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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Mike Bradley: The Week That Was - NFL Week 1

It's an event that needs no introduction. The first week of the NFL schedule came and passed, with the usual fanfare that comes with the beginning of the sacred season. With old faces in new places, injured superstars making triumphant returns, healthy superstars making early exits, and 30 teams (not counting the Rams or Lions, for obvious reasons) beginning their quest for the Lombardi Trophy, Standing Room Only reflects on all the action from Week One.

Quarterback Debuts
Of the quarterbacks making debuts with their new teams, the best performance belonged to rookie Mark Sanchez of the Jets. The confidence of the young man was evident as he threw for 272 yards and a touchdown, leading a balanced effort in an easy win
on the road in Houston. Fellow rookie Matthew Stafford wasn't as fortunate, having to endure a blowout loss at the hands of Drew Brees and the Saints. What's even more troubling might be the 3 INTs Stafford threw against what is widely considered an underwhelming secondary in New Orleans. There is clearly potential in his big arm. The Lions just might have to wait a little while for the potential to be realized. Stafford wasn't alone in the INT department however, as Jay Cutler did nothing to excite Bears fans eager to see their new "stud" lead their team to the promised land. After a 4 INT performance against the hated Packers, Cutler has a lot of work to do to win over the good graces of the rugged Bears faithful. Meanwhile, back in Denver, Josh McDaniels obviously has more work to do than he originally thought. If you erase the miracle 87-yard game-winning TD, Kyle Orton threw for an unimpressive 156 yards against a pitiful Bengals squad, reminding fans of a poor man's Brian Griese. Enough said. And finally, some Brett Favre guy made his debut for the Vikings. In a lame duck effort that was upstaged by an Adrian Peterson explosion, Favre threw for slightly over 100 yards and a dramatically over-celebrated TD pass to rookie Percy Harvin. But at this point, who cares about Favre outside of Minnesota?

Early Injury Bug
One of the dominant topics of week one was the plethora of injuries across the league. In the league's opening game, the Steelers lost s
tar ballhawk Troy Polamalu for a few weeks due to a knee injury (Watch out, Fitz. The Madden Curse is coming for you!). If the injury lasts longer than 3-4 weeks, the Steelers may be in some trouble. However, the Steelers aren't in as much trouble as the Bears, who lost beast MLB Brian Urlacher for the entire season. It's one thing to lose your star for a few weeks, but the Bears now have to move forward without the quarterback of their defense. The Patriots also lost the centerpiece of their defense when Jerod Mayo went down with a Grade 3 MCL sprain, which is of the severe variety. Standout linebacker Paul Posluszny was lost to a broken arm, leaving the Bills a man down as well. Injuries were almost too popular, so in a quick roundup, Donovan McNabb broke a rib, LaDainian Tomlinson rolled an ankle, Anthony Gonzalez suffered a knee injury, and Shawn Andrews reaffirmed himself as the softest lineman in the NFL by being placed on the IR yet again. I wonder who's next this week?

B-East Defenses
Defense was everywhere in Week One, from an 8-turnover effort from the Eagles to a dominant Giants defensively line reaffirming themselves as the class of the league at rushing the passer. Sheldon Brown, Asante Samuel, and company knocked Panthers QB Jake Delhomme out of the game with 5 INTs, the front 7 forced fumbles, they scored a touchdown, and the return game looked fabulous in executing an 85-yard punt return by DeSean Jackson. Osi Umenyiora was back and Justin Tuck looked ready to wreak havoc all year long in an impressive showing against the Redskins. Once again, the NFC East is shaping up to be another great battle.

Best of the Rest
The Raiders looked good in losing a heartbreaker to San Diego. Russell is on his way, Louis Murphy might outplay Darrius Heyward-Bey, and Michael Bush will overtake Darren McFadden as lead ballcarrier at some point in the season in Reggie Bush-Deuce McAllister type move....You can't write off LT until he plays healthy, although Darren Sproles looks to be the present, as well as the future, feature back of the Chargers....Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco both avoided the sophomore slump in Week One, looking incredibly comfortable in their respective offenses entering their second seasons....Drew Brees may finish the season as the best QB in the league....Kurt Warner looks OLD. Matt Leinart, anyone?....Aaron Rodgers and Greg Jennings are scary good....The Rams may not win a game this year.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Evan Heffron: The Good, The Bad, and The Really Ugly- Opening Week in College Football

Its back. The tailgates, the band, the triple option, the atmosphere, the upsets, the powerhouses the excitement, the...... errrr...... right hooks? Nevertheless, whatever it is I love it. College football is here again and for the next 4 months this nation will be completely enthralled with the every movement of these 18-22 year old amateurs, and oh boy did these kids deliver the past few days. Now, for the first time in a few months, Standing Room Only is going to round up the weekend that was in college football.


-For Big East proponents, you have to love Cinci's drubbing of Rutgers on the road. This team seems to be even stronger than last year's BCS representative. Now, hopefully for the Big East, the Bearcats led by Tony Pike can run the table and give the ACC champ a run for their money.
- Notre Dame and Michigan both convincingly won their week one match up, setting the stage for a huge game for both teams in week two. Gotta think that Rich Rod and Charlie both need this win to keep their backsides' off the hot seat for another week. This will make for a great physical game, and even more so a can't-miss coaching match up.

- BYU's comeback was bolstered by a devastating pile-driver to Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford in the first half, but that doesn't down play quarterback Max Hall's heroics in the fourth quarter. This guy led his team down the field to barely take the lead on the third ranked team in all the land. It should be exciting how this team handles the rest of their not so easy Mountain West schedule.


- Really, Ohio State? Conceding an 85 yard touchdown pass to Navy? Yeah, It's true. Navy went into Columbus and gave the Buckeyes a real run for their money. Jim Tressel can't be too thrilled with the 31-27 squeaker mostly because the Trojans will be in town next Saturday night. There's no time to regroup against an FCS team this year, they will host USC and I just don't believe Ohio State has the fire power to fend off a much superior USC squad. Look for the Trojans to roll through Colombus by a large margin.

- Greg Paulus was managing the game, running the offense crisply, and not making any glaring mistakes until..... the game was actually in his hands. An errant pick in overtime sealed the fate for the Orange against Minnesota. It looked as if Paulus was trying to pull his best 2004 Mike Vick impression untill he forced the ball into a cluster of defenders in the end zone to end the offensive possesion, and ultimately the game. As of now, Paulus is the key for Syracuse football this season. He is going to have to do more than just manage the game to propel this group of players into bowl contention.

- West Virginia Giving up 20 points to Liberty. Enough said. Time for the big boys of the Big East to start stepping up before the Moutain West takes your BCS bid.


- Oh my did LaGarrette Blount earn this spot. The right hook that the Oregon running back landed on Boise State defender Bryan Hout was probably one of the most immature things I have ever seen, but hey, at least he had nice form on the hay maker. Would have made Joe Frazier proud. On a more serious note, The actions of Blount post-game may have just cost the Ducks their season. This team was destined to give USC a run for their money out west in the PAC-10, but all hopes of that seem to be grounded for the time being. It will be interesting to see how QB Jeremiah Masoli rounds up the troops and responds to this awful mess in Eugene.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Mike Bradley: NBA Mock Draft Version 1.0

1. Los Angeles Clippers - Blake  Griffin, F, Oklahoma
Already a foregone conclusion, Griffin's outstanding skill set will be on display in glamorous Los Angeles. Now all he needs is Mike Dunleavy fired, competent ownership to take over for Donald Sterling, and a little help from the man upstairs. 

2. Memphis Grizzlies - Hasheem Thabeet, C, Connecticut
Already equipped with capable scorers O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay, along with rising star point guard Mike Conley, all the Grizzlies are missing is a big man and some depth. Enter Thabeet, the skyscraping 7'3" shot blocking machine from Tanzania. While Marc Gasol played admirably in his rookie season, a proven rebounder and defender like Thabeet would do wonders for this young team.

*TRADE* OKC trades #3 pick to Golden State for #7 pick and future compensation
3. Golden State Warriors - Ricky Rubio, PG, Spain
This Spanish sensation has garnered comparisons to anyone from Pistol Pete Maravich to Jason Kidd, and the buzz is surely warranted. After a stellar campaign in the Olympics, this 18 year old prodigy can step right in and guide a Golden State team oozing with athletic potential.

4. Sacramento Kings - Tyreke Evans, PG/SG, Memphis
With Rubio gone, and a clear need at the point, the Kings make a slight reach and grab the combo guard out of Memphis. Evans started slow for the Tigers, but really gained steam after his move to playing the point full time. With a roster featuring Kevin Martin and not much else, Evans can come in and be the spotlight player that he loves to be.

5. Washington Wizards - James Harden, SG, Arizona State
A playoff-caliber roster that fell on some tough luck and injuries (see: Arenas, Gilbert), this draft position is a gift from the gods. Pairing a scoring stud like Harden with the likes of Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, and a healthy Gilbert Arenas could be a lethal recipe for lots of 100-point nights for the Wizards in '09-'10.

6. Minnesota Timberwolves - Brandon Jennings, PG, Lottomatica Roma
While the experiment with one ex-prep superstar has seemingly failed (Sebastian Telfair), the T-Wolves still have a glaring need at the point and the best available point is prep-to-international pro Brandon Jennings. While much of his hype came from his decision to skip college and play a year in Europe, the skills are there. A gifted shooter, crisp passer, and commanding floor presence should give Minnesota the man they need to feed star players Al Jefferson and Randy Foye.

7. Oklahoma City Thunder - Stephen Curry, PG/SG, Davidson
By trading down, the Thunder get the 2-guard they want in the sweet-shooting Curry. By taking the combo guard, the Thunder have the luxury of playing both Curry and 2nd year man Russell Westbrook at the same time and splitting the point guard duties evenly. With this pick, the Thunder are one big man away from a legitimate playoff run. 

8. New York Knicks - Demar DeRozan, SG/SF, USC
With the selection of Curry by Oklahoma City, the Knicks are forced to go to the next guy on their board. A physical clone of Kobe Bryant, DeRozan should bring the toughness and physicality that the Knicks need. Even following a less-than-stellar freshman campaign at USC, DeRozan's pure ability and NBA-ready body will be enough to tantalize the New York front office.

9. Toronto Raptors - Jordan Hill, PF, Arizona
While it's not a need for the Raptors, Hill is too much of a talent to pass up this late in the draft. With the ability to slide 7-footer Andrea Bargnani to the 3 and Chris Bosh to the center position, Toronto should have no trouble finding playing time for this rebounding machine.

10. Milwaukee Bucks - Jrue Holiday, PG/SG, UCLA
With Ramon Sessions' future up in the air, the Bucks need to select one of the point guards in this draft in preparation for the return of Michael Redd. With the pick of Holiday, the Bucks solve the issue at the point while also gaining a player skilled enough to play shooting guard while Redd is on the bench. Versatility is the theme of this year's draft, and Holiday has just that. 

11. New Jersey Nets - DeJuan Blair, PF, Pittsburgh
With the Yi experiment looking like a bust, the Nets need to provided rookie sensation Brook Lopez with some help in the post. Blair's big body and soft hands should provide a perfect compliment to the long Lopez. With both of them on the court at the same time, look for the Nets to dominate the boards on both ends of the court.

12. Charlotte Bobcats - Gerald Henderson, SG, Duke
One of the most improved players in all of college is reward for his play by getting to suit up for MJ's team. With a nucleus in place with Okafor, Gerald Wallace, and the combo of Ray Felton and D.J. Augustin, the slashing style of Gerald Henderson would fit perfectly into the hole the Bobcats have at the shooting guard position.

13. Indiana Pacers - Jonny Flynn, PG, Syracuse
One of the highest risers on draft boards since his 6OT performance against UConn in the Big East Tournament, the Energizer bunny that is Jonny Flynn is exactly the kind of player Larry Legend loves. A proven leader with outstanding speed, control, and ability, Flynn is the prototypical point guard in all aspects of the position. He is a consistent outside jump shot away from being an all around threat, but the Pacers will take him just as he is right now. Danny Granger should send a thank you note to each GM in front of the Pacers for allowing this godsend fall into his lap.

14. Phoenix Suns - Austin Daye, F, Gonzaga
In a draft with little superstar power, the Suns steal one of the most skilled players in the draft with the 14th pick. Daye showed flashes of brilliance during his days at Gonzaga, and he projects to be a do-it-all forward at the next level (a la Shawn Marion, ironically enough). After many years of selling first rounders, the Suns can be happy with keeping this pick.

15. Detroit Pistons - James Johnson, PF, Wake Forest
In a strange position, the Pistons find themselves selecting in the middle of the first round. With an aging nucleus, look for the Pistons to start building a foundation for the future. The pick of Johnson gives the Pistons a versatile forward with a lottery-worthy skill set to pair up with point guard Rodney Stuckey and fellow forward Jason Maxiell for the future.

16. Chicago Bulls - Earl Clark, F, Louisville
A team littered with young talent, fresh off an impressive playoff series, finds themselves with two first round picks to build upon an already outstanding foundation. While Clark has always had character flaws, his talent would be too much to pass up at this point in the draft. His size (6'9") and his versatility will allow him to find playing time at some position with the Baby Bulls. Look for a lot of Rose-to-Clark alley oops in the coming season.

17. Philadelphia 76ers - Eric Maynor, PG, VCU
With the departure of Andre Miller seemingly inevitable, the Sixers will be looking to add a young point guard to their stable of youthful wings. A proven leader and winner, Maynor is a perfect fit for these Sixers. His ability to control a team and lead them to victory should mesh perfectly with the athletic Thaddeus Young and the budding superstar Andre Iguodala. His size, scoring, and defense are all perfect to replace a steady vet like Miller.

18. Minnesota Timberwolves - Terrence Williams, SG/SF, Louisville
After solving the PG problem with Jennings earlier in the first round, the Timberwolves snag the multitalented Williams to share time at the 3 with Ryan Gomes (who is better suited as a 6th man). His length and talent should fit in nicely with the young nucleus of Jefferson, Foye, Jennings, and Kevin Love.

19. Atlanta Hawks - Ty Lawson, PG, North Carolina
Mike Bibby isn't getting any younger, and Lawson is the perfect heir to his starting spot. Bibby can take Lawson under his wing and teach him how to run a team, while Lawson still gets his ears wet pushing the tempo with the likes of Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, and Marvin Williams. This team should be fun to watch when Lawson is at the helm.

20. Utah Jazz - B.J. Mullens, C, Ohio State
A much better prospect than fellow Buckeye Kosta Koufos, Mullens is a lottery-type talent that needed to leave school early for financial reasons. With Carlos Boozer on his way out, Mullens fills the need for size with that departure while also providing Jerry Sloan with a solid young center to groom into the starting spot.

21. New Orleans Hornets - Jeff Teague, PG/SG, Wake Forest
At face value, this looks like a wasted pick. Chris Paul is still the best point guard in basketball, but he isn't superman. A few minutes of rest here and there would be good for him, and Teague is more than capable of filling in. His scoring ability would also allow the Hornets to use him as a shooting guard from time to time in a small, speedy lineup. This tandem out of Wake Forest should be keeping defenses on their toes for years to come.

22. Dallas Mavericks - Tyler Hansbrough, PF, North Carolina
The knock on the Mavericks has always been the fact that they're a soft team. Any time your best player is a 7-foot finesse player from Europe, you are surely going to hear these types of statements being made. While a guard is more in the realm of what the Mavs need, it would be hard to pass up the hard-nosed Hansbrough at this point in the draft. While his athleticism leaves much to be desired, his effort, toughness, and tenacity can never be questioned. This late in the first round, a consistent double-double threat off the bench is more than justifiable. 

23. Sacramento Kings - Sam Young, F, Pittsburgh
The worst team in the league inevitably has a lot of holes to fill. While Francisco Garcia did in admirable job as a starter, he was slightly in over his had. Enter Young, an ultra-athletic do-it-all forward that can play either the 3 or the 4. With Sacramento also shopping one of their bigs (Jason Thompson or Spencer Hawes), the versatility of Young also factors into this choice.

24. Portland Trailblazers - Chase Budinger, SG/SF, Arizona
One of the best fits in the draft, the young talent in Portland will get a little bit deeper. While Budinger never truly tapped his true potential with Arizona, he is a super athletic wing with shooting ability. Matching him with Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Rudy Fernandez would create matchup problems all over the floor. These aren't your daddy's JailBlazers.

25. Oklahoma City Thunder - Gani Lawal, PF/C, Georgia Tech
While his 6'8" frame doesn't scream "prototypical NBA center," his 7'0" wingspan and freakish athleticism should be enough to dethrone the immortal tandem of Nenad Krstic and Nick Collison. While he projects as more of a 4 throughout his career, Lawal would be an absolute steal for the suddenly potent Thunder. 

26. Chicago Bulls - Marcus Thornton, SG, LSU
While their chief priority this offseason is to lock up Ben Gordon to a long-term deal, the Bulls still snatch up some insurance at the 2 by taking pure scorer Marcus Thornton. His ability to carry a fring-average team like the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament speaks volumes about his leadership and winning mentality. Matching him with Derrick Rose for the next 10 years would be mighty appealing for the Baby Bulls.

27. Memphis Grizzlies - Patrick Mills, PG, St. Mary's
Despite the emergence of Mike Conley as a solid starting point guard, depth never hurt anyone. Mills contributions to a previously-irrelevant St. Mary's club cannot be dismissed. Add to that an impressive showing on an equally-forgettable Australian national team, and it's easy to see the talent oozing from this guard from down under.

28. Minnesota Timberwolves - DaJuan Summers, F, Georgetown
With their third pick of the first round, the Timberwolves should look to add even more size to their front court. Summers fits that bill. An all-around talent for the Hoyas for his whole career, Summers can take his time learning the ropes in the NBA while providing a breather for the likes of Jefferson and Love.

29. Los Angeles Lakers - Darren Collison, PG, UCLA
Derek Fisher is on his last legs and pairing Jordan Farmar with another solid UCLA point could be a recipe for success. Collison's defensive ability and winning mentality would fit in perfectly in a tandem with the offensively adept Farmar. Keeping the Rancho Cucamonga-native in California should only keep him happier.

30. Cleveland Cavaliers - Omri Casspi, F, Israel
The best team in the league still needs to build around the best player in the league. Casspi might be a bit of a project, but Casspi has made steady progress in each of his years in the Iraeli league. Fitting the 6'8" forward with LeBron shouldn't be too much of a problem, and there isn't much left at this point in the draft as far as first round talent.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Mike Bradley: Devendorf Syndrome: Players We Love To Hate

We are all guilty of it. No matter the sport, everyone has a player they simply love to hate. The trend can probably be traced back to its roots when Ty Cobb was the polarizing, racist, cheap, standoffish star that drew the ire of the country. Since Cobb's villain routine in the early 1990s, many other American athletes have taken his path (whether they wanted to or not). The player who draws boos wherever he plays; The guy who knows how to push the buttons of the average fan; The prima donna who simply has no time for the media or his devoted fans; Even the star that time and again sticks the dagger through the hearts of your favorite teams. They come in all shapes and sizes, but the amount of hatred felt towards them remains constant. With Laettner, Redick, Noah, and Hansbrough on the short list of the crowded college basketball hate wagon, the other sports don't get their due. So without further ado, Standing Room Only presents to you some of the most loathed active athletes in the other major sports. I look forward to the hate mail and the additions to the list I'm sure you will all provide me.


1. Alex Rodriguez - The biggest forgone conclusion on this list, A-Fraud has siphoned absurd amounts of money from his team while returning the favor with stellar regular seasons and more-than-forgettable postseason debacles. But thank God for his brand-new 10-year, $275 million contract. God only knows how he'd pay for his divorce, child support, and his next secret rendevouz with Madonna on his old, $252 million deal. 

2. Derek Jeter - No, this isn't a Yankee bias. Yes, many people do love Jeter. No, you can't find any of those people outside of New York City. In his younger days, Jeter probably deserved the praise he was given. However, its 2009, not 1999. "Mr. November" hasn't been playing in November (or late October, for that matter) since 2003. He's slower, his masterful glove work is no more, and he's not as reliable as the New York faithful would like to believe. He's the heartbeat of the most hated team in the sport, and you can bet it pleases more than a few people that this heart is starting to have a few clogged arteries.

3. Francisco Rodriguez - In my defense, K-Rod would have made this list even if he was still an Angel. If you put any other top closer in a position to save 70 games, chances are they would be able to save 60+ of them. The only difference is they would do so with much more class. If you're a major league pitcher, you should be able to strike out a batter from time to time. A slight fist pump or an acknowledgment to the man upstairs is justified, but what Rodriguez seems to do after each "big" strikeout is just unnecessary. Jumping off the mound, exaggerated fist pumps, battle cries, and general showmanship are all staples in K-Rod's classless routine. Add to that his brand new contract and his new residence in New York City, and you have a recipe for a big, boiling pot of hatred.

Dishonorable Mention: A.J. Pierzynski, Manny Ramirez, Pedro Martinez, Ken Griffey, Jr. (Just kidding.)

1. Terrell Owens - Coming in 2nd in a photo finish with A-Rod for the overall Hated Championship is Mr. Terrell Owens. He insinuated his quarterback was gay while in San Francisco. He called his quarterback a choke artist in Philadelphia. He manufactured a sob session about his quarterback in Dallas. And he now has his third and possibly final "fresh start" with Trent Edwards and Buffalo. His reputation really precedes him, making anything I say either unnecessary or redundant (or both). So I'll just wait and see what the next chapter holds in the tragic comedy that is Terrell Owens' career.

2. Tom Brady - Three Super Bowls. GQ covers. Supermodel wife. How could anyone NOT hate this man? Bernard Pollard did what millions of people across the country wish they could have done when he tore up Brady's knee in the first game of the season. But, sure enough, even a year away from the game couldn't get Brady out of the limelight. From hour-by-hour rehab updates to wedding plans to the Cassel Controversy, the country got more news on Tom Terrific than they probably would have had he played the whole year. No one loves a sore loser, but a sore winner is even worse. Here's to hoping Brady's knee is never the same again.

3. Philip Rivers - Has anyone who has done so little ever been so cocky? A few playoff runs don't give you the right to do what Rivers does on a daily basis. His numbers are nice and the Pro Bowl nods are admirable, but running onto the field to taunt a dejected Jay Cutler epitomizes what kind of person Rivers is. It's hard to imagine all those numbers looking as good without LaDanian Tomlinson causing defenses to load the box and allowing Rivers to dump short passes over the middle to Antonio Gates. But the hatred for Rivers lies not in his numbers or his skill, but in how he carries himself as a person. Until he grows up, he will never mature into the quarterback he should be. And until that happens, there will always be a plethora of haters.

Dishonorable Mention: Ray Lewis, Shawn Merriman, Tony Romo, Chad Ocho Cinco


1. Kobe Bryant - No player draws the ire of opposing fans more than Kobe Bryant. His tenacity and his effortless ability to put the ball in the hoop are envious assets. Much of the hatred is rooted in his ability on the court. But he is equally hated for his issues off the court. Rape trials disappearing, throwing teammates and coaches under the bus, a general standoffish attitude, and the ludicrous Jordan comparisons have made Bryant one of the most polarizing figures in sports. Until he wins a title "on his own," both fans and Shaquille O'Neal will be content rooting against Black Mamba.

2. Ron Artest - Brawler, Technical Foul Extraordinaire, Rapper, Solid Basketball Player. That is most likely the order that Ron-Ron has gained his notoriety from in the eye of the public. From the Brawl at the Palace, to his uninspiring solo rap career, to his constant jawing on the court, Artest is about as likable as a case of gonorrhea. Despite his tenacious perimeter defense and steady scoring output, Artest has had a hard time avoiding the boo birds at any of his stops around the league. At least he can take in solace in the fact that he definitely got the better of that fan in Detroit.

3. Rasheed Wallace - The only man in the NBA who could out-talk Artest is Rasheed Wallace. The Walking Technical is a favorite amongst the referees of the league and the fans alike. Outside of Detroit, 'Sheed and his white spot of hair are the constant butt of jokes, jeers, and general disdain. With a South Philly background off the court to match his gritty style on the court, Wallace doesn't have much wiggle room in the court of public opinion.

Dishonorable Mention: Stephon Marbury, Gilbert Arenas, Nate Robinson


1. Sean Avery - From his fight-provoking on-ice antics to his off-ice callouts, Avery knows exactly what to do to get on a person's bad side. From the goofy looking glasses he sports to the little mohawk he occasionally sports, Avery even makes his appearance compatible to hatred. All I know is I'll be sure to avoid his "sloppy seconds." I wouldn't want a public airing-out like the one Dion Phaneuf received (Even though Elisha Cuthbert is smoking hot).

2. Sidney Crosby - While much of is haters simply hate his pure skill, his constant whining, nagging injuries, and "golden boy" aura certainly don't help things. You either love this guy or you hate him. Donned The Next Gretzky since his days in the junior leagues in Canada, Crosby has been coddled from day one. And no one likes an athlete that was fed with a golden spoon in his mouth.

3. Alexander Ovechkin - Much like Crosby, you either love Ovie, or you hate his guts. One of the best pure scorers to come along in quite a while, Ovechkin has made the Capitals relevant. The manner in which has gone about it, however, has drawn some criticism. The NHL isn't the NFL, and the league expects their plays to exemplify the "tough grinder" image that has always been associated with the sport. However, Ovechkin's "Stick on Fire" goal celebration was the closest the NHL has gotten to a Randy Moss-esque controversy. With his undeniable skill comes an equally undeniable ego. With a long future ahead of both him and Crosby, expect a lot more fireworks to come from this loathsome duo.

Dishonorable Mention: Martin Brodeur, Gary Bettman

Worst of the Rest

1. David Beckham - Supermodel good looks. Supermodel Wife. Illustrious European Career. Incomprehensibly large contract. David Beckham is an A-Rod/Brady hybrid. What makes it worse is that he plays a sport that this country couldn't care less about, making his absurd salary that much more anger-inducing. 

2. Tim Tebow - He's won two national champions. He's a Heisman Winner. He's gone on missionaries to underprivileged countries. And rumor has it he's solved world hunger, cured AIDs, and ended gang violence. Long story short, the quintessential Golden Boy is perfect enough to make any non-Gators fan sick to their stomach. I can hardly wait for his 2 year NFL stint before his inevitable concussion problems. 

3. Tony Stewart - Not that I'm well-versed in things NASCAR, but I do know Tony Stewart defines the term diva in the racing circle. Add to that his god awful Old Spice commercial, and it's enough for even a non-racing fan to hate his guts. *

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Evan Heffron: The 10 Most Intimidating Places to Play in American Sports

In American sports, the "home-field advantage" has always played some sort of a role in every meaningful game since the beginning of organized athletics. Deafening noise, personal taunts from 20,000 people, and D-batteries being packed into snowballs all have had their place in the history of sports. These venue and crowd related events that happen during the course of a game almost seem to gather more mystique than the games themselves. Being a huge sports fan myself, I like to believe I add to the legend of what is happening on the field in front of me when i attend a sporting event. Some athletes claim the crowds and venues don't phase them. Some openly admit they couldn't hear themselves think. Whatever the actuality of the situation is, the home-field advantage is something that connects fans with their players, and can set the stage for some of the most intense and passionate competition that modern sport has to offer.

Having said that, Standing Room Only will throw you the 10 most intimidating places to play from the past and the present, in all of the USA. Please leave your opinions/criticisms under the comment section!

Honorable mentions- Madison Square Garden, New York Knicks/New York Rangers ; Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City Cheifs; Fenway Park, Boston Red Sox; Olypmia Arena, Detroit Red Wings

10. The Pit, University of New Mexico Basketball
- This place in my mind is one of the most underrated venues anywhere in the country. The UNM Lobos call this place home and for their sake thankfully so. The way this 18,000 seat arena is arranged is intimidating because of the way it is built. The seating cascades almost directly on top of the court creating a very claustrophobic feeling for the players, hence the name "The Pit". The Pit has recorded the highest decibel mark (118) out of any college basketball venue in the country. The decibel level of 118 is just shy of the Threshold of Pain (125), so its easy to see why this is a hard place to play.
9. Yankee Stadium, New York Yankees
- I went to a Yankee game for the first time this past fall, and was quickly introduced to "The Bleacher Creatures". These guys are absolutely nuts. Between the Creatures' Roll Call, The storied history of the park, and the alleged supernatural presence that once floated around in dead center field, I was extremely overwhelmed. At the time, the Yanks were in 3rd place. I couldn't even begin to imagine what postseason ball would be like inside the House that Ruth Built. Anyone who is around my age very vividly remembers 60,000 obnoxious, drunken New Yorkers chanting "Who's Your Daddy?" to the fireballer Pedro Martinez in the ALCS. Legend after legend seems to surface these days every since the move across the street. It's a shame this place is gone because it was one of a kind.
8. Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia Eagles, Philadelphia Phillies
- Yea this place was nasty. Hell, the bathrooms were scary. Between the batteries thrown at JD Drew, snowballs flung at Jimmie Johnson, cheers aimed towards Michael Irving's serious neck injury, this place never seemed to amaze me. The fake "AstroTurf" was the career ender and ACL tearer for many, and was actually the culprit behind the cancellation of a preseason football game after the surface was deemed "unplayable". I've seemed some nasty fights up in the 700 Level which was later dubbed, "The Nest Of Death". Just like i mentioned about the drunk New Yorkers, a crazy picture comes to mind when one adds beer, South Philly, concrete, and at the time the league's only in-stadium courthouse. You get the picture. A physically painful playing surface and a loud passionate fanbase for football and baseball provided a very intimidating environment for the away team.
7. Cameron Indoor Gymnasium, Duke University Basketball -Maybe the most recognizable student section in all of college basketball, The Cameron Crazies always seemed to gain acknowledgement from the opposing team. The intensity of chants, taunts, and cheers throughout the entire course of the game shows how crazy these people are about their basketball. Not to mention, the team isn't that bad either. This place can be a house of horrors for some teams once they start to loose their composure. With the Crazies seated directly on top of the court in the first twenty rows or so the 'in your face' nature of this student section makes it unique. Thousands of college kids jumping and chanting the entire game is something that can only be rivaled by some hardcore fan groups in Europe. If you haven't watched a Duke game in a while, watch it. Just watching the crazies for a few minutes will get anyone pumped up.
6. Neyland Stadium, University of Tennesse Football
-"Old Rocky Top, you'll always be home sweet ho0ome to meEEe.."; Arguably the most recognizable fight song in all of college football can be heard on saturdays in the fall being sung by 107,000 plus. The magic of this moment is amazing, showing the unity of the UT football family. The thunderous orange and white pomp-pomp waving Volunteer Faithful having going strong since 1921, providing for one of the loudest decibel levels in the SEC. Not to mention the National Championships and SEC titles, many former SEC opponents acknowledge that Neyland was one of the wildest places they have ever played. I'll leave you with a quote from former Cal QB Nate Longshore about his trip to Neyland; "It's static noise. You can't hear anything. You go up and down the line, your wide receivers, your running backs, your tight ends, nobody can hear. Nobody."
5. The Big House/ The Horse Shoe, Michigan/Ohio State Football
-These two stadiums are almost as incredible as the rivalry that exist between the universities. They are almost virtually inseparable because of the rich history and famous players that have stepped on both fields. The mystique of the Horseshoe and the Big House have grown over the years, mainly because of the big-time games being played during the last game of the season. Michigan- Ohio State is usually always a big game regardless of each team win totals, but in recent decades the final game of the season has decided which Big 10 team would be given the ever-prestigious Rose Bowl bid. Aside from what rides on the game, each stadium produces some of the loudest student sections in the country. Just for an idea of how loud each one of these monstrous structures can get, here are the numbers for the Shoe and the House. The Big House right now can hold 106,201 people, and by 2010 it will be able to hold 108,000. Likewise, the Horseshoe in Columbus holds 102,329. Either way you look at it, the National Championships, the rivalries, the die-hard fanbases, and the school pride make both the homes of the Wolverines and Buckeyes two of the most intimidating places to play in the country.
4. Lambeau Field, Green Bay Packers
-The Frozen Tundra. The Lambeau Leap. The Cheese Head. Maybe the smallest market in the NFL, the fan support during Green Bay Packers games go unrivaled in the NFL. The football history that has passed through Brett's House could take up its own big room in Canton. One usually doesn't see this undying passion among NFL fans, but in Green Bay, the city owns the team. The love for the Packers can be illustrated by the shirtless fans in subzero wind chills, the consecutive sell-out streak, and the 610,00 person waiting list for season tickets. The weather in Green Bay also is another deterrent for opposing teams. The epic "Ice Bowl" was played here against the Dallas Cowboys in record lows for the area. The Frozen Tundra will always be thought of as the last place a team wants to play on the road in December and January because of the crowd noise and infamous low temperatures.
3. Ben Hill Griffin Stadium "The Swamp", University of Florida Football
-The 91,000+ crowd at UF games is something incredible. With 100+ degree temperatures at kick off, dehydration, drunk southerners, and Tim Tebow running your ass over, it's hard to imagine any opposing player actually enjoying his 60 minute stay at The Swamp. The legend of Gatorade has passed through this field, along with National Titles and impressive win totals. Opposing teams simply don't win here. Since 1990, the Gators are 95-7 at home and that total is sure to be built on next season. One of my favorite traditions in college football happens here. At the end of the third quarter, the Florida faithful lock arms and sway from row to row singing "We Are the Boys from Old Florida". This shows the the unity of the blue clad student section and the unity as a whole of the entire Gator community. CHOMP!
2. The Boston Garden, Boston Celtics/ Boston Bruins
-I remember being a young kid watching the replays of the epic LA vs. Boston series's on ESPN and being scared because the camera focused in on a guy in the Garden who had a fake Magic Johnson hanging by a noose over the upper level. The ferocity and noise in the place seemed almost as legendary as the rich history that took place on the hardwood of the Garden. I mean come on now, If I saw a replica of myself dangling from a noose I would be shaken by the simulated death of me. The passion that flowed from the Boston faithful for decades seemed to be a constant in every championship run the Celtics made from the Garden's creation in 1928 until the destruction of the Garden. Yes, and let's not forget about the Bruins. The NHL flat out hated this place. The rink was 9 feet to small for regulation NHL size, talk about a funky place to play on the road. Also, since there was no air conditioning in the place, during Bruins games a misty fog would sprawl over the ice creating strange aura to the game. 95+ degree heat during the 1984 NBA finals, the nooses, the passion, the hate; All these elements made me respect this place tremendously.
1. Beaver Stadium, Penn State University Football
-WE ARE.....PENN STATE....WE ARE......PENN STATE....THANK YOU......YOUR WELCOME! The tradition that oozes out of Happy Valley on gameday in my opinion is unrivaled in American Sports. the 110,00o plus people on gameday make Beaver Stadium the largest in North America. The student section for Penn State has been noted by ESPN as being the loudest and most passionate around the country. Penn State's Annual "White Out" game is one of the most visually incredible things in all of American sports. To see the endless sea of white in the crowd must be a very dwarfing feeling to opposing players. The humongous confines of Beaver Stadium make this a house of horrors for opposing players. Most notably the first "white out" in a game in 2005 against heavily favorite Ohio State, OSU QB Troy Smith had repeated delay of game penalties and premature timeouts because the rest of the team could not hear his cadences and audibles. The miscues eventually gave PSU a historic 17-10 win. Overall, this place is incredible in every aspect. Its more than a football team out there in PA, its a way of life, and it most defiantly shows through on Saturdays.*

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Evan Heffron: 5 Things I Hate & Love About NFL Free Agency

The NFL Playoffs are a unique thing to the world. It's do or die every week. This system provides for some of the most passionate competition any sport has to offer. One would think that because of the emotion, comradery, and unity shown through the teams and fan bases throughout the regular and post seasons, there would be more loyalty between teams, the players, and the fans. REALITY CHECK: MARCH 1st CHANGES EVERYTHING!

Now, Here are 5 things Standing Room Only hates about the NFL Free Agency Period


1. We have to hear Jerry Jones speak.

2. Reggie White, Ray Lewis, Brian Dawkins, and Brett Favre would actually consider playing for another team.

3. Someone thought it was a good idea to give Nate Clements 80 Million dollars.

4. March 1st still means we're far from the draft.

5. My favorite team's organization never, ever, does anything right.

Yes I know. I'm being a real party pooper with all this whining. But hey, I am fan. Anything that will keep my attention towards football in the offseason deserves some props! Now, here are 5 things Standing Room Only loves about the Free Agency period.


1. All the drama in the NFL distracts the public and takes us right to first pitch on opening day!

2. The illusion that my team will actually sign someone I've heard of.

3. I don't have to watch my NBA and College Basketball team lose anymore. I can sit on and wait for updates to pop up on my screen for the next 2 weeks.

4. There will be updated rosters in Madden 2010.

5. Someone is actually going to sign their name on the dotted line and receive a substantial amount of money for holding a football while someone kicks it. Hell Yeah, Koy Detmer. *

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Mike Bradley: AL West Preview

The AL West was so bad in 2008, the division was decided nearly a month before the season ended. And it wasn't even THAT close. The outright dominance of revived starter Ervin Santana and lefty Joe Saunders, coupled with new saves-record holder Francisco Rodriguez, helped the Los Angeles Angels finish 21 games in front of the second place Texas Rangers. While the division did boast the aforementioned best record in baseball, as well as a revived Rangers team, it's hard to see much more competition for the Angels this year. 

While the Angels are the only team truly worth mentioning, there are three other teams playing baseball in this division. The Rangers have a very bright future, led by prodigy-turned-druggy-turned-prodigy Josh Hamilton, 5-tool-stud Ian Kinsler, and super-slugger Chris Davis ready to bring Texas back from the dead. Meanwhile, the last two teams in the division are feeling nostalgic these days, with the Seattle Mariners' signing of Ken Griffey, Jr., and the Oakland Athletics' signing of Jason Giambi. Here are my projections for the 2009 MLB season in the AL West:

1. Los Angeles Angels 99-63

Despite the losses of Rodriguez, slugger Mark Teixeira, and 14-game winner Jon Garland, the Angels are in an enviable position. They are still the most talented team in a poor division. With a starting rotation consisting of three ace-quality starters (John Lackey, Saunders, and Santana), an established, young gun (Jered Weaver), and a stud prospect ready for the majors (Nick Adenhart), the Angels are head and shoulders above the AL West competition in the pitching department. With ex-Rockies closer Brian Fuentes prepared to take over the lucrative position of Angels' closer, as well as the set-up jobs held by flamethrower Jose Arrendondo and vet Scot Sheilds, there should be little drop off from the K-Rod days. If star Vladimir Guerrero can play like the 2007 model instead of the 2008 version, Bobby Abreu can provide stability to left field, and Chone Figgins and Howie Kendrick can stay healthy and get on base, the Angels should be able to cruise their September schedule with the division on lock. Look for X-Factors Mike Napoli and Kendry Morales to influence the early success of the team as the pitchers get back into the swing of things. The two young sluggers need to provide protection for Guerrero and Torii Hunter in order for the Angels to score their runs. Even if they don't, the Angels will still be in fine shape in 2009.

2. Texas Rangers 86-76
Everyone knows the story by now. Top Rays prospect falls into a life of drug addiction, gets suspended, resumes his career in Cincinnati, gets traded to Texas, takes the world by storm, puts on a show at the Home Run Derby, becomes a role model for anyone battling addiction, solves world hunger, brings peace to the Middle East, etc. Maybe the last two haven't happened yet, but I'm sure Rangers right fielder Josh Hamilton is working on it. His sensational first year in Texas ended in him leading the AL in RBI, but he did more than just drive in runs. His ability to overcome his adversities served as motivation for the rest of a usually-bottom-dwelling Rangers club. In turn, second baseman Ian Kinsler turned in an All-Star season, Michael Young performed at his consistent level, and the Rangers ever-so-closely to the .500 mark. With their incredibly stable of young catchers (Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Taylor Teagarden, and Max Ramirez) the anticipated debut of shortstop Elvis Andrus, and the expected progression of midseason call-up Chris Davis, the sky is the limit for the Rangers offense. And that is without mentioning up-and-coming left fielder David Murphy (a Nolan Ryan favorite) and minor league masher Nelson Cruz. Pitching is, of course, the problem in Texas. Since team president Nolan Ryan looks reluctant to come out of retirement, another year of Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla, and Scott Feldman headlining the rotation is less than appetizing. The bullpen is even less glamorous, with ex-chair hurler Frank Francisco leading an underwhelming group of relievers in the competition to be the Rangers closer. It's fair to see, if something drastic isn't done about this pitching corp in the near future, the Rangers may waste the best years of their offense. If only they could get someone to take one of their catchers *coughBostoncough*.

3. Oakland Athletics 84-78

Billy Beane has long been admired for his ability to stock pile young talent, develop that talent, and then trade it away for more young talent. Moneyball was the book that revolutionized the world of scouting and player development, and everyone can thank Beane for that. However, this offseason marked an incredible shift in Beane's offseason approach. In the biggest trade of the offseason, Beane packaged young pitchers Greg Smith and ex-closer Huston Street, along with top outfield prospect Carlos Gonzalez in a deal for Rockies slugger Matt Holliday. This surprising move was followed by the signing of aging slugger and former A's fan favorite Jason Giambi. While the out-of-character signings make the team better in the short term, it doesn't do enough to turn the team into contenders now. Holliday's home/road splits were disturbing as a Rockie, and moving into a pitcher's park like Oakland Coliseum is downright terrifying. With no idea as to how much ex-star Eric Chavez will give the team this year, the A's will have to rely on swing-or-miss slugger Jack Cust and right fielder Travis Snider for backup run support if Holliday and Giambi falter. Last season's emergence of n0w-ace Justin Duchscherer does little to calm to the worries of the Oakland faithful as far as the rotation goes. After Duchscherer, a combination of journeyman Dana Eveland and once-top prospects Sean Gallagher, Dallas Braden, and Gio Gonzalez look to be the next Mulder's, Hudson's, and Zito's of the organization. While ERA masters Joey Devine and Brad Ziegler look to replicate last year's performances, the team needs to have a lead in order to protect it. Unless two or more of the pitching prospects pans out, it might be a long year for the team in green and yellow.

4. Seattle Mariners 67-95

With all of the money tossed around the past few years, Seattle ownership had to be expect a little (OK, a lot) more than a 100 loss season and clubhouse turmoil. The team pulled the plug on the Richie Sexson disaster and appear on the verge of doing the same to the equally disappointing Adrian Beltre. However, the superstar causing the most trouble in the clubhouse (according to reports) is perennial 200-hit man Ichiro Suzuki. If the Mariners want to right the ship, the first step is fixing all the kinks. Whether that means trading the worldwide superstar or clearing the air and moving forward, no amount of rebuilding can fix disgruntled teammates. If nothing, Mariners fans can rejoice in the return of the golden child, Ken Griffey, Jr. The Kid is back in town, albeit slightly older and slightly rotund. With budding superstar Felix Hernandez and his blazing fastball keeping hope alive for the future, the sweet stroke of Griffey should be a nice distraction for the time being. The development of former closer Brandon Morrow into a starter will be one of the keys to this season, as well as the development of outfielders Wladimir Balentien and Franklin Gutierrez and catcher Jeff Clement. Aside from the few young players that can get some playing time, the Mariners to endure another year of highly-paid, underperforming pitchers Carlos Silva and Erik Bedard and catcher Kenji Johjima. But did I mention Junior is back?!

AL West MVP: Josh Hamilton

AL West Cy Young: Felix Hernandez

AL West Rookie of the Year: Nick Adenhart

AL West Diva of the Year: Ichiro Suzuki *

Evan Heffron: NL West Preview

The 2008 version of the NL West was appearing to shape up once again as a pretty mediocre division heading into the all-star break. As it was the case in years past, every team was still in "contention" for the division because of the very unimpressive records at the top of the division. Everything was dragging along normally for the West, but then, Mr.Ramirez came to town. The Dodgers consequently took the division and made a strong run to the NLCS. This success was mostly attributed to Manny's insane 53-game line of 17 HR's 53 RBI and a nice little .396 AVG. Ramirez's absolute tear was the driving force behind LA's run last year. Now, with Manny testing the free agent waters, this division is up for grabs in 09'. The rumored destinations for Ramirez have been noted as San Fransisco or LA. So with disregarding the Manny factor and analyzing the rosters for what they are right now, here are my 2009 NL West Predictions.

1. Los Angeles Dodgers 86-76

With or Without Manny, this lineup is stacked regardless. The Dodgers are young and have tons of athleticism. Role players Matt Kemp, Andre Eithier, and Russell Martin are all on the verge of becoming statistical leaders of this club. All three of these guys are five-tool studs that can change the complexion of a game in the field or at bat. SS Rafael Furcal was hampered by injury last year but if healthy in 09', he can serve as the contact spark at the top of the order. His fielding and throwing ability as well are elite. When it comes to pitching, Jonathan Broxton will anchor things in the 9th inning. His awesome regular season numbers as a set-up guy will translate well this season. As far as the rotation, losing Derek Lowe does hurt but there are enough up and comers to keep this staff in check. Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda, and super prospect Clayton Kershaw can all contribute in the up coming season and it will be much needed. This squad minus Manny could be potentially at a shortage for power, so consistent pitching will be needed in order to win those one run games.

2. Arizona Diamondbacks 85-77

In my opinion, this team has one of the best 1-2 punches at SP in the NL. 22 game winner Brandon Webb and K guy Dan Haren put out dominating performance after dominating performance last season. Prospect Max Scherzer is also projected to get innings either as a pen arm or in the starting rotation. Arizona's pitching seems to be in place but the real key to their success will be in the offense. Losing 40 HR guy Adam Dunn, along with role-player Orlando Hudson, will drastically change the complexion of the lineup. OF's Justin Upton and Chris B. Young will need to step up their batting averages in order to develop any substantial rallies in the regular season. Overall I like this team. I feel as if they are one crazy looking dread-locked man away from winning 90-95 games.

3. San Fransisco Giants 79-83

This team will make improvements from last season. Adding a veteran presence of Randy Johnson in with CY Young winner Tim Lincecum and fireballer Matt Cain will settle the young guys in to be even more successful in big spots. Lincecum, according to reports, is virtually unhittable in live pitching sessions in spring training thus far so it will be interesting to see if he can repeat the tremendous success he had last season. Rookie utility man Pablo Sandoval can play all over, and is bound provide support for Aaron Rowand and Fred Lewis in the lineup. The offense does not appear too threatening on paper, but the superior staff should help this team through rough spots in the schedule, and should ultimately lead to a better year than last year.

4. San Diego Padres 70-92

Adrian Gonzales is one of the most underrated players in the entire MLB. His consistent 30 HR 100 RBI seasons are all the more impressive because he has virtually no help or protection in the lineup and is playing in one of the most pitcher-oriented parks in the majors. Along with Gonzales, Jake Peavy is doing his fair share to carry the staff year to year. Peavy was injured last year so his numbers may not reflect his abilities but over the course of a full season it won't be surprising to see Peavy put up numbers in the realm of 220 K's and a sub 3 ERA. The one thing that was always a constant in San Diego was the closer spot. Trevor Hoffman year after year would post up 30 + save seasons like it was nothing. Now that he is a Brewer, the Padres will have a big hole to fill during spring training. I Like certain guys on the team, but in all reality I don't know if they have what it takes to contend this year.

5. Colorado Rockies 66-96

Even after losing stud LF Matt Holliday to Oakland this offseason, this team has power. Between Brad Hawpe, Garret Atkins, and a healthy Troy Tulowitzki, the Rockies can put up some big time run totals, especially at Coors Field. The big set back for these guys is the staff. In a division with so many dominating pitchers it will be difficult to contend on the road with anytime simply because Colorado's staff can't stand tall with the Arizonas and the SanFrans of the world. Losing Jeff Francis for the year to surgery is a huge blow. Now, the staff is headed by the very raw Ubaldo Jimenez; who's stuff is electric but has no idea where his pitches will end up (i.e. Daniel Cabrera). Ultimately, this team's lineup isn't too shabby but they simply don't have a Lincecum, a Peavy, or a Webb. Maybe next year Rox.

NL West MVP: Matt Kemp/Adrian Gonzales

NL West Rookie of the Year: Pablo Sandoval

NL West CY Young: Tim Lincecum
NL West Most Overpaid player: Barry Zito, again. *

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Mike Bradley: Playing Favorites Has Never Been So Hard, Part 3

Pac 10

Contenders: UCLA, Arizona State

While not the same dominant UCLA team of years past, this Bruins team is more than capable of making some noise this March. Even with the likes of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love plying their trade in the NBA, Ben Howland's squad still has the talent and leadership to have a deep run in the tournament. Led by senior studs Darren Collison and Josh Shipp, as well as Alfred Aboya, the leadership provided by the trio is the perfect counterbalance to the young talent of freshman phenoms Jrue Holiday and Drew Gordon. An early season loss to Michigan was a bad omen, as well as a later nonconference loss to Texas, but UCLA looks like they are saving their best basketball for the tournament yet again. With four conference losses thus far, half of those losses came at the hands of an extremely talented Arizona State team. With lottery-bound sophomore superstud James Harden lighting the world on fire, the Sun Devils have the go-to scorer needed to have success in the postseason. They are far from a one-trick pony, however. Senior forward Jeff Pendergraph provides rebounding ability and extra scoring to compliment Harden's wing play, while guard-forward Rihards Kuksiks takes some heat off of Harden on the outside with his 10 points per. Even with an early loss to Baylor and a few inexcusable losses in conference play, you can't count out a team with such undeniable talent.

Jury is still out: Washington

Easily the most baffling team in the Pac-10, the Huskies have all the talent to be a top 10 team in the country. However, they continue to show that they can't be trusted on a game-by-game basis. A season-opening loss to Portland should have been an omen, as the team continued to lose nonconference games to both Kansas and Florida, and then conference games at home against California and then at Arizona, Cal again, UCLA. One of the most balanced teams in the country, the Huskies have a pair of sub-6' guards in freshman Isaiah Thomas and Justin Dentmon who are both average over 16 PPG. Down low, senior big man in the league Jon Brockman, averages a double-double while forward Quincy Pondexter tosses in 11 points and
 5.6 rebounds a game. With all the talent they have, it's easy to see a decent showing in the tournament. At the same time, all of the consistent makes it hard to put Washington any farther than the second round.

Pretenders: Arizona, California, USC

With the early season controversy surrounding the health and subsequent retirement of legendary coach Lute Olson, the decommitment of many incoming freshmen, and the game
 lapses from a mentally drained team, it's almost a miracle the Wildcats are even in position to make the tournament in the first place. Headlined by two players they have been lucky to have for this long, Arizona gets 18 points a game from Cali Boy Chase Budinger and a double-double from big man Jordan Hill. If the pieces around those building blocks can put it together and point guard Nic Wise can run the show effectively under pressure, the Wildcats may just prove the naysayers wrong. The California Golden Bears are built like Washington, without the bangers down low. With three guards averaging at least 12 PPG, Cal relies mainly on the 5'10'' Jerome Randle to carry the load. While it might work against the Pac-10, it'll be a whole different story for them to bang bodies with the likes of the Big East, ACC, and Big Ten when it's tourny-time. Led by head coach Tim Floyd, the Trojans surrounded wunderkind DeMar DeRozan with juniors Taj Gibson, Dwight Lewis, and Daniel Hackett for what was suppose to be an even better run than the one they completed with already-NBA star O.J. Mayo. However, things haven't gone smoothly. Losses to Seton Hall and Missouri early on, coupled with Pac-10 losses to Oregon State and Arizona, highlight some of the disappointing losses that weren't suppose to happen this year. Inconsistency and crushing losses early on will most likely end up costing the Trojans another shot at a March Madness appearance. 


Contenders: LSU

Even with the premature exit of freshman phenom (but NOT NBA ready) forward Anthony Randolph, the Tigers look like they haven't missed a step. In fact, they look better than last year's version. Led by senior sharpshooter Marcus Thornton (20.3 PPG) and junior forward Tasmin Mitchell (16.9 PPG and 7.3 RPG), LSU is the SEC's best chance at a respectable showing come March. With 6'11'' big man Chris Johnson anchoring the middle with 2.8 blocks per game and sophomore guard Bo Spencer providing some extra scoring, the Tigers should be a very good team for the seeding they will inevitably be given.

Jury is still out: Tennessee, Florida, Kentucky

The most disappointing team in the SEC has to be Bruce Pearl's Tennessee Volunteers. With Tyler Smith returning for his junior year and his shot to lead the team, expectations were high to pick up where Chris Lofton had left them the year before. Tyler Smith has put up his end of the bargain, averaging 17.6 points, 5.7 boards, and 3.5 assists per game as the do-it-all man an otherwise underachieving team. Wayne Chism has produced fairly well as a complement to Smith, but it's hard to find any other player on the roster playing to their potential. The monumental hype surrounding McDonald's All American Scotty Hopson seems incredibly misplaced based on his first year in Knoxville. For a team that relied heavily on three point shooting last year (thanks, in large part, to the graduated Lofton), they just don't have the firepower to reproduce last year's performance. Look for an early exit this March. Two years removed from their second straight National Championship, the Gators are looking to get into the dance yet again. However, they don't have nearly enough firepower to make a run even remotely close to the 2006 or 2007 teams. Nick Calathes can do it all (19-5-6) and Alex Tyus has done a nice job down low for the Gators, but that's about all there is to them. An extremely young team, look for the Gators to compete in a year or two if everyone stays. Down in Lexington, KY, there's a lot to like about the Wildcats this year. Phenom Patrick Patterson has managed to stay healthy while sensational guard Jodie Meeks has put it all together in a Player of the Year type campaign. The only problem is, those two are all that there is to Kentucky. Their third scoring option stands at 6'9'' and barely 200 pounds (Perry Stevenson) and the rest of the supporting cast is subpar at best. When Meeks is double-teamed (e.g. @ Mississippi) or when Patterson is out (e.g. @ Vanderbilt), the Wildcats are dead in the water. That being said, if both of them go off, specifically the sweet-stroking Meeks, the Wildcats can compete with anyone.

Pretenders: South Carolina

The last of the SEC teams with a legitimate shot at the tournament, the Gamecocks should be happy just to be there. Sensational guard play from Devan Downey and Zam Fredrick has gotten them this far, but success in March is a lot of pressure to put on the narrow 5'9'' and 6' shoulders of the two scorers. With losses to College of Charleston and Mississippi State on the resume, as well as a general lack of impressive wins in the nonconference schedule, the Gamecocks will have to fight for their lives come March. Count on them losing that fight.

Best of the Rest - Contenders:
Memphis, Gonzaga

John Calipari pushes all the right buttons. After losing a majority of his National Championship-losing team, including invaluable guards Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts, many were unsure how the Tigers would fair this year. Then Calipari scored a commitment from superstar Tyreke Evans, and all was good in Memphis yet again. While he's no Rose, Evans has been more than effective in his freshman campaign, averaging 16.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 3.7 assists a game. Meanwhile, National Championship game holdovers Robert Dozier, Antonio Anderson, and Shawn Taggert have provided the complementary scoring and defense that has Memphis in a good position to make a decent run again this
 time around. Gonzaga has long been America's darlings, making it to the tournament and garnering adoration, only to fall short time and time again. However, Mark Few feels incredibly confident about his current crew, and he has good reason. With big man Josh Heytvelt avoiding the psychedelics, his senior leadership and production has led the way for the likes of Austin Daye and Matt Bouldin to register equally impressive seasons. However, for the Bulldogs to get over the tournament hump and win the title, Jeremy Pargo needs to find his stroke and run the show like a senior point guard has to do. If this happens, look for Gonzaga in the Elite 8, with a possible deeper run in the cards. *

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Mike Bradley: AL Central Preview

Last season, the Detroit Tigers made all the offseason noise with the trade for superstud Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis, supposedly fortifying an already formidable lineup and rotation with even more established talent. Unfortunately for them, the big splash bought them a last place finish and a lot more money on the payroll. Meanwhile, the White Sox and Twins battled to a tie for the division, which resulted in a Chicago playoff win, the Indians salvaged a .500 season, and the Kansas City Royals, showed a pulse by finishing outside of last place for the first time since 2003. 

With the Tigers dying to prove last year was a fluke, the Twins trying to win the division with their small-market methods, the Indians looking for a bounce-back in their own right, and the White Sox looking to assert their division dominance once again, the AL Central could shape up to be the most competitive division in baseball. Oh, and here's to hoping the Royals continue to work their way back to relevancy. Here are my projections for the 2009 MLB season in the AL Central:

1. Cleveland Indians 91-71

This time last year, the Indians were looking towards a year of watching Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner put up runs in bunches behind the pitching efforts of CC Sabathia, Fausto Carmona, and Jake Westbrook. Instead, Hafner and Martinez battled inconsistency and injuries over the whole season to combine for a grand total of 7 home runs and 59 RBI. CC Sabathia found himself packing for Milwaukee while Carmona and Westbrook combined for 27 starts total. Luckily for them, Cliff Lee's 22 win Cy Young effort and Grady Sizemore's 33 HR-38 SB season was able to salvage a .500 record for the fortunate Indians. A few experts had predicted (quite incorrectly, to say the least) the Indians to be the AL representatives in the World Series. While I won't go that far this year, I do like the Indians' chances in the American League. Lee looked like he put it all back together last year after a demoralizing year spent in the minors, and there shouldn't be much drop-off as he leads a staff with seemingly healthier pitchers Carmona and Carl Pavano, as well as young guns Anthony Reyes (former Cardinals top prospect) and Aaron Laffey. The bullpen also finally found their end game solution in Kerry Wood. If he can stay healthy, he'll be a welcome addition to the subtraction of Joe Borowski's inflated ERA. With Jensen Lewis, Masa Kobayashi, and Adam Miller anchoring the middle innings, the pitching corp looks prepared for the long haul this time around. The offense is another story, however. Grady Sizemore is a known entity, but it's anybody's guess if Martinez and "Pronk" Hafner will bounce back. Between the two, Martinez is more likely to bounce back due to his age, his complete recovery from his injuries, and the team's plan to limit his time behind the plate. However, 31-year-old Hafner and his bum shoulder is the only thing keeping Cleveland from being the legitimate postseason contender everyone thought they were last year. The keyword there is postseason. The AL Central crown should be theirs for the taking.

2. Minnesota Twins 88-74

It's hard to understand how the last time the penny-pinching Twins always seem to be involved in the AL Central chase. Despite consistently sending one of the lowest payrolls in the game out onto the field, the Twins counter their financial ineptitude with masterful scouting, drafting, and player development. Homegrown talent like Joe Mauer,  Justin Morneau, and Jason Kubel, as well as acquired prospects like Francisco Liriano and Carlos Gomez, look to lead the Twins to the playoffs after a heartbreaking tiebreaker loss to the White Sox in '08. With a full season of a healthier, craftier Liriano on the horizon, another year of smooth 9th innings behind Joe Nathan, and the continued progression of batting champion Mauer and former MVP Morneau, it's easy to see why there is so much hype around this team yet again. However, this team seems to have a bunch of flaws that will keep them from the ultimate success they hope to achieve. Even with Liriano anchoring the rotation, there doesn't seem to be enough behind him to get them over the hump. A lot of nice prospects seemed to cash in on their talent last year as Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Glen Perkins, and Nick Blackburn all recorded double-digit wins for the team. But as the story usually with young pitchers, it's hard to envision all four of them sustaining their early success into the 2009 season. And outside of Morneau, Mauer, Kubel, and right fielder Michael Cuddyer, the Twins aren't going to put up a ton of runs. Will the young pitchers be able to maintain 1-0 and 2-1 leads over the course of a whole season? Will Carlos Gomez prove he was worth being the centerpiece for Johan Santana? Can Delmon Young keep his head on straight? Will Liriano be able to last a whole year? Too many uncertainties usually spell doom for a team battling for a playoff spot in a competitive division. Look for the Twins in 2010, not 2009.

3. Detroit Tigers 84-78

A year after the franchise's big splash and burn, the Tigers should finally get a little something out of their money. A wealth of starting pitching is one of the first things seen when looking at the Tigers. However, the biggest acquisition the Tigers need is the return to form of ace Justin Verlander. As he goes, the Tigers go. Behind him, you find pleasant rookie surprise Armando Galarraga, Jeremy Bonderman, ex-Rays fireballer Edwin Jackson, and then your choice of Dontrelle Willis, Zach Miner, Nate Robertson, or possibly pitching phenom Rick Porcello. If Willis can resemble even a shadow of his Florida self, the Tigers are looking at one of the most talented groups of young starters in the game. The bullpen is also poised to do big things as opposed to last year's debacle. Todd Jones and his 4.97 ERA are now enjoying he retired life, and a combination of Brandon Lyon, Fernando Rodney, and currently healthy flamethrower Joel Zumaya will be plugged into his slot. The hope is for Zumaya to grasp the role he was being groomed to take over before his slew of injuries. Clocked at 100+ MPH with relative ease, Zumaya's potential is endless if he can stay on the field and develop a secondary pitch. As far as offense goes, you immediately have to look at Miguel Cabrera and Magglio Ordonez as the primary contributers. Look for Cabrera to absolutely rake in his second time around in the American League. If Carlos Guillen, Placido Polanco, and Curtis Granderson can consistently get on base and Gary Sheffield can provide some protection for Maggs and Cabrera, the Tigers offense has the potential to put up runs with the best of them. This team is young, for the most part, and this year will be a year to build upon.

4. Kansas City Royals 79-83

In one of the nicer stories of 2008, the Kansas City Royals made their most significant strides back to respectability. Recording over 70 wins for the first time since 2003, the kids in KC are looking to build on their newfound "success." When you're a team that doesn't score all that often, pitching is a must. While the Gil Meche signing seemed ludicrous at the time, he has done a nice job filling in as the veteran ace on the staff while Zach Greinke slowly realizes the lofty potential he always possessed. If Brian Bannister can right the ship, Luke Hochevar can follow in Greinke's footsteps and pitch to his ability, and Kyle Davies keeps them in as many games as possible, this rotation can do more than enough to get the Royals close to .500 this year. If the games stay close, the Royals will win a lot of 1-0 and 2-1 games with the dominance of Joakim Soria holding down the 9th inning. But the problem with that is the Royals need to score runs in order to keep most games close. Outside of the disgruntled Jose Guillen's 93 RBI, the light-hitting David DeJesus was next in line with a paltry 73 ribbies. If the Royals are to make any progress, superstar-in-waiting Alex Gordon has to do better than 16 home runs and 59 RBI with a .260 average. A little more production from Billy Butler and Mark Teahen is also necessary for this team to get to where GM Dayton Moore promised they would achieve. It's a long process, but the Royals are well on their way. For now, they'll probably settle for two straight seasons out of the AL Central basement.

5. Chicago White Sox 76-86

Call them the anti-Rays. This is a notorious case of first-to-worst. And the Southsiders can blame GM Kenny Williams. In the biggest move of their offseason, the ChiSox traded Nick Swisher and his 24 home runs to the Yankees so Wilson Betemit could come over and back up an aging Konerko and a swing-happy Josh Fields. If that isn't a negative move, I don't know what is. With the Jermaine Dye trade rumors refusing to die, it's fairly obvious the White Sox want to move in a new direction. Carlos Quentin had a lovely breakout season, but it's hard to see him replicating his 36 homers with his wrist problems flaring up. With both Jim Thome and Konerko getting up there in age, it will be up to the young guns in Quentin and Josh Fields (assuming Dye goes somewhere). Alexei Ramirez is a nice player in the Alfonso Soriano mold, but just how much he can do for the team this year is up in the air. His long swing spells "strikeouts galore." As far as the pitching staff goes, Mark Buehrle is the undisputed ace of this staff with Javier Vazquez exiled to Atlanta. He's generally consistent, but looking for John Danks and Gavin Floyd to come close to their 2008 performance is wishful thinking at best. After a somewhat undesirable "Top 3," you have Bartolo Colon attempting a comeback in a different pair of Sox. Over/under 20 starts, smart money would be the under. Then the 5th spot in the rotation is up for grabs between the likes of Chris Richard, Lance Broadway, and the immortal Jose Contreras. It's a shame, because this staff, combined with a bullpen loaded with big names with spotty reputations, probably won't keep leads for Bobby Jenks to record more than 30 saves. I just see this team as one full of overachievers coming down to earth, aging veterans falling off, and power bullpen arms that can't stay away from the middle of the plate (See: Dotel, Octavio, and Linebrink, Scott). At least an underachieving White Sox team means quality sound bytes from Ozzie Guillen!

AL Central MVP: Miguel Cabrera

AL Central Cy Young: Fausto Carmona

AL Central Rookie of the Year: Kila Ka'aihue and Matt LaPorta

AL Central Best Mullet: Magglio Ordonez (Unanimously) *
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