Articles By Athlon Sports
Irving, TX (SportsNetwork.com) - The Dallas Cowboys waived defensive end Michael Sam from the practice squad on Tuesday to make room for a linebacker who recently worked out for the team.
Sam, the first openly gay player in the NFL, was signed on Sept. 3 after being waived by the St. Louis Rams, who drafted him in the seventh round.
The former SEC Defensive Player of the Year at Missouri spent the first seven weeks of the season on the Cowboys' 10-man practice squad without making the 53-man roster.
"I want to thank the (family of team owner Jerry Jones) and the entire Cowboys organization for this opportunity, as well as my friends, family, teammates, and fans for their support," Sam wrote on Twitter.
"While this is disappointing, I will take the lessons I learned here in Dallas and continue to fight for an opportunity to prove that I can play every Sunday."
The move opened a spot for Troy Davis, who appeared in four games for the New York Jets as a rookie last season and who worked out for the Cowboys on Monday.
Before he was waived by St. Louis, Sam had 11 tackles and three sacks in four preseason games, including a team-high six stops in the finale against Miami.
Sam publicly declared his homosexuality prior to February's scouting combine.
Orchard Park, NY (SportsNetwork.com) - The Buffalo Bills placed running back C.J. Spiller on injured reserve/designated for return Tuesday.
In a corresponding move, the team signed running back Phillip Tanner.
Spiller underwent surgery Monday to repair a broken clavicle.
He got hurt in the second quarter of Sunday's 17-16 win over Minnesota. Spiller came down hard on his left shoulder at the end of a 53-yard run, his lone carry of the game.
Fellow running back Fred Jackson could miss up to four weeks with a groin injury.
Tanner spent the past three seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, compiling just 56 carries for 149 yards and two touchdowns.
A tanking epidemic has been the bogeyman of the NBA’s draft lottery system for the last year or so. The Philadelphia 76ers’ committment to losing worse than any team has ever lost before — a bottoming-out led by general manager Sam Hinkie, who has the backing of Sixers ownership — has turned heads, and upset many of the minds around the game. But it’s not representative of anything new, or particularly infectious to the league’s competitive spirit.
As a team-building strategy, tanking doesn’t generally work. Not even with the draft structure favoring the teams with the worst records every June. Hinkie is a gambler of sorts; There’s no telling whether his strategy will work or not. Most GMs find it safer and wiser to develop talent continuously, waiting for the luck of a big trade opportunity or having a diamond in the rough on hand. This campaign of intentional losing is not the plague it seems to be — Philly’s an outlier.
But that’s not stopping the league from voting on a system that will change the odds configuation which determines the draft order. The new draft — believed to be an almost sure thing to pass — will level out the probabilities of draft luck a bit. From Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports:
“Gone will be a weighted system where the worst team has 25 percent of the pingpong balls for the No. 1 overall pick and a guarantee it'll drop no lower than fourth in the draft order. Now, the worst four teams have a 12 percent chance at the first pick, No. 5 has an 11.5 percent chance, No. 6, 10 percent, and on down. What's more, the worst team can drop as far as seventh in the draft order, the second worst can drop to No. 8, and so on.
“Now, the bottom three teams have 64 percent, 56 percent and 47 percent chances of getting top-three picks, and that'll change to 35 percent, virtually the same as the fourth- (35 percent) and fifth-worst (34 percent) teams.”
Thus far, only Hinkie and Oklahoma City Thunder GM Sam Presti seem to be fighting, at the very least, for a plan that implements the new draft rules slowly — not all at once. Presti’s concern is that too much is made of the 76ers’ situation, and that large markets will benefit disproportionately from the new arrangement. The draft is the last refuge for a city as small as OKC, and when the micro-market hits its inevitable post-Kevin Durant nadir, they’ll need a sure path back to superstar acquisition. Geography’s never going to be in their favor.
— John Wilmes
NC State can’t replace T.J. Warren — the ACC Player of the Year and the school’s first NBA Lottery pick since 1996 — with just one player. So the Wolfpack, coming off of a third straight NCAA Tournament appearance, won’t try to. Instead, fourth-year coach Mark Gottfried will attempt to build another NCAA team from of a mix of solid veterans and exciting newcomers.
“I like our team,” Gottfried says. “I like the talent level that we have.”
The Wolfpack, who went 22–14 last season, will have more balance, Gottfried says. Warren (at 24.9 ppg) accounted for 34 percent of State’s scoring last season. Gottfried expects this team to be more like his first two in Raleigh, with four or five players sharing the scoring load.
Senior Ralston Turner, the team’s top returning scorer, understands the challenge in replacing Warren. “We’re going to have to do it as a group,” Turner says. “As a team, collectively we can get that done.”
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The Wolfpack had to break in several new parts in the frontcourt last season and did so with varying degrees of success. Gottfried believes a trio of sophomore forwards — Kyle Washington, BeeJay Anya and Lennard Freeman — will show improvement and more consistency with a year of experience. Washington, in particular, flashed a scoring touch (he had a season-best 14 points against a formidable Syracuse frontcourt on the road), and he could flourish with more touches.
Anya is already ahead of the curve from last season when he started the season at 348 pounds. He was down to 300 pounds over the summer, and his improved mobility and stamina should make a noticeable difference.
Freeman developed ahead of schedule and was one of the big surprises on the roster. He played 30 minutes or more in all three of the Pack’s postseason games.
Newcomer Abdul-Malik Abu, a 6-8, 230-pound freshman, is the most talented of the big men. His defensive ability will be a major plus; it will just be a question of how quickly he can make the adjustment to the college game.
“Malik has a chance to be a great player,” Gottfried says. “He’s like all young players, physically very gifted, unbelievably coachable … (but) he looks a little bit lost at times.”
NC State Wolfpack Facts & Figures
Last season: 22-14, 9-9 ACC
Postseason: NCAA round of 64
Consecutive NCAAs: 3
Coach: Mark Gottfried (70-38 at NC State, 29-23 ACC)
ACC Projection: Eighth
Postseason Projection: NCAA Round of 64
After sharing the point guard job with Tyler Lewis last season, Cat Barber will have all the minutes and responsibilities to himself with Lewis’ transfer to Butler.
At his best, Barber (who averaged 8.5 points per game) was a complementary scorer to Warren last season. At his worst, his decision-making was a huge detriment in ACC play. He finished the season strong, though, and is expected to take another step with a bigger role this season.
Turner gives the Wolfpack a reliable scoring option on the wing. The LSU transfer led the team with 77 3-pointers and averaged 12.1 points over the last 18 games. He scored 17 points in State’s NCAA win over Xavier.
Gottfried is counting on junior Trevor Lacey, who sat out last season after transferring from Alabama, to have an impact similar to Turner’s. Lacey, who averaged 11.3 points in his final season at Alabama, can support Barber in running the offense but can also help Turner from behind the 3-point line.
“Trevor is an off guard who has a point guard mentality,” Gottfried says. “He’s a big, strong guard that can get into the paint and make contact and doesn’t get knocked off balance.”
Freshmen twins Cody and Caleb Martin begin the season behind Turner and Lacey for playing time but both could carve out roles, as could senior Desmond Lee.
Gottfried didn’t get enough credit for cajoling an NCAA Tournament win out of last year’s group. Juggling personalities and creating a hierarchy were Gottfried’s two biggest problems in a disappointing 2012-13 season. He adroitly managed both tasks last season in his best work at NC State.
There are parts in place for another NCAA run this season, especially if Lacey can be as good as expected. It will require more consistency from Barber and Washington, but the ingredients are there for the program to continue its forward momentum under Gottfried.
Junior Trevor Lacey, a transfer from Alabama, will be counted on to step into the lineup and help fill the scoring void left by T.J. Warren. All three freshmen signees finished the year ranked in ESPN’s top 100. Forward Abdul-Malik Abu has the highest ceiling and is expected to help immediately, especially with his post defense. Twins Caleb and Cody Martin will have to work to find playing time, but the coaching staff believes in their long-term potential.
Two straight trips to the NIT have certainly dampened some of the momentum Florida State had built by rattling off four straight NCAA Tournament appearances from 2009-12. However, expectations surrounding Leonard Hamilton’s club remain high, and for good reason.
Seven players with significant ACC minutes on their resumes are back, and six of them are either juniors or seniors. That group includes athletic guard Aaron Thomas, who emerged as the Seminoles’ best player in the later half of 2013-14. Add in highly touted recruit Xavier Rathan-Mayes and 7-footer Kiel Turpin, who each missed all of last season, and Hamilton’s roster suddenly boasts experience and depth.
“Last year we were closer than it looked,” Hamilton says. “We lost to Florida by one point and to Michigan in overtime, but we didn’t have a complete team. There’s not as much drop-off in the rotation now. We have the talent. I think we can get back to where we were.”
That’s not to say FSU doesn’t have some substantial voids to fill. Losing veterans Ian Miller and Okaro White takes away a pair of double-digit scorers. White was also the best rebounder for a team that struggled mightily on the glass.
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Thanks to the NCAA granting the 7-0 Turpin a sixth year of eligibility (he missed all of last season with a leg injury), FSU will once again boast three 7-footers — Boris Bojanovsky stands 7-3 and Michael Ojo is 7-1.
While that trio will undoubtedly make for some intimidating shot-blockers, whether they can be inside scoring threats remains the major concern. None has averaged more than six points per game, but Bojanovsky and Ojo both arrived as particularly raw recruits and appear ready to contribute more after two years in Hamilton’s system.
“Getting Turpin back is huge,” Hamilton says. “I don’t know many more big men who are as skilled as Boris either. He is a smart player, and the key is that he has gained weight and gotten much stronger.”
Hamilton also has faith that sophomore power forward Jarquez Smith will make big strides. The 6-9 Smith will compete for White’s vacant starting spot after raising his weight to 230 pounds in the offseason.
“I’m extremely confident in Smith,” Hamilton says. “He played behind two seniors last year. He’s also extremely skilled.”
Junior college transfer Kedar Edwards, a small forward, will also battle for playing time.
Florida State Seminoles Facts & Figures
Last season: 22-14, 9-9 ACC
Last NCAA Tournament: 2012
Coach: Leonard Hamilton (241-157 at Florida State, 98-98 ACC)
ACC Projection: Sixth
Postseason Projection: NCAA Round of 64
After a breakout year, Thomas gives FSU a two-way player to build its team around. The 6-5 wing averaged 18 points in four NIT games and had 57 steals on the season — and Hamilton believes he be more productive at both ends of the court.
“Aaron loves to play defense. He enjoys the best part of the game,” Hamilton says. “I expect him to have an All-ACC type of year. He has All-American type of potential.”
Fellow junior Devon Bookert gives FSU a veteran point guard to lean on. A dependable ball-handler and a remarkably accurate 3-point shooter — he shot 43.1 percent from 3 last year — Bookert enters his second year as a full-time starter.
The versatile 6-7 Montay Brandon, who can play point or on the wing, started all 36 games last season. Rathan-Mayes, a prototypical shooting guard who played alongside No. 1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins in high school, should bolster the offense instantly after sitting out 2013-14 due to academic issues.
Junior college transfer Dayshawn Watkins and freshman Robbie Berwick will add depth at point guard.
Losing Miller and White won’t hurt as much as it might appear on paper. Thomas has all the makings of a go-to scorer and will be one of the best players in the ACC. More important, the Seminoles are now much deeper (Hamilton’s rotation could include as many as 10 players), making it possible to withstand the injuries and losses it couldn’t last year.
Provided the big men progress as well as expected, Florida State should be back in the NCAA Tournament. Rebounding is the biggest key — the Seminoles were particularly bad on the defensive glass, grabbing only 64.2 percent of their opponents’ missed shots. In order to make any kind of postseason run, that will have to change dramatically.
Phil Cofer may be the biggest find of the bunch. The powerful big man’s father (Michael) played in the NFL for 10 seasons. Kedar Edwards and Dayshawn Watkins were both brought in from junior colleges to add some immediate depth. Norbertas Giga, who is from Lithuania, continues Leonard Hamilton’s tradition of going overseas to find recruits.
After compiling a 38–16 record in its last three seasons in the Big East, Notre Dame had a rocky initial foray into the ACC. A conference-opening victory over Duke quickly spiraled into a 6–12 league record, due in large part to an inconsistent defensive effort, the inability to control the backboards without the graduated Jack Cooley and the loss of Jerian Grant to “an academic issue” in December.
Head coach Mike Brey, who likes to rely on older players to carry the load, was forced to play young, which should benefit the Irish in 2014-15.
“The young guys played too much for how this program is built,” says Brey, who begins his 15th season with the Irish. “We racked our brains with changing personnel to changing style of play. We simplified our offense, and that made us more efficient the second half of the ACC season. We bled while they were playing, but it will help them be better prepared this season.”
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The Irish will miss Garrick Sherman’s 13.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, but the bulk of the talent returns up front. Pat Connaughton, a 6-5 leaper, was a fourth-round pick of the Baltimore Orioles in the June amateur baseball draft, but he will return to Notre Dame for his final season of basketball. Connaughton averaged 13.8 points and 7.1 rebounds per game last season, and Brey calls him the team’s “only real, true captain.”
Notre Dame needs 6-10 junior Zach Auguste to emerge as a consistent presence. And 6-9 junior Austin Burgett must become the “stretch-4” player who has thrived in Brey’s free-flowing offensive system in the past. Burgett was just beginning to emerge last season when heart issues, which were corrected by a surgical procedure, derailed his progress.
Auguste and Burgett will be aided by sophomore V.J. Beachem, a willowy swingman who showed flashes of shooting prowess as a freshman. Bruising 6-9 freshman Martin Geben, originally from Lithuania, will push Auguste. Geben draws favorable comparisons to Cooley, a former first-team All-Big East selection. Bonzie Colson, also a freshman, is a physical 6-5 forward with shooting range and a 7-footer’s wingspan.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish Facts & Figures
Last season: 15-17, 6-12 ACC
Last NCAA Tournament: 2013
Coach: Mike Brey (300-159 at Notre Dame, 141-88 Big East/ACC)
ACC Projection: Ninth
Postseason Projection: NCAA Round of 64
The loss of the stabilizing presence of point guard Eric Atkins is significant, but athleticism abounds with the return of Grant and additional playing time for sophomore point Demetrius Jackson, a former McDonald’s All-American.
The 6-5 Grant was playing outstanding basketball through 12 games last season, leading the Irish in scoring (19.0 ppg) and assists (6.2 apg) while shooting over 50 percent from the field and over 40 percent from three.
“(Grant’s) stats when he left us were the best of his career, and he was a focused defender for the first time,” Brey says. “I fully expect him to pick up there and have an added chip on his shoulder to show people he’s back.”
Jackson started 15 games but never found the consistency he’ll need to show as a full-time player. Brey would like to see Jackson take on a more assertive approach. Sophomore Steve Vasturia could get the starting nod over Jackson following his strong rookie season.
“In the midst of a year that was disappointing as a team, (Vasturia) had a great year,” Brey says. “He’s reliable. He may be our best perimeter defender.”
Expectations for the Irish in Year 2 of the ACC will be low, which is a starting point from which Notre Dame thrived at times in the Big East.
Brey believes he has two of the top 15 players in the league in Grant and Connaughton, but they’ll need unproven, inconsistent players from 2013-14 such as Auguste, Burgett, Beachem and Jackson to patch the holes from a year ago, plus contributions from freshmen Geben and Colson.
If that happens, Notre Dame could push for an upper division finish. At the very least, a .500 mark in conference play is a reasonable goal.
“It’s very similar to when I got the job (at Notre Dame) in 2000,” Brey says. “At the time, Notre Dame was 30 games under .500 in the Big East, and the question was, ‘Can you develop an identity in the Big East?’ That’s where we are now. We’re fighting and scratching to create an identity in this league, and it ain’t going to be easy.”
Martin Geben, a 6-9, 230-pounder from Hagerstown, Md., via Lithuania, is expected to push for heavy minutes as a true freshman. “He will be needed and he will be ready,” Brey says. “He’s a great position defender and rebounder.” Bonzie Colson is a small forward who also had offers form UConn and Pittsburgh.
Last spring, Brad Brownell surely felt some vindication. Entering the 2013-14 season, little to nothing was expected of Clemson. A Tiger team with no seniors on its roster coming off a miserable 13–18 season was picked to finish 14th in the ACC, and Brownell landed on several national “hot seat” lists.
Brownell responded with perhaps his best coaching job yet: The Tigers won 23 games, narrowly missed the NCAA Tournament and made the NIT Final Four. Clemson officials rewarded him with a new six-year contract that averages $1.55 million per year.
Now comes the hard part: repeating and building on that success without his best player. Athletic forward K.J. McDaniels declared for the NBA Draft after a first-team All-ACC season in which he led the Tigers in scoring, rebounds, blocked shots and steals. McDaniels is the only major loss from a 23–13 team, but in an ever-improving ACC that welcomes national power Louisville, breaking through to the NCAA Tournament won’t be easy.
“We’re in a monster league. We have got IBM and Coca-Cola and all those people in our league and they are not going away,” Brownell says. “They reload with McDonald’s All Americans every year, and we have got to continue to take the guys that we recruit and build them up and get them to play hard and get stronger.”
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Even with McDaniels and 6-10 forward Ibrahim Djambo (transfer) gone, Clemson’s frontcourt is far from bare. Junior center Landry Nnoko was one of the ACC’s most improved players last season, averaging 6.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game. Sophomore forward Jaron Blossomgame showed flashes while continuing to recover from a compound leg fracture that forced him to miss the 2013-14 season, averaging nearly five points and five rebounds per game while showing athleticism and versatility.
Djambo’s transfer clears room for 6’8” freshman forward Donte Grantham — a versatile top-100 recruit — to see significant time this winter. Junior Josh Smith and sophomore Sidy Djitte are big bodies who’ll have reserve roles.
Clemson Tigers Facts & Figures
Last season: 23-10, 10-8 ACC
Last NCAA Tournament: 2011
Coach: Brad Brownell (74-58 at Clemson, 32-36 ACC)
ACC Projection: 11th
Postseason Projection: NIT
Last winter, Clemson won games with defense; the Tigers held opponents to 58.4 points per game. Such stinginess was crucial, because even with McDaniels’ presence, Brownell’s bunch struggled to score. Clemson ranked 13th in the league in scoring (63.5 ppg), 13th in field goal shooting (.424) and 14th in 3-point shooting (.310).
“We have to improve our shooting,” Brownell says. “At the end of the day, we can’t continue to be one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the ACC and expect to finish in the top six or seven in the league.”
That said, the Tigers return plenty of experience in the backcourt while also adding firepower from several sources. Senior point guard Rod Hall has proven himself as a capable, gritty leader trusted with running the team in key situations. He averaged 9.7 points and 4.0 assists per game as a junior. Senior swingman Damarcus Harrison originally planned on leaving for a Mormon mission before last season, but Clemson is glad he stuck around. He emerged during the ACC season as a talented shooter, averaging 7.8 points while sinking 35 percent of his 3-pointers. Junior guard Jordan Roper was up-and-down but is also capable of burning teams from 3-point range.
Sophomore Austin Ajukwa averaged just 2.3 points per game as a freshman but showed flashes of becoming an athletic shooter during the Tigers’ postseason push. Coaches are very excited about redshirt freshman guard Patrick Rooks, a talented shooter who was forced to miss last season following a hip injury. And expect a significant contribution from freshman Gabe DeVoe, a Parade All-American who averaged 34.0 points and 10.4 rebounds per game as a Shelby (N.C.) senior.
Basketball will never be the marquee sport at football-crazy Clemson. This is one of the toughest jobs in the ACC, and the additions of Louisville, Notre Dame, Pitt and Syracuse have only made it harder. Brownell took a team full of Oliver Purnell recruits to the NCAA Tournament in his first season, but last season’s NIT run, keyed by McDaniels and gritty defense, won back some supporters who had strayed from the program.
The Tigers likely won’t sink all the way to the bottom of the ACC, but minus the electric McDaniels, Brownell will have to wring even more out of his players to get back to remain in the hunt for an NCAA bid.
Clemson has only two eligible newcomers, but both should contribute. Freshman forward Donte Grantham is a top-100 recruit who chose Clemson over a number of high-major schools and will play major minutes with versatility. Guard Gabe DeVoe, a big-time scorer from North Carolina, adds much-needed shooting to the backcourt.
At the same time, the conference rarely has been so unpredictable.
The arrival of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame was one of the top storylines in the conference last season, especially as Syracuse started the season with 25 consecutive wins, 12 in the league.
The Orange, though, couldn’t claim the ultimate prizes. Instead, Virginia became the leader of the league in every sense of the word. The Cavaliers won an outright regular season title, claimed the ACC tournament title and advanced the furthest of any league team in the NCAA Tournament when they reached the Sweet 16.
Virginia’s emergence last season was just more evidence that Duke and North Carolina don’t have quite the stranglehold on the ACC they once did. Duke hasn’t won the ACC tourney since 2011. North Carolina hasn’t won it since 2008.
Could the pendulum swing back to Tobacco Road in 2014-15? Athlon has projected Duke and Carolina to finish Nos. 1-2 in the ACC thanks to the arrival of potential All-America center Jahlil Okafor in Durham and an experienced roster in Chapel Hill.
But the battle for in a 15-team ACC is a gauntlet. Maryland is out and Louisville is in for 2014-15 with the Cardinals joining Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame from the Big East.
If Duke and North Carolina are going to reassert their dominance in the league this season, rarely has the path been so difficult.
Previews of every ACC team and more are available in the 2014-15 Athlon Sports College Basketball Preview.
ACC 2014-15 Preseason Picks
1. Duke (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA Final Four
The nation’s top recruiting class brings four freshmen who can make big impacts right away. Add in a solid mix of veterans and the Blue Devils are the clear favorite.
2. North Carolina (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA Elite Eight
Rising star Marcus Paige and a strong nucleus will combine with another talented freshman class to give Roy Williams a deep rotation.
3. Louisville (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA Sweet 16
Montrezl Harrell is a proven big man and Rick Pitino reloads with yet another strong recruiting crop.
4. Virginia (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA Sweet 16
The bulk of the rotation from a 30-win team is back, including leading scorer Malcolm Brogdon.
5. Syracuse (team preview)
NCAA projection: NCAA round of 32
No team in the conference may have lost more talent, but the Orange will still be a factor.
6. Pittsburgh (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA round of 64
Jamie Dixon must replace his leading scorer and rebounder, but don’t expect Pitt slide much.
7. Florida State (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA round of 64
Two double-digit scorers must be replaced, but Leonard Hamilton will have more depth and experience, and plenty of size to work with.
8. NC State (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA round of 64
The Wolfpack will be young, but transfer Trevor Lacey (Alabama) will help make up for the loss of T.J. Warren.
9. Notre Dame (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA round of 64
The return of Jerian Grant gives the Irish one of the ACC’s top guards, but there are still glaring holes in the frontcourt.
Postseason projection: NIT
Transfer Angel Rodriguez (Kansas State) will be a nice addition, but the lack of a supporting cast may leave the Canes in rebuilding mode.
11. Clemson (team preview)
Postseason projection: NIT
Tigers were one or two wins away from NCAA Tournament in 2013-14, but losing K.J. McDaniels to the NBA will make everything tougher.
12. Wake Forest
After taking Tulsa to the NCAA Tournament, Danny Manning takes on the hefty task of rebuilding the Deacs.
13. Georgia Tech
This is likely make-or-break season for coach Brian Gregory, who has yet to have a winning ACC season in his three years in Atlanta.
14. Virginia Tech
The Hokies may have pulled off the best hire of the offseason by convincing Buzz Williams to leave Marquette.
15. Boston College
New coach Jim Christian takes over a program that won just eight games last season.
2014 ACC Superlatives
Player of the Year: Marcus Paige, North Carolina
Early in the season, North Carolina would go as Marcus Paige did. By the end of the season, Paige went form a streaky player to one of the most consistent in the league. With a stabilized cast around him, Paige could have an All-America kind of season.
Best Defensive Player: Aaron Thomas, Florida State
Florida State generally has solid defensive teams under Leonard Hamilton, and the guard Thomas will spearhead that effort again. Thomas finished last season with 14.5 points per game and 57 total steals.
Most Underrated Player: Trevor Lacey, NC State
NC State has lost its share of transfers in recent years. The Wolfpack gets one back in Lacey from Alabama. He’ll make up half of a solid scoring tandem with point guard Cat Barber.
Newcomer of the Year: Jahlil Okafor, Duke
Okafor’s reputation as a rare talent precedes him at Duke. The Blue Devils haven’t had a dominant big man for several seasons, and now they’ll have one of the top post prospects to come along in years. He'll be a Player of the Year contender and possible No. 1 overall draft pick.
Top Coach: Mike Krzyzewski, Duke (full ACC coach rankings)
G Marcus Paige, North Carolina
G Olivier Hanlan, Boston College
G Jerian Grant, Notre Dame
F Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
C Jahlil Okafor, Duke
G Angel Rodriguez, Miami
G Aaron Thomas, Florida State
G Trevor Lacey, NC State
G Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia
G/F Justin Jackson, North Carolina
G Quinn Cook, Duke
G Tyus Jones, Duke
G Terry Rozier, Louisville
G Chris Jones, Louisville
G/F Pat Connaughton, Notre Dame
It took Pittsburgh little time to make a resounding impression in its ACC debut. The Panthers opened with a 16–1 record, including 4–0 in the league, and raised eyebrows from Tobacco Road to Tallahassee.
Then, they dropped six of their next 10 and eventually lost in the Round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament to top-seeded Florida. This is not to suggest that the season was a failure. Far from it. Pittsburgh went 26–10, placed fifth in the ACC and won two games in the conference tournament.
The goal moving forward, though, is to replicate last season’s brisk beginning, then to maintain the standard. The good news is that three starters and six of the top eight scorers return from a team for which young players emerged during a late-season 5–1 stretch. Pittsburgh will feature only two scholarship seniors this season.
“We started to grow up, to figure it out,” junior guard James Robinson says.
There will be challenges with the departures of leading scorer Lamar Patterson and leading rebounder Talib Zanna, but it is nothing veteran coach Jamie Dixon hasn’t seen before. Dixon is masterful at making the sum better than the parts, which explains why he’s been to 10 NCAA tournaments in 11 years.
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Pittsburgh’s big men have promise and potential. The question is: Can they maximize it? Sophomore Mike Young, who moves from power forward to center, is the key. He displayed a refined interior skill set last season but wasn’t at full capacity due to a stress fracture in his lower back. An offseason weight-loss regimen and a mini growth spurt to 6-9-plus must pay dividends to soften the loss of Zanna. He’ll get help from senior Derrick Randall and junior Joseph Uchebo, but Young, a tireless defender, needs to emerge.
One of Pittsburgh’s more intriguing players is sophomore power forward Jamel Artis. His inside-outside talents emerged in the later stages of the season, with 11 points and seven rebounds vs. Virginia and 13 and seven against North Carolina. A potential matchup problem with an ability to step away from the basket, Artis could flourish as the season progresses.
At small forward, sophomore Sheldon Jeter is an enticing mystery. Jeter, who began his career at Vanderbilt, is a highly regarded talent who offers the versatility to play multiple positions.
Pittsburgh Panthers Facts & Figures
Last season: 26-10, 11-7 ACC
Postseason: NCAA round of 32
Consecutive NCAAs: 2
Coach: Jamie Dixon (288-96 at Pittsburgh, 126-64 Big East/ACC)
ACC Projection: Seventh
Postseason Projection: NCAA Round of 64
Robinson is the consummate delivery man. He ranked sixth nationally in assist-turnover ratio and possesses unquestioned command in setting the tempo. But here’s the rub: Pittsburgh needs more from the Bob Cousy Award finalist. He averaged just 7.6 points and rarely created his own shot. He must be a difference-maker in all facets if Pittsburgh is to evolve into an ACC contender.
Shooting guard Cameron Wright is raw at times but provides explosiveness and aggressiveness. He hit double figures 20 times and can stuff the stat sheet with his rebounding and passing. If Wright continues to ascend, the backcourt could be formidable.
A potential X-factor is change-of-pace speedster Josh Newkirk, a sophomore who was strong late in the season. He will give Dixon the option of using three-guard sets with his versatility. The purest scorer among the group is 6-6 junior Durand Johnson, a sharpshooter with unlimited range. He was averaging 8.8 points off the bench before a season-ending ACL/meniscus injury Jan. 11.
Despite Dixon’s success — he has a .750 winning percentage — he hasn’t been to the Sweet 16 in five years and missed the tourney altogether in ‘12. Because of this, the veteran coach finds himself in the midst of a conflicted fan base. Some are ecstatic that he’s put Pittsburgh basketball on the map over the past decade, while others believe he needs to raise the bar higher.
Dixon accepts all points of view. “We understand what the fans want. We expect the same for ourselves,” says Dixon, who’s been to three Sweet 16s and one Elite Eight. “It’s what we keep working for, reaching for.”
With the lack of a dominant star and uncertainty in the frontcourt, Dixon’s team will need time to jell. As always, he’ll coax maximum effort and results from his youthful group.
Will it be enough to land the Panthers back in the Sweet 16? The Elite Eight? Perhaps not, but another trip to the NCAA Tournament is more than realistic.
Of Pittsburgh’s four newcomers, Vanderbilt transfer Sheldon Jeter is expected to provide the most immediate impact. The sophomore averaged 5.5 points and 3.4 rebounds in his lone season in Nashville. Junior-college transfer Tyrone Haughton needs seasoning, but offers solid defensive skills around the rim. Combo-forward Ryan Luther offers versatility, as he can score from outside or in the paint. Late signee Cameron Johnson, a swingman, is a redshirt candidate.
Just one week after knocking off TCU, Baylor became the latest casualty in the Big 12, leaving the conference with no unbeaten teams and no teams in the Legends Poll Top 8.
The Bears fell 41-27 in Morgantown and dropped from No. 4 in the rankings, receiving zero Top 8 votes this week.
No. 2 Florida State survived in a heavyweight bout against Notre Dame Saturday night, knocking off the Irish 31-27 to keep its 23-game win streak alive. Notre Dame impressed the Legends Poll voters and remained at No. 7, despite the loss.
No. 4 Alabama moved up a spot and remains the highest ranked 1-loss team after dismantling Texas A&M 59-0 at home. Top-ranked Mississippi State was idle.
Ole Miss maintained its No. 3 ranking with another impressive defensive performance against Tennessee. Idle Auburn rounded out the top 5.
No. 6 Oregon moved back into the Legends Poll rankings, followed by Notre Dame and Michigan State.
|1||Mississippi State (11)||6-0||109||1|
|2||Florida State (3)||7-0||96||2|
To see the individual votes by coach, visit the Legends Poll.
The Eastern Conference hasn’t been the same without Derrick Rose. The Chicago Bulls, originally thought to be the top roadblock to LeBron James’ kingdom, couldn’t compete with James’ Miami Heat superteams without their killer point guard, who played only ten games over the past two seasons with knee injuries. James is back with the Cleveland Cavaliers now; the Bulls lost their shot at James' Miami squad.
But the would-be rivalry between Rose and the four-time MVP may still see its fiercest days yet.
This is what the basketball world thought last night, watching Rose explode in a 107-98 preseason loss against the Cavs in Columbus, Ohio. He started off cautiously, moving the ball through Chicago’s offense patiently, but attacked Cleveland’s defense relentlessly once he found its cracks, racking up 16 points in the second quarter and providing some breathtaking clips:
Rose finished with 30 points on 12-of-18 shooting in 24 minutes — still likely well below the minutes he’ll play by midseason — along with three assists, five rebounds and zero turnovers. He was a marvel, and if he can reproduce this kind of effort with any consistency, the Bulls just might be the threat to the Cavaliers’ supremacy that the East is otherwise lacking.
The friction between these two teams is only increased by the biting words Joakim Noah had after the game, reminding Ohioans of his past criticisms of their land — including when he said that “Cleveland really sucks” in bringing up his NCAA triumph over Ohio State. The former University of Florida Gator had this to say when asked why he was booed by the fans in attendance: “Because we won the championship. And then we beat them in football. It's all good, though.”
Even though Cleveland won the exhibition, the Bulls still made a hell of an impression. Even lacking their best perimeter defender in Jimmy Butler, who was out with a sprained left thumb, they still looked like valiant fighters. Stay tuned for what might be the most exciting rivalry in the 2014-15 NBA season, which resumes with a Halloween special when Cleveland visits the Bulls.
— John Wilmes
The 2014 World Series begins tonight in Kansas City, as two Wild Card teams meet in the Fall Classic for the first time since the 2002 Series that saw the Angels beat the Giants in seven games. The been-there-done that San Francisco Giants head east to take on the stout Kansas City Royals in Game 1 tonight at Kauffman Stadium.
Both teams were long shots at the beginning of the Postseason, having to overcome more heralded teams, and the Wild Card play-in game. Here are five storylines to watch as the World Series kicks off.
Both the Giants and the Royals feature supreme pitching talent in their respective bullpens. Giants skipper Bruce Bochy is much more tactical with his bullpen maneuvers compared to that of Royals manager Ned Yost. Bocky isn’t afraid to mix up relievers in different innings to keep opposing hitters and managers guessing. Yost is much more concrete in his relief strategy. Kelvin Herrera will get the ball in the 7th, Wade Davis in the 8th, and Greg Holland in the 9th.
Even the pitchers themselves are contrasting in pitching styles. The Royals come at you with a “here it is, try and hit it” approach; while the Giants are much more analytical about how they pitch to a hitter. One thing both stables have in common, they are effective.
The combo of Herrera, Davis, and Holland has been outstanding, to be modest. The Royals as a complete bullpen unit have thrown 35 innings, yielding a .179 AVG and 1.80 ERA during the Postseason. Herrera pitched 8 1/3 of those innings giving up one run and posting a 1.08 ERA. Davis is even better in the 8th with a 0.96 ERA in 9 1/3 innings pitched, surrendering one run as well. The same story applies for Holland who has notched six saves (Four of those vs. Baltimore, tying Dennis Eckersley’s postseason record for saves in one series) and a 1.13 ERA in eight innings pitched, also giving up just one run.
San Fran’s veteran cohort of Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez, Segio Romo, and Santiago Cassila has all been here before, twice actually. All four of the Giants primary bullpen arms were with the club during their first two World Series runs in 2010 and 2012. The roles have changed but the names have stayed the same.
In his last 18 appearances, lefty vet Jeremy Affeldt, has not given up a single run. Lefty specialist Javier Lopez hasn’t surrendered a run either in his last 15 mound appearances. But no Giants reliever has been as potent as Santiago Casilla. Cassilla has only given up two hits in his seven Postseason appearances this year, and didn’t give up a hit for a month prior to those hits in Game 4 of the NLCS. Thus far, Casilla has put up zeros in the ERA, Runs, and Earned Runs columns.
The Giants pen hasn’t been as “dominating” compared to that of the Royals because of one glaring stat. The Giants have given up seven home runs thus far in the Postseason. Hunter Strickland was responsible for surrendering four of those, two to Bryce Harper. Strickland only appeared once in the NLCS against the Cardinals but still gave up a dinger. Strickland and Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum will be the wild cards out of the Giants pen. 21 year-old lefty Brandon Finnegan has been outstanding for Ned Yost and the Royals, and could be the ace in the hole for KC. Finnegan was the Royals first-round draft pick out of TCU this past July, and he clearly has the stuff to make hitters miss in The Show, striking out 10, posting a 1.00 WHIP and 1.29 ERA to go along with just one earned run and one hit in 4.1 innings of work.
ROYAL SPEED vs. BUSTER POSEY
Much has been made about the Royals’ blazing speed on the base paths, and for good reason, their speed is game changing. The Royals led all of baseball in stolen bases with 153 and proved time and time again just how dangerous their base stealing ability is throughout the Postseason as eight different runners have stolen a bag at some point this October.
Giants All-star catcher Buster Posey is more than adequate behind the plate but finds himself in the middle of the pack when it comes to catching base thieves. So far this postseason, Posey has only picked off one runner and allowed three to advance safely. Granted, that is a small sample size, but even his regular season numbers aren’t that great. During the 2014 season, Posey only threw out approximately 30 percent of all runners, allowing 59 steals, ranking him 12th in baseball in bases stolen.
If speedsters Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson, and Alcides Escobar can get on base, look for Ned Yost to give his guys the green light to run on the former NL MVP.
We are all but guaranteed to see Giants lefty ace Madison Bumgarner and the Royals’ “Big Game James” Shields in at least two appearances this series as they both take the hill in Game 1 tonight.
Bumgarner earned his title as the NLCS MVP with fantastic performances all October long. In four postseason games this Fall, Bumgarner has given up just five earned runs, while striking out 28, and posting a 1.42 ERA, .170 AVG, and 0.76 WHIP in 31.2 innings.
Shields, on the other hand, hasn’t exactly lived up to his “Big Game” moniker. In 50.1 career innings of postseason work, Shields has put up a 5.19 ERA, and only reached the 7th inning once, way back in 2008 when the Rays went to the World Series. If the Royals’ are aspiring for one more post-series champagne shower, they are going to need more from their veteran hurler.
BIG STICKS AND TIMELY HITS
Neither the Royals nor the Giants were known during the regular season for hitting the long ball. In fact, the Royals ranked last in all of baseball in homers (95), while the Giants were 17th (132). But October has brought out the big bats at all the right times.
Eric Hosmer’s October coming out party has been better than anything Kid ‘N Play could host at their parent’s house. Hosmer and his bat have propelled the Royals to their first World Series in 29 years, thanks to his .448/.556/.759 slash line, 2 HR, a double, triple, and and 8 RBI in eight games. Its not just how much damage Hos is doing, but when he is doing it. His one-out triple in the 12th in the AL Wild Card game sparked KC’s comeback over the As in one of the best baseball games you could ever hope to see. And his 11th inning jack in Los Angeles in Game 2 of the ALDS might have been the back breaker the Angels were dreading. But Hos isn’t alone in his offensive conquest. ALCS MVP Lorenzo Cain has been nothing short of remarkable with his timely hitting including 15 total bases, 12 hits, 9 runs, 3 doubles, 4 RBI, and 2 stolen bags in just 8 games this October, while Mike Moustakas has added four homers of his own.
The Giants haven’t been as fortunate at the plate, but have found ways to muster up runs, usually by capitalizing on other team’s errors. San Fran’s Postseason team batting average is a lackluster .244 with an OBP of .318. If the Giants are going to score runs, it will be much tougher against the Royals, one of the soundest defenses in baseball. The Giants may also need more home run heroics earlier in games because of the strength of KC bullpen in later innings. Buster Posey (.302/.354/.302) and Pablo Sandoval (.326/.396./406) have been the Giants most reliable hitters through the Postseason, amassing 27 hits, but only four went for extra bases, all of which belong to Sandoval.
For the Giants to raise the Commissioner’s Trophy one more time, players like Hunter Pence (.256/.341/.333), Brandon Belt (1 extra base hit), Michael Morse (4 at-bats, 1HR), and Brandon Crawford (.211/.279./342) will have to deliver when it matters most.
GIANT EXPERIENCE vs. ROYAL MAGIC
Both clubs are coming into the World Series scorching hot. The Royals have picked the perfect time to go streaking (“…through the quad, and into the gymnasium, and into the World Series…everybody’s doing it”), winning their last eight games against teams that were all better than them in the regular season. But October doesn’t care about what you did April through September. Of the Royals 25-man roster, only three players have ever played in the postseason. Judging from the way the Royals have made acrobatic plays in the outfield, stolen bases, and hit dramatic home runs, you never would have guessed it, but of the team’s 25-man Postseason roster, only three players have October experience. Maybe this team is just naïve enough to take on this tested, veteran Giants ball club.
The Giants have been here before, twice, actually. Bumgarner, Sandoval, Posey, Lincecum, Crawford, Belt, Casilla, Lopez, Romo, Pence, Affeldt, and Machi were all apart of the 2012 Giants team that won it all against the Detroit Tigers. Thanks in part to their stringent defense, reliable pitching, and polished at bats, the Giants are never out of a game. Someone always seems to step up for them at the right time, whether it’s Lincecum out of the bullpen, Sandoval smacking three homers in one game, or latest-additions Michael Morse and Travis Ishikawa hitting homers, the Giants typically deliver in October.
This Fall Classic matchup between the Royals and Giants has all the makings of a fantastic conclusion to yet another outstanding MLB season.
By Jake Rose
The San Francisco Giants are making an unlikely postseason run to try and win their third World Series in five seasons. The Giants bring experience, grit and small ball to Kansas City tonight to take on the fairy-tale Royals in Game 1.
This could very well be business as usual for the Giants, another Postseason series, another Commisioner’s Trophy in the case. Here are four reasons why the San Francisco Giants will win the World Series and become the team of the decade.
Been There Done That…Again
Experience is something that is not on the side of the Kansas City Royals. Only three of the 25 players on the World Series roster have postseason experience. The same cannot be said for the Giants.
Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Pablo Sandoval, Tim Lincecum, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, Javier Lopez, Sergio Romo, Santiago Castilla, Madison Bumgarner, Jeremy Affeldt, Jean Machi and Ryan Vogelsong were all part of the Giants 2012 World Series team. Bumgarner, Lincecum, Affeldt, Castilla, Romo, Lopez, Posey and Sandoval were all pieces in the 2010 World Series winning team. To say that these guys have experience is quite the understatement.
Each player knows his role on the team. The Giants aren't flashy, they don't hit a lot of homers, they don't steal a lot of bases — they play great team ball. The cliche is “doing all the little things well.” That is the 2014 San Francisco Giants. They work counts, have timely hits, have solid pitching, and play efficient defense well enough to win championships.
This isn’t the first October rodeo for Santiago Castilla, Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt. They all know what they are doing. All four relievers have been a part of both of the Giants' World Series championships since 2010. Their roles have changed over time, but the job still remains the same. Romo was the set-up man in 2010 to the bearded Brian Wilson and moved to the closer role in 2012, where Castilla was the set up man. Lopez has always been the lefty on lefty specialist, shutting down southpaws whenever called upon. And Jeremy Affeldt, well, he gets everyone out.
Giants relievers have allowed a postseason low 1.78 ERA in 35 1/3 innings. But the “Core Four” of relievers have been so good that they have only allowed one run in over 19 innings of work. That one run was Kolten Wong’s walk-off homer in Game 2 of the NLCS off Sergio Romo. Neither Castilla, Affeldt nor Lopez has given up a run in their last 17, 18, and 15 Postseason appearances, respectively. Wow, good luck KC.
The good ole boy from North Carolina has been anything but easygoing on the mound. In fact, Madison Bumgarner has been nasty. The Giants ace will take the ball in Game 1 of the series tonight in KC, and more than likely Game 4, and Game 7 if needed.
The 25 year-old southpaw is already in his third World Series in his young, five year career. The NLCS MVP has made 4 Postseason appearances thus far and pitched 31.2 innings. In those 30-plus innings, MadBum has chalked up a 1.42 ERA, 0.76 WHIP, 28 strikeouts, and just five walks and five earned runs…and not to mention a complete game shutout in the NL Wild Card against the hard-hitting Pittsburgh Pirates.
If Royals lefties Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Nori Aoki, Alex Gordon, and Jarrod Dyson think they stand a chance against Bumgarner, they should think again. MadBum’s numbers against lefties during the regular season are startling: .224/.246/.293, just 10 extra base hits, 58 strikeouts, 5 walks, and 12 RBI against 174 left-handed at bats.
Actually, bunting doesn't sound like a bad idea. Right, Ned Yost?
Just like his players, Bruce Bochy has been here, and won that — twice. Bruce Bochy knows exactly what buttons to press to put his guys in the right spot, to make the right plays, at the right time. Whether its pinch-hitting Michael Morse and then watching him hit the game-tying homer in Game 5 of the NLCS, or knowing when to go to his two-time Cy Young Award Winner, Tim Lincecum in the bullpen, Bruce just knows.
If there was ever any doubt as to whether Bochy was going to Cooperstown before this October, it's disappeared now. Bochy could be the difference in the series, especially if he forces Ned Yost’s hand to make a decision that gives the veteran Giants an advantage. Bochy’s greatest managerial trait is allowing his players to make mistakes and then learning from them down the road. Bruce knows this team better than anyone, and he could be the reason the Giant win another World Series title.
By Jake Rose
The Royals are the darlings of the baseball Postseason, and winners of eight in a row. KC started out in the Wild Card game against the Oakland As, then went on to sweep the American League’s best team, the Los Angeles Angels in three games, and then the homer-happy Baltimore Orioles in four straight.
The boys from Kansas City take on the perennial National League powerhouse San Francisco Giants in Game One tonight at Kauffman Stadium in KC. Here are four reasons why the Royals will beat the Giants and win the World Series for the first time in 29 years.
7, 8, 9
The Kansas City bullpen is downright dirty. As an opposing player you know that Kelvin Herrera is coming in to start the 7th, then Wade Davis in the 8th, and then Greg Holland to finish you off in the 9th. You know that all three of them are going to bring heat, sometimes triple digit heat…you also know you aren't hitting that heat.
Between the three of them, they have given up just three runs in 25.2 innings of work, while all three of them have 10 strikeouts. If you're going to score on the Royals, score early, because once the 7th inning starts, you might as well go home.
Dave Roberts has the most famous stolen base in Postseason history, igniting the miraculous 2004 Red Sox comeback against the Yankees. After this World Series is over and done with, we might be talking about a ton of stolen bases from the Royals. So far this Postseason, KC has nabbed 13 bags, coming from eight different players.
Buster Posey is a very able catcher defensively, but he is in the middle of the road when it comes to throwing runners out. Over the course of the 2014 season Posey threw out just 30% of the runners that attempted to steal a bag on him. The Royals stole 80% of the bags they attempted to take, just .5% away from being tops in baseball. Safe to say that Posey is going to have a plate full of Royals runners.
Defense Wins Championships
The Royals Leather Expo has been going on all October long. The KC outfield has especially been in the spotlight. Jarrod Dyson, Lorenzo Cain, Alex Gordon and Nori Aoki roam the outfield hunting down baseballs like Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, and Sam Ellliot hunted Cowboys in Tombstone, just faster and not on horses.
Outfield walls, foul territory tarps, railings, have all tried to stop Royals defenders from making plays, all failed. The Giants best chance to beating the Royals defense is to hit the ball where they can’t get to it, out of the ball park. Hitting the ball in the Kauffman Stadium fountains and into McCovey Cove is the best prospect the Giants have in circumnavigating the Royals defense.
The Magic of October
Maybe you don't believe in fairy tales, or luck, or magic, but the Royals do — they have to. There is no logical explanation for the fact that they were able to come back time after time and beat the As in the AL Wild Card game. There was no explanation as to why they were able to sweep Mike Trout and the AL-best Angels. There was no reasoning as to why they were able to completely silence the biggest bats in baseball, in the Baltimore Orioles. Heck, we are still all perplexed that this team made the Postseason at all!
This team was dead last in home runs. Baltimore’s Nelson Cruz hit almost half as many long balls than the entire Royals team did this season.
But time and time again, whether it is Eric Hosmer hitting every pitch he sees, Mike Moustakas diving over a row of fans to make a falling catch, Alex Gordon flashing his leather in left field, Jarrod Dyson stealing third, or Lorenzo Cain doing, well, everything, this team is destined to win the World Series, and shock the world.
By Jake Rose
Last season was as bad as it’s ever been for the Los Angeles Lakers. The historically dominant franchise (holders of 16 NBA championships, second only to the Celtics' 17) plummeted after team leaders Kobe Bryant and the porcelain Steve Nash went down with injuries, and coach Mike D’Antoni ran out the rest of the year allowing young men of moxie like Nick Young, Kendall Marshall, Jordan Hill and Xavier Henry to run the show on the way to a 27-55 record, the team’s worst ever.
Lakers big man legend Pau Gasol languished under D’Antoni, and left this summer for the Chicago Bulls even though Byron Scott replaced D’Antoni on the bench. The Lakers’ front office whiffed on marquee free agents like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, recommitting to Bryant and their young, ineffectual core as a Plan B.
The early results haven’t been pretty. Bryant, whose sense of self-censorship went out the window years ago, is saying things like this about promising rookie Julius Randle, a No. 7 overall pick from Kentucky and one of the bright spots on a bad team:
Kobe on Julius Randle having him and Byron Scott as mentors: "It means he can't f--- it up. If you f--- this up you're a really big idiot."— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) October 20, 2014
Such talk reeks of hubris gone unchecked, for far too long. Bryant’s also getting crossed over badly by Utah Jazz youngster Alec Burks:
And coach Scott, hot off a 64-166 record over three years with the Cleveland Cavaliers, has begun to profess a strange, seemingly satirical mission statement for the 2014-15 Lakers. He’s said that the team will shoot fewer than fifteen three-pointers per game, stressing that taking shots from deep “gets you to the playoffs … I don’t believe it wins championships.”
If the coach’s projections come true over the year, the team will shoot less three bombs than anyone in the league, despite rangy shots being one of the possible strengths of this limited roster. Scott, with this concept, seems lost in the sea of nostalgia for a time when the league wasn’t as three-happy as it is now — like the 1980s, when Scott joined Magic Johnson in the “Showtime” era and won three Lakers titles.
But that epoch is well over. And the suddenly sinking Lakers organization is either allowing Scott and Bryant to continue their proud, folly-rich charade so they can tank and get more prized draft picks like Randle next June, or they’re simply tying their anchor to the wrong men.
— John Wilmes
Few believed Xavier would finish in the top half of the retooled Big East based on last year’s preseason predictions. But the Musketeers, picked seventh by the league’s media in the fall, went on to tie for third with a 10–8 conference record, including a 7–2 mark at home.
It wasn’t always smooth sailing for a Xavier team that floundered down the stretch and fell to NC State in an NCAA Tournament “play-in game” in nearby Dayton. XU dropped nine of its final 15 games and suffered a major setback when center Matt Stainbrook strained the MCL in his left knee in the last regular-season road game. Although Stainbrook returned for the postseason, he was not at full strength.
Fast forward to this season’s new-look team, which features nine scholarship freshmen and sophomores. High expectations abound for the six rookies — Larry Austin Jr., Trevon Bluiett, Makinde London, J.P. Macura, Sean O’Mara and Edmond Sumner — that form the highest-ranked recruiting class in program history.
There’s much to learn about this team, starting with the identities of new scoring leaders. Last year’s top producers are gone — Semaj Christon was a second-round pick in the NBA Draft after leaving Xavier following his sophomore season, and Justin Martin opted to play his final season at SMU as a graduate transfer.
The Xavier edition is one of dozens available in our online store and on newsstands everywhere now.
Stainbrook was a known quantity — despite being in his first season at Xavier after transferring from Western Michigan — for his scoring, rebounding and passing skills. His work down low allowed Jalen Reynolds time to develop as a freshman. The 6-9 forward made modest contributions for much of the season but showed his vast potential with a 17-point, 16-rebound effort in a win at St. John’s in February. Reynolds, one of the team’s best athletes, is explosive around the basket.
James Farr, also 6-9, traveled a different trajectory by starting the season strong and fading in February. Farr, who can stretch defenses with his long-range shooting, has the potential to be a difference-maker if he develops more consistency on the defensive end of the floor. London and O’Mara also may impact the front line as they compete for minutes off the bench.
The departure of Martin, who played small forward and also served as a stretch-4, opens the door for Bluiett, a heralded prospect. The 6-6 wing, who averaged 35.7 points as a high school senior, is perhaps the most college-ready player among the newcomers. Macura is another capable shooter who could make an impact, either at small forward or shooting guard.
Xavier Musketeers Facts & Figures
Last season: 21-13, 10-8 Big East
Postseason: NCAA First Four
Consecutive NCAAs: 1
Coach: Chris Mack (111-57 at Xavier, 58-24 A-10/Big East)
Big East Projection: Third
Postseason Projection: NCAA First Four
Point guard Dee Davis is the elder statesman of the team by virtue of being the only fourth-year Musketeer on the roster. He developed into an effective pass-first guard as a junior while still contributing 7.7 points to go with his 4.7 assists. As a senior, Davis will be asked to increase his production while providing leadership to an otherwise young backcourt.
Xavier gains experience in junior guard Remy Abell, a transfer from Indiana who shot 48.5 percent from 3-point range as a sophomore at IU two years ago. He is capable of being a factor on both ends of the court.
At times last season Myles Davis was among the first players off the bench, capable of draining clutch 3-pointers and changing momentum. The shooting guard struggled down the stretch, both offensively and defensively, and vowed to improve in the offseason. If he has, the New Jersey native will be a key cog in Xavier’s rotation.
Sophomore Brandon Randolph and Sumner, one of the freshmen, will battle for time off the bench at the point. Randolph played significant minutes early last season but fell out of the rotation in the final two months.
Chris Mack has the youngest roster in his six-year tenure, but he still has plenty of talent at his disposal — despite losing his top two scorers, each with eligibility remaining.
If the Musketeers can cure some of the ills that afflicted them last season — inconsistent bench production, stretches of poor defense — they will be in the mix at the top of the Big East standings. Catching the rookies up to speed and rolling with their early mistakes will be key.
Remy Abell, a transfer from Indiana, practiced with Xavier last season and should play major minutes. Trevon Bluiett arrives with an impressive offensive resume, but like the other freshmen — Larry Austin Jr., Makinde London, J.P. Macura, Sean O’Mara and Edmond Sumner — he must prove he can play defense.
The first year of the new Big East alignment brought a little bit of everything: a national player of the year and one of college basketball’s all-time greats (Creighton’s Doug McDermott), a national top 10 team (Villanova) and one surprising NCAA participant (Providence).
At the same time, the new league also showed its limitations. None of its four teams in the NCAA Tournament advanced beyond the first weekend. And after the season, arguably the league’s best coach at one of the Big East’s top programs left for a middling ACC team.
Even if Buzz Williams’ departure from Marquette to Virginia Tech was as much a product of internal politics as anything, the move wasn’t a great sign of health for the league.
The Big East may enter the 2014-15 season with same kinds of highs and lows. Villanova returns the core of a team that was a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Georgetown and Xavier continue to be NCAA contenders.
But the Doug McDermott Show is gone, putting Creighton into a rebuilding year along with Marquette, under new coach Steve Wojciechowski, and Butler.
That leaves teams like Providence, Seton Hall and St. John’s — also-rans at the end of the previous Big East era — making up the depth of the league.
Previews of every Big East team and more are available in the 2014-15 Athlon Sports College Basketball Preview.
Big East 2014-15 Preseason Picks
1. Villanova (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA Sweet 16
The clear-cut favorite to win the league, the Wildcats could be poised for a deep NCAA Tournament run. Can Josh Hart replace James Bell?
2. Georgetown (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA round of 64
Despite the loss of Markel Starks, John Thompson III will have this team in the mix. The key could be Joshua Smith: Will he stay healthy and eligible?
3. Xavier (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA First Four
Had everyone returned, the Musketeers could have competed for a league title. Jalen Reynolds is ready for a breakout season up front.
4. St. John’s
Postseason projection: NIT
There is still plenty of talent and athleticism on the roster, and Rysheed Jordan and D’Angelo Harrison form a dynamic guard duo.
Postseason projection: NIT
Life without Bryce Cotton begins for Ed Cooley. LaDontae Henton and Tyler Harris will score, but Kris Dunn needs to stay healthy.
6. Seton Hall
Postseason projection: NIT
The most intriguing team in the league. Isaiah Whitehead can score, Angel Delgado is a dominant rebounder, and Sterling Gibbs is back.
Postseason projection: NIT
Roosevelt Jones’ return from injury will be the biggest key. He and Kellen Dunham will form a terrific – and productive – perimeter tandem.
Steve Wojciechowski enters his first season with very little up front — but plenty of perimeter punch, including Todd Mayo and Matt Carlino.
A rebuilding job begins for Greg McDermott. His son and three other starters have moved on, and big reinforcements are a year away.
Oliver Purnell has won nine Big East games since joining DePaul four seasons ago. Could this be his last go-round in Chicago?
2014-15 Big East Superlatives
Player of the Year: D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown
Smith-Rivera will shoulder more of the load with the departure of do-it-all point guard Markel Starks. His 17.6 points per game suggests Smith-Rivera is ready. The junior also averaged 87.3 shooting from the free throw line.
Best Defensive Player: Chris Obekpa, St. John’s
Obekpa has twice led the Big East in blocks, topping out at 2.9 a year ago.
Most Underrated Player: Darrun Hilliard, Villanova
Hilliard was one of the most improved players in the league last season, improving from 31.5 percent shooting from 3-point range to 41.4 despite taking 45 more shots last season.
Newcomer of the Year: Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall
If Seton Hall is going to make a long-awaited rise, the arrival of Whitehead from Brooklyn will be a big reason why. The McDonald’s All-American should offer a scoring boost to an experienced backcourt.
Top coach: Jay Wright, Villanova (full Big East coach rankings)
First-Team All-Big East
G D’Angelo Harrison, St. John’s
G Kellen Dunham, Butler
G D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown
F LaDontae Henton, Providence
F JayVaughn Pinkston, Villanova
Second-Team All-Big East
G Darrun Hilliard, Villanova
G Rysheed Jordan, St. John’s
G Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall
F Roosevelt Jones, Butler
C Matt Stainbrook, Xavier
Third-Team All-Big East
G Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova
G Matt Carlino, Marquette
G Sterling Gibbs, Seton Hall
G Billy Garrett Jr., DePaul
C Joshua Smith, Georgetown
The team never seemed to get any momentum. The Hoyas lost to Northeastern, then beat Kansas State and VCU. They lost six of seven Big East games in January, then beat Michigan State. And just when it looked like Georgetown could make a case for the NCAA Tournament, it lost five of its last seven — with the wins coming over Creighton and Xavier, of course.
There were availability questions surrounding Greg Whittington at the start of the season and Josh Smith in the middle of the season — plus various injuries. With fewer question marks heading into this season, Georgetown should be back in the mix for an NCAA Tournament invite.
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Like last season, the key for the Hoyas will be the availability of Smith. He played just 13 games before being ruled academically ineligible, costing Georgetown in Big East play. He played fewer than 20 minutes per game, but was third on the team in scoring. Smith was a force at times in November and December, opening the season with 25 points against Oregon and also notching six straight double-figure scoring outings in non-conference play. The talent has never been the question for Smith; it’s his conditioning. Can Smith stay on the floor? When he gets the ball on the block, he’s nearly unstoppable.
Nate Lubick and Moses Ayegba are gone from last season, but John Thompson III won’t lack for options. Mikael Hopkins was something of an unsung presence inside for the Hoyas, leading the team in blocked shots and providing Georgetown with a capable passer. Sophomore Reggie Cameron might be the team’s best pure outside shooter.
Two reasons for excitement, though, are freshmen Paul White and Isaac Copeland. White is a 6-8 forward who can stretch the floor and also put the ball on the deck and get to the rim. He has the ability to be a matchup problem. Copeland has a higher ceiling than White, and is another versatile forward who can knock down shots from the perimeter.
Georgetown Hoyas Facts & Figures
Last season: 25-7, 8-10 Big East
Last NCAA Tournament: 2013
Coach: John Thompson III (227-104 at Georgetown, 107-62 Big East)
Big East Projection: Second
Postseason Projection: NCAA Round of 64
Georgetown bids farewell to point guard Markel Starks, a four-year player. Over the last two seasons, Starks was a scorer and playmaker who cemented himself as one of the Big East’s best guards.
Without Starks, the onus will fall on junior D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera. Smith-Rivera led the Hoyas in scoring last season and could be ready for a Big East Player of the Year-type of campaign. He finished last season on a tear, averaging 25.0 points in his last three games.
Jabril Trawick might not put up big scoring numbers, but the team is different when he’s not on the court. He missed five games due to a broken jaw last season — and Georgetown went 1-4 in his absence. He’s an athletic guard who also might be the team’s best perimeter defender. Aaron Bowen had his moments last season as a backup on the wing, using his athleticism to bring energy off the bench.
Two freshmen will also play roles on the perimeter. L.J. Peak is a bigger wing who has plenty of athleticism. Tre Campbell is the only pure point guard on the team, and could have to play an immediate role if Smith-Rivera is more comfortable off the ball.
Outside of Villanova, the Big East is wide-open — and Georgetown will be right in the mix for that second tier. If Smith is eligible, healthy and in shape — or at least able to play 20 minutes a night for an entire season — the Hoyas probably will be the second-best team in the league. Smith is that important.
When Smith brings consistent scoring to the post, all the other ingredients are there for Thompson. Smith-Rivera is one of the best guards in the country; Hopkins and Trawick bring experience; and there is depth across the roster. The Hoyas’ four-man recruiting class brings a little bit of everything.
It’s difficult to say an 18–15 team that lost its do-it-all senior point guard will be significantly improved the next season, but that should be the case for Georgetown. Expect a bounce-back season in the nation’s capital.
Georgetown had one of the better recruiting classes in the country, and it’s a four-man group that helps shore up different areas — with a nice mix of immediate impact and future potential. Paul White and Isaac Copeland are both versatile forwards who will certainly help with their ability to stretch the defense. Tre Campbell is a pure point guard, and L.J. Peak is a strong, athletic wing.
There used to be somebody fast and fierce enough to make LeBron James look over his shoulder. His name was Derrick Rose.
The Chicago Bulls point guard, and famed Chicago native, topped James for MVP voting in the 2010-11 season, becoming the youngest player to ever win the award as the then-22-year-old Rose led his team to a league-best 62-20 record. LeBron and the Miami Heat, however, ended up besting the inexperienced Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals that year, four games to one. But a message was sent: This was going to be one of the best rivalries in the league for some time.
Fate, of course, had other ideas. Since Rose tore his ACL on the first day of the 2012 NBA playoffs, he’s played just ten regular season games over two seasons. The Indiana Pacers, not the Bulls, became Miami’s biggest hurdle in the East as they returned to the Finals for three straight years.
Now LeBron’s back in Cleveland, though, and Rose is back on the court. The time Rose has missed means he can’t operate near The King’s level anymore — not yet, anyway. But he is an integral part of a strong roster, featuring a much-improved Joakim Noah, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and newcomer veteran Pau Gasol. Behind the leadership of ever-intense coach Tom Thibodeau, Chicago promises to be LeBron’s harshest Eastern enemy yet again.
With the talent James has around him, it’s hard to believe anyone will be able to beat the Cavs in the long run. Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Mike Miller, Shawn Marion and Co. make for a far stronger, deeper cast than the game’s best player has ever had to work with — even if they’re not quite as experienced as his Heat running mates. In his time away from home, LeBron was able to rearrange the NBA talent market to make his birthplace a magnet for winners. James’ offseason team-building campaign was quite the coup.
If anyone in their conference can take down Cleveland before they find their rhythm and become a juggernaut, though, it’s the indomitable Chicago Bulls. Make sure to catch tonight’s game for a preview of the East’s new power structure.
— John Wilmes
Stanford has established a tradition of playing tough defense, the best in the Pac-12, but at some point even the best defensive teams need to find a way to score some points. The days of Andrew Luck and Toby Gerhart now seem like distant memories for Stanford football. The Cardinal has to hope the offense can pick things up soon, because a road trip to Eugene, Oregon is creeping up in two weeks.
Stanford has now been held to 20 points or fewer in four games this season. The Cardinal are 11th in the Pac-12 in total offense, but Stanford has been ranked in the bottom half of the conference in total offense each of the past two seasons as well. This season, no team in the Pac-12 has a lower first downs-per game average than Stanford (19.0 first downs per game). The Stanford offense converts on third down just 38.2 percent of the time, 11th in the Pac-12.
The red zone has also been unkind to Stanford this season. In 30 red zone trips, Stanford has scored just 20 times, the worst success rate in the Pac-12. As hard as it may be to believe, that statistic gets a bit uglier when discussing touchdown percentage inside the 20-yard line. Stanford has scored 14 touchdowns in 30 red zone trips in seven games. That is next-to-last in the Pac-12, just a few percentage points ahead of Oregon State.
The most likely reason Stanford’s offense has been struggling this season may be due to the fact the Cardinal had to start an almost entirely new offensive line this season. Stanford lost four starters up front, as well as a starting tight end from 2013. Good teams tend to have experience and depth on the offensive line, and that does not appear to be the case for Stanford this season and it is showing. Stanford has allowed 15 sacks this season, which ranks 73rd nationally.
This week Stanford faces Oregon State. Like Stanford, Oregon State’s offense has been struggling on a regular basis this season, perhaps missing the big play ability of wide receiver Brandin Cooks. The next week Stanford will face Oregon, a team the defense has shown the ability to slow down. The Ducks though have kept their offense on track this season despite taking a loss. This year, the Stanford defense may only be able to carry the Cardinal so far.
Stanford has already lost three games this season, equaling last season’s total loss total. David Shaw may still be one of the better coaches in the game, and he has plenty of experience coaching offense. If any coach can find a way to get Stanford’s offense turned around, it would figure to be Shaw. But time is starting to run thin, if it has not already.
- By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
Two weeks ago, Utah scored a victory over a top 10 UCLA program that let the rest of the Pac-12 know the Utes had finally arrived to compete in the conference. After a bye week, the Utes showed true resiliency by edging Oregon State in double overtime on the road on a Thursday night. This week Utah will once again to make a statement in the Pac-12 as the Utes host USC, another ranked opponent. At 5-1, Utah is showing signs of being able to compete in the Pac-12 South, a division with more ranked teams than the vaunted SEC West at this point in the season.
The question remains though, how much faith can be placed in Utah to keep this going? Is Utah here to stay on this competitive field in the Pac-12, or will this be a blip on the radar? All signs seem to suggest Utah is not going anywhere just yet in the Pac-12 South. The recruiting has been improving since moving to the Pac-12, and the talent coming in is beginning to help the program go toe-to-toe with their new conference rivals. TCU’s rise in the Big 12 may be a bit more noticeable and respected nationally, but Utah’s transition to big time football is not to be overlooked either.
For Utah, it starts on defense and running the football, a solid foundation for any winning program in college football. Utah is averaging 210 rushing yards per game with Devontae Booker leading the way with 742 yards and seven touchdowns so far. That ability to run the football has helped take the pressure off quarterback Travis Wilson to do everything he can, although Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham has now started to give Kendal Thompson a chance to play under center as well, while searching for a way to turn the passing game’s results around. Wilson has not thrown an interception this season, but his completion percentage has been less-than-inspiring in recent weeks.
While the running game keeps the offense going, it is the Utah defense that seems to have carried the team early on. Utah has the Pac-12’s third best defensive unit, allowing 379.0 yards per game and just 4.74 yards per play. The Utes lead the Pac-12 in sacks with 33.0 in six games, an average of 5.50 sacks per game. Senior Nate Orchard has led the effort to bring pressure into the opposing backfield with 10.5 sacks. Orchard has stepped up to replace last season’s defensive leader, Trevor Reilly (team high 8.5 sacks in 2013).
The biggest area of improvement on the defensive side of the football though has come in the secondary. Last season the Utes were last in the nation with just three interceptions all year long, tied with Kentucky, Illinois, Temple and UTEP. This year is quite a different story for defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake’s secondary. Through six games, Utah has picked off seven passes.
The world is noticing what Utah is doing, but there is still work to be done in Salt Lake City. The schedule sitting in front of Utah includes four games against teams currently ranked in the top 25 (No. 20 USC, No. 14 Arizona State, No. 6 Oregon and No. 15 Arizona), and a match-up with unranked Stanford sits in that stretch. At this point in the college football season though, why not Utah?
- By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
A healthy Braxton Miller on the field was supposed to make the 2014 season one that was all about making the first College Football Playoff for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Those hopes are effectively toned down before the season ever got started with news of Miller needing to undergo shoulder surgery that would sideline him for the entire season. Enter freshman J.T. Barrett, a dual-threat quarterback from the state of Texas who enrolled early at Ohio State in 2013. As it turns out, that early enrollment may be what saves Ohio State’s seemingly derailed playoff train.
Barrett is a redshirt freshman that had a full year and a half to study Urban Meyer’s offense before being asked to take over the offense this season. This is hardly a true freshman stepping right into the spotlight, although early on it was looking as though Barrett was a tad star-struck under the bright lights. Barrett’s first career home game came against Virginia Tech in primetime. It was a significant spotlight and it came with a dose of bad timing. Virginia Tech was the perfect team to rattle a young quarterback starting his second game in a big match-up, and the Hokies managed to take advantage of a Miller-less Buckeye squad. Barrett was held to just nine completions out of 29 attempts and the Hokies picked off three passes from the redshirt freshman quarterback. The early season loss was forecasted as an elimination game for Ohio State in the playoff race, but it should have been seen as nothing more than a valuable learning experience for Barrett and the rest of the Buckeyes.
Since that 35-21 setback to Virginia Tech, Ohio State has outscored its opponents by a combined score of 224-69. Granted, those wins have come against Kent State (1-6), a struggling Cincinnati (3-3) and Big Ten newcomers Maryland (5-2) and Rutgers (5-2). In that span, Barrett has had three games with a completion percentage over 72.2 and he has been intercepted just once. He has thrown 17 touchdowns and added another three on the ground.
Barrett was a four-star recruit out of high school for a reason, and he is showing why right now. By now it is clear the biggest test the rest of the regular season for Ohio State will be a road trip to Michigan State on November 8. The 2013 Big Ten Championship Game rematch should ultimately determine the favorite in the Big Ten and keep potential playoff hopes alive for the winner. Ohio State, and Barrett, may be playing the best football in the Big Ten right now, but Michigan State is still the team to beat. Barrett has been piling up huge numbers against teams without a defense on par with what Michigan State can offer. The Spartans have not been the tightest on defense in recent weeks, and their late-game struggles have been seen at times this season, but it should be expected Michigan State will tighten up at home against Ohio State in a few weeks.
For now, Barrett and Ohio State have to keep plugging away. That continues this week on the road at Penn State and next week at home against Illinois. Odds are favorable Ohio State will roll into East Lansing with a 7-1 record. Barrett is a huge reason why.
- By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
Another year, another bowl trip for the Duke Blue Devils. This has become the norm in college football, and who knows when it will end. With a 20-13 victory over Virginia this past weekend, Duke improved its season record to 6-1 to become eligible for postseason play for a third straight season.
Whatever head coach David Cutcliffe is doing, it seems to be working. Perhaps this should not have been so unexpected though. Duke came into this season with eight returning starters on offense and six on defense. That included three returning starters on the offensive line, Anthony Boone back at quarterback after showing some promise in 2013 and one of the top wide receiver sin the ACC, Jamison Crowder. The defense had some reworking to do up front on the defensive line, but three starting players at the safety position and linebacker David Helton provide senior leadership in the middle of the field.
Injuries were supposed to take a toll on Duke, but that has not affected them to this point. All-ACC linebacker Kelby Brown was lost for the season with a torn ACL before the season started. Duke also lost returning starting tight end Braxton Deaver for the season with a torn ACL. Duke was also without the services of five other players against Virginia, a supposed hit to the depth of the roster.
Before the season started the general consensus seemed to be Duke would once again be in the middle of a crowded ACC Coastal race, but the question was would there be enough breaks to fall their way to make a return trip to the ACC Championship Game again this season after getting everything to fall into place in 2013. Rather than let outside forces determine what the fate of Duke football is, the Blue Devils are taking manners into their own hands.
For Duke, it begins with the turnover margin. At this point in the season Duke leads the AC in turnover margin with a +8. No ACC team has fewer turnovers lost than Duke, with two lost fumbles and three interceptions. Duke’s 13 forced turnovers is around the middle of the pack among ACC schools, but when the offense is doing a good job holding onto the football, those extra turnovers come in handy. Take Saturday for example.
Virginia ran two plays before fumbling away to Duke. Miles Gooch’s fumble at the Virginia 33-yard line was soon cashed in for seven points by Duke’s offense. Virginia still went on to find ways to move the football on Duke, with 465 yards including 325 through the air. Virginia also owned the edge in time of possession, but Duke won the turnover battle and took advantage of the lone turnover by scoring a touchdown on the free possession. As it turned out, it may have been the difference in the game with Duke winning by seven.
Duke gets a week off to prepare for a road trip to Pittsburgh, with the Panthers off to a solid start in ACC play this season. Duke is the only bowl-eligible team in the ACC Coastal at the moment, but is stuck in a crowded division tie at 2-1 thanks to a loss to Miami. Duke is currently tied with Virginia and Pittsburgh for the division lead, but one win at Pittsburgh can change the entire outlook. Duke won 10 games last season, and they look as capable as ever to actually be able to improve on that this season. Duke’s supposed ceiling may not rival the height of the Sistine Chapel, but it may have been a bit higher than most would have expected. Most of us not wearing a Duke football jersey, at least.
By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
It was an eventful weekend for Los Angeles Clippers MVP candidate Blake Griffin. Friday, he was on the wrong end of a hard foul committed by Utah Jazz forward Trevor Booker, with whom Griffin has a colorful history. Booker hit Griffin with a little extra mustard as he went to the rim, and Blake wasn’t happy about it:
These two previously engaged in extra-physical rasslin' when Booker was with the Washington Wizards, trying to deny Griffin his space in the lane. Booker quickly collected fouls in the game, later saying that Griffin was the beneficiary of “superstar treatment” from the refs.
After Friday’s game, Clippers coach Doc Rivers said that Griffin receives more cheap shots than anyone in the league. Griffin himself, according to Orange County Register, said he would “probably” retaliate for one of these brash fouls eventually.
Then, on Saturday, Griffin reminded us just how majestic he can be in the open court:
Note Denver Nuggets big man Timofey Mozgov, trailing the play, reticent to step into Blake’s path. It’s the preseason, yes, but this lapse is also a reminder that Mozgov was one of Griffin’s original, most indelible posterization victims. That sensational tomahawk, delivered during his rookie season, was the play that announced Griffin as a new, rising superstar to many fans of the league. It’s not hard to see why Booker would want to avoid wearing Blake’s dunce hat and becoming Griffin’s latest clickable YouTube patsy.
Love him or hate him, Griffin has become one of the more integral figures in the league. He’s a magnet for viral attention with his thunderous, artistic style, which is no ruse; pretty and awesome as Griffin looks on the court, he’s also just flat effective. Blake has a strong overall game now, and he’s one of the best ballers in the world. Lesser players like Booker are always going to swat away at the kind of basketball unicorn the Clippers’ superstar is — let’s just hope that nothing happens to deprive us of Griffin’s glitz.
— John Wilmes
DraftKings has released their Daily Fantasy college football salaries for Week 8, and the experts at CollegeFootballGeek.com have hunkered down and scoured all of the data to find the best Value Plays on the docket.
These Value Plays are comprised of players poised to out-produce their DraftKings salaries this week. These are the “diamonds in the rough” that your DFS competitors may overlook. They are the difference-makers you need in your lineup to win one of the big DFS contests!
For your convenience, we have broken the picks down by DraftKings contest game set. Best of luck this week!
(For more detailed Daily Fantasy analysis, picks, player news, player rankings, and stat breakdowns, check out CollegeFootballGeek.com. Learn how to SUBSCRIBE FOR FREE!)
VALUE PLAYS: SATURDAY (EARLY ONLY) GAME SET
1) QB Garrett Krstich, SMU vs. Cincinnati ($5100)
Krstich threw for 339 yards and two scores in his last game against ECU and now he gets to face an awful Cincinnati defense that ranks 118th against the pass. He appears to be an excellent punt option this week.
1) RB Mark Weisman, Iowa vs. Maryland ($4100)
Weisman has rumbled for two touchdowns in each of the last three games and gets to face a Maryland defense that ranks 104th in the country. Look for this Hawkeye to find pay dirt again this week.
2) RB Desmond Roland, Oklahoma State vs. TCU ($4200)
Roland has scored six rushing touchdowns over the past four games and still carries a very appealing price tag. Look for Roland to make another trip across the goal line and provide huge value this week.
3) RB Nick Chubb, Georgia vs. Arkansas ($4600)
All Chubb did last week was carry the ball 38 times and accumulate 174 total yards against Missouri. Expect Chubb to see plenty of carries this week and post a solid stat line.
1) WR Darius Joseph, SMU vs. Cincinnati ($4200)
Joseph is coming off his best game of the season and will be facing a Bearcats pass defense that ranks 118th in the country. He is a PPR machine and hold excellent value on Draft Kings.
2) WR Kolby Listenbee, TCU vs. Oklahoma State ($4400)
Listenbee has gone over 100 yards receiving in the last two games and could make it three in a row against Oklahoma State. The Cowboys pass defense is ranked 101st in the country.
1) Maxx Williams, Minnesota vs. Purdue ($3200)
Williams is healthy and has been posting consistent numbers at the TE position. Look for him to exploit a porous Purdue secondary.
VALUE PLAYS: SATURDAY (LATE ONLY) GAME SET
1) QB Tyrone Swoopes, Texas vs. Iowa State ($5300)
Swoopes exploded for 384 total yards and three total scores against Oklahoma last week. He could have another big performance against Iowa State and looks to be a nice punt option.
1) RB Royce Freeman, Oregon vs. Washington ($4600)
Freeman has seized control of the Oregon backfield and is priced well this week. He could easily hit 80 yards and a score and hit value this week.
2) RB Zach Laskey, Georgia Tech vs. North Carolina ($4700)
Laskey could find plenty of open holes to run through this week against North Carolina. The Tar Heels defense is atrocious and could struggle to stop the powerful Yellow Jackets running game.
1) WR John Harris, Texas vs. Iowa State ($5200)
Harris has scored four touchdowns over his past three games and may find his way into the end zone against Iowa State. There does not appear to be a ton of value at WR in the late slate, so use Harris freely.
1) TE Pharaoh Brown, Oregon vs. Washington ($3200)
Brown had 84 yards and a score last week against UCLA and looks to have a decent upside this week. He can be very inconsistent, so be careful.
By Todd DeVries & Kevin Mount, CollegeFootballGeek.com
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