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Friday, March 16, 2012

Peyton Manning and the Titans - Crosby is Back -

First Thoughts After Ohio State's 78-59 Win Over Loyola (MD) in the NCAA Tournament
By Tony Gerdeman

As far as first round games go for the Buckeyes, I've seen better and I've seen worse. However, a win is a win, and that really is the only aesthetic that matters.

The game was never in doubt, which it shouldn't have been.

Ohio State only got offense from one player tonight, and that was Deshaun Thomas. I don't know how many more rounds the Buckeyes can advance to if they're only getting offense from one of their three scorers.

Yes, William Buford scored 17 points, but six of those came when the game was over. In fact, had the bench not let the team down, he would have finished with eleven points on 3-9 shooting, including 1-6 from three-point range.

In other words, it would have been the William Buford that this team can't afford to have if they are going to win a National Championship.

They can probably win one more game without getting scoring from three players, but beyond that the Buckeyes are going to have to do it with defense.

First Thought

I really can't say enough about Deshaun Thomas' performance. He was the only starter who shot over 50% from the field (13-22), and he carried the Buckeyes when nobody else was able to.

Thomas scored a career-high 31 points and hardly broke a sweat doing it. Don't get me wrong, he certainly worked for it, but he just made it look really, really easy.

Is it wrong of me to have more confidence in him having the ball in the paint than Jared Sullinger?

Those two came into this season as a sort of Batman and Robin, though I'm starting to think they switched costumes sometime in February.

Unhelpful Thought

The Ohio State bench scored seven points tonight, which isn't much, though sadly it seems like it's more than normal. People have clamored for the bench all season—I'm guessing I have done it as well, but we saw again tonight that this bench just isn't ready.

When Thad Matta brought in the reserves late int he game, I'm sure the starters thought their night was over. Instead, they had to go back in to make sure things stopped being so interesting.

I can understand the bench players performing a bit lax, given the large lead and the late stage of the game, but if they are trying to prove their worth, they should prove it whenever given the chance.

After a performance like tonight, I guess we just have to conclude that they aren't able to prove anything right now.

Big Thought

I think Deshaun Thomas is a good small forward, but he's a very good power forward. If he comes back to Ohio State for a third season, he will become a great power forward.

I know I've been talking all season long about what Thomas needs to do to be ready for the NBA, but if he chooses to come back, he's already got everything that he needs to be able to dominate on offense next season.

His post moves are first-rate, and his confidence is even better. His understanding of the basket's location allows him to shoot quickly with swift moves, and his touch allows him to make those nearly-blind shots.

Every shot in the paint feels like it's going to go in when he shoots it. It makes you wonder what he could be like next year if he was the team's number one option in the post.

Small Thought

I'm really not looking forward to this team playing against Kentucky and Anthony Davis. They simply don't have the size and explosion to combat his defense. Jared Sullinger will go right at Davis early on, and Davis won't even have to jump to block his shots.

Late Thought

Seriously, who starts a basketball game at 10:00 pm? It can't be any fun waiting all day in hotel rooms or locker rooms for tip off. Your entire day is thrown off.

The committee should at least be able to make west coast teams play these late games since their bodies are used to it.

And yes, I'm tired and cranky.

Messy Thought

It just wouldn't be an Ohio State double-digit lead without a long period of ineffectiveness. The Buckeyes led by eleven points at the half and halfway through the second half, there wasn't much difference.

Yes, the game was never in doubt, but if this was against a better opponent, it would have been. You can only shoot terribly for so long before an okay team ends your season. With shooting like we saw in the first half tonight, that end could come at any time.

Rough Thought

Loyola played the game like a bunch of hacks. That's not a derogatory statement, rather it's just a comment on the style that they play. Well, plus they hack a lot too.

It's not a brand of basketball that I find enjoyable, nor do I think it helps even the playing field. A lower seed can't come in and set a physical tone because they haven't earned any calls from the referees yet.

In fact, Loyola's style actually helped the Buckeyes tonight. With a shooting night like they had, it was the number of free throws that helped counter their poor first-half shooting.

Soft Thought

Along with Loyola's rough play on defense was their similarly rough play on offense. They took the ball right at Ohio State, and the Buckeyes backed up plenty.

This would not be a good trend to continue because Ohio State will be meeting up against more talented players in every single round from here on out.

They need to make a stand on defense, and keep it.

Final Thought

I don't think referees believe Jared Sullinger when he says he gets fouled every time down court, and I guarantee that they don't like it when he complains after every missed shot.

It's gotten to the point where everybody on the court expects him to call for a foul every time he takes a shot, so when he does it, it's nothing but white noise.

His frustration then is a combination of his struggles with the refs, and a frustration at his own inability to perform to his capabilities. He then lashes out at those he deems responsible for his troubles.

Though I'm not sure he's ever complained about himself.

Titans’ ‘for-life’ contract offer to Manning may be a way to gain salary cap advantage

Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams has been going hard at Peyton Manning ever since the quarterback became a free agent, and it seems that Adams may have come up with an interesting way to sweeten the pot. Adams' intent to make Manning a fixture of the Titans franchise "for life" may actually be a novel way to give Manning certain advantages he may not receive from other teams.

According to Fox Sports' Alex Marvez, the Titans could offer Manning, who spent a large part of Wednesday meeting with team officials and coaches, the promise of a front-office position after his career is over, without any financial promise affecting the Titans' salary cap situation over the life of any deal covering Manning's football-playing days. Marvez reports that the promise of a front-office position would not promote any kind of cap hit, but that the position offered must be considered fair market value for the position.

In other words, if the Titans decided to put a similar offer on the table to those presented by other teams, and then chose to add some sort of seven-figure-per-year deal for a nebulous position later on, there's nothing to prevent that from happening.

Penguins get band back together

NEW YORK -- Of all the things that you can imagine would be going through Sidney Crosby's mind as he approached The Relaunch 2.0, what he was thinking was the most basic concern of any great teammate.

Please, please don't let this season-high win streak end when I get back in the lineup.

"I didn't want to be that guy," Crosby said with a chuckle after a 5-2 win over the New York Rangers on Thursday. "I'm glad we won, obviously. I knew the guys were playing well, but there's a bit of an adjustment. … I thought everyone played great and I'm happy we got the win."

Make it 10 wins in a row for the hottest team in hockey, who also got top defenseman Kris Letang back Thursday night as the Penguins imposed themselves on a banged-up Rangers team.

But please spare us the violins, Rangers fans. Let's not start whining about injuries when you're talking about a Penguins team that has been missing key parts for two years.

Crosby joined fellow centers Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal in a game for only the 11th time over the past two seasons. That's just ridiculous.

What star winger James Neal envisioned when he was traded to Pittsburgh in February 2011 has finally materialized after 13 months. Crosby, Malkin, Staal, Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury all playing alongside him.

"This is the team," Neal told ESPN.com. "It's fun. It's exciting to look around the room. When you're out practicing and flying around, just the atmosphere. It's a deep lineup with a ton of great players. It was exciting to have a full lineup tonight and come out especially in this atmosphere in such a big game. It was a lot of fun. Great to have those guys back."

Maybe Rangers GM Glen Sather wasn't trying to be coy at all Wednesday in Boca Raton, Fla., when he said he thought the Penguins with Crosby back were the best team in the league.

If everyone stays healthy, it's hard to see anyone in the East beating them. The Penguins moved to within four points of the Rangers with a game in hand and another head-to-head matchup left this season.

I won't be the only one to say it, but my money's heavily on the Penguins overtaking the Rangers for first place, especially when you look at how each club is trending with three weeks to go.

"The possibilities are unlimited I guess," Letang said when asked about the potential now with everyone back. "We have a great team. Especially our goaltending has been unbelievable this year. And having Sid back … it's great to see."

The band is back together for the first time in what has felt like eternity.

"I don't think anybody really wants to talk about it too much, we just want to go with it," Crosby smiled. "But it's really awesome to have all the guys together. Usually you're seeing one or two guys doing rehab. To have everyone come together in a big win like this is obviously a lot of fun."

Letang was terrific in his return to the lineup, a career-high plus-5 with one assist.

But all eyes, of course, were on No. 87. After somewhat of a slow start to the game, Crosby looked more and more comfortable out there, driving to the net as always and not looking like a player that had any interest in changing his game.

He played 16:00 on the dot, just six seconds more than his previous return Nov. 15 against the Islanders. He set up Chris Kunitz for a goal and was plus-3 on the night.

Asked to compare his two comeback games, Crosby said he tried to maintain more emotional control this time around.

"I was just trying to calm myself a little bit more than I was last time," he said. "I was pretty excited that time. I mean, I was excited this time, too, but I didn't want to get caught trying to do too much. I just wanted to be responsible out there and doing the right things, those details are important especially in big games like this. I was just trying to make sure I tried [to be] as even keel as I could. It wasn't easy, but to get the result we got makes things a lot easier."

Head coach Dan Bylsma started Crosby between Matt Cooke (who had two goals) and Tyler Kennedy, but shifted him to a line between Steve Sullivan and Pascal Dupuis. Crosby also played a bit of wing alongside Staal at one point. A bit of everything.

"Pretty much what I expected as far as ice time, how I felt, everything felt pretty good," Crosby said. "It felt like I was able to get more comfortable as time went on."

Eventually, Bylsma will have an interesting decision on his hands. The top line of Malkin, Neal and Kunitz has been dynamite all season long, perhaps the best line in the NHL.

But at some point, once Crosby has his "A" game fully going and his minutes are ready to climb, one has to think he'll need to get either Kunitz or Neal on his wing to better complement him -- not to mention better balance out Pittsburgh's top-six attack.

Betting money is on Kunitz to be that man, given his past playing time alongside Crosby. It's uncanny how Crosby found him for a goal Thursday night in the brief moment in the game when both players were on the ice together at even strength.

Juggling ice time and line combinations is a trickier assignment now for Bylsma. But as he said Thursday morning, it's a problem he's more than happy to have.

No kidding.

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