U.S./Greece preview

When Team USA takes the court Thursday night (Friday morning in the U.S.) in the semifinals of the FIBA World Championship, they’ll face their toughest opponent to date. Greece is 7-0 in WC play and is the reigning European champion. Considering they don’t have an NBA player on their roster, that’s saying something. Greece does a terrific job of slowing the game down, playing offensive possessions late into the shot clock and getting to the foul line. In short, they’re good at making the game ugly, and when that happens, favorites often lose.

Offensively, Greece will pound the ball inside to their big men, Lazaros Papadopoulos and Sofoklis Schortsianitis. On defense, they’ll matchup man-to-man, but they won’t be flying around in the passing lanes getting out of position. This will limit Team USA’s opportunities and force them to make outside shots to win the game. Germany had a similar intent with its 2-3 zone, but the Americans were able to get on the offensive glass to create second and third opportunities. It won’t be so easy against Greece, who has the size to match up with Team USA’s frontline.

But there two things about the Greeks that present even bigger problems for Team USA: heart and cohesiveness. This is a real team that has played together (on and off) for years, not just a collection of the country’s talent cobbled together at the last minute. Each player has a role to play so there won’t be any players trying to do things that they – physically or skill-wise – aren’t able to do. They have a reputation for always playing like a champion, so the U.S. should expect maximum effort regardless of the score. Moreover, they should expect Greece to play with a chip on their shoulder. Greece represents Europe’s best, and for a long time the continent has taken a back seat basketball-wise to the United States, so there is much to play for in the eyes of the Europeans.

That said, the U.S. team has a physical advantage over Greece. If Team USA limits turnovers and takes good shots, they’ll have a chance to win the game. The most important priority should be to play solid, man-to-man defense. The U.S. has a tendency to gamble defensively, going for steals when they should stay home on their defender. Thus far, other than the game against Italy, it hasn’t hurt them, but that could easily change in the next two contests.

Team USA is no doubt playing in the passing lanes because head coach Mike Krzyzewski told them to do so. His Duke teams always play like that, with great results. But here’s the difference – at Duke, a guy can get out of position and maybe two or three guys on the opposing team can make them pay. In international ball, four or five opposing players can hit a mid-range jumper, take it to the rack with success or find the open man. Team USA still needs to play aggressively, as much of their success can be attributed to turning the other team over and pushing the ball up court, but they need to avoid gambling needlessly. Because it will cost them.

Team USA always gets its opponent’s best shot. Coach K is used to this – year after year, his Duke teams walk around with giant bull’s-eyes on their chests. The question is – how will his players react? Will they come together under tough circumstances and pull out a win? Or will they fold under the pressure?

I guess we’ll find out Friday morning @ 3:30 AM ET on ESPN2.

In the other semifinal, Spain (Pau Gasol) and Argentina (Manu Ginobili) square off at 6:30 AM, also on ESPN2.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

Bullz-Eye’s 2006 College Game of the Week

In honor of the 2006 college football season, Bullz-Eye.com will preview an up-and-coming game of the week, each week, for the entire length of the NCAA season.

Each week a game will be highlighted and broken down by each team’s strengths and weaknesses vs. its opponent. Plus, no preview would be complete without a forecasted score – along with the game breakdown, you’ll find a prediction on Bullz-Eye.com as well.

On tap this week: #11 Florida State at #12 Miami (FL)

Bullz-Eye’s 2006 College Football Preview

Anybody ready for some football?

With the NFL still a week away, the NCAA kicks off its action tonight with a bevy of games on tap. The only ranked team playing tonight is No. 24 Arizona State taking on Northern Arizona, but so what?

We’ve been without football for nearly seven months and I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m clamoring for some pigskin action that actually counts in the record book.

Now that the college season is upon us, what would the fun be without a little look into the crystal ball? My NCAA College Football Preview is up on Bullz-Eye.com and for a little taste, here are the top five programs on my list.

For the full 20, you’ll have to click on the link to Bullz-Eye at the bottom of the post.

1. Ohio State
Studs: Troy Smith, QB; Ted Ginn Jr., WR; Quinn Pitcock, DT; Antonio Pittman, RB
Despite only returning two starters on defense, the Buckeyes are primed to make a run at the National Championship. QB Troy Smith’s comparisons to Vince Young aren’t as far off as some people will have you believe. Smith can make plays in the spread offense both through the air and on the ground. WR Ted Ginn Jr. will have plenty of opportunities to dazzle in OSU’s offense and on special teams while getting a chance to line up as a quarterback in shotgun formations. The running tandem of All-Big Ten Antonio Pittman and freshman Chris Wells will be hard to stop this year. Experience on defense will be the only question mark heading into the season, but having a dominating force such as DT Quinn Pitcock will help ease the transition. Also, facing a Texas team that will have an inexperienced QB so early in the season (Sept. 9) will only help the Buckeyes chances of being the top dog in January.
Game to Watch: at Texas, Sept. 9

2. Texas
Studs: Frank Okam, DT; Tarell Brown, CB; Justin Blalock, OT
With such high expectations heading into the season, expect either Colt McCoy or Jevan Snead, whichever young QB wins the job, to struggle initially. Look for the defense to carry the Longhorns early in the season with corners Aaron Ross and Tarell Brown. Both are dependable enough to play on islands and top LB recruit Sergio Kindle should make a huge splash even as a freshman. Texas has a solid offensive line led by All-American OT Justin Blalock and can run the ball efficiently with Jamaal Charles and Selvin Young. The Longhorns may take an early loss to Ohio State, but the defending champs have all the makings for a repeat title run.
Game to Watch: vs. Ohio State, Sept. 9

3. USC
Studs: Dwayne Jarrett, WR; Lawrence Jackson, DE; Ryan Kalil, C
No Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush or LenDale White? No problem for head coach Pete Carroll and the Trojans. USC has an explosive wide receiver duo in Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith. Jarrett is a 6-foot-5, 215-pound junior with unbelievable playmaking skills that should be double covered on every play. Smith is a nice complement on the other side of Jarrett and, sticking with the offensive theme, tailback Chauncey Washington should have no problem carrying the load left by Bush and White. In fact, when Washington was a freshman, coaches considered him the better prospect over Bush and White, but grades kept him from showing his potential. Weaknesses in the secondary and replacing so many high talent playmakers will be the only thing that can keep USC down this year.
Game to Watch: vs. Notre Dame, Nov. 25

4. Notre Dame
Studs: Brady Quinn, QB; Tom Zbikowski, S; Jeff Samardzija, WR
When you have a Heisman Trophy candidate as your quarterback, as the Domers do in Brady Quinn, expectations will understandably be soaring heading into the regular season. Quinn doesn’t have to do everything on his own, however, as he has some veteran weapons at his disposal in wide receivers Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight. Quinn also will be paired with RB Darius Walker in one of the top backfields in the nation. Depending on who you ask, Notre Dame’s weakness is in the secondary. However, cornerbacks Tom Zbikowski and Chinedum Ndukwe are leaders and can play man coverage as well as the pair from Ohio State can. If ND can get past a physical schedule early on and head into November undefeated, they’ll be tough to bounce out of National Championship contention.
Game to Watch: at USC, Nov. 25

5. Auburn
Studs: Kenny Irons, RB; Quentin Groves, DE; Courtney Taylor, WR
A top-five backfield and secondary will aid the Tigers’ chances at a title in ’06. Tailback Kenny Irons’ breakout 2005 season (1,293 yards, 13 touchdowns) provided a surprisingly smooth transition from Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown the year before. Teamed up with Irons will be steady QB Brandon Cox, who excels at the little things like selling play fakes and handling the ball. When new coordinator Will Muschamp moved All-SEC free safety Will Herring to linebacker this offseason, he improved his LB corps, but many wondered if he hurt his secondary. But with David Irons and Jonathan Wilhite returning at corner this season, Muschamp had the flexibility to make the move, and the risk should pay off during the season. Point of weakness for the Tigers heading into ’06: They need WR Courtney Taylor to bounce back to 2004 form quick, fast and in a hurry.
Game to Watch: vs. LSU, Sept. 16

Read the rest at Bullz-Eye.com

Ranking the NFL: Best and Worst defensive line units

Throughout the preseason, we’ll take a look at the best – and worst – the NFL has to offer, unit by unit. Look for a new set of rankings every few days.

A powerful defensive line can do wonders for your entire defense. The d-line can keep guards off linebackers or create a rush to give the secondary a helping hand in the passing game.

A team can have sack masters, space eaters or a combination of both if the line is good enough.

Keeping in mind that some teams play the 4-3 and some play the 3-4, what defensive lines are the best in the NFL?

Criteria for defensive line:

80% of a team’s grade will fall on the four starters (or three if the team plays a 3-4). Of those starters, the unit must strike a balance between being able to stop the run and generating a pass rush up front.

Since a lot of teams use a rotation in order to keep their line fresh for the fourth quarter, the rest of the 20% will go to the depth a unit has. Teams may rise or fall depending on their depth, but most of the emphasis will go on the starters.

The Top 10:

1. Carolina Panthers
Julius Peppers, Michael Rucker, Kris Jenkins, Maake Kemoeatu, Kindal Moorehead
It’s hard to argue the production this unit can generate both against the run and pressuring the quarterback. Julius Peppers is an athletic freak who occasionally lines up as wide receiver on the goal line, but mostly just sacks quarterbacks (10.5 put downs last year). Michael Rucker is 31, but is a relentless worker who had 7.5 sacks last year. Kris Jenkins is a former Pro Bowler who could be one of the best DT’s in the game if he could ever stay healthy, and Maake Kemoeatu adds massive size to this unit. Carolina finished fourth against the run last year. Kindal Moorehead and Al Wallace provide excellent depth for this unit.

2. Seattle Seahawks
Grant Wistrom, Rocky Bernard, Chuck Darby, Bryce Fisher, Marcus Tubbs
Talk about depth. The Seahawks can go five deep with their defensive line unit and still get quality production from every player. Grant Wistrom had a bit of a down year last year and needs to rebound, but both Rocky Bernard and Bryce Fisher finished with just under 10 sacks apiece. Chuck Darby ended up being one of the better free agent pickups last season and Marcus Tubbs finished with five and a half sacks as a reserve.

3. Chicago Bears
Adewale Ogunleye, Alex Brown, Tommie Harris, Ian Scott, Alfonso Boone
This line is one of the more balanced front fours in the entire league. Adewale Ogunleye is a speed rusher from the outside and Alex Brown gets consistent pressure opposite the former Dolphin. Tommie Harris and Ian Scott make up two of the most underrated tackles in the league and the Bears have depth to burn with Michael Haynes, Tank Johnson, Alfonso Boone and rookie Dusty Dvoracek.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars
Reggie Howard, John Henderson, Marcus Stroud, Paul Spicer, Rob Meier
This unit could easily be the top defensive line in the league if they were just a bit better against the run. Marcus Stroud and John Henderson form possibly the best defensive-tackle duo in the NFL and since the team added Reggie Howard, he and Paul Spicer give Jacksonville a nice pass rush from the outside. Howard led the Jags with 8.5 sacks last year and Spicer was right on his heels with 7.5. Rob Meier can play both the tackle and end position when rest for the starters is needed.

5. Indianapolis Colts
Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Montae Reagor, Raheem Brock, Corey Simon
These guys are about average or slightly above against the run, but man, can they rush the passer. Dwight Freeney is the big name out of this group, and rightfully so with his speed and athleticism, but pass-rush specialist Robert Mathis is a handful himself. Freeney and Mathis combined to give Indianapolis 22.5 sacks last year. Montae Regor has become the d-line’s leader while Corey Simon fit in well last year as a free agent. Raheem Brock may be the most versatile player among the front four.

6. Pittsburgh Steelers
Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, Orien Harris
The first three-man defensive line on the list goes to the Super Bowl Champions. This unit leaves the sacks to the linebackers, but Casey Hampton gives opposing interior offensive linemen fits trying to man up on him. Aaron Smith is great at the point of attack and gives the Steelers their best pass rush while opposite end Brett Keisel was needed to secure the void left by Kimo von Oeloffen’s defection. If rookie Orien Harris is ready to play at the start of the season, he may claim the starter’s spot from Keisel. Pittsburgh finished third against the run last season.

7. New England Patriots
Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork, Ty Warren, Dan Kleco
You could make a serious argument that the Patriots should flip-flop with the Steelers because of end Richard Seymour, but we’ll leave New England here for now. All three of these guys are former number-one picks and Seymour is the best of the bunch by fitting so well into head coach Bill Belichick’s scheme. Ty Warren has started 32 straight regular season games, which speaks volumes about his dependability, and Vince Wilfork finished second on the team last year with 91 tackles. The depth is a bit better on the Steelers at this point, but New England reserve Dan Kleco has a high motor.

8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Simeon Rice, Greg Spires, Chris Hovan, Anthony McFarland, Jon Bradley
This group gets passed over a lot when analysts talk about defensive lines because Tampa has such a good front seven as a whole, but the Bucs are talented up front. Simeon Rice is a sack demon virtually every year and, although Greg Spires finished with only four sacks, he is probably the best overall player on Tampa’s line. Anthony “Booger” McFarland finally stayed healthy last season and the addition of Chris Hovan propelled the Bucs to a top-10 finish against the run in 2005. Jon Bradley found his way into the regular rotation last season.

9. Miami Dolphins
Jason Taylor, Kevin Carter, Vonnie Holliday, Keith Traylor, Dan Wilkinson
Miami has a solid balance of rush and pass with Jason Taylor leading the way with 12 sacks last year. Kevin Carter and Vonnie Holliday provided a nice pass rush as well last season, and adding big Dan Wilkinson in the offseason will help shore up the run defense in ’06 along with Keith Traylor.

10a. Atlanta Falcons
John Abraham, Patrick Kerney, Rod Coleman, Grady Jackson, Chauncey Davis
The Falcons were on the verge of missing the top 10 due to their atrocious run defense last year, but they didn’t have two of these two guys in ‘05. The Atlanta foursome of John Abraham, Patrick Kerney, Rod Coleman and Grady Jackson has a combined for 190 career regular season starts between them. No other foursome in the league can touch that number and the recent addition of Jackson gives this unit some beef in the middle to help stop opposing runners this year. How excited are Chris Simms, Jake Delhomme and Drew Brees to face this bunch twice a year?

10b. San Diego Chargers
Luis Castillo, Igor Olshansky, Jamal Williams, Chase Page, Jacques Cesaire
The Giants just missed the list in favor of the Chargers’ young trio. Odds are not a lot of people have heard of this group, but they, along with the Chargers’ linebacker unit, finished number one in the NFL against the run last season. The best thing about this unit is its youth too, with Luis Castillo heading into only his second year and Igor Olshansky a mere pup too. Jamal Williams is the veteran of the group and made his first Pro Bowl appearance last season.

The Bottom Five:

28. Oakland Raiders
Derrick Burgess, Tyler Brayton, Tommy Kelly, Warren Sapp, Lance Johnstone
Derrick Burgess led the league in sacks, but he and the rest of this unit get abused in the running game and Warren Sapp should be regulated to a backup at this stage in his declining career.

29. Kansas City Chiefs
Jared Allen, Lional Dalton, Eric Hicks, Tamba Hali, Ryan Sims
Jared Allen is the only true stud of the group with 11 sacks last year, but Eric Hicks is going to get a lot of pressure from rookie Tamba Hali and Ryan Sims continues to be a disappointment due to injuries.

30. San Francisco 49ers
Bryant Young, Anthony Adams, Marques Douglas, Ronnie Fields
Marques Douglas led all 49er linemen with 62 tackles last year, but Anthony Adams is playing out of place in a 3-4 system. How much longer will Bryant Young play?

31. Buffalo Bills
Aaron Schobel, Larry Tripplett, Chris Kelsay, Kyle Williams, John McCargo
Aaron Schobel had a nice year, posting double-digit sacks, but Chris Kelsay isn’t much help on the other side and rookie John McCargo will push Kyle Williams and newly acquired Larry Tripplett for their jobs.

32. Cincinnati Bengals
Justin Smith, Sam Adams, Robert Geathers, Bryan Robinson, Shaun Smith
How can a team with such a good offensive line have such a below average defensive front? This unit is terrible; they just don’t do one thing particularly well. Justin Smith can rush the passer, but hasn’t lived up to the number-four selection the Bengals used on him in 2001, and Sam Adams is getting up there in age. Robert Gethers isn’t much against the run and who knows what Cincinnati has in Bryan Robinson?

Fantasy Update (8/31)

Titans’ HC Jeff Fisher denied the CBS Sportsline item which indicated that Travis Henry was going to start Week 1. Chris Brown is apparently still the #1 guy in Tennessee, but the situation is quite muddled… Billy Volek is apparently upset about the signing of Kerry Collins and wants out of Tennessee. Collins is expected to start Week 1…Warrick Dunn is set to be the Falcons’ main offensive weapon and will be used around the goal line. This makes Dunn a great pick in the third round, especially in PPR leagues…Carson Palmer suffered no ill-effects in his knee after Monday night’s game and is expected to start the final preseason game. With injuries like his, it’s always good to hear that the player suffered no aftereffects. His healthy return continues to boost the value of Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Rudi Johnson…NFL.com is reporting that Adam Vinatieri has a severely injured ankle, going so far as to say that it may be broken. When asked about it, Vinatieri didn’t deny the report. He’s a kicker, so stay away from him for now.

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