Wednesday, August 27, 2014

FIBA Basketball World Cup Preview

2010 USA team that won the tournament

The FIBA Basketball World Cup gets underway in a couple of days with some of the biggest and best talent from around the world taking part.  Sure the USA does not have some of its best players, but it is still a very star studded line-up that we will see.  In this year’s tournament, Finland is the only squad that is making its first appearance at the Basketball World Cup.

(The record in the brackets indicates the team’s exhibition game record)
Group A:
Brazil (5-3)
Egypt (5-5)
France (6-3)
Iran (8-10)
Serbia (6-3)
Spain (8-0)
Thoughts/Expectations: Spain has a squad that features the likes of the Gasol brothers, Ibaka, Rubio & co. that should easily take them to the quarters with a first place finish.  The only two other teams that may push Spain a little bit are France (it should be mentioned that Parker will not partake in this tournament) and Serbia.  Brazil has a handful of big men that can straight up play, but I worry about their guard play.
Four going through (in order): 1. Spain 2. France 3. Serbia 4. Brazil

Group B:
Argentina (4-4)
Croatia (2-3)
Greece (5-3)
Philippines (6-7)
Puerto Rico (5-4)
Senegal (1-3)
Thoughts/Expectations: This is anyone’s group for the taking, especially when you consider that Argentina is not the basketball powerhouse it used to be.  I am very eager to see how Croatian youngsters Saric and Hezonja do on the big stage, as I have not seen much of them in the past.  If Blatche can put together a solid tournament, then the Philippines could have a chance at escaping this group.
Four going through (in order): 1. Croatia 2. Greece 3. Argentina 4. Puerto Rico

Group C:  
Dominican Republic (8-2)
Finland (1-6)
New Zealand (8-5)
Turkey (1-6)
Ukraine (3-4)
USA (4-0)
Thoughts/Expectations: USA is obviously the class of this group and should probably go 5-0, maybe 4-1.  New Zealand has a good team with a blend of young and veteran players, which is something that is very important when it comes to tournaments such as these.  Ukraine is really hit or miss, only time will tell which Ukraine team shows up.
Four going through (in order): 1. USA 2. New Zealand 3. Dominican Republic 4. Finland

Group D:
Angola (1-4)
Australia (7-5)
Korea (1-1)
Lithuania (12-2)
Mexico (6-3)
Slovenia (6-4)
Thoughts/Expectations: I cannot wait to see Exum play for Australia, definitely one of the players to watch in this tournament and almost all of the Australian players, play a big part for their team (the team features four NBA players).  Lithuania, as always, is a basketball powerhouse.  Personally, I want to see what Valanciunas can do against some of the best big men, at the international level.  Slovenia, similar to Lithuania is a very good team with a tremendous blend of youth/veteran players.  Look out for Suns guard, Dragic.

Four going through (in order): 1. Slovenia 2. Australia 3. Lithuania 4. Mexico

Ogi B

Monday, August 25, 2014

FK Vojvodina/Red Star Recap

Lazovic, Kovacevic and Petkovic celebrate Rakic's goal
Red Star made it three of three, with a big win over rival, FK Vojvodina.  The only goal of the game was scored by Djordje Rakic.  Unfortunately for Rakic, he was subbed off in the 36th minute due to a shoulder injury.  This was also Nenad Milijas’ final game in a Red Star shirt.  He will be continuing his career for Turkish side, Manisaspor.

Red Star came out in the following line up (4-1-4-1):
Rajkovic; Petkovic, Pavicevic, Lazic, Mijailovic; Kovacevic; Lazovic, Savicevic, Milijas, Pecnik; Rakic
Used subs: Jovic-Rakic, Gavric-Pecnik, Gogic-Savicevic

Vanja Milinkovic-Savic was in goal for FK Vojvodina, as he has the previous two games as well.  For those not familiar, Milinkovic-Savic was sold to Manchester United this summer, and then he was sent back to Vojvodina on loan, where he will actually get playing time.  He is also only 17 years old.

The first big chance for Red Star came in the 10th minute, when Petkovic sprung Lazovic with an amazing through ball.  Lazovic got by Vojvodina’s left-back and had a go on net, but the shot had nothing behind it, thus not giving Milinkovic-Savic any problems.

In the 12th minute, off a corner kick, Pecnik got his head on a ball, but it just sailed wide of the Vojvodina post.

The first breakthrough came in the 16th minute, when Rakic let a shot go from about 20 metres.  The ball sailed into the right corner of the net, and the traveling Red Star supporters went wild.

Through the first 25 minutes of the game, Red Star has looked like the better of the two sides, but both teams are having trouble controlling the ball, due to sloppy and wet conditions.

The first real chance for Vojvodina came in the 27th minute.  Veselinovic had a go on net, but the ball was deflected by a Red Star defender and Rajkovic ended up getting a glove on it, as well.

In the 36th minute, Rakic was subbed off for Jovic, due to a shoulder injury.

The first half ended with Red Star dominating for the most part, but Vojvodina also had some chances to pull even.

In the 50th minute, Red Star had their first chance of the second half, but Milijas’ free kick from about 20 yards sailed just over the crossbar.

Luka Jovic had his first chance of the game; his shot was on target, but right into the waiting hands of Milinkovic-Savic.

In the 60th minute, Pecnik went off for summer signing, Gavric.  Two minutes after coming on, Gavric header attempt was right at the goalie, even though it was bobbled in the process.  Red Star had no problems getting shots on net in this game; the real problem was that they were mostly right at the goalie.

With approximately 20 minutes left in the game, we saw a lot of tired play from both squads, which is totally understandable.  Both teams gave it their all and the conditions were not the greatest either.

The last real chance in the game came in the 82nd minute, when Mijailovic let a shot go from about 25 metres, but it sailed wide of the net.

This was Milijas’ last game in a Red Star shirt because he is set to join Turkish side, Manisaspor.  This was FK Vojvodina’s first loss of the season, but it still looks like they will be fighting for a top spot, as they do every season.  Rakic’s knock could keep him out of Red Star’s clash vs. Spartak Subotica, which is scheduled for Saturday.

This next week could be very important for Red Star because players such as: Lazovic, Pecnik, Petkovic, among others, could be leaving the club.

Ogi B

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Slept On NBA Signings-Summer 2014

Sure, these guys are good, but what about the rest?
It has been a very busy off-season in the NBA, in case you have been sleeping under a rock.  “Finally, the King has come back to Clevelaaaand” (you have to read that in The Rock’s voice, otherwise it is just not that funny), Bosh and Wade stayed in Miami, and Anthony stayed in New York, but what about the lesser names, who could possibly make a difference for an NBA team?

In this article I will look at the NBA “All Free Agent” team, made up of players who flew under the radar this summer with their signings.

Jordan Farmar and Spencer Hawes, along with Clippers coach, Doc Rivers
Centre-Spencer Hawes, Los Angeles Clippers signed for 4 years/$23 million-solid guy to come off the bench for Clips, who can stretch out the defense, rebound for you, and is a very good passer for a big man.  Hawes also hit about 78% of his free throws last year, which is a huge upgrade over DeAndre Jordan’s 43%.  I can see Hawes playing a bulk of the minutes down the stretch in a tight ball game due to his free throw ability.

Ed Davis & Mitch Kupchak
Power Forward-Ed Davis, Los Angeles Lakers signed for 2 years/$2 million-had some ups & downs in his time with Toronto, but he left on a high, when he was traded to the Grizzlies for Rudy Gay.  Once he arrived in Memphis, I thought he would most definitely get some good minutes playing behind veteran, Zach Randolph, but that simply was not the case.  Hopefully for Ed this is a new start in L.A., even though they have a rather packed frontcourt.  He is a great rebounder and gets off his feet very quickly.  He has also developed a jump shot, but we have not seen too much of it.

P.J. Tucker
Small Forward-P.J. Tucker, Phoenix Suns signed for 3 years/$16.5 million-last year he proved that he can play at the NBA level by guarding the opposing teams best player night in and night out.  Tucker’s three point shooting gets overlooked sometimes (shot about 39%).  That extreme DUI scares me a little bit, though.

Rodney Stuckey
Shooting Guard-Rodney Stuckey, Indiana Pacers signed for 1 year/$1.3 million-considering Paul George is out for the entire 2014/2015 season this Stuckey signing is not too bad, when you consider he can score, so he picks up the slack in that category a little bit, but obviously he is not either George or Stephenson.  Stuckey can also play the point if need be.

Isaiah Thomas at a Suns press conference
Point Guard-Isaiah Thomas, Phoenix Suns signed for 4 years/$27 million-I loved watching him play for Washington when he was in the NCAA and the same goes for the NBA.  Even though he is only 5’9, he has the heart of a lion that never gives up (mind you he was picked last in the 2011 draft).  Thomas is great at getting his teammates involved on the offensive side of the ball, and he is actually a good defender, considering his size.  Thomas shot a very respectable 45% from the floor last season.  Once he signed with the Suns, Thomas mentioned that he would try his best to beat his former team and show them that the organization made a bad decision in letting him go.

Ogi B

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Red Star/FK Jagodina Recap

welcomed FK Jagodina to the Marakana stadium, as a host for the second straight match.  Red Star came on top in this match by a score of 3:0.  Goals were scored by: Milijas, Rakic and Lazovic.

Red Star came out in the following line up (4-1-4-1):
Rajkovic; Petkovic, Pavicevic, Lazic, Mijailovic; Kovacevic; Lazovic, Savicevic, Milijas, Pecnik; Rakic
Used subs: Jovic-Rakic, Ristic-Savicevic, Jovanovic-Pavicevic

Red Star started the match rather quickly.  In the 1st minute of play, Jagodina goalkeeper, Peric mishandled a soft ball that was crossed from the left side of the pitch, the ball then came to Lazovic, who was not sure whether to shoot the ball or pass it.  Jagodina survived a big time scare early.

For the second game in a row, Red Star was not able to use their recently signed players due to registration problems.  Hopefully this matter will be cleared up before next week’s huge game vs FK Vojvodina.  On Jagodina’s side, they did not start their biggest signing, Freddy Adu.  The team stated that he is not ready for a full 90 just yet.

In the first 10-15 minutes, there was a lot of bad passing from both clubs, which resulted in a ton of bad fouls, which obviously slowed down the match.

In the 16th minute, amazing one-two passing from Milijas and Savicevic, as Milijas broke through Jagodina’s defense, he decided to pass the ball to Rakic from about five metres out, but Rakic cleared did not expect the ball in that situation.

In the 19th minute, Savicevic had a go on net from inside the box, but Peric made a superb stop to keep the match at 0’s.

First breakthrough came in the 38th minute from a remarkable Milijas free kick from about 30-33 yards out.  The ball hit the post and landed in the back of the net for a 1-0 lead, which Red Star took into halftime.  This was Milijas’ third goal of the season already.

Two minutes into the second half, Red Star got their second goal of the match.  This time Rakic put away a ball that Jagodina goalie, Peric spilled once again.  Interesting to note that the referee did not call a foul once Peric lost the ball, which is usually the case, whether it is a foul or not.  I truly think that the first ball the goalie fumbled in the first half played a huge part in not calling a foul here.

19 minutes after making it 2-0, Red Star got their third goal of the night, which was scored by winger Lazovic, on an outstanding through ball from Milijas, who in the first two games has three goals and one assist.

In the 70th minute, Jagodina had their first real chance of the second half, but Red Star defender Pavicevic, slid in time to block Susnjar’s attempt on net.

The rest of the match was uneventful with next to no chances for either team.

Pavicevic got injured towards the end of the match, but it looks as if it is nothing too serious.  As for transfer news, Atletico Madrid offered a sum of 2.5 million euros for 16 year old, Luka Jovic, but the club has declined.  Media has suggested that Madrid may up that ante soon.  Milijas, on the other hand, will play his final game in a Red Star kit on August 23rd, when Red Star visits rival, FK Vojvodina in Novi Sad.

Ogi B

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Red Star/FK Radnicki Nis Recap

Red Star’s season got off to a good start as the Serbian champions defeated Radnicki Nis by a score of 2:0 and thus earning new coach, Nenad Lalatovic his first win with the club.  Both goals by Red Star were scored by captain, Nenad Milijas in the 43rd and 45th minute respectively. 

Red Star came out in the following line up (4-1-4-1):
Rajkovic; Petkovic, Pavicevic, Lazic, Mijailovic; Kovacevic; Lazovic, Savicevic, Milijas, Pecnik; Rakic
Used subs: Jovic-Pecnik, Ristic-Savicevic, Jovanovic-Lazic

The game got off to a quick start, as Ecuadorian forward, Batioja had the best chance for the visiting Radnicki Nis, but he could not put the ball past Red Star goalie, Rajkovic, who looked good in his first game.  As always, Red Star attacked from the first minute and it paid off in the 43rd minute when Milijas scored his first of two goals in the half.

The second half saw much of the same, except that Radnicki Nis did not create any chances for themselves to get back into the game, Red Star still continued to attack, and could have easily scored another four or five goals, but missed opportunities from close range really did them in.  Red Star wonderkid, Luka Jovic came on about half way through the second, and he had two chances to score, but he just could not capitalize.  Mihailo Ristic and Vukasin Jovanovic also received some playing time towards the end of the match.

For this match Red Star did not have any of their nine new signings because of registration problems (typical), and that is one reason why the bench consisted of players from ages 16-19.  Hopefully for their next match, Red Star will have their new signings registered.  If there is one thing that I was not satisfied with in this match, it is the amount of chances that Rakic missed throughout the game.  Rakic literally could have scored four goals, but lack of finishing really hurt him.  I would not be totally shocked if Despotovic got the start next game.

If I had a “Man of the Match” award, it would go to defensive midfielder, Aleksandar Kovacevic.  He is simply all over the pitch (in a good), breaking up passes, making tackles and he rarely does not play his position the way it is supposed to be played.  In recent days, rumours have suggested that Kovacevic could be headed to Romanian giants, Steaua Bucharest for approximately one million euros.

Another rumour has Red Star captain, Nenad Milijas making the switch to Turkish second division side ManisasporManisaspor currently has two former Red Star players on their team-Nikola Mikic and Slavko Perovic.  

It should also be mentioned that this is only Red Star’s third opening day win in the last 13 years!

Match highlights below

Ogi B

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Preseason NFL Power Rankings: Ranking the Top 10

The NFL season is right around the corner and based off the dramatic offseason and the talent filled 2014 NFL Draft, this upcoming season has great potential to be one of the better ones in recent history.  This weekend brings forth the first set of NFL Preseason games which will satisfy most of our cravings from NFL football.  Many people feel that the preseason means nothing and that it’s not the high caliber football many of us will see during the regular season, however, it a very important part of an NFL team’s calendar.

The 4 preseason games that every NFL team plays are important because it allows coaches to use their rookies and draft picks for “in-game” action to see how they hold up.  Coaches also experiment with different offensive and defensive styles in order to see what style or scheme works for their team and what doesn’t. During the next four weeks teams will make roster adjustments, cut players and try their best to create an identity for their team.

Here are the top 10 teams in my rendition of the NFL Power Rankings.

1.  Seattle Seahawks – Last year’s record: 13-3
The Seahawks are made up of mainly the same Super Bowl winning team coming back, without Sidney Rice, who has recently decided to retire from action.  Percy Harvin looks healthy so far and if he stays healthy he will be a handful for opposing defenses.  The tenacious Seahawk secondary is still in place, though they have lost Brandon Browner who has landed himself in New England.

2.  Denver Broncos – Last year’s record: 13-3
With Payton Manning running the show, anything is possible.  The Broncos spent a lot of money by adding big name players to their already insanely talented roster.  They will also have a lot of big name players returning from injury which is a double positive for the fans in Denver.  They did lose the sure handed wide receiver Eric Decker to the New York Jets and last season’s head-turning running back, Knowshon Moreno to the Dolphins, however, they have plenty of talent to make up for those loses.

3.  San Francisco 49ers – Last year’s record: 12-4
San Fran is a deep and talented team on both sides of the ball.  They are so well equipped and have the potential to take out the best teams in the NFL. However, they will need young quarterback Colin Kaepernick to mature as a passer and not just a runner/option quarterback. If they can stay healthy and retain Aldon Smith in the starting line-up, the 49ers have a great shot at going far in the upcoming NFL season.

4.  New England Patriots – Last year’s record: 12-4
Tom Brady is still an elite quarterback playing at a very high level, so if anybody says his time is ticking, they’re wrong, plain and simple.  The Patriots have an amazing ability of coaching up players and turning them into all-stars. What they managed to do last season with the roster they had was simply amazing.  Coach Belichick is nothing short of genius.  The Patriots drafted well and if Tom Brady can stay healthy, it’s no question that they can run the table in the AFC East.

5.  New Orleans Saints – Last year’s record: 11-5
Coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees have this unbelievable chemistry and as long as they are both working together on the same team, you can never count them out as prominent title contenders.  With the big man Jimmy Graham signing a new contract and the addition of speedster Bradin Cooks to the roster, the Saints are looking better than ever, not that they’ve looked poor in recent years.  A massive question is whether their defence can pick up where they left off last season and continue to get better.

6.  Green Bay Packers – Last year’s record: 8-7-1
As long as they have Aaron Rodgers starting under centre for them, the Packers are always a dangerous team.  Last season they got bit by the injury bug and it took a serious toll on them.  If they can stay healthy on both sides of the ball they have a great chance at making a big impact in the NFC this season.  They must improve their defence because last season they finished near the bottom of the NFL rankings in total yards.  They’ve added the veteran defensive end, Julius Peppers and have drafted the highly sought after Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.  Hopefully those two players and can improve what was a sub-par Green Bay defence.

7.  Baltimore Ravens – Last year’s record: 8-8
The Baltimore Ravens are coming off a Super Bowl hangover type season which saw them finish with a .500 record and miss out on the playoffs.  The Ravens made some solid offseason moves by picking up veteran tight end, Owen Daniels and wide receiver Steve Smith.  The Ravens also did very well at the 2014 NFL draft by address their needs and picking up fantastic players.  It’s up to the coaching staff to coach them up to NFL standards.  If the Ravens stay healthy and Joe Flacco steps up his game and plays like he deserves the massive contract he got last season, the Ravens are contenders in the AFC North.

8.  Cincinnati Bengals – Last year’s record: 11-5
Last season the Bengals took home the tough AFC North crown and stamped their ticket to the post season only to fall flat on their faces in their playoff game against the Chargers, which saw them get dominated at home by Rivers and company.  Fresh off signing a new contract, quarterback Andy Dalton must work with his new offensive coordinator, Hue Jackson and improve his game.  The Bengals are a team with loads of potential and if they can stay healthy and maintain that high level of defensive execution they have the potential to pick up where they left off last season.  It all comes down to Andy Dalton and how well he can play under a new offensive system.

9.  Philadelphia Eagles – Last year’s record: 10-6
Last season head coach Chip Kelly put plenty of doubters and critics to bed after his team took the NFC East title and marched into the playoffs.  The biggest question is can he do it all over again or even improve on what he did last year? The offense looks solid; however, the departure of DeSean Jackson will test out how solid that offence really is.  Another big question is can the Eagles defence improve at all from being the worst ranking team in total yards allowed per game from last season? If quarterback Nick Foles can pick up where he left off, it would be fantastic for the Eagles.

10.  Indianapolis Colts – Last year’s record: 11-5
Last season Andrew Luck really proved he can play at an elite level by guiding his team to an 11-5 record and pulling off a massive come from behind playoff win against the Kansas City Chiefs.  Luck is a true leader and he can shrug off any distractions.  The Colts didn’t do so well in the draft but are looking to pick up where they left off last season.  A healthy Ahmad Bradshaw and Reggie Wayne will help boost that Indy offence.  Last season they had stepped up their defensive game so they’re hoping that their front seven can get the job done and create a lot of pressure for opposing offences.

Matt Kassabian
Twitter: @PassDaKassabian

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Who Did Well At The 2014 NBA Draft?

I have not written in a long time, since I have been on vacation for the last while, but now I am back!  The last article that posted was my mock draft, this article will take a look at five teams, who I thought did well at the draft, and two honourable mentions.

Boston Celtics (Marcus Smart and James Young)-solid acquisitions for the Celtics at the draft, as they pretty much drafted a new backcourt.  Put aside the troubles Smart had last season, and the Celtics are getting a very good PG.  Young possesses great defense, strength and his passing is a very underrated aspect of his game.

Charlotte Hornets (Noah Vonleh, P.J. Hairston, Dwight Powell and Semaj Christon)-Charlotte added a bit of everything in this draft, from a great PF (potentially), to a good shooter and then, last but not least, a PG who could potentially be another 2nd round steal.  Job well done, Charlotte.

Chicago Bulls (Doug McDermott and Cameron Bairstow)-the Bulls were the 30th ranked team in points scored (in other words, last in the league), so adding one of the better scorers in the NCAA in the past three years or so can only help the team.  Bairstow had his best season at New Mexico as a senior averaging 20/7, he also got to the free throw line just a shade under nine times a game.  Playing behind a player such as Noah, will only help Bairstow grow as an NBA talent.   

Minnesota Timberwolves (Zach LaVine, Glenn Robinson III) –LaVine could potentially fill in at two positions for the T-Wolves (PG and SG).  LaVine has great athleticism and he reminds me a lot of a former UCLA combo guard, Russell Westbrook.  Picking LaVine will hopefully put some pressure on Rubio to perform better than he has thus far in his career.  Similar to LaVine, Robinson III has great athleticism, but Robinson also possesses a better shooting stroke.

Phoenix Suns (T.J. Warren, Tyler Ennis, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Alec Brown)-Warren was one of the best scorers in college basketball last year.  He has good size and is a pretty good defender, something the Suns can surely use.  Ennis was one of the best point guards in college basketball last year, and with Bledsoe’s future up in the air, Suns made the right pick taking a guard.  Bogdanovic will be stashed in Europe for probably two more years or so, before making the jump to the NBA.  He is a solid shooter and has great size for a shooting guard (6’6)

Utah Jazz (Dante Exum, Rodney Hood)-Still not sure how Jazz will use Exum (which position), but I can see match up nightmares for opponents trying to guard the young Australian.  Jazz were probably very ecstatic when Hood dropped all the way down to 23rd in the draft.  Hood was one of the main players on a Duke squad that bounced in the first round of the NCAA tournament.  Rodney has good size for a small forward, but will likely need to bulk up a bit more, if he does not want to get manhandled in the NBA.

Philadelphia 76ers (Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, K.J. McDaniels, Jerami Grant, Vasilje Micic, Jordan McRae)-With Embiid falling, 76ers were sure to scoop him up, to possibly pair him up with Noel, their 1st round pick from last year.  If both of these players live up to potential, then the 76ers could have one of the best young frontcourts in basketball.  Saric is a player that will not come over to the NBA this year, but he is still one of the best young players in European basketball.  Jerami Grant brings size and some defending to a young 76ers squad.  One more year of college could have helped him out immensely.

Orlando Magic (Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton, Roy Devyn Marble) –First impression I got after seeing who went where at the 2014 NBA Draft, was that Gordon went a bit high at 4.  Magic could have probably moved down a couple spots from 10 and selected him with that pick.  On the other hand, I really like the Payton pick at 10.  Great size, ball handling and passing from the point guard position, something every team loves seeing.  Marble at 6’6 has good size for a SG and could potentially play at SF, if bulks up a bit.

Ogi B