The Daily Sports Beat 01-25-2013
Fall From Grace
After finishing seventh in the NFL in total defense and defeating the then-undefeated Patriots in the Super Bowl, New York Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was a hot commodity for a head coaching job. He took over the Rams and after three years where he went 10-38, he was fired and picked up by the Saints to lead their stop unit.
To his defense, the New Orleans situation he was coming into was a mess with the bounty scandal taking place and the subsequent suspension of head coach Sean Payton. Additionally, linebacker Jonathan Vilma and end Will Smith were suspended so the defense was going to be a work in progress but no one saw what was coming. The Saints allowed 7,042 total yards, the most given up in a single season in NFL history.
Spagnuolo was let go on Thursday by Payton who said it was time for a change because New Orleans is moving to a 3-4 defense but the horrific defensive numbers were the real reason. Where Spagnuolo goes now is anyone's guess as his stock is at rock bottom.
Don't Sleep on the Lumberjacks
The NCAA Tournament is filled with Cinderella's every year and I will be making a case for one this year that no team should be looking forward to playing. Stephen F. Austin is located in the small city of Nacogdoches, TX and at 16-1, it is one of just five one-loss teams in the nation. The Lumberjacks play out of the Southland Conference so competition is light but they do own wins over Oklahoma, Tulsa and San Diego.
Last season, the Lumberjacks finished first in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 56.7 ppg. This season they are first again and the numbers are even better as they are giving up only 49.4 ppg and they have now gone 50 consecutive games without allowing an opponent to score 70 points. In their three wins over Oklahoma, Tulsa and San Diego, all three teams were held to at least 14 points below their season average.
Stephen F. Austin will have to win its conference tournament to get to the Big Dance and at this point, that seems likely. The UPS Team Performance Index measures efficiency and teamwork to highlight teams that are well balanced. Kansas is sixth, Syracuse is fifth, Michigan is fourth, Florida is third and Indiana is second. Sitting atop the rankings are the Lumberjacks.
Questions of the Day
Are the Ottawa Senators for real? After sneaking into the playoffs last year as the eighth seed, the Sens are 3-0 and have yet to allow more than one goal in any game. They go to an improved Tampa Bay tonight and host Pittsburgh Sunday so we will see.
Can Louisville bounce back after consecutive losses? The Cardinals have a test at Georgetown Saturday as the Hoyas, after starting 0-2 in the Big East, are 3-1 in their last four games including a win at Notre Dame last time out.
When will the Lakers win again? They face a well coached Utah team tonight, the Thunder on Sunday and the rejuvenated Hornets on Tuesday. Then comes a seven-game roadtrip. Things could be getting even worse before they start to get better.
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1* Washington (8:15 ET): The Nationals shut out the Royals in yday's series opener, winning 2-0. With Tanner Roark on the bump tonight, I feel that they come in highly undervalued as KC has now lost six of its last seven overall. Roark's team start record might only be 2-3, but he has a 2.03 ERA and 1.194 WHIP, so he's pitched effectively. Tonight, I expect him to pitch well again, only this time pick up the victory.
Roark was the very definition of a "hard luck" loser his last time out as he didn't allow a single run over seven innings (only two hits), yet the team ultimately came up short in Philadelphia, losing 3-0. Interestingly, the Nats haven't lost since. Roark also allowed no runs on two hits the start before his last, only this time he added 15 K's and the Nats did win that one, 3-0. On the season, there have been three times when Roark has gone at least seven innings w/o giving up a single run.
As for Kansas City, they've now been shut out three times in the last four games, so Roark is the last guy they want to see here. Also, the Royals will be sending the struggling Chris Young (6.14 ERA) to the hill. Young has allowed at least one home run in every start this season. The Nats are now 10-3 on the road and a perfect 4-0 vs. the American League. They're simply "too tough" for the Royals to handle right now. 1* Washington