There’s no doubt that the NCAA Tournament is where players make their final impressions on NBA scouts. Every year there are usually a few players who go from relative nobodies to the first round or even the lottery (see: Gordon Hayward). Then there are those players who play themselves out of the lottery or the first round. This year’s tourney was no different. We saw a variety of players improve their stock dramatically while some played themselves into another year of college. Here are my top risers and fallers for the 2011 NBA Draft:
I’m writing this as I’m watching the White Sox destroy Cleveland 14-0 (and yes, it’s only the 4th inning). Who cares that they lost Lebron last summer, Cleveland sucks anyway, right Joakim? Back to the White Sox though, I’m feeling really good about this season. To be honest, I’ve felt really good about every season since the 2005 World Series, but the Sox have come up short. This year things will be different. We are going to win the division, win the pennant, and win another World Series…..Right???
That prediction may be a little farfetched, since high expectations have doomed the Sox since ’05, the AL East is STILL stacked, and the West always has a couple of contenders. But still, I’m feeling good.
Jerry Reinsdorf finally gave Ken Williams the green light to pursue a big name free agent this offseason, and the green light to spend all his money (if it helped the team). Williams delivered by signing Adam Dunn to a 4 year, $56 million contract, not to mention re-signing free agent Paul Konerko for 3 years, $37.5 million and free agent A.J. Pierzynski for 2 years, $8 million. Pierzynski statistically may not be the best catcher out there, but he’s a clubhouse, glue guy that everyone on the team loves. Plus, without him, we’d still be complaining about a World Series drought like those little bears on the north side. The Konerko signing was huge. Add him to a lineup that now features the reliable get on base guy Juan Pierre, Alex Rios, Adam Dunn, and Carlos Quentin, and the Sox should compete for league lead in runs scored.
That crazy line up isn’t the reason why I’m feeling so good about the Sox. It’s the pitching. Mark Buerhle started his 9th Opening Day game today, and for years he’s been the Sox most durable, reliable, and defensively awesome pitcher. He doesn’t get a lot of strike outs (4.24 per 9 innings last year) and uses a fast ball or a change up 90% of the time, yet he’s still very effective and finishes games in about 20 minutes. Following him in the line up is John Danks, who is arguably the BEST pitcher on the staff. After a great year last year (over 150 K’s in 200 IPs, posting a 3.82 ERA) Danks is in his contract year and is expected to improve those numbers. If he can keep the velocity up and be a little more consistent and effective with his pitch usage, I believe he’ll compete for the Cy Young. The underrated Gavin Floyd may be this years breakout player for the Sox. Fans know what to expect from Floyd, especially considering his “worst” year saw him win 17 games with a 3.77 ERA. Increasing his ground ball percentage to 50% last season helped him alleviate the home run problem he’d been having in previous seasons. Edwin Jackson is probably going to throw like 900 innings this year, which he can handle. Whether or not he actually helps the Sox is dependent on Don Cooper’s ability to help him relax late in games and keep control of his stuff. If he manages to keep his ERA around the 4.00 mark, pencil the Sox in for a 1st place Central finish.
All that without mentioning the money man, Jake Peavy. In a season that ended for him just as he was getting hot and dominant again, Peavy was the piece missing that left the White Sox just short of the Central title. Starting this season on the 15 day DL (probably will miss around 4 starts), it should take him a little to get into game shape. Assuming he averages around 6 innings for the first couple of months, and pitches around 150 for the whole year, he should still be fresh come playoff time. That’s why he’s the X-Factor this year. He has the potential to be any staff’s number 1 pitcher and that’s one hell of an asset to have in the playoffs. Throwing a 4 man rotation of Buerhle-Danks-Floyd-Peavy would defiantly compete with the Phillies for the toughest rotation. If Peavy can get healthy, watch out.
Please stay healthy. Please.
So the rotation is there. What about the bullpen? Former fan favorite (now on Ozzie Guillen’s hit list), Bobby Jenks switched his sock color this offseason, and is no longer with the team. Matt Thornton will most likely assume the closer role, with stud rookie (although he pitched in 21 innings last year) Chris Sale setting him up. Sale is a 6’5″ freak of nature, who could compete for Rookie of the Year if he pitches enough innings. Solidifying the bullpen is former Minnesota Twin, Jessie Crain. Don’t know much about him, but he pitched in the Twins bullpen last year that was flat out nasty, even without Joe Nathan. Once again, on paper, this is another part of the Sox that is very, very solid.
A guy that’s hit .260 his first two years in the league is my MVP? Yeah, I think Gordon Beckham will be that good for the Sox. He’s always been a guy that has pounded doubles into the outfield like they were nothing, and this season some of those doubles may turn into triples, or even homers. The clutch gene is alive and well in this kid, and at the 2 spot he’s going to get on base and wait to be driven in by that crazy 3-4-5-6 stretch the Sox boast. He’s one of the most important pieces this year, and if he’s on, it’s going to be a really good summer.
So to sum things up, here are all my picks. Hopefully the “good guys” can put something special together this season.
Player most likely to have a “Bill Walton” Moment:
Jared Sullinger-Ohio State
I probably shouldn’t post a picture of the guy I’m picking to have a Bill Walton like game of domination, singing Party in the USA by Miley Cyrus… but whatever. For those of you that don’t know what Bill Walton moment I’m talking about though, prepare to get educated. Although he was on one of the best teams ever (in the midst of what would be an 88-game winning streak), Walton decided to assert himself as the best collegiate basketball player in the world in the 1973 NCAA Championship game against Memphis State. He went 21-22, scoring 44 points in what ended in a route for the UCLA Bruins. Wow. That’s 95%. I can see Sullinger pulling off something similar (not in the champ. game though because I didn’t pick them to get there…), just because of the way he treats all opponents like that 3rd grade bully we all hated back in the day. He won’t do it Friday against the play-in game winner, since that game is already over, but against teams like George Mason, Villanova, Kentucky, or West Virginia, watch out. The 6’9, 280, Freshman of the Year bruiser is always a threat to explode for a 30 point, 20 rebound game.
Team most likely to try on George Mason’s Cinderella slipper:
Kevin Anderson and the Spiders may have a little more celebrating to do this March
If John Jenkins of Vandy is off Thursday, the Richmond Spiders will be off and running. If John Jenkins of Vandy scores 30 Thursday, I still think the Richmond Spiders will be off and running. A team seeded way below their actual talent level, they fit the cinderella mold. An experienced team that’s been here before, a stud point-guard in Kevin Anderson (who may be the best point in the nation), and a legit NBA prospect that can shoot the ball with the best of them in Justin Harper; this team will be hard to stop. The fact that their predicted match-ups aren’t THAT tough (Vandy plays the awkward SEC slow it down style, and Louisville has been over-achieving all year) also helps them out. A-10 Tourney Champs, a record of 14-2 in their last 16, and I wide open Southwest region, I think the Spiders have a really good shot of getting at least to the Sweet 16, if not further.
Yes, he is also the guy that’s most likely to snap and score 180 points in a game. Throughout the season, he’s been absolutely insane, bringing BYU recognition for something other than being mormon. But couldn’t you see him breaking down after losing? He has to go to the NBA next year where he’ll probably just become another Morrison or Redick (if he’s lucky) so this is his last chance to shine. The fact that his team probably had an Elite 8 run in them if not for the Davies honor code thing, is also sad. Sad, but this may provide awesome comparison clips of who cried harder. The Heat need a say in this as well, we know Lebron/Bosh/Wade can cry with the best of them.
Ready for the dance my ass. I came into this season expecting the Illini to at least compete for the Big 10 title, at least win 23-25 games, at least beat UIC!?! Yeah, I didn’t get any of those. My expectation of at least a Sweet 16 run also seems like fantasy at this point. What let downs. Losses to UIC, Indiana, Northwestern, and an embarrassing showing in the Big 10 Tourney (Where they blew a 12 point lead with less than 8 minutes remaining) have led them to be the underdogs in an 8-9 game against UNLV and former coach Lon Kruger. This comes after being preseason favorites (along with Ohio State) to win the Big 10. Demetri McCamey refuses to step up when his team needs him, Jereme Richmond can’t shoot from further than 6 feet out, and Mike Tisdale is Mike Tisdale…bad. I can’t wait to see who gets to blow this game for the Illini.
So there you have it. A couple NCAA Tourney things to look out for. As for picks, here are mine:
Duke vs. Syracuse
I really think Kyrie Irving makes that much of a difference (I originally had them losing in the Sweet 16). I don’t have OSU up against them just because I think Kentucky will be able to match up with them, tire Sullinger out, and the Buckeye’s will panic from there.
Kansas vs. Wisconsin
That’s my biggest bracket shake up. The Badgers in the Final 4. I don’t think Pittsburgh is that strong, and I think this Wisconsin team is the best it has been in years. Also, other than Pittsburgh (barring a Belmont first round upset), who is there to stop Jordan Taylor and the Badgers?
Kansas vs. Duke… Winner Duke
Kyrie Irving. Yes, I like him that much. Him along with a very, very experienced Duke roster that proved us all wrong last year, I don’t see why not.