French Open

Pre French Open Buzz

The French Open begins Sunday. As with any other Grand Slam, the pre-event buzz has been running wild this week. Here is a look at the most noteworthy storylines as the road to Roland Garros winds down.

The Murky Gets Murkier:

As noted in a previous article, the race for this year’s ladies trophy in Paris is wide open. It has become even more so in the last few days. The safest bet to make a deep run and perhaps win it all in the French capital had been Romanian Simona Halep.

However, the Madrid champion injured her ankle in the final of Rome and has revealed she tore ligaments. She now describes her chances of playing as “50/50.” Even so, it is now easier to envision her joining names like Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, and Victoria Azarenka on the sidelines or an early round exit than it is being in the mix to win the most grueling event in the sport.

Simona Halep

Photo: evz.ro

Unfortunately, Halep is not alone. Defending French Open champion Garbiñe Muguruza retired from the Rome semifinals citing a knee injury during warm-ups. Muguruza has battled injuries and poor play all year long. While she has said she fully intends to answer the bell in Paris, any injury concern is a huge deal when getting ready to defend a Grand Slam title.

Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki is nursing a bad back that forced a withdraw from Rome and a retirement at a smaller event this week. The former World No. 1 described the withdrawal is precautionary. For someone who has never gone beyond the quarterfinals in Paris, the signs coming from Wozniacki and her support team simply are not good right now.

While a case could be made for the names mentioned so far as title contenders if everything was clicking, Eugenie Bouchard and Laura Siegemund fell more into the “dangerous floater” category. Siegemund is knocking on the door of the top 25 and has won a clay-court title this year.

She would have been a seed in Paris, but was stretchered off the court on home soil in Germany this week after injuring her knee in a mid-match fall and has withdrawn.

Bouchard appeared to be headed back towards the top of the game after knocking off Sharapova and Angelique Kerber in Madrid, but Bouchard suffered the same injury as Halep in practice. Her status for the year’s second major is in doubt.

This year’s French Open may truly be a case of last woman standing. The one bit of good injury news has come from two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova. The massive hitting lefty has not played this year after being injured in a home invasion knife attack.

The Czech is flying to Paris and will announce her decision on playing Friday. While it is tough to imagine Kvitova as a legitimate title contender, the fact that a player of her caliber is going to return at some point in the near future after such a horrific ordeal is fantastic news.

Coach Agassi:

As newsy as the ladies tour has been, the men’s tour has been just as quiet ahead of the French Open. The one massive exception is the news that bad boy turned beloved icon Andre Agassi is the new coach of struggling world No. 2 Novak Djokovic. Their partnership will start on one of the biggest stages in the sport.

Andre Agassi Novak Djokovic

Photo: bbc.co.uk

Djokovic showed signs of his old self reaching the final in Rome without a coach. It was his first significant run at a noteworthy event all year. Agassi’s career had more ups and downs than anyone.

With Andy Murray struggling, Roger Federer absent, and Rafael Nadal showing he is human with a loss in Rome, Agassi could be the perfect guy to get the Serb in the right frame of mind to defend his title. No one knows how this combination will pan out. However, any time two combustible personalities like Agassi and Djokovic are brought together, it certainly creates intrigue.

The French Open starts Sunday at 5 AM ET. I will have previews and predictions for both draws once they are made public.

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What does the future hold for the Celtics?

After a gutsy buzzer-beating win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday, the Celtics lost Game 4 Tuesday night and find themselves down 3-1. However, they have simultaneously built a great basketball team that also has a very promising future.

The Celtics were the top seed in the Eastern Conference this year, so clearly they’ve built a team that can compete in the NBA. Their collection of assets also puts them in a unique position. Their roster is full of young guys budding with potential, and they have a number of quality picks over the next few years to build with.

The general assumption was that the Cavaliers had a stronghold on the Eastern Conference for the years to come, but Sunday’s game may have flipped that narrative on its head. Obviously, the Cavaliers are the better team. More than likely, the Cavaliers will advance to the NBA Finals with their commanding 3-1 lead. The difference between the teams is smaller than we thought though.

Boston Celtics Future

The future is bright in Boston. (Photo by Hoops Habit)

The Celtics have an interesting mix of proven talent and young players on their team. They’re starting lineup shows that foundation of proven talent. Isaiah Thomas has respectively proven himself as a top-tier offensive guard. Avery Bradley has done the same on the defensive side. In the frontcourt, Al Horford and Jae Crowder are proven talents as well.

Their stars have been great, but it is the production from their young guys that has proven to be the difference in these playoffs. Kelly Olynyk was crucial in delivering a Game 7 victory against the Wizards last week. Marcus Smart ended up being the difference Sunday night in the hard-fought victory.

The Celtics still don’t know what they have in guys like Smart, Olynyk, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier. To make things more interesting, they have the top pick and this year’s draft and own the Nets’ pick in 2018.

The team will likely arrive at a crossroads this summer. They could try and turn the top pick into a star such as Paul George or Jimmy Butler. Or, they can use the draft pick (likely to pick Markelle Fultz) and continue their long term goals.

Something else to consider would be the team’s chances of taking down the Cavs in the near future. If the Celtics don’t think they can make the Finals while LeBron James is still in his prime, preparing for the future might be the best option. Would a superstar put them on the same level as the Cavs?

Most likely, the addition of a star player would not be able to stop LeBron in the coming years. Despite his anomaly of a game Sunday, he returned to form in Game 4. He has been having a historically dominant playoff run and doesn’t appear to be anywhere near his decline either. Not to mention, he has dominated the Eastern Conference for the past seven years of his career.

If the Celtics do decide to plan for the future, another key decision must be made regarding Isaiah Thomas. Thomas will likely warrant a max deal next summer, so the Celtics will have to either re-sign or replace him.

The Celtics looked much more formidable against the Cavs with Thomas on the bench Sunday. Sure, he is one of the large reasons the Celtics have made it this far. But is he the best option at point guard in the future?

Despite his offensive prowess, Thomas is quite a liability on the other side of the floor. Would waiting for someone like Fultz to develop be a better option for the Celtics? It would be difficult to commit such a large portion of the cap to a starting player that is so detrimental to the team’s defense. Much of the Celtics’ success is due to the fact that they are paying their star player barely more than $6 million per year. Because of that, they have been able to build a much better team around him.

It remains unclear what route the Celtics will take in their future plans. Either way, it’s hard to see them not being a strong contender within the next few years. Whether they add a superstar to their team or build around their young players and picks, the future looks incredibly bright for the Boston Celtics.

 

Featured Image by USA Today

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Philadelphia 76ers 2017 NBA Draft

Philadelphia 76ers 2017 NBA Draft Profile

Day three of NBA Draftmas is here to trust the process. Philadelphia fans are itching for their team to become contenders. This year they take another step closer to becoming a playoff team.

Summary

Philadelphia 76ers 2017 NBA Draft

(Photo Credit: ohn Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports)

Philadelphia has not made the playoffs since 2012. Their overall record since then is 109-301. The future is beginning to look bright despite the recent failure. The 76ers improved their win total by 18 from last season, showing that the process is indeed working.

Not all signs are pointing in the right direction though. Last year’s first overall pick, Ben Simmons, did not play a single game due to injury. Their franchise center, Joel Embiid, also dealt with injuries. Embiid was looking like the hands down rookie of the year until he went down with a foot injury. This is his third major injury, and it is never a good sign when big men have multiple knee or foot injuries. If he can remain healthy, he is going to be a top-three big in the NBA.

The 76ers struggled offensively, averaging 102.4 points per game, which ranked 25th in the NBA. They shot 44.2 percent from the field and 34 percent from behind the arc. Those percentages ranked 27th and 25th, respectively. They also turned the ball over at an alarming rate with 16 per game, ranking dead last.

Defensively, the Sixers gave up 108.1 points per game. Opponents shot 46.1 percent against the Sixers. Philly needs to improve both offensively and defensively.

Like many teams drafting early, youth and inexperience plagued the 76ers. To develop into a playoff team, the talent inside the organization needs time on the court together. Simmons and Embiid must remain healthy for this team to start pushing for the playoffs. If they remain healthy and this year’s pick pans out, the 76ers should be geared to dominate the East relatively soon.

Picks & Needs

The 76ers have five picks in the draft, four of which are in the second round. This gives Philly wiggle room to possibly move up for a second first round pick.

First Round: No. 3 (via Sacramento)

Second Round: No. 36 (via New York), No. 39 (via Dallas), No. 46 (via Miami), No. 50 (via Atlanta)

The Sixers have a very solid frontcourt made up of Embiid, Jahlil Okafor and Dario Saric. Brett Brown has publicly stated that Simmons will play point guard. The Sixers still need a very reliable shooting guard who can get buckets.

They could also use some depth at the small forward position. Robert Covington is average at best and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot is still young and developing. It will be highly unlikely that the 76ers draft five players. One of their late second-round picks could be used on a foreign player who may stay overseas for a few seasons, but five rookies would be too much on an already extremely young team.

Targets & Thoughts

Philadelphia 76ers 2017 NBA Draft

(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Pick #3: Malik Monk, SG, Kentucky

The Sixers need scoring help from the guard position badly, and Malik Monk is a scoring machine. The SEC Player of the Year averaged 19.8 points per game in his freshman season at Kentucky. Monk shot 45 percent from the field and 39.7 percent from behind the arc.

Every now and then Monk would go off with impressive scoring games. Monk scored 47 against North Carolina, 34 at Ole Miss, 37 versus Georgia and 33 against Florida. He showed just how great of a scorer he is. At his age, he can develop into an ever better scorer in the NBA.

Pick #36: Jaron Blossomgame, SF, Clemson

Jaron Blossomgame is one of the oldest players in this draft. He will have maturity and experience that a lot of draftees won’t have. Blossomgame will be a solid scorer off the bench. He has nice length and size to be a quality NBA defender as well, but will need development in that area.

Pick #39: Frank Mason III, PG, Kansas

Frank Mason III could become one of the best backup point guards in the NBA. Mason has a natural ability to push the ball and creates quick offense. He isn’t afraid to attack the rim to get to the free throw line. Mason will be able to come in and play anywhere from 20 to 25 minutes per game and be a solid role player.

Pick #46: Alpha Kaba, PF, France

Alpha Kaba already has connections on the Sixers. Kaba played with current 76er Timothe-Luwawu-Cabarrot in France. Kaba is able to stretch the floor, something the Sixers could use from a big. Alpha Kaba would not come to the NBA this season and the Sixers could allow him to continue his development for a few seasons overseas.

Pick #50: Aleksandar Vezenkov, F, Bulgaria

Aleksandar Vezenkov is a raw European prospect who is capable of some good outside shooting. Philly will keep Vezenkov overseas until they need him. He has the talent to play in the NBA one day.

Conclusion

The Sixers have another top-three pick that will help them continue the process. Drafting Malik Monk would push the Sixers into playoff contention next season. It isn’t going out on a limb to say Philadelphia will be a seven or eight seed in the East next season. Getting to the playoffs would be the first step. They need that valuable playoff experience for their young core.

In the second round, the Sixers have four more picks that would allow them to be flexible in the draft. They will draft a few players who will stay overseas. Philadelphia is not far from contending for a championship and this draft will push them much closer.

Thanks for checking out the Philadelphia 76ers 2017 NBA Draft profile and tune in tomorrow for day four of NBA Draftmas to see what the Phoenix Suns are going to do.

Day 1 Draftmas: Boston Celtics

Day 2 Draftmas: Los Angeles Lakers

 

Featured Image by Fadeaway World

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“From Our Haus to Yours

So You Missed Smite

 

So You Missed Smite…

 

It’s happened. You missed smite. Maybe you smote too early, perhaps you still have it up and just didn’t use it altogether. What now?

 

Well, now it’s time to get typing. You need an alibi before your teammates flame you into oblivion. So, let’s get to it, with my handy list of useful excuses for missing smite. The following 10 excuses become exceedingly more ridiculous and impractical, so for your benefit, start with the basic excuses before mastering some of the more complex ones.

The most unfornate baron steal in all of competitive League of Legends. Courtesy of OGN

 

 

  1. “I lagged” – This classic excuse is a go to in my book, but the true master of this excuse uses a third party application in order to temporarily devour their bandwidth temporarily. Alt-tabbing and activating this program after you have missed smite, can increase your ping (latency), allowing you to then ping your ping to prove to your teammates how “laggy” you are. Need help temporarily increasing your ping? Try updating a game on Steam.
  2. “My cat/dog jumped me” – Another classic excuse utilized frequently by streamers and Bronzies alike. I enjoy taking this excuse to a different level by discussing my hypothetical cat’s medical history, creating sympathy amongst my comrades.
  3. “My mouse ran out of batteries” – Have a wired mouse? Your teammates don’t have to know. This classic excuse is bettered by an absence of movement following the missed smite. Try playing a few clicks of minesweeper, or booting up a game of Hearthstone in the meantime.
  4. “I was watching LCS” – This excuse works well when LCS is live, and even better when TSM is playing, but don’t let this stop you from claiming to watch rebroadcasts and VODs. This excuse is best when you throw in the matchup followed by a “No Spoilers please.”

    Saintvicious from his days on team Gravity. Courtesy of lolesports flickr

  5. “It was my turn in Hearthstone” – This optimal cover-up works even better if you tell your teammates how far you are on your Arena run. Remember that Hearthstone can be replaced by 3-D and even 4-D chess for maximum impact.
  6. “I’m practicing for my Saintvicious cosplay” – This strategy is best at higher elo, with players who have been around the competitive scene for quite some time.
  7. “Oh, I thought you were going to” – Bold, and precocious, this excuse transfers blame onto another player. I have yet to see this one work, however if you are playing with a Nasus, or any other stacking champion you can modify this one by saying you were letting them get stacks that they did not capitalize on.
  8. “Sorry fam, there was a (input natural disaster) making it hard to hit my smite” – This high-level excuse is as effective as it is well designed. Start with a whimsical opening in order to soften the blow of whatever natural disaster you choose to create. Remember, your goal is to balance comedy and tragedy here so keep it light, but also devastating.

    If they aren’t running out of batteries, they are running across something. Courtesy of miriadna.com

  9. “A mouse ran across my keyboard” – This excuse works best when you cast smite too early. Mice are scary, so your teammates may empathize with your situation. The challenjour rendition of this excuse can also be helpful, “ A keyboard ran across my mouse.”
  10. “I’m human” – This last ditch excuse will never work. Avoid at all costs. Admitting to being fallible is the first step towards your entire team sharpening their pitchforks and burning down your home. It’s just absolutely ridiculous that your teammates could accept that you are in fact a person prone to the imperfection of humanity.

 

Featured image Courtesy of Riot Games

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Quality of Life – UI Issues in Hearthstone (and how to fix them)

While Hearthstone prides itself on its impeccable UI experience, there are still significant areas for improvement.

Hearthstone has had its fair share of problems over the years. Class imbalance, overpowered cards, obnoxious combos and low-skill gameplay has all drawn complaints as the meta waxed and waned. However, there’s one thing that Hearthstone has done consistently and exceptionally; its fluid, intuitive and aesthetically pleasing User Interface. Everything is given believable weight; from the buttons on the menu “box” that press in slightly and click gently when you mouse over them, to the simple drag-and-drop subtly enhanced by each card’s slight physicality and inertia, to each menu’s barely noticeable bounce when it comes to a halt after popping out.

In addition to these innumerable small features, the overarching design of Hearthstone also complements this design philosophy. Simplicity and ease of use is key, with only a handful cards requiring more than two clicks to play. Moreover, the game can be played with mouse only, relies on easy-to-comprehend small numbers and is straightforward to navigate. All in all, the experience is one that flows naturally, and is as satisfying to use as it is effortless to understand.

With all that said, there’s always room for improvements. While Team 5 is going to be introducing a variety of new features to simplify and expand on deckbuilding, there are all kinds of little irks and irregularities that remain. Here’s what Blizzard needs to improve on to make the Hearthstone experience as satisfying as possible.

There’s Still an Exit Crash

The familiar sight of an ungraceful exit

This one’s been done to death, and a fix is on the way, but the sheer niggling awkwardness of the Exit Crash has to be acknowledged. For those unaware, when you exit the Hearthstone application on certain platforms, instead of a nice clean quit, the game will freeze. Eventually the game is shut down by the OS, after much time, frustration and clicking. While it may seem minor, it’s exactly the sort of thing that jars with the Hearthstone experience.

Bugs like this waste your time and makes the end of every Hearthstone session leave a sour taste in your mouth. It reminds me I’m launching a program instead of opening a magical box of wonder, and I would much rather not have that neat feeling shattered by useless errors. Stuff like this should be thoroughly weeded out in internal testing, and not allowed to release, let alone persist for over a month.

  • Solution: Fix bugs!

It’s Tedious to Watch the Opponent’s Mulligan

If you’re like me, you play Hearthstone with the attention span of a gnat. Alt and Tab are my two most pressed keys, as swapping windows while a particularly tardy Taunt Warrior decides whether or not to play his Direhorn on 5 is a welcome antidote to inter-turn frustration. However, precious seconds of procrastination are cruelly torn from myself and many other competitive minded players in the mulligan phase, as we are forced to watch the opponent like a hawk as they choose their starting hand. Look away for a second, and crucial information is lost. Against many decks, this can be the difference between victory and defeat, as knowing how many cards were kept can influence impactful decisions like playing into answers or gambling on a turn 2 Dirty Rat.

Third party hand-trackers are available, but the addition of ugly, superimposed status indicators is an affront to the otherwise clean Hearthstone UI. In order to prevent this tragedy and help new players to get a handle on their opponent’s capabilities, some kind of indicator as to which cards your foe kept in their mulligan would be a welcome addition.

  • Solution: Highlight kept Mulligan cards

Finding Cards Takes Too Long

Even with mana filtering, it can take more than 10 clicks to go from “Acolyte of Pain” to “Zoobot”

While this is being partially addressed with clipboard-related deck features, deckbuilding is still a chore. Finding cards is a tedious effort of swapping between seemingly endless pages of the collection manager. Being able to search helps, but forcing us to touch our keyboards like barbarians is unforgivable (especially if you are in the habit of misspelling cards or forgetting Old Gods apostrophes). The UI isn’t much better if you want to flip through directly. The pages turn fast, but if you’re looking to get to a specific card when you have a big collection, it seems agonisingly slow.

In order to help, a more responsive collection manager would go a long way to alleviate these heartrending woes. A way to favourite or tag cards to quickly access your most-used staples, and a faster flip-through rate when you’re going through large sections of the collection would speed things up immeasurably.

  • Solution: Faster flip-through, ability to tag or favourite cards

Event Log is Annoyingly Short

Key events can fly the mind easily. Those of us who play without a decktracker must rely on memory to recall the cards already spent from our opponent’s arsenal. There is one UI feature to aid us however; the Event Log. Situated on the left hand side of the gameboard, the Event Log is a handy visual guide to the preceding events of the past turn or two. However, despite its handiness and neat visual design, it remains painfully limited in the amount of actions it can remember. In eventful turns, its easy to miss vital information like fatigue damage, deceased minions and played spells if your attention or memory lapses.

The easiest way to fix this would be simply to add a small scrollbar. That way, the Event Log could track exponentially more information. This scrollbar could even appear when moused over only, meaning it wouldn’t even make the gameplay experience any visually busier except when needed.

  • Solution: Add a scrollbar

Disconnects are Jarring and Unintuitive

Nothing worse when you’re winning a close game. The UI only exacerbates the frustration 

Disconnects feel horrible in Hearthstone. Even temporary issues with slow or down internet have an immediate impact on the UI itself, leading to sluggish interaction and stop-start gameplay. While some of this is unavoidable, not being able to interact with cards suddenly and without warning is a painful disconnect. To make things worse, each disconnect comes with the risk that you’ll be disconnected fully from the servers and have to manually reconnect. You tried to manually reconnect too soon? Too bad, now you’ll have to wait 60 seconds, in which time you’ll almost certainly lose that Arena game at 6-2.

Disconnects should be communicated with more than simple sudden unresponsiveness. A subtle loading symbol in a corner would do to indicate issues, and making the unexpected inability to click things less of an instinctive shock. Moreover, the reconnect system could do with an overhaul to punish temporary disconnects less harshly; or at least make it feel less frustrating to watch the 60 seconds slowly tick down.

  • Solution: Indication of connection issues, better reconnect system

 

While all of this may seem petty and nitpicky (which it is) – remember that Hearthstone became great on the back of sweating the small stuff, and by crafting a pleasing overall experience. The minor quibbles of ungrateful users such as myself matters more than you might expect. The road to a great UI is built on the back of fixing a million minor complaints.

 

Title image courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com. Original Artwork by Lucio Parrillo.

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Best NFL Prospects in College Football 2017: Tight Ends

As of now, there aren’t many great tight end prospects for the 2018 NFL Draft. A lot of prospects will be looking to weed themselves out from the rest of the pack this season and get drafted early. Here are the top prospects heading into the 2017 college football season:

Troy Fumagalli, Wisonsin

Fumagalli has been a step above anyone else in this tight end class so far and is the favorite to be the first one taken in the 2018 NFL Draft. He has great measurables at 6’6″ and 248 pounds.

In 2016, Fumagalli capped off a solid season with an outstanding performance in the Cotton Bowl. His performance against Western Michigan in that game had plenty of highlight catches. He finished the season with 580 receiving yards and two touchdowns, but those are impressive numbers considering the type of offense Wisconsin runs and the lack of great quarterback play he had.

Paul Chryst has mentioned that Fumagali has developed as a blocker, but he still needs to improve if he wants to be a good all-round prospect for NFL Teams to draft.

Wisconsin will play a few teams that give Fumagalli a chance to against good competition. The Badgers play BYU, Northwestern, Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota.

DeAndre Goolsby, Florida

DeAndre Goolsby NFL

DeAndre Goolsby (Photo by: gatorcountry.com)

In the 2014 recruiting class, Goolsby was just a three star recruit, but has flashed good receiving potential and moved his way up the tight end ranks. He is a bit smaller than Fumagalli at 6’4″ and 244 pounds, but could end up being a better receiving threat.

Goolsby doesn’t have great numbers, but the quarterback play at Florida has been atrocious. He still has managed to put up 619 receiving yards and four touchdowns the last two years. His best game of last season came in the SEC Championship Game against Alabama, where he finished with 91 yards receiving and a touchdown on seven catches. Because quarterback play is so bad, he has to make the most of every catch-able throw that comes his way this season.

Like Fumagalli, and most tight ends coming out of college, Goolsby has to become a better blocker. If he wants his stock to improve he needs to produce more, even with poor quarterback play.

Florida plays some good defenses this season. Goolsby will have a chance to show off his talent against Michigan, Tennessee, LSU, Texas A&M, Georgia and Florida State.

Cam Serigne, Wake Forest

Cam Serigne NFL

Cam Serigne (Photo by: zimbio.com)

A lot of casual fans won’t know who Serigne is because he plays for Wake Forest, but he can play. He doesn’t have great height at 6’3″, but does create separation and produces.

Over his first three years at Wake Forest Serigne has totaled 1,519 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. He too has to put up with sub-par quarterback play, making his stats more impressive. In the bowl game against Temple, Serigne had three catches for 68 yards and a touchdown. That was the best performance of the year for the junior tight end.

Over seasons Serigne has solid stats, but he does need to be more consistent. He also needs to prove he can block despite likely having shorter arms than most tight ends in the class.

Serigne will be on the big stage for scouts when the Demon Deacons play Florida State, Clemson, Louisville and Notre Dame this season.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

U.S. World Cup

Predicting The United States’ 2018 World Cup Squad

With the deadline to submit the 23-man roster for next summer’s World Cup a year from this week, the picture is getting clearer of who will be representing the red, white and blue in Russia.

Goalkeepers

United States 2018 World Cup

With lack of better options, Bruce Arena could call on Tim Howard to start in Russia. (Photo by Robinson Athletic News)

The unfortunate reality for manager Bruce Arena in 2018 is that long-time goalkeeper Tim Howard will be 39 years old. Howard single-handedly pushed the U.S. into extra time against Belgium in 2014 with a 16-save performance. However, a move back to the MLS and a recent injury may take its toll on Howard.

The even more unfortunate reality for Arena is that he may not have a better option than the aging Howard. Longtime backup Brad Guzan will be 33, but he has looked awful when appearing for relegated Middlesbrough this season.

Bill Hamid of D.C United will be 27 and in his prime, but he lacks the overall ability of Howard. 21-year-old Ethan Horvath could also push himself into consideration with a strong 2017-18 season for Club Brugge in Belgium.

Prediction: 

Despite his age, Howard will likely still be Arena’s best option, and his past experience will be invaluable. Guzan, while uninspiring to say the least, also has major tournament experience. Finally, expect Arena to look towards 2022 a bit by rounding out his selection of goalkeepers with the young Horvath, who looks like the early favorite to be between the sticks in Qatar.

 

Defenders

The likely center back pairing for the Yanks in Russia will be John Brooks of Hertha Berlin and Geoff Cameron of Stoke City. Brooks is arguably America’s best player and has proven himself to be a stalwart at the back for a side that qualified for Europa League this season. Cameron is very experienced and plays in the most competitive league in the world on a weekly basis.

United States 2018 World Cup

John Brooks burst onto the scene in Brazil 2014 with his decisive goal vs Ghana. (GIF/Photo by Complex)

Two established USMNT center halves could be backing them up in Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler. Both were featured in Brazil 2014. However, the fact that they don’t play in Europe could hurt their chances to start.

A pair of young guns could also make a push for a backup role as Walker Zimmerman of FC Dallas and Cameron Carter-Vickers of Tottenham Hotspur are showing promise.

At the right back position, DeAndre Yedlin’s quaity play at Newcastle Utd has him as a shoo-in for that role barring an injury. At left back, there is quite a large question mark.

DaMarcus Beasley will be 36 and hard pressed to make his fifth World Cup squad. Jorge Villafana of Santos Laguna in Mexico seems to be Arena’s preferred replacement. However, the new manager could bring Fabian Johnson back from midfield to play full back as Jurgen Klinsmann did in 2014.

Prediction 

Brooks, Cameron and Yedlin all appear to be locks to make the squad. Expect Arena to take one experienced center back and one younger one. Gonzalez and Carter-Vickers appear to have the higher upside, so we’ll go with them. Villafana should make the squad barring a drop in form and Timmy Chandler of Eintracht Frankfurt is too good of a player to leave out of the squad at right back.

 

Midfielders

The American midfield is full of both proven and unproven commodities. Among the proven is captain Michael Bradley, who is set to appear in his third World Cup next summer. The Toronto FC man may be the most experienced player on the squad if Howard, Beasley and Clint Dempsey miss out.

United States 2018 World Cup

18-year-old Christian Pulisic is arguably the most talented player the USMNT has ever seen. (Photo by Deadspin)

The aforementioned Fabian Johnson of Borussia Monchengladbach will also be in the squad either as a midfielder or a defender. Alejandro Bedoya played with Johnson in Brazil and has the ability and experience to push for a starting spot in Russia.

On the other end of the spectrum is the unproven, but massively talented 18-year-old Borussia Dortmund phenom Christian Pulisic. Pulisic has already shined for the USMNT, but is yet to appear on the massive stage that is the World Cup.

Other young midfielders who could potentially make the squad are Kellyn Acosta of FC Dallas and Lynden Gooch of Sunderland. Both 21, Acosta has the potential to be one of the best defensive midfielders to ever play for the USMNT. Gooch is a very promising attacking, creative midfielder, who could take a big step next season playing in the Championship with Sunderland.

Prediction 

While there are a few locks (Bradley, Pulisic, Johnson), the midfield is still looking very unclear for next summer. Assuming Acosta and Gooch continue to progress, they should be there. Bedoya provides experience that younger players will look to and that will help his case.

Finally, Arena should look to two wild cards in Darlington Nagbe and Julian Green. Both players have shown flashes of brilliance, but have also struggled with inconsistency. However, in a short one-month tournament, it’s worth the gamble to hope one of them hits top form in Russia.

 

Forwards

United States 2018 World Cup

Clint Dempsey will be hoping to lead the USA at the World Cup for a fourth time in 2018. (Photo by Daily Mail)

Forward is perhaps the easiest position group for Arena to pick out of. The major question will be whether Clint Dempsey will be in fit enough to make his fourth World Cup appearance at age 35. Dempsey, who is one goal away from matching Landon Donovan’s USMNT record 57 career goals, can still be a major contributor if playing well and used right.

Injuries have plagued Jozy Altidore at major tournaments in the past, but the 27-year-old will be in his prime in Russia. Big things will be expected from the Toronto FC striker, who most agree is the American’s best scorer at this point in time.

Two other talented strikers look set to make their World Cup debuts as Jordan Morris of Seattle Sounders and Bobby Wood of Hamburg have enjoyed breakout seasons. Both are potential talismen for the U.S. at future World Cups, and Arena will want to expose them to the big stage.

Prediction 

Dempsey always seems to find a way to defy the odds, especially when he is representing his country. The Sounders striker will make his record-tying fourth World Cup appearance. Altidore, Wood and Morris all seem like pretty sure things.

Each World Cup, one pick always seems to surprise and that pick will be Josh Perez in 2018. The Fiorentina winger made his debut for the Italian club at the age of 18. He will be 20 next season and a strong 2017-18 would certainly put him on Arena’s radar.

 

Full Squad: Howard, Guzan, Horvath, Brooks, Cameron, Gonzalez, Carter-Vickers, Yedlin, Chandler, Villafana, Bradley, Pulisic, Johnson, Bedoya, Gooch, Acosta, Nagbe, Green, Dempsey, Altidore, Wood, Morris, Perez

 

Featured Image by Unrealitymag

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Is P.K. Subban skating towards the NHL Hall of Fame?

It is the first time P.K. Subban was at this point. After seven missed opportunities and two misses in the conference finals, he heads to the Stanley Cup Final. But even when Subban’s Nashville Predators dispatched the Anaheim Ducks 6-3 on Monday night, he knew exactly what to do at the postgame ceremony.

Don’t touch the Campbell Bowl.

That’s the superstition for a conference finals winner. There’s no celebration for reaching the end when there’s a better trophy to hoist. Nonetheless, Subban has his first shot at holding up the ultimate trophy: Lord Stanley’s Cup.

As Subban climbs the ladder to the hockey pinnacle, how is his progress towards becoming an NHL great? Is he on the path to the Hall of Fame, and will a Stanley Cup put him in the discussion?

The Pros for P.K. Subban

It’s easy to analyze Subban’s body of work from a statistical standpoint to start. He’s a four-time All-Star who won the Norris Trophy back in 2013. Multiple aspects of a defenseman’s game judge Norris winners, one of them being scoring.

Subban brings that to the table. Since his first full season in the NHL back in 2010, Subban’s 316 points are the sixth-most for a defenseman in that span. He’s also done well on the power play with 143 total points in his career.

Other statistics also jump out on his resumé. His 576 penalty minutes are third-most amongst his blue line colleagues in the last seven seasons. The advanced metrics across are also favorable. In his career, his Corsi and Fenwick ratings are 52.5 and 52.4 percent, respectively, meaning his team controls the puck more when he’s on the ice.

Entering this season, his offensive zone starts and finishes were virtually even around 53 percent. Therefore, his teams did not cede possession while in the offensive zone much during his ice time. In short, he does well in moving and keeping the puck for his team.

P.K. Subban Hall of Fame

P.K. Subban has charged up the Predators fanbase. Photo courtesy of NHL.com.

This may not be as important to his case as his play, but it still holds value: he’s a talented and well-liked person. He’s come in to a new atmosphere and brought excitement to the Predators franchise. He’s embraced his new home with acts of community service and is a solid presence in the locker room.

It won’t stand for much when it comes down to voting, but it spotlights his character and his play instead of detracting from it.

The Cons for P.K. Subban

Subban has done well in his time in the NHL, but anointing him into the Hall of Fame may be premature. For starters, he’s only 27 years old. There is still plenty that could happen in the rest of his career, be it injuries or decline in play. Other factors include varying statistics in other categories and the competition playing around him.

Hits, blocks and takeaways have been measured for a defenseman’s effectiveness for a while, even though the categories do not tell the entire story. Even so, they have merit as to the type of player one is.

Subban’s marks in these categories have ranged from inconsistent to uninspiring. In the 2014-15 campaign, Subban had 142 blocked shots. Yet in the season after, he finished with just 80.

His 135 hits in 2013-14 are a career-high, but he ended with just 78 in Nashville this year.

He had 183 takeaways in his career, but that hardly stands up against other defensemen. All of these statistics are mutually exclusive, and the defensive system can alter them as well. The question is if the variance will hurt his chances.

P.K. Subban Hall of Fame

Back in his Montreal days, P.K. Subban squared off against Erik Karlsson often, Photo by John Mahoney, The Montreal Gazette.

Not only do some stats falter in comparison, but other players excel at his strengths, too. Subban has only reached the top 3 in Norris voting twice out of seven seasons. In that span, other players such as Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns have more points and ice time.

Karlsson is an excellent skater while Burns has a fearsome shot. With players that do better in similar areas, Subban’s place amongst the premier defensemen is not as clear.

How does P.K. Subban get there?

P.K. Subban is a talented player. Overall, he had a fine season for Nashville and is now leading them into the Stanley Cup Final. Great players always have more incentive to get into the Hall of Fame with a title.

If Subban takes the Music City to the top, it’ll boost his chances. Karlsson and Burns have yet to win the Cup.

As for his play on the ice, his value comes from his puck handling and his ability to score. Looking at the recent defensemen inducted into the Hall of Fame, Subban has work to do. Scott Niedermayer, elected in 2013, had 838 total points in 18 seasons. Subban has 358 in eight years, and he averages more points per game than Niedermayer.

At the same time, he doesn’t produce as much as Nicklas Lidstrom did in his career. Other players like Chris Pronger excelled in other areas such as PIM. Chris Chelios played 28 seasons and his incomparable to most defensemen.

As it stands, Subban would probably need around seven to nine more seasons of high-quality performances. Regression is expected at some point, but Subban has the potential. Hoisting the cup with Nashville is just one step, but it goes a long way.

 

Stats via Hockey Reference, Puckalytics and Behind the Net. Feature image courtesy of SportsNet.ca

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Best NFL Prospects in College Football 2017: Wide Receivers

Wide receiver was a position that was highly sought after in the 2017 NFL Draft, but there are some good players in the upcoming class too. Here are guys who will be at the top of draft boards at the wide receiver position come next April:

Deon Cain, Clemson

Deon Cain (Photo by: zimbio.com)

Cain has been overshadowed by all of the great Clemson receivers of the past few years, but it is now his time to shine. Mike Williams and Artavis Scott are gone and Cain will be the primary outside receiver for the Tigers.

Last season Cain had 724 receiving yards and nine touchdowns, but will likely see that increase when he is the primary target this season. He will have to deal with an unproven quarterback this season, but his talent should show through no matter who the starting quarterback ends up being. At 6′ 1″ tall and 210 pounds Cain has good size, but will likely not be taken until the second round.

Cain has flashed potential, but he needs to have a solid and consistent season of production to prove he is worth of an early pick. The big games for Cain to prove himself are: Auburn, Louisville, Virginia Tech and Florida State.

Christian Kirk, Texas A&M

The favorite to be the first wide receiver taken in the 2018 NFL Draft is Christian Kirk. He has dealt with a lot of different quarterbacks during his time at Texas A&M and will have to again this season.

With Trevor Knight completing around 50% of his passes, Kirk still put up good numbers last season. He had 928 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. One of his biggest things he needs to work on is consistency, but that is partially on the quarterback. He’s 5’11”, which isn’t great, but he uses his athleticism well, making him capable of playing on the outside.

Kirk is looking to maintain his draft stock going into this season. The Aggies will play some big games this season to allow Kirk to show off his skills. They play UCLA, Alabama, Florida, Auburn and LSU.

Calvin Ridley, Alabama

Ridley is also in contention to be the first wide receiver taken in the 2018 NFL Draft. He has been a key on Alabama’s offense, even though they run the ball a lot, with 161 catches in two years.

In 2016, Ridley caught 72 passes for 769 yards and seven touchdowns with freshman Jalen Hurts as his quarterback. Hurts is not known as a thrower and Ridley will likely be catching passes from him this season. His best game last season was against Kentucky, when he caught 11 passes for 174 yards and two scores. He creates great separation and has good speed, but like other receivers in this class, needs more consistency.

Ridley will be going up against some good secondaries this season and doing well in these games could push him to the top of draft boards at the wide receiver position. The Crimson Tide play Florida State, Texas A&M, Tennessee, LSU and Auburn, which gives Ridley some great competition to go against.

Equanimeous St. Brown, Notre Dame

Equanimeous St. Brown (Photo by: usatoday.com)

St. Brown isn’t on a lot of peoples’ radars, but he should be. He only played a little bit his freshman season, but came on strong last year.

He finished the 2016 season with 961 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. St. Brown has great size for an outside receiver, but needs to add some strength to his 6’4″ frame. He adds a big play threat and averaged 16.6 yards per reception. He will have a new quarterback to work with this season, but should be able to have a solid season.With another year of good production, his size and big play ability will entice an NFL team to take him early in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Notre Dame is always on television, which will give him the most chances to be seen by NFL executives. The Fighting Irish will play Georgia, North Carolina, USC, Miami and Stanford, which all give St. Brown some top level competition to play against.

Courtland Sutton, SMU

Sutton is another receiver that, had he come out for the 2017 NFL Draft, would have been selected early. He has an interesting story and started his career at SMU as a defensive back before emerging as a great receiving threat.

Like St. Brown, Sutton has great size which entices NFL minds. He’s 6’4″ and 215 pounds and has dominated his competition in the AAC. He totaled 1,246 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns in 2016 and saw his draft stock rise continually throughout the year. His redshirt junior year promises to be one filled with good stats and success.

SMU doesn’t have the luxury of playing too many great defenses so Sutton will need to make the most of his chances in 2017. The Mustangs play TCU, Cincinnati, Houston and Memphis.

James Washington, Oklahoma State

James Washington (Photo by: tulsaworld.com)

While everyone else on this list are dealing with some sort of quarterback issue, Washington doesn’t have to worry about that. His partner in crime Mason Rudolph decided to come back to school and they should both put up great numbers this season.

Washington has gotten better every season he has been in Stillwater. Last season he had 1,380 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. His most notable game from 2016 was against Pittsburgh. He finished that game with 296 receiving yards and two touchdowns on nine receptions.

The dynamic duo will have a few opportunities to prove themselves against good competition this season with games against Pittsburgh, TCU, Oklahoma and Texas.

 

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Best NFL Prospects in College Football 2017: Running Backs

Running backs are a position that aren’t usually highly sought after in the NFL Draft, but in the 2017 NFL Draft eight were selected in the first three rounds. This upcoming class may not have as many stars as last year, but there are still some good NFL prospects who will be rushing through college defenses this fall.

Saquon Barkley, Penn State

There is a lot of hype around Penn State after last year’s great run to the Rose Bowl and it is in large part thanks to their best player, Saquon Barkley.

Barkley rushed for 1,496 yards in the Nittany Lions’ 14 games last season. He had a nose for the end zone as he scored 18 touchdowns on the ground. Not only did he do damage as a rusher, but also did well as a receiver, finishing the season with 402 yards receiving and four touchdowns.

He put up an impressive performance in the Rose Bowl and will look to carry that momentum into this upcoming season. Barkley has games against Pitt, Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio State and Michigan to help increase his stock. He is an early front-runner to be the first running back selected in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Nick Chubb, Georgia

Nick Chubb (Photo by: macon.com)

Georgia seemingly always reloads at the running back position. Chubb is now a senior after an up and down career because of a major injury in 2015 against Tennessee. When healthy and 100%, Chubb is a dynamic playmaker. He played all 13 games last season and is looking to have an improved senior season to get his draft stock up.

Last season was Chubb’s worst in terms of yards per carry, as he finished with just 5.0 after having years of 7.1 and 8.1 in the previous two seasons. He still finished with 1,130 rushing yards to bring his career total up to 3,424. He isn’t a threat as a receiver, but when Jacob Eason hands him the rock this season, watch out.

The Bulldogs are trying to regain SEC East supremacy this season under Kirby Smart. Chubb has a chance to lead them to these heights and improve his draft stock. The key games for Chubb to show it all to NFL scouts are: at Notre Dame, at Tennessee, vs. Florida, at Auburn and at Georgia Tech.

Royce Freeman, Oregon

Freeman could have easily declared for the 2017 NFL Draft and been selected in the top three rounds. He dealt with knee injuries last year and is looking to have a healthy season in 2017.

The stats for Freeman are eye-popping with 4,148 rushing yards and 44 rushing touchdowns in his career. He has added 650 receiving yards and four receiving touchdowns. Last year was his worst in terms of production, but that was due to his injury.

Oregon is under new leadership in Willie Taggart, who will be looking to keep up the numbers of a traditionally good offense. Freeman will be the key in this and will have these key games to impress NFL Scouts: Nebraska, Stanford, UCLA, Utah and Washington.

Derrius Guice, LSU

Derrius Guice (Photo by: theadvocate.com)

Last year Leonard Fournette was injured and couldn’t play in every game, but this let the world see the potential that Guice had. He filled in well and is looking to have a great season as a featured back.

In his limited time behind Fournette, Guice finished with 1,387 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns on 7.6 yards per carry. His best game of last season was at Texas A&M, where he rushed for 285 yards and four touchdowns. He has a great combination of power, speed and vision that he used to his advantage and will continue to do so.

Teams will likely stack the box against Guice, with no quarterback threat on LSU’s roster. The Tigers will play big games against BYU, Florida, Auburn, Alabama, Texas A&M and Tennessee.

 

Bo Scarbrough, Alabama

Alabama split carries between multiple running backs, but Scarbrough came on late in the season to have some big games. He is a big physical runner, who looks like he is in the weight room 24/7.

His best performance was an 180 yard game against Washington. He finished the season with 812 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. Scarbrough will likely continue to share carries with a loaded Alabama backfield. His vision as a runner has to improve if he wants to play in the NFL, as he can’t run over NFL level talent.

The Crimson Tide have plenty of big games this season for Scarbrough to prove he is more consistent. Alabama plays Florida State, Texas A&M, Tennessee, LSU and Auburn. Against these good teams and some top level defenses, Scarbrough will get his chance to prove he is a good NFL Draft prospect.

 

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