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Granger Injury A Blessing In Disguise

January 18, 2013 Comments off

Danny Granger, the Pacers leading scorer for the 2011-2012 season, has missed all 40 games this season. Credit: BleacherReport

Danny Granger, the Pacers leading scorer for the 2011-12 season, has missed all 40 games this season with a knee injury. (Photo Credit: BleacherReport)

Through the first 40 games of the 2012-13 NBA season, the Indiana Pacers are 24-16, sit third place in the Eastern Conference and boast the No. 1 scoring defense in the NBA.

They’ve done all this without their star small forward, Danny Granger.

Granger continues to rehab a knee injury that has caused him to miss the entire first half of the season. Granger has led the Pacers in scoring every year since the 2007-08 season, including a career high 25.8 points per game in the 2008-09 season.

Without Granger, the Pacers struggled mightily at the beginning of the 2012-13 season, posting a 10-11 record through their first 21 games. It was evident that they missed the 18.2 ppg that Granger brought to the table last season.

The team struggled to find an identity over that stretch.

How would the Pacers keep up in a offense-based league without their best scorer?

The answer was simple: defense.

The Pacers lead the NBA in scoring defense at 89.1 ppg, a full point ahead of the next best team and 5.3 ppg better than their average last season.

Not only do opponents not score, they don’t shoot the ball well. The Pacers also lead the NBA in opponent field goal percentage at 41.3 percent.

The lock-down defense can be accredited to a new team emphasis.

Defense first, scoring second.

In years past, the Pacers have put more of an emphasis on scoring, averaging more than 100 ppg in four of the last five seasons.

But in his first full season (82 games) as Pacers head coach, Frank Vogel has challenged his team to play tough, relentless defense, and it has worked. They have held teams under 90 points 20 times this season and held them under 80 points an astonishing eight times.

The Pacers have used the strong defensive performances to turn their season around, winning 14 of their last 19 games to move within three games of first place Miami in the East.

Offensively, the Pacers have used a balanced attack to counteract the loss of Granger. Three Pacers average more than 14 ppg with Paul George leading the team with 16.9 ppg.

This is where the Granger injury is really going to help the Pacers in the long run. The Pacers won’t have to rely on Granger to average 20+ points a night because of the reliability of George, David West and George Hill. If one player is having an off night, a teammate is going to be right there to pick up the slack. The drop-off in scoring won’t be as dramatic as it has been in previous seasons.

Vogel will also have plenty of options to choose from when it comes to drawing up plays. The versatility of the Pacers starting lineup will be like nothing we’ve seen since the days of Reggie Miller, Jermaine O’Neal, Ron Artest and Al Harrington.

The absence of Granger has not only improved the Pacers defense and balanced the scoring, it has allowed for bench players to get more playing time.

Lance Stephenson was thrust into the starting lineup and new addition Gerald Green has seen his fair share of minutes. The increased amount of court time has greatly improved the play of both players, who will be the go-to guys for the Pacers second rotation when Granger returns.

That rotation will consist of Stephenson, Green, D.J Augustin, Tyler Hansbrough and Ian Mahinmi. This is a bench that it going to keep you in ballgames. A bench that will match the play of other teams second rotations.

Granger’s return has been kept hush over the past several months and their isn’t an exact day for when Granger plans to return to the court but Vogel is optimistic that he’ll be back in time to be ready for the playoffs.

In an interview with Dan Dakich on 1070 The Fan, Vogel said that he hopes to have Granger back by early February.

“His knee is healing and right now they’re at the point where they are just trying to increase activity on a daily and weekly basis to make sure it can hold up to the wear and tear of the NBA season,” Vogel said.

A big concern for Pacer fans is that when Granger returns he will destroy the team’s chemistry. It will take time for the Pacers to get used to having Granger back in the lineup just like it took time for them to get used to having him out of the lineup. That’s why it is key for not only Granger, but the Pacers as a whole, that he returns with an ample amount of time before the playoffs.

Even if Granger were to push back his return into late February he would still have more than 20 games before the first round of the playoffs, which is plenty of time for the team to get used to having Granger back in the lineup.

It is important Granger buys into the defense-first strategy that has become the norm for the Pacers this season. If he does, this team is going to be a tough out for anyone come playoff time.

Granger’s injury has resulted in a defense first mentality, balanced scoring and a deep bench.

For those reasons, the Granger injury has been a blessing in disguise for the Pacers.

It’s Time: Bring Real Referees Back

September 25, 2012 2 comments

One referee motioning for touchdown, the other a touchback, who’s right? Credit: ESPN

After Monday night’s game between the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks the replacement referees must go.

In one of the biggest disgraces the NFL has ever witnessed, the Seahawks defeated the Packers 14-12 on a hail marry pass from Russel Wilson to Golden Tate.

This is where the controversy begins.

First off, the referees missed a blatant pass interference on Tate. Secondly, Melvin Delanie “M.D” Jennings intercepted the pass.

In what is bound to be one of the most replayed football plays of the next 10 years, the replacement referees referred to simultaneous position for the call on the field. The problem: it wasn’t simultaneous position. Jennings controlled the ball as he hit the ground, then Tate wrestled the ball away. According to Rule 8 – Article 3 – Item 5 in the NFL rule book, this is the definition of an interception.

The referees missed the call.

Plain. And. Simple.

It was only a matter of time before something like this happened. The referees have been missing calls in every single game so far this season. We saw blown calls in the opening game of the season; we saw them in the last week’s games; heck we saw them in last night’s game.

None have gone this far.

The referees decided this game. A blown call decided a football game. It’s not every day you can say that.

The Packers lost a football game that they earned. A game they deserved to win.

If this isn’t enough to bring the real referees back then I don’t know what is. It’s not even about the blown calls or the long game times. It’s about the integrity of the NFL.

The replacement referees are the laughing stock of America right now. They are making a mockery out of the sport we love.

I’m looking at you Roger Goodell. America is looking at you.

Pay the referees.

Take responsibility for your actions and fix the problem.

Breaking down “Linsanity”

February 17, 2012 Comments off

America has been taken by storm, and no I’m not talking weather. New York Knicks point guard, Jeremy Lin, has become a national icon in less than two weeks.

Lin, a Harvard graduate, has led the Knicks to seven straight victories and back to a .500 winning percentage on the season.

So how did the light bulb miraculously just switch on? Well, it could be in some part to team superstar Carmelo Anthony.

New York Knicks newest star Jeremy Lin shoots over Lakers center Andrew Bynum. Credit: forbes.com

Lin confirmed to ESPN’s “The Michael Kay Show” that Anthony told coach Mike D’Antoni to put him (Lin) in Feb. 4 game against the New Jersey Nets. Lin took full advantage of said opportunity.

Coming off the bench, Lin put up a game high 25 points and seven assists in a season high 36 minutes. Before this game Lin had only played double-digit minutes once in nine games. He failed to score double-digit points in any of those appearances.

In the Knicks next game against the Utah Jazz, Lin was named the starting point guard and hasn’t looked back since.  In the six games that Lin has started he has averaged 24.3 points and 9.5 assists. In that span, Lin included a 38-point game against Kobe Bryant and Los Angeles Lakers and a game winning three point shot against the Toronto Raptors.

Lin’s insane play has led to the coining of the term “Linsanity.”

The term has been trending on Twitter after multiple Lin performances and ESPN has been using the word to describe the craziness that is Jeremy Lin.

“Linsanity” has been heard in conversations from the classroom to the subway. It really has exploded into a national phenomenon.

With every feel-good story though there are going to be a few devil advocates.

“Linsanity” is overhyped, he’s just another Tim Tebow, and he’ll be a nobody in a month. These are just a few of the things being thrown out by the Lin haters.

The one that really irked me the wrong way was the comparison to Tim Tebow. Tebow was a highly sought after college prospect, won a Heisman trophy, and was a first round draft pick. Lin went undrafted, and was occupying the sixth point guard spot on the Houston Rockets depth chart in December.

There are really only two things that these guys have in common. They both bring great energy to their respected sports and they both know how to easily grab the attention of the media.  Well I guess you could include one more – they both are great at bounce passes.

You can thank Reddit for that one, but let’s be honest, it’s not fair to compare these two guys. Lin is a rag to riches story while Tebow is just a glorified cheerleader.

The Lin story is a great one for other athletes that are thinking about giving up on their dreams. Everyone is going to get a chance to shine, but one has to take advantage of that opportunity when it arises. If you aren’t putting in 110 percent into getting better than that chance might just pass bye.

The thought of Lin not making a difference on this Knicks team for the rest of the season is hard to fathom. He has rejuvenated a team that was seven games under .500. He has brought the energy back to a team that looked like it was sleeping on the court. He quite possibly could be the savior of the Knicks season.

The spotlight is back on the Knicks and this time it’s for all the right reasons. Lin has captured the attention of the nation with his underdog story and amazing play.

Only time will tell if “Linsanity” will continue but if he continues to play at such a high level, he is going to turn the whole nation into “Linatics.”

Chuck Pagano has a lot on his plate

January 26, 2012 2 comments

Former Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano has been named new Colts head coach. Credit: nfl.si.com

The Indianapolis Colts named former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano the new head coach on Wednesday. Pagano, 51, spent four years with the Ravens but only one as the defensive coordinator.

Pagano isn’t new to the NFL as he spent time with the Browns and Raiders, but this will be his first head-coaching job.

Pagano replaces Jim Caldwell, who was fired eight days ago after three seasons with the Colts.

As I hoped for in the story about the firing of Caldwell, the Colts have taken the initiative to put more emphasis on the defensive side of the ball. In Pagano’s one season at the helm of the Ravens’ defense they allowed the third-fewest points and yards in the league.

Now I understand the quality of the Ravens’ defense is much higher than the Colts’, but this shows if he has the right players, he can make it work.

Pagano will have a multitude of important matters to deal with as he begins his new journey as a rookie head coach.

First, there’s the Peyton Manning situation.

Pagano, newly hired General Manager Ryan Grigson and Colts owner Jim Irsay will need to sit down and discuss Manning’s future with the franchise.

Manning missed the entire 2011 season after multiple neck surgeries and is due a $28 million bonus in early March.

The Colts have the No. One pick in the upcoming NFL draft and all signs lead to them picking Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.

Four time NFL MVP Peyton Manning's future with the Colts is up in the air. Credit: diehardsport.com

In an interview with The Indianapolis Star earlier this week Manning said, “It’s not a real good environment down there right now, to say the least. Everybody’s walking on eggshells.”

That really describe the situation perfectly, as any one-day could be Manning’s last as a Colt.

Several teams have shown interest in Manning if he were to leave Indy, two being the New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins.

Manning continues to say the right things to the press, but even he must be skeptical about his future with the Colts.

The second thing Pagano must do is find a coaching staff.

During operation “Clean House,” the Colts have let go 11 of their 20 assistant coaches, and that number might even be higher once Pagano arrives.

Pagano is going to want to bring in assistants that will buy into his style of coaching.

Team chemistry is huge in the NFL, as it is in any sport, and when you make wholesale changes like the Colts have, it’s not easy to just regain it overnight.

If Pagano can’t get the coaches to buy into his scheme, he will have a difficult time trying to get the players to do so. That’s why picking the right assistants is so important. Even if Pagano has what it takes to be a successful head coach, if he doesn’t have the right supporting cast his tenure could be cut short.

Finally, Pagano must begin work on a lackluster Colts defense. The Colts ranked 28th in the league in points allowed and 25th in yards allowed in 2011.

The Colts battled injuries throughout the year, but they can’t use that as an excuse.  Injuries are part of the game and the reason why teams are allowed 53 players.

If we brought in Pagano to fix the defense he is going to need some players to fix it with.

After drafting Luck with the first pick, I think the Colt’s should try and fill some holes on the defensive side of the ball.

The run defense has been the main weakness for the Colts defense ever since I can remember. The interior line has been average at best the past few seasons and will need to be addressed. Even with the emergence of Pat Angerer last season, the linebacking core struggled to stop the run. Bringing in some run stoppers will be a key to building a strong defense.

Another area lacking quality players is the secondary. Antoine Bethea is the only legitimate starter back there. In a league that is becoming pass heavy, the Colts need to think about drafting some shutdown corners in this year’s draft.

I know it sound’s like a lot to fix and it’s because it is.

The Colts have been so offensive-happy over the past decade and the defense has paid for it. Pagano’s coaching strength is defense and he’s going to need every ounce of knowledge he has about it if he wants to turn this defense around.

I don’t expect it to happen as fast as a Jimmy Johns delivery but within a few years I think the Colts could have a top-ten defense.

The Colts have taken the first step to reviving their defense and hopefully one day making my dream of a great Colts defense come true.

College basketball has no real favorite

January 23, 2012 3 comments

After two and a half months of basketball, I think it’s safe to say that there has been little accomplished when it comes to finding a clear favorite for the NCAA title.

With every team playing a significant amount of games so far this season, one would think that a team would have set itself aside as a favorite.

That is far from the truth.

There is a cluster of teams that have a case as to why they should be considered the favorite. This season’s rankings have been like a game of musical chairs, with teams struggling to hold ground inside the top-ten.

To put it into perspective, in the latest ESPN/USA Today rankings released on Jan. 23, only one team held their position from the previous week.

Now let’s get into some of the teams that could make a case:

Syracuse:

Before losing this weekend to Notre Dame, Syracuse had the best case. They were undefeated and had several quality wins to their name, including Florida, Marquette and Virginia Tech. Syracuse is just now entering the meat of their conference schedule and we will find out if this team is a serious title contender in the next few weeks.

Kentucky:

Christian Watford nails a buzzer beater to upset #1 Kentucky. Credit: smauctioneers.com

With the Syracuse loss, Kentucky has jolted back to the top of the rankings, a place they haven’t been since the fifth week of the season. Kentucky’s only loss came on a buzzer beater three pointer by Indiana’s Christian Watford. It was the first true road game of the season for the Wildcats and, let’s just say, Assembly Hall isn’t a fun place to play as a road team. The Wildcats have arguably the most talented team in college basketball but it’s full of youth. Head Coach John Calipari will need to keep his team focused down the stretch and not let the hype get to them if they want to stay ranked No. One.

Missouri:

The Missouri Tigers started the preseason ranked 25th but have steadily climbed up the rankings and now sit second. They, too, have only lost one game this season on the road to Kansas State in an early Big 12 contest. Missouri proved on Saturday they are serious title contenders when they traveled to Baylor and knocked off the then No. 3 team in the land.

Jared Sullinger is a leading candidate for Player of the Year. Credit: bleacherrepot.com

Ohio State:

Ohio State sneaked past Syracuse by one vote into third in the rankings. The Buckeyes own a 17-3 record with all three losses coming against top-15 teams. They also play in arguably the hardest conference in college basketball – the Big Ten.

The Buckeyes have a three-pronged offensive attack with Jared Sullinger, William Buford and Deshaun Thomas. The Buckeyes also have a feisty point guard in Aaron Craft who helps space the floor and averages just over five assists a game.  The Buckeyes have an experienced team and they’ve experienced playing without players due to injury, i.e. Sullinger. I would personally say a healthy Buckeyes team would be my favorite for the title if the tournament happened to start today.

Duke:

The Duke Blue Devils could also make a case as a title contender. According to the Pomerey Ratings, the Blue Devils have had the toughest strength of schedule so far. Given that, they are still 16-3 and to count out a talented team coached by Coach K is insane.

The Rest:

Will Murray State be this year's Butler? Credit: Aseaofblue.com

Murray State is currently the only team in Division I basketball yet to lose a game. They are 20-0 and currently ranked ninth in the polls. The problem is they only have one signature win and it came against a young Memphis squad. I wouldn’t consider them a title hopeful just yet, but with a few wins in early March that could easily change.

Other teams like Kansas, Baylor and North Carolina could also make cases as to why they should be in the debate.

Kansas has beaten Ohio State and Baylor, when both were respectfully in the top-five. With Bill Self at the helm and stars Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor, they will be in the mix throughout the rest of the season.

Baylor started the season off on a 17-game winning streak before losing their past two games to Kansas and Missouri. They are still developing as a team and will look to get back to their winning ways quickly. With their presence down low they will be a tough out for anyone.

North Carolina looked extremely vulnerable in their road game against Florida State a few weeks back. Given they have one of the best starting fives in the nation with Harrison Barnes, John Henson, Tyler Zeller, Kendall Marshall and Reggie Bullock. They also lead the nation in points scored per game with 85.1 and rebounds per game with 46.3. They can put points up on anyone and it will take a strong defensive effort to slow this high profiled offense down.

These nine teams can make legitimate cases as to why they should be the favorite right now. It just goes to show you how tight the gap between the top teams are and why this season has been so up and down at the top of the rankings.

Honestly, I think it’s going to come down to which team is the hottest during the tournament. Connecticut ran a hot streak to the title last season and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it again.

No matter what happens, March Madness is bound to be just likes how it’s advertised, madness.

Colts firing of Caldwell was the right move

January 18, 2012 6 comments

Jim Caldwell was fired Tuesday after only three seasons with the Colts. Credit: nydailynews.com

Operation “Clean House” continued in the front office of the Indianapolis Colts on Tuesday as head coach Jim Caldwell was fired after only three seasons with the team.

Caldwell went 26-22 over the three-year span but was given the release papers after a dismal 2-14 season in 2011.

The firing of Caldwell comes only two weeks after Vice Chairman Bill Polian and General Manager Chris Polian were let go.

Jim Irsay, Colts’ owner, has decided that it’s time to move in a new direction with the team.

“It’s not an overnight process,” Irsay said in Tuesday’s press conference. “But I look forward to getting the team back to the success it has had.”

Newly signed GM Ryan Grigson agrees.

“Change isn’t the easiest transition to make,” he said. “But it’s the new direction we must take for Colts football.”

With the past success this team has had, it couldn’t have been an easy decision to make such drastic changes in the front office – but it was time. With Bill Polian already two steps out the door, and his son, Chris, set to take over the reigns it might have made the decision a little easier.

Chris was the main play caller in the past two drafts and, to be honest, the quality of players acquired during that time was sub par.

Irsay recognized that Chris didn’t receive the trait of finding great talent with not so great picks in the draft. The draft is a cornerstone to rebuilding a franchise and Chris just wasn’t the right person to do it.

Now lets get to Caldwell.

Caldwell took over a team that was used to winning and led them to the Super Bowl in his first season. From there, it went downhill, ending with the Colts worst regular season record since 1991.

I don’t think Caldwell was ready to be a head coach in the NFL and the past three years have shown that. I’m sure he will make a great assistant for another team as he was in Indy but he isn’t head coach material.

Caldwell is a passive leader and his reluctance to show emotion hurt the team throughout his tenure. It never looked like Caldwell had full control of the team on the sideline during a game. Combine that with multiple basic coaching mistakes like timeout and player usage and it’s a recipe for disaster.

The firing of the Polians didn’t help Caldwell’s case either.

Grigson and Irsay want to start fresh. Bring in a new guy that coincides with where they want to take the team. Caldwell obviously wasn’t that guy.

The Colts won’t waste any time trying to find a replacement for Caldwell.

“I’m very excited for the new opportunity to bring in a new head coach. The search will start immediately,” Irsay said.

I believe the new coach needs to have a few key traits.

First and foremost he needs to be a good leader. He must have the ability to take control of the locker room when things aren’t going as planned. With all the change in the front office there might be dissenting opinions from the players.

He must also be committed to rebuilding, as it looks like that is where the Colts are headed, i.e. Andrew Luck. A long-term contract isn’t out of the question either, as the Colts need some stability after such a colossal uprooting.

And lastly, he must have some experience at the head coaching position. We saw were no coaching experience can take us and personally I’d rather not see it again, ever.

Many Colts fans are wishing to see Bill Cowher or Jon Gruden take over the vacant position, but a miracle would have to happen to see them on the Colts sidelines next year.

More realistic candidates could be; Wade Phillips, current Houston defensive coordinator, Dom Capers, current Green Bay defensive coordinator, or Marty Morhinweg, current Philadelphia offensive coordinator, to name a few.

Reports are saying that the Colts are going to look for an offensive-minded head coach . This is understandable since the emphasis has always been on offense in Indy. But I think the Colts need to put more thought into the defensive side of the ball. If this means paying a large amount of money to a defensive coordinator then so be it.

The Colts will likely go offensive in round one of the draft, cue Andrew Luck, again, but I see the Colts drafting mostly defensive with their other picks. Maybe we will finally see a strong defense in Indy in the next few years.

Hey, a man can dream can’t he?

But just like the front office, and head-coaching position, the team needs revamped. This could lead to big names like Manning, Wayne, and Mathis no longer calling Indianapolis home.

Only time will tell, but with the way things have gone so far, it doesn’t look like operation “Clean House” is going to be stopped anytime soon.

English Premier League midseason report

January 12, 2012 Comments off

This year's title race is still wide open at the halfway point. Credit: football-marketing.com

Each team in the English Premier League (EPL) has played 20 games, which is one game past the halfway point of the season.

Manchester City holds the top spot just past the halfway point with 48 points. After starting the season off on a blistering pace they have began to level off, yet they still have a slight three-point lead over main rival Manchester United and surging Tottenham Hotspur.

Right now you could make a case for any of those three teams to win the title. Manchester City was perfect at home in the first half winning all ten games they played at Etihad Stadium. They also lead the EPL with a goal differential of 40, having outscored opponents 31-4 at home.  Looking at that stat, they should be running away with the title but a few hiccups against Sunderland, Chelsea and Liverpool have kept the race tight.

Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur are lurking in the shadows and ready to pounce if City falters. Each team has 45 points, but they have taken different paths to reach their current standing. United has spent most of the first half in the second position while Tottenham has climbed up the table slowly and surely.

Unlike the Manchester’s, Tottenham is on the rise right now. They have the momentum going into the second half, which could prove to be vital in the fight for the title.

With only one victory separating the top-three, each game from here on out is going to be important. Look for the title race to come down to the last week of the season. Heck, it could even come down to goal differential, which would favor City.

But the battle at the top isn’t the only battle in the EPL. The final Champions League spot is highly contested and the relegation battle is heating up.

Chelsea currently leads a four-team race for fourth place in the table and a chance to qualify for the Champions League.

Arsenal, who sits in fifth, one point behind Chelsea, has made some key signings in the January transfer season. They will be a force to be reckoned with in the second half as they look to solidify their position in the top-four.

Liverpool and Newcastle United had rocky first halves.

Newcastle started off real well, but took a sharp nosedive in December and need to weather the storm if they want to make a run at the top-four. Liverpool has struggled with consistency problems, as they haven’t been able to put a string of good results together.

With only four points separating fourth and seventh it’s going to be tight from here on out.

Now to the battle no team wants to be associated with, the relegation battle.

Blackburn Rovers currently sit last place in the table with only 14 points, but they have plenty of company at the bottom. Only three points or one win separate them from sixteenth place and another year in the league. It will be interesting to see if one of the bottom feeder teams goes out and makes some moves during the transfer season to try and stay out of the bottom.

It’s going to be an intense second half as almost nothing has been decided through the first 20 games.

Who will end up holding up the trophy at the end of the season? Which teams will qualify for the Champions League? Who will suffer the fate of relegation?

These are just a few questions that hopefully cannot be answered until the final week of the season so soccer fans get some fireworks.

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