New York Giants: Can Lorenzo Carter finally break out in year 3?

New York Giants, Lorenzo Carter

On paper, Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines both had extremely comparable rookie seasons in the NFL for the New York Giants. Carter posted 4.0 sacks over 40% of defensive snaps, which is a solid number for a first-year player in a new scheme. Carter passes all of the eye tests, with incredible speed and length.

However, Carter’s production in year two fell off significantly, even after experiencing a 25% bump in snaps. He was given more opportunities on defense and taken out of the special-teams significantly. After posting a 0.0% missed tackle right in his rookie season, he allowed eight missed tackles in 2019, compiling a 15.1% rate.

Additionally, in nearly 300 added snaps, he only added 0.5 sacks, two tackles, and three quarterback hits to his overall numbers. He actually recorded one less tackle for a loss over 12 games started compared to just two in 2018.

Ultimately, Carter has the physical traits to develop nicely for the Giants, and year three could be his turnaround season after a tough sophomore campaign.

Generally, Patrick Graham has had success utilizing linebackers in the 3-4 base defense. Kyler Fackrell, who worked with Graham as his linebackers coach in 2018 with a Green Bay Packers, helped him to 10.5 sacks in a similar role. I believe Carter can increase production and finally reach his potential, but they must not bury him in a depth role, they must keep him rotating in and gaining live snaps to test his abilities.

The expectation is that Ximines will elevate his game year two, which could give the Giants a nice one-two punch off the edge. In the case that they retain Markus Golden, having Carter and Oshane displaying quality pass rush moves and beating their respective assignments would be a gargantuan deal.

Here is Lorenzo Carter’s draft profile via Walter Football and what made him so special as a prospect entering the NFL:

There is no doubt that Carter definitely passes the eyeball test. He has shocking speed to go along with excellent height, length, and a natural build. Carter can be a dynamic pursuit defender. He is fast off the edge to chase after quarterbacks and running backs. When Carter is decisive, he can be deadly with a burst to close while packing a punch when he gets there. Carter needs to develop more pass-rushing moves, but he is versatile to rush from the edge or up the middle on the blitzes. Carter has the athletic skill set to be a dynamic pass-rusher, but it needs to be brought out of him, which he hasn’t done up to now.

We have seen small displays of this talent, specifically against the New England Patriots last season. Against the Pats, Carter posted 1.0 sacks, three tackles, two quarterback hits, and one forced fumble. This is the type of ability he contains, but his inconsistency has been disappointing. Nonetheless, it’s too early to write him off completely, as the upcoming season could provide a new life for the former Georgia stand out.

The New York Jets might have landed two steals in the 2020 NFL Draft

New York Jets, Jabari Zuniga

While the New York Jets have strengths across-the-board, they do have several weaknesses that could hurt them in 2020. The secondary is a bit thin at the cornerback position, especially after releasing Trumaine Johnson, who failed to earn his keep as the number one option on the defense. The pass rush is also a bit tumultuous, but the Jets took to the draft to try and att competition.

Of course, stating a player is a steal is always optimistic, but the Jets landed two high-upside players that could be immediate starters in the NFL.

1. Bryce Hall

Hall was drafted in the fifth round, and there are a number of analysts who coined him as a potential steal. Injuries derailed him in his senior year with Virginia, and the Jets took advantage of that, landing him in the later rounds. Some projected at Hall as a potential first-round pick if he remained healthy. He’s one of the best man-coverage corners coming out of college and recorded the most pass breakups last season in all of collegiate football.

Scouts are excited about the potential he brings to the NFL, but he does have some weaknesses that require refinement. His lack of ball skills and experience in zone coverage could hold him back a bit, but his strength in man should match up well with the defense Gregg Williams tends to utilize – a nice dosage of off-ball-man.

With Johnson leaving the Jets, Hall is expected to take a more in-depth role quickly. I believe they will allow him to develop earlier in his career, hopefully putting him in a starting position in 2021. However, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of him earning starting reps early on considering the lack of talent at the position. The Jets currently have Pierre Desir, Quincy Wilson, Arthur Maulet, Bless Austin, and Hall, as their options at corner.

2. Jabari Zuniga

Zuniga is an exciting pass rusher coming out of Florida. In 2018, he posted 45 total tackles, 11 tackles for loss, and 6.5 sacks. However, injury significantly hurt his draft stock, and the New York Jets eventually landed him in the third round. Jabari is a talented athlete with explosive traits, with the capabilities of emerging as a potential start early on in his career.

His strength at the line of scrimmage and aggressive mentality allow him to dominate blockers. His build allows him to play multiple positions, as his length and thick frame give him the necessary tangibles to hold his own.

Zuniga’s motor promotes a more dynamic pass rush style, as he often burns out due to fatigue. Overall, I like his physical abilities and desire to win in the trenches, but he needs a bit more development, especially after coming off a significant ankle injury in 2019. He has incredible upside, similar to Hall, meaning the Jets could’ve landed two solid players on defense moving forward.

New York Yankees Prospects: Armando Alvarez

The next prospect that we will be taking a look at was the New York Yankees 17th round pick back in 2016, and it’s a player that could see MLB action sooner than later. That prospect would be third baseman, Armando Alvarez. After getting drafted by the Yankees, Alvarez has continued to gradually make his way up through the system. After starting last season with AA Trenton, Alvarez was promoted to AAA for the second half of the season. Alvarez has pretty decent size standing 6’1 and weighing 195 pounds. He’s not a flashy prospect, but he’s solid all the way around which is how he’s made his way up to AAA. As mentioned, Alvarez spent the second half of the season with Scranton, and he looked pretty impressive there.

Rising 2019

Armando Alvarez made the final minor league jump halfway through the season last year. Alvarez spent 66 games with Scranton and the Yankees prospect looked very impressive at AAA. In those 66 games, Alvarez had an average of .277 and he drove in 44 runs. Combining his 2019 stats between Trenton and Scranton, Alvarez hit .270 with 11 home runs and 76 RBIs. In addition to hitting the ball well at both levels, Alvarez impressed me with his ability to handle third. He’s got really good first step instincts and a very solid arm from third. There is a lot to like about Alvarez as a prospect. He hits the ball consistently well, and you can trust him in the field. He’s got average speed, but he was four for four on stolen bases last year. He’s got great baseball instincts and he’s the kind of player who is going to always come in and give it his all.

MLB Ready

Armando Alvarez can play at the MLB level now. I think he’s close to maxing out on his raw talent, but he still has room to grow as a baseball player. If the Yankees had injuries at third, he’s the type of guy that fans should feel comfortable with filling in. He’s going to hit the ball well and he’s going to be serviceable defensively. When it comes on things to work on, I’d like to see Alvarez be a little more patient at the plate. He has a really good eye for hitting the ball, but I’d like to see his walk numbers go up just a little. I’d like him to get his OBP closer to the 350 mark as opposed to the current mark of 324. Alvarez has what it takes to stay at the MLB level, but I’m not convinced he’s a starter at least within the Yankees organization. The Yankees are stacked on the corner of their infield with guys like Gio Urshela and Miguel Andujar. If Alvarez is blocked inside the Yankees organization, he’s definitely the kind of guy that teams would love to take a flyer on. Alvarez can flat out play, it’s just a matter of if he gets the opportunity.

The NBA Set to Approve Return of 22 Team Format and Finish Regular Season

Finally, the announcement basketball fans have been waiting months to hear. The NBA WILL continue the 2019-2020 season. The season will begin on July 31st and the last game of an NBA Finals would be played on October 12th. While insider Shams Charania has noted in a tweet that “there is a lot of work still to be done…still protocols, health and safety measures that need to be addressed,” it seems as though Adam Silver has finally figured out a unique way to bring back the NBA. Check out the full Adrian Wojnarowski tweet below:

The Format of the NBA’s Return

The plan features 22 out of the 30 teams that will be returning for the rest of the season, with 13 teams from the Western Conference and 9 teams from the Eastern Conference. There will be 8 regular season games left for each team and they will all be played in a Orlando. Players will be able to eat at outdoor restaurants and golf in the area as long as they maintain social distancing.

Along with the 16 teams that currently hold playoff berths, 6 additional teams will have a chance to make a desperate push for the playoffs: the New Orleans Pelicans, Washington Wizards, Portland Trail Blazers, Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings, and San Antonio Spurs. Here is a graphic of every team returning:

The plan is as follows: if the 9th seed is 4 or more games behind the 8th seed, then the 8th seed will retain their spot in the playoffs. If the 9th seed is 3 or fewer games behind the 8th seed, there will be a play-in tournament which will feature single-elimination for 9th and double-elimination for 8th.

The Winners

Teams on the cusp of the playoffs (listed above) will have a legitimate shot to get into the playoffs. There have been many rumors that the NBA would love to see a Zion Williamson vs. Lebron James round 1, which in part, motivated them to create this format. It also encourages a superstar such as Damian Lillard, who has been questioning whether or not he would return to the hardwood if he wasn’t playing for a postseason opportunity, to come back since the Trail Blazers are only 3.5 games behind the 8th place Grizzlies. It gives these teams a glimmer of hope to make a postseason push in 8 games.

The Losers

Unfortunately with this 22 team format, you have a few more losers than winners. The 8 teams (Knicks, Hawks, Timberwolves, Bulls, Warriors, Pistons, Cavaliers, Hornets) that were not invited to return for this season will miss out on valuable time to develop their (for the most part) young rosters and gain momentum leading into next season.

Atlanta Hawks Coach Lloyd Pierce, expressed his disappointment regarding the decision for the NBA to not include all 30 teams back. Pierce, who was recently on The Jump with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, said: “I coach the youngest team in the NBA. And the biggest thing we can benefit from is playing basketball, and the game has been taken away from all of us at this point. If the season is going to resume and we’re still not a part of it, it hurts our growth, it hurts our product, it hurts our ability to continue the momentum that we need going into next season. They need game experience and so we need to play basketball, we want to play basketball.”

The Reality

We have officially entered the “return of professional sports post the COVID-19 outbreak” time period. Will the eventual return of this NBA season be perfect? Absolutely not. This is a learning process for all sports, especially given the restrictions due to the still-ongoing global pandemic. Kudos to the NBA for at least formulating a sufficient plan to give several teams who’s seasons ended prematurely a chance to fight their way into the postseason and satisfying the majority of NBA teams. For those who are upset with this format or prefer the approach the NHL took, with all due respect, go kick rocks. Just be happy we’re getting a finish to what already was shaping up to be a great season.

 

New York Yankees Player Profiles: Aaron Hicks ready to make an impact?

New York Yankees, Aaron Hicks

The New York Yankees other Aaron is Aaron Michael Hicks, the Yankees centerfielder. Hick was born on October 2, 1989, in San Padro, California.  Hicks played baseball as a child and for Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, California.  He ranked No. 72 among Top 100 Prospects by MLB.com entering the 2012 season. Ranked as the fourth-best prospect, best defensive outfielder and best outfield arm in the Minnesota Twins’ system by Baseball America following the 2011 season. … Selected by the Twins in the first round (14th overall) of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft.

Hicks stayed in the Twins system for five years until he made his major league debut on April Fools Day 2013.  He was the starting centerfielder for the Twins.  He did not impress and was sent down to AAA on August first.  But despite his underwhelming 2013 performance at the plate, he was back up in the majors in 2014 due to his excellent outfield defense. However, his battles at the plate continued, and he was again sent down, this time to AA.  2015 would show a dramatic improvement hitting .256 with eleven home runs and 33 RBIs in 97 games.

After the 2015 season, Hicks was traded to the New York Yankees for catcher John Ryan Murphy.  The Yankees citing an aging Brett Gardner wanted Hicks due to his excellent defense and better than average throwing arm.  The Yankees wanted Hicks for his switch-hitting ability, something the Yankees were sorely lacking.

In Aaron Hicks, four years with the Yankees, they have not been able to consistently enjoy his abilities in centerfield or at the plate.  During his time back and forth between the Stadium, Trenton, and Scranton Wilkes/Barre, he has shown signs of power behind the plate and excellence in a cannon of an arm in the outfield.

The main obstacle to Hicks showing his stuff is his injury history.  After an injury-plagued 2017 season when he hit .266, he started the 2018 season on the IL with a right Intercostal Muscle Strain. In 2018 he played in 133 games after being reinstated from the DL on April 12 and hit an inside-the-park home run against the Detroit Tigers on the next day. Hicks would hit another inside-the-park-home run against the Kansas City Royals on May 19, becoming the first Yankee since Mickey Mantle in 1958 to hit two inside-the-park home runs in a single season. On July 1, Hicks hit three home runs in one game against the Boston Red Sox which endeared him to Yankee fans. Hicks ended the season with 27 home runs, 79 RBIs, and 119 hits, all career highs.

2019 would be another season marked by three injuries, both back and elbow problems. Those injuries caused him to play in only 59 games.  The elbow became the main issue that caused him to have Tommy John Surgery immediately after the season concluded.  The Yankees decision to keep Brett Gardner on the team reaped its rewards as Gardner had a career year. The absence of Hicks did not hurt the team as a whole, Although his switch-hitting was missed in the lineup.

Hicks was initially expected to be out rehabbing for as long as 10 months following the surgery.  However, his better than expected rehab and with the season delayed, he will apparently miss little or no time. Recently New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone has said:

“hes on track, it’s going well. Referring to Didi Gregorius’s surgery, he was back in June, so I would say June or July.  The point is that it is what it is and he is on track and it’s healing and going to plan.”

During the offseason of 2018/2019, the Yankees signed Hicks to a seven-year $70MM contract extension.  Even in this shortened season, if there is one, the Yankees need Hicks to recover well and perform well.  They do have Brett Gardner for another season as he signed a one year deal with a 2021 option.  They did this as they need a back up if things don’t go well for Hicks upon his return.  Hicks has been quiet regarding his rehab on his Twitter account.

In a Zoom call recently, New York Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman said Hicks will be back in center field in 2020 if he doesn’t encounter any setbacks.

“I think him playing center field for the New York Yankees this summer is a legit option, as expected,” Cashman said, as noted by MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch, one of the reporters listening in on the call. “His timeframe is currently going as planned. We’re excited to get him back, because I think he’s one of the better center fielders in the game, both offensively and defensively.”

Like many New York Yankee players, Hick is pretty tight-lipped about his personal life.  We do know that he is supposedly unmarried, but has been going out with a beauty named Jessica Knoles for some time.  There are unconfirmed rumors that they may have been married and had a child together. Photos on the Internet seem to confirm that.

 

Shaun O’Hara: Pulley the Right Choice at Center For Giants…For Now

New York Giants, Spencer Pulley, Jon Halapio, Nick Gates

The New York Giants have been building up their offensive line this offseason, adding three tackles and an interior lineman in the draft and free agency.

The one position they haven’t formally addressed, however, is center. The Giants do have a plan, but is it a solid one? There are a lot of ‘ifs’ surrounding the center position and analyzing the situation, it seems as if they are counting on getting lucky rather getting good.

Last year’s starter, Jon Halapio, is currently not on the roster as he is still rehabbing from a Achilles injury he suffered lat last season. At last glance, Halapio’s rehab is going well and the team has even mentioned re-signing him once he’s healthy.

Halapio’s backup is Spencer Pulley, who has started nine games in his two seasons with the Giants. Pulley is a serviceable option for the Giants at the moment considering the other choices facing them at the moment.

GM Dave Gettleman has intimated that Nick Gates, who has played both center and guard for the Giants can also play center. Then, there is fifth round draft pick Shane Lemieux out of Oregon, a tough interior lineman in the mold of Rich Seubert who is mainly a guard and has never played center.

Lemieux will be working at center and so is Gates but former Giants Pro Bowl center and current NFL Network analyst Shaun O’Hara believes that Pulley is the Giants’ best option right now.

“I think Spencer Pulley is a good center,’’ O’Hara told the NY Post. O’Hara believes that Lemieux’s learning curve will be too steep to displace Pulley in camp this summer.

“The toughest thing a lot of guys have, if you’ve never played center, is shotgun snaps,’’ said O’Hara. “Most guys can figure out the under-center snap. Shotgun snaps, sometimes people become mental midgets with that and they just can’t handle it. It sounds to me he’s the kind of guy that is gonna stay out and snap 1,000 balls if he has to, to make sure he can handle that.’’

The experience angle led O’Hara to say that Pulley should be the starter until the Lemieux or someone else can come in and raise the level of play without sacrificing stability.

“He’s not going to come in and be better than Spencer Pulley right away,” O’Hara said of Lemieux. “Just from a mental standpoint, making the calls. And you got a young quarterback too. Daniel Jones has not seen every defense yet. Would I want a second-year quarterback and a rookie center playing? Heck no.’’

That may not deter the Giants from fast-tracking Lemieux into the center position. They want change up front and quickly.

New York Giants: Daniel Jones Doesn’t Have To Be A Gunslinger to Be Great

The New York Giants are a team that’s interesting to look at for the upcoming NFL season. They have a new HC in Joe Judge, a second-year QB in Daniel Jones, and an elite RB in Saquon Barkley, yet they have many holes still. Having a new HC with limited summer camps in the NFL doesn’t help, but I think Daniel Jones can still develop as a passer. A common critique of the young QB is that Jones “can’t throw the deep ball well” or that “his arm strength is lackluster”. He may not be the NFL’s new gunslinger, but who says he needs to in order to be great?

All QBs Have Good Arm Strength

Let’s get this ridiculous notion that only a select few QBs in the NFL have “good” arm strength. If you are a starting QB in the NFL, you probably can sling it, there’s no team who would employ a QB who can’t be accurate deep. This being said obviously there are tiers to this stuff in the NFL, but let’s not act like Jones can’t drop a bomb deep down the field if he needs to.

Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers in his prime, prime Brett Farve, Peyton Manning, all these guys have transcendent arms in the eyes of many, but does an explosive arm always mean best QB? No, and while they’re great traits to have, they aren’t the only factor, and that’s important to note when evaluating QBs.

“Checkdowns” Are Not a Bad Thing

People call certain QBs “Checkdown QBs”, they label Tom Brady, Alex Smith, Kirk Cousins, and Daniel Jones as guys making easy passes and that’s it. That’s not what a short pass is, a short pass is stealing the yards the defense didn’t think you’d take. Let’s say Daniel Jones makes a short pass to Sterling Shepard and it’s for 4 yards. Now it’s 2nd down and 6 yards and Saquon Barkley then goes and grabs about 5 yards on a run. Now it’s 3rd & 1 and instead of being 3rd & 4 with an incompletion by Jones because he couldn’t find a deep option, he instead threw short and his team was able to continue building momentum.

This style of play is similar to Tom Brady, who isn’t making “easy and lazy” passes, but smart and quick reads that slowly chip away at a defense, which leads to long grueling drives that in the end leaves you with 3-7 points and the opponent a lot less time to answer back. If Daniel Jones can make quick reads and throw to Saquon or a slant to Darius Slayton, he can easily get a quick 5 or 6 yards and then let Saquon and Dion Lewis ground and pound for another down, with a mix of short and long passes and rolling our left or right, Jones can be a frustrating QB to beat; even without a transcendent arm.

Joe Judge Can Help Danny Dimes

While I’ll never even suggest that any QB can do what Tom Brady has done, it’s a good start when your new HC has worked with the Pats since 2012. That means while he won’t just steal the Pats offense, ideas of how an offense with a young QB and RB with a bruising back and a good receiving core could work can be taken from the Pats. Judge is in a situation where he has a QB that he can form not into just a great QB physically, but a smart QB.

Being a gunslinger doesn’t mean being an All-Time great, and I think Daniel Jones needs to throw smarter, not harder to be memorable for the New York Giants.

UFC 250 Preview: Amanda Nunes looks to continue her reign against Felicia Spencer

This Saturday night, the UFC makes its return to PPV with UFC 250 which will be headlined by the greatest female fighter of all time, Amanda Nunes, defending her featherweight title against Canadian challenger, Felicia Spencer. UFC 250 also is an extremely important event for the UFC’s bantamweight division with a number of key matchups that will play a big role in deciding who will take on the winner of the Petr Yan/Jose Aldo title fight this summer. This is a stacked fight card that has intriguing matchups up and down the card. With that in mind, let’s dive into the card and take a look at some of those intriguing matchups.

Amanda Nunes vs Felicia Spencer

The main event of UFC 250 marks the return of champion, Amanda Nunes (19-4), following her victory over Germaine de Randamie at UFC 245. In that fight, Nunes looked a little more vulnerable than she normally does. The challenger was able to land some solid shots on Nunes for the first time in a while, Nunes appeared to be human. Still in a down performance, Nunes was able to unanimously defeat the former featherweight champion in de Randamie. Nunes hasn’t lost in six years and has looked unbeatable outside of her fights with flyweight champion, Valentina Shevchenko. Nunes is the total package with elite striking ability, incredible power, and a slick ground game. There are no holes in her game. At this stage in her career, it’s hard even finding fights that would be competitive for her. She’s just that much better than all the competition. Felicia Spencer (8-1), is hoping to show the world that she is beatable by pulling off the enormous upset.

You would be hard-pressed to find any girl tougher in the world than Felicia Spencer. Spencer is a bulldog when she fights who doesn’t stop pressing forward even if she is taking some heavy shots. She took everything that former champion, Cris Cyborg, had and just kept coming forward back at UFC 240. That night, Spencer suffered her only career loss. After losing to Cyborg, Spencer bounced back in impressive fashion stopping Zarah Fairn dos Santos in the first round. In that fight, she took some shots on the feet but dominated once the fight got to the campus. Spencer is the type of fighter who doesn’t want to win a pretty fight. She’s not going to dazzle you with her skills, but she looks to run you over with pure toughness and determination. In her training leading up to this fight, it looks like she’s really trying to make strides in her striking game to make her more fluid on the feet. This will be a key factor if she hopes to pull off the upset.

When it comes to this fight, I’m having a hard time seeing how Felicia Spencer can win. This is not a knock on her, but more of a testament to just how good Amanda Nunes is. The Lioness is truly something special to behold, and I don’t believe Spencer has the tools to win this fight. Spencer does not have the fluidity to dodge the shots that Nunes will be throwing on Saturday night. While she was able to evade some of Cyborg’s looping punches, she’s going to really struggle to evade the speed and accuracy that Amanda Nunes will be throwing at her. Spencer’s only chance in this fight is to make it a clinch war early where she can hope to tire the champion. If she can make Amanda tired, she could maybe take it to the ground where she can do what Cat Zingano did to Nunes almost six years ago. However, I think the fans are going to be in for a showcase performance by Amanda Nunes. Spencer is as tough as they come, but she is going to get lit up early and often in this fight. I just think the power and the speed is going to be way too much for Felicia Spencer on Saturday. Spencer is one of the best in the world at 145, but there is a massive gap between the contenders and Amanda Nunes.

Prediction: Amanda Nunes by TKO – Round 1

Cody Garbrandt vs Raphael Assuncao

The co-main event of the evening features the return of former bantamweight champion, Cody Garbrandt (11-3), as he looks to rebound against perennial bantamweight contender, Raphael Assuncao (27-7). Entering 2017, Garbrandt was looked at as the next big star of the UFC. He had just dominated Dominick Cruz to win the bantamweight title back at UFC 207, and he was extremely entertaining to watch. Garbrandt had seven first-round finishes in his first eleven fights which is almost unheard of for guys in the lower weight classes. Garbrandt had a speed/power combination that made him a handful. His stardom was starting to take off when he coached the Ultimate Fighter alongside ex-teammate, TJ Dillashaw. The two’s feud made the show a hit, and a lot of people were tuned into UFC 217 specifically to watch those two go at it. Garbrandt looked incredibly sharp early and almost finished the fight in the first round. Since that round, Garbrandt has not been the same fighter. Garbrandt got knocked out in the second round by Dillashaw. Following the loss, Garbrandt had trouble staying healthy but was able to get a rematch the next year. This time, Dillashaw knocked out Garbrandt in the first round. Then Garbrandt would go on to get knocked out in the first round by contender, Pedro Munhoz at UFC 235 last year. This is a make it or break it fight for “No Love”. He needs a big win here to get himself back on the right path and stop this horrendous skid that he’s currently on.

Standing across from Garbrandt will be contender, Raphael Assuncao. Since joining the UFC, Assuncao has quietly put together one of the better careers for someone who has never fought for the title. He’s 11-3 in the UFC and holds wins over TJ Dillashaw, Marlon Moraes, Aljamain Sterling, and Pedro Munhoz. You would think with all of those wins over the top guys in the world the guy would have fought for the title. The problem for Assuncao has been the title eliminator fights. At UFC 200, he lost to TJ Dillashaw in a fight that would have likely given him a title shot had he won. After that, Assuncao rattled off four consecutive wins and he found himself again on the cusp of a title shot only to lose to Marlon Moraes who he had just defeated 18 months prior. For the first time in his career, Assuncao has lost two fights in a row coming into UFC 250. This fight is massive for both guys who are at the top of the division, but both are coming into Saturday on multiple fight losing streaks.

I’ve gone back and forth with this fight on what I think is going to happen. Who wins will honestly come down to one man and that man is Cody Garbrandt. If we can see 2016 Cody Garbrandt, I think he is going to win impressively. His back is against the wall, and I believe that he still has plenty in the tank. Garbrandt is splitting this camp between Team Alpha Male and Mark Henry’s gym in New Jersey. I think you are going to see a new and improved Garbrandt in this fight. However, he cannot get reckless like he did against Pedro Munhoz. Garbrandt threw caution to the wind after he rocked Munhoz and got himself knocked out. Garbrandt needs to stay patient and pick his shots. If he rushes in recklessly, Assuncao possesses the power to knock him out. I think you are going to see a more mature Cody Garbrandt in this fight, and I think he stops his losing streak by stopping Raphael Assuncao.

Prediction: Cody Garbrandt by TKO – Round 2

Aljamain Sterling vs Cory Sandhagen

In all honesty, this is the fight that I’m most looking forward to on Saturday night. This bantamweight matchup between Aljamain Sterling (18-3) and Cory Sandhagen (12-1) will likely determine who will be facing the winner of the Petr Yan/Jose Aldo fight for the bantamweight title. I was blown away the last time that we saw Sterling in the octagon. Sterling’s striking looked better than ever which just makes him even more dynamic and dangerous. “Funk Master” is such a fitting name when you watch the way he picked apart Pedro Munhoz at UFC 238. Sterling throws from awkward angles yet he seems to find a home for most of his shots. He’s tremendous on the ground and doesn’t mind the fight going there which opens up his kicking game. Coming into this fight, Sterling has won four fights in a row. I believed that he should have been the one fighting for the title against Petr Yan, but the UFC is going for more name recognition in that one. Sterling is riding high and he’s hoping that he can continue that high against Sandhagen.

Cory Sandhagen has looked sensational since he debuted in the UFC back in 2018. Sandhagan made his UFC debut on just eight days’ notice when he stopped Iuri Alcantara in the second round. Since then he’s rattled off three more wins including notable victories over John Lineker and Raphael Assuncao. There are not a lot of weaknesses in Sandhagen’s game. He’s good on the ground and he’s really good on the feet. Sandhagen does a really good job of using his height and reach to control the distance when he strikes. In a fight that is likely going to go the distance, point fighting is going to be very important. Despite being taller by four inches, Sandhagen actually will have a reach disadvantage in this fight, but don’t let that fool you. Sandhagen fights taller than his reach with his frequent use of kicks to all targets from the legs to up top. This is truly a fight where I don’t know what’s going to happen.

It does not get more even than these two. Both guys bring a similar skillset to the octagon, and both guys are riding impressive winning streaks. This is a fight that I would be scared to bet any sort of money on. I’ve gone back and forth the last couple of days, and as I’m writing this, I’m going to lean towards Sterling. Sterling is so close to the title and I think he will fight with urgency. I think this fight is going to go back and forth, but I believe in the end, Sterling will do enough to secure a decision. I do not see either guy getting a finish, and I see the decision being razor close.

Prediction: Aljamain Sterling – Split Decision

Neil Magny vs Anthony Ricco Martin

The second fight on the main card features a welterweight contest between Neil Magny (22-7) and Anthony Rocco Martin (17-5). This is an interesting matchup that I see going one of two ways. Martin is the better fighter on the ground so if he’s able to get the fight to the ground, I can see him either winning by submission or by points. However, Martin does not do a very good job of getting fights to the ground which likely means we will see a standup fight. Magny has fought some of the best guys in the world and possesses a decent standup game. Magny also has a really good gas tank that will allow him to fight at a faster pace which does not favor Martin. Since I see this fight staying up on the feet, I think Magny is going to control this one throughout. Magny is coming off a win back in March after a 16-month layoff. I think Magny is going to get his second consecutive win by staying on the outside and controlling the range, picking apart Martin throughout. I don’t see either man getting a finish unless Martin gets it to the ground, so I’m going to go with Magny here to get his second win of 2020.

Prediction: Neil Magny – Unanimous Decision

Sean O’Malley vs Eddie Wineland

Kicking off the PPV card we will get to watch the Suga Show. “Sugar” Sean O’Malley (11-0) will be taking on veteran and former title challenger, Eddie Wineland (24-13-1). O’Malley has been through the wringer over the last couple of years. The 25-year-old burst onto the scene back in 2017 with an incredible performance on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series. O’Malley would then go on to win his first two fights in the UFC. However, failed drug tests kept O’Malley out for two years before his return back in March. O’Malley’s situation was incredibly frustrating because the tests were finding trace amounts of a substance that was likely there due to a tainted supplement. O’Malley was frustrated, but stayed patient and finally got to return at UFC 248. There, O’Malley looked better than ever stopping Jose Alberto Quinonez in the first round. This is a perfect follow-up fight for O’Malley because he is now getting a chance to fight someone with a little name recognition.

Eddie Wineland has been around for a long time and was the first WEC bantamweight champion. Wineland has fought guys like Urijah Faber, Joseph Benavidez, John Dodson, and Renan Barao. Wineland challenged for the UFC’s bantamweight title against Barao back in 2013. Wineland is about as tough as they come and he’s the kind of guy who is going to come right at O’Malley. The last time we saw Wineland, he stopped Grigory Popov in the second round back at UFC 238. Wineland is no joke, but he also makes for the perfect opponent for the rising UFC star.

This to me is a complete showcase fight for Sugar Sean O’Malley. He’s going to have a big advantage on the feet, and he’s taking on a guy who is going to come right at him. This fight on this stage will give O’Malley another big bump in his popularity if he’s able to impressively win. If you’re trying to build up a star, this is perfect matchmaking. Of course, Wineland is extremely tough and has a punchers chance, but I can’t see him beating O’Malley. I think O’Malley is going to pick him apart from the outside before catching Wineland with something big as he comes in. This fight is a stepping stone fight for O’Malley and I don’t believe he’s going to disappoint.

Prediction: Sean O’Malley by TKO – Round 1

Prelim’s to Watch

The entire card is really good for Saturday night. The prelims are filled with several intriguing matchups and fighters to pay attention to. I’m anxious to watch the featured prelim between Chase Hooper (9-0-1) and Alex Caceres (15-12). Hooper is another guy who could develop into a star for the UFC. The 20-year-old possesses some of the best ground skills in the UFC, and it will be interesting seeing him go up against a veteran like “Bruce Leeroy”. In addition to that, you have guys like Ian Heinisch, Cody Stamann, and Alex Perez all fighting on the prelims. I’m also very interested in seeing the undefeated Alonzo Menifield who is coming into UFC 250 with four consecutive first round finishes. The very first fight of the evening features Herbert Burns (10-2) and veteran, Evan Dunham (18-8-1). This is a fun fight and I’m interested to see more of Burns who is coming off of a sensational victory in his first UFC fight back in January. Burns is the brother of UFC welterweight contender, Gilbert Burns. Overall, the card is incredibly stacked with fun fights from start to finish. I’ll be excited to tune in on Saturday night for another night of incredible fights.

New York Rangers: Pavel Buchnevich Should be a Key Player in the Playoffs

Many times during a playoff run, one player who may be overlooked by an opponent. In the New York Rangers case, it would be wise if the Carolina Hurricanes did not overlook Pavel Buchnevich. Of course, the Hurricanes must focus on Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, and Chris Kreider. However, if they ignore Buchnevich they will pay the price.

One of the biggest criticisms of Buchnevich has been his lack of consistency. However, before the pause, Buchnevich finished strong, netting nine goals and 21 points over the New York Rangers’ final 21 regular-season games. While Buchnevich does benefit from usually being on the same line as Zibanejad, he actually played better without his stellar linemate, posting a superior expected goal rate away from his regular linemate.

This was evidenced back in February when head coach David Quinn demoted Buchnevich to the fourth line mid-game. But Buchnevich’s ability to bounce back quickly and make a positive impact became very apparent as in the next game against the Maple Leafs, he posted a goal and two assists.

Quinn likened Buchnevich’s game to being on a roller coaster at an amusement park. “Sometimes you get the high rides, and you’re having a hell of a time, and then you’re waiting in line and waiting to get on the ride, and you’re getting frustrated and aggravated,” Quinn said. “He’s a good player. He’s a real good player, and he’s had a good year for us. And sometimes guys just need a little jolt.” The Hurricanes should be concerned that his jolt is the fact the Rangers are in the playoffs against them.

Such is the case for Buchnevich. Much of his inconsistencies could be due to the fact that he has come from a different style of play. The native of Russia learned the European, possession-based style of play. Even after four years in the league, Buchnevich is still learning the intricacies that separate the European and North American styles.

Also, Buchnevich is also a guy who has his teammates back.

February was also an interesting month for Buchnevich. For example, he was involved in a car accident with teammate Igor Shesterkin. Buchnevich remained relatively unhurt during the accident, his teammate suffered a broken rib. In addition, during the trade deadline, there were many who suggested that Buchnevich should be traded to save cap space instead of teammate Chris Kreider.

One of the vocal opponents of trading him away was Sean Harnett of WFAN who said: “A future of 70-point seasons should be within his reach. The Rangers just need to keep the faith and not overreact when the ugly side of his game shows up.”

That future could start showing up during the Stanley Cup playoffs as the Hurricanes will be tasked with defending Zibanejad, Kreider, and Panarin, which could allow Buchnevich to have an impact in a supporting role.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The New York Knicks 2019-20 has officially come to and end

New York Knicks, Elfrid Payton

The New York Knicks season is officially over.  The NBA will be voting today on playing out the regular season in a new proposal.

The Knicks are currently in the bottom 8 in the league.  The new proposal, via ESPNs Woj, twenty-two teams will be invited to Orlando.  Thirteen Western Conference teams and 9 from the East.  Their will be a play-in for the 8th seed in each conference. This is to take place July 31st to October 12th.

This is good and bad for the Knicks and their fans.

First the bad.  We all want to see more Knicks basketball.  Despite another season going horrible for the team, we still want to watch the blue and orange.  No matter how bad the Knicks are, there are still plenty of loyal fans that will root for their team no matter what. The Knicks fans are them.  The season was cut short due to COVID-19.

The good in all of this is the Knicks can begin looking for their next head coach.  Everyone knows that Tom Thibodeau is the leader in the clubhouse, currently, for the job.  But with this organization, you truly never know what is going to happen.  Others who will get an interview are Mike Miller and Kenny Atkinson.

This also will give the Knicks an ample amount of time to begin scouting the draft.  This is to stay they haven’t already since there might‘be been a feeling their season was already over.

Knicks fans already don’t agree on who the next coach should be.  That comes as no surprise Knicks fans can’t agree on anything. But whoever it is, the Knicks faithful will be behind them.  At least for a little while.

If the Knicks do hire Thibs, some may say the re-build is over.  The team will be looking for compete in the 2020-21 season.

The Knicks have the tools in place to be successful down the road. RJ Barrett snd Mitchell Robinson to start.  The new front office is set and ready to turn this around.  It’s now officially the new beginning for the New York Knicks.