Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Mike Wallace: Fresh Catch

The NFL’s free agency period officially began at 4:00 PM ET on Tuesday. As predicted, the Miami Dolphins made a huge splash by inking star wide receiver Mike Wallace to a 5-year, $60 million contract.

Heading into next season, the 26-year-old Wallace will be the deep threat that Miami desperately needed throughout its 7-9 campaign in 2012. Wallace also gives second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill a reliable red zone target, another void the Dolphins have struggled to fill.

Now that the sophomore QB has a legitimate weapon, Miami may soon find out if Tannehill completes the two-decade search for Dan Marino’s replacement.

After re-signing Brian Hartline last week, Wallace now spearheads a solid receiving corps. While Wallace stretches the defense, Hartline thrives in shorter routes. The former Ohio State Buckeye caught 74 passes for 1,083 yards to lead the Dolphins last year. His numbers should only improve from there.

Miami’s third option, Davone Bess caught only 61 passes last season, but now slides naturally into the slot position where he’s most effective. Try to cover Bess with a middle linebacker and see how that works out for you. 

Wallace should make the Dolphins a playoff contender, but then again we could see history repeat itself. 

In April 2010, Miami traded two second-round picks to acquire Brandon Marshall from the Broncos. The Dolphins believed that pairing Marshall with strong armed quarterback, Chad Henne would create an offense capable of  challenging the New England Patriots for AFC East supremacy.

How did that turn out?

After two straight losing seasons, Miami fired head coach Tony Sparano. But that wasn’t enough. The front office dealt Marshall to the Bears for two third round picks, a downgrade from their original trade for Marshall. 

Immediately after the Dolphins shipped him out, Marshall and Jay Cutler became one of the NFL’s premier QB/WR duos. Last season, Marshall caught a career-high 11 touchdowns and was named an All-Pro for the second time in his career. 

This time around, Miami is expecting better results from their latest foray into the big name receiver market.

Could we be seeing the beginning of a new era in South Florida? Will Ryan Tannehill take a big step forward in his sophomore season with Mike Wallace on the outside? Or, will Miami fall into mediocrity once again, and be forced to ship Wallace out in a season or two? Check the blog throughout the coming weeks for more offseason NFL news.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Sizing the Glass Slipper

This college basketball season has been a roller coaster. Multiple top-5 teams being knocked off every week became the norm during conference play. Holding the number one rank in the nation meant that players and coaches alike would soon be burdened with questions about why they were upset so quickly, and what went wrong. If ever there were an NCAA Tournament to pick a 15 over 2 upset, or a miracle run by a mid-major, this year is it.

After seeing Kansas lose to TCU, Miami go down to Wake Forest, and Georgetown upset by South Florida, fans with brackets on the brain need to weigh their options on which "underdog" they'll get behind come tournament time.

Here's our take:

20-13, Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Champions, Projected seed: 14

Despite losing the 2011-12 NCAA assists leader, Scott Machado, the Gaels can still score the rock. They rank 3rd nationally in points per game, scoring over 80 per contest. Individually, Lamont “Momo” Jones, a transfer from the University of Arizona, is the third best scorer in the country at 23 points per game. Skeptics may discredit Jones' scoring because of the lack of defensive prowess within the MAAC. However, Momo played two full seasons in the Pac-12, garnering plenty of experience against Power-Six conference talent. If the senior from Harlem finds his stroke, good luck trying to stop this team on the offensive end. Also, don't forget that Iona gave BYU trouble in the first round of the tournament last year. This isn't their first rodeo.

Key victories: at Georgia, vs. Liberty, Loyola (twice)
Key losses: vs. Illinois-Chicago, vs. Marist

26-6, Ohio Valley Conference Champions, Projected seed: 12

The Bruins actually received 13 votes in the final AP Top 25 poll, which would theoretically make them the 31st ranked team in the country. Belmont thrives on ball movement and shot selection. They rank 18th overall with 15.9 assists per game as a team. They also shoot over 49% from the field, good for 4th nationally. Head coach Rick Byrd has taken his team to the big dance in each of the past two seasons, and five times since taking the job in Nashville, only to lose their first game in each appearance. However, with four players scoring over 10 points per game, and five players racking up at least 3 assists per game, this could be the year that Belmont finally sneaks out of the first round. If their opponent can't play 40 minutes of disciplined defense, the Bruins will take advantage in a big way.

Key victories: at Stanford, vs. Middle Tennessee, vs. Murray State,
Key losses: at Murray State, at Tennessee State, at Kansas

26-7, Southern Conference Champions, Projected seed: 12

The bad news: Stephen Curry is not walking through that door. The good news: The Wildcats don't need him. Davidson has ripped off 17 consecutive wins heading into the tourney. In only four of those 17 wins did the losing team come within 10 points of Bob McKillop's club. Of course, the Southern Conference has even less talent than most, but Davidson's AD, Jim Murphy, remedied that by scheduling some incredibly tough out-of-conference opponents. Playing against teams like West Virginia, Gonzaga, and Duke early in the season will eliminate any nervousness that the Wildcats may have when heading into a first round match-up against a high seed. If you're a believer in the “getting hot at the right time” theory, take the Wildcats.

Key victories: @ Richmond, Charleston (twice)
Key losses: @ New Mexico, vs. Gonzaga, vs. Duke, @ Milwaukee, @ Georgia Southern

As far as upsets go: choose right, and you'll like like a genius in the office-pool. Choose wrong and...well, you'll probably look only as silly as everyone else.

Need some more info on the lesser-known squads? Play SnapCall Sports throughout the week so you can give each team the eye test for yourself. You might just see some challenging questions and entertaining commentary along the way.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Gerald Wallace: Cap Killer

Nearly one year ago, Nets General Manager Billy King picked up the phone in an attempt to hash out what would become one of the worst trades in recent memory.

During their final season in New Jersey, the Nets were in the process of acquiring a solid core before crossing the river to Brooklyn. Billy King knew that he needed to bring in an athletic wing player to complement Deron Williams and Brook Lopez. Cue Gerald Wallace.

New Jersey acquired Wallace from Portland in return for the Nets' protected 2012 first-round pick, and two expiring contracts.

At the time, a first-round pick for Gerald Wallace didn't seem lopsided. However, the key to the deal was New Jersey's protection on said pick.

For those unfamiliar with the rule: teams can “protect” a traded pick when they believe it will be too valuable to give up. This deal was top-3 protected, meaning that if New Jersey ended up with any of the top 3 picks in this year's draft, Portland wouldn't get the pick in 2012. Instead, the Blazers would get the Nets' 2013 first-round pick.

As fate would have it, New Jersey landed the 6th pick in the 2012 Draft with which Portland selected soon-to-be Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard.

Billy King's explanation for only protecting the top-3 picks, according to Nets Daily, went as follows:

"'This trade was really done to get us a small forward. A former All-Star, somebody to give us some great defense, versatility, someone to play hard." As for protecting the pick only #1 through #3, King said, following conversations with their scouts, "the team did not see any immediate-impact players beyond their projected top three in next year’s draft.”

At this point, any level-headed GM would recognize his mistake and cut ties with the aging vet. Naturally, Billy King decided to sign Wallace to a 4 year, $40 million dollar contract extension.

Wait...what?!

King, and Nets fans alike, hoped that Wallace would look more like his younger self while playing next to Deron Williams and Brook Lopez. Well, here are his career numbers compared to this year's:

Career: 13.1 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 47% FG, 72% FT
2012-13: 8.4 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 41% FG, 64% FT

While looking at his year-by-year stats, we see that the writing was on the wall. King made a big mistake with this trade, but compounded it by signing Wallace to an extension. Now, the Nets are forced to pay Wallace $30 million over the next three seasons. His contract is among the worst in the league, and he's not producing enough on the court to command All Star level money.

At this point, Gerald Wallace's contract destroys any wiggle room that Brooklyn needs to make them a true title-contender. It would have been nice for Brooklyn to have room to go after Dwight Howard or Josh Smith in the offseason. Unfortunately for Billy King, it seems that “crash” has wrecked those hopes.

Have a different opinion on the Wallace moves? Play SnapCall Sports during tonight's game to voice your opinion!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Dwight Howard: Clark Kent to Superman

After more drama than an episode of "The Hills," Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant have willed the Los Angeles Lakers back into the playoff picture. LA has spent much of the season under .500, but improved to 33-31 with its 90-81 win over Chicago on Sunday. 

LA now holds a 1/2 game lead over the fledgling Utah Jazz for the 8th spot in the Western Conference. You didn’t actually think they'd miss the playoffs, did you?

While analysts praise Kobe’s clutch shooting, much of LA’s recent success rests on the broad shoulders of Howard.

Since the All Star break, Howard has been a rebounding machine. He’s averaging 14.8 rebounds in 10 games since the break. He has recorded a double-double in 8 of those 10 games, and the Lakers have won 8 of those 10 games. Starting to notice a trend?

As you can see from today’s real-time SnapCall, the Lakers are simply a better team when Howard is getting touches. After taking two fouls in the first quarter and being forced to sit, Howard took his 5th shot with 9:15 left in the second quarter. In just 11 minutes of play, Howard already had 8 points and 8 rebounds. Howard finished the game with 16 points and an impressive 21 rebounds. D-12 threw in 4 blocks for good measure.

Of course, Howard’s overall numbers are down this season. He’s averaging 16.2 points per game, his fewest since 2005-06, which was his second NBA season. While Howard’s 12 RPG leads the NBA, it still stands below his 12.9 career average. Many pundits feel that Howard is underachieving, but that opinion could be related to the distractions he creates off the court.

As far as fans are concerned, Dwight’s inconsistent play has been exacerbated by his diva-like behavior in front of the camera. He’s made a bad habit of engaging in verbal jousting matches with current and former teammates. His complaints and gripes became nothing more than cannon fodder for “Around the Horn” journalists.

For a time, the Lakers had to be wondering whether they dealt one headache-inducing franchise center - Andrew Bynum - for another.

Howard claims to have learned his lesson, though. He hasn’t been versed in the art of speaking in platitudes, but has rededicated himself to his team.

I just told myself, 'I'm going to commit myself to being better for the second half of the season,’” Howard said, according to ESPN.

It remains to be seen whether Howard can keep the drama to a minimum, but his impact on the court is crystal clear.