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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Hokies TB trio mixes styles, produce same results

BLACKSBURG, Va. -Ryan Williams is the touchdown maker, as likely to run away from a defender as run over him. Darren Evans runs over tacklers and while David Wilson runs around them.

The Virginia Tech trio gives the No. 12 Hokies the advantage on the ground against Florida State in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game on Saturday.

The Hokies rank 17th in rushing at 211 yards per game; the No. 20 Seminoles are 34th (177).

Using three backs goes against the conventional wisdom of allowing a running back to find his rhythm in a game, but coach Frank Beamer said it has worked well for the Hokies (10-2, 8-0).

"Only got so many carries in you, people say, so I think being able to stay fresh and take care of yourself, I think that helps in some regard, too," the coach said Tuesday.

Freshness will be critical this week since Florida State ranks second nationally with an average of 3.58 sacks, and a tailback can help combat that by blocking, and other ways.

"They're big in the game plan, as far as draws or things like that to try to get the ends up the field and freezing the linebackers," Hokies quarterback Tyrod Taylor, a running threat himself, said. "They can be really big for us, open up the passing game for us."

The Seminoles need only glance at tape of the Hokies win against Miami, when Williams ripped off an 84-yard run, or of Central Michigan, when Wilson went 68 and Taylor went 72, or of North Carolina State, when the more imposing Evans even had a 54-yard scoring burst.

"I feel like it's probably the best we've seen all season," safety Terrance Parks said of the Hokies backfield. "They run the ball very well, physical. You give them a crease and they can run and take off for a touchdown. We are going to have to be on our toes."

So, too, will the Hokies.

The Seminoles have also used three backs this year, but Jermaine Thomas won't be available because of injury. That makes 5-foot-8 Chris Thompson a man the Hokies will likely key on because the sophomore has touchdown runs of 70, 83 and 90 yards this year.

Thompson's size can make him hard to find, Virginia Tech defensive tackle John Graves said.

"Definitely, you know 5-8, he could definitely get lost in the shuffle," Graves said, "and that's what makes them dangerous as well, just his height and his quickness."

Ty Jones, who will also play, averages 6.4 yards per carry with a 57-yarder.

Those big numbers will surely get the Hokies attention, since they have been prone to allowing long running plays. Boise State's D.J. Harper scored on a 71-yard run in the Hokies' opener, and Josh Harris of Wake Forest ran for 241 yards on just 20 tries against them. The total was a record against Virginia Tech, and included scoring runs of 33 and 87 yards.

Graves said the Hokies have addresses the problem by focusing on fundamentals, and free safety Eddie Whitley thinks more attention to getting bodies to the ball got it fixed.

Still, Georgia Tech Joshua Nesbitt ran for a 71-yard touchdown against the Hokies a month ago, and Miami's Lamar Miller burned them for 163 yards, including a 47-yard burst.

The solution for Saturday is simple, Whitley said.

"We saw a couple plays yesterday that (Thompson) can break a couple tackles and he likes to run his feet on contact," Whitley said. "... Everybody's got to get to the ball. We've got to play that hungry, nasty defense we've been trying to play the last few games." 

Hiller's shutout sends Ducks past slumping Kings

ANAHEIM, Calif. -Jonas Hiller made 27 saves in his seventh career shutout, rookie defenseman Cam Fowler scored and the Anaheim Ducks beat the slumping Los Angeles Kings 2-0 Monday night in the first meeting of the annual Freeway Faceoff.

Jason Blake scored with 2:24 left and Teemu Selanne had two assists for the Ducks, who have won two straight after a six-game skid. Anaheim shut down the Kings' offense in front of Hiller, who punctuated his first shutout of the season with a sparkling glove save on Anze Kopitar's point-blank chance in the final minutes.
Jonathan Quick stopped 17 shots for the Kings, who have lost seven of eight after a six-game winning streak. Mistakes by Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson, the Kings' cornerstone young defensemen, led directly to the Anaheim goals.

Selanne returned from a three-game absence with an injured groin, and defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky played through back spasms. Both assisted on Fowler's goal midway through the second period, breaking a scoreless tie.

The Kings have plummeted since a 12-3-0 start put them on top of the overall NHL standings earlier in the season. Los Angeles hasn't won in regulation since giving up six goals in a loss to longtime Pacific Division ruler San Jose on Nov. 15.

Scoring has been the problem, as Hiller could attest. Although coach Terry Murray has shuffled lines, Los Angeles has just four goals in its last four games.

Anaheim had similar scoring woes during its skid, which ended with six goals against Phoenix last weekend, but the Ducks' biggest problem has been defense, giving up 16 goals in their previous four games.

Hiller's heavy workload and high shot volume have affected his totals, but the Swiss goalie has kept the Ducks in enough games to avoid a major slump.

Hiller made his biggest save with 3:19 to play, cleanly gloving Kopitar's point-blank one-timer in the slot while falling facefirst on the ice.

Both teams started tentatively. Blake's backhand off the outside of Quick's post in the second period was the closest thing to a goal in the first 32 minutes.

Anaheim finally connected when Doughty took a second tripping penalty just 8 seconds after getting out of the box, giving a second straight power play to the Ducks. After Selanne won the ensuing faceoff, the 18-year-old Fowler teed up a pass from Visnovsky for the second goal of his promising debut season.

After Johnson's failed pinch resulted in a 2-on-1 for Blake and Selanne, Blake punctuated a strong game by scoring his second goal in two games.

NOTES: Fowler has a four-game points streak, but hadn't found the net in 13 games since scoring his first NHL goal Oct. 17. ... Before the game, the Kings recalled tough RW John Zeiler for his season debut. He spent parts of three season with the Kings before spending all of last season with Los Angeles' AHL affiliate in Manchester, where he has five points and 46 penalty minutes this season.

Michael Jordan to again assist Fred Couples

MELBOURNE, Australia -Michael Jordan is returning as one of U.S. captain Fred Couples' Presidents Cup assistants for the November 2011 matches at Royal Melbourne.

Couples said Monday at Royal Melbourne that Jordan and Champions Tour player Jay Haas will return as assistant U.S. captains after helping lead the winning American team in 2009 in San Francisco.

International captain Greg Norman selected Frank Nobilo as one of his two assistants, with the second to be determined next year.

"I can't wait," Jordan said. "I had such a good time in San Francisco with Freddie, Jay and the team back in 2009. I love golf, the team atmosphere and, of course, competition, and to be in the locker room with some of the best golfers on the planet was a great experience."

The Works: The Orlando Magic's Balancing Act

Is Orlando Flexible or Flawed?

The Mavericks beat the Heat over the weekend; there was an element of "I told you so" to this win, as Dallas didn't even get the chance to make a pitch to LeBron James over the summer.

As Art Garcia writes, Mark Cuban's pitch to Maverick Carter (in hopes of making a pitch) included this now-prophetic line: "No team had ever blown up a team of all their core, then added a couple of free agents and won." Well, at least that's how Cuban tells it today.

Then today, the Orlando Sentinel reports that the Magic wouldn't be averse to trading well, anyone but Dwight Howard, despite being one of the best teams in the league:
The Magic still are open to making a deal for either Carmelo Anthony or Chris Paul ... Even Gilbert Arenas would be in the discussion if he wasn't owed gadzillions. Maybe Monta Ellis.

The Magic are no fools: They want to win a title and they know they need either a big-time scorer or playmaker to get past the Celtics or Heat, and then the Lakers. They would even be willing to take a step back this season to restock if it meant they could land either Anthony or Paul.
The blockquote is long, but the gist important: Mark Cuban predicted that no team built out of free agency -- a core-less entity -- would never wrap its hands around that great treasure over the horizon. At the same time, somehow, the Magic are (supposedly) looking not only to add another major piece, but to part with anyone on their payroll to do so. In effect, they're acknowledging that to make it over that hump, their core needs a serious upgrade. To such a degree that this core itself is called into question.

Putting it like that seems so melodramatic, and comparing the Magic to the Heat is outright ridiculous. Orlando has the perennial Defensive Player of the Year in the middle, a system that seems to work, a coach whose basketball mind is matched only by his scrappy ardor, and a seemingly bottomless vat of good-not-great rotation players. It's a formula of sorts, albeit one that will only take them so far. The Magic are not unlike the Social Security donut hole: Howard, in the middle, can't be touched, and the floating generalities of the team are no less essential. Somehow, though, what got left out was key second star.

That doesn't mean, though, that the Magic would be willing to blow it all up. Howard is the franchise. Van Gundy and his bag of tricks -- oh, and that commitment to defense he has managed to instill in folks like J.J. Redick -- has paid dividends. But it was at its best with Hedo Turkoglu in the line-up, a play-maker and clutch scorer who made Howard's strengths stronger and filled in the empty spaces left in the line-up.

Vince Carter, as underrated a passer as he is, and as frenetic a scorer as he once was, just doesn't fit that bill. Discussing the Rashard Lewis contract is illegal in 49 states, and I don't know what the 50th is.

There really shouldn't be a fine line between building a temple from out of nothing, and lowering just one more pillar into place. And yet the underlying logic is the same: not only is outside help needed, but it presumes that nothing within is all that sacred. It would be one thing if the Magic simply wanted to get better. But when you realize the price that they are willing to pay, the peculiar logic of this team comes into focus. The outright maturity of one step back, two forward -- at a point when most teams would be focused on a fleeting championship window -- is as bizarre as it is admirable.

It's then that you have to ask: Are the Heat really that crazy, or have the Magic somehow been pulling off the greatest balancing act of all time? And, of course, are they always just a few inches away from utter collapse? (BS)

Waiting for ... Donatas?

Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix tweeted some interesting notes on Friday, citing NBA execs who expected that the Nuggets (in the middle of the Western Conference pack, as expected) would still trade Carmelo Anthony to the New Jersey Nets this season for a package centered on Derrick Favors and draft picks ... but that Denver would wait until closer to the deadline so that it can be assured 'Melo wouldn't improve the Nets so much that the team's 2011 draft pick would stink.

Depending on your level of savvy, or the level of savvy you attribute to the league's GMs, this is either brilliantly subversive or the biggest waste of time SLASH needless gamble in the history of civil barter.

Favors is the big cheese here. Denver makes the trade because it believes it would otherwise lose Anthony in free agency, and because Favors looks like one of the best young big men in the game. There's a reason Denver is talking to New Jersey beyond Carmelo's New York state of mind -- it's because of Favors!

You know how many other first-round picks are out there? Twenty-eight, if you don't count Jersey's or Denver's. But the Nuggets aren't talking to those teams -- they are talking to the Nets. Because of Favors. The picks are nice, and required. But they are not the main attraction. It's like turning down a filet mignon dinner because, if you wait a little bit longer, you'll get mashed Yukon Golds instead of Russets. It's a dumb, needless risk.

Trading stars for pick packages is always risky. You know what became of the picks the Lakers sent to Memphis for Pau Gasol? Greivis Vasquez and Darrell Arthur. But the key for Memphis was cap relief (which somehow became Zach Randolph) and Marc Gasol. The picks were not the main event.

When the Timberwolves traded Kevin Garnett to Boston, the pick they got back turned into Wayne Ellington. (Minnesota also got back its own 2009 first-round pick, which became Jonny Flynn and which Kevin McHale had previously traded to Boston in the enormously unsuccessful Wally Szczerbiak-Mark Blount trade of 2006.) Did the Wolves focus on how good Boston's first-round pick would be? No, because they were too busy counting their Al Jeffersons and smiling a lot.

The point is: if you're trading 'Melo to New Jersey, you're trading 'Melo for Derrick Favors. That's how it will be remembered. Not for the Greivis Vasquezes or Wayne Ellingtons: for the Derrick Favors. He's good enough, or at least promising enough to make it look like a good deal. The Nuggets should judge its merits accordingly.

This isn't to say the little things don't matter -- that's why I suggest this could be seen as brilliantly subversive. Unfortunately, there's too much at stake here -- like, say, the Nets deciding Favors is just a little too good to be traded -- for gamemanship.

Barcelona Destroys Real Madrid, 5-0

There was only one team on the field as the world's two best club sides faced off Monday evening in Barcelona.

The hosts, playing the peerless attacking soccer that led them to an unprecedented six titles in 2009 and inspired Spain to this summer's World Cup championship, destroyed arch rival Real Madrid, 5-0, in what amounted to a 90-minute infomercial for coach Pep Guardiola's skillful, stylish approach to the game.

Barça unleashed its prodigious arsenal of talent on a helpless and hapless Madrid, which had yielded just six goals in its first 12 La Liga games.

As GolTV color commentator Ray Hudson said, Jose Mourinho's team was left "tattooed with blaugrana ink."

Xavi Hernández opened the scoring after just 10 minutes, turning on a deflected pass from midfield maestro and World Cup hero Andrés Iniesta and chipping goalkeeper Iker Casillas.

It was 2-0 eight minutes later, thanks to a strike from Pedro Rodríguez.

El Clásico was keep-away after that, and the most fight the visitors could muster before halftime came from Cristiano Ronaldo, who gave Guardiola a shove after the coach refused to part with the ball when it rolled out of bounds. Ronaldo was shown a yellow card and hardly was heard from again.

The 98,000-plus at the Camp Nou were treated to additional offensive fireworks in the second half courtesy of Lionel Messi and David Villa. The pair combined for two exquisite goals. The first came in the 55th, as Messi beat three Madrid defenders with a pass that Villa controlled brilliantly, before powering a shot past Casillas.

Three minutes later, Messi hit a stunning, low ball from the midfield circle that carved open Los Blancos. Villa reached it at the edge of the penalty area and beat Casillas with a poke of his right foot.
Barça's reserves added the final insult in stoppage time, as Bojan Krcic fed Jeffrén Suárez with a well-timed cross. Madrid handled the defeat with predictable class -- Sergio Ramos scythed down Messi and was shown a red card, then shoved Spain teammate Xavi in the face as he left the field.

Barcelona now holds the lead in La Liga at 11-1-1. Madrid, humiliated, is in what now seems like a distant second at 10-1-2. They meet again in the capital the weekend of April 16-17.

Bruce Gradkowski Reportedly Done for Season

The Raiders' quarterback carousel will likely stop on Jason Campbell for the rest of the season, as Bruce Gradkowski is expected to miss the rest of the season after reportedly suffering a third-degree separation in his throwing shoulder.

Gradkowski originally suffered the separation on Sept. 26 against Arizona, causing him to miss four weeks. He re-aggravated the injury on Oct. 10 and hadn't started after that until last weekend against Miami. The latest injury includes other damage, but the separation is the worst of it.

This will end a tumultuous stint under center for the Raiders, where a reported difference in opinion between the coaching staff and front office led to a back-and-forth game between Gradkowski and Jason Campbell as starter. Tom Cable has already ruled out giving No. 3 Kyle Boller a chance, so the team is Campbell's from now on.

Among starting NFL quarterbacks, Campbell is 28th out of 33 in passer rating, while Gradkowski is 32nd.

ACC-Big Ten Challenge 2010: Predictions and Analysis

The ACC-Big Ten Challenge, 2010 edition, kicks off with a teaser Monday night before giving us 10 games in the following two days.

For the first time in Challenge history, the Big Ten is defending the title (for which we can only assume the league of trinkets has already created at least a dozen trophies, two of which possibly featuring some sort of pig, another Paul Bunyan). The win took a decade in the making, which is still a bllnk of the eye compared to say, the Chinese Democracy album or the age of things in Joe Paterno's sock drawer.

So will it be a repeat?

Maybe. The league is almost inarguably better top to bottom than the ACC, even if no team is as good as top-ranked Duke. But the matchups, and homecourts, may favor the ACC this year.

FanHouse's college basketball editor Ray Holloman gives you the ACC side while associate editor Matt Snyder provides the analysis for the Big Ten side. Both then give predictions.

(all times p.m. and Eastern)

ACC-Big Ten Challenge Analysis
Big Ten Take Pick Pick ACC Take
Virginia at Minnesota, Monday, 7:00
If not for UConn, the Golden Gophers might be the surprise team of the early season. It's not an accident, however, and Minnesota fans likely aren't surprised. Senior point guard Al Nolen is back after missing the second half of last season due to being academically ineligible, though he's out with an injury Monday night. Junior forward Trevor Mbakwe is on the court after sitting out last season due to transfer rules. Along with Ralph Sampson III inside and Blake Hoffarber outside, the Gophers are a very versatile and talented team. Virginia still isn't yet equipped to deal with these Gophers -- especially not in The Barn. This one should be ugly.
Minnesota Minnesota Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as a home game. Just not anytime soon. The NCAA's nomads play their fifth straight road game and there's a decent chance the only thing Tony Bennett's team will get out of this one is a slew of frequent flier miles and a few bags of peanuts. Gopher injuries and suspensions will do what the Cavs can't -- level the playing field -- but even without two starters (guard Al Nolen and forward Rodney Williams) and the suspension to Devoe Joseph, the Cavaliers won't be able to keep up. Trevor Mbakwe may be in for a career night. Outside of senior Mike Scott, who has by far been Virginia's best player, the Wahoos have found the right combination up front. The Cavaliers deep perimeter should keep this game out of blowout territory, but perhaps not by much. Bennett will right the ship, just not Monday night.
RESULT: Virgina Stuns No. 15 Minnesota
North Carolina at Illinois, Tuesday, 9:30
Both teams have been somewhat disappointing early in the season, but only because Illinois lost in overtime to Texas -- a team it would surely like in a rematch. The Illini have a star in senior Demetri McCamey and balance everywhere -- scoring, inside/outside, athleticism, size, strength -- and a deep bench. Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis do the trick inside while D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul join up with McCamey outside. Talented freshman Jereme Richmond could be the X-factor here, as he's shown flashes of brilliance early, but hasn't had a real breakthrough performance yet. Playing at home here, that will all be enough to take home a somewhat comfortable victory (six-to-eight point range, possibly higher due to free throws at the end of the game). Illinois North Carolina Few teams make less sense than the Tar Heels this season. They continue to push the ball like a fastbreak team despite personnel that's better suited to a halfcourt game. They're averaging fewer assists per game (15) than turnovers (16). Larry Drew, the faster of North Carolina's two point guards, continues to play 25 minutes per game despite averaging 2.8 assists to 2 turnovers a game while freshman Kendall Marshall, perhaps a better halfcourt point guard, plays less than 15 minutes a game with a 4.3-1.7 assist to turnover ratio. Meanwhile, Reggie Bullock has been the Heels' best, and most assertive, freshman and one of their best shooters (.500 from the floor, .533 from 3-point range) and yet plays just 14.8 minutes a game, albeit some diminished time due to a sore knee. There have been bright spots -- the nifty post repertoire developed by John Henson, for example -- but even that might not stand up to the physicality of Illinois' front court. Our prediction? North Carolina tries to run at ill-advised times, turns it over too much and just plain gets out-toughed by the Illini.
Ohio State at Florida State, Tuesday, 7:30
Is Florida State as good as Florida? I don't think so. And the Buckeyes destroyed Florida on the road. Using the transitive property, why would this be any different? Since that doesn't always come to fruition, here's a reason why: no one on the 'Noles can handle freshman big Jared Sullinger. He's going to dominate in the paint. And if FSU tries to collapse defensively on him, they'll watch some combination of David Lighty, William Buford, Jon Diebler and Deshaun Thomas make them pay. There's a reason Ohio State is No. 2 in the country, and it will be on full display in this one. Expect a strong performance. Ohio State Ohio State The Seminoles will be one of the ACC's best teams this season, but it might be difficult to tell against the Buckeyes. Even without departed defensive stars Ryan Reid and Solomon Alabi, Florida State still plays the most in-your-jock defense this side of the TSA (The 'Noles held Florida to a 91.6 offensive efficiency rating, while the Gators racked up a 114.6 against Ohio State). But the latest star post player to roll off Thad Matta's assembly line, forward Jared Sullinger, should be a serious test to the Seminoles. Chris Singleton is averaging the most ridiculous stat line in the nation -- non-Kemba Walker division -- 15.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 2.8 blocks and 3.2 steals per game. But Florida State is still turning the ball over too much, which could be the turning point against an Ohio State team that's as good at forcing turnovers as any in the nation. Florida State will be better for playing this game, but the 'Noles likely won't win.
Michigan at Clemson, Tuesday, 9:00
Michigan gave a scare to No. 9 Syracuse, but then turned around and lost to UTEP. That's how it's going to be this season for the Wolverines, as they don't return much from last season's disappointment and haven't yet built a strong base in recruiting under John Beilein. Sophomore Darius Morris and freshman Tim Hardaway Jr. have looked good thus far, but Zack Novak has been awful. Sophomore forward Jordan Morgan could be an X-factor in the paint. I really do think Michigan has a shot in this one, but ultimately Clemson being at home tilts the scales.

Clemson Clemson Not much has gone right for either team since they last met in the opening round of the 2009 NCAA tournament. Clemson managed another NCAA tournament bid, but lost in the opener, lost its best player of recent memory, Trevor Booker, to graduation and lost its coach to DePaul, one of the Big East's permanent underclass teams. The Tigers, however, seem to be on the right path back while Michigan has been in a steady nosedive since, and has already lost twice this season. Senior point guard Demontez Stitt needs to get a handle on his turnover woes thus far (He has an impossibly bad .56 assist-to-turnover ratio), but the Tigers have a nice rotation of talent. Six players are scoring nine or more points per game. Littlejohn Coliseum is one of the most underrated homecourt advantages in the nation (ask Duke and North Carolina, which have each been shellacked there in recent years) and new coach Brad Brownell will guarantee the Tigers won't have a come-from-behind, press-even-when-you're-winning flop like a season ago against Illinois.
Georgia Tech at Northwestern, Tuesday, 7:00
The Yellow Jackets have seemingly righted the ship since suffering a rather embarrassing loss to Kennesaw State, winning three games and losing only to No. 9 Syracuse (by four). Still, Northwestern is experienced and gaining confidence this is the year the Wildcats finally make their first NCAA tournament. John Shurna is a scoring machine while Drew Crawford and Michael Thompson provide good second and third options. Being at home, the Wildcats win a close, yet comfortable, victory -- similar to what I said above with Illinois over UNC. Northwestern Duke Figuring out what the Yellow Jackets are going to do on any given night is like trying to pick the lottery, predict the weather and how Mel Gibson will next embarrass himself all at once. The Yellow Jackets are a guard-only team now (hence the awful 42.3 percent effective field goal) and are prone to series of bad decisions. Iman Shumpert is an outstanding player when he's on and Glen Rice Jr. can shoot like his old man (ignore the awful numbers thus far), but the Wildcats are probably a superior team. But in the case of Georgia Tech, sometimes it's best to pick against common sense (Hello, Kennesaw State).
Iowa at Wake Forest, Tuesday, 7:00
Guessing there won't be many eyeballs glued to this one -- stick with the Northwestern-Georgia Tech game -- maybe not even Iowa and Wake Forest fans. The Jeff Bzdelik administration has already lost to Stetson, Virginia Commonwealth and Winthrop. Of course, Iowa has been bested by South Dakota State and Long Beach State (and Xavier, but that's not a bad loss). Flip a coin. We'll go with the home team in a close, but still relatively boring, game. Wake Forest Wake Forest This game would be a good time to reconnect with your family, evaluate your stock portfolio or generally do anything but watch television (Then again, I have the same advice for Two and a Half Men). One team will win and it will have no impact on the national scene at all. The Deacons have talent, they just all look like they're young enough to fit in at a Justin Bieber concert. Forward Tony McKie and guard J.T. Terrell will both have great cases for the ACC's all-freshman team. Only senior Gary Clark is a true impact player among the non freshman and sophomore crowd. Wake has already lost to Stetson at home, so it's difficult to argue homecourt edge. Iowa has the best win of the two -- over Alabama.
Michigan State at Duke, Wednesday, 9:30
This is the polar opposite to the above listed game, an absolute must-see. Both teams are talented all over the floor and have depth. That's why they opened the season as the top two ranked teams in the nation. The Spartans stumbled in a very winnable game against UConn -- a team obviously very underrated in the preseason, but it's still easy to say Duke has looked far more impressive in the early-going. With the game being in Cameron, the pick is the Blue Devils. But if each of Kalin Lucas, Durrell Summers and Draymond Green have outstanding nights, don't count out a Spartans upset. They need all three stars to win on the road in Duke, in addition to lots of bench help. I don't think they're ready yet. March may be a story different story, but it's December 1. Duke Duke This might be a Final Four-type matchup in March, but only the Democrats have managed worse Novembers than Tom Izzo's Spartans. Everything seems to be going right for Duke, from the emergence of its star freshman point guard Kyrie Irving, to its bench full of 3-point shooters, to its transition to an uptempo offense. Michigan State will be an interesting challenge, as the team that famously practices rebounding in shoulder pads will try and keep Duke in a halfcourt contest. Whether or not Duke has fully replaced the toughness and dirty work -- if not the beardedness -- of Brian Zoubek may be at issue here, but the Blue Devils can win so many ways and are in the sweltering confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium. We'll be watching Mason Plumlee's free throw shooting. The younger Plumlee is 10-25 from the free throw line, and figures to end up there often against the Spartans.
Purdue at Virginia Tech, Wednesday, 7:30
The injury to Robbie Hummel in the preseason made this game a lot more interesting, not to mention Purdue's recent upset at the hands of Richmond. The Boilers have really struggled with shooting in the past two games and have also gotten outrebounded, two problems Hummel's presence would surely shore up. Someone else is going to have to step up in his absence. Plus, the senior duo of JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore have to shoot better to carry the load and someone needs to help Johnson on the boards. They've had their wakeup call, it's time to get back on track. I believe you'll see a more complete effort while the stars play like they're capable and motivated. Purdue Duke Virginia Tech has been somewhat underwhelming this season and hasn't yet figured out how to deal with the loss of sixth-man standout J.T. Thompson. In the two games the Hokies have lost, star Malcolm Delaney has struggled with turnovers (nine against Kansas State, four against UNLV). Our question: Who is going to force those for Pudue? Without defensive standout Chris Kramer, the Boilermakers will struggle to pressure the Hokies' point guard. Expect Delaney to have another big game (He had 30 against UNLV) and expect the supporting cast, particularly the mercurial Jeff Allen, to step up at home. This will be the Hokies team we all expected with five returning seniors.
N.C. State at Wisconsin, Wednesday, 7:15
Wisconsin has been uneven this season. During the second half of the Badgers win over Boston College, for example, they looked like world-beaters. But they've also lost to UNLV and Notre Dame, who, in fairness, are not bad teams (nor is N.C. State). Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor can score and we know Wisconsin is going to play tough defense and win the free throw battle at home. But who else will step up to help hold home court in the half-court offense? Someone will (perhaps surprising freshman Josh Gasser?). Bo Ryan is 138-11 at home at Wisconsin. That's no aberration, as the Badgers took down Duke last year at home in this very event. Wisconsin Wisconsin Perhaps it's Sidney Lowe's red blazer, but forgive us while we channel our inner-realtor. This game is all about location, location, location. On a neutral court, we'll talk the 'Pack's exceptional trio of freshmen against the Badgers, but picking against the Badgers in the Kohl Center is a sucker's bet, particularly since the Wolfpack are still without power forward Tracy Smith, the team's best player. Enjoy the performances of point guard Ryan Harrow (an undersized, but electric player), shooting guard Lorenzo Brown and small forward C.J. Leslie. All three are as good as billed.
Indiana at Boston College, Wednesday, 7:15
This will be the first test -- and first game away from Assembly Hall -- for Tom Crean's Hoosiers. It's impossible to know how the group will react, but there are good pieces in place. Sophomore Christian Watford appears to be a star in the making while Verdell Jones III is usually a reliable slashing scorer. Maurice Creek has been up and down as he continues to recover from his knee injury. If these three bring it, Jordan Hulls gets hot from three, and the Hoosiers see contributions from their deep bench, an IU win is in the cards. Indiana Boston College If anyone should be able to maximize the talent on Boston College's depleted roster, it's Steve Donahue, who coached Cornell to the Sweet 16 last season. One season later, however, he's already lost to Yale. The Eagles have one of the best trios in the ACC -- Reggie Jackson, Joe Trapani and Corey Raji. And they've got homecourt advantage at Conte Forum, which, when full and with Doug Flutie courtside, is a tremendous advantage. Indiana's utterly nondescript schedule makes it hard to get a read on what the Hoosiers will do, but the Eagles will almost certainly take better care of the ball. More possessions and homecourt advantage tilts the scale to the Eagles.
Maryland at Penn State, Wednesday, 9:15
The Terps have lost to the two quality opponents they faced thus far this season. They only survived by a point against Charleston. This being at Penn State and with the Nittany Lions having the best player in the game (Talor Battle), this isn't the gimme you'd usually expect when seeing these two square off in basketball. Battle can single-handedly keep this thing close, especially if fellow senior Jeff Brooks continues to play well. The hunch is Maryland finds a way with superior overall talent, but this one could be close. Maryland Maryland It's still strange to watch the Terrapins take the court without Greivis Vasquez and Eric Hayes, but Gary Williams' new-look team is developing quite nicely. Jordan Williams is emerging as arguably the ACC's best post player, and is a reliable double-double, while Cliff Tucker, Adrian Bowie and Dino Gregory all seem to be thriving with expanded roles. There are problems -- freshman Terrell Stoglin seems allergic to passing at times, the team struggles from the free throw line, and the Terps don't have the talent to compete with elite teams for 40 minutes (see a pair of narrow losses to Illinois and Texas in the NIT tipoff) -- but Gary Williams teams always get better as the season goes on, and right now they're good enough to handle Penn State.
It appears the shoe is on the other foot, as the Big Ten has a better chance to win this thing than the ACC. I could make a case for the Big Ten winning every single game, as Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State and Iowa all have legitimate chances to win. Obviously, the league isn't going 11-0 or anything outlandish, but seven or even eight wins are attainable. I do expect at least six, with the league winning the second straight challenge.
Big Ten Wins:
ACC Wins:
The Big Ten may be the better overall league, but the Challenge isn't a round-robin affair. Most of the decisive, if unappealing games, favor the ACC or are on ACC home courts. It should be a close affair, with 7-4 being the largest margin either way, but we'll take the ACC to move to 11-1. But cheer up, Big Ten, one out of 12 isn't bad. At least if you're facing a jury.

Kiprusoff makes 32 saves, Flames blank Wild 3-0

CALGARY, Alberta -Miikka Kiprusoff made 32 saves and Jarome Iginla had a goal and an assist to lead the Calgary Flames past the Minnesota Wild 3-0 on Monday night.

Calgary defenseman Jay Bouwmeester opened the scoring and Niklas Hagman added an insurance goal late in the third period for the Flames, who had lost four of five at home.

That was all the offense Kiprusoff needed in his 37th career shutout and third this season.

Kiprusoff's best stop came in the second period, preserving a two-goal lead. Martin Havlat zipped a perfect pass to spring a wide-open Marek Zidlicky on a breakaway. But the Wild defenseman couldn't fool Kiprusoff as the goalie jabbed out a pad to deny Zidlicky's close-in shot.

A few minutes later, with Minnesota on a power play, Zidlicky again threatened with a hard slap shot from the top of the faceoff circle, but Kiprusoff was there to get his chest in front of the rising shot.

Minnesota has lost four of five, but usually has Calgary's number. The Wild won seven of the previous eight meetings, including three straight in Calgary.

Iginla set up Bouwmeester's goal by carrying the puck behind the net, then threading a backhand pass diagonally through the slot to the uncovered defenseman, who fired in his third goal of the season.

Bouwmeester, the NHL's current iron man at 448 consecutive games played, is enjoying a solid season. He leads the Flames in plus-minus (plus-8) and ranks fifth in the NHL in average ice time (25:49).

Iginla's 10th goal came on his own rebound. His original shot from far out deflected wide of the net, but the puck caromed off the end boards and out front for Iginla to tuck past a surprised Jose Theodore.

The Minnesota backup got the start with Niklas Backstrom having allowed 18 goals in his last three starts. Theodore finished with 28 saves.

Hagman, on a power play at 18:31 of the third, rounded out the scoring for Calgary, which was coming off a 1-2-2 Eastern road trip.

Minnesota entered the night ranked second in the NHL on the power play, but came up empty on three attempts. Calgary went 1 for 3.

The Northwest Division rivals will faceoff against each other three more times in the next three weeks, including Friday night in Minnesota.

The Flames, 14th in the Western Conference, welcome the division-leading Vancouver Canucks to the Scotiabank Saddledome on Wednesday night.

Notes: After scoring just two goals and eight points in the season's first 15 games, Iginla has eight goals and 12 points in the past nine games. ... Minnesota has only one power-play goal in its past seven games (1 for 19). ... Calgary D Mark Giordano ranks second in the league in blocked shots (64). ... Calgary RW Ales Kotalik (knee) could make his season debut as soon as this weekend. Kotalik has been skating with the team for the past week. He had three goals and two assists in four preseason games before getting injured. ... Minnesota D Jared Spurgeon, recalled Sunday from Houston (AHL), made his NHL debut. It came on his 21st birthday. ... The only other time the Wild outshot the opposition this season was Oct. 8, when they outshot Carolina 42-37.

Drew Brees Named 'Sports Illustrated' Sportsman of the Year

Drew Brees is the 2010 Sportsman of the Year, the annual honor given by "Sports Illustrated" to the "athlete or team whose performance that year most embodies the spirit of sportsmanship and achievement."

Brees is the 57th recipient of the award and will be honored at a ceremony Tuesday.

The Saints, of course, beat the Colts in the Super Bowl for the first championship in the team's history, less than five years after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast region and forced the Saints to play an entire season away from the Superdome.

Brees was the primary catalyst in the team's turnaround, recovering from a bad shoulder injury when he joined the listless Saints in 2006. Since then, he's been one of the league's best quarterbacks. He's been a charitable force in the region, as well.

"I had a chance to see it with my own eyes when I came in on my visit to New Orleans in March of 2006, six months post-Katrina, and you sit there and look around and say, 'I had no idea it was this bad,'" Brees said in response to the honor. "You feel a sense of responsibility and a sense that this is a calling. This is an opportunity that most people don't get in a lifetime, and yet it's staring me in the face right now. I have this opportunity."

"Brees and his wife, Brittany, showed love for New Orleans when the city felt abandoned by so many others," the magazine said in explaining its choice. "Not only did Brees help the Saints make the playoffs in his first year in the city and begin the four-year climb to last year's title, but he also threw himself into helping the city recover, and its people to feel like they were not alone."

Under Brees' expertise, the team led the league in total offense in 2010, and his completion percentage of 70.62 set an NFL record. He threw eight touchdowns and no interceptions in the playoffs, and was named Super Bowl MVP.

The Saints began the 2009 season 13-0 before finishing 13-3. They defeated three likely Hall of Fame quarterbacks -- Kurt Warner, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning -- in the playoffs. For a region that had suffered so much and a team with such a long history of poor play, the season was a magical one for the Saints, their fans and the entire region, which rallied around the team.

Derek Jeter (2009), Michael Phelps (2008), Brett Favre (2007), Dwayne Wade (2006) and Tom Brady (2005) are the last five award-winners.

Frank Gore Reportedly Suffers Season-Ending Hip Injury

Frank Gore fractured his right hip in San Francisco's Monday night win over Arizona, according to a report by Mindi Bach of Comcast SportsNet Bay Area. The NFL Network's Jason La Canfora reported that Gore will miss the rest of the 2010 season.

Gore rushed four times for 43 yards on the 49ers' opening possession, then headed to the locker room with members of San Francisco's training staff. He came back for one carry on the team's next possession -- a 9-yard run -- then hobbled to the sidelines and did not return to action.

Brian Westbrook filled in admirably for Gore on Monday night, carrying the ball 23 times for 136 yards and a touchdown in the 27-6 victory. Third-stringer Anthony Dixon added 54 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. That duo will likely split time in the 49ers' backfield if Gore is, in fact, done for the year.

Gore appeared well on the way to his fifth consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season -- through 10 games, he had piled up 801 yards on the ground, as well as 452 through the air on a team-high 46 receptions. If he cannot return to the lineup, this will mark the first time since his rookie season of 2005 that Gore does not hit the 1,000-yard plateau.

The injury would obviously be a huge blow for a 49ers team that's somewhat remarkably still in the hunt for the NFC West title, despite an 0-5 start to the year. Monday's win moved San Francisco to 4-7, just one game behind division leaders St. Louis and Seattle; the 49ers still have one game left against each of those teams down the stretch.

Andre Johnson, Cortland Finnegan Fined $25,000 Each for Fight

Andre Johnson and Cortland Finnegan each received $25,000 for their roles in a fight during Sunday's Texans win over the Titans, but neither player will be suspended for the incident, according to multiple reports.

Johnson and Finnegan were both ejected from Sunday's game after exchanging blows midway through the fourth quarter. The two quickly became entangled at the end of a play with Johnson ripping off Finnegan's helmet, then Finnegan responding in kind and throwing Johnson's helmet several yards away. Johnson then punched Finnegan multiple times before officials stepped in.

After the game, Johnson apologized to the Texans organization and fans, saying, "I just lost my cool and I wish that I could take back what happened, but I can't."

After practice on Monday, Johnson said that he doesn't plan to appeal the fine.

"I'm happy that I'm not suspended, but at the same time, I'm not happy about my actions," he said.

Finnegan has been fined several times by the NFL in the past, while Johnson had a relatively clean record -- he was fined $7,500 last season for throwing Finnegan to the ground by his face mask. Both players could have been suspended under NFL rules.

But instead, they will each deal with what is, in reality, a fairly small penalty -- to put it in some perspective, Philadelphia's Will Witherspoon was recently fined $40,000 for a hit on Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb, while James Harrison was tagged was a $75,000 fine for knocking out Cleveland's Mohamed Massaquoi with a helmet-to-helmet shot and $20,000 for a hit on Drew Brees.

All of those penalties fell under the NFL's crackdown on dangerous plays, however. The fight between Johnson and Finnegan apparently did not, leading to the minimal fines.

Finnegan said on his radio show Monday evening he would appeal the fine, and added that Johnson "snapped" during the incident. He also said Johnson did a lot of trash-talking.

Asked why he didn't throw a punch, Finnegan said, "This is the NFL, not the NHL."

Finnegan, who has been fined at least three times previously this season, said he believed he would have been fined had he thrown the punch. He also said he has tried to tone down his behavior, but that he needs to play with an edge, Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean tweeted.

"There's nothing I did that I felt like was a fineable offense," TitansInsider reported him saying. "Maybe a flag for quick jamming him and hitting him in the facemask. But there's no way that I thought that that would ever be a suspension."

He also added sarcastically, "To just echo what everybody else on TV and the world wants to hear, man, I had it coming. I deserved it. If I was Andre Johnson, I would have did it."

Finnegan also apologized for leaving the field as he did -- waving his arms to the Reliant Stadium crowd.

Earlier Monday, Titans coach Jeff Fisher told reporters he had spoken to the league and strongly believed Finnegan should not have been suspended.

"The event itself is an unfortunate thing that happens," Fisher said. "You have two very talented, talented, good football players competing and it's just very unfortunate. It's not good for our game, and I'm just disappointed that that type of thing happens on the playing field.

"If Cort was out of control at any time, yesterday would have been the time to be out of control and he (wasn't). He was not going to hurt the football team, and by that he didn't fight back. From that standpoint, you have to say he kept his composure."

Fisher said he had knowledge of Finnegan telling the Texans' bench to "watch this" just before the altercation.

"There is going to be all kinds of speculation about things like that," Fisher said. "You have no idea what goes on out there, in the trenches, outside, inside, they are competing -- there are a lot of things that are said."

Westbrook rushes for 136 yards; 49ers roll 27-6

GLENDALE, Ariz.(AP) Brian Westbrook finally got an opportunity to show he can still do it. News that San Francisco's Frank Gore has a broken right hip means more chances are just ahead.

Westbrook rushed for 136 yards and a touchdown in place of the injured Gore and the 49ers sent punchless Arizona to its sixth straight loss, 27-6 Monday night in a shower of boos from the Cardinals home crowd.
The only fireworks Arizona mustered came during Derek Anderson's postgame tirade over questions about why he was laughing on the sideline with his team down 18 points.

Westbrook had 9 yards on five carries all season. He ran 23 times in his 21st career 100-yard game, but first since Dec. 7, 2008, for Philadelphia against the New York Giants.

``I think we have a lot of young guys, some of them have seen some of the things I've been able to do over the course of my career, some of them just don't know,'' he said. ``They just see a guy running around the practice field. For me it meant a lot to have an opportunity to go out there and play and have an opportunity to have success.''

San Francisco (4-7), beaten at home by Tampa Bay 21-0 last week, improved to 3-1 since Troy Smith became starting quarterback and pulled within a game of co-leaders St. Louis and Seattle in the anemic NFC West.

Arizona (3-8), two-time defending division champion, has not lost this many in a row since dropping eight straight in 2006, Dennis Green's final season as coach.

Anderson had a postgame meltdown reminiscent of Green's Monday night ``they are who they thought they were'' in 2006.

It came in the postgame news conference after repeatedly being asked by a reporter about being shown on the telecast laughing with offensive guard Deuce Lutui with his team down 18. Anderson's voice grew louder, with a few expletives thrown in, with every question.

``Every single week I put my heart and soul into this,'' Anderson shouted. ``I don't go there and laugh. It's not funny. Nothing's funny to me. I don't want to go out there and get embarrassed on Monday night football in front of everybody.''

The 49ers rushed for 261 yards, by far their season high and the most allowed by the Cardinals this season.
Westbrook, who led the league in rushing in 2007, was released a year ago after eight, often-spectacular seasons with Philadelphia, a move caused by a combination of his age and injury history as well as the $7.5 million he would have been due this season.

He signed with San Francisco on Aug. 16, but had hardly played at all until Gore went down on Monday.

``I just kind of bided my time, tried to stay fresh, tried to stay focused,'' Westbrook said, ``and when I got my opportunity, make the most of it.''

The Arizona defense did not provide much resistance as San Francisco pushed around the home team at the line of scrimmage from the start.

``We got 'outphysicaled' tonight and that's not something I'm very happy with,'' Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said. ``I'm disappointed, I'm hurt. I feel like we have a better team than what we showed tonight but obviously we don't. This is what we are.''

Gore was hurt on San Francisco's first series, then briefly tried to come back before going out for good in the second period.

He had 25 and 15 yards in his first two carries, a sign of things to come against an Arizona defense that entered the game last in the league in points allowed.

San Francisco coach Mike Singletary said he went more with Westbrook than rookie Anthony Dixon because of experience and track record.

``He is a pro. When he came in we told him that it is a long year and when your number is going to be called be ready to step up,'' Singletary said. ``He is a bright guy, works hard and plays his role. Tonight, he had to step up and he did.''

Smith didn't need to pass much, completing 11 of 23 for 129 yards with one touchdown and an interception.
San Francisco, a team that has not scored more than 24 points in a game all season, led 21-6 at the half. The 49ers hadn't scored that many by halftime in two years.

The Cardinals committed their 27th turnover of the season on their first play from scrimmage when Anderson and Beanie Wells botched a handoff and Aubrayo Franklin recovered for San Francisco. On the next play, Smith threw 38 yards to Michael Crabtree for the touchdown, the receiver making a diving catch in the end zone.

Wells gained a measure of redemption on the next possession. Playing as a wideout to the right, he caught a 43-yard pass from Anderson but a season-long red zone problem continued and Jay Feely's 31-yard field goal made it 7-3.

Ted Ginn Jr. had a kickoff return of 41 yards and a punt return for 42, both leading to San Francisco touchdowns.

The 49ers went 55 yards in 10 plays after the kickoff, Dixon leaping over from the 1-yard line to make it 14-3 with 29 seconds to go in the first.

Shane Andrus, kicking in place of injured Joe Nedney, missed a 47-yard field goal on San Francisco's first possession. He also had a 37-yarder blocked by Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie in the third quarter.

Arizona blew an opportunity late in the first half after Smith's pass bounced off the hands of Vernon Davis and was intercepted by Michael Adams at the San Francisco 42. Anderson threw three incompletions and the Cardinals punted. The boos that had started midway through the first quarter were louder than ever as the teams left the field.

LaRod Stephens-Howling briefly got the fans back in it with an 83-yard kickoff return to start the second half, but it was called back by a holding penalty against Arizona rookie Daryl Washington.

Notes: The Cardinals have sold out all 50 games since moving to University of Phoenix Stadium. ... San Francisco is 5-2 against Arizona since Whisenhunt became coach in 2007, the only NFC West team with a winning record against the Cardinals in that span. ... The Cardinals were without two defensive starters - end Calais Campbell (ankle) and cornerback Greg Toler (foot). ... San Francisco lost LB Parys Haralson (ankle) and C David Baas (jaw).

Monday, November 29, 2010

2011 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot Revealed

The candidates for induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2011 via the Baseball Writers' Association of America vote were announced Monday.

Heading the list are a number of noteworthy first-time candidates, including Astros great Jeff Bagwell, two-time MVP Juan Gonzalez, Rafael Palmeiro and Larry Walker.

Palmeiro, one of only four players in major league history with 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, tested positive for the steroid stanozolol in 2005. He'll follow Mark McGwire as the second significant test case of the Steroid Era -- a player with the credentials to merit election, but also a direct link to steroid usage. McGwire, who admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs, received 23.7 percent of the vote last year, and has hovered in that territory in each of his four times on the ballot.

Candidates must receive 75 percent support from voters to gain election, and can remain on the ballot for up to 15 years so long as they receive at least 5 percent support from the electorate in the previous season.

Two returning candidates -- pitcher Bert Blyleven and second baseman Roberto Alomar -- missed out on election by fewer than 10 votes, the first time that has ever happened in the history of BBWAA's Hall of Fame voting process.

In addition to Blyleven, Alomar and McGwire, the 11 other players returning to the ballot for induction in 2011 are: Harold Baines, Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Tim Raines, Lee Smith and Alan Trammell.

There are 19 first-time candidates up for election. In addition to Bagwell, Gonzalez, Palmeiro and Walker, Carlos Baerga, Bret Boone, Kevin Brown, John Franco, Marquis Grissom, Lenny Harris, Bobby Higginson, Charles Johnson, Al Leiter, Tino Martinez, Raul Mondesi, John Olerud, Kirk Reuter, Benito Santiago and B.J. Surhoff will appear on the ballot.

Players who spent at least 10 years in the major leagues and last played in 2005 are eligible to be placed on the ballot. Results of this year's BBWAA election will be announced on Jan. 5, 2011. The Veterans Committee will also vote on a separate set of candidates, with those results set to be announced next week. The induction ceremony for candidates who gain election will take place next July.

Derek Jeter's $$$ Demands Laughable

The news improved for Derek Jeter on Monday. Of the 250,000-plus secret government documents released by WikiLeaks, none mentioned a romance between Hal Steinbrenner and a goat.

If such evidence actually exists -- and we have no independent confirmation that it does -- perhaps Jeter's camp still has exclusive access. It can still embarrass the Yankees into giving Jeter a crazy contract.

If you take blackmail out of the negotiations, however, the Face of the Yankees has little to smile about. Jeter's getting humiliated, and he has nobody to blame but himself or his agent or whichever girlfriend keeps whispering in his ear that he's worth $23 million a year.

Most Yankees fans don't even believe that, which is saying something considering they'd normally cheer if New York signed a free-agent rutabaga for $16 million a year. Come to think of it, most household vegetables would pitch better than A.J. Burnett.

But back to El Capitan. Jeter has supposedly always had a clear sense of his value. So you have to wonder what he sees that the rest of the world is missing.

"Derek's impact on the sport's most valuable franchise cannot be overstated," said agent Casey Close.

Sure it can -- $150 million over six years.

That was supposedly Jeter's starting point, though Close denies the $25-mil-a-year demand. The $23-million-per seems more likely. That's still about $15 million more a season than Jeter would get on the open market.

He should have taken the Yankees' three-year, $45 million offer and gotten back to being the world's most eligible bachelor. He's 36 and coming off the worst offensive year of his career.

Hanley Ramirez is the game's best shortstop and is 10 years younger. Over the next four years, he'll make about $14.4 million per season.

Jeter won a Gold Glove last season, but his range dwindles every season. In major league history, only 14 shortstops over 36 have played in 80 percent of their team's games in a given season.

As for over-36 shortstops who actually played at an All-Star level, you can count two -- Honus Wagner and Luke Appling. Jeter may resurrect his bat for a year or two but, if he has his negotiating way, the Yankees will be paying a 43-year-old shortstop $23 million a year.

Does anyone think that's a wise investment?

Put those hands down, Red Sox fans.

The wild card in this negotiation is Jeter's intrinsic value. He unquestionably deserves some Irving G. Thalberg Lifetime Achievement points for being a key part of five championships.

But this whole Face of the Franchise thing is a bit too reverential. After saying what a great player he has been, Jeter-philes invariably note that he's never taken steroids, dated Madonna or done anything to embarrass the Pinstripes.

Good for him, but isn't behaving supposed to be part of the job? What does it say when simply remaining clean is a major negotiation point?

His Turn-2 charitable foundation has raised more than $8 million over the past 12 years. As noble as that is, Jeter's never made the top-30 list of celebrity/athlete philanthropists complied by The Giving Back Fund.

I'm not saying Jeter doesn't deserve our admiration. But he's not Roberto Clemente airlifting supplies to Nicaraguan earthquake victims. He's a decent guy who's avoided the mud of baseball's Scandal Era.

He's done it in the most scandal-hungry city in America. That's made this squabble bigger news than any WikiLeak revelation. Jeter didn't have to turn it into a Hot Stove soap opera. He'll eventually re-sign with New York, mainly because nobody else will come close to the Yankees' offer.

From a strict baseball standpoint, Jeter's worth about $8-10 million a year. I think he deserves an extra $3 million a year Jeter Bonus, but I'm cheap.

The Yankees have offered him $15 million a year. Never mind that at 39 years old he'd still be among the highest-paid shortstops. Jeter made $22.6 million last year and considers it insulting to take a pay cut.

Loyalty is a two-way street, however. As good as Jeter has been to the Yankees, they have been good to him to the tune of $205 million over the past 15 years. And any day now, the Yankees are going to sign Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford and a rutabaga to $250 million worth of contracts.

They will again be accused of trying to bankroll their way to a title. Yet when they show a little fiscal sanity with Jeter, they get ripped?

If Jeter could get $23 million on the open market, the Yankees would be the first to sign him for $30 million. But they'd rather spend/waste money on a player in his prime.

For all the talk of pinstriped legacies, New York had no problem letting Bernie Williams go. More to the point, this is the franchise that let Babe Ruth go.

It wasn't quite as profound as when the Red Sox sold him in 1919. But Ruth was sold to the Boston Braves for his final season in 1935.

As sad as it would be, the Yankees survived without the original Face of the Franchise. They could somehow manage without this one.

AP Top 25 Poll: Duke Is Unanimous No. 1, UConn Makes Historic Leap

Duke finished the week with two decisive victories against Kansas State and Oregon. It picked up another decisive win Monday, capturing each of the 65 first-place votes in the AP Top 25 poll.

Meanwhile, UConn completed the biggest rise in the polls' rankings since 1989, vaulting from unranked to No. 7. The Huskies toppled then-No. 2 Michigan State and then-No. 8 Kentucky in the Maui Invitational. It was the biggest jump since Kansas vaulted from unranked to No. 4 after winning the 1989 preseason NIT.

Duke received all but seven first-place votes a week ago. Six went to Michigan State and the last went to Kansas State, which the Blue Devils defeated to win the CBE Classic. The Blue Devils are the first unanimous No. 1 team since Kansas finished the regular season with all first place votes last season.

No. 24 UNLV, which claimed the 76 Classic, and No. 25 Notre Dame, winner of the Old Spice Classic, joined the bottom of the rankings. Temple, Gonzaga and North Carolina were knocked out.

Ohio State, Pitt, Kansas and Kansas State rounded out the top five. Michigan State fell from second to sixth, followed by the fast-riser Connecticut. Syracuse, which won the Legends Classic, rose to eighth, followed by Missouri and Kentucky, which beat Washington before falling to Connecticut.

Undefeated Baylor rose to 11th, while Villanova, which lost to Tennessee in the preseason NIT final, fell to 12th. The Vols were 13th, followed by Memphis and Minnesota. Georgetown, San Diego State, Florida, Texas and Illinois rounded out the top 20. The Longhorns and Illini finished second and third in the preseason NIT, each losing to Pitt.

Brigham Young checked in at 21st, followed by Purdue, which was upset Saturday by Richmond. Washington, UNLV and Notre Dame rounded out the poll.

While Duke celebrates the top ranking, the rest of its conference must be wondering just what went wrong. The ACC had just one ranked team in the top 25. North Carolina fell out of the rankings altogether, despite twice winning last week.

The ACC previously had just one team in the poll last season, also Duke, in the Feb. 22 poll.

Virginia Stuns Minnesota to Open 2010 ACC-Big Ten Challenge

Things may be reverted back to normal in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, as this one was supposed to be a gimme for the Big Ten. Minnesota came in undefeated and ranked No. 15, having already beaten North Carolina and West Virginia. Plus, the game was played in the comfort of their home, The Barn. The opponent was one of the lower-tier ACC teams.

Instead, Tony Bennett's Virginia team came in and took it to the Golden Gophers on the strength of incredible 3-point shooting and complete domination in the second half, winning 87-79.

The Cavaliers (4-3) were 10-14 from 3-point range, getting big efforts from guards Joe Harris (24 points, 4-6 from 3) and Mustapha Farrakhan (23 points, 4-of-5 from 3). Senior forward Mike Scott went at it alone in the paint for the smallish Hoos, and was up to the task, pouring in 17 points and adding 12 rebounds against a tough Minnesota interior.

The Gophers' inexplicably allowed open outside shots on most second-half possessions and were continually made to pay for it. Missing point guard Al Nolen, they just couldn't keep up with the second-half scoring pace. Virginia scored 58 points in that second half, after facing a 10-point deficit at halftime. Virginia actually outrebounded Minnesota, despite facing players like Ralph Sampson III, Colton Iverson and Trevor Mbakwe. The Cavaliers also iced the game at the free-throw line, hitting 25 of their 30 attempts, most when the Gophers were desperately trying to come back in the last few minutes of the game.

Virginia did what it had to do to win a game like this, the Cavaliers played a nearly flawless second half. They'll travel to Virginia Tech to open ACC play Sunday.

Minnesota (6-1) will look to pick up the pieces at home against Cornell Saturday.

TCU Accepts Offer From Big East

Texas Christian University has accepted an invitation to become an all-sports member of the Big East Conference, FanHouse has learned.

The Horned Frogs will join the league beginning on July 1, 2012 and begin play in the Big East in the 2012-13 school year. The school has called a 2 p.m. ET press conference to announce it is moving from the Mountain West.

The addition of the Horned Frogs will immediately bolster the football league. It also would increase the basketball membership to 17 teams.

The Horned Frogs (12-0) are ranked No. 3 in the current BCS rankings and are guaranteed a BCS bowl.

Adding TCU also would strengthen its position when the league starts renegotiating its television contracts that expires after the 2013 season.

TCU will be located an average of 1,140 miles from the other football league members.

Big East commissioner John Marinatto had previously told FanHouse that if the Big East added new members before the current TV contracts expire, the league could seek to renegotiate. TCU is located in the Dallas-Fort Worth market, the nation's fifth-biggest TV market.

"Membership -- quality membership and quality inventory -- drives value," Marinatto said. "We're certainly cognizant of the value that expansion and quality inventory would bring to a television partner."

The Big East had said a few weeks ago it wanted to get its football membership to 10 teams. The league also made an offer to Villanova, a member in all sports but football, to move up from FCS to the Big East.

"Villanova has been obviously a member of the conference for 30 years," Marinatto told FanHouse. "We've encouraged them for a number of years going back to 1997 to do whatever they feel is in their best interest. I think they're in the process of evaluating that question and if they evaluate it in the affirmative, we'll obviously have a conversation about membership."

The league expects to get an answer from Villanova by the end of the 2010-11 school year. If Villanova opts to stay in FCS, UCF would be the next choice to get the league a 10th football member.

By adding TCU for the 2012-13 school year, the Horned Frogs previous BCS data will remain with the Mountain West, BCS spokesman Bill Hancock told FanHouse. Only if TCU would have changed leagues before the 2012 school year would it have taken "all of their data to their new league," Hancock said.

However, the Big East already has its automatic qualifying BCS status for the 2012 and 2013 regular seasons by virtue of the existing BCS contracts.

TCU has three consecutive top 11 BCS rankings, including this year, by far better than any current Big East member.

The Horned Frogs also had a football budget of $20.6 million for the 2009-10 school year, according to the U.S. Department of Education's Equity in Athletics report. That ranks 12th nationally and would rank higher than any current Big East member. Rutgers was first of the current Big East schools at $19.49 million.

Notre Dame tops Wisconsin to win Old Spice Classic

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -Not much was expected out of Notre Dame this season. Not after all the talent they lost from a year ago. Turns out, there might be enough talent left to make some noise after all.
Carleton Scott and Eric Atkins scored 12 points apiece, leading Notre Dame past Wisconsin 58-51 on Sunday night to claim the Old Spice Classic championship.

The Irish (7-0) scored 15 straight points in the final four minutes to pull away, overcoming an 11-point second-half deficit to go home with a huge tournament victory for a revamped team suddenly beaming with confidence.

"I think we showed a lot of people out there that we still have some fight in us," said Tim Abromaitis, who had 10 points and nine rebounds for the Irish and was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player.
Notre Dame came through when it counted most.

Ben Hansbrough stripped Jordan Taylor and converted a 3-point play on the other end over Taylor with 19 seconds remaining to highlight Notre Dame's run. The Irish shot free throws the rest of the way, finishing 20 for 25 from the stripe to beat a pesky Wisconsin team.

Jon Leuer had 19 points and Taylor had 14 points for the Badgers (4-2) before fouling out on Hansbrough's layup.

"They had some guys that made timely baskets and timely free throws, and that's how you win those kind of grinders," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. "And both our teams will be in more of them before the season's out."

The Irish might already be considered overachievers.

With mainstays Luke Harangody and Tory Jackson gone, the burden fell upon seniors Hansbrough, Scott and Tyrone Nash and grad student Abromaitis — all back from a 23-win team last year that lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Old Dominion, but not exactly the guys who carried the load.

They have so far this season.

Notre Dame won its third in-season tournament title in 11 seasons under coach Mike Brey. The 7-0 mark also matched the 2001-02 team for Brey's best start at Notre Dame.

"I learned something about my team that I knew I would down here," Brey said. "You hope to learn while you're winning, certainly that's helpful. But for us right now, this team is very confident."

The Badgers came into the tournament reeling from a loss to UNLV that likely cost them a spot in the Top 25 rankings. All they did was beat Manhattan and Boston College by double-digits before taking on Notre Dame in the final.

Wisconsin's frontline bullied and bruised an undersized Irish team early. The Badgers went ahead by eight points in the first half, building enough cushion to overcome some shooting lapses.

At least for a while.

Notre Dame began sitting in its zone defense and keeping Wisconsin on the perimeter. The move paid off, and the Irish scored the last 11 points of the half to take a 22-19 lead at the break.

Leuer, Taylor and Tim Jarmusz hit consecutive 3-pointers to highlight a 9-0 Wisconsin spurt in the second half to eventually go ahead by 11 points. The last came from Taylor, who waived his hands to the Badgers' faithful and chest bumped several teammates all the way to the bench during a timeout.

The celebration was premature.

"We just made too many mistakes down the stretch, and they made a lot of hustle plays," Leuer said.

A gritty Notre Dame found its rhythm and clamped down defensively. Wisconsin was smothered at both ends of the court, and its frustrations mounted when Abromaitis grabbed Scott Martin's missed free throw for a put-back layup that gave Notre Dame a 50-48 lead with 1:58 left.

They never trailed again.

In the end, it was an Irish team not expected to steal any spotlights this season who were the ones cutting down the nets and toasting a title trophy while streams of confetti flew.

Kind of like they do in March.

Now making the NCAA tournament isn't unrealistic at all. After victories over Thanksgiving against Georgia, California and Wisconsin, they've already made a strong case.

"Certainly they're great wins," Brey said. "We should have a couple resume wins."

Rodriguez gives US 1-0 victory, spot at World Cup

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -Three weeks later than anyone expected, the United States is on its way to the Women's World Cup.

Stunned in regional qualifying earlier this month, the top-ranked Americans clinched the 16th and final spot in next year's tournament Saturday by beating Italy for the second time in a week. But, like many of their games of late, it was not the commanding performance that has become an American trademark.

Amy Rodriguez scored off a rebound in the 40th minute to give the U.S. a 1-0 victory, and the Americans won the home-and-home playoff against Europe's fifth-place team on 2-0 aggregate.

"We have to stay together and put it together a little bit better," U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said. "Winning the gold medal, we'll have to play very, very well because it'll be very competitive."

The World Cup will be played June 26 to July 17 in Germany. The draw is Monday in Frankfurt.

The Americans were in danger of missing the tournament they've won twice (1991 and 1999) after a stunning upset by Mexico in the semifinals of regional qualifying. It was just their second loss since the 2007 World Cup, and first since the opening game of the Beijing Olympics, which the Americans went on to win.

Forced to beat Costa Rica in the regional third-place game and given a second chance with a playoff against the No. 11 Azzurre, the Americans showed they are still a force.

Not quite the overwhelming one they used to be, however.

"I think the country always thinks, 'Oh, the U.S. always goes, they're so good,'" Julie Foudy, part of the pioneering squad that won the 1991 and 1999 World Cups, said before the game. "When we stumble, they don't realize the rest of the world is getting much better."

Carrying a 1-0 aggregate lead after last weekend's victory in Padova, Italy, and needing only a win or a draw to advance, the Americans looked disorganized and nervous in the first 20 minutes. Or maybe they simply needed to thaw out, with the gametime temperature 33 and the wind making it feel more like 25.

"First of all, I want to apologize for the first 20 minutes. It was crap," U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said. "The second half, we did a better job. I'm very happy with the way they played. Eventually."

Their disorganization nearly got caught up with the Americans when Patrizio Panico was left unmarked at the edge of the 6-yard box. But Nicole Barnhart made the save easily.

"Their expectations were very high with the way we were going to play but we couldn't put it together. Then we got nervous," Sundhage said. "We made some bad decisions, technical errors I've never seen before from experienced players. But the beauty of all this is, we won the game 1-0 and they picked it up again. It's winners that can do that. I'm very proud of the team the way they did it."

Once the Americans finally settled into a rhythm, they dominated possession and peppered Italian goalkeeper Anna Maria Picarelli — who grew up in Southern California — with at least a half-dozen chances. Rodriguez and Megan Rapinoe both missed empty-netters, and Rapinoe skied another shot over the goal before the two combined for the goal. Rapinoe worked her way around two defenders before taking a left-footed angled shot. Picarelli blocked the shot, but the ball bounced right to Rodriguez, who poked it in from 6 yards out.
"It was kind of a jumble in front of the net," Rodriguez said. "The ball was loose and I saw it escape from the goalie. I tried to just dive in there and put it on frame, and luckily it hit the back of the net."

The score could have been even more lopsided, with Lauren Cheney hitting the crossbar in the 60th minute.
The U.S. finished with a 17-5 shot advantage and 9-3 advantage for shots on goal.

When the final whistle sounded, several players raised their arms in triumph while the crowd of 9,508 roared.
"Obviously this was a little different road than we had expected," forward Abby Wambach told the crowd after the final whistle. "But this team has resilience. We never gave up. We never lost belief in ourselves."

Italy coach Pietro Ghedin had given his team a "10 percent chance" of beating the United States before the playoff series began — the U.S. has won 10 of their last 12 meetings — and the Azzurre were further hampered by the loss of striker Melania Gabbiadini. Gabbiadini, who has 22 goals in 71 appearances for Italy, including six during European qualifying, missed both games with a twisted ankle.

Italy pushed forward in the closing minutes, but Barnhart was never really tested.

"I know this team right now has a chance of winning the World Cup," Wambach said. "It's not going to be easy, it's not going to come without bumps in the road. But I'm proud of us. We showed a lot of our character.