College Football

Thursday, February 16, 2017


By Alex Gordon and Joe Smeltzer
2011-12: It seems so long ago…  

Only six seasons ago the Philadelphia 76ers went to the conference semi-finals and battled the Lebron era Heat. Most will point out it was a fluke that they were there in the first place. They were the eighth seed, going up against a prime Derrick Rose Bull’s team, and if not for an untimely injury to the Bull’s star, they probably would have been quickly dismissed. That’s inconsequential in the scope of the process. Point being the Sixers were, relatively recently, a qualified NBA team. In the context of past playoff droughts, the Sixers ineptitude over the last few years are a blip on the radar. Granted they will most likely pass their franchise record of seven years without a playoff berth next season, but the longest time a franchise has gone without making the playoffs is the Clippers with 15 seasons. The Timberwolves have an active 12 season streak; the Warriors have two separate 12 and 9 season stretches of playoff virginity within the last 35 years.  Failure for an NBA team over this extended period is almost always due to faulty management.  Questionable signings missed draft picks, and “win now” deals that salvage the future for making a bleak present slightly brighter, are what cause these periods of prolonged underperformance. This isn’t Philadelphia's problem. However, management throughout has known what they’re doing. Because of this, the valleys of the process have been some of the lowest ever. What we are beginning to see, though, is the peaks might be just as high. 

2012-13: The Bynasty

Never forget

The Sixers were supposed to be a team on the rise before all of this started. Despite Iguodala leaving in free agency, Philadelphia's front office was attempting to form a young core around Andrew Bynum, their marquee acquisition that off-season. What’s funny is at the time this was feasible.  The season prior, Bynum was playing like the best center in the league with the Lakers, Jrue Holliday seemed like an up-and-coming star point guard.  Forces outside their control derailed this dream before it even had a chance, though. Bynum never played a game for the Sixers; his knees failed him over and over again, it was absurd to the point of managing to aggravate them while bowling.  He had season-ending surgery on both knees March 19th, and almost every other significant Sixer missed time as well.  This strange, faded, the season is what laid the groundwork for the team to tank as egregiously as any organization in league history.  What’s odd is that it came out of an aggressive, and at the time, reasonable attempt to change the course of the franchise for the better. Odder still is it may have done just that in an incredibly roundabout way.         
Joe: 2013-14: MCW to the rescue
After that 34-48 finish in 2012-13, the Sixers began their run as a laughing stock. It started on June 27th, 2013. Here, Philidelphia made a controversial decision to trade away one of their few star players, point guard Jrue Holliday, for the draft rights of Kentucky big man Nerlens Noel. As talented as Noel was, he was equally prone to get hurt, and we have yet to see what he can become in the NBA. With the Sixers other first round pick, they took a point guard from Syracuse named Michael-Carter Williams. It’s not often that a first-round pick gets traded less than two years after his arrival. It’s even rarer that the said first-round pick gets the boot after winning Rookie of the Year. Well, both of those things happened to MCW. 

Carter-Williams was about the only good thing about the Sixers in 2013-14. The rest is self-explanatory; 19-63. A 15 win drop off. So, considering that, the eventual trade of Michael Carter-Williams seems like a horrible, horrible idea. But as it turns out, it was a wise decision by the Sixers front office. In exchange, the Sixers would receive a future draft pick, and MCW has since gone somewhat down the tubes. 
 As many experts agree, it’s better to be awful than mediocre, and to me, this season was where the “process” began. 
Still Joe: 2014-15: Embiid is here!
Well, not really. Joel Embiid was the Sixers #1 overall draft choice. But he was hurt for all of what would have been his rookie season, so Philly had to wait. The process was in full swing, as tthe Sixers went 18-64.  By now, everybody who follows the game of basketball knew what this team's agenda was; lose, and lose a lot. Philidelphia was so awful that many speculated that 2015’s best college team, the Kentucky Wildcats, could whip them is the two teams were to meet. As bad as Philidelphia was, there was still hope, as although he was injured, Embiid was still a member of the organization, and fans could not wait to see what would happen once he was healthy enough to hit the floor. Not only was Embiid now (hopefully) in the fold, another crappy year meant that the Sixers would get another top 5 draft choice..

It's still Joe: 2015-16: Ja Rules
With the second pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, the 76ers selected Jahlil Okafor. Okafor got off to a rocky start, beat up some guys, and again, the Sixers stunk. However, as bad as the Sixers seemed to be, it felt as if the fewer games they won, the more optimistic their outlook was. 
Yes, the Sixers finished the year at 10-72. But young, scrappy players like T.J. McConnel, Ish Smith, Robert Covington, and, when his head was on straight, Jahlil Okafor, were reasons to get excited about the future. Another thing 2015-16 showed was that Brett Brown was the right man for the job, as with every loss, it seemed the head man stayed optimistic. 
The native of Portland, Oregon, had gone from cutting his teeth with Greg Popovich and the Spurs, and winning a lot, to running a ship that some thought was sinking. But Brown kept at it, and now we are starting to see, at least the effort of the squad, come to fruition.
Also, the big man's debut was just around the corner. 


Alex: 2016-17: The year of Embiid

At the All-Star break, the Sixers already have eleven more wins than they did all last season. Brian Colangelo made smart moves after replacing Sam Hinkie, bringing in veterans like Gerald Henderson, Jerryd Bayless, and Sergio Rodriguez to provide some wisdom in a locker room full of early twenty-somethings. The obvious reason for their improvement is Joel Embiid. Finally healthy, the big fella is evolving into a superstar. They have a bunch of interesting pieces around him. Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor are probably the most intriguing, not because of what they could do for the Sixers, but what they could get in return for them. Noel and Okafor are still young, and even though they both have flaws in their game, there are teams that would love to get their hands on these guys. If Philly can get the right pieces in return for them, then you could see the beginnings of a dangerous nucleus around Embiid and Ben Simmons (who is yet to play this season). All this on top of the fact that they will, in all likelihood, be near the top of this year's draft again.  Could this backfire still? Of course. Embiid’s injury history is seriously concerning, especially for a young center. Simmons is yet to show he can make shots reliably from the outside, which will be critical if he’s paired with Embiid.  What’s incredible to me is, for all the argument over the audacity of what the Sixers were doing (an opposition so loud it cost the plan’s architect his job), watching the Sixers now, as cheers of “trust the process” rain down on Embiid at the line, a bright future seems just as likely as a dark one, and potentially sooner than anyone thought.  

Back to Joe: Things are looking up. The franchise that was the subject of dinner-table humor less than a year ago is now looking to turn the corner. The Sixers are not the most talented team in the Eastern Conference. Far from it, in fact. But they have a strong work ethic, at least one budding superstar, and a head coach that has learned how to weather the storm. There is still work to be done, but there is no question that Philidelphia is headed up. Take notes, New York Knicks. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

An ode to Pittsburgh's greatest unsung hero

Photo creds to Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Throughout the history of sports in our great city, there have been a lot of legendary sports figures, and because of that, many other characters get lost in the shuffle.

Great examples of this are Chuck Cooper, the Duquesne grad who was the first black man drafted in the NBA, as well as Fritzie Zivic, who was once welterweight champion of the world. Or Pete Maravich, who many forget came from Alliquppia. However, as far as unsung heroes go, one man shines above all.

The man is currently 82-years young. Although he resides in Bridgeport, Connecticut, he is a native of Kittanning, PA. He is an intellectual, with a B.S. from Yale, and a J.D. from the University of Pittsburgh. For seven years, he served in the Pennsylvania State Senate. Now, how does any of this add up to "sports icon?" Well, not only was this man a wise, Republican politician, he also accomplished the small feat of creating the Pittsburgh Penguins.

It all started in the spring of 1965. Senator Jack McGregor was riding in a car with one of his Pitt buddies, a gentleman by the name of Peter Block. During the trip, McGregor commented that Pittsburgh would never reach it's full potential as a sports town until it got a professional hockey team.

The comment seems simple enough. But when broken down, it's quite astonishing. Back in 1965, the NHL had just six teams, and although hockey fans were a passionate group, there just weren't very many of them compared to the other main American sports. So, the fact that McGregor would feel the need to make such a comment, seemingly out of the blue, is intriguing. Little did either of those two men know, however, that it would start a snowball.
McGregor (left) and I think you might recognize the guy in the middle. 

At this time, the NHL was on the verge of expansion, as six new franchises were set to enter the league. One of the key issues, naturally,  was where these franchises would play. The odds did not look good for Pittsburgh. The "City of Champions" that we know today did not exist in 1965, as the Steelers stunk and the Pirates were still a club in transition. On top of that, Pittsburgh was not a big  financial market. What it did have, however, was the charming presence of Arthur J. Rooney.

Although Rooney's Steelers were, at that time, the laughing stock of the National Football League, "The Chief" was still a respected figure in the sports world. It just so happened that two of Rooney's horse-betting buddies, the Norris brothers, James and Bruce, had two of the six votes as to what city; Pittsburgh or Buffalo, would be awarded a franchise. Word had it that these two men were leaning towards Buffalo. So McGregor turned to Rooney, and Rooney would make sure that Pittsburgh got a hockey team. He called the Norris brothers, and swayed them to our side. On Feburary 8th, 1966, the National Hockey League awarded a franchise to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The team was named the Penguins, and would play their first game in the league in the fall of 1967.

McGregor and Block would only own the Penguins until March of 1968. Although he wasn't associated with hockey for long, McGregor should be well known for being the man who created the four-time Stanley Cup Champions. Although, technically, he and Block were co-owners of the club, it was McGregor that had the whole idea to begin with. But, although McGregor is still alive, it seems that only hardcore  fans would recognize his name if I were to bring it up in a public setting.

It's easy to see why Art Rooney is such an iconic figure in our city, as not only did he create our precious Steelers, he also owned them for 30+ years before handing the team down to his son, Dan. Barney Dreyfuss, the man who virtually created the Pittsburgh Pirates,  is not as well known as Rooney, and this is largely because he passed away 84 years ago. Even still, a photograph of Dreyfuss in his classic Derby hat is likely to ring a bell with a majority of Pirates fans. But how many Penguins fans would recognize an image of McGregor?

This man was not flashy. He did not have a trademark feature like Rooney did with his cigar. He was barley associated with sports at all, as he was a senator with ambition, and he did not stay in the hockey business for long. All of this contributes to why McGregor falls under the radar. But he shouldn't.

Normally, I would criticize my readers for not knowing their history as well as they should. However, to do that in this instance would be hypocritical. I too did not know anything about Jack McGregor until recently viewing the excellent "Pittsburgh is Home" documentary. As somebody who loves him some history, especially when it comes to sports, I have always understood how important it is to know the background of the team that you love. Too many Penguin fans of my generation cheer on Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, and think that that is the sole purpose of being a fan. I disagree.

Maybe it's because I'm my father's son, but I can't imagine loving something and not knowing the history behind it. Sure, Penguin fans know bits and pieces. Most know about Kevin Stevens, Mario Lemieux, Ron Francis and those who contributed to championships before their time. But my hope for this article is to get the young fans, and even a lot of the older fans, to realize that without Jack McGregor, Mario Lemieux would not have been Mario Lemieux. Sidney Crosby would not be the same Sidney Crosby. The Civic Arena may well have hosted operas for all eternity. A lot would be different, and not for the better.

But McGregor did speak up on what turned out to be the most productive car-ride between colleagues in Pittsburgh history. Four Stanley Cups and millions of memories later, I think everybody who has ever loved the Pittsburgh Penguins should be greatful for Jack Edwin McGregor.

Monday, February 6, 2017

NFL season= Salvaged

By: Joe Smeltzer

The greatest football game ever played.

It feels like we experience one of these every year. We thought we had it with Super Bowl 49. Before that, we thought we had it with Super Bowl 43. Before that, 42. But last night, we saw one that may; and I said may, have topped them all.

That is not to downplay other great Super Bowl games and moments, as there have been so many of them through the years. From Jackie Smith's dropped pass to Scott Norwood's miss to the Denver Broncos getting one "for John," to Pete Carrol's decision making, the Super Bowl has given us so many special memories over the years. But Sunday, February 6th, 2017, was something, unlike anything we've ever seen before.

As the big game drew near, my enthusiasm wasn't too high. I wrote in an earlier piece that the NFL postseason had been so weak that I saw minimal reason to get overly excited about its climax. On the surface, the backstory to this affair seemed intriguing enough. On one side was the establish veterans, while on the other were the new kids on the block, trying to prove that they belonged. However, because of previous disappointments, I had my doubts. Those doubts went away towards the end of the first half of the big game.

Yes, it looked like a blowout. But as far as blowouts go, this one was pretty fascinating. In what had to be a surprise to all rational civilians, the upstart Falcons pounded on the polished Patriots, getting out to a 21-3 halftime lead. Wow, this is pretty impressive. It looks like we may be seeing the passing of the torch. Bye bye, beautiful boy with the hot wife. Hello, Matty Ice!

The second half started, and it was more of the same, and with 8:31 left in the third quarter, the scoreboard read; Falcons 28, Patriots 3. The young guy was going to have his big moment, while Old Yeller was about to be put to sleep. Most of America was euphoric. The bully who always took your lunch money was finally getting beat up. Justice was about to prevail.

It seemed to make perfect sense for old yeller to go down. For the young guns to prevail over the enemy. But the tables turned. The established ones scored. Then they scored again. Now, it was a one-possession game. But never to fear. The deficit had to be too big to conquer. The birdies had to get their crown.

Atlanta took over, and they drove down the field, receiving a big boost from the magnificence of Julio Jones. Game over, right. Well, maybe so, if only Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan had a brain. But not so fast, as the New England Patriots tend to make smart coaches dumb. The Falcons passed the ball when they should have played it safe and ran it. As a result, they were forced to punt, and at this point, we all saw how this one was ending.

Now, the stage was set for the greatest quarterback in NFL history to prove, once again, that he is the greatest quarterback in NFL history. He did just that- aided by the greatness of Kent State legend Julien Edleman, and tied the game at 28, and the prediction of my college friend Mitch was right on the money. For the first time in Super Bowl history, we had overtime.

One drive. One touchdown. Five Superbowl Championships. Pats win, and the rest of the world is pissed off. I, for one, was far from upset.

While I understand why people hate the New England Patriots- the cheating, the winning, the arrogance, I have grown to like the jerks over the past three years or so. I've come to appreciate their greatness. I've come to love Tom Brady, and I've grown quite entertained by the various ways in which haters try to diminish all that the Sons of Kraft have accomplished over the past 15 years.

"They cheated!" "All Brady does is throw short passes!" "Everytime the pretty boy gets hit, they throw a flag!" These are all complaints from people who just don't recognize greatness when it is right on their nose. Is it ok to not be happy about greatness? Sure. All I care about is that people understand that it is there. Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time. Nobody has done more with less. Nobody is better when it counts, and nobody has been so good for so long.

The Patriots are the greatest dynasty in NFL history; if they even qualify as such. In most cases, dynasties take place around a 5-10 year window (70s Steelers, 80's 49ers, etc.) However, the Patriots have been winning for 15 years. That exceeds the time of a dynasty. Call it multiple dynasties. Call it a prolonged reign. Whatever the case is; the Patriots are excellent.

Not only are they excellent, they are entertaining. So much so that one could easily make the argument that, of the 15 greatest Super Bowls ever played, seven of them have involved Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. and William Stephen Belichick. Going back to the beginning of this piece, I think last night might have topped them all.

Never before have I seen a torch passing turn into the continuation of a golden legacy. Never before has anybody seen a comeback quite like that on the biggest stage in sports, nor has anybody seen such a contest be decided by one possession. As I began writing this post, I thought that a good portion of my piece would involve me rambling about this being the "greatest game of all time," and my opening paragraph made it seem that I was indeed going that route.

However, I don't want to compare. I want to enjoy, and boy did I. The Super Bowl needed to be big to make up for the awful postseason and underwhelming regular season that came before it. Mission accomplished.

Brad-ketology 2/8/17

By: Bradley Stewart 
Bracketology is not the art of picking the teams who win the NCAA Tournament, but rather the art of picking the teams that will make the NCAA Tournament and what seed they will get.  The Bracket Project a.k.a the Bracket Matrix is a website that puts together a compilation of people's Bracketology's and ranks them based on how they do at the end of the season.  I have been competing on the Bracket Matrix since 2013 and am currently ranked 21st out of 88 Bracketologists.  I am one spot above ESPN's Joe Lunardi.  My best finish every in the Matrix was 6th in 2013.  This is my first Bracketology of the season. It is atypical because I am posting this on the sixth, but the bracket is my prediction as of February 4.  Check back later for future updates.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Super Bowl 51: 3 keys to victory for both teams

Hello, all. It's Super Bowl Sunday. Not a lot more to be said. Let's look at New England, and Atlanta, and remember how they got to the dance.

New England
Plenty of attention was on Foxbourgh, Mass before the 2016 season began. The NFL suspended the greatest quarterback of all time for four games, which meant that it was time for little Jimmy Garopollo to fly. Jimmy G did just that, winning his first two starts at QB, and looking pretty good while doing so. However, the party was over for Jim Jim after week two, as he suffered an injury. Jacoby Brissett was next in line, and he went 1-1. So, after four games, New England sat at 3-1, and the king was back.

Brady made his return on October 9th in Cleveland, and amazingly, the Browns lost. Next up was the Cincinnati Bengals, and New England dispatched of them by a score of 35-17. The turkey of AFC North affairs concluded with a victory over Landry Jones and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Next up was a rematch with the Buffalo Bills, who shut out the Pats when Tom Terrific was MIA. This time, New England rolled 41-25, but the big news was that this contest involved a sex object thrown onto the field by an American hero.

Week 9 was a bye week, and the Pats were back in Week 10, hosting Pete Carrol's Seahawks on a Sunday Night in Foxborough. New England brought out the best in Seattle, as the Seahawks squeaked out a 31-24 win. That would be the last blemish New England would suffer to date.

The Pats won their next seven games by an average of 16 points, as they cruised to the #1 seed in the American Football Conference.

Their first playoff bout was with the Houston Texans, who do not have a quarterback. The Texans fought, but the Pats pulled away for a 34-16 win.

New England beat my Steelers, and that's how they got to the dance.

Atlanta Falcons
Before the season, not a lot of people expected the Atlanta Falcons to be in the position. Well, here they are.

It all started in Week 1, and not in a positive manner. Atlanta hosted division rival Tampa Bay to open the campaign, and they fell by a score of 31-24. Next up was a visit to the black hole, where 396 passing yards from Matt Ryan as well as 106 receiving yards from Julio Jones negated a poor defensive performance, and the birds escaped with a 35-28 win. The next two games were whacky, as the Falcons averaged 46.5 points in victories over New Orleans and Carolina. On October 9th, Atlanta set a tone for the rest of the Denver Broncos season, as they handed Denver their first loss.

The Falcons came back down to earth the next two weeks, with a respectable two-point loss at Seattle, followed by an embarrassing 33-30 loss at home to the hapless Chargers. Atlanta got back on track the next two weeks, however, as they averaged 38 points in wins over Green Bay, as well as a revenge W at Tampa. The roller coaster ride would continue on November 13th in Philly, as the Falcons potent offense sputtered in an ugly 24-15 loss to the Eagles. Atlanta rode two Taylor Gabriel touchdown receptions to a 38-19 victory over Arizona the next week but continued their erratic ways with a loss to Kansas City on December 4th. That would be the last contest the Falcons would drop to date.

Over the rest of the regular season, the Falcons averaged a staggering 38.5 PPG en route to the NFC South title. The playoffs saw more destruction, as with the NFC's #2 seed, Atlanta dispatched of Seattle and Green Bay, and embarssed both of those franchises as well. So, here we are.

Now, here are three keys to victory for each team.

New England
Key #1: Cover Julio Jones
Two years ago, Malcolm Butler made the biggest play of his young career. Today, he has the toughest assignment of his young career, as he will be checking possibly the best receiver in the National Football League. If the Patriots can shut down Jones, it does not mean that they are out of the woods, as Atlanta still has a plethora of other options. However, the less #11 is a factor; the better off New England will be.

Key #2: Short passes
It's what the Pats do better than any team, maybe in NFL history. If New England can perfect the "dink and dunk" game as they did two weeks ago, then Atlanta will be in big, big trouble.

Key #3: Be the Patriots
These guys are the gold standard of the NFL, and make no mistake; they are supposed to win this game. They are more experienced, and they are the better team, with all due respect to the Falcons. Simply put, if the Pats can do what they do and play their game, they won't be defeated.

Key #1: Get everybody involved
Matt Ryan set an NFL record this season by throwing touchdown passes to 13 difference receivers. So, needless to say, the Falcons got some depth. It is very likely that the Patriots have a unique plan to shut down Julio Jones, and it is also likely that they will execute that plan. So, the Falcons need to open it up and spread the ball around. Mohamed Sanu, Tyler Gabriel, and running back Devonta Freeman all have to spread their wings in this the biggest day of their lives.

Key #2: Limit the short pass
If they take away the "dink and dunk" game, then Atlanta will have success against New England's offense. Good luck doing that, tho. It won't be easy.

Key #3: Have some fun
Not only is Atlanta the underdog, which puts less pressure on them than New England, but because of how most of America feels about the Patriots, most people outside of the northeast are pulling for the Falcons today. If the Falcons play like a team that has nothing to lose, and, moreover treats the Super Bowl like it's a blast, then they will be more loose, and more dangerous.

Final Prediction
I love what Atlanta has done this season. However, the New England Patriots are hard to beat. They are great when the pressure is on. They are great when they have two weeks to prepare for one opponent. They are just fantastic in general, and I can't see how they don't get the job done today.

Pats 31, Falcons 20

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Will Super Bowl 51 salvage horribly bland postseason?

By: Joe Smeltzer
Blowouts. Uneventful matchups. Facebook live. Whiny postgame rants. Yes, the 2017 NFL playoffs have stunk.


And for any of us to look back at this postseason with memories of exciting football- those of us not from New England or Atlanta, that is, Super Bowl 51 must deliver, and deliver big time. If it does, then football fans will forget about how horrible this postseason has been overall. If it does not, then they will forget about everything that happened in this postseason.

Here's a recap of just how bad these playoffs have been. Of the ten playoff games, only two were decided by less than ten points, while seven games were by three scores or more. We've seen two promising conference title games go down the tubes, and in a year where the NFL's ratings decrease has been a concern, this all happened at a pretty crummy time. Luckily, there is still hope.

The Super Bowl is, of course, what will end up defining the NFL playoffs. If New England and Atlanta can put together a game for the ages, then all of the depressing statistics I listed above won't matter anymore. Regardless of anything, the Super Bowl is the first thing that will come to mind when most football fans think of the 2017 NFL postseason. But hardcore fans, like myself, will remember the crap that led up to the Super Bowl, and if the big game is a flop, then it will make the rest of the playoffs stand out more.

As for the casual fans, they won't think too much the events leading up to the Super Bowl. Unless something spectacular happens, such as Dwight Clark's catch or "The Music City Miracle," the events leading up to the Super Bowl are mostly forgotten or at least not talked about a lot, aside from the games that involve a certin team. Aside from that incredible Dallas-Green Bay matchup, every single playoff game has been boring.  Every single one. Even the Steelers 18-16 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs was dull. So, the point is, I don't think too many conversations 5-10 years down the line will begin with "hey, remember that great playoff game back in 17?"

However, as awful as this postseason has been, as underwhelming as the games were, and as dull as this NFL season was in general, it is still salvageable.  If we see a Super Bowl goody along the lines of Super Bowl 43 or Super Bowl 49, that will make up for a lot of the crap that has led up to it. If this clash delivers, then the first thing that anybody thinks about when they think of the NFL in 2016-17, logo bias aside, will be positive. If the Super Bowl is a flop, then it will be a fitting end. So, what outcome seems more likely?

On the surface, Super Bowl 51 is pretty intriguing. On one side, you have the kings of the mountain, with the best coach-QB combination in the history of the game. On the other hand, you have the young bulls who most of society wants to knock the kings off of that mountian, a group that is relatively inexperienced when it comes to big-time situations, but still is immensely talented, and deserves to be in this spot. All of these angles are reasons to get excited about the big game. However, I have my doubts.

The main reason for my doubts is, naturally, the New England Patriots. Anytime Bill Belichick has two weeks to prepare for a game, that's trouble. New England has been gifted an extra week to prepare for Matt Ryan and to figure out how to stop Juilo Jones. "Oh, and you know they'll find a way to cheat, hardie harr harr," would be the bitter response. But the Patriots are the Patriots. They are experienced, and they are winners, and with all due respect to Atlanta (and I said with all due respect), I think this Super Bowl will be a case of experience triumphing over youth. I'll explain further in my Super Bowl preview, which will come out later this week.

The second reason that I don't think this Super Bowl will be one that I tell my grandkids about is because, after all of the disappointment that we've seen this postseason as far as quality of play goes, why would I get my hopes up? I thought that Atlanta and Seattle would be a great game. I was wrong. I thought that Atlanta and Green Bay would come down to the wire. I was even more wrong. I thought that Pittsburgh and New England would..., well, yeah. This has been an anticlimatic NFL season altogether, so why should I expect it's climax to be anything different?

No matter what happens on Sunday, the National Football League will still be the most popular sport in North America. The Super Bowl is still worth watching, as watching the winners hoist that silver football is unique regardless of how exciting the game is, and the prospect of either the Falcons winning their first championship or Tom Brady winning his fifth are both exciting possibilities. However, the lack of quality from the NFL this season has led to less interest, and that should be at least somewhat concerning. Hopefully, Super Bowl Sunday reminds us of why we love sports, because said reminders have been few and far between this NFL postseason.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Stallings might not be a solution, but Pitt players are a problem

By: Joe Smeltzer 

How most of Pittsburgh sees Kevin Stallings at the moment. (Photo creds to Sporting News)
Pitt has quit

That's the only logical explanation for Tuesday night's 106-51 debacle (at home, mind you) at the hands of a good but not great Louisville team. I cannot fathom the thought of this Pitt team, which is just three weeks removed from upsetting an excellent Virginia team, and two weeks removed from an 85-80 loss to this same Louisville club on the road, getting embarrassed this badly while giving any effort.

Now, I wouldn't call myself a fan of Pitt's head coach, Kevin Stallings. I felt that his teams underachieved while he was at Vanderbilt, and was highly critical when Pitt's former AD Scott Barnes decided to hire the Kevin Malone look alike to replace Jaime Dixon. Plenty of the criticisms for Stallings are valid, as his team is too talented to be 1-6 in the ACC.

However, the idea that Stallings is the first person to blame for Tuesday night, or, better yet; solely to blame, is ridiculous. Wednesday morning, I read a column written by a very prominent Pittsburgh journalist. Whether it intended to or not, the piece painted a picture of innocent, talented basketball players being sabotaged by an evil clowns. In fact, the writer seemed to be more bothered by his Stallings getting himself ejected from the game than his players removing themselves before tip-off. If Pitt lost by 15, 20, or even thirty points to Louisville, then it could be a case of a coach not getting the most of what he has, and for much of this season, Stallings has fit into that category. But as far as Tuesday night goes, Pitt's players deserve no sympathy.

A lot has been made over Stallings comments the day before Bloody Tuesday. In an interview with 93.7 The Fan, Stallings questioned the leadership of his upperclassmen, among other things. You can read the whole critique here.

If Stallings comments on Monday helped lead to the events on Tuesday, then his players look even worse. Was it smart for Stallings to go after his team's effort in public? Maybe not. But when you break things down did he say anything that wasn't true?

Pitt had been stinking before the Louisville game. They were 1-5 in the ACC, on a four game losing streak, and three of those four games included a drubbing at the hands of lowly Syracuse, a 72-46 squaker against Miami, and a pathetic defensive showing at NC State. So, who could blame Stallings for being frustrated? Who are we to say that he was wrong about his players, and, perhaps more importantly, why didn't the players respond?

If anything, Stallings comments should have pissed his players off enough so that they would have played harder. Take the Knight family, for example. Watch this Bob Knight clip from 1987. Keep in mind, this took place soon after a WIN at Northwestern.

And how did Knight's Indiana team respond? By winning the national championship less than two months after Knight proclaimed them to be "not a very good basketball team."

Bob's son, Pat, was not nearly as good of a basketball coach as his father.  But he had a flash of brilliance in February of 2012, when, after a loss, the Lamar coach ripped into his seniors way worse than Kevin Stallings ever has. How did Knight's players respond? By qualifying for the school's first NCAA tournament just a few weeks later.

Stallings criticisms of his players were far tamer than that of the Knights, and apparently, his players responded by giving up. I understand that not every coach is popular with the players. But Stallings lasted seventeen years at Vanderbilt. Sure, his teams underachieved. But did they ever disgrace their program the way this Pitt team did last night? No. If Stallings' criticisms issued out on Monday had anything to do with the effort on Tuesday, then all Pitt's players did was prove their coach right.

As of right now, it looks like Pitt screwed up by hiring Kevin Stallings as their basketball coach. But there is plenty of blame to go around, and nobody deserves it more than the players who quit. By the way, I hear Ralph Willard is available.