Archives for October 2009

Illini Win??!!?? Yes, You Read That Right!

ROSE BOWL
By Paul Schmidt

There’s no one anywhere who predicted an Illinois win Saturday against Michigan.  I’m about the biggest Illinois apologist that there is, and even I was urging you to bet against the Illini, and to lay 7 points while doing it!

After a short amount of time, however, the glow of a great victory has waned and left two very poignant questions to be asked.

The first is whether this was a victory from an Illinois team finally playing up to expectations, or whether this victory can completely be attributed to the wheels falling off of this Michigan teams’ wagon.

The more that I think about the game, the more I really believe the latter to be true.  Michigan’s defense is starting to play ridiculously bad.  It’s almost getting comical at just how bad they are playing.

The Wolverines are doing whatever the opposite of peaking is, winning only one game in their last five, with that win being against FCS opponent Delaware State. With NCAA investigators descending upon Ann Arbor, RichRod looking dirtier than Rod Blagojevich and a best-case scenario of six wins (with games remaining against Purdue, Wisconsin and Ohio State, winning one would be an accomplishment), Michigan is definitely in disarray.

Illinois just managed to take advantage of that.

The second question is much more accusatory towards the Illini — Just where was this type of offensive production all season?? I understand that Michigan’s D isn’t that good, and that Illinois just managed to take advantage of it. But 55 rushes for 377 yards? Illinois didn’t even manage that production against Illinois State earlier this season, in their only other win. That type of production has little to do with the quality of your opponent — You’re just getting the job done up front and mangling a team when you get that many yards. And even if Michigan’s defense (along with coordinator Greg Robinson) is terrible, Illinois still was great on offense, just like everyone thought they would be all season long.

So why now? Why, when they are 1-6, and 0-5 in the Big Ten, can Illinois suddenly move the football?  Why is the offense NOW able to create some opportunities? Why did it take so long for this team to finally get motivated and put up the effort which we all knew they were capable of?

Zook_thinkingUnfortunately, those are all questions that only Ron Zook has the answer to, and no doubt he’s not giving anyone the answers.

And therein lies the ultimate problem.

This team would have almost been better off playing horribly the rest of the season — this win only provides a ridiculous tease to an increasingly more disenchanted fan base.  While they were certainly placated during the second half, and most likely after the game as well, soon all of their minds will turn to these questions, namely, just where was all this effort all season long?

If Zook can’t figure out what worked this week, and how to consistently squeeze this type of effort out of his team, remarkably, the win may end up reflecting worse on him than any loss would have.

NBA Power Rankings: #8 Atlanta Hawks

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By: David Kay

2008-09 Season Summary:
Hawks management doesn’t get near the credit it deserves for re-building Atlanta into a respectable NBA franchise. They pretty much stole Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby in trades, and while a couple of their draft picks have back-fired (i.e. Shelden Williams and Acie Law), selections like Al Horford, Josh Smith, and Marvin Williams have been solid. Still, Atlanta is a far way from being an elite NBA team as demonstrated by them getting swept by the Cavs in the second round of the playoffs. With a move or two this off-season, the Hawks could take the next step to compete with the big dogs in the Eastern Conference.

Check out the Hawks season preview and other NBA previews.

Take It To The Bank! CFB Week 9

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By Paul Schmidt

“I love my Idaho Vandals.  This is a ridiculous line.”

Well…it certainly was.  Should have been about twice as big…that was, however, one of the year’s silliest football games, with Nevada racking up nearly 500 rushing yards, and scoring 70 points in winning a 70-45 score-fest last weekend.

Just an all-around wild game…and also the only game I lost last week.  Although, I have to admit, that one line about loving Idaho…well, it makes me look like an idiot without an explanation.  See, I love EA Sports’ College Football games…and I try to find a really awful team to play with in dynasty mode, to make things more difficult, and I usually can win a national title with them after three or four seasons. So I’ve got a little affinity for the Vandals.

OK…that doesn’t make me sound like any less of an idiot.

This week, there’s some really, really tough games. But you’ve got to stick to what you believe.

As always, these are the lines from the Harrah’s Casinos in Las Vegas.

Central Michigan (+5.5) at Boston College
I believe that Dan Lefevour should be a Heisman Candidate because he is one of the best quarterbacks in the country. I believe that Boston College isn’t that good.  And, finally, I believe that I love my Chippewas. Pick: Central Michigan +5.5

Cincinnati (-15.5) at Syracuse
I believe the Bearcats are the best team in the country you don’t know about.  I believe Greg Paulus is a wang. Pick: Cincy -15.5

Michigan (-7) at Illinois
I believe Illinois is one of the worst teams in the country.  I believe Michigan is pretty good, and that laying only seven points is a terrible insult to them. Pick: Michigan -7

Michigan State (-3.5) at Minnesota
I believe that Minnesota doesn’t have much to play for after losing Eric Decker. I believe that Michigan State’s best football is still in front of them.  I believe that Adam Weber is an overrated QB. Pick: Michigan State -3.5

Last week: 3-1
Season Record: 18-12-2

NBA Power Rankings: #9 Denver Nuggets

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By: David Kay

2008-09 Season Summary:
The Nuggets have to be happy with their 2008-09 season. They started the year with a volatile roster that was more likely to become the first team to ever fight each other on the court than come together and succeed. The obvious turning point of the season came less than a week in when the Nuggets traded Allen Iverson for Chauncey Billups (and some other pieces). After Chauncey took his spot on the roster the Nuggets gained some instant chemistry and floor leadership as they ran to a 54-win season and the second-best record in the Western Conference. They parlayed that second seed into a bid into the Western Conference Finals where the Nuggets were realistically just a notch or two below the Lakers.

Check out the complete Nuggets season preview and other NBA previews.

Packers vs. Vikings II: Judgment Day exchange

Vikings Steelers Football

By Jake McCormick and Andy Weise

As of roughly 3:13 p.m., Sunday, October 25, the Brett Favre Ball dropped in Minnesota and Wisconsin, prompting the inevitable, yet excruciatingly redundant conversation about Favre’s return to his former 16-year winter home in Green Bay. His first game against the Packers went as well as he could’ve hoped, but returning to the scene of the crime in Northeastern Wisconsin is really the more interesting game of the two for obvious reasons. As much as The Sports Bank’s Andy Weise and Jake McCormick LOVE talking about the most polarizing quarterback since Tom Brady, they also realize that a game of football involves more than the play of one man. Welcome to the second, and barring a playoff matchup, last Packer/Viking exchange!

Jake McCormick: First off, I would like to apologize for 16 years and 32 games of being on the opposite side of the Brett Favre slopfest from every network’s television announcers. My revelation came about halfway through the Monday night matchup when Jon Gruden started welling up with tears of joy that he coached the honorable, distinguished, Jesus Favre for a season or two. I feel closer to Viking/Bear fans than I ever have. Going into this weekend, I will promptly mute the television after I get goosebumps from an entire stadium booing so loud they are hoarse before the first quarter even starts. With that said, I couldn’t ask for a better situation for the Packers going into this game: They’re coming off two straight rightful blowouts where they actually looked pretty good on both sides of the ball and the Vikings are coming off a loss and previously, a win that should not have been so except luck and time were wearing purple and yellow.

Vikings Steelers FootballAndy Weise: This whole Vikings-Packers matchup really worked well this year. You sent Green Bay to the Metrodome first, which is Favre’s first game against Green Bay since being traded away. Then you take Favre a month later and send him into Green Bay (how is this not a Sunday night game though?) and put him in front of the crowd he spent 16 years with. It’s going to be special, that’s for sure.

This game is certainly important with the Favre aspect but the players will tell you there is something bigger on the line: the division. Green Bay stands at 4-2 now and the Vikings not too far ahead at 6-1. If Green Bay wins Sunday, they head to Tampa and by week nine you’re looking at two teams that are 6-2 tied at the top of the division. Both teams have fairly favorable schedules the rest of the way, it’s not preposterous to say both teams win at least 10 games and both make the playoffs.

The Vikings should feel better about themselves after a game on Sunday that turnovers cost the game, not a defense that allowed 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter. Plus if there was one game on the schedule that you put a gun to my head and tell me the Vikings are going to lose, it’s on the road against the Steelers. On a lighter note, T.J. Lang might be starting at left tackle if Clifton doesn’t play again.

JM: The Vikings have gotten better week to week, but it’s pretty unlikely Antoine Winfield and Bernard Berrian will be playing, so the Packers get some relief there. Of course, we’re down to three healthy receivers and JerMichael Finley probably won’t play, so maybe that evens out. As bad as the Packer line was in the first game, I don’t see a repeat performance only because I think the grass takes away some of Jared Allen’s extra burst off the snap. The line actually looked good last week, although that is relative to the Div. III team they were playing, but that’s still some sort of a confidence boost. Lang’s decent performance does stabilize the starters for a second week in a row, although that’s like solidified mercury.

Packers Browns FootballThe one matchup that should be pretty intriguing will be how the defense plays, considering guys like Clay Matthews and Aaron Kampman have started to look more comfortable as starters. Sure they played the Browns and Lions back to back, but scoring 57 points and only giving up three shows the team is focused on their gameplan and isn’t looking ahead.

AW: I never understood why national writers and broadcasters were picking the Bears over the Packers and the Vikings but maybe that’s just me. I expect both teams to make the playoffs at this point in the season.

Injuries have played a big part in the weakness of both teams. Berrian might go but he hasn’t been the #1 guy that Sidney Rice has been so I’m less concerned about the WR spot right now. With Antoine Winfield, anybody with a good football mind would think the Vikings are more concerned about the entire season so they would caution Winfield to play too soon. The Vikings go into the bye week and would much rather have Winfield healthy the rest of the way than risk a more serious injury against the Packers in week eight.

I’m interested to see how the Packers defense does the second time around against Peterson. I’ll admit I was pretty impressed with the linebackers stopping the run game for the Vikings when they met last month. My sense is that the Vikings will try to run more between the tackles and continue working Peterson into the screen plays that normally go to Chester Taylor. It’s been a few weeks since I saw Kampman and I have to say it didn’t look like he was very comfortable in the 3-4.

Packers Browns FootballJM: Wherever you’re coming from on this game, I think it’s safe to say that this could be one of the most unique regular season games we’ll ever see, unless Tom Brady becomes a New York Jet. As far as a final outlook/prediction goes, I picked the Vikings last time, but I have a feeling that the Packers are a lot more focused and ready to take on Favre at home. With the crowd on their side, I think the Packers will win by 10 points or less. Then we can get this whole revenge/rematch hoopla past us and look forward to a (hopefully) tight divisional race.

AW: It’s always a unique game when these two teams meet and they’re both having success. It’s been a handful of years since both teams started out in good fashion like this. I do think the Packers will have a clear advantage with the crowd and the factor of not wanting to lose at home to Brett and the Vikings. It’d be hard for me to put money on this game but I can’t go against the Vikings at this point. The offensive line was too much of a weakness for the Packers last time and the Vikings kind of let Green Bay back into that game. Whoever makes less turnovers will win this game and I have a feeling when it matters the most, the ball will go into the hands of Adrian Peterson. Vikes win by 3.

Should Packer Fans Boo Brett Favre?

favrejudas

By the TSB Staff

PAUL M. BANKS

I think anyone who’s neither a.) A die-hard Minnesota Vikings fan or b.) possessor of a serious Favre man-crush, should (no, it is their patriotic duty as an American) boo the hell out of Brett Favre. As much respect as I had for his ability and resume prior to 2008, it is impossible for me to separate that from the pathetic attention-whore he is today. As a Chicagoan, I have to say Michael Jordan the basketball player- loved him, best ever to watch play. Michael Jordan the brand/person- awful disgusting corporation with psychopathic tendencies disguised as a person.Brett-Favre-signs-with-the-Jets

I made the distinction here, but after being beaten over the head with Favre coverage for two years straight, I’m to lazy to make a similar segmentation again, or I don’t care enough to do so.

If you consume any sports at all, you should be rooting against Favre. He recently said (which ESPN repeated AD NAUSEUAM) “There will always be Favre haters, nothing will change that.” Yes and why is that? Because you’re an attention whore with a solipsism eclipsing that of anyone in history- except maybe the Holy Roman Emperor Constantine.

JAKE MCCORMICK

Would you be happy with an ex-player that strung you along with retirement talk for years, can’t handle ever being told he’s been wrong before, goes to an archrival partially out of spite, and then seven games into his “career” with that team says it’s the best team he’s ever been on? Those are only a few reasons why Packer fans rightfully should boo Brett Favre, the biggest of which being that he is on their most hated rival. Chris Rock once said NOBODY is above an ass whoopin’. Likewise, no one is above getting booed for things fans deem to be unjust and douchebaggy and Favre’s douchebag resume spans pretty much his entire career (cheating, partying, illegitimate kids, primadonna teammate, etc.).

Another reason not to cheer him is for Aaron Rodger’s sake. If Favre is booed, it further cements Rodgers as our quarterback and shows that Packer fans understand that he is the correct choice at the position. Booing is the only way fans can really show their disapproval of anything in sports, and clearly Packer fans collectively are not in the Favre camp anymore. Packer fans, boo until you’re hoarse, and even start some “asshole” chants, but please keep it civil so people don’t lump you together with the Cub bleachers, Browns, and Raider fans. Like LeRoy Butler said, cheer for him when his number is retired, but not when he’s on another team, especially the Vikings.

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H. JOSE BOSCH

Packer fans should get over themselves. So what if Brett Favre jumped ship? This isn’t the 1950s anymore. Sports is a business and athletes should be allowed to navigate their way through that business just like regular people do in the non sports world. Having said that, they have every right to boo him. Why? Because he plays for a team that isn’t the Green Bay Packers.

Would they respectfully cheer for Jay Cutler? Matthew Stafford? Tom Brady? Nope. Did they have a long past with the Packers? Doesn’t matter. Favre is now a player on an opposing team and should be treated as such.

When he finally retires (or, more accurately when his family straps him to a chair to prevent him from unretiring), then Packer fans can reminisce, retire his number and build a giant cheese stature in his honor outside Lambeau’s main entrance. Hell, they can make a statue for every entrance if they want to. Because Green Bay fans are weird and they like cheese.

But this Sunday isn’t the day for that. Green Bay needs that win to have any chance at winning the division. Put aside anything from his past and treat him like the opposing quarterback he is. Then you can deal with your Favre-related issues later.

brett_favre_letmeplay

SOXMAN

When Brett Favre is announced for the first time, he should receive a standing ovation and endless applause for the years of dedication, excitement, and memories he supplied Packer fans.  He has earned it.

The Packer’s organization should run a video montage of his many accomplishments when he arrives on the field and then end it quietly with a fade to black and white, simply  displaying the words: “Thanks Brett.”

Then, after he makes his first spectacular play, Packers fans should show an even greater sign of respect in unison by chanting: “Boo.”

After all, is a “boo” not the greatest show of respect to an opponent who did something to hurt your team?

When Frank Thomas returned to the Cell in 2006 as a member of the Oakland A’s, he received a five minute plus standing ovation when he was introduced at the plate the first time.  He homered in that at bat and was cheered loudly by the majority of the fans in attendance.  In two more trips to the plate, he smashed two more dingers.  Respectfully, Sox fans honored him with shower of deafening “Boos.”

Does Brett Favre not deserve the same?

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2009-2010 Big 12 Hoops Preview: Part 4 of 5

collins_aldrich

By: David Kay

The big boys in the Big 12 are BIG BOYS.  Part four of The Sports Bank’s Big 12 is all about the conference title contenders; two of which have a legit chance of being crowned NCAA Champions when it is all said and done.

Kansas had a re-loading year last season but is almost the consensus pre-season pick for the top-ranked team in the country.  Right behind the Jayhawks is a Texas team (ranked #3 in the pre-season polls) looking to rebound from a frustrating 2008-2009 season.  Blake Griffin is no longer a Sooner, but Oklahoma still has the talent to be a force on the national scene.

1. Kansas (1st, 14-2 in Big 12, 27-8 overall, NCAA Sweet 16)

2009-2010 Outlook:
Two seasons removed a National Championship, Rock, Chalk, Jayhawks is poised to make another run at a title despite somewhat of a turbulent off-season that not only saw several ballers get into an altercation with members of the Kansas football team, but also the first semester suspension of Brady Morningstar stemming from a drunken driving arrest.  Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins decided to return to school rather than go to the NBA and on top of being two of the most skilled players in the conference, bring plenty of experience and leadership to KU.  Add in the fact that everyone else is back from a young team last year and that Bill Self landed a major recruit in swing player Xavier (pronounced Zav-ee-ay) Henry, and there is no questioning why Kansas is ranked #1 in the pre-season polls.

Projected Depth Chart
C: Cole Aldrich (Jr)/Jeff Withey (So)
PF: Marcus Morris (So)/Markieff Morris (So)/Thomas Robinson (Fr)
G/F: Xavier Henry (Fr)/Mario Little (Sr)/Travis Releford (So)
G: Tyshawn Taylor (So)/Brady Morningstar (Jr)/Tyrel Reed (Jr)
PG: Sherron Collins (Sr)/Elijah Johnson (Fr)

Gone: G-Tyrone Appleton (transfer-Southwest Baptist), F-Quintrell Thomas (transfer-UNLV)

57026899Player to Watch: Taylor- Bill Self really cashed in last off-season when Tyshawn Taylor de-committed from Marquette due to Tom Crean taking the head coaching job at Indiana.  Coming off a promising freshman season, Taylor was critical in helping lead the U.S. U-19 team to a gold medal in the World Championships.  He was at the center of the incident with the football team earlier this school year and will still take a backseat to Collins and Aldrich, but could be the x-factor in the Jayhawks journey to a national title.

2. Texas (T-4th, 9-7, 23-12, NCAA Second Round)

damion james2009-2010 Outlook:
Coming off an extremely disappointing 2008-2009 season, the Longhorns are ready to make a major splash on the national scene.  Damion James chose to return to school after a less than stellar junior year and Florida transfer Jai Lucas will finally give Texas the stability at the point that they lacked last season.  That’s not it though.  The ‘Horns boast one of the top recruiting classes in the country led by ESPN.com’s #1 recruit in the 2009 class; the uber-athletic, defensive stopping combo guard Avery Bradley.  Expectations have anything less than a trip to a Final Four would be considered a disappointment.

Projected Depth Chart
C: Dexter Pittman (Sr)/Clint Chapman (Jr)/Matt Hill (Jr)
F: Gary Johnson (Jr)/Jordan Hamilton (Fr)/Alexis Wangneme (Jr)
F: Damion James (Sr)/Shawn Williams (Fr)
SG: Avery Bradley (Fr)/Justin Mason (Sr)/Varez Ward (So)
PG: Jai Lucas (So)/Dogus Balbay (Jr)/J’Covan Brown (Fr)

Gone: G-A.J. Abrams, F/C Connor Atchley, G-Harrison Smith (transfer-Stephen F. Austin)

Player to Watch: Lucas- The son of former NBA’er John Lucas decided to transfer from Florida because Nick Calathes was taking his role as the point guard.  He won’t be eligible until after the fall semester but should step in right away and provide the Longhorns with a true distributor at the point, a major void that hurt their team a year ago.

3. Oklahoma (2nd, 13-3, 30-6, NCAA Elite Eight)

85329043MW100_NCAA_Elite_8_2009-2010 Outlook:
Life in Norman post-Blake Griffin begins.  With the National Player of the Year gone, Jeff Capel’s team will have some major shoes to fill since Griffin did it all for the Sooners last season.  Besides losing Blake, Oklahoma will be without two other starters and their top bench contributor.  With all that said, OU is still in good shape.  Sharp-shooting combo guard Willie Warren turned down a spot in the NBA lottery to return to school and be “the guy” at Oklahoma.  Capel also brings in a pair of talented freshmen in Tiny Gallon and Tommy-Mason Griffin who should start right away.  The talent is there, it will just be a matter how quickly the new players can acclimate themselves to their new roles.

Projected Depth Chart
C: Keith “Tiny” Gallon (Fr)/Orlando Allen (Jr)
F: Ryan Wright (Sr)/ Andrew Fitzgerald (Fr)/Kyle Hardrick (Fr)
G/F: Tony Crocker (Sr)/Ray Willis (So)
SG: Willie Warren (So)/Cade Davis (Jr)/Steven Pledger (Fr)
PG: Tommy Mason-Griffin (Fr)/T.J. Franklin (So)

Gone: PF-Blake Griffin, F/C-Taylor Griffin, PG-Austin Johnson, F- Juan Pattillo

Player to Watch: Warren- He wants to be the new Blake Griffin at OU, and while he won’t dominate the college like Griffin did, Warren should be an All-American candidate and a Top-5 pick in next year’s NBA Draft.  The sophomore is explosive off the dribble and can also knock it down from deep.  He should become a common name in the college game by the start of conference play.

The Sports Bank Big 12 Preview Continues:
Tuesday: Teams 10-12 (Colorado, Texas Tech, Nebraska)
Wednesday: Teams 7-9 (Missouri, Baylor, Iowa State)
Thursday: Teams 4-6 (Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M)

The Sports Bank ACC Previews/Power Rankings:
Teams 10-12 (Virginia Tech, Virginia, N.C. State)
Teams 7-9 (Wake Forest, Miami FL, Boston College)
Teams 4-6 (Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech)
Teams 1-3 (UNC, Duke, Maryland)

The Sports Bank SEC Previews/Power Rankings:
SEC East Teams 4-6 (Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Georgia)
SEC East Teams 1-3 (Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida)
SEC West Teams 4-6 (Arkansas, Auburn, LSU)
SEC West Teams 1-3 (Mississippi State, Mississippi, Alabama)

The Sports Bank Pac-10 Preview/Power Rankings:
Teams 8-10 (Washingon State, Arizona State, Stanford)
Teams 5-7 (Arizona, USC, Oregon)
Teams 1-4 (Oregon State, UCLA, Washington, Cal)

The Sports Bank Big East Previews/Power Rankings

Teams 13-16 (Rutgers, South Florida, Providence, DePaul)
Teams 9-12 (Notre Dame, Pitt, Marquette, St. John’s)
Teams 5-8 (Syracuse, Louisville, Cincinnati, Seton Hall)
Teams 1-4 (Villanova, West Virginia, UConn, Georgetown)
Post-Season Award Predictions

For all the latest college basketball info, you can follow David Kay on Twitter at DavidKay_TSB

NBA Power Rankings: #10 Utah Jazz

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By: David Kay and Paul M. Banks

2008-09 Season Summary:
In financial terms a “correction” is defined as a sharp, relatively short decline that temporarily interrupts a persistent upward trend in the market. The Utah Jazz experienced a “correction” in 2009. After back-to-back Northwest Division titles, the Jazz had a much tougher season with siginifcant contributors like Deron Williams, Andrei “AK-47” Kirilenko, Mehmet Okur and Carlos Boozer missing large amounts of time due to injuries. Despite a locker room resembling an infirmary, they finished the season with a 48-34 record and 8th seed in the playoffs.

They were eliminated in five games by the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1st round. Other than Williams’ clinching fadeaway jumpshot in the final moments of game 3, the lopsided series provided very little excitement for Utah fans. After the breakthrough Western Conference Finals appearance in 2007, the Jazz were eliminated by the Lakers in the second round of ’08 and then a round sooner this past season.

The Jazz play in the league’s smallest market, but a 2008 Forbes.com study ranked the team No. 16 in NBA team value at $342 million. A new ownership regime will seek to maintain this efficiency. On February 20th, Jazz owner Larry H. Miller died of complications from diabetes. During his final months as team owner, his family, led by son Greg Miller, ran the day-to-day business operations. The younger Miller inherited a team with a roster in transition.

Check out the entire Jazz season preview and other NBA Previews.  Don’t forget to take a look at Andy Weise’s Western Conference Preview.

Big Ten Basketball Media Day Musings

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By Paul M. Banks

The Big Ten is light years stronger than it is in football. So the theme of the day was the strength of the conference, most specifically, the talent in the class of 2011. This year’s preseason all-conference team was similar to last year’s postseason all-conference team; all five were sophomores then and juniors now. Imagine how strong the conference will be when those guys are seniors. With the exception of Ohio State’s Evan Turner, who’s a projected lottery pick now, all of them should be back for what could be a magical 2010-2011 season. But from top to bottom, the conference is extremely deep, and 8 of the 11 teams could make the NCAA tournament this year, and 7 qualified last year.Evan-Turner

Also today, the slightly less credible and slightly more biased of the two major polls, the ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll, was released. If you don’t think it’s more fickle than the AP poll, take a look at who’s playing on an ESPN network in a given week, and look at how much lower they’re ranked in the AP poll. Michigan State, last year’s national runner-up, got ranked #2 with 3 first place votes and Purdue was #7. Michigan #15, Ohio State #17, Minnesota #18 with Illinois just missing the top 25.

Of course, the grand marshal of the Big Ten b-ball media day parade is Tom Izzo, the dean of coaches who’s been at Michigan State for 15 years. He is to this day what Joe Paterno is to football media day. H to the Izzo made a big statement when he took the microphone.

“I’ve been in the league now 26, 27th year as a GA on up. And I definitely thought early it was great when I first got in with all those great coaches, and then maybe we had a little bit of a lull. And then in ’99, 2000, we had two teams in the Final Four and I thought it was really good but I think this is the best it’s been since maybe that date. And because of that, I honestly see nine or 10, eight, nine teams that realistically could win the league. And, yeah, some are better than others right now. When you look at Purdue, Ohio State. I think Michigan is going to be much improved. I think Illinois will be much improved. And Purdue, with everybody back, we won it by four games last year, but understand Robbie Hummel made a lot of that possible.

And he’s back healthy and Matt’s done an incredible job with that program. And you just start looking around. Bo’s teams are always going to be good. Northwestern, I mean, Bill’s — I told him I was going to put pressure on him. This is his year to get there. And I think it is. I really honestly do.”

That’s right, Izzo said Northwestern will make the tournament for the first time in school history! And this was another storyline that was often revisited during the day. Last year, I wrote a story saying NU could make the tournament. I took some criticism on NBC’s site and even got called-out by one of my own writers. The next week, Northwestern beat a ranked team, then beat Izzo’s Spartans at Michigan State. Then every major media outlet covering college basketball did the same story I did two weeks earlier. I never received any validation from my detractors, and unfortunately, the Wildcats faded down the stretch and didn’t make the tourney.

Here’s how Northwestern Head Coach Bill Carmody responded to Izzo’s optimistic prediction.

Q. Tom Izzo just said this is the year for you guys to make the tournament. There’s a lot of that talk. Do you welcome that pressure?

COACH CARMODY: Yeah, I don’t think it’s that much pressure. If you have some good players, which I think we do, we look forward to it. That’s why you’re here. There’s 330 Division I teams and that’s everyone’s goal right now to get in the NCAA. It’s going to be a tough year in the conference. That’s the only thing. I think we have probably one of our better teams coming up. But just looking around from top to bottom that the league is very strong and so it’s going to be difficult. But I don’t see it’s really pressure. I think the guys sort of embrace that.

Look for a lot more on that storyline, as well as plenty of Michigan State and Northwestern coverage this winter.

But getting back to Izzo, he’s the rock star of the one-on-one interviews during the two hour period of media availability. There’s always a line for him, and a crowd listening to what he says. Protocol dictates you wait your turn to get up and talk to him. Unless you’re that old white douchebag with the ugly, creepy hair that used to be a Chicago Tribune columnist, then you just jump in and cut people off- same with some other old douche on the other side of me. Izzo was all class though, he saw what happened.TomIzzoGrandRapids

He made sure the collegiate female reporter, who was there longer than I, got all her questions in, in turn. And when one of the old jackass reporters tried cutting me off, I leaned in to make sure that didn’t happen. Izzo was smart in reading my body language, and patted me on the shoulder when my turn came up. He was most accommodating, and like I said before, all class. Last year’s Big Ten player of the year, and this year’s POY Kalin Lucas, is fortunate to have such a fine coach.

But like forwards battling down low for a rebound, reporters have to aggressively push and shove for position too. All in all, it was a fun and productive morning, even more so than Big Ten football media day.

And I enjoyed it much more than those two afternoons in July because 1.) Unlike in football, practice has already been going on for a couple weeks, so you’re already more in the mood for the event

2.)  You can feel the added national relevance here, and that additional buzz feels nice.

2009-2010 Big 12 Hoops Preview: Part 3 of 5

Denis Clemente

By: David Kay

Part three of The Sports Bank’s Big 12 preview features three teams that tied for fourth place in the conference last season and who should all be dancing come March.  Teams 4-6 are still a level below the top three in the conference, but could possibly catch a Blake Griffin-less Oklahoma team for the third spot.

Kansas State returns their talented backcourt and adds some talented players up-front and could be one of the sleepers not only in the conference, but in the country.  Oklahoma State has one of the top scorers in the Big 12 while Texas A&M looks for their school record fifth straight invitation to the Dance.

4. Kansas State (T-4th, 9-7, 21-12, NIT)

2009-2010 Outlook:
K-State might have one of the most underrated backcourts in the country in Dionte Clemente and Jacob Pullen.  Clemente stepped onto the national scene with his 44-point outburst against Texas last season.  Talented freshman Wally Judge and UConn transfer Curtis Kelly will give the Wildcats some nice depth inside to compliment their talented guard play.

Projected Depth Chart
C: Luis Colon (Sr)/Jordan Henriquez-Roberts (Fr)
PF: Wally Judge (Fr)/Curtis Kelly (Jr)/Jamar Samuels (Sr)
SF: Dominique Sutton (Jr)/Rodney McGruder (Fr)
G: Dionte Clemente (Sr)/Chris Merrieweather (Sr)/Nick Russell (Fr)
G: Jacob Pullen (Jr)/Martavious Irving (Fr)

Gone: PF-Darren Kent, PG-Fred Brown (transfer-Louisiana-Monroe), SF-Ron Anderson Jr. (transfer-South Florida), SG-Buchi Awaji

Player to Watch: Judge- He’s not Michael Beasley, but Judge is a big-time recruit who should make a serious impact for the Wildcats.  At 6-9, he is a high-flying, athletic combo forward who can handle the ball on the perimeter.  His stay at K-State will likely be short, but very impacting.

Kansas Oklahoma St Basketball5. Oklahoma State (T-4th, 9-7, 23-12, NCAA Second Round)

2009-2010 Outlook:
OSU used their four guard attack to put together a solid 2008-2009 season.  In losing seniors Byron Eaton and Terrel Harris, the Cowboys will have to replace their second and third leading scorers, but returning starters James Anderson and Keiton Page, along with last year’s sixth man Obi Muonelo should pick up their slack.  The addition of Kentucky transfer Matt Pilgrim and a pair of talented big man should mean OSU won’t have to rely solely on their backcourt play this season.

Projected Depth Chart
F/C:  Marshall Moses(Jr)/Torin Walker (Fr)/Teeng Akol (So)
PF: Matt Pilgrim (Jr)/Jarred Shaw (Fr)
G/F: Obi Muonelo (Sr)/Roger Franklin (Fr)
G: James Anderson (Jr)/Nick Sidorakis (Jr)
PG: Keiton Page (So)/Ray Penn (Fr)/Fred Gulley (Fr)/Reger Dowell (Fr)

Gone: PG-Byron Eaton, SG-Terrel Harris, F-Anthony Brown

Player to Watch: Anderson- A big-time scorer, Anderson can stroke it from deep with nearly half of his field goal attempts last season coming from beyond the arc.  There is definitely NBA potential in Anderson who could average 20+ points a game this season.  The Cowboys may need that type of scoring from Anderson to help offset the losses of Eaton and Harris.

6. Texas A&M (T-4th, 9-7, 24-10, NCAA Second Round)

bryan davis2009-2010 Outlook:
The Aggies received surprising news when big man Chinemelu Elonu decided to stay in the draft, but got good news when Bryan Davis and David Sloan chose to return to school.  There is other solid talent returning to A&M in guards B.J. Holmes and Derrick Roland.  The Aggies won’t have a true go-to player this season but have options within their starting five.  The bench has a lot of question marks with several new faces joining the roster.

Projected Depth Chart
F/C: Bryan Davis (Sr)/James Blasczyk (Fr)
PF: David Loubeau (So)/Nathan Walkup (Jr)/Ray Turner (Fr)
G: Derrick Roland (Sr)/Khris Middleton (Fr)/Derrek Lewis (Jr)
G: David Sloan (Sr)/Naji Hibbert (Fr)/Jeremy Adams (Fr)
PG: B.J Homes (Jr)/Dash Harris (So)

Gone: G/F-Josh Carter, F/C-Chinemelu Elonu

Player to Watch: Davis- At 6-9, 240 pounds, Davis is the only established low post presence the Aggies have.  He throws his body around in the paint, but too often found himself in foul trouble last season.  Davis cannot afford to commit early fouls this season due to inexperience up-front on the Aggies’ roster and will need to boost his averages of 26.7 minutes, 10.8 points, and 6.5 rebounds per game.

The Sports Bank Big 12 Preview Continues:
Tuesday: Teams 10-12 (Colorado, Texas Tech, Nebraska)
Wednesday: Teams 7-9 (Missouri, Baylor, Iowa State)
Friday: Teams 1-3

The Sports Bank ACC Previews/Power Rankings:
Teams 10-12 (Virginia Tech, Virginia, N.C. State)
Teams 7-9 (Wake Forest, Miami FL, Boston College)
Teams 4-6 (Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech)
Teams 1-3 (UNC, Duke, Maryland)

The Sports Bank SEC Previews/Power Rankings:
SEC East Teams 4-6 (Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Georgia)
SEC East Teams 1-3 (Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida)
SEC West Teams 4-6 (Arkansas, Auburn, LSU)
SEC West Teams 1-3 (Mississippi State, Mississippi, Alabama)

The Sports Bank Pac-10 Preview/Power Rankings:
Teams 8-10 (Washingon State, Arizona State, Stanford)
Teams 5-7 (Arizona, USC, Oregon)
Teams 1-4 (Oregon State, UCLA, Washington, Cal)

The Sports Bank Big East Previews/Power Rankings

Teams 13-16 (Rutgers, South Florida, Providence, DePaul)
Teams 9-12 (Notre Dame, Pitt, Marquette, St. John’s)
Teams 5-8 (Syracuse, Louisville, Cincinnati, Seton Hall)
Teams 1-4 (Villanova, West Virginia, UConn, Georgetown)
Post-Season Award Predictions

For all the latest college basketball info, you can follow David Kay on Twitter at DavidKay_TSB

Eric Decker Out For Season, Adam Weber Should Follow

eric decker

By Mike Gallagher

Finally Gophers fans got a glimpse of what life after Eric Decker will be like.  After Decker left midway through the first quarter with what was diagnosed as a high ankle sprain, not surprisingly, things got no better.  The Gophers stretched their scoreless stretch to 136 minutes and 23 seconds, before Marqueis Gray connected with Troy Stoudermire Jr.  Gray, just in for mop up duty at the end of a lopsided 38-7 loss vs. Ohio State, looked good, hitting on 5 of 6 passes for 51 yards and one score.  He also had 11 carries for 81 yards.  He was the only bright spot in an otherwise pathetic effort which saw Minnesota lose for the 13th straight time to an AP top 25 team.

Worse news came down on Tuesday, with Decker’s All-American season getting cut short by what was no longer a high ankle sprain, rather a “foot injury.”  With the only weapon on an otherwise horrendously below average offense done for the regular season, you have to wonder what the next move will be to bring some sense of improvement to this slapstick comedy routine called Gopher football.

Certainly the defense cannot be blamed, yes they gave up 38 points last week, but at the half it was only 7-0.  Before the offense and special teams started putting the D in bad positions where only inept offense would not convert, the defense was the only thing keeping Minnesota in the game.

They only gave up 20 against Penn State the week before.  Granted, Penn State’s offense is not elite, but they managed 35 vs. Michigan last week, and are the #12 team in the nation.

The offense is clearly where the problem lies, and after the coaching staff, the first one to shoulder the blame is always the man under center.  Adam Weber, as much as he has accomplished in his three years here, is no exception.

People fell in love with Weber for obvious reasons.  Firstly, the Gophers haven’t had a legitimate quarterback, EVER.  Bryan Cupito is the Gophers all time leading passer yardage wise.  Don’t worry, if I didn’t cover the team, I wouldn’t know who he is either.

Weber’s career numbers are far from spectacular, as he finished his freshman year 77th in the nation in passer rating and 58th his sophomore year.

However, that was an important show of improvement between those years.  This made critics, myself included, believe that this was to be a breakout year for Weber.  It hasn’t been.  His last three games have been the worst stretch of his career.  He is a combined 25-54 for 287 yards and five interceptions.  That leaves him 103rd of 110 eligible FBS quarterbacks in quarterback rating.  Over his last twelve games, he has gone over 60% in the completion category only twice.

Secondly, as the quarterback must take the blame, he is to accept credit for the success as well.  The jump in wins from one to seven from freshman to sophomore year made it seem a top four finish in the Big Ten was possible.  But at only 4-4 this year, the team will not be improving in the win category, and most likely will take a step backwards.  That 4-4 record now leaves the Gophers at 12-21 overall with Weber under center, and 5-16 in the Big Ten.

Third, when he came in, he was a legitimate dual threat from the QB position.  Having rushed for over 600 yards his freshman year while also throwing for almost 3,000, fans were drooling over what he would do to defenses once it all came together with the rest of the squad.  His rushing numbers, however, have fallen each of the past two years, bottoming out at -35 yards this year.

Montana St Minnesota Football

Weber’s collapse can be analyzed for days upon days, but I’d prefer to focus on the rushing aspect.  The Gophers offensive line has had it’s share of problems the last few years, since Brewster instituted the “spread offense”.  When Weber took over in 2007, he was able to make up for a lot of the mistakes the offensive line may’ve made by creating plays with his feet.  Thus resulted his, and the Gophers best offensive year under Brewster.  He was even able to do that to an extent last year, but this year he has not made any sort of effort to do so.  No injury has been reported to his legs or ankles over his career with the Gophers, so the sudden drop off in attempts to move the ball up field with his legs is mysterious.  Without that aspect of his game, and without any sort of run game whatsoever from anyone on the Gophers, he is a sitting duck in the oft-collapsed pocket.

So with Eric Decker gone, Adam Weber not living up to the hype, and the Gophers floundering in another disappointing season, it’s time to make a change.  The Gophers got an up close and personal look at what a true athletic talent can do last week when Terrelle Pryor put up 225+ passing yards and 100+ rushing yards against them.  The Gophers may not have Pryor, but they have the man that looked an awful lot like him late in the game last week.

Marqueis Gray, it’s your time to take the reigns.

now he should take off the hat, and put on the helmet

He has truly been Brewster’s best recruit, a 4-star QB out of high school, and to this point has had people wondering if he was going to pan out.  But in limited time this year, he has shown his versatility and extra components he can add to this offense.  Yes, he is extremely raw as a passer, as he had only attempted one pass at the college level before last week’s game.  At the same time, he is very quick and gifted with his feet, something Weber is not.  Those feet will, at the very least, give the defense something else to think about.  Teams won’t be able to put six or seven in the box and be comfortable with their ability to stop the run, they’ll have to bring that other safety near the line much more often with Gray under center.  This could open up some, dare I say, BIG PLAYS, words not usually used in the Gophers passing game.

Marqueis Gray is the future, but when the present isn’t amounting to anything, why wait for the future?  Adam Weber has been a very good quarterback the last two years for the Gophers, but for whatever the real reason may be, can’t seem to find the touch this year.  If Brewster does not pull him and he continues to perform at this level, do they plan on playing him next year?  Especially without his favorite target Eric Decker, that is an extremely risky decision.  Why throw another season down the drain with a guy that can’t get your program wins?  At this stage in the season, there’s no reason not to go with your future to see where it stands.

With Gray under center, you’ll still likely make a bowl, and get him key reps and experience he can take into next year.  Weber to Decker is no more, it’s time to usher in a new era.

NBA Rookie of the Year Race

Warriors Clippers Basketball

By: David Kay

Welcome to a new weekly feature here at the The Sports Bank where we break down the top rookies in the NBA and who has the edge to win the Rookie of the Year Award.  The draft class of 2009 was considered one of the weakest in recent years, but it looks like several newcomers will have a chance to contribute right away.  Check back every Thursday for an update.

With number one overall pick Blake Griffin expected to be sidelined until mid-December, the Rookie of the Year race is officially wide open.  The former Oklahoma Sooner was expected by most “experts” to run away with the award.  Here are the first rankings, predicting how each newbie will perform in his first year in the assocation:

1. Tyreke Evans, Kings (4th overall)

’09-’10 Prediction: 17.5 ppg, 5 rpg, 6 apg, 2 spg
This is about the 1,263, 914th time I’ve said this; Evans is going to be an absolute stud.  He is playing for one of the worst teams in the league and will have every chance to chuck up at least 20 shots a night especially with the injury to Francisco Garcia.  His size allows him to crash boards.  His handles and slashing abilities will give him plenty of assist opportunities.  His length and quickness will get him a good amount of steals.  If Evans can develop a consistent jumper, he will eventually hover around the 30 point per game mark in the NBA.  Yup, I just said that.

flynn608

2. Jonny Flynn, Timberwolves (6th overall)
’09-’10 Prediction: 15 ppg, 7 apg, 1.75 spg
Ricky Rubio’s decision to not come to the NBA helped his cause, but the signing of Ramon Sessions does not.  Even with Sessions in Minnesota, Flynn is expected to run the show for the T-Wolves.  His ability to score, assist, AND defend should earn him more minutes than Sessions and be a top candidate for the ROY award.

Check out the rest of the Rookie of the Year race.

Need more NBA info?  Check out our team previews or Andy Weise’s Western Conference Preview.