 22-16 record after three years with the Gators, but last season’s 4-8 record isn’t sitting well in Gainesville. Fixing the offense was the top priority for Muschamp this spring, and former Duke assistant Kurt Roper is tasked with finding the right answers. Considering Florida recruits at an elite level, there’s too much talent on the roster to be finishing 4-8. Another losing season would certainly spell the end of Muschamp's tenure with the Gators. 

Virginia’s Mike London and Illinois’ Tim Beckman rank behind Muschamp as the other top coaches on the hot seat. London has one winning record in four years at Virginia, while Beckman has one Big Ten victory in two seasons.

The 2014 season is still months away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about which jobs might come open in December. Here’s a look at the top 10 coaches on the hot seat for 2014, as well as some reasoning on why or why not they should be feeling the heat this year.

College Football’s Coach on the Hot Seat Rankings: Spring Practice Edition

1. Will Muschamp
Record at Florida: 22-16 (3 years)
Career Record: 22-16 (3 years)

Why he should be on the hot seat: At a program like Florida, losing seasons simply shouldn’t happen. The Gators have averaged a 5.6 finish nationally over the last five recruiting classes, yet have only 30 wins during that span. Florida’s SEC record is also a disappointing 17-15 from 2010-14. Muschamp may have inherited some roster problems from Urban Meyer, but he has four classes of his players heading into the 2014 season. Although Muschamp guided Florida to 11 wins in 2012, his other two seasons resulted in just 11 total victories. Also, the offense has been an ongoing concern. The Gators averaged an underwhelming 4.7 yards per play in SEC games last year.

Why he shouldn’t be on the hot seat: Although Florida underachieved last year, this program is just one year removed from a Sugar Bowl appearance. Muschamp seemed to have things trending in the right direction, but injuries and a woeful offense were just too much to overcome. With the addition of Kurt Roper and Mike Summers to the offensive staff, the Gators should show improvement in 2014. As mentioned above, recruiting certainly isn’t an issue for Muschamp. And with a full offseason for all of the injuries to heal, Florida could be the most improved team in the SEC in 2014.

2. Mike London
Record at Virginia: 18-31 (4 years)
Career Record: 42-36 (6 years)

Why he should be on the hot seat: London was a promising hire for Virginia after recording 24 wins in two seasons at Richmond. He also guided the Spiders to a FCS Championship in 2008. However, he has yet to fulfill that promise with the Cavaliers. London has just 18 wins on his resume in Charlottesville and eight of those victories came in 2011. After a 2-10 record last year, London needs to show significant progress to return in 2015.

Why he shouldn’t be on the hot seat: Recruiting. If any number suggests Virginia could turn things around in 2014, the recruiting rankings are the one to look at. The Cavaliers have four straight classes ranked inside of the top 35, which places this roster as the No. 6 group in the ACC. Also, success at Virginia hasn’t been easy to come by since George Welsh left in 2000. The Cavaliers have only six winning seasons in the last 13 years. Perhaps this job is tougher than some believe?

3. Tim Beckman
Record at Illinois: 6-18 (2 years)
Career Record: 27-34 (5 years)

Why he should be on the hot seat: After a solid 21-16 stint at Toledo, Beckman has just one Big Ten victory in two seasons at Illinois. And that one conference win was over a Purdue team that was 1-11 and among the worst BCS teams in the nation last season. Prior to Beckman's arrival, the Fighting Illini won seven games in back-to-back years. Although progress was notable on offense last year, Illinois’ defense regressed from 2012 and allowed a whopping 506.3 yards per game in Big Ten action. Illinois isn’t one of the Big Ten’s elite jobs, but this program should be going to bowl games on a consistent basis.

Why he shouldn’t be on the hot seat: The Fighting Illini made a two-game improvement in the win column last year, and there’s hope the offense can pickup where it left off with Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt at quarterback. And with eight starters back on defense, it's reasonable to expect improvement on that side of the ball. 

4. Charlie Weis, Kansas
Record at Kansas: 4-20 (2 years)
Career Record: 39-47 (7 years)

Why he should be on the hot seat: Weis was a surprising hire by Kansas. In five years at Notre Dame, he guided the Fighting Irish to a disappointing 35-27 record and went 16-21 in his final three years in South Bend. Weis’ tenure at Kansas hasn’t fared much better. The Jayhawks are 4-20 overall and six losses last year were by at least 20 points. Although Weis seems to have upgraded the overall talent level, it’s not showing on the field.

Why he shouldn’t be on the hot seat: Kansas snapped a 27-game Big 12 losing streak last year and improved its win total by two games in Weis’ second year. Yes, it’s small, but at least there was some progress. Also, Kansas isn’t the easiest place to coach. The Jayhawks have only five bowl appearances since 1995, and prior to Weis’ arrival, only one of the last 11 coaches finished their tenure with a winning record.

5. Norm Chow
Record at Hawaii: 4-20 (2 years)
Career Record: 4-20 (2 years)

Why he should be on the hot seat: Hawaii is coming off its first back-to-back losing seasons since 1997-98. Even though this is not an easy job, the Warriors have played in seven bowl games since 2000. With the recent success in mind, winning four games in two years is underachieving at a place like Hawaii.  

Why he shouldn’t be on the hot seat: As mentioned above, despite the success of June Jones, this is not an easy job. Chow is also making a significant switch in schemes, changing Hawaii from a wide-open passing offense to more of a pro-style approach. Clearly, a big change in schemes does take time to recruit to. If there’s any coach who understands what it takes to win at Hawaii, Chow would be the perfect pick. He’s a Hawaii native and began his coaching career in the state’s high school ranks. The Warriors won only game last season but lost five games by seven points or less.

6. Ron Turner, FIU
Record at FIU: 1-11 (1 year)
Career Record: 1-11 (1 year)

Why he should be on the hot seat: Turner was an unpopular pick to replace Mario Cristobal at FIU. And after one season, there’s not much to suggest he can lead the Panthers into Conference USA title contention. FIU went 1-11 last year, which was its worst record since 2007. The Panthers were largely uncompetitive in 2013, losing to FCS opponent Bethune-Cookman and scoring only 10 touchdowns in eight Conference USA games.

Why he shouldn’t be on the hot seat: Turner deserves a little time to rebuild FIU’s roster. Only five starters returned last year, and the experience gained by the young players in 2013 could pay off in 2014.

7. Dana Holgorsen
Record at West Virginia: 21-17 (3 years)
Career Record: 21-17 (3 years)

Why he should be on the hot seat: Since a 10-3 debut in 2011, Holgorsen is just 11-14 in his last two years. West Virginia’s Big 12 record regressed from 2012 to 2013, and the Mountaineers missed out on a bowl for the first time since 2001. Also, West Virginia had an inexcusable loss to a bad Kansas team last year. Although Holgorsen is regarded for his background on offense, West Virginia’s defense has allowed at least six yards per play over the last two years. Can he find the right answers in 2014?

Why he shouldn’t be on the hot seat: Transitioning from the Big East to the Big 12 was supposed to be easy. However, as some of the other programs that changed conferences (TCU and Utah) have showed, it’s not as easy as it seems. West Virginia needs a little time to get acclimated to its new surroundings, and Holgorsen must improve the talent level to compete consistently with Texas, Oklahoma and now Baylor. Last year’s 4-8 record was a disappointment, but the Mountaineers lost two games in overtime and had to replace three of the top offensive performers in school history. Also, a rash of injuries prevented the defense from taking a step forward.

8. Kyle Flood
Record at Rutgers: 15-11 (2 years)
Career Record: 15-11 (2 years)

Why he should be on the hot seat: Rutgers is moving from the American Athletic Conference to the Big Ten in 2014. The Scarlet Knights are in a division that features Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State, so there’s little margin for error each season. Although Flood has 15 victories through his first two years, Rutgers went just 6-7 in the American Athletic Conference in 2013. In a tougher conference, Flood has to prove he is capable of elevating the program. Recruiting has regressed under Flood, as the Scarlet Knights have ranked outside of the top 40 in back-to-back years.

Why he shouldn’t be on the hot seat: Flood took steps in the right direction this offseason, hiring former Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen to coordinate the offense, while making other staff changes after a 6-7 record. As with any program changing conferences, the move to the Big Ten will take some time to adjust. Would changing head coaches really improve a team that is predicted by most to finish sixth or seventh in the East in 2014?

9. Bo Pelini
Record at Nebraska: 58-24 (6 full years)
Career Record: 58-24 (6 full years)

Why he should be on the hot seat: At programs like Nebraska, coaches are expected to win big. Pelini has won at least nine games in each of his six seasons, but he does not have a BCS bowl appearance and has yet to win a conference title. Is Nebraska a tougher job than it was in the 1990s? Perhaps. Pelini also had an up-and-down year off-the-field in 2013. Comments made about the fanbase from 2011 surfaced, and he was reprimanded for his comments about officials after losing to Iowa last season.

Why he shouldn’t be on the hot seat: Although Pelini has yet to win a conference title, winning 58 games in six years is a solid tenure. And Nebraska has finished in the final Associated Press poll for five consecutive years. Although the move from the Big 12 to the Big Ten wasn’t a drastic switch, an adjustment period was expected. With three full seasons under their belt, the Cornhuskers should be acclimated to their new surroundings, allowing Pelini a chance to take this program to the next level.

10. Brady Hoke
Record at Michigan: 26-13 (3 years)
Career Record: 73-63 (11 years)

Why he should be on the hot seat: After winning 11 games in 2011, Hoke’s win total has regressed in each of the last two years. Michigan was barely over .500 in 2013, and the offense finished 10th in the Big Ten in total yards per game. According to the recruiting rankings, the Wolverines have the No. 2 roster in the Big Ten. So why is this team just 9-7 in conference play over the last two years?

Why he shouldn’t be on the hot seat: Remember 2011? Michigan went 11-2 and claimed a Sugar Bowl victory over Virginia Tech. That isn’t the only highlight on Hoke’s resume, as he guided Ball State to a 12-1 mark in 2008 and San Diego State to a 9-4 record in 2010. It’s not easy to win at programs like Ball State and San Diego State, so Hoke was clearly doing something right. There’s no question last year’s 7-6 mark was a huge disappointment. However, the Wolverines lost four regular season games by four points or less. With a stockpile of young talent, Michigan could turn those close losses into wins in 2014.

Getting Warm?

Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech
Johnson set the bar high by winning 19 games through his first two seasons (2008-09). But over the last four years, the Yellow Jackets are 28-25 overall. Johnson is considered a sharp X’s and O’s coach and has never finished under .500 in ACC play. Georgia Tech ranks as the No. 9 job in the ACC, yet only two teams (Florida State and Virginia Tech) have played for the ACC Championship more times since 2005. Despite the success, there is plenty of unrest about the program among the fanbase. 2014 will be an important year for Johnson’s long-term future at Georgia Tech.

Bill Blankenship, Tulsa
Blankenship picked up where Todd Graham left off and guided Tulsa to 19 wins in his first two years. However, the Golden Hurricane dramatically regressed last season, winning three games and was outgained by 70.5 yards per game in Conference USA play. Blankenship lost several key performers going into last season, so some regression from the 11-win campaign in 2012 was expected. But with Tulsa moving to the American Athletic Conference, the competition is only going to increase. Blankenship needs to prove the Golden Hurricane is headed back in the right direction in 2014.

Dan Enos, Central Michigan
After back-to-back 3-9 records to start his tenure, Enos is 13-12 over the last two years. However, soft late-season schedules helped to pad the win total, and Central Michigan has largely been uncompetitive against Ball State, Northern Illinois and Toledo – arguably the top three teams in the MAC West heading into 2014.

Kyle Whittingham, Utah
Whittingham isn’t in any danger of being fired, and it’s hard to place him on any hot seat list as the Utes are making a difficult transition from the Mountain West to the Pac-12. Quarterback injuries have impacted the offense in each of the last three years, which has hindered this program’s ability to compete in the Pac-12. However, after winning four conference games in 2011, the Utes are just 5-13 over the last two years. Again, it’s too early to place Whittingham on the hot seat. However, the gap between Arizona State, Arizona, USC and UCLA seems to be growing over Utah. Showing progress in 2014 will be important for Whittingham’s long-term outlook in Salt Lake City.

Kevin Wilson, Indiana
Indiana is one of the toughest jobs in the Big Ten. Wilson has made considerable progress over the last three years, and the Hoosiers just missed out on a bowl in 2013. Although Indiana has one of the conference’s top offenses, the defense has ranked last in yards allowed (conference-only games) for three consecutive years. Fixing the defense has to be a priority for Wilson, especially in a tough division that features Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State and Ohio State.

Teaser:
College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat: 2014 Spring Practice Edition
Post date: Tuesday, March 25, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-basketball/roundtable-was-sec-basketball-undervalued
Body:

For as much success as the SEC has on the football field, the league was one of the most maligned major conferences in college basketball this season.

The league received only three NCAA Tournament bids with teams like Arkansas, LSU and Missouri falling out of NCAA Tournament contention in the final weeks of the regular season.

The league, though, will place three teams in the Sweet 16, one team (Tennessee) needing to win three times to get there.

Was the SEC overlooked during the season or is this a case of teams getting hot at the right time?

Was SEC basketball undervalued this season?

David Fox: Certainly, the SEC going 3-for-3 on Sweet 16 teams is a mild surprise, but all this tells me is that Kentucky and Tennessee should have done more of what Florida did that what they actually did during the regular season. The Wildcats and Volunteers have finally found a formula that works, and kudos to them, they did it in the first week of the NCAA Tournament. But this could have been done months ago. The SEC was not a great league. Three bids out of a 14-team league, especially one in which two programs that actually focus on basketball (Missouri and Arkansas) didn’t make the field. Georgia and Missouri were knocked out of the NIT by Conference USA teams, shouldn’t that count for conference bragging rights as well? Tennessee and Kentucky finally started playing how they should have been performing all year. To me, that has little to do with the other teams in the league.

Braden Gall: SEC basketball was not undervalued at all. The league wasn't very good and that has nothing to do with how we now view Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee after all three made it to the Sweet 16. Florida is the best team in the nation, the world's greatest recruiting class is finally starting to play like it at Kentucky and the Vols were a popular pick to make the Big Dance in the preseason with one of the SEC's best rebounding tandem's in history. All three teams have talent, coaching and appear to be peaking at the right time. Florida being great has nothing to do with how good (or bad) the SEC was this year. Just ask Jimbo Fisher and the Florida State Seminoles football team.

Mitch Light: I don’t believe so. Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee deserve credit for playing well in the NCAA Tournament and reaching the Sweet 16, but one weekend of strong play — most notably by Kentucky and Tennessee — should not change opinions formed during the course of the entire season. The biggest issue with the SEC this season was that too many of its better teams simply did not play up to their potential. LSU and Missouri (and possibly Arkansas) had rosters good enough to reach the NCAA Tournament, but those teams simply did not play well enough to make the field. So we were left with a league that only sent three of its 14 teams to the NCAA Tournament. And that, despite the strong performance of those three teams this past weekend, doesn’t not mean the SEC was undervalued in 2014.  

Nathan Rush: The SEC wasn't a deep league this season. So the 14 teams judged as a group were appropriately rated. But the best of the best — Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee — are matchups no team in the country wanted to see on Selection Sunday. Three Sweet 16 teams and possibly one (or more) Final Four team(s) is NCAA Tournament success any conference would be jealous of. The SEC was a top-heavy conference this season but it should be respected and never underrated. The SEC has a long track record of championship success in nearly every sport, including a combined five NCAA titles in men's basketball since 1996. Anyone who doubts Florida, Kentucky or Tennessee should think twice and will likely pay the price.

Teaser:
Roundtable: Was SEC basketball undervalued?
Post date: Monday, March 24, 2014 - 12:36
Path: /mlb/san-francisco-giants-2014-preview
Body:

After winning World Series titles in 2010 and 2012, the Giants weren’t quick to embrace the notion that they had become an even-year franchise. But now they’re happily clinging to it. Anything to move beyond their tremendous disappointment last season, when they needed a strong finish in September just to avoid joining the 1998 Marlins as the only defending champs to finish in last place. The Giants decided to view it as a “flat tire” season, in the words of GM Brian Sabean, eschewing an overhaul and instead spending most of their budgeted funds to retain Hunter Pence, Tim Lincecum and Javier Lopez. Their two additions — pitcher Tim Hudson and left fielder Michael Morse — were discounted on the free-agent market because they are coming off injuries. The Giants need more than Hudson and Morse to have bounce-back seasons if they hope to keep up with the Dodgers and Diamondbacks.

Rotation
The Giants didn’t come close to winning it all last season, but they took some inspiration from the team that did. The Boston Red Sox made their run because of a resurgent pitching staff, and the Giants see the potential to emulate them. They’ll certainly have to do better after their starters ranked 13th out of 15 NL clubs in ERA. Four of five starters return, with Madison Bumgarner (among the league leaders in ERA, WHIP and BAA) the only one coming off an excellent season. Matt Cain, still viewed as the rotation’s leader, pitched like his old self in the second half and should return to frontline status. Lincecum, who threw a no-hitter July 14, still strikes out a batter an inning even if he’s no longer elite at run prevention. The Giants bet $35 million that he’ll improve. They’re hoping Ryan Vogelsong’s awful season was a result of the World Baseball Classic, too. Hudson, who fractured his ankle in a season-ending collision last July, should add some smarts and fire to what already is a competitive group.

Bullpen
No area of last year’s club stayed healthy, and that included the late-inning relievers. Santiago Casilla (bone cyst surgery) and Jeremy Affeldt (groin surgery) both missed time after signing three-year extensions. They’ll need to get back in line behind closer Sergio Romo, who had some durability issues in the past but held up remarkably well while knocking down 38 of 43 save chances. Romo’s rate stats went up across the board, though. Regardless, the ninth inning belongs to him if he’s healthy. Heath Hembree is seen by many as the Giants’ closer of the future, even if his fastball is a few ticks slower than the 98 mph he threw in the low minors. If he doesn’t win a job in the spring, he’ll be a force soon enough. Lopez, one of the best left-handed specialists in the game, signed a three-year extension. A healthy Affeldt will allow manager Bruce Bochy to deploy Lopez more efficiently. Yusmeiro Petit, who finished an out away from a perfect game last season, is out of options and expected to make the club as a long man.

Middle Infield
Brandon Crawford was on his way to a breakout offensive season when he jammed his hand while sliding into second base. There are many in the organization who still believe the gifted defensive shortstop will be able to hit higher than eighth in the lineup. But for now, the Giants’ pitchers are happy enough to have his glove back there. With the Braves’ Andrelton Simmons in the league, though, it’ll be tough for Crawford to win a Gold Glove anytime soon. Marco Scutaro will turn 40 in 2015, when he’ll play the final year of his contract. But his body already is beginning to betray him. Hip and back issues limited his range and defensive ability all season, and then he sustained a torn tendon in his pinky finger on a hit-by-pitch. He had surgery after the season, and the Giants are banking that his contact skills will be an asset again in the No. 2 spot in the order.

Corners
Pablo Sandoval went from World Series MVP to mega-bust while letting his weight become an issue again. The third baseman missed two weeks while on the DL, this time because of a foot injury, and he had just three home runs over a span of 303 at-bats from late May to Sept. 4. That’s when he broke out for a three-homer game in San Diego that nobody saw coming. (Well, nobody except Justin Verlander, maybe.) Sandoval is entering his walk year, and he lost significant weight over the winter. The Giants certainly need more heft from him in the lineup. First baseman Brandon Belt quietly was the Giants’ best offensive player, leading the team with an .841 OPS that ranked 14th in the NL. The hope is that Buster Posey can catch a few more games and limit his starts at first base so that Belt’s bat can stay in the lineup.

Outfield
The Giants entered their final homestand with just one starting outfielder under contract, and Angel Pagan was coming off major surgery to reattach two hamstring tendons. They got a jump on the market and signed Pence to a five-year, $90 million extension that looked like a bargain given what the free-agent stars received in open bidding. It was easy to commit to Pence. He brings energy every day — he became the first Giant since Alvin Dark in 1954 to start every regular-season game — and although nothing he does is pretty, his hot streaks can carry a club. Pagan’s incredible walk-off, inside-the-park home run May 25, the first in the big leagues in nine years, marked the high point of the Giants’ season. The team’s glaring lack of depth was exposed when Pagan missed significant time after surgery on his hamstring. They’ll need him to be healthy, as well as Morse, who offers big-time power that should translate even to AT&T Park if he can stay in the lineup.

Catching
It’s hard to follow up a batting crown and an NL MVP Award. But for Posey, it might have been a bigger challenge to play out the string for the first time in his career. It went unnoticed because the Giants were out of contention, but Posey had a miserable second half. He hit .325 with 13 home runs before the break and .244 with just two homers after it, and it was evident he was swinging on tired legs. Posey acknowledged he wanted to do more lower body strengthening work over the offseason. While other offensively gifted catchers like Joe Mauer are moving out of harm’s way, Posey wants to catch as long as possible. At least there’s some peace of mind now that there’s a new rule that will protect catchers from being targeted in home-plate collisions.

Bench
Gregor Blanco’s premium defense and on-base ability make him a valuable asset, but he was overexposed in an everyday role following Pagan’s injury last season. He’s back to being a fourth outfielder and should be a regular late-inning replacement for Morse in left field. If Blanco’s playmaking ability is solid, Juan Perez’s is breathtaking. He played just 218 of the team’s 4,342 defensive innings in the outfield but led the club with eight assists. Backup catcher Hector Sanchez is a young switch-hitter who can compete against quality fastballs. Joaquin Arias returns in a reserve infield role.

Management
With the retirement of Jim Leyland and firing of Dusty Baker, Bochy suddenly found himself the active leader in managerial victories. He’s exactly 1,530–1,530 in his career, with many years in payroll-poor San Diego holding down his winning percentage. He already has Hall of Fame credentials with his two World Series rings. Sabean might lack the trade creativity of Billy Beane, his counterpart across the bay, but he’s the longest-tenured GM in the game, and his staff continuity is extraordinary.

Final Analysis
Surprisingly, the Giants won the season series against each of their NL West rivals last year, and their 44–32 division record was the best of the group. So they see no reason why they can’t challenge for the NL West title again, especially after spending $173 million to keep their roster together. After a couple tweaks, the parts appear to fit — if all goes to plan. But the number of what-ifs and the lack of organizational depth loom as twin concerns. The pitching talent in the minor leagues is a bit closer, but the Giants hope they won’t have to rely on it too soon. If the rotation can’t pull a Bostonian about-face, it’s hard to imagine the Giants being an even-year team again in 2014.

Lineup
CF     Angel Pagan (S)    
Talented switch-hitter has topped 125 games just twice in his career, and is coming off hamstring surgery.
2B     Marco Scutaro (R)     
Despite a down year, 38-year-old was the second-hardest to fan in MLB (16.09 plate appearances per K).
1B     Brandon Belt (L)     
His .841 OPS was better than Carlos Beltran, Jay Bruce, Justin Upton … and yes, Buster Posey.
C     Buster Posey (R)     
Pledged to improve his leg strength after he struggled for just two home runs after the All-Star break.
RF     Hunter Pence (R)    
Bruce Bochy plans to give him a day off in 2014? Expect Pence to fight that decision with all he’s got.
3B     Pablo Sandoval (S)    
If the Giants don’t extend him this spring, he’ll be a sought-after 27-year-old on the free-agent market.
LF    Michael Morse (R)    
Lacks range, and a bum wrist led to a downturn last season, but Bochy envisions a modern-day Pat Burrell.
SS    Brandon Crawford (L)    
Hit just .199 against LHP, so expect Joaquin Arias to soak up a few starts against lefties.

Bench
OF     Gregor Blanco (L)    
If he starts 113 games in the outfield again, you know it didn’t go according to plan for the Giants.
OF     Juan Perez (R)    
Speed? Range? Arm strength? Accuracy? Daring when the wall is near? Check. Now if he can develop the bat…
C     Hector Sanchez (S)    
Inflamed shoulder held back the young switch-hitter for most of the season, but Giants like his potential.
INF     Joaquin Arias (R)    
Made career-high 47 starts and hit .368 on the road, but just .167 at home.
INF    Tony Abreu (S)    
He’s out of options and so is Ehire Adrianza, so the Giants will have a decision to make this spring.

Rotation
RH     Matt Cain     
Became the first Giant since Carl Hubbell in 1929-37 to make 30 starts in eight consecutive seasons.
LH     Madison Bumgarner     
Finished with 199 Ks and became Giants’ first left-handed starter to make All-Star team since 1997.
RH     Tim Lincecum     
Averaged 16.3 wins during first three full seasons; 11 wins (and 14.3 losses) since.  
RH     Tim Hudson     
Leads all active pitchers with 205 victories; he’ll take old Oakland pal Barry Zito’s place in the rotation.
RH     Ryan Vogelsong     
Had a 7.19 ERA in first nine starts, then it got more painful when a pitch crushed his right hand in May.

Bullpen
RH    Sergio Romo (Closer)    
His workload was well managed; he exceeded 20 pitches only 11 times and never threw more than 28.
RH    Jean Machi     
Splitter specialist is a slight favorite over George Kontos and Jake Dunning for final spot in the bullpen.
RH    Heath Hembree     
Saved a franchise-record 31 games for Triple-A Fresno; development of power slider earned him a call-up.
LH    Javier Lopez     
Lefties hit .156, and he allowed just 10.5 percent of inherited runners to score — lowest rate in the league.
RH     Santiago Casilla     
Despite missing 47 games after bone cyst surgery, his seven wins matched his career high.
LH     Jeremy Affeldt     
39 appearances his fewest since 2004, and his alarming 1.24 K/BB ratio was cut in half from a year earlier.
RH    Yusmeiro Petit    
Giants went 6–1 in his seven starts after Aug. 26 — including one memorable one-hit shutout.



2013 Top Draft Pick
Christian Arroyo, SS
The Giants went off the draft board of most prognosticators when they selected Arroyo with the 25th overall pick. Although his pure hitting ability was well known to anyone who saw him win MVP honors for the Team USA under-18 squad that won the World Championships in South Korea, it was thought that Arroyo didn’t have the physical tools or quick feet to stay in the middle of the diamond. But Arroyo made the Giants look smart after a dazzling pro debut in which he hit .326 while leading the short-season Arizona League in doubles, RBIs, slugging and OPS to add another MVP trophy to his collection. He’s smart, too; Arroyo was salutatorian of his high school class in Brooksville, Fla., where he graduated with a 4.4 GPA.

Top Prospects
RHP Chris Stratton (23)
The Cardinals snagged NLCS MVP Michael Wacha one pick ahead of Stratton, who was set back by a vicious concussion after getting hit in the head by a line drive in 2012.
2B/SS Joe Panik (23)
Scrappy competitor saw his average dip to .257 in Double-A after hitting .247 in Single-A in 2012.
LHP Edwin Escobar (20)
Big, durable starter thrived after promotion to Double-A, and should be ready to provide big-league rotation depth.
LHP Adalberto Mejia (19)
Youngest pitcher in the Single-A California League more than held his own with two-seamer, slider, cutter and changeup mix.
OF Mac Williamson (23)
Former Wake Forest standout has legitimate right-handed power reminiscent of a younger Paul Goldschmidt.
RHP Derek Law (23)
His hard, sinking curveball is a  weapon that he used to post a perfect ERA in 11 appearances against Arizona Fall League prospects.
LHP Ty Blach (23)
Command lefty was the ace of a prospect-heavy staff at Single-A San Jose, winning Cal League ERA title and also pacing the circuit with just 1.2 walks per nine innings.
RH Kyle Crick (21)
His mid-90s fastball and swing-and-miss slider should have him in the Giants’ rotation by 2016.

Beyond the Box Score
No-Nos The Giants were involved in two of three no-hitters thrown in the majors in 2013. The Reds’ Homer Bailey mowed them down July 2 at Cincinnati, the 16th time in Giants franchise history that they were no-hit. Just 11 days later, Tim Lincecum threw 148 pitches while completing a most unexpected no-hitter in San Diego. Lincecum hadn’t thrown a complete game in over two years.
Almost perfect Yusmeiro Petit nearly topped Lincecum’s feat and probably surpassed him in terms of sheer drama. The career journeyman came within one strike of throwing the 24th perfect game in major-league history Sept. 6 vs. Arizona. Eric Chavez somehow laid off a two-strike curveball before rapping a pinch single with two outs in the ninth that landed maybe 12 inches in front of Hunter Pence’s diving attempt. Petit kept his poise and retired the next hitter, then pointed to the sky with no hint of disappointment after throwing his first MLB shutout.
Error free The Giants were a subpar defensive team in 2013, committing 107 errors — tied for the third-most in the NL. Yet somehow they set a modern franchise record by playing 13 consecutive errorless games from Aug. 30-Sept. 11. “I didn’t see that one coming,” Bruce Bochy said.
Division champs It’s fascinating when you chop up the Giants’ 2013 campaign. Not only did they post a winning season series against every NL West opponent, but they haven’t dropped one to a division foe since they went 6–12 against the Padres in 2010. What killed the Giants was the NL Central (11–23) and interleague play (6–14), including a 2–8 record in AL parks in which they averaged 2.4 runs per game. They’re hoping a true DH like Michael Morse will help them do better this season.
Iron Man Not only did Hunter Pence become the first Giant since Alvin Dark in 1954 to start every regular-season game, but he also sat for a grand total of only 16 innings. Pence accounted for 98.89 percent of the Giants’ defensive innings in right field. He enters 2014 with a streak of 171 consecutive starts, the longest in the NL and second-longest in the majors behind Prince Fielder (505, 17 of them at DH). Bochy does intend to give Pence an occasional day off, though.

Teaser:
Surprisingly, the Giants won the season series against each of their NL West rivals last year, and their 44–32 division record was the best of the group. So they see no reason why they can’t challenge for the NL West title again, especially after spending $173 million to keep their roster together.
Post date: Monday, March 24, 2014 - 12:24
Path: /college-basketball/roundtable-how-should-wichita-states-season-be-evaluated-long-run
Body:

Wichita State’s bid for an undefeated season ended Sunday with a loss to Kentucky in a thriller in the round of 32.

The Shockers put together one of the great regular seasons in college basketball history, regardless of their strength of schedule.

Yet Wichita State didn’t reach the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. How should we evaluate Gregg Marshall’s team in years to come?

How should Wichita State’s 35-1 season be evaluated in the long run?

David Fox: Wichita State’s achievement of starting 35-0 will most often be remembered in the shorthand. By that, I mean the next time a team starts 25-0, Wichita State’s record of 35 consecutive wins to start the season will be the benchmark. And think about that: A team starting 25-0 still has 10 more to go before tying what Wichita State did. Moreover, the Shockers’ win over Kentucky will be remembered as one of the best NCAA Tournament games of the last decade or so, especially if Kentucky continues to advance through the tournament. Unfortunately, there will be a segment of fans that will see the next team to go on a long undefeated streak outside of a power conference and react with skepticism because Wichita State didn’t make it out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. That’s not the outlook anyone with perspective should have, but it’s one that’s going to persist.

Braden Gall: Wichita State had a historic season that should and will be remembered for a long time. Some will choose to only remember the final 40 minutes and not the previous 35 games. Gregg Marshall did an amazing job with his squad and they were perfect until one uber-talented No. 8-seed battled them to the proverbial death. It's not the first time that has happened to a top-seeded team and it won't be the last. To be fair, I had Louisville topping the Shockers in the Sweet 16, so I wasn't exactly "on the bandwagon" but I certainly believe that this team was seeded perfectly. Wichita State deserved to be a one-seed in the hardest bracket — and the result was an instant classic.

Mitch Light: That’s a difficult question to answer because college basketball is such a postseason sport. Wichita State is clearly an elite team — one of the best in the nation this year — but the Shockers will not be remembered by most as one of the best in recent years because they did not advance past the first weekend of the tournament. This Wichita State team has often been compared to the 2003-04 Saint Joseph’s team that went undefeated in the regular season, but that team reached the Elite Eight before losing to a No. 2 seed, Oklahoma State. Wichita State, on the other hand, only won one game in the NCAAs and lost to a No. 8 seed, Kentucky.

Nathan Rush: The Wichita State Shockers had an impressive encore following last season’s unbelievable run to the Final Four. There's absolutely no denying that. Coach Gregg Marshall’s team ran the table with a perfect 34–0 regular season record that included wins over five teams in this year’s NCAA Tournament field of 68 — Tulsa, BYU, Saint Louis, Tennessee and NC Central. Those aren't the most impressive wins. Still, the Shockers beat everyone on their schedule until running into preseason No. 1 Kentucky's greatest recruiting class since Anthony Davis and MKG. There's no shame in losing to Coach Cal's NBA roster. Wichita State definitely got a raw draw from the NCAA Tournament selection committee. But it is fitting that the team that foolishly thought it had a chance to go 40-0 took down the team that actually posted a 35-0 record. Wichita State should be proud of the past two seasons.

Teaser:
Roundtable: How should Wichita State's season be evaluated in the long run?
Post date: Monday, March 24, 2014 - 12:23
Path: /mlb/san-diego-padres-2014-preview
Body:

The Padres are coming off consecutive 76–86 seasons and a seventh straight season out of the playoffs, so naturally the fan base is getting restless. Ownership has promised to increase the player payroll by as much as 20 percent, and general manager Josh Byrnes has added starter Josh Johnson, reliever Joaquin Benoit and outfielder Seth Smith. Now it’s up to the team to deliver. It’ll take a Herculean effort to contend in a division led by the big-spending Dodgers.

Rotation
This could truly be the team’s strength if it can stay away from the spate of reconstructive surgeries that have sidelined several promising young pitchers. The projected starting five are Andrew Cashner, Johnson, Ian Kennedy, Tyson Ross and lefty Eric Stults. “We have the makings of a very solid rotation,’’ says manager Bud Black. Cashner, obtained for Anthony Rizzo two offseasons ago, has solidified his spot atop the rotation after starting last season in the bullpen. He’s taken a few mph off his fastball and is throwing with more control. Johnson was San Diego’s first offseason free-agent signing, getting a one-year, $8 million deal. The team received some bad news late in spring training when Johnson suffered a strained flexor tendon. He will miss the first six to eight weeks. The Padres were hoping to get the healthy version of Johnson, who was an All-Star with the Marlins in 2009-10 and led the NL with a 2.30 ERA in 2010. Johnson had bone spurs removed from his right elbow on Oct. 1 after going 2–8 with a 6.20 ERA in 16 starts with Toronto last season. So 20 to 24 healthy starts may be the best the team can hope for this season. The Padres got Kennedy from division-rival Arizona at the trade deadline, and he bounced back from a rough start with the Diamondbacks to go 4–2 with a 4.24 ERA in 10 starts in San Diego.

Bullpen
Byrnes added Benoit a few weeks after swapping setup man Luke Gregerson to Oakland for Smith. Benoit, who was Detroit’s closer last season, will fill Gregerson’s role and is insurance in case closer Huston Street goes on the disabled list. Street has been on the DL three times the last two seasons. Benoit had 24 saves in 26 chances in his first season as the Tigers’ closer. He was given a $15.5 million, two-year deal. Street had 33 saves in 35 chances last year. He is in the final year of a $14 million, two-year contract, with the Padres holding a $7 million option for 2015. The rest of the projected bullpen includes Dale Thayer, Nick Vincent, Tim Stauffer, Alex Torres and rookie lefty Patrick Schuster.

Middle Infield
This is another area that should be strong, featuring shortstop Everth Cabrera and second baseman Jedd Gyorko, who had a solid rookie season in 2013. Cabrera was San Diego’s only All-Star last season, but he also brought the franchise the wrong type of publicity when he was suspended 50 games for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal. Cabrera tearfully accepted responsibility, saying he took a substance to help hasten recovery from an injury just before spring training of 2012. Cabrera no doubt will be motivated to have a strong season. Among big-league rookies, Gyorko ranked first in home runs (23), on-base percentage (.301, tied with Nolan Arenado) and slugging (.444); second in RBIs (63); third in doubles (26) and fifth in hits (121). He led the team in RBIs, becoming the first rookie second baseman to lead his team since RBIs became an official stat in 1920. His .992 fielding percentage was the best-ever among major-league rookie second sackers, while his four errors were tied for the fewest among qualified players (min. 108 games).


Corners
The Padres are running out of time deciding what they’ll do with third baseman Chase Headley, who will be eligible for free agency after the season. Headley dropped off significantly following his breakout season of 2012, when he won his first Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards and finished fifth in the NL MVP voting. Padres executive chairman Ron Fowler had a rookie owner misstep when he said early last season that he had given Byrnes permission to begin negotiations that would make Headley the highest-paid player in club history. Headley countered by saying he didn’t want to negotiate during the season, then struggled on the field, with a drop across the board from his career-high numbers in 2012. Yonder Alonso returns at first base, where he made 86 starts. He hit .281 in 97 games, with all six of his homers coming before a hand injury landed him on the disabled list from June 1-July 11.  

Outfield
Cameron Maybin missed all but 14 games last year, and was eager to enjoy a healthy season in 2014. But a torn biceps tendon suffered early in spring training will sideline him for the first couple of months. Maybin has yet to pay off on the $25 million, five-year deal he signed during spring training 2012. It was injuries to his right wrist and left knee that led to long stints on the disabled list in 2013. Center fielder Will Venable hopes to continue the success that netted him a two-year, $8.5 million contract extension. Left fielder Carlos Quentin looks to stay healthy. And right fielder Chris Denorfia will no doubt continue playing the hustling style that has made him a fan favorite. Smith was acquired from the A’s to provide a left-handed complement to Denorfia in right. Smith won’t add much defensively, but he can hit right-handed pitching. Venable, the son of former big leaguer Max Venable, had career highs in nearly every offensive category in 2013. He also flashed some nice leather, including making a diving, game-saving catch against the Giants on June 17. Quentin, meanwhile, was limited to 82 games, third-lowest in his career, mostly due to knee injuries. He missed the final two months and had another surgery to clean out his right knee. He also served an eight-game suspension after slamming into the Dodgers’ Zack Greinke after being hit by a pitch in the shoulder on April 11. Denorfia played in a career-high 144 games, making a career-high 105 starts, including 51 in right, 36 in center and 18 in left. He set career highs with 132 hits, 10 homers and 47 RBIs.

Catching
Nick Hundley once again will be starting catcher heading into the season, this time due to Yasmani Grandal’s surgery to repair the torn ACL in his right knee. Grandal was hurt in a collision at home plate with Washington’s Anthony Rendon on July 6 and had surgery a month later. With a recovery time of 9-to-12 months, he’s not expected back before May at the earliest. Grandal, one of four players acquired from Cincinnati for Mat Latos in December 2011, started the 2013 season with a 50-game suspension for testing positive for testosterone. He had just one home run and nine RBIs in 28 games. In 60 games as a rookie in 2012, he hit eight homers and drove in 36 runs. Hundley enters the final year of a $9 million, three-year deal signed during spring training 2012. The Padres hold a $5 million option for next year. He played in a career-high 114 games in 2013, setting career-highs with 87 hits, 13 home runs and 44 RBIs. He threw out only 25.7 percent (28 of 109) of attempted base stealers.

Bench
Hundley likely will be relegated to the bench when Grandal returns from reconstructive knee surgery. Alexi Amarista can play both the infield and outfield. When healthy, Maybin could play his way back into the starting center field job. Smith and Denorfia can both be effective off the bench when not starting. Kyle Blanks hopes, once again, to prove himself worthy of a roster spot. He hit s.282 and slugged .456 against lefties last season, but struggled in the second half. Ryan Jackson and Alberto Gonzalez are battling for the final roster spot as a backup infielder. Neither brings much offense to the table.

Management
Black returns for his eighth season, and his job appears safe despite never having led the Padres into the postseason. The new ownership group liked Black so much that they exercised his 2014 and ’15 options late in 2012. The owners — including the third generation of the O’Malley family — seem to be loosening the purse strings and allowing Byrnes to spend money.

Final Analysis
Standing pat last offseason meant standing still in the NL West. Byrnes was busier this offseason, when he bolstered the rotation, bullpen and bench. The everyday lineup remains the same. The Padres have to get off to a strong start if they hope to contend, unlike the 5–15 start last year that left them dead in the water by mid-April. Any prolonged team offensive slump or struggles by the rotation will do them in as well. In reality, they’re probably still a year or two away from making some noise.  


Lineup
SS    Everth Cabrera (S)    
Team’s only All-Star in 2013 will be motivated after serving 50-game drug suspension.
RF    Chris Denorfia (R)    
Fan favorite can play all three outfield positions and is solid at the plate.
3B    Chase Headley (S)    
Will he stay or go? Offensive numbers dropped off dramatically after career year in 2012.
LF    Carlos Quentin (R)    
If his knees are healthy, Padres hope he can get 450-500 plate appearances.
1B    Yonder Alonso (L)    
Needs to rebound from hand injury that limited him to 97 games in 2013.
2B    Jedd Gyorko (R)    
Impressive rookie season in the field and at the plate showed that this kid can do it all.
CF    Will Venable (L)    
Solid in the field and is coming off career year at the plate that netted him an $8.55 million extension.
C    Nick Hundley (R)    
Enters last year of his contract as starter while Yasmani Grandal rehabs from knee surgery.


Bench
UT    Alexi Amarista (L)    
Solid utilityman, but not a good sign for Padres that he made 53 starts in center field.
C    Yasmani Grandal (S)    
Looking for redemption after drug suspension, ACL tear limited him to 28 games in 2013.
INF    Ryan Jackson (R)    
Has only 25 major league plate appearances and carries a .083 batting average.
OF    Cameron Maybin (R)    
Hurt most of 2013 and has yet to really pay off after getting five-year, $25 million deal two years ago.
OF    Seth Smith (L)    
Left-handed bat off the bench came at the expense of setup man Luke Gregerson.
1B/OF    Kyle Blanks (R)    
Probably his last opportunity to prove himself to the Padres.


Rotation
RH    Andrew Cashner    
Hard thrower solidifies his move from bullpen to top of rotation.
RH    Ian Kennedy    
Appears to be on rebound; went 4–2 with 4.24 ERA after being acquired in July 31 trade with Arizona.
RH    Tyson Ross    
Solid back-of-the-rotation guy who had 2.93 ERA in his final 13 starts last year.
LH    Eric Stults    
Led Padres with 11 wins, 13 losses, 33 starts and 203.2 innings while recording 3.93 ERA.
RH    Josh Johnson    
Newcomer looks to return to 2010 form, when he led NL with 2.30 ERA with Marlins.
LH    Robbie Erlin    
The Padres won four of his five starts down the stretch last season. The lefty had a 1.97 ERA over that period and held hitters to a .227 average.


Bullpen
RH    Huston Street (Closer)    
Enters final year of contract; had 33 saves in 35 chances in 2013.
RH    Joaquin Benoit     
Ex-Tigers closer takes over setup role from Luke Gregerson; insurance if Street gets hurt.
RH    Dale Thayer     
Solid middle reliever set career highs with 69 appearances, 65 innings, 64 strikeouts and 3.32 ERA.
RH    Nick Vincent     
Local product was 6–3 with 2.14 ERA in 45 appearances; looking for first full big-league season.
RH    Tim Stauffer     
Crafty veteran has made transition from starter toreliever; 3–1 with 3.75 ERA over 69.2 innings.
LH    Alex Torres     
In 58 innings with Tampa Bay last season, Torres posted a 1.71 ERA and 0.897 WHIP with 62 whiffs.
LH    Patrick Schuster     
If he breaks camp with Padres, it’ll be a big jump for Rule 5 draftee who was in High-A last year.


2013 Top Draft Pick
Hunter Renfroe, OF
It was a busy summer for Renfroe. A few days after the Padres took him with the 13th overall pick in the June draft, he helped lead Mississippi State to the College World Series. Renfroe hit .345 with 15 homers and 65 RBIs in 66 games for the Bulldogs. After signing with the Padres for $2,678,000, he began his pro career with short-season Class A Eugene, where he hit .308 with four homers and 18 RBIs in 25 games. He was promoted to Class A Fort Wayne, where he hit only .212 in 18 games. He’s slated to start 2013 with Class A Lake Elsinore. Padres scouting director Billy Gasparino sees Renfroe as a five-tool player whose success in college makes him “a unique player.”

Top Prospects
LHP Max Fried (20)
Promoted to Class A Lake Elsinore after going 6–7, 3.49 ERA, with 100 strikeouts in 118.2 innings at Class A Fort Wayne.
C Austin Hedges (21)
Top defensive catcher in 2011 draft class slated to start season at Double-A San Antonio.
RHP Matt Wisler (21)
Going 2–1, 2.03 ERA at Class A and 8–5, 3.00 ERA at Double-A merits promotion to Triple-A El Paso.
OF Rymer Liriano (22)
Working his way back after missing 2013 season following reconstructive surgery on his right elbow; slated for Triple-A El Paso.
RH Casey Kelly (24)
Key player from Adrian Gonzalez deal three years ago continues rehab from Tommy John surgery.
RHP Burch Smith (23)
Made big-league debut in 2013, but was an uneven 1–3 with a 6.44 ERA in four stints.

Beyond the Box Score
Local prospect Minor-league first baseman-outfielder Alex Dickerson, who went to suburban Poway High, was acquired by the Padres from the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for righthander Miles Mikolas and outfielder Jaff Decker. Dickerson was named both the Eastern League Rookie of the Year and a postseason All-Star in 2013 after batting .288 (130-for-451) with 17 home runs, 68 RBIs, 61 runs scored and 10 stolen bases with Double-A Altoona. In 2012, Dickerson was named the Florida State League Player of the Year after batting .295 with 13 home runs and 90 RBIs in 129 games with High-A Bradenton.
Winfield represents Hall of Famer Dave Winfield left his position as executive vice president-senior advisor in the Padres’ front office to become special assistant to the Major League Baseball Players Association’s new executive director, Tony Clark. The move isn’t a surprise, considering that Winfield spent 15 seasons as a player representative during his 22-year big league career, which started with the Padres. After retiring, Winfield served as a founding member of the advisory board of the Major League Baseball Players Trust, a not-for-profit founded by active major leaguers in 1996.
Breeding ground Two members of the Padres’ organization were hired as big-league managers this offseason. Brad Ausmus, a special assistant to general manager Josh Byrnes, was hired as manager of the Detroit Tigers on Nov. 3. Four days later, bench coach Rick Renteria was hired as manager of the Chicago Cubs.
Roberts rises Dave Roberts was promoted from first-base coach to bench coach after Renteria was hired as manager of the Chicago Cubs. Roberts was the first-base coach for the past three seasons and had also served as the Padres’ baserunning coach since the beginning of the 2011 season, with the club having recorded an MLB-best 443 stolen bases during that time. Roberts will always be remembered for his stolen base that helped propel the Boston Red Sox to their comeback in the 2004 ALCS against the New York Yankees, leading to the club’s first World Series title in 86 seasons. Jose Valentin replaces Roberts as first-base coach.
Woof When the Padres’ Triple-A team moved from Tucson to El Paso, officials felt it needed a new name. A contest produced a woofer of a winner: the Chihuahuas. The other finalists were the Aardvarks, Buckaroos, Desert Gators and Sun Dogs. The Chihuahuas are El Paso’s first affiliated pro baseball team since the Double-A Diablos, an Arizona Diamondbacks farm team, left after the 2004 season.
Transfer of power In an interesting twist, the Padres swapped presidents with the Miami Dolphins. Well, sort of. Not long after Tom Garfinkel was forced out as the Padres president, the team hired Mike Dee, who held the same position with the Dolphins. Not long after that, Garfinkel was hired by the Dolphins to replace Dee. Garfinkel had joined the Padres when Jeff Moorad began his failed attempt to buy the club on a layaway plan. Dee was with the Padres from 1995-2002, joining the club as director of corporate development before several promotions that lead to his appointment as senior vice president of business affairs. Dee moved on to the Boston Red Sox and then the Dolphins.

Teaser:
The Padres are coming off consecutive 76–86 seasons and a seventh straight season out of the playoffs, so naturally the fan base is getting restless.
Post date: Monday, March 24, 2014 - 12:06
All taxonomy terms: Matt Kuchar, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2014-majors-no-16-matt-kuchar
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2014 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

No. 16: Matt Kuchar

Born: June 21, 1978, Winter Park, Fla. | Career PGA Tour Wins: 6 | 2013 Wins (Worldwide): 2 | 2013 Earnings (PGA Tour): $5,616,809 (3rd) World Ranking: 11

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Matt Kuchar seems to win nothing but big events. His last three wins have been the 2012 Players, the 2013 WGC Match Play and the 2013 Memorial, and those wins put his name near the forefront in all major championship talk. However, Matt’s consistency trails off somewhat in the majors because he is not a very good driver of the ball. Given his lack of great length, he needs to find more fairways, something he struggles to do, but he more than makes up for it with a strategic savvy, great wedge game and a calmness that seems perfect for late Sunday pressure. He needs one great week off the tee at the right event for his breakthrough year.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 33
Wins: 0

2013 Performance:
Masters - T8
U.S. Open - T28
British Open - T15
PGA Championship - T22

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T3 (2012)
U.S. Open - T6 (2010)
British Open - T9 (2012)
PGA Championship - T10 (2010)
Top-10 Finishes: 5
Top-25 Finishes: 12
Missed Cuts: 15

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

 

Athlon's 2014 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Dustin Johnson, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, March 24, 2014 - 11:08
All taxonomy terms: Adam Scott, Matt Every, Golf
Path: /golf/5-key-stats-arnold-palmer-invitational
Body:

Adam Scott Version 2.0 entered the weekend at Bay Hill playing dominating golf. Scott held a seven-shot lead and was poised to take the No. 1 spot in the Official World Golf Ranking away from Tiger Woods and stamp himself the favorite to defend his Masters title. Sadly, the old Adam Scott re-appeared over the weekend, as a balky putter led to a collapse and opened the door for Matt Every to earn his first PGA Tour win.

Scott's opening-round 62 had threatened to turn the Arnold Palmer Invitational into an old-school Arnie-style runaway, and the Aussie still held a four-shot lead entering the final round. But a sloppy 76 awakened old demons as Augusta approaches. "Sometimes you've got to be hard on yourself; sometimes you don't," said a philosophical Scott. "And I think I was getting into a really good spot and had an opportunity here to run away with an event and really take a lot of confidence. I'm annoyed that I didn't do better today.

"Today was a bit shaky. It was just a little out of sorts for whatever reason. And my short game just wasn't there. So that needs to be tightened up and probably shows that I need to do a bit more work on it to hold up under the pressure. If nothing else, it's a good reminder on how much putting practice I need to do for going to the Masters and just how important it is. And if I think back to last year, I made every putt that you expect to in that last round and ultimately that's, I guess, maybe what gave me the chance to win."

Every seized his chance, making four birdies in a five-hole stretch to pass Scott and build enough of a cushion that two late bogeys didn't hurt him. "I can't believe I won,” said Every, who earns his first Masters appearance. “Being close to winning out here, I mean it can be kind of discouraging because if you don't win you just wonder if it's ever going to happen.

“I don't see how it could get much better than this, being so close to where I grew up and all the fans out there that were cheering me on. It was awesome.”

 

Some key numbers from the weekend:

63 Scott required 63 putts over his final two rounds, including 32 in his final-round 76. His frustration on the greens was summed up in a disappointing three-putt par on the easiest hole on the course, the par-5 16th.

5 Scott missed five putts inside 10 feet on Sunday.

93 Every earned his first win in his 93rd start as a professional. His best previous finish had been a pair of runner-ups in 2012.

80.56 Henrik Stenson led the field in greens in regulation, hitting 58 of 72 greens (80.56 percent). That's a good sign in what has been a disappointing season for the defending FedExCup champion. Stenson also tied for the lead in driving accuracy.

2006 Scott can take solace in the fact that no player since Phil Mickelson in 2006 has won The Masters after winning a tournament earlier in the year.

 

Here are the highlights of Every's day at Bay Hill.

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, March 24, 2014 - 10:56
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-march-24-2014
Body:

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for March 24.

Pregnant Mila Kunis joined baby daddy Ashton Kutcher on the Clippers Kiss Cam. Yep, she's preggers. We prefer to think of her this way.

Some late clock confusion was a but of a buzzkill at the end of an otherwise classic Iowa State-UNC game.

20 observations from one of the better opening weekends in NCAA Tournament history. Plus, Athlon weighs in with some great off-the-court moments from the weekend's madness.

Dougie McBuckets went out with a whimper.

• Meanwhile, Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin is feeling some sweet vindication, as indicated by a classic postgame selfie.

The Nae Nae has become the official dance of March Madness.

• Speaking of dancing, Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg danced on camera in the locker room, then texted his daughter to apologize for embarrassing her. The Mayor's also Dad of the Year.

Here's a link to some amazing badminton footage. Don't laugh, just click. Badminton's actually kinda badass.

Last week's funniest tweets, from our friends at Mandatory.

• A sixth grader nicknamed Baby LeBron is already dunking in games.

 

-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at links@athlonsports.com

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, March 24, 2014 - 10:20
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR News & Notes, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/goodyear-tires-hamlin-health-issues-auto-club-400-spotlight
Body:

Six years ago, I sat through a Fontana raceday in what’s been termed the never-ending rain delay. After constant mist all weekend caused water to seep out of the asphalt, wrecking Dale Earnhardt Jr., among others, the race was mercifully stopped but never called. Hour after hour, water pelted what is now Auto Club Speedway, the stands empty while NASCAR bungled the weather forecast. By the time it was pushed back to the following day it was the following day — well, after 2:00 am EST on Monday morning. The stands for the finish, when it did get underway that afternoon, were as empty as I’ve ever seen at any track I’ve ever been to. And the racing? Dull would give it too much credit.

There was so much buzz then to tear up Auto Club Speedway, a facility built just a decade earlier, and start from scratch. Suggestions ranged from a “new Talladega” plate track, to a half-mile short track, to progressive banking seen at places like Homestead-Miami Speedway. Instead, the answer was … to do nothing. Fans screamed in protest. Teams complained to the powers that be. Media wrote as if they were trying to shame the owners, International Speedway Corporation, into shuttering the facility for good.

Six years later, the once-troubled oval in the desert is labeled one of the finest intermediate tracks in NASCAR. With Sunday’s sellout crowd for the Auto Club 400, a second straight white-knuckle finish and aging pavement, it’s now one of the sport’s hottest tickets. One week ago, the legendary Bristol short track played to half-filled seats and weary crowds. Could it be that Fontana has now replaced it as “Most Popular” outside of February’s Daytona 500?

As crazy as it sounds, numbers on paper may say yes. And in a sport filled with change, who would have guessed that “sit back and do nothing” would have ever worked out?

If only they could have taken a breath, sat back and done nothing to NASCAR’s championship system … but I digress. “Through the Gears” we go, post-Fontana and hopefully we don’t blow a tire while doing so.


FIRST GEAR: Tire trouble or teams taking risks?
The finish of the Auto Club 400 was as March Madness as you’ll ever get it (in NASCAR, of course). Kyle Busch, whose car was junk three to four laps after a restart, took advantage of a green-white-checker ending to surge towards the front from fifth place. After Clint Bowyer’s spin set up the final yellow, a bunched-up field was all the No. 18 team needed to jump ahead of Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart.

Busch’s opportunity, however, was due to a lack of tire problems, part of a Joe Gibbs Racing program that was in the minority. Throughout the race, half the field suffered through at least one flat; typically, it was a left-rear or left-front tire. It cut short the green-flag racing — spectacular at times — in producing a track record 35 lead changes. Instead, attention turned away from where it should, towards a troubling pattern of blowouts where drivers started pointing the finger at, well, everyone around them.

“Twelve pounds,” said Busch’s crew chief Dave Rogers, placing the blame on teams running low air pressure. “You put 12 pounds in left sides and you're going 1,200 miles-an-hour in California, you might have a left-side tire problem. That's awful low. That's dangerous.”

Rogers wasn’t alone, as several crew chiefs claimed aggressive setups didn’t take into account higher speeds and new 2014 rules allowing teams rear camber approaching dangerous levels. Goodyear, for its part, stood firm in its opinion that poor setup strategy caused the problems; after all, the tire itself was the same compound brought to the track last year. No one was complaining about the racing then, so why now?

“The tires weren't wearing,” added NASCAR Vice President Robin Pemberton. “At some parts of the race, the tires were abused a little bit, so I guess that's why the failures.”

Jimmie Johnson, at the very least, would beg to differ. After blowing a left front while leading with less than seven laps remaining that cost his No. 48 team a win, he and crew chief Chad Knaus were highly critical on the radio. “It’s all our fault,” Knaus snapped sarcastically before listing all the tracks these past few years where Goodyear has brought a faulty compound — only to blame drivers and teams.

The real answer lies somewhere in between. Comparisons to NASCAR’s big tire disaster, the 2008 race at Indianapolis where teams blew tires every 10-12 laps, is a little dramatic. In that one, drivers literally had to run at 70 percent in almost single-file procession to finish the race. By comparison, Sunday’s race found drivers running all out and passing at will, capable of moving through traffic with ease. I doubt fans, whether watching on TV or in the stands, felt cheated.

But you also don’t have nearly two dozen teams with three different manufacturers suffer blowouts and pretend all’s OK. There was clearly a breakdown in communication between what Goodyear thought the setups would or should be, how crew chiefs chose to evolve, and some laziness — simply assuming last year’s compound would work without spending the money to update.

NASCAR, as we know, is a sport where teams fall behind the second they take a rest. Goodyear, while not completely at fault, also needs to learn a lesson: go back to the drawing board and get better for other intermediates. Softer tires? Sign me up. But this one was borderline dangerous.


SECOND GEAR: Hendrick’s California crumble
Hard to believe that, with 10 laps left, Hendrick Motorsports was headed toward a 1-2 finish. Jimmie Johnson, who had dominated on short runs, was in a comfort zone up front in the No. 48. Even after a blown tire, Jeff Gordon stepped up from second and was in his own time zone, poised to coast toward victory. After falling to the back not once, but twice throughout the race, his drive up through the pack was simply remarkable.

Instead, Bowyer’s spin changed the outcome as the leaders were forced down pit road. A four-tire stop for Gordon, as opposed to two for many others, left the 24 car a sitting duck as he faded to a 13th-place finish.

“They gave me the most incredible race car today,” said Gordon of his crew. “And it is just so disappointing for it to end like that.”

So Gordon and Johnson, two of the strongest cars of 2014, remain on the outside looking in on Victory Lane. And with five different winners in the first five races it’s increasingly important to break through and get that Chase bid on file. Expect both to be hungry at Martinsville this weekend; it’s one of their best tracks and where Gordon scored the victory last fall.


THIRD GEAR: Kyle Larson’s coming out party
The hyped 2014 rookie class has been underwhelming thus far  — until this weekend. Young Kyle Larson had himself a breakthrough, first winning a nail-biting Nationwide Series race where he held off both Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick on Saturday. It was as good a competition as you’ll ever see, with Larson running cleanly and maneuvering perfectly to kill any runs coming behind him.

Then, the California native followed through with a solid, top-15 run all day on Sunday. And when chaos reigned during the green-white-checker ending, he found a hole from ninth place, dug deep and passed traffic like it was stopped.

“I was stuck in the middle,” he said. “I guess it was pretty hectic, but nothing too scary for me, either.”

Exactly what you expect a fearless 21-year-old to say. What you don’t expect is for him to come out second, nearly challenging Busch for the victory when 99 other drivers would have gotten loose and wrecked. This Larson is going to be something, and with Chip Ganassi Racing improving its cars quickly (see: teammate Jamie McMurray, sixth place) he could wind up in Victory Lane far sooner than anyone thought.


FOURTH GEAR: Finally … we’ve got a feud!
One of the knocks on NASCAR of late is there hasn’t been a full-out rivalry among drivers. Well, one year after Denny Hamlin vs. Joey Logano, we got the “B” level undercard version that at least puts some criticism to rest. Aric Almirola, after getting turned by Brian Scott, ripped into the rookie over the incident that ended his day on Lap 65.

"The 33 (Scott) was obviously a dart without feathers and coming across the racetrack," Almirola said. "Man, he came from all the way at the bottom of the racetrack and ran into me. He's not even racing this series for points. He's out there having fun because his daddy gets to pay for it and he wrecked us. That's frustrating.”

It’s also not the first time the two have bumped heads. In 2011, the shoe was on the other foot as Scott got angry at Almirola for rough competition when the two ran the Nationwide Series full-time. There’s no proof that one was ever fully settled, and with Scott running Cup later this season for the No. 33 he’d be wise to do so now. It’s rare to see the mild-mannered Almirola that fired up, and after a career-best finish at Bristol a week ago, driving Richard Petty’s No. 43 he’s ready to run over anyone standing in his way of success.


OVERDRIVE
So much for the Denny Hamlin – Joey Logano rematch. In a major surprise, Hamlin was pulled from his ride just before the start due to a sinus infection. Owner Joe Gibbs said it sent his driver to the hospital, where tests are pending because Hamlin’s vision was affected. Hamlin, who dropped to 11th in points will still be eligible for the Chase should he make it due to NASCAR’s “medical exemption” policy. Meanwhile, Logano wrecked his car in practice, leaving him starting from the rear and then broke a rear-end gear in-race. The No. 22 car wound up in 39th place. … Give a call to Sam Hornish Jr., the reigning Nationwide Series champion who’s spent most of 2014 unemployed. Hamlin’s last-minute replacement, starting dead last on the grid, fought all the way to 17th. Passed over for a full-time Cup ride by owner Roger Penske and left in just a part-time Nationwide ride for Gibbs, Hornish made a case to other owners that choice was a big mistake. … For the second straight week, NASCAR had problems with its lighting system. A red light indicating pit road was closed failed to change under a mid-race caution that left Brad Keselowski, Bowyer and Gordon out on-track. The teams argued to no avail the lighting was faulty, costing them precious track position as they pitted a lap later than everyone else (or not at all). One week after the caution light snag at Bristol, how can NASCAR keep having such bungles? … Danica Patrick quietly came back from tire issues and running over debris, dropping her a lap down at one point, to finish 14th. It’s the first time in her brief Cup career she’s posted back-to-back top 20s, slight but steady improvement as the spotlight shines on others at SHR.


Follow Tom Bowles on Twitter: @NASCARBowles
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Teaser:
Tire troubles, Denny Hamlin's health issue, a promising performance from Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports' disappointing day and Aric Almirola vs. Brian Scott highlight an active NASCAR weekend at Auto Club Speedway.
Post date: Monday, March 24, 2014 - 09:58
All taxonomy terms: Georgia Bulldogs, College Football, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/georgia-bulldogs-2014-spring-football-preview
Body:

Injuries and a struggling defense derailed Georgia’s East Division title hopes last season. But with a full offseason to recover from last year’s ailments, combined with the addition of Jeremy Pruitt as the team’s defensive coordinator, two of the biggest question marks facing the Bulldogs have been answered.

However, Georgia opened spring practice with one glaring question mark on offense. Is Hutson Mason ready to replace Aaron Murray? Mason started the final two games last season and has waited for his chance to start. This is Mason’s first spring to work as the starter, so all eyes in Athens will be on his performance.

Georgia has claimed at least a share of the East Division in two of the last three years. If the defense takes a step forward as expected, and Mason settles into the starting role, the Bulldogs could be the team to beat in a top-heavy East.

Georgia Bulldogs 2014 Spring Preview

2013 Record: 8-5 (5-3 SEC)

Spring Practice Opens: March 18

Spring Game: April 12

Returning Starters

Offense: 5

Defense: 10

Three Things to Watch in Georgia’s 2014 Spring Practice

2014 Schedule 
DateOpponent
Aug. 30
Sept. 13at 
Sept. 20
Sept. 27
Oct. 4
Oct. 11at 
Oct. 18at 
Nov. 1 (Jax)
Nov. 8 at 
Nov. 15
Nov. 22Charleston Southern
Nov. 29

1. Hutson Mason’s development: Prior to 2013, Mason threw just 47 passes in a Georgia uniform. But once Aaron Murray was lost for the year against Kentucky, he was pressed into his first extended action. Mason performed well in his limited audition, throwing for 299 yards and two touchdowns in a win over rival Georgia Tech, and he completed 21 of 39 passes for 320 yards in an awful weather day in the Gator Bowl. As with any first-year starter, Mason has room to grow and will have his share of ups and downs. And Mason’s development took a hit this spring, as top receiver Malcolm Mitchell is out due to a leg injury. Georgia is also breaking in three starters on the line, but center David Andrews should ease Mason’s transition into the full-time role. This spring is Mason’s first chance to have a full offseason of workouts with the No. 1 offense, which should pay huge dividends for his performance in 2014.

2. New faces on the line: Three starters are gone from a line that allowed only 22 sacks last year. As mentioned above, the key cog in the line will be center David Andrews, who should be a candidate for All-SEC honors. Having Andrews back is a huge plus for a team breaking in a new quarterback, but the Bulldogs still need to round out their starting five. Kolton Houston and John Theus are expected to win the starting jobs at tackle, while Mark Beard, Watts Dantzler and Brandon Kublanow appear to be the frontrunners to battle for time at the guard spots. Line coach Will Friend has plenty of options and talent at his disposal and finding the right mix is crucial with two talented defenses to open the season (Clemson and South Carolina).

3. Pruitt’s stamp on the defense: Georgia’s hire of Jeremy Pruitt is one of the top coordinator additions of the offseason. Prior to his highly successful one year at Florida State, Pruitt was an assistant at Alabama, so he’s no stranger to life in the SEC. Despite having one of the league’s most-talented rosters, the Bulldogs have not finished higher than fourth in the SEC in total defense since 2008. Considering previous coordinator Todd Grantham ran a 3-4 approach, Pruitt’s multiple looks on defense should make for an easy transition. Talent certainly isn’t an issue for Georgia, as 10 starters are back, and the linebacking corps could be the best in the SEC. The Bulldogs created only 15 takeaways last year, so creating more turnovers will be a priority for Pruitt this spring.

2014 Early Projected Win Range: 9-11

Picking a favorite in the East will be an interesting discussion among preseason prognosticators. A case can be made for Georgia, South Carolina and Missouri, and Florida shouldn’t be forgotten about thanks to a favorable home schedule. Even though the Bulldogs are replacing a prolific quarterback in Aaron Murray, there’s enough returning to make a run at the SEC title. Running back Todd Gurley should be an All-American in 2014, and assuming Malcolm Mitchell returns to full strength, the receiving corps will be one of the best in the SEC. With Pruitt calling the plays, Georgia’s defense will take a step forward in 2014. Road trips to South Carolina and Missouri, but there’s enough talent on this roster for Mark Richt’s team to win the East Division.

Teaser:
Georgia Bulldogs 2014 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Monday, March 24, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: Texas Longhorns, College Football, Big 12, News
Path: /college-football/texas-longhorns-2014-spring-football-preview
Body:

A new era has begun in Austin.

Like other coaching changes at Michigan, Tennessee and Florida State, Charlie Strong takes over a powerful but dormant blue-blood program. The Longhorns boast the most powerful athletic department in college athletics but it hasn't translated into wins, as the program grew stale under Mack Brown.

Strong brings a new staff with a renewed focus and energy on restoring the Texas brand name in the Lone Star State. The story at Texas is one that fans have heard before. This team appears to be extremely talented, yet very unmotivated.

So Strong enters his first spring on the 40 Acres with holes to plug (along the O-Line), questions to answer (along the D-Line) and an entirely new business culture to instill.

And he probably needs to find a quarterback as well.

2014 Schedule
DateOpponent
Aug. 30
Sept. 6
Sept. 13 (Arlington)
Sept. 20Bye Week
Sept. 27at 
Oct. 4
Oct. 11 (Dallas)
Oct. 18
Oct. 25at 
Nov. 1at 
Nov. 8
Nov. 15at 
Nov. 22Bye Week
Nov. 27

Texas Longhorns 2014 Spring Preview

2013 Record: 8-5 (7-2 Big 12)

Spring Practice Opens: March 18

Spring Game: April 19

Returning Starters

Offense: 5

Defense: 7

Three Things to Watch in Texas' 2014 Spring Practice

Find depth under center
David Ash returns to camp but is one hard hit away from his career being over. Strong and co-offensive coordinators Joe Wickline and Shawn Watson will need to be sure Texas has a backup plan in case Ash gets hurt or doesn't return to form. The best bet is on the latter. That leaves only sophomore Tyrone Swoopes this spring who can compete for legitimate snaps. Help could be en route as potential USC transfer Max Wittek — who has narrowed his list to Texas, Hawaii and Louisville — and incoming freshman Jerrod Heard would help bolster the depth chart immensely. (But that may not happen for a while.) The great news is that the Watson-Strong combo in Louisville built their offense around the power running game first and Teddy Bridgewater second. And with a loaded backfield of elite ball carriers, Texas could brag one of the nation's top running games, if it can…

Fill the holes along the offensive line
Three All-Big 12 blockers depart this roster in the form of left guard Trey Hopkins, left tackle Donald Hawkins and right guard Mason Walters. Those three played a lot of snaps in burnt orange uniforms and replacing them won't be easy. However, there is plenty talent and experience left on the roster. Dominic Espinosa is the leader of the bunch and will anchor the unit at the pivot, while other names like Sedrick Flowers, Kennedy Estelle and Kent Perkins look to grow into bigger roles. Wickline has a knack for pulling together excellent offensive lines and now he is working with what recruiting services think is the best roster in the league. With Wickline whipping this group into shape, and Strong obviously wanting to lean on his power running game, this unit has a chance to quickly define the first season of the new era of Longhorn football.

Develop playmakers up front on defense
Jackson Jeffcoat, Chris Whaley and Reggie Wilson are gone from the defensive line. And just like every other position on the roster, Texas has plenty of talented backups waiting their turn to vie for snaps. Cedric Reed anchors one end spot and needs to become the superstar some believe he can be, while Shiro Davis, Bryce Cottrell and Caleb Bluiett look to take the next step in their development. On the interior, Desmond Jackson, Malcom Brown, Hassan Ridgeway, Paul Boyette and Alex Norman will fight for playing time. This is a deep and talented group but Jeffcoat was a first-team All-Big 12 pick and Whaley had a knack for making big plays. New defensive coordinator Vance Bedford has superstar talent at linebacker and loads of experience returning in the secondary but likely wants to find guys who can make big plays along the defensive line.

2014 Early Projected Win Range: 8-10

Texas is in good shape, even if the hiring of Charlie Strong seemed like a lackluster maneuver. He is a no-nonsense coach who will grind his team into a well-oiled machine. He will rely on the running game and a stout defense to keep his teams in games. And with the overall level of athlete that fills the Texas two-deep, there is no reason for this team not to be extremely competitive in the Big 12. The schedule is not easy, in particular, in the non-conference early in the year. Road trips to Manhattan and Stillwater to face the hated Wildcats and Cowboys will make winning the Big 12 very difficult — but not impossible.

Teaser:
Texas Longhorns 2014 Spring Football Preview
Post date: Monday, March 24, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/amazing-stats-first-weekend-ncaa-tournament-0
Body:

After six days, the field of 68 has been whittled to 16, but some of the absences seem more notable than who is left.

No more undefeated Wichita State. No more Doug McDermott. No more teams from North Carolina or Kansas.

Streaks ended but some others continued, including those for Michigan State and the state of Ohio.

With the first week of the NCAA Tournament, these are the statistical superlatives that struck us as the most important and most interesting.

14. Lead changes in Kentucky’s win over Wichita State
After the game, Kentucky coach John Calipari called this an Elite Eight-type of game. That’s not too far off. The game featured 14 lead changes before Kentucky finished with a 78-76 win to go to the Sweet 16. The Wildcats and Shockers combined to shoot  54.5 percent in the most tense game of the Tournament so far.

15. Points for Creighton’s Doug McDermott in his final game
McDermott’s career did not end with the fanfare it deserved as McDermott scored only 15 points in an 85-55 loss to Baylor in the round of 32. McDermott scored 15 or fewer points for only the second time as a senior and the 14th time in the final three years of his career. McDermott finished as the fifth-leading scorer in Division I history with 3,150 career points.

5. Teams to eliminate Duke in the first round under Mike Krzyzewski
Mercer joined an elite group of teams Friday, becoming the fifth team during the Mike Krzyzewski era to send Duke home from the NCAA Tournament after only one game. No. 14 seed Mercer defeated Duke 78-71 for the Tournament’s biggest upset in terms of seeding.

Duke first-round exits from the NCAA Tournament under Mike Krzyzewski
YearTeamConference
2014No. 14 MercerAtlantic Sun
2012No. 15 LehighPatriot
2007No. 11 VCUColonial
1996No. 9 Eastern MichiganMAC
1984No. 6 WashingtonPac-12

3. SEC teams in the Sweet 16, most since 2007
The SEC was one of the weakest major conferences — or at least one of the most inconsistent after Florida. The Gators, Kentucky and Tennessee, though, went a combined 7-0 in the first weekend of the Tournament, starting with the Volunteers’ win over Iowa in the First Four. The last time the SEC sent three teams to the Sweet 16 in 2007, Florida won the national title and Vanderbilt and Tennessee topped out in the regional semifinals.

3. Pac-12 teams in the Sweet 16, most since 2008
Another formerly maligned major conference placed three teams in the Sweet 16 with the Pac-12 sending Arizona, UCLA and Stanford to the regional semifinal. That’s the most for the league since it sent Stanford, UCLA and Washington State to the Sweet 16 in 2008.

8. Consecutive seasons the state of Ohio has been represented in the Sweet 16, now the longest streak for any state
When Dayton defeated Syracuse 55-53 on Saturday, the Flyers ensured the state of Ohio would be represented in the Sweet 16. That’s impressive enough, especially considering that Dayton was the fifth school from the Buckeye State involved in that streak. Now, Ohio has the longest streak of any state in the Sweet 16. The regional semifinal will lack a North Carolina team for the first time since 1979 and a Kansas team for the first time since 2000.

Ohio teams in the Sweet 16 since 2007
YearTeam
2014Dayton
2013Ohio State
2012Cincinnati, Ohio, Ohio State*, Xavier
2011Ohio State
2010Ohio State, Xavier
2009Xavier
2008Xavier
2007Ohio State*

*reached Final Four

85. Points scored by Wisconsin in an NCAA Tournament game, most since 1994
How many times could we reiterate that this is not the same kind of Wisconsin team that has lost early in the NCAA Tournament in years past? How about this: Wisconsin was able to keep up with an explosive offense in the round of 32 when it defeated Oregon 85-77. The Badgers topped 80 points in an NCAA Tournament game for the first time since an 88-82 loss to North Carolina in the 2005 Elite Eight. Wisconsin’s 85 points was the most in a Tourney game for the Badgers since a 109-96 loss to Missouri in the second round in 1994.

11. Consecutive wins by Michigan State over teams seeded eighth or worse
Tom Izzo’s credentials as a coach in the NCAA Tournament are pretty clear: 41 wins, six Final Fours and one national title. One sure way to develop that reputation is to avoid the early upset. Izzo’s teams simply don’t lose to the bottom half of the bracket. Michigan State has won 11 Tournament games in a row to team seeded eighth or worse. The only team at No. 8 or lower to beat Michigan State since 2004 is George Mason, the team that reached the Final Four in 2006.

Minus-1. Rebounding margin between Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes and Mercer
Rebounding margin is not a terribly effective statistic, but it probably means something when a single player comes close to matching an entire team in rebounds. Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes grabbed 18 rebounds against Mercer as the Bears claimed 19. Stokes alone had more offensive rebounds (eight) than his opponent’s entire squad (seven).

5. Overtime games in the round of 64, a record
The NCAA expanded the Tournament by four games two years ago, but this year’s round of 64 delivered the most basketball. With five overtime games in the round of 64, this year’s Tournament broke the previous record of three overtime games in the first two days. The first week of the NCAA Tournament featured six total OT games, including one in the First Four (Tennessee over Iowa)

The round of 64 overtime games were:
No. 7 Connecticut 89, No. 10 Saint Joseph’s 81
No. 5 Saint Louis 83, No. 12 NC State 80
No. 12 North Dakota State 80, No. 5 Oklahoma 75
No. 4 San Diego State 73, No. 13 New Mexico State 69
No. 12 Stephen F. Austin 77, No. 5 VCU 75

6-2. Record of the No. 12 seeds in the round of 64 in the last two seasons
The last two NCAA Tournaments have brought back the 12-5 upset with NO. 12 seeds going 3-1 in the last two Tourneys. No. 12 seeds were 5-8 from 2010-12. What’s most striking perhaps is the character of the No. 12 seeds. In 2014, the upsets have come from one-bid leagues (Stephen F. Austin, Harvard and North Dakota State). In 2013, the upsets came from power conferences (Cal, Ole Miss and Oregon).

41. Points by Michigan State’s Adreian Payne against Delaware, most in the NCAA Tournament since 2004
Payne’s 41 points in the round of 64 against Delaware set a number of marks, but the most interesting may have been that Payne scored the most in an NCAA Tournament game since Syracuse’s Gerry McNamara scored 43 against BYU in 2004. The 41 points set a Tournament record for Michigan State that stood since 1979, when Greg Kelser scored 34 against Notre Dame on the way to the national championship.

1987. Last time Dayton defeated Ohio State
One look at the front page of the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News shows why Ohio State doesn’t play Dayton if the Buckeyes don’t have to (or, for that matter, why Kansas won’t face Wichita State). Dayton upset Ohio State 60-59 in the round of 64 for the Flyers first win over Ohio State since 1987, a span of a paltry four games. He also scored the second-most of any Big Ten player in a Tournament game, trailing only Purdue’s Glenn Robinson (44 against Kansas in 1994).

 

2. NCAA Tournament wins by Harvard in two seasons, the first Ivy team with NCAA wins in back-to-back seasons in 20 years
Harvard scored a pair of upsets in two seasons to give the Ivy League its first team to advance in the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back seasons since 1983. Princeton won three Tournament games in 1983 and two in 1984, both seasons included wins in the opening round.

1. Coach ejected in the first weekend
Nebraska ended an NCAA Tournament drought going back to 1998 by facing Baylor on Friday. Tim Miles ended another streak by becoming the first coach to be ejected from an NCAA Tournament game in 16 years. Nebraska lost 74-60 and trailed by a significant margin for most of the game.

1. Player to have 20 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and five steals in a Tournament game
In a losing effort, Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart became the first player in NCAA Tournament history to stuff a stat sheet the way he did. Smart finished with 23 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists and six steals in an 85-77 loss to Gonzaga in the round of 64. Smart checked another box by airing grievances about officiating.

3. Teams to fail to make a 3-point shot in a game during the weekend.
When was the last time you watched a good team fail to make a 3-point shot? It happened three times during the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Saint Louis went 0 for 15 in the second round against Louisville. Syracuse went 0 for 10 against Dayton. And Stanford went 0 for 9 against Kansas. Stanford was the only one to win its game.
 

Teaser:
Amazing Stats from the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament
Post date: Monday, March 24, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /college-basketball/wichita-state-win-kentucky-wildcats-show-signs-reaching-potential
Body:

Anointed as the No. 1 team entering the season thanks to the best recruiting of all time, maybe Kentucky needed to be the underdog to unlock its potential.

The Wildcats entered a game against undefeated Wichita State with seven seed lines separating them on the bracket not to mention a 2.5-point spread. The narrative of Kentucky’s roster full of decorated one-and-done players losing to a group of under-recruited veterans seemed to be on deck for the Monday conversations.

Instead, Kentucky played its best game of the season against a Wichita State team able to answer over and over again.

Kentucky’s reward for defeating Wichita State 78-76 in a game that came down to one last missed shot as time expired by Shockers point guard Fred VanVleet is a game against the defending national champions and UK’s biggest rival, Louisville, in the Sweet 16.

In the most dramatic game of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, Kentucky responded with the kind of game John Calipari has been trying to coax out of his team for months:

• Julius Randle, the most consistent freshman for Kentucky all season, plowed through Wichita State for 13 points and 10 rebounds, but more important six assists.

• James Young, who showed streaky shot selection all season, hit 3-of-5 3-pointers against Wichita State, answering Wichita State shot for shot for a sequence in the second half.

• Andrew Harrison, who never appeared ready to put his name alongside other great Calipari point guards, scored 20 points.

The true value of Wichita State’s 35-1 season will be up for debate in some circles, but on Sunday, the Shockers were prepared to face Kentucky at its best.

For one of the rare times this season, Kentucky was able to oblige.

 

Teaser:
With Wichita State win, Kentucky Wildcats show signs of reaching potential
Post date: Sunday, March 23, 2014 - 18:07

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