Friday, March 13, 2009

The Madness Begins Cont.

The 6th seed Syracuse Orange upset the 3rd seed Connecticut Huskies:
In a game that took six overtimes and 70 minutes to decide the Orange outlasted the Huskies with at 127-117 victory. Syracuse didn't have a lead in the first five overtimes but broke the game open with an 8-0 run to start the sixth overtime. Connecticut, the 4th ranked team in the nation, played a sloppy game overall turning the ball over 11 more times than the Orange and shooting only 57% from the free throw line. Connecticut struggled down the stretch with their free throw shooting hitting only 50% of their shots in overtime. Syracuse on the other hand hit 78% of their free throws overall and went 23-26 in overtime. The Orange were led by sophomore guard Jonny Flynn who scored 34 points and added 11 assists.

What this means for Syracuse? The Orange were the 20th ranked team in the nation and were assured of a top half seed in a bracket. Now after the surprising win over Connecticut they are as high as a 4 seed and no worse than a 6th seed. If Syracuse can overcome fatigue and find a way to win the Big East tournament they could end up as high as 3 seed. Regardless of what happens in the Big East tournament, Syracuse showed that they can play with anyone and will be one of the teams to watch in the "big dance".

What this means for Connecticut? The Huskies who were the number one ranked team in the nation for a good part of the year looked to redeem themselves after they finished third in the conference. Their loss probably won't hurt them too much when it comes to seeding, they are still likely to maintain their number 1 seed. There is a chance they could fall to a two seed but the bigger worry is how they finished their season. Connecticut has now lost 3 of their last 6 games and have been playing their worst basketball when it matters most. The Huskies will need to play a cleaner game if they hope to advance far into the NCAA tournament.

The Madness Begins Cont.

The 7th seed Oklahoma State Cowboys upset the 2nd seed Oklahoma Sooners:
Oklahoma State knocked their in-state rivals out of the conference tournament with a pair of free throws in the final seconds of the game. The game went back and forth for both halves but ended when Sooners star forward Blake Griffin fouled the Cowboys guard James Anderson with 2.3 seconds remaining. Oklahoma had one final chance as they were able to find Griffin at the 3-point line but his shot didn't fall. The Sooners played a sloppy game overall ending with 19 turnovers, almost twice as many as Oklahoma State.

What this means for Oklahoma State? The Cowboys were probably in the NCAA tournament before yesterday's win and are now firmly off the 'bubble'. Oklahoma State is in the 8-10 seed range right now. If they win the Big 12 Championship they could finish as high as 5th, and one more victory can get them out of the 8-9 match-up that would have to face a number 1 seed in round two.

What this means for Oklahoma? The Sooners were the favorites to secure the 4th number 1 seed, behind UNC, Pitt and UConn, coming into the Conference tournaments. Oklahoma wasn't a sure thing they would have had to at least make it to the Conference finals and possibly win it to secure the spot but it seemed well within reach. The Sooners had dominated the Big 12 all year, only losing two of their three conference games when Griffin was injured. Now they've lost 2 of their last 3 games with their star forward. Oklahoma is now out of number 1 seed contention and could fall down to a 3 seed.

The Madness Begins Cont.

The 9th seed Baylor Bears upset the 1st seed Kansas Jayhawks:
The Bears knocked out the defending national champion Jayhawks with an impressive 71-64 victory. Kansas got behind early and was down by 17 points at one point in the first half. The Jayhawks fought back and took the lead in the second half but couldn't put the game away. The Bears were led by their sophomore guard LaceDarius Dunn who finished with 24 points and 6 rebounds.

What it means for the Baylor? The Bears were not a tournament team coming in to the Big 12 Tournament after managing only a 5-12 record in the conference. Now with upsets over Nebraska and Kansas, Baylor is only two wins away from winning their conference tournament and an automatic bid. Baylor will need two win out to get a bid but showed yesterday that they are capable of doing so and being the Cinderella of the Big 12.

What it means for Kansas? The Jayhawks are definitely in the "big dance", but the question is now where will they be seeded? Had Kansas won the Big 12 tournament and gone through Oklahoma to do so, they would have been in the mix for a number 1 seed. Even if they didn't get a number 1 or had lost in the Big 12 finals they would have been pretty assured of a 2 seed. Now with the quarterfinal loss the Jayhawks will be lucky to maintain a 2 seed and have to hope that they fall no further than a 3 seed.

The "Madness" Begins

The second season of College Basketball kicked-off this week as teams began their conference tournaments. These tournaments will shape the field of 64, (really 65 with the play-in game) that will take the court next week to determine who is college basketball's National Champion. Already we've seen a quite a few upsets in these tournaments but four really stick out. Two of the top teams in both the Big East and Big 12 lost in the quarterfinals. These teams were all in line to be either first or second seeds and now will have to wait and see if their early exits cost them. Lets take a look at some of the upsets and what it will mean.

The 7th seed West Virginia Mountaineers upset the 2nd seed Pittsburgh Panthers:
West Virginia stunned Pittsburgh, who is not only the 2nd ranked team in the Big East but also the 2nd best team in the nation, with a 74-60 win. The Panthers, who won this tournament a year ago and had made the finals in seven of the past eight years, got into early foul trouble and struggled from beyond the 3-point line (missing all 8 attempts). The Mountaineers led by two at the half, never let the Panthers get close in the second half.

What it means for West Virginia? The Mountaineers were already going to be in the NCAA tournament, now with wins against Notre Dame and Pitt they are looking to move up a couple seeds. Before the the Big East Tournament WVU looked to be in the 8-10 seed range but now should be in a solid between a 6-8 seed. If West Virginia can beat Syracuse in the Semi-Finals and either Villanova or Louisville in the Finals they could move up even higher.

What it means for Pittsburgh? Pitt was considered a lock for a number 1 seed and probably the favorite to win the Big East Tournament. The Panthers had not lost at home or at a neutral site all year before last nights game. Pittsburgh will be no lower than a 2 seed in the tournament and could still maintain their number 1 seed. Now the Panthers will have to wait and see how the bracket shapes up as they no longer control their own destiny.

Check back later today as we review three more upsets: Syracuse over Connecticut, Oklahoma St. over Oklahoma, and Baylor over Kansas.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Who is the opening day 3B for the Yankees?

With Alex Rodriguez out for at least the month of April and the Yankees lacking a proven replacement on their roster it would seem that an acquisition would be in order. There has been a lot of talk from the Yankees front office that they will use Cody Ransom as their starter until Rodriguez is healthy. Ransom is a 33 year old journeyman minor leaguer, who has never had a regular starting role. The Yankees can't possibly believe that Ransom is the answer, he isn't a good defender and hasn't shown that he can hit major league pitching. With no free agent third basemen available, trade seems like the only option for filling the hole at third.

While there are plenty of players that the Yankees could trade for most of them don't make sense for one reason or another. Big names like Adrian Beltre (Mariners) or Garrett Atkins (Rockies) don't make sense for a short term solution, as they'd cost too much in terms of prospects and would be on the bench once Rodriquez returns. Players like Chad Tracy (Diamondbacks), Blake Dewitt (Dodgers), and Brandon Wood (Angels) will all be without a starting job come opening day, but are unlikely to be traded. All three are considered valuable back-ups on playoff teams and would only be dealt for major league talent. Mark Teahen doesn't make much sense either since he's not a good defensive third baseman and doesn't offer much in positional flexibility. One player who the Yankees should be considering is Pirates second baseman Freddy Sanchez.

Why Sanchez makes sense for the Yankees? Sanchez at 31 is two years younger than Cody Ransom and has had some success in the major leagues (2006 NL Batting Champion). Though Sanchez hasn't played third in two years he was an above-average defender while he was there. That is something that can't be said of other options like Ransom, Teahen, or Atkins who have all been below average defensively. Though he wouldn't come close to replacing A-Rod's bat, Sanchez does offer some offensive upside. In 2006 he hit .344 with a .378 on-base percentage and a .473 slugging percentage. He followed that up in 2007 with a .304/.343/.442 line, and salvaged a bad year last year by hitting .346/.378/.483 after the All-Star break. Sanchez also offers the Yankees positional flexibility, he can play shortstop and second in addition to third base. The Yankees don't have anyone behind Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano and could use a utility player. Sanchez also makes sense for the Yankees because he won't cost much in terms of a trade given his contract and performance last season.

Why Sanchez doesn't make sense for the Yankees? Sanchez is not a perfect solution for the Yankees and there are some reasons why they might look elsewhere. While he has shown some ability to hit, Sanchez lacks power and isn't a threat on the base paths. Also Sanchez is coming off a career worst season in which he hit .271/.298/.371. Sanchez hasn't played third base in two years so he may not be as good defensively as he once was. Sanchez also has a pretty big contract ($6.1 million), for a guy who after the first month will be strictly a utility player.

My Take: Sanchez may not return to his 2006 form but he likely won't be as bad as he was in 2008 either. Sanchez offers a great insurance policy in case Rodriguez misses more time this season or if one of the middle infielders gets injured. As for his contract while Sanchez is the third highest paid Pirate he'd only be the 11th highest paid Yankee. Look at it this way the Yankees had to pay Jason Giambi $5 million dollars not to be on the team, why not pay Sanchez $1 million more to get 300-400 at bats. Sanchez is a low risk player who has some upside and can help bridge the gap until Rodriguez is healthy.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Owens to Buffalo?

Well I doubt many people saw this coming, the Buffalo Bills didn't seem a likely contender in the "T.O. sweepstakes". The Bills are not a playoff team and Buffalo isn't a big market city. They also have never been a big time spender in free agency. While this seems like an unlikely union, it may just work out for both the Bills and Terrell Owens.

Why it will work for the Bills? Buffalo was an underachieving team last season. They started off the season going 5-1, but managed only two wins the rest of the way. While not a great team the Bills do have talent on both sides of the ball. They could be a dangerous team in an already tough AFC East if some of their young players begin to reach their potential. The Bills now have a dangerous wide receiver tandem in Owens and Lee Evans. Evans usually gets overshadowed by bigger name receivers, but is among the best in the league. With Owens in the mix teams will no longer be able to double team Evans at will. If the Bills can add a pass catching tight end in the draft they could have one of the better passing attacks in the league. The Bills only gave Owens a one year deal minimizing the risk of Owens being a distraction or a locker room problem. Owens will need to be on his best behavior to continue to find work in the NFL.

Why it will work for Owens? If T.O. can keep his mouth shut and just play football this season he can rebuild his reputation and become a very attractive free agent next off season. By signing the one year deal Owens isn't stuck with the Bills if they don't turn into a playoff contender. Also by going to a team that already has a number one wide out in Evans, Owens should be able to get a fair share of single coverages. Also he will not always be 'shadowed' by the defense's number one corner as he has for most of his career. Owens will have a much greater chance to have an impact and produce big numbers in Buffalo than he would have in Oakland or any number of other possible destinations.

While its far from a certainty I think this will turn out well for both sides. Owens has every reason to let his game do the talking this coming season. If he does that the Bills can challenge for a Wild Card spot in the playoffs next season.