Articles By Athlon Sports
Jason Kidd is already earning a reputation as the league’s craftiest coach. The ten-time All-Star and former NBA champion now holds the clipboard for the Milwaukee Bucks after a strange, dramatic exit from his job on the Brooklyn Nets’ bench. And even though it’s still only the preseason, he’s already up to no good. At 1:38 of this clip, watch Bucks’ point guard Nate Wolters get an easy layup against the Minnesota Timberwolves, capitalizing on the misdirection created by Kidd’s fake timeout:
Kidd made his mark in this category with last year’s infamous spilled Coke incident. With the Nets trailing the Los Angeles Lakers late in a November game and Kidd having no timeouts to spare, he instructed one of his players, Tyshawn Taylor, to “hit (him)” while he held a cup of soda. The ensuing spill stopped the game, giving the coach enough time to draw up a play. Instant karma stole Kidd’s moment, though — Paul Pierce got a wide-open look at a three that rimmed out, and the Lakers won 99-95.
It’s going to take much more than sleight of hand for Kidd to thrive in Wisconsin, of course. With Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker on board, he’s got perhaps the most talented young duo in the league — but also a buttload of developmental work to do. It’s fitting that Kidd, at a ripe 41, is coaching these baby Bucks, who have nine players age 23 or younger. His coaching will have to mature as these men come of age under him; Kidd needs to be more of a molder of men than a trickster to do this job right.
— John Wilmes
DraftKings has released their Daily Fantasy college football salaries for the week, and the experts at CollegeFootballGeek.com have hunkered down and scoured all of the data to find the best Value Plays on the docket.
These Value Plays are comprised of players poised to out-produce their DraftKings salaries this week. These are the “diamonds in the rough” that your DFS competitors may overlook. They are the difference-makers you need in your lineup to win one of the big DFS contests!
For your convenience, we have broken the picks down by DraftKings contest game set. Best of luck this week!
(For more detailed Daily Fantasy analysis, picks, player news, player rankings, and stat breakdowns, check out CollegeFootballGeek.com. Learn how to SUBSCRIBE FOR FREE!)
VALUE PLAYS: SATURDAY (EARLY ONLY) GAME SET
1) QB Connor Cook, Michigan State vs. Michigan ($5600)
Cook has posted consistent numbers this season and still comes in at a lower price. He looks to be a good bet for a couple of scores and a decent yardage total this week.
2) QB Jaquez Johnson, FAU vs. Marshall ($6000)
Johnson recorded five total touchdowns last week and could put up big numbers versus Marshall. Johnson will have to play his best to keep pace with the Marshall offense. He has a high ceiling this week.
1) RB Nick Hill, Michigan State vs. Michigan ($3400)
Hill has scored three times in the past two games and comes in at a bargain price this week. He could reach value easily and looks to be a solid punt option.
2) RB Wendell Smallwood, West Virginia vs. Oklahoma State ($4400)
Smallwood played well in relief of Rushel Shell last week and could see a big workload if Shell is unable to go this week. His price is solid and he could hit value pretty easily this week.
3) RB Corey Clement, Wisconsin vs. Maryland ($4600)
Clement could see plenty of action this week against Maryland. The Terrapins rush defense is ranked 102nd in the country and could allow huge rushing totals to the Badgers RB’s.
1) WR De’Runnya Wilson, Miss State vs. Kentucky ($4800)
Wilson has developed into the top receiving target of Dak Prescott. He could do some damage this week against Kentucky.
2) WR John Harris, Texas vs. Kansas State ($5000)
Harris has quietly been putting up solid fantasy numbers this season for Texas. He could continue that trend against Kansas State.
3) WR Jordan Payton, UCLA vs. Colorado ($5700)
Payton could have a big day against a Colorado team that allowed seven passing touchdowns to USC last week. He appears to be slightly under priced this week.
4) WR Stefon Diggs, Maryland vs. Wisconsin ($5500)
Diggs has scored in each of his last three games and is finally starting to live up to his fantasy hype. Look for Diggs to see plenty of targets this week against the Badgers.
1) TE Josiah Price, Michigan State vs. Michigan ($2900)
Price has a nose for the end zone and may find it against versus Michigan.
VALUE PLAYS: SATURDAY (LATE ONLY) GAME SET
1) QB Garrett Grayson, Colorado State vs. Wyoming ($6100)
Grayson could post big passing numbers against Wyoming and easily pay off on his price.
1) RB TJ Yeldon, Alabama vs. Tennessee ($5400)
Yeldon had a huge game last week against Texas A&M and looked spectacular in doing so. That game may have been the springboard to a big second half of the season. Look for TJ to reach value this week.
2) RB Shaun Wick, Wyoming vs. Colorado State ($6000)
Wick looks to be a good bet to cross the 100-yard mark this week against Colorado State. His price is nice and he has a high ceiling this week. Ride this Cowboy in Week Nine.
1) WR Ajalen Holley, La Monroe vs. Texas State ($5200)
Holley has scored four touchdowns in the last three games and could find plenty of open space to operate against Texas State. There could be plenty of points in this contest and Holley could have a big hand in all the fun.
2) WR Richy Turner, Nevada vs. Hawaii ($4100)
Turner is on fire over the past two games and comes in at a cheap price this week. Look for him to post another big stat line and more than pay off on his price.
By Todd DeVries & Kevin Mount, CollegeFootballGeek.com
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Michael Jordan’s gotten his fair share of grief as an NBA owner. He hasn’t run his Charlotte squad all that well, and fans and the media have let him hear about it — a series of criticisms dating back to when he was an executive (and player!) with the Washington Wizards. The greatest to ever play the game has been a real stinker at drafting players, using top-ten picks on the likes of Adam Morrison, Raymond Felton, D.J. Augustin and Kwame Brown. And he hasn’t been able to use his clout and legend to pull free agents to North Carolina, either.
It’s been fun for the basketball world to engage in a little schadenfreude, too. Michael’s 2010-11 Bobcats had a winning percentage of .106 — the worst in NBA history — and everyone got to feel a little better about themselves. Nobody’s perfect, and that’s comforting. Jordan’s old golfing buddy Charles Barkley even slathered the ridicule on so thick that it reportedly ruined their friendship. Post-playing perception about MJ has been a downward-trending game.
But Jordan isn’t bad at his job anymore. He’s turned the Bobcats back into the Hornets and made them a respectable basketball team in the process too. Last year’s squad (then still the ‘Cats) finished 43-39, led by the defense-first ethos of coach Steve Clifford and big man Al Jefferson’s hypnotic scoring presence in the paint. They cracked the playoffs for the first time in a long time.
This summer Jordan added Lance Stephenson to the mix, one of the best young guards in the game. His rebranded young team — the makeover featuring a beautiful new honeycomb court — is potent and fun. He’s a good owner now. If you want to make fun of His Airness these days, you’re going to have to turn to his questionable sense of fashion.
— John Wilmes
For Athlon Sports, any offseason is one of our favorite times of the year.
Of course, we enjoy the season and March Madness as much as any college basketball fan, but the bread-and-butter for Athlon since 1967 has been helping readers prepare for the season, helping them get to know the teams and players they need to watch.
This is the time of year we get to share our preseason college basketball annuals. Countless hours of study and work from dozens of individuals went into the 2014-15 edition, and we still have room for debate on the outlook for every team.
Of course, Athlon isn’t the only publication out there. And just like anyone we like to compare how everyone evaluates the season ahead. Here’s how the top 25 and conference champions shook out in the various publications.
We’ll continue to update the grid as more rankings are released through the offseason.
|2014-15 College Basketball Preseason Top 25|
|2014-15 Conference Champion Predictions|
In case you missed Team USA’s excursion to Spain for the FIBA World Cup of basketball this past summer, there’s just one piece of news you really need to know: Paul George’s leg almost fell off.
No, this is not hyperbole. The rising Indiana Pacers superstar — arguably the very best perimeter defender in the game, and certainly a most majestic dunker — landed at an awkward angle while contesting a shot in a pre-tournament scrimmage between USA players in Las Vegas this August. His sudden, gruesome, existentially jarring injury made for one of the most disturbing live television sights of recent memory.
George, most assumed, would miss a season or more while he waited, essentially, for his body to reintegrate one of its limbs. But it’s not yet been three months since that horrific accident, and George is somehow already back shooting jumpers in the gym. Look:
He’s even playing some with his doggy, showing some mobility with that leg:
Fortunately for the rest of the league, there’s no shortage of ballers who can stick a man better than Paul’s pup. But it’s clear that the star is back on the rise a lot quicker than we expected. He's recovering rapidly, eager to keep disrupting the power balance of LeBron James’ Eastern Conference.
While injured, George has fully adopted his occasional nickname “PG-13,” changing his jersey number from 24 to 13 — an idea previously floated by ESPN and Grantland’s Bill Simmons. George explained the decision to Vigilant Sports: “The whole thing behind PG-13 is just coming into my own. I feel like I’m at that stage where I’m ready to embrace everything that comes with being one of the young stars in this league. Everyone knows PG-13 is related to television, so the whole thing is being able to enjoy the show and being fun to watch.”
— John Wilmes
There’s a certain gasp of annoyed disbelief when you go to the movies, and it’s an action film, and just one man is making like Achilles, effortlessly bashing the brains out of the dozens of hulky villains attacking him. It’s fun to watch, but it’s certainly not realistic. Neither is what New York Knicks legend Willis Reed did to the Los Angeles Lakers in an October 1966 game.
ESPN’s latest edition of their “30 for 30” documentary series — “When the Garden was Eden,” about the Knicks boys of yore — features previously lost footage of Reed maniacally plowing through most of the Lakers roster with a sequence of impressively rageful haymakers. It’s the stuff of cinema, and you won’t believe it unless you see it:
As the scene’s narrator Phil Jackson (once Reed’s teammate, now a Knicks executive) tells it, Lakers players Rudy LaRusso and Henry Finkel both sustained broken jaws from Reed’s outburst. The league, apparently, was only able to fine him $50.00 for his breach of the rules. The NBA’s come a long way since then; now, you’d likely go a season without salary for that kind of behavior.
Reed’s most indelible moment, of course, was his heroic performance in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals. Reed made a surprise appearance despite having recently torn a muscle in his right thigh. He delighted Manhattan by limping through the tunnel just moments before the game began, having just received a large dose of cortisone to dull the pain and make one last push toward New York’s first ever pro basketball championship.
He only scored twice, but they were the game’s first two baskets, and his immediate impact electrified the crowd. The Knicks went on to grab an emotional 113-99 victory and the Larry O’Brien trophy. As indelible as that moment is, though, it’ll be hard for anyone to scrub their mind of the image of Reed as a mercilessly punching tornado after watching this clip.
— John Wilmes
There’s more than half a season still to go, and a lot can obviously change, but the NFL MVP race is shaping up to be an interesting one so far. Peyton Manning is clearly vying for his sixth MVP award and second straight. Meanwhile there’s already a groundswell of support for J.J. Watt to become the first defensive player to win the award in 28 seasons.
Chances are that in the end the award chase will settle out as it always does, with an offensive player taking home the hardware – and likely a quarterback for the seventh time in the last eight seasons. But at the moment, not even two months in, it’s a wide open race.
Here’s an early look at some of the contenders.
QB Peyton Manning, Denver
His numbers are ridiculous for everyone, but when you factor in that he’s 38 years old, the neck surgeries, the fact that he’s with his second team, they become other-worldly. He’s thrown for 19 touchdowns already with just three interceptions. That puts him on pace for a second straight 50-touchdown season (last year he threw 55). If he hits that mark, he’ll win this going away.
QB Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay
His yards are down a little, which is the only thing keeping him behind the leaders in this chase, because he’s also thrown 18 touchdowns and just one interception. It’s a different type of offense than Manning runs, but some scouts say he’s playing his position as well as anyone in the game right now.
QB Philip Rivers, San Diego
His numbers are right up there with Manning and Rodgers, including the 17 touchdowns and three interceptions. Most importantly, he’s the clear driving force behind the revival of a Chargers team that could give the Broncos a run for their money in the AFC West. He’s on pace for a lot of career-best numbers. But his fate might be tied to that of his team, and whether they can upend the Broncos as division champs.
QB Andrew Luck, Indianapolis
His interceptions are a little high for this race (seven) but he also throws the ball more than anyone and arguably has the least to work with around him. If the Colts go on a run, he could become the favorite since he’s clearly the most talented player on that roster. A slow start (0-2) didn’t help, but he’s in a weak division and will have a lot of opportunities to pile up points and yards.
RB DeMarco Murray
Why are the Cowboys suddenly good? Because they’ve rediscovered their rushing attack. Much of that is because of their strong offensive line, but don’t ignore the impact of Murray. It will help his cause if he makes a run at the NFL’s rushing record. There’s a long way to go, but he’s currently on pace after becoming the first back in NFL history to open a season with seven straight 100-yard rushing games.
DE J.J. Watt, Houston
He became a fan favorite with what was viewed as a dominant prime-time performance against the Indianapolis Colts a few weeks ago. And he was terrific. But here’s what hurt his candidacy: The Texans lost anyway, and Luck was clearly the best player on the field that night. With three touchdowns and a lot of attention, Watt may be the runaway leader for Defensive Player of the Year. But he'll need better numbers to really hang in the MVP chase. Right now, he has just five sacks – good for 12th in the NFL.
by Ralph Vacchiano
We’re used to watching Vines of Kevin Durant for doing something devastating on the basketball court; flying around like a terrible dream, dropping jumpers like mortar bombs in his steely “Slim Reaper” way. The latest Durant clip circulating, though, is quite different:
There’s something undeniably comic about seeing one of the world’s most majestic movers get around like I do on my wheely desk chair, across the apartment for more peanut butter toast. But Durant’s earned himself a little bit of leisure — he’s missed just 32 games over his five-season career, or less than five per season. And he’s carried the Oklahoma City Thunder for long stretches of each of those years.
"I'm not going to rush it all. That's the one thing I don't want to do," Durant recently said to reporters. "I'm sure I'll feel better in two or three weeks, but definitely don't want to rush it and wind up hurting it even more. I'm taking my time with it. I'm just blessed it happened early in the season where I can get past it, and hopefully by December I'll be ready to play.”
A lot is on the line for the Thunder this season. Any time a market as small as OKC has a player of Durant’s stature on contract for just two more seasons, every moment is precious — the window to convince the four-time scoring champion to stay is shrinking. And next season (the last on KD’s current deal) may see the squad weakened by the loss of impending free agent Reggie Jackson, an integral piece of the Thunder’s 2014 playoff run, who shoots his price further out of the Thunder's wallet every time he plays well.
A fully regenerated Durant is the only way OKC can compete for a title, though. Regardless of how quickly the clock’s ticking on the Thunder’s championship dreams, the best course for everyone involved is to let the man rest his invaluable bones good and long. Because when he returns, they'll need to be strong enough to hold a franchise’s hopes again.
— John Wilmes
New York, NY (SportsNetwork.com) - Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Da'Quan Bowers has been suspended two games for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances, the league announced Tuesday.
Bowers will be forced to miss upcoming games with Minnesota and Cleveland before being eligible to return for Tampa Bay's home tilt against Atlanta on Nov. 9.
The 2011 second-round pick started a pair of games earlier this season and has recorded six tackles and one sack over five overall contests in 2014.
St. Louis, MO (SportsNetwork.com) - The St. Louis Rams have released wide receiver Austin Pettis.
Head coach Jeff Fisher confirmed the news on Monday, adding: "We appreciate Austin Pettis' contribution to us."
Multiple reports, including one from FoxSports.com, indicate one of the reasons for the move was his lateness for a team meeting on Saturday. Pettis was inactive for the Rams' 28-26 win over Seattle on Sunday. In addition, the Post-Dispatch revealed that a glut of players at the position could have been a contributing factor.
The fourth-year pro out of Boise State totaled 12 receptions for 118 yards and one touchdown in five games. Since arriving in the Gateway City in 2011, Pettis has compiled 107 catches for 1,034 yards and nine scores.
Irving, TX (SportsNetwork.com) - The Dallas Cowboys waived defensive end Michael Sam from the practice squad on Tuesday to make room for a linebacker who recently worked out for the team.
Sam, the first openly gay player in the NFL, was signed on Sept. 3 after being waived by the St. Louis Rams, who drafted him in the seventh round.
The former SEC Defensive Player of the Year at Missouri spent the first seven weeks of the season on the Cowboys' 10-man practice squad without making the 53-man roster.
"I want to thank the (family of team owner Jerry Jones) and the entire Cowboys organization for this opportunity, as well as my friends, family, teammates, and fans for their support," Sam wrote on Twitter.
"While this is disappointing, I will take the lessons I learned here in Dallas and continue to fight for an opportunity to prove that I can play every Sunday."
The move opened a spot for Troy Davis, who appeared in four games for the New York Jets as a rookie last season and who worked out for the Cowboys on Monday.
Before he was waived by St. Louis, Sam had 11 tackles and three sacks in four preseason games, including a team-high six stops in the finale against Miami.
Sam publicly declared his homosexuality prior to February's scouting combine.
Orchard Park, NY (SportsNetwork.com) - The Buffalo Bills placed running back C.J. Spiller on injured reserve/designated for return Tuesday.
In a corresponding move, the team signed running back Phillip Tanner.
Spiller underwent surgery Monday to repair a broken clavicle.
He got hurt in the second quarter of Sunday's 17-16 win over Minnesota. Spiller came down hard on his left shoulder at the end of a 53-yard run, his lone carry of the game.
Fellow running back Fred Jackson could miss up to four weeks with a groin injury.
Tanner spent the past three seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, compiling just 56 carries for 149 yards and two touchdowns.
A tanking epidemic has been the bogeyman of the NBA’s draft lottery system for the last year or so. The Philadelphia 76ers’ committment to losing worse than any team has ever lost before — a bottoming-out led by general manager Sam Hinkie, who has the backing of Sixers ownership — has turned heads, and upset many of the minds around the game. But it’s not representative of anything new, or particularly infectious to the league’s competitive spirit.
As a team-building strategy, tanking doesn’t generally work. Not even with the draft structure favoring the teams with the worst records every June. Hinkie is a gambler of sorts; There’s no telling whether his strategy will work or not. Most GMs find it safer and wiser to develop talent continuously, waiting for the luck of a big trade opportunity or having a diamond in the rough on hand. This campaign of intentional losing is not the plague it seems to be — Philly’s an outlier.
But that’s not stopping the league from voting on a system that will change the odds configuation which determines the draft order. The new draft — believed to be an almost sure thing to pass — will level out the probabilities of draft luck a bit. From Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports:
“Gone will be a weighted system where the worst team has 25 percent of the pingpong balls for the No. 1 overall pick and a guarantee it'll drop no lower than fourth in the draft order. Now, the worst four teams have a 12 percent chance at the first pick, No. 5 has an 11.5 percent chance, No. 6, 10 percent, and on down. What's more, the worst team can drop as far as seventh in the draft order, the second worst can drop to No. 8, and so on.
“Now, the bottom three teams have 64 percent, 56 percent and 47 percent chances of getting top-three picks, and that'll change to 35 percent, virtually the same as the fourth- (35 percent) and fifth-worst (34 percent) teams.”
Thus far, only Hinkie and Oklahoma City Thunder GM Sam Presti seem to be fighting, at the very least, for a plan that implements the new draft rules slowly — not all at once. Presti’s concern is that too much is made of the 76ers’ situation, and that large markets will benefit disproportionately from the new arrangement. The draft is the last refuge for a city as small as OKC, and when the micro-market hits its inevitable post-Kevin Durant nadir, they’ll need a sure path back to superstar acquisition. Geography’s never going to be in their favor.
— John Wilmes
NC State can’t replace T.J. Warren — the ACC Player of the Year and the school’s first NBA Lottery pick since 1996 — with just one player. So the Wolfpack, coming off of a third straight NCAA Tournament appearance, won’t try to. Instead, fourth-year coach Mark Gottfried will attempt to build another NCAA team from of a mix of solid veterans and exciting newcomers.
“I like our team,” Gottfried says. “I like the talent level that we have.”
The Wolfpack, who went 22–14 last season, will have more balance, Gottfried says. Warren (at 24.9 ppg) accounted for 34 percent of State’s scoring last season. Gottfried expects this team to be more like his first two in Raleigh, with four or five players sharing the scoring load.
Senior Ralston Turner, the team’s top returning scorer, understands the challenge in replacing Warren. “We’re going to have to do it as a group,” Turner says. “As a team, collectively we can get that done.”
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The Wolfpack had to break in several new parts in the frontcourt last season and did so with varying degrees of success. Gottfried believes a trio of sophomore forwards — Kyle Washington, BeeJay Anya and Lennard Freeman — will show improvement and more consistency with a year of experience. Washington, in particular, flashed a scoring touch (he had a season-best 14 points against a formidable Syracuse frontcourt on the road), and he could flourish with more touches.
Anya is already ahead of the curve from last season when he started the season at 348 pounds. He was down to 300 pounds over the summer, and his improved mobility and stamina should make a noticeable difference.
Freeman developed ahead of schedule and was one of the big surprises on the roster. He played 30 minutes or more in all three of the Pack’s postseason games.
Newcomer Abdul-Malik Abu, a 6-8, 230-pound freshman, is the most talented of the big men. His defensive ability will be a major plus; it will just be a question of how quickly he can make the adjustment to the college game.
“Malik has a chance to be a great player,” Gottfried says. “He’s like all young players, physically very gifted, unbelievably coachable … (but) he looks a little bit lost at times.”
NC State Wolfpack Facts & Figures
Last season: 22-14, 9-9 ACC
Postseason: NCAA round of 64
Consecutive NCAAs: 3
Coach: Mark Gottfried (70-38 at NC State, 29-23 ACC)
ACC Projection: Eighth
Postseason Projection: NCAA Round of 64
After sharing the point guard job with Tyler Lewis last season, Cat Barber will have all the minutes and responsibilities to himself with Lewis’ transfer to Butler.
At his best, Barber (who averaged 8.5 points per game) was a complementary scorer to Warren last season. At his worst, his decision-making was a huge detriment in ACC play. He finished the season strong, though, and is expected to take another step with a bigger role this season.
Turner gives the Wolfpack a reliable scoring option on the wing. The LSU transfer led the team with 77 3-pointers and averaged 12.1 points over the last 18 games. He scored 17 points in State’s NCAA win over Xavier.
Gottfried is counting on junior Trevor Lacey, who sat out last season after transferring from Alabama, to have an impact similar to Turner’s. Lacey, who averaged 11.3 points in his final season at Alabama, can support Barber in running the offense but can also help Turner from behind the 3-point line.
“Trevor is an off guard who has a point guard mentality,” Gottfried says. “He’s a big, strong guard that can get into the paint and make contact and doesn’t get knocked off balance.”
Freshmen twins Cody and Caleb Martin begin the season behind Turner and Lacey for playing time but both could carve out roles, as could senior Desmond Lee.
Gottfried didn’t get enough credit for cajoling an NCAA Tournament win out of last year’s group. Juggling personalities and creating a hierarchy were Gottfried’s two biggest problems in a disappointing 2012-13 season. He adroitly managed both tasks last season in his best work at NC State.
There are parts in place for another NCAA run this season, especially if Lacey can be as good as expected. It will require more consistency from Barber and Washington, but the ingredients are there for the program to continue its forward momentum under Gottfried.
Junior Trevor Lacey, a transfer from Alabama, will be counted on to step into the lineup and help fill the scoring void left by T.J. Warren. All three freshmen signees finished the year ranked in ESPN’s top 100. Forward Abdul-Malik Abu has the highest ceiling and is expected to help immediately, especially with his post defense. Twins Caleb and Cody Martin will have to work to find playing time, but the coaching staff believes in their long-term potential.
Two straight trips to the NIT have certainly dampened some of the momentum Florida State had built by rattling off four straight NCAA Tournament appearances from 2009-12. However, expectations surrounding Leonard Hamilton’s club remain high, and for good reason.
Seven players with significant ACC minutes on their resumes are back, and six of them are either juniors or seniors. That group includes athletic guard Aaron Thomas, who emerged as the Seminoles’ best player in the later half of 2013-14. Add in highly touted recruit Xavier Rathan-Mayes and 7-footer Kiel Turpin, who each missed all of last season, and Hamilton’s roster suddenly boasts experience and depth.
“Last year we were closer than it looked,” Hamilton says. “We lost to Florida by one point and to Michigan in overtime, but we didn’t have a complete team. There’s not as much drop-off in the rotation now. We have the talent. I think we can get back to where we were.”
That’s not to say FSU doesn’t have some substantial voids to fill. Losing veterans Ian Miller and Okaro White takes away a pair of double-digit scorers. White was also the best rebounder for a team that struggled mightily on the glass.
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Thanks to the NCAA granting the 7-0 Turpin a sixth year of eligibility (he missed all of last season with a leg injury), FSU will once again boast three 7-footers — Boris Bojanovsky stands 7-3 and Michael Ojo is 7-1.
While that trio will undoubtedly make for some intimidating shot-blockers, whether they can be inside scoring threats remains the major concern. None has averaged more than six points per game, but Bojanovsky and Ojo both arrived as particularly raw recruits and appear ready to contribute more after two years in Hamilton’s system.
“Getting Turpin back is huge,” Hamilton says. “I don’t know many more big men who are as skilled as Boris either. He is a smart player, and the key is that he has gained weight and gotten much stronger.”
Hamilton also has faith that sophomore power forward Jarquez Smith will make big strides. The 6-9 Smith will compete for White’s vacant starting spot after raising his weight to 230 pounds in the offseason.
“I’m extremely confident in Smith,” Hamilton says. “He played behind two seniors last year. He’s also extremely skilled.”
Junior college transfer Kedar Edwards, a small forward, will also battle for playing time.
Florida State Seminoles Facts & Figures
Last season: 22-14, 9-9 ACC
Last NCAA Tournament: 2012
Coach: Leonard Hamilton (241-157 at Florida State, 98-98 ACC)
ACC Projection: Sixth
Postseason Projection: NCAA Round of 64
After a breakout year, Thomas gives FSU a two-way player to build its team around. The 6-5 wing averaged 18 points in four NIT games and had 57 steals on the season — and Hamilton believes he be more productive at both ends of the court.
“Aaron loves to play defense. He enjoys the best part of the game,” Hamilton says. “I expect him to have an All-ACC type of year. He has All-American type of potential.”
Fellow junior Devon Bookert gives FSU a veteran point guard to lean on. A dependable ball-handler and a remarkably accurate 3-point shooter — he shot 43.1 percent from 3 last year — Bookert enters his second year as a full-time starter.
The versatile 6-7 Montay Brandon, who can play point or on the wing, started all 36 games last season. Rathan-Mayes, a prototypical shooting guard who played alongside No. 1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins in high school, should bolster the offense instantly after sitting out 2013-14 due to academic issues.
Junior college transfer Dayshawn Watkins and freshman Robbie Berwick will add depth at point guard.
Losing Miller and White won’t hurt as much as it might appear on paper. Thomas has all the makings of a go-to scorer and will be one of the best players in the ACC. More important, the Seminoles are now much deeper (Hamilton’s rotation could include as many as 10 players), making it possible to withstand the injuries and losses it couldn’t last year.
Provided the big men progress as well as expected, Florida State should be back in the NCAA Tournament. Rebounding is the biggest key — the Seminoles were particularly bad on the defensive glass, grabbing only 64.2 percent of their opponents’ missed shots. In order to make any kind of postseason run, that will have to change dramatically.
Phil Cofer may be the biggest find of the bunch. The powerful big man’s father (Michael) played in the NFL for 10 seasons. Kedar Edwards and Dayshawn Watkins were both brought in from junior colleges to add some immediate depth. Norbertas Giga, who is from Lithuania, continues Leonard Hamilton’s tradition of going overseas to find recruits.
After compiling a 38–16 record in its last three seasons in the Big East, Notre Dame had a rocky initial foray into the ACC. A conference-opening victory over Duke quickly spiraled into a 6–12 league record, due in large part to an inconsistent defensive effort, the inability to control the backboards without the graduated Jack Cooley and the loss of Jerian Grant to “an academic issue” in December.
Head coach Mike Brey, who likes to rely on older players to carry the load, was forced to play young, which should benefit the Irish in 2014-15.
“The young guys played too much for how this program is built,” says Brey, who begins his 15th season with the Irish. “We racked our brains with changing personnel to changing style of play. We simplified our offense, and that made us more efficient the second half of the ACC season. We bled while they were playing, but it will help them be better prepared this season.”
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The Irish will miss Garrick Sherman’s 13.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, but the bulk of the talent returns up front. Pat Connaughton, a 6-5 leaper, was a fourth-round pick of the Baltimore Orioles in the June amateur baseball draft, but he will return to Notre Dame for his final season of basketball. Connaughton averaged 13.8 points and 7.1 rebounds per game last season, and Brey calls him the team’s “only real, true captain.”
Notre Dame needs 6-10 junior Zach Auguste to emerge as a consistent presence. And 6-9 junior Austin Burgett must become the “stretch-4” player who has thrived in Brey’s free-flowing offensive system in the past. Burgett was just beginning to emerge last season when heart issues, which were corrected by a surgical procedure, derailed his progress.
Auguste and Burgett will be aided by sophomore V.J. Beachem, a willowy swingman who showed flashes of shooting prowess as a freshman. Bruising 6-9 freshman Martin Geben, originally from Lithuania, will push Auguste. Geben draws favorable comparisons to Cooley, a former first-team All-Big East selection. Bonzie Colson, also a freshman, is a physical 6-5 forward with shooting range and a 7-footer’s wingspan.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish Facts & Figures
Last season: 15-17, 6-12 ACC
Last NCAA Tournament: 2013
Coach: Mike Brey (300-159 at Notre Dame, 141-88 Big East/ACC)
ACC Projection: Ninth
Postseason Projection: NCAA Round of 64
The loss of the stabilizing presence of point guard Eric Atkins is significant, but athleticism abounds with the return of Grant and additional playing time for sophomore point Demetrius Jackson, a former McDonald’s All-American.
The 6-5 Grant was playing outstanding basketball through 12 games last season, leading the Irish in scoring (19.0 ppg) and assists (6.2 apg) while shooting over 50 percent from the field and over 40 percent from three.
“(Grant’s) stats when he left us were the best of his career, and he was a focused defender for the first time,” Brey says. “I fully expect him to pick up there and have an added chip on his shoulder to show people he’s back.”
Jackson started 15 games but never found the consistency he’ll need to show as a full-time player. Brey would like to see Jackson take on a more assertive approach. Sophomore Steve Vasturia could get the starting nod over Jackson following his strong rookie season.
“In the midst of a year that was disappointing as a team, (Vasturia) had a great year,” Brey says. “He’s reliable. He may be our best perimeter defender.”
Expectations for the Irish in Year 2 of the ACC will be low, which is a starting point from which Notre Dame thrived at times in the Big East.
Brey believes he has two of the top 15 players in the league in Grant and Connaughton, but they’ll need unproven, inconsistent players from 2013-14 such as Auguste, Burgett, Beachem and Jackson to patch the holes from a year ago, plus contributions from freshmen Geben and Colson.
If that happens, Notre Dame could push for an upper division finish. At the very least, a .500 mark in conference play is a reasonable goal.
“It’s very similar to when I got the job (at Notre Dame) in 2000,” Brey says. “At the time, Notre Dame was 30 games under .500 in the Big East, and the question was, ‘Can you develop an identity in the Big East?’ That’s where we are now. We’re fighting and scratching to create an identity in this league, and it ain’t going to be easy.”
Martin Geben, a 6-9, 230-pounder from Hagerstown, Md., via Lithuania, is expected to push for heavy minutes as a true freshman. “He will be needed and he will be ready,” Brey says. “He’s a great position defender and rebounder.” Bonzie Colson is a small forward who also had offers form UConn and Pittsburgh.
Last spring, Brad Brownell surely felt some vindication. Entering the 2013-14 season, little to nothing was expected of Clemson. A Tiger team with no seniors on its roster coming off a miserable 13–18 season was picked to finish 14th in the ACC, and Brownell landed on several national “hot seat” lists.
Brownell responded with perhaps his best coaching job yet: The Tigers won 23 games, narrowly missed the NCAA Tournament and made the NIT Final Four. Clemson officials rewarded him with a new six-year contract that averages $1.55 million per year.
Now comes the hard part: repeating and building on that success without his best player. Athletic forward K.J. McDaniels declared for the NBA Draft after a first-team All-ACC season in which he led the Tigers in scoring, rebounds, blocked shots and steals. McDaniels is the only major loss from a 23–13 team, but in an ever-improving ACC that welcomes national power Louisville, breaking through to the NCAA Tournament won’t be easy.
“We’re in a monster league. We have got IBM and Coca-Cola and all those people in our league and they are not going away,” Brownell says. “They reload with McDonald’s All Americans every year, and we have got to continue to take the guys that we recruit and build them up and get them to play hard and get stronger.”
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Even with McDaniels and 6-10 forward Ibrahim Djambo (transfer) gone, Clemson’s frontcourt is far from bare. Junior center Landry Nnoko was one of the ACC’s most improved players last season, averaging 6.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game. Sophomore forward Jaron Blossomgame showed flashes while continuing to recover from a compound leg fracture that forced him to miss the 2013-14 season, averaging nearly five points and five rebounds per game while showing athleticism and versatility.
Djambo’s transfer clears room for 6’8” freshman forward Donte Grantham — a versatile top-100 recruit — to see significant time this winter. Junior Josh Smith and sophomore Sidy Djitte are big bodies who’ll have reserve roles.
Clemson Tigers Facts & Figures
Last season: 23-10, 10-8 ACC
Last NCAA Tournament: 2011
Coach: Brad Brownell (74-58 at Clemson, 32-36 ACC)
ACC Projection: 11th
Postseason Projection: NIT
Last winter, Clemson won games with defense; the Tigers held opponents to 58.4 points per game. Such stinginess was crucial, because even with McDaniels’ presence, Brownell’s bunch struggled to score. Clemson ranked 13th in the league in scoring (63.5 ppg), 13th in field goal shooting (.424) and 14th in 3-point shooting (.310).
“We have to improve our shooting,” Brownell says. “At the end of the day, we can’t continue to be one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the ACC and expect to finish in the top six or seven in the league.”
That said, the Tigers return plenty of experience in the backcourt while also adding firepower from several sources. Senior point guard Rod Hall has proven himself as a capable, gritty leader trusted with running the team in key situations. He averaged 9.7 points and 4.0 assists per game as a junior. Senior swingman Damarcus Harrison originally planned on leaving for a Mormon mission before last season, but Clemson is glad he stuck around. He emerged during the ACC season as a talented shooter, averaging 7.8 points while sinking 35 percent of his 3-pointers. Junior guard Jordan Roper was up-and-down but is also capable of burning teams from 3-point range.
Sophomore Austin Ajukwa averaged just 2.3 points per game as a freshman but showed flashes of becoming an athletic shooter during the Tigers’ postseason push. Coaches are very excited about redshirt freshman guard Patrick Rooks, a talented shooter who was forced to miss last season following a hip injury. And expect a significant contribution from freshman Gabe DeVoe, a Parade All-American who averaged 34.0 points and 10.4 rebounds per game as a Shelby (N.C.) senior.
Basketball will never be the marquee sport at football-crazy Clemson. This is one of the toughest jobs in the ACC, and the additions of Louisville, Notre Dame, Pitt and Syracuse have only made it harder. Brownell took a team full of Oliver Purnell recruits to the NCAA Tournament in his first season, but last season’s NIT run, keyed by McDaniels and gritty defense, won back some supporters who had strayed from the program.
The Tigers likely won’t sink all the way to the bottom of the ACC, but minus the electric McDaniels, Brownell will have to wring even more out of his players to get back to remain in the hunt for an NCAA bid.
Clemson has only two eligible newcomers, but both should contribute. Freshman forward Donte Grantham is a top-100 recruit who chose Clemson over a number of high-major schools and will play major minutes with versatility. Guard Gabe DeVoe, a big-time scorer from North Carolina, adds much-needed shooting to the backcourt.
At the same time, the conference rarely has been so unpredictable.
The arrival of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame was one of the top storylines in the conference last season, especially as Syracuse started the season with 25 consecutive wins, 12 in the league.
The Orange, though, couldn’t claim the ultimate prizes. Instead, Virginia became the leader of the league in every sense of the word. The Cavaliers won an outright regular season title, claimed the ACC tournament title and advanced the furthest of any league team in the NCAA Tournament when they reached the Sweet 16.
Virginia’s emergence last season was just more evidence that Duke and North Carolina don’t have quite the stranglehold on the ACC they once did. Duke hasn’t won the ACC tourney since 2011. North Carolina hasn’t won it since 2008.
Could the pendulum swing back to Tobacco Road in 2014-15? Athlon has projected Duke and Carolina to finish Nos. 1-2 in the ACC thanks to the arrival of potential All-America center Jahlil Okafor in Durham and an experienced roster in Chapel Hill.
But the battle for in a 15-team ACC is a gauntlet. Maryland is out and Louisville is in for 2014-15 with the Cardinals joining Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame from the Big East.
If Duke and North Carolina are going to reassert their dominance in the league this season, rarely has the path been so difficult.
Previews of every ACC team and more are available in the 2014-15 Athlon Sports College Basketball Preview.
ACC 2014-15 Preseason Picks
1. Duke (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA Final Four
The nation’s top recruiting class brings four freshmen who can make big impacts right away. Add in a solid mix of veterans and the Blue Devils are the clear favorite.
2. North Carolina (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA Elite Eight
Rising star Marcus Paige and a strong nucleus will combine with another talented freshman class to give Roy Williams a deep rotation.
3. Louisville (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA Sweet 16
Montrezl Harrell is a proven big man and Rick Pitino reloads with yet another strong recruiting crop.
4. Virginia (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA Sweet 16
The bulk of the rotation from a 30-win team is back, including leading scorer Malcolm Brogdon.
5. Syracuse (team preview)
NCAA projection: NCAA round of 32
No team in the conference may have lost more talent, but the Orange will still be a factor.
6. Pittsburgh (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA round of 64
Jamie Dixon must replace his leading scorer and rebounder, but don’t expect Pitt slide much.
7. Florida State (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA round of 64
Two double-digit scorers must be replaced, but Leonard Hamilton will have more depth and experience, and plenty of size to work with.
8. NC State (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA round of 64
The Wolfpack will be young, but transfer Trevor Lacey (Alabama) will help make up for the loss of T.J. Warren.
9. Notre Dame (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA round of 64
The return of Jerian Grant gives the Irish one of the ACC’s top guards, but there are still glaring holes in the frontcourt.
Postseason projection: NIT
Transfer Angel Rodriguez (Kansas State) will be a nice addition, but the lack of a supporting cast may leave the Canes in rebuilding mode.
11. Clemson (team preview)
Postseason projection: NIT
Tigers were one or two wins away from NCAA Tournament in 2013-14, but losing K.J. McDaniels to the NBA will make everything tougher.
12. Wake Forest
After taking Tulsa to the NCAA Tournament, Danny Manning takes on the hefty task of rebuilding the Deacs.
13. Georgia Tech
This is likely make-or-break season for coach Brian Gregory, who has yet to have a winning ACC season in his three years in Atlanta.
14. Virginia Tech
The Hokies may have pulled off the best hire of the offseason by convincing Buzz Williams to leave Marquette.
15. Boston College
New coach Jim Christian takes over a program that won just eight games last season.
2014 ACC Superlatives
Player of the Year: Marcus Paige, North Carolina
Early in the season, North Carolina would go as Marcus Paige did. By the end of the season, Paige went form a streaky player to one of the most consistent in the league. With a stabilized cast around him, Paige could have an All-America kind of season.
Best Defensive Player: Aaron Thomas, Florida State
Florida State generally has solid defensive teams under Leonard Hamilton, and the guard Thomas will spearhead that effort again. Thomas finished last season with 14.5 points per game and 57 total steals.
Most Underrated Player: Trevor Lacey, NC State
NC State has lost its share of transfers in recent years. The Wolfpack gets one back in Lacey from Alabama. He’ll make up half of a solid scoring tandem with point guard Cat Barber.
Newcomer of the Year: Jahlil Okafor, Duke
Okafor’s reputation as a rare talent precedes him at Duke. The Blue Devils haven’t had a dominant big man for several seasons, and now they’ll have one of the top post prospects to come along in years. He'll be a Player of the Year contender and possible No. 1 overall draft pick.
Top Coach: Mike Krzyzewski, Duke (full ACC coach rankings)
G Marcus Paige, North Carolina
G Olivier Hanlan, Boston College
G Jerian Grant, Notre Dame
F Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
C Jahlil Okafor, Duke
G Angel Rodriguez, Miami
G Aaron Thomas, Florida State
G Trevor Lacey, NC State
G Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia
G/F Justin Jackson, North Carolina
G Quinn Cook, Duke
G Tyus Jones, Duke
G Terry Rozier, Louisville
G Chris Jones, Louisville
G/F Pat Connaughton, Notre Dame
It took Pittsburgh little time to make a resounding impression in its ACC debut. The Panthers opened with a 16–1 record, including 4–0 in the league, and raised eyebrows from Tobacco Road to Tallahassee.
Then, they dropped six of their next 10 and eventually lost in the Round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament to top-seeded Florida. This is not to suggest that the season was a failure. Far from it. Pittsburgh went 26–10, placed fifth in the ACC and won two games in the conference tournament.
The goal moving forward, though, is to replicate last season’s brisk beginning, then to maintain the standard. The good news is that three starters and six of the top eight scorers return from a team for which young players emerged during a late-season 5–1 stretch. Pittsburgh will feature only two scholarship seniors this season.
“We started to grow up, to figure it out,” junior guard James Robinson says.
There will be challenges with the departures of leading scorer Lamar Patterson and leading rebounder Talib Zanna, but it is nothing veteran coach Jamie Dixon hasn’t seen before. Dixon is masterful at making the sum better than the parts, which explains why he’s been to 10 NCAA tournaments in 11 years.
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Pittsburgh’s big men have promise and potential. The question is: Can they maximize it? Sophomore Mike Young, who moves from power forward to center, is the key. He displayed a refined interior skill set last season but wasn’t at full capacity due to a stress fracture in his lower back. An offseason weight-loss regimen and a mini growth spurt to 6-9-plus must pay dividends to soften the loss of Zanna. He’ll get help from senior Derrick Randall and junior Joseph Uchebo, but Young, a tireless defender, needs to emerge.
One of Pittsburgh’s more intriguing players is sophomore power forward Jamel Artis. His inside-outside talents emerged in the later stages of the season, with 11 points and seven rebounds vs. Virginia and 13 and seven against North Carolina. A potential matchup problem with an ability to step away from the basket, Artis could flourish as the season progresses.
At small forward, sophomore Sheldon Jeter is an enticing mystery. Jeter, who began his career at Vanderbilt, is a highly regarded talent who offers the versatility to play multiple positions.
Pittsburgh Panthers Facts & Figures
Last season: 26-10, 11-7 ACC
Postseason: NCAA round of 32
Consecutive NCAAs: 2
Coach: Jamie Dixon (288-96 at Pittsburgh, 126-64 Big East/ACC)
ACC Projection: Seventh
Postseason Projection: NCAA Round of 64
Robinson is the consummate delivery man. He ranked sixth nationally in assist-turnover ratio and possesses unquestioned command in setting the tempo. But here’s the rub: Pittsburgh needs more from the Bob Cousy Award finalist. He averaged just 7.6 points and rarely created his own shot. He must be a difference-maker in all facets if Pittsburgh is to evolve into an ACC contender.
Shooting guard Cameron Wright is raw at times but provides explosiveness and aggressiveness. He hit double figures 20 times and can stuff the stat sheet with his rebounding and passing. If Wright continues to ascend, the backcourt could be formidable.
A potential X-factor is change-of-pace speedster Josh Newkirk, a sophomore who was strong late in the season. He will give Dixon the option of using three-guard sets with his versatility. The purest scorer among the group is 6-6 junior Durand Johnson, a sharpshooter with unlimited range. He was averaging 8.8 points off the bench before a season-ending ACL/meniscus injury Jan. 11.
Despite Dixon’s success — he has a .750 winning percentage — he hasn’t been to the Sweet 16 in five years and missed the tourney altogether in ‘12. Because of this, the veteran coach finds himself in the midst of a conflicted fan base. Some are ecstatic that he’s put Pittsburgh basketball on the map over the past decade, while others believe he needs to raise the bar higher.
Dixon accepts all points of view. “We understand what the fans want. We expect the same for ourselves,” says Dixon, who’s been to three Sweet 16s and one Elite Eight. “It’s what we keep working for, reaching for.”
With the lack of a dominant star and uncertainty in the frontcourt, Dixon’s team will need time to jell. As always, he’ll coax maximum effort and results from his youthful group.
Will it be enough to land the Panthers back in the Sweet 16? The Elite Eight? Perhaps not, but another trip to the NCAA Tournament is more than realistic.
Of Pittsburgh’s four newcomers, Vanderbilt transfer Sheldon Jeter is expected to provide the most immediate impact. The sophomore averaged 5.5 points and 3.4 rebounds in his lone season in Nashville. Junior-college transfer Tyrone Haughton needs seasoning, but offers solid defensive skills around the rim. Combo-forward Ryan Luther offers versatility, as he can score from outside or in the paint. Late signee Cameron Johnson, a swingman, is a redshirt candidate.
Just one week after knocking off TCU, Baylor became the latest casualty in the Big 12, leaving the conference with no unbeaten teams and no teams in the Legends Poll Top 8.
The Bears fell 41-27 in Morgantown and dropped from No. 4 in the rankings, receiving zero Top 8 votes this week.
No. 2 Florida State survived in a heavyweight bout against Notre Dame Saturday night, knocking off the Irish 31-27 to keep its 23-game win streak alive. Notre Dame impressed the Legends Poll voters and remained at No. 7, despite the loss.
No. 4 Alabama moved up a spot and remains the highest ranked 1-loss team after dismantling Texas A&M 59-0 at home. Top-ranked Mississippi State was idle.
Ole Miss maintained its No. 3 ranking with another impressive defensive performance against Tennessee. Idle Auburn rounded out the top 5.
No. 6 Oregon moved back into the Legends Poll rankings, followed by Notre Dame and Michigan State.
|1||Mississippi State (11)||6-0||109||1|
|2||Florida State (3)||7-0||96||2|
To see the individual votes by coach, visit the Legends Poll.
The Eastern Conference hasn’t been the same without Derrick Rose. The Chicago Bulls, originally thought to be the top roadblock to LeBron James’ kingdom, couldn’t compete with James’ Miami Heat superteams without their killer point guard, who played only ten games over the past two seasons with knee injuries. James is back with the Cleveland Cavaliers now; the Bulls lost their shot at James' Miami squad.
But the would-be rivalry between Rose and the four-time MVP may still see its fiercest days yet.
This is what the basketball world thought last night, watching Rose explode in a 107-98 preseason loss against the Cavs in Columbus, Ohio. He started off cautiously, moving the ball through Chicago’s offense patiently, but attacked Cleveland’s defense relentlessly once he found its cracks, racking up 16 points in the second quarter and providing some breathtaking clips:
Rose finished with 30 points on 12-of-18 shooting in 24 minutes — still likely well below the minutes he’ll play by midseason — along with three assists, five rebounds and zero turnovers. He was a marvel, and if he can reproduce this kind of effort with any consistency, the Bulls just might be the threat to the Cavaliers’ supremacy that the East is otherwise lacking.
The friction between these two teams is only increased by the biting words Joakim Noah had after the game, reminding Ohioans of his past criticisms of their land — including when he said that “Cleveland really sucks” in bringing up his NCAA triumph over Ohio State. The former University of Florida Gator had this to say when asked why he was booed by the fans in attendance: “Because we won the championship. And then we beat them in football. It's all good, though.”
Even though Cleveland won the exhibition, the Bulls still made a hell of an impression. Even lacking their best perimeter defender in Jimmy Butler, who was out with a sprained left thumb, they still looked like valiant fighters. Stay tuned for what might be the most exciting rivalry in the 2014-15 NBA season, which resumes with a Halloween special when Cleveland visits the Bulls.
— John Wilmes
The 2014 World Series begins tonight in Kansas City, as two Wild Card teams meet in the Fall Classic for the first time since the 2002 Series that saw the Angels beat the Giants in seven games. The been-there-done that San Francisco Giants head east to take on the stout Kansas City Royals in Game 1 tonight at Kauffman Stadium.
Both teams were long shots at the beginning of the Postseason, having to overcome more heralded teams, and the Wild Card play-in game. Here are five storylines to watch as the World Series kicks off.
Both the Giants and the Royals feature supreme pitching talent in their respective bullpens. Giants skipper Bruce Bochy is much more tactical with his bullpen maneuvers compared to that of Royals manager Ned Yost. Bocky isn’t afraid to mix up relievers in different innings to keep opposing hitters and managers guessing. Yost is much more concrete in his relief strategy. Kelvin Herrera will get the ball in the 7th, Wade Davis in the 8th, and Greg Holland in the 9th.
Even the pitchers themselves are contrasting in pitching styles. The Royals come at you with a “here it is, try and hit it” approach; while the Giants are much more analytical about how they pitch to a hitter. One thing both stables have in common, they are effective.
The combo of Herrera, Davis, and Holland has been outstanding, to be modest. The Royals as a complete bullpen unit have thrown 35 innings, yielding a .179 AVG and 1.80 ERA during the Postseason. Herrera pitched 8 1/3 of those innings giving up one run and posting a 1.08 ERA. Davis is even better in the 8th with a 0.96 ERA in 9 1/3 innings pitched, surrendering one run as well. The same story applies for Holland who has notched six saves (Four of those vs. Baltimore, tying Dennis Eckersley’s postseason record for saves in one series) and a 1.13 ERA in eight innings pitched, also giving up just one run.
San Fran’s veteran cohort of Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez, Segio Romo, and Santiago Cassila has all been here before, twice actually. All four of the Giants primary bullpen arms were with the club during their first two World Series runs in 2010 and 2012. The roles have changed but the names have stayed the same.
In his last 18 appearances, lefty vet Jeremy Affeldt, has not given up a single run. Lefty specialist Javier Lopez hasn’t surrendered a run either in his last 15 mound appearances. But no Giants reliever has been as potent as Santiago Casilla. Cassilla has only given up two hits in his seven Postseason appearances this year, and didn’t give up a hit for a month prior to those hits in Game 4 of the NLCS. Thus far, Casilla has put up zeros in the ERA, Runs, and Earned Runs columns.
The Giants pen hasn’t been as “dominating” compared to that of the Royals because of one glaring stat. The Giants have given up seven home runs thus far in the Postseason. Hunter Strickland was responsible for surrendering four of those, two to Bryce Harper. Strickland only appeared once in the NLCS against the Cardinals but still gave up a dinger. Strickland and Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum will be the wild cards out of the Giants pen. 21 year-old lefty Brandon Finnegan has been outstanding for Ned Yost and the Royals, and could be the ace in the hole for KC. Finnegan was the Royals first-round draft pick out of TCU this past July, and he clearly has the stuff to make hitters miss in The Show, striking out 10, posting a 1.00 WHIP and 1.29 ERA to go along with just one earned run and one hit in 4.1 innings of work.
ROYAL SPEED vs. BUSTER POSEY
Much has been made about the Royals’ blazing speed on the base paths, and for good reason, their speed is game changing. The Royals led all of baseball in stolen bases with 153 and proved time and time again just how dangerous their base stealing ability is throughout the Postseason as eight different runners have stolen a bag at some point this October.
Giants All-star catcher Buster Posey is more than adequate behind the plate but finds himself in the middle of the pack when it comes to catching base thieves. So far this postseason, Posey has only picked off one runner and allowed three to advance safely. Granted, that is a small sample size, but even his regular season numbers aren’t that great. During the 2014 season, Posey only threw out approximately 30 percent of all runners, allowing 59 steals, ranking him 12th in baseball in bases stolen.
If speedsters Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson, and Alcides Escobar can get on base, look for Ned Yost to give his guys the green light to run on the former NL MVP.
We are all but guaranteed to see Giants lefty ace Madison Bumgarner and the Royals’ “Big Game James” Shields in at least two appearances this series as they both take the hill in Game 1 tonight.
Bumgarner earned his title as the NLCS MVP with fantastic performances all October long. In four postseason games this Fall, Bumgarner has given up just five earned runs, while striking out 28, and posting a 1.42 ERA, .170 AVG, and 0.76 WHIP in 31.2 innings.
Shields, on the other hand, hasn’t exactly lived up to his “Big Game” moniker. In 50.1 career innings of postseason work, Shields has put up a 5.19 ERA, and only reached the 7th inning once, way back in 2008 when the Rays went to the World Series. If the Royals’ are aspiring for one more post-series champagne shower, they are going to need more from their veteran hurler.
BIG STICKS AND TIMELY HITS
Neither the Royals nor the Giants were known during the regular season for hitting the long ball. In fact, the Royals ranked last in all of baseball in homers (95), while the Giants were 17th (132). But October has brought out the big bats at all the right times.
Eric Hosmer’s October coming out party has been better than anything Kid ‘N Play could host at their parent’s house. Hosmer and his bat have propelled the Royals to their first World Series in 29 years, thanks to his .448/.556/.759 slash line, 2 HR, a double, triple, and and 8 RBI in eight games. Its not just how much damage Hos is doing, but when he is doing it. His one-out triple in the 12th in the AL Wild Card game sparked KC’s comeback over the As in one of the best baseball games you could ever hope to see. And his 11th inning jack in Los Angeles in Game 2 of the ALDS might have been the back breaker the Angels were dreading. But Hos isn’t alone in his offensive conquest. ALCS MVP Lorenzo Cain has been nothing short of remarkable with his timely hitting including 15 total bases, 12 hits, 9 runs, 3 doubles, 4 RBI, and 2 stolen bags in just 8 games this October, while Mike Moustakas has added four homers of his own.
The Giants haven’t been as fortunate at the plate, but have found ways to muster up runs, usually by capitalizing on other team’s errors. San Fran’s Postseason team batting average is a lackluster .244 with an OBP of .318. If the Giants are going to score runs, it will be much tougher against the Royals, one of the soundest defenses in baseball. The Giants may also need more home run heroics earlier in games because of the strength of KC bullpen in later innings. Buster Posey (.302/.354/.302) and Pablo Sandoval (.326/.396./406) have been the Giants most reliable hitters through the Postseason, amassing 27 hits, but only four went for extra bases, all of which belong to Sandoval.
For the Giants to raise the Commissioner’s Trophy one more time, players like Hunter Pence (.256/.341/.333), Brandon Belt (1 extra base hit), Michael Morse (4 at-bats, 1HR), and Brandon Crawford (.211/.279./342) will have to deliver when it matters most.
GIANT EXPERIENCE vs. ROYAL MAGIC
Both clubs are coming into the World Series scorching hot. The Royals have picked the perfect time to go streaking (“…through the quad, and into the gymnasium, and into the World Series…everybody’s doing it”), winning their last eight games against teams that were all better than them in the regular season. But October doesn’t care about what you did April through September. Of the Royals 25-man roster, only three players have ever played in the postseason. Judging from the way the Royals have made acrobatic plays in the outfield, stolen bases, and hit dramatic home runs, you never would have guessed it, but of the team’s 25-man Postseason roster, only three players have October experience. Maybe this team is just naïve enough to take on this tested, veteran Giants ball club.
The Giants have been here before, twice, actually. Bumgarner, Sandoval, Posey, Lincecum, Crawford, Belt, Casilla, Lopez, Romo, Pence, Affeldt, and Machi were all apart of the 2012 Giants team that won it all against the Detroit Tigers. Thanks in part to their stringent defense, reliable pitching, and polished at bats, the Giants are never out of a game. Someone always seems to step up for them at the right time, whether it’s Lincecum out of the bullpen, Sandoval smacking three homers in one game, or latest-additions Michael Morse and Travis Ishikawa hitting homers, the Giants typically deliver in October.
This Fall Classic matchup between the Royals and Giants has all the makings of a fantastic conclusion to yet another outstanding MLB season.
By Jake Rose
The San Francisco Giants are making an unlikely postseason run to try and win their third World Series in five seasons. The Giants bring experience, grit and small ball to Kansas City tonight to take on the fairy-tale Royals in Game 1.
This could very well be business as usual for the Giants, another Postseason series, another Commisioner’s Trophy in the case. Here are four reasons why the San Francisco Giants will win the World Series and become the team of the decade.
Been There Done That…Again
Experience is something that is not on the side of the Kansas City Royals. Only three of the 25 players on the World Series roster have postseason experience. The same cannot be said for the Giants.
Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Pablo Sandoval, Tim Lincecum, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, Javier Lopez, Sergio Romo, Santiago Castilla, Madison Bumgarner, Jeremy Affeldt, Jean Machi and Ryan Vogelsong were all part of the Giants 2012 World Series team. Bumgarner, Lincecum, Affeldt, Castilla, Romo, Lopez, Posey and Sandoval were all pieces in the 2010 World Series winning team. To say that these guys have experience is quite the understatement.
Each player knows his role on the team. The Giants aren't flashy, they don't hit a lot of homers, they don't steal a lot of bases — they play great team ball. The cliche is “doing all the little things well.” That is the 2014 San Francisco Giants. They work counts, have timely hits, have solid pitching, and play efficient defense well enough to win championships.
This isn’t the first October rodeo for Santiago Castilla, Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt. They all know what they are doing. All four relievers have been a part of both of the Giants' World Series championships since 2010. Their roles have changed over time, but the job still remains the same. Romo was the set-up man in 2010 to the bearded Brian Wilson and moved to the closer role in 2012, where Castilla was the set up man. Lopez has always been the lefty on lefty specialist, shutting down southpaws whenever called upon. And Jeremy Affeldt, well, he gets everyone out.
Giants relievers have allowed a postseason low 1.78 ERA in 35 1/3 innings. But the “Core Four” of relievers have been so good that they have only allowed one run in over 19 innings of work. That one run was Kolten Wong’s walk-off homer in Game 2 of the NLCS off Sergio Romo. Neither Castilla, Affeldt nor Lopez has given up a run in their last 17, 18, and 15 Postseason appearances, respectively. Wow, good luck KC.
The good ole boy from North Carolina has been anything but easygoing on the mound. In fact, Madison Bumgarner has been nasty. The Giants ace will take the ball in Game 1 of the series tonight in KC, and more than likely Game 4, and Game 7 if needed.
The 25 year-old southpaw is already in his third World Series in his young, five year career. The NLCS MVP has made 4 Postseason appearances thus far and pitched 31.2 innings. In those 30-plus innings, MadBum has chalked up a 1.42 ERA, 0.76 WHIP, 28 strikeouts, and just five walks and five earned runs…and not to mention a complete game shutout in the NL Wild Card against the hard-hitting Pittsburgh Pirates.
If Royals lefties Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Nori Aoki, Alex Gordon, and Jarrod Dyson think they stand a chance against Bumgarner, they should think again. MadBum’s numbers against lefties during the regular season are startling: .224/.246/.293, just 10 extra base hits, 58 strikeouts, 5 walks, and 12 RBI against 174 left-handed at bats.
Actually, bunting doesn't sound like a bad idea. Right, Ned Yost?
Just like his players, Bruce Bochy has been here, and won that — twice. Bruce Bochy knows exactly what buttons to press to put his guys in the right spot, to make the right plays, at the right time. Whether its pinch-hitting Michael Morse and then watching him hit the game-tying homer in Game 5 of the NLCS, or knowing when to go to his two-time Cy Young Award Winner, Tim Lincecum in the bullpen, Bruce just knows.
If there was ever any doubt as to whether Bochy was going to Cooperstown before this October, it's disappeared now. Bochy could be the difference in the series, especially if he forces Ned Yost’s hand to make a decision that gives the veteran Giants an advantage. Bochy’s greatest managerial trait is allowing his players to make mistakes and then learning from them down the road. Bruce knows this team better than anyone, and he could be the reason the Giant win another World Series title.
By Jake Rose
The Royals are the darlings of the baseball Postseason, and winners of eight in a row. KC started out in the Wild Card game against the Oakland As, then went on to sweep the American League’s best team, the Los Angeles Angels in three games, and then the homer-happy Baltimore Orioles in four straight.
The boys from Kansas City take on the perennial National League powerhouse San Francisco Giants in Game One tonight at Kauffman Stadium in KC. Here are four reasons why the Royals will beat the Giants and win the World Series for the first time in 29 years.
7, 8, 9
The Kansas City bullpen is downright dirty. As an opposing player you know that Kelvin Herrera is coming in to start the 7th, then Wade Davis in the 8th, and then Greg Holland to finish you off in the 9th. You know that all three of them are going to bring heat, sometimes triple digit heat…you also know you aren't hitting that heat.
Between the three of them, they have given up just three runs in 25.2 innings of work, while all three of them have 10 strikeouts. If you're going to score on the Royals, score early, because once the 7th inning starts, you might as well go home.
Dave Roberts has the most famous stolen base in Postseason history, igniting the miraculous 2004 Red Sox comeback against the Yankees. After this World Series is over and done with, we might be talking about a ton of stolen bases from the Royals. So far this Postseason, KC has nabbed 13 bags, coming from eight different players.
Buster Posey is a very able catcher defensively, but he is in the middle of the road when it comes to throwing runners out. Over the course of the 2014 season Posey threw out just 30% of the runners that attempted to steal a bag on him. The Royals stole 80% of the bags they attempted to take, just .5% away from being tops in baseball. Safe to say that Posey is going to have a plate full of Royals runners.
Defense Wins Championships
The Royals Leather Expo has been going on all October long. The KC outfield has especially been in the spotlight. Jarrod Dyson, Lorenzo Cain, Alex Gordon and Nori Aoki roam the outfield hunting down baseballs like Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, and Sam Ellliot hunted Cowboys in Tombstone, just faster and not on horses.
Outfield walls, foul territory tarps, railings, have all tried to stop Royals defenders from making plays, all failed. The Giants best chance to beating the Royals defense is to hit the ball where they can’t get to it, out of the ball park. Hitting the ball in the Kauffman Stadium fountains and into McCovey Cove is the best prospect the Giants have in circumnavigating the Royals defense.
The Magic of October
Maybe you don't believe in fairy tales, or luck, or magic, but the Royals do — they have to. There is no logical explanation for the fact that they were able to come back time after time and beat the As in the AL Wild Card game. There was no explanation as to why they were able to sweep Mike Trout and the AL-best Angels. There was no reasoning as to why they were able to completely silence the biggest bats in baseball, in the Baltimore Orioles. Heck, we are still all perplexed that this team made the Postseason at all!
This team was dead last in home runs. Baltimore’s Nelson Cruz hit almost half as many long balls than the entire Royals team did this season.
But time and time again, whether it is Eric Hosmer hitting every pitch he sees, Mike Moustakas diving over a row of fans to make a falling catch, Alex Gordon flashing his leather in left field, Jarrod Dyson stealing third, or Lorenzo Cain doing, well, everything, this team is destined to win the World Series, and shock the world.
By Jake Rose
Last season was as bad as it’s ever been for the Los Angeles Lakers. The historically dominant franchise (holders of 16 NBA championships, second only to the Celtics' 17) plummeted after team leaders Kobe Bryant and the porcelain Steve Nash went down with injuries, and coach Mike D’Antoni ran out the rest of the year allowing young men of moxie like Nick Young, Kendall Marshall, Jordan Hill and Xavier Henry to run the show on the way to a 27-55 record, the team’s worst ever.
Lakers big man legend Pau Gasol languished under D’Antoni, and left this summer for the Chicago Bulls even though Byron Scott replaced D’Antoni on the bench. The Lakers’ front office whiffed on marquee free agents like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, recommitting to Bryant and their young, ineffectual core as a Plan B.
The early results haven’t been pretty. Bryant, whose sense of self-censorship went out the window years ago, is saying things like this about promising rookie Julius Randle, a No. 7 overall pick from Kentucky and one of the bright spots on a bad team:
Kobe on Julius Randle having him and Byron Scott as mentors: "It means he can't f--- it up. If you f--- this up you're a really big idiot."— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) October 20, 2014
Such talk reeks of hubris gone unchecked, for far too long. Bryant’s also getting crossed over badly by Utah Jazz youngster Alec Burks:
And coach Scott, hot off a 64-166 record over three years with the Cleveland Cavaliers, has begun to profess a strange, seemingly satirical mission statement for the 2014-15 Lakers. He’s said that the team will shoot fewer than fifteen three-pointers per game, stressing that taking shots from deep “gets you to the playoffs … I don’t believe it wins championships.”
If the coach’s projections come true over the year, the team will shoot less three bombs than anyone in the league, despite rangy shots being one of the possible strengths of this limited roster. Scott, with this concept, seems lost in the sea of nostalgia for a time when the league wasn’t as three-happy as it is now — like the 1980s, when Scott joined Magic Johnson in the “Showtime” era and won three Lakers titles.
But that epoch is well over. And the suddenly sinking Lakers organization is either allowing Scott and Bryant to continue their proud, folly-rich charade so they can tank and get more prized draft picks like Randle next June, or they’re simply tying their anchor to the wrong men.
— John Wilmes