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Does Anyone Have An Answer?

Feb 27, 2015 -- 9:56am

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/ESPN

The manner in which the Cavaliers dispatched the NBA's best team Thursday night at Quicken Loans Arena prompts an array of questions as we anxiously await the results of an MRI on Kyrie Irving's left shoulder.

Golden State's 44-10 record coming in and the Cavs' 17-2 record over their previous 19 games hinted this could be a preview of the NBA Finals. If so, LeBron James and Co. delivered a powerful message with a 110-99 victory in the teams' second and last meeting of the regular season.

For the Warriors, the message must flash like a neon sign the size of Terminal Tower: "How are we going to guard LeBron James?"

Sure, Draymond Green is found money as a pesky defender and capable scorer, plucked in the second round of the draft a few years back.

But while Green has the capacity to frustrate wing forwards throughout the league, he's no match for James when LeBron is energized and shooting well.

He clearly was both with the TNT stage providing him a national platform to inject himself in what has been a three-player conversation for league MVP.

Not coincidentally, the Warriors Steph Curry has been right there with the Rockets James Harden and Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook in those debates.

Lately, though, there's been a whisper that James should be part of the discussion.

That chatter will magnify now given LeBron's season-high 42 points on 15-of-25 shooting, including 4-of-9 from three-point range.

When he plays like that, it's rare for the Cavs to lose, and almost impossible to imagine them falling in a seven-game series if James approaches those numbers.

Remember, when the Cavs lost at Golden State, 112-94 on Jan. 9, James was nearing the end of his two-week absence to rest knee and back injuries and did not play.

Even though the Warriors steadily lost touch in the second half of the rematch, the prospect of a two-week battle with them for the NBA title is another matter given the depth Golden State showed.

It's wishful thinking to believe Curry and Klay Thompson would shoot a combined 10-of-30 every night, even with the Cavs' improved perimeter defense.

David Lee's 19 points and Andre Iguadala's 9 highlighted Golden State's 35-14 edge in bench points, which could prove sticky for the Cavs if Shawn Marion's hip injury precludes him making an impactful return.

The necessity for a backup point guard to bolster the Cavs' bench loomed at the trade deadline, but Mathew Dellavedova still holds that spot. Delly looked overmatched against Golden State, which could show up and prove problematic over a seven-game series.

If Irving is out for any significant period with his left shoulder ailing, Delly's minutes will increase at a time the Cavs' schedule stiffens considerably.

A game tonight at Indianapolis, which broke the Cavs' 13-game winning streak two weeks ago, marks a stretch of six games in nine days, with four of those on the road.

That's hardly an ideal stretch to be without Irving, of if he's limited at all.

After the trip to Indy, the Cavs play at Houston Sunday, get Boston at home Tuesday and then play at Toronto Wednesday and at Atlanta on Friday.

Oh, yeah, and when the six-games-in-nine days stretch subsides, the Cavs ease back into things with consecutive games at Dallas and San Antonio, which is just the first half of four straight games on the road.

The bright spot, aside from the lift a blemish-free MRI on Irving's shoulder would be, is that James has settled into a groove the likes of which only the elite of the elite can produce.

His season-high 42 against Golden State came in his 20th game since returning from that two-week absence that re-energized him.

He's averaged 27.2 points, 6.5 rebounds and 6.8 assists over that stretch, which is why the Cavs are 35-12 when he plays and 2-10 when he's not on the floor.

Golden State clearly didn't have an answer for him.       

But then, no one does.

 

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

Should've Known Better

Feb 25, 2015 -- 9:55am

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

 

After 16 years filled mostly with failure and futility, we all should have learned something.

The Browns should know never to create unrealistic expectations.

And Browns fans should know not to expect anything exceptional from a franchise that's reached the playoffs once since 1999.

Had either party kept that in mind before the pratfall of the Browns logo unveil yesterday, the organization could have saved itself some ribbing and the fans would have spared themselves another disappointment.

This was not a major gaffe, but an unnecessary one, nonetheless.

The Browns, in tandem with the NFL and Nike, will likely get overwhelmingly positive reviews on April 14 when they unveil their uniforms for 2015.

So why throw cold water on that anticipation by debuting a mostly-mehhhhh logo on Tuesday?

Sure, the new shade of orange is brighter and the brown facemask is different, but the team surely knew when images began circulating on the internet that fans were expecting much more than they were going to get.

That would have been the time for the Browns to step in and quash that speculation or rethink the decision to unveil the logo at all.

Knowing it was simply a touch-up of what existed previously, it would have been wiser to show nothing and simply let the excitement build for April 14.

What the Browns are attempting to accomplish is not easy, and they're making it harder by their approach.

When team president Alec Scheiner said the modest modifcations to the logo are an homage to the Browns' traditions, it shows the franchise is trying too hard to please every faction of its diverse fan base.

That is simply not going to happen.

There is absolutely no way Browns fans in their 60s and 70s are going to feel the same about the coming changes as those in their 20s and 30s.

Scheiner talked about tradition, and the need to preserve it.

The question is, why?

This franchise -- not the one that moved to Baltimore -- has virtually no traditions that should be untouchable. Its frustrations on the field have led to a migration of younger fans to more successful NFL franchises in other markets, most despicably, Pittsburgh.

Those are the fans the Browns need to win back, and if edgy uniforms and logos help do it, then explore every one of those avenues and don't look back.

Sure, the people who begin every team-related opinion with, "I've been a Browns fan all my life," will grumble.

But guess what?

They're not going anywhere.

You can divorce your spouse, sell your business, change careers and move across the country. Virtually any relationship in which one is entangled can be more easily broken than shedding your sports rooting loyalties.

For the health of the future fan base they're trying to build, the Browns need to filter every marketing decision through the prism of what will most appeal to younger fans who will grow into their season-ticket base of the future.

For the purposes of logos, uniforms and other such eye candy, Scheiner and his focus groups should forget the Browns have a single fan over the age of 35.

Because if they don't do that, they might soon find they won't have nearly as many fans as they want under the age of 35.

####

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

Hometown Spotlight: Devin Smith

Feb 23, 2015 -- 7:53am

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/ESPN

NAME: Devin Smith

SIZE: 6-0, 190 pounds

COLLEGE: Ohio State

PROFILE: Smith was a football and track standout at Massillon Washington High School. He played all four seasons at OSU, but leaped to the forefront of the 2015 NFL draft wide receiver class with an outstanding senior season. He averaged 28.2 yards per catch, finishing with 33 receptions for 931 yards and 12 touchdowns. He had at least one 40-yard catch in nine of 15 games and at least one 30-yard catch in 13 of 15 games. Smith raised his performance over OSU's three post-season games in the Big Ten championship vs. Wisconsin, the College Football Playoff against Alabama and the national championship game against Oregon. He caught seven passes for 269 yards and four touchdowns over that stretch.

STRENGTHS: Smith can high-point the football and make catches in traffic. He also has a gift for making the big play, as evidenced by more than half his catches — 18 of 33 — going for 25 yards or more.

QUESTIONS: Smith played in an offense that rushed for nearly 4,000 yards, so was he open because of defense's pre-occupation with the run? If NFL corners aren't cheating up to assist on the line of scrimmage, will he be able to beat press coverage? Can he catch passes over the middle and withstand a hit, or is he comfortable only on go and post routes?

CONCLUSION: If Smith stood two or three inches taller, it would remove many of the concerns about him. Despite his average height, he possesses serious athleticism that also showed up during a stellar Ohio State track career. He high-jumped over 7-0, long-jumped 24-7 and earned All-America honors on the Buckeyes' 4x100 relay team. He also had experience as a gunner on OSU's punt coverage units.

CLEVELAND FIT: With Josh Gordon suspended for at least 2015, Smith would fill a serious need. Of course, general manager Ray Farmer would have to come off his stated stance that wide receivers aren't first-round worthy, because Smith is likely to be gone by the time the Browns draft near the middle of the second round.

LAST WORD: “[He] can track the deep ball, and a lot of guys can't, and when it comes over the opposite shoulder, [he has] the ability to track it and move with it,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. "He's got kind of that centerfielder skill to track the ball in the air, and that's rare, and when you combine it with his speed, that's a big weapon.”

 

####

 

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

Bloodlust: Ohio State and Michigan go at it on the basketball court

Feb 21, 2015 -- 9:56am

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

There's nothing an Ohio State fan loves more than clubbing a baby Wolverine, and they do not discriminate by species.

So, while Urban Meyer must wait until late November for his first crack at humbling Jim Harbaugh, OSU basketball coach Thad Matta can satisfy the bloodlust of his loyalists by adding to what has already been a miserable season for his Michigan counterparts.

Despite pre-season aspirations of a Final Four run, Michigan enters the 1 p.m. Sunday home tipoff against Ohio State having lost five in a row and six of seven games.

Injuries to starters Derrick Walton Jr. and Caris Lavert have conspired to drag the Wolverines down to 13-13 overall and 6-8 in the Big Ten.

Still, given OSU's four conference road losses, no trip away from Columbus offers a guaranteed win for the Buckeyes (19-7, 8-5).

Losing at Michigan would carry far greater consequences than the 59-56 defeat OSU suffered its last time out, at Michigan State.

That came against a fellow-NCAA Tournament aspirant, desperate to win and bolster its post-season credentials.

The Wolverines barely have NIT hopes, so this win is crucial for Ohio State, not so much because of the positive impact it offers, but because of the negative impact it avoids.

OSU will need a strong performance from freshmen D'Angelo Russell and Jae'Sean Tate, and it could definitely use a return to form from sophomore Marc Loving.

He played only five minutes and missed his only field goal attempt at Michigan State after missing the three previous games with a university-mandated suspension.

 

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

Hey Ray

Feb 19, 2015 -- 8:30am

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/USA Today

Browns general manager Ray Farmer is scheduled to meet with reporters at 10:30 a.m. today at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

Tony Grossi, ESPN Cleveland's Browns analyst will be there at Lucas Oil Stadium for Farmer's press conference and will offer immediate reaction on The Really Big Show with Tony Rizzo and Jerod Cherry on ESPN 850 WKNR.

So, with the help of Twitter and callers to The Bruce Hooley Show, let's play, "Hey, Ray," and foreshadow a few of the questions Farmer should face today.

1. If you knew texting coaches during games was against NFL rules, why did you do it?

2. While you were doing it, or before the NFL investigation began, did Browns owner Jimmy Haslam know you were texting coaches during games?

3. In light of Josh Gordon's suspension for 2015 and perhaps beyond, have you changed your opinion on the priority of taking a first-round wide receiver in the draft?

4. Do you really believe an elite wide receiver impacts the game only on plays he catches a pass?

5. Will there be any team discipline for Gordon's teammates who accompanied him to Las Vegas on the private plane flight, during which he violated the league's substance abuse policy, resulting in his suspension?

6. Why have you been unable/unwilling to meet with Brian Hoyer or his agent, Joe Linta, to discuss Hoyer's contract demands as a free agent or gauge his interest in returning to the Browns in 2015?

7. Did the Browns have difficulty signing assistants with NFL experience for openings as offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach and wide receivers coach?

8. Cincinnati's Marvin Lewis and Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin are proven defensive coaches, and Baltimore's Dean Pees is entering his ninth year in the NFL as a defensive coordinator. You've hired an offensive coordinator who has never called plays, and QB and wide receivers coaches who have never coached in the NFL. How do you plan to overcome that imbalance in experience relative to your division opponents?

9. What changes in how you evaluate the psychological makeup of college players will be prompted by the results from drafting Johnny Manziel and Justin Gilbert last season?

10. You selected Manziel ahead of both David Carr and Teddy Bridgewater. Given their rookie seasons, compared to his, will this prompt you to change how you evaluate quarterbacks in this draft or in free agency?

 

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

Buckeyes fall to Michigan State on Valentine's Day in ironic fashion

Feb 14, 2015 -- 3:56pm

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo didn't need to call a timeout with the score tied and the clock ticking toward expiration.

On Valentine's Day, it seemed pretty obvious how best to defeat Ohio State.

The only surprise is that, with Denzel Valentine having already hit half his eight 3-point attempts en route to the prevailing 56-56 deadlock, OSU didn't see it coming.

Valentine, of course, hit the game-winning three Saturday with 3.2 seconds left to deny OSU a road win crucial for both its hopes of gaining a preferential Big Ten Tournament seed and for its NCAA Tournament credentials.

The Buckeyes didn't get off a shot in the time that remained, even though both teams called a timeout to plot strategy.

By then, the damage was done, chiefly because Valentine hit a huge shot and because OSU's Sam Thompson arrived fashionably late in attempting to defend him.

Thompson had just hit a tying triple of his own at the other end with 36 seconds left. Perhaps still admiring his own handiwork, Thompson allowed Valentine to curl from the left wing to the right wing and bail out guard Travis Trice, who had nothing going under the duress of an Ohio State double-team.

So, the Buckeyes kick away a winnable road game, just like they did last week at Purdue in a 60-58 loss when they again failed to get off a viable shot in the final seconds.

That lowers OSU to 19-7 overall and 8-5 in the Big Ten as they sit for a week in advance of a Feb. 22 game at Michigan.

''I thought we fought," OSU coach Thad Matta said. "Obviously, we have to make free throws. You can't come in here and shoot 5-for-13 at the free throw line."

You can, but you'll likely lose, which OSU did.

Thompson missed three of four attempts at the line to highlight OSU's frustration there.

The Buckeyes were even worse on three-point attempts, making 5-of-17, with leading scorer D'Angelo Russell going a woeful 2-of-7 as part of his 4-of-13 struggles overall.

Russell managed only 10 points, barely half his 19.5-point average, and didn't attempt a shot the final 3:30.

"They were able to beat up on D'Angelo throughout the game," Matta said. "That probably took a toll on him. But, give them credit."

Russell will need to figure out a battle plan against physical defense by the time he gets to the NBA next year. That strategy has caused him trouble against Louisville (6-of-20 FG), North Carolina (4-of-17), Iowa (4-of-16), Indiana (3-of-15) and now Michigan State on the road.

Valentine led MSU with 17 points and Branden Dawson had 15 points and 11 rebounds.

OSU held a 22-18 lead with six minutes left in the first half before allowing the Spartans to close with a 15-2 burst before the break.

"We got ourselves in a hole," Matta said. "We didn't play as well as we could have in the first half. We couldn't run offense. The physicality going on out there was incredible."

The loss wasted a rare 15-point performance by OSU guard Shannon Scott, whose two three-point field goals in the second half were his first shots from beyond the arc in seven games.

Scott hadn't scored in double figures in five games.

OSU sophomore Marc Loving, the Buckeyes' second-leading scorer, returned from a three-game suspension and missed his only field goal attempt.

 

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

Buckeyes' chance to improve Tournament standing includes road test at Michigan State

Feb 14, 2015 -- 9:41am

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

Members of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee allowed media types to take their places this week to formulate a mock bracket for March Madness.

If the writers and broadcasters schooled in compiling the 68-team field were correct in their opinion of Ohio State, the Buckeyes can get a lot accomplished Saturday in a noon tip at Michigan State.

OSU emerged from the mock bracket exercise as a No. 7 seed, which means it would face a No. 10 opponent in the first round. That's the second most-evenly-matched opener a team can have in the NCAA Tournament, exceeded only by the No. 8 vs. No. 9 pairing.

A 7-vs.-10 game should scare the scarlet and gray out of Ohio State if it remembers how last season ended -- with a 60-59 loss to Dayton in the South Region when OSU was a No. 6 and UD a No. 11.

OK, then, time to get to work at East Lansing, which isn't as daunting a road venue this year as it's traditionally been.

Michigan State (16-8 overall, 7-4 Big Ten) is tied for fifth in the league and has already lost three conference games at home to Maryland, Nebraska and Illinois.

The giveway that Tom Izzo's team wouldn't be a home juggernaut came on Dec. 20, when a stunned Breslin Center crowd watched former Indiana coach Mike Davis bring Texas Southern to town and walk away with a 71-64 win in overtime.

Of course, Ohio State hasn't been a road force this season, either. The Buckeyes (19-6, 8-4) have lost three times on the road in conference, but they're getting second-leading scorer Marc Loving back from a university-mandated, three-game suspension.

OSU went 2-1 without Loving (11.7 ppg), who's made 12 of his last 19 three-point attempts.

If Loving keeps that up, he will provide the wing man freshman D'Angelo Russell needs.

In Ohio State's last four wins, at least one of Russell's teammates have scored 16 points or more. OSU is 9-0 when both Russell and a teammate hit that threshold.

But when Russell, the nation's leading freshman scorer at 19.4 per-game, gets no help, the Buckeyes struggle. They are 1-3 in games where he failed to score 14 and two other teammates failed to combine for 32 points or more.

Lately, Russell has been on an incredible roll that's jetted him up NBA mock draft projections.

Over his last seven games, he's averaged 22.9 points, 9.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists.

Junior guard Bryn Forbes, a Cleveland State transfer, usually starts for MSU. He's averaging 9.8 points per-game.

If OSU is going to get the RPI top-50 road win it needs, Russell and Loving will likely have to shoot well and freshman Jae'Sean Tate will have to win his matchup with MSU senior Branden Dawson.

Besides sprucing up its NCAA resume, a win would establish an edge over Michigan State in the Big Ten tiebreaking procedure, which would be huge in the seeding order for the conference tournament.

OSU and MSU are among four teams tied with four league losses. Since the two won't play again in the regular season, a win would give the Buckeyes the edge on Michigan State should they finish tied when the season ends.

 

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

Catch him while you can: Buckeyes' Russell has pro future rapidly approaching

Feb 11, 2015 -- 4:48pm

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

COLUMBUS -- Ohio State's D'Angelo Russell plays like the soon-to-be NBA player he will be, but there's proof he's indeed just a mere freshman when Russell states his battle plan for confronting the leg cramps that have been bothering him lately.

"Lots of Goldfish and pretzels," said Russell, who'll lead OSU against visiting Penn State at 7 p.m. Wednesday night.

If Russell devours a toddler's snack-time fare like he does the guys trying to guard him, he won't be salt-deficient for too long.

He's led Ohio State (18-6, 7-4 Big Ten) scoring 17 times, topped 20 points in a game 11 times and scored in double figures in all but one game this season.

The Big Ten this week named Russell both it's freshman-of-the-week and player-of-the-week for the second time this season.

His six freshman-of-the-week awards make him a lock for that honor, and there's increasing talk that depending on the Buckeyes finish, Russell could elbow Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky aside for the conference's player-of-the-year.

What's not in dispute is whether Russell will go ahead of Kaminsky in the NBA draft. Kaminsky is a senior, so NBA teams will sniff at his age as some sort of debilitating illness compared to the multi-faceted Russell, the nation's leading freshman scorer at 19.5 points per-game.

Russell's 21 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists on Sunday at Rutgers was the fourth recorded triple-double in OSU history and came before 22 slobbering NBA scouts who'd love to add the 6-5 combo guard to their roster.

But when asked after that game about the impression he left on scouts, Russell put his hands over his ears to indicate his lack of interest in listening to down-the-road hypotheticals.

He was slightly more accomodating on the topic Tuesday.

“I just keep sticking to the same routine and not getting too high from the praise or too low on what the critics say about me,” Russell said. “I just try to stay focused on our goals and win as much as we can.

“My teammates make it easy for me to stay focused. We know what we have to do as a team. My individual success has nothing to do with us as a team. We are just keeping it that way.”

ESPN.com lists Russell No. 3 on its mock draft beind Duke center Jahlil Okafor and guard Emmanuel Mudiay, a 6-5 point guard who signed with SMU, but opted to play this year in China.

DraftExpress.com ranks only the 6-11 Okafor ahead of Russell, who won't even confirm yet that his departure after this season is certain.

“I feel like whatever happens will happen,” Russell said. “If it’s in God’s plan to happen, it’s going to happen. Only time can tell what that decision will be.”

Russell would be the ninth early entry into the NBA draft during head coach Thad Matta's 11 seasons.

Greg Oden was the No. 1 overall pick in 2007 and Evan Turner went No. 2 overall in 2010.

“It’s America and if kids can go and chase their dreams … I am kind of for it for them,” Matta said.

Some of Matta's one-and-dones have had one foot in the NBA before they set their first toe on campus. (Here's looking at you, Daequan Cook, Kosta Koufos and B.J. Mullens.) But Russell isn't causing his coach any headaches.

“How he has handled it as a tribute to him and a tribute to his mom and dad." Matta said. "I ran into his dad after the game (at Rutgers) and all he was concerned about was how he was doing academically. He said, ‘Is he doing all the right things? Is he saying please and thank you?’ I haven’t had to sit him down or talk to him or anything. He gets it.”

If Ohio State fans get it, they'll beat a path to Value City Arena for one of the few last looks they'll likely have at Russell.

After Penn State, OSU fans will have just three more home games to get a look at Russell -- Feb. 26 vs. Nebraska, March 1 vs. Purdue and March 8 vs. Wisconsin.

 

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

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