Friday, January 22, 2010

NFC Championship Preview

NFC Championship Preview (prediction at the bottom)

How We Got Here:
The two best teams for most of the year in the NFC meet in the title game. There's something to be said for that. How many #1 vs #2 matchups have we seen in the conference title games in the past decade? Not enough in my opinion. They give us compelling matchups with fan bases that have had hope since the season started. Everyone believes it's their year and that their team can win it all but some teams have given their fans hope since September (basically the opposite of Dallas or the Jets, who gained momentum late in the season and were hoping to ride it to the Super Bowl). New Orleans started the season 13-0, blowing out good teams in the first half of the season and showing that they were the best team in football (blowouts of NYG when they were 5-0 and NE on MNF shows this is a big game team). They didn't play as well in the second half of the season, losing their last 3 games. Last week, the "old" Saints showed up and nearly blew the roof off of the Superdome with their demolishing of the defending NFC Champs. The Saints have looked unbeatable at times with an offense that is near unstoppable when it's clicking. They'll host this game as well, which could make the difference. For the Vikings, it all comes down to bad QB play last season. Making Brett Favre a priority in the offseason seemed peculiar but any real Vikings fan can't complain about the results. Minnesota is a game away from playing in their fifth Super Bowl (0-4 in the other four) and is coming off their own blowout of a hot team. So the best teams in the NFC will play a 60 minute game for the right to go represent the NFC & their city in the Super Bowl.

New Orleans Offense:
By far, the best of the four units. They were on pace to challenge the single-season scoring record for most of the season and showed last week that they have enough play-makers to give any defense matchup nightmares. The emergence of Reggie Bush could be the X-Factor again this week if he can create big plays in space (which is the only time he's dangerous). The receiving core of Colston, Meachem, Henderson & Moore is as dangerous as any with my personal pick for MVP (Brees) at QB. Jeremy Shockey, should he get over his injury woes, is another problem that one of Minnesota's LB's will have to deal with. Minnesota may have to employ a ball control offense once they realize that stopping this offense is near impossible. One unknown factor is how healthy starting RB Pierre Thomas is. He isn't a gamebreaker like Bush but he provides good runs to keep drives going. New Orleans has to have some resemblance of a running game to win this one. They can't afford to have Brees taking 5-7 step drops every play because Minnesota's talented D-Line will get to the QB at some point. This is where Bush may be most effective. The short passes and occasional carries could keep the Vikings defense off balance, giving Brees the opportunity to make big plays downfield to the receivers. New Orleans needs to pick up first downs and keep the Vikings defense on the field. Against a talented defense, they may not get their big plays as often. They'll need to be able to move the ball 10 yards at a time, exploiting the many mismatches they can cause any defense.

Minnesota Defense:
The health of Ray Edwards is in question here, causing me to believe he won't have as effective a game as he did last week. New Orleans' offensive line isn't great but Brees gets rid of the ball quick enough so that they don't look too bad in pass protection. Jared Allen is the big name on the defensive line and could have a big game here if the Saints don't help with double teams. The "Williams" wall in the middle of the DL can shut down any running game but hasn't had a good a year as in the past few years. If they can render Thomas & Bush useless in the run game, they can tee up the pass rush to get to Brees or at least cause him to rid of the ball earlier than he'd like. The Vikings LB core has been hit with a big injury, losing EJ Henderson and replacing him with Jasper Brinkley. That matchup has been exploited by other teams but Dallas wasn't able to do it last week. Don't underestimate Sean Payton's ability to pick one player on the opposing defense to pick on. Brinkley might be that guy this week. The defensive backs for Minnesota are strong, aggressive and will hit you off the line of scrimmage. One of the unknown factors is how the NO receivers will deal with this. Can they get down the field to make the plays or will the Minnesota defense get to Brees before the Saints WR's can get there? How the Vikings defend Shockey/any other NO TE will be another key. If the Vikings are to win this game, they have to keep it lower scoring than the Saints would like it to be . A 24-20 game plays into the hands of the Vikings while a game in the 30's or even 40's spells doom for Minnesota. I just don't think their going to score that many points. We should be able to see early though if the Vikings defense can keep up with the Saints explosive offense.

Minnesota Offense:
Two huge names on this offense will determine what happens on Sunday. Brett Favre and Adrian Peterson need to both avoid making mistakes (Favre INT's & Peterson fumbles) to continue the season for the Vikings. Neither has had a bad turnover game in awhile so it seems like one of them could be due to let the Vikings down. Chester Taylor gets some work in the backfield and could be big in the short passing game if the Vikings receivers find trouble getting open. Percy Harvin (a more explosive Reggie I don't mean faster, I mean he catches the ball better downfield, allowing the Vikings to line him up in more sets than Bush) is a question mark once again with migraines. The Vikings need to hit big plays though. The Superdome will be a deafening place on Sunday so it's to the Vikings advantage to score early and quiet down the fans. If their offensive line (ridiculed before last week but I told you they'd hold up against Dallas' talented pass rushers) can get the calls in, they should be able to move the ball against the Saints defense. Favre may have trouble trying to audible at the line of scrimmage so it'd be to the Saints Defense's advantage to show multiple looks at the line of scrimmage and try to confuse the Vikings. The pass rushes aren't nearly as talented as Dallas so I think the Vikings could find time for Favre to throw the ball. Sidney Rice had a big game last week (a big year really) but he could be negated by Jabari Greer. Greer is fresh after being injured for awhile and looked great last week. For the Vikings, it will come down to the ability to run the ball. If Peterson can get 100-150 yards on the ground, they should take this game easily. If he looks like the AD we've seen most of this year, the Vikings will put the game on the shoulders of Favre and the receivers.

New Orleans Defense:
No one gave the Saints defense much of a chance to stop Arizona last week and they walked away from that one with an impressive 14 points given up. The Saints stopped the Cards run game cold and used an early lead to their advantage, forcing the Cards to throw on most plays and play one-dimensional football. The same formula applies here.....get a lead early, get the crowd into the game even more and rely on the Vikings going one dimensional. New Orleans has to get pressure on Favre though....something that Dallas didn't do. I can't imagine the Saints having as much as success stopping AD as they did with the Cards backs. Other than the long Hightower run, the Saints defense played a great game. They didn't allow the Cards to find any comfort for Warner and that'll be the key to beating Minnesota. New Orleans need to stop the big play, forcing Favre to move the ball meticulously downfield. The longer the Saints can stay ahead or in the game, they will always have the crowd to rely on to help out their defense. The 12th man will be in full effect and that could be the difference in a close game.

Prediction: New Orleans(-3.5) 34, Minnesota 17
This will be the perfect formula for the the Saints.....loud crowd, early lead, decent running game and mismatches all over the field. The only team that can beat the Saints right now is the Saints. With them at home, I can't see the Vikings going in and getting it done. Minnesota has looked composed at home but stuggled at times on the road this year. Adrian Peterson hasn't had much success against 8 men in the box looks that most teams have thrown at Minnesota. This has been the main reason that Favre and the Vikings passing game has been so effective. Unless Peterson & the offensive line can have a vintage performance, the Vikings will have a hard time scoring. New Orleans' offense is nearly unstoppable when clicking and their coming in with all the confidence in the world. They have homefield advantage (it is THAT important in the case of dome teams.....) and should use the 12th man to get a few false starts out of the Vikings offensive line. People may want to see the Favre-Manning Super Bowl but they should be happy if it's Manning-Brees. Drew Brees has had a great year, establishing him as one of the top QB's in the league in the past 5 years. New Orleans gets up 14-0 early, runs the ball, controls the clock and keeps their offense on the field enough to frustrate Favre into gunslinger mode and goes into the half up 24-7. The Vikings cut it to 24-14 but the Saints put away the Vikings with a big INT TD to go up 31-14 in the 3rd quarter to clinch the game.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

AFC Championship Preview

AFC Championship Preview (prediction at the bottom)

How we got here:
It's hard to really explain how the Jets got here. Dropped a heartbreaker to Atlanta then benefited from the Colts and Bengals resting their starters to pick up 2 late season wins. Took their show on the road to knock off Cincinnati and San Diego to gain their chance to go to the Super Bowl. The Colts have been the best team in the AFC all year (lost 2 games with their starters out), prompting some to believe that they should be undefeated right now. My question is simple: if the Colts should be undefeated, why do I have this sinking feeling about this team every time they step on the field? Why do I feel Peyton Manning is capable of making a mistake or underperforming at the most critical time? While Manning has won his share of MVP's (regular season), his career record is 8-8 in the playoffs. Most of those games, the Colts were a better team than their opponent. By my calculations, the Colts should have at least 2 Super Bowls in the Manning era at least.....right? This year is another grand opportunity, playing the #5 & #6 seeds in the AFC in the playoffs (two 9-7 teams....must be nice) I'm not going to go over all their playoff failures (numerous vs NE & SD, also including a loss to a #6 Steelers team a few years back). The key thing to remember is that this is not baseball or basketball. In the NFL, there are no series. 60 minutes to advance to the next round. Every play could be the great play to advance your team or the critical mistake that could throw months out the window (ask Phillip Rivers about that 2nd INT last week, for example). So here we are......a 9 win regular season team against a team that arguably should be undefeated. Blowout? Not in today's NFL......

Colts Offense:
Something most of the media doesn't realize is how big of an advantage that the Colts have in seeing the Jets #1 defense for a half in December. No one makes better adjustments for his offensive line before each snap and the Jets key in on finding their unique blitz packages. If the Jets aren't at least affecting Manning on most pass plays, the Colts will win this game in a runaway. NYJ have to show Manning some blitzes that he doesn't see coming. Easier said than done though. Darrelle Revis has already been assumed to take Reggie Wayne out of this game. That's fine with the Colts I'd imagine, as they have 2 other young WR's (Garcon & Collie) who've shown all year that they can make the big catches/plays downfield. The Colts may be tempted to try to drive up and down the field against the Jets but they must hit a few big plays to keep these drives going. That's where the X-Factor of the game comes into play....Dallas Clark. NYJ had trouble covering a better athlete at TE last week (Gates) so a big game by Clark shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. IND may need to keep Clark in to protect Manning in certain situations but Clark has shown the ability to have big games against any kind of defense. The Colts running game gave us an interesting look last week. In a game where the Colts controlled the clock and really had no problems against the Ravens, they used the short passing game over the running game at times. Joe Addai had 11 carries, Donald Brown had 6 and Mike Hart had 6 suprising carries. Whether they see Hart as a factor around the goal line or a blocker is still undetermined. Hart has barely played, Brown has only had over 10 carries once since Week 3 while Addai gets most of the carries but only over 20 a handful of times this season. Expect to see all three backs get at least 5 carries again this week since the Jets have a solid run defense. IND may want to see what it can get out of Brown in the short passing game as a safety net to potential blitzes that the line doesn't quite pick up as well. I see the Colts moving the ball when they have it but also seeing a couple of frustrating 3 and outs that may flip field position in a close game.

Jets Defense:
Everyone knows about "Revis Island" by now. You're just not going to have a great game against him. So be prepared to see plenty of the other WR's for IND making plays. Lito Sheppard needs to have a big game on Garcon though. This is another X-Factor that could be exploited. Garcon has shown an ability to get downfield and make the big catch. Austin Collie is young slot receiver that could gain attention as the game goes along. The thing the Jets must do is put the pressure on Manning. If they get him moving around in the pocket, they've got him where they want him. In these types of the games (good offense vs good defense), it's almost imperative for the defense to come up with one huge play to swing the momentum of the game. The earlier the Jets defense can do this, the better. You won't see blitzers get to Manning uncovered often so the NYJ needs to realize that they have to cover the quick passes down field since they'll be blitzing on many downs.

Jets Offense:
This is the most interesting of the 4 units in my opinion. We all know Mark Sanchez will not beat you. He will lean on his 2 headed monster in the run game, make a few key passes to talented yet unreliable WR's in Jerricho Cotchery & Braylon Edwards. If he can utilize Dustin Keller a bit more, it'll show that the Jets are having their way. By that I mean that the Jets will have the Colts covering their WR's downfield and Sanchez can check down to keep the chains moving & keep Manning off the field. That seems to be the strategy that most would encourage NYJ to use. If they can keep the ball for 35-40 minutes using a ball control offense, strong running game & short-intermediate passing game, they can win this game. They can't afford to air it out or fall down 14-0 in the 1st quarter of this game. If that happens, book the trip to Miami for the Colts. Whether it's because of injuries or youth or whatever, Shonn Greene has proven to be the more reliable ball carrier to Thomas Jones in the past two weeks. He's busted two big runs for the Jets and should see most of the work. Jones runs well inside the 10 yard line so he could very well get a TD in this game. NYJ's offensive line is continually underrated but is getting to show it's stuff the past few weeks. With the great pass rushers on IND's line (Freeney & Mathis), this may be the biggest test for them. Sanchez cannot afford to make any mistakes (INT's, fumbles) when he can just throw it out of bounds, punt and let their defense back on the field. I expect to see the Jets employ the ball control offense and pound IND's defense. Sanchez will make a mistake or two though which will cost the Jets in the long run.

Colts Defense:
This is a defense that's often not talked about yet is always making plays to give the potent offense short fields. IND will turn you over if you test their secondary and this may be where the game turns. The Jets don't want to admit it but this kind of fast, smaller defense may make Sanchez turn it over. The key will be making Sanchez throw the ball in clear passing downs. To do this, the Colts need to put up a wall against the Jets running game. That's easier said than doen but the Colts did a nice job last week against the Ravens, who were coming into the game off of a 234 yard rushing performance against NE. No big plays from the NYJ running game would be huge as it would force them to stay on the field and methodically move up & down the field. If you give the Jets a big play or two, you could be in trouble. They play well from ahead and would really force the Colts defense into a back against the wall situation. IND has the ability to score quickly if behind but they must make the Jets work their way down the field.

Other X-Factors:
The kicking game is interesting for both teams. As far as I know, Matt Stover will be kicking again for IND. He no longer has the ability to make the really long FG's but has shown over his career that's he's about as accurate as anyone. I'd favor him over Jay Feely (NYJ kicker). Neither team has a great punter but both may see a lot of work on Sunday. The Jets especially could use a few punts down inside the 10 by Weatherford if they want to force the Colts to go up the whole field against their defense. The more short fields NYJ gives IND, the bigger the blowout this game will be. Brad Smith has had some success for the Jets as a wildcat player & I expect to see him out there for a few plays on Sunday. He also returned a kick against the Colts in December's game. A kick return in this game could be just what it takes to swing the momentum and the upset.

Prediction: Indianapolis 17, NY Jets(+7.5) 10
The Jets can win this game, don't be mistaken by my score. I see both teams being really cautious early in this game. These title game atmospheres usually have the feeling out process of a boxing match early on. The team that plays from ahead will have a HUGE advantage in this game. If NYJ can get up 7 or 10, they can run the ball, keep Sanchez from having to win the game and benefit from eating up the clock. The Colts could have this game over by the half if they get up 10-14 points. I just can't imagine the Jets coming back from a deficit against an offense that's going to score some more points in the second half. I see the Colts getting up 10-0 at the half here then the Jets scoring a TD in the 3rd quarter on a long drive. Manning will find Garcon on a 30-40 yard ball with about 8 minutes left to go up 17-7 and the Colts will hold on to the victory in the end. If NYJ can keep this game tied late and get the ball back, I have confidence the Jets can drive down the field to score the game-winning TD or FG. They just have to get into that position.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

NFL Divisional Round Preview

Here are my predictions and analysis for this weekend's NFL Playoff games (2-2 in week 1 picks against the spread):

Arizona (+7) 38, New Orleans 31
The Cardinals come into the game after a great offensive performance last week at home against Green Bay. The key to this game is going to be which team can mix their underrated running attacks in with the potent passing games. Both teams should be able to find a way to get over 100 yards on the ground but the Saints do not have the gamebreaker that Arizona has. Beanie Wells is peaking at the right time of the year and has been running well for weeks. He compliments the Arizona passing game by giving them a nice average and hitting an occasional 20-30 yard run. Tim Hightower is a guy who gets goal line carries, catches short passes & most importantly picks up blitzers to help Warner stay clean. Warner vs Brees is pretty even while the Cardinals may have the better receiving core. With Early Doucet stepping up last week, Arizona has another weapon they can use downfield or in the slot. Anquan Boldin is still questionable and his addition to the Cardinals passing game could be the difference. If he plays, they can move him into the slot and keep Steve Breaston as the #2 WR opposite Fitzgerald. The Saints passing defense has struggled over the past few weeks but a week off could help them big time. I see a high scoring contest similar to last week with Arizona having enough to win it.

Baltimore (+7) 24, Indianapolis 21
I may be picking the Ravens to win this game but a 45-10 Colts win would be the other way to go. The Colts could exploit a bad secondary all day but with Ed Reed back there now, making game changing plays as usual....I see the Ravens keeping it close and winning it. Both of these teams changed kickers during the year (Cundiff for Bal & Stover for Ind.), leading me to think that this one could come down to the kickers. These teams played a close, low scoring regular season game a few weeks back in Baltimore that Indianapolis won 17-15. The Ravens proved last week as well as last year that they are undaunted about going on the road as the #6 seed. Ray Rice (spelled by McGahee) should be able to keep the ball in the Ravens hands while also forcing Manning to stay on the sidelines. If this game comes down to Joe Flacco & his WR's making a big play, I wouldn't count on it. The Colts are at home but haven't played a meaningful game in weeks. Early rust along with a quick score by the Ravens could be just what the doctor ordered. Turnovers are always a key in playoff games and no team seems to get bigger ones than the Ravens. I see the Ravens intercepting Manning on the last drive of the game to pull the upset.

Vikings (-3) 31, Cowboys 14
This game is one that seems to have the Dallas bandwagon chugging along for most people. I don't see them going into the Metrodome and winning. Minnesota played as well as anybody in the league for a long stretch of this season. They were 8-0 at home. They have a RB that can't be matched in the league. Dallas mastered the Eagles & Redskins over the course of the last few weeks. Congratulations. Brett Favre has a tendency to lose close games in the playoffs so if this game stays close, Dallas' talented secondary could make a play to change the complexion of the game. Sidney Rice had a very underrated year as Favre's #1 target. Dallas' defense has been flying around and getting to the QB a lot the past few weeks. This will be the recipe for the upset but I believe Minnesota's offensive line is sick of hearing how badly they've played lately. They have talent (Hutchinson, Loadholt, McKinnie are all great players) and will prove it this week. The Vikings defense doesn't get much credit around the league but there are times when Jared Allen becomes unblockable. This week could be one of those games. Dallas looked all too comfortable at home last week but will be affected by the crowd noise in Minnesota. My sleeper player to have a big game is Bernard Berrian. He could catch a deep ball or two against this secondary and help the Vikings move on.

Chargers (-7.5) 34, Jets 21
Another close game that the experts seem to think the Jets can/will win. I don't. Phillip Rivers has played as well as anyone in the league this year. The Chargers are hot coming in and have played well at home. There's no real reason to think Mark Sanchez can ride in with 2 good RB's and a stout defense & walk out with the win. I see this game being a 2 TD game late with the Jets scoring one late to cut the lead for a backside cover (depending on how many points your getting....line was as high as 9 earlier this week). Thomas Jones is banged up a bit so we should see plenty of Shonn Greene, who played well last week. The Chargers defense gets criticized a lot but playing with an offense that gets you big leads early forces teams to throw the ball more often then you'd want. If the Jets can employ a similar strategy as the Ravens, keeping control of the clock with a good running game while keeping the Chargers off the scoreboard, they will have a chance to steal this one. I don't see it happening. "Revis Island" will get exploited for the first time this year with Vincent Jackson getting over 60 yards receiving. The Chargers seem destined to do it this year and should be ready for New York. Don't be surprised if they get a big lead to see this game end something like 41-21.

So my picks are Cards (+7), Ravens (+7), Vikings (-3) & Chargers (-7.5).

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Random Thoughts on a January Evening

-Chris Bosh for Andrew Bynum? Well not straight up but if this deal goes down (and it makes sense for both teams in the long run) then the Lakers will be even heavier favorites to win the title this year and beyond. The only weakness LA would have at that point is PG because their other weakness (bench) is negated a bit once the playoffs start. Toronto does this move only if for some reason they get indications that Bosh is gone. There's no reason to really believe (other than a little extra money and another year on his deal) that Bosh would stay in Toronto. They may end up in the playoffs but have no future with the roster they have now (sorry DeRozen). Locking up Turkoglu for 5 years was a terrible move. It looks bad'll look even worse in a few years. The one player that the Raptors can build around is Andrea Bargnani. They also have long contracts with Jose Calderon (being shopped) and Jarrett Jack. The Lakers make this move to give themselves a chance to lock up Bosh long-term and create a team that will be one of the best for the next 5 years. That's worth Bynum's potential upside to pair Bosh with Gasol, Kobe, Artest and Odom.

-Anyone else feel this year's college basketball season is missing something? Most of these conference races should be great but for the wrong reasons. So many of these teams are on the same level that picking the tournament bracket in March should be more of a chore than usual. The mid-majors don't look too great other than Butler while there are 3 really good teams that have seperated themselves from the other 300+ (Kansas, Kentucky & Texas). This could change but predicting conference champions right now would take a genius. ACC, Big Ten, Big East & Pac-10 could all be won by 3, 4 or more teams. We'll see what happens from this point on but I'm not getting too excited about college basketball yet.

-I'll have another entry previewing the 4 NFL playoff games this weekend (forgot to do one last week....I can tell you I was 2-2 in my picks. Had the Jets+ pts, Cards (pick), Eagles +3.5, Pats -6.5. Still haven't decided on 2 of the games but I can tell you for sure that I'm taking Vikings minus no more than 3 pts and Cardinals getting 7 pts. I know everyone is all over Dallas but I see that game being more low scoring than you would think. I'll explain in my next entry better but just trust me.....the under looks good.

-The Cavs have been up and down as of late but picked up nice back to back west coast road wins in Portland & Golden State. The loss in Denver was dissapointing, especially without Carmelo playing. The next few games are all Utah, at LA Clips, vs Toronto. After that, the Lakers & Thunder come into town. The key to the Cavs is just staying healthy, keeping Lebron's minutes down as much as possible and getting the #1 seed. Having that home-court advantage is big, especially in potential series vs Boston, Orlando & Atlanta this spring. Everyone talks about getting Antwan Jamison and that would be the best move the Cavs could make. No one's sure what Washington is going to do with Jamison but I'd much rather have him than Troy Murphy or Anthony Randolph (who's hurt & I don't see GS trading).

-Pitchers and Catchers in a month or so.....enough said. There are still plenty of intriguing free agents out there still. It'll be interesting to see these guys getting one year deals and coming into next season with something to prove.

-Will the real #2 in the NBA Western Conference please stand up? Is it Denver, Dallas, San Antonio, Phoenix or someone else? Who all likelihood, it won't matter either. The Lakers will run through the West in the spring (barring any major injuries & with or without Bosh). I'd be ready to put there losses in the Western Conference Playoffs at 4.5 and go under for sure. Last year, they lost 6 games before the Finals but 3 were to Houston. I could see LAL going 4, 6, 6 at worst. In the East, I'd favor Boston slightly over Cleveland right now (could depend on home-court) while Orlando & Atlanta are behind a bit. Miami, Charlotte, Toronto & Chicago are my other 4 picks to finish in the playoffs. Only Miami could give anyone a series out of those 4 with a potential 4-5 rematch with Atlanta looming in April.

-Almost finished with Bill Simmons' "The Book of Basketball". Go buy it now if you haven't already. It's informative, funny & well written. I know it's real long but definately worth reading through it all. I'm a big fan of Simmons writing so this shouldn't come as a surprise. Heck....I even read his Red Sox book even though their the team I can't stand as much as any other in sports.

-John Wall is everything that all the college basketball analysts are saying. He's the real deal and will be a force in the year & beyond. He could force teams to redesign their team structure around him depending on what they have on their roster. After that, I can't really see anything but "upside" and "potential" guys. No rock solid guys who'll step in next year & make a big impact. That's not good for teams like New Jersey, Golden State, Minnesota & Detroit who all can't afford to finish 2nd in the lottery in May.

-Players I love watching (at least for this week): Cole Aldrich (Kansas center), Luke Harangody (ND....a better Tyler Hansborough), Jarvis Varnado (Miss. St. block machine, skinny but could develop into a smaller Mutombo-like force down low), Xavier Henry (Kansas freshman...showing flashes of greatness, top-10 pick for sure if he comes out).

-Players that aren't showing me much: Avery Bradley (Texas....seems like an overrated prospect), North Carolina guards (shows how good Lawson really that he's gone, UNC is losing games in a guard-oriented league), Lance Stephenson (Cincy.....if he's going to be worth the headache, he's got to step up his game), Derrick Favors (Georgia Tech....I'd rather watch Gani Lawal work down low on both sides of the court).