Sunday, February 24, 2008

#1 No More...

Last night's matchup between #1 Memphis & #2 Tennessee, was for more than just national bragging rights; it was for state bragging rights as well. In a battle of Tennessee's two best college teams, a much anticipated thriller lived up to its hype.

With a perfect 26-0 season and a 47 game home win-streak on the line, Memphis still had much to prove. Even at #1 in the country many still had doubts if Memphis was the real deal. Conference USA is not exactly the most competitive conference, so there were many skeptics to all the hype about Memphis. In the last two years, Memphis has found itself as a #1 & #2 seed in the NCAA tournament, but showed nothing for it. A more experienced Memphis team felt this was their year, and wanted a big win last night over #2 Tennessee to hush the skeptics.

When it was all said and done, Memphis was out-hustled, out-muscled, and out-played. Tennessee fought hard for a 66-62 victory. Both teams came out of the locker room shooting lights out, but after the first commercial break, the game's style shifted and turned into a defensive grudge match; something not expected from the two, high-powered offenses. Memphis, a team known for making plays when it needed to this season, answered every opportunity to take back the lead in the final seconds with missed shots. Instead, Tyler Smith of Tennessee rose to the challenge, making two key baskets down the stretch, including what proved to be the game-winner; a difficult short-range jumper in which he appeared to be fouled as well.

Memphis' biggest weakness, its inability to make free throws, was exploited and a huge factor in the game as well. The nation's 4th worst free-throw shooting team (58.8% on the year) shot a miserable 8-17 from the line. Nine crucial points that proved to decide a big game they could have won. However, Memphis' poor performance at the line shouldn't take away from the effort Tennessee brought to Memphis last night. Tennessee deserved to win this one. It was the biggest win in Tennesee's school history, and with it, Tennessee should rise to the #1 ranking in the country for the first time ever.

As for Memphis...the team got the loss many thought it needed to avoid a Patriots championship meltdown. But Memphis still hasn't proven that Conference USA's best is capable of competing with the best in the nation and winning the big game. Free-throw shooting is essential in close games and although Memphis can get away with it against weak, Conference USA teams, they will not be able to against the powers of the NCAA come tournament time. Coach John Calipari is a great coach and he has a great bunch of athletes on his team, but unless Memphis can find a way to make their foul shots (58% - 4th worst in the nation is unacceptable), they shouldn't count on being the #1 team in the country and surviving the NCAA tournament, en route to a national championship.

Image taken from Yahoo! Sports

Saturday, February 16, 2008

A Career on the Line...

This past Wednesday, Roger Clemens, known as one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history, tried to maintain his reputation in front of Congress. After the Mitchell report was released just recently, the most surprising name on the list, was Roger Clemens. A 7-time Cy Young Award winner and one-time World Series champion, Clemens put up statistics that few could parallel. Clemens denied the allegations from the Mitchell report that suggested he used HGH immediately. He even went on 60 Minutes in an effort to clear his name. With a career likely tainted forever, Clemens agreed to appear in front of Congress along with long-time personal trainer and former friend Brian McNamee.

At the hearing, both men were questioned on some controversial actions. However, for the most part, it seemed to be Clemens whose actions appeared most suspicious. McNamee was very composed and relaxed when answering his questions, while Clemens looked flustered and struggled to put sentences together at times when trying to elucidate his suspicious behavior and actions. Most of the evidence presented put Clemens in a bad light as well. Andy Pettite, Clemens former teammate and friend, told Congress at his hearing that Clemens once told him he used HGH. Clemens' former nanny also reported that Clemens contacted her for the first time in 7 years and invited her to his home when he discovered Congress asked for a way to contact her, without contacting her himself. His choice to speak with her anyways, before Congress got the chance to, was very suspicious. The nanny then revealed Clemens attended a party 10 years ago at Jose Canseco's house after Clemens denied being there.

Clemens' explanations for his actions were very weak in my opinion and his demeanor made him look far from innocent throughout the questioning. As a New York Yankee fan, it is very disappointing to think Clemens isn't innocent and that he did in fact use HGH, but based on his hearing and the drastic change in his statistics entering his 30s and 40s, the obvious sign suggests Clemens is guilty. The investigation will further continue in the coming months, but as for now, it seems Clemens' career will be forever tainted and his records and accomplishments, always in question.

Image taken from Yahoo! Sports

Monday, February 11, 2008

A Victory of "GIANT" proportions...

I realize the Super Bowl was now over a week ago, but as a Giants fan, I am still overjoyed and in utter disbelief of what occurred last week. The unthinkable. Yes I know I predicted it would happen, but even still, it really did happen. As a Giants fan, you come to expect the worst. The Giants can go from beating the best team in the NFL one week to getting embarrassed by a struggling Arizona Cardinals team the next. The Giants of recent times seem to forget to show up for the easy wins on occassion. Then they get written off with no chance to take down the top guns in football, and they wind up making a game out of those contests. I have seen them take down the "fastest show on turf" in the Rams glory days & saw them end the Denver Broncos perfect 14-0 season in 1998. When the odds are against them, the Giants always seem to push themselves a little bit harder. This certainly proved to be the story of their season this year.

Down by 2 TDs in the snow to a mediocre Buffalo Bills team in week 16 this season, the Giants seemed destined to lose in a must-win situation. Riding the backs of RB Brandon Jacobs, who rushed for 145 yds & 2 TDs, late-season, rookie sensation Ahmed Bradshaw, who added 151 yds & a TD, and a sturdy defense, the Giants came back to embarrass Buffalo, 38-21. After securing a playoff spot the Giants next task was to prevent New England from becoming the first team in NFL history to go 16-0 in the regular season. Although they came close, the Giants failed to spoil the Pats perfect season, losing 38-35. But no worries, the odds would be against the Giants for the entirety of the playoffs, & each game they managed to push themselves harder & harder.

After ruining the high hopes of Tampa Bay, Dallas, & Green Bay, the question became: could the Giants be the spoilers one more time? 18-0 was standing in their way. The Giants needed a perfect performance to take down the Pats and a perfect performance was what they brought. The Giants defensive front seven put pressure on QB Tom Brady the whole game, sacking him 5 times and hitting him 9 other times. Perhaps the game's best quarterback of all-time, the record-setting QB could not look any more flustered than he was all game dealing with the Giants. The record-setting offense was held to just 14 points after averaging over 30 a game this season and scoring 38 in week 17 against the Giants. It was truly incredible how well the Giants defense played.

Had the offense only managed to score 10 pts it would have been a complete disappointment after the way the Giants defense had played. The defense carried them throughout the playoffs, but it came down to the last drive with less than 3 minutes to go in the game, that left the Giants fate in the hands of Eli Manning and their offense. The drive was magnificent. A successful 4th down conversion, followed by what I believe to be the greatest play in Super Bowl history. Eli Manning, a known pocket QB with limited mobility, managed to slip out of the grasp of Richard Seymour (who looked to have a sure sack), then as Manning emerged behind the line he rolled to his right and threw up a prayer to David Tyree who made the most miraculous, acrobatic catch; holding the ball to his helmet as he fell to the ground with Rodney Harrison, he transferred the ball to his hands, keeping it in their possession without letting it hit the ground as he collided with the field. After a great effort by Steve Smith to convert a 3rd down with 40 seconds remaining, Eli Manning dropped back in the shotgun & hit Plaxico Burress on a perfect fade route in the corner of the endzone to give the Giants a 17-14 lead that would hold for the final 35 seconds. My friends and I couldn't believe it and the group of us that were Giants fans were completely overjoyed and in shock. It was the greatest game I had ever witnessed the Giants play and I couldn't have been happier.

In all my years following the Giants, I had seen them put up some pretty awful displays on the football field and also seen them do some pretty great things as well. This was by far the greatest thing I had ever seen them do. Eli Manning hushed critics and established himself as a Super Bowl champion quarterback and MVP, and the Giants proved they had arguably the best defense in football. I couldn't be more proud of the job the coaching staff did and what the players accomplished on that field, and I will always live with the memory of my team's amazing Super Bowl upset.

Image taken from Yahoo! Sports

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Key injury gives Duke the advantage in its ACC matchup vs. rival UNC...

Well folks its that time again. Time for the biggest rivalry in all of college basketball: North Carolina vs. Duke. This year the stakes are just as high and the teams are as evenly matched as can be. Duke ranks #2 in the country and North Carolina falls right behind them at #3. In this case however, the rankings are misleading. At full strength these rankings stand true, but thanks to a sprained ankle suffered by North Carolina point guard Ty Lawson on Sunday versus Florida State, the Tar Heels will likely be without their star point guard in Wednesday night's grudge match.

Although the Tar Heels are known for a star-studded lineup with great depth, the loss of Lawson is scaled even more by the fact that they lost backup guard Bobby Frasor earlier in the year (torn ligaments) for the season and Marcus Ginyard, another guard, is suffering from an injury (turf toe) as well. This would mean that 3rd string guard Quentin Thomas would have to lead the offense in the biggest game of the year; a task difficult for most, in a game of this magnitude and importance to the school.

Duke is one of the hottest teams in the country right now, riding on a 9 game winning streak as they have mercilessly coasted through the ACC, winning by an average of more than 15 points a game in route to its 7-0 (19-1 overall) conference leading record. North Carolina's road through the ACC has been much more difficult. The Tar Heels rank second in the conference with a record of 6-1 (21-1 overall), playing in 3 games decided by 2 points or less and another that went into overtime. Aside from their one loss though, they have proven that they can make the shots they need to win when it matters.

Even though Duke appears to be the evident favorite (assuming Lawson will not be in the lineup), you can never count either team out in this rivalry. The two teams always seem to make it a thriller. So do not expect a blowout for Duke, even if Lawson does not play. Hansbrough's dominant post presence is capable of slowing down the run-and-gun Blue Devils offense. If he has a big game, North Carolina has a shot. And do not think Hansbrough has forgotten the cheap shot that broke his nose last year from Duke guard/forward Gerald Henderson. I expect Hansbrough to be angry and fired up for a big game tonight.

My Prediction:
Duke 85 - North Carolina 76 (without a healthy Lawson)
North Carolina 90 - Duke 84 (with a healthy Lawson)

Image taken from Yahoo! Sports

Friday, February 1, 2008

New York must have a "GIANT" effort to end Perfection...

Five weeks ago, on December 29th of last year, I sat down as I had done many times in the past in seat 18 of row 25, Section 138 at Giants Stadium. Never had I felt so privileged to have season tickets for the Giants. The reason for this is because I was sitting in a win-win situation. If the Patriots were to win, I would be witnessing the first NFL team to ever go 16-0 in the regular season. If the Giants were to win, my favorite team would be the only team to knock of the undefeated Pats, which would establish them as a powerhouse in the NFL rankings and preserve history for the undefeated 1972 Dolphins. The question I found myself asking before kickoff was...which Giants team would show up? Ask any true Giants fan, and they will agree that you never know which Giants team will show up.

The Giants got off to an early start, marching down the field for a score immediately. Throughout the game Tom Brady and the Patriots answered and when they found themselves down by more than one score in the 3rd quarter, Brady kept his composure and led the Pats back as he had done so many times in his illustrious career. A breakdown in coverage that left Moss wind open downfield was the final dagger, as the Pats won 38-35. The Giants put forth an effort that night on national television that had every analyst and sports fan showing respect for the team.

It was amazing, how that respect was not considered enough just one week later, when every pre-game analyst picked Tampa Bay to give the Giants an early exit from the playoffs. After a dominant 24-14 victory, the Giants once again impressed analysts, yet no one gave them a chance to take down divisional rival and NFC powerhouse, Dallas. After a thrilling 21-17 victory over Dallas, analysts said Manning could not play in the cold weather and every analyst, aside from Terry Bradshaw, picked Green Bay. After a game-winning, 47 yard field goal by Lawrence Tynes in overtime, the Giants found themselves in the Super Bowl, a place no one ever would have predicted they'd be after two embarrassing losses at the start of the year to Dallas and Green Bay.

So now that the Giants have made it through what is believed to be the worse of the two NFL conferences, they come face to face with the decade's greatest team. A dynasty in possession of 3 Super Bowl trophies in the last 6 years. A team that has 20 players with at least one Super Bowl championship playing a team that has only 3 players that have ever even been to the Super Bowl. In addition to all of this, the Patriots have an undefeated season on the line and the opportunity to be deemed the greatest team in NFL history as extra motivation to win.

The Giants have to hope that the pressure becomes all too much for the Patriots. It does not seem likely that it will, seeing as the Patriots are the best prepared team in football and have survived every scare of the season so far. Nothing can seem to crack their composure.

So how can the Giants possibly win? Well, the truth may take a lot of luck. The Giants have few advantages over the Patriots in matchups, however they do seem to have a better Special Teams and possibly the best defensive front seven in football. The Giants returned a kickoff for a Touchdown in week 17 against the Patriots and they may have to do it again in order to win. If the special teams can win the Giants the field possession game they have a chance. This means Jeff Feagles, the Giants punter, needs to pin the Pats back as close to their end zone as he can, and Hixon and McQuarters need big returns on both kickoffs and punts to shorten the field the Giants need to go down to score on the Pats. As for the Giants defensive front seven, it is essential that they get pressure on Tom Brady. In the Pats closest games this year the Ravens, Eagles, Colts, and for a small percentage of the game, the Giants, were able to get pressure on Brady. In so many of their blowouts this season Brady had all day to stand in the pocket and find open receivers. If the Giants defensive front can mix up their blitz packages, come after Brady, and get some hits on him, forcing him to throw the ball when he isn't ready to, Brady will make mistakes. The Giants need to capitalize on these mistakes if they do happen. Their secondary cannot afford to drop interceptions like they have the past few weeks, because if you give Brady a second chance, he will hurt you.

Lastly, the Giants need to make sure they do not commit stupid penalties. A key third down penalty that would have resulted in the Giants getting the ball gave the Pats the opportunity to march down field and score a Touchdown in week 17, which proved to be very costly. The Pats do talk a lot of trash, especially Brady, so the Giants need to make sure they keep their cool and just go out there and have some fun.

As you can see, the only way to beat Perfection, is to play a perfect game.

Call me crazy, but even as a true Giants fan that always expects the worst out of them, I think they can somehow pull it off. Their defense has seen tremendous improvement over the past few weeks. Eli Manning is starting to look a lot like Peyton out there on the field and I do believe the Giants are playing with a passion and a fire that gives them a chance. They have a young defense that has seem driven to be perfect since the opening Pats drive of the week 17 game at Giants stadium and I think the youth they have on that defense might give them the stamina they need to stop the Pats high-powered offense on that last drive. If Jacobs and Bradshaw can control the clock and Eli continues to play the way he has been the past few weeks, confident and composed, the Giants can control the clock and have a legitimate shot to pull it off. Not to mention, the Super Bowl is held in Arizona, and the Giants 10-0 record in their last 10 road games seems to be a comforting statistic for them.

My Prediction: Giants 30 - Patriots 27

Image taken from