Up 2-0 Warriors have reason for concern….

 

Usually fans and media types will tell you how great-a-shape teams are in when they are up two games to-nothing in a series. Not me.

With the Golden State Warriors thrilling, heart-stopping 99-98 Game 2 win over the Houston Rockets they are two wins away from reaching the NBA Finals for the first time since 1975. But, if the Warriors are going to advance to the biggest of stages they have several facets in their game that need to be tightened up.

First, figure out how to get Klay Thompson more involved offensively. To be fair Thompson is having to expend so much energy in guarding James Harden, one can argue he hardly has enough gas in the tank to perform up to his standards on the offensive end. But, the Warriors need Thompson to be a threat and the Rockets, as porous as they have been defensively, are doing a great job in taking Klay out of the mix. Certainly you don’t want Klay forcing the issue, but the Warriors will need his contributions when they head to Texas. They don’t need a 30 point explosion but they need his offensive presence. When Klay is cooking it really opens things up for Steph Curry and his other partners in crime Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes.

The Warriors need to take care of the ball. I read a twitter comment that read, “the Dubs need to stop it with the swag passes.” I couldn’t have said it better. The Warriors found themselves too many times in Game 2 jumping in the air with nowhere to go and trying to make the impossible pass. Carelessness with the ball has been a problem all year for the Warriors. When it rears its ugly head in the Conference Finals it can cost you games. The Warriors built up a 49-32 lead in the 2nd quarter of Game 2, the lead should have been 25-to-30. Houston’s defense in the 18 minutes of the game bordered on pathetic, but the Warriors reticence to value the ball cost them when they were building that big lead and it could have cost them the game.

When the series shifts to Houston the Rockets will find a comfort zone at home. I fully expect the whistles to go their way as well. As good as the Warriors defense is, the Rockets will become more aggressive, especially with James Harden’s dribble attacks. He hasn’t taken a ton of free throws in this series and he will be bound and determined to change that in Game 3. If the Warriors attack him defensively too aggressively they will make it easy for the officiating crew to put Harden at the stripe. The Warriors will have to live with Harden going off in this series. The key will be in containing Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones and Josh Smith. Ariza and Smith combined for 37 points in Game 1 but only 17 in Game 2. Ariza struggled Thursday in Oakland scoring only 7 points while Smith scored 10 on 6-of-18 shooting. Contain the complementary pieces and the Warriors give themselves a great chance to win in Houston. Easy to say, not easy to do as Houston has to feel pretty good in losing the first two games of this series by a total of five points.

Move the ball. The Warriors need to rely on what has led them to 77 wins in the regular and post-season this year, ball movement. The Warriors are at their best when the ball is a blur and everyone gets a touch. It is also their greatest strength. While Houston is doing a pretty good job at defending the high pick-and-roll with the switch, their back-side rotations are not very good. If the Warriors can run their sets to completion, they force the back side defenders to make decisions on dribble penetration. When the Warriors do that they have too many options for the Rockets to defend. And this, is when the Warriors slice your heart out. There hasn’t been enough patience on the offensive end. The Warriors need to make Houston play defense. The longer the play takes to develop, the better for Golden State.

While the “experts” will tell you the Warriors have a 94 percent chance of winning this series, it doesn’t feel that way to me. Houston has played a lot better than I expected and I think this is going to be a long, tough series. The Warriors have their hands full with Harden. Howard is a force, but still incredibly unlikable. Ariza and Josh Smith along with Jason Terry and Corey Brewer can get real hot and with their length can cause defensive problems for the Warriors, if they don’t show patience. The Warriors had the best road record in the league, they will need to call on that road toughness heading to Houston for Game 3.

 

Will Warriors fans regret pulling for Houston Rockets ?

 

Something happened as I was writing my Warriors preview for the Western Conference Finals versus the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers suffered one of the more epic hiccups in the history of NBA post-season basketball. The result is a match-up with the Houston Rockets for the right to play for the NBA title in two weeks.

This is a match-up that many Dubs fans were secretly hoping for. While the Warriors/Clippers match-up would have been more entertaining, I am not looking for entertaining. I want the Warriors to win. Their best chance for winning the West and advancing to the Finals is to play the Houston Rockets. Personnel wise the Warriors had several advantages, but the one player they didn’t have an answer for was Blake Griffin, and that would have been a serious problem. I still thought the Warriors would have beaten the Clippers, but the task would have been more difficult. It would have been a long and arduous series that could have hinged on just a few plays. In my mind too close for comfort, so I was pulling for Houston.

This sounds like I am denigrating the Houston Rockets and what they accomplished and that is not entirely true. But, I have considered Houston soft all season long. Not hotel mattress soft, we are talking Charmin toilet paper soft. Squeezably soft. That changed with the Rockets riveting Game 6 comeback last Thursday night when they came back from 19 down in the late 3rd quarter to beat the Clippers and send their series to a Game 7. Without James Harden on the floor the Rockets outscored Los Angeles 49-18 over the final 14 minutes to rescue their season. You learn a lot about a team when the ship is sinking and I learned the Rockets are not “squeezably soft.”  I saw their toughness on full display.

So now we have a match-up of the two top teams in terms of seeding in the Western Conference. We have two teams that had the top two candidates for the Most Valuable Player award with Warriors point guard Steph Curry easily out-distancing James Harden for the hardware. Houston feels their man was slighted, Harden told the media after their Game 7 win on Sunday that he has felt over-looked all season. It’s an intriguing match-up on so many levels.

Both teams like to shoot the three and both teams like an up-tempo pace. This should entertain the nation watching two teams that get up and down and are adept on the offensive end. The big difference between the two squads is on the defensive end. The Rockets play good defense is stretches, but if you really watch them they allow way too many blow-bys. The Rockets back-side rotations are not consistent. That lack of defensive predictability makes it hard to depend on them. They rely too much on having Dwight Howard behind them to clean up their messes, and unlike his years as Orlando’s center, he is not the same rotating defender. Howard does change shots. He also blocks his share, but his apathy and his unwillingness to “consistently” help his mates hurts this team. I would argue Howard is a good defensive player, but he could be so much better.

Statistically the Warriors are the best defensive teams in the league. They hold opponents to the lowest field goal percentage in the Association and it’s probably the biggest reason why they won 67 games. Their defense is also the biggest reason the Dubs ousted Memphis in the semi-finals, especially after falling behind 2 games-to-1. The Warriors commitment to defense was nurtured by former coach Mark Jackson and has now been developed and fully implemented by current head coach Steve Kerr.

Many Warriors fans are citing the Dubs season series sweep as the reason why they think Golden State will roll the Rockets. While those games give us insight into the match-up, they are also a bit deceiving. Terrence Jones and Corey Brewer did not play in any of the four-losses the Rockets had against the Warriors. Right now those two are pivotal pieces off of the Rockets bench. Josh Smith only played in one game for the Rockets against the Warriors because he was only released by the Pistons in January. Dwight Howard missed two of the games against Golden State because of his knee issues, which the Rockets smartly made him rest and recover from during the regular season. These are some key contributors that didn’t see the light of day when the Rockets and Warriors played four times before January 21st. If Warrior fans are hinging their hopes on “past performance is a precursor for future results.” Think again……

The Rockets have had some tough injuries this year and probably the guy they could least afford to lose defensively against the Warriors will not be suiting up. Patrick Beverley is a tenacious defender. He is a ball-hawking guard that disrupts, bothers and hinders opposing guards. In my opinion he was the Rockets best chance to try to contain and slow down Steph Curry. He tore a thumb ligament and has been on the shelf for more than two months. While there are rumblings that he may get his cast off and try to play, I wouldn’t bet on it. Even if he does take the floor he is nowhere near game shape and wouldn’t be the same defensive player we have become accustomed to.

I think the Warriors will win for several reasons but let me start with the obvious. The Warriors are simply better at the transition game than the Rockets. Harden is an incredible player. He is a prolific scorer, beating you from the perimeter and off-the-dribble. He takes a ridiculous amount of free-throws and gets bailed out with his floppiliciousness. But, he is a star and gets his team points. While he averaged 25 points a game against the Warriors this year he really struggled in terms of shooting percentage. Klay Thompson’s harassing defense kept him to 25 percent shooting from three-point range. Harden may get his points but he will have to be a volume shooter, and those are possessions that are empty trips for the Rockets. As we mentioned the Warriors hold NBA teams to the lowest field goal percentage in the NBA and the Rockets propensity to run-and-gun will be met with challenges by the Warriors lengthy perimeter defenders. Thompson and Andre Iguodala will make it difficult for the Trevor Ariza’s and Josh Smith’s to get free and open looks. The Warriors close-outs on jump shooters and ball pressure on Houston will stunt the Rockets cohesiveness.

The only team all season long that has been able to quell the Warriors running game is Memphis. Once the Warriors solved that riddle the series was over. After Sunday’s Game 7 win Rockets head coach Kevin McHale said his team will not change heading into the Warriors series. Let me repeat, he said his team will not change adding, “we are going to do what we do, if they prove to be better at it, then so be it.” Hmmmmmmm, interesting. Indications are that McHale and the Rockets feel comfortable running up and down the floor and trying to out-gun the Dubs. Good luck with that.

I think the Warriors have answers for everything that the Rockets will throw at them. Klay will check Harden. While “The Beard” will get his, it will take him a lot of shots to reach his average, and those are possessions where the Rockets aren’t scoring. Steph Curry is going to torch 38 year-old Jason Terry. Maybe 38 year-old Pablo Prigioni can use his guile to force a few turnovers, but the Rockets have a huge huge huge problem in trying to contain the league MVP. If Houston tries to switch a bigger player to Curry, he can use his quickness to get into the paint, and that will cause mis-matches elsewhere on the floor. The loss of Beverley is devastating at the point.

Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes are both playing at a high level and Green is simply a better and more consistent player than Josh Smith. They both can shoot the three, but Smith has a penchant for disappearing. To be fair, the Rockets don’t beat the Clippers without amazing performances by Smith in Games 5-thru-7. Barnes and Ariza will be a great match-up, but I like Barnes’ defensive prowess to shut-down or at least contain Ariza. Many will point to Smith and Ariza performing at high levels for the Rockets in the Clippers series, but I must highlight, look who was guard them. JJ Redick, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes ? Andre Iguodala, Green and Barnes are much better defenders. Ariza, Smith and even Terrence Jones will not be getting the same looks.

The center match-up is intriguing because Dwight Howard has his moments where he seems like an unstoppable force, then he has his moments where he looks like Mister Whipple, you know the Charmin guy ! Andrew Bogut and Dwight Howard will probably get entangled more than once. We will see if Howard wants to mix it up.  I know the Warriors and Bogut want to get physical with Dwight. The M.O. on Howard is you can get in his grill and it can affect him. Howard will get his, but he is an atrocious free-throw shooter and the Dubs have 18 fouls between Bogut, Festus Ezeli and David Lee to hammer him and send him to the stripe. My advice, if you are going to foul him, hit him  hard across the arms. Make him feel every foul.

The Warriors are an amazing 43-3 on their home floor in the regular season and playoffs. They ALSO have the best road record in the NBA at 32-14 including the post-season. So, even if the Rockets get a game at Oracle. If the Dubs just win one in Houston, the Rockets would have to somehow beat the Warriors again at the Roaracle. I just don’t see it.

This series will be entertaining, high scoring and fun, it could also be short. The Rockets are good at what they do, the Warriors are just simply better at it. The Warriors have answers for the Rockets strengths. Houston has stop-gaps for the Warriors strengths.  The Dubs have a way of coming at teams in waves and when those waves become too much, adjustments are needed. McHale has already said, the “Rockets aren’t changing a thing.” That is a huge mistake. As confident as Houston has to feel after their improbable seven-game win over the Clippers, the Dubs feel just as confident after staring their own mortality in the eye, and emerging even better because of it against Memphis.

Warriors in 5

 

 

 

40 years ago today….the Warriors did THIS !

 

Bill King

40 years ago today was one of the most glorious days in the history of Golden State Warriors basketball in the Bay Area. Bill King describes the final few minutes of the Golden State Warriors glorious upset of the Chicago Bulls in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals. This was a massive upset as the Bulls were the odds on favorites to advance to the Finals. The Bulls had Bob Love, Jerry Sloan, Norm Van Lier, Nate Thurmond and Tom Borwinkle. The Warriors had the great Rick Barry, two magnificent rookies in Jamaal Wilkes and Phil Smith and merry band of role players that led our beloved Dubs to an amazing upset.  Bill King has this amazing call as the Warriors won 83-79 in front of an insanely raucous crowd in Oakland…..

DubNation: Concerned but not Panicked

 

For the first time during this 2014-2015 NBA Basketball season the Golden State Warriors are facing their first bit of adversity. For the first time this year a team has thrown something at them that they are having a difficult time of deciphering. The result is a 2-1 deficit in their best-of-seven Western Conference Semifinal series against the Memphis Grizzlies.

Am I concerned ? Yes. The reason for concern is I do believe Memphis has the magic elixir that can work against the run-and-gun Dubs. Their ability to slow the pace, slow the tempo and not give in to the Warriors fast paced style is serving them well in this series. I don’t see that changing much, even if the Dubs are able to recover.

Memphis’ tenacious ball-hawking defense and their tremendous approach to the high-pick-and-roll has caused the Warriors mass confusion on the offensive end. The Grizzlies are attacking Steph Curry off the high screen-and-roll. It’s not a soft double. The Grizzlies are leaving the screener open and putting two guys on Curry 25-30 feet from the hole. If Curry passes the ball to Bogut, mission accomplished for the Grizzlies. If Curry passes the ball to Draymond Green, mission accomplished for the Grizzlies. They are the only team this year that has consistently been able to get the ball out of Curry’s hands. Because of this the Warriors are playing at a break-neck speed on the offensive end and it is causing them to play flustered, frenetic and out of control.

By Memphis controlling tempo they are also minimizing the number of possessions in the game. The Warriors rely on having an inordinate amount of possessions. Curry and company are so good and controlling tempo that when they commit 15-20 turnovers in the regular season, they have more than enough possessions to make up for the miscues. Not so in this series. Memphis’ ability to control tempo has made the Warriors 20 turnover tallies fatal and the Dubs don’t have enough chances to make up for their miscues. In Games 2 & 3 this has caused the Warriors to become rushed and hurried.

At first glance I was not happy with the Warriors defensive approach to Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. The Warriors needed to double-team them a lot of more. I thought it took Steve Kerr a little too long to do it. And then, when it had worked and the Warriors had climbed back into the  game, the coaching staff thought Festus Ezeli could single-handedly stop Randolph in the late 3rd quarter and that is when the Grizzlies extended their lead again. I think the Warriors must make the Courtney Lee’s and Mike Conley’s of the world beat them from the perimeter. Get the ball out of Randolph and Gasol’s hands, make them passers instead of isolation attackers. The Warriors can not do this though, by going small. They need to put size on size and this becomes the Warriors dilemma. How much the Dubs react to what the Grizzlies are doing and forsaking what makes them a force on the offensive end ? It’s a delicate balance for Steve Kerr and staff and not an easy call.

I have many reasons to be optimistic as the Warriors head into this biggest of Game 4’s. First of all the Warriors won 67 games. They beat Memphis like a drum twice in the final month of the season and have yet to show in this series why they were the best team in the league. I just can’t believe they will go an entire series and not enforce THEIR will on this Grizzlies team. When the game has gotten hard for the Warriors they have exacerbated the problem by making it more difficult. The Dubs have shown all year they can beat you running, and they can beat you in the half-court. To do that they will need consistency from their three best offensive weapons. Curry needs to be better. He reticence to attack is a direct reflection of the outstanding Memphis defense. Taking ONLY one shot in 4th quarter of Game 3 is unacceptable and I doubt that will happen again. Klay Thompson has been neutralized by Tony Allen who has shut him down and has officially gotten into his head. Klay really needs to attack and get to the stripe. He can’t settle for the three-point shot if the Grizzlies close out is strong. Drive to the hole, make the Grizzlies pay for the aggressive close-out, if they rotate, pass the ball, move the ball. When the Warriors are at their best the ball moves and everyone gets a touch.

Contrary to what  the sky-is-falling crowd wants you to believe the Warriors have remedies and answers to this Memphis defense. They just need to employ them like they have all year. Pass the ball, move the ball, make the defense move, make them commit. Once they commit, lanes will open. Avenues will clear the offense should click. One on one hoops will not beat Memphis.

I expect Draymond Green to have a much better game tonight. He was a big bundle of mess on Saturday. Despite having a decent floor game, his offense was out of sorts. He is so good at the spot up  three and the dribble attack and dish. Tentativeness by Draymond leads to a stagnancy from everyone else. He is their heart and soul. They need him, and I expect him to respond.

Andrew Bogut needs to play more than 21 minutes. He is a fantastic passer and post defender. When the Warriors go ultra small Bogut sits and I don’t think that helps this team in this series. Bogut is vital at matching wits with Gasol. But, the Grizzlies center has been pulling Bogut out from under the hoop and I believe that has given the Warriors coaching staff pause. It shouldn’t. Let Gasol shoot 18 footers. Bogut needs to play 30-33 minutes.

Where is David Lee ? Tonight is the night we need to see Lee. Mareese Speights is out with a pulled calf and may even miss the rest of the series.  Lee did not play in Game 3, he may be rusty but I believe the Warriors can’t afford to let him languish on the bench. He needs to play. He is an energizer. He is a guy that will make hustle plays. While he will struggle defensively, remember he can score and is adept around the hoop. The Warriors problem hasn’t been defense, sure in isolated spots they have been over-matched, but for the most part its their offense and turnovers which are killing them.

The Warriors need to take care of the ball. If they are over 15 turnovers they could be in trouble. Ball possession is vital against a team that controls the tempo like Memphis. Careless and hurried possessions are what the Dubs can not afford. The Warriors forced Memphis into some turnovers the other night, they couldn’t score. The difference is when Memphis forces the Warriors into turnovers, they are lay-ups. That CAN’T happen.

I expect and I believe the Warriors will respond tonight. If they are a championship caliber squad they will show up tonight and even this series at 2-2. If they don’t, they may have run into the kryptonite that will render their 67-win season a mere footnote in NBA lore. A lot is riding on their next 48 minutes and I expect them to respond in a big way

Why the timing of Manny Pacquiao injury….matters

 

If Manny Pacquiao entered the ring with a torn rotator cuff and that injury was not disclosed to the public before the fight than boxing has another shiner.

News that the billed “Fight of the Century” may have been a fraud is resonating in the sports world today. Yesterday Pacquiao’s camp disclosed that the Phillipine-born fighter will need surgery to repair a badly torn rotator cuff and will need 9-12 months of recovery.

Pacquiao said after his 12-round loss to Floyd Mayweather that he had an injured shoulder and asked to take a pain-killer before his scheduled bout. The Nevada Gaming Commission refused to allow him to take the pain-killer and the result was an ineffective Pacquiao that was schooled by the undefeated Mayweather. My contention isn’t that Manny would have won the fight had he been allowed to take the pain killer. No, instead my contention is that a massive fraud was perpetrated on the buying public, believing that these two fighters were healthy and at the top of their games. If this injury was known before the bout, it should have been disclosed.

The reasons for not disclosing are many. First, a fight of this magnitude and with the unconscionable wait (5 years) that both fighters put the public through would have been a massive let-down.

Two, the promotion of the fight had become an entity unto itself. Power players in business, real estate, sports and politics had made plans surrounding THIS fight. To cancel at such a late date would have taken the steam out of a rescheduling of the fight.

Three, there is not a guarantee that Floyd Mayweather was going to fight after such a long lay-off. But, with that said, early this morning Mayweather sent a text to his media lackey Stephen A. Smith and said that he is willing to give Pacquiao a re-match once he fully heals from his shoulder surgery. This is an amazing about-face, but an understandable one.

Mayweather doesn’t want this win tainted in any way. He doesn’t mind people ripping on his style and his points oriented way of winning fights. That is the nature of the fight game and the criticisms it will draw. What Floyd does not want is this win being diminished in any way. Pacquiao’s injury diminishes the win. There is no doubt about it. Regardless of what you think about Mayweather’s personal failings, there is no argument when it comes to his boxing prowess. Of his 48 wins this was his biggest. This proved to the boxing and sports enthusiasts that he was the best pound-for-pound boxer of his time. The Pacquiao injury changes that because many will feel Floyd beat up and out-pointed and outmaneuvered an injured fighter. He will want the re-match as much as Pacquiao wants it.

The elephant in the room is the sanctions that Pacquiao could draw because he didn’t disclose his torn rotator cuff. How many people would have doled out 99.99 for a fight involving a guy who had a shredded shoulder. Not many…..

So, as we wait for possible sanctions against Manny, and as we wait for his shoulder to be repaired. Get ready for the promotion of Manny/Mayweather II

Cleveland Browns 2015 Draft Day…..Here we go again

When draft day is the biggest day of your season, you aren’t a very good team or organization. For the Cleveland Browns, once again, draft day is the biggest day of their season as they try to build a team that can compete for relevancy. Yeah, I said it. I don’t think the Browns are in a position to compete for a championship. This organization needs to succeed in this draft to put themselves in a position to be relevant. For the past several seasons the Browns have been that dude who tells you how great he is, but can’t show you.

The Browns miscues on draft day are epic. Cleveland has not had a franchise quarterback since Bernie Kosar, and yet they continue taking major gambles on draft day to try to find that signal-caller that can lead them. The problem is this franchise doesn’t seem to understand that what they really need are pieces that can complement a serviceable quarterback. That is the first step to relevancy.

With 10 picks in this years draft the Browns, ONCE AGAIN, have the chance to bring in some quality players that can give them talent and depth at key positions. Cleveland has their own pick at #12 and they have the Buffalo Bills pick (2014 draft day Sammy Watkins trade) at #19. This would be an exciting proposition if we didn’t see this team completely screw up their two-1st rounders last year. You remember last year ? The Browns had a top-five pick and Watkins, the Clemson star receiver was sitting there. The Browns traded that pick for the Bills #9 and this year’s 1st round selection. Not a bad deal until you saw what the Browns did with #9. They chose corner Justin Gilbert who was so badly over-matched in his rookie season that Cleveland had to bury him on the bench. Then the Browns traded up from #26 to take quarterback Johnny Manziel at #22. It was flashy. It was exciting and Browns fans went crazy. Then they watched those two players actually take the field. They went crazy again.

Train-wreck

So now the Browns are presented with a similar scenario. Two-1st round picks and numerous holes to fill. The problem is we are hearing rumors that General Manager Ray Farmer and the front office are lusting for Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. Yep, another quarterback. Analysts say the Browns love Mariota’s make-up. The former Oregon Duck is the anti-thesis of Manziel. He doesn’t party. He is down-to-earth and is someone the Browns can develop and build around. It would take the two-1st rounders to get him, and even then it may not be enough. The Browns could trade to move up and get him and then flip him to the Eagles and possibly get Sam Bradford in return. While this rumor has been alive and well for weeks, it doesn’t solve the numerous other issues the Browns face with their personnel.

Lets look at Cleveland’s horrific history of drafting quarterbacks since re-entering the league. It started with their first overall selection in Tim Couch. While Couch may have worked out, the Browns didn’t get him an offensive line to protect him and nearly got the guy killed. Over the last eight years the Browns have moved up to select Brady Quinn, Brandon Weeden and Johnny Manziel all to play quarterback. Quinn and Weeden were disastrous selections and Manziel was headed that way before his long stay in alcohol rehab this off-season. I will give the kid another chance. I am not willing to close the door on a kid that was good in college just yet. Early reports say Manziel has been going in early and staying late to try and put himself in position to play the position. For that reason I don’t think the Browns should gamble again and take Mariota or any other quarterback early in the draft.

I believe the Browns need to hang on to their picks. Here are Browns trouble spots that MUST be addressed over the next three days.

First, the Browns must get a defensive tackle that can stop the run. The Browns ranked last, dead last in run defense last year. It was the Achilles heel of a team that features a strong secondary and better than average linebacker corps. The Browns must use one of those two first-rounders to get a multi-faceted defensive tackle. Danny Shelton from Oregon meets all the criteria. *Most prognosticators believe this where the Browns go if they don’t trade the pick* Malcolm Brown from Texas fits the bill. Michael Bennett from Ohio State would fit as well. This position must be addressed. While Phil Taylor is a beast on that defensive line he just can’t stay on the field and that is hurting this team. The injury prone Taylor can not be relied on for consistent production. The Browns primary need is a run stopping upgrade on their defensive line.

Second, the Browns have a very solid offensive line, but when center Alex Mack went down last year the Browns season went down the tubes. Mack is vital to this team’s success. With Mack the Browns were averaging nearly 4 yards a carry. Without Mack the Browns barely averaged over 2 yards a carry. His health is paramount and all reports suggest he is good to go. Mitchell Swartz is not getting it done at guard so Cleveland needs to look at offensive line. There should be some great options in the first round. Interior lineman aren’t sexy on draft day but it’s how you build your team, from in the inside out. The guts of your team needs to be addressed, then you have the protection for your skill guys. Cleveland has no depth on their defensive line or offensive line and those positions need to be filled and strengthened.

After those positions are addressed then and only then do you try to get some depth at wide receiver. Dwayne Bowe is now a Brown and he will help along with Brian Hartline. But, the Browns need more youth on the outside. Taylor Gabriel was a nice pick-up last year and became a reliable option but he is 5’8. Bowe gives the Browns size despite his age and Hartline as that gritty receiver who can go over the middle. While it would be nice to get an Amari Cooper or Kevin White at number 12, those two receivers will not be there. The guy who might be there is Davante Parker from Louisville. That would be a great selection, but it would come at the expense of an even greater need in the trenches.

If the Browns feel they must get a quarterback there will be some solid options late in the draft in the 4th and 5th rounds. Josh McCown is slated to be the Browns starter and that is fine. With Johnny Manziel getting his nose clean in rehab maybe he finally shows the Browns something and improves. In my mind quarterback is not a priority in this draft. With 10 selections the Browns should just stay put and *gulp* trust their scouts and draft for need and depth.

Dodgers Notes: April Analysis

 

The Los Angeles Dodgers find themselves in a pretty good position as the first month of the season winds down. First place is never a bad place to be, and with May fast approaching the Boys in Blue are positioned for a good season and an exciting summer. In breaking down the first few weeks we need to critically analyze what is going right, and what is going wrong.

Since I have a sunny disposition (insert chuckle here) lets look at what is going well for the Dodgers. The Dodgers line-up has length. Gone are the big names of Kemp and Hanley, instead there are hitters that thrive on grinding out at-bats. This is a much better approach for long-term success. “See ball-hit ball” has its place, but if you are professional ball-player and you can’t hit with two strikes I don’t feel I can depend on you when the pressure mounts in August and September.

Despite his sub-Mendoza line batting average Jimmy Rollins grinds out at-bats. Like the consummate lead-off man he gives his mates a chance to get a look at the pitcher and can let them know what “that days” pitcher has working and what pitches aren’t. Howie Kendrick is a revelation to some, expected commodity to others. Howie was always the glue to that Angels line-up and he is showing that in the middle of the Dodgers line-up. He produces a tough at-bat almost every time up there and his addition is fun to watch.

Joc Pederson is as good as advertised. His defense is nearly flawless. He gets outstanding jumps on balls in the gaps and takes great angles to balls hit in the alleys. He is hitting .296 with an on base percentage well over .400. While he strikes out a little too much he can also take a walk. I love what he brings to the table and at 22 years-old he will only get better. A true anchor for years to come for the Dodgers.

Alex Guerrero told anyone who would listen during the spring that he wasn’t going back down to the minors. He wasn’t lying. He is raking. 5 home runs in 26 at bats. Two pinch-hit home runs. The only reason Guerrero isn’t playing every day is that he doesn’t have a position. While fans clamor for him to play every day, they fail to see that he still needs to work on his defense. His natural position is second base and he will not be supplanting Kendrick this year. We should enjoy his production and be happy that he is an option as a bat off the bench and a super utility player. But, until he isn’t such a liability defensively he can’t play every day.

Adrian Gonzalez has been the best hitter in the big leagues for the first month of the season. He went on a tear against his home-town Padres to start the year. He wasn’t going to keep hitting .500 but has been consistent and has had the penchant for getting the big hit. Gonzalez is vital for Dodgers success and the man can simply hit lasers. Despite the lefty-lefty match-up, I still have no idea why Dodger manager Don Mattingly sits him against San Francisco Giants starter Madison Bumgarner. Oh well, we will get to THAT in a moment.

The Dodgers starters have been solid. Clayton Kershaw only had 1 win last April and he will leave this April with only 1 win as well. I am not worried about the reigning Cy Young and MVP. He is a slow starter and will continue to anchor the staff. Zack Greinke is rolling. 3-0 with a sub 1.50 ERA. He has been superb. The Dodgers 1-2 punch in their rotation is what makes them the odds-on favorite to win the NL WEST.

It’s great to see Andre Ethier performing so well. With Yasiel Puig nursing a bum hamstring it figures Either will get more playing time. Ethier is hitting well over .300 with a couple of home runs in limited action. A guy that seemed to be on the outs has a chance to produce and show his value.

The emergence of Yimi Garcia in what has been a creaky bullpen is a pleasant surprise. The Dodgers can certainly use reliable arms in their pen and Garcia has proven his worth. I can see Garcia setting up closer Kenley Jansen when the big right-handed closer comes back from the disabled list. Left-hander Adam Liberatore looks real good as a lefty option. The hard-thrower pounds the zone and although his work has been limited, I expect him to get more work as the familiar names in the Box of Pain continue to flail.

There is a lot that is going right in the Dodgers Nation but there are some glaring weaknesses that I believe are holding this team back from becoming a championship contender. First, the injury bug is not necessarily anyone’s fault, but it is contributing factor to losses. Jansen is due back soon, and they need him back sooner rather than later. While I was not a fan of signing Brandon McCarthy to a 48 million dollar deal, now that he is one of us, I really wanted to see him succeed. McCarthy has the penchant for giving up the home run ball and also striking out a lot of hitters. I thought McCarthy was a decent, albeit overpaid option as a number four starter and his loss to the ulnar collateral ligament tear and Tommy John surgery is a tough loss.

The Dodgers are being cautious with Hyun Jin-Ryu and that is the wise decision. Ryu is vital to long-term Dodgers success. Los Angeles needs Ryu healthy and if keeping him on the shelf to rest that shoulder for a few months will help, then so be it. The Dodgers miss Ryu’s consistency in that third spot in the rotation, but they need to make sure he is 100 percent before trying to bring him back.

Puig hurt his hamstring in San Diego. We all know how delicate those hammies can be. A big part of Puig’s game is his legs. He needs those healthy to be the player that makes the Dodgers go. He should be held out as long as it takes. Carl Crawford tore his oblique on Monday. The oft-injured outfielder is hurt again. I don’t expect him back any time soon. To be honest, not a huge loss, that means more at-bats for Scott Van Slyke.

While the Dodgers defense is much improved, especially with Kendrick, Rollins and Joc up the middle, Yasmani Grandal leaves a lot to be desired behind the plate. We have heard so much about Grandal’s ability to frame pitches, and while that is fine and dandy his inability to block balls in the dirt are a major concern. He gets lazy behind the dish and doesn’t fully square up pitches in the dirt. His bad blocking habits cost the Dodgers extra bases and those bases turn into runs. So far not a huge fan but it’s early.

Brett Anderson is getting 10 million guaranteed to be a fifth starter and so far he has pitched like a fifth starter. Great stuff but lacking consistency and length. He is having a tough time getting through five innings. The Dodgers need him to pitch better.

The Dodgers bullpen in my opinion is still a major trouble spot. Not only do I not think the Dodgers front office adequately addressed the bullpen, but what bothers me the most is that the front office believes they addressed the pen. J.P. Howell does not throw hard, which is fine, but if you don’t throw hard you better locate. His location has not been good. Paco Rodriguez has been inconsistent and I don’t know if you can rely on him for big outs late in games. Right-handed flame throwers Pedro Baez and Chris Hatcher are pitching like former infielders, which they are. Baez throws 97 but doesn’t have a serviceable off-speed pitch and that hurts him. Hatcher has not been a consistent strike thrower, and when he does throw his 95 mile per hour fast ball its been getting hit…..hard. Joel Peralta is a nice addition, but I don’t think he is the late inning guy the Dodgers brass envisioned. There are way too many question marks in the bullpen for a team that has championship aspirations.

I begged and pleaded for the Dodgers to over-pay for Andrew Miller. They didn’t and now he is shining in New York. At 44 million dollars over four years the Yankees got a guy who can get lefties and righties out. He can pitch multiple innings and is down-right filthy. My teen-age like adoration of Miller will not waver until he either breaks down or starts serving them up on a platter. His presence would have given the bullpen the length that Kendrick’s presence has given the Dodgers offense.

At last but not least, Don Mattingly. I have supported our Dodgers manager when my head was telling me sometimes I shouldn’t. While he has improved in certain aspects of managing games, I still see him woefully deficient in handling the minutae of it all. Maybe it’s because we see the genius of Bruce Bochy on a daily basis leading an average Giants team to three World Series titles in five years. Mattingly is praised for his clubhouse abilities in handling big egos. Don’t get me wrong, I know there is a place for this but it is getting increasingly difficult to over-look his in-game foibles. They aren’t glaring until they actually are. When they start costing you games, or don’t give the team the best chance to win, it is necessary to question him. His propensity for the double-switch borders on obsessive. Donnie uses the double-switch like a toddler who gets a new toy. He plays with it over and over and over and over. He sometimes needlessly makes the switch and wastes players that could be helpful in later innings. He doesn’t rest players on intermittent days, instead Mattingly rests them all on the same day making it nearly impossible to win that specific game.

Over the last week he has rested Gonzalez, Pederson and Ethier on the same day that Madison Bumgarner has pitched TWICE. I understand its tough for lefties to hit lefties. But, by sitting three of your best hitters against one of the best pitchers in the game, it gave the Dodgers virtually no chance to win those games. They lost them both. Would Bochy rest Posey against a tough righty ? No, Posey gets rest or the day off if he is tired PERIOD. Mattingly tinkers too much. He over-manages and his team suffers for it. There are things I like about Donnie, there are things I can’t stand. The things I can’t stand are starting to out-weigh the things I like.

With all this said, the Dodgers are in first place with a record of 12-8. They are 9-2 at home and are a more complete offensive team than they were last year and can score runs in more varied ways. It doesn’t both me that the Dodgers have lost four of five to the Giants. Small sample size, early in the year. The 270 million dollar Dodgers have strengths. The Dodgers have weaknesses. The Dodger post-season possibilities depend on whether they can ride those strengths and rectify those weaknesses

 

Chico State Baseball: Down Year Brings Great Appreciation…..

 

For the first time since 1994 the Chico State Baseball team will finish with a sub .500 record. If you pause for a moment and let that sink in, it almost doesn’t seem real. There are young men and women who are seniors in college who were not even born yet the last time the Wildcat baseball program did not have a winning season.

Later in this blog we will lament the season that was. But, for now lets appreciate the amazing run the Chico State Baseball program has had over the last two decades. This run of greatness has been epic. During this 21-year stretch the Cats have won 2 national titles, 9 regional championships and have been to the playoffs an incredible 18 times in the last 19 years. I would venture to guess this has been an unprecedented run of success in Division II baseball.

To pinpoint how and why the Wildcats struggled this year is difficult to answer, it was a multi-pronged meltdown. There was not one thing that went wrong this year for the Wildcats. There were numerous problems that became a tsunami of baseball inadequacies that led to the Wildcats demise. The struggles of the Wildcat program is certainly not lost on their CCAA competitors. You have to know there is modicum of joy in the clubhouses around the conference seeing this perrenial power fall flat. To borrow a Vin Scully line, “it’s so quiet in Chico, you can hear the chuckles in San Diego.”  In conducting the post-mortem exam I will not be mentioning specific players by name. After-all, these are college kids. This 2015 Wildcat squad tried and for whatever reason it just didn’t happen for them. But, because of the nature of the program they decided to play in, they are held to the standard of their for-bearers, and for that we must lend a critical eye. Here is the post-mortem……*grabs my scalpel*

First, A lot was expected of Chico State’s returning players. Was this an unfair expectation ? No. This program is used to slowly incorporating junior college transfers during their junior years’ (first seasons) in the program and then having them perform at a high level in their senior seasons. This was SUPPOSED to be the year these seniors dominated. They didn’t. One can make the argument that only a hand-full of Chico State seniors lived up to expectations. Nearly a dozen other Chico State seniors performed so poorly that the Wildcats had no chance to compete for conference and regional glory. A good team can with-stand down years from a couple of their key players. When a team has 10-12 players perform so far below expectations they really have no chance to be competitive. These upper class-men didn’t hit, didn’t hit with runners in scoring position, and were inconsistent on the mound.

Second, the kids in the Chico State program played like kids. It’s always nice to see young freshman come into the Wildcat program and get playing time and play well. And, while there have been moments where these youngsters have shined, they lacked the consistency to really to overcome the mistakes of their older brethren. Head coach Dave Taylor wanted to slowly incorporate the freshman into the line-up, but mid-way through the season he was forced to depend on the freshman. The struggles of this senior class trickled down to the kids, where they had to produce or else. These young players would look good one moment, over-matched the next. The result was not necessarily unexpected. I think the young kids performed well, but its tough to use their performance this year as a template for their future seasons, based on how much they were needed this year.

Third, for the past 21 seasons the Chico State program has prided itself on being the most fundamental team on the West Coast. You don’t win 2 National Titles, 9 Regional Titles and make the playoffs practically every year if you aren’t a fundamentally sound program. The Wildcats attention to detail this year was very poor. The short-game, bunting, hitting and running, base-running, even picking up signs was not very good. Fundamentally this team did not execute. To make matters worse they either didn’t understand situational hitting or just couldn’t execute.

The Wildcats inability to hit a ground ball to second base with a runner at second and nobody out was painful to watch. Their lack of consistency in trying to get a runner home from third with less than two outs was mind-numbing. THESE “situations” are hall-marks of the Chico State program. It’s THESE “situations” that have led to national and regional titles. Chico State struggled all year executing in these crucial spots. This program will only go as far as their mental toughness takes them. This year, their toughness can certainly be questioned.

Mentally tough teams don’t get blitzed week in and week out on double-header days. Chico State was swept FIVE times  on CCAA double-header days. Three of those sweeps were at home. This tells me they couldn’t mentally engage into the game for long periods of time. It’s not easy to concentrate for six hours of baseball and being mentally ready. The good teams, the great teams can. Chico State couldn’t.

Fourth, aside from a few glowing performances the Wildcat pitching was average. The numbers prove that out. With a team ERA a tick above 4, the Cats were serviceable but not of championship quality. The starting rotation was inconsistent and the bullpen, aside from the closer, was a little above-average. As an observer I can tell you its hard to pitch when you know your team can’t score. Too many times this year the Wildcats hurlers took the mound knowing they couldn’t make any mistakes because the offense was so anemic.

Fifth, the offense. Well, there isn’t much to be said about this team offensively. The Wildcats had the  worst team batting average in the CCAA (.240) they were last in the conference in extra base hits and slugging percentage (.301.) They were second to last in runs and hits. Before the season started it looked like a line-up of punishing power hitters with a sprinkle of table-setters  that would punish opposing pitching. I believed this would be one of the best hitting teams in Chico State history. The line-up gave me no reason to doubt them coming into the 2015 campaign. Considering the line-up was filled with returners from last year’s World Series squad, it was a reasonable expectation. Nope.

The post-mortem is ugly but it also makes one appreciative of the program’s greatness through the years. Taylor told me two weeks ago the whole season has been “humbling.” He added that this was a system-wide meltdown and everyone, including himself,  takes responsibility. As for the future, well there is no doubt the Wildcats are on the recruiting trail. Chico State baseball needs an upgrade in talent. Those upgrades are needed at virtually every position. Honestly there are holes everywhere, outfield, infield, rotation and bullpen. The exciting thing is because of their resources, stadium and reputation, the Wildcats will be able to bring in some high quality players and re-load quickly. Talented ball-players who may have never thought of Chico as an option now know there is an APB on the interstate for their talents at Nettleton Stadium.

As for the returners, it’s real tough to say what the future holds. The Chico State program has never been sentimental. Can you help the school and program win games ? If you can you are welcome to stay to compete and try to win a job. If you can’t your services are no longer needed…PERIOD.  This program has had success because either Lindsay Meggs or Dave Taylor never had qualms about cutting the cord. Chico State Baseball fans and alumni have an expectation. That expectation is the foundation that Taylor has come to embrace. I sense he never wants to go through another year like this ever again. He is already working hard to ensure, he never has to.

The hard work is already under-way. Contacting future Wildcats, bringing them up for a visit, having them sign on the dotted line. As is always the case in the Chico State program fall ball will be vital. Players will come in the fall of 2015 and be able to win jobs and then look to etch their names in Chico State lore. Many of the out-going seniors were part of last year’s incredible ride to Cary and the 2014 Division-II World Series. They will take those memories and cherish them, and as fans we will cherish their contributions to the Chico State Baseball experience.

Personally I see 2015 as a year where nothing went right, a lot went wrong and the universe was telling Chico State Baseball, “it’s your turn.”

In the end I am thankful for the 2015 Chico State Baseball season. Yep, I said it, thankful. Thank you for reminding me that this game is hard. Success should be cherished and winning should NEVER EVER NEVER be taken for granted.

40 Year Wait is Rewarded for Warriors fans……


As a Golden State Warriors lifer I have waited for this since I was a young tike sitting on my mom’s lap at the ole Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Watching Rick Barry light it up from deep, Clifford Ray with monster slam dunks, CJ hitting jumpers from the right base-line  and Jamaal “silk” Wilkes going for 20 night in and night out. With the great Bill King regaling the Warriors faithful with “Holy Toledo.”

With 67 wins and the best record in the Association the Warriors are considered the favorites to come out of the Western Conference. The only blemishes to the Warriors 39-2 home record was an early season loss to San Antonio and an overtime defeat to Chicago. Other than those losses the Warriors were flawless at home. They also went an amazing 28-13 on the road, winning most of their games on the home floors of their very tough Western Conference brethren.

I will not be christening the Warriors just yet, but I am feeling very good about the Warriors draw in the first few rounds. In the playoffs nothing is ever easy and I feel the New Orleans Pelicans will give the Dubs all they can handle. Anthony Davis is a superstar. His emergence helped propel the Pelicans into the playoffs and save head coach Monty Williams’ job. New Orleans has great depth. Some of the same questions that were being asked of the up and coming Warriors three years ago are now being asked about the Pelicans. With guards Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans, New Orleans is more than capable in the back-court. I do believe the Warriors can take advantage of Gordon on the offensive end. He is undersized and is not a good defender. He will have his hands full trying to contain Klay Thompson.

The front-court is where the Pelicans pose their biggest challenge. Anthony Davis will have to be contained, but he will not be stopped. The Warriors will have difficulties stopping Davis. Draymond Green will have to allow Davis his points and not pick up cheap fouls in trying to challenge him. Andrew Bogut will not be able to hang with Davis. It is the one true mis-match the Pelicans have. But, it is the only mis-match they have.  Omer Asik is capable and can be a nuisance down low, but he is not in Bogut’s class. At every other position the Warriors are better. Plain and simple if the Warriors play as well as we have seen them play all year. They should win this series in 5 games. I give the Pelicans a game at home. Anthony Davis’ greatness allows the Pelicans to get a game.

Many national prognosticators are citing the Warriors lack of experience. Huh ? What ? This is the third straight year the Dubs have been in the post-season. Two years ago they beat the higher seeded Denver Nuggets and took the San Antonio Spurs to six games in a series that could have gone either way. Last year without an injured Andrew Bogut the Warriors stretched the Clippers to seven games before falling at the Staples Center. This team is tested. They have been through playoff wars. This is nothing new to the Warriors and they will handle it in a business-like fashion.

Golden State’s offensive and defensive prowess is un-matched. They are the top offensive and defensive team in the league. The last team to lead the league in both categories was the 72-win Chicago Bulls. My presumptive MVP is Steph Curry. At better than 23 points a game he has done everything and then-some to lead this team to unchartered territory. Klay Thompson not only scores 21 a game but is also considered one of the best defenders from the 2-guard spot. Thompson can defend three different positions on the floor and he also makes 43 percent of his three-point tries. Harrison Barnes is a huge X-Factor in this post-season. Barnes can not disappear in this series or in any series. He needs to produce to propel the Warriors deep in this run. We have run out of superlatives for Draymond Green. He is simply the heart-and-soul of the club. He is vital for the Championship aspirations. While Curry is the team’s best player, Green is their guts. A fearless competitor who is constantly attacking and competing. Andrew Bogut is the defensive force that is the back-bone of this top-ranked defense. He patrols the paint and cleans up mis-cues on the perimeter by shutting down drives to the rim. Bogut must stay out of foul trouble and must stay healthy.

The Dubs bench is a tremendous strength. Andre Iguodala and David Lee could have thrown fits and turned this thing sour. Instead, they both accepted their roles as bench players and let other player’s shine. The unselfishness of these two is a huge reason why the Warriors had a record-setting regular season. Head coach Steve Kerr will ask both Iguodala and Lee to play big and important minutes in the post-season. Shaun Livingston gives the Warriors a more-than-capable back up point guard and Leandro Barbosa is an electrifying scorer that can put points on the board in bunches. Festus Ezeli will important manning the middle when Bogut needs breathers. Ezeli is an under-rated interior defender that can change shots and grab big boards. Justin Holiday and Brandon Rush are complimentary pieces. If these two need to play extended minutes then the Warriors are either blowing teams out, or…the Warriors are in big trouble.

With the Spurs losing to the Pelicans on Wednesday night the Warriors could not have asked for a better set-up in the West. The Dubs avoid the Spurs, Clippers, Rockets and Mavericks in the first two rounds of the Western Conference playoffs. Many said the Spurs had nothing to play for on Wednesday…..NOT TRUE. The Spurs had everything to play for and failed. Instead of being a two-seed and getting home court advantage in series’ against the Clippers, Memphis and Houston, they lost and now do not have home court advantage in any of those series.

If the Warriors beat the Pelicans they would play the winner of the Memphis and Portland series. Three months ago a match-up with the Grizzlies would have terrified me, not anymore. Memphis is not the same team and is so limited offensively that they just don’t have the weapons to win a seven game series against the Warriors. Curry and company will not allow the game to be played at Memphis’ pace. Portland is decimated by injury.  Losing sixth-man extrordinarre Wes Matthews and having LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum nurse injuries is too much for the Blazers. I just don’t see them winning a seven-game series against the Warriors either.

The only way the Warriors would see defending champion San Antonio, the Clippers or Houston would be if they advanced to the Western Conference Finals. That is exactly where the Warriors want to see them…..not sooner.

I have the Warriors beating Pelicans in 5. It will the Warriors and Grizzlies in the 2nd round.

Save me a seat DubNation !!!

 

2015 NCAA MENS BASKETBALL WEST REGION PREVIEW

The West Regional Committee has spoken and now the 8 best Division II men’s college basketball teams on the west coast will battle it out for the West Region Championship and a spot in the Elite Eight. The committee chose teams from the Pacific West, California Collegiate Athletic Association and Great Northwest Conference. Clearly the Pacific West was the best conference in the west this year and they garnered four of the eight spots in the regional. Ironically, teams from the Pac-West got the top four seeds. Don’t blame the committee on this one. When you crunched the criteria, looked at head-to-head match-ups early in the season, and weighed the body of work, it was clear the Pac-West was deserving of such recognition.

With that said, the NCAA Tournament is a different animal. Wins in November don’t necessarily translate to March. These teams have run the marathon and now its time for that final kick to try to attain West Region glory ! Let’s look at the eight teams vying for a spot in the Elite Eight……

AZUSA PACIFIC #1 SEED

Despite losing in the semi-final round of the Pacific West Conference Tournament the Cougars were a clear-cut top seed candidate and are deserving of the top spot. The first thing you notice when look at their 24-5 season is they had a tough schedule and had no bad losses. The Cougars took care of business. I love teams that put tough teams on their schedule. The Cougars not only put tough teams on their schedule, but they were willing to go on the road to play those games.

They trounced perennial power San Bernardino by 32 in early November. They traveled to Chico and beat the CCAA Champion Wildcats by 14 on their home floor. They traveled to Monmouth to take on regular season GNAC champ Western Oregon and beat them  81-74. Throw in out of conference regional wins against San Francisco State, St. Martins and Cal State San Marcos and you can see how the Cougars paved their way to the number one seed.

They also continued their stellar play in the Pacific West Conference. They beat all the teams on their schedule aside from splitting games with Dixie State (4th seed) and BYU-Hawaii (2nd seed) They lost two games this year to the 3rd-seeded Cal Baptist Lancers falling in Riverside and on a neutral floor in the Pac-West Tournament. The Cougars other loss was an 81-78  overtime loss to the 5th-seeded Cal Poly Pomona Broncos in mid-November. A great season by the Cougars.

Sharp-shooter Troy Leaf is their top-scorer at better than 22 points a game. Leaf made 78 three’s on the year and shot them at a 40 percent clip. When Leaf puts it up, it usually goes in as he shot 50 percent on the season and is not simply a three-point specialist. He can score in a variety of ways.

Besides Leaf the Cougars have six other players who average at least 6 points a game. Robert Sandoval scores 10 points a game and averaged more than 5 assists a contest. Will Ward (8.4 ppg) Kevin Stafford (7.2 ppg 51 made three’s) along with Christian Katuala (6.7 ppg) and Bruce English (6.9 ppg 34 made three’s) round out a group that helped the Cougars average 84 points a game this year. Azusa also out-rebounded their opponents by five and turned it over 13 times a game. Don’t put the Cougars on the stripe. They knocked down their free throws at a 74 percent clip.

A very deserving number one seed and they have to feel confident entering this NCAA West Regional. The Cougars are hosting this event for the first time as a Division II institution and they were undefeated at home this year going 12-0. The Cougars open the tournament against GNAC regular season champion and number 8-seed Western Oregon. The game will be played at 7:30 on Friday night.

BYU-HAWAII #2 SEED

It was quite a run for the Seasiders through the Pacific West Conference Championship Tournament. BYU-Hawaii ran the gauntlet to capture the post-season tournament and garner the automatic qualifier to the NCAA Tournament. Not that the Seasiders needed the automatic bid to get to the big dance. With a 24-5 record and several quality wins there was never any doubt they were going to be in the NCAA Tournament.

If you take away a brutal five-day stretch in February, there is a good chance the Seasiders would be hosting this tournament. BYU-Hawaii lost games from February 12th thru 16th on a California road-trip in visits to Cal Baptist, Point Loma and Azusa Pacific. So, during a three-and-half-month season three of the Seasiders five losses came during a one week stretch. A very impressive season for BYU-Hawaii.

The most impressive statistic when looking at the Seasiders season is their proclivity for blowout victories. BYU-Hawaii won 22 of their 24 games by double-digits. When they were good, they were really good and they pounded teams into submission. Clearly the three-game California skid was an anomaly in their season.

The Seasiders have a balanced scoring attack with three players averaging double figures. They are led in scoring by Pablo Coro who averages 15.7 points  a game. Coro can knock down the three ball making 87 from long distance on the season. He is a 40 percent three-point shooter. Daniel Berger averages 13.3 points a game while shooting nearly 50 percent from the field. Scott Friel averages better than 11 points and 6 boards a game.

6-10 senior center Jordan Stone mans the middle. Stone averages 9 points and 5 boards a game. Stone makes 64 percent of his shots. The Seasiders shoot it really well making 50 percent of their shots as a club. The three-point shot is a great weapon for them as they make 40 percent of their three’s  while also making 75 percent of their free throws. They do a great job of utilizing their size out-rebounding their opponents by ten a game.

BYU-Hawaii averages 88 points a game while giving up 74 points a contest. Aside from one bad week BYU-Hawaii has had a dominant season. They open the NCAA Tournament against GNAC conference tournament champion Seattle Pacific at 2:30 on Friday afternoon.

CAL BAPTIST #3 SEED

Another great season by the Lancers nets them a 3-seed in the NCAA West Regional. Cal Baptist compiled a 24-6 overall record and a 16-4 Pac-West record which was good for third place a game back of both Azusa Pacific and Dixie State for a share of the title.

Cal Baptist is the only team in the field to beat co-conference champ Azusa Pacific twice. They also dominated match-ups against CCAA schools going a cool 6-0 against those teams. Most of the wins were blow-outs, emphasizing the early season dominance of the CCAA by the Pac-West. The Lancers advanced to the championship game of their conference post-season tournament only to run into the buzz-saw that was BYU-Hawaii last week.  The Lancers split their match-ups with Dixie State, but lost two out of three to the Seasiders of BYU-Hawaii.

Cal Baptist is another offensively gifted team from the Pac-West, but they are also a pretty good defensive team giving up only 69 points a game. Nearly 40 percent of their shot attempts are three-point shots and they make 37 percent of them. They made 259 three-pointers as a team while averaging nearly 80 points a game.

They have 4 players who average double-figures led by Gelaun Wheelwright. The junior transfer from Weber State averages 16.6 points per game. He nailed an amazing 95 three-point shots and shoots 40 percent from beyond the arch. Taj Spencer is a 6’7 post who scores 12 points and grabs 7 rebounds a game. Spencer shoots 55 percent from the field. Sophomores Ryan Berg and Michael Smith both average 12 points a game and are nice complementary pieces for the Lancers offense.

Cal Baptist is a deep team and uses that to their advantage. They have ten players that play at least 10 minutes a game. They make 46 percent of their shots and holding opponents to 41 percent shooting. They are also good at defending the three, holding opponents to 31 percent shooting from three-point range. The experience of getting to the tournament and coming up a little bit short could serve this team well. They have a re-match with their 1st Round NCAA Tournament opponent last year in Chico State. The Lancers let a 10-point second half lead slip away as the Wildcats beat the Lancers 77-71. Cal Baptist and Chico will play the first game of the day at 12 noon on Friday afternoon.

DIXIE STATE #4 SEED

The Dixie State Red Storm come into the tournament with a 20-7 record. They were riding a 9-game win streak before being over-whelmed by BYU-Hawaii 98-75 in the Pac-West Tournament. Dixie played great basketball in the second half of the season and shared the Pac-West co-championship with Azusa Pacific going 17-3 in conference play.

Their most impressive win came in early January when they beat BYU-Hawaii 92-81 in Hawaii. The Red Storm went 3-2 against teams in the region but out of the Pac-West. They beat Cal State Stanislaus (CCAA) and St. Martin’s (GNAC) but fell to Western Oregon at home and to Seattle Pacific on a neutral floor. Those games were all early in the season and Dixie is clearly a better team now.

The Red Storm is another team that can rail the three. They shoot their three-pointers at a 39 percent clip. While they don’t shoot as many treys as their Pac-West counterparts, they don’t need to. Dixie’s multi-faceted interior game gives them the perfect inside-outside complement to be a very dangerous team on the offensive end.

6’10 Zach Robbins and 6’8 Mark Ogden man the middle. These two post players both shoot over 50 percent (Robbins 57 percent; Ogden 51 percent). Guard De’Quan Thompson (15.6 ppg) is a slasher who can get to the bucket but can also knock down the perimeter jumper. He is shooting 44 percent from three-point range and has made 42 three’s on the year. Mason Sawyer averages better than 12 points a game and has hit a team high 48 threes. He shoots them at 37 percent.

The Red Storm shoot 48 percent as a team and out-rebound their opponents by four. And, like most teams in this regional they take care of the ball, only turning it over 13 times a game. They knock down 73 percent of their free throws and they shot 238 more free throws than their opponents this year.

Dixie State is used to March Madness. They have been a power in the Pac-West for years and are an experienced club. Last year they were in position to beat Cal Poly Pomona in the first round of the tournament only to go cold late and fall 73-65. This year they get a chance at redemption as they take on the CCAA conference tournament champion on Friday. Start time is 5pm on Friday afternoon.

CAL POLY POMONA #5

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The Cal Poly Pomona Broncos are the best Division II defensive team in the country. This is not conjecture, it is fact. Head coach Greg Kamansky has cemented his place as a great defensive coach. He recruits long, athletic and rangy defenders who harass and bother opponents into taking bad shots leading to low-scoring games where the Broncos excel.

Pomona has been good for a long time and their players completely BUY-IN to the defensive philosophy. Their close-outs on shooters, defensive rotations and abilities to hold opponents to one shot make them a really special team.

The Broncos finished the season 23-6 and finished one game back of CCAA regular season champion Chico State. Pomona beat Chico in the CCAA conference tournament championship game on Saturday night winning 62-57 in overtime. Pomona also beat top-seeded Azusa Pacific 81-78 in overtime at Kellogg Gym in early November. They had impressive exhibition losses at 25th ranked Stanford and 2nd ranked Arizona. Those games illustrate how tough it is to prepare for that zone in a one-and-done scenario.

They also have some talented offensive players. The CCAA Player of the Year is Terrance Drisdom. A silky smooth player who never seems to be out of control. Drisdom averages 16 points and 6 rebounds a game while making 50 percent of his shots. Jordan Faison is a big-time post presence scoring 13 points and snaring 6 boards a game. Faison shoots 53 percent from the field. Barry Bell (7ppg)  is the starting point guard and is solid in all facets. He controls tempo so well and makes sure the Broncos don’t play faster than they should. Daniel Rodriguez (7ppg)  is a versatile scorer and defender who can play multiple positions.

The Broncos make 47 percent of their shots and hold opponents to 38 percent shooting. They have given up nearly 150 more three-point attempts than their opponents and that is by design. Most of the time those shots are not good ones.

I emphasize defense but the Broncos are not a one-trick pony. When they get stops they usually get the rebound. That enables them to control tempo and play the grind it out type of game that usually leads to run-and-gun teams making mistakes because the lack the patience needed to win a grind it out game. Pomona feeds off of that. The Broncos have a re-match with the Dixie State Red Storm in the 1st Round on Friday. Last year Pomona won 73-65 and it should be a great match-up. Game time is 5pm on Friday.

CHICO STATE #6 SEED

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For the fourth straight year the Chico State Wildcats are in the NCAA Tournament. Last year’s regional champions lost roughly 80 percent of their scoring punch from that team and still managed to capture the CCAA regular season title and win 22 games. Like Pomona, defense is the name of the game for the Wildcats. Chico gives up only 60 points a game and has penchant for holding opponents scoreless for long stretches of time.

The Wildcats utilize an aggressive man-to-man and a 2-3 zone with length to frustrate opponents. Having seen them all year their communication defensively is fantastic. They talk on defense and assignments are rarely missed.

Offensively Chico has a multi-faceted attack. Senior Jordan Semple has been a stand-out player in the program for several years and has the ability to put the team on his back. He averages 11 points and 9 rebound a game. He led the CCAA in rebounding while also  ranking in the top-20 in scoring, assists, blocked shots and steals. Semple’s greatest attribute is his length on the defensive end. When he isn’t blocking shots, he is changing them and can also get out on the break.

Chico’s emerging star is Robert Duncan. He led the team in scoring at 14 points a game. Duncan’s bread-and-butter entails daring dashes through the lane and aggressive attacks to the rim. Duncan can make the perimeter shot (27 three’s) and his elusiveness against the best of defenses makes him a very tough player to defend.

Chico’s supporting cast all average 7 points per game. Senior point guard Mike Rosaroso, 6’10 Tanner Giddings and Drew Kitchens all play within Head Coach Greg Clink’s team concept perfectly. Chico’s offensive and defensive discipline is a strength.

The future is bright for the Wildcats as four red-shirt freshmen get significant playing time. They are all impact players and if Chico is to make a deep run, they will have to make their presence felt. 6’8 Isaiah Ellis man’s post the post and can run the floor like a guard. Tyler Harris is a 44 percent three-point shooter and can be deadly with an open look. Jalen McFerren is a defensive nuisance and committed only 1 turnover for every 15 minutes played. Corey Silverstrom is a 37 percent three-point shooter and despite missing more than a month brings Chico great versatility on both ends of the floor.

Senior Jordan Barton is a big body off the bench that will defend and enforce in the paint. Chris Magalotti and Trevor Priest come off the bench to provide a defensive presence as well.

Chico State shoots 47 percent from the field and 35 percent from three-point range. The Wildcats have scuffled from the free throw line all year and their ability to hit charities could determine how deep they run the in the NCAA Tournament. The Cats only shoot 64 percent from the line.

Chico State opens play at 12 noon on Friday against Cal Baptist. Chico knocked off the Lancers in the 1st Round of last year’s tournament 77-71 on their way to the West Region title and a trip to the Elite Eight.

SEATTLE PACIFIC #7

The Falcons are back in the NCAA Tournament and to those of us that love and follow west coast Division II basketball, we are not surprised. Despite having a good season the Falcons were hurt by the Great Northwest Conference’s low power rating and could not break into the top-8 in the region. Thankfully for SPU they qualified for the tournament by running through the GNAC conference tournament and gaining the automatic bid to the tournament.

Seattle-Pacific compiled a 23-7 record and comes into the tournament on a roll, winners of seven straight. No longer do the Falcons have the incomparable David Downs, but what they do have is a core of returnees from some highly successful teams of the past to make a name for themselves.

Cory Hutsen leads the way averaging 16 points a game and shooting 59 percent from the field. Hutsen is one of the best back-to-the basket players on the west coast. The variety of ways he can get to the hoop is impressive. Adept at beating you left or right, he finds a way to get to the rim.  Hutsen had a 34 point performance in SPU’S GNAC Tournament Championship game win over rival Western Washington.

6’5 Mitch Penner is the second leading scorer at better than 13.3 points per game, also averaging nearly 6 boards a game. Matt Borton averages 10 points and 7.3 rebounds a game.  Guard Riley Stockton averages 9.8 points and nearly 4 assists a game.

SPU has five players who have hit at least 20 three’s. Shawn Reid leads the Falcons with (37) made three’s. He comes of the bench for SPU and gives them some instant offense scoring 9 points a game.

Statistically the Falcons have several areas where they stand out. They shoot 50 percent as a team and nearly 37 percent from three-point range. They also dominate the boards out-rebounding their opponents by 13 a game. The Falcons have pulled roughly 200 more offensive rebounds than their opponents. Seattle-Pacific scores 79 points a game while giving up only 63 points a contest. This is a dangerous team as a 7-seed. They have experience and veteran leadership. This is a group that has been there and done that. They open against Pacific West Conference Tournament Champion BYU-Hawaii at 5pm on Friday.

WESTERN OREGON #8

For the first time in the history of the program the Western Oregon Wolves are in the Division II NCAA Tournament. The Wolves won the regular season championship in the Great Northwest Conference compiling a 23-6 overall record.

The Wolves had some impressive early wins on their schedule and jumped out to a big lead in the GNAC. Western Oregon gave us a sign of things to come when they beat Oregon State in a pre-season exhibition. They also had an impressive  showing with a win at Dixie State. The Wolves beat Seattle-Pacific at home in double-overtime and were sitting at 20-3 on the season three weeks ago. Then they lost their leading scorer for a few games are looking to regain that mid-season form. They dropped an 88-79 decision to Western Washington in the semis of the GNAC Tournament.

The Wolves leading scorer is Andy Avgi. He averages 18.5 points and nearly 6 rebounds a game. He makes 61 percent of his shots and is a load to handle on the block. Julian Nichols is the second leading scorer and the primary distributer for Western Oregon. He averages 12.4 points and nearly 6 assists a game. He makes 46 percent of his shots and has made 23 treys on the season. Devon Alexander is a 6’1 guard and averages 11 points a game. He is second on the team with 41 made three’s. Their most prolific three-point shooter is Jordan Wiley. He has started every game and averages a little more than 10 points a game. He shoots 44 percent from beyond the arc and has made a team high 62 on the season. Lewis Thomas rounds out the starting line-up. The 6’8 post averages 7.8 points and grabs more than 6 rebounds a game. He can also step out and make a three, hitting 27 of them on the season.

The Wolves average nearly 80 points a game while giving up 69 a contest. Like most teams in this regional they can really shoot it, hitting on 47 percent of their shots and knocking down 37 percent of their threes. They are an exceptional free throw shooting team, making 76 percent from the stripe. They out-board their opponents by four and they take care of the ball, turning it over only 12 times a game. They were the best team all year in the GNAC, and despite falling in their conference tournament were a no doubt choice by the selection committee. They were sitting with the 3rd spot in the region before Avgi went down with an injury leading to a blowout loss at Western Washington. They very well could have been a 4 or 5 seed without the stumble.

One has the feeling the Wolves will not have that “happy to be there” feel. You never know when you will get back to the NCAA Tournament. This is the first time for the Wolves and they should be excited about this opportunity, especially considering the dominance shown by Western Washington and Seattle Pacific through the years. The Wolves are familiar with their 1st round opponent and top-seed Azusa Pacific. The Cougars came to Monmouth on November 21st and beat the Wolves 81-74. Western Oregon needs to find an answer for Troy Leaf. The Cougar sharp-shooter scored 33 points going 5-of-8 from deep. Azusa also out-rebounded the Wolves by 11 (32-21) in that game. No team in this tournament is the same club they were in November, the Wolves will need to adjust to make sure Leaf doesn’t go off.

The Wolves and Cougars play the final game of day one starting at 7:30pm at the Felix Events Center on the campus of Azusa Pacific.

OUTLOOK…..

Some people may have wondered why the Pacific West Conference got the top four seeds in the NCAA Tournament ? Quit wondering. This was the biggest of no-brainers. The Pac-West was clearly the dominant conference in the west this year and they deserve all the accolades coming their way. Most of their teams played tough schedules, inter-conference West Region schedules, and they dominated the CCAA and the GNAC. The numbers certainly didn’t lie in this case. But, the great thing about the NCAA Tournament is that the numbers don’t matter. It’s how you play for those 40 minutes in the biggest game of your life. You don’t have to beat a team that may better than you in a best-of-five series. You only have to beat them once. Anyone can be beaten once. That is why we love the tournament.

As the 18-year play-by-play voice for the Chico State Wildcats I am fortunate enough  to see every Chico State game and in doing so I love to follow the West Region action closely as well. Our game day score-sheets at Acker Gym not only have scores from the CCAA, but also scores from the Pacific-West and Great Northwest Conferences. We love our basketball in Chico, and not just the CCAA. This is going to be a tremendous regional with several new faces (Azusa Pacific & Western Oregon) and also teams who have made (Seattle-Pacific & Cal Poly Pomona) or who are making (Chico State) March Madness a habit.

When looking at the match-ups it struck me that we have 1st round match-ups of contrasting styles. BYU-Hawaii is putting up big offensive numbers, but Seattle-Pacific gives up only 63 points a game.

We have two games where teams met each other last year in the tournament. Cal Baptist and Chico; and Dixie and Pomona. The Lancers of Cal Baptist are a multi-faceted triple to quadruple pronged offense. Can the versatile Chico State defense stymie and frustrate the Lancers and make it hard for them to score ? Dixie State succumbed to the Pomona match-up zone in the last ten minutes of their regional contest last year. Can Dixie adjust or will Pomona leave another opponent muttering in frustration again about what might have been.

And then we have the two-first timers. Top seed Azusa Pacific who scheduled every good team they could possibly schedule and not only lived to tell about, but also kicked those teams in the rear. And, Western Oregon, no longer living in the shadows of WWU and SPU. They made the GNAC theirs and now they look to make some noise on the biggest of stages.

Friday will feature four games at the Felix Event Center.

Hey Friday, get here already ! See you court side !

*Thank you to the Chico State and Cal Poly Pomona athletics departments for use of pictures from their sites.