In this week’s Around the Dorm, the “Ref,” Andrew Grossman, asks our expert panel three questions: what have been the best and worst teams in NFL free agency so far, who left in March Madness — Kentucky, Connecticut, Wisconsin or Florida — will ultimately win the tournament, and will the 76ers ever win a game?
1. Who has been the best and the worst team in NFL free agency so far?
Gabe: It’s hard to argue with the way the Broncos have gone about strengthening their squad through the opening weeks of free agency, as they bolstered their shaky defense by signing safety T.J. Ward and bringing in DeMarcus Ware after the Cowboys questionably decided to waive him from their roster. Further, they signed former Pittsburgh Steelers WR Emmanuel Sanders to join Wes Welker, Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas, and replace Eric Decker alongside who signed with the New York Jets. While they lost Knowshon Moreno to the Miami Dolphins and may need to target a running back in the draft or free agency, the Broncos have put together a team that’s going to maximize what might be Peyton Manning’s final season in the NFL.
Peter: The Buccaneers aren’t a sexy team to highlight, but they have added a ton of talented players to their roster this offseason on reasonable deals, and GM Jason Licht should be applauded for taking a big step toward making the playoffs. The biggest addition is QB Josh McCown, who had a passer rating of 109 last season, but there’s been improvement across the board: the offensive line has been bolstered with veteran center Evan Dietrick-Smith and left tackle Anthony Collins, who can make the team’s difficulties protecting the QB a thing of the past, while the defense can improve with players like premier rusher Michael Johnson and former Seahawks tackle Clinton McDonald. The Cowboys have had the worst offseason, obviously — letting their best defensive player go after one of the worst defensive seasons in history is so Jerry Jones.
Matt: The Denver Broncos are the clear winner of free agency so far, and it’s not even close. After giving up 43 points in the Super Bowl, the Broncos realized they cannot win with just a record-setting offense. They got a first-hand look at how dominant defenses win championships. So John Elway and the Broncos went out and signed star defensive end Demarcus Ware, safety T.J. Ward, and cornerback Aqib Talib. These acquisitions, along with the return of all-pro linebacker Von Miller from injury, will sure up Denver’s defensive problems. The biggest loser of NFL free agency is Carolina Panthers. The Panthers let three-time All-Pro wide receiver Steve Smith walk in free agency. At 35 years old, losing Smith might not seem like the biggest loss. However, the Panthers also failed to resign fellow receivers Ted Ginn Jr. and Brandon Lafell. The Panthers lost their top three recievers, and their answer is Jericho Cotchery and Marvin McNutt? If that’s not a loss, I don’t know what is.
Peter wins for not picking the obvious choice, Matt gets 2 points for mentioning the Panthers’ woes, and Gabe gets one for pointing out the Emmanuel Sanders acquisition.
2) Who will win March Madness?
Gabe: In what has arguably been the maddest March in recent history, I expect the SEC’s Florida Gators and Kentucky Wildcats to advance to the championship game. Florida has been mostly untested so far in the tournament due to their dominant defensive prowess. If Connecticut’s Shabazz Napier can get it going early and often and the Huskies can find a way to consistently score against the Gator D, they could very well advance to the final, as Florida’s main question mark is offensive consistency. They’re a deep offensive group but they don’t have a Napier like UConn who they can feed when they need a bucket. On the other side of the draw, Wisconsin and Kentucky should be an outstanding game. Wisconsin is smart, they shoot the lights out, don’t turn the ball over and they’re well-coached, but Kentucky is just on fire right now and they’ve clearly hit their stride at the right time. The preseason No. 1 team might be too talented for the Badgers, who lack the same depth of NBA talent that the Wildcats possess. If center Willie Cauley-Stein is able to return to the Wildcat lineup he could be the difference in this one and in the Finals when they take on the Florida Gators. Given how many top teams they’ve taken down on their road to the Final Four, and with Cauley-Stein potentially making his return, I have to pick the Julius Randle-led Kentucky Wildcats to capture the championship this year.
Peter: Anyone in the final four could win it all this year, but Florida has to be the favorite: The top-seeded Gators haven’t lost since Dec. 2 and have won their four games in the NCAA Tournament by an average of 12.25 points, the largest margin of any team. Their relatively low-seeded opponents haven’t been marshmallows, either, and it took real quality to dispatch Dayton by double digits. This is a team that doesn’t have any household names but a lot of talent, and is the most likely of any Final Four team to take home this year’s title.
Matt: I stick with my original pick — Florida will win the National Championship. Coach Billy Donovan has already won it all twice before and has his team playing very well. Donovan has the experience and talent to lead this team to a third championship in the past decade, the most of any program in that span. While Kentucky’s John Calipari may be the best coach remaining, Kentucky has many inexperienced freshmen, which could come back to hurt them. Florida has won all of their games so far by at least 10 points and is the only remaining team that has not given up 70 points in a game. I expect Florida’s balanced attack and strong defense to stop Shabazz Napier’s hot streak and cruise into the final. When all is said and done, Donovan’s Gators will be cutting down the net in Dallas.
Matt wins for mentioning Billy Donovan’s previous success, Gabe gets 2 points for highlighting Florida’s defensive talents, and Peter gets one for bringing up the Gator’s winning streak.
3. The Sixers cannot win a game. What changes, if there are any, can they make to end the losing streak?
Gabe: The Philadelphia 76ers signed up for these exact results when they traded point guard Jrue Holiday, the youngest All-Star in their franchise’s storied history. They replaced Doug Collins with Greg Popovich understudy Brett Brown, a vastly superior coach, but short of playing Thaddeus Young 48 minutes a game or Commissioner Silver issuing the Sixers a replacement schedule down the stretch laced with the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia has little chance at winning another game this season. It’s not that the players aren’t giving 110 percent every night — they are. The fact is that GM Sam Hinkie had a plan and executed it. Not only did he trade Holiday, he also rid the team of anyone who was a decent, legitimate NBA player (Spencer Hawes, Evan Turner) and wasn’t in the long-term plans of the team. This was the plan along for Hinkie and company, and while he was probably happy to see his 76ers get a win for the first time in two months, albeit against the disastrous Detroit Pistons, that win puts Philly two games ahead of Milwaukee and pretty much guarantees the Bucks will finish with the league’s worst record. With falling to the worst record in the league all but an impossibility, I wouldn’t be too surprised to see Brett Brown coach them to another win before the season is over, but I certainly wouldn’t bet on it either.
Peter: The Sixers ended up winning a game. Congratulations, guys.
Matt: The 76ers are a disgrace. There is nothing they can do — no changes that can be made at this point in the season — that can help this team win. After trading away Jrue Holiday in the offseason and Spencer Hawes, Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen at the trade deadline, the Sixers are left with a roster of should-be NBA D-League players. Seriously, as a fan of the NBA, can anyone name a Sixers player, not name Michael Carter-Williams. I get the idea of tanking, but the Sixers have taken it to a whole new level. They’re not even trying to win games anymore. Just take a look at that roster. Twenty-six straight losses, a league record, is pitiful. And they don’t even have the worst record in the league. The Milwaukee Bucks are two games worse than them. The Sixers should and will continue their losing ways in order to have a better chance at the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft.
Peter wins for pointing out the obvious, Gabe gets 2 points for discussing the 76ers long-term plans, and Matt gets 1 point for mentioning that Philadelphia needs a lot of help.
Peter wins Around the Dorm, 7-6-5