Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Recap of Villanova Sports: 2010-2011

Started with a kickoff and an opening tip, coming back for revenge against those we dismiss. Defending as champions on and off our home turf, the competition was out to get us and we were in for the worst. A QB with experience and knowing about the game, however interceptions here and there it all seems to be the same. Tight wins, close losses, tension building in the air and to put the cherry on top, our superstar went down...then no one cared. So whose to blame for inconsistant play? But wait, we're in the semifinals, turn on ESPN and clearly say " How possibly did we get here we better tackle and block like shields, but what's the deal with their red turf, c'mon are there really red fields?" The travel out West hurt their chance and all their wishes and needs, but then again we came to play, beating #1 AND two seeds. So hats off to Nova football for a season well done, Talley's troops will come back firing for the trophy and to be number one (again).

Believing in a team takes passion and pride, with three seniors at the helm it seemed like we were in for a ride, and oh were we ever after being 16-1, the tough part of the season presented no fun. Win here, losses there little hope around school with brackets busting left and right, you didn't have to be a fool to know that the tourney was far out in sight, but somehow we made it on Selection Sunday that night. The team had proven they can play ball, but could they handle the pressure with their backs against the wall? A Patriot team like cinderella at the ball, surprising big schools and watching them fall. Would it happen again, a close game first round? Well let's just say we were like dogs in the pound, shut down throughout the game like a computer on lock, hit a few threes and they got a few blocks. One final shot at the end of the game, hit the upper window and hope was never the same. A tough season to say the least, but there's good times very near, hopefully 2011-2012 we'll be able to cheer even louder and more with little complaints to say, in order to get noticed and bring back Gameday. Yes, a season of ups and downs it was hard to conceive, but forget about the tough times and always believe.

NFL Draft Today

My three favorite days of the year: Christmas, the Super Bowl and the NFL Draft. With my inaugural post on "The Point After" I figure I'll get right to it and start with my mock for the first round.

1. Carolina Panthers- QB Cam Newton, Auburn

2. Denver Broncos- DT Marcell Dareus, Alabama

3. Buffalo Bills- OLB Von Miller, Texas A&M

4. Cincinnati Bengals- WR A.J. Green, Georgia

5. Arizona Cardinals- CB Patrick Peterson, LSU

6. Cleveland Browns- DE Robert Quinn, North Carolina

7. San Francisco 49ers- QB Blaine Gabbert, Missouri

8. Tennessee Titans- DT Nick Fairley, Auburn

9. Dallas Cowboys- CB Prince Amukamara, Nebraska

10. Washington Redskins- WR Julio Jones, Alabama

11. Houston Texans- DE J.J. Watt, Wisconsin

12. Minnesota Vikings- DE Da'Quan Bowers, Clemson

13. Detroit Lions- OT Tyron Smith, Detroit

14. St. Louis Rams- DT Corey Liuget, Illinois

15. Miami Dolphins- RB Mark Ingram, Alabama

16. Jacksonville Jaguars- DE Aldon Smith, Missouri

17. New England Patriots- DE Cameron Jordan, California

18. San Diego Chargers- DE Muhammad Wilkerson, Temple

19. New York Giants- OL Mike Pouncey, Florida

20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers- DE Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue

21. Kansas City Chiefs- OLB Akeem Ayers, UCLA

22. Indianapolis Colts- OT Anthony Castonzo, Boston College

23. Philadelphia Eagles- CB Jimmy Smith, Colorado

24. New Orleans Saints- DE Adrian Clayborn, Iowa

25. Seattle Seahawks- QB Jake Locker, Washington

26. Baltimore Ravens- CB Brandon Harris, Miami (FL)

27. Atlanta Falcons- TE Kyle Rudolph, Notre Dame

28. New England Patriots- OLB Justin Houston, Georgia

29. Chicago Bears- OT Nate Solder, Colorado

30. New York Jets- DT Phil Taylor, Baylor

31. Pittsburgh Steelers- OG Danny Watkins, Baylor

32. Green Bay Packers- RB Mikel Leshoure, Illinois

Champions League Semifinals

Barcelona vs. Real Madrid

It is amazing how much of a difference six months makes in the world of sports, especially soccer.

After a 5-0 embarrassment to Barcelona about half a year ago, the world was talking about how Real Madrid was out matched, out coached, and brutally out classed by the Catalans in El Clasico. The proclaimed best team in the world certainly showed signs of brilliance and nearly achieved football's version of perfection as David Villa scored twice in this game that saw 13 yellow cards and 1 red card (Sergio Ramos 90'). Would Real Madrid and manager Jose Mourinho be able to right the sinking ship?

Clearly they have...

Now, as we enter the Champions League Semifinal pairings, we see a team who drew 1-1 with Barcelona after going down a man six minutes into the second half. Goals by Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in the 53rd and 82nd minute respectively, both from the Penalty Spot, were the only goals in this Clasico. Madrid looked like a new team, and were infuriated after the straight red card to Raul Albiol, and focused this energy on attacking, earning them a well deserved draw. This was only the beginning though.

In the Copa del Rey (domestic cup) Final, Real Madrid carried this energy intensity into this game, attacking the Catalans. Most teams will sit back and wait until Barca loses the ball and then tries to build up an offense of their own. Madrid used Pepe to mark Messi as he did in the previous match, and for all intensive purposes, Pepe shut him down, save a few plays by Messi. Mourinho also used Mesut Özil, the German playmaker, to create a brilliant attack that found Ronaldo and Di Maria constantly wide open and in space. After 90 minutes of scoreless action in which Real had the upper hand, Ronaldo struck off a header in Overtime from a double pass between Marcelo and Di Maria. The 1-0 victory should give this Real squad incredible confidence going into the first leg of the CL Semifinals.

We will have to wait and see which Barcelona team shows up... They have the talent to beat any team, but we will see if the play making of Lionel Messi or the Einstein-like coaching of Mourinho prevails to win a trip to the Champions League Final.

Manchester United vs. Schalke

There is not a lot of history between these two teams... They play in different leagues and do not see each other except in the European Tournaments.

United has a six point lead in the Premier League, clearly showing the strength of their side.

Schalke meanwhile, is sitting in 10th in the Bundesliga, with a rocky domestic season, but a rock-solid Champions league so far.

United will be favored no doubt, but do not be surprised if Manuel Neuer, Raul and Co. steal the first leg which is being played in Germany. Neuer has the ability to blank any team, and Raul can be a scoring machine, but will it be enough to defeat the Red Devils?

We will find out shortly.

S04 vs MAN Tuesday April 26 at 2:45 EST

RMD vs BAR Wednesday April 27 at 2:45 EST

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Real NBA Season Begins

16 wins separate 16 teams from the NBA championship.  There is no such thing as an easy road to the title, with many teams dealing with injured players.  Some have been waiting for ages for this to begin, as a star-studded free agent class last season has put many teams in position to win the NBA Championship.  The Heat, Bulls, and Knicks would not have been in this position, if it weren't for the signing of franchise players.  The East is front-loaded, while the West is deep.  So who will come out as the NBA Champion? Here are my predictions.


Chicago over Pacers in 5
Miami over Philadelphia in 4
Boston over New York in 6
Orlando over Atlanta in 7

Chicago over Orlando in 6
Miami over Boston in 5

Chicago over Miami in 7 (Home court advantage is the key for the Bulls)


Memphis over San Antonio in 6 
Los Angeles over New Orleans in 5
Dallas over Portland in 6
Denver over Oklahoma City in 6

Denver over Memphis in 6
Los Angeles over Dallas in 6

Los Angeles over Denver in 5

Los Angeles over Chicago in 6

This is a safe pick, but if Bynum is healthy, the Lakers are the best team in the league.  Kobe Bryant is a different player in the playoffs and with such a strong bench and Phil Jackson on the bench, the Lakers will three-peat once again.  Jackson will get his 12th ring and Kobe's 6th will bring up even more MJ comparisons, even though it's still not close.  

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Whats wrong with the RBI?

Disclaimer: This will be the first of a series of posts in which I try to educate the masses on the perils of evaluating baseball players on statistics that really aren't that good at describing the impact a player has. If you have no interest in stats, move on. But if you are in the least bit curious of another world of baseball analysis, take the red pill and see how far the rabbit hole goes.

So I figured that if I was going to try to tackle something as large as the traditional way people have been evaluating baseball players for about 100 years, I might as well start with one of the ones that people are the most tantalized with. Now, I am not even close to the first person to think this way, nor will I be the last, and there are much better writers than I who have already written on the subject. I feel however, that in order to truly change the the paradigm of what makes a good (or a bad) baseball player, we need all hands on deck. The more people reaching out to those sports crazed, fantasy baseball playing, ESPN watching people across the country, the bigger impact we will have.

So like I said above, I'm gonna try to knock down the Goliath of stats: The RBI. Ah yes, the one hitting stat to rule them all. It's the stat that people look at at the end of the year and say, man, look at all those runs he batted in, what a great year he had. And yet, it is an incredibly misleading statistic that is heavily reliant on context. Most people don't realize this, so they judge players based on the amount of players they batted in. So in order to help people realize this, lets look at a formula to help us get the most RBI's possible in a season.

So first what we need is a guy with tons of power. Does he have to hit homeruns? Nope. He can be a gap hitter too. But he needs to hit the ball far, and he needs to do it consistently. Ok now that we have a guy who can hit the ball incredibly far, are we done? Nope. Because now we have to position him in the lineup that is conducive to batting runners in. Let's put our batter, oh say, in the fourth spot. Are we done? You'd think so, but you'd also be wrong. The last part of our equation has nothing to do with our hitter. We have to make sure that the people that hit before him can actually get on base in the first place. So I'm going to put the guy who has the highest On Base Percentage (OBP) in the first two spots, and another very good hitter third. Congratulations, we just made an RBI hitting machine!

So we have a guy who can hit the ball far, is in the right part of the order to bat runners over, and he has players hitting ahead of him that get on base a lot. So my question is. Why do we value the RBI over almost everything else? It's not like our hitter has a special skill that allows him to hit with runners on base. Let me restate that point, with emphasis. COMING TO BAT WITH RUNNERS ON BASE IS NOT A SKILL. If you put our same power hitting player 8th in the lineup, or put him at leadoff, the result is that his RBI total will plummet, because he isn't in a position to maximize his at bats with runners in scoring position.

And please don't come at me with this whole, "but the player who hits runners in is clutch, that's why he gets a lot of RBI's" act. Jayson Werth is not going to get as many RBI's this year as last year, and it's not because he's worse, or less clutch, or anything like that. It's because he's on the Washington Nationals. And Ryan Howard will get over 100 RBI's again, because he's on the Phillies. Ryan Howard will have many, many more opportunities to hit runners in, and because of this, he will get more RBI's. It has nothing to do with his clutchness, or lack of clutchness, or any other intangible characteristic.

There are much better ways of evaluating players. Can we please put an end to the incredibly misguided perception of the importance of the RBI?

Friday, April 8, 2011

No Need to Panic

The human brain is dumb. I don't mean to insult anybody, it just is. It tries to find patterns and things when there isn't one. It's helped us stay alive as we evolved, but it doesn't really help us understand the game of baseball. People put so much emphasis on the difference between hitting .280 and .300, and say that the latter is a much better hitter then the former. But of course the real difference between these hitters is a couple of hits spread out across the season, which could be the result of a ball hitting a rock funny, a gust of wind taking the ball away from the fielder, etc. I talk about this because people argue until they are blue in the face about batting average, and RBI's, and pitchers' wins, and all of those types of stats.

I'll get into my problem with some of those stats in later posts, but I want to lay to rest all of the outrage and confusion and gnashing of teeth about the start of the season, specifically the Red Sox. There was a lot of hype about the quality of the Red Sox team. Their hitting is fantastic, their pitching, while not the stuff of legend as ESPN would like you to believe, is pretty good, and their defense is outstanding. So let's get this out of the way, before any of you have the idea to jump on the "Boston is overrated" bandwagon. They arn't. Sure baseball isn't played on paper, but they are a good team.

Now to address this 0-6 business to start the season. Teams go on 6 game losing streaks all the time. Teams that win the World Series go on 6 game losing streaks, teams that finish 30 games below .500 go on 6 game losing streaks. It happens. It's a long season, and maybe the team is in a funk for a week and bam, 6 game losing streak. It hurts while it's happening, but eventually teams get out of it, and maybe they go on 6 game winning streaks to just appease the fans and show them that things will be alright.

Remember the whole question of whether or not the human brain is dumb? You do? Great. Well, an 0-6 start to the season seems like the worst thing in the world. I heard, from many, many, sources that no team that started the season 0-4 has gone on to win the World Series. Wow, that's incredible. But you know what? WHO CARES. There are so many stats that we try to show the pattern behind it. They go a little something like this: "Nobody on the third Sunday of April has hit a single while the moon's been in a waning crescent phase". See how dumb that is? Now I'm not saying that the idea of an 0-4 team never winning the world series is dumb, but most teams that go 0-4 to start the season are just....well they are bad. And believe me, the Red Sox are not a bad team.

The Red Sox are going to win a game. And then maybe they will win another game. And another. And perhaps they will win so many games that they finish with 95 wins and make the playoffs. And when they do make the playoffs, nobody is going to go through their schedule and find a time they lost 4 in a row in July. Because even the best teams lose multiple games in a row.

And when October comes around, and the playoff matchups are set, the beginning to the season will be a distant memory.

What's the Point: Kickoffs and Hypocrisy in the NFL

One of the most exhilarating plays in the game of football is the kickoff. There is nothing more amazing then watching a player break a kickoff for a touchdown. One of the most exciting plays in NFL history was when Devin Hester ran the opening kickoff back in Super Bowl XLI for a touchdown to start the game. I can still feel the adrenaline rush as i watch the play on youtube for the 50th time. Due to recent rule changes, however, the NFL is moving kickoffs up to 35 yard line from the 30.

The result of moving the kickoffs up five yards is that many more touchbacks will occur on kickoffs. The NFL says touchbacks could increase by 15% over last season with the new rules. This means that less kicks will be run out of the end zone. It also means that kick returners will start farther back, and consequently, less kicks will be returned for touchdowns. Before the NFL moved kickoffs back to the 30 from the 35 in recent years, .29% of kicks came back for touchdowns. This number shot up to .49% when they moved the spot to the 30. So, when they return the ball back to its original spot at the 35, the .29% number should return. Returns for touchdowns will be cut by nearly half!

This new rule partially neutralizes the effect of the top returners in the game such as Joshua Cribbs and Devin Hester, who have both come out against the move.
The rule does not just partly diminish the role of elite returners, it also somewhat neutralizes the effect of special teams. Deep clubs usually have good special teams, since most of the players on special teams consist of the back half of NFL rosters. Under the new rule, special teams become less of a factor, as does the depth of a team. Many teams rely on their special teams to give them good field position. If a unit has a decent kicker, they will be able to kick it to the back of the end zone most times, and not have to worry about covering kicks. Devin Hester put it best in a recent interview: "to be honest they might as well put up the arena nets, man, cause it's going to be a lot of balls going in the endzone, man."

Over and over, the NFL has stated that the move to the 35 yard line is about player safety. It is true that the kickoff is one of the most dangerous plays in the game. But, how can the NFL say they are concerned about player safety when they want to move to an 18 game season, which will increase overall injuries to players, thereby putting player safety in jeopardy? The hypocrisy of the league shines through here. They supposedly care about concussions and injuries on kickoffs, but at the same time want to add two more regular season games to put players in these dangerous situations more often! The league is dulling the most exciting play of the game in an attempt to make a few extra bucks.

It will be a common sight next year: An elite returner stomps his foot in frustration as the ball flies over his head, as the fans wonder when their favorite athlete is going to get a chance to make magic once again. The players and fans are united in wanting more kick returns, while the league alters the game so more money flows into their coffers. And people wonder why there is a lockout.

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

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

705 for number 1

After 705 at bats, and dating back to September 2 2009. Elvis Andrus finally hit another homerun. The 7th of his career, and the first in the last two seasons. At the young age of 22, Andrus should be hitting the ball with more authority this year. Is this going to be a break out power year? I think not, but he is always a solid fantasy option for stolen bases and runs scored. Look for him to hit about 7-10 long balls this season, and still bag 40+ bases.

Lost in a Fantasy World

Ah to be 7 years old again. Sitting in my room with my Steve Young poster on the wall, and my little rocking wooden horse, and a little piggy bank that had my entire life savings safely secured within its walls (about 3 dollars and 42 cents). The best part about being 7 years old in the 90's though? That's right, gameboy. My very first gameboy was large, square, and transparent. You could see the inner workings of that incredible machine, take Link on a quest to save Zelda, or jump on some crocodiles as Donkey Kong. Great memories. The game I played the most, and most of you played it as well, was Pokemon.

I got Pokemon Blue, and naturally my brother got the Red version. I was always more inclined to the aquatic creatures, so naturally the Blue version was more up my alley, even though both games are essentially the same. Anyways, after a while of playing the game, you start to build your "squad" of Pokemon so that you can beat all of the trainers, the Elite Four (the best of the best in the game) and become the number one Pokemon trainer of all time! Pretty exciting stuff. There was no bigger thrill then tinkering with your 6 Pokemon to figure out the best combination of speed, power, and skill set.

Now ever so often, a kid would come up to you and say, "What are the 6 Pokemon that you use?" And I would tell him my strategy, saying "Well I have my level 68 Blastoise in case he uses a fire type..." and so on until I'd told him my entire strategy. And then the kid would begin to tell me the Pokemon he uses, and his strategy, and I always had the same feeling, no matter what: Apathy.

I just didn't care. I really didn't want to hear about your level 70 Gengar, or level 42 Beedrill, or how you were just testing to see if Ditto was worth it to keep in your lineup. I just could never bring myself to want to hear about other people's Pokemon. It was an odd feeling, since I cared so much about how my strategy was working out, but couldn't give a rats behind what you were trying to do.

Fast forward a decade, and were in a similar situation. Fantasy sports have taken over the country. With the availability and the ease of having not just one, but multiple fantasy baseball, football, basketball leagues (GOLF EVEN!), people are more and more likely to join a league on a whim. Gone are the days where people sat around with spreadsheets scouring box score after box score. It's simply just a different world.

So now instead of Pokemon, we have real, live, professional athletes. Right now I'm in four different fantasy baseball leagues, one of them being for some serious money. I get all of my Buster Posey's, and my Adrien Gonzalez's, and that one relief pitcher from Japan who I heard might have some good stuff, and I try to construct a lineup as best as I can. And then one of the guy's in my fantasy league will come up to me, and start asking whether or not he should sit Vlad Guerrero since he's been slumping.

And I just don't care. Don't get me wrong, I love fantasy sports. Love the idea behind it. But I just don't get the appeal of talking about it for sometimes hours on end when you really have no control over how it plays out. It's a crapshoot. Some people get really, really invested in it, and that's fine. I just get the feeling that I'm not the only one who feels this way. Love your fantasy team with all your heart. Turn the internet upside down for scoops on who should have a breakout year. But if you come to me with "Want to hear my starting lineup for fantasy baseball?", I'm going to respond with "Want to hear about my Charizard?"

Expanding "The Point After"

Hey everyone, We really appreciate the amount of support we've gotten so far. The month of April has been crazy in sports, and we are only on April 5th. I just wanted to post a link where you can go to Facebook and "like" the Point After" in order to stay even more up to date on new posts, updates, and events. Again, thanks so much to all of our followers for being extremely dedicated to us so far. We look forward to spreading the word even more. http://http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/The-Point-After/207708102591621

Monday, April 4, 2011

Nova Football Joining the Big East is Good for Everyone

As most of us know, Villanova University was offered a chance to join the Big East conference in football, moving out of the Division 1A class. The athletic offices at the University have been conducting an analysis of whether or not the transition would be beneficial to the school and program. The Board of Directors, faculty, Priests, etc. have all been consulted as well and we likely won't know the decision until the end of this year, possibly even later than that. The move itself likely won't happen until 2012 or 2013. Even so, Villanova's jump to the Big East for football would be the best move for all parties involved.

Although the Big East has put out offers to several schools for an expansion slot, the reality is that 'Nova is clearly their preferred choice. The Cat's have proven to be competitive contenders within the Big East in every athletic field. The Women's Cross Country team has won more national titles than any other school in the country, including the past two years. The Men's Lacrosse team is a power on the rise, losing to national powerhouse Syracuse by just one goal last week. The Men's Basketball team is a name brand that garners recognition and respect throughout the country. The Football team won the Division 1A National Championship in 2009...Villanova athletes have demonstrated over the years that they are consistent winners.

But the desire for Villanova to join the Big East goes much deeper than that. The Philadelphia area TV market is the 4th largest in the nation. One of the benefits of enticing TCU to join the conference is the fact that Dallas- Fort Worth is the 5th largest TV market in the nation (TCU is located in Fort Worth). The Conference stands to gain untold sums of money from a market that is in some ways untapped. By untapped I mean that there is no collegiate football team dominating the Philadelphia channels on Saturdays. As a kid growing up in the suburbs of Philly, there was a noticeable lack of a football powerhouse in the vicinity. Many loyalties do lie with Penn State...but Happy Valley is a solid 3 or 4 hours away from the city. Given the strong Irish heritage found in and around the city of Philadelphia, it is entirely reasonable to project that Villanova could transform itself into a Notre Dame or Boston College-like football icon in the Mid Atlantic region. A fairer comparison would probably be BC, given the football tradition at Notre Dame. Boston College dominates the New England college football market and many kids from the area support BC football. Aside from Temple, there are no real football powerhouses in the area--- its time for Villanova to fill the void.

For the University itself, it makes complete sense to make the move. Yes, there will be short-term difficulties in building up the team to be competitive at the D1 level and yes, we need to find a legitimate place to play. But in the long-run, the benefits of the transition far outweigh the costs. With the amenities and education Villanova provides, along with the name recognition, it won't be long before highly-touted D1 recruits start to take interest in the Cat's. The stadium issue will eventually be resolved seeing as there are several options around the city. (BTW, thanks Radnor Township for the awesome zoning laws. Don't act like you wouldn't love to have a large, brand new, state-of-the-art Villanova football stadium within your district.) What the University needs to think about is the ridiculous amounts of revenue that will be generated by this team. West Virginia and Connecticut each brought in around $55 million in revenue from the 2010 football season. Louisville led the conference with $25 million generated from basketball, with the median being around $7 million. The fact is, there is so much more money to be gained from a D1 football team, it seems foolish for the University to not cash in on the opportunity.

In the end, college football is so much more exciting when its played on a big stage. For a school with so much spirit and such an awesome fan base, its a shame for this University to not compete in the Big East for football. Football, for many at Nova, is an afterthought. But if you offer college kids the chance to tailgate, watch their classmates play football (arguably the most entertaining game to watch) against some of the best competition in the nation, you can't go wrong. This deal is too good for everyone involved to pass up; the Wildcats need to be playing our real rivals on the football field sometime in the very near future.

Which Dog will Cut Down the Net Tonight?

66 dream of playing tonight, but only two are still alive.  All the #1 and #2 seeds are home, while the Huskies and Bulldogs battle it out tonight on the big stage in Houston.  It's UConn vs. Butler, Calhoun vs. Stevens, Huskies vs. Bulldogs.

One team returns to the National Championship after losing a heartbreaker to Duke last year.  Not only has this team done what no team has done since Florida (return to consecutive championship games), but they did it the hard way.  They beat #9 seed Old Dominion on a buzzer-beater, and followed that by a shocking upset of #1 seed Pittsburgh.  It seemed as if everything was falling into place for Butler, as they continued on to the Final Four after beating #4 Wisconsin and #2 Florida.  The worst seed that Butler played against in the tournament  was #11 in the Final Four against VCU.  Their journey wasn't easy, but 34 year old coach Brad Stevens has his team playing gritty basketball, led by Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack.  After losing its star player last year (Gordon Hayward), Butler fell off the basketball map during the first half of the season.  They lost 9 games this year, with 5 of them coming in the Horizon League; however, Butler rallied to win their conference tournament and earned a pedestrian #8 seed. 

On the other hand, UConn has been on an incredible tear.  The Huskies also finished the year with 9 losses, making this the Championship game with the most combined losses among the teams (18).  UConn's last defeat came on March 5th to Notre Dame, but since then they have won 10 straight games, winning the Big East Tournament during the streak.  To make it even more impressive, 7 of those 10 games were against teams that ended the regular season in the Top 25.  Where there is a Kemba, there is a way.  The Junior guard has taken over this tournament, as he tries to lead his team to the promised land.  To put things into perspective, you must look at the Big East Preseason Coaches Poll, where UConn was predicted to finish 10th in its own conference.  Now they're playing for the title.  

So what am I supposed to do now?  Usually at this time I would make my prediction, but honestly I have no idea what's going to happen at 9:23 tonight when the referee tosses the ball up in the air.  Absolutely no idea.  It will be interesting to see how this game plays out, because just looking at these teams, I would never have thought that they would have been able to win a title, but hey, what do I know?  My champion lost in the second round (Kansas State) and I had only 2 of my Elite Eight teams intact.

Just in case you care what I think is going to happen, I'm going to throw a score out there.

UConn 81 - Butler 60 with Kemba Walker (who was robbed of the Player of the Year award) dropping 40.

The bigger question though: With a dog representing each school, who is Michael Vick betting on? 

The Phillies' Rotation: A Breakdown

Yes, it is early in the season. Yes, there are 159 games of baseball left to be played in 2011 before the playoffs begin. But for the highly praised Philadelphia Phillies pitching rotation, the season started off about as well as it possibly could have. Opening the season with a tandem of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Roy Oswalt, (yes, that is a real roster of players, not a fantasy team), Philadelphia sits at 3-0. Now what exactly makes each pitcher so effective? With Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton, and two-time Cy Young winner Roy Halladay in line to face the New York Mets this week, the Phillies and their fans are hopeful for continued results. In this staff, each pitcher has a role and an approach to hitters that varies, making every hurler so dangerous.

Halladay is the power pitcher of the staff. With constant movement on his pitches, he is always able to keep hitters off balance. With a sinker topping out around 93 MPH, it is not hard to understand why hitters have so much trouble with him. Halladay will throw between four and six different types of pitches in a given game, and is able to go all nine innings with ease. Called by many the best pitcher in the game, Roy Halladay is one or two more years of production away from cementing a spot in Cooperstown.

Cliff Lee is the second man on this staff, but his signing in December caused as much buzz across baseball as any transaction in years. In returning to Philadelphia, he spurned as much as $30 million from the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers. Lee's consistency lies in two things, his quick work on the mound in between pitches (which keeps the hitters unprepared from pitch to pitch) and his ability to throw strikes. With a straight fastball and a curveball that drops off the table, Lee looks poised for a career year.

Roy Oswalt is the third starter on the staff. He's won 20 games more than once, has started Opening Day many times, and has an NLCS MVP award on his shelf. The second winningest active pitcher in the National League (behind his teammate and fellow Roy, Halladay) does not throw the fireballs he used to, but Oswalt is still a phenomenal hurler. With a fastball that can still touch around 94 on the gun from time to time, Oswalt derives most of his power from his legs rather than arm strength, as he stands around 5'10''. His signature pitch is his slow curve, which can drop up to 20 to 25 MPH behind his fastball. Also, he has yet to lose in Citizens Bank Park, posting a record of 10-0 in 11 starts with a sub 3 ERA.

Cole Hamels is the young gun on the staff. At only 27, he already has a World Series MVP award under his belt. While his win-loss record may not have shown it, 2010 was the best year of Hamels career. He posted a 3.06 ERA and dominated the Reds in the NLDS on the way to a complete game shutout. Hamels' effectiveness lies in his ability to throw his circle change. Described by other National League hitters as "not fair", Hamels has come a long way as a pitcher since 2008. With an improved curveball and a newly refined cutter, Hamels looks to be a trendy Cy Young pick.

Joe Blanton rounds out the staff at number 5. While not in the elite pantheon of his fellow Phillies pitchers, Blanton is no hack. He is a powerful pitcher with a good breaking ball, and is an effective innings eater. Blanton is fully capable of going six or seven innings in any given start, and will win his share of games. Look for Blanton to post around 13 wins in 2011, with an ERA hovering just under 4.

In conclusion, the Philadelphia Phillies have constructed themselves a rotation for the ages. That being said, here are the projections for the 2011 season, based upon past statistics, this year's projections from Baseball Prospectus, and this writer's own inkling.

ROY HALLADAY- 21-9, 2.57 ERA, 204 K
CLIFF LEE- 20-11 2.96 ERA, 177 K
ROY OSWALT- 17-8, 3.30 ERA, 181 K
COLE HAMELS- 18-11 3.12 ERA, 215 K
JOE BLANTON- 13-10 3.98 ERA, 145 K

With Spring in the Air, Something Must be in the Water

In early April, we're used to the Sixers making vacation plans for the offseason, the Phillies getting off to their annual 4-6 start, the Flyers jockeying for position in the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff race, and the Eagles looking optimistically towards the draft, and training camp in mid summer.

April of 2011 has provided a very different feeling in Philadelphia sports. Very different.

Instead of making vacation plans, the 76ers are preparing for an eagerly anticipated return to the playoffs as a possible 6-seed in the east, a year after winning just 27 games. With match-ups against Boston, New York, and Orlando before the conclusion of the season, the Sixers will be able to tell how prepared they really are for the NBA's big dance. At 40-37, Doug Collins and the Sixers have been a pleasant surprise in Philadelphia as well as the rest of the country. Expect them to make some noise in the playoffs.

Instead of starting slowly in their first few games of the season, the Phillies have shot off to a 3-0 start, and look good all around. The critics may say that it's no big deal, it was against the Astros. But considering that the Phillies have started either 2-8 or 4-6 in 4 of the last 5 seasons, Its good to see this team playing well right out of the gate. The starting pitching has not disappointed, and timely hits from this offensive lineup has allowed the Phils to put up 21 runs in the first 3 games. With the Mets, Braves, Nats, and Marlins on the upcoming schedule for the Phillies, it gives us a nice look at the divisional competition, and a great opportunity for Charlie and the gang to get a good divisional lead in the first 3 weeks. Anything less than a World Series win this year is a failure.

Instead of fighting for the 5th or 6th seed in the East, the Flyers find themselves limping badly into the playoffs, still atop the Eastern Conference standings. They have lost 3 in a row, and 12 of the last 18 games, and somehow are still hanging on to first place. With their most points since the 2002-03 season, the Flyers have not given anyone reason to think that they will return to the Stanley Cup Finals this year. Last season, they slept through the season, only to wake up in a shootout against the New York Rangers on the last day of the season, which propelled them into the playoffs and onto the Stanley Cup Finals. This year they were playing great for the first 61 games, then fell asleep midway through a game up in Ottawa. Two seasons, two totally different attitudes. But with a veteran team, expect resiliency, toughness, and a rejuvenated squad when the playoffs start. After all, I think that is what the players have been thinking about for the last 18 games.

Instead of preparing for the big draft day trade and looking forward to spring mini-camps and training camp in the summer, Andy Reid is just waiting for draft day. With no CBA, the Eagles are left out in the cold with so much to gain from a would-be Kevin Kolb trade. There will be football eventually, but the Birds are losing out on the 2011 NFL Draft. But Andy and the guys won't let this lockout get in their way. With a good, young team look for the Eagles to be one of the top NFC teams again whenever football decides to come back to our television screens.

It will be a very interesting April and May in Philadelphia professional sports. But for today, April 4, 2011, I leave you with a Bold Prediction:

Butler: 71
UConn: 68

Gone Too Soon: Hockey Player Dies

"The Point After" is known for it's unique posts, such as "What's the Point?", and personal articles that give very good insight to our followers about the sports world. However, despite all the humorous and entertaining posts, I feel it is necessary to reflect on Mandi Schwartz, who was a Yale University hockey player. Unfortunately, Mandi suffered from leukemia and passed away at the age of 23 Sunday April 4, 2011. As an extremely dedicated player who played 73 consecutive games, I feel it is important to recognize a fallen athlete due to a tragic disease. "The Point After" asks that you think of Mandi's family as they experience an extremely difficult and emotional time in their lives. In doing so, after reading this post please send it to anyone you know, whether they enjoy sports or not. It's important to recognize this horrific incident and we thank Ms. Schwartz for her dedication to athletics.

Good Start vs. Restart: MLB Opening Week

And that's a wrap. Just like that, the Opening Week to the MLB season is in the books. However, for some teams the first chapter was a disappointment despite having 159 games still to play. For others, like the Orioles who are 3-0 (yes, undefeated), the first series of the long baseball season could create some confidence amongst "sleeper" teams. Baltimore was in Tampa all week as they embarrassed the Rays 4-1, 3-1, and 5-1. On the other hand, the Red Sox painfully struggled through the first week as they were demolished by the Rangers 9-5, 12-5, and 5-1. Although it is only the first series, I doubt anyone expected to see the Birds on top while the Sox slipped fast. Some other surprises include the defending champs, the San Francisco Giants, standing at 1-3, the Reds off to a hot start at 3-0 after a dramatic come from behind win, and the Royals who won three out of four against the Angels. It is early, yes, but keep your eye on these teams as the opening weeks of the MLB season progress and lead us on a long journey to the hunt for October.

Oh...and the Mets are above .500! Play Ball!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Rangers open season with sweep of BoSox

So far so good for the Texas Rangers. They opened up their season with three convincing wins over the Boston Red Sox.

With a combined 10 runs in the series, the Red Sox hitters could not string any scoring together after and only batted .221 in the series. Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia went hitless in 10 plate appearances and SS Marco Scutaro could not seem to find the ball either. On the bright side, David Ortiz already hit his first two homers of the season, plus the top half of the order is batting .332. 1B Adrian Gonzalez also recorded 3 RBI in the opening series, and is fitting his new role in a Red Sox uniform very well.

Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler both homered in each of these games, and became the first duo to do so in the first three games of a season. Off to a hot start again, Cruz already has three HR, and had 7 in the first ten games last year. If Cruz can stay healthy this season he could easily finish with 40+ HRs.

Limping Towards the Playoffs

The Boston Celtics started this NBA season off with the kind of drive, passion and energy that we've come to expect from them since the "Big Three" was formed. They dominated the Eastern Conference from the start, firing on all cylinders. Convincing wins against Miami, L.A. and Chicago early in the season seemed to indicate that the C's were ready to avenge their heart-breaking game 7 loss to Kobe and the Lakers. However, the tides have turned as Boston has fallen to 3rd place in the East and has gone 5-5 in their last 10 games. The recent turn of events has been extremely worrisome for the Celtic faithful.
Injuries have dramatically altered the makeup of this Boston team. Shaquille and Jermaine O'Neal were brought in this off season to bolster a front court that needed reinforcements after the loss to the Lakers. Kendrick Perkins' knee injury put the need for quality backup bigs on full display when he went down in game 6 of the Finals last year. But these additions never truly panned out as expected because both O'Neal's have missed major time due to injury. It is the beginning of April and Shaq is playing for the first time in weeks. Delonte West recently came back after having surgery for his broken wrist. Marquis Daniels injured his neck in February and probably won't see any time until next season. His injury left the 2nd lineup vulnerable because he was the only legitimate backup for Paul Pierce. All of this year's injuries leave us with questions about the health and stability of the team, particularly for the center position.

Beyond the injuries, Boston seems to have lost the energy and toughness that has come to define the team in recent years. While they've posted some quality wins, the Celtics just don't seem to be the same team they were before the Perkins trade. The move was somewhat shocking and clearly disruptive to the chemistry of the starting 5, a group that has been playing as a unit since the 2008 campaign. Recent losses to teams like the Nets, Clippers, Bobcats and Pacers indicate that the Celtics are playing down to their opponents, that they're not mentally focused. As the top seed, and a guarantee of home court advantage, slips into the hands of the Chicago Bulls, the Boston faithful are left hoping that the C's will show up healthy and mentally prepared for the playoff run at their 18th banner.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

India Captures Long-Coveted Cricket World Cup

What are the five most popular sports?  In this country, we might answer:  football, baseball, basketball, hockey, and golf.  What if I were to ask you that same question in regards to the world?  None of those five would be in the top five, in fact, some of those sports are not even present in most countries.  Internationally, soccer is the most popular sport, followed by cricket, field hockey, tennis, and volleyball.  Some of these sports come as a shock, but when you have a country of over 1 billion people following the sport of cricket as if their lives depended on it, the picture becomes a little more clearer.  

Cricket has become a little more popular in the United States in the past fifteen or so years, but 90% of the population doesn't even know the basics of the sport.  People try to compare it to baseball, but the only thing similar between the sports is the fact that a batter hits a ball to try and score runs.  The "pitchers", who are referred to as bowlers in cricket, are not allowed to throw the ball.  Instead they must keep there arm straight, which could be described as an overhand softball toss.  The ball that is used is approximately the size of a baseball, but it is harder.  The fielders do not wear gloves, except for the "wicket keeper", who is kind of like a catcher.  
The field is a full circle and the pitch, which is a rectangular area of dirt, where the batter stands, is in the middle of the field.  On either end of the pitch there is a wicket, which are three stumps that are upright.  An offensive player stands by each wicket, while only one represents the batter.  The other player stands on the other wicket and waits for his teammate to hit the ball.  When he hits the ball, the two players will switch sides, running towards the other wicket, which scores one run.  The bowler will be "pitching" to the batter and usually will try and bounce the ball as close as he can to the batter to make it harder for the batsman to get an easier opportunity to score runs.  If the batter hits the ball to the boundaries of the circle, which are only about half a foot high, they will receive four runs (cannot add on by running back and forth on the pitch).  If the ball clears the boundary without bouncing in the field, then the team is awarded six runs.  Since the field is circular, the ball can be played in any direction (even behind the batter).

If the batter hits the ball and it is caught in the air by a defensive player, he is out.  If the batter misses the ball and the ball hits the wicket, he is out.  If the ball hits the wicket when a runner is trying to get to other wicket, he is out.  Since the batter is out if the ball hits the stumps when he is batting, he will try and protect the wicket by standing directly in front of it.  This brings up another way of getting out.  If the ball strikes the batters leg instead of the bat and the umpire believes that the ball was about to hit the stumps, then the batter is out.  If the batter gets out, he is done for the game and cannot return.  Each offense plays for 50 overs (6 balls per over) or 10 outs, whichever comes up first.  There are 11 people eligible to bat, but two are necessary to play on offense.  

These are the basics of cricket, but you can really only understand it if you watch it.  India finished off Sri Lanka earlier today to secure its second World Cup, the other coming in 1983.  Sachin Tendulkar, arguably the best batter in cricket history, finally gets his championship, despite scoring only 18 runs in the final.  India's offense got off to a fatal start, with Sehwag getting out on the second ball.  With their two stars out within the first three overs, India was not in good shape to win this match.  Gambhir quickly changed that, scoring 97 runs, combining for a century in partnership with the captain, Dhoni.  Dhoni finished with 91 and hit the game winning sixer when India needed four runs for the World Cup. 

Final Four: Butler vs. VCU

It's finally here! After months of the regular season, a week of conference games, and three weeks of madness, the NCAA finally has it's Final Four set. Ohio State will get set to play...Oh wait, sorry that's wrong. Let's try again. Kansas will prepare to face a tough...wait, that's not right either. Hmmm...I got it! Butler is getting set to take on VCU. Who? Yes, VCU from Richmond, VA. I know it's been discussed a lot but think about it. A school that has 4,000 students just outside Indianapolis vs. what some would call a "mid major" in the heart of Virginia's capital. Butler, after struggling in the beginning of the season, has turned up the heat throughout the tournament. Led by junior gaurd Shelvin Mack, who averages 15.9 ppg along with 3.6 assists, the Bulldogs are tougher than ever as their big man Matt Howard also domiantes the boards every game. For VCU, well they certainly have "Shaka-ed" the world as Coach Shaka Smart has his program clicking on all cylinders. In order for VCU to do the unthinkable and go from the play-in game to the championship, junior Bradford Burgess, who contributes 14.3 ppg, will have to have a superb performance as his speedy teammate, Joey Rodriguez, will try to dash by the Butler defenders in order to create open shots. So who should you pick to win this game? Whichever team you believe is no longer a "cinderella" and can be a king of college basketball.

Keys to the Game: VCU's three pointers vs. Butler's defense Matt Howard's scoring ability Ability to control momentum

Pregame Speeches: " Welcome back boys, you've done it again. Feels nice to be back in the Final Four huh? It feels nice to be here, but I sure know that it didn't feel nice leaving last year without that trophy. We are Butler and will beat this team. Yes they are the team most people want to win, but prove that you deserve to be here a second time. Prove that you can dominate this game. Prove that you are no joke and are better than them. We are Butler...that's what your jerseys say. Play like a Butler Bulldog and you will be a champion. So who are you? "Butler" or "some team who is in the Final Four?" - Brad Stevens, Butler Head Coach

"Look around. Understand where you are. Understand that this game is everything you've worked for the past three weeks. The pain, come from behind wins, playing in hostile environments and winning are things you've all come to know. I'm right there with ya. This game is yours. You are no longer a "mid major" or a "cinderella" team. You are VCU. So forget the lights, cameras, and any distractions. Just play VCU basketball, because Rams basketball is you. You will be win. Now go get it." -Shaka Smart, VCU Head Coach

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Final Four - Kentucky vs. UConn

(4) Kentucky Wildcats vs. (3) UConn Huskies
Saturday, April 2, 8:45 pm EST
Finally the pool of 68 teams has been narrowed down to the best basketball teams in the country. From the First 4 to the Final 4, this year’s tournament has been filled with upsets and surprises. On Saturday night the UConn Huskies will square off against the Wildcats from Kentucky. This matchup has occurred already this season. On November 25, 2010, in the final game of the Maui Invitation Tournament,UConn defeated Kentucky in runaway fashion 84-67. At the time the Wildcats were a young, inexperienced team still struggling to find team chemistry.
In a short 5 months this Kentucky team has transformed from a young disorganized group of basketball players to a team that plays well together. The question still remains though, do they have enough experience?
On the other hand, the UConn Huskies are considered the team full of experience and veterans. The Huskies have proven this year that they know how to win, having not lost a tournament game all season. First, winning the Maui Invitational and next, the Big East Tournament, UConn is currently riding a 9 game winning streak. Led by guard Kemba Walker, who seems to put in 30 points a night, the Huskies have seemed unstoppable.
Kentucky will look to keep up their well balanced attack, possibly looking to run more of their offense through their only senior, center Josh Harrellson. On the other side, UConn as always, will like to run its offense through Kemba Walker. Kentucky has to stop Walker to come out victorious, but some believe that Kemba is just too good. The Wildcats may have to resort to doubling Walker, but that leaves an open floor Alex Oriakhi, Jeremy Lamb, and Shabazz Napier. To win Kentucky is going to have to find a way of contesting every shot Kemba Walker takes and keeping the UConn big-men off the glass. Getting Oriakhi in early foul trouble would dramatically increase their chances of winning.
In order to win, UConn will need another stellar performance from Kemba. However, can they go to the well one more time? Will Kemba ever not have the answer? At the present it seems as though he has to answer to anything anyone can throw at him.
The other subplot to this game that has flown under the radar is John Calipari’s coaching performances in the tournament over the past few years. Time and time again his teams have just not been able to find a way to get the job done. It’s a simple as that. Everything from stupid plays to the inability to close a game out at the free throw line has cost Calipari national championships.
No matter the outcome of the game it should be a great one for college basketball. Will the young team with “no experience” and a coach without the ability to win the big one be able to defeat the winning ways of the Connecticut Huskies? As all college basketball fans know, in the NCAA tournament, once the first horn blows and the opening tip is throw up all prior knowledge goes out the window. The truth is anything can happen.

Fighting Words

There's a word in the German language that so perfectly expresses my feelings while I watch Sportscenter that I'm almost upset there isn't an English equivalent. The word is schadenfreude, and it quite literally means "the pleasure taken from the misfortune of others". Watching Lebron and Wade lose to the Cavaliers? Schadenfreude. Watching the Yankees not make the playoffs and seeing their fans shocked beyond disbelief? Schadenfreude. But the thing that gives me the most Schadenfreude is whenever the Dodgers do anything that brings shame to the city of Los Angeles.

Growing up in San Francisco has taught me to hate anything Dodger Blue and White. While I won't get into the history of the rivalry here, it is one of the best rivalries in sports. I know, I know, it doesn't get as much airplay as the Red Sox-Yankees, or Duke-UNC. But living in either of these two cities for a single season, one comes to realize that Los Angeles is the birthplace of heathens and doomed souls. It simply is a way of life. And I'm sure anyone who lives in Los Angeles would say the same thing.

The best part about the rivalry though? It's fun. At least it's supposed to be. I love that people wear shirts with various insults to the Dodgers and their fans. I love passing by a guy in a Dodgers hat, saying "Go Giants", and knowing our mutual hatred for one another has just been acknowledged. It's what drives the fans throughout the long summer and into the chase for a ring.

So when I hear something like this:
Los Angeles police are looking for two men who beat and critically injured a San Francisco Giants fan in the Dodger Stadium parking lot after the opening day game.
I get upset. Physical violence in a parking lot after a rivalry game is not the way to celebrate a rivalry. Heckling people. Good. Altercations in a parking lot after a game that sends a man into critical condition. Not good. And I'm not just saying this because its a Giants fan that was injured, even though it might augment my rage more. I would hate to hear on the news that a Dodger fan was beaten to a pulp by a Giants fan. Not only that, I would be embarrassed. Embarrassed to be associated with a man like that.

Like I said, rivalries are fun. Go out and heckle a few opposing fans, boo the other team mercilessly, and speak ill of the locals who live there. It's your duty after all. But please, the only thing that I want beaten to the point of embarrassment is the Dodgers.