Remember the Friday mailbag and it's an ordinary story about the way things go, round and round nobody knows, but the highway rolls on forever.
From the "Talks too much studios," are you guys playing cards?
Streak is struck
LeBron and the Heatles stumbled in Chicago last night, losing for the first time since the Friday before the Super Bowl. Yes, the last time Miami lost, we were still wondering how Tennessee's football recruiting class would finish and if the 11-8 Tennessee basketball Vols were going to do anything down the stretch.
The Bulls beat Miami 101-97 in the most intense and enjoyable regular-season NBA game since the Michael Jordan returned to the NBA and dropped a double-nickle on the Knicks in the Garden.
It was physical — at times too much so, but more on that in a minute — and well-played. It had the look of a must-win playoff game for the Bulls and eventually for the Heat as well.
Here's our assessment:
The Good: Whether they know it or not, the loss betters the Heatles' chance to win it all. They can rest some tired legs and get healthy for the playoffs. Those are not luxuries when chasing history.
The Bad: Dwyane Wade was invisible for most of the fourth quarter and the Heat got worked (minus-12) on the boards.
The Ugly: Maybe it was one night. Hopefully it was just one night. But in pro sports success is quickly emulated and duplicated, so it would not be surprising to see teams try to become supremely physical with LeBron and the Heatles like the Bulls were last night. James got a little frustrated at a couple of calls in particular — the first was an open-floor tackle by Kirk Hinrich; the other a DDT-looking move by Taj Gibson. Hey, teams need to do whatever they can to give themselves the best chance to win, and LeBron and Co. are better than everyone else. But as a fan, that overly physical play is not the NBA we enjoy. In fact, if the league starts embracing it — not unlike how the Pistons and the Knicks did against Jordan and Co. in the mid-1990s when the league became borderline unwatchable — it greatly will hurt the NBA's momentum.
Funny how Pat Riley's Knicks were the forefathers of the basketball brutality approach and now Pat Riley's Heatles are the target. Et tu Patty?
What Sweet 16 game are you most excited about this weekend? Here's the schedule:
Tonight on CBS: Marquette-Miami, 7:15; Indiana-Syracuse, 9:45
Tonight on TBS: Arizona-Ohio State, 7:47; Wichita State-La Salle, 10:17
Friday on CBS: Oregon-Louisville, 7:15; Duke-Michigan State, 9:45
Friday on TBS: Michigan-Kansas, 7:37; Florida-Florida Gulf Coast, 10:07
We're really stoked for Michigan-Kansas and Indiana-Syracuse. A sneaky contender is Louisville-Oregon and who wins the uniform slugfest.
Good times. While this round is not as crazy or Madness-filled as last weekend, the basketball is usually pretty top-notch. Side note: Typing the schedule out made us wonder what it would have been like if when the Mocs had made the Sweet 16 16 years ago if they had the chance to swing against the university system's mothership like FGCU has? Wow.
Remember everyone is eligible to enter the "Four who were Oh so close to the Final Four" contest:
Just pick the teams that you think will lose in the Elite Eight round: We have Michigan State, Wichita State, Miami, Florida.
Everybody understand? Let us know if you have any questions, and again this is open to everyone.
Pro Days and draft ripples
South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore (21) runs for a touchdown. (AP Photo/John Amis)
Marcus Lattimore worked out. Matt Barkley did too.
The ripples were reflected in the draft rankings. We're roughly a month from the NFL draft, and here's the shifts and movements and the trends of late:
• This draft is loaded with offensive linemen, especially good-to-great tackles. Tackles Eric Fisher, Luke Joeckel, Lane Johnson and D.J. Fluker likely will be top 20 guys, as will guards Jonathan Cooper and Chance Warmack.
• The physical movement skills of some of the defensive front seven guys is scary. Barkevious Mingo runs a 40 in the 4.5s — the same as most receivers — at 6-foot-3, 242 pounds. Oregon's Dion Jordan went in the low 4.6s at 6-6, 250. BYU's Ezekiel Ansah ran a 4.63 at 6-3, 271. Yes, there's more to football than speed, but moving massive weights quickly is a fundamental skill that is coveted in the league.
• The draft positioning movement of some of the defensive front seven guys is also scary. According to some of the experts, at least three defensive guys who were ranked in the top five at one point have fallen at least 10 spots. On Mel Kiper's big board, former No. 1 overall prospects Jarvis Jones and Star Lotulelei have droped to outside the top 10. Manti Te'o, a former top-five prospect fell outside the top 20 because of a slow 40 time, and Texas A&M defensive end Damontre Moore went from top 3 to off Kiper's big board of the top 25 prospects because of a terrible showing at the combine.
• Speaking of Kiper's rankings, for the SEC it's easy to grin when your ship's come in and you think you have the stock market beat. When talking about college football's elite, which number is more telling about the talent level: the seven consecutive BCS titles or the fact that roughly half of Kiper's top 25 are SEC guys (and four are from Alabama)? If it plays out that the first round is roughly 50 percent SEC, we say that's just as impressive since the seven titles took some luck that has nothing to do with how good the SEC is.
• Of the recent pro days, the fact that Marcus Lattimore is starting to work out is great news. And we're certain that we'd spend a late-second-rounder on that kid. Also, the results from Matt Barkley's throwing session at his pro day were good, showing he's recovered from his late-season shoulder injuries. Lattimore's return from the leg injuries he suffered against Tennessee drew applause from even the NFL folks in attendance, which is cool.
Braves are closer
We discussed the lineup on Wednesday, a group that will generate a lot of long shots and long draughts with long swings.
Let's look at the pitching today before we look around the rest of the NL, but before we do, we'd be remiss not to mention the story of Evan Gattis making the opening-day roster. Gattis, a 26-year-old minor-league journeyman with a thunderous bat and a big time nickname but no real position, was out of baseball for four years after skipping out of a college scholarship after high school, and two years ago could not even make the Class A Rome Braves. Now, repositioned as a catcher and outfielder, the man they call El Oso Blanco ("The White Bear" a nickname he picked up playing in Venezuela) cried when the Braves coaches told him he would start the season in Atlanta. Good for him.
As for the pitchers Oso Blanco will help handle, well, it's a group that is not quite as good as it was this time last year.
Dealing Tommy Hanson was a wash because his herky-jerky delivery will always yield arm problems and the Braves were flush with guys who's named ended in 'y' or 'ie.'
A rotation of Tim Hudson, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Paul Maholm and most likely Julio Teheran is better than average. It's actually good. It's not great because it does not have a front-line, top-of-the-rotation ace. Sure, Medlen looked the part of a front-line guy last year, but the sample size is pretty small and without elite stuff, we're reserving judgement. In fact Medlen's pitches are a perfect comparison to the Braves' rotation — several good pitches that could be real out pitches, but there is no top-of-the-line, A-to-A-plus option that is assured of high end results.
If you're looking for high end result, well, the back end of the bullpen is just that. The stats prove out a theory shared by several and espoused in this space by StuckinKent last year that most closers are just the product of their position. The relative success of a bullpen does not vary great because of the closer. We can see the basis of that theory, but it does not apply to the elite at the position. Guys like Rivera in his prime. Or Trevor Hoffman. Or Atlanta's Craig Kimbrel. Dude is that good.
While we're happy Fredi Gonzalez managed the Braves bullpen better in year two, it's a little scary that everyday Jonny Venters is having some arm issues.
Around the NL (in 5-in-10 by the 5-at-10 style):
1) Dodgers spend big, win close to big: When Hanley Ramirez returns, L.A.'s high-dollar roster is impressive.
2) Giants still in the mix: S.F.'s sum may be better than Dodgers' parts.
3) Paint Central Reds: Cincy will roll in NL Central
4) Senator, Senator: Washington is the class of the NL
5) Award winners: Kershaw for Cy Young; Votto for MVP
This and that with questions
— Speaking of the draft — we love the draft; you know this — let's say you had to take a QB in round 1, and some teams will whether it's in the top 10 or trading back into the back half of the first round. Would you take Geno Smith or Matt Barkley? Or would you wait until round three and take Tyler Bray? Discuss.
— With all the movement and machinations in and around the SoCon that we have discussed this week, what is your best answer to this: In five years, UTC will be playing in (fill-in-the-black) conference. Interesting breaking news from our ace Johnny Frierson that the Mocs were approached by the Sun Belt and said thanks but no thanks.
— We had this story in the TFP earlier in the week, but did you see the article about the minor league ball park that will have a video game in their urinals and the urine stream is what controls the action on the video game? Seriously, and if it's not named Peed Racer, well that was an opportunity missed. Of course this has limitless posibilities, not the least of which is how much easier it's going to be to potty train lil' Johnny or Jimmy with a pee-pee-powered race car in the pot.
— Hey, the next time some tattoo-ed up kid holds out looking for more money, and the bellyaching starts about how they should do it for the love and for the game... BLAH. Here's one, the stars of Duck Dynasty are talking about holding out for more money. Folks you have to strike will the cash register is open. Period. Quack, Quack.
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...