Weekly Nickel 2-27-2012

Photo courtesy of zimbio.com. Tennis season is getting ready to heat up. Is it time for Andy Murray (pictured above) to break through?

By Josh Kramer

So the dunk contest was a joke.  Ryan Braun somehow defeated the system.  RGIII once again proved that he is fast.  And College Hoops did not disappoint (I mean when does it at this time of year).  Last week was jam-packed.  But the week ahead should be pretty good in its own right.

5. One of the best tournaments in tennis (outside of the 4 Grand Slams) is just one week away.  I am of course referring to the BNP Paribas Open at lovely Indian Wells.  But before the tour makes the anxiously awaited stop in California, the players have to take advantage of the two tune-ups provided this week. Djokovic, Federer, and Murray will all showcase their abilities at the ATP Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship, while the ATP Abierto Mexicano Telcel will also be taking place in Acapulco, Mexico.  Though most will not hold their breath in regards to these two tournaments this week,  they should.  Just like in any sport, the hottest players are the ones that take home the big-time tournaments.  Winning a tune-up typically signifies a “Hot-Streak.”  Who will get hot this week?

4. Let the Kiper and McShay fiesta begin.  With well over half of the combine in the rearview mirror, we move on to the next one.  Once the “Showcase of Freak Athleticism” ends on Tuesday, the next stop will be the NFL Draft (April 26th).  What is going to happen with Peyton Manning?  Who is going to be the lucky team to nab the dynamic athlete that is Robert Griffin III?  I highly recommend getting an ESPN Insider account if you want to stay on top of all the latest happenings as the Draft gets closer.

3.  Winter is not over yet, but NHL Hockey is starting to heat up.  Evgeni Malkin has laid a vicious assault on the League, while demonstrating that the Pittsburgh Penguins can still compete without their star player, Sid “The Kid” Crosby.  In addition, the Red Wings record-setting home win streak finally came to a close (they have now lost 2 straight at Joe Louis Arena).  My attention this week is focused on a matchup set to take place in Vancouver.

St. Louis Blues at Vancouver Canucks:  Who currently possesses the best record in the National Hockey League?  That of course would be none other than the defending Western Conference Champion Vancouver Canucks.  The Canucks have won 8 of 10 and are currently playing outstanding hockey.  They really embody the term balance, thriving both offensively and defensively.  St. Louis is also playing great hockey, winning 7 of their last 10.  This in large part is due to the number one ranked defense in hockey in terms of goals against.  Unfortunately, the Blues are not a strong road team while the Canucks are a very good home team.  I am taking the Canadian team on their home ice in this one.

2.  So NBA All-Star Weekend was not the greatest.  The game was entertaining, but everything else kind of tanked.  We all kind of had a hunch that the Dunk Contest may be a major letdown.  And it was.  With the four participants having a combined 62 dunks on the season, and Blake Griffin flushing 93 alone, you knew it was going to be a bumpy ride.  Despite a great nickname (The Human Pogo Stick), who is Jeremy Evans?  The guy scores 1.8 points per game and has appeared in 16 games this year.  My vote was for Chase Budinger.  Got to love the tribute to Cedric Ceballos.  And how about Kevin Love taking home the 3-point contest?  This guy is having a magical year from an individual standpoint.  If only Minnesota could put a team around him.  I think Kevin Garnett can relate to what the young star out of UCLA is going through.

At the halfway point, much emphasis has been placed on “Linsanity” and “Lob City.”  And rightfully so.  But how about the “Grandpa-Age” Spurs winning 12 of their last 13 games.  Do not forget that San Antonio won the championship the last time there was a strike-shortened season back in 1999.  Or how about the recent surges of both the Lakers and Mavericks?  And in the East, Miami deserves all of the credit in the world.  They will be very tough to knock out in a best of 7 series.  My matchup of the week occurs right back where All-Star Weekend transpired though, in Orlando.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Orlando Magic:  As I have said before, the Oklahoma City Thunder really have to make you wonder.  This team is young, talented, and tight-knit.  I would not sleep on the OKC boys come May and June.  Orlando on the other hand has dealt with much-indecision since before the season even started.  Where is Superman going to land?  Well in the present, the man with the cape is still playing in Orlando, and playing very well.  Though Orlando is a tough team at home, OKC is right on Miami’s level in stealing road wins.  Look for a big road win for the Thunder on Thursday night.

1.  Let the countdown begin.  Selection Sunday is just 13 days away and there is still so much to be determined.  You have to love the “Madness” that leads up to the actual “Madness.”  Grab your dancing shoes.  Because this year’s edition of “March Madness” should be one for the ages with tons of deserving teams, and only a limited number of spots.

Monday:

Notre Dame at Georgetown

-Both of these teams are looking to do all they can to remain in the top 4 of the Big East standings.  The double-bye will be crucial when Big East basketball heads to New York in a little over a week.

Tuesday:

Michigan State at Indiana

-Tom Izzo is deserving of the National Coach of the Year Award.  Can he lead his over-achieving team to victory in a hostile Assembly Hall though?

Wednesday:

Massachusetts at Temple

-The Minutemen were embarrassed by Dayton on Saturday.  Can they recover with a huge road win at the Liacouras Center?

Thursday:

Florida State at Virginia

-ACC rumble.  Are either of these teams the real deal?

Friday:

Yale at Princeton

-Got to love Ivy League Fridays.

Saturday:

North Carolina at Duke

-Not only the best rivalry in college basketball, but arguably the best rivalry in sports period.

Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.

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