NL East Roundup: Miami Marlins

Here I’ll be continuing my assessment of the National League East entering the 2016 season.  Thus far I’ve covered the Philadelphia Phillies and the Atlanta Braves.

The Marlins are consistently the hardest team to predict in the NL East, in my humble opinion.  They consistently come into seasons with eyebrow-raising lineups riddled with talent, but always seem to fall well-short of their ceiling.  The Marlins went just 71-91 last season, taking 3rd place in the division.

Coming into this season, the Marlins make a strong case offensively, with their top three hitters from last season all returning from last season.  You can’t talk about the Marlins offense without mentioning Giancarlo Stanton.  Stanton belted 27 homers last season in just 74 games.  Analysts everywhere (including TGH’s own Scott Taylor) believe Giancarlo Stanton is poised to help the Marlins to a big year.

Stanton’s partner in the middle of the order, first baseman Justin Bour, who led the team with 73 RBI in 2015, is also returning to the Marlins in 2016.  If Stanton lives up to expectations, and Dee Gordon can continue his success in the leadoff position (posting a .333 batting average in 145 games last season) Bour should have plenty of opportunities to drive in runs throughout the year.  It’s definitely worth noting that Gordon swiped a monstrous 58 bases last year, so he’ll be in the back of pitchers’ minds every time he’s on base.

The rest of the Marlins’ batting order is nothing to scoff at, with a lot of very impressive young talent. Left fielder Christian Yelich posted a .300 batting average around the top of the order, further enabling Stanton and Bour.  Another frequent two-hole hitter was Martin Prado, the veteran of this Marlins offense.  After being a long-time staple for Atlanta, Prado found himself back in the NL East with the Marlins last season, where he hit .288.  A lot of this young roster has only improved as they’ve progressed throughout their careers, if they are able to continue this trend and big bats Justin Bour and Giancarlo Stanton are able to produce, the Marlins could be a scary team.

A lot of the hype surrounding the Marlins’ pitching staff is centered around their young ace Jose Fernandez.  While the Marlins have been careful with him, not allowing him to pitch a full season since 2013, his performances have been fantastic.  He went 6-1 last year in 11 starts with a 2.92 ERA and 79 strikeouts.  The young phenom has a lot of hype surrounding him, and with the offense looking stronger around him, he may be poised for yet another standout year.

The rest of the rotation does not have quite the same track record as Fernandez, but still consists of a lot of young pitchers who have the potential to succeed.  Wei-Yin Chen was snagged over the offseason after four years with the Orioles.  Chen continues the Marlins’ trend of having young talent that has only gotten better since entering the league.  Chen posted a 3.34 ERA in 191.1 innings last season for the O’s.

One other starter worth mentioning is Edwin Jackson.  Jackson has been on nine different teams throughout his 13 year career (the Marlins being his tenth) with mixed success seen throughout.  Last year Jackson spent time with both the Cubs and the Braves, but only saw bullpen action.  The biggest struggle for Jackson has always been his consistency, posting a sub 2 strikeout to walk ratio.  Marlins fans can only hope that his restoration into the starter role restores some confidence in the veteran, and that the (potential) increased offensive production means Jackson will be able to paint the plate with more authority in 2016.

I think the Marlins have the potential to surprise a lot of teams this year.  The biggest issue for them always seems to be translating their ability on paper into tangible results.  It will be interesting to see if new hitting coach Barry Bonds (yes, the one that has the career most home runs in MLB history) can help this offense live up to its full potential.  If the offense can provide run support for pitchers like Jared Cosart and Tom Koehler, it could do wonders for their confidence.

College Basketball Bubble Watch

With just one week left of regular season college basketball remaining, many teams are either fighting for better seeding in the tournament, or trying to scrap their way into the field of 68. Power 6 schools in particular need to make deep runs in their conference tournament and impress in the final week of the regular season in order to put themselves in a prime position to enter the NCAA Tournament.

Nearly all bubble teams are normally out of the Power 6 conferences (I’m lumping the Big East into the Power 6), so I’ll delve into each bubble team from the Power 6 and examine their NCAA Tournament likelihood.

ACC

Syracuse (19-10, 9-7 ACC)

This perennial NCAA Tournament powerhouse may not even receive a bid in this year’s dance. The Orange are currently on the outside looking in, but they have a chance to pad their resumé tonight against North Carolina. With the win, the Orange would improve to 3-4 against teams in the RPI top 25.

If Syracuse was to lose any of their final two games, their chances of making the tournament would be little to none. They’ll close their regular season against Florida State, and a loss could singlehandedly keep them out of March Madness.

The Orange need to string together at least two wins in the ACC Tournament to even have interest in the selection show on March 13. They have a weak non-conference strength of schedule, and their loss to 7-22 St. John’s hurts. They are the 55th ranked team according to the RPI, and they’re just 7-7 against RPI top 100 teams.

Syracuse is not out of it, but they have a lot of work to do in order to get into serious contention to make the tournament.

To clinch a tournament bid: Beat UNC and Florida State, win three games in ACC Tournament

Big East

Providence (20-9, 8-8 Big East)

Most people see Providence as a team with a 50/50 shot to win the tourney, but I like them more than that. The mighty Friars are 20-9, but that record can be misleading. Their non-conference strength of schedule is embarrassingly outside the top 200, which is probably why they didn’t lose their second game of the season until January 5.

With wins over Villanova, Arizona, and Butler (twice), Providence looks solid. However, being swept by Marquette and losing to DePaul won’t help their cause. They also were swept by Seton Hall, and had they won just one of the two, they’d be a shoo in for the tournament.

To clinch a tournament bid: Beat Creighton and St. John’s, win two games in Big East Tournament

Butler’s Kelan Martin can carry his team to the tournament. Photo by USA Today Sports

Butler (19-9, 8-8 Big East)

The Butler Bulldogs are currently sitting pretty. They’ve got wins over Purdue, Seton Hall, and Cincinnati, and their worst loss is at Marquette.

Butler’s only problem is their inability to win against teams that are better than them. Butler is 4-7 against teams with a higher RPI ranking, proving they struggle against respectable opponents. Even with this problem, I still expect to see Butler in the tourney, unless they collapse in their final games.

To clinch a tournament bid: Beat Marquette or Seton Hall, win one game in Big East Tournament

Big Ten

Michigan (20-10, 10-7 Big Ten)

With a deep conference tournament run, I expect to see Michigan in the NCAA Tournament this March. They need pad their resumé with some more wins against high quality teams, which is something that is missing from the Wolverines’ resumé.

Michigan only has one more regular season game, so they need to rely on a B1G Tournament run to be sure of a bid. The Iowa Hawkeyes will travel to Ann Arbor to face Michigan on Saturday, and Michigan has a week to prepare. Iowa won’t be looking to drop another game, as they’ve been sliding as of late and suffered an upset loss to Ohio State on Sunday.

At just 5-10 against RPI top 100 teams, Michigan hasn’t been able to get the job done against better teams. They’ve toppled Maryland, Purdue, and Texas, but aside from those wins, don’t have much to boast about. Against teams will a RPI ranking of 33 or higher, Michigan is just 3-8.

Michigan has some catching up to do, and I’ve got them as one of my first four teams out of the tournament. Right now, they will be an eight seed in the conference tournament, unless Michigan beats Iowa and Purdue loses out. In the tournament format, Michigan would have to face the number one seed if they win in their first game.

To clinch a tournament bid: Beat Iowa, advance to semifinals in conference tournament OR advance to conference tournament final

Ohio State (19-11, 11-6 Big Ten)

Kam Williams (15) is one of the best three point shooters in the Big Ten. Photo: Columbus Dispatch

#THE Ohio State University Buckeyes are in jeopardy of not making the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008, when they won the NIT Tournament. Their best wins are over Kentucky and Iowa, and they don’t have any other big time wins other than those two.

Ohio State lost to Memphis by five early in the season, and had they won, they’d have a much better shot at earning a tourney bid. The Buckeyes are 4-9 against RPI top 100 teams, and 7-10 when ranging out to teams in the top 150.

Ohio State needs a miracle to enter the tournament, but we’ve seen things like that happen before. The itinerary for OSU is simple, but not easy. They have to at least get to the B1G Tournament semifinals, and receive help from other teams for any chance of making the tourney. If not, I guess they’ll have to win the NIT, again.

To clinch a tournament bid: Beat Michigan State, advance to conference final

Pac 12

Let it be known: The Pac 12 has a special place in my heart for being the only conference with the same amount of teams as their conference name indicates. Learn out to count, Big 12 and Big Ten.

USC is in the thick of the bubble watch. Photo: usctrojans.com

USC (19-10, 8-8 Pac 12)

On the western side of the continental United States, there’s a few Pac 12 teams who await their fate. The USC Trojans should slide into the tournament if they continue to perform the way they have.

The best thing USC can boast is that they have zero losses against teams outside the RPI top 100. However, inside the top 100, USC is 10-10. The Trojans’ best win is over Arizona, and they don’t have any other highly notable wins on the season, which is why they’re on the bubble.

USC faces teams from Oregon to end their regular season, with bouts against Oregon State and Oregon. USC and Oregon State will be a #BattleOfTheBubbles, and the game has huge NCAA Tournament implications. If USC can win each of their final two games, they should be a virtual lock in the tournament.

To clinch a tournament bid: Beat Oregon and Oregon State, win one conference tournament game OR Beat Oregon/Oregon State, win two games in conference tournament

Oregon State (17-10, 8-8 Pac 12)

The Oregon State Beavers are looking to make an NCAA Tournament run, but first they’ll have to gain a bid. Oregon State, like USC, has no losses to teams outside the RPI top 100. That must be a Pac 12 thing.

Oregon State and aforementioned USC have very similar resumés, as the Beavers are 9-10 against the RPI 100, compared to USC’s 10-10. I like each teams’ shots of making the tournament equally, but if Oregon State can beat USC, I like the Beavers more. That is unless USC beats Oregon even if they lose to Oregon State (headaches).

As long as Oregon State can do what USC does, both teams should find their way into the tournament.

To clinch a tournament bid: Beat USC and UCLA, win one conference tournament game OR Beat USC/UCLA, win two games in tournament

In simpler terms, USC and Oregon State need to win any combination of three games to clinch the NCAA Tournament

Washington (16-13, 8-9)

The odds of making the NCAA Tournament for Washington are about as high as Ohio State’s, so the Huskies have a lot of work to do. They own a win over Texas, but have lost to Oakland.

If I were the selection committee, I’d never give a bid to a team with at or below a .500 conference winning percentage. That means that, in theory, that Washington would have no shot at the tournament unless they win the conference tournament. I am not, however, the selection committee, so the Huskies still have a chance.

The lone game left for Washington is a battle with Washington State over umbrellas, or whatever people from Washington value. This game is an absolute must win for the Huskies. They’d also need to fight through many powerful Pac 12 teams in the conference tournament to be considered for a bid.

To clinch a tournament bid: Beat Washington State, advance to conference final and at least lose by less than six points

SEC

Vanderbilt (18-11, 10-6 SEC)

At 18-11 and owning wins over Kentucky, Texas A&M, and Florida (twice), Vanderbilt doesn’t need to do too much to earn a tournament bid. Their worst loss isn’t necessarily bad, as they lost at Mississippi State.

Vandy has dropped six games to RPI top 25 teams, but they should be in the clear. They have Tennessee and Texas A&M still on their schedule, so winning out would pretty much guarantee a March Madness appearance for Vanderbilt.

To clinch a tournament bid: Beat Tennessee and Texas A&M, win one conference tournament game OR Beat Tennessee/ Texas A&M, win two conference tournament games

LSU (17-12, 10-6 SEC)

Even with Ben Simmons, LSU probably won’t make it to the big dance. They’ve taken down Kentucky, Texas A&M, Florida, and Vanderbilt, but they’ve also lost to Wake Forest.

LSU’s out of conference strength of schedule is ranked 189th, and they only went 7-6. That alone nearly keeps LSU from making the tournament. LSU still has to play Missouri and Kentucky, so winning out would be substantial and could propel LSU to higher contention.

To clinch a tournament bid: Beat Missouri and Kentucky, advance to conference tournament final

Conspiracy alert: If LSU makes the tournament with a resumé worse than other teams, it’s because the NCAA will get more money from games with Ben Simmons in it than in any other bubble team’s game. I mean, c’mon, can you really see Ben Simmons not in the tournament?

Alabama (17-11, 8-8 SEC)

It’s no secret that Alabama is better at football than they are basketball, but head coach Avery Johnson has the Crimson Tide on the verge of a NCAA Tournament appearance. Bama has wins over Texas A&M, Notre Dame, and Wichita State, to name a few. They’ve also lost to Auburn.

I’ve got Alabama as one of my last four teams in due to their strong strength of schedule. Rather than playing East Western Central Community College- South Campus Online like their football team enjoys to do, their basketball team has the 24th hardest non-conference schedule, and the 29th hardest schedule total.

Alabama is 6-9 against RPI top 100 teams, which doesn’t separate them from the rest of the pack. They can still easily defeat Arkansas and Georgia, which would make it hard for them not to make the tournament if coupled with a conference tournament win or two.

To clinch a tournament bid: Beat Arkansas and Georgia, win three conference tournament games

Florida (17-12, 8-8 SEC)

Alas, the final team. Florida has a better shot than Alabama and LSU at making the big dance, thanks to a similar record yet a dauntingly harder schedule. Only 13 teams have battled through a harder schedule, and only four have trudged through a harder non-conference schedule.

Florida does have wins over West Virginia and St. Joe’s, but those are their only notable wins for this entire season. 11 of their 12 losses have come to teams inside the RPI top 100, with their worst being against Tennessee.

Florida still has to play Kentucky and Missouri, and wins against both would help mightily. However, if Florida can’t take down either, or if they can’t make a run in the conference tournament, expect to see the Gators in the NIT this March.

To clinch a tournament bid: Beat Kentucky and Missouri, advance to conference tournament final

The Game Haus Play Of The Week – 2/29/16

College match-ups are more than just games. They involve passion, drive, talent, and team comrade. These college athletes’ enthusiasm achieves more than just points on the scoreboard or a statistic in their teams’ record. Being a fan of a college sport becomes a lifestyle with the history becoming a part of your own blood.
As a fan watching your favorite college basketball team play ball, there is nothing as exciting as your favorite player sinking three point shots. Especially when your team is involved in a back to back battle trying to secure the lead and establish a deficit for the opposing team. It’s true that every shot counts, but it does not mean that these shots are less deserving of the previous shot. Unless of course, a shot was so remarkable that not only does it get noticed, but is talked about well after the game is played.
This week’s Play of the Week does just that. During the Vanderbilt Commodores versus the Florida Gators basketball game within the first half, senior center Josh Henderson who stands at 7 feet tall whom has attempted only two 3 point shots within his career decided to impress his fans by sinking a 80 foot buzzer beater from the opposite foul line. Yes, you read that correctly. The OPPOSITE FOUL LINE!  Typically, when an athlete makes a shot from outside the 3 point line, he/she would either jump, step forward, step backward, or a possibly combination of the above. However, in this case Josh Henderson did not do that. Instead, he just turned and threw the ball toward the basket achieving the shot. Needless to say, this shot was truly remarkable and is a must see.

If you happened to miss this 80-foot buzzer, you can watch it here:

If you would like to talk more about this amazing shot, come meet me and others in the forum.

To nominate a play of the week, please post your entries on our FacebookTwitter and Instagram Pages. Perhaps your selection will get chosen for next week’s “Play of the Week.”

Congrats to Keith Schoenfeld for picking this week’s play of the week.

 

Information Courtesy of USA Today and ESPN

The Growing Legend of Steph Curry

Stephen Curry

Steph Curry (30) shoots over Darren Collison (7) in a game at Sacramento. Photo: Jose Luis Villegas/Sacramento Bee/Getty

The Oscars were Sunday night but the show of the weekend was Saturday night. The Golden State Warriors traveled to Oklahoma City to take on the Thunder in a Western Conference clash. As I watched the game I sat in my chair in complete awe of what I was witnessing. Two teams were competing at an extremely high level, running up and down the court showing us the majestic beauty of the game of basketball.

There were many reasons this game became an instant classic. First, we got to see Kevin Durant show everyone why he has won an MVP award and that he isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. He is still one of the best scorers the game has ever seen.

Second, we got to see Russell Westbrook matched up versus Steph Curry and it is always a highly entertaining matchup.

Third, the game went into overtime and everyone loves free basketball.

The final and main reason this game was an instant classic was because of what Steph Curry did. Steph Curry is making us think he was built in a factory as if he is a robot of some sort. He is constantly doing something the league has never seen.

Saturday night the Warriors won their 53rd game and have a legitimate shot to break the 1995-1996 Bulls record of 72 wins in a season.

Curry is the major reason why the Warriors are so great and chasing history. Saturday he scored 46 points in just 38 minutes of court time. He tied the NBA record for made three-pointers in one game with 12. He broke his own record of 286 threes made in a season and he still has 23 games remaining in the season. He is also the first player in NBA history with 10 made three pointers in back to back games. All of this is amazing but then Curry did something even more remarkable in overtime.

The Warriors and Thunder were tied at 118 with 4.8 seconds left in the game. The Warriors had a timeout remaining but elected to inbound the ball without using the timeout. The entire arena knew Curry was going to take the shot but it seems like that didn’t matter. Curry caught the ball, ran up court and just pulled up to shoot as soon as he passed half court.

He drained it with 0.6 seconds remaining.

Twitter then went crazy. NBA players were tweeting about Curry in disbelief. I fell out of my chair stunned at the greatness I had just witnessed. I have never seen a player shoot like this. There is no doubt in my mind Curry is already the greatest shooter of all time and it isn’t even close. When Jordan left the NBA he passed the torch to Kobe. Kobe is in his last year and he has passed the torch to Curry.

Steph Curry is only 27 years old. He already has won one championship and looks to be cruising his way towards his second straight. There are too many variables to predict how successful his career will be by the time he retires but let’s take a second to ponder it.

Let’s say he does go back-to-back this year, then what are the chances he three-peats? I believe the Warriors are extremely capable. What we are witnessing right now is what the past two generations have witnessed with Jordan and Kobe. Curry is changing the game, some say for the worse but I say for the better.

Casual fans tune in to see the greatness of Curry. He is the biggest draw in the NBA, even more than LeBron. He is the topic of all discussions when it comes to basketball.

Women want to be with him and men want to be him. Kids across the country who didn’t see Kobe in his prime are shooting crumbled up pieces of paper into trash cans yelling Curry.

We need to take a step back and admire what we are watching because when it is all said and done he could finish as one of the top three basketball players of all time, and maybe even the greatest. Only time will tell on how great Curry will be but all I know is he is the most exciting player to watch in all of sports and with each three-pointer he makes the legend grows.

Cleveland Browns Free Agency Outlook

travis

Travis Benjamin was one of the more fun players to watch last season, and he may play somewhere else next season. Photo: 247sports.com

With the close of the NFL season now past, I don’t really know what to do with my life. There’s no football to watch, so now I’ll have to transition into full-time college basketball watching.

Of course, I’m a firm believer that there’s only an NFL offseason if you let there be an NFL offseason. That being said, I’m not allowing the lull from February to July bring me down. Besides, there’s always the NFL Draft, free agency, and trades that can be completed throughout the spring and summer.

We’ve got a few mock drafts out, so I’ll begin to examine the free agency class of 2016. I’ll inspect each teams free agents, and look at the players’ possible landing spots.

You can find the report on the AFC East here.

Cleveland Browns, 3-13

It was yet another abysmal season for the Cleveland Browns, as all too familiar quarterback controversies plagued their 2015 season. On the bright side, Cleveland won’t see too many key players enter the market this offseason.

The biggest offensive free agent from the Browns is undoubtedly Travis Benjamin. Benjamin proved to be a deep threat in a wayward offense, but was streaky throughout the season. The Miami (FL) product produced 68 catches for 966 yards and 5 touchdowns in 2015. Benjamin also returned one punt for a touchdown as well.

The Browns have a lot of needs, but one of their most glaring need is the need for outside weapons. Without Benjamin, (insert guess for Browns 2016 quarterback here) will have to throw to Brian Hartline and Dwayne Bowe – yuck. That is of course unless former star wideout, Josh Gordon, gets reinstated by the NFL.

Benjamin produced more catches and yards in 2015 than he did in his previous three seasons combined, and tied his touchdown total from his previous three seasons. He’s a number two receiver in any other offense, and his best attribute is his punt return game. However, Cleveland must give Benjamin just about anything he wants to stay in Cleveland, because without him, the Browns could be even worse (if that’s possible) in 2016.

The Browns offensive line hasn’t actually been as awful as other position groups on the team, but they’re in jeopardy of losing one key component to the line. Mitchell Schwartz, a right tackle who will enter free agency, will get a huge payday either with Cleveland or elsewhere.

Schwartz has started in every game for the Browns since being drafted in 2012. He will be one of the best right tackles to enter the market, so the Browns will have to pay up to retain the UC-Berkeley product. If the Browns can retain both Schwartz and Benjamin, they should be pretty pleased. However, it’s more likely for Schwartz to depart, as he can earn a huge long-term deal from many bidders.

At the ripe age of 25, Tashaun Gipson has seen his contract expire. Gipson decided not to sign an extension last season with Cleveland, so it feels like Gipson may head out of Cleveland for next season.

Gipson has missed time in the past two seasons due to injuries, but it hasn’t been substantial. After signing with the Browns in 2012 out of Wyoming, Gipson has seen plenty of playing time. The former undrafted free agent had 42 total tackles and two picks last season.

Gipson can be considered a franchise player, and no one believes Gipson has a huge amount of interest in returned to Cleveland. Look for Gipson to sign elsewhere as a starter, probably with a winning team.

Other Cleveland Free Agents: Randy Starks, Craig Robertson, Jim Dray, Johnson Bademosi, Scott Solomon, Austin Pasztor, Tank Carder, Jamie Meder, Travis Coons, Don Hones, Terrelle Pryor, Darrian Miller, Kaleb Johnson, Raheem Mostert, Darius Jennings, Pat Devlin

Don’t miss this: Cincinnati Bengals free agency, Pittsburgh Steelers free agency, Baltimore Ravens free agency

Top Five Coach of the Year Candidates for College Basketball

It is nearing the end of the college basketball season and with the season almost in the books, some coaches have separated themselves from their peers. With all of the disarray in college basketball this season, this may be the most competitive year for the coach of the year award.

These are my top five contenders for coach of the year (in no particular order):

Chris Mack has led Xavier to the best season in their history. Photo courtesy cincinnati.com

  1. Chris Mack, Xavier

Xavier has had the best regular season in school history and currently have a record of 25-4. They recently beat Villanova, the number one team in the country at the time. Mack has the Musketeers in contention to win the Big East, if they get some help by Villanova losing, and also for a number one seed in the NCAA tournament. The Musketeers have a lot of depth, making Mack’s greatest accomplishment the balance of playing time between all of his great players. With the talent of Xavier’s players and the possible Coach of the Year in Chris Mack, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Musketeers in the Final Four.

Shaka Smart has the Longhorns competing again. Photo courtesy heavy.com.

  1. Shaka Smart, Texas

Shaka Smart finally left VCU for a bigger job and took a little bit of a rebuilding job at Texas. Texas has some talent, but former coach Rick Barnes never seemed to get the most out of his talent. Smart is winning with the players that Barnes couldn’t, and he didn’t even recruit them. At VCU, Smart was great at getting the most out of his players and he is doing the same so far at Texas. Now Texas will likely be in the NCAA Tournament, making the future look bright for the Longhorns.

  1. King Rice, Monmouth

    King Rice has Monmouth competing against the best of the best. Photo courtesy nytimes.com.

Monmouth has been so good this season that if they don’t win the MAAC tournament, they will still get an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. Rice has led his players against some great teams this season as Monmouth has won games against USC, UCLA, Notre Dame and Georgetown. With so many good wins for a mid-major team, Rice has to be in the conversation for Coach of the Year. Also he lets the bench celebrate, which makes him a great coach to the players.

Avery Johnson can win the college basketball Coach of the Year award, to go along with the same award he already won in the NBA. Photo courtesy wiat.com.

  1. Avery Johnson, Alabama

Alabama wasn’t supposed to make the NCAA tournament this season. Avery Johnson is in his first year as head coach of Alabama and the Crimson Tide will make the dance this season. Former Alabama coach Anthony Grant only got Alabama to the tournament one time in his tenure. Johnson being on this list should come as no surprise, because he won Coach of the Year in the NBA as the coach of the Dallas Mavericks.

Lon Kruger has made Oklahoma into a national power this season. Photo courtesy freep.com.

  1. Lon Kruger, Oklahoma

Lon Kruger didn’t start out with much when he took over at Oklahoma, but now he has the Sooners in contention for a national title. They might end up coming just short in the Big 12 championship race, but Kruger has led the Sooners to 22 wins this season and possibly a number one seed. Winning 22 games this season while being in the Big 12 is no small feat, as the Big 12 is the best conference in college basketball.

Other Notable contenders: Fran McCaffery (Iowa), Jay Wright (Villanova), Dana Altman (Oregon), Tony Bennett (Virginia), Bill Self (Kansas)

Baltimore Ravens Free Agency Outlook

kamar

After a breakout season, Kamar Aiken will look to hit the free agency jackpot. Photo: Baltimore Sun

With the close of the NFL season now past, I don’t really know what to do with my life. There’s no football to watch, so now I’ll have to transition into full-time college basketball watching.

Of course, I’m a firm believer that there’s only an NFL offseason if you let there be an NFL offseason. That being said, I’m not allowing the lull from February to July bring me down. Besides, there’s always the NFL Draft, free agency, and trades that can be completed throughout the spring and summer.

We’ve got a few mock drafts out, so I’ll begin to examine the free agency class of 2016. I’ll inspect each teams free agents, and look at the players’ possible landing spots.

You can find the report on the AFC East here.

Baltimore Ravens, 5-11

Because specialists are people too, it seems fitting to start with the kicker position. Justin Tucker, a kicker at the age of 26, enters free agency as the second best kicker behind Mason Crosby. The Ravens recently place their franchise tag on Justin Tucker, so the kicker will be back in Baltimore next season.

The Ravens have a plethora of wide receivers to retain, and it starts with breakout pass catcher Kamar Aiken. Aiken, like Tucker, is 26, and still has plenty left in the tank. Aiken proved to be the only viable and consistent wideout in a sketchy Baltimore offense in 2015, so the Ravens must prioritize Aiken this spring.

Another offensive juggernaut that may leave Baltimore is offensive guard Kelechi Osemele. The Iowa State product was labeled by Pro Football Focus as the third best free agent guard in the 2016 class. The Ravens desperately need to keep Osemele in order to retain a solid offensive anchor in years to come.

Courtney Upshaw hasn’t lived up to his pre-draft hype, and he’s been a bit of a project for the Ravens since he entered the league in 2012. Upshaw didn’t have a great season in his contract year, meaning he probably won’t receive a high contract. Upshaw won’t be the top target for Baltimore, and the Ravens won’t be devastated to see him go.

Other Baltimore Free Agents: Chris Carter, Jimmy Clausen, Morgan Cox, Chris Givens, Albert McClellan, Kelechi Osemele, Allen Reisner, Matt Schaub, Justin Tucker, Courtney Upshaw, Shareece Wright

Don’t miss this: Cincinnati Bengals free agency, Pittsburgh Steelers free agency, Cleveland Browns free agency

Pittsburgh Steelers Free Agency Outlook

ramon

Ramon Foster could be the Steelers’ top priority. Photo: steelcityblitz.com

With the close of the NFL season now past, I don’t really know what to do with my life. There’s no football to watch, so now I’ll have to transition into full-time college basketball watching.

Of course, I’m a firm believer that there’s only an NFL offseason if you let there be an NFL offseason. That being said, I’m not allowing the lull from February to July bring me down. Besides, there’s always the NFL Draft, free agency, and trades that can be completed throughout the spring and summer.

We’ve got a few mock drafts out, so I’ll begin to examine the free agency class of 2016. I’ll inspect each teams free agents, and look at the players’ possible landing spots.

You can find the report on the AFC East here.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers, 10-6

After an injury filled season, Pittsburgh may be poised to take the NFL by storm next season. However, they have 23 players who’ll hit the market this spring. On the bright side, many of these players contributed minimally, even with the rash of injuries.

The Steelers have just one offensive starter with his contract up in offensive guard Ramon Foster. Foster has been a staple in anchoring Pittsburgh’s offensive line, and at age 30, Foster will probably receive one more substantial contract before it’s all said and done. Expect Foster back with the Steelers for a few more seasons.

Fellow offensive lineman Kelvin Beachum has seen his contract expire. Beachum’s 2015 season ended quickly due to a torn ACL.  He was one of the best pass protectors while playing, and had an elite season in 2014. Beachum’s injury history may hurt his market value, but I think he’ll find his way to a high contract whether it be with Pittsburgh or elsewhere.

Pittsburgh may lose a rash of secondary members. Brandon Boykin, William Gay, and Will Allen may all depart via free agency.

Although Boykin wasn’t technically a starting cornerback for Pittsburgh, he was a very valuable asset as a nickleback and as a starter when one of their top two corners were hurt. Boykin did not play many snaps, nor did he break the box score, but he was still a solid cover corner. Boykin will get looks from NFL teams including Pittsburgh.

Although the secondary of Pittsburgh was suspect for most of 2015, William Gay was the only cornerback to not allow a touchdown in the season according to Pro Football Focus. Gay was the only reliable defensive back in Pittsburgh, and he’s expressed interest to resign with the Steelers. Pittsburgh must make Gay a priority this offseason, and I reckon they will.

An aging cornerback out of #THE Ohio State University, Will Allen’s time in the NFL is evaporating. Allen was slotted to be a backup for 2015, but was thrusted into a starting strong safety role. He underperformed, proving to be slow and poor in space. A deal probably will not get done for a while for Allen as other teams look to sign higher prioritized players.

Other Pittsburgh Free Agents: Steve McLendon, Cam Thomas, Bruce Gradkowski, Robert Golden, Antwon Blake, Will Johnson, Sean Spence, Clifton Geathers, Darrius Heyward-Bey, David Nelson, Doub Legursky, Terrance Gavin, Jordan Todman, Mike Vick, Byron Stingily, Rob Blanchflower, Mitchell Van Dyk

Don’t miss this: Cincinnati Bengals free agency, Baltimore Ravens free agency, Cleveland Browns free agency

Cincinnati Bengals Free Agency Outlook

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The Bengals are in jeopardy of losing multiple starters through free agency. Photo: bleacherreport.com

With the close of the NFL season now passed, I don’t really know what to do with my life. There’s no football to watch, so now I’ll have to transition into full-time college basketball watching.

Of course, I’m a firm believer that there’s only an NFL offseason if you let there be an NFL offseason. That being said, I’m not allowing the lull from February to July bring me down. Besides, there’s always the NFL Draft, free agency, and trades that can be completed throughout the spring and summer.

We’ve got a few mock drafts out, so I’ll begin to examine the free agency class of 2016. I’ll inspect each teams’ free agents, and look at the players’ possible landing spots.

You can find the report on the AFC East here.

Cincinnati Bengals, 12-4

After one of the biggest fits of choking in NFL playoff history, the Bengals find themselves in a far too familiar position. Another first-round playoff loss, and another chance to improve via free agency. Cincinnati has a lot of core free agents to attempt to retain this offseason.

Cincinnati is in jeopardy of losing their number two and number three wide receivers in Mohamad Sanu and Marvin Jones.

Marvin Jones was far superior to Mohamad Sanu in 2015, posting 65 receptions for 816 yards and four touchdowns. Sanu, on the other hand, caught just 33 passes for 394 yards and no touchdowns. Sanu did however find the end zone twice via rushing attempts.

Jones will draw far more interest, and with the vacancy of available wide receivers, teams may overpay for him. New Cleveland Browns coach Hue Jackson loves Jones, and the Browns desperately need a reliable weapon on the outside. Multiple other teams will bid for Jones, so seeing the UC-Berkeley product back in the Queen City seems unlikely. It feels like a 50-50 chance for Jones to return to Cincinnati.

Sanu will most likely be back in Cincinnati. The Bengals prioritize resigning their own players, so a player like Sanu who doesn’t have a very high market value will be pretty easy to retain. If I had to put money on it, I’d bet at least Sanu will resign with the Bengals, with Jones have a chance as well.

The Bengals also have a pair of starting safeties that will hit the market. Pro Bowler free safety Reggie Nelson and starting strong safety George Iloka will listen to bids from multiple teams, as each were very solid players and have been for years.

Neither of these players are certain to sign with the Bengals, but they do have a capable backup in Shawn Williams. Cincinnati needs to sign at least one of the safeties in order to maintain a solid centerfield. The most ideal situation would be for Cincinnati to resign Iloka to a long-term deal, while retaining Nelson to a one or two-year deal.

In George Iloka’s exit interview, he seemed to foreshadow leaving Cincinnati, as he was filled with regret after not being able to “make history” this season. Iloka will be highly sought after during free agency, so although it’s probably not the best case scenario, I see Nelson back in Cincinnati, and the younger Iloka elsewhere.

Although it may be exhausting, Cincinnati also must try to retain aging cornerbacks Adam Jones and Leon Hall. Jones is 31, and Hall is 32, which means neither will likely earn a long-term deal.

Cincinnati has two cornerbacks that are the future of the secondary in Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard. They both have some polishing to do in their game, and retaining Adam Jones must be the priority. Jones is coming off his best season in the NFL, while Hall has progressively regressed.

The Bengals must target Jones, as he must be of the more popular free agents in Cincinnati for the front office. Although they probably won’t get him for more than two years, he’ll be huge in filling in as they wait for Dennard to progress into an every day starter in the NFL.

Hall has seen his role shrink in recent years, so although the Michigan product has never played for any other NFL team, it is very unliekly for Hall to return to Cincinnati. A normally friendly player to the media, Hall declined exit interviews at the end of the season, seemingly ending his storied career for the Bengals.

Other Cincinnati Free Agents: Andre Smith, Vincent Rey, Emmanuel Lamur, Wallace Gilberry, Eric Winston, Brandon Thompson, Brandon Tate, Pat Sims, T.J. Johnson

Don’t miss this: Pittsburgh Steelers free agency, Baltimore Ravens free agency, Cleveland Browns free agency

 

Why Raul Mondesi will play 2B for the Royals in the 2016 playoffs

Courtesy of, www.todaysknuckleball.com

Courtesy of, www.todaysknuckleball.com

Dayton Moore believes in his guys. It’s one of the most impressive things about his tenure with the Kansas City Royals. When everyone else wants to doubt his guys, he believes in them, and it paid huge dividends in 2014 and 2015.

His commitment to his guys is set to pay off big in 2016, with a few key prospects who have a chance to help the big league club in 2016. Among these prospects is the first ever player to make his Major League Debut in the World Series, Raul Mondesi.

Mondesi has been one of Moore’s guys since the day he signed Mondesi on his 16th birthday for $2 million dollars in 2011. Mondesi has been aggressively pushed through the Royals farm system and Moore believes in Mondesi despite his subpar minor league numbers.

Owner of a .246/.293/.658 slash line throughout his minor league career, Mondesi may look on paper like someone who may need to spend 2016 predominately in the minor leagues, and this may be true to a certain extent.

Mondesi probably needs to start the season in the minor leagues. Barring a huge spring training, Mondesi will most likely start the season at AA NWA. Even with a huge ST, the best Mondesi could probably do is earn himself a spot at AAA Omaha instead of NWA come opening day.

This isn’t about who the Royals opening day 2nd baseman will be though. This is about who will be starting at 2nd base for the Royals come October 2016.

There are already early indications that Mondesi might be given a chance with the big league club at some point in 2016.

In an interview with 610 sports insider Josh Vernier in late January, Moore had high praise for the young Mondesi. From Moore “I’m not saying Mondesi can be our Lindor, or our Correa in some aspect in 2016, but he’s certainly talented enough.”

Later on in the same interview, “He (Mondesi) will shine in the major leagues. He will play better in the major leagues than he did in the minor leagues.”

I think the idea around the Royals staff is that Mondesi’s production will only catch up to his talent once he reaches the Major Leagues. This praise from Moore, along with Moore’s track record mean there is a chance that Mondesi will help the Royals in 2016.

Much like Moore did with Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez, he will push Mondesi through the upper levels of the minor leagues if he believes that he can help the big league club win in 2016. By throwing around Correa and Lindor comps, I think it’s apparent that Moore believes Mondesi can help the team at the Major League level in 2016.

The obvious avenue for Mondesi to start in the Major Leagues is at 2nd base. He has the profile of an everyday SS, potentially even a gold glover, but, it’s hard to see him supplanting Alcides Escobar as the team’s everyday SS.

There is already a question as to who the opening day second baseman will be, with Omar Infante and Christian Colon set to duke it out for the positon during spring training.

Infante will most likely be given the nod on opening day, manager Ned Yost loves his defense, and with the money Infante is being paid over the next two seasons it makes sense for Infante to get one more chance to prove that he can be the team’s everyday second baseman.

If Infante struggles through the first portion of the season, postseason hero Christian Colon will most likely get a chance at 2nd base before Mondesi would.

However the organization seems to look at Colon as more of a utility infielder based on the way they have handled him over the past several years. So Colon may not get a very large sample size to prove that he can be the starting second baseman, especially not with Mondesi lurking in the minor leagues.

So let’s say Infante is the everyday 2nd baseman until June, when he is then replaced due to underperformance by Colon. It stands to reason that if Colon doesn’t produce, Mondesi will be given a chance at the job.

Despite being a natural SS, Mondesi has received playing time at 2B over the course of his career. This even includes playing 2B briefly in the 2015 Futures Game. He is the most talented of the trio of potential options at 2B, and he has by far the highest ceiling.

The Royals have been rewarded for believing in their guys the past 2 seasons. 2016 will be no different, only this time they will be rewarded for their belief in a young guy like Mondesi.

Mondesi will not only take over 2B for the Royals by September 1, 2016, he will do so with grace and production. He might not hit .300, but he could bat .250 with gold glove caliber defense and game changing speed on the base paths.

After making his Major League debut in the 2015 World Series, Mondesi may find himself at the starting 2nd baseman in game 1 of the 2016 World Series.

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