Articles By Athlon Sports
DraftKings has released their Daily Fantasy college football salaries for Week 8, and the experts at CollegeFootballGeek.com have hunkered down and scoured all of the data to find the best Value Plays on the docket.
These Value Plays are comprised of players poised to out-produce their DraftKings salaries this week. These are the “diamonds in the rough” that your DFS competitors may overlook. They are the difference-makers you need in your lineup to win one of the big DFS contests!
For your convenience, we have broken the picks down by DraftKings contest game set. Best of luck this week!
(For more detailed Daily Fantasy analysis, picks, player news, player rankings, and stat breakdowns, check out CollegeFootballGeek.com. Learn how to SUBSCRIBE FOR FREE!)
VALUE PLAYS: SATURDAY (EARLY ONLY) GAME SET
1) QB Garrett Krstich, SMU vs. Cincinnati ($5100)
Krstich threw for 339 yards and two scores in his last game against ECU and now he gets to face an awful Cincinnati defense that ranks 118th against the pass. He appears to be an excellent punt option this week.
1) RB Mark Weisman, Iowa vs. Maryland ($4100)
Weisman has rumbled for two touchdowns in each of the last three games and gets to face a Maryland defense that ranks 104th in the country. Look for this Hawkeye to find pay dirt again this week.
2) RB Desmond Roland, Oklahoma State vs. TCU ($4200)
Roland has scored six rushing touchdowns over the past four games and still carries a very appealing price tag. Look for Roland to make another trip across the goal line and provide huge value this week.
3) RB Nick Chubb, Georgia vs. Arkansas ($4600)
All Chubb did last week was carry the ball 38 times and accumulate 174 total yards against Missouri. Expect Chubb to see plenty of carries this week and post a solid stat line.
1) WR Darius Joseph, SMU vs. Cincinnati ($4200)
Joseph is coming off his best game of the season and will be facing a Bearcats pass defense that ranks 118th in the country. He is a PPR machine and hold excellent value on Draft Kings.
2) WR Kolby Listenbee, TCU vs. Oklahoma State ($4400)
Listenbee has gone over 100 yards receiving in the last two games and could make it three in a row against Oklahoma State. The Cowboys pass defense is ranked 101st in the country.
1) Maxx Williams, Minnesota vs. Purdue ($3200)
Williams is healthy and has been posting consistent numbers at the TE position. Look for him to exploit a porous Purdue secondary.
VALUE PLAYS: SATURDAY (LATE ONLY) GAME SET
1) QB Tyrone Swoopes, Texas vs. Iowa State ($5300)
Swoopes exploded for 384 total yards and three total scores against Oklahoma last week. He could have another big performance against Iowa State and looks to be a nice punt option.
1) RB Royce Freeman, Oregon vs. Washington ($4600)
Freeman has seized control of the Oregon backfield and is priced well this week. He could easily hit 80 yards and a score and hit value this week.
2) RB Zach Laskey, Georgia Tech vs. North Carolina ($4700)
Laskey could find plenty of open holes to run through this week against North Carolina. The Tar Heels defense is atrocious and could struggle to stop the powerful Yellow Jackets running game.
1) WR John Harris, Texas vs. Iowa State ($5200)
Harris has scored four touchdowns over his past three games and may find his way into the end zone against Iowa State. There does not appear to be a ton of value at WR in the late slate, so use Harris freely.
1) TE Pharaoh Brown, Oregon vs. Washington ($3200)
Brown had 84 yards and a score last week against UCLA and looks to have a decent upside this week. He can be very inconsistent, so be careful.
By Todd DeVries & Kevin Mount, CollegeFootballGeek.com
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Donald Sterling’s a household name by now, and for all the wrong reasons. The disgraced, recently dismissed Los Angeles Clippers owner and L.A. area real estate tycoon has become a punchline. And perhaps no funnier term has been applied to Sterling than the Clippers star and 2014-15 MVP candidate Blake Griffin’s latest “weird uncle” tag.
In a piece written by Griffin and published via The Players’ Tribune, the dunk master tells the story of being led hand-in-hand by Sterling through a strange, surreal “White Party” in Malibu. Griffin paints the man as living in his own, self-created stratosphere, blind to the feelings of Blake and his other guests as he parades the uncomfortable star around like a prize.
More highlights from the story:
—Griffin recalls Sterling heckling Baron Davis at the free-throw line in a quiet Staples Center:
“Baron didn’t even react. He walked to the line and sank the free throw as Sterling carried on his rant. After the game, I don’t even think we talked about it in the locker room. Everyone was just used to it. It was both funny and sad. The guy was off his rocker.”
—Griffin tells the story of him Chris Paul watching Sterling on Anderson Cooper:
“Sterling looked at Cooper with no irony whatsoever and said, ‘Ask the players. My players love me!’ CP and I looked at one another from across the room and just tried our best not to laugh.”
—Blake likes new Clippers owner Steve Ballmer:
“Personally, I love that kind of crazy… It’s little bit ironic to me that the media has tried to turn Ballmer into a meme when they turned a blind eye to Sterling for years. Steve is a good dude. He’s like a cool dad who gives you candy. Donald was like a weird uncle.”
—Griffin ends his piece with quite the aphorism:
“Someone asked me the other day if I’m mad that he made out with $2 billion for selling the team. Maybe a little bit. But in the end, I’m just happy he’s gone. I think about him pulling me around the White Party in Malibu, and a saying comes to mind: ‘Some people are so poor, all they have is their money.’”
— John Wilmes
Gregg Popovich doesn’t care what you think. The coach of the reigning NBA champion San Antonio Spurs has forged a path of almost unparalleled playoff success by building a singular basketball compound in central Texas, immune to the ways of other teams, unfazed by outside opinion. Popovich’s culture involves a revolving door of selfless, international players and guys “who have gotten over themselves.” It also features an incredibly loose attendance policy.
Fined $250,000 by the league in 2012 for resting Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Danny Green for a nationally televised game, Popovich is now upping the ante. Not only are five Spurs players skipping Thursday’s trip to Phoenix for a preseason game against the Suns — Duncan, Ginobili, Tiago Splitter, Kawhi Leonard and Patty Mills — but Popovich himself is staying home, as reported by Dan McCarney of My San Antonio.
Resting players, of course, is not exactly unusual in the preseason. But Popovich is being characteristically brazen here. The coach always makes the trip. Popovich, a three-time Coach of the Year, is not deterred by the NBA’s policies and business interests, however. The long, grinding calendar would hurt his veteran team’s title chances if he didn’t let them pass on so much of it. So he doesn’t hesitate to glaze over many a date, even if they’re the ones the association has highlighted — customs be damned. His Spurs don’t need the extra reps like they need a little more R and R.
Maybe the league will fine Popovich for his Bueller-esque behavior yet again; maybe not. Either way, it’s clear that he’s the only coach around with the pedigree and attitude to pull a move like this and look smart (not lazy) doing it. And while some may claim arrogance or insolence over this sort of individualism, that’s fine by Pop. He can’t hear your critique over the jingle of his five championship rings.
— John Wilmes
Steve Nash is 40 years old now. He’s also, in case you forgot, a point guard with the Los Angeles Lakers, for whom he’s played just 65 games in two seasons, including only 15 last year. The man can’t stop getting hurt anymore. His most recent malady is probably his most telling:
Nash hurt his back carrying bags today, Byron Scott said. Did not practice. Wouldn't count on him playing Thursday vs. Utah.— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) October 15, 2014
Nash is famously healthy — the strict, no-sugar, no-carbs, no-dairy diet LeBron James went on to lose 15 pounds this summer is akin to how Nash has always lived. Arguably no one in the league more religiously subscribes to the notion that his body is a temple.
But fate is no longer on Nash’s side. His devastating brand of vision-driven basketball took a toll on the former MVP; he’s been playing since the Phoenix Suns drafted him in 1996. Most of his current Lakers group (a young bunch that surrounds Nash and Kobe Bryant, including Nick Young, Jordan Hill and Jeremy Lin) couldn’t even drive a car at that point.
Nash won’t be remembered as an aching Laker, though. The same, strange “oh yeah, that happened” twinge that accompanies photos of Michael Jordan in Washington Wizards blue will dominate the memory of Nash’s fleeting time in Hollywood.
Two years ago at this time, Nash and Dwight Howard had joined Bryant and Pau Gasol to form a team that many believed would win an NBA championship. But the team was brought down by injuries, bickering and poor front-office decisions. They never won a playoff game together, and the super squad now feels like the failed experiment that sunk the Lakers’ franchise into the unfamiliar territory of mediocrity.
When Nash inevitably makes the Hall of Fame, we’ll wax nostalgic on Suns highlights like these — with him torching the Lakers, not joining them in the rubble of Rome:
— John Wilmes
This interview and more appears in the 2014-15 Athlon Sports college basketball annual, available on newsstands and in our online store now.
Related: No. 2 Wisconsin Team Preview
Let’s start with the nickname — Frank the Tank. What was the origin?
I’ve actually got a few nicknames. That one started in high school. I didn’t play at all as a freshman on the sophomore team, then stayed on the sophomore team the next year. I only played two years on varsity, and our point guard got hurt our senior year for about eight games — so I played point guard at 6-10. I got to do whatever I wanted. It was so much fun. I’d call ball-screens, call plays for myself. Anyway, we had the best student section — and they started calling me Frank the Tank. I didn’t love it at first, but eventually I embraced it.
But I had a nickname before then — Fupps. I was fat my freshman year of high school, and someone started calling me “Fuppa Face.” I was puffy, had a little extra love on my body. I was called that for four years of high school. I like it and brought it with me to Madison.
Is it true you were cut from your AAU team?
I was the first kid cut during the Under-15 tryouts. I made it through half of the first tryout before they told me. After that, anytime I touched the ball I shot it. Then the next year I made the 16’s, but I didn’t travel. I just went to the local tournaments, but I wasn’t allowed to go on the road. I was 2-for-2 from the field the entire month of July. Then on the 17’s, I was playing behind (current Illinois center) Nnanna Egwu, and he got hurt so I started to play. When I went into that summer, there were a couple of low-major Division I teams. Then I got to play the entire month of April after Nnanna got hurt and more schools started showing interest. It was basically Wisconsin, Northwestern, DePaul, Bradley and Southern Illinois. But Wisconsin was really the first one and had faith in me before anyone else did.”
You came into Wisconsin and barely played your first two years. How frustrated were you?
I knew that coming in. My first year I didn’t expect to even get on the court. I thought I’d redshirt, so I was fine with a backup role. I knew it wouldn’t be much different my sophomore year because everyone was back — Jared Berggren, Ryan Evans and Mike Bruesewitz.
You went from anonymous to having a breakout season as a junior. How much did that surprise even you?
Some games I surprised myself, but other games I expected what I accomplished. I’ve worked hard and never got any respect from anyone. Obviously, I’ve had my own dreams and goals, and it frustrated me that the respect never came. Once it started happening last year, it may have surprised a lot of people — but not me.
Your introduction to the college basketball world came on Nov. 19 last season, the fourth game of the year, when you erupted for 43 points in a win over North Dakota. What do you remember from that night?
It was interesting. I’ve had some games like that before where everything is falling — a lot of people have — but it was surreal. That was the most points I’d ever scored in a game, other than in the summer league. It was cool that Coach (Bo) Ryan kept putting me back in to get the school record. After the game, I went on Twitter, and seeing everything was crazy. I got so many texts after the game, and I’d never experienced anything like that before.
Social media exploded that night about you, but now that you’ve had a chance to deal with Twitter as a known commodity for the past year, what are your thoughts on it?
In the past it was fun. I got to say some things and be myself. I had about 1,000 followers. Now I have 20,000 followers and so much of the time I hate it. I’ve pretty much gotten off Twitter. Sometimes I get on to check out articles or whatever, but other than that I try not to go on there, It’s a difficult forum because sometimes you can’t just be yourself — people take everything you say and read into it.
Do you enjoy the recognition you’ve received lately, or do you prefer to be questioned to add more fuel to the fire?
I’m not satisfied with what I’ve accomplished individually or as a team. I’ve never been about individual awards. I don’t care if I score two points, as long as we win. The Final Four was a great achievement, but we didn’t win anything. I want to win championships. I haven’t won a Big Ten title or a national title. The great thing about our team is that no one cares about the glory. We all just want to win. Sure, we had a great year and a terrific tournament run — but we all want more. We want to win championships.
You recently started a blog and called it The Moose Basketball. What was the reason for that, and how has it gone thus far?
I took a digital social media class in the spring, and I set up a blog for that. I’m not really the most creative person, but I wrote about my decision whether to stay in school or try and go to the NBA. It was about 10 paragraphs, but three words got all the headlines: “NBA looks boring.” That’s not at all what I meant. That’s my end game to be in the NBA, but I love college and really wanted to stay for my senior year.
How difficult was the decision to come back for your final season?
I thought about it for a while. I did research and talked to people, my parents talked to a ton of people. Right after we lost to Kentucky, I remember telling people that I wasn’t going anywhere. At that point, I hadn’t even thought about it. I didn’t even realize I had the potential to leave for the NBA. Then I was intrigued by it. I know I could have been drafted if I left, but I enjoy college and my teammates so much — and I want to come back and see if we can do even more than we did last year.
Your teammate, Sam Dekker, and many of the other top returning and incoming college players were at the LeBron James Skills Academy in July. Why weren’t you there?
As far as I know, I wasn’t invited. I’m not going to get mad about it, because I have no control over it. It would have been nice — especially to get all the free stuff! But I’m OK with it. I’ve been working out all summer with people I’m close to in my hometown. I’m watching a lot of film, have gotten my body in better shape. I know what I need to do to get better. I’m not trying to overdo it, either, and be in the gym for six hours a day. I’ve been efficient and do what I need to finish my college career strong.
The word is that you were a class clown back in the day. True or false?
So completely true. I couldn’t be any worse growing up. I was the tall kid who got picked on for being so tall. I remember one time in the seventh grade, the teacher was late for class, and I shut and locked the door so she couldn’t get in. I told everyone to hide in the back of the room. Then one kid finally opened the door, but I was hiding under the teacher's desk until she noticed. It took a while. I was pulling things down and knocking stuff down off her desk practically the whole class. I might have gotten in a little trouble for that one, but it was worth it.
How often have you watched Aaron Harrison’s game-winner that knocked you guys out of the Final Four?
Not once. I’ll probably never watch it — and I’m not kidding, either. It’s too painful. The same thing happened to me in high school when we were playing Jabari Parker’s team downstate. We were up three in regulation and we missed a free throw. He came down and pulled up from halfcourt to force overtime. We wound up losing in double-overtime.
No. 1 Kentucky begins 2014-15 where it started last season — at the top. Even though last season ended in the national title game, the Wildcats are hoping for a smoother ride this time around. The Wildcats didn’t start looking like a title team until the NCAA Tournament — a good time to do so, mind you — but this year’s group will aim for wire-to-wire consistency.
The Kentucky edition is one of dozens available in our online store and on newsstands everywhere now.
After last season, most Kentucky fans promised themselves never to allow that silly notion back into their minds — the idea that this latest loaded collection of Cats could, just maybe, win every last one of their games. The weight of that expectation nearly crushed a team full of freshmen, who eventually lost 11 times.
However, that team did eventually click in time for a wild ride all the way to the NCAA title game. And eight guys from that team who might’ve been drafted instead passed on the NBA and returned for another season at UK.
Plus, four more prized recruits signed up for the circus, bringing coach John Calipari’s roster to this crazy number: nine McDonald’s All-Americans, not counting projected lottery pick Willie Cauley-Stein.
And in a rarity, Calipari has veterans now, six sophomores and two juniors.
“The levels of practice are high,” Calipari says. “They’re not backing down from each other. The younger guys are competing. The older guys are coming.”
And the rest of college basketball should be quivering.
No. 1 Kentucky Facts & Figures
Last season: 29-11, 12-6 SEC
Postseason: NCAA runner-up
Consecutive NCAAs: 1
Coach: John Calipari (152-37 at Kentucky, 64-20 SEC)
SEC Projection: First
Postseason Projection: NCAA champion
It’s hardly hyperbole to say no one in college basketball can match the Cats’ combination of size and athleticism inside. With seven players 6-8 or taller, six of them former top-50 recruits, and all with skills that belie their size, Calipari’s frontcourt will overwhelm most.
Veteran forwards Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee play as if on pogo sticks and have gotten in peak condition — Poythress improving his cardio endurance and Lee packing on several pounds of muscle — demonstrated by dominant and dunk-filled performances during the Cats’ summer exhibition trip to the Bahamas.
It was a pivotal trip for Poythress, once considered a one-and-done and now entering his third season at UK.
“He came back to school to prove to the world: ‘I’m one of the best forwards in the country,’” assistant coach Kenny Payne says.
Then there’s the matter of three (almost) 7-footers in junior Willie Cauley-Stein, sophomore Dakari Johnson and freshman Karl-Anthony Towns. Johnson, already a rugged rebounder and inside scorer, has slimmed down and is running the floor — and springing up off it — better than ever. Towns opened a lot of eyes in the Bahamas with an unusually polished and multi-faceted game for a freshman. He swished hook shots, skied for dunks, crashed the glass and even delivered a few slick passes not typical of a 6-11 center.
There’s also 6-9 Derek Willis, another high riser who is a strong 3-point shooter. And both Cauley-Stein and 6-10 McDonald’s All-American Trey Lyles, who sat out the summer tour with leg injuries. Good luck to opponents trying to come up with a counter.
When twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison passed on the draft and returned to school, it solidified the Cats’ status as fully loaded across the board. They’re joined by two other former McDonald’s All-Americans: freshman point guard Tyler Ulis, an electric 5-9 water bug, and rookie sharpshooter Devin Booker.
Andrew Harrison looked far more comfortable and in control this summer, taking charge of the team and playing a more aggressive — but still pass-first — style. Aaron Harrison, hero of the Final Four run with three straight clinching 3-pointers, has a much more well-rounded game now. Both twins have lost weight, and it shows most in Aaron, who looks more explosive entering his sophomore season. He had multiple drives and dunks (over defenders) that drew gasps from the crowd in the Bahamas.
The twins will be catalysts for this team, but both Booker and Ulis will help significantly. Ulis handles the ball like it’s on a string, is a breathtaking passer and a surprisingly aggressive defender at his size.
“It’s like he’s a gnat,” Calipari says. “It changes the dynamic of our team right now, because we didn’t have that.”
This team is really, really, really good. Each of Calipari’s teams at Kentucky have been loaded with talent. Some of his teams have had solid depth. This one, however, has talent, depth and experience.
Will this team be the one to run the table? It’s unlikely. But you’ll have trouble finding a game right now they’d be picked to lose. Kentucky is the overwhelming favorite to the win the national title.
Only four McDonald’s All-Americans in this class? John Calipari is slipping, clearly. But 5-9 point guard Tyler Ulis is electric with the ball and will quickly be a fan favorite. Devin Booker has a sweet outside stroke but can also get to the bucket. Trey Lyles, if his undisclosed leg injury is fully healed, will be a force, while 6-11 Karl-Anthony Towns can do a little bit of everything and looks like a future top-five NBA Draft pick.
No. 2 Wisconsin returns nearly every key player from a team that reached last year’s Final Four. That kind of stability has the Badgers thinking of other prizes, such as the school’s first Big Ten title since 2008 and, ultimately, its first national championship in program history.
The Wisconsin edition is one of dozens available in our online store and on newsstands everywhere now.
As a keepsake from their run to the 2014 national semifinals, Wisconsin players each received a padded folding chair that included the Final Four logo. Sam Dekker has decided to put his in a spot where he can see it every day before he hits the court for practice.
“I feel like I have that reminder in front of my locker every day to think about the good things we did and things we can improve on,” Dekker says of the Badgers, whose 30-win season ended with a 74–73 loss to Kentucky. “A new chair could be waiting for us if we do the right things.”
It’s a long road to Indianapolis in April, but Wisconsin has the pieces to contend for another Final Four berth. Dekker is one of seven key players returning for Bo Ryan. More than 80 percent of the scoring and 80 percent of the rebounding is back from a team that could have played Connecticut for the title had Aaron Harrison not drained a 3-pointer from 25 feet with 5.7 seconds remaining.
No. 2 Wisconsin Badgers Facts & Figures
Last season: 30-8, 12-6 Big Ten
Postseason: NCAA Final Four
Consecutive NCAAs: 16
Coach: Bo Ryan (321-121 at Wisconsin, 156-66 Big Ten)
Big Ten Projection: First
Postseason Projection: NCAA runner-up
Center Frank Kaminsky was a breakout star as a junior, leading the Badgers in scoring and rebounding. While his coming-out party was a school-record 43-point effort early in the season against North Dakota, Kaminsky’s best contributions came during the stretch run when he used a variety of post moves to become the Badgers’ No. 1 option on offense.
Dekker wasn’t satisfied with his second season at Wisconsin, particularly his low shooting numbers from 3-point range (32.6 percent) and the free throw line (68.6). But he had a terrific summer that included standout performances at the Kevin Durant Skills Academy and LeBron James Nike Skills Academy and is determined to reach his potential. Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin’s top player off the bench as a freshman, could be ready for a starting role that would allow Dekker to move to small forward, his natural position. Before Kaminsky’s late-season run, it was Hayes who carried the offense by using a quick first step to get to the basket and draw fouls.
Forward Duje Dukan, coming off a medical redshirt year, proved to be a capable scorer off the bench in his first extended action. Wisconsin’s frontcourt depth will get a boost if forward Vitto Brown, who played only 44 minutes as a freshman, makes strides and shows Ryan he’s ready to join the rotation.
The Badgers’ only significant loss is shooting guard Ben Brust. Not only is Brust the program’s all-time leader in made 3-pointers — he was 15-of-30 during Wisconsin’s NCAA Tournament run — but his defense and scrappy play also will be missed. But Wisconsin still has a load of experience at guard in seniors Traevon Jackson and Josh Gasser. Jackson has started 67 consecutive games and has no fear when it comes to taking big shots in the closing seconds, while Gasser, a two-time member of the Big Ten’s All-Defensive Team, is on pace to become the program’s all-time leader in minutes played. Gasser exceeded expectations last season in his return from major knee surgery and has vowed to be more of an offensive presence, which would help make up for Brust’s departure.
Bronson Koenig has a nice shooting touch and the ability to break down defenses with his dribbling and passing. He could move into a starting role if Ryan chooses to stick with a three-guard lineup. Zak Showalter, whose strength is defending, redshirted last season and will compete with Jordan Hill and Riley Dearring for the fourth guard spot.
Ryan’s best offensive club helped him get over the hump and finally reach the Final Four. The Badgers could be even more lethal on that end in 2014-15 and should also be improved on the defensive end. They’ll be heavy favorites to win their first Big Ten title since 2007-08 and appear to have the tools to make another deep run in March, meaning that Ryan’s biggest challenge might be keeping his players from getting caught up in the hype.
Gasser says that won’t be an issue. “We’ve always had expectations of winning a Big Ten title and making a deep run in the tournament,” he says. “Really, it’s nothing different for us.”
Riley Dearring took one look at a crowded backcourt last season and decided to use a redshirt season to get stronger. He arrived at Wisconsin with a reputation as a shooter and willing defender, but it won’t be easy to find much playing time in an experienced backcourt. Ethan Happ committed to Wisconsin after attending a camp in Madison following his sophomore season and the coaching staff is excited about his future, but it won’t be easy for him to find minutes right away.
Earlier this month, we heard that the NBA was considering altering their free throw protocol in order shave time off games. Now, they’re taking a more direct route to brevity.
When the Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics face off on Sunday, October 19 (a preseason game), the bout’s duration will be just 44 minutes, not 48. The league’s president of basketball operations, Rod Thorn, had this to say about the decision, per USA Today’s Jeff Zillgitt: “We have looked at everything that we do and are taking a fresh look at all the different things we do. One of the things that keeps coming up is our schedule and the length of our games... Our coaches talked about it, and a lot of them seemed to be in favor of at least taking a look at it. We talked with our competition committee, and they were in favor of taking a look at it... Let's get some empirical evidence regarding this and take a fresh look at it.”
The biggest flaw in the NBA’s product has been, for some time, its volume. There’s too much of it. The 82-game season is a beleaguered yawn at times, and fans are often right to turn their attention elsewhere until the playoffs begin and teams are finally in the pressure cooker of do-or-die expectations. That’s when the real drama begins.
But the season probably won’t shorten anytime soon. There’s simply too much money in all that TV time. The next best thing the league can do to make their brand snappier, though, is to condense the game, and that seems to be a priority for progressive new commissioner Adam Silver.
And 48 minutes is an aberration, anyway: Every other major basketball league across the globe plays the game for 40 minutes or less. It seems like only a matter of time before the NBA comes closer to that figure.
— John Wilmes
The scene seems to be played out over and over every week, and there’s simply no way to avoid it. A player takes a wrong step, a big hit, or is simply running. Then he drops to the ground in pain.
Fans lose a star player to cheer for. Players lose a valuable teammate. Sometimes it’s just for a few weeks, and sometimes it’s much longer. But in this war of attrition that is the NFL season, many of these injuries have huge impacts on the standings. Teams can lose all hope in a single pop.
So far this season, more than a handful of big-name, big-play, high-impact players have been taken away from the teams that need them. Here’s a look at some of the walking – or not-walking – wounded whose absences could have the biggest impacts on their teams.
Giants WR Victor Cruz
The Giants’ offense was just beginning to roll when Cruz went down with a torn patellar tendon. And when he did, it exposed the Giants’ incredibly thin receiving corps. Rookie Odell Beckham, who has been in two NFL games and hardly any full practices, now steps into a starting role and vet Preston Parker becomes the slot man. They also signed the well-travelled Kevin Ogletree, but there’s not a lot behind the starters, Beckham and Rueben Randle, with Cruz gone.
Patriots LB Jerod Mayo
The Patriots don’t look much like the Patriots anymore, and losing their leading tackler (with a knee injury) from an already weak linebacking corps won’t help. Now his job will likely fall to an undrafted rookie (Deontae Skinner) and that’s big, since Mayo was the leader of the group and the one who made the play calls. In years past, we’d all just assume Bill Belichick would just find someone else to fill in and move on. But Belichick doesn’t look much like Belichick these days either.
Patriots RB Steven Ridley
The effect of Ridley’s knee injury (out for the season) depends on your perspective on Ridley, which is always hard to figure when deciphering Belichick’s revolving backfield. He seemed to be their best running back, if the focus is on the running. But they do have Shane Vereen — who has been used more as a third-down-type back — and Brandon Bolden. Ridley seemed to have the most upside, though, if you could only look past his penchant for fumbling.
Lions WR Calvin Johnson
His high ankle sprain has had him in and out of the lineup, but it’s also made him a shell of his former self on game day. And while the Lions still have other weapons, and a pretty good receiver in Golden Tate, they have the potential to be one of the top offenses in the NFL when Johnson is on the field. They probably have enough to reach the playoffs without him, but they could be actual contenders with him. There’s no way to take one of the best players in the game off the field and not have it hurt.
Bengals WR A.J. Green
At this point, the on-again, off-again toe injury to Green is more annoying than devastating, but he likely will be out for a couple of weeks and who knows how much he’ll be hampered the rest of the way. The Eagles have other weapons, but Green is what makes them a Top 10 (or higher) passing offense. He is a consistent big-game player, a small notch below Calvin Johnson, and opens up the field for everyone else. Without him, the Bengals go from possible championship contender to a very ordinary-looking team.
Saints TE Jimmy Graham
There simply is no replacing the best tight end in the NFL, who will likely be out this week and possibly more with a shoulder injury. Obviously Drew Brees has plenty of weapons at his disposal, but Graham is their leading receiver and his size/speed forces defenses into difficult decisions on who to double and which positions to commit to covering Graham. Without him creating mismatches and opening up space for others, there’ll be a lot less room for Brees’ other targets to run.
Browns C Alex Mack
The Browns have surprised everyone with their 3-2 start and a lot of that has to do with their rushing attack, which ranks third in the NFL. When your rushing attack is that good, it has a lot to do with the offensive line. So losing Mack to a broken leg upsets everything. Coach Mike Pettine will have to juggle his line, probably by moving guard John Greco to center. Maybe it’ll still work, but Mack has been a solid force even through the bad times in Cleveland. And the center is usually the leader of the line.
Eagles RB Darren Sproles
He has been such a valuable, versatile weapon for Chip Kelly, both as an occasional runner and receiver and as a return man. There are few running backs in the NFL with his kind of explosion. Now he has a sprained MCL and while optimistic reports say he could be back in a few weeks, the real question will be if the sprain lingers. He’s 31 and small (5-6, 190) so even a loss of a half step of his speed could greatly diminish his importance.
Redskins QB Robert Griffin III
At first, when RGIII dislocated his ankle, it looked like a blessing in disguise for Washington because Kirk Cousins looked terrific. Then the bubble burst and in recent weeks it became clear to everyone why Griffin was such a high draft pick. He’s good. He’s dangerous. He has uncommon talent. At some point he’ll be back, but by then the Redskins likely won’t have a season to save.
Dolphins RB Knowshon Moreno
Injuries have hampered the former Bronco all season, even before an ACL tear sidelined him for the season. With a still-growing quarterback in Ryan Tannehill, the Dolphins need to rely on their rushing attack. They had hoped Moreno would get healthy enough to help at some point. Now Lamar Miller is stuck carrying a very heavy load.
Cowboys G Doug Free
Things had been going so well for the Cowboys and most of it had to do with their offensive line. So the last thing they wanted to do was lose one of the pieces. Sure enough, Free is out 3-4 weeks with a fractured foot. If that’s all it is, it’s not a killer blow since Dallas is 5-1. But without him, there is some question about what will happen to Demarco Murray and the NFL’s best rushing attack, and whether there’ll be a lot more pressure on Tony Romo from now on.
—By Ralph Vacchiano
East Rutherford, NJ (SportsNetwork.com) - The New York Giants officially placed Victor Cruz on injured reserve after the star wide receiver underwent surgery Monday to repair a torn patellar tendon in his right knee.
In a related move, the Giants announced the signing of veteran wideout Kevin Ogletree on Tuesday. Additionally, the team put nickel back Trumaine McBride on IR after he fractured his thumb in Sunday's 27-0 loss at Philadelphia.
Cruz suffered his injury while attempting to catch a fourth-down pass from Eli Manning in the end zone during the third quarter of Sunday's game. The 2012 Pro Bowl selection immediately clutched his knee after dropping the pass and needed to be carted off the field.
The 27-year-old spent Sunday night at Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia and was transferred to the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan, where team physician Dr. Russell Warren performed the procedure.
Cruz caught 23 passes for 337 yards and one touchdown in six games this season. In 14 games last year, he hauled in 73 passes for 998 yards and four scores.
Ogletree began the season with the Detroit Lions but was released in Week 3 after being inactive for the club's first two contests. He caught 13 passes for 199 yards and one touchdown in 12 games for Detroit last season.
The 27-year-old Queens native's best season came with Dallas in 2012, when Ogletree compiled 32 receptions totaling 436 yards and four touchdowns.
McBride had been serving as New York's slot cornerback after Walter Thurmond sustained a season-ending torn pectoral muscle against Arizona in Week 2. The journeyman corner was a 10-game starter for the Giants in 2013, recording two interceptions and 15 passes defensed.
Through New York's first six games of this season, McBride had notched 21 tackles, one interception, one sack and two forced fumbles.
Cornerback Chandler Fenner was signed off the practice squad to replace McBride on the active roster.
Davie, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - Miami Dolphins running back Knowshon Moreno was placed on injured reserve Tuesday because of an ACL injury.
The free agent acquisition from Denver played just three games in his first season with the Dolphins and totaled 148 yards with a touchdown on 31 carries.
Moreno had an impressive debut with his new team in the season opener against New England, running for 134 yards and a score in Miami's 33-20 victory. He then suffered an elbow injury on his only carry the following week against Buffalo and missed the next two games.
The 26-year-old Georgia product returned for this past Sunday's game against Green Bay, but had just 10 yards on six rushes and had just one carry after halftime in the 27-24 loss.
Moreno had signed a one-year contract with the Dolphins in March after playing his first five seasons with Denver. He was coming off his best year in 2013, rushing for a career-high 1,038 yards with 10 touchdowns while adding 60 receptions for 548 yards with three scores.
The Dolphins also reinstated the suspended Derrick Shelby after the defensive lineman sat out Sunday's game following an arrest during Miami's bye week.
"We have completed our process and have made the determination to reinstate Derrick," said Dolphins coach Joe Philbin in a statement Tuesday. "Derrick understood that he would be held accountable for his actions as they did not represent our organizational standards."
It’s salt in Lakers fans’ wounds every time they see Phil Jackson’s face next to the New York Knicks logo, not theirs. (Now they know how Chicago Bulls fans felt for the better part of a decade). It’s even worse when Jackson, the Knicks’ new president of basketball operations, rubs the salt around.
Jackson’s latest words are a reminder that Jim Buss — a Lakers decision-maker since his deceased father, Jerry Buss, became too sick for the job — bungled the franchise’s relationship with the famously accomplished zen master, who could’ve coached their team for a third time if not for Buss. “Jimmy Buss is a person that's vaulted into position through his inheritance, his father's position,” Jackson said recently when asked about Buss. “I think he's coming to terms with one of the realities of this job. That's all I can offer.”
Nothing Jackson says is untrue. Buss is an heir, not an expert. It’s only slightly alarming that Jackson would publically rag on someone who’s practially his brother-in-law (Jackson has been in a relationship with Jeanie Buss, Jim’s brother, for about 15 years), but Jackson’s never gotten along with authority. His distinct, singular approach demands that he be given total leeway. And Jackson not only usually wins his battles for control, but he also gets paid big-time in the process. His new contract with New York is worth a reported $60 million over five years.
Now Jackson’s bringing his eccentric vision to the Knicks. He’s started by bringing in someone to conduct “mindfulness training.”
“There's a mindfulness training program that's very logical and very calm, quiet, and we've started the process with this team, and (first-year head coach) Derek (Fisher is) all for it. He's a proponent of it," Jackson said to press on Sunday. "And yet I think that it's kind of what I am inserting in here as part of what I think has to happen because I know what effect it [has]. I think it's very difficult sometimes for a coach to do this because it's so anti what we are as athletes.”
Stay tuned for more results of Jackson’s ongoing experiments.
— John Wilmes
No. 3 Arizona enters the 2014-15 season as the established power in the Pac-12. It’s been a long road back, but Sean Miller has restored the Wildcats to prominence in the West for years to come. After reaching the Elite Eight twice in the last four seasons, Arizona is seeking to take the next step by reaching its first Final Four since 2001.
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No league team has gone undefeated since the Pac-10 was created 36 years ago, and Arizona coach Sean Miller won’t touch the subject.
“There’s a reason for that,” he says. “You’ve got to go 9-0 on the road. You can’t have an off night at home. I’ll leave that to (former UCLA) Coach (John) Wooden.”
Miller’s sixth Arizona team projects to be his most talented in Tucson and could perhaps challenge the five Lute Olson-coached teams that went 17–1 in the conference. Coming off a 33–5 season, in which the Wildcats were ranked No. 1 for eight weeks, Arizona appears deeper, a better shooting team with fewer weaknesses. In addition, it will approach the season with a chip on its shoulder.
“We left some money on the table last year,” says sophomore forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who is likely to be an all-conference player. “We didn’t finish the job."
Pac-12 Player of the Year Nick Johnson and Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Aaron Gordon combined to play 64 minutes per game before leaving early for the NBA Draft. Competition for those minutes will be brutal.
Junior forward Brandon Ashley, who broke his foot after starting the year’s first 21 games — in which Arizona went 21–0 — will take Gordon’s spot. Johnson’s shooting guard role will be contested by, among others, National Junior College Player of the Year Kadeem Allen.
Allen is part of a five-man recruiting class that some ranked as high as No. 2 in the country. It includes 6-6 Stanley Johnson, who, like Gordon a year earlier, was California’s prep Player of the Year. The newcomers have a high defensive standard to live up to.
“We were successful last year because our defense held up,” says Miller. Held up? The Wildcats limited opponents to 58.6 points per game, lowest at Arizona in the Pac-10/Pac-12 era.
“Nick and Aaron led our defense, and those are the two guys we lost,” says Miller. “So our challenge will be to identity two guys who can play effectively on defense. We’ll take it from there.”
Miller has created an identity as an elite recruiter who plays a deliberate style, overpowering opponents with defense and rebounding. This year he has the pieces to take Arizona to its first Final Four since 2001.
No. 3 Arizona Wildcats Facts & Figures
Last season: 33-5, 15-3 Pac-12
Postseason: NCAA Elite Eight
Consecutive NCAAs: 2
Coach: Sean Miller (129-48 at Arizona, 63-27 Pac-12)
Pac-12 Projection: First
Postseason Projection: NCAA Final Four
Kaleb Tarczewski has started 70 games over the past two seasons. The 7-footer is an improved shooter (58.4 percent) and powerful defensive presence. One critique: He only had two double-doubles last season.
Ashley, a score-first power forward with shooting range to 15 feet, is all-conference caliber. Miller might choose to use energetic Hollis-Jefferson in a sixth-man role, in which he thrived as a freshman. Hollis-Jefferson averaged 25 minutes as a freshman and was one of the club’s top players in the postseason. Ashley and Hollis-Jefferson can both play multiple positions, which will determine if Johnson plays shooting guard or small forward.
Senior point guard T.J. McConnell was a steadying influence as a junior, averaging 32 minutes and a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He has a defense-first, team-first mentality and is tenacious.
Returning starter Gabe York will have to fight for a starting job at shooting guard with Allen and Johnson, who can swing between small forward and shooting guard.
The only potential backup at point guard is freshman Parker Jackson-Cartwright, a highly regarded recruit from Los Angeles.
Arizona is seven players deep and possibly eight if sophomore Elliott Pitts, a shooting guard, plays as well as he did late last season. On paper, the Wildcats are superior to Miller’s Elite Eight clubs of 2011 and 2014, both of which won Pac-12 championships. The most intriguing variable is how Johnson and Hollis-Jefferson will mix. Is Johnson a 2 or a 3? Is Hollis-Jefferson a 4 or a 3?
It might not matter. With two potential NBA players, Ashley and Tarczewski inside, opposing defenses won’t likely be able to do much more than pick a poison.
Arizona’s schedule is set up for success. Home games with Gonzaga and Michigan will get Miller’s full attention. The Maui Invititational, which includes San Diego State and Pitt, will provide an early glimpse of Arizona’s prowess. Miller is frequently described as “the best active coach not to get to a Final Four.”
This could be the year he sheds that reputation.
Stanley Johnson, a 6-6 swingman, ranks among the most coveted recruits in school history. He is apt to lead the club in scoring as a freshman. Junior college transfer Kadeem Allen, is expected to give returning starter Gabe York a fight for the starting job at shooting guard. Dusan Ristic, a 7-0 Serbian freshman, is a low-post scorer with semi-pro experience overseas who could force his way into the rotation early. Point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright will backup T.J. McConnell.
New Milwaukee Bucks coach Jason Kidd comes into training camp with a maverick chip on his shoulder. After spending his first year leading the Brooklyn Nets (a job he got almost immediately after retiring from the New York Knicks in 2013), Kidd exited his franchise on controversial terms. He jumped ship to the midwest very suddenly and unexpectedly this summer, after it leaked out that he’d been steeped in a long, bitter power struggle with Brooklyn’s front office. The first-year coach was fighting for more salary and a dominant role in the team’s personnel decisions — a brash approach, to say the least.
So it doesn’t come as a shock that he’s got the moxie to try out some new, seemingly ridiculous ideas on the floor. He’ll be starting Giannis Antetokounmpo — the sensational 19-year-old from Greece — as the Bucks lead point guard. Anteokounmpo (known by many as “The Greek Freak”) is 6’11” with a 7’4” wingspan, and he’s said to still be growing.
He’s also a phenomenal athlete, with excellent vision — both prerequisites for excelling as a point guard in the modern NBA. But a man of his length doesn’t typically have success bringing the ball up and down the floor for a whole professional game. And 19-year-olds, as we know, are not the soundest of decision-makers. Antetokounmpo’s time running the point seems like more like a preseason learning experiment than a prospective Bucks reality, for now. But Kidd feels confident about it.
"We've seen it in practice, and so when you see a player's comfort level with the ball no matter what size, we want to see it in game action," Kidd said back in July, a presage to this development. "We slowly have started letting him have the ball and running the offense.”
Antetokounmpo will start at point guard Tuesday night, when the Bucks face off against LeBron James and the mighty Cleveland Cavaliers; no training wheels for you, Giannis.
— John Wilmes
Even though he’s been at the center of many a piece of viral internet media (otherwise known as a meme) Russell Westbrook had this to say recently:
Russell Westbrook asked if he's seen meme of him with MVP trophy: "I don't know what memes is" pic.twitter.com/qYLraqM26e— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) October 13, 2014
Westbrook is a trend-setting 25-year-old. For him to say he doesn’t “know what memes is” is on par with your grandpa telling you he’s never heard of books before.
In other words: Nice try, Russ. We know you see how the internet writes love letters to your uncanny explosive capacities, and enigmatic off-court persona. Sometimes his fans frame him in ways like the photo above, but sometimes Wesbrook’s outfits are enough on their own to get his face jumping around the net all day:
Russell Westbrook walks into Staples Center with another interesting outfit pic.twitter.com/JaIYdY5c— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 27, 2013
Such flair wouldn’t grab our attention, though, if it wasn’t backed up by Westbrook’s stature and skill. The Oklahoma City Thunder point guard is frequently critiqued for being reckless and selfish with the ball, but the list of players who make a similar impact on the game doesn’t extend beyond one hand. There’s actually a lot truth to the joke of the “SOON…” meme — he might be MVP good in 2014-15. Down the stretch of the Thunder’s Western Conference playoff run, it was often Westbrook, not Kevin Durant, who kept his team alive in close games.
And now that Durant, the league’s reigning MVP, is out for as much as two months with a foot fracture, Westbrook has a chance to prove his worth more than ever. And we get to see what Westbrook will look like as an even more unfettered man than he was before. His creativity, on and off the court, suggests we’re in for a hell of a ride.
So while winning games without the best scorer in the world promises to be Westbrook’s greatest challenge as a pro — and while we don’t know if he can do it until he does or doesn’t — we know one thing for sure: He’s going to give us great TV trying.
— John Wilmes
No. 4 Duke reloads for another season with another highly touted freshman. This time, though, may be different than the one-and-done seasons from Jabari Parker and Kyrie Irving. This year’s top rookie Jahlil Okafor perhaps has the highest ceiling of any of them with his rare game in the post. Will that be enough for Duke in the postseason? The Blue Devils have been a national contender as usual, but they’ve also gone one-and-done in the NCAA Tournament in two of the last three years.
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With a young core and no guarantees that it will have time to mature together, Duke again finds itself in the situation that produced last season’s wild but ultimately unsatisfying ride.
Last year’s Blue Devils featured two NBA first-rounders in freshman Jabari Parker and transfer Rodney Hood. Despite the talent, the team failed to find a consistently winning formula. The Blue Devils won 26 games and reached the ACC Tournament final but lost to Mercer in their NCAA opener.
It’s against that backdrop that Duke welcomes a top-ranked recruiting class headlined by center Jahlil Okafor and point guard Tyus Jones, two players expected to have short stays in college.
Also in the class are forward Justise Winslow and shooting guard Grayson Allen. They’ll join a roster stocked with veterans, many of whom have shown — but for various reasons haven’t consistently reached — immense potential.
Once again, a team built on a foundation that might not be intact beyond this season will have a short window in which to see how far it can go.
“I would like the guys we bring in to stay longer,” says Mike Krzyzewski. “Because you can make them better, they make you better and you develop a bigger bond. ... But we have a great opportunity to bring in great kids who are really good players. So we have to keep trying to figure it out.”
No. 4 Duke Blue Devils Facts & Figures
Last season: 26-9, 13-5 ACC
Postseason: NCAA round of 64
Consecutive NCAAs: 19
Coach: Mike Krzyzewski (910-247 at Duke, 362-149 ACC)
ACC Projection: First
Postseason Projection: NCAA Final Four
Krzyzewski is known for his loathing of position labels. He feels they can limit what players feel they’re capable of. But labels or not, last season’s front line sorely lacked definition. Parker, who could be dangerous playing on the wing, spent plenty of time down low. When Parker wasn’t down there, slender 6-9 forward Amile Jefferson was the one tasked with taking on opposing centers, often at a significant size disadvantage.
While this season’s bunch will feature plenty of youth, the Blue Devils’ new pieces should provide more clarity.
The days of yearning for a viable option at center will end as Okafor should be one of the league’s top big men immediately. Krzyzewski has made it clear that he’d like to make the 7-foot Okafor a focal point.
Junior Marshall Plumlee, another 7-footer, will again try to find a spot in the rotation. He’s shown the same fire but little of the production of his two older brothers, both former Duke centers.
Jefferson should be able to slide over to the more comfortable forward role and get help from Winslow and Semi Ojeleye, a brawny but untested sophomore.
Few position battles will be juicier than the one between Jones and senior point guard Quinn Cook.
Thus far, Cook has shown himself to be capable of electrifying highs and puzzling lows. Last season offered a glimpse of his inconsistency. He scored in double figures in 13 of the Blue Devils’ first 15 games but was left out of the starting lineup in the final 10.
Krzyzewski has pointed to a lack of on-court leadership as one of last season’s downfalls, while praising Jones’ leadership ability.
As a senior, Cook will have every opportunity to be Duke’s prime ball-handler, but with Jones in the mix, he’ll be pushed. However, Duke’s willingness to go with a guard-heavy lineup means that the two could play together at times.
Like Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon has crammed a lot of good moments and some forgettable ones into his Duke career. He had a slow start to his sophomore season, which included a rare healthy scratch against Michigan. But by season’s end, he’d elbowed his way into the starting lineup and become a key piece of the backcourt equation.
Allen and sophomore Matt Jones, whom Krzyzewski has singled out for his defense, will also figure heavily into the mix.
Krzyzewski has stressed that down seasons, which with Duke’s high standards would likely include 2013-14, can be useful if there are lessons that can be learned from them. In this case, Krzyzewski and his staff have taken a look at how they can better instill an understanding of the program’s bedrocks — like fierce-but-disciplined defense and effective on-court communication — in players who may only be on campus for a short period.
Duke has the pieces to make a run at an ACC title and maybe more. The only question the Blue Devils face is: Will they find the right fit in time?
Jahlil Okafor, a 7’0” center, has the body and game that could make him the latest in Duke’s line of one-and-done stars. Court vision and a dangerous jumper could put point guard Tyus Jones on that track, too. Justise Winslow, a 6’6” forward, will fit nicely on the wing. Athletic guard Grayson Allen should see minutes.
For the second straight week, Mississippi schools dominated the headlines, and Mississippi State jumped to the No. 1 spot in the Legends Poll. The top-ranked Bulldogs — which grabbed 11 of the 14 first-place votes — put together an impressive performance at home against then-No. 1 Auburn, which dropped five spots in the rankings.
Ole Miss also moved up a spot to No. 3, it’s highest ranking in the history of the poll. The Rebels followed a win over Alabama with a road victory at Texas A&M.
No. 4 Baylor followed in the rankings after outlasting TCU in a 61-58 shootout in Waco, Tex. Alabama rounded out the top 5.
No. 7 Notre Dame remained unbeaten and sets up a showdown at No. 2 Florida State next weekend in a game with huge playoff implications. Michigan State stayed at No. 8 following its 45-31 over Purdue.
|1||Mississippi State (11)||6-0||109||3|
|2||Florida State (3)||6-0||91||2|
To see the individual votes by coach, visit the Legends Poll.
Chandler Parsons probably hasn’t been told he’s fat too many times. The star forward and new Dallas Mavericks starter is — like most NBA players — a trim man with a seemingly impenetrable halo of confidence. He’s even done some modeling before.
But that doesn’t inoculate him against the body critiques of Mavs coach Rick Carlisle. An authoritative, discipline-driven leader, Carlisle has made use of the media for instructive purposes in the past. Airing dirty laundry out in public is sometimes the quickest way to make someone clean it. In this case, though, the coach may be overstepping.
"He looked tired out there tonight to me, and his shot is short," Carlisle said after a preseason loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. "He's working on losing some weight. He's a little bit heavier than he's been. He's up over 230, and we want to see him get down to at least 225. That's a work in progress, and tonight's one of those nights where I think the extra weight was a hindrance.”
“His opinion of heavy is different than mine," Parsons retorted. ”We kind of go at it every day about it. At the end of the day, I respect his opinion. After training camp, my weight fluctuates. I'll get it down.”
After the exchange gained attention, Parsons continued it with a barely veiled poke at his coach on Instagram. Here Parsons is, topless and sculpted and making sure everyone knows it:
There’s an undeniable cheekiness in Parsons’ post. Like his “think before you speak” tweet — a dig at old teammate James Harden, who disrespected Parsons after he fled the Houston Rockets — Parsons shows, here, his aptitude for using social media to his advantage.
Think before you speak.— Chandler Parsons (@ChandlerParsons) July 24, 2014
Carlisle subsequently apologized for his words, Sunday, in an official statement issued by the team: ”It was unfair and inappropriate to single out Chandler Parsons after the game Friday night. I have apologized to him and the entire team for this error in judgment. Not only is Chandler Parsons one of our best players, he is also one of our hardest working players and the kind of high character person we strive to bring to our city and franchise. I also made it clear to our players and staff this morning that this type of bad example is not acceptable and beneath the dignity of a championship organization like the Dallas Mavericks.”
Maybe Carlisle meant his apology; maybe he didn’t. And maybe he meant his original words about Parsons’ weight; or maybe he was just getting under the skin of his fame-seeking newcomer, to ensure his eyes are on basketball and not his heedless pursuit of the spotlight — he has been dating a Kardhashian, after all. Today it’s weight, but tomorrow and for the rest of 2014-15 we can expect the tension between Parsons and his no-nonsense coach to come alive in all sorts of ways.
— John Wilmes
The NBA preseason isn’t quite halfway over. There’s been more than enough time, however, for fate to exercise its cruel hand on the bodies of the league’s superstars. On the eve of Media Day, Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo broke a bone in his left hand. He’ll miss the first month of a season many see as a tryout for trade suitors — Rondo’s got one year left on his contract with Boston, and many don’t see him lasting the year there.
Weeks later, Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal — one of the most blooming young talents in the game — fractured his left wrist. He’s expected to miss two months, a serious hit to one of the most exciting teams in the East.
But the latest NBA casualty is by far its most devastating. Reigning MVP Kevin Durant has sustained a “Jones fracture, a broken bone at the base of the small toe,” as reported by ESPN’s Royce Young. The Oklahoma City Thunder’s scoring sensation might not play again until early 2015. Durant and his team are still deciding whether to undergo surgery, but that’s the way things are leaning.
“It's a stress injury, it happened over time,” said Thunder general manager Sam Presti, per Young, at a press conference Sunday. Presti delivered a tone of optimism about Durant’s malady. “Coming into this season having not played USA Basketball, reflecting on that decision now, I think clearly, probably helped him a great deal, just the amount of stress he was able to avoid at that point in time.”
It was at a Team USA exhibition game in August, of course, that the league lost yet another of its biggest heroes — Indiana Pacers forward Paul George, whose horrific, tragically sudden leg injury was the most telling incident of all. You never know when an icon’s star will flash — it could be any instant — from super bright to off.
— John Wilmes
No. 5 Kansas won its 10th consecutive Big Ten title and managed to stay in the top 10 for most of the season despite the toughest schedule in the country. Yet the year felt incomplete with an injury to Joel Embiid and an early exit from the NCAA Tournament. The Jayhawks lose two of the top three picks in the NBA draft but reload with another standout recruiting class joining a group of veterans to challenge for another Final Four.
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Last year’s Kansas basketball team won 25 games, captured a 10th straight Big 12 title and had two of the first three players selected in the NBA Draft. Still, to most Jayhawks fans, 2013-14 will be remembered as a disappointment.
“We had a good season — but not a great one,” coach Bill Self says. “To have a great season you have to perform well in March, and that’s something we weren’t able to accomplish.”
Indeed, even with three McDonald’s All-Americans in the starting lineup and a partisan crowd in the stands, No. 2 seed Kansas wasn’t able to get past No. 10 Stanford in the third round of the NCAA Tournament in St. Louis. Kansas — which lost 10 games for the first time since 1999-2000, will now have to regroup without standouts Andrew Wiggins (the No. 1 overall pick) and Joel Embiid (No. 3).
Self hardly seems discouraged. “I don’t think we’ll take a step back at all,” says the coach. “If anything, I think we have a chance to be better.”
No. 5 Kansas Jayhawks Facts & Figures
Last season: 25-10, 14-4 Big 12
Postseason: NCAA round of 32
Consecutive NCAAs: 25
Coach: Bill Self (325-69 at Kansas, 151-31 Big 12)
Big 12 Projection: First
Postseason Projection: NCAA Elite Eight
The hoopla surrounding Embiid last season caused Perry Ellis to go unnoticed at times, but that didn’t stop the former McDonald’s All-American from ranking second on the team in points (13.5 ppg) and rebounds (6.7 rpg). Ellis, whose strength on offense is his versatility, was one of the most impressive players at the LeBron James Skills Academy in July and should contend for Big 12 Player of the Year honors. His biggest challenge will be on defense, where his lackluster play has been a sore spot with Self.
As promising as Ellis has looked, incoming freshman Cliff Alexander could be even better. A consensus top-3 recruit, Alexander is a 6-9, 240-pound bruiser who should give the Jayhawks an imposing presence in the paint.
The battle for playing time should be fierce among Kansas’ other post players. Junior Jamari Traylor averaged 4.1 rebounds in just 16 minutes off the bench last year. His experience, energy and hustle make him a favorite to be in the rotation. Landen Lucas played sparingly as a redshirt freshman but was one of the most improved players by the end of the season. Self is also high on former Arkansas center Hunter Mickelson, a shot-blocker who sat out last season under NCAA transfer rules.
For the third straight year, Kansas enters the season unproven at the most important position on the court. Naadir Tharpe, who started all but four games at the point a year ago, left the team during the offseason. Even if Tharpe had stayed, he likely would’ve been replaced by Frank Mason, Conner Frankamp (both sophomores) or incoming freshman Devonte’ Graham.
Mason averaged 16 minutes per game as a freshman, and Self loves his fearlessness and toughness. But he can be erratic at times. Frankamp is an outstanding 3-point shooter who may be better suited for shooting guard. Graham, a former Appalachian State signee who got out of his letter of intent last spring, could end up being one of the steals of the 2014 recruiting class. Don’t be surprised if he starts as a freshman.
The Jayhawks are absolutely loaded at shooting guard and small forward with sophomores Frankamp, Wayne Selden and Brannen Greene and freshmen Kelly Oubre and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk. Selden entered last season as a projected NBA Lottery pick, but he struggled to stand out alongside Wiggins and Embiid and never really asserted himself offensively. This year should be different.
The 6-7 Oubre is a consensus top-10 recruit who picked the Jayhawks over schools such as Florida, Kentucky and Louisville. The lefthander can light it up from long range but also loves to attack the basket. Greene, who has an NBA body and skill set, is hoping to see his playing time increase after averaging just 6.6 minutes as a freshman.
The best player of all, though, could end up being Mykhailuk, a Ukraine native whom one NBA scout tabbed as the best foreign-born player since Ricky Rubio.
Kansas should win its 11th straight Big 12 title, but the Jayhawks’ hopes of a lengthy NCAA Tournament run will depend largely on their point guard, whoever that may be. It will also be vital for Alexander and Oubre — both likely one-and-doners — to live up to lofty expectations.
Cliff Alexander could be one of the most physical players in the league despite being a freshman. Kelly Oubre is an NBA prospect who is a threat from the perimeter and the paint. Devonte’ Graham has been impressive during offseason workouts and could start at point guard. Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk turned 17 in June but could be one of the league’s best players if he adapts physically. He could be a top-10 pick in two years. Hunter Mickelson is a shot-blocker who transferred from Arkansas.
Now might be a decent time to start buying low on Minnesota in the Big Ten West Division. The balance of power in the Big Ten still appears to be in the top-heavy east, but the West can quickly become Minnesota’s to lose the way this season has been going.
Minnesota could be about to get a harsh dose of reality in the second half of the season. Before it does though, Minnesota has two games it should be able to win against Purdue and at Illinois. After that, it may be up to the momentum to carry them the rest of the way, because the back-end of the schedule could be steep.
Minnesota’s final four games are at home against Iowa and Ohio State and on the road at Nebraska and Wisconsin. The game with Iowa could determine first-place in the Big Ten West. Ohio State may be the best team in the Big Ten after all. Road trips to Nebraska and Wisconsin could have the division riding on the outcomes, and both the Huskers and Badgers figure to be favorites in that equation. But who can count Minnesota out?
Jerry Kill has been through a little bit of everything as a head coach, and he has battled back time and time again during his time at Minnesota. Seizures have become a public story for Kill, but each time he seems to come back more motivated to prove nothing will keep him down. That message has been a rally cry for the Gophers as well, because every time it looks as though Minnesota is getting knocked down, this team finds a way to respond.
Though the level of competition has not been too intimidating, outside of a road trip to TCU, you can see that mentality playing out this season. Against Middle Tennessee early in the year, Minnesota jumped out to a 28-0 lead. The Blue Raiders made things interesting in the second half, but the team found a way to hold on. It was a bit of an eye-opener for Minnesota and should have told this team that finishing strong is just as important as starting strong.
Last season Minnesota ended the season on a three-game losing streak, including a loss to Syracuse in the Texas Bowl, another game the Gophers failed to drive the final nail in the coffin.
This season has shown Minnesota can start strong. Now all that remains to be seen is how the Gophers finish.
- By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
Michigan State may still be the best team in the Big Ten, but their struggles to close out games should be alarming for Spartans fans.
Painful memories of what could have been against Oregon are still fresh. Michigan State held a 27-18 lead at Oregon early in the season, and looked to be in full control of the Ducks. Then Oregon proceeded to score 28 unanswered points, sending the Spartans back to East Lansing with no parting gifts. A few weeks later Michigan State was once again in complete control of Nebraska, only to see the Huskers manage to put together a rally in the fourth quarter with 19 unanswered points. Fortunately for Michigan State, the damage to Nebraska had already been done and the Nebraska rally ran out of time.
This weekend Michigan State was a heavy favorite on the road against Purdue, but the Boilermakers gave Michigan State quite the fight. Rather than wait until the fourth quarter, Purdue came out swinging from start to finish. This game did not play out the way it did against Nebraska or Oregon, but it opens up a bit of a concern for the defending Big Ten champions moving forward.
How worried should Michigan State be after being outscored 50-45 over the last five quarters of play?
Michigan State has a decent enough track record in recent seasons to suggest the ship will eventually get back on the right course. Last season Michigan State allowed a high of 28 points in a game (twice, to Indiana and Nebraska) and already this season they have done so twice with some interesting offenses still to play. Maybe this year’s defense is not as automatic as its 2013 defense was, but Michigan State is still managing to play from ahead on a regular basis. And when the defense is put to the test to come up with a stop, more often than not Michigan State is finding a way to shut the door on opposing offenses.
"When you look at our football games, we're playing well enough to get up by 21 points and that's the first thing you have to be able to do," Dantonio said in his postgame comments following the win at Purdue Saturday. "When they come back, we somehow find a way at the end. I think that it makes us a stronger football team."
On Saturday it was Darien Harris coming to the rescue. With Purdue looking to tie things up with just about 90 seconds remaining to play, Harris picked off a pass deep in Purdue’s end of the field and returned it for a touchdown. In a sense, it was a 14-point swing and it was just the kind of big play the defense needed.
At this stage of the game, Michigan State is as battle-tested as almost any team can be. They have experienced the pain of losing and the thrill of victory when things become tight. As far as the Big Ten is concerned, Michigan State is still the team to beat. The playoffs may be another topic of debate, but it is likely no team would want to be paired against Michigan State defense in the four-team field.
- By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
Michigan picked a good week to scrap together a win, but how much will a win over Penn State calm the noise surrounding the fate of head coach Brady Hoke? The fate of Hoke may already be written, but he at least gave reason to hold off any thought of being dismissed from his job in the middle of the season.
Though it would go against the grain of how schools of the size and caliber of Michigan typically handle things, there could have been an argument to be made supporting a decision to let Hoke go now if Michigan had lost to Penn State. A bye week before heading on the road to take on in-state rival Michigan State would have been a good time to allow an interim coach plenty of time to regroup the team’s focus and implement a game plan.
After Michigan wiggled by Penn State 18-13 Saturday night in the Big House, the talks about firing Hoke should be silenced, at least for now. Still, change should still be expected, and demanded, by the denizens in Ann Arbor, because a narrow six-point victory over a team visibly decimated up front by two years of sanctions is still little to be overly proud of. This Michigan team still has questions facing them in the coming weeks.
For starters, how does this team go into and come out of the bye week with Michigan State on deck? It has to feel good for Michigan to go into the bye off a win after a stretch of humbling losses. At the same time, Michigan’s offense only managed to score one touchdown, and that came on a play that was nearly an interception. The offense should remain a significant concern heading into the Michigan State game. Penn State’s defense is pretty good. Michigan State’s is the best in the Big Ten (for three quarters, at least).
Michigan still has to win three more games to become bowl eligible. It is not going to be easy if Michigan continues to play at this level. The Wolverines play road games at Michigan State, Northwestern and Ohio State. Home games against Indiana and Maryland are mixed in as well. In most seasons you would expect to say there are easily three automatic wins in that mix for Michigan, but that is not the case right now.
Hoke continues to sell the idea Michigan can still compete for a Big Ten championship. Mathematically speaking, he is 100 percent correct. Those who have been watching this team play are right to have a contrasting opinion to Hoke’s. Michigan may very well find three wins before the season is over, but it will still take something more for Hoke to be back as head coach in Michigan. Otherwise, the 2015 season will likely be more of the same for the Wolverines.
- By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
The marketing for MLB likes to say that, “You can’t script October.” So true. Every postseason the games write the stories themselves, furnishing our sports memories with moments that last forever. Here are several story lines to keep an eye on during the AL and NL Championship Series.
5 Storylines to Watch in AL and NL Championship Series
Speed vs. Power
What a contrast of styles the ALCS is going to deliever. The Royals, the Wild Card, cinderella story from the AL Central, made it to the League Championship Series with their game-changing speed, timely hitting, and brilliant defense. The Orioles won the disastrous American League East by 12 games with brut strength.
Both teams pitching is rather similar, with the only true ace belonging to the Royals and “Big Game” James Shields, even though he really hasn't lived up to that moniker. It sounds good though. Pitching aside, the Royals and O’s couldn't be more polar opposites. The Royals led baseball in stolen bases (153) and were last in baseball in home runs (95). In the other dugout, the Orioles led baseball in dingers (211) and were last in stolen bases (44). Pretty remarkable that two teams with such a contrast in styles were able to make it this far into the Postseason. Should make for a fantastic ALCS.
Same Teams, Different Year
If the Giants and Cardinals weren't wearing different uniforms, they might be mistaken for the same ball club. Both teams have an ace backed by reliable starting pitching, and good, not outstanding bullpens. In fact, both clubs have the exact same team ERA (3.50), almost identical BAA (SF-2.41, STL-2.42), and number of strikeouts (SF-1211, STL-1222).
Both clubs thrive on timely hitting, not gaudy power numbers. In the NLDS, it was Brandon Belt that hit the midnight, 18th inning homer in Game 3 that gave the Giants a two-games-to-one lead over the baseball’s best regular season team, the Washington Nationals. It was a mix of Kolten Wong, Matt Carpenter, and Matt Adams that sent the favored Dodgers and Clayton Kershaw back to Chavez Ravine in dramatic and unlikely fashion.
Since, 2000, the Cardinals have made it to the NLCS nine different times (Ed Rooney voice: “Niiiiiiiine times”), including the last four in a row, and the World Series four times, winning it all twice. Not to be outdone, the Giants have been to three of the last five NLCS, winning the World Series two times as well.
Lefty vs. Lefty
The Cardinals were able to do the impossible in the NLDS against the Dodgers, they beat Clayton Kershaw…twice…in one series. Against the game’s best hurler and probable 2014 NL Cy Young Award and MVP winner, St. Louis was able to put an 8-spot in game one thanks to lefty Matt Carpenter’s homer and double that sparked an unbelievable comeback. In game four, Kershaw was throwing a one-hit shutout in the sixth when Matt Adams took him deep to give the Cards a 3-2 lead they would hold on to and take the series. To my knowledge, the Cardinals do not play with four-leaf clovers in the cleats.
How long can their luck against power lefties last? The Cards are all but guaranteed to see the Giants ace, Madison Bumgarner twice, if not three times in this series. Bumgarner’s numbers against left-handed batters are pretty dominating. This season lefties are hitting just .224/.246/.293 with just 1 HR, 5 walks, and a SO/BB ratio of 11.60. Bumgarner pitched against the Cards just twice this season, but only allowed 5 runs on 9 hits, 16 strikeouts, 4 walks, and a slash line of .205/.271/.341.
Kolten Wong, Matt Adams, and Matt Carpenter, the heroes of the NLDS for the Cards, will have their hands full with MadBum in game one Saturday night against the Giants.
Kings of Kansas City
Much has been made of the Kansas City Royals and their fantastic October run that has led up to this ALCS against the Orioles. The world knows that they haven’t made a Postseason, let alone a World Series appearance since their Fall Classic title in 1985. But the relationship between this club and their city is certainly special. Sick and tired of being bottom dwellers in the AL Central and playing little brother to the St. Louis Cardinals and the self-appointed “best fans in baseball,” Kansas City Royals fans have been out in full force for their ball club. The atmosphere they have created for their team at Kauffman Stadium has been nothing short of magnificent. The brooms for a sweep against the Angels and the saturated sea of Royal blue has been a sight long over-due in the city of Kansas City. And nothing may have been more evident of the relationship between the city and the ball club when star first baseman, Eric Hosmer, invited the fans to a local watering hole via Twitter after the series clincher against the Angels and offered to fund a happy hour to anyone that joined. A $15,000 tab and some spilled beer later, a bond that was forged over years of lackluster baseball and recent resurgence was solidified.
In the three games sweep against the Detroit Tigers in the ALDS, the Orioles put up 21 runs, 10 of which came against the likes of the last three AL Cy Young Award winners (Scherzer, Verlander, and David Price). Let there be no doubt, the Royals bullpen (ERA 3.30) is much, much better than that of the Tigers in which the Orioles scored 11 runs in their series sweep.
But the most fascinating thing about the Orioles slugging is the fact that they lead baseball in homers (211) by far, and they did it without last season’s home run leader, a lackluster and suspended Chris Davis, and injured stars Manny Machado and Matt Wieters. Davis did hit 26 long balls this season, but thats less than half of the 53 that he hit last year.
Not only was Davis a shell of what he had been, but he got himself suspended for a bizarre use of Adderall. Machado’s “Young and the Restless” 2014 season was wild and over-dramatic. In-between stints on the disabled list and run-ins with Oakland A’s, Machado only played half the season and put up less than stellar numbers. Matt Wieters was having the best season of his young career when he was sidelined for a torn UCL that required Tommy John surgery, which seems unheard of for a catcher. But even without three of their best players, the O’s were able to slug their way to an AL East title thanks in large part to season home run leader Nelson Cruz (40), Adam Jones (29), and Steve Pearce (21).
Can the O’s continue to defy baseball logic and march toward their first Fall Classic appearance since 1983 with their love of the long ball? Or will the Royals arsenal of power arms stifle their bats and continue their Cinderella run to the World Series?
By Jake Rose
The month of October enhances the drama of baseball every year to immeasurable proportions. October forges players into baseball legends and imprints the moments of greatness in the timeline of American sports. David Freese, Kirk Gibson, Bill Mazeroski, Derek Jeter, Joe Carter, and Don Larsen are just a handful of the names who delivered in the most important month of the season, October.
This postseason is full of star talent. We all know guys like Trout, Kershaw, Strasburg, and Adam Jones, but a lot of times it’s the guys that you might least expect to make the biggest difference in going home early or winning World Series MVP.
Here is a list of seven players who will have a major impact on the Postseason, one way or the other, going forward.
7 Players to Watch in AL and NL Championship Series
In the second half of the season, Matt Holliday practically carried the Cardinals on his bat to an NL Central title, hitting 14 of his 20 long balls after the All Star break. Holliday’s success is absolutely vital if the Cards have any chance of making it back to the Fall Classic. This season, in games that the Cards won Holliday hit .320, with 14 home runs, an OBP of .416 and 73 RBI. In games in which St. Louis lost, Holliday was .210, 6 HR, and just 17 RBI in 70 games.
With no more names like Beltran, Berkman, Freese, Pujols, or Allen Craig in the lineup to offer protection or to give protection to, Holliday’s job is that much more important. It is safe to say that whether or not the Red Birds fly high in October relies on the shoulders of Matt Holliday.
Matt Carpenter absolutely smashed the Dodgers October dreams in the NLDS, hitting three homers and knocking in seven runs. Along with Holliday, Carpenter will have to continue knocking the ball around the yard if the Cards want to advance to the Fall Classic for the second year in a row and third time in four years. Asking for three home runs and three doubles from Carpenter in the NLCS might be asking too much, he only hit eight long balls all season long, but it’s not unreasonable to see Carpenter be a big-time producer against the Giants, and it all starts with him getting on base.
Second base was supposed to be Marco Scutaro’s this season. And then it was supposed to be Ehrie Adrianza’s, then Dan Uggla’s, and then Joaquin Araias’. None of those worked out. What did work out was calling up 2011 first round pick, Joe Panik, the 23 year old New Yorker.
Panik declared the starting second base job his in the second half of the season, hitting .305/.343./.368 in 287 plate appearances, and making Bruce Bochy’s job a heck of a lot easier.
Panik is the first player in Giant’s history to have five hits in his first two postseason games, getting three in NL Wild Card game in Pittsburgh. and adding two more in game one of the NLDS against the Nationals, including a triple and an insurance run.
If Panik can just be consistent at the plate, get on base, and be the kickstarted of this Giant’s offense, Pence, Posey, and Panda should be able to do the rest.
Madison Bumgarner might be the best pitcher remaining in the Postseason. His uncanny, left-handed delivery and tight command of the strike zone could be trouble for the left-handed Cardinals hitters. Bumgarner hardly gives up walks (BB% 4.9), so the battle with the patient Cardinals bats should be an interesting one. In the regular season, Bumgarner surrendered 21 homers and only one of those long balls was to a fellow lefty. Bumgarner gets takes the hill in Game 1 of the NLCS on Saturday night, and depending on how the series plays out, we could see Mad-Bum several times in the coming games.
Eric Hosmer might finally be turning into the player he was projected to be, right in front of our very eyes. Hosmer’s career has been up and down since finishing third in the AL Rookie of the Year vote in 2011. His sophomore slump was rather noticeable but rebounded fantastically in 2013 and had a good enough 2014, but a stress fracture in his right hand limited his power to just 9 HRs.
When the bright lights of the Postseason flipped on in the AL Wild Card game against the As, Hosmer has been remarkable. At a time when its all about who is hot, Hosmer has been scorching. Against the As, Hosmer went 3 for 4 including a one-out triple in the bottom of the 12th, which led to him scoring a run and tying the game, sparking the Royals massive comeback. Hosmer also chipped in an RBI and two walks.
Hosmer continued his hot streak into the ALDS against the AL’s best team, the Los Angeles Angels. In game two, Hosmer came up big once again, getting three hits, scoring two runs, and adding two RBI. But nothing was bigger than his 11th inning monster two-run shot to off reliever Kevin Jepsen, a no-doubter.
If the Royals are going to continue this Cinderella run through October, they are going to need Hos to keep on swinging to keep up with the O’s big bats.
This youngster might be the most exciting new pitcher to enter the baseball water-cooler talk this October. With a fastball that reached 102 MPH in the ALDS against the Angels, Yordano Ventura could be the pendulum that swings in the Royals favor against the Orioles, especially if he gets the chance to start more than once in the series. But it’s not just Ventura’s fastball that makes hitters whiff. His curveball might have more break on it than anyone else the Orioles have faced this season, to go along with a change up that hits 87 MPH. The big question is how well will the youngster handles the ever increasing spotlight that comes with the stage of the Postseason. Ventura was rocked in his first Postseason appearance, coming out of the bullpen in the AL Wild Card Game against the As, but completely rebounded in the next round against the Angels. Ventura faces an Orioles lineup that crushed fastballs and hit more dingers that any other team in baseball.
Adam Jones is the motor that keeps the Orioles team going. In the ALDS against the Tigers, jones went 2 for 11 in 13 plate appearances. The Orioles power at the plate is well-known, but going against power pitchers James Shields, Wade Davis, and Yordano Ventura could prove to be a problem in hitting long balls, base hits may be the difference in the series. If that is the case, Jones is going to have to put wood on the ball and drive in runs the old fashioned way, 2 hits in 3 games won’t cut it. Also, with the Royals ability to use their speed to score runs, Jones’ defense will be a major factor in preventing runs.
- By Jake Rose