Take It from the Top

Well, it’s certainly been a looooong time since my fingers have rapped the keys and I’ve put thoughts to keyboard on this blog of mine. For the very minute few of you that actually wondered if I’d forgotten about this blog, the answer is no.

I’d explored other options with the blog after certain people read my AAC preview and as full-time employment opportunities arose, so too did my level of concentration on things other than this site. I know it’s not much to behold when you see it but it’s something important to me.

Having said all that, I truly do want to get more involved in this and hone my writing and abilities. The only ways to improve and thrive in the business of sportswriting and journalism is to be smart, work your ass off and be the best you absolutely can with all the ability/work ethic you can muster. I’m not saying I’m going to be Wright Thompson or Rick Reilly or Peter King or anybody like that. But those guys work their asses off and I’m going to try and do that too.

This blog started out as just a vague sports-related site for me to stream-of-consciousness blather on about every possible thing. I think I’d like to perhaps narrow it down to college football/college hoops with a smattering of NFL/NBA mixed in. It’s going to be a lot of Buckeye-related talk and a lot of what I love.

Words don’t describe enough how much I want your input on this. PLEASE. Tell me what you want to read about. Tell me what you want to see (more videos, more links, etc.). Just because these are my thoughts doesn’t mean I don’t care about the opinions of those who are reading them. (Unless they disagree with me. Then screw ’em).

With that, I bid adieu for this post. Please comment below with any thoughts/ideas/concerns/questions. I would be overjoyed to answer them!

2013-14 CBB Preview: Who? What? Where?

With the World Series just beginning, college and professional football very much in full swing, the NHL just getting started and the NBA tipping off, there’s one upcoming sports season that nobody’s remembering……COLLEGE! FREAKING! HOOPS!

Oh wait. Nobody (save for sports nerds like me, raging gambling addicts and Dick Vitale) gets hyped for regular season college basketball. A variety of reasons are to blame for this, whether it’s the idiotic one-and-done rule that causes guys like John Calipari at Kentucky and others to basically catch as many 5-star kids and keep them out of jail/expulsion for a semester before they jump to Da League or the overall slower-is-better, coach-heavy concepts that have overrun college hoops which sometimes lead to abominations like this or this or a whole season’s worth of this.

(Just a second, I need to get some water to wash down the bile that came up when I read that last link.)

I’m back. And with me comes a refresher course, at no charge, of the 2013-14 college basketball landscape. The season begins on November 8 (holy crap, that’s in two weeks!), so I’ll break down all the major conferences and a few mid-majors, recap the changes that have occurred due to REALIGNING ALL THE CONFERENCES!, and give you my picks on Player of the Year, Newcomer of the Year, and conference champions for the regular season. The plan is to have each conference be previewed each day for the next few days and we’ll see how it goes.

Good? Good.

We’ll start off with the conference nobody understands (mostly because we have no idea who’s in it), the grand old American Athletic Conference.

Recap: Well the whole damn thing needs recapped, because it’s brand spanking new. The unholy offspring of what was the behemoth known as the Big East has holdovers Cincinnati, UConn, and South Florida, a pair of teams in purgatory in future B1G team Rutgers and defending champion and ACC brethren Louisville, and a bunch of random C-USA squads in Memphis, Houston, SMU, and UCF. Oh yeah and Temple. See, now you know.

Thoughts: Though we know who’s in the league and presumably who the favorite will be (Louisville), we don’t know what it’s really going to look like and be perceived as the season progresses. Memphis is a solid postseason pick under Josh “Babyface” Pastner as is Cincinnati and Temple and perhaps Houston. UConn, with sparkplug PG Shabazz Napier, could make some noise on a national level as they’re finally able to get back to the Big Dance. But will anyone care? The powerhouses in the Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and the monstrous ACC will undoubtedly overshadow this oddly named conference and keep it under the radar most of the year.

Champion: It has to be Louisville. Returning national champs with much of that squad intact in guard Russ Smith (Sr.), forwards Luke Hancock (Sr.), Wayne Black Shear (Jr.) and Montrezl (not a clue on how to pronounce that) Harrell (So.). Not to mention the “Bro, if you never played basketball again, nobody’d be mad” all-time award winner, Kevin Ware. The fact that that kid wants to play basketball after viewing his own shin bone is incredible enough to me and with a living legend and future subject of my own made-up biopic starring Al Pacino in Rick Pitino, the Cardinals will reign supreme over the major conference that sure doesn’t feel like one.

POY: Shabazz Napier, Senior G, UConn. In a lame-duck year that saw him lose Alex Oriahki and Roscoe “I’ll be Internet-infamous for this forever” Smith, Napier had a great season, averaging 17.1 points, 4.6 assists, and 4.4 rebounds per game while shooting .441/.398/.819 (FG/3PT/FT), all improvements from the year before (except for assists per). I fully expect him to bump it up another level and earn conference and perhaps national honors in 2013-14.

NOY: Austin Nichols, 6-8, 200 PF, Memphis. Somehow a tall, lanky white kid from Appalachia decided not to go to Duke. Who woulda thunk it? No. 15 in the ESPN100 rankings, Nichols is kinda skinny but is sneaky athletic from the highlights of him I’ve seen. He can drive the lane, defend shots and is athletic enough to run the floor without holding up an up-tempo style. Not saying he’s going to be the taller version of JimmerMania, but the kid can ball and can get some buckets and that’s what Pastner will need to help out guys like Joe Jackson and Chris Crawford on the scoring end.

Back from Vacation (kind of)

Guess who’s baaaaaaaaaackkkkkkkk?!

With the summer nearly completed and everyone headed back to their respective colleges and universities and thus stuck in front of computers until Thanksgiving break, I thought it would be the perfect time to get back into the blogging swing.

Actually, this longer-than-intended break is the combined result of a spiderweb crack in my laptop screen, relatively incredible weather here in northwest Ohio and my “ehh, I’ll do it tomorrow” mentality towards Gross Thoughts. But, with only six days left of my summer vacation, I thought to myself, “What better way to spend my time than yammering my random sports opinions to complete strangers?” Wait….

Anyway, I’m really hoping to get some serious input from anyone reading my posts as to what kind of content you guys want to see. Whether it’s high school, college, pro in any sport, or just something you’d like to see more of….PLEASE. COMMENT. I’d be more than happy to give the public what they desire. I’ll try to incorporate more links, videos, interactive media (polls, etc.) and all that jive as I get a better handle on this WordPress setup that I am admittedly not a master at.

Having said that, I’ll be attaching a link to this post on Facebook and Twitter. Feel free to comment on here with your thoughts and concerns or reply on both of those bastions of social media/hubs of procrastination. Seriously. Comment. Do it now.

-A

On to the Next One: NBA 2nd Round

First of all, sorry to all of you out there who were waiting with bated breath for my next blog post. I know the demand for more hot, fresh knowledge from yours truly was so high that I heard protests were being planned to force my fingers to the keyboard. (At this point, I don’t think my tongue could be planted even more firmly in cheek).

For real doe, I’ve just been busy with the last few weeks of the semester and now that it’s my summer break, I’ve got much more free time to get some blogs in. Today’s edition (titled after one of my favorite Jay-Z songs) is about the Conference Semifinals in the NATIONAL. BASKETBALL. ASSOCIATION.

One round is out of the way with some surprises, some expected results, and a lot of blowouts. A lot. Out of 45 first-round games, 25 were won by at least 10 points. Series like Indiana-Atlanta (which was honestly a snooze fest) had blowouts in all but one game. A series that got nauseous amounts of hype (Boston-New York) was seriously (no pun intended) a showcase of mediocre shooting and chucking from Carmelo Anthony (we’ll talk more about him later).  The Lakers, who made up a big chunk of ESPN’s debate programming this year, were got beat by an average of 18.75 points per game by San Antonio. Having described all the doom and gloom, there were some pretty cool moments of the first round.

Like this….

Or this….

Or even this….

That last one though, I seriously don’t even know how the NBA continues with this guy. Just Youtube “Joey Crawford NBA” and you’ll see what I mean.

But now it’s the conference semifinals. We’re finally starting to whittle down the best of the best. Let’s break down each series and I’ll give you a prediction for each one. (Yes I know, this ones going in after 2 Game 1’s have been played but those first games didn’t change my opinion of who was going to win those series. I promise.)

Let’s start in the East with Miami (1) against Chicago (5). Miami is well-rested and is the overwhelming favorite to win the whole thing. The newly crowned MVP LeBron James is motivated to repeat and to eliminate a hated rival along the way. Chicago, with their roster of spinal-tapped, plantar fasciited, hamstrung bllers had to scratch and claw through a 7-game series with Brooklyn that sapped much of their energy. Even with the rumor mills a-churnin’ that Derrick Rose may make a return for the Windy Warriors, common sense tells you that Miami should blow past these guys. But I’m not sold. Noah has been “putting da team on his back doe” and has emerged as a defensive superstar (even though I still don’t like him as a person) and Tom Thibodeau has this team as cohesive as I’ve ever seen. Chicago won’t win this series but I can’t see them getting swept. So I say, Heat in 6.

Next, Knicks (2) vs. Pacers (3). The Nap took Game 1 in a game that wasn’t as close as the 7-point margin would indicate. The way the Knicks play (shoot threes first, shoot more threes, shoot even more threes while watching Melo run isolation plays on half their possessions) plays right into the best defensive team in the East’s game plan. As someone that loves good basketball, the Knicks are the poster child of what the NBA shouldn’t be. Carmelo, who in my opinion is one of the most overrated players in the league even as an elite scorer, is bringing this team down. Unless he somehow flicks a switch and involves his shooters and teammates in a positive way and the Knicks shake this nasty shooting slump, Indy’s going to win this series going away. Personally, I don’t think Frank Vogel’s team is going to let that slump end. I’ll take Pacers in 5.

In the West, we start with Oklahoma City (1) vs Memphis (5). This was honestly the most tough series to predict for me. With OKC taking Game 1 at home, you’d think I’d choose the Fighting Durantulas because they already have a win under their belt. If the Thunder had the services of Russell Westbrook, I wouldn’t be even debating this. But with Durant needing to bail this team out after trailing by 12 in the third quarter and the way Memphis knows their identity, I can’t help but think the Griz can pull the upset. Memphis has bucked the perimeter-centric trend that most NBA teams have bought into and have placed their hopes on the burly shoulders of Zachary “Z-Bo” Randolph and Marc “Yeah I’m the better” Gasol inside. Not saying Memphis has a bunch of perimeter scrubs (Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Jerryd Bayless, Quincy Pondexter), but the post will set them free. After seeing LeBron James not have enough weapons around him to bring a title to my Cavaliers, I just can’t think that Durant can do this all by himself. Series? Grizzlies in 6.

Finally, we’ve got the Spurs (2) against the Warriors (6). With Westbrook being gone for OKC, I think the ultra-consistent Spurs might just be the favorites out West. Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker are primed for one more title go-round and their integration of youth into their core with Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Cory Joseph, Gary Neal, and Tiago Splitter make this a team to be reckoned with. They’re not flashy, they’re not plodding, they’re just freaking efficient. They know what to do in almost every situation and with one of the best coaches in the game in Gregg Popovich, I’m not sure how to pick against them. I love what Golden State did in the first round to oust Denver and Steph Curry could potentially become a superstar in this league. But the way they almost gave Game 6 away to the Nuggets and all the mistakes this youthful team makes on a regular basis makes me think they’re just a year or two away from being title contenders. So I say, Spurs in 6.

Well there it is. My NBA preview in all its glory. Comment down below. Do it. I thrive on debate

-A

Tragedy: Looking Back while Looking Forward

As everyone who has access to any kind of media knows by now, the city of Boston suffered a great tragedy yesterday. As the injury toll continues to grow (from dozens to 40s to 80s to now a total of 176 injuries and two heartbreaking deaths), so does the outpouring of support and grief towards any victim, injured or otherwise, of such a senseless attack on a bastion of Bostonian tradition.

In times like this, where terror has been in the back of our minds in any similar situation since that September morning almost 12 years ago, emotions run high and nerves run short. Many people, including myself, use sports as a way to escape from those terrible situations, those horrible losses like those in Newtown a few months ago. The irresistible qualities of competition, sportsmanship, uncertainty and love of the game draw us into games going on, no matter what sport is being played. That couple hours of being a spectator and allowing yourself to focus on the entertainment of the players performing at the highest level allows us to block out the harsh, cruel reality that our world provides on a daily basis. But this attack, this invasion into the private world of sport that we so cherish, ruins that. There will be no Boston Marathon run for a long time that does not feel the stigma and wear the stain of the tragedy that happened on April 15. Instead of running for the cause of cancer or heart disease or personal pride or the various motivations that drive participants to put their bodies through a 26.2 mile journey, there will be countless people running in that marathon mourning the loss of their loved ones who cherished the race as much as those left behind will continue to do. That fact is inescapable.

When I started this blog a few weeks ago, I said to myself, “I’m so excited for this opportunity to spread my opinions about sports and to really open up discourse about things I know people care about.” And I will continue to do so for as long as anybody reading these posts will have me. However, I feel obligated to recognize the reality of the world outside sports as well and to put perspective on things that I see as I see them. I wish that situations like this never existed, that the countless stories of perseverance, athletic skill, and determination were the only storylines that the world would read about this annual tradition. But they do. It seems that nothing is sacred anymore. Not a simple flight from one city to another can take off without the loss of innocence and wonder at our technological advances because we have the cold, steely vise of security wrapped around the world of transportation. Massive celebrations of the pinnacles of sports achievement like the Super Bowl, the Final Four, and (highest of all) the Olympic Games are scrutinized and overseen with the focus of a hawk because of events like what happened in 1996 in Atlanta and at the 1972 games in Munich. It seems that the trust we place in the world as a child and a young adult gets broken earlier and earlier as the years progress.

For all those who are focused on “Who did this?”, you’re well within your right to ask that. Everyone wants to know who could have done these terrible things to innocent people, especially taking the life of an eight-year-old child. But please, I beg you, do not spew hate. Do not stereotype any group of people or jump to conclusions about potential perpetrators because of prior events. Mourn the lives lost and pray (or the equivalent for those not religiously affiliated) for those who were left behind and will be dealing with the aftereffects for a long time. Living with hate and malice in your heart does no good for yourself or anyone around you and doesn’t help to change the negative things you are so malicious against. Pray for a new and better tomorrow, one where these things don’t exist anymore.

Bonnie Ford, a Olympic sports writer for ESPN.com, penned an article on the tragedy yesterday. The final paragraph of that article really resounded with me and put perspective on how Boston and the country should try and recover from this act.

“Amateur marathoners push themselves for a whole host of reasons. To test their physical and psychological limits. To raise money for worthy causes. To compete. The next time this — or any — marathon is run anywhere in the world, they will run for yet another. To show that the power of communal achievement can be beaten on one day, but not on most days and never indefinitely. And that is what makes sense on a senseless day.”

Think about the journey that those runners went through before the blast, the time after the explosion, and the long hard road to recovery after the day was finished.

Again, I urge anyone reading to post your thoughts on the tragedy, my post on it, and any comments or concerns you may have. I welcome the discourse and any thoughts you’d like to share.

Bonnie Ford article (good read): http://espn.go.com/boston/story/_/id/9175969/endurance-sports-explosions-cut-core-boston-marathon

Charles Pierce article on Grantland (also recommended): http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/9176985/boston-marathon-explosion

Spring is in the Air

Well, the cycle of sports is coming to a crossroads in the next few weeks. The maelstrom of March Madness ends on Monday, the NBA playoffs are fast approaching, the NHL’s regular season is about 10 games away from ending, and the NFL draft is the only football-related thing to really look forward to until August. (Wait, did I just say that out loud? Depression mode, engage.)

Some are looking at this upcoming stretch and thinking, “Great. Now all I get to see is baseball all freaking day. All the geezers will stay happy but I’ll be bored out of my mind.” But I’m here to tell you that this time is one of the best in sports and one of the most unique.

Due to the extended game of chicken between guys in suits this past fall, the NHL has turned in a truncated product that has been surprisingly entertaining. 48 games. That’s it. If you think hockey’s boring and “I can’t find the puck” and “This sport’s just for Canadians and weirdos in Minnesota”, you’re missing out. In case you’ve missed it so far, Chicago had the best run to start a season in NHL history (21-0-3), Anaheim and Pittsburgh have been so hot, their facilities crews are working overtime (the latter racking up 15 consecutive wins), and teams like Columbus, Edmonton, and Winnipeg have surprised everyone by being right there in the hunt for a previously unheard-of playoff spot. If you’re a sports fan and storylines like that don’t interest you, you seriously need to find a pulse. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think that Commish Dave Bettman planned the whole thing to make a more interesting season. Wait….

The NBA playoffs are coming up too and are as good as ever. Although my Cavaliers are in the eternal struggle, having dropped 10 straight to fall to 22-52, the teams that do have hope for the second season are reaching the homestretch. All roads that lead to a title will inevitably wind through the sunny (and oft-bandwagon traveled) streets of South Beach, Florida and American Airlines Arena. Any team out there that thinks they can beat Miami not once, but 4 times, more power to you. LeBron unbelievably seems to be still on the upper slope of his career trajectory (as much as the bile rising from my stomach seems to disagree) and doesn’t show any signs of stopping. The question that everyone is asking going into these playoffs isn’t “Who’s going to win the NBA title?” but rather, “Can anybody in the league beat Miami?”

That kind of perspective is something that we as sports fans haven’t asked about a team since the Kobe/Shaq Lakers threepeat of 2000-2002 and more notably Jordan’s Bulls. But let’s go down the list of contenders, starting with their Eastern Conference brethren:

  • New York. (48-26) Although it seems they’ve raided the nursing home for roster members (6 players at 35 or older), their trey-happy and Mel0-centric style of basketball has led them to the second seed in the East. Though any reasonable NBA fan knows they may not be any kind of title favorite because of their streakiness, I definitely see them as the kind of team that puts a little scare into Miami or Indiana.
  • Speaking of Indiana (48-27), Frank Vogel’s defensively-savvy Pacers allow the second-fewest points in the league and have the highest rebounding margin in the league (+5.4 pg). They’re obviously not scared of Miami after their testy six-game series last year and aren’t afraid to fight with anyone.
  • San Antonio. (56-20) The second best record in the league for probably the most underrated franchise in sports. They’ve had 14(!) consecutive seasons of 50 or more wins. 14! Even though their core is aging, they’ve integrated young stars like Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter, DeJuan Blair, and Danny Green into a powerhouse edition of a great franchise.
  • Oklahoma City. (55-20) Last year’s Western Conference champions are back, even without their third amigo, James Harden. The pain of losing to the Heat in last year’s Finals still resounds with this team that is tied for the league lead in scoring and outscores their opponents by almost 10 points per game (106.0-96.8). Scott Brooks has this squad on a mission to return to the Finals (presumably against Miami) and finish what they started last year.
  • Denver. (55-24) George Karl has this team flying high (See that? An altitude pun!) Ty Lawson, Andre Iguodala, JaVale McGee, and a surprisingly good Kosta Koufos have created a seriously entertaining product. The loss of Danilo Gallinari to a torn ACL is concerning, though. His shooting and athleticism was key to the success of the Nuggets this year and his absence may be the factor that stops them from reaching the promised land just yet.
  • The Clippers. (50-26). Lob City is resurgent and having a historic season, taking the franchise to unprecedented heights. Chris Paul, the league’s best point guard, has almost completely revolutionized this team and put them in the right direction. Pieces like Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Blake Grffin, and DeAndre Jordan are going to take this team to new heights. Maybe not championship heights just yet.
  • Golden Hou-phis. This amalgamation of the Warriors, Rockets, and Grizzlies are a trio of teams that know who they are (the first two being scoring factories that are lacking on the other end of the floor and the last having the opposite problem) and can put a scare into a higher seed. None of them will truly win four 4-of-7 series in a row but have enough talent to not get swept.

Well, this is my first real post. Any questions, concerns, debate topics, and hate mail can be directed to the comment portion of the blog. Hope you liked it and you’re a better sports fan for it.

-AG

(All stats can be found at ESPN.com)

First Post!

Well this is the beginning of something I hope will be really awesome. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Aaron Gross. I’m currently finishing up my junior year at Defiance College as a Sports Management major. Sports, especially broadcasting and journalism, is my passion and I love to debate and comment on sports at all levels. To prepare you for the content you’ll be reading, here’s a list of the teams I follow:

  • Ohio State Buckeyes Football
  • Cleveland Indians Baseball
  • Cleveland Cavaliers Basketball
  • Duke Blue Devils Basketball
  • Columbus Blue Jackets Hockey
  • Tottenham Hotspur Soccer (EPL)
  • Northwest Ohio HS Football and Basketball (NWC, GMC, WBL, NWOAL, etc.)

I’ll also try to post about current sports issues in general going on at the time (Mike Rice firing, etc.) to keep people updated. Much of the information I find to support my arguments can be found on sites like ESPN.com or SI.com and I will post links for anybody interested in learning more.

If there’s something any reader would like to have addressed or anything like that, feel free to say something to me about it, whether through comments on here or at my Facebook/Twitter pages. Any criticism and comments are welcomed and greatly appreciated. Thanks and here goes nothing!

-Aaron

P.S. Shoutout to the pride of the University of Evansville, Greg McCullough for the inspiration for the blog title.