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Royals 2013

Wait, did I just see the Royals on ESPN? I have caught myself thinking this more already than any other season in recent years.  Dayton Moore and the Royals have finally gone all in for this 2013 season.  With a huge trade for James Shields, the Royals were finally able to go from being one of the worst starting rotations in the history of the MLB to one of the better rotations in the AL.  To go with a better rotation, they Royals have offensive threats that could contribute to a rare winning season.

The biggest X-factor this season is health. The Royals have invested so much this season, so if James Shields or Salvador Perez gets injured, fans can kiss this season goodbye. Concerning health, the major statistic I see is which starter pitches the most innings. Last year, the starters went just six innings too often.  Though the bullpen was dominant, the relievers were typically worn out.  The Royals trade for Shields has given Kansas City a workhorse. It has also given the Royals and Ned Yost options for their rotation and bullpen.

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The starting rotation is bound to be better this year than last, but by how much? As I said earlier, the inning the starters consume will show the specific talents the Royals have in the bullpen. Right now, here is how I see the starting rotation shaping out:

2012 Statistics

1. James Shields: 15-10, 3.52 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 223 Ks, 58 Walks in 227.2 Innings

2. Ervin Santana: 9-13, 5.16 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 133 Ks, 61 Walks in 178 Innings

3. Jeremy Guthrie: 8-12, 4.76 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 101 Ks, 50 Walks in 181.2 Innings

4. Wade Davis: 3-0, 2.43 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 87 Ks, 29 Walks in 70.1 Innings

5. Luis Mendoza: 8-10, 4.23 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 106 Ks, 59 Walks in 166 Innings

 Remember when I said they Royals will have options this season?  Well, what should the Royals do with Luke Hochevar and Bruce Chen?  I have always been a huge believer that the best way to motivate and get the best out of players is through pure competition.  I hope Ned Yost has made it clear that no one’s starting spot is a lock. Mendoza has been pitching extremely well so far this offseason and spring training. While this does not matter too much, it does show that he is coming in ready to compete for a job.  This season, the Royals will have something they have not had since they traded away Zack Greinke.  The Royals will once again have a pitcher with whom they will expect a win no matter what in James Shields.  “Big Game James” actually thrives off of pitching in games against the best teams and will get his opportunity in the Royals opener against Chicago White Sox.  Plus, Shields will bring playoff experience to the staff.

The Royals’ bullpen has been the strongest part of the team because of young prospects coming in and producing immediately.  Greg Holland and Aaron Crow are the “Leaders of the Relievers”.  Both can come in with confidence that they will get the team out of any jam.  The 5 players below are current locks on having a spot in the rotation due to how they have fared in the majors so far.  Holland will close and Crow will be the set-up man just like last year. With Luke Hochevar being put in the bullpen, the relievers are starting to form a complete group.

 Greg Holland: 7-4, 16 Saves, 2.96 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 91 Ks, 34 Walks in 67 Innings

Kelvin Herrera: 4-3, 2.35 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 77 Ks, 21 Walks in 84.1 Innings

Tim Collins: 5-4, 3.36 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 93 Ks, 34 Walks in 69.2 Innings

Aaron Crow: 3-1, 3.48 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 65 Ks, 22 Walks in 64.2 Innings

Louis Coleman: 0-0, 3.71 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 65 Ks, 26 Walks in 51 Innings

 Nate Adcock, Will Smith and Everett Teaford are all fighting for one spot in the bullpen and it will most likely be this way the entire season. Will Smith did a better job than most expected last year as a starter but did not perform at a high enough rate to retain his role in the rotation.

The Royals will not intimidate opposing pitching staffs with their power, but will with their ability to run the bases, hit for contact and situational hitting.  The biggest difference from last year to this year’s offensive attack is having Salvador Perez healthy.  Along with Perez, look for Alex Gordon and Billy Butler to carry the load for this lineup For the most part, Gordon and Butler have been consistent.  I expect Butler to finally jump into the thirty home run club and be the sole member from the Royals.  Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas could both take major strides this year as well. Hosmer should benefit immensely from playing with the USA team because he gets to see how the best players prepare themselves on a daily basis.  I do not expect Perez to hit in the .300’s but around .280 mark.  Though the Royals may lack strength in power, they more than make up for it in their athletic youth.

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Alex Gordon (LF): .294/.368/.455, 14 HR’s, 72 RBI, 93 Runs in 161 Games

Alcides Escobar (SS): .293/.331/.390, 5 HR’s, 52 RBI, 68 Runs, 35 SB’s in 155 Games

Eric Hosmer (1B): .232/.304/.359, 14 HR’s, 60 RBI, 65 Runs, 16 SB’s in 152 Games

Billy Butler (DH): .313/.373/.510, 29 HR’s, 107 RBI, 72 Runs in 161 Games

Mike Moustakas (3B): .242/.296/.412, 20 HR’s, 73 RBI, 69 Runs in 149 Games

Salvador Perez (C): .301/.328/.471, 11 HR’s, 39 RBI, 38 Runs in 76 Games

Jeff Francoeur (RF): .235/.287/.387, 16 HR’s, 49 RBI, 58 Runs in 148 Games

Lorenzo Cain (CF): .266/.316/.419, 7 HR’s, 31 RBI, 27 Runs, 10 SB’s in 61 Games

Chris Getz (2B): .275/.312/.360, 17 RBI, 22 Runs, 9 SB’s in 64 Games

Come September, I expect the Royals to finish at 79-83.  Lorenzo Cain’s health will be crucial as this team aims to achieve a winning record.  With major injuries to any of the starting lineup, the Royals winning chances diminish because they do not have the depth to plug another player in without a great drop off.  Furthermore, the Royals do not have the pieces or money to make trades to improve the roster in the middle of the season.  The Royals are all in this year and pitching will tell the story for the Blue Crew.

Spencer Montgomery

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Future betting tips on the top MLB teams

Future betting means gambling on sporting events several months in advance of them taking place, and is a very popular way of betting on major sporting events like the new season – as the early odds for the teams are released well in advance by the sports betting sites. Already the odds, and thus the favourites for both the American and National Leagues and the World Series have been made available – establishing teams like the Los Angeles Angels and the Washington Nationals amongst the favourites at this stage.

However a lot can change once the action gets underway, which is why the single most important tip for those considering MLB futures betting to consider, is that it is better to wait until further into the season before placing a bet. This is because, if one of the top teams performs as expected, their odds will not really change much, but if they don’t, you will avoid losing money betting on a pre-season favourite that doesn’t live up to expectations. After all, there are many factors – including injuries to key players –that can cause this to happen. This is why another major tip to remember is that you need to research form and injury records for key players before making a futures bet on the MLB.

It is not as if there aren’t other ways of mixing betting and a love of the MLB, while you are waiting – as a game like the baseball slot Hot Shot offers great entertainment and betting. Hot Shot, which is available at online casino sites like LuckyNugget  is a nine pay line, five reel, non-progressive slot, which has reels designed to look like baseball caps, pitchers, catchers mitts, and baseball snacks like fries and popcorn. It also has a backdrop of a baseball field and the sound effects – including crowd noise (murmurs which rise to a roar when you get a winning reel with the gold cup scatter symbol) – and a baseball bat hitting a ball, when you get a winning reel without the scatter, really add to the appeal of the game.

Image from US Presswire

Is It That Bad?

When Steve Nash signed with the Los Angeles Lakers on July 11th of last year, Kobe Bryant finally received the true point guard he needed.  After Dwight Howard signed in early August, the Lakers had a roster that seemed to guarantee a Finals appearance.  They would once again run the NBA.  Today, the Clippers have taken over Los Angeles, the Oklahoma City Thunder have the title as the best team in the NBA, and the Los Angeles Lakers have fallen to a 17-24 record.

Metta World Peace believed this Laker team had a serious opportunity to finish with a 73-9 record, never done before in the NBA.  However, that dream was shattered on December 4 against the Houston Rockets, their tenth loss of the season.  Kobe Bryant even said, “Obviously this isn’t working.”  The situation has left many fans of the game scratching their heads, with such a high caliber team, why are the Lakers losing?

Image from Chicago Tribune
Image from Chicago Tribune

The team is fifth overall in the NBA in points per game, scoring an average of 102.6.  They are third in rebounds per game with 45.6.  However, the Lakers turn the ball over an average of 15.4 times per game.  A more notable aspect of the game that the Lakers seem to be struggling with is free throws.  The team shoots an average of 69.4 percent from the line, which is second worst in the NBA.  There have been many instances this season in which missed free throws have cost the Lakers a shot at victory late in games.

Given the offensive struggles, you couldn’t think it could get much worse.  Then you look at the team’s defense.  They are giving up 101.4 points per game, and sport a 1.4 assist to turnover ratio.  With so much size down low, and debatably the fastest backcourt in the division, one still wonders, why aren’t they getting it done?

After 41 games, the answer is simple: the Lakers are not motivated to win.  Their lack of effort on both sides of the ball have cost them numerous games this season.  Those games could come back to haunt the Lakers as they continue to fight for a playoff spot.

Drew Agnello

The Race for the MVP

Over the course of this year’s NBA season, certain players across the league have impressed the world night in and night out.  Since the start of the season back in November, four players have established themselves as the best in the league.  Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and LeBron James have been the most consistent, dominate players this year, and here is why each athlete should be considered for the MVP award at the end of the season.

Carmelo Anthony predicted everything.  When he was traded to the New York Knicks almost three years ago, Anthony thought that the first two years would be rough, but the third would be their year.  It would be the year he led the Knicks to an NBA Championship.  As of now, Anthony is fulfilling his prophecy.  Melo is averaging 29 points per game and has New York at a 23-11 record.  More importantly, without Carmelo Anthony’s offensive production, the New York Knicks would not be where they are right now.  He is, with no doubt, a legitimate contender for the MVP award this season.

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Chris Paul has to have his name mentioned in the MVP race.  CP3 averages about 19 points a game and almost 10 assists a game.  Along with those impressive numbers comes his momentum making ability.  His beautiful lobs to Blake Griffin and company are what essentially control any crowd’s mood.  The most significant part of where Paul’s play is has put the Los Angeles Clippers is first in the Western Conference with a 27-8 record.  If Chris Paul was not in L.A., this Clippers team would be like the ones from 2010 and earlier: unbelievably awful.  When MVP voting time comes around, voters need to look at Chris Paul’s impact on the Los Angeles Clippers.

Chris_Paul_Clippers_1st_Game

The Durantula is doing it again this season.  One difference this year is the ferocity Kevin Durant is playing with.  There is just a different style to the way Durant plays with that was not seen in his previous years.  This year K.D. received his first ejection.  It is not like that is a good thing, but in some eyes, it is a sign Kevin Durant is hungry for an NBA Championship.  He has won the scoring title the last three years, and right now he puts up about 27 a game.  However, there is a concern for his MVP status because his numbers in nearly every category are now from last season.  Durant has the Oklahoma City Thunder at a 26 and 8 record.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Miami Heat
Of course, there is the Sportsman of the Year LeBron James.  Believe it or not, the Miami Heat would be more than likely fighting for a playoff spot if it was not for James.  LeBron leads Miami in points, rebounds and assists, putting up 26.4, 7.2 and 6.9 respectively.  His team sits atop the Eastern Conference with a 23 and 10 record.  Dating back to last season, LeBron has scored 20 or more points in 54 straight games.  The three time MVP is certainly playing like he is the front-runner for number four.

These four athletes were teammates over the summer at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.  Each are great friends with one another off the court and can be seen together at dinners.  On the court, all four can not stand one another.  They fight hard until the final buzzer for the win, and you should expect the four to fight hard for both the NBA Championship and the MVP.

Drew Agnello

What a Roll

I wanted Notre Dame to win the National Championship.  I am a fan of the Irish and I honestly thought this was their year—the year Notre Dame would finish undefeated and win the National Championship.  But the team from Tuscaloosa, absolutely crushed the dream I have visioned for so long.  For all Irish fans, the drought continues and we will have to wait at least another year for Championship.  I will quit beating around the bush, though.  The Alabama Crimson Tide was undoubtedly the best team in college football this year, and should be for the upcoming years.

Certain aspects of the game really stood out to me.  The Alabama defense seemed to control the Notre Dame offense.  The Alabama offense seemed to control the Notre Dame defense.  A.J. McCarron was red hot in the pocket.  He completed 20 of his 28 attempted passes for 264 yards along with four touchdowns.  Alabama’s run game was also impressive.  Eddie Lacy was similar to a truck in the game.  He broke tackles and literally tossed defenders to account for 140 rushing yards and a touchdown.  Freshman T.J. Yeldon also contributed to the rushing, tacking on 108 yards and a touchdown.  One of the most impressive stats of the night was Alabama’s time of possession, controlling the ball for just over 33 minutes.  Notre Dame simply had no answer to anything Alabama put their way.

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Personally, I think Alabama could beat a few NFL teams.  The way they manhandled Notre Dame is mind-boggling to me.  Going into the game, I predicted a low scoring 13 to 10 win for the Irish.  Leaving the game, I will never try to predict a score again.  Alabama’s 42 to 14 win made me think, “Is this the greatest college football dynasty ever?”  I believe they are, but that does not matter.  There are enough stats to prove that they are.  Their 15 National Championships puts them among the most of all time.  This 2012-2013 team is stacked with future NFL players.  However, their one loss this year puts a blemish on their “Best Team of All Time” status.  I do believe they did not lose that game to Texas A&M, but to Johnny Manziel.  That, also, does not matter and I can save that for another argument.  Alabama’s play in the National Championship made the game one of the largest blowouts in BCS Championship history.

Another question popped in my head when I realized Alabama had the game won after the first quarter: “Is Nick Saban going to be better than Bear Bryant?”  To that, I also say yes.  In the last four years, Nick Saban has brought three National Championships to Alabama, giving himself four all time.  Bryant’s six championships poured into Alabama over a span of 24 years.  If you do the math, that is once every four years.  Nick Saban has three in four years.  At this rate, Saban could easily surpass Bryant within 12 years.  Enough with the math now.  Nick Saban is now one of the best college football coaches of all time.

Notre Dame is still my team.  I am devastated by this embarrassing loss that my team suffered.  I weep for Manti Te’o, who worked so hard to get to the title game, where he was a non-factor.  But I smile for Alabama.  I am happy to witness one of the greatest dynasties in the history of college football.  And the best part is, the dynasty has just begun.  For the time being, Roll Tide.

Drew Agnello

Too Close for Comfort?

The Kansas Jayhawks’ 69 to 62 win over the Temple Owls was a battle to say the least.  KU’s home win streak rose to 30 as the Jayhawks had to come back towards the end in order to emerge as victors.  After such a dominating performance at Ohio State two weeks ago, one would think the Jayhawks would handle an unranked Temple team at home very easily.  That was not the case Sunday, but Kansas was fortunate to still come out on top.

KU’s offensive play was somewhat disappointing. The Jayhawks had a field goal percentage of 46 along with 36 three point percentage.  Then again, we were used to the Jayhawks shooting an average 56 percent from the field going into the game.  The most disappointing stat for KU was 14 turnovers.  However, Kansas made shots when they needed to.  Ben McLemore, who could not get much going, had a quiet 13 points, but some very audible dunks.  KU was able to hang on late with a dagger of a three hit by Travis Releford with 37 seconds left in the game.  However, the true stand-out, and biggest surprise, of the game was Kevin Young.  Young’s 16 points and 10 rebounds was the key to the Jayhawks’ win.

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Defensively, Kansas was lights out.  The Jayhawks held Temple to a field goal percentage of just 30.  Jeff Withey had 9 of Kansas’ 12 blocks and also had 11 rebounds.  Kansas seemed to force Temple into some wild shots, and that was big from a defensive standpoint. While KU lacked a great number of forced turnovers, this was mostly because of the pace Temple runs.  Kansas needs to make some defensive adjustments in order to force more steals against any sort of offense.  In the end, the Jayhawks’ defense ceased to amaze and simply beat out the Owls.

The game was closer than many would have wanted, but some credit has to be give to Temple.  The Owls can keep road games close, and have beaten top ten teams like they did to Syracuse earlier in the year.  Temple is a good team who could have one this game.  At Kansas, it is near  impossible to win, especially when the Jayhawks are competing for a top spot in the country.  Temple simply had no response to the perseverance shown by Kansas late in the game.  KU had too much to lose and their execution towards the end won the game.

Drew Agnello

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Christmas Day Recap

Yesterday was Christmas, the time of festivity, presents being opened and time being spent with the family.  It was the birth of Jesus and everything else tradition teaches us.  Yesterday was also home to five intriguing NBA games.  Potential Finals matchups, division foes and some of the most dynamic teams in the NBA were all on display yesterday, making it a Christmas to remember for all basketball fans.

First, the Boston Celtics traveled to southeast New York to face off against the Brooklyn Nets.  In their previous meeting, there was an encounter between the teams which led to ejections and bitter memories.  The memories carried into yesterday’s game, especially for the Celtics.  Boston shot almost 50 percent from the field, along with 60 percent from three point range.  The Celtics outrebounded the Nets and also committed fewer turnovers.  The margin of loss for Brooklyn really stands out.  93 to 76, losing by 17 points to their rival on Christmas day is sure to stick with them.  The Brooklyn Nets played awful and the Boston Celtics played great, but the game proved a lot about both teams.

The second matchup yesterday was between the red-hot New York Knicks and the struggling Los Angeles Lakers.  The game was close from start to finish.  Carmelo Anthony seemed to respond to any shot the Lakers made.  His 34 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists added to his MVP like season, but individual statistics did not help the Knicks.  Anthony’s stats were great, but Raymond Felton shot 5 of 19 from the field, adding just 10 points.  The one player who seemed to disappoint many was Tyson Chandler.  He had to rent out a suite in the Staples Center so he could bring all of his family and friends to the game.  His six points and early dismissal from the game because of six fouls negatively impacted the outcome of the game.  His strength and inside presence could have given the Knicks a big road win, but in the end they fell short.  Neither team played exceptionally well.  Both shot under 50 percent from the field, but Steve Nash proved to be a huge impact.  His 16 points and 11 assists were huge in this win for the Lake Show.  L.A. played the best they have all season yesterday, and it seems like they are getting back on track for this season.

The most watched game yesterday was the potential Finals matchup for this year.  The Oklahoma City Thunder traveled down to South Beach to face off against the Miami Heat.  LeBron James has scored 20 or more points in 30 straight games dating back to last season.  James’ 29 points, 8 rebounds and 9 assists were the key to a big win over the Thunder.  Unsurprisingly, the game was close, and Kevin Durant and LeBron James dominated the rock throughout the entire game.  Russell Westrook had too many out-of-control plays, and Kendrick Perkins had no effect in the low post.  Dwayne Wade was responsible for 5 of the Heat’s 13 turnovers.  Chris Bosh only had 6 rebounds.  Kevin Durant was making unbelievable shots, and contributed with 7 rebounds.  LeBron James pretty much had to do everything for the Heat in the 42 minutes he played.  Whether it was play the point or securing the paint, James did it all.  The two are the best in the NBA, no question.  But their teammates will need to step up if the teams are to meet up in June for a Finals rematch.

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Unless you are a Houston Rockets fan, there was nothing but disappointment in the Windy City yestertday.  The Rockets faced off against the Chicago Bulls at the United Center, and Houston absolutely thumped Chicago.  There is a quote that states, “Offense wins games, but defense wins championships.”  Whatever offense went up against the Bulls yesterday would win both the game and a championship.  Chicago is the best defensive team in the NBA, but they gave up 120 points to the Rockets.  Houston shot 56 percent from the field, and a chunk of their points came from fastbreaks.  The Rockets had 31 fastbreak points against Chicago.  Saying that just does not sound right.  How do the Bulls play such sloppy defense when Coach Tom Thibodeau emphasizes the most important part of the game?  Chicago just did not seem to have it in them yesterday, and it lead to an awful home loss.  In fairness to the Rockets, they are a dynamic team who can beat anyone they face.  Former Bull Omer Asik helped the Rockets with 20 points and 18 rebounds.  James Harden had 26 points, and Jeremy Lin had 20 and added 11 assists.  The Houston Rockets are the real deal and could be a playoff team.

The last game on Christmas day was a matchup between a young Denver Nuggets team and the streaking Los Angeles Clippers.  The Clippers are hands down the most dynamic team in the league.  Blake Griffin’s acrobatic dunks and Chris Paul’s beautiful passes are too much for nearly any team.  In akmost every stat category, Denver beat Los Angeles.  The one thing that won the game for the Clippers was the offensive rebounds.  The 16 rebounds off the offensive glass gave L.A. second chance opportunities which led to a 112-100 victory.  Denver is a young team who is a lot of maturing to do, but that will come with time and they could be a dominant team in the upcoming years.  For now, the Los Angeles Clippers are number one in the power rankings, on a 14 game winning streak and are on track for a high seed in the playoffs.

For basketball fans, yesterday was like a double Christmas.  Two of the best players went head to head, as did division rivals.  Christmas day gave us potential Final matchups and five entertaining games.  Christmas games are full of nothing but intensity.  The players know what is at stake on Christmas day, and in some cases Christmas day may mark the fate of some teams.  The fun starts after Christmas day.  May the playoff chase begin.

Jeff+Withey+Ben+McLemore+San+Jose+State+v+MBCFUNWDkdil

Big XII Preview

Conference play is right around the corner, and it is now prediction time.  Who will surprise people?  Who will be the disappointing teams?  In this preview, I hope to answer any question you may have.  The teams who I believe will be the best and worst will be ranked in order from 1-10.

1.  Kansas- This should not come as a shocker to anyone.  The Jayhawks have won eight straight conference regular season titles, and it seems like they are a lock for number nine.  They lead the Big XII in field goal percentage and blocks.  They are second in points per game, free throw percentage, three point percentage and assists.  Where the Jayhawks lack in size, they more than make up for it in their guard play.  Conference play aside, the Jayhawks could make a deep postseason run if they cut back on their hefty amount of turnovers.  Every player on the team has been in a winning atmosphere since the first day they stepped on campus.  I just do not see a team in the Big XII who could derail Kansas from their ninth straight title.  Rock Chalk will haveended what has been so far a great season.

2.  Kansas State- I think this may come as a surprise to many people, and rightfully so.  I have   K-State at number two mostly because there is no other team that could be number two, but I also like the way KSU plays.  While former coach Frank Martin gets credit for the intense defense, Coach Weber has been able to continue this trend for Kansas State.  This is a team who can play very well in conference play and especially in the second half of the season.  Size wise, K-State is pretty big with a 7 foot center, but the only person who can lead this team is Rodney McGruder.  The senior has been in the shadows his entire career behind Jacob Pullen and Wally Judge.  Now, it is his turn to step up, and so far he has held his ground.  This is his team, and I am looking forward to seeing how McGruder handles his role as the team leader.  The one thing that could come back to haunt the Wildcats is the loss of head coach Frank Martin.  An average fan would not have noticed Frank was gone except not seeing him on the sidelines screaming at players.  However, the players are responding the same way wit Coach Weber.  This K-State continues to be the same physical, athletic team as they were in the past years.  K-State is my front runner for number two.

3.  Baylor- Coming into the season, I would have told you that Baylor would win the conference title.  Since then, my views have changed because of how much better KU is playing, and how much Baylor is struggling.  The Bears have one person who is under six feet tall.  With this size and athleticism, there should be no excuses to already have three losses on the year.  The one player under six feet is Pierre Jackson, who is arguably the quickest player in the NCAA and has been a leader on this team since he was a freshman.  Baylor’s rebounding is pitiful, and they should be one of the best in college with their size.  Averaging just over 37 boards a game, Baylor’s rebounding has been the reason for their three losses.  It would be okay if they did not lose to Northwestern, Boston College and the College of Charleston if they were a small team, but with such great size, these losses are disappointing.  In the end, I think this team is stacked with talented players.  I think the Bears will turn it around and could potentially swap spots with Kansas State towards the end of the season.


4.  Oklahoma State- I have always been a fan of Pistol Pete and the Cowboys.  This program has great tradition and is known to be a team that can rattle the standings.  In past years, it has been one of the toughest schools to win at home against in the Big XII.  However, history does not win games.  I like the Cowboys this year because of their hot start to the season.  Currently ranked 24th in the country, Oklahoma State beat North Carolina State very easily, who at the time was sixth in the country.  Oklahoma State is a threat to any team because of their defense.  The team gives up just 54.5 points a game, making them one of the best defensive teams in the country.  This scrappy team could make a deep push this year to fight for the top of the conference.

5.  Iowa State- The Cyclones have surprised me with the numbers they are putting up through 12 games.  Their play has made them the seventh ranked team in the NCAA in points and rebounds per game, averaging 82.2 and 43.5.  Assists wise, the team is dishing 17.2 assists per game, making them the 14th ranked team.  Iowa State is a quiet team, but has the ability to win big games if teams overlook them.  They did it last season at home versus the Jayhawks, and I would not be surprised if they did it to another team this year.  The only issue for the Cyclones is their size.  Senior 6’7 guard Will Clyburn will have to be a strong leader in order for Iowa State to make a jump in the standings.

6.  Texas-  With the suspension to Myck Kabongo, the Longhorns season can be thrown out the window.  I cringe when I see the stats the Longhorns have put up so far.  They are 246th in the country in points per game averaging 64.5.  They are also 246th in assists with just 11.9 a game.  Their worst stat is their field goal percentage of 40.4, making them the 276th team in the country.  An embarrassing loss in Hawaii to Division II school Chaminade essentially marked doom on the Hook ‘Em season.   The only thing I can ask about this team is, “What went wrong?”

7.  West Virginia- I was confident Coach Bob Huggins could help impact the Mountaineers first season in the Big XII, but after five quick losses, I have lost all faith in West Virginia’s season.  They were absolutely spanked by the Marist Red Foxes, falling 87 to 44.    The Mountaineers also lost in an early season conference matchup to Oklahoma and fell short at Duquesne.  This is undoubtedly not the year for West Virginia.  After seeing the sizes of their shooting guards and big men, it is sickening to see this team averaging 69.5 points per game with a field goal percentage of 41.  Something has to change for the Mountaineers, and it starts down low with the big men.  With one of the winningest active coaches in Bob Huggins, you should expect West Virginia to flip the switch and show major improvement.

8.  Oklahoma- To keep it short and sweet, this is a team who can not beat elite teams.  They have not in the past, nor will they this year.  There is not a go-to-player on this team, which just hurts their already slim chances of winning.  Senior Romero Osby is the only player who is somewhat productive.  His 12.7 points per game and 6.5 rebounds per game make him the leader in both categories on this team, and those are not even close to impressive figures.  Until a leader emerges on this Sooner team, Oklahoma will have to wait for their chance to come close to a conference championship.

9.  Texas Tech- Since Bobby Knight’s retirement, Texas Tech’s basketball program has gone nowhere fast.  Forward Jaye Crockett is the only productive player on this squad averaging 15.8 points per game and 8.9 rebounds per game.  There is not much more for Texas Tech to except except losing.  The Red Raiders have back to back losing seasons coming into this year, and you should expect that to become back to back to back losing seasons.  Hopefully for the Red Raiders, interim head coach Chris Walker can surprise some people and win some games.

10.  Texas Christian- Last but not least, I believe the TCU Horned Frogs will be the worst team in the Big XII this year.  The fact that they only scored 31 points in one of their games this year pretty much sums up this team.  Sure, they have a winning record of 8 and 4, but do I need to tell you who they beat?  Teams from the Big West and Southwestern Athletic Conference are not the teams you can beat and call yourselves a winning team, especially if you are winning by an average of just over 8 points.  Luckily for the Horned Frogs, expectations were never high and they were projected to finish last in the conference by other scouts and analysts.

In order to win a conference championship in the Big XII, or any league for that matter, a team must have a true, go-to leader.  Some of these teams have such a train-wreck of a season because there is no leader.  There is nothing complex to winning the Big XII.  If the right coaching is present, anything could happen.  Hopefully this Big XII season will be yet another one packed with great games.

Drew Agnello

dwight howard lakers

The Rest of the NBA Preview

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…for basketball fans at least. The 2012 NBA season opens with arguably the most excitement and parity than any other season in the last decade. Dwight Howard’s debut with the Lakers, James Harden’s debut with the Rockets, the resurgence of a new Big 3 in Boston, and the Miami Heat going for a repeat title performance are just a few of the headlines that will be in the spotlight this season. That said, this has the makings of an exciting season. Let’s go ahead a breakdown the biggest questions for each team after first two weeks of NBA action.

Eastern Conference

Southeast Division

Atlanta Hawks – Can the Hawks win post-Joe Johnson?

The answer is yes. In fact, the Hawks were able to do some addition by subtraction by unloading Johnson’s huge contract and bringing in some more supporting pieces to surround their dangerous front court of Josh Smith and Al Horford, who is back after missing nearly all of last season. By bringing in Lou Williams, Kyle Korver, Anthony Morrow and Devin Harris they have filled the void left by Johnson. Lou Williams was arguably one of the best players in the NBA coming off the bench last year, Morrow and Korver provide lethal threats from beyond the arc, and Devin Harris is a spark plug who can pick up the offensive load when necessary.

Prediction: 46-36; 2nd in the Southeast, 6th in the East

Charlotte Bobcats – Will the Bobcats remain in the cellar of the league for another season?

I’ll start by saying that the only NBA game I saw in person last year was a match up between the Bobcats and the Hornets in New Orleans. I wish I could say I felt like I was watching a match-up of two young teams moving in the right direction, but I can’t. The execution was terrible, the offense for both teams looked horrendous, and you could tell both rosters were completely devoid of any talent.  To top it all off, I had to endure watching Boris Diaw playing basketball. This game was on March 12th. They Cats would go on to win just one game after the narrow 73-71 victory over the worst of the West. However, after two games this season, the Bobcats don’t appear poised to be the laughing stock of the league once again.  Kemba Walker has begun to show marked improvement after one season and will need to continue to step up to give the team a lift offensively. Henderson, Haywood, Gordon and Sessions appear to be reliable veterans who can help lead the Cats to some additional victories and Gordon will be need to shoulder some of the load offensively.  Finally, experts and fans a like (myself included in both categories) are gushing over the physical skills and talent of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Look for MKG to be a defensive menace this season while he works on his offensive game.

Prediction: 23-59 ; 4th in the Southeast, 13th in the East

Washington Wizards – Will John Wall finally live up to the hype and his projected potential?

With Wall currently out while recovering from a knee injury, all we can do at this point is speculate as to what Wall can bring to the table this season. It’s beginning to seem like that’s been the case every years since he entered the league. Wall has shown flashes of brilliance and leadership at times, but too often follows it up with lackluster performances. Hopefully Wall comes back this year with a refined shooting stroke, along with more leadership and consistency. Only then can the Wizards begin to start moving in the right direction.

Prediction: 27-55;
3rd in the Southeast, 12th in the East

Orlando Magic – Who will step up as the go-to-guy in Orlando?

For the time being, no one will really be the go to guy in Orlando. The Orlando Magic are not completely devoid of talent as some will make you believe, but this is a team that is a couple years away from finding any sort of identity after the Dwight Howard era. Look for the Magic to do away with their remaining assets this season (JJ Redick’s expiring contract, Glen Davis, Jameer Nelson, or basically anyone else with value left on this team) and start rebuilding. Long story short, it’s going to be a tough year for the Magic.

Prediction: 24 – 58;
4th in the Southeast; 15th in the East

Miami Heat – Can the Heat repeat as champs?

I’ll keep this one short as well by saying, simply, yes. Unless LeBron James suffers some sort of devastating injury or has a catastrophic drop in performance (see 2011 Finals), I don’t see any way that this team doesn’t reach the Finals for the 3rd straight year. There is simply far too much talent on this team. For them not to repeat or at least compete for another title in June would be a disappointment. It will  be up to Eric Spoelstra, LeBron and Dwyane Wade to keep this team focused.

Prediction: 63-19; 1st in the Southeast, 1st in the East

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Northwest Division

Dallas Mavericks – Can the new look Mavericks compete in the increasingly stronger Western Conference?

The Mavs this year have possibly the oddest assemblage of talent of any team this season, with inconsistency written all over it. By signing Darren Collison and OJ Mayo, the Mavs have signed two players with so much talent, but a severe lack of consistency. Elton Brand, Vince Carter, and Shawn Marion are each shells of their former selves, and Dirk is not getting any younger or any healthier for that matter. If this team does make the playoffs, I have a feeling they will be limping into it. However, rookie Jae Crowder may be the spark plug necessary to get this team going. They will certainly need strong play from him in order to keep their head above water while Nowitzki is out with injury. NBA fanatics will be sure to keep an eye on the Mavs this year. You should too.

Prediction: 42-40; 3rd in the Southwest, 9th in the West


Denver Nuggets –
Can the Nuggets finally put it all together and go on a deep playoff run?

Despite starting of the year 0-3, Denver has rattled of four straight, making the Nuggets my dark horse team. With arguably the best compilation of young talent in the league, I would not be surprised to see the Nuggets pose a real threat to Los Angeles and Oklahoma City for supremacy in the West. With the progression of Lawson and McGee, the addition of Iguodala (who is still figuring out where he fits in on this team), and the frontcourt combination of Gallinari, Faried, Koufos and Chandler, the Nuggets could potentially finish with the best record in the conference and with their youth, could outmatch some of the aging talent in the West come playoff time.  Look for Lawson to be the X-Factor for this team all season.

Prediction: 54 -28; 2nd in the Northwest, 3rd in the West

Minnesota Timberwolves – Can the Timberwolves stay healthy enough to have a legitimate chance at a playoff spot?

So far this season the Timberwolves have been without their two stars, Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love. Despite their absence, the Timberwolves have been able to keep their heads above water with a stalwart defense capable of keeping them in close games. This team though has proven to be too injury prone to put all the pieces together at once. I still think this team is a season away from a playoff berth despite their hot start. The West is just too strong this season.

Prediction: 39-43;
4th in the Northwest, 10th in the West

Portland Trailblazers –
Is Damian Lilliard the missing piece the Portland puzzle?

Damian Lilliard has wowed fans thus far this season and appears to be the front-runner for rookie of the year in the first two weeks. His elite play as both a distributor and a scorer gives fans hope for the future in Portland. Don’t be surprised if Portland shows some rapid maturity in the coming months, allowing them to sneak into the playoffs behind the play of LaMarcus Aldridge and Lilliard. On the other hand, their youth and inexperience could lead them to another poor finish in the West.

Prediction: 33-49; 5th in the Northwest, 12th in the West

Oklahoma City Thunder – Can Kevin Martin fill the void left by James Harden?



In terms of point production, Kevin Martin and James Harden are nearly even. But there will certainly be some intangibles that Harden provides that Kevin Martin will lack this season. Harden was able to take pressure off of Westbrook at times with his ability to command the offense from the point. Martin works better in isolation and spotting up for his shot. The pressure will now fall onto Westbrook to be the initiator more often for this team. The growing pains will be there for the Thunder (currently rank 28th in turnovers) but look for the Thunder to hardly skip and beat this season and remain a title contender.

Prediction: 59-23;
1st in the Northwest, 1st in the West

Utah Jazz – Who stays and who goes in the Utah frontcourt?

There’s no doubt the Jazz have a problem on their hands, but in no way is it a bad problem. Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors, Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson make up possibly the deepest frontcourt in the entire league. With Favors beginning to live up to expectations and Kanter beginning to show more polish at the center position, look for the Jazz to try to move Millsap or Jefferson before the trade deadline, bringing in perhaps another player at the wing to provide more help offensively for Mo Williams.

Prediction: 46-36; 3rd in the Northwest, 7th in the West

Pacific Division

Sacramento Kings – Where will their next home be?

It seems like a down year again for the Kings, with subpar play on both ends of the court. The Tyreke Evans saga continues as he appears to still be in regression after his rookie season. DeMarcus Cousins still hasn’t learned the lesson of “cooler heads” prevail after his most recent run-in with Sean Elliot, broadcaster for the Spurs. So while the Kings continue to sputter, the biggest question mark is where the Kings will call home in the foreseeable future. Both Virginia and Seattle appear to be the front-runner for the franchise, with the Kings having already been in talks with the governor of Virginia. Basketball purists, however, would love to see the NBA return to Seattle, where there is already a very fervent fan base. In the mean time, look for the Kings to be a bottom feeder of the league this year.

Prediction: 19-63; 5th in the Pacific, 15th in the West

Golden State Warriors – Will Curry and Bogut stay healthy long enough of the Warriors to reach their potential and make the playoffs?

The overall success of this Warrior team will ultimately come down to a pair of ankles, Stephen Curry’s right and Andrew Bogut’s left. Both have proved problematic for both players and this team in the past. Neither has been able to remain on the floor long enough for the team to pick up any momentum and as a result the Warriors have been on the outside looking in for the past 6 seasons. There’s no doubt that this team is talented and, if they can remain healthy, look for them to end their six year playoff drought.

Prediction: 43-39; 3rd in the Pacific; 8th in the West

Los Angeles Clippers – Will the injury to Blake Griffin prove problematic to Lob City?

So far this season, Blake Griffin has shown little signs of his burst bursa sac in his right elbow and his neck strain slowing him down. The fact is, Griffin is one of toughest players in the league and he doesn’t really rely on a deadly shooting stroke to be effective. He still has his legs underneath him and his freakish athleticism. Look for this injury to be a non-issue as the Clippers coast towards the playoffs.

Prediction: 51-31; 2nd in the Pacific, 6th in the West

Los Angeles Lakers – Can the Lakers get all the pieces to fit?

For the sake of having SportsCenter cover something else this season, I hope so. It seems as if everyone but the Lakers is hitting the panic button at this point. The fact is the Lakers will not continue to win 1 out of every 5 games for the remainder of the season. Howard is still trying to find his rhythm with this team, Nash needs to get healthy, and Mike D’Antoni needs to find a way to fit all of these pieces around Kobe Bryant, which will happen as soon as the Lakers get familiar with playing with each other.  Once they do, the rest of the league better watch out.

Prediction: 57-25; 1st in the Pacific, 2nd in the East

Phoenix Suns –Can the Suns find their identity as a team?

The Suns need to figure out what type of team they are in fast. With basically no go to player on this roster, someone needs to step forward if they intend to be in any postion to battle for a playoff spot. The play of Michael Beasley, Jared Dudley and Goran Dragic will make or break this team. If they begin to reach a breaking point, don’t be surprised to see the Suns management hit the panic button and start from scratch.

Prediction: 24-58; 5th in the Pacific, 14th in the West

Southwest Division

Houston Rockets – Is James Harden enough for the Rockets to make a playoff push?

If they gave an MVP trophy after the first 3 games of the season, James Harden would win it. In the fist3 games this season Harden is averaging 35 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists per contest. His numbers have began to steadily decline though since the Rockets hot start, but don’t be surprised to see more stand out play from Harden this season. The rest of the Rockets have had flashes of brilliance as well. Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin have both proved thus far that they may be worth the high price Houston paid for them over the summer. Luckily the season is 82 games long. Look for the Rockets to have some growing pains sometime between now and midseason. That said, the starting five of Lin, Harden, Chandler Parsons, Patterson, and Asik may be just enough to push them into the playoff picture.

Prediction: 34-48; 4th in the Southwest, 11th in the West

Memphis Grizzlies – Will the Grizzlies move Rudy Gay or Zach Randolph at some point this season?

While many critics believe that this is going to be the year that the Grizzlies move Gay or Randolph, I don’t believe that to be the case.  This is a young, talented team with proven veterans and a deep bench with young legs. Zach Randolph is the oldest player on the squad at just 31 and, when healthy, shows little signs of any age. Rudy Gay has continued to emerge as one of the best swing men in the league and Mike Conley, Tony Allen and Marc Gasol’s (arguably one of the best centers in the league) consistent play gives them one of the best starting 5’s in the league. Look for the Grizzlies to possibly push San Antonio out of first in the Southwest and grab a top 3 seed in the playoffs.

Prediction: 52-30;
2nd in the Southwest, 5th in the West

New Orleans Hornets – Can Eric Gordon stay healthy long enough to matter?

We have yet to see to the 23 year old Gordon be able to make it through a full NBA season without some sort of health issue. His games per season has steadily declined each season he’s been in the league, playing only 9 games for the Hornets in the his first season in the Big Easy. It won’t be long before the Hornets begin to think about whether or not Gordon can actually help them long or short term. That said, the Hornets have managed to play well thus far, with strong starts by rookie phenom Anthony Davis, 3rd year player Al-Farouq Aminu, and veteran Ryan Anderson. While the Hornets will certainly have some rough stretches this season, they certainly have a bright future.

Prediction: 28-54; 5th in the Southwest, 13th in the West

Phoenix Suns –Can the Suns find their identity as a team?

The Suns need to figure out what type of team they are in fast. With basically no go to player on this roster, someone needs to step forward if they intend to be in any postion to battle for a playoff spot. The play of Michael Beasley, Jared Dudley and Goran Dragic will make or break this team. If they begin to reach a breaking point, don’t be surprised to see the Suns management hit the panic button and start from scratch.

Prediction: 24-58; 5th in the Pacific, 14th in the West

San Antonio Spurs –
Will the aging Spurs finally show signs of decline?

Poppovich and the Spurs seem to have the winning recipe every single season. This Spurs team appears to have found the fountain of youth year after year after year. Tim Duncan and Ginobili remain consistent night in and night out and Parker is again playing at an MVP caliber.  If Kawhi Leonard continues to steadily improve as well, watch this Spurs team turn heads again this year.

Prediction: 54 – 28;
1st in the Southwest, 4th in the West

PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS
Western Conference -1st Round
(1) Thunder over the (8) Warriors in 5.
(2) Lakers over the (9) Jazz in 5.
(3) Nuggets over the (6) Clippers in 7.
(4) Spurs over the (5) Grizzlies in 7.

Eastern Conference – 1st Round
(1) Heat over (8) 76ers in 4.
(2) Knicks over (7) Bulls in 7.
(3) Celtics over (6) Hawks in 5.
(5) Nets over (4) Pacers in 6.

Western Conference Semi-finals
(1) Thunder over (4) Spurs in 7.
(3) Nuggets over (2) Lakers in 7.

Easter Conference Semi-finals
(1) Heat over (5) Nets in 5.
(3) Celtics over (2) Knicks in 6.

Western Conference Finals
(1) Thunder over (3) Nuggets in 6.

Eastern Conference Finals
(1) Heat over (3) Celtics in 7.

NBA Finals Heat over Thunder in 7

Tommy Randolph