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The part of the year college basketball fans anxiously wait for has finally arrived: March Madness is here! The state of Wisconsin has had some exciting years in previous seasons, including the University of Wisconsin nearly winning the championship with Sam Dekkar and Frank Kaminsky leading the way in 2015, and that same Wisconsin team making the Final Four the season before that. Wisconsin hasn’t been the only team dancing, with Marquette making it to the Elite 8 in 2013 and the Final Four in 2003. Marquette, though, hasn’t been back since 2013 and is on the fringe of returning again this season. Wisconsin was at one point a sure top seed in the tournament, but a recent ugly losing streak has them likely looking at a seed somewhere in the 6 range instead of a 3. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee almost got in on the fun despite a 11-24 record on the season when they made the Horizon Leagues final this week with a guaranteed tournament birth on the line, they lost to Northern Kentucky, though, in a tightly contested game. If UWM had won that game, they would have broken the tournament “record” for most losses in a season by a team that qualified for the tournament.

This years Marquette team has little chance of making a splash in this years tournament. Another year of development and it’s very likely that they could be contending for a top 3 seed, but this year they would be lucky to get a 10 seed in one of the 16 team brackets. Marquette doesn’t have the firepower or defensive prowess to hang with most teams. A Sweet 16 birth is likely the ceiling for this team, though they are more likely to lose in the first round than to make it to the second, let alone the third.

Wisconsin at one point seemed like it was going to be a dark horse in the tournament, a team that was unlikely to win but could go into any game with at least a fighting chance of advancing. A recent losing streak against unranked opponents has dampened the excitement around the Badgers, and they are likely to also have a ceiling of the Sweet 16, depending on the matchups they draw. Nigel Hayes leads the group of accomplished and young Badgers, with Bronson Koenig right alongside him. The question will be whether they can get their games right and minds focused on a one-and-done tournament when they haven’t been able to put away inferior opponents.

This feels like it will be an early ending to March Madness for fans of Wisconsin’s universities, but it should be an entertaining tournament nonetheless. Perhaps this will be the year a smaller powerhouse will be able to win the title game. More likely it will be a familiar face, but the unknown is what this time of year is all about.

Predictions: Wisconsin loses in round of 32, Marquette loses in round of 64.

Bring on the Madness.


Anybody watching the Packers versus Cowboys matchup on Sunday night witnessed what easily might have been the best football game of this decade. From the giant lead the Packers held, to the massive comeback from the Cowboys, to the three 50+ yard field goals on the final two minutes, there was nothing more that could’ve happened to make the game exciting.

It was a battle of the old guard versus the up and comers. NFL centerpiece Aaron Rodgers against NFL upstart Dak Prescott. The Cowboys had been the best team all season in the NFC, ending up with a 13-3 record that included losses to only two teams. They had even thoroughly dominated the Packers earlier, but playoff football is a very different monster. Rodgers made several incredible plays, and in the end it was enough to maintain the grip on the game, barely.

After Mason Crosby hit a 56 yard knuckleball field goal that put the Packers up by 3 points with less than two minutes to play, it looked as if the game would end in Green Bay’s favor. Prescott and company had other plans, though, and in a matter of seconds they had marched down to the Packers 40 yard line and Prescott spiked the ball with less than a minute remaining. That spike cost them the game when the Cowboys couldn’t get another first down and settled for a 52 yard Dan Bailey kick that split the uprights and left the Packers fans with a horrible feeling that precedes a horrible playoff loss. The Packers were winning by 15 going into the fourth quarter, they couldn’t blow this game now, right? With 36 seconds left and one timeout Rodgers was determined to leave Dallas with the victory. Three plays later Rodgers had only advanced the Packers about 25 yards when he took a hard hit from a blitzing Dallas safety. Rodgers never saw it coming and his body crumpled to the ground, but the football remained glued to his right hand, amazingly never hitting the turf. Rodgers holding onto that ball during a blind-side hit was a miracle, and it will be discussed as long as football is talked about.

The next play would be even better, though, when Rodgers drew up his own play in the huddle and rolled out to his right, hitting tight end Jared Cook 36 yards downfield with two seconds left. Cool dragged his two feet inbounds just centimeters before his momentum carried his body fully out of bounds. The catch was incredible, and it put the Packers in position to win the game on a last second kick.

One timeout and two 51 yard kicks later, and the Packers left Dallas with a 34-31 victory. Mason Crosby became the first kicker in NFL playoff history to kick two 50+ yard field goals on the final two minutes that gave his team the lead. Who knows, maybe this is the team of destiny.

On to Atlanta.

Prediction: Green Bay 38 Atlanta 35

No Jordy Nelson, no problem. Aaron Rodgers and company withstood a slow start by their offense and took over the wild card playoff game against the New York Giants to the tune of 38-13. The score wouldn’t indicate it, but the game was actually much closer than Packers fans would have liked, with the game a close 7-6 in favor of the Packers just seconds before halftime. At this point, Rodgers was having a pedestrian day after a 4-11 start, Jordy Nelson was about to be ruled out for the game due to what would later be revealed as multiple broken ribs, and the Packers running game was nowhere to be found.

Enter Aaron Rodgers, the man who took over for Brett Favre and has since surpassed him in most Packers fans minds as the greatest quarterback to ever don the green and gold. Rodgers has proven himself to be the Hail Mary master, practically requiring that the play be renamed Hail Aaron after he converted his third touchdown in 12 months on the rarely-converted play. The way Rodgers throws his Hail Mary is unlike any other in the NFL right now. If you have some time, go online and find the fans video shot from the last second touchdown against the Lions last year, and you can see the height that Rodgers reaches at the top of the arc of his throw. He throws a parabola into the end zone, and he did it again Sunday to find Randall Cobb alone in the back for the easy basket catch. Just like that it was 14-6 headed into halftime and the Packers wouldn’t look back the rest of the way.

Their reward for defeating the Giants is a rematch with the NFC’s best, the Dallas Cowboys. Earlier this season Dallas embarrassed Green Bay 30-16 in a game that never felt like the Packers had a chance. The benefit of playing the Cowboys is that their offense is led by two rookies in Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. Even if they are the two best rookies this year, they have still never experienced playoff football before and they’ve never had to play this many games in a season. The downside is that even though they are rookies, they play behind easily the best offensive line in the game, so any game-time jitters might not have an opportunity to take hold because they will have yards and yards of space between them and the nearest green jersey.

There is no denying that this game is going to be tough for the Packers. If this is the end of the road for the Packers this year, there will be no shame in losing on the road to the best team in the NFC, even if it will feel like the Packers once again fell short of their ultimate preseason goal. The Packers can beat this team, if only because they will have the best player on the field in Aaron Rodgers.

Prediction: Green Bay 24 Dallas 21

Raise your hand if you saw this coming. The Packers control their own destiny again, now having the ability to win their final two games and win their division. While this seemed possible four weeks ago, it was far from likely and certainly was not viewed as a probability. Since then, though, the Packers have went on a four game tear that saw them raise their record from 4-6 to 8-6. Coach Mike McCarthy has stated since the 4-6 start that 10-6 should be their goal, and Aaron Rodgers talked openly about running the table.

That talk seems like a distinct possibility now, with the final two games against stumbling NFC North foes Minnesota and Detroit looking very winnable. It is possible that the Packers wouldn’t need to win their final two games to make the playoffs, because some late season stumbling by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and a little bit of luck could get them in the playoffs at 9-7. Still, the goal should absolutely be 10-6 and a division championship.

Rodgers has worked himself back into the MVP discussion after some early season snafus, being near the league lead in nearly every passing category while playing without a running back. Don’t be mistaken, as good as Montgomery has looked, and he certainly could be a running back next season, he is nothing more than this season’s Samkon Gado or James Starks at the moment. Montgomery has shown remarkable poise and patience when running the ball, which has brought old scouts out of the woodworks pointing out that they projected him as a better running back than receiver the entire time. As silly as a running back wearing number 88 looks, it is pretty fun watching him take handoffs and hit holes as if he has been doing it his whole life.

Could this team get hot and win a Super Bowl? Anything is possible, but the defense needs to shore up first, which would involve a lot of healing from injuries and a lot more consistency. Beyond that, Montgomery will need to continue his tear, and Rodgers will need to avoid further injuring his hamstring and calf. All of that put together does not lend itself to much confidence, but crazier things have happened.

The better question is where the Packers go from here once the season ends. Eddie Lacy has not proven to be durable, or even that good when he is healthy. He has shown flashes, sure, but it would be deviating from the Ted Thompson way to pay big money for a running back, and who could disagree with him. Does Montgomery attempt a full-time move to the running back position? Do the Packers draft another running back to pay rookie money and fill in the hole in the backfield? That seems the most likely option, but only time will tell.

Minnesota stands in Green Bay’s way this week, and the Packers should be able to handle them with ease and continue their march to the playoffs.

Packers 27-

Vikings 17.


When number 5 ranked LSU came to Lambeau Field to face off against unranked Wisconsin they figured they would have no problem running up the score before flying home. LSU was the team that was returning 18 starters from their 9-3 team a year ago; they were supposed to be one of the best teams in the nation, until they played Wisconsin. Wisconsin took care of business against Akron and Georgia State before taking the next step of their daunting schedule against Michigan State in Michigan. How does a 30-6 beat down of the number 8 ranked team sound? It sounds pretty good to me.

Wisconsin, now ranked number 8 in the nation will face off against number 4 ranked Michigan, again playing on their home turf in Ann Arbor. So after going 4-0 and defeating two top ten teams in the nation, the Badgers are 10.5 point underdogs against Michigan. Double-digit underdogs are something that the Badgers are used to being, but where is the respect from Vegas? What happens if they beat Michigan handily this weekend and then travel back to Wisconsin to face off against number 2 ranked Ohio State? Will Ohio State be double-digit favorites in that game as well? I would hope not since the game will be played at Camp Randall Stadium and Wisconsin will have three wins over top ten ranked teams if they can pull out the victory in Ann Arbor. Even more telling is the fact that two of the three wins will have come outside of the state of Wisconsin, and none at Camp Randall Stadium.

Alex Hornibrook, a redshirt freshman, took over for senior Bart Houston at quarterback last week against Michigan State and played better than anybody could have imagined. He went 16-26 for 195 yards with one touchdown and one interception. The interception came at the end of the first half on a hail-mary play, so in reality Hornibrook avoided the drive-killing turnovers that plagued Houston. When Wisconsin plays a slow, methodical game based on clock control, turnovers are something that has to be avoided. Hornibrook continually proved that he should be the quarterback holding the ball for the rest of the season, and he did it against the stingy Michigan State defense.

Even better than Hornibrook has been the Badgers defense, led by senior Vince Biegel. The defense forced Michigan State into committing four turnovers, including three interceptions by lauded senior quarterback Tyler O’Connor. On the long fumble recovery, Leo Musso returned it for a 66 yard touchdown that would essentially put to end any doubts about who would win at the end.

Corey Clement continues to be the backbone of the Wisconsin offense though he has left much to be desired when being compared to Wisconsin running backs of old. He has averaged 3.9 yards per carry to go with 5 touchdowns in the three games he has played, but that number is inflated by his 5.3 yards per carry against Akron. In his two games against LSU and Michigan State he has averaged 4.1 yards and 2.3 yards per carry, respectively.

I expect Wisconsin to roll into the Big House and pick up the victory 23-17.

Robert Ruiz 8-24-16

What a month for WWE, with the company first getting dedicated mainstream coverage with the launch of their own page on ESPN, crescendoing with a full-fledged commitment to the “new era” by having Finn Balor win the new WWE Universal championship and AJ Styles earn a win over the “face that runs the place” John Cena, only to have Balor have to relinquish the title 24 hours later. A roller coaster would be putting it lightly, but lets try to pick through the Summerslam event and the ramifications afterward.

Finn Balor wrestled for over a decade as Prince Devitt before coming over to WWE as one of their newly signed “Indy darlings”. Balor had honed his craft in Europe and Japan and had earned a reputation as one of the best workers in the business. He has an integral part of the famed “Bullet Club” in Japan, eventually passing the torch to AJ Styles so that he could begin his arduous journey into the hierarchy of the WWE. He spent years in the “developmental” brand NXT, but not because he needed the time to master his technique, but because WWE was waiting for the perfect time to call him up while also letting NXT have a signature star that would bring fans to their ever growing live event schedule. Fans clamored to see Balor on the main roster, even as similarly big stars, including AJ Styles, spent little or no time in developmental prior to their WWE debut.

The audience fell in love with his “demon” character and his entrance was always a sight to see, yet he remained in NXT until just a few weeks ago, when he finally debuted as the number one contender for the newly released Universal championship. After defeating two of the company’s biggest stars in Rusev and Roman Reigns, Balor would be allowed the opportunity to face Seth Rollins for the new championship at Summerslam. The quick rise was punctuated by the surprising win at Summerslam, proving that WWE is committed to pushing the new influx of stars who made their names on the indy circuit.

All of Balor’s dreams would come crashing down, though, as he was forced to give up the championship less than 24 hours into his reign. WWE’s first Universal champion will likely be its shortest tenured for a long time to come. During the match with Rollins, Balor took a toss powerbomb into the guardrail and the impact forced his shoulder out of socket. He was able to immediately pop it back into the socket and finish the match but when he was shown in a sling the next morning it was obvious that something was very wrong. Balor had torn his labrum and would be out for 4-6 months.

So a new tournament is being held to determine who will be the next WWE Universal champion, but unless it is a big surprise there will be no replicating the reaction from the Brooklyn crowd at Summerslam. Balor had earned that title from his endless work before WWE and in developmental, but he was forced to go to the back of the line and will likely have to wait his turn while he proves to WWE that he can stay healthy. The worst case scenario might be a comparable to the other championship match at Summerslam, where Dean Ambrose was facing Dolph Ziggler. Zigger had gotten a push as the Heavyweight champion years ago, but the week after his victory he received a stiff kick to the head and suffered a concussion. He promptly lost the championship and after receiving a few more concussions, he was forced down the card and had to occupy a filler role for years as he proved that he could stay healthy. Finally, Ziggler got a push again this year, though his attempt to recoup the title proved futile and he followed up the pay-per-view loss with another loss to the new number one contender AJ Styles on Smackdown.

Hopefully Balor can come back from this injury and WWE management will see his injury as a one time thing. Balor has not been injury prone prior to coming to WWE, so hopefully his deserved push continues where it left off once his shoulder is healed.

Roberto Ruiz

Look no further than Jonathan Lucroy if you’re looking for the perfect Brewer. For seven years Lucroy represented the Brewers and the city of Milwaukee in the best way possible. Lucroy was never linked to any performance enhancing drugs, he never lied to the fans or the media, he never left town when the Brewers were still good and contending for a playoff spot. No, Lucroy was the prototypical Brewer, the kind of player I would want my kids to be. He showed up to work every day and emphasized the smaller parts of the game that rarely get any attention while also being one of the best hitting catchers in the league.

Lucroy never gathered the following or elicited the fanfare of Ryan Braun or Prince Fielder, but he was just as vital to the team during the glory years. He played through injuries, he was consistently a force at the plate, and he was always one of the best behind it. Pitcher after pitcher who came through Milwaukee raved about the pitch calling and pitch framing abilities of Lucroy, but those aren’t stats that are thrown around by the mainstream media. You’d never know that he was one of the best in the business at getting borderline pitches called strikes.

Often overshadowed by louder, more brash catchers such as Yadier Molina, Lucroy was a consistent presence behind the plate for the Brewers. He batted fifth for much of his time in Milwaukee, but also batted third and fourth enough times that it wasn’t an oddity. Being a catcher and locking down a main spot in the batting order isn’t unheard of, but being a defensive catcher who can swing a baseball bat is. It is that quality that made Molina and Buster Posey so sought after, and they made their millions and were universally loved by their fan base. Yet Lucroy never got the recognition or adoration that he deserved. It was only after all the other stars left or burned out did fans truly start to embrace Lucroy. I just hope it wasn’t too little, too late.

Unlike Braun and Fielder, Lucroy never got his payday, he still makes less than 5 million a year. He never held out for more money or demanding a bigger paycheck because that wasn’t his style. Only after he entered his 30’s and the Brewers had entered the rebuilding age did he finally make it known that he would prefer to play for a contender. He has made it clear he wishes to play in the World Series at least once in his career, but he never demanded a trade. He earned one, though, by showing up to work day after day and never once complained about his job.

I hope Jonathan knows how much many fans and media alike respected him and loved him. He personified what it meant to be from Milwaukee.

Thank you, Jonathan. Good luck in Texas.

What a difference a week makes. Just last week I was trumpeting Lesnar as the greatest thing since sliced bread, an outlier, a one-of-a-kind athlete that put all other athletes to shame. I praised Lesnar’s ability to come back to fighting after five years off and destroy someone of Mark Hunt’s ilk. I commended Lesnar for his business acumen and mentioned how much money he stood to make after merging the two worlds of real and fake fighting. I said all of thesethings right before it was announced that Lesnar had tested positive for performance enhancing drugs. Though it is currently unclear what Lesnar tested positive for, it has been reported to be an estrogen blocker.

What a fall from grace. He had inserted himself into the heavyweight title picture once again, could you imagine someone holding the WWE championship and the UFC championship at the same time? Lesnar famously said that “Brock Lesnar does what Brock Lesnar wants” after the Hunt fight, apparently he thought that extended to failing drug tests.

One thing that always baffles me is how unwilling the public is to seeing how big of a problem performance enhancing drugs are in all sports. Fans like to think that the people that get caught are the only ones cheating, but how many professional athletes would cheat if they knew they were going to get caught? The ones who get caught were either too stupid to get away with it or their “Doctor” prescribed them something s/he shouldn’t have. Are people really that naive to think that Lesnar just happened to cheat for the first time this fight, just happened to cheat before a fight that wasn’t as important as his title opportunities or defenses? Either way, Lesnar got caught and now he will likely never make another return to the cage.

The interesting part is whether or not WWE decides to suspend him for 30 days as they always do for people who violate the wellness policy. It wasn’t a test that they administered, and I am not sure of the legalities in their contracts with talent, but I’d imagine they have to suspend him even though it would mean his absence from their second biggest show every year, Summerslam. Lesnar is a prideful man, does he even want to return to the WWE and risk getting negative reactions from the often hostile WWE crowds? Only Brock knows, I guess. The WWE fans are hard to predict, and with Brock being such a fan favorite it would be hard to imagine him getting jeered while in the ring, but at the same time it is hard to imagine a person who took steroids not get jeered while in the ring.

When asked about steroids prior to UFC 200, Lesnar said he was a “jacked white boy, deal with it”, but I guess he should’ve been more specific. Maybe “I am a jacked white boy who takes performance enhancers, deal with it” is what he is telling Vince McMahon right now.

Good luck with that, Brock.

Brock_Lesnar_in_March_2015 07-13-16

Five years away from the cage did a lot of good for WWE and UFC star Brock Lesnar, as his heralded return was a dominant one. Mark Hunt is a top ten heavyweight with heavy hands and the ability to knock any opponent down, but he was the one being manhandled by the much stronger Lesnar. After the fight Hunt would lament that he wasn’t sure how Lesnar is as strong as he is at 265 pounds, and he has a point. Lesnar is a freak of nature, a physical specimen that makes grown men around him look like prepubescent boys.

When Lesnar left the UFC five years ago on a losing streak, it was because of his struggles with diverticulitis, an ailment that left him lacking power, stamina, and the ability to take a kick to the gut. Heading into this fight, Lesnar was an underdog in large part because of his time away from the cage, the fact that the fight was announced without much lead up time, and the fact that he had left on a losing streak. When his match was elevated to semi-main event status after the Jon Jones-Daniel Cormier fight was dropped after Jones tested positive for performance enhancers, Lesnar knew his dominance would be on display for all to see.

One interesting aspect of this fight was that Lesnar is actually contracted with WWE, a form of entertainment based around “fake” fighting. Normally someone contracted with WWE would not be allowed to take part in a UFC match, but Lesnar is not like other people. Not only would Lesnar create a bit of crossover appeal, but he would also, likely, bring legitimacy to the WWE. When I say likely it is because Lesnar had to have done this knowing that he was likely to be the winner. Lesnar is not unintelligent, and he does not like looking like a fool, so if he thought he wasn’t going to win he would have never stepped foot back into that octagon.

Now the question that remains is how long it will be until Lesnar makes a full-fledged return to UFC. He is contracted at least through August for WWE, but details of his contract are scarce and he has left the WWE before to pursue other ventures. After the fight, Lesnar said that he does what he wants, and there aren’t many statements holding more truth than that. If there is one thing Lesnar has proven throughout his life, it is that he does what he wants.

With his time in WWE numbered, it would be smart for the WWE to get what they can out of him. They’ve already advertised Randy Orton as his opponent for Summerslam, but what if they book him to lose to one of their new stars the night after at Raw? Then when he decides to spurn WWE for greener pastures once again, they will be left with more than just their hands in their pockets, they will be left with a bonafide superstar that can remind everyone time and again that he beat the baddest man on the planet.

The Decision Part Two: Kevin Durant occurred this week, with the former league MVP agreeing to sign with the Golden State Warriors to help lead their super-team into the next season. With a player opt-out clause after the first season this is clearly Durant chasing the ever elusive championship ring before he plies his trade on the open market with a huge contract on the line. Right or wrong, players are remembered most for the championships that they won, or didn’t win. Michael Jordan is the best because he won so many championships (in a watered down league, but that’s another story), Bill Russell is fondly remembered because of the number of banners he hoisted, and Tracy McGrady is remembered for how many times he failed in the playoffs. If Durant and the Warriors are able to win the championship next season it allows Durant to seek the best landing spot for his family the following season without the added pressure of playoff failure hanging on his resume.

The comical part about the signing was the backlash against Durant from fans. Fans questioned everything from his integrity to his manhood, which was never fair. Fans like to put sports on a pedestal and act like every player treats every game like it is life or death. Do players enjoy winning and being considered the best in their respective sport? Of course, but we often forget that these athletes are people. Fans have no idea what transpired behind the scenes, they have no idea what pushed Durant into the arms of Steph Curry and company.  Consider the fact that Durant is moving from Oklahoma City to California for a second, consider the fact that Durant is leaving a team dominated by Russell Westbrook and his me-first mentality for Steph Curry and the Warriors mantra of being a family.

On a competitive level, Durant leaving for Golden State leaves much to be desired. Because Jordan was an ultra-competitive jerk with no friends, fans expect every great player to be like that, or at least to want to be like that. Players aren’t allowed to have friends in the business because they often get criticized for befriending the “enemy”. No matter that they are a part of a select group of people who are going to have trouble relating to anyone with a “normal” life because of their money and celebrity status.

Don’t get me wrong, everybody has a right to voice their opinion, and everybody has one. Fans choose to pay their money to enjoy the product put on by the NBA, and because of that they think that they are owed something by the players. If you devote your life to following another human being, that’s up to you, but these players owe you nothing. The team owes you a seat in a stadium, the cable company owes you a channel with NBA access, but the player owes you nothing. The player is a contracted worker who gets to decide which jobsite they would prefer to work at, don’t make them wrong for choosing a jobsite that looks more appealing to them and better works with their life goals after they have already fulfilled the contract work with the other company.

Don’t make it more than it is.


Why, John Hammond, why? Why did you select a player whose talent is more in line with second round draft pick than a first rounder? I understand the rule of not making a trade just to make a trade, but why wouldn’t you trade down if the player you drafted was projected to be available well into the back of the first round? Is Thon Maker going to be a piece of the puzzle that brings the Bucks back into relevance? The selection of Maker is puzzling at best and horrendous at worst.

While the NBA draft was not full of talent like next years is projected to be, there were still quality players like Denzel Valentine and Henry Ellenson on the board when the Bucks made their selection. If the goal is to be a paltry team this year and try to grab a top selection in next year’s draft, I can live with that, but this team isn’t going to be a bottom of the barrel team next year. The Bucks have way too much young talent that is progressing year after year under the tutelage of head coach Jason Kidd to not be fighting for a playoff spot next season. The Bucks were the tenth worst team in the league last year but they were also one of the youngest both in terms of age and basketball experience. While a rookie available at the tenth pick is unlikely to lead the Bucks to the playoffs, there were nice pieces left to grab that could have contributed. As it stands, Maker is not expected to contribute in any meaningful way for years to come.

When the Bucks selected Giannis Antetokounmpo with the 15th pick in the 2013 draft he was a project player who was clearly very athletic and very young. After three years in the NBA Antetokounmpo is still only 21 years old and has progressed into being one of the most exciting young players in the league. Thon is nowhere near the caliber of player that Giannis is, even when comparing them prior to coming to the NBA. Maker couldn’t even dominate the Canadian high school basketball scene, how is he going to compete in the professional American league?

Thon Maker will be riding the bench for three years, coming in to get “experience” at the end of meaningless basketball games before being released when the team option comes up. Maybe the Bucks send Maker to the Developmental League and hope that he can develop a decent low post game there before calling him up to play in Milwaukee. But what happens when Maker can’t even compete in the D-League?

I am all for the feel good story, but this was Hammond swinging for the fences because he didn’t see any good players left. I guess if you don’t think there is any NBA level talent remaining in the draft, why not roll the dice on the guy that young know least about and is 7’1”. Who knows, I could be eating my words in 2020 when Maker is contributing for a NBA playoff team, but I doubt it.

062216robert ruiz pix

The wait for Cleveland is over, the King has returned from the NBA Finals with a championship trophy. Cleveland had not seen a championship trophy in over 50 years, but when LeBron James came out of high school and went straight to the NBA the same year that the Cavaliers won the NBA draft lottery, things were supposed to change. LeBron was the kid from Akron who would save Cleveland and deliver the championship that the city desired and deserved. LeBron instantly made the Cavaliers championship contenders and led them all the way to the doorstep before the San Antonio Spurs turned them away. While LeBron languished and hoped for a few more superstars to share the burden with, the Cavaliers surrounded him with Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison. LeBron would leave Cleveland before winning a championship and would go on to win two with the Miami Heat.

The Shot, The Fumble, The Drive, The Decision, all of these things convinced sports fans in Cleveland that they were forever doomed in the sports world. When LeBron became a free-agent again after his contract in Miami concluded, Cleveland fans did not dare get their hopes up that the King could return, even amid the swirling rumors. One Sports Illustrated article later and LeBron was “Coming Home”. Things had changed in Cleveland since LeBron’s departure; they had two number one overall picks in Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson who had learned to lead the team to a .500 record but were crucially missing that last piece of the puzzle. LeBron is the missing piece to pretty much every puzzle, and his return concluded with another trip to the NBA Finals. Standing in their way ended up being the team that would put together the greatest regular season in history the following year, the team with the 2015 MVP Steph Curry. The Warriors would win that best of seven series in six games and Cleveland fans once again succumbed to the idea that their city would never win a championship.

The 2016 Finals arrived and the Cavaliers were faced with a familiar opponent, the greatest regular season team of all time, and the 2016 unanimous MVP Steph Curry. This Golden State Warriors team had gone 73-9 in the regular season and had just won three straight elimination games against the Oklahoma City Thunder. When Golden State won three of the first four games, heartbreak again seemed inevitable for the city of Cleveland. At least until LeBron put the whole city on his back and carried them past the Golden State Warriors and into the history books as the first team to ever come back from a 3-1 finals deficit and win. LeBron would average 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 2.6 steals and 2.3 blocks per game, leading both teams in every major statistical category. In the critical games five and six, LeBron scored 41 points each game and coupled with Kyrie Irving to ensure that there would be a game seven.

Even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while and when I predicted the Cavaliers would win in seven games I did not expect that the series would go this way. Golden State may not be the greatest team of all time, like many expected they would be, but LeBron just may be the greatest player of all time. Sorry Chicago.


Roberto Ruiz

Counting his time in Japan, Ichiro Suzuki passed Pete Rose for number one all time in career hits with 4,257 after his double on Wednesday. Unfortunately, the MLB record books don’t count hits in Japan as hits in the Major Leagues, so the record will remain Rose’s until there is another great young hitter that survives in the big leagues for nearly 20 years. As it stands, Ichiro is approaching 3,000 career hits in the United States, and will be the second oldest person to ever reach 3,000 hits in major league history.

There is little debate as to who was better at hitting the baseball Ichiro or Rose, with Ichiro taking that distinction handily. Even though Ichiro was 27 when he came over to the United States, he has a career average of .314 which bests Rose’s batting average by 11 points and he didn’t have the benefit of years of MLB pitching prior to his prime baseball age. Ichiro will always be best known for slapping a ground ball between the shortstop and third baseman and already being three quarters of the way down the base path by the time the ball reached the infield.

Ichiro created his own style of batting, slapping at the baseball more than driving it and using the momentum created from his swing to start him down the first base line. You see most players take a massive swing and if they make contact with the ball they have to take a moment to center their body before taking off down the line; that was never the case with Ichiro. When you average less than ten home runs a year but are amassing 200 hits a year, clearly your goal isn’t to hit it over the fence.

I will never forget the fervor created by Ichiro during my one visit to Safeco Field in Seattle. While sitting in the stands during a meaningless regular season game, the stands were packed with fans that would ooh and ahh every time Ichiro came into the batter’s box. The chant of “I-Chi-Ro!” would pound through the stadium with seemingly every fan joining in.  He ended that night 2-4 with two singles, the perfect Ichiro game.

The disappointing part of Ichiro’s career is that he was rarely ever on championship contenders. He has never played in the World Series and has only played in the American League Championship Series twice, in 2001 for the Mariners and 2012 for the Yankees. He batted .346 in the postseason and it would have been wonderful to see him playing in the World Series, but the downside of spending the vast majority of your career in Seattle is that you are rarely playing on a contender. For years, the Seattle Mariners relied on Ichiro getting on base and Felix Hernandez throwing a no-hitter to be able to win baseball games.

It’s too bad Ichiro played on the west coast until he was 38 years old because if he had been playing for the Yankees or the Red Sox his entire career his legacy would be quite different. As it stands, he will be regarded by many as the all-time hits leader, and that isn’t too shabby.

Jun 9, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) shoots the ball over Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) during the fourth quarter in game three of the NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports - RTX1FVBH

With a 3-1 series lead and two of the top superstars in the league, the Oklahoma City Thunder were sitting pretty in the Western Conference Finals against the defending champion Golden State Warriors. Many people, including myself, assumed that the Thunder were going to advance to the NBA finals to take on the Cleveland Cavaliers, but the Warriors made fools of us all. Reminding us why they had the best regular season record of all time when they won the final three games to complete the comeback against Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder. There is no doubt that no matter who won the Western Conference that the NBA finals would be an exciting matchup, but it is a bit of a downer to get a rematch of last year’s matchup.

Kevin Durant has now played what will likely be his final game in a Thunder jersey. This series has to leave a bad taste in his mouth, especially after he got to see the best parts and worst parts of Westbrook in the same series. Some games Westbrook dominated like he was the best player in the league, but others he would literally and figuratively throw the ball away once the game got to crunch time. Billy Donovan, the coach of the Thunder, went from looking like a top tier coach to a college coach out of place in the professionals. Why would Durant stay in Oklahoma when he could go to a more prestigious team in a state that doesn’t make you pay income tax, like, San Antonio?

The real story though is the finals rematch that we all expected to happen most of the season but thought might not as of last week. Steph Curry and LeBron James get to battle it out again for NBA supremacy, except this time James is fighting to regain his spot at the top instead of trying to maintain a hold on it. Six straight finals appearances for James cannot end in only two championship rings, but that possibility is staring him in the face. James is an all-time great, he better make sure his legacy holds true and walk away with a banner to put in Cleveland.

Curry has to want this title as much as if not more than James though. His team just finished off the best regular season in NBA history and he was voted the first unanimous MVP in NBA history. It would be a shame to lose the best team ever moniker that will surely follow him around because he couldn’t overcome an aging LeBron.

This finals brings with it many questions that, frankly, I cannot wait to be answered. I can’t wait to see LeBron and Curry going toe-to-toe late into games, scratching and clawing to prove that they are the dominant entity in the NBA. The biggest question is who comes out on top?

My prediction: Cavaliers in seven.

Wizards v/s Thunder 03/14/11

Entering the NBA playoffs, there was a certain hesitance to enjoy any of the rounds prior to the conference finals. It was widely expected that the San Antonio Spurs would face off against the Golden State Warriors in a thrilling matchup of two regular season heavyweights that lost a combined 24 games this season and the Cleveland Cavaliers would coast into the Finals against fairly weak competition in the Eastern Conference. The Spurs were thoroughly dismantled by the Oklahoma City Thunder in a six game series, which made an even more intriguing matchup possible with the Warriors. The Cavaliers also have been surprisingly pushed by the Toronto Raptors while in Canada, though they have had no issues dealing with them when playing in Cleveland.

The Cavaliers head back for a game 6 tonight in Toronto which has proven to be a house of horrors for the big three of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love. At this point the Finals is expected to be a showdown between the Cavaliers and the Thunder, an interesting rematch of a big three headed by LeBron versus Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.

The real story of these playoffs has been the rise of Westbrook into super stardom. Westbrook has been a superstar for quite some time now, regardless of what Mark Cuban thought of him when the playoffs started. The surprising truth is that Durant has struggled to play up to his potential the past three weeks and Westbrook has more than picked up his slack. Durant is supposed to be the superior player, the 7 foot wing who is un-guardable and can get to his shot from anywhere on the floor, yet he has been struggling to shoot even 40% during these playoffs. Westbrook, meanwhile, has been playing his signature style of blitz-ball all over the court, picking up triple-doubles with ease and making every shot count.

The frenetic style of Westbrook should clash nicely with the play of the Cavaliers and make for quite an exciting series, let’s just hope that that is the series we get. LeBron has clearly slowed in his advancing age, but he is still undoubtedly one of the best players in the game today. Besides, who wouldn’t love to watch the pregame rituals of LeBron and his chalk toss and Westbrook with his dancing prior to a (hopefully) seven game series?

One would have to assume that the Finals will be a Cavs vs Thunder showdown, and we should be excited by the endless possibilities that series will produce. Will LeBron and the old guard beat down Durant and company again to stifle the uprising, or will Durant and Westbrook finally capture the playoff success and championship that have eluded the elite pairing for years.

The Bucks need help. Their starting point guard is a former small forward who stands at 6’11”, their power forward entered the league with an offensive game that was supposed to make up for his defensive shortcomings but doesn’t, and the rest of their young nucleus appears to be more promise than results. The Bucks can’t shoot, especially from three, which might’ve been okay in the 1990’s but in this day and age that just isn’t going to cut it. Three-point shooters space the floor, spread out the defenders so that they can’t clog the paint and force you to shoot shots that you’re unlikely to make. Look at what Golden State and Cleveland are doing, their crunch time lineup consists of five players that can make a three-pointer with some semblance of consistency. Even when playing their regular five, they have at least three players on the floor that you can’t leave open from three.

For the Bucks, Khris Middleton was the only player that teams would feel the need to close out on. Rashad Vaughn, the Bucks first round draft pick last year, was supposed to be able to shoot threes and keep the defense honest, but he shot less than 30% from three last year, and barely 30% from inside the arc.

Almost every draft pundit predicts the Bucks to pick Jakob Poeltl from Utah with the tenth pick, but I have to question this logic. If there is one thing the Bucks do not need it is another player clogging the paint. What will Poeltl be able to do that John Henson can’t? He is bigger, so his defense will probably benefit the Bucks and may lead to a few more easy baskets, but what does he really do for this team? The Bucks desperately need a shooter. They are too far down in the draft to grab one of the can’t miss prospects which is fine because they already have a NBA version of Ben Simmons in Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Bucks need to pray that Jamal Murray or Buddy Hield fall to them at number ten. Though this may seem unlikely, crazier things have happened in NBA drafts. If the Bucks think that nobody worth taking will fall to them, they need to trade up. Trading down or taking a big man will do nothing for this Bucks squad, mostly because the NBA draft isn’t deep enough to be able to find good players often in the back of the draft.

No team made fewer three-pointers than the Bucks last year, and three-pointers are the present and the future. If they decide to roll the dice with the tenth pick, Wade Baldwin IV may be an option. He is certainly a boom or bust candidate, but that is the best the Bucks can hope for when they continue to be just good enough to not get a top pick but not good enough to make the playoffs.

The draft between the eighth pick and the fifteenth pick is no-man’s land, and it is where the Bucks have found themselves far too often to ever fully rebuild.

You never know, though, maybe a star will fall into our lap.

051116 roberto ruiz pix 1For the first time in NBA history, we have a unanimous winner for the MVP award. It seems incomprehensible that Michael Jordan was never the unanimous MVP, but he wasn’t. Neither was Lebron James or Shaquille O’Neal. Kobe Bryant was never the unanimous MVP. Not Larry Bird. Not Magic Johnson. Nobody, until Curry. There has always had to be that contrarian, the guy who argued that MVP isn’t the best player in the league, but the one who presents the most value to the team. That logic would always lead to some obscure pick like James Harden or Carmelo Anthony, but not this year. This year, the voters all turned in their ballots with the same name written at the top: Stephen Curry.

Unless your name is Tracy McGrady, it is pretty easy to see why Curry received every single vote: he averaged over 30 points and 6.5 assists per game for the winningest team in NBA history. The Golden State Warriors went an NBA best 73-9 during the regular season, besting Jordan’s 96-97 Chicago Bulls by one game. It certainly takes an immense amount of luck to win 73 games in a single NBA season, but it also takes an extraordinary amount of skill, focus, and determination. Curry leads by example, and his team never lost sight of the end goal. Yes, the Warriors had won the NBA championship last year and have another one in their sights this year, but how many NBA champions do you actually remember? How many casual basketball fans remember who won the championship in 2006? Now how many fans know exactly which team went 72-10, what year they did it, and the player who led that team? 72-10 was iconic for almost two decades, but now it has been replaced and 73-9 is the new deep, dark desire of every NBA team entering the season.

Klay Thompson, Curry’s backcourt teammate, is an excellent basketball player. So is Draymond Green, but there is no doubt who leads the Warriors. Never before has a basketball player been legitimately expected to make half-court shots every time he shoots one. Never before has a player routinely pulled up for a jumper from the center court logo and drained a three, only to turn back and jog the few paces back to play defense as if nothing spectacular happened. Let’s keep in mind that the Golden State Warriors hold a half-court shooting contest to see who can win the collective pot of cash every few months, and Curry isn’t even allowed to have a turn until every other staffer and player has had a chance at making the half-court shot.

I know personally, I will never forget watching Curry carve up the Wisconsin defense in the NCAA tournament when he was donning a Davidson jersey. I prayed that he would fall to the Bucks at number 10, but we were destined to get Brandon Jennings instead. I know, that line depressed me as well.

Curry always was a special basketball player, but special is no longer an accurate word to describe him. Curry is truly one-of-a-kind.

050416-Ruiz-pix-1Leicester City: English Premier League Champions

Prior to the 2015-16 season, when former Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri was appointed as the new manager of the Leicester City, not much was expected from the Foxes. Leicester City was a team that had barely avoided relegation the previous year, and had needed five wins in their final seven games to achieve that. For much of the year, Ranieri publicly and privately stated that the club’s goal was to get to 40 points and avoid relegation again, at least that was the case until Leicester City blew by the 40 point mark just a few months into the season. Led by Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez, and N’Golo Kante, the Foxes overcame 5,000-1 odds by most sports books and won the English Premier League.

A league with Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Everton, and Tottenham, was won by a team that had never achieved such prestige before. Vardy, a forward, was named the FWA Footballer of the year award and was one of the league’s true breakout stars throughout the season. Vardy showed excellent patience and control while leading the English Premier League in goals with 22 to go along with his six assists.

Though Vardy was often the finisher, the forward Mahrez was often the starter, with 11 assists to his name while also notching 17 goals. Mahrez proved adept at sliding the ball into tight spaces, leading his man to an easy goal while only needing one touch to control the pass. Though Vardy was the Footballer of the Year, Mahrez also received votes for the award thanks to his omnipresence and ability to produce all over the field.

Also receiving votes for Footballer of the Year was midfielder N’Golo Kante. Kante isn’t a player who shows up on the stat sheet very often. He didn’t receive votes because of his one goal or four assists, it was his play setting up the plays from the back that led to being honored with any recognition at all. Kante proved very skilled at diagnosing oncoming attacks, picking them apart, and using a through ball to set up his teammates.

While Vardy is a bit old (29) to command much attention on the transfer market, Mahrez and Kante are expected to be difficult to keep in a Foxes uniform. Both are 25 years old and both are going to attract a lot of attention from clubs looking for the next big thing in professional soccer. As fun as this year has been, the big money and bright lights of bigger clubs will likely lure Mahrez and Kante into different programs. Vardy too, but likely to a lesser extent. Ranieri will be hard pressed to duplicate the magical season of 2015-16, but this season will never be forgotten.

This was truly the year of the underdog in the English Premier League. I hope all of you enjoyed it while it lasted, I know I sure did.