Friday, February 27, 2009

It's vewy vewy qwiet

Sorry to channel Elmer Fudd, but that's the story from the Carolina Panthers with free agency kicking off Friday.

The Panthers are handcuffed by big contracts, and likely won't be a major player in free agency (as expected). However, others have been. For instance:

Washington. The Redskins apparently aren't worried about money, as they handed out over $150 million in a pair of contracts. DT Albert Haynesworth got a 7 year deal worth over $100 million dollars, and then handed a $54 million dollar deal wot CB DeAngelo Hall.

Kerry Collins is staying with Tennessee, former UNC center Jeff Saturday avoided free agency by doing a new deal with Indianapolis, the Baltimore Ravens have agreed to terms with former Atlanta Falcons cornerback Domonique Foxworth on a four-year, $28 million contract that includes $16.5 million in guaranteed money.

Big news for the NFC South was the trade of TE Kellen Winslow to Tampa Bay from Cleveland for draft picks. That won't make Panther fans feel too comfortable, as another talented pass-catching tight end will have the chance to feast on Carolina coverage. Tight ends have had some success against the Panthers in the past, but then again, this is a new defensive coaching staff. Have to see how that all plays out.

More later, as we get wind of more signings, and if the Panthers phone actually rings.

Mike Solarte

Thursday, February 26, 2009

More Panther news

  • The Panthers reworked the contract of DT Damione Lewis on Thursday, extending the deal out to 2014, and converting a $2.5 million dollar roster bonus into a signing bonus. The deal likely extends beyond his actual playing time in Carolina, but it is now salary cap-friendly, saving the Panthers some additional cap dollars. The conversion of the roster bonus to signing bonus means the Panthers can pro-rate that over the life of the extension.
  • According to Geoff Hangartner's agent, the offensive lineman will test free agency once the clock hits 12:01 Friday morning. The Panthers were hoping to retain the versatile lineman from Texas A&M, but it appears that there are starting opportunities for him elsewhere--at least that what the agent is saying. Hangartner will be missed if he does go elsewhere, as he was able to fill in at both the guard and center spots when injuries started to creep into the Panthers 1st team o-line. He's got loads of upside, and it looks like he'll find that in another uniform.
  • UPDATE 8:50pm--the team did tender offers earlier in the day (updating this was low on the list as I was gathering additional info for TV), but TE Jeff King, LB James Anderson, and S Nate Salley. They also tendered exclusive rights deals to DT Nick Hayden, and CB C.J. Wilson. No offer was made to DT Gary Gibson, but that does not mean he does not factor into the plans. The Panthers likely want to try and spend less if they can.
  • Ken Lucas reportedly shot down a trade to the Detroit Lions on Thursday afternoon, and as of this post, he remains a Panther. How long that holds true is anyone's guess.

We should know much more once the sun comes up on Friday.

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Panthers making cap room

The first wave of player releases came through on Wednesday. Carolina cut WR D.J. Hackett, RB Nick Goings, and OL Jeremy Bridges, and the moves save the team an estimated $4.5 million dollars under the salary cap.

It's the necessary evil of the NFL, and it's also the harsh reality of the NFL. Hackett's stay with the Panthers was less than memorable. 13 catches for 181 yards. Not the stuff legends are made of. He made 9 starts in 2008, and was looked at as a viable number 3 receiver. In the end, his lack of durability cost him time on the field, and allowed Dwayne Jarrett a chance to show he could make big catches in key situations. Believe it or not, Jarrett did make some nice grabs in crucial 3rd down situations. Jarrett has no excuses to not be the reliable, every game guy going forward.

Hard to say goodbye to Goings, but all good things must come to an end. Goings was one of the most versatile players the Panthers have had--he contributed on offense, as well as special teams. He plays with reckless abandon, with his heart, and sometimes with his head--that cost him a couple concussions. Goings, in the end, was a guy that could be let go based on his cost. Role players don't command big salaries, and while Goings wasn't huge, it was big enough that the Panthers could try and go cheaper. Best of luck to Nick in the future. He was a tremendous professional in Carolina. I hope he catches on with another team.

As for Bridges, this one gives me pause. Yes, he had his share of off-the-field issues, but he did provide stability at the guard position, and filled some depth for the tackles as well (remember Jordan Gross going to sleep against the Falcons with a concussion?). Considering the potential loss of Geoff Hangartner in free agency, my personal hope is that they find a way to bring Bridges back at a lower price. If not, the O-line backups will have a little different look, and that means some uncertainty in the depth department.

More on the cuts and such as they come in, as the free agency period officially opens on Friday.

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Monday, February 23, 2009

Sports Traditions

Been thinking about stepping away from the "news of the day" stuff for the blog, and I plan to throw a topic like this out there from time to time.

Sports Traditions takes the lead, this time.

Think about sport--from the aspect of competition, to the camaraderie of teammates. Along the way, there are traditions that have taken their rightful place in their respective sports. Traditions such as the jacket presentation ceremony at The Masters, the winners jug of milk at the Indianapolis 500, to the cutting down of the nets in basketball all have a place.

Me being a hockey guy leads my favorite tradition to the Stanley Cup. There are so many that go with the Cup, though, it's hard to choose.

You have:
No player touches the Cup until he has won it (while still active that is).
The team captain is the first to receive the Cup.
Players take turns skating it around the rink.
Players get to spend a day with the Cup in the off-season (most bring it to their hometown).

My favorite, however, happens even before the Cup is presented. It's common in every playoff round, actually. It's the post-series handshake between the clubs.

2 teams, 20 players per side, do everything within the legal limits of the rulebook (as well as some things that are outside of it--but it's all legal until you get caught), in trying to win the best of 7 series. Once it's over, the teams line up, extend a congratulatory handshake, wish the other guy good luck, and they actually mean it. Sportsmanship seems to take a backseat during the games, but after it's all said and done, the respect for each other is on display.

What are some of your favorite sports traditions? Leave me a comment!

Next time, we'll talk "Sports Superstitions."

Mike Solarte

Friday, February 20, 2009

The day after

Thursday was rather eventful. In case you missed it:
  • The Carolina Panthers signed LT Jordan Gross to a 6 year deal, worth what is believed to be nearly $60 million dollars. That's a big chunk of change, but Gross has proven to be durable, and solid at both tackle spots on the line. Nice work, and congrats to the team, and to Gross. The 2 sides had been talking deal since before last season, but according to GM Marty Hurney, this negotiation was tougher, because this one was for a longer term. They got it hammered out, and that allowed the Panthers to....
  • the non-exclusive franchise tag on Julius Peppers. It gives the Panthers some limited protection. Peppers can sign an offer sheet from any of the other clubs, but Carolina has the right to match any offer, or let him go to that team for (what Hurney wants) two first-round draft picks. Here's the rub: If Peppers signs an offer sheet that Carolina wants to match, they will. The club has made no bones about wanting to keep Peppers. If the offer sheet isn't beyond ridiculous, Peppers could be forced into staying. Of course, no one expects any offer sheet to be less than ridiculous, so the likelihood of the Panthers matching anything is remote. The Panthers want picks, Peppers wants out. Carolina loses some protection when it comes to where he ends up. Atlanta, Tampa Bay or New Orleans (the Panthers NFC South roommates), can all try and get him to sign a deal with them, and the Panthers can try to block it by matching, or let him go for the draft picks. No Panther fan wants Peppers in the NFC South, unless it's with Carolina.
  • Big props to the Charlotte 49ers for their upset win of Xavier on Thursday night. 65-60 the final, in a game that was back and forth throughout. Bobby Lutz's team gave another great effort, Niner Nation was in a full lather, Halton Arena was rockin'. Great stuff, but now they have to follow it up. A roadie on Saturday against Richmond. Tough opponent, and on a short turnaround. Charlotte has won 3 of 4, and feeling good. Let's see if they can keep it going.
  • Davidson will try to bounce back from a loss to The Citadel (64-46) on Wednesday, when they host Butler on Friday. It's part of the ESPN Bracketbusters (read, slap a fun name on something and market it as a real event-it's a non-conference game between 2 decent teams). Stephen Curry didn't play against The Citadel, and the consensus in the News 14 Sports department is--don't play him Saturday, even if he is able to play. The loss to the Bulldogs likely hosed any remote at-large bid they may have received, provided they do not win the Southern Conference Tournament. They have nothing to gain by beating Butler (except another W), but big picture, keep Curry healthy and off that banged up ankle until the games mean something. That will also allow his team to learn to win without him--something they are plenty capable of.

Want to thank everyone for the kind words, and notes I have received since the mention by Langston Wertz, Jr. with the Charlotte Observer, on his blog. It is an honor to be mentioned in the class of sportscasters he listed.

Tim Baier and Jim Connors take you through Friday night, then Tim and Ryan Welch handle the weekend. I'll see you back in the chair on Monday, with former Panther defensive end Mike Rucker stopping by for a visit!

Mike Solarte

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Today is the day--UPDATE below

The Carolina Panthers have to get their dealing done with LT Jordan Gross and DE Julius Peppers by 4pm this afternoon. As mentioned previously, the Panthers were close to a deal with Gross, but light years away from retaining Peppers. We'll congratulate the Panthers on retaining Gross once it gets done. About Peppers.....

As you may have seen, heard or read, he presented a list of 4 teams to the Panthers. Those teams represent where he would like to go. That means there are 27 other teams (28 if you count Carolina), that he doesn't want to play for. Thanks for narrowing the options for your rights holders, JP. Why not just tell management, "ummmm, guys? I want to go to New England, Pittsburgh, or...that's it. New England or Pittsburgh. Actually, just New England."

Before you start jumping on me, let me say this--I get it. I understand the players career window in pro sports is a short one. 10 years if you are VERY lucky. The average lifespan of an NFL career is under 3 years. These players have to take advantage of the opportunities when they can. I get it, and hold no ill feelings for them in that regard.

The part that has been lost in sports (and yeah, I'm waxing poetic now), is that the loyalty factor is gone. The player that spends his entire career with the same team is a rarity. Almost extinct. Mike Minter and Mike Rucker did so for the Panthers. Of course, you have to leave out the guys who have a "cup of coffee" in the bigs. Players that play more than, let's say 5-7 years, and are productive are the players I'm talking about. Peppers has been with the Panthers since day one. Right out of college. He's a fan favorite. And now, after his contract year of 14.5 sacks, he wants out, saying he wants to reach his fullest potential.

The Panthers stuck by him after his non-contract year of 2007. Defended him, saying he was contributing, even though his sack numbers (an honestly unfair way to judge performance of most defensive ends) were virtually non-existent. In 2007, he recorded 2.5 sacks. He began the year (in camp) with an illness, although no one would ever disclose what it was. If you saw the movie "Wayne's World," Wayne (Mike Myers), tells his girlfriend (Tia Carrera), "One time I thought I had mono(nucleosis) for an entire year, but it turns out I was really bored." That line sums up Peppers in 2007. I doubt he was sick all of 2007. Just bored, and going through the motions. In 2008, when he has to audition for every team in the league, he's Superman again, 14.5 sacks, forced fumbles, etc. Funny how that happened.

Peppers turned himself into a paycheck player. While that is good for some, it doesn't look good for a guy that team owner Jerry Richardson implored to step up and become a leader. This is not how leaders behave. Leaders stay in the fight, and keep swinging until they can't swing anymore.

So, if Peppers isn't a leader, that makes him a follower. And he is. He'll follow the biggest paycheck right out of town.

It's his right to do, but it's also the fans right to be bitter about it.

Good luck, Pepp, and thanks for the memories.

Mike Solarte

2 PM UPDATE--the Panthers got the Gross deal done, which reportedly makes him the highest paid offensive lineman in football. We've been hearing 6 years at $55 million total. Once we get the numbers, we'll pass them on.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Wednesday Odds and Ends

In the ever popular bullet format:
  • Jordan Gross and the Panthers are close to finalizing the deal wot keep him with the team. Some reports have it a 6 year pact, worth $55 million total. A nice chunk of change for a Pro Bowl left tackle, who wants to remain with the team that drafted him. As for the defensive end who wants to leave, oh well. I'm tired about talking it. Get Gross signed, slap the tag on #90, and then trade him. Enough is enough.
  • Bobcats. ARRRGGGHHH!!!! Make a late free throw, win the game. A missed free throw kept Orlando within 3 points, J.J. Reddick his a triple to tie it, force overtime, Magic win by 5. Losses like that one will haunt you when the playoffs roll around, and your team is watching, rather than playing.
  • ACC Hoops rekindling another Tobacco Road brawl as NC State travels to meet UNC. I forecast a UNC win, and won't be surprised if this one gets ugly (as in out of hand). NC State has been playing with confidence of late, but so have the Heels. NC State will likely keep things interesting for a while in the first half, but Carolina is just super talented.
  • Can someone tell me what is going on with Duke? I'm sure Mike Krzyzewski would like to get a handle on that. They still have some time to get things right before the ACC Tournament.
  • Nice move by the Carolina Hurricanes, honoring Glen Wesley with a number retirement (or was it a jersey retirement--I get confused by the two), before their game with Boston. Wesely is a class act, and was that way as a player. "Big Red" was a tremendous leader, and one of hockey''s gifted players. He is missed in the league, but his contributions will never be forgotten.
  • Davidson facing The Citadel, and guard Steph Curry is a game time decision. Not that Davidson needs him at this stage of the game--caution is the best thing the Cats can exercise right now. Facing Butler on Saturday night is more vital to their NCAA tourney hopes than The Citadel. How so? A quality win over a ranked non-conference opponent will help the Cats, should they need it, come NCAA selection time.

We'll have highlights of that one, plus Bobcats-Pacers, an update on NC State-UNC, and more on Sports Night at 10. We'll see you then!

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Can't have it both ways, kids

What do you want, NASCAR fan? Seriously, what is it you really want?

Why is that an important question? In the big picture, it isn't. However, I am tired of the whining about NASCAR not being as good as it used to be.

We saw a prime example of that Sunday in the Daytona 500. Brian Vickers shuts off the daylight in front of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Jr. ducks towards the grass, moves back in, hooks the car of Vickers, and causes the big one.

Vickers is pardoned for making the block, but Earnhardt is being lit up like a Christmas tree.

Some play the "it's not safe" card, others say it was all Dale Jr's fault.

Turn back the clock 20 years. What would be said then? An unheralded driver blocks a name of the time. The big name, intentionally or not, clips the unheralded driver, causing a pile up. Does the name driver get ripped? The unheralded driver pardoned?

The answer is none of the above. The final assessment is, "just one of them racin' deals."

If you, the fan, want it to be the way it once was, then you have to accept the fact the Dale Jr. wasn't trying to wreck the field, he wasn't trying to intentionally spin Vickers. He was trying to get back onto the track. Sure, the evidence would suggest revenge on the #88's part. Consider the following:

1-Daytona is the track that claimed the life of his father.
2-The speeds at Daytona are ridiculously high.
3-Perhaps, no driver is more aware of what that track can do to a car and driver when it gets hairy.

Do you honestly think Dale Jr. was trying to wreck a car he KNEW was:

A-on the inside part of the track?
B-capable of sliding into a large chunk of the field?
C-capable of harming other drivers (forget about them winning the race)?

Your answers to all of those questions should be "no."

Easiest way to say it--it was one of them racin' deals.

Let's move on to California this week, huh?

Mike Solarte

Monday, February 16, 2009

Monday Morning Java

Normally, I do have a cup of coffee with this blog entry, but today, I'm sans-cafe. Random thoughts from the weekend:
  • Loved the Daytona 500, until the rains came and washed out the remaining 48 laps. Enjoyed watching the Cup series drivers slice and dice through the traffic. Plenty of folks are creaming Dale Earnhardt, Jr. for his role in the lap 124 wreck that wiped out 9 cars. If you haven't seen it, a brief synopsis. Brian Vickers and Jr are a lap down, battling to be the first to get the free pass when a caution comes out. Jr. has a huge run on the #83 (Vickers), and Vickers slides in front of him to block, forcing the #88 (Jr.) towards the infield (but not to the grass). Jr. keeps the handle on his car, moves back towards the field (back inside the double yellow line), clips Vickers car, and sends him spinning into the field. Ripping Jr. for it is one thing, but there is blame to be shared by Vickers, too. Vickers has to recognize that a car is simply faster than he is. He can try to block all he wants, but at the base of this is that both cars were a lap down, with 75 laps to go. That's an eternity at Daytona. Maybe that was payback for a wreck at Talladega a few years ago (when Vickers drove for Hendrick Motorsports). Not likely, but it's kinda fun to think about. Bottom line--both are to blame, so stop trying to find fault with only one guy. Vickers should have been able to recognize the situation, and Dale Jr. should have been more careful when getting back in line. In the end, that's racin'.
  • The clock is ticking on the Panthers and their franchise tag. I don't know what the hold up is, and GM Marty Hurney isn't talking. So we won't know until he, and the team, actually does something. Perfect scenario: Lock up LT Jordan Gross with a long term deal, franchise DE Julius Peppers and then trade him for picks. Gross wants to remain in Carolina, Peppers wants out. Horrible move by Peppers and his agent by vocalizing their desires publicly. They handcuffed the Panthers big time by doing so, and now it will be tough for Hurney and company to get fair compensation. Peppers is a gifted and talented player, and Carolina will be hard pressed to get full value for him once a trade (which I think will happen) goes down. There will be some movement on this soon as the Panthers have to have the tag in place by Thursday.
  • The folks at Davidson are breathing a bit easier this Monday morning, as x-rays on G Stephen Curry's left ankle were negative on Sunday. Curry rolled the ankle Saturday night against Furman--it looked ugly. The negative x-rays mean Curry could be back sooner than expected, but with the Wildcats out to a comfortable lead in the Southern Conference, I wouldn't expect him to rush back. Get him healthy, and ready for the conference tournament. Davidson isn't exactly an at-large lock for the NCAA Tournament, so they need to guarantee their spot with a conference tourney win. He is most valuable there, not in their final 5 games of the regular season.
  • Charlotte 49ers baseball boss Loren Hibbs will join us in -studio for Sports Night tonight. Among the 49ers many diamond accomplishments in recent years, I throw this stat out for you to chew on. Since 2006, the 49ers have the 4th highest winning percentage in D-1 baseball, behind these schools: Rice, Florida State and North Carolina. 3 perennial powers. Coach Hibbs is a super nice guy, and fun to be around--should be a fun interview.

Mike Solarte

Friday, February 13, 2009

Happy Friday

About 7:30 pm as I post this, with just some random sports musings, heading to the weekend.

  • Night with the Knights was a wonderful time. Cal Ripken, Jr. is a wonderful speaker, and had loads of great baseball stories to tell following dinner. Best part of the night: Ripken relaying the story of how his streak was nearing 2,00 games, his wife pregnant with his son. Due date on the baby: July 26. Cal pleading to his wife he will be there for the birth, streak be damned in one breath, then thinking to himself (and saying to the crowd), "Oh sh!t, now what do I do?" He then told her that he would be there, but the streak would end on their son's birthday, and would that be fair to do that to him? The crowd got a kick out of that, but even moreso during the question and answer session. A child asked Cal if he had any other nicknames besides "Iron Man." Ripken, clearly caught off guard by the presence of a minor replied, "Sorry about the cuss word earlier, kid." Laughter took about 5 minutes to subside. Congrats to the Knights on a wonderful evening.
  • Daytona 500 runs on Sunday with Martin Truex, Jr. 0n the point. Don't look for him to be around long, however. The Hendrick cars have enjoyed a nice Speedweeks, with Jeff Gordon winning a 150 race on Thursday. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. starts 14th, Jimmie Johnson starts 7th, and then there is Mark Martin....on the outside of row 1. I called the #24 car to win it, and I stick by that, but a better story is Martin taking the checkered flag. I would love to see that.
  • Bobcats enjoying some down time, although it seems a bit of snub for Emeka Okafor to be home instead of in Phoenix. Okafor has had a solid season, averaging a double-double thus far. I don't know if it's a sign of the Bobcats not getting respect throughout the league, of if it's just that Okafor doesn't have that "star" quality that the game desires. Whatever the case, Okafor has been dependable every night for Larry Brown this season, so he deserves the R&R he'll get.
  • Speaking of the Cats, how about Vladimir Radmanovic? From pine-rider to averaging 17 points in his 2 appearances so far. He took a bit of a shot at the Lakers following the Cats win over Washington on Wednesday night, basically saying, if I get the chance, I can contribute. He hadn't even practiced with the Bobcats before facing the Clippers on Monday, scored 13. One workout later, he drops 21 on the Wizards. Imagine what he can do with an entire training camp under his belt? Ok, I'm kidding, because he's only a starter right now, due to injuries. Gerald Wallace should return after the All Star break, along with Raja Bell (although, I don't know the timetable for his return). Juwon Howard is still nursing a toe injury, but with so many years in, he can take extra time to rejuvenate his legs. This might be a team to watch in the 2nd half. They'll have to overcome a road-heavy schedule, but they've got pieces now, something they didn't necessarily have earlier.
  • Had the chance to chat with Charlotte 49ers AD Judy Rose on Friday (an interview that can be seen on this weekend). Talked about the progress of the new football endeavor, and what a job they have in front of them. Seems to be the right people in place to make it happen. One thing that will certainly help the process would be an economic turnaround--like the opposite of what we are in right now. I am not sure they can pull it off, but I'll say this: I'm rooting for them

Hope you have a great weekend, and we'll take a look back at the weekend that was in sports on Monday. Thanks for checking out the blog!

Mike Solarte

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Daytona Primer

The Duel 150 races roll off in a few hours (it's noon as I type this), so just a few tidbits to keep in mind as we embark on the 2009 Sprint Cup season.

It would be wise to write down (or print this blog), and store away, the changes of drivers to teams, and number switches. Like this:
  • Tony Stewart out of the #20, and into the #14
  • Joey Logano into the #20
  • Bobby Labonte out of the #43 and into the #96
  • Ryan Newman out of the #12 and into the #39
  • David Stremme into the #12
  • Mark Martin out of the part time #8 and into the #5
  • Casey Mears out of the #25 and into the #07
  • Clint Bowyer out of the #07 and into the #33

Yeah, my head is spinning too. There are more changes out there, but those are the biggies (that come to mind).

ISC announced Wednesday that Daytona is getting re-paved in 3 years. that's nice to know, but watching the cars bounce around on that track (which hasn't been re-surfaced since 1978), it makes you wonder if those bumps contribute a little to the "big ones" we see there. Yeah, the restrictor plate plays is own part, but in those tight packs, one big wiggle can set off the chain reaction. We'll see...

I love how they set the field for the 500, but making it take nearly a week, well, that's a bit much. Set the front row in qualifying on one day, then set the rest of the field with the 150's the next. This can all be done starting Thursday with the front row qualifying, Friday duels, Saturday practice, Sunday race. If NASCAR wants to help the fans save money, that's the way to do it.

Going out on the limb (which worked for me before UNC-Duke when I said Duke by 3, lol), Jimmie Johnson is the pick to win his 4th straight title, but he will be under heavy fire this year from these drivers: Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, and Jeff Gordon.

My Daytona 500 winner pick is Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

Scrapbook notes:

Congrats to the Charlotte Bobcats on picking up back-to-back wins before the All Star break. This is a fun team to watch now, and they actually have some "players." They might be the biggest sleeper in the Eastern Conference, when you talk about playoff teams. A big 2nd half puts them in. They can do it, but they have to stay healthy.

UNC-Duke, Act I was wonderful, but I didn't give UNC enough credit for being THAT much better. Listening to both coaches after the game, I got the sense that Duke realizes this just might not be their year, after facing the Heels. Mike Krzyzewski was honest when he said that UNC was just better than Duke is right now. I don't know how much that changes between now and the end of the regular season. Duke played well, UNC played better. They were in a different place last night, and it showed. Still, UNC has shown they are not invincible with earlier losses. March is gonna be fun.

Tim Baier takes you through the night on Sports Night, as I will be attending Night with the Knights. Blog at you again on Friday!

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

UNC-Duke, Act I

Rather than wax poetic on how amazing the UNC-Duke game will likely be, I'd rather just say this: no matter who you root for, sit back and enjoy the pure beauty of a rivalry at its best. Both teams in the top 6 (UNC in at 3, Duke at 6), a tremendous college basketball venue in Cameron Indoor Stadium, packed to the rafters--awesome. Having covered these games for a number of years, I can tell you that being in either Cameron or the Smith Center for these games is as close to heaven as you can get as a sports fan.

For the record (and because you, the loyal reader would demand it), my pick for Wednesday night is Duke in a close one, like 3 points. No disrespect to UNC, but Duke has a chip on their shoulder coming into this one, having dropped 4 of 5, and 3 straight at home. This is a proud Duke team, and they will want to do all they can to try and reverse that trend.

News 14 Carolina will have live coverage of all the post-game happenings--from coaches press conferences to locker room reaction. Jim Connors will be in Durham, while Ryan Welch will be staffing the NC State-Wake Forest game at the RBC Center as well. Sports Night kicks off at the normal 10pm slot, and then we'll jump back on air at the conclusion of UNC-Duke, so get out your "Watch and Switch" shoes!

* Coming up Thursday on the blog, I'll take a look at the Gatorade Duel 150's in Daytona. Great stuff with Martin Truex, Jr. on the pole, and Mark Martin locked into the outside pole for the Daytona 500. Former DEI teammates took care of business last Sunday, but how will they run when the race gets going? More on that on Thursday.

* Late add for tonight--the Bobcats-Pacers trade talk. Apparently, Bobcats co-owner (and Managing Member of Operations) Michael Jordan held a conference call with some writers (and TV didn't get invited to listen in?). He apparently didn't dismiss trade talk, but did say (according to reports) that he hopes to extend Felton to a new deal at the end of the season.

The trade talk involves Felton to Indiana for Jamaal Tinsley. Incase you missed it, Tinsley hasn't played for the Pacers this season. Not due to injury, but due to the team telling him to stay away. Yeah, he's not welcome with the team. So why would he be wanted in Charlotte? Dealing Felton because of a fear of not getting something in return is one thing, but getting Tinsley could be the equivalent of Felton leaving without compensation. Hopefully, Rod Higgins, Jordan, Larry Brown and anyone else involved will realize that Felton, while not the best PG in the NBA, brings a certain degree of grit and toughness this team needs. I like Felton, and I can see wanting to get something for him if he will cost too much in an extension. Still, taking on a player that has worn out his welcome with his current team isn't exactly the way to go.

Mike Solarte

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The ACC-Back to Normal

Yep, all is right with the world once again, as the ACC is the top conference in college basketball.

Sorry Big East, Big 12, or any other conference you may deem worthy--the ACC smokes all of you.

There are great teams in those other conferences, but you don't see what you saw Wednesday in other conferences. 7th ranked Wake Forest blown out in Miami. 4th ranked Duke dismantled in Clemson. The Tigers are no flash in the pan--they were 10th in the coaches poll going into Wednesday play. It just the kind of parity that the late Pete Rozelle dreamed of for his NFL. Only this thing happens a couple times a week in the ACC.

It's heaven. It's unpredictable. It's awesome...with a capital "A" (sorry Dickie V.).

Miami shot lights out, Clemson just buried Duke, never gave the Devils a chance to breathe.


Elsewhere in ACC hoops, UNC has shut down the hopes of Marcus Ginyard returning to the team this season. Smart move, and I hope Ginyard can get another year of eligibility as a result. He's a nice young man, plays hard, and is what UNC hoops should be about. Tough break for him, but when an injury doesn't respond to treatment after this much time, it's time to find out what is going on.

On the same night they shut down Ginyard, UNC also closed the 2008-2009 books on Will Graves. According to head coach Roy Williams, "Will did not maintain the standards we expect of a Carolina basketball player. He will remain a part of our program and participate in practice and all other team activities. His status for 2009-2010 will be determined prior to next season."

I ask--what do you have to do to go from reserve guard as a sophomore on one of the top ranked teams in the country, to a player without a country? Seriously, how do you get booted from this team? It's too early in the semester to think grades or missing classes. The school will not release details as to why Graves was shown the door, but it doesn't bode well for his return to the team next season. UNC has another dynamite recruiting class scheduled for 2009-2010. If they all show up, Graves could be odd man out. We'll see.

Mike Solarte

Monday, February 2, 2009

Superl Bowl 43-Wow!

Quick hitter this Monday:

* Props to Pittsburgh & Arizona for a dandy Super Bowl 43. I never envisioned that game having as many twists as it had. Of course, the mile or so of penalty yardage hurt the game a bit, but Arizona hung tough while Pittsburgh controlled the game, battled back from James Harrison's record setting interception return, then turn up the heat in the 4th, taking the lead....I have to catch my breath just thinking about it.

I did pick Pittsburgh to win it, so I was happy about that, but now that the smoke has cleared, Arizona was better than I wanted to give them credit for. Carolina gets a shot at them next season, so they had better be prepared.

* Panthers owner Jerry Richardson has undergone his heart transplant (coverage can be seen on News 14 Carolina), and according to the team it went well. Here's to a speedy recovery for the Big Cat.

* ACC hoops has been, to put it mildly, interesting. UNC, Duke, & Wake have all been #1, and all 3 lost that ranking in Winston-Salem. Weird, huh? February should be a great month for hoops when you factor in what the conference schedule holds for the Big 4--NC State needs some wins to get themselves feeling better, but I'm not sure they have the horses. They've got some good young players, but overall, that program is missing something.

* Charlotte Bobcats meet Utah Monday night (9pm). Cats ended January with a nice record, but still need to do some work to get into that 8th playoff spot. Thing is, there aren't as many teams to climb over to get there. It is certainly within reach.

More in the days ahead, and just think, race fans, Daytona gets fired up THIS WEEK!

~Mike Solarte