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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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Lidge returns, Blanton Happ soon to follow

Brad Lidge is back.  And tonight, hopefully he will officially be back closing out Kyle Kendrick’s first decision of the 2010 season.  Kendrick has filled in as best he could thus far.  He has not factored in a decision in any of his first four starts this year.  His +7 ERA only seems manageable now that it’s in single digits.  Before his eight scoreless innings against the Braves (which the bullpen blew.  Again no decision for KK) his ERA was steadily climbing towards 20.00.

But with Lidge back and the possibility of him closing out the game tonight, I can not help but wonder if he might be closing out Kendrick’s season as well.  Kendrick was battling Jamie Moyer all Spring Training for the final rotation spot.  And while pitching in all ‘A’ games and pitching well, he took a back seat to Moyer who struggled in mostly ‘B’ games.  But 8 million sitting in the bullpen looks a lot different from 400k rounding out the pitching staff.  I guess when it counts Moyer has pitched well this season going 2-2 with an ERA just above five.

Joe Blanton, despite getting rocked a bit in his last rehab start, says he is ready to return to the big league club.  And soon behind him will be JA Happ and Jimmy Rollins.  Now we all know once Rollins comes back it will be Wilson Valdez on waivers.  He is all out of options so will have to get passed up by the rest of the league before going back to Lehigh Valley.  And with the injury bug biting a lot of teams already this year, that seems unlikely.

Antonio Bastardo has been optioned to Lehigh to make room for Lidge.  Phillies GM Ruben Amaro brought in former Mets pitcher Nelson Figueroa to help out in the pen.  J.C. Romero is back, and bullpen residents Chad Durbin and Ryan Madson are not going anywhere.  So who leaves once Blanton and Happ come back?  Who are the odd men out?  My list is Kendrick, Danys Baez, Figgy, or David Herndon.

Herndon was a Rule 5 pick from the Angels and would have to be returned to LA if removed from the 25 man roster.  While he pitched great in Spring Training earning him a spot in the pen, he has struggled in relief in 8.2 IP with a +6 ERA.  Another option to leave would be Figueroa.  I know Rube thought he would be a good mid-game inning eater but Durbin and Jose Contreras if needed they can throw two or three innings.

Kendrick will be a good 4th or 5th starter some day but it is hard to see when he fits in here.  Unless he can get steady work he will continue to be unable to locate pitches.  He has as many walks as he does strikeouts this season (9).  Ultimately I think Kendrick moves to the bullpen once Blanton returns and Herndon is released.  As for Happ’s return I think this will cause Rube to release Figgy.  I only say this because Baez is set to make 2.5 million so the Phillies must have a lot of confidence in his abilities.  As for the Philly Phaithful, the jury is still out.

With the Phillies playing well enough to only spend their, now, third day out of first place since May 2009, the return of Blanton and Happ will be huge.  I am all for letting the Mets ‘peak’ this early in the season and see them run out of steam come the All Star break.

Follow me on Twitter @kierancarobine

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The Beard Made me Do it.

Now before we get any further into this ‘I write something, and hopefully you read it’ relationship I feel obliged to tell you that baseball will be at the very core of most of my writings.  It may not be apparent at first but in time it will all become very clear to you.

So with that said, let’s talk facial hair.  Beards are awesome.  And I am not talking Johnny Depp Pirates of the Caribbean beard.  I am talking full on, gnarly Tom Hanks Castaway type beards.   Ok, maybe not that much but you get the picture.

I know what you are asking yourself.  Do I have a beard?  And yes I do.  It is a very nice beard too.  However, it is no relation to the beards of Jayson Werth, Johnny Damon circa 2004, Harry from the Hendersons, or Allen from the Hangover.  My beard is my very own.   But we are not here to talk about my beard.  Don’t laugh, that may come up.

I want to bring attention to Jayson Werth.  The 30-year-old right fielder for the Phightins showed up to Clearwater this past February with not only a chip on his shoulder, and with good reason; killer season, but also some excess facial hair.  At one point in the season last year, I thought Werth was a burn victim with the way his, excuse my French, D-Bag tag was crafted on his chin.  There were times in the season he seemed tight, and frigid.  He was ending swings on one knee and looked confused on breaking pitches.  Now I am not trying to take anything way from his career year.  He was amazing for the Phillies.  He just needed an edge.  And I think he has it.  Werth looks more limber, stronger, and more relaxed.  He also looks like he just got back from excursion in Alaska’s deep snowdrifts.

I don’t care.  The beard needs to stay.  This could be his strength.  Like Sampson and his hair, like Sloth and his Baby Ruth, hell like Pig Pen and that damn cloud of dust.  A gentlemen’s one-two punch to all the critics out there that say professional athletes need to look, well, ‘professional.’

The thing you have to understand here is there is really no scientific proof that a beard can improve performance.  But let us not forget certain people of history with amazing facial fuzz.  There was George Clooney in Perfect Storm, Jesus, Rick Ross, Charlie Daniels, and Allen from the Hangover.  I think you get the point.

Keep the beard.  If you do anything else, just keep the beard.  Well that and win another Championship.  Not too much to ask.

You can follow me on Twitter @kierancarobine

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