Monthly Archives: January 2011

Orange Crushed

Things are have been ugly for Syracuse... they could get uglier.

I haven’t gone on a good rant in a little bit, ok a good long while.

 

The last time I was ticked off at one of my favorite teams was two years ago when my Ohio State Buckeyes had a horrendous loss at West Lafayette to Purdue. You know that story; poor offense, poor play by Terrelle Pryor, yeah let’s not revisit that please.

 

Today my venom is being spewed towards the Syracuse Orange. To say I’m ticked off is an understatement… I’m pissed.

 

Two weeks ago the Orange were third-ranked in the country going into the Oakland Zoo to face the Pitt Panthers. Come this Monday they will barely be in the top 20 after suffering their 4th straight loss this time to a scrappy Marquette team in Wisconsin.

 

Except for the Pitt loss (Kris Joseph was injured), every loss has been unacceptable.

 

The Orange has fallen behind big in the early portions of each and has had to climb its way back. They fell behind 19-0 to Pitt, down by 12 to Villanova at the half, by 14 to Seton Hall and by ten today to Marquette.

 

They’ve been awful on the defensive end. Their patented 2-3 zone has been getting eaten alive as their last four opponents have shot over 48% from the field, 40% from three and each opponent has gotten to the foul line more than them and have been making them pay.

 

It’s like watching Lemoyne College instead of Syracuse basketball.

 

Rick Jackson is getting no help from anyone on the inside (Fab Melo has been atrocious in his freshman year) and Scoop Jardine’s shot selection has been terrible as he’s been chucking up ill-advised three’s and had found himself sitting next to coach Boeheim on more than one occasion in the last two weeks.

 

The bench hasn’t been much better either. Dion Waiters’ isn’t helping the team offensively and the same can be said for C.J. Fair. Boeheim has resorted to playing the seldom used Mookie Jones, which hasn’t done much either.

After their fourth straight loss on Saturday, the Orange are left with more questions and fewer answers.

Today I woke up and saw that the Orange were playing and instead of getting ready for the game I sat in my house and followed on line. By halftime I was happy I did. Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom destroyed the 2-3 zone by cutting into the lane time and time again and then burned us from the outside. There was no answer for those guys. Even though our shot was falling for the first time during the 4 game drought, the defense just couldn’t get stops.

 

This was against Marquette! This team has killed themselves with their late game meltdowns (ahem, Louisville). They aren’t deep, cant shoot the ball well and are horrible in rebounding. We should’ve taken them to the woodshed especially after the Seton Hall debacle, which most was a horror show in itself.

 

Where’s the pride? Where’s the passion? Where’s the top ten team in the nation that I thought was good enough to win the Big East and get to the Final Four? Scoop, Brandon… anyone wake the hell up! Your season is currently getting flushed down the toilet!

 

I thought that Marquette and Seton Hall were teams that the Orange would beat up and could to them getting back on track (I’m not calling them pushovers but two teams at a combined 20-20 entering the week against the number 10 team in the nation? come on!). Instead of getting their act together The Orange take the losing streak to Storrs and face #5 UCONN, then after South Florida (not a gimme after this stretch) they face Georgetown at home, then Louisville on the road then West Virginia at home. Not to mention two road games against G’Town and Nova after all of that. SHOOT ME, PLEASE!!!

 

This current team can’t survive that stretch. Kemba Walker, Peyton Siva and Malik Wayans can kill that 2-3 with their speed and ball handling and Austin Freeman and Casey Mitchell can shoot them out of it. The Orange aren’t deep enough or skilled enough to handle this stretch. As a result, unless Kris Joseph goes all Carmelo Anthony on the Big East, the Orange are looking at dropping to a 8 or 9 seed in the NCAA tournament and becoming second round knockouts. It’s not impossible for the Orange to fix their problems on defense yet I don’t see it happening due to their lack of talent and lack of discipline on the offensive end.

 

Last year’s team could shoot them out of a problem, this year’s cant. Last year Jackson and Arinze Onuaku could beat down an opponent on the inside. This year Jackson is helpless.  Last year the Orange were serious national title contenders, this year I don’t think they could beat Utah State or Maine in a one and done scenario.

 

Right now I don’t plan on watching much more Syracuse basketball. The next month is going to be ugly and rather than view it in horror I’d rather focus on hockey and hope Rakeem Christmas and Michael Carter-Williams get to campus fast.

 

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The Debate: Jimmer Fredette or Kemba Walker

Jimmer Fredette's may make him the leader for the national player of the year.

The player of the year race is a two horse race (sorry Nolan Smith and Jared Sullinger). Jimmer Fredette and Kemba Walker have turned basketball games into their own personal highlight reels ever since November.

 

Both Walker and Fredette have similar skill sets; both are shooting guards in point guard bodies, both can kill you from the outside or get their points in the paint and either way they can score in bunches.

 

They can take over games no matter the situation. Last night versus undefeated San Diego State Fredette took over in the second half by driving the lane and getting to the free throw line at will. Walker struggled mightily against Texas until overtime when he scored seven points including the game winning shot and wore down Texas defenders with his relentlessness.

 

Fredette has scored 40 in 3 of the last 4 games, Walker ad a five game stretch in the early portion of the season where he averaged 33 a game including 30 against Michigan State and Kentucky.

 

Without them their teams are probably still good but not top ten material. So the question is who would you choose, Fredette or Walker?

 

As I said earlier they are basically the same player as far as skills go. They both play without fear and want the ball in every key situation. Both are small, tough and from New York (yeah I threw that in there it’s a pride thing).  So is there anyway to separate them? Well of course there is. If there wasn’t I wouldn’t be writing this now would I?

 

SHOOTING

Across the board the edge goes to Fredette. He shoots 48% from the field including 42% from three and 90% at the line while Walker goes 44, 34 and 83 in the same order. When Fredette gets open you better pray he misses.

 

Advantage: Fredette

INTANGIBLES

Both guys are shoot first point guards that average fewer than 5 assists a game. Walker however has a better feel for the position, as is a better defender. Walker is a great rebounding guard at 5.3 per game, which is third on the team and he leads the Big East in steals (2.1). Plus Walker is always the man with the ball in is hands with the game on the line. Time after time we see Walker with the rock with time winding down and he comes through time after time. We haven’t seen that out of Fredette, which could be due to the Cougars schedule lacking the same competition as the Huskies.

 

Advantage: Walker

SUPPORTING CAST

Which cast could still be competitive without their star? Without Fredette’s 27.4 points per game the cougars still average 58 a game with the rest of their reserves.

 

Fredette gets a ton of help from guys like Jackson Emery, Brandon Davies and Noah Hartsock who all average close to or over 10 points a game and Emery is one of the nation’s leaders in steals (2.7). The team shoots over 46% from the field and pulls down 40 rebounds per game.

 

While the UCONN reserves don’t put up the same numbers they do run very deep on their bench. Alex Oriakhi is close to a double double a game at 11 & 9 plus 2 blocks a game. Plus Walker has guys like Shabazz Napier and Charles Okwandu who are great defenders and plenty of big bodies like Roscoe Smith and Jamal Coombs-McDaniel who help wear down opponents inside.

 

Without Walker UCONN is still a tournament team, without Fredette I think the Cougars don’t have the same punch, which makes Fredette more valuable.

 

Advantage: Fredette.

IMPACT

Both teams were unranked at the beginning of the year and while Fredette and the Cougars were picked as MWC favorites the Huskies were an afterthought after a disappointing season last year.

 

Walker’s opening month including that ridiculous Maui Invitational set the tone for the Huskies season and they haven’t looked back. With the drop-offs by Syracuse and Pitt lately you can make a case that UCONN is the best team in the nation’s best conference.

If there's one guy i want with the ball late in the game it's Kemba Walker.

 

That and his late game heroics give him the bigger impact.

 

CHANCES IN THE PROS

They both have a gift and a curse. They can score in bunches, but they’re too small to do that in the NBA.

 

They’re in the same position as Stephen Curry and that is that they are Shooting Guards who will play the point in the league but need more time to learn the position.

 

While Fredette can score I question his passing skills and can he makes the guys around him better. While he shoots very well his vision is suspect and he can’t really see the floor too well.

 

Walker has a better understanding of the position and I feel can defer to his teammates more such as the Marquette game where he played wingman to Jeremy Lamb putting him in a position to get his shots.

 

Advantage: Walker

So who would I go with? Statistically Fredette is having the better season and is a machine in the open floor, but I go with Walker for player of the year.

 

Walker is averages less points per game than Fredette but there’s one thing he has that I haven’t seen yet in Fredette, that’s more of a will to win and an unshakeable confidence.

 

We’ve seen Walker struggle and have bad shooting nights and yet he still pulls through and leads UCONN to wins, Fredette hasn’t had the same challenges as Walker, which he shouldn’t fell bad about but it should be noted.

 

If there’s one player I want with the ball in his hands late in the game its Kemba Walker. When the game is on the line no matter the situation he has delivered time and time again. In the NCAA tournament, with games on the line in do or die situations that’s what matters most.

 

Either way you can’t lose though. Both men are playing great and are a joy to watch. Whoever has the unfortunate task of guarding these men I feel bad for every night because you will end up on their highlight machine. Both teams are lucky to have them.

 


Wozniacki Shows How Tough She Is Down Under

Caroline Wozniacki is proving she's worthy of her number one ranking.

Say what you want about Caroline Wozniacki. That she shouldn’t be number one without a grand slam title, that she doesn’t hit the ball with as much force as she should or that she’s not ready to compete with the top tier of women’s tennis players. The fact of the matter is that Wozniacki is a tough competitor who is more than worthy of her number one ranking as evident by her tough three set win over Italy’s Francesca Schiavone on Tuesday 3-6, 6-3, 6-3.

 

Schiavone, coming off of a 4 hour and 40 minute fourth round win against Svetlana Kuznetsova looked a lot fresher than the 20 year-old Dane who had blown by her first four opponents in a combined 5 hours and 30 minutes. Schiavone broke the world’s number one player twice in the first set and held a 3-1 in the second set and was set to cruise to a semifinals match.

 

Then Wozniacki woke up.

 

Wozniacki followed up with three second set breaks during a stretch where she took the last five games in the set and tied the match at one set apiece. She began to force Schiavone into bad shots with her finesse play and great passing shots as Schiavone finished with 46 unforced errors, 31 more than Wozniacki.

 

In the third set her serve finally came to life after being lackluster in the first two sets. Even though she was broken once in the set Wozniacki looked a lot more comfortable as she won more of her points than in the first two sets and Schiavone looked as if the amount of tennis that she had played in the last two days had finally begun taken its toll on her.

 

In the end Wozniacki’s grit and toughness paid off as she finished of her Italian counterpart by breaking her three more times in the set and ended the two and a half hour match in her favor.

 

After the match she greeted the media in boxing gloves and with a giant inflatable kangaroo in reference to a little white lie she told about how a fight with a kangaroo caused a cut on her shin.

 

This fight gave her more than just a great story.

 

The toughness she showed in battling back from the slow start should quiet a lot of the critics who complain that she isn’t worthy of the world’s top ranking.

 

Without a healthy Serena or Venus Williams and with a few players that haven’t lived up to their billing (hi Dinara Safina and Ana Ivonovic) the women’s circuit has been as topsy-turvy as the BCS rankings. No woman has stepped up to grab the number one spot for themselves and Wozniacki just so happened to be latest player to be in the right place at the right time.

 

To most spectators she’s a boring player with a boring game and personality that doesn’t offer the spark that women’s tennis needs.

 

However, ever since she touched down in Australia Wozniacki has been on a mission on or off of the court to change that perception.

 

She’s been more playful and open to reporters as seen with her tall kangaroo tale and had been dominant in the earlier rounds by not dropping a set.

 

Yet this win in this situation shows her worth as number one more than anything because she fell behind early but showed the heart of a champion in clawing back and eventually regaining her dominance in third.

 

It’s a match that she can use to build confidence off of for the rest of this tournament and down the road as she continues to defend her ranking when the Williams come back healthy and as Maria Sharapova, Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters try to regain their championship form after long layoffs.

 

For now her main focus is on the semifinals and Li Na who is playing the best tennis of her career. After that a possible date in the finals against two-time slam champion Clijsters. None of this should faze Wozniacki who is starting to prove that she has the right to make a claim that she’s the best women’s tennis player right now and has the ability to go toe-to-toe with any competitor in women’s tennis.

 

She proved how much fight she has and she won’t back down from any competitor. That goes for tennis foes and kangaroos.


Same Old Steelers

We should be used to this by now.

To steal a phrase from Rex Ryan… same old Steelers.

 

While Ryan and his New York Jets have set their status quo at just making the AFC title game, the Pittsburgh Steelers status quo is winning it. Lets just say that they follow through on that more times than not.

 

The Steelers defeated the Jets 24-19 to move on to their 8th Super Bowl, tied for the most appearances ever with the Dallas Cowboys. They did so in the way that the Steelers always do things, run the football and hit you in the mouth.

 

They jumped on the Jets from the get go with a 15 play, 66 yard drive that was capped off by Rashard Mendenhall who was a horse in the early going. The nearly nine minute drive set the tone for the Steelers who dominated the first 30 minutes of play. Despite an early Ben Roethlisberger interception the offense was a well-oiled machine. Mendenhall led a rushing attack that went for 131 yards in the first half, 95 from him and had the Jets defense gasping for air.

 

Even without star rookie center Mike Pouncey the Steelers controlled the line of scrimmage and outgained the Jets 210-55.

 

Defensively… well… it was the Steelers come on what do you expect? They held the Jets to three 3 & out and shut down any glimmer of a run game that the Jets thought that they had. They shut down former pal Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards and created 6 points for themselves thanks to an Ike Taylor sack and forced fumble that William Gay scooped up and ran in to give them a 24-0 lead. Total dominance.

 

It was so dominant that the Steelers sort of checked out of the game in the third quarter and gave the Jets life. After a field goal late in the half the Jets showed signs by cutting the lead to 24-10 on a Sanchez to Holmes connection. It lasted until midway through the fourth quarter where the Steelers showed their muscle and held for a goal line stand to eventually end Jets chances.

 

The Steelers now head to Dallas with a chance to add to their record number of Super Bowls (6) and for a little bit more.

 

This is now the era of the black & gold (or black & yellow thanks to Wiz Khalifa). The Steelers have moved past the Patriots for the title of the Superior franchise in the new millennium and past the Cowboys as the NFL’s number one franchise.

Big Ben has a chance to add to his legacy.

 

A win in Dallas at Super Bowl 45 would further cement their legacy and move them to a higher plateau on the NFL legends tower leaving the 49ers and Cowboys in a cloud of dust.

 

For Ben Roethlisberger another ring would equal him with Tom Brady and would give him a claim to the decades best quarterback. Despite his high profile off the field issues Roethlisberger is one of the game’s elite quarterbacks and has a chance to equal Brady in championships before the age of 30. It would put him in the rare company as being one of a handful of QB’s with three titles (Montana, Bradshaw, Aikman and Brady).  Not bad for a guy who at the beginning of the year didn’t know when he was going to get on the field.

 

For coach Mike Tomlin it would put him in a class all by himself as well.

 

He would be the only coach to win two Super Bowls before the age of 40 and you could make a case that he could be the Steelers best coach in their history.

 

Tomlin is one of only 3 coaches whom the Steelers have hired in the last 41 years (Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher and Tomlin), yet his rate of success has been much higher than his two compatriots.

 

Tomlin won his first Super Bowl in his second year on the job; it took Noll 6 years and Cowher 14. Tomlin has six postseason wins through 3+ years when it took Cowher 11 years to reach that total and Noll 7 years. What Tomlin has done is take the Steelers brand of football and made it better. In the process he can put himself in a class all by his lonesome as the league’s number one coach elevating past Bill Belichick.

 

This is what the Steelers are and have been for the last 40 years. They are a model of consistency who just keep on winning no matter if Dennis Dixon is under center, an unproven Mike Wallace is their number one receiver or their head coach was non-existent when Noll lead the Steelers to their first playoff win in 1972.

 

They do it with little flash and lots of hard work, resembling the town in which they play. The end result is a franchise that teams like the Jets strive to be like at the end of the day, because while the Jets reached their level of normalcy, the Steelers are only at a level beneath what they’re used to.

 

Dallas, Texas in two weeks on the game’s biggest stage with the Vince Lombardi trophy hanging in the balance and the Steelers will be right there. Just like its always been, same old Steelers.

 


Mike Martz “Genius” Costs The Bears

The Bears offensive game plan doomed them.

I’ll never understand the silliness of NFL “gurus.” You know, the guys that are supposed to know more than you and I and anyone else involved in the game?

 

They’re the guys who get jobs based on their brilliance in their designed field of offense or defense because they seem to make the right calls with the right personnel and everything seems to work.

 

Think about all of the “geniuses” that have gotten head coaching jobs based on their repertoire; Bill Belichick, defensive guru, Brian Billick, QB guru, Mike Shanahan, QB genius and last but not least Mike Martz, offensive genius. Have these men had success? Absolutely. However, more times than not their success at the head coaching position is due to players on the other side of the ball and in recent years their genius has come into question, especially Martz.

 

After the Bears loss to the Packers on Sunday you may see why.

 

The Bears looked dreadful on offense through three quarters unable to move the ball past Green Bay’s defense. There was no flow, no ability to move the ball especially through the air. Martz had changed his philosophy on offense with this team because midway through the season it was apparent that their line couldn’t protect Jay Cutler and that they didn’t have the receivers to run his vertical attack.

 

(And all it took was a nine sack first-half against the New York Giants that concussed QB Jay Cutler and cost them a game to figure it out. Just saying.)

 

Martz stuck with the ground game and the short passing game because Matt Forte was his most reliable playmaker and it worked.

 

The Bears were a much different team relying on controlling the line of scrimmage and their defense to win games while limiting their mistakes.

 

This philosophy carried the Bears to a NFC North title and a number two seed in the playoffs and to the NFC title game. So with it working so well and the Bears winning ball games why did Martz go back to his old “Greatest show on Turf” days and go vertical again today against the Packers dominant pass rush? I’m sure the Bear faithful and Lovie Smith would like to know as well.

 

The run game disappeared as the Bears decided to test the Packers stellar secondary and it failed. The Bears were blanked through three quarters, had less than 150 yards of total offense and Forte had little impact on the ground. Sure you could blame some of their woes on the fact that Cutler was injured before the end of the first half and didn’t return, but before he left the Bears looked clueless on offense.

 

Speaking of the quarterback play give third-stringer Caleb Hanie credit for the way he played under duress and to Smith for putting him in their under the circumstances of the game (Cutler’s injury and Todd Collins looking like Phil Collins) and trusting him. Hanie showed great poise late in the game giving the Bears a shot to win in the end even though he finished with two picks.

 

Hanie’s play mixed with the fact that the Bears finally went back to the run game got them back into the game late and set up their final drive with under three minutes left.

Martz's ridiculous call late in the game doomed the Bears.

 

Hanie used Forte throughout his fourth quarter stint as his favorite weapon checking down three of four times for large gains including twice on this drive. Then on a third & three with close to a minute left the Bears called timeout to setup a play and the result left me wondering why in the world would that have been called in any situation anywhere.

 

They called an end around on third & 3 with one minute left deep in Green Bay territory… I’m not a Bears fan but I was mad as hell.

 

A reverse, with your season on the line and two downs left was about as idiotic a play as you can call. It was worse than the Forte halfback pass last week against Seattle. The play lost two yards and forced a bad fourth down throw from Hanie, which was then intercepted. Game over, have a good night.

 

After Chicago fought back from such a poor start and whose defense played so well and kept them in it with two picks of Aaron Rodgers, that was the sequence that ended their season. I would be ticked.

 

Martz’s genius and gimmick play calling cost the Bears a shot at playing in the Super Bowl. Not Jay Cutler, not their backup quarterback, not Aaron Rodgers, the brain child of the vertical passing game that took St. Louis to the top but has bottomed out since.

 

His game plan put them in a hole and his play calling killed them.

 

Don’t get me wrong, Green Bay won this game and deserved to play in the Super Bowl. They just got one big assist from one of those great NFL gurus.

 


Where Is Alex Ovechkin?

Have you seen Alex Ovechkin?

Have you noticed something different about the NHL this year?

 

Tampa Bay Lightning in first place in the Southeast? No. The Chicago Blackhawks struggles after winning the Stanley Cup? No.  The Dallas Stars regaining some of that late 90’s magic and riding it to the top of the Pacific division again? Nope.

 

Check your stat sheets. Look at the league leaders in goals and points… Crosby, check. Stamkos, check. Sedin… both of em… check and check. Alex Ovechkin, looking, looking… wait, where in the hell is Alex Ovechkin? I’ve been wondering the same thing.

 

To say Ovechkin is having an off-season is like saying the Cleveland Cavaliers miss LeBron James.  Before Saturday night’s tilt in Toronto Ovechkin was 11th in the league in points with 48 and had16 goals, which doesn’t even put him in the top 30 in the league. Guys like Mikhail Grabovski, James Neal, Milan Lucic and Logan Couture have more goals than Ovechkin. Hell the Rangers Brian Boyle and Brandon Dubinsky have set career highs in scoring and we’re ahead of the two-time MVP, goal scoring and points champion.

 

So the question I ask is, what the hell Ovie?

 

As it stands right now Ovechkin is on pace for his worst offensive output in his career. He’s on pace for 80 points and 27 goals, that’s 12 less points than his career low of 92 in his second season in the league and 19 less goals than his tally in the same season, he also has only 2 power play goals and has only scored on 7.5% of his shots. For most people that’s a great season and great averages over a long period of time, but this is Alex Ovechkin. We’re used to seeing him score in buckets and without any problem.

 

So what do we suspect? Well Ovie is still among the league leaders in shots and hits so his aggressiveness is still alive and well. The Capitals have won all thirteen of his multi-point games this year and he leads the team in scoring as well.

 

Maybe the main change in Ovechkin’s productivity is the new team philosophy. You see coach Bruce Boudreau has changed the Caps from a offensive juggernaut and a team predicated on crashing the net to a defensive minded team that plays more physical hockey and takes less chances.

 

The Capitals have gone from a top five scoring team to 14th in the league. Last year at this same time the Capitals scored 183 goals, this year 145. Center Nicklas Backstrom has felt the effects of the new system by  laboring through a 12 game pointless streak, the longest of his career. Plus the teams placement in the standings has also suffered as at this time last year the Caps were 17 points clear of their nearest competitor in the Southeast division. This year, they’re trailing the division leading Lightning by three points and four points ahead of third place Atlanta.

 

You’re probably wondering why would Boudreau mess with a good thing? Well getting dumped in the early rounds of the playoffs three years in a row might have something to do with it.

 

The Capitals had plenty of regular season success leading the league in scoring and getting by with lackluster goaltending in the last three years.

Maybe Ovie's hat trick is a sign of things to come.

Unfortunately once they hit the playoffs they were 1-3 in playoff series, which could have easily been 0-3 if not for a Rangers collapse two years ago (yeah I really did bring that up. I’m still ticked off about It.). In each of those series they were out muscled by the opposition and struggled to score goals against better defenses than theirs while the opposition preyed on Mike Green and company.

 

So Boudreau decided to switch things up. While the offense has suffered the results have to be more than pleasing to him on defense. The Caps are 8th in goals allowed this season and have a great goaltending situation as Semyon Varlamov and Michael Neuvirth have looked very impressive in net.

 

With all of that being said you still have to outscore the opposition to win games and you need your best players to provide a boost. That’s where Ovechkin needs to step up his productivity.

 

Ovechkin can play in Boudreau’s defensive system and still be the offensive juggernaut that he’s been in his career thus far. He has to find a way to put some more pucks in the back of the net and stay aggressive. With the second half of the season looming he’ll have his chances.

 

The Caps play a few teams that range from the middle of the pack to poor in the goals allowed department. Ovechkin should raise his goal total against teams like Atlanta, Tampa Bay, San Jose and Buffalo and should approach the mid 30’s  in goals and in the 90’s in points.

 

Maybe the Ovechkin scoring revival has already started. Tonight in Toronto “The Great 8” scored  a hat trick in a 4-1 rout of the Leafs in a game that reminded Caps fans of last year’s team. It was his first hat trick of the season, if this is the beginning of a good run for him offensively then it might not be his last. I’m sure Boudreau wouldn’t mind that.

 


Are The Yankees The Next Empire To Fall

Was the Soriano deal a sign of a possible downturn for the New York Yankees?

Did you notice a trend that has happened in sports in the last ten years?

The death of the traditional power.

Think about this for a second; how many traditional sports powers took hits to their pride and luster in the last 10-15 years?

In college football Notre Dame still thinks that they will wake up the echoes in a matter if time and Michigan still considers itself to be the gold standard even when no when, I mean no one, wanted its head coaching job after the ousting of Rich Rod. Throw in Miami and Florida State and four of the games premier programs are in the middle of the pack as far as relevance .

In college basketball its Kentucky who still prides itself on being an elite program but hasn’t made a final four since Tubby Smith’s first year. Arizona, though they have an excuse, and recently UCLA, which is stunning especially after the run they had at the beginning of Ben Howland’s regime, have all fallen to the middle of the pack in recent years.

In hockey its been the Maple Leafs and Canadiens. Did you know once upon a time in the 90’s that the Habs had the same number of championships (24) as the Yankees? Ever since their last cup in 1993 the franchise has been plagued by unfortunate injuries (the Saku Koivu cancer cancer scare), lackluster performances (have they had a player in the top 20 in scoring in the last 20 years?), and scandal (hi Kostitsyn twins). Oh yeah don’t forget the whole Patrick Roy asking out of Montreal fiasco that has probably led to a curse on the team. Not that we’re counting or anything.

Dont get me started on the Maple Leafs. They havent won a title in over 40 years and in the last 10 they’ve resembled the Toronto Raptors more than the franchise that has the second most cups (13) to the Habs.

(Side note: Shouldn’t Gary Bettman step in and help fix this team. The NHL needs to Leafs to be good just like the NBA needs the Lakers, or baseball needs the Dodgers to be important. This is one of the leagues flagship franchises in the country’s capital. The hockey hall of fame is there for goodness sakes. The fact that the Leafs haven’t made the playoffs in seven years and haven’t been relevant since their last division title in 2000 is a little more concerning than the fledgling Phoenix Coyotes, who should still be in Winnipeg. Yep, Bettman is back on my bad side.)

There haven't been many good times in Toronto for awhile.

In the NFL its been the Cowboys, Redskins and Raiders. All of these franchises have slid to mediocrity due in part to their ridiculous owners and their bad habits of spending money while letting the football side of things slip through their grasp.

The Redskins haven’t won a division title since their Super Bowl run in 1991 and have been a running joke since Daniel Snyder took over. They’ve made the playoffs three times with only one win to show for it. However, what’s defined them is their penchant for over paying players well past their prime. Bruce smith, Deion Sanders, Mark Brunell, Jason Taylor, and that’s for starters. Throw in their horrible coaching history lately (hi Jim Zorn, and Steve Spurring) and you wonder why fans want Dan Snyder’s head on a stake a la MacBETH.

For the Cowboys its a combination of Jerry Jones overbearing style and the lack of productivity on the field that has hindered them.

In the 90’s Dallas owned football with three titles and a high-powered offense anchored by three hall-of-farmers. Then after their last Super Bowl win over Pittsburgh in Super Bowl 30, the team hasn’t seen a playoff victory.

They’be been plagued by bad QB play, poor decision making by Jones, which includes firing Bill Parcells and trading two number one picks for Roy Williams (I’m sure the Lions still can’t believe that one) and not getting much from heralded draft picks (Mike Jenkins that’s you). Be honest, what do you know about the Cowboys now, a franchise with a rich history from Roger Staubach to Troy Amman, or their ridiculously expensive stadium with a 80 yard flatscreen in the middle of it?

As far as the Raiders go… let’s put it like this; they haven’t been over .500 since getting smoked by the Bucs in Super Bowl 37 over 8 years ago. If you want to know why then take a look at Hue Jackson’s press conference to introduce him as the team’s new coach this past week. Owner Al Davis, looking as decrepit as ever, sat at the table and ranted about Tom Cable’s personal life, comparisons of Jason Campbell to Cam Newton, and seemed more out of his mind than normal.

This is the guy who blew up Lane Kiffin at a press conference years ago, fined Cable for not executing a game plan he wrote out, drafted JaMarcus Russell, and has made so many horrible personnel decisions that no coach or player should come near Oakland. Poor Hue Jackson, I don’t think he knows what he’s getting into.

Before the Boston Celtics climbed back into contention in the NBA they had grown into a punch line. Gone were the days of Larry Bird and Kevin McHale and in were Dino Radja and Antoine Walker.

Their most memorable moment during that time came during a Rick Pitino news conference after another loss where he told the media and essentially the fans to get over themselves and that “Larry Bird ain’t walking through that door.” Right he was, though fans would’ve rather had a near 50 Bird than Ron Mercer.

So in essence every sport has seen its top franchise go through the motions and fall from grace in a haze of greed, nativity, or ignorance. Well everyone except baseball.

In the last 15 years the top tier teams in the sport have stayed on top without much static.

Sure past champions like Kansas City, Toronto and Oakland have seen their share of bad times, but their history is nothing like the Yankees, Red Sox or Dodgers.

(You’re probably wondering what about the Cubs? Flagship franchise? Yes. However, they haven’t won a damn thing in 109 years so they don’t count. Sorry Cubs fans.)

These were the bad times in Boston.

Baseball has largely protected its top franchises by not introducing a salary cap, which allows the Braves, Phillies and Angels to out spend every other team in the league and stay where they are.Sure these teams haven’t made the playoffs every year, but they always bounce back from lackluster seasons.

The Red Sox will be favorites this year after finishing third in the AL East last year in part to overspending for Carl Crawford and giving away the farm for Adrian Gonzalez.

It’s hard for any of these teams fall off of their perch and fall victim to the same plague that’s infiltrated each league over the past 15 years. Or is it?

Last week the New York Yankees announced the signing of former Tampa Bay Rays closer Rafael Soriano to be the 8th inning setup man for closer Mariano Rivera and eventually replace him.

No big deal, just the Yankees spending their endless funds to fix a problem like not having an eighth inning stopper.

However, GM Brian Cashman didn’t want to spend the money on Soriano and wanted to keep either Joba Chamberlain in the setup role or David Robertson. Owner Hal Steinbrenner overruled Cashman and handled the negotiations himself while Cashman sat in the corner and pouted.

Both sides say everything is fine but I’m not buying it.

Cashman is the game’s best GM and built a dynasty in the 90’s while the young Steinbrenners sat back and watched from The Boss’s luxury box. Cashman knows what he’s doing and what to do to keep the Yankees successful.

What Steinbrenner did was undermine Cashman and used his power to make a decision that may or may not work and also costs the Yankees a first round draft pick. That’s the kind of decision you would see Al Davis make. Uh oh.

Ok so that’s one little thing so what? Well, look at the Yankees future for a second if you will; the Yankees have been able to stay competitive after their dynasty years in the late 90’s and 2000 thanks to their huge budget and the ability to get whoever they want for any price. While they haven’t been winning championships at the rate that they would like, the Yankees are still the class of the AL East and remain the team to beat.

However, look at the current contract situations that the Yankees have:

Mark Teixiera- 8 years/180 million dollars, signed til he’s 37
A.J. Burnett – 5/82.5, signed til he’s 39
C.C. Sabathia- 7/161, signed til he’s 37
Alex Rodriguez- 10/275, signed til he’s 43
Derek Jeter- 3/51, signed til he’s 40
Jorge Posada- 4/52, signed til he’s 41
Mariano Rivera- 2/30, signed til he’s 43

In other words half of the Yankees main players on their roster are all signed well into their late 30’s or 40’s and are owed a boat load of money.

Guys like Rodriguez, Jeter and Posada are already on the downside of their careers and aren’t worth the money.

Not to mention there is the possiblility at other long term deals for Robinson Cano and Phil Hughes looming, which will add more money to their books.

The Yankees are used to shelling out lots of cash but right now there’s too much tied up in players that won’t help them contend in three years and could lead to the Yankees becoming baseball’s Cowboys.

As great as they've been, the deals given to A-Rod and Jeter could lead to the Yankees downfall.

There is no balance with them right now. There’s lots of old guys and not enough youth. Sound like Dan Snyder to you?

Another problem are the deals that the Yankees have made, which cost them two viable parts that they could use right now and both could’ve added some much needed youth to their everyday roster.

Last year they traded Austin Jackson and Ian Kennedy for Curtis Granderson essentially in a three team deal. Jackson and Granderson play the same position and Jackson hit for a higher average, stole more bases and had a higher in-base percentage than Granderson. Not to mention he’s five years younger and the perfect leadoff hitter that the Yankees so desperately need.
Kennedy went 9-10 last year for the Diamondbacks with a 3.80 ERA. While his numbers don’t seem too impressive Kennedy got stronger and stronger towards the end of the year. He’s currently penciled in as their third starter while the Yankees have no viable options in their rotation past Sabathia, Hughes, and Burnett. I’ve seen the Leafs give up on a few young guys in the past few years haven’t you?

Lastly the Yankee luster isn’t what it used to be. Guys now a days grow up hating the Yankees instead of idolizing them. No one fawns over Jeter the way they did Mickey Mantle, there’s no appreciation for Posada like there was for Yogi Berry. In the 60’s if a guy like Zach Greinke was on the market he would’ve been a pinstripe in a heartbeat, same for Cliff Lee. Now, they’d rather be a Brewer or a Phillie.

Still, the Yankees can out bid whoever they want to get their man. However, they also set the bar for other teams with just as deep of pockets to follow. How do you think the Sox got Carl Crawford or the Nats (yes, the Nats) got Jayson Werth? It’s the Yankee model; overpay for them and dare someone to leap up and get them.

So now its no longer about the pinstripes and the aura of the stadium and the pressure of the media. If you were Werth wouldn’t you rather take 126 million to play in a small market and not have the pressure of facing 1000 media faces a week wondering what’s wrong with you?

Maybe I’m going crazy, or maybe I see the writings on the wall. I know the Yankees have had to good a run of gluttony and capitalist pleasure to not have it come to a screeching hault. We’ve toed the line of smart and senseless way too long to not have it blow up in our face and I feel were getting to that point.

If the Yankees don’t solve their spending problems and incorporate some youth and practice patience then they may resemble the Celtics of the late 90’s or the Raiders of right now. They run the risk of losing their luster like Notre Dame and could become a legendary afterthought like the Habs.

Call me crazy, but Soriano deal might be the first in a long line of problems for top to bottom from the Yankees. I might be wrong, but I’ve seen it all before.