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Weekend Review and Updates March 8, 2010

Posted by Casey in Multi-Sport Preview/Review.
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The big news of the NBA weekend has to be the broken hand of San Antonio point guard Tony Parker.  Parker is expected to be out 6 weeks, which would mean he’d miss the rest of the Spurs regular season games.  San Antonio is currently 5 games behind Dallas in the Southwest Division and looking the other way, has a 6 ½ game cushion on Memphis for the final playoff spot and currently sits in the 7 seed.  The Cleveland Cavaliers spotted the Detroit Pistons a 20-point lead through 16 minutes but rallied behind Lebron James’ 40 points to win 99-92.  This game was given a reality check in the 3rd Quarter when Rodney Stuckey collapsed on the Pistons bench.  Stuckey has been reported to be suffering no continued affects and may play as early as Wednesday.  The Cavs decided to rest Lebron (injury concerns?) Saturday night and slipped at Milwaukee 92-85.  The Los Angeles Lakers have now lost 4 consecutive road games, after getting swept aside in Charlotte Friday night (98-83), then losing 96-94 in Orlando.  Look for the Spurs first game without Parker, at Cleveland Monday night (7:00 ET NBA TV).

Across the pond an intriguing weekend saw Real Madrid go top on goal difference after their last-gasp winner from Rafael van der Vaart.  Portsmouth, Aston Villa, and Chelsea all won FA Cup Quarterfinals, while Tottenham and Fulham could only manage a 0-0 draw and will replay at Spurs’ White Hart Lane March 24th.  Aston Villa will play Chelsea and the winner of the replay will take on Portsmouth the weekend of April 10-11th.  Manchester United and Arsenal both won in Chelsea’s absence, and there are now 3 teams within a point at the top of the English Premier League.  Arsenal however may be without talisman Cesc Fabregas who limped out after scoring the opening goal of the Gunners 3-1 victory over Burnley.  Early news suggests Cesc’s injury is not long-term but he is a doubt for Tuesday’s crunch Champion’s League decider with FC Porto.  Catenaccio reigns in Serie A as 2nd place Milan draw at 3rd place Roma 0-0, but neither lose ground on table-toppers Inter who also drew 0-0 with Genoa.  Landon Donovan returns to the US on the heels of scoring in Everton’s 5-1 victory over Hull City.  There’s a four Champion’s League second legs midweek, see below for coverage of all the games.

NBA (all NBA TV)

Monday:  7:00 ET – San Antonio @ Cleveland

Tuesday:  10:30 ET – Toronto @ Los Angeles Lakers

Wednesday:  7:30 ET – Utah @ Detroit

Champion’s League (all 2:30 ET)

Tuesday: FC Porto (2) @ Arsenal 1) – FSN HD

Bayern Munich (2) @ Fiorentina (1) – FSC

Wednesday:  AC Milan (2) @ Manchester United (3) – FSC

Olympique Lyon (1) @ Real Madrid (0) – FSC + (Re-airs on FSC at 5:00 ET)

NHL (sorry Center Ice trial is over)

Monday: 7:00 ET Dallas @ Washington – VERSUS

Tuesday: 7:00 ET New York Islanders @ Philadelphia – VERSUS

Wednesday: 7:00 ET Carolina @ Washington – NHL Network


Weekend Preview March 5, 2010

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Even I can’t keep track of the day-to-day bracket-ology changes, but I do know that it is now only 9 days to Selection Sunday!  Pittsburgh clinched a double-bye in next week’s Big East tournament with their 73-71 victory over Providence Thursday night, on a half-court shot as time expired (I’ll edit a link in here once I find one).  Maryland ‘upset’ Duke at home to tie the Blue Devils for best record in the ACC Wednesday night.  For me this game was a perfect example of fans unnecessarily storming the court…Maryland fans: you have a really good team, by acting as if you’ve never won anything before, you’re taking away from your team’s excellent victory.    Elsewhere on Wednesday, Kansas clinched the Big XII regular season title with their 85-62 victory over Kansas State and Connecticut’s NCAA Tournement hopes were hurt (as Notre Dame’s were helped) by their 58-50 loss in South Bend.  On tap this weekend I’ll be watching #8 West Virginia travel to Philly to take on #9 Villanova (12:00 ET Saturday, CBS) followed by #1 Syracuse’s trip to bubble-riding (but almost certainly in) Louisville (2:00 ET, ESPN).   ESPN will feature UNC @ Duke in prime-time Saturday night (9:00 ET) and sometimes these rivalry games can help the weaker team play up to its opponent.  Sunday afternoon sees two more bubble teams make their case: Florida hosts John Wall and his #3 Kentucky Wildcats at 12:00 ET on CBS and Illinois will take on #17 Wisconsin on their home court (2:00 ET, ESPN).  Sunday marks the final day of regular season play, with the major conference tournaments beginning early next week.  Get ready for the madness!

Paul Pierce’s return has seen the Celtics start to right the ship it will be interesting to see if they can put up a fight for the East’s 2-seed (and guaranteed home-court in the second round).  They are currently 2 ½ games behind the Magic for that spot.  David Thorpe just wrote a great piece comparing Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony (you need ESPN Insider access unfortunatelty), who may be the two-best pure scorers, after Kobe Bryant, in the NBA. Cleveland keeps cruising without  Shaq and has now opened a 2 game lead on the Lakers for best record in the league, they have Detroit Friday night (7:00 ET, ESPN) and Milwaukee Saturday (8:30 ET).  I think whoever selects NBA TV’s weekly Saturday night nationally televised game should be fired, New Jersey @ New York (7:30 ET)?  Really?  Their combined record (27-93, as of Thursday) must be the worst ever for a nationally televised game.  All eyes  should be on Sunday’s NBA Finals rematch, Los Angeles continues their Eastern road trip in Orlando at 2:30 ET (ABC).  In previous games against elite big men, the Magic have felt a need to give Dwight Howard help defensively, I’m interested to see how they defend the Lakers’ combination of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.

A record amount of deals were made on NHL trade deadline day on Wednesday.  No major names changed hands and the biggest acquisition remains the New Jersey Devil’s pickup of Ilya Kovalchuk from the Atlanta Thrashers before the Olympics.  Still, some interesting moves were made and the NHL run-in should be quite exciting.  The Blackhawks have pulled even on points with the Sharks for best record in the West, and that looks like it could go down to the wire.  NHL Network has Toronto @ Ottawa at 7 ET on Saturday, and Montreal @ Anaheim at 8 ET on Sunday for your viewing pleasure.  The pick of the televised games this weekend is Detroit @ Chicago (12:30 ET Sunday, NBC), nothing beats a good old-fashioned Original 6 rivalry.

For the soccer fans out there, its FA Cup Quarterfinal weekend in England with Portsmouth-Birmingham (7:30 AM Saturday, Fox Soccer Plus), Fulham-Tottenham (12:30 PM Saturday), Reading-Aston Villa (8:30 AM Sunday) and Chelsea-Stoke (11:00 AM, Fox Soccer Plus).  I also recommend catching AC Milan-Roma (Saturday 2:45 PM, Fox Soccer Channel) and Real Madrid-Sevilla (Saturday 4:00 PM, Gol-TV).  In the latest edition of American’s abroad Landon Donovan’s Everton take on Jozy Altidore’s Hull City on Sunday at 11:00 AM ET on Fox Soccer Channel.

NFL free agency starts…now.   Here is a list of the top 50 free-agents to be.   ESPN’s Todd McShay reviews the recently concluded NFL Scouting Combine.  The PGA Tour begins its Florida swing with the Honda Classic at PGA National, NBC has the weekend rounds 3 PM -6 PM Saturday, and final round coverage starts at 3 PM and goes until they’re done.  No huge news from MLB Spring Training as yet, ‘m working on a comprehensive MLB Preview article and will try and get it done in the next two weeks or so.  That’s about all I’ve got for today, enjoy the weekend!

Who are these guys? Part 1 March 5, 2010

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The United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) got to play one of the best teams in the world, the Netherlands, on Wednesday afternoon ( highlights).  Despite being outplayed through 1st half, I felt the US was unfortunate to be a goal down at half time.  The Netherlands’ Wesley Sneijder burst into the box and fell over under the slightest of touches of Jonathan Bornstein (:37 of highlight video).  It was a mind bogglingly stupid decision to reach out and grab Sneijder in that position and any experienced soccer player would go over to try and draw the penalty.  That said, I think it was a soft decision by the referee.  The second Dutch goal came from a deflected Klaus-Jan Huntelaar shot off the unlucky (this time) Bornstein and past a wrong-footed Tim Howard (1:15).   Once the second goal went in, the Americans seemed to have a weight lifted off the shoulders.  The passes connected, the movement off the ball improved and the chances started flowing.  US Captain Carlos Bocanegra headed in a perfectly weighted set piece from DaMarcus Beasley to pull a goal back, and set off a frantic final few minutes.  All in all it was a decent performance against a good team from a depleted US squad.

So what happens now?  The American players will go back to their clubs and the relative anonymity that comes with being a member of the USMNT.  The players will gather again for a training camp after the European season ends in mid-May, before playing tune up games against the Czech Republic (May 25 in East Hartford, tickets) and Turkey (May 29 in Philadelphia, tickets).  Then it’s off to Rustenburg, South Africa for the opening match of the 2010 World Cup against England on June 12.  US coach Bob Bradley will have his hands full keeping track of players plying their trade in both North America and Europe.

Here is a low-down on the stalwarts of the US team: Landon Donovan (M/F, Club: LA Galaxy, MLS, currently on-loan at Everton, ENG) is our all-time record goalscorer and consensus best player.  Donovan is currently on a short-term loan at English Premier League (EPL) club Everton but will be returning to the Galaxy March 15th.  By all accounts Donovan has thrived in England (this miss nonwithstanding) after two failed stints in Germany.  Landon is the perfect player for this US team, he is quick and direct with the ball, perfect for an American team that will struggle to maintain possession and will often look to play on the counter-attack. Tim Howard (G, Everton, ENG) has become one of the EPL’s most consistent goalies, and should revel in his first World Cup opportunity.  Oguchi Onyewu (D, AC Milan, ITA) enjoyed a superb 2008/2009 season with both his club team Standard Liege and the USMNT culminating in a move to Italian giants AC Milan.  However, Onyewu had trouble breaking into the well-established Milan defense and just as he started to get a run of games, he ruptured his patellar tendon in a WC Qualifier against Costa Rica October 14th.  Onyewu has just returned to light training and hopes to make a return to the Milan team sometime in the next 3 weeks.   ‘Gooch’ is a dynamic athelete who is able to dominate opposing forwards with his combination of size and speed, while he can be vulnerable to players with great dribbling ability (who isn’t?).   Carlos Bocanegra (D, Rennes, FRA) is the current American Captain and can play at both left and center back.  Bocanegra partnered Jay Demerit in central defence in Amsterdam on Wednesday but I think his best role in this American team is on the left side of the back four.  Oguchi Onyewu’s return would allow Bocanegra to slide to left back and move Jonathan Bornstein to the bench, where he belongs in my opinion.  The four man defense of Jonathon Spector (RB, West Ham, ENG), Jay Demerit (CB, Watford, ENG), Onyewu, and Bocanegra helped lead the US to the Confederations Cup championship game last summer, with upset wins against Spain and Egypt along the way.  These four players will HAVE to be on their game for the US to advance to the knockout stages.

I had intended to work my way through the entire squad in this post, but due to the length I’ve split it into 2.  Look for the second installment next week!

Hump Day Report March 3, 2010

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March Madness is coming.  Soon Dick Vitale, Digger Phelps and the ESPN college basketball machine will be coming at you through all types of media.  There will be countless college basketball games on the before the field of 65 is announced (March 14th), but which ones are worth more than a cursory glance?  I say Wednesday’s matchup of #2 Kansas vs. #5 Kansas State.  Kansas edged an 81-79 OT win at Kansas State a little over a month ago behind a winning layup from All-American Sherron Collins.  Collins will take center stage at Kansas’ senior night Wednesday at 8PM on ….ESPN Gameplan?  That’s right this top 5 matchup won’t be on the ‘home’ of college basketball, ESPN (or 2 or U or the ocho), unless you live in Big XII country (places to find it).  ESPN 360 also will carry the game depending on your internet provider.  For those who won’t be watching  look for ESPN’s doubleheader (UConn @ Notre Dame, ACC #1 Duke @ ACC #2 Maryland, starts at 7 ET Wednesday.

Let’s face it NBA games these days thrive based on star power, and Thursday’s Lakers-Heat matchup (TNT, 8 ET) certainly brings that.  Kobe Bryant has Los Angeles fighting for the best record in the league, while the Heat are fighting for 8th spot led by perennial All-Star Dwayne Wade.  Jazz-Suns round up TNT’s Thursday doubleheader, and ESPN has Pistons-Cavs at 7 followed by Hornets-Spurs on Friday night.  Cleveland is undoubtedly thinner inside without Shaquille O’Neal (8 weeks thumb) and Zydrunas Ilgauskas (released, can resign with Cavs 3/22, or any team now), but has a 6 game cushion for best record in the East.  The Cavs are 2-0 since Shaq’s injury and should be capable of securing at least home court throughout the Easter Conference Playoffs.

Wednesday is a FIFA international date and being that qualification is finalized for the 2010 World Cup, there’s nothing to do but play friendly matches.  An injury-hit US squad travels to Holland to face a strong Dutch team live on ESPN2 at 2:30 ET (actual KO, 2:45).  Gol TV will feature Argentina-Germany live at 2:30 ET, followed by Cameroon-Italy on tape delay at 5:00 ET.  ESPN 360 will have a selection of games live and available on replay, highlighted by Spain- France, live at 3:00 ET.  Finally, for those hoping to scout out the USA’s Group C opponents England, their match with Egypt is available on the new Fox Soccer Channel Plus, or online through Fox Soccer TV.  I’ve left out quite a few interesting games, so look for highlights on Fox Soccer Channel’s Fox Soccer Report (10 ET each weeknight with exceptions).

That’s about it for now, I’ll try to get a recap of US-Holland and how the World Cup is shaping up as well as a weekend preview by Friday.