Only one rule seems applicable when trying to project how the nation's most perplexing college basketball team will fare this season.
No opponent is too formidable for North Carolina to beat or too inferior to beat the Tar Heels.
North Carolina cemented its reputation for the bizarre and unpredictable on Wednesday night in East Lansing, toppling No. 1 Michigan State 79-65 in one of the marquee games of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. The outcome secured a 6-6 tie for the ACC in the challenge and ensured the Tar Heels would end the night with an unrivaled collection of quality wins and surprising losses.
The roller coaster ride started when North Carolina lost at home to Belmont on Nov. 17. It continued when the Tar Heels bounced back by upsetting defending national champion Louisville a week later in the title game of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off. Next came a road loss to unheralded UAB on Sunday night. And finally Wednesday's road win at Michigan State, which made North Carolina the first team in five seasons to defeat the No. 1 team and the defending national champion in non-league play.
It's difficult to make sweeping judgments about a team as schizophrenic as North Carolina, but this much is clear after watching the Tar Heels pull away from Michigan State in the second half just like they did against Louisville two weeks earlier. North Carolina would be a better team were wings P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald available to play, but it's still capable of playing with anyone as long as its young big men score enough to help make up for the loss of perimeter production.
Sophomore forward Brice Johnson continued his strong start to the season, protecting the rim on defense and scoring 14 points by attacking the offensive glass and finishing in transition. Freshman Kennedy Meeks provided a perfect complement to Johnson by playing his best game since delivering a double-double against Louisville, using his girth and soft touch around the rim to score 15 points, grab seven rebounds.
Surprisingly enough, North Carolina also got some production from its wing position, a rarity with Hairston still unable to play. J.P. Tokoto and Nate Britt combined for 25 points, helping to make up for off shooting nights from standout point guard Marcus Paige and struggling forward James Michael McAdoo.
What had to be most troubling for previously unbeaten Michigan State was the way the Tar Heels outclassed the Spartans in areas previously considered strengths.
Effort plays? North Carolina beat the Spartans to loose balls all night. Rebounding? The Tar Heels produced numerous second-chance opportunities and emerged with a 49-38 edge on the glass. Fast break chances? North Carolina repeatedly turned errant Michigan State jump shots into transition buckets on the other end.
Michigan State deserves some slack considering Gary Harris was hobbled by an ankle injury, Adreian Payne was slowed by cramps and Keith Appling missed time late in the first half with a hip pointer caused by a scary fall that sent him tumbling to the ground. Still, this was not a performance on either end of the floor befitting a team expected to contend for the national championship this season.
As for North Carolina, this win will leave everyone from fans, to analysts, to even its own coaching staff puzzled.
At its worst, North Carolina has shown it is susceptible to upsets by opponents who can't match its talent or pedigree. But at their best, the Tar Heels have also now proven they can't be overlooked by anyone.
(Pittsburgh, PA) -- The NFL is fining Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin 100-thousand-dollars for his actions in last Thursday's game against Baltimore. The league says it will also consider possible forfeiture or modification of draft picks after the 2014 draft order has been determined. Tomlin had a foot in the field of play while watching the Ravens' Jacoby Jones return a kick on the Jumbotron. Tomlin was standing too close to the field and nearly interfered with Jones, ducking out of his way at the last second as Jones streaked up the sidelines. Tomlin says it was in no way intentional.
Peyton Manning has signed many autographs throughout his 16-season career in the National Football League. While surely the quarterback has been approached with various pieces of memorabilia and who knows what else, you would have to think that this is the first wedding invitation he has ever signed.
A photo of the Manning-signed invite is gaining buzz after it was posted on Reddit. The user, “LackadaisicalRomp,” writes, “My sister sent a wedding invitation to Peyton Manning. He actually replied!” Manning didn’t just allegedly sign and send the card back, but also took the time to check “Regretfully decline.” He inscribed the autograph, “Anna and James, Best Wishes.”
Perhaps our favorite comment about the photo comes courtesy of Redditor “MasterSplinter21” who writes, “Eli (Manning) replied too, but his response was intercepted.” Even with two Super Bowl rings and the Giants’ current winning streak, poor Eli still gets treated like the little brother.
Manning is the first athlete we have heard of to do this, but apparently there are other public figures and fictional characters with proper wedding etiquette. According to multiple wedding blogs, mailing invitations to Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Cinderella, and President Barack Obama will yield a response. If you have ever received a response to a wedding invitation from a celebrity, please let us know in the comments below!
They're still the New York Yankees.
Talk about your luxury tax. Fret about the team ERA. Wave goodbye to one icon, then another, then another. Have the third baseman go up in flames. Watch the Boston Red Sox win a World Series. Another World Series, make that.
They know what they like, they see what they like, and then they buy what they like. They play – and pay – for today, because that's who they are, and tomorrow they can fix whatever happened today, or so they think, and that's all that matters here.
Hours after the Yankees made the official announcement they'd signed Brian McCann, the best catcher on the market, to a five-year, $85 million contract, they reached an agreement to sign Jacoby Ellsbury, the best outfielder on the market, to a seven-year, $153 million contract, according to sources. And, if they have their way, they'll get through this clumsy courtship with Robinson Cano and sign the best infielder on the market for something even more than Ellsbury, which will leave them with only a pitching staff to rework. You know, tomorrow.
So, they take the center fielder and leadoff hitter from the Red Sox and make him their own, and they make things a little squishy in the Cano camp, and they plan to score a few more runs – McCann will help a lot there, as well – and maybe the pitching staff doesn't have to be perfect, which is good, because it won't be.
The Yankees would seem to be banking – literally so – on the likelihood Alex Rodriguez will serve at least a good portion of 2014 on the suspended list, which would save them $25 million in real money, as well as $25 million in against-the-tax money. They're also protecting themselves against the possibility Cano does indeed take the Seattle Mariners' money, in which case he might never see his agent again, which may or may not suit him.
Today, however, the Yankees win. Ellsbury is a star, even at 30, even with a single season in his past in which he hit more than nine home runs. He has some trouble staying on the field, though one could argue that's less about his being fragile than him being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He stole 52 bases last season and was caught four times, which is remarkable. He's a career .297 hitter, with a career .350 on-base percentage, and after all those games in Fenway Park's crooked outfield, Yankee Stadium will be a breeze.
In four or five or six years, the Yankees might be left wondering why they paid a 30-year-old for his speed, but the sorts of contracts that wind well past a player's prime have never bothered them before. No, what bothers them is one championship in 13 years, and their first dark October since 2008 (and second since 1994), and the fact they had to sit home and watch the Red Sox for a solid month.
They've gotten old and crusty and a little hard to watch, and Ellsbury makes them more athletic and exciting. He'll make plays. He'll run hard. It's how you win baseball games, as the Yankees sometimes seem to forget.
That, and pitching. So, maybe tomorrow. It's the Yankee way.
On Sunday, the Texans were pushing the Patriots around the field in the first half. But, much like the Denver-New England game the week before, the Patriots made some halftime adjustments and ended up winning the game 34-31.
There are two possibilities here: that the Patriots are exceptionally good at changing game plans on the fly, or, as Texans defensive end Antonio Smith suggests, there's something "suspicious" going on.
"I'm very suspicious," Smith said to a group of reporters after the game. "I just think it will be a big coincidence if that just happened by chance. I don't know for sure, but I just know it was something that we practiced this week ... Either teams are spying on us or scouting us." Or possibly the Texans are a terrible football team, but we understand why Smith wouldn't take that explanation.
Smith said the team had practiced new defensive schemes this week that would not have shown up on film, but the Patriots appeared prepared for the new look. The Texans were up by 10 at halftime, but gave up 27 second-half points.
Tom Brady brushed off Smith's critique with the dismissiveness that he usually reserves for second-rate secondaries. "We've kind of been through a lot of this before," he told WEEI on Monday morning. "I don't really think much of it, truthfully. I just kind of have moved on."
Of course, the Patriots have "been through a lot of this before" during the first "Spygate" controversy. Back in 2007, the Pats were found to be taping the Jets during a September game, and the resulting firestorm and allegations even involved Congress. Belichick was fined $500,000, the Patriots were fined $250,000, and the team forfeited a first-round draft pick.
Peyton Manning has had the MVP award on layaway pretty much since Week 1, so much so that we ought to have a secondary MVP, non-Peyton division. And if we were going to have such an award, it would go to Philadelphia's Nick Foles.
Foles wouldn't look out of place wandering out of the Georgia pines on "The Walking Dead," as either survivor or zombie. Looks-wise, he's as far from the traditional Unflappably Cool Pro Quarterback as you are. But he's uncannily accurate, having thrown 19 touchdowns against zero interceptions this year. Zero. He's thrown 233 consecutive passes without a turnover. One more touchdown pass, and he matches Peyton Manning's record of consecutive TDs without an interception. It's always risky projecting out stats, but Foles' 125.2 QB rating would be the highest in NFL history, and his career rate of interceptions, only five in 461 attempts, is also a league record.
Some quarterbacks, like the Brothers Manning, Robert Griffin III, and Matt Ryan, come into the league and find their position waiting for them. Others Wally Pipp their way into a job, taking the place of the injured incumbent and then pushing said incumbent out the door. Tom Brady fits into this category, and quite possibly, Foles does too. Foles took over for an injured Michael Vick earlier this year, and now it's impossible to envision a non-catastrophic scenario where Vick starts again.
True, Foles came very close to ending his gaudy streak on Sunday afternoon, but a pass that ended up in the hands of Arizona's Patrick Peterson got overturned on a penalty. The streak lives on, and so too do the Eagles.
Philadelphia is now 7-5, tied with Dallas for the NFC East lead. There's no way two teams from the division are making the playoffs, so it's win or go home. Like New Orleans' Jimmy Graham, Foles is putting together one of the great seasons in recent memory in the shadow of Peyton. If he's able to lead the Eagles into the playoffs, though, Foles won't be under anyone's radar much longer.