Monday, February 28, 2011

Knicks use defense to beat Heat

(photo courtesy of

I've been writing a lot about the Knicks lately, but I think it's been fair. They made a blockbuster trade at the deadline and Sunday was their first test against a contending team. After losing to the last-place Cavs on the road Friday, they got to travel to Miami.

The Knicks were led by Carmelo Anthony on both ends, which I never thought I would say. He had 29 points and 9 rebounds and shot 10-for-22, but it was his play on the other end down the stretch that helped the Knicks finish on a 13-2 run. His offense has never been in doubt.

The real question is: Will Anthony improve his defense now that he's playing in New York? Amar'e Stoudemire did it and if Anthony is also now defensively motivated, he has the physicals tools to be a solid defender.

Anthony held LeBron James in check for the final three minutes as the Knicks came back and while James was able to get a shot towards the rim, Anthony stayed in the play the entire way to affect the shot and allow Stoudemire to help and block it.

We all know what these two guys can do on offense, although Stoudemire has seen his scoring drop since Anthony's arrival. Like James and Dwayne Wade did early in the season, these two will get used to playing with each other. And if that happens on both ends the Knicks can contend, especially with a proven playoff performer in Chauncey Billups manning the point.

Billups lived up to his "Mr. Big Shot" nickname last night, burying a long three when Wade sagged inside the arc to put the Knicks up one with a minute left. Also not known for his defense, Billups' steal on the next possession led to two Shawne Williams free throws and a 87-84 lead the Knicks would never give back.

Williams may be the most important Knick outside of their top three and Landry Fields, as he is New York's best outside shooter with Danilo Gallinari gone. At 6-9 he can play meaningful minutes at power forward and rebounds and defends the position well, something else the Knicks need.

The pedigree is there for the former first-round pick and with 25-30 minutes a night, he could get the chance to turn into this team's fifth starter instead of Ronny Turiaf. He only made one of four shots and grabbed three rebounds last night but was plus-four in his 28 minutes on the court.

I do think the Knicks need another shooter and another big man and Troy Murphy might fit the bill. He would provide a solid rebounder alongside Stoudemire, who leaves a little to be desired on the glass considering his size. Much like Williams, Murphy can also step behind the arc and stretch the court, which is key for the Knicks when Anthony posts down up low.

Split Murphy's and Williams' minutes at power forward and spell Stoudemire with Turiaf and you will never have to use Shelden Williams in a game again. One player I would like to see get another chance is Anthony Carter, because more minutes at shooting guard for Toney Douglas is always a good thing.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Knicks beat Bucks despite lack of chemistry, defense

(photo courtesy of

Anybody who tuned into Knicks-Bucks last night expecting a flawless, smooth performance were likely disappointed. Realistically, how could you expect a team that just traded four rotation players and hadn't practiced together to look like a cohesive unit?

New York shot 50 percent from the field last night, but take away a sterling 10-for-12 night from Toney Douglas and the rest of the team hit just 44 percent of their shots. Two days after the Knicks shipped half of their team out West, it was one of the guys who stayed who may have been their best player.

This isn't to take anything away from Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups, who had stellar debuts despite a lack of efficiency. Anthony scored 27 points and grabbed 10 rebounds but shot just 10-for-25 from the field, while Billups had 21 points, eight assists, six rebounds and two steals despite a 4-for-12 shooting night.

Anthony struggled to finish around the basket at times after strong moves to the hoop, but you have to imagine that the Brooklyn-born star was feeling some goosebumps in his first game at Madison Square Garden as a member of the home team. Don't expect his issues finishing at the rim to continue.

Amar'e Stoudemire, on the other hand, took just 13 shots and finished with 19 points. The Knicks spent a lot of time watching Anthony isolate one-on-one, even more than when Stoudemire was their go-to guy. Expect these two to become more comfortable playing alongside each other as the season winds down and don't expect Anthony to get twice as many shot attempts every night.

The Knicks have struggled to score this season with Stoudemire on the bench but when he fouled out late in the game, it was Anthony who came up big with clutch baskets. His short jumper in the lane between three defenders put the Knicks up six with 26 seconds left and provided the dagger in his Garden debut.

Anthony's arrival may have come just in time; after receiving his 15th technical foul of the season last night, Stoudemire is one eye roll or shoulder shrug away from a mandatory one-game suspension.

What Anthony and Billups didn't bring, outside of four steals between the two of them, was defense. Milwaukee ranks dead last in the NBA in points per game and the Knicks let them score 108 points, the Bucks' third-highest output of the season. The other two came against Toronto and New Jersey, two teams headed straight for the lottery.

It's going to take some time for this team to gel, and not just on the offensive end. Rotations, help defense and communication on switches all take time as new players get adjusted to a new system. It should also help once Mike D'Antoni adds Corey Brewer, one of the Knicks' few defensive-minded players, to the rotation.

The Knicks have another "warmup game" against Cleveland on Friday before taking their talents to South Beach to face the Heat on Sunday night. Last time they visited American Airlines Arena they lost by eight; will the result be any different with a new batch of players?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Nets get Williams: Better than Knicks' trade for 'Melo?

(photo courtesy of

After failing to land Carmelo Anthony the Nets still moved Devin Harris and Derrick Favors for an NBA star, stealing point guard Deron Williams from Utah. Williams is apparently unhappier about going to New Jersey than he was playing for Jerry Sloan, which could mean many things.

But first, let's go to what the Nets gave up. Harris, Favors, two first-round picks (New Jersey's this year and Golden State's this year) and $3 million. Compare this to what the Knicks gave up for Anthony and Mikhail Prokhorov looks like a genius.

Prokhorov will look like a fool, however, if Williams' unhappiness doesn't change and he refuses to re-sign with the Nets after next season. In that case, could he possibly head to New York to team up with Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire?

As a Knicks fan, I would have rather traded Felton (comparable to Harris), Gallinari (comparable to Favors) and two or three draft picks for Williams. The Knicks could've kept players like Wilson Chandler, Timofey Mozgov, Anthony Randolph and a pick or two and gotten a player on the same level, if not better, than Anthony. Yes, the Knicks got Chauncey Billups as well, but he is not in the team's long-term plans.

Williams is better than Anthony in my opinion; anybody who read my 10-player list of stars better than Anthony knows this. To get a better player and give up less seems like a no-brainer, but the major issue with this deal is a disgruntled Williams.

After rumors that Williams forced Sloan out of Utah nobody expected him to be traded before the deadline, but the Jazz didn't want to be held hostage like the Nuggets were in the Anthony situation. It's hard to blame Utah for making the move and they got a solid return, but nobody cares about the Jazz anyway.

As for the Nets, they now have themselves a star for the next season and a half. But they won't win or even make the playoffs in that time and if Williams won't re-sign, they may have to trade him at this time next year or watch him walk away to New York or elsewhere for nothing.

Regardless of what happens, this has probably been the most interesting NBA trading deadline in recent memory. I'm not sure I can think of another recent deadline that has seen two of the top 10-12 players in the league change addresses. Especially when they both could end up in one place...

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Did the Knicks give up too much for 'Melo?

(photo courtesy of

The last time I wrote about Carmelo Anthony, it was to sarcastically put together a list of 10 NBA players who were better because I believe Anthony is overrated. And while I stand by my stance (although I'll listen to arguments for Anthony being in the top 8-10), that's besides the point; 'Melo is a Knick!

On the surface, the Knicks gave up A LOT to obtain Anthony's services. Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, and Wilson Chandler were three of the Knicks' top five players on a team that lacked depth beyond their starting five. I know Chandler was coming off the bench recently, but he was still seeing more minutes than starting center Ronny Turiaf.

The Knicks also gave up Timofey Mozgov, a 2014 first-round pick, raw but promising young power forward Anthony Randolph, Eddy Curry's expiring contract, $3 million and two second-round picks they got from the Warriors in the David Lee sign-and-trade deal. In addition to Anthony, the Knicks also got point guard Chauncey Billups from the Nuggets and swingman Corey Brewer from the Timberwolves.

When you break it down in terms of all the assets the Knicks gave away, I think they traded too much. But when you dissect the trade from a team-building standpoint, both Denver and New York won and it's the definition of a trade that helps both teams. Confused? Let me elaborate.

Wilson Chandler is a very good player and at 23, still has room to grow. But he was gone whether we traded for Anthony or signed him as a free agent, so that's a moot point. Felton was signed as a two-year stopgap until the Knicks could sign Chris Paul or Deron Williams and Felton-for-Billups is essentially an even swap for the next season-and-a-half.

Discluding that, the trade becomes Gallinari, Mozgov, Randolph, Curry, a first-round pick, two second-rounders and some inconsequential money (although I wish I had $3 million!) for Anthony and Brewer.

The Knicks are giving up numerous assets but if I ran the Knicks and Denver came to me with an offer like that, which is essentially Gallinari, Mozgov and Randolph for Anthony and Brewer, I would do it in a heartbeat. Anybody would. It's a NO BRAINER!

If this team does find a way to trade for or sign Paul (or Williams) next season or next off-season, the Knicks are back to being a championship contender. But many of you are probably wondering, does this trade make them better right now?

In a word (or two), kind of. The Knicks gave up a lot of depth and their starting lineup now includes Billups, Landry Fields, Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Turiaf. Toney Douglas will back up the guard spots while Brewer, Shawne Williams and Shelden Williams should also see minutes off the bench in the frontcourt.

That's not a championship lineup, but it's a lineup that can legitimately claim to be on par with Atlanta and Orlando, something the Knicks couldn't before. They still aren't as good as Boston, Miami or Chicago but if they can somehow manage to get up to fifth in the East (currently 5.5 games back of Atlanta) and play Orlando or Atlanta in round one, they could win a first-round series.

Considering the state of the Knicks since the days of Patrick Ewing, the fact that winning a playoff series is even a legitimate discussion is thrilling. But Knicks fan won't truly see the ramifications of this trade until the 2012-13 season, or the end of 2011-12 if they make another big trade next season.

Say they gave up too much all you want but if the Knicks didn't pull the trigger before Thursday, after everything that has gone on in the past few months, they would've looked TERRIBLE. And what superstar point guard like Paul or Williams wants to come to a franchise like that?

The only way this deal blows up in the Knicks' face is if the new collective bargaining agreement sets the cap at a number that would prevent them from signing one of the big-time point guards or Dwight Howard. In that case, we may have to revisit this trade with angst and disgust. A full evaluation of where this move puts the Knicks really isn't possible until the 2012-13 season.

But until then, Anthony's presence alongside Stoudemire makes a Paul/Williams addition much more likely than it was before. And that alone is reason for Knicks fans to celebrate!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Who's the best team in college basketball?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Suspend Miguel Cabrera?

(photo courtesy of

Last season, Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera was one of baseball's best stories. After blowing more than three times the legal limit after a domestic dispute with his wife in October, Cabrera underwent treatment, cleaned up his act and had a career season, finishing second in the AL MVP voting behind Josh Hamilton.

Just when you think Cabrera had learned his lesson and turned a corner, he gets arrested for DUI last night in Florida and has the audacity to grab a bottle of scotch and drink it in front of his arresting officers. There is dumb and there is REALLY dumb. Right now, Cabrera is REALLY dumb.

The only question left now is: Should Cabrera be suspended? If Roger Goodell ran baseball he would take away one-quarter of Cabrera's season, like he did when Ben Roethlisberger was accused of sexual assault in the offseason. Both were arrested and in a professional environment, especially one where millions of dollars are at stake, you shouldn't be allowed to get away with this.

I don't think it's too much to suspend Cabrera for the first month of the season. Considering the Nick Adenhart situation, where the promising Angels pitching prospect was killed by a drunk driver after a game almost two years ago, baseball knows the dangers of drunk driving first hand.

If Bud Selig doesn't punish Cabrera, it will send a terrible message. That message: Driving drunk is okay as long as you don't kill anybody. Cabrera is a multimillionaire just like Braylon Edwards; hire a driver and you don't have to worry about getting yourself into trouble.

If baseball doesn't suspend Cabrera, the Tigers should. But it's a tall order to ask any team to essentially forfeit their season by sitting their star player out for 25 games. As much as I like Cabrera as a player and believe he has limitless potential when clean, this incident proves that maybe he hasn't learned his lesson for the long run.

A suspension would be good for baseball's image and good for Cabrera too; hopefully it would prevent him from doing this again in the future, understanding that actions have consequences. Now it's time to wait and see if the MLB has the balls to suspend one of its brightest stars.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Carmelo Anthony: Not a Top Ten NBA Player

The Nuggets' latest offer of three starters for Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups is ridiculous, considering Anthony really isn't the superstar many claim him to be. If you're interested as to why, check out this slideshow I posted on Bleacher Report.

As always, comments and disagreements are more than welcome.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

SU looks to build on West Virginia win

(photo courtesy of

After losing three straight games at home and with a four-game losing streak not to distant in the rear-view mirror, Monday night marked a big game for the Orange against an unranked-but-talented West Virginia team. As good as West Virginia's resume may be, Syracuse is a better team and they needed to represent at the Carrier Dome. They did.

Brandon Triche scored 20 points for the second time this season and the second time in three days and has really come into his own of late. Triche has been this team's most improved player as the season has gone on and is really stepping into the role of team leader as just a sophomore.

Triche's resurgence has unfortunately coincided with the struggles of Scoop Jardine. If Syracuse could get both players going, they would have an extremely dangerous backcourt to go along with Kris Joseph and Rick Jackson up front. Then maybe I'd consider them an Elite 8 team but right now they're just a Sweet 16 contender, if that.

The removal of Fab Melo from the starting lineup has cut the Syracuse rotation to seven players, a good thing for this team. They may lack size with only Baye Moussa Keita (who saw just nine minutes last night) as a true big man outside of Rick Jackson but this team plays much better basketball when they go small, create turnovers and get out on the break.

ESPN made a big deal during their broadcast about Syracuse's lack of fast-break points in recent games leading to their struggles, but that all starts with defense. You can't run the break if you don't create turnovers and long rebounds and lately, the Orange have been doing neither.

But Monday was a different story as Syracuse had 13 steals, five from Jardine. Jardine played well with nine points, six assists and five rebounds despite still not being able to shoot straight, having just one game in his last 10 with a field-goal percentage above 50 percent and three above 40 percent.

Those 13 steals led to 19 points in transition, more than double their recent average. But Syracuse is still getting killed behind the three-point line, as the Mountaineers were 11-for-22 from beyond the arc despite just four points in the paint.

This tells me that the Orange defenders are quick to recover to the post and the middle of the court, but slow to recover to shooters outside the three-point line. On numerous occasions I've watched the Orange guard well for 30 seconds, struggle to recover to an open shooter late in the shot clock, have their hands down and allow a clean look for three. Those are demoralizing possessions.

For a team that struggles so much in their half-court set, they need to get out and run. No team can expect to record 13 steals per game so if the Orange want to continue to get out on the break, they will need to defend the outside shot better and create more long rebounds and transition opportunities.

Syracuse has two tough Big East games remaining, both on the road next Monday at Villanova and next Saturday at Georgetown. The Orange already lost to both teams at the Carrier dome and to win away from home, they will have to turn up the defense to create some offense.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Do professional athletes have more power than coaches and executives?

(photo courtesy of

The longest-tenured head coach in sports is no more. After 23 years with the Utah Jazz, Jerry Sloan and one of his assistants, Phil Johnson, have resigned. There have been rumors that All-Star point guard Deron Williams forced Sloan out and I hope they aren't true.

Williams is one of my favorite NBA players; after all, I have an affinity towards do-it-all point guards. It's nothing new for coaches and stars to have disagreements, that's part of the business and any coach-star player relationship. But if Sloan called a play and Williams changed it, that can't be happening.

That led to a heated halftime exchange and according to a source was the last straw for Sloan, who denied any such rumors. Sloan's relationship with Williams had also been rumored to be strained over the past few weeks and at age 68, the coach just had enough. Allegedly.

The energy that Sloan had early in his career just wasn't there, which is to be expected after 23 seasons, and that's why he said he's stepped down. I believe it, and I'd also like to believe that's the Sloan that Williams wanted to play for; not a tired old man who lacked the passion that was evident in the days of John Stockton and Karl Malone.

Regardless of the specifics, this situation is indicative of a growing trend in the NBA; a trend that may turn into a problem somewhat soon.

In today's association, players now seem to have more power than coaches and executives. Case in point: Carmelo Anthony forcing the Nuggets' hand in Denver and the Williams-Sloan situation in Utah.

In Utah, Williams won; whether he wanted the new Sloan or no Sloan, those were his only choices. Replacement Ty Corbin won't be able to control Williams to the level Sloan could or provide this team better leadership than Sloan. That now falls on Williams, who I think can embrace this.

In Denver, if Anthony is dealt by the trade deadline in less than two weeks he will also have won - essentially choosing where he wants to play rather than playing where he was drafted (a la Eli Manning forcing the Chargers to trade him).

I hate Manning for that move but I likely won't hate Anthony for two reasons; he played where he was drafted for years, unlike Manning, and he might go to the Knicks. Call me a hypocrite, I dare you.

This isn't just a problem in the NBA either; just look at Albert Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals. Pujols wants a new contract and if he doesn't get it before spring training, he will test the free agent waters. That doesn't mean he won't end up re-signing in St. Louis, but nobody wants their star hitting free agency; especially in baseball where a handful of teams have more money than everybody else.

We all understand that sports are a business, but it seems the players are beginning to run that business. And this is an issue that will only get worse as time goes on because no team, in any league, can win without its best players. Stars are finally starting to realize that and abuse the leverage they do have.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Knicks vs. Lakers for Melo, who wins?

(photo courtesy of

The Knicks and Lakers play in primetime on Friday night, but that game won't decide NBA titles for years to come. The Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes very well could.

Right now, New York and Los Angeles are the only two teams rumored to be actively pursuing Anthony. The Knicks package involves Wilson Chandler to the Nuggets along with Corey Brewer and the Timberwolves' first-round pick, while Minnesota would get Anthony Randolph and the expiring contract of Eddy Curry.

The Lakers' offer hinges on injury-prone center Andrew Bynum, who has the potential to be a great player if he can stay on the court. But numerous knee injuries have hampered Bynum, who will turn 24 in October. His potential is much higher than that of Chandler, however.

The real question for Denver may become whether they want to fuel the next Los Angeles dynasty. The Lakers look old this season but I'm not sure trading Bynum for Anthony makes them a title contender; size is one of their major advantages and losing Bynum would hurt their interior defense, not to mention the fact that Kobe Bryant and Anthony would have to learn to co-exist.

But adding Anthony would give the Lakers their next superstar when Bryant does decide to retire, and the Lakers would be a force in the West until at least 2020. Wouldn't Denver rather ship Anthony to New York and get a good player who is a lesser version of Anthony in return, as well as add a defensive presence with potential like Brewer?

I love Bynum as a player, but I still think the Knicks are the front-runners here. In the end though, they may have to add a player like Danilo Gallinari or Landry Fields to sweeten the pot for Denver. As much as I love the potential of both Gallinari and Fields, Gallinari's game is more similar to Anthony's and he would be a better fit in the trade.

Fields does the dirty work and has the potential to be a good offensive player, but Gallinari's main asset is his ability to shoot, drive aggressively to the hoop and score the basketball. I'd rather have Fields playing alongside Anthony for years to come if I had to choose one, although it would be nice to have both. I'm just not sure Denver will bite without the inclusion of one more young Knick.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Aaron Rodgers does what Brett Favre never did...Super Bowl MVP!

(photo courtesy of

I said Packers over Ravens in the Super Bowl in the preseason. At least I got the AFC conference right...and of course the champion.

Listen, the Packers were stacked this season. An elite quarterback (I said it before the season and I'll say it again now), a solid running game, a star-studded and deep receiving corps and a tenacious defense. They were the Super Bowl pick for many at the start of the year, but early injuries made many question how far this team could go.

In just the season's first week Green Bay lost their workhorse running back, Ryan Grant. All Grant did in his first three seasons with the Packers was rush for 3,412 yards and 23 touchdowns. Nobody thought Brandon Jackson could replace him and he couldn't.

Starting middle linebacker Nick Barnett got hurt in Week 4 and was lost for the season. Desmond Bishop did well enough as his replacement to earn a contract extension and will likely play alongside Barnett next season, at the expense of free agent A.J. Hawk.

As if losing your star running back and middle linebacker wasn't enough of a blow, emerging tight end Jermichael Finley went down for the season in Week 5. Without three Pro Bowl-caliber players the Packers surely couldn't fulfill their Super Bowl promise, right?

Wrong. Aaron Rodgers proved his name belongs among the NFL's elite quarterbacks by carrying this team's offense all season until rookie James Starks emerged as a viable rushing threat late in the year. Their depth at wide receiver (third receiver Jordy Nelson caught 21 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns in the playoffs) helped mask the loss of the freakishly athletic Finley and the defense remained stout.

Green Bay even dealt with key injuries during the Super Bowl, losing top cornerback Charles Woodson in the first half. But like they had done all season, the next guy (in this case, Sam Shields) stepped in and the team didn't miss a beat. The Packers DEFINED team this season and that's always fun to see.

Great teams overcome adversity and Green Bay did just that. Behind the leadership of Rodgers, who never blinked a eye despite all the injuries that could have ruined the season, this team came together and won four games away from home to take the Lombardi trophy back to Wisconsin.

And let's not forget that the Packers needed to win their final two games (and get a little help from the choking Giants) against playoff-caliber teams to even make the playoffs in the first place. I stuck with the Packers as my championship pick when the playoffs began too, although I thought it would be the Patriots that they beat (thank you, Jets!).

Yes, somehow I found a way to include both New York football teams (sorry Buffalo, oh wait there's the third!) in an article about a Super Bowl between two other teams. Don't hate, it's an NY blog.

But that isn't to take anything away from Rodgers, who no longer has to play quarterback in the shadow of Brett Favre's lone Super Bowl title. And Favre wasn't even the game's MVP. It wouldn't surprise me one bit to see Rodgers win one or two more championships over the next 10 seasons. He deserves it.

Friday, February 4, 2011

LeBron James: So easy to hate, but so tough to hate his game

(photo courtesy of

Did Dwight Howard think mocking LeBron James' pre-game routine was smart? Either that or he just didn't care if the Magic won or not last night. Because when you give LeBron James extra motivation, it NEVER works out in your favor.

James came into last night struggling with his mid-range and outside game this season. Against the likes of Hedo Turkoglu and Earl Clark, he found his touch.

James hit his first 11 shots, shot 17-for-25 (3-for-5 on three-pointers) and scored 51 points, only the fourth player in the last season in a half to hit the mark. He added 11 rebounds and eight assists, coming just two helpers short of the first triple-double in a 50-point game since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1975.

As much as I despise James as a human being, not for choosing Miami over New York but because of the media spectacle that was "The Decision" and the way he bailed on Cleveland in the playoffs and in the offseason, he is still the NBA's ultimate competitor (is that sentence hypocritical?). And when you inspire a player like that, watch out!

James didn't waste much time showing Howard he screwed up, as he scored 23 of Miami's 30 points in the first quarter. The Magic, like most teams, had no answer for James when his jumper was falling. The guy can get to the hoop against anybody in the NBA; you have to give him space.

If Howard just stayed quiet before the game, James wouldn't have scored 51 points; of that I am certain. In what turned into a great game that Orlando has a chance to tie in with nine seconds left after being down 90-69 with 6:15 left, a few of those points would have made one hell of a difference.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Cuse bounces back, no points shaved

(photo courtesy of

A well-drawn up set out of a late timeout gave Syracuse its first lead in weeks right before heading into the locker room. They never gave it back, building on their 26-25 halftime edge to beat Connecticut 66-58 and avoid what would have been their first five-game losing streak under Jim Boeheim.

Just two days after rumors surfaced about a potential point-shaving scandal involving Scoop Jardine, Dion Waiters and James Southerland (Syracuse was 7-13 against the spread in their first 20 games), the Orange rebounded behind the play of Brandon Triche (16 points), Rick Jackson (13 points, 13 rebounds) and Baye Moussa Keita (11 rebounds, 6 steals).

Triche came up particularly big in key moments, hitting a three-pointer with 4:28 left to extend Syracuse's lead to four after the Huskies trimmed the deficit to one. His 10 second-half points along with 9 from Kris Joseph, who struggled with his shot early, propelled Syracuse to a much-needed victory. Triche's continued improvement in his sophomore season has been a definite bright spot for the Orange heading into the season's final quarter.

Jardine's struggles continued, as he scored just 7 points on 2-for-11 shooting, while Waiters had 9 points, 4 rebounds and 3 steals and Southerland played only one minute. You have to wonder whether the scandal was on Jardine's mind, as he vehemently defended himself and his teammates via Twitter, giving legs to the rumor that has since inspired an apology from its anonymous initiator (link below).

The real story, however, was the struggle of UConn's National Player of the Year candidate Kemba Walker.

Walker was held to single digits for the first time all season, making just 3 of his 14 shots and struggling to find open looks against the 2-3 zone of the Orange. When you shut down the best player on what is essentially a one-man team, you usually win. Walker's teammates didn't give him much help and the Huskies couldn't move the ball crisply enough to beat the zone, resulting in 16 turnovers.

Syracuse is now 6-4 in the Big East with eight conference games remaining, four of those coming against ranked teams (three on the road). The taste of victory after over two weeks without one should reestablish this team's confidence and lead them to another 10-win season in the Big East. They won't hit their 15-3 mark from last season, but they can come close.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Yankees looking to rehash 2003?

(photo courtesy of

It's the second day of February and the Super Bowl is just four days away, meaning baseball is right around the corner (pitchers and catchers report in about two weeks).

That means it's time to start talking about the Yankees (and the Mets, in time; the Wilpons need money).

Is it me or is this the least excitement that has surrounded the Yankees in recent seasons? It's hard to blame fans who don't get excited over a rotation that, beyond C.C. Sabathia and Phil Hughes, is full of question marks.

Overpaid A.J. Burnett was awful last season and is slated as New York's third starter, while Sergio Mitre and Ivan Nova are fourth and fifth at the moment.

New York's lineup returns virtually unchanged outside of the addition of Russell Martin behind the plate, who at the least allows Jorge Posada to become the everyday designated hitter and provides an upgrade over Francisco Cervelli. Martin is just keeping that position warm for Jesus Montero anyway, the fourth-ranked player on ESPN's Keith Law's Top 100 prospects list.

Let's go back to the pitching staff though. The Yankees signed Freddy Garcia to complete their triumvirate of pitchers who were good almost 10 years that they hope to catch lightning in a bottle with, along with Mark Prior and Bartolo Colon. All three are expected to compete with Mitre and Nova for the final two rotation spots if Andy Pettitte does in fact retire.

If none or just one of those five works out, don't count out Manny Banuelos (#12 on Law's Top 100). Banuelos will be just 20 years old when he starts the season in Double-A but is nearly maxed out physically. He has three plus pitches (fastball, changeup, curveball) and enough refinement that he could find his way to the majors as early as this season if he continues to ascend the minor league ladder.

Rafael Soriano was an important addition to the Yankees bullpen, both as their current eighth-inning setup man and their closer when Mariano Rivera retires. But at 31, Soriano is no spring chicken and is not the long-term answer when Rivera does move on.

With all the question marks surrounding New York's rotation and the improvements made by Boston, they are likely looking at a second-place AL East finish at best. And despite losing star Carl Crawford, the Rays are still stacked and shouldn't be counted out of this race.

It's a realistic possibility that the Yankees could finish third in the division and miss the playoffs entirely after an offseason that saw no serious impact players come to New York. A Pettitte return could be a season-saving godsend for this team; without him they will struggle to compete with Boston and Tampa Bay on the mound.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Troy Polamalu vs. Clay Matthews: A Hairy Defensive Battle

(photo courtesy of Baltimore Sun)

In the wake of the Defensive Player of the Year voting, it's time for a battle between the Steelers' Troy Polamalu and the Packers' Clay Matthews. By the way, is it any coincidence that the league's two best defensive players in 2011 are about to face off in the Super Bowl?

1. Who has better hair?

Personally I'm partial to brunettes, which makes you think I would vote for Polamalu in the battle of the hair. But I'm also partial to straight hair over curly hair and Polamalu needs more Head & Shoulders. And some straightener. Anyway, I'm going to stop using my preference for female hair to pick who has the better male hair. I swear I'm straight.

But I will take Matthews' hair any day. It's straight, long and lion-esque which should intimidate any offensive player, particularly quarterbacks. Matthews is as much of a beast as his jungle counterpart, wreaking havoc on opposing offensive tackles with his speed off the edge and lethal spin move.

Polamalu's hair is longer and a lot more of it is outside his helmet. It doesn't make much of a difference for a defensive player, as rarely are they able to be tackled by their mane. But Matthews' hair just looks more presentable on the field and seems more well-kempt. That's why I'm taking the Clay here.

Now for the serious and more sports-related question...

2. Who should have won the Defensive Player of the Year Award?

Since I gave Matthews the hair advantage, I'm taking Polamalu on the field.

Seriously, I am. But not because of the hair. Polamalu really is the most impactful defensive player in the league today, when healthy. I said in my AFC Championship preview that the Steelers allow almost a touchdown more per game and 40 more rushing yards per game without Polamalu in the lineup over the past two seasons.

For evidence, look no further than the New York Jets two games against Pittsburgh. In the regular-season matchup, the Jets ran for 106 yards on 27 attempts and scored 22 points in a VICTORY. In the playoffs, they gained just 70 yards on 22 attempts and scored 19 points, a difference of 36 yards and 3 points. But the biggest difference? They LOST.

That's the difference of Polamalu, not to mention his seven interceptions this season and game-changing plays. His biggest may have been forcing a Joe Flacco fumble in the team's second matchup that set the Steelers offense up with a short field, which they turned into a touchdown and a win that set them up to win the AFC North. Does Pittsburgh make the Super Bowl as a Wild Card? If not, then that one play by Polamalu can be considered the reason they are playing on Sunday.

Matthews is in just his second year and his 13.5 sacks were a huge breakthrough for a player who was unheralded before the season. His time will come but this year, it's Polamalu's trophy. While the 17-15 vote showed respect for Matthews' performance, I don't think it was as close as the tallies say.