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Archive for April, 2008

What Will The Chicago Bears Do In The 2008 NFL Draft?

Posted by sportsmaven on April 26, 2008

There have been countless mock drafts, endless expert analysis and general watercooler, beer garden, happy hour sports conversations on what exactly the Chicago Bears will do with their draft picks in today’s NFL Draft. The consensus? Nobody knows exactly what the Bears will do…..and that’s exactly the way that Bears GM Jerry Angelo likes it.

ESPN’s expert NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper thinks the Bears will go with a offensive lineman, specifically Vanderbilt OT Chris Williams. Todd McShay from Scouts, Inc is going with Boise State OT Ryan Clady (personally, I think he’ll be long gone by pick 14). Fox Sports analyst Jay Glazer has the Bears picking Illinois standout RB Rashard Mendenhall. And finally, the guru of all mock draft analysts, the most accurate mock draft expert, Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning Star has the Bears choosing Virginia OG/OT Branden Albert. Other late circulating rumors have the Bears entertaining trade offers and the possibility of moving down in the draft (which is real, since Jerry Angelo seems to prefer that strategy over all others.)

One thing is certain about this draft: This is a make or break draft for Jerry Angelo. He has to hit big in this draft and he has to hit big with picks on the offensive side of the ball. The Bears have many holes to fill: OT, OG, WR, RB, possibly QB. The Bears need at least 2 starter grade picks out of this draft and and probably 4-5 major contributors in order to compete in the NFC this coming season.

The NFC will be a vastly improved conference this coming season, and in particular, the NFC North Division. The Minnesota Vikings look drastically improved with the addition of WR Bernard Berrian to strengthen the offense and DE Jared Allen to a underrated defense, the Detroit Lions look to make a step up from last season if they play their draft cards correctly and the Green Bay Packers are the reigning division champions, who many feel will drop off after the retirement of QB Brett Farve. (I believe the Packers will be in contention for the division title all season long.) In addition, teams such as the Dallas Cowboys, defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants, the Philadelphia Eagles, and the Seattle Seahawks are bulking up to compete for the NFC crown.

The Bears hold 11 draft picks and 4 of the first 100 picks. The Chicago Tribune ranked the top GM’s in the NFL in terms of draft picks that went on to become starters in the league. The top GM was, surprisingly Arizona Cardinals GM (and former Bears Director of Pro Personnel) Rod Graves. The Bears Jerry Angelo made it into the top 10 at #10, mostly on the strength of his defensive picks. Offense has not been good to Jerry Angelo draft picks, which puts even more pressure on hitting this draft big. The Bears need playmakers, explosive players, football players, not combine gym rat types. Jerry Angelo stated this week that this was a 10 man draft at the top, which is not good if you hold the 14th pick. While I don’t envision Angelo trading up, it wouldn’t surprise me if he traded down. The OL pick in the first round seems to be the majority opinion in mock drafts and analyst opinions. Which means that it’s most likely Chris Williams. 2nd round RB and third round WR/OL. After that, it’s more of a crapshoot, which makes predictions a waste of good time. Good luck, Jerry Angelo……you’re going to need a lot of it.

By the way, some of the players I like in this year’s draft that I would be thrilled to see the Bears pick:

RB – Rashard Mendenhall, James Stewart, Ray Rice, Matt Forte

WR – Mario Manningham, Malcolm Kelly, Eddie Royal, James Hardy, Jordy Nelson

OL – Ryan Clady, Branden Albert, Chilo Rachal, Duane Brown, Anthony Collins, Chris Williams

QB – Chad Henne, Joe Flacco, Dennis Dixon

Safety – Tom Zbikowski

DT – Marcus Harrison, Pat Sims

LB – Jordon Dizon, Xavier Adibi

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The Chicago White Sox Are The Surprise Team In AL Central

Posted by sportsmaven on April 22, 2008

The surprise team in the AL Central this season is the Chicago White Sox. After a dismal 72-90 season in 2007, the Sox were picked no higher than 3rd place in most prognosticators division rankings for 2008. The Sox are certainly hitting the ball, with a solid offense led by Joe Crede, Jermaine Dye, Jim Thome and newcomers Nick Swisher and Carlos Quentin.

While the Sox were expected to be strong offensively, the true surprise for this team has been the solid performance of the pitching staff, especially the starters. Going into 2008, Mark Buehrle and Javier Vasquez were expected to be staff leaders. The back half of the staff has been led by a recent resurgence from Jose Contreras, who had his best outing since the World Series season of 2005 in his start on April 16th against the Baltimore Orioles, hurling 7 innings of 1 run ball with 6 strikeouts.

Gavin Floyd and John Danks have been the most surprising, with Floyd taking a no-hitter into the 8th inning of his start against the Detroit Tigers on April 12th. Floyd is 2-0 with a 1.40 ERA and improving by leaps and bounds as this season progresses. John Danks has also been fantastic, with a 2-1 record and a 3.04 ERA. Danks currently has a 14 2/3 inning shutout streak, and outside of a 2 1/3 inning, 7 run outing against the Minnesota Twins on April 9th, his ERA would be a sparkling 0.14 (1 earned run in 21 1/3 innings pitched)

If the Sox continue to get quality pitching, they can dominate a AL Central Division that suddenly appears to be much weaker than anticipated. The Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians have huge pitching problems that may not work themselves out. While Sox pitching continues to dominate AL Central play, the teams considered the strong horses of the division are fading early, providing the Sox a great opportunity to open up a formidable lead in the early part of the the 2008 season.

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The Chicago Cubs Are Getting It Done Offensively

Posted by sportsmaven on April 22, 2008

The most impressive aspect of the Chicago Cubs fast start is how well the offense is producing. After tonight,s 7-1 victory over the New York Mets, the Cubs have scored the second most runs in the NL and third most runs in MLB. They are scoring a robust 6.21 runs per game so far this season, and the truly remarkable thing is that they are doing it without their top offensive threat, OF Alfonso Soriano, who has been on the 15-day DL after injuring his calf last Tuesday night, but before the injury, is off to his traditional slow start to his season.

Going back to April 7th, the Cubs last 10 wins produced the following offensive output: 10, 6, 7, 6 9, 12, 3, 13, 13, 7. In their 13 wins to date, the Cubs are averaging a whopping 8 runs per game. In 2006, the Cubs offense averaged 4.7 runs per game, 8th in the NL and 18th in MLB. Where has the offensive improvement taken place? Lets look at the key offensive stats. In 2007, the Cubs offense was average, finishing 18th in MLB in OBP (.333), 15th in MLB in slugging (.422) and 15th in MLB in OPS (.754).

In 2008, the Cubs are averaging 6.21 per game. They are 2nd in the NL and 3rd in MLB in runs scored with 118. In 2008, the Cubs offense is near the top of every category, 1st in the NL and 2nd in MLB in OBP (.366), 4th in the NL and 4th in MLB in slugging (.456) and 2nd in the NL and second in MLB in OPS (.822).

The Cubs 13-6 record in April is their best April in recent memory, fueled by the resurgent Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez and newcomer Kosuke Fukudome. Six starters have batting averages above .300 and the seventh is hitting .282. Seven starters have an OBP over .408, seven starters have a slugging percentage of over .408 and 7 starters have an OPS over .821. The 8th starter? OF Alfonso Soriano, who is at the bottom of the charts in all categories (.230/.290/.528). How dangerous will the Cubs be offensively, if they maintain this pace and Soriano begins to hit his stride?

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Musings On The Chicago Bulls and the NBA

Posted by sportsmaven on April 21, 2008

The NBA playoffs started this weekend and noticeably absent are the Chicago Bulls. While the best teams in the NBA begin the “money” season, teams like the Milwaukee Bucks hire disciplinarian coaches like Scott Skiles. Other teams like the Chicago Bulls are holding their off season team meetings and wondering what to make of the mess of a wrecked season.

In the NBA, like other major professional sports leagues, teams win with a combination of athleticism/talent and desire. With talent and desire, you are the San Antonio Spurs or the Boston Celtics. With lack of athleticism/talent, but an abundance of desire, you can be teams like this year’s Philadelphia 76ers and in the past, teams like the Chicago Bulls. Teams with neither talent or desire become the Memphis Grizzlies or the New York Knicks.

What exactly happened with the Chicago Bulls this season? The Bulls were a team with little talent but with great desire. They worked, hustled, played defense according to the gospel of John Paxson and Scott Skiles. It brought the Bulls 49 wins last season, a playoff series win against the rapidly aging Miami Heat, and a heated playoff series loss to the Detroit Pistons. Entering this season, the Chicago Bulls had a high draft pick, compliments of the New York Knicks and all their starters returning from last season’s successful run. Many picked the Bulls to win the Eastern Conference and advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since the Michael Jordan era.

Then, two things happened that led to the downfall of this year’s team. First, Bulls GM John Paxson knew that he needed a superstar talent to lead this team. Every successful team in the NBA, short of the Detroit Pistons, have a superstar player, a team leader, the guy that will take over in crunch time of a game and impose the will to win on his teammates. Paxson missed badly on acquiring C Kevin Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves and whiffed a couple of times on trades for C Pau Gasol. Paxson had drafted some very nice complementary players from solid, winning college programs after cleaning up the mess left by previous Bulls GM Jerry Krause, but none had proven to be the superstar, athletic talent that teams require to compete in the upper echelon of NBA championship contenders. Paxson correctly determined that he needed to acquire that superstar player, and as timing would have it, during the NBA pre-season, Kobe Bryant, arguably the best player in the NBA was vocally unhappy with his situation and publicly stated he desire to get out of Los Angeles. To his credit, Paxson inquired about the availability of Kobe Bryant and rumors ran rampant over the airwaves. Bryant was sure to be traded, as there has been no love lost between Bryant and Los Angeles Lakers head coach Phil Jackson, supposedly Jackson had enough with his moody star player. The table was set for a blockbuster deal with prime players identified from the Bulls being some combination of Luol Deng, Ben Gordon, Tyrus Thomas, Joakim Noah, Kirk Hinrich, and Ben Wallace. Luol Deng and Ben Gordon were also offered what each player considered lowball contract offers going into the preseason, but combined with the trade talks, led to a bad taste in every player’s mouths. In the end, the teams never came to terms on players and the deal fell through as the season began.

The second thing that happened was most likely residual from the events above, for some reason, most every player on the Bulls had stopped responding to the playing and coaching style that brought great success to the Bulls. The Bulls stopped hustling for loose balls, stopped playing hard nosed defense, lacked hustle, with team play virtually non-existent. Both Deng and Gordon admitted that the Kobe Bryant trade rumors plus the perceived lowball contract offers affected their play. Each played as through they had to individually prove they were worth not only bigger contracts, but to justify not being traded for Bryant. Their play dropped off dramatically, along with the other potential players in the trade, Kirk Hinrich, Ben Wallace, and Tyrus Thomas and the fate of Coach Scott Skiles and the Chicago Bulls was sealed.

So where does that leave the Bulls now? John Paxson had two of the most difficult tasks to complete in last year’s off-season. He needed to find a superstar, talented player and needed to move Ben Wallace and his albatross contract. Paxson was successful in unloading Wallace to the Cleveland Cavaliers after this season was lost, but has been glaringly unsuccessful in getting that superstar athletic stud talent, and without the high draft picks that can yield that player in the NBA draft. If the Bulls get lucky to land one of the top 2 picks and be in a position to get C Michael Beasley or G Derrick Rose, they can still leverage a combination of Larry Hughes, Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, or Drew Gooden to land a second superstar type player to fuel their rebuilding process. The Bulls need athletic, talented players that have the desire to compete and win every night and need to complement those players with a supporting cast of complimentary players. Right now, they have the complimentary players, but they still lack the superstar.

The Bulls also need a coach that will bring the team spirit back, a coach that can get the players to buy into the team concept once again. Rick Carlisle is available, as is Larry Brown as well as a slew of other ex-NBA coaches that work for ESPN, TNT, or any other network that employs ex-basketball coaches. This offseason is mission critical for GM John Paxson. If he doesn’t get it right, his next moves will be as ex-GM of the Chicago Bulls.

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SportsMaven’s 2008 Women’s NCAA Basketball Tourney Picks

Posted by sportsmaven on April 15, 2008

The Sports Maven also did a women’s basketball bracket on the eve of a trip to West Lafayette, IN to watch the first and second round of the 2008 Women’s NCAA Basketball tournament. Does the SportsMaven knows his stuff in women’s college hoops. Below are my 2008 NCAA picks for the women’s basketball tournament:

AP Photo/John Raoux

AP Photo/John Raoux

  • Second Round: Connecticut, Texas, Old Dominion, Virginia, George Washington, California, Iowa State, Rutgers, Maryland, Nebraska, West Virginia, Vanderbilt, Pittsburgh, Baylor, Texas-El Paso, Stanford, North Carolina, Georgia, Kansas State, Louisville, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Marist, Louisiana State, Tennessee, Utah, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Arizona State, Duke, Syracuse, Texas A&M
  • Sweet 16: Connecticut, Old Dominion, California, Rutgers, Maryland, Vanderbilt, Baylor, Stanford, North Carolina, Louisville, Oklahoma State, Louisiana State, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Duke, Texas A&M
  • Elite Eight: Connecticut, Rutgers, Maryland, Stanford, North Carolina, Louisiana State, Tennessee, Duke
  • Final Four: Connecticut, Maryland, North Carolina, Tennessee
  • National Championship Game: Connecticut vs. Tennessee
  • National Champion: Connecticut
Check back for progress against this year’s picks……congratulations to the women’s teams of DePaul and Illinois State, the only Illinois teams in this year’s men’s or women’s brackets.

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