Saturday, April 7, 2012

Why the Memphis Grizzlies will win the Western Conference

by John Huffstetler

The general consensus regarding the NBA's Western Conference is that Oklahoma City, San Antonio or either LA squad will advance to the NBA title. Most experts overlook the potential for Memphis to reach the finals, but they are the strongest, most well-rounded team in the conference. The recent return of star big man Zach Randolph has keyed a 7-2 run over their last nine games (following a 1-4 mark in his first 5 back while they regained their cohesion), including road wins over Miami, OKC, and the Lakers. In a conference littered with high quality post players, Memphis might have the best post pairing in Randolph and Marc Gasol. While Randolph's true shooting and rebounding %'s have dipped this year following his long injury, he is slowly regaining his form in time for the playoffs. If he can perform offensively at a level similar to last year where he neared the league lead in offensive rebounding while scoring 20 ppg, the Grizzlies major weakness this regular season (22nd in offensive efficiency) becomes a strength in the playoffs. Randolph's return also bodes well for Marc Gasol in the playoffs. The defensive and rebounding stalwart has attempted to fill the void offensively in Randolph's absence; as a result, his true shooting % declined 4.3% this season to a number atypical of Gasol's entire career. Randolph's return allows Gasol to focus on his more comfortable role of rebounding and shutting down opposing post players on defense.

The biggest reason Memphis should be considered the favorite in the Western Conference is their spectacular defense. They rank first in the West in defensive efficiency, which is due to the aforementioned Gasol and elite perimeter stopper, Tony Allen. He can single-handedly shut down the opponents best perimeter scorer on any given night. His presence alone gives the Grizzlies a chance to win any game because he can force a Durant or a Bryant to have an "off night" and earn Memphis a victory. Rudy Gay and Mike Conley have also proven to be capable on-ball defenders in the league, giving Memphis a formidable backcourt defensively.

The return of Randolph remedies the issue of poor offensive efficiency, but another major concern at the beginning of the season for Memphis was their lack of shooting threats. They rank 29th in the league in % of points scored beyond the 3-pt line at 12.7%; however, they recently added much-maligned former star Gilbert Arenas to the roster to give the team more of an outside threat. His addition to the line-up along with recent shooting improvements from Rudy Gay and OJ Mayo have sparked the Grizzlies once anemic 3-pt attack. In the games since Arenas joined the team, Memphis has averaged 7.16 3-pointers made, which is more than 3 per game higher than their season long average of 4. If they continued this pace for an entire season, they would rank in the top 12 of the entire league. Clearly the addition of Arenas has helped the Grizzlies improve dramatically from beyond the arc. With the signing of Arenas and the return of Randolph, the Grizzlies look poised to make a deep playoff push and potentially represent the Western Conference in the NBA finals.

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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Robert Griffin III Gruden Camp (Full Video)

In case you missed it, here's the video of RGIII's Gruden quarterback camp.  You really have no choice but to love this guy, whether you're a Redskins fan or not.  And I think Griffin is going to enter into a fantastic situation, similar to Cam Newton's last year, where the Redskins are desperate for a quarterback and the only place to go is up.  The difference between RGIII's situation and Cam Newton's?  RGIII won't have Steve Smith.  But he will still have a solid offensive line and an athletic, young left tackle protecting his blindside.

What I couldn't help but notice while watching this video is that RGIII always says the right things.  It is so refreshing and such a rarity in the sports world, especially when you have guys like Lebron James who somehow never say the right thing.  I think this kid has a bright future ahead of him, and he has a shot to be as good a quarterback as Andrew Luck.  Exciting times in DC.


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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Madden 13 Cover Vote - Elite Eight

Last week I went 6/8 on my predictions. I missed on LeSean McCoy, who I thought would beat Larry Fitzgerald, and Marshawn Lynch, who I thought would upset Aaron Rodgers. McCoy is kind of upsetting as an Eagles fan, but he wouldn't have beaten Cam Newton anyway.

For voting reference, here's a list of the previous winners...
2001 - Eddie George, Titans
2002 - Daunte Culpepper, Vikings
2003 - Marshall Faulk, Rams
2004 - Michael Vick, Falcons
2005 - Ray Lewis, Ravens
2006 - Donovan McNabb, Eagles
2007 - Shaun Alexander, Seahawks
2008 - Vince Young, Titans
2009 - Brett Favre, Packers
2010 - Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals/Troy Polamalu, Steelers
2011 - Drew Brees, Saints
2012 - Peyton Hillis - Browns

Here are thoughts and predictions for the elite eight...

Left Bracket

1. Cam Newton v.s. 4. Larry Fitzgerald - This shouldn't be close. Fitz is a veteran who has already been on the cover while Newton is a rising star.
My Vote - Cam Newton
Prediction - Cam Newton

11. Patrick Willis v.s. 2. Victor Cruz - This is a really close call. Both are likable rising stars, and both would be the second player at their position to grace the cover. I love the idea of Willis on the cover, but I like Cruz too much not to vote for him.
My Vote - Victor Cruz
Prediction - Victor Cruz

Right Bracket

1. Aaron Rodgers v.s. 5. Ray Rice - I predicted Rodgers would lose last week because I thought that if he couldn't win it last year, he never would. But now I wonder if America collectively realized their mistake and wants to make up for it this year.
My Vote - Aaron Rodgers
Prediction - Aaron Rodgers

6. Calvin Johnson v.s. 2. Rob Gronkowski - I'm torn on this one. I love both guys and think that either would upset Rodgers in the next round. In the end I have to go with Gronk, simply because a tight end has never been on the cover, which will be his main selling point if he ends up against Newton.
My Vote - Rob Gronkowski
Prediction - Rob Gronkowski

Tune in next week to see what happens. Or continue to disregard these posts and move on to the good stuff.

Masters Preview: Will Tiger snag his 5th Green Jacket?

Before we get started on our preview, enjoy a little golf music video from some of the world's greatest players.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, there are some very compelling story lines in this year's Masters tournament.  Let's delve in, and see if we can't find our green jacket winner in the process.

Obviously, the first name to mention is Luke Donald, the current world number one.  Donald is coming off a great performance at the Transitions Championship, where he shot a final round 66 (-5) and eventually won the tournament in a playoff.  Donald is also coming off a good performance last year at Augusta, finishing -10, good for fourth overall.  But he has developed a reputation for failing to show up when pressure mounts, especially in major tournaments.  While I tend to disagree with that reputation, there's really no argument against it until Donald proves himself on the course.  He's an incredibly consistent golfer, but I think he's going to need to take some chances to win this year, especially with Tiger at full strength.  As the world number one, Donald should be incredibly insulted, and motivated, that he is not the favorite in this tournament.  This is a chance for him to prove himself and his lofty ranking, but I just don't see him stepping up this time.

Another interesting player in this year's tournament is one of the guys moonlighting as a hip-hop star up top.  Bubba Watson has finished in the top 5 in his last two tournaments, and we know his length won't be a problem at Augusta, or any course for that matter.  It's promising to see how many greens Bubba has hit in regulation in the past two tournaments, and if he can keep hitting balls far and with accuracy, he has as good a chance as any to come away with a victory.  I like Watson's chances this year, even though he has never seen much success at Augusta, simply because he seems to be playing with a newfound confidence and swagger.  I'm expecting a top-10 finish from the young gun, and I think he will be disappointed with anything less.

It'd be tough for me to write this entire article without at least mentioning my favorite golfer. Ben Crane has had a rough go of it in his past 5 tournaments, and he has never played exceptionally well at the Masters.  Having said that, I think we could see the comedy genius turn it on this week.  I'm expecting a made cut and a final day run that puts him in the 20-30 range.  As you can see in the video to the left, Mr. Crane has been going through rigorous training in preparation for the Masters.

Rory McIlroy has to be one of the favorites this year, especially after his 3-round domination of the course last year.  Unfortunately, he coupled that with a final round 80, and he ended up outside of the top 10.  This year, McIlroy will be on a mission to prove that was a fluke, and he is dangerous when he is that focused.  Anything less than a green jacket would be disappointing for McIlroy, and I consider him this year's favorite.  How incredible would it be to see Rory and Tiger battling it out on Sunday, with Rory prevailing in a changing of the guard?  What would they call it?  Tiger, hear me Roar(y)?

Last year's winner Charl Schwartzel and always in contention but never winning Lee Westwood should be on the first page of the leaderboard, but I don't see either of them coming away with the ultimate prize.  That's because one man is standing in their way.

Tiger Woods will win this tournament.  I might be jumping to conclusions, considering he's had one good tournament in the past year.  But that tournament happened to be his last one, and his putter was putting on a show all week.  Tiger seems to be playing with confidence, and I think as long as his driver is mildly consistent, we could see him putting on the green jacket.  With the crowd behind him, Tiger will feed off the energy like no one else can and take back the title of world's best golfer, which he relinquished not too long ago.

Having said that, don't count out the Lefty, the magic of Mickelson.  Enjoy your weekends, and don't forget to catch some of the great action at Augusta.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Ryan Tannehill, This Year's Christian Ponder

Over the past three NFL drafts, we have seen certain quarterbacks drafter much higher than they should be, simply because of the extreme importance of the position.  In 2009, it was Mark Sanchez at 5th overall, after Stafford was selected and the Jets were desperate for a QB.  In 2010, it was Tim Tebow at 25th overall, who most pundits agreed was a 3rd round talent with a position change in his future.  In 2011, it was Christian Ponder, a man we didn't hear much of in college despite being the starting quarterback at perennial powerhouse Florida State.  According to recent reports, the 2012 draft will be no different, as many expect Ryan Tannehill to be selected no later than 8th overall.

Tannehill is the most perplexing quarterback case I have seen, simply because I just don't understand what scouts see in him.  He was nothing more than average at Texas A&M behind a fantastic offensive line that only allowed 9 sacks all season.  He was in a Mike Sherman pro-style offense against some of the worst defenses in college football in the Big 12.  So for all those "draft gurus" to say that he will suddenly develop into an All-Pro quarterback while under more duress playing a faster NFL game, I say they are crazy.

The point is--Tannehill seems to have skills, and he is definitely rough around the edges.  He could blossom into a good NFL quarterback, but you just can't spend a top 10 pick on a guy when all signs point to him failing at the next level, especially with the level of talent at other positions in this year's draft.  Whoever takes Tannehill is kidding themselves, because there are only two first-round talents at the quarterback position in this year's draft.

Potentially, We could see the Browns, Dolphins, Chiefs, and Eagles all make a play for Tannehill.  Some pundits believe that a team could move up as high as the third pick to take Tannehill.  The 1-2-3 quarterback punch isn't unprecedented, as it happened in 1999 with Tim Couch-Donovan Mcnabb-Akili Smith.  Not exactly the best precedent for these three quarterbacks.

If Tannehill is selected 3rd overall, he will go down as one of the biggest draft busts in recent NFL history.  Even if he is selected in the first round, he won't live up to his draft status.  You can talk about potential and skill sets all you want, but when you can't put that skill set to work in college, as Tannehill proved he couldn't, then it's very hard to see success in the NFL.  The guy was already destined to fail based on his collegiate statistics.  Add a lofty draft status and unreachable expectations, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Good luck, Ryan Tannehill.  You'll need it.