Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Chris Johnson Signed By New York Jets

Breaking News: According to ESPN, running back Chris Johnson has been signed by the New York Jets to a two year deal with a base value of $8 million. Back in 2009, Chris Johnson eclipsed the 2,000 yard mark, while also averaging 5.9 yards per carry. Since his peak as a sophomore running back in the league, Johnson's productivity has seemingly decreased over time; however, New York's recent addition of quarterback Michael Vick will create a devastatingly fast offensive unit in the AFC East. Hopefully, Johnson's signing can dethrone the New England Patriots from atop the AFC East power ranking, as they have won 10 of the past 11 AFC East titles.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Most Memorable Pictures from March Madness 2014

Aaron Craft is devastated after Ohio State's first round exit to Dayton
The Arizona State bench after Texas' buzzer beater layup in the round of 60
SF Austin's bench is elated after the four point play to send their game against VCU into overtime
Mercer player dances in ecstasy after their unexpected upset of Duke
Dayton's Devin Oliver stands in the foreground while his teammates celebrate their victory of Syracuse
DeAndre Kane makes a layup with just seconds left to send Iowa State to victory over North Carolina
Creighton coach Gregg McDermott hugs his son Doug McDermott after their loss to Baylor
Aaron Gordon slams home a massive alley-oop for Arizona against San Diego State University
Kentucky's Aaron Harrison hits a miraculous game-winning shot against Michigan in the elite eight
DeAndre Daniel's monster throw down against Florida set UConn on the path to victory
Aaron Harrison hits yet another game winner for Kentucky in the Final Four against Wisconsin
Kentucky's James Young provides the dunk of the tournament in the championship game
Shabazz Napier soaks in the festivities after UConn's unlikely NCAA Championship victory

Monday, April 7, 2014

NCAA Men's Basketball Championship Prediction: (7) Connecticut vs. (8) Kentucky

Let me just start by revisiting the entire spectacle that has been March Madness this year... It wasted no time getting underway as Dayton upset Ohio State in just the first game of the tournament.  Then came incredible nail biters that included UNC-Providence, Connecticut-St. Joe's, Texas-Arizona State, and Louisville-Manhattan, as well as several outrageous upsets including Duke-Mercer, Harvard-Cincinnati, ND State-Oklahoma, and, my pick for best game of the tournament, SF Austin-VCU (still haven't found the foul on the four point play). This was absolutely the best round of 60 in recent memory, but the rest of the tournament was fantastic too, with underdogs like Dayton, UConn, and Kentucky driving far into the tournament and favorites (see: Kansas, Louisville) dropping like flies. I don't think there is a single person out there who would deny that UConn and Kentucky are the two teams that deserve to be in the title game, with the way they have played in the tournament and the caliber of teams they have beaten. A matchup between a seven seed and an eight seed in the finals of this tournament really speaks to the excitement and uncertainty of college basketball, and, quite honestly, the future couldn't look any brighter for the sport.

Now that the recap is over, lets focus on all that we have left to focus on: UConn vs. Kentucky. The teams stack up fairly evenly, with Kentucky looking the more potent offensive team but UConn being the stronger defensive team. Overall, I think the game is going to come down to whether Kentucky can keep the game close until the final minutes. If they can, I have tremendous faith in the performance of of the Wildcats down the stretch and think they will pull out the win. The problem with this is, they have to make it to the last several minutes within reach of the Huskies. I think the Huskies have more consistent scoring options (Napier, Daniels, Boatright, Giffey vs. Randle and Young) and will be the better team defensively. However, I believe that, despite these advantages that UConn has, Kentucky will manage to stay in the game for several reasons. First off, they are lead by John Calipari, and I have no reason to believe that he will let Kentucky simply slide out of the game. Additionally, in nearly every game during this tournament a different person has stepped up for Kentucky, whether it be Marcus Lee or Alex Poythress, and I think the same will occur tonight (watch out for Dakari Johnson). Thus, I have Kentucky winning in a thriller (Aaron Harrison sound familiar?) by a final score of 71-69. So long college basketball, it's been a great season...

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Game Recap: (2) Wisconsin vs. (8) Kentucky

Well... That's why they call it March Madness. Traevon Jackson missed a free throw that would have put Wisconsin up by three and Aaron Harrison hit yet another clutch three to give Kentucky the game. Oddly enough, up until this sequence of events, Wisconsin had yet to miss a free throw and Kentucky had made just one three pointer. The question we are all going to be wondering is "where was Frank Kaminsky today?" I'll tell you where Kaminsky was - he was being double-teamed by Kentucky every time he saw the ball. I can't say I'm usually a fan of coach Calipari, but his defensive game plan against Kaminsky was brilliant. Also stepping up for Kentucky, outside of Harrison and Calipari, was the always-reliable Julius Randle (16 points, 5 boards), the never-reliable James Young (17 points) and the consistently-mediocre Dakari Johnson (10 points, 7 boards). However, my player of the game was Alex Poythress. Poythress was supposed to be one of the best freshmen in the country last year, but his performance was fairly underwhelming for Kentucky (despite starting most of the games). However, he may have totally redeemed himself with his incredible performance in the last five minutes of this game; Poythress scored eight points on just four shots and also recorded eight rebounds. The most important thing that he brought to this Kentucky side, though, was his energy, as he recorded a monstrous dunk to pull Kentucky back into the game around the 5 minute mark and athletically finished an impossible alley-oop to give Kentucky a two point lead with just over 2 minutes left. Needless to say, this NCAA tournament has been one of the most exciting ones in recent memory, and this game only added to the thrill.

Game Recap: (1) Florida vs. (7) Connecticut

If you told me that Shabazz Napier would have just 12 points and Casey Prather would combine with Patric Young to score 34 points, I quickly would have flown to Vegas and placed all of the money on the Florida Gators. However, UConn didn't need Napier to have an incredible scoring game, as DeAndre Daniels dominated, with 20 points and 10 boards, and only one starter scored fewer than 10 points. Meanwhile, outside of of Young and Prather, not a single Gator scored more than 7 points. Florida have succeeded this season because they receive great contributions from nearly all of their players, but today, Scottie Wilbekin, Michael Frazier II, Will Yequete, and Dorian Finney-Smith combined for just 12 total points, despite the four of them averaging more than 40 combined points per game during the season. Before the game, people were unsure of whether UConn had the depth behind Shabazz Napier, but with the performances of Daniels, Boatright, and Giffey against Florida, they look a quite formidable team entering the finals.

College Football-NFL Comparisons: Khalil Mack

A couple of things you might not know about the University of Buffalo outside linebacker: He received a single scholarship offer to play college football, which he obviously accepted, and now with 16 forced fumbles in his career he holds the all time NCAA record. He was unquestionably the MAC defensive player of the year, and finished his career tied for first in career tackles for loss in the NCAA with an astonishing 75. Everyone sees Mack going in the first round, but many in fact see him going top 5. Although people love to talk about the level of competition he has faced in his career, on the big stage against Ohio State he recorded 9 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and an interception returned for a touchdown. To me, some of the criticism Mack receives is blatantly unfair: Many say that he seems like such a complete player that he won't mature in the NFL; I.e, he has already reached his ceiling. This is frankly idiotic. The inane suggestion that because a player does not have an obvious and correctable flaw ready for improvement at the next level he therefore cannot improve in the NFL is bordering on humorous and definitely unfair. Setting this argument aside, most see Mack as an absolute defensive terror, and rightly so. Although he has done his work in the MAC, and that can't be ignored, it also is unfair to base a negative judgement on him simply because he played so well at a lower level than other popular collegiate players. Many think he could definitely do what he did in the SEC, for example, which would probably grant him Jadaveon Clowney status, or better in fact. I am inclined to agree, and I think like most that Mack resembles a talented NFL player already. In fact, he has drawn comparison with Von Miller. While this is obvious, and quite a compliment, a far more interesting comparison is between Khalil Mack and Bills' Mario Williams. It was Browns' head coach Mike Pettine who drew this fascinating comparison, between two players who don't even play the same position and definitely have different body types. But both players play best coming off the edge, so well that they change a game plan. In this respect, Mack deserves both comparisons, and the Browns for one would love to take him fourth overall.  

Saturday, March 29, 2014

MLB Predictions 2014

We are officially 1 day away from the start of the MLB season (since I refuse to consider the Australian games true games). Here are our predictions for the 2014 season!

American League

AL East- Boston Red Sox
The defending champs lost Jacoby Ellsbury, but the resurgent Grady Sizemore should help fill that gap and youngster Jackie Bradley Jr. will prove to be a more than capable backup should Sizemore go down. A full season from Clay Buchholz will also help bolster the Sox staff, leading them to another AL East title.

AL Central- Detroit Tigers
The loss of Prince Fielder may hurt the offense a bit, but I see no real competition in the division for the Tigers. Their pitching staff is as strong as any teams and recent acquisition Ian Kinsler should be a potent force in the middle of the Tigers lineup.

AL West- Oakland A's
The AL West could be the most intriguing division in the AL this season. Many people like the Angels as a bounce-back team, but a lack of pitching depth will prevent them from capturing the West in my opinion. Likewise for the Rangers, who have 3 starters on their opening day roster with no major league experience whatsoever, pitching will be a major problem. While the A's are certainly not a perfect team, I see them winning 90-92 games behind Sonny Gray, who could be a sleeper candidate for the AL Cy Young this season.

Wild Card- Kansas City Royals, Tampa Bay Rays
Both teams are loaded with young talent and I think the pitching staffs are what will make the difference in the always competitive Wild Card race. The Rays staff is anchored by Matt Moore, David Price, Alex Cobb and Jeremy Hellickson while the Royals have James Shields and the flame-throwing Yordano Ventura in their rotation. I could also see the Angels making a run at a playoff birth should Albert Pujols rebound from his 2013 numbers.

League Champs- Boston Red Sox
Rookie of the Year- Xander Bogaerts
Cy Young- David Price
MVP- Mike Trout

National League

NL East- Washington Nationals
The Nationals will make the playoffs off the strength of their rotation, which will also be the X factor as to how far they can go in the playoffs. Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman and Doug Fister could be the best playoff rotation in the league and if they can all stay healthy, this could be the year the Nationals make a run at the World Series title.

NL Central- St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals are returning just about everybody from last year's roster and will only be better with a full season of Michael Wacha to look forward to. There is no reason they shouldn't win the NL Central title.

NL West- Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers might spend more than any other team in the MLB but they certainly have the talent to justify it. Their lineup is full of all-stars, from Matt Kemp to Yasiel Puig to Hanley Ramirez to Adrian Gonzalez. Having the best pitcher in the league certainly doesn't hurt either.

Wild Card- Pittsburgh Pirates, Atlanta Braves

Both teams made the playoffs last year and they should both be even better this season. Gerrit Cole and Julio Teheran are two of the best young pitchers in the game and after a full season of experience in the majors, they will be ready to lead their teams to the playoffs once again.

League Champs- LA Dodgers
Rookie of the Year- Archie Bradley
Cy Young- Jose Fernandez
MVP- Hanley Ramirez

MLB Playoffs

World Series- Red Sox vs. Dodgers
The Red Sox and Dodgers boast two of the strongest lineups in the league and both have strong rotations as well. The Red Sox certainly have more depth which will could come back to hurt the Dodgers should one of their stars get hurt or underperform, but the strength of the Dodgers starting pitchers cannot be overlooked. Clayton Kershaw, Ryu and Zack Greinke are all great pitchers but only Kershaw has shown success in the postseason and with the amount of pitches he throws in a season, he won't be able to be effective by the end of the playoffs. I think this series will go 7 games with the Red Sox finally prevailing due to their pitching depth.

Friday, March 28, 2014

2014 NBA Mock Draft: March Madness

The NFL Report is proud to present its latest 2014 NBA Mock Draft. For this edition, our NBA writer Matt Reppucci and our College Basketball writer Gabe Schmittlein alternate each pick, with Matt taking the odds and Gabe the evens. If you are interested in how the picks have changed over time, here are links to our 1st and 2nd Mock Drafts of the year. Enjoy!

1. Milwaukee Bucks - Andrew Wiggins, SF, Kansas
From before he even played one game for Kansas, Andrew Wiggins was supposed to be the #1 pick. However, a slow start to the year and strong play by Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid threatened Wiggins’s spot. Nonetheless, he has really come on recently (except for a poor showing in Kansas’s loss in the NCAA tournament) and put his incredible athleticism to use effectively. Wiggins has been compared to LeBron James coming out of college because of a similar stature scoring ability. If Wiggins can put on a few pounds of muscle and learn to play a more all-around game, he will certainly have success at the NBA level. The Bucks are a team with really no building blocks for the future, so would be ecstatic for the chance to rebuild their franchise with a player like Wiggins.

2. Philadelphia 76ers - Jabari Parker, SF/PF, Duke
What seems certain with this pick is that the Sixers will draft a small forward, as it is their biggest need and it is probably the most talented position in the draft, with Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker leading the pack. The only question now is who will fall to them, Wiggins or Parker. The chances are growing that whoever ends up with the number one pick will choose Wiggins, so that leaves Parker for the Sixers here with the second pick. Parker is undoubtedly the most pro-ready player offensively in this class, and would fit in fantastically for a Sixers team that could use really use someone who is able to put points on the scoreboard with consistency.

3. Orlando Magic - Joel Embiid, C, Kansas 
Throughout the major part of the season, Embiid was looking like the best prospect in this year’s draft and possibly the #1 overall pick. He has a surprisingly well-developed post game, and can score perhaps more efficiently than any other player in this draft. His height gives him an advantage on the defensive end as well as on the boards. The Magic might have more of a need at point guard, so they may be tempted to take Exum, but Embiid is an incredibly rare talent who offers too much upside to pass up. The Magic almost won an NBA championship when they had a star center in Dwight Howard, so if they can get another one here they could trade their current center (who is pretty good in his own right) Nikola Vucevic for a point guard or keep him and have an amazing one-two punch at center that every team (minus the Rockets) would be envious of.

4. Los Angeles Lakers - Dante Exum, PG, Australia 
In nearly any other draft class, Exum would likely hear his name first overall - he’s that good. He resembles a better jump-shooting Michael Carter-Williams, with his tall stature (6’6”), great ball handling, and knack for finding an open man. At this point, the Lakers have needs all around the court, so it makes sense to take the best player available, and that is Exum. It also can’t hurt that Exum has publicly voiced his desire to become a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.

5. Boston Celtics - Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky 
Truthfully, if the Celtics land the #5 pick they might be looking to trade it away. The really don’t have a need at power forward as Jared Sullinger has played very well this season, except Randle is clearly the best player available in this spot. If they don’t trade the pick, they will take Randle just because he is so much better than anyone else left, displayed by his 15.1 points per game and 10.6 rebounds per game. Although it would be ideal for the Celtics to draft a small forward or shooting guard, a duo of Sullinger and Randle in the front court would be incredibly dynamic. They can both rebound at very high rates, and they can both shoot from the outside, creating so many mismatches for opponents. The best part is, Randle is 19 and Sullinger is 22, which would give the celtics a great core for the future.

6. Utah Jazz - Marcus Smart, PG/SG, Oklahoma State 
The Jazz are a bit cramped in the frontcourt, so it makes sense that they might look to draft a backcourt partner for Trey Burke. Marcus Smart played point guard at Oklahoma State, but he would likely move to shooting guard in the NBA. He already has great skills on the inside for a guard, and if his outside shooting improves, he could be an offensive force for years to come. Though some will be worried by his three game suspension for pushing a fan, it certainly did not impact his on-court performance, as he returned to save the fortunes of a reeling Oklahoma State team.

7. Sacramento Kings - Noah Vonleh, PF, Indiana 
Besides Randle, Vonleh is the best rebounder in this draft. He is averaging a near double double, with 11.3 points per game and 9.0 rebounds per game. The Kings are set at the center position with DeMarcus Cousins and point guard with Isaiah Thomas, small forward with Rudy Gay, and shooting guard with Ben McLemore. However, their major problems are that they have no power forward complement to Cousins, and that as a team their talented players have been underachieving. Adding an exciting piece like Vonleh who could have been a top 3-5 pick in another not-so-stacked draft could launch the Kings into the next level and help them finally realize their potential. Vonleh will help them immensely on the boards as well as taking some pressure of Cousins in the post, making this really the perfect pick for the kings.

8. Detroit Pistons - Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State 
Harris has been oddly underwhelming in March Madness thus far, but in a draft class that is not full of top-tier shooting guards, his draft stock probably won’t drop too much. Though his shooting touch has slightly abandoned him, his incredible defensive work rate has not. For a Pistons team that is in dire need of some backcourt help, especially on the defensive end, drafting Harris would make tremendous sense.

9. Cleveland Cavaliers - Aaron Gordon, PF, Arizona 
The Cavaliers are in turmoil as a franchise for, like the Kings, they have good players who are not playing well. Last year they had the #1 overall pick but horrendously used it on Anthony Bennett. What they Cavs really need is to get more athletic, to get someone who can run the floor with Kyrie Irving, does not demand the ball all the time (Dion Waiters, anyone?) but can score when needed. They don’t really need a power forward as they seemingly have all positions covered, but Bennett is already looking like a bust so they would be smart to take Gordon here.

10. Denver Nuggets (via New York Knicks) - Dario Saric, SF/PF, Croatia 
The Nuggets are one of the leading teams in terms of drafting international talents, so it should be no surprise that they would go after the top international player in this draft, Dario Saric. Though the Nuggets have no immediate need at the small forward or power forward position, Saric seems to be a bit of a project player, and may even stay international for a year or two after he is drafted. Thus, though this pick may not pay immediate dividends, it makes sense for the Nuggets to draft Saric, as he his power forward frame and his small forward ball skills will make him a difficult matchup problem down the road.

11. Philadelphia 76ers (via New Orleans Pelicans) - Rodney Hood, SG/SF, Duke 
Rodney Hood has been a very consistent player this year for Duke, and unlike some of the top talent in this draft, he hasn’t had any long stretches of bad play. His shooting is incredible, including a 42% shooting percentage from three-point range, and his size gives him mismatches over most other shooting guards (as well as gives him versatility to play small forward). While sometimes he has bad days shooting, all great shooters do, the 76ers would be much improved by taking Hood after already taking Jabari Parker in this draft. That would give them a very formidable starting rotation of Michael Carter-Williams, Rodney Hood, Jabari Parker, Thaddeus Young, and Nerlens Noel, who are all very young and talented, setting them up beautifully for the future.

12. Orlando Magic (via Denver Nuggets) - Doug McDermott, SF, Creighton 
If the Magic do end up going for Embiid with their first pick, they will likely look for a small forward with this pick. Tobias Harris is certainly a solid player, but Arron Afflalo and Victor Oladipo already have the two guard spots locked up, so reinforcing the small forward position makes sense. McDermott may not have the upside of other players in this draft, but he can certainly provide immediate production for a Magic team that may be back in the playoff hunt sooner than predicted.

13. Minnesota Timberwolves - Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky 
While it could be argued that the Timberwolves need more offense besides Kevin Love, the truth is that Love, the face of their franchise, will be departing either by trade this year or free agency next. They Wolves would be smart to put a plan in place to replace him, and since it would be impossible to do that with one player, if they can get a great defender and rebounder this year in Cauley-Stein, they could draft a more athletic power forward who can score next year, setting them up well for Love’s departure. Cauley-Stein averages 2.9 blocks per game and just under 7 rebounds per game, although he would most definitely get more if Julius Randle weren’t grabbing so many. Cauley-Stein would immediately improve the Wolves’ defense, and could eventually improve offensively with the right coaching.

14. Phoenix Suns - Clint Capela, SF/PF, Switzerland 
The Suns are loaded with three picks in this years draft, so it makes sense that they might go international here, especially with Capella being as exciting a prospect as he is. He possesses incredible athleticism, and though he lacks a bit of polish, especially with his jump shot, his potential is endless. Though the Suns may have to wait a couple years until they truly reap the benefits of this pick, Capella could end up being a fantastic player for them, especially because small forward and power forward are two positions of need for the Suns.

15. Atlanta Hawks - James Young, SG/SF, Kentucky 
The Hawks have been looking for a true scorer since they traded away Joe Johnson, and they could be getting a steal this late in the lottery with James Young. Young is extremely athletic and is at his best when penetrating, which gives him the opportunity to score a lot of points as well as use his passing skills (which are very good in their own right) to dish the ball out to the Hawks’ shooters like Kyle Korver to give them more opportunities. While not as good of a shooter as Joe Johnson yet, Young could be the next cornerstone of this Hawks franchise if he develops well (he is only 18) and continues to use his athletic ability to get the paint.

16. Chicago Bulls (via Charlotte Bobcats) - Zach LaVine, PG/SG, UCLA 
Zach LaVine may be the most athletic player in this draft class - even more so than Andrew Wiggins. Teams won’t be too turned off by the fact that he doesn’t start for UCLA because he has two of the top guards in the country, Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams, in front of him. The Bulls are in desperate need of a shooting guard to take some pressure off of Derrick Rose, and Zach LaVine has the physical tools to develop into a star at the two guard.

17. Phoenix Suns (via Washington Wizards) - Nik Stauskas, SG, Michigan 
Stauskas is an incredible shooter and could have gone even earlier in a different year. He is averaging an unreal 45.1% from beyond the three-point line, which is almost the same percentage as his actual shooting percentage (47.3). While the number of his total shooting percentage looks too low, it is hard for wing players to shoot for a very high percentage as they don’t penetrate and drive to the paint as much as others. The three-point percentage really stands out and shows what great potential Stauskas has, and that makes him exactly the type of player that the Suns are looking for and would love to draft here.

18. Boston Celtics (via Brooklyn Nets) - Kyle Anderson, SG/SF, UCLA
Though Kyle Anderson will likely be drafted after his UCLA backcourt counterpart Zach LaVine, Anderson is probably the better player at the current moment. With an incredibly smooth jump shot and great ball handling and passing for a 6’9” player, Anderson is strangely reminiscent of former Celtic Paul Pierce. As the Celtics look to rebuild, they need to identify players that could be part of their core for years to come, and Anderson is one such player.

19. Chicago Bulls - Montrezl Harrell, PF, Louisville 
This is a steal for the Bulls here. Harrell has been nearly as good as Randle and Vonleh on the boards (8.4 rebounds per game) and added to his 14 points per game has almost been a double double machine. Since Randle and Vonleh went so high, Harrell logically should have as well, and therefore the Bulls would be absolutely ecstatic to land a big man who is athletic enough to score in the post but also rebound and play defense (as coach Tom Thibodeau loves).

20. Toronto Raptors - Mario Hezonja, SF, Croatia 
Having just turned 19 years old, Hezonja is one of the youngest players in this draft class, so it understandable that he is not an entirely polished player yet. Though he has a very good mid-range and long-range jump shot and his physical tools are well above average, he still needs to work on his attitude, decision making, and ball handling. The Raptors have made a habit of drafting international players in recent years, so it would not be a surprise to see them pick him here and perhaps let him work on his game for a couple years in Europe before coming to the NBA.

21. Dallas Mavericks - Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse 
Tyler Ennis is another player who, frankly, should have gone higher. However none of the teams that hold the mid-round picks really have a need at point guard. Therefore, the Mavericks would be overjoyed to have Ennis fall into their laps at #21. Ennis is a team leader who would make all of their players better due to his ability to pass the ball yet score when needed. Dirk Nowitzki would certainly love to have a point guard who can get him the ball quickly instead of controlling the ball a lot himself. Monta Ellis would also love to have a running-mate in the backcourt. Taking Ennis here would be the obvious move here for Dallas.

22. Memphis Grizzlies - T.J. Warren, SF, North Carolina State
If Warren had just managed to knock down a couple more free throws in NC State’s gut wrenching loss to Saint Louis (NC State lost 70-73 and Warren went 6 of 14 from the line) his stock would likely have risen four or five spots and he would have saved my bracket in the process. Unfortunately for him, that did not happen. However, where Warren is unfortunate, the Grizzlies are the opposite, as they will manage to pick up one of the most NBA ready players in the draft, who also happens to fill a positional need for the Grizzlies.

23. Utah Jazz (via Golden State Warriors) - Jerami Grant, SF/PF, Syracuse
Grant is an explosive athlete who the Jazz would welcome with open arms after already selecting Marcus Smart earlier in this draft.  With these two players, the team would be immediately more athletic and they would actually have a clear core of players whom they can build around for the future.  Grant is a winner, and is a very good player all-around.  However, he is at his best when running the floor and leaping for alley-oops (despite his smaller 6'8" height), which is where he would thrive on a team with Marcus Smart.  This draft scenario is very promising for the Jazz, so they would be smart to take a similar approach.

24. Charlotte Bobcats (via Portland Trail Blazers) - P.J. Hairston, SG, Texas Legends 
Before Hairston was dismissed from North Carolina and before people realized how good this draft class was going to be, Hairston looked in line to become a top five pick. Obviously, things went downhill from there, but he has still managed to keep his name in the first round of most draft boards by dominating the D league this season. The Bobcats are desperate for a wing scorer, and Hairston, who is averaging 21.1 points per game for the Texas Legends, would be a perfect fit.

25. Houston Rockets - Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan State 
One of the only seniors that will be drafted in the first round this year, Payne is a very NBA ready prospect who will fit in well in a position of need with the Rockets. He could push them from contenders to favorites with his skill as a rebounder (7.3 per game) to take some pressure of Dwight Howard, a scorer (16.6 points per game), his athleticism, and surprising 43.8% three-point percentage. Payne is an all-around solid player who knows how to win and would be the perfect piece that the Rockets would love to add this late in the draft.

26. Miami Heat - Shabazz Napier, PG, Connecticut 
I am honestly clueless as to why Shabazz Napier is not going to be a higher pick in the NBA draft. My best guess is that there is a predisposed model as to what makes a good prospect: large frame and extremely athletic. Sure, Napier doesn’t exactly fit that model, but he has dominated the college game, so I don’t see why people continue to write him off as a great prospect. He is a lights out shooter, a fantastic passer, and even helps out on the boards, not to mention that he is extremely clutch and has a great attitude. The Miami Heat might be willing to take a relatively low-risk chance on a player like Napier, especially because they still don’t have a completely stable situation at the point guard position.

27. Los Angeles Clippers - K.J. McDaniels, SF, Clemson 
The Clippers are really only lacking at the small forward position, yet are already good enough that their small forward can be a role player. McDaniels would fit in perfectly in that role, as he could use his very solid all-around game to help the team in bits when needed. He can score sometimes (17.2 points per game), rebound sometimes (7.1 rebounds per game), defend very well (2.8 blocks per game), and use his athleticism to drive to the rim or run the floor. Although his shooting is not great, the Clippers already have great shooters in Jamal Crawford and JJ Reddick, so they wouldn’t need McDaniels to be one. He would fit in very nicely with a Clippers team looking to make a run at a title.

28. Phoenix Suns (via Indiana Pacers) - Jusuf Nurkic, C, Bosnia and Herzegovina 
This is the Suns third pick in the first round, and even though they already drafted international with one of their previous picks, it seems as if they might go outside the states again here. Nurkic is a prospect with outrageous upside - at 6’11” and 280 pounds, he has one of the best frames in this draft class, and his post game is second to only Joel Embiid. However, there are questions about his attitude, dedication, and decision making that have caused some teams to turn their backs on him but have not deterred other suitors in the slightest. The Suns have no current staple at the center position, so Nurkic might be worth a try for the them, especially with the potential he provides.

29. Oklahoma City Thunder - Cleanthony Early, SF, Wichita State 
Early has played very consistently all season, although he has never been considered an elite prospect. As a senior he has developed his game so that he is now a very solid small forward and all-around player. He can score by using his athleticism (16.4 points per game), and sometimes go off from three-point range (37.5%). Lately, he has played so well in the NCAA tournament (23 points against Cal Poly and 31 against Kentucky) that his stock has probably moved up into the first round. The Thunder would love to have a solid role player at small-forward, so would welcome Early with this pick.

30. San Antonio Spurs - Nick Johnson, SG, Arizona 
In my opinion, Nick Johnson has been one of the best players in college basketball this year. He has been the key player for one of the top teams in the country, and is able to perform on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court. While he may be the best perimeter defender in all of college basketball, his offense is not far behind, as his outside shooting is great and he can get to the rim with ease. The Spurs, a team that puts great value on attitude and hard work, would be ecstatic if Johnson fell to them here, especially seeing as Manu Ginobili might not have too many more years in him.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Game Recap: (4) San Diego State University vs. (1) Arizona

Pac 12 player of the year Nick Johnson was 0 for 10 from the field for 0 points with under three minutes remaining and Arizona leading by just three.  When he finally got it going, they didn't have too much trouble closing out the game.  Johnson scored 15 points in the final three minutes including all eight of his free throws, but he really has Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to thank for even putting him in the situation to have that sort of finish.  Gordon and Hollis-Jefferson ended the game with more than half of Arizona's points, which will give them great hope going forward, as previously it's been Nick Johnson carrying most of the load.  Some credit must be given to Sand Diego State, in particular Xavier Thames and Josh Davis, for having the upper hand for much of the game, but in the end, Arizona was simply the better team.

Game Recap: (4) UCLA vs. (1) Florida

There is no doubt in my mind that UCLA's Kyle Anderson was the best player in this game.  However, as is generally the case, Florida won because they were the better overall team.  There was not a single player on Florida that didn't have an impact when they were in the game, but undoubtedly the most impressive performance from Florida was that of Scottie Wilbekin down the stretch.  Wilbekin made several impossible shots to seal the game for the Gators, including an outrageous banked jump shot over a much taller defender to put them up seven with just 2:38 left.  Though this contest was much closer than the score would indicate, Florida will be enthused by the result over a UCLA team that I believe had one of the most talented rosters in the whole tournament.

Game Recap: (6) Baylor vs. (2) Wisconsin

Wisconsin was criminally underrated coming into this game against the Baylor Bears.  People ate up the exciting, fast paced offense of the Bears and rejected the slow, often boring play style of the Badgers.  It just goes to show that exciting basketball doesn't always make efficient basketball, while boring basketball, when used correctly, can make for extremely effective basketball.  The Badgers played great defense and (to nobody's surprise) ran half court set after half court set to perfection on their way to an absolute route of Baylor.  The television providers won't be happy, but Wisconsin will move on to the Elite Eight and look poised to stay in the tournament even longer.

Game Recap: (11) Dayton vs. (10) Stanford

Coming into this game, the majority of college basketball experts said that Stanford had the better team, and I would have agreed with them.  Stanford have fantastic scoring threats - Dwight Powell, Josh Huestis, and Chasson Randle all average double digit points - and they played in a slightly more prestigious league than Dayton, the Pac 12.  However, they never could have expected the level of intensity and hustle that Dayton would bring to the game.  Simply enough, Dayton wanted the win so much more than Stanford.  Maybe at some point Dayton's lack of world-beating talent will catch up to them, but it hasn't happened yet... So long Stanford cowbell boy, and hello Dayton Flyers.  Welcome to the Elite Eight.

MLB Power Rankings- 1-10

The start of baseball season is finally upon us. There is certainly no lack of storylines to follow this season; Yasiel Puig's development as a player (and person), Derek Jeter's impending retirement, the expansion of replay among other things. Here are our 2014 pre-season power rankings!

1. Boston Red Sox

The defending champs will surely miss Jacoby Ellsbury's speed but besides that, they are returning nearly their entire championship roster from last season. A healthy season from Clay Buchholz should help bolster the rotation and John Farrell will be faced with an interesting decision as to who will start in center field for the Sox, Grady Sizemore or Jackie Bradley Jr.

2- Dodgers

The Dodgers have as much potential as any team in the MLB but also the most risk. If Matt Kemp remains healthy for even 120 games and Yasiel Puig can produce similar numbers to last season, the Dodgers will be the team to beat in the NL. An injured Kemp, regression from Puig, concerns over Carl Crawford's and Adrian Gonzalez's age and a lack of rotational depth, however, could derail the Dodgers on their quest for a World Series title.

3- Cardinals

The Cardinals have been one of the most successful franchises in the MLB over the past decade and that looks to be the case in 2014. There are no holes in their roster and their experience should carry them far into the playoffs.

4- Tigers

People quickly forget how well the Tigers performed in the ALCS against the Red Sox. With the exception of David Ortiz, the Red Sox lineup was totally dominated by the Tigers rotation and a rebound year from Verlander should help propel Detroit into the playoffs yet again.

5- Nationals

Though there are some concerns in their lineup, the Nationals rotation should be one of the best in the MLB this season. Anchored by young aces Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman, the Nationals will go as far as their rotation takes them.

6- Tampa Bay Rays

Despite having one of the lowest payrolls in the league, the Rays have amassed an impressive amount of young talent, specifically in their rotation. Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson and Chris Archer are all very talented pitchers who should have success in the stacked AL East and the Rays will make a serious run at the Wild Card spot in the AL.

7- Atlanta Braves

The Braves are a great bounce-back candidate for 2014. BJ Upton can't do any worse than he did last season and Justin Upton and Jason Heyward could finally break out this season. One player to watch is Julio Teheran, who could have a real shot at contending for a Cy Young this season.

8- Texas Rangers

The Rangers added slugger Prince Fielder to their already powerful lineup this offseason, though there are concerns about their rotation. The Rangers success hinges upon Yu Darvish's health, which, at the moment, is looking questionable at best.

9- LA Angels

After a very disappointing 2013 season, the Angels are poised to have a nice season in 2014. Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton should both rebound and when they do, the Angels will have a lineup capable of carrying them into the playoffs. Their rotation has some question marks but there is plenty of time to address those issues.

10- Oakland A's

Much like the Rays, the A's are a low budget team that consistently puts a talented team on the field due to a brilliant front office. The top of the A's rotation is especially promising this year with Sonny Gray taking the mound on opening day for Oakland and the teams positional depth should help them be contenders in the AL West.

Top 20 Most Memorable Plays From 2013 NFL Season

Honorable Mention: Kyle Orton Week 17 INT: For the second year in a row, the Dallas Cowboys had the opportunity to make the playoffs with a Week 17 victory, this time against the Philadelphia Eagles. The only problem: Tony Romo would not be able to play. Replacement quarterback Kyle Orton had played well throughout the game, but with 1:49 left in the fourth quarter, Dallas needed three points in order to earn a trip to the Super Bowl. Instead, Orton threw a pick on the first play of the possession, costing Dallas a spot in the playoffs.

20. Peyton Manning Running TD: With Denver up by 4 in a game against the Cowboys, Peyton Manning looked to maintain his team's perfect season by scoring on 3rd and goal. For the first time in five years, Peyton Manning pretended to hand the ball to his running back, which even fooled the camera man. Secretly, Manning had tucked the ball into his arm, and rushed for the score.

19. Matt Prater Breaks Kicking Record: With three seconds left in the first half, the Denver Broncos were seemingly too far to attempt a Hail Mary pass, which is why they brought out kicker Matt Prater. In the Denver air, a successful 64-yard field goal did not seem out of the question. Many kickers had already converted on a 63-yard kick, but no other kicker had exceeded 64 yards. In the end, Prater kicked it through the uprights, which makes it the longest field goal in NFL history.

18. Matthew Stafford Fake Spike: In a close game with the Dallas Cowboys, Matthew Stafford completed a 22-yard pass to Calvin Johnson, which placed the ball at the 1-yard line. With the clock ticking down, Stafford was calling for a fake spike, but as he lined up to snap the ball, he noticed that the Cowboys' linebackers were out of position. Once the ball was hiked, Stafford decided to run the ball into the end zone himself, which ended up being the game winning touchdown.

17. Patriots-Panthers Controversy: On a Monday Night Football game, Cam Newton and the Panthers had just drove down the field for the game-leading score. At one point, it seemed that the Patriots would be able to do the same, which would have won them the game. Instead, the final play of the game resulted in a controversial ending, where Tom Brady threw a deep pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski in the end zone, which was then intercepted by Robert Lester. Some people believe Luke Kuechly should have been called for holding, while others believe the refs made the right decision by not throwing a flag.

16. Super Bowl Pick 6: Although the Denver Broncos still had a chance to tie Seattle in Super Bowl XLVIII, that window quickly vanished following Malcolm Smith's pick six. Smith's interception gave Seattle the self-confidence needed to close out this game, and the interception earned Smith Most Valuable Player of the Super Bowl.

15. Patriots Lose to Jets on Questionable Penalty: Handing the New England Patriots their second loss in three games, the New York Jets were somehow able to beat the Patriots in overtime off of a missed field goal. Chris Jones of the Patriots was called for pushing one of his teammates into the pile on Nick Folk's missed 56-yard field goal. The 15 yard misconduct led to New York's game winning field goal on the next play.

14. NaVorro Bowman Pick 6 vs. Falcons: As the Atlanta Falcons marched down the field under quarterback Matt Ryan, the Falcons needed another 10 yards for a potential game winning touchdown on the road. NaVorro Bowman had other plans. After the ball was tipped by Falcons receiver Harry Douglas, Bowman caught the ball, and ran the ball 89 yards for a touchdown.

13. Ahmad Brooks' Sack Overturned: With less than four minutes left in the game, and the New Orleans Saints driving down the field, the San Francisco 49ers needed to stop Drew Brees' offense if they were to win this close game. Suddenly, Ahmad Brooks managed to run past the offensive lineman and drill Drew Brees, stripping the ball in the process. San Francisco recovered the ball, yet the referees overturned the play, saying that Brooks' tackle was too high, and therefore, a 15-yard penalty. The Saints went on to win the game.
12. Antonio Brown Steps Out of Bounds: Down six points, the Pittsburgh Steelers needed to score a touchdown in order to beat the Dolphins at home. As time expired, Ben Roethlisberger took the snap, and thew a pass to Emmanuel Sanders, who then lateraled the ball to fellow wide receiver Antonio Brown. Miraculously, it appeared that Brown would score the touchdown and win the game for Pittsburgh; however, at the 12 yard line, the edge of Brown's foot hit the sideline, thus costing Pittsburgh the game.

11. Punt Fumble in Pats-Broncos Game: To cap-off a 24 point comeback completed by the Patriots in a Sunday Night Football Game, the Patriots were forced to punt the ball back to Denver in overtime, instead of going for it on fourth down. The decision proved to be successful. The windy conditions caused the ball to flutter through the air, and eventually hit a Denver Bronco accidentally. The ball was then recovered by New England, which led to a game-winning field goal by Stephen Gostowski (video is here).

10. Ryan Succop Missed Field Goal: With a playoff spot on the line, the San Diego Chargers needed the Chiefs to miss a potentially game-winning field goal in order to keep their playoff hopes alive. Succopp went on to miss the field goal, as the Chargers went on to win in overtime, which ended the Steelers' bid for a playoff spot. Later, it was announced that the Chiefs were aligned in an illegal formation, that was left uncalled during the field goal.

9. Patriots Saints: After being handed the first loss of the season the previous week, New England were looking to do the same for New Orleans, who had yet to be defeated at the time. The Saints had multiple chances to end the game, but with five seconds left, Tom Brady connected with Kenbrell Thompkins for the game winning score at home, thus handing the Saints their first loss of the season.

8. Peyton Manning Record Breaking TD: On 1st & 10 with under 5 minutes left in the game, Peyton Manning dropped back in the pocket, unleashed a pass to the right side of the field, and watched as Julius Thomas caught the the 25-yard pass in the end zone to break the single season passing touchdown record. This was not the only NFL record broken by Peyton this season, but I'm sure this record will be the most memorable for Peyton.

7. AJ Green Hail Mary: Even though the Cincinnati Bengals would go onto to lose this game against their division rivals, AJ Green's miraculous Hail Mary catch as time expired sent the game into overtime. At one point, it seemed that the group of receivers and defensive backs would result in an incomplete pass, yet somehow, the ball floated into the hands of star receiver AJ Green.

6. Rodgers' Throw vs Bears: In Aaron Rodgers' return against the Bears in Week 17, the winner between Green Bay and Chicago would earn a trip to the playoffs. Although games between these two teams are normally intense due to their rivalry, this game had much more on the line. So with the Packers down by one with under a minute to go, Rodgers needed to help his offense achieve the game winning score in order to help his team win the NFC North. As Chicago's pass rush relentlessly pursued Rodgers, he launched a ball downfield to a wide-open Randall Cobb, ultimately the game winning touchdown.

5. Peyton Manning Safety: On the first play of Super Bowl XLVIII, Peyton Manning seemed ready to hike the ball, but at the last second, he took a few steps forward in the pocket to make one final audible. The center did not know this; as a result, the ball was snapped, and flew right past Peyton Manning's head. The ball rolled into the end zone for a safety, which was a terrible start for Denver in the Super Bowl.

4. Coach Tomlin Gets in Way: In one of the most bitter rivalries in all of football, Jacoby Jones of the Baltimore Ravens returned a kickoff against the Steelers, and in a one possession game, a score would have been extremely helpful for the Ravens. At one point, it seemed that Jones would have scored, but coach Mike Tomlin had other plans. Tomlin managed to get in the way of Jones, who was later tackled before entering the end zone. The Steelers went on to lose the game, and Tomlin was fined $100,000 for the incident.

3. Luck vs Chiefs lucky run: With 10 minutes remaining in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, Andrew Luck was in the process of mounting an incredible comeback. The Colts, at one point, were down by 28 points, yet Andrew Luck and the Colts would not go away. On this play in particular, running back Donald Brown fumbled the ball at the goal line, yet quarterback Andrew Luck swooped in and leaped for the touchdown. In the end, Indianapolis  went on to win the game and advance to the next round of the playoffs.

2. Megatron Triple team: In the fourth quarter, the Detroit Lions were down 7 to the Cincinnati Bengals and were in desperate need of converting on a 3rd and 18. So as a Bengals defender approached Stafford from his blind side, Stafford unleashed a pass downfield to Megatron. Impossibly, Calvin Johnson was able to catch the ball despite three defenders in his presence for the score (the link is here).

1. Sherman tip: With under three-and-a-half minutes left in the game, the San Francisco 49ers were given the ball on their own 22 yard line. With time winding down, Colin Kaepernick was marching his team downfield, and it almost seemed inevitable that the 49ers would score, thus, sending them to the Super Bowl for the second straight season. But Richard Sherman had other plans. As Kaepernick lobbed a pass in the end zone to Michael Crabtree, Richard Sherman tipped the ball into the arms of his teammate, sealing the win for Seattle. Sherman's rant following the game went viral, and as we know, this interception against San Francisco helped Seattle go on to win the Super Bowl against Denver. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

College Football-NFL Comparisons: Sammy Watkins

Sammy Watkins rivals Marquise Lee as the top wide receiver in this year's draft. The lean, elegant, quick Clemson Tiger had a stellar collegiate career by any standard, and impressed at the combine (a 4.43 40 will cement his status as an elite player nicely), such that most mock drafts have him going early in the first, top 10 even. Tampa Bay with the seventh overall pick is an intriguing suitor, and they would certainly be happy to have him, but we can't really tell if Watkins will make it that far or, on the flip side, be valued that highly. Regardless, Watkins looks to be an excellent player at the next level, with maturity and talent in equal measure. As an excellent player he already merits an intriguing comparison with Ravens wideout Torrey Smith. While Watkins has a formidable skill set in terms of hands and winning the ball, the area where he truly excels and would even stand out in the NFL is after the catch. Watkins puts together a great and even comical highlight reel with elusiveness and speed. He extends plays and his yards after the catch are astronomical at times. He has the ability to make huge plays with explosive moves, making plenty of decent secondaries look stupid. We have seen this all before in many a great NFL receiver, but Smith especially draws a good comparison in this regard. Midway through Watkins' freshman season (as a true freshman in 2011), an astonishing 63% of his yards came after the catch! This is no statical anomaly for a player who didn't see much of the field, as Watkins totaled over 1,200 yards his freshman season. So he played a lot, made a lot of big plays, and did most of his considerable damage on his feet with the ball in his hands. Beyond this, he has great hands and wins balls out of the air, with 27 touchdowns in three years of college ball. A tempting prospect for any NFL team, Watkins should excel wherever he lands, and he will be fun to watch for years to come.