Saturday, February 4, 2012

Super Bowl Preview: New England Patriots vs. New York Giants

by John Huffstetler

Think back to back to Sunday December 4th. The Giants had lost 4 straight games to drop to 6-6 and the Pats had struggled defensively in consecutive tight wins over the lowly Colts and Redskins. The following week, the Pats throttled a hot Denver team that had previously won 6 straight, and the Giants rallied late in miraculous fashion to beat the Cowboys and take control of the division. Neither team looked back after that putting together strong postseason performances against difficult squads to meet each other in the Super Bowl. Not only did the Pats lose to this Giants team back in week 8, but they also ended the Pats historic undefeated season back in 2008 with a lucky come from behind win. Those two games provide interesting background for this matchup between teams from states that traditionally hate each other. The line for this game currently sits at New England -3 with most experts split on who will emerge victorious. In order to dissect this complex game, let's take a look at the major factors that will determine the winner.

Turnover Margin

This is the main factor that will determine who wins on Sunday. In their meeting earlier this season, the Giants were able to pressure Brady, forcing him into 2 ints and 1 fumble on their way to a +2 TO margin. For them to win on Sunday, they MUST be in the positive on TO margin once again. Both teams had almost identical TO margins in the regular season with New England 3rd in the league at +0.8/game and New York 5th at +0.6/game. The most logical prediction then for the game would be a turnover margin of 0, which benefits the New England side as the more efficient offensive unit. Edge: New England


Obviously, the main injury concern heading into Sunday is Pats star TE Rob Gronkowski. He will undoubtedly play, but should he play at less than 100%, that would severely hamper the Pats offensive production. I expect that he won't be at full strength because of the nature of the high ankle sprain injury. The only other major injury issue for the Pats is OL Sebastian Vollmer. He has yet to play in the playoffs and even if healthy, he could play a sub-par game because of his rust. On the Giants side, Ahmad Bradshaw not practicing on Friday is a huge red flag. His foot kept him out of 4 games earlier this year and he purports to have had pain in his foot ever since those absences. If he suffered a setback and Jacobs and DJ Ware need to take more of the RB duties, that would dramatically limit their versatility at that position. Jacobs can run, Ware can receive, but Bradshaw does both when he's on the field. Still, the Gronk injury is the most severe. Edge: NY Giants

QB Play

Eli Manning will never be Tom Brady. Brady late in the game has the potential to turn a defeat into a win if he has any time left on the clock. The Giants either need to have a lead larger than 8 or run the clock out to not give Brady a chance to steal a victory. Edge: New England

Defensive Front Seven

The Giants front seven is playing their best football of the year at the moment with Boley and Umenyiora healthy and playing at high levels; however, so is New England's with Vince Wilfork dominating the interior. Wilfork should give the Giants interior offensive lineman huge issues inside. He will certainly command double and triple teams following his performance last week against the Ravens. Despite this situational advantage, the Giants have the much stronger front seven unit. Their ability to put pressure on Brady is integral to their success in this game, and they should be able to force Brady into some early throws and mistakes. Edge: New York Giants.


New England 27 NY Giants 24

This should be a close game and the line at -3 is unplayable. The game is too tight and the prediction too difficult with the health of Gronkowski in question. Brady wins the game with a late TD drive to revenge the loss in 2008. Enjoy a great game everyone.

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Friday, February 3, 2012

Fans Botch the NBA All-Star Starters (Once Again)

by John Huffstetler

In the least surprising news of the NBA season, voters have once again chosen the wrong players to start in the All-Star game. So why should we care, after all, its a meaningless exhibition game? First of all, it's a great honor for the players to be selected and many players go their whole career without earning an All-Star start because of ignorant fan voters. Second, All-Star game starts and appearances contribute to the analysis who how good a player was. When discussing whether a players deserves to enter the Hall of Fame, one of the first stats mentioned is All-Star appearances. So, although the game itself is meaningless, All-Star voting dramatically effects the perception of the casual fan. For instance, the casual fan might not realize that Carmelo Anthony is having a terrible year because he was still voted as a starter in this game. Not surprisingly, the big names in the big markets get the votes, while less flashy players are left out. Here is a breakdown of the All-Star starters and who was left out.

Eastern Conference

G- Derrick Rose- Chicago- I've made a big deal about how Derrick Rose is overrated because he won the MVP despite being an average shooter and passer. I have no problem with this selection, however, because Rose has improved his shooting slightly (56 True Shooting %) and no other point guard in the East stands out as a viable replacement. Deron Williams true shooting % is way down this year at 52% and his turnover % is high at 19. This next best option behind Rose is Rajon Rondo, who has improved his true shooting to 54.4 % (still behind Rose), but he missed several games recently because of injury. Pick: Derrick Rose

G- Dwyane Wade- Miami- Simply the fact that Wade missed 9 games this year puts this selection in question. In addition, his true shooting % has dipped to a below-average 51.2%. Although I love Wade most years, he does not deserve this selection. The rookie standout Kyrie Irving deserves this spot in a guard-weak Eastern Conference. His play coupled with the return of Anderson Varejao and Antawn Jamison from injury puts the Cavs squarely in contention for the 8th playoff spot in the East. Irving is averaging 18 ppg, 5 apg in under 30 minutes/game. His true shooting % is fantastic for a guard at 58.3% and his assist % of 34.7 matches that of Derrick Rose. Pick: Kyrie Irving

F- Carmelo Anthony- New York- This is the worst selection of the season. Anthony is having his worst shooting year since his rookie campaign. His true shooting % is only 51.2, which is well below-average for his position; as a result, his offensive rating has dropped from 114 last year to just 103 this year. His defensive numbers have improved, however, as his defensive rating has fallen from 111 to 102. Despite the addition of Tyson Chandler, who is playing at an elite level this year for the Knicks, the team has floundered to an 8-15 start because of the poor play of Anthony and Stoudemire. Josh Smith, Chris Bosh, and Andre Iguodala are all better options, but I prefer Ryan Anderson. Anderson's true shooting % is a solid 59.4 mainly because he's shooting 42.9% from 3-pt range. Despite his penchant for drifting to the perimeter, he is still rebounding 13.5% of available balls. His turnover rate is 2nd-best in the league (behind Matt Bonner) at 3.8%. His offensive rating of 127 and defensive rating of 103 (both above league average) indicate that the Magic perform at an elite level when he is on the floor. Pick: Ryan Anderson

F- LeBron James- Miami- He is the best player in the NBA and he's having a career year in True shooting % (62.1), Rebounding % (13.5), and defensive rating (97). This is an absolute no-brainer. Pick: LeBron James

C- Dwight Howard- Orlando- Another no-brainer. Greg Monroe is having a fantastic season in Detroit and he deserves to make the squad, but Howard is rebounding and defending at an elite level. Pick: Dwight Howard

Western Conference

G- Chris Paul- LA Clippers- His 61.3 True Shooting % is absurd for a point guard and the best of his career. His assists are once again near the top of the league and he's having a career low year in turnovers. Easy choice. Pick: Chris Paul

G- Kobe Bryant- LA Lakers- He leads the league in scoring, but he also leads the league in possessions used on offense. If a player takes the most shots, he logically should have the most points. Kobe isn't scoring efficiently, with a true shooting % of just 53.5; however, he is passing better than ever and playing fantastic defense this year. He still deserves the nod despite Russell Westbrook's and Ty Lawson's solid seasons thus far. Pick: Kobe Bryant

F- Kevin Durant- OKC- Career year this season. Pick: Kevin Durant

F- Blake Griffin- LA Clippers- Great dunks don't make you the best player at your position. Despite all of his easy baskets on dunks, his true shooting % is poor for his position at 54.2. He is rebounding well, but so are the other good candidates at forward. His defensive rating is around the league average at 105, and, by comparison, teammate DeAndre Jordan ranks 3 points better at 102. Griffin does not deserve to start in the All-Star game, and at the most loaded position in the NBA, he doesn't deserve to even make the squad. LaMarcus Aldridge, Danilo Gallinari, Pau Gasol are all having better seasons than Griffin, but I prefer Kevin Love. Love is shooting at a higher % than Griffin at 57.5, and his team is scoring more and allowing less scores when he is on the floor compared to Griffin. Pick: Kevin Love

C- Andrew Bynum- LA Lakers- After missing the first few games of the year because of suspension, Bynum has put together a solid year, despite his shooting % being down. He doesn't deserve this spot, though, over Marc Gasol. Their offensive and rebounding numbers are comparable, but Gasol is a far better defensive player than Bynum. Despite Zach Randolph's injury, Gasol has kept the Grizzlies in a position to make a run at the Southwest Division. Pick: Marc Gasol

Overall, the fans went 6/10, getting the more obvious picks right, while horribly botching three spots. The big losers were Kyrie Irving, Ryan Anderson, and Kevin Love who certainly deserve their first career All-Star starts this season. Hopefully next year, the system will change and the coaches and players will vote for the starters, not the fans.

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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Lando, Don't Come Home

Landon Donovan needs to finally end his relationship with Major League Soccer and join up, full time with Everton. For too long has he played in the minor league MLS. It is long past time to step up to the plate and go professional in the English Premier League.

Some would say his time has passed. He’s washed up. He’ll be 30 in March. Those naysayers need only watch him play for Everton on his current loan spell and tell me differently. The guy is killing it right now. He has started and played 90 minutes in all seven games, including two FA Cup matches, since joining up with the Liverpool based club at the beginning of the month. In those games, he’s recorded five assists, including two perfectly placed crosses in a 2-1 FA cup win over US National team teammate Clint Dempsey’s Fulham squad. Yes, Donovan has not yet found his scoring touch around the area, but he is just as dangerous coming down the left or right flank and sending balls in.

Side note, Dempsey is having an unbelievable year (and career for that matter) for the Cottagers. Ten goals and four assists for the American international through 23 Premier League games this year. Coming off a career day against New Castle on Tyneside where he recorded a hat trick, Dempsey scored his tenth yesterday in a 1-1 home draw to West Brom. If he could only replicate that for his national team…..

Now Donovan’s move to Everton could be difficult, as all contracts in MLS are owned by the league.  MLS will not let arguably its most influential, homegrown talent go across the Atlantic for nothing. Donovan has forever been the face of MLS. They would presumably like to keep it that way. Another roadblock would be Everton may still feel the asking price to be too high. In 2010, during Donovan’s first loan spell at Goodison Park, Everton management were keen on keeping him, but were later priced out by MLS, reluctant to give up its star.

Now, since the January transfer window has ended, and no permanent deal has been struck, we will have to wait until the end of the Premier League season in May to find out where Donovan will be headed, if anywhere. His current loan spell ends on Feb. 25, at which point he will return to Los Angeles and begin training with his Galaxy teammates in preparation for the 2012 MLS season, which begins on March 10. What a shame it would be if our best soccer talent was forced to play out his career in the doldrums of the MLS. For Donovan to make another World Cup run, with 2014 Brazil right around the corner, it would behoove of him to train and play with the best. Merseyside seems like a sure bet.

It doesn't get much better than this.  Donovan slides a ball through to a running 
Victor Anichebe for the goal in a 1-1 draw with Aston Villa.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

11 Ways That LeBron Can (slightly) Repair His Image

I ran across an article on ESPN today showing that LeBron James is having his best season yet statistically. I started watching some of his highlights from this year, and was reminded that he's the most talented basketball player I've ever seen. His combination of size, speed, quickness, and vision is just unprecedented. He should be one of the best players of all time, and an American hero.

Yet LeBron James is one of the most hated athletes in America because of one of the most idiotic PR moves in the history of sports. The most ironic thing about all of it is that in the years leading up to "The Decision," all LeBron talked about was that he and "his team" had to "make the right decision for his brand." When it came time for him to finally make up his mind, instead of expanding his brand he and his team succeeding in losing half of his fan base overnight.

Everything about it was wrong, everything except him leaving Cleveland. While I'm not a big fan of LeBron James, I have to grant him that. To me, he had no choice but to leave because just about every NBA legend who has won multiple titles played with at least two hall of famers. Jordan had Pippen and Rodman, Bird had McHale and Parish, Magic had Kareem and Worthy. The closest LeBron got to a hall of famer in Cleveland was with Shaquille O'Neal, who practically had to be wheeled out onto the court by the time they played together. And LeBron wasn't going to ever get anyone to be his "Robin" in Cleveland, because in today's free agent driven NBA none of the big names would have chosen to play in arguably the least attractive market in the league. His only chance for serious help would've been through the draft, but since he was always going to be good enough on his own to get the Cavs to the playoffs, that was very unlikely. I think that if he had announced his decision on twitter, released a statement on his website apologizing to Cleveland and explaining himself, and joined any team in the league besides the Lakers, Celtics, and obviously the Heat, the majority of people would've been fine with it.

But outside of leaving Cleveland, everything LeBron did was wrong. If you're going to tear a city's heart out, you just can't do it on national television, and you can't pretend like you only did it that way for a good cause. Everyone knows that he did it that way because he thinks he's such a big deal that doing it any other way would've been a disappointment to the rest of the world. Then came the whole "not five, not six" thing, where he just put as much pressure on himself as possible and added to the country's hatred of the Miami Heat.

This stuff has been beaten into the ground by writers and analysts across the country (by the way, when Skip Bayless tools on you, that's when you know you've hit rock bottom). But when I ran across that article on ESPN this morning, I decided to try to think of any ways that LeBron could recapture some, if not all, of his popularity. These situations are ranked by how effective they would be in regaining fans, and the number in parentheses is the percentage chance I give the situation of happening.

11. Stop Dressing Ridiculously (0%) - LeBron, stop wearing the stupid plaid pants with your bow tie and hipster glasses. Why can't you just dress like a humble professional, and stop throwing the fact that you have a ridiculous amount of money and terrible style in our face. This is just one of the many things that has built your pompous image, so recognize it, and end it. Where is his "team" in all of this?

10. Start Being a Bit of an Asshole (10%) - One of the things that makes it worse for LeBron is that he still tries to be the nice guy. He tries to be funny in interviews, he goes back to Cleveland to do his charity bike ride, he goes to Ohio State games and accepts the boos from the crowd. LeBron needs to stop trying to be loved again and start being defiant about his decisions. People like people that don't care. It's the reason that people love Kobe, because they know that he doesn't care about whether or not they like him, and there's something intriguing about that. LeBron needs to put his foot down and stop giving so many interviews, and start saying things like "I made my decision because I wanted to win, and if people aren't ok with that I don't want them as fans anyway." I think this attitude could do some reverse psychology on some people.

9. Be Seen with Tim Tebow (60%) - Tim Tebow is the most popular athlete in the country according to a recent ESPN poll, and he and LeBron have exchanged some friendly tweets in the past couple months. I think that most of Tebow's fans probably just assume that the Denver quarterback who always says the right thing was probably just being nice to LeBron, so if the two could actually be seen out on the town together I think it would be great for LeBrons image, and unlike the first two I think this has a decent chance of happening.

8. Be an Integral Part of another Gold Medal Team (80%) - Perhaps more annoying than LeBron James is when the US team doesn't win the gold. We have the best team, and it's not close. There shouldn't have to be "redeem" teams because we should just never lose. If LeBron can be a key part of another gold medal run this summer, and especially if he can play well down the stretch, he could gain some fandom back.

7. Score 70+ Points in a Game (30%) - It's harder for people to hate when you really just shove your talent in their face. Only five people in NBA history have accomplished this feat, and considering Michael Jordan only managed to score 69 in one game in his career, I think this could win him some fans. I think he's got the game to do it, especially if he continues to improve in the post, but it'll be hard to do with Dwyane Wade on the floor.

6. Enter the Damn Dunk Contest Already (15%) - Of all the things that LeBron does, this is the one that frustrates me the most. Jordan did it, Kobe did it, and LeBron won't do it because of the "injury risks." How is it risky for one of the most athletic people in the world to do something he does every day in practice with no one else on the floor. I honestly believe that he's just afraid to lose, because all he has is power dunks. And if that's the case, he's truly such a loser that he deserves all the criticism he gets.

5. Win Multiple Rings in Miami (65%) - Some people say that he doesn't just need to win, but that he has to be the lead dog for it to count. I think that's pretty ridiculous, because if LeBron doesn't play well there's no chance the Heat win a title. So if he plays well and wins a championship, even if D-Wade plays better down the stretch, he'll regain some popularity for finally getting over the hump.

4. Be Finals MVP (60%) - Considering that I think the Heat will probably win multiple title, I have to think that one of them will be with James as the MVP, which will obviously be huge for him. When the Heat are playing really well, which they'd have to do to win titles, it features Wade as the slasher and LeBron as the distributer and defender. Usually LeBron has the more filled stat sheet, and that usually translates to MVP awards, unless of course Wade is hitting every big shot.

3. Hit a Game Winner in a Meaningful Game (40%) - I'm talking about a big time shot. Either a conference final or an NBA final, preferably in a game that he's also had to lead Miami back from a sizable deficit, and preferably a game in which Wade doesn't play well. To LeBron's credit, he did hit that shot from near half court against the Magic, and he did have the best playoff performance I've ever seen in 2007. But we've forgotten about these plays, and he's got the worst clutch reputation in the league. A game winner would shut a lot of people up.

2. Take a Year Off, Join the NFL as a Tight End, and Be a Pro Bowler (1%) - Though LeBron has hinted at this several times, there's virtually no chance it happens. But just entertain the thought for a second. A la Michael Jordan, LeBron takes a year off and tries his hand at another sport. He signs with a team in November when the NBA season usually starts, and has a full offseason to get in football shape. He plays the following year as a Jimmy Graham like tight end, and has 18 touchdown catches. Though at first his haters are waiting for him to get crushed, he just shuts everyone up and solidifies himself as the best athlete of all time. I think he could regain about 80% of the fans that left him if he did this. It's a half baked idea, but so is the idea that he could regain his popularity at all.

1. Win a Title Without D-Wade (10%) - There is an opt out clause in the Big 3s' contracts, and imagine if LeBron won one or two in Miami, left to join a team without another top five player, and finally won a ring on his own. There might still be haters, but there's really nothing they could say at that point. The dream scenario would be if he went back to Cleveland, but I don't even think they'd want him. Maybe Washington with an emerging John Wall or the TWolves with Rubio and Kevin Love would be good fits. This is obviously a long shot, but I think this is the only way he could completely fix his terrible image.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Eagles Plan to Stay the Course: But is that the Right Move?

by John Huffstetler

The Philadelphia Eagles endured a tumultuous 2011 season because of several questionable personnel and coaching decisions over the shortened off-season. In order to replace legendary defensive coordinator Jim Johnson following his tragic passing last season, Andy Reid made two bold moves: 1) He brought in former Tenn DC Jim Washburn to implement the questionable "Wide-Nine" technique, and 2) In an unprecedented move, he promoted an Offensive Line coach in Juan Castillo to become Defensive Coordinator. Even with these coaching and scheme changes, many pundits had the Eagles pegged as a potential Super Bowl champion this season because of their high-profile offseason acquisitions in Cullen Jenkins, Nnamdi Asomugha, Steve Smith, Vince Young, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Jason Babin. In actuality, their roster failed to gel and their new defensive coaching staff struggled early in the season to implement their vastly new scheme leading to a disappointing 8-8 finish. The team only started to realize their preseason potential when their playoff hopes were virtually exhausted. One could argue that change this offseason is an absolute necessity.

Since the season ended, however, two key decisions within the coaching staff indicate the organization's desire to maintain the status quo. First, owner Jeffrey Lurie gave Andy Reid a tentative vote of confidence to return as Head Coach for at least next season. There is speculation within the media that Andy Reid might have lost the locker room because of the length of his tenure, but the organization decided to give him another opportunity. Second, Reid decided to retain Juan Castillo as Defensive Coordinator, despite the high-profile problems with the defense early in the season. GM Howie Roseman has also spoken of continuity and the strong talent prevalent on their roster: "You obviously look back and think that there are things you could have done a different way - draft picks you'd like to have back and some signings you'd like to have back. But when you step back and look at the core of the team, the blend of youth and experience and talent, we have an opportunity to be competitive and be competitive for a long time."

Is staying the course the best strategy for the Eagles though? In a recent article found here, I examined the rosters of both Super Bowl teams and found that they acquired a combined 63% of their key contributors (starters and key reserves) via the draft and spent little of their resources on high-salaried free agents (especially the Pats). They also managed to draft several key contributors in the late rounds and secure others from the undrafted free agent pool. Similarly breaking down the Eagles roster produced markedly different findings. Here is the breakdown:

QB- Michael Vick- FA from Prison
Vince Young- FA from Tenn

RB- LeSean McCoy- Draft- 2nd rd 2009
Owen Schmitt- FA from Sea
Ronnie Brown- FA from Mia

WR/TE- DeSean Jackson- Draft- 2nd rd 2008
Jeremy Maclin- Draft- 1st rd 2009
Steve Smith- FA from NYG
Jason Avant- Draft- 4th rd 2006
Riley Cooper- Draft- 5th rd 2010
Brent Celek- Draft- 5th rd 2007

OL- Jason Peters- Trade from Buff for 1st, 4th, and 6th round picks
Evan Mathis- FA from Cincy
Jason Kelce- Draft- 6th rd 2011
Danny Watkins- Draft- 1st rd 2011
Todd Herremans- Draft- 4th rd 2005

DL- Trent Cole- Draft- 5th rd 2005
Jason Babin- FA from Tenn- Signed 5 yr $28 million deal
Cullen Jenkins- FA from GB- Signed 5 yr $25 million deal
Darryl Tapp- Trade from Sea for Chris Clemons and a 4th rd pick
Derek Landri- FA from Car
Trevor Laws- Draft- 2nd rd 2008
Mike Patterson- Draft- 1st rd 2005

LB- Brian Rolle- Draft- 6th rd 2011
Jamar Chaney- Draft- 7th rd 2010
Casey Matthews- Draft- 4th rd 2011
Akeem Jordan- Undrafted FA 2007
Keenan Clayton- Draft- 4th rd 2010

DB- Domonique Rodgers-Cromartie- Traded from Ariz with 2nd rd pick for Kevin Kolb
Nnamdi Asomugha- FA from Oak- Signed 5 yr $60 million deal
Asante Samuel- FA from NE- Signed 6 yr $56 million deal
Joselio Hanson- FA from SF
Nate Allen- Draft- 2nd rd 2010
Kurt Coleman- Draft- 7th rd 2010
Jarrad Page- FA from NE (Released late in the year and signed with Minn)

Drafted Players/Undrafted Free Agents- 19/35 (54%)
Free Agents- 13/35- (37%)
Trades- 3/35 (9%)

As shown above, the Philly roster is constructed using less successful draft picks and more high-salaried free agents than the two Super Bowl teams. If you disregard their linebacking corps, which most critics believe to be below average anyways, only 14 of 30 roster contributors developed from the draft. This occurs largely because the Eagles have hit on only 8/24 (33%) of their high draft picks (1st-3rd rd) so far between 2003 and 2010 by my estimation. By comparison, the Pats hit at 42% and the Giants at 64% over that same time period, securing 12 and 14 quality players respectively. The Giants and the Pats also used most of their high picks on the offensive line and the defense, where as half of the Eagles hits were at the skill positions (Maclin, D. Jackson, McCoy, and Kolb*), meaning that the Eagles were forced to overpay in free agency to fill roster needs.

Perhaps staying the course isn't the correct strategy for this Eagles squad. They need to become better at evaluating talent in the draft in order to build a better core roster. When teams are forced to fill their needs through high-priced free agents, they can't spend as much money on depth and reserves; consequently, they can't endure the long season and the inevitable injuries expected in the NFL. Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie should change course and look to bring in better front office personnel and coaches that are capable of evaluating talent.

* Kolb is considered a successful pick from the Eagles perspective even though he hasn't proven himself on the field because they were able to receive value (Rodgers-Cromartie and a 2nd rd pick) in the trade for him.

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Sunday, January 29, 2012

2012 Australian Open Reflections

by John Huffstetler

Federer is Finished

At least as a major winner, that is. In his loss to Nadal in the semifinals, he played a nearly perfect match, managing to control the baseline with precise groundstrokes to both corners. Nadal also struggled mightily with his backhand, making several bad errors and pushing several short towards the middle of the court. Even with Fed playing close to his best match and Nadal struggling to find his backhand, Rafa still won in 4 sets. Fed is now 0 for his last 5 against Nadal in majors with his last win coming all the way back in 2007 at Wimbledon. He still wins tourneys in the best 2 of 3 format all the time and he can still win several rounds in majors, but he no longer has the level of fitness needed to defeat the best in the game in majors. If you look at the career of any great champions, they always fade in the majors first because of the extra set needed to win. Federer will finish his illustrious career with the 16 career major titles he currently holds.

The Player Who Will Inevitably Unseat Djokovic from the #1 ranking in the World is not Named Nadal, Federer, or Murray

Before the Aussie Open final, every fitness and scheduling factor favored Nadal. Djokovic was co
ming off a marathon 5-set win over Andy Murray in the semis on one day less of rest than Nadal, and Novak still managed to win. Although the match went to 7-5 in the 5th, every statistical advantage went to Djokovic. He won 193 total points to Nadal's 176 (which is a large difference in a match this close), he won a whopping 83 receiving points to Rafa's 56, and he managed 20 break point chances only converting on 7. Nadal had only 6 break chances and converted on 4 of those. All these stats point to won incontrovertible fact: Djokovic pushed Nadal much harder on his serve than vice versa, which is a major indicator of who is in control of a tennis match. If Novak converted break points at the 53% clip he has in previous meetings against Nadal, he would have rolled through this match.

Even a perfect spot cannot help the clear #2 in the world in defeating Djokovic. So, who can? Certainly Murray and Federer have both shown the ability to pull off an upset of Novak from time to time, but they can't reach the finals consistently because of Nadal, and when they do, Novak will still manage to win more often than he loses. This means that none of these players will supplant him as the world's #1. The thought of Murray achieving this feat as Brad Gilbert predicted this year is laughable. He chokes in every important match of his ca
reer. The player that will take down Djokovic is in the next wave of young talent. Alexandr Dolgopolov, Bernard Tomic, Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori, and Marin Cilic are just some names that come to mind that could make the push to the next level and challenge Novak for dominance, but that time won't happen this year and probably not next year either (barring injury). Dolgopolov in particular seems like a player destined for the #1 ranking in the world if he can figure out how to restrain his ridiculous talent, but for now, the tennis world belongs to Novak Djokovic.

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2012 NCAA Tournament Bracket Predictions: Second Edition

by John Huffstetler


1 Syracuse 22-1
- Despite the loss at NDame, they remain a strong candidate for a #1 seed.
16 NC Asheville 16-7 (Big South)(Previously: Out)/ LIU 15-7 (NEC) (Prev: Out)- By virtue of their road win over Wagner, they take control of the NEC automatic bid.

8 Florida St. 14-6 (Prev: 11)- The Noles have now destroyed UNC at home and upset Duke on the road in the last few weeks. Despite their non-conference struggles early, they make a huge jump based on their hot streak.
9 Harvard 18-2- It will be difficult for Harvard to do anything but drop in seeding because of their weak conference.

4 Vandy 16-5
13 Oral Roberts 20-4 (Summit)

5 Indiana 16-5 (Prev: 4)- Great quality wins, but the loss at Nebraska drops them a line.
12 BYU 18-6 (Prev: 11)- The ugly home loss to St. Mary's puts them right on the bubble. Right now, I have them as the 5th to last team in.

3 Duke 18-3- The home loss to Florida St. might not be costly by the end of the year if the Seminoles continue to roll through their conference games.
14 Nevada 18-3 (WAC)- The WAC just isn't what it used to be and the quality wins aren't there for the Wolfpack to move up.

6 West Virginia 15-7 (Prev: 5)- After a shaky home win vs. Cincy and a bad road loss to St. John's, the Mountaineers drop down to the 6 line.
11 St. Louis 16-5- A good road win over Xavier keeps them strongly in the field.

7 Wisconsin 17-5 (Prev: 8)- The road win against Illinois highlights a strong two-week stretch for the Badgers.
10 Temple 15-5 (Prev: 11)- The A-10 as a conference is losing credibility as teams like UMass and St. Bonaventure lead the standings, but Temple continues to play solid ball with 4 straight wins. The earlier victory at Duke helps the resume as well.

2 Baylor 19-2- Lucky for Baylor, almost every other team in contention for a 2 seed struggled over the past 2 weeks.
15 Ohio 17-4 (MAC)(Prev: Out)- The MAC West is dreadful this year, but the East has a few solid squads, and Ohio's been close to dominant so far in conference play.


1 North Carolina 17-3- The only loss since our last mock bracket was the injury to Dexter Strickland, who Roy Williams calls his best perimeter defender. This injury could be costly come tourney time.
16 UT Arlington 14-5 (Southland) (Prev: 15)

8 Illinois 15-6 (Prev: 6)- Illinois drops dramatically with their 3 straight losses, including bad losses at Penn St. and home against Wisconsin.
9 Cal 16-5 (Prev: 10)

4 Kansas St. 15-5 (Prev: 5)- They have two very suspicious losses to Oklahoma, but they went 3-1 the last two weeks and the Big 12 is proving to be strong at the top.
13 Long Beach St. 15-6 (Big West) (Prev: 15)- Their dominance in Big West play and the high quality losses by 6 to UNC, 4 to SD St., and 8 to Kansas show that this team is capable of winning a few rounds in the tourney.

5 Creighton 20-2 (MVC)- 5 might be their ceiling but they continue to impress with solid victories in the legitimate MVC.
12 Cincy 15-7- The loss at Rutgers puts Cincy squarely on the bubble, but they have the chance to earn several more quality wins to put themselves in a better spot/ SMiss 19-3 (Prev: Out)- The win at UCF gives them the conference lead. C-USA feels like a 3-bid or more league this year, and someone random has a strong chance to win the conference tourney.

3 Georgetown 16-4
14 Cleveland St. 18-4 (Prev:13)

6 Virginia 17-3 (Prev: 7)
11 Seton Hall 15-6 (Prev: 7)- They take the biggest drop in the past 2 weeks losing 4 spots with losses at Villanova and at home against Notre Dame and Louisville. They are in serious danger now of missing the tourney.

7 Wichita St. 18-4
10 Iowa St. 15-6 (Prev: 12)- The Cyclones went 3-1 over the past two weeks, highlighted by a huge home win over Kansas.

2 Michigan St. 17-4 (Prev: 3)- The UConn struggles allow Sparty to jump up a line. They only have 1 questionable loss all year at Northwestern and the quality wins are definitely there (Fla St, Gon, Ind, at Wisky).
15 Bucknell 17-6 (Patriot) (Prev: Out)- They enter the projected field this time because of an impressive win at Lehigh to take control of the conference.


1 Ohio St. 16-3- Huge home game at Mich tomorrow which could help solidify their #1 seed.
16 Stony Brook 13-7 (AEC)(Prev: Out)/ MV ST. 9-11 (SWAC) (Prev: Out)

8 Gonzaga 17-3
9 Texas 13-8- The schedule was difficult over the past two weeks, so despite losing 3 of 4, Texas remains on the 9 line.

4 UNLV 20-3 (Prev: 5)- The Rebels take SD St.'s spot here after the Aztecs lose by double-digits at Colo St. They played well in their sole meeting so far, losing by 2 at SD St.
13 MTSU 20-3 (Sun Belt)(Prev: 14)- A tight road loss to Vandy only improves their stock.

5 St. Mary's 21-2 (Prev: 6)- They earned a huge road win over BYU to establish their dominance in the now stronger West Coast Conference.
12 Washington 14-7 (Prev: Out)- The road win today at Arizona squeaks Washington into the field. This projection, however, has 3 Pac-12 teams in the field and they might only get one.

3 Florida 17-4
14 Iona 16-5 (MAAC)(Prev: 12)- Iona's bad loss at Siena drops them down to the 14 line. There are too many quality mid-majors this year, and every loss is costly for seeding.

6 Marquette 18-4
11 Davidson 15-5 (Southern) (Prev:12)

7 Louisville 17-5 (Prev: 9)- After some early January struggles, the Cardinals responded with road wins over Seton Hall and Pittsburgh.
10 Stanford 15-5 (Prev: 8)- The Cardinal lost two straight road games last week to Wash and Wash St. to drop them down. The Pac-12 is in serious danger of being a 1-bid league this year.

2 Kansas 17-4- The road loss to Iowa St. doesn't drop them because they did have a few good wins against Baylor and at Texas.
15 Belmont 14-7 (ASun) (Prev: 13)- Like Iona, Belmont drops down as well because they haven't been dominant in conference play and they need to be.


1 Kentucky 21-1- Probably the best team in the country right now.
16 Norfolk St. 16-6 (MEAC)

8 New Mexico 17-4
9 Minnesota 16-6 (Prev: 10)- After a 4-game losing streak, Minn has turned it around winning 4 of 5, with the sole loss coming at Mich St.

4 Michigan 16-5- Michigan has survived the difficult stretch of games thus far, but two key match-ups with Ohio St. loom large. A split could help them reach the 3 line.
13 UCF 15-6 (Prev: 14)- This spot is reserved for whatever random C-USA makes a run in the conference tourney. This could also be Marshall or Houston. I tend to like UCF, who has shown a penchant for upsetting major conference teams.

5 SD St. 18-3 (Prev: 4)
12 Memphis 15-6/Notre Dame 13-8 (Prev: Out)- The last team in the field right now by virtue of their impressive home win over previously undefeated Syracuse.

3 UConn 14-5 (Prev: 2)- UConn had a terrible two weeks, losing their only two games at home vs. Cincy and at Tenn, but they should still end up with a high seed come tourney time. The return of Ryan Boatwright from suspension tomorrow vs. Notre Dame should help their cause dramatically.
14 VCU 18-5- Last year's final four squad is starting to catch fire at just the right time.

6 Mississippi St. 17-5
11 Purdue 15-7 (Prev: 10)

7 Murray St. 21-0- A 7 seed might be their ceiling.
10 Alabama 14-7 (Prev: 8)- 4 straight losses, including a road loss to a bad South Carolina team drops the Tide dwon 2 lines and securely on the bubble for the remainder of the season.

2 Missouri 19-2- The Tigers are bordering on a 1-seed despite the loss at Oklahoma St. (a traditionally tough place to play).
15 Weber St. 16-4

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Dasagna Diop Free Throw Might Have Been the Worst Ever

About five feet short.  What's even more surprising, though, is that the Bobcats were only losing by 8.  As a Wizards fan, I find solace in the fact that at least we're better than one team.