Monday, April 21, 2014

These NBA Playoffs Will Be Good

By Travis Stahl

The NBA playoffs have started.  Everyone is now given full permission to care about the NBA if they would like to.  People who don't like the NBA will claim even the playoffs are boring and predictable.  Those people could not be more wrong.  We are only in the first couple of games of the first round of the playoffs and already things have not gone according to plan.  Home court has already been stolen in several series and it is looking like these playoffs are going to top last year's in level of excitement.

In the opening round of the playoffs so far Indiana, Houston, the Los Angeles Clippers, Chicago and Toronto have all lost game ones at home.  That's a lot of disappointment to start the postseason espcially for teams like the Pacers, Rockets and Clippers who have legitimate title hopes.  It's not often that we see a series in the opening round of the postseason develop into a dog fight because typically the teams that are supposed to win walk through the first round with no problems.  It wouldn't be too surprising to see the Nets eliminate the Raptors in fournd one but if any of those other teams fall it will be pretty shocking.  Nobody in their right minds saw the Hawks, Warriors or Wizards in round two of the playoffs but that might just happen.

Sure, some of the other teams that we expected to win did so.  The Spurs put on a clinic in the fourth quarter against Dallas and ended the game on a 17-4 run.  Miami needed little effort to beat the Bobcats in round one and the Thunder pulled away from Memphis.  That is what good teams are supposed to do.  We don't typically see big upsets in the playoffs.  But for the Pacers against Atlanta and Houston against Portland match-ups dicatated game posed series problems for Indiana and the Rockets.  Obviously we could all be overreacting here a bit and all those teams that fell in game one might come back to win four-straight games and take the series.  It looks more though like this is going to be the most exciting round one in quite some time.

If I had to pick right now, which I should have done last week, I would say we are looking at a match-up of last year's finals.  I think Miami will win the Eastern Conference and the Spurs will come out of the West.  Both teams are just so good at playing team basketball it is hard to beat them.  Neither the Heat or Spurs beat themselves with absent minded turnovers or bad shots.  For both teams the focus is on team defense and sharing the ball and that is a hard combination to beat in the playoffs.  Yes, both of those teams have great players.  But the stars on both teams make their teammates on the floor so much better by sharing the ball and playing within the flow of the game.

If you have left the NBA for some reason I would encourage you to give it another chance.  The game really is excitiung.  Yes, it is differenct than college basketball and at times it seems more like an individual game.  But if you watch the Spurs and Heat you will see great team basketball.  And, if you like upsets, it is starting to look like these might be the playoffs for you.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Five Worst Teams in Sports

By Travis Stahl

It's been a long time since we really dumped on some teams. Every once in a while we need to be reminded just how bad some teams are to give ourselves some hope in our own fandom. As a fan of the Dallas Cowboys I realize my team is in horrible shape but I am also able to look at some other teams and realize it could be worse. Here is an updated list of the five worst franchises in sports right now.

1. Milawaukee Bucks - The Bucks just were purchased by new owners for the hefty price of $550 million. What does the team have to show for that price tag? Not much. The arena is old, the product on the court isn't drawing fans and there isn't much to build on. The Bucks do have a top-three pick in the upcoming draft but other than Giannis Antetokounmpo there really is no other player on the team worth building around. No, Larry Sanders doesn't count.

2. Oakland Raiders - The NFL is designed so that teams can quickly turn things around. Every season there is a team that goes from last place to winning its division. Not the Raiders. Oakland has been lost wondering in the woods for years with no end in sight. This team can't decide on a general manager or head coach yet along which quarterback they want to lead the team on the field. It's been 11 seasons since the Raiders were in the playoffs and and in that time the team has only won more than five games twice.

3. Chicago Cubs - Yes there is hope for the future with Theo Epstein as the general manager. That future is not this year again as the Cubs have only won five games so far this season. I understand this is wildly popular team with millions of fans and huge merchandise sales. What this team is not is winner. The Cubs have only been in the playoffs 16 times and only three times in the last 15 seasons.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars - Oh Jacksonville, you just can't get out of your own way can you? Constant changes at head coach and general manager have led to some pretty rough years in Florida. It's not likely to be any better this year with Maurice Jones-Drew gone. The Jags have the No. 3 pick in the upcoming draft which is good because there is nothing on this team right now to build on. The Blaine Gabbert experiment at quarterback has been a disaster and Justin Blackmon can't get past his substance abuse issues.

5. Edmonton Oilers - The once proud Oilers are now a mess. The team finished with the fewest wins in the NHL this year with only 29 and the team has been to the playoffs in seven years. That's a long drought for a Canadian team in a community that has a long history of dominating the NHL the way this franchise once did in the 80's. General Manager Craig MacTavish is optimistic about the team's future. We will see.

These teams are not listed in any particular order and obviously the slightest bit of success would be welcomed with open arms from fans of this group. Teams figure out how to win all the time and turn things around, just look at the Los Angeles Clippers or Golden State Warriors. For a team to be truly successful it has to be an entire organization's efforts and mindset to win on a consistent basis. Some teams just don't have that.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Can Golf Save Itself?

By Travis Stahl

In case you didn't know Bubba Watson won the Masters last weekend.  Big fans of golf already knew that because they watched the tournament and witnessed Watson become one of the true stars of the game.  Golf hasn't had too many new stars arrive on the scene in a long time and from what I heard about the concern for the future of golf players like Watson could become more difficult to find.  Fewer and fewer people in America are playing golf every year, especially kids, which doesn't bode well for the future quality of the game.

The number of people in America playing golf has been in steady decline since 2006.  There are probably several factors why adults aren't playing golf as much.  Some people don't have the extra money it costs to play on a nice course or time required to spend three or four hours at a time playing the game.  Golf isn't cheap.  If you are playing on an average course and you pay for a cart you're looking at between around $30 to $40.  That's a lot of money to pay every week for something like that.

Because fewer adults are playing golf that trickles down to the kids.  If parents aren't getting their children involved in the game than who is going to?  Probably nobody.  You don't see too many kids riding around town on their bikes with their clubs strung across their shoulder looking for other kids to go join them on the course.  For kids to play golf somebody has to take them to the course and pay for them to play.  Heading to the park with friends to play basketball, football or baseball is free.

Some cities across the country, like Fort Wayne for example, have a summer day camp at McMillen park where kids can attend for free.  One of the actitities everday at the camp is teaching kids how to play golf.  That is a great idea.  The only problem is the kids that attend camps like that are typically from families that don't have a lot of money so there is no next step.  Once those kids leave that camp there is no possibility for them to actually get on a course and play.  A lot of course used to offer junior leagues for kids to play in but even most of those have gone away.

As golf has continued its decline local leagues have started to dimish as well.  The golfers that used to fill those leagues have grown older and new players have not replaced them.  We all know it isn't possible to have courses where kids can go and play for free.  But it would seem like courses could offer some kind of discount for parents that bring their kids to play golf with them.  If golf is going to make a return it is going to have to find a way to lower the costs associated with playing so that average kids can play.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

What We Want in a Football Coach

By Travis Stahl

Fans are picky.  We want it all from a head coach.  In the eyes of the most dedicated fans we want a coach that is part Bob Knight and part Tom Landry.  In other words, a head coach that will push them hard but embrace them as young men when needed.  Now that the Columbia City Eagles football program is in need of a new head coach fans of all ages are going to be thinking about what they would like to see in the new coach.

The first thing any high school needs in a head football coach is a guy that embraces the program from step one until kids are seniors.  That means getting kids into camps starting early in the fourth or fifth grade and fostering an early bond with players.  If kids that young start participating in summer camps it builds loyalty and skills for the game.  Early development also embraces players as a part of the program and works with them every step of the way as they grow.  Kids remember that stuff and it's important to them.  Ask any kid who attended summer football camp as a kid who their favorite varsity player was at the camp and they can tell you.

We also want a coach that values hard work because we feel that is what reflects the identity of our community.  It gives fans a sense of pride when we know a coach has the players working hard on the practice field, in the weight room and during summer conditioning.  Those long hours pay off on the field and from the bleachers we can see that and appreciate the work every player and coach puts in that goes unseen.  A coach that values working that hard will also have a team that doesn't make mistakes especially when the game is on the line.

It may not be as important as the first two points but fans also want a football coach that is offensively inovative.  The best coaches know how to prepare a team during the week, make adjustments during the game and put the slightest wrinkle on a play to catch the opponent off guard.  Offenses don't have to be terribly complex but a good coach is able to see the game differently and scheme for each opponent differently to exploit weaknesses.  We really don't care what plays the offense runs we just want it to be successful.

Yes, as fans we want it all.  That is all hard to find in a head football coach.  If every coach had these abilities then every high school team would be great and we all know that isn't happening.  It would not be an easy task to try to find a coach to take over the Columbia City program.  There are sure to be rumors about who is and isn't interested in taking over the program and the anticipation will kill us waiting.  All we can hope for is that the new coaches style reflects how we feel as a community.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Hudgins Leaving CC

By Travis Stahl

Every sports fan wants to see their favorite team win. If that team is a high school football squad the enthusiasm tends to get amped up even more as the team is supported by the entire community. The Columbia City Eagles football program got a shot of enthusiasm five years ago when Randy Hudgins became the head coach. Now, Hudgins is leaving Columbia City and will be the head coach at Bluffton high school.

In his five seasons as Eagles head coach Hudgins had a record of 28-27. His biggest accomplishment as the CC head coach was restoring the program to a competitive level and putting teams on the field that played hard. The win total on Hudgins resume would have been even higher had injuries not ravaged the program for two years in a row. Last season the team lost defensive leader Sam Daily in the first game of the year followed by time missed by quarterback Travis Herbst and running back Braden Myers. Two years ago the team lost wide receiver Jared Murphy and running back Adam Neely.

Prior to Hudgins arrival the Eagles program was struggling. The team had earned only one win in a season three times in four years before Hudgins took over the program. The most successful year for the Columbia City program under Hudgins came in 2010 when the Eagles went 10-2 while quarterback Logan Rehrer shattered school passing records along the way. The Eagles eventually fell to Bishop Dwenger that season in the sectional tournament.

There were several memorable wins for the Eagles program under Hudgins guidance. In the 2010 season Columbia City won a shoot-out against East Noble when the Eagles won 56-55 with a score right at the end of the game. In 2012 Columbia City defeated state ranked Leo in the first round of sectional 14-7.

Whoever takes over the team as the new head coach will have some talent to work with next season. The offensive line returns several starters and the Eagles will have a fast defense back on the field. The new head coach will get to start their career at CC with a season-opening match-up against county rival Whitko.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Aldon Smith is Offically in Trouble

By Travis Stahl

As outsiders looking in we are more than happy to be quick to judge.  We recognize greatness when we see it and shake our heads disapprovingly when we know it is being wasted.  The casual observor doesn't have the talent to play professional sports and we all wish we could.  That is why we become so disgusted when we see a great player wasting away their talents.  It sometimes becomes a train wreck we can't take our eyes off of and right now Aldon Smith has derailed.

Smith is the long-troubled San Francisco 49ers defensive end/linebacker and there is no denying his talents.  Since joining the 49ers Smith has become the premier pass rusher in the league and has racked up more sacks in his short time in the NFL than any player before him in that span.  But Smith is likely done chasing opposing quarterbacks, at least for the time being.  He was arrested again yesterday, this time for claiming he had a bomb while at LAX.  This was Smith's third run-in with the law and likely his last such incident as a memeber of the 49ers.

If you recall Smith first got in some hot water due to a party at his house in which he was brandishing and firing unlicensed automatic weapons.  Law enforcement frowns upon this.  Then, in the midst of that on-going saga Smith was arrested for DUI and voluntarily entered rehab during the middle of last season.  The rehab stint was supposed to act as a wake up call and prevent him from facing team or league suspension.  The rehab didn't work.  And perhaps it didn't work because the problem isn't alcohol.  Maybe Smith is suffering from some other mental health issues requiring extensive therapy?  If that is the case then Smith's football career needs to take a time out.

The NFL hasn't issued a statement about Smith yet.  The 49ers General Manager Trent Baalke did send out a message yesterday saying the team was still gathering information.  Smith is likely going to be suspended this time, probably for at least half of the upcoming season.  And, when he does come back I am guessing it won't be as a 49er.  The team embraced him once and tried to provide him with support and services but those don't hold any meaning for Smith.  In an off-season in which several teams have cut players deemed "locker room distractions" Smith would seem to fit that descrption.

At this point in his life Smith needs help.  Obviously we don't know all the details about yesterday's arrest yet but there is video showing how disobedient Smith was with law enforcement which doesn't help his cause.  The NFL and Roger Goddell are all about protecting the image of the league so incidents like this will not go unpunished.  The league let the 49ers handle it in-house last time but that will probably not be the case this time around.  Hopefully Smith can seek out and find the help he needs to get his life on the right track.  When he does, some team is going to have itself a heck of a football player.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Falling Off the Pace

By Travis Stahl

Everyone that follows the NBA is asking the same question right now.  No, it's not "will Kevin Durant win the MVP?"  The answer to that question is already a resounding yes.  What people really want to know right now is what is wrong with the Indiana Pacers?  The short answer is easy, lots of things.  The solution might not be so simple to find though as the team trudges towards the playoffs.

Indiana was the hottest team in the league until January.  Pacer fans and NBA experts alike thought this was the year the team would take the next step and get past Miami to play in the NBA Finals.  Paul George looked like the best player in the league, Lance Stephenson was playing like an all-star and Roy Hibbert was dominant in the paint.  Those days are over and if Indiana wants to do anything in the playoffs it better right the ship in a hurry because this Pacer team can't be Chicago in a playoff series let along the Heat.  The play of George, Stephenson and Hibbert declining hurts but it isn't the only thing hurting Indiana.

In seasons past Indiana's biggest issues were it's lack of a point guard that could control a game and it's shallow bench.  Despite changes, those two issues are still dogging the team.  Head Coach Frank Vogel rested all five starters in Indiana's win against Milwaukee the other night and the team got a win.  But that was essentially two JV teams playing each other.  The trade to acquire Evan Turner has worked out poorly for the Pacers.  Not only is Turner not putting up the numbers everyone thought he would there is still some bitterness over losing lockerroom favorite Danny Granger in the exchange.  That has led to other changes in chemistry and now George and Hibbert are bickering and Stephenson thinks (incorrectly) that he is the team's late-game savior.

The point guard position is also still a glaring area of weakness for the Pacers.  George Hill has the ability to stretch the floor with his shooting but calling him a streaky shooter would be an understatement.  And when Hill isn't on the floor there really isn't a second team option.  Most times at the end of the game the offense runs through George and if Hill is on the floor he is used more as a spot up shooter.  George is exceptional at running the offense but the Pacers thought they could create a mismatch by playing him at the point guard late in games.  Instead all it has done is attract the opponents best defender to George at the end of the game and allow help-side defenders to sag off of Hill to double George if neccessary.

Indiana still has the talent to make it to the NBA Finals.  Right now the starters need to rest and get their legs back under them if they want to make it through the playoffs.  A tired Pacer team only getting contributions from three or four guys stands no chance against a Miami team that has been resting DeWayne Wade all season.  The emphasis has been on earning home-court advantage but that might not matter at this point.  The Pacers need to focus on coming together as a team and finding the drive neccessary to be a great team in the playoffs.