Tuesday, April 30, 2019

2019 NFL Draft, Good vs. Bad Value

                The 2019 NFL draft was full of surprises. The beauty of surprises is they make it easy to figure out who the winners and losers of the draft are. I don't do draft grades because in order to assign grades we would need results which won't be in for at least 3 years. Therefore, I keep to good vs. bad value or winners vs. losers.

                As our first loser, Arizona did what I expected and made Kyler Murray the number one overall pick. As I explained last week, this was their only viable option because of the abundance of mistakes they have made in the last 4 years. What makes them the ultimate loser in this deal is the fact that they waited until minutes before the draft to begin seriously shopping Josh Rosen. Just to break down the entire situation involving Rosen, the Cardinals effectively traded the 2018 15th overall (1st round), 79th (3rd round), and 152nd (5th round) picks for this year’s 62nd (2nd round) and a 5th round pick next year. In the long run, the Cardinals end up with the coach and quarterback combo they want but gave up horrible value to get there. To quote Dodgeball “It’s a bold strategy, Cotton. Let’s see if it pays off for ‘em.” To be honest I think they would be much better off if they would fire GM Keim who has obviously spent too much time unsuccessfully trying to dodge a wrench.

                As a proud Las Vegas resident, I am doing everything I can to convince myself to root for the Raiders, but they continue to make it hard. With the 4th overall pick they took Clelin Ferrell who has the potential to be an impact player, but, the Raiders did not get good value for their drafting position. Ferrell was not even the most talented player at his position and definitely not the best player available. I would rather have seen them pick up Josh Allen, Ed Oliver, or Christian Wilkins with the 4th pick. If Ferrell was the player you wanted because of his personality, ethics, and scheme fit, finding a trade partner who wanted to move up from a mid first round pick to the fourth would have been smart. Even if they had traded with Tennessee at number 19 they could have still drafted Ferrell but had him on a cheaper rookie contract and most likely gained at least a 5th round pick out of the deal. If trades were not available, then they should have drafted Allen. Maybe then they would have had confidence in their pick and wouldn’t have had to take two more defensive ends in this draft. At 24 they turned around and took Alabama running back Josh Jacobs who was projected 2nd round. Most likely they could have drafted Jacobs with the 40th overall pick. Not taking Johnathan Abram at 24 was risky but they got lucky when he fell into their lap at 27. Had they followed my model they could have upgraded on Trayvon Mullen who they took 40th by using the 27th pick on a corner. At 27 not one corner had been drafted and they could have chosen whoever they felt was best in the class. All in all, I feel like they addressed their biggest needs by drafting three defensive ends, two cornerbacks, a running back, and a safety, but did so in a very inefficient manner and did not address their need at inside linebacker.

                The next loser in the draft is clearly the New York Giants. Going in we all knew Raiders and Giants news was going to dominate post-draft reactions for multiple reasons. First, they went into the draft with a combined six of the 32 first round picks. Second, the reason they had all those picks, including two of the top six, is because their management routinely does things in such an illogical fashion that they repeatedly have underachieving seasons resulting in said great draft picks. So to no one’s surprise with the 6th overall pick, the Giants took Daniel Jones, a quarterback with late first round value. What that draft pick did is set back their defense that needs a total overhaul. Just like the Raiders, the Giants left all the top defensive talent on the table.  Again, like the Raiders, they took their top player much too early because they could have had Jones at 17 and upgraded Dexter Lawrence to Josh Allen, Ed Oliver, or Christian Wilkins. In addition, if something had gone off the rails and somebody else was dumb enough to draft Jones in the top 16, they could have easily given Arizona their 17th overall pick and received Josh Rosen who has much more potential than Jones anyway. Again they just didn’t get good value for their multiple first-round picks but did help their defensive unit by drafting seven players on that side of the ball.

                By now you probably have guessed the teams I fell like turned their top level picks into great value, but, I will run through them just in case. San Francisco took Nick Bosa number two overall getting good value because he has number one overall talent. Jacksonville, by taking Josh Allen, even though he doesn’t address one of their top needs, received great value at number seven. Because of the failures of Arizona, Oakland, and New York, the third team that was able to exceed expectations was the Buffalo Bills who were lucky enough to draft Ed Oliver as the 9th overall pick. My ultimate good value award winner is the Miami Dolphins who not only managed to give their defense a major boost by getting Christian Wilkins in the 11 spot but later received a potential franchise quarterback in Rosen by taking advantage of Arizona’s mistakes.

                To round out my Congratulations tour, best wishes to six teams who will soon find out, if they don’t already know, anytime you get an Iowa Hawkeye or an Iowa state Cyclone on your team you are always adding leadership and competitiveness. Congrats to T.J. Hockenson (Detroit) and Noah Fant (Denver) for being the first two tight ends off the board in 2019 and putting Iowa in the history books as the first team to ever have two tight ends taken in the first round of the same draft. Next, congratulations to Amani Hooker (Tennessee) and Anthony Nelson (Tampa Bay) for working your butts off, resulting in being drafted into the NFL. Hakeem Butler (Arizona) and David Montgomery (Chicago) from the Cyclones also made the Hawkeye state proud by getting drafted and I wish them nothing but success at the next level.

                For a more in-depth break down you can listen to Aaron Peeples and me on his next podcast. We will record this weekend and it will be posted early next week on the California State Northridge (CSUN) newspaper’s web page at https://sundial.csun.edu/section/listen/. I will also give you a heads up from my twitter account when it is posted. I will be his guest for the duration of The Peeples Show.

(Follow me on twitter @Jake_Ruch for my real-time sports-related thoughts and updates on when I post new articles on my blog.)

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Draft Week is Upon Us!

                It’s time for the NFL draft and once again we have no idea who will go number one overall. Anyone who tells you they do know is either trying to fool you into thinking they have the inside scoop, or just fooling themselves. It’s impossible to know what Arizona is going to do because as usual, their leadership doesn't know.

                If I were the Cardinals general manager it would be an easy decision to draft Nick Bosa. However, because I am not, they are in an impossible position. GM Steve Keim and their decision makers have allowed that team to become a laughing stock of the league. In 2015 the Cardinals looked like they were set up with a top-notch defense and balanced offense to be Super Bowl contenders for years to come. The problem is they forgot about the second most important position group in the game. In 2015 they had Carson Palmer, a capable veteran with leadership skills at the most important position on the field. Keim’s inability to put a competent Offensive line in front of him led to multiple injuries for Palmer resulting in one of the most talented defenses in the NFL not being able to showcase that talent in the playoffs in 2016 or 17 and the golden years of one of the best wide receivers of all time being wasted. Now going into 2019 they still have the best defensive back in the league in Patrick Peterson but the defense around him has been mostly dismantled and he isn't happy.

                In last year’s draft, they smartly gave up some assets to go get a Player with potential to be their next franchise leader, Josh Rosen. Then they even seemed to be heading in the right direction using their third and seventh round picks on offensive linemen. The problem is two rookies who are available that late in the draft aren’t going to completely remake a unit of five who have been incompetent for years. So, after suffering through another season of loosing with one of the worst lines in the league in 2018 the decision was made to hire a new head coach. Keim and crew promptly went out and hired a coach who has a resume that is questionable at best and doesn’t appear to match styles with Rosen in any way, making the smart moves in last year’s draft null and void.

                Now with the #1 overall pick, Arizona’s best move is to start over again at QB. The only way to make their new coach successful is to trade the player who cost them the 15th overall pick, a third-round pick, and a fifth-round pick to whichever team gives them the best offer, then draft undersized QB, Kyler Murray, just to fit coach Kliff Kingsbury’s style. The problem is every other team in the league watched Rosen struggle behind that awful offensive line last year so his value has plummeted. At this point, it does not appear they will be receiving anything close to what they gave up to get the QB.

                Rumor has been that Arizona was offered a second-round pick in exchange for Rosen from multiple teams. Hopefully for their sake, one of the teams who are desperate for a savior will recognize that Rosen has far more potential than anybody in this year’s draft class and come with a first-round pick offer on draft day. I expect first round offers from Washington (15th) and the New York Giants (17th) but given the lack of judgment the leadership of those two teams have each shown in the past, I won’t be holding my breath. If they don’t pull the trigger, teams such as Tampa Bay, Cincinnati, Miami, Tennessee, or possibly the LA Chargers should be looking for a way to get Rosen. Each of these teams should be on the search for a quarterback, but whether they are or not remains to be seen. Jameis Winston has proven he’s not ready to be a leader. Andy Dalton has been carried to mediocrity by A.J. Green before going backward in Cincinnati the last couple years. Ryan Fatzmagic (Fitzpatrick) has shown his ability to amazingly disappear every time he’s given the starting job. Marcus Mariota and Ryan Tannehill are essentially the same QB which means the Titans will be starting Logan Woodside by week nine as the top two on the depth chart watch from the sideline with injury. As a last resort, at number 28 overall, the Chargers who have a reliable QB would be crazy not to be expecting Philip Rivers to retire in the next few years, after all, he will be eligible for Medicare soon.

                To make a long story short, I do expect Kyler Murray to go number one overall, but only because the Arizona Cardinals have put themselves in an unwinnable situation by neglecting the offensive line for years and hiring the wrong head coach leaving them with no choice but to try to get it all back on track with a mobile quarterback.

(Follow me on twitter @Jake_Ruch for updates on when I post new articles on my blog and tweets on my real-time sports-related thoughts.)

Saturday, April 13, 2019

NBA Western Conference Playoffs Round One Preview

                As promised, more than two hours before tip-off to the 2109 NBA playoffs, here is my western conference breakdown.

                The L.A. Clippers are not one of the two lower seeds in the west with a chance to win the series. Look for lots of points in each game as both teams are among the top in three-point shooting this season, but don't look for close final scores. The season series was 3-1 in favor of Golden State. The one L.A. win was early in the season before they traded away their best player in Tobias Harris. Steph Curry also missed the game in the Golden State loss. I love the way Patrick Beverley plays the game but none of the L.A. veterans have the talent to compare to Golden State. The Clippers also have some young guns with skill but they don't have the experience to compete. Unless three of the five all-stars for the Warriors in Green, Cousins, Thompson, Curry, and Durant, for some reason miss multiple games in the series, this one is over before it gets started, Warriors in four.

                San Antonio is one of the lower seeds with a chance. The talent edge is clearly with Denver here, but I have to give the other two categories I consider Important in this series to the Spurs. The Spurs coaching advantage is great and their edge in player playoff experience also results in a slight advantage over Denver. Unfortunately for Popovich, coaching doesn't physically score points like talent, and the experience edge probably isn't enough to lead them to four wins in the series. I do like Popovich to employ the Bill Belichick strategy and take away the opponents biggest threat, which in this case means doubling Nikola Jokic. San Antonio does have two quality players on their roster in DeRozan and Aldridge, but they lack an all-star caliber closer to win tight games. The regular season series was 2 - 2 with the home team winning each game. However, I look for the Nuggets to prevail in six with a stipulation; if the Spurs can somehow force a game seven, I like the experience to pull off the upset in a pressure-packed situation.

                Oklahoma City, while being the lower seed is the favorite in Vegas odd maker's eye's and in mine making them my final lower seed with hopes of winning their series. The Nurkic injury plus McCollum battling health issues is a big factor for the Trail Blazers. On top of that, Portland managed to get swept in the first round of the playoffs by New Orleans last year which is not a good sign. I have routinely called out Westbrook for his lack of leadership and self-awareness but, I think Paul George is the leader of that team now.  After two years to figure out chemistry, George could be the key to Thunder winning their first playoff series since Durant left. All four regular season games between these two were close, but in the end, each was won by the Thunder. I'll take Oklahoma City to win this series in 6.

                To round out the West, Utah is my second team with not much hope. This is an offense versus defense match-up, and I like the offense to prevail. It's hard to play defense against a guy who is allowed to pick up the ball and step back to where ever he wants to shoot from without dribbling. On top of that, if the defender brings his hands out from behind his back, it’s an automatic foul resulting in free throws for an 88 percent shooter from the line. I look for Jazz and Gobert to get in foul trouble, especially in games played in Houston. The season series was 2 - 2 but both Jazz wins were early before the Rockets got their role players situation figured out and while Paul was struggling with injury. I say look for Houston to win all their home games, plus game six in Utah to close out the series.

                If you are looking for betting angles, I won't be doing much with series prices because I think most of the numbers are pretty close to what they should be. That being said, I do believe you may be able to find a little value in San Antonio at +200 or better, Oklahoma City at -150 or less, Houston at -350 or less, and as I said yesterday, the best value I have found is Indiana +400 or more. Remember value doesn't necessarily mean I think they will win, just that it's worth a shot for that particular return on investment.  As far as the rest go, if you can find a book that will let you parlay series bets on Golden State at -20,000 with Milwaukee -5000, Toronto -1200, and Philadelphia -750, go for it and count your profit, but if you can't parlay them, there just isn't much value there.

                If you are just asking for who I honestly believe will win in each series, it’s a short boring conversation, Chalk (the better seed) with the exception of Oklahoma City.

(Follow me on twitter @Jake_Ruch for updates on when I post new articles on my blog and tweets on my real-time sports-related thoughts.)

Friday, April 12, 2019

NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs Round One Preview

                As usual, at first glance, the opening round of the NBA playoffs does not appear to be much drama. However, I will make a case there are three teams with a chance to win the opening series as the lower seed, only one of which is in the east.

                In the eight versus one match-up, Detroit doesn't stand much of a chance against Milwaukee overall. While I feel sorry for Blake Griffin because he has worked very hard to become more than just a dunker, all that jumping over cars stuff early in his career took a toll on his knees resulting in problems down the stretch this season. Now in the 2019 playoffs, he is left in questionable status for game one. I think a young Milwaukee team could let one game slip away, but Giannis Antetokounmpo and that fast-paced attack will dominate the Pistons overall, Bucks in five.

                Orlando has even less of a chance than Detroit. While Toronto is not at all the same team they have been the last three years, Kyle Lowry is still in place and they added a top 5 player in the game in Kawhi Leonard. That plus the addition of seasoned veteran Marc Gasol at the trade deadline makes Toronto way-way too much for Orlando. The regular season match-up was tied, but while sitting out their stars frequently, Toronto won the only close match-up and the most recent match-up between the two. The Raptors' fast pace will outrun the Magic, but like the bucks, they may drop a game along the way. I'll take the Raptors in five.

                Brooklyn's chances don't look much better. I really like their young star in D'Angelo Russell and they have a nice bench to go with him. I do not think it's enough to defeat all the talent Philadelphia puts on the floor in their starting five. The Nets somehow tied the season series but the experienced 76ers weren't always putting their best effort out. While I have gone on record saying the 76ers are a great collection of talent with Embiid, Simmons, Harris, Butler, and Redick, I also say they are not a great mix together. Because of their unnatural fit they haven't developed total chemistry and may never do so, but I don’t think that will hold them back in this round. What could hinder them is the Embiid injury. In all honesty, even if he misses a game or two I'll stick with Philadelphia in five.

                Indiana is the lone lower seed in the East with a chance. In fact, I believe this is the most closely matched series in the entire first round of the playoffs. There is so much more than on the court basketball to this series making it hard to pick a winner. The season series was won by Boston 3-1 and the Pacers win was with Oladipo in the Lineup. Pacers were among the top teams in their league when they had their star, and without their star, they are just a bunch of scrappy dudes. With Oladipo out I would like to say, big advantage to Boston, but their dysfunction and lack of chemistry combined with a late injury to Marcus (not to be confused with Maxwell)  Smart has left them teetering on the edge of failure as well. Smart was their biggest defensive standout and the glue that held that team together. Gordon Hayward seems to play well in the absence of Kyrie Irving, but even with one of the top coaches in the league, Brad Stevens trying to put all the pieces together, they seem to leave something to be desired. Then you add in the distraction of Irving's apparent internal battle of whether to stay or go in the off-season and who knows where his head or anyone on that team's mind is at at this point. Ultimately I'll take the talent to win out resulting in Celtics in seven.

                As for betting angles on these series, the only value I see in the East is Pacers at +400 or more. Remember Value doesn't necessarily mean I think they will win, just that it's worth a shot for that particular return on investment. Check back tomorrow when I give you the other two lower seeds with a chance to win while I break down the Western conference in advance of the 1130 a.m. pacific time tip-off to the opening game of the 2019 NBA playoffs. Look for that post to be published by 930 a.m. pacific time to give you two hours to get all your parlays in with time to spare.

(Follow me on twitter @Jake_Ruch for updates on when I post new articles on my blog and tweets on my real-time sports related thoughts.)

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

NCAA Wrap-up and NHL Playoffs Information

                Last night, the NCAA tournament kings were crowned. Congrats to the Virginia Cavaliers! Thank you for proving once again that, even in 2019, defense can and does still win championships. It was a hard fought game and honestly provided much more excitement and a far better pace of play than I had expected in this match-up.

                The biggest story out of the entire tournament seems to be the officiating. A blown travel call may have cost me a few dollars but, let's not forget the officials are human too. When we as sports fans come out of a great time of year like March madness talking about the officiating more than the great plays that were made, the exciting moments that were had, and the great players that were unveiled, we are doing ourselves a disfavor with all the negativity. So when you reflect on or talk about the tournament today, keep it positive.

                There are three main points of interest I will look back on in the 2019 tournament. The first is my Iowa Hawkeyes providing a win in round one and a thrilling comeback that fell just short in round two. The second being Virginia going from the first one seed to lose to a 16 seed, and then one year later, cutting down the nets. My third takeaway from another memorable March is the storybook run by Auburn beating three of the four top blue-bloods of the 2000s in route to the final four.

                Now it's time to move on to the NHL and NBA playoffs. I do not consider myself an NHL expert by any means so I will lean on my best NHL source, Aaron Peeples, for that information. Aaron is not a gambler but is strictly a lover of the game with knowledge like no other. I have used his insight to make my hockey bets over the years and my betting account balance is the better for it. Use his opinions as you see fit, but remember, his picks are for "entertainment purposes only" as they say. That being said he likes Lightning in 5 games, Maple Leafs in 7, Capitals in 5, Penguins in 6, Flames in 7, Vegas Golden Knights in 6, Predators in 7 and Jets in 6. You can catch his full breakdowns on each series in his next podcast premiering tomorrow on the California State University Northridge (CSUN) newspaper's web-page at https://sundial.csun.edu/section/listen/.

                It's time for my attention to shift to NBA, but I am going to delay my weekly full-length post until the playoff match-ups have been determined. My breakdowns and opinions on the first round of the playoffs will be posted on Friday. Don't forget to check back then for all the NBA news and breakdowns you need to know before the playoffs start.

(Follow me on twitter @Jake_Ruch for updates on when I post new articles on my blog and tweets on my real-time sports related thoughts.)

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Final Four

                We may not have a Cinderella at the grand ball this year but we also don't have any of the traditional college basketball blue bloods. Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, and Kansas are widely considered the top four basketball programs in my lifetime (36 years) but none of them made the final four in 2019.

                In recent years, the need to be top dog year in and year out has led all four of these schools to turn to the one and done NBA prospects. The problem with this strategy is the team never develops any true leaders or close bonds.  Zion Williamson may say all the right things with a microphone in front of him but, the fact remains he's an 18-year-old kid. People in today's society have a false thought that the person with the most talent in a group must be the leader. Young athletes often believe in this fallacy. Because of this belief, teams usually follow their stud who is often not ready to lead. The truth is, the best leaders don't always have the most athletic ability. The best leaders are usually individuals who have experience and have struggled to get where they are. This year's class of final four teams Michigan State, Virginia, Texas Tech, and Auburn may not have the one and done guys that got all the hype throughout the season, but they do have leadership.

                Michigan State (MSU) has the one long storied top level college coach who hasn't turned to the one and done system. In spite of this people went crazy when they saw Coach Tom Izzo of the Spartans verbally berate Aaron Henry on national television. MSU made it to this point behind the veteran leadership of seniors Kenny Goins, Matt McQuaid, and junior Cassius Winston. Did any of those "by the book" life experts ever think these three are the leaders they are today because of that tough love leadership style coach Izzo brings to the table? They certainly don't have the most NBA lottery picks in the draft this year. Could it be that this type of hard knocks education still works best to help some people reach their true potential? There surely is some reason the most talented three players on the floor for Sundays elite eight game took their Duke jerseys off for the last time in the 2019 season after the game. It's obvious the leadership developed by MSU's coach plays a large role in their continued success.

                Virginia, under Coach Tony Bennett also has a solid core of leaders in senior Jack Salt and Juniors Mamadi Diakite, Braxton Key, Ty Jerome, and Kyle Guy who are helping their intense head coach develop two underclassmen into the next leaders of the team. Bennett has built the Cavaliers into the primer defensive program in the nation, a feat that is not easy in today's high flying offense first sports world. No one all season long tried to convince us they were the most offensively talented. Yet, through hard work and following their true leaders, who have suffered through the most embarrassing loss in tournament history, and learned from it, here they are still competing for a chance at the title.

                Texas Tech is clearly a team in the same mold as Virginia. Like Virginia, the Red Raiders are a top defensive team in the nation led by their hard-working seniors Matt Mooney, Tariq Owens, and Norense Odiase. Jarrett Culver May get the national recognition as a freshman but, it is clear the team would not have achieved this level of success without getting him to buy into the team game they play.

                Auburn is the closest thing we have to a Cinderella story in this year's final four and they ended the regular season ranked number 14 in the nation. Senior Bryce Brown and junior Jared Harper led the talented sophomore Chuma Okeke to the elite eight where his ACL gave out. In his absence, two juniors Samir Doughty and Anfernee McLemore picked up big minutes and helped take down their third of the four blue bloods. Auburn has slain Goliath three times already in the tournament defeating Kansas, North Carolina, and Kentucky. Unfortunately for us, they won't get a chance at the fourth because Michigan State already got that pleasure.

                Because of these teams' leadership, the best four conferences in the 2019 season will each be represented in Minneapolis to crown a true champion. Meanwhile the powerhouse, one and done, instant gratification seeking, clubs with their uber-talented recruits won't be there. Maybe Freshman Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish, Coby White, Nassir Little, Tyler Herro, and Keldon Johnson will view these bonded teams with elder leaders and learn how to be those type of captains for their future NBA teams. After all, these seven will most likely be top 20 picks in the upcoming draft going to current bottom feeders in the league.  They will need to learn quickly how to be team captains but, not before watching a team with less talent cut down the nets while the confetti falls in U.S. bank stadium on Monday, April 8yh, 2019.

Riding Bike from Vegas to LA for Veterans' Mental Health - Part II

World's Tallest Thermometer Baker, CA. It's not letting up until dark. Day two of my 300-mile bike ride in three d...