Written By: Kenny Mauss

The Syracuse Orangemen were not ranked when this season began. Outside of campus (and yours truly) nobody expected the type of season that has occurred thus far in upstate New York. They have climbed to #2 in the most recent AP Poll, which is there highest ranking since winning the National Title in 2003 led by Carmelo Anthony and Gerry McNamara. It has been a very exciting season thus far for the Orangemen, starting with there back to back victories over  then #13 ranked California and #6 ranked North Carolina in the Garden early in the season. They still haven’t cooled off. They currently sit at 23-1 with a 10-1 record inside of the Big East. Jim Boeheim’s squad has definitely solidified themselves as not just Big East contenders, but are playing National Championship quality basketball, and have continued to play at this level for the entire season…

Led by Wesley Johnson, the transfer from Iowa State (1 of 8 transfers over the entire 32 years that Jim Boeheim has been head coach) along with sharp shooter Andy Rautins the Orange have been able to score lots of points against all kinds of teams this season. Freshman Scoop Jardine has the Orange pushing the ball upcourt throughout the game allowing for lots of transition opportunities. While the Orange have been scoring nearly at will against the best conference in men’s basketball, perhaps more impressive has been their ability to play defense this season. Jim Boeheim is known for his 2-3 zone he employs at the Carrier Dome and how tenacious it can be at times. This season though, the Orange have played more man defense than usual, because of their speed and length. Because of their past, when teams game plan for Syracuse, they prepare their offense to play against a zone defense. This year though, the ability to play man defense, even if only several possessions a game, has caught the opposition by surprise. The ability to play man defense is the x factor for Syracuse this season. If they are able to continue stellar defense while scoring at will, they will win the Big East this year, and be destined for a  Final Four appearance.

With only 7 games remaining in the Big East regular season for the Orange, plus the Big East tournament, The Orange seem to be on there way to a #1 seed this coming March. While it may not have been expected when the season began several months ago, expectations are now as high as the Carrier Dome and it is a good time to be a Syracuse basketball fan. There hasn’t been this much excitement since Carmelo and Gerry were in the Orange.

Written By: Matt Vereb

Imagine you are Donnie Walsh, President of the New York Knicks. Your team plays in the most prestigious arena in the world. Ever since Patrick Ewing retired, your team has been awful. However, the best basketball player on the planet will be available via free agency during the Summer. This player also loves New York, regularly attends Yankee games, and has sneaker designed with Yankee pinstripes. If you haven’t figured it out our mystery athlete yet, look no further than 6’9 small forward, LeBron James. If I’m Walsh, I’m doing everything in my power to get James to sign on.

Let’s rewind to the 2009 NBA draft. The Knicks selected University of Arizona Junior Power Forward, Jordan Hill with the 8th Overall Draft pick. This move signified that the team was ready to move on from David Lee. Lee’s contract expires after the season. Hill was one of the top power forward prospects. He has tremendous upside, but his 2010 production has been minimal. Hill is only averaging 4.3 points, 2.6 rebs, and 10 minutes per game. Remember, the 2009 draft is one of the key drawing points in attracting LeBron James. Hill has not made an immediate impact on Knicks. LeBron wants a situation where he can win now, not waiting for Hill to mature.

Let’s move our focus towards, Lottomatica Roma PG Brandon Jennings. Jennings was a herald high school basketball product that had many scholarship articles. Jennings originally committed to USC, de-committed from Arizona, and then chose to play basketball overseas in Italy. Roma guaranteed Jennings a $1.65 million contract and Under Armour signed Jennings to a $2 million sponsorship deal. Jennings was able to sign endorsements while his fellow draft mate spent a year in college. In Italy, Jennings averaged 5.5 points with 2.2 assists per contest. Italy plays a more conservative type of game which does not garner many shots per player. Playing in Italy was just a means to an end for Jennings.

Jennings was drafted 10th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks and has shined ever since. Jennings is averaging 17.2 points per game with 6.2 assists. Jennings had a 55 point scoring barrage November 14th against Golden State. Jennings has become a front runner for Rookie of the Year.

Let’s go back to the draft. If the Knicks draft Jennings, they profile his skills for a season in hopes of luring James. Jennings has the potential to be a special player. Jordan Hill? We don’t know yet, but LeBron will make a free agent impact only once in his career. The time is now. Imagine James and Jennings running up and down the courts at Madison Square Garden for the next 10 years. NBA championship aspirations floating in Knicks fans heads. It’s nice to dream right?

Not to burst the bubble of any Johnny Damon fans, but Damon wasn’t one of the two signees. Today, the Yankees inked 35-year old free agent Randy Winn to a 1yr/1.1 mil dollar contract. Winn can earn up to 900k in incentives based on plate appearances and offensive bonuses. The switch-hitting Winn hit .262 last year for the San Francisco Giants. More troubling, Winn hit .158 in 120 at bats against left handed pitching last year. This stat is a little alarming, given incumbent Left Field starter Brett Gardner has a career .241 clip against lefties. Winn figures to play the majority of his innings in left field, but has the ability to play all three outfield positions. Winn rates as a plus defender at the corner outfield positions…

The Yankees also signed Marcus Thames to a non-guranteed roster invite. Last season, the 33-year old Thames hit .252 with 13 HRs in 294 plate appearances for the Tigers. The right handed Thames provides a cheap, outfield power option for the Yankees if he makes the team out of Spring Training. If signed, Thames will make 900k.

After the New York Yankees won their 27th World Championship in November, much uncertainty loomed among soon to be Yankee free agents. The Yankees free agent class included notable pitcher, Andy Pettitte, and left handed sluggers, Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon. Yankees GM, Brian Cashman announced that the team would focus primarily on pitching before addressing the offense. Soon there after, The Yankees re-signed Andy Pettitte to a one year contract. So what would happen with Matsui and Damon? Matsui(37) and Damon(36) have each been essential offensive pieces for the Yankees the past few season. Knowing that the free-agent market wasn’t great this off season, Matsui quickly signed a 1 year, 6.5 million dollar contracted with the Los Angeles Angels. After the Matsui departure, The Yankees made a series of moves including trades for 28 year old, Detroit Tigers Center Fielder, Curtis Granderson and 33 year old, Atlanta Braves Starting Pitcher, Javier Vazquez. To fill the Matsui vacancy at Designated Hitter, the Yankees signed Washington Nationals First Baseman, Nick Johnson to a 1 year, 5.5 million dollar contract…

So where does Johnny Damon fit into this equation? After the World Series ended, ‘super agent’ Scott Boras claimed that the Yankees should re-up Damon’s past contract(4 years, 52 million) at the same market price. Even though Damon was coming off a career year of 24 HRs, 82 RBIs, and 107 runs, many sources around baseball believed his inflated numbers were a product of Yankee Stadium’s friendly dimensions. Damon was also aided by hitting in between MVP candidates, Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira.  Damon is also notorious for a poor outfield throwing arm and disastrous UZR(Universal Zone Rating) of -15.2 Runs allowed.

While there has been much speculation between the Damon party and the Yankees, financial differences have caused a bitter divorce. While negotiating with Nick Johnson, Johnny Damon came to the club asking for a shorter deal (2 years) but at the same market level(26 million). The Yankees countered by offering Damon 2 years, 14 million. Damon balked at the offer and asked for 2 years, 20 million. The Yankees said no and signed On-Base specialist and Ex-Yankee farm hand, Nick Johnson. Johnson was third in the National League last season with a .426 On-base percentage. Slotting Johnson in Damon’s #2 should provide copious amounts of RBI opportunities for Teixeira and Rodriguez.

With Johnson occupying Matsui’s vacant DH slot, LF remained opened. After Melky Cabrera was traded to the Braves in exchange for Javier Vazquez, Brett Gardner and Rule 5 draft pick, Jamie Hoffman were the only two players on the Yankees active roster who could play left field. Damon and Scott Boras apparently made attempts to contact the Yankees about a contract. GM Brian Cashman told both Damon and Boras that he was working under a hard budget and only had $2 million left for free agents. At this point, the negotiations between Damon and the Yankees began extremely foggy. The Yankees apparently offered Damon a 1 year contract worth $6 million, but never received an answer. GM Brian Cashman was prepared to ask for a budget extension from the Steinbrenner family in order to ink Damon. Cashman never got to that point. The Yankees signed 36 year old free agent outfielder, Randy Winn to a $2 million deal for this season. Winn gives the Yankees good versatility at all outfield positions at a low cost. Brett Gardner will assume the LF duties heading into Spring Training.

I can say with 99% certainty that Johnny Damon’s tenure with the Yankees is over. Damon priced himself out of the Yankees budget. With many teams cutting salary and the over abundance of outfielders this off season, older players won’t be receiving pay increases. Looking back two months ago, making $7 million and hitting in between Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira isn’t so bad for a 36 year old outfielder with a horrible arm and limited remaining years. With only one week to go before Spring Training, Damon is team-less. Maybe he can find a nice place in Detroit.

Written By: Kenny Mauss

The New York Mets finished the 2009 season with a record of 70-92. Good enough for 4th place in the extremely competitive National League East. While a season of that magnitude may be tolerated in baseball cities such as Kansas City, Pittsburgh, and Washington, it doesn’t fly in The Big Apple. Injuries without a doubt played a large role in the ineptitude of the Mets that began in May and lasted throughout the season, but injuries are a part of the game and a Major League team is expected to withstand them and have some resolve. The much bigger problem for the team from Queens was their lack of starting pitching….

Johan Santana, Mike Pelfrey, and John Maine combined for a paltry 20 wins last year. While it may not be fair to compare the Mets to the Yankees, it is what is and cross-town rival, the Yankees top 3 pitchers (C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Andy Petitte) combined for 46 wins. This stat alone had Mets fans across New York clamoring for pitching this offseason. I’m sure the thought of Pat Mitsch, Nelson Figueroa, Oliver Perez (who is entering the 2nd season of a 3 year-$36 million deal), and Tim Redding bringing up the rear of the rotation had something to do with that as well. When push came to shove though and the best free agent pitcher John Lackey was available, had the Mets thrown enough money his way, the Mets balked. While I happen to agree with this decision (he’s not worth 5 years and $82.5 million) many fans did not agree. They didn’t just pass on Lackey though. Jason Marquis signed with Washington, Joel Pineiro signed with the Angels, Aroldis Chapman, the Cuban who defected signed with Cincinnati, and left-handed Randy Wolf signed with Milwaukee. While none of these 3 have the appeal John Lackey has, it’s definitely an upgrade over the Mitsch, Figueroa, Niese, Perez bottom of the rotation.

The 2010 starting rotation is going to look much like the 2009 one did. A healthy Johan Santana will be the Ace of the staff and will no doubt have the Mets in position to win every game he starts (assuming the Mets can score 3 or 4 runs per game this season). Behind Johan is Mike Pelfrey, John Maine, Oliver Perez, and most likely Jon Niese. At first glance, this may seem as though it is a nightmare, but do not forget, with the exception of Niese, they have all put together at least one solid season. Both John Maine and Oliver Perez had 15 win seasons in 2007, and in 2008 Mike Pelfrey had a 13 win season with a 3.72 ERA. Assuming Johan returns to his status of a premiere pitcher in baseball the breakdown on wins could realistically look as follows:

Johan Santana: 18 Wins

Mike Pelfrey: 13 Wins

John Maine: 14 wins

Oliver Perez: 12 Wins

Jon Niese: 8 Wins

That would mean 65 wins from the starting rotation alone. If the bullpen is able to win approximately 20 games, that would be 85 wins. I know 85 wins probably won’t win the division, but it would absolutely mean they are in contention come September and with pitcher and catchers reporting soon, the idea of meaningful baseball in September for the team in Queens, lets just say that would be a major upgrade over the performance of last year.

Written By: Alex Lowenthal

Rick Dipietro is the face of the New York Islander franchise.  I guess that’s expected when you sign the 2nd longest contract in North American sports history since Magic Johnson signed a 25 year deal in 1981 for the Las Angeles Lakers.

However, due to injury, he played a whopping 5 games last year, and just returned this year on January 8th, making 8 starts since this return.  In the last 2 seasons, Dipietro is 3-8 in 13 starts.  Normally I would be thrilled for him to return and help the lowly Islanders who haven’t made the playoffs since the 2006-2007 season.  But this year is different…..

The Islanders are full of new, young faces, and have a ton of talent.  They have shown team chemistry, the ability to win against good teams, and there has been a new buzz in the Nassau Coliseum that hasn’t been present in years.  Until Dipietro’s return, they were doing well, with the playoffs looking more than feasible.  However, since his return, things have changed.

On January 7th, 2010, the Islanders were 1 point behind Montreal for the final playoff spot, and they were playing well, going 6-4-1 in their previous 11 games.  This was largely aided by great goaltending….from DWAYNE ROLOSON.  40 year old Roloson was at the top of his game at the time.  He was 5-0-1 leading up to Dipietro’s return.  In his last 12 starts, Roloson has only allowed 29 goals on 371 shots, which is good for 2.41gaa, and a .92SV%.  And let it be known that 10 of the 29 goals allowed were when the Islanders were short handed.

Dipietro then returned.  His first game was in Dallas, and he looked sloppy in a 4-3 loss against the Stars.  Since his return, he has started 8 times, and the team is 2-6, as he is 2-5 in those games.  He was pulled early after allowing three goals against Washington on January 26 in a 7-2 loss, and he has lost his last 5 starts.  Its obvious that Dipietro is not playing his best hockey, allowing 20 goals in 201 shots faced, which is good for a weak .900SV%.  The Islanders are 5-9 since their star goaltender has returned, and now find themselves 5 points out of that coveted 8th spot, with only 24 games remaining.  It seems like their playoff hopes are slipping as quickly as Dipietro’s fan base.

I’m in no position to make managerial decisions for a professional sports franchise, and yes there have been other injuries and factors during this awful stretch from the Islanders lately.  I also believe that Dipietro is one of hockey’s premiers goaltenders.  However, i’m not a big fan of the decision of trying to get Dipietro right back into the thick of things when the team has (or had) a legitimate shot of making the playoffs behind veteran goaltender Dwayne Roloson.  Call me crazy, but when you have something that’s working and you’re playing better then you have in years, why change it?

Written By: Matt Vereb

NFL’s Golden Boy Quarterback, Peyton Manning came up short in yesterday’s Super Bowl XLIV. With his team trailing 24-17 with four minutes to go in the game, Manning and the Colts got the ball. Like the Colts had done all season, most believed the Colts would orchestrate a drive to tie the game. However, Manning was intercepted for a 74 yard touchdown by Terry Porter, closing the door on the Colts season.

If you watch the interception, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xOjBcAcKyuA, some will argue that Wayne undercut the route. Others will argue that Manning made a bad throw. Regardless of perception, the Colts season was essentially over…..

In my opinion, Peyton Manning made a horrible throw. Manning was so accurate all game. Manning’s 3rd quarter pass to Dallas Clark was perfect placement. Manning’s 4th quarter intercepted pass to Reggie Wayne was horribly inaccurate.

Manning cannot take all of the blame. After the Saints interception TD, down 31-17, Manning led the Colts down the field. Manning threw a perfect pass to Reggie Wayne on 4th & Goal that went through Wayne’s hands, solidfying the Saints victory. If Wayne makes that catch, the Colts must recover the onside kick and score again in 1:15. The odds to execute this plan seemed miniscule, but Wayne did not come through.

While Manning did throw the game altering interception, Peyton Manning did not choke. His receivers dropped a lot of passes in the game. The Colts would never be in this situation without Manning. There is one reason why the Colts had the most wins in the last decade. His name goes without saying.

Many will point to Manning’s 9-9 career playoff record is a sign of ineptness. Manning’s four MVP awards and superior intangibles tell the whole story. Peyton Manning will go down as the best quarterback of this generation.

Written By: Eric Conway

As of right now the Islanders sit in 13th place in the Eastern Conference and just 5 points back of the 8th and final playoff spot.  If they can string together a solid winning streak they can be back in the hunt for the playoffs.  So how can they put together this winning streak?  The answer is simple.  They desperately need John Tavares to bust out of his slump and start putting pucks in the net like we all know he can…….

Tavares has not recorded a goal in the past 10 games.  His last goal was registered January 16th against the Buffalo Sabres and prior to that goal he hadn’t sniped a goal in 9 games.  I really do not know how he remains second on the team in goals after 2 scoring slumps of that magnitude.

The Islanders are only 8-6 in games where Tavares tallies at least one goal.  He only has 2 game winners and I think it is about time the young phenom takes it upon himself to start burying opponents and inject some life into the falling Islanders in a time when they need it most.  The Islanders are victims in their last 7 games and right now is the time where John Tavares can step up and make a major impact and put this team into the playoffs.

As an Islander fan I watch almost every game and I believe Tavares has the ability to put the team on his back and carry them into the playoffs.  Do I think the Islanders will make much noise in the playoffs?  Probably not, especially if they have to play the Capitals who are on an absolute tear as of late, or the Devils with newly acquired superstar Ilya Kovalchuk.  The fact of the matter is this is not the Islanders year, but I think many critics have taken notice of the young nucleus of players the Islanders now boast.  They are a young, fast, exciting team that will be a Cup contender in the very near future.

The Islanders next game is Tuesday versus the Nashville Predators at home.  I will certainly be tuning in, in hopes that the number one overall pick from last year’s NHL Draft takes matters into his own hands and starts burying his opportunites as he did in his days of junior hockey in the Ontario Hockey League, where he is the league’s all-time leading goal scorer.

Terry Porter’s 74 yard TD interception sealed the New Orleans Saints first ever Super Bowl Championship. Porter’s TD put the Saints up 31-17 with only 3:12 left in the game. The Colts drove down the field with 2 minutes, only to come up short on Peyton Manning pass to Reggie Wayne…

The Colts started the game quickly with a field goal by Matt Stover and Pierre Garcon TD reception. The Saints responded with 2 FGs before halftime as the Colts took a 10-6 into the locker room. The Colts would receive the ball in the 2nd half….or so we thought.

The Saints opened the 2nd half with a controversial on-sides kick, one that they recovered. The Saints proceeded to take the ball down the field and scored on a Drew Brees TD pass to Pierre Thomas. This score put the Saints up 13-10. The Colts immediately responded with a 4 yard Joseph Addai TD run. The Saints added a late FG to make the score 17-16 Colts heading into the 4th quarter.

The Saints stopped the Colts on their opening drive and the Saints responded with a drive that resulted in a 2 yard TD pass from Brees to Shockey, putting the Saints up 24-17.

Porter defined his career on the next drive by intercepting Manning for 74 yards and a TD, securing New Orleans first ever Super Bowl title.

Drew Brees was named Super Bowl MVP by going 32-39 for 288 yards and 2 TDs.

Written By: Kenny Mauss

After opening the season with wins against Houston, New England, and Tennessee (all 3 teams were extremely trendy picks to reach the postseason) expectations went through the roof for the rookie QB led New York Jets. Mark “Sanchize” was prematurely anointed the savior of New York, and the quarterback the Jets haven’t had since Joe Namath. The Jets finally came back to earth Week 4, and were stomped on in the Bayou by eventual Super Bowl Champion New Orleans. That loss was coupled with 5 other, with there only win in that 7 game span coming in Oakland against the lowly Raiders. At 4-6, the Jets fans were back to there usually pessimistic state, and little was expected from the for the rest of the way. In a season filled of streaks, the Jets followed suit and won the next 3 games, leaving them at 7-6 heading into Week 15, right into the middle of the extremely crowded AFC wild-card race. That’s where this Jets season became down right nutty…//

Needing a win against the Atlanta Falcons, whom were eliminated from playoff contention with a Dallas win over New Orleans the previous night seemingly had nothing to play for, but the Jets played like there season was over as well. Trailing 7-3 late in the 4th quarter, Matt Ryan was able to find Tony Gonzalez for a game winning 6-yard touchdown with only 1:38 remaining. The Jets were unable to mount the comeback, and fell to 7-7 leaving Rex Ryan and all of New York to sit and wonder if they had just given there season away by playing zone coverage on Tony Gonzalez allowing him to get open for the game winning score.

While Rex Ryan thought his team had been eliminated, what would happen over 3,000 miles away in Oakland saved the New York season. Oakland upset the Denver Broncos and it put the Jets in a win and your in situation for the playoffs. However, they needed to defeat the then undefeated Colts and AFC North Champion Cincinnati Bengals. Peyton Manning was pulled by Coach Caldwell midway thru the 3rd quarter, obliging to Rex Ryan’s Christmas wishes, and the Jets were able to upset the Colts and put them in position for a postseason berth with a win over Cincinnati, who like Indianapolis had nothing to play for. New York was able to run all over the Bengals in prime time Week 17, and clinched a date with the Bengals only 6 days later on the banks of the Ohio River at Paul Brown Stadium.

The Jets were able to defeat the Bengals for a 2nd straight time led by two rookies, Mark Sanchez and Iowa running back Shonn Greene. While many “experts” and fans alike thought it was possible for the Jets to defeat the Bengals, not many thought they would be able to defeat San Diego the following week. Led by the defense and a running game that produced an extremely effective 169 yards on 39 carries (good for a  4.3 ypc) the Jets were able to eat the clock much of the 2nd half and take advantage of a couple costly mistakes made by QB Philip Rivers on there way to a divisional round upset of the San Diego Chargers. While the season ended the next week in the AFC championship, to the Super Bowl runner-up Colts, this can be seen as a great season by the New York Jets. Led by a rookie head coach, rookie QB, and stellar defense the Jets were able to fight there way into the playoffs and prove they belonged by winning 2 games once they arrived. The Jets will be better in all aspects of the game next season and could be in prime position to take the reigns from New England as the power of the AFC East. The future is bright for the Jets, and expect the “Sanchize” led New York Jets to be competitive for many years to come.