Saturday, January 21, 2012

Joe Paterno Dead at 85

According to a report from CBS Sports, Joe Paterno is near death. Friends and family were asked to come to the hospital to say their final goodbyes.

Link to the story.

UPDATE: Joe Paterno is dead at the age of 85. This is an incredibly sad day for football. JoePa was a great man, and should be remembered as one of the most important and incredible men in the history of college football. Hopefully his legacy won't be related to the actions and inactions of others as it pertained to the Sandusky case. It's important to remember JoePa for what he did. For his class on and off the field. For his success, his poise, his leadership, and his integrity. It was so sad the way he went out at Penn State.

RIP Joe Paterno. You will be missed.


How does Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld still have a job?

by John Huffstetler

If an NBA team searching for a GM posted an ad on, it would read something like this: "The main responsibilities include creating an atmosphere of winning by building a competitive roster through drafting players, trading for players, signing free agents, and managing salaries. The person chosen will be expected to make intelligent decisions and put the franchise in a position to succeed in the playoffs on a regular basis." Using this definition, how does Washington Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld still have a job? Examining Grunfeld's career with the Wizards in the 4 major job criterion for a GM (Drafting players, trading for players, signing free agents, and resigning current players), he fails in every capacity of the job. Let's prove this failure by going through his drafts, trades, and signings.


Here is a summary of every draft pick that Grunfeld has made as Wizards GM (Note: Grunfeld was hired in June 2003 after the 03 Wizards draft):

2004- Rd. 1 #5- Devin Harris- Harris never played a game for Wash. He was traded to the Dallas Mavs along with Jerry Stackhouse, and Christian Laettner for Antawn Jamison. Grade- No grade. He didn't decide to draft Harris, Dallas did. For the trade, he gets a C.
Rd. 2 #32- Peter John Ramos- Granted, this was a 2nd round pick which is always a gamble, but it was a high 2nd rd pick. Ramos played 6 games in the NBA...for his career. Terrible pick. Grade- F

2005- Rd. 2 #49- Andray Blatche- Blatche has obviously had a good point-scoring NBA career and is still a starter for the Wizards, but he's only a 46% career shooter (below average for a big), a below average rebounder for his position, and a cancer in the locker room. Grade- C-. Even though he was a "good" pick at 49, the team would probably be better if he was never born.

2006- Rd. 1 #18- Oleksiy Pecherov- Pecherov played 3 meaningless seasons in the NBA. Complete bust. Grade- F
Rd. 2 #48- Vladimir Veremeenko- He ended up being traded to acquire Kirk Hinrich, so this was a valuable pick. Grade- A

2007- Rd. 1 #16- Nick Young- Young continues to play for the Wizards, contributing 17.4 ppg this past year. He's only a 43% shooter for his career, while averaging only 1 apg, 1.9 rpg, and 0.5 steals. Grade- D. He is an inefficient shooter, plays no defense, never passes, and doesn't rebound at all.
Rd 2 #47- Dominic McGuire- This is the type of player you want to get in the late second round of a draft. He plays solid defense, rarely turns the ball over, and rebounds adequately for his position. Too bad the Wizards traded him after 2+ seasons. Grade B-.

2008- Rd. 1 #18- JaVale McGee- McGee rebounds well and blocks shots. He is one of 4 above average players on the Wizards roster and he was a fine draft pick at 18. Grade B+
Rd. 2 #47- Bill Walker- He was traded to the Celtics for cash before ever playing a game. Cash is always a loser because it doesn't get you better on the floor. Wins earn you cash because they get fans in the seats. Grade- F

2009- Rd. 2 #32- Jermaine Taylor- Again, traded for cash. Grade- F.

2010- Rd. 1 #1- John Wall- It's hard to mess up the #1 pick (unless we're talking Kwame Brown), so I'm not giving Grunfeld much credit here. Wall will obviously be a great NBA player, despite his early struggles shooting this season. Grade- A-
Rd. 1 #30- Lazar Hayward and Rd. 2 #35- They were traded for Trevor Booker and Hamady Ndiaye on draft day. So far, Booker looks like an efficient scorer, solid defender, and terrific rebounder. Grade- B+

I won't mention this years draft because its way too early. I think Chris Singleton can already be given a high grade (probably an A) because of his ability to defend at an elite level. Overall, in 8 years, I count 4 players from the draft that contribute at an average level or higher for an NBA player: John Wall, Chris Singleton, JaVale McGee, and Trevor Booker. The drafting of Andray Blatche and Nick Young cannot be counted as successes despite the minutes they play for the team because their mere existence on the planet makes the Wizards a worse team. All 4 of these successful picks occurred in 2008 or later, meaning Grunfeld drafted 0 players in his first 4 years that contributed for the team in a positive way.

Major Trades

Feb 2003- As GM of the Milwaukee Bucks- Traded Ray Allen, Kevin Ollie, Flip Murray and a condition 2003 1st rd. pick to Seattle for guards Gary Payton and Desmond Mason- This trade occurred before he joined the Wizards, but still deserves mentioning because of its complete failure. Not only did he trade future hall of famer Ray Allen, he also relinquished a serviceable Flip Murray and a 1st rounder for an over-the-hill Gary Payton who played 28 games for the franchise. Grunfeld's propensity to trade potential for overrated veterans recurs numerous times throughout his career and is indicative of his lack of talent evaluating ability. Grade- F

June 2004- Traded the #5 pick, Jerry Stackhouse, and Christian Laettner for Antawn Jamison- Here again, Grunfeld trades the potential of a #5 pick for a veteran in Jamison. This time the trade worked out to some degree, as Jamison contributed well with the team for several years; however, this draft happened to have a few great NBA players drafted after 5 that play Jamison's position (SF): Andre Iguodala (#9 pick), Luol Deng (#7 pick), and Josh Smith (#17 pick). The Wizards would be a better team right now had they drafted any of these players, rather than trading for Jamison. Once again, Grunfeld opted to avoid making the pick and it cost his team in the long run. Grade- C

August 2005- Traded Kwame Brown and Laron Profit for Caron Butler and Chuck Atkins- This is the best move of Grunfeld's career as a GM (Drafting Michael Redd in the 2nd rd in Milwaukee is next best). Securing a player of Butler's caliber for a mediocre big man in Brown was an absolutely terrific move. What's the old saying? Even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes. Grade- A+

June 2009- Traded the #5 pick, Pecherov, Etan Thomas, and Darius Songaila for Randy Foye and Mike Miller- Even in a weak draft, trading the #5 pick meant passing on rare talents like Steph Curry, Rick Rubio, and Brandon Jennings. Instead, the Wizards add two glorified role players in Foye and Miller. This trade was reprehensible and once again points to the notion that Grunfeld is unable to evaluate talent from college in any capacity. Grade- F-

February 2010- Traded DeShawn Stevenson, Caron Butler, and Brendan Haywood for Quinton Ross, Josh Howard, James Singleton, and Drew Gooden- Granted, this was a salary dump move, but he didn't secure one long-term prospect or draft choice. That's unacceptable. Grade- F

February 2010- Traded Antawn Jamison for Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Emir Preldzic, and a first-round pick- The first-round pick turned out to be Trevor Booker (after the trade of Lazar Hayward), so he unloaded salary and got a serviceable player. Grade B-

July 2010- Traded the draft rights to Vladimir Veremeenko for Kirk Hinrich, Kevin Seraphin, and cash, then traded Hinrich in Feb 2011 with Hilton Armstrong for Mike Bibby, Jordan Crawford, Mo Evans, and a first-round pick (Chris Singleton). This series of events proved to be incredibly beneficial because Grunfeld secured the Wizards current players Jordan Crawford, Chris Singleton, Kevin Seraphin, and Mo Evans for Veremeenko. Brilliant move. Grade- A+

Notable Contract Signings

August 2003- Signed FA Gilbert Arenas- This turned out to be a strong move for the franchise for several years. Arenas declined dramatically and faced multiple off the court issues, but that was more during his next contract (see below). Grade- B+

July 2006- Signed FA Darius Songaila- Grunfeld overpayed here for a fringe NBA player when he signed him to a 5 year 23 million dollar deal. Terrible contract for a terrible player. Grade- F

July 2008- Resigned Gilbert Arenas- Arenas does not play in the NBA, yet he is the 5th highest paid "player" this season because of this awful contract. When you offer slightly above average players max contracts, nothing good happens. One of the worst contracts in NBA history. Grade- F---------------------------------

September 2010- Resigned Andray Blatche- A five-year 35 million dollar deal for a selfish, terrible basketball player who is a cancer in the locker room (even though he is somehow captain!). Grade- F

To summarize, Grunfeld has made some good decisions as the Wizards GM, but the bad far outweighs the good. His inability and unwillingness to evaluate talent in the draft and his penchant for overvaluing average veteran players make him an unsuccessful GM. Ted Leonsis and the Washington Wizards need to fire him right now and begin to search for a capable GM to replace him. Maybe they could try posting my ad on monster.

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Way Too Early NBA Playoff Projections Western Conference: First Edition

by John Huffstetler

The Western Conference is certainly deeper once again than the Eastern Conference this season with all but 2 teams (New Orleans and Sacramento) having at least an outside chance to make the playoffs. To complicate the issue further, multiple perennial playoff teams have faced adversity early in the season. San Antonio must deal with the loss of Manu Ginobili once again to injury and try to survive with an aging starting nucleus. Dallas continues to struggle with trying to find chemistry between their starting core and their new acquisitions. Several upstart teams like Minnesota and Golden State might compete for a playoff appearance for the first time in several years as well. One things is for sure, whatever happens this year out West will be tremendously entertaining. Here's our way too early playoff projections for 2012.

1 Oklahoma City- The roster continuity and star power make them an obvious choice to be a high seed in the West and a potential title contender. The Thunder currently carry a Western Conference leading 13-3, including an impressive 6-2 road record. The only downside for the Thunder is that their division is the most difficult in the NBA, with two other definitive playoff teams in Denver and Portland, and two young, dangerous squads in Minnesota and Utah.

8 Golden State- I like Golden State here over San Antonio, Utah, and Minnesota because of their back-court depth and terrific 3 pt. shooting. The additions of Klay Thompson, Nate Robinson and Brandon Rush contribute to these strengths and have allowed the Warriors to survive the Steph Curry injury just 4 games below .500. The schedule to start the year was incredibly difficult playing playoff teams from last year in 9 of their first 10 games. Once Steph Curry returns from his injury and the schedule eases slightly, the Warriors will make a strong playoff push.

4 Dallas Mavericks- Despite their early season problems, the Mavs playoff chances and opportunity for a higher seed improve because of their weak division. Someone from the Southwest division must be at least a 4 seed out West, and with both Memphis and San Antonio suffering severe injury setbacks to star players, Dallas is my choice to emerge as the winner. I still believe that the Mavs will have about the 6th best record in the conference, but their division win puts them as the 4 seed. I have San Antonio missing the playoffs and Memphis sneaking in at the 7 because of their respective injuries (Ginobili and Zach Randolph). The Ginobili injury is especially critical because of its severity, and although I like their young pieces, I think they'll fall just short of the division and the playoffs.

5 LA Lakers- The Lakers are a safe assumption to make the playoffs once again with their core of Bryant, Gasol, and Bynum. I doubt that the Lakers will play their stars too many minutes or with questionable health in any games. They also need some time to gel with new coach Mike Brwon, since Phil Jackson's tenure in LA was so long and prolific, so a mid-range seed seems likely.

3 Denver Nuggets- This is the perfect season for the Nuggets to earn a high seed in the playoffs because of their outstanding depth. They can withstand several injuries during the season and still manage to earn victories. Their PG tandem of Lawson and Miller might be the best in the game and they don't have any noticeable weakness. Their passing, rebounding, defense, shooting are all relatively strong.

6 Portland- The 2-5 road record to start the year is somewhat alarming, but I still think Portland is a lock to make the playoffs this year. They have the best frontcourt depth in the league by far with Wallace, Batum, Aldridge, Camby, Thomas, and Smith and that alone will keep them in ballgames all season long. The biggest question remains the two guards spots and how Matthews, Crawford, and Felton can handle basically all of the backcourt minutes, and what the team will do if one of these players misses significant time.

2 LA Clippers- The Clippers are definitely for real and nothing short of major injuries will keep them from securing a top 4 seed in the playoffs. The post trio of Griffin, Jordan, and Evans is imposing, and the backcourt depth provides the opportunity for interesting game-to-game lineup adjustments. Chris Paul finally has a supporting cast to showcase his talent as a top 3 player in the league (behind James and Wade).

7 Memphis- The Grizzlies are a legitimate squad and if not for the Zach Randolph injury, they would be my favorite to win the Southwest division. The backcourt depth is definitely there making OJ Mayo an interesting piece to offer in trades. If they could get a 3 pt shooter (only 3.2 3-pointers made per game) and/or a big in exchange for Mayo, their chances for success in the playoffs would improve dramatically. Even without a move, Memphis will be a tough out once Randolph gets healthy.

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Russell Westbrook Contract Extension

Great news for the Thunder.  Russell is a key component to any hopes at a title run they may have.  It is important for him and Durant to coexist, and for each of them to find their role, but I don't see that being a problem.  In fact, since Westbrook's rough start, he has been playing better than Durant this season.  Reportedly, the extension is 5 years, worth $80 million.  Not a bad day for the 23 year-old out of UCLA.

I'd also like to point out in this blog that we here at 11-on-11, along with most of the rest of the country, are not fans of Skip Bayless.  The guy is an idiot, and he makes tons of outlandish claims, and when he finally gets one right he never shuts up about it (Tim Tebow immediately comes to mind, although not that outlandish of a prediction).  Well, he's at it again, saying the Westbrook signing is "bad news" for the Thunder.  Yes, signing a top 5 point guard in the league for five more years is "bad news."  Can't believe this guy has his own show, and we don't.  Of course these guys are going to feud--they are both supremely talented NBA players with a penchant for winning.  Not to say they are on this level yet, but we saw plenty of instances with Jordan yelling at Pippen and vice versa.

The guys just want to win, and I see it as more of a promising sign that they are comfortable challenging each other in front of the entire country when one isn't stepping up.

People always point to the playoffs as the core of the problem, where Westbrook was taking more shots than Durant during the Memphis series.  But as my buddy Art Vandelay pointed out, Westbrook is salivating when he's staring down Mike Conley, and no one is behind him to help on defense.  Yes, both Westbrook and Durant need to mature.  But remember, these guys are both 23 years old.  Plenty of time left in their careers, and if Oklahoma City can keep this duo together, with Harden coming off the bench as the likely Sixth Man of the Year, the future is bright.

NFL Playoffs: AFC Championship Preview

This game seems to be much easier to predict than the NFC matchup, but I won't fall into the trap and just assume the Patriots are going to pull this one out.  They are 7.5 point favorites in Vegas, but that just seems too steep.  There is no way to say the Patriots are a touchdown better than the Ravens after looking at the entire body of work.

The Ravens come into this game after a 20-13 nailbiter against the Houston Texans.  You could argue that this game was handed to the Ravens on a silver platter, but the defense did play well, and you have to give them credit.  The offense struggled to get anything going, but one has to assume that they will see more success against a porous Patriots defense.

The Patriots absolutely dominated the Broncos, winning 45-10 behind Tom Brady's six touchdown passes.  The defense looked respectable, and the offense looked unstoppable.  Aaron Hernandez might also be the best running back on the Patriots' roster.

The key in this Patriots/Ravens matchup will be when, and how long, the Patriots have the football.  If the Ravens can keep Brady off the field and pressure him while he is on the field, they will see success.  Pressuring Brady, however, is no easy task.  The Patriots sport one of the best offensive lines in the league, if not the best, and despite being a bit banged up before this game, they should have all of their guys back come Sunday afternoon.

When these two teams played in the playoffs two years ago, Ray Rice was able to run all over this Patriots defense to the tune of over 200 yards.  They absolutely dominated the game, despite Flacco's inability to reach 40 yards passing.  The Ravens are one of the only teams in the league that can be successful despite bad quarterback play, which bodes well for them.  Flacco is clearly not a premier passer in the NFL.

The game itself will be physical, hard-fought, and I can guarantee you that Brady will not throw for six touchdowns.  Despite this, I think the Patriots will win the game.  The Patriots pass rush looked great against the Broncos last weekend, and I think we can expect continued success from them.  Flacco and Tebow are similar in that they like to camp out in the pocket, somewhat oblivious to the surrounding pass rush.  Also, the Patriots have a surprisingly good rush defense with Vince Wilfork in the middle, and we will probably see a game where Joe Flacco is forced to beat the Patriots through the air.

Also, even if Ed Reed plays, it is questionable as to whether he will be 100%.  The Ravens absolutely need him healthy if they want any chance at this game, as Reed will have to make a few big plays for the defense to swing momentum.

When you look at the fact that the Ravens are 7-0 against playoff teams, while the Patriots have yet to beat a team with a winning record, it can be confusing as to why everyone is picking the Patriots.  If this game was in Baltimore, the Ravens would win this, no doubt in my mind.  But since this game is in Foxborough, the Patriots have the edge, and I see this one ending on a last-second field goal by Stephen Gostkowski.

New England 20, Baltimore 17

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Way Too Early NBA Playoff Projections Eastern Conference: First Edition

Believe it or not, most teams are approximately 1/4 of the way through their NBA season, and many teams have already distinguished themselves as playoff contenders or pretenders. Because of the shortened season, more teams have an opportunity to sneak into a playoff spot than in a typical year. The length of the season favors teams with deep benches who have the ability to withstand nagging injuries. The teams that have struggled early (New York and Boston) lack bench depth and have dealt with injury issues already this year. The question is, however, who will make it through the season and position themselves for a playoff run.


1 Chicago- Miami still probably has the better team, but Chicago has the greater motivation to win in the regular season. They should win the 1 seed by several games because Miami won't push Wade and James to play if their health is questionable.

8 Orlando- This projection assumes Dwight Howard will be traded at some point to another team (New Jersey could take this spot if he went there). If he were to stay, Orlando could grab as high as a 3 seed this year. If they trade Howard halfway through the season to a Western conference team, however, Orlando should already have enough wins and secure enough pieces in return to still make the playoffs.

4 Indiana- This team is young and deep, which are two terrific traits for success this year. 7 players average double-digit points and they can certainly withstand a few players missing games at times throughout the season.

5 Atlanta- The injury to their best player Al Horford (no one even mention Joe Johnson here) ends the Hawks chances for a high seed, but they still have enough talent to make the playoffs comfortably. If Horford comes back healthy and near full strength for the playoffs, the Hawks could easily make a run for the NBA title given their success against Miami and Chicago before his injury.

3 Philadelphia- Philly looks like the favorite to win the Atlantic division at this point with Boston and New York floundering to start the year. Like Indiana, this team is remarkably deep, with 8 players averaging 8.8 points/game or more. They also play fantastic defense leading the NBA in defensive efficiency.

6 New York- Obviously, New York has struggled to start the year, mainly due to losing key players to injuries. Even with all the issues they've encountered, the Knicks would be in if the playoffs started today. The defense should continue to improve and they should get healthier as the season progresses.

2 Miami- Their purpose for this regular season is to stay healthy and gain chemistry. They are by far the best team in the NBA and will prove themselves in the playoffs.

7 Boston- If the playoffs started today, Boston would be out and Cleveland would be in! They should continue to struggle this regular season with the frequent back-to-back games because of their aging roster and lack of quality depth. It's conceivable they could miss the playoffs this year altogether, especially of Howard moves to New Jersey, but I still believe they'll pull it together enough to make the playoffs and make one last attempt at a title.

Peyton Manning Retiring? So Says Rob Lowe

Yes, Rob Lowe the former actor.  You know, from Parks and Recreation and a bunch of other stuff back in the day.  Who knows where he is getting his inside information, as ESPN has yet to report on the matter.  But if this turns out to be true, it is huge news.  Experts said before Manning's neck injury that he may never play football again, so it seems plausible.  Yet, Manning is only 35, and he was just playing some of the best football of his career.  We will wait to hear more on this, and obviously not read too much into Rob Lowe as a source.  But who knows, maybe Rob and Peyton go way back.

PS- Who needs Adam Schefter when you've got Rob Lowe?

UPDATE:  Colts owner Jim Irsay expelled the Rob Lowe rumors of Peyton Manning retiring in great fashion.  This has to already be up for tweet of the year, but it's early.

Ten Most Clutch NBA Players

American sports are dominated by their heroes. We love the idea of one man, with everything on the line, outshining every single opponent and leading his team to victory. In the words of demetryjames86, we wanna watch people "put da team on dey back doe."

Basketball is probably the epitome of this sentiment, as we often get to marvel at the heroics of the games greatest players in its most important moments. And in this post-decision NBA era, just about everyone seems obsessed with the question "who's gonna take the shots down the stretch?" So here's a list of the top ten guys I'd want on my team in crunch time.

(Note - For statistical references, I used the website, which is the most common tracker of "clutch" statistics. "Clutch" describes situations in the 4th quarter or overtime with less than five minutes remaining and neither team ahead by more than five points.)

10. Paul Pierce - "The Truth" may be getting older, but he can still close games with the best of them. His clutch statistics from last year aren't overly impressive, but he did shoot 43% in such situations, and he has countless buzzer beaters and a Finals MVP under his belt. Also, I'd say that Pierce has gotten better in the clutch as he's gotten older, because whatever he's lost in burst he's made up for with his incredible body control and savvy moves around the rim.

9. Russell Westbrook - Westbrook burst onto the scene last year as he finally started tapping into his incredible potential. Some people might question this ranking considering the apparent disconnect between Westbrook and fellow superstar Kevin Durant in the playoffs last year, which gave Westbrook the image of a ball-hog, but I think that had to do with match ups more than anything. In the Memphis series, Durant had elite perimeter defenders like Tony Allen and Shane Battier exhausting themselves all game long just trying to stop him, while Westbrook was staring down a one on one match up with Mike Conley. I don't blame Westbrook for trying to take advantage of his team's best option to score. Westbrook shot 46.8% from the field in the clutch last year, which is an improvement on his season field-goal percentage. He also grabbed an incredible 10.2 rebounds per 48 minutes of crunch time, quite an impressive number for a point guard.

8. LeBron James - I know you don't want to see LeBron on this list. I didn't want to put him on this list. But the fact is his stats in the clutch are very impressive. Per 48 minutes of clutch time last season, LeBron averaged 45.1 points (4th in the NBA), 11.2 rebounds, and 4.9 assists while shooting 44% from the field. I get it, no one wants to hear about stats anymore with James. We want to see him in the Finals, with the game on the line, making big time shot after big time shot before we finally admit that he's the best player in the world. His Finals performance was horrendous almost to the point that it was difficult to watch, but LeBron was one of the best crunch time players in the league last year right up until he met the Big German, so to leave him off this list entirely would just be irresponsible.

7. Carmelo Anthony - If you told me that I had to pick one player to shoot for me with the game on the line, Melo would get serious consideration. But a clutch player has to be clutch on both ends of the floor, and until Carmelo improves his defense I can't rank him much higher than this. We all know what he can do for you offensively in big time situations, and I actually just recently witnessed another Melo moment as he handed the Washington Wizards perhaps their most heart-breaking loss of their pitiful season.

6. Kevin Durant - Durant surpassed Kobe Bryant in many people's eyes last season as the most prolific scorer in the NBA. He's 6'10" and can comfortably pull up from 30 feet beyond the basket. That's just terrifying, especially for those who have to guard the Durantula in crunch time. Per 48 minutes of crunch time last year, Durant averaged 44.2 points and 11.6 rebounds while shooting 40.6% from the field. He's also provided perhaps the best highlight so far from the 2011-2012 season.

5. Dwayne Wade - One of the biggest problems I have with the Big 3 in Miami is that we'll perhaps never again get to see Dwayne Wade carry a team, because he was as fearless and dominant down the stretch as you can possibly be as the leading man for the Heat. Unlike Carmelo, he dominated not only on the offensive end but on the defensive end as well, and he was and still is one of the most hard working and team oriented guys in the league. Maybe he figured that with one of the most impressive Finals performances of all time already on his resume, he could just focus on adding more rings with this super team, but regardless his game winners from here on out won't be quite as sweet knowing that LeBron James and Chris Bosh are also demanding coverage.

4. Derrick Rose - Given their bodies of work, it's hard to justify putting Rose over Wade here, but based on what Rose did last season (in both the regular season and the playoffs) and what he's been doing this season, I have confidence that Rose will be the better clutch performer from this point forward. Per 48 minutes of crunch time last year, Rose averaged 47.8 points (2nd in the NBA), 10.4 rebounds and 9.8 assists. I'm usually not the biggest fan of offenses that stall and just depend on one player down the stretch, but Rose has a burst to the rim that I've never seen before, and there's a good chance that he's gonna get fouled, make an unbelievable layup, or find a wide open teammate when he gets the ball in crunch time.

3. Dirk Nowitzki - Considering that last year's finals drew the highest ratings for an NBA series since 2000, chances are I don't need to explain to you the clutch abilities of the Big German. Dirk had always been an unstoppable offensive force, but he really improved on his defense and rebounding last season and coupled with his beautiful, unblockable stroke it made him the most dominant player in the league. It doesn't get more clutch than his game winner in Game 2 last year.

2. Kobe Bryant - The Black Mamba is famous for his clutch shot making. Ask just about any coach, player, or fan who they'd want taking the final shot of a game, and they'll answer Kobe Bryant. He has five rings and hundreds of clutch shots on his resume, including my personal favorite the big time three pointer he made to seal the game against Spain in the Olympic Final. So considering all of this, how could I possibly have him ranked second? Like I said earlier, I'm not the biggest fan of offenses that stall down the stretch and depend on just one player. Kobe takes almost every shot in the last five minutes of Laker games, and he usually has one or two people in his face while he does. It's pretty easy to play defense against a player like that. He's the best in the world at making those shots, which is why it's never a bad shot when he shoots a twenty-foot fadeaway, but there could be a better shot out there, considering he usually has Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum with one on one match ups in these situations. If this were a list of clutch shooters, I'd have Kobe first, but considering the team aspect of the game, I think there's one player who gives his team a better chance to score down the stretch.

1. Chris Paul - With five minutes left in a close game, there's no one I'd rather have on my team than Chris Paul. He's dominant defensively, and offensively he's one of the last of a dying breed of true point guards. I love watching Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook, but there's no one else in the league who controls a game the way that Paul does. He can score thirty, but can also dish out twenty assists in any given game. That puts an incredible amount of pressure on a defense when things get tight, because unlike other superstars he's not always looking to shoot. For anyone who's forgotten exactly how good CP3 is, I suggest you watch the highlights of Game 1 against the Lakers last year, which was one of the best games I've ever seen by a point guard. The fact that this completely revamped Clippers team has started out 7-4, unlike the Miami Heat who started 9-8 last year, points out how easy Paul is to play with. He's not only dominant by himself, but he puts his teammates in the best position possible. I'll take Paul in the clutch on my team.

David Nalbandian or Freakshow from Harold and Kumar?

So, I am tuned into the Isner/Nalbandian match, and I can't help but wonder--am I the only one out there who thinks David Nalbandian looks like Freakshow from Harold and Kumar?  They definitely resemble each other, especially when Nalbandian gets all fired up after he wins a point.  And don't take this as an insult to Nalbandian either--Freakshow has an incredibly hot wife.  Below is the entire scene with Freakshow from Harold and Kumar.  It is definitely worth watching.

Also, I'm really hoping for another 70-68 final set from Isner, as we saw from him against Mahut during Wimbledon 2010.  We can only hope.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

2012 NFL Draft: Top Players by Position- Wide Receivers

by John Huffstetler

1) Justin Blackmon- Oklahoma St.- If Blackmon were in the NFL right now, he would be a pro bowler. His talent is absurd. I've heard the talking heads on ESPN compare him to Terrell Owens, but Owens never had the hands that Blackmon displays. He's a better version of Owens, with his size and strength and with better ability to catch the football and run routes. He should be drafted between picks 2 and 5 and any later would be a steal.

2) Alshon Jeffrey- South Carolina- I've seen Jeffrey listed as low as the 5th rated receiver, which is absurd. His size and ability to leap for the football is reminiscent of Calvin Johnson when he entered the draft early from Georgia Tech. Jeffrey never had an elite quarterback throwing him the ball at South Carolina either. Give Jeffrey a QB who can somewhat consistently get him the ball on fade patterns and deep-ins and he will put up terrific numbers on the next level. He's a top 15 talent overall and a clear top-2 receiver in the draft.

3) Michael Floyd- Notre Dame- Floyd performed consistently well for his entire 4-year career in South Bend despite some early injury issues. He showed an ability in his impressive senior season to generate first downs as a possession receiver, racking up 100 receptions. Floyd will be a terrific receiver on the next level and should be considered by teams in the mid-to-late first round.

4) Kendall Wright- Baylor- Of the top 4 receivers in this draft, Wright has the most "boom" or "bust" potential. He could turn into a great speed and slot receiver in the mold of a Mike Wallace; however, his statistics could be the result of Art Briles' system at Baylor. I tend to think he will be a good receiver in the league because of his ability to extend the defense with his top-level speed. Because he is a riskier selection than Blackmon, Jeffrey and Floyd, I wouldn't draft him until early second round. He will most likely be drafted sooner, however, because he is the best quick, slot receiver in the draft by far.

5) Mohamed Sanu- Rutgers- What a season Sanu had in 2011, even though Rutgers split QB duties between two below-average QB's, gaining 1,206 yards on 115 receptions. He's also shown an ability in past years to gain yards on the ground by running reverses or lining up in the backfield. He gained 309 yards on the ground with 4 rushing touchdowns in 2010, and 346 yards and 5 td's in 2009. He uses this ability to break tackles to gain yards after the catch and will continue to do so in the NFL. I think Sanu should be drafted near Wright in the early second round.

6) T.Y. Hilton- Florida International- There are many candidates to be the second-best speed receiver in the draft but I prefer Hilton. Not only did Hilton gain 1,038 yards on 72 receptions, but Hilton also finished the year 7th in kickoff return average and 16th in punt return average. He can be an elite asset for any team on both offense and special teams. Many projections list Hilton as a 3rd or 4th round pick, but I think he's a 2nd round talent and the most underrated receiver in the draft.

7) Rueben Randle- LSU- The sheer athleticism alone warrants a high draft pick. He's not the most polished in the draft, but he's made some amazing circus catches in his career. He has the potential to develop into a tremendous receiver in the league with some maturation and practice. He's probably worth a look in the early 3rd round.

8) Chris Givens- Wake Forest-We're at the point in the draft here where the elite possession receivers are gone, but the speed guys with "questionable size" remain on the board. These are the guys teams should be looking at now to help improve their passing game. Givens fit this mold at only 6 feet even with excellent ability to find space using crisp route-running skills. He can be a tremendous slot receiver on the next level with his speed.

9) A.J. Jenkins- Illinois- With how bad the rest of Illinois offense was the 2nd half of the season, it's amazing Jenkins reached 90 receptions on the year. He was the lone bright spot on this poor offense, managing 10 games of at least 6 receptions for the campaign. He has great speed and can catch anything that comes near him, but could use some better strength to improve his blocking and ability to create separation. He will, nonetheless, be a terrific slot/speed receiver in the NFL.

10) Joe Adams- Arkansas- I could easily have put his Arkansas teammate, Jarius Wright, here as well, but I prefer Adams' ability to change the game on special teams. Although Wright is a much better receiver, Adams finished the season 6th in punt return average and first in the nation with 4 punt return TD's. He also has the potential to be a big play receiver in the passing game. In 2010, he averaged 16.3 yards per reception while pulling in 50 balls for 813 yards. He has the potential to be a Devin Hester-like big play contributor on offense and special teams.

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2012 Australian Open Tennis Live Blog- Day 3

Tuesday 7:45 PM EST- Fish vs. Falla- Falla leads 4-3 up a break in the first set- Fish just broke back to even the first set at 3-3, but Falla immediately responded with another break. Fish played a terrific first round match, securing an easy victory over Gilles Muller. Falla, the tricky left from Colombia, appears prepared to offer more resistance to Fish this round

8:01 PM EST- Fish vs. Falla- Match tied at 5-5 in the first- Fish just broke Falla's serve as he attempted to serve out the set. It will be interesting to see how Falla responds as a player with a history of mental lapses at key moments in big matches.

8:20 PM EST- Fish vs. Falla- Falla leads 7-6- Falla rallied nicely winning the tiebreaker to secure a critical first set from his perspective. Fish appeared to be the tighter of the two players in breaker, shanking several ugly groundstrokes and complaining about his shoes in between points. Fish has now changed shoes before the start of the second set.

9:00 PM EST- Fish vs. Falla- Falla leads 7-6, 6-3- Falla plays a terrific second set to take a 2-0 lead over Fish. Fish has his work cut out for him if he wants to win this, as Falla is moving beautifully side-to-side and hitting consistent, well-placed groundstrokes.

9:14 PM EST- Anderson vs. Stakhovsky- Score tied 3-6, 6-1, 5-6 (On serve)- Stakhovsky just broke Anderson to even up the match in the third set. This is an interesting match-up because both players have a similar attacking style and love to take control of the point by coming to net.

9:59 PM EST- Fish vs. Falla- Falla leads 7-6, 6-3, 6-6- Falla and Fish head for a tiebreaker in the 3rd set. Falla hasn't been playing his best tennis since calling for the trainer up a break at 3-2 earlier in the set. The injury appeared to be just leg cramps, but closing out the match here is critical.

10:08 PM EST- Nadal vs. Haas- Nadal leads 4-0- Nadal makes an early statement by taking a commanding two-break lead over the veteran German. This match should be quick.

10:10 PM EST- Anderson vs. Stakhovsky- Anderson wins 3-6, 6-1, 7-6, 6-3- Anderson closes out a hard-fought match against Stakhovsky. He will now face Tomas Berdych in the third round in what could be a terrific match. Anderson had a 26-13 main draw hard court record last year.

10:14 PM EST- Fish vs. Falla- Falla wins 7-6, 6-3, 7-6- Wow, Falla pulled it off and in impressive fashion. He looked relaxed and poised in both of the critical tiebreakers. Falla will now face Philipp Kohlschreiber in the 3rd round for a shot at probable 4th round opponent Juan Martin Del Potro, who has to be happy with the way the draw just opened up for him.

11:08 PM EST- Del Potro vs. Kavcic- Del Potro leads 6-4, 7-5, 4-3 (Up a break)- DelPo looks poised to take a straight set victory over Kavcic. He has broken serve 6 times in 2 1/2 sets, and with Fish out, has an easy draw to reach the quarterfinals.

11:38 PM EST- Nadal vs. Haas- Nadal leads 6-4, 6-3, 1-3- Not surprisingly, Haas has shown terrific fight to stay competitive in this match. Nadal is playing at a high level, but Haas has broken to take a lead in the 3rd set, hoping to force Nadal and test his possibly injured knee.

12:09 AM EST- Nadal vs. Haas- Nadal wins 6-4, 6-3, 6-4- Nadal breaks twice to take the third set in impressive fashion and win the match. More importantly, he looks healthy so far through two matches. No doubt he will be watching this Isner/Nalbandian duel just under way at 3-3 in the first to see who he might be meeting in the 4th round.

12:17 AM EST- Isner vs. Nalbandian- Nalbandian leads 4-3 (up a break)- After dropping an early break to Isner, Nalby responds with 2 consecutive breaks of the huge American's serve (not an easy task). This has the potential to be the match of the day and I will be following it closely and providing updates.

12:38 AM EST- Isner vs. Nalbandian- Nalbandian leads 6-4, 1-0 (up a break)- When Nalby is on, he is tough to compete with. He continues to break Isner's serve game with relative ease, while fighting of some break chances on his own serve.

12:53 AM EST- Young vs. Lacko- Lacko leads 6-3- There have been some tremendous rallies in this match. Young has played relatively well with 12 unforced errors to Lacko's 13, but Lacko keeps tracking down Young's would be winners and hitting some spectacular shots to stay in the point. As a result, Young has only 4 winners to Lacko's 15. I don't think Lacko can keep up this shot-making and I expect Young to push this match to 4 or 5 sets.

1:08 AM EST- Isner vs. Nalbandian- Nalbandian leads 6-3, 3-5- Nalby's play can be so inconsistent at times. He just lost serve at love to give Isner a chance to serve out the second set. Nalby double-faulted once and wildly missed a forehand during the last game.

1:10 AM EST- Young vs. Lacko- Lacko lead 6-3, 4-0- Lacko is in complete control of the match now. My belief that Young would stay the course and eventually Lacko would stop making these difficult winners seems to be misguided. Young has completely abandoned any strategy and his now charging the net recklessly off mediocre approach shots and getting crushed. His strategy in the first set was working but now he has lost any chance of climbing back into this match.

1:39 AM EST- Isner vs. Nalbandian- Nalbandian leads 6-3, 3-6, 4-2- Nalbandian just broke serve to take a 4-2 lead in the third set. In this set, the points have more frequently turned into long baseline rallies, which favor Nalby's strong groundstrokes. Nalby has also stabilized his service games not allowing one break chance this entire set.

1:43 AM EST- Dolgopolov vs. Kamke- Kamke leads 3-2 (up a break)- Dolgo failed to convert on a few break chances early in this first set and Kamke just broke Dolgo serve to take the early lead. The rallies have been terrific thus far with Dolgo using variety of both ends and Kamke remaining steady and using depth on his forehand to force errors.

2:04 AM EST- Young vs. Lacko- Lacko leads 6-3, 6-1, 3-6- Young rebounds to grab the third set. After playing foolishly and dropping the 2nd, he played patiently and allowed Lacko to make errors to secure a well-played set. If he continues to play like he did in the 3rd, he could definitely push this match to 5.

2:09 AM EST- Dolgopolov vs. Kamke- Kamke leads 6-4, 0-2- Kamke takes the first set behind some steady play, allowing Dolgo to make errors (21 in the first set). Dolgo has broken early in the second, but he continues to make errors off the forehand side. When he does make his forehand, he's floating it short and to the middle of the court and Kamke is crushing it on the rise.

2:35 AM EST- Young vs. Lacko- Lacko wins 6-3, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3- An early break in the 4th set propelled Lacko to the victory. Young had a couple chances later in the set to even things up but failed to convert. The inexcusably lose second set from Young proved to be critical.

2:46 AM EST- Dolgopolov vs. Kamke- Dolgopolov leads 4-6, 6-1, 4-1 (up two breaks)- Dolgo has firmly taken control of the match by cutting down on his errors and driving his forehand more effectively through the baseline. His top level is as good anyone not named Djokovic on the planet right now.

2:50 AM EST- Isner vs. Nalbandian- Match tied 3-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6- Only one return point was won the entire tiebreaker and that was by Isner on set point. They head to a 5th set now with the momentum on Isner's side. Isner will need to continue and serve effectively and come to net to win this match. Nalby wants to establish long baseline rallies like he did in the 3rd set.

That will wrap up our live blog for today's session. Enjoy the rest of the Nalby/Isner match and the Tomic/Querrey tilt. We'll be live blogging once again tomorrow night.

Dre Kirkpatrick Cited for Marijuana Possession

Dre Kirkpatrick was cited for marijuana possession early Tuesday morning in Florida.  While this should just be a minor blip on the radar, NFL teams dont take kindly to this kind of news, and it should negatively effect his draft status at least a little bit.  While some draft pundits already had Alfonzo Dennard ahead of Kirkpatrick, I think this news puts Dennard ahead of Kirkpatrick on all boards, simply because of behavioral concerns.  Look for Kirkpatrick to still go in the first round, but he will be no higher than 3rd at cornerback on Big Boards until the NFL combine.

UPDATE:  Kirkpatrick was in the car with another former Alabama player, Christopher Rogers.  It is believed that Kirkpatrick is in Florida to train for the upcoming NFL combine at the IMG Performance Institute, but that is only speculation.  The fact that Rogers, not Kirkpatrick, admitted to purchasing the drugs may soften the blow to Kirkpatrick's draft stock.

Monday, January 16, 2012

2012 NCAA Tournament Bracket Predictions: First Edition

Unlike Joe Lunardi, we didn't make predictions before the season even started, and, let's be honest, these early bracket predictions are getting outrageous. Now, with the conference season under way, we can start to make some legitimate predictions about who will be in the field in March. The Big Ten and the Big East appear to be the strongest conferences in the country this year and they will probably field approximately 1/4 of the field. Without further ado, here are our first projections of the year.


1 Syracuse 19-0- As usual, the non-conference schedule wasn't too demanding, but at least this year they left the state once before January (at NC St.). The schedule gets tougher in the coming weeks but the Orange look poised to grab a one seed in the tourney.
16 Coastal Carolina 13-4/ Wagner 14-3

8 Stanford 15-3- Stanford is the best team in a horrendous Pac-12. An 8 seed is somewhat generous for a team that completely lacks quality wins.
9 Harvard 15-2- More than 2 in-conference losses could seriously damage their seed given the weakness of the rest of the conference.

4 Indiana 15-3- There are several quality wins already in the bank for Indiana (Kentucky, Ohio St., Michigan), but they should lose a few upcoming road games to drop them to the 4 or 5 line.
13 Oral Roberts 16-4

5 West Virginia 13-5- They've played the 11th most difficult schedule in the country and they have several tough games remaining. The committee in recent years loves to reward teams that play tough schedules.
12 Iona 14-4

3 Duke 15-2- Duke always seems to snag a one seed with a late charge, but this team doesn't impress me. With a down ACC, they might have trouble securing enough quality wins to get on the 2 line.
14 Nevada 14-3

6 St. Mary's 17-2- They still have Gonzaga and BYU on the road and the quality wins aren't there. Those games will prove critical if they want a 4 or 5 seed. I see them more in the 6-8 range because of the weak schedule.
11 St. Louis 14-4- The A-10 is strong enough that St. Louis can afford a few losses and still get into the field. This is a 4-bid conference this year.

7 Seton Hall 15-3
10 Purdue 13-5- All I want is to see Robbie Hummel back in the NCAA tourney. He deserves it after two ACL tears.

2 Missouri 16-1- Win or lose, this is a fun team to watch, and their pressure system makes them a difficult out come tournament time.
15 Long Beach St. 12-6


1 North Carolina 15-3- Remember that this is a prediction for where they will be in March, not where they are right now. Despite the befuddling blowout loss at Florida St. this weekend, UNC will turn things around. I believe they will beat Duke twice and those wins will separate themselves from other #1 seed contenders.
16 Albany 12-8/ Norfolk St. 14-5

8 New Mexico 15-2
9 Texas 12-5- They have a critical stretch upcoming with Kan St., Kansas, Iowa St., Baylor and Missouri in their next 5, which will go a long way towards determining their seeding. Right now, they lack quality wins especially on the road.

4 Vanderbilt 14-4- The committee will have to consider the Festus Ezeli injury early when determining Vandy's seed. They've only lost one game with him in the line-up.
13 Northwestern 12-5/ Memphis 12-5- The last two win, which more likely means out due to the freaky nature of conference tournaments. These two have work left to do.

5 Creighton 16-2- I could see the committee lowering them based on a lack of quality wins... beating Northwestern, Wichita St., and San Diego St. impresses me enough though.
12 Xavier 12-5- They probably shouldn't have brawled with Cincinnati. Their seed would be much higher right now without losing 5 of 6 after that debacle.

3 Georgetown 14-3- No one thought the Hoyas would be in a situation to grab a high seed this year given the players they lost last year. Maybe the players that left just weren't that good. This squad looks way more athletic and talented.
14 MTSU 17-2

6 Illinois 15-3
11 Florida St. 11-6- The easy win over UNC certainly improved their at-large chances. One game doesn't make a season, but a win of that quality over an elite team is tough to overlook.

7 Virginia 14-2- In other years when the ACC was stronger, UVA would be in consideration for a 3 seed. There just aren't enough opportunities for quality wins barring an upset over UNC.
10 Cal 15-4

2 Baylor 17-0- If the season ended today, Baylor would undoubtedly get a #1 seed, but I anticipate some losses before the season ends. The schedule was somewhat easy before January, as they have played the 229th ranked schedule in terms of offensive efficiency. In the next few weeks, they play Missouri twice (2nd ranked offense), Kansas twice (13th), and Texas (38th). They will be ecstatic if they play the next 8 games 5-3, but I think 4-4 is more likely.
15 Weber St. 14-3


1 Ohio St. 16-3- They have the chance still to rack up some big wins in a strong Big Ten conference. Keep in mind, one of their three losses was without Jared Sullinger at Kansas. The conference RPI will help them land a 1 seed.
16 Lehigh 14-5

8 Alabama 13-4- They always play a tough schedule and this year is no different. The committee will reward their tough non-conference slate.
9 Gonzaga 14-3

4 San Diego St. 15-2
13 Belmont 13-6- Belmont will once again be a tough out in the tournament if they can navigate their way through the Atlantic Sun conference tourney. I don't envision them getting an at-large berth should they lose.

5 Kansas St. 12-4- They're off to a poor start in conference play but they should turn things around and get enough quality wins to get a 5 or 6 seed.
12 Davidson 12-4- That road win at Kansas is one of the more impressive wins of the year for any team.

3 Florida 14-4- Florida has two quality tight losses to Ohio St. and Syracuse, but they need some more quality wins to warrant this seed. I think they perform well in conference and sneak out a 3 seed.
14 UCF 13-4

6 Marquette 15-4- The win at Wisconsin and the tight losses at Gtown and Syracuse are impressive. The remaining schedule isn't too daunting and they should be able to rack up wins and settle in at a 5 or 6 seed.
11 Temple 11-5

7 Wichita St. 15-3
10 Minnesota 14-5- They have had a brutal conference schedule so far, but they will get several quality teams at home before the season ends and I anticipate them posting some key wins.

2 Kansas 14-3- KenPom ranks Kansas as the 2nd best team in the country right now behind Ohio St. They're a questionable home loss to Davidson away from being a 1 seed.
15 Kent St. 12-4


1 Kentucky 17-1- Kentucky appears right now to be the strongest team in the country. They have a top 10 offense and defense according to KenPom, and they have impressive wins over Kansas, UNC, and Louisville. I expect them to be the #1 overall seed after dominating an average SEC in conference play.
16 Southern 8-10

8 Wisconsin 14-5- How often does Wisky have 3 home losses already by mid-January? Never. This team isn't that good and they will continue to slide.
9 Louisville 14-5- No team in the country is plummeting faster in the seeding than Louisville.

4 Michigan 14-4- The Iowa loss hurts with a tough stretch of games upcoming (Mich St., Ark, Pur, Ohio St., Ind, Mich St.) that will define the Wolverine's season.
13 Cleveland St. 15-4

5 UNLV 16-3
12 Iowa St. 12-5/Cincinnati 14-4- Just like the other play-in game, these teams have work left to do with conference tourneys adding undeserving teams to the field.

3 Michigan St. 15-3- Michigan St. has lost 1 game in their last 16 following early season losses to quality UNC and Duke squads.
14 VCU 13-5- I just had to put them in the field, but the Colonial is wide open this year and it's probably a one-bid conference.

6 Mississippi St. 15-3- Their early season "quality wins" over Arizona and Tex A&M don't look nearly as impressive now. That hurts their seeding immensely, since outside of beating West Viriginia, they have zero non-conference wins over potential tourney teams.
11 BYU 15-4

7 Murray St. 18-0- The Racers are the most highly debated team in the field because of their undefeated record against questionable competition. Any loss will hurt their seeding immensely and that type of pressure is tough to play through.
10 Dayton 13-5

2 UConn 14-3- They could use some road wins to impress the committee and they will get their chance with upcoming road tilts against Tenn, GTown, L-Ville, and Cuse.
15 UTex-Arlington 11-5

USA Basketball: 20 Finalists Announced

The 20 finalists for the USA Men's Basketball team in London in August are as follows:

Lamarcus Aldridge
Carmelo Anthony
Chauncey Billups
Chris Bosh
Kobe Bryant
Tyson Chandler
Kevin Durant
Rudy Gay
Eric Gordon
Blake Griffin
Dwight Howard
Andre Iguodala
Lebron James
Kevin Love
Lamar Odom
Chris Paul
Derrick Rose
Dwayne Wade
Russell Westbrook
Deron Williams

It's going to be interesting to see who makes the final 12-man roster.  There will definitely be some surprising cuts, as all of these players are supremely talented.  The key for the team is to find a good balance of slashers, scorers, and shooters, rather than simply picking the 12 best players.  Here are my predictions for the final 12-man roster.

Starting Lineup
PG- Chris Paul
SG- Dwayne Wade
SF- Lebron James
PF- Kevin Love
C- Dwight Howard

This starting five would have the best shot of any in London.  Chris Paul is a better fit at point guard than guys like Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook, simply because he has better court vision and passing ability to distribute to the other talented players on the court.  

The bench players below are ordered based on how much playing time I expect them to receive.  Kevin Durant is the obvious choice for sixth man, while Derrick Rose and Kobe Bryant will also see plenty of court time.

SF- Kevin Durant
PG- Derrick Rose
SG- Kobe Bryant
C- Tyson Chandler
SF- Carmelo Anthony
PF- Lamarcus Aldridge
PG- Deron Williams

Personally, I would rather have a guy like Iguodala over a guy like Carmelo, but on experience alone, I think Carmelo makes the team.  Chandler will also make the team as a big body in the middle when Dwight Howard needs a rest.  Aldridge is playing very well so far this year, and he would be nice to have to open up the floor for driving lanes, as he is a big man who can shoot.  If you take Griffin instead, you lack that mid-range ability in your second unit.  Deron Williams is the last guy on the roster, as he played well in Beijing in 2008.  He will need to improve his game mightily from where he is at this point in the season, however, with Russell Westbrook also on the list of finalists.

Players Left Off the Final Roster
SG- Chauncey Billups
PF- Chris Bosh
SF- Rudy Gay
SG- Eric Gordon
PF- Blake Griffin
SF- Andre Iguodala
PF- Lamar Odom
PG- Russell Westbrook

For guys like Gordon, Griffin, and Westbrook, their time will come.  Unfortunately, there are too many good players ahead of them to include them on this year's team.  They will definitely find plenty of international success in the near future.  Bosh, a member of the 2008 team, will be left off of this year's team for two reasons: the emergence of Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, and Lamarcus Aldridge, and his disappearing act in most games for the Miami Heat alongside Wade and Lebron.  As for Odom and Chauncey Billups, it seems as though their international careers will come to an end before London's Olympic Games even begin.

2012 Australian Open Tennis Live Blog- Day 2

by John Huffstetler

Monday 8:26 PM EST- Gasquet vs. Seppi
- The enigmatic Gasquet is once again playing an inconsistent match, winning the first set 6-3 and dropping the 2nd 6-3. His inability to put together consistent play despite his immense talent continues here in 2012. In the 2nd set, he had 10 winner and 16 unforced errors, and despite Seppi making just 46% of his first serves, Gasquet was only able to break once in 5 chances.

8:34 PM EST- Ferrer vs. Machado- Ferrer just rallied from a break down in the 2nd to take a commanding 2 sets to love lead over Machado. His footwork looks terrific (as always) and a deep run is a strong possibility again this year from the energetic Spaniard.

8:40 PM EST- Gasquet vs. Seppi- Gasquet is now up a break and 3-0 in the 3rd set. It's amazing how great he can look at times. His one-handed backhand is the best I've ever seen, but he never puts together consistent performances. Let's see if he can pull out this 3rd set in a match he should not lose.

9:51 PM EST- Djokovic vs. Lorenzi- The Djoker has now won 13 straight games to take a commanding lead. Novak continues to play terrific defensive tennis, as he has only allowed Lorenzi to get 8 winners through 2 1/2 sets. He might not even be tested in this tourney until the 4th round with the draw being quite favorable.

11:02 PM EST- Murray vs. Harrison- Ryan Harrison takes an impressive two break lead in the first set over Andy Murray. Harrison is taking advantage of Murray's lack of penetration on the groundstrokes and controlling the mid-court with heavy forehands. The young American needs to continue to attack and play aggressively if he wants a chance at this match.

11:27 PM EST- Murray vs. Harrison- Murray steps his game up to push Harrison late in the first, but Harrison pulls it out 6-4. Murray has the fitness and mental toughness to survive this early setback, but his draw is difficult and the last thing he wants is multiple long matches in the heat down under.

12:02 AM EST- Tipsarevic vs. Tursunov- These two split the first two sets and Janko just broke serve to take a 5-3 lead in the third. His fitness level is so string right now that barring injury, he can easily rally from down 2 sets to love against any opponent. The ability to not fear burning out late in matches is critical to success in majors because it allows Janko to play relaxed and fearless. Players like Tipsarevic, Ferrer, and Murray who don't have overwhelming shots can still climb to the top-10 in the world because of their great fitness.

12:09 AM EST- Murray vs. Harrison- Speaking of Murray, he just secured the 2nd set to even the match against Ryan Harrison. The spectacular shot-making Harrison displayed in the first set turned into errors in the second. Murray looks back in control and he should win this in 4.

12:17 AM EST- Youzhny vs. Golubev- This looks like the end of Mikhail Youzhny's career as a contender for any deep runs or titles. He loses in the first round of a major to a guy with a 4-8 main draw hard court record last year. I love his passion and desire, but this is not a good sign for his future in the sport.

12:55 AM EST- Stepanek vs. Mahut- Radek Stepanek just took an early medical timeout at 3-3 in the first set. This is never a good sign when a player takes one this early. Stepanek backer shave to just hope that he had a tape job that was giving him discomfort and wanted fixed early. This will be interesting to watch here. And as I write this, now MAHUT has called for a trainer! This is unbelievable. How often do both players ask for a trainer in the first set!

1:40 AM EST- Murray vs. Harrison- As expected, Murray rebounds to win this match in 4 sets. Harrison did manage to push Murray physically, which could create problems for Murray later in the week.

2:22 AM EST- Stepanek vs. Mahut- Mahut has taken the first two sets against Stepanek. Neither players appears particularly hindered at this point, despite the early calls for the trainer. Both players are attempting to win by playing old-school and taking control of the net. Mahut secured late breaks in the first two sets to win each 7-5.

2:41 AM EST- Roddick vs. Haase- Roddick just secured the first set against Haase. Last year, these two played here and Haase won the first set before succumbing to the heat and losing in 4. He needed to make a statement early in this match. It will be difficult now to turn this match around with Roddick having the early lead and the higher level of fitness.

NFL Playoffs: NFC Championship Breakdown

New York Giants vs. San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers and the Giants both looked like teams on a mission in their divisional round games.  The 49ers forced five turnovers against a usually unstoppable Saints offense, and Vernon Davis was able to score the game-winning touchdown with 9 seconds on the clock, a la Terrell Owens against the Packers in 1998.  But the real story in this game was the efficiency of Alex Smith, who threw for three touchdowns and ran for another without committing a turnover.  He has come a long way in one season under Jim Harbaugh's tutelage, especially considering fans begging for Smith to be benched in favor of David Carr just last year.  This team has completely turned things around, and you have to give a lot of credit to this new coaching staff.

The defense, on the other hand, has stayed constant, and they are as strong as ever.  Justin Smith looked like a man amongst boys against the Saints, and if he continues to play at this level, quarterbacks will not be able to get comfortable in the pocket.  We know, week in and week out, that the 49ers will defend the run well, but what has been pleasantly surprising is their ability to stop the pass and create opportunities for interceptions.  Vic Fangio does a fantastic job disguising coverages, and he sets up Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner to make easy plays in the secondary.

While the 49ers were impressive in their victory, the Giants were even better in a win against the Packers. This team walked into Lambeau with all the confidence in the world, and they backed it up.  I snickered when I heard JPP guarantee victory against the Pack, thinking he was just offering up some bulletin board material, but with the way they played on Sunday, he had every right to say it.  The Giants dominated in every aspect of the game, and I'm not even sure that the game should have been as close as it was.

What surprised me most was the Giants' effectiveness on defense, despite being unable to pressure Aaron Rodgers.  He had all the time in the world to throw, yet he was unable to find open receivers down the field.  This is a true testament to how far this team has come since week one.  Their defense, though not as good as the 49ers' unit, is playing at a very high level right now.

Breaking down this game won't be easy, as this is the definition of a toss-up.  What we do have at our disposal, however, is a Week 10 meeting between these teams to analyze.  That game swung in favor of the 49ers, 27-20.  Eli Manning threw two interceptions, and the Giants struggled to establish any kind of running attack in the game, granted they were without Ahmad Bradshaw in the contest.

The Giants have found success in recent weeks by taking care of the football, establishing a running game, and letting Eli Manning take over in key situations.  While they have seen success so far, these are all tall orders against this 49ers' defense.  While the Giants are definitely capable of doing those three things, I think they will fall short in a few aspects, which will be their ultimate demise in the contest.

Seeing the 49ers as home underdogs this week, it would not surprise me if Vegas leans toward the Giants' side for the upcoming NFC Championship.  Again, the 49ers will be fired up, and they will be playing with a sense of urgency as if they still have something to prove.  The Giants' offense was firing on all cylinders, but they were facing a weak Packers' defense that has been unable to pressure the quarterback all year.  The 49ers, on the other hand, get to the quarterback with ease, and they will make sure Eli Manning doesn't get in any sort of rhythm.  This will help out the 49er secondary.

The Giants' running game will be a non-factor, as the 49ers might have the greatest run defense in NFL history.  They will keep Jacobs and Bradshaw in check.  San Francisco will also win the turnover battle, as they have done all season.  They take care of the football and force mistakes.

When the 49ers have the ball, look for the Giants to control the line of scrimmage and keep Frank Gore in check.  However, the New York pass rush will be a non-factor in this game, mostly because of the play-calling of San Francisco.  Alex Smith releases the ball very quickly on passing downs, and the Giants won't have enough time to get to Smith, as long as his looks are open.

This game could easily go either way, but I think the 49ers will win the turnover battle, get a few big plays from the offense, and play stout defense like they have done all year.  In the end, San Francisco heads to Super Bowl XLVI, due in large part to an incredible home-field advantage.

San Francisco 27, New York Giants 21

Sunday, January 15, 2012

2012 Australian Open Tennis Live Blog

by John Huffstetler

Over the next two weeks, we will be updating a live blog of Australian Open news and notes to keep you informed on all the happenings down under.

Sunday 10:34 PM EST- Verdasco vs. Tomic- Dasco just secured a 2 sets to none lead over the young Aussie. Tomic looks a bit sluggish on the court. He's either feeling fatigue following his Sydney win last week or feeling the pressure of the hopes of the home crowd, but he's lacking pop on his groundstrokes and Verdasco has been able to drive forehands from the mid-court. This would be a disappointing loss if he can't turn it around and win at least this 3rd set.

10:41 PM EST- Berydch vs. Ramos- Berydch is embroiled in more of first-round battle than originally expected. This is my first time seeing the young Spaniard Ramos live and I'm impressed with his footwork and defense. He needs more pop and depth on his groundstrokes, but the lefty has game. Berydch will most likely still win, but Ramos is someone to look for to perform on the clay courts early this summer.

11:24 PM EST- Verdasco vs. Tomic- The Aussie takes the 3rd and has now broken serve to open the 4th. This match seems destined for 5 sets. Dasco is known for his fitness and ability to rally late in matches, but his ankle seems to be giving him trouble early in this 4th set.

12:17 AM EST- Fish vs. Muller- Wow, what a performance by Mardy Fish today. He just dominated a string opponent in Muller and only committed 12 unforced errors. He looks game for a deep run.

12:18 AM EST- Dolgopolov vs. Jones- Dolgo, my darkhorse title contender, is off to a terrible start, dropping the first set 6-1 to the young Aussie Jones. He's playing wild, sloppy tennis to this point, but he has a chance for a break early in the second set. Let's see if he can turn it around and play the tennis he's expected to play here.

12:57 AM EST- Tomic vs Verdasco- What a comeback!! Tomic wins 7-5 in the 5th to the delight of the home crowd. He received terrific positive support from the always terrific Aussie fans and they propelled him to the hard-fought victory. Not only that, Dolgopolov is down 2 sets to none, and the draw will come wide open for Tomic if he loses. Great day for the Aussies so far.

1:22 AM EST- Dolgopolov vs. Jones- Dolgo just took the third set to stay alive in this match. He has a long way to go to win this one, and no doubt the home crowd will be behind Jones.

1:28 AM EST- Baghdatis vs. Becker- Marcos looks strong early in his first match up a set and a break on Becker. His footwork is critical to his success or failure on the tennis court and he's moving beautifully. Looks like Marcos will be a factor once again down under.

1:48 AM EST- Dolgopolov vs. Jones- It's amazing how quickly a match can turn. Dolgo takes the 4th 6-1 and they head to a 5th set with all the momentum on the young Ukrainian's side. I would be shocked if he lost at this point.

2:20 AM EST- Nadal vs. Kuznetsov- The interesting aspect to watch here is Nadal's fitness. The news that Nadal will sit out a week after the Aussie received heavy public scrutiny, as people questioned his health. Here, he took the first set 6-4 and his footwork looks strong at this point. He does have a large wrap on his right knee. No doubt Rafa is hoping for an uneventful 3-setter here so he can rest those legs.

2:27 AM EST- Dolgopolov vs. Jones- My darkhorse is still alive! Dolgo wins easily in the 5th set. Jones completely lost his legs to the point where it looked like he would need to retire. You have to give him credit for gutting it out and putting in the effort for the home crowd. Dolgopolov vs. Tomic looms in the 3rd round and what a match that would be between two young phenoms.

2:33 AM EST- Baghdatis vs. Becker- Marcos closes out the match in comfortable fashion in 3 sets. He looks lively and poised to make another run. I hope he does because this tournament is just better when he's in the mix.

2:35 AM- Isner and Micthell- Isner just took the 1st set 6-4 over the young Aussie. Anything short of an easy 3-set victory would be a disappointment for Isner against a guy who had a 2-9 qualifier record last year.

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Ranking the Potential Super Bowl Matchups

Our NFL equivalent to the Final Four is set, and all of these teams look poised to make a run to the Super Bowl.  But what criteria makes for a great Super Bowl matchup?  The most obvious is a great story line, whether it's two brothers facing off in the biggest game of the world, or a rematch between teams who played only a few years ago in the Super Bowl.  Or would you rather see a high-flying offense matchup against the best defense in the league?  Here are our rankings of the most intriguing Super Bowl matchups.

4) New York Giants vs. Baltimore Ravens

A rematch of the 2001 Super Bowl, this would be a battle between two defenses playing very well right now.  I only rank this as the worst matchup because I think the Giants would come in and win this game by a few scores, just as the Ravens did in 2001.  Coughlin beating both Harbaugh brothers on his way to his second Super Bowl ring would be a solid story, but it's nothing compared to these next matchups.

3) San Francisco 49ers vs. New England Patriots

Classic battle of offense vs. defense in this one.  Although the 49ers were able to outscore the number 1 offense in the league, New Orleans, they would not see similar success against the Patriots.  Tom Brady and company are too careful with the football, and the 49ers would not be able to win the turnover battle by enough to win this game.  Despite this, I think this would be a very entertaining game, and the Patriots are such a polarizing team that plenty of people will become die-hard fans of the other team for one game.

2) New York Giants vs. New England Patriots

18-1.  That sequence of numbers still resonates in all New England fans' minds, and because of it, they absolutely hate the Giants.  The Patriots would love to have a shot at revenge, after the Giants and David Tyree ruined what would've been the greatest season in NFL history.  On the other end of the spectrum, Giants fans have grown to hate Tom Brady and the Patriots, mostly because of "Spygate" and certain comments made before the 2008 Super Bowl.  The media would eat up this matchup, and I can guarantee you the guys over at ESPN are pulling for this one.  Having said that, there's another matchup that has even more intrigue than the rematch.

1) San Francisco 49ers vs. Baltimore Ravens

There is nothing more heated than a sibling rivalry.  Nobody likes losing to his own brother because once you lose, you never hear the end of it.  That victory counts as bragging rights for as long you want it to.  And you know, growing up in a football family, John and Jim Harbaugh were fierce competitors.  There would be nothing better than seeing them go head-to-head on the world's biggest sports stage to find out which sibling has the upper-hand.  And I can assure you, if Jim wins, John won't be able to show his face around the family for awhile.  The only thing worse than losing to a sibling is losing to your younger sibling.  Just ask the other writers for "11-on-11"--they would know a thing or two about that.

So there you have it.  Please comment/subscribe.