Articles By Athlon Sports
College basketball is down one superstar freshman, but the game, as usual these days, won’t lack for electrifying first-year talent.
Point guard Emmanuel Mudiay opted to play professionally in China rather than navigate the NCAA eligibility waters at SMU. That’s unfortunate for SMU coach Larry Brown, who would have given the Mustangs a rare NBA lottery pick talent to play at that level.
As usual, the bluebloods have their share of stud freshmen. Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, UConn and, of course, Kentucky make the list of impact freshmen, but there are a few appearances by the likes of UNLV and Seton Hall this season.
Cliff Alexander, F, Kansas
Kansas replaces Joel Embiid, the No. 3 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, with another highly rated big man to team with Perry Ellis. Alexander was the third-ranked prospect in the 247Sports Composite. The 6-8, 240-pound big man will provide KU with a physical presence in the paint.
Daniel Hamilton, G/F, UConn
Shabazz Napier is gone, but hopes are high for Hamilton to be UConn’s next star. He’s a lanky, athletic wing with a multi-faceted game who should give the Huskies a scoring boost.
Justin Jackson, G/F, North Carolina
North Carolina’s signing class contains three top-30 prospects, all at positions where they will have to fight for playing time at point guard (Joel Berry) and small forward (Jackson, Theo Pinson). Jackson is the highest ranked (No. 9) in the 247Sports Composite and may be the best shooter of the group, giving him a leg up on a team that shot 33.6 percent from 3-point range last season.
Stanley Johnson, G/F, Arizona
Arizona trades out one star freshman (Aaron Gordon) for another in Johnson, who was the No. 4 prospect in the 247Sports Composite. Johnson figures to be more of an offensive threat than Gordon. The 6-5, 225-pound swingman will be a threat to score from all over the court.
Kaleb Joseph, G, Syracuse
Joseph will be Syracuse’s fourth point guard in four seasons and its second freshman in a row. Expectations are high after the run of Michael Carter-Williams and Tyler Ennis. Joseph, though, won’t have the supporting cast his predecessors enjoyed.
Tyus Jones, G, Duke
The other half of a package deal with Jahlil Okafor, Jones gives Duke a point guard to compete with Quinn Cook. The senior didn’t start the final 10 games of the season, so Jones could play alongside Cook or supplant him at times during the season. Jones is known for his court vision, and he already has chemistry with Duke’s standout freshman center.
Kevon Looney, F, UCLA
UCLA was thin in the frontcourt last season, but that may not be the case anymore with the arrival of Looney, a 6-9, 208-pound power forward. Of course, without Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams and Zach LaVine, the Bruins will need help everywhere. UCLA is counting on Looney, the No. 11 prospect in the 247Sports Composite, to contribute on the boards and in the post.
Trey Lyles, F, Kentucky
John Calipari may need to get creative to keep Lyles, Karl Towns and the rest of his big men happy. Lyles’ natural position may be power forward, but he can also play small forward. Lyles, though, may be off to a slower start as he missed Kentucky’s tour of the Bahamas in early August while recovering form a procedure on his left leg.
Jahlil Okafor, C, Duke
Duke has not had a ton of great big men in recent years, Mason Plumlee’s senior season notwithstanding. Now, Duke will have not only one of the top freshmen in the country at center, but also an elite player with a skill set that has become increasingly rare. The 6-11, 270-pound freshman from Chicago already has a well-developed post game that could make him one of the top true centers in quite some time.
Kansas figures to have plenty of able bodies at the 2 and 3 in the 2014-15 season, but Oubre should have plenty of opportunity to shine. The 6-7, 190-pound McDonald’s All-American has a varied offensive game. He can hit the 3 and get to the rim. He’ll be an All-Big 12 contender.
Kentucky may have been loaded in the frontcourt even without this freshman class. Dakari Johnson, Willie Cauley-Stein and Marcus Lee all return, meaning perhaps Towns won’t be quite as prolific as recent Kentucky freshman big men. Still, he’s a 6-11, 250-pound forward who can stretch a defense.
Myles Turner, F, Texas
Texas already returned every key player from one of the surprise teams in the country. The Longhorns bolstered their chances to contend for the Big 12 title by adding the Turner in the spring. He gives the Longhorns a 6-11, 240-pound skilled big man, but more important, the Euless (Texas) Trinity product gives Rick Barnes a sorely needed in-state recruiting victory.
Tyler Ulis, G, Kentucky
With guards Aaron and Andrew Harrison back, Ulis won’t be asked to score from the backcourt. That’s no problem. He’s much better as a distributor, and his vision will be an asset to another loaded Kentucky team.
Rashad Vaughn, G, UNLV
Vaughn, one of the final big-name prospects to sign last year, elected to stay close to where he played in high school at Findlay (Nev.) Prep. He’ll be part of a new starting five at UNLV and will have plenty of opportunities to flourish at the 2 or the 3.
Isaiah Whitehead, G, Seton Hall
Seton Hall’s first McDonald’s All-American since 2000, Whitehead joins a backcourt that already includes Texas transfer Sterling Gibbs and Jaren Sina. Whitehead, at 6-4 and 210 pounds, should add scoring punch to a team that ranked 123rd nationally in offensive efficiency on KenPom.
Whether it’s football or basketball, recruiting is a wild game. So much so that we wouldn’t mind listening to a basketball assistant and a football assistant swap stories from the road.
Certainly, both would have their share.
By now, many college fans follow the recruiting process in football and basketball to some degree, but how much do you really know.
For one, football and basketball recruiting are two completely different beasts with their own rules, written and unwritten.
If your a basketball fan, here’s what you need to know about how your team landed — or lost — that coveted recruit.
Athlon Sports contributor John Martin is a columnist and host with 92.9 FM covering the University of Memphis and the Memphis Grizzlies. Martin also contributed “13 Things you Need to Know about Football Recruiting” for Athlon Sports’ College Football preview.
1. This isn’t football: A commitment means something
When a prep football player commits to a college, it doesn’t necessarily signal the end of his recruitment. Opposing coaches still call and write and fight to get the prospect on campus. The commitment of a basketball player carries more weight; among the top-100 prospects in the Class of 2014, only seven decommitted from their original choices.
Two of those players — James Blackmon Jr. and Quentin Snider — ended up going back to their first choices. One — Ahmed Hill — changed his mind due to a coaching change. Another yet — Elijah Stewart — had a strong senior year and moved up a level, from Loyola Marymount to USC.
So why does a basketball player’s commitment hold more often? The numbers game, most times, kill off the competition when a player makes his decision.
“It goes like this: We may have only two scholarships. And so if you commit to my scholarship, the other teams — they gotta keep moving,” Wichita State assistant coach Steve Forbes said. “They gotta get somebody. In football, you have so many numbers, you just keep recruiting.”
On the other hand, when a decommit does take place in hoops, it might indicate a deeper issue than just a simple change of heart. And it can even cost an assistant coach his job — like one SEC assistant, who requested anonymity.
“So I’m recruiting a kid. He’s a top-level kid — a top-25 guy,” the assistant said. “I become the point contact on the guy. I’m putting out a whole lot of energy and effort. I’m going to his games, watching him play, I’m communicating with him and his family. I’m going from recruiting to now relationship-building.
“And when you get a commitment in hoops, you don’t keep recruiting the position. It’s in place. I got the one guy. Guy ends up coming in (for a visit), and then he decides he wanted to open it up. I’ve been talking to my boss about the landscape of our program with him in the fold. Then the kid decommits on me, and now I don’t have an explanation for my boss on who’s next. There is no next, because I haven’t done anything with anybody else. That led me to changing jobs. I knew I was expected to deliver, and I didn’t.”
2. Midnight Madness: It’s all about recruiting
In college basketball, there are two types of madness. There’s the one that comes in March, with fairy tale upsets and countless office brackets. And then there’s the madness that comes before the season starts — in the form of a glorified practice.
Schools all over, from Kentucky to Memphis, kick off the college basketball season with a preseason practice in their home venues, giving fans a free and early look at the upcoming season’s team. But Big Blue Madness, Memphis Madness, and events like them aren’t just for fans; typically, that weekend serves as the program’s biggest recruiting event of the year.
Memphis, for example, hosts anywhere from 20 to 25 recruits on both official and unofficial visits every year for Memphis Madness. Which is why Memphis coach Josh Pastner does whatever he can to make sure FedExForum is packed out.
“It’s been a great tool for us,” Pastner says. “It works because of the crowd support we get. The place is sold out. It’s an overflowing crowd. It’s a fire hazard in the FedExForum (because of the crowd). That’s why it works. We’re so fortunate to have that support and passion from the fan base.”
It’s little more than a pep rally, but for recruits visiting that weekend, it’s a perfect window into what he can expect if he enrolls at the school.
3. You can’t pay the recruit ... but you can hire his dad
Stephen Thompson is a former Syracuse basketball player who coached at the Division II level for over a decade. The head coach of Cal State-Los Angeles for nine years, he’d never had a chance to coach at the Division I level — until earlier this summer.
Oregon State hired Thompson as an assistant coach, which, on the surface, seemed random. But it wasn’t at all. Thompson has a son — Stephen Thompson Jr. — who is a top-60 recruit in the Class of 2015.
Indeed, the “package deal” in college basketball is the latest layer in an already complicated recruiting world.
“It’s a reality of the game right now,” Cal assistant coach Yanni Hufnagel says. “I don’t think you’ll see a reversion. If you can make a hire where you get a guy on the court, coaches will do it.”
It happened most recently at Memphis. Keelon Lawson, a high school coach in the Memphis area, made it known that he was interested in coaching at the college level. He wasn’t just any old high school coach, however; he has four sons between ages 10 and 17 who are all considered high-level recruits. Whichever school hired him, despite his lack of college coaching experience, automatically landed his talented sons.
Ultimately, Memphis made the decision to hire him. A week later, Class of 2016 five-star recruit Dedric Lawson made public his commitment to the Tigers.
4. Mid-majors understand their spot on the food chain
Generally, the bluebloods of college basketball have their pick of players. Kentucky, Duke, and North Carolina don’t tend to lose out when they zero in on a prospect, most of which is due to tradition and reputation.
But what about the smaller schools? It’s easy for top programs to recruit; just identify the five-star recruits and work your way down. But what about the schools that have to look beyond that pool?
Chattanooga coach Will Wade says he doesn’t necessarily evaluate prospects; he evaluates situations around them when prioritizing who to recruit.
If a player has a scholarship offer from a team within a multiple-bid league, Wade usually doesn’t waste his time.
“If it’s all one-bid leagues recruiting the kid, we’ll take our shot at him,” Wade says. “If it’s a multi-bid league, that’s gonna be really tough for us to beat most of the time. We’d likely just cut bait, move on and go to someone else and rely on our evaluations.”
Wade isn’t naive; he knows that the best players don’t go to Chattanooga. If a good player chooses his program, he likely has what Wade calls “warts.” His job is to determine which warts are worth living with.
“He’s gonna either be too short, too skinny, maybe too fat,” Wade says. “You just have to figure out which one fits your program.”
5. It’s all about AAU
Though the AAU circuit might make your stomach churn, what with its shoe company affiliations and the omnipresence of “handlers,” there’s no denying its influence in recruiting.
Unlike in football, high school coaches — other than in specific cases — have little or no say in the recruitment of basketball players. AAU coaches reign. The reasoning is simple: AAU coaches are with the players in the formative stages of their recruitment. College coaches rarely evaluate prospects during the high school season, simply because they have their current teams to worry about.
The evaluation gets done in the summer on the AAU circuit, which gives AAU coaches a certain level of authority on the kids who play for them.
“A high school coach is going to have relationships with one player,” Missouri associate head coach Tim Fuller says. “An AAU coach is gonna have relationships with 10 or 15 in the course of that year.”
But Fuller said his approach to recruiting, even with the heavy involvement of AAU coaches in recruiting, is slightly different than others’. He said if he were to chart his time spent with the adults around a prospect, 50 percent of his time would be devoted to the player’s family. Thirty percent would go to the AAU coach. The remaining 20 percent of the time goes to the high school coach.
Fuller’s best example was Johnathan Williams III, a sophomore forward from Memphis who led the team in rebounding as a freshman last season. Whenever the recruiting calendar allowed, Fuller shot down to Memphis and joined Williams’ mother for a jog around her local community center’s running track. That extra time paid off, obviously, when Williams chose the Tigers.
“A lot of AAU coaches and high school coaches have relationships (with other coaches) that outdate me,” Fuller says. “When I can get in front of a parent and spend time with a parent, they see the genuine approach with me.”
6. Recruiting never stops
Many moons ago, Josh Pastner’s girlfriend broke up with him because he chose to take a recruiting call during a movie date. On the line was Ndudi Ebi, a stud forward who was at the time considering Arizona. He ultimately committed but never made it on campus, instead opting for the NBA Draft.
It’s a story that perfectly illustrates the non-stop nature of recruiting in 2014, especially with the unlimited text messaging rule. Coaches can begin texting prospects starting June 15 upon the completion of their sophomore years.
“I would say the knot in your stomach never goes away about recruiting,” Hufnagel says. “You’re always connected, always on your phone, always talking to kids. It’s a high-stress game.”
Pastner notoriously has called prospects from the delivery room as his wife was in labor. It’s the most time-consuming and demanding part of the job, but it’s part of the job. And any coach that doesn’t understand that won’t last very long.
Hufnagel, for example, hasn’t turned off his cell phone in a year — other than while being on a flight.
“And even then, you get stressed if the airplane doesn’t have WiFi so that you can check texts,” he says. “It never ends.”
7. Spring Signees are in High Demand
Before the winter of 2004, Tyrese Rice was a little-known, smallish point guard at Bird High School in Richmond, Va. At 6-0, he didn’t possess imposing height, and at 165 pounds, he wasn’t exactly a profile in brute strength.
A lightly recruited prospect, he opted to wait to sign until the late period of his senior year. What did he have to lose? He could go through his senior year, put up big numbers, and hope a bigger school noticed.
That year, as fate would have it, Rice’s high school team was set to play Oak Hill, a powerhouse prep school in Virginia that boasts alumni from Jerry Stackhouse to Carmelo Anthony. In that game, as one coach remembers, the unsigned, barely recruited Rice destroyed North Carolina signee Ty Lawson. College coaches, predictably, noticed, and Rice was soon fielding phone calls from Maryland, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, and Boston College. He committed to Boston College and went on to have a prestigious career there.
Rice’s story is the primary piece of evidence for prospects who are considered low- to mid-major to wait out their recruitments. The bigger schools may have a spot come open after a player declares for the NBA Draft. A player may transfer.
In the numbers game that is college basketball recruiting, it makes sense to wait if the situation is right. Sometimes, a prospect can go from having one or two offers to being the most coveted recruit that spring.
“It’s all cyclical,” one SEC assistant coach says. “It’s a domino effect. One thing leads to another. If we have a guy transfer, or declare for the draft, you circle back around. There’s guys you would’ve never recruited that have high-major offers in the spring because you have three guys declare for the draft. In the end, you gotta have bodies.”
8. International players can be tough to scout
Basketball is a global sport in 2014, and there are players everywhere from Montana to Australia. A college coach’s job today is not just to monitor the players that reside in the nearest region or even in the United States; it’s imperative to keep watch internationally.
Under coach Randy Bennett, Saint Mary’s has built a reputation as one school that scours the world for prospects with a concentration on Australia. Bennett’s biggest success internationally was landing Patty Mills, who played a big role on the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs this season.
But it can be a tough task evaluating players across the pond, especially considering that the level of competition overseas is considerably weaker than in America. The players are coached differently, they develop different habits, and the American and European styles of basketball aren’t exactly one in the same.
“It’s all about your contacts,” one American Athletic Conference assistant coach says. “You have to have a network of people who can give you the lead on some kids you may not be aware of. Once you do that, you can look at film and some other things like that.”
In recent years, Canada has become part of the firmament of college basketball. Anthony Bennett, Tyler Ennis, and Andrew Wiggins — three first-round NBA Draft picks — all hail from Toronto. In 2014-15, Canadian-born Trey Lyles figures to play significant minutes for Kentucky.
There’s an undeniable international influence on college basketball today. When deciding which prospects to bring over, however, a coach’s basketball instincts are most important.
“If a guy won’t rebound internationally, he won’t collegiately,” the AAC assistant says. “If he can knock it down from the international 3, he can do it from the collegiate 3. A lot of people make this more than what it is. Yes, there’s an art to it, a science to it, but it just comes down to you have to have a vast knowledge of the game.”
9. Letters of Intent aren’t always binding
A National Letter of Intent is, at its core, supposed to be “binding.” When a prospect signs one, whether in November or April, the idea is that he’s locked into the school and the school is locked into him.
But, in reality, that’s not the case at all.
Any time there’s a coaching change at a school, many signees request to be released from their NLIs, even though they’re intended to be binding. There were more than 10 high-level players in the Class of 2014 who requested and were granted releases from their NLI due to a coaching change, free to attend a new school of their choice. One of these players, point guard Devonte Graham, will play a key role for a team with national title aspirations. Graham originally signed with Appalachian State but ended up signing with Kansas, where he will fill a major need. Shelton Mitchell (from Wake Forest to Vanderbilt), Elijah Stewart (Loyola Marymount to USC) and Malek Harris (Marquette to Kansas State) are three other prominent freshmen who were allowed to “walk” after their original school went through a coaching change.
There is one recent high-profile case, however, in which a prospect was not released from his NLI. Isaac Hamilton was a five-star recruit from California in 2012. He signed with Tim Floyd and UTEP, the first five-star high school recruit to choose the Miners perhaps in their history.
But he had a change of heart at the last minute and decided he wanted to be closer to home. When Hamilton asked for a release, Floyd and UTEP refused. Despite going in front of an appeals committee, Hamilton was denied immediate eligibility and was forced to sit out a year at UCLA.
It’s a complicated issue, with both sides obviously prioritizing their own interests. But the NLI itself, in many cases, seems to be an obsolete system.
“The kids do deserve freedom, if there’s a change of coaching or a change of heart,” national college basketball recruiting analyst Evan Daniels said. “That’s real stuff. The NLI doesn’t make much sense to me. There’s not much benefit for the kid, outside of the school giving away the scholarship (if he doesn’t sign). For these elite-level recruits, it’s not doing much for them.”
10. Grad transfers are the ultimate free agents
If you ask most coaches, there’s no better value on the recruiting market than the graduate transfer.
High school players are necessary to build a program, of course, but once you get outside the top 50, it tends to be a crapshoot. Junior college players are stop-gaps, but they often carry baggage with them, whether it be academically, emotionally, or, in the worst cases, criminally.
Graduate transfers are one-year rentals who have been in a college system for at least three years. Last year, Tarik Black of Kansas and Antonio Barton of Tennessee were two of the most prominent grad transfers, helping their respective teams reach the Sweet 16.
Miami (Fla.) has taken a graduate transfer in consecutive years; Joe Thomas of Niagara this year and Donnavan Kirk of DePaul last year.
“It’s a unique scenario,” Miami assistant Chris Caputo said. “Any opportunity for a program to get a little bit older, to get somebody who’s a known commodity because he does have those stats, good or bad, behind his name, and then also to get the scholarship back after a year — it’s a good thing.”
The perception of graduate transfers has changed in recent years, Caputo says. Yes, there tends to be an open market feel to it all. Yes, the NCAA is looking at a way to govern it. But graduate transfers don’t carry the same stigma they once did. In today’s game, it’s considered a luxury.
“It’s another good avenue to build a program,” Caputo says. “To get (a grad transfer) with any sort of numbers behind him, especially a frontcourt player, you’ll see a recruiting frenzy. In terms of priority, those guys become a very big priority.”
The Philadelphia Eagles were off to their best start in years and sitting atop a surprisingly competitive NFC East when the absolute worst thing happened to them that could happen to a football team. They lost Nick Foles, their starting quarterback, to a broken collarbone for 6-8 weeks.
That is almost always a death blow for teams. There is no more important position in the game — really in all of sports — than the quarterback.
It’s a good thing the Eagles had one of the best backups in the league.
Seriously, say what you want about Mark Sanchez, but few other teams can call on a former starter who twice took a team to a championship game when an emergency arises. A quick look around the NFL shows that most NFL teams employ no-names or has-beens with questionable pedigrees in the backup job. For most teams that doesn’t matter. But when a team looks like a contender and needs a temporary fill in? The backup quarterback suddenly becomes the most important player in the world.
So with that in mind, here’s a quick look at the backup quarterback position on all 32 NFL teams, ranked in order of best to worst …
1. Indianapolis Colts: Matt Hasselbeck — He’s 39 and hasn’t started a game since 2012, but he once led the Seattle Seahawks to the Super Bowl. No other backup QB in football can say they did that.
2. Philadelphia Eagles: Mark Sanchez — He rarely had much talent around him with the Jets, yet he helped them to two AFC championship games. He’s also only 27 with a whole lot to prove.
3. Oakland Raiders: Matt Schaub — The Raiders brought him in to be the starter before they drafted Derek Carr. He’s only two years removed from a pretty good season in Houston.
4. Green Bay Packers: Matt Flynn — Once he was such an accomplished backup he earned a huge contract from the Seahawks. But three teams later, he can’t seem to make it outside of Green Bay.
5. Cincinnati Bengals: Jason Campbell — Only 32, he was once a promising starter in Washington. Then his career died in Oakland. But he has started 79 games.
6. Miami Dolphins: Matt Moore — Had a decent year starting for a bad Dolphins team in 2011, then never really got another chance to start.
7 .Washington Redskins: Colt McCoy/Kirk Cousins — Both briefly looked like the best backups in the NFL, and Cousins can be at times, but both have penchant for big mistakes.
8. Carolina Panthers: Derek Anderson — He had a great season in Cleveland in 2007, which was a long, long time ago.
9. Arizona Cardinals: Drew Stanton — A journeyman who hadn’t thrown a pass since 2010, Stanton filled in nicely when Carson Palmer was out for three games. Cards went 2-1 and Stanton didn’t throw an interception.
10. Seattle Seahawks: Tarvaris Jackson — Went from bad starter in Minnesota to mediocre in Seattle, but has a big arm and experience for spot starts.
11. Jacksonville Jaguars: Chad Henne — Has a history of mediocre performances on bad teams. A perfect hold-the-fort guy for a contender, which the Jags are not.
12. Dallas Cowboys: Brandon Weeden — He’d be considered a former first rounder with tons of potential, if he wasn’t already 31 in just his third NFL season.
13. Buffalo Bills: E.J. Manuel — A deposed starter with a future, but after being benched for Kyle Orton he needs to have his confidence rebuilt.
14. Tennessee Titans: Zach Mettenberger — A sixth-round rookie out of LSU, he’s taken over for the benched and disappointing Jake Locker. Threw for 299 yards and two touchdowns in his first start.
15. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Josh McCown — Threw 13 touchdowns and just one interception in five starts for Chicago last season, but washed out as the Opening Day starter with the Bucs.
16. New Orleans Saints: Luke McCown — A 33-year-old journeyman whose last touchdown pass came in 2007.
17. New York Jets: Geno Smith — Awful as a starter, he lost his job to a shaky Mike Vick, and it’ll be hard for the Jets to go back to him now.
18. St. Louis Rams: Shaun Hill — Their entire quarterback situation is a mess and this 34-year-old career backup doesn’t help.
19. San Diego Chargers: Kellen Clemens — He was once the future of the New York Jets. Now he’s just hanging around at age 31.
20. San Francisco 49ers: Blaine Gabbert — Still only 25 after going bust as Jacksonville’s last franchise quarterback. Trying to revive his career with a better team.
21. Pittsburgh Steelers: Bruce Gradkowski — A backup for almost his entire nine-year career, he’s barely touched the ball in the last four seasons.
22. Minnesota Vikings: Christian Ponder — An awful first-round pick and former starter, he’s just playing out his contract in Minnesota.
23. Atlanta Falcons: T.J. Yates — Played well as a starter for Houston in 2011 until his three-interception playoff meltdown. Hasn’t started a game since.
24. Detroit Lions: Dan Orlovsky — In his ninth NFL season despite only having thrown a pass in four of them.
25. Houston Texans: Ryan Mallett — Acquired from New England in an offseason trade, he’ll make his first start on Sunday. Has completed one pass in four NFL seasons.
26. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel — So much hype and so much potential, but scouts remain split on whether he’s actually got NFL tools. The way Brian Hoyer is playing, we may not find out until next year.
27. New York Giants: Ryan Nassib — Scouts like his arm and IQ, but he’ll never get a shot behind the durable Eli Manning. Couldn’t have landed in a worse spot.
28. New England Patriots: Jimmy Garoppolo — Is the second-round pick from Eastern Illinois the heir-apparent to 37-year-old Tom Brady? Depends on when Brady decides he’s done.
29. Kansas City Chiefs – Chase Daniel — Made his first career start in last year’s season finale. Wasn’t bad in narrow loss to Chagers.
30. Baltimore Ravens: Tyrod Taylor — Former sixth-round pick has stuck around behind Joe Flacco mostly because he doesn’t have to play. When he has played a little, he’s been very mediocre.
31. Denver Broncos: Brock Osweiler — Broncos know they’re done if Peyton Manning gets injured, so the backup doesn’t matter. They just hope the 23-year-old picks up some good tips.
32. Chicago Bears: Jimmy Clausen — Was pretty bad as a rookie starter in Carolina in 2010. No reason to think he’d be any different now.
—By Ralph Vacchiano
It hasn’t been a good start to the most-hyped season of Cleveland Cavaliers history. LeBron James and Co. have won just one game, and lost three. The most recent fall was to one of last season’s worst teams, the Utah Jazz. Forward Gordon Hayward made sure of it with this game-winning shot:
Cleveland’s still got a large mess of issues to resolve before they look like the championship contender everyone anointed them going into the year. Last night’s latest effort at mending their chemistry woes came in the form of a starting lineup change. The much-maligned Dion Waiters was bumped to the bench in favor of veteran wingman Shawn Marion, a one-time champion with the Dallas Mavericks team that thwarted James and the Miami Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals.
This loss doesn’t fall on LeBron, though. With 31 points, LeBron put in his team’s second-best performance of the night — only Kyrie Irving bested him, racking up an efficient 34. The startling statistic for the Cavs is their assist total: They collected just six as a team. The young Jazz had 26.
There’s a lot of chemistry to be built in Cleveland. Sharing the ball isn’t easy when you’re playing with new teammates; offensive teamwork relies on being able to know where your partners are going to show up on the floor, and when. It’s too soon for this team to have developed that kind of familiarity — and that shows. There’s a bevy of NBA players who average more assists individually than the Cavs were able to tally as a team in this contest.
The Cavs’ daunting Western Conference road trip continues Friday night in Denver, as Cleveland tries to right the ship in the thin air of the Nuggets’ Pepsi Center altitude. Catch the game at 7:00 PM ET on NBA TV.
— John Wilmes
If you’ve never seen the end of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, in which nearly all of the characters die at once, here’s DeMarcus Cousins, Kenneth Faried and Rudy Gay performing it for you amidst the Sacramento Kings' 110-105 victory over the Denver Nuggets:
Three men never feigned their fall so hilariously on a basketball court. Well, okay, let’s not forget about Lance Stephenson’s playoff-intensity flop from last spring:
And the trio of Gay, Faried and Cousins even had some competition down south on the same night. Watch Boston Celtics rookie Marcus Smart show his theatrical stuff against the Mavericks in Dallas:
It’s nice to see the NBA’s players are doing everything they can to win games — even if it means delving into a little deception of the referees.
Cousins and Gay, though, haven’t had to resort to too many dirty tactics to collect victories so far in 2014-15. The oft-maligned Kings duo has propelled the team to an unlikely 3-1 start, aided by a surging Darren Collison at point guard, who the Kings enticed to Sacramento after a stellar job backing up Chris Paul with the Los Angeles Clippers last year — a stint that included a heroic, unforgettable performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the postseason.
Collison, like much of his roster, is an afterthought to a lot of the game’s followers. Between his overlooked skills and the frequent character assassinations of Cousins, analytical takedowns of Gay’s inefficient game and the Kings nearly relocating to Seattle a year and a half ago — before a final political push by Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson — this has become a team on a mission to throw success in the faces of their skeptics. And the quest for redemption (coupled with the unstoppable post play of dark horse MVP candidate Cousins) has made them a compelling underdog to watch in this young NBA season.
See if the Kings can keep it up as they host the Nuggets in a rubber match tonight, at 10:00 PM ET in the Sleep Train Arena.
— John Wilmes
Tony Allen is known as many things. A savant defender, “The Grindfather,” Kevin Durant’s worst nightmare and a cornerstone of the Memphis Grizzlies’ lava-speed mentality. But today, he’s looking like a bit of a reckless jerk. Watch as Allen causes this cameraman some grief over a foul call he wasn’t in love with.
The league fined Allen $15,000 for the incident, which happens to be the same amount they just tagged Minnesota Timberwolves guard Kevin Martin with for his “obscene gesture” after making a clutch shot late against the Chicago Bulls on Saturday.
For Allen, this sort of outburst is just part of the process of being one of the most intense basketball players alive. The 32-year-old Chicago native is a relatively diminutive 6’4” — Allen regularly guards players with several inches on him, and up to fifty extra pounds. Like a mongoose trapping a snake, though, there’s nothing surprising about Tony shutting down any star once you’ve become familiar with his scrappy, relentless style.
The Grizzlies ended up winning the contest over the New Orleans Pelicans, 93-81. They’ll need every ounce of insanity they can find from their guard if they’re to find themselves well-positioned in the brutal Western Conference, where 50 victories might not get you into the playoffs. The Monday night contest against New Orleans was arguably one of Memphis’ easier contests of recent days — and it came with the assignment of shutting down burgeoning mega-star Anthony Davis.
Allen and the Grizzlies take on the Phoenix Suns in Arizona tonight, a squad they fought for bottom Western playoff spots until the very end of the 2013-14 season. The Suns added speedy guard Isaiah Thomas this summer, who with Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic makes Phoenix one of the faster teams in the league. Catch the epic contrast in the team’s two styles at 9:00 PM ET.
— John Wilmes
Ashburn, VA (SportsNetwork.com) - The Washington Redskins activated wide receiver Leonard Hankerson from the physically unable to perform list Tuesday almost a year after a knee injury ended his season.
Hankerson, 25, has been out since suffering a torn lateral collateral ligament in his left knee during a game in Philadelphia on Nov. 17, 2013.
The former third-round draft pick out of Miami has 81 catches for 1,081 yards and six touchdowns in 30 games since 2011, including 14 starts.
The Redskins waived cornerback Chase Minnifield on Tuesday and released tackle Terren Jones from the practice squad. Minnifield had two tackles in six games this season after spending the first three weeks on the practice squad.
East Rutherford, NJ (SportsNetwork.com) - New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin confirmed Tuesday that cornerback Prince Amukamara will miss the rest of the season due to a torn biceps.
Amukamara suffered the injury in Monday's loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
Amukamara had been the Giants' best cornerback this year, recording 45 tackles and three interceptions in eight games.
Coughlin said that the Giants will likely bring in a cornerback this week to go with Chandler Fenner, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Zack Bowman, Jayron Hosley and Mike Harris.
In other injury news, left guard Weston Richburg, who left the game with an ankle injury, was having tests Monday.
The Giants play at Seattle this Sunday.
Pittsburgh, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday safety Troy Polamalu and linebacker Ryan Shazier will miss Sunday's game against the New York Jets.
Both players exited last Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens with injuries. Polamalu has a knee sprain and Shazier is dealing with an ankle injury.
Polamalu has 51 tackles and one forced fumble in nine games this season, while Shazier has 26 tackles in five contests.
The 6-3 Steelers will turn to backups Sean Spence and Will Allen for Shazier and Polamalu, respectively.
Conroe, TX (SportsNetwork.com) - Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson reached a plea agreement in the child abuse case against him on Tuesday.
Peterson was facing felony charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child after he was accused of using a wooden tree branch to hit his 4-year-old son as a disciplinary measure, resulting in visible injuries to the child.
Instead, he pleaded no contest and reached an agreement to a lesser charge of one count of misdemeanor reckless assault and will avoid jail time. He is also expected to get probation, pay a $2,000 fine and serve 80 hours of community service.
"I truly regret this incident," said Peterson outside the courthouse after the agreement was reached. "I take full responsibility for my actions. I love my son more than anyone of you can imagine. I am anxious to continue my relationship with my child. I am glad this over... so me and my family can move forward."
Peterson is currently on the NFL exempt list while the court proceedings continued. It is unclear when or if the star running back will be reinstated.
The Vikings said in a statement Tuesday evening that they were aware of the plea agreement and would have a further comment "at the appropriate time."
Peterson was initially deactivated prior to a Week 2 game against New England after being indicted in September, then was reinstated by the team the following Monday.
However, after backlash from sponsors, fans and the Minnesota government, the Vikings reversed course and placed Peterson on the NFL's exempt/commissioner's permission list. He is being paid despite not playing.
Shabazz Napier called his team the Hungry Huskies during the post-national championship celebration at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, in April. They fed off returning to the NCAA Tournament after serving a postseason ban and went on an improbable March Madness run.
But Napier, an All-America guard and inspirational leader, has graduated and moved on to the NBA. DeAndre Daniels and Niels Giffey, two other key players, also are pursing professional careers.
Only six players, including just one who averaged in double figures, return.
According to coach Kevin Ollie, UConn’s appetite for success remains the same. “Every year is a different year,” Ollie says. “But we’re going to have the same mindset. … It’s a work ethic. It’s to have humility, the understanding that it’s not about you, it’s about our great university. If we can have those things with the talent we have, success is going to follow. I really, really believe that.”
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Ollie is excited about the potential of his maturing frontcourt and hopes to get more production out of the group.
Junior Phil Nolan is battled-test, appearing in 63 games over two seasons, and has added muscle. He’ll look to improve on last year’s numbers (3.3 ppg, 2.4 rpg).
Watch out for sophomore center Amida Brimah. Already a shot-blocking force, averaging a team-best 2.3 per game, he’s working on elevating his offensive game. He spent the offseason recovering from shoulder surgery. “Amida is going to be a force,” Ollie says.
Sophomore Kentan Facey adds a different dynamic off the bench, possessing the ability to attack inside or shoot outside.
Highly touted freshman Daniel Hamilton, an athletic 6-7 wing, has the potential to be a special player. Hamilton averaged 20.5 points, 9.0 rebounds and 5.2 assists while leading St. John Bosco to a state title in California last season.
Freshman Rakim Lubin owns the mindset and muscle to be a factor on the glass, one of team’s few weaknesses last season.
UConn Huskies Facts & Figures
Last season: 32-8, 12-6 AAC
Postseason: National champion
Consecutive NCAA appearances: 1
Coach: Kevin Ollie (52-18 at UConn, 22-14 Big East/AAC)
AAC Projection: Second
Postseason Projection: NCAA Round of 32
Stocked with skilled guards, UConn will continue to be a perimeter-powered team.
Ryan Boatright, the top returning scorer and a defensive pest, steps into the spotlight after residing in Napier’s shadow. Following a terrific postseason, Boatright considered turning pro before deciding to return for his senior season. “He has to take over that leadership role,” Ollie says. “I think Boat is going to do that. I see a lot of great qualities in Ryan. … He has a great competitiveness about him.”
Sophomore Terrence Samuel, who emerged as a valuable contributor off the bench last season, and junior Omar Calhoun are other returning guards. Calhoun is looking to bounce back from a sophomore slump.
Last season, Ollie referred to Rodney Purvis, a transfer from NC State, as his Ferrari in the garage. The explosive Purvis is ready to hit the accelerator and take off. “He can score at a high level,” Ollie says.
Newcomer Sam Cassell Jr., who starred on the junior college level, is a fierce competitor with a high basketball IQ. He gives UConn another playmaker.
Expectations are high for the Huskies, who’ll likely be a top-25 team, an American Athletic Conference title contender and NCAA Tournament team.
Another trip to the Final Four will be difficult to pull off considering that UConn lost four of its top five scorers and top three rebounders. But with a nice blend of promising newcomers, developing underclassmen and proven veterans, the Huskies possess the talent to complete a quality makeover. They’ll rely on scoring by committee and look to push the pace to utilize their team speed and versatile roster.
Ollie, who received a new five-year, $15 million contract in May, will stick to his winning formula — play team basketball and tenacious defense, limit turnovers and convert from the foul line, where UConn shot 77.7 percent last season.
With the roster changes, UConn needs time to become a cohesive unit.
“We’ve got some talent,” Ollie says. “We’ve got to pull it together. We’ve got to get in (the gym) and work hard. But all the guys have great attitudes. That’s the one thing that I pride myself on — having a great attitude and being a great teammate. I think all of our guys have that.”
Rakim Lubin, a rugged forward, will provide a much-needed physical presence and rebounder. Sam Cassell Jr., son of the former NBA guard, averaged 18.7 points in junior college. He’ll add valuable depth and experience in the backcourt. Daniel Hamilton, a multi-talented wing, is considered one of the top scorers at his position in his recruiting class. A gifted guard, Rodney Purvis averaged 8.3 points as a freshman at NC State.
For one, the AAC is the home of the defending national champion that loses star Shabazz Napier but returns coach Kevin Ollie and guard Ryan Boatright while adding NC State transfer Rodney Purvis and highly regarded freshman Daniel Hamilton.
The Huskies, though, may have trouble making a run at the AAC title thanks to upstart SMU. Even without freshman Emmanuel Mudiay, the top point guard prospect in the NBA draft who will be playing in Europe, the Mustangs have enough talent and experience returning to make a historic run for the program.
With the arrival of Vanderbilt transfer Kedren Johnson, Memphis may be able to make the AAC a three-team race. Cincinnati and league newcomer Tulsa, the latter under first-year coach Frank Haith, will try to maintain momentum after NCAA runs a year ago.
After those top teams, though, watch out. The AAC had five teams in the top 40 on Kenpom.com last season (including Louisville). The other five teams were ranked 125th or worse. That trend may continue in a league that adds Conference USA also-rans East Carolina and Tulane this season.
Previews of every American team and more are available in the 2014-15 Athlon Sports College Basketball Preview.
2014-15 American Athletic Conference Predictions
1. SMU (team preview)
The turnaround under Larry Brown has been very impressive. Emmanuel Mudiay’s decision to play overseas hurts, but the Mustangs are still talented.
2. Connecticut (team preview)
The defending national champs bid farewell to Shabazz Napier, but bring in Rodney Purvis and Daniel Hamilton — and kept Kevin Ollie.
3. Memphis (team preview)
The immediate eligibility of Vanderbilt transfer Kedren Johnson gives the guard-starved Tigers a major boost.
4. Cincinnati (team preview)
Without Sean Kilpatrick and Justin Jackson, Mick Cronin loses his leaders. Can Shaquille Thomas take the next step?
Postseason projection: NIT
After reaching the NCAA Tournament last season, the Golden Hurricane will look to get back as Frank Haith replaces Danny Manning.
The Green Wave could be a sleeper. Louis Dabney and Jonathan Stark should form one of the best duos in the league.
7. East Carolina
Leading scorer Akeem Richmond is gone, but Jeff Lebo brings back several key pieces — and adds transfer Terry Whisnant.
The Owls took a major step back last season, going from 24 wins to nine wins. Will Cummings and Quenton DeCosey do return.
Stan Heath is gone and former Kentucky assistant Orlando Antigua is in. Anthony Collins needs a bounce-back season at the point.
Kelvin Sampson has already added talent to the roster, including transfers Torian Graham and Devonta Pollard.
The Knights were next-to-last in the conference last season, and lose their top three scorers. Donnie Jones’ star has dimmed.
2014-15 American Athletic Conference Superlatives
Player of the Year: Nic Moore, SMU
The absence of Emmanuel Mudiay will put more pressure on Moore, but he may be up to the task. He averaged 13.6 points and 4.9 rebounds last season and contributed clutch play during SMU’s run to the NIT championship game.
Best Defensive Player: Amida Brimah, Connecticut
The shot-blocking extraordinaire averaged 2.3 blocks per game in just 16.2 minutes and 17 starts.
Most Underrated Player: James Woodard, Tulsa
The 6-3, 183-pound guard averaged 15.5 points and 5.9 rebounds for the Conference USA champions last season. Now he gets to shine on a bigger stage.
Newcomer of the Year: Daniel Hamilton, Connecticut
UConn will hope this high-scoring wing will help offset the losses of Shabazz Napier and DeAndre Daniels.
Top coach: Larry Brown, SMU (complete AAC coach rankings)
G Nic Moore, SMU
G Ryan Boatright, Connecticut
G James Woodard, Tulsa
F Shaq Goodwin, Memphis
F Markus Kennedy, SMU
G Will Cummings, Temple
G Jonathan Stark, Tulane
G Rodney Purvis, Connecticut
F Daniel Hamilton, Connecticut
F Austin Nichols, Memphis
G Anthony Collins, USF
G Louis Dabney, Tulane
G Quenton DeCosey, Temple
F Justin Martin, SMU
F Shaquille Thomas, Cincinnati
The obvious issue for Cincinnati in 2014-15 is how to replace first-team All-America guard Sean Kilpatrick, who finished his career as the second-leading scorer in school history behind the legendary Oscar Robertson.
But that’s not how coach Mick Cronin sees his challenge as he begins his ninth year at his alma mater armed with a new seven-year contract extension.
“We quickly have to realize it’s a new day,” Cronin says. “That’s my message to the guys. It’s your team. We don’t have to replace nobody. We have to become the 2014-15 version of the Bearcats.”
Cincinnati will have seven new players and no double-figure scorers returning from the 2013-14 team that shared the inaugural American Athletic Conference title with Louisville and lost to Harvard in the Round of 64 of the NCAA Tournament.
The Bearcats won’t have much experience, but they will have plenty of size on the front line, which is a major departure from last season.
“We’ll be a couple inches bigger and a lot stronger on the front line and deeper on the front line,” Cronin says. “With Shaq Thomas, you talk about six guys that are 6-7 or bigger and either really athletic or 265 or 270 pounds. We have a chance to be a great rebounding team.”
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The Bearcats were looking forward to seeing how much top-25 recruit Jermaine Lawrence had improved after his disappointing freshman year in 2013-14, but Lawrence transferred to Manhattan because he wanted to be closer to his home in New York after he learned that his father had been diagnosed with cancer.
Thomas, a 6-7 junior forward, is Cincinnati’s leading returning scorer after averaging 6.8 points last season, but he still has not reached the potential the coaching staff sees in him. Thomas scored in double figures only once in the final 12 games of the season.
The Bearcats are hoping for immediate help from 6-10, 270-pound junior college transfer Coreontae DeBerry and 6-10 junior college transfer Octavius Ellis. The 6-10, 220-pound Ellis is the most intriguing of the newcomers because he began his career at Cincinnati in 2010, but was asked to leave after his involvement in a nightclub incident. He returns after earning All-America honors at Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College, where he averaged 14.8 points and 9.7 rebounds last year. Ellis is one of four Cincinnati players who were suspended after the infamous fight against cross-town rival Xavier three years ago.
Jamaree Strickland, at 6-10, 270 pounds, will make his debut after being forced to sit out last year because the NCAA would not accept all of his high school courses.
Gary Clark, a 6-7 freshman, was a prolific scorer in high school, and 6-8, 230-pound forward Quadri Moore provides another physical player on the front line. Jermaine Sanders, a valuable player at times off the bench last year, is back for his senior year.
Cincinnati Bearcats Facts & Figures
Last season: 27-7, 15-3 AAC
Postseason: NCAA round of 64
Consecutive NCAA appearances: 4
Coach: Mick Cronin (162-107 at Cincinnati, 72-70 Big East/AAC)
AAC Projection: Fourth
Postseason Projection: NCAA Round of 64
Ge’Lawn Guyn returns at point guard, but he’ll be pressed by sophomore Troy Caupain, who has better all-around skills and is more of a scoring threat. Deshaun Morman will make his debut after being redshirted last year due to a broken foot.
Sophomore Kevin Johnson hit some big shots in a reserve role as a freshman and could blossom into a consistent perimeter scoring threat. The Bearcats were not a great 3-point shooting team last year even with Kilpatrick in the backcourt, so they signed junior college transfer Farad Cobb, who averaged 15.1 points and shot 46.3 percent from beyond the arc last year at Northwest Florida Community College. Cobb began his career at Chattanooga.
Cincinnati has been on a nice run with four straight NCAA Tournament appearances and a 101–39 record during that span, but the Bearcats will have a much different look this year with a roster heavy on strong physical players on the front line.
If the Bearcats are going to make a fifth straight NCAA appearance, they’ll need a big boost from Caupain and incoming guard Cobb and hope that the front-line players blossom quickly.
With no proven returning scorer and so many untested players on their roster, it’s a stretch to predict that the Bearcats will win their second straight AAC title.
Guard Farad Cobb is being counted on to provide 3-point shooting. Deshaun Morman, who redshirted last year, will provide depth in the backcourt. Forward Coreontae DeBerry is a strong, physical player who should help right away. Center Octavius Ellis has two years of junior college experience and one year in the Cincinnati program. Jamaree Strickland is an unknown commodity after sitting out last year. Forward Gary Clark is a potential big-time scorer, and forward Quadri Moore will provide a physical presence up front.
Larry Brown was already ahead of schedule at SMU, taking only two seasons to transform the moribund program. Twenty years removed from their last postseason appearance, the Mustangs last season won 27 games and advanced to the NIT title game.
So, Moody Madness had returned to the Hilltop before Mudiay Madness culminated in the loss of Brown’s most prized prospect. Emmanuel Mudiay, the nation’s No. 1 ranked point guard, announced in July that he would play professionally overseas.
With Mudiay, many early projections had the Mustangs in the top 10. Without him, they may still be the best team in the American Athletic Conference. They return most of the key players who posted four wins over ranked opponents, including a sweep of eventual national champion UConn.
Big man Markus Kennedy and point guard Nic Moore were among the best at their positions in the American. And transfers Justin Martin from Xavier and Jordan Tolbert from Texas Tech, both three-year players at their respective schools, figure to make a significant impact. They join a deep group of young players fighting for minutes.
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The Mustangs are a difficult team to play because they have a Hall of Fame coach who stresses defense. Turnovers set up fast breaks, and their halfcourt offense thrives on working the ball inside for high percentage shots. They are relentless on the boards, outrebounding all but 10 of their opponents. They look even stronger underneath with center Yanick Moreira healthy and the addition of established forwards Martin and Tolbert.
Kennedy’s confidence is high after averaging 12.4 points and 7.1 rebounds and notching a team-high 44 blocked shots in his first season at SMU. He plays much larger than his 6-9 frame.
Moreira, the former junior college All-American, led the team in scoring, rebounding and minutes early last season but never returned to top form after having arthroscopic knee surgery. Unhappy with reduced minutes, he has plenty of motivation to display his shot-blocking and rebounding potential.
Senior post Cannen Cunningham’s playing time declined with Kennedy’s emergence, but Brown is determined to use Cunningham’s shooting and rebounding skills. Ben Moore was one of the team’s biggest surprises as a freshman, averaging 6.2 points and 3.6 rebounds in 14.8 minutes. The 6-8 forward has the athleticism to play virtually any position.
SMU Mustangs Facts & Figures
Last season: 27-10, 12-6 AAC
Last NCAA appearance: 1993
Coach: Larry Brown (42-27 at SMU, 17-17 CUSA/AAC)
AAC Projection: First
Postseason Projection: NCAA Round of 32
SMU led the conference in field goal percentage (48.3), but that figure was bolstered by second-chance points. Although the Mustangs shot 37.9 percent from beyond the arc, they lacked a pure outside shooter.
That role usually went to Moore, who kept the Ponies rolling in the NIT with game-winning baskets. Moore earned All-AAC first team honors, but he has no true point guard behind him. That’s one reason Mudiay would have been a great fit.
Thus, the pressure is on sophomore Keith Frazier to display the outside shooting that made him the first McDonald’s All-American SMU ever signed. With the loss of departing senior Nick Russell and Mudiay no longer in the picture, Frazier should improve with more minutes. He averaged 5.4 points in 14.8 minutes as a freshman.
Sterling Brown, the brother of NBA player Shannon Brown, and Ryan Manuel are diverse role players who can drive for layups, create scoring chances and draw fouls.
Although SMU’s Q-rating may suffer without Mudiay, Brown made the Mustangs relevant with their plus-12 turnaround in wins from 2012-13.
They are coming off a season in which they were ranked for the first time since 1985, posted the second-most wins in program history and set attendance records that included nine sellouts in renovated Moody Coliseum.
After finishing tied for third in the inaugural American Athletic Conference season, SMU will be shooting for a league title. It doesn’t hurt that Louisville has left for the ACC, and UConn and Cincinnati have big holes to fill.
Poised to make the NCAA Tournament, the Mustangs have last season’s snub to use as motivation. More important, they have even more depth than last year, when they averaged 25.6 points off the bench. They have eight players who averaged at least 12.9 minutes last season and two transfers who are potential starters.
Anything shy of a top two or three finish in the league and a trip to the
NCAA Tournament would be a disappointment.
Justin Martin, who played three seasons at Xavier, averaged 11.7 points and 5.2 rebounds last season — second on the team in both categories. Jordan Tolbert played three seasons at Texas Tech, averaging 10.7 points and 5.7 rebounds while starting 91 games.
This time last year Josh Pastner had a backcourt some were describing as college basketball’s best thanks to the presence of four senior guards, all of whom had previously averaged double-figures in points at the Division I level. He was going to press and run and overwhelm opponents with talented veterans. And though Memphis did remain in the Associated Press Top 25 poll every week of the regular season, the truth is that none of the senior guards had what anybody would describe as a terrific season, and the Tigers failed to advance out of the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament for the fourth consecutive year.
Those four senior guards are now gone.
The situation in the Memphis backcourt won’t be as dire as it could have been. The eligibility of Kedren Johnson, who transferred from Vanderbilt, gives Pastner one guard who has played at the Division I level. The news came only weeks before the first practice of the season. Johnson, who led the Commodores in scoring two seasons ago, was suspended for the 2013-14 season at Vanderbilt but received received a wavier to play this season after transferring to Memphis. His arrival can’t be understated as Memphis now has an experienced point guard to go with a solid frontcourt.
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What Memphis lacks in backcourt experience it makes up for in frountcourt experience (and talent) thanks to the return of Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols, a pair of forwards who both started a year ago. Goodwin, a junior, averaged 11.5 points and 6.5 rebounds last season. Nichols, a sophomore, averaged 9.3 points and 4.3 rebounds last season.
“We’re gonna play through them,” Pastner says. “They have to produce.”
Nick King will be given every opportunity to start at small forward. Is he a natural wing? No. But he’s just too talented to bury on the bench, and the only thing that’ll keep the 6-7 sophomore from playing 20-plus minutes per game is an inability to guard the position. Aware of this, King has been taking yoga classes to improve his flexibility and footwork in an attempt to improve his perimeter defense.
Memphis Tigers Facts & Figures
Last season: 24-10, 64-18 CUSA/AAC
Postseason: NCAA round of 32
Consecutive NCAA appearances: 4
Coach: Josh Pastner (130-44 at Memphis, 64-18 CUSA/AAC)
AAC Projection: Third
Postseason Projection: NCAA Round of 64
Before Johnson’s arrival, Memphis lacked any guard with experience on the Division I level. More than that, the Tigers lacked a natural point guard. The Vanderbilt transfer fills both of those gaps. Johnson led the Commodores in scoring 13.5 in 2012-13 before serving a year-long suspension for a “non-academic university policy.”
The rest of the backcourt may be a hodgepodge. Markel Crawford, Pookie Powell, Dominic Magee, Chris Hawkins and Avery Woodson are all talented in their own ways. But, again, none of them is experienced, none of them is a natural point guard, and Crawford and Powell haven’t played competitive basketball in two years. Crawford redshirted last season as he recovered from a torn ACL while Powell missed last season for academic reasons.
“There’s gonna be some mistakes made because they haven’t been in game situations,” Pastner says. “But I also think that we have guys who can do things with the ball and who are talented. So you don’t wanna box them in, either. You wanna allow them to have some creativity and make plays.”
Emmanuel Mudiay’s decision to sign a contract in China rather than play at SMU combined with significant personnel losses at UConn and Cincinnati combined with Louisville’s departure to the ACC gives Memphis a shot to compete at the top of the league again.
But it’s rare for an inexperienced backcourt to lead a team to the NCAA Tournament. So Memphis fans still holding on to the final five years of the John Calipari era would probably be wise to lower expectations, just a little. The future is still bright for the Tigers, undeniably. But this particular season could turn into a learning experience for all.
“We might have one or two plays and that’s it (at the start of the season),” Pastner says. “We just have to be as basic, as fundamental, as defensive-minded as possible, so that we can get things accomplished. We can’t get to step C if we haven’t accomplished step A, and we’ve gotta get to step B before we get to step C.”
Pookie Powell and Markel Crawford both essentially redshirted last season and project as possible starters in the backcourt while junior college transfers Trahson Burrell, Chris Hawkins and Avery Woodson are all capable of cracking the rotation. Dominic Magee is the only true freshman on scholarship. He’s a 6-3 guard who averaged 22.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 3.0 steals last season in high school.
In case you had any lingering doubts about whether Jason Kidd’s exit from his post as coach of the Brooklyn Nets was amicable, erase them: It wasn’t. Nets owner and Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov made that clear when he shared these words Monday:
The largely mysterious man, recently rumored to be shopping his NBA team around, made a rare appearance before the media before his team’s nice 116-85 home victory against the undermanned Oklahoma City Thunder. Prokhorov also said that his team losing $144 million last season is “no big deal.”
Prokhorov said, despite recent talks, that he’s not giving up majority control of his team. That probably has a lot to do with the league’s new TV $24 billion deal, which ensures that an NBA team is just about the soundest, most lucrative investment a man of Prokhorov’s funds can buy or hold onto these days.
For now, these Nets likely remain a bit hamstrung in the Eastern Conference standings, as some irrational exuberance on Prokhorov’s and general manager Billy King’s part has sunk them into a hole of repeater tax salary cap penalties. Those snags might not make much difference in Prokhorov’s bottom business line, but they do kill the market flexibility required to make the shift into a true contender. The Nets will have to wait a while before making real improvements to their roster.
Quotable as he is, Nets fans better hope their owner is also measured and patient enough to let the long, complex process of team-building take place.
— John Wilmes
Hearing Carmelo Anthony fess up to "bad energy” during the New York Knicks 2013-14 season is like hearing the devil tell you he's not looking out for your best interests. In other words: Duh.
"I think just overall, not pointing anything out, but just overall from day one last year the energy was just not right," Anthony told reporters after a Knicks practice on Monday. "This year, you could just feel the total difference stepping into this gym, talking to guys, talking to the staff, talking to the players. Everybody has a newfound energy so it's just a lot different now.”
Watching New York last year felt a lot more like social work than entertainment. Their brand of sloppy, misdirected basketball, and total lack of effective communication, became a comedy of errors that was hard to watch. This Andrea Bargnani clip just about summed things up:
But with Phil Jackson taking over and bringing in coach Derek Fisher, the new-look Knicks are a different story. Despite having some obvious deficiencies on their roster, they’re a well-organized outfit with some definite strengths. Between Anthony, J.R. Smith, Amar’e Stoudemire and Tim Hardaway, Jr., they aren’t lacking for shotmakers. Even if they can’t guard a broom without Tyson Chandler, who’s now back with the Dallas Mavericks.
Off a 2-1 start, the Knicks have playoff potential. They’re certainly a few major pieces away from championship contention, but the rehabilitated ethos of the franchise — in addition to the zen master’s nearly unparalleled record of success — suggests Jackson is the man to develop, sign, or trade for those additions. And Knicks fans should feel doubly encouraged by his proactive transparency, documented in the recent scouting report he released on his own team.
Up next for the Knicks are John Wall, Paul Pierce and the nasty Washington Wizards, who roll into Madison Square Garden at 7:30 PM ET tonight.
(h/t to ESPN's Ian Begley for the Anthony quote)
— John Wilmes
Road wins never come easy, but TCU found a way past West Virginia last weekend and moved back into the Legends Poll Top 8. Kicker Jaden Oberkrom booted one through the uprights as time expired, helping the seventh-ranked Horned Frogs knock off West Virginia, 31-30. TCU became the only Big 12 team in the top 8. The top 6 in the rankings remained unchanged.
No. 1 Mississippi State held off an upset bid from Arkansas, 17-10, as the Hogs search for their first SEC win under Bret Bielema.
Second-ranked Florida State overcame a 21-point deficit — the largest comeback in school history — to beat Louisville, 42-31.
And No. 4 Auburn pulled off another stunning victory against Ole Miss, forcing two fumbles inside the five-yard line in the fourth quarter.
No. 3 Alabama was idle but faces a tough test at LSU this coming weekend.
No. 5 Oregon exorcised its demons against Stanford in an impressive 45-16 rout.
And idle Michigan State remained at No. 6.
No. 8 Notre Dame moved down a spot after a tough victory in Washington DC over Navy. Ole Miss dropped from the rankings.
|1||Mississippi State (10)||8-0||100||1|
|2||Florida State (1)||8-0||84||2|
“We love the guys we have in the program,” Kruger says. “They’re a group that is easy to watch and fun to cheer for from a Sooner fan perspective.”
And it’s a group that’s contributed to steady progress, with four starters returning, including leading scorer Buddy Hield, from last season’s 23–10 squad that finished second in the Big 12.
Still, true progress is measured in NCAA Tournament wins. And while OU has earned its way into the bracket the past two years, they’ve exited quickly, sticking around for just one game each time.
“I like where we’re at,” Kruger says. “Always like to be further along and further ahead. We’ve got to keep working at it. We’ve got to keep making progress. I think we’ve got young guys in the program now that understand that.”
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Ryan Spangler needs help. And whether or not he gets it could swing the Sooners ahead — or hold them back. At 6-8, Spangler is best suited for a power forward role, as a face-up shooter with versatile skills. Forced to play center a year ago, he faced a grind that took a physical toll and frequently landed him in foul trouble. Still, he averaged 9.6 points and a team-high 9.3 rebounds, shooting 58.4 percent from the floor — numbers that could easily expand under less stress.
The ideal hope for help lies with the NCAA’s ruling on transfer TaShawn Thomas, who is seeking a waiver in the wake of a coaching change at his former school, Houston. Thomas, a 6-8, 240-pounder with the body to play the post, led the Cougars with 15.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game and ranked No. 14 nationally with a 59.1 field goal percentage. A tandem of Spangler and Thomas would be formidable.
If Thomas fails in his appeal, the Sooners could be scrambling. Veteran D.J. Bennett is a solid defender and shot-blocker, but is limited offensively. C.J. Cole is a sophomore who has been slow to assert himself. Dante Buford is the most advanced of a promising group of freshmen, yet packs just 208 pounds on his 6-7 frame.
Oklahoma Sooners Facts & Figures
Last season: 23-10, 12-6 Big 12
Postseason: NCAA round of 64
Consecutive NCAA appearances: 2
Coach: Lon Kruger (58-38 at Oklahoma, 28-26 Big 12)
Big 12 Projection: Fourth
Postseason Projection: NCAA Round of 32
The Sooners are loaded at the guard spots, despite Je’lon Hornbeak’s exit in search of more playing time at Monmouth.
Hield emerged as one of the Big 12’s best, averaging 16.5 points and leading the team with 90 3-pointers in his sophomore season. And Kruger believes Hield can do even more by meshing the attacking style he displayed as a freshman with the catch-and-shoot skills seen in his second season.
“That combination of the two years, where he’s attacking more, although we want him to keep shooting it well,” Kruger says. “We’d want him to get back to attacking the paint and finishing at the free throw line, if not the rim.”
Jordan Woodard seized the point guard spot as a freshman a year ago, starting every game and leading the team in assists (4.6 apg) while scoring at a 10.3 clip. He also proved fearless, taking and making several big shots late in games.
Isaiah Cousins also returns as a starter, having survived a scary situation after an errant gunshot lodged in the back of his shoulder. A full recovery is expected.
Junior college transfer Dinjiyl Walker can play either guard spot and is being counted on to backup Woodard at the point after Hornbeak’s departure. Frank Booker gave the Sooners a boost off the bench a year ago, when he hit 36.8 percent from 3-point range. He could see his role increase.
After consecutive seasons of going one-and-done in the NCAA Tournament, last season as a favorite, the Sooners are yearning for more — much more. The reality of taking the next step is tied to beefing up production in the paint.
The guards are good, among the league’s best as a group. Yet if the Sooners can’t find balance, and Spangler remains out of position, their postseason potential will be limited again.
“We’ve been to the tournament now a couple of years,” Kruger says. “Now we want to go farther in the tournament and win games in the tournament. That’s the challenge that lies ahead.”
TaShawn Thomas started 96 career games at Houston, averaging 14.5 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.2 blocked shots over three seasons. He’ll be a major addition to the frontcourt if he’s granted immediate eligibility. Dante Buford could be asked to contribute immediately up front. A home school star in Houston, Khadeem Lattin is a skilled big man who could be a future star. Jamuni McNeace is a bit of a project who needs to bulk up.
For a coach who promotes daily competition, the end of last season was difficult on Bruce Weber. Though Kansas State made it back to the NCAA Tournament, its roster wasn’t healthy enough to properly prepare for the postseason.
“We couldn’t go five-on-five that last month because we didn’t have any of our big guys,” Weber says. “They played in games, but they didn’t practice. Our scout squad got a lot of action.”
The result: A 20-win season that exceeded most expectations ended with a whimper. The Wildcats lost their final four games, including a 56–49 setback to Kentucky in the Round of 64 in the NCAA Tournament.
A better fate is expected this season. Marcus Foster, Wesley Iwundu, Thomas Gipson and Nino Williams form a talented nucleus. And a group of promising newcomers, led by Maine transfer Justin Edwards and freshman Malek Harris, appears poised to replace the loss of only one full-time starter.
“The best thing is the competitiveness of it all,” Weber says. “They have to come every day and earn minutes. If they aren’t working in practice, there is somebody else there. We didn’t have that last year.”
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K-State will have a new — and bigger — look inside. Instead of spreading the floor with four guards with Gipson down on the block all by himself, the Wildcats will use multiple big men this season. Gipson, who averaged 11.7 points and led the team in both rebounding (6.5 rpg) and field goal shooting (.562), will remain the leader of the group, but he will have much more support and the freedom to play both power forward and center.
Stephen Hurt, a highly regarded junior college transfer, and Georgetown transfer Brandon Bolden will add much-needed size. Hurt had a promising start to his college career at Lipscomb, and the 6-11, 260-pounder is eager to return to Division I action after a stop at Northwestern Florida State College. Bolden hasn’t scored in a live game since high school, but the 6-11 shot-blocker will bring both athleticism and defense to the floor.
Williams, an undersized power forward, had some big moments last year, including 15 points in a win over Oklahoma State and 20 points in an overtime loss to Baylor. Reserve forward/center D.J. Johnson will also try to build on his promising finish to his sophomore season.
Kansas State Facts & Figures
Last season: 20-13, 10-8 Big 12
Postseason: NCAA round of 64
Consecutive NCAA appearances: 5
Coach: Bruce Weber (47-21 at Kansas State, 10-8 Big 12)
Big 12 Projection: Fifth
Postseason Projection: NCAA Round of 32
Foster was one of the biggest surprises in college basketball last season. A lightly regarded recruit, the Texas native emerged as Kansas State’s No. 1 option on offense as a freshman and led the team with a 15.5-point average.
Don’t be surprised, however, if Edwards becomes the Wildcats’ leading scorer this season. The 6-4 Canadian, regarded as an outstanding athlete and a prodigious dunker, averaged 16.7 points as a sophomore at Maine two years ago. On the flip side, he only shot 27.3 percent from 3-point range and averaged 4.0 turnovers.
Foster and Edwards are natural shooting guards, which could make it tough to play them both at the same time for long stretches without a true point guard on the court. Foster has worked hard on his ball-handling in the offseason in an effort to help Nigel Johnson and Jevon Thomas at the point.
Iwundu and Harris, both 6-7, will both play significant minutes. Iwundu started in 32 games as a freshman and scored in double figures on eight occasions. Harris was a top-100 national recruit who might also see time at the 4.
Kansas State hasn’t advanced past the NCAA Tournament’s round of 64 since 2012 and hasn’t reached the Sweet 16 since 2010. Both those streaks could come to an end this season if things fall into place. The Wildcats have talent, depth and versatility. That combination doesn’t always add up to success. Team chemistry is never a given, and adjusting to new lineups can be difficult.
Still, K-State has a roster ready to compete for a Big 12 championship and to win in March.
“It’s going to be about coming together,” Foster says. “Everybody is so good. All of these guys have already played college basketball before. We won’t be going through a learning experience like we did last year. It will just be about meshing as a team.”
Justin Edwards, a Maine transfer, was a star in practice last year. Brandon Bolden, a 6-11 Georgetown transfer, is already ready to contribute after a year off. Junior college transfer Stephen Hurt will provide much-needed size, while freshman guard Tre Harris should help as a shooter. Malek Harris, a late addition, is the highest-rated recruit Bruce Weber has signed since coming to K-State.
Kansas has won at least a share of 10 consecutive Big 12 titles, but the league is anything but dull even if the Jayhawks manage to win the conference title every season.
The 10-team league produced seven NCAA Tournament teams last season, and every team in the league besides TCU was a threat on a nightly basis.
Asking the Big 12 to replicate that kind of balance and consistent entertainment will be tough, but this league will try.
At the top, Kansas reloads as usual with freshmen Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre stepping in for Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid. The Jayhawks should have a bona fide challenger in Texas, which adds five-star freshman Myles Turner to a core that saved Rick Barnes’ job a year ago.
Iowa State brings in a handful of impact transfers as again, and Oklahoma and Kansas State figure to be factors under veteran coaches Lon Kruger and Bruce Weber.
The league’s depth from last season will be tested, though, as Baylor and Oklahoma State figure to take steps back after losing key personnel.
Previews of every Big 12 team and more are available in the 2014-15 Athlon Sports College Basketball Preview.
2014-15 Big 12 Predictions
1. Kansas (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA Elite Eight
Even without Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, the Jayhawks are Big 12 favorites … again. It’s Perry Ellis’ time to shine.
2. Texas (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA Sweet 16
Only a year removed from the hot seat, Rick Barnes has a contender in Austin. Isaiah Taylor is a star.
3. Iowa State (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA Sweet 16
The Cyclones lost two of the Big 12’s top five players in DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim but welcome back Georges Niang.
4. Oklahoma (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA round of 32
Buddy Hield emerged as a star during his sophomore season and should be even better this year.
5. Kansas State (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA round of 32
When Marcus Foster is on, the Wildcats are good enough to beat anyone in the league.
Postseason projection: NIT
Redshirt freshman Johnathan Motley has to come up big for the Bears down low.
7. Oklahoma State
Postseason projection: NIT
Le’Bryan Nash and Phil Forte are studs, but will that be enough to make the NCAA Tournament?
8. West Virginia
Postseason projection: NIT
A rash of offseason defections will hurt the Mountaineers, but Bob Huggins did a nice job reloading.
The Horned Frogs were winless in the Big 12 last season; they won’t be in 2014-15.
10. Texas Tech
Getting players to Lubbock — and keeping them there — has been tough for Tubby Smith.
2014-15 Big 12 Superlatives
2014-15 Big 12 Superlatives
Player of the Year: Perry Ellis, Kansas
Lost in the talk of two of the top three NBA draft picks (Wiggins and Embiid) was the play of Ellis, who delivered on a breakout season. Ellis averaged 13.5 points and 6.7 rebounds last season and should be in position to pace the Jayhawks again.
Best Defensive Player: Cameron Ridley, Texas
The 6-9, 285-pound Ridley enjoyed a breakout season as a sophomore, averaging 11.2 points and 8.2 rebounds. He’s been a force around the rim with 2.2 blocks per game.
Most Underrated Player: Monté Morris, Iowa State
Morris finished last season with 134 assists to only 28 turnovers. Not bad for a freshman.
Newcomer of the Year: Cliff Alexander, Kansas
Ellis has offensive versatility. Alexander will team with him in the Kansas frontcourt with a physical presence in the paint.
Top Coach: Bill Self, Kansas (full Big 12 coach rankings)
First-team All-Big 12
G Juwan Staten, West Virginia
G Marcus Foster, Kansas State
G Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
F Georges Niang, Iowa State
F Perry Ellis, Kansas
Second-team All-Big 12
G Isaiah Taylor, Texas
G Kenny Chery, Baylor
G/F Le’Bryan Nash, Oklahoma State
F Cliff Alexander, Kansas
F Jonathan Holmes, Texas
Third-team All-Big 12
G Kelly Oubre, Kansas
G Phil Forte, Oklahoma State
G Wayne Selden, Kansas
F Thomas Gipson, Kansas State
C Cameron Ridley, Texas
Tuesday marks the beginning of the MLB Free Agency signing period. Here is a list of the most interesting available free agents that are on the baseball market and where they might end up for the 2015 season.
Ever since Lester was traded to the A’s in July, the talk of him being on the North side of Chicago immediately began to gain traction — and it makes sense. Lester is one of the best pitchers in baseball, and he’s never shown signs of fatigue or had a significant injury, which makes him all but guaranteed to get a well-deserved big pay day this winter. The Cubs definitely make sense. Theo Epstein has been very forthcoming acknowledging that the Cubs are in the market for a number one pitcher after dealing away 40 percent of their rotation the past couple of seasons for top prospects. The Cubs are in a position to make a splash, and Lester is a heck of a good fit in Cubby blue. Long shots could include the Red Sox and maybe the Mets and Tigers. Boston has already acknowledged they plan to meet with Lester, while the Mets are looking to build upon the return of Matt Harvey, and the Tigers could be bracing themselves for the loss of Max Scherzer.
Possible teams: Cubs, Red Sox, Mets, Tigers
Shields is the third-best available starting pitcher on the market following Lester and Max Scherzer, but will still command a large contract for more than three years. If Shields plays his cards right, sees where Lester or Scherzer go first, he could end up in a fantastic spot with a fat amount of cash in his pocket. Shields has the same possible suitors as Lester and Scherzer with maybe a few lesser teams in the mix, assuming his contract will be worth less than the other aces. Shields is 33, two and three years older than Lester and Scherzer, so his contract will be less in terms of years. Look for the Rangers, Dodgers, and Braves to be in the mix for Big Game James.
Possible teams: Red Sox, Cubs, Dodgers, Braves, Mets, Rangers, Tigers
Cuddyer spent the past three seasons in Colorado, where he put up career numbers in 2013 (.331/.389/.530 20 HR, 84 RBI, .919 OPS). The issue is that Cuddyer will be 36 going into next season, and he has had a history of injuries that limited him to just 49 games this past season in Colorado. He is a very solid bat and can play outfield, third or first base. But since he is creeping up in age, look for him to sign a deal in the two- to three-year range being a DH in the American or playing first, with an outside shot at playing outfield.
Possible teams: Mets, Oakland, Rangers, Mariners
The Tigers have already made a $15.3 million qualifying offer to Martinez, who had a career year in 2014 (.335/.409/.565 32 HR, 103 RBI, 33 2B, 42 SO,.979 OPS). The 35-year-old very well could make more on the open market, but my gut says Detroit will pony up a few extra mil a year to keep the switch-hitting Swiss army knife defender. Martinez will be probably be offered a three-year deal worth almost $18 mil per year.
Possible teams: Tigers
Morse very well could end up staying in San Francisco, but I kind of doubt it. Morse spent most of last season in left field for the Giants but also saw time playing first base. Morse has pop but also is a little strikeout-prone. He is the kind of player the Yankees love to overpay for, but in that tiny ballpark, Morse could be a monster. If he doesn’t re-sign with the Giants or go to the Bronx, Morse would be a welcome fit for other AL East teams like the Red Sox or Orioles, who are both looking for more pop in their lineup. If the O’s aren't able to resign Nelson Cruz, look for them to make a serious run at Morse.
Possible teams: Giants, Yankees, Red Sox, Mariners, Orioles
The Nationals declined their team option on LaRoche after it became pretty clear that Ryan Zimmerman was going to be the club’s first baseman for the foreseeable future. LaRoche is a decent enough bat that he could stay in the NL, maybe with the Pirates or Marlins, who may want to upgrade at first base. I think he would be a great fit for the Mariners as a DH, not too expensive, probably $10 million a year for two or three years, and decent protection for Robinson Cano.
Possible teams: Mariners, Pirates, Marlins
Weeks still hasn't blossomed into the player that many thought he could become, a perennial All-Star. The Brewers declined his $11.3 million club option this past week, making Weeks a free agent. It is safe to say that Weeks will not get anything near the $11 mil he was making in Milwaukee, especially since he saw his role diminish over the course of the season. Weeks needs a new scene with a team that doesn't have the pressure to make the postseason, and where he isn’t a main lineup option.
Possible teams: Rockies, Rays, Diamondbacks
When Hanley is healthy, he is one of the best shortstops in the game. The problem is, Hanley is hardly ever healthy. Hanley is very likely to be overpaid this coming season by a team looking to make a splash, and if he is healthy, he could be absolutely worth it. My best guess is that teams would be willing to offer him a short-term deal north of $12 mil per season with the option of signing him long term if he produces. Hanley has shown in the past that he is capable of hitting well over .300 with some pop, hitting at least 20 homers in six seasons, all while playing fairly solid defense. Hanley very well could stay in LA, but I think it is a long shot. There is a team on the other side of the country looking to replace its long-time shortstop, and it's a team in desperate need of offense. Could Hanley end up in pinstripes?
Possible teams: Yankees, Dodgers, Mets
McGehee, the NL Comeback Player of the Year, is in line for a nice contract after his 2014 career year. The 32-year-old McGehee would be a nice, not-too-expensive fit for the Mariners to knock in the runs they so desperately need to compete in the AL West. McGehee might actually be the third baseman that the Yankees have been longing for, assuming A-Rod and Chase Headley won’t be on the roster come 2015. If the Miami Marlins were smart (they aren’t), they would make McGehee an offer he couldn't refuse, keeping him at the hot corner for the next several years while the team continues to improve.
Possible teams: Mariners, Yankees, Marlins
The Panda has said that he wants to stay in San Francisco where he has made his home and earned three World Series titles in five seasons. But Sandoval is said to be seeking a $100 million contract, something he may find somewhere other than the City by the Bay. Sandoval is a very capable switch-hitting third baseman who always shows up in the postseason. In the past, there have been questions involving his physical conditioning and physique, but there hasn’t been a single negative report about his attitude. His teammates love playing with him. We’ve mentioned how the Yankees love to over pay their free agents, and Panda might just find himself playing in the Bronx next summer. Pablo could also end up playing third for the Yank’s biggest rival, the Boston Red Sox or other AL contenders such as the Tigers or Mariners. The off the wall idea of Sandoval in a Rangers uniform isn't all that crazy, assuming that Prince Fielder will be strictly a DH next season, as long as Sandoval is willing to switch positions to play first. If the Marlins want to make a significant push towards next October, they very well may make a run at Sandoval as well.
Possible teams: Giants, Rangers, Marlins, Yankees, Red Sox
Martin will be one of the most sought-after free agents on the market come Tuesday. Billy Beane and the A’s have hinted that they may be in the market for a more well-rounded bat to add to their sink-or-swim lineup and may go after Martin. The Cubs seem to be the consensus as Martin’s top option as it is very unlikely that the Pirates will re-sign the catcher. Martin would be the veteran bat the Cubs need to guide younger hitters and also be a clubhouse leader under new manager Joe Maddon. Also, the Dodgers, not afraid to write checks, could make a run for their former backstop to bring up the .181 batting average their catchers posted this past season.
Possible teams: Cubs, A’s, Dodgers
The other catcher who will be on teams’ radars in the coming days is former NL Rookie of the Year Geovany Soto. Soto finished up last season with the Oakland As and is likely to go elsewhere. Originally seen as a solid hitter with higher than average power for a catcher, Soto could find himself replacing Russell Martin in Pittsburgh or Miguel Montero in Arizona. Either would be a nice fit for Soto if he can sign a deal north of two years.
Possible teams: Pirates, Diamondbacks
The World Series runners-up, the Kansas City Royals have denied the $12.5 million dollar option on their longest-tenured player, Billy Butler. It is highly improbable that Butler finds a long term deal with a team willing to pay him north of $10 mil a season. He may have to settle for a one- or two-year deal coming in around $8 mil. The other question is whether teams will want Butler to play first or DH? Due to the emergence of Eric Hosmer the past few seasons, Butler saw his play at first diminish, only seeing the field 37 times this past season. Butler could be a cheaper DH option for the A’s, White Sox and Mariners, or a first base option for the Rangers. Butler, only 28 years old, could see himself in the National League, playing in Pittsburgh or Miami as both teams look to improve upon their first base conundrums.
Possible teams: A’s, White Sox, Mariners, Rangers, Pirates, Marlins
Cruz was the steal of free agency last winter as he signed with the Orioles for just $8 million on a one-year deal. This offseason will see the price for Cruz’s services increase after he led all of baseball with 40 home runs. The Orioles are in a position where they can offer Cruz just enough money to be their DH for the long term, especially since teams may be wary of Cruz’s age (34), his inability to stay healthy for long stretches, and the thought of losing a top draft pick because of his potential qualifying offer. On the flip side, teams are desperate for power and will be happy to overpay for 35-plus homers a season for the next three to four years.
Possible teams: Orioles, White Sox, Mariners, Yankees
The Baltimore Orioles declined Markakis’ $17.5 mutual option for 2015, and probably rightfully so. Rumors have been swirling around the past couple of days that the Orioles are working on a deal to retain their long term right fielder, which is a good idea for both parties. The O’s would have trouble finding an outfielder that can play good enough defense while also chipping in offensively, maybe Nori Aoki, but he doesn't fit in with the power-first approach of Buck Showalter’s offense. If Baltimore and Markakis can’t reach a deal for the 30-year-old’s services, he may find himself on a less talented team that is looking for a veteran to help younger players develop.
Possible teams: Orioles, White Sox, Twins, Royals, Mets,
The Texas Rangers declined Rios' $13.5 million option, making the veteran outfielder a free agent. Rios responded by hiring baseball super agent Scott Boras to be his representative. Early rumors have the Mets as the frontrunners to sign Rios, but after last year’s signing of Curtis Granderson, I doubt that they Mets will be willing to sign another veteran outfielder with declining numbers. The Cincinnati Reds may be a nice fit for Rios on a one- or two-year deal. The Reds struggled to put up runs with the long term losses of Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Brandon Phillips, and Rios may find another power surge in Great American Ball Park, where everyone is a power threat.
Possible teams: Mets, Reds, Tigers
Max Scherzer could very well end up in right where he is at, in Detroit. Scherzer may have the best chance of winning a World Series in the next couple of seasons if he stays in the Motor City, as long as he gets some help in the bullpen. Mad Max could sign a two-year contract, see how things pan out in Detroit, and be a free agent again in two seasons at the age of 32, or be traded before hand to a contender if things aren't going to plan. Really, the baseball world is Scherzer’s oyster, but he stands to make the most money if he hits the open market.
Possible teams: Tigers, Red Sox, Cubs, Mets, Rangers
No doubt about it, Jake Peavy can still pitch. Peavy didn't have his best stuff in the Giants' last World Series title run, but he was a big reason why the Giants were even in the postseason after he was traded during Ben Cherington’s July housecleaning-slash-rebuilding project in Boston. The 33-year-old hurler will command at least a two-year deal as a top-of-the-rotation-type guy, but it won't be to be anyone’s ace. Much like previous pitchers mentioned on this list, Peavy could be a nice fit for the Cubs or Red Sox pitching staff. Or, Peavy could find himself in Atlanta, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Oakland, Miami, or LA, as a very solid number two pitcher. The Yankees have been pretty adamant that they aren’t going to go after a top-of-the-line ace, but I think Peavy could be a target as a number two or three man in their rotation after Tanaka and Pineda. A wild card team could be the Blue Jays after their starting pitching was so lackluster this past season.
Possible teams: Blue Jays, Giants, Yankees, Cubs, Rangers, Marlins, Braves, Pirates, Reds, Royals, A’s
Justin Masterson, Edinson Volquez, Brandon Morrow
Much like Jake Peavy, Masterson, Volquez, and Morrow should wind up a contending team’s roster as at least a mid-rotation starting pitcher.
If Cleveland was smart, they would lock up Masterson to a multi-year contract. They are just a few pieces away from really putting together a contending team for the next couple of seasons. But potential suitors will be looking to sign Masterson, who is only 29, to a long-term deal to make him a possible number two starter.
Volquez will be looking for big money after resurrecting his career in Pittsburgh. Volquez could sign for more than he is worth to a team looking to make a big move. Volquez’s winter will be one of the more interesting ones in terms of available free agents. I can definitely see a team like the Braves or the Yankees forking over $90 million to Volquez to be a shutdown pitcher, and it completely backfiring. Buyer beware with Edinson Volquez.
Brandon Morrow was supposed to be the Blue Jays ace that never was. After several impressive seasons north of the border, the Jays have decided to pick up the vet’s $10 million option. Morrow’s winter will be another intersting one, as many teams will be timid to offer the 30-year-old a long-term deal after he made just 16 starts in the past two seasons due to injury.
All three of these pitchers will be in contact with many of the same clubs.
Possible teams for all three: Brewers, Cubs, Red Sox, A’s, Braves, Dodgers, Angels, Yankees, Indians, Royals, Rangers, Marlins, Mets
By Jake Rose
Monday: New Orleans Pelicans at Memphis Grizzlies, 8:00 PM ET
Anthony Davis is the future of NBA big men — an insanely long, multi-skilled player with enough athleticism and speed to both protect your rim and slash to it to score from deep on the perimeter. But the Grizzlies’ bashing interior of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol know more than enough tricks to slow the third-year sensation down, along with his new front court partner Omer Asik. Tune in for the showdown between two of the best big man combos in basketball.
Tuesday: Cleveland Cavaliers at Portland Trail Blazers, 10:00 PM ET
LeBron’s traveling circus continues Tuesday as he and his Cavs travel to take on one of last year’s surprise playoff contenders in the West. Buried beneath the constant hype of James will be a couple of compelling match-ups — those between Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving, two of the most dynamic point guards around, and Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge, two devastating stretch-four power forwards.
Wednesday: Los Angeles Clippers at Golden State Warriors, 10:30 PM ET
These teams don’t like each other. They brawled last Christmas, and there’s usually some sort of altercation between the squads when they play. The Warriors will be out for revenge after a bitter seven-game series loss to the Clippers in last year’s postseason.
Thursday: San Antonio Spurs at Houston Rockets, 7:30 PM ET
Texas supremacy will hang in the balance Thursday as Dwight Howard, James Harden and Co. continue their chip-on-your-shoulder campaign against the defending champions. San Antonio’s high-powered motion offense should put the Rockets’ new-look defense to the test.
Friday: Washington Wizards at Toronto Raptors, 7:30 PM ET
Paul Pierce loves to put down the young ones, as he did in last year’s seven-game series defeat of the Toronto Raptors, in the postseason’s first round. Now Pierce is a Wizard, not a Net, and he looks to be cherishing the role of sage, trash-talking enforcer for young point guard John Wall. Look for Pierce to play vicious Raptor head games in this telling Eastern Conference battle.
— John Wilmes
With Mike Leach at the helm of the Washington State program, a few things are sure to be certain. The Cougars will be a pass-heavy offensive team with little to work with on defense. With the nation’s number one passing offense piling up huge numbers this season off the arm of Connor Halliday, Leach will have to find a way to keep moving forward without his starting quarterback. Halliday was injured in a 44-17 loss to USC this weekend, and the senior will miss the rest of the season with a broken leg. The injury brings the senior’s season and collegiate career to an end with 3,873 passing yards and 32 touchdowns this season, and 11,308 career passing yards and 90 touchdowns.
So, where does Leach have to turn in hopes of keeping the aerial attacks coming for Washington State’s final three games of the 2014 season? Freshman Luke Falk replaced Halliday against USC, and Leach did not hesitate to let him use his arm either. Falk attempted 57 pass attempts off the bench, completing 38 of them for 370 yards and a pair of touchdowns (and one interception). It was just the second appearance of the season for Falk, who completed each of his two attempts for 86 yards in a game against Portland State earlier in the year. Running the offense will now be the responsibility of this relatively unknown quarterback out of Utah for the rest of the season.
Falk enrolled at Washington State as a recruit without much hype or praise out of high school, despite at one point having an early offer from Florida State. Once receiving an early offer from Florida State, Falk’s stock dropped following a high school transfer. By the time he was ready to choose a school, the only programs looking for his services came from the Ivy League or Idaho, for the most part. The Utah product was a two-star prospect according to Rivals. He had originally committed to Cornell before a coaching change at the program left Falk to re-evaluate his options. This ended with Falk heading to Washington State to walk-on for a spot on the roster.
With some roster changes along the way at Washington State since Falk’s enrollment, Falk has seen increased reps in practice in the event Halliday was roughed up. Considering the state of the offensive line protection provided to Halliday, giving Falk as many snaps as possible in practice was wise for Leach. Now, Washington State may be trotting out a quarterback without much game experience, but it will not be using a player that has not been properly prepared for this situation.
If nothing else, Washington State has a quarterback that has shown glimpses of being able to lead the Washington State offense without losing much of a step off the bench. Perhaps it is the Leach system, and Falk has fit into it well enough. Falk certainly has worked hard to earn a chance to lead the offense, and it is not one likely to be taken lightly for the redshirt freshman. This also serves as an opportunity to prove why he should be the leading candidate for the starting job at Washington State in 2015.
By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
Michigan State claimed a Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl victory on the strength of its defense last season. Penn State is wasting a perfectly good defensive effort this season. When discussing the best defenses in the Big Ten, Wisconsin tends to fly under the radar, but it is the defense that could lead the Badgers back to Indianapolis for a shot at a Big Ten championship this season.
The Badgers have just allowed a total of seven points against Big Ten newcomers Maryland and Rutgers the past two weeks, helping the Wisconsin defense move into third in the nation in defensive scoring. The most recent defensive effort turned in a shutout victory on the road against Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have played tough at home (ask Penn State and Michigan), but the Badgers defensive effort helped make it easy for the offense to run away with a victory in New Jersey.
Wisconsin has allowed just 14.1 points per game this season. The Badgers, not Michigan State, currently have the Big Ten’s best total defense as well, allowing an average of just 253.8 yards per game through eight games. Penn State has allowed 273.4 yards per game, and Michigan State has allowed 279.4 yards per game. If Wisconsin keeps on this pace, the Badgers will successfully improve on their total defensive average for a second straight season.
Wisconsin starts making things difficult for opposing teams by aiming to take away the running game. The Badgers have held five opponents under 100 rushing yards this season, and Wisconsin has allowed just seven rushing touchdowns in eight games. On top of that, Wisconsin is the best team in the Big Ten against the pass, perhaps making a claim to having their own no-fly zone this season. The Badgers may not get their hands on a ton of passes (just five interceptions in eight games), but they have allowed just six passing touchdowns this season. No team in the Big Ten has allowed a lower completion percentage to opposing quarterbacks than Wisconsin (46.3 percent). Michael Caputo has been one of the leaders of the Wisconsin secondary, and he also leads the Badgers with 57 tackles this season.
Wisconsin was written off by some with a season-opening loss to LSU in Houston, and again after a tough loss at Northwestern. The defense came up small against LSU in the first game of the season while failing to protect a lead, and the Northwestern game was doomed more by losing four turnovers on offense, but Wisconsin’s defense has been a big reason why the Badgers are still in the race for the Big Ten West Division (having Melvin Gordon running the football certainly helps too, of course).
The formula for winning at Wisconsin remains similar to when Bret Bielema was coaching the program. Being solid on the ground on offense and dependable on defense has worked well for Wisconsin over the more recent seasons, and it could be what keeps them in the Big Ten championship mix. Michigan State and Ohio State are receiving most of the attention right now, and Nebraska has been heralded as the next best threat, but it would be silly to forget Wisconsin the way the defense has been playing.
By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)