NCAA

With Alabama’s exciting victory over unbeaten Clemson earlier this week, view the 2015 college football season came to an end and Alabama won the CFP Championship.  Even though the teams have barely settled back into their campuses after the trip to Arizona, is it too early to start thinking about next year?  Well, probably, but let’s do it anyway.  Here are some things to look for in the 2016 season:

  1. The Clemson Tigers will probably open the season ranked #1.  They will most likely be bringing back 17 starters including Heisman Trophy finalist, Deshaun Watson. Even though they have a few significant losses, they will be in a position to regroup around the core players that will be returning.  Key match-up for next year:  A road game against Florida State.  Pencil that one in now as one to watch.  Will the Tigers be able to repeat their perfect season and return to the championship game?
  2. The Expectations for Michigan are Off the Charts.  This year’s 10-3 team also returns a group of strong players, especially on defense, and no doubt Wolverines fans can practically taste the chance to make it to the championship game.  Some oddsmakers are reporting that Michigan has 12/1 odds of making it to the final game.  One thing is for sure: Coach Jim Harbaugh has started the recruiting season and everyone is taking note!
  3.  The Big Twelve May Host a Conference Champsionship Game. At the NCAA convention this week, the league voted to allow the Big 12 to have a conference championship game, even if does not expand from its current ten-team roster.  However, the Big 12 Commissioner walked back the rule change, stating to ESPN that the vote did not necessarily mean that a championship game would happen.  ESPN reports it is unlikely that a championship game would be held next year, in any event.
  4. Alabama isn’t Going Anywhere.  This team has won four championships in the last seven years.  Even with star running back Derrick Henry declaring he will enter the NFL draft next year, can you really count on Alabama not to be in the hunt for a national title?  No.  And if politics have anything to do with it, AL.com encourages Crimson Tide fans to vote democrat in the next election.  Why?  Eleven of ‘Bama’s sixteen championships have come with democrats sitting in the White House.  And four have come with O-Bama occupying 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
  5. Big Ten to Begin Nine Game Conferenece Schedule.  Despite the fact the Big Ten coaches unanimously hate the 9-game conference schedule, it’s here.  All Big Ten teams will now have to play nine conference games and one intersectional game against a power league.  No more padding those scheduleds with MAC teams.  We can only wonder what the bowl eligibiilty will look like with nine conference games.  Yikes.

 

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Brad Stevens put “family” first last week, there which is why you may have noticed that he wasn’t lurking over the Celtics bench when they took on the Bulls on Thursday night.   Instead, viagra Stevens left the team for the evening to visit a former player he coached at Butler who is battling cancer at home in Indiana.  Stevens’ decisions to leave the team and miss a game mid-season spoke volumes to his team about his character, values, and leadership.  In the wake of his brief departure, Celtics players lauded the emphasis his coaching puts on personal relationships and caring deeply for all of his players. But for Stevens, the last thing on his mind was basketball.

“It was just the fact that the conditions were worsening, I’ll let them talk about his condition. But I’m glad that I went. It’s not as tough on me as it is, certainly, on them, but it’s certainly emotionally very challenging. It certainly puts things in a lot of perspective.”

When I read that Stevens would miss the Bulls-Celtics game late Thursday afternoon to visit a former player, I was reminded of a Matt Norlander College Basketball feature from March about a former Butler Big Man who had gone through the hell of cancer and cardiac arrest and lived to tell his harrowing story.  After some quick research, I was devastated to find out that Stevens’ trip was to visit the same player featured in the CBS Sports story and that his outlook was not as good as it was last year.

This player is Andrew Smith, who competed for Stevens in both of Butler’s trips to the Final Four in 2010 and 2011.  The 6’11’’ Center was a vocal leader on his team and ended his Butler career in 2013 5th in school history in games played, 12th in rebounding and 25th in points scored.  At Butler, Smith played his best games when they featured his biggest match ups.  In his Senior season, Smith matched the play of future NBA draft picks Cody Zeller, Kelly Olynyk and Mike Muscala, helping Butler to come out with wins against all three opponents.

After spending the summer with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Smith signed with Neptunas, a Lithuanian basketball club for the 2013-2014 season.  Smith and his wife Samantha’s time in Lithuania ended quickly when he discovered a lump on his neck causing him difficulty breathing.  The Smiths were unable to get timely and trustworthy medical attention in Lithuania so as Andrew’s condition worsened, they drove 300 km to catch a transatlantic flight to Chicago only to race the 3 hour drive to Indianapolis trying to beat a snowstorm.  In Indianapolis, it was apparent that Smith needed to get to the hospital immediately.  There, he was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma, a rare condition of non-Hodgkin’s with only 2,000 documented cases per year.

Smith quickly began battling this acute illness by enduring two brutal rounds of chemotherapy.  He survived with the support of his family and friends and visits and well wishes from Stevens, Butler assistant coach Terry Johnson, and Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano who fought off leukemia the year before.  He spent months at a time in the hospital, confined to watching UConn’s improbable run to the 2014 national title from his hospital room.

Through it all, Andrew is said to have never complained, calming those around him with games of poker and Seinfeld marathons.  When his nausea from the chemo moderately subsided, Smith decided to put his Butler accounting degree to work at a family friend’s leasing and finance company.  On his third day on the job, the unthinkable happened.  Smith collapsed in his cubicle, going into cardiac arrest, and lying technically dead for more than 20 minutes.  Paramedics on the scene believed Smith to be gone, and if there was any hope of reviving him, the odds were overwhelming that he would live the remainder of his life as a vegetable.  Upon arriving at the hospital, Smith was put into a medically induced coma for 3 days in which case only 2% of patients walk out of the hospital without physical or neurological effects.   But Andrew Smith did just that, with the support of his wife Sam, and his many many fans, including Brad Stevens.

“It’s an absolute miracle. There is no other way to interpret this. They’ve been through more in a 20-month marriage than a lot of people go through in the first 20 years. I was amazed. He amazes me every time I talk to him. When he got to Butler he was a really bright guy trying to find his way playing basketball. He became one of the most confident, toughest, hardest-working players I’ve ever coached. And Sam is an absolute rock.” – Brad Stevens

Smith returned to his job with a defibrillator in his chest, while enduring more chemotherapy treatments and coaching in a youth basketball league saying,

“I’m not on this earth to go out and play basketball games. I’m on this earth to share a story people can hear. . . . Our faith gives everything that happened last year a purpose. … If I was going to bring one person back from a dark place, and we’ve had hundreds and hundreds of letters, then this entire year was worth it.”

Unfortunately Andrew Smith’s health crisis did not end when he miraculously regained full control of his body a week after his collapse.  In November 2015, the lymphoma required him to receive a bone marrow transplant, which kept him in the hospital on and off, but mostly on, until now.  This morning, January 10th, Samantha Smith posted on the couple’s blog ‘Kicking Cancer with the Smiths’  that Andrew’s time on earth was likely coming to an end.

“The doctors tell me death is imminent and that Andrew is going to die from this disease. There are no treatments, no clinical trials…there is nothing left to do…I’m sorry to have broken all of your hearts this morning. It is not lost on me how many care so deeply for Andrew. He’s an easy one to love. So again, I ask for prayers for his miraculous healing- and soon. I ask for strength and peace. I ask that you keep Andrew, myself, and our families and friends in your thoughts and prayers during this extremely difficult time. God has granted us miracles before in Andrew’s life, He has saved it once before, and we pray and plead that He does it yet again.”

In light of this shattering news, an outpouring of thoughts and prayers has come from the college basketball community.  As you start your week, keep Andrew and his family in your thoughts, and spread the word with #AndrewSmithStrong.

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Category: NBA, NCAA

Happy New Year!  For college football fans, mind there is no better way to ring in 2016 than by binge-watching bowl game after bowl game.  For those of us who will be sitting on our couches today watching those games, doctor  the storyline that will be undoubtably be dominating the airwaves is the performances of Clemson and Alabama last night, viagra sale both earning a trip to Arizona for the CFP championship game on January 11th in convincing fashion.  Sadly for Michiagn State fans, the Spartans were beaten 38-0 by Alabama last night.  You have to wonder just how the game would have turned out if MSU’s interception right before halftime hadn’t happened.  It felt like Michigan State was in the game up until that point, but they just couldn’t recover after that interception.  Hats off to Alabama as they looked like a championship caliber team last night.  The Detroit Free Press has a great analysis of not only the game, but what the Spartans need to do in the future to get to the level of a championship-caliber team.

Then there was the matter of Oklahoma vs. Clemson where the Tigers handed the Sooners a 37-17 loss and earned their way to the CFP champsionship game.  Did you know that “Clemsoning” was a word?  The urban dictionary has an actual definition for “Clemsoning.”  It is: “The act of delivering an inexplicably disappointing performance, usually within the context of a college football season.”  Well take note, urban dictionary, you may need to update that definition.  Clemson fans were anything but disappointed last night. Despite the fact that Clemson came into the game undefeated and ranked #1 in the country, they were underdogs.  The much under-appreciated, disrespected, and often overlooked Clemson team showed everyone last night that they are the real deal and deserve to be in the champsionship game.

So we are set for the showdown in the desert to decide the 2015 NCAA football national champion.  Will it be the Crimson Tide of Alabama who are trying to win their first title in three years?  Or will the Tigers, who have only won one championship – back in 1981, bring home the title?  This southern duel will surely be a fun one to watch.

And Big Ten and Notre Dame fans, even though Michigan State loss its game last night, you are well represented today as four of the five bowl games feature Big Ten teams and the Fiesta Bowl has Notre Dame going against Ohio State.  The day starts off with Northwestern facing Tennessee in the Outback Bowl.  Then Michigan plays Florida in the Citrus Bowl at the same time Notre Dame and OSU battle it out.  Then Iowa takes on Stanford in the Rose Bowl.  By the way, who would have predicted that Iowa would have been representing the B1G in the Rose Bowl this year!

So get comfy on those couches – you’ve got a lot of football to watch today!

 

 

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Back in November, for sale I followed the story about the Missouri football team boycott which ultimately led to the resignation of the university’s President and Chancellor.  The team’s boycott was in response to a student movement, tadalafil including a hunger strike by one student, advice claiming that the school had not done enough to deal with racism on campus.  The story garnered little national attention until the football team united together and threatened to boycott all football activities, including the upcoming game against BYU, unless the President resigned.  I was conflicted about the story then, and I remain so today.

The power this college football team had to instantly grab attention and cause the resignation of two of the university’s highest ranking officials was stunning. Not only did the story dominate the headlines once the football team got involved, but the issue of racism on college campuses was instantly brought to the forefront of the news cycle. The President and Chancellor’s resignations were not in response to a major address by a civil rights leader, political figure, or world scholar.  This was a football team threatening a boycott of a game that some argued had little meaning to the team’s season since Mizzou was not in the hunt for the SEC title. And we have to wonder, would the team have boycotted if the season had been on the line?

It is no secret that Mizzou would have lost $1 million if the football team boycotted the game.  That had to get university officials, the athletic department, boosters, and season ticket holders anxious – to say the least.  So this week a Missouri legislator introduced a bill  in the state legislature that would have caused university athletes to lose their scholarships if they refused to play in a game for any reason other than injury. Let’s think about this:  If the bill passed, it would have been illegal under Missouri law for student athletes to have refused to play in a game for any reason other than an injury.  What could possibly go wrong under a law like that?  There are so many problems I don’t know where to start.

Think the NCAA might want a say in what would constitute a student athlete losing his or her scholarship rather than a state law dictating such terms? Are student athletes now considered university employees?  Somehow I think that NCAA is going to have a problem with that one. And what about the First Amendment?  Yes, no issues there. Thankfully, that bill was withdrawn later this week. But its introduction has done exactly what its sponsors had wanted – created a discussion about how much power is too much power to hand to student athletes.

We know the athletes in this country have a tremendous amount of influence given their endorsement deals, access to mainstream media, and wealth.  But it is not only professional athletes that have this platform.  At a school such as Missouri where the football team is such an integral part of that school’s identity and tradition, when they unite for a cause, there is an instantaneous response.  Their platform is enormous on a college campus – and even nationally.  This Missouri football team clearly identified with and was passionate about their united mission.  The question then becomes, where do we go from here?  Are college sports teams now in a position to threaten to boycott over larger political issues that they feel passionate about?  What if they are all not united?

I don’t have an answer for this, and I suspect most university officials do not either – yet.  The consequences, both financially and structurally, could be devstating for a program if it actually had to forfeit money into the millions of dollars because its team would not take the field.  Entire recruiting strategies would suffer if a program’s instability was evident. Therefore, this is not an easy issue and it will undoubtably develop over the next several months and years.  But one thing is for sure:  Sports are powerful and influential well beyond the actual game.  But then again, we all knew that, right?

 

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Category: NCAA

Over the next several weeks there will be a total of 40 college football bowl games played.  If you are a college football fan, medical this is heaven – and quite a change from twenty years ago.  During the 1995-1996 season, cure there were only 18 bowl games.  Sure, cialis sale we all know the “famous” bowls like the Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, Cotton Bowl and Sugar Bowl.  These marque bowls continue to attract the highest ranked teams in prime time slots, mostly due to conference agreements with the individual bowl organizations.

But did you also know that this year there is a Motel 6 Cactus Bowl featuring West Virginia vs. Arizona State in Phoenix?  The San Diego Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl (Boise State vs. Northern Illinois) in San Diego?  And the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl (Ohio vs. Appalacian State) in Montgomery, Alabama?  Unless you are a fan of one of these football teams, chances are you were not waiting with baited breadth last Sunday for the announcement of what teams would be playing at these games.

So that begs the question:  Are there too many bowls in college football today?  Nancy Armour of USA Today had a scathing commentary for the state of college football’s bowl system:

With a whopping 40 of them this year, bowl games have become college football’s equivalent of the participation trophy. Seriously. There are 127 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision, which means only about a third will miss out on the headphones, sunglasses, watches, gift cards and whatever else is stuffed into those goodie bags.

It is noteworthy that eligibility to play in a bowl game is generally 6 wins during the season.  This year, however, three teams with losing records (5-7) got invites to play at bowl games due to a lack of eligible teams with a total of 6 wins.

One bowl match-up has also had a lot of people scratching their heads: NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl will feature the University of Nevada against Colorado State: two teams from the Mountain West conference.  So, essentially, this is just another regular season game for both of these schools.  Would it not have been possible to pull another school into the mix here just to make things more interesting?  How many fans from these two schools are going to want to travel to see a regular season match-up?

The other side of the coin is that by giving more teams (and their fans) an opportunity to see their team play in a post-season bowl game, everyone wins. Plus, it is a great recruiting opportunity for the participating schools and allows the players returning next year to get more real-time action before the start of next season.  These are all of the justifications for more bowl games outside of the say, 10 or so bowls that have real significance and historical meaning.

Eventually, the NCAA is going to need to crack down on the number of bowl games played and should take a realistic look at attendance and ratings of some of the lesser known bowls. While everyone getting to play is a nice notion, making it to a bowl game should continue to mean something.  For a complete run-down of all the bowl games, here is ESPN’s cliff notes:  Ranking the College Football Bowl Season.

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Even though I’d like to consider myself far more than a casual observer of Illinois basketball, click I’ve had an issue this season: More often than not, search I don’t recognize the players on the court.

Nearly every game I find myself saying, generic “Wait, who’s that?!” at least once, as a mysterious new player starts the game or drives to the hoop.

In my defense, Illinois has four freshmen (including one red-shirt) and quite a few new transfers who have been getting some playing time. Also, Coach John Groce isn’t exactly making it easy on us fans to get to know the players, so to speak: He has used nine different starting lineups in 10 regular season games, including the one pictured at the top of this post.

Let’s compare that to, say, Michigan State, a team that is not only an in-conference rival but also the No. 1 team in the nation: By my count, Coach Tom Izzo has used just two different starting lineups in 10 games, and the starters haven’t changed since the Spartans’ second game.

(Admittedly, choosing MSU as a comparison may not be entirely fair — they are the best team in the NCAA currently, and haven’t been plagued with injuries like Illinois has so far this season.)

But speaking as an observer, not having a go-to set of players can make it difficult to get fully behind the team. And, for the players, I imagine it would be difficult to build chemistry.

But maybe switching up lineups has become par for the course for Illinois-based sports. Coach Joel Quenneville of the Blackhawks has been switching up lines trying to find a spark, according to the Chicago Tribune, and Joe Maddon didn’t shy away from changing an order or two for the Cubs last season.

In Champaign, Coach Groce is clearly still searching for a winning combination. From his presser Tuesday:

The Illini improved to 5-5 with a win over Yale last night. Perhaps that starting lineup hit the sweet spot and will stick?

We’ll find out Saturday, as the Illini travel to Chicago to take on UIC in the United Center.

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