GT-UGA: An Early Look (Published Nov. 14 in Score Atlanta)

A lot can change in three weeks, but it is never too early to take a look at the increasing importance of Georgia Tech-Georgia. A series that has been dominated by the Dawgs this decade may hold bigger circumstances than usual. The dream of Georgia making a final four playoff spot is all but extinguished, but a SEC title is still in reach as far-fetched as it may sound. Surprisingly, the same can be said about Georgia Tech. After a slow start to the season, the Jackets have quietly built an 8-2 record. Back to back losses to Duke and North Carolina in the middle of the season have seemed to humble them. In their three games since the losses Georgia Tech has averaged 49 points per game and has routed the likes of Pittsburgh, Virginia, and North Carolina State.

Some fans say that in order for a rivalry to be a rivalry the other team has to win a few times. Georgia has dominated the series in the 21st century going 12-2 including five straight wins. Tech’s last win came in 2008 when the Jackets were able to outscore the Dawgs 45-42 in a quagmire. There will definitely be some Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate when the two schools meet on Nov. 29th, but will there be a good game? Last season the Bulldogs were able to win in Atlanta 41-34 after Tech raced out to a 20-7 first half lead, but what will happen this year between the hedges?

Georgia Tech’s offense has been clicking on all cylinders since their losses in the middle of the season. Starting B-back Zach Laskey went down with a shoulder injury in the fourth quarter in the loss to North Carolina. Former quarterback and seldom used senior Synjyn Days was asked to step in, and boy did he. Days has rushed for 414 yards in his three starts making him the first Tech running back to rush for over 100 yards in three straight games since Jonathan Dwyer. Quarterback Justin Thomas has amassed 2,075 yards of total offense in his first season as starting quarterback and looks to be one of Coach Paul Johnson’s finest pitch men.

The Dawgs also rely on a strong running game to bludgeon opponents to death. Todd Gurley was a front runner for the Heisman Trophy before his suspension, but the Georgia running game much like Tech’s has not skipped a beat with the absence of their leading rusher. Freshman Nick Chubb has run for 671 yards in his four starts and has emerged as one of the nation’s top young backs. Hutson Mason has struggled at times, but for the most part has done his job in managing the game and not turning the ball over.

The main weakness for both teams is their suspect defenses. Both teams were exposed in their two losses. Georgia got gashed by one of the nation’s weaker offenses in Florida who rammed the ball down their throat for 418 yards. The Jackets have struggled to stop opposing quarterbacks, allowing the 29th most passing yards in the nation. Another key factor in who will win this game will be the quarterback play. Both QBs have looked good at times and both have looked overwhelmed. They are polar opposites of each other. Thomas runs the triple option and is a threat to break a game changing run while Mason likes to sit in the pocket and struggles with his mobility at times getting away from rushers.

If I had to pick a winner of this game, I would have to give the slight edge to Georgia Tech. This very well may be Paul Johnson’s last season with the team, and a win over Georgia might tip the scale one way or the other. Tech will need to load the box and dare Mason to beat them down the field. Georgia’s defense has shown it is susceptible to the rushing attack and that is exactly what Tech will try to do. Georgia Tech will have a nice measuring stick test before the big game when they host Clemson. As fans, all we can ask for is for both teams to come in healthy and give us another great game.

The Future of Derrick Rose

Derrick Rose is a former MVP. A former top ten player in the league. A former superstar. No matter what anyone tells you, his best basketball is in the past. It has been one injury after another which has all but sucked away his mental ability to use his once explosive legs. He will never be a top 10 point guard again. I could see him settling in as a 15 and 6 guy, but the thought of the Bulls being a title contender just due to the fact that Rose is back is absurd. Sure the Bulls will be a strong team in the watered down East, but it looks like it will be more because of Pau Gasol and Tom Thibodeau’s defense then it is Rose.

Rose has begun to look a bit of a mental job. His prior injuries loom in his head. This past week when he was talking about taking games off to save his body for after basketball is just more of a cop out not to play. He is brittle on the court and now has a hamstring problem to go along with banged up ankles. We have seen Rose age from a young superstar into a weary looking guard who can’t string together 10 games. He looked bad last season before re-injuring himself (35% FG) and looked even worse this off-season in the FIBA games shooting 25%. Rose has only played in 5 of the Bulls’ first 11 games and seems content with sitting on the bench. Remember, this is a guy who had a chance to come back and play in the playoffs a few seasons back but refused to give it a go.

Slowly, Chicago fans have started to murmur about the former MVP. He loves making “The Return” commercials more than it seems he likes to play. Rose’s career seems to be heading towards a bit of a crossroads. Does he comeback finally and play 95% of the games? Does he return to elite status or does he fade into obscurity as just another starting point guard. Will he ever be healthy? As fans we hope these questions will be answered sooner rather than later, but in my opinion I feel like his best basketball is well behind him.

Rose finished 2014-15: 17.7 ppg/3.2 reb/4.9 ast/40% FG/28% 3-pt

A Student’s Plea for Kennesaw State Basketball

Another college basketball season is here, and I am afraid that it will be more of the same for the Kennesaw State Owls. I have been a student at KSU for five years and will be graduating this May. I played basketball my entire life and was hoping to be able to attend a ton of Kennesaw games throughout my time in school. However, ever since the upset victory over Georgia Tech in 2010, I along with other Owl fans have been force fed the same slop each year: a team that lacks discipline, heart, and direction.

I have seen Kennesaw go 20-105 in my time at school. I cannot bring myself to even attend games anymore because the product is so poor; Owl games are consistently empty. Trust me; this student fan base would love to get behind Kennesaw. We are stoked for the football team and are excited to go out and root on our home team, but when the basketball team is losing by 20-30 points each night to fellow A-Sun teams, enough is enough.

Talent has not been the biggest problem for the program. There have been nice pieces in place. Markeith Cummings ended his career as KSU’s all-time leading scorer and now plays in the NBDL. Aaron Anderson finished his career as the program’s all-time leading rebounder and has been successful playing overseas. On this year’s team, Delbert Love is back for his senior season along with former highly touted recruits Benard Morena, Willy Kouassi, and Damien Wilson, so can somebody explain to me how this team is not even being competitive? With losses of 47 and 34 points under their belt, it looks like Kennesaw is well on their way to another disappointing season. Many will say I am overreacting this early in the season, which I hope I am, but I have seen this all before.

The past three years Lewis Preston was in over his head as head coach. The team was sloppy, had no offense, and couldn’t defend. He had the horses to compete last season with a plethora of new faces, but could only muster three wins before taking a leave of absence on Jan. 3 and later was relieved of his duties. Jimmy Lallathin led the team to three wins the rest of the season, which unfathomably was only six less wins than what Preston could come up with in his two and a half seasons.

Preston refused to recruit in the hotbed that is Metro Atlanta and chose to reach for players from up north. There is more than enough talent in Georgia that should be getting recruited by KSU, but for some reason Kennesaw struggled to land any difference makers. Athletic Director Vaughn Williams decided to roll the dice after last season and named Jimmy Lallathin the official head coach instead of looking for options outside of Kennesaw. Lallathin recently was suspended one game after NCAA violations, but now will have full reigns of the team.

As a student, I was promised last year that things would be different and that the team would compete. It has been the same song and dance for five years now and I am tired of it. The community of Kennesaw deserves a team that will play hard and compete. There is no way the talent discrepancy in the A-Sun is that of 15-20 points nightly. Coach Lallathin needs to bring this team together and fast. I have heard over the years, “the team is young”, “the team needs time to grow”, “let the coach put his system in”, but enough has been enough and it is time to be brutally critical.

The highly recruited Damien Wilson who was granted immediate eligibility after transferring from Memphis has gone 4-20 from the field with 11 turnovers in two games. This team is in dire need of a player to lead. Someone has to say they are sick of losing and that things must change. The coaches can preach the right things, but if players don’t buy in and don’t build a winning mentality it is all for not. All I am asking for this holiday season is for Kennesaw to win some games and make me proud.

What is the Infatuation with Notre Dame?

If we are a “what have you done for me lately” society, then why are we always talking about Notre Dame? A school year in and year out that has been overrated and over-ranked continues to flop when they are faced with tests. I will go ahead and say it: Notre Dame is the most overrated program in the past 20 years. Every year we hear about how Notre Dame is going to make some noise and how they play such a great schedule. Going into the season, the “pundits” all agreed that Notre Dame has the toughest schedule in the nation… fast forward to week 12 and look at the yolk on the “experts'” faces.

Take away Arizona State and Florida State and the Irish have played opponents with a combined record of a whopping 30-36 — so much for that great schedule huh? Don’t worry though, they play powerhouses Northwestern (3-6), Louisville (7-3) and USC (6-3) all of whom, shockingly enough, are unranked. Notre Dame is yet to have beaten a team that is currently ranked. The lucky victory over Stanford in which the Cardinal left tight end Ben Koyack wide open in the back of the end zone on 4th and 11 now doesn’t look like a great win, but a win against a team struggling to become bowl eligible (5-4). The Irish let North Carolina (4-5) hang 43 points on them in South Bend; not something a title contender would allow. To their credit, they played their best game of the season against Florida State when Corey Robinson came out of no where to play like the Admiral. After the FSU game, it was Notre Dame going back to their old ways of underwhelming when they had to rally to defeat perennial power Navy (4-5) 49-39. And of course this past weekend we all saw the Irish’s true colors when faced against a legit opponent, Arizona State. The Sun Devils embarrassed Notre Dame on national television 55-31, scoring the most points against ND since 2000.

Everett Golson who was ESPN’s sweetheart three weeks into the season was exposed throwing 4 interceptions, two of which were returned for six. The most asinine thing in the media is how every player is the next somebody or how everyone is the next big thing. We saw it with Kenny Hill of Texas A&M. Johnny who? Hill was the next Heisman Hopeful after throttling South Carolina. Surprise, surprise, SC turned out to be another overrated, over-hyped SEC school (4-5). Hill struggled mightily once hitting conference play, got suspended and now benched in favor of freshman Kyle Allen. Is Kyle Allen the next Kenny Hill now? It is always something.

Back to Golson; he kicked off the season playing four straight cupcakes: Rice (6-3), Michigan (5-5), Purdue (3-7), and Syracuse (3-7). Against four bad schools, you would imagine that if Golson put up nice numbers that expectations would still have to be tempered due to the level of competition, but nope. All I heard on ESPN was how Golson looks to be one of the most improved quarterbacks in the nation and is one of the best out there. Well if you stick a Varsity player on a team and have him play JV players I’m sure his numbers would look good too. That Syracuse game started the downward spiral for Golson’s play. He has now thrown at least one interception in 6 straight games and has thrown multiple INTs in three of those games. The scary part is, that he still was not playing good teams while melting down. He has thrown 6 interceptions against Arizona State and Florida State combined which is not good, but understandable. What isn’t understandable is how he can throw 5 picks against the likes of Stanford, North Carolina, Navy, and Syracuse. And what is more confusing is how has this team been ranked in the top 10 for so long if they have not even sniffed playing any one of relevance besides the two games they have lost?

You would hope and pray that the pollsters would not get fooled again and have the wool pulled over their eyes after that joke of a 2012 “National Championship” game where the over matched and undeserving Irish got thoroughly whipped and humiliated against Alabama 42-14. It was a season that saw Notre Dame get fortunate and win many close games but everyone knew that their luck would run out eventually and they would get exposed. What a shame that as fans we had to suffer through the slop of Notre Dame-Alabama instead of watching the high powered Oregon Ducks finally get another shot at the title after losing on a last second field goal as time expired two years earlier against Auburn.

We have to ask ourselves “why”? Why is Notre Dame force fed down our throats each year when fans know they are a mickey mouse pretender when it comes to the National Title. Why do they always have to hold a spot in the top 10 when they don’t deserve it? I understand they have their own network and are trying to get by on success that hasn’t even occurred in the 21st century but enough is enough. Since 1993, what has Notre Dame done to deserve being in the national conscience? Those NINE bowl losses from 1994-2006 sure don’t get me fired up. In fact, when was the last relevant bowl game that they won? Is it really last season’s Pinstripe Bowl against Rutgers?

All I am saying is that the love affair must stop. This team does not need to automatically be inserted into the top 25 every single season. There are teams that are much more deserving that never get a look. Brian Kelly has made the program respectable again, but being respectable and being a top ten team and national contender are two different things. Notre Dame will continue to be a 7-9 win program that will get by on their name alone. They are finally integrating into the ACC which should either make or break their credibility as a program. Until then, we will continue suffering seeing the Irish in the top 25.

Why The Cavaliers Won’t Win The Title…

Kyrie Irving, a budding star. Kevin Love, the most consistent double-double machine in the league. Designated scorer Dion Waiters and of course, the King himself, LeBron James. Lets just give them the title right? A young core with a successful international coach and the best player in the world. It is easy for the Cavs to be this year’s sexy pick just like Houston was last season to a lesser extent. The problem that lies in these predictions is that games aren’t won on paper. Chemistry cannot be determined and measured by players’ names and career stats, there is much more that needs to be accounted.

60th pick vs 1st pick in 2011 NBA Draft

Three games into the season is a minuscule sample size and a team with so many new faces can’t nearly have all the kinks ironed out. I’m not worried about the chemistry or anything like that. It is not the main reason I don’t see this team winning a title. The Curse of Cleveland plays a huge factor but I’m not going to give a history lesson about how this town can’t win. The main reason I don’t see this team winning is the lack of  team defense.

Kevin Love is a great offensive player that stuffs stat sheets every night but what else can he do? He is a sieve defensively and has never led his team to a .500 record, let alone make the postseason. I understand the West is loaded, but a super-star of his caliber needs to at least crack .500 in his six years in the league. Love has not won since his days at UCLA and it seems like he might be forgetting that winning swagger.

Former number one pick Kyrie Irving has shown flashes of greatness but has overall been a bit of a disappointment. Don’t believe me? Check out this damning graphic which compares the number one pick of the draft to the last pick of the draft. Has Cleveland really gotten what they paid for? Irving is still young and talented, but I question how he will be able to handle the addition of LeBron James. Who will handle the ball? Both players need the ball in their hands to be at their best. That also leads me to Kyrie’s passing. Irving has averaged a paltry 1.95 assist/turnover in his career which pails in comparison to Thomas’ 2.28. Will Kyrie take a back seat to LeBron and Love and focus on sacrificing his scoring to improve his assist numbers? Or will he continue to focus on getting his stats while putting the team’s should-be leading scorers on the back burners. LeBron has come back to Cleveland saying it is still Kyrie’s team. He wants the young guard to understand what it takes to win and how to sacrifice when you have to, but it is up to Irving to decide whether he wants to listen and mature or if he wants to keep playing the way he has been.

There are plenty of nice pieces on this team. Mike Miller is in LeBron’s back pocket and will try to go wherever he does and brings a tough veteran grit with him. Dion Waiters is nothing but a shot-chucker in my eyes and I do not see anything in him more than trade fodder and a poor man’s Jamal Crawford. The bigs are solid up front with Varejao and Thompson. I think they are both solid defenders that will have to constantly clean up Kevin Love’s deficiencies. Shawn Marion can still play and will play a big role down the stretch for the Cavs.

It’s time to turn our focus back to the King. He has struggled mightily in the team’s two losses posting 17 points and 8 turnovers in the season opener and then just 11 points in a blowout loss at Portland. LeBron looks a lot skinnier… does it have anything to do with the move from Miami? South Beach has been linked to the Bio-Genesis scandal and though you may not hear it in major outlets, there have been whispers that LeBron has been linked to the clinic. Take that with a grain of salt, who knows. What I do know is that LeBron has to bring this young group together and get them to buy into Coach Blatt’s system. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have no postseason experience and don’t understand what it takes to win. They will have to take some lumps in the postseason before they win it all. Soon the duo will understand that when the spot light is on, things change in the Spring months. The Cavs of course have a great shot of winning the East, but this team is not ready to win a title.

RESULT: Cavs lost in the NBA Finals in 6 games to Golden State