ODU looks to beat Butler at own game

The big question going into this year’s NCAA tournament is who will be the ‘Butler’ of 2011.  In 2010 Butler carved its way through the West Region as the number five seed knocking off #1 Syracuse and #2 Kansas State in route to the Final Four.  The fun didn’t stop there; the Bulldogs beat Michigan State to meet Duke in the finals.  Unfortunately for Butler, Coach K and the mighty Blue Devils were too tough.

So who is this year’s Butler?  Ironically enough, their first round opponent is being pre-dubbed just that.  Old Dominion has the talent to give a good run into this weekend and possibly next weekend as well.  Analysts are already talking about how the Monarchs match up against Pittsburgh; hinting that #16 UNC-Asheville doesn’t stand a chance Thursday.

But let’s not get a head of ourselves here.  The first task at hand is the #8 Bulldogs out of Butler.  Given a #9 seed although Old Dominion seemed poised to grab a #7 seed and the highest ranking of a CAA team since David Robinson lead Navy into the dance.  That’s in the past.  It is a favorable match up for ODU seeing how their conference counterpart George Mason snagged a #8 and a meeting with Villanova in the East Region.

The Monarchs are coming in riding a nine game win streak, a feat that Butler also boasts, on the heels of winning the CAA title over tough rival Virginia Commonwealth.  ODU has four starters returning from last year’s team who beat Notre Dame and made it to the second round of the tournament.

One of the big reasons to ODU’s success is their work on the boards.  Big man Frank Hassell is averaging over nine rebounds a game and the team overall is seventh in the country at over 40 boards a game.  The Monarchs also have five guys with at least four rebounds a game.

Butler sits all the way down at #177 in rebounds at just under 35 a game.  The lonely Radford Highlanders even averaged more boards a game.  Shout out to Moffat Quad!  The Bulldogs middle man Matt Howard managed to pull down just under eight boards a game but look for the man-child Hassell to have his way under the basket.

ODU’s pressing zone defense should frustrate Butler’s shooting game.  Not allowing Butler to shoot from outside the arc will be crucial for ODU to keep the game close.  Butler has two guys shooting over 40% from three point range, one being the mentioned Howard.  This will play an interesting part in the game having Kent Bazemore or Darius James guarding him up top.  It will be a total team effort.  A team that only allowed 58.3 points a game this season; good for fourth fewest in the nation.

Bazemore, or Baze as the student section knows him as, is an electric player from nowheresville North Carolina and probably has the most realistic NBA prospect status as anyone in the mid-major conferences.  If Bazemore is on, Butler is out.  Blessed with a plus 40 inch veritcal and a wing span mirroring a teradactyl, the Baze always seems to be in the right place at the right time.  Named the CAA Defensive Player of the Year, he is averaging over 12 points a game.

Prediction? Blood.  Ok, not really.  This will be a tough match up for Old Dominion, but not an impossible one.  Old Dominion squeeks by Butler 71-65.

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Possible Opening Day roster for Nationals

If the season started this week, this is what the Nationals Opening Day line up could look like.  You can’t be comfortable going into Spring Training with Alberto Gonzalez and Danny Espinosa has your only two options for second base.  GM Mike Rizzo has added Chris Marrero to the roster this off season.  He spent last year at Double A Harrisburg.  For the Senators he hit .294, 18 home runs and 82 RBIs in 141 games.  I would not be surprised to see him starting first base for the Nats this season.  Even further I would not be surprised if he started Opening Day at first.  Mark it.

As for second base, Rizzo has to try and find a veteran to come in or will have to ride it out with Gonzalez and Espinosa.  Now the reason I am calling out Marrero for first base and not someone like Mike Morse is because Rizzo has already said Morse is not being considered for the starting first baseman role.

Nyger Morgan 8

Ian Desmond  6

Ryan Zimmerman 5

Jayson Werth 9

Josh Willingham 7

Ivan Rodriguez 2

Chris Marrero 3

Alberto Gonzalez 4

I am not even going to touch on starting pitching right now.  The rotation could see a major overhaul here in the next couple weeks.  Rizzo did say the signing of Jayson started Phase 2 of the Nationals plan.  Apparently Phase 1 was building a system and drafting the right guys.  Phase 2 is all about winning games and eventually championships.

Oh, I know a lot of you guys don’t like the idea of Morgan in center field. But at this point Rizzo says they are going into Spring Training with Morgan as the starter.

Follow on Twitter @kierancarobine

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Nationals prove their Werth

The Washington Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo says this is a monumental day for the Nationals organization.  And indeed it is.  Only days after Washington saw their slugging first baseman pack his bags and head to the windy city, they have signed another big bat for their lineup.

Dubbed the most attractive free agent not named Cliff Lee, Jayson Werth was coming out of Philadelphia finally living up to his 5-tool projections.

The Nationals will give Werth $126 million over seven years.  When his contract is finally up, Werth will be 38 years old.  Amazing any team would give a 31 year-old a seven year deal.

The thing to remember here is Werth is not the savior.  This Nationals are still at least two years away from winning with Stephen Strasburg missing next year and Bryce Harper probably not ready until 2012/13.  But when you combine Werth with Ryan Zimmerman, Josh Willingham, Mike Morse and company they will have a good core group for years to come.  Willingham could become disposable with Harper coming up and Roger Bernadina able to play outfield.  And play it well.

The Werth signing does not make the Nationals a playoff team, not even close.  But it does take a lot of the pressure off Zimmerman, who I am sure has been feeling it when Adam Dunn was not resigned.

Rizzo says right now they have Werth penciled in to hit middle of the order and play right field.  He hinted to the fact it was still early in the offseason so things could change.  Are the Nationals really looking at another signing?  Highly unlikely.

However, I do agree, it is still early.  Things could a lot more exciting from here on out.

Follow on twitter @kierancarobine

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Some Phillies videos

 

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Skyping in on Sports Buzz on The Pulse Network talking Phillies

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Hamels tosses gem, Phillies complete sweep of Reds

Yes a Phillies win.  And yes a four game sweep of the NL Central leading Cincinnati Reds.  All is good in Philly.  Right?  I don’t mean to get personal in a post game wrap up but this four game sweep doesn’t really make me feel any better.  Yes, don’t get me wrong, a sweep is exactly what the Phillies needed going into the All-Star break.

However, playing against such a potent offense like the Reds you would think a sweep means the Phillies were back to their normal ways of smashing the ball and putting up crooked numbers.  Not the case.  Except for the ninth inning Friday night, every inning the Phillies have scored in this series has only been the one run.  It did work don’t get me wrong.  But nothing is fixed.  The starting pitchers, minus Kentucky Fried Blanton, really stepped it up.  The trio of Kyle Kendrick, Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels threw a combined 23.1 innings and allowed only 14 hits and one earned run.  It was exactly what the Phillies offense needed only supporting their efforts with six runs over those three games.

The one good thing about the offense is they are putting the ball in play only striking out four times in this game.  Jayson Werth and Carlos Ruiz each had a walk and a hit while Jimmy Rollins contributed the other two hits including an RBI single in the third inning scoring Ruiz for the only run of the game.

That was all Hamels would need.  He didn’t allow a run for the first time in his 18 starts this season.  This does not mean he is back to his ’08 form yet but he is getting there.  He worked out a bases loaded with no outs jam in the fourth.  Hamels only struck out three but was able to trust the defense with balls in play.  He also had three walk throwing 112 pitches.

After escaping a jam in last night’s game, Brad Lidge came in for the ninth to record the final two outs for his sixth save of the season.  He needed only five pitches to end the game.

Worth noting: The Mets beat the Braves 3-0 which puts the Phillies 4 1/2 games behind the Braves and only a 1/2 game behind the Mets.

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Moyer breaks HR record while Phillies’ bats pound Blue Jays

After taking the night off yesterday, the Phillies offense got it going early and often today against the Toronto Blue Jays in the series finale of what was a road series in their home ballpark at Citizens Bank beating the Jays 11-2.

Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino and Ben Francisco each had three hits apiece for the Phils who have been on a scoring tear for the past four series.  They are averaging almost six runs a game while playing the Yankees, Twins, Indians and now Toronto winning 8 of 12.  They scored all their runs today without help from the long ball, which should be a good sign their offense is clicking.

Jaime Moyer broke Phillies Hall of Famer Robin Roberts’ record of home runs allowed in a career.  Moyer gave up number 506 to Vernon Wells in the third inning but by then it was already too late.  Philly bats chased Toronto’s starter Brett Cecil in the fifth inning after he allowed seven runs and threw 97 pitches.  Phillies starters were showing patience at the plate, seeing almost four pitches per at bat.  Another sign they are seeing the ball really well.

Record breaking jitters aside, it was business as usual for Moyer.  Other than the homer to Wells, Moyer only allowed five hits and struck out seven before finishing out the seventh inning.  He is now tied for the team lead in wins with Roy Halladay at nine.  Over his last three starts, Moyer has thrown 23 innings and only allowed five earned runs while striking out 17.  The Phillies, not surprisingly, are 3-0 in those games.

The Phillies were without Placido Polanco for a second straight game after he said he aggravated his elbow making a play in Friday’s game.  He is scheduled to receive another cortisone shot today which will likely keep him out until Tuesday at the earliest.

The only Phils starters without a hit were Jayson Werth and Wilson Valdez.  They both went 0-5.

Worth mentioning: Rollins, Francisco and catcher Dane Sardinha each had two RBIs.  I know all of you started him in fantasy.  Right?

Follow me on Twitter @kierancarobine

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