Monday Morning Update: January 16, 2017

Justin Thomas has a Tinder date with destiny, John Tavares deserves better and the NFL is down to four.

  1. Destiny swipes right on Justin Thomas

Justin Thomas’ 2017 is probably going to be better than most 23-year-old. So far he’s setting PGA records in the first two weeks of the year while his contemporaries slog through the equal but opposite hells of either working an entry-level job or looking for an entry-level job.

Thomas’ weekend got off what could gently be described as a hot start, becoming the youngest golfer to card a 59 during an actual PGA Tour event rather than an EA Sports simulation of one. He then added his name to a few more pages of the PGA record books, becoming the holder of the best two-day and three-day scores of all time. That’s a pretty good trip to Hawaii.

On Sunday, he just needed to card a 65 (which would be tied for his highest score of the weekend to that point.) Find a way to post a -5 on Waialae Country Club’s Championship Golf Course, and he’d stand above Woods, Nickelous, Palmer, Jones, every PGA Golfer that’s ever swung a stick, with the best four-day score of all time.

He did just that, and now his bio, on Tinder or in PGA Record Books, can say that, for at least one weekend, he was the best golfer the world has ever seen, and that he did it in paradise, as part of a two-week winning streak (oh yeah, he won last week too).

Not too shabby for a 23-year-old.

2. When Kristaps met the Answer

In many ways, Kristaps Porzingas and Allen Iverson couldn’t be more different. In one corner, we have a small point guard with an other-worldly handle, who grew up in a poor area of Virgina and played pro basketball (primarily) in Philadelphia.In the other corner, we have a Latvian power forward with a silky jumper and ability to stretch almost any team in the Association.

But look a little closer, and things are closer than they appear. Both players treat each game like a bit of dogfight, neither fits neatly in the classical definition of their (or any) position but have the ability to both put on a show or take over a game. Porzingas even seems to have picked up some Iverson style trash talk lately.

All things considered, it shouldn’t be too surprising that Iverson expressed some respect an admiration for Godzingas. Like AI, Porzingas has turned himself into one of the most fun players in the game to watch. Let’s just hope he doesn’t add the same playoff futility to his resume that Iverson has on his.

3. The NCAA’s fancy new toy

It looks like someone might have given the NCAA’s stat department a big shiny box on Christmas, with the selection committee announcing it, would end reliance on RPI in favor of a new stat that will be dreamed up by a consortium of stat-nerds.

NCAA  senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt told ESPN that the move is designed to keep the committee “relevant” in an analytics-heavy world. The committee that will bring us into this brave new statistical future includes an impressive array, highlighted by Ken Pomeroy of KenPom.com, along with Jeff Sagarin, Kevin Pauga, and Ben Alamar.

I’m not a master of mathematics by any stretch, so I reached out for the opinion of our own in-house stat-nerd Matt “Stat” Tardiff. He said that there were a few apparent flaws (the big red flag: no factor for margin of victory),  but that he was happy for a new piece of the puzzle.

For my money, I hope the selection committee knows what it’s getting itself into. As soon as a spate of team’s favored by the new stat fall to some underdogs, the critics are going to come calling. The only chance this has of succeeding is if the NCAA can act with the courage of its convictions and stand by its stat when the seas get choppy.

4. The Russian Rocket

The Great 8. Ovie. Whatever you call him, make sure you realize how great he is.

There’s a longer appreciation post on the Washington Capitals winger coming, as he’s become my single favorite player in the NHL to never wear the blue and orange. He’s the kind of guy you can’t take your eyes off, no matter where he is on the ice. He’s capable of changing the course of the game with an end-to-end rush, a bone crushing hit, or any number of highlight reel deke, dodges, and goals.

But the single-best time to watch the NHL’s greatest ever goal scorer, numbers be damned? For my money, it’s on the power-play or a buzzing offensive shift, stalking his territory around the left-hand faceoff circle. His shoot was sculpted by the hockey gods to find twine from that spot on the ice.

He’s also perhaps the most fun player in the league, in an era where personality is harder to find than a full set of teeth. He’s loud, he’s brash, he likes to have a good time, and he wears his home flag with pride, even if it’s the one time I can’t stomach rooting for him.

His name was all over the hockey news this week, scoring on a wicked wrister to draw even with the namesake of the NHL’s scoring trophy (of which he has a few in his trophy case.)

The best part? He’s only 31, and should hopefully have a few more prime seasons before taking a few victory laps. Let’s hope against hope he stays stateside and passes a few more greats before he hangs up the skates for good.

5. John Tavares makes us all look a little silly

So Ovechkin is my favorite player who hasn’t worn an islanders jersey. But John Tavares still holds the spot as my favorite player to ever skate, and I’m not sure when or if that will change. So Ovechkin is my favorite player who hasn’t worn an islanders jersey. But John Tavares still holds the spot as my favorite player to ever skate, and I’m not sure when or if that will change.

He made me, and everyone else who implied that he perhaps should not be representing the Islanders in Los Angeles at the All-Star Game, look foolish this weekend. He nearly scored hat tricks in back to back nights, turning what had been a slow season on the score sheet into another thing entirely, reminding us just how much better he is than his teammates.

Unfortunately, even Tavares couldn’t lift an otherwise woeful Islanders team to consecutive wins, as the team followed up a win over last year’s playoff punching bag the Florida Panthers with a disastrous loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. Until Tavares signs on the dotted lines, you have to wonder just how much futility a born winner like #91 can take. He’s pledged his loyalty to the Islanders time and time again, but even the fiercest allegiances can only carry so much water.

Next time you’re in a prayerful mood, say one for the Islanders and their loyal, if small, fanbase. Even if he does leave, let’s make sure podcast guest CharlieWisco doesn’t get his wish of Tavares on Broadway.

6. Free Earl

What can you say about Seattle Seahawks defensive back Earl Thomas?

The Seahawks desperately missed the outspoke corner as much maligned (at least by yours truly) playoff performer Matt Ryan carved up the NFL’s best defense by reputation, finding the end zone three times without putting the ball in his opponents’ hand, and leading his team to a win. You have to believe that Thomas brings some balance and depth to the Seahawks defense, as well as the eyes, and hands of perhaps the league’s best pass defender as I picked up an L on my first pick of the weekend (the only L I picked up all week, I might add.)

Outside of the Seahawks locker room, though I’m not sure he was so sorely missed. He didn’t really give us the chance.

I’ll admit, I had no problem with the Seahawks propensity to squawk when they were winning, and they’re more than welcome to exercise their First Amendment rights even now. I appreciate that Sherman, Thomas, and the rest aren’t afraid to speak what they see to be the truth about the power in the league, and elsewhere. Good on them

The problem is it gets tough to trust the source when it says something so obviously wrong. Sure, Brady’s division has never been able to give him much competition. But Thomas should probably not take shots at the guy who beat his team when he was on the field.

7. The Patriots win with (relative) ease

Perhaps it’s just nerves or champagne problems, but New England seems nervous today, despite winning by a nearly two-to-one margin. The team played a mistake-laden game, the critics and fans in Boston say, and may have been lucky to escape with a win. Play that way again this postseason, and the team could be going home without adding to its jewelry collection.

I’m not sure what all the hand-wringing is about. I’ve watched a lot of football, and for better or worse, a lot of New England football, during the past few years and I’m failing to remember a two-game streak where Belichick, Brady, and Sons played poorly.

Sure, the Patriots let the score get closer than they probably would have wanted it to be. But maybe they were playing a little loose while they knew they had the wiggle room?

If nothing else, the team will have plenty of tape to show where they went wrong. Something tells me that the best coach of a generation will use this as a teaching moment, and make sure his team, which seems to be the league’s most talented, ready to fly high next weekend.

8. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss?

It’s Martin Luther King weekend, which means one thing: the Cowboys are cleaning their lockers out while much of the country enjoys their day off.

The Cowboys had a new quarterback, a new running back, a retooled defense, but they still lost in the waning seconds of a Divisional game, all because the Green Bay Packers had Aaron Rodgers. But is it really the same old, same old for Jerry Jones’ silver warriors? Despite my natural inclination to assume the worst for the Cowboys, I find myself thinking this is different than the other exits.

It was good to see Jason Garett dance with the QB that got him the NFC’s best record, rather than get hot feet and swap in veteran Tony Romo when things got tough early on. Prescott led his team on a comeback effort, and even though the team fell short, this is a younger crew, one that can stand to learn from a loss.

It pains me to admit, but I think the Cowboys will be back in this spot again soon. One of these days, Dallas has got to win one…right?

9. The Steelers squeak by

 

This weekend, we were for once literally waiting all day for Sunday night, or at least early evening, as the AFC Divisional game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Kansas City Chiefs was delayed by Mother Nature.

So was it worth it? Eh, kind of. Not particularly.

The problems? To start off, as NBC delighted in pointing out time and time again, the victor of this game was the team that didn’t score the game’s two touchdowns, as Steelers Kicker Jeff Boswell, kicked, well, well! The Kansas City Chiefs, coached by human/walrus Andy Reid, this time didn’t make a timekeeping error, but a disciplinary one, as James Harrison was held during Kansas City’s two-point attempt to tie the game, which initially appeared to be successful, sending the Chiefs to overtime.

Instead, the Chiefs had to attempt the improbable, and they did not defy the odds. It was a shaky performance by Big Ben and the boys, but like we said last week about the Texans, a win is a win, and a playoff one even more so. 

The good was human/superhero Le’Veon Bell, who set a Steelers’ team record for the most rushing yards in a playoff game with 170 yards. In a game where the clock and field position played a starring role, being able to run the ball effectively was a huge plus for the Steelers. NBC told us after the game he was the MVP of that contest. To be frank, I was unaware they handed out awards for the Divisional round, but if they do, then I guess Bell is a worthwhile choice.

Spoiler alert: The Steelers will have to find a way into the end zone if they want any hope of beating the Patriots. Tom Brady is unlike Alex Smith a wide number of ways, and being kept off the scoreboard at home in the playoffs is one of them.

That’ll do it for this edition—have a great week everyone! For more, follow @MurraySportTalk on Twitter.

 

 

 

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