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About Keir Chapman

  • Member Since: April 7, 2016

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Keir Chapman began his career in sports journalism as Sports Director for iCLU Radio in Thousand Oaks. After graduating from California Lutheran University in 2013, Keir used his experiences as a writer and a college basketball player in a weekly blog for the New York based athletic gear company, True Athelite. Now, Keir makes weekly appearances on the Doug and John show on KHTS as Mr. Sports and is happy to contribute to the Santa Clarita Gazette.

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Dodgers Can Catch Colorado With a Series Win This Weekend

| Sports | June 22, 2017

In the span of 10 games from June 7-June 18, the Dodgers swept the Cincinnati Reds twice, and won a series against the World Series runner-up Cleveland Indians. Los Angeles won nine of their 10 games in that successful stretch of the schedule. More importantly, they placed themselves in prime position to pounce on the Colorado Rockies.

The National League (NL) Western Conference-leading Rockies sit only a half game ahead of the Dodgers as the two are set to meet for a weekend series in Los Angeles. Colorado also found success in the same span of games, winning nine of their 12 matches in that time.

The last time the Dodgers faced the Rockies, they split a four game series in Colorado. Los Angeles looks to jump out of the gate by starting their only undefeated pitcher, Alex Wood. The first time Wood faced the Rockies, he fanned 10 batters in a 4-0 shutout. Since then, he has allowed only three runs in three wins, posting an ERA of 1.90.

As good as Wood has been, Clayton Kershaw has been the Dodgers’ shining star, a role the ace pitcher has been in throughout his entire Los Angeles career. He allowed just two earned runs and no home runs in the Dodgers’ 6-2 win over Colorado on May 12. Kershaw finished their successful 10-game stretch with an ERA of 2.23. The nine wins he has amassed in that time leads the team.

The combination of Wood, Kershaw, and Brandon McCarthy will have to find a way to slow down the Colorado batters. Both Mark Reynolds and Nolan Arenado had a total of 55 RBIs after their 12-game span. Charlie Blackmon was only one behind with 54. With this much production, it’s no surprise the Rockies are second in the NL in both hits (679), and runs scored (383).

Fortunately for Los Angeles, their ability to stop runners from scoring is one of their best traits. After their last game with the Reds, the Dodgers had only allowed 250 runners to score, the highest mark in the NL. Catcher Yasmani Grandal leads the way on defense, with 498 putouts as of June 18.

Los Angeles’ offense has been orchestrated by rookie phenom Cody Bellinger. He leads the team in both RBIs, at 43, and home runs, at 19. With the success has come some errors, as Bellinger has also tallied the most strikeouts with 64. Bellinger’s breakout, along with the rest of the Dodgers’ batters has allowed the team to total 592 hits and 348 runs.

Colorado’s defense is built to take on an offense as potent as Los Angeles. The Rockies lead the NL in fielding percentage (.989) and come in third in putouts (1,930). Reynolds proves to be a threat on defense as well as offense, leading the Rockies with a .997 fielding percentage, as well as 568 putouts.

The Dodgers will also have to face the Rockies’ best pitchers in this series. Los Angeles will first see Kyle Freeland, who leads Colorado in ERA with 3.42. Then comes Tyler Chatwood, who has recorded 74 strikeouts, leading the Rockies in this category. The Dodgers end the series against German Marquez, who has allowed just 25 earned runs and only six home runs in 10 starts.

Los Angeles and Colorado are two teams that have very few flaws. Both are likely to make the NL Playoffs, so they are jockeying for the NL West crown to assure home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Dodgers can take a big step in this goal with a regular season win this weekend against the Rockies.

Baseball fans only have three more opportunities to see these two powerhouses go head to head in the regular season. It’s a matchup that should be must-see TV. When the postseason rolls around, it’s very likely we will see either Los Angeles host Colorado in the divisional round, or vice versa. This weekend will go a long way in deciding who hosts who.

The French Open Offers Twists and Turns to Tennis

| Sports | June 15, 2017

Spectators have seen surprising finishes from recent championship games this past season. The Chicago Cubs kicked it off by overcoming a 3-1 deficit against the Cleveland Indians to win the World Series for the first time since 1908. The New England Patriots followed suit, coming back to defeat the Atlanta Falcons 34-28, after trailing 28-3 in the third quarter.

Tennis fans were treated to a similar set of shocking outcomes with this year’s French Open. The women’s singles saw an upset right out of the gate when top-seeded Angelique Kerber was ousted in the round of 128, losing 6-2, 6-2 to unseeded Ekaterina Makarova.

This left the door wide open for any female tennis player to take the French Open title. So, Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia decided to do just that. The 20-year-old’s road to the championship wasn’t easy. She faced Caroline Wozniacki (11) in the quarterfinals, winning 4-6, 6-2, 6-2. Ostapenko eventually had to take on Simona Halep (3) in the final round, taking a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory.

Ostapenko made history in several ways with her win. She became the first unseeded player to take home the French Open title since 1933, and the first Latvian player to ever win a major tournament. She also jumped 35 spots in the WTA rankings, where she now sits at 12.

As Serena Williams sits out the rest of the year due to her pregnancy, the WTA leaderboard is becoming a free-for-all for first place. Kerber remains at the top, despite her first round loss. Halep, meanwhile, was rewarded for her trip to the finals with a two-spot jump, where she is now second.

Wimbledon, which begins July 3, will serve as a stage for more potential upsets in the women’s bracket. Ostapenko will no longer be the underdog, and will have to prove her French Open win was more than a fluke. Undoubtedly, she will be facing every players’ best game when she takes the court. If she can make noise at Wimbledon, it will cement her place as tennis’ rising star.

The men’s side of the French Open had a more predictable champion. Rafael Nadal (4) took home his 15th Grand Slam singles title by defeating Stan Wawrinka (3) 6-2, 6-3, 6-1. The rounds before the championship, however, provided many twists and turns.

Wawrinka made it to the final round by defeating top-seeded Andy Murray in five sets in the semi-finals. Novak Djokovic’s (2) Grand Slam slump continued in the quarterfinals, where he lost 7-6, 6-3, 6-0 to Dominic Thiem (6). Djokovic’s last Grand Slam win came at last year’s French Open, where he defeated Murray.

Djokovic’s recent play begs the question, “Is he no longer in his prime?” The concern began in the 2016 Rio Olympics, where he lost in the first round to eventual silver medalist Juan Martin del Potro. This excusable loss was followed by a second-round ousting in the Australian Open to unseeded Denis Istomin, a defeat for Djokovic that is much harder to explain.

All of the chatter of a decline could’ve been silenced if Djokovic had been able to pull off a win at the French Open. His loss to Thiem only served to make the discussion louder and more plausible. Djokovic falls to fourth place in the ATP rankings and needs a solid showing at Wimbledon to dispel any notion that he is no longer the best men’s tennis player in the world.

Nadal’s French Open victory allowed him to slide in to second place in the ATP, a position he hasn’t been in since October 6, 2014. Murray still sits atop the leaderboard with 9,890 points, a full 2,605 points ahead of Nadal.

A win at Wimbledon will only give Nadal 2,000 more points, so it will be impossible for him to catch Murray in the near future. If he can overcome his opponents throughout the rest of the year, however, Nadal will find himself atop the ATP for the first time since June 23, 2014.

It is a tumultuous time in tennis, much to the delight of the sports’ fans. With tournament outcomes so uncertain for both men and women, it is impossible to predict who will be left standing after the final round of Wimbledon. The excitement mounts as everyone waits to see what surprises the tennis season serves up next.

Los Angeles Angels Have an Astronomical Test in Houston

| Sports | June 8, 2017

The Los Angeles Angels had 600 reasons to celebrate last Saturday night. Designated hitter Albert Pujols crushed a pitch from Minnesota’s Ervin Santana, making Pujols just the ninth major leaguer to ever hit 600 home runs.

The historic night ended in a 7-2 victory for Los Angeles. However, they dropped the regular season series to the Twins three games to one, bringing the Angels’s overall record to 29-31. The team has lost six of their last 10 games, but still sit in second place in the American League (A.L.) West Conference.

This would appear to be an ideal situation for Los Angeles, if not for the fact that the Houston Astros are 14 games ahead of them in the standings. This is a tough deficit to overcome, even though the season is still young.

The climb up this mountain begins Friday night, when Los Angeles travels to Houston in the final regular season series between the two clubs before the All-Star Break. Past matchups indicate that this may be a rough three games for the Angels. They have taken just two games against the Astros in seven meetings.

To make matter worse, Los Angeles will have to take on Houston without the aid of current A.L. MVP Mike Trout, who suffered his first major injury after tearing a ligament in his left thumb against the Miami Marlins on May 28. He is expected to miss six to eight weeks.

In Trout’s stead steps Shane Robinson, who was playing for Triple-A Salt Lake before Trout’s injury. In his first three games, Robinson has recorded just one hit and a .167 batting average. The Angels have lost four of seven games in a week since Trout went down.

So what does Los Angeles need to do to start chipping away at Houston’s astronomical lead? It starts with Mr. 600. Pujols has hit at an above average rate, especially for a 37-year-old slugger, coming in third in the A.L. in RBIs with 42.

If Houston has one weakness, it’s in their fielding. They are currently tied with the sixth most errors in the A.L. with 37 — a stat they share with the Angels — and have the sixth lowest fielding percentage with .983.

Although Trout leads the Angels in many batting statistics, they still have players, aside from him and Pujols, who can deliver the kinds of hits necessary to defeat the Astros. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons comes in second on the team in doubles with 10, at a batting average of .267. Left-fielder Ben Revere is tied with Trout in triples with two.

The more the Angels can keep the ball in the field of play, the higher the likelihood of Houston committing an error. Their efforts to do so are boosted, because they will not have to face the Astro’s ace pitcher Dallas Keuchel. He leads the A.L. in ERA with 1.67, and wins with nine, but is not scheduled to pitch in the three-game series against Los Angeles.

The Angels’s pitching staff, however, will have to go up against a Houston team that leads the A.L. in runs with 319, home runs with 92, and RBIs with 300. Their depth chart boasts Jose Altuve, George Springer and Carlos Correa. Each player leads the team in a different batting category, Altuve in batting average with .326, Springer in home runs with 16, and Correa in RBIs with 39.

This diversity of talent could spell trouble for Los Angeles’s pitchers. Matt Shoemaker will make the first start of the series against Houston on Friday night, and is tied for the team lead in wins with five. His 4.12 ERA is a weakness that the Astros will look to exploit, but he has recorded more strikeouts (63) than hits (60), so Shoemaker has the ability to make batters miss.

The Angels need to take this regular season series, not only to cut into Houston’s 14-game lead, but to prove they can play against the MLB’s toughest competition. The only way Los Angeles will be able to make a playoff push at any point this season is if they can join the ranks of the league’s top teams. This series against Houston will be the perfect test to see if the Angels can do just that.

Cody Bellinger’s Big Bat Begets Bright Future

| Sports | June 2, 2017

Spring has just sprung, and already the Los Angeles Dodgers have found early success in the 2017 season. They are keeping pace in the ultra-competitive National League (N.L.) Western Conference, posting a record of 31-20 after sweeping last season’s World Series Champions in the Chicago Cubs. Third baseman Justin Turner leads the N.L. in batting average at .379, while Clayton Kershaw has collected the most wins at seven, and is second in ERA with a 2.37.

What has come as a surprise in this treasure-trove of triumphs is the immediate impact rookie left-fielder Cody Bellinger has made for Los Angeles. Since making his first start on April 25, Bellinger has batted his way to the top of multiple statistical categories, despite playing fewer games than most of his first-year contemporaries.

With just 118 at-bats, Bellinger has amassed 11 home runs, 29 RBIs, and a slugging percentage of .951. These figures lead all N.L. rookies, and can only be topped by New York Yankees first-year phenom Aaron Judge. Most see Judge as a lock for American League Rookie of the Year, and the time has come to put Bellinger in the same category in the N.L.

At this point, his closest competition for the award resides in San Diego. Hunter Renfroe of the Padres has put up similar stats to Bellinger, knocking 10 pitches out of the park and recording 24 RBIs. However, Renfroe has been unable to generate the same power as his Los Angeles counterpart, hitting with a slugging percentage of just .753.

Another factor that tips the scales towards Bellinger is how his stats have turned into wins for the Dodgers. His “wins above replacement,” a stat that calculates how many wins a player accounts for above a replacement player, is a whopping 1.4. This is a full game higher than Renfroe’s 0.3, whose Padres are in the N.L. West basement with an overall record of 19-33, after going 1-2 in a regular season series against the Washington Nationals.

Fielding further distances the two players. Bellinger has made the most of the 112 chances that have come his way, putting out 106 batters, assisting on four putouts, and committing only two errors on his way to a fielding percentage of .98. Renfroe is by no means a slouch on defense, putting out 85 battles on 97 chances, assisting on five putouts, but committing seven errors for a fielding percentage of .93.

It is fitting that Bellinger could possibly be following fellow Dodgers player Corey Seager as N.L. Rookie of the Year, as Los Angeles is the last team to produce back-to-back award winners, tallying five from 1992-1996. At 21, Bellinger would be the youngest of the most recent Dodgers’ Rookies of the Year, to win the award.

With the emergence of Bellinger, Los Angeles looks to have shored up any flaws in their starting lineup. The top of their depth chart boasts Seager, Turner, Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig, Adrian Gonzalez, Chase Utley, and Yasmani Grandal. This lineup has allowed the Dodgers to score 261 total runs, good for third in the MLB, while allowing just 179 runs to be scored against them. Their run differential of +82 is the best in the nation.

Los Angeles will have to continue to battle its way in the N.L. West, where the top three teams have more than 30 wins each, to prove that they are true contenders for the World Series this season. They have just two more regular season series remaining against the Colorado Rockies, giving them just a few more chances to overtake the N.L.’s top team.

There’s plenty of time before the end of the regular season, so it’s impossible to predict if Bellinger can keep up his early success. If he can go the distance and help the Dodgers reach the postseason, he not only cements himself as bona-fide N.L. Rookie of the Year, but will also be seen as the sport’s next emerging star, and possibly the last piece to Los Angeles’s World Series puzzle.

Ike Anigbogu: UCLA’s Forgotten Freshman

| Sports | May 25, 2017

From the onset of the 2016-17 NCAA men’s basketball season, there was much ado made about UCLA’s freshman class. There was Lonzo Ball, the L.A. Native destined for the NBA, and TJ Leaf, the once Arizona commit, who spurned the Wildcats to play in Westwood.

Then there was Ike Anigbogu, a highly touted freshman who got lost in the shuffle, partly due to the hype of the other two recruits, as well as a knee injury that forced him to miss the beginning of the college season.

After finally making his way to the court, Anigbogu displayed a defensive efficiency well beyond his years. Against Michigan on December 10, Anigbogu locked down the paint with four blocks while going 3-4 from the field for six points. The following game against UC Santa Barbara saw Anigbogu tally another four blocks, and by that time it was clear that his defensive prowess would land him in the pros.

What came as an unexpected twist, however, is how soon Anigbogu declared for the NBA Draft. A repeated mantra from both media personalities and fans alike was that Anigbogu would need another year in college to polish his offensive game, despite having NBA-ready defense.

Well, on April 20, with the hiring of agent Jason Glushon, Anigbogu passed the point of no return in the draft process. With the big man now decidedly NBA bound, figuring out which team will take a chance on a project player is the next step.

There truly is no consensus as to where Anigbogu will land. Mock drafts have him going anywhere between the mid-first round to early in the second. With his skill on the defensive side of the ball, it is easy to see why a team would take a chance on such a tantalizing prospect. For the season, Anigbogu averaged 1.2 blocks per game, and led the Bruins in blocked shot percentage, swatting 8.8 percent of the shots he faced while on the floor.

While his four rebounds per game leave a lot to be desired from a player that stands at 6 feet, 10 inches and projects to play forward and center at the next level, he did grab 16.8 percent of all available rebounds when on the court, second only to Thomas Welsh for UCLA. The efficient defense Anigbogu displayed translated to a defensive rating of 98 points per 100 possessions for opposing offenses. Again, only Welsh had the numbers to match Anigbogu in this category.

A team that is in desperate need of shot blocking is the Detroit Pistons, who Anigbogu met with on Tuesday. The Pistons were second to last in the league in total blocks per game, with 3.8. Detroit’s bench, where Anigbogu would undoubtedly find himself if selected by the Pistons, tallied only 1.6 blocks per game all season. Anigbogu’s presence would immediately address that area of need, and with the 12 pick in the first round, Detroit is in a prime position to select him.

The only cause for pause is if the Pistons decide to fix their glaring need for second unit scoring. Their bench averaged just 33.3 points per game, good for 19th in the NBA. The team as a whole averaged only 101.3 points, leaving them in 26th. Anigbogu’s raw offensive abilities are not what Detroit needs to solve this problem. He averaged just 4.7 points per game, which is redeemed by the fact he did so with a true shooting percentage of 56 percent.

Taking and making smart shots is a strength in Anigbogu’s offensive arsenal, however, holding onto the ball is a weakness he must fix. Although his 0.8 turnovers per game is only the sixth most for UCLA, he accounted for 16.8 percent of all turnovers that occurred with him on the court. Of the eight players that averaged more than 10 minutes per game, only three accounted for a higher percentage of turnovers.

Another flaw that requires remedy is his knack for committing fouls. He is tied with Welsh and Leaf for most fouls per game on the Bruins, with 2.5, but he did so while averaging just 13 minutes per game. For the season, Anigbogu posted a blocks-per-foul ratio of .48, meaning he averaged less than half a block to every personal foul he committed.

Detroit’s bench is one of the best in avoiding fouls, coming in third in the NBA with just 7.1 personal fouls committed per game. They would have to decide if bringing in Anigbogu to shore up their defensive front would be worth the risk of his growing pains setting back a somewhat strong second unit.

Of course, there are many teams in need of a defensive-minded center, one of which would allow Anigbogu to stay in Los Angeles, and more likely than not, playing alongside Ball yet again. The Lakers own the 28th pick in the draft, a spot Anigbogu could realistically wind up. Their bench unit, which averages 1.9 blocks per game, has a similarly sized player in Tarik Black, who stands at 6 feet, 9 inches and 250 pounds. However, Black is a lackluster shot blocker, rejecting only 0.6 shots per game, and accounting for just 3 percent of all blocks available during his 16 minutes per game.

Anigbogu has taken a big risk declaring for the NBA Draft, despite being seen as a raw talent, but just as this decision leaves a lot to chance, returning to college would’ve done just the same. There’s always the possibility of a poor sophomore season or injury derailing his dream, so making a leap of faith into the pros while his stock is high makes the most sense.

From starting out as the forgotten third freshman in UCLA’s highly touted 2016 recruiting class, to becoming a possible first round draft choice, Anigbogu has overcome the early obstacles of his career. Where his career continues is anyone’s guess, so let the speculation continue until June 22.

The Dodgers Face the Rockies in the Fight for First Place

| Sports | May 11, 2017

The season is young, but the Los Angeles Dodgers have the chance to make a statement when they take on the Colorado Rockies in a four-game series starting Thursday. The Dodgers can snatch first place in the National League (NL) West Conference with a series win, potentially setting them up for a better postseason position as the year progresses.

Los Angeles’ success comes as somewhat of a surprise, seeing how the team has been decimated by injuries. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez was placed on the 15-day disabled list for the first time in his career due to right elbow soreness, right fielder Andre Ethier’s timetable to return from a herniated disc is still unknown, and their pitching staff has been without Rich Hill since April 18 (finger blisters) and Hyun-Jin Ryu since May 1 (left-hip contusion).

From the ashes of adversity have risen stellar rookies who have received a shot to show what they can do in the major leagues, and have made the most of their chances. Twenty-year-old Julio Urias of Mexico joined the Dodgers’ starting pitching staff on April 27, and has since allowed just one run on his way to a 0.84 ERA.

Cody Bellinger was given the start at first base as a result of Gonzalez’s injury, hitting three home runs and nine RBIs in a two-game series against the San Diego Padres, a performance that garnered Bellinger the NL Player of the Week award. For the season, he is third among all rookies with a batting average of .326 and tied for third in home runs with five.

The Dodgers have also been fortunate for the continued consistency of ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw. Seven starts into the season, Kershaw has recorded five wins with an ERA of 2.40, both good for third in the NL, and his 53 strikeouts put him in second place among all NL pitchers. He starts the first game of the series against the Rockies, a team that has handed him one of his two losses, but also gave him his highest strikeout total of the season, with 10, in Los Angeles’ 4-2 victory on April 19.

Both the Rockies and the Dodgers can score in droves, exemplified by the fact that Los Angeles is third in the NL in total runs at 159, while Colorado comes in eighth, with 152. With scoring potential of both squads sky-high, Los Angeles will need to clamp down on defense to win. This is easier said than done, as they don’t always demonstrate discipline on this end of the field. The Dodgers have the seventh most errors in the NL, with 23, while Colorado is tied with the fourth least, with 17, and has the fourth best fielding percentage, at .986.

The Rockies are far and away the better team in regards to fielding, but Los Angeles’ pitching outpaces their Colorado counterparts. The Dodgers lead not only the NL, but the entire MLB in combined ERA, at 3.25, and total runs allowed, at 110. The Rockies come in 19th for combined ERA at 4.27 and 16th for total runs allowed, at 145. Los Angeles’ prime pitching will help mask their fielding flaws, except for the fact that they face two excellent offensive players in Mark Reynolds and Charlie Blackmon.

The Colorado duo don’t boast stellar batting averages, with Reynolds coming in 14th in the NL at .325 and Blackmon sitting at 18th, with .313, but both have a knack for hitting homers and brining in runners. Reynolds is tied for third with 11 home runs, and both have tallied 26 RBIs, sixth most in the NL.

Los Angeles doesn’t take the backseat when it comes to batting, however. Justin Turner is third in the NL with a batting average of .376. As a team, the Dodgers are in sixth in batting average with a combined .256. This, paired with their 146 RBIs, are both one spot higher than the Rockies (.255 combined batting average, 145 total RBIs).

The bottom line to all of these facts and figures is that both teams are evenly matched, making it hard to predict who will be sitting in first place in the NL West after the weekend’s dust clears. The skill that the Arizona Diamondbacks have demonstrated all season, along with the logjam between the St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinatti Reds, and Chicago Cubs for first place in the NL Central, means that neither Los Angeles nor Colorado are assured a playoff spot come season’s end. So, although this series may seem trivial in the grand scheme of 2017, it may possess more postseason implications than meets the eye.

Salary Cap Constrictions Mean Anything but Clear Sailing for the Clippers

| Sports | May 4, 2017

Since the 2011-12 NBA season, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin helped change the perception of the Los Angeles Clippers, turning the perennial joke of the NBA into a top-5 team in the always competitive Western Conference. The duo was further aided by the emergence of center Deandre Jordan and the signing of sharpshooter JJ Redick in the 2013-14 season.

 

However, another early playoff exit for the Clippers this season may also signal an end to the team’s current make-up. This is because Los Angeles finds itself $24,760,946 over the NBA’s upcoming salary cap, and will need to make tough decisions on who they can afford to keep, and which free agents they can bring in with their current financial situation.

 

Their salary landscape will change when individuals with player options in their contracts decide whether or not to opt-out and become free agents after the NBA Finals. For the Clippers, the two most notable players with this option are Paul and Griffin.

 

Los Angeles fans fearful of losing Paul in free agency have very little to fret over. This is because the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, or CBA, created the Designated Player Veteran Exception, a clause that allows for what has been coined the “super max” contract. It should be noted that Paul, as the President of the NBA Players Association, spearheaded this provision, and is eligible to receive it.

 

This means, if Paul opts out of the final year of his contract, it will allow for him to sign a five-year extension with the Clippers for 35 percent of the the team’s salary cap. For Paul, the outcome will be a five-year $210 million guaranteed contract, a whole lot of cheddar to incentivize him to stay.

 

With Paul more than likely back in the fold, let’s turn to Blake Griffin. He has served as the face of the franchise since entering the league, but has rarely stayed healthy for an entire season. The toe injury Griffin suffered in game 3 of the Clippers’ series against the Utah Jazz was a deciding factor in Los Angeles’ first-round ousting.

 

The Clippers have to decide if it is worth it for them to re-sign a possibly injury-prone player to a max contract which, for Griffin, will come out to five years and $175 million. The free-agency pool of power forwards seems to be quite shallow in 2017, making the choice obvious for Los Angeles; roll the dice and pay Griffin.

 

Due to the projected $35,000,000 and $30,000,000 reserved for Paul and Griffin, the $22,642,350 owed to Jordan, and the $31,953,248 the Clippers inexplicably have tied up in Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers, and Wesley Johnson, the team will be looking at combined salaries of $119,595,598, which is well above the $102,000,000 salary cap for the 2017-18 season.

 

This is bad news for JJ Redick, who will be entering free agency looking for one last huge deal before his career reaches its end. The 32-year-old shooting guard is expected to earn anywhere from $15-$20 million per season, an amount that may be too rich for the Clippers’ blood, even with ex-Microsoft CEO and current owner Steve Ballmer controlling the purse strings.

 

A solution to this situation may come in the form of a sign-and-trade, sending Redick, once he signs a new contract, and Austin Rivers to the New York Knicks for Carmelo Anthony. This would replace the nearly $30,000,000 that would be owed to Redick and Rivers, and replace it with the $26,243,760 allotted to Anthony. Whether Los Angeles keeps Redick, or replaces him with Anthony, the team looks to be spending well into the luxury tax. This means that, when it comes to signing other free agents, the Clippers won’t make many big splashes.

 

If Anthony ends up in Los Angeles, it will assuredly cement him as the team’s starting small forward, meaning incumbent starter Luc Richard Mbah a Moute will opt out, clearing up $2,302,135 in the cap. This scenario also means the Clippers will be looking for a new starting shooting guard, with very little money to do so.

 

The amount of scoring that will come from Paul, Griffin, and Anthony means that Los Angeles would be able to use this vacancy to sign a defensive-minded guard. If that is the case, 13-year veteran Tony Allen should be high on the team’s list. If Allen is not re-signed by the Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles would be wise to offer him a mid-level exception, or MLE, contract of $3.2 million a year.

 

Allen’s defensive prowess may be able to net him more than that in the free agency market. However, he will be turning 36, and teams might shy away from paying a player near the end of his career more than the MLE.

 

If the Clippers are to sign Redick to a substantial salary, they will have under $20,000,000 to play with before reaching the luxury tax threshold. Their goal in this situation should be to either find a more suitable starting small forward than Mbah a Moute, or sign a productive backup power forward to help alleviate Griffin’s workload, which will hopefully keep him healthy.

 

Seeing as the best option to replace Mbah a Moute in the current small-forward free agent market is Thabo Sefalosha, another defensive forward who serves the same purpose as Mbah a Moute but at a higher cost, a power forward is the best choice for the Clippers.

 

Patrick Patterson, who currently comes off the bench for the Toronto Raptors, would serve nicely in the same role for Los Angeles. Defensively, he boasts a defensive rating of 108 points per 100 possessions for opposing offenses. On offense, despite only scoring 6.9 points per game, Patterson has an offensive rating of 115.2 points per 100 possessions.

 

On the Clippers, he would see an increase in playing time, which would more than likely lead to higher points per game. Patterson’s average annual value is only $6,000,000, meaning Los Angeles would be able to sign him and stay under the luxury tax threshold.

 

The last option Los Angeles has in the free-agency game is to not re-sign Redick or trade for Anthony, and to save money to make one more large signing to try and improve the team. This could come in the form of throwing a large contract at restricted free agents such as Otto Porter Jr. (Washington Wizards), Tim Hardaway Jr. (Atlanta Hawks), or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Detroit Pistons), and force their current teams to have to match the Clippers’ offer, or lose the player.

 

The future for the Clippers is shrouded in uncertainty, a scary situation for a squad so close to championship contention. In times like these, it is best to look at the positives, and hope that any move they make is the key the Clippers need to take home the NBA crown.

 

 

Touting Trout as the ‘Way Too Early’ MVP

| Sports | April 27, 2017

For the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, there was not much to cheer about when the 2016 MLB season ended. The team finished with a record of 74-88 and missed out on the playoffs for a second straight season. The lone bright spot amongst the disappointment was Mike Trout, the six-year center fielder, who took home his second American League MVP Award.

What allowed Trout to take home the trophy as a member of a team with a losing record — the first to accomplish this feat since Alex Rodriguez in 2003 with the Texas Rangers — was by posting a win above replacement (WAR) of 10.6. This statistic represents the number of wins a player adds to their team above what a replacement player would. Trout’s 10.6 wins was the second most in MLB history for a player on a losing team.

Flash forward to the 2017 MLB season, and the Angels appear to be in the same situation they found themselves in last year. They currently sit in fourth place of the AL West Conference, and have a record of 8-12 through their first 20 games. What differs from last season, however, is that Trout is off to a faster start than the one that eventually garnered him MVP honors in 2016.

Again, Trout sits atop the MLB standings in WAR with 1.9. Aside from leading the league in this category, Trout comes in fourth place in the AL in batting average, hitting 35 percent of the pitches tossed his way. After 20 games last year, his batting average was 30 percent in a season where he finished hitting 32 percent.

Trout’s higher hit tally has caused an increase in the RBIs he’s accounted for as well. This time last year, he batted in just nine runners, compared to the first 20 games of 2017, where Trout has brought in 14 runners. His home runs, while not vastly different, have improved from four last season to five this season.

A factor that can be used to explain Trout’s improved performance is power. He is hitting pitches with strength never before seen in his career, posting a slugging percentage of 68 percent. The formula for slugging percentage is (1B + 2x2B + 3x3b + 4xHR)/At Bats, which, in terms non-math majors can understand, takes into account the outcome of a hit and gives more weight for further distances.

The strength Trout is hitting the ball is a substantial increase from his career high (59 percent in 2015), and ranks him number one in the AL and seventh overall in the MLB. Through the same span of games in 2016, Trout’s slugging percentage was just 53 percent.

Defensively, Trout is on par with last year. His defensive chances have dropped from 67 to 53, and in turn, the number of putouts have dropped from 65 to 51. This time last year, Trout also accounted for two assists and no errors, whereas in 2017 he has one apiece.

Seeing as the season has just begun, it is way too early to tell who will win the AL MVP this season. Still, that won’t stop one from speculating if Trout can take home the award again this year. If he is to do it, he’d be the first player to earn back-to-back MVP honors since Miguel Cabrera for the Detroit Tigers in the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

Trout’s first obstacle in his hunt for consecutive MVPs comes from opposition in the AL Western Conference. Khris Davis of the Oakland A’s leads the AL in home runs, with seven. Trout takes the battle WAR with ease — Davis posts only 0.8 in this category — but both are neck and neck in RBIs and slugging percentage. Davis’ 12 runners batted in sits just two behind Trout’s 14, and Davis’ slugging percentage of 65 percent is second in the AL to Trout.

The other hurdle Trout must overcome is the Angels’ losing record. True, Trout was able to win AL MVP under this circumstance last year, but winning it again, despite a poor team performance, will take a lot of generosity from the voters. As a reminder, the last time it happened was 13 seasons before Trout accomplished it.

The A’s are in second place in the AL Western Conference this season, a sight for sore eye to Oakland fans who had to endure a 69-93 record in 2016. The quick turnaround has the A’s one spot out of the wildcard, which doesn’t mean much this early in the schedule. However, if they are to keep up their winning ways, and Davis’ strong start propels the A’s into the playoffs, it would be hard to justify touting Trout as the MVP.

With 162 games in a season, there are almost infinite possibilities of what can occur. Because of this, the MVP puzzle won’t take shape until further down the line. Angels supporters have enough on their plates hoping their team pulls out of the struggles of the past two seasons, without worrying if Trout will be named the AL’s MVP. It’s better to just bask in the abilities of one of the franchise’s all-time greats playing in his prime.

A Surprising Scarcity of NFL First Round Selections for UCLA and USC

| Sports | April 21, 2017

The NFL Draft is less than a week away, and by now the media is saturated with names of top-prospects expected to be selected before the end of the first round. For UCLA and USC fans, there has been a surprising silence when it comes to pre-draft hype, as both schools boast only one player with first-round potential.

Takkarist McKinley, a linebacker for the Bruins, and Adoree’ Jackson, a cornerback for the Trojans, had phenomenal 2016 seasons, but are expected to fall to late in the opening round or early in the second round of the draft. An examination of their strengths and weakness, however, provides context for their projected draft placement.

Takkarist McKinley

McKinley has exceptional speed for a defensive lineman that measures 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds. At the NFL Draft Combine, he ran a 4.59 40-yard dash, which ranked third for players in his position.

Although the 40-yard dash doesn’t give scouts a representation of a prospect’s speed when in full pads, McKinley’s senior season stats back up his 40-yard time. His 10 sacks, good for third in the PAC-12, demonstrate an ability to quickly get to the quarterback. Furthermore, his 18 tackles for a loss, second in the PAC-12, shows McKinley was able to get through the offensive line in both pass and run situations, and disrupt a play before it could happen.

Getting to the quarterback wasn’t the only way McKinley made an impact on pass plays. His six pass breakups had him tied for second on UCLA. Aside from demonstrating a high football IQ, the ability to break up passes also relies on a player’s ability to jump, as they occasionally have to reach the ball at a high point to ensure it doesn’t reach the intended receiver. At the Combine, McKinley proved to be one of the best jumpers in his position, posting a 33-inch vertical jump (tied for 10th amongst defensive linemen), and a 10-foot, 2-inch broad jump (tied for 12th).

Where McKinley falters as a defensive lineman, however, is in strength. In the bench press portion of the Combine, he was able do 24 reps at the NFL regulation 225 pounds. While this feat is definitely impressive — especially to one who just has to write or read about it — McKinley’s results leaves him out of the top 15 at his position.

This weakness in McKinley’s game hurt his tackling ability throughout the season, as he was able to muster just 61 total tackles, averaging out to 5.5 per game. The amount of tackles McKinley tallied left him tied for 34th in the nation. His strength did come in handy, however, in forcing fumbles. For the year, his three forced fumbles were third best in the NCAA.

CBS Sports’ Mock Draft predicts McKinley will fall to either the Seattle Seahawks (26th pick), the Dallas Cowboys (28th pick), or the New Orleans Saints (32nd pick). For Seattle, adding McKinley would be a move more focused on the future, especially with players like K.J. Wright, Michael Bennett, and the NFL’s leading tackler, Bobby Wagner, in the fold.

Dallas and New Orleans selecting McKinley gives him the best opportunity to start in the opening week. The Saints allowed opposing offenses to rack up 375 yards per game, including a league-worst 273.8 pass yards per game. The Cowboys’ 344 yards per game was in the middle of pack at 19th in the NFL, but when it came to collecting sacks, Benson Mayowa led the team with just six. These are both areas in which McKinley can make an immediate impact, making it much more likely he finds himself with one of these squads.

Adoree’ Jackson

Just two pundits on CBS Sports’ Mock Draft predicts Jackson will find his way into the first round, a surprising result for a player that tallied two kickoff return touchdowns and two punt return touchdowns, while also leading USC with five interceptions and 11 pass breakups. However, the 2017 NFL Draft is becoming known for the strength of its cornerback prospects, making Jackson’s stellar stats look somewhat less significant.

As demonstrated by Jackson’s knack for taking kickoffs and punts to the house, he is incredibly fast, which was further proven by his 40-yard dash time at the Combine, where he posted a 4.42, putting him in a tie for ninth place among defensive backs.

Jackson continued to have a strong Combine, posting a 36-inch vertical jump (tied for 13th in his position), while also jumping 10 feet, 2 inches in the broad jump. The results in these categories, along with his 40-yard dash, are what allow Jackson to stay in step with a team’s number one receiver, and make a play on the ball before the offense can.

A knock against Jackson, however, is his size. At 5 feet,10 inches, teams feel he won’t be able to lock down NFL receivers as well as he did in college. The concern has some merit, but fails to take into account that Chargers’ cornerback Casey Hayward led the NFL in interceptions standing at 5-foot-11.The most interceptions a 5-foot, 10-inch player had in the 2016-2017 season was four, accomplished by 11-year veteran Brent Grimes of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The highest Jackson is predicted to go is to the Dallas Cowboys with the 28th pick. The Cowboys are in desperate need for a starting cornerback, as the team was able to corral just nine total interceptions, which was tied for 27th in the NFL. This struggling secondary was dealt another blow in the offseason, losing Morris Claiborne to the Jets, Brandon Carr to the Ravens, and Barry Church to the Jaguars.

The Steelers are also predicted to make a play for Jackson in the last stages of the first round, where Pittsburgh has the 30th overall selection. The Steelers showed a little more promise in the interception category, tallying 13 for the year, but six were split between Ryan Shazier, a linebacker, and cornerback Artie Burns. Only Lawrence Timmons, another linebacker, had more than one interception outside of Shazier and Burns.

Either team will benefit from Jackson’s ballhawking abilities, and seeing as neither Dallas nor Pittsburgh scored on kickoffs or punts, Jackson’s return skills will make him the instant return-specialist.

Dodgers’ Early Season Seems Eerily Similar to Last Year’s Start

| Sports | April 14, 2017

by Keir Chapman, Mr. Sports

The 2016 MLB season offered both hope and disappointment to Los Angeles Dodgers fans. The concerns about the team’s pitching coming into the season were put to rest, but their 4-2 series loss in the National League Championship Series to the eventual World Champion Chicago Cubs left Los Angeles just short of their first World Series since 1988.

In the offseason, the Dodgers worked to keep the team together in order to make another run at a championship appearance. One key re-signing was that of Rich Hill, the left-handed pitcher Los Angeles acquired from the Oakland A’s in August of 2016. After joining the Dodgers, Hill posted an ERA of 1.83 with 39 strikeouts to just seven earned runs and two home runs allowed.

Los Angeles wasn’t finished in keeping their pitching rotation in pristine condition, as they also re-signed closing pitcher Kenley Jansen. His 47 saves placed him third in the National League in this category, and his 9.5 strikeout-to-walk ratio lead all closing pitchers. Jansen’s phenomenal year earned him his first MLB All-Star appearance.

Retaining these key players, along with third baseman Justin Hunter, who hit 27 home runs for 90 RBIs and .275 batting average in 2016, has allotted the Dodgers a 4-4 record through the first eight games of the season, the same mark they had in this span last season.

Poor pitching from Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw can be pointed to as one of the season’s early problems. He was flawless in his first game against the San Diego Padres, allowing just one earned run and one home run in a 14-3 win for Los Angeles. His second game did not go as smoothly, as Kershaw gave up three home runs, including two back-to-back homers, eight hits, and four earned runs in a 4-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies.
In his first two starts of 2017, Kershaw is 1-1 in wins and losses, while posting an ERA of 3.46. He has also allowed four home runs, the most to start a season in his career. Compared to 2016, where Kershaw’s ERA in his first two starts was 1.20, with only two home runs and earned runs allowed, it is clear Kershaw is struggling in the early goings of the season.

While Kershaw is off to a slow start, he is not the only problem in the Dodgers’ pitching rotation. Kenta Maeda led the team in wins, with 16 in 2016, with only 20 home runs and 68 earned runs allowed. In his first start of this season, however, Maeda allowed three earned runs and a home run to San Diego in the Padres 4-0 win against Los Angeles. Despite notching a 10-6 win against Colorado, Maeda allowed another four earned runs to bring his ERA to 6.30. His ERA last year never reached above 3.48.

The pitching problems only seem to get worse, as Hill was placed on the 10-day disabled list due to blisters on his left middle finger. This comes after his lone start against San Diego, in which Hill allowed only one earned run and home run, while striking out five batters and posting an ERA of 1.80 in the Dodgers’ 3-1 win against the Padres.

Batting appears to be Los Angeles’ saving grace to start the year, led by right fielder Yasiel Puig. His performance in the early stages of 2017 is a welcome sight after a 2016 season where he spent time in the minor leagues due to poor play and attitude. Through the first eight games of that tumultuous year, Puig recorded just one home run and four RBIs. Although his batting average of .379 last season tops the .259 he has so far in 2017, his three home runs and five RBIs helped Los Angeles dominate their first regular season series against San Diego.

Turner has also proved to be worth the large contract he received, as the nine-year player leads Los Angeles with 10 hits and a .357 batting average. Shortstop Corey Seager has elevated his level of play as well, hitting two home runs while leading the Dodgers with eight RBIs, compared to his first eight games in 2016, where he tallied just four RBIs with no homers.

Defensively, Los Angeles has played inconsistently, a factor that hurt them in their 3-2 loss against the Cubs on April 10. An error on a dropped foul ball by Puig in the third inning allowed Kyle Schwarber to eventually score the game’s first run. The Dodgers’ seven season errors total the fifth most in the MLB.

Despite posting 209 putouts, seventh best in the league, Los Angeles only has a fielding percentage of .975, which is good for 25th. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez has been the Dodgers’ best defensive player to start the season, committing no errors and collecting 46 putouts en route to a 1.00 fielding percentage.

Offensively, Los Angeles looks like one of the best teams in the MLB, but they will need the other aspects of their game to improve if they are to make the jump to World Series contenders. The problems in pitching can be solved as players get into the flow of their game throughout the season. Defensively, however, the Dodgers need to learn more discipline and focus in order to lower the number of errors they commit.

The Dodgers begin their first season series against the Arizona Diamondbacks tonight, where Los Angeles will face a familiar face in Zach Greinke. They follow this series with two games against the Rockies, before taking on Arizona again. These battles against the top teams in the NL West Conference will be a good measuring stick to see how the Dodgers stack up against other playoff hopefuls. If they make it to the other side of this strong schedule with a winning record, it will be a good first step in Los Angeles’ quest for a World Series win.

The Rams are Centered on Finding a Center

| Sports | March 31, 2017

In 2016, the newly minted Los Angeles Rams knew they needed to make a big splash to get their new fan base in L.A. excited for the team’s imminent arrival. So, they traded away five draft picks to move from the 15th spot in that year’s NFL Draft to the first overall selection. With the pick, the Rams did what many believed they would and drafted quarterback Jared Goff out of UC Berkeley, hoping they found the new face of the franchise.

The move was flashy, for sure, but bared little results in the season that followed. Los Angeles went 4-12, and Goff finished the season with five touchdowns to seven interceptions after being inserted into the starting lineup in week 11.

Goff’s struggles can be attributed to two factors. First, it was his rookie season and rookies don’t always adjust to the differences of the NFL right away, even when selected first overall. And second, his offensive line was horrendous, allowing whichever quarterback that lined up behind it to be sacked 3.1 times per game, good for second worst in the league.

Rams’ running back Todd Gurley also struggled behind the porous offensive line, rushing for just 885 yards with an average of 3.2 yards per carry, one season after posting 1,106 yards and 4.8 yards per carry.

Los Angeles has taken steps to fix the problems in their offensive line by signing free agent left tackle Andrew Whitworth from the Cincinnati Bengals. In 2016, Whitworth didn’t allow a sack and was only penalized five times (two false starts and three holding penalties).

This move helps shore up Goff’s blindside, but leaves Los Angeles with a glaring problem in the middle of the offensive line. Their starting center last season, Tim Barnes, allowed 6.5 sacks for the season, resulting in a loss of 38.5 yards. Barnes is currently a free agent, leaving the Rams searching for a new center.

This is where the big 2016 draft trade could hurt Los Angeles, as one of the picks they forfeited to the Tennessee Titans was their first round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft. This means the Rams will make their first choice in the second round, 37th overall.

In that time, first round offensive line talents, like Cam Robinson (Alabama), Ryan Ramcyzk (Wisconsin), and Forrest Lamp (Western Kentucky), will most likely be off the board. However, if the Rams are willing to take a risk on a prospect projected to be taken a bit further down the draft board, they could pick up a starting level center in Ethan Pocic out of LSU.

Pocic has the perfect frame for an offensive lineman, standing at 6 feet, 6 inches and 310 pounds. Despite his large size, Pocic is praised for his quick lateral movement, allowing him to quickly find and block defensive players trying to rush into the backfield. Pocic is also praised for his run blocking ability, as he is able to use his speed to get to the second level and block defenders watching for the run.

Multiple NFL mock drafts have Pocic going between the 52-64 picks in the second round, meaning he won’t be available when Los Angeles picks again in the third round. The best available free agent center is Nick Mangold, who may be a viable option for the Rams if they decide to use their draft selections on other areas of need.

Mangold, however, played just eight games during the 2016 season due to an ankle injury. This, along with the fact that Mangold is 33 years old, may give the Rams pause. Los Angeles will also have competitors for the veteran’s services, as the New York Giants and the Cincinnati Bengals are both rumored to be interested in Mangold. Both teams offer him a better chance of winning now, something that may appeal to a player in his11th year.

Outside of Pocic in the 2017 draft, the Rams will most likely be in position to draft John Toth out of Kentucky, or Pat Elfein of Ohio State. Both are a little smaller than the ideal center, Elfein especially, at 6 feet, 3 inches and 303 pounds, but either option can be groomed to be the center of the future for Los Angeles. Going this route would require the team to pick up a center in free agency to serve as a stopgap while the incoming rookie learns the ropes of the NFL.

The offensive line should be priority number one for the Rams, as they try to provide protection for the quarterback they staked their immediate future on, as well as the third-year running back in Todd Gurley that showed so much promise in his rookie season. If Los Angeles can make the right moves in upgrading their offensive line, fans will finally get a chance to see what the team’s backfield of the future can do.

UCLA vs. Kent State: March Madness Preview

| Sports | March 16, 2017

After an 86-75 loss to Arizona in the semifinals of the PAC-12 Tournament, UCLA finds itself the 3rd seed in the Southern Region of the NCAA Tournament. This placement theoretically affords the Bruins an easy route to the Sweet 16, where they will most likely face Kentucky. As has been demonstrated in years past, however, an upset is possible at any stage.

March Madness has seen the 14th seed take down the 3rd seeded team 21 times — numbers that favor UCLA by a large margin, but still leave room for caution. Another factor that should give the Bruins and their fans a pause is they have never faced the opponent they are set to square off against in Sacramento, the Kent State Golden Flashes.

By virtue of winning the Mid-American Conference (MAC) Tournament with a 70-65 victory over the Akron Zips, Kent State earned an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. Going head-to-head with a UCLA team that leads the nation in scoring (90.4 points per game) will be the toughest test the Golden Flashes have had to this point, but those expecting a Bruins blowout should temper their expectations.

Kent State’s defense holds its opponents to 72.3 points per game on 43 percent shooting and 35 percent from the three-point range. UCLA, which leads the nation in field goal percentage at 52 percent, struggled shooting the ball in the PAC-12 tournament, making just 41 percent of their shots and 26 percent from three.

If the Bruins are to avoid falling in the first round, Bryce Alford must fix his recent three-point shooting slump. In the PAC-12 Tournament Alford went 3-17 from deep in both games, including a 1-10 performance in the loss to Arizona. The 20 percent three-point percentage he posted in this stretch seems to be an outlier, as UCLA’s all-time leader in threes made shot 44 percent for the season from that range.

Aside from shooting the ball, UCLA struggled to score, averaging just 75.5 points per game. The Bruins’ poor shooting percentage, paired with an average of 13.5 turnovers per game, explains their inadequate play in the PAC-12 Tournament, and gives them a blueprint of what to focus on in preparation for their upcoming matchup against a Golden Flashes team that forces its opponents to turn the ball over 14 times a game.

UCLA was much maligned during the season for playing down to its opponents, reflected by the fact that it allowed teams not ranked in the top 25 to score 92 points per game. If this trend is to continue against Kent State and their star senior, Jimmy Hall, the Bruins could easily receive an early exit from the NCAA Tournament.

Hall, like UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, does a little bit of everything for the Golden Flashes. Hall leads the team in scoring, with 18.9 points per game and an eFG% of 52, rebounding, with 10.5 per game (12th in the nation); assisting, at 2.8 per game; and blocking, with 1.4 per game. When he’s on the court, Hall helps the offense score 116.5 points per 100 possessions, while allowing opponents only 96.7 points per 100 possessions.

What makes Hall a nightmare matchup for the Bruins is that he stands at 6 feet, 8 inches and 235 pounds. Although UCLA holds the height advantage, Hall’s speed at the forward position will make it difficult for the Bruins’ forwards to defend him one-on-one.

The zone the Bruins have implemented since losing to USC has allowed them to hold opponents to 72 points per game, and would be the best way to defend against Kent State. Although the Golden Flashes don’t shoot the three-pointer particularly well, UCLA’s zone allowed USC and Arizona to shoot a combined average of 43 percent from deep in the PAC-12 tournament.

If Kent State’s shots start to fall in a similar way, it would behoove the Bruins to put Ball on Hall, as Ball stands at 6 feet, 6 inches and 190 pounds. He averages 1.9 steals per game and 0.8 blocks, and allows opponents just 98.4 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court. His knack for reading plays and hounding the players he defends could cause Hall to be thrown off his game.

Another area of concern for UCLA is the amount of offensive rebounds they allow. For the season, their opponents have grabbed 10.5 offensive rebounds per game, doing this against a Bruins lineup that boasts five players that stand 6 feet, 10 inches or taller.

If any team was built to exploit this weakness, it’s Kent State, which is second in the nation in offensive rebounds, with 15 per game, and Hall coming in fifth in the nation individually, with 4.1 per game. This affords the Golden Flashes multiple opportunities to score in rapid succession, putting more pressure on the Bruins’ defense.

When it comes to sharing the ball, saying UCLA takes the advantage is an understatement. The Bruins lead the country in assists, with 21.9 per game, while Kent State comes in 240th, with 12.5 per game. To make matters worse for the Golden Flashes, they turn the ball over 13 times per game for an assist-to-turnover ratio of 0.96. On the other hand, UCLA has 11.5 turnovers per game, good for an NCAA leading assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.86 per game.

UCLA’s height gives them an edge over Kent State in shot blocking, with the Golden Flashes carrying only one player over 6 feet, 10 inches on their roster. Because of their length, the Bruins have tallied 5.4 blocks per game, which is 13th best in the nation. They have been able to accomplish this feat while only committing 542 fouls during the season, giving them a .33 block-to-foul ratio, making them 7th in the nation in this category.

Ike Anigbogu, UCLA’s 6-foot, 10-inch freshman accounts for an astounding 9 percent of the team’s total blocks when he’s on the court en route to 1.3 blocks per game. However, his inexperience has led to an average of 2.6 fouls per game. This problem should be negated by the fact that Kent State won’t have many post players, giving Anigbogu less opportunities to foul.

There is just a 16 percent chance that UCLA is ousted by Kent State in the first round, and by all accounts, the Bruins should be moving on to the second round. But March Madness isn’t just a nickname for the NCAA Tournament. It conveys the idea that no opponent should be taken lightly, and upsets are always around the corner. After an incredibly successful regular season, UCLA hopes it doesn’t find itself as one of March Madness’ first victims.

Losing to Win: The Lakers Look to the Future in the Looming NBA Draft

| Sports | March 10, 2017

While the NBA’s top teams duke it out for prime playoff positions, the league’s low-tier squads stage a similar fight for a better selection in the 2017 NBA Draft.

The Los Angeles Lakers find themselves in a tricky situation because, if their pick falls out of the top-three, they must forfeit it to the Philadelphia 76ers.

This threat has caused Los Angeles to make moves that, while detrimental to the team’s immediate success, will increase its chances of keeping its draft selection. First and foremost is the trading of Sixth-Man of the Year candidate Lou Williams to the Houston Rockets for Corey Brewer and Houston’s first round selection.

Now ranked at the bottom of the Western Conference, the Lakers’ odds of holding onto their pick looks bright and, with that in mind, it’s time to look at three players who can make an immediate impact on a Los Angeles team deep in the midst of a rebuilding process.

Markelle Fultz

If the Lakers’ pick is anything but first overall, Fultz may be out of their reach, as the freshman from Washington University is considered the top prospect of 2017 and the consensus first choice in the draft. However, if the lottery selection falls in L.A.’s favor, Fultz is an immediate upgrade to the team’s point guard needs.

Currently, second-year player D’Angelo Russell is slotted as the Lakers’ starting point guard. As a scoring option, Russell is second to none, producing 15 points per game with an efficient field goal percentage (eFG%)* of 48 percent. This means that Russell scores 15 points per game, all while shooting the ball efficiently on almost half of all his attempts.

Along with scoring, point guards must also excel at distributing the ball, a stat that Russell has improved on from his rookie season. He has gone from averaging three assists a game, to five in just one season, and also accounts for 29 percent of the team’s total assists while he is on the court.

The progress Russell has shown in such a short amount of time offers hope of an upward trend throughout his career, but the addition of Fultz as the team’s primary point guard would relieve Russell from having the responsibilities of being the Lakers’ leading scorer and distributor.

In Fultz’s freshman year, he has averaged six assists per game and accounts for a whopping 34 percent of Washington’s assists while he is playing. Paired with only three turnovers a game, Fultz already demonstrates elite efficiency at the age of 18.

His scoring is also above average, as Fultz accounts for 23 points per game with an eFG of 53 percent. With Russell and Fultz as L.A.’s starting backcourt, opposing teams would have to contend with two guards who can create their own shot, while helping their teammates find better looks to score, as well.

The knock against both players is that their defensive ratings leave something to be desired. Russell allows 111 points per 100 possessions, while Fultz allows 108. This could be the product of both playing on less than stellar teams, but that will be revealed when the Lakers begin to hit their stride.

Lonzo Ball

Ball breathes Los Angeles basketball. The PAC-12 Freshman of the Year gained notoriety on a Chino Hills High School team that is ranked as one of the best high school teams in America. From there, Ball excelled at UCLA, helping the Bruins earn a spot as the number three ranked team in the nation.

Like Fultz, Ball plays the point guard position. Unlike Fultz, however, Ball emphasizes distributing the ball over scoring.

UCLA leads the nation in assists per game, with 21.7, due in large part to the efforts of Ball, who also leads the NCAA individually, with 7.8. Although Ball accounts for 32 percent of the team’s assists while he is on the court, one percent less than Fultz, this is due to the fact that Aaron Holiday accounts for 23 percent. Washington’s next highest distributor is David Crisp at 16 percent.

Ball doesn’t post eye-popping numbers in terms of scoring (15 points per game), but the efficiency in which he scores is a factor that would help the Lakers greatly. Ball’s eFG% is a staggering 62 percent, making Los Angeles’s Nick Young’s 57 percent seem pedestrian.

Another aspect of Ball that makes him such a tantalizing prospect is his build. His 6-foot, 6-inch, 190-pound frame is above average for his position and, as such, has helped him grab six rebounds per game. Ball has yet to record a triple double in his collegiate career, but the freshman has the potential to record one in any given game.

A major criticism of Ball, however, is his shooting form. On jump shots, he brings the ball up from his hip in a wind up motion that prognosticators predict will be easy to block at the NBA level. However, Ball makes 42 percent of his three-point shots, so this critique is all speculation at this point.

Jonathan Isaac

After Fultz and Ball, the third pick is not as set in stone. While many mock drafts have freshman small forward Josh Jackson out of Kansas at this spot, the Lakers used their second-overall pick in 2016 on a similar prospect in Brandon Ingram.

Isaac is also listed as a small forward, but stands at 6 feet, 10 inches and 210 pounds, giving him the size and strength advantage over Jackson.

This height has helped Isaac average 7.2 rebounds per game, while averaging 16 percent of Florida State’s total rebounds while he is on the court. The power he brings to the small forward position allows him to average 1.5 blocks per game, whereas Jackson only averages 1.1.

Jackson takes the edge in points per game, at 16.4 to Isaac’s 12.2, but Isaac shoots the ball more efficiently, with an eFG% of 59 percent to Jackson’s 55 percent. This, coupled with Isaac’s lower turnover rate (1.5 to Jackson’s 2.8 per game), is what allows Isaac to produce 125 points per 100 possessions for Florida State, to Josh Jackson’s 110 points per 100 possessions for Kansas.

Isaac also takes the edge in defense, allowing opponents to score just 94 points per 100 possessions while he is on the court, to Jackson’s 96 points per 100 possessions. Isaac also accounts for 6 percent of the Seminoles’ total blocks when he plays, to Jackson’s 3 percent.

Regardless of which small forward the Lakers choose, they will receive a potential building block for their future. The consensus may be in favor of Jackson at this time, but Isaac’s size and defensive efficiency would be a big boost to a Los Angeles team that allows its opponents to score 110.8 points per game, good for fourth lowest in the NBA.

Either selection projects to be coming off the bench to start his NBA career, and both will boost the Lakers’ second unit tremendously. But, seeing how close both Isaac and Jackson are in skill set, Los Angeles fans should hope for one of the first two picks in order to avoid this difficult decision.

* eFG% is “A measurement of efficiency as a shooter in all field goal attempts with three-point attempts weighted fairly,” according to realgm.com.

The Stage is Set for Lakers and Celtics Showdown at Staples Center

| Sports | March 3, 2017

November 9, 1948 is the first time the Minneapolis Lakers played the Boston Celtics. Nearly 70 years later, the rivalry has blossomed into the NBA’s most storied showdown.

Today, the two franchises face off for the 358th time, with the Celtics on the brink of winning their 200th game against the Lakers. Although the matchup has lost some of the fire in recent years as both teams have gone through a rebuilding phase, the second meeting of the season for both squads offers plenty of storylines.

Coming into their first matchup of the year on February 3 in Boston, the Celtics and Lakers were tied for most wins in NBA history at 3,252. The 113-107 victory for the Celtics gave them the record over their longtime foe, and set Boston up to potentially sweep the season series for the first time since the 2007-2008 season.

In that span, the Lakers have swept the regular season series against Boston in the 2008-2009, 2011-2012, and 2013-2014 seasons.

Los Angeles and Boston also boast two of the more promising rookies from the 2016 NBA Draft class in Brandon Ingram and Jaylen Brown, respectively.

Both players made an impact in the first meeting, logging over 30 minutes of playing time each. Along with their time on the court, the two players’ stat lines were nearly identical. Ingram scored 14 points on 50 percent shooting, grabbed six rebounds, and notched one assist. Brown scored 12 points on 43 percent shooting, snared seven rebounds, and recorded one assist as well.

For the season, Ingram averages 8.3 points to Brown’s 6.1, but Brown scores with more efficiency, posting an effective field goal percentage of 49 percent to Ingram’s 42 percent, according to realgm.com.

Since the All-Star break, both rookies have had strong showings, with Ingram averaging 16.5 points and 3.5 rebounds in 37 minutes per game, while Brown has averaged 13.6 points and 3.3 rebounds in 27 minutes per game.

One major change that may make the difference in the second meeting is the absence of the Lakers’ leading scorer for the season, Lou Williams (18.6 points per game). Williams was traded on February 22 to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Corey Brewer and the Rockets’ first-round pick in 2017.

Williams led Los Angeles in scoring against Boston with 21 points. Behind him was D’Angelo Russell, the second-year player with superstar potential, with 20 points. With Williams no longer with the team, Russell is given the reigns of the offense and has responded by averaging 23.5 points per game since the trade.

Whereas the Lakers will be without Williams, Boston will still have their leading scorer for both the first game and for the season in Isaiah Thomas. He dropped 38 points against Los Angeles, including 17 in the fourth quarter.

Thomas’s 29.6 points per game for the year is second in the NBA only to UCLA alumnus Russell Westbrook (who is currently averaging a triple double for the season). Thomas also averages 10.5 points per game in the fourth quarter.

A win over the Celtics would provide a moral victory for a Lakers team nowhere near contending for a playoff spot this season, but may hurt them in the long run. If Los Angeles’ draft pick falls out of the top three, it is owed to the Philadelphia 76ers. In a draft deep with talent — Washington University’s Markelle Fultz and UCLA’s Lonzo Ball are projected to be future superstars — the Lakers can ill-afford to lose their pick.

Still, Los Angeles won’t roll over against Boston, and can easily pull off an upset against a recently struggling Celtics team. However, Boston’s depth and Thomas’ prolific fourth quarter scoring should be enough to give them the edge.

The stakes in the Lakers-Celtics rivalry are not as high as they used to be, but the bad blood between the two fan bases, along with the history behind the matchup, will always lead to an exciting game. And, on March 3, the Staples Center will be treated to another installment of Los Angeles versus Boston, a showdown where anything can happen.

Super Sunday Breeds Big Moments for Boston Sports

| Sports | February 9, 2017

An article about Boston sports in an L.A.-area newspaper? The word “blasphemous” comes to mind.

However, the events that transpired on February 5 for both the Celtics and Patriots transcend city boundaries, and can be appreciated by sports fans the world over.

It began with the Celtics hosting the Los Angeles Clippers and the return of Paul Pierce for his final game at the TD Gardens.

Pierce, the Inglewood native, was drafted in 1998 by Boston and spent 15 years with the team he loathed growing up. In that time, Pierce became the face of the franchise, closing his Celtics career as the leader in 3-pointers with 1,823, and second in points with 24,021.

Alongside Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo, Pierce helped bring an NBA Championship to Boston in 2008, defeating the Lakers in the Finals, 4-2. For any L.A. fans that are offended, the Lakers got their revenge in the 2010 Finals, winning 4-3.

After being traded to the Brooklyn Nets with Garnett in 2013, Pierce bounced around the league, playing for the Nets and Wizards before finally settling down with the Clippers in 2015.

Super Bowl Sunday saw the Celtics’ arena sold-out as fans flocked to catch a final glimpse of one of the most iconic fixtures in the franchise, despite the fact he wore the opposing team’s jersey.

Pierce started the farewell game with an honorary spot in the starting lineup from one-time Celtics coach, Doc Rivers, who now runs the show with the Clippers.

The game itself saw the Celtics lead the entire way, prompting the crowd to chant for Pierce to retake the court throughout the final quarter. As time ticked down, it seemed as though that wouldn’t happen.

With 19 seconds remaining, however, Pierce entered the game for Blake Griffin and proceeded to create a highlight that will live on in Boston sports lore forever.

Pierce received the ball behind the three-point line and got a shot off with 10 seconds remaining. As it left his hands, those watching knew the ball had to go in. And then it did.

The crowd rose to its feet at the feat they had just witnessed. Pierce, who had never gone scoreless at the TD Gardens, ensured that would never change in dramatic fashion, creating a feel-good moment that made the final 107-102 score in favor of the Celtics, trivial. As a final goodbye, Pierce dropped to his knees at mid-court to kiss the “Lucky the Leprechaun” logo one last time.

Despite the beauty of this moment, Boston had to quickly turn its attention to Houston, as the New England Patriots were set to square off with the Atlanta Falcons.

The Patriots were looking to acquire their fifth Super Bowl victory in 15 years, cementing their dynasty as one of the best in the history of the NFL. But first, they had to get past a Falcons team that boasted the NFL MVP in quarterback Matt Ryan.
Along with Ryan, Atlanta’s number one offense in the League was led by wide receiver Julio Jones, as well as running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.

This lineup was poised to cause problems for the Patriots’ number one defense in points allowed per game. After the first-half, it appeared that the Falcons had gotten the better of their foe.

The first quarter began with a defensive battle, as both teams punted twice. The tide began to turn a minute into the second frame, as LeGarrette Blount fumbled the ball at the Atlanta 33-yard-line, which Robert Alford of the Falcons recovered.

From there, the Falcons marched down the field in five plays, ending in a 5-yard Freeman run for a touchdown.

The Patriots would punt on the ensuing possession, with the Falcons in full control of the game’s momentum. After another five plays, they were in the end zone again, as Ryan found tight end Austin Hooper for a 19-yard strike to make the score 14-0.

Three third-down defensive holding penalties on the Falcons kept the next New England drive alive, until Tom Brady threw a pass into tight coverage, and Alford took the interception 82-yards to the house, giving Atlanta a 21-0 advantage.

After bringing the ball to the Falcons’ 10 yard line, a Martellus Bennett hold, and a screen pass to Bennett that lost three yards forced New England to settle for a 31-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski.

Ordinarily, the Patriots’ 21-3 halftime deficit would mean their demise, as no team trailing by 10 points in the Super Bowl had ever come back to win. After Ryan found Coleman with 8:30 left in the third quarter to make the score 28-3, it appeared not even New England would find a way to win.

No one told them that, however.

Brady completed five of his six passes, for 36 yards, on the next drive, breathing new life into his team with a 5-yard touchdown pass to James White. Gostkowski knocked the wind right out of the team when he missed the extra point.

After an Atlanta three-and-out, Gostkowsi got redemption in the fourth quarter, putting a 23-yard field goal through the uprights to bring the score to 28-12. Then the defense began to come alive.

Dont’a Hightower, who leads New England’s defense from the linebacker position, sacked Ryan at the Falcons 36-yard-line, forcing a fumble which was recovered by Alan Branch.

The Patriots could ill-afford to waste time in putting up points, and with only two and a half minutes gone by, Brady found Danny Amendola for a 6-yard touchdown, with a much-needed two-point conversion from White, making the score 28-20.

The Falcons needed only a field goal to put the game to bed, and with a 39-yard pass to Devonta Freeman, followed by a spectacular 27-yard completion to Jones against the sideline, Atlanta was in prime position to pull off the upset.

With just under four minutes remaining, however, Atlanta elected to pass instead of running out the clock, leading to a sack from Trey Flowers, who registered 2.5 sacks for the game.

The loss of 12 yards was almost gained back on the following play, a 9-yard completion to Mohamed Sanu, but a Falcons holding penalty made it 3rd and 33 from the New England 45-yard-line. A Ryan incompletion forced the Falcons to punt.

Despite the defensive stand, the odds were still against the Patriots, as they had to travel 91 yards with only 3:30 remaining, and convert a second two-point conversion, to tie the game.

After Brady completed six of his next nine passes for 90 yards, White hammered the ball home on a 1-yard touchdown run, and Amendola tied the game with a two-point reception from Brady. Tied 28-28, the Super Bowl was going into overtime for the first time in the history of the game.

When New England won the coin toss, the world knew the game was over. Brady threw just one incompletion as the Patriots moved the ball with ease 75 yards down the field. White made sure the Falcons would not have a chance to touch the ball again, scoring from one yard out to bring the final score to 34-28.

The Patriots’ 25-point comeback is being hailed as one of the best performances in any Super Bowl, and gives Brady five rings, one more than any other NFL quarterback.

The win also brings an end to the Deflategate debacle that caused Brady to miss the first four games of the season, and has haunted the franchise since its birth in 2015.

Now, New England is favored to win next season’s Super Bowl, and with Brady confirming his return, the possibility looks ever more likely.

Whether they repeat or not, however, remains to be seen. But, February 5, 2017 will be remembered in Boston for years to come, and will be celebrated as one of the most historic days in the city’s sports history.

Taking a Trip Through Time with Tennis

| Sports | February 3, 2017

Serena Williams versus Venus Williams and Roger Federer versus Rafael Nadal in the finals of the Australian Open.

No, this isn’t the early 2000s. These were the actual pairings for the 2017 Australian Open Finals, matchups that harkened back to a time before the likes of Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, and Angelique Kerber were the stars of tennis.

Just how unlikely was this outcome?

The last time Federer and Nadal squared off in the final round of a Grand Slam tournament was in the 2011 French Open, which Nadal took in four sets.

The Williams sisters last met on the court of a Grand Slam final in the 2009 Wimbledon Championship, a match that Serena won in two sets. It also marked the last time Venus made it to the finals of a Grand Slam tournament.

Serena’s path to the 2017 Australian Open Finals saw that she never surrendered a set to any of her opponents.

Venus, on the other hand, was tested by fellow American Coco Vandeweghe in the semifinal round. Vandeweghe had previously ousted the tournament’s number one seed, Kerber, 6-2, 6-3. A two-set victory over Garbine Muguruza in the quarterfinals left Vanderweghe face-to-face with the older Williams sister.

The first set between the two was tightly contested, with Vanderweghe winning 7-6 (7-3). From that point on, Venus took control of the second and third sets; she won the match with a score of 6-7 (3-7), 6-2, 6-3. Although Vanderweghe led Williams in winning shots (37 to 30), it was her unforced errors (51 to 35) that eventually led to her falling short of the final round.

Serena swept the final match against Venus 6-4, 6-4 in an hour and 21 minutes, but statistics show a closer match than one would assume from the outcome. Serena had the advantage in winning shots (27 to 21), while also winning a higher percentage of points at the net (86 percent to 63 percent).

Venus had slightly more unforced errors (25 to 23), but committed fewer double faults (3 to 5), and won a higher percentage of break point opportunities (67 percent to 36 percent). The win for Serena brings the overall record between the two to 17-11 in her favor.

Nadal (9) and Federer (17) were aided by two monumental upsets on their way to the Australian Open’s final round.

Djokovic was unable to make it out of the second round due to a strong performance from wildcard Denis Istomin, who upset the Association of Tennis Professionals’ (ATP) second-ranked player 7-6 (10-8), 5-7, 2-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4 in a time span of four hours and 48 minutes.

Murray, ranked number one in ATP, made it only to the fourth round, losing to another unproven commodity in Mischa Zverev, in four sets.

Despite not having to face the two toughest opponents in the Australian Open, both Nadal and Federer were still tested on their way to the finals.

Federer faced Kei Nishikori (5) in a match that lasted five sets before Federer came out on top. He later played fellow Swiss Stan Wawrinka (4) in the semifinals; it was another game that ended in a five-set thriller in favor of Federer.

Nadal had to take on the likes of Gael Monfils (6) in the fourth round, needing four sets to eventually advance. He then swept Milos Raonic (3), before going five sets with Grigor Dimitrov (15) in the semifinals.

The 35th meeting between Nadal and Federer was everything tennis fans hoped it would be. Neither player won consecutive sets in a match that lasted a little over three and a half hours, with Federer eventually winning 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.

Federer led the way in aces (20 to 4) and winning shots (73 to 35), but allowed Nadal to hang around for the entirety of the match because of unforced errors (57 to 28).

Nadal also took the advantage in points at the net percentage, converting 10 of his 12 opportunities (83 percent). Federer could only capitalize on 29 of his 40 chances (73 percent), keeping alive Nadal’s opportunities to score.

The victory for Federer is the first time since the 2007 Wimbledon Championship that he has gotten the better of Nadal in a Grand Slam final. However, Nadal leads the rivalry with an overall record of 23-12.

By virtue of making it to the Australian Open Finals, the champions and runner-ups find themselves jumping ranks. Venus Williams is now ranked 11th overall in WTA, while her younger sister, Serena Williams, snags the top spot.

Nadal moved up three spots in the ATP rankings, from 9th to 6th, while Federer had the largest jump in rankings, moving seven spots from 17th to 10th.

The next Grand Slam tournament is the French Open that begins on May 29, a tournament that Serena won in 2015, while Federer last won in 2009.

How the results of the 2017 Australian Open affect the rest of the tennis season remains to be seen, but the tournament gave viewers a glimpse of the sport’s most classic matchups, one that should be cherished by sports fans the world over.

Bruins Looking to Losses to Build a Better Contender

| Sports | January 26, 2017

UCLA Men’s Basketball shocked the college basketball world when they traveled to Rupp Arena and took down the then number one ranked University of Kentucky Wildcats.

The 97-92 victory had many hailing these Bruins as the best team in the nation, one that would be able to bring the university its first National Championship since 1995.

Although UCLA is still on pace to make a deep push into the playoffs, the Bruins have had trouble against ranked opponents since their upset win over Kentucky.

Their first loss of the season came at the beginning of PAC12 play, when Dillion Brooks of the then ranked 21 Oregon Ducks hit a three-pointer with 0.8 seconds remaining in the game, giving them an 89-87 win over UCLA.

The six wins that followed made it seem as though the Bruins’ tough times were behind them, until they hosted the Arizona Wildcats on January 21. Ranked 12 at the time, Arizona looked in control all game against the once second ranked UCLA.

The 96-85 win for the Wildcats allowed them to leap-frog the Bruins in the standings, the former sitting at number seven in the country, while the later is now number eight.

There are a multitude of factors that led to UCLA’s two losses, the one common to both games being fouls. The Bruins committed 19 personal fouls in their defeats, allowing Oregon to go 18-25 from the foul line, and Arizona to go 19-21.

In the Bruins’ match with Oregon, UCLA’s uncharacteristic turnovers were another reason for their loss. The Bruins lead the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio, with 1.88 per game, but gave the ball away 14 times to the Ducks’ nine.

While the Bruins cut down on the turnovers against Arizona (six for the game), UCLA’s defense allowed the Wildcats to make 50 percent of their shots and 45 percent of their three-point shots. This, coupled with the Bruins’ offense only making 45 percent of their total shots and 37 percent of their threes, is how the nation’s second highest scoring team (93 points per game), was held to only 85.

The issues in UCLA’s two losses appear as outliers that can easily be addressed. However, a problem that may persist is the Bruins’ inability to grab offensive rebounds. Against Oregon, the Ducks grabbed 16 offensive boards to UCLA’s 11. Arizona’s margin was much closer, a 12-10 advantage for the Wildcats.

The Bruins’ 9.1 offensive rebounds per game is second lowest in the PAC12 and allowed Arizona to score 24 second-chance points. The height UCLA possesses should make this new-found weakness easy to correct, but they will have to have a renewed focus on boxing out opponents when they miss a shot, to make the necessary change.

At the end of the day, two losses is nothing Bruins fans should lose sleep over. Now that Oregon ranks 10th in the nation, UCLA’s defeats come at the hands of two top-10 teams, and have shown what the Bruins will need to work on, come March Madness.

UCLA’s high octane offense is the best basketball being played in Los Angeles, and even after facing adversity, still makes them a favorite to take home their first National Championship in 20 years.

The Chargers Long for Cheers as They Look for Love in Los Angeles

| Sports | January 19, 2017

As was discussed in a previous article, the idea of the San Diego Chargers moving to Los Angeles was not a cause for celebration in either city.

The thought came to fruition on January 12, when team chairman Dean Spanos announced that the Chargers would be moving three hours up the road to make a new home in the City of Angels.

The response has been less than heavenly.

With the announcement came the unveiling of a new team logo, the initials “LA” in white over a dark blue background. Sound familiar? Aside from the text being shaped to look like lightning, the Chargers essentially copied the logo of Los Angeles’ favorite baseball team, the Dodgers.

Football fans and sports pundits alike had a field day, making jokes and memes fueled by the counterfeit logo. The immediate backlash brought about an immediate update to the design, making the “LA” initials yellow and the background powder blue.

In reality, however, it didn’t matter what the Chargers did for a new logo, as the negative response was more a reflection of the feelings that the move has caused in the football community.

The day of the announcement saw fans burning San Diego memorabilia, flipping off, and even egging, the team’s headquarters.

In Los Angeles, LA times writer Bill Plaschke wrote that the “Chargers shouldn’t look for a welcome wagon in L.A.”

The public’s rejection of this move mirrors the response seen last year when the then St. Louis Rams decided to make the trek to Southern California. Rams fans in St. Louis felt betrayed by a billionaire owner who, instead of funding the building of a new stadium in St. Louis, asked the community to pay for it through taxes, and left when they said no.

Chargers owner Alex Spanos made the same move in last November’s election with “Measure C,” which San Diego residents shot down. The result had members of the media immediately predicting the team’s move. What came as a real surprise, however, is where the Chargers have decided to set up shop.

While both Los Angeles teams await the completion of the new stadium in Inglewood in 2019, the Chargers have announced they will be playing their home games in the StubHub Center, the home stadium for L.A.’s professional soccer team, the Galaxy.

With a capacity of 30,000, the StubHub center is easily the smallest current NFL stadium. And with the stadium’s director of communications, Brendan Hannan, saying that “the Galaxy is the main priority for StubHub Center,” it appears the Chargers would have been better off in San Diego.

For better or worse, the Chargers will be Los Angeles’ newest team, and while ownership and marketing have both been floundering during the entirety of this saga, the product on the field looks very promising.
Although the Chargers finished 5-11 last season, injuries and poor late game execution can be pointed to as factors in the less than stellar record. The result of the down year was the firing of head coach Mike McCoy, and the 7th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
To replace McCoy, the Chargers named Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn as the team’s newest head coach. Lynn, who also served as the Bills’ running backs’ coach, helped Buffalo lead the NFL in rushing touchdowns, with 29, as well as rushing yards, with 2,630.

Lynn will inherit Melvin Gordon in Los Angeles, a third-year running back who came within three yards of a 1,000-yard rushing season and posted 10 rushing touchdowns. The running back position was the weakest part of the Chargers’ strong offense, and looks to further improve under the guide of Lynn.

The defensive end of the ball is where Los Angeles should be looking to make major improvements if they want to get back to their winning ways. This begins with resigning pending free agent linebacker Melvin Ingram, who had 10 tackles for a loss, eight sacks, and five forced fumbles in 2016.

They can also use the seventh pick in the draft to shore up a defensive line that allowed 20 rushing touchdowns for the season. Malik McDowell, a defensive tackle out of Michigan State, is projected to be available when the Chargers make their first selection, and with a 6-foot, 6-inch, 276-pound frame, McDowell would be the perfect nose tackle to plug up running holes up the middle.

Every facet of the Chargers’ move to Los Angeles has looked bad up to this point, but winning will solve all of their problems. The newest L.A. team looks closer to competing than the Rams, and when the Chargers find more immediate success, it will be easier for football fans in Los Angeles to embrace them.

NFL Division Roundup

| Sports | January 12, 2017

The Wild Card round of the NFL Playoffs was as exciting as watching the Cleveland Browns play the San Francisco 49ers. The first week of football’s postseason saw the home teams win every game, and the losing teams score no more than 14 points.

This weekend’s Divisional Round looks to differ from the dud that was last week’s matchups, as all top-four seeds have moved on to the second round and an upset is possible at any time.

Here’s a look at each match in the order they take place.

Seattle at Atlanta: 1/14 @ 1:35 p.m. on Fox

The battle of the birds boasts a battle between the third best defense in the league in points allowed (18.3 points per game) in the Seahawks, and the number one scoring offense (33.8 points per game)in the Falcons.

For the Falcons to continue scoring at such a high clip, Matt Ryan must continue to play at the MVP level he has demonstrated all season. Ryan has thrown just seven interceptions to 38 touchdowns, and was 56 yards shy of a 5,000-yard passing season.

While Seattle’s defense has been outstanding all season, creating turnovers has not been their strength. They have only forced 19 total takeaways, and will need to rely more on their ability to stop opposing offenses from gaining yards, to win the game. For the regular season, the Seahawks were fifth in the nation in yards-per-game, allowing only 318.7.

Ryan’s receiving core of Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, and Taylor Gabriel accounted for 16 of his touchdown passes, with Jones gathering 1,409 receiving yards. The Seahawks secondary, led by Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor, only allowed 16 touchdowns all season, and will need to play their best game to force the Falcons into running more.

However, running the ball is one of Atlanta’s strengths as well. The duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined for 1,599 yards and 19 touchdowns for the year. Seattle’s Bobby Wagner, who led the NFL in tackles, with 167, will be looked to to slow down Atlanta’s run game if the Seahawks are to pull off the upset.

For Seattle’s offense, the key to the game is to give Russell Wilson time to find his receivers. The quick-footed quarterback was sacked 42 times in the regular season, and will be faced with the NFL regular season sack leader, Vic Beasley, who got to opposing quarterbacks 15.5 times for the Falcons.

If the Seahawks can’t slow Atlanta’s offense, this game will quickly turn into a shootout, as the Falcons ranked near the bottom of the league defensively in points-per-game, giving up an average of 25.4.

Final score prediction:

Atlanta: 27
Seattle: 24

Houston at New England: 1/14 @ 5:15 p.m. on CBS

This match is projected to mirror the excitement of the Wild Card round, as the Patriots have begun the week as 16 point favorites over the visiting Texans, a spread that has only been seen three times in the past 40 years.

This comes as no surprise, as New England defeated Houston in week 3 of the regular season, 27-0, with third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett at the helm of the Patriots’ offense.

However, the Texans are playing much better football, especially on the defensive end of the ball. They finished the regular season as the league leader in yards allowed per game, with 301.3. Despite this, however, they ranked 11th in points-per-game, with 20.5.

They will be tested by Tom Brady, who was serving his four-game suspension during the first meeting, who threw for 3,554 yards, 28 touchdowns, and just two interceptions in only 12 games.

Houston’s defense only forced 11 interceptions (tied for 21st in the league), and defended 68 passes (tied for 20th). They also allowed 13 rushing touchdowns in the regular season, and will have to find a way to stop LaGarrette Blount, who scored the most rushing touchdowns in the NFL, with 18, from finding the end zone.

New England’s defense played at the same proficient level as the offense, leading the league in points allowed, with 15.6. The Texans struggled to score all season, culminating in a paltry 17.4 points per game.

Houston quarterback Brock Osweiler, who has earned back his starting position after being benched for Tom Savage in the 21-20 week 16 victory over Jacksonville, threw 16 interceptions to just 15 touchdowns, and will face a Patriot’s defense that forced 13 interceptions during the regular season.

The Patriot’s defense also only allowed 3.9 yards per rushing attempt to opposing running backs, which will challenge Houston’s Lamar Miller, who was 10th in the nation during the regular season in total yards, gaining 1,073.

Final score prediction:

New England: 34
Houston: 13

Pittsburgh at Kansas City: 1/15 @ 10:05 a.m. on NBC

The game between the Steelers and the Chiefs could be the lowest scoring match of the weekend. Kansas City’s defense was seventh in the nation during the regular season in points allowed, with 19.4 per game, which Pittsburgh’s defense nearly matched, with 20.4 per game, good for 10th in the nation. How the two teams achieved these numbers, however, differs greatly.

Kansas City led all teams in turnovers forced, with 33, 18 of which came on interceptions. Cornerback Marcus Peters finished the year with six interceptions, second best in the NFL. Safety Eric Berry was not far behind, with four interceptions of his own, two of which he returned for touchdowns.

The Steelers’ defense stopped offenses with pure strength, amassing 1,031 total tackles (12th in the NFL), and 38 sacks (9th in the NFL). While no Pittsburgh player led in these categories, Lawrence Timmons led the team with 114 tackles, and James Harrison got to the quarterback more than any other Steelers player, with five sacks at age 38.

Offensively, both teams produced points at a very similar rate, 24.9 points for the Steelers to the Chiefs’ 24.3. However, Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger threw 29 touchdowns to Alex Smith’s 15,

and has a top-tier wide receiver in Antonio Brown (1,284 yards and 12 touchdowns).

The Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell is also regarded as one of the best running backs in the league, and ran for 1,268 yards for the season while averaging 105.7 yards per game. Kansas City’s running attack as a whole only averaged 109.3 yards per game.

The Chiefs’ saving grace on offense comes in the form of rookie Tyreek Hill, who scored six receiving touchdowns, three touchdowns, two punt return touchdowns, and one kickoff return touchdown. Hill’s blistering speed gives him big play potential every time he touches the ball, and may be what gives Kansas City the edge in a game where points will be at a premium,

Final score prediction:

Pittsburgh: 20
Kansas City: 17

Green Bay at Dallas: 1/15 @ 1:40 p.m. on Fox

The NFL saved the best match for last in the Divisional Round, giving pundits time to ponder about whether Dallas’ rookie duo of quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliot, will be ready to perform in the playoffs.

Both players were named to the pro bowl after stellar years that saw Prescott throw for 23 touchdowns to four interceptions, and Elliot lead the league in rushing yards, with 1,631, and score 14 touchdowns on the ground as well.

Prescott will enjoy little pressure from the Packers pass defense, as Green Bay has allowed a league-worst 8.1 yards per completion, as well as 32 total passing touchdowns during the regular season. They were, however, able to force 17 interceptions, good for fourth in the league.

Elliot will have a tougher time facing the eight best rushing defense in total yards, as Green Bay only allowed 1,515 rushing yards for the year. Their 11 total rushing touchdowns for the regular season brought them to a tie for 10th place in the NFL.

The Packers’ Aaron Rodgers will once again have to put the team on his shoulders, this time without the help of his favorite receiver, Jordy Nelson, who will most likely miss the match due to fractured ribs suffered in the Green Bay’s 38-13 Wild Card win over the Giants.

Rodgers, who led the league in touchdowns during the regular season, with 40, will find little resistance from a Dallas defense that allowed 25 touchdowns to be thrown against them. They also rank near the bottom of the league in passing yards per game, with 260, a stat that Rodgers excelled at, throwing 277 yards per game.

The ground game for Green Bay, however, was essentially nonexistent. After starting running back Eddie Lacy was lost for the year, a carousel of rushers eventually led to once wide receiver Ty Montgomery taking the starting role.

This is why the Packers ranked 20th in both rushing yards (1,701) and rushing touchdowns (11) in the regular season. It will also make it easier for Dallas’ league-best rush defense to force Rodgers to be the only option for Green Bay to win the game.

Final score prediction:

Dallas: 23
Green Bay: 21

Eight is Great: the Ever-Evolving College Football Playoffs

| Sports | January 5, 2017

The Alabama Crimson Tide take on the Clemson Tigers in the College Football National Championship Game on Monday, January 9.

Just as it was a year ago it is today, with the nation’s top two programs raring to go in a rematch of last season’s title game, which saw Alabama defeat Clemson 45-40, and take home college football’s most coveted trophy.

With the same teams set to square off, it raises the question, is it time for the College Football Playoffs to expand?

The inaugural season of the playoffs treated fans to a Cinderella story of sorts, as the fourth seed Ohio Buckeyes snuck their way in and proceeded to upset everyone on their way to a 42-20 win against the Oregon Ducks in the Championship round.

Those expecting the same excitement the following seasons have been disappointed. Clemson and Alabama were the first and second seeds respectively in the 2015-2016 season, and have since switched spots as the 2016-2017 season heads into its final game.

The next logical expansion would be to add two teams to the current playoff format. However, that doesn’t add any additional pressure to the top two seeds, as they would most likely be given a bye week in this scenario.

To create a tougher road to the National Championship game, the College Football Playoffs must expand to an eight-team bracket. Even though this arrangement would have the first seed take on the eight seed and the second seed face the seventh seed, it ensures each team will play two games to get to the final round, thus creating more upset opportunities.

Applying the eight-team hypothetical format to this post season, Alabama would have first faced off against Wisconsin, and Clemson would have taken on Oklahoma.

The battle between the latter would’ve been no walk in the park for either team, and would’ve been an offensive masterpiece for the audience. The Sooners were second in the nation for total offensive yards with 7,212, and the Tigers were not far behind with 7,044.

Clemson’s one loss came to another proficient offense in that of the University of Pittsburgh Panthers, who rank 10th in the nation in points per game with 41. This is not to guarantee that Oklahoma, who defeated the Auburn Tigers 35-19 in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, would’ve upset Clemson if the two were to meet in the playoffs. It does, however, show that a strong offense can give Clemson problems.

The Alabama-Wisconsin matchup would have been on the opposite end of the spectrum of the Clemson-Oklahoma game; a defensive battle might have been decided by a field goal or less.

The Wisconsin Badgers most recently held the Western Michigan Broncos, who boast the nation’s top offense in yards and points per game (7,324 yards and 45.5 points), to just 280 yards and 16 points in their 24-16 Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic victory.

The Crimson Tide had similar defensive success in the first round of the College Football Playoffs, allowing the Washington Huskies to score only seven points in Alabama’s 24-7 win, after a season in which Washington put up 42 points per game.

If this season’s College Football Playoffs included eight teams, it would also have seen a rematch between bitter rivals in the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Michigan Wolverines.

Their meeting this season will go down as another classic in the history of the matchup; the Buckeyes took a 30-27 double overtime victory from the Wolverines, with Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett’s fourth-down run serving as the catalyst of controversy. As for whether or not he truly gained the first down, it was inconclusive. The referees ruled the conversion good, and the Buckeyes soon scored the game-winning touchdown.

The winner of the Buckeyes-Wolverines playoff rematch would have either team taking on Clemson. Ohio State drew the Tigers in the first round of the playoffs this season and suffered a 31-0 shutout.

The eight-team playoff format would test every team to see who truly belongs in the championship game. It also creates potential storylines that can build more excitement as the season starts to wind down.

It is clear that the College Football Playoff experiment has been a success, and expansion is soon to come. Whether or not it comes in the immediate future is yet to be seen, but NCAA Division 1 football is evolving, and fans should be excited.

Los Angeles Looks for Answers as Clippers’ Bad Luck Continues

| Sports | December 22, 2016

The Los Angeles Clippers came charging out of the gates to start the 2016-2017 NBA Season, posting a 14-2 overall record and earning a 116-92 win against the Western Conference’s second place San Antonio Spurs on November 5.

The sizzling started slowly, but surely settled down, however, as the Clippers have more or less broken even since that time. The cold snap includes a 127-122 overtime loss to the Eastern Conference bottom-dwelling Brooklyn Nets, with an irate Doc Rivers being ejected, adding insult to injury.

As the saying goes, when it rains it pours and, if that’s the case, the Clippers have created more precipitation than El Nino.

After a 117-110 loss to the Washington Wizards, in which Washington used a 22-8 scoring run to steal the victory, Los Angeles learned it would be without its All-Star power forward, Blake Griffin, who will be out three to six weeks as he recovers from knee surgery.

The temporary loss of Griffin not only leaves 21.2 points and 8.8 rebounds per game on the bench, but also Griffin’s ability to space the floor and outmuscle the opposition on his way to the basket, or securing a rebound. Replacing that kind of production will be difficult, but the Clippers have the depth to weather the storm.

Their first option is one they’ve grown accustomed to. When starting small forward (and UCLA alumnus) Luc Richard Mbah A Moute was out with a wrist injury, Austin Rivers stepped into his spot. Rivers responded by scoring 16.7 points on 63 percent shooting, numbers that far exceed any fan’s expectations. However, his 2.3 rebounds per game, while not shocking due to his 6’4” stature, will need to be improved upon in Griffin’s absence.

The second option would be to move Marreese Speights off the bench and into the starting lineup. Speights’ 6-foot 10-iinch height matches that of Griffin and would ensure the Clippers would lose no size among the starters. And with the ability to shoot the three-pointer at 33 percent, Speights can also space the floor.
Moving Speights to the power forward position positively affects the offense, but poses problems on the defensive side of the ball. Lineups that include Speights allow opponents to make an average of 45.2 percent of their shots, a three percent increase from the 42.2 that the Clippers’ regular starting five allows.

Mbah A Moute’s and Deandre Jordans’ defensive abilities would help to cover Speights’ shortcomings, but Doc Rivers stresses the importance of help defense, which Speights would hinder more than help.

Whichever route Los Angeles takes, they will have to rely on players who have not received many minutes this season to produce. This will likely mean more playing time for the likes of Paul Pierce (12 minutes a game), Brandon Bass (9 minutes a game), and Alan Anderson (11 minutes per game).

While Pierce’s 3.6 points per game is the highest of the three, Bass shoots the ball more efficiently, making 50 percent of his shots, and corrals the most rebounds with 1.5 per game. Anderson aces the three in three-point efficiency, hitting 40 percent from downtown.

Bringing these three off the bench more often is a big unknown for a Clippers team that is still a contender in the Western Conference. So, those looking for big minutes from the benchwarmers will be disappointed. Expect them to be used situationally and to allow other players to rest.

The Clippers enjoy a soft schedule against the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets, and the New Orleans Pelicans, before a brutal back-to-back on the road against the Houston Rockets and the Oklahoma City Thunder. This will be the Clippers’ toughest test without Griffin, who will hopefully return before they face the Golden State Warriors on January 28, and again on February 2.

A championship is still in Los Angeles’ sights, but Blake Griffin’s injury clouds the team’s immediate future. But, if the Clippers can right the ship and survive the storm, they’ll come out a stronger team for the experience.

Changing L.A.’s Mood on Chargers’ Potential Move

| Sports | December 15, 2016

For 12 years, Los Angeles went without an NFL team.

Then, near the end of the 2015-2016 season, there was excitement. The St. Louis Rams announced they would be moving back to the city they called home for over 50 years.

Then, when the 2016-2017 season began, there was despair, as L.A.’s newest team was drubbed in Santa Clara by the San Francisco 49ers on opening night, 28-0.

A fluke three-game win streak gave fans hope of a brighter future, but it was not to be. L.A. has gone 1-8 since that time, and most recently fired head coach Jeff Fisher, who they gave a contract extension to before the season began.

Now, with rumors that the San Diego Chargers are close to moving to L.A. at the start of the 2017 NFL season, there is lethargy.

The Chargers have underperformed all season, putting up a 5-8 overall record with a roster that, while decimated by injuries, is capable of much more than that.

The prospect of having two losing teams playing in the Coliseum is not an idea L.A. fans are excited about, but while the Rams appear to be in a rebuilding phase that may take years to complete, the Chargers offer more hope for immediate positive results.

Offensively, the Chargers are set at their skill positions. Philip Rivers currently resides in fourth place for most yards (3,589) and touchdowns (27) through the air for the season. This is all while playing without his best receiving target, Keenan Allen, who tore his ACL in the 33-27 overtime loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the season opener.

At running back, Melvin Gordon has made vast improvements from a rookie season that bore no touchdowns. In his sophomore year with San Diego, Gordon has 10 touchdowns and is three yards shy of his first thousand-yard season.

While the Chargers’ offense has been able to put up 26.9 points per game, a reason they have been unable to find more success is because the defense allows 26.7 points per game. With the points scored-to points-allowed so close, it is no surprise that San Diego has lost six games by a touchdown or less.

This isn’t to say the Chargers’ defense is bad, however. One area in which they excel is creating turnovers, their 16 interceptions and 25 total forced turnovers being good for first in the NFL. Cornerback Casey Hayward, who San Diego picked up in free agency, leads the league in individual interceptions with seven.

San Diego’s strong secondary is complemented by a defensive line anchored by Melvin Ingram (six sacks) and Ohio State rookie Joey Bosa, who has amassed six and a half sacks after missing the first four games.

While the Chargers are fifth in the NFL for yards per rushing attempt conceded with three and a half, and seventh in rushing yards allowed for the season with 1,195, they rank near the bottom of the league in rushing touchdowns allowed on the season with 17.

Last offseason, the Rams made a blockbuster trade to take possession of the first overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft, a move that netted them quarterback Jared Goff. Don’t expect a flashy trade like that from San Diego, who projects to pick anywhere from 7th to 10th due to their current record.

If their draft position holds true for the remainder of the season, the Chargers can potentially shore up their defensive line with Michigan State’s Malik McDowell. The 6-foot 6-inch, 276-pound defensive tackle registered 34 tackles and one and a half sacks during his junior season before an ankle injury sidelined him for the last three games.

Although the numbers don’t exactly jump off the page, McDowell’s ability to use his size, combined with unexpected speed and a variety of moves to get into an opponent’s backfield, has scouts singing his praises.

L.A.’s potentially new team is close to becoming a contender, but fans are cautious due to the Rams’ struggles.

Whether or not the Chargers immediately reach their potential remains to be seen, but one thing is certain. Los Angeles is on the precipice of adding its second NFL team in two seasons. And that is cause for excitement.

Quelling the Controversy of the College Football Playoffs

| Sports | December 8, 2016

Last Sunday’s College Football Playoff Selection was shrouded in controversy.

Alabama’s and Clemson’s claiming the top two seeds came as no shocker, but the College Football Playoff Committee’s choosing Ohio State and Washington over a seemingly deserving Penn State team raised questions amongst fans and pundits alike.

Unranked at the start of the season, the Nittany Lions defied all expectations by reeling off nine straight wins after suffering a 49-10 loss at the hands of the Michigan Wolverines.

The culmination of Penn State’s hot streak was a thrilling Big Ten Conference Championship game, which pitted them against the Wisconsin Badgers. Wisconsin jumped out to a 28-14 halftime lead and seemed to be in complete control.

That’s when the Nittany Lions did what they had done all season – proved the world wrong. Quarterback Trace McSorley started the second-half scoring with a 70-yard touchdown to Saeed Blacknall, the duo’s second score of the game.

A sack by Brandon Bell on the ensuing Wisconsin drive gave Penn State not only the ball, but the momentum as well. Taking only three minutes to go 63 yards, the Nittany Lions tied the game on a 1-yard touchdown run from Saquon Barkley.

Wisconsin briefly regained the lead with a 23-yard field goal by Andrew Endicott, but by that point, there was no slowing down Penn State. McSorley threw his fourth touchdown of the game — an 18-yard pass to Barkley — to give the Nittany Lions a 35-31 lead.

Penn State pushed their advantage to 38-31 with a Tyler Davis 24-yard field goal. However, the Badgers were not about to roll over. They took the next possession down to the Nittany Lions’ 24-yard line, where they were faced with 4th&1.

Wisconsin running back Corey Clement, who had 164 yards for the game, took the handoff and was immediately met by Penn State’s Grant Haley and Marcus Allen. A measurement confirmed what the audience already knew: The Nittany Lions had stopped the Badgers and were well on their way to being named the Big Ten Champions.

With the win, Penn State fans held their breath waiting for the Committee to decide which programs were most deserving of a playoff berth. When Penn State was not among the top four, analysts began to ponder how an Ohio State that had lost to the Nittany Lions 24-21 earlier in the season, was given the nod.

Although it appears unfair, there are a few factors that favor the Buckeyes, starting with overall record. Ohio State finished 11-1, the one loss at the hands of Penn State, while the Nittany Lions finished 11-2. Since the advent of the College Football Playoffs, a two-loss team has never earned a berth.

The next aspect to take into account is strength of schedule. The Buckeyes defeated the once #14 Oklahoma State; the then #8 Wisconsin Badgers; and the Nebraska Cornhuskers, ranked #10 when the two met, and ended their season with a 30-27 double overtime victory against their fiercest rivals, the then ranked #3 Michigan Wolverines.

Penn State’s schedule was no walk in the park either, but paled in comparison to the foes Ohio State faced. The wins against the Buckeyes and Badgers were the only two victories the Nittany Lions notched against ranked opponents. Aside from losing to Michigan, which finished the season ranked #6, Penn State also dropped a game against the University of Pittsburgh, losing 42-39 to the now #23 ranked team in the nation.
The Washington Huskies also proved a better candidate for the playoffs over Penn State, due to strength of schedule. They defeated the once #7 Stanford, the now #19 ranked Utah, and the then #23 ranked Washington State, and clinched the Pac-12 title with a drubbing of the then #8 ranked Colorado. The Huskies scored 41 points with ease on a Buffaloes defense that allowed only 20.5 a game all season.

The #5 Nittany Lions should still see this season as a success, earning a spot in the Rose Bowl against the #9 USC Trojans. Like Penn State, USC started the season slowly before hitting its stride a little too late. Also akin to the Nittany Lions, the Trojans handed a playoff team their only loss, defeating Washington 26-13.

The outcome of the Rose Bowl is hard to predict as both Penn State and USC are evenly matched in offense and defense. Offensively, the Trojans average 469 yards a game and 33 points, whereas the Nittany Lions average 430 yards a game and 37 points.

Defensively, both teams allow a shade more than 350 yards per game to their opponents, with USC having a slight advantage of points allowed per game, giving up 22 to Penn State’s 23.

Football fans should be ready for a tightly contested Rose Bowl game between two teams no one expected to be there. While both programs barely missed out on the playoffs, this match will be a test of which team truly deserved to be there.

If Penn State and USC can start next season as strongly as they finished this one, no one will be surprised when both programs find themselves selected into the College Football Playoffs.

Bruins Basketball Braces for Battle

| Sports | December 1, 2016

Bruins fans bemoaning the fates of UCLA’s football season have quickly found reason for relief.

The salve comes in the form of the Bruins’ #11 ranked men’s basketball program that is fresh off a fantastic finish at the Wooden Legacy Tournament, during which UCLA downed Texas A&M, 74-67, to clinch the title.

Now, UCLA faces the biggest test of its season, when the team travels to Lexington, Kentucky, to take on the #1 ranked University of Kentucky Wildcats.

The Wildcats are the far and away favorites to win this matchup, but pessimistic prognosticators predicting a Kentucky blowout must remember how the meeting between these two teams went last year.

Facing the then #1 ranked Kentucky Wildcats on December 3, 2015, at Pauley Pavilion, UCLA only trailed when Isaiah Briscoe scored the opening bucket. The Bruins responded with a 9-0 run and dominated the rest of the night, winning 87-77.

Last season was disappointing for both teams. Kentucky finished ranked #16 overall and lost in the second round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, 73-67, to Indiana. UCLA lost its last five games and finished with a 15-17 overall record, missing March Madness altogether.

When the Bruins and Wildcats meet this Saturday at 9:30 a.m., exactly one year after they last faced off, they will meet with stronger rosters and higher expectations.

Coming into the 2016-2017 season, UCLA fans knew that freshman point guard Lonzo Ball would automatically make this team better than last year’s rendition.

How right they’ve been.

After being named the MVP of the Wooden Legacy Tournament, Ball leads the nation in assists per game with 9.1. His high level passing was to be expected, but his proficiency from the three-point line has been a more than pleasant surprise. Ball is making 49 percent of his long-range shots, which has helped him to average 16 points per game.
What fans may not have been expecting are the contributions that T.J. Leaf, another highly touted freshman, has been able to deliver this early in his collegiate career. Leaf leads all Bruins in scoring, with 17.1 points per game, as well as in three-point percentage, making 53 percent of his threes. His 6-foot 10-inch frame has allowed him to corral nine rebounds per game and UCLA to better space the court.

Size has been one of the Bruins’ greatest strengths to start the season. Along with Leaf, UCLA starts Thomas Welsh, who stands at 7 feet 0 inches. Welsh has used his size well, leading the Bruins in rebounds, with 9.4 per game, and blocks, with 2.4 per game.

His defensive prowess does nothing to take away from his offensive abilities. Welsh is averaging 10.6 points per game with an ability to score under the basket or on base-line jump shots.

Off the bench, UCLA has two more players that are 6 feet 10 inches or taller in Ike Anigbogu and Gyorgy Goloman. Anigbogu is the third member of the Bruins’ strong freshman class and, although he is coming off an injury, he has still been able to average two blocks per game when he finds himself on the floor.

Aside from Goloman and Anigbogu, UCLA also brings second-year guard Aaron Holiday off the bench. This level of depth is another strength of the Bruins and has allowed them to play many different personnel groupings, depending on the situation.

Holiday, who started for the Bruins last season, is averaging 12 points per game and 50 percent from three-point range and provides an instant offensive spark when inserted into a game.

Speaking of offense, scoring the ball just so happens to be UCLA’s strongest attribute. As a team, they are third in the nation in points per game, scoring an average of 96.9 points. This comes as no surprise, as six players average double digit points per game.

Two of the main contributors to this facet of the Bruins’ game are Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton. Both seniors bring leadership to this younger UCLA team and were pivotal in the championship match of the Wooden Legacy Tournament.

It started with Hamilton, who kept the Bruins afloat in a tightly contested first-half by scoring all 17 of his points, to give UCLA a 35-34 halftime lead.

Alford followed suit in the second-half, scoring all 13 of his points in the final frame. The son of Coach Steve Alford, the younger Alford helped the Bruins pull away late, scoring the final seven points for UCLA when they were only leading 67-65. The final 7-2 run is what made the final score.

The strong start to UCLA’s season has come against less-than-stellar competition, however. Their game against Kentucky will be a barometer for how the Bruins truly stack up against high-level competition.

The Wildcats tout an even stronger freshman class than the Bruins, and have lived up to their billing coming into Saturday’s match.

Malik Monk, ESPN’s #1 ranked shooting guard for last year’s recruiting class, has been able to score the ball with ease, as he averages 19.3 points per game. His 38 percent from three-point range, however, is a weakness in his game that UCLA must take advantage of.

ESPN’S #2 point guard, De’Aaron Fox, is third on Kentucky in scoring, with 15.3 points per
game, and leads the nation’s top team with 7.6 assists.

And then there’s Bam Adebayo. The freshman power forward stands at 6 feet 10 inches and has made 63 percent of his field goals en route to 11.1 points per game. His 7.6 rebounds make him lead the Wildcats, and his size will test UCLA’s big men all throughout the game.

Aside from big names, the Bruins will also be facing a defense that has allowed opponents to score an average of just 65 points per game. This includes holding the then ranked #13 Michigan State Spartans to 48 points in Kentucky’s 69-48 November 15 win.

Upsetting the Kentucky Wildcats would cement UCLA’s spot as a title-contender, but it won’t come as easy as it did a year ago. The Bruins are in for a battle at Rupp Arena, but will be bringing with them their strongest roster in years, as well as the hope of UCLA faithful. And that just may be enough.

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