Monday, February 28, 2011

Notre Dame Blows Out Villanova 93-72

From the get go this game wasn't close.  Notre Dame jumped out to an early lead and never looked back, as Villanova loses its third in a row.  Ben Hansbrough led the Notre Dame attack on Senior Night, with 30 points, 10 assists, and 5 steals.  Tim Abromaitis was on fire from three point range, dropping 9 of his 13 attempts as he scored 30 points as well.  Notre Dame shot 56% as a team and made 20 of 32 from downtown.  Tyrone Nash set a career high with 11 rebounds to go along with 11 points, as Notre Dame secured a double-bye in the Big East tournament, which is next week.

Villanova was led by Corey Fisher, who finally broke his cold streak.  The Senior guard had 22 points, but it was too little too late for the Wildcats.  Notre Dame took a 20 point lead into halftime and for most of the second half hovered around 30 points before the Villanova backcourt drained some threes late in the game.  This game had less to do with Villanova's lack of offense, than its absence of perimeter defense.  Jay Wright continuously changed up the defense to try and stop the strong offense of the Fighting Irish, but nothing worked. The 2-3 zone proved to be the least effective, as Tim Abromaitis sat in the corner and waited for the ball.

This game is huge for Notre Dame as they secure that double bye in the Big East tournament, not having to play the first two nights.  Villanova on the other hand may not even receive a bye at all in the tournament, which actually could help them in the long run, because they will be playing a team that is significantly worse than them, allowing Villanova to find their rhythm.  These two teams are moving in polar opposite directions and only time will tell if this play translates in the future of each team's NCAA tournament chances.

ESPN/USA Today Rankings 2/28

The new rankings are out and there are a few surprises, especially at the top.  Ohio State is the new #1, jumping Kansas, who stands at #2.  Duke fell three spots following their loss, while BYU moved up to #3 in the country. Here is the top ten:

1. Ohio State
2. Kansas
3. BYU
4. Duke
5. Pittsburgh
6. Purdue
7. Notre Dame
8. Texas
9. San Diego State
10. Wisconsin

Ohio State received 17 of the 31 first place votes, with Kansas getting the rest of them.  It's interesting that Ohio State jumped over Kansas, because both teams did not lose this week; however, Ohio State, despite being ranked #3 last week, received more first place votes than Kansas even last week.  BYU has really picked up steam and should get a #1 seed in the tournament assuming they win out, while Duke's inconsistency is being exposed.  The Blue Devils are arguably the best team in the country when Kyrie Irving is in the lineup, but Duke will have to make do without him.  Pittsburgh actually moved up a spot despite losing this week, since no other team made a case to replace the Panthers.  Purdue is playing great basketball, as the Boilermakers are poised to take a #2 seed and even compete for a #1 seed.  #7 Notre Dame has a tough week, playing Villanova and UConn and with two wins this week, they too have a legitimate case for a #1 seed as well.  Texas and San Diego State made the biggest drops this week in the top ten, with SDSU dropping from 4 to 9 and Texas from 5 to 8.  Rounding out the top ten, Wisconsin joins the party and has a game against Ohio State this weekend, as they look to stay a part of the elite teams in the Big Ten.

Outside the top ten, Louisville and Syracuse took huge strides forward, and are now ranked 11 and 12 respectively.  UNC and St. John's also jumped forward; UNC moves up to 13, while St. John's is 15.  #17 Georgetown, #18 Arizona, and #19 Villanova look to bounce back after going a combined 0-6 this week.  George Mason joined the top 25, as they continue to pile up wins and are now 25-5 on the season.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Projected Top Ten Rankings

As we enter March, the rankings become more and more meaningful.  The top 25 teams have secured a spot in the NCAA tournament and the top teams are battling for seed positioning.  The #1 seeds usually come from the top 5, but with the craziness of college basketball this year, anything can happen.  So here are my top ten teams for this week:

1. Kansas
2. Ohio State
3. Duke
4. BYU
5. San Diego State
6. Purdue
7. Texas
8. Pittsburgh
9. Notre Dame
10. Wisconsin

Kansas is likely to get another nod at the top of the rankings after Duke failed to win on the road against Virginia Tech.  BYU makes the big jump in the top ten after defeating San Diego State for the second time this season.  The SDSU Aztecs follow BYU in my rankings, falling just one spot.  Purdue continues its hot run and moves up to #6, while Texas and Pittsburgh both drop two spots after losing on Saturday.  Notre Dame stays put at #9, while Wisconsin finds themselves in the top 10, as they finish their home record undefeated.

Saturday College Basketball Recap

Another week and another #1 falls.  Virginia Tech defeated the top ranked Duke Blue Devils in what has become a weekly ritual.  No team can ever keep a grasp on #1, which shows the lack of a dominant team in college basketball.  Here is a recap of some of the key games yesterday:

Virginia Tech 64 - Duke 60: Virginia Tech is safely off the bubble and will get a bid in to the tournament.  Led by a balanced offensive attack, the Hokies also limited Duke to a 39% field goal percentage.  All five starters for Virginia Tech had double figures in points, and two players (Jeff Allen and Victor Davila) had double-doubles.  The Hokies pulled out the win despite shooting 8-19 from the charity strike, but made up for it with strong defense.  Virginia Tech is now 19-8 and is 9-5 in the ACC, putting them in fourth place in their conference.

Kansas and Notre Dame took care of business.  Kansas beat Oklahoma 82-70, while Notre Dame won 60-48 vs. the Seton Hall Pirates.

BYU sweeps season series vs. San Diego State - BYU came out on top with an 80-67 win, giving them an opportunity to earn a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament.  For SDSU, the Aztecs just can't seem to beat BYU or stop Jimmer Fredette, but still will likely be a #2 seed in the NCAA tournament.  Both teams will be strong candidates for the NCAA tournament, and we will see how well they do against the powerhouse teams from the big conferences.

Colorado stuns Texas 91-89: The Longhorns blew a 22 point lead, and a 15 point lead at halftime, as Colorado came back and stole this game.  Alec Burks scored 33 points and grabbed 10 boards to lead the Buffaloes.  Both Texas and Colorado shot poorly from the free throw line, but Colorado won the edge from the field, making 53% of their shots.  Andre Roberson for Colorado provided a spark off the bench, grabbing 11 rebounds, with 9 points and 5 assists. This probably means Texas will drop from the #1 seed race, but will be a safe #2.

Syracuse and St. John's pull out road Big East victories against Georgetown and Villanova, respectively.  St. John's was led by Dwight Hardy's 34 points.  Villanova responded in the second half, behind Corey Stokes' three point mastery, but their comeback fell short as Hardy was too much for the Wildcats.  As for Syracuse, Scoop Jardine hit a huge three pointer late in the second half to secure the win for the Orangemen.  Scoop finished with 17 points and 7 assists rounding out a solid week after beating Villanova in Philadelphia on Monday.   This game was a testament to the Syracuse zone, which shut down the Hoyas.  Georgetown shot 18-50 from the field and 7-25 from downtown.

UCLA pounds Arizona 71-49:  This game was surprising to say the least.  Arizona, new to the top ten, got pummeled by UCLA, which puts the Bruins in a tie with Arizona atop the Pac-10.  Reeves Nelson had 27 points and 16 rebounds for UCLA, who dominated Arizona on the boards: 38-23.  Arizona's offense was terrible last night, shooting just 31.5% and they only had 7 assists. Derrick Williams had an average game by his standards with 15 points and wasn't nearly enough to compete with UCLA.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Marquette Adds to List of Big East Teams Likely to Make Tournament

The Big East could have secured an eleventh team in the NCAA tournament with Marquette's victory over Connecticut tonight.  Here's the case for the 4 teams that are on the bubble in the Big East.

St. John's: The newly ranked Red Storm have won 5 in a row, including wins against Connecticut and Pittsburgh.  St. John's boasts a great resume, with wins vs. Duke, Georgetown, and Notre Dame as well.  Their losses to St. Bonaventure and Fordham are pretty bad, but they have secured a bid to the NCAA tournament.  If they beat Villanova at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday, they will get a 5 or 6 seed.

West Virginia: at just 17-10, this team's record won't get them into the tournament, but this well-coached Mountaineer team is very dangerous.  West Virginia is not an easy out by any means, and will challenge everybody.  WVU has wins against Purdue, Notre Dame, and @ Georgetown.  The Mountaineers do have a lot of losses, but none can really be characterized as a bad loss.  Losing to fellow bubble teams, St. Johns and Marquette won't help them, but WVU has done enough to get into the tournament.  Finishing the regular season with a win at Rutgers, and a victory over UConn or Louisville will help them get a higher seed.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats started the year 15-0, but really didn't face any competition in their non-conference schedule.  They started Big East play off poorly, winning just 1 of their first 4 games; however, they have picked it up lately, winning three in a row.  Wins vs. Louisville and Georgetown give them 9 wins in the best conference, putting them safely into the tournament.  With four games remaining in the Big East regular season, Cincinnati plays two against Georgetown and one against Marquette and UConn.  Winning two of these games will likely give them at least a bye in the Big East tournament.

Marquette: The Golden Eagles have the worst record out of these teams, with 11 losses on the season; however, no team has been involved in as many close losses as Marquette.  The Golden Eagles have 8 single-digit losses to ranked teams this year.  I can't even make that number up.  Marquette is a solid basketball team and will wreak some havoc come tournament time if they get hot.  They have wins vs. Notre Dame, UConn and Syracuse giving themselves enough ammo to make the tournament.

NHL Season Grades! Thus far...

With less then 20 games left in 2010-2011, the regular season is coming to a sad but inevitable close. No team has been completed eliminated from playoff contention yet; however, there are some teams that are clearly ahead of the rest. With that, I have put together a brief overview of the season thus far.


The Philadelphia Flyers have looked like a dominant team since early on in the season. Despite preseason questions about their goaltending, rookie Sergi Bobrovsky and long time veteran Brian Boucher have done a good enough job to keep them with a strong lead in the Eastern Conference.

The Vancouver Canucks are year after year such a superb team in the regular season and always have high hopes when entering the playoffs. Nothing has changed this year, for they have the NHLs top ranked offense and defense. With Roberto Luongo between the bars, and the Sedin twins carrying their highly potent offensive attack (Henrik 1st in assists, 4th in points Daniel 1st in points and 3rd in goals), they will be hard to stop come playoff time.


Detroit Redwings...thats a name you will always hear when talking about the NHL, and this year is no exception. While Jimmy Howard is having the best year of his career and is the league leader with 30 wins this season, they are primed to make another deep run into the playoffs. Does Datsyuk ever get older?

For the past four seasons San Jose has been the best of the west, and may still be the number one seed in the NHL. They are coming off of their 6th straight victory and are only 9 points behind the 'Nucks. Although given their recent playoff history, I would prefer to see them not have the top seed because that seems to spell bad news for the Sharks. Count on seeing them in the Western Conference Finals

Boston still has a lot of angry fans after blowing the 3-0 lead against the Flyers last year which would have put them in a spot to win their first Stanly Cup since the 71-72 season. Tim Thomas is once again touting the top save percentage in the league with startling .939! Having the eastern conference's top goaltender and defense is priming them for a deep trip into the playoffs.

The Tampa Bay lightning are one of the surprise teams this year, are having an amazing season. Many players are still under achieving, including Steven Stamkos. Despite cooling off from his early season hot streak he still leads the league with 41 goals this year. He needs just 11 more to set a new career high.

Pittsburgh and Washington both have the potential to be holding the Stanly Cup trophy this at the end of season, however both have been down lately. Pittsburgh suffered a devastating injury to Evgeni Malkin and Sid "The Kid" Crosby is still out as well. Along with a few other key forwards, they are riddled with injuries. New comers Alex Kovalev and Matt Niskanen are solid additions to the team, but will they be enough to carry them through the East? Washington is not quite in the same situation, but their defense has been struggling and cannot quite seem to click on offence. Last year Washington finished with a GD of +48 and now with less then 20 games remaining they are sitting on a +7. Both teams need a turn around in order to have a chance come Playoff time.

Over in the west Phoenix, Calgary, Los Angeles, Dallas and Minnesota are all deserving credit for their great play this season. This is one of the tightest races in NHL history, and currently 12 teams are fighting for the final 5 spots. The farthest of which is only 9 points behind!

Seeds 5-8 in the Eastern Conference consist of Montreal, NYR, and Carolina. All three of these teams are heading in the wrong direction. Montreal has posted a sub .500 record after the All-star break, while Carolina (3-5-3 in their last 10) and NYR(4-6) are both slumping. Carolina lost three straight against the rising New Jersey Devils, who have gained a point in all but one game in February, and have compromised their hold on the 8th and final spot in the East, and now only lead the Buffalo Sabres by only 2. Toronto, Florida, Atlanta, and New Jersey are all within 10 points of Carolina. With the season winding down, the bottom of the east is still wide open.

Colorado Avalanche, Ottawa Senators, NY Islanders, Edmonton Oilers
Sorry guys, but your season may very well be all but over in the next few days unless a boat load of wins are strung together. The Avs has lost 13 of their last 14 games, and are now second to last in the very tough West with Edmonton rounding out the bottom. On the opposite side, NYI have played extremely well since the all-star break, but have been overshadowed by the red hot Devils. They only sit 14 points out of the final playoff spot, but baring a huge surge, their post season hopes are slim. Ottawa has the worst goal differential in the league -57 and should focus on rebuilding and hopefully having a successful 2011-2012 campaign.

NHL playoff predictions coming in March, stay tuned!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Big Night in College Basketball

With the fast approaching NBA Trade Deadline on Thursday, most of the sports news has been about the blockbuster deals (Carmelo to NY, Williams to NJ).  However, the NBA Playoffs don't start until mid-April, when the real season begins.  Tonight there will be a ton of key games in college hoops that will have a big effect on the tournament.  Listed below are a few games that will affect Conference tournaments and ultimately the NCAA tournament. 

Cincinnati @ Georgetown: The Bearcats are coming off a big win vs. Louisville and a win against Georgetown would probably put them in the front of the bubble watch.  Cincinnati played a very weak non-conference schedule, but a 9th win, against Georgetown, in the Big East will probably get them into the tournament.  Georgetown on the other hand needs a win in order to stay in the hunt for a #2 seed in the NCAA tournament, not to mention a bye in the first two rounds of the Big East tournament.

Baylor @ Missouri:  Baylor was ranked early in the season, but has struggled mightily since conference play has begun.  Despite that, Baylor can get a huge resume win vs. Missouri tonight, putting them back on track to earn a bid to the Big Dance.  Missouri is all but locked in to the tournament, but if they want to be a a #4 or #5, they will need to win this game.

Kansas State @ Nebraska:  This game features no ranked teams, but a huge Big 12 game nonetheless.  Both teams are 6-6 in conference play, putting them in position to earn an at-large bid.  Whoever wins this game has a leg up on the other, giving them a better shot at the tournament.  Look for this game to come down to the wire.

Colorado State @ BYU: If CSU wins this game, they will make the tournament.  If they lose, they probably won't.  They need this game badly to get another team from the Mountain West conference into the NCAA tournament.  Colorado State has a great record of 18-8(8-4), but a win vs. a top-tier school like BYU will secure a spot.  BYU is in great position to get a #2 seed and a win here will all but secure it.  

What's the Point: Was the Melo Trade Really Necessary?

Its official, Carmelo Anthony is a New York Knick. This is good news for the city of New York and for basketball in general. But before we get too carried away, lets look at who the Knicks gave up: Felton, Gallanari, Chandler, Mozgov, and three future draft picks. That is quite a haul for an aging point guard and a pure scorer. The craziest part about this trade is that it was completely unnecessary on the part of the Knicks!

From day one, Melo made it clear that he wanted to go to New York. He desires the big market, the packed arena, the east coast, and only New York would suffice. He spurned the Nets numerous times, along with the Nuggets and their offer of a contract extension. Maybe he would have been traded somewhere as a rent-a-player, but he would not sign an extension anywhere but New York.

With Carmelo being a free agent this summer, why didn't the Knicks wait until then to sign him? They could have kept the core of their potent team together. They also could have gotten Carmelo for much cheaper than they paid for him, due to the new collective bargaining agreement where player salaries and salary caps will be cut dramatically. This is a move for the future. If New York thinks they can win it all this year, they'd have to be crazier than Isiah Thomas.

There is no doubt that Melo and Amare will form a dynamic duo for years to come. But imagine what kind of future the Knicks could have had if they were patient instead of jumping the gun. They could have had Melo at a reduced price with room to sign another star (Chris Paul?) to combat the other beasts of the east. The Knicks could be a real contender in the future. It will just be harder to get there.

What's the Point is a weekly column written by David Straple. Feel free to comment.

The City Will Never Sleep: Melo Time!

Welcome to the city that never sleeps. New Yorkers and New York sports fan may never sleep again, no joke. Ok, yes I'm over exagerating but unless you live under a rock you may realize that the Empire State is rocking and is about to get even louder.
As a dedicated New York sports fan, I've seen all of my teams struggle painfully in the past, however they are now making a push to be recognized as playoff and possible championship contenders. The acquirement of Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks has so much to offer for the city. After a Giants Super Bowl victory a few years back, the Jets representing the AFC in consecutive AFC Championship games the past two years, the St. Johns Red Storm heating up and a Yankees vs. Mets city rivalry, the Knicks organization has made a great move in trading for Melo. Chauncey Billups will also be joining the team as he has moved from the Pistons to the Nuggets and now the Knicks. From my memory, the last time I was this excited about a Knicks team was when one of my favorite players, Latrell Sprewell, played in MSG. With his sidekick Allan Houston, New York was a fun team to watch as die hard sports fan growing up on the East Coast. Now, despite losing many players, Carmelo Anthony will shape the entire organization for hopefully better future plans. Both Chris Paul on the New Orleans Hornets and Deron Williams of the Utah Jazz have expressed recent interest in joining Melo in the Big Apple. With Billups, Anthony, and hmm oh yeah Amare on the court together, the Knicks will once again prove they are no roll over team.
New York is currently 28-26 and is five games back of the Atlanta Hawks and 12.5 back of the Celtics and Heat. Fresh off the always intense All Star weekend, the Knicks have made one of the boldest moves in the NBA by giving up players such as Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, and Timofey Mozgov. I am personally a big fan of all these players but am very proud of the Knicks organization for taking a big step in trying to obtain even more highly talented players. Carmelo averaged about 25 points per game when he was with the Nuggets. When New York is on the court, defenses will now be focused on Melo, leaving Amare more options to make huge differences in ball games. Down the road, I have faith that another All Star player will join these two NBA powerhouses in what will really have Madison Square Garden in a "New York State of Mind".

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Projected Top Ten Rankings

Sitting here on Sunday night, it is almost impossible to predict what will happen tomorrow when the poll comes out.  The top four teams in the country lost this week, which should mean that #5 Duke should move up to the top of the rankings once again, but are they worthy?  The answer to that question is probably no, but despite that they are probably going to be the #1 team in the country tomorrow.


1. Duke
2. Kansas
3. Ohio State
4. San Diego State
5. Pittsburgh
6. Texas
7. Purdue
8. BYU
9. Arizona
10. Georgetown

Honestly, I could get all six of these wrong, but here is my reasoning.  Duke is #1 by default and haven't lost in a reasonable time.  Kansas is #2 because they are the best offensive team in the country and have proven that they are the most talented team in the country, followed by Ohio State who I have at #3.  The next three is where it gets a little dicey, because I dropped Pitt and Texas to 5 and 6 respectively, allowing SDSU to move up to #4.  San Diego State has one loss this season, which was to BYU and the Aztecs have not slowed down since then.  The fact that they have only one loss and to a top ten team makes them a sure-fire top five team at this point.  They very well could grab a #1 seed for the NCAA tournament if they win out.  At #7 I have Purdue who knocked off Ohio State earlier today, and beat Wisconsin earlier this week.  What a week for the Boilermakers who deserve a ton of credit after losing their best player, Hummel, before the season began.  BYU, Arizona, and Georgetown round out my top ten, but I'm only sure about BYU.  Arizona plays in a weak Pac-10, but have held their own in the past month, giving them a reason to be in the top ten this week.  #10 Georgetown lost this week, but there is no other team to put in the top ten who really deserve it.  

We'll see what happens tomorrow afternoon, so tune in to The Point After for analysis!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Absence of Corey Stokes

Villanova pulled out a victory at Depaul earlier today in overtime, in a game that should never be close, but a lot of the score had to do with a player that didn't see any time on the court. Corey Stokes is a knock down shooter and his turf toe injury has really affected the team's play in the past three games.  Sure Corey Fisher is probably the best player on the team, as shown by his 34 points against Depaul, but Corey Stokes could be the most important due to the lack of depth.

Corey Fisher and Maalik Wayns are both capable of running the offense, although most will argue Fisher is much better at it.  They are both similar players, in that they both like to get to the hoop and drive the lane.  When Stokes is healthy, Fisher and Wayns can drive to the hoop and if a help defender comes to meet them near the hoop, they can kick it out to Stokes, who rarely misses an open three pointer.  Stokes' defender doesn't leave his side usually, giving Wayns and Fisher more space in the paint, making it easier to score and/or get to the line. With Stokes out, Fisher and Wayns are met at the hoop and have nowhere to go with the ball.  Dominic Cheek and James Bell are not as capable of perimeter shooting as Stokes, giving Fisher and Wayns a tough time on offense.

Villanova scores 66.7 points per game without Stokes, while they score 75 points per game with him in the lineup.  The offense runs more smoothly with him there, giving them the opportunity to score an easy three by just handing the ball off to #24.  Stokes says he will be back for the game vs. Syracuse on Monday, which will be key for Villanova as they look to shake off a rusty few weeks by getting a win against a quality opponent.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

UEFA Champion's League Roundup: The Gunners Shoot Barcelona Down

Lookout World, The Gunners are firing away.

On Wednesday afternoon, "The World's Best Team" walked into the Emerites Stadium with intentions of repeating last year's (6-3 aggregate) beat down of Arsenal. The Gunners had other plans...

Barcelona did what they usually do: hold on to possession, press the back line up, hold on to possession, use Lionel Messi to create scoring opportunities, hold on to possession, score with their unending list of playmakers, and hold on to possession. Oh, and hold on to possession, thought I forgot that one...

This worked well as Messi connected with David Villa early in the first half to give Barca a 1-0 lead. However, Arsenal did not do what every other team tries to do against this high-powered team. The did not sit back and let Barca control the game, they did not pack it in on defense, they attacked, with fury.

Regardless of what Messi would do with the ball, the Gunners played hard. They had hard tackles, were physical, and attacked the weakness of Barcelona, their wing backs. Theo Walcott went right at the left back Maxwell, immediately when the game began. He attacked with no legitimate resistance from Maxwell. The Arsenal right winger was able to create countless opportunities for Robin van Persie and Co. to attack the net of Victor Valdes. On the other side, Nasri and Arshavin used the same tactics against Dani Alves, who is a good back going forward but is incredibly overrated as a defender. Between Nasri, Walcott and Arshavin, an Achilles' heal was found in a way to attack this seemingly unbeatable team. No matter what was thrown at them, Arsenal held strong, and played great defense forcing 9 offsides calls against Barcelona.

Finally their offensively minded gameplan payed off when Gael Clichy played a great ball to van Persie who ripped a shot from a tough angle past Victor Valdes who made a terrible mistake in net by allowing such a shot to have a chance of going in. So, with 12 minutes left, Arsenal had evened the scoring at 1-1.

Five minutes later, Samir Nasri ferociously attacked the box with a great run to set up the trailing Andrei Arshavin who easily placed the ball into the side netting for the winner with only 7 minutes remaining.

Lionel Messi and David Villa did not play very well despite the early goal. Aside from that, they were pretty quiet during the game. I don't expect this to happen again in the second leg of the series.

This was a well deserved win, as Arsenal out shot Barcelona despite getting beat in time of possession (ASL- 39%, BAR- 61%).

This game might have unlocked the game plan to beating Barcelona, and what we learned is that teams with great wingers can put a lot of pressure on Barca, who cannot respond with their lack of good outside back. The Gunners three headed monster of wingers is a great core group attacking on the outside, but if a team such as F.C. Bayern with world-class wingers like Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben, and Thomas Muller; look to see if this strategy can send Barcelona reeling.

*Gerard Pique will miss the next game due to accumulated yellow cards

In other news, AC Milan was stunned at home with a 1-0 loss to Tottenham as they must not go on the road to get a big win. Valencia and Schalke played to a 1-1 draw. AS Roma was also shocked by the Ukrainian Champions, Shakhtar Donetsk, who won a deserved 3-2 victory in Rome.

Next Tuesday, Chelsea goes to København with their recently acquired forward Fernando Torres. Lyon hosts Real Madrid. On Wednesday, Marseille hosts Manchester United and in a rematch of last year's Champion's League Final, F.C. Bayern travels to Inter Milan.

New Blogger: Hardu Virks-Lee

I am glad to announce that we have added another member to The Point After, Hardu Virks-Lee.  Hardu goes to the University of Colorado and is a good friend of mine from NJ.  He is a passionate Red Sox, Cowboys, Devils, and sports fan.  He knows a ton about sports and we are happy to have him on board.  He will be covering a variety of sports, and look for his first post soon!

Monday, February 14, 2011

The New Kids on the Block

And for the very first time in almost a decade, a professional basketball team from the City of Brotherly Love has emerged. With the Philadelphia 76ers getting off to a 3-13 start to the season, one of the most prestigious basketball towns in the country braced for yet another year of 76er ineptitude. With Doug Collins stepping in as the 7th head coach in the last 8 seasons since Larry Brown's departure, that losing feeling had crept up on us again in the first month. But something changed after that 3-13 start. Someone or something flipped a switch. A fire had been lit under this team's behind, and we would start to see a very different team. A team that has conjured up memories of the Allen Iverson days (not his brief stint in 2010), a team that is poised to make noise in the Eastern Conference playoffs, a team with a winning record against the vaunted Western Conference. One night in early December changed everything, and has the 2010-2011 version of the Philadelphia 76ers flying high.
On Saturday night, December 4th, a night after taking a crushing 4th quarter beat down in Atlanta, the 5-14 76ers faced off against the pesky Charlotte Bobcats. Jodie Meeks, who many know as the guy who scored 55 points in a game as a Kentucky Wildcat a few years ago, stepped in as a starter for only the second time in his NBA career. It didn't take long for him to assert himself, scoring 20 of his game high 26 points in the first quarter, going 6-6 from beyond the arc in an amazing first quarter show which propelled the Sixers to a big 109-91 win. Since this 1st quarter fireworks display, the 76ers have gone 21-14, with wins over Portland, New Orleans, Orlando, Denver twice, Phoenix twice, Chicago, Utah, and Atlanta, all of whom are playoff caliber teams. In addition, the 76ers held the NBA best 44-8 San Antonio Spurs to a season low 71 points in a 77-71 slugfest at the Wells Fargo Center on February 11th. Not too shabby for a team projected to finish near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings this season.
The season is still young, and with a chance to get back to .500 before the All-Star break, the 26-28 76ers find themselves in the 7th seed, closely trailing the Knicks for the 6th seed in the East. Among the Sixers' top 8 in scoring and minutes per game, their average age is 24. That's right, the average age of Elton Brand (31), Andre Iguodala (27), Jrue Holiday (20), Spencer Hawes (22), Jodie Meeks (23), Evan Turner (22), Lou Williams (24), and Thad Young (22) is 24 years old. Which means with this nucleus of players, the 76ers will be a strong force for a while if General Manager Ed Stefanski can make it work.
For the first time in almost a decade, there is excitement on the basketball court in the Wells Fargo Center. With the World Series favorite Phillies, Stanley Cup favorite Flyers, and Super Bowl contender Eagles, the Sixers are the missing piece to the Philly sports puzzle. There is a bright future for these Sixers, and Doug Collins has them playing very well and very tough night in and night out. Whoever is lucky enough to match up against the Sixers in the first round of the playoffs will have their hands full, no doubt. The NBA no longer has a punching bag called the Philadelphia 76ers.
And by the way, those empty seats you used to see at 76ers games are starting to fill up, so get your tickets while you can.

What's the Point: The Line Between Passion and Bad Taste

We've all been there: A close game, a conference rival, emotions running high. You want to will your team to victory any way possible. Many times, the crowd is one of the deciding factors in a closely contested affair. But there are times when the crowd, or certain individuals in the crowd, get out of control, and cross the line from passion to bad taste. When this happens, it defeats the purpose of schools being in the national spotlight in the first place.

There were two examples of this on Saturday: Wisconsin fans spitting on Jared Sullinger before and after the game in Madison, and the Villanova student section chanting "F**k you Pitt" during a stretch in the second half of the Saturday showdown at the Pavilion. In both cases, these incidents got national exposure, with Jared Sullinger tweeting the world what happened and with the chanting from the student section being clear as day on ESPN.

The whole point of having a top-flight athletics program is to bring national exposure to the best that a school has to offer, in order to increase the national prominence of the school. What people see on ESPN or CBS forms the perception of the school in the minds of millions of people. This is part of the reason Jay Wright always looks so sharp, because to many people, he is the face of the school. But, when fans engage in bad behavior on the national stage, it wipes out all good publicity formerly generated by the school appearing in the game. Tasteless actions leave impressions that at least rival those generated by any good publicity for the school. In effect, actions by a few can wipe out the hard work and dedication by so many to get the school to this point.

An elite athletics program can take a school to places beyond the wildest dreams of any Dean or President. Every good program needs its fans, its sixth man, to urge the players on and show the nation the passion and school spirit they have. But, next time someone crosses that line, from passionate to tasteless, do not join in. It does more harm than good.

What's the Point is a weekly column written by David Straple. Feel free to comment

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Projected Top Ten Rankings

Sitting here on Sunday night, I just can't imagine how the top ten will turn out this week.  For the first time all year, we don't know who the #1 team will be, or who will be #2 or #3 for that matter.  It'll be an interesting poll because four teams will probably get first place votes, and you can't count out Duke garnering some votes either.   With all that in mind, here's my top ten for this week:

1. Texas
2. Kansas
3. Ohio State
4. Pittsburgh
5. Duke
6. San Diego State
7. Notre Dame
8. BYU
9. Georgetown
10. Wisconsin

Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if Georgetown jumped BYU, or if Kansas was #1.  Ohio State's loss to Wisconsin has a huge effect on the rankings this week as Wisconsin should find itself in the top ten.  #9 UConn, #10 Villanova, #12 Purdue and #13 Syracuse all lost this week at least once, giving the 14th ranked Wisconsin Badgers the easy track to the top ten.  There is a legitimate case for #1 for Texas, Kansas, Ohio State, and Pittsburgh.  Texas is on fire and hasn't lost in ages, while Kansas' only loss is to Texas.  Despite Ohio State's loss to Wisconsin, they are probably the most complete team in the country and still will garner some first place votes.  Pittsburgh is clearly the best team in the best conference, giving them the strength of schedule advantage over any of the other three teams ahead of them.  It will be an interesting week as we get closer to the NCAA tournament!

The Other Side of College Gameday

Yesterday for the first time, ESPN's College Gameday came to Villanova and I was lucky enough to be in attendance.  It was an amazing experience, with many fans camping out the night before to make sure they had seats right behind the Gameday crew.  The crowd was electric all morning and ESPN seemed to be in awe at how the small school of 6500 students could muster up such a great crowd.  The Pavilion was rolling and the heartwarming story of two student basketball managers for the Villanova basketball team, who suffer from Cerebral Palsy, even had Erin Andrews tearing up.  The school was united and pumped for a primetime game vs. Pittsburgh.

Then the day finally brought us some basketball, with the Pavilion oppening up around 7 PM for a 9 PM game.  Students were there at 5, ready to roll.  The 1500 strong in the student section was drained from such a long day, but it didn't stop them at all, remaining as loud as possible before the game.  The game finally started and it was a typical, physical Big East matchup.  Two of the best offensive players weren't playing, as Corey Stokes for Villanova and Ashton Gibbs for Pittsburgh were hurt.  There were a total of three technical fouls in the game, and 43 total fouls.  Isaiah Armwood punched Nasir Robinson and was T'd up in the first half.  

Both teams struggled without their leading scorers, both shooting under 40 % for the game.  Villanova took a four point lead into the second half, but Pittsburgh answered early.  The Panthers started taking the ball to the rim and Villanova was in terrible foul trouble.  Playing only eight players all game, Villanova was in deep trouble when they had two players foul out (James Bell and Corey Fisher).  Both defenses played very tough, but the difference in the game is that Pitt went to the line 30 times vs. Villanova's 20 attempts.  The Villanova offense really had no rhythm all game and without Corey Fisher, who fouled out with 6 minutes left in the game, the offensive was put in a tough position.  Pitt led Villanova by 11 points with around five minutes to play, but coming out of a timeout, Jay Wright called for the 1-2-2 press.  With Isaiah Armwood's and Maurice Sutton's long arms, the zone press forced three turnovers in four possessions.  With Maalik Wayns hitting a few important baskets and a huge Antonio Pena three pointer with 50 seconds left, Villanova found themselves down by three.  Pitt had the ball and got through the Nova press and ran down the clock.  Brad Wanamaker lost the ball to Antonio Pena with 25 seconds left, giving Villanova a chance to tie the game with a three.  

Jay Wright called a timeout to set up a play, but what followed was ugly.  Without Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes both out at that point in the game, Villanova ran a play for Dominic Cheek.  Cheek was given the ball with around 6 seconds left and shot a contested, step back, fadeaway three which didn't have much of a chance of going in as it hit the front of the rim; however, Maurice Sutton picked up the rebound and passed it out to Maalik Wayns and the Sophomore guard hit the three, with the buzzer sounding right before he released the shot.  

Pittsburgh held on 57-54 and Brad Wanamaker led the team with 21 points.  Wanamaker is developing into a playmaker, averaging around 13 point and 5 assists a game.  He started his college career as a good perimeter shooter, but now he is able to knock down that mid-range jumper with a hand in his face.  He is a good passer and facilitates the game for his teammates.  Look for Wanamaker to make some noise in the final month of the regular season.

In the big picture this game is huge for Pittsburgh as they went on to Villanova's campus and beat the Wildcats in the Pavilion, where they held a 46 game winning streak.  Pittsburgh has pretty much locked up the Big East regular season title, while Villanova has to go back to the drawing board.  With another two loss week, Villanova now finds itself at 7-5 in the Big East, getting back towards the middle of the pack. 

Friday, February 11, 2011

The New Three Point King

There was no doubt that he deserved it.  The only question was when he would pass Reggie Miller and it finally happened tonight against the Lakers.  Celtics' guard Ray Allen hit his 2560th to tie Miller and then the 2561st to pass the man he commentated the game.  Ray Allen can now be called the greatest long range shooter in the game.  Yes, Larry Bird and Reggie Miller are great shooters and are among the elite, but you can't take this away from Allen.  He's done it all throughout his career and no player has a prettier shot then #20 on the Boston Celtics.  His release is quick, his form can be described as beautiful, and he actually plays solid defense as well.

Ray Allen may have never been the best all-around player on his team, but he is the league's best pure shooter year in and year out.  Allen has shot the three pointer at 39.8% in his career, which alone is outstanding.  The fact that he has done that with 6433 attempts, makes it even more impressive.  Jason Kidd is 800 three pointers behind Allen right now and that margin increases every game.  This is a record that may not be broken in our generation of players, as it takes a long career and incredible shooting ability.  In behalf of The Point After, I would like to congratulate Ray Allen on his feat.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Huskies Can't Get Through Red Storm

This game was just flat out crazy.  A four point game at halftime, St. John's was poised to upset UConn, but they did more than just that.  St. John's played some of the best basketball I've ever seen, knocking down every jumper and keeping Kemba Walker away from the hoop.  St. John's may have just got the win to put themselves comfortably into the NCAA tournament.  With wins over Georgetown, Notre Dame, Duke, and now Uconn, their resume has solidified despite losing 9 games already.  In fact, St. John's has the same record as UConn in the Big East at 6-5.

Dwight Hardy had a night to remember, dropping 33 points and doing it effectively.  He shot 10-17 from the field, making 5-8 three pointers and draining all 7 of his free throw attempts.  He know has 65 points in his last two games (Hardy scored 32 vs. UCLA on Sunday).  UConn represents the #1 Opponents Field Goal Percentage defense in the Big East, but nobody told St. John's, who shot over 50%.  D.J. Kennedy also had a great game for the Red Storm, garnering a double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds.

This is a big win for St. John's, but at the same time, it's a huge loss for UConn.  UConn has shown its inconsistencies throughout the season and now is 18-5 this season.  They fall into the middle of the pack in the Big East, hurting their chances to earn a bye in the Big East tournament.  This team should be fine by the tournament, but they must figure out a way to score when Kemba Walker isn't on fire and against a zone defense.  Syracuse frustrated the Huskies last week and ultimately pointed out UConn's biggest weakness.  We'll see how UConn bounces back on Sunday vs. Providence.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Wednesday College Basketball Preview

There a boatload of great games tonight, with the best being covered by ESPN's Rivalry Week. The top two teams in the country are not playing today, but most of the top 25 is in action tonight.  Let's take a look at the three matchups featuring two ranked teams.

UNC at Duke: The best rivalry in college basketball, and arguably of all sports, put the ACC lead on the line.  Three weeks ago, most experts would've predicted a blowout, but the resurgence of the Tar Heels makes this a competitive matchup.  UNC and Duke matchup similarly, as they rely heavily on perimeter shooting and it shouldn't change tonight.  UNC has the opportunity to pull off this upset, but Duke is poised to not let that happen.

Prediction: UNC 79 - Duke 78

Louisville at Notre Dame: This game could come down to health, as Preston Knowles of Louisville may not play.  Despite that, Louisville has the fire power to compete with Notre Dame.  Ben Hansbrough is playing out of his mind and has thrown himself into talks of the Player of the Year candidate.  He is running this Notre Dame team with efficiency and playing great defense.  I honestly think Notre Dame is just much better than Louisville and that this game could be relatively easy for the Fighting Irish.

Prediction: Notre Dame 80 - Louisville 67

Georgetown at Syracuse: Yet another Big East heavyweight battle.  Georgetown is playing its best basketball of the season, but Syracuse stopped their skid last week and is finally showing us why they were a top 5 team just three weeks ago.  This game will be won down low, as  Georgetown must stop Rick Jackson.  This game will be played in Syracuse and that will play a factor in the outcome of this game.

Prediction: Syracuse 83 - Georgetown 72

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Bob Cousy Award: 10 Finalists

I encourage everybody to vote for the Bob Cousy award, which is given to the nation's greatest point guard.  The list has been finalized to ten players:

Norris Cole - Cleveland State
Corey Fisher - Villanova
Jimmer Fredette - BYU
DJ Gay  San Diego - State
Brandon Knight - Kentucky
Demetri McCamey - Illinois
Mickey McConnell - St. Mary’s
Nolan Smith - Duke
Isaiah Thomas - Washington
Kemba Walker - Connecticut

You can vote at this link:

The "Fire" Four - 2/8

Last week's "Fire" Four featured Ohio State, Georgetown, Texas, and Kansas.  This week there is some change, even though none of these teams lost, I have some adjustments to make.

1. Kansas - After watching their demolition of Nebraska last week, I thought this team showed us their best basketball.  Then they played the best game I think any team has shown this year against Missouri.  Kansas poured in 103 points and won by 17.  Their offense is #1 in field goal percentage (52.4%), they average 18.4 assists per game, which is good for second in the nation, and their 83.7 points per game is the sixth highest in the country.  This team's offense is by far the best, but will their pace tire them out?  That answer is no, because they have so much depth.  Josh Selby didn't even play last night and they still put up 103 points.  This team is the most talented offensive team I have seen in years.

2. Ohio State - It's hard to take this team out of any sort of elite ranking because they haven't lost yet.  Sitting at 24-0, this team seems to have a chance to go undefeated in the regular season.  Jared Sullinger is a prime candidate for Player of the Year, and the role players are stepping up and making large contributions.  They are probably the most complete team in the country, with a great combination of size, speed, and intelligence.  They play the game the right way and play an efficient style of offense, run through the post.  The games have gotten closer and closer, but the Buckeyes are probably the best team in the land.

3. North Carolina - Now this is hard to believe, but the Tar Heels are playing some great basketball right now.  They are ranked #21 this week, but still critics say that they don't have a signature win in the ACC.  Well you can't have a signature win if you don't play a good team, but they get that chance tomorrow vs. arch rival Duke.  UNC is demolishing opponents right now, beating Florida State by 20 points over the weekend. If UNC can beat Duke, which I think is possible despite the fact they will be playing at Cameron Indoor Stadium, UNC will put itself in great position to contend for the ACC title.

4. Notre Dame - This was the toughest to pick, because frankly Notre Dame is simply not better than Texas right now. Texas is the odd team out in this week's "Fire" Four, but that doesn't mean that they aren't contenders.  Notre Dame has won 5 straight, including a win vs. #4 Pittsburgh.  The Fighting Irish also have victories against UConn and Georgetown.  Sitting at 7-3 in the best conference, it's hard not to put the Fighting Irish in the top 10 week after week, since they had a very tough first half Big East schedule.  Notre Dame has a big game tomorrow night vs. Louisvillle and if they handle the Cardinals, they have the opportunity to win 12 to 13 games in the Big East, which would be incredible.

ICE COLD - Washington is this weeks Ice Cold team, as they have lost three straight contests. Washington State, Oregon and Oregon State aren't exactly the toughest of competition either, putting the at 7-4 and third in the Pac-10.  Washington has one win against a ranked opponent (Arizona), but has struggled mightily in the past two weeks.  They will need to get back on track before February 19th, when they play Arizona again, otherwise they could find themselves out of the top 3 in the Pac-10 and a possible absence of a tourney bid.

Monday, February 7, 2011

2/7 ESPN/USA Today Poll

The new rankings are in and there isn't much change up top.  The top six teams are the same, with Ohio State (24-0) leading the pack once again.  Ohio State is followed by Kansas, Texas, Pittsburgh, Duke, and San Diego State.  All six didn't lose this week, nor did they play many close games except San Diego State's two point victory over Colorado State.  Ohio State remains the only undefeated team in the country and is rolling through the Big Ten.  Kansas and Texas are leading the Big 12 and are mainstays in the top 5 of the rankings.  Pittsburgh is playing without leading scorer Ashton Gibbs and face a tough test vs. Villanova in the Pavilion on Saturday, which could play a pivotal role in determining the Big East regular season title.  Duke plays UNC in ESPN's Rivalry Week on Wednesday, as the newly ranked Tar Heels (#21) will battle out the Blue Devils for Tobacco Road supremacy.  San Diego State plays a tough game this weekend at UNLV, a team that hung in there with SDSU last month.  

Notre Dame moved up a spot to #7 this week, amidst a five game winning streak.  On Wednesday they take on #15 Louisville in yet another Big East battle.  BYU follows Notre Dame at #8 and have two fairly easy games vs. Air Force and Utah.  Connecticut fell two spots to #9, after losing to Syracuse and barely beating Seton Hall, 61-59.  UConn plays St. Johns and Providence this week, which presents some stiff Big East competition especially with Kemba Walker struggling currently.  Rounding out the top ten are the Villanova Wildcats, who move up two spots to #10.  Villanova beat Marquette and West Virginia last week and take on Rutgers and Pittsburgh this week. 

I have only one problem with the rankings this week as Georgetown is somehow ranked behind Villanova.  Yes, Georgetown has 5 losses to Villanova's 4, but Georgetown beat Villanova just 9 days ago.  Georgetown has won 6 in a row.  This simply does not make sense, but in the end the rankings are merely just a number and don't have any true value.  The Big East leads all conferences as they have 7 teams ranked once again.  

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Green Bay Packers: America's Team and Super Bowl Champions

As a lifelong Green Bay Packer fan, there is no sweeter moment in my life than to watch the victory formation and see the seconds tick off the clock as the Packers claimed their 4th Super Bowl win.

The Green Bay Packers are truly America's Team. This was shown immediately when the clock ran out, the NFL Shop website,, was flooded by fans to the point that the Website CRASHED! For almost one half-hour, there were so many people trying to get their Championship gear that the website was down, unable to handle the fan's desires of Super Bowl XLV apparel.

Enough about the fans, let's get to the game...

This started out like a typical boxing match, with both teams trying to feel the other out. There were a few punts for both teams as the sparring at the beginning of the bout continued for the first series for both teams. Eventual Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers had some problems with control early on. Clearly the nerves had to be getting to him the first few drives but he would eventually settle down and throw a near-perfect pass to Jordy Nelson to take an early 7-0 lead. On the impending kickoff, a correctly called "block in the back" penalty backed up the Steelers inside their own 10 yardline. Howard Green brought pressure up the middle and forced a poor throw by Ben Roethlisberger that was intercepted by Pro Bowl Safety Nick Collins and was returned for 37 yards to the house taking a 14-0 lead. However, on the celebration, he went to the ground which is a 15 yard Unsportsmanlike Conduct for Excessive Celebration. Due to this, the Steelers got fantastic field position and was turned into a 33 yard Shaun Suisham field goal making it 14-3. The Packers didn't do anything with the ball until Green Bay's 5th string Cornerback and Special Teams standout Jarrett Bush came up with a huge interception as the Steelers were driving once again. Aaron Rodgers turned this into another touchdown, this one to Greg Jennings bringing it to 21-3. It looked like it was going to be smooth sailing until some key injuries broke the rhythm of this well oiled machine. Green Bay's all-time leading receiver, Donald Driver, left in the 2nd Quarter as well as future Hall of Famer Charles Woodson and Sam Shields (2 INTs in the NFC Championship). After these injuries, Big Ben drove down and punched in a TD to close out the half 21-10.

The only thing I will say about the Half Time show, Usher saved it. The Black Eyed Peas were horrible. Moving right along...

The injuries looked to be devastating when the first Green Bay possession had two penalties and gained five yards. The Steelers came out with a vengeance as their offense was clicking, led by some great throws by Roethlisberger and an 8 yard run by Rashard Mendenhall inching Pittsburgh ever closer, 21-17. Again, the Packers did nothing with the ball, but their defense came up big again. Clay Matthews was told before this next series by the Green Bay linebackers coach, Kevin Greene (a former great linebacker himself), "It is time..." The Claymaker responded by forcing a fumble of Mendenhall that was recovered by Desmond Bishop. What did Rodgers do? He drove the Pack down for another touchdown pass by fooling Troy Polamalu on the route and throwing a great pass to Greg Jennings. But the Steelers would not go away easily even being down 28-17. In four minutes, the Pittsburgh Steelers closed the lead to 3 with another great throw by Big Ben to Mike Wallace and the sequential Two Point Conversion to Antwaan Randle El bringing it to 28-25. After terrible drops by his receivers all game, Rodgers yet again drove his team down for a Mason Crosby field goal that was set up by a conversion on 3rd down and 10 on their own 25 yardline with a 31 yard pass to Greg Jennings. This gave the Pack a 31-25 lead. On the ensuing kickoff, a terrible mental mistake by the experienced Steelers with an Unnecessary Roughness call brought back a great return. The Packers forced a 4th and 5 that was defended perfectly by Tramon Williams. Taking a knee, Aaron Rodgers clinched the victory once an for all to bring the Lombardi Trophy back to its rightful home in Green Bay, WI.

This was the 2nd Youngest Team in football this year. They put 15 Players on IR. They lost 3 starters in the first half of the Super Bowl. But this was the best TEAM this year, they always had an answer for all the injuries, and why not have the Super Bowl be any different than the rest of the year. They were the Road Warriors through the playoffs, but they looked like a #1 Seed tonight.

By the way...
Super Bowl Win Count: Rodgers=1. Favre=1.
Super Bowl MVP Count: Rodgers=1. Favre=0.

Think of who they get back next year, HEALTHY, without even making any trades or going to the draft that didn't play (or not very much) in the Super Bowl: Charles Woodson, Donald Driver, Sam Shields, Ryan Grant, JerMichael Finley, and many more.

This could be the beginning of many more Championships in the years to come... But until then...


Packers Win Superbowl XLV 31-25

The Vince Lombardi Trophy goes back to its rightful place: Green Bay.  The Packers jumped out early and held on late to win Superbowl XLV, their fourth championship in the Superbowl Era.  Aaron Rodgers won the MVP award, completing 24-39 of his passes for 304 yards and three touchdowns.  The numbers even lie a bit, as James Jones and Jordy Nelson had a few drops that could've put this game out of reach early.

I know most people watched this game, so I won't get too detailed about a recap, but the huge turning point in the game was a Rashard Mendenhall fumble.  Pittsburgh had a ton of momentum, down 21-17 and were driving down field, but with the help of Clay Matthews and Ryan Pickett, the ball was popped onto the ground.  The Packers controlled this game, as they never trailed; however, even when it was 21-3 late in the second quarter, Pittsburgh never seemed out of the game.  The Packers were never comfortable with the lead and for much of the second half, the game was within one possession.  A 52 yard missed field goal by Shaun Suisham killed a Pittsburgh drive in the third quarter that could've made it a 1 point game, but he missed terribly pulling it left about ten yards.

This game was defined a lot about Pittsburgh miscues, but Aaron Rodgers took care of business.  Three touchdowns off of three Pittsburgh turnovers, making the most out of the Steelers' mistakes.  This season was a roller coaster ride for the Packers, sneaking into the playoffs with a win vs. the Bears in Week 17.  Rodgers had two concussions and even in the Superbowl, Charles Woodson and Donald Driver missed more than half the game with injuries.  The team overcame the injuries and problems all season long and truly deserve to be champions.  Aaron Rodgers kept his poise all season long and when Head Coach Mike McCarthy handed him the Lombardi Trophy on the podium, Rodgers pointed out his new friend: The Championship Belt.

Superbowl XLV

The NFL playoff system is like no other, in that the two best TEAMS will play each other for the championship. No individual player can carry his team to the Superbowl by himself, unlike any other sport.  Lebron James can score 50 points a game, Cole Hamels can win two games in the World Series on his own, but no popular American sport requires 11 people to contribute each and every play.  The Pittsburgh Steelers are the #2 seed for the AFC, but are underdogs to the #6 NFC seed, the Green Bay Packers.  In all logic that doesn't make any sense, but the Packers are playing the best football in the NFL.  Their road to the playoffs involved a win in Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Chicago.  Three wins on the road against the 1, 2, and 3 seeds are simply incredible.  On the other hand, the Steelers have a legitimate case as well, receiving a bye for the first round of the playoffs after a 12-4 season.  Pittsburgh beat the Ravens and Jets at Heinz Field, defeating two of the top defenses in the league.  

Pittsburgh's claim to fame is their defense, but the offense is the key.  There is no doubt the Steelers will put pressure on Aaron Rodgers, but will Ben Roethlisberger be heroic once again?  Big Ben has two rings already and is determined to get his third after starting this season on a 4 game suspension, in which the Steelers went 3-1.  With injuries to key players (Maurkice Pouncey and Aaron Smith), Pittsburgh will have to make do without them.  The offensive line will be the key to the game for both teams, defending two of the best defensive fronts in the NFL.  Ben Roethlisberger presents the toughest quarterback to sack or tackle.  As most experts say, the Steelers offense starts after the first defender gets a hand on Big Ben.  He has the elusiveness to break any tackle, so the Packers must apply pressure from different areas to force him into tough spots.  

Pittsburgh has the best defensive front seven in the league, so it will be important for the Packers to protect Aaron Rodgers and give him a nice pocket to throw to his speedy receivers.  The Packers use quick slants throughout the game, which could work to their advantage, not allowing the Steelers pass rush to get to Rodgers.  Rodgers runs out of the pocket very well and does have great speed, but the Steelers have plenty of that on defense.  Look for Troy Polamalu to play as a ball hawk, getting to Rodgers if he scrambles and making tackles near the line of scrimmage.  No safety is better at the point of attack than Polamalu, as he is all over the field.  

This game could be a blowout either way, a nail-biter, a shootout, or a defensive struggle.  The Steelers and Packers represent the top two defenses in the league, but have two great quarterbacks as well.  Both rely a lot on speed, and may seem like a pass first offense, but rely heavily on the run as well.  These two teams are very similar and have Pro Bowl caliber players at most positions.  Chances are that the defense or special teams will make a huge play that will have a significant impact on the result of the game.  

Prediction: Steelers 34 - Packers 31

A game dominated by defenses forcing fumbles and a special teams touchdown or two.  This game will be close to the end, but the Steelers will prevail with the help of Big Ben Roethlisberger's late touchdown pass to Mike Wallace. 

Feel free to comment with your prediction as well!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

What's the Point: The Nova Student Section

The Villanova Student Section has really done its job at times this year. In games such as the one against Maryland at the Wells Fargo Center, there is no doubt that the Nova Student Section played a big part in the double-digit comeback win. But, much of the time, the student section does not live up to its billing by Jay Wright as making Villanova's home court, "The toughest place to play in the nation." How can Villanova fix this problem of a sometimes lackluster student section before Gameday comes to town?

One of the problems with Nova's fickle student section is its fluctuation in overall energy throughout the game. Fans seem to get excited and cheer on Nova at the beginning of the contest, and then seem to lose interest at numerous points in the game. Many times, if Villanova has a comfortable lead for much of the game, fans will become complacent and will only start really getting loud again if the opponent mounts a comeback. The Marquette game is a perfect example. At the beginning the student section was kind of loud, but seemed to lose interest until the end of the game when Marquette mounted a semi-comeback. If you compare Nova's overall energy level to that of the Cameron Crazies of Duke, it is not even close.

One thing that kills student enthusiasm more than anything else are the repetitive chants that can always be heard at the games. How many times can you chant, "Lets go Nova," before getting bored? Except for an occasional "Defense, defense," "Lets go Nova" is basically the only chant that is regularly used. This is boring, and by the middle of the game, fans are tired of chanting the same thing over and over again.

Nova has to fix its student section before Gameday comes to town, or else we will look, well, lame. The students need to come ready to go nuts for the entirety of the event, and they also should be ready to mix up the chants so that people do not get bored. My colleague Brendan Garrity has some interesting ideas that, in my opinion, we should definitely try out (!/event.php?eid=186178638082731). Let us once again restore Villanova's home court as the toughest place to play in the nation!

What's the Point is a weekly column written by David Straple. Feel free to comment.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Conference Review: Pac-10

As we get closer and closer to March, I wanted to take a look at a conference that hasn't been looked at too much this season.  The Pac-10, not noted for its strength in basketball, could very well send three teams to the NCAA tournament this year.  Arizona, Washington and UCLA all have legitimate tournament resumes, as they all battle it out for the conference title.  Currently Arizona (22) and Washington (19) are ranked in the top 25, but Washington lost a bad game to Oregon State last night and could see a drop out of the rankings after losing to Washington State last week as well.  

Arizona is an interesting team to watch because they have the superstar in Derrick Williams.  He is averaging 20 points a game and shooting great from behind the arc.  He has a right pinky injury, but has played through it and continues to be tremendous.  Arizona is an interesting team because they have played well in spurts this year, only losing four games thus far; however, they do not have a signature win so far this year.  The yhave lost to Kansas, BYU, and Washington, making them 0-3 against ranked teams.  The Wildcats do have the best record in the Pac-10 right now, but face a tough test vs. Washington in two weeks.  That game has a lot of importance because Arizona has already lost to Washington and they need a win against a good team to secure their spot in the tournament. 

UCLA has had the strangest year of them all, losing 4 in a row in late November to early December, but then putting together a great streak of games.  They stand at 15-7 (7-3 Pac-10), making them a viable tournament candidate.  The Bruins have a great win vs. BYU earlier in the year, making their case even stronger to get in as an at-large bid.  They have a daunting task to play St. Johns tomorrow morning at 10:00 AM local time, which could be a difficult game to overcome.  They finish the year with games vs. Arizona, Washington, and Washington State, which will go a long way in determining UCLA's place in the Pac-10 contender list.  

As for the rest of the conference, only Washington State has put together a solid tournament case, as they are 2-2 vs. top 25 teams this season.  They have beaten Baylor and Washington, but losses to Kansas State, Cal and Oregon could limit their year to the NIT.  USC is 12-11 and again irrelevant amongst the best of the Pac-10, continuing the streak of recent history of mediocre Trojan basketball.  Losses to Rider, Bradley, Nebraska, TCU, and Oregon significantly outweigh their win vs. Texas and Tennessee.  

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Note: North Carolina Finding Rhythm in ACC

As poorly as the ACC has been this season, there a few teams gaining a lot of ground in the ACC standings.  Maryland just fell to Duke for the second time this season and the Terrapins are now 4-4 in conference play.  Maryland is a solid basketball team, but does not have a signature win this year that they can count on to get the Big Dance.  Going through the rest of the ACC, only North Carolina and Florida State are within reach of Duke at the top.  Florida State has two big wins versus Duke and Baylor, which will become important on Selection Sunday, while UNC has its victory over Kentucky to lean on.  This next week and a half will be a tell tale sign if Duke and Florida State are legitimate contenders in the ACC.

North Carolina has won 13 of 15 games since a loss to Illinois back on November 30th, which has helped them put together a 16-5 record and a 6-1 record in conference.  Their sole loss in the ACC was to Georgia Tech, which could come back to haunt them in their quest for a tournament bid.  Despite that loss, the team has put together a great two weeks, capping it all of with a 32 point win vs. Boston College last night.

Tyler Zeller has taken over the leadership role of this team, contributing heavily and shooting efficiently.  He averages 14 points, while Preseason All-American and Freshman Harrison Barnes has become more and more comfortable with UNCN.  Barnes came in with a lot of hype and was pressured at the beginning of this season, but through his initial struggles, he has become a better basketball player.  He has become more at ease with the ball and is not hesitating when he gets the ball either.  In his past two games he has shot a combined 19-31 from the field, for a total of 51 points.  These are his first two career games over 20 points, and I assure you they won't be his last.  Additionally, John Henson is having a solid season, averaging double digits and grabbing about 8.5 rebounds a game.

This week, UNC has the ability to make some noise as they play Florida State on Sunday at the Dean Smith Center, making it a must-win game for UNC if they want to be tourney bound.  If they can separate themselves from the Seminoles, then they can compete with Duke for a possible ACC title.  Duke is still the best team in the ACC by far, but with recent struggles and a hot UNC team, the Tar Heels can knock them off.  UNC travels to face Duke next Wednesday, that could shape the ACC for the rest of the year.  This will be an interesting year for the ACC, typically one of the usual powerhouses in college basketball, but having a down year.

Syracuse and Villanova Win Important Big East Matchups

Syracuse finally won a game, defeating UConn 66-58 in the XL Center, giving them a much needed win.  After losing four straight Big East games, Syracuse improved to 6-4 in the conference.  This is a huge win for the Orangemen, as there defense got back on track, limiting the Huskies to 58 points.  Kemba Walker had a terrible night, thanks in part to a great Syracuse zone, as he scored 8 points on 3-14 shooting.  Rick Jackson had yet another double-double for Syracuse, with 13 points and 13 rebounds.  Neither offense really got going, but Syracuse had just enough to keep them ahead of UConn throughout the game.

Villanova had a comfortable 8 to 12 point lead throughout much of the game, but Marquette made this a contest, cutting the lead to 3 points with under two minutes to play.  Good free throw shooting and a clutch Maalik Wayns layup helped Villanova hold on to the victory.  Center Chris Otule for Marquette was in foul trouble most of the game, but the offense was so much more efficient when he was in the game.  He created a ton of space for Jimmy Butler and Darius Johnson-Odom to drive into the lane.  For Villanova, Mouphtaou Yarou had 18 points, while Corey Fisher had 17 points.  Villanova really showed what they were best at tonight, by getting to the foul line.  They shot 29-33, good for an 88% percentage, compared to just 14 attempts for Marquette.

The Big East takes a little shuffle tonight, as UConn drops to 5-4, and Villanova moves into a tie with Louisville, Notre Dame, and West Virginia at 6-3.  Pitt still holds a two game advantage in the Big East, standing at 8-1.

Big Ten Keeps Rolling

Over the weekend we say many upsets, plenty from the Big East Conference. Not very many upsets came out of the Big Ten though.

Ohio State came through with a win in a close one at Northwestern. But, squeaking out a win is better than a loss as the #1 Ranked Buckeyes were victorious 58-57.

#12 Purdue had an up and down week after a 12 point victory over Minnesota on the 29th of January, followed up by losing to #18 Wisconsin at the Kohl Center in Madison.

This by no means should be looked at as a bad loss for the Boilermakers. The badgers under coach Bo Ryan are 141-11 at home in the Kohl Center, a record spanning back to 2001. This will be one of the toughest places in the country to play as long as Bo Ryan is at the helm.

Purdue's leading scorer JaJuan Johnson had another solid game with 23 pts, 4 assists, and 3 blks. However, the game was a one point into the final two minutes when an unlikely hero came through for the Badgers. Wisconsin's Ryan Evans had a total of 6 points in the first eight Big Ten games he had played. He came up with 10 points off the bench, with two buckets and a key defensive stop in the last two minutes of the game.

The Badgers got a solid game out of Senior Jon Leuer who had 24 points and 13 rebounds. Jordan Taylor chipped in with 15 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists.

Defense was the key here, as Wisconsin got the stops they needed down the stretch, leading to a 66-59 victory after losing to Penn State recently. Wisconsin plays Mich St. and Iowa before hosting #1 Ohio State on February 12 at the Kohl Center.

In other action, Illinois got back on track with a 68-51 victory over Penn State. Mike Davis led the way with 22 points, including 5 dunks, as #24 Illinois got a win despite the winter weather.

This team is too inconsistent enough right now to go deep into the tournament right now, they need a few wins in a row to get their confidence back.

The Big Ten is not quite beating each other up like the Big East is doing right now, but as the Big Ten season goes along, it is definitely a possibility. We'll see how long Ohio State can go undefeated with 9 games left to go and 5 against Top 25 teams.

The "Fire" Four - 2/2

This week I will be starting a weekly post called the "Fire" Four, which marks teams that have had the most successful last couple of weeks  Here are my "Fire" Four for this week:

1. Texas - The Longhorns are absolutely rolling right now and are going into every game, taking care of business.   Their last loss was on January 8th, and was a 1 point loss to UConn in overtime.  Since then, they have won 7 straight, and have defeated Kansas, Texas A&M twice, and Missouri all by double digits.  In fact the closest game they've played since the UConn loss was their 11 point victory IN Kansas.

2. Ohio State- Despite a few close scares, Ohio State is still undefeated and winning all of the close matchups. They are 22-0 and have won big games on the road already.  Jared Sullinger is having an unbelievable season, and even as a freshman, is one of the leading candidates as Player of The Year.  This team isn't all about Sullinger though, as David Lighty and William Buford have had successful years and are good perimeter shooters.

3. Georgetown - You can't forget about the Big East.  The Hoyas already have 5 losses, but this team is finally showing its potential.  They have won 5 straight after a loss to Pitt and in that time, Georgetown has beaten St. Johns, Villanova, and Louisville.  Georgetown seems to be one of those teams that, if playing well, has the ability to win the tournament.  They have a good post presence in Julian Vaughn, solid perimeter shooting with Chris Wright and Jason Clark, star power in Austin Freeman, and a great defense, led by Head Coach John Thompson III.

4. Kansas- This was probably the toughest team to select, due to the fact they lost to Texas just two weeks ago, but this team is so talented and only has one loss.  Kansas stands at 21-1, with their only loss to the hottest team in the country.  Led by Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris and Josh Selby, this team has a three person scoring attack that can't be matched elsewhere in the country.  They can score with the best of them, inside or outside, transition or half-court.  This team has won three straight since losing to Texas, but it'll be interesting if they can put together a long run in the NCAA tournament.

An addition to the "Fire" Four, I will add a team that is in a bit of a slump.

Syracuse: This was a no doubter, as they have lost 4 straight since winning its first 18 games.  It started with a loss at Pittsburgh, but then two home losses to Villanova and Seton Hall followed.  All of this was highlighted with another loss to Marquette, to put the Orangemen at 5-4 in the Big East.  As a young team, this sort of losing streak can kill their confidence and put them in a hole.  They have the opportunity to turn that around tonight vs. UConn, but it will be played in Connecticut.  This game is crucial for Syracuse, since they do not want to be stuck in a 5 game losing streak, falling fast in the Big East.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Top 25 Poll - Week of 1/31/11

After a wild weekend in college basketball, consisting of almost ten upsets, the top 25 polls have been shaken up a little bit. However, teams such as Pitt,Villanova (who lost twice this past week) along with Syracuse were in luck because many other top teams lost which caused the majority of schools to drop only a few spots in the rankings. Here is this weeks ESPN Top 25 rankings:

1) Ohio State (22-0)
2) Kansas (20-1)
3) Texas (18-3)
4) Pittsburgh (20-2)
5) Duke (19-2)
6) San Diego State (20-1)
7) Connecticut (17-3)
8) Notre Dame (17-4)
9) BYU (20-2)
10) Purdue (18-4)
11) Kentucky (16-4)
12) Villanova (17-4)
13) Louisville (17-4)
14) Georgetown (16-5)
15) Missouri (17-4)
16) Texas A&M (17-3)
17) Syracuse (18-4)
18) Wisconsin (15-5)
19) Washington (15-5)
20) Minnesota (16-5)
21) Utah State (20-2)
22) Arizona (18-4)
23) Florida (16-5)
24) Illinois (14-7)
25) Vanderbilt (15-5)