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Friday, February 3, 2012

Must See Sports – First Weekend of February 2012

Last week's advantage/disdvantage record: 4-1 
Must See Sports 2012 record: 14-10

It is Super Bowl weekend, but there is a TON of basketball action worth seeing!

Friday, February 3


Los Angeles Lakers at Denver Nuggets

A lot of gloom and doom was predicted for the Nuggets after the trade of Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks last season. The Nuggets have failed to meet expectations. The Nuggets are just 2.5 games back of the Oklahoma City Thunder (who own the league's best record) in the Northwest Division race.

Denver also has the best offense in the NBA, averaging 105 points per game. Yet their leading scorer, Danilo Gallinari (17 PPG, 5 RPG) averages less than 20 points per night. This tells me that the Nuggets are playing solid team basketball, getting everyone - starters, bench players, and otherwise - in on the action.

The Lakers are a game back of their in-town rivals, the Clippers, in the Pacific Division. The Lakers have played balanced basketball and smart defense, but they have struggled away from the Staples Center, only 2-7 this year. The Nuggets were riding a six game winning streak before losing a four point game to the Clippers and to the Memphis Grizzlies in overtime.

Denver is hotter and Denver is at home. I like them, every so slightly, in this matchup.

Advantage: Nuggets

Gallinari puts one over The Big Ticket. Yep, Denver got over like Rover in that trade. 1

Saturday, February 4

NCAA Men’s Basketball

#8 Kansas Jayhawks at #4 Missouri Tigers

Last year, the Big East was the 800 pound gorilla of major college basketball conferences. While the Big East has certainly not vanished from the NCAA's battlefields, the Big XII is the alpha conference in 2012. With three schools ranked in the top 10 (Baylor is ranked #6) and five schools that have already crossed the 15 win threshold, the conference is sure to be well represented and menacing in the Big Dance in March.

Kansas does everything well. They are difficult to defend, shooting 48% from the field as a team. The Jayhawks would likely be ranked in the top five were it not for inexplicable losses to Davidson in December and Iowa State last Saturday. The Jayhawks 1-2 punch of Thomas Robinson (18 PPG, 12 RPG) and Tyshawn Taylor (17 PPG, 5 APG) has been an unsolvable puzzle for most of their opponents this season.

Missouri has quietly stormed into the top five. They have their own 1-2 punch in senior forward Ricardo Ratliffe (15 PPG, 7 RPG), who is having a breakout year, and senior guard Marcus Denmon (17 PPG, 5 RPG), who is averaging career highs for points, rebounds, and free throw percentage. Denmon's leadership and consistency has helped put this Missouri team in a position to finish what it started in last year's NCAA Tournament, when the Tigers exited earlier than expected.

The Tigers are unbeaten at home. Kansas has shown chinks in the armor at times, particularly against ranked opponents. I like Missouri.

Advantage: Missouri

Denmon is closing his college career with a bang. 2

Sunday, February 5

NCAA Men’s Basketball

#22 Michigan Wolverines at #10 Michigan State Spartans

If the all-day pre-game hype of Super Bowl XLVI is more than you can stand, this intrastate rivalry could offer an entertaining change of pace. Tim Hardaway, Jr. (15 PPG, 4 RPG) continues to do his old man proud and has helped put the Wolverines in position to challenge for the Big Ten crown. Michigan is only 5-4 in their last nine games. While that includes a win against the Spartans, the Wolverines need to complete the season sweep to stay near the top of their tightly contested conference.

MSU coach Tom Izzo, once again, has the Spartans in a favorable position in February, ranked in the top 10 and one game back of Ohio State in the Big Ten. After having a 15 game winning streak snapped in January, the Spartans have since lost three of their last five, most recently against upset-inclined Illinois is a low scoring affair. The Spartans will need big contributions from senior Draymond Green (15 PPG, 10 RPG, 4 APG) and sophomore point guard Keith Appling (12 PPG, 4 APG) to snap out of their slump.

Advantage: Michigan State


Super Bowl XLVI

New York Giants vs. New England Patriots

This is the big game! Vegas has the Pats -3 over the Giants. The talking heads seem to favor the Giants. I share that gut feeling, but, on the other hand, Las Vegas is not in the habit of losing money.

I could tell you how, being a fellow New Orleans native, I want to see Eli Manning succeed. I could tell you how I have found Belichick, Brady, and the Patriots loathsome since The Tuck Rule Game. I could tell you how the Giants have always been a sentimental favorite franchise of mine that I generally root for if they don't conflict with one of my favorite teams, players, or coaches.

Rather than bore you with some diatribe about Brady and his model wife or karma for cheaters, I thought a more objective approach would be fitting.

Super Bowl XLVI: revenge or deja vu? 3

Passing Offense - Advantage: Patriots

Slight advantage. Eli manning is having, far and away, the best season of his career. He passed for over 4,900 yards in the regular season and willed his team to many of their nine regular season wins en route to the NFC East division championship. Manning has silenced any silence-able critics of him.

Tom Brady, however, is still Tom Terrific. While surpassing Dan Marino's 27 year old single season passing record and finishing second in the league, this season, in total passing yards (Drew Brees), he did more with less than any other quarterback in the playoffs. The defense struggled for much of the year. Wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, who arrived with high expectations, produced next to nothing this season. Yet, the Patriots continued to score points on the shoulders of their future Hall of Fame quarterback.

The Giants have more threats downfield and outside with wide receivers Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. The Patriots carve opponents up underneath and in the middle with wide receiver Wes Welker and tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski, however, will not be 100% due to a high ankle sprain.

Eli is getting there, but Tom has been there. Brady is lean and hungry. Don't think for a moment that Brady has forgotten how Eli and company robbed him of perfection in the 2007 season.

Rushing Offense - Advantage: Giants

Slight advantage. Neither team was overwhelming in running the ball this season. In fact, prior to December, the Giants were downright awful. However, the G-Men currently have a healthy Ahmad Bradshaw and a confident Brandon Jacobs. They are running the ball with authority and appear to have snapped out of their near-year long rushing slump.

Benjarvis Green-Ellis is what he is: a competent starting NFL running back with above average moments. Brady only needs so much help from his rushing attack and The Law Firm delivers it. During the playoffs however, the Giants' running game has made a significant impact on the outcome of games while Green-Ellis has simply been an effective role player.

Pass Defense - Advantage: Giants

Moderate advantage. The Patriots give up yards through the air in bunches, but they also take the ball away and take advantage of mental errors by opposing offenses. The Giants have gradually gotten better throughout the year in firming up against the pass. Their defensive line, particularly later in the season, has forced opposing quarterbacks to make hurried decisions and have been invaluable to the secondary.

Neither the Patriots nor Giants offensive lines have been particularly susceptible opposing pass rushes. Still, the Giants have the ability to take a second or two off of Brady's decision making time while the Patriots have yet to show that this season.

Run Defense - Advantage: Giants

Slight advantage. Very slight.... When Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork is on his game, like he was in the AFC Championship game against the Ravens, it can be next to impossible to run the ball through the "A" gap. On the other hand, if the gap is penetrated, the Patriots have a very mediocre crew of linebackers to offer support to the defensive line.

The Giants front four woefully underachieved for the first three quarters of the season against the run. Then they turned it on. Assuming the Giants continue the consistency they demonstrated in the playoffs, the Patriots running game could be reduced to serving to keep the Giants' defense honest.

Special Teams - Advantage: Patriots

Moderate advantage. Placekickers Lawrence Tynes of the Giants and Stephen Gostkowski of the Patriots. Punter Steve Weatherford of the Giants is solid. However, Patriots punter Zoltan Mesko has been a real difference maker in pinning opponents into bad field position. Averaging a net of 42 yards per punt, Mesko pinned opponents inside their 20 yard line on 42% of his punts in the regular season.

Intangibles - Advantage: Patriots

Slight advantage. The Giants are hotter. Eli Manning is beginning to peak. The Giants are a more complete team.

However, many of the Patriots have wait for four years to pay the Giants back for the last minute defeat the Giants handed to them in Super Bowl XLII. Included in those Patriots eager to dish out revenge is Tom Brady. Brady and Head Coach Bill Belichick also have the advantage of a lot of Super Bowl experience, in spite of the loss following the 2007 season.

Overall Advantage: Giants

Brady: on a mission. 4

Monday, February 6


Oklahoma City Thunder at Portland Trailblazers

The Blazers have been in every game this year with solid team work and every player knowing his role. LaMarcus Aldridge (23 PPG, 9 RPG) continues to be the strong link on the team. In addition, 37 year old Marcus Camby (10 RPG, 2 BLKPG) continues to drink from the defensive Fountain of Youth. And point guard Raymond Felton (10 PPG, 7 APG) continues to make the Knicks front office periodically second guess the decision to include him in the Carmelo Anthony trade last season instead of extending his contract. The Blazers are in the top 10 in the NBA in offense, defense, assists and rebounds.

Oklahoma City, however, his hot as hell. I seldom use that expression in the Hat Trick, but it applies. The Thunder have the best record in the NBA. The Thunder have won 12 of their last 14 games and I simply don't think the Blazers, in spite of playing well and being at home, can stop them.

Advantage: Thunder

Tuesday, February 7

NCAA Men’s Basketball

#11 Florida Gators at #1 Kentucky Wildcats

If I have said it once, I have said it a thousand times. Florida is great until they face great teams. This should make for a very entertaining post Super Bowl sporting program. However, I expect #1 Kentucky to have no cause for concern to not be #1 after this game.

Simply put, the trio of Kentucky's Anthony Davis (13.5 PPG 10 RPG), Terrence Jones (12 PPG, 6 RPG), and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (13 PPG, 8 RPG) are too much for anyone to stop when they are in sync. Fortunately for the Gators and the rest of the SEC, all three of them will probably be in the NBA next year; I am surprised Jones did not declare last season and join fellow then-freshman Brandon Knight in the pros. Unfortunately for the Gators and the SEC, Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari does not rebuild; he reloads.

Advantage: Kentucky 

Wednesday, February 8

NCAA Men’s Basketball

#5 Duke Blue Devils at #6 North Carolina Tar Heels

This is as good as it gets in college basketball. This rivalry between two of college basketball's biggest traditional powers is usually a hum dinger. It is even better when they are both having powerful seasons.

Were it not for head scratching losses to Temple and Florida State earlier in the season, the Blue Devils may be ranked #1. Junior Mason Plumlee (12 PPG, 10 RPG) is having a breakout season, with career highs for points, rebounds, assists, minutes played and field goal percentage (62%) while freshman sensation Austin Rivers (14 PPG) provides a tough 1-2 punch in the back court with Seth Curry (12 PPG, 3 APG).

North Carolina could also win the National Championship this season. They too have a couple of hard to explain losses (UNLV, Florida State), but also lead the nation in scoring, averaging 84 points per game. They also hammer opponents under the boards, leading the nation in rebounding (46 per game) and are shooting 47% from the field. Harrison Barnes (17 PPG, 5 RPG), to the joy of Tar Heels fans, returned for his sophomore season and it is paying dividends for him and UNC. He and senior Tyler Zeller (15 PPG, 10 RPG) have overwhelmed opponents and helped the Heels coast to victories most nights.

This game is too close. Both teams are excellent. I am going to take the cop out route and pick the home team.

Advantage: North Carolina

The must see of Must See! 5
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