Author Archives: Derek Piper

A Linderella Story

                The play of Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin has given the NBA and the entire sports world a severe case of Linsanity throughout the past two weeks.

                Lin, who was regularly sleeping on his brother’s couch at one point this season, has the city of New York restless during the Knicks current seven game winning streak. Lin is averaging more than 24 points and 9 assists during that time period, starting each of the seven games.

                Lin was undrafted coming out of Harvard in 2010 and struggled to find his place in 2011-2012. From being cut by the Warriors and Rockets before the season, to spending time in the NBA’s D-League in January, Lin has finally made his way to the top. Fittingly, Lin now spends his nights on the 20th floor of Trump Tower.

                Lin exploded onto the scene, scoring more points in his first four career starts than a handful of NBA legends. In fact, Lin’s 104 points through those contests passed current/future Hall of Famers Allen Iverson (102), Shaquille O’Neal (100) and Michael Jordan (99) for the most points in a player’s first four starts since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976.

                Lin’s ability to take the ball to the basket and hit clutch jump shots, including a game-winning three-pointer with 0.5 seconds left against the Raptors Tuesday, has players around the league in awe over the “Linsation.”

                “It’s crazy! I’m watching Linsanity hoping every shot goes in. Hope I never grow up,” Suns point guard Steve Nash tweeted Tuesday.

                Some have had a different reaction to the attention the emerging star is receiving, however. Heavy-weight boxing champion Floyd Mayweather, who has never shied away from controversy, was reluctant to buy into the hype and eager to bring race into the mix.

                “Jeremy Lin is a good player but all the hype is because he’s Asian. Black players do what he does every night and don’t get the same praise,” Mayweather tweeted.

                ESPN’s Around the Horn panelist Kevin Blackistone said he had no problem with Mayweather’s tweet, stating skin color was the ingredient for all the conversation.

                “We wouldn’t be talking Jeremy Lin if he was another race,” Blackistone said Tuesday. “Black players do this on a regular basis.”

                Could someone be more wrong? While a lack of Asian-American stardom in the NBA is undeniable and international reaction has been rampant, this is not about race. If anything, it’s about New York. It’s the fact that Lin won games with stars Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire on the bench. Maybe Mayweather and Blackistone should consider that Knicks fans were so desperate for consistent point guard play, it would not matter if he looked like Bozo the Clown.

                Another area where Blackistone was mistaken was in saying black players, or any player for that matter, have “done this on a regular basis.” No one has done this before – not in such a short time period since entering the starting lineup. The fact that Lin’s 171 points in his last seven games is more than MVP-favorite Lebron James’ total (170) in the same span, should be enough to negate this argument.

                To say this is all about race downplays Lin’s unbelievable play and the colorblind reaction from the majority of fans around the world. This story is good for basketball and the success-hungry Knicks, who have seen a 70 percent increase in television ratings since Linsanity began.

                Why wouldn’t they want to watch? When #17 is in the lineup for the Knicks, “all they do is Lin.”

-Derek Piper

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History In The Making

Brandon Paul couldn't help but smile as he lit up the #5 Buckeyes

                When Brandon Paul woke up from his pregame nap on Tuesday afternoon, the words ‘Be special’ appeared on his phone. It was a text message from Coach Bruce Weber, who, like everyone else watching, had no idea how special he would be on a historic night at the Assembly Hall.

                With ESPN and the #5 ranked Buckeyes in the building, in addition to former Illini coach Lou Henson and numerous former players, Paul was the main attraction. The opening act was a little shaky for the junior guard, four turnovers and no points through the first 6:31of the game, but his confidence never wavered. The Illini are happy it did not because what followed was arguably the best single game performance in Illini history.

                Paul was unstoppable, shooting 11-15 from the field, 8-10 from 3-point range and 13-15 from the free throw line, totaling 43 points. His 28 2nd half points alone were more than any Illini had scored in a game all season. His points came in bunches and more importantly, they came when it mattered most, as Paul scored his team’s final 15 points in the last 2:43 of the game, as the Illini edged out the Buckeyes 79-74.

                Paul’s final field goal came after a Bruce Weber timeout with just 4 seconds left on the shot clock; the Illini were up 71-70 with 45 seconds to play. Everyone in the building knew who the ball was going to, including Ohio State point guard Aaron Craft, who had his hand right in Paul’s face as he fired up a contested 3-pointer in front of the Illini bench. As the ball sailed through the net and cheers erupted from the stands, it was evident nothing was going to stop Paul that night.

                Paul also added 8 rebounds and 4 blocks, becoming only the 3rd player in the NCAA through the past 10 years to have at least 43 points, 8 rebounds and 4 blocks in a single game. His 43 points ranked 3rd in school history, behind Dave Downey’s 53 at Indiana in 1963 and Andy Kaufmann’s 46 versus Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1990.

                Paul’s efficiency in scoring 43 points is unparalleled in comparison to anything college basketball has seen of late. In fact, Paul was the first player in the last 16 seasons to score 43 points while taking 15 shots or less.

                Paul’s performance was the best the Assembly Hall had seen since Dee Brown’s 34 point outing against Michigan State in January of 2006. However, given the magnitude of the upset and Paul’s overall stat line, it can be said the Illini have never seen such a single game feat. Former Illini great Stephen Bardo agreed with this assessment, telling the News-Gazette, “it was the best (performance) I’ve ever seen here.”

                Nearly everyone watching Tuesday’s game would probably agree. It was a signature win for the Illini and a performance from Paul that has the sound of cheers from Illini fans still echoing off the walls of Assembly Hall.

-Derek Piper

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Illini Set To Face Toughest Test Yet

                In a conference like the Big Ten, nothing comes easy. If any team has seen that so far, it has been Bruce Weber’s Fighting Illini. After scraping by Minnesota with a double-overtime victory, getting blasted by Purdue on the road and barely surviving contests against Northwestern and Nebraska, the Illini have fans wondering if these performances are an illustration of their toughness or inefficiencies.

                Without big plays down the stretch, any of the Illini’s three conference wins could have ended up in the loss column. Still, it is going to take much more if the Illini intend to compete with the tops in the Big Ten, with Tuesday’s matchup against Ohio State serving as their first chance to show they can do it. The Buckeyes (15-2) will surely be the Illini’s biggest test so far this season.

                Ohio State, ranked #5 in the country in the AP and USA Today polls, will come into Champaign with a 3-1 conference record, having lost at #7 Indiana on New Year’s Eve. The Buckeyes currently hold a five game winning streak against the Illini, with Illinois’ last victory over Thad Matta coming in February of 2009.

                This year the Buckeyes look as tough as ever, led by sophomore standout Jared Sullinger. Sullinger ranks fourth in the Big Ten in scoring with 17.1 ppg. and second in rebounding with 9.6 rpg. Sullinger (6’8″, 280 lbs) was a handful for the Illini the last time he was in Champaign, scoring 27 points and grabbing 16 rebounds in the Buckeyes 73-68 victory. Most of Sullinger’s damage was done against then-seniors Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis. Now, Meyers Leonard will get his shot.

                Leonard has been up and down for the Illini the past five games. His 20 point, 11 rebound performance was key to Illinois’ 2OT victory against the Gophers. However, Leonard was much less of a factor at Purdue and home against Nebraska (7 points in each game). Foul trouble has plagued the young center, in addition to an occasional loss of concentration. Double teams and lack of touches have frustrated Leonard at times, but the Illini will need his best effort if they want to compete with the Buckeyes.

                The Illini must find ways to open things up for the big man, not allowing opponents to pack down inside. D.J. Richardson’s return to the starting lineup should help in this aspect, if the injury to his right wrist does not hamper his shooting capability too much. Another player who will be key in taking pressure off of Leonard is Joseph Bertrand. Bertrand has been a pleasant surprise for the Illini, ever since his 19 point performance against Missouri.

                Bertrand carried the Illini to victory against the Huskers on Saturday, scoring 25 points on 11-12 shooting. Through the past five games, Bertrand has averaged 15 ppg., while shooting an eye-opening 72.3 % percent from the field. Bertrand’s ability to put the ball on the floor and take it to the basket is something that Coach Weber’s squad has been lacking this season. His continued success will play a big factor over the final two months of the regular season.

                Pulling out a victory against the Buckeyes will be no easy task for the Illini, as they put their 13 game home winning streak on the line. Defensive breakdowns led to a beat down against the Boilermakers a week and a half ago, and the Illini will need to step it up against an even more talented offense. Buckeye point guard Aaron Craft ranks first in the conference in assists (5.1 asp), as he finds Sullinger, sophomore forward Deshaun Thomas (14.8 ppg) and William Buford (15.4), who will finish this season near the top of the list of Ohio State’s all-time scoring leaders.

                Illini starting point guard Sam Maniscalco is listed as doubtful with a nagging ankle injury. The chances of the Illini winning this game look nearly as bleak.

-Derek Piper

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Feel Da Paign Radio 12-8

Pujols says goodbye to St. Louis

      

               When stars win championships, they go to Disneyland. Pujols is on his way, but isn’t coming back. Hear what Derek Piper and Jacob Southey have to say about that, in addition to other topics like the Heisman Trophy Race and college basketball. Check it out.

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Cutler Sidelined With Broken Thumb

       After a thumbs-up performance against the Chargers Sunday, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler will miss “an extended period of time” with a broken thumb on his throwing hand, according to head coach Lovie Smith.

       Sources leaked the story shortly after the Bears left Soldier Field yesterday, with reports that the injury would require surgery that would likely keep Cutler sidelined for the remainder of the regular season. Today, Smith confirmed that Cutler indeed fractured his thumb and would undergo surgery, but he hopes Cutler will return before season’s end.

       “The plan is to get him back at the latter part of the regular season,” Smith said. “‘Was it a season ending injury?’ No. From what I’ve been told right now, we can expect him back at the end of the regular season.”

       The injury came on Cutler’s attempt to tackle Antoine Cason after a fourth quarter interception. Cutler was noticeably upset after the play, probably because the interception that lead to the injury was not his fault. Johnny Knox fell down on the play, allowing for an easy pick that left the quarterback as the only obstacle between Cason and the end zone.  

       It was a tough way for Cutler to get hurt, having played one of his best games of the season against former rival Phillip Rivers. Cutler finished the game 18 for 31 with 286 yards and 2 TD’s, including completing both his pass attempts after suffering the injury.

       Cutler’s play has been key during the Bears five game winning streak, making it a major blow for a team with high hopes this season. Brian Urlacher said while he feels the Bears will be fine with Cutler out, it is going to be a challenge.

       “It’s devastating,” Urlacher said. “It’s horrible, and I felt worse for him than I did for us. It stinks for us because he’s having such a great year. He’s our leader. He’s the guy we turn to for pretty much everything.”

       Backup Caleb Hanie, who impressed many with his play in the NFC Championship Game in January, will take over the job while Cutler recovers. Other names have been thrown into the mix about who the Bears could potentially bring in, but there does not appear to be many quality options.

       Retired quarterback Kurt Warner, who has experience in the Mike Martz offense, tweeted that while he was “bummed” for Cutler and loves the offense, he will not be putting the pads back on.

       Another retired gunslinger who will be thrown into conversation and some people’s fantasies is Brett Favre. However, the 42 year-old, and the Bears for that matter, have a list of reasons to go in the other direction. It might have worked three years ago, but the only place Bears fans will see Favre this season is on Wrangler commercials.

       Former Jaguars quarterback David Garrard also seems like an unlikely option, as he continues to recover from back surgery.

       This is not an ideal situation for the Bears but it appears to be one that they can overcome. With a 7-3 record and a favorable remaining schedule (two opponents with winning records in their last six games), it is likely that the Bears can survive with Hanie at the helm. Still, having Jay Cutler back for the game at Lambeau Field on Dec. 25 has to be number one on the Bears’ Christmas list.

-Derek Piper

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It’s Been Awhile

      Like the video says, it’s been awhile. Thanks to my busy school schedule, I haven’t been doing much writing this semester, on this site anyway, but that’s about to change. My plan is to get Feel Da Paign going again, especially with the college basketball season heating up, much like the seat Ron Zook is sitting on right now. So yeah, I’ve got more to come… just letting you know I’m not dead in the gutter somewhere.

-Derek Piper

Follow me on Twitter @FeelDaPaign

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Cutler Under Pressure to Rebound

               

                 NFL players are back to work and with that comes the challenge of baring the heat wave that has swept the country recently.  Warm temperatures should be nothing new for Bears QB Jay Cutler, however, after having the thermostat turned up on him by the entire football community last January for an early exit in the NFC Championship game.

                It was a chance for everyone to get their shots in at Cutler, who has been criticized for just about everything during his young career. Throwing too many interceptions, not playing nice with the media, blaming his receivers and “wimping out” after injuring his MCL against Green Bay have all been gripes with Cutler. Want to know more, I’m sure Trent Dilfer would be glad to add to the list.

                The game against the Packers has long been decided though, Bears fans have almost forgotten about the nausea caused by watching Todd Collins play quarterback and the Lombardi trophy is safely locked at Lambeau Field. The Bears are trying to leave those moments in the past but the pressure facing Cutler to step up this season is at an all-time high.

                Bears faithful have seen their quarterback play on both sides of the spectrum while in Chicago. When Cutler is on his game, he can look like an All-Pro quarterback. Other times he has been not so good. Take his last eight games for example. Five of those eight games, Cutler finished with a QB rating over 100, all leading to Bears victories.

                Two of those games included crucial home matchups with the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Jets, both playoff teams, where Cutler totaled 8 TD’s (1 rushing) and 1 INT. Take those performances away and the Bears don’t win the division. On the other hand, the additional three games to finish the season included two losses to the Packers and a thrashing from Tom Brady and the Patriots. Cutler was a non-factor in each of those contests, throwing 6 INT’s and no TD’s in 10 quarters of play.

                Now it’s time for Cutler to take the next step if the Bears hope to win in an increasingly tough division. Cutler has done his part this offseason, becoming more of a vocal leader and organizing all of the Bears workouts during the lockout. He also has a healthy knee, which is good news for everyone in Bears camp.

                Cutler is going to need a little help from his friends on offense though, which is exactly what he did not have from his offensive line on numerous occasions in 2010. It is unknown whether the departure of C Olin Krutez will make Cutler’s life any easier, but from the reaction out of Bears camp it seems like the players did not like the move.

                The same can be said about the loss of Cutler’s favorite target Greg Olsen, who appeared to have too much talent to play tight end for Mike Martz. The addition of WR Roy Williams has been under speculation as well, having many Bears fans wondering how much of an upgrade Williams is to the position. Sure, Cutler was in need of a big target to go along with the speed of Knox and Hester, but Roy Williams isn’t Brandon Marshall.

                Williams had a monster season under Mike Martz in 2006 while with the Lions, totaling 1,310 receiving yards and 6 TD’s, making for a Pro Bowl selection. That was five years ago, however, and Williams had only 1,324 yards in his 35 games as a Cowboy.

                 This is a big season for Cutler and the Bears as a whole. There is no less talent in training camp right now than there was in 2006 when the Bears went all the way to the Super Bowl. It is not going to be easy to get past Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, but each of the three games between the rivals in 2010-2011 could have gone either way. The Bears will go as far as Cutler can take them, Cutler’s performance along with the pieces around him will determine just how far that will be.

-Derek Piper

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