Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Two Cents on Jadeveon Clowney's Draft Status

Jadeveon Clowney has been a household name (well, any household with cable and a passing interest in sports) for his three years at South Carolina, and now as the draft approaches for the swirl of questions and attention he has been receiving. ESPN has just published an article, in fact, where they seem to lend some credibility to all the talk about Clowney's work ethic, or lack thereof. NFL scouts apparently question him and are wary of drafting someone who undoubtedly, clearly took his foot off the gas in his last year on a competitive SEC team, probably in order to prepare for the NFL. Clowney will doubtless go top 5, regardless of all the talk, but it bears mentioning that there is definitely some legitimacy to issues about his draft status and what NFL teams really feel or suspect about this guy.
Firstly, anyone can see he is a ridiculous athlete, with raw talent the likes of which is rarely found. He apparently trains like an freak and obviously has the body type and combine numbers to succeed in the NFL.While everyone finds something to argue about concerning Clowney, one thing we can all agree on is that when he wants to (and yes, sometimes he may not) he can absolutely change a game on defense. This can be said about any great defensive end of course, but not every defensive end does this in a BCS bowl game. Remember January 1st, 2013?
A great moment

He puts together a great highlight reel obviously, and with plays like that it's little wonder some call him a "once in a generation player." But while I previously disregarded everything about Clowney that was a bit critical, now I am forced to admit that there is something to this. There are apparently plenty of NFL scouts saying flatly that they see the drop in his numbers as a warning sign. Here is another thing we can agree on. Clowney after 2012 would have absolutely gone first overall in the draft, coming off a season where he established without doubt that he was the best defensive player in college football. Some said he was the best defensive player since Lawrence Taylor. But 2013 came and he went from 13 sacks to just 3, 54 tackles to 35, and skipped a couple of games with vague injuries or health issues. That's a terrible progression, or regression in fact. He started the season as a Heisman runner up but faded rapidly, causing what we now have to be a very interesting and kinda awkward situation. We all saw the player he was in 2012, which is probably the player he can be, but what do we make of a mediocre and tumultuous last season, where he struggled with coaches (Steve Spurrier), teammates, and health?
With May 8th fast approaching, many raise legitimate concerns about Clowney's status as an immediately elite player in the NFL, due to the drop in numbers and the issues with health. But I still hold that Clowney is a truly elite player, and I would take Clowney first overall in a heartbeat. I think the Texans will do this, and they will be happy they did soon after the season starts. Ultimately no draft pick is without his risks, but with Clowney there is an astonishing upside. That's what it boils down to: There is definitely a range of how he will perform, as applies to any athlete, but just think for a moment if we see 2012 Clowney on the field. Though he seems like different player after last season, we saw what he can do, and the Texans can only hope (with a good amount of confidence) that he will bring it again in the NFL.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

2014 NBA Playoff Predictions

The NBA Playoffs have finally arrived, and there will be some great match ups over the next few weeks. Let's take a look at some predictions for each round throughout the playoffs, with an in-depth look at Round 1. After each round, I will post another prediction for the next round with an in-depth look at each matchup, and noting how close I was in my original predictions.

Eastern Conference Quarter-Finals:

Indiana Pacers (1) vs. Atlanta Hawks (8)

The Pacers have been struggling of late and the Hawks could make this an interesting series, but the Pacers just have too much talent to lose this series. Paul George needs to reassert himself, and Roy Hibbert has to stop making excuses and start making an impact on the floor.  If the Pacers let this one slip away, it would be a rapid downfall for the ages.

Prediction: Pacers 4-2

Chicago Bulls (4) vs. Washington Wizards (5)

Sure, these teams are relatively close in the standings, but the Wizards really only are this high because of a terrible Eastern Conference. The Bulls have such a strong front court in Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, and Taj Gibson, that they should control the boards in most games. Although, if John Wall takes over some games and reigns in his streaky shot for a game or two, then the Wizards could have a chance.

Prediction: Bulls 4-2

Miami Heat (2) vs. Charlotte Bobcats (7)

The Heat didn't end up with the #1 seed, but they may have lucked out by playing the Bobcats. Now, that is not to insult the Bobcats, as they have had a pretty solid season, but compared to the Hawks they don't really have any players that could make a huge impact on the series. The Heat should take this series easily, despite maybe a few big shots from Kemba Walker. Despite a winner of two championships in a row, LeBron James is as driven as ever and should have a great series.

Prediction: Heat 4-0

Toronto Raptors (3) vs. Brooklyn Nets (6)

The Raptors got off to a great start this season and their #3 seed is a product of that (as well as the terrible Eastern Conference), while the Nets started off terribly, but have come on of late. This series should be interesting, but with the amount of playoff experience on this team, let alone its talent, should carry the Nets on to the next round.

Prediction: Nets 4-1

Western Conference Quarter-Finals:

San Antonio Spurs (1) vs. Dallas Mavericks (8)

The Spurs have been by far the best team in the league throughout the season, and there is no reason to believe that anything will change come playoff time. The obvious experience of coach Greg Popovich as well as Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili, plus the experience gained by the young players last year in their run to the finals should make them the favorites the rest of the way. Although the Mavericks might steal a game that Dirk Nowitzki takes over, the Spurs should win easily.

Prediction: Spurs 4-1

Houston Rockets (4) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (5)

This is a very close matchup, due to the pure talent on both sides. The Rockets have James Harden, Dwight Howard, and Chandler Parsons while the Blazers have Damien Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Nicholas Batum. There will definitely be a few games where Harden takes over, but also some when the Blazers' three-point shooters are on fire. Nonetheless, this should be one of the best series to watch in the entire NBA first round.

Prediction: Rockets 4-3

Oklahoma City Thunder (2) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (7)

Kevin Durant. I just listed the reason why the Thunder will win this series, despite the respectable talent of the Grizzlies, in Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, and Mike Conley. But, like LeBron James, Kevin Durant has that ability to take over each and every game he plays in and win it for his team. After a failed playoff run last year, Durant and the Thunder are more driven then ever to get back to the finals. I have not even mentioned Russell Westbrook and I already picked the Thunder to win, although the Grizzlies could steal a game or two.

Prediction: Thunder 4-1

Los Angeles Clippers (3) vs. Golden State Warriors (6)

Doc Rivers has done a great job with this Clippers team and they should be the favorite in the series, but the Warriors have always taken their game to another level. All it takes is for Stephon Curry to get hot for the Warriors to start winning one, two, maybe three games. I don't know if it is really possible for such a streaky team in the Warriors to go all the way this year, but they could certainly win this series. The Clippers, on the other hand, need to rely on the leadership of Chris Paul and not take any bad shots (ahem, Blake Griffen) in order for them to win. This series is very difficult to predict, showing how fun it will be to watch.

Prediction: Warriors 4-3

Eastern Conference Semi-Finals:

Indiana Pacers (1) vs. Chicago Bulls (4)

Prediction: Pacers 4-2

Miami Heat (2) vs. Brooklyn Nets (6)

Prediction: Nets 4-3

Western Conference Semi-Finals:

San Antonio Spurs (1) vs. Houston Rockets (4)

Prediction: Spurs 4-2

Oklahoma City Thunder (2) vs. Golden State Warriors (6)

Prediction: Thunder 4-3

Eastern Conference Finals:

Indiana Pacers (1) vs. Brooklyn Nets (6)

Prediction: Nets 4-3

Western Conference Finals:

San Antonio Spurs (1) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (2)

Prediction: Spurs 4-3

NBA Finals:

San Antonio Spurs vs. Brooklyn Nets

Prediction: Spurs 4-3

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.