Articles By Patrick Snow
The 2012 NFL Draft takes place April 26-28 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Fans from all 32 teams are eagerly awaiting the annual event to see their squad add some new and exciting talent. Here’s our prediction for the first round from the pages of Athlon Sports Monthly.
1. Indianapolis Colts — Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
Heir to Peyton Manning is safest quarterback prospect since John Elway.
2. Washington Redskins — Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
Heisman Trophy-winning RG3 a perfect fit for Mike Shanahan’s offense.
3. Minnesota Vikings — Matt Kalil, T, USC
Latest blindside bodyguard from Troy is most talented since Tony Boselli.
4. Cleveland Browns — Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
T-Town’s finest opens floodgates for Crimson Tidal wave in first round.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
Bayou Bengal corner/returner follows in Patrick Peterson’s top-5 footsteps.
6. St. Louis Rams — Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
Jeff Fisher trades down from No. 2, still gets new toy for Sam Bradford.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars — Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina
Schematically versatile hybrid end/backer is disruptive wherever he plays.
8. Miami Dolphins — Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
Former receiver reunites with old A&M coach, Miami OC Mike Sherman.
9. Carolina Panthers — Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
Poor man’s Julius Peppers comes at cheaper price than fellow Tar Heel.
10. Buffalo Bills — Riley Reiff, T, Iowa
After shoring up D-line in free agency, Buffalo turns to O-line in draft.
11. Kansas City Chiefs — Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
Ex-Patriots Scott Pioli, Romeo Crennel hope Poe is next Vince Wilfork.
12. Seattle Seahawks — Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
Sideline-to-sideline tackling machine flies from coast-to-coast after draft.
13. Arizona Cardinals — David DeCastro, G, Stanford
Traditionally too early for a guard, but DeCastro is a once-a-decade talent.
14. Dallas Cowboys — Mark Barron, S, Alabama
Draft’s top safety unable to work out due to hernia; game tape says it all.
15. Philadelphia Eagles — Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
Draft-eligible sophomore has raw tools to play inside or outside at next level.
16. New York Jets — Courtney Upshaw, LB, Alabama
Edge-rushing sledgehammer perfect for Rex Ryan’s attacking 3-4 defense.
17. Cincinnati Bengals — Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
Lanky cover man excels in zone coverage, may eventually move to safety.
18. San Diego Chargers — Nick Perry, DE, USC
Showed flashes for Trojans, but Bolts hope best is yet to come.
19. Chicago Bears — Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
Golden Dome’d red zone threat a nice complement to Brandon Marshall.
20. Tennessee Titans — Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
Nation’s leader in sacks (16), forced fumbles (9) brings hits to Music City.
21. Cincinnati Bengals — Cordy Glenn, G, Georgia
A.J. Green’s former teammate is a mauler inside, with feet to kick outside.
22. Cleveland Browns — Jonathan Martin, T, Stanford
Andrew Luck’s left tackle on The Farm will play on right side by the lake.
23. Detroit Lions — Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
Any young corner will benefit from having Suh, Avril and Co. up front.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers — Devon Still, DT, Penn State
Happy Valley’s lone bright spot has Steel Curtain-caliber 3-4 end skills.
25. Denver Broncos — Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
Peyton Manning may disagree, but Denver needs best player available on D-line.
26. Houston Texans — Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor
RG3’s go-to guy takes electric playmaking ability from Waco to Houston.
27. New England Patriots — Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
Talented problem child transfer from Florida has most volatile draft stock.
28. Green Bay Packers — Andre Branch, DE, Clemson
Rangy end has athleticism, frame to play outside linebacker for Packers.
29. Baltimore Ravens — Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama
Ray Lewis will be 37 years old this season. Lieutenant Hightower is 22.
30. San Francisco 49ers — Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford
Jim Harbaugh’s former Cardinal playmaker stays in Bay Area with 49ers.
31. New England Patriots — Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech
Tom Brady’s “Boston TE Party” needs a speedy, deep threat like Hill.
32. New York Giants — Mike Adams, T, Ohio State
With few glaring needs, champs replace Kareem McKenzie on right side.
Other NFL Draft-Related Content
NFL Draft: A Look at First-Round Trades
2012 NFL Draft First-Round Primer
2012 NFL Draft: Ranking the Positions
2012 NFL Draft Sleepers and Steals
2012 NFL Draft Busts: Ryan Tannehill and Dontari Poe
NFL Draft History: Busts, Sleepers and Solid Picks - Part 1
NFL Draft History: Busts, Sleepers and Solid Picks - Part 2
Biggest Busts in NFL Draft History
2012 NFL Mock Draft: Our First-Round Projection
2012 NFL Draft Stock Watch
2012 NFL Draft: Andrew Luck vs. Robert Griffin III
Q: Brett Butler was one of the best leadoff batters and bunters in baseball history. Shouldn’t he be in the Hall of Fame? What is he doing now?
— Sarah Newland, Catlettsburg, Ky.
A: Butler — who, incidentally, was the first batter Roger Clemens faced in his big league career — was a great player and one of the better leadoff hitters of his era, although his career numbers don’t quite put him in Hall of Fame territory. Six times he scored more than 100 runs in a season; he led the National League in triples four times; and he stole 558 bases in his career, ranking 24th all-time in that category. A bout with cancer, which he blamed on his use of smokeless tobacco, shortened his career, leaving him with 2,375 career hits for five different teams and a career .290 batting average. Since his retirement, he has coached for the Diamondbacks and managed at the minor league level, while also dedicating time to Christian and pro-life causes. He enters the 2012 season as the manager for Reno Aces, the D-backs’ Triple-A affiliate, a position he has held since the team’s inception in 2009. Butler led the Aces to a Pacific Coast League Northern Division title in 2011.
— Charlie Miller, Editorial Director
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Q: What player holds the NFL record for the longest fumble return for a touchdown?
— D. Francis, Round Rock, Texas
A: Actually, two players share the record: The Raiders’ Jack Tatum returned a fumble 104 yards for a touchdown on Sept. 24, 1972, against the Packers, and the Cardinals’ Aeneas Williams duplicated the feat against the Redskins on Nov. 5, 2000. The hard-hitting Tatum, who died in 2010, had 37 career interceptions, but that fumble return was his only career touchdown. Of course, there have been longer returns in NFL annals. Antonio Cromartie of the Chargers recorded the longest return of any kind when he took a missed field goal 109 yards for a touchdown against the Vikings in 2007. The Packers’ Randall Cobb (2011) and the Patriots’ Ellis Hobbs (2007) both had 108-yard kickoff returns. And the Ravens’ Ed Reed took an interception back 108 yards for a score against the Eagles in 2008. Reed, the master of touchdown returns, was the first player in NFL history to score touchdowns via interception, punt, blocked punt and fumble return.
— Rob Doster, Senior Editor
Have a question? Email us with any sports-related questions at [email protected]
Please include first and last name, plus hometown.
Q: What was the reason Tiger Woods fired his longtime caddie, Steve Williams? Was it over money when Tiger was in his slump?
— Bill Dombo, Yuba City, Calif.
A: During his tenure as Tiger Woods’ caddie, Steve Williams was no ordinary looper. Part enforcer, part bodyguard, part motivator, Williams ran interference for Tiger for a decade-plus of stunning success, becoming that rarest of sport rarities: the superstar caddie. Williams was on Tiger’s bag for 13 major championship wins and was always there with an awkward high-five or fist bump after every hero shot or clutch putt; he was also more than happy to protect his man from over-eager fans, once confiscating a camera from an amateur photographer and depositing it in a nearby pond. Their relationship extended off the course; they were in each other’s weddings, and their wives became friends. Williams also stood by his man in the wake of Tiger’s personal scandal, but as Woods sought to rebuild his life, Williams was a constant reminder of his fall from grace. The firing really shouldn’t have come as a surprise given Tiger’s inclination to reboot his inner circle from time to time, especially when members of that inner circle start grabbing too big a share of the spotlight. After all, Woods fired instructor Butch Harmon, who guided him on his ascent to superstardom, and he also fired Hank Haney, who helped Tiger maintain his status as the greatest player in the world. Williams’ behavior since the sacking — he essentially has had an ongoing public tantrum — would seem to validate Woods’ decision. Tiger made him rich and famous. It may sound cold, but he doesn’t owe him anything else.
— Rob Doster, Senior Editor
Have a question? Email us with any sports-related questions at [email protected]
Please include first and last name, plus hometown.
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for April 20.
• Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe has the Beantown perspective on Fenway Park turning 100 years old.
• Cedric Golden breaks down the Oklahoma State quarterback derby. Will Clint Chelf or J.W. Walsh replace Brandon Weeden?
• 1,050 slices of bacon on one sandwich?! This picture is amazing.
• Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel reacts to the soap opera of Magic star Dwight Howard, who will miss the postseason because of back surgery.
• Ken Sugiura of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution previews the Georgia Tech spring game, which will take place on Friday night.
• Mechelle Voepel has a wonderful column on Pat Summitt’s rainmaker effect on women’s basketball.
• ESPN SEC blogger Edward Aschoff looks at the challenges facing Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze in his first year in Oxford.
• BC Interruption is embarrassed by the lack of attendance at the Eagles spring game.
• Andy Glockner of SI.com looks at the effect of SMU hiring 71-year-old Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown.
• Scott Miller of CBS has a great piece on Fenway Park’s 100th anniversary. Love the line “…Fenway Park is as beautifully sturdy as Ted Williams' timeless legend.”
• College Gridiron 365 shows us how Arkansas is following Mississippi State and Michigan in displaying a “hashtag” on its field.
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for April 19.
• The Knoxville News Sentinel looks back at the amazing career of legendary Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt, who will step aside as head coach after eight national titles and 1,098 wins over 38 seasons.
• IndyStar.com reports that the Colts have made up their mind and will draft quarterback Andrew Luck of Stanford with the No. 1 overall pick.
• Adam Kramer of Bleacher Report breaks down the SEC championship odds for the 14 teams in America’s toughest conference.
• Jeff Potrykus of the Journal Sentinel looks at the national criticism that Wisconsin basketball coach Bo Ryan is receiving for restricting the transfer of Jarrod Uthoff.
• SportsBuisnessDaily.com details the latest issue for a new Vikings stadium in Minneapolis. Let the Los Angeles rumors continue…
• PhilliesNation.con looks back at the stellar pitching duel between Matt Cain and Cliff Lee, which ended with the Giants defeating the Phils, 1-0, in 11 innings.
• Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post has a moving column on her good friend, Pat Summitt.
• Jon Gold of Inside UCLA summarizes the Bruins spring practice at the halfway point. When will the UCLA staff decide on a starter at quarterback?
• Jim Young of ACCSports.com looks at C.J. Leslie’s decision to shun the NBA and return to NC State.
• ESPN Pac-12 blogger Kevin Gemmell chronicles at the football rollercoaster ride for Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn.
• The 700 Level in Philadelphia has the video of Sixers star Andre Iguodala pranking teammate Lou Williams.
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for April 18.
• Campus Rivalry details how an outfitter for Texas A&M gear makes a huge geographical mistake, with North Carolina added to the SEC states.
• The Blitzburgh Blog shows the new (and awful) throwback Steelers uniforms – a replica of the 1934 version - and predicts sickness around the Steel City.
• Mark Ennis of Big East Coast Bias has an in-depth look at the Louisville spring game. Coach Charlie Strong has the Cardinals looking like the overwhelming favorite to win the conference title in 2012.
• Tom Verducci of SI.com has a very interesting column questioning the modern bullpen. Do baseball franchises need to rethink the way they structure pitching staffs?
• Dave Miller of National Football Post takes a good look at what new LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger could mean to the Tigers offense.
• Pro Football Talk has some compelling notes on all 32 teams with the release of the NFL schedule.
• Troy Renck of the Denver Post has the details on Rockies starter Jamie Moyer, who last night became the oldest pitcher (49 years, 150 days) to ever win an MLB game.
• ESPN Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg reports that Michigan State quarterback Andrew Maxwell has a sprained right knee and could miss the Spartans spring game on April 28.
• Chris Bahn of ArkansasSport360.com has the details on Jessica Dorrell, the Razorbacks staff member involved in an affair with former coach Bobby Petrino, resigning her position.
• Jason King of ESPN Dallas reports that 71-year-old Larry Brown has agreed to become the next SMU basketball coach, even though the longtime bench boss denies it.
• ESPN AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky says the Colts are now a “1 pm EST kickoff” team, and that Indy has season tickets available for the first time since 2003.
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for April 17.
• Jon Solomon has quotes from a roundtable of conference commissioners discussing the BCS, new Playoff proposals and athletes being paid.
• Deadspin has the details on Delonte West of the Mavericks earning a technical foul for giving Utah’s Gordon Hayward a “wet willie”.
• Jake Martin of Bleacher Report has an interesting comparison between former LSU Tiger cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Mo Claiborne on the eve of the NFL Draft.
• ESPN Big 12 Blogger David Ubben sits down with West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck, who says "We didn’t really leave the Big East. It left us."
• On the heels of Alabama’s BCS title trophy being destroyed, Bleacher Report SEC Blogger Barrett Sallee is surprised that crystal trophies do not break more often. We’ll be surprised if the Tide does not try to claim another national title when the new trophy arrives.
• Lisa Horne of Fox Sports ranks the strongest college football schedules for this season. Poor Ole Miss.
• Lost Letterman shows Oregon quarterback Bryan Bennett taking us on a tour of the lavish, two-story Ducks’ locker room. Apparently, Nike is doing all right.
• Matthew Osborne of SouthernPigskin.com has a recruiting roundup from spring games around the South, including multiple commitments for Missouri, Alabama, Auburn and South Carolina.
• Garry Paskwietz of WeAreSC.com details a new deal where ESPN radio will broadcast USC home football games nationally.
• Freddie Vickers of ChuckOliver.net takes an in-depth look at Clemson’s spring practice. Can the Tigers repeat in the ACC?
• Former NFL and college coach Steve Mariucci tells CBSSports.com that he has had no contact with Arkansas about its head coaching position.
--- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for April 16.
• Here is the final column for longtime Clarion Legder writer Rick Cleveland, who is leaving after 40-plus years in the business to lead the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.
• Utah Jazz announcer David Locke goes bonkers, and basically starts speaking in tongues, after Derrick Favors misses a layup. SportsGrid has the audio.
• Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston covers the ongoing soap opera with the Red Sox, with new manager Bobby Valentine questioning fan favorite Kevin Youkilis’ commitment to the game.
• Here are some interesting thoughts from Travis Reier of BamaOnline.com after Alabama’s A-Day Game. Will receivers Christion Jones and Kenny Bell lead to more explosive plays in the passing game for the Tide in 2012?
• Pedro Moura of ESPNLosAngeles recaps the USC spring game, where the Trojans chose not to tackle. (You can just hear the Pac-12 jokes from Big Ten and SEC country)
• Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com details Giants owner John Mara saying that the NFL Competition Committee has talked about eliminating kickoffs. Really? Where would the game start?
• Richard Langford of Bleacher Report features the Wolverines who stood out during Michigan’s spring game, and his early prediction for UM’s record is 10-3.
• Timothy Rapp of Bleacher Report looks at how Jackie Robinson Day was celebrated around baseball.
• Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer has the Browns taking Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon in her latest mock draft. Should Cleveland go with Alabama runner Trent Richardson instead?
• Brent Zwernaman of the San Antonio Express-News and Houston Chronicle details the planned renovation of Kyle Field as Texas A&M prepares for SEC play.
• Jeff Svoboda of BuckeyeSports.com recaps Ohio State’s practice where students were allowed on the field.
Kobe Bryant, Alex Rodriguez and Peyton Manning are among a growing number of athletes who have gone abroad to seek treatments that are not yet approved for use in the United States. From the pages of Athlon Sports Monthly, Michael Bradley has the details.
When Kobe Bryant’s cranky knee was bothering him too much to ignore during last offseason, he did what any top-shelf professional athlete would do: Turn to Hollywood.
Actually, Bryant turned to Lakers trainer Gary Vitti, the one with all the movie industry friends. Vitti had heard from “several” people he knew in the biz that arthritis pain — the kind Bryant was suffering from in his right knee — could be relieved with a process invented by an orthopaedic surgeon from Dusseldorf, Dr. Peter Wehling. After speaking with Vitti and recommending that another Laker head abroad to undergo the procedure, Vitti encouraged Bryant to do it as soon as Dallas dispatched L.A. in last year’s playoffs. So, Bryant flew to Germany and received an Orthokine injection in his knee.
“When our season ended early last year, I pushed Kobe to do it right away,” Vitti said in an e-mail. “In case we didn’t get a favorable result, we would have enough time to do something else.”
Given the length of the NBA lockout, Bryant would have had sufficient time to undergo a knee replacement had the Germany junket not gone well. But, according to Vitti, it did, and by heading to Europe, Bryant became one of a growing list of athletes who have gone abroad to seek treatments that are not yet approved for use in the U.S. In the past six months, Bryant, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez and former NFL receiver Terrell Owens — among others — have sought to relieve pain and facilitate healing by undergoing Orthokine and stem cell therapies — with mixed results. In the process, they have agitated some members of the American medical community, who fear that decisions made by high-profile athletes will lead ordinary folks to pursue similar avenues that could be burdensome financially, provide false hope for recovery and, worse, lead to some unhealthy side effects.
“Inadvertently, athletes who claim to have gotten better doing these things, while I’m sure their intentions are good, will fuel this sort of behavior in others,” says Dr. Larry Goldstein, a neuroscientist and director of the Stem Cell Program at the University of California San Diego. “I wish they would be more cautious and think about what they say.”
In reality, Bryant and others are not crowing about the magically restorative powers of the treatments they have received, although they are not hiding the fact that they have sought them, either. The fear for many in the medical community is that as more and more players seek relief overseas, especially big names like Bryant, Manning and A-Rod, people will think the treatments are indeed panaceas, when they remain largely in the experimental stage and have limited evidence of success — not to mention their lack of the necessary governmental imprimaturs in this country.
If you read or hear anything said by Wehling, the molecular scientist who created the Orthokine treatment, it’s hard not to be sold. Wehling announced in late 2011 that he had “found a way to cure arthritis,” a fairly brazen claim, given the years and countless dollars that have been devoted to eliminating the joint scourge. A steady stream of athletes and celebrities has flowed toward Wehling — including Bryant and A-Rod — giving him tremendous cachet and more than a little notoriety.
Wehling’s procedure is based on his belief that arthritis is not a degenerative condition, but rather a disease caused by Interleukin-1, a protein in the body that promotes joint inflammation and a breakdown of cartilage. Wehling reports that he has discovered that another protein, Interleukin-1RA (Interleukin-1 receptor antagonist), can offset arthritis’ effects and bring about healing. So, he isolates the Interleukin-1RA from a patient’s blood and injects it into the afflicted area.
To do that, Wehling removes blood from a patient and incubates it (at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit) for a day, “spinning” it in a centrifuge to isolate the Interleukin-1RA. He then injects it into the affected area. “He has a tight handle on the technology,” says Dr. Steve Yoon, an orthopaedic surgeon who is part of the Kerlan-Jobe Clinic in Southern California. When Bryant was searching for relief of his aching knee, Vitti listened to his celebrity friends, did some research and referred Bryant to Wehling.
“(It’s) always better to go to the source,” Vitti said in a second e-mail. “He invented the procedure and has done more than anyone in the world. … He’s simply the best!”
Bryant was so pleased with the results that he gave Rodriguez Wehling’s number. Before heading to Germany, Rodriguez checked with the Yankees, who contacted Major League Baseball for a ruling to make sure Rodriguez would not return to a storm of accusations that he was blood doping or using another unapproved treatment. Dr. Gary Green, MLB’s medical director, expressed no trepidation, provided the treatment did not violate local or state laws.
It doesn’t, although there is concern from some corners regarding the process that separates the receptor antagonist from the blood. In late 2011, the Food and Drug Administration issued some extremely direct advisories that warned orthopaedists not to engage in any procedures that incubate blood for more than a couple hours. Despite those directives, Wehling has started an Orthokine clinic in Los Angeles, with among others, Dr. Chris Renna, who provided the “cream” to notorious BALCO founder Victor Conte. That doesn’t mean Orthokine has any relation to performance-enhancing drugs, but it does bring into question Wehling’s choice of associates. Further, since the FDA has not approved daylong incubation of blood to enhance its ability to heal, any Orthokine treatments done in SoCal could be considered unlawful.
People also sometimes confuse Orthokine with platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections, which are done fairly regularly throughout the U.S. and are usually more successful on the tendon and ligament problems in the elbow and shoulder, although they have also been used in athletes’ ankles and knees. The process involves removing about 30 cc of a patient’s blood and spinning it in a centrifuge for about 15 minutes to separate approximately 3 cc of plasma with a high platelet concentration. This hazy “buffy coat” is then injected into the affected area. The goal is to let the platelets’ powerful growth and restorative properties trigger healing in a far less invasive way than surgery would provide. But it is not a generic cure-all.
“The bottom line is that it will work for certain indications, but it won’t work for others,” says Dr. Allan Mishra, associate professor of orthopaedic surgery at Stanford University, and a pioneering researcher in the field.
When Manning went abroad, he wasn’t looking for Orthokine or PRP. Desperate for relief from the disk problems he was experiencing in his neck and impatient with the progress he was making after his latest surgical procedure and subsequent physical therapy, he underwent late last summer an experimental stem-cell injection that had no substantive track record of providing relief for patients with his problem. The results were not favorable.
“There is some evidence that transplantation of some stem cells into joints could improve conditions, but in humans, it’s all experimental at this point,” Dr. Goldstein says.
“By and large (Manning) was participating in unknown medical experimentation.”
The optimism about stem cells is that they can be manipulated to take the form of many different cells in the bodies and “programmed” to direct cells to behave in a certain way. Manning had stem cells taken from one part of his body and injected into his neck, in the hopes a healing chain reaction would occur. It didn’t, and Goldstein isn’t surprised. He has been working with stem cells in mice since 1993 and in humans since ’98. He says the field is still in its nascent days and that despite some successes related to stem-cell treatments, it’s still unknown whether injections like the one Manning had were directly responsible for good outcomes or merely a small part of a larger picture that included surgery, rehab and the body’s own natural healing process.
“When there is a new medical area that has a lot of potential, fraudulent claims can spring up all around,” Goldstein says. “The real danger is that if (an athlete) does something and claims that he got better but doesn’t really know, kids in high school and college will say, ‘It worked for (the athlete), so I’m going to do it.’”
Even if they don’t have big-time Hollywood contacts.
Up until the moment Commissioner Roger Goodell starts announcing picks from the podium at Radio City Music Hall in New York on Thursday, April 26, the draft stocks of NFL prospects will fluctuate like the NASDAQ. From the pages of Athlon Sports Monthly, here’s a rundown of the blue chips, risers and fallers in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Can’t Miss Blue Chips
Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III are this year’s pre-draft cover boys, but there are other players with a chance to make it to the Pro Bowl as a rookie.
Matt Kalil, LT, USC
A dancing bear with the requisite size (6'7", 306), arm length, athleticism and pedigree (older brother, Ryan, is a Pro Bowl center in Carolina) to experience both immediate and sustained success as a franchise left tackle.
Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
A 5'9", 228-pound bowling ball with a rare combination of power, speed, balance and vision. Plus, the two-time BCS national champ still has tread on his tires after splitting carries with Mark Ingram early in his career.
Bullish First-Round Risers
Due to Combine success, position scarcity and/or team needs, these prospects may hear their names called earlier than expected.
Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
Last year’s draft saw four quarterbacks selected within the first dozen picks of the draft — several of whom had supposed late first-round grades. After Luck and RG3, Tannehill should be the next passer off the board.
Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
The 6'4", 346-pound 3-4 nose tackle made himself a rich man at the Combine — running a 4.98 in the 40-yard dash, ripping off 44 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press and skying for a 29.5-inch vertical leap.
Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech
Hill burst onto the scene at the Combine — running a 4.36 in the 40 after weighing in at 6'4" and 215 pounds — and now hopes to follow in the footsteps of fellow Yellow Jackets Calvin Johnson and Demaryius Thomas.
Bearish First-Round Fallers
Once thought to be candidates to go in the top 10, these players are beset with concerns that may result in a longer than anticipated wait on draft day.
Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
A former Florida standout who was kicked off the team following his second drug arrest, Jenkins also has a bar fight and four children by three different women on his rap sheet résumé. But …he’sshown remorse and off-the-charts talent.
Jonathan Martin, T, Stanford
Labeled “soft” by many, Martin had a subpar Pro Day that did nothing to help his draft stock. Playing alongside the top guard (David DeCastro) and quarterback (Andrew Luck) prospects may have inflated Martin’s perceived value.
Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State
He was compared to Ray Lewis after his Pac-10 Defensive Freshman of the Year season, but Burfict’s inconsistent play, abrasive personality, lack of discipline and poor conditioning may result in “undrafted free agent” status.
Other NFL Draft-Related Content
2012 NFL Draft First-Round Primer
2012 NFL Draft: Ranking the Positions
2012 NFL Draft Sleepers and Steals
2012 NFL Draft Busts: Ryan Tannehill and Dontari Poe
NFL Draft History: Busts, Sleepers and Solid Picks - Part 1
Biggest Busts in NFL Draft History
2012 NFL Mock Draft: Our First-Round Projection
2012 NFL Draft: Andrew Luck vs. Robert Griffin III
Stay tuned each week to Athlon Sports for a 2012 Fantasy Baseball Weekend Waiver Wire every Monday and the Weekend Rundown every Thursday.
It’s been a tough week for outfielders around MLB, with Arizona’s Chris Young, Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner of the Yankees going on the disabled list. Young was off to a superb start, hitting .410 with five home runs and 13 RBIs in his first 11 games, but he injured his shoulder making a catch against the Pirates. Unfortunately for the Diamondbacks and fantasy owners, his teammate Justin Upton is battling a thumb injury and could miss time as well.
There are several other highly-drafted outfielders who have not hit up to expectations yet. Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton is still waiting for his first home run, Matt Holliday of the Cardinals has struggled to a .182 average, .538 OPS start, and Kansas City’s Alex Gordon is hitting a meager .149 after recording a .303 average for the 2011 season. Additionally, Boston’s Carl Crawford, Washington’s Michael Morse and Tampa Bay’s B.J. Upton have yet to see the field this season, so there’s a good chance you are looking for some short-term help.
Nolan Remold of the Orioles, Jon Jay of the Cardinals, Jordan Schafer of the Astros, Shelly Duncan of the Indians and Alejandro De Aza of the White Sox are owned in less than half of Yahoo! leagues, and they are worth a look if you have any of the aforementioned injured or struggling batters. Reimold has been especially hot lately, hitting a home run in four straight games earlier this week. He’s batting .341 in 10 games this season.
Jay is hitting .350 in a loaded St. Louis attack, including going 8-for-20 in his last eight games. Schafer has six stolen bases and 10 runs scored while batting .279 this season, and Duncan could provide some temporary pop with his 6 RBIs and a .980 OPS in 31 at-bats. De Aza has three bombs and an .864 OPS in 11 games, and he did hit over .300 in limited duty over the last two seasons.
Anyone got Ricky Vaughn’s number?
Injuries and ineffectiveness have been the story for closers so far this year. Cincinnati’s Ryan Madson, Kansas City’s Joakim Soria and San Francisco’s Brian Wilson are out for the season, while Tampa Bay’s Kyle Farnsworth, Washington’s Drew Storen and Boston’s Andrew Bailey are on the DL. Other stoppers like Heath Bell of the Marlins and Sergio Santos of the Blue Jays have already blown multiple saves. Keep an eye on the closing situations of the White Sox, Diamondbacks, Rangers, Indians and Nationals. High ERAs by the incumbents could lead to more opportunities for other relievers like Arizona’s Bryan Shaw, Addison Reed or Matt Thornton of the White Sox and Cleveland’s Vinnie Pestano. The Athlon closer grid is a valuable tool to help you keep up with bullpen changes around baseball.
He may not be a closer (yet), but Cincinnati’s Aroldis Chapman (0.00 ERA with 15 Ks in 8.0 innings pitched) already has two wins and a hold. The dominating fireballer can help your ratios greatly and could move into a closer role if Sean Marshall struggles in the 9th inning. Pick him up if available. Also, Henry Rodriguez of the Nationals has yet to allow a run while picking up three saves in a time share with Brad Lidge. It would not be surprising to see the hard-throwing Venezuelan take over the 9th-inning gig on a more regular basis.
Weekend Series To Watch
St. Louis Cardinals at Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates have the worst offense (just 26 runs in 12 games) in baseball, and they will face Lance Lynn on Friday, Jake Westbrook on Saturday and Kyle Lohse on Sunday. That St. Louis trio is off to a scorching start, with each having two wins and an ERA of 1.50 or lower. Some fantasy owners have been hesitant to pick up the veteran duo of Lohse and Westbrook, who have traditionally been .500 pitchers with low strikeout rates. However the Cards' hurlers will help you in every category except Ks, and look for their current success to continue in the Steel City.
New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox
It always interesting when these two rivals get together, as long as you have five or six hours to watch the game. Boston is currently mired in last place in the AL East, and there isn’t much to believe in fantasy-wise other than David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez. The BoSox are already off to a terrible start with an MLB-worst ERA of 6.20, and Bobby Valentine will send the trio of Clay Buchholz, Felix Doubront and Daniel Bard to the mound this weekend. Even if any of the starters fare well, the Boston bullpen (24 ER in 34.2 IP with a 1.47 WHIP) has been awful. Expect the Bronx Bombers to light up some fireworks in Fenway. Time to bring beer back to the clubhouse?
Texas Rangers at Detroit Tigers
This ALCS rematch should make for a very entertaining series in Motown. The Tigers offense has been very solid with Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder leading the way, but the Rangers have the best staff ERA in the American League by a wide margin. Texas also has a formidable offense, but Comerica Park can be a tough place to hit. Texas’ Matt Harrison will face Rick Porcello on Friday night, Neftali Feliz will take on AL Cy Young winner and MVP Justin Verlander in a Saturday matinee, while Colby Lewis will battle Tigers rookie southpaw Drew Smyly (0.90 ERA in two starts) on Sunday afternoon. Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz belted six home runs against Detroit in the ALCS last October, while Cabrera hit .400 with three dingers in the six-game series.
--Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman on Twitter)
Q: Should “Shoeless” Joe Jackson be in the Hall of Fame?
— Glenn Zdziarski, Chicago, Ill.
A: One of the tragic figures in baseball lore, Jackson was embroiled in what was known as the Black Sox Scandal, in which members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox conspired with gamblers to fix the World Series. While his defenders point to Jackson’s largely stellar play in that Series — he batted .375 and committed no errors — Jackson admitted to a grand jury that he had taken $5,000 from gamblers, due in part to owner Charlie Comiskey’s stinginess. Although Jackson apparently attempted to warn Comiskey of the fix, and despite the fact that he was acquitted by a criminal court of having any role, he was banned from the game by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, and he remains on the ineligible list, precluding his election to the Hall of Fame.
Would Jackson be in the Hall if not for the ban? Almost certainly, especially given the fact that he would have added more productive seasons to his ledger. As it is, his career totals, which were stunted by the ban, would probably be enough for induction were his candidacy presented in a vacuum. His lifetime batting average of .356 is third all-time; his adjusted OPS is ninth-best in baseball history; his 168 career triples are 26th-best all-time.
The real question is, should the ban be lifted? That’s a trickier subject. Baseball has always taken gambling as a deadly serious matter and a threat to the game’s integrity; hit king Pete Rose remains conspicuously absent from the Hall for betting on games. But we’re prepared to say that a posthumous lifting of the ban — Jackson died in 1951 — would be an appropriate gesture and would allow baseball to honor one of the greatest natural talents to swing a bat.
— Charlie Miller, Editorial Director
Please include first and last name, plus hometown.
Q: What do you consider to be the greatest Masters Tournament in history?
— Jerry Barnes, Dallas, Texas
A: It’s hard to overlook Tiger Woods’ historic win in 1997, Phil Mickelson’s major breakthrough in 2004 and Greg Norman’s epic collapse in 1996, among countless others. But I have to stick with 1986 as the greatest. That year, 46-year-old Jack Nicklaus was seemingly little more than a footnote to the proceedings at Augusta. Heading into the final round, Jack was four shots back and still below everyone’s radar. Jack birdied 9, 10 and 11 to creep up the leaderboard and unleash echoes throughout Amen Corner. A bogey at 12 calmed the frenzy, but he promptly got it back with a birdie at 13. Then came an epic stretch of golf — an eagle at 15, a near hole-in-one at 16, a birdie at 17 and a tough par at 18 that capped off a final-round 65, good enough for a one-shot win and his sixth Green Jacket. Jack needed only 33 strokes to complete the final 10 holes of the greatest Masters of them all.
— Rob Doster, Senior Editor
Please include first and last name, plus hometown.
Q: On the scoreboard on the Green Monster at Fenway Park, there is Morse code in two places spelling out “TAY” and “JRY.” What is the story behind these markings? And isn’t the “R” rendered incorrectly?
— Charlie Kelly, Natick, Mass.
A: Your question gives us the opportunity to note that this year marks a significant anniversary in baseball: the Fenway Park centennial. The Red Sox played their first game at Fenway Park on April 20, 1912, beating the New York Highlanders, as the Yankees were then known, 7–6 in 11 innings. Fenway stands as the oldest park currently in use, an authentic time capsule full of quirks and unusual details, including the Morse code that appears on the left field scoreboard. Framing the American League scores, arranged vertically, are dots and dashes representing “TAY” and “JRY” — the initials of former owner Thomas A. Yawkey, who owned the team from 1933 until his death in 1976, and his wife, Jean R. Yawkey, who succeeded Tom as owner from 1976 until her death in 1992. The Morse code was added in the late 1940s, around the time that the wall was painted its familiar green color to cut the glare for the hitters. As for the mistake? You’re very observant. Dick Bresciani, VP of Publications and Archives for the Red Sox, tells us that when the wall was rebuilt in the winter of 1975-76, there was an error in the painting of the R.
— Mitch Light, Managing Editor
Please include first and last name, plus hometown.
From the pages of Athlon Sports Monthly, here are five major storylines for the 2012 baseball season , as well as our predictions.
Pujols and the Angels
After their agonizing choke on the brink of the 1986 World Series, it took 16 years for the Angels to return to the October stage — a desolate stretch that encompassed four uniform styles, including the regrettable periwinkle era.
But these are not your father’s Angels. Or your California or Anaheim Angels, for that matter. These are Arte Moreno’s Angels — the Orange County team that brashly calls “Los Angeles” home and plans to keep dominating the SoCal market for years to come.
Moreno made sure of that on Dec. 8 by lavishing $254 million for 10 years on Albert Pujols, baseball’s preeminent slugger. That same day, Moreno also dropped $77.5 million for five years to snag All-Star lefty C.J. Wilson.
Just like that, Moreno altered the landscape for the Angels and three other teams: The World Series champion Cardinals lost their centerpiece in Pujols; the two-time American League champion Texas Rangers lost their No. 1 starter in Wilson; and the Dodgers lost ground in the turf war for L.A.-area baseball fans. There’s a “For Sale” sign outside Dodger Stadium, but there’s a party going on at The Big A.
Forget everything you knew about the Florida Marlins. Forget the name, forget the teal, forget the parade of managers, forget the football stadium and forget the stingy payroll. Welcome the Miami Marlins, rebranded to represent their city, with a zany color scheme of orange, yellow, blue, black and silver, the irascible Ozzie Guillen as manager, a retractable-roof ballpark with fish tanks behind the on-deck circles — and a whole lot of money to spend on players. The Marlins snagged NL batting champion Jose Reyes from the Mets with a six-year, $106 million contract. They also swiped a three-time All-Star closer, Heath Bell, from the Padres for three years and $27 million, and workhorse lefty starter Mark Buehrle from the White Sox for four years and $58 million. Those players join the existing cornerstones, Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson, and a young core that includes Giancarlo Stanton — previously known as Mike — who might be the game’s best young power hitter. The Marlins are all in, and they will demand our attention for the first time in years.
Nice to see Yu
Yu Darvish will be a mystery to most major league hitters, but a few people in uniform have seen the new Texas righthander in action. And they have no doubt how he will perform as a Rangers rookie this season. “Six-foot-six, power arm, picks it up when he’s in trouble, power slider, great split,” says Mets manager Terry Collins, who managed against Darvish in Japan. “He’s got it all. If he’s healthy, he’s going to have a great career here.”
The Rangers spent $51.7 million for the negotiating rights to Darvish, the star of the Nippon Ham Fighters. Then the Rangers took it right to the Jan. 18 deadline before signing him to a six-year, $60 million contract. Darvish improves a rotation that was already strong enough to get the Rangers within a strike of the 2011 World Series title.
We have seen aces from Japan fizzle in the majors before, most famously Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa of the Yankees. But Darvish, at 25 years old, seems to have more polish and potential than any of them. At least, that’s the Rangers’ $111.7 million (combine the posting and contract numbers) gamble.
Rookie Managers in Chicago and St. Louis
The White Sox and the Cardinals both needed replacements for well-known managers with championship rings. Both teams turned to popular former players who know the organizations — but who come without a single day of managerial experience. Robin Ventura replaces Ozzie Guillen with the White Sox, and Mike Matheny (below right) takes over for Tony La Russa with the Cardinals. Ventura is low-key and even-tempered, pretty much the opposite of the feisty Guillen (below left), who left for the Marlins. And while Matheny was known as a smart player with solid leadership qualities, there is only one La Russa. Both new managers have strong advocates in the front office, with Chicago’s Kenny Williams grooming Ventura by bringing him into the organization as a player-development advisor, and St. Louis’ John Mozeliak hiring Matheny in a similar role in 2009. Expect Ventura to have an easier time because of lower expectations for the downsizing White Sox; the Cardinals are coming off a championship, and Matheny must compete for another right away — without Albert Pujols.
The new collective bargaining agreement, announced in November, showed the sensible leadership of the new union director, Michael Weiner. Players showed their desire for a cleaner game by becoming the first major professional sports league in North America to agree to blood testing for human growth hormone. Testing will begin in spring training, and a player’s first positive test will carry a 50-game ban. Baseball is treading cautiously at first, with no regular-season testing in 2012, but after testing again next offseason, owners and players will decide how to proceed. Here’s hoping they continue to do the right thing.
Athlon’s 2012 MLB Predictions:
5. New York
1. St. Louis
1. San Francisco
3. Los Angeles
5. San Diego
* wild card
1. Joey Votto, Cincinnati
2. Justin Upton, Arizona
3. Matt Kemp, Los Angeles
4. Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado
5. Matt Holliday, St. Louis
1. Roy Halladay, Philadelphia
2. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles
3. Cole Hamels, Philadelphia
4. Tim Lincecum, San Francisco
5. Cliff Lee, Philadelphia
1. New York
2. Tampa Bay*
3. Kansas City
2. Los Angeles*
* wild card
1. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit
2. Robinson Cano, New York
3. Albert Pujols, Los Angeles
4. Jose Bautista, Toronto
5. Prince Fielder, Detroit
1. Justin Verlander, Detroit
2. Jered Weaver, Los Angeles
3. David Price, Tampa Bay
4. CC Sabathia, New York
5. Ricky Romero, Toronto
Texas over New York
Philadelphia over San Francisco
Texas over Philadelphia
From the pages of Athlon Sports Monthly, Michael Bradley details an exciting new Broadway production based on the careers of basketball legends Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.
After five NBA world titles, three MVP awards, 12 All-Star Game appearances, three Finals MVP awards, nine first-team all-league selections and an NCAA national championship, you’d think that Magic Johnson would be hard to impress.
But when you’re talking Broadway, even the most accomplished person has to take notice.
On April 11, Johnson and long-time rival and friend Larry Bird will see their basketball lives presented dramatically in “Magic/Bird,” a 90-minute production from Fran Kirmser and Tony Ponturo, the same people who staged the extremely successful “Lombardi” last year in New York. The show intertwines actual game footage and actor portrayals to present the relationship forged by two of the greatest players ever and the emblematic performers of the 1980s.
“It’s amazing,” Johnson says. “Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that a black guy from Lansing, Michigan, and a white guy from (French Lick) Indiana, two small towns, two Midwest guys, would have a play about them.”
A couple years ago, most people would have felt the same way. A documentary? Yes. But a Broadway production? Forget about it. But the success of “Lombardi” gave Kirmser and Ponturo the confidence that audiences are interested in seeing their sporting heroes staged on the boards. Their goal is to present the players’ intense competition on the court and the friendship and respect that eventually blossomed off of it. And if you think the play will have trouble attracting an audience, then you forget just how popular Bird and Johnson were when they played.
The 1979 NCAA national title game that featured Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores against Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans remains the highest-rated college game of all time. When the two entered the NBA, the league was floundering due to lack of star power, a lousy TV contract (tape-delayed Finals games?) and a general perception that the league had lost control of its players. Within five years, the two had led the NBA into the new world of tremendous popularity, prime-time broadcasts and must-see matchups that prevails today. It is almost impossible to underestimate their impact on the sport. “Magic/Bird” attempts to chronicle their influence while still emphasizing how they went from merely basketball rivals to friends.
“The way we describe it is that it takes them from the (NBA) Draft to the Dream Team,” Kirmser says, referring to the 1992 Olympic team that roared to the gold medal. “At the play’s end, you get a sense of how they affected the world around them.”
The play, directed by Thomas Kail, is comprised of a series of 20 rapid-fire scenes depicting various portions of the players’ careers and their interactions. The scenes are supplemented by actual game footage that will play on a screen behind the actors and is designed to provide a realism that makes this more than just a dramatic rendering. One scene, described as “pivotal” by Kirmser, centers on the moment when Bird and Johnson move from merely basketball rivals to friends. It takes place at Bird’s house, when the two are filming a TV commercial and begin to learn that they aren’t so different.
A key component to the play’s success is the casting of two actors who also have athletic ability. “If we had two people who weren’t able to pick up a ball, it would be all over,” Kirmser says. Kevin Daniels (Johnson) and Tug Coker (Bird) may not be ready for the NBA, but they can play some ball — and have the requisite height to bring further credibility to the production.
Without the success of “Lombardi,” there could be no “Magic/Bird.” The production about the legendary Packer coach allowed Broadway audiences to become comfortable with the idea of a play that was so sports-centric. “Lombardi” spent eight months on Broadway, the longest run of any play that opened last fall, and proved that people would be receptive to a different type of athletic portrayal in the theater.
“Fran had the inspiration of telling biographical stories,” Ponturo says. “There aren’t a lot of those in the theater at all. So many stories told are negative and not inspiring. We like to do stories that are inspirational.”
No matter how accomplished Ponturo and Kirmser are at telling sports heroes’ stories — and “Lombardi” proved their talents — “Magic/Bird” wouldn’t have the same impact without the participation of the basketball legends themselves. Each is an underlying rights holder to the production and had input into the script. Still, it remains somewhat surprising to them that this is actually happening.
“Both of us said, ‘What? Really?’” Johnson says. “We were over the moon about this and can’t wait. People are excited about this play. We’re going to get the theater fan and the sports fan coming to this.”
And two former basketball legends who can’t wait to see themselves on the stage.
The one-and-done format of the NCAA Tournament often leads to the best team going home without a title. Amazing seasons tend to crash and burn in the maelstrom that is March Madness. From the pages of Athlon Sports Monthly, we look at the best teams — since 2000 — to not win it all.
1. 2002 DUKE (31-4)
After beating Arizona for the 2001 national championship, Duke was on a mission to repeat. Led by Jason Williams, Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy and Chris Duhon, Mike Krzyzewski’s team was ranked No. 1 heading into the NCAA Tournament. But eventual national runner-up Indiana, a No. 5 seed, stunned the Blue Devils 74–73 in the Sweet 16.
2. 2005 ILLINOIS (37-2)
There had not been a No. 1 vs. No. 2 national title game since 1975 until top-ranked Illinois played next-in-line North Carolina. Deron Williams and the Fighting Illini took aim at the school’s first national championship. Instead, the UNC won the school’s fourth title all-time, beating Illinois, 75–70.
3. 2006 CONNECTICUT (30-4)
Rudy Gay led a group of five UConn players who were selected in the 2006 NBA Draft. Even with all that talent, the Huskies didn’t reach the Final Four — falling to No. 11 seed George Mason, 86–84, in overtime of the Elite Eight, in one of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history.
4. 2008 MEMPHIS (38-2)
John Calipari’s club won its first 26 games and set the NCAA record (since vacated) for victories in a single season. The maturation of freshman point guard Derrick Rose elevated the play of the Tigers in the NCAA Tournament, but poor free throw shooting doomed Memphis. Kansas rallied from a nine-point deficit in the last two minutes of regulation and won the national championship 75–68 in overtime.
5. 2008 NORTH CAROLINA (36-3)
The Tar Heels made their 17th Final Four appearance, and coach Roy Williams made his fourth trip to the national semifinals in seven seasons. But Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson and Co. were unable to beat Williams’ old school, losing 84–66 to Kansas.
6. 2008 UCLA (35-4)
Thanks to top talent like Darren Collison, Josh Shipp, Russell Westbrook and freshman Kevin Love, coach Ben Howland’s Bruins made their third consecutive Final Four appearance. UCLA fell short of the title yet again, however, losing to Memphis, 78–63, in the national semifinals.
7. 2003 KANSAS (30-8)
The Jayhawks couldn’t get past freshman sensation Carmelo Anthony and Syracuse in the title game. Kansas missed 18 free throws, Syracuse made 11 3-pointers and the Orange won 81–78, ending the KU careers of Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich. One week later, coach Roy Williams left Kansas for North Carolina.
8. 2007 OHIO STATE (35-4)
The Buckeyes helped usher in the one-and-done era of college basketball with a team that included freshmen Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr. and Daequan Cook. The No. 1-ranked Buckeyes carried a 22-game winning streak all the way to the national title game before losing to Florida, 84–75.
9. 2004 DUKE (31-6)
Coach K seemed to have found perfect offensive balance with J.J. Redick hitting 102 3-pointers and Shelden Williams doing the heavy lifting inside. The Blue Devils reached the Final Four and led eventual champion Connecticut by seven at halftime before losing, 79–78.
10. 2010 KENTUCKY (35-3)
John Calipari’s first team at Kentucky consisted of a record five NBA first-round picks, including freshmen John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins. Although they were immensely talented, the young Wildcats’ inexperience — and cold shooting — proved to be their downfall in a 73–66 loss to West Virginia in the Elite Eight.
March Madness has lacked some excitement this year, and one reason seems obvious. Besides badly-officiated contests, a lack of shooters and no buzzer-beaters, the missing ingredient has to be the absence of Gus Johnson announcing games. We have compiled some of his past tournament gems, along with some other great calls from the man who gets buckets.
2006 – UCLA 73, Gonzaga 71
We start with a dramatic comeback that ended an amazing season for Gonzaga. UCLA trailed by 17 points but scored the game’s final 11 points to win a Sweet 16 thriller. Seeing Adam Morrison face down on the floor and crying at the end of the game is one of the more lasting images of past tournaments. It was truly “Heartbreak City!”
2007 – Ohio State 78, Xavier 71 (OT)
The drama in this classic contest was at the end of regulation, when Ohio State’s Ron Lewis hit a three to force overtime against Xavier. You can truly feel the excitement of March with “We’re going to overtime…in Lexington. Ha Ha!” The Buckeyes survived the second round and went on to a title game loss to Florida.
1999 – Gonzaga 73, Florida 72
Gonzaga was not always a fixture in March Madness. The Bulldogs had only been in the tournament one time prior to 1999, and they had beaten Minnesota and Stanford to get to the Sweet 16. The Zags kept the momentum going against Florida, as a Casey Calvary make and subsequent Eddie Shannon miss led to one of Gus’ more famous calls, “Gonzaga! The slipper still fits.”
2005 – Vermont 60, Syracuse 57 (OT)
Who can forget the stunning upset of No. 4 seed Syracuse by Vermont in 2005? The underdog Catamounts held down Orange stars Gerry McNamara and Hakim Warrick, and they provided the dagger with a minute to go in overtime when “Sorrentine hit that one from the parking lot!”
2005 – Gonzaga 64, Oklahoma State 62
This was not a March Madness matchup, but it is definitely one of my favorite buzzer-beater calls and reactions from Gus and Bill Raftery. Oklahoma State had traveled to Seattle to play Gonzaga in Key Arena for this thriller. The nation’s leading scorer, Adam Morrison, banked in the game-winning three ball in the final seconds as the Bulldogs pulled it out. The classic aftermath went from “What a game!” to “Larry Bird….maybe?” to “Major Onions!” from the entertaining Raftery.
1996 – Princeton 43, UCLA 41
Gus got a classic assignment in his first season doing the tournament, as Pete Carril’s Tigers upset the defending national champions from Westwood. The video is rough, but the audio is great. This is a long version, so fast forward to the 6:45 mark unless you’re a complete old-school hoops fan like me. This upset was simply “Unbelievable!” and it led the famous headline in the Daily Princetonian, “David 43 Goliath 41.”
2009 – Denver Broncos 12, Cincinnati Bengals 7
It’s not college basketball, but I had to add in this game-winning catch by Denver’s Brandon Stokley in '09. The Broncos trailed the Bengals, 7-6, with 28 seconds to go in an otherwise boring game. However, Stokley caught a tipped pass from Kyle Orton and raced 87 yards for the improbable game-winning score, “Oh my goodnees, what a play!”
2009 – Tennessee Titans 30, Jacksonville Jaguars 13
One more NFL clip. Chris Johnson went for over 2,000 yards in ’09, and this run produced a hysterical call. As the Titans’ burner breaks off a 52-yard touchdown run against the Jags, Gus describes a new level of fast - “Gettin’ away from the cops” speed.
2010 – Kansas State 101, Xavier 96 (2OT)
It’s back to the NCAA Tournament, and this was an all-time March Madness thriller. K-State was leading near the end of regulation and the first overtime, but Xavier’s Terrell Holloway and Jordan Crawford each made huge plays to keep this war of attrition going. In the end, Wildcats star Jacob Pullen shows “He’s in shape!”
After a certain outspoken analyst had questioned his NFL Draft selection, former Colts general manager Bill Tobin once famously asked in frustration: ‘Who the hell is Mel Kiper?’
No one has to ask that question now.
From humble beginnings, Kiper has parlayed his passion and knowledge for the draft into a lucrative career as the preeminent analyst and public face of the NFL’s biggest offseason event. Athlon’s Mitch Light sat down with the sometimes-controversial, always-entertaining Kiper for a chat about his three decades as the world’s foremost draft expert.
Athlon Sports: Did you envision years and years ago that the draft would be as big as it is today?
Kiper: Yeah, I did. I had that kind of vision for it, I really did. A lot of people were kind of naysayers about it, but I thought that since the NFL was the king of all sports, and the only way to improve your football team back in those days, was through the draft. I mean, there were very few trades, there was no free agency. The only way to change your roster, tweak your roster, improve your roster, was via the draft. And, I grew up during the whole Bill Walsh era, Gil Brandt with the Cowboys, and some of the greatest personnel evaluators ever. That’s the way you did it. I remember in high school doing stuff, planning for the draft, evaluating players, and doing reports. I thought that if you’re a football fan, you want to know who these guys are. First of all, what are the need areas, where could you go on draft day to get these players, and once these players are drafted, you know, who are these guys? What can they do? What can’t they do? I was encouraged then by Ernie Accorsi, who was the GM then of the Baltimore Colts, to do this. I became friends with Ernie back when I was just a teenager. I had given him a lot of my reports just for him to look over and check out, and he was the one who encouraged me. He said, ‘Hey, don’t just give this stuff away, make this stuff available to the public. They would love to have this stuff. They crave this stuff.’ So, through Ernie’s encouragement, through my father’s business sense, to be able to run the business and to give me great advice, between Ernie and my father and what they meant to me then, was huge.
So, specifically, how did you get started? Just newsletters in your parents’ basement?
Well, the first thing was, I put out a book. That was the Draft Report, which came out in 1979. In 1980, they were just going to teams and the media. In 1981, that was the first one we made available actually to the public, and that was the Draft Report that came out in March, mid-March, and it covered the needs of the teams, evaluated all the NFL teams, projected the first three rounds or six rounds, or whatever it was. And then, it did all the evaluations of all the players. So that was the first one that was available to the public, in 1981.
And, when did you start at ESPN?
The 1983 season, ‘84 draft.
You obviously know your football, but you also get information, I imagine, from football people. How much do you trust your own evaluation and weigh that against what football people are telling you?
I have been watching tape forever. That’s how I evaluate players. You watch film. You watch the games. You watch the tape. That’s what you do. Now, do you also talk to people in the league? Do you become friends with a lot of people in the league? Do you share notes? Sure. If you respect somebody, and they see something that you didn’t, you obviously have to weigh it in with what you know. Everybody does it that way. I’ve never been one to brag about how much I’ve watched. Everybody watches players. I don’t have to sit there and tell the fans that are watching, the listeners, or the viewers how many games I have watched of a player. You know, you can watch two games and figure out if a guy can play. … So, the bottom line is, yeah, you weigh everything into the equation. Any information you can get is all factored in. What is his medical stuff? Whether it was off-the-field concerns, character stuff, you know. If someone in the league tells me something that I didn’t know, I factor it in because I didn’t know it. I mean, you never have all the answers. But I always get down to the fact that people are paying for my opinions, and that’s what I’ve always provided. So, this notion that has always been out there, it has kind of been aggravating, it has kind of been insulting: ‘All Kiper does is worry about what everybody tells him.’ Well, guess what, if you talk to the NFL, (you will) find out how many people I talk to. I have just a couple of people that I even have conversations with on a regular basis, so it’s not like I am getting information from the league or from anybody else. That whole thing was always an inaccurate statement.
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
What I enjoy most is talking about this stuff. I like the interaction with fans. You know, anything that is back and forth. Todd (McShay) and I have a lot of fun going back and forth on opinions. Just basically doing all of the radio stuff I do, all the TV stuff, all the .com evaluations. Any way to just get this information out to the fans, and to the listeners, and to the viewers is what I enjoy. I enjoy the debates. I enjoy the differences of opinions. I enjoy, you know, bringing to life players that people didn’t really know a lot about. That’s the fun part. Not the first round, but talking about guys when we get into Round 6 and Round 7. As soon as the draft is over, we go right to, ‘Who are the top undrafted free agents.’ You know, bringing the not-so-obvious to life is fun. Talking about the guys from the small schools, talking about the guys who are going to be, maybe, not even drafted that can play. So, all of that is a lot of fun. To be able to cover all of that and all of those kids, who, like I said, are going to get a chance but who aren’t going to be the marquee names come draft day is the fun part of it as well.
How has the explosion in the collegiate level of the spread offense affected how you evaluate offensive players, from linemen to quarterback to receivers? Has it made it more difficult?
Well, it has probably made it easier because they are throwing the ball a lot more. Receivers are catching more, quarterbacks are throwing more, and offensive linemen are blocking in pass protection more. You know, running backs have to block more in pass protection. So, the NFL has kind of opened up as college football has. It has kind of worked hand-in-hand. So, it’s not like the NFL was back in the ‘70s and ‘80s. You see the motions, you see the wide receivers that are able to do a lot of different things, you see the tight ends that are, kind of, fourth or fifth wide receivers, you see backs now going into the slot. You see a lot of versatility in the way kids are moving around now, a lot of options in the passing game. Back in the old days, I am talking about the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, you had two receivers, a tight end, a fullback, and a halfback, and then you bring in a third receiver now and then. Now, you have all of these receiving entities on the field all the time. It’s just the way college football is, and, like I said, the NFL is the same way so it has kind of worked hand-in-hand. You know, the explosion of the pass offense, everything in the NFL favors the offense. The rules are geared to scoring points. The NFL has always been concerned about points scored. Everything revolves around the offense. The offense has the ability to put points on the board and to keep the quarterback healthy. Quarterbacks now, the rules protect the quarterbacks, and everything is protecting the quarterback. It is hard to play defensive back. It is hard to play cornerback in this league now. You know, offensive linemen are given more leeway as to what they can do to protect the quarterback. You can’t hit the quarterback high. You can’t hit the quarterback low. You can’t hit a defenseless receiver. They always give the benefit of the doubt to the receiver over the cornerback. So, in terms of evaluation, it is kind of proven easier because everything kind of works hand-in-hand from the NFL to the college game.
In all your years of covering the draft, which player or two has most exceeded your expectations? You look back and say, ‘Wow! That guy’s had a great career, you know, surprised me, surprised everyone.’
Oh, it’s been a lot of guys over the 34, 35 years that you do this that would come to mind. I mean (Ohio State linebacker) Chris Spielman is a great example of that. I mean, Chris didn’t have the great measurables, but he was a great football player. I have learned a lot from Chris Spielman, the fact that I missed on him. I had him as a third- or fourth-rounder. He went in the top of the second round, and he became a great player. Chris was just ‘all football,’ and that is the kind of guy that I always liked, but then you kind of weigh in measurables, okay. Well, that’s college. This is pro. Well, with Chris it didn’t matter. Whether it’s high school, college, or pro, Chris Spielman was a great middle linebacker. That is the kind of guys that I always gravitated to, and I was beating myself up for not being as high on Chris Spielman as I should have been. That was certainly, on the defensive side of the ball, a big mistake. And then, obviously, you always beat yourself up for not finding a guy like Kurt Warner. I was aware. I saw him in Northern Iowa. You watch guys go through the ranks, but, hey, when the NFL misses as well, you don’t beat yourself up for that. You just kind of say, ‘Hey, that’s part of the process.’ Evaluating players is a very difficult part of this because you are still taking kids from one level and projecting them to the next level. Look at all of the mistakes that are made in high school recruiting. Look at all of these kids who are rated high coming out of high school who you never hear from in college, you never hear from in the NFL. So, a lot of mistakes from high school to college, and, certainly, a lot of mistakes from college to pro.
When you first saw Andrew Luck play in college at Stanford, did you immediately say, ‘This guy has got it. He has got a chance to be the No. 1 pick?’
I don’t know about immediately, but once you saw him develop and you saw what he brought to the table, in terms of his physical ability and his mental capability, he looked to me — and I was there in 1983 watching — like John Elway. I gave the highest grade ever I have given a player at any position to John Elway, and I am going to give a good grade to Andrew Luck that is going to be very similar. Not as high as Elway, because Elway is always going to be my standard. He is going to be the highest guy ever, but Luck is not that far behind. And he is ironically from Stanford, so you go back to the 1983 draft and here we are in the 2012 draft, and it is pretty amazing that Elway and Luck have similar grades out of the same school, and that they are both quarterbacks.
—Interview from the pages of Athlon Sports, the nation's largest sports magazine.
--By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
The NCAA currently tries to insult America’s intelligence each March by telling us that the NCAA Tournament starts on a Tuesday in Dayton. Sorry guys, I don’t care that you call the four contests in Ohio “the first round” or that those teams are paid a full tourney share. March Madness starts at 12:15pm EST on Thursday when there are 64 teams in the bracket. Period.
After watching the “first four”, it is painfully obvious that there are barely 64 quality teams this season that deserve to compete for the national title. Technically, every team (with the exception of the Ivy League) has a chance to get in the Big Dance by winning an automatic bid in a league tournament. It’s just silly to cheapen a great event and screw up brackets with the Tuesday/Wednesday “introduce sports fans to TruTV” games.
College basketball coaches, and maybe a few TV executives, are the only ones who want to see the tourney expanded. A 96- or 128-team field would only water down March Madness and would make the regular season even more irrelevant. It would also eliminate the excitement of the bubble, deplete the country’s love affair with the opening rounds on Thursday and Friday, and destroy office pools as everyone loves them. When it was recently suggested that the tourney might double, Missouri guard Kim English tweeted the following:
“128 NCAA tournament teams would be a complete joke! Oregon State vs Nebraska in the 1st round. On the Food network. Jimmy Dykes on the call”
Well said Kim. Even the players realize how silly 128 teams would be; now we just need coaches to realize it. When the Mountain West was formed and needed an auto bid, the NCAA should have just cut one at-large invitation. Instead, it gave in to pressure and created a convoluted 65-team field which has now led to the ignored “first four”. I know it won’t happen, but college basketball would be better if the NCAA would correct that mistake.
Sixty-four is the perfect field size. Just ask America.
--By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
Baseball is almost here, which means that warmer weather is finally approaching and it’s time to name your fantasy baseball team. Former MLB hurler and pitching coach Dick Pole has inspired my squad for years, and you should be able to find your winning team name here as well. Some of your competition may go with standard names such as the Springfield Isotopes, Chico’s Bail Bonds, the Bronx Bombers (or the just as popular Yankees Suck) or Kenny Powers’ inspired names (Charros, Shelby Sensation, the Reverse Apache Master, You’re F&*&in’ Out, Myrtle Beach Mermen), but this list sticks mainly to current players. Here they are, in no particular order of awesomeness.
Athlon Sports Fantasy Rankings: Big Board | C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | SP | RP
Dick Pole’s Staff
G’s Up, Scott Downs
Big Wang Theory
The Scioscial Network (Does Mike even have Facebook?)
Ethier Said Than Dunn
Marcum Eight (Shaun has to like the Big Lebowski.)
Cuckoo for Coco Crisp
Big league Choo
The Price Is Wrong (Sorry David, but we all love Gilmore vs. Barker)
Better Safe Than Soria
Breaking Badenhop (Not sure that Walter White has new Marlins gear.)
Smoak a Swisher
Scratch My Ichiro
I’m Rich, Litsch! (We’re sure Jesse loves the Chappelle Show.)
Bats in the Pelfrey
Horse walks into Aybar
Harang 'em High
High Plains Fister
Sam Above the Fuld
A Mighty Lind
Next of Kinsler
Grand Theft Votto
Take Maholm Tonight (Eddie Money will now pull for the Cubs.)
The Bourn Supremacy (Michael did lead MLB in steals.)
Honey Nut Ichiro's
Thome Don’t Play That
Out of Saito
The Yankee Clippard
Kimbrels 'n Bits
Fister-Furbush (This trade actually happened last season.)
Come Sale Away
Man walks into a Bard
Lay down the Lawrie
Yellow Brick Gload
Harper Valley OBP (baseball stat-ish, but looking forward to Bryce’s debut)
Depends on Asdrubal
Not at the Table Carlos
Jeters Never Prosper (but they do get undeserved Gold Gloves)
Jon Jay Jack Jim Joe
Latos Intolerant (too easy, but some Cincy fans may enjoy this one now)
The Melky Way
Less is Morrow
And a trio of retired favorites…
Julio Lugo’s Amigos
Nomar Mr. Nice Guy
The Big Hurt Locker
Other Fantasy Baseball Content:
2012 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: The Big Board
2012 Fantasy Baseball: First Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Second Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Shortstop Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Third Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Outfield Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Catcher Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Starting Pitcher Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Relief Pitcher Rankings
2012 MLB Fantasy Closer Grid
--By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
Since the St. Louis Cardinals won their 11th World Series in late October, the baseball world has witnessed many major moves and risky contracts — and that was with the big-money Yankees and Red Sox staying fairly quiet. From power sluggers leaving the NL Central to power arms moving east, there were many winter changes that will have a long-lasting effect on the 2012 campaign and beyond. Here are nine of the most important hot stove happenings:
1. King’s Ransom
The offseason’s biggest news involved something rarely seen — arguably baseball’s best player changing uniforms. Albert Pujols had as good a start to a career in his 11 years in St. Louis as the game has ever seen. His average season with the Cardinals consisted of a .328 average, 40 home runs, 121 RBIs and a 1.037 OPS. Those numbers are amazing, and you have a legend in the making when adding in World Series titles in 2006 and 2011. However, Pujols decided to turn his back on Cardinals fans and take the gargantuan money offered by the Los Angles Angels of Anaheim. The Halos will pay Pujols $240 million over the next decade, but that number is heavily backloaded. King Albert will seem like a bargain while making $28 million over next two seasons, which allowed the Angels to also add former Rangers starter C.J. Wilson to the rotation. However, Pujols will make a staggering $140 million over last five years of the deal, when he will be 37-41 years old. If the Angels get back to the postseason and win a championship in the next two or three seasons, this deal will be worth the cost. However if Pujols misses time with injuries or the team does not claim a title, the massive contract will be heavily criticized.
2. No Ban for Braun
For most of the offseason, it looked like National League MVP Ryan Braun would serve a 50-game suspension for accelerated testosterone levels during a drug test. However in a surprising decision by an independent arbitrator, the Brewers’ slugger was exonerated on a procedural technicality. It was the first case in which an MLB player has won an appeal on a drug-related penalty. No matter how it occurred, Milwaukee gets a much-needed boost with Braun (.332, 33 HR, 111 RBI and 109 runs in ’11) returning to the lineup. He will need to be as productive as ever because…
3. Fresh Start for Prince
Another shocker happened in the Motor City, where former Brewers slugger Prince Fielder inked a nine-year, $214 million deal with the Detroit Tigers. Many around baseball did not think that Fielder would even get close to Pujols-type money, but Tigers management was willing to pay the freight after losing DH Victor Martinez for the year to a knee injury. Over the last six seasons in Milwaukee, Fielder’s average year was .282 with 38 home runs, 108 RBIs and 95 runs scored. And even though some teams worried about his physique over the long-term, Prince has been very durable in averaging 160 games played over those six seasons. While Detroit’s defense may suffer with Miguel Cabrera moving to third base, the Tigers one-two punch in the middle of the lineup looks like the best in baseball.
4. Makeover in Miami
Things have changed in a big way with the Marlins — from the name to a new stadium, new manager, new uniforms and an much-increased payroll. Former White Sox skipper Ozzie Guillen takes over a team that added a trio with 11 All-Stars appearances in shortstop Jose Reyes, starting pitcher Mark Buehrle and closer Heath Bell. Will all of the changes make the Miami Marlins a contender? It’s difficult to see them breaking the stranglehold the Phillies have on the NL East, but the new-look Marlins, Braves and improving Nationals should stage a compelling race in the NL East.
5. Yu Da Man
The Texas Rangers have lost two straight World Series, and ace C.J. Wilson departed in the offseason to the division-rival Angels. However Ron Washington’s club still has a loaded lineup, and the rotation will be bolstered by the signing of Japanese superstar Yu Darvish. The 25-year-old righthander just completed five straight seasons in Japan with an ERA under 2.00, and he may take the majors by storm in 2012. If the 6-foot-5 Darvish can form a solid rotation with Derek Holland and former closer Neftali Feliz, it would be no surprise to see the Rangers in another Fall Classic.
6. Changes for the Champs
There is still an aftershock in St. Louis from the departure of Pujols, but the reigning champions also lost future Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa and intrepid pitching coach Dave Duncan. Most organizations could not handle such high-level attrition, but the tradition-laden Cardinals may still prosper. Former Cards catcher Mike Matheny takes over for La Russa, while Derek Lilliquist will tutor the pitching staff. Despite having no managerial experience, Matheny is known as a consummate leader and should transition well. There is no replacing Pujols, but slugger Carlos Beltran (.300, 22 HR, .910 OPS in ‘11) will join Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman in the middle of the lineup. St. Louis can also look forward to the return of former 20-game winner Adam Wainwright to the rotation. If Beltran, shortstop Rafael Furcal and World Series MVP David Freese can stay healthy, the Cardinals have a very solid shot to return to the postseason.
7. Pitching goes east; Hitting goes west
Many of teams on the west coast play in pitcher’s park and struggle to attract free agent hitters. We may have seen the start of a new trend where those clubs — like Seattle, San Francisco and San Diego — are willing to trade young (and financially-controlled) hurlers in order to get some thunder in the lineup. The Mariners sent top rookie pitcher Michael Pineda (173 Ks in 171 IP) to the Yankees for heralded young slugger Jesus Montero. The Padres dealt Mat Latos (23 wins, 3.21 ERA, 374 Ks over last two seasons) to Cincinnati for top prospects Yonder Alonso (1B), Yasmani Grandal (C) and pitcher Edinson Volquez. The Giants traded Jonathan Sanchez to the Royals for outfielder Melky Cabrera, who batted .305 with 44 doubles and 102 runs scored in Kansas City last year. Additionally, the A’s traded a pair of solid young hurlers — Trevor Cahill to Arizona and Gio Gonzalez to Washington — to once again add top prospects.
8. Valentine’s Day in Boston
Red Sox fans are still reeling from last September’s collapse, when Boston blew a nine-game lead in the AL wild-card race while going 7-20 over the final month. The offseason saw GM Theo Epstein leave for Chicago, while manager Terry Francona was replaced by the no-nonsense Bobby Valentine. We all are waiting to see how the new skipper’s personality meshes with this talented roster. One major change on the field was the departure of closer Jonathan Papelbon, who left in free agency for the Phillies. The BoSox traded for former A’s closer Andrew Bailey and former Houston stopper Mark Melancon to fix the bullpen. Will Carl Crawford rebound? Will Kevin Youkilis stay healthy? Can Jacoby Ellsbury repeat his stellar 2011 season? The answers to these questions will decide if Boston can return to the postseason after a two-year absence.
9. Reds Go All-In
With Pujols and Fielder leaving the NL Central, Cincinnati general manager Walt Jocketty decided to go for it all in 2012. Along the aforementioned Latos trade, the Reds also added former Philles closer Ryan Madson (32 saves, 2.37 ERA in ’11) and setup man Sean Marshall to the bullpen. With contract decisions looming for top position players Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto over the next two years, the time to strike is now in the Queen City. If young sluggers Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs can play up to their potential, the Reds will challenge the Cardinals and Brewers for NL Central supremacy.
With a 74–69 win over Michigan State at Madison Square Garden earlier this season, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski passed his mentor and former coach at Army, Bob Knight, for most NCAA career victories (903). Krzyzewski says he is most proud of the fact that coach and player — Knight and himself — together have more than 1,800 victories.
Krzyzewski has been called “the modern-day John Wooden” by Louisville coach Rick Pitino and “a coach’s coach … a guy I think every coach in America looks to and respects,” by Kansas coach Bill Self. He has led the Blue Devils to 11 Final Four appearances and four national titles.
In an interview with Jerry Kavanagh for Athlon Sports, Krzyzewski showed an appreciation for literature in speaking about his coaching style and leadership.
Athlon Sports: The Nobel Prize-winning Irish poet Seamus Heaney wrote, “The excitement of something coming out right is its own reward.” Is there something of that satisfaction in coaching?
Krzyzewski: Oh, yeah. There’s a lot of that. To see how youngsters develop under your tutelage and how they continue to develop as men. And obviously how a team develops and how a game develops. All that stuff. That’s what makes it interesting.
After the U.S. team you coached in the 2008 Olympics won the gold medal, you wrote “The Gold Standard: Building a World-Class Team.” In that you said, “It’s beautiful to watch the transformation of a player happening before your eyes.”
Absolutely, and it’s not just you helping transform that; it’s the environment. You’re privileged enough … it’s an honor for you to try to develop that environment. It’s not just you as a coach, but the people who are in that environment can help each individual. And that’s what being a successful leader is about: It’s creating that type of an environment.
You quoted the philosopher George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” What did you learn from past U.S. Olympic participation that has been most influential?
The very first thing was the familiarity of working with players who are considered some of the best players in the world. So you have a comfort level; you’ve done it before, even if it’s been at an assistant level. And you’ve been on that stage, even though it’s a different stage 16 years later because the world is a lot better. And watching Chuck Daly and how he worked with those players. I tried to bring all those things forward in 2006, ’07, and ’08. It’s different, but still we have some of the best players in the world, and really the most talented team, potentially, in the world, but against teams that are much better right now, who also have some of the best players in the world.
In the book Absinthe and Flamethrowers, the author, William Gurstelle, writes that managers who take the greatest risks are the most successful. Do you agree with that?
I think you have to be careful when you say that. Somebody might think that to be a leader or a manager, “I need to take a lot of risks, or else I’m not good.” I think you can’t be afraid to do what’s necessary. Some people would equate that to taking a risk because it goes against the grain or it’s not something that is normally done. But my feeling is that a leader has to take the course of action that’s necessary to produce a positive result after doing an analysis and preparing himself to take a look at that situation. The world might call that a risk; a leader would call that the appropriate action that needed to be taken. I think when you just take that one statement (by Gurstelle), you can make a mistake by saying, “I didn’t take a risk today. I better take one.” I think you go boldly in the direction that’s necessary and in the direction that you’re prepared to go in.
You often talk about leadership. Napoleon defined a leader as “a dealer in hope.” I read where you said, “Leadership can be lonely.” Can you explain that?
Well, leadership is lonely because you don’t discuss everything. Part of it is that in your moments of doubt or in your moments of being nervous or wondering if this is the right thing that you’re doing, you never want to show weakness to your group. And you don’t share that because it’s not the main feeling you have, but because you’re a human being these feelings hit you. Leadership can be very lonely, but there’s a certain amount of time that you have to be by yourself, it has to be yours as you’re looking into it, before you present something to your group. I think that’s a price that you pay.
Some of the statements you have made have an application beyond basketball. For example, “Fear can change you.” What do you mean by that?
Some people are afraid of fear, so they avoid it. They don’t try to do anything. They’re very cautious. And when you get into new situations, there’s an element of fear that can excite you. It can freeze you or stop you from doing something, because it’s new. It can be exciting, but there’s still some fear involved. And I don’t think that you have to face fear. You know, part of being courageous is facing fear and doing what you’re supposed to do. People have different fears — fear of speaking, fear of heights, a bunch of fears — and when you face those fears, you can turn them into your strengths. That’s how you evolve as a person and how a group evolves as a team.
Have you ever given any thoughts to politics?
Vacation spot: The North Carolina beach.
Books: I love to read books about leadership.
Movies: “Legends of the Fall” and “Braveheart.”
Pet peeves: Lying, and people who show a lack of consideration.
Rituals: Taking a nap on game days and saying a prayer before every game.
Collections: Photographs of family, friends and memorable moments; wine.
Earliest sports memory: Organizing games in the Chicago school yards; taking the bus to Wrigley Field with my best friend, Moe.
Greatest extravagance: Wine collection.
Regrets: Luckily, none.
by Matt Taliaferro
The Daytona 500 will kick off another exciting NASCAR season on Sunday, as Tony Stewart tries to defend his Sprint Cup title against many worthy adversaries. The Budweiser Shootout was exciting last weekend with Kyle Busch winning in thrilling fashion, and Carl Edwards will start on the pole for the Great American Race. From the pages of Athlon Sports Monthly, here’s our 2012 NASCAR preview.
What to Do for an Encore?
The 2011 season finale in Homestead, Fla., will go down as one of the most dramatic races in NASCAR’s 60-plus-year history. Tony Stewart capped off a scintillating Chase run by winning his fifth race of the playoffs and, in the process, nipping Carl Edwards for the championship in a tiebreaker.
So how does the sport top it? Thankfully, by letting everything play out naturally in the upcoming year. In the annual January “state of the sport” address, NASCAR principals announced no new rule modifications directed at the point system or structural changes to the Chase. And with Edwards hungrier than ever, Stewart looking for title No. 4 and a more determined duo in Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus, expect a 10-race playoff run every bit as exciting and unpredictable as last season’s epic stretch.
First Things First, Though
NASCAR’s annual pilgrimage to the world’s center of speed in Daytona Beach, Fla., culminates in this weekend’s Daytona 500. The sanctioning body has worked throughout the offseason and during Speedweeks to bring back the popular — albeit white-knuckle — “pack racing” style of competition at Daytona. The last couple of years have seen the rise of two-car “tandem draft” racing on NASCAR’s restrictor plate tracks at Daytona and Talladega, where two cars glued nose-to-tail while never lifting off the accelerator have proved faster than a giant pack of machines mere inches from one another.
For all of NASCAR’s effort to discourage the two-car breakaways, though, most drivers believe that when the money is on the line, the tandem phenomenon will rule the day. A snarling 30-car pack may have its time and place throughout the 500, but the drivers know the surest way to Victory Lane is by pairing up with a teammate and separating from the field.
And What of NASCAR’s Most Popular Duo?
Nine-time Most Popular Driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. and open-wheel-turned-stock-car-driver Danica Patrick will undoubtedly be under the fans’ microscope throughout the season. After all, with popularity comes scrutiny — and in a sponsor-driven sport such as NASCAR, funding follows.
Earnhardt, an 18-time winner in the Cup Series, looks to break a 129-race winless skid on the circuit. He experienced a turnaround of sorts in 2011, finishing seventh in the point standings while posting his best numbers since his first season with powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports in 2008. Still, the wins did not come, and in order for Junior to find favor with the naysayers, racking up victories is imperative.
His six-win campaign of 2004 is but a speck in the rearview mirror at this point in his career. With the resources of the sport’s most potent organization, a crew chief in Steve Letarte who seems to push the right buttons and championship teammates in Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, expect Earnhardt to earn a checkered flag or two this season — and what better place to get the season started off right than Daytona, where he’s won both the February and July races.
And then there’s Patrick, who enters her first full season in NASCAR’s Nationwide Series after seven years in IndyCar. Armed with the financial backing of GoDaddy.com and the resources of Earnhardt’s JR Motorsports (which receives engines and chassis from Hendrick), Patrick should be a contender in a series where the gap between “haves” and “have nots” has grown exponentially.
A much more interesting story to follow will be her Cup Series debut with Tony Stewart’s Stewart-Haas Racing team, which will happen in the Daytona 500. Patrick will also suit up with the big boys in nine other races, as she ratchets up her knowledge and skills for a run at full-time Cup glory in 2013.
A Year of Redemption
Every sport has its villains, and brothers Kurt and Kyle Busch seem to have taken on the title with their colorful antics over the last few years.
Kyle may be the most talented pure racer on the circuit, but a competitive streak that gives him an edge also serves as his biggest liability. Parked for a race last season after intentionally wrecking a competitor in a Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway, the mercurial driver nearly found himself without a sponsor or a ride. However, Joe Gibbs Racing was able to smooth things out with both driver and sponsor, Mars/M&M’s. The 26-year-old, who has accumulated 23 Cup wins in only seven full seasons, will look to start a new chapter in his career.
The bigger question surrounding Kyle is if he’ll ever win a coveted Cup title. Thus far, he’s proved that when the pressure is at its greatest — during the playoffs — his mental state is fragile. Until he delivers in the clutch, it’s hard to see him as anything more than a driver who will win in spades, but fold at title time.
Older brother Kurt wasn’t so fortunate last year. Following a number of dust-ups with the media and weekly team radio tirades, the 2004 series champion was shown the door at Penske Racing.
Kurt landed with single-car outfit Phoenix Racing, where he’ll look to prove to the powerhouse organizations of the sport that he can play team ball and behave as a professional should. How he co-exists with team owner James Finch may be the most entertaining storyline of the season.
The opportunity to win on a plate track or road course is there for the 33-year-old this season, but beyond that, it will be a season of mending his reputation as he looks to 2013 as a comeback year of sorts.
Keep Your Eye On…
When races are in the books and NASCAR’s Chase begins, look for these five drivers to separate themselves from the field and battle for the 2012 Sprint Cup.
After two consecutive third-place finishes in the point standings, Harvick enters 2012 with a new crew chief and retooled pit crew. Shane Wilson, who guided Harvick to a Busch Series title in 2006 prior to working atop Clint Bowyer’s pit box in the Cup Series, will lead the team. With seven wins in the last two seasons, expect Harvick to rack up a handful more in 2012 en route to his first Sprint Cup championship.
Keselowski took the circuit by storm in 2011, winning three races in a scorching summer stretch that propelled his Penske Racing outfit into a surprise Chase appearance. Keselowski possesses the perfect balance of raw talent, aggressiveness and media savvy that will make him a popular contender for years to come. Expect big things out of the Michigan native this year now that he knows the Cup ropes and inherits the mantle of “team leader” in the Penske organization.
It’s hard to envision losing a championship in a more heartbreaking fashion than Edwards did in 2011. Edwards was relegated to second after losing a tiebreaker that gave the title to Tony Stewart. Many drivers have run second in the standings only to fall off the radar the following season. That said, Edwards is mentally tougher than most, and having been in this position before (2008) should prepare him to challenge for his first Cup title once again.
The streak had to come to an end sometime. After an unprecedented five consecutive titles, Johnson “slumped” to a sixth-place points finish in 2011. But that result may only yield a more determined duo in Johnson and ace crew chief Chad Knaus this year. With Knaus’ smarts, Johnson’s ability, and the resources of NASCAR’s strongest organization, a new streak may begin in November.
Kasey Kahne has finally landed in a place where he can expect sustained success — Hendrick Motorsports. Kahne has experienced a roller-coaster career with teams that invariably have fallen apart, through no fault of Kahne’s. Paired again with crew chief Kenny Francis, Kahne will share shop space on the Hendrick campus with Jeff Gordon and crew chief Alan Gustafson, making the 5 car a weekly contender out of the gate. The sky’s the limit here.
Which NCAA Tournament bubble team had the most damaging loss over the weekend?
Mark Ross: Could defending national champion UConn not make the NCAA Tournament? After Saturday’s 79–64 home loss to Marquette, the Huskies definitely have some work to do to feel more secure about their chances heading into the Big East Tournament. UConn has lost seven of its last nine games and has 10 losses overall and just a 6–8 record in the Big East. With three winnable games and a Feb. 25 home game against No. 2 Syracuse remaining, the Huskies should finish no worse than .500 in the Big East. However, should they slip up again and start the postseason with 12 or more losses, the Huskies may need to win the Big East Tournament to even get a shot at defending its title.
Mitch Light: I’ll go with Illinois, which barely put up a fight in a stunning 80–57 loss at Nebraska. The Illini have two great wins to brag about — vs. Michigan State and Ohio State — but they have now lost eight of their past nine games to drop to 16–11 overall and 5–9 in the Big Ten. With trips to Ohio State and Wisconsin still on the slate, the best-case scenario for this team is a 7–11 Big Ten record heading into the league tournament.
Nathan Rush: Memphis lost to UTEP, 60–58, despite leading 28–19 at the half and 51–44 with 6:25 remaining. The collapse further exposed Josh Pastner’s club as a pretender more than a contender. There is a significant gap between the Tigers’ perceived talent level and their ability to produce results. Memphis has three losses in Conference USA — UTEP, at Southern Miss and at UCF. Worse, the Tigers have no wins against NCAA Tournament-caliber competition, with home victories over Xavier and Southern Miss being the best wins on Memphis’ resume. Pastner is in jeopardy of missing the NCAA Tournament for the second time in his three seasons since taking over for John Calipari.
Which team had the best win of the past weekend?
Mitch Light: Creighton had played itself onto the bubble after losing three straight games in MVC play. The Bluejays once-solid résumé was in desperate need of a quality win, and Greg McDermott’s club responded by rallying to beat Long Beach State (No. 36 RPI) in Omaha on a jump shot by Antoine Young with 0.3 seconds to play. The Bluejays, with an RPI of 28, would likely have to lose their two remaining regular-season games — vs. Evansville and Indiana State — to be in any danger of missing the NCAA Tournament.
Mark Ross: Kansas State came into Saturday’s game at No. 10 Baylor having lost two in a row and four of its last six. Not only did the Wildcats’ 57–56 win over the Bears end their modest losing streak, it may have secured their invite to the Big Dance. With the victory, Kansas State is now 18–8 overall, but more importantly, 7–7 in the Big 12. The win also gives the Wildcats the signature road victory their résumé was missing.
Nathan Rush: Alabama rolled over Tennessee, 62–50, in a victory that showed the character and toughness of Anthony Grant’s team. The Crimson Tide were without their top two scorers and rebounders, senior JaMychal Green and junior Tony Mitchell, as well as freshman forward Nick Jacobs — who sat out due to a mouth infection. Bama made no excuses, however, snapping a two-game losing streak by locking down the Vols defensively, holding UT to just 15-of-44 from the field (34.1 percent) and 4-of-20 from 3-point range (20 percent).
Will NC State make the NCAA Tournament?
Nathan Rush: Tom Gugliotta and Chris Corchiani won’t even have a chance to be thrown out of an NCAA Tournament game — as they were in Saturday’s 76–62 home loss to Florida State — because NC State won’t make the field of 68 this season. Unless the Wolfpack make an unbelievable run in the ACC Tournament, with wins over North Carolina and/or Duke, Mark Gottfried will fall short in his first season at the helm in Raleigh.
Mitch Light: This question would have been easy to answer had the Pack been able to hold onto a 20-point lead at Duke last week. But they didn’t, which leaves Mark Gottfried’s club squarely on the bubble. State has 7–5 record in the ACC with some winnable games remaining (at Clemson, vs. Miami and at Virginia Tech). This team is lacking in quality wins (at Miami is the only top-50 RPI win) but doesn’t have many bad losses either. My guess is that NC State will win three of its final four regular-season games and do just enough in the ACC Tournament to sneak into the Field of 68.
Mark Ross: I’m going to say yes, but NC State’s margin of error is razor-thin. The Wolfpack let a golden opportunity slip through their fingers on Feb. 16 when they let Duke come back from a 20-point deficit in the second half of the Blue Devils’ 78–73 win at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Not surprisingly, the disappointment carried over to Saturday’s 76–62 home loss to Florida State. I still think NC State has a great shot at making the NCAA Tournament, as long as the Wolfpack take care of their remaining business. They should still finish the season with at least 20 wins and have played a solid overall schedule, with only one bad loss (82-71 at home to Georgia Tech) on their resume. This should be enough to get an invite from the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, but there’s still some work left to be done.
Each college basketball weekend is taking on more meaning with less than a month to go until league tournaments begin. Saturday saw several big-time clashes, highlighted by Kentucky surviving in a great SEC game at Vanderbilt, Michigan State going into Columbus and beating Ohio State by 10 and Missouri easily handling Baylor in Columbia. Wichita State had an impressive win at Creighton, while UNLV topped San Diego State in a great matchup of top 20 teams from the Mountain West. As we look ahead...
1. Who is your choice, at this point of the season, for National Player of the Year?
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman) : I would go with Kentucky’s Anthony Davis at this point in the year. While some may not vote for Davis because of his controversial recruitment, there is no doubt that the freshman from Chicago has impacted the college game as much as anyone this season. His defensive presence, including a national-best 4.9 blocks per game, has allowed UK to smother opponents on the perimeter and is a huge factor in the 25–1 Wildcats being ranked No. 1. Davis also leads the Cats in scoring and rebounding, averaging 14.0 points and 9.9 boards per game. Additionally, the nation’s top frosh has been very efficient on the offensive end — shooting 65.1 percent from the field and 70.6 percent from the free throw line. While Thomas Robinson of Kansas, Draymond Green of Michigan State and Kevin Jones of West Virginia have had stellar seasons, Anthony Davis has been the National Player of the Year.
Mark Ross: In one year, Kansas’ Thomas Robinson has gone from top sixth man to the best player in the Big 12 and, in my opinion, the nation. Last year, Robinson averaged 7.6 points and 6.4 rebounds as the first man off of the bench for Bill Self. This year the junior has more than doubled his point production to 18.1, which is second in the Big 12, and is averaging 12.1 rebounds per game, which is second in the entire country. He already has posted 17 double-doubles to this point, and is the main reason why this Kansas team is a viable threat to not only win an eighth straight Big 12 title, but also make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Robinson’s dominance in the post has also allowed fellow junior and frontcourt mate Jeff Withey develop his game. In the past two games, Withey has put up a combined 43 points, 25 rebounds and 10 blocked shots in Kansas wins over then No. 6-ranked Baylor on the road and against Oklahoma State.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch): I love what Thomas Robinson is doing for Kansas, but I’ve got to go with Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis. The big man from Chicago is dominating games on the defensive end like a young Patrick Ewing did for Georgetown in the 1980s. And like with most great shot-blockers, you can’t just look at the number of shots Davis blocks — 4.9 per game, the most in the nation — but you also have to take into account the amount of shots he alters and the times his presence in the lane deters players from driving toward the basket. Davis is also making contributions on the offensive end of the floor with a 14.0-point average, and he leads the Wildcats in rebounding with 9.9 per game. He is, quite simply, a special player.
2. What is the biggest game on the schedule this upcoming weekend?
Mitch Light: I am very intrigued by Ohio State’s trip to face Michigan in Ann Arbor. This great rivalry isn’t quite as intense on the basketball court as it is on the football field, but it is always an important game for both schools. And the stakes will be very high Saturday night, with both Ohio State and Michigan very much in the hunt for a regular-season Big Ten title. The Buckeyes won in Columbus in late January despite a subpar performance from Jared Sullinger (13 points, five boards). Thad Matta’s team will need its All-America big man to play well at Crisler Arena, which figures to be at a fever pitch for the hated Buckeyes.
Mark Ross: Murray State hosts Saint Mary’s on Saturday in the only BracketBusters match-up of ranked teams. Both teams had long winning streaks snapped by second-place conference foes on Feb. 9 as Saint Mary’s was beaten by West Coast rival Gonzaga 73–59 on the road, while Murray State suffered its first loss of the season in a 72–68 home loss to Ohio Valley foe Tennessee State. Both bounced back with wins two days later and will play conference games on Wednesday prior to Saturday’s showdown. Even though Murray State has just the one loss on the season, the Racers appear to need this win more than the Gaels do when it comes to NCAA Tournament résumés. Saint Mary’s is ranked in the top 25 of the RPI and, for now, is more secure in terms of at-large consideration should the Gaels not win the WCC Tournament. The Racers also have a strong résumé, boosted by a December road win against then-No. 20 Memphis, but a home victory Saturday over the Gaels would probably move them into “lock” territory for an NCAA Tournament bid, regardless of what happens in the OVC Tournament.
Patrick Snow: I see Xavier hosting Dayton as a huge game on Saturday. The Musketeers were seen as a top-20 team and probable Atlantic-10 champions in the preseason. However Chris Mack’s club was involved in the infamous brawl with city-rival Cincinnati in December, and the subsequent suspensions led to Xavier losing five of its next six games (after an 8–0 start). The Musketeers seemed to right the ship in mid-January with four straight wins, but they have now lost four of the last seven contests. There is no reason that a team with veteran guards like Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons, as well as experienced big men Kenny Frease and Andre Walker, should miss the NCAA Tournament, but that is now a possibility. The Musketeers still have tough road games at UMass and Saint Louis, so this weekend’s home game with Dayton — an 87-72 victor over XU in January — is paramount to Xavier finishing strong and not missing March Madness.
The calendar has turned to February, so college basketball teams are currently fighting for seeding or just to get in the NCAA Tournament. Missouri had a huge comeback win over Kansas in this weekend’s best game, while Duke suffered its second home loss in 15 days. Our editors answer three questions covering the best and worst from the college hoops week.
1. Who had the most damaging loss last weekend?
Nathan Rush: Duke's 78–74 overtime loss to Miami won't hurt the Blue Devils' NCAA Tournament seeding but it did further expose Coach K's team as both physically and mentally fragile. The Blue Devils were outscored 38–26 in the paint and missed all six of their free throws in overtime against the Hurricanes, who earned their first ever win at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Obviously frustrated after the game, Krzyzewski questioned his team's desire, saying that Duke's four national championships “were not won without energy, without hunger, with no complacency, with people really wanting it. … Those should be givens.” With this year's Dukies, however, those are not givens.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch): Xavier let a great opportunity to pick up a quality win on the road slip away, losing a 10-point lead in the final eight minutes en route to a 72–68 loss to Memphis at FedExForum. The Musketeers climbed into the top 10 in early December after opening the season with eight straight wins but have been rather mediocre over the past two months. They are 7–8 since the infamous fight vs. Cincinnati, with only one of those wins (vs. Saint Joseph’s) coming against a top-80 RPI team. Xavier is currently ranked No. 53 in the RPI and will be included in most mock NCAA Tournament brackets this week, but Chris Mack’s club is flirting with disaster.
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman): I thought Stanford's 56-43 home loss to Arizona was very damaging for its NCAA Tournament resume. The Cardinal have now lost four of their last five games after starting the season 15–3. Johnny Dawkins’ club had played well at Maples Pavilion until Saturday, when it shot 25.4 percent from the field on the way to a season-low 43 points. As it currently stands, the Pac-12 looks to have only two teams in Cal and Washington (and this is debatable) that will make the tourney field. Stanford is battling with the likes of Oregon, Arizona and Colorado to try and get a third league team into March Madness. The Cardinal severely hurt their chances with the home loss to the Wildcats, and they will need a strong run down the stretch to make the NCAA field.
2. Pick a team that was not in last week's top 25 that you think could possibly make a run to the Final Four.
Patrick Snow: Obviously the odds are long that a currently unranked team would advance to the Final Four, but I could see the West Virginia Mountaineers making a UConn-like run from the middle of the Big East pack to New Orleans. WVU has not played well lately, but coach Bob Huggins has a ton of NCAA Tournament experience. Additionally, he has two senior go-to guys in guard Truck Bryant and imposing post Kevin Jones. If that veteran duo can get some help from players like junior forward Deniz Kilicli (scored a career-high 22 points in Sunday’s win over Providence) or freshman guard Jabarie Hinds (has scored in double-digits in 10 of 24 games), then West Virginia is the type of grind-it-out club that could make a surprising run in March.
Nathan Rush: The Louisville Cardinals are a talented, battle-tested squad led by one of the best coaches in NCAA Tournament history. Rick Pitino has been to the Final Four five times with a record three different schools (Providence, Kentucky and Louisville), cutting down the nets after winning it all with Kentucky in 1996. This year's Cardinals club is capable of getting hot at the right time and making a run to the Final Four. The U of L has a streaky-hot point guard in Peyton Siva, an imposing 6'11" force down low in Gorgui Dieng and plenty of firepower on the wings with Kyle Kuric, Russ Smith and Chris Smith. As always, the team Pitino brings to the Big Dance will be dangerous.
Mitch Light: Temple is undervalued nationally. The Owls improved to 17–5 overall and 6–2 in the A-10 with a 73–56 win at Rhode Island on Saturday. They have wins over Wichita State, Villanova, Maryland and Duke in non-conference action and have emerged as the team to beat in what has become a deep A-10. Fran Dunphy’s club is led by a trio of veteran guards in Ramone Moore, Khalif Wyatt and Juan Fernandez who played a key role in last year’s NCAA Tournament team. Temple doesn’t get a lot of scoring from its front line but has some big bodies who play well defensively and get after it on the glass. With the right matchups, Temple is capable of winning several games — maybe even four — in the NCAAs.
3. Who is your National Coach of the Year at this point?
Mitch Light: Mike Brey has to be in the discussion. The veteran Notre Dame coach lost his best player, forward Tim Abromaitis, to a season-ending knee injury in mid-November. It took a while for the Irish to learn how to play with a re-tooled lineup, but Brey has been pushing all of the right buttons of late. Notre Dame has won four straight Big East games, highlighted by wins over Syracuse (undefeated at the time), at UConn and at home vs. Marquette, and is remarkably looking like a solid NCAA Tournament team.
Patrick Snow: I would have to go with Larry Eustachy at Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles are 20–3 and sitting on top of the Conference USA standings. USM lost its top three scorers off last year’s team in Gary Flowers (18.8 ppg), R.L. Horton (12.4 ppg) and D.J. Newbill (9.2 ppg), but Eustachy’s bunch has been surprisingly effective. The Golden Eagles have only lost at Denver in November, against undefeated Murray State in double-overtime and at Memphis. There are no stars on this USM team, but five players average between 13.3 and 9.7 points per game. The Golden Eagles were not picked to compete for the C-USA crown, but they are now the favorite to win the league with their balanced attack and solid rebounding.
Nathan Rush: Kentucky's John Calipari is ranked No. 1 in the nation, has a 23–1 record and is one defensive stop away — on a last-second shot at Indiana — from being undefeated. Coach Cal has assembled the finest collection of talent in the nation, with five-star freshmen Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teaque joining sophomore studs Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb to form a nearly unstoppable talent base. Calipari hand-picked the country's best team on the recruiting trail and is coaching them up to their potential on the court. He's the best in the business right now, and deserves to be acknowledged as such.
It’s almost here. The New England Patriots and New York Giants will meet in another Super Bowl on Sunday, and the two stalwart franchises seem very evenly-matched. Both squads have old-school coaches in Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin, and each will have his team well-prepared for a game that will probably be decided by a couple of key plays. The G-men won a very memorable Super Bowl XLII over the Pats in February 2008, and Eli Manning’s crew also won a dramatic 24-20 decision in New England earlier this season. Not many Patriots are left from that 2007 team, but core guys like Tom Brady, Wes Welker, Vince Wilfork, Matt Light and Logan Mankins would love to get revenge for ruining their perfect season four years ago. America’s most-watched event will kick off Sunday evening, and hopefully it will be as dramatic as the fourth quarters of the previous Patriots-Giants matchups.
Which team wins Super Bowl XLVI?
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I have to go with the Patriots for one reason: Bill Belichick. While many around football put an asterisk by New England’s three Super Bowl wins because of videotaping opponent’s practices, Belichick is still a master schemer and personnel man. He has set up a system of “team” with the Patriots, and they are always prepared to play in all three phases of the game. Heck, Belichick’s system is so good that he took a quarterback who never started a game in college — Matt Cassel — and won 11 games with no time to prep the inexperienced signal caller. I just see the Hoodie coming up with a game plan to slow down the momentum of Eli Manning and the Giants’ wideouts. The 49ers hit Manning several times two weeks ago, and the Patriots defense (which finished 10 spots ahead of the Giants in scoring defense this season) has been playing well lately. The Giants’ defense is also playing well but could barely cover tight end Vernon Davis in the NFC Championship. I see Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski having huge games in New England’s short passing attack, which will keep Tom Brady from having much pressure. There is also the intangible factor of the Patriots always seeming to benefit from a blown call or opponent’s mistake, so I’ll take them to get revenge on the Giants. Patriots 24 Giants 20
Given the lingering sting of Super Bowl XLII, when the Giants denied the Patriots a shot at unbeaten immortality on the strength of a miracle catch, it seems unthinkable that Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will squander this opportunity. Throw in the fact that the Giants have been doing a surprising amount of unseemly woofing while the Patriots have quietly gone about their business, and conditions are favorable for a reckoning for the G-men and a revival of the Patriots dynasty starting at 6:30 pm ET on Sunday. “I’m going to work as hard as I can these next two weeks to be prepared and to hopefully go out there and play my best game, hopefully the best game I’ve ever played,” Brady said after the AFC Championship Game. “That’s what I expect to do. I know that’s what my teammates expect of me.” And it’s what I expect, too. Patriots 27 Giants 21
Call me a purist, or perhaps somewhat out of touch with the present game, but I tend to side with the team that can play defense. Granted, neither the Giants nor Patriots were all that strong this season, at least statistically speaking, as the G-Men finished the regular season 27th in total defense and the Pats ranked next-to-last. In fact, I believe this Super Bowl matchup features the two worst defenses (again, statistically speaking) in the game's 46-year history. However, while I am expecting a fair amount of points to be scored, I still believe that defense will have a say in who wins. To that end, I believe more in the G-Men than the Patriots when it comes to their respective defensive units.
Although I am not convinced that the Giants' pass rushers are in Tom Brady's head, I do think they will spend a fair amount of time in the Patriots' backfield and, just like they did in Super Bowl XLII four years ago, will bring enough pressure and either sack/hit No. 12 enough to disrupt the Pats' offense. I'm also concerned about how effective Rob Gronkowski will be dealing with his ankle injury. Playing hurt is noble, but if Gronk is not his usual self, then that's one huge weapon (Gronk has caught 20 of Brady's 45 touchdown passes this season) missing from the Patriots' arsenal. On the other side, I think Eli Manning and his receivers will be able to take advantage of the Pats' porous pass defense, especially downfield, but I'm also looking for Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs to get a fair amount of touches with the goal of trying to wear down New England's defensive line. If the Giants can get to Brady and take care of the ball on offense, I think they will pull away in the fourth quarter and earn their second Super Bowl victory over the Patriots in four years. Giants 34, Patriots 24
The Giants will beat the Patriots, a top-heavy team whose flaws will be exposed on Sunday. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are the best in the business today — and maybe all time. But the Giants have the deeper, more talented team peeking at the right time. This year's Patriots squad is overly dependent on Brady and the offense. And heading into Super Bowl XLVI, Brady's blindside bodyguard (left tackle Matt Light) and top target (tight end Rob Gronkowski) have missed practice and likely will be substantially less than 100 percent at kickoff. Defensively, there's only so much scheming Belichick can do with his patchwork secondary; at the end of the day, the Pats don't have the talent to run with the G-Men. It was a fortuitous season for the Patriots — who have only defeated one team with a winning record (Ravens in AFC title game) this year — but it will end in defeat in Indianapolis. The Big Blue Wrecking Crew defense will harass Brady all night, while Eli Manning stretches the New England secondary until it snaps to give up big plays to Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and/or Mario Manningham. Eli will win his second Super Bowl in Peyton's (old) house against his brother's (and now his own) biggest rival. Couldn't script a better ending to the 2011 season. Giants 24, Patriots 20