Articles By Athlon Sports

Path: /college-football/luke-falk-steps-spotlight-washington-state-connor-halliday-out-season
Body:

With Mike Leach at the helm of the Washington State program, a few things are sure to be certain. The Cougars will be a pass-heavy offensive team with little to work with on defense. With the nation’s number one passing offense piling up huge numbers this season off the arm of Connor Halliday, Leach will have to find a way to keep moving forward without his starting quarterback. Halliday was injured in a 44-17 loss to USC this weekend, and the senior will miss the rest of the season with a broken leg. The injury brings the senior’s season and collegiate career to an end with 3,873 passing yards and 32 touchdowns this season, and 11,308 career passing yards and 90 touchdowns.

 

So, where does Leach have to turn in hopes of keeping the aerial attacks coming for Washington State’s final three games of the 2014 season? Freshman Luke Falk replaced Halliday against USC, and Leach did not hesitate to let him use his arm either. Falk attempted 57 pass attempts off the bench, completing 38 of them for 370 yards and a pair of touchdowns (and one interception). It was just the second appearance of the season for Falk, who completed each of his two attempts for 86 yards in a game against Portland State earlier in the year. Running the offense will now be the responsibility of this relatively unknown quarterback out of Utah for the rest of the season.

 

Falk enrolled at Washington State as a recruit without much hype or praise out of high school, despite at one point having an early offer from Florida State. Once receiving an early offer from Florida State, Falk’s stock dropped following a high school transfer. By the time he was ready to choose a school, the only programs looking for his services came from the Ivy League or Idaho, for the most part. The Utah product was a two-star prospect according to Rivals. He had originally committed to Cornell before a coaching change at the program left Falk to re-evaluate his options. This ended with Falk heading to Washington State to walk-on for a spot on the roster.

 

With some roster changes along the way at Washington State since Falk’s enrollment, Falk has seen increased reps in practice in the event Halliday was roughed up. Considering the state of the offensive line protection provided to Halliday, giving Falk as many snaps as possible in practice was wise for Leach. Now, Washington State may be trotting out a quarterback without much game experience, but it will not be using a player that has not been properly prepared for this situation.

 

If nothing else, Washington State has a quarterback that has shown glimpses of being able to lead the Washington State offense without losing much of a step off the bench. Perhaps it is the Leach system, and Falk has fit into it well enough. Falk certainly has worked hard to earn a chance to lead the offense, and it is not one likely to be taken lightly for the redshirt freshman. This also serves as an opportunity to prove why he should be the leading candidate for the starting job at Washington State in 2015.

By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)

Teaser:
Luke Falk Steps Into Spotlight at Washington State With Connor Halliday Out for Season
Post date: Monday, November 3, 2014 - 12:52
Path: /college-football/wisconsins-defense-quietly-ranks-one-big-tens-best-2014
Body:

Michigan State claimed a Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl victory on the strength of its defense last season. Penn State is wasting a perfectly good defensive effort this season. When discussing the best defenses in the Big Ten, Wisconsin tends to fly under the radar, but it is the defense that could lead the Badgers back to Indianapolis for a shot at a Big Ten championship this season.

 

The Badgers have just allowed a total of seven points against Big Ten newcomers Maryland and Rutgers the past two weeks, helping the Wisconsin defense move into third in the nation in defensive scoring. The most recent defensive effort turned in a shutout victory on the road against Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have played tough at home (ask Penn State and Michigan), but the Badgers defensive effort helped make it easy for the offense to run away with a victory in New Jersey.

 

Wisconsin has allowed just 14.1 points per game this season. The Badgers, not Michigan State, currently have the Big Ten’s best total defense as well, allowing an average of just 253.8 yards per game through eight games. Penn State has allowed 273.4 yards per game, and Michigan State has allowed 279.4 yards per game. If Wisconsin keeps on this pace, the Badgers will successfully improve on their total defensive average for a second straight season.

 

Wisconsin starts making things difficult for opposing teams by aiming to take away the running game.  The Badgers have held five opponents under 100 rushing yards this season, and Wisconsin has allowed just seven rushing touchdowns in eight games. On top of that, Wisconsin is the best team in the Big Ten against the pass, perhaps making a claim to having their own no-fly zone this season. The Badgers may not get their hands on a ton of passes (just five interceptions in eight games), but they have allowed just six passing touchdowns this season. No team in the Big Ten has allowed a lower completion percentage to opposing quarterbacks than Wisconsin (46.3 percent). Michael Caputo has been one of the leaders of the Wisconsin secondary, and he also leads the Badgers with 57 tackles this season.

 

Wisconsin was written off by some with a season-opening loss to LSU in Houston, and again after a tough loss at Northwestern. The defense came up small against LSU in the first game of the season while failing to protect a lead, and the Northwestern game was doomed more by losing four turnovers on offense, but Wisconsin’s defense has been a big reason why the Badgers are still in the race for the Big Ten West Division (having Melvin Gordon running the football certainly helps too, of course).

 

The formula for winning at Wisconsin remains similar to when Bret Bielema was coaching the program. Being solid on the ground on offense and dependable on defense has worked well for Wisconsin over the more recent seasons, and it could be what keeps them in the Big Ten championship mix. Michigan State and Ohio State are receiving most of the attention right now, and Nebraska has been heralded as the next best threat, but it would be silly to forget Wisconsin the way the defense has been playing.

By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)

Teaser:
Wisconsin's Defense Quietly Ranks as One of the Big Ten's Best in 2014
Post date: Monday, November 3, 2014 - 12:37
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketballs-top-transfers-2014-15
Body:

Few trends have changed college basketball more in recent years than the wave of transfers each season.

 

Some teams, like Iowa State and Florida, have made an art for of recruiting transfers as key cogs of their programs. Other teams are just looking to fill holes and don’t always have to look too far to fill gaps on the roster.

 

The 2014-15 season will feature its fair share of impact transfers. Iowa State and Florida are here as usual, but teams like Gonzaga, Ohio State and Miami  picked up key players in the in the transfer market this season as well.

 

Matt Carlino, Marquette (from BYU)

Steve Wojciechowski will be off to a rough start roster-wise at Marquette. Lucky for the first-year coach, a point guard in the transfer market had an uncle who played at Marquette and a mother who is from Milwaukee. Carlino should step in immediately and play point guard for the Golden Eagles after averaging 12.5 points and 4.6 assists per game in three seasons at BYU. 

 

Bryce Dejean-Jones, Iowa State (from UNLV)

The Iowa State transfer trend continues with Dejean-Jones, who is on his third stop after transferring from USC to UNLV to Ames. Dejean-Jones averaged 13.6 points per game in 31 games in his final season with the Runnin’ Rebels. He’s an effective scorer who will have to integrate himself into a lineup including returning point guard Monté Morris and forward Georges Niang.

 

Josh Gray, LSU (from junior college)

With point guard Anthony Hickey transferring to Oklahoma State, sophomore forwards Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin need someone to get them the ball. Gray may be the answer. Before heading to Odessa (Texas) College, Gray averaged 9.6 points and 3.3 assists as a freshman at Texas Tech. He’ll be more than a facilitator, though, as Johnny Jones expects his point guard to score in a variety of ways.

 

Anthony Hickey, Oklahoma State (from LSU)

Oklahoma State will need a number of players to fill the gaps left by Marcus Smart and Markel Brown. At least Travis Ford will have a veteran point guard in the mix in Hickey, who was a three-year starter at LSU. Hickey’s scoring output dropped in his final season in Baton Rouge, but he finished second in the SEC with a 2.8 assist-to-turnover ratio and has averaged 3.8 assists per game in his career. He averaged nearly three steals per game as a sophomore two years ago. 

 

Jonathan Holton, West Virginia (from junior college)

Holton averaged 10.2 points and 8.1 rebounds per game as a freshman at Rhode Island in 2011-12, but he was dismissed from school due to some legal issues. Holton spent a season at junior college and then a redshirt season at West Virginia, where he’ll be a regular double-double threat.

 

Kedren Johnson, Memphis (from Vanderbilt)

Memphis is in the rare position where it is short on experienced guards this season. That’s why Josh Pastner had to be overjoyed Johnson, who was suspended last season at Vanderbilt, is eligible to play for the Tigers this season. Johnson averaged a team-best 13.5 points with 3.6 assists and 3.5 rebounds in his last season with the Commodores.

 

Trevor Lacey, NC State (from Alabama)

Lacey is the latest addition for an NC State program that’s seen its share of roster turnover under Mark Gottfried. Lacey won’t be asked to fill the scoring void left by T.J. Warren, but he will need to be a complement to emerging sophomore point guard Cat Barber in the backcourt. Lacey is a strong guard who can score around the basket.

 

Anthony Lee, Ohio State (from Temple)

The 6-9, 230-pound Lee will give Ohio State a key player in a thin frontcourt. He has been one of the nation’s most effective rebounders — both offensively and defensively — over the past few years. Lee also averaged a career-high 13.6 points per game last season.

 

Alex Murphy, Florida (from Duke)

Florida may have to wait until the second semester to add Murphy to the lineup. When he’s eligible, Murphy will be a stretch-4 and another transfer on a roster that includes Dorian Finney-Smith (Virginia Tech), Jon Horford (Michigan) and Eli Carter (Rutgers). Murphy is the brother of Erik Murphy, who averaged 12.2 points per game in 2012-13.

 

Rodney Purvis, UConn (from NC State)

All Purvis has to do is help fill the void left by Shabazz Napier in the backcourt for the defending national champions. OK, so maybe it’s not that drastic. Still, he’s a key cog in a talented backcourt that returns Ryan Boatright and adds freshman swingman Daniel Hamilton. Purvis averaged 8.3 points per game on an NCAA Tournament team that featured five double-digit scorers

 

Katin Reinhardt, USC (from UNLV)

Andy Enfield needed to replenish the roster in a major way in his first season at USC, a year that yielded only two Pac-12 wins. Reinhardt, who sat out last season after his transfer, will be a major part of that. He started 34 games as a freshman at UNLV, averaging 10.1 points and 2.5 assists per game. The 6-5, 205-pound sophomore will be a combo guard in Enfield’s system in Los Angeles.

 

Angel Rodriguez, Miami (from Kansas State)

Miami cobbled together 17 wins with depleted roster largely because two of its better players — Rodriguez and fellow Big 12 transfer Sheldon McClellan — were sitting out. Now ready to play, the 5-11 Rodriguez will man the point for Miami. In his last stop at Kansas State, Rodriguez averaged 11.4 points and 5.2 assists per game for a team that won 27 games.

 

Ricky Tarrant, Alabama (from Tulane)

Tarrant will compete with freshman Justin Coleman for minutes at point guard, where Trevor Releford departs. Tarrant was a second-team All-Conference USA selection in his last season at Tulane in 2012-13. He averaged 15.3 points and 3.4 assists per game in two seasons at Tulane, needing only 66 games to cross the 1,000-point mark.

 

Byron Wesley, Gonzaga (from USC)

Wesley led USC in scoring last season at 17.8 points per game, but he bolted a program that finished 11–21. With a handful of veterans and transfers, Wesley won’t shoulder as much of the load in Spokane after averaging 13.6 shots per game in Los Angeles.

 

Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga (from Kentucky)

Wiltjer was the odd man out on Kentucky’s ultra-talented squads laced with NBA Draft lottery talent. After sitting out for a year, Wiltjer has bulked up to become a more formidable presence in the frontcourt. He’s a 6-10 forward with a perimeter game — and a national championship ring.

Teaser:
College Basketball's Top Transfers for 2014-15
Post date: Monday, November 3, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /college-football/maryland-hopes-spark-new-big-ten-rivalry-against-penn-state
Body:

It may be years before we can fairly pinpoint the most extreme low point of Penn State’s sanction era, but there may be a new leader in the clubhouse. Maryland made the trip Beaver Stadium to face its new Big Ten neighbor to the north, mixed things up with Penn State as the teams took the field, refused to shake hands during the coin flip and then went home celebrating a 20-19 victory. Maybe Penn State is down, now losers of four straight for the first time since 2004, but one thing looked to be clear Saturday afternoon. Maryland is ready to consider Penn State a rival.
 

“Let the rivalry begin now,” Maryland head coach Randy Edsall said after the game. “Let it begin. There should be a trophy for this game. It’s a bordering state. Let’s have some fun. Let’s make it really competitive.”
 

This was just the second time Maryland has won a game against Penn State. Penn State now leads the all-time series 35-2-1, with the series dating back to 1917 and now revived with Maryland and Penn State in the same division in the same conference for the first time. With Penn State and Maryland now in the same conference, the tensions should continue to boil in the future, and it begins with recruiting.
 

After being hired to be Penn State’s new head coach, James Franklin went on a bus tour to meet alums all around the northeast. That tour included a notable drive through Maryland and Washington D.C., where Franklin made it clear to the Penn State faithful Penn State would have a strong presence in recruiting in the region. Franklin was so strong about his intentions he indirectly suggested Maryland should just shut down (same as Rutgers). This, of course, did not sit well with some Maryland fans who caught wind of the statements from Franklin.
 

Penn State and Maryland have been competing for the same recruits in the same territory for generations, so 2014 and beyond is nothing new. But the stakes just got a little higher, and Maryland went all in on Saturday. Maryland’s captains went out to midfield for the pregame coin flip and just stood there, staring blankly as the Penn State captains extended hands for a pregame handshake. The non-handshake resulted in an unsportsmanlike penalty, and Edsall took no responsibility for the incident. This one was on the players, intent to make a statement before the game started.
 

Of course, the best way to send a message is by putting more points on the scoreboard. Maryland did just that. Time will tell if Maryland can keep this going once Penn State supposedly gets back to full strength, but perhaps this was the start of a new rivalry for years to come.
 

“We think that we set the tone for the rivalry going forward,” Maryland tight end P.J. Gallo.
 

You sure did P.J. Let’s see if Maryland decides to shake hands next.

-By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)

Teaser:
Maryland Hopes to Spark New Big Ten Rivalry Against Penn State
Post date: Sunday, November 2, 2014 - 16:00
Path: /nba/russell-westbrook-wears-shiny-clothes-injures-hand-fights-fans
Body:

The Oklahoma City Thunder have had lots of bad news lately. It was rough enough losing Kevin Durant to a Jones fracture for up to two months  — the reigning MVP is integral to his team’s title chances. But they would’ve had enough left to stay afloat without him, had they not also lost Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, Anthony Morrow and now the second half of their dynamic duo, Russell Westbrook.

Westbrook started Thursday night off with his customary, bodacious swag step into the Staples Center, to take on Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers:

 

Then he got his hand hit near the rim during the second quarter, and left for the locker room through L.A.’s chutes. But not before a little discourse with the locals:

 

Westbrook sustained a small fracture in the hand, but it is unknown how much time he will miss. As to what he said to the fans, why he said it, what they said back: This is unknown. But the Thunder point guard and L.A. native is a famously fiery personality on the court, a method player who stays frantic and aggressive every instant he’s in the building. His frustration from a sudden injury, when his team was already struggling to tread water, would make the combustible Westbrook an easy target for agitation.

The Western Conference of the 2014-15 season looks to be about as difficult a field as the league’s ever seen. Making the playoffs is no sure thing for any squad — last year, the Phoenix Suns won 50 games and still missed the round of sixteen. If the Thunder don’t get healthy quick, they might find themselves in quite the hole to dig themselves out of. But at least OKC’s got the promise of Westbrook and Durant together at some point this season — it’s hard to think of any two superstars we'd rather see waging a fight up the standings.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, October 31, 2014 - 14:27
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy, News
Path: /fantasy/college-fantasy-football-week-10-fantasy-value-plays
Body:

DraftKings has released their Daily Fantasy college football salaries for the week, and the experts at CollegeFootballGeek.com have hunkered down and scoured all of the data to find the best Value Plays on the docket. 

These Value Plays are comprised of players poised to out-produce their DraftKings salaries this week.  These are the “diamonds in the rough” that your DFS competitors may overlook.  They are the difference-makers you need in your lineup to win one of the big DFS contests!

For your convenience, we have broken the picks down by DraftKings contest game set. Best of luck this week!

(For more detailed Daily Fantasy analysis, picks, player news, player rankings, and stat breakdowns, check out
CollegeFootballGeek.comLearn how to SUBSCRIBE FOR FREE!)
 


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VALUE PLAYS: SATURDAY (EARLY ONLY) GAME SET


QUARTERBACKS

1)    QB Patrick Towles, Kentucky vs. Missouri ($6000)

Towles had a huge game last week against Miss State; accounting for over 450 total yards and four total scores. He could post similar numbers this week against Missouri and comes in at a nice price. 

 


RUNNING BACKS

1)    RB Jon Hilliman, Boston College vs. VA Tech ($4500)

Hilliman scored twice last week and gets to face a Hokies defense that gave up over 350 yards rushing to Miami last week. He could find the end zone again and reach value this week.

 

2)    RB William Stanback, UCF vs. UCONN ($4500)

Stanback had 97 yards and two scores last week versus Temple. He could have a nice game this week against the Huskies. Look for Stanback to reach value this week.

 

WIDE RECEIVERS

 

1)    WR Deante Gray, TCU vs. West Virginia ($5200)

Gray dropped 165 yards and two scores on Texas Tech last week and could find more success this week against West Virginia. His value really shoots up if Josh Doctson is unable to play this week.

 

2)    WR Mario Alford, West Virginia vs. TCU ($5600)

Alford had 136 yards and a score last week and could see plenty of targets against TCU. This game could be a track meet, with both teams throwing the ball often. Look for Alford to have a solid afternoon.

 

3)    WR Tyler Boyd, Pitt vs. Duke ($5800)

Boyd is having a decent season and his upside is too good to pass on in this game. He could easily have a big week and his price is very appealing. Look for Boyd to show up this week.


 

TIGHT END

1)    TE Blake Bell, Oklahoma vs. Iowa State ($2600)

Bell scored in his last game and is worth a look at this price.



VALUE PLAYS:  SATURDAY (LATE ONLY) GAME SET

QUARTERBACKS

1)    QB Kent Myers, Utah State vs. Hawaii ($4700)

With the top three QB’s on the roster all hurt, Myers will get the start this week against Hawaii. He looks to be a dual threat kid who has some upside at near minimum price. 

 

 

RUNNING BACKS

 

1)    RB Brian Hill, Wyoming vs. Fresno State ($5400)

Hill ran for 128 yards and two scores last week after Shaun Wick left with an injury. Wick is out at least three weeks, so insert Hill into your lineups now!

 

2)    RB Tarean Folston, Notre Dame vs. Navy ($4800)

Floston is averaging 109 yards rushing and a score in the last two games and appears to be the main man in the Irish backfield. He could easily reach value this week and appears to be a nice punt option at the RB position.

 

3)    RB Cameron Artis-Payne, Auburn vs. Ole Miss ($4700)

Match up be damned here. I don’t care how good the Ole Miss defense is, getting Artis-Payne for $4700 is too good to pass up. The Auburn ground game is close to unstoppable and Artis-Payne could easily hit the 100-yard mark and add a score.

 

 

WIDE RECEIVERS

 

1)    WR Josh Harper, Fresno State vs. Wyoming ($5800)

Harper could have a big night against Wyoming. He appears to be a bit under priced this week and looks like a very nice value play. Look for Harper to find the end zone for the third straight game.

 

2)    WR Dwayne Stanford, Oregon vs. Stanford ($4000)

Stanford has become more involved in the Oregon passing game over the past four contests and could make for a solid punt play this week. He is an excellent red-zone option because of his size.

 


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Teaser:
College Fantasy Football: Week 10 Fantasy Value Plays
Post date: Friday, October 31, 2014 - 14:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/peyton-manning-tom-brady-head-head-infographic
Body:

There may be a great debate about who the greatest quarterback is of this generation, but there’s no debate which quarterbacks belong in the conversation. It starts and ends with Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, who both have earned a place among the greatest of all time.

 

Now, this Sunday, they will meet again for the 16th time in their illustrious careers. Here's a quick statistical look back at their gridiron battles.

 

Infographic by Barrett Self, barrettself.com

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, October 31, 2014 - 12:30
Path: /nfl/ranking-5-most-memorable-brady-manning-games
Body:
There may be a great debate about who the greatest quarterback is of this generation, but there’s no debate which quarterbacks belong in the conversation. It starts and ends with Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, who both have earned a place among the greatest of all time.
 
Now, this Sunday, they will meet again for the 16th time in their illustrious careers. And since Brady is 37 and Manning is 38 there’s always a worry that they’re meeting for the final time.
 
That makes this as good a time as any to look back at a series in which Brady has dominated, somewhat, winning 10 of the 15 matchups these two have had. Together, though, they have made a lot of memories. And here’s a look at the five most memorable Brady-Manning games they’ve had:
 

Jan. 21, 2007: Colts 38, Patriots 34, (AFC championship game) 

This game was played back in the days where there were big questions about Manning’s ability to win a big game. Worse for him, less than one year earlier, his little brother Eli had won a championship of his own. In many ways, this was the biggest moment of Manning’s career. And the Patriots nearly spoiled it by jumping out to a 21-3 lead.
 
Manning won the day, though, by throwing for 349 yards, including 61 on the game-winning, 80-yard drive that began with 2:17 and ended when Joe Addai ran for a three-yard touchdown that gave the Colts the lead with one minute remaining. When Brady was picked off on the ensuing drive with 24 seconds remaining, the tables were finally turned and Manning was a win away from the first (and so far only) championship of his career.
 

Jan. 18, 2004: Patriots 24, Colts 14, (AFC championship game)

Just a month-and-a-half after a semi-classic Patriots 38-34 win in the regular season — in which they needed a goal-line stand to survive — the two teams played the first of their three AFC championship games against each other. The Patriots were a budding dynasty then and this rivalry was still young. Manning was considered the best quarterback in football, but he still carried the albatross of being unable to win the big game.
 
And this game didn’t help. Manning threw four interceptions — three to Patriots cornerback Ty Law — to completely undermine the Colts, who otherwise put up 446 yards. The Patriots would go on to win their second Super Bowl in three years, and in many ways their dynasty was born.
 

Nov. 15, 2009 – Colts 35, Patriots 34

There are so many reasons why this game should’ve been a classic. The Patriots stormed out fast, taking a 24-14 halftime lead that became 31-14 early in the fourth quarter. Then Manning stormed back to pull the Colts within 34-28 with 2:23 remaining. Brady threw for 375 yards and three touchdowns. Manning threw for 327 yards and four touchdowns. But none of that is why this game is remembered.
 
It’s remembered for 4th and 2.
 
That’s a reference to the infamous Bill Belichick decision with 2:08 remaining in the game and his team up by six, when instead of punting from the Patriots 28, he chose to go for it on 4th and 2. When the Brady pass failed, the Colts had the ball at the New England 29 yard line. Then with 13 seconds left, Manning hit Reggie Wayne for a 1-yard touchdown to give the Colts the game.
 

Nov. 24, 2013: Patriots 34, Broncos 31, overtime 

It looked at first like it would be a rare rout as the Patriots literally fumbled (on each of their first three possessions) their way to a 24-0 deficit at home. Then Brady led one of his greatest comebacks. He threw three touchdown passes as the Pats scored 21 points in the third quarter and then finally took the lead about a minute-and-a-half into the fourth quarter. Momentum seemed to be theirs and Manning was on his way to another big-game fail — until he led an 80-yard touchdown drive that tied the game with 3:10 remaining and sent it to overtime.
 
It was a classic dual of great quarterbacks, but that’s not why the game was so memorable. In overtime, the Patriots won the coin tos and Bill Belichick made the gutsy decision to give the Broncos the ball. It worked and a punting battle ensued. And that’s where the Patriots won it, when a punt bounced off the leg of one of the Broncos’ blockers and the Patriots recovered deep in field goal range.
 

Nov. 4, 2007 – Patriots 24, Colts 20

In the midst of the Patriots perfect regular season, it’s easy to forget the Colts were undefeated for a while, too. Until at 7-0 they met the 8-0 Pats. The Colts did have a 20-10 lead with 10 minutes to go in the game, though, in what would be the first real test for this great New England team. Brady would lead two fourth-quarter touchdown drives, though, hitting Wes Welker for a TD pass with 7:59 remaining and Kevin Faulk for another with 3:15 to go.
 
That still left Manning plenty of time and he quickly got the Colts out to midfield. But with 2:25 remaining, he was sacked by Jarvis Green and fumbled the football. The Patriots recovered to keep their unbeaten season alive.
 
—By Ralph Vacchiano
Teaser:
Post date: Friday, October 31, 2014 - 11:10
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-2014-15-illinois-fighting-illini-team-preview
Body:

For the first time during his tenure at Illinois, John Groce has a roster loaded with familiar faces. Of the 13 players making up this year’s Illini, 11 have been a part of Groce’s system for at least one year, a stark contrast to Year 1, when everyone was getting to know the new coach and his staff, and last year, when nine newcomers made up the majority of the roster.

 

Illinois’ third-year coach recognized a clear difference in the flow of practice after the team’s first workout of the eight-week summer schedule.

 

“We were able to cover more things in the hour I had them on the first day than at any time last summer because guys just knew stuff right away,” Groce says. “They’ve heard this stuff, in some cases for two years. That was really encouraging.”

 

The hope in Champaign is that the familiarity breeds victories. After a second-round exit in the NIT, the expectation is to return to the NCAA Tournament, where Illinois reached the Round of 32 in Groce’s first season.

 

Top scorer Rayvonte Rice returns to anchor the backcourt, and he’ll be aided by transfers Ahmad Starks (Oregon State) and Aaron Cosby (Seton Hall) to add some offensive balance for a team that finished 11th in the Big Ten in scoring (64.2 ppg).

 

“Obviously, we’ve got to improve our offensive efficiency,” Groce says. “Our defense was plenty good enough last year to win against anybody.”

 

The Illinois edition is one of dozens available in our online store and on newsstands everywhere now.

 

Frontcourt

 

In Nnanna Egwu, Illinois has a defensive stopper and rim protector who finished second in the Big Ten last year with 2.1 blocked shots per game. The key for the senior will be to stay out of foul trouble and remain on the court, because frontcourt depth took a hit when Western Michigan transfer Darius Paul was suspended for the season after violating team rules. 

 

Freshman Leron Black, Mr. Basketball in Tennessee, figures to earn regular minutes in the playing rotation. The hard-nosed 6-7 forward brings a level of toughness that Illinois has lacked. “Guys really hate going against him in practice,” Groce says.

 

Sophomore Malcolm Hill, who came along in the second half of last season, adds versatility. The 6-6 Hill started the final 12 games of his freshman season as the power forward and connected on nine of his last 15 3-pointers.

 

Maverick Morgan and Austin Colbert were seldom used as freshmen last season, and one or both will have to emerge to provide added depth. Freshman Michael Finke is a prolific outside shooter, and at just a shade under 6-10, he could see time as the stretch-4.

 


Illinois Fighting Illini Facts & Figures

Last season: 20-15, 7-11 Big Ten

Postseason: NIT

Last NCAA Tournament: 2013

Coach: John Groce (43-28 at Illinois, 15-21 Big Ten)

Big Ten Projection: Seventh

Postseason Projection: NCAA Round of 64

 


Backcourt

 

In his first season at Illinois after transferring from Drake, Rice proved he could score in the Big Ten. His 15.9-point average was eighth in the league. The 6-4 slasher did that while dealing with double teams as driving lanes closed because of Illinois’ lack of outside shooting. 

 

Starks, the all-time leader in 3-pointers made at Oregon State, and Cosby, a 38.8 percent 3-point shooter at Seton Hall, will help free up Rice.

 

Kendrick Nunn, a member of the Big Ten’s All-Freshman team, enters the season carrying momentum from a strong finish. The 6-3 guard started the last 12 games of his rookie season and averaged 10.3 points during that stretch. Jaylon Tate, who had a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio as a freshman, will add depth at the point guard position.

 

Good thing the Illinois backcourt has depth. The Illini lost Tracy Abrams for the season with a torn ACL. Abrams was expected to contribute at the point after averaging 10.7 points per game last season.

 

Final Analysis

 

The Big Ten, which was as strong the last two years as it’s been in some time, will ease up a bit this season, and that provides a chance for Illinois to make a move. With a good mix of drivers and shooters, the offense is expected to rebound from its anemic output. If the defense, which ranked in the top 25 in the country last season allowing 62.2 points, can maintain its punch, the Illini can climb the conference standings. For the first time in Groce’s tenure, the expectations are elevated, and how this group of players handles that pressure will go a long way in determining whether they meet the challenge.

 

Newcomers

 

Leron Black is a consensus top-50 recruit whose non-stop motor and knack for rebounding should earn him playing time. Michael Finke is a local kid who has grown two inches since committing to Illinois early during his junior season in high school. A versatile offensive player, Finke will need for his defense to catch up.

Teaser:
College Basketball 2014-15: Illinois Fighting Illini Team Preview
Post date: Friday, October 31, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: Big Ten, Iowa Hawkeyes, College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-2014-15-iowa-hawkeyes-team-preview
Body:

Iowa’s eight-year NCAA Tournament drought finally ended last spring, but it hardly was cause for celebration. The Hawkeyes climbed to as high as 10th in the national rankings only to mysteriously unravel down the stretch. Iowa made the NCAAs for the first time since 2006 despite losing six of its seven games heading into Selection Sunday, including a deflating 67–62 setback against Northwestern in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.

 

March Madness was a one-and-done experience as Tennessee defeated Iowa 78–65 in the “play-in” game in Dayton. The season-ending collapse left Hawkeye fans wondering what went wrong with a team that just a month earlier had shown so much promise.

 

Making matters much worse was the personal crisis facing Iowa coach Fran McCaffery at the time. His 14-year old son, Patrick, had been diagnosed with a malignant tumor on his thyroid in the days leading up to Iowa’s NCAA Tournament game.

 

Patrick is now well on his way to recovery, his latest tests showing no signs of cancer.

 

As for his father’s team, it’s more of a mystery heading into this season. Four of the five starters return from last season, including All-Big Ten forward Aaron White. But the one missing piece is All-Big Ten guard Roy Devyn Marble, who led Iowa in scoring last season and was clearly the go-to player for a team that struggled to shoot from the perimeter.

 

The Iowa edition is one of dozens available in our online store and on newsstands everywhere now.

 

Frontcourt

 

White is the first Hawkeye to have at least 1,300 points, 650 rebounds, 100 steals and 100 assists by his junior season. He is still considered a suspect shooter but hopes to change that after spending the offseason working on his medium-range jump shot. 

 

Joining White on the frontline is 7-1 junior center Adam Woodbury, who has started all 71 games in his college career. Woodbury hasn’t been much of an offensive threat, though, scoring in double figures only 10 times in two years. But he had his best performance in the final game of the season, scoring a career-high 16 points and grabbing eight rebounds in the loss to Tennessee in the NCAA Tournament.

 

Junior Jarrod Uthoff is expected to start at small forward, giving Iowa another 6-9 presence on the frontline. Throw 6-10 Gabe Olaseni and 6-9 freshman Dominique Uhl into the mix and the Hawkeyes are well-equipped with size and experience.

 


Iowa Hawkeyes Facts & Figures

Last season: 20-13, 9-9 Big Ten

Postseason: NCAA First Four

Consecutive NCAA Tournaments: 1

Coach: Fran McCaffery (74-63 at Iowa, 30-42 Big Ten)

Big Ten Projection: Sixth

Postseason Projection: NCAA Round of 32

 


Backcourt

 

This season will mark the first time that McCaffery hasn’t had Marble in his backcourt. They spent the last four seasons helping to rebuild the Iowa program, which had fallen on hard times when they both arrived in 2010.

 

Marble gave McCaffery a reliable scorer who at 6-6 could play both guard positions. Iowa doesn’t have that dimension this season. Junior Mike Gesell returns as the starting point guard, and he also has played shooting guard. But Gesell stands only 6-1 and has struggled to make perimeter shots and to finish at the basket. Junior college import Trey Dickerson will add some athleticism to the position.

 

Senior Josh Oglesby is considered the favorite to replace Marble at shooting guard. Oglesby can catch fire from 3-point range, but he lacks Marble’s size and versatility.

 

Sophomore sharpshooter Peter Jok has Marble’s size at 6-6, but Jok also has some personal issues holding him back. He pleaded guilty to OWI after being arrested on his moped in late April. Less than two months later, Jok was stopped again on his moped and cited for driving with a suspended license, prompting McCaffery to suspend him indefinitely. 

 

Junior point guard Anthony Clemmons returns after a rocky sophomore season in which he fell out of the rotation and played sparingly down the stretch. Clemmons blamed himself and is determined to regain his form as a freshman, when he started 13 games. 

 

Final Analysis

 

The collapse at the end of last season marks the only time under McCaffery in which Iowa hasn’t progressed as a team. Iowa did end its NCAA Tournament drought last season, but now the challenge is to keep climbing without Marble leading the way. The Hawkeyes have a proven commodity in the post in White and quality depth along the front line. They have quality pieces on the perimeter but lack consistent outside shooting.  Anything less than another NCAA Tournament bid would be considered a disappointment. 

 

Newcomers

 

Fran McCaffery had several near-misses in this class, the biggest setback coming when point guard Tyler Ulis signed with Kentucky over Iowa last November. McCaffery rebounded by landing point guard Trey Dickerson, who averaged nearly 20 points per game as a freshman in junior college. Brady Ellingson enters college with a reputation for being a great 3-point shooter. Dominique Uhl will bring athleticism to the front line.

Teaser:
College Basketball 2014-15: Iowa Hawkeyes Team Preview
Post date: Friday, October 31, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: Big Ten, College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-2014-15-big-ten-predictions-and-awards
Body:

Arguably, the Big Ten has been at the top of the pile in college basketball for the last four seasons.

 

That may come as a surprise for a league hasn’t produced a national champion since Michigan State in 2000.

 

Yet, the Big Ten is the only conference to send a team to the Final Four in each of the last three seasons and has done so with three different teams — Wisconsin in 2014, Michigan in 2013 and Ohio State in 2012.

 

The league has also produced its share of regular season excitement with as many compelling teams as any league. Consider: Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State remain as consistent as ever, Michigan has become a national power, Indiana enjoyed one season as a No. 1 team for much of the year, and Iowa and Nebraska have risen their levels of play.

 

The question for 2014-15 is how long it continue. 

 

Wisconsin returns from the Final Four with nearly its entire roster intact. Other mainstays at the top of the Big Ten heap have lost major cogs — Michigan State enters the season without Adreian Payne, Gary Harris and Keith Appling, Michigan without Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III, Ohio State without Aaron Craft and Iowa without Roy Devyn Marble.

 

Those are major losses for a league that has relied on upperclassmen for the most of the last four years. 

 

Does that mean the league as a whole will take a step back in 2014-15 while Wisconsin runs away with the title? Will the Wolverines, Spartans and Buckeyes reload? Will the Cornhuskers take the next step?

 

In any event, the depth in the Big Ten is in question for the first time in several years. 

 

Previews of every Big Ten team and more are available in the 2014-15 Athlon Sports College Basketball Preview.

 

Big Ten 2014-15 Preseason Picks

 

1. Wisconsin (team preview)

Postseason projection: NCAA runner up

Four returning starters from a Final Four team has ignited intriguing talk of a national championship run.

 

2. Nebraska (team preview)

Postseason projection: NCAA Sweet 16

With Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields, the Huskers are the trendy pick to do big things.

 

3. Michigan State (team preview)

Postseason projection: NCAA Sweet 16

Replacing Gary Harris and Adreian Payne won’t be easy, but Tom Izzo built depth while battling injuries last season.

 

4. Ohio State (team preview)

Postseason projection: NCAA round of 32

Life without Aaron Craft (or LaQuinton Ross) will be a challenge for a team that was offensively challenged last season.

 

5. Michigan (team preview)

Postseason projection: NCAA round of 32

Give John Beilein three perimeter guys like Derrick Walton Jr., Caris LeVert and Zak Irvin and he’ll do the rest. 

 

6. Iowa (team preview)

Postseason projection: NCAA round of 32

Hawkeyes’ fans will expect more than merely a trip to the NCAA Tournament from a veteran team led by a talented senior like Aaron White. 

 

7. Illinois (team preview)

Postseason projection: NCAA round of 64

John Groce has put together a nice blend of veterans, youth and transfers but the Illini remain a big man away from the Top 25.

 

8. Indiana

Postseason projection: NIT

Tom Crean has addressed his team’s shooting issues, but now the worry is rebounding and interior defense.

        

9. Minnesota

Postseason projection: NIT

Richard Pitino won the NIT during his first season, but could not close down the recruiting border.

      

10.   Maryland

Postseason projection: NIT

Embattled Mark Turgeon adds a top-10 recruiting class, but watched five players transfer out of his program. Hot Seat alert.

 

11  Penn State

Postseason projection: NIT

The Nittany Lions remain a team nobody wants to play because they defend and D.J. Newbill is always capable of a 20-point night.

 

12.  Purdue

If A.J. Hammons improves from good to great, the Boilermakers could move to the middle of the pack.

 

13. Northwestern

Lack of depth remains the leading issue as Chris Collins aims for progress in his second season.

 

14. Rutgers

It won’t be any easier for the Scarlet Knights here than it was in the Big East.

 

2014-15 Pac-12 Superlatives

 

Player of the Year: Sam Dekker, Wisconsin

Dekker bulked up during the offseason and, oddly enough, grew from 6-7 to 6-9 since the end of last season. He already was Wisconsin’s top NBA prospect, and he'll make a run an All-America honors. He returned to add an outside shot to his game and for a run at a national title.

 

Best Defensive Player: Shannon Scott, Ohio State

Scott has major shoes to fill stepping in for point guard and defensive stopper Aaron Craft. His per 40 minute numbers were close to Craft’s, but carrying that over to a full-time role is easier said than done.

 

Most Underrated Player: Caris LeVert, Michigan

LeVert won’t be underrated for long. A secondary player for the Wolverines last season will be the focal point for this Michigan team. After averaging 12.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.9 rebounds, he’s suited to being a team leader for a young, rebuilding squad.

 

Newcomer of the Year: Anthony Lee, Ohio State

Ohio State was a mediocre rebounding team last season. Lee will be a major boost in that area after averaging an American Athletic Conference-best 8.6 boards per game at Temple last season.

 

Top Coach: Tom Izzo, Michigan State (full rankings of Big Ten coaches)

 

First-Team All-Big Ten

G Yogi Ferrell, Indiana

G Caris LeVert, Michigan

G/F Terran Petteway, Nebraska

F Sam Dekker, Wisconsin

C Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin

 

Second-Team All-Big Ten

G D.J. Newbill, Penn State

G Rayvonte Rice, Illinois

G/F Branden Dawson, Michigan State

F Aaron White, Iowa

C A.J. Hammons, Purdue

 

Third-Team All-Big Ten

G Derrick Walton, Michigan

G Shavon Shields, Nebraska

G Andre Hollins, Minnesota

G/F Dez Wells, Maryland

F Anthony Lee, Ohio State

 

Teaser:
College Basketball 2014-15: Big Ten Predictions and Awards
Post date: Friday, October 31, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: LeBron James, Miami Heat, NBA
Path: /nba/miami-heat-have-scrubbed-lebron-james-memory
Body:

Heat Nation is no longer where LeBron James lives. And if you were an alien who watched the team’s latest promotional video, you’d think he never did. The short film, below, features a voice-over of Gill Scott-Heron grandeur and a sweeping, folksy frame of basketball love in Southern Florida. It’s got champagne, parades, and pride — but no sign of the man most responsible for bringing the most of all those things to Dade County:

 

 

There are more shots of Ronny Seikaly, Alonzo Mourning, Shaq, Danny Granger and Shabazz Napier in this clip than there are of the man who won two MVP trophies (and two Finals MVPs) as the top Heatle (zero, in case you're counting).

There’s a strange calm that accompanies the omission, though. Inviting the King’s throne into your city’s borders means bringing the non-stop nationwide hullabaloo that follows him, too. Things in Miami are much quieter, calmer, and less loaded with crushing expectations than they have been in recent years. 

As Dwyane Wade told Bleacher Report’s Ethan Skolnick at the beginning of the preseason, “Last year wasn't fun. I mean, there was no stretch of it (that was) fun. That whole season, to me, it's amazing we made it to the Finals. It's just honest. Just this year, coming in, I can see, even in the coaches, there's just a different renewed focus and energy. No one knows what it's going to lead to. No one knows if that's going to lead to a Finals win or Finals loss or not the Finals at all. But right now it's good for everyone to come in every day and want to be here."

LeBron brought a previously unheard-of level of attention to roundball in Miami. Now that he’s left and taken his championship-or-bust circus with him, we’ll find out whether the team’s fanbase actually loves the game or not. As claustrophobic as the sport’s biggest name can make things feel — and as free and personalized as the team might feel to its city now—mediocrity and mere playoff berths might not be to Miami’s liking.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, October 30, 2014 - 15:10
Path: /college-football/5-must-see-american-athletic-conference-games-november-2014
Body:

We’ve hit Week 10 of the 2014 college football season and the best has yet to come for the American Athletic Conference.

Though East Carolina sits atop the conference with a 6-1 record and the No. 21 ranking in the latest AP Top 25, there are several teams making moves and positioning themselves for a potential title run in the coming weeks.

Central Florida undoubtedly possesses the top defense in The American, ranking 17th in the country against the run (110.9), 16th in opponent passer rating (107.0), and 14th in scoring defense (19.1 points per game). If coach George O’Leary can continue to mold Justin Holman into becoming a more consistent and less turnover prone quarterback, the Knights stand as a serious threat to ECU.

Houston has won two games in a row for the first time since October of 2013 and should be 8-3 (6-1) by their regular season finale with Cincinnati, as its next four opponents have a combined 6-23 record.

Even with the loss to Houston weeks ago, SB Nation ranks Memphis as the third-best team in the AAC (No. 9 in the Group of Five) in its latest Underdogs Poll. There’s still an opportunity for the Tigers to win out and be crowned conference champions, but without ECU or UCF on the schedule, will need a little help from their friends.

Cincinnati hasn’t come close to being the team we had expected it to be in August, but even with its historically poor start to the season, it might have the best chance out of any contender to rise from the ashes and claim its fifth conference title in seven years.

Amid a five-way battle for the final first-place standing, here are the five most critical games remaining on the American Athletic Conference slate.

5. Houston at Cincinnati
When and where:
Saturday, Dec. 6 (TBD)
We’re watching because… This game could potentially crown the AAC champion. If Houston can get through November unscathed (which is anticipated, considering its four games are against opponents with a combined 6-23 record), then it will be 8-3 (6-2) riding a six-game winning streak. Cincinnati is hit-or-miss, but if it gets hot and beats both ECU and Temple, then this matchup could end up being must-see football.
Prediction: Cincinnati wins

Visit AACFootballFever.com to get the latest news, notes, previews and insight into the American Athletic Conference for the 2014 season .

4. East Carolina at Temple
When and where:
Saturday, Nov. 1, 12 p.m. ET (ESPNews)
We’re watching because… ECU hasn’t been playing particularly well as of late, and Temple is back home after spending three of its last four games on the road. The Pirates are still ranked in the AP Poll after three straight shaky performances against inferior competition, but star quarterback Shane Carden has had to pick up the slack from his team’s massive amount of penalties (28 for 306 yards) and the inconsistency from the secondary. Temple has had its own struggles lately, but if P.J. Walker and the Owls offense can avoid turnovers and make a few big plays down the field, ECU will be on upset alert in a hurry.
Prediction: ECU wins

3. Temple at Penn State
When and where:
Saturday, Nov. 15 (TBD)
We’re watching because… It’s a mid-November in-state non-conference game between two schools that are separated by roughly 100 miles. Both teams benefited Temple from a soft first quarter schedule and have come down to Earth; Temple has lost two in a row after starting 4-1 and Penn State is losers of three straight after its 4-0 run to open the season. This one might not have any affect on the AAC title race, but it should be a fun one to watch—and the Owls might need a win here to ensure bowl eligibility.
Prediction: Penn State wins

2. Central Florida at East Carolina
When and where:
Thursday, Dec. 4, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
We’re watching because… UCF could be vying for back-to-back AAC titles. Since losing their first two games of the season, the Knights are 5-0 and are holding opponents to 14.0 points per game. With the likelihood of winning its next four games (UConn, Tulsa, SMU, and USF), the matchup with ECU could determine whether Central Florida receives a News Year’s Six Bowl invitation or if it plays in the Bitcoin Bowl—and the Knights’ back seven against the Shane Carden/

Justin Hardy duo is going to be one heck of a grind.
Prediction: ECU wins

1. East Carolina at Cincinnati
When and where:
Thursday, Nov. 13, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
We’re watching because… This is the only game East Carolina is projected to lose, according to ESPN FPI Rankings. The Pirates, who have a 12.8 percent chance of winning out and 46.3 percent chance of taking The American, are expected to fall at Paul Brown Stadium with a 49.4 percent chance of beating Cincinnati. This was the game that was circled on everyone’s calendars during the preseason when the Bearcats were dubbed the favorites to win the conference, and though the roles are now reversed, the implications remain the same. If Gunner Kiel can stay upright and retain his Week 1 form, then this has all the makings of a break-the-scoreboard type of outcome—and who wouldn’t want to see that on a Thursday night?
Prediction: Cincinnati wins

Written by Tyler Waddell of AACFootballFever.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler_Waddell and @AAC_FB_Fever

Teaser:
5 Must-See American Athletic Conference Games in November 2014
Post date: Thursday, October 30, 2014 - 13:05
Path: /nba/kemba-walker-hits-buzzer-beater-game-winner-hornets-bulls-blow-out-knicks
Body:

Charlotte Hornets point guard Kemba Walker is a happy man. New recipient of a four-year, $48 million contract extension, he was also his team’s hero in their first game of the 2014-15 NBA season. Walker shot just 9-for-26 on the night, but two of those nine counted for a little something extra. First, Walker hit this buzzer-beating three to send the game to overtime, after the Hornets came back from more than 20 points down against the Milwaukee Bucks:

 

Then, he hit this chilly jumper to seal the 108-106 victory in the extra period:

 

Looks like Hornets owner Michael Jordan’s got plenty to smile about this morning. His packed arena caught quite the dramatic, cathartic show on the first night of the team’s triumphant return to their beloved 90’s moniker. Buzz City is back.

Meanwhile, Michael’s old team and coach squared off in Manhattan, as the Chicago Bulls stormed into Madison Square Garden for a 104-80 takedown of the New York Knicks. It was not a good start on the court for the team, now ran by zen master Phil Jackson. New York looked to be at a lack of willpower defensively, and lost in the pages of Jackson’s intricate triangle offense playbook, as implemented by rookie coach Derek Fisher.

It was, conversely, a smooth and impressive beginning for the new-look Bulls. A returned Derrick Rose didn’t need to do much as the Bulls’ second unit, led by Taj Gibson’s 22 points and eight rebounds, blew the game wide open by halftime. From there it was an exhibition of sorts, with even the annals of Chicago’s roster getting their chance for a bright Big Apple moment in garbage time.

Next for the Bulls is enemy number one, and the premiere NBA game of the week, as LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers battleship visit the United Center in Chicago for a Halloween special this Friday night.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, October 30, 2014 - 10:15
Path: /nba/anthony-davis-begins-nba-season-incredible-performance-chandler-parsons-mavericks-goat-night
Body:

They say that playing with Team USA is a springboard, often providing the confidence and moxie needed to launch mere NBA stars into the rare air of MVP status. And while the new season is just one night old, New Orleans Pelicans big man Anthony Davis (who’s also a new FIBA gold medalist after a dominating performance in the World Cup) looks to be proving this theory as well as anyone.

Last night, Davis collected a monstrous 26 points, 17 rebounds, nine blocks and three steals. Similar stats haven’t been seen in the NBA, from anyone, since the heyday of Hakeem Olajuwon. The court is a smaller place for the gigantic, nimble, hyper-aware Davis than it is for the rest of the humans he competes with. Watch him destroy the novice Orlando Magic in service of a 101-84 Pelicans victory:

 

New Pelicans front court partner Omer Asik, acquired in a trade with the Houston Rockets, chipped in 14 points, 17 rebounds and five blocks — making for a combined 40, 34 and 14 from him and Davis. New Orleans’ two-headed dragon of a front line and diverse, speedy backcourt make them a scary dark horse contender in the thorny Western Conference.
 

Parsons' Dallas Debut

The San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks renewed their natural rivalry. Sporting new additions Chandler Parsons and Tyson Chandler, the Mavs looked to prove themselves worthy of the reigning league champions. They came close enough for a fright, but ultimately handed fate into Parsons’ hands, who missed an open three-pointer as the game expired, and Dallas fell 101-100.

This coming shortly after Dirk Nowitzki joked about Parsons’ exorbitant three-year, $46 million dollar deal, a contract only possible because of the huge pay cut the aging German sensation took. “I told him every dinner on the road this year is on him because it's my money anyway,” Nowitzki joshed, when about the discrepancy between his and Parsons’ pay rate. Nowitzki is on a friendly, Mavs-lifer budget, making just $25 million over the next three seasons despite remaining one of the best scorers in the game.

Aside from Parsons’ game-ending miss, his debut Mavericks performance was pitiful — he scored just five points, on 2-of-10 shooting. It’s far too early to judge the signing of Parsons now, but similar results in future showings could quickly make him his fanbase’s new whipping post.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, October 29, 2014 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: Sacramento Kings, NBA
Path: /nba/vivek-ranadive-sacramento-kings-vies-title-nba%E2%80%99s-worst-owner
Body:

So long, Donald Sterling. The exiled, former Los Angeles Clippers owner has left his seat open as basketball’s worst holder of a franchise. And the Sacramento Kings’ Vivek Ranadive seems eager to claim Sterling’s old title.

Ranadive, who purchased the Kings in the spring of 2013, has quickly developed a reputation as a meddlesome owner. Recent leaks, via Grantland’s Zach Lowe, suggest he has tried to influence his team’s on-court strategy. It’s almost never a good thing when an owner tries to double down as a coach, and it’s especially bad when he wants the implementation of a zany novelty like cherry-picking. According to Lowe, “Ranadive has pitched the idea to the team’s brain trust of playing 4-on-5 defense and leaving one player to cherry-pick, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.”

It doesn’t take a roundball genius to see the flaws in this strategy. NBA teams—even the bad ones—are all capable of exploiting a literally undermanned defense, on virtually every possession. It takes only a cursory understanding of ball movement to consistently find the unaccounted-for man. And while the 2014-15 Kings don’t have a lot of promise defensively, they would end up right in the league’s basement if they went this route with any regularity.

Previously, a Grantland mini-documentary about the Kings’ war room during this past June’s NBA Draft showed Ranadive as a man with questionable ideas. In the clip below, Ranadive urges his front office to draft Nik Stauskas at No. 8 overall, not point guard Elfrid Payton. The Kings went Ranadive’s way, drafting an iffy shooting prospect for the second straight summer (after picking Ben McLemore in 2013) and passing on Payton, a passing visionary who would fit right into what’s perhaps Sacramento’s biggest hole.

 

As you can see, Ranadive has a way of getting what he wants. With billionaire entrepreneurs, that tends to be the case. Kings fans just better be hoping that Vivek learns the lessons of overzealous ownership fast, and enables shrewder basketball minds to do their work.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, October 29, 2014 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/bucs-keep-dealing-ship-casillas-pats-0
Body:

Tampa, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made their second trade of the day during Tuesday's deadline by sending linebacker Jonathan Casillas to the New England Patriots for an undisclosed swap of 2015 draft choices.

 

According to ESPN.com, the Patriots will give the Buccaneers their fifth-round pick in exchange for Tampa Bay's sixth rounder and Casillas, a five-year veteran who started the first three games of this season before being displaced by Danny Lansanah.

 

Tampa Bay also traded another defensive player on Tuesday, shipping safety and 2012 first-round pick Mark Barron to St. Louis for reported fourth and sixth- round selections in 2015.

 

As for the Patriots, they acquired their second linebacker through a trade in less than a week. The AFC East leaders obtained Akeem Ayers from Tennessee last Wednesday in another exchange of 2015 draft picks.

 

Casillas was in his second season with Tampa Bay after a three-year stint with New Orleans. The 27-year-old has recorded 138 tackles and three sacks while starting 15 out of 55 career games.

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, October 29, 2014 - 09:13
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/nfl-great-champ-bailey-officially-retires
Body:

Atlanta, GA (SportsNetwork.com) - Twelve-time Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey has decided to call an end to an illustrious 15-year playing career, his agent announced Tuesday.

 

Jack Reale, Bailey's longtime representative, said his client has received offers from teams following his release from the New Orleans Saints in August but has instead chosen to explore other options.

 

"At this time, Champ has decided not to accept on-field opportunities and pursue another career path," Reale told ESPN.com. "To play the end of this season and maybe next season, given his opportunities, he could have done that. But he decided it was best to move on to those other areas. I think everybody on his team agreed that was a good approach."

 

Bailey was one of the league's most dominant defensive players of the 2000s, earning All-Pro honors for five consecutive seasons from 2003-07 and leading the NFL with 10 interceptions in 2006. His 12 Pro Bowl selections is tied with Hall of Famer Ken Houston for the most in NFL history by a defensive back.

 

The seventh overall pick of the 1999 NFL Draft by Washington, Bailey played five seasons with the Redskins before being sent to Denver in a blockbuster 2004 trade for running back Clinton Portis.

 

Bailey spent the next 10 seasons with the Broncos and finished his career among the franchise's all-time leaders in interceptions (34) and passes defensed (102). He was released by Denver shortly after Super Bowl XLVIII following an injury-plagued 2013 campaign.

 

"Congratulations to 12-time Pro Bowler Champ Bailey on an outstanding career," the Broncos tweeted Tuesday.

The 36-year-old had signed with the Saints in April but was released during final cuts.

 

Over 215 career regular season games with Denver and Washington, Bailey amassed 52 interceptions -- four of which were returned for touchdowns — and 235 pass breakups.

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, October 29, 2014 - 09:08
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/cowboys-durant-has-torn-biceps-no-word-tony-romo
Body:

Irving, TX (SportsNetwork.com) - Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett did not reveal any details regarding Tony Romo's injury in Tuesday's press conference, but he did confirm linebacker Justin Durant has a torn biceps.

 

Garrett hesitated to rule out Durant for the rest of the season, but said "it's a serious injury" and the team will make a decision based on "how much time is left in the season and what the options are."

 

Durant suffered the injury during the second half of Monday's 20-17 overtime loss to the Redskins. The weakside linebacker has emerged as a solid contributor to an already depleted defense and leads the team in tackles (49) despite missing two games.

 

The Cowboys are already without star linebacker Sean Lee and will likely have to find a replacement for Durant given the nature of the injury.

 

Romo, meanwhile, suffered what the team called a back contusion on Monday and there was no additional information at the time of Garrett's presser.

 

"We did X-rays at the stadium (on Monday) and that allowed us to say he could go back in (Monday's game)," Garrett said. "We are doing additional scans to make sure if there's anything else going on."

 

Romo exited early in the third quarter after taking a knee to his surgically repaired back. He returned for the final possession of regulation and overtime but was clearly limited in his abilities.

Teaser:
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Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak is not interested in celebrating any checkpoints or milestones in his rebuilding of the program. The Utes clearly are making progress as Krystkowiak enters his fourth season, but he’s not declaring the project ahead of schedule. 

 

“We’re in the middle of the process, showing steady improvement,” Krystkowiak says. 

 

That’s his only gauge of where the Utes are, having gone from 3–15 in Pac-12 play in his first season to 5–13 and then 9–9 (with a bunch of close losses) last year. The growth was sufficient for the school to award Krystkowiak a new five-year contract, and his recruiting success suggests that the upward trend will continue in 2014-15 and beyond. 

 

The Utah edition is one of dozens available in our online store and on newsstands everywhere now.

 

Frontcourt

 

The best illustration of how far the Utes have come may be reflected in junior forward Jordan Loveridge’s role this season. After averaging 36.3 minutes in Pac-12 games last season, Loveridge will have much more help up front, which means he’s unlikely to play nearly as many minutes. 

 

Much is expected from Kyle Kuzma, who should create matchup issues. Another freshman, Brekkott Chapman, also is multidimensional, and junior college transfer Chris Reyes also should help.

 

Loveridge led the Utes with 7.0 rebounds per game, and Krystkowiak is seeking a better effort on the boards from his entire team. In conference games, the Utes ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in defensive rebounding, grabbing only 68.4 percent of their opponents’ misses. That deficiency hurt them at the end of some tight games, but it could fixed by the Utes having bigger players at every position in 2014-15.

 

During a summer workout, Krystkowiak was thrilled to look at one end of the court and see six quality big men doing drills, a sign that Utah would have much more depth up front. 

 

Dallin Bachynski and Jeremy Olsen are steady, solid players who complement one another at center. Olsen joined Loveridge on the Pac-12 all-star team, coached by Krystkowiak, that toured China. The Utes continued to upgrade their athletic ability by signing Austrian 7-footer Jakob Poeltl. 

 

When he arrived at Utah, Krystkowiak’s recruiting was designed mainly to fill the roster. His staff now can be much more selective in targeting players, and the results are impressive. The Utes will be able to put different lineups on the court and take advantage of certain matchups.

 


Utah Utes Facts & Figures

Last season: 21-12, 9-9 Pac-12

Postseason: NIT

Last NCAA Tournament: 2009

Coach: Larry Krystkowiak (42-55 at Utah, 17-36 Pac-12)

Pac-12 Projection: Fifth

Postseason Projection: NCAA Round of 32

 


Backcourt

 

Delon Wright was a great discovery for Utah as a junior college transfer, and his decision to stay in school for his senior season rather than enter the NBA was a big boost to the Utes. Wright took over at point guard and finished second in the Pac-12 in steals (2.5 spg), third in field-goal shooting (.561) and fourth in assists (5.3 apg), while leading the Utes in scoring (15.5 ppg) and ranking second in rebounding (6.8 rpg). 

 

Wright and his teammates must perform better in the clutch. Dakarai Tucker took a pass from Loveridge and hit a clinching 3-pointer against Washington in the opening round of the Pac-12 Tournament, but strong finishes were rare for the Utes. They had fewer turnovers than their opponents, but the Utes’ mistakes seem to come at the worst times. 

 

Some combination of Brandon Taylor, Kenneth Ogbe and Tucker will fill the other backcourt roles, while freshman Isaiah Wright also may provide some relief for Delon Wright, who averaged 36.4 minutes per game. 

 

Final Analysis


Utah’s 21–12 overall record in 2013-14 was deceiving, and so were some of their statistics, because of a very weak non-conference schedule that included only one road game. The level of competition will be upgraded considerably, with a home game vs. Wichita State, plus matchups against Kansas (in Kansas City) and UNLV on a “neutral court” in Las Vegas. 

Krystkowiak hopes that those games will serve as good preparation for Pac-12 play, and that the experience of having competed in so many close battles last year will translate to greater success in pressure situations.

 

Too many times in 2013-14, the Utes came down the stretch “and were kind of looking over our shoulder, wondering if it’s going to happen again,” Krystkowiak says.

 

Judging strictly by conference play, the Utes statistically performed better than a .500 team in the Pac-12. With some better finishes, the Utes should be able to continue their climb in the Pac-12 and contend for an NCAA Tournament bid. 

 

Newcomers

 

Freshman forwards Kyle Kuzma and Brekkott Chapman bring versatility to the frontcourt. Kuzma can execute low-post moves, handle the ball and rebound at both ends of the court. Forward Chris Reyes, a junior college transfer who started his college career at Saint Mary’s, should help with his rebounding ability. Austrian center Jakob Poeltl is a skilled 7-footer with good fundamentals. 

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When Steve Alford was chosen to replace longtime coach Ben Howland in April 2013, the hire didn’t exactly have UCLA fans jumping for joy. Howland, after all, had taken the Bruins to three straight Final Fours in the past decade and was fresh off a Pac-12 regular-season title. Alford, meanwhile, had reached the Sweet 16 just once as a coach — 14 years prior, with upstart Southwest Missouri State.

 

But when the dust had settled somewhat and Alford’s first UCLA team actually took the court, winning soothed most of those concerns. His players quickly bought in, and despite a rather uninspiring run through a less-than-intimidating non-conference schedule, the Bruins’ up-tempo, high-powered offense quickly became a force to be reckoned with in March, when it mattered most. 

 

After dropping its worst game of the season to Washington State in the regular-season finale, UCLA burned through the Pac-12 Tournament like it had something to prove, pulling off a fantastic, last-minute victory over Arizona in the title game. That momentum carried the Bruins all the way to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2008.

 

Alford will have to do some serious remodeling to repeat those results during the 2014-15 season, with four of five starters and his top bench option gone. But with a top-flight recruiting class coming in and some talent already in place, Alford might be in position to prove his doubters wrong again in Year 2.

 

The UCLA edition is one of dozens available in our online store and on newsstands everywhere now.

 

Frontcourt

 

Twins Travis and David Wear never quite provided the post presence that UCLA needed to be taken seriously down low, and despite high expectations, one-time top recruit Tony Parker has yet to pan out as the Bruins might’ve hoped.

 

But after a year of dealing with a paper-thin frontcourt, Alford and his staff made it a point to get bigger and stronger down low. UCLA added four frontcourt players in this year’s recruiting class, highlighted by five-star forward Kevon Looney, and should finally have the versatility to play inside and out.

 

“You’ve got to be able to adjust to what you have,” Alford says. “Now, we have a lot more size. Going into this year, our hope is that we can play out of the post and still play at a high tempo.”

 

That should mean a very different-looking offense and, likely, an increased role for Parker, whom Alford says he’s counting on to make the most significant improvement of any player on the roster. 

 

Whoever it is filling the void, though, UCLA will have to find some way to replace the rebounding prowess of point forward Kyle Anderson and wing Jordan Adams, who combined for almost half the Bruins’ rebounding output last season.

 


UCLA Bruins Facts & Figures

Last season: 28-9, 12-6 Pac-12

Postseason: NCAA Sweet 16

Consecutive NCAAs: 2

Coach: Steve Alford (28-9 at UCLA, 12-6 Pac-12

Pac-12 Projection: Fourth

Postseason Projection: NCAA Round of 32

 


Backcourt

 

Losing Anderson, Adams, and enigmatic one-and-done Zach LaVine — all three of whom were first-round NBA Draft picks — could make for an insurmountable blow to UCLA’s backcourt, especially after Alford and his staff missed out on getting guard help in this year’s recruiting class.

 

But Alford has the utmost confidence in his son, Bryce, to take over Anderson’s spot at point guard, repeatedly referring to him “a coach on the floor” this offseason. And in redshirt freshman Isaac Hamilton, who sat out last season, UCLA will have a consummate five-star talent to play next to him and take on some of the scoring load.

 

The pair of young guards will have Norman Powell to lean on, at least. The senior guard exploded offensively toward the end of last season, averaging 14 points per game during the postseason. 

 

Final Analysis

 

Losing its talented core from last season will probably hurt UCLA early on in 2014-15, as it tries to find the same rhythm it harnessed during last year’s postseason run. The Bruins will also have a tougher road to travel, with a beefed-up non-conference schedule that includes Kentucky and Gonzaga. But assuming Alford follows through on his promise to adjust to a very different roster, UCLA should have the talent to be a player in the Pac-12 again this season. Unseating a top contender like Arizona might be too much to ask, but if Hamilton and Looney come through on their five-star potential, and the younger Alford can keep UCLA’s up-tempo offense on track, then the Bruins could make a splash come March.

 

Newcomers

 

Without much size last season, Steve Alford made it a point to shore up the frontcourt with his first full recruiting haul, adding an impressive four-man class, all of whom stand 6-9 or taller. The gem among them should be Kevon Looney, a five-star talent who dominates the boards. Seven-footer Thomas Welsh and versatile forward Jonah Bolden should help bolster depth, while Gyorgy Goloman will take time to develop.

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The Pac-12 hierarchy can be somewhat predictable. Arizona and UCLA usually find their way at or near the top. Washington State and Oregon State generally land at or near the bottom. 

 

Those trends figure to continue in 2014-15 with Arizona challenging to end the league’s Final Four drought dating back to UCLA in 2008. The Bruins are rebuilding, but they’re rarely without the talent to challenge for an NCAA Tournament bid.

 

Shakeups have occurred in this league in recent seasons, but perhaps one of the most surprising developments has been the rise of the two newest members.

 

Colorado and Utah figured to contribute little to the basketball product of the Pac-12 when they joined in 2011. This season, they could be two of the league's better teams.

 

Instead, Colorado under Tad Boyle is enjoying its most successful period in program history. Utah has reached the Final Four in its past but has been an afterthought for most of the last decade or so. After winning six total games as recently 2011-12, the Utes are poised to complete a quick rise that could end in the NCAA Tournament this season.

 

Arizona’s place as the league’s prohibitive favorite along with the emerging programs at Colorado, Utah and Stanford may be the top storylines in a league in a state of flux. Cal, Washington State and Oregon State have new coaches. Oregon and Arizona State have personnel losses that will make returns to the NCAA Tournament difficult.

 

Previews of every Pac-12 team and more are available in the 2014-15 Athlon Sports College Basketball Preview.

 

Pac-12 2014-15 Preseason Picks

 

1. Arizona (team preview

Postseason projection: NCAA Final Four

Sean Miller has his usual surplus of talent. He might get an upgrade going from Nick Johnson to Stanley Johnson. 

 

2. Colorado (team preview)

Postseason projection: NCAA round of 32

Always-underrated Buffs return four starters, including one of league’s better big men in Josh Scott.

 

3. Stanford (team preview)

Postseason projection: NCAA round of 32

Johnny Dawkins got the Cardinal back in the NCAAs. He has enough talent to go again.

 

4. UCLA (team preview)

Postseason projection: NCAA round of 32

NBA early exits cost the Bruins three players and knocked them down a few rungs, but they won’t fall far.

 

5. Utah (team preview)

Postseason projection: NCAA round of 32

Larry Krystkowiak can coach, and he welcomes back four starters to what could be the league’s most improved team.

 

6. Cal

Postseason projection: NIT

To really flourish, new coach Cuonzo Martin needs to get more out of guard Jabari Bird than his predecessor. 

 

7. Oregon

Postseason projection: NIT

The Ducks were gutted by scandal, transfers and graduation. Just four players return. Who are these guys?  

 

8. USC 

Postseason projection: NIT

Andy Enfield has recruited well with his two classes, but he’s a year away from noticeable results.

 

9. Washington 

The talent is down. Attendance is down. The unthinkable is happening: Lorenzo Romar is on the hot seat. 

 

10. Arizona State

The Sun Devils had four players transfer out and another leave early for the NBA. That’s not the look of a winner.

 

11. Oregon State

New coach Wayne Tinkle doesn’t have any presidential connections. He’ll need help from someone.

 

12. Washington State

Ernie Kent takes on the toughest job in the Pac-12. He may wonder why he left the broadcast booth.

 

2014-15 Pac-12 Superlatives

 

Player of the Year: Stanley Johnson, Arizona 

The five-star swingman can score from anywhere on the court. His arrival at Arizona further solidifies the Wildcats’ trend as a recruiting powerhouse.

 

Best Defensive Player: David Kravish, Cal

Cal is hoping Kravish becomes a more well-rounded offensive threat, but for now, he’s a standout interior defender. He averaged 7.7 rebounds a year ago.

 

Most Underrated Player: DaVonte Lacy, Washington State

Who finished second in the Pac-12 in scoring last season? Unless you were following closely, you may have missed that it was Lacy, who averaged 19.4 points.

 

Newcomer of the Year: Stanley Johnson, Arizona

Johnson follows Aaron Gordon as a star California prospect to head to Arizona — and probably go one-and-done.

 

Top coach: Sean Miller, Arizona (full Pac-12 coach rankings)

 

First-Team All-Pac-12

G Delon Wright, Utah

G Chasson Randle, Stanford

F Brandon Ashley, Arizona

F Stanley Johnson, Arizona 

F Josh Scott, Colorado

 

Second-Team All-Pac-12

G Nigel Williams-Goss, Washington

G Askia Booker, Colorado

G Joseph Young, Oregon

F Rondae Hollis-Jefferson , Arizona

F Anthony Brown, Stanford

 

Third-Team All-Pac-12

G T.J. McConnell, Arizona

G DaVonté Lacy, Washington State

G Norman Powell, UCLA

F Kevon Looney, UCLA

F David Kravish, Cal

Teaser:
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Depth is considered the strength of SEC football. Not so in SEC basketball.

 

Kentucky and Florida are the clear giants in this league while everyone else is just trying to claw their way into that second tier. The Wildcats and Gators finished last season in the Final Four, but Kentucky didn’t look the part of a title contender until the SEC Tournament.

 

There were signs of the rest of the SEC pulling out of its doldrums, though. Tennessee went 11-7 in the league but advanced from the First Four to the Sweet 16. Arkansas swept the season series with Kentucky, LSU and South Carolina both defeated the Wildcats at home, and Georgia finished 12-6 in the league.

 

The question is if any of those programs can maintain that momentum. LSU and Arkansas are under pressure to end NCAA Tournament droughts while Tennessee will be in a rebuilding year under first-year coach Donnie Tyndall.

 

Aside from Kentucky and Florida, though, the main storyline in the SEC may be the return of Bruce Pearl. He’s taking over one of the toughest jobs in the conference at Auburn, and progress is sure to be slow in Year One. But he’s a proven winner in this league. Sooner rather than later, he could have the Tigers in rare position to challenge for an NCAA bid.

 

Previews of every SEC team and more are available in the 2014-15 Athlon Sports College Basketball Preview.

 

SEC 2014-15 Preseason Picks

 

1. Kentucky (team preview)

Postseason projection: NCAA champion

The return of the Harrison twins and the arrival of another elite recruiting class makes Kentucky the easy choice in the SEC.

 

2. Florida (team preview)

Postseason projection: NCAA Elite Eight

Michael Frazier II, Kasey Hill and Chris Walker are the next wave of Gator stars.

 

3. Arkansas (team preview)

Postseason projection: NCAA round of 32

There’s no excuse for this Arkansas team not to make the NCAA Tournament. Mike Anderson has the right pieces in place. 

 

4. LSU (team preview)

Postseason projection: NCAA round of 64

Johnny Jones has stocked his roster with high-level talent; it’s now time to breakthrough with an NCAA Tournament bid.

 

5. Georgia

Postseason projection: NIT

The Dawgs boast one of the league’s top backcourts but remain very thin on the front line.

 

6. Texas A&M

Postseason projection: NIT

The Billy Kennedy era has not gone as planned, but the Aggies have a roster that’s could enough to flirt with an NCAA Tournament bid.

 

7. Ole Miss

Postseason projection: NIT

Sideshow Marshall has moved on — which might not be a bad thing. The Rebels will lean on Jarvis Summers and some quality young bigs.

 

8. Alabama

Postseason projection: NIT

Guards Levi Randolph and Ricky Tarrant (transfer from Tulane) and forward Shannon Hale form a solid nucleus in Tuscaloosa. 

 

9. Missouri

Frank Haith bolted for the more secure waters of Tulsa — and left new Mizzou boss Kim Anderson with a rebuilding project.

 

10. Vanderbilt

Kevin Stallings will surround talented big man Damian Jones with three freshmen on the perimeter. 

 

11. Tennessee

Donnie Tyndall’s rebuilt roster will be strong on the perimeter but woefully thin in the paint.

 

12. Auburn

Bruce Pearl’s first Auburn team will feature two of the league’s best scorers — KT Harrell and Niagara transfer Antoine Mason.

 

13. South Carolina

Sindarius Thornwell is a top-level talent, but the Gamecocks still lack the talent to make a big move in the SEC.

 

14. Mississippi State

Rick Ray continues to recruit well, but this program is at least a year way from thinking about the postseason. 

 

2014 SEC Superlatives

 

Player of the Year: Jordan Mickey, LSU

LSU expects Mickey to take a more active role in the offense with Johnny O’Bryant III gone. He’s already a defensive force, joining Shaquille O’Neal as the only players in LSU’s 100-block club.

 

Best Defensive Player: Josh Richardson, Tennessee

Richardson will go from being a lockdown defender on a Sweet 16 team to the focal point of the team. He’s the Vols’ only returning starter and the only player who has scored more than 10 points in a league game.

 

Most Underrated Player: Josh Gray, LSU

Gray won’t be the most highly touted new face in the league or even the most highly touted transfer. But he will be the point guard of a potential NCAA Tournament team. Arriving from Texas Tech via junior college, Gray takes over for Anthony Hickey after averaging 33.8 points per game in JUCO.

 

Newcomer of the Year: Karl Towns, Kentucky

Kentucky will have a crowd in the frontcourt, but Towns is a likely pick to be a regular. The 6-11 forward is a potential top-five draft pick who can do a little bit of everything.

 

Top Coach: John Calipari (full SEC coach rankings)

 

First-Team All-SEC

G Michael Frazier II, Florida

G Charles Mann, Georgia

G Andrew Harrison, Kentucky

F Jordan Mickey, LSU

F Bobby Portis, Arkansas

 

Second-Team All-SEC

G Aaron Harrison, Kentucky

F Dorian Finney-Smith, Florida

F Chris Walker, Florida

C Karl Towns, Kentucky

C Damian Jones, Vanderbilt

 

Third-Team All-SEC

G Jarvis Summers, Ole Miss

G Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina

G Josh Richardson, Tennessee

F Jarell Martin, LSU

F Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky

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The NBA season begins tonight when the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs tip off at 8:00 PM Eastern Time. Simultaneously the New Orleans Pelicans, starring Anthony Davis — the best young player in the game, and a potential MVP candidate — will take on the rookie-rich Orlando Magic.

 

Here's a guide to the best games of the week. Let’s take a look at how we see things unfolding from there.


Eastern Conference Predictions

1. Chicago Bulls, 61-21
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau doesn’t take anything lightly. Whether the Bulls are title contenders might be up for debate, but there’s little question that Chicago will be disciplined, driven, studied-up and talented enough to collect tons of wins as a well-oiled machine in the regular season.

2. Cleveland Cavaliers, 60-24
The Cavs have plenty of questions to answer about experience, rim protection and rotation issues. But there’s arguably more offensive firepower on this squad than any other in league history. Most teams will watch Cleveland sprint past them.

3. Washington Wizards, 54-28
Paul Pierce joins the nasty young backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal to make for a daunting Eastern foe, now as capable of breaking down your will with head games as they are with pure speed. Add in the biggest, meanest front court rotation in the conference, and you’ve got a team that nobody wants to deal with.

4. Toronto Raptors, 53-29
The Raptors, low key, have built perhaps the deepest rotation in basketball. Led by Kyle Lowry, and Team USA guard DeMar DeRozan, Toronto also has two youngsters — in big man Jonas Valanciunas and former Slam Dunk Contest champion Terrence Ross — who are both ready to take the jump.

5. Charlotte Hornets, 51-32

6. Atlanta Hawks, 43-41

7. Miami Heat, 39-43

8. New York Knicks, 39-43
The phrase “playoff team” is made somewhat misleading by the huge discrepancy in competitive quality between the Eastern and Western conferences. But the Knicks, who now have some much-longed-for direction under new executive Phil Jackson and coach Derek Fisher, will now technically fit that bill.

9. Brooklyn Nets, 38-44

10. Detroit Pistons, 36-46

11. Milwaukee Bucks, 28-54

12. Orlando Magic, 27-55

The crown for most watchable Eastern Conference losers goes to the Magic. Rookie point guard Elfrid Payton is a visionary passer, while his first-year associate Aaron Gordon is a couple of months of development away from being one of the game’s most exciting aerial acrobats.

13. Indiana Pacers, 28-54

14. Boston Celtics, 21-60

15. Philadelphia 76ers, 14-68

 

Western Conference Predictions

1. San Antonio Spurs, 61-22
The Spurs, like the Bulls, are simply run too well not to gallop easily through the regular season. Don’t expect a motivational hangover after their triumphant, era-destroying championship takedown of the Miami Heat. Gregg Popovich and Co. simply don’t do “lowering the bar.”

2. Los Angeles Clippers, 59-25
In their second year under coach Doc Rivers, title expectations are an undeniable part of today’s Clippers. We know we’ll get MVP-worthy seasons from Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, but if DeAndre Jordan can make the jump offensively — in addition to his Defensive Player of the Year candidacy — it will make L.A. scary to everyone.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder, 55-28
The Thunder start the season with injuries to not only reigning MVP Kevin Durant, but also to guards Reggie Jackson, Anthony Morrow and Jeremy Lamb. They’ll hobble a bit at first, but there’s too much winning continuity (and too much Russell Westbrook) for them to ever fall too far in the standings.

4. Memphis Grizzlies, 53-29
The Grizzlies won 50 games last year, despite a 23-game absence from their best player Marc Gasol. Expect them to fight to a slightly better record as they rest Gasol and Zach Randolph more and face an improved conference.

5. Golden State Warriors, 52-30
New coach Steve Kerr is implementing smart new strategies in Oakland, including giving Andrew Bogut more range in the offense and turning Andre Iguodala into the indisputable best Sixth Man in the league — a move that also gets the most out of the shaky Harrison Barnes, who will start in Iggy’s place.

6. Houston Rockets, 51-31
The Rockets lost depth over the summer, but they also added some very needed defensive edge on the perimeter by acquiring Trevor Ariza from the Wizards. They should take only a small step back from last year’s 54-win run.

7. Dallas Mavericks, 49-34

8. Phoenix Suns, 48-35

9. New Orleans Pelicans, 44-38

10. Portland Trailblazers, 43-37

Portland was shockingly healthy last year, running out their integral starting five for all but 12 games of the season. They also won a number of coin-toss games, making clutch shots deep. Expect both patterns to slow a bit and for the Blazers to regress to the mean as they just miss the postseason.

11. Denver Nuggets, 38-44

12. Sacramento Kings, 37-46

13. Los Angeles Lakers 32-51

14. Minnesota Timberwolves 27-55

15. Utah Jazz 28-60


Awards Predictions

Most Improved Player: Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
Drummond showed good stuff with Team USA over the summer, and he’ll thrive to Dwight Howard-esque levels of paint-owning under the tutelage of new coach Stan Van Gundy.

Sixth Man of the Year: Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors
So long as coach Kerr sticks to his decision to bring Mr. Iguodala off the bench, he’s a lock for these honors. Many don’t know it — since Andre’s impact happens so much in the non-box-score margins — but this man is one of the best players in the league.

Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets
Dwight Howard’s been written off as a weak-willed, fart-loving nincompoop, and the basketball world is all the worse for it. Superman’s 2014-15 return to unspeakable dominance of the restricted area, however, will be undeniable.

Rookie of the Year: Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks
Jabari Parker gets to the rim with the authority of a veteran, and easily finds space for his shots away from the basket too. He has that rare, hard-to-explain quality best dubbed as “getting a lot of buckets.” He’ll be ahead of his class for at least a season.

Coach of the Year: Dwane Casey, Toronto Raptors
Juggling the many members of the Raptors’ ensemble is tough, complex work, and Casey will get his respect this year creating the best possible monster out of Toronto’s diverse crew.

MVP: Blake Griffin, PF, Los Angeles Clippers
With LeBron James set to coast on limited minutes in Cleveland and Kevin Durant out with a Jones fracture, this honor opens up for last year’s third-highest vote-getter to grab the cup.


Eastern Conference Playoff Predictions

First Round
Chicago Bulls vs. (8) New York Knicks
Bulls in five.

(2) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (7) Miami Heat
This dramatically rich showdown will revolve around Cleveland’s inability to stop Chris Bosh on the block — assuming he gets back to his backdown ways in 2014-15. But even exploiting that hole won’t be enough for the Heat to take down this juggernaut.
Cavaliers in six.

(3) Washington Wizards vs. (6) Atlanta Hawks
Wizards in five.

(4) Toronto Raptors vs. (5) Charlotte Hornets
The Raptors have too many earholes for new Hornet Lance Stephenson to get his spittle into.
Raptors in six.


Second Round
Chicago Bulls vs. (4) Toronto Raptors
Bulls in five.

(2) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (3) Washington Wizards
The Wizards’ bruising big men will again bring the Cavs’ weak interior into question, but LeBron should be able to revive his inside game enough to push things Cleveland’s way.
Cavaliers in six.

Conference Finals
Chicago Bulls vs. (2) Cleveland Cavaliers
This could be the series of the year. But expect the Bulls to finally take LeBron’s cake as Derrick Rose has, in Pau Gasol, his first teammate who can bear more of the offensive burden and open up the floor for Chicago.
Bulls in seven.


Western Conference Playoff Predictions

First Round
San Antonio Spurs vs. (8) Phoenix Suns
Spurs in five.

(2) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (7) Dallas Mavericks
Clippers in six.

(3) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (6) Houston Rockets
A healthy Thunder team will still struggle to get to Dwight Howard’s rim, but they ultimately have too much shooting and open-court brilliance for Houston to handle.
Rockets in six.

(4) Memphis Grizzlies vs. (5) Golden State Warriors
The Grizzlies are always the bridesmaids, never the brides. Were they the other conference, they might make the Finals. But here they’ll fall to one of the best teams in basketball.
Warriors in six.

Second Round
San Antonio Spurs vs. (5) Golden State Warriors
The Warriors lost a frenzied, thrilling six-game series to the Spurs in 2013. The young, über-talented team won’t let it happen again, and will have enough to send the champs home packing.
Warriors in six

(2) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (3) Oklahoma City Thunder
Thunder in six.

Conference Finals
(3) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (5) Golden State Warriors
The Thunder aren’t letting their title window close like this. Westbrook and Durant will turn it up to an unmatchable level to make sure of it.
Thunder in six.


Finals Prediction

Chicago Bulls vs. (3) Oklahoma City Thunder
Peak Derrick Rose was never equalized by anyone as well as he was by Russell Westbrook. And as ferocious a defender as Jimmy Butler is, he can’t pack a punch tough enough to knock out Durant.
Thunder in six.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

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Post date: Tuesday, October 28, 2014 - 11:45
All taxonomy terms: LSU Tigers, SEC, College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-2014-15-lsu-tigers-team-preview
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Johnny Jones entered his second season in Baton Rouge with a once-dormant fanbase buzzing at the return of All-SEC junior forward Johnny O’Bryant III and the addition of coveted in-state recruit Jarell Martin, a McDonald’s All-American in 2013.

 

Add in high-flying freshman Jordan Mickey in the post with diminutive guards Anthony Hickey and Andre Stringer manning the outside, many pundits pegged 2013 as the year the Tigers would return to the NCAA Tournament after a four-year absence.

 

But shoddy road defense coupled with the expected growing pains for its freshman duo limited the Tigers as they limped to a 9–9 record in a mediocre SEC, including a 2–7 mark on the road.

 

A marquee 87–82 home win against eventual national runner-up Kentucky gave fans parched for success a quick glimpse of what Jones’ team could have been, but a second round exit in the NIT showed the Tigers’ shortcomings.

 

Jones heads into 2014 without O’Bryant, who was selected by the Bucks in the second round of the NBA Draft and Hickey, a three-year starter at point guard who transferred to Oklahoma State after being suspended several times during Jones’ first two seasons.

 

The LSU edition is one of dozens available in our online store and on newsstands everywhere now.

 

Frontcourt

 

Without O’Bryant bullying in the paint, Jones speculates many teams will deploy defenses tailored to stopping his sophomore duo of Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin.

 

Martin had his progress hindered by an early season ankle injury, but he rebounded to become a consistent force at both power forward and on the wing. Twelve of his 18 double-figure scoring games came down the stretch in the SEC and he garnered a spot alongside Mickey on the All-SEC Freshman Team. Mickey became only the second player in LSU history to block 100 shots in a season — joining Shaquille O’Neal. With O’Bryant no longer around, Mickey will be a much larger part of the Tigers’ offense as a sophomore.

 

Jones added 7-1 freshman Elbert Robinson III, who has trimmed to a svelte 288 pounds after playing at 300 in high school. He looks to be a promising addition inside to take attention away from Mickey and Martin.

 


LSU Tigers Facts & Figures

Last season: 20-14, 9-9 SEC

Postseason: NIT

Last NCAA Tournament: 2009

Coach: Johnny Jones (39-26 overall at LSU, 18-18 SEC)

SEC Projection: Fourth

Postseason Projection: NCAA round of 64

 


Backcourt

 

With Hickey out of the fold, Jones will turn to two transfers to stabilize the perimeter and complement his potent inside game. Josh Gray, who averaged 33.8 points per game in 2013 at Odessa (Texas) College after starting his career at Texas Tech, appears to be Hickey’s heir apparent at point guard.

 

“Josh has the ability to create off the dribble, score from outside, and he can get to the rim because of his ball handling skills,” Jones says. “He would certainly be the quarterback for our team. I was very impressed with his ability to lead his team (at Odessa), and I think he can bring those same qualities to our program.”

 

Alongside Gray is UNC-Asheville transfer Keith Hornsby, who practiced with the Tigers last season. Hornsby made quite the impression on Jones, who called the son of legendary jazz musician Bruce Hornsby the hardest worker he’d ever been around in 30 years. Hornsby, a bruising 210-pounder, fits into Jones’ style as a wing.

 

“He just happens to be bigger and stronger than what we’ve had at that position the last few years,” Jones says. “He’s one of those guys that can really elevate, get in the paint area and score. Great catch-and-shoot guy off ball screens as well.”

 

Sophomore Tim Quarterman, a lanky 6-6 guard who served as Hickey’s backup last season, returns as one of the team’s best full court defenders. Freshmen Aaron Epps and Jalyn Patterson will also jockey for time.

 

Final Analysis

 

LSU was clearly a disappointment last season, but the Tigers still boast one of the most talented rosters in the league. The frontcourt features two emerging stars in Mickey and Martin, and the backcourt has been bolstered by the two veteran transfers. There is, however, a lack of proven depth.

 

Jones, who played for Dale Brown at LSU in the early 1980s, has recruited very well in his two years at his alma mater — the No. 1 player in the Class of 2015, Ben Simmons, has committed to LSU — but the Tigers have yet to break the .500 mark in the SEC during his tenure. That needs to change if LSU hopes to play in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008-09.

 

Newcomers

 

Josh Gray and Keith Hornsby will anchor the Tigers’ scoring on the perimeter, replacing two veteran guards who had been in Johnny Jones’ system for two years. Elbert Robinson III and Brian Bridgewater will provide support inside while freshmen Jalyn Patterson and Aaron Epps will contend for playing time in the backcourt.

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College Basketball 2014-15: LSU Tigers Team Preview
Post date: Tuesday, October 28, 2014 - 11:43

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