Archives for November 2008

Hot Stove League Exchange

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By Paul M. Banks & Soxman 

It’s gotten pretty chilly in the Chi this past week, so Soxman and I are here to get you fired up (He certainly seems to get the ladies quite fired up most of the time) with some talk about the baseball winter meetings and the high transaction activity period.
 
 
(PMB) So with Griffey and Swisher gone, who’s going to play CF? Wise? or have the Sox now become really strong buyers in the market for Chone Figgins and/or Willy Taveras?
 
(SM) Going into the 2009 season, CF will likely be a platoon between Jerry Owens and Brian Anderson.  In theory, Owens would get all starts against right handed pitchers and Anderson would start against lefties with Dewayne Wise being the “4th” outfielder spelling Dye and Quentin.  While Owens will bring badly needed speed to the line-up, he is far from a proven player.  Over three seasons, he has 381 Abs and his on-base percentage of .321 is less than ideal for a leadoff hitter.  Still, over 500 Abs, he projects to steal between 40-50 bases.
 
Anderson appears destined to be a 230’s hitter with an awful on-base percentage, yet he brings a little bit of speed and fantastic defense off the bench.  It will be interesting to see if he can mature as a hitter as he settles into his role.
 
CF is one of the places the Sox can improve, but if Williams is serious about going with youth, you might not see any moves.
 
If Chone Figgins were acquired, I believe you would see him playing either second or third base.  The CF name that has been bantered a lot this off-season is the Rockies’ Willy Taveras.  Taveras has awesome speed and horrible on-base skills.  The Sox almost acquired him in a swap involving Jon Garland at the start of the 2006 season.  Lance Broadway’s name has been linked to Taveras on numerous occasions this hot stove season. 
 
(PMB) The official story about Swisher was that he was a pouter down the stretch and didn’t take his benching well…and that’s why he’s gone now, do you buy the company line on him? I thought he was too much of a competitor to act like a baby, especially considering that his father’s reputation as a player was the opposite of that.
 
(SM) Here’s the bottom line on the Nick Swisher trade: one of the slower hitters (Konerko, Thome, Swisher) had to be moved and it was difficult to move Konerko or Thome due to their no-trade clauses, age, and interest from other teams.
 
With the trade the Sox replaced Juan Uribe and freed up about $8 million in payroll.
 
I will reserve judgment until I see if the Sox actually do anything with that money.  Otherwise the Yankees got a steal from the White Sox as the prospects we received in return are “projects” at best.
 
Just last year, the White Sox traded away three of their top prospects and paid cash to the A’s to land Swisher, which left their farm system barren.  Two of those three players will be part of the 2009 A’s (Sweeney will be the starting CF and Gonzales will likely be the #5 starter).  There is a chance the third player could be the A’s closer next season.  After one season, they move Swisher for a role player and two pitchers that profile as middle relievers.  Get my point?  It is completely perplexing in my mind on the surface.
 
I’m also completely perplexed by the timing.  Williams essentially gave away one of his best bargaining chips on the market as Nick Swisher would be an extremely attractive (and cheaper) alternative to whoever lost out on the Mark Teixeira sweepstakes.  In any event, I’m 100% confident Swisher should have brought back a bigger bounty.  
 
Betemit can play all over the infield with respectable defense, better range, and less arm strength than Uribe.  He’s only 27 and may be due for a career spike.   Betemit and Uribe both share a free-swinging approach at the plate.  He owns a 29% strikeout rate in his career. 

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(PMB) Yeah, both times we got screwed worse than the way Dick Cheney treats the American taxpayer. Mets GM Omar Minaya is usually one of the biggest spenders in baseball during the holiday season, any chance he’s looking at some of our bloated contracts to purchase?
 
(SM) Early in the off-season, Minaya was believed to be interested in Javier Vasquez, Jermaine Dye, and Bobby Jenks but all of those rumors have fizzled as of late.
 
Williams wanted too much for Vasquez and Dye and indicated a similar sentiment on Jenks. This combined with concern over the drop in Jenks’ velocity last season made him less than easy to move.
 
Mets fans need not worry, I’m sure Minaya will open up the checkbook before all is said and done.  He will be focused on pitching, trying first to address the gaping hole at closer.  K-Rod and Brian Fuentes are believed to be the biggest targets.  Kerry Wood could also draw interest.
 
He will then dive into the starting pitching market, likely reaching out to Derek Lowe and possibly Jon Garland.
 
(PMB) I was a bit upset to see Cubs closer Kerry Wood go, the charity bowling event “Strike Zone,” hosted by his wife Sarah Wood is usually a good time and given all the health issues he’s had, his re-defining himself as an All-Star is a heartwarming story…well, maybe I wouldn’t go quite that far, but it certainly wasn’t a boring story. What teams are looking for a closer? And will the Cubs go with Carlos Marmol as the stopper this spring with possibly newly acquired Kevin Gregg as option 2? 
 
(SM) I liked Kerry Wood as well.  He wanted to remain a Cub for his entire career.  Despite rumors to the contrary, Wood “would” have accepted a one-year deal to stay with the Cubs.  I think the move was made to free up salary to go after another left-handed bat.  Otherwise, what could the harm have been in having Wood, Marmol, and Gregg available from the 7th inning on?
 
I believe Lou Pinella will allow Marmol and Gregg to compete for the closer’s spot, but Gregg will be the leading candidate based on experience in the position.
 
The A’s, Angels, Braves, Brewers, Cardinals, Indians, Mets, Tigers, Rangers and Rays could all be in the market for a closer, so I’d say Wood should have no shortage of options.
 
I would personally love to see Wood sign with the Brewers so he would have the maximum number of opportunities to make the Cubs pay for letting him go.
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(PMB) The dollar figures possibly being thrown at Manny Ramirez…are these teams serious? Obviously he’s a great VORP (value over replacement player) guy when he wants to be, but I think he needs to be seriously devalued worse than the dollar in foreign trading markets because of his solipsism and track record for not giving 100% all the time. Yes, Bill Simmons has written a few columns about Manny being manipulated and I know that ESPN Sports Guy is almost never wrong, but I still think a team spending wicked pissah amounts of money to obtain him would be a wicked bad investment. Then again, his agent Scott Boras is practically the 31st MLB franchise, so if anyone can get extract money like that from a team, he can.
 
(SM) I agree with you 100%.  When he wants to play, Manny is one of the greatest hitters to ever play the game.  However, who wants to invest millions of dollars into someone who literally refuses to play if he is not happy?
 
Manipulated?  C’mon.  He’s a professional and an adult.  It’s like saying “the devil made me do it” when claiming innocence on a murder charge.  Though in Manny’s case, Scott Boras is about as close to the devil as you can get.
 
Don’t place too much value in the record payday Boras in “banking” on.  I think your concerns are the exact reason he hasn’t signed with a team as of yet.  There is likely some disparity between the Scott Boras definition of value and the common person’s notion of the word.   

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(PMB) They say “It’s better the devil you know,” but when discussing Scott Boras, I disagree. Next time we have a witch hunt, we can start by burning him at the stake. And someday I’ll tell you what I really think about him. I agree that Manny being Manny is no excuse for his ridiculous behavior patterns and price tag.

Moving on, Carlston Charles Sabathia and the Yankees: should they just stop playing hard to get with each other and just hook up already? Six years, $140 million- sounds like the money they deal on Wall St. Can any non-New York team afford him?

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(SM) For some players is not always about the money.  Sabathia really enjoyed his time in Milwaukee (and it was rumored he liked hitting), so he is likely taking the time to weigh (pun unintended) his options.
 
While the money the Yankees offer is very attractive, New York is a very different city to play for with a pressure unlike any that Sabathia has ever seen.
 
The Angels and Dodgers are also believed to be interested in Sabathia so he will also have to weigh the option of playing close to his home.
 
How about the report that the MLB Player’s Association was pressuring Sabathia to take the Yankee’s offer as it would raise the salary bar for all of the other free-agent pitchers?  So much for freedom of choice among your peers eh?
 
(PMB) Right. Apparently the dealing of baseball free-agents is not a “free-market” after all. It doesn’t sound very laissez-faire or deregulated to me! And finally what about Jake Peavy to Altanta? Who might Peavy’s other prospective suitors be?
 
Even with the Cubs re-signing Ryan Dempster, do not count them out of the Peavy sweepstakes.  Kevin Towers is doing EXACTLY what he should be doing, negotiating the best possible price in a seller’s market.  Peavy would become immediately attractive to any team who loses out on Sabathia.
 
While the Braves said last week they were no longer interested in Jake Peavy, how could anyone in need of a starting pitcher NOT entertain the idea of landing him?  He has a career 3.25 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP.
 
Towers feels that the Cubs may turn their attention away from pitching after re-signing Ryan Dempster today, but I don’t believe that to be the case.  Assuming they could move Jason Marquis in another deal, a rotation of Zambrano, Peavy, Dempster, Lilly, and Harden would without a doubt make the Cubbies the National League favorite to make the world Series in 2009.
 
The Mets could try to jump into the mix along with the Angels and Red Sox.  The Yankees could also sneak in there. 
  
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Jets vs. Titans: NFL Game of the Week

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By Rikki Greenberg 

Well I know who I am voting for this week.

The sexy Jets Head Coach Eric Mangini for Coach of the Week of course! Although the brooding, beady eyes of 49ers interim coach Mike Singletary were a close contender, it was the luscious protégé of Belechick that captured my heart and vote. With the Jets (7-3) coming off a rocking win against their division rival/arch nemesis the New England Patriots (6-4) and climbing back to the top of the AFC East,  the leader of the Gang Green machine receiving Coach of the Week props isn’t the only bright spot coming out of the Meadowlands these days.

However, the Jets can’t soar too long because this Sunday’s opponent is none other than the undefeated Tennessee Titans (10-0).  Can the Green and White end the chances for a team’s perfect season like their stadium-mate Giants did to the Jets’ greatest rival in Super Bowl XLII? 
With the sexiness of Coach Mangini, the newly crowned sexiness of Diet Pepsi Rookie of the Week nominee tight end Dustin Keller, and the fine-wine sexiness of GMC Sierra Defensive Player of the Week veteran linebacker Eric Barton, the slightly unsexy Titans don’t stand a chance.

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Jets offense vs. Titans defense

Old Man River (26-of-33 for 258 yards against the Patriots) and his arsenal of big-play talent are going to have to step it up against the Titan’s sixth ranked defense (first in scoring defense.) The Jets offense should look out for Titans defensive end Dave Bell, who’ll be seeking for a sack for the fourth consecutive time, 7-year defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, former Memphis  defensive end Tony Brown and veteran defensive end Jevon Kearse (2.5 sacks, 1 FF). If the Jets O-Line can perform like they did during the first half of the Patriots game last week and the Rams in Week 9, the Big Cheese shouldn’t see too much time on the ground during the course of this game. 

Key Match Ups:

Titans Cornerback Cortland Finnegan vs. Green Machine wide receiver Chansi Stuckey

Jets quarterback Brett Favre vs. Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth

Titans cornerback Chris Carr vs. Gang Green wide receiver L.C. (probable with thigh injury) or wide receiver Brad Smith (probable with shoulder injury) and they should watch out for those Wildcat plays (rrrraaahhhrrrr) with Smith

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Titans offense vs. Jets defense

The Titans offense shares the same seasoned offensive leader as the Jets. Instead of a salt and pepper Favre in the driver’s seat, it’s a charged up Kerry Collins. The 14-year veteran continues to put up impressive 2008 season numbers with 271 attempts, 160 completions, 1,755 yards, eight touchdowns and four interceptions. Collins’ 82.0 passer rating doesn’t hurt his fantasy status either.  Rookie cornerback Dwight Lowery should be putting in overtime coverage with red hot Titans wide receiver Justin Gage. The sixth-year receiver out of Missouri caught four passes for 147 yards against the Jaguars, making the Week 11 match up Gage’s best game yet. 

The Titans have proven that they can win with either the passing game or the running attack, so it is important for the Jets to shut down at least one. Since the Green and White have a giant defender (a.k.a nose tackle Kris Jenkins) to hopefully clog up running lanes, the safest bet is for Mangenius to focus his game plan there. There’s a reason, well two reasons, why the Titans are ranked 7th in rushing yards per game: 3rd year running back LenDale White and rookie running back Chris Johnson. White has 11 rushing touchdowns this season already.

Key Match Ups:

Titans quarterback Kerry Collins vs. Mangini’s merry band of defenders led by end Shaun Ellis

Titans wide receiver Justin Gage vs. Jets rookie cornerback Dwight Lowery

Titans offensive line protecting vs. the vicious Green and White d line unit

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Big East Breakdown

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By David K.

The Big East replaces the Pac-10 as the toughest conference in the country this season.  Seven of the pre-season top 25 teams are from the Big East (including three of the top five) and realistically, nine of the league’s sixteen squads could be headed to the Big Dance.  As a Marquette alum, it will be a treat to see my Golden Eagles battle it out with some of the best teams in the country on a weekly basis.  For the record, I have four of my Elite Eight teams coming from the Big East.
 

NCAA TOURNAMENT TEAMS

1. UConn- The Huskies return all five starters including 7’3 junior Hasheem Thabeet, a force in the middle who’s gotten progressively better on the offensive end every season.  Add in senior power forward Jeff Adrien, point guard A.J. Price and a very athletic, deep roster and UConn should be poised for a trip to the Final Four.  (True story: the only two times I’ve ever won an NCAA Tourney pool is when UConn won the crown, so I’m all for a deep run from the Huskies.)

2. Pitt- After injuries riddled their roster for a good chunk of the ’07-‘08 season, the Panthers came on strong late and claimed the Big East Tournament title.  Three key ingredients from that roster are back in swingman Sam Young, who should be one of the conference’s elite scorers.  Levance Fields will need to stay healthy for Pitt to be a serious contender.

3. Notre Dame- Reigning conference player of the year Luke Harangody is the A.J. Pierzynski of college basketball.  You love to hate him, but would also love to have him on your team.  All-Big East first teamer Kyle McAlarney is also back giving the Irish size, shooters, and a solid floor leader in point guard Tory Jackson. 

4. Marquette- Athleticism will have to carry the Golden Eagles this season since they are even thinner in the post than they were last season.  Dominique James, Jerel McNeal, Wesley Matthews, and Lazar Hayward are all back and will cause fits on the perimeter for opposing teams on both ends of the floor.  Tom Crean’s departure could have been the perfect motivator for this team.

5. Louisville- I am just not feeling Rick Pitino’s Cardinals this season.  They were ranked third in the pre-season national polls, but I think the loss of David Padgett will affect this team more than they realize.  (Yes, I am serious.)  Louisville’s guard play must be more consistent this season if they are to live up to their pre-season praise.

6. Syracuse- Injuries, a lack of depth, and inexperience hurt ‘Cuse last season.  All those problems are no more as the Orange have everyone back except Donte Greene. They also return two key players from injury and should be able to go nine deep without missing much of a beat.  They could really surprise a lot of people nationally.

7. Villanova– ‘Nova has a very versatile, potent starting five led by junior guard Scottie Reynolds who has never met a shot he didn’t like.  Depth will be an issue for the Wildcats which could prove costly in the deep Big East. 

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SHOULD BE DANCING

8. Georgetown- No Big East team took a bigger talent loss hit this off-season than JT3’s Hoyas, both to graduation and transfers.  G-town certainly won’t be in the national title picture this season, but return enough quality players and have some freshman contributors who should get this team into the Big Dance.
 

BUBBLE TEAM

9. West Virginia- If Joe Alexander had returned to the Mountaineers instead of going pro, I would seriously consider Bob Huggins crew as a Final Four contender.  Still, almost heaven, West Virginia brings back a talented swingman in Alex Ruoff and my pick for conference freshman of the year, Devin Ebanks.  The Big East sent 8 teams to the tourney last year, and the Mountaineers could be the ninth to get in this season.

NIT BOUND

10. Cincinnati- Cincy is a very young team with only three upperclassmen.  Mick Cronin has this team on the right track, but is still probably a year away from reaching the upper half of the conference.

11. DePaul- The Blue Demons are in a similar spot as Cincinnati where the roster is compiled of mostly underclassmen.  There is definitely young talent, but just too much inexperience at this point to keep up with the toughest conference in the country.

12. Providence- The Friars dropped their season opener at home to Mercer.  Not a good way to start the season.
 

NOT MAKING THE CONFERENCE TOURNEY

13-16. St. John’s, Seton Hall, Rutgers, South Florida- The bottom four teams in the Big East don’t make the conference tournament, and because these teams are so far behind the other 12, I am just going to lump then in one group and not waste my time writing about schools who aren’t worthy of the effort.
 

1st Team

Jeff Adrien-UCONN 
Earl Clark-LOU
Johnny Flynn-CUSE
Luke Harangody-ND
Lazar Hayward-MARQ 
Jerel McNeal-MAR
Scottie Reynolds-VIL
Alex Ruoff-WV 
Hasheem Thabeet-UCONN
Deonta Vaughn-CIN
Sam Young-PITT
 

2nd Team

DeJaun Blair-PITT 
Eric Devendorf-CUSE
Corey Fisher-NOVA
Dominique James-MARQ
Dominique Jones-USF
Anthony Mason Jr-STJ
Kyle McAlarney-ND
A.J. Price- UCONN
DeJuan Summers-GEO
Dar Tucker-DEP 
Terrence Williams-LOU
 

Rookie Team

Daryl Bryant-WV
Dion Dixon-CIN
Jermaine Dixon-PITT
Devin Ebanks-WV
Yancey Gates-CIN
Terrence Jennings-LOU
Kris Joseph-CUSE
Greg Monroe-GT
Samardo Samuels-LOU 
Mike Rosario-RUT
Kemba Walker-UCONN

Player of the Year: Harangody (disgusts me to admit this)

Rookie of the Year: Ebanks

Coach of the Year: Jim Calhoun, UConn

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What’s the Deal with Brandon Lloyd?

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By Paul M. Banks

The Chicago Bears entered the season desperate for a #1 wide receiver to emerge. In week three, Brandon Lloyd appeared to be that guy with 124 yards and a touchdown: (The sole 100 yard effort by a Bears wide-out this season. Unfortunately, Lloyd strained his posterior cruciate ligament in week four and we didn’t see him again until Sunday when he had two catches for 17 yards. He was expected to be out just 2-4 weeks, but missed a month and a half instead. It has been insinuated that the Bears coaching staff was extremely fed up with Lloyd’s slow convalescence. Although nothing’s on the record, his Bear teammates allegedly don’t have high regard for his attitude and supposed lack of toughness.

Lloyd’s budding R&B singing career–“She All Mine,” his collaboration with Bobby Valentino, is a current top 50 hip-hop chart single- and comments about not wanting to take the field until he’s absolutely 100% gave ammunition to critics and resurfaced the negative reputation he received while playing for Washington.  This late in the season, almost no NFL player is truly 100% healthy. Given how much money players make each game, it seems ridiculous that Lloyd would say and actually mean such a thing. Could there be another reason for his slow return? Would that reason due to an injury or off-the-field matter?

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One thing’s for sure, he wasn’t held back due to the Bears having a stellar wide receiving corps. Since he’s been gone, only one Bear: Rashied Davis has resembled a bonafide NFL starting wide-out. One of the first features I ever wrote was a Daily Illini piece about Brandon Lloyd in 1999 as he was poised to break the University of Illinois record for receiving yards by a freshman. (his record was broken by Arrelious Benn last year). Since then I’ve followed his career arc quite closely. Lloyd’s now thought to be on his last chance. When his former college Head Coach and current Bears Offensive coordinator Ron Turner played the cronyism card and brought him into camp, conventional league wisdom had already given up on him. Under those circumstances, you would expect Lloyd to approach his job with something extra to prove, and not display a relaxed effort towards returning to work! So something here doesn’t add up. Either there’s another hidden factor here or someone (either Lloyd or the coaching staff) sold the Bears passing game and the team’s chances short.

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Big Ten Breakdown

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By David K.

The Big Ten will definitely be lacking in strength this season.  There are three teams that should be in the Top 25 throughout the season, a handful of teams that could surprise some people, and a few programs that will struggle mightily.  Here’s a breakdown of how the Big Ten should look at the finish this season.
 

NCAA TOURNAMENT TEAMS

1. Purdue- I think the Boilermakers are a legitimate Final Four contender.  They return four starters including sophomore Robbie Hummel who has a chance to be the conference player of the year and a talented trio of guards in E’Twuan Moore, Keaton Grant, and Chris Kramer.  Matt Painter has this team buying into a team concept that begins with aggressive play on the defensive end. 

2. Wisconsin- Two things we know about the Badgers every year:  1.) Bo Ryan will get the absolute most out of each of his players 2.) They will suffocate you on the defensive end (UW had the top-ranked defense in the entire nation last season.)  The offensive load will once again be a team effort led by Marcus Landry, Jason Bohannon, Joe Krabbenhoft, and Trevon Hughes.  Keep an eye on freshman guard Jordan Taylor, who has impressed Coach Ryan thus far. 

3. Michigan State- Sparty should be a physical, powerful team led by center Goran Suton, freshman Delvon Roe, Maruis Gray and Big Ten player of the year candidate Raymar Morgan.  Guards Kailin Lucas, Travis Walton, and Durrell Summers will fill the void left by Drew Neitzel.  This team has the depth and talent to compete for the conference crown, but can they play team ball as well as the Boilermakers or Badgers?

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SHOULD BE DANCING

4. Ohio State- It will be another year of re-loading for the Buckeyes who lose their top three scorers from last season.  Luckily for Thad Matta, he has another talented group of freshmen led by 7’ 0” B.J. Mullens, a likely top five pick if he decides to go pro, and guard William Buford. 

BUBBLE TEAMS

5. Minnesota- The Gophers also lose their top three scorers from last season, but still return some experience seeing as how ten players logged at least ten minutes a game last season.  With Tubby Smith running the show for his second straight season, Minnesota should continue to improve.  But will that stride be big enough to get into the NCAA Tournament?

6. Illinois- In losing post players Brian Randle and Shaun Pruitt, the Illini will have to rely on their depth at the guard position this season.  Expect Bruce Weber to go small quite frequently with a mix of Demetri McCamey, Chester Frazier, Trent Meacham, Calvin Brock, and Kentucky transfer Alex Legion.  That group is certainly no Deron Williams/Dee Brown/Luther Head, but could be enough to get Illinois into the tourney.

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NIT BOUND

7. Michigan- Mark my words; sophomore guard Manny Harris will lead the Big Ten in scoring this year.  This team lacked any sort of consistency last season under first year head coach John Beilein, but should be more disciplined this year and could potentially be a sleeper in the weak Big Ten.

8. Penn State- Losing their best player in Geary Claxton last season might not hurt the Nittany Lions this season as much as you might think.  Minus Claxton, they return their five top scorers from last season.  Size will be a major concern and could ultimately determine this team’s fate at the end of the season.

IT’S GOING TO BE A LOOOOOOOONG SEASON

9. Northwestern- Having seven of their top eight players back from last season is the good news.  The bad news is that the Wildcats, who finished 1-17 in the Big Ten last season, lost an exhibition game to Robert Morris College.  Ish.  I guess that’s expected from a program that has NEVER made the NCAA Tournament.

10. Iowa- It’s never good when you look at a team’s roster and only recognize one name from last year’s team.  The Hawkeyes lose a lot of offense in guards Tony Freeman and Justin Johnson and will struggle to find their replacements this season.

11. Indiana- After the Kelvin Sampson debacle, IU is starting from scratch.  Tom Crean has a brand new group of Hoosiers will suffer through some serious growing pains this season.  As a Marquette alum, that makes me smile.

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1st Team

Kevin Coble-NW 
Manny Harris-MICH 
Robbie Hummel-PUR 
Marcus Landry-WIS 
Raymar Morgan-MSU
 

2nd Team

Jamelle Cornley-PSU
Demetri McCamey-ILL
E’Twuan Moore- PUR 
Goran Suton-MSU
Lawrence Westbrook-MIN
 

All-Freshman Team

William Buford-OSU
Colton Iverson-MIN
B.J. Mullens-OSU
Delvon Roe-MSU
Verdell Jones III-IND

Player of the Year- Hummel

Freshman of the Year- Mullens

Coach of the Year- Matt Painter, Purdue
 
 
 
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Illinois Memorial Stadium Holiday Road Trip 2

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By Paul M. Banks

When Illinois takes on Ohio State on Saturday November 15th, it will be the final game of their first new season in their fancy new digs. (Sort of) After the 2006 season, a $160 million renovation project known as Illinois Renaissance began on Memorial Stadium, the Fighting Illini’s home field. New permanent stands were completed in August of 2007, with a new student and band seating section buzzing with “Zook Zone” towels on game day. The remainder of the stadium work was essentially completed in September, right in time for the home opener. The west side added luxury suites, indoor and outdoor club areas and a refurbishment of the concourses that now feature an illustrated timeline of Illinois history. There are pictures and/or banners of Jeff George, Red Grange, Dick Butkus, Ron Turner and many more. An outdoor club space was added under the west balcony: the Colonnades Club which features outdoor seats for game spectators in a weather-protected area.

A three-level structure was built above the west balcony to house two floors of suites and an indoor club space, as well as a new press box for media seating and game day operations. The indoor club, which seats 200, has been named the “77 Club” to honor the retired number of Illinois gridiron legend Harold “Red” Grange. In addition, a new FieldTurf playing surface was installed at Memorial Stadium prior to this season. And of course, the press box which I sat in on Homecoming is a huge upgrade from the one during my college paper days. This new media workplace is so much better it may as well be on an entirely different planet from the old one. The entire Renaissance project was conducted while keeping the stadium in a functioning capacity.

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Illinois’ record in Memorial Stadium is 236-200-14 entering this season. They head into their clash with the Buckeyes 4-1 at home, but a very disappointing 5-5 overall. Most college football experts predicted Illinois to finish as the Big Ten’s third or at least fourth best team in conference. The Illini have played this season as college football’s perfect example of a Webster definition of “mediocrity.” They will most likely need to sweep their last two games to qualify for the postseason.

For a comprehensive look at the renovation process from start to finish http://www.athletics.uiuc.edu/renaissance/

Memorial Stadium has been the site of many other notable events, including the first-ever “Farm Aid,” organized by Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson and was held September 22, 1985, the Illinois High School Association Football Championships (since 1999) and Chicago Bears home games (in 2002, while Soldier Field was being renovated).  In 1990, the old stadium saw more history as current Big Ten Network analyst and Super Bowl winner Howard Griffith set an NCAA record, rushing for 8 touchdowns in a blowout win over Southern Illinois. And on homecoming, we saw “the world’s largest basketball practice,” a pre-midnight madness event held on a court installed in between the horseshoe and south end zone. Attendance figures for this are unscientific, but I’m pretty sure that no larger crowd ever has or ever will see senior guard Trent Meacham run lay-up drills again.

Illinois Renaissance Project

When Illinois takes on Ohio State on Saturday November 15th, it will be the final game of their first new season in their fancy new digs. (Sort of) After the 2006 season, a $160 million renovation project known as Illinois Renaissance began on Memorial Stadium, the Fighting Illini’s home field. New permanent stands were completed in August of 2007, with a new student and band seating section buzzing with “Zook Zone” towels on game day. The remainder of the stadium work was essentially completed in September, right in time for the home opener. The west side added luxury suites, indoor and outdoor club areas and a refurbishment of the concourses that now feature an illustrated timeline of Illinois history. There are pictures and/or banners of Jeff George, Red Grange, Dick Butkus, Ron Turner and many more. An outdoor club space was added under the west balcony: the Colonnades Club which features outdoor seats for game spectators in a weather-protected area.

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A three-level structure was built above the west balcony to house two floors of suites and an indoor club space, as well as a new press box for media seating and game day operations. The indoor club, which seats 200, has been named the “77 Club” to honor the retired number of Illinois gridiron legend Harold “Red” Grange. In addition, a new FieldTurf playing surface was installed at Memorial Stadium prior to this season. And of course, the press box which I sat in on Homecoming is a huge upgrade from the one during my college paper days. This new media workplace is so much better it may as well be on an entirely different planet from the old one. The entire Renaissance project was conducted while keeping the stadium in a functioning capacity.

Illinois’ record in Memorial Stadium is 236-200-14 entering this season. They head into their clash with the Buckeyes 4-1 at home, but a very disappointing 5-5 overall. Most college football experts predicted Illinois to finish as the Big Ten’s third or at least fourth best team in conference. The Illini have played this season as college football’s perfect example of a Webster definition of “mediocrity.” They will most likely need to sweep their last two games to qualify for the postseason.

For a comprehensive look at the renovation process from start to finish http://www.athletics.uiuc.edu/renaissance/

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Memorial Stadium has been the site of many other notable events, including the first-ever “Farm Aid,” organized by Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson and was held September 22, 1985, the Illinois High School Association Football Championships (since 1999) and Chicago Bears home games (in 2002, while Soldier Field was being renovated).  In 1990, the old stadium saw more history as current Big Ten Network analyst and Super Bowl winner Howard Griffith set an NCAA record, rushing for 8 touchdowns in a blowout win over Southern Illinois. And on homecoming, we saw “the world’s largest basketball practice,” a pre-midnight madness event held on a court installed in between the horseshoe and south end zone. Attendance figures for this are unscientific, but I’m pretty sure that no larger crowd ever has or ever will see senior guard Trent Meacham run lay-up drills again.



Holiday Road Trip Schedule

On Deck: Ohio Stadium (the horseshoe)
In the hole: New England Patriots followed by the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks

Memorial Stadium Holiday Road Trip I

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By Paul M. Banks

I still have my first ever media credential to a sporting event. My mom and sisters have a passion for scrap-booking like Ron Zook has for recruiting. It’s in favorite scrapbook and reads October 16, 1999, and on that day I saw a 37-7 Homecoming loss to Minnesota. My first media-credentialed game in the newly renovated stadium occurred with an eerie similarity on October 11, 2008 and was another Homecoming loss (27-20) to Minnesota.  Illinois needs to stop scheduling Minnesota for homecoming (but hey, at least we’ve beat them an unbelievable 19 in a row in basketball) because I’ve now been more annoyed by gophers than Carl Spackler in “Caddyshack.”

I’ve worked in this field since college, where I was a sports columnist for the student daily at the University of Illinois, just a two hour drive from Chicago. This university brought the world tailgating, Homecoming and the Babe Ruth of football, Red Grange. Since those formative years I’ve done guest appearances on ESPN Radio and Sporting News Radio in different markets all across the United States and gone on to write for NBC Chicago.com and the Washington Times online.


Time Immemorial

Memorial Stadium, yes we know there are a million other schools (Nebraska, Indiana, and California just to name a few) using this name, but hey “this is my rifle. There are many others like it, but this one is mine.” It was built in 1923 as a memorial to Illinois men and women who gave their lives for their country during World War I. Their names appear on 200 columns that support the east and west sides of the stadium. Donations of approximately $1.7 million by more than 200,000 students, alumni and other friends of the University made the construction possible.

All campus freshmen must learn and memorize the story of the day the stadium was dedicated officially: Oct. 18, 1924. On this day Illinois defeated Michigan, 39-14, for a Homecoming victory, but Harold “Red” Grange accounted for six touchdowns in what remains as the single greatest performance in Memorial Stadium history. (Although Juice Williams has broken the stadium’s record for single passing yards and total offense TWICE this season) In the first 12 minutes of that game, Grange ran for a total of 265 yards and scored four times. He had his hands on the ball only six times and left the field before the end of the first quarter.

In the third quarter, Grange returned and ran 13 yards for his fifth touchdown, and in the final period he passed to Marion Leonard for his sixth score of the day. In 42 minutes of playing time, Grange, nicknamed both the “Galloping Ghost” and “Wheaton Iceman,” gained a total of 402 yards, carried the ball 21 times and also completed six passes for 64 yards. “That rival hands may never touch” indeed. Legendary coach Amos Alonzo Stagg (the namesake of my high school with blue and orange colors) called it “the most spectacular single-handed performance ever delivered in a major game.”

The 1994 season represented the 70th anniversary of Memorial Stadium’s dedication and the historic Illinois-Michigan game. To celebrate the event, Red Grange’s wife, Mrs. Margaret Grange, attended the Fighting Illini’s Oct. 22 game against Michigan. She helped dedicate The Grange Rock which sits at the north end of Zuppke Field as a tribute to her husband. The rock came from the same Indiana Stone quarry that produced the granite columns of the stadium. Zuppke Field is the official name of the playing surface, named after the legendary early century coach.

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Memory Stadium

As I document my travels all around this great nation of ours, it seems very natural to journal about whom and what I encounter in other cities and states. But at home it feels a little weird, because I’m so accustomed to it. It’s almost impossible to limit the number and scope of all the stadium stories I’ve acquired here over the years, so here’s a short list of the some of the most memorable. Because here, Memorial Stadium, the University of Illinois is where…

…I used to sneak in with my friends and kick field goals instead of going to class. Most of the time the door was wide open, but occasionally we would jump fence.

…I’m reminded of how close Illinois football really is to me and my family. There’s a reason my eldest sister Lisa hosted a Rose Bowl party with an “Illini Tree” on New Year’s Day this past year. She once got a motorcycle ride home from a party with Jeff George, the only Illini #1 overall NFL draft pick.

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…I’ve discussed parties and getting ridiculously piss-drunk with the school’s leading passer and current radio analyst Kurt Kittner. And talked about the philosophical ideologies at play while pumping iron at the weight room with current Bears and former Illinois wide out Brandon Lloyd.

…we saw the 20 game losing streak (yes, really) end my junior year with Rausell “Rocky” Harvey rushing for 225 yards in his college debut against Middle Tennessee St. It was less impressive than it sounds as then coach Ron Turner had him run left all day because MTSU’s defensive line on that side were literally about 195 pounds.

…we stormed the field to celebrate that day and I watched some people climb the goalposts, but we were unable to bring them down.

…another one of my siblings, my sister Rachel, got hit on by QB Scott Weaver, who misconnected on that pass, just like he usually did on the field. I remember her freshman year when she took me to my first game in 1991, a 20-0 loss to Michigan.

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…I rode my bike down the ramp, across the field and end-zones on the way to freshman orientation.

…where my friends visiting from other campuses and I discussed how far we were getting sexually with the girls in our lives at the time using the Zuppke field yard lines as a progress chart. (Because “getting to second base” or “reaching third base” is just too overused and unoriginal.)

…I saw Jason Verduzco, a poor-man’s Doug Flutie, play and become the Illini’s third leading passer in school history; and I thought “Wow! I’m actually taller than that guy; he’s my new favorite player.”

…I got my first job writing for a newspaper, and even an all-expenses paid trip to Miami to cover the bowl game and hang out in South Beach for the millennium. My favorite memory that semester however was when I called one of my friends about 5 minutes before I knew Verduzco was going to call me for a story I was doing on the Illini’s greatest games of the millennium. This was on purpose, so I could tell my friend “sorry buddy, I have to let you go now, I have Jason Veruduzco on line two.”

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…the Gophers beat writer for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune yelled at me and my tag-team partner at the Daily Illini because as the late, great Jerome Holtzman said, “no cheering in the press box.”

…you the reader will understand now why I shout out expletives when the Illinois football team does something stupid and ruins themselves like they did this week versus Western Michigan. And why my eyes will water with joy after completing this list of anecdotes from the Banks family happy place.

Today, everything back on the University of Illinois campus and affiliated with my alma mater is upgraded big time since I last visited. It’s like seeing your high school girlfriend, but now she has breast implants. The football stadium is no different. Even the paper Memorial Stadium credential pass (now with hologram pictures) is a hundred times cooler than in my day.

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Fantasy Finagling

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Soxman’s Fantasy Football Weekly
 

With the 2008 fantasy football season less than 2-3 weeks away from the play-offs, many trade deadlines are approaching.  Is Soxman wheeling and dealing?  You bet! 

He breaks it all down for you in addition to posting this week’s picks to click and sleeper watch.
 

It was a great week for all three of my teams as I posted a “clean sweep” of victories.
 
Money League
 
I improved to 6-4 in my money league posting the highest point total of any team in the league (131).  The secret to my success?  Exactly what I told all of you last week right here on the Sportsbank!
 
Kellen Winslow went off, as he quickly became the favorite target of “rookie” Brady Quinn.  Eddie Royal also exploded and if you started Willis McGahee, you were rewarded mightily.
 
How good is MVP Fantasy QB Drew Brees this season?  In a first half where he threw for just 65 yards and in a game where he throws three interceptions, he still finishes with over 23 points in most leagues. 
 
Old Neighborhood League
 
It was truly “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi” in my neighborhood league, as Luke Soxwalker, faced Darth Dad’s team and completely destroyed “the dark side.”
 
How good is this team?  You wouldn’t believe me if I told you:
 
QB
Drew Brees
Chad Pennington
 
RB
Adrian Peterson
Maurice Jones-Drew
Marshawn Lynch
 
WR
Andre Johnson
Marques Colston
Eddie Royal
Jerricho Cotchery
 
TE
Kellen Winslow
Owen Daniels
 
K
Mason Crosby
 
DEF/ST
Da Bears

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Individual Defensive Performance (IDP) League
 
I’m now knocking on the door of first place in the IDP league improving to 7-3, with a ton of momentum as I face the league leader this weekend.  Huge performances by Donovan McNabb and Calvin Johnson were the secret.  My IDP star of the game was Peanut Tillman who posted a solid nine points.
 
Trades
 
In my money league, I traded Felix Jones and Cedric Benson for DeAngelo Williams and Tony Scheffler.
 
In my IDP League, I traded Jamal Lewis and San Diego Defense for Santana Moss and John Carlson.
 
Trade Breakdown
 
Even with the injury to Clinton Portis, I’m deep at the running back position with Chris Johnson, Joseph Addai, and Willis McGahee.  Williams has had his second consecutive 100-yard last week and faces the Detroit Lions this week.
 
Scheffler had 92 receiving yards last week and had a huge second half last year.  As our league’s rules do not allow player adds or drops during the play-offs, I needed a strong compliment to the injury-prone Kellen Winslow.
 
Jones, while electric, is always going to play second fiddle to Marion Barber and Cedric Benson, while a sleeper pick of Soxman, is far from spectacular.
 
In the IDP league, wide receivers are favored heavily and you MUST start three each week.  Moss is one of the top targeted WRs in the NFL and appears to be near 100% back from his hamstring injury.

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Must Starts
 
Again, I’m not wasting cyberspace telling you about the obvious like Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, etc.
 
QBs
 
Jay Cutler (even more focus on the pass despite the shaky WR situation)
Tyler Thigpen (see my sleeper report)
Jason Campbell
Jake Dellhome (facing the Lions)
Brady Quinn (call it a gut)
 
RB

Michael Turner
Reggie Bush (slated to return)
Larry Johnson
 
WR

Greg Jennings
Bobby Engram (Host of the View’s husband returns)
Roy Williams (could finally see some passes as a Cowboy).
 
TE

Dustin Keller
Greg Olsen
Alex Smith (he might finally be ready to live up to his hype).
 
K

Mason Crosby
Jason Elam
Shaun Suisham
 
Def

Panthers
Dolphins
49ers
 
Sleeper Watch
 
Remember, sleeper alerts are just that.  They are considered somewhat risky options…but could hit pay dirt!
 
QB
 
Tyler Thigpen

A 104.6 passer rating in his last three starts and 124 passes without a pick:  a good gamble.
 

WR
 
Mark Bradley

He was one of the most targeted receivers in week 10 and in just 4 weeks has caught 19 passes for 196 yards with three TDs receiving…and one throwing.
 

Jason Hill

Hill was the favorite target of new 49ers quarterback Shaun Hill, who was making his first start of the season. They face the Rams this week, who are 26th in the league in pass defense, allowing an average of 237.6 yards per game.
 
RB

Cadillac Williams

This is more of a stash option. Williams has totaled 2,184 rushing yards on 569 carries with 10 touchdowns in his career while adding 53 receptions for 294 yards. He’s looking to see his first action since early in the 2007 season.
 
Peyton Hillis

It looks like he will be the man in week 11 as the Broncos are signing anyone with RB experience to fill a hugely depleted position.  He was a big surprise in week 9, showing good receiving hands.
 
Well, that’s it for this week.  Keep moving the chains and focusing on positive gains.
 
SM

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NCAA Hoops Picks

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By Paul M. Banks, Peter Christian, David K.

PETER CHRISTIAN

Elite Eight: Wisconsin, Villanova, UNLV, USC
Final Four: Marquette, UNC
Runner-up: Louisville
National Champion: UCLA

Sleepers: Wisconsin, UNLV, Baylor
Overrated: UCONN, Davidson, Gonzaga

All-American First Team:
Tyler Hansbrough F UNC, Luke Harangody F Notre Dame, Stephen Curry G Davidson, Darren Collison, G UCLA, Ty Lawson G UNC

All-American Second Team:
Chase Budinger F Arizona, Patrick Patterson F Kentucky,  Hasheem Thabeet C UConn, AJ Price G UConn, Scottie Reynolds G Villanova

Player of the Year:
Tyler Hansbrough F UNC

All-Freshman Team:
Jrue Holiday G UCLA, Kemba Walker G UConn, Samardo Salmons F Louisville, Delvon Roe F Michigan St., B.J. Mullens C Ohio St.

Freshman of the Year:
Jrue Holliday G UCLA

Toughest Conference:
Big East

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For David K.’s picks (which are quite a bit more in-depth) click here

PAUL M. BANKS

Elite Eight: UCLA- Randy Newman may “Love L.A.” but they seem to have trouble lately on the last weekend of the tourney, Purdue- because one Big Ten team has to make it, right?, Syracuse- don’t sleep on them, UConn- a very balanced team

Final Four: Notre Dame (ugh! unfortunately), NORTHWESTERN they will win 40 games this year and run the table in March Madness. Ok, seriously Texas (because everything’s bigger in Texas, including expectations when you have solid post-perimeter balance like the Longhorns do.

Runner-up: Louisville…“slugging” their way to the title game,.

National Champion: North Carolina…”raise up! Take your shirt off, spin it round your head like a helicopter”

Sleepers: Any newly recruited big white oaf on Wisconsin, Georgetown, a middle-of-the-road Big East team that none of us have mentioned yet.

Overrated: Brian Butch, I know he’s gone now, but I hated him so much that I had to take one last shot at him. Wisco’s tournament chances will be overrated again come Selection Sunday. I’m not sold on Marquette either. Call me a F.I.B. if you want to cheeseheads!

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All-American First Team: Juice Thompson, Craig Moore, Kevin Coble, Northwestern, Demetri McCamey and Trent Meacham, Illinois. Ok, you know I’m not serious about that. I don’t know why I’m so punchy with my picks tonight!

My real picks are Carolina’s Hansbrough, Curry the Davidson kid, Thabeet the big oaf on UConn, Budinger from Arizona who will dominate the NIT in March, and Texas’ A.J. Abrams, not to be confused with J.J. Abrams co-creator of ABC’s “Lost”
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All-American Second Team: I’m skipping this category this year, because I can’t, in good conscience, put any Illinois or Michigan St. players on it this year.

Player of the Year: Tyler Hansbrough F UNC. Just please come up with a new celebratory “gesture” that attempt at dancing or imitating a baby T. Rex or whatever that was in the ACC Tourney last year has got to go.

All-Freshman Team: See Dave’s list. Or Pete’s. they know a lot more about this category than I do. But of course I agree with the choice of Sparty’s Delvon Roe.

Freshman of the Year: B.J. Mullens, Ohio St. Lately, they haven’t been rebuilding at the post position, just re-loading!

Toughest Conference:
The Big East by far! It certainly isn’t the Big Ten who will regale us for the fourth year in a row this March with a conference tournament composed of many 55-50 final scores. These telecasts will be ambien in college basketball form

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David K.’s College Hoops Predictions

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NCAA Mens Hoops Nerdom at its Finest!

Elite Eight:

Arizona State-

If you don’t know the name James Harden, get to know it.  The Sun Devil sophomore swingman should be one of the more exciting players to watch this season.  Including Harden, ASU returns their top five scorers.

Marquette-

To steal a phrase from a friend, this should be a major F-U season for the Golden Eagles.  Tom Crean bolted to Indiana as MU’s core of guards: Dominique James, Jerel McNeal, and Wesley Matthews enter their senior seasons.  Marquette should be motivated beyond belief and if forward Lazar Hayward can continue to improve like he did last season, people shouldn’t sleep on them.  Size will once again be a major Achilles heel though.

Pitt-

For a team that battled injuries all last season, Pitt turned it on when it counted most, winning the Big East Tournament.  Core players back from last year’s team include DeJuan Blair, Sam Young, and Levance Fields (though Field is recovering from foot surgery this summer) and they should help get the Panthers to the Elite Eight.

UCLA-

Even though the Bruins lost Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute to the NBA Draft, UCLA should be in a position to contend for their 4th consecutive Final Four trip.  Back are Darren Collison, Josh Shipp, and Alfred Aboya.  Add in another talented freshmen class led by G Jrue Holliday, G Malcom Lee, and PF Drew Gordon, and the Bruins should once again be in title talk.

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Final Four:

UConn-

Jim Calhoun’s crew is stacked and deserving of their #2 pre-season ranking.  They have size up-front with 7’3 Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrian, scorers on the wing in Stanley Robinson, Jerome Dyson, and Craig Austrie, and a pair of talented point guards in senior A.J. Price and freshman Kemba Walker.  This program has experienced growing pains the past two seasons, but the patience should turn into reward for the Huskies.

Purdue-

The Boilermakers should be the cream of the Big Ten crop this season.  They play as a team and are extremely aggressive on defense.  Robbie Hummel put forth an impressive freshman season and will only get better!  Their trio of E’Twaun Moore, Keaton Grant, and Chris Kramer at guard will be pivotal towards Purdue’s success.

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Runner-up:

Texas-

The Longhorns seemingly didn’t miss a beat last season despite Kevin Durant’s departure, and this year’s team should follow suit even though D.J. Augustin bolted for the NBA.  A.J. Abrams returns and should be an All-American candidate while big men Connor Atchley and Damion James provide toughness inside, but are also versatile enough to step out and knock down three-pointers.
 

National Champion:

North Carolina-

There is a reason UNC was the unanimous pre-season #1 ranked team.  The Heels top six players are back from last year’s team that was ousted in the Final Four by Kansas, including reigning player of the year, Tyler Hansbrough.  Combine that with another talented recruiting class and the return of guard Bobby Frasor who missed most of last season with a torn ACL, and the NCAA Tournament will be Carolina’s to lose.  They have all the intangibles of a National Title team; experience, size, depth, and shooting.  The only way the Heels don’t win it all is if Hansbrough’s stress reaction injury is something more serious and becomes a season-long lingering problem.
 

Underrated:

Wisconsin-

If there’s one thing I have learned in covering the Badgers on a daily basis; it’s that Bo Ryan is going to get the absolute most out of his players.  Last year, people were wondering how Wisconsin was going to replace their two leading scorers in Alando Tucker and Kammron Taylor, and all the Badgers did was win the Big Ten regular season and conference tournament titles.  They likely won’t repeat that feat, but Bucky should certainly be in contention once again.

Syracuse-

Three things killed Cuse last year: inexperience, injuries, and a lack of depth.  Donte Greene is the only important player gone from last year (and with his gun-slinging long range tendencies, that could actually be a good thing.)  Jim Boeheim should have the luxury of going nine deep including the return of three-point threat Eric Devendorf from an ACL injury.  Their biggest hurdle will be surviving the extremely tough Big East.

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Overrated:

Arizona-

Even before Lute Olson announced he was leaving the program, I had the Wildcats on my overrated list.  I was a big fan of Chase Budinger his freshman year, but after seeing him struggle last season…I began to sour on him as a go-to type player.  Jordan Hill is a nice big man to have and Arizona should benefit from playing in a much weaker Pac 10 this season. However, don’t be surprised to see the Wildcats streak of 24 straight NCAA Tournament appearances come to an end.

Davidson-

Cinderella they are no more.  Everyone is going to be keying in on containing sharpshooter Stephen Curry.  What will really hurt the Wildcats is losing point guard Jason Richards who led all D-1 players in assists and perfectly executed the Davidson offense built around finding Curry.  With Richards gone, Curry will have to carry more of a ball-handling responsibility which may affect his prolific scoring ability.  They should still make Big Dance but with a much earlier exit.
 

All-American First Team:

Stephen Curry, G, Davidson
Blake Griffin, PF, Oklahoma
Tyler Hansbrough, PF, North Carolina
Luke Harangody, PF, Notre Dame
James Harden, SG, Arizona State
 

All-American Second Team:

A.J. Abrams, G, Texas
Jack McClinton, G, Miami, FL
Patrick Patterson, PF, Kentucky
Tyrese Rice, PG, Boston College
Sam Young, SF, Pitt
 

Player of the Year: Griffin

Hansbrough is obviously the favorite to repeat as player of the year.  I’m concerned his injury and the many talented players around him will stand in his way though.  Griffin is a legitimate 20 point, 10 rebound a night type of player and will likely be the first overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft.  He could single-handedly take the Sooners to a Big 12 title this year and should be rewarded for doing so.

All-Freshman Team:

Demar DeRozan, SG, USC
Tyreke Evans, SG, Memphis
JaMychal Green, F, Alabama
Scotty Hopson, SG, Tennessee
Samardo Samuels, C, Louisville

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Freshman of the Year: Evans

Evans will by no means have the impact on Memphis that Derrick Rose did a year ago.  But with Rose, Chris Douglas-Roberts, and Joey Dorsey all in the pros, Evans should be a contributor in John Calipari’s Dribble-Drive offense.  Evans would have skipped college ball if the option was still available, so expect him to have an impressive freshman campaign then bolt for the NBA.
 

Toughest Conference: Big East

7 of the AP pre-season top 25 are from the Big East.  Three of those teams (UConn, Louisville, and Pitt) are in the top five and are all strong candidates to be Final Four teams.  Throw in NCAA Tournament teams from last year like Notre Dame and Marquette -who I have in my Elite Eight-, Georgetown, West Virginia, and Villanova. As well as a healthier, deeper, more experienced Syracuse team and this conference should have nine teams making the Big Dance.


The Top Ten “Yes We Can” Sports Moments

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By Paulie Knep, The Love of Sports.com

This week, we all bore witness to a landmark moment in American history. An African-American man was elected President of the United States. Barack Obama’s mere presence on the victory stand served as a testament to the theme of his acceptance speech, “Yes we can.”

The sports world has always acted as both a reflection of societal values and a catalyst for cultural change. Some athletes have transformed perceptions and opened up doors in sports and beyond by breaking barriers on the field. Others have inspired groups of people to pursue their own dreams, by courageously overcoming disease, disability or other obstacles on the road to success.

Individually and collectively, these athletes have made us believe that “Yes we can.”

For the link to the list and the rest of the feature follow this link

http://theloveofsports.com/index.php/site/comments/top_ten_yes_we_can_moments_in_sports/

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Bears-Titans Reaffirms that Parity Rules in NFL

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By Paul M. Banks

If there’s one thing we’ve observed during the first half of the NFL season, it’s that parity reigns. You would think the league was run by socialists the way the wealth is currently spread around: 22 of the league’s 32 teams are within just three games of being .500.  The Tennessee Titans’ 21-14 win over the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field was another reinforcement of established parity as a slightly-better-than-average team, the 5-4 Bears ended up just 60 yards and one possession short of the league’s sole undefeated team the 9-0 Titans.

In this Titanic struggle, Tennessee’s awful and 30th ranked pass defense looked very serviceable as the embattled Rex Grossman was unable to exploit this weakness, finishing the game with an ugly 4.7 yards-per-attempt and 64.4 passer rating. “It’s always tough when you have three-and-outs. You need to be able to get some first downs to get to the rest of your game plan. We had some nice drives. We had some things working, but too many three-and-outs,” the backup QB said.

The Chicago Bears run defense certainly brought their A game, holding the Tennessee Titans, who entered as the third best rushing attack in the NFL, to -5 rushing yards on 13 carries (-0.4 ypc) in the first half. It was the lowest rushing total allowed in a half by the Bears since allowing -9 rushing yards in the first half at New England eleven years ago. For the game, Chicago held Tennessee to 20 rushing yards on 29 attempts (0.7 ypc).

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“I was very impressed with the Bears front 7 and their approach. They forced us out of the run game and Kerry did a great job with the football today. We overcame a lot of issues and problems and still found a way to win against a good football team. I’m pleased to come in and find a way to win. I’m impressed with both teams,” said Titans coach Jeff Fisher, currently the NFL’s longest tenured at his position.

Unfortunately, the Bears defense did not remember the Titans aerial attack as Kerry Collins shredded the Bears for nearly 300 yards en route to completing almost 75% of his passes. The 5-4 Bears next begin a three-game road trip in Green Bay for a pivotal game with the 4-5 Packers.
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