Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Are Key Injuries Threatening to Ruin the NBA Playoffs?

NBA PlayoffIt’s an inevitable problem ingrained within competitive sports.  While we would love to always see the best athletes gather for ceremonious feats of strength, the injury bug can always take away such joys.  But injuries in the NBA this season seem to be widespread and could possibly extend a long-reaching finger into the NBA playoffs, which are set to begin this weekend.  Many of the league’s top players have battled injuries this year (some have seen their seasons end early) and these problems could eventually filter seriously into some team’s title hopes.

The problem with injuries in basketball is that each team has just a handful of superstar playmakers, that when injured, leaves the team a hopeless mess.  For instance, the Oklahoma City Thunder have the second best record in the Western Conference and have their eye fully set on a trip to the NBA Finals.  Led by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, these two key men make the Thunder a joy to watch!  But for much of the season Westbrook has been missing.  Despite Durant leading the team to a strong season on his lonesome, we saw their championship hopes ruined last year when Westbrook went down.  Let’s hope he can stay in the game this time around!

Another player currently battling an injury is Dwayne Wade of the Miami Heat.  The number 2 star next to the legendary LeBron James, Wade’s hamstring gave out several weeks ago.  Although he has returned fit, we will need to see how well he can figure in when the playoffs get started.  Should he go down, the Heat’s hopes will fall squarely on James.  And while some fans may enjoy this stern test of his supernatural merits, there’s no doubt that the team’s quality would greatly suffer from the loss of a key player!
Earlier this season, several good players were injured, and their teams’ fortunes were ruined.  Such tragic occurrences happened Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, and Nate Robinson.  And looking ahead to the NBA playoffs, there are several teams nervously hoping key players return in time for the season’s biggest matches like the Golden State Warriors' Andre Iguodala.

Injuries have become such a crucial part to the sport that the teams involved in the NBA Finals are often the ones with the healthiest crop of key stars.  When one of your big guys goes down, so do all your hopes!
Another problem related specifically to the NBA is that the playoffs and season are so incredibly long, pushing all the players to the brink in long-lasting playoff series.  With every game played, the injury risks increase as the players fight for points and rebounds.  While right now it seems that most of the key members of playoff contenders are returning to their teams and readying for the big games ahead, there are still a lot of questions over whether they are really fit enough and if they will last throughout the tournament.  Here’s to hoping for a largely injury-free 2014 NBA playoffs where we get to see the best players compete for the ultimate prize in basketball!

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The 2014 Mock Top 5 NFL Draft Picks

Mock drafts are an interesting endeavor.  Not only must one consider who are amongst the top football players available in the selection process, but we also have to think about which specific NFL teams are making those picks, and their particular needs and wants.  One must also consider the potential for big trades for draft picks and players that can totally throw any mock draft for a loop.  But with the NFL draft now just 1 month away, let’s have a go at deciding which players will go in the top 5, and to which teams they will go that are in such desperate need at the top of this 2014 NFL draft.
  1. Houston Texans - Johnny Manziel – QB – Texas A&M – The Texans are in dire need of a new franchise quarterback.  One year ago they were considered potential Super Bowl contenders with Matt Schaub under center.  Now he is off the team, and the Texans just signed Ryan Fitzpatrick, who if anything, resembles a perfect carryover quarterback for Houston to nurture their next franchise star.  While the jury is certainly out on Manziel, especially with his rambunctious character, the player is a local Texas boy and he has a heck of a playmaking ability.  Perhaps he is a reach for being selected #1, but I think the Texans would greatly benefit from picking up this potential superstar.  A move back several spaces may be in their best interest if they can still nab him, but the Texans need a new face, and “Johnny Football” would be perfect for them!
  2. St. Louis Rams – Greg Robinson – OT – Auburn – The Rams need to figure out if Sam Bradford is their franchise guy, and after 4 NFL seasons it’s looking less and less likely of ever panning out.  Injured halfway through the year, St. Louis needs to keep their man on his feet and having a potential Pro Bowl offensive lineman will do just that.  Robinson is a rock and will help Bradford have the time to hunt down Chris Givens and Tavon Austin.  This is a smart pick and one that could preserve their franchise quarterback and bring out the best of his abilities.
  3. Jacksonville Jaguars – Jadeveon Clowney – DE – South Carolina – He’s the best player in this draft and has all the tools to become a Hall of Fame NFL player, but the previous teams have larger needs to fulfill and already have strong pass rushers like Robert Quinn and J.J. Watt, meaning Clowney will slide to #3.  Jason Babin of the Jaguars was the team’s best defender with 7.5 sacks.  They need Clowney more than their burning desire for a star quarterback!  If someone intrigues them as a potential franchise star they may look elsewhere, but Clowney is someone with Julius Peppers-like potential and they won’t pass him up!
  4. Cleveland Browns – Blake Bortles – QB – UCF – Bortles is a special talent and has all the tools needed to succeed in the NFL.  The only thing holding him back is his small-school collegiate playing experience, but he did manufacture big wins against Louisville and Baylor (both nationally ranked 6th when they played) last year.  He proved that he can be a winner and a leader, and those characteristics are incredible valuable in the NFL.  The Browns have been a joke of a franchise for their entire existence this millennium and a superstar quarterback like Bortles might just make them relevant again…
  5. Oakland Raiders – Sammy Watkins – WR – Clemson – With Matt Schaub as their quarterback and a crop of receivers including James Jones, Denarius Moore, and Rod Streater, the Raiders could use a playmaker.  Each of those aforementioned players are decent pass-catchers who can make a play or two every given Sunday, but Sammy Watkins can take over games.  He is by far the most intriguing wide receiver prospect available and could help spark a resurgence in Oakland’s offensive fortunes.  Don’t expect Watkins to slip out of the top 5 as he is an explosive player and the best offensive prospect available in 2014!
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Thursday, April 3, 2014

San Antonio Spurs Getting Hot and Eyeing NBA Title

Life is hard when LeBron James isn’t on your basketball team.  You play all these games, compete against top players all season, make a tremendous run to the NBA Finals, and then fall just short of beating the world’s greatest basketball player.  Such was what happened to the San Antonio Spurs last year when their perfect record in NBA Finals was blemished by the Miami Heat.  But even with all that heartache, life goes on, and the Spurs are on the verge of mounting another serious title run.  Having amassed a franchise record streak of 18 wins, San Antonio looks ready to get over the hump and return to the top of professional basketball!

What’s so fascinating about this group is that they fly against all the traditional aspects of successful basketball teams.  Usually dominated by 1 or 2 key figures, most NBA Championships are won by the superstars in the game like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and of course most recently, LeBron James.  But the Spurs have challenged this manner of thinking and have won it all with a full team effort from guys like Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker.

And while that famous trio is certainly a boatload of talent, they lack that imposing superstar personality that so often accompanies the usual “legends” of basketball.  They succeed because they click so well as a group unit.  They also have a strong supporting cast led by players like Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Marco Belinelli, Patty Mills, and Boris Diaw.  Parker may lead the team in scoring with 17 points per game, but that’s nothing like the LeBron-led Heat, where James averages nearly 27 points per game.
This marvelous team chemistry got the Spurs into the NBA Finals last year, and was the vital recipe for championship years of 2003, 2005, and 2007.  Now 7 years removed from their glory days, the Spurs are entering last-chance saloon with their famed stars.

Ginobili and Duncan are both on the wrong side of 35 and Parker is already 31.  With the twilight coming in they realize the necessity of performing right now.  And that is exactly what has happened over their incredible run of 18 straight games.  Along the way they have defeated two of the Eastern Conference’s top squads, the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers.  This is no minor blip on the current season!  The Spurs are in it to win it!  Their 58-16 record stands far and away the best in the NBA, and they are blazingly hot this spring!  Can they carry this run on into the NBA Playoffs?

Obviously the Spurs will lose some games before the season ends, but this run suggests that they are for real and that despite their growing ages, these players are still hungry for a final championship!  Sure the Kevin Durant’s and LeBron James’ will be blocking their paths to glory, but the Spurs’ ability to work as a team represents one of the few clubs capable of pushing on to the ultimate glory in basketball despite not having a super talent.  Let’s see if the San Antonio Spurs can fight on and win the 2014 NBA title!

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Friday, March 28, 2014

Who Will Earn a Trip To the Final Four?

The 2014 NCAA basketball tournament has proved to be yet another wild ride to cap off the collegiate basketball season.  Just like every other year, there have been enthralling matches, buzzer beater finishes, and dramatic upsets as 64 was whittled down to our current Sweet Sixteen.  But all the fun is going to kick off again this weekend, and by Sunday we will know whose season has culminated in a trip to the fabled lands of the NCAA Final Four!  All the Cinderella teams and upsets aside, now is the time for the big boys to make their mark, and I fully expect several of the top ranked sides to make the trip to Arlington, Texas.  Here is your predicted 2014 Final Four:

Florida Gators – Not only do the Gators have one of the nation’s top defenses and well-rounded scoring options, but they also have the easiest roads to the Final Four.  Both Kansas and Syracuse have been eliminated, leaving their first match against UCLA as the stiffest test ahead.  With Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson playing great, Florida will be challenged, but the combined efforts of Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather, Michael Frazier II, and Patric Young should be able to see Florida through.  In fact, this team is so strong that they are considered by many to be the favorites to go the distance and cut down the nets!

Arizona Wildcats – Their first game against San Diego State should be a defensive battle, with both teams’ defenses ranked in the top 5 nationally (San Diego State actually is actually 2nd, though their schedule was far easier…).  However, Arizona has supreme talent and has been the most consistent team in the nation all year.  Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon have both been very productive and they should progress.  The next matchup against either Baylor or Wisconsin should also figure to be a great contest, but I think this Arizona team call pull it through.  They were awarded the number 1 seed for a reason, and I expect them to battle on to the Final Four!

Louisville Cardinals – I didn’t expect this team to do so well before the tournament started, but their play last weekend has brought back echoes of 2013!  With many of the same stars of last year’s triumph like Luke Hancock and Russ Smith, the school also brought in 3-point specialist Chris Jones.  This team has the best potential to repeat as any I’ve ever seen and will certainly return to the Final Four.  With a young Kentucky and either Michigan or Tennessee standing in their way, I feel that Louisville has all the merits of a nationally contending force once again!

Virginia Cavaliers – Disrespected by all the experts, no one thinks this 1-seed will progress past the Spartans of Michigan State, but I disagree.  Virginia is the ultimate basketball “team”, and while they lack a dominant star NBA prospect, their duo of Malcolm Brogdon and Joe Harris can shoot the 3-ball consistently while their squad can all chip in to help score.  But what makes Virginia so strong is their top-ranked defense that won not only the ACC regular season but the ACC tournament as well.  An NCAA title may be beyond them, but I foresee the Cavaliers putting the MSU bandwagon to bed and progressing past Iowa State or Connecticut and right into the Final Four!

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Top 5 NFL Free Agent Signings…So Far

As NFL free agency moves into its second week of existence, the vast majority of premium football stars have already secured lucrative deals with various teams across the country.  Meanwhile that second tier of less talented “squad” players continue to bounce around team visits, holding out hope for a big deal, but probably starting to realize that they may just have to settle for something less than spectacular on the payment front.  Nevertheless, I have taken a look at most of the free agents that have been signed so far and here is my list of the 5 top free agency signings this year:
5.  Hakeem Nicks – While his great play seemed to tail off in the last few years, the failure of the New York Giants has been the team as a whole, and therefore I cannot point the finger at Nicks.  With his quarterback Eli Manning playing terribly and getting little support from a non-existent rushing attack, the Giants simply had a horrendous season.  With the Indianapolis Colts, Nicks will get a fresh start with an incredible young QB in Andrew Luck.  Additionally, he will be gifted the opportunity to learn from future Hall of Fame wide receiver Reggie Wayne in his twilight years. The Colts are going places and Nicks will certainly help with his physical presence!
4.  Julius Peppers – Certainly no spring chicken at 34, many have forgotten just how dominating this player can be.  An athletic freak, Peppers might well have 5 good years left in the tank.  Another benefit in signing with the Green Bay Packers is that he won’t have to be the central playmaker in the defense that already stars Clay Matthews.  This pair of sack masters will probably revamp the team’s defense and could help them get over the hump that is the San Francisco 49ers and become Super Bowl contenders once again.
3.  Josh McCown – While not spectacular, the mature veteran quarterback is exactly what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers need.  While Mike Glennon showed some promise and smart decision-making last year, McCown is someone you can count on.  As the Chicago Bears saw last season, this player was able to fill in and played exceptionally well and consistently made good throws.  While he is already 34, McCown will be the perfect bridge player that will give the Bucs some time to groom Glennon or another potential starter down the road.
2.  DeMarcus Ware – Teaming up with Von Miller and the Denver Broncos, Ware will now be part of one of the premier teams in the league.  While Peyton Manning can keep up the score with nearly everyone, Ware will help make impact plays and sacks on the other side of the ball.  He is on the wrong side of 30, and is coming off of his worst season statistically, but this defensive end will now have the opportunity to play for a legitimate contender and could just push them over the top!
1.  Jairus Byrd – The New Orleans Saints were one of the few teams that actually gave the Seattle Seahawks a run for their money last year.  They already had a pretty stingy defense, but Byrd is a safety that can make the big game-changing impact.  His 22 interceptions since 2009 is right up there with the best defensive backs in the game, and he has a tendency to force fumbles as well.  With creating turnovers being absolutely key to success in the NFL, Byrd is the word that will prove to be well worth all the money spent to secure this deal!
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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Can Wichita State “Shock” the World with an NCAA Tournament Championship?

The best college basketball team isn’t supposed to be a squad from the Missouri Valley conference.  Not when there are major college athletic programs that invest millions of dollars in state of the art facilities and recruit all the potential NBA talent from around the country.  Perhaps that’s why the Wichita State Shockers remain ranked just number 2 in the country, despite being the only undefeated regular season team since 1991!  Yes, their schedule was softer than most major conference basketball teams, but wasn’t Wichita State the Cinderella team of the 2013 NCAA tournament, who shed their number 9 seed and beat both top-ranked Gonzaga and 7th ranked Ohio State to reach the Final Four? It’s not like the Shockers haven’t played (and beaten) anyone.  So could they actually finish the job this year and win a National Title?
Of course they can.  In fact, they should be coming into this tournament as definite favorites and a number 1 seed!  But that seed really means little once the games begin, especially for title contenders.  All that matters in the next game, and winning it.  And as we have seen over the last four months, the Shockers are really good at doing that.
Railing off 34 wins this season, the team is led by the same core group that performed that tremendous March run last year.  Ron Baker, Cleanthony Early, Fred VanVleet, and Tekele Cotton are each producing over 10 points per game, and have the talent and awareness to beat anyone.  Rebounds and assists are spread out amongst the team who click better than most, even those major conference teams laden with NBA prospects.  What is most inspiring, however, is the their ability to generate turnovers and steals on defense, and their ability to turn those plays into points.  With their defensive fortitude, Wichita State can handle anyone.
But it will definitely be interesting to see how they fare in the tournament.  They haven’t played a nationally ranked team all year, and have yet to really be put to the test.  They’ve hardly even played any close games, especially in the last few months of the season!  What will happen when they face a Duke or a Syracuse or a Florida?  Can they handle the pressure of a tight game?  Will they be able to adapt from playing against teams they can breeze past, or will the tough opponents send the Shockers into, dare I say, shock?
Needless to say, the incredible Final Four run of 2013 should be a major point of strength and experience for this team.  They clearly learned that they could handle anyone, and they still have that burning desire to win, as evidenced by their impressive 34-0 record.  Whether or not they complete the miracle and earn a shocking National Title for Wichita State, the team has competed at the top level for the past 2 seasons and is fully deserving of whatever glory comes their way.  While predicting a champion is always a tough and tricky science, especially with 68 teams to choose from, I think that if there’s a strong bet in this event that will surely have the casual fans rooting for them, it’s Wichita State.  Let’s see if these guys can shock the world once again!
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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

2014 NCAA March Madness News

March Madness Has Arrived
The 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball season has been riveting to say the least. We've seen everything from conference facelifts, to freshman phenoms, and even mid-major dominance. Although the final chapter is still to be written, this season will certainly be one to remember, and perhaps one that marks a turning point in collegiate basketball.

Conference Shake-up
Before the season had yet to even begin, folks were buzzing about the disbandment of the old Big East Conference. Teams like Syracuse, Louisville, and UConn, who had each won a title in the past 10 years, were no longer members of this historically successful conference. While Louisville and UConn remain in a conference limbo of sorts, Syracuse hopped over to the ACC to join the likes of perennially dominant teams, Duke and North Carolina.

Freshman Phenoms
What do Duke, Syracuse, Kansas and Arizona all have in common? In addition to having successful seasons, they are all riding the backs of talented freshman. Duke's Jabari Parker, Cuse's Tyler Ennis, Kansas's Andrew Wiggins, and Arizona's Aaron Gordon are all-but-guaranteed lottery picks this upcoming NBA draft. While the one-and-done crowd is quickly becoming a fixture in NCAA, the most exciting part is watching how these kids handle the spotlight of March Madness.

Mid-Major Perfection
Despite failing to obtain the number 1 ranking for any amount of time this season, Wichita State did not fail when it came to their on-court performance. The team did what no other team in NCAA history has done: go 31-0 in the regular season. While their strength-of-schedule has been debated ad nauseam, the team did make the Final Four last year, so no one should be surprised to see a repeat performance this March. The question is, can a mid-major finally cut down the nets?

Announcements
There is plenty to look forward to this March, for all basketball lovers. And although the tournament is still a few weeks away (the best place to watch is through the ESPN Full Court Package from Direct Television), the NCAA has made a few announcements to give the super-fans something to discuss in the mean time. One is the recent announcement of the Division III tournament's field of 62, which, although the stakes (and arenas) are smaller, the hoops are no less exciting. Another recent announcement is the new NCAA hand-checking rules, which allow more ball-handling freedom for the offensive player. It should be interesting to see how this affects play in an already tense tournament atmosphere.

Regardless of the circumstances of each particular season, college tournament basketball is first-class entertainment filled with genuine sincerity and determination. There's no wonder why the ratings are so high or that March Madness sports memorabilia is always a best-seller (don’t forget to check out all our great selection of autographed balls). With all the recent twists and turns in this NCAA season, the 2014 tournament seems destined to be a classic!


5 Preseason Favorites for the 2014 World Series

Spring training is well under way and baseball diamonds all over the country are getting readied for the beginning of the 2014 Major League Baseball season, which starts in just under 1 month’s time!  While the return of America’s greatest pastime is alluring and should fill fans of all teams with an abundance of hope, the harsh reality is that only several of the big-spending baseball teams will have any chance at claiming the 2014 World Series, or even contending for the October postseason.  Since winning championships is the ultimate goal in professional sports, here are the 5 teams most likely to win it all this year:
1.  Los Angeles Dodgers – The preseason frontrunners have assembled a team that is scary good, and it is probably just a matter of time before they win it all.  They have two aces for starting pitchers in Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw, they have proven and mature batters Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez, and Adrian Gonzalez, and they have the hottest prospect in baseball, Yasiel Puig.  Having had a great year last season that fell short in the NLCS, it is simply a matter of time before the Dodgers take home a World Series trophy!
2.  Boston Red Sox – How could anyone doubt the reigning champions?  Ever since they broke the “Curse of the Bambino” in 2004 the Red Sox have been a powerful team, and their work last year was tremendous.  Although Jacoby Ellsbury committed treason by signing for the Yankees, there is really only one player that matters and can lift the team to a championship: David Ortiz!  Big Papi can take over the postseason like no other player, and the Red Sox have proven their strength time and time again during the past decade!
3.  St. Louis Cardinals – While they never make the big buys and come out as obvious contenders for the titles, this team has simply put out strong teams year after year, and won the title as recently as 2011.  Their roster is solid from top to bottom and includes great hitters like Matt Holliday, Allen Craig, and Yadier Molina, while their pitching staff has always been good and is led by Adam Wainwright and Shelby Miller.  The addition of Johnny Peralta should definitely enhance this team and help them reach new heights.
4.  New York Yankees – While everyone outside of New York enjoyed their down year last season, this is a team that will buy its way out of any hole, and they look to have done just that this offseason.  While several key players like Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettite (both retired), Alex Rodriguez (suspended), and Robinson Cano have left, incoming stars like Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka will bring about a new and improved side.  Mainstays like C.C. Sabathia and Derek Jeter will also bring a great presence to this team.  Expect them to rebound and make the postseason.  After that, it’s all possible for the Bronx Bombers!
5.  Texas Rangers – It’s been roughly 5 years of heartache for fans of this team that have twice seen their beloved Rangers fall short in the World Series, and have been eliminated from postseason play in demoralizing 1-game tiebreakers and playoffs the last two seasons!  This offseason, the team brought in two sensational hitters, Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo.  Helping elevate their lineup to elite status with Adrian Beltre and Alex Rios, and factoring the solid pitching department led by Yu Darvish and Martin Perez, this team can certainly contend.  The main challenge will be getting over their painful recent seasons, but I sense this just might be their year!
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