Posts Tagged ‘Barclay Premier League’

The major moves in college conference re-alignment – save for B1G divisions – seem to be settling, but one which has been foreseen for some time looks to finally be coming to fruition.

PantherU.com‘s Jimmy Lemke is reporting that multiple sources have confirmed that Oakland University will indeed be leaving the Summit League for the Horizon League, and a move is expected to be announced in the coming weeks.

My thoughts on what it means for the various parties involved:

Oakland: Alumni and fans of the Golden Grizzlies will almost unanimously consider this a win-win situation. The Summit League has proved to be, in theory, a feeder system, and teams that migrate (save for Oral Roberts) have ended up for a majority in the Horizon when they’ve left, dating back to the Summit’s days when known as the Mid-Continent Conference. Now Oakland will realize a similar fate, set to gain as much as any of the others who paved the way. As far as the other prevalent OU sports? Swimming and diving should maintain its dominance. Men’s and women’s soccer also figure to be just as competitive (Oakland had the highest RPI of any Summit team on both sides last season).

Travis Bader will likely transition Oakland in its last year of Summit League competition, with the potential to break NCAA records in the process.

As far as basketball, though the Summit has been strong on the top half, conference RPI has been considerably stronger on the women’s side for the Horizon League in comparison. Women’s head coach Beckie Francis returns a very talented squad next year, though, led by Bethany Watterworth returning from injury to join a young, balanced squad. They figure to compete at the top of the conference, and that young group will be present to make the transition. On the men’s side, the larger talking point will be the much-anticipated rivalry with the Detroit Titans. Along with that comes a boost in recruiting (Chicago will be a new potential area to pursue) and some more battles for recruits with UD.

Horizon: It’s been no secret that the conference has been flirting with the idea of adding Oakland for some time now. No one will confuse the Golden Grizzlies with the unparalleled success that Butler had in the league, but adding another perennial contender is what the Horizon needed from a ninth team. Oakland’s location makes complete sense, and the O’Rena is a fine place to play despite having a smaller capacity than most Horizon arenas. Might the conference expand to as many as 12 members? Where would they find others? Well...

Summit: The obvious loser in this scenario. Coupled with North and South Dakota State, Oakland has been a staple of the forerunners within the league. Travel distance aside, the Summit might have looked the better conference for the long run had Oral Roberts not left the stable for closer pastures, if not greener in the Southland Conference. Adding Denver, which figures to be a strong program next year, was a good move but didn’t tighten the footprint of the league. Will the bleeding stop at Oakland, though? If the Horizon is still looking for other strong programs to add, my first recommendations would be the aforementioned NDSU and SDSU. For a conference that has been taking steps in the right direction in spite of the departed, that would be a death knoll for respectability, if nothing else.

More on all this in the coming days, or weeks.

 

This weekend was in no short supply as fights were concerned. Boxing action was great, and it was all day: Amir Khan was mostly defenseless, if not again thrilling in a close victory, and on the undercard, America’s most promising heavyweight in Deontay Wilder scored another victory and seems close to facing a top 10 opponent, perhaps next. Sergio Martinez and Martin Murray’s tilt in Argentina (at a soccer stadium, in the rain) was not without theatrics, and the other major bouts of the weekend, including Garcia-Judah and a fantastic fight between ESPN’s fourth-ranked heavyweight Cristobal Arreola and Bermane Stiverne, did nothing to disappoint.

Just as much, if not more talk, though, will rest on UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones and his quick, but costly defense of the title Saturday night against Chael P. Sonnen. Jones got Sonnen to the ground at the end of the first round and started quickly turning the former middleweight challenger’s face into putty, and not long after an official stoppage put an end to the carnage. But it could have been a disastrous ending, as Jones suffered a broken left toe, and if the fight had reached the conclusion of Round 1, there’s a good chance it’d of been waived off and Sonnen would have been unfittingly deemed the victor.

I endorse the views of Josh Gross on the fight in terms of competition for Jones. Ultimately, Daniel Cormier makes a lot of sense if he chooses to abandon his quest for the heavyweight strap. As the best prospect in the offing that I can see, giving Alexander Gustafsson one more top-tier test would be best in the interest of marketing and competition. What or when’s next for Jones? Dana White has publicly stated that FOX Sports 1, the network’s new flagship channel to rival ESPN, will feature a PPV-caliber bout and a stacked card. With the broken toe, it might be just a bit too short of turnaround time, but September or October isn’t out of the question.

As for the rest of the card? Meh, mostly. The most notable results were Michael Bisping staying very active in a nice victory over a largely lethargic Alan Belcher. Roy Nelson did score a quick, thrilling victory over Cheick Kongo, and puts himself in the thick of the heavyweight title picture yet again. Sara McMann, a former Olympic medalist in freestyle wrestling, also put herself on the radar of Ronda Rousey with a dominating victory in her UFC debut. Overall, UFC 159 gets a B-/B

Some other thoughts on the weekend:

  • Not good news for the NBA. First Kobe Bryant, a blessing for ratings annually, gets removed from the picture. Then the perception of a real challenger to Miami’s crown takes an irreparable blow as Russell Westbrook gets ruled out of the entire NBA Playoffs. Though I’ve never been one to right off the regular season (particularly the past few seasons), April and beyond has always been prime time for the NBA. I’m not buying the Spurs’ chances to de-throne Miami, so the best hope rests on the Knicks to shoot out of their bloody minds for handful of games. Either way, it’s not quite the ideal situation.
  • It looks like the intrigue of the Premier League and the fight for Champions League spots next season could boil down to Relegation Sunday (May 19). After Tottenham was fortunate (read: Gareth Bale got this goal, and the Spurs’ other was a Wigan own goal) to get a tie, eyes were mostly on Arsenal-Manchester United at the Emirates on Sunday. While not as wildly entertaining as others when the two fought for a share of Premier League title spoils, it was quite spacious. Theo Walcott struck early, and Bacari Sagna gifted a penalty to Manchester United at the end of the first 45′ when he took down Robin Van Judas  Persie, who converted the penalty kick and gave the game its eventual final tally of 1-1. Eyes will turn next to Manchester United and third place Chelsea, who do battle at Old Trafford next weekend.
  • Good grades coming in for the Lions’ drafting over the weekend. Save for the thoughts on the punter choice (some may have taken greater issue with the individual punter taken, not necessarily drafting one), the majority of the team’s needs were addressed in a draft that saw lots of value being had for a number of teams. The usual teams (Niners, Packers, Ravens) notorious for drafting well seemed to do more of the same, too. Though I felt they did a middle-of-pack job, this might have been the first time in a number of years I felt better about the Lions’ drafting than my Chiefs.

In honor of the return of several of television’s best shows, you’re probably enjoying the new seasons of “Game of Thrones” and “Mad Men,” and the final ones of “Breaking Bad” and “Dexter” this summer. For those fishing for some other favorites, here’s my Starting Five other best TV shows you might not be watching.

  1. Orphan Black – BBC America’s new drama has one of the best pilot episodes of the past few years I can remember.
  2. Archer – Just finished its fifth season on FX, and now has to be considered one of the top five animated shows ever. Often equally funny and offensive.
  3. The Americans – Another new series that’s growing the FX original brand even in its infancy.
  4. House of Cards – The Netflix original made for binge-style watching is worth the time, however you choose to indulge.
  5. Top of the Lake – Don’t watch the Sundance Channel? Me either, until now. For added incentive, it stars Elizabeth Moss, who plays Peggy Olsen on “Mad Men.”
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Let’s just divide the camps right away.

Those who had a good weekend: Michigan, Gonzaga, Tottenham, Ryan Kelly, the undersized (Mark Hunt), the old guard (Wanderlei Silva), vikings, restless Walking Dead fans. And Joe Flacco’s agent. Especially him.

You might still have a hangover if you care for the following: Arizona, Arsenal, Michigan State, Conference USA (sorry) and I know I mentioned Sparty, but Keith Appling.

Are we going over the cliff here with Michigan State’s pseudo-point guard? The Pershing product was the catalyst for State’s victory over Kansas in the early season, and he surely wasn’t to blame for their close loss to then-unranked Miami. This reason stretch though, it’s fair to say that he’s been somewhat out of form.

Consider over the last five games his numbers: 12-for-48 FGs (25 percent), 2-for-22 3FGs (nine percent), 19-for-28 FTs (68 percent), 13 assists, 14 turnovers (0.9 A/T ratio).

Basically, Appling needs to find his feet. And this happens, doesn’t it? Just a month ago Kansas head coach Bill Self essentially threw guard Elijah Johnson under the bus while the Jayhawks’ collective fan base threw it in reverse. Since, Johnson has had a 2-to-1 A/T ratio in his last five and combined with officials to give KU a spectacular win over Iowa State. This is a season where bad stretches are forgotten like last week’s No. 1 team in the AP poll. Let’s not forget Appling’s basketball DNA, though. It’s no secret that he’s undersized to play the off-guard but is going to give you headaches if you have aspirations of him fitting into the mold of running an elite team at the point. Denzel Washington Valentine was muted on Sunday, but you may remember he was actually quite effective playing the point in stretches when State tamed the Wolverines in East Lansing. Appling and Travis Trice both return next year, but for a player with such great IQ on the floor, it’s worth wondering if Tom Izzo should give him some run at the point more in the future.

Other thoughts on the game? Not all blame should be placed on Appling, as Derrick Nix was less than spectacular. Penn State and late game-fadeaway 3s aside, Trey Burke seems under-appreciated at times. If I could promise Burke he’d go unscathed through his senior year, I’d absolutely advise him to return and coax back anyone else with aspirations of departing. Ingrain yourself into the history of the program. I know he’s going to make money with that rookie contract, I just wonder with his size how good Burke can be at the next level.

Along with Burke, incredible set of performances by some of the best in the sport this weekend: The MC2 (McDermott, McLemore), Welcome Back Kelly, and Otto Porter Jr. Attention, Joe Dumars: You’ve emptied out the small forward position at this team of any future starters. You need one. This guy would fit pretty darn good. If things went chalk today, Detroit would pick No. 9 in the NBA Draft. Unless Porter utterly falls off the wagon for the rest of March, I can’t imagine Porter will last until then. He’s not going to be a star but I think he’s a long-term starter in the league, and a perfect compliment to that team.

Lots of other quick hits:

  • Qatar, minority owner, United Arab Emirates, anyone: I’m all for FIFA’s Fair Play, but what a rough go it is being an Arsenal fan this year, and that’s not to speak of Sunday’s defeat in the North London Derby at WHL. This squad needs saving and an opening of the pocket book for some help this summer, as until the Manchester City-types decide to adopt to a more-reasonable spending model, the second-tier of great teams will even be left behind. Can Gareth Bale carry Tottenham to glory for another two months of Premier League action? Fair to wonder now if he’s been the best player of the season, let alone February. He’s becoming a “Price of Admission” athlete in the sport, much like Neymar and Ronaldo and such. 
  • More on Oakland at a later date, but a disappointing end to them for the regular season being swept by Fort Wayne. Not often will Travis Bader shoot so poorly from outside, but time to acknowledge the ‘Dons as a legit sleeper as Sioux Falls looms this weekend. Big ups to Western Illinois, also. I’ll probably have a Summit-only piece coming up in a few days.
  • Speaking of bad, a real mixed bag in the weekend of combat sports. Boxing? Flat-out thumbs down. Evgeny Gradovich upset IBF Featherweight champ Billy Dib, but not even 50 Cent could save it from being an atrocity. The scoring of a split decision would only be an ominous foreshadowing of scoring to come for Saturday’s UFC on Fuel set in Japan, where some cards from judges were unforgettable in the worst way, but none more mind-numbing than Diego Sanchez’s split-decision victory over Takanori Gomi. Oh, by the way, Sanchez missed weight for the fight as well, leading to it being fought at a catch of 158 lbs. Thankfully, those who stayed awake were rewarded by highlight finishes in the last two fights from Mark Hunt and the legend Wanderlei Silva. Where each of them goes next will be interesting in terms of matchmaking from the UFC brass.

    Many casual fans joked of the height discrepancy between Mark Hunt and Steven Struve prior to their bout Saturday in Japan, until Hunt proved to be a giant killer late in the fight.

  • No one’s made more NFL noise lately as of Monday afternoon than the Chiefs, who are retaining the services of WR Dwayne Bowe and P Dustin Colquitt, and at least in the short term T Brandon Albert, who was tagged in hopes of a longer deal being inked. It means that with the addition of QB Alex Smith, the team should again become, one would assume, one of the most-improved teams in the off-season. I expect in terms of wins and losses, they should join the Lions as two teams who you’d expect to make a push in the right direction again in 2013. How will re-signing Albert effect the two teams? Well, it could open the door for the Chiefs front office to consider Lions’ target CB Dee Milliner with the No. 1 pick instead of someone like LT Luke Joeckel, but I think trading down now becomes a very enticing option. I mentioned on Twitter that doing so and still weighing the prospect of drafting QB Geno Smith if the price is right has to still be in the cards.
  • Some non-sports banter: This week’s The Walking Dead episode was a real treat. The acting was spectacular, from Lennie James reprising his role as a broken man in Morgan, to the prolific on-screen chemistry between Carl and Michonne, who both figure to step forward in prominence with some emotional growth in “Clear.” Rick sorting out his own mental issues through Morgan played out well, and the melancholy and nostalgia both hearkened the episode back to the quality of the show’s first season. That Scott Gimple penned the epsiode, the series’ showrunner for the fourth season after the departure of Glenn Mazzara, seems a good of a sign as any considering the last couple episodes were lacking in sensibility and gusto.

 

As a quick plug, don’t forget to keep up with Punched Out Radio, 4 p.m. ET on WXOU. Co-host Chris Ingram and I had Oakland men’s basketball asst. coach Darren Sorenson on last week in what was some great banter. Look forward to some more great guests this week and every Friday.

Remember when your parents and teachers said not to stare into the sun when you’re a little kid? How it’ll damage your eyes? It begs the question: How many other senses are damaged, aside from your eyes, if you stare at ESPN’s “First Take” for too long?

I’m glad that Bun B likes Jemele Hill, and don’t get me wrong, Rob Parker getting the boot is one small step for sportskind. But what is this panel of wrong? Jemele, Suh over Barry? WRONG. Skip, you were a high school baller extraordinaire? WRONG. And what’s it say about Herm Edwards to be surrounded by…this?

Progress.

This is damaging to your six senses. Yes, common sense included. It’s so bad that sometimes Bayless looks right. Like when Herm and Hill Inc. talked Friday about how Tim Tebow needs to be a team player and adapt to the NFL YOU MUST BE THIS KIND OF QB TO RIDE philosophy. Were those two hiding in the Rob Parker Fallout Bunker© this whole season, not watching all these rookie quarterbacks have offenses completely tailored to them? Newsflash, Herm: Coaches want to keep coaching, and general managers want to stay in their jobs, too. NFL teams are adapting to the strengths of their quarterbacks right out the gate, and have stopped trying to put a square peg into a circle.

Parents, family, friends: Tell your friends to look away. This is just one shining example. Repeated viewing has long-lasting effects.

What a great week for college hoops. Wednesday night saw a handful of ranked teams trailing or struggling. We saw a majority of them bare the chinks in their armor (Note to Illinois: Still too many 3s), and the underdog teams showed why they’re underdogs (Seton Hall, too many TOs against a ball-hawking Louisville). I continue to be impressed with New Mexico,who’ve only lost to two high-caliber mid-major squads in South Dakota State and Saint Louis. The biggest takeaway, though?

Ben McLemore, Alpha Dog.

Maybe Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk is the Player of the Week, but McLemore owned the night, and the bank. Perfect from deep and the line, McL tore it up to the tune of 33 points, including the glass triple to tie the game with a second left against Iowa State, and the Jayhawks slammed the door shut in overtime. Only two of his points came in OT, so the stats weren’t heavily padded. He even added two blocks for good measure.

Call me a biased Kansas fan, but has anyone seen their stock rise more in the sport this season? Remember, the knock on McLemore after being redshirted due to high-school academic records was that he didn’t have the genes to carry a team in clutch time like his former AAU teammate Bradley Beal. Let’s all just collectively admit how wrong we were. Barring a monumental collapse, there’s little chance he slides out of the top five in next year’s NBA Draft, and could go as high as third. I’m willing to bet McLemore’s emergence as a void now fully filled for the Jayhawks and Arizona’s Thursday night loss to Oregon bumps Kansas to a No. 1 seed in the next edition of Bracketology.

Last week’s picks were good ones. All favorites, but went 3-0 regardless. Here’s a trio for this weekend:

Seattle 24, Atlanta 20 – The Seahawks have had a stingy defense all season, but this one will be a tough test. They’ll want to limit Tony Gonzalez and Jacquizz Rodgers when he’s in, keeping those two at a minimum in short-yardage situations. The larger task at hand for Seattle’s premium corners will be their matchups, and you have to think one big play at the least is possible in front of a roaring home crowd. Will losing kicker Steven Hauschka be an underrated factor for Seattle? He hasn’t missed one yet all season, so if a long opportunity arises, how much faith will Pete Carroll put in newly signed Ryan Longwell? Still, Lynch should gash Atlanta on the ground as teams have done before this. I think that’s the difference in what’s a much easier game to pick on the NFC side this week.

New England 34, Houston 17 – I said last week each team’s QB in the Cincy-Houston contest would make a complete head-shaking play. Heck, Andy Dalton would have had another costly one in the books if Kareem Jackson had held onto an INT. But if you think the Texans can survive mistakes like the one Matt Schaub gifted to Leon Hall early last week against the Patriots? In the playoffs? Notta. But I’m giving the Texans some props, right? The last meeting yielded a 28-point differential in favor of the Pats. But we know that Houston is a team that makes its living running the ball. They’ll fall behind and be forced to go for broke too early and too often in Foxboro.

Arsenal 1, Manchester City 1 – This is a bold prediction, seriously. These two squads have played with the  utmost aesthetic displeasure in the eyes of many fans as of late, with only five total goals scored between the teams in their last five games at Emirates. The visitors will be missing a number of their finest. The Toure Twins, Yaya and Kolo, are both gone to the Africa Cup of Nations. Sergio Aguero (hamstring) and Samir Nasri (suspension) are both missing. Following the misstep against Swansea (was it one, after disposing of Chelsea?), Arsenal would likely suffice for the sole point, but perhaps Arsene Wenger’s XI will push knowing that City is at its weakest. I’ll gander that an excellent long strike or free kick nets one for the Gunners, while Carlos Tevez or Edin Dzeko slip past Arsenal’s central defense for one in another deadlock.

Top picks for the DVR if you’re out on the town this weekend. We’re going five deep with playoff football:

1. NFL Playoffs – Baltimore @ Denver (Saturday, 4:30 ET, CBS)
2. NFL Playoffs – Green Bay @ San Fransisco (Saturday, 8 ET, FOX)
3. CBB – Minnesota @ Indiana (Saturday, Noon, Big Ten Network) – 
My top college hoops game of the weekend. More interesting than Duke (@ NC State) and Michigan (@ Ohio State), who I think both take care of business.

If you were fattened up and loosening the jean buttons from the holidays, this weekend was a good one to hit the recliner or run the treadmill to some good battles. We got one of the most visually-scintillating Premier League matches of the year, a Saturday, bloody Saturday in Las Vegas, and one of the more memorable Week 17’s in the NFL in recent memory.

 

The Good

  • NFL’s final regular season week – If you’re not a fan of (insert eliminated team), the narratives for Sunday’s football slate was one of the best in recent memory. OK, so not as much if you’re an AFC fan, but Dr. Feelgood was in the office for lots of nice storylines. Whatever happened, we had a Cowboys-Redskins winner-takes-all contest to serve as last call, but it really lived up to the billing. Chuck Pagano led the Colts to a victory over a Texans squad that Indy played close with earlier this season. Even in a forgettable season for the Lions, Calvin Johnson had a chance to top 2,000 receiving yards (he came short), and made for good viewing fodder as the Bears kept their playoff hopes alive…until a more deserving Vikings team one-upped them in the late afternoon slot.
  • Take the playoffs All Day – He didn’t know, he didn’t care. Just like the younger generation probably doesn’t remember Bo Jackson, your kids won’t remember the year Adrian Peterson came nine yards shy and changed the way we view ACL recovery seasons. For that matter, Jamaal Charles suffered an in-season ACL tear, but he came back and only topped 1500 yards for a team that may as well have traded the farm for Shane “Footsteps” Falco to play QB1.
  • Revenge greater than anything ABC could dream up – Sure, Cain Velasquez probably put Junior Dos Santos out to pasture in the first round with a right that left him more disheveled than Gus Fring in a nursing home, something felt right about a UFC Heavyweight title clash going the distance. Was it one-sided? Sure, but Velasquez kept a moderate level of punishment up that would’ve been far less interesting if he hadn’t been on the other side of the coin in the first bout.

The Bad

  • Junior Dos Santos, period – No one’s saying the guy was unbeatable, and anyone saying the same about Velasquez is just as trigger-happy, yet where was MMA’s best boxer? JDS looked predictable, a one-dimensional boxer who would’ve gotten crushed against anyone with any concept of angles and defense, let alone size and power. Maybe Dos Santos gets someone like Antonio Silva next, blows him up as bad as Velasquez does and repairs his reputation as a stand. But even Daniel Cormier seems to stand a better chance at derailing someone like Dos Santos after Saturday’s evidence presented.
  • NFC East, A Year in Review – Dallas, we know it’s not all your fault. More on that in a minute. But the Eagles-Giants game this week was really a microcosmic one in regards to both team’s seasons. For the Eagles, maybe Michael Vick would come back this week and demonstrate a level of value for other teams to buy into him as a QB1 next season, but nope. The real tragedy is for the Giants, a team that played like the kid who always shows up two minutes after the bell rings for class but the teacher lets them in anyway. This time, the door was locked and they’ll be watching from the outside. At least Minnesota was more deserving of the playoff spot they would have occupied, as opposed to Chicago.
  • Defense in the BPL – Brilliant as Arsenal’s offensive output was Saturday night during their seven-goal assault on Newcastle in  London, the Theo Walcott hat trick was just a talking point as the continued defensive mishaps that have plagued even the elite teams in football’s elitist league. That’s not even to speak of the winning side, who allowed three goals of their own. Wide back Kieran Gibbs far-post defence was as absent as humanly possible. Teams like Manchester United will be aided by returns to fitness of Vidic and such, but an assessment of shortcomings for the Premier League’s best even seem to point mostly to the back four of most squads.

The Ugly

  • The New Tony Award – Best fourth quarter INT. Tony Romo has been scrutinized brutally, but it’s going to come hard and heavy this week and forward. That playoff botch might be the one he never lives down, but even as a sympathizer. the misread in the flat was like watching a fiery car crash. At some point, “Still, would they be 4-12 without him?” just doesn’t carry as far with re-runs like that.
  • Speaking of car crash, a parting image: Joe Lauzon.

    Joe Lauzon, bloody mess during and after his UFC 155 lightweight bout.