In this week’s Around the Dorm, the “Ref,” Bryan Bellanca, challenges Sports Editor Alex Wolfe, Staff Writer Peter Fiorilla and Staff Writer Mark Barroso to answer questions about the Super Bowl (duh), who will come out on top in a close NHL President’s Cup race, and what the biggest surprise has been in the young NBA season to this point.
1. Let’s start this off right. Who do you think will win the Super Bowl and why?
AW: I’m going to go with the New York Giants. I’m not thrilled with this matchup (I mean, c’mon, this rematch? Although I’m sure it’s really exciting for Giants fans), but it should be entertaining nonetheless. The reason that I think the G-Men take it is because they’ll be able to put pressure on Tom Brady. Brady is a great quarterback, but even the great ones are susceptible to a good pass rush. The Giants have three players in the top 10 in sacks this postseason (Osi Umenyiora, Michael Boley and Justin Tuck), and they are a team that picks on the quarterback. On top of that, Tom Brady may be without his most reliable weapon, Rob Gronkowski. Now, granted, Aaron Hernandez is also a very talented tight end, but most of the success of the two of them can be attributed to the fact that they are usually both on the field. Without Gronk, Hernandez will likely become less effective, and those two accounted for the No. 2 and 3 highest receiving totals for the Pats this season. Oh yeah, and that guy Manning on the Giants has been pretty good, as well as his all-star cast of WRs, and he gets to face one of the worst defenses from this past season in the Pats’. Advantage: Giants.
PF: This is a game football analysts will use to support the old sports cliché “defense wins championships.” Both teams have good offenses with players that broke multiple records this year, and both teams have all the intangibles (experience, confidence and so on), so the key difference here will be on the defensive side of the ball. And while this Giants’ D has proven it can stymie the best of the best (just ask Aaron Rodgers), there are a lot of questions to be asked about the Patriots’ secondary, which has struggled significantly throughout the year. The Patriots have also had a much easier road to the Super Bowl — getting there despite a 2-2 season record against teams above .500 (both in the playoffs, admittedly). Eli and his terrific receiving corps of Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham will mercilessly abuse the Pats’ secondary to give the Giants yet another Super Bowl win over the Patriots.
MB: The New York Giants will win Super Bowl XLVI against the New England Patriots because they will contain the run and pressure the quarterback. The Giants’ defensive line, led by Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora has contributed to the team’s nine sacks in the postseason, which is one more than the Patriots’ defense. The Giants have also forced and recovered more fumbles than the Patriots during the postseason. New England quarterback Tom Brady will have to rely on his tight ends to provide more pass protection, which will eliminate them from the scoring picture. Star tight end Rob Gronkowski seriously sprained his ankle during the AFC Championship, which should limit his ability to make perfect cuts and get yards after contact. Kicker Lawrence Tynes booted the Giants to the Super Bowl in 2007 in Green Bay and again this year in San Francisco. Tynes will rise to the occasion if given the opportunity to secure a Super Bowl victory.
BB: Alex gets 3 points for stating Hernandez’s production could be affected by Gronk’s injury. Peter gets 2 points for pointing out the Patriots’ weak secondary. Mark gets 1 point for saying that the Giants’ defense forces a bunch of turnovers.
2. With the NHL All-Star game just passing by, there are a bunch of teams competing for the President’s Trophy, or most points in the NHL at the end of the season. Who do you think will be the No. 1 team at the end of the season?
AW: It’s really tough to say, because the NHL is such a close race this year. However, as much as my casual Devil fandom is making me want to say otherwise, I’m going to say the Rangers. For one, they’re currently second in the NHL with 66 points, but that’s with having played three less games than the Red Wings (with 67 points) have to this point. That three-game cushion should give them plenty of opportunities to finish higher than Detroit (or some of the other teams high in the standings who have played more games). Also, the Rangers have the better goalie of the two teams in Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist is third in the league in both goals allowed average (1.87) and save percentage (.937), numbers that Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard can’t touch (especially save percentage). Because of that, I think the Rangers will take it. However, it’s a very tight race this year, and I think it’ll be close ’til the end.
PF: As much as it pains me to say this, I think that the New York Rangers’ years of building through the draft will pay off this year when they win the 2011-12 Presidents’ Trophy. The Rangers are no slouches on offense, but they will be the No. 1 team at the end of the season because of their No. 1 defense, the only defense that has allowed fewer than 100 goals through the All-Star Break. They have a mature and tough corps of defensemen willing to get dirty to grind out wins, have the third-best penalty kill unit in the league, and have a goalie in Henrik Lundqvist who continues to add to his legacy in N.Y. with stellar performance after stellar performance (he currently has a career-high .937 save percentage). There will be some fierce competition from the Bruins, Red Wings and Canucks, but expect John Tortorella’s squad to be the best in the NHL at the end of this year.
MB: The Boston Bruins, 2011 Stanley Cup Champions, will finish the 2011-2012 season with the most points in the NHL because of their ability to score more goals and play better defense than anyone else in the NHL. Led by head coach Claude Julien, who is used to winning under pressure (most playoffs wins for any Bruins coach), the Bruins are the most well-rounded team in the NHL. On average, the Bruins score the most goals in the league with 3.5 goals per game. The Bruins, 31-14-2 with 64 points, are currently first place in the Northeast Division and second in the Eastern Conference. The New York Rangers have two more points than the Bruins and the Detroit Red Wings have a league-high 67 points. The Bruins’ talented goaltending tandem of Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask make the team hard to score against. Although the Red Wings may be seen as favorites to win the Trophy, they have to play better on the road to come out on top.
BB: Peter gets 3 points for pointing out the Rangers are the only team to have given up less than 100 goals so far. Alex gets 2 points for pointing out that Lundqvist’s numbers are elite this year. Mark gets 1 point for stating that the Bruins can put the puck in the net with the best of them.
3. Since the NBA season is about a third of the way through, what has been the biggest surprise, good or bad, so far this season?
AW: I think it’s the huge discrepancy between teams that stayed pretty much intact versus teams that added new players. There are teams like the Thunder, Bulls, Heat, Sixers, Hawks and Nuggets who are starting really strong out of the gate, while teams like the Knicks, Mavericks and Celtics have been struggling. While something like this was to be expected, given that there was all of about a week of training camp this year, most people expected the teams I mentioned above to be at least as good if not better than they were last season. The Celtics pretty much swapped Glen Davis for a better, younger player in Brandon Bass, the Mavs added some wily veterans in Vince Carter and Lamar Odom, and the Knicks finally added a defensive presence in Tyson Chandler, luring him away from the Mavs. I guess the reason why it’s so surprising is because the NBA is the league that usually experiences the most change (the trade deadline is practically a holiday) and this year teams seem to need perfect chemistry to come out on top. I’m sure it’s going to turn itself around, but I was very surprised at how teams like the Sixers and Hawks that were very mediocre last year have taken the league by storm while some championship favorites have limped out of the gate.
PF: For me, the New York Knicks’ offensive woes are the biggest shock in the NBA. At the time of writing, the Knicks are on the outside looking in of the playoff hunt in an anemic Eastern Conference, and not just because of a poor defense — despite bringing in offensive institutions Mike D’Antoni, Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire, the Knicks just aren’t efficient in the offensive facet of the game. Maybe they need a real point guard, maybe there is a clash of styles on the team, or maybe D’Antoni is just managing the team poorly, but the numbers are pretty terrible: the Knicks shoot 41.9 percent from the floor (27th in the NBA), only score 95 points per game (15th), and force too many three balls (10th in three point attempts but just 25th in three point percentage). This was a team that was considered to be a playoff dark horse last year because of its offensive explosiveness, and now, an ineffective offense might keep N.Y. out of the postseason altogether.
MB: The start of the season for the Philadelphia 76ers, 13-6, is the biggest surprise in the NBA so far. The 76ers are first place in the Atlantic Division and three games behind the best team in the Eastern Conference, the Chicago Bulls. After finishing the 2010-11 season with a record of 41-41, the 76ers have utilized a team effort philosophy to share the ball and let multiple players, such as forwards Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand, contribute to the victory. While many believe that it is a big surprise that the Los Angeles Clippers are ahead of the Lakers in the Western Conference, the Clippers made far-reaching moves to be in the position that they are in. The 76ers do not have many recognizable, highly paid players but they are building their talent rapidly. The only team in the Eastern Conference to allow fewer points per game than Philadelphia (87.6 PA) is the Chicago Bulls (87.0 PA). If the strong defense continues, the 76ers are looking at an improved roster across the board.
BB: Alex gets 3 points for stating the big discrepancy between teams that changed a lot to those that stayed together. Mark gets 2 points for stating the Sixers’ strong defense could keep them towards the top of the Eastern Conference all year. Peter gets 1 point for stating the Knicks’ surprising offensive woes.
Alex wins this week’s Around the Dorm, 8-6-4.
“If I go undefeated and don’t win the championship again this semester, I’m retiring from AtD.” — Alex