Nine Thoughts Through Nine Days of College Hoops

It’s nine o’clock on a Saturday…well nine o’clock-ish, PST. And we’re more than a week into college basketball season. Unsurprisingly, I have things to say about what I’ve seen. Here are nine thoughts on the young season.

Jahlil!

Jahlil!

1. Jahlil Okafor is absolutely the real deal. The Duke freshman came in with tons of hype and is living up to it early. The Blue Devils are 5-0 and have already logged wins over Michigan State and Stanford. Against MSU, Okafor scored 17 and shot 8-10 from the field. The near-seven-footer is mad skilled. Even when he misses, it looks good.

2. The Big East looks poised for a great season. Creighton is adjusting well to post-Doug McDermott life; they’re 3-0 and upset Oklahoma. Providence has looked sharp and sits at 4-0. They beat FSU 80-54 today. Villanova and Georgetown look good too. And only one of the conference’s ten teams has lost thus far (Marquette).

3. The national media might have overrated Nebraska. The 21st ranked Cornhuskers fell at Rhode Island today. It’s only one loss, but I continue to question any team coached by a guy who tweets during games. (I’m mostly kidding–Tim Miles is a good coach–but Nebraska’s ranking is probably steep.)

4. Gonzaga’s filthy. The 4-0 Bulldogs dominated SMU on November 17th and then beat St. Joe’s 94-42 on the 19th. The Hawks aren’t as good as they’ve been in past years, but still! Gonzaga had a 48-10 halftime lead!

5. San Diego State’s defense: still outstanding. The Aztecs held Utah to 49 points in a win on Tuesday and are giving up 45 points per game through three contests. Sure makes it less important that they’re shooting 36% from the field.

Bill Self

Bill Self’s Jayhawks had a rough go against Kentucky.

6. Colorado scored 90 points in their second game of the season (a blowout win over Auburn) and 33 points in their third game of the season (a blowout loss to Wyoming). Against Wyoming, they managed just nine second half points. Weird shit.

7. Kansas’ number five pre-season ranking might have been presumptuous. My ranking of them (tenth) in College Sports Town’s preview might have been, too. The youthful Jayhawks, who lost Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins to the NBA Draft, looked plenty green in a 72-40 loss to Kentucky earlier this week.

8. As for Kentucky, they might be OK.

9. Virginia Tech athletics had a rough day today. Their basketball team lost to Appalachian State. Their football team was involved in this.

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Ruminations on the Retirement of Alfonso Soriano

Alfonso Soriano announced his retirement this week.

Alfonso Soriano's career was all about bat flips, bombs, and big smiles.

Alfonso Soriano’s career was all about bat flips, bombs, and big smiles.

Looking back at Soriano’s career, it certainly had its contradictions. Soriano was famously overpaid and overrated, and yet somehow also underrated for much of his career. His longevity and (relative) consistency is striking–from 2002 to 2013 he hit at least 20 home runs every year. Sure, there were major ups and (often injury-induced) downs. During his time with the Cubs from 2007 to 2013, Soriano was often a lightening rod due to his huge contract and struggles to get on base. Yet, he still had plenty of good times in Chicago: enough to produce 181 home runs and a cumulative .812 OPS in 889 games.

Soriano will go down as a Yankee first, though, not a Cub. Sori broke onto the scene as one of the league’s best young players in the early 2000s, thrilling Bronx crowds with his combination of blazing speed and prodigious power. He nearly hit the 40 home run-40 stolen base mark in those early New York years…twice (’02 &’03)! He eventually joined the 40-40 club during his one year with the Washington Nationals in ’06, blasting 46 homers and pilfering 41 bases.

Soriano made it back to New York in 2013, and finished off his best late-career season by knocking out 17 home runs in 58 games after a mid-season trade from the Cubs.

In some strange way, Sori still feels like a product of the steroid era, even though he was always built like a stick and never tested positive for any PEDs. Yet, Soriano’s ‘cleanness’ is essential to his legacy. He’s the only 40-40 member who’s not linked to roids. His 412 home runs are not impugned by the shadow of roids. In the era of PEDs, Soriano was a pro’s pro. A star with a tree trunk for a bat and legendary swagger who (as far as we know) wasn’t sticking needles in his body.

And, even as Soriano became one of those guys who you felt like you’d been watching forever, watching the fleet-footed infielder-turned-outfielder always felt like rediscovering one of the game’s gems–his retirement feels both overdue and, simultaneously, abrupt and unexpected.

Alfonso Soriano now exits quietly, the polar opposite of the way his venerable Yankee teammate–Derek Jeter–went out. Much like Jeter, though, Soriano was a unique, often times polarizing player. And, like Jeter, Sori represented the type of eye-catching talent that seems to become rarer and rarer in today’s MLB.

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2014-2015 College Basketball Preview

November 14th. That’s the date that is circled on the calendars of college basketball fans all around the country. 157 college basketball games will be played on November 14th to bring in the new college basketball year. Soon all the things that make college basketball the best sport in the world–the dunks, the pull up threes, the packed student sections, the fiery coaches, and Bill Raftery yelling incomprehensible nuggets (Dick Vitale too!)–will return. Get pumped.

To prepare for it all, I’ve thrown together College Sports Town’s second annual college hoops preview. Give it a skim, check out where I’ve got your favorite team ranked, and, as always, tell me where I’m right (and wrong) in the comments section. Enjoy!

1. Duke: Exit Jabari, Enter Jahlil 

Jahlil Okafor was named an AP preseason All-American.

Jahlil Okafor was named an AP preseason All-American.

Duke freshman Jahlil Okafor may not be as good as Jabari Parker, who played one year in Cameron Indoor before splitting for the NBA. Parker was a nearly unstoppable offensive force for Duke last year, scoring with ease from all over the court. But Okafor will still have a massive impact in his first–and likely only–year at Duke. The Blue Devils had a typically strong season last year, winning 26 games, but in the end they finished with more losses than they’ve had in a season since ‘07, none more disappointing than their defeat against Mercer in the first second round of the NCAA Tourney.

Duke was unusually small (for Duke) and struggled early defensively, giving up 94 points in a loss to Kansas in their second game of the season and 90 a couple weeks later to…Vermont. Coach K’s teams are rarely deficient on that side of the ball, and they did improve over the course of the winter, but the team’s inability to guard consistently reared its head more often than anybody in Durham would have liked. The Blue Devils allowed Mercer to shoot 55% in their Tournament loss.

The expectation is that Duke will get back to playing Duke-level D this year, and Okafor is a great place to start. The seven footer should be an anchor for a team that added another stud in point guard Tyus Jones, also a McDonald’s All-American.  The two diaper dandies will join a nucleus of vets that includes senior guard Quinn Cook and junior wing Rasheed Sulaimon, a tremendous scorer in his own right who should step into the spotlight after the departure of Parker. This Duke team looks bigger and better than the ’13 outfit. A fifth national title for Coach K could be in sight.

Predicted Win Range: 31-37

Rasheed Sulaimon and the Blue Devils have the goods to win it all.

Rasheed Sulaimon and the Blue Devils have the goods to win it all.

2. Arizona: Pac-12 could have a rough season. ‘Zona won’t, though

The Pac-12’s basketball product has gone somewhat stale in recent years and the conference could be headed for an awful winter. The good news is that Arizona is still in the league, and the Wildcats are looking like strong contenders to win it all in ’15. There are surely concerns about where the scoring will come from after the departure of Nick Johnson, but ‘Zona should find a way to score. Plus, there’s the fact that Arizona might be the best defensive team in the nation. Slasher Brandon Ashley will lead the charge at both ends, and the talent-rich Wildcats should win 30 games for the second straight year.

Predicted Win Range: 30-35

There's not much doubt that Sean Miller's Wildcats will be the class of Pac-12.

There’s not much doubt that Sean Miller’s Wildcats will be the class of Pac-12.

3. Kentucky: Wildcats will be big and physical

It took a while for Kentucky to coalesce last year, but when John Calipari’s talented and much-hyped squad figured it out, the results were impressive. UK rode some clutch shots, tough defensive stops, and a little bit of luck through the NCAA Tournament’s toughest region (they beat Wichita State, Louisville, and Michigan along the way). In the Final Four, they bested Wiscy 74-73 in a thriller. Then they lost to an unbelievable UConn team in the title game. And then, as usual, everybody headed to the draft. Except not…Julius Randle and James Young hit the draft, but the Harrison twins and Willie Cauley-Stein all elected to return. Then, Cal predictably brought in some outstanding freshmen, pulling in big name big guys Trey Lyles and Karl Towns Jr. This all leaves ‘Tucky with a decent mix of diaper dandies and experience going into this season. That mix, in addition to bodacious talent, has plenty of folks calling for a Big Blue title.

Predicted Win Range: 26-35

The Harrison twins are back, baby.

Andrew and Aaron Harrison are back, baby.

4 . Wisconsin: Always-good Wiscy was great last year. They should be great again this winter

After more than a decade’s worth of NCAA Tourney visits and several deep runs, coach Bo Ryan finally took Wisconsin to the Final Four last year. The Badgers, who have historically won with smothering defense and smart, opportunistic offense under Ryan, opened things up offensively last year. This winter, the good times should keep on rollin’ in Madison. Star 7-footer Frank Kaminsky is back, gritty guard Traveon Jackson is too, and Bo Ryan has to be thinking about another Final four.

Predicted Win Range: 26-33

Frank Kaminsky and the Badgers are legit.

Frank Kaminsky and the Badgers are outstanding.

5. Villanova: Nas would be proud of ‘Nova, which should have their best team since ‘09

With just about everybody back from last year’s team, which went 29-5, there’s reason for the rest of the Big East to be afraid of Villanova. The Wildcats did lose James Bell, one of their leaders and a dude with in-the-gym range, to graduation. But their other four starters are back and all are good. Junior Ryan Arcidiacono will run the point for the Cats, and he’s the guy who can make all the shots. These Wildcats also have size; forwards JayVaughn Pinkston and Daniel Ochefu will anchor ‘Nova in the paint. Jay Wright’s Wildcat team is not loaded with future lottery picks, but its mix of experience and balance makes the Catholic school from outside of Philadelphia a strong title contender. Who knows, maybe they’ll even inspire another rap lyric.

Ryan Arcidiacono will have Villanova grooving past opponents all winter.

Ryan Arcidiacono will have Villanova grooving past opponents all winter.

Predicted Win Range: 29-33

6. Wichita State: I’m just sitting here resisting the urge to make another dumb Shocker pun

At least for the moment, it appears Wichita State is the nation’s top mid-major. The Shockers won 35 straight games last year before falling to Kentucky in the Round of 32 in March. This fall, the Shockers will be without the best player from that team–the uber talented Cleanthony Early–but a bunch of excellent players are returning to Wichita. Ron Baker’s back. Star point guard Fred VanVleet is too. And guard Tekele Cotton will continue to be a defensive force on the perimeter. Greg Marshall’s program is rolling. It should be another good winter for the Shockers.

Predicted Win Range: 30-36

Senior Tekele Cotton gettin' up.

Senior Tekele Cotton gettin’ up.

7. Virginia: This Tony Bennett team should have the body and soul to compete for an ACC ‘ship

Who doesn’t love a little Tony Bennett? I’m talking about the esteemed singer from Astoria, Queens, of course. As for the basketball coach, he’s pretty darn good too. After four years of steady improvement under Bennett, the Cavaliers broke through last year, winning 30 games and the ACC title. They bowed out (relatively early) in the Big Dance though–falling by two to Sparty in the Sweet 16–so this year could still be a step forward for UVA. The Cavs are a defense-first team, and they’ll be led on that end by guard Justin Anderson. Meanwhile, speedy slasher Malcolm Brogdon will lead what should be a strong Virgina offensive attack. Bennett’s got a good thing going in Charlottesville.

Predicted Win Range: 27-33

erm...um...

erm…um…

8. Florida: Gator basketball brand has never been stronger

It’ll be a different look from Bill Donovan’s Gators this winter. They lost four of five starters in the offseason and will have to rekindle the same type of chemistry they had last winter, when they went 36-3 and 18-0 in SEC play. The good news is that Coach Donovan is a master of just that type of alchemy. What’s more, the Gators still have loads of talent, and the one starter who’s back (Michael Frazier II) is a baller. Florida has made it to at least the Elite Eight each of the last four years. No reason not to aim for five.

Predicted Win Range: 28-33

Billy Donovan's Gators are title contenders.

Billy Donovan’s Gators are title contenders.

9. Louisville: Cards enter the ACC ready to make a splash

When Louisville pounded eventual national champion UConn 81-48 on March 8th last winter, it looked like Louisville had a helluva great shot to repeat as national champs. But it didn’t come to fruition; the Cards lost a back and forth game to Kentucky in the Sweet 16. The Cardinals might have come up short, but they should be right in the thick of things again this March. The Cardinals lost Russ Smith to graduation in the spring, and Smith was the face of the program for the past couple years–a blazing comet at both ends of the court who personified coach Rick Pitino’s aggressive style. He’ll be sorely missed. Dynamite big Montrezl Harrell is back though, and Louisville has the size across their frontline to bully their new ACC brethren. Their backcourt won’t be too shabby either: Terry Rozier and Wayne Blackshear are both very capable dudes.

Predicted Win Range: 26-32

Montrezl Harrell and Louisville are ready to take the ACC by storm.

Montrezl Harrell and Louisville are ready to take the ACC by storm.

10. Kansas: Wiggins, Embiid–gone. That’s fine, Bill Self’s cupboard is far from bare

This Kansas team obviously won’t have the same type of topflight NBA talent that last year’s did. So be it, the 2008 Kansas team that won a national title didn’t have two top three NBA Draft picks either. This year, stalwarts Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis will be joined by another group of nasty freshmen. The results will be excellent, and Kansas fans will forget about Wiggins and Embiid in no time.

Predicted Win Range: 26-32

Time for Wayne Selden to breakout?

Time for Wayne Selden to breakout?

11. North Carolina: This will be the Marcus Paige show

Let’s be honest: the Tar Heels have underachieved the past couple years and the program is in a bit of a rut. Roy Williams has looked totally confounded by his teams at times. He’s been unable to turn talent-rich squads into legitimate title contenders and has fielded questions about his program’s academic integrity. Of course, this is still UNC, and the Heels have managed a more than respectable 49 wins the past two winters. This year, the hope in Chapel Hill is that they’ll really get their mojo back. UNC had very little success from 3 last year, but freshman Justin Jackson, a wiry and gifted wing, figures to help in that area. At the same time, Marcus Paige, a sensational junior point guard, should have a fabulous year. There are still question marks around the Dean Dome, but there’s also reason to think UNC is ready to return to the top 10.

Predicted Win Range: 26-30

Roy Williams' program enters the year with questions about academic fraud still lingering around the program.

Roy Williams’ program enters the year with questions about academic fraud still lingering around the program.

12. Gonzaga: Beat goes on for Gonzaga

The hot shooting Bulldogs sniped their way to 29 wins last year. They continue to dominate the underrated WCC, and will again be the class of the conference this year. Steady, sharp shooting point man Kevin Pangos will continue to lead the charge for the Zags with the super efficient Gary Bell Jr. serving as his sidekick in the backcourt. Gonzaga will have to deal with the loss of forward Sam Dower Jr., but talented transfer Kyle Wiltjer, last seen on that ill-fated 2012-13 Kentucky team, will fill ably in his place. Another transfer–guard Byron Wesley–was a star at USC and will be one in Spokane also. Should be another great year for the Zags.

Predicted Win Range: 27-32

Kevin Pangos leads a Gonzaga that scores prolifically.

Kevin Pangos leads a Gonzaga team that will score prolifically.

13. Syracuse: They probably won’t start the year 25-0, but the hope is that this year’s Orange squad will finish stronger

The expression “the names change, but the game remains the same,” fits Jim Boeheim’s program to a tee. Boeheim’s 2-3 defense is pure gold and Syracuse seems to get even better defensively each year. They lost a lot of good dudes to graduation and the NBA before last year, but ‘Cuse still had a fantastic season. The only thing: it ended on a real sour note: six losses in their final nine games. This year’s team won’t repeat that finish. The Orange are replacing big names like Tyler Ennis and CJ Fair this time around, but a tough squad remains. Trevor Cooney can shoot the air out of the ball, gritty forward Rakeem Christmas is back for another round (how has he not graduated yet!?!??!), and big things are expected of freshman point guard Kaleb Joseph. That 2-3 zone is back too.

Predicted Win Range: 25-30

Can this just be Syracuse's logo?

Syracuse=jim boeheim=2-3 zone. Or something.

14.  Texas: Arrival of Turner will bolster Longhorns 

There’s a great deal of excitement around the Texas basketball program at the moment. The Longhorns are returning a lot of guys from a squad that won 24 games last year and brought in arguably the best frosh in the nation, a wildly athletic seven footer named Myles Turner. He’ll join quality returnees like senior forward Jonathan Holmes and double double machine Cameron Ridley. Texas is experienced, deep, and talented. All good things. They’ll win plenty.

Predicted Win Range: 26-31

People are excited to see Myles Turner in a Longhorn uniform.

People are excited to see Myles Turner in a Longhorn uniform.

15. Ohio State: Thad Matta’s Buckeyes have won 25+ games each of the last five years

This Ohio State team isn’t all that experienced where it counts. The departures of stars LaQuinton Ross and Aaron Craft leave the Buckeyes with major holes. Losing Lenzell Smith Jr. to graduation doesn’t help things either. But expectations should still be extremely high in Columbus, where coach Thad Matta has brought in dynamite freshmen D’Angelo Russell. Russell is expected to be a star off the bat. Other new arrivals include forward Anthony Lee, a transfer from Temple, who will add some power to an OSU front court that was uncharacteristically ineffective last year. Ohio State will have a new look this winter, but we can trust Matta to make it all work. The Buckeyes boast a 77% winning percentage in ten years under Thad.

Predicted Win Range: 25-30

Thad Matta is only 47. Weird right?

Thad Matta is only 47. Weird, right?

16. San Diego State: Athletic Aztecs will be outstanding again

San Diego State coach Steve Fisher will turn 70 this March, right before the Sweet 16. I guess you could say, by measure of this ranking, that I think he’ll have a little extra to celebrate about when he turns 70. The Aztecs, who made it to the Sweet 16 last year (but no further), are coming off an incredibly impressive 31 win season. In repeating the effort, they will have to overcome the departure of leading scorer Xavier Thames, which is a bit of a concern for a squad that struggled to score with Thames. But the bread and butter of Fisher’s program is defense, and the Aztecs will undoubtedly be tremendous in that area. A breakout year from junior Winston Shepard, who was solid but inconsistent as a sophomore, could be key.

Predicted Win Range: 26-32

Winston Shepard might need to take a starring role for SDSU.

Winston Shepard might need to take a starring role for SDSU.

17. SMU: This year they’ll aim to leave no doubt on Selection Sunday

Last year when SMU was shockingly left off the NCAA Tournament bracket, I thought to myself ‘Larry Brown’s getting too old for this shit.’ Fortunately for Mustangs fans, the coach doesn’t feel the same way. The 74 year old basketball mastermind took a team that won just 13 games the year before he arrived (2012) to the cusp of the Tourney last March. And there’s really no question that the team deserved to get in; SMU was 23-9 and ranked 25th in the polls on Selection Sunday, having already logged wins over Memphis, Cincinnati, and the eventual champion Huskies (twice). Brown’s Mustangs should be even better this year, led by tiny (5-9) point guard Nic Moore and power forward Markus Kennedy. Justin Martin, a swingman who transferred from Xavier, should also be an impact player. SMU hasn’t gone dancing since ‘93. They’re a good bet to end the drought this year.

Predicted Win Range: 25-31

Nic Moore is a baller.

Nic Moore is a baller.

18. VCU: And they’ll have Havoc, Havoc, Havoc ’til someone takes their Shaka away 

Shaka Smart’s VCU program keeps rolling. The 37 year old coach’s team went 26-9 last year, although they failed to make any magic happen in March (losing off the bat to Stephen F. Austin). By recent VCU standards, it was a pretty quiet season, albeit one that included wins over Virginia and St. Louis. Smart seems to have his name thrown around every time a major program is hiring, but Smart has stuck around Richmond. This winter, his team will aim to make a little more March noise than they did in ’13-14. VCU brings back veteran leadership (Treveon Graham, Briante Weber) and is athletic across the board. The Rams will be the class of the oft-underrated A-10.

Predicted Win Range: 24-30

Shaka Smart and VCU keep on winning.

Shaka Smart and VCU keep on winning.

19. Michigan State: Sparty loses tons, but Izzo will figure it out

Michigan State lost loads of offensive talent this offseason (Garry Harris, Adreian Payne, Keith Appling–all gone). As such, coach Tim Izzo might lean on his defense more this winter than last. But there are still offensive weapons remaining, most notably forward Branden Dawson. The Spartans might start slow, but they should have things figured out by March. That’s the Izzo way, after all.

Predicted Win Range: 21-27

Branden Dawson's got ups!

Expect a big year from Branden Dawson.

20. Harvard: Harvard’s building toward a deep NCAA run

Harvard has won games in each of the last two NCAA Tournaments. In 2013, the Crimson raced by New Mexico in the Round of 64 before getting waxed by Arizona in the next round. Last March, the Crimson took down five seed Cincinnati–a good five seed at that–and looked like they might be headed to the Sweet 16 before mighty Michigan State went into high gear down the stretch of a thrilling game. The Crimson are building upward. Could this be the year they break into the Sweet 16? They certainly have elite athleticism across the board. But for Harvard to take the next step forward, they’ll need to find a jump shooting option to replace the excellent Laurent Rivard. Even with Rivard, Harvard struggled at times from the perimeter last year. The expectation in Cambridge is that Corbin Miller will fill the void, but improvement in the shooting of Wesley Saunders, already Harvard’s best two-way player, might put Harvard over the top.

Predicted Win Range: 25-31

Wesley Saunders will lead a talented Harvard team.

Wesley Saunders will lead a talented Harvard team.

21. Iowa State: Fred Hoiberg’s program is trending upwards

There were some rumors swirling around Fred Hoiberg drawing interest from the NBA this offseason, but the outstanding 41 year old coach is still in Ames. He’s got a pretty good team this year too; Georges Niang will lead a team that also features excellent players like Dustin Hogue and transfer Bryce Dejean-Jones. Plus they have a 7-foot-1 freshman named Georgios Tsalmpouris. Long legs. Long name.

Predicted Win Range: 20-26

Fred Hoiberg pointing at something.

Freddie’s a great coach.

22. Georgetown: Led by star Smith-Rivera, the Hoyas look to bounce back

As good as Georgetown has been under John Thompson III, they’ve not made it past the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament since 2007. Last year, they missed the Tournament altogether, as the losses of Otto Porter to the NBA Draft and Greg Whittington to injury proved costly. Expect it to be bounce back city in our nation’s capital this year. Junior guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera will be the star of the show for the Hoyas–the Big East preseason POY is coming off a monster sophomore season and can score from all over. JT3’s team is big–with center Joshua Smith (who missed much of last year for academic reasons) leading the front court. The Hoyas also added a strong freshman class. The sun’s about to come up over the Georgetown’s gothic campus.

Predicted Win Range: 22-27

D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera and Georgetown should be in for a fun season.

D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and Georgetown should be in for a fun season.

23. UConn: Boatright will keep things going right 

The Huskies are rebuilding in a sense after the title; Shabazz Napier is gone along with DeAndre Daniels and Niels Giffey. Nonetheless, UConn fans shouldn’t tear up yet. Freshmen Daniel Hamilton is expected to come in and make a big impact. More important than that, though, is the return of Ryan Boatright, one the nation’s best two-way guards. And, with Kevin Ollie still at the helm, UConn still should be a tight ship. Just don’t bank on them to repeat as national champs.

Predicted Win Range: 21-27

Ryan Boatright and the defending champs might take a step back, but don't expect it to be huge.

Boat ain’t wrong.

24. Michigan: Baby Wolverines will be a tough out in the Big Ten 

As good an X’s and O’s coach John Beilein is, the amount of talent that the coach has brought to Ann Arbor should not be understated. This winter, Michigan might experience some growing pains. The Wolverines are young across the board. Juniors Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht will fill key leadership roles. LeVert likely will be the squad’s best player. Meanwhile sophomore guard Zak Irvin may be poised for a breakout year. The play of the new class of freshmen will also be critical. If Beilein can get them to play together, Michigan still could be really good, really fast.

Predicted Win Range: 19-24

This is a sweet pic of Chris LeVert.

Chris LeVert will star for the Wolverines.

25. Providence: Big East title not a fluke

It might not seem a likely year to call for Providence to breakout. After all, the Friars lost star Bryce Cotton to graduation, and few players meant more to their team than the electrifying guard did to PC last year. Cotton played just about 40 minutes per game and scored 22 per night. And he’s not the only guy who the Friars will have to replace; stud forward Kadeem Batts graduated and wing Josh Fortune transferred. Providence wasn’t a deep team last year (they featured a six man rotation), so the losses are somewhat daunting. Even with all that in mind, there is plenty of reason to think the Friars are ready to breakout. To a large degree, they already have. PC is fresh off a 23 win season that culminated in a Big East Championship. But this year they should be even better. Under coach Ed Cooley, PC won 15 games in ’11-12, 19 in ’12-13, and of course 23 last winter. Cooley has enhanced the overall talent level in the program. This year, he’ll have to lean on a fantastic freshman class (7-2 center Paschal Chukwu, wing Jalen Lindsey, and forward Ben Bentil are all high profile guys) and senior forward LaDontae Henton (a do-it-all two-way demon who plays bigger than he is). Last year’s surprise run to the Big East title was only the beginning for Cooley at PC. This year, the Friars will build on it.

Predicted Win Range: 21-26

Cooley and the Gang took home some hardware in MSG last March.

Cooley & the Gang took home some hardware in MSG last March.

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A Farewell to Jeets

Derek Jeter played his antepenultimate home game as a Yankee last night. Today he took the Yankee Stadium diamond for the second to last time ever. Between the two games, he went one for nine at the plate, striking out thrice. The Yankees, meanwhile, lost both contests.

Even as his career ends with a whimper, Derek Jeter continues to incite fierce debate in sports fans everywhere.

Even as his career ends with a whimper, Derek Jeter continues to incite fierce debate in sports fans everywhere.

The two games are fairly emblematic of the season as a whole for the 40 year old Captain and his Bronx Bombers. Jeter’s farewell tour has been, for the most part, a resounding disappointment on the field; Jeter has had a hellish season from a statistical perspective, far and away the worst full season of his career. He is the owner of just 23 extra base hits in 625 plate appearances and an embarrassing OPS of .611. His team has managed, to date, just 81 wins and will fall short of the playoffs. They have failed to take advantage of an unusually weak AL East or to send Jeter off with one last trip to October.

Jeter’s final season has, however, been a beautiful thing in other ways. While his numbers have faltered in his closing campaign, Jeter has still engendered the same love and worship, and loathing and criticism, that have characterized his fabulous career. Jeter does represent everything we love about sports. And I don’t mean that in the way so many do–in the tacky, cliched sense that he’s an unassailable teammate, leader, and person.  Those characteristics are subjective and hard to prove anyway, although I have little reason to think that the quiet Jeter lacks them.

Rather, Jeter represents the very things that create sports fans. He is an idol who has spurred endless debate. Was Derek Jeter a good defensive shortstop? I rest my case. So many fundamental baseball disputes are relevant to Jeter. It’s hard to have a conversation about the utility of defensive stats like dWAR or UZR without bringing up Jeter. Or the worth of Gold Gloves. Or even the importance of championships in ranking players.

Meanwhile, Jeter finds himself at the center of the debate between old school and new school. Everybody concedes that he’s been a great player over his two decades in pinstripes. But the new school guys will never agree with the old school folks about how great he was. After all, the dude’s individual accolades don’t look quite as good when they’re not paired with his team accomplishments. And those defensive stats are far from pretty.

The Jeter debates never seem to end. Now they surround whether he’s batting too high in the order (he is) and whether too much attention is being paid to his farewell tour. Just the other night, Keith Olbermann ripped through Jeter. At this point, Jeter almost personifies sports debate.

What I love most about Jeter, though, is that in the early 2000s he was the guy that every kid in America wanted to play like. We modeled our batting stances after him, practiced that jump throw he made so famous, and played video games that invariably had his face on the cover.

In so many respects, Jeter is post-2000 baseball.

Jeter has long been the face of America's past time. Who's next in line?

Jeter has long been the face of America’s past time. Who’s next in line?

Much of this comes down to visibility. But even more than that, it comes down to the fact that he’s Derek Jeter. He’s baseball’s Michael Jordan. He’s the face of an era of baseball. And yes, that era arguably ended more than half a decade ago. The MLB’s recent golden age with Jeter as front man evaporated long before Jeter’s proverbial baseball candle burned out. But Jeter’s coming retirement still feels too early. As I observed when Jeter first announced he’d be retiring, #2 has been manning that spat of dirt to the left of second at Yankee Stadium since before I was born.

Jeter will now move on. The MLB will be forced to find a new face. Kids playing in fields and sandlots will need to find a new player to emulate. And baseball fans everywhere will search for a new perpetual debate-creation machine.

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2014 College Football Preview

We couldn’t have asked for a more exciting end to the BCS era. The culmination of the 2013 NCAA football season was a shootout between offensive juggernauts Auburn and Florida State, ending with Heisman winner Jameis Winston dropping a pass into Kelvin Benjamin’s arms for the game winning touchdown with seconds remaining. Still, as good as that matchup was, the introduction of the long-awaited College Football Playoff for the 2014 season is a welcome change. Four teams, selected by a panel of voters that includes Condoleezza Rice and Archie Manning, will battle it out in January in the brand new playoff. Below are our predictions for what those four teams will be, along with the rest of our preseason top 20. Enjoy our second annual College Football Preview, and let us know which schools we ranked too high and too low in the comments!

The Final Four:

1. Florida State

How beautiful 2013 was for Florida State. The ‘Noles didn’t play a single close regular season game (excluding a decent game with Boston College in Chestnut Hill), beat Duke in the ACC Championship by 38, won their 14 games by an average of 40 points, and overcame a 21-3 second quarter deficit en route to their National Championship victory over Auburn. They weren’t just elite on both sides of the ball; they arguably were the best team in the nation on both! None of that will help them this fall, but the good news in Tallahasee is that the ‘14 team has the talent to match what the ‘13 team did. QB Jameis Winston is back and, while he’s polarizing, he’s also the best player in college football. He returns with 12 other starters. Florida State will still dominate the line of scrimmage. And with their two toughest regular season games coming at home (vs. Clemson and vs. Notre Dame), FSU faces a fairly manageable route to the four team playoff.

Famous Jameis

Jameis Winston seeks another crystal football (after he inexplicably hurled the last one across the field).

2. Alabama

Alabama entered last season as the prohibitive favorites to take home the crystal ball. They started the year atop the polls and won their first 11 games, rolling into the final weekend of the regular season still No.1, despite the dominance of FSU 300 miles southeast. Then, in one of the most epic football games in recent memory, Auburn knocked off ‘Bama in the Iron Bowl. The Crimson Tide were forced to settle for the Sugar Bowl and hardly showed up, falling to Oklahoma 45-31. Redemption time? It could well be. Alabama should be a step better defensively than they were last year. They have a bit of a QB controversy, but a strong O-line and the return of guys like Amari Cooper and T.J. Yeldon suggests that they could win with Adam Sandler playing QB. They missed out on the threepeat, but four titles in six years would be far from shabby.

3. Oregon

2013 was a relative down year for the Ducks, as they failed to make a BCS bowl for the first time since 2008. The key word there is ‘relative’; Oregon still won 11 games, blasting UCLA 42-14 along the way. Not a half bad way to start off the post-Chip Kelly era. Looking at Oregon as they enter 2014, they’re certainly a favorite to make the football final four. These Ducks might not have quite the multiplicity of offensive playmakers that they’ve had in past years, but they’re more balanced than they were circa 2011 (read: better defensively), and they’re still pretty damn electric on offense. Heisman hopeful QB Marcus Mariota and dynamite CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu are both back, and Oregon will be pretty experienced across the board. The Pac-12 is a bear–Stanford and UCLA are both strong title contenders–but we think the Ducks have the stuff to win it.

4. Ohio State

Ohio State has one regular season game against a team that enters the season ranked in the top 25 (@Michigan State on November 8th) . That’s one fewer than Florida Atlantic or East Carolina. So…we think they’ll be fine without Braxton Miller, their electrifying senior signal caller, who injured his shoulder last Monday and will miss the entire season. Sans Miller, the Buckeyes are still talented in every place you can be talented. Their D-line will be vicious, the secondary behind it should be just as good, and, even without Miller, tOSU should score plenty. Lest we forget, the Buckeyes scored 128 points in the two games Miller missed last year. Coach Urban Meyer has led Ohio State to perfect regular seasons in his first two autumns in Columbus. A third is doable and would set Ohio State up nicely for a trip to the final four.

Ohio State v Michigan State

Coach Urban Meyer will attempt to guide Ohio State to the inaugural playoff.

The Next 16:

5. Oklahoma

Trevor Knight picked quite a stage for his coming out party. The redshirt sophomore threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns against the stout defense of Alabama in the Sooners’ 45-31 Sugar Bowl victory, inspiring hope for a Big 12 championship and playoff run this season. With Knight leading the offensive charge and skilled linebackers Dominique Alexander and Eric Striker holding down the defensive end, those outcomes are certainly in play for Oklahoma. Their success will depend on the development of OU’s skill players after the loss of talented receiver Jalen Saunders to the NFL. If their playmakers can produce against Big 12 challengers Baylor and Kansas State, Oklahoma will be a favorite to reach the playoff.

6. Stanford

David Shaw is, for lack of a better word, the man (er…I guess that’s two words). A Stanford alum, Shaw took over the Cardinal in 2011 and has led them to three straight seasons of 11 or more wins. The formula has been pretty simple: control the line of scrimmage. They’ve done it and done it consistently, picking up big win after big win along the way. This year’s team might be the best one Shaw has had, with a nasty defense and an offense led by Senior QB Kevin Hogan and wideout Ty Montgomery. The concern for Stanford: their schedule is vicious. Road games against Washington, Notre Dame, Arizona State, Oregon, and UCLA loom.

7. Baylor

Bryce Petty, Baylor’s big, sturdy QB, didn’t really have a bad game last year. He tossed for at least 200 yards in every game, more than 4000 in total, and 32 touchdown passes. Along the way he hardly made any mistakes, throwing just three interceptions. Petty is a stud, and he led the most potent offense in college football; Baylor racked up more than 50 points per game. The offensive output allowed Baylor to lock up their first Big 12 title and a spot in the Fiesta Bowl. This year, Petty returns for Baylor, along with most of his favorite targets. Baylor will score at will again. Their road game at Oklahoma on November 8th could define their season.

8. Michigan State

Sparty is fresh off a special season. MSU only lost to Notre Dame last year, as they took home a Big Ten ‘ship followed by a Rose Bowl victory. They did it with outstanding defense, allowing just 13 points per game. This fall, they’ll be similarly dominant on D thanks to the returns of defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, defensive end Shilique Calhoun, and others. Offensively, the Spartans may be a work in progress early in the year. They’ll have to gel fast though; they head to Oregon on September 6th. A win there could portend a trip to the new final four.

Shilique-Calhoun-Michigan-State-Spartans

Second Team All-American DE Shilique Calhoun returns to East Lansing for both a degree and a shot at the national title.

9. Auburn

It took several last second miracles, the most important being Chris Davis’ unforgettable return of a missed Alabama field goal to win the Iron Bowl, but Auburn returned to the national title game for the first time since Cam Newton’s Heisman year. Guz Malzahn, Newton’s offensive coordinator, excelled in his new position as Auburn head coach, coming within a drive of the national title. Malzahn will have his work cut out for him this year, though. Auburn’s schedule is brutal, with conference matchups against LSU, South Carolina, Ole Miss, and Georgia. (Not to mention the annual season-ending showdown versus the Crimson Tide.) The Tigers will miss SEC leading rusher Tre Mason and defensive end Dee Ford, key components of last season’s run, but QB Nick Marshall’s development and a strong offensive line should keep the offense churning. Auburn will be a good team, but it’s hard to consider them playoff favorites in light of their schedule.

10. UCLA

In two years at UCLA, Jim Mora has led the Bruins to a pair of wins over USC. That he’s led them to an overall record of 19-8 is also impressive, if perhaps less significant to some Bruin fans. The challenge now: to get over the hump against Stanford and Oregon. UCLA is 0-3 against those two programs over the past two seasons and got absolutely trounced by Oregon last year (42-14 loss). They play both schools at home this year–certainly a positive sign. Equally positive is the fact that the Bruins return loads of talent and experience from their ‘13 team, including quarterback Brett Hundley. Another win over USC would be nice, but a trip to the new playoff would be even sweeter in Westwood.

11. Wisconsin

I’ll be honest. I, Tim Balk, fear Wisconsin. Maybe it’s because I’m a Northwestern fan. Last year Wisconsin rolled the Wildcats 35-6 when we still thought we were good (then ranked 19th). Back in 2011 the Badgers knocked the Cats off by a final of 70-23. Or maybe it’s because Wisconsin’s pre-4th quarter tradition of jumping around to “Jump Around” is one of the most awesome things in sports. More than likely, though, it’s because the Badgers are simply quite good. They couldn’t finish the job in close games last year, losing by two to ASU, by seven to Ohio State, and by 1o to South Carolina. But those were all excellent teams, and the Badgers still managed a respectable nine wins. This year, they should win more. Running back Melvin Gordon is back. With Andre Williams and Carlos Hyde out of the picture, there’s no question that he’s the best HB in the nation. He’ll power a potent Badger offense. Defensively, Wiscy loses a lot from last year (nine defensive starters departed), but they should continue to run their 3-4 D to perfection with new pieces in place. Their season opening battle with LSU will be huge–after that their schedule is fairly soft aside from a home November date with Nebraska.

12. Notre Dame

Last year we ranked Notre Dame right here–at 12th–and predicted “ Notre Dame will be solid, probably 10-11 win good. Like the good ole’ Brady Quinn days.” Well, that was just about right. The Fighting Irish went 9-4, picked up some pretty impressive victories along the way (including wins over Michigan State, Arizona State, USC) but stubbed their toes against a couple of decent–but far from great–opponents, Pitt and Michigan. The end result was the rare Notre Dame team that was actually a bit underrated for most of the fall. This year they should be better. Everett Golson is back at QB after missing 2013 for academic reasons. He was a near-superstar last we checked. He’ll be throwing to a talented stable of receivers. Defensively, Notre Dame should be stingy. If things break right, a repeat of ‘12 isn’t out of the question, but ND does face a dandy of a schedule. Between October 4th and November 8th, the Irish have only one game against an unranked team in the preseason polls.

Golson

Everett Golson’s return from an academic suspension will lift Notre Dame’s season.

13. South Carolina

One would think losing the Number 1 pick in the draft (Jadeveon Clowney) and a starting quarterback (Connor Shaw) would take a serious toll on a team, and it will affect the Gamecocks to an extent. To say that South Carolina will be much worse, however, would be wrong. Most of the team which came close to a spot in the SEC Championship game is returning, as is long time head coach Steve Spurrier. This experienced SC squad has a difficult schedule, as does any other SEC team, but their depth could lead them to the promised land- the sideline of the Georgia Dome for the championship game. Look for their September 13 matchup with Georgia to set the tone for the rest of the Gamecocks’ season.

14. Clemson

Losing Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins in one offseason isn’t fun, but Clemson fans need not cry quite yet. The Tigers will still boast one of the nation’s best D-lines, loads of skill position speed, and a senior QB who’s supposed to be pretty darn good (Cole Stoudt). This Clemson team might be a bit of a throwback to their ‘09 team (more defense-oriented), but they’ll win plenty. They face a front loaded schedule that includes a season opener against Georgia followed by a roadie against FSU two weeks later. Even if they start 1-2, a double digit win season could still be in the cards.

15. LSU

The Tigers have won double digit games each of the last four years, so there’s not a whole lot of question about whether or not they’ll be good. The question instead is how good? Last year, LSU’s defense let them down in their three losses. This year, they should realistically be better, led by Kwon Alexander and Tre’Davious (aka Tre’Mendious) White. But there are also offensive question marks as the season commences. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger and halfback Jeremy Hill have moved onto the NFL. Les Miles will need his offense to grow up fast in order for LSU to make a title push. Opening the season against Wisconsin may prove to be a baptism by fire.

16. Arizona State

Let’s turn the clocks back to 2011. Arizona State was a defense-oriented team, led by ferocious middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict. They attacked relentlessly on that side of the ball and hoped the offense would keep up. Things are a little different now in Tempe. Todd Graham arrived in the desert in 2012 and has since turned the Sun Devils into a potent offensive squad. Last year, they scored 40 points per game en route to a 10 win season. Defense might be an issue for ASU this fall, but with quarterback Taylor Kelly and wideout Jaelen Strong back, the Devils will score enough to hide the D. Between September 25th and November 8th, Arizona State will play six games. Five of those will come against teams that enter the fall ranked. Such is life in the stacked Pac-12. This ASU team is good enough to brave that stretch and still emerge with plenty of wins.

Taylor Kelly

Dual threat QB Taylor Kelly will lead the Sun Devils’ charge in the dangerous Pac-12.

17. USC

Steve Sarkisian inherits a talented team in his first year in LA. He also inherits a tough schedule, one that features road games against Stanford and UCLA. At least the Trojans don’t have to play Oregon in the regular season. The keys for USC will be milking the front-line talent they do have into wins and staying healthy–they’re not deep. Sarkisian is a proven coach, and there’s no reason to think that he won’t do well at USC right away. On the other hand, don’t expect immediate national title contention.

18. Miami

These Hurricanes are a bit under the radar (bad pun intended). The Canes won nine games last year and gave FSU a decent game…for a half (FSU dominated the second half of a 41-14 route). This year, the goal is probably incremental improvement. They’ll need to find a new QB after the departure of Stephen Morris, but a strong defense remains along with fantastic running back Duke Johnson. He missed the second half of last season, but when he’s healthy Miami is a different team. The Coastal is weak, and Al Golden is in year four in Coral Gables. The time has come for the Canes to make an ACC Championship.

19.UCF

Sticking with the Floridian theme, we head north to Orlando. UCF went 12-1 last year, rolling through the AAC and knocking off Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl. They lost mega star Blake Bortles to the NFL, but bring back loads of talent from the ‘13 team. Defensively, they should be excellent thanks to the return of CB Jacoby Glenn among others. Even if the offense takes a step back, the Golden Knights should still be the class of the AAC.

20. Georgia

Sooo, 2013 didn’t go as planned for Georgia. The Bulldogs got hit hard by injuries and struggled mightily defensively. Senior QB Aaron Murray had another monster season, but UGA’s porous defense did them in, as they finished the year 8-5. This season, the hope is that new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt will shore the defense up. Offensively, there are some question marks on the line and losing Murray is undoubtedly a tremendous blow. The good news is that running back Todd Gurley is back, and he’s filthy. A huge season from Gurley and some defensive improvements could lead to double digit wins.

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Georgia

RB Todd Gurley will try to power Georgia into the SEC championship conversation.

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Looking Ahead to the 2014-15 Eastern Conference

It may sound counterintuitive, but the season that I personally link to the sport of basketball is summer. It’s a time when just about anyone who loves hoops grabs a ball and takes to courts on cement, asphalt, blacktop, and even sand to play beneath the blue skies of summer. Basketball is an outdoor sport as much as an indoor sport, and I always find myself most obsessed with it in July and August, even with the college and pro regular seasons months away.

Instead of NBA basketball, we get the whirlwind that is the NBA offseason this time of year. This summer’s has been especially fun, highlighted by The Decision 2.0. In the background, Team USA has been preparing for the 2014 FIBA World Cup.

Today, I will take a far off look at the upcoming season in the Eastern Conference, which has been so changed over the past 10 weeks.

Of course, when the time comes for College Sports Town’s annual NBA Preview in October, many of the East’s teams may look quite different. As it stands on August 10th, here are my thoughts on each Eastern Conference team, roughly in the order I see them finishing.

Title Contenders:

Chicago Bulls 

Everything hinges on the health of Derrick Rose for Chicago. With the league’s best point guard healthy, the Bulls are probably the favorites in the East, even with the once again LeBron-led Cavs ready to light up the league. This could, and should, be the best Bulls team since the MJ days. Defensively, there’s little doubt they’ll be the class of the Association; Tom Thibodeau is a maestro and the team has stellar defensive players across the board. Offensively, they should explode with Rose initiating things and rookie wing Doug McDermott–the best offensive college player I’ve ever seen–joining the club. Joakim Noah is the league’s best all-around center in my book: he does everything well and doubles as an elite teammate. Carlos Boozer (and his awful contract) is gone, but Chicago won’t miss him much with the additions of post presences Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic. If Rose plays and plays well, the Bulls are a lock for 60+ wins and a deep playoff run.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Yes, the King is back. And the league’s best offensive 4 also appears to be headed to Ohio. Folks can argue the merits of the Wiggins-Love trade all day long, but the fact of the matter is that, in the short-term, the trade has very little potential to hurt the Cavs. K-Love is in limbo between very good player and superstar, but the Cavs won’t need him to be a superstar. With the league’s best player already in tow, adding Love was the safe route for Cleveland. The sheer force of LeBron all but guarantees the Cavs at least 50 wins. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are both terrific players too, and, on paper, the new Big 3 is far superior to the one Bron left in Miami. There are certainly question marks though; how will the two younger stars adapt to playing with the King, and how will new coach David Blatt manage the super-team? The Cavs have the potential to be tremendous right off the bat. But not every test tube team can gel as quickly as the ’08 Celtics did.

Surefire Playoff Teams:

Toronto Raptors 

Move over Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson! DeRozan is the best player in the NBA with an alliterative name.

Move over, Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson! DeRozan is the best player in the NBA with an alliterative name.

The Raptors exploded onto the scene last year, and at the moment they have me feeling like they’re not that far from the Title Contender category. DeMar DeRozan’s emergence has been a joy to watch–he’s gone from a great athlete who put up some nice stats to a guy you could almost feel comfortable building a team around. 2013-14 was a career year for the former Trojan, and he thrived in the Raps’ first round loss to Brooklyn. The Raptors are a good, balanced team with a top 10 point guard in Kyle Lowry and a cornerstone big man in Jonas Valanciunas. The Raptors are young and the upcoming season will be a sort of litmus test to see if, as currently constructed, they can compete for titles in the coming years.

Washington Wizards 

The Wizards are a superstar away from contending for a ‘ship. Still, for a franchise that has had a miserable decade, these are happy days indeed in the nation’s capital. The Wiz inked Paul Pierce in July, and PP will slide onto the scene for a squad that apparently thinks it’s 2002 (two seven footers on their frontline). Washington is balanced and decently talented, and John Wall and Bradley Beal make up one of the more entertaining backcourts in the league. The Wizards will make the playoffs this winter, barring a disaster. But they won’t go that deep unless Wall takes a huge step forward and Pierce plays like he’s 26 instead of 36.

Miami Heat

The Heat are basically back to where they were before LeBron arrived. They’ve got star power, but modest title hopes. In addition to resigning Chris Bosh to a huge, and likely misguided contract, the Heat added Luol Deng last month. Deng’s no LeBron James, but he’s also far from a scrub. As long as Dwyane Wade and Bosh can stay healthy, the Heat look like a solid playoff team on paper.

Brooklyn Nets

The Nets barely made it into this category. The reason they made it: Lionel Hollins is the new coach in BK and he’s a good one. But it’s easy to worry about the Nets. Billy King elected not to open up their checkbook to bring back Pierce, who was their best two-way player for much, if not most, of last year. You wonder how many good years Joe Johnson has left–it feels like he could fall off the map John Salmons-style any time now. And then there’s the fact that Deron Williams manages to lose a couple of steps each year. In the playoffs last year, he even managed to lose his jump shot. Locals say it was last seen in Oceanside. Brook Lopez will return, and that will help, but the Nets likely will wind up going as far as Mirza Teletovic can take them (read: not very far).

Mediocre Fringe Playoff Teams

New York Knicks

Melo elected to stay in NYC.

Melo elected to resign with NYC this summer.

Some people say that this is the worst category to be in. I disagree. I like the low playoff seeds. Sure, they don’t have true title aspirations or a long-term plan to win a title in 2023, but at least their regular season isn’t tainted by tanking or coasting. But I digress. Let’s talk about the Knicks. In theory, Carmelo Anthony alone should get them to the playoffs, and he almost did last year in spite of the hurricane around him. Knicks president Phil Jackson has calmed the storm, brought in a new coach, and locked Anthony up long-term. The rest of the Knicks’ roster is, more or less, a farce. Jackson will be presiding over an overhaul for the next couple of seasons, but the first goal should be to restore some positive vibes*.

Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks sucked last year and shouldn’t have made the playoffs. In fairness, they had to go almost the whole year without Al Horford. And, yes, they almost beat Indiana in the first round. But Horford is never healthy, and the Hawks only nearly pulled the upset thanks to some smoke and mirrors magic from coach Mike Budenholzer. The Hawks resigned Kyle Korver in July and probably will make the playoffs again in the winter if they stay healthy. Still, if they don’t, nobody will be that surprised or upset.

Charlotte Hornets

What is there to say about the Hornets? They’re not very good…but they made the playoffs last year thanks to one of the league’s best defenses (turns out the fat Steve Clifford, AKA the fat Scott Skiles, is a pretty good coach) and a monster season from Al Jefferson. Next year, they could be even better defensively due to the addition of the erratic but talented Lance Stephenson. The Hornets might make the playoffs. They might not. Either way, at least they don’t have to call themselves the Bobcats anymore.

Boston Celtics

Rajon took a career high three treys a game last year. He made 29% of them.

Rondo shot a career-worst 40.3% from the field last year.

The Celtics are a mystery to me at the moment. They still haven’t traded Rondo and it’s hard not to wonder if they can even get much for Rajon at this point. Jeff Green has a horrible contract and has seemingly settled into the role of being the Emeka Okafor of wings. The C’s drafted a couple of studs in Marcus Smart and James Young. Smart’s game is a work in progress, but he’s got future star written all over him. They also picked up Evan Turner on the cheap, and he’s clearly got some game. If the Celtics want, they can probably make a push for that 8 spot. The question: do they want to?

Indiana Pacers

The Pacers won more regular season games than any other Eastern Conference team last year. Then they fell apart late in the year. Then the offseason arrived, Stephenson got signed by Charlotte, and their dynamite superstar suffered a truly gruesome leg injury that should keep him from playing at all next season. Which leaves them right about here. David West is probably their best player, although he’s 33 and not getting younger (or better at free throw shooting…). They’re right on the cusp between categories for me. They do have an outside shot at the playoffs, but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see them tank in hopes of drafting another future star to put alongside George.

Tank Cittttyyyyyyy

Orlando Magic

This team recently signed Ben Gordon to a two-year $9 million contract. Gordon played in 19 games last year, shooting 34% from the field and 27% from three-point land. YES, MAGIC FANS, THIS IS WHY YOU CANNOT HAVE NICE THINGS.

Philadelphia 76ers

MCW's potential remains off the charts.

MCW’s potential remains off the charts.

Philly is going to be good…the question is when and how good. Reigning Rookie of the Year Michael Carter Williams has legitimate top-5 superstar potential in my eyes, but he’s got a loooong way to go. This winter, Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid are going to debut. The rest of the roster is fluff.

Detroit Pistons 

Chauncy Billups, Rasheed Wallace, and Richard Hamilton ain’t walking through that door, fans.

Milwaukee Bucks

Jabari is a very good basketball player. Fans in Milwaukee will get to see him do very good things on the basketball court next year.

*To be honest, I think the Knicks will probably be better than the Nets next year. Why, then, do I have them a notch below the Nets? Answer: I could see the Knicks falling apart and missing the playoffs more easily than I could see the Nets doing so. Carmelo could get injured or decide to mail the season in, Derek Fisher could struggle in year one as coach, etc.

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Happy Second Birthday…To Us!

College Sports Town turns two years old today!

Year two of College Sports Town was a great one; we published more than 100 posts and had over 20,000 views. As always, we thank you for visiting our blog, reading our entries, and dropping in the occasional comment!

We hope you continue to keep coming back to the Sports Town as we enter our third year. It should be another fun one in our little corner of cyberspace.

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