This weekend Alabama will travel over to Starkville, MS to play Mississippi State in football. MSU enters the game ranked 16th in the College Football Playoffs poll while Alabama is 2nd. A lot is on the line in this one. State hopes to keep their slim chances of winning the SEC West alive while Alabama looks to keep their perfect season and march to another appearance in the College Football Playoffs alive. No fan is being extra when they say “this is a big game.” And in the history of this matchup, big game carries different meaning.
The two towns where both schools are located – Mississippi State University in Starkville, MS and University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, AL – are about 83 miles apart. That’s a one hour and thirty minute drive if you’re traveling on Highway 82 on a good day. The close proximity in location is the only thing “close” when we discuss the history of this matchup. Since the 2 teams started playing in 1896, Alabama has a 79-18-3 record against the Bulldogs of Mississippi State. They’d have 81 wins if 2 weren’t vacated because of NCAA violations. Alabama currently owns a 9-game winning streak versus MSU. The average margin of victory in those games for Bama is 23.5 points. The last few seasons State fans have taken to Twitter to come up with slogans such as #HailState only to see their beloved Bulldogs catch some tough losses. The toughest of all recently occurred in 2014 when State entered the game ranked #1 in the Nation. On that day, State got off to a slow start and was beaten 25-20.
For more perspective of how one-sided this matchup has been, from 1958 to 1995 Mississippi State beat Alabama once! That one win for MSU – 6 to 3 – happened in 1980. Since 1982 State has beaten Alabama 6 times including a 3-peat from 1996-1998. The 3 wins occurred during the Jackie Sherrill Era. Those State teams were solid but Jackie’s best team at MSU still came up short against Alabama. In 1999, State went to Alabama undefeated and ranked #8. They left with a 19-7 defeat and went on to finish the season 10-2. So what happened in 2007, the last time MSU was able to beat Alabama. Well it was Sylvester Croom’s only winning season at MSU. The Bulldogs had a talented running back in Anthony Dixon and a stingy defense that helped push State that day. They even got an amazing 103 yards “Pick 6” from Jackson native Anthony Johnson.
Most, including myself expect Alabama to win. It’s been 10 years since the last time MSU beat Alabama and a few things are similar. State has a stingy defense and they have a tough runner in the backfield in QB Nick Fitzgerald (he’ll need to run smartly on Saturday unless he wants to die). Mississippi State enters Saturday’s game as a 14.5 point underdog but what’s a Vegas spread when you’ve been the underdog for over 100 years? Go give ’em hell State cause I’ll be on Twitter waiting if you don’t.
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The title of this blog sounds like the moment a couple realizes a relationship is over. The couple starts analyzing things and remembering all the good and bad times. If you follow the United States Men’s National Soccer Team (USMNT) then that’s where they or we are this morning. How did the USMNT fail to qualify for the 2018 World Cup? The answer to that question is too broad and too tough to come up with right now. There are a lot of contributing factors. Last month Alexi Lalas went at the team but it didn’t help.
On September 29, I was invited to join U.S. Soccer Voices. If I remember correctly the group will consist of about 10,000 “fans”. I had to answer a series of questions in order to join the group (before they sent back an email a week later saying I was accepted”). They asked questions about age, race, sex, etc. along with questions about my knowledge of US Soccer. This is one step in the right direction. I don’t think 10,000 fans have the answer. I do feel listening to us will help. I also think that having a diverse group to receive feedback from will help. Soccer in the United States of America – especially at the youth level – is a rich man’s sport i.e. predominantly white while in other countries it is played by all. An effort has to be made to get more people in the United States interested the game. From youth all the way to adults.
The next thing I’ll touch on is how and where we play soccer. For the most part soccer in America is confined to 11 on 11. A friend jokingly asked me “what is the term for a ‘pick up game’ of soccer?” I could only laugh because I had no answer for him. To his point though, where are the ‘pick up games’ of soccer being played? On some days you may be able to ride by a field and see some people kicking about. That’s nice but it’s nothing like that in other countries. They play soccer the way we play 3 on 3 basketball…anyway or anywhere possible. It’s a part of their culture. I watched a documentary called Concrete Football a few weeks ago. Nike went to different parts of France and looked at the way they play “5 a side”. 5 a side is a 5 on 5 game of soccer played anywhere possible. In the documentary they showed how the games were very similar to pick up games of basketball in America.
Since diving into soccer I’ve become familiar with a bunch of terms related to the sport. Two terms that stick out are technicality and tactics. It has been stated at nauseam that the USMNT often walks into major International competitions with average talent. The lack of talent leads to another tricky debate so I’ll stay away from it. I mentioned technicality above, in soccer this term refers to a player that is able to dribble, pass, think, and create with ease while the ball is at his or her feet. Basically skills. The USMNT don’t have many players that can do that. At this moment, many will argue that they only have one – Christian Pulisic – that can. The other term I used is tactics. Tactic or tactical ability can also relate to a player’s ability to maneuver with the ball. In this case I’d like to use it as it relates to setting up a team to play a match. The USMNT has no idea of how they want to setup tactically. Meaning they don’t adjust or show any ability to adjust to their opponent. The USMNT has been credited for their ability to win the endurance side of matches but that’s not enough against the best. Matter of fact it hasn’t been the enough to win against what many consider to be inferior opponents. Running around the field like the Road Runner doesn’t help if you don’t have technical skills or tactical awareness.
The takes will be sizzling over the next few days and that’s to be expected. It’s what happens when things cool off that will matter. I bolded four words for a reason: Diverse, Culture, Technical and Tactics. They all go hand in hand if the USMNT wants to move forward. Like every good relationship you need a solid foundation to stand on. Not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup has rocked the USMNT’s foundation so I leave you with this from Deborah Cox. USMNT please change our minds…
2017-2018 – NBA MVP – Odds to Win courtesy of Bovada Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada
Bovada Casino in Las Vegas released their “Super Early” odds on the players favored to win the NBA MVP Award. To no surprise, the reigning League MVP – Russell Westbrook – and Finals MVP – Kevin Durant – top the list. Behind them in the top 5 are Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, and James Harden. The list from Bovada includes two surprise names and one glaring omission. The two surprises are Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers. Both players are young and talented but have yet to show much on the NBA level. Embiid was finally able to see some time on the court last season after missing two seasons due to injuries. While playing in 31 games, Embiid flashed potential that has Philly fans excited about the process. Ben Simmons was the #1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft out of LSU but never played a minute last season because of a broken right foot. At 66/1 for Embiid and 50/1 for Simmons an ambitious person could take a chance on one or both of them and be in for a nice pay day. The missing name that had a few fans going nuts was “Rudy Gobert” of the Utah Jazz. Gobert is the anchor in the middle for Utah. With Gordon Hayward’s departure during free agency this is now Rudy’s Team. He’ll need to step up his production on offense but his 1st Team All-Defensive selection and 2nd Team All-NBA selection show the type of player he is. According to basketball-reference.com Gobert was top 10 in eight of the NBA’s traditional statistical categories and top 10 in fifteen of the NBA’s advanced statistical categories. Any fan that follows the NBA closely knows that if Utah has success next season Rudy will be a legit MVP candidate.
It’s too early to be considering an MVP in the NBA but I’ll have a bit of fun.
Most likely to be the media favorite: Kevin Durant (Did you see the 2017 NBA Finals?)
Most likely to be the darling pick: Giannis Antetokounmpo “The Greek Freak” (The NBA media is always looking for the next young guy to ride. Right now it is Giannis)
Most likely to be slept on: Steph Curry (KD came to town and everyone forgot about Steph! With another ring under his belt, look for “The 2-time League MVP, Unanimous and first of his kind, Father of the disrespectful 3 point shot, from North Carolina” to unload and help those that are sleeping wake up.
Most likely to lose some votes: Russell Westbrook (The addition of Paul George will help Russell and OKC in a major way. Unfortunately for Russ that may cost him some MVP votes)
Most likely to gain some votes: James Harden (Yes I know Chris Paul joined the Rockets. That’s the main reason I feel Harden will gain some votes. Harden’s movement without the ball while allow him to be more efficient (scary huh?). Also don’t be surprised if you see Harden step up a bit on the defensive end.
The Odds I wouldn’t pass on: Gordon Hayward (The 70/1 odds on him is amazing and down right impossible to pass on. New team – in a bigger market – in the weaker Conference is just one of many reasons to consider wagering on Gordon. Some fans are skeptical but I expect big things from Boston’s new Small Forward.)
Lastly I leave you with a question. Would you wager $1,000 on one player or put different amounts on 3 or 4 players? I’m still contemplating on what I’d do.
In recent years I’ve done a few posts that would celebrate the return of football. It won’t be happening this time around. I’m sure I’ll be watching when everything starts but my enthusiasm for the sport has waned a bit. One day I’ll go into further details about that but for now I’ll get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Class of 2017 was inducted the first weekend of this month. As usual there were questions of “How did he get in?” and many statements of “If _____ is in then ____ should be in.” There is no set criteria for players to make the various sports Hall of Fames. The Basketball Hall of Fame is the easiest of the three major American sports. The Pro Football Hall of Fame is a lot tougher. Not only does the player’s stats and accolades come into play but apparently his interactions with the media can cause hiccups. The toughest of all is the Baseball Hall of Fame. There are too many variables that get in the way when discussing who gets in and who doesn’t get in the Baseball Hall of Fame. The most ridiculous of them all is the “hard nose” approach that some baseball writers choose to take when selecting the honorees.
As I mentioned above the Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrined some new guys. For another year, they left out former All-Pro Wide Receiver Terrell Owens. Every statistical category related to wide receivers will tell you that T.O. is worthy of the Hall of Fame. For example Owens is currently 5th in total touchdowns scored (156) and 3rd in receiving touchdowns (153). There are a slew of numbers I could continue to list to show why he should be in but that’s pointless. T.O. isn’t in because the voters – mostly NFL media – see him as a jerk. The Committee to select each Hall of Fame class consists of 48 members. Of those 48, it’s possible that only TWO may not be a member of the media. Owens was definitely a character during his time in the league but he backed it up with his play and was a true competitor.
Terrell Owens is just one of the many former NFL players on the outside looing in. The future selections for the Pro Football Hall of Fame won’t get any easier. At one point most discussions for players looking to enter the Hall of Fame centered around career longevity, career numbers, team success, impact on the game and things of that nature. Through the advancement of technology and demands from fans we now have more access to players. We’ve gone from seeing them behind the scenes in the locker room to following them 24/7. A player’s behavior should be taken into consideration when selecting Hall of Famers and in a similar tone the Committee’s behavior should be considered when they continue to hold grudges. I guess as fans all can do is continue to argue if Owens is “Hall of Fame or nah?”
This won’t be a post about GOATs or Ghosts. Just appreciation for a sport and one particular player. I have two distinct memories of Tennis. One is of my dad trying to teach me and my siblings how to play the sport. We all gave it a half hearted try but we weren’t interested. The other memory is of Wimbledon. During my childhood I spent many summer mornings watching Wimbledon on HBO. I looked forward to the Tournament every summer. In the time spent watching Wimbledon I was able to learn the rules of Tennis and the great history of this particular tournament.
Wimbledon is one of the four major events – Grand Slams – in professional tennis. The other 3 are the Australian Open played in Melbourne, Australia; the French Open played in Paris, France; the US Open played in New York City. Wimbledon which is played in London, is the oldest of the four Slams and was founded in 1877. The competition in London is played on a grass surface while the French Open is played on clay and the Australian Open and US Open are played on hard court. I’ve had many fond memories of Wimbledon like the first time the Williams Sisters played each other in the final or that time Serena “C-walked” after winning a Gold Medal there during the 2012 London Olympics. Another great memory is from 2010 when John Isner and Nicolas Mahut played the longest match in Wimbledon and tennis history. The match started on Tuesday, June 22, 2010 and ended on Thursday, June 24, 2010 lasting 11 hours 5 minutes.
Far and above all of those memories is watching Roger Federer play. Four years ago, I was asking for Fed to retire – as if we know each other personally – via Twitter. My exact words were “Don’t want to see him out there flabby and sick.” Cause at that point he was. 2013 marked the first time he had failed to reach at least one Grand Slam Final since 2002. He regained a bit of form in 2014 and 2015 to reach 3 finals out of the 8 Grand Slams he played. But in 2016 he again failed to reach a final. He skipped the French Open and US Open while reaching the semifinals of the Australian Open and Wimbledon. Many fans (myself included) felt that we wouldn’t see him win another Slam Championship. Tennis has always been seen as a young person’s sport and now with Roger in his mid-30s it looked like his playing career was nearing an end. Roger has found a way to amaze us once again despite the negativity around him. He started the year by winning the Australian Open and then skipped the French Open. Then on yesterday he won the 19th Grand Slam title (most amongst Men) of his career. Federer put himself at the top of the list for most Men’s Singles titles won (8) at Wimbledon. He has long been seen as one of the best to play on grass and he didn’t disappoint this year by winning every set he played in the tournament. In the Open Era, Federer has not only won the most Grand Slam titles but has also appeared in the most finals (29), semifinals (42), quarterfinals (50), match wins (321), and appearances (70). He has a winning percentage of 86.3 which puts him 3rd. To put that in perspective, from 2004-2010 Federer played in 21 Grand Slam finals and won 15 of them.
If you watch a tennis match that features Roger Federer you will often hear the announcers speak about his grace and elegance on and off of the court. There is a ball of fierce competition that powers Roger when he steps on the court. Without it there’s no way he would’ve turned around his game at this point in his career. Tennis is an individual sport but after winning yesterday Roger was quick to thank – his team, family, opponents, fans – everyone. I took solace in the fact that even for a player at Federer’s level there has to be joy in what he’s doing. We should all keep that in mind.
If you’re around anyone that follows the NBA or basketball you’ve probably heard of the “Ball Family”. Lonzo (drafted 2nd by the Lakers in the 2017 draft) LiAngelo (an incoming freshman at UCLA) and LaMelo (one of the top high school players in the class of 2019) are the sons of LaVar and Tina Ball. The family has taken the basketball scene by storm. It all started during their time at Chino Hills High School in California. There the 3 brothers all played on the same varsity squad in 2015. The trio’s talent on the basketball court can speak for them but it’s their boisturious father LaVar that has ruffled the most feathers.
On the surface LaVar is no different than any other loudtalking parent that you’d run into at youth sporting or extracurricular events. His grandstanding and bragging on his sons is NOT a problem. It does not take away that opposing players and parents will feel some type of way. LaVar is aware of this but it doesn’t stop him from talking. Some consider the extra pressure placed on his sons to be a disatorous recipe. I’m not one of them, these kids have been around their dad all of their lives and are used to this. Also if LaVar was a “quiet – behind the scenes” parent the pressure would be the same. Quiet or loud parents don’t change the scrutiny that comes if a top rated player does not pan out.
This post was sparked by a text from my sister. She asked my thoughts on LaVar and this is what I said:
“He doesn’t bother me. I think he’s funny. It doesn’t seem to irritate his sons. So that’s the main thing. Think the key is he can’t upset or talk about his son’s teammates or opponents.”
There are two different things at play to me. There’s the basketball side that the son’s control and then there’s the business side that LaVar controls. This is where fans have to ask themselves “why am I booing these guys?” I plan on booing them when it comes to the basketball side. I don’t like the Lakers or UCLA. But I’ll give them their credit if they perform well. On the business side there’s no reason to “boo” them. LaVar has given a blueprint for the way future draft prospects and the people around them should handle the business. This year’s top pick – Markelle Fultz – revealed that he thought about doing a shoe deal with Big Baller Brand before going with Nike. We may not agree with the deals he turned down or the appearance of the apparel but the fact another player considered BBB is huge!
The winner in all of this hoopla is of course the Ball Family but also the NBA. And when I say “NBA” I mean the league as a whole. From the Commissioner down to the fans. We now have a villain to either root for or against. Fans are booing, players already want to dunk on Lonzo, and LaVar is being LaVar. The NBA’s version of “Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart has predicted that the Lakers will make the Playoffs, he threw his hat into the crowd while leaving the NBA draft and even has WWE interested in booking him for Monday Night Raw in Los Angeles. You may not like LaVar’s antics and find him annoying but there’s no denying he’s a Big Baller in Business.
The NBA Finals are over and the Golden State Warriors are the Champions (of the world Craig). Congrats to them on winning their 2nd title in 3 years. Not too many people were surprised by the results of this season. That doesn’t mean we didn’t get a bunch of dumb thoughts from fans and media members. In the future I encourage you to enjoy these games and save the “hot takes” for something else.
Kevin Durant went to Golden State to get over a few humps. Those humps included the Golden State Warriors, Oklahoma City’s front office, and LeBron James. I’ll take the three in reverse order. LeBron James has been the best player in the NBA for 8-10 years now and it is no surprise that after winning his first championship KD admitted that LeBron was the guy he was “chasing” and the only guy he felt could look him in the eyes in basketball terms. Durant’s performance during the 2017 NBA Finals more than showed his desire to win. Oklahoma City’s front office is probably kicking themselves repeatedly and they should. They spent their time with Durant making questionable moves over and over and over. Jeff Van Gundy spent most of this Finals talking about Durant’s abilities and rightfully so. But I couldn’t help thinking “this is what happens when you’re not passing to Andre Roberson!” You don’t need me to tell you how great Golden State is cause you already know. Durant was surrounded by guys that made his game easier. On the offensive end, the spacing afforded to him must’ve been a dream come true. Not having to watch KD go isolation, bring the ball up the court in a point forward role, or just stand waiting was nice to see. Golden State maximized his offensive talents by being themselves. Durant maximized his talents on the defensive end by being a team player. Also how hard can it be to transition a skilled 7-footer – who currently is #1 or #2 on current best player lists – into one of the greatest teams most of us have seen?
LeBron James, LeBron James, LeBron James is now 3-5 in NBA Finals and some people find that as something to laugh at. Long ago I marveled at the fact Magic Johnson made it to NINE NBA finals (5 wins in those appearances) and feel that LeBron will get to 10 before he’s done. LeBron has exceeded every level of expectation that was placed upon him on the basketball court. I’ve read and heard fools state that he made “the wrong play” in Game 3 when he passed to an open Kyle Korver. For the sake of your sanity please don’t discuss anything with people saying that. The Golden State Warriors paid LeBron the ultimate sign of respect when they went and got Kevin Durant last summer. To me that’s all that needs to be said. For those that thought this, NO Andrew Wiggins nor Carmelo Anthony would’ve made a difference in this series against Golden State. The Cavaliers needed defense something they lacked most of the 2016-2017 season.
Overall the NBA is in a very good place. If I had to rate them on a scale of 1-10, I’d say they’re an 8.5. There are some things that could be improved but I’m far from disappointed. Superteams aren’t the problem some make them out to be. There’s talent – young talent ready to make big jumps – throughout the league. We watched one of the youngest All-Star games in NBA history. Russell Westbrook and James Harden had historic seasons. We saw a rivalry blossom between Washington & Boston. I could go on about the positives to takeaway from the season but I’m not getting paid for this. And think about it, next season we get to enjoy the sights and sounds of LaVar Ball. I can already hear him laughing.