Issue XCVI

21 OCT 2016

Sports

03/28/2016

UConn women are too dominant for their own good

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — It’s not because they win championships every year. We love dynasties.

It’s not because they are female athletes. We love women’s sports.

It’s because they have no competition. It’s the margins of these victories. The defending champion University of Connecticut women’s basketball team is virtually never tested. They seem to win all their games by 40 points. This is not UConn’s fault, but it’s also not good for the promotion of women’s basketball as part of our national sports landscape.

Competition is why we watch sports. Who is going to win? Without that drama, sports would be no different from the theater, ballet, or symphony. The UConn women are so good they have stripped their sport of all drama and competition and made it similar to performance art.

This is good for the game?

UConn women won’t apologize for dominance

Coach Geno Auriemma dismissed talk about the Huskies’ overwhelming victories being bad for the game.

So there I was, early Saturday afternoon, sitting in my sweet hotel room near the Red Sox spring training complex, banging out a column for our always-spectacular baseball special section.

I never work in silence in hotels. ESPN usually keeps me company. The white noise of “SportsCenter” is the soundtrack of my road life.

On Saturday afternoon, the Worldwide Leader was bringing us a UConn-Mississippi State Sweet Sixteen basketball game. I was certainly aware that the Huskies had won a million straight games, most of them by 40 or more points, but I was interested to see if maybe they’d get a challenge since it was the tournament and all.

Nope. This game was a joke right from the jump. UConn bolted to a 13-0 lead, and every time I looked up at the TV, the score was worse. It was 32-4 at the end of the first quarter. Then 61-12 at halftime, and 84-20 at the end of three. The final was 98-38. A Sweet Sixteen Game.

I know there is a legion of UConn women’s basketball fans out there, but I fail to see how they can be thrilled by games like this. Isn’t competition the very essence of sports?

With those thoughts in mind, I posted a tweet that read, “UConn Women beat Miss St. 98-38 in NCAA tourney. Hate to punish them for being great, but they are killing women’s game. Watch? No thanks.’’

That was it. I went to dinner and didn’t think much of it.

Whoa. Husky Nation was not happy. My Twitter feed...


Saying UConn hurts women's basketball is misogyny disguised as legitimate sports opinion

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Saturday afternoon, UConn's women's basketball team beat Mississippi State by a score of 98-38 in the Sweet 16. Their 60-point margin of victory was the largest of any Sweet 16 game of all time, and larger than any other margin of victory in the NCAA Tournament.

Mississippi State was not a chump. The Bulldogs went 28-8 this year and earned a 5-seed in the NCAA Tournament. They won two games in the NCAA Tournament to make the Sweet 16. And then they got demolished. This is UConn. They're a juggernaut so superb that they make relatively good teams look like they're playing another sport.

We need to take a moment to discuss how preposterous UConn's dominance is. The Huskies are 35-0 right now. Here is a breakdown of their games:

Margin of victory Number of wins
60 or more 4
50-59 6
40-49 15
30-39 1
20-29 4
10-19 5
1-9 zero

UConn was more likely to win by 50 or more points this season than they were to win by anywhere between one and 29 points. The closest thing they did to losing was winning by 10 points. This comes after going 38-1, 40-0 the year before that, and winning the national title at a measly 35-4 the year before that. They will be the first team ever to four-peat if they win their next three games.

A lot of people have said UConn's dominance is a sign women's college basketball is broken. But actually examining the sport reveals that's not the case. Women's basketball has parity -- well, it has parity everywhere except Connecticut.

UConn isn't winning because they have the only strong, fast and tall women in the world.

Watch UConn, and their dominance is as much about finesse and great basketball skill as it is physical dominance. Breanna Stewart is a physical force, but she's also a knockdown shooter and a nimble passer. Moriah Jefferson is a speedster, but also shoots 39 percent from deep and over 90 percent from the line. They aren't simply overpowering opponents: They're overpowering them and outshooting them.

Look at this NCAA Tournament.

Fourth-seeded Syracuse and seventh-seeded Washington have qualified for the Final Four. This sport isn't just a few powerhouses destroying everybody. There's UConn, and there's everybody else, but there's certainly parity among everybody else.

Women's college hoops recruiting is more competitive than men's hoops recruiting.

Yes, UConn is the best recruiting team in women's college basketball. Stewart and Jefferson were the top...



11/11/2015

Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State, Notre Dame lead Playoff ranking

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Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State and Notre Dame are the top four teams in the latest College Football Playoff selection committee ranking released Tuesday.

This week's four-team field, in the unlikely event it holds, would create a set of rematches of sorts in the New Year's Eve semifinals. Clemson beat Notre Dame 24-22 on Oct. 3, and Ohio State beat Alabama in last season's Playoff semifinals.

One-loss Alabama and Notre Dame are ahead of four unbeaten teams, No. 5 Iowa, No. 6 Baylor, No. 8 Oklahoma State and No. 24 Houston. But it must be remembered that these weekly rankings are only a progress report, and other ranking factors such as conference championships will hold great sway in the final ranking on Dec. 6.

Follow the road to the 2015 College Football Playoff at The Football Four, our home to rate and debate the nation's best.

Playoff selection chairman Jeff Long said there was strong agreement among the committee about the top four teams. "Five through eight was where we spent the majority of our time debating and voting," he said. "It wouldn't take much to change that order there. … That is probably the area that is most volatile."

Iowa was rewarded, Long said, because it has the second-best strength of schedule of any unbeaten team other than Clemson.

The committee still may not be showing much value for Big 12 teams, as previously unbeaten TCU plummeted nine spots for losing at undefeated Oklahoma State on Saturday, but the Cowboys only moved up six spots. Baylor's ranking was unchanged from the initial ranking despite a win at Kansas State.

"It's really hard to judge those teams at this point in the season," Long said of the Big 12. "That's why you see Baylor staying where they were even though they won a game. I'll tell you the committee has a difficult time evaluating those teams that have not had significant victories."

The top four of the initial ranking released last week was Clemson, LSU, Ohio State and Alabama. Notre Dame was fifth, and Oklahoma State 14th.

Of Notre Dame, Long said, "They've been able to overcome some injuries on that team, and that speaks to the strength of their team. They were solidly in No. 4 with the committee this week."

How the College Football Playoff committee actually ranks teams

Florida State, despite a loss at Clemson on Saturday, remained No. 16 for the second consecutive week....


5 reasons this week's College Football Playoff ranking makes no sense

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The Week 10 College Football Playoff rankings are here and keeping with the tradition of the 2015 College Football Playoff rankings, they hardly make a lick of sense. Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State, and Notre Dame comprise the top of this week’s rankings. Below them are a random assortment of teams who have been ranked based on, well, no one seems to be sure. Week 10 was an exercise in randomness as evidenced by these five decisions.

5. FLORIDA DROPS A SPOT AFTER A WIN.

The Gators went from No. 10 to No. 11 in the ranking after beating Vanderbilt 9-7. It was an ugly game, sure, but Florida still won, and clinched the SEC East in the process. This is a committee designed in large part to take into consideration a team’s body of work, so when they stumble through a bad week the human element is there to consider past wins.

It’s a great concept, except when the human element decides to take your past wins and throw them in a dumpster and light them on fire.

4. BAYLOR REMAINS NO. 6

Baylor hasn’t played a team with a winning record yet. That will change this weekend against Oklahoma, but the committee isn’t judging on the future. Jeff Long stressed throughout last year’s rankings how important strength of schedule was to the process.

So here we are in the second year of the rankings and strength of schedule is kind of important to some teams and not important at all to others. Baylor has the 89th hardest schedule in college football according to Jeff Sagarin’s ratings.

3. IOWA’S HUGE WIN OVER POWERHOUSE INDIANA

Iowa beat Indiana, a titan of college football, by eight points on Saturday. That result was so big it vaulted Iowa from 9th to 5th in the rankings, jumping over Oklahoma State, Stanford, Baylor, and LSU in the process. This would all make sense except I had confused Indiana with a good football team. They aren’t a good football team. They actually stink. Sagarin has them as the 83rd best team in the country at 4-5, and Iowa only beat them by eight points.

Meanwhile Oklahoma State beat TCU by 20, which brings me to the fourth reason the Week 10 rankings are utter malarky.

2. OKLAHOMA STATE BEAT TCU BY 20

Undefeated Oklahoma State thumped TCU in their first Big 12 test. Their reward is to remain behind fellow Big 12 undefeated Baylor, who has opted to play a 10-game exhibition schedule before starting a three-game regular season in Week 11. Now,...



10/23/2015

It's become very clear: The 49ers are now in a rebuilding year

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SANTA CLARA -- Looking for a constructive angle? Thursday night brought clarity for the 49ers. A whole lot of clarity.

Much of that clarity was piled up on top of quarterback Colin Kaepernick. He was sacked six times in a lopsided 20-3 loss to the Seattle Seahawks that might have been the most lopsided 20-3 loss in recent 49ers memory.

Other clarity occurred courtesy of the wide-open Seattle receivers, who caught lots of passes from quarterback Russell Wilson. Further clarity came from Seahawks' running back Marshawn Lynch, who essentially ran wherever he wanted, whenever he wanted. 

The 49ers can be grateful. Because here is what all of that clarity made very clear: This is now officially a rebuilding season and a rebuilding era for the 49ers. Totally. Completely. Absolutely. There's no more arguing otherwise.In truth, it has been all about rebuilding for the 49ers since last spring. The franchise poobahs should have been honest about it back then: Hey, with all of our best defensive players either deciding to retire or get arrested, it's reboot time. And fans should expect a step back, even from our mediocre 8-8 season of a year ago. Sorry. But it'll take a while to be good again. We'll work on it.If the poobahs had said this, fans might still be outraged. But they might not feel as violated.

Fans always want to believe the best, or better, or even better than that. If you tell them to expect a scrappy team with a new attitude that could well claw into playoff contention -- which is what was implied and quasi-advertised -- then the fans are going to not just think playoffs, they're going to think Super Bowl.Jim Tomsula, who was thrust into the front of the optimism parade last winter when named head coach, admitted after Thursday's mess that his team played poorly. But he could not yet bring himself to tell 49ers fans that they need to alter their sights."That was not acceptable," Tomsula said of the loss, before rejecting any notion that his team should stop thinking about the postseason and focus on a reconstruction or developing younger players.

"No, we're going to fight every day to make the playoffs," Tomsula said. "As long as there is a chance to make the playoffs, we're going to fight like crazy to get to the playoffs."

With all due respect to Tomsula, he has no choice but to fudge on reality and say that sort of thing. After all, his job is to win football games every week....


Seahawks get ‘on the right track’ with win over 49ers

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The Seahawks sacked 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick six times in beating the 49ers 20-3. It was the Seahawks’ most dominating performance of the season.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Before the Seahawks could tear down the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday night they had to learn how to chop wood.

Well, that was the message delivered to the team by defensive lineman Michael Bennett shortly before the game.

Bennett decided the team’s problem the past few weeks as it bafflingly blew fourth-quarter lead after fourth-quarter lead was that it was viewing the task as completed while there was still work to be done.

So Bennett told his teammates to think of winning a game like chopping down a tree.

“When you are chopping wood you keep chopping until the tree falls,’’ Bennett said. “You can’t get ahead of yourself. You just keep chopping and chopping, and eventually the tree is going to fall.’’

Or, in football parlance Colin Kaepernick, whom the Seahawks sacked six times in beating the 49ers 20-3. It was the Seahawks’ most dominating performance of the season.

The Seahawks outgained the 49ers 388-142 in total yards, outgained them 176-61 on the ground and established a tone of domination with a 61-yard, 12-play drive for a touchdown the first time they had the ball. It was a drive that basically decided the game, even if Seahawks fans understandably never felt comfortable until the final minutes.

This time, though, there was no fourth-quarter drama as the Seahawks led 17-3 entering the final 15 minutes and then forced the 49ers into three consecutive three-and-outs to win going away.

Marshawn Lynch sparked the offense with a season-high 122 yards on 27 carries despite spending the second series of the game vomiting into a garbage can, and rookie Tyler Lockett scored on a 43-yard pass in the second quarter as part of a career-high five receptions for 79 yards.

When it ended, the Seahawks had rushed 41 times and thrown just 24, the kind of run-pass ratio so common during the good days of the past two years. They held the 49ers to just 3.2 yards a play.

“It felt like a really normal Seahawk night tonight,’’ coach Pete Carroll said. “That’s the way we are supposed to finish games.’’

Even if Seattle had a 2-0 deficit in the turnover margin, winning for the second time this season when losing the turnover battle after having three times this year lost when winning the...



09/15/2015

Dormant for Eight Innings, Yankees Erupt in the Ninth

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — When Slade Heathcott strode to the plate in the ninth inning Monday night, it was his first at-bat with the Yankees in nearly four months. He had never seen video of Tampa Bay reliever Brad Boxberger, let alone faced him. Heathcott took heed of a thumbnail scouting report that the backup catcher John Ryan Murphy had given him as he left the dugout.

“A really, really, really good changeup,” Heathcott said.

He did not bother looking for it.

Instead, Heathcott got the fastball he was hoping for on the first pitch and drove it over the left-field wall for a three-run homer that lifted the Yankees to a 4-1 victory over the Rays that was as exhilarating for them as it was unlikely.

After being no-hit by Erasmo Ramirez through seven innings and finding themselves down to their final out after Logan Forsythe’s two-out run-scoring double in the eighth had put the Rays ahead, 1-0, the Yankees tied the score when Brett Gardner walked on four pitches, stole second base and scored on Alex Rodriguez’s double.

When Heathcott’s opposite-field liner left the park, the Yankees poured out of the dugout, celebrating as if they had won a pennant instead of moving to three games behind Toronto in the American League East.

“It was the most energy, hype, whatever you want to call that, I’ve ever seen in a dugout,” said reliever Caleb Cotham, who got his first major league win. “Top down, every guy was excited.”

Heathcott, a former first-round draft pick who has been hindered by injuries, was called up in May but went on the disabled list shortly afterward with a strained quadriceps. He missed nearly 10 weeks and was recalled from Class AAA on Friday when Scranton/Wilkes-Barre was eliminated from the playoffs.

“I try to pretend that this game is the same everywhere I play,” he said. “I think for me, that’s the best approach I can have.”

Heathcott was among the many heroes for the Yankees. Another was C. C. Sabathia, who was superb in keeping the Yankees even while they were shackled by Ramirez. They did not get their first hit against him until Carlos Beltran led off the eighth with a one-hop smash that ticked off first baseman Richie Shaffer and into right field.

Right fielder Mikie Mahtook had kept the no-hitter alive with a sensational catch in the seventh, racing back and crashing into the wall as he gloved Brian McCann’s deep...


Tampa Rays rookie saves no-hit bid on awesome catch-and-throw

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“Just tremendous”, A-Rod said. “You get caught up and I become a fan when you’re watching a young kid with so much talent”. “It’s a big signature Yankee moment”. Two batters later, the Yankees would take the lead off a three-run homer by Slade Heathcott and eventually win the game.

Manager Joe Girardi says it’s due to inexperience. Alex Rodriguez tied the game on a two-out RBI double in the ninth andSlade Heathcott hit the go-ahead three-run homer.

The Yankees rallied in the ninth.

After Brian McCann was intentionally walked, Heathcott unloaded on Boxberger’s first-pitch fastball.

“None this year, ” Heathcott said when asked how many opposite-field homers he has hit.

“I was just something like living a dream after the seventh”, said Ramirez, who pitched 72⁄3 innings with two walks and one hit on 98 pitches.

Sabathia’s effort was almost wasted thanks to Ramirez, who carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning.

“You just look at our dugout, the way they reacted, it’s the biggest hit of the season”, left-hander CC Sabathia said. He’s allowed just three hits.

Logan Forsythe’s RBI double in the eighth against Justin Wilson looked like it would hold up as the winning run for Tampa Bay, but Boxberger – who now has six blown saves and 10 losses in the closer’s role – imploded with two out in the ninth after he got Jacoby Ellsbury to ground into a double play.

Brett Gardner drawing a four-pitch walk was followed by him stealing second base and scoring on Rodriguez’s double to right-center.

In the seventh inning, with a runner on second and one out, Tampa rookie Mikie Mahtook grabbed a ball of the outfield wall and nailed a runner trying to return to second.

“We were pretty fired up”, Gardner said.

Former Ray Matt Garza threw the only no-hitter in Rays’ history on July 26, 2010, against Detroit.

The Yankees haven’t been no-hit since June 11, 2003, when six Astros pitchers combined to accomplish the feat. The last man to no-hit the Yankees by himself was Hoyt Wilhelm on September 20, 1958. A senior adviser with the Chicago Blackhawks, he will be heading to Notre Dame late this week for the start of training camp with the defending National Hockey League champions. “He’s spent the whole season in Triple-A, he doesn’t know...



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