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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Evan Heffron: Super Bowl XLIII Preview

The stage is set. 30 NFL teams have perished in the face of adversity in the last month or so, and just two remain standing, ready to square off in the sport's ultimate game. The Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers have taken two drastically different paths to get to the point where they stand today, hours away from the big one.

The regular season was a bumpy one for the Cardinals. Their "easy" division and struggles on the east coast translated into thrashings at the hands of Philadelphia and New England late in the season and many began to question the big game ability of the redbirds. None the less, Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt, former mastermind behione the 06 Steeler offense, rallied the troops and had his team focused on the challenges that laid ahead. 3 upset wins against the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, and Philadelphia Eagles have sealed their date with destiny.

By destiny i meant Mr.Polamalu and co.

All year long Mike Tomlin and Dick LeBeau have had their defense playing at an all-universe level. The season went as planned for the Pittsburgh faithful, a few hicups here and there but overall, dominance by the Steeler D' and playmaking ability of Ben Roethlisberger and Willie Parker have propelled them into XLIII. Going for their 6th franchise title in Super Bowls, many beleive that this is their year. Not everyday a team beats the 2nd ranked defense in the league 3 times in one season.

But when analyzing any championship game, one must take every aspect of the two teams into consideration before jumping to any conclusions.

In the NFC championship game, Kurt Warner and the gang made a very formidable pro-bowl calibur Eagle secondary look stupid. Yes, the Steelers are absolutley dominant defense but ......

Fitzgerlad> anyone in the world

you can't stop him, you have to limit him, and Coach LeBeau knows that. Breston and Boldin will get theirs too. either way...

Willie Parker has returned to form and is looking rejuvenated. The same can be said for Arizona's Edgerrin James and spell back Tim Hightower. Arizona's rushing numbers have gone way up but they aren't special enough to penetrate the front seven of Pittsburgh. Likewise, Pitt's offensive line should be able to get a decent push the run game against Darnell Dockett and the rest of Arizona's pass rushers.

Adrian Wilson plays a lot near the line and I believe is one of a few select breed of safeties that can do so effectively. But anyways, Hampton is Large. Harrison has a knack for getting his helmet on the ball and Dick LeBeau schemes are executed to the fullest with this new version of the steel curtain.

Antrelle Rolle and Dominique Rogers-Cromratie are good and up and coming players but Hines Ward is a great route runner and Santonio Holmes has big sideline ability which could cause the redbirds problems ( i.e. Kevin Curtis and DeSean Jackson 2 weeks ago). I'd like to give the Steelers the edge because of the play making ability of Troy Polamalu but I still feel as if Larry Fitzgerald will get his, and make it count.

Neil Rackers has a boot and on a neutral field, he could be an instrumental weapon from 50+ yards out. Plus, Sean Morey is the man.
Ken Whisenhunt has been a master motivator this year and has provided inspiration to a group of guys that all seemed to be cast-offs. He has gotten Kurt Warner back to all-pro form as well. I just feel like Mike Tomlin and Dick LeBeau will be future hall of famers when its all said and done, especially if they pull this one out. The Steelers have a clear cut X's and O's advantage in my opinion.


When its all said and done, everything in a neutral sports fans' body points to Pittsburgh. The Dominating D, Big Ben, etc. But, there is something that hides in the deepest part of one's psyche that wants so badly for the redbirds to pull this one off. Yes, i am completely contradicting my entire analysis right now, but in a championship game, all that crap goes out the window. Villanova over Georgetown. New York Jets over Baltimore Colts. USA over USSR. Red Sox over Yankees.

Cardinals over Steelers, 24-23.*

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Quick Apology

We would like to apologize for the lack of updates recently. Getting back into the swing of classes and real work has been limiting our ability to put 110% effort, research, and dedication behind new posts. Be patient, they will be coming in the near future.


Mike and Evan

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Mike Bradley: Playing Favorites Has Never Been So Hard

College basketball has always been known for its parity, but this is getting ridiculous.

Wake beats then-#1 UNC. Louisville beats then-#1 Pitt. Virginia Tech beats then-#1 Wake Forest. Hell, even NJIT got their first win in 53 attempts.

Up to this point, everyone has discussed "Big East vs. ACC" and which conference is deeper, but the last three national champions have come from the Big 12 and SEC. So let's dive into the whole NCAA landscape (in several parts).


Contenders: UNC, Duke, Wake Forest

Despite stumbling out of the gate, no team has as much top-to-bottom talent as the Tar Heels do, with POY-candidate Tyler Hansbrough and floor general Ty Lawson leading the team full steam ahead into March Madness. Meanwhile, Duke seems poised to make one of their
 classic runs in the tournament after a few hiccups the past few years against the likes of West Virginia and VCU. The senior leadership of sharpshooter Greg Paulus and the world-class athleticism of Gerald Henderson finally blossoming into superstar talent has the Blue Devils thinking "National Championship." Not to be left out, Wake Forest is playing the type of basketball that can bring back memories of the glory days with Chris Paul. Super-Sophs Jeff Teague and James Johnson are playing like season vets while freshman phenom Al-Farouq Aminu has lived up to everything he was billed as during his prep years. With three legitimate contenders, the ACC looks ready to make some noise this March.

Pretenders: Miami (FL), Clemson, Boston College, Virginia Tech

Of all the teams I think of as pretenders, Miami has the most potential to prove me wrong. Led by bullseye shooter Jack McClinton, The Hurricanes have the ability to put up points in bunches on any given night. But on the nights McClinton isn't hitting his bunches of threes, Miami usually has a tough time putting the ball in the hoop. One real scoring option in the month of March spells disaster for the 'Canes. Then you have Clemson, the quintessential fast-starter of the ACC. Starting off with a school-best 16-0 start, the Tigers have been dealt blowout losses by UNC and Wake Forest. If you can't beat them in January, you won't beat them in March.  BC and Virginia Tech are only on this list because of their high profile wins versus North Carolina and Wake Forest, respectively. Don't buy into them. Plain and simple.

Big East

Contenders: Connecticut, Louisville, Pittsburgh

The preseason favorite is the current favorite still in my mind. A veteran-loaded team, UConn features do-it-all senior Jeff Adrien and floor leader AJ Price, as well as skyscraping big man Hasheem Thabeet. Add to that the steady guard play of Jerome Dyson and the energy off the bench from heralded freshman Kemba Walker, and you have the depth needed on a National Championship contender. Down in Louisville, Rick Pitino has yet another talented team poised to take on the tournament field. With a balanced roster with veteran leadership combined with young talent, the Cardinals looked poised for battle come March. Senior leader Terrence Williams teams with the phenomenal junior Earl Clark and the currently-underperforming Edgar Sosa to provide strong leadership for Freshman of the Year-candidate Samardo Samuels. Without Sosa's 3-point stroke returning, Louisville could face some tough times in March, but their stable of athletic, skilled forwards is something that should be unmatched by any team in any conference. Then there's Pitt. I don't know what it is, but it feels like Levance Fields has been leading this team for the past decade. While it may not be that long, Fields, as well as sweet shooting Sam Young, provide valuable senior leadership to a team notorious for choking in March. To counteract all the "old men" leading the team, the Panthers have a 6'7'', 265-pound sophomore wrecking ball in DeJuan Blair. Fresh off of a 20 point, 10 rebound performance against equally-rotund Syracuse big man Arinze Onuaku, it's clear the young man is ready for the big stage. Here's to hoping the rest of this team is up to the task as well.

Jury is Still Out: Syracuse, Georgetown, Marquette

One of the most frustrating teams in the country has to be the Syracuse Orange. A team that rarely loads up their nonconference schedule scored major road wins against then-ranked teams in Florida, Kansas, and Memphis. Led by a top PG prospect in Jonny Flynn, Syracuse mixes a combination of inside scoring (Onuaku and sophomore Rick Jackson) with solid outside shooting (Andy Rautins and Eric Devendorf), but there is a missing element. Much like last year's Memphis team with slightly less talent, the Orange lack a killer instinct. Shooting a combined 62.5% from the charity stripe doesn't help matters either. If Jonny Flynn learns how to take over games or the whole team learns how to hit a foul shot, Syracuse could make some noise. If not, it could be another early round exit for Syracuse. The only team more confusing than Syracuse has to be the Georgetown Hoyas. The Hoyas decimated the Orange at home, but losses to teams like Tennessee, Notre Dame, and West Virginia have to give fans a cause for concern. A team as talented as Georgetown shouldn't be losing home games to lesser conference foes or nonconference games to lesser conferences. While Greg Monroe is enough to make anyone salivate, overall team play needs to become more consistent before the Hoyas can be "for real." Some might say a 5-0 conference record should land a team on the "Contenders" list, but it's hard to grant any merit to that record when the best team they beat was an underachieving Villanova team. While they run out one of the best groups of guards in the country with Wesley Matthews, Jerel McNeal, and Dominic James, it's hard to take a team seriously when their leading rebounder is standing at 6'6''. If the guards go cold, it's hard to see Marquette keeping it close with ANY team come March.

Pretender: Villanova, West Virginia, Notre Dame.

You know what they say; Inconsistency killed the Wildcat. Another team with a lot of guard and perimeter play and not enough banging inside, the Wildcats don't seem to have enough to make any noise in the tournament (despite the remarkable improvement shown by senior forward Dante Cunningham). As far as West Virginia goes, the worst thing to do would be to buy into the recent upset of Georgetown at home. It's not every day that Austin Freeman, DaJuan Summers, and Greg Monroe combine to go 9-for-30 from the field. An young, upstart team, I do like the 2009-2010. Notre Dame might be the biggest shocker on the list because of the presence of reigning Big East Player of the Year Luke Harangody combined with lights out shooters Kyle McAlarney, Ryan Ayers, and Tory Jackson. However, their probem isn't scoring. Their defense is where they will truly suffer in March. Shooters run cold, and if the Irish run cold, they aren't going to lock anybody down. Until they show a commitment to defense, they might as well plan for a short showing in all of the Madness. *

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Evan Heffron: Midseason Magic

Its like high school all over. Two friends have been planning a big party all year long. The invitations are sent out, the music has been shuffled into a play list, and the keg's on ice. Everything's ready roll except-

There's that guy. Comes and crashes the party (uninvited of course) before it even starts, and causes a great deal of commotion. I mean he wants to be part of the festivities too, right?

In the case of the NBA 08-09 season thus far, Mr.Dwight Howard is that guy.

KG's Celtics and LeBron's Cavs were the preseason locks to duke it out for a second straight year to see who will represent the Eastern conference in the NBA Finals. And deservedly so, but as of now, things appear a bit more nebulous than they did a little more than 2 months ago. It is true, the Orlando Magic at 33-8 currently are the ones to thank for that.

33-8 with wins over the Los Angelos Kobes, San Antonio Spurs, and New Orleans Hornets by 20 points. These guys can run with the big boys in the west, but the real tests await at the end of this month. The Boston 3 Party travels to Orlando tomorrow night, followed by a date with the Heat and the week after with the Cavs. This stretch will really be a gut check for the boys in blue as this semester of NBA play comes to a close.

Any rational sports can see the legitimacy of this ball club amongst the giants of the conference.

First, and most obviously, the Magic have, in my opinion, the most dominant player in the NBA Dwight Howard (let the hate mail start). 20 ppg, 3 bpg and 14 rebounds a game is down right stupid. His consistency and ability to take over a game in any given instant provides the fire for this team as they move forward. What complements a dominant post player the most are lethal outside shooters; Enter Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis. Both are deadly from the outside. The inside out game these three guys run give their opponents no choice but to pick their poison. With 19 ppg and 17 ppg respectively Hedo and Rashard are legitimate scoring threats with all kinds of range to barrage their opponents with.

On top of it all, they have what every great team has. A workhorse at the point guard position. The pride of Hawk Hill, Jameer Nelson, is a gritty defender who has a knack for finding his shooters spotting up on the wings, as well getting to the hoop and drawing fouls at crucial moments. With 17 ppg and 5 assists a game Nelson is helping carry this team to uncharted territory. A place this team didn't even approach in the Tracy McGrady days.

This team really does have it all. The defenders, the shooters, the pure dominance off the glass, the bench play of former top picks Mike Pietrus and J.J. Reddick. Everything is rolling towards Orlando as we approach the midpoint of the NBA season, and the momentum could be swung even further in favor of the Magic if they pull out wins against Boston, Miami, and Cleveland.

KG and LeBron don't want to see that happen, for the sake of their planned festivities in mid-may. The "experts" don't want to see that happen to preserve the integrity of their preseason picks.

When it comes down to it, the Magic have their dancing shoes on, and their beer pong games ready. Watch out Eastern Conference, this team just wrote their own invite.

Party on Dwight.*

Friday, January 16, 2009

Mike Bradley: Round Three; Pass-Happy Offenses vs. Shutdown Secondaries.

This NFL postseason has been nothing short of wacky. The defending Super Bowl champs played like the defending BCS Champion, the Cardinals walked into a hostile Carolina and ran the show, the Ravens are attempting to reach the Super Bowl with a rookie QB, and the Steelers are playing defense the way it's suppose to be played in January. The defensive slobberknocker that's expected in Pittsburgh is getting much of the publicity heading into Sunday, but don't be surprised if you find a struggle for points on the other coast.

At first glance, it's easy to expect a shootout. 

Arizona is led by a former Super Bowl MVP Quarterback in Kurt Warner, the best wide receiver in the world in Larry Fitzgerald, a number one-worthy second fiddle in Anquan Boldin, and a steady running game led by former All-Pro Edgerrin James and rookie surprise Tim Hightower. Add to that a rejuvenated offensive line, and you have a recipe for offensive dominance.

Philadelphia is led by a seemingly brand new quarterback and leader in Donovan McNabb, a shifty playmaker in Brian Westbrook, and one of the most explosive players in the rookie class (if not the entire NFL) in DeSean "Action" Jackson. And as far as offensive lines go, you will be hard-pressed to find a bigger unit with more experience than the Eagles veteran-led group. 

But I'm not looking at the offenses, as crazy as that may seem. Even in a game littered with Pro Bowlers on the offensive side of the ball, I can't help but feel the defenses will take the cake (or the NFC Championship, in this case).

On one hand you have a defense that came out of no where in the unit in Arizona. It's evident the Cardinals decided to turn up the intensity in the playoffs, forcing a usually-steady Matt Ryan into 2 interceptions in round one followed by complete domination of Jake Delhomme in round two. What made the Carolina victory more impressive was the way the front seven shut down the most dynamic one-two running back punch in the NFL. The emergence of a run stuffing defense, as well as a new shutdown cornerback in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, has the Cardinals feeling confident that they can shutdown any offense (especially an offense that has looked as anemic as the Eagles offense has thus far). Vets Bertrand Berry and  Adrian Wilson keep the young defense on an even keel while they also get in on the action. Berry is a pass-rushing machine while Wilson is the unquestioned leader in the impressive secondary.

In the case of the Eagles, you have a steady mix of young talent and savvy veterans leading one of the most dominating defensive units in the playoffs this year. Since the Thanksgiving game against the Cardinals, the Eagles have only allowed four offensive touchdowns. Of those four touchdowns, exactly ZERO of them have been of the passing variety. A true testament to a secondary led by "Weapon X" Brian Dawkins and Pro Bowl corner Asante Samuel, the unit is tailor-made to match up against the Big Two for Arizona. The front seven for the Eagles has been equally dominant, shuttting down Adrian Peterson for much of the first round game and holding the Giants on three 4th down conversion attempts. Jim Johnson's relentless blitzing scheme has been flawless thus far, led by the cycling defensive ends Trent Cole, Darren Howard, and Juqua Parker. 

In the end, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Cardinals win the battle on offense while the Eagles win the defensive phase of the game, which leaves only special teams to decide the game. As the saying goes, you have to win 2/3 of the battles to win the game, and it looks like the Eagles have the special teams advantage on paper. Punter Sav Rocca has certainly stepped his game up in the postseason, averaging 43 yards per punt and placing 5 of 8 punts inside the 20 yard line. His net average is also up from 38 yards in the regular season to 42 in the playoffs. David Akers enters the game as one of the hottest kickers in the league, hitting seven straight field goals in the playoffs, including an impressive 3-for-3 showing in a blustery Giants Stadium last week. In the return game, however, is where the Eagles hold a great edge. The aforementioned lightning bolt Desean Jackson could very well be the X-Factor in the battle for special teams supremacy. He will be returning punts knowing Pro Bowl special teamer Sean Morey and the rest of a very solid special teams unit is bearing down on him. In a showdown of two solid units, I expect the Eagles to come out on top. 

Of course none of this speculation means anything without a solid coaching performance. The Cardinals are led by second-year head coach Ken Whisenhunt, an offensive mastermind with a knack for pushing the right buttons with his players. However, being a second-year head coach also means limited postseason experience. Andy Reid is one of the most playoff-tested head coaches in the league. This being his 5th NFC Championship game, Reid knows what it takes to coach in high pressure situations, even if he doesn't always show it. This facet is really a coin flip, and I don't feel like it will affect the game all that much. 

It's unfair to look at the Thanksgiving game as a benchmark for this game, and that's a good thing for the Eagles. The last thing they need to do is look past a Cardinals team who thrived on that against the Panthers last week.

But as is common place in the sports world, the Cardinals have quickly gone from massive underdogs to the team expected to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl (contrary to the Vegas odds). NFL "experts" across the analyzing spectrum have been changing over to the Cardinals bandwagon as they seem to put all the pieces together. But as Skip Bayless recently said, "This is the best thing for the Eagles. They are now going into this game as the favored underdogs."

No body believed in the Giants last year, and look what happened? Their defense carried an offense that was just good enough, and they ended their year with a parade. 

In a Battle of the Birds, look for Donovan to will the Eagles to his 2nd Super Bowl behind a dominant defensive effort. I mean he beat this team with one fibula before! 

Eagles 20 - Cardinals 14. *

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Evan Heffron: The Beautiful (Unwatched and Underappreciated) Game

Sometimes I feel like I should live in Europe. At least, that's what my friends tell me.

As i flip through the channels on a dead Saturday night, one thing always catches my eye, and makes me halt my seemingly absent-minded channel surfing. The passing. The shooting. The passion. The grace. It's the beautiful game. It's soccer. Yes I know, it sounds cliche, but this game is truly beautiful. Ever watch Tony Parker and Tim Duncan work a give and go to perfection? Or watch Brian Westbrook make a defender trying to tackle him look stupid ? I feel as if the majority of American sports fans are ready to label the previously mentioned plays as "Impressive" or "Dominant", but those very same fans would not be as awestruck watching the Portuguese international Cristiano Ronaldo pull some And-1 Mixtape tricks against two all-world defenders, and capping it off by shooting a 75mph rocket into the upper right 90 degrees of the targeted goal from 35 yards out.

Over the course of the entire 2006 World Cup tournament in 2006, matches were watched by people 26.29 BILLION times.

That's why I love this game.

The sport of soccer, incorporates the best of every sport. Speed, agility, balance, stamina, vision, strength, touch, elusiveness, leadership, heart, leaping ability, and depth perception are all important parts of this game that is so widely accepted all over the world. It truly is an all around game. The attractiveness of the game, to me anyway, comes in two waves.

The first thing one notices in any sport, but especially soccer, is star power. We in America can say one name in a sports conversation and know who is being talked about. Kobe. Donovan. Lebron. Phelps. Peyton. Wilt. Papi. The same goes for world soccer. Kaka. Ronaldinho. Messi. Cristiano. Rio. Zlatan. Totti. Henry. And its obvious, stars attract casual fans, like myself. These stars are responsible for my self admitted obsession. It's the same reason I can watch Peyton to Harrison all day, pick apart opposing defenses. It is simply beautiful .

Second, when my astonishment from seeing Barcelona's Lionel Messi dribbling a ball while doing his best Usain Bolt impression has worn off, I start to notice something else. It is something that is completely alien to the American sports culture. It's the support. The support where fans sing passionately when they are down 4-0. The support where the fans stand the ENTIRE game. Its funny when you watch the Cameron Crazies' (Duke basketball fans) videos on YouTube. All the comments read something like "OMG ! Hardest place the play in the world!", or "Best home court advantage ever!". I read those comments and laughed to myself. Ever watch the Turkish superpower Fenerbache play? The atmosphere is incredible. 55,000 people jumping, screaming and lighting flares at the same time. I don't care what sport, I want my team playing in the place where the all-time sporting event decibel level record was broken. The intensity of the crowd absolutely sucked me into following this sport. Watching Greece and Turkey duke it out, or England and Spain go toe to toe for world supremacy is on any day of the week more engaging to watch than more than half of the games that are on sports programs today.

It really is ironic to me. Even if one feels as if the sport of soccer is slow, or lacks action, the rationale behind those thoughts need to be further examined. We as a nation can watch the Ohio State Buckeyes get romped by the Florida Gators in the title game for 3 1/2 hours but we can't watch a USA v. Mexico world cup qualifier? 90 minutes, only one commercial stoppage at halftime, to decide who goes the biggest sporting event in the world; the World Cup. We as a country seem infatuated by rivalries. Duke v. UNC, Yankees v. Redsox, etc. Then not why support the grand daddy of them all? In a 2004 USA v. Mexico world cup qualifier at the feared Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, Mexican fans started chanting "Osama, Osama, Osama". Really? 105,000 fans chanting that to 11 of our guys? This rivalry is one of epic proportions, ... to the Mexicans. There is no reason why American sports fans who embrace everything competitive (yes even competitive eating) can't embrace this game and this rivalry because of preconceived stereo-types about the sport as a whole. Yes there are the divers, cheaters, and whimps in soccer . But every sport has that. There is no reason to leave the beautiful game out of the mind and heart of such a sports hungry culture we have here in this country.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot my closing argument. Who doesn't love hearing a guy scream "GOOOOOOOOOOAAAALLLLLL" for 30 straight seconds without breathing?

This game deserves more respect and attention. *

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Evan Heffron: Round Three; Battle of the Dominating D's

Anyone who has followed football in their lifetime has heard it. Those three words.

Defense. Wins. Championships.

Throughout the history of the NFL, offensive juggernauts have come and gone. Not to downplay the influence these teams had on the culture of the game, but the 00' Rams, 84' Dolphins, or the 98' Vikings provide for warm fuzzy memories of Marshall Faulk running on fake grass or Dan Marino throwing TD passes on 80 degree December nights in Miami. This was all good and dandy to watch but what really gets an NFL fan's spine tingling late in the season is seeing Jack Lambert, Mean Joe Greene and the rest of the Steel Curtain walking off the field looking like they had just decapitated something or someone. "Monsters of the Midway", "The Purple People Eaters", "Gang Green", "Fearsome Foursome"; all these stage names for some of the most dominating defenses in league history still strike fear into the hearts of those who remember them. But these wrecking ball crews are long gone. A new age of the defender is upon us, and maybe, just maybe, the 2008 Baltimore Ravens and 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers are two of the best defenses we have ever seen.

What is special about these two defenses is the fact that they will stand toe to toe, on a frigid western Pennsylvania night in January to play for the AFC Championship, and a berth into Superbowl XLIII. The stakes are epic. No pardon me, they transcend epic, this match up is legendary.

This struggle has play makers on both defenses. For the visiting Baltimore Ravens, the down right absurd takeaway ability of Safety Ed Reed and uncanny leadership that LB Ray Lewis brings to the table seems to favor the Ravens because of the possibility of points off turn overs, but the Steelers counter right back with a one-two punch combo of their own. Defensive Player of the year James Harrison and ball-hawk Troy Polamalu can be a devastating, drive-halting presence looming in the back of young Joe Flacco's head.

Wait, Joe Flacco you ask? You mean, there's quarterbacks involved in this dog fight? Big Ben Roethlisberger is rolling right now and I must say the combination of he and Willie Parker could cause this Raven's D some trouble. But trouble is relative, especially for this Baltimore defense. My prediction is that Big Ben tries to do too much in this game. And as good ol' Chad Pennington knows all too well, Ed will be waiting. Rookie QB from Delaware Joe Flacco does what he has been doing all season long, playing within himself and doesn't give up the big mistake to big number #43 or #92. Facing the number one defense in the land twice already makes one mature at a more rapid level and should ultimately give a small boost of confidence to Flacco as he attempts to get his team over this hump. Coach Jon Harbaugh really has this crew believing in themselves and sorry to say, the third time isn't the charm for the Steelers. The Ravens have learned, adjusted, and are ready to soar into Tampa.

14-10 Baltimore. Seven safeties to Five safeties. *

Mike Bradley: Where's the Love for Jodie Meeks?

The days are shorter. The snow is falling. Conference play is starting.

Yup. College Basketball is kicking into gear. As is the Player of the Year discussion. You have your Hansbrough and Curry supporters, as well as the Blake Griffin bandwagon for the sensational soph, but it's Jodie Meeks who has been catching my eye this season (yes, before his 54-point outburst against Tennessee recently). And it seems like I've been alone on this.

Despite an early season injury, and a few hiccups so far in ACC play, Tyler Hansbrough has picked up where he left off during his junior season. With his Player of the Year award intact, as well as many other accolades, Hansbrough had little left to prove. However, back for his senior season, he looks as hungry as ever. Missing four games due to the aforementioned injury, Hansbrough was behind his peers for this year's Naismith award. He didn't waste any time getting back into the discussion. In just his third game of the season, against then-#8 Notre Dame, Tyler Hansbrough showed the world why he was Tyler Hansbrough. After dropping 34 and 5 on Luke Harangody (no slouch himself), Hansbrough hasn't looked back. Posting three double-doubles and scoring under 20 points only once since the ND game, Hansbrough is yet again "the man" for a North Carolina team poised for big things yet again. The man is a ball-magnet, as well as a "Player of the Year" discussion-magnet. I just don't believe all the talk is warranted. 

Eleven Months ago, Stephen Curry could have walked down the halls of any high school and blended in better than kids actually in high school. After his scintillating March Madness debut, the country went Curry Crazy. People wondered, despite his slight frame, if his draft stock had anywhere to go but up. With his draft position in question among NBA GMs and scouts, Curry decided to keep his sweet stroke in the college game for at least one more year, and fans of the game have to be rejoicing. Aside from a scoreless game against an unorthodox defense by Loyola (MD), Curry has not slowed one bit from March 2008. Adding point guard skills to his repertoire, Curry has evolved from elite scorer to elite player. While he hasn't gotten any bigger, stats don't lie. His scoring hasn't suffered from his newfound love of sharing the ball. Scoring 30 or more points 8 times this season makes the fact that he's averaging nearly 7 assists a game that much more special. If there was an MVP in college basketball, there is no doubt that Curry is the most valuable to his team. However, it's Player of the Year that we are discussing.

At the end of last season, it looked like Blake Griffin was destined to be another ill-advised, one-and-done freshman phenom-turned-NBA benchwarmer. Waiting until the very last minute to declare for the draft, Griffin chose to return to Norman for his sophomore year with the Sooners. While showing flashes of brilliance in his freshman campaign, it never looked like it all clicked mentally for the physically mature man-child. After nearly half a season, it's quite obvious that it's all clicking for him now. Griffin's nickname should be "The Human Double-Double," because chances are he'll put up double digits in points and rebounds on a nightly basis. In fact, he's failed to record a double-double in only 3 of 17 games thus far. He could pass for a black Mr. Clean for the way he cleans the glass, recording 20+ boards in 3 games and averaging 14 rebounds per game. Throw in his 1.5 blocks and 1.5 steals per game, and you have a near complete player playing for a top 5 team in the country. He's another case of MVP, but his case for POY is much stronger.

Despite all of the previous players' accolades, statistics, and individual value to their teams, nothing about them should set them far apart from what Jodie Meeks is doing for the revitalized Kentucky Wildcats this year.

Just last year, Meeks was an underdeveloped 6'4'' 2-guard struggling to get his sweet shot off because of his inability to shake physically stronger defenders. A less-than-stellar sophomore year was made evident by his 8.8 points per game and 32% 3-point shooting percentage. Those underwhelming statistics coupled with his lack of physical attributes left many wondering if Meeks was nothing more than wasted talent. A 4-Star recruit out of Norcross, GA, it was easy to see that Meeks was running out of time heading into his junior year.

Knowing it was make-or-break, it's fairly obvious Meeks hit the weight room and hard, adding a lot of muscle to his previously fragile frame. What used to be a lanky 6'4'' combo guard had physically matured into a prototype NBA 2-guard. From 8.8 PPG to 26 so far this year, Meeks has been imposing his will upon opponents all season. Massive scoring outbursts combined with his fast hands on defense make me wonder how this kid isn't getting more hype (prior to the Tennessee game). On a team with a coach who demands defense, Meeks is also the lockdown defender for Billy Gillespie's Wildcats. Averaging 1.5 steals per game is just icing on the cake that is the new Jodie Meeks. Shooting an unconscious 44.4% from 3-point range and 48% from the field is a testament to the efficiency that Meeks scores those 26 points a game. Oh, and by the way, he hits is free throws at a 91.4% clip. Not too shabby there, either.

When all is said and done, a more glorious, lottery-bound player like Blake Griffin will probably end up with the hardware. While Stephen Curry steals the hearts of basketball fans and 14 year old girls alike, Tyler Hansbrough will continue to build upon his legacy not only in ACC history, but NCAA history. But don't be surprised when Meeks is the one everyone looks back on and realizes they overlooked. I'm sure some team will pay for it come March, anyway. *

Evan Heffron: What Makes a Quarterback Great?

I cant sleep. Football is on my mind. I guess its just that time of year. I have heard a lot of talk about this subject on ESPN radio, most notably by Colin Cowherd. He made some valid points about how sports fans in general use championships as the end all stat of how great a quarterback actually is. I think that winning a championship is a variable in all this but ultimately does not determine the superiority of one quarterback over another. Disagree? So you would take Brad Johnson over Dan Marino? Or Trent Dilfer over Dan Fauts? This has been a hot topic of debate in my dormitory, partially because I am surrounded by New York Giants fans in my hallway. Their lord and savior is the one and only Eli Manning. I myself do not give him enough respect for the scrutiny he is under being the younger brother of Peyton and son of Archie, but that is no argument when trying to claim the Eli Manning is a Superior Quarterback to Donovan McNabb.


Yes, there are a large number of New York fans that still, after watching the events of the divisional playoff game in East Rutherford unfold last Sunday, claim the Eli is better than Donovan because he has "won the big one".

I must say, I was impressed by Eli's circus act in the fourth quarter of the Superbowl. His ring shines brightly in the face of Donovan (for now) but i still feel as if the Superbowl victory does not make Eli better than Donovan. So with that said, I will attempt to analyze this controversy we have on our hands.

Eli posses a better play action fake in my mind, and softer touch. With out a huge target at receiver he appears he is helpless, as he did in the two latter meetings with the Philadelphia Eagles this season. With time in the pocket he can pick apart opposing secondaries, as can most NFL first-stringers. Its a big problem if you're a quarterback who calls the Giants Stadium home and doesn't have the arm strength to throw an out rout in the wind.

Donovan , on the other hand possesses superior arm strength, and better escape ability. He single handedly took a team with Todd Pinkston as it number one receiver to 3 straight NFC championship games. McNabb also is an absolute gamer. Throwing 4 td's on a shattered fibula is no easy task and goes a long way into showing the grit and competitiveness he brings to the field. Maybe the most telling of all stats, IN DONOVAN'S LAST 5 HEALTHY PLAYOFF RUNS , THE EAGLES HAVE ADVANCED TO 5 CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS. That shows how important he is to this team and at the same time what kind of weight is put on his shoulders. You cant downplay that stat at all. I really believe that Jason Campell, David Garrard, or a handful of other signal callers have a shot at winning a championship with an All-World D-Line, Brandon Jacobs, and Plaxico Burress (minus the bullet in his leg) on their respective teams. Hell, Give Eli in his second season in the league Duce Staley, Todd Pinkston, Na Brown and Chad Lewis as his primary weapons and see if he puts up the numbers and wins McNabb did. Eli is a top ten quarterback in my mind but i think its unfair to pin the championship on Eli's chest and proclaim him a superior QB to Donovan.

Eli-career record as starting QB - 42-30 ( .583)

Donovan- 83-45-1( .648)

Your beloved playoffs records

Eli - 4-3 (.571)

Donovan- 9-5 (.643)

QB rating (career)


Donovan- 85.9

TDs per INT ratio


Donovan- 2.16

Ill leave you with this comparison by ESPN's Colin Cowherd "Clint Eastwood never won a Grammy for acting. But Nicholas Cage did. So Eastwood is the inferior actor?" *

~stats courtesy Owen Stout
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