Archives for posts with tag: Cardinals

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

As March begins, Maryland and Georgetown fans can take solace in knowing that they’re members of arguably the two best conferences in the country.  Beware the Big Ten and Big East.  Both leagues are playing at a high level as we enter college basketball’s “closing month”.  Most bracket models have 10 Big Ten schools (71% of its membership) reaching the NCAA Tournament, while seven Big East schools are in the mix for the field of 68 (7/10 makes for easier math).  The Big Ten is enjoying a ridiculous run right now, with eight schools in the most recent Associated Press Top 25.  What is this, SEC football?  “The Big Ten’s always really good; it’s just unusual to have this sort of quality depth where the league performed at such a high level in the non-conference, and then seemingly everybody at least early on protected their home courts like you don’t see very often.” ESPN’s Jay Bilas said before last Saturday’s Maryland-Michigan State game. “I’m not sure that the Big Ten 1-2-3 at the top is significantly better than the ACC or the SEC.  But one through ten, I don’t think it’s a close call.  It’s the best league top to bottom and by far the most competitive.”

In a 21st century college hoops landscape where third-year juniors are a rarity and fourth-year starters are virtually extinct (Maryland’s Anthony Cowan is the exception that proves the rule),  the man wearing the suit (not always with a tie these days) becomes all the more important. “Continuity in coaches-the coaches have been there for a long time,” Bilas said.  And they have:  seven have been at their current jobs at least since 2013, with Purdue’s Matt Painter (15 seasons) and Michigan State’s Tom Izzo (25 years) the longest tenured.  That leads to programs on solid footing:  with Penn State, Rutgers, and Illinois likely making this year’s NCAA field, Nebraska (2014) would be the only program not making the Tournament in the last five years.

The Big East may not have the Big Ten’s depth, but they do have what they don’t: National Championships.  Since the Big Ten won its last in 2000, the Big East has boasted six titlists (from an accounting standpoint, we count the 2013 vacated Louisville team but don’t recognize UConn in 2014 as the Huskies were in the AAC).  And this year the league has seven likely participants.  They also have the all-important continuity with six having five-plus years at their respective schools.  “Everybody’s recruiting at a very, very, very high level,” Xavier second-year coach Travis Steele said. “Every time we get a young man committed, I always tell our guys, ‘Hey-don’t forget, Georgetown’s getting the same thing. So is Marquette, so is Villanova, so’s Providence’. Everybody’s good.”  Bad news for a Georgetown that’s on the underbelly of the bubble with four straight losses, and minimal comfort for a Maryland that may lead its conference but has dropped two of three.

Alma Mater Update: the Orange played their home finale Saturday by saluting John Wallace and enabling Jimmy Fallon.  Wasn’t it neat to see Fallon pal around with Tom Brady and Julian Edelman courtside before directing the Sour Citrus Society?  Yeah, right.  Meanwhile, SU lost to North Carolina and slipped to 16-13 on the season and 9-9 in the ACC.  They still need to beat Boston College or Miami to secure that 17th victory and a winning season.  A berth in the NIT is no lock, by the way.  On the Buddy Watch:  the younger Boeheim is averaging 15.2 points per game, putting him on pace for 471 this season which would give him for 688 in his career.  Or 57 shy of his father entering the ACC Tournament.

Wow of the Week: Once again the wow comes from Charlottesville.  Virginia continues its surge up the standings in the ACC with two more wins.  Saturday’s 52-50 triumph over then-No. 7 Duke saw the Cavaliers get a career-defining game from Jay Huff (15 points, 9 rebounds and 10 blocks) as they once again win a nail biter: six of their wins in the current 9-1 stretch have come by one possession.  They’ve already locked up a double-bye in the ACC Tournament and could take third with two wins or a one victory plus help.

Player Spotlight: Sa’eed Nelson earned our first player spotlight at the beginning of January, and as we enter March the spotlight comes full circle.  The senior became American University’s all-time leading scorer last Wednesday, passing Russell “Boo” Bowers.  The guard was also named Patriot League Player of the Year as he helped power AU to a second-place finish, their highest since 2014 when they advanced to the NCAA’s.

League Look:  the Patriot League gets a jump on everyone else with their tournament beginning Tuesday evening.  And unlike most other conferences, games are on campus sites.  Defending champ Colgate repeated as regular season titlist and enters as the No. 1 seed; the conference’s highest-scoring offense (76 points per game) is also the most dangerous from three-point range (36%).  They also have the conference’s top rebounder in Will Rayman (8.9 boards per game).  Perennial favorite Bucknell is conspicuous by its absence from the top of the standings.  This is the first time since 2014 the Bison haven’t finished with a share of the league’s best record, and their history of dominance with six tournament titles and 13 regular season crowns and two of the league’s three NCAA Tournament victories.  Instead, they’re playing in Tuesday’s First Round against last-place Holy Cross knowing that a win sends them to Bender Arena and a date with American on Thursday.

Ballot Battles:  Maryland was oh so close to finding its way into this week’s top five once again, but a loss to Michigan State holds the Terps back.  This week’s movers include UCLA (the Bruins suddenly atop the Pac-12) and Creighton (I’ve got the Bluejays 20th as opposed to the 11th they’re at this week), with small school shout-outs going to Stephen F. Austin, East Tennessee State, and Northern Iowa.  The biggest heat I’m getting?  BYU fans after I dropped the Cougars from 20th to 21st (they’re 15th overall) on my ballot.  While the West Coast Conference’s second place team has won nine in a row, I moved Michigan State and Ohio State over them based on quality wins by the Spartans and Buckeyes over the last eight days.

 

Starting Five:

Friday- Richmond at Duquesne.  The Spiders have won seven of eight to move onto the NCAA Tournament bubble; unfortunately most of those wins have not been of the marquee variety and most bracket models still have Richmond on the outside looking in.  The Dukes are likely the best team U of R has faced since falling to now-No. 7 Dayton in late January.  While a win won’t bolster their at-large consideration, a loss will definitely go towards deflating it.

Saturday- Georgetown vs. Villanova. Patrick Ewing is officially using paper clips and duct tape to hold his roster and rotation together, with Mac McClung and Omer Yurtseven joined on the hobbled list by Malcolm Wilson.  Who’s that?  A 6-foot-11 big hoping to redshirt in peace-and he couldn’t even do that, suffering an injury in Saturday’s practice.  The Wildcats are playing for seeding in the Big East as well as NCAA Tournament and won the game up in Philly by 14 when Sadiq Bey sunk eight threes on his way to 33 points.

Also Saturday- No. 22 Virginia vs. Louisville.  The last team to beat the surging Cavaliers? The Cardinals in an 80-73 affair that saw UVa break the 70-point barrier for the first time all season.  Jordan Nwora notched 22 points and 7 rebounds that day, and containing the junior forward is key:  since the start of February he’s averaging 19 points with 9 rebounds (shooting 41% FG and 38% from three) in Louisville’s six wins, 5 points with 7 rebounds (shooting 24% FG and 13% from three) in their three losses.

Also Saturday- George Washington at No. 3 Dayton.  The Colonials try to play spoiler on Senior Day for the Flyers, who are attempting to zero in on the conference’s first number one seed since Saint Josephs in 2004.  Celebrations aside, all eyes will be on a certain sophomore.  Forward Obi Toppin leads the A-10 in shooting (63%), ranks second in scoring (19.8) and is seventh in rebounding (7.8).  GW doesn’t have the firepower to match:  the Colonials rank 13th in the conference in scoring and are also second to last in turnover margin.

Sunday- No. 9 Maryland vs. No. 25 Michigan.  The Terps begin the week one win away from a share of their first conference regular season title since 2010, and they remain in the driver’s seat to secure their first outright regular season crown since the National Championship season of 2002.  The Wolverines have yo-yoed their way through the season, going from starting the season unranked with first-time head coach Juwan Howard to making its Top 25 debut in December at No. 4.  They’ve won five straight and have lost four in a row during conference play and find themselves at .500 with two games left in the regular season.  It’s another tough test for the Terps on the perimeter; Xavier Simpson averages a conference-best 7.9 assists per game.

 

The Nationals are headed to baseball’s final four for the first time since they were the Montreal Expos and needed a strike-shortened split-season to make the playoffs.  Their thrilling 7-3 tenth inning win at the Los Angeles Dodgers sends them straight to St. Louis for Friday’s Game One of the League Championship Series.  How did they get this far?  And can they make the next leap forward into the Fall Classic?

Hot Bats: Anthony Rendon is hitting .350 in the postseason, scoring a team-high six runs over six games while driving in five.  His solo homer in the eighth inning off of Clayton Kershaw got the rally in full gear.  Juan Soto has a pair of homers and six RBI, while delivering the go-ahead hit in the Wild Card Game.  And Howie Kendrick smacked the extra-inning grandslam that gave the Nats the lead and eventually the series against the Dodgers.

Cool on the Mound:  Stephen Strasburg is 2-0 with a 2.40 ERA in the playoffs, posting 21 strikeouts over 15 innings (including his relief turn in the Wild Card Game).  Max Scherzer has been a bulldog, striking out 16 over 13 frames (including a 14-pitch tour de force in the Game Two win).  Daniel Hudson has tossed 3.2 scoreless innings over four games, while earning two saves.  Sean Doolittle nailed down the 10th inning in LA.

Stats vs. St. Louis:  Howie Kendrick went 11-22 against the Cardinals this year, while Victor Robles led the Nats with three runs and four RBI.  The table-setters? Trea Turner & Adam Eaton combined to hit 9-44 (.204), while the meat of the order Anthony Rendon & Juan Soto batted 5-29 (.172) against St. Louis this season.  The second-best bat on the team this year belonged to Yan Gomes (.429), who’s currently hitting 1-6 in the playoffs but pending on Kurt Suzuki’s wrist and face may see more action than originally intended.

Conquering Cardinals:  St. Louis used a second half surge to take the NL Central, snagging the division lead for good on August 23.  They also took five of seven from the Nats:  two of three at home in September and three of four in DC during the Nationals’ injury-ravaged April (I want to say a hot dog vendor may have pitched relief).  They’re just as resilient in the postseason as the Nats, needing an extra-inning victory to force a Game Five before blowing Atlanta out.

Birds to Beware:  the numbers might be skewed a tiny bit because of the 13 runs put on the board against the Braves Wednesday.  Paul Goldschmidt and Marcel Ozuna are both hitting .429 in the playoffs, and Ozuna drove in a team-high seven runs against the Nats during the regular season.  Adam Wainwright went 2-0 with an ERA of 1.35, while Game One starter Mike Mikolas struck out eight while allowing three runs over 12 innings against the Nationals this year.

Anibal Sanchez starts Game One;  the right-hander struck out nine over five innings of one-run ball in Game Three of the NLDS.  He lost his lone regular season start to the Cardinals, but that was in April when he was off to an 0-6 start.  That was when this team was 12 games under .500;  they’re now four wins away from the franchise’s first-ever World Series appearance.

The Nationals entered September knowing they were going to play 24 of 28 games against teams with winning records, and they also knew the centerpiece of the season’s final month would involve 13 straight games against division leaders. The team is 6-8 so far this month, and while they’ve lost three of four series they’ve yet to be swept.  Last week’s 3-3 mark kept the club in the lead for the NL’s first Wild Card, although the 0-4 mark in September series openers reminds one of the first two months when the team was 2-14 in such games.  While the NL East is but a pipe dream, the Nats are still very much in the driver’s seat of the playoff race.

Meanwhile, Nationals Manager Davey Martinez left Sunday’s win over Atlanta with chest pains and was taken to a hospital.  He underwent a cardiac catheterization and will undergo more tests in the hospital.  General Manager Mike Rizzo said there is no timetable for his return, putting the team in the hands of bench coach Chip Hale for the time being.  Thoughts are with the skipper as he recovers.  

Digesting the Division- Atlanta (93-58) didn’t clinch in DC, and we’ll take that as a victory.  They did take 5 of 7 between the two teams this month and slice their magic number to four.  The Braves also own a nine game lead for the second best record in the National League, meaning their magic number to clinch home-field for the NLDS is also four.  Can they catch the Dodgers?  They trail the NL West champs by four games at this time.

The Wild, Wild Race- the Nats own a game and a half lead over the Chicago Cubs for home field.  Nationals play 8 of their remaining 14 games at home and 11 against winning clubs.  The Cubs lead Milwaukee by one game for the final playoff spot, and hte Brewers play their final 13 games of the season against sub-.500 squads.  The Mets (four games behind the Cubs) also have an advantageous schedule with 10 of 13 remaing games against losing clubs.  Philadelphia and Arizona are window dressing at this time.

O’s Woes- the Birds reach the 100-loss plateau for the second straight season, the first time that’s happened since the franchise moved to Baltimore.  Right now they trail Detroit in the race for the first overall pick in next year’s draft.  I hope they know what they’re doing from a tank standpoint.

Harper’s Weekly- Bryce batted .211 with a homer.  The former face of the franchise is now hitting .253 with 31 HR and a career-high 102 RBI. He’s also four strikeouts shy of matching his career high of 169.

Last Week’s Heroes- Howie Kendrick batted 8-for-16 with a team-high 4 RBI while Victor Robles hit .350.  Anibal Sanchez posted two solid starts, allowing just a pair of earned runs over 14 innings. Stephen Strasburg struck out 7 over 6 frames to post his 17th win of the year.  Sean Doolittle, Javy Guerra and Daniel Hudson posted scoreless weeks out of the bullpen.

Last Week’s Humbled- Tanner Rainey, Wander Suero, Eric Fedde, and Aaron Barrett were each touched up on their respective ways to ERA’s of 10+.  Trea Turner hit .167, Asdrubal Cabrera went 2-for-14 while Yan Gomes batted 2-for-17.

Game to Watch- Monday Stephen Strasburg pitches the series opener against the Cardinals, who counter with 15-game winner Dakota Hudson.  If this team is going to reverse its recent slide, the series opener is a great way to start.

Game to Miss- Friday the Nats meet Miami and start Austin Voth against fellow rookie Robert Dugger. After 13 straight games against division leaders, it’s okay to take this one off.

Portions previously appearing on WTOP.COM (apologies to the late Glen Campbell)-

By the time Kirk gets to Arizona, the Redskins will be mourning the loss of a three-time 4,000-yard passer as well as their most stable quarterback situation since Joe Theismann in the mid-80’s.  Don’t blame Cousins for leaving.  He’s done nothing but do the right thing since being drafted in the fourth round in 2012.  He learned the system and competed without complaining, sitting behind the face of the franchise Robert Griffin III.  He even shined as an understudy in spot situations and was likely going to be trade bait after two or three seasons in Ashburn.  But when the Skins brass realized that RG3 was brittle beyond belief and not as good as Cousins, Kirk received a battlefield promotion from lieutenant to captain.  He’s since responded with back-to-back-to-back 4,000 yard seasons.  Previous 4,000-yard passing seasons in team history?  Only two– Jay Schroeder in 1986 and Brad Johnson in 1999.

By the time Kirk gets to Glendale, the Cardinals will be building with a new coach.  One that will be 100% behind getting a quality quarterback to throw to Larry Fitzergald the final years of the future Hall of Famer’s career.  Even with all of the quarterback issues and coaching uncertainty Arizona had this fall, they went 8-8.  He’ll be going to a team that actually plays defense (ranked sixth in the league in 2017) and was only a competent and healthy quarterback away from competing for a playoff berth.  Arizona’s been to a Super Bowl recently with Kurt Warner, and played in an NFC Championship game with Carson Palmer.  Far from being the Zeppo Marx of the NFC East, these Cardinals have won five playoff games over the last ten years.  The Redskins have appeared in a total of five postseason games since the 2000 season started.

By the time Kirk gets to Tempe, the Redskins will be waking up to the fact that the quarterback situation around the league isn’t necessarily feast-or-famine, it’s surviving-or-starving.  Is Cousins a once-in-a-generation Andrew Luck or Aaron Rodgers?  No.  Not even close.  But he’s worlds better than Brock Osweiller (193 yards passing plus an interception and a fumble Christmas Eve at FedEx Field) and solar systems better than Blaine Gabbert (16-of-41 passing with an interception and three fumbles the week before).  Cousins over the last three years has the sixth-highest passer rating in the NFL, trailing only Brady, Brees, Ryan, Wilson and Rodgers.  He’s proven to be more than a stop-gap measure in DC, but for some reason has not merited long term foundation money.

By the time Kirk gets to Phoenix Stadium, the Skins will realize that he actually overachieved this past fall.  Think about it- Cousins lost top targets Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson to free agency only to see the offseason signing of Terrelle Pryor underwhelmed from day one.  Pryor’s season ended with injury, as did top option Jordan Reed.  Even the best receiver out of the backfield Chris Thompson didn’t make it into December.  I’m not even going to discuss the running back rotation he’s had to rely on over the years.  After the nonsense and shenanigans he’s had to deal with here, it’s nice to see Kirk find a better place and an organization who will build around and with him-as opposed to building in spite of what he brings to the table.  Hopefully the Cardinals will be adding some linemen (52 sacks allowed was the 2nd most in the league last fall) to keep Kirk upright.  Perhaps from Wichita.