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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."


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Lions re-sign DeAndre Levy to multi-year deal

Levy re-signs with Detroit.

      Martin Mayhew said he and his staff had theirr eyes on 9 of their own unrestricted free agents. After Corey Hilliard signed on friday, Levy officially takes two off Mayhew's wish list.

      According to the the Lions website beat writer Tim Twentyman, the Lions have come to terms with Levy on a reported three-year deal.

      Levy, who has started 50 games for the Lions over the past four seasons, was selected by the Lions in the third-round of the 2009 draft. In 14 games, Levy compiled 83 tackles, and one interception last season. In his four year career, he forced seven turnovers for the Lions.

      Many speculated the outside linebacker they'd bring back for 2013, would be Justin Durant. Now the Lions and Durant will sit down and see if they can create a fair price to bring both parties together.

Why Asomugha would be better served for Lions then Revis

Will Detroit make a play for Revis?

      Recent reports have Darrell Revis on the trade block, although the team has sworn he's not. Furthermore, reports out of Philadelphia has Nnamdi Asomugha, who signed a 5 year $60 million dollar deal in 2011, set to be released in the next few days.

      Early reports from CBSSports Jason La Canfora had Detroit as a possible destination for Revis' services in 2013.

      The Lions have a free agent of their own. Chris Houston, who was traded for a 6th round draft pick from the Atlanta Falcons, has forced eleven turnovers, eight interceptions and three forced fumbles, leading to two touchdown returns in his first three seasons with the Lions. His value on the open market is $5 million according to Pro Football Focus, however, he will be looking to cash in on his recent performance coming closer to 7-8 million per year.

      In 2012, Houston lived up to the bill. With two interceptions and two forced fumbles, he racked up a +7.4 overall rating, ranking 23rd in the league at corner, while ranking tenth in the league with a +3.4 in run defense.

      On the other hand, Revis is reported to be looking for closer to $12-15 million on a long term deal. He also has been known to hold-out for the money he believes he's worth, when he signed a 4 year $46 million dollar bad-aid deal with the Jets in 2010.

      Revis is also coming of a serious ACL injury. With recent inclines in the medical field, these injury's are becoming more manageable on a players career. However, will he have the same explosion to the ball that made him a ball-hawking, shut down corner? Will his quickness be taken away? Will he have lost a step? We can't answer those questions until he's back on the field against the opposition.

      In his hay day's, he was certainly worth the cost. He led the league with a +24.6 overall grade and a +18.8 grade in pass defense, both ranked 1st in the league, while being targeted nearly half-the-times.

      With the asking price of New York likely beginning with the 5th overall pick in this years draft, this seems a risk better suited for a title contender like San Francisco, Atlanta, or the Broncos. Detroit isn't one player away. In fact, they may not even be two players away from being serious Super Bowl contenders.

If Asomugha is released, will Detroit make a play for the former All-Pro?

      That's were Nnamdi Asomugha comes in to play. Two years ago, he was considered the top corner in the game for the Oakland Raiders. He transitioned into the Eagles hybrid 3-4 scheme rather poorly. In 2012, Asomugha was tied-63-of-71 in the league, for cornerbacks, with a -7.9 rating. In 2011, it wasn't much better. He recorded a -5.8, which ranked 52-of-64 for all cornerbacks in the league. He had a combined +14.5 in 2009 and 2010, and recorded a league best 8 interceptions in 2006.

      Troubling reports our out their on Asomugha's dedication to the game. The Lions must sit him down and evaluate if that fire is still burning to continue to play at a high level. However, if he's back in a scheme that he's comfortable, base 4-3 zone much like Detroit's, he can be an elite corner.

      The Lions would be ill-advised to spend valuable draft picks in a off-season were their identity needs to be found. Only three spots are safe for 2013, Quarterback, defensive tackle, and middle linebacker. With options in free agency, Revis would be better suited in a different uniform then Detroit.

      Now the question becomes, if it came down to Houston or Asomugha, who would you want?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Report: Tigers looking outside organization to fill closer role

Marmol could be the answer for the Tigers at closer.
     The Tigers put all their eggs in the Bruce Rondon basket this off-season, and early on in spring it hasn't panned out.

     According to league sources, the Tigers are already "pushing hard" to find a closer on the market Danny Knobler reported.

      The Tigers are rumored to be taking "a hard look" at the Chicago Cubs Carlos Marmol to fill that need. Chicago has been rumored for some time now to be shopping the right-hander, and the Tigers seem a good fit.

      Jim Leyland told reporters on Monday he was unaware of the club seeking outside options for the closer role.

      "If you're indicating we are gonna make a trade, I've had no indication of that." Leyland said. "I have not."

      The Cubs are certainly looking for young pitching, among other needs across the outfield, and Rick Porcello seems a possible partner if the two parties get together. Marmol is set to make nearly $10 million on the final year of his deal, so the Cubs would have to take up a chunk of that if Porcello is their early favorite.

      The Tigers have made it clear that they're prepared to head into the season with a closer-by-committee approach, however not ideal.

Michigan's Devin Gardner granted medical hardship

Devin Gardner will have two seasons of eligibility left for Michigan.

     Brady Hoke applied for a medical hardship for quarterback Devin Gardner, and this afternoon he believes he got it. Michigan announced Tuesday afternoon that Gardner was granted the medical hardship by the NCAA for the 2010 season and will have two seasons of eligibility remaining.

      As a freshman in 2010, Gardner played in only 4 games before being sidelined by a bad back. He finished his freshman campaign, going 7-10 passing for 85 yards and one touchdown.

      Gardner backed up Denard Robinson his first two seasons before converting to receiver at the beginning of last season. He finished last season going 75-126 for 1,219 yards, 11 touchdowns and 5 interceptions.

      "I feel great about it," Gardner said via a video posted by the teams website. "I'm just happy to be abe to help the team as long as I can.

      "This is a great place to live and go to school. I'm happy about that, but that's not the big issue. We have a season this year, and spring ball is about to start, and I'm really focused and ready to play this season first."

      Gardner was the #1 ranked duel threat quarterback coming out of Inkster High School in 2010. He will be flocked by ESPN 150 Shane Morris, who is ranked the No. 8 signal caller in the country, for the 2013 season.

Lions sign punter Blake Clingan after workout

Lions have signed their punter for 2013, with UCF's Blake Clingan.

      We reported earlier, punter Blake Clingan was in Allen Park for a workout Tuesday morning, and as reported by Dave Birkett, of Detroit Free Press, he has signed with the team. Clingan has yet to play for an NFL team after playing for the University of Central Florida from 2007-10.

      He has been training in Florida the past year for his opportunity for the NFL. In his senior year at UCF, he averaged 41.8 yards on 39 punts with a long of 61 yards.

      The Lions tied for 30th in the NFL for net punting average using Nick Harris, Ben Graham and Jason Hanson in 2009.

      Highlight taped of Clingan in college can be found here and here.

With the wide receiver market suddenly slim, Greg Jennings now a long shot for Lions

Jennings is now a long-shot for Lions.
      With top free agent wide receiver Dwayne Bowe signing a 5 year $56 million deal with the Kansas City Chiefs, Wes Welker and Brian Hartline close to deals with their respective teams, the free agent market for receivers is now slim with Greg Jennings and Mike Wallace as the top tier talents.

      Jennings once seemed a good fit opposite Calvin Johnson for the Lions at the right price, due to him coming off a career low season of 36 receptions for 366 yards and battling naging injury's all year. But with reports of his camp eyeing $14 million per year and the slim market, he's seemingly priced himself out of Detroit and their restrictive salary cap space.

      The Lions best option to find that outside threat comes down to a handful of middle of the road free agents or the draft.

      An option the Lions could seek out in free agency is soon-to-be free agent of the Browns Mohamed Massaquoi. The former Georgia Bulldog was Matthew Stafford's favorite target in college, catching 58 passes for 920 yards and 8 scores in 2008 while being selected in the 2nd round of the 2009 draft, which Stafford went 1st overall.

      With a tight budget heading into next Tuesday's opening of free agency, the Lions would be wise to wait out the market and find the most cost effective option for them late in the process.

According to PFF, Lions had 7th worst performance based contracts

Corey Williams (center) and Ndamukong Suh (left) were both in PFF's top 5
for different reasons in the 2012 season.

      Pro Football Focus released it's newest feature, team performance based value of each contract which assess' if the player is over or underpayed. For the Lions, they ranked seventh worst in the league, with their cap at $120.7 million, with their performance based value at $110.1M, a -$10.5 million difference.

      They put 34 players with positive value and 37 players with negative value in 2012. Nick Fairley is the highest valued contract, 89th best value in the NFL, with a value of $6.3 million rather then the $2.3 million he received, ringing in a at +$4.0 million. Joique Bell came in second with +$3.8 million of his base $545K contract with the Lions.

      Cliff Avril was the highest negative value for the Lions. With a mediocre pass rushing grade of +7.4, ranking 29th of all 4-3 DEs, he was an abysmal 4th worst run grade of all 4-3 DEs in 2012. His base salary was $10.6 million and his performance based value was at $947K. Corey Williams came in second with a -$3.9 million off his base $5.0 million salary.

      The 49ers were the leagues best in this category, toeing a +59.4 million off the $130.8 million cap hit they took in 2012.

ESPN's John Clayton could see Reggie Bush in Detroit

Bush could be the player to replace Jahvid Best for Lions

      As we near next Tuesday's opening of free agency, rumors are running wild among every NFL franchise. The latest to sweep Detroit, however, is running back Reggie Bush. ESPN's John Clayton touched briefly Tuesday morning on Mike & Mike in the Morning about the speculation of Bush coming to Detroit. "Not that he's going to get big money, bit I could see him ending up in Detroit."

      Dave Birkett, of the Detroit Free Press, originally stated that the "Lions interest in Reggie Bush is real." With the Lions having just over $9 million in cap space heading into next Tuesday's opening of free agency, it's hard to assume the Lions would meet his demands of over $5 million. Last week we examined the pro's and cons of Reggie Bush in Detroit, however, current reports that are stating his worth will be considerably less make the move enticing. Adding Bush to an offense featuring Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford, Ryan Broyles and Nate Burleson would allow the team to go primarily defense through the draft.

      As teams can discuss contracts with agents on Saturday, we eagerly await next Tuesday's free agency kick-off.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Dantonio completes shuffle of coaching staff, for now.

Dantonio made adjustments alongside his staff.

     Mark Dantonio formally announced his plans for his coaching staff on Monday, moving two assistants, slapping an assistant head coach title, and announcing the hiring of another.

      Dantonio moved Brad Salem, the former running backs coach the past three seasons, over to quarterbacks coach.

      Dave Warner, the former quarterbacks coach the past six seasons, will become the co-offensive coordinator while dueling in running back duties.

      The new hire, Jim Bollman who was hired by Purdue as offensive line coach and former Ohio State Buckeye offensive coordinator, will be the other co-offensive coordinator in charge of the run game coordination and tight ends coach.

      Finally, Michigan State placed the assistant head coaching tag on defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi.

     "No one has officially held that position on my staff, but in Pat Narduzzi's case, it's certainly warranted,'' Dantonio said. "Pat is a great leader on the defensive side of the football who has forged strong relationships with his players, and he's also an outstanding recruiter.

     "I also appreciate Pat's loyalty because Pat has been approached by several programs over the last few years and he's elected to remain a Spartan. When I'm not in the office, Pat takes control of the day-to-day operation. He has held those duties the last two years but without the formal title.''

Lions to host punter for workout on Tuesday

     The Detroit Lions are in need of a new punter this off-season, as Ben Graham and Nick Harris are scheduled to be free agents. According to former Alabama's punter, P.J. Fitzgerald, the Lions are set to give former UCF punter Blake Clingan a tryout tomorrow.

      According to Fitgerald, Clingan has been working out in Florida preparing for his chance at the NFL. Clingan, 6'2 232 lbs, played for UCF from 2007-10 and went undrafted in the 2011 draft. In his senior year, he averaged 41.8 yards on 39 punts with a long of 61 yards.

      For those who would like to see his highlight tapes, they can be accessed here and here.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

San Antonio Spurs rout Pistons 114-75

      The Detroit Pistons were looking to sweep the season series against the Spurs, after beating them 119-109 at the Palace on February . The Tony Parker less Spurs, who sprained his ankle in Friday's win over the Sacramento Kings, took control early as Manu Ginobili hit made his first six field goal attempts. Ginobli chimed in with 17 points, including 3-4 from long range, and 3 assists.

      Corey Joseph made his first start of the season, following Parker's absence, lending in 8 points, 4 assists and one turnover in his place. Tim Duncan paced the Spurs with another double-double, adding 16 points and 11 rebounds. Danny Green had 16 points and Kawhi Leonard had 14 points.

      For the Pistons, Greg Monroe had 16 points and 8 rebounds, with Jose Calderon chiming in with 14 points and 2 assists.

      For the Pistons, who have now lost five of their last six game, they come home for meetings with the New York Knicks on Wednesday, and the Dallas Mavericks on Friday before they start a four game road trip beginning with the L.A. Clippers next Sunday.

Breaking down Lions defensive ends: Why they must retain Lawrence Jackson

                                                    The Lions current defensive end situation:
The Lions lack depth along their
defensive line heading into March.
      The Lions currently have one defensive end under contract, that player is Ronnell Lewis. Lewis played in only one snap on defense last season, compiling two tackles on special teams. Kyle Vanden Bosch was cut, Cliff Avril will test free agency, and Lawrence Jackson looks to pursue the open market as well. That leaves third-year Willie Young. Young is a restricted-free-agent, meaning the Lions hold his rights and can tender him on or before March 12th. After they tender one of three contracts, Young is able to discuss contracts with any other team. The Lions can then match or let him walk receiving a pick from that team.
      The three tender options for the Lions are as follows. A 1st round tender of $2.879 million, a 2nd round tender of $2.023 million, and the original tender of $1.323. If he is not tendered, Young will then be an unrestricted free agent, able to sign anywhere. Young is a shoe-in to receive the tender, now it's a question of which the Lions put on him.

Why the Lions must retain Lawrence Jackson:
Lawrence Jackson's contract is looming
for the Lions.
      The Lions currently hold the 5th overall pick, and many speculate it should be used on a defensive end. After the NFL Combine, none of the prospects who were proclaimed top 10 defensive ends made their case to be a lock. Now the Lions must add insurance, and that begins with a player from within.

      The former 1st round pick (28th overall to the Seahawks in 2008), the Lions traded a 6th round pick to acquire Jackson in 2010, has made his presence felt as a rotational member of the unit. He's compiled 80 tackles, 13 sacks and 2 forced fumbles in three seasons for the Lions.

      Jackson has shown his versatility, compiling 399 pass rush snaps at right end the past two seasons and 263 pass rush snaps at left end in 2009 and 2010. While his pass rush numbers aren't eye popping, albeit limited action, his value in run defense are. In 2012, Jackson was among the top ends donning the 4-3 defensive scheme. In 140 run snaps, he amassed 15 tackles, 11 stops and a 7.9 run stop percentage that tied for 12th in the league according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). This wasn't a one year wonder. In 2011, with 104 run snaps, he had 18 tackles, 14 stops, and a 13.5 run stop percentage that ranked 1st among all defensive ends in the 4-3 scheme.
      Putting that in context, Cliff Avril had a total of 266 run snaps in 2012, with 17 tackles, 11 stops and an abysmal 4.1 run stop percentage that ranked 55th out of 61 possible 4-3 defensive ends.

      Jim Schwartz has shown his love for versatility, with the combination of talent, depth concerns, and his potential cap hit, Lawrence Jackson seems to be a perfect fit. Retaining him, due to his versatility, would allow the Lions to pursue either a left end or a right end, plugging Jackson in at the other spot.

      With Willie Young likely receiving his tender, the Lions must add depth to this unit through the draft or free agency for the 2013 season.

#4 Michigan wins a tough, grueling game against #9 Michigan State

Trey Burke continues to have a phenomenal, Naismith worthy season

     Michigan, the number 4 team in the land, came into tonight's heavyweight showdown against rival #9 Michigan State looking to stay perfect at home. It took everything they had to hold off the hungry Spartans as they won a hard fought, back and forth 58-57 game. Not only did Michigan stay perfect at home this season (17-0), but this win put their home record at 32-1 in the past two seasons. Tough team to beat at their home turf, Crisler Arena, and if not for crucial missed free throws and turnovers, the Spartans could have done just that.

     This loss puts the Spartans at 22-7 for the season (11-5 in Big Ten) and also is their 3rd loss in a row. Down the stretch, this is not how Tom Izzo envisioned his Spartans performing. With two games left (3/7 vs Wisconsin and 3/10 vs Northwestern) these games almost become must win for the Spartans to end the regular season on a high note going into the Big Ten tournament. Junior center Adreian Payne led Michigan State in one of his best performances of the year with 17 points and 12 boards. Freshman sensation Gary Harris also contributed with 16 points and 4 boards. One thing that has plagued the Spartans all year is turnovers and today wasn't any different, as they committed 18 of them, including 2 in the final 30 seconds of the game. If the Spartans want to go far in March, this is one area they must improve on.

     For the Wolverines, this was a much needed win as they had lost 4 of their previous 7 games, including a tough 84-78 loss at Big Ten cellar dweller Penn State. John Beilein had righted the ship in this game as he had his Wolverines looking fresh, hungry and most of all efficient. Michigan was led by none other than, you guessed it, Trey Burke as he continues to come up big in big games this year, particularly Big Ten games, as he is the only player in the conference to have scored at least 15 points in every conference game. Tonight's game wasn't any different as he scored 21 points, had 8 assists and 5 steals, 2 of them came in the final 30 seconds of the contest. Foward Mitch McGary came up with a big 11 points and 4 boards as he provided a well needed spark off the bench to make up for lack of production from Michigan's starting five minus Burke. Tim Hardaway Jr had another game to forget as he continues to struggle against Michigan State. He shot 3-12 from the field making him a combined 4-23 in two games. One thing the Wolverines have to improve on is their road/neutral site record. At home, Michigan is unstoppable, but yet almost timid on the road as they are 4-5 away from the Crisler arena, a combined 7-5 if you include their neutral site record. To improve on the road, the Wolverines need to get more consistent performances from players like Hardaway Jr, Glenn Robinson III, and Jordan Morgan and company as you can't expect Trey Burke, as good as he's been this year, to continue to bail them out of tough jams.

     Both teams are still tough competitors not only in the Big Ten tournament, but also the in big dance. With the Big Ten being one of the toughest conferences in all of basketball, it's tough to say just how good each team can be as it's hard for either of them to live up to their full potential if you continue to play ranked team after ranked team night after night. It will be exciting to see just how far each team can go, if they play like they are capable of, come tourney time.

Friday, March 1, 2013

MSU, Michigan both have a lot to gain and lose in final meeting

Derrick Nix battles with Jordan Morgan for a tough board

      The final meeting between long time hated rivals Michigan (23-5; 10-5 Big Ten) and Michigan State (22-6; 11-4 Big Ten) has a lot riding on it. Potential seeding in the Big Ten tournament is key, as the top 4 seeds receive a bye.

     A win for the Spartans, currently the number 2 seed, would lock them in as a for sure bye in the Big Ten tournament, also with another two Indiana losses would put them as the number one seed in the tournament. A loss meanwhile puts them in the middle of the pack with 5 conference losses and also in danger of not getting a first round conference bye.

      For the Wolverines, currently the number 5 seed, a win would put them in a good spot to possibly overtake Ohio State as the number 4 seed if they were to lose one of their final two games (at Indiana on 3/5; vs Illinois on 3/10). A loss would be devastating for Michigan, as that would put them at 10-6 in conference, making them the number 5 or 6 seed in the tournament.

      With the Big Ten being arguably the toughest conference in all of college basketball, it's hard to say if seeding will even matter in the tournament, as many of the teams in the Big Ten have beaten up on each other during regular season play. Home court advantage plays a key factor, as the best road record in the Big Ten belongs to Indiana, at 6-2. For Michigan State, they are 6-4 on the road and need to play better and more efficient to win their last road contest. The Wolverines, are a tout 16-0 at home this season, with their road record being 4-5, have a tremendous advantage in being at home against the Spartans. If Michigan plays like they did on the road against Michigan State on February 12th, the game is all but over. The Spartans, now if they play like they did against Ohio State on February 5th, it will be a long game at the rowdy Crisler Arena. To come out on top, both teams will have to put forth their best game of the year and whoever comes out of this heavyweight fight will be in pretty good shape come the Big Ten and NCAA tournament.

15 Free Agents the Detroit Lions should pursue in 2013

As the Lions set to enter free agency, in less than two weeks, we take a look at every position and break down the players that would fit the Lions scheme, criteria, and cap as we count down the days until the free agent frenzy begins.

Kyle Arrington, CB, New England Patriots- Hofstra, 08-12-1986, 5'10, 196 lbs.
Arrington would add a nice
compliment to Houston at CB.
      Arrington is awaiting his future with the Patriots. As it looks, that door is closing. This move by the Lions  has been endorsed several times, and seems to be a good fit. Free agency will be a good sample to see what the Lions will do with the 5th overall pick. Adding a corner and retaining Chris Houston all but solidifies Alabama's cornerback Dee Milliner going elsewhere.
      Arrington saw the first half of his season go up and down, allowing 76% of his targets completed and 11.7 yards per pass attempt. The second half of the season was much different. Moving inside to nickel, following the acquisition of Aqib Talib, Arrington graded positively in eight of the last 10 weeks of the season  (including playoffs) after a first half in which he graded positively in just four of the first eight weeks, according to Pro Football Focus. He was also particularly good versus the run, grading as the 17th best corner, scoring only one negative grade versus the run all season.
       Many acquaint Arringtons rise to him shifting inside, which was partially true. No better evidence of his strong play then in the AFC Championship game versus the Baltimore Ravens. Lining up against speedster Torrey Smith on may plays, Smith yielded just 3 catches for 49 yards on 7 targets over 66 snaps.

William Hayes, DE, St. Louis Rams- Winston-Salem, 05-02-1985, 6'2, 258 lbs.
Hayes could replace Avril at DE.
      Rotoworld recently addressed each teams free agency fits in free agency with Hayes being the player fitting in Detroit. Hayes had a career year as the Rams No. 3 defensive end and will look for a fit to become a starter elsewhere. The supply and demand looks like the perfect situation for both parties. He was originally drafted in 2008 by the Tennessee Titans when Jim Schwartz was the defensive coordinator, then followed Jeff Fisher to St. Louis. In 2012, while not making a single start, Hayes came in contact with the quarterback 24 times (sacks, hits and hurries) while making 7 sacks and 35 tackles. Putting that in context, Cliff Avril came in contact with the quarterback 35 times in 708 snaps, gaining 9 sacks while Hayes had 7 sacks, 24 contacts with the quarterback in just 378 snaps.
      The best part on Hayes, he's also a plus versus the run. In 16 games, he had a plus grade versus the run 12 times including the last 4.
      As the Lions look to address their need at defensive end with only one currently under contract, Hayes looks to be the best option weighing performance and the amount it would take to acquire him.

Kenny Phillips, S, New York Giants- Miami (Fla.), 11-24-1986, 6'2, 208 lbs.
Phillips would be help to a depleted
Safety group.
      Since Stevie Brown took over at safety, after his injury, Phillips and the Giants have been destined to part-ways. Phillips, a year removed from a four pick season and helping the Giants win the Super Bowl, is just 26 and is entering the prime of his career. In 2012, he graded positive in pass coverage all 8 games he played. He had 24 tackles and 3 passes defended in his backup role. With the question marks surrounding Louis Delmas and the rest of the safety crop in Detroit, Phillips would add a veteran presence with play-making ability to the Lions last line of defense.

Glover Quin, S, Houston Texans- New Mexico, 01-15-1986, 5'11, 204 lbs.
Quin has the making of a playmaker.
      If the Lions are looking to make a significant upgrade via free agency at the safety position, Glover Quin may be their best option. Quin has the speed and quickness (ran a 4.50 40-yard dash) to be effective alongside Louis Delmas. He forced 4 turnovers in 2012, adding 84 tackles and a sack. Quin is has a nose for being around the ball, adding a grade of +5.1 against. This may be tough to pull off, given the cap situation the Lions have and the asking price of Quin. Mayhew has stated he wants to add playmakers to the Lions defense and he would surely do that.

Darryl Smith, OLB, Jacksonville Jaguars- Georgia Tech, 04-14-1982, 6'2, 242 lbs.
If Lions loose out on their own free agent
OLB's, Smith could be called upon.
      If the Lions find themselves in a position were both DeAndre Levy and Justin Durant bolt in free agency, Daryl Smith would be the presumable plan B. Coming off a groin injury that held him to two games in 2012, Smith will look to get one last significant contract for his career. However, if the Lions are to proceed after Smith, it will likely be on a one year deal after the market isn't what he suspected. In 2011, Smith posted 107 tackles and posted a +24.9 overall grade, good for first among outside linebackers. If him and the Lions are able to come together, there's no doubt the veteran leadership      he would bring to the locker room.

Ray Edwards, DE, Free Agent- Purdue, 01-01-1985, 6'5, 273 lbs.
Lions are looking for DE help.
      Remember the discussions around purging for Edwards to the Lions in 2011 or franchise tagging Avril? Yeah, seems like distant memory now. After signing a 5 year $30 million dollar deal with the Falcons, Edwards has failed to meet expectations and was released following week 10. He accumulated just 3.5 sacks in a little over a season and a half for the Falcons adding to his release. Part of his demise in Atlanta, however, was using him as a 3-4 defensive end in their "Big 3 tackle" sets for much of 2012. If the Lions can get him at a minimal price tag, they could do a lot worse than adding the former Viking who had 16.5 sacks his final two season their, just a few short years ago (2009, '10).

Donald Thomas, OG, New England Patriots- Connecticut, 09-25-1985, 6'4, 303 lbs.
      If the Lions are looking to address their right guard situation outside the organization, their may not be a better cost effective option then Thomas. Playing a reserve role for the Patriots, he made seven spot starts when injury's came up. In those seven starts, Thomas had a positive grade in both pass blocking and run blocking four times. A predominant run blocker, Thomas would come cheap and add a solid right guard for the near future.

Mohamed Massaquoi, WR, Cleveland Browns- Georgia, 11-24-1986, 6'1, 210 lbs.
      The forgotten favorite target of Matthew Stafford at Georgia, caught 58 passes for 920 yards and 8 scores in 2008. He went in the second round of the 2009 to the Browns. In his four seasons, he has 118 catches for 1,745 yards and 7 touchdowns. Adding a target Stafford is familiar with and has the ability to be a target near the end zone, the Lions should pounce at the opportunity.

E.J. Biggers, CB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers- Western Michigan, 06-13-1987, 5'11, 180 lbs.
      Another need along the Lions secondary, the Lions have options at corner this year. With the 5th pick and free agency, the former 7th round Western Michigan standout could be one of them. Starting 12 games in 2012, Biggers had 3 turnovers a sack and 51 tackles. Although he seems a great young prize, Biggers struggled in pass defense. His combined 2012 pass coverage grade was negative 9.9 and came through with an overall -14.4 grade. If the Lions look to pursue him on the open market, look for it to be on a one year deal much like they have with Eric Wright, Chris Houston and Stephen Tulloch.

Geno Hayes, OLB, Chicago Bears- Florida State, 08-10-1987, 6'1, 226 lbs.
      The Lions are in need of depth along the OLB position this upcoming season, and Hayes would add that. In 2012, he started only 3 games adding 16 tackles. In his three seasons of starting for the Buccaneers, Hayes forced 8 turnovers and provided a steady hand in the run game. The Lions are in the market for play-makers across their defense, and Hayes would add a cheap resource at linebacker.

Kyle Moore, DE, Buffalo Bills- USC, 10-25-1986, 6'5, 272 lbs.
      In a backup role for the Bills in 2012, Moore started 7 times accumulating 501 snaps. His year started off strong, with his first four adding positive pass rush grades and 2 of his 3 sacks on the year. Moore won't blow anyone away with his production in 2012 (24 tackles, 3 sacks) but adding a cost effective, veteran situational pass rusher to the mix among a depleted defensive end rotation to the team would be a smart move by the front office.

Mike Patterson, DT, Philadelphia Eagles- USC, 09-01-1983, 6'0, 292 lbs.
      Patterson, the former 31st overall selection by the Eagles out of USC, will reportedly visit the Lions after being cut by the Eagles this week. He has great experience working in the wide-9 front from former Eagle and current Lions defensive line coach Jim Washburn. Patterson has had a negative grade just six times in the past two seasons for the Eagles. He has never been a huge presence in the sack category, 4 sacks in 2007 was his highest, but adding the veteran leadership and run presence of a near 300 pound rotational defensive tackle behind Suh and Fairley is a good move by the Lions.

Aaron Curry, OLB, Free Agent- Wake Forest, 04-06-1986, 6'2, 254 lbs.
      The talk of taking Aaron Curry ahead of Matthew Stafford with the 1st pick of the 2009 draft seems silly now for Lion fans. After being waved by the Raiders following week 11 and being on 3 teams in 4 seasons, Curry is entering free agency in 2013. With the Lions current cap situation and two OLB's set to hit the market on March 13th, Curry could add a once viewed potential and depth for a minimal cost.

Steve Breaston, WR, Kansas City Chiefs- Michigan, 08-20-1983, 6'0, 193 lbs.
      The former Michigan standout has been a solid returner his entire career, barring his stop in Kansas City. Coincidentally the Lions are looking for just that following the presumable release of Stefan Logan. Although his 2012 receiving number were down, Breaston accumulated 61 catches for 785 yards and 2 touchdowns in 2011. If the Lions are looking for a cost effective returner and depth at receiver, which seems the case, Breaston could be just the man.

Jim Leonhard, S, Denver Broncos- Wisconsin, 10-27-1982, 5'8, 190 lbs.
      As-for-mentioned, the Lions are currently looking for safety help. Leonhard won't blow anyone away with all-pro play this late in his career, but he certainly could add veteran leadership to a team in desperate need. Leonhard added 18 tackles and 2 interceptions on 1 start last year, helping the Denver Broncos to the #1 seed in the playoffs. He was solid all year adding a +4.6 pass defense rating on 290 snaps. He is a sure tackler who could be the voice of the secondary alongside Delmas. If the Lions fail to find another safety through the draft or free agency, they may turn to a veteran on a one year deal.

Note: Statistical grades found through Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

The Case against Reggie Bush for the Lions

Reggie Bush isn't the right fit
for the Detroit Lions.
      According to many reports, the Detroit Lions are ready to make a push at free agent running back Reggie Bush. The thought is amusing, and seems to be a great fit. Jahvid Best's career is seemingly over, and Mayhew says his biggest mistake was assuming he would return for 2012. He then vowed it won't happen again.

      Bush is just the home-run threat that the Lions will look for. However, Bush has went over 1,000 yards rushing once in his career, and at 28, with 7 years of wear at running back, Bush may be on his way down. Last season he rushed for 986 yards and caught 35 passes, which was one shy of his career low in receptions.

      With early reports of him wanting close to the $5 million he made last season, it was far fetched. With recent reports that he wants close to $7-8 million it is unfathomable. The Lions currently have close to $9 million in cap space, and signing a situational running back to half that space wouldn't be a smart football move.

      Statistically, Bush carried a negative 2.6 overall grade, and allowed 7 quarterback hurries last season. With the mid-rounds full of shifty running backs, the Lions would be smart to go that route.

      Kerwyn Williams ran a 4.48 40-yard dash and a 4.15 split in the 20-yard shuttle at the combine. He garnered 11 combined rushing and receiving plays of over 50+ yards displaying his home-run ability. In 2012, he rushed for 1,512 yards on 6.9 YPC  adding 15 touchdowns rushing and 5 more receiving. He's a payer that could be had in the 4-5 rounds.

      There's many more running backs the Lions could pursue, including Kenjon Barner, Denard Robinson, Mike Gillisleeor Joseph Randle. For Bush's asking price, he isn't the right fit for the Lions.

Detroit Lions re-sign offensive tackle Corey Hilliard

      General manager Martin Mayhew said, at the teams season ending press conference, that Corey Hilliard would be a top priority heading into free agency. He kept his word this morning inking the offensive tackle to a two year deal according to Adam Schefter.

      According to Schefter, the Lions will bring back Hilliard with the expectations of him competing for the right tackle position if Gosder Cherilus is not retained.

      Hilliard, in 2009, was signed by the Lions off the Cleveland Browns practice squad. He was active the entire season in 2010 and '11, starting 5 games during that span. He was inactive for all 16 games in 2012 with Riley Reiff and Jason Fox being ahead of him on the depth chart.

      Mayhew indicated the Lions are pursuing 9 of their own free agents this off-season, and it apparently begins with Hilliard. Now, who will be the next to ink a deal with Detroit?