First post of the new year. New President. New world with the Arizona Cardinals making the Super Bowl. With their success and the Rays success in making the World Series, we've entered into a sort of bizzaro world time period for sports. Add into the mix that the Cleveland Cavaliers (another franchise with very mild success all time, especially before Lebron) could possibly end the drought for Cleveland championships in June and you'll see that the world looks a bit different than it did 12 months ago. My next post (to be up by Saturday) will explore the Cavs potential trade options at the trade deadline (using the fun and easy to use ESPN.com Trade Machine)
-The Arizona Cardinals did what many couldn't even fathom after getting shelled multiple times at the end of the regular season. Making the Super Bowl is extraordinary for this franchise but considering their playoff run, one can't be all that surprised can we? They got to play two of the three games at home, where they are a much better and different football team. Their road game at Carolina (8-0 at home this season) seems to be the toughest task yet when one looks at the Panthers "home-field advantage" historically. Yes they were 8-0 but no one was making this look as tough as if they had to go to New York. The Panthers were under .500 at home before this season (although 2-0 in the playoffs) all the while having competitive teams in every year except two (1998, 4-12 and 2001, 1-15). The Cardinals defense has played to it's athletic abilities and Clancy Pendergast has them "overachieving" is the new rallying cry. Simply put, this is a team that seems to show up in big games this year while being easily overcome on others.
-The Cleveland Cavs continue their improbably march to 41-0 at home as they've now reached 20-0. They'll be on the west coast all week, giving us a chance to look ahead. Can they finish 41-0 at home? Probably not. They still host many of their tougher games in the next 21. But, for the Cavs to establish a great home court advantage while occupying the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference (and possibly overall?) is a big step towards post-season success. Consider the Cavs chances to defeat Boston last year if Game 7 was at the Q. I think most people would agree that the Cavs would have taken that game if in Cleveland, even though Boston went on to win the title and had over 20 more regular season wins. Now I know others may say the same thing for Atlanta but I can't agree because of the way Boston closed that series out. It took them until the final seconds to eliminate the Cavs last season.
-The Orlando Magic as the new Eastern Conference Favorites? Another popular rallying cry around the league today. Personally, I don't see Orlando beating Cleveland or Boston in a 2nd round series. If they get the #1 seed, then sure they can beat Atlanta or Detroit and go to the conference finals. But even with an improved Jameer Nelson and the man-child Dwight Howard, this team still has some work to do, especially in May to be considered a contender. Take last year for example as they bowed out easily to a Detroit team that was nowhere near as good as they had been in the past.
-North Carolina has an incredible amount of talent at the college basketball level this season. But with all that talent and the multiple blowouts that this team produces each year with this nucleus, why have they been bounced the past 3 years from the NCAA Tournament? They've lost two games in league play already (Wake Forest and Boston College) and seem to have a few more in store. They were the overwhelming favorite coming into the season with no publication that I saw picking anyone but them. So what makes me think that this team will somehow figure out a way to come up short again in March? Well, Boston College is only a bit above-average team in the ACC. Any team that loses to a mid level conference team can't be considered elite and could be sent home in the second round of the NCAA Tournament if the right matchup is on the bracket. Personally, they still rank in the four best teams I've seen this season. Duke doesn't. I don't know what it is but I always feel that they need to get another dominant big man (Boozer, Brand, etc.) to win another title. The team can shoot the lights out of the gym any night but will get knocked out once again when they meet a team with a big man who can control the paint.
My NCAA Basketball Ranks (as of Jan.19)
1: Wake Forest (Good team but playing over their heads)
2: North Carolina (Most talented; will fall short in the end again though)
3: Louisville (Killer conference will harden every team for NCAA Tournament)
4: Pittsburgh (Big East will have at least one final four team, guaranteed)
5: Gonzaga (Another talented Zags team will find it's way to the program's 1st Final Four)
6: Marquette (A team not getting much attention but has quality wins and a good record)
7: Connecticut (Everyone's #2 in the preseason is just getting warmed up)
8: Oklahoma (A team with a star player capable of leading them all the way; great start as well)
So my Final Four predictions right now would be Connecticut, Louisville, Oklahoma and North Carolina. Sleepers to consider for now would be Marquette, Arizona State, Michigan State and Texas.
-Can anyone in the world tell me why Matt Carroll and Desagna Diop (traded for each other last week) have 5 and 4 year contracts worth the mid-level exception? I mean I guess Dallas figured they needed to some height but then they go and trade Diop. I have officially ruled Dallas as the team most likely to finish 9th in the race to the Western Conference Playoffs. As of now, it's 9 teams for 8 spots but the other teams in the West have to be happy about this deal.
-Is there any team playing worse defensively than the Golden State Warriors? And to think they have Biedrins, Ellis and Jackson tied up for 5+ years as of now doesn't help. They're also on the hook for three more years of Jamal Crawford (who wakes up in the morning shooting) and Ronny Turiaf (grossly overrated player, not worth the 4.5 million a year they found it so wise to give him this past offseason). Their best deal is the one given to Kelenna Azubuike. But he will find more money somewhere else in 2 years when Golden State won't be able to afford to sign him. Now I was all for the signing of Corey Maggette in the offseason. I thought he'd offset Baron Davis' departure well enough scoring wise that he would win Most Improved Player. True, he's been hurt some of this season. But that deal likes terrible in the oh so 20-20 vision that we tend to have when looking back on things.