What To Expect In The Nba This Season…

A Brief Division by Division Breakdown

The Mighty Atlantic

A couple years ago, the Atlantic was the joke of the NBA. Many pundits cited the paltry division as a prominent reason as to why the NBA should rid itself of division winners and just take the top teams in each conference. However, with Boston’s acquisitions of Garnett and Ray Allen last year, and the Sixers procurement of Elton Brand this past summer, the Atlantic will likely boast three playoff teams this season: Boston, Philadelphia, and Toronto. The Celtics will not be able to coast to another division crown this season as the Sixers now pose a legitimate threat after signing Brand. New York and New Jersey may battle one another all season long for the most ping pong balls in the draft lottery this Spring. Mike D’Antoni will look to implement his up tempo style in the Big Apple with a Knicks roster which features plodding big men Zach Randolph and Eddy Curry, as well as coach killer Stephon Marbury. In New Jersey, Vince Carter is the lone holdover from the trio of himself, Jason Kidd, and Richard Jefferson.

Stock Watch

Rising:

Jose Calderon:
Calderon averaged 13 pts and 9 assists on almost 54% shooting during his time as the Raptor’s starting point guard last season and should enjoy similar numbers this season without T.J. Ford around.

David Lee:
Lee should benefit from D’Antoni’s high flying offensive machine. He’s one of the few Knicks big men who can run the floor and finish on the break.

Falling:

Stephon Marbury:
Marbury was basically exiled from the team last season during his time on the injured list with an ankle injury. D’Antoni reportedly hated coaching Marbury in Phoenix and the Knicks brought in Chris Duhon in the offseason to play big minutes at point guard.

Ray Allen:
Allen is 33 years old and is clearly the third option behind Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. He struggled at times during the playoffs last year and has had his share of minor injury issues the past few seasons.

A Resurgent Central?

Entering last season, the Pistons, Cavs, and Bulls were all expected to contend for an Eastern conference title. While Detroit and Cleveland lived up to expectations, Chicago fell apart and fired coach Scott Skiles but lucked into Derrick Rose after winning the draft lottery. While Rose will take time to develop, Chicago will likely return to the playoffs this season if Rose is as good as advertised. Meanwhile, the Cavs added Milwaukee point guard Mo Williams and the Pistons have retained the same core that has gotten them to at least the Eastern conference finals for six straight years. Detroit will face an increasing challenge from Cleveland this year and could be in danger of falling to second place in the Central. Even Indiana may contend again for a playoff spot in the East if Danny Granger can continue to grow and make the leap into stardom. The Bucks brought in Nets forward Richard Jefferson to team up with Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut, but then inexplicably traded Mo Williams to the Cavs for pennies on the dollar.

Stock Watch

Rising:

T.J. Ford:
If Ford can stay healthy, he should fit in nicely on an Indiana team in which Jim O’Brien basically gives his players free reign on offense.

Falling:

Kirk Hinrich or Ben Gordon:
Derrick Rose will cut into Hinrich’s minutes at the point. It remains to be seen whether the Bulls will play him more at off guard, which would cut into Gordon’s playing time or if it will be Hinrich that will ride the pine more often.

Goin’ South

The Magic should glide to another division title unless Washington can get Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison back healthy in time to make a push for Southeastern title. While Miami will be better with the additions of Shawn Marion and Michael Beasley and the return of a healthy Dwyane Wade, they are young and inexperienced and lack a capable big man. Charlotte should also be improved with Larry Brown at the helm, but he must prove he still has his coaching mojo after his debacle with the Knicks a few years ago. Even with talents such as Joe Johnson, Al Horford and Josh Smith, the Hawks are still – well, the Hawks. Time will tell if their 7 game series against Boston was a fluke or an indication that Atlanta is actually ready to compete.

Stock Watch

Rising:

Dwyane Wade:
Wade’s performance in the Olympics indicates that he is nearly back to the form that he exhibited in the finals against the Mavs. Also, the Heat’s lack of size will force Miami to play at a faster pace, which should only help Wade’s numbers.

Falling:

Raymond Felton:
Larry Brown has always had the reputation for being tough on his point guards, and it is not a good sign for Felton that the Bobcats picked D.J. Augustin in the first round of the draft. Brown abhors shoot first point guards, and although Felton cannot exactly be classified as such, expect Brown to have him on a short leash.

The Frigid Northwest

The weakest division in the Western conference features a group of rebuilding teams. Minnesota and Oklahoma City have almost no chance at reaching the playoffs in the stacked West. In fact, the Flint Tropics have about as good a shot at making the NBA playoffs than Oklahoma City. Denver basically indicated that they valued trimming payroll over competing for the playoffs when they dealt Marcus Camby to the Clippers for nothing. Portland has a nice young nucleus of Greg Oden, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Brandon Roy and may contend for the playoffs this year if Oden can successfully return from microfracture surgery on his knee and avoid any other serious injuries. However, the Blazers probably aren’t quite ready yet to challenge Utah for the division crown unless Oden can play at an all star level in his first season as a pro. The Jazz should be competitive once again but still lack a defensive presence in the paint that can slow down top big men in the West such as Tim Duncan, Amare Stoudemire, or Yao Ming.

Stock Watch

Rising:

Kevin Durant:
Durant averaged 24 points per contest the last month of the season and should continue to grow swiftly as a player.

Falling:

LaMarcus Aldridge
With Greg Oden back in the fold and demanding touches in the low post, Aldridge may see less shot attempts this season.

The Slingin’ Southwest

The Southwest is among the most talented groups in the NBA. The division will most likely produce four playoff teams this season: the Spurs, the Hornets, the Rockets, and the Mavericks. All four will enjoy beating up on a young Memphis squad that features promising young talents Mike Conley Jr., O.J. Mayo, and Rudy Gay. The Rockets are poised to shake things up in the West this season with the acquisition of Ron Artest. However, Houston faces many questions, such as will Artest go crazier than Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining? And will Rick Adelman grow his mustache back already? In New Orleans, Chris Paul is an absolute joy to watch and should vie for another an MVP award this season. After all, it’s only fair that he wins one this year after only having one of the best seasons ever for a point guard last season, but yet losing out to a guy who doesn’t make any of his teammates better and who ended up being outplayed by Paul Pierce throughout much of the NBA Finals.

Stock Watch

Rising:

Mike Conley Jr.:
Conley averaged 14 points and 4 assists in month of April last season after only one year of college at Ohio St. If the Grizzlies are patient with him and give the young guard enough minutes, he should produce.

Falling:

Tracy McGrady:
His scoring numbers have gone down for 4 out of the past 5 seasons and the addition of Artest likely means that he won’t have to log as many minutes as in the past.

The Stormy Pacific

In Hollywood, drama is ever present. The Clippers made plenty of news this past offseason when they claimed Elton Brand reneged on a verbal agreement to re-sign with the team after Owner Donald Sterling opened his wallet to sign Baron Davis. Then they let hall of famer Elgin Baylor go and claimed he resigned, but it has since been reported that he was forced out in a power struggle with head coach Mike Dunleavy. The Lakers are again the cream of the crop and are the favorites to represent the West in the Finals again. Phoenix, while still dangerous, appears to be on the down slope as Shaq is aging and growing less effective and more injury prone. It’s also unclear how much longer Steve Nash will be able to keep up his stellar play. The Suns could really use a player like Shawn Marion. He seems like he would fit in well with that team… The Warriors will likely take a step backwards this season after losing Davis, who fit perfectly in Don Nelson’s run ‘n gun offense. The Kings really aren’t worth mentioning.

Stock Watch

Rising:

Amare Stoudemire:
With Shaq barely a threat to score 15 points a night and Nash being a pass first point guard, Stoudemire will have every opportunity to score.

Kevin Martin:
Who else on the Kings is going to score? In all seriousness, Martin is one of the most underrated scorers in the league.

Falling:

Pau Gasol
With Andrew Bynum back from a knee injury and Kobe Bryant launching his share of shots, Gasol will see less scoring opportunities this season.

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College Football Wrap-up Week 5 – Only A Baker’s Dozen Of Teams Still Remain Undefeated

Only 13 among the 120 major teams remain undefeated after the 5th week of a 16-week college football season. They are Florida, Texas, Alabama, LSU, Boise State, Cincinnati, TCU, Iowa, Kansas, Auburn, South Florida, Missouri and Wisconsin.

On the flip side, only 7 teams have yet to win a game–Rice, New Mexico, Eastern Michigan, Florida International University, Florida Atlantic, Western Kentucky and Miami (OH). So, with tongue in cheek, 20 teams still have perfect records–13 are excellent and 7 are terrible.

Considering that most teams are now playing a 12-game season, we have passed the one-third mark to the finish. Many fans may have thought that Virginia Tech, USC, Ohio State, BYU, Oklahoma and even Mississippi might still be unbeaten. Not so.

The biggest upset of the week belonged to the 123rd-ranked University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) Miners who outlasted and outplayed the 12th-ranked Houston Cougars, 58-41, in a barn-burner of competitive excitement. With the score tied at 17 in the first half, Houston quit too early as UTEP won the 2nd half 41-24.

Coach Mike Price’s Miners could only muster 53 yards of total offense in losing 64-7 to 2nd-ranked Texas last week on-the-road, but arose from the humiliation to amass 581 yards of offense at home. Donald Buckram picked up 262 yards rushing and scored 4 TDs. UTEP really found its mojo in the second half, putting 20 points on the board in the 3rd quarter and 21 in the 4th.

Houston’s high-powered offense—led by quarterback Case Keenum with 536 passing yards and 5 touchdowns—could not keep up with UTEP on the scoreboard. The loss was the Cougars’ first after scoring 55, 45 and 29 points in their first 3 victories; unfortunately, this was bound to happen because Houston has 11 players on defense, they just don’t play good defense, giving up an average of 32 points per game.

If Houston coach Kevin Sumlin ever decides to hire a good defensive coordinator and recruit some defensive players, Houston will become a much more important player against quality competition.

The second biggest upset saw 17th-ranked Miami (FL) get over last week’s 31-7 away loss to 6th-ranked Virginia Tech by returning home to beat 8th-ranked Oklahoma 21-20. The Hurricanes led 21-17 after 3 quarters and managed to hold the Sooners to a field goal in the last quarter to win.

Unranked Michigan State, which has looked terrible with 3 losses in the last 3 weeks, defended its turf successfully by upending 22nd-ranked Michigan 26-20 in overtime. The loss was the first for the Wolverines, who were behind 10-6 at the half but managed to send the game into OT at 20-20. The Spartans’ true freshman tailback Larry Caper scampered 23 yards, eluding at least 2 tacklers on the way, to score the winning touchdown for Michigan State.

Whoever said it’s so hard to win victories on the road forgot to tell the majority of quality teams. Of the 12 ranked teams playing away games this week, only 3–Oklahoma, Houston and Michigan–lost while 9 won. The winners included:

Third-ranked Alabama beat Kentucky 38-20; 4th-ranked LSU needed two touchdowns in the last 2:53 of the game to nip 18th-ranked Georgia 20-13; and 6th-ranked Virginia Tech managed to get by a 97th-ranked Duke team 34-26, a very unimpressive victory despite being on-the-road. Giving up 26 points to Duke is like taking your sister to the senior prom. Seventh-ranked Southern California ripped apart the 24th-ranked California Bears, 30-3; the Bears seem to fold every season, and sometimes even this early.

Ninth-ranked Ohio State traveled to Indiana and won 33-14. Apparently they still play football at Indiana, but with the Hoosiers, it is sometimes hard to tell. Tenth-ranked Cincinnati got by 150th-ranked and winless (you read it right) Miami of OH, 37-13. Another less than impressive performance by a highly-ranked team. Fifteenth-ranked Penn State beat 85th-ranked Illinois 35-17; at least the Nittany Lions were not playing a 1-AA school this week.

Twenty-first-ranked Mississippi, the most-hyped new “good” team of the season, put down 77th-ranked Vanderbilt, 23-7; the score was 23-7 after the 3rd quarter, both teams decided to walk through the 4th quarter, saving some energy for party-time later. Twenty-fifth-ranked Georgia Tech beat Mississippi State 42-31, showing that Top 25 teams can give up way too many points to an opponent and still win with very little effectiveness on the defensive side of the ball.

Five other ranked teams scored home victories. They included 11th-ranked TCU over 117th-ranked SMU 39-14; 16th-ranked Oregon over inept, hapless 101st-ranked Washington State, 52-6—Oregon led 42-0 at the half, showered early and still won by 46; and 20th-ranked BYU had an unimpressive win over 119th-ranked Utah State 35-17.

Fifth-ranked Boise State notched a ridiculous 34-16 victory over 139th-ranked, 1-AA University of California at Davis (UC Davis), another part of the Broncos’ cream puff (some say powder puff) schedule. The 13th-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes, who upset 5th-ranked Penn State 21-10 in an away game last week, had the feared letdown and just got by 125th-ranked Arkansas State, 24-21. The Hawkeye defense, apparently plumb tuckered out from their effort at Happy Valley, let Arkansas State score 14 points in the last quarter to make it too close. Without a 4th quarter field goal, Iowa would have gone into overtime.

Three unranked teams went 5-0 in their bid to get into the AP Top 25 Poll. They included Wisconsin on-the-road over Minnesota 31-28, South Florida on-the-road over 95th-ranked Syracuse 34-20, and Auburn over Tennessee 26-22.

Eight other 4-1 unranked teams continued to win. Notre Dame had to go to overtime at home to turn back Washington, 37-30, marking the 3rd consecutive game that the Fighting Irish have won in the last 60 seconds. They don’t call the Irish lucky for nothing. Idaho, ranked 89th, beat visiting Colorado State, ranked 62nd, 31-29. Boston College beat Florida State 28-21 at home.

Pittsburgh traveled to Louisville and won 35-10; the Central Michigan Chippewas traveled to Buffalo and beat the 127th-ranked Bulls 20-13; South Carolina won at home over 158th-ranked, in-state rival 1-AA South Carolina State 38-14; and Tulsa traveled to Rice and beat the inept, hapless, winless Owls 27-10. Owls don’t eat rice, they are just apparently called the Rice Owls; maybe they are smart birds who don’t win a lot.

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Ed Bagley’s Top 25 Poll – Week 10 – Oregon Is Moving Down Fast

Iowa, Oregon, Penn State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma and California all lost ground in the AP Top 25 Poll this week. All of them also lost ground in my Top 25 Poll this week with the exception of Oklahoma—I kicked Oklahoma out of my Poll some time ago, and the Sooners will not find their way back into my Poll anytime soon. Here is how I see it this week:

1) Alabama (9-0) The Crimson Tide won a 24-15 signature victory over the 9th-ranked Louisiana State (LSU) Tigers this week. No team had a bigger win against a better opponent. With the pressure to perform on, Alabama came through to remain unbeaten. The Tide travels to Mississippi State this week.

2) Florida (9-0) The Gators beat a very weak, 119th-ranked, 2-8 Vanderbilt team this week, 27-3. They remain behind Alabama because this was not a killer performance.

3) Texas (9-0) The Longhorns remained unbeaten with a dominating 35-3 win over 83rd-ranked Central Florida; this is one reason why Texas will not be No. 1 or No. 2 in my Poll. Simply put, Texas has not played a really good team all season. Yes, they beat an extremely disappointing 5-4 Oklahoma team, and beat Oklahoma State 41-14 on-the-road, but the Longhorns’ strength of schedule is ranked 52nd by Sagarin whereas Florida is ranked 40th and Alabama 25th. Plus the Big 12 is nowhere near the SEC in competitiveness. Texas gets Baylor next, what a laugher.

4) Texas Christian (9-0) Moves ahead of Cincinnati because the Horned Frogs put a 55-12 drubbing on San Diego State. This is exactly what an unbeaten team should be doing this time of year. Next up is 14th-ranked Utah, a little stiffer competition.

5) Cincinnati (9-0) Remained undefeated by recording a really lame 47-45 squeaker over 52nd-ranked Connecticut. Gets 7-2, 23rd-ranked West Virginia at home this week.

6) Boise State (8-0) Won another 45-35 lame victory, this time over 96th-ranked Louisiana Tech (3-6), another nobody on the Broncos’ schedule. Has played no one all year except Oregon, who is now 7-2 and looking less impressive. The Broncos’ strength of schedule is a whopping 79th.

7) Georgia Tech (9-1) Needed overtime to notch a 30-27 victory over 55th-ranked Wake Forest. Gets Duke team next, and must face in-state rival Georgia in their last game.

8) Pittsburgh (8-1) Scored in every quarter to win 37-10 over 93rd-ranked Syracuse. Gets nod for 8th position because the Panthers have an offense (15th best in nation) and Iowa doesn’t (74th best). Hosts Notre Dame this week. Pittsburgh has a better scoring defense and should win. Moment of truth comes when the Panthers face Cincinnati in their last game.

9) Iowa (9-1) Had 13-game win streak broken on their home field by Northwestern 17-10 in a game the Hawkeyes should have never lost. The miracle comebacks and close wins have now ended as reality sets in. Iowa’s troubles are just starting—they travel to Ohio State this week and could get crushed by the Buckeyes.

10) LSU (7-2) Lost to Alabama 24-15 on-the-road. Alabama is the best team in the country at the moment. Not many teams can claim that their 2nd loss of the season was to the best team in the country. LSU will be heard from again. Next up is the Tigers’ homecoming game against Louisiana Tech; this could be very bad news for the general health of Louisiana Tech (now 3-6).

11) Ohio State (8-2) Upset 11th-ranked Penn State 24-7 on the Nittany Lions’ home field in Happy Valley, or shall we say Not-So-Happy-Valley. Nation’s top scoring defense was caught sucking some Louisiana Tech pond water between offensive possessions. Buckeye mojo is returning at just the right time. Ohio State gets Iowa at home this week, and the Buckeyes are seeing potential road kill. Should Ohio State be ranked 9th rather than 11th? I will let you know in my next Top 25 Poll.

From No. 12 on, this Poll is hard put to rank any team with a straight face. All of the contenders have been up and down like an unsteady clown on a pogo stick—great one week and lousy the next (prime example is Oregon).

12) Penn State (8-2) Can’t stand Penn State and they were upset at home by Ohio State, however, their only two losses are against Iowa and Ohio State. Southern Cal’s only two losses came against a 3-6 Washington team and Oregon, both away games. Penn State will handle Indiana and in all likelihood Michigan State and finish at 10-2.

13) Southern California (7-2) Picked up tough 14-9 road win at Arizona State and finishes year against Stanford, UCLA and Arizona, another tough road to hoe to end the year at 10-2.

14) Oregon (7-2) Could not stand the success of upsetting 4th-ranked Southern Cal 47-20 last week. Showboating players got their butts kicked this week not by Stanford but by Stanford’s battering ram Toby Gerhart, who rushed for a school-record 223 yards and scored 3 touchdowns as the quack-quack Ducks were hammered at home 51-42 by The Cardinal. Life for the Ducks gets tougher as their last 3 opponents are Arizona State, Arizona and Oregon State. Good luck, quack quacks.

15) Utah (8-1) Hard to ignore Utah’s 8-1 record, but the Utes’ last victory was 45-14 over 164th-ranked and winless New Mexico (0-9). This is the sort of competition Utah faces most weeks during the season; in other words, no competition. The Utes travel to TCU this week to face the 9-0 Horned Frogs. It’s put up or shut up time for Utah this week. Should Utah get squashed by TCU, the Utes will drop in my Poll like a 100-pound sack of tomatoes thrown off a hundred-story building. Utah’s strength of schedule? Don’t even ask, it’s 95th and on the other side of Mars.

16) Houston (8-1) Hard to ignore Houston’s glossy 8-1 mark, but jeepers, their latest victory is a close 46-45 run-and-shoot with a 4-5 Tulsa team. The Cougars have the 2nd best scoring offense in the country, the 86th worst scoring defense, and 114th worst total defense among 120 major college teams. The rest of Houston’s schedule includes 5-4 Central Florida, 2-7 Memphis and 0-9 Rice. The Cougars could end up with an 11-1 mark and be one of the worst 11-1 teams in college football history.

17) Wisconsin (7-2) Took a field goal to get a 31-28 road win over a weak Indiana team last week. Badgers get Michigan next at home, travel to Northwestern and then finish their season with a trip to Hawaii, all of which is to say they could end up 9-3 or 10-2 if they are really on their game.

18) Arizona (6-2) Last seen beating up a pathetic 1-8 Washington State team 48-7 while becoming bowl eligible. Wildcats could be the best 6-2 team in the country, but do have some proving to do, and they have the chance to do it when they next face California, Oregon, Arizona State and Southern Cal in that order. Let’s see how deep down Arizona’s 22 best can dig on their way to better recognition.

19) Navy (7-3) Time for a fresh face. The Midshipmen upset 19th-ranked Notre Dame 23-21 on the home turf of the Fighting Irish, dropping Notre Dame to 6-3. Navy could be skating from here on in—they face 1-AA Delaware (6-3), Hawaii (3-6) and Army (3-6). If Navy wants any props at all, the Midshipmen must end the year at 10-3.

20) Oregon State (6-3) The Beavers are one of the dirtiest teams in the country and consider football games an excuse to legally hurt people. The Beavers were last seen upsetting California 31-14 on-the-road to become bowl eligible. The California Bears? They have made a career out of folding at the wrong time. Oregon State faces Washington (3-6) and Washington State (1-8) before ending their season at Oregon (7-2). Oregon State could be 8-4 or 9-3 when all is said and done.

21) Oklahoma State (7-2) Trashed a very average Iowa State team 34-7 last week, and finish the year against Texas Tech, Colorado and Oklahoma. Let’s see how many of these last 3 the Cowboys can win.

22) Temple (7-2) Lost its first two games and now has run off 7 straight victories after sneaking by Miami of Ohio 34-32. As Al Davis says, “Just win, baby, just win.” Temple finishes the year against Akron (2-7), Kent State (5-5) and Ohio (6-3). Temple could end the year at 9-3 or 10-2.

23) Rutgers (6-2) Only two losses were to 8-0 Cincinnati and 7-1 Pittsburgh. Let’s see if they can beat 6-2 South Florida next.

24) Central Michigan (7-2) Suffered its second loss on-the-road at Boston College 31-10. Ends year with Toledo (4-5), Ball State (1-8) and Northern Illinois (6-3). Could easily end up at 9-3 and even 10-2.

25) Brigham Young (7-2) Shut out a weak Wyoming team 52-zip. Cougars end their year with New Mexico (0-9), Air Force (6-4) and Utah (8-1). BYU will end the year at least 8-4 if not 9-3.