In the Around the Dorm championship, the “Ref,” Brendan McGrath, challenges Sports Editor Alex Wolfe, Sports Assistant Chris Molicki and Staff Writer Brandon Gould to answer questions about which underdog has the best chance in the NHL Playoffs, whether Matt Kemp has what it takes to become the first triple crown winner in over 40 years and who would win the NBA Finals if the top four teams weren’t in the playoffs.
1. The Stanley Cup Playoffs are underway and there have been a few surprises so far. Who will be the underdog that gets furthest in these playoffs, and who will take home the cup?
AW: This is a toughie, but to answer the first part of the question I think that the underdog that can go the furthest is the L.A. Kings. There are a number of matchups where the lower seed actually had more points than the higher seed in the regular season, so underdogs are pretty tough to identify. That said, I thought the Kings were one of the only true “underdogs” in this year’s playoffs, and their play has backed up my opinion that they can go the furthest. The main thing that sells me on them: their scorching .952 save percentage. That’s just dirty, and defense truly does win championships in the NHL. Not only that, they’re also tied for first in goals against with 1.75. It’s pretty hard to beat a team that you can’t score on, and for that reason I think the Kings can pose a threat to get to the Conference Finals. Unfortunately, they’ll probably fall to the Blues in the second round, who I think can make it to the Stanley Cup Finals. I’m thinking Blues-Rangers in the Final, with the Rangers (sorry, Devils fans) taking their first Cup since ’94.
CM: The underdog that will make it the farthest will be the Los Angeles Kings. By the time this is published, they may already have beaten the Canucks and advanced. The Kings have been able to do this by balancing scoring with defense and goaltending. They have averaged three goals a game while allowing less than two on their wins, an impressive margin. I can see them knocking out the Blues next, and an eight seed making the conference finals is a pretty impressive underdog run. However, the team that will take home the cup is the Nashville Predators. They have been extremely physically against an always-tough Red Wings team and have outmatched them. Once again, their goaltending, by Pekka Rinne, has been their strong point and has balanced out their scoring. They should get the Coyotes in the next round and make quick work of them. Momentum has proven over recent years to be the biggest factor in the playoffs in sports, and it will carry Nashville to the Cup.
BG: I think the Los Angeles Kings are the biggest surprise so far in this year’s playoffs, but my underdog to watch has to be the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers were a No. 5 seed compared to No. 4 seed Pittsburgh, but the Penguins finished the season five points ahead of the Flyers and just got megastar Sidney Crosby back. However, the Flyers have their state rival on the ropes up 3-2. If they get past the Penguins, and New York gets past Ottawa, the Flyers have the “bully” mentality to outdo the Eastern Conference’s top seed. A New York-Philly matchup also brings intensity to it, but I think this year that a series between these two, whether in the second round or in the Conference Finals, will also produce the team that ultimately wins it all. I just don’t see the Western Conference supplying a formidable matchup this year (LA, St. Louis, Nashville and Phoneix? Puh-lease) and unless Alexander Ovechkin plays like a demigod these are the top two contenders in the East. Flyers win the Cup in five games.
BM: Chris scores 3 for pointing out how the Predators were more physical than the Red Wings and noting their goal differential. Brandon gets 2 for the argument that the Flyers can out-do the Eastern Conference with their bully mentality. Alex is awarded 1 point for claiming that the Rangers will win the Cup, despite an eloquent argument for the Kings.
2. Matt Kemp led the National League in homers and RBIs last season and was 13 points shy of winning the batting title — this would have made him the first triple crown hitter since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. As he is tearing up the league right now and leading or close to leading all three categories, what are his chances of bringing home the crown this year?
AW: I think Matt Kemp is a pretty cool dude and I’d love to see him win the triple crown, but I just can’t see it happening. Here’s the way I look at it: I’d rather be surprised by someone taking the triple crown than place a bunch of hope in some guy around midseason and get disappointed. In this day and age where players are so balanced, it’s really hard for someone to take the crown. That said, I think that if there is any young guy worth placing that hope in, it is Kemp. The BA is generally the hardest thing to get for the prospective crown winners, but Kemp is hitting .481 to begin the season, leading the MLB. You’d have to be batshit to think a player could keep that up (although fingers crossed that players can, maybe David Wright could keep hitting .439), but if he can avoid letting cold streaks get to him he could realistically hit near .350. If he can do that, then I think he could get the crown. But if I was going to put a percentage chance on it, I’d say maybe 15 percent chance he gets it. There’s a reason there hasn’t been a winner since Yaz.
CM: As much as I would love to see Kemp pull off this remarkable feat, I just cannot see it happening. Kemp’s 2011 campaign was godly and it’s very difficult to duplicate something like that. Yes, Kemp is above and beyond the best hitter in the NL, but there’s a reason that this hasn’t been done in 45 years. Right now, Kemp is batting at .481, which is impossible to keep up. The hardest part about winning the triple crown is that it calls for three different styles of hitting: hitting for average, hitting for power, and hitting to win. When Kemp hits for average, it decreases his chance of getting a home run. Likewise, when he hits for power, it hurts his average. Finally, I’m sure that Kemp’s main concern is getting the Dodgers to the playoffs, not winning the triple crown. It’s extremely difficult to keep up a pace like that over 162 games, which is why I feel like he won’t be able to pull it off.
BG: Zero. The question says it already, no one has done this since 1967. Leading the league in one category, let alone three, is hard enough. Kemp is a beast, and should have been the National League MVP last season (suck on it Ryan Braun), but pitchers can easily throw around him. The Los Angeles Dodgers don’t have much surrounding Kemp. Sure, Andre Either can be a force when he’s on his game, but who else in that lineup should pitchers fear? James Loney is playing absolutely terrible baseball right now and their next best hitter is Juan Rivera. Kemp can drive the ball better than anyone in the game right now, but he won’t get much to hit later on in the season with the lineup assembled around him. If I had to put money on a triple-crown threat this year, I would go with the Texas Rangers’ Josh Hamilton. The dude isn’t hitting as well as Kemp right now, but he still leads the American League in all three categories and his lineup is full of offensive weapons — Michael Young, Ian Kinsler and Adrian Beltre to name a few.
BM: Brandon notches 3 for his argument that there is not enough protection in Kemp’s lineup, while also providing an alternative choice in Hamilton. Alex receives 2 for his philosophy on being surprised over being let down. Chris gets 1 for noting the problem of balancing hitting for power with hitting for average.
3. As we approach the NBA playoffs, imagine that San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Chicago and Miami (so the top four teams in the league) don’t exist. What team from each conference will make it to the finals?
AW: I like this question. Here’s what I think — the Knicks would come out of the East. Yes, I’m a huge Knicks fan, but no, this isn’t just a blind fanhood pick. At this point it looks like the Knicks have a date with the Bulls or the Heat in the first round, and honestly I think those two teams are the only ones that pose a real threat to the ’Bockers in this year’s playoffs. Since Mike Woodson took over as coach, the Knicks have a 15-6 record. That’s really impressive. On top of that, Carmelo Anthony has been lighting it up recently, and he has proved before that he can take a team on his back in the postseason. With a Dwight-less Magic and a hot but vulnerable Pacers team, I think the Knicks could work their way to the Finals. As far as the West, I think the Lakers could do it. Honestly, I think the Lakers have a chance to get out of the West as-is, but without OKC and San Antonio in the way I definitely think they could take it. Metta World Peace has found new life, and in the time that Kobe was out of action Andrew Bynum played out of his mind. With a dominant SG and center and solid contributors at the other three spots, give me L.A. In the Finals, I would go Knicks mostly because of matchups. Tyson Chandler would give Bynum fits and Shumpert could contain Kobe, and I think that would leave Melo and Amar’e to run wild. Knicks in six over the Lakers (man, I hope that happens in real life).
CM: Like I said before, momentum is the biggest factor in the playoffs, especially in a lockout season. An eight seed made it to the finals during the last lockout season: the New York Knicks. They would be my pick to make it there this year as well. Come playoff time, the Knicks will be incredibly hot. They are currently 15-5 under Mike Woodson and have played great offensively and defensively. The team should be fully healthy by the time they would play the Celts (even Jeremy Lin), which means that the star power (Amare and Carmelo), depth (J. R. Smith, Baron Davis, Steve Novak), and defense (Chandler and Shump) would bring the Knicks to the Finals. Looking to the West, the Memphis Grizzlies would be the favorite. They are by far the deepest and the most talented team outside of OKC. With Zach Randolph coming off the bench and O. J. Mayo and Gilbert Arenas actually providing positive contributions, it boosts a starting lineup that already has a ton of size and scoring. The Lakers are a mess and the Clippers will be done in by their coaching, so I see the Grizzlies maximizing their talent and being finals bound.
BG: The sexy pick for the Eastern Conference seems to be the New York Knicks, but I will take the Boston Celtics. The Celtics’ Big Three are old, I mean let’s be real they’re fossils, but they know how to win a championship. The X-factor though, in my book, is their bench, so in order to pull it off, they would need some solid production out of guys like Mickael Pietrus. On the other side, West side, my pick would have to lay with the Los Angeles Clippers. That’s right, I’m throwing my chips behind Lob City. I put a lot of trust in point guard play and Chris Paul is one of the league’s best. Not only does he bring it on the offensive side (19.3 points and 9.0 assist per game), but he is also a very capable defender (A league-leading 2.4 steals per game). Add on players like DeAndre Jordan (2.05 blocks per game) and Blake Griffin (7.6 defensive rebounds per game) and you can see why the Clippers rank second out of the teams currently qualified for the playoffs in the West in points against per game. Simply said, good defense wins championships.
BM: Alex scores 3 for actually convincing me that the Knicks have a chance when they don’t. Brandon nets 2 for having the right answer in the East and siding with Chris Paul in the West. Chris brings home 1 for breaking the Knicks down into star power, depth and defense.
Brandon wins 7-6-5