Gonzaga Basketball Could Contend for Final Four in 2016/2017

The Gonzaga Bulldogs have run one of the most successful college basketball programs in the past decade. Gonzaga has been to 18 straight NCAA tournaments, and the team could only be getting better.

Despite losing the team’s top three scorers and four of the top eight scorers overall, Gonzaga is poised for a potential Final Four run during the upcoming season.

Yes, impact players like Kyle Wiltjer, Domantas Sabonis, Eric McClellan and Kyle Dranginis have all departed, but the Zags return plenty of talent.

Up front, Przemek Karnowski is back for a sixth season. The towering center is a force in the paint and an adept passer. It’s probably not a stretch to say that you can run an offense through him. What’s more, he can also provide a significant impact on defense with his shot-altering ability.

Additionally, the team brings back point guard Josh Perkins, who shot 38% from three last year, to go along with 10.1 points, 3.3 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game. Defensive stopper and double-digit scoring threat Silas Melson also returns.

The real excitement comes in Gonzaga’s new arrivals. Johnathan Williams, who sat out last season after transferring from Missouri, will take one of the frontcourt spots vacated by Wiltjer and Sabonis. The ex-Missouri standout averaged 16.2 points and 9.7 rebound per 40 minutes at his previous school.

Fellow transfer Nigel Williams-Goss, who arrives via Washington, will also start. The point guard should slot in next to Perkins in a two-guard backcourt. In his sophomore campaign in Seattle, the stat-sheet stuffer averaged 17 points, 6.4 assists and 5.1 rebounds per 40 minutes.

Rounding out the list of transfers is Jordan Mathews. The shooting guard arrives after a successful career at Cal, where he averaged at least 17.6 points per 40 minutes in each of his seasons at the school. In his last year with the Pac-12 heavyweights, the sharpshooter hit 41.6% of his threes while adding 18.1 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.7 assists per 40 minutes.

With a starting lineup consisting of Williams-Goss, Perkins, Mathews, Williams and Karnowski, Gonzaga should make some serious noise in the early going as a team that lands in the top 10 or 15 of rankings.

However, what makes the Zags special is there depth.

Head coach Mark Few welcomes perhaps the best recruiting class in school history. Center Zach Collins and shooting guard Zach Norvell are both ESPN 100 recrutis, while Tille and Hachimura are ranked as four-star prospects by Scout.com. Well-regarded Danish center Jacob Larsen rounds out the group.

Collins looks like a future pro with a solid post game, range to step out and knock down shots from the outside, as well as the ability to block shots. Meanwhile, Norvell is a dynamic scorer that should immediately make an impact off the bench.

Hachimura will provide another dynamic presence on the perimeter. ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla said that “He’s going to remind people of a bigger Elias Harris.”

With Karnoswki, Williams, Collins and junior center Ryan Edwards taking up minutes down low, Tille and Larsen may end up redshirting, however, if they play it wouldn’t be a surprise to see either make an impact considering how well Gonzaga has recruited internationally over the last few years.

Not only do Gonzaga have the talent be extremely successful next season, but they also have the depth to sustain a deep NCAA tournament run.

For more Gonzaga, head over to Know Hitter’s Gonzaga page. 

Juventus: Recent Signings Could Propel Bianconeri to Elusive Champions League Crown

 

Juventus very nearly took down Bayern Munich in last season’s Champion’s League Round of 16 tie. While the loss was a tough pill to swallow, it only reinforced the notion that the Old Lady can stand toe-to-toe with the other continental powers in Europe.

If this summer’s transfer activity has shown anything, it is that the Bianconeri have their sights set on the Champions League title that evaded them when they lost to Barcelona in the final two seasons.

So far, Juve have seen Alvaro Morata return to Real Madrid via buy-back clause, while Juan Cuadrado headed back to West London upon the expiration of his loan deal. In addition, squad players like Rubinho, Martin Caceres and Simone Padoin all moved on. Rubinho and Caceres left when their contracts ended, while Padoin was sold to Cagliari.

Morata fell behind Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic in the forward pecking order, while the presence of Simone Zaza made the Spaniard that much more expendable. Additionally, Cuadrado seemed unlikely to stay seeing as the wingback is perfectly suited for incoming Chelsea manager Antonio Conte’s preferred 3-5-2 system.

In their place, Juve have brought in midfield maestro Miralem Pjanic from arch-rivals Roma, and defender Dani Alves from Barcelona. In typical Beppe Marotta fashion, Alves arrived on a free transfer.

The Bianconeri don’t seem to be done on the transfer market either. Juventus’ official website announced that former Roma center back Medhi Benatia completed a medical at the team’s health center ahead of a potential move from Bayern Munich.

Additionally, there are reports from Gazzetta World that Juventus could be weakening yet another close rival and domestic competitor. The Old Lady could potentially be bringing in striker Gonzalo Higuain. The report also states that Roberto Pereyra could be heading to Naples. Either way, it would be a fantastic bit of business for Juventus in terms of strengthening their squad.

Should deals for Benatia and Higuain go through (as well as any sale of Pereyra), Juventus will essentially have replaced five bench players (Padoin, Caceres, Morata, Rubinho and Pereyra) with a group of players capable of starting for the vast majority of teams in Europe.

Pjanic, Alves, Higuain and Benatia (when he’s on form) are easily amongst the top 10 or 15 players at their respective positions in the world.

Did I mention Juventus have managed to keep hold of Paul Pogba?

Juventus’ current roster oozes with quality. The vaunted “BBC” backline comprised of Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini return, as does the exceptional Gianluigi Buffon. The defense will be joined by the likes of Benatia and the continually developing Daniele Rugani.

On the wings, manager Max Allegri will start either Alves or Stephan Lichtsteiner on the right, and one of Patrice Evra or Alex Sandro on the left.

Allegri will have even more difficult selections to make in the center of the park. Some combination of Pogba, Pjanic, Sami Khedira and (when healthy) Claudio Marchisio will start in midfield. They’re backed up by Mario Lemina, Hernanes, the versatile Kwadwo Asamoah and Stefano Sturaro.

Up front, Dybala, Mandzukic and Zaza return. The signing of Higuain would put Juve’s group of forwards up there with the best attacking units in the world thanks to the stylist diversity provided by the incumbent trio.

It’s been a wildly successful summer so far for the Bianconeri, and it looks like it will continue to be successful as Juve adds more pieces to win in Europe.

Don’t be surprised to see Buffon and the rest of the Juventus squad finally lift that elusive Champions League trophy come next year.

For more Juventus content, visit Know Hitter’s Juventus page. 

Seattle Seahawks Fill Needs, Add Intriguing Upside in Early Rounds of Draft

Seattle Seahawks front office members made a number of trades, but ended up with a first-round pick, a second-round pick and three third-round picks.

John Schneider and friends certainly had a lot to work with, and they did well to add players who not only fill needs, but add significant talent and upside to an already young and exciting Seahawks team. Here’s a look at the team’s picks.

1st Round Pick, 31st Overall, OT Germain Ifedi

Initially assigned the 26th-overall pick, the Seattle Seahawks traded down five spots with the Denver Broncos. For moving down just five place, Pete Carroll and company netted an extra third-round draft pick.

When it came to picking at 31, Seattle took offensive lineman Germain Ifedi. The Texas A&M product is extremely physical up front and could potentially start right away.  What’s more, Ifedi could stay a starter for a long time. He has significant potential thanks to tremendous length and strength.

He isn’t a finished product by any means, but the presence of offensive line coach Tom Cable, Seattle can take some more risks with offensive lineman. The team knows they can eventually be coached up. Ifedi has a pretty solid base to begin with, and should only improve under Cable’s tutelage.

2nd Round Pick, 49th Overall, DT Jarran Reed

Seattle used the team’s second round pick to snag the last player left in the green room, Alabama defensive tackle Jarran Reed.

Reed should also contribute right away after earning a reputation as a tremendous run stopper. That’s where he’ll earn a living with the Seahawks, stuffing the run. The fact that Seattle got a defensive tackle with first-round talent with the 49th-overall pick is fantastic for the team moving forward.

Defensive line was a need for the Hawks entering the draft, and adding Reed gives the team a potential impact player on the line.

3rd Round Pick, 90th Overall Pick, RB C.J. Prosise

New Seahawk C.J. Prosise played wide receiver at Notre Dame before transitioning to running back. Physical and elusive, he can also contribute in the pass game thanks to his background as a wide out.

In his only season as a starter in the backfield the former receiver ran for 1,029 yards on 6.6 yards per carry. He found the endzone 11 times while also adding 26 catches for 308 yards and another score through the air.

As a pass-catching compliment to Thomas Rawls, this is an excellent pick. You can bet the Seahawks will try to get him the ball in different ways, lining him up in different spots and things of the like.

3rd Round, 94th Overall Pick— TE Nick Vannett

Seattle had two third-round picks, the team’s own and the pick they got from Denver when the Broncos wanted to move up a few spots in the first round to take Paxton Lynch. The Seahawks used the pick from John Elway and company on athletic tight end Nick Vannett.

Athletic with solid hands, Vannett gives Seattle some legitimate depth at tight end. With Jimmy Graham and Luke Willson already in the fold, Vannett gives the team another quality tight end. At 6’6” with serious athleticism, the Ohio State product will contribute. Did I mention he’s a solid blocker? The Seahawks got a good one here.

3rd Round, 97th Overall Pick— Rees Odhiambo

The Hawks’ last third round pick came via a compensation selection. Seattle took another offensive lineman, this time selecting Boise State’s Rees Odhiambo. Originally from Kenya, the lineman will likely see time at both guard and tackle. Strong and athletic, if he can stay healthy, he could be a long-term solution for the Seahawks on the offensive line.

Carroll, Cable and the rest of the Seahawks’ coaching staff values guys who can play multiple positions up front, and that’s Odhiambo. At worst, he’ll be a solid depth piece. However, he could easily develop into a starter.

Arsenal to Play in 2016 MLS All-Star Game, Will the MLS All-Stars Beat Arsenal?

Per the English Premier League club’s official Twitter account, Arsenal will play the MLS All-Stars later this year. Check out the video below for more.

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MLS’ season has yet to begin, but do you think the league’s best can beat the Premier League giants?

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Seattle Seahawks: 3 Reasons the Hawks will be better in 2016

The Seattle Seahawks nearly pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history against the Carolina Panthers, but just fell short. It was a comparatively tougher season after two straight Super Bowl appearances and a slow start.

However, there’s a number of reasons to believe that the Seahawks will be back and better than ever next season. Here’s three of them.

  • Jimmy Graham

In the last seven games of the regular season Russell Wilson amassed 1,949 passing yards, 22 touchdowns (only two interceptions) and a 124.4 quarterback rating without Jimmy Graham. Imagine Wilson running an offense with Graham.

Injuries to running backs Marshawn Lynch and Thomas Rawls forced Seattle to throw more, and it worked out brilliantly. Wilson was historically good, and the team excelled when leaning on passing plays.

Graham’s injury was particularly unfortunate, because it seemed as if he had finally adjusted to playing with the scrambling Wilson after years of catching passes from the stationary Drew Brees.

After so much success, Pete Carroll and company aren’t likely to abandon the prolific passing attack anytime soon. This increased number of throwing plays will only benefit Graham. The combination of the towering tight end, Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett will give opposing defenses nightmares.

  • A Healthy Run Game

Whether this is Lynch, Rawls or a bit of both, the Seahawks’ star running backs will both likely be fully healthy in 2016/2017 after each missing significant time due to injury. The combination of a dominant run game, regardless of the back, with a dynamic passing attack will make Seattle one of the league’s best teams.

  • The Continued Improvement of Russel Willson

By all accounts, the Seattle signal caller had a career year in 2015. Wilson set career highs in the following categories:

  • Completions
  • Completion Percentage
  • Passing Yards
  • Passing Touchdowns
  • Yards Gained Per Pass Attempt
  • Adjusted Yards Gained Per Pass Attempt
  • Passing Yards Per Game
  • Quarterback Rating
  • QBR
  • Net Yards Gained Per Pass Attempt
  • Adjusted Net Yards Per Pass Attempt

As time goes by, Wilson continues to get better and better, showing steady improvement. He’s already one of the best quarterbacks in the league, but he has the potential to grow his game even more considering his track record. With more control in the offense next season, expect Russell Wilson to continue to grow and the Seattle Seahawks to come back strong in 2016.

Seattle Seahawks: Even as Six Seed, Hawks Remain Poised for Another Super Bowl Run

Another season, another playoff appearance for the Seattle Seahawks. The two-time defending NFC champions enter the playoffs as the sixth, and lowest, seed in the National Football Conference. Seattle opens the playoffs against the Minnesota Vikings, the highest seeded NFC team not to receive a first-round bye. Additionally, even if the team wins it all, the Seahawks are guaranteed a total of zero home games.

And yet, the Seattle Seahawks have the look of a team poised to make a third consecutive Super Bowl.

Pete Carroll’s squad trounced the Arizona Cardinals on the road to wrap up the regular season. Playing without starters Russell Okung, Kam Chancellor, Marshawn Lynch, J.R. Sweezy and Luke Willson, the Hawks beat the team’s division rivals 36-6. Seattle’s defense bottled up one of the league’s best offenses while Russell Wilson and company shredded an equally elite defense.

The win was not only impressive, but it showed a sign of things to come for the Hawks.

Seattle will now take the show on the road during the playoffs, but that shouldn’t be a cause for worry. The team’s opponent in the first round is the Minnesota Vikings. Obviously it’s the playoffs and anything can happen, but the Seahawks did steam role the Vikings in Minnesota just last month. The score in that contest was 38-7, with Wilson tossing three touchdowns and Adrian Peterson being held to just 18 yards.

If the Seahawks beat Minnesota, the team will travel to play the Carolina Panthers. Carolina did beat Seattle earlier this year in the Pacific Northwest, but the Hawks led 20-7 at one point and controlled most of the game.

While the Panthers are an extremely good team, Cam Newton doesn’t have a lot of weapons at his disposal in the same way Russell Wilson does. In other words, if Newton has an off day, Carolina is susceptible to defeat. Case in point, the Panthers only loss came against the Atlanta Falcons, who held Carolina’s star quarterback to 188 total yards and one total touchdown.

Of the three teams the Seahawks could face in a potential NFC Championship game, none should be overly intimidating. Washington owns the worst record of any playoff team, while Seattle has experience against both Green Bay and (obviously) Arizona.

The Hawks lost by 10 to the Packers on the road in Week 2. However, Seattle had a lead in the fourth quarter despite playing without Chancellor. Green Bay also needed a passing masterclass from Aaron Rodgers to earn the win.

One of the NFC’s two wild cards, Green Bay faltered down the stretch, going 4-6 over the team’s final 10 games. That included losses to the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears. Additionally, three of the Pack’s four wins came against struggling teams such as the Lions, Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders.

In addition to a potentially favorable schedule, the Hawks will get Lynch back from injury. The Seattle offense was already dynamic without the team’s star running back. Now it seems the offense will only become more explosive with a healthy “Beast Mode.”

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With Lynch’s return, the Hawks are now equipped to play any style required. The team can slug it out in a run dominated and low scoring affair, or throw it 50 times per game.

However you slice it, the Seattle Seahawks are equipped for another Super Bowl run. Watch out NFL.

Detroit Tigers: One of the Tweets of the Year

Nothing like taking Jon Lester deep for your first career hit!

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Seattle Seahawks: Christine Michael Finally Gets His Shot

After almost three years and stints with two different teams, Christine Michael is getting his chance to shine with the Seattle Seahawks.

The running back, who was drafted in the second round by the Hawks in 2013, is back with Seattle. He was previously traded to the Dallas Cowboys before the season to clear room for the man he is helping replace in the Pacific Northwest: Thomas Rawls. Dallas cut Michael, prompting the back to sign with Washington’s practice squad.

But thanks to injuries to Rawls and Marshawn Lynch, not to mention DuJuan Harris’ ineffectiveness, Christine Michael will finally have his shot to be the lead back in Seattle.

He’ll obviously have to compete with fellow new addition Bryce Brown for snaps, but with Fred Jackson staying in a passing/third-down capacity, there will be plenty of snaps for Michael.

The former second-round draft has always had the talent, but has never quite had a full opportunity to establish himself. Michael never had that chance with the Hawks thanks to the presence of Lynch. If “Beast Mode” is healthy, no one is going to be taking carries away from him.

But with Lynch injured, it could Michael’s time to shine.

In 19 career games, the newest Seahawk has ran for 305 yards on 67 carries.

Early in his career, Michael showed flashes of brilliance. The running back once ran for 71 yards on only four carries against the Giants. For his career with Seattle, Michael has averaged 4.6 yards per carry. There’s clearly talent there, but the Seahawks just need to see it on a more consistent basis. The former Texas A&M star has registered five career games with less than five total rushing yards.

Despite that, the Seahawks’ upcoming schedule provides Michael the opportunity to do some serious damage. Sunday’s opponent, the Cleveland Browns, allow the fourth most rushing yards. The Browns have also allowed 11 rushing scores, tied for the sixth-most in NFL history.

Following the Browns, Seattle will play the St. Louis Rams. St. Louis has given up the eleventh most yards on the ground. The team’s last contest of the season is against the Arizona Cardinals. Arizona has only allowed the sixth-fewest rushing yards in the league. While the game could be an intense battle for the division, it could also be a game in which the Cardinals are resting there starters ahead of the playoffs.

What’s more, Russell Wilson and the passing game’s recent hot streak will open up running lanes for Michael as teams focus on Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett and the receivers. The now-former Cowboy is joining a dynamic offense. An offense that will also provide him plenty of opportunity. Only the Carolina Panthers have attempted more rushes in the NFL.

In other words, Christine Michael will get his chances.

Detroit Tigers: Should the Team Add Another Left Fielder?

It’s safe to say that new Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila has been busy since taking over for Dave Dombrowski. In Avila’s first offseason in charge, the new head man in the Tigers front office has made a slew of signings and trades that were both astute and cost efficient.

Detroit has already added the likes Jordan Zimmermann, Mike Pelfrey, Francisco Rodriguez, Mark Lowe, Justin Wilson, Cameron Maybin and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. These additions have satisfied the team’s needs in the starting rotation and the bullpen, as well as adding extra depth in areas such as centerfield and behind the plate.

What’s not included in that list is a legitimate left fielder. With a considerable amount of time left before spring training, should the Tigers add another left fielder? Here are some of the team’s options.

Stick With What You’ve Got

With the acquisition of Maybin, the team now employs three starting-caliber outfielders: Maybin, Anthony Gose and J.D. Martinez. However, Maybin and Gose are natural center fielders while Martinez is entrenched in right field.

There is some logic in playing both Maybin and Gose together. Both can eat up ground in the outfield, and paired with Martinez’ cannon of an arm in right would provide an intriguing defensive trio. There is also the fact that Maybin and Gose (46 combined stolen bases in 2015) provide Detroit and manager Brad Ausmus a fair amount of speed. Additionally, should either player struggle with the bat, their offensive shortcomings would be hidden by the production of Miguel Cabrera and Martinez among others.

However, the fact remains that neither player has much experience in left. Gose grades out well at the position in terms of defensive metrics, but he has only logged 41 games there. Maybin has even more inexperience. The outfielder has only played in 10 games in left field, all of which came in 2007 when he was a rookie with the Tigers.

Tyler Collins and Steven Moya also present internal options for Detroit.

The Big Names

Detroit has previously been linked (via CBS Sports’ John Heyman) to big name free agents like Yoenis Cespedes and Alex Gordon. Both, especially Gordon, would be excellent fits with the Tigers. However, CBS Detroit reports that Avila said the Tigers were “at this point” out on both Cespedes and Gordon.

Based on that, it appears that Detroit won’t sign either, but the key wording is “at this point.” It’s certainly not inconceivable to see the team sign either at a somewhat later date should the two remain on the open market.

Carlos Gonzalez is another player that could help the Tigers. Gonzalez’ blend of defensive skill and the ability to hit for average and power is extremely appealing, however the team may be cautious with the player’s hefty salary.

The Platoon Types

While the free agent market offers only a few legitimate, difference-making corner outfielders, there are a plethora of outfielders who could excel in a platoon. David Murphy and Travis Snider are just a few options that could find a home in Detroit.

Names Out of Left Field

First of all, pun intended. Second of all, the Tigers have already made trades for players (Maybin and Miller) who didn’t dominate the trade rumors. In other words, the players didn’t seem likely to be dealt as say someone like Shelby Miller. Avila could conceivably make a trade for a left fielder that quite literally comes out of left field.

Old Friends

There are a number of former Detroit outfielders available. Whether the team pursues them or not remains to be seen, but in addition to Cespedes, Matt Joyce, Delmon Young, Rajai Davis, Ryan Raburn, and Austin Jackson are all currently free agents.

The Lottery Tickets

The Tigers’ decision makers were rewarded when they took a gamble on a talented young player, J.D. Martinez, whose previous employers had moved on. Could the team take a similar gamble this offseason?

Alex Grossman is a name on the market who is in a similar situation to Martinez.

Grossman, who like Martinez was cut by the Astros, is only 26-years-old and comes with over 600 at-bats spread across parts of three big-league seasons. The outfielder is more of an all-around player, with 11 home runs, 15 stolen bases, 63 RBI and a .240 batting average in 190 games. He was a top prospect as a minor-league player and still has the time to fulfill his potential.

Detroit Tigers: Some Jordan Zimmermann-Related Tweets

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