Thursday, April 30, 2009

Flagrant Fouls

In the last couple of days there has been some pretty physical play in the NBA. But hey, that's expected in the playoffs. Players are expected to raise the intensity to another level. They're in the midst of a best-of-seven series, and they see the same players guarding them each night. Tempers are bound to fly.

Three cases in particular involved Magic center, and 2009 Defensive Player of the Year, Dwight Howard, Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo and Heat guard Dwyane Wade. Let us now take a look at each incident of physical play, and attempt to figure out if the refs made the right call.

Exhibit A: Howard's elbow to the head of Samuel Dalembert.




The Result: No flagrant foul was called at the time, but the NBA reviewed the play and Howard has been suspended for tonight's Game 6 at Philadelphia.

The Verdict: Howard probably deserved the suspension. It was a stupid thing of him to do, trying to elbow Dalembert in the head. He got caught in the heat of the moment and let it boil over. As a result, the Magic will now be without its best player, as well as PG Courtney Lee, for Game 6. In other words, the 76ers will likely push this series back to central Florida for Game 7.


Exhibit B: Rondo's fould on Brad Miller at the end of Game 5 in Boston.



The Result: No flagrant foul was called. Just a regular foul. Rondo has not been disciplined for his actions.

The Verdict: This should have been called a flagrant foul. Rondo didn't even try to make a play on the ball. He clearly went straight for Miller's head. I think the refs and the league dropped the ball on this one, because the call potentially cost the Bulls that game (even though Miller still had a chance to make the free throws).


Exhibit C: Wade's foul on Maurice Evans.


The play occurs at about the :43 mark.

The Result: Wade was called for a flagrant foul in what was already a physical game.

The Verdict: I think this was a bad call, and not just because I'm a Heat fan. This is a play that Wade attempts to make on defense all the time. He was clearly making a play on the ball, and there was some body contact, which should've been called a foul, but not a flagrant foul. This play was ridiculously close to being a clean block. I know the game was getting chippy, but this should not have been called a flagrant foul. Again, I think the refs blew this call.

Of course, all of these calls are subject to the ref's interpretation of Rule 12 Part B Section IV of the NBA's rule book:

"Section IV--Flagrant Foul a. If contact committed against a player, with or without the ball, is interpreted to be unnecessary, a flagrant foul--penalty (1) will be assessed. A personal foul is charged to the offender and a team foul is charged to the team. "

Monday, April 27, 2009

Two Things You Don't Often See in Baseball

One, in the ninth inning of the Marlins 13-2 loss to the Phillies (that's six straight if you're scoring at home), in lieu of using the arm of an exhausted bullpen in what was already a blowout loss, the Marlins decided to use outfielder Cody Ross to pitch. Oddly enough, this isn't the first time a position player has pitched an inning of relief this season: Nick Swisher pitched the eighth for the Yankees in a blowout loss to the Rays earlier this season, striking out one (Gabe Kapler). Ross gave up only an infield hit, and zero runs, making him the Marlins most effective pitcher on Sunday.

Second thing you don't often see: in the Yankees-Red Sox game, Jacoby Ellsbury made a straight steal of home. You don't see this happen much, but when it does, boy is it sheer awesomeness. A tip of the cap to you Jacoby, one, for making a straight steal of home, and two, for making the Yankees look foolish.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Introducing Your Mr. Irrelevant 2009

Pick 256 in the NFL Draft. The final pick this year, affectionately referred to as Mr. Irrelevant.

This year's 'lucky' winner of the prized title: Ryan Succop.

Not familiar with Mr. Succop?

Allow me to introduce you to him, America. Succop, a kicker from South Carolina, who converted on 49 of 69 field goal attempts in four years as a Gamecock, including a long field goal of 55 yards.

If you care to know more about Succop's career and personal life, here is his player page on the South Carolina Web site.

Now, Succop holds a special place in my heart, as he may be best remembered as being the kicker who's kick was blocked in the Swamp by Jarvis Moss on a would-be game-winning field goal as time expired. That block helped keep UF in the running for a shot at the BCS title in 2006.

So that leaves Succop now famous for two things: that blocked kick, and now being 2009's Mr. Irrelevant. As the winner of the, umm, prestigious(?) title, Succop will be greeted with a party and press conference in California where he will be "showered in gifts," be awarded the "Lowsman Trophy" and be given a tour of Huntington Beach. All of these are a part of Irrelevant Week.
So once again, congratulations Ryan Succop.

Why the Heat Have Turned It Around

There's an obvious explanation to this, then there's the lesser-known explanation.

The obvious reason why the Heat turned around their series with the Hawks and took a 2-1 lead after getting shellacked in Game 1: Dwyane Wade. In game 1 he struggles and scored only 19 points. The Hawks shut him down after he averaged over 30 for the season. In the next two games, Wade led the Heat to big halftime leads, finishing the games with 33 and 29 points, respectively. That puts him just at his season average of over 30 ppg.

The Heat can't win without their MV3, and that's been known.

However, there is another explanation for the Heat's turnaround: Jermaine O'Neal, who has averaged just over 20 points, 8 rebounds and 3.5 blocks in the two wins after managing only 5 points and 2 rebounds in the game 1 loss.

This is why the Heat traded for him back in February, to complement Wade. Any other role player on the Heat can step up and score 15-20 points for any given game. Those players are interchangeable when it comes to scoring: you can get 15-20 from Michael Beasley, Daequan Cook, Udonis Haslem, Mario Chalmers or even Jamario Moon on any random night. However, the Heat need a low-post presence to go with Wade's game. That's what O'Neal adds to the team: another dimension, a low-post threat, something that all successful playoff teams have.

I don't know how long to expect these types of games from the againg O'Neal, who has a record of knee injuries. However, as long as he is putting up these numbers, and as long as Wade keeps doing what he has been doing all season, then the Heat will continue to beat the Hawks.

If those numbers persist into the next round, then, dare I say, the Heat might stand a chance against LeBron and the Cavs. But I won't count our chickens before they hatch.

2009 NFL Draft: Day One. Initial Reactions.

Here are a few of my initial thoughts from Day One of the NFL Draft.

- I still can't believe how much money the Lions threw at Matthew Stafford. The NFL definitely needs to do something about a rookie salary cap. It's pretty absurd for these unproven prospects that teams are investing their future in, to be paid epic amounts of money, while many proven veterans aren't afforded the same type of contracts.

- The Jets gave up a lot to get QB Mark Sanchez (3 players and 2 draft picks), but his stock has risen greatly since his workouts. Plus, Kellen Clemens hasn't gotten to prove his worth, so this could be a good move by the Jets.

- Did Michael Crabtree really drop to the 49ers at 10? I guess some teams had issues with his reported arrogance. Regardless, the 49ers got arguably the best player in the draft with this pick.

- Donovan McNabb should be pelased with the pick of Jeremy Maclin. He's a speedy, solid receiver with deep-threat ability. Maclin, plus DeSean Jackson, I think should give McNabb a couple of options down field.

- Percy Harvin to the Vikings. How much did his positive drug test and reported attitude problems effect his stock? Not sure, but those two things do make him a risky pick, not to mention that he has been known to be injury-prone. However, I think his talent and athletic ability far exceed any negatives about him. We've seen what he can do when he's healthy, and he was possibly the most dangerous player in the NCAA with the ball in his hands over the last couple of years. Overall, I like this pick for the Vikings. Imagine, Adrian Peterson, Bernard Berrian and a healthy Harvin. Yikes, talk about a trifecta.

- I love what the Dolphins did on Day One. Vontae Davis, who was one of the most skilled corners in the draft, to improve a suspect secondary. Then Pat White in the second round. I know many people may be shocked by this pick, but I admit that I called this one months ago. White is a ridiculous athlete, and is obviously an ideal fit for a Wildcat style offense, which he undoubtedly will be used for. But I'm sure the Dolphins will find more use in him outside of that little niche in the Wildcat, I'm just anxious to see how he will do. Then they added another cornerback prospect with Sean Smith. Overall, I think it was a good day for the Fins, and I'm excited about their draft class thus far.

That's all for now, I'll be back later on with some more thoughts.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Marlins Get a Taste of Own Medicine

Remember way back to last week when the Marlins were visiting the Washington Nationals for a three-game series? You know, it was the last win for the club that has now dropped four straight after last night's debacle.

Anyways, remember when the Marlins were trailing heading into the ninth inning each of those three games, and then managed to go off on the Nationals bullpen, to steal victory from the jaws of defeat each time?

Well, last night the Marlins got Marlins'd, after heading into the ninth inning with a 3-0 lead built off of a solid seven inning outing from Josh Johnson, who struck out eight and only gave up three hits.

That's when Matt Lindstrom came to the mound, in the ninth. Then, before I know it, a 3-0 lead, and a tally in the win-column, quickly becomes a 7-3 deficit after a the Phillies explode in the top of the ninth, led by Shane Victorino's grand slam.

There's really no excuse for not being able to close out a great game by JJ, but it does happen, to every team, sooner of later. As I pointed out in Thursday's post on the Marlins, they needed to get a quality outing from a starter because they've had to rely on the bullpen too often, and it was only a matter of time before the bullpen gave in.

The Marlins did get a quality outing from a starter, and only had to rely on the 'pen for two innings. Yet, they still managed to give in, because, like I said, it was only a matter of time before it would happen.

And just like that, the Marlins managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and get a taste of their own medicine that they prescribed for the Nationals a week ago.

The $41 Million Question

Is $41 million in guranteed money worth playing for the Detroit Lions?

If you're former Georgia QB Matthew Stafford, the answer is a resounding 'Yes,' apparently.

Stafford and the Lions (who went an abysmal 0-16 in 2008), agreed to a contract late Friday that's worth $72 million over 7 years, including over $41 million in guaranteed money, and making Stafford the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft.

I guess $41 million guaranteed to Stafford is to make up for being drafted to play in NFL purgatory, where rarely does a career escape unscathed (except for Roy Williams, who managed to get traded to Dallas last season).

Though, I guess if Stafford doesn't completely fail in the Motor City, he does have Calvin "Megatron" Johnson to throw at, so maybe the Lions will improve. Because, let's face it, after setting the bar for futility in 2008, there's nowhere to go but up!

So good luck Matthew Stafford, and remember, even if your career faulters in Detroit, at least you got $41 million out of it. If you don't make stupid decision financially, you and your family will be set for life.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Pirates Go Fishing, Reel in Three Wins.

The Pittsburgh Pirates swept the Marlins in a three-game series this week, dropping the Marlins to a rough 11-4 record, and a mere four game lead in the NL East (and the only NL East team with a record above .500). Over the last three seasons, the Marlins have lost six of nine at PNC Park.

The Marlins hitters were stifled by Pittsburgh's staff, managing only six runs total in the series as the big bats were finally silenced. The heart of the Marlins order: Dan Uggla, Hanley Ramirez, and Jorge Cantu combined to go 4-24 from the plate (and Cantu only had three of those at-bats).

Let's face it, we all knew the Marlins weren't going to go 161-1 this season, but this sweep didn't come at a great time for the Fish, either. Tomorrow they open up a three-game home series with the defending World Series champs, followed by a three-game series at the Mets. That's the next six games against the two teams almost everyone picked to make the playoffs from the NL East entering the season. Not to mention they have a four-game series at Wrigley after the Mets.

Hitting cold stretches in the lineup is expected to happen in a 162 game season, so it's understandable that the Marlins had toruble hitting the Pirates' pitchers. However, the Marlins do need to get better outings from their starting pitchers, who showed so much promise the first week of the season.

Over the last six games against the Nationals and the Pirates, the Marlins starters pitched 4, 6, 4.1, 4.2, 7, and 6 innings. The only quality outing of that bunch, arguably, was Anibal Sanchez with his 7-inning start where he only allowed 3 ER. In Ricky Nolasco's six innings Wednesday, he gave up 5 ER, and Josh Johnson's six innings against the Nationals, he gave up 6 runs in the first two innings, including a grand slam by Austin Kearns.

Now I'm not saying it's time to panic, because the season is young and the Marlins are still in first. But I'm sure plenty of people will be hopping off the bandwagon after the sweep by the Pirates(!). Because, let's face it, if you take away the ninth innings against the Nationals, the Marlins have played, all-around, arguably their worst baseball of this new season, yet still managed to win three of those games, and only lose one game off of their first-place lead following the Pirates sweep.

But the bats are going to have to wake up for this next stretch of games, and the starting pitching is going to have to produce more quality outings, because you can only work the bullpen so much before they start to bend.

Let's just see how the Marlins respond after getting their first day off since April 13.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Notice.

Okay, so it's been a great weekend for sports, with the NBA playoffs underway, MLB in full swing, and the Stanley Cup Playoffs going on too.

I haven't been at the computer much this weekend, and am going to be really busy the next day or two. But rest assured, I will be back soon (probably Tuesday or Wednesday) with some new stuff, including the playoffs, and of course, the 11-1 (!) Florida Marlins, who can't seem to lose, no matter how many runs they trail in the 9th inning.

Until then, stay sweet, America.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

NBA A-Z: Revisited.

At the beginning of the NBA season, I did an A through Z preview of some things to look out for this season and what to expect. The regular season ended Wednesday night, and I wanted to take a look at how those expectations panned out. Some are still TBD, and I will revisit those again once the playoffs end in June. Orginal items will be in BOLD, with summaries in REGULAR print.

A is for Artest. Yes, Ron Artest, now with the Houston Rockets. Artest, T-Mac and Yao in the same lineup, that’s impressive. Artest himself said that with those three together, if they don’t win a title, it’s a failure. Let’s see how he adjusts to his new surroundings.
- Artest seems to have adjusted well in Houston. He finished the season with 17.1 ppg, 5.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists. He stepped it up when T-Mac went down for the year with a knee injury, and helped lead the Rockets to clinch the fifth seed in the ultra-competitive Western conference, and they open their first-round series against Portland this weekend.

B is for Boston. After a year in which the Pats went 16-0 in the regular season, the Red Sox won the World Series and the Celtics won the NBA title, the Patriots lost Tom Brady for the season (maybe longer), and the Sox were ousted from the playoffs by the normally futile Rays. Is this a bit of karma for the city of Boston?
- Karma indeed seems to have struck the city of Boston. What with the whole Brady injury (and Cassel trade), the Red Sox loss to the Rays and weak start to the 2009 season. The Celtics still managed to clinch the 2-seed in the East, but news today is that Kevin Garnett could be out for the playoffs, in which case, I don't like Boston's chances.

C is for CP3. Chris Paul is coming fresh off a breakthrough season. Can he be this year’s MVP, or more importantly, can he navigate his team through the Western Conference and into the NBA Finals after a semifinal loss to the Spurs?
-The Hornets managed to win 49 games this season, which somehow gets them the 7-seed out west, while it would have gotten them the 4-seed if they were still in Charlotte. Anyways, CP3 finished the season with almost 23 points, 11 assists and 3 steals per game, leading the league in the latter two. He will probably finish in the top five of MVP voting.

D is for D-Wade. Dwyane Wade is coming off of a turbulent season where the Heat went 15-67, and he underwent season-ending knee procedures. He looked like the best player on a stacked USA Olympic squad, and wants to prove to the league that he’s still the Flash from the 2006 NBA Finals.
- The Flash is most certainly back and better than ever. He led the league in scoring, at 30.2 points per game, and finished in the top 16 in steals, assists and blocks, something that's never been done before. Without his all-around performances this season, the Heat would likely have another lottery pick come this summer.

E is for Erik Spoelstra. Speaking of the Heat, this season they are being led by Erik Spoelstra, the youngest coach in the league, and the first Filipino-American head coach in the league. He’s got a lot of young talent to work with, with Wade, Michael Beasley and Mario Chalmers. Throw in Shawn Marion and Udonis Haslem, and the Heat will definitely improve form last season’s disaster.
- Cross out Shawn Marion from that list of weapons and add Jermaine O'Neal and Jamario Moon to the core of Wade, Haslem and budding stars in Beasley and Chalmers, and you get a 43-win season and the 5-seed in the playoffs. Sounds like a good rookie season coaching for Coach Spo. He is definitely in the running for this season's Coach of the Year award.

F is for First Round, as in, the first round of the playoffs. Mentioning T-Mac again here, but can he make it past the first round now that he has Yao and Artest?
-If the Rockets manage to make it past Portland in the first round this coming week, it won't be because of McGrady, who went down for the season with a knee injury. His team might finally win a first-round series, but he will technically still have that blaring omission on his resume.

G is for Gregg Popovich and his beard, in all of its bushy glory. He’s been letting it grow all through the preseason, recently giving it a trim. I believe Tony Kornheiser has an over/under on how long it will get this season.
-Popp has been rocking the face-warmer all season, and it's still as glorious as it was at the beginning of the season.

H is for Hair. Joakim Noah, Ben Wallace, Anderson Varejao and now Robin Lopez are nominees for craziest hair in the league this year.
-I really have nothing to add to this, except that Anderson "The Chosen 2" Varejao needs to get rid of the Sideshow Bob look, now.

I is for Iguodala. Andre Iguodala and the 76ers reloaded with their new addition of Elton Brand in the front court. Can they be a threat in the East this year?
- Elton Brand went down early, and the other AI still managed to leade the 76ers in points and steals en route to a .500 record and the 6-seed in the Eastern conference.

J is for Jesus Shuttlesworth. Jesus Shuttlesworth, quite possibly the best name in basketball, ever. You may know him as Ray Allen though. So now that he and Kevin Garnett have their rings, do they become complacent? Or do they manage a repeat?
-Allen averaged 18 points per game this season and shot 41 percent from behind the arc. He helped step up when Garnett was out with injuries, and seems to not be too complacent. Though, he did tarnish his image earlier in the week when he tried to elbow Varejao in the groin. That's just a no-no, doing that to another man.

K is for Kapono. Jason Kapono, that is. He’s the two-time defending three-point shootout champion. Can he go for the threepeat at this year’s All Star Game?
- Down goes the champ. He was dethroned this All-Star break by Daequan Cook of the Heat, the team that Kapono was on when he won his first trophy. The third time was not a charm for Kapono.

L is for LeBron. Does this one really need an explanation? The man is the best driver of the basketball the league has ever seen, just ask Skip Bayless. With a solid point guard this year, this might be his year to make another run at a title.
-The King led his team to the best record in the league, and an absurd 40-2 record at home, all while putting up insane numbers that will probably win him the MVP this season. With the addition of Mo Williams, the Cavs improved their record by over 20 games this season. Not to mention, with KG likely out for the playoffs, this could be LeBron's chance to make a serious title run.

M is for Mamba, as in Black Mamba, as in Kobe Bryant. He’s a scoring assassin, and finally made it back to the NBA Finals without Shaq last season. Now he has Andrew Bynum healthy, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom filling out his front court.
-Another MVP-caliber season for Bryant, who led the Lakers to the best record in the west, and second best in the league behind the Cavs. They are the popular pick to make it to the NBA finals against LeBron and company. The ratings would be great for the league, no doubt.

N is for Nets. Sure, they’re impending move to Brooklyn has been pushed back, but this offseason they’ve been working on making cap space, moving Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson in the past year, probably preparing to make a run at the King James sweepstakes in a couple of seasons.
-The Nets finished the season 14 games under .500, but there certainly was a bright spot in breakout point guard Devin Harris, who they aquired for Jason Kidd at the end of last season. If you think LeBron is good with Mo Williams in Cleveland, imagine if the Nets reel James in next offseason and pair him up with Harris.

O is for Oden. Greg Oden, who has yet to play an NBA game since being the first overall draft pick in 2007. Is his presence going to push the youthful Trailblazers over the hump and into contention in the West? Oden can be a force for years to come, a true big man. You can’t teach being seven feet tall.
- The fragile big man missed another 21 games this season, averaging just 9 points and 7 rebounds for the season. Like I said, his team is still in the playoffs, but Oden has yet to emerge like the Blazers expected when they drafted him No. 1 overall in the 2007 draft.

P is for Playoffs, as in Western Conference Playoffs. There are eight playoff spots in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, and ten high quality teams: Lakers, Spurs, Hornets, Jazz, Blazers, Warriors, Rockets, Mavs, Suns and Nuggets. How many wins will it take to clinch a berth this season, and who will be the odd men out?
-The simple answer to that question is: Phoenix and Golden State. Phoenix missed out by just a couple of games, while the Warriors managed only 29 wins, missing out by 19 games. Yikes.

Q is for Question of the Year: Is Pat Riley really done coaching? He handpicked his successor this time around (Spoelstra) just like he did last time he stepped down from the Heat’s head coaching position (Van Gundy). But have we seen the last of the Armani suits and slicked back hair on the sidelines, or will Riley usurp Spoelstra’s position at the first sign of promise, like he did to Van Gundy.
-Another simple answer: No. A pleasant surprise to myself and other Heat fans.

R is for Rookie of the Year. So many quality candidates this season: Michael Beasley, Derrick Rose, O.J. Mayo, and let’s not forget that Oden is technically still a rookie, despite being drafted in 2007. Can the 2007 draft class win a second Rookie of the Year award, or will the 2008 class hold off Oden and claim what's rightfully their's?
-The 2007 draft class will not nab another ROY trophy, that's for sure. The award is probably going to end up in the possession of Rose, with Mayo likely finishing a distant second.

S is for Sir Charles. Charles Barkley recently said in an interview that he would consider running for governor of Alabama, here at 4th and Fail, I would vote for him, but then I wouldn’t be able to listen to his priceless rhetoric with EJ and Kenny on TNT all season. The Round Mound of Rebound, what a knucklehead. We look forward to another great year of quotes from you, Chuck.
-Sir Charles was in the news a lot this new year, as he was pulled over for a DUI, suspended from TNT and served a brief jail sentence. The All-Star break was not the same without him, I admit. However, despite all his gaffs and ridiculous one-liners, my favorite "Chuck" moment of the season was when he owned up to what he did and accepted full blame for the situation.

T is for Thunder. Yes, the Oklahoma City Thunder. So long Seattle, we’ll miss all those cuts from the cameramen of the fish markets in town. Will this change of scenery really help Kevin Durant and Co.?
-Year one in OKC: 23-59. Not so great. However, their young core, led by Kevin Durant did show some signs of promise, as Durant is becoming a scoring machine. Another lottery pick can only benefit this young team.

U is for Usurping. We just want to reiterate the fact that we are convinced that Riley will undoubtedly replace Spoelstra as soon as the Heat begin to succeed.
- Again, reiterating my answer from the letter Q: No. To the pleasant surprise of myself and many other Heat fans.

V is for Vinny Del Negro. How does the first year Bulls coach do this season? Can he lead a talented young group, led by Rose and Ben Gordon into the Eastern Conference’s elite?
-Not quite in the conference's elite, however Del Negro did help lead the Bulls to the 7-seed in the east. Unfortunately for them, that means they face the defending champs in the opening round.

W is for Win. Who will walk away this season as champions? Can the aging Spurs pull off another run, for their fifth title since 1999?
-This is one of those things that remains to be seen. Check back with me in June, but my bet is that the Spurs won't pull their fifth in 10 years with Manu Ginobili out with an ankle injury. But that's just my guess.

X is for X-Factor. Yes, we’re talking about James Posey. Everybody seems to be making such a big deal of his move to New Orleans with the Hornets. Yes, he was a key contributor to two of the last three NBA Championship squads. Can he do it again this year with Chris Paul and company?
- Again, this one is to be determined. However, Posey averaged 9 points and 5 rebounds off the bench for the Hornets. Check back again in June to see if he played a role in deciding this season's champion, for the third year in a row.

Y is for Youth Movement. With stars like Shaq, Tim Duncan, Allen Iverson, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen all aging, is it time the league’s youth movement truly takes over with the likes of LeBron, Wade, Oden, Paul, Rose, Beasley, Mayo, Deron Williams, etc.
-The Youth Movement seems to be in full effect, led by the likes of LeBron, Wade and Paul. Of the againg stars mentioned above, Shaq missed the playoffs, Iverson ended his season early with a bad back, Garnett will likely be out for the playoffs and Duncan and Allen are still chugging along.

Z if for Zero, as in Agent Zero: Gilbert Arenas. When he does make his eventual return to the court for the Wizards, will he be the Agent Zero of old, or will he have a tough time recovering from knee surgeries?
-Arenas played in just two games at the end of the season, averaging 13 points and 10 assists. We won't know until next season how well he has come back from those injuries. Even worse news: Arenas has retired from blogging, something that he was very good at. His was one of the most entertaining celebrity blogs on the Web.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

FIU's New Basketball Coach?

Reports are that FIU could have a new basketball coach as early as Tuesday.

The new coach? Isiah Thomas.

You may have heard of him. He is most recently remembered for driving the New York Knicks organization into the ground as President of Basketball Operations and as head coach, leading a team with the second-highest payroll to the second-worst record in the league, and for overdosing on sleeping pills. Let's not forget the sexual harassment lawsuit and allegations of racism that were thrown in with his days in New York.

Before that though, Thomas was one hell of a player on the court for the Detroit Pistons when he won two NBA titles, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000 on his first time on the ballot.

However, his time as a coach was not nearly as successful, with a .456 winning percentage in five seasons, missing the playoffs twice, and never advancing past the first round.

To be fair though, FIU's basketball program is no prized horse, as they finished last season with a 13-20 record. So Thomas can't really bring the program down that much more, right? The only place to go from there is up!

Anyways, he apparently likes the location of the school (who could argue with Miami, really?), and wants a place where he could start fresh.

According to the report, FIU AD, Pete Garcia was checking on the viability of hiring Thomas.

If a deal can't be reached this week, FIU does have other prospects on their wishlist. One of which is another great player-turned-controversial figure in the media. Yes, you guessed it, former Miami Heat player, and everyone's ummm... favorite(?) homophobe: Tim Hardaway.

I'm not questioning either of these guy's knowledge of the game (though I am questioning Thomas' knowledge of good business when he traded away several draft picks, including a couple of lottery picks for Eddy Curry, but i digress...), but wow, FIU, you sure do know how to pick 'em.

I guess there aren't any stand-up individuals who will help mold a young Golden Panthers team into exceptional young men both on and off the court, just big name former NBA-ers who will bring the small program some much-needed publicity. I mean honestly, when was the last time FIU sports got national coverage? Might it be this incident?

After all, any publicity is good publicity, right?

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Florida Marlins are 5-1, Prepare the Bandwagon.

That's right, one week into the season and the Florida Marlins are tied for the best record in the majors at 5-1 (the Braves are also 5-1). Obviously, the two are also tied for first in the NL East.

Opening week for the Marlins was within the (sometimes) friendly confines of Dolphin Stadium (home games against the Mets sometimes feel like away games with the number of Mets fans in attendance).

However, the next nine games, and 16 of their next 19 are on the road, with the lone home series coming against defending World Series champion Philadelphia.

How the young Marlins fare during this next stretch will tell a lot about the team and their chances as the season progresses. Though, admittedly, two of the next three series are against the Nationals (winless) and the Pirates (they're the Pirates...).

But as of now, led by strong starting pitching (and Josh Johnson's 2-0 record with a .57 ERA and 15 Ks), timely hitting (Bonifacio is batting .500 in the leadoff spot, Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla and Jorge Cantu all have 2 home runs), and a little bit of luck (two unearned runs against Johan Santana on Sunday, which resulted in a win), the Marlins are in first place, and making me look brilliant for picking them in the playoffs (knocks on wood).

It also has fair-weather fans who are ready to purchase a piece of Marlins merchandise and hop on the bandwagon.

Double Nickel'd

So heading into the final week of the season, I was beginning to face the fact that regardless of how ridiculous Dwyane Wade's season has been, that he wasn't going to win the MVP this season for one simple reason: LeBron James.

LeBron has put up comparable stats to Wade's, but LeBron's team is going to finish with over 60 wins this season, and the NBA MVP has traditionally been associated with the best player on one of the best teams. This season, it's likely LeBron, and I was getting ready to accept that fact, despite what Wade has done all year long for a team that would be getting another lottery pick if it weren't for his efforts.

But then Wade had to go and do what he did to the Knicks on Sunday night, and I couldn't quite concede the award to James... yet.

Wade set a new career-high with 55 points against the Knicks, one shy of the franchise record held by Glen Rice.

Wade had 50 through three quarters before taking it easy in the fourth.

Coach Erik Spoelstra said after the game that he took Wade out with 55 because he already owns most of the records in the franchise's record book, and thought that this one should be left for Rice. For now, that is.

Before being taken out, Knick coach Mike D'Antoni called Wade over to the Knicks bench where he told Wade that it wasn't fair how good he is. D'Antoni should be one to know about how great players are, after all, Kobe did go for 61 against his team this season, then LeBron for 52 a couple days later. He also coached all three of those players as an assistant for Team USA.

So if D'Antoni is willing to tell Wade how good he is, during a game, no less, and admit that Wade is better than he's ever been (I'm looking at you Wade of the 2006 NBA Finals) then I'm not willing to give up on Wade's MVP candidacy, and neither is the Heat franchise.

The Heat sent out promotional packets to MVP voters this week. Inside the packets are an "MV3" t-shirt, a paperweight and a DVD of Wade's season highlights (which don't even include Sunday night's show).

After all, the award is all about campaigning and politicking. However, before the votes get cast, I think voters should ask themselves a couple of questions: Where would the Cavs be without James? Then ask themselves: Where would the Heat be without their "MV3."

Once those questions are answered, I think you have your answer for this season's most valuable player.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Preston Tucker Put On A Show

UF freshman first-baseman Preston Tucker put on a show for fans who stuck around McKethan Stadium Wednesday night despite the unseasonably cold weather.

On this chilly (read: very cold for Florida in April) spring evening, Tucker, from Tampa gave fans more than just "Dollar Night" to cheer about.

The freshman tied an SEC single-game record for RBI with 11, breaking the school mark of 10 previously held by left fielder Avery Barnes.

As if the 11 RBI performance wasn't impressive enough, the manner in which he did it was pretty absurd: he hit home runs in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings.

In the fifth, he blasted a grand slam to right field.

In the sixth, he had a three-run shot to center field.

In the seventh, he had another grand slam, this time to left-center.

Yes, that's right, he had two grand slams and 11 RBI in the span on three innings.

I guess it's safe to say that students attending the game got their money's worth (though the games are free with a student ID). On top of Tucker's one-man show and dollar night (where sodas, hot dogs and popcorn all cost $1), the first 250 students in attendance were treated to free subs (ham or turkey, complete with a bag of chips and two oreos) courtesy of Firehouse Subs.

I certainly hope someone saved one of those subs for Tucker after the game, because he certainly deserved one. I guess he'll just have to settle for a 16-3 win over UCF.

Final note: College: where a student can get a baseball game, a sub, chips, oreos and a soda for a grand total of one dollar. Gotta love it.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

MLB Preview from A-Z

I did one of these for the NBA back at the start of that season, so I figured I might as well kickoff the MLB season in the same manner. Disclaimer: Keep in mind I'm a Marlins fan, so in full disclosure, this may be a bit slanted towards my team. Enjoy.

A is for A-Rod. Don't act surprised. You knew this was going to be there for the letter A. We all heard about the guy nearly 24/7 in the offseason, so who's to say that the media won't be covering him the same way while he's actually in-season? I want to see how Yanks fans, and opposing fans treat him all season. Could be interesting.

B is for Bonds, Barry Bonds. Oh look, the first two letters on this preview are about the two biggest hitters (and 'roiders) in baseball. What a shock. But anyways, will any team dare to sign Bonds, who is a public relations disaster, yet at the same time a big draw for fans. Plus, he's only 65 hits shy of 3,000... which is kind of impressive.

C is for C.C. Sabathia. The Yankees threw a ridiculous amount of money ($161 million for seven years) at the free agent left-handed pitcher this offseason, a record contract for pitchers. He was a beast for the Brewers in the regular season after he was traded and they surged into the playoffs. However, he has only won two career postseason starts, and that's going to have to change if the Yanks want their investment to payoff.

D is for the D-Train. The Tigers put pitcher Dontrelle Willis on the disabled list last week because of an anxiety disorder. What happened to him? He was the 2003 Rookie of the Year for the Marlins, and helped in their World Series run that season. He won 22 games with a 2.63 ERA in 2005. Since then, his numbers have been down and he only appeared in 8 games for the Tigers in 2008. Will Willis, a very talented and charismatic young pitcher, be able to get his career back on track?

E is for Errors. Last year Dan Uggla and Hanley Ramirez combined for 35 errors, the most among double-play turners in 2008. If the Marlins want to succeed this year, these two star players will have to improve their fielding.

F is for Five-hundred. Gary Sheffield was released by the Tigers last week, just one home run shy of the big milestone of 500. The Mets picked him up, making that milestone a near guarantee this season. That means the Mets will likely have two players reach that mark this season, as Carlos Delgado is just 31 home runs shy of the mark himself.

G is for Global Warming (or Global Climate Change, if that's what you prefer). The White Sox season opener was postponed due to snow. In April. This is gettin ridiculous. We're starting to see too many early season games affected because of the inclimate weather, and we all remember what happened in postseason with the rain in Philly. Bud Selig and the MLB need to do something to adjust to this obvious change in weather patterns.

H is for Home Runs. The MLB league total for home runs has been steadily declining since 2006, when it was at 5,386 total home runs. In fact, the totals for the last two seasons (4,878 in 2008 and 4,957 in 2007) have been the lowest since 1997 when 4,640 home runs were jacked. Will this recent downward trend continue? And does it indicate that the MLB's steroid policies are starting to kick in with less balls flying out of the park?

I is for Ichiro. Winner of the World Baseball Classic, but that's not why we care about him. All eight of his MLB seasons, he has had over 200 hits, averaging 225.6 hits per season. Therefore I'll set the over/under on his hit total this season at 225.6, and I'll be taking the under... barely.

J is for Joba. Joba Chamberlain will be starting for the Yankees this season. He went back and forth between the bullpen and the starting rotation, starting 12 games in 2008, and coming out of the pen 49 times. Hank Steinbrenner wants Joba to be a starter, and in his final spring game, he retired 16 straight batters at one point. It's going to be interesting to see how he fares as the fifth starter in the Bronx.

K is for Kansas City. The Royals haven't made the playoffs since 1985 when they won the World Series. They haven't finished better than second in their division since 1995. Since their last playoff appearance, four franchises have been added to the league. Those four have combined for 5 pennants and three World Series titles. Talk about futility, but the Royals probably won't end that playoff drought this season, either. But I figured they deserve at least a mention, it's the least I could do.

L is for Liriano. Francisco Liriano will be the opening day starter for the Twins. Liriano went 12-3 as a rookie for the Twins in 2006 (finishing third for Rookie of the Year) and went 6-4 in only 14 games last season. Now, sans Sabathia, he has the chance to excel as the ace of the rotation for the Twins, that is, if he is completely recovered from Tommy John surgery in November, 2006.

M is for Maddux. The Braves will be retiring the pitcher's No. 31 on July 17 and induct him into the organization's Hall of Fame. Greg Maddux won 18 Gold Gloves, was a member of the 1995 World Series team with the Braves, won four consecutive Cy Young awards, and has 335 career wins, which puts him at eighth all time.

N is for New York. No, not the Yankees, they've been mentioend enough times here. I'm talking about that other New York team, the Mets. In the offseason they added Francisco Rodriguez as their closer. The real question is, if their bullpen is solid now with K-Rod closing the deal, how will the Mets blow the division this season? If you're looking for possibilities, you can find a few of them here.

O is for One-hit Wonders. You got it, the Tampa Rays. Will they fall back into obscurity (doubtful), but will they have a run like last year? That's questionable. They still need to beat out the Red Sox and/or the Yankees to make the playoffs again. But I'm sure they won't be the Devil Rays of old again.

P is for the Phillies. Only one question. The same question that gets raised at the beginning of every season for the reigning champs. Will they repeat? And will this fan have learned his lesson the second time around if they do?

Q is for Quits. This offseason we saw both Maddux and Curt Schilling call it quits. I just want to know who the next big-name player to hang 'em up will be. Will the next big name occur during the season, or afterwards?

R is for Ramirez. Manny finally re-signed with the Dodgers after a long stint of negotiations. His numbers were absurd in his short time with the team last season after being traded by the Red Sox. But now that he's got his contract, how will he mesh with the team for the entire season. Will Manny be Manny?
-While I'm on the topic of Ramirez, the Marlins' Hanley Ramirez put on close to 25 pounds of muscle this offseason, and will now be hitting in the heart of the order instead of leadoff. The scary thing, he could easily be a power hitter in the heart of the order instead of hitting for average in the leadoff spot.

S is for... you guessed it, Steroids. The biggest name this offseason was obviously A-Rod, but I guarantee you that another big name will surface sometime this season. One seemingly always does. Any bets on what that name will be?

T is for Teixeira. Mark Teixeira signed a huge contract with the Yankees this offseason as well. $181 million, that's more than 10 percent of what the Yankees paid for their new stadium. On that note, I'm starting to think that the Yankees have more money than God, as they have a $1.3 billion stadium and the largest payroll in the league, including the four highest paid players in the league (A-Rod, Jeter, Sabathia and Teixeira).

U is for Umpires. After a trial-run at the end of last season, instant replay is set for it's first full season this year. Now the umps will have concrete evidence to look to for home run and foul ball calls. Now if only they added it for plays at bases (though it would take away from the "flow" of the actual game).

V is for Virgin, as in Rookie. My bet for Rookie of the Year goes to Cameron Maybin of the Marlins. In his debut with the Marlins at the end of last season, he tied the franchise record by reaching base in 10 consecutive at-bats. He finished the year with a .481 average and four stolen bases. In the AL, I'll go with Rays pitcher David Price, who made a name for himself coming out of the bullpen in the playoffs for the Rays. He;s starting the season in the minor leagues, but he'll be a stud for them by the time the season comes to an end in the fall.

W is for World Series. I'm a big Marlins fan, I don't hide it. They won their first World Series in 1997. Six years later, they won again in 2003. Well, it's been six years since the last title, so I'm going to go out on a limb here and call them for this season's World Series. If it happens, you read it here first.

X is for the Wild Card winners (X). If I'm picking the Marlins to win it all, then that means they're going to clinch the NL Wild Card. In the AL I'm going to go with the Yankees.

Y is for the Division Winners (Y). I'm going to go with the Phillies, Dodgers and Cubs in the NL and the Red Sox, Angels and Twins in the AL.

Z is for Zone Evaluation. A new pitch-tracking system, called Zone Evaluation, will be used to monitor balls and strikes this season. It will be used in every park, as opposed to the old QuesTec system that was in place since 2001, and was only used in about one-third of all major league parks.


With that list complete, I hope you all enjoy the season, and let's PLAY BALL!

Friday, April 3, 2009

The NITtany Lions

Congrats to the Penn State NITtany Lions, as they were "crowned" the champions of the NIT Men's Basketball Tournament Thursday night after beating the Baylor Bears 69-63.

I don't know how much of an accomplishment this really is. If the NCAA Tournament is the "Big Dance," then the NIT must be the "Small Get-Together."

Except instead of taking a good-looking date to the gathering, they end up taking their cousin... except for guard Stanley Pringle, who was too busy in the library to find a date for the occasion.

So congratulations Penn State, you are the 66th best team in the nation this year. Wear the crown well.