Sean Miller Is Still Searching For That Final Four Bid

Sean Miller

The past 11 years have seen Arizona Wildcats head basketball coach Sean Miller emerge as one of college basketball’s top coaches. For five years, Miller was the head basketball coach of the Xavier Musketeers. At Xavier, Miller posted a record of 120-47 and he led the Musketeers to just the school’s second trip to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament in 2008. The job that Miller did at Xavier caught the eye of Arizona who hired him in 2009. After posting a record of 16-15 in his first season in Tucson, Miller got the Wildcats to the Elite Eight in 2011. But in the West Regional Final, Connecticut Huskies guard Kemba Walker was too much for Arizona to overcome. In 2014, the Wildcats would once again reach the West Regional Final, but the Wisconsin Badgers and their power forward Frank Kaminsky thwarted a chance for the Wildcats to cut down the nets. This year Miller and the Wildcats would once again reach the Elite Eight out of the West Region. And once more it was the Badgers that sent Arizona home one game short of reaching the Final Four. Now unfortunately for Miller he is being looked at as a guy that cannot get over the hump.

Miller is one of the best recruiters in college basketball as he has once again made Arizona one of the top college basketball programs in the nation. The Wildcats have won the Pac-12 Conference Championship three times under Miller and he has restored the program to what it was under Hall of Fame basketball coach Lute Olson.

But the inability to reach the Final Four is something that will hang over Miller for now and he can look to this year’s Final Four as motivation. For Duke Blue Devils head basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, it wasn’t until his sixth season at Duke until he reached the Final Four. Current Kentucky Wildcats head basketball coach John Calipari was in his eighth season coaching the Massachusetts Minutemen before he reached his first Final Four. And it took Wisconsin head basketball coach Bo Ryan 13 years with the Badgers before he reached the Final Four.

Entering next season the Wildcats will once again be in contention as one of the top basketball teams in the country. The Wildcats will lose point guard T.J. McConnell to graduation while the high-flying forward Stanley Johnson will more than likely be a one-and-done player and opt for the NBA Draft. Arizona will still have a deep frontcourt with center Kaleb Tarczewski, along with forwards Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Brandon Ashley. Miller continues to sign some of the best high school basketball talent that the West Coast has to offer as the Wildcats class of incoming freshman will be highlighted by point guard Justin Simon, shooting guard Allonzo Trier, and small forward Ray Smith.

The loss to Wisconsin will sting for Arizona and their fan base; especially since it was the Badgers that also sent the Wildcats home in 2014. But under Miller, Arizona has consistently found a way to escape the first weekend of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament and continue to play when more eyes are watching. Now Miller must find a way to cut down the nets and add a Final Four berth to his resume.

The Value Of Cam Talbot

The New York Rangers found out the hard way about the value of having a good goalie. Rangers starting goalie Henrik Lundqvist has not played since February 2 as he has been dealing with a neck injury. The injury to Lundqvist appeared to be set to leave the Rangers at a clear disadvantage until the emergence of backup goalie Cam Talbot. Talbot went undrafted by the National Hockey League in 2010 when the Rangers signed him as a free agent. Talbot played in the Rangers minor league system until reaching the big club in 2013. But there was no way that Talbot was going to beat out the nine-time NHL All-Star in Lundqvist as far as being the Rangers top goalie. However Talbot has been doing his best Lundqvist impersonation this season.

Cam Talbot

When Lundqvist went out with his neck injury, the Rangers had a record of 29-15-4 and they were looking up at the New York Islanders in the Metropolitan Division. Now the Rangers are 47-19-7 and they have surpassed the Islanders for first place in the Metropolitan with an eye on their first division title since 2012. Talbot hasn’t missed a game in the absence of Lundqvist and he has become an anchor for the Blueshirts. Talbot is only allowing 2.16 goals per game which is currently tied for fourth in the NHL. This month alone Talbot has only had one game in which he has allowed more than two goals and with it the Rangers have only lost three games over that stretch. Now Talbot gives the Rangers something that they have not had in a long time which is depth at the goalie position.

In the past few seasons more than ever, some National Hockey League teams have been using tandem goalies just like National Football League teams use multiple running backs. Teams in the NHL have done this in the effort to keep their main goalie fresh coming down the stretch and heading into the playoffs. Lundqvist has been the heart and soul of the Rangers for so long and at times he has carried the team. But as good as Lundqvist is, he like anyone needs a break. For Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault he now has double indemnity at the goalie position. The Rangers are only allowing 2.23 goals per game this season which is second in the NHL. Teams that are facing the Rangers tend to fear Lundqvist as when he’s on, he is indeed a handful between the pipes. Now Talbot isn’t giving opponents of the Rangers a night off with his skills as well.

In defeating the Ottawa Senators this past Thursday night, the Rangers are heading back to the postseason. The Rangers fell three games short of winning the Stanley Cup Championship last season and overall they are playing like a team that has a bitter taste in their mouths about it. Lundqvist will return today and he’ll more than likely be eased back in as the Rangers starting goalie, but New York wouldn’t be where they currently are without the emergence of the young Mr. Talbot.

The Reeling Raptors

The Toronto Raptors are on the verge of their second straight Atlantic Division Title and with it another trip to the NBA Playoffs. But as the month of April is right around the corner, the Raptors don’t have the look or feel of a team that is ready to do some damage when the NBA Playoffs begin. The Raptors have lost 13 of their last 18 games. The Raptors still have a stranglehold on the top spot in the Atlantic Division due to the fact that it is by far the weakest division in the NBA, but they are fading in the overall standings of the Eastern Conference. For most of the season the Raptors were the second best team in the Eastern Conference behind the Atlanta Hawks. But now the Raptors have fallen into fourth place in the East behind the Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers and the Chicago Bulls.

This season the Raptors have been carried by their starting backcourt of point guard Kyle Lowry and shooting guard DeMar DeRozan. Fresh off of signing a new four-year, $48 million deal to remain with the Raptors, Lowry started real strong this season as in the month of December he averaged 22.3 points and 8.9 assists per game. Lowry was picking up the slack for an injured DeRozan and he kept the team afloat. And Lowry’s season was highlighted by him being named to his first NBA All-Star team. But through rest and injuries, Lowry’s numbers have now dipped. Lowry didn’t appear in the Raptors previous two games before exiting early this past Tuesday night in a 108-104 loss to the Detroit Pistons due to a back injury. Since returning from injury at the beginning of 2015, DeRozan has been valuable for the Raptors including his 23.8 points per game average this month. And depending on how long that Lowry will be out, DeRozan might be asked to do even more for the Raptors.

One of the things that is and will continue to hurt the Raptors is that they are built from the outside-in as opposed to the inside-out. The Raptors rely on Lowry and DeRozan along with other perimeter players such shooting guard Lou Williams and small forward Terrence Ross to do the scoring and creating whereas big men such as center Jonas Valanciunas and power forward Amir Johnson tend to grab rebounds and plug up the middle on defense. This philosophy for Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri and head coach Dwane Casey will win games in the regular season; especially in the Atlantic Division, but it won’t be as easy for Toronto against the big boys of the NBA where size matters. The Raptors lack of interior size is evident by the fact that they are currently tied for 26th in the NBA for total rebounding at 41.4 per game while being a middle of the pack team for field goal percentage at .454 as they tend to rely more on perimeter shooting.

Last season the Raptors won the Atlantic and they had home-court advantage in their first round playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets. But it was the Nets that had more size on the interior along with veteran experience that propelled them to the series win. And if you look at the current slump that the Raptors are on they have lost to teams that have size and for the most part a post presence.

When the calender shifts to April, the Raptors will have eight games left in the regular season and all of those contests will be against teams that currently have losing records. The Raptors need to take advantage of the also-rans in those contests along with getting some swagger back as they head into the postseason. I don’t see the Raptors forcing the issue to rush Lowry back now as they’ll need him healthy and ready to go when the playoffs roll around. This season the Raptors are a combined 3-7 versus the Hawks, Cavs and Bulls who are the tops teams in the Eastern Conference as they lose the size matchup with each team. And due to this discrepancy for the Raptors, I see them struggling when the NBA Playoffs roll around; even with a healthy Lowry.

The Remarkable Kevin Harvick

In 2001, Kevin Harvick’s NASCAR career began unexpectedly. Following the untimely death of racing legend Dale Earnahardt Sr., car owner Richard Childress called upon a young Harvick to get behind the wheel and replace the man that was simply known as “The Intimidator”. In Harvick’s third NASCAR race he would win the the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store 500 by holding off Jeff Gordon in a race that would have made Earnhardt Sr. proud. That year Harvick would go on to be NASCAR’s Rookie of the Year. Harvick has 30 victories on the Sprint Cup Series under his belt including winning the 2007 Daytona 500 and he’s also a two-time winner of the Coca-Cola 600. But since late 2014, Harvick has revved it up to another gear.

After years of competing against the likes of Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski, Harvick would win the last two races of the 2014 NASCAR season en route to claiming his first Sprint Cup Series Title and join these two as circuit champs. Harvick’s 2014 success has carried over to this year as he has put the hammer down on the race track.

The 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup season is only five races old, but Harvick has already been to the winner’s circle twice. This season Harvick has won the Kobalt World 400 in Las Vegas and he followed this up in the very next week by winning the 500 in Phoenix. This past Sunday, Harvick was battling with Kurt Busch to win the Auto Club 400 until several late cautions changed things. Keselowski was able to take advantage of the final green-white-checkered as he eased by Harvick and Busch to win. Harvick was denied a third straight victory, but a second place finish in California was nothing for him to hang his head over. Five races have taken place this season and Harvick has finished in the top five on each occasion. Harvick’s first victory of the season automatically qualifies him for the Sprint Chase later this year and he has a 28-point lead in the overall Sprint Cup standings over Joey Logano who is in second place.

Harvick’s shift from racing for Childress to Stewart Haas has paid huge dividends. In each of Harvick’s last three years of running under the banner of Richard Childress, he finished in the top ten of the overall Sprint Cup standings. But when he decided to join the Stewart Haas team in 2014, his production has soared to new heights as he is now one of the premier drivers on the circuit. Harvick is ascending to the heights of Johnson in NASCAR because he is always winning. And even when Harvick doesn’t win a race, he is right in the thick of things. We still have nearly six months before the Sprint Chase begins and it would be extremely easy for Harvick to sit back and relax for this spring and summer being that he has qualified for the NASCAR’s postseason. But something tells me that Harvick is not going to sit back and rest on his laurels which means that the other NASCAR drivers better buckle up for a very long season.

A Sad End For Boeheim

The drive from Lyons, New York to nearby Syracuse, New York only takes one hour. But for Syracuse University head basketball coach Jim Boeheim the drive is the equivalent to going right around the corner. Boeheim was born in Lyons and he has been a lifer in Central New York. Boeheim’s journey at Syracuse began in 1962 when he was a walk-on to the school’s basketball team. After graduating from Syracuse in 1966, Boeheim would return to the school in 1969 as an assistant coach of the basketball team. Boeheim would be an assistant basketball coach at Syracuse until he was named as the head basketball coach in 1976.

Jim Boeheim

Under Boeheim, the Syracuse Orange would become a national power in college basketball. And when the Big East Conference was created in 1979, Syracuse would develop historic rivalries there with the Georgetown Hoyas and St. John’s Red Storm that would define the conference and college basketball as a whole. As an assistant and later as a head coach at Syracuse, Boeheim would be a part of five Final Four teams and the school’s only national championship team in basketball in 2003. Boeheim has sent numerous players to the NBA highlighted by power forward Derrick Coleman who was the first overall pick of the 1990 NBA Draft and current New York Knicks small forward Carmelo Anthony who was the Most Outstanding Player of the 2003 Final Four. But even Boeheim cannot escape the dark clouds that surround college athletics.

Recently Syracuse basketball was hit hard with sanctions by the NCAA. The NCAA stripped Boeheim of 108 wins while also reducing Syracuse’s basketball scholarships over the next few years due to a lack of institutional control mainly surrounding the team’s academics. Syracuse had already self-imposed a ban this year for any postseason tournament, but it wasn’t enough for them to avoid the dreaded NCAA hammer. Syracuse had vowed to appeal the NCAA’s sanctions and recently at a school function, Boeheim stated that he “wasn’t going anywhere”. But Boeheim got served with a harsh dose of reality as indeed he isn’t bigger than Syracuse.

Last week Boeheim announced that he will retire in three years in a decision that more than likely wasn’t solely his. Along with Boeheim, Syracuse athletic director Daryl Gross is resigning and he will be taking another position within the university which smells of the school desperately seeking to start fresh.

You can’t think about Syracuse basketball and not think about Boeheim as he is the blue and orange which is evident by the Orange’s basketball court at the Carrier Dome being named after him. Boeheim has done many tremendous things for Syracuse, but at the end of the day he is simply an employee that must answer to someone who signs the paycheck that he still waits in line to cash. When Syracuse announced its move from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2011, Boeheim was publicly critical of it as he loved his beloved conference. But after being spoken to about it by Gross, Boeheim would quickly sing a new tune and welcome a new journey down to Tobacco Road. And just like Boeheim still intended to be at Syracuse until he was ready to walk away, the decision was not his either.

Where there’s smoke, there is fire and just like Syracuse tried to distance themselves from longtime assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine a few years ago amid sexual abuse allegations, the only fall guys left this time were Gross and Boeheim.

Boeheim isn’t leaving Syracuse immediately as his farewell tour will take place for three years which gives the university ample time to find a successor to the Hall of Fame basketball coach if they’ve cooled on Syracuse assistant basketball coach Mike Hopkins who was dubbed as their head coach in-waiting a few years ago. Syracuse will attempt to smooth out all of the rough spots between now and then with Boeheim. And Boeheim can expect to see his fair share of well wishers come out of the wood works to bid farewell to him that were once rivals such as former Georgetown head basketball coach John Thompson and former Connecticut head basketball coach Jim Calhoun whom Boeheim had fierce battles with on the hardwood and recruiting against to current rivals such as Duke head basketball coach Mike Kryzewski who Boeheim has served under as an assistant head basketball coach on Team USA and current Louisville head basketball coach Rick Pitino who was a member of Boeheim’s first staff at Syracuse.

The end is rarely that pretty for head coaches as they just like regular employees are typically unable to write their final chapter. Boeheim has done more good than he has bad, but his mistakes have expedited his retirement. And the jury will still be out on how Boeheim will be remembered.

Another Lost Season For The Maple Leafs

The 13 Stanley Cup Championships that have been won by the Toronto Maple Leafs are second most in National Hockey League history behind the Montreal Canadiens. But 1967 was when the Maple Leafs won their last title and unfortunately for the franchise it is now nothing but a distant memory. Over the last decade the Maple Leafs only have one playoff appearance to their credit and they have become something from the ranks of Wile E. Coyote as they have become a calamity of errors. In that one trip to the postseason, the Maple Leafs overcame a 3-1 series deficit against the Boston Bruins to force a Game 7 in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But in Game 7, the Maple Leafs had a 4-1 lead in the third period only to blow the game and the series as they’ve failed to recover since.

The Maple Leafs record of 27-40-6 has them in seventh place in the Atlantic Division and they’ve already been eliminated from playoff contention in the Eastern Conference. Midway through the season Randy Carlyle was fired as Maple Leafs head coach and he was replaced by Peter Horachek who has fared no better as Toronto is 6-24-3 under him. I don’t see the Maple Leafs retaining Horachek when this NHL season thankfully comes to an end for them as he has the interim tag attached to him.

Brendan Shanahan

It has been nearly a year since Brendan Shanahan took over as the president of the Maple Leafs and not much has changed for this team as far as improvement. Last May, Shanahan supported Maple Leafs general manager David Nonis when he gave Carlyle a two-year contract extension only to turn around and fire him this past January. And just prior to the NHL’s trade deadline this season, the Maple Leafs made a slew of moves to waive the white flag as they sent veterans such as forward Daniel Winnik and right winger David Clarkson out of town. Defenseman Dion Phaneuf is the Maple Leafs captain and after being tired of having him taking a verbal beating at the hands of the media in Toronto, right winger Phil Kessel came to the aide of his teammate to defend him as things there have become highly combustible there.

With this season currently a wash, all the Maple Leafs can do is rebuild and for the first time in a long time attempt to put a winning “system” into place. Recently the Maple Leafs have not drafted well and they will need to develop a core group of players that will once again make them a force in the NHL. The City of Toronto is the home to the Hockey Hall of Fame and the fans there are loyal and they want to erupt in order to support a winning team. It has to hurt the Maple Leafs fan base to know that they’ll be the only “Original Six” team that will not make the postseason this spring. And just like winning is contagious, the same can be said about losing. For the Maple Leafs they must find a way to dig themselves out of the rut that they are currently in as they’re searching for respectability.

Brees And The Saints are Stuck In The Mud

On February 7, 2010, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees was sitting on top of the world. Brees had just helped the Saints win their first Super Bowl Championship in franchise history and he would also be selected as the game’s Most Valuable Player. For nine seasons with the Saints, Brees is looked at as a god in the Bayou as he has re-written the franchise’s record book for passing and he’ll one day put on a different shade of gold when he is enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Saints had a good run from 2009-2011 as they went 37-11 over that stretch with three trips to the postseason. But in a region that is known for its wonderful jazz music in the French Quarter, things have hit a sour note for the Saints. The Bountygate Scandal put the Saints behind the eight-ball for the 2012 National Football League season while the almighty dollar appears to be finishing off the job for the New Orleans.

On July 13, 2012, Brees signed a new five-year, $100 million contract with the Saints. The contract included $60 million in guaranteed money which made it the largest contract at the time in NFL history. Brees received a $37 million signing bonus and his salary cap numbers have been hurting the Saints. For the upcoming NFL season, Brees has a cap number of $26.04 million which will count towards nearly 14 percent of the Saints overall cap number. And because of this Brees won’t have the best team around him in 2015.

In a cap move the Saints surprisingly traded tight end Jimmy Graham to the Seattle Seahawks earlier this month. Graham is a three-time Pro Bowl selection and he is one of the premier receiving tight ends in the National Football League. Graham has been the go-to-guy for Brees in the Saints passing game and he’ll be tough to replace as he (Graham) recently had problems with the front office in New Orleans.

Jimmy Graham

Last year Graham was set to become a free agent when the Saints hit him with the dreaded franchise tag. By trade Graham is listed as a tight end, but he has spent the majority of his offensive snaps lined up as a wide receiver. Graham wanted to be compensated as a wide receiver as he would be paid more money under the franchise tag because of it. Graham’s case would go to arbitration where he was deemed as a tight end which didn’t sit well with him. The Saints could not afford to have a good portion of their payroll committed to both Brees and Graham and thus the tight end is now a member of the Seahawks.

Brees has been paid by the Saints, but what good is it to be paid without a team around you that can win? Unfortunately for players in the National Football League, due to the tight salary cap. when contract time rolls around they must ask themselves: do I want to win or do I want to get paid? And for Brees he wanted to get paid.

Drew Brees

However for quarterbacks, they are typically the most marketable player on a football team as they are the leaders and the ones that tend to get the pretty girls. And with that it tends to be easier for them to make money outside of football. Brees has product endorsement deals in the New Orleans Area along with national deals to be a spokesperson for such products as Wrangler Jeans. So if Brees had taken less money to play for the Saints, he still would be heading to the bank from his endorsements which would also have allowed the Saints to keep players like Grahaam around him in New Orleans. But that is not the case.

Brees could have taken a page out of the book of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Brady has been notorious for taking less salary from the Patriots in order for the team to have flexibility in signing players. Like Brees, Brady cashes in off of the field with endorsements and the Patriots salary flexibility has allowed them to win four Super Bowl Titles with Brady under center.

Theoretically there isn’t a wrong answer for players in the NFL as far as them taking less money or maxing out on their athletic ability being that they only have a small window in the grand scheme of their respective lives to get top dollar for the physical skills that they possess. But quarterbacks in the NFL are solely remembered by how many championships that they are able to win. Brees has one Super Bowl Title on his resume and by the look of things currently with the Saints roster, he won’t have any title memories to add to it, but at the end of the day he’s paid.