Wednesday, October 15, 2008

2008-09 College Basketball Pre-Season Top 25



1. North Carolina
Defense will be the key as to whether the Tar Heels win the National Championship. They shouldn't have an issue scoring as they return all of their top scorers from a team that ranked 2nd in scoring with 88.6 points per game.

2. Connecticut
UConn adds freshman sensation Kemba Walker to a team that already has eight players capable of starting. With AJ Price and 7-foot-3 center Hasheem Thabeet back, expect Jim Calhoun to lead the Huskies to the Final Four.

3. Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh needs to find a consistent outside threat (perhaps Jermaine Dixon). Another question mark will be if guard Lavence Fields is healthy after foot surgery this past summer. But with Sam Young back for his senior season, a good home court advantage, and experience, the Panthers should challenge for the Big East title and the Final Four.

4. Louisville
Earl Clark decided to stay away from the NBA Draft and the Cardinals added freshman Samardo Samuels inside. Couple them with stronger play out of the perimeter and Louisville has the makings of a team poised to make a run deep into March. They do need to improve their free throws (64.7%).

5. UCLA
The Bruins are loaded with future NBA players and has a good blend of veterans who know how to win and young players hungry to prove themselves.

6. Duke
The Blue Devils should finish in the top 3 in the ACC, however, they still lack a low-post player with size. They will play second fiddle to UNC all season long. Coach K still has a load of talent on the perimeter and one of the best home court advantages.

7. Michigan State
Drew Neitzel is gone, but the Spartans return plenty of talent. Delvin Roe is finally healthy and will help Ramar Morgan inside. Kalin Lucas continues to be one of the more underrated point guards. A weak Big Ten helps lead Sparty to the conference title.

8. Notre Dame
With weapons like Luke Harongody and Kyle McAlarney, the Irish can score with any team in the country. If ND can ramp up their defense, improve on the boards and find a defensive stopper on the perimeter, the Irish can challenge for the Big East title.

9. Gonzaga
The Zags have been to 10 consecutive NCAA tournaments, and that streak is not in jeopardy. Four starters return from a team that went 13-1 in the WCC. And some say this may be Mark Few's best team.

10. Oklahoma
The surprising return of Blake Griffin will help the Sooners finish in the top two of the Big XII. The addition of highly regarded freshman guard Willie Warren may help the Sooners win some games in March.

11. Purdue
The surprise team of last season returns all but one starter. The Boilermakers are a coach's dream, a bunch of players who work hard and do the little things it takes to win games.

12. Texas
Size in the interior is a weakness for Texas. The Longhorns lack a true playmaker now that DJ Augustin is gone. Defensive is a concern for Rick Barnes' squad and they have arguably the toughest non-conference schedule of any top-15 team.

13. Memphis
The Tigers lost a lot of talent (No. 1 pick Derrick Rose, All-American Chris Douglas-Roberts and Joey Dorsey) to the NBA, but they reloaded with the 4th best recruiting class that includes Tyreke Evans. Expect the Tigers to be more tested in Conference USA than last season.

14. Tennessee
Even though the Vols are bringing in six newcomers, their roster is still loaded. Tyler Smith should challenge for SEC player of the year and freshman Scotty Hopson is highly touted. In a weak SEC, they are the class of the league.

15. Wake Forest
Bringing in the best recruiting class in its schools history has put the Demon Deacons in the conversation with Duke and Miami to challenge UNC for the ACC title. Their drawback will be experience in late game, tight situations due to playing 3 freshman and 2 sophomores.

16. Arizona State
The Sun Devils return every scholarship player from a team that was snubbed by the NCAA last season. James Harden has a chance to be the Pac-10 player of the year. This team doesn't intimidate but they do manufacture wins efficiently.

17. Miami
As long as the big men step up and do an adequate job rebounding, the 'Canes will finish in the top half of the ACC. The question remains how they will play now that they are expected to win games like never before.

18. Southern California
The Trojans should finish no lower than 3rd in the Pac-10 as the conference isn't nearly as tough as it was last year. DeMar DeRozan should step in for OJ Mayo but this team will only go as far as its inside players will take it.

19. Marquette
With just one starter taller than 6-6, the Golden Eagles will face as many mismatches as they create. Throw in a new coach and a difficult Big East schedule and Marquette may be lucky to reach the Sweet Sixteen.

20. Georgetown
Anyone predicting a huge downturn for the Hoyas should take a closer look. They have three returning starters, an excellent coach and a highly ranked recruiting class that includes 7 foot center Greg Monroe to replace Roy Hibbert.

21. Davidson
Cinderella no longer resigns in Davidson, NC as this underdog reached the elite eight last season. The Wildcats lost PG Jason Richards will be sorely missed. Stephen Curry will move to PG but that just means he'll have the ball in his hands more often. Don't expect his scoring average to score at all.

22. UNLV
Lon Kruger has the Runnin' Rebels rolling with consecutive NCAA tourney appearances and 57 wins the past two seasons. They are the class of the Mountain West and with Wink Adams and Joe Darger back they have solid veterans.

23. Florida
The Gators struggled mightily with a young team last season. Nick Calathes has star power and the role players will be vastly improved from last season. Factor in Billy Donovan's track record and the Gators should be on the right side of the selection process in March.

24. Kansas
National Champ Kansas is starting over with an overhauled roster, and that could mean a slow start. Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich are the only contributors coming back but the Jayhawks are bringing in a stellar recruiting class and play in a weaker Big XII.

25. Baylor
Last season's breakthrough shouldn't be considered an anomaly.All the key pieces are back in Waco. The Bears need to defend and score in the post to make it to the tournament.

The next five: Villanova, Saint Mary's, Wisconsin, LSU, Ohio State

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

NY Knicks 2008-09 Preview

The New York Knicks are set to tip off their 63rd season of professional basketball on October 30 against the Miami Heat at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks are coming off a season in which they finished with a 23-59 record, good enough for last place in the Atlantic Division. The season was an outright failure resulting with the firing of Head Coach and GM Isiah Thomas. In come former Suns head Coach Mike D'Antoni and former Pacers GM Donnie Walsh. But can D'Antoni and Walsh provide any light at the end of a dark tunnel for the Knicks in the upcoming season?

Hiring Mike D'Antoni was a fantastic P.R. move for the Knicks. They needed to give their fans something to be optimistic about and who better to hire then the most fan-friendly coach in the NBA. Unfortunately, D'Antoni won't make much of a difference this season because the Knicks still have the same roster bogged down by incohesive parts and over-inflated egos that Isiah Thomas coached last year. The Eastern Conference has slowly improved and the Knicks do not have the pieces to compete yet.

Mike D'Antoni is known for his "7 Seconds or Less" offense because he believes the best chance to score is within the first 7 seconds of each possession. This offense in Phoenix was predicated on having a player that could be his facilitator on the court. Unfortunately for the Knicks, they do not have a player capable of this role. Neither incumbent PG Stephon Marbury nor newly acquired PG Chris Duhon is that type of player. Therefore this season will be an experiment and a slow integration of D'Antoni's offensive philosophies.

Despite all the managerial and coaching changes, the Knicks haven't truly started rebuilding yet. Right now they are in a quagmire; stuck between the mistakes of Isiah Thomas's past and Donnie Walsh's vision of the future. The goal is to free up cap room for 2010 to make a run at LeBron James or Dwayne Wade. This factor makes it impossible to deal with this team seriously today because they are trying desperately to shed salary for the future. No one, including team management, sees this iteration of the Knicks as anything but a stumbling block. There is not a player on this roster that can be said to be an integral part to any kind of rebuilding process that is about to kick-off. Even rookie Danilo Gallinari remains a question mark until he proves he can play ball in the NBA. While guys like Gallinari, Wilson Chandler or Jamal Crawford may prove indispensable under D'Antoni's offense, only Gallinari could be left on the roster in two years.

So is this season already a wasted season? Not necessarily. There is much left to transpire in the ensuing months that could have a huge impact not only on the Knicks but on several NBA teams. Consider that Marbury does eventually have to be dealt with (or simply dealt outright). Ditto Eddy Curry and/or Zach Randolph, who failed miserably as a tandem a year ago. Any team that makes a swap for them will be sending back a bad player with a large contract to even out the deal. Without unloading some of their salary cap-killers, the Knicks will be irrelevant through 2010. The goal in the next two seasons is to cut salary and not take on too many bad contacts.

Another useful part of this season will be watching to see how the youngsters acquit themselves. The aforementioned Gallinari and Chandler each have a wonderful opportunity to blend in with D'Antoni's free-flowing offense. Both could be huge surprises in an otherwise dreary season. Nate Robinson, likewise, will be tasked with a similar role as Leandro Barbosa in Phoenix, coming off the bench to spark the offense. While it's virtually unimaginable that Robinson could be nearly as effective as Barbosa, a season like this is a perfect opportunity to prove that he can be.

Look for the Knicks to finish second to last (ahead of the lowly Nets) in the Atlantic Division. But this season is more about the many things that occur outside of the standings and competitive action. It's about the first glimmers of light after a long, dark night. It's not much, but to Knick fans it has to be better than anything that's come about in recent memory.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A (New York) Giant Change

Maybe it started with Eli Manning. The much-maligned former No. 1 overall pick and youngest member of Football’s Royal Family blossomed in epic fashion last season. After tossing an NFC-high 20 interceptions during his fourth regular season as a pro, Manning entered the playoffs and matured into an estimable field general, leading his troops to four consecutive road victories. He threw six touchdowns and just one pick along the way. Now, gone are the gripes about his wisdom, leadership, passion and poise.

Or maybe it began with Tom Coughlin. The cantankerous veteran head coach had long been pilloried by fans and the New York media. His teams had made a habit of late-season collapses, which instigated his perennial lame duck status. But that was before Coughlin’s Giants defeated the Cowboys, Packers and Patriots in the playoffs, avenging four of their six regular season losses.

Or maybe it had actually been initiated by the changes in leadership. Jerry Reese replaced Ernie Accorsi as the team’s GM after the ’06 season. For the first time, the ownership posterity––John Mara and Steve Tisch, sons of the late Wellington Mara and Tim Tisch––entered a season with a full year under their belt. With the front office stabilized, now absent are the criticisms about who is at left tackle, which defensive lineman is playing where or how the secondary is being meshed together.

Or maybe it wasn’t a person at all. Maybe it started that December night in New Jersey, when the country saw the Giants fight blow-for-blow with the history-chasing Patriots in a game that was supposed to mean nothing to New York. Football America tipped its cap to the gallant Giants that night; never before had a playoff-bound team drawn so much praise after losing a home game.

We’ll never know what started it. All we know is that the New York Giants changed this past January. Not just the quarterback and coach––everyone. Wide receiver Plaxico Burress went from quitter to role model. Once unwilling to play hard, Burress valorously played hurt. Running back Brandon Jacobs morphed from a bruising goal-line specialist to a formidable all-around force. He was still bruising––he was just bruising outside the tackles and in the open field for a change. Michael Strahan transformed from extroverted superstar to sagacious veteran. That helped Justin Tuck evolve from little-used backup to a multi-faceted difference-maker. Cornerback Corey Webster was once a downright disappointment on the verge of losing his roster spot. Then, he mutated into a suffocating defender bordering on shutdown status.

The myriad of change in New York was like nothing football has ever seen. There was no single galvanizing incident or eureka moment behind it––at least not one visible to mere mortals. All of it just sort of happened. Serendipitously, at the same time. Trying to explain the force behind it is like trying to explain the configuration of love or the will of God. Anyone can try; in fact, it’s important that people do. But arrogant is the one who thinks they can find an answer that doesn’t inherently generate more questions.

So complex is New York’s change that, when broken back down into individual parts, some of the key elements don’t seem to actually exist. Does Manning not still have the same aw-shucks demeanor as before? Does Coughlin no longer yell when he’s upset?

Perhaps there was no change at all.

And yet, we see the Super Bowl rings.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

College Football Games of the Week 2008

The 2008 College Football season is 35 days away. It all begins on Thursday, Aug 28th with 6 games followed by 2 games on Friday, 25 games on Saturday and even 2 games on Sunday! The fun doesn't stop there as 2 games will be played on Monday (Labor Day).

But out of those games, which ones should you watch? Unless you have a favorite team that you follow it may be hard to sift through all the channels and find the big games that actually matter.

Don't fear because I have gone through the schedule and selected the games of the week for the upcoming season. Now of course the "it" games to watch may change as at least one Cinderella team rises to the top every season. But as the schedule sits now, these are the games to watch for 2008 in college football:

(Games are all on Saturdays unless otherwise noted. Time and Channel follow. I'll pick approx 5 games per week)

Sat. Aug 30 Hawaii at Florida 12:30pm Raycom
Sat. Aug 30 Alabama at Clemson 8:00pm ABC
Sat. Aug 30 Illinois at Missouri 10:00pm FSN
Mon. Sept 1 Fresno State at Rutgers 4:00pm ESPN
Mon. Sept 1 Tennessee at UCLA 8:00pm ESPN

Sat. Sept 6 Georgia Tech at Boston College 12:00pm Raycom
Sat. Sept 6 Cincinnati at Oklahoma 3:30pm ABC
Sat. Sept 6 Oregon State at Penn State 3:30pm ABC
Sat. Sept 6 South Florida at Central Florida 7:00pm ESPN2
Sat. Sept 6 Miami (FL) at Florida 8:00pm ESPN

Fri. Sept 12 Kansas at South Florida 8:00pm ESPN2
Sat. Sept 13 Oregon at Purdue 3:30pm ABC
Sat. Sept 13 Arkansas at Texas 3:30pm ABC
Sat. Sept 13 Auburn at Miss. State 7:oopm ESPN2
Sat. Sept 13 Ohio State at USC 8:00pm ABC
Bonus game: Michigan at Notre Dame 3:30pm NBC

Thu. Sept 18 West Virginia at Colorado 8:30pm ESPN
Sat. Sept 20 Florida at Tennessee 3:30pm CBS
Sat. Sept 20 Wake Forest at Florida State
Sat. Sept 20 Utah at Air Force 4:00pm Vs.
Sat. Sept 20 LSU at Auburn
Sat. Sept 20 Georgia at Arizona State 8:13pm ABC

Thu. Sept 26 USC at Oregon State 9:00pm ESPN
Sat. Sept 27 Alabama at Georgia TBA
Sat. Sept 27 Tennessee at Auburn TBA
Sat. Sept 27 Virginia Tech at Nebraska TBA
Sat. Sept 27 Illinois at Penn State 8:00PM ABC

Thu. Oct 2 Oregon State at Utah 9:00pm Vs.
Sat. Oct 4 Rutgers at West Virginia 12:00pm PPV Gameplan
Sat Oct 4. Missouri at Nebraska TBA
Sat. Oct 4 Oregon at USC 8:00pm ABC, ESPN or ESPN2
Sat. Oct 4 Ohio State at Wisconsin 8:00pm ABC, ESPN or ESPN2

That's it for part 1 of the best games as this schedule takes us through the first 6 weeks of the 2008 College Football season. I will re access the teams after the first 6 weeks in order to determine the best games of the final 11 weeks of the season.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

New York Sports Talk Radio: Feedback Wanted

Last month, WFAN turned 21, introduced to the world on July 1, 1987. As we sit here in 2008, the world of sports talk radio and the evolution of the Internet have given rise to the voice of the fan like never before. Instant feedback from the paying customers tells the people who run our local teams how they’re doing on a daily basis. No need to wait for the word from the Daily News or Posts’ columnists. Talk radio allows Tony from Queens or bloghead123 to tell us how they feel after each game, sometimes even during the game. And the access to information makes statistics a dangerous tool sometimes.

How do you think talk radio and the Internet would have affected the New York Sports scene say…50 years ago?

June 15, 1958: The Yankees are swept four straight by the Tigers, including a Sunday doubleheader. The Yanks have now lost seven of their last 10…Benny from the Bronx is next on the FAN….
"I know they’re still up seven games, but these guys gotta do something. Mantle’s won two MVPs in a row and he goes 1-for-7 in a doubleheader? C’mon, where’s this guy when you need him? I don’t care if he wins six MVPs, he ain’t no Joe D!”

Joey from Brooklyn is next up on the FAN…
“They gotta get rid of Stengal, he’s done…This team just doesn’t respond to him anymore. He’s only won the World Series once in the last 4 years. They shoulda let him go after he lost to the Braves last year! Now they get shut out in both games of a doubleheader by the stinkin’ Tigers?! Time for some fresh blood.”
A few days later, June 20, 1958, Sandy Koufax goes four innings and loses as the Dodgers fall to the Pirates.

Sal from Yonkers is next on the FAN…
“I know they left us for Los Angeles, but I’m one of the only guys here still following this team and I think they’re making a mistake with this Koufax guy. His ERA is 4.43! When am I gonna see this great pitcher everyone is talking about? They gotta get rid of him now. This guy hasn’t done squat! He can’t throw the ball over the plate. I’ve had it with this bum!”

As the July 31 trading deadline approaches, Willie Mays’ power numbers are down, just 3 home runs total in June and July. Larry from Times Square is next on the FAN…
“I think Mays is slipping…his power numbers are down, maybe he was one of those juicers. The Giants should get rid of him now. He’s gonna be a free agent at the end of the season. They should trade him now for some young starting pitchers.”

Next caller is Hank from the Staten Island…
“Just changing gears a little…I’m still disappointed in the Giants, I think they did a bad job in the draft. I mean, they passed on Ray Nitschke and Jerry Kramer. Do you know how impressive Kramer was at the Combine? And one more thing…what do you know about this John Madden fellow the Eagles took in the 21st round?”

Joe from Jersey City is next up on the FAN…
“Is it too early to talk about the Knicks and Rangers? I’m tired of these teams coming up short. The Knicks haven’t made it to the Finals in 5 years! They finished under .500 this year. Isn’t there anybody out there that can play defense? And what about the Rangers? C’mon…it’s been 18 years since they won the Stanley Cup! I’m tired of seeing my teams come up short every stinkin’ year!

I guess maybe we’ve always been reactionary as fans, but nowadays it’s moved beyond the local watering hole and everyone in the world can listen in.

I just hope the time we live in doesn’t keep us from appreciating how good the players in front of us really are. When we tear them down after every 0-for-4 we may not realize we’re getting a chance to watch some all-time greats. One day you are going to catch yourself booing A-Rod after a postseason game without an RBI. But he belongs in the same breath as the immortals that came before him. After all, even Willie Mays struck out with the bases loaded from time to time. He just didn’t have Bobby from 181st Street calling him out on the radio an hour later.

With help from Baseball-Reference.com for the stats and Sweeney Murti for the concept.

Friday, June 6, 2008

2008 NBA Finals: Point/Counterpoint

(As Seen on afraidofedhochuli)

When Mike came to The Hoch, I was hoping he would bring insight into the game of basketball as well intriguing articles from the East Coast perspective. Well, he has succeeded in this venture. Now that we are facing a great NBA Finals series that could go down as the biggest in 15 years; o
ne that will add to the legacy of some of the games best players and two of the leagues most storied franchises. It is time for a Point/Counterpoint. Mike is defiantly more versed in the NBA, so a good point by me will just be plain old luck. I gave him the choice of the team to argue; he chose the Lakers. Great, fine…I can find joy in the Celtics; they have Ray Allen.

This is how it works: we are on opposite sides of the country so we are doing this by email. One makes a point, the other recants; we then go back and forth until we get tired or we change the other person's mind. This could be 300 words or it could be 300,000 words…we'll see.

This is where we start with Matt arguing for the Boston Celtics and Mike arguing for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Opening Statements

Matt:
As frustrating as it may be, the construction of a team by purchasing contracts and
"shooting the moon" has worked. The trading of the future to win in the present was proven to work this season as the Celtics won 20 of their first 22, finished the season 66 and 16 (tied with the 1970 Milwaukee Bucks for 10th best all time) and then took down 2 of the best teams in the playoffs – and the surprise of the year in Atlanta.

Doc Rivers has led a team that includes the "Big 3" into the finals for the first time since they were defeated in the 1985-1986 season by – who else – the Lakers.

Do you think they have a bad taste in their mouth?

If so, they need to get over it; it has been 12 years. This is a new team, most of which were not even alive to see Magic take on Bird.

Mike:
Thanks for the kinds words Matt. Actually I was more defiantly versed on the NBA back when I watched it more because, let's face it, the Knicks are extremely unwatchable these days. Oh how I long for the days of Charles Smith. Yeah, I bet you never thought you would hear that from a Knicks fans!

Anyways, on to the "Historic, Amazing, Mythical, Legendary before Game 1 is even played" matchup in the NBA Finals where the Bandwagoners of Beantown take on the Los Angeles Stealing Centers from Other Teams and Only Giving up .20 Cents on the Dollar. I think this was David Stern's ultimate wet dream. OK, so can you tell I'm a bit bitter
about this series. I hate Boston and Insane Garnett almost as much as Spike Lee hated on Reggie Miller back in the 90s. Actually, if these two teams can make such blockbuster (and by blockbuster I mean steal from other inept GMs) moves it gives my Knicks some hope. Now where did I put my LeBron in 2010 t-shirt?

Ok, on to the Finals. Am I going to watch? Sure. Am I happy that Boston is in the Finals? Not at all. Am I going to enjoy Kobe putting up 35 ppg against a grade school like defensive trio of James Posey, Eddie House and Tony Allen? Yes. Actually, I think I can put up 13 and 7 against that trio and I'm only 5'9, 150lbs and white! Am I going to enjoy when Kobe gets in Sasha Vujacic's face and bitch slaps him for missing an assignment on defense? Absolutely. Ok, so after all I may enjoy these Finals. As long as the Lakers win in 5, max.

The Lakers seem to be the more trendy pick in this series partly because they were the 1 seed in a far superior Western Conference, even though Boston has home court advantage. Besides the Big 2 featuring Ray Allen, LA has there own kind of Big 3 featuring the Black Mamba, Pau Gasol, and Lamar Odom. If Odom plays lights out, there is no way LA loses this series. It's that plain and simple.

This version of the Lakers is much different than the past Lakers teams that have went to the Finals. They are not flashy like the Magic's Showtime Lakers in the 80s and they don't feature 2 Hall of Famers because Kobe is sans the Diesel this time around. This squad features a bunch of role players and a quasi dominant finesse center that the Lakers traded a bag of peanuts and a piece of bazooka Joe for. Just look at what happens to the Lakers when Bryant goes to the bench to start the 2nd quarter and players like Jordan Farmar and Ronny Turiaf come in. Its energy central at the Staples Center as these guys play an up-tempo in your face style that always keeps the Lakers in the game when the starters rest.

This series features so many fun questions to look ahead at. Can Kendrick Perkins continue to play at the level he did against Detroit? Will Los Angeles expose Rajon Rondo on offense and force him to continuously knock down mid range jump shots? Who will guard Kobe? Will Ray Allen show up to these Finals or is it another series where Jesus Shuttlesworth bricks his way to 2-11 on a nightly basis? Will the triangle offense be enough to break the rotation and communication of Boston's furious defense? Will Kevin Garnett murder someone? Ok, that last one was a joke. I think. Seriously that guy is psycho! How badly will the Zenmaster out coach Doc Rivers? And speaking of Rivers, will he use more than 7 man rotation (the answer is yes and I will tell you why later).

So now that ESPN has almost wrapped up their weeklong love affair with everything LA-Boston, the series promises, if nothing else, to be entertaining. Unfortunately for Boston, the only entertaining they will do is playing host when the Lakers celebrate the championship on the parquet floors of the new Boston Garden.

Matt:
When you think of them what do you remember? The memory that comes to my head is the wispy mustache of one of the greatest blondes to ever play the game (sorry Lauren Jackson). Other images are the hook shots from Kareem and the fast breaks from "Magic" in the Lakers Championships over the Boston team.

That was then.


Now they have an 11-Time All-Star in
Kevin Garnett who earned Defensive Player of the year award this season, was 14th in the postseason in scoring (21.1), 11th in Rebounds per game (9.8), 11th in Field-Goal percentage (51.7%) and second to Tim Duncan with Double-Doubles.

Add to him
Ray Allen who seems to have lost a step this season, yet still was 5th in 3-point shots made (180).

Rounding out the "Big 3" is
Paul Pierce who averaged 19.6 points/game and 4.5 assists, while playing in 80 of the 82 games.

The role players have played solid with guys like
Rajon Rondo leading the team with 5.1 assists/game and 1.68 steals/game.

What does all this mean? It means that they are a very talented team. They didn't dominate any given statistic this year but they were solid across the board: 4th in FG%, 5th in 3-point%, 8th in FT% and 9th in turnovers forced.

The match ups will be where this is made (coming later) but with the strength of Garnett, skills of Pierce and the "eagle eye" of Allen this team is going to be hard to beat.

Mike:
If I could only grow a moustache 1/10th as cool as Larry Legends I would be a happy man!

To counter the Celtics “Big 2 featuring the corpse of Ray Allen”, the Lakers have the Big 1: Kobe Bryant. The self-proclaimed Black Mamba took home the League’s MVP award this season while averaging 28.3 ppg (2nd behind Bron-Bron). More importantly he won’t have to face Bruce Bowen this series and may even get to the line once or twice.

Laker haters want to get on Memphis’ GM Chris Wallace for gift wrapping Paul Gasol to the Lakers for next to nothing yet everyone seems to overlook Minnesota GM and ex Celtic Kevin McHale for handing Kevin Garnett to the C’s for the poo poo platter of Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, and Sebastian Telfair. Both trades smell fishy but improved both teaming dramatically. The Lakers have been 34-7 since the Pau Gasol trade. That would equate to 68 wins in a full season. Better than the 66 the Celtics put up.

The Lakers have averaged 105 ppg (1st) in the playoffs and the Celtics have only managed 91 ppg (11th). Yes the Celtics defense has been good (giving up only 87 ppg) but they have faced the Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland LeBrons, and Detroit Pistons. Not exactly top scoring teams. And can the Celtics win at the Staples Center? They may not have to but don’t expect the Lakers to get swept at the TD Bank North Center.

Closing Statements

Matt:
I am trying to argue a point I don't really believe in; I am truthfully in the Lakers' corner. However, I do think that the Celtics have a great chance. Why? Because other people tell me so.

Scouts Inc. said it the best:

Can a young bruiser like
Kendrick Perkins make life difficult for a world-class player like Pau Gasol? The same question exists for Rajon Rondo, who has exceeded many expectations this season but now faces veteran point guard Derek Fisher and his multiple rings. Then there's mercurial talent Lamar Odom, against Hall of Famer-to-be Kevin Garnett, who's never been to the Finals before -- few players have the skills to give Garnett fits like Odom can. And can Paul Pierce, a top NBA player with a long career, carry his team to a title against the league's best player, Kobe Bryant?"

Mike said: "Yes the Celtics defense has been good (giving up only 87 ppg) but they have faced the Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland LeBrons, and Detroit Pistons. Not exactly top scoring teams." That is true, but incomplete. Those numbers are for the playoffs, yet the Celtics were 2nd in the league giving up only 90.3 ppg during the regular season. They will be facing the Lakers who were 4th with 108.6 ppg scored.

My match ups will go like this.

Gasol over Perkins
Rondo over Fisher
Garnett over Odom (overall…I think that this will be a great battle)
Bryant over Pierce (but expect Pierce to show up)

Lakers in 7

Mike:
My prediction for this series is the Lakers will win in 6 games. Of course I could be totally wrong and the Celtics could sweep. No one knows what will happen, not even the experts. But here are the reasons why I think the Lakers will bring home the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

The Lakers have a great coach who is one of basketball’s top 10 minds along with the likes of Auerbach, Riley, Daly, Wilkins, and Ramsey among others. Notice how I didn’t mention Doc Rivers anywhere close to that. If Rivers makes more poor decisions like even letting Sam Cassel sniff the court during the Finals, he may be the next thing hanging in the rafters of the New Boston Garden, not another championship banner.

Reason number 2 is obvious: Kobe Bryant. The Celtics have any one (and don’t tell me James Posey is a Kobe Stopper) that can shut down #24. He can create his shot at will all the while making his teammates better (Is this the same Bryant who wanted out and who was ripped by Phil in his book “The Last Season”)?

The Lakers have a deeper, more productive bench and that will be the X factor. Boston can't match it. The Celtics go through stretches when they can't score; they don't get easy baskets. LA has 11 players who can score (Sorry Chris Mihm). The Lakers have a distinct advantage at every spot on the floor. The only spot where the Celtics might have an edge is Kevin Garnett against Odom or Gasol, depending on who guards him.

Derek Fischer is better than Rajon Rondo. I will give credit to Rondo’s on the ball defense but Fischer is better in every single other aspect of the game including 3 point shooting, mid range jumper’s, leadership, calmness, and not turning the ball over. The Lakers are never lost when Fischer is running the show.

Boston does not close out games well. They lack that killer instinct that championship teams are made of. Look at KG, he has been known for years for disappearing in the 4th quarter. In 19 playoff games this postseason, the Celtics have been outscored 450-403 in the fourth quarter, an average deficit of 2.47 points. In the other three quarters, they've outscored their opponents 1,339-1,214, an average of 6.58 points. They're 3-2 in closeout games, having failed to win series-clinching Game 6s in Atlanta and Cleveland. And Paul Pierce was even quotes as saying, Throughout the game we played well," Pierce said, "but the fourth quarters are something we're going to have to go back and look at." (
Thanks to Ken Berger from Newsday for the stats and quote).

I don’t like Boston teams. Therefore LA will win. Easy enough.

Matt: Lakers in 7
Mike: Lakers in 6

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

College Majors of Professional Athletes

TheSportsApple has uncovered the college majors of some of the best professional athletes. And let me just say I am very happy that Michael Jordan did not pursue that Geography major he was earned at the University of North Carolina. On a side note, since Jordan is a US American, I would hope he knows where Iraq is on a map.

Imagine if your favorite ballplayer was not good enough to make the Big Leagues. What would he being doing these days? He would have had to put his college degree to good use. Let's find out what would have happened to some of the best professional athletes if they did not make in their sport:

Michael Jordan received a Geography degree from UNC. I didn't know geography was still offered as a major. What was he going to do, become a teacher or, I guess that's it.

Joe Schmo College Student: Sweet, I have Professor Jordan this semester for Geography. I heard he's pretty cool and he likes to gamble.
Friend: Yeah, I had him last semester and he was really clutch with his Powerpoint presentation on Eastern Africa.

Mike Mussina earned a degree from Stanford in Economics in 3 and 1/2 years. He must have been very smart. I could see him these days being all GQ with perfectly shined shoes, his sideburns exquisitely trimmed to perfection, riding to work in a sports car with the top down and thinking to himself "The Moose is going to solve this country's weakening economy today."

Eli Manning has a degree in Marketing from the University of Mississippi. This way if his pro football career hadn't worked out, he could have used his marketing skills to get brother Peyton into another commercial.

Isiah Thomas earned a Criminal Justice degree from Indiana University. Seriously, the jokes here are endless....(insert your favorite here)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

2008 NBA Mock Draft 2.0

Not much has changed since last week's Mock Draft 1.0.

The only new story this week will be the NBA's only official pre-draft camp which takes place in Orlando. Look for this to shape the draft field as some potential late 1st rounders are working out. Ty Lawson, Davon Jefferson, and DeVon Hardin are among 79 players who will be there. Most of the top 30 players have chosen to skip the camp.

Since nothing is concrete at this point, the following is my best educated guess as to what each team may do in the first round:

1. Chicago Bulls - Derrick Rose - Memphis
From every interview that GM John Paxson gives, it sounds like he is favoring Rose over Michael Beasley. And the Bulls need a player with some leadership skills to insert into their lineup of underachievers so Rose should be the choice. Beasley may fill an immediate need for the Bulls but Paxson cannot pass on a long term point guard who will put the Bulls in contention in the East immediately.

NBA Player Comparison: Dwayne Wade / Jason Kidd
Last week's Pick: Derrick Rose

2. Miami Heat - Michael Beasley - Kansas State
Pat Riley has some difficult decisions to make. Do you trade this pick because he isn't in love with Beasley? Will he start to rebuild and will Dwayne Wade opt out of his contract as a result? Will he use Shawn Marion as trade bait to bring in some vets to compete for a playoff spot immediately? Beasley would be a huge addition over Udonis Haslem because of his offensive ability. The Heat also have shown interest in OJ Mayo and may opt to bring his star potential to South Beach.

NBA Player Comparison: Carmelo Anthony
Last week's Pick: Michael Beasley

3. Minnesota Timberwolves - OJ Mayo - Southern California
The Timber wolves are going to decide which way this draft goes. Last week I had them taking Brook Lopez because he could be the team's starting center for the next decade. Scouts say he is more of an Emeka Okafor than a Dwight Howard. That means this would not be a value pick but it would fill an immediate need. That's why this week I have the Wolves going in a different direction. Kevin McHale's team has a lot of needs but they are lacking a star player to go alongside Al Jefferson. Enter Mayo, who some believe might entice the Heat to take him at #2.

NBA Player Comparison: Ben Gordon
Last week's Pick: Brook Lopez

4. Seattle Sonics - Anthony Randolph - Louisiana State
This is one of the relative unknowns in the lottery as there wasn’t a lot of buzz surrounding Randolph this season. However, much like former LSU forward Tyrus Thomas, scouts are in love with his athletic ability and it looks like an NBA team will bite on him in the lottery because of his hops and height. This is also the kind of player that could drop on draft night due to teams getting cold feet. That, or he could go as high as this and form a dynamic duo with Kevin Durant that will terrorize teams for the next decade.

NBA Player Comparison: Lamar Odom / Tayshaun Prince
Last Week's Pick: Jerryd Bayless

5. Memphis Grizzlies - DeAndre Jordan - Texas A&M
Jordan jumps up this week from #16 to #5 mainly because it has been floating around that a top 9 team has all but promised to take him. It's likely it could be the Bobcats at 9 or he may go at 5 or 6 but he won't fall past the Nets at 10. Jordan's individual workouts may be the most meaningful to how the draft falls.

NBA Player Comparison: Dwight Howard
Last Week's Pick: OJ Mayo

6. New York Knicks - Jerryd Bayless - Arizona
It's been rumored that while watching film on Danillo Gallinari last season, then Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni was not at all impressed. However, the final decision on this matter will be new GM Donnie Walsh's. The Knicks would love nothing more than to get a PG who can push the ball and score. Bayless is an excellent athlete an can shoot. The Knicks would take who ever is available between Mayo, Rose, or Bayless.

NBA Player Comparison - Gilbert Arenas / Jay Williams
Last Week's Pick: Danilo Gallinari

7. Los Angeles Clippers - Danilo Gallinari - Italy
The Clip need a PG because Shaun Livingston has not worked out. They could opt for Russell Westbrook here but that may be too high. Another option would be to take Eric Gordon and let Corey Maggette walk in free agency. The Clippers have been known to covet Gallinari so with him available they would take him.

NBA Player Comparison: Detlef Schrempf
Last Week's Pick: Russell Westbrook

8. Milwaukee Bucks - Eric Gordon - Indiana
Eric Gordon's late season slump will cause him to fall a bit to 8. The Bucks are loaded up front with Yi Jianlian, Andrew Bogut, and Charlie Villanueva. If the Bucks take Gordon it will mean they may explore trades for Michael Redd who is not getting any younger. The Bucks can change their losing atmosphere by taking Gordon who can be an instant impact guy.

NBA Player Comparison: Mitch Richmond
Last Week's Pick: Eric Gordon

9. Charlotte Bobcats - Brook Lopez - Stanford
Lopez was at #3 last week but slid this week because he has scouts convinced that he will be a solid center but nothing sensational. The Timberwolves, Grizzlies and Knicks all could take him if he has excellent workouts. The Bobcats will try to take the best center left so they could slide Emeka Okafor to the 4.

NBA Player Comparison: Brad Daugherty
Last Week's Pick: Darrell Arthur

10. New Jersey Nets - Darrell Arthur - Kansas
The Nets are set in the back court but they desperately need a big because Josh Boone and Sean Williams have limited upside. That's why they are in excellent position to take on a high risk high reward type player like Jordan or Randolph. If they are both gone, they will be left to choose between Arthur, Lopez, and Kevin Love.

NBA Player Comparison: Antonio McDyess
Last Week's Pick: Anthony Randolph

11. Indiana Pacers - DJ Augustin - Texas
Augustin can shoot it and he can handle it. He’s only 6-feet tall, which got him in trouble against taller PG in college but he has NBA skills. He has great character, which attracts him to the Pacers, who have had continuing off-court problems. This pick will be the replacement for Jaamal Tinsley and may be Westbrook if he is available.

NBA Player Comparison: Travis Best
Last Week's Pick: DJ Augustin

12. Sacramento Kings - Russell Westbrook - UCLA
The Kings will be pleased with either Westbrook or Augustin falling to them here. With Augustin going to the Pacers because he fits Jim O'Brien's system, that leaves Westbrook, may many think is a better prospect, to the Kings. If both PGs are gone, the Kings would opt for one of the remaining power forwards in Arthur or Love.

NBA Player Comparison: Rajon Rondo / Monta Ellis
Last Week's Pick: Nicolas Batum

13. Portland Trail Blazers - Joe Alexander - West Virginia
Joe Alexander still hasn't announced if he is indeed staying in the draft but with each passing day it is looking more and more likely that he will be a late lottery pick. Alexander would compliment LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy immediately. His size and athleticism has some scouts in awe.

NBA Player Comparison: Tom Gugliotta / Shawn Marion
Last Week's Pick: Kevin Love

14. Golden State Warriors - Kevin Love - UCLA
Kevin Love slips one spot this week even though its been reported that he has lost 15lbs and is in pretty good shape. His lack of athleticism and size do have scouts concerned but he would compliment Andris Biedrins. Also, Love is said to be one the most NBA ready players in the draft and with the Warriors finishing 1 spot out of the playoffs last season, they need a draft pick that is ready to contribute.

NBA Player Comparison: Wes Unseld
Last Week's Pick: Joe Alexander

15. Phoenix Suns (via Atlanta) - Brandon Rush - Kansas
I still think Donte Green will be the selection here but there have been rumors swirling that Rush is a lock to go here to the Suns. Steve Kerr acknowledged that the Suns like Rush but he said they are bringing in 20 other players to workout.

NBA Player Comparison: Reggie Lewis
Last Week's Pick: Donte Green

16. Philadelphia 76ers - JaVale McGee - Nevada
At this point in his career, McGee is a crap shoot. On one side he has freakishly long arms: around a 7-6 wingspan which makes him a great rebounder and shot blocker. On the other hand he is incredibly thin, only shoots 50% from the stripe and must develop maturity and some low post moves. McGee may pay off big dividends in a couple of years.

The 76ers may look to acquire Elton Brand this summer. If they do not get him, look for them to take the best big available with this pick.

NBA Player Comparison: Andrew Bynum
Last Week's pick: DeAndre Jordan

17. Toronto Raptors - Donte Greene - Syracuse
Last week I had Robin Lopez going here to the Raptors because the Raptors could use his size and hustle. However, if a talent like Greene is still available at this point in the draft you take him no matter what. Greene has the potential to be the steal of the draft this late as some think he may go as high as the late lottery.

NBA Player Comparison: Rashard Lewis / Marvin Williams
Last Week's Pick: Robin Lopez

18. Washington Wizards - Marreese Speights - Florida
The Wizards need bodies inside. Speights brings length and an excellent shooting touch down low. He will be a good shot blocker at 6'10 he can play either the 4 or 5. His biggest knock would be a lack of post up moves.

NBA Player Comparison: Juwan Howard
Last Week's Pick: JaVale McGee

19. Cleveland Cavaliers - Kosta Koufos - Ohio State
The Cavaliers would love to keep Koufos in the state of Ohio. With Zydrunas Ilgauskas breaking down any day now, they could use another 7 footer. The benefit will Koufos over Big Z is that Koufas can really get up and down the floor which will benefit King James.

NBA Player Comparison: Mehmet Okur
Last Week's Pick: Brandon Rush

20. Denver Nuggets - Bill Walker - Kansas State
The Nuggets may opt to get a big to replace Marcus Camby here. But with Bill Walker still on the board, how can you pass up his potential talent at this point in the draft. Prior to his injuries, he was considered by many as a top 5 draft pick. Reports are his explosiveness is back and his weight is down.

NBA Player Comparison: Ruben Patterson
Last Week's Pick: Marreese Speights

21. New Jersey Nets (Via Dallas) - Robin Lopez -Stanford
No one knows what direction the Nets will go with their second pick but taking a hustle guy with excellent size is a great option for the Nets. Lopez has been compared to Anderson Varejao. That kind of player is exactly what a Vince Carter led team needs.

NBA Player Comparison: Andris Biedrins / Anderson Varejao
Last Week's Pick: Kousta Koufos

22. Orlando Magic - Nicolas Batum - France
The Magic need a small forawrd who can shoot. Batum brings just about everything to the table. He is competitive, has perhaps the most potential of anyone in this draft, clutch player, incredible wingspan, and 3 point range for a 6'8 SG/SF. If Batum is gone, the Magic may take Bill Walker here.

NBA Player Comparison: Rudy Gay
Last Week's Pick: Chase Budinger

23. Utah Jazz (Via Phoenix) - Roy Hibbert - C - Georgetown
Hibbert was a sure fire late lottery pick but he had a rather so so Senior season at Georgetown after 2006-07 Big East Player of the Year Jeff Green left. Many felt he did not take over games and became to mechanical and predictable at times. The Jazz would love for him to be available as it will add size inside and there methodical half court pace will suit Hibbert perfectly.

NBA Player Comparison: Joel Przybilla
Last Week's Pick: Roy Hibbert

24. Seattle Sonics (Via Phoenix) - Serge Ibaka - PF - Congo
Ibaka is said to have insane athletism. He is only 220 lbs on a 6'10 frame, but he will have time to develop and bulk up as this pick is for the future. Ibaka not only is relentless on the glass but possesses a jumper with solid touch. If this pans out and the Sonics grab Bayless at 3 to go along with ROY Kevin Durant and Jeff Green, the Oklahoma Sonics could be a perennial contender for the Western Conference title in a few years.

NBA Player Comparison: Shawn Kemp
Last Week's Pick: Serge Ibaka

25. Houston Rockets - Chase Budinger - Arizona
If Budinger stays in the draft he most likely will be selected somewhere in the late first round. He does not have great defensive skills and lacks aggressiveness but he more than makes that up with his scoring ability. The Rockets can take the chance that he will take some of the offensive pressure off Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming.

NBA Player Comparison: Grant Hill
Last Week's Pick: Bill Walker

26. San Antonio Spurs - Ante Tomic - Croatia
Tomic makes sense for the Spurs since they don't need him to step in and play immediately because he is stuck in a contract overseas. He has size at 7'1 but lacks strength and wieght at 230lbs. He can handle the ball for a big man since he was a PG before he grew an additional 7 inches. This will be another foreigner picked by the Spurs but they could once again be reaping the benefits in a couple of years.

NBA Player Comparison: Gregor Fucka
Last Week's Pick: Wayne Ellington

27. New Orleans Hornets - Chris Douglas-Roberts - SG - Memphis
CDR will fit in the rotation in NO and will benefit from CP3 continually getting him clean looks. CDR can play the 2 or 3 and he is a good mid range jump shooter. However, he does not have a deep outside shot and is not explosive, but he has a feel for the game and can bury you at the rim on the break. His shots go in the basket.

NBA Player Comparison:
Last Week's Pick: Chris Douglas-Roberts

28. Memphis Grizzlies (Via Los Angeles) - Nathan Jawai - C - Australia
The Grizzle have an obundance of guards so take a second big man in the first round is not a bad move. They will likely have to go with the best big man available. Jawai has size (6'10, 275) and some real power. He could bring respectability back down low for the Grizzlies. At this late in the draft, he is worth the risk.

NBA Player Comparison: Charles Oakley
Last Week's Pick: Nathan Jawai

29. Detroit Pistons - DJ White - Indiana
The Pistons need size and strength down low. Although White is only 6'8 he has very broad shoulders and plays with great energy. He is different than Jason Maxiell in that he has outstanding footwork and an array of back to the basket moves.

NBA Player Comparison: Wayne Simien
Last Week's Pick: JJ Hickson

30. Boston Celtics - JJ Hickson - North Carolina State
Hickson could step in and replace the retiring PJ Brown as a back up center. The Celtics do have Glen Davis and Leon Powe but Hickson brings a mean nasty style of lowpost play that reminds some of the Bad Boys.

NBA Player Comparison: Chris Wilcox
Last Week's Pick: Jason Thompson

Dropping Out of the First Round this Week: Wayne Ellington, Jason Thompson

Entering the First Round this Week: Ante Tomic, DJ White

First Round Bubble: Ty Lawson, Courtney Lee, Mario Chalmers, Richard Hendrix, DeVon Hardin, Davon Jefferson, Trent Plaisted, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Lester Hudson