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Thursday, February 26, 2015

After tough loss vs Cavs, Pistons still show a changing of culture

Reggie Jackson huddles with his new Detroit teammates
Don't look now Pistons fans, but the Bad Boys are back! Well, maybe not the Bad Boys, but their certainly a lot badder then they've been in awhile.
After a dismal 5-23 start, the subtraction of disgruntled forward Josh Smith, additions of forward Anthony Tolliver, center Joel Anthony, guard John Lucas III and Reggie Jackson; the Pistons are only one game out of the playoffs at 23-34. Granted, yes this is the horribly weak Eastern Division, but any team that can recover from a 5-23 start and going from a destined lottery pick on Christmas day to a game out of the playoffs two months later, that's saying something.
Are the Pistons a title contender? Well let's not get too far ahead of ourselves now. Yes the Pistons have gone on a good stretch of late, beating two of the better teams in the East (Washington and Chicago), but they are far from competing against the best of the West. Now as far as the East is concerned, they aren't as far off as some of you may think.
With another devastating knee injury to Derek Rose, he may never be the same player when and if he returns. The feel good stories of Atlanta and Toronto may or may not last. Yes, there's always LeBron James and the Cavs to get through, but as the Pistons showed Tuesday night, they can compete. No, they aren't there chemistry wise or even talent wise yet, but they have determination and heart which can go a long way in this league.
The Pistons recent trades set themselves for a playoff push for this year, as well as to sustain success in the future. Jackson looks like he will be the point guard of the present and future. There are plenty of contracts coming off the books this offseason, with only $45 million in guaranteed contracts. That's well under the $63 million salary cap, which may increase this offseason. That's plenty of cap room to re-sign Jackson, or Greg Monroe, or both. Also plenty of room to try and sway possible free agents to come to a team with a young nucleus that could consist of Jackson, Monroe and Andre Drummond. Plenty of cap room to create endless possibilities, possibilities that didn't exist before.
They may not be title contenders, but this team is definitely relevant. And with a well needed change of culture with new head coach and President Stan Van Gundy will provide some exciting basketball in Detroit that hasn't existed this past decade.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Are the Tigers still a legitimate World Series contender in 2015?

Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez
As the baseball calendar switches from offseason mode to Spring Training many people pose this question, Do the Detroit Tigers still have a chance to contend for the World Series title? Many people say they don't. Many people say they do. You can make arguments for both sides of the coin. For the skeptics out there they'll point out and ask the following: Will Justin Verlander bounce back to his former (or close to) self? How healthy will Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez be? When can we expect them to come back fully healthy? May? June? Opening Day? Will Jose Iglesias be fully healthy? What about Bruce Rondon, will he contribute? How will the newcomers fare?

Those are only a few of the many question marks that this team has going into the 2015 season. Expectations have been so high for so many years, so many years they have fallen short of those expectations, that some people just assume the worst. This team is no longer the "preseason" favorite to be the last team standing in October, some people aren't even seeing them as favorites to win the AL Central. So why not just count them out already?

But when was the last time the "preseason" favorite won it all? When was the team that was expected to win it all, won it?

Were the San Francisco Giants the favorite to win it last year? What about the Royals to be the AL Champion? Anybody.....outside of the optimistic fan of course. The Royals "preseason" odds to win it all last year, they were 50-1 by Vegas. The Giants, not much better at 25-1. And to show you that anything can happen, look at the Texas Rangers. 2014 Spring Training odds at 20-1, they didn't even make the playoffs.

So what does this all mean to the Detroit Tigers? Well this means that anything can happen. Everything could go right, or everything could go completely wrong. New additions, Shane Greene, Yoenis Cespedes, Alfredo Simon and Tom Gorzelanny could make huge impacts. A full season of David Price, one of the best lefties in the game, could easily replace if not better the statistics of departure Max Scherzer. Greene could replace the production of Rick Porcello, or better it. Simon could replace the production of Drew Smyly, or better it.

With a lineup of 2-time MVP Miguel Cabrera, the Martinez bash brothers, and a rejuvenated Cespedes, that will strike fear into any pitching staff. And when they're all healthy, and hitting, this lineup could be just as good as previous years, or better. Even though the odds are stacked against them, with all the changing faces, all the question marks; but hey it's baseball and anything can happen.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

No. 3 seed Michigan State has no problem with No. 14 seed Valparaiso

Senior Derrick Nix came up huge for the Spartans in a dominating win

     The struggling Michigan State Spartans looked to make a statement coming into this game against Valparaiso, and a statement was certainly made. The Spartans went into half with a dominating 35-18 lead looking to pile on in the second half. The second half did not go as planned for the Spartans as they were out scored by the Crusaders 36-30, but still held on for a commanding 11 point win. For the Spartans to go far in this tournament, they need solid contributions from players such as Keith Appling, Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne.

     Payne has been coming up big for the Spartans down the stretch especially when the other stars, like Appling and Nix, have been struggling to find their stroke. But it was Payne who came up small in this game as he scored only 7 points with 4 boards. He also did not shoot the ball very much as he attempted only 5 shots from the field. Derrick Nix meanwhile had arguably the best game of his Spartan career as he scored 23 points on 10-17 shooting along with a career high 15 boards. Keith Appling also contributed 15 points with 6 assists. For the Spartans, this must be a good sign to see him score double digits as he is seeming to be breaking out of his current scoring funk. Big Ten Freshman of the Year Gary Harris had a decent game with 10 points, 2 steals and 4 boards in 32 minutes. One thing that Tom Izzo will want to fix is the turnover issue as the Spartans had 17 of them, something they need to fix if they want to go far in this tournament.

     The Spartans have arguably one of the toughest roads to the Final Four. They are the number 3 seed in the Midwest region which features the No. 1 overall seed in Louisville, a formidable No. 2 seed in the Duke Blue Devils, and tough hard-nosed 4, 5, and 6 seeds in Saint Louis, Oklahoma State and Memphis. Michigan State will have to face the winner of No. 6 Memphis and No. 11 Saint Mary's on Saturday. Memphis (30-4) are one of, if not the toughest No. 6 seeds in the entire tournament and Saint Mary's (28-6) are no slouch either. After that game, providing an upset which isn't uncommon in March, Michigan State will have to face the No. 2 seed in Duke, then the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament Louisville. The road for the Spartans is a tough one, but a doable one. If the Spartans play like they are capable of, I wouldn't be surprised to see them represent the Midwest region in the Final Four.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Is Kansas City a legitimate threat to the Tigers in the Central?

Young budding star Eric Hosmer leads an up and coming Royals squad

     The Kansas City Royals are in first place, yes you heard me right the Royals are 13-2 and in first place in the Cactus League. Granted this is Spring Training and these exhibition games do not mean much towards the regular season--just ask Detroit Lions fans--but even though the games don't count for much, it may be more of a concern than you think, Tiger fans.

      Last season, the Royals finished at an even .500 (16-16) during Spring Training, while the Tigers finished at a more formidable 20-8. Where did the World Series Champion San Francisco Giants end up you ask? They only finished three games above .500 at 18-15. In fact, in the American League, only two out of the top five teams in the standings for Spring Training actually made the playoffs last year (Detroit and Oakland). In the NL, it was the same picture, the two teams being St. Louis and San Francisco. So what does all this mean? This shows that Spring Training success doesn't necessarily mean regular season success. But one thing it does give, is momentum and most of all, confidence.

      For the Royals, this success during February and March may mean more than you think. The Royals are a young team, with most of their key contributors being under 30 years of age (Alex Gordon, 29; Billy Butler, 26; and Jeff Francoeur, 29). Also they have a number of young rising stars such as team U.S. first baseman Eric Hosmer (age 23), third baseman Mike Moustakas (24), and catcher Salvador Perez (22). With most of their roster being very young, success during the Spring may help them build confidence and unity. Also the addition of pitchers James Shields, Ervin Santana and Wade Davis help provide stability to an otherwise young and inconsistent staff.

      Okay, back to the question, is Kansas City a legitimate threat to the Tigers in the AL Central? My opinion is no, at least not yet. The Royals finished last season in third place in the Central at 72-90, a one game improvement from the year before and a five game improvement from 2010. The Tigers just have too much fire power with the reigning AL MVP and Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, former AL Cy Young award winner and former AL MVP Justin Verlander, AL Silver Slugger Prince Fielder and veteran leadership in Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter. They also have some budding stars of their own such as Nick Castellanos, Avasail Garcia and Bruce Rondon. For the Royals to make such a huge jump to overtake a powerful and experienced team in just one year, is a huge feat and are not at that level yet. But they are improving and with a good season, may make a push for a Wild Card spot. Don't get to comfortable Tiger fans, we have some competition coming up our rearview mirror quicker than you might think.

Michigan, Michigan State still formidable opponents in the Tournament

Trey Burke and Keith Appling lead their respective teams into the Big Dance

      With both No. 6 Michigan and No. 8 Michigan State struggling down the stretch, many come to wonder if these teams still possess the prowess to compete in the big dance. Here are some reasons not to count out either of these teams out come tournament time.

     For Michigan State, they have lost three of their last five games. They saw their ranking drop from No. 4, to No. 10, now back up to No. 8. If the Spartans could have found a way to win at least two of those games, you may be looking at the No. 1 team in the country. Going into the Big Ten tournament, coach Tom Izzo must have his team prepared and most of all hungry. Tom Izzo's squads have a reputation of showing up come tourney time and to come up big down the stretch. They have failed in one of those aspects, but could redeem themselves with a good showing in the Big Ten tournament. If the Spartans win the Big Ten tournament, they may move themselves into a No. 2 seed, if not a possible No. 1 in the big dance. Not only would it provide a better seeding, it also would provide them confidence. Another thing boding well for the Spartans is the increased performance of junior forward Adreian Payne. He is averaging 10.1 points per game along with 7.5 boards this season. Payne has also developed into a formidable three-point shooter as he is posting a 44% three-point percentage. The most dramatic improvement is his free throw shooting. Payne has an 81% free throw percentage, good for 5th in the Big Ten. Senior center Derrick Nix also helps provide a very tough and impressive front two for the Spartans and it always helps having a legitimate big man to help you go far in March, let alone two. Also, do not count out a Tom Izzo led team, as he is one of the country's best coaches.

      Michigan has also had their fair share of troubles down the stretch. The Wolverines have lost four of their last eight games including a heartbreaking loss on Sunday against Indiana for the Big Ten regular season title. They have seen their rankings fluctuate from No. 2, to No. 4, to No. 7 and now resting at No. 6. For the Wolverines, coach John Beilein must prepare his team to make a deep run in the Big Ten tournament. To restore confidence, the Wolverines must show up and be well prepared for the Big Ten tournament. The Wolverines have been an up and down team this year, but are still a very dangerous team. Besides Naismith hopeful Trey Burke, Michigan has also had a good and up coming player in freshman Nik Stauskas. He has been a surprise this year in his development as he is averaging 11.6 points per game which is good for third on the team next to Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke. He is also shooting a team best 46% from beyond the arc, which is good for 3rd in the Big Ten. In the NCAA tournament, a consistent three-point threat is always a welcomed asset.

      For both of these teams, even though they have struggled down the stretch more than they would have liked, are both dangerous and legitimate contenders. The Big Ten is one of the best conferences in the country, with four teams ranked in the AP top ten (No. 3 Indiana, No. 6 Michigan, No. 8 Michigan State, No. 10 Ohio State), It would not be surprising to see one if not two of these teams in the Final Four and it will be exciting to watch and see where these teams end up when the trophy is lifted and the confetti is falling. 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Wisconsin vs. Michigan State preview

WHEN: Tonight 9 P.M. ET

WHERE: Jack Breslin Center, East Lansing Michigan


      No. 10 Michigan State Spartans (22-7, 11-5) will play host to the No. 22 Wisconsin Badgers (20-9, 11-5) tonight, after their disappointing 58-57 loss on the road in Ann Arbor to the Wolverines. Each team comes in after losing their last match-up as Wisconsin lost in upset fashion to the Purdue Boilermakers, and the Spartans ride a three game skid (Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan) into Thursday night.

      Michigan State has been particularly good at home this season, 15-1 at Breslin, scoring an additional +7.4 points. They have also won 7 straight at home versus Wisconsin, and 4 in a row overall in the series. The Spartans beat the Badgers 49-47 in Madison on Jan. 22.

       Both teams come into Thursday's action a game back of first place in the Big Ten, after Indiana lost at home to the Ohio State Buckeyes. If either squad wins-out and No. 7 Michigan upsets Indiana on Sunday, they could claim a share of the B1G title.

PLAYER(S) TO WATCH FOR MSU: Adreian Payne and Keith Appling

Appling must get out of recent funk for Spartans to make turn-around.
      The reason Keith Appling is on this slide, is his inability during Michigan State's recent skid. Appling has scored in single digits in each of his last three games (Michigan State lost all three) while shooting just 5-of-23 from the floor (21.7%). He's averaged just six points, 2.7 assists and three turnovers per game during that stretch. If the Izzo-led Spartans are planning another deep March run, Appling has to get out of his current funk.

      Adreian Payne has been on another planet the past two weeks. Over his past four games, he's averaged 15.3 points and 12 rebounds while going 6-12 beyond the arc (.500%). If Payne continues his recent tear through Sunday and beyond, the Spartans will be tough to beat in the Tournament.


Dekker has been hot for Wisconsin
      Sam Dekker has been hot for the Badgers over his past five games. He's currently averaging 13.2 points 2.8 assists and shooting 12-20 from beyond the long line (60%). Dekker is a tough cover for Brenden Dawson, and Izzo must game plan for the Badgers running him off screens to set him up from the long line.

      With the Breslin Center set to rock, the Badgers are in for a rude awakening. Tom Izzo is notorious for having his team ready come March, and with the tournament around the corner, the Spartans will look to fine tune the entire team at home. With the win-less streak at the Breslin for the Badgers at 7 (haven't won since March 7, 2004).

Michigan State 55, Wisconsin 52

2014 recruit Devin Booker to visit Michigan State today

Devin Booker visits Michigan State this weekend.

-East Lansing, Michigan-

      Devin Booker, a Junior from Moss Point (MS.) High School,  is a top recruit in the class of 2014, ranking 19th in the country on ESPNU. He started a five-team road trip which began at UNC on February 24th. He ended that weekend receiving an offer from Duke, after his trip to Durham following his North Carolina visit. He was at Florida last weekend before his upcoming visit to East Lansing and capping jis trip off with a trip to Ann Arbor.

      Booker currently holds scholorships from Duke, Missouri, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Michigan. In his Junior season, Booker's averaging 29.7 points, six assists and three rebounds per game.

       After eclipsing the 30-point mark just five times his Sophomore season, he made the most of his Junior season going above that mark 16 times.

      The 6'5 shooting guard made these statements on his up-coming visits.

       "This go-around will be unofficial visits." Booker said. "I'll see which ones I like and then at the end of the summer, I'll start cutting them down and see what my official visits will be."