Articles By All
There are many different ways for a locker room to implode, splinter and almost assuredly fail to accomplish much of anything. Many times, these locker rooms are infested with teammates who clearly aren't committed to winning championships.
Here are our worst teammates of all-time:
Ryan Leaf, NFL
The torrid and tawdry tale of the San Diego Chargers' first-round pick in the 1998 NFL Draft is well documented. His off-the-field drug issues as a coach alone make him one of the most tragic members of any locker room in all of sports. As a player, he was in yelling matches that nearly developed into physical altercations with teammates, general managers, fans during practice and one famous reporter who really, really needs to "knock it off." There is a reason he won only four of his 21 career starts.
Tonya Harding, Figure Skater
It doesn’t gets any worse than physically assaulting your teammate with the direct intent of ending their career. On Jan. 6, 1994, Harding conspired with ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, and her bodyguard, Shawn Eckhardt, to break teammate and competitor Nancy Kerrigan's right leg. They hired a man named Shane Stant to assault Kerrigan at Cobo Arena in Detroit, causing Kerrigan to withdraw from the 1994 US Championships. The attack didn't keep Kerrigan from competing in the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer where she won the silver medal. Harding would end up pleading guilty to conspiracy.
Barry Bonds, MLB
Possibly the most talented and most high profile player on this list, it seems awfully appropriate that Bonds never won a World Series title. The stories from teammates, fans and reporters stretch out longer than one of his bombs into the Bay. Not showing up for team photos, blaming teammates for failed drug tests, berating journalists, distracting the team and constantly distancing himself from his team. There also is Rob Dibble's assertion that Bonds' own Pirates teammates would offer steak dinners and cash to opposing pitchers if they would hit the slugger during his days with Pittsburgh.
Latrell Sprewell, NBA
Few players have wasted more talent on nonsense than Sprewell. Not many players can say they have literally choked their head coach. His excuse? "It's not like he was losing air or anything." Spree's laundry list of locker room dust-ups is too long to comb through. But choking your coach and publicly wondering how he was going to feed his family on a $21 million contract is enough to make this list.
John Terry, EPL
One of the most decorated English soccer plays of all-time, Terry won "Dad of the Year" in 2009. The voters must not have known about his bar fights, airport altercations, handicap parking tendencies and general sleaziness. He has been investigated for racial abuse and was busted for having an extramarital affair with a teammate’s significant other. Well done, sire.
Jeff Kent, MLB
Few players have ever been as abrasive as Mr. Kent. Stories of Bonds — yes, Barry Bonds — having to play the role of peacekeeper in the Giants clubhouse should tell you all you need to know about Kent. Teammates, media, coaches and fans couldn't stand to be around him. Neither could the people on "Survivor" apparently.
Gilbert Arenas, NBA
He was known for his propensity to berate and verbally abuse teammates. He also was connected with some of the more vicious rookie hazings. However, being suspended for nearly an entire season because you brought a handgun into the locker room takes the cake.
Delonte West, NBA
This one isn't too hard. Over a three-year period of time West was traded three times and eventually waived by the Minnesota Timberwolves. His career began unceremoniously when officers found a concealed handgun in his pocket and, you can't make this up, a shotgun in a guitar case on his back during a speeding stop — while on a motorcycle. In 2010, he got into a locker room fight with Von Wafer, one that witnesses say West instigated. In 2012, he wasn't allowed to attend the Mavericks' trip to the White House.
Bill Romanowski, NFL
The burly and physical tackler was a menace on the field as one of the nastiest hitters in the game. Off the field, he was one of the worst teammates. During his playing days, he was long-linked to potential steroid use that likely led somewhat to his insane practice habits. No less than six major violent incidents with teammates dot Romanowski's resume. He shattered Marcus Williams' eye socket, ending his career, broke Kerry Collins' jaw and attacked Tony Gonzalez. He kicked another teammate in the head, spit in another's face and was known to aim for an extra-sensitive area of the body with the football from time to time. He’s since toned down his antics dramatically and has been slowly working to rebuild his image off of the field.
Manny Ramirez, MLB
No one makes you shake your head quite like Man-Ram. He had physical altercations with teammates and even apparently knocked over an elderly secretary. He was one of the most bizarre outfielders in the history of the game. Cutting off throws, disappearing into the Green Monster and landing on the baseball only scratch the surface. He also was suspended for using steroids late in his career. But Manny also is guilty of the worst crime in all of sports: intentionally not playing hard. Manny Being Manny was great for a laugh — if you didn't play with him. To his credit, Ramirez is trying to rehabilitate image by working with young players as a hitting consultant for the Cubs.
Terrell Owens, NFL
Constantly throwing teammates under the bus, Owens' selfish attitude on and off the field cost his locker room any cohesion and, at times, cost his team yards on the field. Effort was never his issue like some other prima donna wideouts in the NFL, but to blame quarterbacks and coaches for his own failures is absurd. And to infer certain things about Jeff Garcia in a negative way is unacceptable, distasteful and classless. Especially, coming from a guy as vain as T.O.
Steve Smith, NFL
Multiple fights with multiple teammates made Smith a constant headline in Panthers' training camp during his 13-year tenure with the team. He has been sued, fined, suspended and sent to anger management training stemming from a lengthy list of indiscretions. He also has long been one of the yappiest players in all of the NFL.
Carlos Zambrano, MLB
He was suspended for arguing with teammate Derrek Lee. He got in a fight between innings with catcher Michael Barrett. His temper and childish behaviors were caught on film numerous times on the North Side of Chicago. Why did you think the Cubs' new regime was willing to pay millions for him NOT to be in their clubhouse when he was traded away in January 2012?
"Worst" of the Rest:
Albert Haynesworth, NFL
A paycheck player who refused to play certain positions and never stayed in shape following his monstrous payday.
Keyshawn Johnson, NFL
Was always wondering why the Jets were throwing the ball "to that little white guy." Hmmm... TMZ also is pretty sure that he cheated on his wife.
Stephon Marbury, NBA
Constantly battling with teammates and even his GM, he single-handedly derailed the Knicks from 2004-09 before taking his act overseas to China.
Allen Iverson, NBA
Game effort was never the issue. His diva persona and attitude towards practice was.
Joe Horn, NFL
On the field antics and sleeping with a teammate's wife qualifies Horn for this list.
JaMarcus Russell, NFL
Lazy, out of shape and unfocused on anything that had to do with winning games.
Milton Bradley, MLB
Eight teams in 12 years for the short-tempered maniac. Bradley also has dealt with multiple domestic abuse-related incidents.
Charlie Strong probably feels like he cleared one hurdle in his first season at Texas.
He reestablished a physicality and toughness in the Longhorns that had been long missing under the previous regime.
But entering his second season, there are still many questions about key positions — like quarterback — and now he has to fill massive holes left in the defensive front seven and at wide receiver.
Texas still has the best roster in the Big 12 and has the right man leading the program, but there is tons of work to be done on the 40 Acres this spring.
5 Storylines to Watch in Texas’ Spring Practice:
1. Develop Tyrone Swoopes
Charlie Strong likely won’t have a better option under center than Swoopes unless Jerrod Heard takes major strides forward. The talented athlete had his moments last year (Oklahoma, Oklahoma State or Iowa State) but didn’t do much to prove he could be the long-term solution in Austin. But Texas may be stuck with him, so getting him as many reps as possible this spring is critical.
2. Rebuild defensive line
Malcom Brown was arguably the most dominant defensive player in the league last year. Cedric Reed is as physically imposing as any defensive end in the land. Both were All-Big 12 selections last year and both need to be replaced. This is Strong’s wheelhouse so he should be able to find star power here. Look for names like Hassan Ridgeway, Caleb Bluiett, Shiro Davis and even Desmond Jackson to take steps forward.
Listen to the Cover 2 Podcast: Early 2015 Big 12 Preview
3. Plug voids at linebacker
Steve Edmond and Jordan Hicks posted 278 total tackles last fall. Both were All-Big 12 picks and both are gone. Peter Jinkens and Dalton Santos are the only two linebackers who return with any experience, which could open the door for true freshman prodigy Malik Jefferson to start. Jefferson is already enrolled and could be starting from day one. Finding experienced leaders at linebacker is huge this spring for the Horns.
4. Find playmakers on the outside
John Harris and Jaxon Shipley were both All-Big 12 picks last year and both need to be replaced at wide receiver. There is no better way to help a struggling quarterback than with star power on the outside in space. This roster has plenty of talented names filling the depth chart and someone needs to step into the No. 1 (and No. 2) role this spring. Keep an eye on Daje Johnson, Marcus Johnson, Armanti Foreman and Jacorey Warrick to compete for reps.
5. See what the early enrollees can do
Clearly, there are big voids to fill along the defensive line, at linebacker, at wide receiver and behind Johnathan Gray at tailback. Six early enrollees are already practicing for the Burnt Orange and many may be asked to contribute right away. Jefferson could be a starter while junior college end Quincy Vasser may be asked to play early as well. The O-line also gets a big boost with four early enrollees.
Pre-Spring Outlook on Texas:
Texas is very talented and will be extremely well coached. However, there are major concerns at two critical areas of importance: quarterback and defensive front. Strong can work miracles with a defensive front, but offensive issues stemming from inconsistent QB play keeps this team from being a preseason Big 12 contender. Swoopes could prove all doubters wrong but his development could be the difference between six or 10 wins.
It wouldn’t be fair to Tom Izzo to call Michigan State’s run to the Sweet 16 unlikely. Really, it is business as usual for the Spartans’ head coach.
But for this Michigan State team — a team that started January with five losses and entered the Big Ten tournament with 10 — unlikely seems like a fair word. This Spartans team wasn’t supposed to be a Sweet 16 team, yet here they are, two wins away from Izzo’s seventh career Final Four.
The Spartans made it this far thanks to a balanced offensive attack that features a new star every night and the typical pressure Spartan defense we’ve grown accustomed to under Izzo.
Sooners coach, Lon Kruger, is no stranger to Izzo as the two coached against one another in the Big Ten when Kruger was leading Illinois from 1996-2000. Kruger went just 3-6 against Izzo then.
Each team that Kruger has lead has had one glaring trait, defense. The Sooners play lock down defense and rank sixth nationally in defensive efficiency. Oklahoma may lack quality depth, but that doesn’t stop the Sooners from getting out and running, grabbing defensive rebounds, and scoring in bunches in transition.
Other Sweet 16 Previews
No. 7 Michigan State vs. No. 3 Oklahoma
Region: East (Syracuse, N.Y.)
Time: Friday, approx. 10:07 p.m. ET
Announcers: Verne Lundquist and Jim Spanarkel
Line: Michigan State by 2
Matchup to Watch: Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine vs. Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield
Junior Spartan swingman Denzel Valentine is one of the Big Ten’s most versatile players. Valentine is second on his team in points, assists and rebounds and is the best perimeter defender Tom Izzo has. Valentine will not only have to score, dish and rebound if Sparty wants to keep dancing but also shut down the Big 12’s leading scorer in sharpshooter Buddy Hield. The Sooners go as Hield goes, and Hield goes fast — unafraid to pull the trigger from anywhere inside of half court.
Tournament Surprise: Oklahoma’s Frank Booker
Teams can never have enough 3-point shooters in the NCAA Tournament, and Oklahoma found one in Frank Booker. He had two 3s in his last four games of the regular season, but he has gone 6-of-12 from 3 in two Tournament games. He scored 8 points against Albany and 12 against Dayton.
Michigan State will win if...
Valentine has to find his offensive flow against a stout Sooners’ defense. In the past four games, Denzel Valentine has scored four or less points twice as the Spartans have failed to top 70 points in all four games. In order for Sparty to win, Valentine won’t have to go for 25, but he will need to score close to his season average of 14 points per game against the Sooners’ sixth-ranked defense. Valentine is fantastic in transition and should be able to drive to the bucket and shoot well from the perimeter within the flow of the fast-paced game.
Oklahoma will win if...
Michigan State and its balanced scoring attack will be able to run with Oklahoma in the Sooners’ fast-paced attack. The Sooners are poor at limiting opposing offenses to just one shot, so curbing extra Spartan possessions will be crucial for Oklahoma’s success. In order to shut down Michigan State, Lon Kruger will have to throw multiple defensive looks to slow Spartan point guard Travis Trice. Trice, who lit up Virginia’s second-ranked defense for 23 points in the Round of 32 last weekend, is the engine that propels this steady and dangerous Spartan offense.
Athlon Staff Predictions
David Fox: Michigan State 65-60
Braden Gall: Oklahoma 70-65
Mitch Light: Oklahoma 66-64
Jake Rose: Michigan State 68-61
-By Jake Rose
Recent years have been a renaissance of basketball in the West. Arizona is a Final Four contender again. UCLA is back in the Sweet 16 in consecutive seasons for the first time since reaching three consecutive Final Fours from 2006-08. And Gonzaga may have its best team of the Mark Few era.
One program that has lagged behind, though, is Utah.
The Utes sunk to their deepest depths in the first season under Larry Krystkowiak, going 6-25 overall. Entering this season, Utah has reached the Sweet 16 only once since the height of the Rick Majerus era 1997-98.
To keep advancing, Utah will have perhaps its toughest test of the season.
The Utes are one of the country’s best defensive teams, but handling Duke’s multi-faceted attack. Utah has defeated Wichita State and BYU this season and lost hard-fought games to Arizona and Kansas.
With Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, Quinn Cook and Justise Winslow, Duke may be the toughest hill to climb on a stage where Utah hasn’t been in a decade.
Other Sweet 16 Previews
No. 5 Utah vs. No. 1 Duke
Region: South (Houston)
Time: Friday, approx. 9:45 p.m. ET
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery and Grant Hill
Line: Duke by 5
Matchup to Watch: Duke’s Jahlil Okafor vs. Utah’s Jakob Poeltl
Jahlil Okafor is one of the most prominent names in college basketball. His post game has few equals. Could one of them be Utah’s Jakob Poeltl? He’s an under-the-radar draft prospect and not one of the top names on his own team. But he’s also a seven-footer who is quickly becoming an intriguing prospect. Utah ranks fourth nationally in 2-point defense with opponents shooting 41.2 percent.
Tournament Surprise: Justise Winslow’s stock
Justise Winslow been solid to outstanding for most of the season, but the headlines at Duke have more often been Okafor or the Tyus Jones/Quinn Cook backcourt duo. Winslow, though, has been the highlight-reel guy in the tournament with his all-around play. He’s scored 19 points in two tournament games, but he’s had 12 total assists and 23 total rebounds in two games. He threw in four steals and three blocks against San Diego State.
Utah will win if...
Delon Wright can make life difficult for Duke’s defense. The Blue Devils have had trouble at times this season shutting down attacking guards. If Wright, one of the most well-rounded and unselfish guards in the country, can run the show against Duke, the Utes will have a chance to pull the upset.
Duke will win if...
The Blue Devils’ stars are stars. This is the time for Okafor, Winslow, Jones and Cook to shine — and they need to because Duke doesn’t have a ton of depth.
Athlon Staff Predictions
David Fox: Duke 71-64
Braden Gall: Duke 67-64
Mitch Light: Duke 80-70
Jake Rose: Duke 74-70
Before this season, Louisville and NC State hadn’t faced each other in a game since 1988. The coaches at that time were Denny Crum and Jim Valvano.
Thanks to ACC expansion, the two met during the regular season this year, and thanks to the glut of teams in the ACC and other power conferences, league games in the NCAA Tournament may becoming a regular occurrence.
Five ACC teams remain in the field, but that number is guaranteed to shrink by one on Friday when Louisville faces NC State at the Carrier Dome.
After upsets of No. 1 Villanova and No. 2 Virginia, the East Region is wide open as the first region in 11 years to lose both its No. 1 and No. 2 seed. Despite roster limitations (Louisville) and inconsistent play (NC State) this season, both teams are realistic contenders for a Final Four.
Other Sweet 16 Previews
No. 8 NC State vs. No. 4 Louisville
Region: East (Syracuse, N.Y.)
Time: Friday, 7:37 p.m. ET
Announcers: Verne Lundquist and Jim Spanarkel
Line: NC State by 2
Matchup to Watch: Louisville’s Terry Rozier vs. NC State’s Cat Barber
Louisville and NC State need these two guards to flourish for both of them to advance in the Tournament. In the only meeting between these two teams this season, Barber had 21 points, in part because of a 10-of-13 performance from free throw line, on Feb. 14. With eight field goals and seven assists, Rozier was responsible for 15 of Louisville’s 22 buckets against Northern Iowa.
Tournament Surprise: Louisville holding it together without Chris Jones
Rick Pitino admitted that this team would be much better if the Cardinals did not have to dismiss point guard Chris Jones from the team. That’s true, but credit Louisville for not folding, especially in a tight game against UC Irvine and against a dangerous Northern Iowa team. Wayne Blackshear has scored in double figures in seven of the last eight games, and Quentin Snider has scored 26 total points in two games in the Tourney.
NC State will win if...
The Wolfpack’s bigs can turn this into a perimeter game. BeeJay Anya is a standout shotblocker, but he isn’t the only big body who will try to counter Montrezl Harrell. Anya, Abdul-Malik Abu, Kyle Washington and Lennard Freeman all stand 6-8 or taller. Louisville ranks 308th in 3-point shooting (30.8 percent), so NC State will try to make this a perimeter game.
Louisville will win if...
The Cardinals can shut down the NC State guards. Trevor Lacey, Ralston Turner and Barber all average more than 12 points per game. No forward averages more than 6.7. NC State might not be able to survive an off night by one or two of their standout guards.
Athlon Staff Predictions
David Fox: Louisville 77-74
Braden Gall: NC State 68-64
Mitch Light: Louisville 66-60
Jake Rose: NC State 64-62
Legendary North Carolina coach Dean Smith was renowned for his relationship with everyone who played for him during his 36 years with the Tar Heels.
That extended to his will.
After his passing on Feb. 7, Smith left $200 to each letterman who played for him at North Carolina. The checks carried the note for “Dinner Out.”
Here is the letter addressed to Dante Calabria, who played guard for North Carolina’s 1993 championship team.
Gonzaga is one of the nation’s most consistent basketball programs and, really, one of the great success stories in the sport.
Who would believe that a West Coast Conference school in Spokane, Wash., would be an NCAA Tournament regular with a coach who has stayed for more than a decade?
Yet coach Mark Few has one major hole on his résumé — a trip to the Final Four. The Zags haven’t even been to the Elite Eight since his tenure began. The postseason exits have included five losses in the Sweet 16 or round of 32 as a top-four seed.
That may change this season, but the Bulldogs have have to conquer the demons of 2006 to keep moving. Gonzaga lost to UCLA 73-71 in the 2006 Sweet 16, a game that reduced star forward Adam Morrison to tears. Gonzaga has had two top-two seeds since that loss, this one and the team that lost to Wichita State in the round of 32 two years ago.
For times to change, Gonzaga on one hand faces a No. 11 seed but also a team with some historical baggage and an offense that can match the Bulldogs’ prolific scoring ability.
Other Sweet 16 Previews
No. 11 UCLA vs. No. 2 Gonzaga
Region: South (Houston)
Time: Friday, 7:15 p.m. ET
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery and Grant Hill
Line: Gonzaga by 8 1/2
Matchup to Watch: UCLA’s Tony Parker vs. the Gonzaga frontcourt
UCLA’s big jokester has become a serious impact player on the court. The Bruins are at their best when they can get to Parker off the dribble drive. UCLA is 7-2 when Parker gets 10 shots from the field, including four of the last six games. Gonzaga counters with 7-foot-1 center Przemek Karnowski.
Tournament Surprise: Bryce Alford’s scoring
Alford scored 27 points in the upset of SMU and 22 in the win over UAB, marking the first time all year he’s topped 20 points in back-to-back games. Alford averaged 15.1 points per game entering the NCAA Tournament.
UCLA will win if...
The starting five can continue to hold up. Benches shorten during the NCAA Tournament, but UCLA is taking this to the extreme. The Bruins aren’t a particularly deep team, but they’ve received only 6 points from their bench in the first weekend of the Tournament.
Gonzaga will win if...
The Bulldogs run their offense with minimal interruption. Gonzaga is one of the nation’s best all-around offensive teams from the field, ranking second in 2-point shooting and third in 3-point shooting. This game has all the ingredients for a track meet, and Gonzaga should be able to match up better in those conditions with UCLA than SMU or UAB did.
Athlon Staff Predictions
David Fox: Gonzaga 85-71
Braden Gall: Gonzaga 80-59
Mitch Light: Gonzaga 88-77
Jake Rose: Gonzaga 82-68
Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes already familiarized himself with the NCAA’s stenographers. Now he’s learning a little something about a hot mic.
At Wednesday’s pregame press conference, Wisconsin’s players were asked a question by a female reporter. Hayes leaned over to whisper to teammate Frank Kaminsky, “God, she’s beautiful.”
And, yes, the microphones were on. Hayes, naturally, was a bit embarrassed.
Oddly enough, the stenographer’s official transcript did not note the exchange.
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for March 26:
• Seems like Ronda Rousey's been everywhere lately, including lobbying the state of New York to legalize MMA.
• You can purchase a lock of Andrew McCutchen's hair. But if you do, I'm not sure I want to know you.
• The only thing the Hernandez trial was lacking was a bomb threat. Not anymore.
• Tiger pal Notah Begay says Woods is 50-50 to play The Masters. Glad he was able to clear that up.
• Jeff Van Gundy came up with a new SAT-style analogy: Kevin Durant is to the Thunder as Zayn Malik is to One Direction.
• DeMar DeRozan threw a nifty pass to Joakim Noah. On the Bulls bench.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Chris Petersen isn’t accustomed to losing.
Washington lost more games in Pac-12 play in Petersen’s debut (5) than he did the three previous seasons combined at Boise State (4).
But this is one of the best jobs on the West Coast and in the Pac-12, and his track record of success speaks for itself.
Does Washington have major holes to plug on defense and questions under center? Certainly, but this is one of the best rosters in the league and should be a tough out every time the Huskies take the field.
And most times out on the field in 2015, Washington will be facing a battle with a quality team — including a juicy opening weekend road trip.
2015 Washington Huskies Schedule
Bye: Week 5, * - Fri., ** - Thurs.
|1.||Sept. 4*||Boise, ID|
|Storyline Opener Petersen's eight seasons in Boise won't be forgotten with just one season of Bryan Harsin. This is one of the most intriguing opening weekend matchups in the nation. The Huskies are 2-1 all-time against Boise — all three against BSU while Petersen was the head coach.|
|2.||Sept. 12||Seattle, WA|
|That's a Sacramento State logo for those who don't know. The one-sided affair will be the first meeting between the Pac-12 power and Big Sky program.|
|3.||Sept. 19||Seattle, WA|
|These Western non-conference foes have played twice before. Washington topped Utah State in 1904 and '98 by a combined score of 98-12. This one should be much closer as the Aggies could be the front-runner in the Mountain West's Mountain Division.|
|4.||Sept. 26||Seattle, WA|
|Pac-12 opener features a division rival that has been kind to UW of late. The Huskies dominated in Berkeley last season (31-7) en route to a sixth straight win over the Bears. Cal last won in Seattle in 2005.|
|6.||Oct. 8**||Los Angeles, CA|
|Primetime Showdown The Huskies and Trojans get the national spotlight to themselves on a Thursday night. USC owns a 51-28-4 all-time record against UW and has won nine of the last 11 meetings. These haven't met since 2012.|
|7.||Oct. 17||Seattle, WA|
|Upset Alert Despite dominating the series with 11 straight victories, the rebuilt Ducks will need to be on high alert in Seattle. The Huskies will get extra time to prep for arguably the biggest game in the Pac-12 North.|
|8.||Oct. 24||Stanford, CA|
|As tough a three-week stretch as any team in the nation will have ends with a road trip to Stanford. These two have pounded on each other of late with Stanford winning six of the last seven. The Huskies lead the all-time series 41-40-4.|
|9.||Oct. 31||Seattle, WA|
|Who could forget The Leap by the Lake and Ortege Jenkins (be sure to mute Van Halen)? These old league rivals have alternated wins for seven straight meetings, with the home team winning every time. The Wildcats are 2-6 in Seattle since The Leap.|
|10.||Nov. 7||Seattle, WA|
|Swing Game A second winnable crossover game at home in a row is the type of tilt that could decide conference pecking order. The Huskies have never lost to Utah, going 8-0 all-time and 2-0 as league foes.|
|11.||Nov. 14||Tempe, AZ|
|Arizona State has won nine straight in the series, including a memorable 24-10 win last year in Seattle that featured two ASU touchdowns in the final three minutes. It will be tough for UW to snap the steak in the desert.|
|12.||Nov. 21||Corvallis, OR|
|Look Ahead Oregon State could be settled into last place by the time UW has to travel to Corvallis. With a rivalry game just six days later, looking ahead could be an issue for a Huskies team that has won three straight over the Beavers.|
|13.||Nov. 27*||Seattle, WA|
|Rivalry Game Petersen is 1-0 against the hated Cougars and Mike Leach is 1-2. The Huskies won easily 31-13 last year and have won five out of six Apple Cup meetings.|
Listen to the Cover 2 Podcast: Early 2015 Pac-12 Preview
The Sweet 16 will feature its share of powerhouse coaches. Nine of the coaches in the regional semifinals have a grand total of 41 Final Four appearances. Five of those have five or more appearances in the final weekend.
On the other side, seven coaches this weekend are trying to reach the first Final Four of their careers, and for many of them, it’s been a long climb.
Notre Dame’s Mike Brey and UCLA’s Steve Alford have coached 20 years each in college basketball without a Final Four. NC State’s Mark Gottfried has coached 18 years. Gonzaga’s Mark Few has coached 16.
As the NCAA Tournament moves into the regionals, we wouldn’t be surprised 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.
1. Sean Miller, Arizona
Closest call: Miller has lost three times in the Elite Eight, with Arizona in 2011 and 2014 and with Xavier in 2008.
What’s his story? In 11 seasons as a head coach, Miller has reached the Sweet 16 six times and the Elite Eight three times with two schools. The last two trips to the regional final have been heartbreakers — a 64-63 loss to Wisconsin last season and a 65-63 loss to UConn in 2011. At 46, Miller's first Final Four probably won’t be his last.
Can he reach the Final Four this year? Yes, but this region is a grinder. Miller will face his old school and former assistant in the Sweet 16 and then either North Carolina or a rematch with Wisconsin in the Elite Eight.
2. Mark Few, Gonzaga
Closest call: An Adam Morrison-led Gonzaga team lost in a 73-71 heartbreaker to UCLA in the 2006 Sweet 16.
What’s his story? 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. This is Few’s second Sweet 16 since 2006.
Can he reach the Final Four this year? Yes. The Zags sliced through their first weekend opponents and draw an 11 seed — albeit a hot UCLA squad — in the Sweet 16. A potential matchup with Duke in the regional final would be the toughest matchup, but this may be Few’s best team in Spokane.
3. Tony Bennett, Virginia
Closest call: Virginia has lost twice in the Sweet 16, once as the coach at Washington State and once at Virginia, the latter a 61-59 loss to Michigan State in 2014.
What’s his story? After back-to-back regular season ACC championships, Bennett has all of three NCAA wins to show for it. He can coach, but running a slower offense doesn’t always translate to deep NCAA Tournament runs, as Bo Ryan could once attest.
Can he reach the Final Four soon? Yes, but remember Ryan didn’t make it to the Final Four until the Frank Kaminsky-Sam Dekker-Josh Gasser group became a dangerous enough offensive team to play at different tempos. Bennett also might be glad to go the rest of his career never seeing Michigan State in the Tourney ever again. Sparty has eliminated the Cavs the last two years.
4. Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State
Closest call: Iowa State lost 81-76 to eventual national champion UConn in the Sweet 16 in 2014.
What’s his story? The Mayor has revitalized Iowa State basketball, but the Cyclones have yet to make a ton of noise in the NCAA Tournament other than being a tough out in the early rounds. The Cyclones went cold offensively for a mystifying loss to UAB in the round of 64 this season.
Can he reach the Final Four soon? Not if Hoiberg elects to try out coaching in the NBA.
5. 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.
What’s his story? 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? Seems unlikely. Pitt hasn’t been to the Sweet 16 since that close call with Villanova.
6. Bruce Pearl, Auburn
Closest call: Tennessee lost 70-69 to Michigan State in the 2010 Elite Eight.
What’s his story? Pearl has a tough enough job making Auburn relevant in the SEC, much less the NCAA Tournament. This is a place where winning two games in the most recent SEC tournament was a sign of major progress.
Can he reach the Final Four soon? No. A Final Four with Auburn? But in the next few years, Pearl probably will bring Auburn to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003.
7. Buzz Williams, Virginia Tech
Closest call: Williams led Marquette to the Elite Eight in 2013, where the Golden Eagles lost 55-39 to Syracuse.
What’s his story? Williams’ move from Marquette to Virginia Tech was one of the most stunning job changes in the coaching carousel in 2014. After going 11-22 in his first season with the Hokies, Williams has set back his career trajectory by several seasons.
Can he reach the Final Four soon? No. Virginia Tech had a young team last season, and it showed as the Hokies went 2-16 in the ACC. Virginia Tech isn’t a place where coaches win with a quick fix.
8. Mike Brey, Notre Dame
Closest call: Notre Dame lost 88-71 to Arizona in the 2003 Sweet 16
What’s his story? Not many coaches get to stay at a program 15 years reaching only one Sweet 16. But Brey is universally liked, and he did make the Irish a viable program in the Big East (and now the ACC) even if great NCAA Tournament showings didn’t always follow.
Can he reach the Final Four soon? Maybe, but it will take a heck of an upset to get there. This is perhaps Brey’s best team at Notre Dame and one capable of knocking off Wichita State and West Virginia in its reason. Unfortunately, Kentucky is also in this region.
9. Dana Altman, Oregon
Closest call: Oregon lost 77-69 to Louisville in the Sweet 16 in 2013.
What’s his story? Altman has taken three teams to the NCAA Tournament and failed to win 20 games only once since 1999. This year may have been his best coaching job, taking a team that was picked to finish seventh in the Pac-12 to the NCAA Tournament
Can he reach the Final Four soon? Maybe. Altman has had some off-court issues that could have threatened his job in Eugene, but the man can coach. Coaches this good eventually get the right group players (or breaks) to make a run in the Tournament.
10. Scott Drew, Baylor
Closest call: Baylor lost in the Elite Eight in 2010 and 2012
What’s his story? 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). Baylor’s loss to Georgia State in the round of 64 was the second Thursday/Friday loss in five trips to the Tourney.
Can he reach the Final Four soon? Why not? He’s been to two Elite Eights and usually has a talented Big 12 roster. This is the kind of coach who makes the Final Four when no one is expecting it.
Roster turnover in the NFL is inevitable and no one knows this better than the New England Patriots, who have put together the best record in the league over the last decade-plus with an ever-changing group of players surrounding Tom Brady.
This offseason has been no different, with the departure of starting cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, key receiving back Shane Vereen and long-time stalwart Vince Wilfork. With Wilfork's departure, Brady remains the only player still connecting the Patriots' Super Bowl title in 2004 to their most recent this past season.
Here are three players who are under the radar and will need to step to the forefront this season.
Siliga was a revelation replacing the injured Wilfork in 2013, and now with Wilfork's departure, Siliga could be the key space-eating defensive tackle on the Patriots' defense. Siliga looked primed to build on his success this season, but injuries held him to just seven games and just a quarter of the snaps. Wilfork accounted for nearly 74 percent of the snaps this past season, so that's significant amount of playing time that will need to be filled.
Still, Siliga played almost just as many snaps as Wilfork in the Super Bowl, a sign that he could be a big part of the Patriots' plans going forward. Replacing Wilfork is no small task, literally and figuratively, but Siliga looks like a big piece of the equation.
Shane Vereen had 11 catches in the Super Bowl and that performance put him out of the Patriots' price range this offseason. He signed a lucrative free-agent deal with the New York Giants, leaving a hole in the Pats' backfield.
The pass-catching running back has always been a significant role in the Patriots' offense. Kevin Faulk held it down for most of the last decade, before Danny Woodhead took it over in 2010. While Brandon Bolden can fill in and second-year player James White should compete for the role this season, it's new free agent acquisition Cadet who is the favorite.
Cadet caught 38 passes for 345 yards and two touchdowns for the New Orleans Saints in 2014. Sean Payton had high praise for his football smarts and "exceptional" hands. It should be fascinating to see how the Patriots involve his skill set in their attack.
Butler made one of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history, but that was of little reassurance to Patriots fans after the departures of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. Butler was a standout making plays on the ball from the start of training camp. It wasn't an accident or luck that he had three passes defensed to go with the interception in relief duty in the Super Bowl.
But just what is Butler's ceiling? He played just 16.6 percent of the regular season snaps. The potential seems to be there, as evidenced by a matchup with Emmanuel Sanders where Butler held his own.
The Patriots have brought in three veteran cornerbacks in free agency - Chimdi Chekwa, Bradley Fletcher and Robert McClain, and could still add more through the draft. But with both starting corner spots open, Butler has a chance to build on the success he had on the biggest stage of all.
All the talk about the Cleveland Cavaliers, these days, has been about the drama between their personalities.
Perhaps you heard that Kevin Love, on a recent promotional jaunt, said that he and LeBron James are “not best friends” and went on to proclaim that Russell Westbrook — not the King — is the NBA’s lead MVP candidate. Words like these, in combination with some very adolescent passive aggression on social media amongst the team, has led skeptics to believe that there’s a fire in the Cavaliers’ locker room, beneath all this smoke.
And maybe there is. But, whatever is or isn’t happening between these men in their changing quarters, on team planes and elsewhere, it doesn’t seem to carry over onto the court. Since mid-January, they’re 14-1 against the vaunted Western Conference. A rejuvenated James, who took time off after the holidays, has been the spearhead for an augmented roster that picked up J.R. Smith, Timofey Mozgov and Iman Shumpert as reinforcements via trade.
Love may be displeased with his life in the Midwest, as he’s taken a backseat when he could be the centerpiece on any number of other teams. He’ll have the opportunity to pursue that end this summer, when he can enter free agency. But for now, he’s bought into what the Cavs are doing — at least in his actions, he is. He’s a luxury for his team, who stretches defenses more than he gets to attack them, but he’s an important luxury.
The Cavs’ critical mass of contingency plans on any given possession makes them almost impossible to guard when they’re clicking; there are just too many ballers out there. Love, LeBron, Kyrie Irving, and Smith are all capable of scoring in bushels on their own. That they’ve started to look like something greater than the sum of their talents is what should scare the rest of the league.
— John Wilmes
Michael Pagano asked Sarah Kardonsky to prom, but she already had a date. Pagano has autism and is a big Jets fan. Kardonsky explained the situation to her previous date, and she decided she wanted to ask Pagano in a special way.
Kardonsky reached out the Jets with the story, and this is what she got.
Watch what happened when Pagano sees the video:
Since the promposal, Pagano and Kardonsky have appeared on NFL Network.
Perhaps we will see a green and white color scheme from the friends at prom?
There is a lot to like about the 2015 USC Trojans.
Steve Sarkisian has a year under his belt as the head man at Heritage Hall and this roster is loaded with elite-level talent. The quarterback position is locked down by a potential Heisman candidate and the offensive line is filthy good.
However, that doesn’t mean the Men of Troy don’t have plenty of work to do this spring.
5 Storylines to Watch in USC’s Spring Practice:
1. Rebuild the front seven
The Trojans lose three All-Pac-12 players from their front seven in Leonard Williams, Hayes Pullard and J.R. Tavai. Like always with USC, the returning depth chart is impressively talented but is lacking in developed star power. Can Anthony Sarao or Delvon Simmons develop into All-Americans this offseason? Sarkisian should consider this part of his roster a top priority — which is especially difficult for a team still lacking in front seven depth due to a rehab-heavy spring roster.
2. Develop offensive playmakers
The talent in the receiving corps is painfully obvious but will still be young. And the backfield is now missing Buck Allen. Coach Sark needs to continue to develop JuJu Smith, Darreus Rogers, Steven Mitchell and even Adoree Jackson (regardless of which side of the ball he plays on) on the outside while Justin Davis, Tre Madden and James Toland IV battle for carries. USC also is replacing All-Pac-12 tight end Randall Telfer and has no obvious replacement on the roster at that position.
3. See what the young guns can do
The sanction-free Trojans welcomed a full 24-man class on National Signing Day, five of which enrolled early. This includes five-star blocker Chuma Edoga and four-star prospects Cameron Smith (LB) and Ricky Town (QB), as well junior college wideout Isaac Whitney. This group, teamed with a very talented but still very young 2014 freshman class, should give USC’s staff plenty of young bodies to work with this spring. Getting these players acclimated and developed as quickly as possible should be a focus.
Listen to the Cover 2 Podcast: Early 2015 Pac-12 Preview
4. Experiment along the O-line
There are some proven commodities along the O-line for the Trojans — namely Max Tuerk at center. But keep an eye on where players land this spring as new O-line coach Bob Connelly looks to find his best five blockers and develop key reserves. Toa Lobendahn is currently the starting left tackle while Chad Wheeler rehabs. Sophomore Nico Falah could also be in the mix at tackle as well while Damien Mama and Viane Talamaivao may have the inside track on the guard positions. Khaliel Rodgers being sent home midway through practice also has shook up the two-deep.
5. Stay healthy
With scholarship numbers not quite back to full strength, one key spring (and summer) storyline for USC will be keeping as many bodies healthy as possible. Most notably, star quarterback Cody Kessler. He needs to be kept upright at all costs. This has been a major concern over the last half decade but is beginning to even out as Coach Sark inches closer to a full 85-scholarship roster.
Pre-Spring Outlook on USC:
This roster is the best in the Pac-12 and could easily make the Trojans a playoff-caliber team in ’15. Staying healthy and overall depth have been issues for this program since NCAA sanctions went into effect, but those are now over and done with and this roster is deeper than it’s been in six years. With Kessler and his O-line leading the way, expectations are rightly soaring in Southern California this spring.
Derek Mason’s first season at Vanderbilt wasn’t easy. The Commodores did not win a game in SEC play and two of their three non-conference wins came by three points or less. However, as the 2015 season approaches, there’s reason to expect improvement out of Vanderbilt in Mason’s second year. The losses in the senior class were minimal, and the Commodores return 17 starters. Mason is taking over the play-calling duties on defense, while Andy Ludwig takes over the offensive controls.
Vanderbilt concluded spring drills with its annual scrimmage on Saturday. What transpired this offseason so far with the Commodores? I asked Adam Sparks (@AdamSparks) of The Tennessean to help us preview Vanderbilt’s offseason and answer some of the key questions and storylines to watch:
1. Derek Mason made a lot of changes after the 2014 season. Which of the coaching hires or other offseason moves do you think will have the biggest impact on this team next season?
That’s close to a tie between Derek Mason naming himself defensive play-caller or the hiring of Andy Ludwig as the new offensive coordinator. I’ll give Ludwig the tiebreaker because the offense struggled so mightily last season. Ludwig has not tipped his hand too much, but it’s apparent that he sees Vanderbilt’s potential strength in the ground game like the one he directed at Wisconsin. The personnel sets up that way, as well. Ralph Webb, who broke Vanderbilt’s freshman rushing record last season, is back. The offensive line could be improved. And the Commodores have more proven talent at tight end than wide receiver.
Ludwig’s chief job is creating an offensive identity. Last season under Karl Dorrell, the offense never developed a clear-cut strength – run or pass. If the quarterback position stabilizes, it should be a little easier for Ludwig to turn the wheel in some direction.
2. Four different quarterbacks started games for Vanderbilt in 2014 and there’s plenty of uncertainty here this spring. Is there a skill-set new coordinator Andy Ludwig wants out of his quarterbacks? And has there been any separation among the options this spring?
Ludwig wants an accurate passer and some mobility in his QB. Neither Mason nor Ludwig confirmed that Patton Robinette would be the starter, but it was apparent by spring’s end that he was the No. 1 guy. Ludwig likes Robinette’s football IQ, his quick understanding of the offense, his accuracy on short to intermediate passes and his running ability. Robinette has struggled throwing the deep ball, which Ludwig highlighted as a flaw that needs to be fixed before the regular season.
Robinette could be overtaken in fall camp by Johnny McCrary, but Ludwig would rather settle on the starter sooner than later and secure the depth chart. That stability would certainly be a welcomed sight for the Commodores, who traded out signal callers routinely last season.
3. In addition to the quarterback concerns, the receiving corps is also under the spotlight this offseason. Are there any players ready to take a step forward in their development to help C.J. Duncan and Latevius Rayford in the passing game?
Duncan and Rayford are both solid receivers, but they need help. Rayford is a tough kid who doesn’t mind catching the ball in traffic. Duncan can catch and run or occasionally go deep. But for the most part, Vanderbilt’s receivers struggled to get separation off the line of scrimmage and stretch the field last season. Duncan may develop into that guy, but he also saw some time at running back in spring. Coaches, including Ludwig, are intrigued by the potential of Trent Sherfield. The 6-foot-1 speedster had only one catch last season, but he put together a strong spring and appears to have a bigger role in the revamped offense.
4. With nine starters back and few personnel departures, the defense has a chance to improve with Mason calling the plays in 2015. Who are a few players to watch this season that could have a breakout year?
The linebackers are legit high-caliber SEC players. Sophomores Nigel Bowden and Zach Cunningham and junior Stephen Weatherly are among Vanderbilt’s best performers are any position. Defensive end Caleb Azubike needs to settle in as a pass rusher after a year of uncertainty playing at both defensive end and outside linebacker. The secondary should be improved, as well.
Mason’s defense will be more aggressive than the 2014 version. Expect more sacks, more tackles-for-loss and more turnovers. All those were lacking last season, but Mason will take more chances as the play-caller. The aforementioned three linebackers give Vanderbilt a lot of speed and length, which should suit Mason’s brand of defense well.
5. If Vanderbilt wants to be a running team, will Ralph Webb be a one-man show?
Webb will get the bulk of the carries, but Ludwig wants depth at running back. Webb rushed for 912 yards as a freshman despite getting no help from the passing game. Dallas Rivers also showed promise as a freshman, and he will be used as a 227-pound power back. CJ Duncan could see a little time at running back, but the better bet is that he’ll mostly stay at wide receiver.
The wild card will be Darrius Sims. He broke two kick returns for TDs against South Carolina last season, and he also scored on an interception as a defensive back. Sims can play in all three phases, but he is supposed to focus on running back and kick returner in 2015. The hope is that Sims can add a dynamic quality that last year’s offense lacked. Ludwig said some incoming freshmen could also jump into the mix at running back.
Athlon Sports' Spring Outlook on Vanderbilt:
Vanderbilt should show improvement in Derek Mason’s second season. With 17 starters back, along with promising players on both sides of the ball, the Commodores will be more competitive in SEC play. If a quarterback emerges this offseason, and Mason finds the right mix on defense, this team should exceed last year’s win total. Of course, winning a game in the rugged SEC won’t be easy, and Vanderbilt plays tricky non-conference games against Houston and Western Kentucky. Improvement should be noticeable for Mason in 2015. But bowl eligibility is probably a year away.
We've all seen some crazy buzzer beaters. But you don't see a buzzer beater like this everyday from a third-grader.
Tyrik Petway banked a no-look, backward three-pointer at the buzzer during the AAA County Championship Game in Maryland. Watch the incredibly lucky shot below:
The video is pure gold with smack talk from the parents then Petway's toss at the end. Petway is 8-years-old. This shot may be just the beginning of his highlight reel considering he is ranked the No. 2 prospect in the nation for the class of 2024.
They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.
No. 10: Tiger Woods
Born: Dec. 30, 1975, Cypress, Calif. | Career PGA Tour Wins: 79 | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 0 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $108,275 (201st) | World Ranking: 96
Brandel Chamblee's Take
Woods could be placed anywhere on this list with the exception of first, depending on whether one looks at his abilities or, given his age, his unprecedented physical ailments. He has averaged only twelve events per season over the last seven years with injuries of almost every nature plaguing his numerous comebacks and swing changes. Never over that time, though, has he looked worse than he did last year, when it was hard to know whether his swing was causing injury to his body or if his body was keeping him from swinging the way he did in 2013, when he won five times. Which is to say nothing of his issues around the greens that surfaced at the Hero World Challenge late in 2014. At 39, Tiger needs four more majors to equal Jack Nicklaus’ total of 18 and three more PGA Tour wins to equal Sam Snead’s record of 82. While the likelihood of catching Jack is slim, Tiger has won three or more times during a season in 13 of his 19 years on Tour, so it seems inevitable that Snead’s record will fall — if not this year, then at some point in what’s left of his career, if he stays healthy. That is a big “if,” because with each swing he seems to do further damage to his body, and with each chip, he seem to do further damage to his mind. For the first time in Tiger’s career, though — whether it’s his age, injuries, swing changes or short game issues that flared up at the end of 2014 — the questions overshadow his obvious abilities.
Major Championship Résumé
Masters - DNP
U.S. Open - DNP
British Open - 69
PGA Championship - Cut
Best Career Finishes:
Masters - 1 (1997, 2001, '02, '05)
U.S. Open - 1 (2000, '02, '08)
British Open - 1 (2000, '05, '06)
PGA Championship - 1 (1999, '00, '06, '07)
Top-10 Finishes: 38
Top-25 Finishes: 54
Missed Cuts: 6
Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.
The Heisman Trophy is the most prestigious award in sports and gambling is a huge part of the game of football.
Put them together and you get preseason odds for the coveted stiff-armed trophy.
Bovada recently released an updated list of Heisman Trophy front-runners for 2015 and, for entertainment purposes only, we’ve offered up our unsolicited gambling advice.
Remember, last year Marcus Mariota was the first wire-to-wire preseason front-runner to win the award in more than a decade.
The Betting Favorites:
1. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State (6/1)
The Buckeyes running back gets the nod because Ohio State is the surest bet to win its conference title and make the playoff. He plays a stat-friendly position in a stat-friendly offense.
2. Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State (7/1)
The best quarterback in the best league is returning to an offense that is perfectly suited for his skills. However, his supporting cast won’t be as good this year and his schedule is downright nasty.
3. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU (15/2)
Possibly the most physically gifted runner in the nation should be the focal point of LSU’s offense. Like Prescott, however, he plays a brutal schedule and will get no support from the passing game.
4. Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU (15/2)
Running the new-look spread offense in Fort Worth reaped huge numbers and a near playoff berth last year. There are holes to plug on the offense but Boykin should post huge numbers and a bunch of wins once again — if he stays healthy.
5. Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia (9/1)
The “Beast Mode” of college football hails from Athens. The rocked-up tailback plays in a runner-friendly offense and proved in one year that he is capable of carrying the load.
The Ohio State Conundrum:
According to the Vegas odds, Ohio State has three quarterbacks ranked in the top 12. Common sense tells us that three signal-callers can’t possibly be smart bets. Cardale Jones (10/1) is sixth, J.T. Barrett (16/1) is 11th, and Braxton Miller (20/1) is 12th. If I was dropping cash on a name? I’d take Barrett at 16/1.
The Best Bets:
Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State (33/1)
The speedster is poised for a huge season in the ACC. Cook will likely be the focal point of the best team in the league against a schedule that is very manageable. At 33-1, the odds are too juicy to pass up.
Seth Russell, QB, Baylor (33/1)
Russell established himself this spring as THE guy in Waco. This is a unit that has proven to be capable of producing Heisman candidates. With a great offensive line, elite-level wideouts and one of the best coaches in the nation, give me Russell please.
Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson (20/1)
The odds aren’t as good on Watson but his talent is too good to ignore. Should he stay healthy, he’s capable of leading Clemson to an unexpected ACC title. His dual-threat numbers and highlight-reel plays could be extremely impressive.
Names to Avoid:
Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama (14/1)
Part of this is a function of the odds. Henry is a beast but he plays in an offense that has shifted slightly since Lane Kiffin took over and for a head coach who likes to use lots of ball carriers.
Jeremy Johnson, QB, Auburn (20/1)
Like Henry, I love Johnson the player and the Auburn offense. But he’s not a runner and won’t post Nick Marshall-like dual-threat stats. He could chuck it around for a bunch of yards but this is still his first season as a starter and 20-1 isn’t enough for my blood.
Paul Perkins, RB, UCLA (14/1)
No Brett Hundley, brutal schedule in the Pac-12 South and questions along the offensive line. Perkins is a nice player but isn’t overly special and the odds are way too short.
Anu Solomon, QB, Arizona (N/A)
As just a freshman, Solomon led his team to a Pac-12 South title and compiled 4,084 yards of total offense. His O-line is rebuilt but he has plenty of talent around him and a great offensive system.
Shock Linwood, RB, Baylor (N/A)
The Baylor offense is going to be nearly unstoppable. The offensive line is great, there is little defense in the Big 12, and Art Briles likes to post big numbers.
DeVontae Booker, RB, Utah (N/A)
Utah's offensive line is in good shape and it showed with Booker’s big numbers last year. He is the focal point of the offense and should once again carry the load for a quality team.
In the last five seasons, 21 of the 30 teams in MLB have appeared in the postseason. While this parity has been good for the game as a whole, the other side of the coin is that teams have had trouble maintaining success on a year-to-year basis. With that in mind, here are five teams that fared pretty well in 2014 that could take a step or two back this season.
Related: 5 MLB Teams on the Rise in 2015
Kansas City Royals
(89-73, 2nd in AL Central and Wild Card team in 2014)
The Royals were one of the feel-good stories of last season, ending their 29-year playoff drought and coming up just one game short of winning the World Series. Kansas City is still relatively young, so shouldn’t this team be considered a strong candidate to potentially repeat as AL champions?
Well, a lot went right for the Royals during both the regular season and their magical postseason run that saw them open the playoffs with eight straight wins. For one, Kansas City posted a run differential of plus-27 during the regular season, which was the second lowest (St. Louis, +16) of any team in the playoffs. Secondly, staff ace James Shields and long-time DH Billy Butler are both gone, with Edinson Volquez and Kendrys Morales expected to fill their spots.
Kansas City’s bullpen was lights out last season and while pretty much everyone is back, it’s too much to expect an encore performance in 2015. Kansas City also is still waiting for former top prospects Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas to live up to their billing, which puts even more pressure on veterans like Morales and new right fielder Alex Rios to produce at the plate.
The Royals have gotten worse, at least on paper, while the White Sox have clearly improved and the Indians and Tigers should remain competitive in the AL Central. It may be too harsh to call Kansas City a one-year wonder, but the Royals will be hard-pressed to follow up their memorable and magical 2014 ride.
(88-74, 2nd in AL West and Wild Card team)
After winning the AL West in 2012 and ’13, the A’s took a slight step back last season but still claimed one of the wild card spots. However, the 2015 A’s look nothing like the team that won 88 games in ‘14 following a flurry of moves orchestrated by general manager Billy Beane.
So much has changed on this roster that of Oakland’s eight All-Stars (including Jeff Samardzija who arrived via trade before the All-Star break and Jon Lester, who was acquired on July 31) only two of them remain. The pitching staff still has Sonny Gray at the front, but a bunch of question marks after that, while the projected starting infield is made up entirely of newcomers. The bullpen is basically intact, although incumbent closer Sean Doolittle is likely to miss the first few weeks of the season due to a shoulder injury.
Despite the success Oakland has enjoyed the past three seasons, the A’s never were able to break through in the playoffs. As a result, Beane decided to maximize the return on his most valuable assets, turning over a large a portion of his roster in the process. Beane’s hope is that the roster churn will result in another stretch of extended success, but don’t be surprised if this team takes its lumps this season.
San Diego Padres
(77-85, 3rd in NL West)
The Padres have made plenty of headlines this offseason, as first-year general manager A.J. Preller wasted no time in making over the roster. A series of moves brought in a new outfield in the form of Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and Wil Myers, along with an All-Star battery in catcher Derek Norris and workhorse starter James Shields.
San Diego has generated a fair amount of buzz leading into Opening Day, but there are still several reasons to be leery of the Padres breaking through and emerging as legitimate challengers to the defending World Series champion Giants and big-spending Dodgers in the NL West. For one, while the offense should certainly be improved compared to last season, it also wouldn’t take much considering San Diego was last in the majors in both batting average and runs scored in 2014.
Plus, each of the Padres’ new big bats has their own warts — Matt Kemp’s inability to stay healthy, Justin Upton’s swing-and-miss tendencies, Wil Myers’ lack of development — and team defense could be a season-long issue. Also, outside of Shields, who has a lot of mileage on his arm, the starting rotation is full of equal amounts of potential and question marks, many of them health-related. Put it all together and it seems like there are a lot of “ifs” when it comes Preller’s new-look Padres.
(79-83, tied for 2nd in NL East)
The Braves went from NL East champions and 96 wins in 2013 to a 79-83 afterthought last season. Unfortunately, things will probably get worse this season, as Atlanta hired former Indians and Rangers general manager John Hart as its new president of baseball operations to oversee the club’s makeover in preparation for christening its new stadium in 2017.
The first thing Hart set out to do was change the Braves’ offensive image, trading Justin Upton, Jason Heyward and Evan Gattis away, leaving Freddie Freeman to anchor a makeshift lineup. The pitching should be solid with several talented starters to call on and Craig Kimbrel closing things out, but scoring runs figures to be even more of an issue for a team that struggled in that department in 2014.
The Nationals are clearly the class of the NL East, but the changes the Marlins made and the Mets’ emerging rotation could end up pushing the Braves farther down the division standings. Atlanta should have enough pitching to finish ahead of Philadelphia, but considering the Braves’ success over the past five seasons that also should tell you plenty as it relates to the not-so-sunny outlook for 2015.
New York Yankees
(84-78, 2nd in AL East)
Derek Jeter is no longer wearing pinstripes, but there will be no lack of “veteran” leadership for the Yankees this season. In fact, only one projected starter is less than 30 years old, 25-year-old Didi Gregorius, Jeter’s replacement at shortstop. One of the older teams in the majors last season, the Yankees actually got even longer in the tooth with the re-signing of second baseman Stephen Drew (32) and the return from suspension of Alex Rodriguez (turns 40 in July).
And while age is just a number for some older players, the unfortunate reality is that several of the Yankees’ elder statesmen simply aren’t aging well. Carlos Beltran (.233-15-49 in 2014), Mark Teixeira (.216-22-62) and Brian McCann (.232-23-75) all struggled last season to produce in accordance with their large contracts. There’s no reason to expect a big turnaround this season and there isn’t a wealth of young, promising prospects waiting in the wings to take over either.
The starting rotation may be a bit younger, but young or old there are plenty of health-related concerns surrounding Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia. The back end of the bullpen should be in fine shape with Dellin Betances and free-agent acquisition Andrew Miller finishing games off, but how many opportunities will they get?
To put it simply, the Yankees are getting older, they’re not very deep and both the Red Sox and the Blue Jays have made significant upgrades. Yankees fans aren’t used to their team not winning the World Series, let alone competing in the AL East, but the 2015 edition has the look of a pretender not a contender.
Xavier coach Chris Mack didn’t spent time thinking of a diplomatic or clever way to respond to the awkward situation of facing his predecessor and former boss in the NCAA tournament.
“Honestly, it stinks,” the Musketeers coach told the Turner crew.
This Tournament has had a funny way of setting up matchups that are just as notable for their backstory as the action on the court.
The semifinal in Los Angeles is no exception as Mack and Xavier take on Sean Miller and Arizona. Miller coached at Xavier from 2004-09, taking the Musketeers to the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight in his final two years.
When Miller was promoted to replace Thad Matta, Miller hired the former Xavier player and assistant Mack. When Miller left for Arizona, Mack took his place. Between Matta and Mack, Miller his facing his predecessor and his successor in back-to-back games.
If it doesn’t stink for Miller, he’s certainly conflicted.
For both of these programs, a Final Four appearance would be monumental. Between Miller and Mack, they’ve been to the Sweet 16 nine times. Miller has been to the Elite Eight three times.
For either of them to continue this run, they’ll have to go through one of their closest allies in coaching.
Other Sweet 16 Previews
No. 6 Xavier vs. No. 2 Arizona
Region: West (Los Angeles)
Time: Thursday, approx. 10:17 p.m., ET
Announcers: Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller and Dan Bonner
Line: Arizona by 11
Matchup to Watch: Xavier’s Matt Stainbrook vs. Arizona’s Kaleb Tarczewski
The 6-foot-10, 270-pound Stainbrook hasn’t encountered too many players who can match up with him. The defensive-minded seven-footer Tarczewski is one of them. Stanbrook leads Xavier at 12.1 points per game, but the Musketeers have four guys averaging 9.9 or more. Stainbrook is an effective passer (2.4 assists per game), and the Musketeers have other scorers up front. Jalen Reynolds scored 21 against Georgia State, and wing Trevone Bluiett is capable of going of for 15 or more.
Tournament Surprise: 3-point shooters off the bench
Gabe York has been giving Arizona a lift of the bench for two years now, so it’s not a huge surprise to see him hit five 3s against Ohio State. For Xavier, Myles Davis is 7-of-13 from 3 in two tournament games. Davis hit eight 3s in the final six games of the regular season.
Xavier will win if...
Dee Davis can keep the offense moving. With a team effort, the Wildcats were able to shut down D’Angelo Russell from the field. Russell finished 3-of-19, but he also had six assists and one turnover. In Dee Davis, Xavier has a pass-first point guard (six assists per game, 2.4 assists per turnover) who can get the ball to the weapons around him.
Arizona will win if...
T.J. McConnell runs the show. Arizona is a great defensive team and has a few future pros, starting with freshman Stanley Johnson. But this is McConnell’s team to run. There’s no reason why McConnell shouldn’t be able to pick apart a team that ranks 216th in effective field goal defense.
Athlon Staff Predictions:
David Fox: Arizona 73-69
Braden Gall: Arizona 68-58
Mitch Light: Arizona 63-56
Jake Rose: Arizona 74-64
Most Improved Player
The Most Improved Player award has always been the NBA’s strangest, since its birth in 1986. It commends the growth of a baller, but also delivers something like a slight to his previous résumé. And, often, it goes to someone based on inexplicably increased attention to their game — not an actual rise in talent. But fans of the game (like fans of everything) love narratives of change, and none has tickled them more than the rise of Chicago Bulls shooting guard Jimmy Butler this season. Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert comes in as a close second, but his explosion began a little too late in the year.
Prediction: Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls
Sixth Man of the Year
No clear-cut candidate has emerged from the Sixth Man pack this season. Consummate microwave scoring man Jamal Crawford (who won these honors last season) has been injured for the Los Angeles Clippers, and 2014’s runner-up, Taj Gibson, has also missed significant time. Andre Iguodala is the league’s most talented player not starting, so you’d think the award is his to lose — but big man Marreese Speights has, actually, been an arguably more important reserve for the Golden State Warriors. Rodney Stuckey has come on as a late-season force for the Indiana Pacers, but his body of work coming off the bench is markedly less consistent in 2014-15 than our likely winner.
Prediction: Lou Williams, Toronto Raptors
Defensive Player of the Year
There are a lot of guys who deserve this award for their work on defense. But few people in the game, or outside it, know how to accurately appraise the less highlight-laden side of the ball, and the winner of this trophy is often decided as a matter of publicity. Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green have both been spectacular for the Warriors, but they’ll steal votes from each other. The same goes for Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard, with the San Antonio Spurs. Gobert has been a monster — but, again, his run started too late. So while the probable victor of this category may not be the most deserving, he does have a pretty momentous campaign already in motion.
Prediction: DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
Rookie of the Year
Jabari Parker was in the lead for this award, until the Milwaukee Bucks’ forward of the future tore his ACL. Since then, Andrew Wiggins has been in the driver’s seat, and has had only a little resistance from a couple of guys in the backseat, reaching for the wheel: Elfrid Payton of the Orlando Magic, and the Bulls’ Nikola Mirotic. Both have come on strong at the end of the season, but neither has shown the sort of flashes of superstar brilliance on the level of Wiggins. His often sensational play has made some Cleveland Cavaliers fans regret their trade for Kevin Love, which just about says it all.
Prediction: Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves
Coach of the Year
You couldn’t fault voters for going in any of two directions with this decision — only for taking any third option. Steve Kerr and his staff have transformed the Warriors from Western Conference playoff fodder into obvious favorites for the championship. Golden State has been historically impressive, outscoring the opposition by more then ten points per game on average. But Kerr’s competition, Mike Budenholzer, has pulled off an even more startling metamorphosis with the Atlanta Hawks. The world saw them as a fringe playoff team, but in 2014-15, they’ve been the only squad consistently on the Warriors’ elite, dominant level.
Prediction: Mike Budenholzer, Atlanta Hawks
Most Valuable Player
There’s a silver lining for Warriors fans if Steph Curry doesn’t win this award, and the rest of his team loses their races, too: extra motivation for a title run. Curry has been the NBA’s best player this season, but voters will favor the Houston Rockets’ bearded dynamo for appearing to do more with less. Dwight Howard has been out for much of the season, and the Rockets’ place high up in a toothy conference without him has been a surprise to many. James Harden has been incredible, but he’s also secretly benefitted from a ton of extra help on the wings, defensively — Josh Smith, Corey Brewer and Trevor Ariza have all made life much easier for him. That’s not the popular story, however.
Prediction: James Harden, Houston Rockets
— John Wilmes
Wisconsin and North Carolina have met only one time in the NCAA Tournament, and if this weekend’s Sweet 16 meeting is anything like their first clash, the fans are for a treat.
In 2005, Bo Ryan’s sixth-seeded Badgers gave the consensus No. 1 and Tar Heels all they could handle in the Elite Eight, losing to the eventual national champions 88-82.
It was Williams’ first national championship, and now that the roles are reversed, Ryan is looking to return the favor in search of his first Division I national title.
Wisconsin enters the Sweet 16 after a record-setting season in Madison. Ryan’s bunch earned the legendary coach his first career Final Four last year and has only built on that success by earning a No. 1 seed for the first time in school history.
All but one player (Ben Brust) returned from last year’s Final Four team. The Badgers have size, feature the potential National Player of the Year, deploy great shooters and play Ryan’s vintage, unselfish brand of basketball. Rarely in the Sweet 16 is North Carolina considered the underdog, but the Tar Heels will have to play their best to knock off the Badgers.
Other Sweet 16 Previews
No. 4 North Carolina vs. No. 1 Wisconsin
Region: West (Los Angeles)
Time: Thursday, 7:47 p.m. ET
Announcers: Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller and Dan Bonner
Line: Wisconsin by 5 1/2
Matchup to Watch: Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky vs. North Carolina's Brice Johnson/Joel James
North Carolina center Kennedy Meeks is doubtful to play, putting even more pressure on the Tar Heels' low post. Meeks is the top post scoring threat and leading shot blocker, so his absence would be felt. The svelte Johnson (6-9, 210) and underwhelming James (2.5 ppg, 1.9 rpg) would be charged with stopping what many consider to be the best player in the nation in Kaminsky. Watching Josh Gasser and Marcus Paige go head-to-head will be fun to watch as well.
Tournament Surprise: Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin
The second Hayes stepped onto the court as a freshman last year, his offensive talent has been obvious. But in postseason play for Wisconsin, he’s taken his game to another level. Hayes has added the 3-point shot to his repertoire after making just 15 shots from three during Big Ten play. In five postseason games, Hayes has made 9-of-20 from behind the arc. He’s topped his regular season scoring average (12.6) in both NCAA Tournament games and dropped a career-high 25 in the Big Ten title win over Michigan State. His inside-outside presence makes this offense virtually impossible to stop.
Wisconsin will win if…
The game isn’t one-dimensional against North Carolina on offense. Frank Kaminsky wasn’t at his best against Oregon and the Ducks nearly pulled off a shocker. However, he was picked up by the play of Hayes and Sam Dekker. Ryan’s multiple attack has dissected defenses all year and could be challenged by a Tar Heels unit that has held both Harvard (38.2 percent) and Arkansas (36.9 percent) to less than 40 percent shooting in the tourney.
North Carolina will win if…
Marcus Paige protects the basketball and makes shots. Wisconsin is known for its defense, but this isn’t one of Ryan’s best defensive teams and Paige is coming off a near perfect showing against Arkansas. He knocked down half of his shots (5-of-10) and posted a sterling 61 assist-to-turnover ratio. The Heels' schizophrenic offense goes as Paige goes.
Athlon Staff Predictions:
David Fox: Wisconsin 74-67
Braden Gall: Wisconsin 78-71
Mitch Light: North Carolina 83-81
Jake Rose: Wisconsin 65-60
Sooner or later, the debate of Kentucky’s greatest team will become a major topic. If this year’s team goes 40-0, the debate might not last long.
There’s also the 1995-96 Untouchables or 2012 national championship team or the first title team in 1948.
One team that might get shortchanged is 2010, a team that featured NBA All-Stars John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, plus pros Eric Bledsoe and Patrick Patterson.
That team was done in by guys named Da’Sean Butler and Joe Mazzulla in the Elite Eight.
The sense of history isn’t lost on Kentucky, especially given the familiarity between John Calipari and Bob Huggins. The two have faced each other 10 times, most of those coming when Calipari was at UMass and Memphis and Huggins was at Cincinnati. Huggins holds an 8-2 edge in the series.
Kentucky already avenged that 2010 loss with a meeting in the 2011 round of 32 when No. 4 seed Kentucky defeated No. 5 seed West Virginia on the way to the Final Four.
But given the stakes and the situation — another Kentucky team aiming for history against this pressing, pesky West Virginia squad — seems to bring up old memories.
Other Sweet 16 Previews
No. 5 West Virginia vs. No. 1 Kentucky
Region: Midwest (Cleveland)
Time: Thursday, Approx. 9:45 p.m., ET
Announcers: Marv Albert, Chris Webber and Len Elmore
Line: Kentucky by 13 1/2
Matchup to Watch: Kentucky vs. West Virginia’s press
Coaches can be stubborn, but not apparently Bob Huggins. The Hall of Famer scrapped his old plans and installed a relentless fullcourt press. The result has been a Sweet 16 team that leads the nation in turnover rate and steal rate by comfortable margins. Kentucky has faced a pressing team in Arkansas twice this season, plus Louisville, and won with little difficulty. No one does the press quite like West Virginia. The question is if it matters.
Tournament Surprise: Kentucky’s 3-point shooting
Kentucky wasn’t a great 3-point shooting team during the season, and the Wildcats don’t necessarily need to be one even at this stage of the Tournament. Still, the Wildcats are 7-of-25 (28 percent) from 3-point range in the last two games after shooting 34.7 percent during the season.
West Virginia will win if...
The Wildcats are completely befuddled by the press and irritated by another physical opponent. But as Calipari said, many teams have tried many ways to beat Kentucky, and none of them have worked yet.
Kentucky will win if...
The Wildcats get into their offense with minimal trouble. West Virginia is a bit of a one-trick pony. The Mountaineers rank 303rd in effective field goal defense (52.7 percent) and they foul a lot. Kentucky ranks 74th in free throw shooting (72.2),
David Fox: Kentucky 68-54
Braden Gall: Kentucky 71-60
Mitch Light: Kentucky 73-51
Jake Rose: Kentucky 72-60
This is probably not something that gets said very often in college sports: Notre Dame wants what Wichita State has.
Notre Dame is a college athletics powerhouse, primarily due to the football program, though the men’s basketball program is no slouch. Wichita State doesn’t even have a football team.
Despite its lower seeding and place in the Missouri Valley Conference, Wichita State has been the better basketball program in the last three years. The Shockers have been to a Final Four, they went 35-1 last season and they picked up one of the signature wins in school history — and recent NCAA Tournament history — by defeating Kansas in the round of 32.
Notre Dame is an NCAA Tournament regular under Mike Brey, but this year’s trip to the Sweet 16 is a true rarity. The Irish haven’t been this close to a Final Four since 2003; they haven’t been to an Elite Eight since 1979.
Moreover, the amount of emotional energy spent by both Notre Dame and Wichita State — for different reasons — will be worth watching.
Only after the 67-64 overtime win over Butler did Notre Dame coach Mike Brey reveal to the public and his team that his mother had passed that Saturday morning.
A day later, Wichita State faced Kansas in a long-awaited matchup between the in-state foes in an arena in driving distance from both campuses.
Other Sweet 16 Previews
No. 7 Wichita State vs. No. 3 Notre Dame
Region: Midwest (Cleveland)
Time: Thursday, 7:15 p.m., ET
Announcers: Marv Albert, Chris Webber and Len Elmore
Line: Wichita State by 1
Matchup to Watch: The contest around the rim
Wichita State is a strong defensive team on the ball and at the rim — despite having a smaller lineup. The Shockers rank ninth nationally in field goal defense at 2-point range at 42.1 percent where Notre Dame, with its attacking guards, is No. 1 in the country from 2-point range (58.3 percent). The 6-foot-10 Zach Auguste, the biggest regular for either team, may be the key player. He had 25 points against Northeastern in the round of 64 and seven points in the round of 32 against Butler.
Tournament Surprise: Wichita State’s free throw shooting
The Shockers were an average free throw shooting team during the season, making 68.8 percent from the line on 20 trips per game entering the NCAA Tournament. Last week, Wichita State was 47-of-58 (81 percent). Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker alone were 18-of-20 against Indiana.
Wichita State will win if...
VanVleet and Baker out-duel Jerian Grant. This is going to be a heavyweight backcourt matchup among veterans who can make huge shots in meaningful games. VanVleet should be able to pick apart the Notre Dame defense while Baker probably won’t have another cold shooting night after an off day against the Hoosiers. Even Evan Wessel emerged from out of nowhere to hit 4-of-6 3-pointers against Kansas. Grant can match this group shot for shot.
Notre Dame will win if...
The Irish make a defensive stand. Notre Dame and Wichita State are both in the top 10 in offensive efficiency. The X-factor would seem to be Notre Dame’s ability to defend. Wichita State doesn’t turn the ball over often, and Notre Dame doesn’t force many. Will that trend change or will Notre Dame need to be sturdy in the halfcourt? Pat Connaughton is coming off a five-block, nine-rebound performance against Butler, including the key block to prevent Butler from a potential game-winning shot.
David Fox: Wichita State 78-75
Braden Gall: Notre Dame 78-69
Mitch Light: Notre Dame 78-70
Jake Rose: Notre Dame 72-70