Articles By Athlon Sports
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
Few believed Xavier would finish in the top half of the retooled Big East based on last year’s preseason predictions. But the Musketeers, picked seventh by the league’s media in the fall, went on to tie for third with a 10–8 conference record, including a 7–2 mark at home.
It wasn’t always smooth sailing for a Xavier team that floundered down the stretch and fell to NC State in an NCAA Tournament “play-in game” in nearby Dayton. XU dropped nine of its final 15 games and suffered a major setback when center Matt Stainbrook strained the MCL in his left knee in the last regular-season road game. Although Stainbrook returned for the postseason, he was not at full strength.
Fast forward to this season’s new-look team, which features nine scholarship freshmen and sophomores. High expectations abound for the six rookies — Larry Austin Jr., Trevon Bluiett, Makinde London, J.P. Macura, Sean O’Mara and Edmond Sumner — that form the highest-ranked recruiting class in program history.
There’s much to learn about this team, starting with the identities of new scoring leaders. Last year’s top producers are gone — Semaj Christon was a second-round pick in the NBA Draft after leaving Xavier following his sophomore season, and Justin Martin opted to play his final season at SMU as a graduate transfer.
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Stainbrook was a known quantity — despite being in his first season at Xavier after transferring from Western Michigan — for his scoring, rebounding and passing skills. His work down low allowed Jalen Reynolds time to develop as a freshman. The 6-9 forward made modest contributions for much of the season but showed his vast potential with a 17-point, 16-rebound effort in a win at St. John’s in February. Reynolds, one of the team’s best athletes, is explosive around the basket.
James Farr, also 6-9, traveled a different trajectory by starting the season strong and fading in February. Farr, who can stretch defenses with his long-range shooting, has the potential to be a difference-maker if he develops more consistency on the defensive end of the floor. London and O’Mara also may impact the front line as they compete for minutes off the bench.
The departure of Martin, who played small forward and also served as a stretch-4, opens the door for Bluiett, a heralded prospect. The 6-6 wing, who averaged 35.7 points as a high school senior, is perhaps the most college-ready player among the newcomers. Macura is another capable shooter who could make an impact, either at small forward or shooting guard.
Xavier Musketeers Facts & Figures
Last season: 21-13, 10-8 Big East
Postseason: NCAA First Four
Consecutive NCAAs: 1
Coach: Chris Mack (111-57 at Xavier, 58-24 A-10/Big East)
Big East Projection: Third
Postseason Projection: NCAA First Four
Point guard Dee Davis is the elder statesman of the team by virtue of being the only fourth-year Musketeer on the roster. He developed into an effective pass-first guard as a junior while still contributing 7.7 points to go with his 4.7 assists. As a senior, Davis will be asked to increase his production while providing leadership to an otherwise young backcourt.
Xavier gains experience in junior guard Remy Abell, a transfer from Indiana who shot 48.5 percent from 3-point range as a sophomore at IU two years ago. He is capable of being a factor on both ends of the court.
At times last season Myles Davis was among the first players off the bench, capable of draining clutch 3-pointers and changing momentum. The shooting guard struggled down the stretch, both offensively and defensively, and vowed to improve in the offseason. If he has, the New Jersey native will be a key cog in Xavier’s rotation.
Sophomore Brandon Randolph and Sumner, one of the freshmen, will battle for time off the bench at the point. Randolph played significant minutes early last season but fell out of the rotation in the final two months.
Chris Mack has the youngest roster in his six-year tenure, but he still has plenty of talent at his disposal — despite losing his top two scorers, each with eligibility remaining.
If the Musketeers can cure some of the ills that afflicted them last season — inconsistent bench production, stretches of poor defense — they will be in the mix at the top of the Big East standings. Catching the rookies up to speed and rolling with their early mistakes will be key.
Remy Abell, a transfer from Indiana, practiced with Xavier last season and should play major minutes. Trevon Bluiett arrives with an impressive offensive resume, but like the other freshmen — Larry Austin Jr., Makinde London, J.P. Macura, Sean O’Mara and Edmond Sumner — he must prove he can play defense.
The first year of the new Big East alignment brought a little bit of everything: a national player of the year and one of college basketball’s all-time greats (Creighton’s Doug McDermott), a national top 10 team (Villanova) and one surprising NCAA participant (Providence).
At the same time, the new league also showed its limitations. None of its four teams in the NCAA Tournament advanced beyond the first weekend. And after the season, arguably the league’s best coach at one of the Big East’s top programs left for a middling ACC team.
Even if Buzz Williams’ departure from Marquette to Virginia Tech was as much a product of internal politics as anything, the move wasn’t a great sign of health for the league.
The Big East may enter the 2014-15 season with same kinds of highs and lows. Villanova returns the core of a team that was a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Georgetown and Xavier continue to be NCAA contenders.
But the Doug McDermott Show is gone, putting Creighton into a rebuilding year along with Marquette, under new coach Steve Wojciechowski, and Butler.
That leaves teams like Providence, Seton Hall and St. John’s — also-rans at the end of the previous Big East era — making up the depth of the league.
Previews of every Big East team and more are available in the 2014-15 Athlon Sports College Basketball Preview.
Big East 2014-15 Preseason Picks
1. Villanova (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA Sweet 16
The clear-cut favorite to win the league, the Wildcats could be poised for a deep NCAA Tournament run. Can Josh Hart replace James Bell?
2. Georgetown (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA round of 64
Despite the loss of Markel Starks, John Thompson III will have this team in the mix. The key could be Joshua Smith: Will he stay healthy and eligible?
3. Xavier (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA First Four
Had everyone returned, the Musketeers could have competed for a league title. Jalen Reynolds is ready for a breakout season up front.
4. St. John’s
Postseason projection: NIT
There is still plenty of talent and athleticism on the roster, and Rysheed Jordan and D’Angelo Harrison form a dynamic guard duo.
Postseason projection: NIT
Life without Bryce Cotton begins for Ed Cooley. LaDontae Henton and Tyler Harris will score, but Kris Dunn needs to stay healthy.
6. Seton Hall
Postseason projection: NIT
The most intriguing team in the league. Isaiah Whitehead can score, Angel Delgado is a dominant rebounder, and Sterling Gibbs is back.
Postseason projection: NIT
Roosevelt Jones’ return from injury will be the biggest key. He and Kellen Dunham will form a terrific – and productive – perimeter tandem.
Steve Wojciechowski enters his first season with very little up front — but plenty of perimeter punch, including Todd Mayo and Matt Carlino.
A rebuilding job begins for Greg McDermott. His son and three other starters have moved on, and big reinforcements are a year away.
Oliver Purnell has won nine Big East games since joining DePaul four seasons ago. Could this be his last go-round in Chicago?
2014-15 Big East Superlatives
Player of the Year: D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown
Smith-Rivera will shoulder more of the load with the departure of do-it-all point guard Markel Starks. His 17.6 points per game suggests Smith-Rivera is ready. The junior also averaged 87.3 shooting from the free throw line.
Best Defensive Player: Chris Obekpa, St. John’s
Obekpa has twice led the Big East in blocks, topping out at 2.9 a year ago.
Most Underrated Player: Darrun Hilliard, Villanova
Hilliard was one of the most improved players in the league last season, improving from 31.5 percent shooting from 3-point range to 41.4 despite taking 45 more shots last season.
Newcomer of the Year: Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall
If Seton Hall is going to make a long-awaited rise, the arrival of Whitehead from Brooklyn will be a big reason why. The McDonald’s All-American should offer a scoring boost to an experienced backcourt.
Top coach: Jay Wright, Villanova (full Big East coach rankings)
First-Team All-Big East
G D’Angelo Harrison, St. John’s
G Kellen Dunham, Butler
G D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown
F LaDontae Henton, Providence
F JayVaughn Pinkston, Villanova
Second-Team All-Big East
G Darrun Hilliard, Villanova
G Rysheed Jordan, St. John’s
G Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall
F Roosevelt Jones, Butler
C Matt Stainbrook, Xavier
Third-Team All-Big East
G Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova
G Matt Carlino, Marquette
G Sterling Gibbs, Seton Hall
G Billy Garrett Jr., DePaul
C Joshua Smith, Georgetown
The team never seemed to get any momentum. The Hoyas lost to Northeastern, then beat Kansas State and VCU. They lost six of seven Big East games in January, then beat Michigan State. And just when it looked like Georgetown could make a case for the NCAA Tournament, it lost five of its last seven — with the wins coming over Creighton and Xavier, of course.
There were availability questions surrounding Greg Whittington at the start of the season and Josh Smith in the middle of the season — plus various injuries. With fewer question marks heading into this season, Georgetown should be back in the mix for an NCAA Tournament invite.
The Georgetown edition is one of dozens available in our online store and on newsstands everywhere now.
Like last season, the key for the Hoyas will be the availability of Smith. He played just 13 games before being ruled academically ineligible, costing Georgetown in Big East play. He played fewer than 20 minutes per game, but was third on the team in scoring. Smith was a force at times in November and December, opening the season with 25 points against Oregon and also notching six straight double-figure scoring outings in non-conference play. The talent has never been the question for Smith; it’s his conditioning. Can Smith stay on the floor? When he gets the ball on the block, he’s nearly unstoppable.
Nate Lubick and Moses Ayegba are gone from last season, but John Thompson III won’t lack for options. Mikael Hopkins was something of an unsung presence inside for the Hoyas, leading the team in blocked shots and providing Georgetown with a capable passer. Sophomore Reggie Cameron might be the team’s best pure outside shooter.
Two reasons for excitement, though, are freshmen Paul White and Isaac Copeland. White is a 6-8 forward who can stretch the floor and also put the ball on the deck and get to the rim. He has the ability to be a matchup problem. Copeland has a higher ceiling than White, and is another versatile forward who can knock down shots from the perimeter.
Georgetown Hoyas Facts & Figures
Last season: 25-7, 8-10 Big East
Last NCAA Tournament: 2013
Coach: John Thompson III (227-104 at Georgetown, 107-62 Big East)
Big East Projection: Second
Postseason Projection: NCAA Round of 64
Georgetown bids farewell to point guard Markel Starks, a four-year player. Over the last two seasons, Starks was a scorer and playmaker who cemented himself as one of the Big East’s best guards.
Without Starks, the onus will fall on junior D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera. Smith-Rivera led the Hoyas in scoring last season and could be ready for a Big East Player of the Year-type of campaign. He finished last season on a tear, averaging 25.0 points in his last three games.
Jabril Trawick might not put up big scoring numbers, but the team is different when he’s not on the court. He missed five games due to a broken jaw last season — and Georgetown went 1-4 in his absence. He’s an athletic guard who also might be the team’s best perimeter defender. Aaron Bowen had his moments last season as a backup on the wing, using his athleticism to bring energy off the bench.
Two freshmen will also play roles on the perimeter. L.J. Peak is a bigger wing who has plenty of athleticism. Tre Campbell is the only pure point guard on the team, and could have to play an immediate role if Smith-Rivera is more comfortable off the ball.
Outside of Villanova, the Big East is wide-open — and Georgetown will be right in the mix for that second tier. If Smith is eligible, healthy and in shape — or at least able to play 20 minutes a night for an entire season — the Hoyas probably will be the second-best team in the league. Smith is that important.
When Smith brings consistent scoring to the post, all the other ingredients are there for Thompson. Smith-Rivera is one of the best guards in the country; Hopkins and Trawick bring experience; and there is depth across the roster. The Hoyas’ four-man recruiting class brings a little bit of everything.
It’s difficult to say an 18–15 team that lost its do-it-all senior point guard will be significantly improved the next season, but that should be the case for Georgetown. Expect a bounce-back season in the nation’s capital.
Georgetown had one of the better recruiting classes in the country, and it’s a four-man group that helps shore up different areas — with a nice mix of immediate impact and future potential. Paul White and Isaac Copeland are both versatile forwards who will certainly help with their ability to stretch the defense. Tre Campbell is a pure point guard, and L.J. Peak is a strong, athletic wing.
There used to be somebody fast and fierce enough to make LeBron James look over his shoulder. His name was Derrick Rose.
The Chicago Bulls point guard, and famed Chicago native, topped James for MVP voting in the 2010-11 season, becoming the youngest player to ever win the award as the then-22-year-old Rose led his team to a league-best 62-20 record. LeBron and the Miami Heat, however, ended up besting the inexperienced Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals that year, four games to one. But a message was sent: This was going to be one of the best rivalries in the league for some time.
Fate, of course, had other ideas. Since Rose tore his ACL on the first day of the 2012 NBA playoffs, he’s played just ten regular season games over two seasons. The Indiana Pacers, not the Bulls, became Miami’s biggest hurdle in the East as they returned to the Finals for three straight years.
Now LeBron’s back in Cleveland, though, and Rose is back on the court. The time Rose has missed means he can’t operate near The King’s level anymore — not yet, anyway. But he is an integral part of a strong roster, featuring a much-improved Joakim Noah, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and newcomer veteran Pau Gasol. Behind the leadership of ever-intense coach Tom Thibodeau, Chicago promises to be LeBron’s harshest Eastern enemy yet again.
With the talent James has around him, it’s hard to believe anyone will be able to beat the Cavs in the long run. Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Mike Miller, Shawn Marion and Co. make for a far stronger, deeper cast than the game’s best player has ever had to work with — even if they’re not quite as experienced as his Heat running mates. In his time away from home, LeBron was able to rearrange the NBA talent market to make his birthplace a magnet for winners. James’ offseason team-building campaign was quite the coup.
If anyone in their conference can take down Cleveland before they find their rhythm and become a juggernaut, though, it’s the indomitable Chicago Bulls. Make sure to catch tonight’s game for a preview of the East’s new power structure.
— John Wilmes
Stanford has established a tradition of playing tough defense, the best in the Pac-12, but at some point even the best defensive teams need to find a way to score some points. The days of Andrew Luck and Toby Gerhart now seem like distant memories for Stanford football. The Cardinal has to hope the offense can pick things up soon, because a road trip to Eugene, Oregon is creeping up in two weeks.
Stanford has now been held to 20 points or fewer in four games this season. The Cardinal are 11th in the Pac-12 in total offense, but Stanford has been ranked in the bottom half of the conference in total offense each of the past two seasons as well. This season, no team in the Pac-12 has a lower first downs-per game average than Stanford (19.0 first downs per game). The Stanford offense converts on third down just 38.2 percent of the time, 11th in the Pac-12.
The red zone has also been unkind to Stanford this season. In 30 red zone trips, Stanford has scored just 20 times, the worst success rate in the Pac-12. As hard as it may be to believe, that statistic gets a bit uglier when discussing touchdown percentage inside the 20-yard line. Stanford has scored 14 touchdowns in 30 red zone trips in seven games. That is next-to-last in the Pac-12, just a few percentage points ahead of Oregon State.
The most likely reason Stanford’s offense has been struggling this season may be due to the fact the Cardinal had to start an almost entirely new offensive line this season. Stanford lost four starters up front, as well as a starting tight end from 2013. Good teams tend to have experience and depth on the offensive line, and that does not appear to be the case for Stanford this season and it is showing. Stanford has allowed 15 sacks this season, which ranks 73rd nationally.
This week Stanford faces Oregon State. Like Stanford, Oregon State’s offense has been struggling on a regular basis this season, perhaps missing the big play ability of wide receiver Brandin Cooks. The next week Stanford will face Oregon, a team the defense has shown the ability to slow down. The Ducks though have kept their offense on track this season despite taking a loss. This year, the Stanford defense may only be able to carry the Cardinal so far.
Stanford has already lost three games this season, equaling last season’s total loss total. David Shaw may still be one of the better coaches in the game, and he has plenty of experience coaching offense. If any coach can find a way to get Stanford’s offense turned around, it would figure to be Shaw. But time is starting to run thin, if it has not already.
- By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
Two weeks ago, Utah scored a victory over a top 10 UCLA program that let the rest of the Pac-12 know the Utes had finally arrived to compete in the conference. After a bye week, the Utes showed true resiliency by edging Oregon State in double overtime on the road on a Thursday night. This week Utah will once again to make a statement in the Pac-12 as the Utes host USC, another ranked opponent. At 5-1, Utah is showing signs of being able to compete in the Pac-12 South, a division with more ranked teams than the vaunted SEC West at this point in the season.
The question remains though, how much faith can be placed in Utah to keep this going? Is Utah here to stay on this competitive field in the Pac-12, or will this be a blip on the radar? All signs seem to suggest Utah is not going anywhere just yet in the Pac-12 South. The recruiting has been improving since moving to the Pac-12, and the talent coming in is beginning to help the program go toe-to-toe with their new conference rivals. TCU’s rise in the Big 12 may be a bit more noticeable and respected nationally, but Utah’s transition to big time football is not to be overlooked either.
For Utah, it starts on defense and running the football, a solid foundation for any winning program in college football. Utah is averaging 210 rushing yards per game with Devontae Booker leading the way with 742 yards and seven touchdowns so far. That ability to run the football has helped take the pressure off quarterback Travis Wilson to do everything he can, although Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham has now started to give Kendal Thompson a chance to play under center as well, while searching for a way to turn the passing game’s results around. Wilson has not thrown an interception this season, but his completion percentage has been less-than-inspiring in recent weeks.
While the running game keeps the offense going, it is the Utah defense that seems to have carried the team early on. Utah has the Pac-12’s third best defensive unit, allowing 379.0 yards per game and just 4.74 yards per play. The Utes lead the Pac-12 in sacks with 33.0 in six games, an average of 5.50 sacks per game. Senior Nate Orchard has led the effort to bring pressure into the opposing backfield with 10.5 sacks. Orchard has stepped up to replace last season’s defensive leader, Trevor Reilly (team high 8.5 sacks in 2013).
The biggest area of improvement on the defensive side of the football though has come in the secondary. Last season the Utes were last in the nation with just three interceptions all year long, tied with Kentucky, Illinois, Temple and UTEP. This year is quite a different story for defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake’s secondary. Through six games, Utah has picked off seven passes.
The world is noticing what Utah is doing, but there is still work to be done in Salt Lake City. The schedule sitting in front of Utah includes four games against teams currently ranked in the top 25 (No. 20 USC, No. 14 Arizona State, No. 6 Oregon and No. 15 Arizona), and a match-up with unranked Stanford sits in that stretch. At this point in the college football season though, why not Utah?
- By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
A healthy Braxton Miller on the field was supposed to make the 2014 season one that was all about making the first College Football Playoff for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Those hopes are effectively toned down before the season ever got started with news of Miller needing to undergo shoulder surgery that would sideline him for the entire season. Enter freshman J.T. Barrett, a dual-threat quarterback from the state of Texas who enrolled early at Ohio State in 2013. As it turns out, that early enrollment may be what saves Ohio State’s seemingly derailed playoff train.
Barrett is a redshirt freshman that had a full year and a half to study Urban Meyer’s offense before being asked to take over the offense this season. This is hardly a true freshman stepping right into the spotlight, although early on it was looking as though Barrett was a tad star-struck under the bright lights. Barrett’s first career home game came against Virginia Tech in primetime. It was a significant spotlight and it came with a dose of bad timing. Virginia Tech was the perfect team to rattle a young quarterback starting his second game in a big match-up, and the Hokies managed to take advantage of a Miller-less Buckeye squad. Barrett was held to just nine completions out of 29 attempts and the Hokies picked off three passes from the redshirt freshman quarterback. The early season loss was forecasted as an elimination game for Ohio State in the playoff race, but it should have been seen as nothing more than a valuable learning experience for Barrett and the rest of the Buckeyes.
Since that 35-21 setback to Virginia Tech, Ohio State has outscored its opponents by a combined score of 224-69. Granted, those wins have come against Kent State (1-6), a struggling Cincinnati (3-3) and Big Ten newcomers Maryland (5-2) and Rutgers (5-2). In that span, Barrett has had three games with a completion percentage over 72.2 and he has been intercepted just once. He has thrown 17 touchdowns and added another three on the ground.
Barrett was a four-star recruit out of high school for a reason, and he is showing why right now. By now it is clear the biggest test the rest of the regular season for Ohio State will be a road trip to Michigan State on November 8. The 2013 Big Ten Championship Game rematch should ultimately determine the favorite in the Big Ten and keep potential playoff hopes alive for the winner. Ohio State, and Barrett, may be playing the best football in the Big Ten right now, but Michigan State is still the team to beat. Barrett has been piling up huge numbers against teams without a defense on par with what Michigan State can offer. The Spartans have not been the tightest on defense in recent weeks, and their late-game struggles have been seen at times this season, but it should be expected Michigan State will tighten up at home against Ohio State in a few weeks.
For now, Barrett and Ohio State have to keep plugging away. That continues this week on the road at Penn State and next week at home against Illinois. Odds are favorable Ohio State will roll into East Lansing with a 7-1 record. Barrett is a huge reason why.
- By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
Another year, another bowl trip for the Duke Blue Devils. This has become the norm in college football, and who knows when it will end. With a 20-13 victory over Virginia this past weekend, Duke improved its season record to 6-1 to become eligible for postseason play for a third straight season.
Whatever head coach David Cutcliffe is doing, it seems to be working. Perhaps this should not have been so unexpected though. Duke came into this season with eight returning starters on offense and six on defense. That included three returning starters on the offensive line, Anthony Boone back at quarterback after showing some promise in 2013 and one of the top wide receiver sin the ACC, Jamison Crowder. The defense had some reworking to do up front on the defensive line, but three starting players at the safety position and linebacker David Helton provide senior leadership in the middle of the field.
Injuries were supposed to take a toll on Duke, but that has not affected them to this point. All-ACC linebacker Kelby Brown was lost for the season with a torn ACL before the season started. Duke also lost returning starting tight end Braxton Deaver for the season with a torn ACL. Duke was also without the services of five other players against Virginia, a supposed hit to the depth of the roster.
Before the season started the general consensus seemed to be Duke would once again be in the middle of a crowded ACC Coastal race, but the question was would there be enough breaks to fall their way to make a return trip to the ACC Championship Game again this season after getting everything to fall into place in 2013. Rather than let outside forces determine what the fate of Duke football is, the Blue Devils are taking manners into their own hands.
For Duke, it begins with the turnover margin. At this point in the season Duke leads the AC in turnover margin with a +8. No ACC team has fewer turnovers lost than Duke, with two lost fumbles and three interceptions. Duke’s 13 forced turnovers is around the middle of the pack among ACC schools, but when the offense is doing a good job holding onto the football, those extra turnovers come in handy. Take Saturday for example.
Virginia ran two plays before fumbling away to Duke. Miles Gooch’s fumble at the Virginia 33-yard line was soon cashed in for seven points by Duke’s offense. Virginia still went on to find ways to move the football on Duke, with 465 yards including 325 through the air. Virginia also owned the edge in time of possession, but Duke won the turnover battle and took advantage of the lone turnover by scoring a touchdown on the free possession. As it turned out, it may have been the difference in the game with Duke winning by seven.
Duke gets a week off to prepare for a road trip to Pittsburgh, with the Panthers off to a solid start in ACC play this season. Duke is the only bowl-eligible team in the ACC Coastal at the moment, but is stuck in a crowded division tie at 2-1 thanks to a loss to Miami. Duke is currently tied with Virginia and Pittsburgh for the division lead, but one win at Pittsburgh can change the entire outlook. Duke won 10 games last season, and they look as capable as ever to actually be able to improve on that this season. Duke’s supposed ceiling may not rival the height of the Sistine Chapel, but it may have been a bit higher than most would have expected. Most of us not wearing a Duke football jersey, at least.
By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
It was an eventful weekend for Los Angeles Clippers MVP candidate Blake Griffin. Friday, he was on the wrong end of a hard foul committed by Utah Jazz forward Trevor Booker, with whom Griffin has a colorful history. Booker hit Griffin with a little extra mustard as he went to the rim, and Blake wasn’t happy about it:
These two previously engaged in extra-physical rasslin' when Booker was with the Washington Wizards, trying to deny Griffin his space in the lane. Booker quickly collected fouls in the game, later saying that Griffin was the beneficiary of “superstar treatment” from the refs.
After Friday’s game, Clippers coach Doc Rivers said that Griffin receives more cheap shots than anyone in the league. Griffin himself, according to Orange County Register, said he would “probably” retaliate for one of these brash fouls eventually.
Then, on Saturday, Griffin reminded us just how majestic he can be in the open court:
Note Denver Nuggets big man Timofey Mozgov, trailing the play, reticent to step into Blake’s path. It’s the preseason, yes, but this lapse is also a reminder that Mozgov was one of Griffin’s original, most indelible posterization victims. That sensational tomahawk, delivered during his rookie season, was the play that announced Griffin as a new, rising superstar to many fans of the league. It’s not hard to see why Booker would want to avoid wearing Blake’s dunce hat and becoming Griffin’s latest clickable YouTube patsy.
Love him or hate him, Griffin has become one of the more integral figures in the league. He’s a magnet for viral attention with his thunderous, artistic style, which is no ruse; pretty and awesome as Griffin looks on the court, he’s also just flat effective. Blake has a strong overall game now, and he’s one of the best ballers in the world. Lesser players like Booker are always going to swat away at the kind of basketball unicorn the Clippers’ superstar is — let’s just hope that nothing happens to deprive us of Griffin’s glitz.
— John Wilmes
DraftKings has released their Daily Fantasy college football salaries for Week 8, 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 Garrett Krstich, SMU vs. Cincinnati ($5100)
Krstich threw for 339 yards and two scores in his last game against ECU and now he gets to face an awful Cincinnati defense that ranks 118th against the pass. He appears to be an excellent punt option this week.
1) RB Mark Weisman, Iowa vs. Maryland ($4100)
Weisman has rumbled for two touchdowns in each of the last three games and gets to face a Maryland defense that ranks 104th in the country. Look for this Hawkeye to find pay dirt again this week.
2) RB Desmond Roland, Oklahoma State vs. TCU ($4200)
Roland has scored six rushing touchdowns over the past four games and still carries a very appealing price tag. Look for Roland to make another trip across the goal line and provide huge value this week.
3) RB Nick Chubb, Georgia vs. Arkansas ($4600)
All Chubb did last week was carry the ball 38 times and accumulate 174 total yards against Missouri. Expect Chubb to see plenty of carries this week and post a solid stat line.
1) WR Darius Joseph, SMU vs. Cincinnati ($4200)
Joseph is coming off his best game of the season and will be facing a Bearcats pass defense that ranks 118th in the country. He is a PPR machine and hold excellent value on Draft Kings.
2) WR Kolby Listenbee, TCU vs. Oklahoma State ($4400)
Listenbee has gone over 100 yards receiving in the last two games and could make it three in a row against Oklahoma State. The Cowboys pass defense is ranked 101st in the country.
1) Maxx Williams, Minnesota vs. Purdue ($3200)
Williams is healthy and has been posting consistent numbers at the TE position. Look for him to exploit a porous Purdue secondary.
VALUE PLAYS: SATURDAY (LATE ONLY) GAME SET
1) QB Tyrone Swoopes, Texas vs. Iowa State ($5300)
Swoopes exploded for 384 total yards and three total scores against Oklahoma last week. He could have another big performance against Iowa State and looks to be a nice punt option.
1) RB Royce Freeman, Oregon vs. Washington ($4600)
Freeman has seized control of the Oregon backfield and is priced well this week. He could easily hit 80 yards and a score and hit value this week.
2) RB Zach Laskey, Georgia Tech vs. North Carolina ($4700)
Laskey could find plenty of open holes to run through this week against North Carolina. The Tar Heels defense is atrocious and could struggle to stop the powerful Yellow Jackets running game.
1) WR John Harris, Texas vs. Iowa State ($5200)
Harris has scored four touchdowns over his past three games and may find his way into the end zone against Iowa State. There does not appear to be a ton of value at WR in the late slate, so use Harris freely.
1) TE Pharaoh Brown, Oregon vs. Washington ($3200)
Brown had 84 yards and a score last week against UCLA and looks to have a decent upside this week. He can be very inconsistent, so be careful.
By Todd DeVries & Kevin Mount, CollegeFootballGeek.com
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Donald Sterling’s a household name by now, and for all the wrong reasons. The disgraced, recently dismissed Los Angeles Clippers owner and L.A. area real estate tycoon has become a punchline. And perhaps no funnier term has been applied to Sterling than the Clippers star and 2014-15 MVP candidate Blake Griffin’s latest “weird uncle” tag.
In a piece written by Griffin and published via The Players’ Tribune, the dunk master tells the story of being led hand-in-hand by Sterling through a strange, surreal “White Party” in Malibu. Griffin paints the man as living in his own, self-created stratosphere, blind to the feelings of Blake and his other guests as he parades the uncomfortable star around like a prize.
More highlights from the story:
—Griffin recalls Sterling heckling Baron Davis at the free-throw line in a quiet Staples Center:
“Baron didn’t even react. He walked to the line and sank the free throw as Sterling carried on his rant. After the game, I don’t even think we talked about it in the locker room. Everyone was just used to it. It was both funny and sad. The guy was off his rocker.”
—Griffin tells the story of him Chris Paul watching Sterling on Anderson Cooper:
“Sterling looked at Cooper with no irony whatsoever and said, ‘Ask the players. My players love me!’ CP and I looked at one another from across the room and just tried our best not to laugh.”
—Blake likes new Clippers owner Steve Ballmer:
“Personally, I love that kind of crazy… It’s little bit ironic to me that the media has tried to turn Ballmer into a meme when they turned a blind eye to Sterling for years. Steve is a good dude. He’s like a cool dad who gives you candy. Donald was like a weird uncle.”
—Griffin ends his piece with quite the aphorism:
“Someone asked me the other day if I’m mad that he made out with $2 billion for selling the team. Maybe a little bit. But in the end, I’m just happy he’s gone. I think about him pulling me around the White Party in Malibu, and a saying comes to mind: ‘Some people are so poor, all they have is their money.’”
— John Wilmes
Gregg Popovich doesn’t care what you think. The coach of the reigning NBA champion San Antonio Spurs has forged a path of almost unparalleled playoff success by building a singular basketball compound in central Texas, immune to the ways of other teams, unfazed by outside opinion. Popovich’s culture involves a revolving door of selfless, international players and guys “who have gotten over themselves.” It also features an incredibly loose attendance policy.
Fined $250,000 by the league in 2012 for resting Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Danny Green for a nationally televised game, Popovich is now upping the ante. Not only are five Spurs players skipping Thursday’s trip to Phoenix for a preseason game against the Suns — Duncan, Ginobili, Tiago Splitter, Kawhi Leonard and Patty Mills — but Popovich himself is staying home, as reported by Dan McCarney of My San Antonio.
Resting players, of course, is not exactly unusual in the preseason. But Popovich is being characteristically brazen here. The coach always makes the trip. Popovich, a three-time Coach of the Year, is not deterred by the NBA’s policies and business interests, however. The long, grinding calendar would hurt his veteran team’s title chances if he didn’t let them pass on so much of it. So he doesn’t hesitate to glaze over many a date, even if they’re the ones the association has highlighted — customs be damned. His Spurs don’t need the extra reps like they need a little more R and R.
Maybe the league will fine Popovich for his Bueller-esque behavior yet again; maybe not. Either way, it’s clear that he’s the only coach around with the pedigree and attitude to pull a move like this and look smart (not lazy) doing it. And while some may claim arrogance or insolence over this sort of individualism, that’s fine by Pop. He can’t hear your critique over the jingle of his five championship rings.
— John Wilmes
Steve Nash is 40 years old now. He’s also, in case you forgot, a point guard with the Los Angeles Lakers, for whom he’s played just 65 games in two seasons, including only 15 last year. The man can’t stop getting hurt anymore. His most recent malady is probably his most telling:
Nash hurt his back carrying bags today, Byron Scott said. Did not practice. Wouldn't count on him playing Thursday vs. Utah.— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) October 15, 2014
Nash is famously healthy — the strict, no-sugar, no-carbs, no-dairy diet LeBron James went on to lose 15 pounds this summer is akin to how Nash has always lived. Arguably no one in the league more religiously subscribes to the notion that his body is a temple.
But fate is no longer on Nash’s side. His devastating brand of vision-driven basketball took a toll on the former MVP; he’s been playing since the Phoenix Suns drafted him in 1996. Most of his current Lakers group (a young bunch that surrounds Nash and Kobe Bryant, including Nick Young, Jordan Hill and Jeremy Lin) couldn’t even drive a car at that point.
Nash won’t be remembered as an aching Laker, though. The same, strange “oh yeah, that happened” twinge that accompanies photos of Michael Jordan in Washington Wizards blue will dominate the memory of Nash’s fleeting time in Hollywood.
Two years ago at this time, Nash and Dwight Howard had joined Bryant and Pau Gasol to form a team that many believed would win an NBA championship. But the team was brought down by injuries, bickering and poor front-office decisions. They never won a playoff game together, and the super squad now feels like the failed experiment that sunk the Lakers’ franchise into the unfamiliar territory of mediocrity.
When Nash inevitably makes the Hall of Fame, we’ll wax nostalgic on Suns highlights like these — with him torching the Lakers, not joining them in the rubble of Rome:
— John Wilmes
This interview and more appears in the 2014-15 Athlon Sports college basketball annual, available on newsstands and in our online store now.
Related: No. 2 Wisconsin Team Preview
Let’s start with the nickname — Frank the Tank. What was the origin?
I’ve actually got a few nicknames. That one started in high school. I didn’t play at all as a freshman on the sophomore team, then stayed on the sophomore team the next year. I only played two years on varsity, and our point guard got hurt our senior year for about eight games — so I played point guard at 6-10. I got to do whatever I wanted. It was so much fun. I’d call ball-screens, call plays for myself. Anyway, we had the best student section — and they started calling me Frank the Tank. I didn’t love it at first, but eventually I embraced it.
But I had a nickname before then — Fupps. I was fat my freshman year of high school, and someone started calling me “Fuppa Face.” I was puffy, had a little extra love on my body. I was called that for four years of high school. I like it and brought it with me to Madison.
Is it true you were cut from your AAU team?
I was the first kid cut during the Under-15 tryouts. I made it through half of the first tryout before they told me. After that, anytime I touched the ball I shot it. Then the next year I made the 16’s, but I didn’t travel. I just went to the local tournaments, but I wasn’t allowed to go on the road. I was 2-for-2 from the field the entire month of July. Then on the 17’s, I was playing behind (current Illinois center) Nnanna Egwu, and he got hurt so I started to play. When I went into that summer, there were a couple of low-major Division I teams. Then I got to play the entire month of April after Nnanna got hurt and more schools started showing interest. It was basically Wisconsin, Northwestern, DePaul, Bradley and Southern Illinois. But Wisconsin was really the first one and had faith in me before anyone else did.”
You came into Wisconsin and barely played your first two years. How frustrated were you?
I knew that coming in. My first year I didn’t expect to even get on the court. I thought I’d redshirt, so I was fine with a backup role. I knew it wouldn’t be much different my sophomore year because everyone was back — Jared Berggren, Ryan Evans and Mike Bruesewitz.
You went from anonymous to having a breakout season as a junior. How much did that surprise even you?
Some games I surprised myself, but other games I expected what I accomplished. I’ve worked hard and never got any respect from anyone. Obviously, I’ve had my own dreams and goals, and it frustrated me that the respect never came. Once it started happening last year, it may have surprised a lot of people — but not me.
Your introduction to the college basketball world came on Nov. 19 last season, the fourth game of the year, when you erupted for 43 points in a win over North Dakota. What do you remember from that night?
It was interesting. I’ve had some games like that before where everything is falling — a lot of people have — but it was surreal. That was the most points I’d ever scored in a game, other than in the summer league. It was cool that Coach (Bo) Ryan kept putting me back in to get the school record. After the game, I went on Twitter, and seeing everything was crazy. I got so many texts after the game, and I’d never experienced anything like that before.
Social media exploded that night about you, but now that you’ve had a chance to deal with Twitter as a known commodity for the past year, what are your thoughts on it?
In the past it was fun. I got to say some things and be myself. I had about 1,000 followers. Now I have 20,000 followers and so much of the time I hate it. I’ve pretty much gotten off Twitter. Sometimes I get on to check out articles or whatever, but other than that I try not to go on there, It’s a difficult forum because sometimes you can’t just be yourself — people take everything you say and read into it.
Do you enjoy the recognition you’ve received lately, or do you prefer to be questioned to add more fuel to the fire?
I’m not satisfied with what I’ve accomplished individually or as a team. I’ve never been about individual awards. I don’t care if I score two points, as long as we win. The Final Four was a great achievement, but we didn’t win anything. I want to win championships. I haven’t won a Big Ten title or a national title. The great thing about our team is that no one cares about the glory. We all just want to win. Sure, we had a great year and a terrific tournament run — but we all want more. We want to win championships.
You recently started a blog and called it The Moose Basketball. What was the reason for that, and how has it gone thus far?
I took a digital social media class in the spring, and I set up a blog for that. I’m not really the most creative person, but I wrote about my decision whether to stay in school or try and go to the NBA. It was about 10 paragraphs, but three words got all the headlines: “NBA looks boring.” That’s not at all what I meant. That’s my end game to be in the NBA, but I love college and really wanted to stay for my senior year.
How difficult was the decision to come back for your final season?
I thought about it for a while. I did research and talked to people, my parents talked to a ton of people. Right after we lost to Kentucky, I remember telling people that I wasn’t going anywhere. At that point, I hadn’t even thought about it. I didn’t even realize I had the potential to leave for the NBA. Then I was intrigued by it. I know I could have been drafted if I left, but I enjoy college and my teammates so much — and I want to come back and see if we can do even more than we did last year.
Your teammate, Sam Dekker, and many of the other top returning and incoming college players were at the LeBron James Skills Academy in July. Why weren’t you there?
As far as I know, I wasn’t invited. I’m not going to get mad about it, because I have no control over it. It would have been nice — especially to get all the free stuff! But I’m OK with it. I’ve been working out all summer with people I’m close to in my hometown. I’m watching a lot of film, have gotten my body in better shape. I know what I need to do to get better. I’m not trying to overdo it, either, and be in the gym for six hours a day. I’ve been efficient and do what I need to finish my college career strong.
The word is that you were a class clown back in the day. True or false?
So completely true. I couldn’t be any worse growing up. I was the tall kid who got picked on for being so tall. I remember one time in the seventh grade, the teacher was late for class, and I shut and locked the door so she couldn’t get in. I told everyone to hide in the back of the room. Then one kid finally opened the door, but I was hiding under the teacher's desk until she noticed. It took a while. I was pulling things down and knocking stuff down off her desk practically the whole class. I might have gotten in a little trouble for that one, but it was worth it.
How often have you watched Aaron Harrison’s game-winner that knocked you guys out of the Final Four?
Not once. I’ll probably never watch it — and I’m not kidding, either. It’s too painful. The same thing happened to me in high school when we were playing Jabari Parker’s team downstate. We were up three in regulation and we missed a free throw. He came down and pulled up from halfcourt to force overtime. We wound up losing in double-overtime.
No. 1 Kentucky begins 2014-15 where it started last season — at the top. Even though last season ended in the national title game, the Wildcats are hoping for a smoother ride this time around. The Wildcats didn’t start looking like a title team until the NCAA Tournament — a good time to do so, mind you — but this year’s group will aim for wire-to-wire consistency.
The Kentucky edition is one of dozens available in our online store and on newsstands everywhere now.
After last season, most Kentucky fans promised themselves never to allow that silly notion back into their minds — the idea that this latest loaded collection of Cats could, just maybe, win every last one of their games. The weight of that expectation nearly crushed a team full of freshmen, who eventually lost 11 times.
However, that team did eventually click in time for a wild ride all the way to the NCAA title game. And eight guys from that team who might’ve been drafted instead passed on the NBA and returned for another season at UK.
Plus, four more prized recruits signed up for the circus, bringing coach John Calipari’s roster to this crazy number: nine McDonald’s All-Americans, not counting projected lottery pick Willie Cauley-Stein.
And in a rarity, Calipari has veterans now, six sophomores and two juniors.
“The levels of practice are high,” Calipari says. “They’re not backing down from each other. The younger guys are competing. The older guys are coming.”
And the rest of college basketball should be quivering.
No. 1 Kentucky Facts & Figures
Last season: 29-11, 12-6 SEC
Postseason: NCAA runner-up
Consecutive NCAAs: 1
Coach: John Calipari (152-37 at Kentucky, 64-20 SEC)
SEC Projection: First
Postseason Projection: NCAA champion
It’s hardly hyperbole to say no one in college basketball can match the Cats’ combination of size and athleticism inside. With seven players 6-8 or taller, six of them former top-50 recruits, and all with skills that belie their size, Calipari’s frontcourt will overwhelm most.
Veteran forwards Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee play as if on pogo sticks and have gotten in peak condition — Poythress improving his cardio endurance and Lee packing on several pounds of muscle — demonstrated by dominant and dunk-filled performances during the Cats’ summer exhibition trip to the Bahamas.
It was a pivotal trip for Poythress, once considered a one-and-done and now entering his third season at UK.
“He came back to school to prove to the world: ‘I’m one of the best forwards in the country,’” assistant coach Kenny Payne says.
Then there’s the matter of three (almost) 7-footers in junior Willie Cauley-Stein, sophomore Dakari Johnson and freshman Karl-Anthony Towns. Johnson, already a rugged rebounder and inside scorer, has slimmed down and is running the floor — and springing up off it — better than ever. Towns opened a lot of eyes in the Bahamas with an unusually polished and multi-faceted game for a freshman. He swished hook shots, skied for dunks, crashed the glass and even delivered a few slick passes not typical of a 6-11 center.
There’s also 6-9 Derek Willis, another high riser who is a strong 3-point shooter. And both Cauley-Stein and 6-10 McDonald’s All-American Trey Lyles, who sat out the summer tour with leg injuries. Good luck to opponents trying to come up with a counter.
When twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison passed on the draft and returned to school, it solidified the Cats’ status as fully loaded across the board. They’re joined by two other former McDonald’s All-Americans: freshman point guard Tyler Ulis, an electric 5-9 water bug, and rookie sharpshooter Devin Booker.
Andrew Harrison looked far more comfortable and in control this summer, taking charge of the team and playing a more aggressive — but still pass-first — style. Aaron Harrison, hero of the Final Four run with three straight clinching 3-pointers, has a much more well-rounded game now. Both twins have lost weight, and it shows most in Aaron, who looks more explosive entering his sophomore season. He had multiple drives and dunks (over defenders) that drew gasps from the crowd in the Bahamas.
The twins will be catalysts for this team, but both Booker and Ulis will help significantly. Ulis handles the ball like it’s on a string, is a breathtaking passer and a surprisingly aggressive defender at his size.
“It’s like he’s a gnat,” Calipari says. “It changes the dynamic of our team right now, because we didn’t have that.”
This team is really, really, really good. Each of Calipari’s teams at Kentucky have been loaded with talent. Some of his teams have had solid depth. This one, however, has talent, depth and experience.
Will this team be the one to run the table? It’s unlikely. But you’ll have trouble finding a game right now they’d be picked to lose. Kentucky is the overwhelming favorite to the win the national title.
Only four McDonald’s All-Americans in this class? John Calipari is slipping, clearly. But 5-9 point guard Tyler Ulis is electric with the ball and will quickly be a fan favorite. Devin Booker has a sweet outside stroke but can also get to the bucket. Trey Lyles, if his undisclosed leg injury is fully healed, will be a force, while 6-11 Karl-Anthony Towns can do a little bit of everything and looks like a future top-five NBA Draft pick.
No. 2 Wisconsin returns nearly every key player from a team that reached last year’s Final Four. That kind of stability has the Badgers thinking of other prizes, such as the school’s first Big Ten title since 2008 and, ultimately, its first national championship in program history.
The Wisconsin edition is one of dozens available in our online store and on newsstands everywhere now.
As a keepsake from their run to the 2014 national semifinals, Wisconsin players each received a padded folding chair that included the Final Four logo. Sam Dekker has decided to put his in a spot where he can see it every day before he hits the court for practice.
“I feel like I have that reminder in front of my locker every day to think about the good things we did and things we can improve on,” Dekker says of the Badgers, whose 30-win season ended with a 74–73 loss to Kentucky. “A new chair could be waiting for us if we do the right things.”
It’s a long road to Indianapolis in April, but Wisconsin has the pieces to contend for another Final Four berth. Dekker is one of seven key players returning for Bo Ryan. More than 80 percent of the scoring and 80 percent of the rebounding is back from a team that could have played Connecticut for the title had Aaron Harrison not drained a 3-pointer from 25 feet with 5.7 seconds remaining.
No. 2 Wisconsin Badgers Facts & Figures
Last season: 30-8, 12-6 Big Ten
Postseason: NCAA Final Four
Consecutive NCAAs: 16
Coach: Bo Ryan (321-121 at Wisconsin, 156-66 Big Ten)
Big Ten Projection: First
Postseason Projection: NCAA runner-up
Center Frank Kaminsky was a breakout star as a junior, leading the Badgers in scoring and rebounding. While his coming-out party was a school-record 43-point effort early in the season against North Dakota, Kaminsky’s best contributions came during the stretch run when he used a variety of post moves to become the Badgers’ No. 1 option on offense.
Dekker wasn’t satisfied with his second season at Wisconsin, particularly his low shooting numbers from 3-point range (32.6 percent) and the free throw line (68.6). But he had a terrific summer that included standout performances at the Kevin Durant Skills Academy and LeBron James Nike Skills Academy and is determined to reach his potential. Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin’s top player off the bench as a freshman, could be ready for a starting role that would allow Dekker to move to small forward, his natural position. Before Kaminsky’s late-season run, it was Hayes who carried the offense by using a quick first step to get to the basket and draw fouls.
Forward Duje Dukan, coming off a medical redshirt year, proved to be a capable scorer off the bench in his first extended action. Wisconsin’s frontcourt depth will get a boost if forward Vitto Brown, who played only 44 minutes as a freshman, makes strides and shows Ryan he’s ready to join the rotation.
The Badgers’ only significant loss is shooting guard Ben Brust. Not only is Brust the program’s all-time leader in made 3-pointers — he was 15-of-30 during Wisconsin’s NCAA Tournament run — but his defense and scrappy play also will be missed. But Wisconsin still has a load of experience at guard in seniors Traevon Jackson and Josh Gasser. Jackson has started 67 consecutive games and has no fear when it comes to taking big shots in the closing seconds, while Gasser, a two-time member of the Big Ten’s All-Defensive Team, is on pace to become the program’s all-time leader in minutes played. Gasser exceeded expectations last season in his return from major knee surgery and has vowed to be more of an offensive presence, which would help make up for Brust’s departure.
Bronson Koenig has a nice shooting touch and the ability to break down defenses with his dribbling and passing. He could move into a starting role if Ryan chooses to stick with a three-guard lineup. Zak Showalter, whose strength is defending, redshirted last season and will compete with Jordan Hill and Riley Dearring for the fourth guard spot.
Ryan’s best offensive club helped him get over the hump and finally reach the Final Four. The Badgers could be even more lethal on that end in 2014-15 and should also be improved on the defensive end. They’ll be heavy favorites to win their first Big Ten title since 2007-08 and appear to have the tools to make another deep run in March, meaning that Ryan’s biggest challenge might be keeping his players from getting caught up in the hype.
Gasser says that won’t be an issue. “We’ve always had expectations of winning a Big Ten title and making a deep run in the tournament,” he says. “Really, it’s nothing different for us.”
Riley Dearring took one look at a crowded backcourt last season and decided to use a redshirt season to get stronger. He arrived at Wisconsin with a reputation as a shooter and willing defender, but it won’t be easy to find much playing time in an experienced backcourt. Ethan Happ committed to Wisconsin after attending a camp in Madison following his sophomore season and the coaching staff is excited about his future, but it won’t be easy for him to find minutes right away.
Earlier this month, we heard that the NBA was considering altering their free throw protocol in order shave time off games. Now, they’re taking a more direct route to brevity.
When the Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics face off on Sunday, October 19 (a preseason game), the bout’s duration will be just 44 minutes, not 48. The league’s president of basketball operations, Rod Thorn, had this to say about the decision, per USA Today’s Jeff Zillgitt: “We have looked at everything that we do and are taking a fresh look at all the different things we do. One of the things that keeps coming up is our schedule and the length of our games... Our coaches talked about it, and a lot of them seemed to be in favor of at least taking a look at it. We talked with our competition committee, and they were in favor of taking a look at it... Let's get some empirical evidence regarding this and take a fresh look at it.”
The biggest flaw in the NBA’s product has been, for some time, its volume. There’s too much of it. The 82-game season is a beleaguered yawn at times, and fans are often right to turn their attention elsewhere until the playoffs begin and teams are finally in the pressure cooker of do-or-die expectations. That’s when the real drama begins.
But the season probably won’t shorten anytime soon. There’s simply too much money in all that TV time. The next best thing the league can do to make their brand snappier, though, is to condense the game, and that seems to be a priority for progressive new commissioner Adam Silver.
And 48 minutes is an aberration, anyway: Every other major basketball league across the globe plays the game for 40 minutes or less. It seems like only a matter of time before the NBA comes closer to that figure.
— John Wilmes
The scene seems to be played out over and over every week, and there’s simply no way to avoid it. A player takes a wrong step, a big hit, or is simply running. Then he drops to the ground in pain.
Fans lose a star player to cheer for. Players lose a valuable teammate. Sometimes it’s just for a few weeks, and sometimes it’s much longer. But in this war of attrition that is the NFL season, many of these injuries have huge impacts on the standings. Teams can lose all hope in a single pop.
So far this season, more than a handful of big-name, big-play, high-impact players have been taken away from the teams that need them. Here’s a look at some of the walking – or not-walking – wounded whose absences could have the biggest impacts on their teams.
Giants WR Victor Cruz
The Giants’ offense was just beginning to roll when Cruz went down with a torn patellar tendon. And when he did, it exposed the Giants’ incredibly thin receiving corps. Rookie Odell Beckham, who has been in two NFL games and hardly any full practices, now steps into a starting role and vet Preston Parker becomes the slot man. They also signed the well-travelled Kevin Ogletree, but there’s not a lot behind the starters, Beckham and Rueben Randle, with Cruz gone.
Patriots LB Jerod Mayo
The Patriots don’t look much like the Patriots anymore, and losing their leading tackler (with a knee injury) from an already weak linebacking corps won’t help. Now his job will likely fall to an undrafted rookie (Deontae Skinner) and that’s big, since Mayo was the leader of the group and the one who made the play calls. In years past, we’d all just assume Bill Belichick would just find someone else to fill in and move on. But Belichick doesn’t look much like Belichick these days either.
Patriots RB Steven Ridley
The effect of Ridley’s knee injury (out for the season) depends on your perspective on Ridley, which is always hard to figure when deciphering Belichick’s revolving backfield. He seemed to be their best running back, if the focus is on the running. But they do have Shane Vereen — who has been used more as a third-down-type back — and Brandon Bolden. Ridley seemed to have the most upside, though, if you could only look past his penchant for fumbling.
Lions WR Calvin Johnson
His high ankle sprain has had him in and out of the lineup, but it’s also made him a shell of his former self on game day. And while the Lions still have other weapons, and a pretty good receiver in Golden Tate, they have the potential to be one of the top offenses in the NFL when Johnson is on the field. They probably have enough to reach the playoffs without him, but they could be actual contenders with him. There’s no way to take one of the best players in the game off the field and not have it hurt.
Bengals WR A.J. Green
At this point, the on-again, off-again toe injury to Green is more annoying than devastating, but he likely will be out for a couple of weeks and who knows how much he’ll be hampered the rest of the way. The Eagles have other weapons, but Green is what makes them a Top 10 (or higher) passing offense. He is a consistent big-game player, a small notch below Calvin Johnson, and opens up the field for everyone else. Without him, the Bengals go from possible championship contender to a very ordinary-looking team.
Saints TE Jimmy Graham
There simply is no replacing the best tight end in the NFL, who will likely be out this week and possibly more with a shoulder injury. Obviously Drew Brees has plenty of weapons at his disposal, but Graham is their leading receiver and his size/speed forces defenses into difficult decisions on who to double and which positions to commit to covering Graham. Without him creating mismatches and opening up space for others, there’ll be a lot less room for Brees’ other targets to run.
Browns C Alex Mack
The Browns have surprised everyone with their 3-2 start and a lot of that has to do with their rushing attack, which ranks third in the NFL. When your rushing attack is that good, it has a lot to do with the offensive line. So losing Mack to a broken leg upsets everything. Coach Mike Pettine will have to juggle his line, probably by moving guard John Greco to center. Maybe it’ll still work, but Mack has been a solid force even through the bad times in Cleveland. And the center is usually the leader of the line.
Eagles RB Darren Sproles
He has been such a valuable, versatile weapon for Chip Kelly, both as an occasional runner and receiver and as a return man. There are few running backs in the NFL with his kind of explosion. Now he has a sprained MCL and while optimistic reports say he could be back in a few weeks, the real question will be if the sprain lingers. He’s 31 and small (5-6, 190) so even a loss of a half step of his speed could greatly diminish his importance.
Redskins QB Robert Griffin III
At first, when RGIII dislocated his ankle, it looked like a blessing in disguise for Washington because Kirk Cousins looked terrific. Then the bubble burst and in recent weeks it became clear to everyone why Griffin was such a high draft pick. He’s good. He’s dangerous. He has uncommon talent. At some point he’ll be back, but by then the Redskins likely won’t have a season to save.
Dolphins RB Knowshon Moreno
Injuries have hampered the former Bronco all season, even before an ACL tear sidelined him for the season. With a still-growing quarterback in Ryan Tannehill, the Dolphins need to rely on their rushing attack. They had hoped Moreno would get healthy enough to help at some point. Now Lamar Miller is stuck carrying a very heavy load.
Cowboys G Doug Free
Things had been going so well for the Cowboys and most of it had to do with their offensive line. So the last thing they wanted to do was lose one of the pieces. Sure enough, Free is out 3-4 weeks with a fractured foot. If that’s all it is, it’s not a killer blow since Dallas is 5-1. But without him, there is some question about what will happen to Demarco Murray and the NFL’s best rushing attack, and whether there’ll be a lot more pressure on Tony Romo from now on.
—By Ralph Vacchiano
East Rutherford, NJ (SportsNetwork.com) - The New York Giants officially placed Victor Cruz on injured reserve after the star wide receiver underwent surgery Monday to repair a torn patellar tendon in his right knee.
In a related move, the Giants announced the signing of veteran wideout Kevin Ogletree on Tuesday. Additionally, the team put nickel back Trumaine McBride on IR after he fractured his thumb in Sunday's 27-0 loss at Philadelphia.
Cruz suffered his injury while attempting to catch a fourth-down pass from Eli Manning in the end zone during the third quarter of Sunday's game. The 2012 Pro Bowl selection immediately clutched his knee after dropping the pass and needed to be carted off the field.
The 27-year-old spent Sunday night at Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia and was transferred to the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan, where team physician Dr. Russell Warren performed the procedure.
Cruz caught 23 passes for 337 yards and one touchdown in six games this season. In 14 games last year, he hauled in 73 passes for 998 yards and four scores.
Ogletree began the season with the Detroit Lions but was released in Week 3 after being inactive for the club's first two contests. He caught 13 passes for 199 yards and one touchdown in 12 games for Detroit last season.
The 27-year-old Queens native's best season came with Dallas in 2012, when Ogletree compiled 32 receptions totaling 436 yards and four touchdowns.
McBride had been serving as New York's slot cornerback after Walter Thurmond sustained a season-ending torn pectoral muscle against Arizona in Week 2. The journeyman corner was a 10-game starter for the Giants in 2013, recording two interceptions and 15 passes defensed.
Through New York's first six games of this season, McBride had notched 21 tackles, one interception, one sack and two forced fumbles.
Cornerback Chandler Fenner was signed off the practice squad to replace McBride on the active roster.