Monthly Archives: January 2014

Drafting Oklahoma State’s Point Guard #1 is a Smart Decision

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Marcus Smart should be the clear favorite to be drafted #1 overall in 2014.

It seems everyone talking and writing about College Basketball with their eye on the top NBA prospects are only focusing on the freshman; Duke’s Jabari Parker, Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins, Kentucky’s Julius Randle and now the Jayhawks surprise Center Joel Embiid. But, they’d be better served to pay closer attention to Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart.

The 6-4 220 pound point guard surprised NBA front office decision makers when he decided to return to Stillwater Oklahoma for his sophomore season. Mock drafts had him as a top two pick in 2013. All he’s done in his second collegiate campaign is up his scoring to 17 ppg, maintain his 5.8 rpg and 4.2 apg stat line and leading the OSU Cowboys to a top 10 ranking, while turning them into a legitimate NCAA title contender.

But as far as the pro ranks, he should be a top of the draft boards of at least four of the six teams who are at the bottom of the NBA standings, because none of them have a dynamic playmaking point guard, which is what Smart is.

The NBA is in the golden era of point guards, much in the way the 1980s were for big men. Point guards in the NBA are like Quarterbacks in Football. If you don’t have an all star or franchise one, you’re probably not winning. See the Milwaukee Bucks (worse record in the NBA at 8-35), Orlando Magic (2nd worse record in NBA at 12-33), Sacramento Kings (15-28) and the LA Lakers (16-29). The three other teams near the bottom of the league standings—Boston, Philadelphia and Utah—have franchise caliber point guards who are just getting started. In the case of the Celtics, Rajon Rondo is just returning from ACL surgery and the Sixers and Jazz are breaking in 2013 Lottery Picks Michael Carter Williams and Trey Burke. The other four teams at the bottom I mentioned should be targeting Marcus Smart.

In this NBA you need a point guard to go against Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving and Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose and Deron Williams when healthy. Then there’s the second tier guys like Mike Conley Junior, Damion Lillard, Jeff Teague and John Wall. Like I said, point guard in the NBA is like quarterback in the NFL, You need an elite or near elite caliber player at the position to compete for titles. Unless you’re the Miami Heat or Indiana Pacers who’s point guards are 6’8 forwards with point guard skills.

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Smart averages 17.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game.

Smart returned to school to improve his game, not necessarily his draft stock. What I’ve seen from him is a more confident shooter—he shoots 43% in 2013 vs. 40% in 2012—but looks to take jumpers instead of barreling the lane for lay ups. His 5.7 rebounds and 4.4 assist per game are consistent with his freshman season. He’s a better defender and passionate leader. He has the size and skill to post up on the block, speed and athleticism to run an uptempo style of play. All qualities you want in a “face of the franchise.” In year two he’s proving what he did as a freshman was no fluke. When I watch this season’s crop of potential one and done players he may be up against for top billing in this coming June’s draft, he’s head and shoulders above. Many of them are struggling to adapt to the college game while he’s consistently dominating.

The only knock on Smart from scouts at this point is his attitude, which personally I don’t see as an issue. He has a tendency to display his displeasure in his body language on the court and sideline when it appears things aren’t going his or his team’s way. But, that really isn’t a problem. He’s not going off on teammates, coaches or referees. The emotion I’ve seen is mostly a show of passion for the game. Sure he kicked a chair a couple of times in the game against West Virginia when he was struggling. That’s passion, not an attitude problem. He’s 19 years of age and he did apologize for his actions immediately. This will pass. But, if a team in need of a point guard at the top of the 2014 NBA draft passes on him, they’ll regret it like the Atlanta Hawks did in 2005 when they passed on Deron Williams and Chris Paul for Marvin Williams. How did that turn out for everyone involved? Marvin Williams is arguably one of the biggest #2 overall bust in NBA history, and everyone linked to his selection with the Hawks are long gone. By the way, the Bucks took Andrew Bogut #1 that year. That could explain why they are where they are now as well.

So Bucks, Magic, Lakers and Kings, you’re all on the clock. If he declares for the 2014 NBA Draft, make the Smart choice.

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Sports Has a Way of Humbling those that Need it

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Often times you hear people say the “sports gods” delivered justice or “ball don’t lie” whenever the refs blow a call in a game and the team that got hosed, eventually got what the deserved. For example, when the San Francisco 49ers’ Navarro Bowman wasn’t awarded a forced fumble and recovery on the San Francisco two yard line, then on the next play the Seahawks fumbled the snap and the ball ended up being recovered twenty yards down the field from where they should’ve gotten it. That happens often, don’t believe me, just check your twitter feed during a big game. But, I also believe the “sports gods” have a way of handing out humility for those who think they’re bigger than the game.

Sunday, 49ers Anquan Boldin and Colin Kaepernick received a dose of humility. Last week against the Carolina Panthers, both players displayed selfish acts that aren’t in line with those who respect the game or their opponent. Every time Boldin caught a pass he got up in the face of a Panther defender, beat his chest and shared a few words—He caught 8 passes for 136 yards. We can only imagine what he said, but judging by the reactions of his opponents, it wasn’t pleasant. Actually he’s been acting that way for a while, just watch the Baltimore Ravens playoffs and Super Bowl run from last season.

Yesterday against the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship game, Boldin had 5 catches for 53 yards and a touchdown, but was quiet verbally and competitively when it was clutch time. So was San Francisco Quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

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What goes around comes around.

You could say he needed a dose of humility after he mocked Panther Quarterback Cam Newton’s Superman celebration after he scored a touchdown in their Divisional round match up. In that game, Kaepernick was 15 for 28 passing for 196 yards and a touchdown pass to go along with 15 rushing yards and said touchdown. Why he choose to mock Newton is besides me. In my opinion, in order for him to go there, he had to have some ulterior motive. Maybe he was trying to send a message to Newton and the sports world that he was the better of the young up and coming QBs, not the guy who was picked 35 spots ahead of him in the 2011 NFL Draft. When asked about it after the game, Kaepernick would only say he was just having a little fun.

Humility reared its head in his game Sunday against Seattle. Three fourth quarter turnovers and one of them in the final seconds as his team was making a move to win the game.

Which brings me to the point of moving this topic further. Seahawks Defensive Back Richard Sherman is all the talk this week after he caused Kaepernick’s final turnover when he batted the ball and it was intercepted by Linebacker Malcolm Smith in the end zone to send Seattle to the Super Bowl.

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Was Sherman sincerely showing good sportsmenship?

As he was celebrating his great play, he opened up the door for the “sports gods” to send humility his way. When he slapped Michael Crabtree on the butt in a taunting way and flashed the choke sign to Kaepernick, he set the stage for the humble bug to bite him on sports biggest stage in two weeks. Can you imagine the headlines and caller comments on sports talk radio if Sherman is the goat of Super Bowl 48?

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Sherman’s antics have led to some misconceptions about his character.

Right now everyone is commending him on his great play and several former players are justifying his actions and post game rant. Let see what everyone says if he blows the game for his team when the ultimate prize is on the line. No offense to Colin Kaepernick, but he’s no Peyton Manning. Manning is just the type of player who can take advantage of a weakness in Sherman’s game.

I’m not saying the Seahawks will lose Super Bowl 48, but don’t be surprised if there is a play or several where Sherman is exposed and looks like the goat. Sports does that to us. One play you can go from hero to zero. One week you can look like a future Hall Of Famer then look like a bust the next.

One time Super Bowl winning Head Coach Mike Ditka said it best Monday on ESPN’s “Mike & Mike in the morning”, respect the game and it will respect you.

We will see in two weeks how the game and the “sports gods” feel about Sherman’s NFC Championship antics. Recent history shows it may not be too kind. Just ask Kaepernick and Boldin.

Time for “The Bus” to Ride Into Canton

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Bettis finished his career 5th on the NFL All-time Rushing List.

Picture this. It’s early January, the temperature is in the low teens as the wind and snow blow in off the banks of the point where the three rivers of Ohio, Alleghaney and Monongahela meet. The grass in Heinz Field is covered in a mix of snow and mud from 300 plus pound men’s cleats grinding it to a mess. Perfect for old school football. The kind where a 5 foot 11, 255 pound running back is counted on to run over men his size and bigger to glory, otherwise known as the end zone. Jerome Bettis did that time and time again for 13 season.

That’s the signature play of Jerome “The Bus” Bettis career. Bettis was nicknamed “The Bus” because of his physical build, running style and the black & yellow uniform he wore for ten seasons with the Steelers. But also, because like a school bus, he was reliable to carry the goods—the football— through all conditions, especially during those winter months in Pittsburgh.

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Bettis’ running style was built for heavy winters. Photo Courtesy: Steelers.com

Bettis looked like a fullback, but had the quick, shifty feet of a scat back. When he retired after the 2005 season, Bettis was ranked 5th all time in rushing yards in NFL history—he’s now sixth. All of the top ten all time rushers who are eligible, are in the Hall of Fame. Yet “Bus” has had to wait. He’s been a finalist now three times since he became eligible in 2011.

Those who support Bettis will point out how great he was in pass protection, how he was an unbelievable leader on teams that won 5 Division championships and was a constant Super Bowl contender, playing in four AFC Conference Championship games and a Super Bowl. Bettis is a 6 time NFL Pro Bowler, 3 time All-Pro (2 on 1st team, 1 2nd team) and had 8 seasons over 1,000 yards rushing. His coaches and opponents on the field will point out how much of a tone setter he was with his throwback, smash mouth running style.

Those who have not voted for him to get into the Hall, cite his lack of involvement in the passing game–200 receptions for 1449 yards and 3 touchdowns receiving which is the least amount among the top 10 all time rushers. They say he wasn’t much of a versatile runner, especially on the edges–averaging 3.9 yards per attempt, but never more than 4 in his final nine seasons. His yards per carry dropped every season until he retired from 3.8 to 3.2.

In the movie business, screenwriters put as much emphasis on the final image as they do Act II. Unfortunately for Bettis, many voters for the Hall of Fame have ignored the fact that he played and won a Super Bowl in his final game (SB XL).

Bettis won his only Super Bowl ring in his final game.

What they remember is that in his final four seasons in the Burgh, his productivity declined as he became a short yardage and goal line back, as he split carries with the likes of Willie Parker, Amos Zeroue, Duece Staley and others. His last four seasons he never ran for one thousand yards, the closest he came was 941 in the 2004 season, when he played in 15 of 16 games. By the way, the Steelers went 15-1 that year and made it to the AFC Championship game. His final season he only rushed for 368 yards, but missed 4 games due to injury.

The other running backs near Bettis on the all time rushing list, fared much better individually in their final chapter. Emmitt Smith went to Arizona and still manage to gain 937 Yards for the Cardinals, Curtis Martin rushed for 735 Yards in his final season in a New York Jets uniform, Walter Payton finished his career with a 533 yard season and Jim Brown and Barry Sanders both went out in their primes with 1544 and 1491 yards respectively.

This is the problem for Bettis, he’s being compared against the greatest backs in history, instead of his place in history during his era. If he doesn’t get in soon, he will be compared against the next great running backs; LaDanian Tomlinson—he will be eligible in 2017—Edgerrin James, Eddie George and others.

The Bus ram rodded over opponents that stood in his way. His current opposers won’t be so easy to truck through. But, as he is now one of the seventeen finalists for induction in 2014—and the only running back—for a third time, the Bus’ Bust in Canton could be just a short bus ride away. We’ll find out on February 1st when the new class is announced at the Super Bowl in New York.

“The Bus” needs his Hall Of Fame bust.

Which is the Greatest Team of the BCS Era?

The imperfect system came to an end in perfect fashion.

The BCS Era has finally come to an end and in fantastic fashion. The final installment of the BCS Championship gave us a 34-31 fourth quarter classic from Auburn and Florida State, as well as four upsets in the Rose, Fiesta, Sugar and Orange Bowls. As the focus shifts to the four team playoff that is to come at the end of the 2014 season, the discussion turns to who is the best BCS Champion of them all.

In all, 16 teams won the BCS National Title. Alabama is the only school to win three times. Florida and LSU won it twice. The Crimson Tide is the only school to win in consecutive seasons.

Ten teams won the title undefeated (Tennessee, Florida State ’99 & ’13, Oklahoma, Miami, Ohio State, USC, Texas, Alabama, Auburn).

The Southeastern Conference won nine of the sixteen titles. It’s clear they were the better conference during the era.  Before I go on, as much as it pains me to say this, Nick Saban is the best coach of the era. Three titles with the Crimson Tide (2010, 2011,2012) and one with LSU (2004) solidifies that. But for my money, I’m betting on the 2001 Miami Hurricanes as the best team.

Andre Johnson is just one of the All-Americans from the 2001 National Title team to be drafted in the NFL.

The Canes went 12-0 in the 2001 season and won the 2002 BCS Title at the Rose Bowl 37-14. That season, The “U” won by an average margin of 32.9 points per game while the defense only gave up an average of 9.75 points per game and scored 8 touchdowns of its own. Add to that, the roster was filled with 38 NFL draftees, 17 of which were selected in the first round—Ed Reed, Andre Johnson, Willis Mcgahee, Kellen Winslow Junior, Jeremey Shockey and Sean Taylor to name a few—over a four year span from 2002-2006. Many members of this team returned the following year to defend their title. In two seasons, they were 24-0 before losing in a double overtime classic to the Maurice Clarett led Ohio State Buckeyes.

I’m sure many will object to my crowning of the 2001 Hurricanes. Figuring out who is the best team isn’t easy and you can’t just go by win loss records. I could make a case for the 2008 Tim Tebow led Florida Gators  that finished 12-1. Tebow led the offense to an average of 43.6 points per game. On the season, their margin of victory was 30.7 points per game.

There’s also the first of Coach Saban’s Alabama titles with the 2009 team. This team beat the undefeated defending Champion Gators 32-13 in the 2009 SEC Title game to reach the BCS Championship game where they finished their title run with a 37-21 victory over Texas at the Rose Bowl.

Nick Saban has coached four BCS National Championship Teams.

While it may sound like I’m a prisoner of the moment, even the 2013 Florida State squad must get a nod. The Seminoles averaged 51.6 points a game, while winning their 14 games by a margin of 38.8 points per game. Their 723 points scored on the season is the most in history. Seven of their games the defense held the opponents to 7 points or less.

Even though i’m focusing on the BCS Champions, what about the teams that were left out of the title game. The 2003 USC Trojans of Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush won the Associated Press title that season after going 12-1 and defeating the Michigan Wolverines 28-14 in the Rose Bowl. All that team had was two Heisman Trophy winners and 52 future NFL players.

There’s also the 2004 Auburn Tigers led by Quarterback Jason Campbell and the Running Back tandem of Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams. The Tigers went 13-0, won the SEC Championship and the Sugar Bowl, yet no invite to the BCS Title game. That Tiger team boasts four first round NFL draft picks and Five NFL Pro Bowlers. One could only wonder what would’ve been the narrative if those two teams got a shot.

It’s hard to point to one team and say they were the best. Regardless, it’s a great debate. Now on to the playoff where discussions like this will be decided on the field, where they should be.

2013 Steelers Post Mortem

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2014 Steelers will have many changes, Ryan Clark may be one of them.

Now that I’ve had a week to think about it (and get over it), here’s my final thoughts about the Pittsburgh Steelers 2013 season.

It’s been two disappointing winters for Steeler Nation, three if you count the shocking overtime wild card playoff loss to Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos at the end of the 2011 Season. The Steelers have a lot of work to do in order to regain their form as one of the NFLs top Super Bowl contenders, but the way they finished the season—winning 3 of their last 4 games and 6 of their last 8—showed they steadily improved over 2013 and have a better outlook on 2014 then it looked after the first four games of the season.

The offensive line improved greatly considering all the different lineups used due to injuries during the season. In the last four games they only gave up 6 sacks, compared to 15 in the first four games. On the season they gave up 42, still a high number, but they were on pace for 60. The fact that this offensive line found their way is why Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was able to play in all 16 games and take every offensive snap. It’s another reason why I feel that all this unit needs is more time together, not more turnover. Sign those free agents like Fenando Velasco and use early draft picks elsewhere. I’ll get to that.

Even though he wasn’t selected for the Pro Bowl, Roethlisberger passed for 4,261 yards (266.3 YPG) and 28 touchdowns with a 92.0 QBR on the season to go along with a running game that finally looked like STEELER football led by a healthy Le’Veon Bell—who rushed for 860 yards and 8 TDs and broke Hall Of Famer Franco Harris’ rookie record for total yards from scrimmage with 1,259 yards, all after missing the first three games of the season. So the offense looks to be fine going into 2014, especially when you take into account they’ll be getting back an All-Pro in Maurkice Pouncey.

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Roethlisberger will be back, but what about Troy?

The area that needs the most work is the defense, specifically the secondary. Troy Polumalu is going to be 33 years old in 2014. He finished the season playing more of a run stopping hybrid linebacker then in coverage. Ike Taylor will be 34, Ryan Clark 36. One or all those Steeler greats may have played their final game in a black and gold jersey. Loyalty aside, that may be in the best interest for the organization.

I said earlier in the season, the steelers need to spend their first three picks on selecting the best defensive back available at the time their number is called during the 2014 Draft in May. They will select 15th overall and need to target Jim Thorpe Award winning cornerback Darqueze Dennard from Michigan State, Safety Ha’Sean Clinton Dix from Alabama, Cornerback Justin Gilbert from Oklahoma State and USC Safety Dion Bailey if he decides to forgo his Senior Season. All of them are projected to be available when the Steelers pick.

Right now I’ve seen two updated, prominent Mock Drafts that have the Steelers drafting USC wideout Marquis Lee (WalterFootball.com) and Offensive Tackle Greg Robinson from Auburn (bleacherreport.com). I already addressed the Offensive line situation and there’s no need to select a wideout this early when GM Kevin Colbert has had great success drafting pro bowl caliber wide receivers in later rounds—see Antonio Brown, selected pick in the 6th round at puck 195 In 2010; Mike Wallace at pick 84 of the 3rd round In 2009. The last time Pittsburgh used a first round pick on a defensive back was Troy Polumalu at pick 16 In 2003. It’s time to change that.

The line backer core is solidified with Lawrence Timmons, Lamar Woodley, Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones. Worilds is one of the many free agents, and should be a top priority to resign. The Defensive line appears to be in better shape headed into the offseason with the emergence of Cameron Heyward and Ziggy Hood. So the onus is on the coaching staff and management to improve a secondary that showed its age by allowing several big plays of more than the season.

After starting 0-4, the Steelers showed major growth over the final three quarters of the season, giving more hope to fans of a better 2014 to come. The work begins now, this is where the black and gold needs to show up and prove why they are viewed as “The Standard.”

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Coach Tomlin will ensure the Black & Gold returns to “The Standard.”

Too Many Bowls

Too many Bowls, Not enough good teams

College Football is great. I will go as far to say in its current state it’s better than the NFL. Each week of the regular season means more in the NCAA, which creates more excitement. With all that being said, there are too many bowls—many of them turn out to be blowouts between teams who barely reached .500, and can’t even get their fan bases to attend the games.

For me the official bowl mania begins New Year’s Eve. That’s when the teams that deserve to be involved in a postseason take the field. By the way, thank you Duke and Texas A&M for saving the first week and a half of bowl season from being unwatchable with their 52-48 instant classic in the Chik Fil A Bowl.

Before that game, the average margin of victory in the twenty-one, yes twenty-one bowl games, was sixteen points. The winning teams averaged 33.9 points a game. To be honest, some of the points scored by the losing team, were when the victors pulled back and allowed those lower on the depth chart to play. This wasn’t exciting to watch, and in many cases was sloppy by both teams.

As a sports fan sitting at home glued to the Television, flipping from game to game, I couldn’t help but notice how empty the stands were at many of these games. Let’s be real, who’s going to travel to see their alma mater or current classmates play in the Skyline Chili or Home Depot Bowl—I know those aren’t real Bowls, I didn’t want to call out any one game—on Christmas Eve or Day, when the team barely made it to a record of 6-6? Who’s giving up family time with holiday traditions, and money to follow that team to some city they would never visit if their life depended on it, to watch a team that should be too ashamed to take the field until the next season?

My solution? Turn these bowls into rounds and host sites of a NCAA Football playoff that includes the top sixteen seeds. I’m thinking similar to that of the Men’s and Women’s NCAA Basketball tournament. I know what you’re saying, here comes another “genius” with an idea to fix college football. Yes, you’re right.

These lower tier bowls in these small host cities would attract more fans and money if they were the first round meeting site for a number sixteen seed versus a number one seed. You don’t think Florida State fans would go to Saint Petersburg, Florida for the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl to see a first round match up between their number one ranked Noles against the sixteenth ranked LSU Tigers the night before Christmas? That city would be buzzing. Throw in the excitement that with each win, it brings a team closer to a National Title and I guarantee everybody will be happy from the college presidents, Conference Commissioners & Athletic Directors, to the NCAA and even Vegas.

I’m sure smarter people have already thought of this idea I’m proposing and have already been shot down or are revising a better plan. Either way, this current system with useless bowls, even with the new playoff following the 2014 season is getting absurd. It’s too much and very bad. That’s why last night was the start of the true bowl season. Let’s just hope the more meaningful games with the best match ups live up to the hype.