Thursday, January 19, 2017

Rewatching Game Seven and Rediscovering My Chicago Cubs Fandom

Not sure if you heard about this in between all of the celebrity deaths and a nincompoop winning the presidential election, but the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. This is a pretty big deal, because it had been quite a while since they had won one of those. People in Chicago were pumped; in fact, people all over the country were pumped as the number of Cubs fans have increased exponentially over the last two years. I'm not sure what caused that, but everybody loves the Cubbies these days.

I am a lifelong Cubs fan. I remember those years where Les Lancaster was a legitimate reliever, when I thought Rick Wilkins was a legit catcher, when Mickey Morandini and Jeff Blauser were a legitimate combo up the middle, when Brant Brown was a thing, when the Cubs acquried my favorite non-Cub, Rich Harden, and thought for sure that the drought was over (they got swept in the first round of the playoffs). I could probably list at least another 500 things I remember about this stupid team, as I have spent an unhealthy amount of time watching and thinking about the Chicago Cubs.

A few years ago, I moved away from the Midwest to Florida to set up permanent shop. I remembered the essentials, like my wife and my dog, but admittedly, my entire Cubs fandom didn't make the trip. I'm an adult in Florida, and not even near a stadium that the Cubs make a trip to every year. It's just hard to keep up that level of fandom, so I didn't. I mean, I still followed along, knew everything that was happening, but I wasn't there. I was here, away from things.

I watched the playoff games, but I'll admit, I fell asleep before the last out for most of them. This didn't really bother me too much, as it was actually a pretty boring postseason. People forget that the World Series games kind of stunk until Game Seven. That game was amazing, but I was out of town on business, and I had been up since 4:00 AM. By the time the first pitch was thrown, I had been up for over 16 hours and was working for 12 of those hours. I watched the first half of the game around strangers before retiring to my hotel room to watch the rest in the comfort of my temporary bed. I managed to stay awake until the end, but by the time it was over, I used my last bit of energy to whisper "Awesome" before rolling over and falling asleep. It was not the raucous celebration I imagined.

That bummed me out. I loved the Cubs, but I wasn't sure if I still loved the Cubs. I mean, it should have meant more. A couple weeks later I went home and visited my family. I tried to talk to my Grandma about the Cubs winning the World Series, but she has been having health troubles, and at 96, she really didn't have the mental or physical strength to really take it all in. I think we were both left with an empty feeling. It made me wonder if it's all worth it.

Let's face it. It's probably not. We don't care about sports because it's the logical decision. We spit in the face of logic when we cheer for players and teams, and that's part of the fun. Escaping the rational world to act irrationally and passionately about things that shouldn't actually matter in our day-to-day lives.

I wanted that stupid feeling. I needed to try to find it. So I waited a few months, and last week, I rewatched the final game of the World Series in its entirety, from the pregame analysis from Joe Buck, to the ups and downs, the rain delay, and the celebration. I wasn't sure if it would matter, but I at least wanted to try.

The first batter of the game was Dexter Fowler, and even though I remembered how that at bat ended, it didn't stop me from getting goosebumps when he launched the ball over the center field fence. It wasn't the home run itself, but it was the moment after Fowler rounded first base during his home run trot to turn backwards and point at the Cubs dugout as half of the crowd was erupting in cheers.

I was hooked.

Usually, I'll read a lot while watching baseball games, because baseball games are rather uneventful, but despite this game being two months old, I couldn't take my eyes off of it. Here were the most affecting moments during the game.

Good - Dexter Fowler home run
I already talked about this one.

Good - Jose Ramirez being picked off
Because there were a lot of big moments, I feel like this is going to get overlooked as time goes on, but picking off a runner is enough of a rarity where it felt special, like nothing was going to go wrong for the Cubs and destiny (the abstract idea, not the stripper) could take them to the title.

Bad - Javier Baez dropped ball when trying to turn a double play
The Indians had just tied the game at one, and Baez dropped what could have been an inning ending double play. Instead the Indians had two runners on and one out. All of my confidence from Fowler's home run and the pickoff move were gone.

Good - Kris Bryant's base running
Kris Bryant's two runs involved some of the best baserunning of the postseason. He scored on a very shallow fly ball that Rajai Davis misplayed to not give himself momentum into his throw and Bryant was barely able to slide under the tag. Then, when he managed to score from first on an Anthony Rizzo single, because of a hit and run, that was just incredible. The Cubs took a 4-1 lead shortly after that, and things were looking rosy yet again.

Bad - The passed ball that caused two runs to score
The Cubs were up 5-1 and in control and for some reason, they pulled Kyle Hendricks after allowing a two out walk in the fifth. They were almost too into the idea of Lester being a postseason hero, so they brought him in, and he gave up two runs on a David Ross passed ball when Kipnis hustled all the way from second to score on the play. It was then 5-3 and the Cubs inevitable World Series win didn't feel inevitable anymore.

Good - David Ross home run
Uh, yeah, if old ass David Ross is hitting a bomb, then yeah, I'd say this one is in the bag.

Bad - Rajai Davis home run to tie the game
I watched this two months later, and when Rajai Davis hit that home run, my hear legitimately sank into my stomach. Against all logic, I felt sickness when I saw that ball exit the park knowing full well that the Cubs still won the game. I knew what happened, and I couldn't help that feeling.

This was my favorite moment when rewatching the game, because this is when I knew that it still mattered. Yeah, I know it doesn't matter as much as it did in 1998 when I cried after the Cubs got swept by the Braves. And yeah, it probably doesn't matter as much as it did six years later when I got goosebumps when Glenallen Hill told me that had they gotten past the Braves, they would have won the World Series. But it still matters.

After that, there were obviously still more good moments. But it wasn't the baseball that stood out. When Zobrist hit the double to help the Cubs take the lead, the part that stood out most was Rizzo with his hands on his helmet in disbelief as he stood on third. And the replay of Zobrist leaping into second base out of pure excitement. It wasn't Montero's RBI single, it was the dugout erupting in cheers as it happened, and Montero turning to scream in their direction after reaching first.

And then there was the final out. The out was great, but the reaction is what really brought it home. The Chicago Cubs had finally won the World Series. My Chicago Cubs.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

I'm a Knicks Fan This Year

I am a lifelong Bulls fan. Growing up near-ish Chicago during Jordan's prime basically ensured that I would love the Bulls with all of my heart. But I remember the bad years as well, drafting guys like Marcus Fizer and signing guys like Eddie Robinson; they were awful for a really long time. Then they started drafting better, lucked into the number one pick and had one of the best coaches in the NBA, so it was a whole lot easier to like them.

Then the Bulls got rid of that coach for a guy whose best attribute was getting guys kicked out of other universities to come to his and play together. Shockingly, that did not spell success at the NBA level. Then, they basically got rid of everyone from those fun grinding Bulls teams, only keeping Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson around. And of course, I still like those guys, I even like Dwyane Wade, Doug McDermott, Nikola Mirotic, and Bobby Portis, but I like those guys more in a vacuum than on this team. Also, they picked up Rajon Rondo, the player I hate the most in the NBA, and another shocker here, it hasn't worked out too well.

So I'm a still Bulls fan, but I don't want to actually watch the Bulls. You see my predicament here? So I've watched some other NBA teams. I have to eliminate all west coast teams, because I can't stay up that late. I'm not going to watch a good team, because then I might fall in love, and I don't want to do that to the Bulls, so I glanced around the league and found the perfect solution, The New York Knickerbockers.

I mean, let's think about it. The only other decent options are the Pacers who show potential but aren't all that fun, and the Bucks, but they're a little too cool and spelling Giannis Antetokounmpo is just a giant pain to spell, so I didn't want to write that.

As a Bulls fan during the 90s, I am predisposed to hating the Knicks, and yes, I will forever hate John Starks and think that they were responsible for the worst years of basketball after Jordan retried (in my mind, Jordan retired from the Bulls and never played again). So saying out loud that I like the Knicks is difficult, but watching the Knicks is a really enjoyable experience.

Let's get the obvious out of the way. They took two of my all-time favorite Bulls when they got Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose this offseason. I still love these guys. Neither of them is the same player they were in their prime, but they show enough flashes to let you get lost in the moments and convince yourself that they are about to have a career renaissance. Rose can still make ridiculous drives and avoid contact as he lays something up high off the glass, and Noah isn't as springy, but he is wily and still more hustle plays than you can expect from any single person. I will forever love watching these guys play (Also, not concerned about Derrick Rose just disappearing from the team last week; that's part of the Derrick Rose charm).

The next reason to like the Knicks is Carmelo Anthony. Carmelo gets a bad rap, because he has never won anything in the NBA, but he's still super awesome at basketball. When Melo gets hot, it is special. I saw the Knicks play the Heat earlier this year, and it was a close game about halfway through the third quarter until Melo just decided to make a shot every time he touched the ball. It finally stopped when he took a contested three as a heat check, but by that time, the Knicks were up double digits and the game was over. Appreciate Carmelo Anthony, because even though he's not the perfect basketball player, he is one of the best.

Then there's Kristaps Porzingis. Porzingis is the guy everyone wants to talk about, but he's still a distant fourth for my favorite Knicks players to watch. Don't get me wrong. He's really good, but he doesn't compare to those top three. His game is easy to enjoy; it's effortless. He's fully appreciated, which makes it less fun to root for him but still fun to watch him.

After that, I still enjoy watching Brandon Jennings. I know he can't make a shot to save his life, but he can still dribble real nicely, and that counts for something. I guess I could say I like Kyle O'Quinn and Courtney Lee, but those are just solid players that you should like, not players that I really care about. They could easily be replaced.

The rest of the Knicks bench is hot garbage. There is nothing of notable talent or consequences, and that's fine. It gives them a ton of potential for easy upgrades. But that's nitpicking at this point.

With D-Rose, Noah, Melo, Zinger, and Young Money, this team is the perfect blend of fun and stupidity. And since they are likely to lose Rose and Jennings after this year, it will be easy to throw them to the side and start cheering for the Bulls after they ditch Rondo and Hoiberg. The Knicks are my team...for this year.

Monday, January 16, 2017

I Was Wrong About Iowa Basketball

Going into this season, I thought that the Iowa Hawkeyes were going to be awful at basketball. Early on in the season, I felt vindicated as Iowa couldn't beat a good team to save their lives. They couldn't beat Seton Hall at home, and more embarrassingly, they only manged 41 points against Virginia, then followed that by giving up 100 points to Memphis. Their offense depended on everybody being hot from the outside, and their defense was nonexistent. They followed those two games by getting beat by Notre Dame before hitting rock bottom and losing to University of Nebraska...Omaha. Iowa wasn't going to struggle this year; they were going to be abysmal.

Then something weird happened. They beat the 25th ranked, Iowa State Cyclones. I didn't think they'd be good enough to win a game like that, but it was a rivalry game, and as the cliche goes, you can throw the record books out when those two teams get together. Then, something even more odd happened when Iowa totally handled Northern Iowa. Even if UNI wasn't strong this year, Iowa shouldn't have been able to dominate them like that.

And since then, outside of a beating they took from Purdue on the road, Iowa looks like a real basketball team, and that is something I did not see coming. In fact, they even avenged the beating that Purdue gave them by getting a win over the Boilermakers at home. I thought they were going to be the hottest garbage, but I really underestimated the talents of this team.

First, there was Peter Jok. It's not that I really underestimated Jok, because I've always been a huge fan, but I saw what he is doing this year as the absolute height of his potential; I didn't think he'd actually reach it. But the dude has been phenomenal and deserves national attention for his play so far this year. He's an incredible scorer, and he's really stepped up in his ability to contribute in other areas this season which is not easy to do while doing most of the heavy lifting on offense.

On production alone, I had Tyler Cook pegged fairly well, as nothing he has done has really surprised me, but how he is doing it is more impressive than I anticipated. He's just so damn...smooth. Everything he does in his actions are very fluid, and as he adds strength and some bulk, he's going to be very tough to deal with for any team facing the Hawkeyes.

The guy I missed the biggest on was Jordan Bohannon. Like, he's a Bohannon, so I knew he'd be able to shoot, but I did not think he'd be a competent facilitator as a true freshman. It's incredible how far he has exceeded my expectations in running the offense, as I thought Christian Williams would have to run point with Bohannon playing the off guard position to run around screens and shoot up threes. He's been way more than that, and this is an excellent sign for Iowa's future.

The guy that everybody underestimated was Cordell Pemsl. I didn't really expect him to get any minutes this year, but he's been great. He's basically what I dreamed that Ahmad Wagner would become this year. He's like a poor man's Corliss Williamson (who was one of my favorite college players ever). I don't think Pemsl has the highest ceiling, but if he could just do this for four years and maybe improve his free throw shooting, that's a really nice college player.

I also didn't expect much from Isaiah Moss who may have the most potential of any of the freshman (non Tyler Cook edition). He's athletic and can make threes fairly well, which is a really good starting point for a college player. When Jok leaves, Moss is going to get a chance to shine much brighter, and i think he'll do just that.

On top of that, you have Nicholas Baer being the ultimate hustle guy; Brady Ellingson is nailing threes like it's nobody's business; Ahmad Wagner still being a solid big that can take some minutes off the bench and do good things; Christian Williams puts in quality minutes while running the offense and playing strong defense; Dom Uhl....well, Uhl has kind of taken a step back, but he's still long and athletic; and Kriener and Dailey are a-okay young fellas.

I know I'm talking about this Iowa team as if they are real contenders, and they're not that yet. The Big Ten is down this year, but Iowa has gone from a team that I expected to win 4-5 games in conference play to a team that could be right around .500. Instead of them getting blown away consistently, they have shown they can compete, although they are inexperienced enough where the occasional blowout is going to still happen. Most importantly, this team is super fun, and they're only going to get better. I thought I was going to be excited about the future of Iowa basketball; I didn't know I'd be so excited about the present.

Sometimes it's good to be wrong.

(And of course after I wrote this, Iowa immediately got blown out by Northwestern, because I can somehow never be right about this team)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

I Need a Wrestle Buddy

Living down in Florida, especially in the Tampa area, I am near an abundance of wrestling. Just last week, there was Monday Night Raw in Tampa, an NXT show in Largo on Friday, a crummy independent show at a church in Largo on Saturday, with a pretty stacked independent card on Saturday and Sunday nights in Tampa. Also, there is a women's show this Friday in Tampa. That's a lot of wrestling, and I would have been interested in going to all of it.

Unfortunately, I was only able to make it to the NXT show, because my wife really likes going to those. She's learned to like wrestling, but she's not a total nerd like me. So when she has a friend in town, like she did this past weekend, she actually wants to hang out with them instead of going to independent wrestling shows.

This is why I need a wrestling buddy. It's just not that much fun to experience a wrestling event by yourself. You need someone to share those special moments with. Now, I still love my wife, so this would be a strictly platonic pro wrestling relationship, but it would really help improve things for me, as I wouldn't have to constantly get turned down when I ask my wife to go to five wrestling events in a week.

I mean, they have Tinder and Grindr, couldn't they come up with an app for me to meet cool wrestling fans? I don't feel like that's too much to ask.

Long story short, I'm too socially awkward to make new friends who like pro wrestling, so I need one of my old friends to move down here and watch wrestling with me. Until then, I guess I'll just dress up my dog in a trenchcoat and sunglasses. She likes the independents a lot more anyway, since they lack any sort of fireworks.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

5 NXT Superstars Ready to Breakout in 2017

NXT is kind of my jam. I am way more into it than the big time WWE. It's partially that large arena shows aren't nearly as much fun as crummy little gyms with 300 people in them. Through that, I've gotten a good look at the superstars of NXT and have a pretty good idea who is going to take a big leap forward in 2017. Now, I won't be pointing out how awesome guys like Shisunke Nakamura, Bobby Roode, or Samoa Joe are, because those things are pretty clear. Instead, I'm going to look at guys who may be doing some good things, may be doing some bad things, or may be doing no things and how their fortunes can improve in 2017.

Andrade "Cien" Almas
Almas was the inspiration for this article, as he is someone who is awesome to see in person but he hasn't really translated that to NXT TV yet. At house shows, he consistently puts on the best wrestling match of the night (his match against Sami Zayn was the best match I've seen at any NXT house show). I'm glad he's a heel now since he has a natural arrogance that I think will serve him well. He's the most well known guy on this list, but he's been middling around since debuting, and I think by the end of the year he will have had at least one main event run.

Patrick Clark
I really didn't like Patrick on Tough Enough. He seemed like kind of a tool, and after seeing him at NXT, he might be a tool, but it's starting to work for him. I still miss his USA pants, because I fully support anybody who brings back the Rick Rude airbrushed tights. And I'm not sure if his Prince gimmick is going to work, but it's one of those things where he's making weird shit work. That's tough to do. He's not boring, and I don't know how far he's going to progress this year, as he's probably still years away from anything involving the main roster, but I think he can become a consistent presence on television by the end of the year, likely as somebody you love to hate.

Montez Ford
Formerly Kenneth Crawford, he now has a cool new name, gold chains, and Angelo Dawkins as a buddy. Oh, and most importantly, he has imitable dance moves. Now, they are going to be badly imitated, but white people are going to love badly imitating his dance moves. White people love the feeling of looking cool without the actual execution of looking cool. Also, Ford is just fun in the ring. Him and Patrick Clark had a really fun match at the last show that I went to, and that's not easy when the fans don't have any real characters to latch on to. They are two unknowns and had the whole crowd into it, and two other lesser known NXT wrestlers had a match later that night and the crowd was completely dead. I think Ford and Dawkins will be showing up soon on NXT TV and doing some good work this year.

Mandy Rose
I wanted to pick a female wrestler, but I didn't want to go with an obvious choice like Nikki Cross or Ember Moon. That really didn't leave me a whole lot of options. That's not to say that there aren't talented women, just that picking out who is going to be the one to take a big step forward from their current position is difficult. I'll go with Mandy Rose, because not only is she incredibly good looking, she's also showing some aptitude for wrestling. I have a hard time believing she's not going to get a pretty big push this year.

Akira Tozawa
And I figured I should also take a cruiserweight for my picks. For this, there are plenty of guys to choose from since they've only really acknowledged the existence of like four guys. I think there are some obvious ones like Cedric Alexander or Jack Gallagher, but I figured I'd go a little deeper. I almost went with Noam Dar, because I laugh out loud every time he talks about Alicia Fox, but I'm going with Tozawa based off seeing him live at the last show I went to. He's a guy who is going to chop the crap out of guys and is willing to take it right back. A lot of times foreign wrestlers struggle getting over with crowds, but him yelling "ACH" during his matches will definitely catch on. It caught on with the three kids (probably ranging from ages 3-10), as they were doing it through his match and for the following five minutes. Their parents seemed terrified at the new fun thing they had learned. I just hope that adults can be as open minded as those children were. If so, Tozawa could have a big impact this year.

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Iowa Football Seniors I Will Miss The Most

Iowa ended its season on a three game winning streak, highlighted by a last second win over Michigan and destroying Nebraska football to end the year. Yep, that's how they ended. No bowl game this year; that definitely didn't happen 20 minutes from my house. Anyway, these last four years have had some really fun Iowa players, so now is the time to look back on these guys' contributions to see who Iowa football fans will miss the most in 2017.

14. Steve Ferentz - Center
If his name wasn't Ferentz, would you have any idea he was on the team? No offense to him. He stuck it out, kept plugging along while getting an education. Also, somebody has to be last, and I figure he'll have the easiest time bouncing back from coming in last place on this list. Sorry, Steve.

12 (tie). Mitch Keppy and Ryan Ward - Offensive Linemen
I remember being excited when Iowa signed these guys. I do not remember a moment of them on the field, so it was impossible to separate them. At least they didn't come in last.

11. Anthony Gair - Safety
Before this year, I would have had no thoughts on Gair. He was just a guy that hung around the program and played on special teams. Then, halfway through the year, he was forced to play some when Miles Taylor got injured, and he actually played pretty well. Did he benefit from some overthrown deep passes? Sure, but that may have been because opposing quarterbacks were sGAIRed.

10. Ron Coluzzi - Punter
I know he only played one year, and he was just a solid punter, but that performance against Michigan was something that will stick with me for a long time. The man did a fake punt where he stumbled, flipped, and managed to get an unnecessary roughness penalty, and although that moment is more memorable, the more impressive feat was getting back-to-back running into the kicker penalties. If there is such a thing as a Punter Party, that story will make him the life of the party.

9. Faith Ekakite - Defensive Tackle
Ekakite never had a huge impact, but he got better and better and made some plays in his senior year. Also, let us not forget that he was nearly murdered for playing Pokemon Go, and I feel like that's one of those stories that will stick with me for years to come.

8. Riley McCarron - Wide Receiver
McCarron is a victim of the Peter Principle. He simply got promoted higher than his skill level really allowed. McCarron was a fine third receiver, but he was not a number one, and trying to fit him into that role after Matt VandeBerg got injured early in the season basically led to disaster for the receiving corps. Had he stayed a third receiver, I would have had nothing but positive thoughts about him. Instead, I kept hearing announcers say how reliable (aka white) he was as a pass catcher, despite dropping a ton of balls. But let's not forget that punt return touchdown against Illinois, or the huge touchdown against Nebraska. Those are some pretty nice highlights for a third receiver.

7. Cole Croston - Offensive Tackle
At a school known for producing offensive linemen, it's really tough to stand out. Croston doesn't measure up with some of the elite names, but he served a purpose. When the offensive line was supposed to be garbage, he helped them reach respectability, and they even won a vague offensive line award this year. I'm a sucker for offensive line play, so I won't be forgetting about you, Cole.

6. Greg Mabin - Cornerback
Greg Mabin was such a tease. He showed a tremendous amount of potential when he got thrusted into the cornerback role as a sophomore across from Desmond King. But that's all it was, potential. He seemed to be the same guy he was during his senior year as he was when he started. He was a solid, unspectacular cornerback. I think people will remember him as somewhat disappointing, but he had some highlight hits and interceptions while starting for three years. That's a pretty solid Hawkeye career.

5. George Kittle - Tight End
It is impossible for me to think about George Kittle without considering how awesome he would have been in a Ken O'Keefe offense. He may have won the Mackey Award if O'Keefe was in charge of the offense. Instead, it was a Greg Davis offense, so his impact was mitigated. Kittle had all of the tools except an offensive coordinator that knew how to utilize him. He'll probably be a late-round draft pick, and he'll end up becoming a starter and people will wonder why their team didn't get a solid tight end like Kittle. I'm a very big George Kittle fan.

4. LeShun Daniels Jr. - Running Back
Daniels was never the fan favorite running back. His freshman year, it was Mark Weisman (I have a Weisman for Heisman shirt; I should be embarrassed by this), sophomore and junior year, it was Jordan Canzeri, and senior year, it was Akrum Wadley. Daniels just went out and produced more and more each year. I know he didn't have the flash plays, but having a bruiser to wear defenses out does matter, and Daniels mattered. He was the first back to eclipse 1,000 yards since Marcus Coker. He's not an all-time great, but he was a damn good back.

3. Jaleel Johnson - Defensive Tackle
First off, how much fun is it to sing, "I'm sorry Miss Jackson, but I am JALEEL?" It's super fun, but Jaleel Johnson was also a monster at times. His safety against Michigan is what finally gave Iowa some momentum in that game. But there hasn't been a defensive lineman that had big plays like Jaleel since Adrian Clayborn. It seemed at times that if Jaleel Johnson decided that he was going to tear apart the opposing offense, he was able to go out there and tear apart that offense no matter what they tried to do to stop him. Iowa's defense relies so much on the defensive line play that Jaleel may be the player that is most missed next season.

2. C.J. Beathard - Quarterback
I understand that Beathard didn't end his career on the highest note, but let's not forget how fun he was at quarterback. Greg Davis made sure that his stats would not be impressive, but watching Beathard was impressive. And his pass to Tevaun Smith in last year's B1G title game may have been the greatest single moment in Iowa history. Rob Houghtlin's kick was in the middle of the season, and Holloway's catch was in a rather meaningless game, but Beathard's pass to Tevaun meant Iowa was going to be undefeated and head to the National Title. Obviously, things didn't work out in that game, but that single moment was huge. And Beathard was huge for the program. He was our Sunshine, and then he went white-trash corporate with his look when he took over the starting job. He was off to a really good start when VandeBerg was healthy, but then had no options, especially with Kittle being hurt. He was not put in a position to succeed, and he put up 20 wins in his two years as a starter. CJB, you will be missed...

1. Desmond King - Cornerback
...but not as much as this guy. Like there was ever any doubt who was going to be number one. Desmond King was so stupid awesome for Iowa. He came in as a true freshman starter and was pretty damn good. He then got better and better. People will nitpick his senior year because he gave up a few big plays, but that was only because he was so bored with nobody throwing his way that he had to try to take some risks to get involved in the action. We all know that the best part about King was the fact that he was a total ballhawk, but don't forget how good of a tackler he was. Oh yeah, and he was also an awesome return guy. He was just such a football player in every way. It made no sense for him to come back this season, but getting four years of watching him play football was an amazing experience. I'm going to tell my kids about watching Desmond King play college football. That's how good he was.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

A Look at the 2016-2017 Iowa Wrestling Season So Far - Part 2

Earlier this week, I looked at the lighter weights on Iowa's roster and how they are performing so far this season. Now it's on to the big boys, who aren't quite as glamorous in their performances but may be more interesting as there are still a lot of things to be decided, and it's nearly impossible to tell where some of these guys will end up.

165 - Joey Gunther and Alex Marinelli
165 is the biggest question mark for Iowa this season. Gunther has been the starter and manged an undefeated record in the early meets, but the Midlands was his first real challenge, and he failed to impress as he went just 2-2 against less than elite competition. I think he's fairly borderline to make the NCAA Tournament, and if he does, I can't see him managing more than a single win there.

And then there is the true Freshman, super recruit, Alex Marinelli. He was considered the second best recruit in the entire class this year (of course the top recruit went to Penn State), so he entered with some fanfare. Maybe he was overhyped to me, but he's only been fine. At a tournament meant to showcase his talents like the Grand View Open, he only won two of his matches by decision. At the Midlands, he looked better, especially when he controlled Clark Glass of Oklahoma. He got outclassed by Isaiah Martinez of Illinois (no surprise there, I-Mar is awesome) and got pinned by Anthony Valencia of Arizona State. He took fourth place which is a great accomplishment for a true Freshman, but I'm not sure if he's going to be the first Iowa wrestler to go from high school to competing as a true Freshman under Tom Brands. He's already good enough to score points at the NCAAs, and he's only going to get better, but I have trouble seeing him as an All-American, so I'm not sure if it's worth burning that redshirt. We'll likely find out soon with Iowa facing Michigan, Oklahoma State, Penn State, and Ohio State in the month of January. If the redshirt gets pulled, it's going to happen this month.

Also, a special shoutout to Iowa's other true freshman at 165, Kaleb Young, who took fifth at the Midlands. He wrestles a fast pace and really pressures opponents. With Marinelli there, his future is likely at 174, so if he can add good weight, he could make an impact next year.

174 - Alex Meyer
Alex Meyer, like Brandon Sorensen, is going to wrestle close matches. Unfortunately, Meyer is not quite on Sorensen's level of winning those close matches. Stop me if you've heard this before, but Meyer was undefeated against mostly easy competition before going to the Midlands. He was disappointing at the Midlands as he only took fourth place. 174 is a weaker weight class this year, and Meyer can wrestle guys tough, but I don't see how he can have the consistency to be a top guy. He lost to two guys he has beaten before, but that's kind of the story with Meyer. He can compete with anybody, and he lets just about anybody compete with him.

184 - Sammy Brooks
The man with the mullet is now in one of the most stacked weight classes in NCAA wrestling. He had a solid performance at the Midlands, with a third place finish. He lost to Nate Jackson from Indiana but did manage to avenge that loss in the final match. Sometimes Brooks seems to fall too in love with big throws as he's got good lower body takedowns as well, and when he made that switch against Jackson, he took over the match. Brooks has wrestled the best at this weight class, and he's nearly impossible to blow out. He had a close match with the two-time NCAA defending champion, Gabe Dean a couple years ago, so there is nobody he should be afraid of, but consistency is key. He's the same guy he's been for the last two years. If you told me he was in the NCAA finals, I'd believe it, if you told me he wasn't even an All-American, well, I'd believe that too. Here's to hoping it's the former.

197 - Cash Wilcke and Steven Holloway
Everything I wrote about Joey Gunther above can basically be said about Wilcke. He might be good enough to make the tournament, but I can't see him making an impact when he gets there. The difference is that there isn't a super freshman breathing down Wilcke's neck.

However, that doesn't mean there are no other options. Steven Holloway has wrestled the beginning of this year at heavyweight despite having being a true 197. Now that Iowa's starter is back, Holloway could compete for that starting spot. He was very aggressive when wrestling at heavyweight, but just couldn't overcome the massive weight advantage that his opponent had. I'm not sure if he is better than Wilcke, but I wouldn't mind him getting some chances to prove himself during the second half of the year.

Heavyweight - Sam Stoll
Stoll made his debut at the Midlands, and it was about as well as could be reasonably expected. He beat two good, not great, heavyweights with Collin Jensen from Nebraska and Ross Larson from Nebraska, and he also got his first pin of the year in his third place match. His only loss was to top-10 ranked, Tanner Hall, from Arizona State, and part of that looked like a gas tank issue, which is to be expected since he hasn't been in any matches for over nine months. Still, he looked good in his matches, and outside of Kyle Snyder, he can compete with any of the top heavyweights in the nation. There's a decent chance that he puts up the most points at the NCAA Tournament out of any of the Iowa wrestlers I talked about today.

And that wraps things up. Overall, I would say Iowa is in fine shape. They are not going to be the favorites to win the National Title, but that doesn't mean that if they get guys peaking at the right time, that they couldn't pull off something special. I'm looking forward to the second half of the season.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A Look at the 2016-2017 Iowa Wrestling Season So Far - Part 1

With the wrestling season about halfway over, I thought now would be a good time to check on how Iowa is performing so far this season. Although about half of the year is gone, there are still a lot of question marks, as most of the first half of the schedule provides more cupcakes than proven commodities. Still, things have started taking shape, and we'll go weight-by-weight to break things down.

125 - Thomas Gilman
Gilman has been, without a doubt, the best Iowa wrestler so far this season. He has gone out there and destroyed everything in his path, with the exception of a tough semifinal matchup this past week at the Midlands against Josh Terao from American, who used a whole lot of funk to keep it close but still came up short. Outside of that, he's gotten bonus points against everyone else he has faced this year. With Megaludis graduating and Tomasello moving up to 133, Gilman is the favorite to take the national title at 125, and judging by his wrestling so far this year, I have every reason to believe he will live up to the hype and get an asterisk this year.

133 - Cory Clark and Phillip Laux
Clark started the year off as everyone expected, by going out and dominating his opposition. His closest match was against his teammate, Phillip Laux, but even that match was never in doubt. Unfortunately, after that, Clark suffered an injury that appeared to be non-serious. They said he could have wrestled against Iowa State had he been needed, but he took that off, and three weeks later, the Midlands came and went without Clark seeing the mat. Hopefully it is just precautionary, as Clark is Iowa's second best chance at a National Champion behind Gilman.

Laux has been his replacement, and unfortunately for him, he took over the starting job right before the competition took a big step up. He got manhandled by Seth Gross of South Dakota State but then has held his own in his other matches, including against Iowa State All-American, Earl Hall. Still, Laux is small for the weight and just doesn't have the horsepower to overcome that disadvantage against top competition. He managed to go 2-2 at the Midlands, and he always competes; that's really all you can ask for.

141 - Topher Carton
This weight was originally supposed to be contested between Carton and Vince Turk, but Turk suffered a knee injury early in the season, so Carton was given the starting job to run with. Carton looked great early in the season as he was steamrolling overmatched opponents in nearly all of his matches. However, he finally ran into real competition at the Midlands, and things got far more difficult for him. Kevin Jack of North Carolina State controlled him in their match, which isn't too surprising as Jack is a national title contender. But he also lost a close match to Rohlfing from CSU Bakersfield, and it's those kinds of matches that he needs to find ways to win. He still doesn't have a marquee win, but he also hasn't had a lot of opportunities for one. He's definitely good enough to qualify for the NCAAs, but it's tough to tell how much he can do once he gets there until he starts facing consistent competition during the B1G conference schedule.

Also, fun fact, I was super confused when he was referred to as Christopher Carton at the Midlands. My first thought was that his middle name must be Topher, and then I finally realized that Topher is short for Christopher. It is clear that I have never met a Topher in my life.

149 - Brandon Sorensen
Sorensen has gone out and nearly gotten bonus points in all of his matches, and despite that, it still seems rather unimpressive. Sorensen is clearly the second best guy at 149, but it's also clear that he's still nowhere near #1 ranked Zain Retherford. He was in way too many matches that were too close for comfort, but he managed to come out on top against everyone but the Zain Train. I guess I'm just preemptively complaining about a possible upset loss in a close match at the NCAAs that may or may not happen. He hasn't lost one of those in a long time, so I guess it's best to just sit back and enjoy the terrifyingly close ride.

157 - Michael Kemerer
I am so freaking excited about Michael Kemerer. Iowa doesn't often have explosive athletes on the wrestling team, but when they do, they are so much fun to watch. The first name that came to my mind when watching Kemerer was Montell Marion. Marion came achingly close to a couple national titles, but never could pull it off, but that doesn't diminish how great it was to be able to watch him compete. When his offense was on, he could blast through people on the feet. Marion wasn't great at scoring on top, and right now, that's still a question mark for Kemerer as well, but the guy won the Midlands as a Freshman in maybe the most exciting match of the tournament against Nebraska's Tyler Berger. He's undefeated and seen as a top-5 guy. This is going to be fun.

Note: The only disappointing thing about Kemerer is his nickname is KemDawg. How is it not KemTrails? I might have to start a petition.

That's it for today. I'll finish up tomorrow with the big boys.