Defending Gonzaga’s Schedule, Conference and #1 Seed Validity

There are numerous misconceptions surrounding this year’s Gonzaga Bulldogs. One is that they aren’t as good as their rankings (#3 in the AP poll, #2 in USA Today’s Poll). Another is that if they played in a “real” conference, they wouldn’t be nearly as elite.

This is all fueled by late start times for the folks who live in a world of East Coast bias on America’s eastern seaboard and don’t actually watch Gonzaga. The perception is also fueled by a lack of recent tournament success in recent years and a perceived lack of quality wins.

We’ll start with the conference issue.

The Bulldogs play in the West Coast Conference, a conference which should simply be called Gonzaga’s conference. GU has won every regular season championship since 2001 with the exception of 2012. With the exception of 2003 and 2012, they’ve also won every conference tournament since 1999.

Just by those comments, the perception the WCC is that it’s weak. And while it isn’t the Big East in its prime, it’s still a solid league. St. Mary’s has developed into a high-end mid-major close to, but not on the level of Gonzaga or Wichita State. BYU’s recent inclusion has also boosted the overall profile of the league. And while Gonzaga is the conference’s lone NCAA tournament lock at the present, the league is still a good league.

To judge the WCC’s worth, you have to compare it to similar leagues. Other west coast leagues include the likes of the Pac-12, Mountain West, Western Athletic Conference and the Big West. The WCC is head and shoulders above both the WAC and Big West this season. Additionally, in non-conference games, the Mountain West only won eight of a total 14 games against the WCC. Only three of those games involved one of the West Coast Conference’s top four teams.

Now to compare the head-to-head with the Pac 12.

While it’s true that the Pac-12 went 9-4 against the WCC and two of the WCC’s four wins were by Gonzaga, there’s more to see than simply a 9-4 record. Of those nine wins by Pac-12 teams, five were against WCC cellar-dwellers Pacific, Loyola Marymount and San Francisco. I don’t care what conference you come from, whether it be the SEC or the MAAC, the basement-dwelling teams are going to be bad.

An additionally victory, notched by Arizona against Gonzaga in overtime in Tucson. Gonzaga controlled that game for a majority of the contest.

So you see, the WCC isn’t as bad a people think. Sure it could be a stronger, but it surely isn’t bad.

The Zags have made the NCAA Tournament every year since 1999. In other words, the last time Gonzaga missed the NCAAs, I was two. However, Gonzaga has made the Sweet Sixteen two times since 2002. That run included tournament upset losses to #11 seed Wyoming in 2002, #10 seed Nevada in the second round in 2004, and #10 seed Davidson in 2008. This is where the criticism starts to creep in, with the exclamation point in Gonzaga-disbelievers’ arguments being the team’s inability to take care of business as a number one seed in 2013, losing to Wichita State in the third round.

While there have been some notable upset losses sustained by Gonzaga, it can also be said that the team has been extremely unlucky in the tournament. Of their tournament losses since 2007 two were to phenom-led teams in Stephen Curry’s Davidson squad in 2008 and Jimmer Fredette’s BYU team in 2011. The same “phenom” label can be applied to that 2013 Wichita State team that made the Final Four.

Since ’07, GU has lost to two other Final Four teams, the 2012 Ohio State Buckeyes (a game decided by only seven points) and the eventual National Champion North Carolina Tar Heels in 2009. Gonzaga has also had its fair share of losses to #1 seeds against Syracuse in 2010 and Arizona in 2014.

Lastly, Gonzaga is lambasted for their lack of elite wins. Overly-critical pundits will point to the Arizona loss as just another example of the Zags not being able to get it done against top competitions.

Contrary to popular belief, GU has quality wins. The Arizona game would have been the team’s marquee win, but the loss may help the team more in the long run in terms of removing the pressure of going undefeated.

The Zags destroyed the best team the American Athletic Conference has to offer, beating SMU 72-56. Mark Few and company also boasts double-digit wins over UCLA, St. Mary’s, Georgia and Memphis. They also have a win over Saint John’s on their resume. St. Joseph’s, a school that has beaten bubble teams like UMass and Davidson, lost to Gonzaga 94-42.

Gonzaga may not have the resume that a team like Duke does, but they’re still worthy of a top seed. 26 victories and counting certainly don’t hurt either.

Like it or not (barring a massive) Gonzaga will be back on the top line in the NCAA Tournament. People may not like it, but GU is worthy of the achievement. They don’t actually play in an awful conference, and they do in fact have quality wins.

Detroit Tigers: Internal Replacements for Victor Martinez

The latest from the Detroit Tigers is that designated hitter Victor Martinez has a torn meniscus and will undergo surgery next week.

V-Mart won’t miss the entire season due to the injury, but it could leave him out for an extended amount of time. According to Jon Morosi of Fox Sports, players have returned from the surgery in one or two months. Knowing this, it’s likely Martinez will miss Spring Training.  

The recently released Dayan Viciedo represents one of the few free agent alternatives, other options on the market include the likes of Jason Kubel, Ryan Doumit and Nate Schierholtz. This list could change once teams start making cuts in Spring Training, but it’s what the Tigers have to work with at present.

Detroit may fancy their chances finding another J.D. Martinez in the early months of the season to provide cover, but the team may look to fill the gap internally, here are few options for the team.

James McCann

While not a candidate to be used every day as a V-Mart placeholder, McCann can provide the Tigers with value stepping in every now and again. The young catcher wouldn’t be a direct replacement in terms of being the DH, but he would allow manager Brad Ausmus to shift the team around.

McCann would start behind the dish in most scenarios, the catcher is one of Detroit’s better position player prospects and brings a defensive-minded mentality to the game. Additionally, he hit .295 at Triple-A, showing some potential as a two-way contributor at the big league level.

Starting McCann would allow the team to slide Alex Avila to first base, something that has been brought up before. When you also consider Avila’s health issues and the toll they’ve taken on his offensive numbers, some time spent at first makes sense.

Like Martinez, Miguel Cabrera is a question mark to start the season on the active roster. Avila could provide cover at first base while the former MVP recovers. Even if Cabrera is ready to go, they’ll likely be cautious with him—which means taking a good portion of the designated hitter at-bats that V-Mart is potentially vacating.

Starting McCann at catcher would be a win-win situation in the sense that Avila and Cabrera’s health would be preserved so that they can be their best offensively.

Corner Outfielder A, B or C

As of right now, Detroit has three quality corner outfielders on their roster. Three outfielders who would start for most teams—Yoenis Cespedes, J.D. Martinez and Rajai Davis. With the DH spot open, Ausmus and the Tigers could rotate the three between starting in the field and being designated hitter so they stay fresh.

With the return of Jose Iglesias and the arrival of Cespedes and Anthony Gose, it’s clear that Detroit will be a much improved defensive unit in 2015. Knowing this, the Tigers could start their strongest defensive duo in the outfield and not have to worry about losing the third’s bat as the remaining outfielder can slot in at DH. The situation also allows the flexibility for the outfielders to be utilized in situations where they thrive, like Davis who should probably start against left-handed pitching after mashing .356 against southpaws in 2014.

The Prospects

For all the unfair grief Detroit’s minor league system has gotten recently, they have some quality depth in the outfield.

The 6’6” slugging outfielder known as Steven Moya possesses phenomenal raw power that could translate into big home run numbers once he reaches Motown. In addition to him, the team will also be able to call on Tyler Collins, a more all-around type who is solid in most aspects of the game on both sides of the ball.

Both Moya and Collins got limited playing time in Detroit last season, but the two wild cards may be outfielders who have never worn the Old English “D” in a game. Daniel Fields has long been considered a solid prospect, but was hit with the injury bug in 2014. Because of this, former sixth-round pick was never able to establish himself at Triple-A Toledo last season and as a result wasn’t able to help the Tigers in any capacity. If he’s healthy this season, he may find himself in Detroit sooner rather than later.

The other wild card is Wynton Bernard, a former San Diego farmhand who dominated at Single-A Western Michigan last year. He put up an impressive .323 batting average and was added to the Tigers 40-man roster this offseason in order to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. He may not be the top name on the list, but the fact that he was added to the 40-man roster suggests the Tigers think highly of him. It at least gives him an outside shot.

Conclusion

The likely scenario is that Ausmus rotates his outfielders. With Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez both question marks to be 100% to start on Opening Day, the team will need all the offense it can get. Utilizing all three corner outfielders is the best way to go about that. It would be surprising to see the McCann scenario deployed, or to see Collins or Moya make the roster and receive some at bats, but as it stands, the outfield provides the Tigers with the best source of offense at this point in time.

What do you think?

Which situation do you think is best way to go about replacing V-Mart? Is it one of the above or is it yet another alternate situation? Tell me in the comments or on Twitter either here or here.

All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

Seattle Seahawks: Why They’re Poised to Get Back to the Super Bowl

Gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, whatever you want to call it… that one was tough. To come so close to repeating and get that close to scoring. This one will stay with Seattle, team and fans alike, for a long time.

Still, the Seahawks will be back strong for next season, and you can bet that coaches and players alike will be looking to make up for the Super Bowl loss with a ring next year. Here’s why they’re poised to get back to the Super Bowl-

1. Returning Talent

For the most part, the band will be back together next season. The Seahawks will see a small number of their core hit free agency, most notably Byron Maxwell and Jermaine Kearse (more on that later). Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch, should he return, will be rejoined on offense by promising receiver Paul Richardson (once he returns from injury), the emerging Riccardo Lockette, Super Bowl breakout Chris Matthews and the vastly underrated Doug Baldwin. Kearse could return, while Luke Willson and Tony Moeaki provide a solid outlet for passes at the tight end position. Like Richardson, Zach Miller will also be coming back from injury.

Defensively, Seattle will welcome back a host of players from injured reserve. Brandon Mebane, one of the game’s best defensive tackles, will be healthy. Promising youngsters Jordan Hill, Jesse Williams, Cassius Marsh and Kevin Pierre-Louis will return as well.

Other than the returning injured players, the majority of the starting defense is under contract with Maxwell, Malcolm Smith and Kevin Williams the only prominent free agents.

2. Few Free Agent Priorities

One of the main reasons the Hawks won their first Super Bowl was due to the additions of Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, players they were able to poach from other teams in free agency. Last offseason, the team was limited in free agency and had to spend most of their offseason cash on retaining the likes of Bennett and Avril.

While Seattle will spend this offseason thanks to potential extensions for Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch and Bobby Wagner, the team won’t have as many key players hit free agency as last season when the team lost Golden Tate, Breno Giacomini, Paul McQuistan, Brandon Browner, Clinton McDonald and Walter Thurmond. The team also had to cut defensive lineman Red Bryant and Chris Clemons.

Things will be much different this time around. Notable Seahawks hitting free agency include Byron Maxwell, Jermaine Kearse, James Carpenter, Malcolm Smith and Kevin Williams.

Besides handing out potential extensions, the ‘Hawks should focus on bringing back Maxwell. Since last season he’s seamlessly stepped in the Legion of Boom’s starting contingent. The cornerback will be one of the most sought-after free agents should he hit the open market. The question becomes whether the Seahawks brass trusts Tharold Simon to take over for Maxwell, similar to the recent transition of Maxwell for Browner.

While Carpenter may be brought back, the team can withstand the potential losses of Smith and Williams. The respective emergences of Kevin Pierre-Louis as well as Jordan Hill (5.5 sacks in the last six regular season game) should more than make up for the respective Super Bowl MVP and former Viking if Smith and Williams aren’t retained.

3. Continued Youth Development

Seattle can afford to let Smith and Williams go thanks to the development and potential of the aforementioned duo of Pierre-Louis and Hill. These two are just two of the latest players undervalued in the draft that Seattle has developed into quality contributors or starters, joining the likes of Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Wilson, Wagner, J.R. Sweezy, Kearse, Baldwin, Willson, K.J. Wright, Smith, Lockette, Jeremy Lane, Simon and Robert Turbin among others.

Quite frankly, Seattle is the best at finding and developing talent—few NFL teams come close.

The continued development of players like Chris Matthews, Sweezy, Simon, Hill, Pierre-Louis and Cassius Marsh will only improve the Seahawks’ depth and quality heading into next season.

In Conclusion

The Seahawks loss in the Super Bowl was incredibly tough, it may go down as one of the most gut-wrenching and painful losses in the history of the NFL, let alone American sports. Still, if there was ever a group to rebound from it, come back strong and make good, it would be the current group of Seahawks.

Remember, the last time Seattle was dealt a heartbreaking (albeit less painful) playoff loss it was Atlanta a few years ago. The Hawks responded with a ring the next year.

They’ll be back.

All stats courtesy of http://www.pro-football-reference.com/ unless otherwise noted.