Andrew Wiggins to Declare, Must Erase Tournament Impression

To the surprise of no one, Andrew Wiggins is expected to announce on Monday that he will be leaving the University of Kansas after one season, entering the 2014 NBA Draft after his freshman season, per a report from Jeff Goodman at ESPN. Though his stock may have taken a hit over the past few weeks, this decision was still expected for the most part.

However, the first thing Wiggins might be looking to do is to get the last taste that he left in the mouth of everyone out of those mouths as quickly as possible. After all, as the Jayhawks were eliminated from the NCAA Tournament in the Round of 32, Wiggins was barely noticed as he put up only four points, four rebounds, one assist, one steal and two blocks on just 1-6 shooting and while turning the ball over four times.

For starters, it is a bit of a necessity to realize that Wiggins wasn’t as bad as you might have heard or thought he was after initially watching the loss. Obviously his lack of offense was a glaring and the most notable concern, but Wiggins’ activity and energy-level were impressive, as were a lot of things he was able to do on the defensive end of the floor.

Quite frankly, Wiggins hasn’t lived up to the hype that surrounded him coming into college. In fairness, though, I’m not sure that any mortal human being could have lived up to that kind of hype. However, he’s not as NBA-ready as many would’ve had you believe coming into the college basketball season.

With that caveat, though, Wiggins’ potential is rivaled only by his teammate at Kansas, Joel Embiid, in this draft class. Wiggins’ athleticism, physical attributes, and instincts are near-elite and if he can continue to develop the skills to match those characteristics, he could be an All-Star eventually at the pro level. The first step, though, is somehow making sure that his final game in college isn’t a memory that sticks.

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Josh Elliott is leaving Good Morning America for NBC Sports

For the second time in the last few months, a key face of the top-ranked morning show is headed to an NBCUniversal subsidiary as Josh Elliott, the news anchor for Good Morning America, is headed to NBC Sports. Elliott joined the ABC morning program three years ago this month and was part of the crew that took down NBC’s Today for the first time in 16 years in April 2012. Elliott joined GMA from ESPN where he co-anchored the morning live edition of SportsCenter alongside Hannah Storm. Elliott had been involved in extensive contract negotiations with ABC News where he was reported to be looking for $10million while ABC was not looking to go any higher than five.

So what should we expect to see from Elliott at his new home?

We should hear from NBC Sports this week as to what Elliott’s role will entail but it has been indicated that he will have roles across the top NBC Sports platforms including Sunday Night Football, the Triple Crown, and the Olympics.

You know who also is seen across all those platforms? Yes, the one and only Bob Costas. You can bet that NBC is positioning Elliott as the heir apparent to Costas as the face of NBC Sports, or at the very least .

It is a move that makes sense on multiple levels. We saw Costas have his infamous eye infection that led to him being off the primetime Sochi coverage for multiple nights and we saw that NBC did not have a clear next in line as Matt Lauer and Meredith Viera were utilized in his place. NBC’s Mark Lazarus talked to Richard Deitsch about looking forward to an Olympics sans Costas and how his affiliction seemingly accelerated those talks.

Not to mention that NBC really did not have a next in line beyond Costas. Al Michaels was not an option as he turns 70 this September. Dan Patrick also was not an option as he turns 58 in May. Beyond those two, you take a step down in stature to a guy like Liam McHugh, a guy who I like a lot and think has a very bright future, but I do not think considered him to be the next face of the franchise as his presence was mostly on the NHL, college football, and the Olympics where he was not given as big of assignments as Michaels and Patrick.

Now NBC has that guy in the 42-year-old (he turns 43 in June). I was not sure how Elliott would do as he shifted from sports to news but I think he has been excellent and it appeared that the executives at ABC News, namely Ben Sherwood, felt the same. He has the gravitas in my opinion to handle an assignment like the Olympics, and to take the place of the guy who has developed into the master of the sort in Costas. His profile has been rising over the past few years and I do not see that changing anytime soon.

But of course while I think highly of Elliott, it would be silly to ignore that NBC was even more motivated to make this acquisition in order to potentially weaken GMA for the benefit of Today. Just like how the Weather Channel poached a talented and likable personality in Champion, a move that would double as a chance to weaken GMA as well. I don’t think Elliott was nabbed solely for that reason, however, but it is almost like the cherry on top.

Brian Billick is out at Fox Sports, what’s next for both?

am a little late on this one but Fox Sports is parting ways with one of their top NFL analysts, Brian Billick. Billick joined Fox back in 2008 and has worked with Thom Brennaman for virtually his entire time with the network, with the two even calling a Divisional Playoff game a year ago. But after Billick looked completely lost at the end of that game in Atlanta, it seems the crew lost some favor at Fox and saw Kevin Burkhardt and John Lynch working that coveted second Divisional game this year.

Billick is the second analyst to leave Fox this calendar year as Tim Ryan, who had been working with Chris Myers, left to become the 49ers radio analyst. So now is next for both parties?

Even with his aforementioned meltdown in that Seahawks-Falcons game, I have long been a fan of Billick in the booth and I have considered to be one of the better analysts in the game. He speaks his mind, had good chemistry with Brennaman, and had a little bit of humor as well. He will have his suitors, with the top contenders being NFL Network, where he also worked for the several years on top of Fox, and CBS who currently has an opening with their broadcasting crews after the retirement of Dan Dierdorf. I think he will end up at CBS and will work with Greg Gumbel and considering his background as the coach of the Baltimore Ravens, it is a nice fit.

Now for Fox, they have got some issues to sort out now with Billick and Ryan leaving the ranks and they do not have much depth as is. The part-time analysts, those who are considered the sixth and seventh crews, last year were Ronde Barber (who was unspectacular with Dick Stockton) and Heath Evans (who was solid with Sam Rosen), and theoretically both could be promoted. Fox will not touch the Fox NFL Sunday crews but they could dig into their Fox Sports 1 ranks but while I think the excellent Randy Moss and the solid Brian Urlacher are likely to stay in-studio, I think a guy that could be slid onto a crew is Scott Fujita, who has been pretty good on Fox Football Daily. But an intriguing name could be that of Joel Klatt, who has been one of the brightspots of the network in its infancy. However, I think he has too much of a role as is for them to put him on games, but he is a name to look out for.

Wildcats Are Final Four Favorite After Epic Defeat of Michigan

There is a reason the NCAA tourney is described as “Madness”, although all the “upsets”, buzzer-beaters and in-game drama are only part of the equation. It’s when combined with the intrigue created by the underlying subplots that truly complete the insanity that is college-hoops in March.

Every new-school fan was anticipating an Elite Eight matchup between the Michigan Wolverines and Kentucky Wildcats that would live up to its billing as a potential “Game of the Year Nominee”, although the “what might have been” potential to witness Julius Randle and injured Wolverine star Mitch McGary slug it out in the paint would have sealed that notion instantly. As of the final buzzer, this Big 10-SEC clash is not just a definite front-runner for the award — it’s the runaway winner.

However, all old-schoolers remembered and reminisced about the classic 1993 Final Four overtime-battle between the two programs. One that featured the Jamal Mashburn led Wildcats against the legendary Fab-Five of Michigan. 20-plus years later, a coming full-circle moment was upon us.

Let’s fast forward to Indianapolis, Ind., where an explosive, havoc-wreaking fight to the finish had Lucas Oil Stadium on full-tilt. High-octane adrenaline was a prerequisite for this one.

Both universities have been looked at in similar ways this past season. Kentucky, the preseason No. 1 ranked squad in the nation, endured critics throughout its inconsistent performances. The Wolverines were seemingly regarded as a team that could not overcome the loss of former leader Trey Burke (a nice story, but not taken seriously by the “experts” if you will). The former has transformed into the menace it was first thought to be while the latter continues to get the shaft.

The differences in offensive attacks were met head-on with Michigan’s ability to rain from the outside (49 percent from three-point land coming in) versus the “establish inside presence” philosophy of the Wildcats. When monsters like Randle and Dakari Johnson exist in your paint, John Calipari is no fool. The sixth-overall ranking in offensive rebounds belongs to the Bluegrass State for a reason.

Along with the beneath-the-surface storylines came the overlooked stat of Kentucky’s top overall rank in free-throw attempts going up against Michigan’s crown of committing the fewest fouls in the nation. The contrast in these two clubs couldn’t have been more stark.

It’s only fitting that an unsung hero would emerge from this instant classic. Kentucky’s Marcus Lee, one who did not receive any playing time in the first two rounds followed by a “colossal” one-minute of action in the Sweet 16, continuously produced at both ends, finishing with an unheralded line of 10 points, eight rebounds (seven offensive) and two clutch blocks.

Honorable mention goes to the star of the “perceived” underdog’s camp, as amidst the rolling of the Randle hype-train, Nik Stauskas reminded everyone what the Big 10 player of the year was capable of.

NBA Draft Lottery: The Canadian kid just joined the party.

Despite defeat, Michigan basketball silenced its doubters, showing they belong at the top of the NCAA food chain. As far as Kentucky hoops, well, to quote the infamous Dennis Green: “They are who we thought they were.”

The Wildcats now travel to north Texas as the favorites to win it all as this school continues to build paramount performances.

Dreams of Michigan going up against its state rival in the championship were not to be. But with the all-freshman Kentucky starting lineup reminiscent of Michigan’s historic heyday, perhaps it will finish what the Fab-Five started.

One thing is clear; this tilt will forever go down in history as the definition of March Madness.

Connecticut Basketball Enters Final Four With A Great Chance To Pull Off Upset Win

On Sunday afternoon, the Connecticut Huskies pulled off a great comeback on the way to a 60-54 victory over the Michigan State Spartans, showing great fight and team wide unity along the way. With the win, Connecticut advances to the Final Four where they will face off against the Florida Gators, and they should feel confident in their chances to pull off an epic run to win the NCAA Tournament.

Throughout Sunday’s victory, the Huskies were predictably led by senior guard Shabazz Napier who contributed 25 points, six rebounds, four assists, one steal and went 4-for-9 on three-point field goals. While this performance was absolutely great on paper, the ability of Napier to show great pressure on the defensive end of the ball really put the clamp down on the Spartans’ offense during the second half of the game. The senior seemingly was everywhere at the same time, and after averaging 23.3 points, six rebounds, 4.5 assists and four steals per game during the NCAA Tournament, there is no doubting he is the hottest player in the tournament.

As a unit the Huskies showed great fight after trailing 25-21 at halftime and 49-39 with only 6:00 left in the second half. It was clear that their defensive acumen was a big reason why. For the whole of the night, Connecticut forced Michigan State to turn the ball over 16 times, and along the way they stopped the Spartans’ potent transition offense by closing down holes and forcing quick passes. Alongside Napier, the likes of Ryan Boatright, DeAndre Daniels and Niels Giffey all maintained persistent pressure on the ball, and they were selfless enough to work hard through tough times.

This combination of great defense and the impact punch of Napier on the offensive end is really what has guided the Huskies to make it this far, and this combination is clearly made to succeed. After all, Connecticut does have an 11-2 record when their star guard scores at least 20 points, and for the whole of the year they have allowed a mere 63.7 points per game against. The team couldn’t be described as a one man show, but they are certainly approaching that point.

The Huskies have now picked up four very close victories in the NCAA Tournament at the hands of St. Joseph’s, Villanova, Iowa State and Michigan State, and they have arguably the hottest player in college basketball firing on all cylinders. There is no doubting this will have Connecticut feeling very confident as they prepare to face off against Florida on Apr. 5 which shows that despite being a No. 7 seed, they could very well become the NCAA Tournament champions.

On Friday night the Kentucky Wildcats beat their arch-rivals, the reigning national champion Louisville Cardinals, 74-69. With the win, the Wildcats advance to the Elite 8 of the 2014 NCAA Tournament, and along they way they showed why the young guns have as good of a chance to take home the National Championship as any other team.

In a surprising twist of events, Kentucky was actually the more poised team throughout the game and the Wildcats kept fighting, despite not holding a lead from the 19:00 mark in the first half to 1:27 in the second half. Along the way, they lost Willie Cauley-Stein to an ankle injury that looked bad, and left a unit that only normally utilizes a seven-man rotation remarkably short on players. Most teams would have been left emotionally damaged by the loss, and the maturity in overcoming the loss surely serves well moving into the bigger stage of the Elite 8.

Kentucky was able to overcome obstacles, though by having its young players dominate the game and force a half-court battle, with Julius Randle and Dakari Johnson heading the fight. This front court duo combined for 30 points, 18 rebounds on 12-of-21 shooting and 6-of-8 on free throws and forced Louisville’s front court duo of Stephen Van Treese and Montrezl Harrell to both foul out. Clearly the impact of the likes of James Young, Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison and Alex Poythress played a huge role, but without the contributions of Johnson and Randle the Wildcats wouldn’t have won the rebound battle 37-29, and moreover wouldn’t have won the game.

The fact that six players really contributed for Kentucky on the night with the sophomore Poythress as the elder statesman says something about the stewardship of John Calipari, and the players he has recruited. Over the last three weekends the unit has really coalesced around playing physical and stifling defense to accompany an offense that can really attack teams in many different ways. Furthermore, they have stepped up to the plate during tough situations, showing a level of maturity as individuals that couldn’t be expected out of seniors.

It is now safe to say that Kentucky is the most talented team remaining in the NCAA Tournament, but the Wildcats also may be the side that best understands their role. And after beating Wichita State and Louisville in back-to-back games, it is safe to say they are the most battle tested team in the NCAA Tournament, and surely have to be considered on of the favorites to be crowned national champions.

Strictly Sports Journal: Trout agree on 6-year, $144.5M extension, More!

It seemed like it was only going to be a matter of time before Mike Trout got paid. With Miguel Cabrera receiving an eight-year/$248 million extension, we all knew the Los Angeles Angels had to keep pace by paying their star outfielder.

So while Trout has gotten his pay day, he certainly isn’t getting a Miggy pay day. But at only 22-years of age, that’s just the way it’s going to be. His mega-deal will come someday down the road, as long as he keeps producing at his current pace.

Now that this monkey has been lifted from the Angels back, the team can start 2014 with nothing to worry about except winning games. The franchise player has been locked up, and now it’s time to get down to business.

The Angels are of course coming off a disappointing 2013 campaign where they finished dead even at 81-81. The bar for 2014 is set at World Series, and that’s only fair considering the team’s massive payroll.

The one guy on that payroll (who’s taking up a lot of room) that’s going to be the x-factor this year is Albert Pujols. After a down year in 2013, the Angels desperately need him to bounce back and be the Pujols of old. If he can be 90 percent of the player he was in St. Louis, they’ll be in business.
As for Trout, I think we all know he’ll excel in every area of the game once again.

MLB Gets It Right With Increased Suspensions for PED Users: After being rocked once again by a PED scandal in 2013, MLB is stepping up to the plate in 2014 with new punishments for users.

There’s no doubt that MLB has come along way in the last decade with punishments for PED users. However, there’s also no doubt that more changes were need to the league’s policies on testing positive for banned substances.

Starting this season, first-time offenders will now be sidelined for 80 games. Second-time offenders will be suspended for an entire season, while third-time offenders will be banned for life (aka he gone).

These changes are great for the game. Under the old policy, first-time offenders were just given a big old slap on the wrist with a 50-game ban. That amount of games, simply wasn’t enough to deter cheaters. The benefits of performing well on PEDs, outweighed the potential punishment for getting caught.

Now, that’s all changed. First-timers are booted for a half a year, then a full year and then just told to get the heck out. That’s the way it should be. There’s no place for PEDs in MLB any longer. Steroids have done enough damage to the game already, and it’s time a new ‘clean’ era started.

The timing couldn’t be any more perfect, as one of baseball’s most famous cheaters is currently on the shelf for all of 2014 after being linked to PEDs. I’m of course talking about Alex Rodriguez.

2014 will now be known as the season where MLB got serious about it’s PED penalties and hopefully, as the season that we finally got rid of A-Fraud.

Miguel Cabrera to Retire a Tiger, Signs Huge $248 Million Extension With Detroit: While baseball contracts today are a bit ridiculous, the Detroit Tigers knew they would have to spend a record number to keep Miguel Cabrera in Detroit for life. The slugger who is considered the best hitter in baseball definitely earned a record contract as he has set the league on fire for the past couple of seasons.

Dave Dombrowski is known as a general manager who likes to make his players happy and who likes to pursue huge deals that could change the outlook of the franchise for the long run.

Signing Cabrera to a reported eight-year extension worth about $248 million looks to be a bit of a hefty price, but the guy has been as clutch and reliable as they come in MLB today. In fact, since joining the Tigers in 2008, Cabrera has never hit less than 30 home runs and never hit less than 103 RBI.

With 227 home runs and 737 RBI in six seasons with Detroit, the slugger’s huge extension seems to be long overdue.

The extension happens to be eight years worth about $248 million. Add that together with what he’s owed for the next two seasons and Cabrera is set to make around $292 million over the next 10 years.
Keeping Cabrera on until he retires seems like the best option for the franchise because the city of Detroit loves him and the feelings seem mutual. Retiring a Tiger would be great for the franchise as he will go down as one of the greats to even don the Old English D. In fact, he will go down as one of the best players of all time.

Northwestern Football Players Win Right to Unionize, College Athletics in Danger: College athletics are in for quite a change in the near future. Thanks to the Chicago district of the National Labor Relations Board, the Northwestern Wildcats‘ football team has won a bid to become a union, changing the landscape of college athletics as we know it.

What does this mean? According to Kain Colter, the main advocate for unionization of college athletics and Northwestern in particular, college athletes should be considered employees because they do everything an employee does, but have gotten no compensation for the millions they generate for each college and university.

National Labor Relations Board director, Peter Sung Ohr, claims that the players’ time commitment and the fact that their scholarships are based solely on their success in the athletic field qualifies them as employees rather than student-athletes.

This whole situation puts paying players just one step closer in college athletics.
In my opinion, that is something that should not happen for the good of the sport. Collegiate athletes are recognized as student-athletes and they are rewarded with a free education as well as free room and board as long as they stay in campus housing. Free meals and sometimes even clothes — like the sweatpants and sweatshirts with the school’s logo that athletes wear around campus constantly.

Sure, they work hard and spend a lot of time dedicating their lives to a sport, but in the end, they are receiving a free education while other students find themselves in debt when they leave college. It’s up to the athlete to utilize a free education so they have something to fall back on once sports are no longer part of that athlete’s life.

This is just one step closer to ruining college athletics.