Thursday, November 30, 2006

College Football Picks: Week 14

After taking a one-week hiatus for the Thanksgiving break, I am back and better than ever (ok, probably not). But this is the final weekend of the regular season in college football, so there are games of some relative importance, including conference championships, and a game that will determine [in all likelihood] who makes it to the National Championship. And generally that's pretty important. But enough rambling.

(2) USC @ UCLA
It's pretty simple for USC... win, and they're almost certainly in the national championship. Again. UCLA has already accepted a bid to play in the Emerald Bowl (!) against Florida St., so all that's left to play for is pride. Looks like the Trojans are already making ticket plans for the BS Championship, and it's hard to blame them. Trojans are better offensively, better defensively, and a lot better coached. I'd like to think UCLA can win, and I'll be cheering for them, but my optimism about Bruin football isn't very high. USC 38-17.

(16) Wake Forest vs. (23) Georgia Tech
This is your ACC Championship game! Looking strictly at the team names, it seems underwhelming, but (as is obvious by the records) both teams have had very nice years, though it's hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that Wake Forest could be in a BCS Bowl. Georgia Tech has the best player in this game in Calvin Johnson, but the guy throwing him the ball hasn't been all that good. For the 4th straight year Reggie Ball's completion % went down, all the way to where it now sits at 45.8%. Make no mistake, that's pretty awful. For Wake, they're not flashy, they're not the most talented team, but they get the job done. I expect them to find a way to get it done one more time and continue the dream. WAKE FOREST 20-17.

(13) Rutgers @ (15) West Virginia
After both teams lost a game they shouldn't have in recent weeks, this game has lost a little bit of its luster. However, it's maintained its importance. For Rutgers, its simple... win, and they're in a BCS Bowl. Lose, and they're not. After losing to Cincy, they bounced back to dominate Cuse, and will be coming into this game highly motivated. Obviously they are led by their fantastic rushing attack and defense, with Ray Rice being a fringe Heisman candidate. But as good as their rushing attack is, it's not comparable to West Virginia's at this point. Both Steve Slaton and Pat White are over 1000 yards and averaging over 7 yards a carry. They've combined to run for 31 TDs. Pat White may not have a great arm, but I think the Mountaineer's come in with something to prove, and I'm not sure Rutgers will be fast enough to slow the offense down. WEST VIRGINIA 27-21.

(19) Nebraska vs. (8) Oklahoma
By a show of hands (ok, that might not work here) how many of you thought Oklahoma would be in the Big 12 Title Game after Adrian Peterson went down? I know I sure didn't. But thanks to the magic of Bob Stoops combined with the late season meltdown from Texas, and here the Sooners are. On the backs of a solid defense and surprisingly solid offense, they might be a contender for the national title if the refs in the Oregon game had made the right calls. But that's neither here nor there. For the Huskers, they have a balanced offense capable of scoring lots of points. Zac Taylor has been an efficient leader of the offense, while Brandon Jackson and Marlon Lucky provide balance in the run game. Oklahoma will try to pound the ball and run the clock, but I like this Nebraska offense. I think they'll have just enough to get by. NEBRASKA 23-21.

(4) Florida vs. (8) Arkansas
Admittedly, this game lost a little bit of luster after Arkansas lost last week, but it's still a very intriguing matchup between two teams with different styles. Florida can't really run the ball, Arkansas can't really throw the ball. With Adrian Peterson injured, Darren McFadden is the best RB in the nation right now. He returns kicks, he's got speed, power, and even the ability to line up at QB. Combined with Felix Jones, they have the best backfield in the nation. For Florida's offense, everything comes off of the passing game. Chris Leak is experienced, and when he's not getting pressured much extremely accurate. In short yardage, Tim Tebow's a weapon. What does it all mean? Well, I just can't get over watching that Arkansas/LSU game and watching Casey Dick try to throw on LSU. I don't know of many teams that are markedly better when their QB is OUT of the game, but that was Arkansas last week. Florida's defense is no pushover either. FLORIDA 17-16.

Last Picks: 3-2
Season: 40-20

Podcast worth listening to

Normally I'm not a guy for podcasts (or sports radio), but I have made an exception.

This one is run by a couple of guys I know, one of them being the writer of Divine Interception. But the podcast itself is called "The Sam and Sam Show," obviously starring a couple of guys named Sam, both of whom I've known online for awhile now and both of whom I can vouch know their stuff.

As from the site, their show this week contains:

Today, Jonathan Forman joins us on the Sam and Sam Show as we catch up on the ridiculous baseball free agent signings. Also, Michael Strahan on the prowl, Tony Romo’s “ancestors”, Carlos Lee’s weight problem, Mark McGwire’s HOF bid, Ben Wallace’s headband issues, the BCS and Week 13 NFL picks.

Today is the first chance for all you listeners to win free baseball memorabilia in 360’s Reel Baseball Giveaway. Our first question was announced in the show. Check it out.

A lot of what they say, especially on the topic of baseball free agents agrees with what I wrote about it, which only enhances their credibility! For example, it was pretty much agreed that Juan Pierre sucks and was an awful signing. Lots of great topics, lots of good stuff on there.

So there you have it. Listen to lots of good sports talk and maybe even win a baseball book. From what I understand you can even listen to it on iTunes. What could be better?

The Sam and Sam Show

Chris Paul or Deron Williams?

At the end of last season, it looked pretty obvious to a lot of NBA followers that the Utah Jazz had made a mistake on draft day when took Deron Williams over Chris Paul. Not that Williams played poorly, but Paul was just so good. He was the NBA Rookie of the Year, and in an even greater achievement, was named the first team PG on my 2011 All-NBA team (ok, maybe that's not the greater achievement).

But this year Deron Williams has evened the playing field a little bit. He appears to have lost some weight, is a little quicker, and is playing some great basketball for the 13-3 Utah Jazz. Which begs the question, if the Jazz had to do it all over again, would they take Deron Williams or Chris Paul? Let's take a quick look at the numbers.

First Paul, the incumbent PG of the future. He has continued to be excellent, upping his scoring average from 16.1 PPG to 17.9 PPG this year. Likewise, the Assists per Game are almost 1, to 8.6 APG so far this year. The rebound numbers are down a little, but still a solid 3.9 a game. He's also getting 2 steals a game.

As for Deron Williams, all the numbers are up. He's up to 17.1 PPG and 9.0 APG, which is 4th in the NBA (Paul is 5th). His 3-point shooting is down a little bit, but he's making 30% of those. Like Paul, he's averaging about 3 turnovers per game, for a solid 3:1 Assist: TO ratio.

So what does it all mean? Well, I'd take either on my team. Deron Williams is the better outside shooter of the two... his FG% is higher, and the 3 point% is much higher (and smartly, Paul tends to avoid taking 3s). As is obvious by the high assist totals, both are excellent at finding teammates and creating easy shots for others. Both are solid defensively, with probably a slight edge to Paul.

So who's my choice? Well, for all of the great work Deron Williams has done, I'm still on the Chris Paul Bandwagon. Williams has caught up to Paul in a lot of categories, but Paul is still better at getting to the rim and getting to the FT Line. This year Williams has gotten only about 3 FT attempts per game, while Paul has had 5.4 (and 6 per game last year). This helps obviously to get teams in foul trouble, but also to get easier points and not be as reliant on the outside game.

So while Williams is greatly improved from his rookie year, I'd still take Paul. But really, you can't go wrong with either guy.

If you were the GM of the Jazz, and you could go back in time, which PG would you take?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A look at the ACC/Big 10 Challenge

As always at this time of year, we've got some interesting matchups in the ACC/Big 10 Challenge. Historically, the ACC is 7-0 in these challenges and things point to them making it 8-0, but there are some intriguing subplots nonetheless. Here's a look at what happened today:

(10) Duke 54, Indiana 51
For all of the talk about Josh McRoberts and Greg Paulus, I'm not even sure they're that good. Ok, McRoberts is a very athletic big man, dribbles well for his size, and is a good passer. But as a #1 scorer? I've not been convinced. He had 7 points against the Hoosiers and is only averaging about 11. As for Paulus, I think he was ok last year when he didn't have to do much. I'm not convinced he can do any more than just be a caretaker for the offense. He can't shoot, he can't get to the hole that well, and he's not quick enough defensively to stick with quick PGs. Ok, Duke won, but that does not mean all is well for the Dukies.

(13) Wisconsin 81, Florida St. 66
Someone wrote this, and I don't remember who, but FSU is like the Michigan of the ACC. They always seem like they have the talent to do things, but they never do. I mean, losing at Pittsburgh and then at Wisconsin is not unreasonable by any means... but they've just looked so bad doing it. Wisconsin, meanwhile, looks strong as expected. They are deep, talented, and one of the top 2 teams in the Big 10.

(19) Maryland 72, Illinois 66
Very interesting matchup here, as Maryland snapped a very long Illinois non-conference home winning streak, continuing their great run to start the year. The Terps are now 8-0 and one of the most impressive teams in the country. With the Terps youth/experience blend, they very well could be the second best team in the ACC after North Carolina. Duke is down, BC is not playing well, and Georgia Tech is still very young. At the very least, a return trip to the NCAAs is in order for the Terps.

(24) Georgia Tech 77, Penn St. 73
I know the Nittany Lions have had a tough loss earlier this year to Stony Brook, but they're still a solid ballclub. Geary Claxton and Jamelle Cornley are one of the top duos in the Big 10. But once again, GT got things done. Javaris Crittenton scored 14 points and doled out 5 assists, while Lewis Clinch continues to just knock down shots, draining 4 threes on his way to 20 points. Nice win for the Yellow Jackets as they try to distance themselves a little from the middle of the pack in the ACC.

Northwestern 61, Miami 59
Move along, nothing to see here.

ACC holds the 4-2 lead so far, with a few more games remaining. Here are the games to be played Wednesday, with my picks in bold.

Michigan St. @ Boston College
Iowa @ Virginia Tech
Virginia @ Purdue
Ohio St. @ North Carolina
Clemson @ Minnesota

Monday, November 27, 2006

What has been the worst FA signing so far this offseason?

Call it inflation. Call it teams having money to spend. Call it whatever you want. But there's no denying that there are some awful contracts being doled out right now in the MLB. Which one is the worst? Well, I'm on the case to find out.

The four that stick out most to me are Alfonso Soriano (8 years/$138 million), Carlos Lee (6 years, $100 million), Gary Matthews Jr. (5 years/$50 million), and Juan Pierre (5 years /$45 million).

If Gary Matthews can perform like he did this year (doubtful, but you never know), then $10 million/year is decently reasonable, so I'll take his name off the list. Carlos Lee's 6 year deal at over $16 million per is excessive in most markets, but almost looks reasonable after Soriano's deal. So I'll toss him out of consideration as well.

Which leaves us with just Alfonso Soriano's deal with the Cubs and Juan Pierre's deal with the Dodgers. Both awful, but which is worse? First, let's look at Soriano's.

No denying Soriano was solid last year. Heck, at the reported age of 30, it was the best season of his career. Can he keep it up? For a couple of years, maybe. For 8 years? Not a chance. One of Soriano's best talents is that he's really fast. Unfortunately, that tends to go quickly with age. And another thing is that even though he is fast, he's not that good at stealing bases. 41 SB is nice, but it's counterproductive when you get caught 17 times. Then there is his most glaring weakness... he's not that good at getting on base (and neither were the Cubs last year). The .351 OBP was ok, but again, can he keep that up. Then there's also the fact that the Cubs will ask him to play CF, which he's never been done before. All in all, if they signed up for $18 million per for 4 or 5 years, ok, that's a little more reasonable. But 8 years? By the time the contract is over, he'll be 39, have less power, less speed, and will probably not be a good player. But the Cubs will still be paying him like it.

Then there's Juan Pierre. He'll be getting $9 million a year to get on base at a below average rate, hit for no power, play bad defense, and steal bases at an ok rate. Everything about his game is predicated on speed... stolen bases, no power, etc. And of course, speed is generally one of the first things to go. He was good in 2004, below average in 2005, and even worse in 2006. That's generally not a good trend. He's a 4th OF type making $9 million a year... I need to hire his agent, I think.

Verdict: Alfonso Soriano's deal was really bad, but at least he'll have to chance to be worth something close to what he's making. Juan Pierre has no shot to be worth $9 million a year at any point in his contract. Which makes the Dodgers signing of Juan Pierre for $45 million over 5 years the worst deal of this offseason.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

One Man's NFL Power Rankings

We are 12 weeks into the NFL season, and I must admit I still pretty much don't have this NFL thing figured out (Raiders almost beating the Chargers? Titans scoring 24 unanswered points?). Of course, this only makes me all the more qualified to contribute a list of my NFL Power Rankings, or at least the Top 10 teams as I see them. But I will delay no longer.

1. Indianapolis Colts - Edgerrin James who? As The Edge wastes away down in Arizona, Joseph Addai is doing just fine, thank you very much. Despite Indy's seeming insistence on giving Dominic Rhodes carries, Addai managed to rush for a not-so-pedestrian 171 yards and 4 TD against the Eagles. And just for good measure he had 37 receiving yards. Yeah, he's pretty decent.

2. San Diego Chargers - Ok, so they squeaked by the Raiders. I'll give them a pass. They still have league MVP LaDainian Tomlinson joining talented Philip Rivers in the backfield. The defense ain't so shabby either. They sometimes lose focus against lesser teams, but now that it looks like Marty Ball has gone out the window, the Chargers are a force to be reckoned with.

3. Baltimore Ravens - All season long I've been ragging on "Air" McNair and saying that he's pretty much washed up, and while he's not his old self, he's still got something left in the tank. And with the Baltimore defense, that makes them very dangerous. However, if I were a Ravens fan, the biggest concern for me would be with the fact that Jamal Lewis is averaging only 3.5 YPC, and that could put a lot of pressure on McNair come playoff time.

4. New England Patriots - I have a hard time figuring the Pats out... by all accounts, you should lose when you turn the ball over 5 times, but I never really felt like they were not in control against Chicago. Maybe that's just because I've become such an unbashed Tom Brady lover. He moves around better in the pocket than anyone in the NFL.

5. Chicago Bears - The Bears will not win the Super Bowl with Rex Grossman as their quarterback (for the record, I wrote this even before I read The Sports Pulse!) I don't care how tantalizingly good he's looked at times this year, or how good the Bears defense is. Put a little pressure on Rex and he starts to rush throws, make bad decisions, force the ball, and throw off his back foot. His two best plays against New England were when he threw ducks off his back foot and then got bailed out by pass interference calls. He was awful today.

6. Denver Broncos - I fully endorse the move to Jay Cutler as starter and think it will benefit Denver. Plummer is ok when you have a great run game and a great defense, and at times the Broncos have had that. At other times the run game has become inconsistent, and they've tried to rely on Plummer. More often than not that has failed miserably.

7. Dallas Cowboys - I believe in a thing called Romo. I mean, obviously this has been beaten to death, but how good has he been? Poised, accurate, and fairly mobile. With him at QB I have the Cowboys just a smidgen behind Chicago, but with another week like this one I might have to reconsider that.

8. Kansas City Chiefs - With all due respect to LDT, I would probably take Larry Johnson as a runner over him. Tomlinson's more versatile all-around, but LJ is bigger and stronger as a runner. In the games that Johnson rushes for 100 yards, the Chiefs are 6-1. In the games that he fails to reach the century mark they are 1-3. Correlation does not always equal causation, but suffice to say Johnson is pretty important.

9. Seattle Seahawks - Seneca Wallace did a very nice job of keeping things afloat in Seattle while both Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander out. As a result, the Seahawks still have the division lead and everything is looking rosy in Seattle. As long as they beat GB Monday night.

10. New Orleans Saints - Tomlinson is probably the MVP of the NFL so far, but Drew Brees is on the short list. He continues to be excellent for the Saints, and even has a shot at breaking Dan Marino's passing yards record for a single season. And the rest of the offensive weapons aren't so bad either. Deuce and Reggie Bush are a formidable duo, and the WR corps is getting better every week. This is an offense that is to be reckoned with.

So where did I go horribly wrong? What does your top 5 look like?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving!

Obviously because of the Holiday weekend I'll be pretty much nonexistent on here until next week... I might come back to make some college football and NFL picks, but then again I might not.

Either way, enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday for all of you Americans... hope it's a good one!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

This is why I place no significance in MLB Awards

Here's a quote from Aarom Gleeman that pretty much tells me all I need to know about the MVP Awards process:

The single most ridiculous of those five Mauer-less ballots without question comes from Joe Cowley, who covers the White Sox for the Chicago Sun-Times. Cowley somehow couldn't find a place for the MLB batting champion on his ballot, but did see fit to include a different catcher: Chicago's own A.J. Pierzynski (whom Cowley no doubt relied upon for juicy quotes throughout the season). For those of you wondering, here's how the two catchers compare:

Mauer beat Pierzynski by 52 points in batting average, 96 points in on-base percentage, and 71 points in slugging percentage, all while coming to the plate 65 more times. Mauer also caught the league's second-best pitching staff and threw out 38 percent of would-be basestealers, while Pierzynski caught a staff that surrendered 111 more runs and threw out just 22 percent of basestealers. Faced with that overwhelming evidence, Cowley gave Pierzynski a 10th-place vote and left Mauer off his ballot.

John Hickey of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer also left Mauer off his ballot, yet found room for Mariners left fielder Raul Ibanez, whose OPS was 67 points lower than Mauer's without even accounting for the massive difference in their defensive value. Joe Roderick, who covers the A's for the Contra Costa Times, left Mauer off his ballot while giving a second-place vote to Oakland's Frank Thomas and a 10th-place vote to Tejada, who won his aforementioned 2002 AL MVP with the A's.

Even Jason Williams, who covered Mauer all season for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, narrowly found room for him on his ballot with a 10th-place vote. Among the nine players Williams deemed more valuable than Mauer were four designated hitters. That's right, one of two Twins beat writers given a vote for AL MVP felt that four guys who didn't even play defense were more valuable than a Gold Glove-caliber catcher who batted .347. For better or worse, these are the people who made Morneau MVP.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Report from Maui

Ok, I'm not actually in Maui... but I did watch the UCLA/Kentucky game and part of the Georgia Tech/Memphis game from the Maui Invitational, and here's what I saw.

- I only saw the last 10 minutes of the GT/Memphis game, and thank goodness for that! I kid you not when I saw the last 10 minutes took one hour real time. Lots of fouls, no flow, etc. A combined 64 fouls and 87 free throws shot. That's awful.

Onto the UCLA/Kentucky game... excellent ballgame all around as UCLA won 73-68. Here's what I noticed:

- Jordan Farmar was excellent for the Bruins last year, but thus far there has been absolutely no dropoff with Darren Collison in the lineup. The numbers were good (10 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds, 3 steals), but it's everything else that is impressive. He is FAST, and gets down the court on the break in a hurry. He plays great pressure man-to-man defense (the area of the game where he is much better than Farmar ever was), and he is a very good passer. Backup PG is a little bit of a concern, but Darren Collison is just fine replacing Farmar.

- Ryan Hollins who? Excellent game for Lorenzo Mata down low, with 12 points and 12 rebounds. He flashed some moves with his back to the basket, but more importantly was excellent on the glass and held Morris to only 11 points (though UK guards helped there).

- UCLA is definitely one of the top defensive teams in the country. As excellent as Collison is man-to-man, Arron Afflalo is even better. Down low, they've got lots of depth that all play solid defense... Mata, Alfred Aboya, Ryan Wright, etc. And then there's Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, kind of a hybrid defender... he can block shots down low, and he's athletic enough to get outside and guard. And all of this with the attitude of Ben Howland. They're a fun defensive unit to watch.

- I've heard lots of talk about how improved Kentucky will be this year... and they are... but I think not as much as people think. Randolph Morris is their only real threat on the block, and that leaves the guards to do a lot of dribbling. At times Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford can just become black holes and just dribble seemingly endlessly, and that destroys any flow. I don't see them being higher than a 6 seed in the Tourney at all.

- Kentucky's best player was freshman Derrick Jasper. He scored 12 points (on 4 shots), grabbed 8 rebounds, and doled out 4 assists. He was unselfish, confident going to the hoop, and provided the spark the Wildcats needed to get back in the ballgame in the first half. Very impressive day for him.

- UCLA was 2/19 from downtown and 13/23 from the FT line... and they still won by 5. I don't think Ben Howland can be too upset about that.

UCLA vs. Georgia Tech Wednesday at 9 PM CST for the Maui Invitational Title... I like UCLA's experience and defensive toughness to be the difference here. Once GT slowed the game down against Memphis the Tigers could not handle it... UCLA will not have that same problem.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Who deserves to be #2?

One thing we know for sure is that Ohio St. is in the Championship. But who will join them? Who should join them?

First thing's first... who should join them? In my mind, Michigan is at least the 2nd best team in the country (I think if the game was at a neutral field, they might be the best team in the nation), which would naturally lend credence to the theory that we should have a rematch for the National Title. But doesn't that make the BCS meaningless? The whole point of the BCS is to make regular season games have meaning, but if OSU/Michigan meet up again, doesn't that render the regular season game meaningless?

I still don't see why a playoff isn't perfectly logical. If I remember correctly, the reasoning is that the NCAA doesn't want to pull the players out of school anymore than they already are... which is funny because the lowers levels of college football (where I've found players are more academically inclined in general) implement a playoff system just fine. But as always, that makes way too much sense for the NCAA. And they want a lot of money.

But moving on, who will face the Buckeyes for the Title? The obvious choice is USC. They're right behind the Wolverines for #2 in the BCS Standings, and if they beat Notre Dame and UCLA they almost certainly will leapfrog Michigan.

But what if they lose? Does Notre Dame (who beats USC in this hypothetical scenario) or the SEC winner have a shot at passing the Wolverines? Unfortunately for the Irish, I doubt they have a shot. Their best win so far this year is probably Penn St., who has limped their way to 8-4. Not a bad win, but nothing to hang your hat on. Obviously USC would be their big one, but I don't think it'd be enough to bypass a Michigan team that stomped them earlier this year.

So what about the SEC teams? Arkansas would have a tougher road and therefore more impressive ending if they won out, but I think they're just too far back in the standings. But the Gators may not be. They're fairly close, and end with games at Florida St. and against Arkansas in the SEC Championship game. I can envision one scenario where they could pass Michigan: They win out (obviously) and Arkansas beats LSU next week. If Arkansas beats LSU they'll be either 4 or 5 in the polls, which will make an SEC title win for the Gators even more impressive.

So in my not-very-scientific mind USC and Florida are the only teams with a chance to pass Michigan for a chance to play Ohio St. for the Title... a complex process, no? At least one thing seems pretty simple to everyone... this would be a whole lot better and a whole lot more fun with a playoff.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Steve Spurrier Could be the Next Miami Hurricanes Coach

Not a lot of detail here, other than that sources tell CSTV that Steve Spurrier might leave South Carolina after only 2 years to become the next head coach of the Miami Hurricanes.

Spurrier's Gamecocks are 6-5 this year and 13-10 in his 2 years thus far. In his time at Florida, Spurrier compiled a remarkable 122-27-1 record in 12 years.

So if indeed The Ole Ball Coach does return to Florida, what is your reaction? I'm not in favor of anyone leaving 2 years into a 7-year contract, but if the rumors are true, it'll be very interesting to see him try to turn around Miami. I always got the feeling that while he could have success at South Carolina, he would be inhibited a bit just because the Gamecocks don't have as much of a football reputation, and Spurrier may not have any of his old pipelines. He'll have no such problems if he goes to Miami.

It's going to be real interesting to see how this plays out.

NFL Picks Against the Spread: Week 11

My picks lately have pretty much just been me embarrassing myself... even so, I'm resilient, and so I'll make my picks again and the risk of public embarrassment.

Redskins (+3) over Bucs
I think getting the ancient Mark Brunell out of the lineup will give the Redskins a spark... it was time to give Campbell the call.

Titans (+13) over Eagles
Picking games involving the Titans this year has basically been an exercise in futility for me. They've lost by 30+ points 3 times already this season. They've also played a lot of good teams very close. I'll throw my hat into them keeping it relatively close in this one.

Rams (+6.5) over Panthers
Carolina is still a little too inconsistent for my liking. Everyone is down on St. Louis because they've lost 3 straight, but those games were all against good teams. I think they'll bounce back and surprise the Panthers.

Steelers (-4) over Browns
A last-minute playoff push for the Steelers? Maybe too little, too late, but they are playing a lot better now.

Chiefs (-9) over Raiders
Raiders defense is actually ok, which makes me a little leery about picking against them with the 9 point spread. But then I remember how bad the offense is, and it becomes a little easier.

Patriots (-5.5) over Packers
Packers have been playing well, New England has not been playing well, game is in Lambeau. It seems so simple. I've found that it usually isn't, which is why New England is my pick.

Vikings (+3) over Dolphins
Brad Johnson is playing for his starting job, and at his age, maybe his career. I believe in a thing called desparation (and a thing called the Vikings defense).

Bills (+2.5) over Texans
I'll be honest, I don't have the slightest clue here. This is basically a random guess.

Jets (+6) over Bears
If Rex Grossman delivers two straight solid performances on the road maybe I'll trust him again... but it's hard to get the images of the Dolphins and Cardinals games out of my mind.

Bengals (+3) over Saints
This is probably a desperation game for the Bengals. They're 4-5 and a loss here would make it very tough for them in the tough AFC. I see a good effort for Cincy, and Carson Palmer putting up some big numbers.

Ravens (-3.5) over Falcons
Well Michael Vick, you almost fooled us. But it's good to have the Vick we've all come to know and love back.

Lions (+2) over Cardinals
The Cardinals are favored to win? Is there something I'm missing?

Seahawks (-3.5) over 49ers
I'm VERY tempted to take the Niners here, because they've been playing pretty decently well. But, well, the Seahawks haven't been playing so bad either. Hasselbeck and Alexander may even be back... I'll take the Seahawks.

Colts (+1) over Cowboys
Some of the odds I've seen have the Colts favored by 1, some have Cowboys, etc. The ones i go with every week have the Cowboys by 1. And I don't understand it. Obviously "America's Team" is better with Romo in the lineup. But two weeks ago they lost to Washington. The Cowboys are 5-4. The Colts are 9-0 and their offense looks unstoppable. I don't get it.

Chargers (+2.5) over Broncos
That sound you hear is Jay Cutler warming up on the sideline.

Giants (+4) over Jaguars
I thought David Garrard would be excellent in the starting role last week... and he threw 4 INT and basically did everything possible to lose the game. I know this one is in Jacksonville, and the Giants are banged up, I just think they'll respond after that Bears game. I think it'll be a tight game, and I'll go with the Giants.

Last Week: 7-9
Season: 63-75-6

Thursday, November 16, 2006

College Football Picks: Week 12

I've heard there's this one big game this week... something about #1 vs. #2? Can anyone confirm? Anyway, my picks for that and the 4 other biggest games of the weekend!

(21) Maryland @ (20) Boston College
After a couple of down years, Maryland is back as a decent team, though I think some of this is a little bit of smoke and mirrors. They're solid, but their record in close games has been amazing. They are 6-1 in games decided by 6 points or less. Overall this season, the average scores of their games is 22.0-20.1. And they're 8-2 with that stat. Regression to the mean is a wonderful thing. BOSTON COLLEGE 23-19.

(19) Virginia Tech @ (14) Wake Forest
I don't care if it's a down year for the Seminoles... if you go into Tallahassee and win 30-0 you get my respect. Unlike Maryland, Wake actually is winning games be a decent margin (average by 10.2 points), and they have a fine, fine defense. I just think Virginia Tech's is a little better, and the Demon Deacons don't quite have anyone as good as Brandon Ore. VIRGINIA TECH 17-16.

(15) Auburn @ Alabama
This one would have been a lot more meaningful is Auburn had won last week, but as they say, them's the breaks. The Iron Bowl is always a great rivalry, and this should be no different. John Parker Wilson is starting to play better for the Tide, but they still don't really have big play ability. Auburn was awful last week, but I think they'll bounce back in this large rivalry game. AUBURN 24-14.

(17) California @ (4) USC
Like the Auburn/Alabama matchup, this would have been a lot better if Cal would have won. Then this would basically be for the Pac-10 Title and maybe even a spot in the National Championship game. Still a huge game (Pac-10 Title is on the line), but not what it could have been. Cal's got great offensive talent, but their defense is questionable. USC got back to their dominance last week, and at home, I expect their superior all-around talent to win in an entertaining ballgame. USC 38-34.

(2) Michigan @ (1) Ohio St.
I've been riding the Michigan bandwagon pretty hard, and I can't bail now. I still think their defense is better and Michael Hart is the best runner on either team. The only thing that concerns me is that this game is in the Horseshoe, and, despite how good I think Michigan is when Mario Manningham is fully in the offense, the Buckeyes are pretty excellent themselves. Bottom line, I think Michael Hart makes the difference in this ballgame. Should be pretty awesome. MICHIGAN 27-24.

What are your picks?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Much Ado About Nothing

Yes, it's about Bob Knight. Thanks ESPN.

In case you haven't heard, Bobby Knight... wait for it... touched a player on the chin to push his head up so he was looking at Knight. Of course, this was enough to elicit top stories online at ESPN and (according to what I've heard, I don't watch the show anymore) the lead story on Sportscenter.

Look, I don't really like Bobby Knight at all for various reasons. But this is just getting ridiculous. Was it maybe a little excessive? Sure. Was it as bad as stuff he's done in the past? No. Was it newsworthy? Not in the least.

It apparently wasn't enough that the player, the player's parents, and the AD didn't think it was a big deal. I mean, it's not like they matter in this, do they?

Let me just ask one question... if Coach K did the same thing, would this be a story? If Roy Williams did the same thing, would it be a story? Would anyone even know about it outside the player and coach? Nope.

But if the media can't talk about this, what can they complain about?

For good measure, here's a Sportscenter clip with Bob Knight's top 10 soundbites... some are rather funny (Knight can definitely be funny), some highlight a lot of the things I don't like about him. Before the clip I'll end with a quote from Steve Rushin of SI a few years ago that at least I found funny:

Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight likes to say of sportswriters: "Most of us learn to write by the second grade, then move on to bigger things.'' Most of us stop throwing chairs and calling ourselves Bobby by the second grade, too.

Monday, November 13, 2006

College Basketball Preview: Awards and Predictions

With the college basketball season upon us, it's time for the final installation of my college basketball previews. In case you missed them, here are my other previews:

ACC Preview
Big East Preview
Big 10 Preview
Big 12 Preview
Pac-10 Preview
SEC Preview
Who is this year's George Mason?

So now it's time to move on to my awards and predictions.

First Team All-Americans
Joakim Noah - Florida - Even better defensively than he is offensively.
Tyler Hansbrough - North Carolina - One of the best players in the nation last year as a true freshman.
Glen Davis - LSU - Big Baby is slimmed down and ready to dominate.
Alando Tucker - Wisconsin - Scores in a variety of ways making him nearly impossible to stop.
Dominic James - Marquette - Explosiveness makes him the best PG in the country.

Second Team All-Americans
Nick Fazekas - Nevada - Senior who seems like he's been around forever.
Aaron Gray - Pittsburgh - Him bypassing the draft makes Pitt title contenders.
Jerad Dudley - Boston College - Becomes the leader with the departure of Craig Smith.
Brandon Rush - Kansas - One of the best scorers in the country.
Ronald Steele - Alabama - Extremely durable, reliable in crunch time.

Freshman All-Americans
Greg Oden - Ohio St. - defensive stopper will have huge impact whenever he returns.
Kevin Durant - Texas - good enough to carry the Longhorns at times.
Chase Budinger - Arizona - all-around player will excel in Arizona's system.
Spencer Hawes - Washington - Big man will make huge impact in his one year for the Huskies.
Thaddeus Young - Georgia Tech - Will be the star of an inexperienced but talented squad.

Player of the Year - Tyler Hansbrough - Dominated the ACC as a true freshman, putting up nearly 20 and 10 a night. He's got great awareness and moves around the basket, and is a great finisher near the hoop. He's got a nose for the ball off the glass. Defensively, he's always in solid position. The addition of the trio of talented freshman should help take the pressure and some of the focus off of him, leaving him to put up big numbers.

Freshman of the Year - Kevin Durant - If Greg Oden would be healthy for the whole season, my pick might be different. Then again, maybe it wouldn't. Kevin Durant is probably the second most-hyped freshman after Oden, and for good reason. He's extremely talented, and score from inside or outside. He'll also grab rebounds, play some defense, and pretty much everything else Rick Barnes asks from him. Which will be a lot.

Preseason Top 10
1. Florida - All 5 starters back for the defending champs.
2. North Carolina - deepest and most talented team in the nation.
3. Kansas - right behind UNC in terms of talent and depth.
4. UCLA - one of the best defenses in the country. Josh Shipp's return boosts offense.
5. Pittsburgh - Departure of Carl Krauser was not such a bad thing.
6. LSU - Will be very athletic, and they still have Big Baby to turn to.
7. Wisconsin - Alando Tucker leads solid nucleus.
8. Alabama - Return of Steele and Davidson makes them contenders in the SEC.
9. Ohio St. - even without Oden they're one of the top teams in the country.
10. Texas A&M - there is excitement back in College Station for the basketball team.

Final Four Teams
(1) North Carolina - I just think they'll be too talented and deep to be denied. How do you stop them? Try to shut down Tyler Hansbrough? Then they go to Reyshawn Terry. Or top prospect Brandan Wright. Or top prospect Tywon Lawson. Or one of the many talented guys in the backcourt. Ok, you get the idea.
(2) Kansas - Like UNC, they're just so deep and talented. Brandon Rush is a great scorer, but he'll have lots of help. Julian Wright is extremely versatile. Mario Chalmers, Russell Robinson, and frosh Sherron Collins all provide a different look in the backcourt. And the frontcourt, led by Sasha Kaun and Darrell Arthur won't miss CJ Giles at all. I don't think they'll have any problems getting by Round 1 this year.
(3) UCLA - They lost 3 starters, but they could be even better this year. Darren Collison doesn't have the leadership of Farmar, but he's a great on-the-ball defender and will push the tempo. Arron Afflalo is back and one of the best defensive guards in the country. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute should continue his development as a star in Westwood. But the biggest (and most overlooked) story is the return of Josh Shipp. He might have been UCLA's best player last year if he hadn't gotten hurt. He'll provide another scoring punch for this team. UCLA will be a great defensive team under Coach Ben Howland, and should have just enough offense to go along with it.
(4) Texas A&M - Like UCLA, they are very tough defensively. A&M was a late 3-pointer from Darrel Mitchell away from beating LSU heading to the Sweet Sixteen. The same LSU who went on to go to the Final Four. They'll return almost everything for one of the best young coaches in America. Led by Acie Law and Joseph Jones, they have the firepower to make a deep run. They have the depth, the defensive tenacity, the experience... it's all in place for a deep run.

National Championship
North Carolina over UCLA - Too much talent for Roy Williams to be denied his 2nd title in 3 seasons.

What are your predictions?

Sunday, November 12, 2006

College Basketball Preview: Who is this Year's George Mason?

Short answer: No one.

Long answer: There will be some very good Mid-Majors this year. So here's a list of the best Mid-Majors heading into the season (assuming that Gonzaga and Memphis have moved past being called a Mid-Major, and that the MVC is still a Mid-Major conference).

Nevada: These guys have been so good for the past few years it's hard to call them a Mid-Major. Regardless, another trip to The Dance is in order for the Wolfpack. They will again be led by senior Nick Fazekas, one of the best and most skilled big men in the country. Fazekas averaged over 21 points and 10 rebounds a game last year. He is skilled inside and outside and hurts you in many different ways. But Nevada is much more than just Nick Fazekas. Three starters return in the backcourt, including Marcelus Kemp (15 PPG), Kyle Shiloh (8.7 PPG) and PG Ramon Sessions (4.7 PPG, 5.0 APG). Add in the hunger that comes from being upset in round 1, and this will be a very good Nevada team.

Creighton: Last year, when Creighton lost their best player to injury, all they did was keep on winning. Nate Funk was hurt 6 games into the season, but like clockwork Creighton won 20 games and went to a postseason tournament. This year, Nate Funk is back, and so are a lot of other pieces, making Creighton one of the best Mid-Majors in America. The biggest question mark heading into the season is Josh Dotzler, who was excellent at the point as a freshman for Dana Altman. If he's healthy, Creighton will be competing for a high seed in the NCAAs. The aforementioned Funk is back for his second shot as a Senior year, looking to improve on the 17.8 PPG he put up two years ago. The other star for Creighton is big man Anthony Tolliver, who improved a lot last year. He finished averaging over 13 points and nearly 7 rebounds and will combine with Funk for an excellent 1-2 punch.

Southern Illinois: They were second in the MVC, won the conference tournament, and now return all of their starters. Yeah, the Salukis will be very good all again. The best part about them is they play great, lockdown defense, which will again be excellent for this veteran team. In the backcourt, Jamaal Tatum (15 PPG) and Tony Young (11.6 PPG) are back. Upfront, they've got two very active, very solid posts. One is Matt Shaw, the other is Falker. Shaw is probably a better scorer, but I really like Falker. He's active, sound defensively, and a presence on the glass. Add it all up, and the Salukis are my favorites in the MVC.

Wichita St: Expectations are high for the Shockers after their Sweet 16 run, and they have the talent once again to make a run. Gone is Paul Miller, back is almost everything else. In the backcourt is sharpshooter Sean Ogirri, who led the MVC in 3s last season. There are also a couple of versatile forwards back with Kyle Wilson and PJ Cousinard. The guy to watch is Gal Mekel, the freshman from Israel. From what I read, he's drawn comparisons to Steve Nash, who's pretty decent. All in all, another Tourney run appears to be in the works for the Shockers, and they have the talent to get right back to where they were, the Sweet 16.

Missouri St: Of all the teams that missed the NCAA Tournament, Missouri St. probably had the best case. Great RPI, excellent record, and now a huge chip on their shoulder. With four starters back and a good bench, they've got the means to leave no doubt in the committee's minds this year. They're led by Blake Ahearn, who averaged 16 PPG last year and shot a ridiculous 93.6% at the FT line last year. After that it's just a lot of talented role players, who should be very motivated to get to the Tourney this season.

Xavier: After an up-and-down season, Xavier went on to win the A-10 Tournament before nearly pulling off the 14-3 upset on Gonzaga in the Tourney. They couldn't pull it off, but they showed what they're capable of. They return almost everything and will be an experienced group. Stanley Burrell, who averaged over 14 PPG last year will be back for his junior season. Justin Cage, Justin Doellman, and Josh Duncan are also back. But none of that may be as important as the addition of Drew Lavendar. Lavendar started at PG for Big 12 Oklahoma as a freshman and sophomore before deciding to transfer, and Xavier was the beneficiary of that. Lavendar is extremely quick, shoots well, gets others involved, and is a good defender. He should immediately be one of the best players in the A-10 and is one of the main reasons Xavier is the favorite in that conference.

San Diego State: Unfortunately, Marcus Slaughter decided to leave early after his junior year, and he was not drafted. Slaughter averaged 16 points and 11 rebounds per game, and was one of the best players in the Mountain West. But even though he's gone, the cupboard is far from bare. Brandon Heath is still there, and he is now the best player in the conference after averaging over 18 PPG as a junior. Also returning is big man Mohamed Abukar, an extremely skilled and diverse scorer. Even with Heath and Slaughter, Abukar averaged 14 points a game, and is a great outside shooter for his size, as well as having the ability to score in the post. With the addition of another transfer coming in with Lorrenzo Wade (from Louisville), and sophomore Kyle Spain returning, the Aztecs are once again the Mountain West favorites.

Who do you think is the best Mid-Major?

Saturday, November 11, 2006

College Basketball Preview: SEC

This could very well be the best conference in America. They had two Final Four teams last year, and will be very strong once again.

Player of the Year: First off, you can pretty much take your pick among the Gators... Joakim Noah is the crown jewel in the media, but Al Horford is more versatile, Corey Brewer's excellent defensively as a wing player, and Taurean Green ran the show last year. When you're the defending national champs and the whole starting lineup is back, it wouldn't surprise me if any of them won it. But don't overlook the rest of the field, because there are some more great players. One is Alabama PG Ronald Steele. He averaged over 40 minutes per game in SEC contests last year. That's not a misprint. He scores, controls the game, plays good defense, and hits 90% of his free throws. In Bama's two tourney games last year he averaged 22 points and 6 assists per. He's certainly one of the top PGs in the nation.

Another excellent guard is Chris Lofton of Tennessee. He's the best returning shooter in the SEC, and may be the best returning scorer. He's got unbelievable range, and as he showed against Winthrop in the Tourney, ice in his veins. He'll be excellent in Year 2 under Bruce Pearl. After that, we come to the big men. And they don't get much bigger than Glen "Big Baby" Davis (though he has slimmed down). He's just a fun player to watch... good scorer in the low post, excellent midrange game for a center, and a relentless rebounder. Then there are the overlooked parts of his game... he's got great footwork and maybe the best hands of any big man in the country. He's the reason that LSU won't drop off much if at all after losing Darrel Mitchell and Tyrus Thomas.

Next is Randolph Morris, who showed flashes of that big potential in the low post. He'll be counted on heavily is Kentucky is going to be able to get back to the days of old (and by that I mean like 3 years ago). But in the end, most people like Joakim Noah to win this. And why not? He's excellent on the glass, finishes as well as anyone, and is the best defensive player in the conference. But my pick is Glen Davis, a beast of a man that will carry LSU to another great year.

Freshmen to Watch: There probably aren't as many freshmen that will make huge impacts here as in other conferences, but that has a lot to do with the depth coming back. There are, however, some that will play major roles. Especially for Tennessee, where Ramar Smith, Duke Crews, and Wayne Chrism will each be huge factors to the Vols continuing success. Smith may start along Chris Lofton at the guard spots, while Crews and Chism will be counted on down low after Andrae Patterson graduated and Major Wingate was dismissed. Elsewhere, Arkansas will look to Patrick Beverley to help lessen the loss of Ronnie Brewer, Verice Cloyd will be another weapon for Ronald Steele and Alabama, and Derrick Jasper will be an excellent guard off the bench for Tubby Smith in Lexington.

Breakout Players: The list of breakout candidates is long. We can start with Jermareo Davidson of Alabama, though some might consider him already to have broken out. He considered going to the draft before coming back to establish himself as one of the best big men in the SEC. Then there is Dane Bradshaw for Tennessee, one of the great glue guys in the NCAA. He's a solid outside shooter, but he also plays very solid defense, rebounds well, and is a very good passer. He's kinda like the Luke Walton of the NCAA. Next is Tasmin Mitchell, the underlooked freshman for LSU last year. He was nearly as good as Tyrus Thomas, and he'll be an excellent second option for Glen Davis.

Joe Crawford is back for Kentucky, and like Randolph Morris, he will need to be an integral part for the Wildcats. If Georgia will improve this year, they're going to need a lot of production from G Levi Stukes, who should be up to the task as a senior. Similarly, if Vandy is going to get back into contention, they need more improvement from Shan Foster. He averaged about 16 PPG last year and looks to be ready to lead Vandy at least to an NIT berth.

Predicted Order of Finish
1. Florida
2. Tennessee
3. Kentucky
4. Georgia
5. South Carolina
6. Vanderbilt

1. LSU
2. Alabama
3. Arkansas
4. Mississippi St
5. Auburn
6. Mississippi

Friday, November 10, 2006

NFL Picks Against the Spread: Week 10

Just by dumb luck, I should at least start to improve after some really bad weeks... I might just blindfold myself and throw darts to try to pick this week's games.

Texans (+10) over Jaguars
I don't understand the Jags... they get blown out by Houston, then come back to beat Philly and then thoroughly dominate the Titans. As good as they looked last week, the NFL season is probably too weird for them to dominate like that 2 weeks in a row.

Ravens (-7) over Titans
Vince Young against the Ravens defense... I don't see this ending well for Tennessee.

Redskins (+7) over Eagles
Will the Redskins decide to show up this week? Your guess is probably as good as mine... but my guess will be yes. At least show up enough to cover the spread.

Lions (-6) over 49ers
Don't look now, but the Lions offense is actually pretty solid right now. The 49ers may be able to hold the Vikings offense down, but I think the Lions should be able to score a lot of points here, especially at home.

Bengals (+1) over Chargers
Both of these teams have been inconsistent... they'll look like a great team one week and then lose to a team they shouldn't have the next week. It makes me head hurt. So I'll just go with the home team here.

Jets (-10.5) over Patriots
Another game where I really don't know what will happen... Jets played them tough in their first meeting, so I'll take the spread here.

Chiefs (+1) over Dolphins
I know the Dolphins looked very good last week, but doesn't anyone remember all the other weeks before that. The Chiefs still have Larry Johnson, and I expect them to ride him to a another victory.

Green Bay (+5) over Minnesota
The Vikings would have trouble scoring a high school team right now. I think the Vikings have a great shot to win, but I'm not picking them at -5 over any team in the NFL.

Browns (+9.5) over Falcons
The Lions came into Atlanta last week and won by 16 points. Which probably means the Falcons are due to win by about 30. Hopefully the Browns can keep it close.

Bills (+12) over Colts
It seems like the Colts have kind of taken things easy against lesser opponents this year. I like the Bills defense just enough that they can keep it within 12.

Broncos (-9) over Raiders
The Broncos have always had the great defense and running game, but even Jake Plummer is starting to play better. And if Jake Plummer is above average at all, the Broncos are probably the second best team in the AFC.

Saints (+4.5) over Steelers
I know the Steelers are the defending champs, but they're 2-6 and haven't really been playing that well at all. Even in Pittsburgh, I'll take the Saints to at least cover here.

Rams (+3) over Seahawks
Seneca Wallace has been holding down the fort very well for the Seahawks, but the Rams know if they lose this, their shot for a division title will look very slim.

Cowboys (-6.5) over Cardinals
Cardinals suck right now. Plain and simple.

Giants (-1) over Bears
When Rex Grossman has time to throw, he's an All-Pro. When the defense can consistently get some type of pressure on him, he becomes one of the worst QBs in the League. With the Bears running game looking pretty average, I expect the Giants to bring the pressure and rattle Rex.

Bucs (+9.5) over Panthers
The Panthers have just been too maddeningly inconsistent for me to take them with this line. I expect Tampa to keep this game relatively close at the very least.

Last Week: 4-10
Season: 56-66-6

Thursday, November 09, 2006

College Basketball Preview: Pac-10

This conference has generally not been all that strong top-to-bottom the last few years, but times they a-changing. UCLA is back, Arizona is loaded, Washington is young and talented, and Oregon might finally play up to their potential. This will be a very solid conference.

Player of the Year: Last year's winner Brandon Roy graduated, making this a wide open race. The frontrunner is probably Marcus Williams from Arizona, and explosive scorer who flirted with the draft. He came back for his sophomore year, and should be the star on what will be a very good Arizona team. Next there are a couple of UCLA guys... Jordan Farmar is gone, but they could be even better this year, in part due to Arron Afflalo and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (the best name in the country). Like Williams, Afflalo was prepared to test the draft water, but decided to come back, which was great news for UCLA. Afflalo is great in the midrange game, but perhaps more importantly is that he's an excellent defender at the 2 guard. Mbah a Moute impresses as a freshman, and looks to have an improved offensive game this year. He averaged over 8 rebounds per game as a freshman, so if the offense is improved as advertised, he'll be a threat to win the award. For the Oregon Ducks, if Malik Hairston finally lives up to his potential, he can be a Brandon Roy-like player. But for my money, I'll go with the steady Arron Afflalo.

Freshmen to Watch: Most of the talk here surrounds Chase Budinger of Arizona, one of the top freshman in the nation and a guy that Lute Olsen has praised over and over. He should be an excellent all-around player and contributor from day 1. Another big-time prospect is Spencer Hawes for Washington. After getting Jon Brockman last year, they scored another big-time big man, as Hawes was possibly the 2nd best C prospect in the country (after Greg Oden). Quincy Pondexter will also have a chance to contribute early for the Huskies. For UCLA, big man James Keefe should be a nice role player, though he won't have as big of an impact as last year's freshmen.

Breakout Players: Lots of great candidates here, especially among the top teams. UCLA will be getting Josh Shipp back from injury, and he was perhaps their best freshman 2 years ago before missing almost all of last year and receiving a medical hardship. Fran Franschilla called Josh Shipp a "human garbage cleaner" in one of his chats. Now, I have no idea what he's trying to say there, but the point is that Shipp is real good. UCLA also has Darren Collison replacing Jordan Farmar... Collison is very fast with the ball and a great defender. UCLA should hardly miss a beat with Collison replacing Farmar.

For the other frontrunner Arizona, they'll be getting Jawaan McClellan back. He's an excellent outside shooter and scorer that just makes them more potent. There are a couple of sophomores from Washington I really, really like. One is the frontcourt man Jon Brockman. He deferred a little to the upperclassmen last year, but he should be excellent this year and could even challenge for the Pac-10 Player of the Year if all goes well. The other guy I like is PG Justin Dentmon. He started as a true freshman as a PG, which is not easy by any stretch of the imagination. He's got great quickness and is a fine player and one of the key reasons Washington will hardly miss a beat.

What Else to Watch: I love Washington's potential, and Oregon should be much improved, but I think the race between Arizona and UCLA will be excellent. Both have great coaching, great depth, and are going to be two of the top teams in the country. UCLA is one of the best defensive teams while Arizona is one of the best offensive teams. This will be a great battle between two giants out West.

Predicted Order of Finish
2. Arizona
3. Washington
4. Oregon
5. USC
6. California
7. Stanford
8. Arizona St.
9. Oregon St.
10. Washington St.

College Football Picks: Week 11

I was feeling a little under the weather, so I didn't get my picks in before the Louisville/Rutgers game, but suffice to say that was an excellent one. Rutgers for the Title? If they beat West Virginia on December 2nd, I have to think they at least get some consideration. Anyway, on to the 5 biggest games this weekend, with just a quick word so I can continue with the college basketball previews.

South Carolina @ (6) Florida
Steve Spurrier's return to the Swamp... too much Chris Leak, too much Gator defense. FLORIDA 27-14.

Georgia @ (5) Auburn
Georgia's not the same team it's been in the past few years... a national title berth is not out of the question for Auburn if they win out. AUBURN 23-10.

Nebraska @ (24) Texas A&M
Big conference game. Nebraska is playing to clinch their division title, but the Aggies are playing better and are at home. TEXAS A&M 26-24.

(21) Oregon @ (7) USC
This is new territory for USC, with one loss on their resume. Still, they've got a solid defense and one of the most explosive and balanced offenses in the nation. USC 38-28.

(13) Tennessee @ (11) Arkansas
I really think the Razorbacks are one of the most underrated teams... Jones & McFadden are dynamite in the backfield, and that defense is tough. ARKANSAS 17-13.

Last Week: 3-2
Season: 34-16

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

College Basketball Preview: Big East

This conference may not have the star power it had last year, but it's still extremely deep and extremely talented. And with all the varying styles from these 16 teams, should be a lot of fun to watch.

Player of the Year: After the departure of a lot of good players, this race is pretty open. The frontrunner is probably Aaron Gray, the big man for Pittsburgh. He gave serious thought about declaring for the draft before returning for his senior year, and Pitt reaps all the benefits. He's about a 20-10 guy, which is real rare in college basketball. He's also solid defensively and a good passer down low. Next there are a couple of big men from Georgetown. Roy Hibbert is huge at 7'3'', and can be a great scorer down low. However, Jeff Green is the more complete player. He can score down low, take his game outside a little more, and is one of the top passing big men in the country. But there's more to the conference than just big men. Dominic James was the Freshman of the Year for Marquette last year, and should be even better this year with a bigger role. He's lightning quick off the dribble, which allows him to consistently get by his man and finish strong at the basket.

There are also some darkhorses for Player of the Year. One is Curtis Sumpter of Villanova. Coming off of major knee injuries, he will be a candidate if he can stay healthy. He's very skilled for his size, and can play inside or hit the outside shot. If he had been healthy last year, Jay Wright's squad may have been the ones cutting down the nets. Another, bigger darkhorse is Juan Palacios of Louisville, a guy I really like. He's got great versatility offensively, and should see his stature rise on a Louisville team that will be improved this year. But in the end, I'm a sucker for the little man, and I think Dominic James will be the best player in the conference, and the Big East Player of the Year.

Freshmen to Watch: The guy that everyone seems to be most high on is Paul Harris of Syracuse. Jim Boeheim's been relentless in his praise of Harris, even saying that Cuse will run some man-to-man this year because of Harris' defensive prowess.. Harris is very versatile, very good defensively, and should contribute immediately to a deep Syracuse squad. Connecticut lost a lot of talent this offseason, but don't feel sorry for them, as they've got freshmen that can step in immediately. First is 7'3'' Hasheem Thabeet, a defensive force down low. There's also Jerome Dyson, who could be the Day 1 starter at SG for the Huskies. Elsewhere, Scottie Reynolds should help in some way offset the loss of the 3 guards for Villanova, and Derrick Caracter can be a nice weapon inside for Louisville if he can stay out of trouble.

Breakout Players: First, let's start with the big guys. Jeff Adrien didn't get to play a ton last year for that deep Connecticut team, but he made the most of it when he did. He's a tough inside scorer, and a good rebounder for his size. Only a sophomore, he's the leader of UConn. If DePaul is going to make it to the Tourney, they will need solid play from sophomore Wilson Chandler, who's a rock down low.

But while the biggest stars play in the post, a lot of the emerging threats are guards. AJ Price has missed the last 2 years for UConn for various reasons, but with Marcus Williams gone, the PG spot is all his. For the Orange, Eric Devendorf started as a freshman, and showed he's got the attitude to be a star in the Big East. He'll be more of a scoring threat this year with G-Mac gone, and should excel in that role. For Villanova, Mike Nardi had to take a backseat to Foye, Allen, and Lowry last year, but he'll have a bigger job as playmaker in addition to his outside shooting. And finally, now that Carl Krauser is gone, that should put LeVance Fields in the starting role. He was very good off the bench last year, and as a sophomore he'll be a very capable starter.

Predicted Order of Finish
1. Pittsburgh
2. Syracuse
3. Marquette
4. Georgetown
5. Connecticut
6. Villanova
7. Louisville
8. DePaul
9. West Virginia
10. St. John's
11. Notre Dame
12. Providence
13. Cincinnati
14. Rutgers
15. Seton Hall
16. South Florida

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

College Basketball Preview: Big 10

As we return to the college basketball previews, it's time for the Big 12, the new home of Greg Oden (for at least a year).

Player of the Year: This list has to start with Alando Tucker from Wisconsin. The returning senior averaged nearly 20 points per game last year, and can do it all offensively. He can hit the outside shot, and at 6'6'', he can go inside and post up smaller players. He's very versatile and experienced which makes him the frontrunner for what will be a very good Wisconsin squad. Continuing with the senior theme is Adam Haluska from Iowa. One of the main holdovers from last year's tournament squad, Haluska will be a leader for the Hawkeyes with his outside shooting and toughness.

Kelvin Sampson's biggest move this offseason was to convince DJ White to stay with the Hoosiers rather than transfer to UAB. If he can stay healthy, he's a real good looking player for the Hoosiers. Then there is the Buckeyes... Greg Oden is the guy that everyone talks about, and he has a chance if he plays up to his potential after he returns from injury, but don't overlook Jamar Butler. He was the leader and PG last year, and has the talent and leadership to be the Buckeyes best player this year. But in the end, it's all about Alando Tucker... too good, and playing for the team that I think will win the Big 10.

Freshmen to Watch: There's this guy named Greg Oden that's supposed to be pretty good... #1 prospect in the country, probable #1 pick in the NBA Draft assuming he comes out after this year. So Ohio St. has that going for them, which is nice. Here's what else they have going for them- Daequan Cook and Mike Conley. Both should contribute this year, and Cook may even start. For Michigan St., wing player Raymar Morgan and Isaiah Dahlman should have a chance to contribute right away after the Spartans lost their top 3 scorers from last season.

Breakout Players: Let's start at the top with the Badgers and big man Brian Butch. He was very highly touted, and while he has played decently well in his first couple of years, he's been a mild disappointment. But he should excel this year, with all the talent around and and the experience to go along with his talent. For Indiana, Earl Calloway should be studly at PG. In the NCAA Tournament loss against Gonzaga he nearly had a triple double (13 points, 10 assists, 9 rebounds). He should be a leader in the backcourt. The Illini lost their leader Dee Brown, but Brian Randle should grow and become their best player this year. The Spartans lost their top 3 scorers as mentioned, but Drew Neitzel returns and should become one of the best players in the Big 10. He's a good passer, ballhandler, and shooter, which is something he'll be called on to do more of. Lastly, the Gophers don't have a lot of hope this year, but if they're going to have success it must come from Spencer Tollackson. The big man has the ability, he just has to remain consistent.

Predicted Order of Finish
1. Wisconsin
2. Indiana
3. Ohio St.
4. Illinois
5. Michigan
6. Michigan St.
7. Penn St.
8. Iowa
9. Purdue
10. Minnesota
11. Northwestern

I should also mention that if you want and need more in-depth coverage of the Big Ten, Big Ten Wonk is a great, great site. All the Big Ten writing you'll ever need right there.

Links and such

I'm all about giving here, which is why I'll give you some links that I enjoyed in the hopes that you too may enjoy them. Well, that and I had to write a paper that I just finished, and don't have time right now to continue my college basketball previews. But that's a secret for just you and I, so rest assured those will start back up tomorrow.

Anyway, enough inane rambling. Here's what you should check out:

- Pretty cool new project I have a small part of and you should all check out (if you know what's good for you)... The Water Cooler Online.

- Deadspin has all of your Harold Reynolds news. And frankly, if I could sue ESPN for turning to crap the past couple of years, I'd consider it.

- It's ok Insomniac, 1 out of 4 ain't bad. It's not like my football picks were any better.

- I'm pretty sure Raja Bell's site is the worst on the internet. As always, YAYSports is on top of things. (have I mentioned before how much I love YAYsports! NBA? Because I do)

- WBRS reports that the Notre Dame game won't be on national TV this week... poor poor Irish fans.

- Jeff Brantley won't be on ESPN next year... who do I write the check to for making this possible?

- The Philadelphia 76ers are 3-0... there's a long ways to go, but what a great start. Guess Iverson isn't wearing down quite yet.

- If you still haven't read it, my Big 12 Preview... if you have read it alread, go play outside before it gets too cold.

Monday, November 06, 2006

College Basketball Preview: Big 12

We started things off with the ACC Preview, now it's time to move on to the next major conference, the Big 12, a conference that had an influx of solid coaches (more on that later) which will only help the league in the long run.

Player of the Year: Loads of candidates here, but we have to start at the top, and that is the Kansas Jayhawks, who have a couple of candidates. First is Brandon Rush, who shot nearly 50% from downtown last year, is athletic, and rebounds well. As a freshman he averaged 13.5 PPG and about 6 rebounds per contest. His teammate Julian Wright is equally skilled. At 6'8'' he causes matchup problems, can get to the hoop, finish, and find the open man. Just has all the skills you'd want in a wing man.

Moving away from Kansas, there are still a lot of great candidates. From up-and-comer Texas A&M there is guard Acie Law and post Joseph Jones. Law is solid on both ends of the floor and is a very good outside shooter. Jones flirted with going to the draft before deciding to return to school. These guys are a big reason why there is lots of excitement in Aggie-Land this year. Elsewhere in Texas, Jarrious Jackson returns for his senior year at Texas Tech. He's seemingly been in Lubbock forever (at least to me), and will be a leader for TT. He's very quick and herky-jerky off the dribble, has a great floater in the lane, and keeps the defender honest with a nice outside jumper. Other candidates include JamesOn Curry of Oklahoma St. (was it really only two years ago he was on the team with John Lucas, Joey Graham, Ivan McFarlin, & Co. making a run in the Tourney?), Richard Roby of Colorado, and maybe even Kevin Durant of Texas.

But then it comes down to it, I think Brandon Rush is the best player in the Big 12. Combine that with him being on what should be an excellent team, and that equals up to him being my preseason Big 12 Player of the Year.

Freshmen to Watch: Judging from all of the scouting reports, this list starts with Kevin Durant of Texas. He is one of the top 2 incoming freshmen in the nation (along with Greg Oden), and should have immediate impact for the Longhorns. He's athletic, finishes at the rim, and can shoot from outside. This will likely be his only season in Austin. Also for the Longhorns is DJ Augustine in the backcourt, who will also get big minutes from Day 1. Kansas returns lots of guys, but they've also got talent coming in, with players like Darrell Arthur and Sherron Collins. At the very least, they will push the incumbent starters for playing time and could supplant them in the lineup at some point. For new coach Bob Huggins at Kansas St., the 7'3'' BIG man Jason Bennett will be counted on early, as will JUCO Transfer (close enough) SG Blake Young.

Breakout Players: One candidate is Curtis Jerrells from Baylor, a guy many may not know but is a real nice looking player. Baylor looks to be much improved this year, and Jerrells is at the heart of that. Then there is Martin Zeno from Texas Tech. He was very good as a freshman, but struggled a little bit last year according to Bobby Knight. Still, I like this lefty's game, and he can score in a variety of ways as a #2 option to Jarrious Jackson. Iowa St. lost a lot of guys, but Rahshon Clark will be back, and should emerge for the Cyclones in the absence of the two guards from last year. Last is AJ Abrams, one of the lone holdovers that was a big contributor for the Texas Longhorns last year. Only a sophomore, he will have to take on a big leadership role for Texas as well as handling the ball very often.

What else to Watch: I hinted at it earlier, but there are lots of new coaches in the Big 12. Most notably is Bob Huggins for Kansas St., but there are lots of intriguing questions surrounding the rest. Will Mike Anderson's up-and-down style from UAB work with Mizzou in the Big 12? Can Greg McDermott continue with the success he had in the MVC? Can Sean Sutton continue the work of Eddie Sutton? Can Jeff Capel continue the success of the past tournament runs Kelvin Sampson had (without the scandals)? All the more reasons that the Big 12 will be one of the more interesting conferences in the nation this year.

Predicted Order of Finish
1. Kansas
2. Texas A&M
3. Texas
4. Kansas St.
5. Oklahoma St.
6. Texas Tech
7. Baylor
8. Oklahoma
9. Colorado
10. Iowa St.
11. Missouri
12. Nebraska

Saturday, November 04, 2006

NFL Picks Against the Spread: Week 9

Very busy weekend for me, so I'll just give my picks.

Green Bay (+3) over Buffalo

Tennessee (+9.5) over Jacksonville

New Orleans (-1) over Tampa Bay

Chicago (-13.5) over Miami

St. Louis (-2) over Kansas City

New York Giants (-13) over Houston

Dallas (-3) over Washington

Cincinnati (+3) over Baltimore

Detroit (+5) over Atlanta

San Francisco (+5) over Minnesota

Denver (+3) over Pittsburgh

San Diego (-12.5) over Cleveland

New England (-3) over Indianapolis

Oakland (+7) over Seattle

Last Week: 5-9
Season: 52-56-6

Friday, November 03, 2006

College Basketball Preview: ACC

Amazingly and thankfully, the NCAA Basketball season is approaching quickly, which is good because it's the sport I enjoy most. So like the my NBA previews right before this and College Football Preview, it's time to look at the major conference previews. No rest for the weary!

Player of the Year: For the most part, this is a league of skilled big men (and great freshmen, as we'll learn later). Any discussion here starts with Tyler Hansbrough of North Carolina, who might the favorite for National Player of the Year. He averaged 19 and 8 as a true freshman, and has just a great feel around the basket. Next in line is Jerad Dudley from Boston College. He's been great alongside Craig Smith, but now is his time to shine. He can play inside/outside, rebound well, and he's an excellent passer. Another skilled big man with a chance is Josh McRoberts of Duke. He flirted with the NBA before deciding to come back, and he's the best ballhandling big man in the country, and extremely athletic. And with Greg Paulus out to start the year, they'll need him to have a big impact early. Other candidates are Al Thornton of Florida St., Reyshawn Terry of North Carolina, and JR Reynolds of Virginia. However, when it comes down it, I don't think anyone will be able to beat out Tyler Hansbrough.

Freshmen to Watch: Well we have to start at North Carolina, where they grabbed what were considered the #1 HS prospects at PF, SG, and PG with Brandan Wright, Wayne Ellington, and Tywon Lawson respectively. All three should contribute in some way to an already young and talented Tar Heel squad. Not far behind UNC's class is Duke's, which features SF Gerald Henderson, SG Jon Scheyer, and late signee Lance Thomas. With the departures of Shelden and JJ, as well as the injury to Paulus, these guys will be looked on early as well. And the trifecta in the ACC as far as good freshmen go is Georgia Tech, led by Thaddeus Young. and Javaris Crittenton. Both were top 15 prospects, though Thaddeus Young is consensus top 10. At 6'8'', he can create shots for himself and should immediately be a very solid scorer.

Breakout Players: There are a couple of guys I really like off of Boston College. One is Tyrese Rice, who was the backup PG last year, but assumes the starting role with Louis Hinnant gone. Rice is a dyanmic scorer with a very quick release on his jumper. Next is Sean Williams, a beast of a man down low. He's exceptionally athletic, which makes him one of the best shot blockers in the conference. Here's something I wrote after the BC Sweet 16 game last year:

Human beings are just simply not supposed to do what Sean Williams did to block Kyle Lowry's shot at the end of regulation. He came from the other side of the lane to block that thing. One of the better blocks I've ever seen.

Predicted Order of Finish:
1. North Carolina
2. Boston College
3. Duke
4. Georgia Tech
5. Maryland
6. Florida St.
7. Virginia
8. NC State
9. Wake Forest
10. Clemson
11. Virginia Tech
12. Miami