College basketball is ready for its close-up

With the Olympics officially coming to a close on Sunday night in Vancouver and the baseball regular season still more than a month away, college basketball finally takes center stage in the sports landscape. After an exciting weekend of action, less than two weeks remain before NCAA bids are handed out on Selection Sunday, and we’re inching ever so closer to Gus Johnson’s first exclamatory “Ha-ha” of the postseason.

Here’s a look at what you may have missed thus far, where teams currently stand and what you can expect for the rest of the 2009-10 season.

…If you happened to pick up the newspaper on Sunday morning and noticed that the top two teams in the nation — Kansas and Kentucky — lost on Saturday, be advised that it was an aberration for both. The Jayhawks and Wildcats, with no disrespect to Syracuse, are the two best teams in the nation and likely headed straight to Indianapolis for the Final Four.

With Sherron Collins, Xavier Henry, Marcus Morris and Cole Aldrich averaging double figures in scoring along with gritty play on the road throughout the year — the loss to Oklahoma State notwithstanding — the Jayhawks’ problem is that they just seem prone to playing down to the competition at times. Look for that to end as the Big 12 and NCAA tourney nears and for Collins to put the team on his shoulders as the Jayhawks make a deep run.

Meanwhile, Kentucky boasts only the nation’s best player in John Wall and a two-headed monster up front in DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson. Sure, John Calipari’s Wildcats couldn’t connect from long-distance in the loss to Tennessee on Saturday — but that shouldn’t be a problem for the Wildcats come March. But is their youth a concern? I don’t think it will be, but Patterson must continue to play at an All-American level.

Purdue is still a very good team, but Robbie Hummel’s season-ending injury kills any chance of the Boilermakers making a run at the Final Four. They simply won’t have enough scoring to get it done.

Syracuse is proving every preseason prognostication wrong each time the team takes the court. The Orange clinched a share of the Big East regular-season title with a thorough beating of Villanova before a record-setting crowd at the Carrier Dome, and one can argue that they’re the best overall team in the nation. Five players average double figures in scoring, and team depth hasn’t been the problem I thought it would be at the start of the year. Wesley Johnson would be a National Player of the Year in any year when Wall or Ohio State’s Evan Turner weren’t playing, and the Iowa State transfer has plenty of support from his teammates. Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuaku do the dirty work inside while Andy Rautins keeps delivering from the perimeter. Coach Jim Boeheim just continues to get it done in upstate New York, and the ‘Cuse will be a scary draw for anyone in the Dance.

…You won’t have to worry about Roy Williams cursing at Bonnie Bernstein during a postgame interview or hear him whine about a bad call in a game because North Carolina will not be dancing this March. The Tar Heels have just four victories in ACC play — especially shocking in that the league is filled with mediocrity this year. No one expected a repeat national title, but Chapel Hill has not seen good basketball this year. However, expect the Heels to reign supreme in the ACC sooner than later.

…Don’t sleep on Villanova. I’ll be the first to admit that coach Jay Wright has exceeded my expectations for the program, and his Wildcats are at it again this year despite the loss to the ‘Cuse on Saturday. ‘Nova has five wins against RPI top-50 opponents, and guards win in March. They just have to stay away from stupid off-the-court issues.

…Don’t sleep on Kansas State, either. I love Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen, and coach Frank Martin has the team playing hard every night. I don’t think they’ll go too far in the tourney, but they have the ingredients to make things difficult for the opponent depending on the matchup.

UCLA isn’t going to make the tournament this year, so there’s really not much to discuss when it comes to the Bruins. However, their cheerleaders remain the best in the game.

…I love Kyle Singler, but Duke looks like a team that will struggle to get out of the second round. The Blue Devils have absolutely zero inside game.

…How good is New Mexico? Steve Alford’s Lobos are young — they have only one senior — but have played incredibly well in road contests. The team has wins over Cal, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, BYU (twice) and UNLV. Good chemistry can make magic in March.

Butler is Butler. Good basketball is good basketball. And this team has more than just Gordon Hayward and Matt Howard. Shelvin Mack and Willie Veasley also help pace the Bulldogs. A home-court advantage in the Final Four for the Bulldogs? Stranger things have happened.

…And finally, Temple is officially back. Coach Fran Dunphy has the Owls playing their best basketball of his tenure after back-to-back NCAA appearances the last two years. The city of Philadelphia is lucky to have two teams (‘Nova) to root for in March.

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Biggs: Vikings re-sign WR Lewis

The Minnesota Vikings are bringing back one of their potential free agents.

Wide receiver Greg Lewis, who caught the winning touchdown pass in the team’s comeback victory over the San Francisco 49ers, has agreed on a one-year contract, according to Judd Zulgad of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Lewis was set to become an unrestricted free agent. The Vikings remain committed to re-signing their other four UFA’s – running back Chester Taylor, cornerback Benny Sapp, defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy and guard Artis Hicks.

Lewis’ deal was brokered by agent Ken Sarnoff, who also happens to represent Taylor. The sides have discussed the running back as well as Lewis, but Taylor could have decent market value.

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Report: Skins working to bring Daniels back

The Washington Redskins may be switching to a 3-4 defense, but they figure Phillip Daniels can be just as effective as a defensive end for them in their new scheme, reports Jason Reid of the Washington Post.

Daniels, a 14-year veteran, is in talks with the team about a new contract, per the report. The 37-year-old was a favorite of former defensive coordinator Greg Blache, who preferred stout ends in his 4-3 scheme that would play the run well and allow linebackers to make plays.

Daniels showed his toughness and professionalism last season when he played much of the year with a torn right biceps muscle.

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Myron Rolle: "I do need football"

After a year studying abroad at Oxford University, the most common question for Florida State safety Myron Rolle is pretty simple.

How important is football in your life?

It’s not just a question for Rolle. It’s a question every team at some point asks every player. If football is the No. 1 response from a player, the team is happy. If football is the No. 3 response from a player, that’s fine if the only two things ahead of it are faith and family or family and faith.

One defensive coordinator told a story about meeting a player at the combine a few years ago. He was a philosophy major and the coach poised the question to the player.

“Football is up there,” the player said.

The coach turned in his report and wrote, “Do not draft.”

Rolle has been peppered with the question at the combine.

“That’s been a popular question that I’ve received here. My answer to them, which is a genuine and truthful answer, is that I think my pursuits academically have helped me in football,” he said. “You learn discipline, you learn time management, you learn structure, you learn organization and as a football player those are obviously valuable assets and traits you can use to be great whether in film studies or on the field. I tell them I want to transform all of the positive traits I’ve learned in the classroom by the pinnacle of academic achievement, the Rhodes Scholarship, become an even better football player by it.”

But how important is football?

“I do need football. Football has been a part of my life since I’ve been 6 years old,” Rolle said. “I really do enjoy the sport. I missed it while I was over in England. I’m excited to be back here I had a great chance to show my ability at the Senior Bowl. This combine is the next step in the evaluation process that I’ve very excited about it as well.

“I do want (football), I want it as much as anybody who’s out here right now. I’m here to prove that by the way I can perform during the drills, running the 40-yard-dash, the bench press and doing everything. Competing, challenging myself and testing my mettle in front of all 32 NFL teams. This is a very important time for me in this stage of my life and I’m looking forward to stepping up to the challenge.”

Later, Rolle was asked how long it will take him to achieve his goal of becoming a neurosurgeon, a pursuit that is on hold while he embarks on his football career.

“Somewhere upwards, around 12 or 13 years until I’m able to practice fully,” he said. “That doesn’t bother me. Hopefully, I’m still considered a young man at that point.”

Listen, Rolle is a terrific story and the game and society would be better with more young men as bright, driven and enthusiastic as him. But let’s do the math. After a 10-year career and another 12 or 13 years of school, well, he’s not going to be considered a young man. Now, if he has a three-year career, sure, he’ll probably be a young man with that timetable in the field of neurosurgeons.

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Biggs: Wade likes 5th preseason game

You will not find an NFL coach that wouldn’t do just about anything for an extra week of training camp.

But not every coach would take the extra week at the cost of a fifth preseason game. That’s what the Dallas Cowboys will have playing in the Hall of Fame Game Aug. 8 vs. the Cincinnati Bengals at Canton, Ohio. The extra early game will allow the Cowboys to open training camp July 24, a week ahead of 30 other teams.

“I think it’s fine,” Cowboys coach Wade Phillips told the Dallas Morning News. “With our team I think it’s a good thing.

“We have a lot of young players. We had some young players that were hurt last year or didn’t play a whole lot or played some and need more playing time. I can just see that helping.”

Good luck to Wade on convincing his veterans this is such a good thing.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he liked the idea of the Cowboys playing in the game so the organization could celebrate as Emmitt Smith, the league’s all-time leading rusher, is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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Report: Rolle will be cut loose this week

Antrel Rolle will reach the open market this week in advance of the opening of free agency at 12:01 a.m. Friday.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported what has been expected for some time, pointing out that the Arizona Cardinals will try to retain the free safety. They simply can’t keep him under the terms of his current contract, which calls for him to earn $12 million this season.

“We will continue to work with him and treat him as if he is a free agent we are pursuing,” Cardinals general manager Rod Graves said. “We’ve always been under the impression Antrel wanted to remain an Arizona Cardinal. We have been able to develop him and we have seen him develop into an outstanding player and we want to keep that relationship going.

“We’re not looking to lose quality players, but again, all of those decisions have to make sense to us from a team standpoint. Obviously he is a top priority.”

The reality is the Cardinals are in a position where they could be losing multiple quality players. Quarterback Kurt Warner has already retired. Linebacker Karlos Dansby is poised for an exit in free agency. The club is shopping wide receiver Anquan Boldin.

The reality is that Rolle would be foolish to reach an agreement on a new contract with the Cardinals before testing his value on the open market. He’s expected to be the top available safety and will surely be pursued by a handful of teams, with Chicago and Miami being mentioned prominently.

It makes no sense to not at least involve other bidders before Rolle makes a decision on his future home. With the Cardinals already heavily invested in strong safety Adrian Wilson, they could be in a tough spot. Stay tuned.

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Biggs: Manumaleuna will be targeted in free agency

INDIANAPOLIS—Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo made it clear when Mike Martz was hired as offensive coordinator that he believed the roster was set for the newcomer to install his system around quarterback Jay Cutler.

The Bears are expected to shape their free agency plans around a defensive end—maybe Julius Peppers or Aaron Kampman—and a safety—any list will be topped by Antrel Rolle. But that doesn’t mean that Martz will not get a part or two.

League sources suggested that the Bears have strong interest in Brandon Manumaleuna, and the match makes sense. The veteran began his career in St. Louis playing for Martz, who has a preference for strong blocking tight ends. The San Diego Chargers are hoping to re-sign Manumaleuna, but they’ve invested heavily at the position with Antonio Gates and Manumaleuna could hit the open market later this week.

It will be interesting to see how Martz shapes the tight end position. The Bears have a savvy veteran in Desmond Clark, but he’s entering the final year of his contract and dealt with injuries last season. Former first-round draft pick is a favorite for Cutler, but doesn’t block well and may not be a fit. Kellen Davis has a great frame but remains somewhat of a project.

This much is certain: The Bears will have competition for Manumaleuna. It would be a natural fit for him to go to Baltimore where he could reunite with Cam Cameron. A source said that is another possibility. Oakland could have interest. Stay tuned.

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Sunday at the Post


“I love my job, but it’s all-encompassing. If I had to serve jury duty, I’d be dead. I don’t think a judge could conceive how important this is to me. My whole life depends on every day getting the material I need. I can’t let things pass me by, because I’m a one-man business. I was in the hospital, and I had my parents and friends bringing me the mail every day. I don’t know what I’d do if I had to have surgery.” — Joel Buchsbaum

INDIANAPOLIS — As we near the 75th draft in the NFL and spend a week at the combine again, it seems only fitting to honor a man who gave his heart and soul and ultimately his life for the love of the NFL draft. Joel Buchsbaum was the original draftnik. He lived in apartment 4L in Brooklyn, N.Y., and before the fanfare of the draft became incredibly big, Buchsbaum would study college games, write reports and talk on the radio. He was truly an expert on all draft subjects. He could discuss the current crop of college talent down to the smallest detail, and in the same breathe he could talk about each team’s needs with uncanny accuracy. He literally was the “Rain Man” of football.

The draft has become bigger than anyone could have expected, including the ever humble Buchsbaum. When Joel first started his draft book, the draft was 17 rounds, all in one day, and information on each prospect was scarce. Now, the seven-round draft will be spread over three days, and the combine is like the offseason Super Bowl.

“’Draft day is now the second-biggest day of the year behind the Super Bowl,” former Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi, once said. “’Joel had a lot to do with what became the glorification of draft day. ESPN started putting it on the air live, but Joel helped them get interested in it.”

Joel was better than most scouts I’ve known, even though he would never admit his brilliance. He helped me learn my craft and understand the scouting process, and he showed me that passion combined with work habits is what it takes to be successful. I miss Joel’s advice, his reports, his views on the NFL, his excitement about the draft, his evaluation of the draft picks for any team I worked with. But what I miss most is calling 718-252-4481 and hearing his voice. Rest in peace, Joel. You are always remembered.

Be sure to check out: The NFP’s brand-new “Draft Central” page. It’s got everything you need to get ready for April’s draft.


“We’re open to just about everything … Whether you keep the second pick or whether you trade down, it doesn’t change what you have to do — that’s make good decisions in the draft. There are blue-chip players available at a lot of different spots in the draft.” — Jim Schwartz, Detroit Lions coach

1. Great story from Sean Payton: I asked him what was the best call or text he received after winning the Super Bowl and he said it was a text from Brett Favre on his way home from the conference championship game. Favre texted his well wishes as he drove to his home in Mississippi from the game and said he was pulling for him. Payton always encouraged Favre to keep playing before he joined the Vikings because he felt Favre should not stop until his body couldn’t perform.

2. The Rams have not drafted a quarterback in the first round since 1967, although they traded for the rights to Purdue’s Jim Everett 1986, so all the talk about drafting one makes some sense. One NFL head coach told me that Sam Bradford is in a class by himself and would be a great starter.

3. Can the new stadium in New York get a Super Bowl in 2014? The last time the owners had a vote on this subject, the idea never got off the ground. And don’t forget, the Super Bowl vote is the only second-ballot vote the owners take. If this passes at the league meeting in May, it will be a surprise.

4. The Ravens might be interested in former Eagles running back Brian Westbrook, but I’ve been told he will struggle passing a physical — not because of his concussions but more because of his ankle and knee.

5. The Lions, Bears, Dolphins and Chiefs sound like they might be the most active teams in free agency year. The Lions appear to be poised to sign a running back, perhaps former Viking Chester Taylor.

6. The Bears might be the frontrunners for Julius Peppers, but if they fail to sign him, they might turn to the Packers’ Aaron Kampman. Someone in the league I trust told me the Bears might be the place Peppers ends up

worked out: “With the 8th pick overall the Raiders select OT Bruce Campbell of Maryland 6063 314 36 1/4 arm 10 1/2 hand 34 reps of 225 and a 4.85.” It’s not a farfetched statement.

8. Speaking of the Raiders, they’re shopping every player on the team except tight end Zach Miller and anyone who would be impossible to trade because of their contracts. Running back Michael Bush is the name I hear generating interest.

9. The Cards might lose Karlos Dansby (the Dolphins?) but will try and re-sign Antrel Rolle and appear to be the favorites right now. The reason they didn’t just pay the $4 million was because they wanted to gain more years on the contract, and the only way to accomplish that was to let him test free agency.


“Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius.” — Arthur Conan Doyle

“The Making of an Expert” by K. Anders Ericsson, Michael J. Prietula and Edward T. Cokely

New research shows that outstanding performance is the product of years of deliberate practice and coaching, not of any innate talent or skill.

Thirty years ago, two Hungarian educators, L

Biggs: Rams down to four players for No. 1 pick

INDIANAPOLIS—And then there were four.

The St. Louis Rams have been on the clock since Jan. 3, the day the NFL season ended, and nearly two months later they’ve apparently got the No. 1 overall pick whittled down to a choice between four players.

That is what Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. Of course, everything could change if the Rams find a taker for the pick. But as things stand, they’re sorting between quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Jimmy Clausen and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy.

The Rams need to replace Marc Bulger and they have huge needs on the defensive line, where they have swung and missed with first-round picks too often in the past decade.

“We’re still trying to figure that out,” general manager Billy Devaney. “There’s pros and cons to whatever decision you decide to go with. But we know this: If it comes down to that right now, there are four guys that will be given consideration.

“But we’ve got to be prepared for anything. If we do wind up trading down a little bit, we have to be ready. We have to have a bunch of guys in the hopper that we feel good about. Those four guys you mentioned, sure, we like everything about them so far.”

Devaney gushed when talking about Suh and McCoy.

“The DTs are difference-makers,” he said. “We have them graded extremely high.”

Bradford is recovering from a right shoulder injury. He had his AC joint repaired and said today that his rehab is going great. He recently threw 100 passes in a practice sessions but will not work out for teams until his pro day at the end of March. There are concerns about Clausen, too, although he is coming back from surgery on his right toe. His pro day is April 9.

“I have a feeling at the end of the day, the quarterbacks are going to be (graded) extremely high to where we have to think about (drafting one of them),” Devaney said.

It would be tough to pass on a quarterback, right?

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Have the Raiders found their man?

INDIANAPOLIS–It’s no secret the Oakland Raiders place a premium on speed.

With that in mind, Maryland offensive tackle Bruce Campbell may have sealed his fate (or doom) with
the performance he turned in during Saturday’s combine workouts in Indianapolis.

The 6’6″, 314-pound junior ran an official 4.85 in the 40-yard-dash Saturday morning–one of the fastest combine 40 times for an offensive lineman in league history.

Campbell also put up 34 reps in the bench press (225 pounds) and had a 38-inch vertical jump.

With his stock on the rise after an impressive day in Indianapolis, Campbell has forced several NFL teams who may not have originally been sold on him to go back and reevaluate their analysis.

One team that you can bet has an F-16 missile lock on the former Terrapin is the Oakland Raiders.

Well known for the emphasis they place on speed, the Raiders hold the draft’s eighth overall pick. Having lost 11 or more games in each of the past seven seasons, the organization is very familiar with top-ten draft picks.

And having given up 49 sacks in 2009 (third most in the NFL), it’s not like Oakland couldn’t use some help on the offensive line.

Selecting Campbell higher than most draft experts currently have him projected to go would be nothing new for the fans of the Black Hole.

The Raiders raised some eyebrows in 2009 when they drafted Maryland wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey with the seventh overall pick. In 2006, Oakland selected strong safety Michael Huff seventh and in 2005 they drafted cornerback Fabian Washington 23rd.

All three have one thing in common: Speed.

And in regards to Huff and Washington, the word “bust” has been thrown around once or twice.

So will the speedy Campbell end up wearing Silver and Black in 2010?

We’ll find out on April 22.

Hit me up on Twitter: @JoeFortenbaugh