Top 15 Big Men in College Basketball

A month ago we listed the top point guards in college basketball this year, and now we’ll move down in the trenches and rank the top big men in the nation.  There might not be a ton of superstar, lottery pick-type big guys out there this year, but there are a ton of quality players.  Just narrowing the list down to 15 was a bit of a challenge.

NBA scouts like what they see from Perry Jones

15. Perry Jones, FR, Baylor:  Jones is probably the highest-rated recruit in Baylor history, but its been a somewhat disappointing start to the season for him and his team.  He’s averaging 12.5 points and 8 rebounds, but he sneaks onto this list based on potential.  He’s a skilled 6-10 with elite athleticism, and there’s a good chance that he could become a dominant force in a month or two.  He will almost definitely be a lottery pick this June.

14. Trevor Mbakwe, JR, Minnesota:  It’s been a long road for Mbakwe, who was a freshman at Marquette three years ago before multiple off-the-court incidents had him at a junior college in Florida before he made it back to big-time college basketball.  The rugged, 6-8 PF is averaging 13 points (shooting 62%) and 10 rebounds for a Golden Gopher team that has picked up some good wins and might be the best Minnesota team since Bobby Jackson led them to the ’97 Final Four.  He should give them a strong defensive presence in the post which, as we’ll see below, will be invaluable in the Big Ten.

13. Kenneth Faried, SR, Morehead State: This 6-8 dread-locked PF looks like he could go from the Ohio Valley Conference to the NBA because he can do one thing that all NBA teams need: rebound.  He leads the nation at 14.3 per game (a year after finishing second in the nation), while also scoring 18 a game.  It can be hard to judge a player in a low-major conference, but Faried put up 20 points/18 boards against Florida and 15/12 against 2nd-ranked Ohio State.  He also averages 2.5 steals and almost 2 blocks.

12. Jordan Williams, SO, Maryland:  Another elite rebounder, at 6-10 and 260 lbs., Williams has the body and the motor to dominate on the glass.  To go along with his 12 rebounds a game, he’s also leading the Terps at the offensive end with an 18-point average.  He put up 27 points and 13 boards against Boston College a couple weeks ago.

11. Matt Howard, SR, Butler:  One of the amazing things about Butler’s Final Four run last year was that Howard, their 6-8 PF, had a disappointing junior season and an even more disappointing NCAA tournament, when he seemed unable to play a minute without picking up two fouls.  Even though the team has lost four games already this year, Howard has been great.  He’s averaging 18 points/8 boards and, for the first time in his career, is stepping out and shooting from distance.  He’s hit 14 of 31 3-pt attempts on the year.  It looks like he’s also improved his defensive positioning, as he’s fouled out just twice in 13 games.  He’s also shooting 83% at the foul line.

10. Kawhi Leonard, SO, San Diego State:  Even though he’s just 6-7, Leonard’s averaging 9.5 rebounds, after averaging 10 as a freshman last year.  He’s the best player on the 14-0, 7th-ranked Aztecs.  The crafty scorer is averaging 16 a game and very well may be heard from in March.

9. Rick Jackson, SR, Syracuse:  This big and powerful Philly native has lost a lot of excess weight and is one of the most improved players in the nation.  He’s raised his rebounds per game from 7 last year to 12, and is chipping in with a 14 point average.  He dominated the glass against Michigan State, with 16 boards and 17 points.  He’s also averaging 2 blocks and 2.5 assists for the undefeated Orangemen.

The Dancing Bear of Lansing

8. Draymond Green, JR, Michigan St.:  Speaking of the Spartans, Green is one of my favorite players in the country.  At a wide-bodied 240 lbs., he looks like a typical power forward, but he can do a little bit of absolutely everything on a baskeball court.  The 12 points and 9 rebounds a game are nice, but Green also provides 3.8 assists, 1.8 steals, and 1.2 blocks a game.  He’s surprisingly nimble for his size (which has earned him the nickname The Dancing Bear), which helps him score in the post, but he can also step out beyond the arc, where’s he hit 14 of 30 attempts on the year.  It’s been a really disappointing start to the year for the Spartans, but Green hasn’t been the problem.

7. Keith Benson, SR, Oakland:  One of the few true centers on the list, the slender, 6-11 Benson is one of the best mid-major players in the nation.  He’s averaging 17 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 blocks.  Oakland has played a brutal schedule so far and Benson has had some of his best games against top teams.  He put up 22 points/15 boards against West Virginia, 16/14 against Purdue, 17/12/4 blocks against Michigan St., and 26/10 in an upset of Tennessee.  In a win over Austin Peay, Benson had a ridiculous line of 22 points, 22 rebounds, 6 blocks, and 7 assists.  With some added strength, he’s a potential NBA starter.

6. Tyler Zeller, JR, North Carolina:  Usually players at schools like North Carolina are overrated (see: Barnes, Harrison), but this 7-foot junior is actually the opposite.  His injury problems have been well-documented, but it seems like the injuries have been fluke things and that he won’t necessarily follow in the footsteps of other 7-footers (see: Oden, Greg) that can never stay healthy.  He’s finally healthy this season, and he’s getting a chance to show what he can do, averaging 15.5 points, 8 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks for the Tar Heels.  But there’s another reason he’s still underrated, besides the injuries, and that is that he hasn’t had a decent point guard to play with over the last two seasons.  The UNC guards have been abysmal playmakers, and for a post player like Zeller, that really limits his production.  You don’t see many 7-footers that move as well as this guy, that can hit mid-range jump shots, and shoot 75% at the line.

5. Marcus Morris, JR, Kansas:  The second Philly native on this list, the 6-8 Morris is big, strong, and agile.  He’s the kind of guy that looks like he could dominate as an NFL tight end.  At times last year he was the best player on a team that featured Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich, and that entered the tournament as the favorites to win the title.  He’s got that rare combination of size and quickness that is difficult to guard near the basket, and he has range out to the 3-point line.  He’s leading the unbeaten Jayhawks in scoring (15.5) and averaging 6 rebounds.  He may not start the next couple games after throwing a vicious elbow against Cal, but he’ll be back in there soon enough.

4. Jon Leuer, SR, Wisconsin:  This is the type of big man that we’ve come to expect at Wisconsin: one that can step outside and consistently knock down jump shots.  But Leuer may be the best one they’ve had in a while.  The 6-10 PF is averaging 20 points and 7.5 rebounds for the Badgers, and he’s made 32 3’s through 13 games, shooting 49% from behind the arc.  He has a complete offensive game, with the ability to post up or hit from mid-range as well.  There may be better big men in the Big Ten (see below), but there aren’t any with a more well-rounded offensive repertoire than Leuer. 

3. Derrick Williams, SO, Arizona:  This athletic 6-8 PF had a really nice freshman season, but not many noticed because Arizona (and pretty much the whole Pac-10) was not very good.  This year, Zona is off to an 11-2 start and looking like an NCAA tournament team, and it’s mostly thanks to Williams.  He’s averaging 19 points, shooting 63% from the field, and he’s hit a ridiculous 13 of 19 3-pointers.  He’s also averaging 7 rebounds.  He matched his season high scoring total in a road game at Kansas, putting up 27.  Guys with his size and skill tend to go early in NBA drafts, and this is starting to look like it will be Williams’s last season at the college level.

2. JaJuan Johnson, SR, Purdue:  Johnson is a long-armed, skinny 6-10 center who’s production has steadily increased throughout his very successful career at Purdue.  He’s an impressive leaper with good touch around the basket and good range out to 18 feet.  He’s averaging 20 points, 8 boards, and 2.3 blocks for the Boilermakers this year.  He put up 25 points, 11 boards, 5 assists, 4 steals, and 2 blocks against a solid Oakland team, and he scored 29 points at Virginia Tech in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.  He even hit a 3-pointer in each of those games, which is something he never did in his first three years.  He’s still not a threat from out there (4-17 on the year), but he’s obviously trying to expand his game in hopes of making it at the next level.  The most important thing is probably adding some muscle, but he might just be the kind of guy that will always be a bit too thin to bang with NBA power forwards.

 
Can Sullinger match Melo?

1. Jared Sullinger, FR, Ohio StateSpeaking of too thin, that is a problem that Jared Sullinger will never have.  At 6-9, 280 lbs., he doesn’t look like a guy that was playing in high school less than a year ago.  Analysts seem to love to talk about his butt, which is kind of creepy, but the point is that he is a fearsome back-to-the-basket (maybe butt-to-the-basket?) scorer that can clear space out under the rim to score or rebound.  He’s averaging 18 points and 10 boards, which aren’t numbers that blow you away, but consider that he’s doing it for a team that is very much a title contender.  His season highlights include 26 points/10 boards at Florida in his second collegiate game, 30 points/19 boards against South Carolina, and 40 points against IUPUI.  If Duke’s Kyrie Irving misses the rest of the year with his toe injury, the Buckeyes will possibly enter the tournament as the favorites to win it all.  If they can pull it off, Sullinger would be the first freshman to be the best player on a title team since Carmelo Anthony at Syracuse in ’03.  I wouldn’t bet against him.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Quincy Acy, Baylor: Teaming with Perry Jones in a tough Baylor frontcourt.
  • Chris Wright, Dayton
  • Markieff Morris, Kansas:  Teaming with his brother
  • Lavoy Allen, Temple:  Bit of a disappointing start to his season, but he’s still pulling down 10 boards a game
  • Justin Harper, Richmond: 6-10 and can shoot it
  • Aaric Murray, La Salle: Maybe topping Allen as best big man in the Big Five
  • Trey Thompkins, Georgia
  • Marshall Moses, Oklahoma St.

NFL Playoff Scenarios

If you actually have a job or, well, anything else to do, you probably haven’t figured out all the different permutations for the NFL playoff scenarios.  Well, as a BSB reader, you’re in luck because I absolutely love this stuff and spent way too much time figuring out everything that could possibly happen over the next two weeks that would affect the playoff seedings in both conferences (with some invaluable help from the awesome NFL Playoff Machine on ESPN.com).

I have, however, made it a little easier to wrap our heads around by assuming several of the remaining games as “givens.”  Because of the unpredictability of the NFL, I tried to be extra conservative when “locking” a team in to a victory.

The NFC

As much as I want to start in the AFC because it is way simpler, I figure, as a die-hard Eagles fan, I have to start here.  First, here are the upcoming games that I have either decided to deem as “givens” because of a disparate mismatch between the two teams or don’t matter in the playoff mix (home teams in CAPS):

Week 16

  • PHILADELPHIA over Minnesota
  • Dallas at ARIZONA – doesn’t matter
  • Detroit at MIAMI – doesn’t matter

Week 17

  • ATLANTA over Carolina
  • N.Y.Giants over WASHINGTON
  • Minnesota at DETROIT – doesn’t matter

Now, if those games go as we called for them to go, here are the scenarios for each NFC team, starting with the six NFC teams that can start thinking about the draft (or the golf course):

Eliminated

  • Arizona
  • Carolina
  • Dallas
  • Detroit
  • Minnesota
  • Washington

Atlanta (12-2)
Week 16:  vs New Orleans (?)
Week 17:  vs Carolina (W)

  • Clinched 1-seed

Chicago (10-4)
Week 16:  vs N.Y. Jets (?)
Week 17:  at GREEN BAY (?)

  • With 2 Ws
    2-seed
  • With 1 W & 1 L
    2-seed with Philadelphia L vs Dallas
    3-seed with Philadelphia W vs Dallas
  • With 2 Ls
    3-seed

Philadelphia (10-4)
Week 16:  vs Minnesota (W)
Week 17:  vs Dallas (?)

  • With W vs Dallas
    2-seed with 1+ Chicago L
    3-seed with 2 Chicago Ws
  • With L vs Dallas
    2-seed with 2 Chicago Ls
    3-seed with 1+ Chicago W

New Orleans (10-4)
Week 16:  at ATLANTA (?)
Week 17:  vs Tampa Bay (?)

  • With 1+ W
    5-seed
  • With 2 Ls
    5-seed with 1+ Tampa Bay L and 1+ Green Bay L and 1+ N.Y. Giants L
    6-seed with 1+ Tampa Bay L and Green Bay W vs Chicago
    OUT with 2 Tampa Bay Ws (no matter what else happens around the league)

N.Y. Giants (9-5)
Week 16:  at GREEN BAY (?)
Week 17:  at WASHINGTON (W)

  • With W at GREEN BAY
    5-seed with 2 New Orleans Ls
    6-seed with 1+ New Orleans W
  • With L at GREEN BAY
    6-seed with 1+ Tampa Bay L and Green Bay L vs Chicago
    6-seed with 2 New Orleans Ls and 1+ Tampa Bay L and Green Bay L vs Chicago
    6-seed with 2 New Orleans Ls and 2 Tampa Bay Ws and Green Bay W vs Chicago
    OUT with 1+ New Orleans W and Green Bay W vs Chicago

Green Bay (8-6)
Week 16:  vs N.Y. Giants (?)
Week 17:  vs Chicago (?)

  • With 2 Ws
    5-seed with 2 New Orleans Ls
    6-seed with 1+ New Orleans W
  • With 1+ L
    OUT

Tampa Bay (8-6)
Week 16:  vs Seattle (?)
Week 17:  at NEW ORLEANS (?)

  • With 2 Ws
    6-seed with 2 New Orleans Ls (including their matchup) and 1 Green Bay L
  • With 1+ L
    OUT

St. Louis (6-8)
Week 16:  vs San Francisco (?)
Week 17:  at SEATTLE (?)

  • With 2 Ws
    4-seed
  • With L vs San Francisco & W at SEATTLE
    4-seed with San Francisco L vs Arizona
    OUT with San Francisco W vs Arizona
  • With L at SEATTLE (regardless of Week 16 result)
    OUT

Seattle (6-8)
Week 16:  at TAMPA BAY (?)
Week 17:  vs St. Louis (?)

  • With 2 Ws
    4-seed
  • With L at TAMPA BAY and W vs St. Louis
    4-seed with 1+ San Francisco L
    OUT with 2 San Francisco Ws
  • With L vs St. Louis (regardless of Week 16 result)
    OUT

San Francisco (5-9)
Week 16:  at ST LOUIS (?)
Week 17:  vs Arizona (?)

  • With 2 Ws
    4-seed with 1+ Seattle L and 1+ St. Louis L
    OUT with 2 Seattle Ws or 2 St. Louis Ws
  • With 1+ L
    OUT

The AFC

Whew…Okay, if you are still with me (and I am not quite sure who is), the AFC is much simpler – mainly because there are a lot more “given” games.  So, here are the games that we are considering “given:”

Week 16

  • PITTSBURGH over Carolina
  • JACKSONVILLE over Washington
  • San Diego over CINCINNATI
  • New England over BUFFALO
  • Baltimore over CLEVELAND
  • Detroit at MIAMI – doesn’t matter
  • Houston at DENVER – doesn’t matter

Week 17

  • N.Y. JETS over Buffalo
  • Pittsburgh over CLEVELAND
  • BALTIMORE over Cincinnati
  • San Diego over DENVER

If you agree with all of those results, then you would eliminate eight AFC teams.

Eliminated

  • Buffalo
  • Cincinnati
  • Cleveland
  • Denver
  • Houston
  • Miami
  • Oakland
  • Tennessee

New England (12-2)
Week 16:  at BUFFALO (W)
Week 17:  vs Miami (?)

  • Clinched 1-seed

Pittsburgh (10-4)
Week 16:  vs Carolina (W)
Week 17:  at CLEVELAND (W)

  • Clinched 2-seed

Baltimore (10-4)
Week 16:  at CLEVELAND (W)
Week 17:  vs Cincinnati (W)

  • Clinched 5-seed

N.Y. Jets (10-4)
Week 16:  at CHICAGO (?)
Week 17:  vs Buffalo (W)

  • Clinched 6-seed

Kansas City (9-5)
Week 16:  vs Tennessee (?)
Week 17:  vs Oakland (?)

  • With 2 Ws
    3-seed
  • With 1+ L
    OUT

San Diego (8-6)
Week 16:  at CINCINNATI (W)
Week 17:  at DENVER (W)

  • With 1+ Kansas City L
    3-seed
  • With 2 Kansas City Ws
    OUT

Indianapolis (8-6)
Week 16:  at OAKLAND (?)
Week 17:  vs Tennessee (?)

  • With 2 Ws
    4-seed
  • With 1 W & 1 L
    4-seed with Jacksonville L at HOUSTON
    OUT with Jacksonville W at HOUSTON
  • With 2 Ls
    OUT

Jacksonville (8-6)
Week 16:  vs Washington (W)
Week 17:  at HOUSTON (?)

  • With W at HOUSTON
    4-seed with 1+ Indianapolis L
    OUT with 2 Indianapolis Ws
  • With L at HOUSTON
    4-seed with 2 Indianapolis Ls
    OUT with 1+ Indianapolis W

Uh…Wow!

Did you happen to catch the professional football contest on television on Sunday?  Well, the Giants of New York took on the Eagles of Philadelphia.  And, in the end, the Eagles triumphed when a little man juggled an oblong ball made of pigskin before he ran it into a painted area of the field and threw it into the stands.  It was a most ripping victory! 

[“Son, if you want to keep working here, stay off the drugs.”  -Cleo McDowell] 

In “real life,” everyone knows about the moments that define the times.  Everyone in my parents’ generation knows exactly where they were the moment they heard about the JFK Asssassination or Neil Armstrong walking on the moon.  For our generation, it is the 9/11 Attacks or the OJ Chase.  Without a doubt, these moments are etched in our brains for obvious (and, oftentimes unfortunately tragic) reasons.  And, that is to be expected with “real life.”  That is also one of the reasons I choose not to write about “real life;” it is oftentimes too “real.” 

That is what draws us to sports.  Sports often imitates “real life” in sort of a nonconsequential way.  With certain exceptions, we can replicate “real” joy through sports without the risk of tragedy.  Yes, we risk pain and heartache (for passionate Philly fans, those are VERY “real” emotions tied to sports), but we almost never have to deal with tragedy.  In “real life,” the images that are etched in our brains for eternity are disproportionately linked with tragedy.  In “sports life,” these eternal images are, depending of course which teams with which you choose to live and die, about equally split between those that evoke intense pain and heartache and those that evoke an unbridled, euphoric joy. 

Bry's favorite all-time NBA moment...and, it will never be topped

The landscape of my “sports life” is postmarked by several moments etched in my heart and mind forever – some evoking pain and suffering, others evoking elation and euphoria.  Kim Batiste’s fair ball down the leftfield line in Game 1 of the NLCS is on one side and, about a week later, some home run in Canada is on the other side.  The Brad Lidge’s 0-2 pitch to Eric Hinske will forever bring me joy, while Ryan Howard’s called third-strike from Brian Wilson makes me feel like someone just kicked me in the groin.  The year 2000, to me, is polarized by a couple of Tys.  There’s the high of seeing Ty Lue’s face after Allen Iverson hit the three and stepped over him in the NBA Finals to the low of seeing Ty Shine’s face after coming off the bench to drop 30 on the Temple Owls in the second round of the NCAA tournament. 

Anyway, the point I am trying to make here is that all of these moments are specific, distinct moments in my “sports life” from which I can bring up where I was and how I felt the moment they happened, whether it be surrounded by friends and family in my brother’s garage or completely by myself in my lonely room in the fraternity house.  Well, another one of these happened on Sunday.  

What does DeSean Jackson have in common with Kato Kaelin? Well...almost nothing

I could live another 100 years and I will never, ever forget where I was, who I was with, and how I felt the moment DeSean Jackson picked up the line-drive punt and stuck a knife in the gut of the hated New York Giants.  And, it doesn’t matter whether this leads to a Super Bowl or a disappointing playoff upset.  Honestly, I don’t remember exactly what happened the year that Brian Westbrook did almost the same thing to the Giants, but I certainly remember exactly where I was when it happened. 

So, this was one of those moments.  Enjoy it, Philadelphia.  They do not come around all that often – and they’re not always so sweet. 

The Birds Situation, Now
Okay, on to some “other” Eagles news.  Expect a post about playoff scenarios up some time in the next day or two, but for now, let’s just talk Eagles and their seeding.  This win has essentially locked up the division for the Birds.  I cannot see them losing to a bad Minnesota team, at home, next week, which will officially clinch it.  So, let us start thinking about the first-round bye.  I have always thought that the difference between the 2nd position in the conference and the 3rd position is the biggest difference besides that between 6th and 7th.  Homefield advantage is good, but the bye is huge.  The Birds have a real shot at it, too.  Right now, it is between them and the Bears.  Both are 10-4, but the Bears hold the tiebreaker.  That means that the Eagles have to pick up a game somewhere in the next two weeks.  Like I said, I think the home game versus Minnesota is as close to a gimme as there is in this league with Joe Webb at QB and Toby Gerhart at RB.  So, it will then come down to whether or not the Eagles can win at home against Dallas in Week 17 and find the Bears a loss somewhere along the way.  Chicago is home against the Jets this week and then at Green Bay to finish the season.  Hopefully, the Packers will still have something to play for. 

The Defense
All year, Doogan and I have had differing opinions of this defense.  I think they are decent, bordering on good; he thinks they are mediocre, bordering on bad.  Against the Giants this week, we were both right.  The Giants have a vaunted running attack, but could not get anything done against the Birds front seven.  Even without the defensive signal-caller, Stewart Bradley, the Eagles D stepped up.  In fact, what is lost in the furious comeback and the stardoms of Vick and Jackson is that the Giants could have, on several occasions, put this game away with a sustained rushing attack, but the defense held.  On the other hand, Eli Manning (of all people) exposed this pass defense as pretty shoddy.  With Ellis Hobbs out and Asante Samuel gimpy, the secondary went into the game rather thin, and they have now lost Nate Allen for the season.  The rest of this season may hinge on whether or not this pieced-together secondary can just be “adequate” or not.  Personally, I am optimistic.  Samuel is a gamer and is getting healthier by the week.  On the other side, I have been really impressed with Dmitri Patterson, despite his over-documented struggles this week.  He had taken the starting job from Hobbs before he got hurt, so he’s not exactly a second-stringer.  And, at safety, I think Quentin Mikell may be the most unsung player on this Eagles team this year.  He is having a great year back there.  We will see if Kurt Coleman can be an every-down replacement for Allen (who had a terrific rookie season), but, overall, I remain bullish on this Eagles defense, despite giving up 31 to the G-Men on Sunday. 

Who Invited the All-Pro O-Lineman?
Everyone who says Jason Peters is a bust has not been watching this season.  Friends, we have a bonafied star left tackle, who is only 28 years old.  Lost in the fanfare of Michael Vick & His

It's hard to change the minds of Philly fans if you don't play well early on here, but Jason Peters deserves another look. He's really good...I think

Weapons has been the incredible play of the “Big Uglies.”  Now, I am not going to pretend to be able to evaluate offensive line play, so take the first part of this paragraph with a grain of salt, but allow me to explain.  This is a pieced-together offensive line with a backup center and an inexperienced right side, but they have been playing lights-out football.  Yes, Vick has been hit recently, but, overall, this o-line dictates play on the line of scrimmage and opens ridiculous holes for McCoy and, for the most part, gives Vick a ton of time.  So, someone (or a couple someones) are dominating out there.  King Dunlap and Max Jean-Gilles have held their own, and, from what I hear, Mike McGlynn has been playing great at center, but if I had to guess as to who is really leading this group, I am going to go with the left side of Peters and Todd Herremans.  Andy Reid was one of the best o-line coaches in the league before he got the head coach duties, so he knows talent in there.  When the Eagles signed Peters, Reid called him “without a doubt, the best left tackle in the league.”  I believe him, and I believe what I see.

All in the Family: The Semifinals

Our fantasy football league here at BSB (where we pit a team of Johnsons against a team of Jacksons or Williams or Jones or Smiths or Browns) had its first-ever quarterfinals last week and roll into the semifinals this week.  We’re going to give a quick recap of the quarters and then a preview of this weekend’s semifinal doubleheader.

Quarterfinal:  #3 Football Jones & The Last-Name Crusade 63 – #6 Charlie Brown 27
The hottest team in the league not named “Johnson” continued their red-hot campaign with an easy quarterfinal win.  The Jones squad got 20 from MVP candidate Maurice Jones-Drew and 14 from Felix Jones.  They also got a surprise 15 from Jacoby Jones.  Dhani Jones led the defense with 6.

Charlie Brown didn’t have a terrible game, but it wasn’t near enough to challenge the strong Jones team.  Josh Brown, the only kicker in the league, led Charlie with 9 points (including a special-teams tackle, which isn’t good for his real team, but is good for his fantasy team).  Donald Brown had a decent day, going for 6 points, but the big disappoinment (like he has been for most of the year) was Ronnie Brown, who only got 2.

Football Jones & the Last-Name Crusade moves on to the semifinals, where they will meet the slumping team of Williams, Big Willie Style.  Charlie Brown has to settle for a shot at 5th place this week.

Quarterfinal:  #4 Jack-O’s 66 – #5 BlackSmiths 7
Yes, 7 points for the BlackSmiths, in an embarrassing semifinal loss.  Not that they could have beaten the Jack-O’s on their best day, as they were dominant this week when it mattered most.  DeSean Jackson went for 30 and Fred Jackson went for 14.  They got a decent 10 from Steven Jackson and 4 from the newest addition Vincent Jackson.  The defense (the worst in the league) was okay, as they got 3 Kareem Jackson and 4 from Lawrence Jackson.  The only disappointing part of the Jack-O’s day was only getting a single point from their starting quarterback (a real luxury in this league), Tarvaris Jackson.

The BlackSmiths picked the wrong quarterback.  They went with Troy Smith over Alex Smith, and Troy gave them nothing.  Alex had a good day, but was on the bench.  Only Carolina’s Steve Smith managed more than a single point for them all week.

The Jack-O’s will take their new-found momentum into the semifinals, where they will try to pull off a monumental upset over the regular-season champs and ARCH-RIVAL, The Dix.  The BlackSmiths will try and save some face, as they face Charlie Brown in the 5th place game.

And, now for the previews of this week’s big playoff games:

Semifinal:  #1 The Dix vs. #4 Jack-O’s
This league was formed when Bry threw down the gauntlett to Waters and said “I’ll take on your Dix with my Jacksons.”  Waters gladly accepted, having all the faith in the world in his Dix, and the rest is history.  So, this matchup (though some would say a week early thanks to the great seasons of Big Willie Style and The Jones Crusade) has been in the works for almost a year now, and we’re finally here.  The Jack-O’s, who still believe that they should have been awarded the victory over The Dix on the last week of the season because of the should-have-been suspension of Andre Johnson, now get a chance to win it when it matters.  The Dix, who won their last 6 regular season games with ease to cruise to a 11-2 record (including a season sweep of the Jack-O’s), are the heavy favorites to win it all, but they have to get past this one first.

Before any action, Yahoo instituted The Dix as the projected winner 64-46, but that was only counting on 7 points from Vincent Jackson.  On Thursday night, Vincent made up for missing the entire regular season by dropping a MONSTER 31 points putting The Dix is a precarious position heading into the Sunday games.  As good as the Vincent Jackson game was Thursday night, the Jack-O’s took a big hit as well that day, as Tarvaris Jackson (the only quarterback remaining in the playoffs), was placed on IR.  With Tarvaris and 31 from Vincent, the Jack-O’s may have become the favorite in this one heading into Sunday’s games, but without Tarvaris, the Jack-O’s are still looking at a tall order.  Chris Johnson and Andre Johnson play each other on Sunday in a game that may be a real shootout, which is good news for The Dix.  Fred Jackson and DeSean Jackson have tough matchups with Miami and the N.Y. Giants, respectively.  Keep an eye on the defenses, as both of these teams have struggled on that side of the ball, but could get a big play this week to change the tide of the biggest game of the year.  Either way, with 31 points in the bag, the Jack-O’s are sure to make this long-awaited grudge match at least competitive and very exciting.

Semifinal:  #2 Big Willie Style vs. #3 Football Jones & the Last-Name Crusade
The other semifinal pits two teams going in seemingly opposite directions.  Big Willie Style was the talk of the country in the first half of the season, getting off to a 7-0 start, including a big win over The Dix in Week 2.  But, they stumbled down the stretch, losing 3 of their last 6, including a near loss to Charlie Brown in the last regular season game.  Fortunately for Big Willie, they accumulated so many wins early that they were never in any jeopardy of losing the #2 seed and now the slates are wiped clean and they have to perform now.  On the other hand, Football Jones & the Last-Name Crusade has been red-hot, winners of 6 of their last 8 games.  That being said, they have played Big Willie Style twice this year and gotten beat handily in both matchups.  They will need to put forth their biggest performance of the year this week if they are to pull off the upset and head to the championship next week.

If the Yahoo projections are any indication of what we are to expect this week, we are in for an absolutely thrilling semifinal here.  Yahoo projects 53.22 for Big Willie Style and 52.91 for The Jones Crusade.  Wow!  Jones can feel good looking at two very favorable matchups for their two big guns, as Maurice Jones-Drew plays a weak Indy run defense, and Felix Jones gets to go against a defeated Washington team.  What Jones always looks for as a knock-out punch is getting anything from their wideouts, so if you see any touchdown from James Jones for Green Bay, Jacoby Jones for Houston, or Donald Jones for Buffalo, you will probably be looking at an upset of the #2-seed. 

On the other side, Big Willie Style has been doing it all year with balance, balance, and more balance, so they show up each and every week.  Their receivers aren’t stars, but very solid and go three-deep, with the two Mike Williams and Roy Williams.  Also, their running backs, though much less dangerous with the injury to DeAngelo Williams, are still decent, with Cadillac Williams and Ricky Williams

As much as fantasy football is won with high-powered offense, this game may come down to the defenses.  These two teams, who have clearly enjoyed the two best defenses all year, are both highly confident on that side of the ball.  As good as the Jones defense is, Big Willie is even better.  Big Willie has won a lot of games this year with their defense, so they will try and do the same thing here, with everything on the line.

5th Place Game:  #5 BlackSmiths vs. #6 Charlie Brown
The fifth-place game pits two teams playing for nothing but pride.  Charlie Brown, who finished in last-place, winning the two games that bookended the great Charlie Brown holiday of Thanksgiving, are playing a lot better right now.  The BlackSmiths, who started 4-4, but then lost 5 in a row to end the season.  They lost again last week, scoring just 7 points.  It looks like they have quit on their coach, Lovie Smith. 

Yahoo thinks that the BlackSmiths will continue reeling, as Charlie Brown is projected to win 36-21.  With Steve Smith of the Giants out for the year, and Troy Smith on the bench, the Smiths really only have the Panthers’ Steve Smith that can do anything on offense.  Their defense is decent, but can any defense win with almost zero offense?

Charlie Brown has the most consistent player in the league, Josh Brown, the only kicker, so they have that to lean on.  Yahoo also projects a big day from Ronnie Brown against the Bills.  We will see what Donald Brown and that excellent secondary of C.C. Brown and Sheldon Brown can do to get Charlie the bragging rights of 5th place.

My Friends, This One’s For Us…

Doogan and I have been running a Philadelphia sports blog for more than three years now.  We have seen four division titles, two pennants, and a World Series title.  We have seen an NFC Championship Game and the shocking emergence of one of the most entertaining (and socially interesting) redemption stories in sports history.  We have seen three Atlantic Ten tournament titles, two lottery picks, and the most exciting moment in American soccer history.  But, with the possible exception of October 29, 2008, I have never been so satisfied with a sports event than I am from what took place shortly after midnight this morning, when Cliff Lee decided to leave more than THIRTY MILLION DOLLARS on the table to come play in our city.  

A family man at heart, Cliff Lee decided that $120 million in a city he loved was worth more than $154 million anywhere else

 

That’s right – a quiet family man from a small city in the heart of Arkansas, who likes to spend his free time hunting and fishing has chosen our “inferior” Northeastern city, known for its harsh winters and harsher fans, over 29 other possible destinations, including two which offered him THIRTY MILLION DOLLARS MORE.  He turned down the New York Yankees and their 27 championships to come play for the Philadelphia Phillies and our 10,000 losses.  And, why did he do this?  WHY DID HE DO THIS?!?  Because of the team and its fans.  

That’s right – because of the team and ITS FANS!  This one is for us, my friends, and that is why this is so satisfying.  We do not have a lot in Philadelphia.  We are a city whose glory days as a central player in the fabric of America were more than 200 years ago.  We are a city stuck between “The Greatest City in the World” and “The Capital of the Free World.”  We are a city that endured 100 straight professional seasons without a title, where the most celebrated sports stories (prior to 2008) were a string of NFC Championship Game upsets and some famous home run hit in Canada.   

But, most of all, if you ask any sports fan in the country, “What do you think of when you think of Philadelphia?” they will unequivocally say, “The home of obnoxious fans.”  Now, as I have said many times before on this site how undeserved this reputation is, I still get it.  It is a media creation, and that’s fine.  But, this Cliff Lee decision speaks volumes more than any gratuitous Michael Wilbon jibe or condescendingly subtle Joe Buck quip ever will.  All the Wilbons, Bucks, and Colin Cowherds of the world combine to mean absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things.  Cliff Lee, on the other hand, matters – a lot – and he chose US!  And…for thirty million dollars less than Dallas and New York!   

Why us?  Well, if you ask me, it is because he knows the truth.  In fact, he lived the truth for three glorious months in 2009.  And, the truth is quite simple, actually:  If you work your tail off to be the best player you can be, then there is no place in the world that will treat you better than Philadelphia – Period!  We respect effort.  We respect hustle.  We respect gamers.  And, that is exactly what Clifton Phifer Lee is – a gamer, a worker, and a winner.  

Play hard, work hard, and care...and Philly fans will love you with a passion unrivaled anywhere else

 

The story of his wife getting spit on in New York has gotten some press, but will soon be forgotten and chalked up to “passion.”  The lack of energy in Arlington Stadium probably won’t be mentioned because, well, no one cares, but the Rangers have struggled to fill their beautiful stadium recently.  Let us not forget that professional athletes are, after all, human beings.  Their occupation may be sports, but their life is spent in the city in which they are employed.  They perform for a certain geographical segment of the American population on a nightly basis.  And, they feel emotions just like you and me.  No matter how “manly” they may seem, they, like all of us, crave love and acceptance.  No matter how introverted some may appear, they have chosen a profession based around making people happy.  They live to entertain, enthrall, and captivate.  Everyone – no matter who you are – appreciates, deep down, recognition, admiration, even reverence, be it by a spouse, a child, a parent, a fly-by-night sophomoric weblog, or an entire metropolitan area.  In Philadelphia, we fans ask for a lot from our athletes.  We ask for them to play hard, to play hurt, and to play as if winning matters as much to them as it does to us.  But, in return, we unequivocally show those that do an unbridled passion, devotion, and love that cannot be replicated anywhere else in this country.  And, Cliff Lee knows it.  In fact, he gave up thirty million dollars to feel be a part of it again.  

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a sure-thing.  This is a lot of money and years for an aging pitcher.  This fails to address at all the lack of a right-handed bat or a left-handed reliever.  But today, at this moment, none of that matters because, regardless of all the rationalizations you will hear from Yankee fans and Yankee brass, this quiet pitcher from rural Arkansas was, without a doubt, the most coveted player on the market.  And, just like Roy Halladay did last year…  

…He chose Us!  Pat yourselves on the back, Philadelphia.  We do it right in our city, and we are starting to reap the benefits.  This one’s for us, my friends, this one’s for us!

Cliff Lee Returns!

On a frigid December day, Phillie fans have their thoughts on April and July and, most of all, October, as Cliff Lee signs a 5-year deal to help form (arguably) the best starting rotation in the history of baseball.  The signing came out of absolutely nowhere last night.  It seemed like just a couple hours elapsed between the time the reports came out saying the Phillies were in the bidding and the time word leaked that he had signed with the team.  Suddenly, the Phillies brushed aside the Red Sox/Crawford/Gonzalez moves and the Jayson Werth/Nationals signing to become THE story of this baseball offseason.  And they did it almost exactly a year after they became THE story of last offseason by trading for Roy Halladay and trading Lee to Seattle.

Times certainly have changed.  The first sign that we were operating in a new Phillies era may have been when they traded for Lee in July of ’09.  Now, with the free agent signing of the same pitcher, the transformation may be complete.  The Phillies just beat out the Yankees for the most sought-after free agent on the market.

Of course, they couldn’t match the Yankees offer in terms of years and dollars but, incredibly, that didn’t matter to Lee.  Ruben Amaro will get a ton of credit for the signing, and deservedly so, but I can’t help but think that even more credit goes to the players on the team, to Charlie Manuel, and even to the fans of Philadelphia.  At some point, either Lee or his agent must have informed Amaro that Lee was willing to take less money than the Yankees or Rangers were offering to play for the Phils.  Amaro, to his great credit, jumped at the opportunity when it fell in his lap.

But, why was Lee willing to take less money?  He spent half a year as a Phillie, and he’s from Arkansas.  To me, this decision is a validation of the culture of professionalism and teamwork that we’ve come to expect from our Phillies.  Of course, we love the team and see something special in guys like Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Raul Ibanez, and Ryan Howard, but we’re biased.  Cliff Lee just stood up and announced to the world: there’s something special about this Phillies team and organization and city, and I’m willing to sacrifice $30 million to be a part of it.

Not only is that sentiment incredible, but now we get to root for a guy who is not only supremely talented, but who clearly wants to be here badly.  He didn’t just want to be a hired gun that went and helped deliver a 28th championship to the Yankees.  He wants to be part of team that, apparently, is truly a team.  And he wants to play for Charlie Manuel.  And he wants to play in front of the fans of Philadelphia.

How this signing impacts the team will be dissected many times over between now and April.  For now, here’s what the signing means: if the Yankees had signed Lee, the Phillies were probably the third best team in baseball after the Yanks and Sox.  By taking Lee away from the Bronx, the Phils catapult into the top seat.  Yes, they were there last year too and didn’t win it all, but where else would you rather be?

Welcome back, Mr. Lee.  We are very happy to have you.

It’s Official…

…OUR Philadelphia Phillies now have the best starting rotation in the history of baseball.

The Phils have signed Cliff Lee to join Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels.  Just when I was ready to go to sleep, I now have no chance to get any sleep because I’m dreaming of one of these four guys starting 85% of the Phillies games next year.  This is unbelievable.

And, to think, I was worried now that Jeff Francoeur and Matt Diaz were off the market that the Phils might not have a successful offseason…

Phillies Making Push to Sign Cliff Lee

The Yankees and Rangers have been trying to get Cliff Lee to sign a deal for weeks now, but apparently Ruben Amaro and the Phillies have jumped into the bidding and have a real shot at signing the ace left-hander.

The latest Twitter posts from some of the journalists in the know actually think the Phillies might be in the lead.  Sports Illustrated’s Jon Heyman says the Phils “look like a very strong candidate to win Lee’s services.”

And check out this update from the New York Post’s Joel Sherman:  “At this moment, Yankees have become extremely negative about landing Lee and believing that he is edging toward Phillies.”

Clearly, something is happening here.  We know that Lee loved the time he spent in Philadelphia and that he was devastated when they traded him last year.  But, maybe this is all just a late ploy by Lee and his agent to squeeze a few more dollars out of the Yankees or Rangers.  Stay tuned.

All in the Family: Season Recap & Playoff Preview

This year, BSB decided to sponsor a fantasy football league.  It is called All in the Family, and it’s not your standard fantasy football league.  There are six teams and Adrian Peterson is not on any of them.  That is because we don’t have a team of all Petersons.  The theme of the league is finding what last name is the most dominant.  One of BSB’s favorite contributors, Waters, has had a team in public leagues for almost a decade called The Dix, which consisted of nothing but players with the surname Johnson.  This year, Bry decided to challenge The Dix with the Jack-O’s – all Jacksons.  Doogan joined the challenge and took Jones (Football Jones & the Last-Name Crusade), and J jumped in with Smith (The Blacksmiths).  A late offseason expansion took the league to 6 teams, as Ina came in with Brown (Charlie Brown) and The Cuz joined with Williams (Big Willie Style).  The 13-game season has ended and we’re ready to start the playoffs.  I’ll start with a recap of the regular season and each team’s leaders and then, after that, I’ll preview the first week of playoff action.

Regular-Season Champion and First-Round Bye:  The Dix (11-2, 772 points)
The Dix, the preseason favorite did come through in the end, winning the inaugural regular season title at 11-2.  The team many thought would run the table and go undefeated lost those dreams early on and actually fell out of first place for a couple of weeks.  The loss came after two relatively easy wins over the Jack-O’s and The Jones Crusade, when Big Willie Style knocked off the favorites 50-46 to take sole possession of first place.  The Dix then rattled off three straight wins, including a thrilling 76-52 win in Rivalry Week over the Jack-O’s, but the streak was snapped in Week 7 by the Jones Crusade’s 65.5 – 65.1 win.  Week 8 was the turning point in the season.  The Dix were 5-2 and two full games behind the undefeated Big Willie Style, when The Dix dropped a league-record 81 points on Willie in a win.  They then went on to win their last 5 games to finish 11-2.  Big Willie Style lost two more, giving The Dix the first ever regular season title all to themselves.  The Dix get a bye in the playoffs this week and await the winner of the #4/5 game next week, as they will start their quest towards a championship.

From an individual standpoint, The Dix, as expected, were led by their three elite superstars, Chris Johnson, Calvin Johnson, and Andre Johnson.  But, as was not expected, they got a gigantic boost by Stevie Johnson.  They needed Stevie because they got nothing from Larry Johnson and very little from Josh Johnson because of how good Josh Freeman is. 

Their defense was led by a surprisingly good year from Chiefs linebacker, Derrick Johnson and a solid year from Carolina defensive end, Charles Johnson.  They got disappointingly low production from Ravens linebacker, Jarret Johnson and almost nothing from Redskins corner, D.J. Johnson.

#2 Seed and First-Round Bye:  Big Willie Style (10-3, 650 points)
It was a tale of two seasons for Willie this year.  A very late addition to the league, no one really thought they would be all that competitive, yet for the first half of the season, they looked like clearly the best team in the league.  They opened their season with a win over Charlie Brown and then squeeked out a Week Two win over the Black Smiths, setting up an unexpected showdown with The Dix.  Big Willie Style made the statement, beating The Dix and taking over first place.  They then went on to win their next four games by an average margin of victory of 30 points.  They sat at 7-0 and two games up on The Dix when the two teams played in Week Eight.  The Dix knocked them down a notch with an 81-60 victory.  Big Willie lost again (by 21) the next week to the Jack-O’s and fell back into a first-place tie with The Dix.  A win over the Jones Crusade set up another showdown in Week Eleven.  And, again, The Dix beat Willie – again, convincingly.  Seemingly reeling, Willie struggled, but won their last two games to finish 10-3, but they do not look very strong heading into the playoffs.  But, they do get the week off to rest up and get ready for a first-round matchup with the winner of the #3/6 game.

Like many championship teams of the past, Big Willie Style is good thanks to an elite defense and a lot of depth.  By far the best defense in the league, Big Willie’s defensive unit routinely outscores their opponents by a significant margin.  They are led with Packers cornerback Tramon Williams, Broncos linebacker D.J. Williams, Texans defensive end, Mario Williams, and Bills d-tackle Kyle Williams.  But, their depth is what is incredible.  This year there were FOURTEEN defensive players named Williams that have scored double-digit fantasy points.  To put that in perspective, there were only two Jacksons. 

Now, while the defense always shows up, Willie’s offense has been up-and-down this year.  They started red-hot with Mike Williams, Mike Williams, Cadillac Williams, and Ricky Williams.  Now, while Cadillac and Ricky have started to regress, they have gotten some nice late-season production from old Cowboys receiver Roy Williams and new Redskins running back Keiland Williams.

#3 Seed:  Football Jones & the Last-Name Crusade (6-7, 548 points)
The flip-side of the Big Willie Style story of a great first-half and a mediocre second half is The Jones Crusade.  The Crusade started off really slow, losing 5 of their first 6 games, with the only win coming over the then-winless Charlie Brown squad.  There were signs that this team was better than their record, though, as all their losses were close, including a near-upset of The Dix in Week 2.  But, in their Dix rematch, Jones stepped up to the plate and started to get the ball rolling to being one of the hottest teams heading into the playoffs.  They beat The Dix 65.5 – 65.1 in the closest game of the year and that catapulted them to a 5-2 record in their last 7 games, which was just enough (with the tiebreaker) to vault past the Jack-O’s into 3rd place.  That gives them a playoff date with last-place Charlie Brown in the first-round and allows them to avoid The Dix until the championship.

Jones and the Jack-O’s suffered the most from a late rule change which eliminated the “flex” position and limited lineups to just two running backs.  The Crusade had three dominant backs this year, having to choose each week between Maurice Jones-Drew, Thomas Jones, and Felix Jones.  And, to add to the pain inflicted by that rule, the Crusade struggled all year to find production from the wideout position.  James Jones in Green Bay and Jacoby Jones in Houston were okay, and Donald Jones of Buffalo has produced a little recently. 

The defense has been a lot better than many expected.  Despite the IR placement of Pacman Jones, the team has been very good this year.  Dhani Jones is one of the most productive linebackers in the league, while d-backs Sean Jones (Was), David Jones (Jax), and Nate Jones (Den) have been very good.  D-tackle Jason Jones of Tennessee has been above average.

#4 Seed:  Jack-O’s (6-7, 525 points)
The Jack-O’s were in one of the most enviable positions for much of the season.  When it looked like there were two elite teams (The Dix and Big Willie Style), the Jack-O’s looked like the best of the rest, as they went the first 7 weeks without a loss to anyone but the top two teams.  But, then Week Eight started their descent, as they only managed 30 points in a bad 33-30 loss to the Jones Crusade.  They rebounded nicely with a huge 54-33 win over Big Willie Style and then a 73-46 shellacking of the BlackSmiths.  But, the wheels came off, and it, again began with a matchup with the Jones Crusade.  Doogan’s squad dropped 72 on the Jack-O’s to start a 3-game winning streak for Jones and a 3-game losing streak for the Jack-O’s, allowing Jones to take the #3 seed.  Week Twelve was the lowpoint of the season for the Jack-O’s, as they only managed 16 points in a humiliating loss to Charlie Brown.  They came back and played well, but fell just short in Week Thirteen to The Dix.  For the record, that Week Thirteen game is under appeal, as both coaches agreed that Andre Johnson should have been suspended for the game, and it was his points that made the difference.  Either way, the result looks like it will stand, and the Jack-O’s are resigned to the #4-seed and a date with the BlackSmiths in the quarterfinals.

The Jack-O’s season is one more of who has not produced than of who has.  The team was founded on the premise that Vincent Jackson would continue to be a superstar and that there was a good chance that Tavaris Jackson would be one of the only starting QBs in the league.  Well, Tavaris has only played the better part of one game, and Vincent didn’t score a point all year.  However, this team has pressed on mainly riding the broad shoulders of superstars Stephen Jackson and DeSean Jackson.  The Jack-O’s have also received some great production from running backs Fred Jackson and Brandon Jackson.  The problem, though, is similar to that of the Jones Crusade, as the rule change forces Bry to choose between Steven, Fred, and Brandon at RB each week.  And, to make matters ever more frustrating, DeSean and Vincent (0 points all year) are the only two WRs named Jackson in the NFL, so every week they have gotten 0 points from TWO wide receiver spots and the TE spot.  That’s tough to overcome.

To make roster problems worse, the defense is in shambles.  As bad as the Vincent Jackson holdout was, the biggest offseason story of the year for the Jack-O’s was the league’s year-long suspension of Tampa Bay safety Tanard Jackson.  Tanard was the Jack-O’s best defensive player and they only had him for three games.  The defense was further crippled by the season-ending injury to Cleveland Browns starting linebacker, D’Qwell Jackson in Week Four.  The loss of the team’s only linebacker means that that position also gives them 0 points every week.  The two lone bright spots for the Jack-O’s defense this year are both very young players making the most of their playing time.  Texans rookie cornerback, Kareem Jackson has been the Jack-O’s best defensive player this year, while Lions second-year defensive end, Lawrence Jackson has been outstanding in the second half of the season.  The team is still waiting on former #3 overall draft pick Tyson Jackson to live up to the hype in Kansas City.

#5 Seed:  The BlackSmiths (4-9, 451 points)
An up-and-down season for the BlackSmiths started well enough.  Through eighst weeks, the BlackSmiths were a very respectable 4-4, which included close losses to Big Willie Style and the Jack-O’s.  But, the wheels completely fell off, starting with a bad 33-27 loss to the Jack-O’s in Week Nine.  They went on to lose their last 5 games to finish at 4-9 and limp into a first-round date with the Jack-O’s.

The one thing that the BlackSmiths can hang their hat on this year is at the most important position in the sport – quarterback.  There have only been three quarterbacks in this fantasy league that have made a start in the NFL this season – and they are ALL named Smith.  The bad news for the BlackSmiths is that none of them are all that good, but in fantasy football, just having a QB is kind of a big deal.  Alex Smith started for the 49ers for the first half of the season and was good enough to put up okay fantasy numbers, but not okay enough to keep him job.  He was replaced by…you guessed it…Troy Smith, so the BlackSmiths didn’t miss a beat.  Rusty Smith started for the Titans for a week, but, fortunately for the BlackSmiths, he wasn’t needed in the lineup, as he put up NEGATIVE EIGHT points.  Their wide receiver corps has been hit hard by the injury bug this year, as both Steve Smith and Steve Smith have missed significant time with injuries, though it looks like they’re both healthy now.  The big surprise has been Brad Smith the quarterback-turned-RB-turned-WR that the Jets have used brilliantly this year.  The problem with this team is that they get absolutely nothing from the running back position now that Kevin Smith has found himself on IR.

The defense has been pretty good all year long, especially the defensive ends.  The Saints Will Smith (who, ironically, had his best game all year when playing against Big Willie Style) has been very good, as has Houston’s Antonio Smith and San Fran’s Justin Smith.  The team took a huge hit as Lions cornerback Alphonso Smith (the BlackSmiths leading scorer on defense) is now on IR.  Fortunately, they have the Jets Eric Smith, a solid backup to fill in.  Darryl Smith, the starting linebacker for Jacksonville, has been a stalwart on LB for this squad.

#6 Seed:  Charlie Brown (2-11, 351 points)
Charlie Brown looked like the league’s doormat, though 8 weeks, as they had lost all eight and were never within 10 points of victory.  Week Nine was seemingly their highlight, as they only lost by a single point against the Jones Crusade, but that momentum seemed gone, as they then took the worst beating of any team all year in Week Ten, as The Dix crushed them 83-28.  But, then, it happened.  Thanksgiving.  As Doogan aptly pointed out, Thanksgiving is the time when Charlie Brown shines.  Wins over the BlackSmiths and the Jack-O’s in the two weeks surrounding the great Charlie Brown holiday allowed the team to save face.  They even gave Big Willie Style a run for their money in Week Thirteen, losing by only a point.  Charlie Brown is playing their best right now at the right time, so watch out.

Charlie Brown has revolved around the fact that they have something that no one else in the league has – a kicker.  The Rams Josh Brown has been basically an automatic 10 points for Charlie that no one else can match.  Other than that, this team is pretty thin.  Ronnie Brown and Donald Brown are pretty much the whole offense, though WR Antonio Brown has scored a couple random touchdowns for the Steelers this year.

Aside from kicker, Charlie Brown may also have the best pair of d-backs in the league with Cleveland’s Sheldon Brown and Detroit’s C.C. Brown.  They also get some production from New Orleans DE Alex Brown and Carolina’s DE Everette Brown.  Their only available linebacker is a Raiders backup, Ricky Brown.

Quarterfinal Matchup:  #4 Jack-O’s vs. #5 BlackSmiths
In the first quarterfinal matchup, the BlackSmiths will try and snap a five-game losing streak by upsetting the Jack-O’s and ending their inaugural season.  The Jack-O’s are predicted to win this game 48-29, on the strength of their stars DeSean, Steven, and Fred (or Brandon, if Bry decides to play him instead).  Also, there is a good chance that Tavaris could play for Brett Favre, which might negate the QB advantage of the BlackSmiths.  The BlackSmiths will need a big day from their QB and their defense – where they have big advantages.  Fortunately for them, for the first time in a very long time, they have both Steves on the active roster this week.

The winner of this game will take on the regular-season champions, The Dix, in the semifinals.  The loser will play for 5th place next week.

Quarterfinal Matchup:  #3 Jones & the Last-Name Crusade vs. #6 Charlie Brown
In the other quarterfinal matchup, the hottest team in the league not name The Dix takes on a 2-11 Charlie Brown team that has been playing very well recently, nearly pulling off an upset of Big Willie Style last week for 3 in a row.  The Jones Crusade is favored to win this game 47-32, but the two player that played on Thursday night would adjust that prediction to 46-34, as the one Crusader did worse than predicted and Donald Jones had two more points than predicted.  This matchup should come down to whether Mo-Jo can put this team on his back come playoff time and carry them to victory.  Doogan has the big decision of second running back and, for now, he is going with Thomas Jones, but that can change.  To pull off the upset, Charlie Brown will need a good day from kicker Josh Brown and a BIG day from Dolphins star, Ronnie Brown.

The winner of this game will meet Big Willie Style in the semifinals, while the loser will play the loser of the other quarterfinal for 5th place.

Temple-Georgetown Preview

Lavoy needs to deliver

The 9th-ranked Georgetown Hoyas will travel to North Philly tonight to play Temple in what could end up being the single most important regular-season game for the Owls this year.  Temple has made the tournament three straight years now, but after three straight 1st Round exits, they came into this season nationally-ranked and looking to get over the hump and make some noise in March.

Following two ugly losses to underwhelming Cal and Texas A&M at the Old Spice Classic last month, the Owls tumbled out of the rankings.  They beat Maryland on the road in their last game, which should end up being at least a solid win, if not a very good one.  Now, they need to carry that momentum into tonight’s game and knock off the Hoyas.

This game is crucial, not just because it’s against a Top Ten team, but because the only other projected tournament team that will come to the Liacouras Center this year is Richmond.  Temple plays Nova and Duke on the road, and their only games against Xavier and Dayton will be played in Ohio.  That means that tonight’s game is their best chance to land the kind of marquee win that impresses the selection committee in March.

Here are the keys to an Owls win:

1. Make the size advantage count:  This not Patrick Ewing’s or Alonzo Mourning’s or even Roy Hibbert’s Georgetown Hoyas.  Their starting line-up is the classic “small” team of three guards, a small forward, and a power forward.  With the stress on passing and off-the-ball movement that John Thompson III’s offense features, that makes them tough to guard.  But Temple will have a size advantage at every position.  With a legit PF (and rebounding machine) in Lavoy Allen and a legit center in Michael Eric, the Owls have to dominate the boards and refuse to settle for outside shots on the offensive end.  If they’re successful in doing that, look for Thompson to use his big men off the bench more (Sims and Lubick), but that will create other opportunities for the Owls.  The key is to get them out of their comfort zone.

2. Make your long-distance shots:  I know, I just said the Owls can’t settle for jump shots, but you can’t win if you don’t hit a few, and it’s been an agonizing struggle for this team to do even that this year.  They come into the game shooting 23% as a team from beyond the arc.  The first order of business: Ramone Moore just needs to stop shooting them.  He’s easily the best slasher on the team, but he made just 5 of 40 3’s last year, and he’s 3 for 19 so far this year.  It’s not working, Ramone.  Just keep putting the ball on the floor.  Juan Fernandez needs to find his stroke, though.  After shooting 45% last year, and making 73, he’s made just 24% this year.  Scootie Randall and Norristown-native Khalif Wyatt, who’s been a very pleasant surprise, can also help out from long-range.

3. Control the tempo:  In case it hasn’t been made clear already, this game is a clash of styles and a match-up of teams with very different strengths.  The Hoyas have been incredibly efficient at the offensive end and their three guards, Austin Freeman, Chris Wright, and Jason Clark, are all very dangerous.  They will look to push the pace and take a lot of shots because, well, they’re very good at making those shots.  Juan Fernandez needs to be in control of the game, keep things moving slowly, and make this a half-court slugfest.  No matter what, the Owl perimeter players need to bring their A-games defensively.  Freeman is one of the best scorers in the country.  Moore (and maybe Rahlir Jefferson?) will have to be physical and aggressive in stopping the strong and skilled Hoya guard.