Strotty's Blog

All your Wisconsin sports news and more!

Packers Franchise Pickett, Collins Reportedly Set to Holdout

The Green Bay Packers announced today that they have slapped the franchise tag on nose tackle Ryan Pickett, which will give the 30-year old run stuffer a one-year contract worth just over $7 million.  The franchise tag is calculated by averaging the top five salaries of the highest paid players at each position, which for a nose tackle came out to $7.003 million.

Pickett becomes the third nose tackle to have the tag placed on him, joining the Patriots’ Vince Wilfork and the 49ers’ Aubryao Franklin.  Steelers’ nose tackle Casey Hampton is also expected to have the franchise tag placed on him by Thursday.

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February 24, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“Bests” of the Green Bay Packers, Part 2 of 2

With the NFL Combine just days away and the free agency period yet to begin, I decided to do something a little different in terms of a more feature-oriented article.  Everyone knows the Green Bay Packers are one of the top organizations in the NFL.  With boatloads of young talent, fearless leaders, and a wise coaching staff, they are truly one of the best.  And that is the theme today: best.

Best Mismatch: Jermichael Finley – This award was basically made for Finley, who is arguably the best mismatch in all of football.  The Antonio Gates comparisons are right on target and Finley could distinguish himself as the best tight end in the NFC next season.  He is too fast to be covered by linebackers and his size makes it so that cornerbacks have a world of trouble on balls throw high. If there’s a way to stop him, defensive coordinators would sure like to know it.

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February 24, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“Bests” of the Green Bay Packers, Part 1 of 2

With the NFL Combine just days away and the free agency period yet to begin, I decided to do something a little different in terms of a more feature-oriented article.  Everyone knows the Green Bay Packers are one of the top organizations in the NFL.  With boatloads of young talent, fearless leaders, and a wise coaching staff, they are truly one of the best.  And that is the theme today: best.

Best offensive player: Aaron Rodgers – It’s hard not to vote for Rodgers despite all the great weapons he has around him.  The reality of it all is that the Packers’ offense lives and dies with Rodgers, who is quietly becoming one of the league’s best passers.  His pinpoint accuracy and smart decision-making are two of the reasons he is the best.

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February 24, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Case For LaDainian Tomlinson on the Packers

Before you head right to the comments section and rip this idea apart, let’s realize one thing: there is a slim-to-none chance that LaDainian Tomlinson, released by the San Diego Chargers today, suits up for the Packers.  That chance is also leaning towards “none”, but as one of my favorite players in the league, the least I could do is state the case for LT to come to Green Bay.  So here it is:

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February 23, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

NBA Fantasy Q+A: How to Handle the Warriors’ Erratic Substitutions

Over the course of the fantasy season, I will be answering any questions you may have concerning player’s minutes, injuries, or who hot free agents are.  Feel free to e-mail me at Mark.Strotman@Marquette.edu if you have any questions, and every week I will compile them and answer them all.  For this week, I started things off myself with a question all owners seem to want to know.

With Don Nelson’s erratic lineup changes and substitution patterns, which Golden State Warriors can we count on the rest of the season?

Despite the Warriors’ fast paced attack on offense, Don Nelson’s substitution patterns combined with injuries have made the whole Golden State lineup a question mark.  Moving forward towards the rest of the regular season and the fantasy playoffs, the only true safe bets are Monta Ellis and the surging Stephen Curry.

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February 22, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Packers Sure To Take A Look At Deep CB Class

Heading into the 2010 NFL Draft, one position the Packers will look to improve is cornerback.  The Packers’ defense stepped up as a whole in 2010 but the pass defense struggled at times, culminating in an embarrassing playoff-loss to the Cardinals in which Kurt Warner threw for more touchdowns than incompletions.

Injuries decimated the defensive backfield during the season, with Al Harris, Pat Lee, and Will Blackmon all suffering season-ending injuries.  This left the Packers with no choice but to scrap up whatever was left in the free agency pool and try to make a run in the playoffs.  Josh Bell and Trevor Ford did their best in dime situations, but in the end it’s clear improvements must be made.

Age is another concern for the Packers at corner, with their current starters well over 30 years old (Harris is 35 and Charles Woodson is 33).  While both are expected to be back next season and playing at a high level, there’s only so long before they start to regress and replacements are needed.

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February 20, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Fantasy Impact From Early NBA Deadline Deals

The NBA Trade Deadline is three days away, and while rumors have been floating around the league with big names heading to different destinations, two moves have already been made that will have fantasy implications the rest of the season.

The Dallas Mavericks made the first blockbuster trade of the season by acquiring Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood, and DeShawn Stevenson from the Washington Wizards in exchange for Josh Howard, Drew Gooden, James Singleton, and Quinton Ross.

The Portland Trailblazers also went out and got the guy they wanted in Marcus Camby, and in return the Los Angeles Clippers received Steve Blake and Travis Outlaw.  Here’s a breakdown of how each trade affects all four teams involved.

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February 16, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Big East Bubble Teams: Who’s Getting In Who’s Left Out? Pt. II

Just as it was last year, the Big East is arguably deepest conference in the nation and will again have a slew of “bubble teams” when Selection Sunday rolls around.  With three weeks left until the Big East Tournament in Madison Square Garden, many teams will be fighting for their NCAA dreams with every game that they play.

It’s safe to say that the Big East has four locks to make the tournament in Syracuse, Villanova, West Virginia, and Georgetown.  At 19-6, the Pittsburgh Panthers are all but in the tournament as well.  But outside of the five locks, there are seven Big East teams that can consider themselves “on the bubble” as the home stretch comes into view.

To check out predictions on Marquette, Notre Dame, South Florida, and Connecticut, click here.  Today’s bubble teams will be Louisville and Cincinnati.

1. Louisville, 16-9 (7-5)

RPI: 31     SOS: 4

Good Wins (RPI): Syracuse (4)

Bad Losses (RPI): Western Carolina (128)

Why They’re In: Louisville was sitting on the bubble looking for their signature win before their victory over Syracuse in the Carrier Dome.  Now that they have it, the ball is in their court to finish the season strong and enter the tournament on a high note.  With a great RPI against one of the toughest schedules in the nation, Louisville’s resume is rounding out very nicely.

Rick Pitino and the Louisville Cardinals will be dancing come March. (AP Photo/Kevin Rivoli)

Why They’re Out: The Cardinals have a couple of bad losses to their name and have also failed to beat other bubble teams in the Big East.  A home loss to Western Carolina doesn’t help, and they also stumbled by getting blown out by St. John’s.  Playing in Seton Hall is no easy task, but it would have gone a long way in the Big East standings had they won.

Outlook: The Syracuse win will be the foundation of Louisville’s season if they make the tournament, and with games against other bubble teams in Notre Dame, Connecticut, and Marquette, as well as two other potential upsets in Georgetown and Syracuse, there are many opportunities for Louisville to make a statement.

Predicted Finish: 19-12, (10-8), bye and two wins in Big East Tournament, No. 8 Seed in NCAA Tournament

2. Cincinnati, 15-9 (6-6)

RPI: 49     SOS: 20

Good Wins (RPI): Vanderbilt (15), Maryland (42)

Bad Losses (RPI): none

Why They’re In: Wins over Maryland and Vanderbilt in the Maui Invitational have put Cincinnati, who is just .500 in league play, into the bubble mix this season.  They still have some chances later in the season to do some damage and will need to beat a top-5 Big East team.

Why They’re Out: The interesting part of Cincinnati’s season is that they have no “bad losses” (RPI above 100) this season, but the problem is they have not defeated any teams in conference and are just 6-6 entering Tuesday.  The lack of big wins will be a problem come tourney time, and they have just two opportunities left to make a statement.

Outlook: Cincinnati can really go either way depending on how they finish their last six games.  They play at Georgetown and West Virginia and are home against Villanova in three of their last six games, and will need to win at least one if they want to have a chance.  In the end, the lack of a big win will hurt them.  VERDICT: OUT

Predicted Finish: 17-13, (8-10)

February 15, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Big East Bubble Teams: Who’s Getting In Who’s Left Out?

Just as it was last year, the Big East is arguably deepest conference in the nation and will again have a slew of “bubble teams” when Selection Sunday rolls around.  With three weeks left until the Big East Tournament in Madison Square Garden, many teams will be fighting for their NCAA dreams with every game that they play.

It’s safe to say that the Big East has four locks to make the tournament in Syracuse, Villanova, West Virginia, and Georgetown.  At 19-6, the Pittsburgh Panthers are all but in the tournament as well.  But outside of the five locks, there are seven Big East teams that can consider themselves “on the bubble” as the home stretch comes into view.

Today we’ll take a look at Marquette, Notre Dame, South Florida, and Connecticut followed by Louisville, Cincinnati, and Seton Hall tomorrow.

1. Marquette Golden Eagles, 16-8 (7-5)

RPI: 56     SOS: 67

Good Wins (RPI): Xavier (20), Georgetown (7)

Bad Losses (RPI): North Carolina State (118), @ Depaul (162)

Why They’re In: The Golden Eagles have played some of the best teams in the nation down to the wire and have proved they can hang with the big boys.  A big win over Georgetown became Marquette’s signature win of the year and they also took down Xavier in the Old Spice Classic over Thanksgiving.  Tough wins on the road against UConn and Providence also look good on the resumé.  With their deadly three-point shooting, they are a perfect candidate for pulling off an upset if they get to the tournament.

Lazar Hayward is in good shape to make the NCAA Tournament for his fourth straight year. (AP Photo/Darren Hauck)

Why They’re Out: They have stayed close with those teams, but losses are losses.  Even worse, they have two losses to teams with an RPI outside 100, North Carolina State and Depaul.  They have struggled on the road this season, losing their first five away from the Bradley Center before winning their last two.  Outside of the Georgetown win at home, there aren’t any other signature wins the Golden Eagles can hang their hats on.

Outlook: As it is for most bubble teams in the Big East, Marquette will have the chance to boost their record and knock other bubble teams over the next three weeks when they play Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Louisville, and Notre Dame.  They began this stretch nicely by taking out South Florida on Saturday, but they still have a little bit of work to do.  Closing out the season 5-1 and finishing 12-5 in conference should get them the No. 5 seed in the BET and a spot in the Tourney.  VERDICT: IN

Predicted Finish: 20-10, (11-7), bye and one win in Big East Tournament, No. 9 seed in NCAA

2. Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 17-8 (6-6)

RPI: 65     SOS: 70

Good Wins (RPI): West Virginia (6)

Bad Losses (RPI): Loyola Marymount (204), Rutgers (124)

Why They’re In: Luke Harangody and the Fighting Irish have outplayed expectations this season and once again find themselves in the thick of things as the season comes to a close. At 6-6 in conference and already at 17 wins, the Irish can play themselves into the tournament with a strong finish.  Their win against West Virginia was a necessary victory and a win over Georgetown could really solidify their resumé.

Why They’re Out: If the Irish miss the tournament again this year, they will be kicking themselves in the head for their embarrassing home loss to Loyola Marymount back in December.  The West Virginia win was big, but it might not be enough to cancel out the LMU loss as well as the loss to Rutgers.  They also might be starting to unravel, going 3-5 in their last eight games.

Outlook: It’ll be a recurring theme, but Notre Dame can play themselves in by knocking off teams like Louisville and Marquette down the stretch.  They have played fairly consistent and having a player like Harangody definitely helps their chances of making the tournament.  However, just playing “good” isn’t enough to warrant a spot in the tournament, and those losses will hurt down the stretch.  VERDICT: OUT

Predicted Finish: 20-11, (9-9), NIT

3. South Florida Bulls, 15-9 (5-7)

RPI: 55     SOS: 46

Good Wins (RPI): Pittsburgh (14), Georgetown (6)

Bad Losses (RPI): Central Michigan (194)

If the South Florida Bulls make the NCAA Tournament, it will be because Dominique Jones got them there. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Why They’re In: South Florida is one of the more intriguing teams in the Big East because of their recent four-game win streak that saw them defeat Pittsburgh and Georgetown in the span of four days.  Their RPI and strength of schedule are helping them out and the return of Gus Gilchrist is a huge boost.  With two very good wins under their belt and a favorable schedule to finish the year, USF could get in.

Why They’re Out: Their conference record (5-7) is not too hot even though they have played the top six teams in the conference already.  If they don’t jump a few teams in the standings, they could get lost towards the bottom of the Big East.  The loss to Central Michigan was also a bad home loss and could come back to haunt them.

Outlook: Dominique Jones has the ability to take over a game the way few in the Big East can, and with two top-15 wins in the RPI and winnable games the rest of the way, South Florida’s resume is looking very good.  Just as it is with any bubble team, they can not afford a slip-up this late in the season because it will cost them dearly.  VERDICT: IN

Predicted Finish: 19-11, (9-9), bye and one win in Big East Tournament, No. 11 Seed in NCAA

4. Connecticut Huskies, 14-11 (4-8)

RPI: 59     SOS: 4

Good Wins (RPI): Texas (28)

Bad Losses (RPI): Michigan (127)

Why They’re In: Most teams who have just four conference wins at this point and are barely over .500 for the season would not be talking NCAA Tournament, but Jim Calhoun’s squad is still alive at this point.  A win over then-No. 1 Texas is definitely the focal point of Connecticut’s resume, as well as the fact that they have played the fourth toughest schedule in the nation, including Duke, Kentucky, and their Big East foes.

Why They’re Out: Simply put, they just haven’t won games.  Outside of the loss to Michigan, they haven’t had a bad loss that would burst their bubble, but they have failed to win games against other bubble teams (Marquette, Louisville, Cincinnati x 2) and that will hurt them in the end.  The best they can finish is 10-8 in the conference, and that would include wins over Villanova and West Virginia.

Outlook: It will take a miracle for Jim Calhoun to get his team back to the tournament, but it isn’t out of the question.  We have seen them play on a high level against some of the best teams in the nation and there are games left on the schedule that could bump them back into the discussion.  They will need to lose just one game the rest of the way and win two games in the Big East Tournament to even be considered, and that might be too tall an order. VERDICT: OUT

Predicted Finish: 17-13, (7-11)

Mark Strotman is currently a sophomore at Marquette University, majoring in journalism. He has a Monday morning radio show and plans to work for the school newspaper, the Marquette Tribune, this year. He has his own blog that can be found at strotty.wordpress.com and writes for BleacherReport.com, FanHuddle.com, and ESPNMilwaukee.com. His work has been featured on CBSsports.com, Charlie Villanueva’s Twitter, and PackerChatters.com among other sites. Win or lose, you’ll get the best Packers analysis around from him as he looks forward to sharing his knowledge and opinions with you and hopes you do the same.

February 14, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Carlos Boozer and Josh Smith Legitimate All-Star Team Snubs

This Sunday, Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith and Utah Jazz forward Carlos Boozer will watch the 2010 NBA All Star Game from the stands instead of the bench.  Can anyone explain how this is possible?

Let’s be honest, snubs happen every single year in every sport’s all star game because there are too many good players and not enough good spots.  This happens especially in the NBA, where there are just 12 spots to go around so for the most part I let the “snub argument” pass.

However, the 2010 NBA All Star Game will feature four fill-in players due to injuries to Chris Paul, Brandon Roy, and Kobe Bryant in the West and Allen Iverson in the East, who will miss the game due to an illness to his daughter.  It’s one thing to not vote in either Smith or Boozer, but to then say Smith wasn’t the best player left off the roster or that Boozer wasn’t even the THIRD best player left off the initial team is ludicrous.

Starting in the East, Iverson was replaced on the roster by David Lee, which was the right move.  Lee is having an incredible season and deserved to be in the game, regardless of how badly the Knicks have played.  The real issue with the East’s roster is that they selected the wrong Atlanta Hawks player.

Al Horford will be making his first All Star appearance of his career, a decision that is head scratching to say the least. Comparing Horford with Smith, it’s hard to come up with an argument that Horford deserves to be in the game more.  Smith is averaging better stats in these categories: points, steals, blocks, assists, assist-to-turnover, doing so while averaging a minute less than Horford.

Not even Josh Smith can understand why he and Carlos Boozer were not selected as replacements for the All Star Game. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Horford has a one-rebound advantage on Smith and commits less turnovers, but Smith averages over eight rebounds and only turns the ball over two times a game, so it’s not as if he lost his All Star vote because of those numbers.

The Hawks are 33-18 at the break and sit just one and a half games behind the division-leading Magic, thanks in large part to Horford, Smith, and the silent assassin Joe Johnson.  But when someone thinks about the Hawks, most think first of Smith’s high-flying dunks and deadly defense before they think of the blue-collar, hard-working Horford.

The All Star Game is all about flashiness and if there is one player who defines that, it’s Smith.  He has one of the most intriguing styles of play in all of basketball that includes a jump shot, post moves, above-the-rim potential, stingy defense, and the potential to swat a shot on any possession.  To keep that out of the All Star Game just because Horford is a center is a crime.  Josh Smith deserves to play in the game.

More baffling than Smith’s All Star snub is the fact that Carlos Boozer was left off the team when the original rosters came out, and then we watched as three more players were selected over him as replacements.  The first was Chauncey Billups, who was rightfully put into the game after putting together one of the best seasons of his career.

Jason Kidd was also selected as a replacement, and as hard as it is to think of him as an All Star, the game is being played in Dallas so he will get to play in front of his hometown fans and he also didn’t have to fly into the winter storms that have hit Dallas.

The real beef with not having Boozer in the All Star Game this Sunday is the fact that Chris Kaman was selected as a replacement over him.  Just as it was with Smith and Horford, let’s compare the two West forwards and try to make sense of this all.

Boozer, who missed three games early in the season, is averaging more rebounds, steals, assists, and has a better field goal percentage.  He is behind Kaman by less than a point per game and, while Kaman averages over a block per game, Boozer is one heck of a defender.

While the stats match up more closely than Smith/Horford, the real problem here is that Boozer has led his team to one of the best records in the conference, while Kaman has his Clippers destined for yet another lottery in June.  Whether the NBA admits they take team records into consideration or not when they make their selections, it’s clear they do (why didn’t David Lee get in the first time around?).

The Clippers are 19 games back of the Lakers, while the Jazz finished the first half on a blaze and now find themselves just two games behind the Denver Nuggets for first place.  When two players like Boozer and Kaman are so close in terms of numbers, shouldn’t the record of the team they play for have some say in the equation.

The NBA All Star Game will attract many viewers because the game’s best players are competing, it’s just unfortunate Josh Smith and Carlos Boozer have to be two of those watching.

February 12, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

NBA All Star Weekend Predictions

NBA All Star Weekend is finally here, which for some of you means TNT will be off for the next 72 hours just because you MIGHT accidentally catch some of the action (Dad?).  For the rest of us hardwood classic lovers, the best of the best will fill snowy Dallas and compete for three days before returning to the regular season.

Six events will be played during the weekend, and before you think that no one really cares who wins, remember that there are money incentives for each player competing.  For instance, the winner of the Taco Bell Skills Challenge will walk away with $35,000, while the fourth place finisher only takes home $9,000.  While the money is mostly chunk change to most of the competitors, we can expect to see the best from everyone because the rest of the league will be watching.

T-Mobile Rookie Challenge

Winner ($15,000 per player/coach): Sophomores

Loser ($5,000 per player/coach): Rookies

The Nets have been historically bad this season, but expect sophomore Brook Lopez to light up the Rookie (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Why: The sophomores (second year players) have defeated the rookies seven times in a row and even though the rookie class is talented, the sophomores will be too much to handle in this one.  It has become a kind of initiation for the sophomore, a year after they get beaten as rookies, return the favor to the newcomers.

Brook Lopez, Kevin Love, O.J. Mayo, and Russell Westbrook headline the sophomore squad, who will be playing without Derrick Rose (all star/injury), while the rookies counter with Tyreke Evans, Brandon Jennings, Dejuan Blair, and Stephen Curry.

Haier Shooting Stars

First Place ($15,000 per player): Texas (Dirk Nowitzki, Becky Hammon, Kenny Smith)

Second Place ($11,250 per player): Sacramento (Tyreke Evans, Nicole Powell, Chris Webber)

Third Place ($5,625 per player): Atlanta (Joe Johnson, Angel McCoughtry, Steve Smith)

Fourth Place ($5,625 per player): Los Angeles (Pau Gasol, Marie Ferdinand-Harris, Brent Barry)

Why: I’d be lying if I tried to break the competition down, but my real reasoning is that team Texas has the best NBA participant in Nowitzki as well as one of my favorite TV personalities in Kenny Smith.  Team Sacramento will be interesting because Tyreke Evans is sure to try his hardest while Chris Webber still has a little shot left in him.

Taco Bell Skills Challenge

First Place ($35,000): Steve Nash

Second Place ($22,500): Derrick Rose

Third Place ($9,000): Deron Williams

Fourth Place ($9,000): Brandon Jennings

Why: Outside of the Slam Dunk Competition, this is easily my second favorite part of All Star weekend.  Being a guard myself, it’s always fun to watch the game’s fastest back court players weave in and out of drills, pass with perfection, and race to the finish line.

Steve Nash's passing skills are what will ultimately bring him home the title in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

With Rose trying to heal his injured hip, Nash seems most fit to re-claim his 2005 title.  Deron Williams won the competition in 2008 while Brandon Jennings is the fastest of the four.  Jennings’ Achilles heel will be the mid-range jump shot during the middle of the challenge.  In the end, Nash will win it with his crisp passing and great shooting touch.

Foot Locker Three Point Contest

First Place ($35,000): Danilo Gallinari

Second Place ($22,500): Stephen Curry

Third Place ($15,000): Daequan Cook

Fourth Place ($4,500): Chauncey Billups

Fifth Place ($4,500): Paul Pierce

Sixth Place ($4,500): Channing Frye

Why: I have watched more than my fair share (too many) of Knicks games this season, and I have to say Gallinari impresses me every time out.  He has gone from “just another Knick bust” to potentially the next Dirk Nowitzki (OK, he has a long way to go before that).  But still, he has the most three-pointers made this season and, while his average is down, he is very streaky.  Stephen Curry is known for his streaks as well, while Cook is the defending champ.  Billups and Pierce are really going to struggle because of the stamina needed, and I have zero faith in Frye (which means he’ll probably win).

Sprite Slam Dunk Contest

First Place ($35,000): Shannon Brown

Second Place ($22,500): Demar DeRozan

Third Place ($16,125): Nate Robinson

Fourth Place ($16,125): Gerald Wallace

Dunk-In Non-Qualifier ($5,000): Eric Gordon

That's not a plane...it's just Shannon Brown going up for a dunk. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Why: This might be the most sure bet I have all night when I say Shannon Brown is going to destroy the competition.  People are tired of seeing Nate Robinson, who competes seemingly every year, and Gerald Wallace has never been too flashy.  The one person who will give Brown problems is DeRozan, who is long and “jump-out-of-the-gym” athletic.  Still, Brown can absolutely fly and you have to think his Laker teammates were giving him great ideas.

For the record, LeBron James should be in the competition and if he was, he would win with ease.

NBA All Star Game

Winner ($35,000 per player): East

Loser ($15,000 per player): West

Why: The key loss for the West is easily Kobe Bryant, who seems to thrive in this game (which really means he gets the most open layups and dunks).  But outside of Bryant, the West is also missing guards Chris Paul and Brandon Roy, who were replaced by Chauncey Billups and Jason Kidd.

On the East side, expect this one to be the LeBron-Wade show, as LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are sure to put on a show for the crowd with dazzling dunks and long-range missles from downtown.  As a whole, it just seems like the East has more firepower and better personalities who will put on a show.  That will also result in a win for the East.

The two conferences have traded wins and losses every year for the last four years, with the West coming out on top last year in Phoenix.

February 11, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Staying In House: Packers’ 2010 Free Agent Priorities

Here’s the list of unrestricted and restricted free agents for the Packers this season.  There are 13 of them, and here I have them listed 1-25, based on who is the most important to re-sign (1) all the way down to players who have no shot at making the club next season (13).

1. Ryan Pickett, NT, Unrestricted

Many expected Nick Collins to be in this spot, but the fact that Pickett is unrestricted makes it that much more important that he is re-signed.  The defensive line will be an interesting spot in 2010 for the Packers, especially if Pickett leaves.  Rookie B.J. Raji had an above average rookie season, but it’d be dangerous to put him as the full-time nose tackle and find a replacement for him.

Pickett has expressed his desire to stay in Green Bay as the focal point of the 3-4 defense, and it makes sense that the Packers would bring him back.  After all, they were first in the league in rush defense last season for a reason.  Expect Pickett to be back in Green and Gold in 2010.  RE-SIGNED

2. Nick Collins, FS, Restricted

The fact Collins is restricted is fine and all but assures he will be with the Packers in 2010, but locking him up to a long-term deal would be wise for the Packers.  He proved his breakout season from 2008 was not a fluke by putting together a fantastic 2009, and to make sure there is no holding out, giving Collins a five-year deal makes sense.  He might not be given the long-term deal this off-season, but he will be back in Green Bay next year without question.  RE-SIGNED

3. Chad Clifton, Unrestricted

Clifton will be 34 when the 2010 season begins, but the Packers need to extend him another year regardless of what they do in the draft.  Unless they find a gem in the later part of the first round, Clifton will be as valuable as anyone on the offensive line.  He isn’t what he once was, but he is a more than serviceable left tackle who can survive another year, or at least until his replacement is ready to go.  Expect him back on a one or two-year deal.  RE-SIGNED

4. Mark Tauscher, Unrestricted

(See: Clifton, Chad).  If Ted Thompson believes T.J. Lang can be the right tackle of the future, then Tauscher’s stock goes way down on the list.  But Thompson said Lang still needs to add some more muscle and is still versatile enough to play inside.  Tauscher was the God-send to the offensive line last year, and it’s not out of the question to think he can play another season, and at the worst will be a cheap back-up.  RE-SIGNED

Nick Collins is the real deal. And now it is time for the Packers to pay him like one. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

5. Johnny Jolly, Restricted

Now we start getting into the contracts that can really go either way, and a lot will depend on A) how the Packers draft, and B) how Thompson sees the future playing out.  So pretty much, this is all a guess at this point.  Jolly is an interesting case because he performed well on the field last year, provides excellent depth, and would come relatively cheap as a restricted free agent.  On the other hand, character concerns and legal issues make it a real toss-up on whether or not he will be brought back.  For my own selfish reasons, I’ll say he stays.  RE-SIGNED

6. Aaron Kampman, Unrestricted

A need the Packers will be looking to address this off-season is outside linebacker.  Clay Matthews III supplanted himself as a starter for the next decade with his fantastic rookie campaign, but on the other side the picture is not so clear.  Brad Jones put together a solid freshman season, but the jury is out on whether or not he is just a flash in the pan.  Brady Poppinga is not a lock to be on the team (though his contract suggests he will), Jeremy Thompson can not stay healthy, and Aaron Kampman is an unrestricted free agent.

Ted Thompson claims the Packers will offer Kampman, but I’m not so sure he wouldn’t be better off playing in a 4-3 defense.  For as much slack as he took for not playing at as high a level in the 3-4, he showed some promise before he went down for the year with a torn ACL.  That ACL could mean the difference between the Packers offering and them showing him the door, and ultimately it will be time to move on.  NOT RE-SIGNED

7. Daryn Colledge, Restricted

It would be nice to believe that Daryn Colledge suffered a bad season because the rest of the offensive line struggled as well, but on many occasions he was the reason why.  The Boise State product has failed to live up to his second-round potential and while the Packers might not have a better option right now, it’s time for Colledge to pack his bags and move on. If the Packers are in truly dire need of a guard, he might be brought back, but I wouldn’t be for it.  NOT RE-SIGNED

8. Atari Bigby, Restricted

Anyone who doubted Atari Bigby’s importance needs to look no further than the Cardinals playoff game, when Derrick Martin and Matt Giordano looked like high schoolers going up against Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne.  There is a deep safety class in the draft this year which puts some pressure on Bigby, but he should be back in 2010.  RE-SIGNED

9. Jason Spitz, Restricted

A back injury caused Jason Spitz to miss the majority of 2009, and Scott Wells came in and had a pretty decent season.  However, Spitz claims he will be fully healthy to begin next season and there is reason to believe he can take over at left guard if Colledge is not brought back.  Before the injury, Spitz was one of the Packers’ better offensive linemen, so he should be back in 2010.  RE-SIGNED

10. Derrick Martin, Restricted

Martin will forever be known by die-hard Packers’ fans as the guy who got rid of Tony Moll, and to others he will be a special teams force who really helped improve Green Bay’s kickoff coverage in 2009.  If he can be had for cheap, Martin will provide good depth in the secondary and continue to be the team’s best special teamer.  RE-SIGNED

11. Will Blackmon, Restricted

What a roller coaster of a career it has been for Will Blackmon, who always seems to get injured right after he starts to get things going.  Unfortuantely for him, the Packers can no longer wait for him to complete a full season healthy.  It will be tough replacing the team’s punt and kick returner, but they can improve on the position while also finding a position player in the draft this off-season.  NOT RE-SIGNED

12. John Kuhn, Restricted

Everyone’s favorite fantasy fullback had quite the year last season, scoring six touchdowns in the last two seasons for the Packers.  However, the three-fullback system will not be in place next year and Kuhn is the odd man out.  Quinn Johnson established himself as a powerful run blocker and Korey Hall is more than serviceable.  (Sorry, Kevin…)  NOT RE-SIGNED

13. Ahman Green, Unrestricted

It was one of the best storylines for the Packers all season.  Ahman Green came back and gave vital carries for the Packers and became the team’s all-time leading rusher.  However, the Packers are looking for speed in this year’s draft at the running back position, and Green is left hanging.  Ryan Grant is clearly in and Brandon Jackson plays the third down back role very well. NOT RE-SIGNED

February 10, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Marquette’s Top PER Performers

To take a look at past PER’s or the formula for determining PER, click here.

1. Jimmy Butler, 23.04

It’s becoming harder every game to find something wrong with Jimmy Butler’s game, who continues to be one of the most efficient players in the Big East and is a front-runner for Most Improved in the Big East.  During Marquette’s four-game win streak, Butler has averaged 18.5 points and 7 rebounds, while shooting 55 percent from the field.

As the Golden Eagles’ best defender, Butler will have a tough task in front of him with players like Dominique Jones, Jeremy Hazzell, Lance Stephenson, and Gilbert Brown coming up on the schedule.  Lazar Hayward might be Marquette’s best player, but there’s no denying the importance of Butler to this Marquette team.

Jimmy Butler has been Marquette's most efficient player this season, with a PER over 23.

2. Lazar Hayward, 20.94

In one of his best performances at Marquette, Hayward led the Golden Eagles to a fantastic road win over Providence by pouring in 28 points and grabbing nine rebounds.  There is beginning to be a sense of urgency in Hayward’s game as the 6-foot-6 senior’s days at Marquette are numbered, regardless of whether or not they make the tournament.

Marquette will only go as far as Hayward lets them.  He has the potential to take over games on offense and shut down taller players on defense, but can also get into foul trouble and fall in love with the three-pointer too much.  As long as Hayward is playing well, so will Marquette.

3. Joseph Fulce, 15.24

Surprised to see Fulce towards the top of this list?  Don’t be.  The junior from Texas has quietly put together a nice season and has done well in the limited time he has received.  He isn’t going to provide a post presence for 30 minutes a game and grab double-digit rebounds, but he has been a great player off the bench who, “surprisingly”, guards bigger than he really is.

With such a short bench in the front court due to injuries, Fulce has been an important body to have.  He is efficient when he plays, regardless of how short the stints are, and rebounds well per minute.  His numbers are inflated because he only plays 11.4 minutes per game, but he still plays well.

4. Darius Johnson-Odom, 14.77

Marquette is experienced in the back court with seniors Maurice Acker and David Cubillan, but it has been Johnson-Odom who has meant the most to the Golden Eagles, supplanting himself as the third best player on the team.  The sophomore from Raleigh has proved to be a lethal scorer and his defense is coming along nicely, but still needs improvement.

The one thing that makes Marquette such a sleeper team in the NCAA is their ability to shoot so well from beyond the arc.  The three-point barrage starts with Johnson-Odom, who is shooting over 50 percent for the season.  Teams have learned to respect DJO’s range, which is why his ability to drive and finish at the rim has been so important.

5. Maurice Acker, 13.26

No one expected Maurice Acker’s ridiculous three-point averages to stay as high as they were earlier in the season, but Acker has still been an important part of the Golden Eagles’ late run.  In a five-game span, Acker hit 16-of-18 three-pointers and put up his career high of 23 in a win over Providence.

A senior point guard is one of the most important parts of a team that expects to compete in the NCAA Tournament, and Acker is that guy.  He gives up size on defense but he plays stingy, understands Buzz Williams’ system, and runs the fast break better than anyone on the team.  Don’t underestimate Acker’s contributions.

6. Dwight Buycks, 10.88

7. David Cubillan, 9.06

8. Erik Williams, 6.9

9. Youssoupha Mbao, 3.76

February 9, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Five Plays That Defined the Saints’ Super Bowl XLIV Win

The New Orleans Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts Sunday in Super Bowl XLIV, finishing off a memorable season that included many highs, a few lows, and ultimately the Vince Lombardi Trophy.  The Saints won 31-17, in a game that was supposed to feature much more scoring than it actually did.  As it is every year, there were plays that both defined and changed the game.  This was seen even more clearly by the gutsy play-calling of Sean Payton, so here are the top five plays that defined the Saints’ victory over the Colts.

5. The Colts’ fourth-down goal line stand

While this play might seem as more of a defining moment for the Colts, it also set up the rest of the game for the Saints.  Trailing 10-3 and knowing his team was going to have to put big points on the board to defeat Peyton Manning, Sean Payton opted to go for it on fourth and one from the Colts’ one-yard line.

Pierre Thomas ran off right tackle but was stuffed before he could find the endzone and the play resulted in a turnover on downs.  But the play-call showed that Payton was not going to play scared against the Colts and that, in order to win the game, gutsy decisions needed to take place.

It should also be noted that the Saints then held the Colts to a three-and-out, and then ended up putting three points on the board anyways before halftime.

4. Lance Moore’s 2-point conversion being overturned

In a call I personally disagreed with, Lance Moore’s catch in the endzone was overturned to give the Colts a 24-17 lead in the fourth quarter instead of a 22-17 lead, where a touchdown would have beat them.  The call was originally an incomplete pass after a Colts’ defender inadvertently knocked the ball loose from a fully-extended Moore.

The Saints would be nowhere it if weren't for head coach Sean Payton. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Regardless of if the call was right or not, the play changed the feel of the game where the Saints knew the best the Colts could do was tie the game up instead of winning it.  It ended up not mattering as the Colts would not score the rest of the game, but who knows if Manning would have taken a shot down field had he known he could have won the game with a touchdown?  The score changing from a five-point lead to a seven-point lead was crucial.

3. Garrett Hartley’s three-for-three field goal performance

What a fitting number for Garrett Hartley’s career night to come in at.  After being the goat in a loss to the lowly Tampa Bay Bucs, in which Hartley missed a potential game-winning field goal, he showed up big time in the Super Bowl and connected on all three of his field goal attempts.

In what seemed to be the playoffs from hell for kickers this postseason, Hartley showed poise and composure as he knocked all three field goals right down the pipe to keep the Saints in the game early.

He hit from 44, 46, and 47 yards out on the game’s biggest stage, including a last second field goal at the end of the first half.  The conditions were less than ideal on the field after rain had hit Miami hard over the week, making his performance even more impressive.

2. Tracy Porter’s interception return for a touchdown

In what most people will decide was their defining moment that ultimately sealed the deal for the Saints, Tracy Porter came up with another huge interception that gave the Saints a two-touchdown lead with less than four minutes to play.  Two weeks earlier, Porter intercepted Brett Favre at the end of regulation to force overtime against the Vikings.

Guarding Reggie Wayne was tough enough, but Porter read the route and stepped right in front of the Manning pass, and then returned it 74 yards for the score.

Just as ESPN puts in the sidebars, “it was over when…” Porter intercepted the pass.  He will forever go down in Saints’ history as the best closer New Orleans has ever had.

1. The onside kick to start the second half

This play will forever be known in New Orleans as “the onside kick”.  To open the second half, the Saints noticed that Indianapolis was playing more than 10 yards off the ball, making an onside kick a possibility.  Thomas Morestead then preceded to pooch the ball perfectly and Hank Baskett failed to come up with it.  The Saints would come out with the ball after one of the longest piles ever, and then ended the drive with a touchdown.

The call from Sean Payton has to be considered one of the gutsiest calls in Super Bowl history.  If the Saints do not come up with the ball, Peyton Manning has a four-point lead and 40 yards standing between him and the endzone.  Game. Over.

Instead, the Saints changed the momentum of the game with the first ever successful onside kick in the Super Bowl prior to the fourth quarter.  Porter might have finished off the game for the Saints, but this play will define the Saints for years to come.

*Bonus*: Drew Brees fighting back tears while holding his son after the game

If you turned the TV off after the game and missed this, go back and watch Brees holding his son after the game and fighting back tears.  If you don’t like him or are indifferent to him, there’s no way you can root against Drew Brees in any fashion.  It was “heartwarming”, “lump in your throat”, “chills all over”, whatever cliche you want to use.  It was all those things and so much more, and I couldn’t be happier for Brees and his family.

February 8, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 2 Comments

RotoWorld.com Headlines, Edition II

1. Brees the MVP as Saints Win Super Bowl XLIV

After starting just 3-for-6 and his team trailing 10-0, Drew Brees regrouped to lead the Saints to a 31-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.  The real game-changer occurred when cornerback Tracy Porter intercepted Peyton Manning and returned it to put the Saints up two touchdowns with just four minutes to go, but Brees put the Saints up for good by connecting with Jeremy Shockey early in the fourth quarter.  It was the storybook ending for Brees, who led the Saints to the franchise’s first Super Bowl.  He finished the game 32-for-39 and threw for 288 yards and two touchdowns.  After the game, Brees had one of the more memorable images in recent history, holding his son and fighting back tears.

2. Dwight Freeney Active for Super Bowl XLIV

Outside of the Manning-Brees storyline, the biggest headline entering the Super Bowl was the injury status of defensive end Dwight Freeney.  The media played it out bigger that it probably was, but Freeney worked hard all week rehabbing and was able to play in the game.  He had a relatively large impact despite the outcome, finishing with a sack, a quarterback hit, and a tackle.  Brees had his way all game, but let’s not put the blame on Freeney.  He used a combination of bull-rushing and his patented spin move to apply pressure and didn’t seem hindered by the ankle.

Drew Brees finally led the Saints to their first Super Bowl victory Sunday, completed 32-of-39 passes and throwing two touchdowns. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

3. Seahawks LT Jones retiring after 13 seasons?

Per his own Twitter page, Seahawks left ackle Walter Jones is retiring after 13 seasons in the league.  Sources also say Jones is quite the jokester, so this comment should be taken with a grain of salt.  If it’s true, it’s a huge loss for the Seahawks as Jones has been one of the better tackles in the game during his career.  The future Hall of Famer started every game, made nine Pro Bowls, and was a four-time All Pro.  Injuries to his knee and back have hampered him over the last couple of seasons, so it might be time for him to hang the cleats up for good.

4. Kobe Bryant (ankle) questionable for Monday

Officially Bryant is questionable because of his ankle, but he is also dealing with multiple injuries and, as badly as he wants to play, sitting out until after the All Star break might be his best bet.  The Lakers are in good shape out West and are four and a half games up on the Nuggets, so a break seems like the best bet here.  With Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Ron Artest and Derek Fisher available, the Lakers are hardly in a desperation situation without Bryant, and it’s more important that he’s healthy in June.

5. No timetable for Brandon Roy’s return

The Blazers continue to receive bad news with their All Star Brandon Roy, as he still does not know when he will be able to return from a hamstring injury that has already cost him 2+ weeks.  The Blazers have been hit  hard by the injury bug already and are just 4-6 without Roy, but like Byrant his health will be more important down the stretch.  Portland is currently sitting in the eighth spot in the West and are fading fast, but Andre Miller, Jerred Bayless, and Steve Blake have been manning the backcourt relatively well.  The All Star break should do him some good.

6. Billups out Saturday with sprained ankle

After a 39-point barrage in a win against the Lakers, Chauncey Billups missed the Nuggets’ next game because of a sprained ankle.  This news is old, but the real story here is that Ty Lawson continued his stellar play in the starting lineup with 25 points and four rebounds in a loss to the Jazz.  The leadership isn’t there without Billups and he is playing some of the best basketball of his career, but Lawson has averaged 17 points and six assists in eight games as a starter.  If it weren’t for Billups, Lawson would be in the running for Rookie of the Year.  The Nuggets clearly have their point guard of the future.

7. Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith lead 2010 HOF Class

In a no-brainer selection, Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith were elected to the Hall of Fame this week.  Arguably the best at both of their positions, this was more of a “when” than an “if”.  Ricky Jackson, Russ Grimm, and John Randle were also elected and were all worthy candidates.  Interesting eliminations included Cris Carter, Tim Brown, and Roger Craig, but their days should come soon enough.

8. Erik Bedard officially returns to Seattle

The Mariners continued their excellent free agency run when they signed Erik Bedard to a one-year, $1.5 million deal.  It was great value for Seattle, and incentives could improve the contract to $8 million, so the team will get to gauge Bedard’s performance before they decide on a 2011 mutual option. Bedard has been battling injuries all off-season but his prognosis looks good for the beginning of the 2010 season.  He will man the back-end of the rotation in Seattle and could potentially be a steal if he stays healthy.  If being the key word there.

February 7, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment