Articles By Charlie Miller
• The Giants share one World Series record with the rival Dodgers. Both franchises have lost 12 World Series. The Dodgers have won six, the Giants five. The Yankees, winners of 27, have also lost the most, 13.
• One of the four longest current World Series droughts will be broken. The Giants haven’t won a World Series since 1954, the year of Willie Mays’ famous catch, (when the team was still in New York). The Texas Rangers’ string of 49 seasons without a World Series win is the fourth longest current streak behind the Cubs and Indians. Going into the season, the Cubs had played 101 seasons without a World Series win.
• It could be argued that Bengie Molina of the Rangers will be the biggest winner no matter what. Having played with the Giants until a trade to Texas at the end of June, Molina is assured of a full players’ share for both the winners and losers. Not bad, a double share. Last year’s shares were a little more than $365,000 for the winners and just north of $265,000 for the losers. That’s about $630,000 for Molina — win or lose.
• Now that the Rangers are making their first appearance in the World Series, just two franchises — the Seattle Mariners and Washington Nationals — have never appeared in the Fall Classic. Now, 27 of the 28 franchises will have played in the World Series since 1979. The other franchise shut out since before then is the Chicago Cubs. Their last appearance was in 1945.
• There are six franchises that have hosted World Series games in more than one city. The Giants, A’s, Dodgers, Twins and Orioles have each played in the Series representing two different cities. Do you know the only franchise to represent three different cities in the World Series? (Answer below)
• In 1993 the Giants won 103 games, the most regular season wins for the franchise since moving to San Francisco in 1958. But that was a year before leagues were split into three divisions and wild-card teams were included in the postseason. Atlanta won 104 games that season to win the NL West. In a streaky final month, the Giants held a 3.5-game lead on Sept. 6. But eight consecutive losses were devastating prior to winning 14 of 17 to end the season. Going into the final weekend the teams were tied. The Braves swept the Rockies in Atlanta, while the Dodgers defeated the Giants in L.A. on the final day of the season.
• At age 25, Matt Cain is the longest tenured Giant. As a 20-year-old in 2005, Cain made seven starts posting a 2.33 ERA and a sub-1.00 WHIP. Jonathan Sanchez, Brian Wilson and Travis Ishikawa joined the club the following year.
• The longest continual tenured Ranger is third baseman Michael Young. Arriving as a second baseman, Young played in two games for Texas in 2000. He was 0-2 with a strikeout at the plate and played a total of three innings at second base without a ball hit his way. Reliever Darren Oliver came to the majors as a Ranger in 1993 was dealt to St. Louis in 1998, then rejoined the Rangers for 2000-01 and returned yet again prior to this season. He’s made 256 of his 593 career appearances while in a Texas uniform; 137 of his 229 lifetime starts were made with the Rangers.
• Speaking of Young, he now tops the Rangers’ career lists in at-bats, hits and triples. By the end of next season he will likely add games, doubles and times on base to that list as well. He’s currently fourth in total bases and RBIs, with his sights set on third next season. The former Toronto farm hand is signed through 2013.
• The Rangers acquired Young from the Blue Jays with another player for pitcher Esteban Loaiza. But that may not have been the best deal the Rangers made in building their AL pennant-winning club. Josh Hamilton was acquired from the Reds for Edinson Volquez and Danny Herrera. Elvis Andrus and Netali Feliz came from the Braves in the Mark Teixeira deal. Bengie Molina was acquired from the Giants for Michael Main and Chris Ray. Ian Kinsler was a 17th round draft pick. Derek Holland was a 25th round pick. All good deals, but the best one: Nelson Cruz was acquired WITH Carlos Lee from the Brewers for Julian Cordero, Francisco Cordero, Kevin Mench and Laynce Nix. What are the Brewers doing with those guys these days?
• The Giants, on the other hand, were built much differently. All good deals though. Matt Cain (drafted #25 overall in 2005), Tim Lincecum (#10 in 2006), Madison Bumgarner (#10 in2007) and Buster Posey (#5 in 2008) were all drafted in the first round by the Giants. Jonathan Sanchez was also originally signed by San Francisco. Brian Wilson (24th round) is really the only player drafted in late rounds. Prominent free agent signings (Barry Zito and Aaron Rowand) haven’t contributed much in the playoffs. Then there were the scrap heap guys: Andres Torres, Pat Burrell, Aubrey Huff, Cody Ross and Juan Uribe.
The Braves’ franchise has won three World Series titles, in three separate cities. 1914 as the Boston Braves, 1957 in Milwaukee and 1995 in Atlanta.
Why the Giants believe they can win….
Pitching, pitching and pitching. Then there’s that little matter of clutch hitting up and down the lineup. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez have been terrific this postseason. Combined in their two previous series: 52.1 innings, 49 combined hits plus walks, 70 strikeouts. That’s pretty dominating against the Phillies and Braves. The Giants also believe in their manager, Bruce Bochy, and his ability to pull the right strings setting up favorable matchups. The Giants have won six postseason games this month by one run. They know how to win close games and believe in their ability to get clutch hits. If the pitchers keep the Rangers’ offense in check, San Francisco has a chance to win close, low-scoring games.
Brad Stevens orchestrated one of the most compelling NCAA Tournament runs in college basketball history last spring — just 10 years after quitting the business world to accept a volunteer coaching position at Butler. Stevens, 34, had his Bulldogs in the national championship game against Duke in Butler’s hometown of Indianapolis. The Hollywood script almost played out perfectly, but a last-second half-court shot bounced off the rim and Butler fell to the Blue Devils 61–59.
Stevens has enjoyed a measure of celebrity since: He threw out the first pitch at Wrigley Field in May, his team served as the Grand Marshal of the Indy 500 Festival parade later that month, and the Bulldogs were honored by the Colts at their home opener in September. In his first three years as a head coach, Stevens has won more games (89) than any other coach in NCAA history, and his fourth team is expected to be strong once again. The former DePauw guard who married his college girlfriend Tracy and now has two young children, has become college basketball’s hottest young coach. Athlon Sports caught up with Stevens as he prepared for the upcoming season.
Athlon Sports: Do you have a moment that sticks out to you more than any other of the six-game NCAA tournament run?
Brad Stevens: The moment that sticks out to me was driving on I-70 past Lucas Oil Stadium at about 3 a.m. when we were getting back from Salt Lake City (after winning the regional). That was the only time we allowed it to be surreal. The stadium was lit up. The Final Four banners were out. To know we were going to be playing in there in seven days was a pretty unique feeling.
AS: When you were at the Final Four with Duke, West Virginia and Michigan State, did you feel like Butler received the 'little brother' treatment from the national media?
BS: No. I don’t mind being called an underdog, and I certainly don’t mind being called a ‘mid-major.’ I take it more of a compliment if you can be successful. It is known in basketball circles and now hopefully in the general public that we’re not a ‘mid-major’ in terms of results. I don’t think it is ever a bad thing to be called an underdog.
AS: Since your team plays in the same gym that Hoosiers was filmed in, and the Final Four was in Indianapolis, the obvious storyline was to plug Butler into the Hickory High role. Did you or the players tire of that angle at all?
BS: Our players are pretty young. We didn’t have anyone born when Hoosiers was filmed. That shows how great the movie is because it has stood the test of time. I think they embraced the comparisons, but I don’t think we ever thought we couldn’t be successful.
AS: What was it like going toe-to-toe with Mike Krzyzewski for the national championship? Did you catch yourself glancing down the sideline and saying, 'Is this really happening?'?
BS: I didn’t, and maybe it is because I’ve had some experience with this before. Six games into my head coaching career, we were playing Coach (Bob) Knight and Texas Tech in Alaska. To be an Indiana kid coaching against one of the true giants of the game, who had a huge mark on your impressions of basketball growing up, that was an ‘ah-ha’ moment. But since then, it has been about preparing our team. I know who is on the other sideline and how good of a coach they are. Mike Krzyzewski has been the standard-bearer in college basketball for a long time.
AS: Did you try to treat the national title game as just another game, or did you realize this might be a once-in-a-lifetime thing for everyone involved and treat it as such?
BS: We tried to treat it is a regular game and our kids did a good job with it. They went to class that morning, we did our shootaround, we did our film that we usually do. We wanted to do what we do. There are always things you would like to have back within the course of the game, but as far as preparation, there are no regrets.
AS: Butler has become familiar to college basketball fans at this point, but for sports fans that don't follow college hoops that closely, how would you describe what makes Butler unique and how it came to be that reaching the Final Four was surprising but not necessarily impossible to believe.
BS: There are a lot of people that poured their hard work into this. Barry Collier set the foundation in the mid-1990s and I’ve been lucky enough to ride it. Thad Matta did great work. Todd Lickliter did great work. One of the things I enjoyed most about the Final Four was hearing from every player I had coached and every coach I had coached with after every game. It was pretty neat.
AS: You decided not to pursue more lucrative opportunities at bigger schools after the season. Why?
BS: Lucrative just refers to money, and I was given a really good piece of advice— resources aren’t dollars, they’re people. That is something we really put a lot of thought into and we are really happy at Butler. We know we are fortunate and we are thankful to have the job we have, and I’m talking about my staff and people in administration. This is a really good place to be.
AS: What ultimately made you decide to leave the business world for the coaching world?
BS: I was only 22 and didn’t have any financial responsibilities other than myself. I had been fortunate enough to save a little money and fortunate enough to have parents, family, friends and my girlfriend who is now my wife who all supported me a ton. They all said, ‘Go for it,’ and that was a big part of it.
AS: Did you have any 'What-have-I-done?' moments when you were stuffing envelopes in the Butler basketball office in 2000?
BS: Certainly, you question things, but the people at Eli Lilly were so great. They wanted me to do it and they were great about saying, if it doesn’t work out, let us know. That gave me a sense of ease in the transition. Whether or not I would have gone back for a job, I don’t know. I just had to jump in with both feet.
AS: Describe the day when you got the head coaching job at Butler at age 30.
BS: You are excited, but then it is right back to work. I never really had the moment of, ‘Wow, this is what I’m doing.’ You just go out and do it. The first thing that goes through your mind is, are all the players in the program going to stick with you, and are all the recruits who are coming still coming? Unanimously, they were all great, so that was a great start. Then you are moving on to the next group of recruits.
AS: You didn’t have to pitch going for the head coaching job to your wife, I assume.
BS: She loves being a part of the team. She was a soccer player in college so we both have always valued team sports in general and all that you can learn from being a member of a team and competing.
AS: How has she handled the lifestyle change of going from no children, to one, to two, during your time on the Butler staff?
BS: We’ve been fortunate in that we have been surrounded by a lot of friends and a lot of family. She grew up in Cleveland, so the farthest family we have is five hours away. I grew up here, so we have friends from high school and college here. The biggest change is she stopped working in the last couple of years, and that was an adjustment. She calls it ‘temporary retirement.’ I think she’s going back at some point.
AS: Were your two children able to go the NCAA tournament games last spring?
BS: My four-year old loves airplanes. He could care less about the basketball games. He was excited to fly to San Jose and Salt Lake City. He may have been the only person in Indianapolis who was mad that the Final Four was in Indianapolis. It was hard for both of them to make those long trips, but they went. My wife considered not taking them to the national championship game because it was a 9:18 p.m. tip, but we figured if they look at pictures later on in life and they weren’t there, they aren’t going to be very happy.
As has been the case all season and throughout the playoffs, we expect outstanding pitching in the World Series. The Giants feature four starters (Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner) capable of shutting down the best of lineups. Their bullpen has been a little shaky in the postseason, but closer Brian Wilson has been dependable. But the Rangers shouldn’t fear the beards in front of Wilson.
The Rangers have a Wilson of their own in C.J., who was tremendous in defeating the Yankees in the ALCS. But of course, the dominant lefty for Texas is Cliff Lee. He has earned a place among the greatest postseason pitchers of all-time. Lee made his postseason debut in 2009 with the Philadelphia Phillies and has won seven of his eight starts with no losses and a 1.26 ERA.
During the final few weeks of the season and the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Giants have found a way to win close games. With stingy pitching, the offense has manufactured just enough runs. Six of their seven wins over Atlanta and Philadelphia were by one run. The other was a 3-0 shutout of the Phillies. So the Giants know how to win close games.
The Rangers, on the other hand, have dominated their opponents. Josh Hamilton, the ALCS MVP, has found his stroke after missing most of September. The Yankees were intimidated enough to issue him three intentional walks in one game.
Don’t expect the Rangers’ bats to let them down. Even with an extra home game possible for San Francisco, the Rangers should dispatch their NL counterparts in six games.
Going into the season, most baseball experts expected the Yankees and Phillies in the World Series. Coming out of the season, most experts still expected the powers from New York and Philadelphia to face each other in a rematch of the 2009 series.
But Cliff Lee, Josh Hamilton, Cody Ross and Juan Uribe had other ideas.
An unlikely scenario, for sure, having the San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers meet in the World Series. The Rangers have never been there in their 50-year history that dates back to the Washington Senators. The Giants haven’t won a World Series since 1954 when the team was based in New York and called the Polo Grounds home. The team has played in three since moving to the Bay Area in the late 1950s, but lost two Game 7s and were swept by their neighbors, the Oakland A’s, in the 1989 Earthquake Series.
Back in January, some odds makers had the Giants at 16:1 to win the World Series and the Rangers at 20:1. Of course, no one knew in January that Lee would be the rangers’ ace by this time and that Ross would be in a Giants’ uniform.
But here we are.
We are all usually skeptical about trying something new. Trying a new restaurant or entrée, relying on a new co-worker for a project, or checking out a new band or album push us too far outside our comfort zones. Anything unproven can cause a little trepidation. So, it’s natural that fantasy owners haven’t given some of the following names any love yet, but I’m here to tell you that it’s time. You’ll notice that most of them are WRs, but there’s one non-pass catcher that is the biggest shock/value – and is likely available in your league.
On the other side of the coin, there’s a couple of RBs that it may be time for seasonal owners to give up on.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Bills – Who would have thunk it? The 27-year-old journeyman just may have found a home in Buffalo. Despite being 0-6, the Bills are thrilled with their new starter. After tearing up the Ravens’ defense for 374 yards and four TDs in Week 7, he has now thrown for 11 TDs and only four interceptions in his last four games. After finishing the 2008 season with less than 2,000 yards and only eight TDs in 13 games taking over for an injured Carson Palmer, it was hard to believe that he could turn Lee Evans and Steve Johnson into legit fantasy options, but he appears to have done so. But seriously, while he may still be unproven, it sure looks like a legit starting option moving forward, especially with the Chiefs, Bears and Lions up next.
Dwayne Bowe, WR, Chiefs – After a putrid first four games, the ultra-talented Bowe has found the end zone four times in his last two contests. With the Chiefs’ offense clicking on all cylinders, and Matt Cassel certainly playing better, “the show” is definitely on the rise. Dynasty owners should be smiling, while seasonal owners can consider him a must-start moving forward.
Kenny Britt, WR, Titans – Speaking of dynasty owners smiling, those that hung onto Kenny “Legit” Britt through thick and thin have been rewarded, big time. He’s a legit must-start, when active, after his seven catch, 225 yard, three TD domination of the Eagles’ secondary in Week 7. Not only was that with Kerry Collins throwing him the ball, but it occurred in only 2½ quarters – which leads me to the “when active” part. Seasonal owners should take note that Britt could face further punishment, either from the league, or from the Titans, for his alleged involvement in a bar fight last week. The good news is two-fold. A, it’s his first offense, and B, he will not be in the “doghouse” following any punishment, as Tennessee clearly needs him on the field. The 6’3” 218 pounder is a must-keep dynasty gem.
Jordan Shipley, WR, Bengals – When the rookie from Texas caught five balls in each of his first two games, dynasty owners definitely raised their eyebrows. Entering Week 7, he had been quiet, mostly due to a concussion suffered early on in the season. However, Shipley burst back onto the scene against the Falcons, catching all six of his targets for 131 yards and a score. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this guy will continue to see a growing role in his rookie season, and I wouldn’t be surprised with Chad Ochocinco (32) and Terrell Owens (37) if he’s not catching 75 balls a year starting in 2012. Shipley is certainly someone to keep an eye on, as he’s already proving he can be productive at the pro level.
David Gettis, WR, Panthers – Could the rookie sixth rounder from Baylor be the Panthers’ version of Marques Colston? After an eight catch, 125 yard, two TD breakout performance against the 49ers in Week 7, it’s possible. Fellow rookie Brandon LaFell added six catches for 91 yards, while Steve Smith only had four balls for 50 yards. Despite playing in a horrible offense, Gettis should probably be added in all formats, especially dynasty.
Darren McFadden, RB, Raiders – Much like Kenny Britt, McFadden had his doubters heading into Week 7. He started the season strong, but injuries opened the door for Michael Bush to take carries away. But after rushing for 165 yards and three TDs, and catching two balls for 21 yards and an additional score against the Broncos, he has now solidified himself as a must-start when healthy. And, oh yeah dynasty owners, despite being in his third season, he’s only 23 years old.
Percy Harvin, WR, Vikings – Hello, were you scared of Percy Harvin heading into the season? Come on, admit it. The hammy, the migraines, and the lack of Sidney Rice? Well, all those worries are out the window. Harvin is clearly one of the best players on the field, as he’s racked up 20 catches for 245 yards, 72 rushing yards and five total TDs in his last four games. He’s an all-purpose threat and commands the ball. With Randy Moss on board, defenses cannot keep up with Harvin. Regardless of Brett Favre’s status, Harvin should be in lineups.
Ryan Mathews, RB, Chargers – What the heck is going on? Norv Turner is really irking me right now. He will not play his rookie stud that the Chargers traded up to number 12 overall in the NFL Draft to select. Who cares if you fall behind early? Is it a rule that you can’t run the ball if you’re behind? Come on, Norv. At this point, seasonal owners should look in a different direction, with Mike Tolbert getting goal line carries. Dynasty owners need to stay patient, but bench him for now. Mathews will be “the guy” one day, but not any time soon, it appears.
Justin Forsett, RB, Seahawks – Marshawn Lynch has taken command of the featured back role in Seattle, after gaining 133 yards and a score on 41 carries in his first two games. Forsett is a change of pace guy now, and will see three to seven carries a game, depending on the situation. He’s not really roster-worthy in any format.
Eat you hearts out, couch commandos. I’m typing this column while Jenn Sterger whispers sweet nothings in my ear. …
That NFL P.R. machine never misses a beat. Take Sunday’s Broncos-49ers game in London. It was originally billed as a battle between two teams that don’t particularly care for one another. Now it’s been changed to two teams that don’t particularly care. …
Mike Singletary says the Niners, at 1-6, can make the playoffs. My initial reaction? Enough already with the federal bailouts. …
Allen Iverson has signed a two-year contract to play with a pro team in Turkey. Apparently, the sweetheart deal with that team in Iceland fell through. …
Brett Favre reportedly has admitted to NFL officials that he sent racy texts to Sterger, the five-tool player who once worked for the Jets. Luckily for Favre, the lewd pictures he tried to send her were intercepted. …
Favre threw three picks against the Packers at Lambeau Field, but that wasn’t the worst of his problems. His cholesterol went up 20 points when the Vikings’ charter crossed the Wisconsin state line. …
How bad are the Vikes? Randy Moss has demanded a trade back to New England. …
Oh, before I forget, how’s the fair weather down there, all you Auburn fans who wigged out when Gene Chizik got the head-coaching gig? …
Texas coach Mack Brown said after Saturday’s home loss to Iowa State that his players weren’t ready to play. Henceforth, Brown vowed, his players would take them one embarrassment at a time. …
My mini-scouting report on the World Series: Dick Cheney says it could be dangerous for Vlad Guerrero to put a glove on when the Rangers play at San Francisco. …
For the record, I like the Giants. Josh Hamilton is going to find out you can’t hit a ball out to right field at AT&T Park unless you know Barry Bonds’ personal trainer. …
Then there’s Giants closer Brian Wilson. Have you checked out that beard of his? From the looks of him, he’s the only player in baseball who wants to get traded to the Pirates. …
Meanwhile, word out of the Big Apple is the Yankees have fired pitching coach Dave Eiland for not keeping CC Sabathia’s ERA or weight under 3.00. …
How could the Saints lose to the lowly Browns in New Orleans? Dude, you didn’t watch the game? Drew Brees missed the first half because his Mardi Gras float got stuck in traffic. …
The NBA regular season tips off this week. Good thing. I was so wrapped up in the exhibition season, I was about to fall off the edge of my chair. …
Not to, you know, ruin the suspense, but since Kobe kept his talents on Manhattan Beach, the Lakers are going to win the title again. …
My darkhorse pick is the Cavs. Not really. I just figured folks in Cleveland could use a little pick-me-up, what with winter and another blown No. 1 draft pick by the Browns the only things they have to look forward to. …
The Heat? I like their chances, too, now that they’ve trimmed their roster to three players. …
TCU may be the best team in the country, Baylor is leading the Big 12 South and Texas can’t beat Iowa State. Hey, don’t ask me. I’m just the piano man.
Week 7 gave us some screwy results on the NFL landscape, including lots of numbers that will send folks dashing to the waiver wire in the coming days. But who among Sunday’s big performers are really worth grabbing for help the rest of the way?
It’s easy to simply say “go get these guys” who just produced strong stats, but if you need to be told that Kenny Britt is worth adding at this point, you probably need more help than this column will offer. (Besides, he was already recommended here three weeks ago.) Instead, I’d like to run through some of the top Week 7 producers who are still free agents in many places and play a little game that I call “For Real or Get Real.”
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo
I’m not sure anyone had a better week than this guy, who nearly led his winless Bills to a victory no one was projecting, and it’s time now to believe in him. Fitzpatrick is the only quarterback in the league who has produced at least two touchdown passes in every one of his outings this season. Granted, he didn’t play in weeks 1 or 2, but would you have pegged him for 11 scores through four games? Neither would I. His matchups don’t look especially strong overall, though meetings with Detroit, New England and Cleveland won’t hurt. Additionally, the fact that his team is allowing a ton of points – 34 or more in five straight games – should mean plenty of passing to play catch-up. Fitzpatrick won’t be a yardage monster and will produce some turnovers, but he has shown he can also offer touchdowns. For Real
Matt Moore, Carolina
I liked Moore heading into the season, and he finally delivered in his return to the starting lineup: 308 yards and a pair of scoring passes. I’d love to believe that this was a sign of Moore delivering on the promise I thought he carried into the year, but it’s not enough to outweigh the play that got him benched in the first place. These numbers came against a Niners D that has allowed five of seven opponents to score at least 23 points and three other quarterbacks to post at least two touchdown throws. Moore’s schedule is very favorable going forward, and there’s a chance he’ll provide fantasy relevance going forward, but I’ll have to see more than one game before I can recommend dropping any other passer to claim him. Get Real
LeGarrette Blount, Tampa Bay
He didn’t run up huge numbers on the Rams on Sunday, but Tampa Bay’s weak 2010 running game has been crying out for an answer. Eleven carries for 72 yards could be the first line of that answer from a guy who has been creeping onto the fantasy radar for a few weeks now. However, let’s remember that this performance came against the Rams -- 4.6 yards per carry allowed to date – and with Earnest Graham inactive. Another similar game might have me saying something different, but for now I don’t believe there is a “the guy” in Tampa’s backfield. Get Real
Willis McGahee, Baltimore
He might be owned in nearly 100 percent of RapidDraft.com leagues (99.42), but McGahee found himself a free agent in more than 60 percent of Yahoo! leagues as of Monday afternoon despite scoring touchdowns in three straight games now. The Baltimore backup opened 2009 with a goal-line hot streak before petering out, and it’s always risky to count on a team’s second back, but he’s not a fluke. McGahee has garnered 10 carries or more in three straight outings and still has favorable matchups ahead with opponents such as Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Houston and New Orleans. McGahee should continue to help Ray Rice shoulder the load on one of the league’s strongest offenses and is worth flex consideration in non-PPR formats. For Real
David Gettis, Carolina
The rookie wideout is clearly carving out a role of regular usage for a team on which two fellow rookie receivers – Brandon LaFell and Armanti Edwards – garnered more attention heading into the season. After missing the Week 1 game, Gettis has seen at least five targets every week, topping out at nine in Sunday’s eight-catch, 125-yard, two-touchdown effort. It was, however, the first time this year that he caught more than three passes, the first time he reached 40 yards and the first time he found the end zone. Gettis certainly seems to have a bright future and no shortage of opportunity, and as I said, I think there’s potential in Moore going forward. For now, though, if I’m not quite ready to trust his more experienced quarterback, I can’t really buy into the rookie wideout as a dependable option in redraft leagues. Get Real
Steve Johnson, Buffalo
Before his monster Week 7 outing, Kenny Britt had somewhat quietly put together a string of scoring games, and Johnson has done the same. The touchdown at Baltimore made it four straight weeks in which Johnson has scored, and he has caught at least three passes in every game. That’s not an overly impressive number but better than it sounds when you consider Buffalo’s Trent Edwards start and general malaise. Johnson has size (6-2, 202) and a veteran big-play threat on the other side of the field (Lee Evans) to keep defenses honest. Plus, there’s that trustworthy quarterback mentioned earlier and the impetus for plenty of passing in Buffalo. For Real
Lee Evans, Buffalo
I think this one is fairly obvious based on the Johnson call. Evans is a terrific player who has only been missing a quality quarterback. He doesn’t have Johnson’s scoring streak, but Evans has caught five passes or more in three of Fitzpatrick’s four games and has rekindled the deep passing game now that Captain Checkdown (Trent Edwards) has been exiled. No Buffalo receiver will give you big numbers every week, but, heck, neither will Miles Austin or Hakeem Nicks. For Real
Jordan Shipley, Cincinnati
The rookie’s final line of six receptions, 131 yards and a touchdown from Sunday looks fairly similar to the results of Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens, but it’s important to note the separation in targets. Ocho drew 16 looks, Owens 13 and Shipley six. The fact that he caught each and took one for a 64-yard touchdown speaks to Shipley’s reliability and explosiveness – he was one of the NCAA’s top return men at Texas – but his numbers will often suffer from lack of opportunity. Carson Palmer did throw 50 times on Sunday (albeit for the second time this season). Get Real
The multitalented signal-caller led the Auburn Tigers to a hard-fought win over LSU, giving Auburn the inside track to the SEC West title, an a No. 1 ranking. Newton threw for just 86 yards, but ran 28 times for 217 yards and two scores, one a dazzling 49-yard jaunt. The Heisman favorite has 1,077 rushing yards this season, establishing a new SEC record for rushing yards for a quarterback.
1. Two franchises in the National League — Atlanta and Arizona have collected the Cy Young award four consecutive seasons. But only one franchise in the AL has won as many as three consecutive awards. What American League team had three consecutive Cy Young winners?
2. Who is the only active major leaguer to have won a batting title in the 1990s?
3. From 1970-2000, only two Hall of Famers won National League batting titles. Can you name them? Hint: One player won eight titles, the other won just one. OR Hint: Between them, they won nine titles.
4. In the 1970s, Hall of Famers won or shared home run crowns nine times. In the 1980s it was 10 times. But in the 1990s only once did a Hall of Famer win a home run title. Can you name him?
5. Scoring 150 runs in a season has been accomplished 14 times, but just once since Ted Williams did it in 1949. Who is the most recent player to eclipse 150 runs in a single season?
6. Who is the only player active in 2010 to have won a home run crown in the 1990s?
7. Who are the only teammates to ever tie for the league lead in home runs?
8. Can you name the only two battery mates to win Gold Gloves in the same season twice? Hint: They did it for different teams.
9. Who was the last player to lead the majors in home runs with a total of less than 40?
10. Hall of Famer Frank Robinson is the only player to win the MVP award in both leagues. How many pitchers can you name that have won the Cy Young award in both the American and National League. There are four.
1. Toronto Blue Jays, 1996-98 with Pat Hentgen and Roger Clemens twice
2. Alex Rodriguez, .358 with Seattle in 1996
3. Tony Gwynn is the easy answer, winning eight titles. Billy Williams of the Cubs won the NL Batting title hitting .333 in 1972.
4. Ryne Sandberg of the Chicago Cubs hit 40 home runs to lead the National League.
5. Jeff Bagwell crossed the plate 152 times for the Houston Astros in 2000.
6. Ken Griffey won four with the Seattle Mariners in 1994, 97-99. Griffey retired during the 2010 season.
7. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig each swatted 46 in 1931 for the Yankees.
8. Kenny Rogers and Ivan Rodriguez, Texas 2000, Detroit 2006
9. Stormin’ Gorman Thomas swatted 39 homers in 1982 to lead the majors.
10. Roger Clemens (1986-87, 91, Tor. 1997-98, N.Y. Yankees 2001, Houston 2004) Randy Johnson (Seattle 1995, Arizona 1999-2002), Pedro Martinez (Mon. 1994, Boston 1999-2000) and Gaylord Perry (Clev. 1972, S.D. 1978).
Let there be Sports Lite. …
Now this is getting downright ridiculous. First, the NFL bans its players from helmet-to-helmet hits on wide receivers. Now the league says players can’t hit on defenseless cheerleaders. …
The Broncos added a new dimension to their offense last weekend by implementing the Tim Tebow package. The Vikings, meanwhile, are hoping Roger Goodell doesn’t suspend Brett Favre’s package. …
If he gets bounced, Favre would become the first NFL player ever to miss a game because of an attempted pulled groin. …
Tebow, by the way, ran for a five-yard touchdown with the help of some key blocking by his 10 disciples. …
No really, I’m not making this up. Favre is the 28th-ranked passer in the league. On the plus side, he’s making some serious jackamundo for the old alimony fund. …
With the NFL trading deadline a few days away, the Raiders reportedly have put their entire roster up for sale. Hence, their new team slogan: Commitment to eBay. …
So far, all the Raiders have been offered is a seventh-rounder for the dude with the eye patch. Not that it’s all bad in the business department. An Elvis impersonator last week offered Al Davis 50 bucks for his wardrobe. …
With the race for the Cup winding down, NASCAR officials can’t figure out why TV ratings have been shaky at best. Um, because it’s NASCAR? …
Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner is kicking himself for not buying the Mariners before the trading deadline to make sure Cliff Lee would pitch in pinstripes. …
In case there was any doubt in your mind, Lee will be pitching for the Bronx Bombers next season. The Yankees also plan to purchase Venezuela and Puerto Rico to provide depth for their bullpen. …
Let me see if I’ve got this straight. The Yankees paid $82.5 million for A.J. Burnett? What would he have gotten if they actually wanted him to pitch? …
The Badgers hammered Ohio State, but Wisconsin fans weren’t happy last weekend. Why? They still have bar time in Madison. …
Give it a rest, all you Buckeye bashers. Terrelle Pryor isn’t overrated in the least. He just isn’t very good. Though, to be fair, he did hit Bucky Badger in stride on that one sideline route. …
Oh, before I forget, that poor sap reporter who Urban Meyer went Freddie Krueger on a few months ago asked me to mention something: Mississippi State 10, Florida 7. …
Giants lefty Madison Bumgarner has faced some tough questions from the media during the playoffs, including this one: Do you, like, have a brother named Tiffany? …
Ryne Sandberg apparently was bummed out that he didn’t get the Cubs’ manager’s gig. Um, Ryno? You might want to check out the last century of highlights at Wrigley Field. …
Having lost the Throes Bowl in Minneapolis to fall to 1-4, Cowboys coach Wade Phillips has switched to the run-and-hide offense.
By Mike Beacom
Hard to believe but Kansas City’s rookie tight end Tony Moeaki has more catches than veteran wide receiver Dwayne Bowe (18 to 15). If there is a silver lining for Bowe’s fantasy owners it’s that he has made big plays this year, evidenced by his 17.3 yards per catch and two touchdown catches of 40-plus yards.
Jacksonville’s defense allows more passing yards per attempt (8.8) than any other team in football, and has given up a league-worst 14 passing scores. Big-play receivers like Lee Evans and DeSean Jackson have had their way with the Jaguars so far.
Fantasy owners need to have faith that Bowe can build off of last week’s 108-yard effort. This may be his most favorable matchup of the 2010 season.
Here are a few other fantasy players facing favorable matchups in Week 7 (all of the players listed are considered backups or ‘fringe’ starters in most fantasy league formats):
Jay Cutler vs. Washington’s pass defense
Cutler is an unwanted man right now. He doesn’t rank among the top 15 in the league in passing yards, or the top 20 in touchdowns. So much for Mike Martz’s genius, eh! This week provides the signal caller with an opportunity to save his season. The Redskins allow the second-most passing yards per contest and do not possess enough speed in their secondary to keep up with the Bears fleet of receivers. No longer feeling the effects of his Week 4 concussion, Cutler will give the Redskins defense trouble.
Justin Forsett vs. Arizona’s run defense
Marshawn Lynch may be in Seattle colors now, but it means little if he is unable to out-perform Forsett, as was the case last week. Maybe the acquisition has motivated the 25-year-old back, who had his best game of the season last week. This week, Forsett hopes to feast on a Cardinals defense ranked No. 29 in rushing yards allowed per contest (140.8). When Forsett faced Arizona in Week 10 last season, he caught five passes, scored a touchdown and gained 123 yards on just 17 carries.
Jabar Gaffney vs. Oakland’s pass defense
Eddie Royal’s status is in question this week, leaving the door open for Gaffney to post bigger numbers. The ninth-year receiver has just one big game so far, but has consistently posted solid catch and yardage totals. In fact, he’s had at least 80 yards in each of the past two weeks and has caught five or more passes in each of the past four. His biggest knock is that he has only caught one touchdown (Week 1). Gaffney must like his chances this week against a Raiders secondary that has allowed 12 passing scores (30th in the league).
Davone Bess vs. Pittsburgh’s pass defense
Brandon Marshall has been a catching machine for the Dolphins, but Bess still gets enough attention to be helpful to fantasy owners. He has caught a touchdown in each of the past two weeks and is on pace to approach the 1,000-yard mark this season. Pittsburgh may own one of the league best run defenses, but that isn’t true of their pass defense (No. 24). Heck, Pittsburgh made first-time starter Colt McCoy look special last week. Miami’s Chad Henne is a better passer than McCoy and has better weapons, including Bess, who had five catches, 85 yards and a touchdown against Pittsburgh in the final week of the 2009 season.
Roy Williams warned us. Told us before last season his Tar Heels weren’t top-five material. Probably didn’t deserve the top 10, either. But did we listen? Nope. It’s hard to pay close attention when coaches poor-mouth their teams, but we should have believed Old Roy on this one. Instead of defending its 2009 national title with gusto, North Carolina stumbled, finishing 20-17 and a dismal 5-11 (T9th) in ACC play.
As the ’10-11 season dawns, UNC is ready to get back into the national discussion. It won’t be easy. The offseason transfers of David and Travis Wear hurt, and the dismissal of Will Graves from the team just before practice began is a big loss. Still, thanks to the arrivals of a some quality newcomers, most notably Harrison Barnes, Carolina will still be dangerous. Here’s how Williams sees things as the season commences.
ATHLON SPORTS: Do you think part of last year’s trouble was that the team didn’t understand that they had to treat every season differently and can’t live off the past?
ROY WILLIAMS: No, I don’t think so. Each and every year, you want to be proud of or mad at whatever you accomplished the year before, but you have to put it behind you. Tradition is important, but each year is different.
AS: After last season’s disappointments, how happy were you with the team’s offseason attention to getting back on track?
RW: Our preseason conditioning program from September 15 on was the most difficult we ever had. I am ecstatic about how our players responded to the tests we gave them before practice began. They also worked hard over the summer.
AS: Could you be encouraged by the fact that last year’s team regrouped at season’s end and made a run to the NIT final?
RW: I was worried the team wanted to stop playing hard, but I saw some positive things in the NIT. But we’re not going to hang banners for runner-up finishes in the NIT around this place.
AS: How much of a role will your freshmen have this year?
RW: One of the tough things last year was that we had trouble scoring. The freshmen shoot well. Harrison and Reggie [Bullock] have good range and can put the ball on the floor. Kendall [Marshall] is an attacking point guard. We’re going to put a lot on them. The good news is I think they’re good. We have told them there are expectations.
AS: How difficult is it to remain an elite team, year-in and year out?
RW: I’ve been at two places as a head coach, Kansas and North Carolina, where the fans expect it. It is hard to do over a long period of time. You look at Jim Calhoun at Connecticut, Jim Boeheim at Syracuse and Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, and they do it. It’s hard to win at any point, but when you are expected to win every year at a high level, it’s very hard. I like the expectations, and they help us with recruiting kids. It’s great to have history and tradition.
AS: Agents have become a larger problem in college football, and they have been a concern in basketball. Can anything be done to keep them under control?
RW: It’s hard to know all the time what’s going on when you have 800 student-athletes, like we do at North Carolina. We talk about it a lot. I check the ticket list for home games to see who’s sitting in the players’ seats. On road games, I do the list myself. I know who’s coming and where they’re sitting. But you still don’t know. There are a select few people who have given the agent profession a bad name, and because of them, it’s hard to like any of them. The whole profession has been torn down by a few. The solution has to come from the NBA and the NFL. The NCAA has no jurisdiction over agents. Only the things that can police them are the leagues where they work. It’s probably a minority of people, but they kill the whole profession’s reputation by not doing things ethically. They know what they’re doing, my gosh, but it’s hard to legislate morality.
AS: How do you feel about the expanded tournament and the idea that it might get even bigger?
RW: I can make an argument on both sides. It’s one issue where I sit on the fence. I love the specialness of 65 teams. I love that it’s difficult to get in, even though that excluded us last year. At the same time, some teams get excluded that could make a little run. Maybe we could have been one of them. People on both sides could make arguments to me, and I could understand.
AS: How hard was it to dismiss Will Graves from the team in October?
RW: It was the most difficult two days I’ve had in 23 years [as a head coach]. I hated it for the young man. I didn’t want it to happen. I hate it for the team, because he was going to be an important part of the team. You end up punishing other people for one person’s mistake. But you have to do it. If you’re going to do things you’re not supposed to do, you have to pay the consequences.
AS: You said you were going to be “a little meaner” this year. How will that happen?
RW: I won’t do it outside of the locker room. Our preseason conditioning was the toughest we’ve had. Some of the older players have said I’ve mellowed, and I’ve been allowing them to make mistakes and saying, ‘Come on, son, you’re better than that.’ I won’t be there this year. Some teams could handle that because they were more mature. If I need to create some fear this year, I’m okay with that.
AS: Did it bother you that Duke won last year’s national championship?
RW: It didn’t bother me. I said before the season started that I thought that was the best Duke team since I’d been back at Carolina. If you’re going to say that, you can’t be upset if they win the national championship. I’m probably going to be saying the same thing this year, because they have so much back and added a marquee freshman [Kyrie Irving] who can really help them. It’s a great rivalry, and it’s a great thing for both teams to be really good, so it can be the best rivalry in college basketball. We didn’t hold up our end last year. I like it more when we win the national championship, like in 2009, but I’m glad to be part of the rivalry.
I didn’t watch the national championship game. I watched Dancing With The Stars. I was with my daughter, and it worked out well.
By Matt Schauf
Every week folks grab the Keiland Williamses and LeGarrette Blounts of the fantasy world off the waiver wire in hopes that they luck into some gem of a bye-week cover. The wide receiver position is far more open to breakout performances, though, simply because there are more of them around and more variables involved in their production.
Just this past week we saw DeSean Jackson rank among the top fantasy scorers despite catching just one pass before leaving early with a concussion. We saw rookies Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant wind up in the end zone with their only receptions. We saw Mario Manningham for the first time in three weeks.
And there were plenty of other noteworthy happenings at wideout. That’s why I’m choosing to lock in on my receivers for this week’s trip to the wire and rank the top options for Week 7 and beyond.
1. Deion Branch, WR, New England
Is this an overreaction to his nine-catch re-debut with the Patriots? Perhaps, but Branch led the team with 12 targets. He previously spent four seasons working with Tom Brady and is in the middle of his ninth year as a pro. Thus, the only question with Branch should’ve been how quickly the Patriots would work him into the mix. The fact that he started his first game and led the way in targets and receptions sure seemed to answer that one. The biggest advantage that Branch has on just about everyone else in this list is playing with one of the league’s top quarterbacks. New England has a lot of options around in the passing game and more talented players than Branch in that group, but there’s something to be said for connection between quarterback and receiver. Branch has shown a lack of durability throughout his career, but you can’t look at that too much when fishing for free-agent help in Week 6. Just pick him up and use him when you can.
2. Mike Williams, WR, Seattle
This guy surely isn’t available in all leagues, but odds are that plenty of players can find Big Mike available after he tallied just seven catches and 74 yards over his previous three games. We can’t overreact to the 15 targets and 10 catches Sunday at Chicago. After all, it was only two weeks earlier that Brandon Stokley led the team in targets. That said, Williams has started all year amid a very young corps of pass catchers and drawn 14 more looks than any other wide receiver on the team (three more than tight end John Carlson). He’s not going to put up fantasy-starter numbers every week, but point-per-reception owners should be able to at least consider him in the weekly mix. For comparison’s sake, he has just two fewer catches than Tampa’s Mike Williams – a rookie who has looked terrific and emerged as a top option for a team in need – and a nearly identical per-catch average (12.4 to 12.3). Seattle’s Williams is lacking the touchdowns, and that will continue in a weak offense. In PPR, however, he clearly brings upside.
3. Robert Meachem, WR, New Orleans
Were I playing without PPR, I would most likely place Meachem at the top of this list. That he ranks just sixth on his own team in targets (one behind No. 2 tight end David Thomas) tells you a lot about the reliability of his usage. That said, Meachem has scored from at least 35 yards out in each of the past two games and plays for a team that needs to rekindle it’s deep passing game. Drew Brees has always professed to be a fan of this young playmaker, and the two connected for a touchdown once every five completions (on average) last year. Playing Meachem will mean frustrating empty weeks, but some big ones also lie ahead.
4. Danario Alexander, WR, St. Louis
There’s a chance that this ranking will look too low within just a few weeks. Alexander was a college star just last year, hauling in 113 catches on a team where no other player topped 46. That season that also included 1,781 yards and 14 touchdowns, however, also ended with him tearing up a knee. That led to a fourth surgery on that part of his body, which happened to be sore following Sunday’s four-catch, 72-yard effort.
I wouldn’t worry about that knee soreness, but at least make note of it, combine it with the fact that he’s a rookie who joined his team in-season and the fact that he’s playing with a rookie quarterback and try to keep any expectations in check. The Rams’ receiver group is searching for a leader at this point with Donnie Avery and Mark Clayton gone for the year and Laurent Robinson constantly in and out of the lineup, but there were also three other Rams who matched Alexander’s five targets against the Chargers. St. Louis activated Alexander so early because he’s a talented, big (6-5, 215) wideout who can help a young team, and there’s no way to quantify his upside right now. Just don’t break the bank for him in a typical redraft league.
5. Louis Murphy, WR, Oakland
Murphy ranks only slightly behind Alexander because he actually has to deal with a worse quarterback situation than a team starting a rookie. That fact is evident in any league that finds him on the waiver wire this week, as Murphy has followed a promising start to the year with just four catches over his past three outings. The last of those three, however, provided some hope. Jason Campbell looked terrible against the Niners in Week 6, which should make it easy for the Raiders to turn back to Bruce Gradkowski as soon as his injured shoulder will allow. Already this season, Murphy has enjoyed two five-catch games with Gradkowski under center – the first of which coming all in the second half of a game started by Campbell. Murphy disappointed in the last game he shared with Gradkowski, but the good ones plus some 2009 success is enough to breed optimism for when the two reconnect.
2011 Potential Front-Liners
Other 2011 Notables
Free in 2012
Jerry Hairston Jr.
Jorge de la Rosa
Chan Ho Park
* either player, current club or both hold an option for 2011
In August, Ross was merely playing out the season in Florida in front of (generously) 10,000 fans every night. But after a call from the Giants — presumably to keep the rival Padres from getting him — Ross has become a postseason hero for the G-Men. His week began Monday night with a home run and a game-winning hit to clinch the NLDS series with the Braves. He then took Roy Halladay deep twice to lead the Giants to a win in Game 1 of the NLCS. He followed with another homer off Roy Oswalt in Game 2, a Giants' loss. In three playoff games this week, Ross in 5-9 with four home runs and five RBIs.
New York Yankees vs. Texas Rangers
Game 1 – Fri. – 8:00 – at Texas
C.C. Sabathia vs. C.J. Wilson
Game 2 – Sat. – 4:00 – at Texas
Phil Hughes v. Colby Lewis
Game 3 – Mon. – 8:00 – at New York
Andy Pettitte v. Cliff Lee
Game 4 – Tue. – 8:00 – at New York
A.J. Burnett v. Tommy Hunter
Game 5 – Wed. – 4:00 – at New York
Phil Hughes v. Colby Lewis
Game 6 – Fri. – 8:00 – at Texas
Andy Pettitte v. Cliff Lee
Game 7 – Sat. – 8:00 – at Texas
C.C. Sabathia v. C.J. Wilson
The marquee matchup of the ALDS will be Game 3 in New York when postseason ace in any uniform, Cliff Lee, faces postseason veteran Andy Pettitte. Lee is 6-0 with a 1.44 ERA in his seven postseason starts. Pettitte has won 18 postseason games and was the starter in all three of the Yankees’ clinching games in the 2009 postseason.
Unfortunately for the Rangers, Game 3 may be anticlimactic. C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis must first negotiate the Yankees’ powerful lineup in Games 1&2. C.C. Sabathia will be heavily favored in Game 1, and Phil Hughes proved he was ready for prime time with a stellar start against the Twins in the ALDS.
While Lee may be a Yankee killer, he will make only two starts as he did last year for the Phillies in the World Series. He may not get an opportunity to make his second start this series.
The Yankees’ exceptional lineup and seasoned experience will be too much for the upstart Rangers. The future may be brighter in Texas than it is in New York as the Yankees are aging. But the present is much brighter in pinstripes.
San Francisco Giants vs. Philadelphia Phillies
Game 1 – Sat. – 7:30 – at Philadelphia
Tim Lincecum v. Roy Halladay
Game 2 – Sun. – 8:00 – at Philadelphia
Jonathan Sanchez v. Roy Oswalt
Game 3 – Tue. – 4:00 – at San Francisco
Matt Cain v. Cole Hamels
Game 4 – Wed. – 7:30 – at San Francisco
Madison Bumgarner v. Joe Blanton
Game 5 – Thur. – 7:30 – at San Francisco
Tim Lincecum v. Roy Halladay
Game 6 – Sat. – 3:30 – at Philadelphia
Jonathan Sanchez v. Roy Oswalt
Game 7 – Sun. – 7:30 – at Philadelphia
Matt Cain v. Cole Hamels
Game 1 features one of the best pitching matchups we’ve seen in the postseason of all-time. Defending two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum of the Giants faces the Phillies’ Roy Halladay — he of a regular-season perfect game and postseason no-hitter. Following matchups of Jonathan Sanchez and Roy Oswalt, and Matt Cain and Cole Hamels plaster the scoreboard with zeroes.
But starting pitching is the only area in which the Giants can hang with the Phillies. The Giants have been resilient in fighting their way through a tight NL West race. They thrive on playing close games, having to battle through every at-bat. The battling mentality will serve them well in Philadelphia, but it won’t be sufficient to plate enough runs to keep up with the Phils’ potent lineup.
Defensively, the Phillies are better than solid, both in the infield and outfield. They won’t beat themselves. The bullpen is deep and closer Brad Lidge had been unflappable of late, reminiscent of the 2008 postseason.
If the series makes it back to Philadelphia, which is doubtful, the Phillies will end in Game 6.
“I am the way, the truth and the Sports Lite.’’ Not to, you know, brag or anything, but how many other columns out there got some love in the Bible? …
The latest on the Brett Favre saga: Favre’s marriage has been listed as questionable on the Vikings’ injury report. …
Favre completed his 500th touchdown pass the other night. Well, not counting the short skirts in the front office. …
For the record, I’m a big Favre fan. I don’t know if this stuff is true, but since he hasn’t denied any of it, I’m thinking he got caught with his pants down. His sweatpants, too. …
Come on, Brett, this is the 21st century. At least make something up. Tell them somebody spiked your water bottle and made you hallucinate. Either that or you’re a devout Mennonite like Floyd Landis and you’d never do such a thing. …
What, you think the media are being rough on Favre? I can’t wait to see what sign Packers GM Ted Thompson draws up for the Vikings’ visit to Lambeau next week. …
NFL officials have been trying to get through to Jenn Sterger to no avail. Let me guess. She’s on a conference call with the editors at Playboy. …
The Making of a Dynasty? Yes
by Ethan Skolnick
Basketball, even at the highest level, is a simple game based on simple strategies and even simpler arithmetic.
Your offense is only as dynamic and efficient as the number of players who demand a double-team. Double-teams increase the likelihood that somebody will get a clear and open look at the basket — on balance, in rhythm and unforced. After all, even average NBA players can exploit that extra space to score.
So if you have a star, you can probably produce enough points to make the playoffs. But it’s hard to go much further. The Heat have been one of those teams the past two seasons, with Dwyane Wade carrying almost all the load. Historically, to contend, NBA teams have needed two legitimate stars, forcing defenses to pick their poison, which is why Pau Gasol’s addition to Kobe Bryant’s Lakers was so impactful.
What if you have three? What if you have three of the league’s top-10 talents, all entering or in their primes? What if you have three players who have shot high percentages even when flanked by teammates that few defenses feared?
Here’s what happens, and will happen for Pat Riley’s Miami Heat: You win a championship immediately, in the first season that those three stars are on the same side.
After all, the Celtics won a championship in their first season (2007-08) after adding Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to Paul Pierce, and all were in their 30s, all about a half-step slower than they’d been a half-decade before. Wade, 28, is currently better than Allen was when he got to Boston. LeBron James, 25, is better than Pierce was then. And if Chris Bosh, 26, isn’t clearly better than Garnett was, he likely has much better days ahead.
As for the skeptics who wonder whether this will work? Well, they need to get working calculators.
Wade demands a double-team. James demands a double-team. Bosh demands a double-team. Last time we checked, the NBA doesn’t allow the sixth man to enter the game until a starter leaves the floor. So you can’t double-team all three at once, even if you wanted to, even if you were comfortable leaving the Heat’s other two players entirely alone. That means that at least one of them, at virtually all times, will have single coverage. And, quite simply, that’s basketball suicide. Bosh has a varied offensive repertoire, and has been one of the league’s most consistent and efficient frontcourt players from his second season forward — even while playing with no one better in Toronto than a bored Hedo Turkoglu or a declining Jermaine O’Neal.
Wade and James are among the league’s three most difficult perimeter assignments, not just because of their skill level (Wade’s first step and James’ strength) but also because of the respect they garner from the officials. When they’re not at the rim, they’ll be at the line. Think their games aren’t complementary? James has never seemed comfortable in the late-game killer role. Wade thrives on it. James loves to pass. Wade has shown a willingness to share when he trusts his teammates. How could he not trust these guys?
So it really doesn’t matter which other two players are on the floor — after landing the Big Three, Riley could have just chosen the complementary pieces out of the American Airlines Arena crowd. Instead, he piled on. He added three of the league’s premier shooters in Mike Miller, Eddie House and James Jones (whose wrist has finally healed) to stand out on the 3-point line and dare opponents to ignore them. He loaded up the frontcourt with solid screen-setters, starting with Udonis Haslem, Joel Anthony and Jamaal Magloire, to free the Big Three on the rare occasions they don’t do so themselves. And he brought back Carlos Arroyo to bring the ball up the floor and give it to a rested James or Wade to take it from there.
Sure, you say, but defense wins championships. Well, this has the potential to be a strong defensive team. Anthony has been one of the league’s best shot-blockers on a 48-minute basis. Haslem and Magloire are physical and tireless positional defenders. The Heat missed out on acquiring a proven irritator of opposing swingmen, someone like Matt Barnes or Raja Bell, who signed with the Lakers and Jazz, respectively. But Wade and James have both shown that when they are energetic and enthused, they can dominate on that end. They should both be more energetic because they’ll get more rest, not only on the sidelines but also when on the floor, since they aren’t responsible for creating every shot for themselves or someone else.
And you can bet they’ll both be enthused.
Nothing motivates like negative press, and the trio — Miami Thrice, the Triple Play, the Heatles, whatever — has heard plenty of that since this officially came together on July 8. They’ve heard that they colluded, to the detriment of fair NBA competition. They’ve heard that they each ran from the responsibility of leading a franchise, taking the easy way out. They’ve heard, from legends like Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley and Reggie Miller, that yesterday’s stars would never have joined forces like this.
“I’m going to have a lot of stuff in my locker,” James says of the criticism. “I like that. It’s on.”
It will fuel them, getting them through the boredom of the 82-game slog. Until they can take a run at the team on top.
“We know the Lakers are the defending champions, two-time defending champions, and they’re a very, very, very good team,” Wade says.
They are. But this team will be great. A dynasty. Starting now.
The Making of a Dynasty? No
by Michael Murphy
Oh, it’s tempting. Very tempting.
Seeing two-time reigning MVP LeBron James joining 2006 Finals MVP Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami makes you want to hand the Heat the NBA title. Not just one, either. Two. Three. Four. However many they want to win — an endless string of championships, parades and good times on South Beach.
It’s a breathtaking glimpse of the new world order, NBA-style.
Yes, it’s very tempting.
But let’s not get carried away with the coronation just yet. Sure, James, Wade and Bosh make up the best power trio since Cream, but don’t be too surprised if this super-collider experiment turns out to be a relative dud.
Will they be entertaining? Yes.
Will they win a lot of games? Definitely.
Are they a lock to win the title? Hardly.
Make no mistake, nobody’s saying that it can’t work. Even if the Heat fielded only the Three Kings and went 3-on-5 every night (and some will insist that Miami will be doing precisely that), you’d still have to throw them into the discussion of potential champions.
But history tells us that the road is going to be tougher than most people think.
Yes, this bold experiment has been tried before, and for the most part, the previous efforts have failed to meet the incredible expectations.
In 1968, the Los Angeles Lakers put together what then was the greatest collection of individual talent ever to play on one team. Wilt Chamberlain, the most dominant offensive force in the history of the game, joined Jerry West and Elgin Baylor to make the first real superteam.
Just like today, there was much hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth over how the Lakers were going to be an unbeatable juggernaut, win a slew of titles and destroy the sanctity of the game. Didn’t quite work out that way. The Lakers were derailed by Boston in the Finals, with Bill Russell leading the aging Celtics, a true team, to one last, dynasty-closing championship. It wasn’t until three years later, after Baylor retired nine games into the 1971-72 season, that the Lakers finally won their championship.
In 1976, Julius Erving, the LeBron James of his time, joined the Philadelphia 76ers, which featured All-Stars George McGinnis and Doug Collins. There was similar fanfare, but the Sixers, who won “only” 50 games, were shot down by Bill Walton’s Portland Trail Blazers in the NBA Finals.
In 1996, Charles Barkley hopped on board with the Houston Rockets, joining Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler (later replaced by Scottie Pippen) to form another dazzling constellation of superstars. But the team couldn’t develop the proper chemistry and never advanced past the Western Conference finals.
Of course there have been a few examples of power trios that actually worked. The Chicago Bulls teamed Michael Jordan, Pippen and Dennis Rodman, a dynamic trio that won three straight championships. But it worked well because Rodman never got in the way offensively, preferring to stick to defense and rebounding while leaving most of the shots — and the glory — to Jordan and Pippen.
And the Boston Celtics wrung an NBA title out of the teaming of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. Garnett and Allen were done-it-all veterans nearing the ends of illustrious careers, so they were willing to subjugate their egos in pursuit of the only thing that had eluded them, a ring, which they got in 2008 to cap a glorious 66-win season.
But as the Lakers, Sixers and Rockets clearly illustrated, it’s not just about adding superstars together. No, the area to watch is chemistry, which is why Miami’s experiment could blow up in their faces. James, Wade and Bosh are not end-of-the-line veterans. No, they’re young studs who have always been the No. 1 options for their teams. How will that be addressed in the locker room and team huddle?
And each of these three has always been the last guy to trot onto the floor — usually after an elaborately choreographed signature routine with his teammates — during the pre-game introductions. What now? And don’t for a second think that anything that trivial doesn’t matter, because in the ego-driven world of professional sports, it does.
Indeed, everything matters.
Who’s the facilitator and who’s the finisher? Who takes the last shot? Who has the ball in his hands at the end of the game? And how long before the respective families, friends, “advisors,” and “team members” start counting up the shots, headlines and column inches? How long until the ties that bind these three mega-stars together start fraying?
Sure, they said and did all the right things during the 2008 Olympics, but that was a very short sample with the outcome all but assured, not the under-the-microscope pressure of an 82-game season and playoff run.
Then there’s the ridiculous pressure on the coach, who knows that most fans expect them to go 82–0. And how long before the “other” teammates grow tired of their relative invisibility? It all contributes to friction in the locker room, where many of the Heat’s games will be won and lost.
Whatever the result, the Heat did all the right things to position themselves for what will certainly be a very memorable stretch.
“The road to history,” James wrote on his Twitter account, “starts now.”
Let’s see where — and just how far — that road takes them.
Ranking the Offseason Moves
1. L.A. Lakers Mitch Kupchak’s key offseason moves included re-signing Derek Fisher and replacing backup point guard Jordan Farmar with Steve Blake. He also brought in former Laker nemesis Matt Barnes and backup center Theo Ratliff. All three newcomers will help improve Phil Jackson’s rotation.
2. Dallas Mavericks The biggest move here was re-signing Dirk Nowitzki, but Dallas also added size and shot-blocking by re-signing Brendan Haywood and unloading Erick Dampier, Matt Carroll and Eduardo Najera in exchange for Tyson Chandler and Alexis Ajinca.
3. Houston Rockets Daryl Morey brought back restricted free agents Luis Scola and Kyle Lowry and added Brad Miller as insurance for Yao Ming, who returns from a year-long absence.
4. Phoenix Suns Despite losing Amar’e Stoudemire to free agency, Phoenix was able to fortify the front line by re-signing Channing Frye and acquiring Hakim Warrick and Josh Childress. The Suns also traded for Hedo Turkoglu to replace some of Stoudemire’s scoring.
5. Oklahoma City Thunder Inking Kevin Durant to a long-term extension amid all of the LeBron chaos was one of the more deft moves made this offseason, and the Thunder also added vets Morris Peterson and Daequan Cook to fill key roles for Scott Brooks’ ever-improving rotation.
All-Western Conference Preseason Team
Kobe Bryant G L.A. Lakers
Tim Duncan F San Antonio
Kevin Durant G Oklahoma City
Pau Gasol F L.A. Lakers
Deron Williams G Utah
Carmelo Anthony F Denver
Yao Ming C Houston
Dirk Nowitzki F Dallas
Chris Paul G New Orleans
Brandon Roy G Portland
Andrew Bynum C L.A. Lakers
Rudy Gay F Memphis
Manu Ginobili G San Antonio
David Lee F Golden State
Steve Nash G Phoenix
James Anderson G San Antonio
DeMarcus Cousins F Sacramento
Xavier Henry G Memphis
Quincy Pondexter F New Orleans
Tiago Splitter F San Antonio
Coaches on the Rise
Gentry landed the Suns in the Western Conference Finals last season.
The reigning Coach of the Year leads a hungry team into the 2010-11 season.
Coach on the Hot Seat
Nellie became the all-time winningest coach in NBA history last season, but new owner Joseph Lacob won’t have much patience if the Warriors produce another losing campaign.
One More Year
After leading the Lakers to the franchise’s 16th title, coach Phil Jackson — the owner of 11 championship rings — opted to return to the sidelines in pursuit of what would be an amazing fourth three-peat as a head coach. In announcing his decision, Jackson said the 2010-11 season would be his “last stand.”
Time to Shine
The following players are primed for big seasons in 2010-11.
Expect to see a few in the All-Star Game.
G Golden State
G L.A. Clippers
G San Antonio
G New Orleans
G Oklahoma City
Don’t be surprised if the following players take a step
(or, in some cases, another step) backward this season.
G L.A. Lakers
G L.A. Clippers
G L.A. Lakers
C New Orleans
G San Antonio
David Lee, Golden State (six years, $80 million)
A first-time All-Star last season with the Knicks, Lee’s offensive skills will shine in Golden State’s system.
Hakim Warrick, Phoenix (four years, $18 million)
Warrick’s talents will be showcased in the up-tempo Phoenix attack.
Darko Milicic, Minnesota (four years, $20 million)
Another nonsensical offseason move by David Kahn resulted in the former No. 2 overall pick stealing money from the Wolves.
Wesley Matthews, Portland (five years, $32.5 million) Give the undrafted rookie credit for making the most of his minutes in Utah.
Ranking the Offseason Moves
1. Miami Heat It doesn’t get much better than re-signing Dwyane Wade and adding LeBron James and Chris Bosh —and convincing all three to take less than max dollars. Miami also re-signed Udonis Haslem while bringing in Mike Miller, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Juwan Howard and Eddie House to fill key roles.
2. Boston Celtics Quietly, the Celtics brought back their core — coach Doc Rivers, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen — and re-upped role players Nate Robinson and Marquis Daniels. The addition of the O’Neals — Jermaine and Shaquille — gives Boston some support down low while Kendrick Perkins works his way back from knee surgery.
3. Chicago Bulls Chicago hit a home run by hiring Tom Thibodeau as head coach and became the Utah Jazz of the Eastern Conference by inking Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer. The addition of Kurt Thomas helps mitigate the loss of Brad Miller, while C.J. Watson will help spell Derrick Rose.
4. Milwaukee Bucks Scott Skiles’ squad will have help in the scoring department after bringing in Corey Maggette from Golden State, and re-signing John Salmons. Keyon Dooling will give Brandon Jennings a solid backup following the departure of Luke Ridnour. The Bucks also added some interior depth with Drew Gooden and Jon Brockman.
5. New York Knicks Knicks fans were hoping to land two max players last summer but will have to settle for one in the form of Amar’e Stoudemire. New York also landed Raymond Felton via free agency and Anthony Randolph, Ronny Turiaf and Kelenna Azubuike from the Warriors in the sign-and-trade deal for David Lee.
Time to Shine
The following players are primed for breakout seasons in 2010-11:
Jeff Teague, G, Atlanta
Joakim Noah, C, Chicago
Brandon Jennings, G, Milwaukee
Brook Lopez, C, New Jersey
Terrence Williams, F, New Jersey
Anthony Randolph, F, New York
Andray Blatche, F, Washington
Chris Bosh, F, Miami
Dwight Howard, C, Orlando
LeBron James, F, Miami
Rajon Rondo, G, Boston
Dwyane Wade, G, Miami
Andrew Bogut, C, Milwaukee
Joe Johnson, G, Atlanta
Paul Pierce, F, Boston
Derrick Rose, G, Chicago
Amar’e Stoudemire, F, New York
Carlos Boozer, F, Chicago
Danny Granger, F, Indiana
Brook Lopez, C, New Jersey
Jameer Nelson, G, Orlando
Gerald Wallace, F, Charlotte
Ed Davis, F, Toronto
Derrick Favors, F, New Jersey
Greg Monroe, F, Detroit
Evan Turner, G, Philadelphia
John Wall, G, Washington
Coaches on the Rise
Tom Thibodeau, Chicago
The defensive specialist’s style should translate well in Chicago. He’ll also have a lot of talent to work with.
Avery Johnson, New Jersey
After the Nets’ near-record losing season, there’s nowhere to go but up.
Scott Skiles, Milwaukee
Skiles’ hard-nosed approach nearly landed the Bucks in the second round of the playoffs even without Andrew Bogut and Michael Redd.
Coaches on the Hot Seat
Jay Triano, Toronto
After losing the services of Chris Bosh and Hedo Turkoglu, Triano won’t have a whole lot to work with this season.
Jim O’Brien, Indiana
O’Brien has presided over three straight losing campaigns in Indiana, and things aren’t likely to turn around anytime soon.
Erik Spoelstra, Miami
Spoelstra is Miami’s coach … for now. With the legendary Pat Riley peering over the railing of his front office seat, the onus is on Spoelstra to prove he can lead a team constructed to win big and win now. Remember that Riley replaced Stan Van Gundy early in Miami’s 2005-06 championship campaign, so the precedent has been set if Spoelstra hits a rough patch.
Don’t be surprised if the following players take a step (or, in some cases, another step) backward this season.
Ray Allen, G, Boston
Leandro Barbosa, G, Toronto
Elton Brand, F, Philadelphia
Richard Hamilton, G, Detroit
Devin Harris, G, New Jersey
Josh Howard, F, Washington
Rashard Lewis, F, Orlando
Mike Miller, Miami (five years, $29 million)
Miller will get plenty of open looks in Miami with opposing defenses concentrating on the Big Three.
Kyle Korver, Chicago (three years, $15 million)
Every team needs a good shooter, and Korver is an excellent one. He shot an NBA-best 53.6 percent from 3-point range last season.
Amir Johnson, Toronto (five years, $34 million)
What has Johnson proven to deserve this kind of money? He finished the season strong but still averaged just 6.2 points and 4.8 rebounds in 2009-10.
Joe Johnson, Atlanta (six years, $124 million)
While the market was willing to reward a player of Johnson’s caliber, the question has to be asked: Was the 29-year-old really worth max dollars?
1. LeBron James (Miami) six years, $110 million
A King’s ransom? Not quite, as the Heat got the best player in the game to sign the dotted line for less than the maximum amount.
2. Dwyane Wade (Miami) six years, $107 million
Not only was Wade willing to share his turf with two other superstars, but he also agreed to share some of his dough, leaving money on the table when he re-upped with the Heat.
3. Chris Bosh (Miami) six years, $110 million
Most people felt that Bosh wasn’t a max contract type of player. Luckily for Miami, Bosh apparently agreed, as he’ll try to scrape by on $110 million over the next six years.
4. Derek Fisher (Lakers) three years, $10.5 million
He may be an old man and not a “true” point guard, but he fits perfectly in the Lakers’ triangle offense, and most important, Kobe Bryant trusts him.
5. Carlos Boozer (Chicago) five years, $80 million
That’s a lot of money ($80 million) for a guy who resembles a pylon on defense, but the Bulls need an offensive big man to team up with defensive-minded Joakim Noah. Boozer is a guaranteed 20 and 10 guy who cost the Bulls $20 million less than Amar’e Stoudemire would have.
6. Ray Allen (Boston) two years, $20 million
He may have been hot and cold in the playoffs, and is getting long in the tooth, but overall, Allen’s game has been fairly consistent over the course of his Celtics career. Even better, considering he made $18 million last season, this new contract gives Boston a “two years for the price of one” discount.
7. Anthony Morrow (New Jersey) three years, $12 million
At 25 years old, Morrow appears ready to have a breakout season, which makes him a perfect fit for the Nets’ young, rebuilding team. New Jersey got him in the prime of his career for the bargain basement average of $4 million per season.
8. Ronnie Brewer (Chicago) three years, $12.5 million
Similarly, Chicago got a bargain of its own — the 25-year-old Brewer. You don’t get starting shooting guards who can bring it at both ends of the floor for this cheap very often.
9. Randy Foye (Clippers) two years, $8.5 million
Foye might have had an off-year last season in Washington, but he gives the Clippers a versatile guard, capable of playing either spot in the backcourt and lighting up the scoreboard.
10. Matt Barnes (Lakers) two years, $3.7 million
Barnes has always been a thorn in Kobe Bryant’s side, so the Lakers came up with a solution — sign him as a free agent. To get him out of Kobe’s hair alone is worth his $3.7 million contract. He’ll also be good for some offense off the bench.
1. Joe Johnson (Atlanta) six years, $124 million
Johnson is 29 years old, shot under 30 percent from the field as the Magic swept the Hawks out of the playoffs and left the court to the sound of hometown boos. Atlanta thought this added up to a six-year max contract.
2. Rudy Gay (Memphis) five years, $82 million
The consensus is that the Grizzlies paid Gay a lot more than any opposing suitor would have. Now where’s the money going to come from when teammates O.J. Mayo and Marc Gasol see their contracts expire over the next couple of years?
3. Tyrus Thomas (Charlotte) five years, $40 million
Thomas has already played four seasons in the NBA and has never come close to reaching the potential teams saw in him. Do you really want to gamble $40 million that the light bulb is going to go on now?
4. Jermaine O’Neal (Boston) two years, $12 million
The Celtics must have been so impressed with the four points and six rebounds that Jermaine O’Neal averaged against them in the playoffs last season that they just had to give him $12 million to play for them.
5. Amar’e Stoudemire (New York) five years, $100 million
So this is what $100 million buys you in the NBA today — a player with bad knees, bad eyes and bad defense.
6. Amir Johnson (Toronto) five years, $34 million
Johnson has career averages of 15 minutes, five points and four boards per game. In Canada, this is worth $34 million. So why again does Toronto have trouble attracting free agents?!
7. Kyle Lowry (Houston) four years, $24 million
Houston decided it was a good idea to pay their backup point guard (Kyle Lowry) more than twice what they are paying their starting point guard (Aaron Brooks). Brooks ought to ask to move to the bench so he can get a pay raise.
8. Travis Outlaw (New Jersey) five years, $35 million
Outlaw managed to play in only 34 games last year (and shot under 40 percent from the field) due to a foot injury. This earned him a contract worth more than double his last one (for that, his agent deserves a raise, too).
9. Richard Jefferson (San Antonio) four years, $39 million
Jefferson proved to be a horrible fit in San Antonio last year, having his worst season since his rookie year. Yet he surprisingly opted out of his contract. But what’s even more surprising is that the Spurs handed him $39 million to stick around.
10. Brendan Haywood (Dallas) six years, $55 million
Haywood is an average player at best whose prime years are behind him. However, Dallas locked him up until he is 36 years old, at which point they’ll have paid him $55 million. Such are the perks of being a 7-footer.
Wizard of Wisdom
John Wooden left this Earthly plane on Friday, June 4, but the 99-year-old, 10-time national title winning former UCLA coach transcended the world of sports long ago.
A combination of the honest Abe Lincoln of hoops and the Dalai Lama of Los Angeles, the “Wizard of Westwood” was not just college basketball’s most accomplished coach, he was one of America’s wisest men and most respected elders at the time of his death.
Granted, Wooden’s achievements on the hardwood — as a player and a coach — are what most will remember him for. Not quite six-feet tall, Wooden was a three-time All-State selection and 1927 state champion at Martinsville (Ind.) High School before becoming a three-time All-American and unofficial 1932 national champ at Purdue.
After spending 11 years as a high school coach — two at Dayton (Ky.) HS and nine more at South Bend (Ind.) Central HS — Wooden coached two seasons at Indiana Teachers College (now known as Indiana State) before taking over for Wilbur Johns at UCLA in 1948. The rest is history.
Over 27 seasons as coach of the Bruins from 1948-75, Wooden led UCLA to an unprecedented 12 Final Four appearances, winning an NCAA-record 10 national titles (1964, ’65, ’67, ’68, ’69, ’70, ’71, ’72, ’73, ’75), including seven straight from 1967-73. At the pinnacle, Wooden’s Bruins won 88 consecutive games from Jan. 23, 1971 until the streak ended Jan. 19, 1974 — posting back-to-back undefeated 30–0 seasons in 1971-72 and ’72-73 during that remarkable run.
Wooden’s golden era was fueled largely by a pair of 7-foot superstars — New York City prodigy Lew Alcindor, who would later change his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and red-headed San Diegan hippie Bill Walton, who would become the coach’s most public and devout follower.
In a piece entitled “Tribute to Coach” on Wooden’s official website, CoachWooden.com, Walton put his surprisingly poignant thoughts about the iconic leader on paper while he was still alive:
“It’s usually sad to say goodbye to those you love when it’s time to go. Not so with John Wooden. With him, it’s always about the next time, the next event, the next game. John Wooden still has the enthusiasm, energy, industriousness, initiative and love of life that allows him to get up every day, quite early I must add, even though the legs are now failing him, with the attitude of ‘We get to play basketball today. Let’s go.’
“I thank John Wooden every day for all his selfless gifts, his lessons, his time, his vision and especially his patience.
“This is why we call him coach.”
Although his 10 rings and 620 career wins at UCLA are incredible, they are only drops in the vast ocean of the teacher Wooden was. His “Pyramid of Success” philosophies and the love he had for his childhood sweetheart and wife of 53 years, Nell — even after she passed away in 1985, Wooden would write a love letter to her on the 21st of every month — speak volumes about a man whose life spanned a century but whose values never changed with the times.
Born on October 14, 1910 in Hall, Indiana, John Robert Wooden carried himself with a patient dignity and sincere humility that demanded respect and inspired awe in many until his death on June 4, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. However, Wooden has left behind a legacy of words to live by:
“Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.”
“Talent is God-given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.”
“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”
“Don’t measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability.”
“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”
“Your greatest strength is your greatest weakness.”
“The carrot is mightier than the stick.”
“Ability is a poor man’s wealth.”
“The worst thing you can do for someone is to do something for them they can and should do for themselves.”
“Don’t let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”
“If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.”
“Don’t look at the scoreboard.”
“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”
“It’s not so important who starts the game, but who finishes it.”
“You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.”
“Don’t be afraid to fail. The greatest failure of all is failure to act when action is needed.”
“It isn’t what you do, but how you do it.”
“Make each day your masterpiece.”
By Ken Davis
Athlon Sports Contributor
The NCAA Tournament always arrives with the promise of surprises. Some come in the form of upsets on the court. Others develop into stories behind the scenes. The 2010 version has yet to begin and already there has been an unexpected development. Not a full-blown controversy, but certainly a matter of intrigue for one No. 1 seed.
Last week at this time, who knew that a major focal point for NCAA fans would be the injured right quadriceps of Syracuse center Arinze Onuaku? The injury didn’t happen until Thursday night when Syracuse lost to Georgetown 91-84 in the quarterfinals of the Big East Conference tournament. Onuaku received intensive medical treatment all weekend and Syracuse reportedly kept the NCAA basketball committee informed on his condition.
Sunday night the Orange received the No. 1 seed in the West Regional. Essentially, the committee stated that Syracuse dropped to the fourth No. 1 overall because of the uncertainty over Onuaku’s status. Not a major seismic shift on the S-curve. Still, the impression was that the center would be ready to play.
But less than 18 hours after the field was announced, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim went on ESPN and said Onuaku won’t play Friday against Vermont in the first round and probably would be on the bench if the Orange advance to the second round.
“We’re not counting on him this weekend,” Boeheim said on ESPN. “He’s made good progress, but I’m not overly optimistic [about Friday].”
By then, the question was who knew what -- and when. During a conference call with reporters Monday afternoon, NCAA committee chair Dan Guerrero said he didn’t feel misled by Syracuse.
“I believe they provided the information they felt was appropriate at the time,” Guerrero said. “There’s no reason for us to question anyone’s integrity in that circumstance. They made the decision that they made to sit him.”
On Sunday, Guerrero had said with an injury of that magnitude, the committee tries to get as much information as possible. “We feel that he’s going to be able to come back, based on the information that we have. They’ve earned a No. 1 seed,” he said.
Injuries are an interesting element in seeding. The committee had much more time to evaluate Purdue without Robbie Hummel and the Boilermakers clearly paid a price for that. Purdue, at one time a possible No. 1 seed, was given a No. 4 and sent to the South.
Syracuse (28-4) did have an incredible season, but Onuaku’s injury is just one doubt surrounding the Orange heading into the tournament. Before the loss to Georgetown in Madison Square Garden, Syracuse lost its regular season finale at Louisville. No team has ever won the national championship after failing to win at least one game in its conference tournament. Certainly that can be overcome, but Syracuse has a rotation of just seven players with Onuaku. Boeheim said Kris Joseph, the Big East’s Sixth Man of the Year, will move into the starting lineup.
Syracuse, which features its 2-3 zone defense and has been an excellent transition team this season, has had excellent chemistry. Onuaku is Syracuse’s career field-goal percentage leader (64.9) and is averaging 10.7 points and 5.2 rebounds. Joseph is averaging 11 points but that chemistry could change and the minutes for the other Syracuse players will have to be adjusted by Boeheim.
“He’s a key part of our team,” Boeheim said after the injury.
Vermont defeated Syracuse in the first round of the 2005 tournament when Syracuse was a No. 4 seed. History isn’t likely to repeat itself. But Syracuse’s problems could increase the longer Onuaku is out and his effectiveness could be a question the entire tournament.
Vermont has one of the most explosive players in the tournament in Marqus Blakely, the two-time America East player of the year. The Catamounts also have Maurice Joseph, a Michigan State transfer and older brother of Syracuse’s Joseph.
Coaching Carousel Set In Motion
If Monday was any indication, it appears there will be many coaching jobs opening up -- and soon.
It came as little surprise that Iowa parted company with coach Todd Lickliter after only three seasons. Hawkeye fans had been unhappy with Lickliter and 22 losses made it impossible for athletic director Gary Barta to bring him back for a fourth season. The school has an exceptional passion for basketball but all the losing had resulted in home games being played before a half-empty arena.
Lickliter had four years left on a seven-year contract worth $1.2 million a year but Iowa will pay him only about $2.4 million total, Barta said. Lickliter did not attend the press conference announcing his firing.
Two other coaches fired Monday had much longer tenures than Lickliter. Charlotte fired Bobby Lutz, who had been at his alma mater for 12 seasons and is the school’s all-time winningest coach with a 218-158 record. Kirk Speraw also was the winningest coach at UCF but he is now unemployed after 17 years. UCF finished 15-17 this season but Speraw’s mark there was 279-233 with four NCAA bids. Hard to believe either would stay without jobs for too long.
One coach who isn’t going anywhere right now is UConn’s Jim Calhoun. Despite a report before the Big East tournament that Calhoun was retiring, he announced last week he had reached an agreement on a contract extension with the school he has led to two national championships. Calhoun still has to finalize everything by signing the new deal but he told reporters Monday the announcement was necessary because rumors of his retirement were hurting UConn in recruiting.
Planting The Seeds
Considering the overall weak perception of this year’s field, it had to be easier for the tournament committee to select the at-large bids that it was to put the pieces of the bracket together. There was plenty of evidence of that across the top two lines. Kansas and Kentucky were assigned the top No. 1 seeds but their path to the Final Four clearly is tougher than that of Duke or Syracuse.
Kansas, the overall No. 1 seed, is in the Midwest with No. 2 Ohio State, No. 3 Georgetown, No. 4 Maryland and No. 5 Michigan State. Throw in Oklahoma State and Tennessee, the only two teams to beat the Jayhawks this season, and it promises to be an eventful ride for Kansas.
The general consensus is that the Midwest is the toughest of the four brackets.
“There’s lots of challenges,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “I look at the bracket, and I know the committee does a fabulous job, I don’t think they did us any favors. But I’m sure every coach in the field probably feels the same way.”
Think of the all-regional team that could be put together in the Midwest. Along with Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich at Kansas, you’ve got Ohio State’s Evan Turner, Georgetown’s Greg Monroe, Maryland’s Greivis Vasquez and Oklahoma State’s James Anderson. Houston, in the tournament for the first time since 1992, is in the Midwest as well. Aubrey Coleman, the nation’s leading scorer, leads the Cougars.
Joining Kentucky in the East is No. 2 West Virginia, the winner of the Big East tournament. Some would say New Mexico is seeded too high at No. 3 but Steve Alford’s team is tough. Wisconsin, Temple and Marquette are also in the East. There are teams there that can run with Kentucky and there are physical teams that could push around the Wildcats more than they want to be.
When Ohio State came up on the Selection Show as the No. 2 in the Midwest, Calipari told his players: “We wanted Ohio State.” Really? How strange. Maybe Coach Cal should call Self and work on a swap. Not sure how that would settle with West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, who didn’t think his Big East tournament champions got enough respect with a No. 2 seed -- especially lumped in Kentucky’s region. And when you look at Villanova’s No. 2 seed in the South with No. 1 Duke, you’ve really got to agree with Huggins.
Spotlight on NIT
Still trying to figure out the top four teams that just missed the NCAA? The bracket for the National Invitation Tournament provides a pretty good clue. Illinois, Arizona State, Virginia Tech and Mississippi State received the four No. 1 seeds in the NIT.
It will be interesting to watch the attendance figures and the television ratings from the NIT with those four schools and some other traditional powers, such as North Carolina, Connecticut, NC State, Memphis and Seton Hall in the field.
Illinois coach Bruce Weber must feel like the coach with the worst luck in the nation. After the Illini (19-14) missed out on an at-large bid to the NCAA it would seem a No. 1 seed for the NIT would be good news. Instead, Cirque du Soleil is booked to start a run of shows at Assembly Hall on Wednesday. That means the Illini will open NIT play on the road, at No. 8 seed Stony Brook.
Stony Brook (22-9) won the America East regular season championship but lost in the semifinals of the conference tourney. Coach Steve Pikiell’s team is pumped up about the school’s first postseason experience.
“For us, this is just a huge opportunity, nothing our community has ever felt,” Pikiell told The Chicago Tribune. “The students are lined up outside my office now, getting their student lottery tickets.”
It's not likely Stony Brook will make it, but Madison Square Garden would welcome the Long Island entry, along with UConn, North Carolina, and either St. John's or Seton Hall to the NIT Final Four on March 30. Lost in all the discussion of NCAA Tournament expansion is the future of the NIT, which is now run by the NCAA.
The NIT has to be part of the equation.
“We’ve had a very good experience with the NIT. The question is how can these two events coexist and coincide?” Greg Shaheen, NCAA senior vice president for basketball and business strategies, said in December.
Best NCAA Tournament First-Round Games
Midwest: No. 7 Oklahoma State vs. No. 10 Georgia Tech
West: No. 8 Gonzaga vs. No. 9 Florida State
East: No. 4 Wisconsin vs. No. 13 Wofford
South: No. 6 Notre Dame vs. No. 11 Old Dominion
Pick Your Upset (5 vs. 12)
Midwest: No. 5 Michigan State vs. No. 12 New Mexico State
West: No. 5 Butler vs. No. 12 UTEP
East: No. 5 Temple vs. No. 12 Cornell
South: No. 5 Texas A&M vs. No. 12 Utah State
(Our choice: UTEP over Butler)
Second-Round Games We Want To See
Midwest: No. 5 Michigan State vs. No. 4 Maryland
West: No. 7 BYU vs. No. 2 Kansas State
East: No. 3 New Mexico vs. No. 6 Marquette
South: No. 1 Duke vs. No. 9 Louisville
(Upset special: BYU over K-State)
Final Four Predictions
Kansas over Syracuse; Kentucky over Villanova
Kansas 79, Kentucky 73