College Hoops Thoughts Heading Into the Final Four

Mike Rice
Mike Rice
Rutgers needs to do the obvious thing and fire Rice immediately.

Obviously there are several stories circulating right now regarding the world of college basketball and some of them are positive and some of them are far from it. I’ll get to the positive things shortly but there are two things I need to touch on first and one of those is the situation at Rutgers and the other is Steve Alford to UCLA.

Yesterday, ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” aired video of Rutgers University Basketball Coach Mike Rice physically and verbally assaulting players during videotaped practices. The hours of film show Rice throwing basketballs at players, screaming homophobic slurs at them and physically grabbing and shoving them.

Rice was suspended for three games and fined $50,000 earlier in the season for the conduct which was not really explained at the time. Rutgers Athletic Director Tim Pernetti has been criticized for not firing Rice yet and my feeling is that patience is required. He will be fired and perhaps by the time I publish this article, but we have to remember there are finanacial and legal details to work out before just tossing a coach out the door.

Many have compared Rice’s action to former Indiana coach Bobby Knight and there is reason to but even Knight never went this far. Knight was known to verbally berate guys but the throwing of basketballs at players was never reported.

The days of discipline-oriented coaches just isn’t tolerated any longer the way many of us remember and Mike Rice’s antics and behavior will continue that trend. My hope is this guy is never near a coaching again.

Steve Alford
Alford has been terrible in post-season tournaments and I think UCLA will regret this hire.

A couple of weeks ago, Steve Alford verbally accepted a new 10-year extension to stay on as head coach of the University of New Mexico stating, “There’s no place I’d rather be.” Apparently Los Angeles is better than ‘no place’ because Alford has become the new coach for UCLA and was formally introduced yesterday.

Honestly I could care less about what Alford and these other college coaches say before darting for greener pastures, but in this case, I have to ask the folks at UCLA why Steve Alford is a better choice than recently fired Ben Howland. As a head coach in Division I basketball, Steve Alford has taken one team to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Tournament.

In 18 seasons as a head coach at Southwest Missouri State, Iowa, New Mexico and now UCLA, Alford has a horrendous record when it comes to the NCAA Tournament and this is where any program’s bread is buttered if you will. Only his 1997-98 Bears’ team made it to the Sweet 16 which means his Hawkeyes and Lobos’ teams never made it past game two of the tournament or the National Invitational Tournament for that matter.

Ben Howland was fired reportedly for not filling seats and winning enough yet he had three Final Fours. Alford has never even sniffed one and I find this hiring a terrible one for Bruins’ fans.

The best news of this week was seeing Louisville’s Kevin Ware in good spirits as he returned to campus yesterday following his horrific leg break in the regional final against Duke. Less than 24 hours after the incident, Ware was already up on crutches. A lot of us would do well to take a lesson from this young man in handling such adversity.

Early Final Four Thoughts

4 Michigan vs 4 Syracuse – The Wolverines rely on a lot of outside shooting, but the rise of young Mitch McGary in the tournament has given them more inside presence based on the driving of Trey Burke. That will be challenged by the zone of the Orange.

9 Wichita State vs 1 Louisville – Obviously I’ve been impressed with the Shockers but their tournament resume is not as impressive as you might think. They beat a very average Pitt team, upset the weakest one-seed in Gonzaga, beat upstart LaSalle and then gained respect by beating a hot Ohio State team. I think Louisville’s athleticism will be too much for the Shockers as I look at things today.

Wednesday NBA Quick Picks: April 3, 2013

With only a few weeks left in the 2012-2013 NBA regular season, the action on the hardcourt is only heating up and there isn’t much time to take advantage of betting juicy 12-game slates, like the one the Association is serving up today. You’ll want to get your wagers in early today, so you can sit back and soak in all the NBA excitement and before you do, make sure to check out our trustworthy quick picks below for 10 of the games!

Washington Wizards +3.5 at Toronto Raptors -3.5

The Wizards have drastically improved since the return of John Wall – posting a record of 23-18 – but their road woes have continued, as they’ve managed just seven wins away from Washington. Still, the Raptors haven’t exactly been stellar at home and the Wizards are hot – coming in winners of eight of their last 12 – so take the Wiz to cover +3.5 in the win.

Philadelphia 76ers -4 at Charlotte Bobcats +4

As winners of three straight, the Sixers look like they’re poised to end the season strong. Look for them to continue their winning ways against the lowly Bobcats, covering -4 in the process.

New York Knicks +3.5 at Atlanta Hawks -3.5

After blowing out the Miami Heat on the shoulders of a 50-point performance from Carmelo Anthony, you could safely say the Knicks are playing with a chip on their own shoulders. As winners of nine straight, the Knicks are proving they belong among the top teams in the East. Look for them to continue their recent dominance today in a win over Atlanta, covering +3.5.

Brooklyn Nets -4.5 at Cleveland Cavaliers +4.5

The Cavs have looked absolutely lost during their nine-game losing skid and things won’t get any easier when the playoff-bound Nets come to town. Look for Brooklyn to cover -4.5 in the win.

Detroit Pistons +7.5 at Boston Celtics -7.5

Boston may be running out of juice and has been riddled with ill-timed injuries down the stretch, but with Paul Pierce back in the lineup, it should be able to defeat Detroit. Still, it probably won’t be that easy, so expect the Pistons to cover +7.5 in defeat.

Minnesota Timberwolves +5 at Milwaukee Bucks -5

Minnesota doesn’t have much to play for in this one, but with the Bucks being a few wins away from clinching an Eastern Conference playoff spot, expect them to come out hungry. Their desire and talent should be enough for them to cover -5 in the win.

Orlando Magic +14 at San Antonio Spurs -14

The Spurs are obviously far better than the Magic, but covering 14 is too tall a order for the injury-ridden Spurs. Take Orlando to cover +14 in what will still most likely be a loss.

Denver Nuggets +2.5 at Utah Jazz -2.5

The Nuggets have enjoyed plenty of hot streaks this season, but the Jazz seem to catching fire at the right time, as winners of five in a row. Without Ty Lawson, the Nuggets will fall on the road. Take Utah to cover -2.5 in victory.

Phoenix Suns +15.5 at Los Angeles Clippers -15.5

The Suns have dropped nine of their last 10 contests, but they should still be able to compete against a Clippers team that has lost three in a row. Take Phoenix to cover +15.5 in the loss.

New Orleans Hornets +8 at Golden State Warriors -8

The Warriors are starting to pick up the pace again as winners of seven of their last 10. Meanwhile, the Hornets’ struggles have continued and we shouldn’t expect things to improve for them on the road against Golden State. Take the Warriors to cover -8 in the win.

 

Football Futures Because… Why the Heck Not?

Anquan Boldin
Anquan Boldin
Boldin will now be under the rule of the 'other' Harbaugh brother in San Francisco.

Major League Baseball is now underway despite the cold that gripped several stadiums on opening day yesterday. College Basketball has reached its’ own pinnacle with the Final Four set for Saturday and Monday night in Atlanta. The National Hockey League and National Basketball Association are just a few weeks from their respective playoff seasons so you’d think football would be far from the minds of many right? Not for this guy.

Now that National Football League’s free agency has made its’ way through the weeks of major signings and comings and goings, I think now is a nice time to look at each team’s odds of winning the Super Bowl in 2014. These are odds that reflect the most recent moves in the world of free agency.

San Francisco 7/1 -The Niners traded for one of the guys that helped beat them in Super Bowl XLVII in Anquan Boldin and also sent QB Alex Smith to Kansas City. If they can upgrade their secondary, they are clearly the best team.

Denver 15/2 – The Broncos got a two-for-one in signing Wes Welker. First they get a great receiver and secondly they take him from an AFC power in New England. The problem? I just don’t have faith in Peyton Manning in the playoffs.

New England 15/2 – The Pats will need to be good in the draft with a limited number of picks and I believe the loss of Welker will be a bigger factor than they currently think it will.

Seattle 10/1 – They’ve added Percy Harvin and defensive end Cliff Avril and frankly, they should be the favorite in the NFC. If they get home-field advantage in the playoffs I expect them to be in Super Bowl XLVIII. Questions at tackle and defensive tackle may cause struggles.

Atlanta 12/1 – Tony Gonzalez returns and Stephen Jackson comes over from the Rams but can the Falcons re-group after coming so close to the Super Bowl? Matt Ryan needs to prove he is elite by getting to the Super Bowl. Until then I don’t touch the Falcons.

Aaron Rodgers
I have a feeling Rodgers and the Pack will make another run at the Super Bowl.

Green Bay 12/1 – The Packers lose Greg Jennings to the rival Vikings but I’m OK with the receiving corps Aaron Rodgers has. They still need to upgrade at running back and on defense, but this would be a team I like in 2013 behind Rodgers.

Baltimore 16/1 – Just too many losses via trade and free agency despite Rice and Flacco returning.

New Orleans 16/1 – I fully expect a ‘Sean Payton revenge tour’ in 2013 but a lot will ride on the defense. I wouldn’t blame you if you pulled the trigger one them.

Houston 16/1 – Huge upgrade at safety with Ed Reed but the question now is can Matt Schaub carrying them to the next level? For me, I say “no.”

Pittsburgh 20/1 – Way too many holes to fill with Mike Wallace gone, no real starter at running back and questions at linebacker. Just can’t recommend them this year.

NY Giants 20/1 – NYG always seem to bounce back from bad years so I like the Giants.

Chicago 25/1 – The loss of Brian Urlacher will hurt on the field and in the locker room. I say stay away.

Dallas 25/1 – Tony Romo gets an extension? No thanks.

Washington 25/1 – If RGIII is ready to go then pull the trigger. He is that dynamic.

Philadelphia 30/1 – Sorry but I see nothing but problems in Philly.

Cincinnati 35/1 – Love the talent in Cincy but I lack faith in Andy Dalton.

Detroit 35/1 – Still questions on both sides of the ball and no compliment for Megatron.

Indianapolis 35/1 – Way too low for a playoff team led by a young stud at QB. Pull the trigger on the Colts.

Miami 35/1 – I will say this, playoffs yes, but Super Bowl? Not yet.

Minnesota 40/1 – Adrian Peterson will have a great season but nothing like his MVP one. Ponder just not enough.

San Diego 40/1 – Too many question marks including Philip Rivers.

Kansas City 45/1 – You heard it here first. Chiefs make the playoffs but no way they win the Super Bowl.

Carolina 50/1 – I sense major issues in Carolina. Stay away!

Tampa Bay 50/1 – This is Josh Freeman’s make or break year. No Super Bowl though.

NY Jets 60/1 – Can you say “butt fumble?”

St. Louis 60/1 – They are much improved with Jake Long aboard but not a Super Bowl team yet.

Cleveland 75/1 – Several good upgrades but not enough to make me think anything other than AFC North cellar.

Oakland 75/1 – No.

Arizona 100/1 – No way.

Buffalo 100/1 – No freaking way.

Tennessee 100/1 – No enough weapons.

Jacksonville 150/1 – Can MJD throw, block and tackle too?

Seahawks Trade Matt Flynn to Raiders

With the emergence of star rookie QB Russell Wilson last season, the Seahawks didn’t end up having much use for Matt Flynn, but maybe the Raiders will.

According to ESPN.com, the Oakland Raiders acquired Flynn in a trade from the Seattle Seahawks for two draft picks – a 2014 fifth-round pick and a conditional pick in 2015.

There’s no question that the quarterback position has been problematic for the Raiders in the last few seasons and with Carson Palmer reportedly being sent in a trade to Arizona, it looks like it’s a position that needs to be filled by a capable starter. And the Raiders think Flynn might be their guy.

“Matt is a tough football player, and a talented quarterback,” said Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie. “He will get the opportunity to compete to be a starter with the Raiders. I believe Matt has that potential, but I also know he hasn’t had enough experience. We’re going to let him compete and battle, and see what happens.”

After putting up impressive numbers in a few starts with Green Bay when filling in for Aaron Rodgers, Matt Flynn’s stock went through the roof and he received a sizable $26 million contract from Seattle. However, after Russell Wilson won the starting job with his performance in preseason, Flynn spend almost all of 2012 on Seattle’s bench.

We’ve seen what he can do in a good offense in Green Bay, but it’s hard to be sold on him as a premier starting quarterback, since we haven’t seen him play much in the last year. And let’s not forget that the Raiders don’t even half have the amount of offensive weapons that Green Bay, or even Seattle has.

But considering that Oakland didn’t have to give up to much to acquire him, the trade certainly has more upside than downside. However, if Flynn doesn’t work out at the position, unfortunately, Oakland doesn’t have a lot of other options. So, it appears that in that way, the Raiders are putting a lot of stock in Flynn as well.

Terrelle Pryor will also be competing for the job after getting limited playing time in 2012. Pryor has shown some promise, but like Flynn, hasn’t gotten many regular season game snaps. He threw for 155 yards and two touchdowns last season, but only completed 47 percent of his throws.

We’ll have to see how training camp and the preseason play out, but the acquisition of Flynn will more likely help the Raiders, who are currently listed at 75/1 to win the 2013 Super Bowl by Bovada. They’ll certainly need to improve in many more ways to be a true contender this year.

MLB Opening Day!

Major League Baseball is back!

The 2013 season officially got underway last night with the Houston Astros defeating the Texas Rangers 8-2, but with 24 teams throwing out their first pitches of the year today, Monday marks Opening Day and the beginning of the long, but beautiful 162-game MLB schedule. Here are today’s match-ups and our quick picks:

Boston Red Sox +1.5 at New York Yankees -1.5

Look for the Sox to get their season started off right and upend the injury-ridden Yankees by covering +1.5.

Miami Marlins +1.5 at Washington Nationals -1.5

The Nationals are going to be the team to beat in the NL this year. Look for them to earn their first win today and cover -1.5.

San Diego Padres +1.5 at New York Mets -1.5

The Mets should be able to take care of the Padres at home. Take New York to cover -1.5.

Kansas City Royals +1.5 at Chicago White Sox -1.5

The Royals should be improved this season, but against Chris Sale and the Sox, they’ll struggle getting out of the gate with a win. Take the White Sox to cover -1.5.

Detroit Tigers -1.5 at Minnesota Twins +1.5 

The Tigers are one of the favorites in the AL and that’s because they have Justin Verlander. Since he’s pitching today, things don’t look good for the Twins. Take Detroit to cover -1.5.

Chicago Cubs +1.5 at Pittsburgh Pirates -1.5

We saw a huge improvement from the Pirates last year. Look for them to continue to get better with a win today.

Seattle Mariners +1.5 at Oakland A’s -1.5

With King Felix on the hill, the Mariners should be able to at least keep things close against Oakland. Take Seattle to cover +1.5.

Colorado Rockies +1.5 at Milwaukee Brewers -1.5

The Brew Crew is a bit too powerful in their own park for a team like Colorado. Take the Brewers to cover -1.5.

San Francisco Giants +1.5 at Los Angeles Dodgers -1.5

If you remember, the defending champs got off to a little bit of a slow start last year. Expect the same today as the Dodgers get the win.

Philadelphia Phillies +1.5 at Atlanta Braves -1.5

The Braves made some key acquisitions in the offseason. Look for them to pay off right away as they earn the win.

St. Louis Cardinals +1.5 at Arizona Diamondbacks -1.5

The Cardinals have too much firepower to lose to Arizona, even on the road. Take St. Louis to get this one.

Los Angeles Angels +1.5 at Cincinnati Reds -1.5

The Angels are more stacked than ever, but Johnnu Cueto shut down everybody last season. Expect him to do the same and guide the Reds to an Opening Day win.

 

Michigan, Louisville Round Out the Final Four

Michigan
Michigan
The Wolverines are headed to their first Final Four since the days of the 'Fab Five.'

With Syracuse and Wichita State having punched their tickets on Saturday, Sunday was a day where tight games were expected and turned out to be anything but. In the early game, Michigan jumped out early lead and never looked back in beating Florida 79-59 to win the South Regional and punch their first Final Four ticket since 1993. Louisville and Duke were tight through first 25 minutes or so and then the Cards turned it up a notch and ran away with an 85-63 win over the Blue Devils.

What these two teams proved in getting to the Final Four is that there is absolutely no formula for figuring out how to pick a team for your NCAA bracket.

Michigan limped into the tournament with a 6-6 record over their last 12 games. In the Big Ten tournament, they were torched in the second half of a quarter-final contest against Wisconsin when they surrendered over 60 points. Giving up that many points in a half to an offensively-challenged Badgers team left me thinking this Wolverines team just didn’t have the toughness and defensive ability to make the run they ultimately did.

Rick Pitino
Pitino and the Cards overcame adversity to get back to the Final Four.

Louisville on the other hand entered the NCAA tournament as hot as any team in the field and was named the number one overall seed heading into it. The Cardinals have now won 14 straight games with their last loss being the epic five-overtime game at Notre Dame. Rick Pitino’s crew had exactly what every great tournament team needs. They have excellent guard-play, athletic big men and play great defense. All three of those factors were vital in beating Duke yesterday.

The Breakdown

Michigan is the classic case of a team that can live and die by the three-pointer and so far this tournament, they have proven this fact true but have also added another element. Guard Trey Burke consistently broke down the defense which led to open three-point attempts or created space inside for freshman big man Mitch McGary. Florida looked sluggish as they did in the previous game against FGCU before turning up the heat but they had no answer against Michigan.

It’s obvious to me that Head Coach John Beilein found a way to crank his team’s defensive effort as well, but there were still cracks in it especially against Kansas. Let’s face it, Michigan was bailed out by Burke and in that one overcame some defensive short-comings especially in the paint. If UM expects to get by Syracuse, they’ll need to adjust and keep the paint clear of the Orange.

In Louisville’s case, they went back and forth with Duke in the first half and ultimately led by three at the break. The Cards relied on their trademark defense and good performances from Peyton Siva and Russ Smith but then they relied mental toughness more than they had at any point in the season after teammates Kevin Ware went down with a sickening leg injury.

In the worst possible scenario, Ware suffered a broken leg which was a horrific sight right in front of his own bench. The fact that these young men had seen something so horrible befall a teammate and then use it as motivation was truly remarkable.

Pitino took advantage in my opinion of a poor press break design by Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski to create turnovers and force Duke into poor decisions. Toss in the fact that Duke went ice-cold from the field while Louisville started knocking down shots left and right and the blowout was on.

My early Final Four thoughts

Louisville (-10) vs Wichita State – WSU has been impressive but I don’t think they’re ready for what the Cards will be bringing.

Michigan (-2) vs Syracuse – This game is simple. If UM knocks down shots from outside the 2-3 zone, they win.