Thursday, November 20, 2014

Wildcat Warning!

By Travis Stahl

I have something to say and you aren't going to like it.  The University of Kentucky men's basketball team is very good this year.  I will pause for affect.  I know, the Wildcats are good every year.  Head coach/used car salesman John Calipari brings in the best talent every season so it shouldn't come as a surprise that Kentucky is good.  But this is different and believe it or not this might be the best team the Wildcats have put on the court this Calipari came to town.

It's hard to judge a college basketball team in November.  Usually the team hasn't been together that long and when they do take the court the good teams rarely play an opponent that can come close to matching its talents.  But the other night in a rare early-season match-up of good teams Kentucky took on Kansas and just absolutely smothered the Jayhawks.  Let me put it this way, Kentucky had 11 blocks shots in the win.  Kansas made 11 field goals.  That's it!  The entire Kansas team made 11 shots against the Kentucky defense.  Kentucky is tall and lanky at every position and they can defend every inch of the floor.

Remember back in the late 80's and early 90's when Loyola Marymount was putting fast-breaking offensive machines on the court and they would sub in five players at a time.  That is what Kentucky is doing for defensive purposes.  The five starters come out of the game and five more McDonald All Americans come in to the game to continue to suffocate the opposing offense.  The Wildcats have  seven guys who are 6'8 or taller that play significant minutes and that is not including the Harrison twins at guard who are both 6'6.  The height is hard enough for teams to deal with but the length of the Kentucky players is an even bigger problem because they cover so much area.  Just based on measurements Kentucky has more length than every NBA team except two.

It's November, I get it.  Nobody is handing Kentucky the title right now.  This team is going to lose games throughout the season because nearly every player is a freshman or sophomore.  When this team gets it all put together though they are going to be tough to handle.  Nobody is predicting them to be the NCAA champion right now but once they get rolling in February and March it will be hard to bet against them.  Especially in an SEC that isn't exactly a basketball power and has only been sending two or three teams to the tournament.  Everyone can see the writing on the wall though right now, this Kentucky team is special.  They were talking on ESPN radio today that Kentucky would only be a 10-point underdog against the Philadelphia 76ers right now and that number would go down as the season goes on.

Everyone knows Calipari's reputation and his one-and-done factory at Kentucky isn't exactly embraced by basketball purists.  But if you like to watch good, sound defensive basketball you have to respect what the Wildcats are capable of.  No team in the country is going to be able to do what this team will defensively and it is going to come at opponents in waves.  Loyola Marymount used to want to run so much they sapped the other team's will to continue.  It would be easy to see Kentucky doing the same to teams this year with its defense.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Peterson Got What He Deserved

By Travis Stahl
OK, completely hypothetical scenario.  Let's say I'm driving my car erratically and I crash into a business.  It's determined that I have broken the law because I was negligent and driving too fast and I was in a school zone.  I'm arrested and taken to jail on several charges.  Eventually as I work my way through the court system I am able to plea down to just the speeding ticket and the other charges are dropped.  Still in this make believe situation, I had to miss several days of work due to incarceration, court dates, mandatory services and the loss of my license.  Can my employer terminate my employment in this situation?  I broke the law and cost the company a countless amount of money in lost earnings due to absences.  What if I am a police office or a school teacher, does it matter than?  How about if I am a football player in the NFL?

You see where I'm headed with this?  The NFL announced yesterday that Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is suspended at least through the remainder of this season due to the physical abuse Peterson inflicted on his son.  Some people will say Peterson is just a guy disciplining his son the only way he knows how.  Others will say it isn't the place of the employer (NFL) to inflict a punishment on Peterson for something the league system should take care of.  Those are both valid arguments but they also both miss the point.  Peterson broke the law in a violent manner and regardless of what job he has his employer has every right to distance themselves from him up to and including termination.

With violence at the forefront of every NFL discussion these days Roger Goodell and the league had to come down hard on Peterson.  The man beat his child with a stick until he left bloody welts.  And while those who support Peterson like his dirt-bag attorney will say that Peterson was convicted of a lesser charge that doesn't change what happened.  Plus, Peterson would still have a substantiated charge against him through child protective services which is a different entity than the prosecuting attorney.  Regardless of his intent, Peterson did wrong and there were unintended consequences from his actions.  Now he has to accept them.  We are talking about a guy after all that has continued to be paid through this entire season until he was officially suspended by the league.  I'm not sure anybody can cry "financial hardship" for a guy that was paid $8 million of his $10 million salary this season.

We want athletes to be role models and we want to hold them to a different standard when it is convenient for us.  When athletes do things that are ugly like punch a woman in the face in an elevator they risk losing their jobs the same way you or I do.  The Vikings are going to claim that they fought tooth and nail to get Peterson back on the field this season.  They can say that now because it is out of their control.  We all know they didn't want him anywhere near the team.  Don't believe me?  Wait and see where Peterson is playing football next year, I'm betting right now it's not in Minnesota.  Teams don't want to associate themselves with toxic players.

Think about how backwards this is for people out their supporting Peterson.  Right now all the anger is directed at Goodell and the league and there are those people making Peterson out to be the victim.  He is the perpetrator.  He is the person who beat a child with a stick.  Whatever actions come out of his decisions fall on him, not on his employer.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Welcoming the San Antonio Raiders

By Travis Stahl

What do you call an Oakland Raiders fan?  Inmate #4786390.  Haha, get it, because Raider fans are typically criminals who behave horribly at games.  I know it's a bad generalization and there are good Raider fans out there.  But the culture of the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders has been allowed to develop this way for decades under former owner Al Davis and as a result the team is a laughing stock in the world of professional sports.  Poor ownership, poor coaching, poor facilities, poor fans, poor players.  Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming your San Antonio Raiders.

Last week and again this week Raiders owner Mark Davis, Al's son, was in San Antonio meeting with city officials about the possibility of moving the team to Texas.  Now it all could be posturing by Davis to try to secure a better deal in Oakland.  That's how the team moved to Los Angeles in the 1980's.  But this feels different and more importantly this feels right.  I think this move is going to happen and I think the Raiders in San Antonio is a match made in NFL heaven.

First there is the obvious.  The Raiders black, silver and white color scheme fits right in with the NBA's San Antonio Spurs.  If the Raiders are lucky some of the Spurs winning pedigree might rub off.  Plus, the city of San Antonio has a ready-made home for the Raiders in the Alamo Dome.  The Alamo Dome doesn't have the number of luxury boxes most NFL stadiums these days posses but those could be added and the Raiders would never find another city with a stadium just sitting there waiting for them.

More than in any other city the Raiders could consider San Antonio would welcome the team with open arms.  This is Texas.  They could have 10 NFL teams in the state and they would all draw huge crowds.  This is a community just waiting for an NFL team to support.  And, here is where current Raider fans will feel the sting, San Antonio fans are classy.  Spurs fans are considered the best in the business.  Have you ever heard of a drunken brawl erupting at a Spurs game with people being stabbed?  Exactly.

We've all thought for a long time somebody in the Raiders organization needed to hit the reset button.  Maybe Al's goofy red-headed kid is just the nerd to do it.  This team needs more than changes on the field they need a complete overall in the team's culture.  A move to San Antonio would accomplish that and give the NFL it's historic franchise back.  It can't possibly get any worse than it is now in Oakland where the Raiders are about to go 0-16.  Start packing the moving trucks.

The Packers are Really Good

By Travis Stahl

Good teams in the National Football League make adjustments.  Teams that continue to use the same scheme, run the same plays and fail to add wrinkles to the offense or defense eventually become obsolete.  Look at the New Orleans Saints.  Everyone knows what the Saints are going to do right now on every play because they have failed to change what they do even the slightest bit.  For two years, that was the Green Bay Packers.  Stuck in their ways and refusing to make adjustments.  It's clear now the Packers have made the adjustments necessary to be a Super Bowl contender again.

Based on the last two blowouts over Chicago and Philadelphia the football world has taken notice again of the Packers.  The truth is, since quarterback Aaron Rodgers implored fans to relax, Green Bay has been the best team in the NFL.  Since starting out 1-2 the Packers have regained their footing and run off six wins in seven games with the only loss coming to the a fore mentioned Saints.  Rodgers has quietly been the MVP of the league so far with 28 touchdowns and only three interceptions.

Having Rodgers at the helm obviously makes all the difference but it is so much more than that.  Receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are both healthy and rookie Davante Adams is making contributions.  Running back Eddie Lacy is starting to play like he did last year and the offensive line isn't letting anybody touch Rodgers.  How do you stop that?  The answer so far has been you can't.  As many adjustments as the team has made on offense to get things rolling again the most successful changes have come on the Packers defense.

For whatever reason Green Bay decided to start playing linebacker Clay Matthews Jr. at one of the inside positions on some plays.  The results have been devastating.  Matthews almost single handily destroyed play after play in the teams last win against Chicago and was just as disruptive last week against the Eagles.  Scoring even 20 points against the Packers has been a challenge for most teams this year, it's only happened five times and Philadelphia's last score came in garbage time.

Do you think a lot of teams in the NFC are starting to feel a little worried about having to play the Packers in Green Bay in the playoffs?  I'm guessing they are.  November 30 will be an interesting test for Green Bay.  That is when the Packers play the hottest team in the AFC right now in the Patriots.  That game might just be serving as a Super Bowl preview.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Still the Best

By Travis Stahl

In the immortal words of the great Ric Flair, "To be the man you gotta beat the man."  Meaning if you want to be the absolute best at something you have to beat whoever is on top.  You can beat everybody else and crow all you want, but until you beat the best the sport has to offer a team will never truly know how good it is.  Never was this more true in college football this week as Mississippi State and Miami showed us who the two best teams in the country are right now.

In case you are confused, Mississippi State and Miami did not win this weekend.  Both teams lost.  The Bulldogs lost to Alabama and Miami fell to in-state rival Florida State.  The Canes and Dogs both put up fights and the Seminoles had to come from behind late to win in Miami.  But close doesn't cut it.  The Tide and Seminoles showed us once again why they are great teams and will both likely be in this week's top four playoff slots.

Alabama had been No. 5 in the playoff rankings before beating the top-ranked Bulldogs.  If you didn't see that game you missed out on old-school physical football.  One of the announcers said it best, these two teams are men out there.  These are big, strong, fast teams and even with a loss Mississippi State is still probably the second or third best team in the country.  But to be a national champion you have to win games like this one in Tuscaloosa and the Bulldogs couldn't do that.

The Seminoles are the most dirty team in college football.  We all know that.  And if you watch them play they really aren't that great.  But they always find a way to win.  And win they have, 26 times in a row in fact.  That makes them college football royalty right now whether we like it or not.  Great teams shouldn't have to come from  behind to win as much as FSU does.  But it does show a lot of character that they have the ability to get the job done when necessary.  Until somebody beats them they are still the defending champs.

The new playoff rankings come out tomorrow night and it will be interesting to see how it all shakes out.  Along with 'Bama and FSU we still have Oregon, TCU and Mississippi State all in the discussion.  You can't drop the Bulldogs too far for Saturday's loss.  Ohio State still thinks they have a horse in this race as does Baylor.  If I had to guess, and that's all it is at this point, I think the order will be Oregon, Florida State, Alabama, Mississippi State.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

I Love ESPN Radio

By Travis Stahl

Hey friends, I want to share something with you I recently discovered.  It's this thing called the radio.  And on this radio, which you can listen to in your car, there is programming that plays sports discussions all day long.  Yeah, who knew?  I'm of course being sarcastic, I was aware that there was such a thing as ESPN radio out there I had just never listened to it before.  Now I'm hooked and the radio in my car rarely leaves an ESPN station.

For those of you who have been listening to ESPN radio for years, you know what I'm talking about here.  It's all sports, all day long.  First thing in the morning is Mike and Mike in the Morning followed by The Herd with Colin Cowherd and then it is SVP and Russillo.  All the programming provides precision insight, stats and usually great guests to add opinions also.  Then in the late afternoons each station has local commentary.

If you drive a lot for work the way I do this is perfect.  Even if you don't agree with guys like Cowherd, who can be very opinionated, you keep listening.  You know it's going to stay interesting.  Plus, it's the perfect way to get crucial updates from the sports world during the day.  It was Cowherd who broke the story on the air when LeBron James announced he was returning to Cleveland.  It was beautiful.

There is few programming in the entertainment world better than Mike and Mike.  All last week Greenburg and Golic were talking about their bet on the Notre Dame-Northwestern game.  Because the Irish lost Golic will now have to recreate the oiled up Kim Kardashian pose that flooded media outlets last week.  I now can't wait to turn the radio on in the morning to see how they react to the Notre Dame loss.

I feel like I really dropped the ball by not knowing about ESPN sooner than I did.  I said something to my brother about it a couple of weeks ago and now he is hooked too.  Talk radio can be a bit tacky but I never feel like that with ESPN.  It's informative and entertaining.  Now I look forward to those two and three hour drives I have to endure.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Rose Should Stop Talking Now

By Travis Stahl

You guys remember Sam Bowie?  Bowie was the All-American center from Kentucky who was taken with the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft by the Portland Trailblazers ahead of Michael Jordan.  Hindsight being what it is we can all look back on this now and see how foolish it was for the Trailblazers to take Bowie over Jordan.  But at the time Bowie was a sure thing and an unbelievably gifted kid.  Bowie was in the wrong place at the wrong time and devastating injuries never allowed his career to even get started.  And now ladies and gentlemen I would like to introduce Derrick Rose.

Rose was the No. 1 pick of the Chicago Bulls in 2008 and right out of the gates he was an MVP.  Injuries though have derailed his career and we might not ever see the Rose we did early in his career.  Here is the rub with Rose.  The Bulls point guard is still paid about a kajillion dollars a year and he stated this week that he has been missing some time to try to save his body for later in life.  Rose said he doesn't want to be old and broken down when he is attending his children's graduation or going to meetings.  He said it.  I heard it.  Is Rose allowed to feel that way?  Absolutely, but he should never actually come out and say it.

The backlash against Rose has been predictable and brutal.  Some fans feel betrayed that their superstar isn't just saving himself for the playoffs like the Spurs do with Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobali but that he is sitting out so he doesn't sustain any more injuries.  If Rose truly feels that way then he needs to leave the game right now and retire.  I'm not saying that in a harsh tone.  But if Derrick Rose doesn't feel like his body can physically take the grind of the NBA game than it is time for him to leave and let the Bulls move forward without him.  What is most troubling is that this is just the latest in what is a long time of odd behaviors from Rose.

Rose is from Chicago and loves the city.  I've heard stories of him driving around town and stopping at playgrounds just so he can hang out with some of the kids playing ball there.  That is Derrick Rose.  The "professional" Derrick Rose has never made it out of college at Memphis.  In college Rose could be a kid and as soon as he made it to the NBA there were real choices with real consequences and he has not adjusted to that.  Remember when Rose tore up his knee the first time and everyone expected him back in time for the playoffs?  Then he never showed up and there were rumors swirling that team doctors had cleared Rose to play only he was refusing.  Those rumors sound pretty credible now.

I have serious doubts that when those statements came out of Rose's mouth he realized what he was saying.  That is the most frustrating thing to Bulls fans.  When you have a guy like Rose who you want to be the team leader and is paid as the team leader you expect them to be "the guy."  Everyone wants Rose to put this franchise on his back and carry them but the team couldn't even convince him to meet with potential free agents this summer to try to persuade them to play with the team.  We need to come to grips with the reality that Rose isn't that guy.  He just isn't the player Kobe is or LeBron.

I'm sure Rose regrets what he said.  But he thought it and then said it so that makes it genuine.  This is a career crossroads moment for the Bulls and Rose.  He isn't out there taking the beating of an NFL running back.  If he feels he can't handle the physical aspect the game requires he needs to retire and go live his life out quietly.  What Rose chose to do instead was to let the franchise and fans know that he isn't really interested in earning the money he is being paid to play a game.