All In The Cards: The Top Ten Moments From An Amazing Cardinals Season

IMPORTANT NOTE: Thank you all for your support this season! Even the though the playing season is over, I will still be covering the Arizona Cardinals during the offseason so look forward to more content to come. For this article I’m going to focus more on recapping the Cardinals season, but I will have a few thoughts on the NFC Championship game at the bottom of the article. I hope you enjoy and if you do make sure to follow me on Twitter @QTipsforsports or just search the hashtag #Allinthecards for analysis of all Arizona Cardinals news.

The greatest season in Arizona Cardinals franchise history came to an abrupt end over this weekend, as the Cardinals were unable to write a happy ending to a storybook season. While this team failed to make the Super Bowl and win the Lombardi Trophy, it’s very hard not to consider this season a success. Along with breaking almost every single franchise record, the Cardinals also gained national respect, something the franchise lacked even during prior winning seasons. Part of the reason was that Arizona was 5-0 on nationally televised games before losing to the Panthers. It was a surprise in the past when the Cardinals succeeded but now it’s expected, and this season marked that transition.

For my season recap, I’m going to list the top ten moments from this unforgettable season. Some were great in the moment but will likely be forgotten with the passage of time, while others will be remembered forever. Here are the top ten moments from the Arizona Cardinals’ 2015 season:

10) Chris Johnson’s Cut-Back Run Against Ravens – Possibly the best run of Chris Johnson’s renaissance season. Johnson has always been known as a speedster who just outran every defender so for him to transform into an inside back who isn’t as fast but is fast enough to break tackles is pretty incredible. No run this season showed his new ability to break tackles then his cut-back 26-yard touchdown run when he went right, stopped on a dime and switched back to the left while breaking a tackle and beating everyone to the endzone.

9) Palmer Scrambles for Game-Winner Over 49ers – This past NFL season had a lot of instances of older, less-mobile quarterbacks having huge plays with their feet. Carson Palmer is no exception as Palmer scored the game-winning touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers when he escaped the pocket in the redzone and jogged into the endzone. I say “jog” but he actually ran but it didn’t look like it. Then Palmer nearly gave himself a concussion when he tried to spike the ball but fell over. It was like watching a middle-aged father getting a little too competitive at a family tow-hand touch football game and it was glorious to watch in the moment.

8) Cory Redding Stiff Arms Lacy, Scores TD – It’s always fun when a defensive lineman scores a touchdown, but what made this eve more great was that Packers running back Eddie Lacy made a real effort to stop Cory Redding but Redding just threw Lacy aside and kept rumbling towards the endzone. If it was any other running back that wouldn’t be a big deal but Lacy weights 235 pounds and is built like a linebacker. Redding made people forget that mometarily the way he stiff-armed him.

7) Palmer Leads Game-Winning Drive Against Bengals – One minute to go in a tied game with no timeouts. Palmer not only led a Cardinals’ drive that set up the game-winning field goal, but he did it against his former team. There were quite a few game-winning or go-ahead drives that Palmer led this season but this one was probably the most special one.

6) Fitzgerald Catches 5 TDs In 2 Games – After what was likely his worst statistical season last year, Larry Fitzgerald was a man on a mission to show he wasn’t done being an elite receiver. In route to what was likely his best statistical season, Fitzgerald had amazing back-to-back games during weeks two and three of the season where he scored a combined five touchdowns. Against the Chicago Bears Fitzgerald hauled in eight catches for 112 yards and three touchdowns, while against the 49ers he grabbed nine catches for 134 yards and two touchdowns. He finished the season with 109 receptions for 1,215 yards and nine touchdowns.

5) Back-to-Back Pick-Sixes – That 49ers game in week three also produced another memorable moment when the Arizona secondary scored on two interceptions during the first six minutes of the game. Justin Bethal took his first career interception to the house at the 11:06 mark of the first quarter. Then on the very next drive, Tyrann Mathieu intercepted Colin Kaepernick and returned that one to the endzone at the 9:03 mark of the first quarter. Overall, the Cardinals intercepted Kaepernick four times and the Cardinals destroyed the 49ers 47-7.

4) David Johnson goes “Beast Mode” On Eagles – David Johnson had a fantastic rookie season and may finally give the Cardinals a workhorse back that they haven’t had in a very long time. He cemented that feeling when he ran for 187 yards and three touchdowns against the Philadelphia Eagles during week 15. Johnson had quite a few big runs in the game but none were bigger or more impressive than his 47-yard touchdown run near the end of the second quarter that quickly reminded many of Marshawn Lynch’s legendary “Beast Mode” run in the 2010 playoffs. Johnson broke through as many as five tackles as he sprinted down the sideline to give Arizona a 17-10 lead in a game where the Cardinals would never trail again.

3) Freeney Strip Sacks Bridgewater – Dwight Freeney showed this season that even at age 35 that his spin move is still unstoppable. No moment was the veteran pass-rusher needed more than when he strip-sacked Teddy Bridgewater to end the Minnesota Vikings attempt to send the game to overtime. On the play, Freeney executed his famous spin move and obliterated left tackle Matt Kalil so he was able to get to Bridgewater before he could throw it away. Calais Campbell scooped up the ball and the Cardinals earned a playoff spot thanks to that victory.

2) Ellington Seals Win In Seattle – Although he did have the same kind of numbers as the Johnson duo, Andre Ellington made an impact for the Cardinals when he did play. No run was more important than the one that sealed Arizona’s win over the Seahawks in Seattle. Holding onto a 32-29 lead after holding the Seahawks to a punt, Ellington at first converted a 3rd-and-4 near midfield but didn’t stop there as his tightrope act along the left sideline kept him in-bounds and let him get enough separation to beat a Seahawks defense to the endzone on a play they likely gave up on thinking he had stepped out of bounds. It sealed an important road win and caused Drew Stanton to have one of the greatest celebrations in history.

1) Fitzgerald Wills Cardinals Over Packers in Overtime – Even though the Cardinals only won one playoff game, the way it was won was very special. While the winning touchdown on the shovel pass was both a great play call and executed perfectly by the players, it was the 75-yard pass reception by Larry Fitzgerald on the first play of overtime that earns the best moment from this past Cardinals season. Palmer executes a perfect spin move to escape pressure and finds Fitzgerald completely wide open and had a Cardinals first down at midfield. Yet, as described by Fitz himself, he said forget first down and cut back to the middle of the field and went for the walkoff. While he didn’t quite make the endzone he score two plays later but his decision to turn a 30-yard pass into a 75-yard pass showed how one player could will a team to victory.

Final Thoughts About Arizona’s NFC Championship Game Loss:

  • The stage was definitely too big for the Cardinals as many great players folded under the pressure. It’s hard to win when your stars aren’t performing well, and Calais Campbell (two false starts), Patrick Peterson (fumbled punt return), and especially Carson Palmer (six turnovers, many other bad decisions) were not playing like stars. Even Larry Fitzgerald, statistically the greatest wide receiver in NFL playoff history, dropped two passes on the night. When Fitzgerald drops a tipped pass that was still catchable and Ted Ginn does catch a tipped pass, it’s just not your night.
  • Piggybacking on the idea that the stage was too big for the Cardinals, I think in hindsight it was too much to ask this Cardinals organization to win a championship during the team’s first season as a contender when the role is so foreign for the franchise. I get the urgency because a lot of the key guys have only a limited time left in the NFL, building a winner is a step-by-step process and Arizona already completed a bunch of steps this season.
  • While there were still a few chances to come back later in the game, the Cardinals were destined to lose after Peterson tried to get a few extra yards out of a punt return and fumbled it back to the Panthers. Although the Cards were down 17-7, they had taken back momentum thanks to some excellent running by David Johnson and then immediately forced Cam Newton and the Carolina offense into a three-and-out. Then Brad Nortman, the Carolina punter, shanked a punt that only traveled 34 yards and was heading out of bounds. If Peterson had left the punt alone, things could have gotten interesting. I’m not going to claim the Cards definitely would have won but it would have been a much better game. Instead, the Panthers recover and proceed to score a touchdown.
  • Lastly I want to give major props to a Panthers team that has building towards this for three years and were without a doubt the better team. Because the NFL is a pass-happy league, Carolina’s run-oriented offense seems out of place and I feel that is part of the reason people have been skeptical of the Panthers. All I hear is “if you stop the run, can they pass to win?” The answer is yes because Cam Newton has improved so much with his passing that he’s making his receivers better instead of needing great receivers to bail him out. That’s the same trait that Tom Brady and Russell Wilson have in them. The Panthers are going to be a team to reckon with for the next five to seven years.

My Wild Card Game Picks:

  • Kansas City 23, Houston – Correct (KC 30-0) (1-0)
  • Cincinnati 27, Pittsburgh 24 – Incorrect (Pit 18-16) (1-1)
  • Seattle 20, Minnesota 17 – Correct (Sea 10-9) (2-1)
  • Washington 31, Green Bay 23 – Incorrect (GB 35-18) (2-2)

My Divisional Round Picks:

  • New England 20, Kansas City 16 – Correct (NE 27-20) (3-2)
  • Arizona 34, Green Bay 27 – Correct (Ari 26-20 OT) (4-2)
  • Carolina 24, Seattle 23 – Correct (Car 31-24) (5-2)
  • Denver 24, Pittsburgh 13 – Correct (Den 23-16) (6-2)

My Conference Championship Picks:

  • New England 24, Denver 16 – Incorrect (Den 20-18) (6-3)
  • Arizona 31, Carolina 29 – Incorrect (Car 49-15) (6-4)

Regular Season Record: 159-97 (.621)
Playoff Record: 6-4 (.600)
Total Record: 165-101 (.620)
Perfect Score Predictions: 2

Bryant Helps Hoosiers Survive Minnesota’s Upset Bid

Earlier in the week, when the Indiana Hoosiers played the Wisconsin Badgers, ESPN highlighted Thomas Bryant as a potential “green room guy”, meaning that he has a chance to be invited to the NBA Draft because he would be expected to be picked in the first 10-15 picks. Well Bryant looked like a “green room guy” on Saturday when the freshman big man helped the Hoosiers overcome a Minnesota Golden Gophers rally and win 74-68.

Bryant scored a career-high 23 points, including a huge bucket on an offensive rebound that gave the Hoosiers (18-4, 8-1) the lead again. Both him and Rob Johnson had a game-high eight rebounds.

“(Bryant) brings a lot of energy to everybody and the key is, when it’s not going so well, that he doesn’t get emotional the other way,” said Indiana coach Tom Crean. “That’s where he’s kind of continued to mature. I’m proud of him.”

Bryant scored the Hoosiers last three field goals of the game, which consisted of two in the final two minutes as well as one at the 8:08 mark of the second half. The last field goal was very interesting as OG Anunoby rebounded a missed three-pointer by Nate Mason with 37 seconds left and gave it to Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell. Ferrell noticed the Minnesota team wasn’t getting back on defense and instead of running down the clock to five seconds with a one-point lead he pushed the ball up the court and found Bryant for a dunk that put Indiana up 70-67 with 27 seconds left.

“I felt like they thought we were going to call a timeout, and then I see all four of their players walking to the sideline so I decided to push,” said Ferrell. “Luckily, Thomas was down there and I got him the ball on the dunk. It’s probably one of the weirder plays I’ve ever seen playing in a basketball game.”

The Golden Gophers, who still have yet to win a Big Ten game this season, started the game well with a 7-0 run before the Hoosiers took control of the game. Yet Minnesota never gave up as they steadily turned a 12-point halftime deficit into a one-point lead on a Dupree McBrayer dunk with 3:54 left. That would be the last field goal for the Golden Gophers (6-16, 0-10).

Both Kevin Dorsey and Mason scored a team-high 21 points for Minnesota while Indiana also received double-digit points from Troy Williams and Ferrell as both scored 13.

Indiana is now 8-1 in Big Ten at the halfway point of conference play, but things get tougher in the second half of the schedule starting with a matchup in Ann Arbor on Tuesday against the Michigan Wolverines. Game will start at 9pm and will be broadcast on ESPN.

From The Boxscore:

  • One of the main reasons Minnesota was able to erase a 12-point halftime defecit is that the Golden Gophers were able to get to the rim at will in the second half, connecting on 15 layup or dunk attempts during the final 20 minutes.
  • Another reason the Hoosiers almost lost was due to some uncharacteristic ice-cold three-point shooting. Indiana connected on only 2 of 18 from behind the arc, with the only makes coming from Rob Johnson and Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell.
  • Coincidently, Minnesota also shot exactly 2 of 18 from three-point range with the only makes coming from Dupree McBrayer and Charles Buggs.
  • Thomas Bryant not only scored a career-high 23 points but did it by making 11 of his 13 field attempts.
  • Bryant wasn’t the Hoosier to set a career-high against Minnesota. Johnson also set a career-high with 8 rebounds.

Three Positives And Three Negatives From Indiana’s Overtime Loss At Wisconsin

No word better describes the Indiana Hoosiers’ 81-78 overtime loss to the Wisconsin Badgers than “complicated.”

How complicated? It was a game that the Hoosiers (17-4, 7-1) should have won but at the same time deserved to lose. It was a back-and-forth affair where every time it looked like the Hoosiers made one too many mistakes, the Badgers (12-9, 4-4)gave Indiana another chance. So should Hoosier fans feel positively or negatively about the Hoosiers overtime loss at the Kohl Center? Well the answer is actually both. Here are three positive takeaways and three negative takeaways from the Hoosiers’ first Big Ten loss:

The Positives

  1. For more than a decade, the Wisconsin Badgers have been the Indiana Hoosiers’ kryptonite. No matter how good the Hoosiers were during a specific season, they’ve always had trouble with the Badgers, especially in the Kohl Center where IU has now lost 14 straight. For Indiana to consistently erase every Badger lead and have a chance at the end of regulation to win shows that the Hoosiers are close to breaking this streak. It could come as early as next season.
  2. The fact Indiana was so close to winning is even more incredible when you look at the boxscore. The Hoosiers committed 19 turnovers, fouled the Badgers 31 times, and missed more than a handful of shots near the rim. It wasn’t until that 19th turnover with three seconds left in overtime that one of the mistakes finally sealed Indiana’s defeat. There’s a certain mental toughness needed to hold up for that long and it seems the Hoosiers have that.
  3. Even though Indiana lost, Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell’s performance has to be one of the best so far during this Big Ten season. It will definitely be brought up when it comes to awards season. The numbers say a lot (30 points, 5 of 6 from three-point range, 7 rebounds, 2 steals), but they still don’t due him justice. On a night where Ferrell moved pass three all-time great Hoosiers on the career scoring list (Christian Watford, Kent Benson, and Damon Bailey), Ferrell played like an all-time great as he not only hit big shot after big shot, but he also completely shut down opposing guard Bronson Koenig, who was averaging 14 points per game on the season, holding him to 4 points on 1 of 9 shooting.

The Negatives

  1. As great as it was to see the Hoosiers overcome their mistakes, that doesn’t change the fact that Indiana committed way too many mistakes. Some of the turnovers were because of great Wisconsin defense but the majority of them could have been avoided, including quite a few unforced turnovers. Ferrell is likely to have more turnovers than his teammates because he is the team’s main ball-handler, but four turnovers is still a bit high. Then there was the five by Thomas Bryant and the three by Troy Williams. A lot of things have changed over the course of the season, but the one problem that is still the same is the tendency to commit a lot of turnovers and I don’t know if there is a real solution.
  2. The Hoosiers have done a magnificent job improving their defensive play over the last two months. There were some questions about whether or not the defensive improvement would hold when games got more competitive. For the most part the defense did fine, but there were definitely a few old habits that reappeared. Early in the first half, quite a few Badgers were able to find easy driving lanes and get good shots around the basket. You might not have noticed because during those early drives a Hoosier defender was able to recover quick enough to contest it. However later in the game, when fatigue started creeping, the Badgers found passing and driving lanes to the basket, but this time the common result was a Hoosier foul. It’s still an improvement over the matador defense from a few months ago but the Hoosiers still need to continue getting better.
  3. It’s weird to look at a team who just scored 78 points against Wisconsin and say that the team had trouble scoring, but IU’s beautiful ball movement offense was reduced to Ferrell running isolation plays with a little bit of Bryant added into the mix. Williams was reckless with his shot attempts, only making 4 of 14, and the bench couldn’t find one offensive contributor as they scored a total of 8 points. The Hoosiers need to get more scoring out of their bench, because when they don’t is when Indiana really feels the loss of James Blackmon Jr. the most.

Hoosiers In The NBA: Injured Hoosiers Everywhere

NOTE: Hello everyone and welcome to a new edition of Hoosiers In The NBA on its new site! Please try to spread the word by liking it on Facebook or retweeting this on Twitter if you enjoyed it. Of course this is completely optional but it is greatly appreciated. Otherwise I hope you enjoy this latest edition and for more coverage follow me on twitter at @QTipsForSports or just look for the hashtag #HoosiersInTheNBA:

There’s a saying that things tend to happen in threes. That statement was true this week as not one, not two, but three Hoosiers missed games because of injuries. This week I will give you the details of the injuries suffered by Eric Gordon, Victor Oladipo, and Cody Zeller and how soon it will be before Gordon and Zeller return to the court and how it will affect Oladipo’s play the next few weeks:

Eric Gordon: Guard, New Orleans Pelicans:

@ Memphis (L 101-99): 10 points (2-7 FG)(4-4 FT), 2 rebounds, 3 assists, steal, 3 turnovers, 3 personal fouls, 37 minutes.

Vs Minnesota (W 114-99): 11 points (4-9 FG), rebound, 3 assists, steal, 2 turnovers, 2 personal fouls, 25 minutes.

Vs Detroit (W 115-99): DNP – injury

Vs Milwaukee (W 116-99): DNP – injury

Eric Gordon’s consistent health, playing for a team that has suffered an injury at every other position, almost seemed too good to be true. Now Gordon will be on the sidelines for the next four to six weeks with a fractured ring finger on his shooting hand.

The good news is that it seems the surgery was successful, but the bad news is that this slate of missed games continues a terrible trend for Gordon. Since arriving in New Orleans, Gordon has missed a combined 137 games due to injury, including 21 last season, before this latest injury. Gordon had played in 82 consecutive games for the Pelicans dating back to last year and is the only player this season to have started at least 40 games for the New Orleans Pelicans. This has also come at the worst possible time as his chances of being traded away to a playoff contender have probably vanished. There’s still a small chance a team offers something for Gordon, but a team rarely trades for player at the trade deadline who is not able to play immediately. If that is the case, then it’s a good sign the Pelicans are on a winning streak and still have chance, if this play keeps up, to make the playoffs.

Victor Oladipo: Guard, Orlando Magic:

@ Atlanta (L 98-81): DNP – injury

Vs Philadelphia (L 96-87): DNP – injury

Vs Charlotte (L 120-116 OT): 29 points (11-19 FG)(2-2 FT), 4 rebounds, 3 assists, steal, 4 turnovers, 3 personal fouls, 42 minutes.

Victor Oladipo surprised me and quite a few other people when he returned to the court for the Orlando Magic’s game against the Charlotte Hornets on Friday. After all, Oladipo did just suffer a knee injury in the fourth quarter of the Magic’s game against the Toronto Raptors last week when the two teams faced off in London. It was an injury that head coach Scott Skiles thought would take up to three weeks to heal.

Oladipo looked pretty good against the Hornets, scoring 29 points in the Magic’s overtime loss. There was a little worry he might have been pushing himself to play the game but he was healthy enough to play 42 minutes in the contest. It will be interesting to see if soreness in his knee catches up to him as the Magic are set to play five games in the next eight days. If he is in fact healthy and can continue to shoot at a good percentage, that is a good sign because Orlando needs him as the Magic have now lost nine of their last ten games.

Noah Vonleh: Forward, Portland Trail Blazers:

@ Washington (W 108-98): 2 points (1-3 FG), 9 rebounds, assist, turnover, 2 personal fouls, 17 minutes.

Vs Atlanta (L 104-98): 7 points (3-4 FG), 4 rebounds, block, 2 personal fouls, 15 minutes.

Vs Los Angeles Lakers (W 121-103): 11 points (5-6 FG)( 1-2 FT), 6 rebounds, assist, 3 steals, turnover, 5 personal fouls, 25 minutes.

Noah Vonleh was the only one out of the four Hoosiers playing in the NBA to come away from this week perfectly healthy. What’s even more encouraging is that Vonleh is playing very well lately, averaging 4.8 points and 5.2 rebounds in the month of January compared to 3.1 points and 3.6 rebounds over the first two months of the season.

It still looks like we are a ways away from Vonleh making a big breakout but, as long as he avoids injuries and continues to improve with the playing time he is given, that moment should come sooner rather than later.

Cody Zeller: Forward, Charlotte Hornets:

Vs Utah (W 124-119): 14 points (4-9 FG)(6-8 FT), 6 rebounds, assist, block, turnover, 5 personal fouls, 42 minutes.

@ Oklahoma City (L 109-95): 3 points (0-3 FG)(3-4 FT), 2 rebounds, steal, turnover, 4 personal fouls, 14 minutes.

@ Orlando (W 120-116 OT): DNP – injury

Vs New York (W 97-84): DNP – injury

Cody Zeller was the last of the Hoosiers to get injured this week when he sprained a ligament in his right shoulder during the Charlotte Hornets’ game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

There was some thought that Zeller would return this week but the team reported during this past weekend that at the minimum he will be out for this upcoming week. This is a big blow for a team that is already without Al Jefferson and has had to start Spencer Hawes at center the past two games. That being said, it might be just as big of a blow for Zeller. While Zeller has probably already proven with his recent play that he is the Hornets’ starting center going forward, he still has a lot of things to work on if he’s going to be a successful NBA center. One of those things is defending against bigger centers and not letting them push Zeller around. With a shoulder injury, you can’t rush back onto the court because that type of injury can take away some of the strength one would need to compete in the post. Hopefully he’s able to recover quickly so he continue improving his post defense against bigger defenders.

Season averages:

Eric Gordon: 14.9ppg, 2.1rpg, 2.7apg, 0.95spg, 0.29bpg, 1.6tpg, 2.2fpg, 41.0% FG, 37.7% 3FG, 89.0% FT, 33.4mpg.

Victor Oladipo: 13.9ppg, 4.8rpg, 3.9apg, 1.29spg, 0.63bpg, 2.2tpg, 2.3fpg, 41.2% FG, 36.1% 3FG, 81.6% FT, 30.3mpg.

Noah Vonleh: 3.5ppg, 4.0rpg, 0.5apg, 0.50spg, 0.24bpg, 0.6tpg, 2.0fpg, 42.0% FG, 17.4% 3FG, 81.3% FT, 15.8mpg.

Cody Zeller: 9.0ppg, 5.9rpg, 0.9apg, 0.88spg, 0.70bpg, 0.9tpg, 3.0fpg, 49.6% FG, 0.0% 3FG, 73.6% FT, 24.8mpg.

All In The Cards: Arizona-Carolina Playoff Preview

All season long the talk coming from the Arizona Cardinals has been championship or bust but even those with the utmost highest of expectations should understand that there would be no shame in losing this weekend to the Carolina Panthers. However, despite the disadvantages that await, the Cardinals will still have that “championship or nothing” mentality when they take the field at the near-freezing Bank of America Stadium on Sunday. For this week’s preview of All In The Cards, I will list all of the Carolina Panthers advantages heading into this game and explain how the Cardinals will try to counteract them. Plus I will give some matchups that favor Arizona. I hope you enjoy and if you do make sure to follow me on Twitter @QTipsforsports or just search the hashtag #Allinthecards for in-game thoughts and analysis. Now let’s preview the Cardinals playoff match against the Panthers:

Arizona Cardinals @ Carolina Panthers

Last Meeting: L 27-16 at Carolina (1/3/15)

Carolina advantages and how Arizona plans to counter them:

  1. Panthers have won 12 straight at home: In a season where it seemed that home field advantage meant nothing, the Panthers have been amazing at home. What’s even more unusual is that the Cardinals, a franchise that once threatened the record for the longest road losing streak just a little over a decade ago, finished this season 7-1 in road games and actually averaged better stats than they did at home. The advantage still goes with the Panthers, but these aren’t the Cardinals that historically have played terrible on the road so expect the Cardinals to play just fine.
  2. Cam Newton has thrown 19 touchdowns against the blitz this season: This seems like a big problem for the Cardinals because they blitz more than 45% of the time, the most in the NFL. However, the Cardinals will not shy away from blitzing for two reasons. The first reason is that just like their injured all-pro safety Tyrann “The Honey Badger” Mathieu, Bruce Arians doesn’t care about your stats against the blitz because they’re still going to blitz you. The second and more reassuring reason for Cardinals fans is that they have an X-factor in safety-turned-linebacker Deone Bucannon. Bucannon could either use his speed to generate a faster blitz from the linebacker position than what Newton would be used to or the Cardinals could use Bucannon to drop back into coverage and send a corner or a safety on a blitz.
  3. Panthers have rushed for 100+ yards in 30 consecutive games: Despite the Cardinals being a top-10 run defense, the Cardinals have struggled against the run in all three of their losses. That’s a huge advantage for a Panthers team that consistently runs the ball at a high level. Yet there is a way for the Cardinals to at least slow down the Carolina running game and that would be putting an extra defender in the box and trusting your secondary to shutdown the receivers on any play-action passes. Arizona has more than enough practice putting its cornerbacks on an island as that basically happens every time the Cardinals blitz. The Cards secondary is more than talented enough to blanket the Panthers subpar receivers to let Arizona commit to stopping the run game.
  4. The weather and field conditions: The game temperature is expected to be in the high 30s at kickoff and the playing field, which has been terrible at times this season, is expected to be pretty bad. However, the Cardinals took some advice from the Seattle Seahawks (who just played at Carolina last week) and will bring a couple different pairs of cleats to see which will work best so they don’t slip and fall on the grass like the Seahawks did a week ago. As for the temperature, that narrative is a little overblown as many of the Cardinals’ key players have more than enough prior experience playing in freezing weather (including players like Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald).

Arizona advantages:

  1. Larry Fitzgerald is set to have another big day: In his illustrious career, Larry Fitzgerald only has more receiving yards against the Philadelphia Eagles and the three other NFC West teams than he does against the Carolina Panthers. However if we were only looking at Sunday’s game, Fitzgerald still has a big advantage. The Panthers are missing half of their starting secondary and their all-pro cornerback Josh Norman doesn’t cover slot receivers. Expect Fitzgerald to get a lot of playing time in the slot on Sunday and a lot of targets when he does line up in the slot.
  2. Revenge from last season’s playoff loss: The Panthers eliminated the Cardinals from the playoffs last season so there is definitely a revenge factor. Also important is that Carson Palmer wasn’t playing that game and Arizona still had a chance to win late in the game. It’s up to Palmer to prove he was the difference in last year’s loss by being the difference in a win this time around.
  3. All the pressure is on Carolina: There is a lot of pressure on Palmer to prove he was the reason for last year’s outcome between the two teams, but other than that all off the pressure is on Carolina. Like the Cardinals, the Panthers have also had a magical season where the expectations are championship or bust. On top of that, the Panthers have the added pressure of being expected to win because they are the home team, they just finished a 15-1 regular season, and they have the probable MVP in Cam Newton. The Panthers have thrived as the “no one believes in us” team and now have the added pressure of being the favorite while the Cardinals are finally back in the comfortable role of underdog. Even if the Cardinals deny it, they do have an excuse if they lose while the Panthers do not.

Nothing will come easy for the Cardinals but they know that. This has been a resilient team all year and this will be their toughest test. I would not be that surprised if the Panthers won this game but after following the Cardinals so closely this season, this just seems like a team of destiny that will find a way to win. I have the Cardinals barley holding on for the win to advance to Super Bowl 50.

Game Pick: Arizona 31, Carolina 29

My Wild Card Game Picks:

  • Kansas City 23, Houston – Correct (KC 30-0) (1-0)
  • Cincinnati 27, Pittsburgh 24 – Incorrect (Pit 18-16) (1-1)
  • Seattle 20, Minnesota 17 – Correct (Sea 10-9) (2-1)
  • Washington 31, Green Bay 23 – Incorrect (GB 35-18) (2-2)

My Divisional Round Picks:

  • New England 20, Kansas City 16 – Correct (NE 27-20) (3-2)
  • Arizona 34, Green Bay 27 – Correct (Ari 26-20 OT) (4-2)
  • Carolina 24, Seattle 23 – Correct (Car 31-24) (5-2)
  • Denver 24, Pittsburgh 13 – Correct (Den 23-16) (6-2)

My Conference Championship Picks:

  • New England 24, Denver 16
  • Arizona 31, Carolina 29

Regular Season Record: 159-97 (.621)
Playoff Record: 6-2 (.750)
Total Record: 165-99 (.625)
Perfect Score Predictions: 2

Hoosiers Improve To 7-0 In Big Ten With Blowout Win Over Northwestern

The Indiana Hoosiers beat the Northwestern Wildcats 89-57 on Saturday to improve to 7-0 in Big Ten play. The 7-0 start to conference play is the best the Hoosiers have done since Calbert Cheaney’s senior season back in 1993.

You would think that a 32-point win over a team that has never been to the NCAA tournament would be no big deal, but don’t be fooled: this was one of Indiana’s most impressive wins of the season.

The Wildcats came into this week with the same number of wins as the Hoosiers (15) and was an impressive 4-0 on the road. The Wildcats lost their first road game of the season after pushing #7 Maryland to overtime, so the Hoosiers deserve more respect for beating the Wildcats by 32.

For Indiana (17-3, 7-0), these blowout home wins are becoming routine. Saturday marked the third straight home game the Hoosiers held a 30-point lead and also marked the first time IU has won three straight Big Ten home games by 25+ points since the 1987-88 season.

“I knew this team was going to be a good team”, said Collin Hartman, who scored eight of the Hoosiers’ first 13 points and finished with 11. “I knew there was a lot of talent. I knew I enjoyed being with these guys and the chemistry was going to translate to the court. With this little streak we’ve got going, I think it’s starting to show, and things are coming together and it’s a lot of fun.”

Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell led the Hoosiers with 17 points and six assists, and in the process passed Eric Anderson to move into the top 10 of Indiana’s all-time scoring list. He’s one of only three IU players to be ranked in the school’s top 10 of scoring and assists (the others being Damon Bailey and A.J. Guyton).

It was a balanced scoring attack for the Hoosiers as nine different Indiana players had at least five points, with Max Bielfeldt (13) joining Hartman and Ferrell as the only Hoosiers in double-figures.

Northwestern (15-6, 3-5) received the majority of its scoring from the combo of Alex Olah and Tre Demps. Olah led all scorers with 19 points while Demps added 17 points for the Wildcats.

The Hoosiers will take to the road as they travel to Madison on Tuesday to face the Wisconsin Badgers. The game will be at 7pm and will be a rematch of the Hoosiers’ 59-58 win earlier in the season at Assembly Hall when Indiana honored the 1976 team.

From The Boxscore:

  • If it seems like everyone on the Hoosiers can shoot from three it’s because they can. Juwan Morgan became the 12th different Hoosier this season to make a three-pointer when he made one from the corner against Northwestern.
  • The Hoosiers have won their last three Big Ten home game by 25 or more points. The last time IU did that was during the 1987-1988 season when they beat Minnesota by 29, Northwestern by 29, and Michigan State by 37.
  • When the Hoosier won their last Big Ten season championship (2012-2013), they won just three Big Ten home games by 25 or more points during the whole season.
  • Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell keeps climbing up IU’s all-time ladder. Ferrell (1,720 points) passed Eric Anderson (1,715)  for 10th on IU’s scoring list and only 22 points separates him from claiming 7th place. Ferrell could pass the following names next week: Christian Watford (1,730), Kent Benson (1,740), and Damon Bailey (1,741).
  • The Hoosiers as a team had 48 assists over the course of the last two games and are now up to five games with 20 or more assists this season.
  • Max Bielfeldt has now made more three-pointers in one season as a Hoosier (12) than he did in three seasons with the Michigan Wolverines (11).

Multiple Records Fall As Indiana Obliterates Illinois

Coming in to Tuesday night’s game against the Illinois Fighting Illini, one of the Indiana Hoosiers’ basketball records was expected to be broken. Yet when the final buzzer sounded and the Hoosiers walked off the court with a 103-69 win, they did it knowing that they had actually broken two school records.

The first one that was expected to be broken was Indiana’s career assist record. Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell came into the game one assist behind previous record-holder Michael Lewis’ 545 assists. Ferrell surpassed that with a no-look pass to Max Bielfeldt in the post who converted an easy layup to give the senior point guard the record at the 11:19 mark of the first half. Ferrell didn’t stop there as he finished with nine assists and also added 16 points.

“That’s a great honor,” said Ferrell about becoming the Hoosiers all-time leader in assists. “I played with a lot of great guys coming up: Victor Oladipo, Cody Zeller, Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford, that’s what I like to be. I like to be a facilitator for my team, and I feel like I’ve gotten to have known my teammates very well all four years.”

One of those players took to twitter to express how proud he was of his former teammate.

The other record that fell was made three-pointers by the Hoosiers in a single game. The Illini clogged the paint to begin the game, having all five players circling around the free throw line. The defensive gameplan was to prevent the Hoosiers from getting easy buckets in the paint and instead have them settle for jump shots. Unfortunately for Illinois, the Hoosiers were up to that challenge as they made the Illini pay by making five of their first seven three-point attempts. Even when Illinois starting defending the three-point line, the Hoosiers were still firing as Indiana finished the game with 19 made three-pointers. Not only is that an Indiana record for most in a single game, but it also set a record for most three-pointers made by one team in a Big Ten game.

“(The Illini) were locked into knowing that they were going to come with a lot of edge and energy on the glass,” said Indiana Head Coach Tom Crean about Illinois’ defensive approach against the Hoosiers. “Once we figured out that we needed to continue to go to the paint to get our three-point shots we were much better.”

Nine different Hoosiers made a three-pointer, with Ferrell leading the way with five. Rob Johnson and Nick Zeisloft had three three-pointers, Bielfeldt and Troy Williams had two three-pointers, and Colin Hartman, Thomas Bryant, OG Anunoby, and Harrison Niego all added one three-pointer.

The lone bright spot for Illinois (9-10, 1-5) was Malcolm Hill, who scored a team-high 20 points and added five rebounds. Indiana (16-3, 6-0) was led in scoring by Williams, who finished with 21 points along with four rebounds and five assists.

The Hoosiers will face another Big Ten school from the state of Illinois as Indiana hosts Northwestern on Saturday at 12pm in Assembly Hall.

From The Boxscore:

  • Not only do the Hoosiers have the most threes ever in a Big Ten game, but they also hold the record for the second, third and fourth most in a Big Ten game.
  • This was the fourth time this season that the Hoosiers have scored in the triple-digits and the first time they’ve done it without James Blackmon Jr. In fact, JBJ had at least 20 or more points in those other three games this season.
  • Everyone on the Hoosiers who attempted a three-pointer made at least one. Collin Hartman, Thomas Bryant, OG Anunoby, and Harrison Niego each attempted just one shot from behind the arc and made that shot.
  • Troy Williams had a team-high 21 points and added five assists without committing a single turnover. He also made two three-pointers. “Tornado Troy” was nothing but positive for the Hoosier tonight.
  • Just being on the receiving end of Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell’s record-breaking assist would have constituted a great night for Max Bielfeldt but his performance didn’t stop there. Bielfeldt finished with 16 points, 3 assists, and team-highs in rebounds (8), steals (3), and blocks (2).
  • Lost in Ferrell’s performance, Rob Johnson again flirted with a triple-double, He finished with 13 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists.
  • The Hoosiers have now won 11 games in a row, one short of Tom Crean’s best winning streak as the Indiana head coach. His 2011-2012 Hoosiers started the season 12-0, which included the memorable buzzer-beating win over top-ranked Kentucky.
  • In addition to taking the top spot on the all-time assist list, Ferrell also passed Brian Evans for 11th on IU’s all-time scoring list.


All In The Cards: Recapping The Stupidly Crazy End To Arizona’s Win Over Green Bay

Anything can happen in the NFL playoffs. If someone ever questions that fact, show them the Green Bay-Arizona game from this past weekend. The amount of insane things that happened in that game still boggles my mind and the mind of many other football fans even a few days removed from watching the spectacle. So for part one of All In The Cards’ coverage of the Arizona Cardinals this week, I will go over every crazy situation, one by one, from the fourth quarter and overtime of Saturday night’s thriller. Prepare yourself for some strong opinions, especially about a certain coin toss. I hope you enjoy and if you do make sure to follow me on Twitter @QTipsforsports or just search the hashtag #Allinthecards for in-game thoughts and analysis. Let’s go over the weirdest hour of sports I can remember:

Start of the 4th Quarter: Green Bay 13, Arizona 10

Palmer’s 2nd INT: This drive started late in the third quarter  and the first play was yet another reminder that the NFL desperately needs to properly define a catch. I personally think that four steps and a knee down should constitute a catch regardless of if the ball came out at the end. I know that in a similar situation last playoffs that Dez Bryant was called for an incompletion but the differing of calls only illustrates why this needs to be fixed, not that the call was wrong.

Now to the interception. While the pass was much shorter than it needed to be, the real cause behind this interception was the fact that Green Bay wasn’t afraid of Arizona running the ball. The play started as a play-action pass that immediately got snuffed out by a blitzing linebacker. It was a good risk considering the Cardinals only rushed for 40 yards on 19 rushing attempts. With the added pressure, Carson Palmer threw off his back foot and was unable to put enough behind his pass as Damarcus Randell incepted a pass that should have been out of his reach. Palmer had some bad throws Saturday night, but this one was a little more understandable. (Green Bay 13, Arizona 10 – 14:10 left)

The tip-drill, go-ahead score: This entire drive was a soap opera. The first play was a miscommunication between Palmer and Andre Ellington, not a great first pass after a back-breaking interception. What does Palmer do the next play? Throw a picture-perfect pass just above Packer linebacker Jake Ryan’s outstretched arms to John Brown. At this point we have now entered into “full gunslinger” mode for Palmer. Two plays later Larry Fitzgerald shakes two defenders and reaches out the ball for the first down marker and barely gets it by the narrowest of margins. Then during the Cardinals’ first play in the redzone, Palmer forces a pass to Michael Floyd that cornerback Sam Shields lets bounce off his hands. That pass was much worse than the endzone interception the previous drive and probably would have ended the game. Yet the game didn’t end as a pass between two defenders to David Johnson gets the Cardinals another first down, this time by an even smaller margin than Fitzgerald’s first down.

The true madness began the next play. Arizona ran a pick play with Jaron Brown to get Fitzgerald open on a slant route in the middle of the field. Yet despite Brown’s best (and probably illegal) effort, a defender was able to get an arm and break up the pass. However, instead of the pass falling to the ground, the ball jumped into the air only to land in Floyd’s hands in the back of the endzone. In the span of a second, it went from being a touchdown, to a probable interception, to a touchdown. At this point it seemed that the Cardinals uncharacteristically lucky season after decades of heartbreak would continue. (Arizona 17, Green Bay 13 – 3:44 left)

Arians passes on 2nd down: Then Bruce Arians’ aggressive approach backfired on him. I was really disappointed in the numerous amount of people who questioned Arians and said the pass was a dumb play call after praising him for doing the exact same thing earlier in the season and succeeding. Should he have run the ball? Of course he should have but this is who Arians is and the Cardinals and their fans know and accept Arians’ aggressive approach. Palmer completes that pass to Fitzgerald (or draws a pass interference call) and the game is over. As Arians says, “no risk it, no biscuit.” (Arizona 20, Green Bay 13 – 1:55 left)

Rodgers throws two Hail Marys: After the Cards finally got their first and only sack of the game, it looked like it was over at fourth and 20. Then Rodgers escapes to his left and, with Calais Campbell chasing him, throws a laser to Jeff Janis who was able to get behind the defense thanks to Rodgers extending the play. Then Rodgers decides not to spike the ball and runs another play which not only runs 20 seconds off the clock but an illegal shift by Richard Rodgers stops the clock and backs the Packers up five yards.

At this point Rodgers has two shots at the endzone. Both times, the Cardinals sent seven men on the blitz to hurry up Rodgers’ throw. The first time it worked perfectly as Rodgers kept backpedaling until he threw it away. However the second time Rodgers escaped to his left and threw up a beautiful pass to Janis for the game-tying touchdown. It should be noted that the reason Janis beat Patrick Peterson to the ball was because earlier in the drive Janis got behind the coverage and played deeper so it wouldn’t happen again. That backfired as Janis was able to get in front of the pass to complete the hail mary.

One thing that should be discussed is whether or not Mike McCarthy should have gone for the win with a two-point conversion instead of opting for the extra point to send the game to overtime. To me, the decision should be based on whether or not you believe in momentum. If you do, then you should go for the kill now immediately with the Cardinals still trying to get their head around the fact that the Packers just scored. If you don’t believe in momentum, then you go with the sure bet and go to overtime. There isn’t really a right or wrong decision; it just depends on your philosophy. (Arizona 20, Green Bay 20 – end of regulation)

The overtime coin toss: This may be the most stupid controversy I have ever seen and the fact that some people think that the coin flip prevented the Packers from winning is so asinine that it had me tearing my hair out just reading and listening to this.

First off, in the NFL rulebook it is not stated anywhere that the coin needs to flip on a coin toss. The referee Clete Blakeman was not obligated to do-over the coin toss but did do it because he thought the first toss wasn’t fair. I personally was okay with doing another toss, but the Packers shouldn’t have acted like it was their right to have a do-over. It was a nice gesture by Blakeman and with the Cardinals winning both tosses, the situation should have ended there.

Then Rodgers made his postgame statements. I met Rodgers for a short time back when he was Brett Favre’s backup and from what I can tell he is a good person. Honestly, I think his remarks after the game were just a result of him being frustrated the Packers lost. That being said, I blame him for making this a bigger controversy than it ever needed to be in the first place. He may have just been letting off steam but he needs to realize that he is one of the key players in the NFL and if he complains about something the masses will respond to that complaint.

Rodgers said after the game that he was upset he didn’t get to choose which side of the coin he wanted on the retry. Rodgers said he chooses which side to call based on which side is showing. On the first flip heads was showing so Rodgers called for tails. Since the coin didn’t flip it landed on heads. When Blakeman went for the second toss, he flipped the coin with tails showing. Because of that, Rodgers said he wanted to change his call to heads. The coin landed on heads again and the Cardinals won the toss again.

Some people think Rodgers should have been allowed to change his call but that’s ridiculous. He was already given a gift in the form of a second toss, so also asking to change your call sounds greedy. Also I’ve watched the whole exchange numerous times and I still don’t see how Rodgers could have had enough time to notice the coin being turned over, think about his coin toss ritual, and try to ask for the chance to change his mind. To me this sounds like hindsight bias, with Rodgers  trying to come up with an excuse for the Packers losing. Again it probably wasn’t intentional but he can’t make those kinds of statements.

Fitzgerald takes over: Then Fitzgerald made overtime end so quickly that now people are complaining that this set of overtime rules are unfair because Rodgers didn’t get a chance to go back on the field. If Rodgers wants to look for an excuse for why the Packers lost, he needs to look no further than his defense letting Fitzgerald turn a 15-yard pass into a 75-yard completion. Fitzgerald is very shifty but for him to get so wide open and then have four defenders fail to tackle him is a complete defensive breakdown. You can be disappointed Rodgers didn’t get a chance to respond, but don’t ask to change the rules because the Packers couldn’t stop the Cardinals from scoring a touchdown.

Fitzgerald ended the game two plays later on unique play design where Palmer ran what looked like an option run but instead threw a shovel pass to Fitzgerald. It capped possibly his greatest postseason performance and that is saying something. Look at his playoff game log:

  • 2008 Playoffs
    • vs. Atlanta – 6 receptions, 101 receiving yards, touchdown
    • at Carolina – 8 receptions, 166 receiving yards, 2 touchdowns
    • vs Philadelphia – 9 receptions, 152 receiving yards, 3 touchdowns
    • vs Pittsburgh – 7 receptions, 127 receiving yards, 2 touchdowns
  • 2009 Playoffs
    • vs Green Bay – 6 receptions, 82 receiving yards, 2 touchdowns
    • at New Orleans – 6 receptions, 77 receiving yards
  • 2014 Playoffs
    • at Carolina – 3 receptions, 31 receiving yards
  • 2015 Playoffs
    • vs Green Bay – 8 receptions, 176 receiving yards, touchdown

His three games with 150+ receiving yards are already the most in NFL playoff history and he’s scored 10 receiving touchdowns in one fewer game than the great Jerry Rice, which is amazing considering two of those games were throwaways because of bad quarterbacks (three quarters of Matt Leinart vs Saints and a whole game with Ryan Lindley vs Panthers last year). Fitzgerald looks like a man on a mission and I don’t know if anyone can stop him.

How I Did With My Divisional Round Picks:

  • Arizona 34, Green Bay 20 (OT) (1-0 this weekend, 3-2 in playoffs)
  • New England 27 Kansas City 20 (2-0, 4-2)
  • Carolina 31, Seattle 24 (3-0, 5-2)
  • Denver 23, Pittsburgh 16 (4-0, 6-2)

Regular Season Record: 159-97 (.621)
Playoff Record: 6-2 (.750)
Total Record: 165-99 (.625)
Perfect Score Predictions: 2

Three Observations From Indiana’s Road Win Over Minnesota

The Indiana Hoosiers started out cold in The Barn but were able to get hot enough to defeat the Minnesota Golden Gophers 70-63. The Hoosiers (15-3, 5-0) found themselves in a nine-point hole early in the first half but were able to tie it up before halftime before ultimately winning a back-and-forth battle with the Golden Gophers (6-12, 0-6) in the second half. IU will try to improve upon this performance when Indiana hosts Illinois at 7pm this Tuesday. For now, let’s take a look at three things that really stood out to me as the Hoosiers improved to 5-0 in Big Ten play:

  1. Williams and Johnson Struggle Scoring Again: Both Troy Williams and Rob Johnson are good scorers but this season they haven’t been consistently good. James Blackmon Jr’s scoring made up for those games when neither Williams nor Johnson were feeling it offensively, but with Blackmon Jr. gone the Hoosiers have really struggled at times when they don’t get much from Williams and Johnson. On Saturday, those two combined for just nine points (seven for Williams, two for Johnson) as the Hoosiers scored a measly 70 points against a Minnesota team that had already given up 86 points to Penn State and 84 points to Nebraska. IU was still able to muster up enough points to beat Minnesota but against the elite teams in the Big Ten, the Hoosiers will need either Williams or Johnson (or maybe both) to be offensive threats for Indiana to have a chance to win those games.
  2. Zeisloft Finding His Stroke Again: To say Nick Zeisloft was in a shooting slump would have been an understatement. In the four Big Ten games before Saturday, Zeisloft was shooting a disastrous 4 of 25 (16.0%) from three-point range. However, in a game where many Hoosiers were struggling to make baskets, Zeisloft chose the perfect time to get out of his slump as he made 5 of 8 (62.5%) from deep against the Golden Gophers, including four in a row. Zeisloft, who shot 45.0% from long range last season, has actually been struggling for longer than just the Big Ten season. After a November where he made 18 of 33 (54.5%) from deep, Zeisloft has only made 12 of 40 (30.0%) over his last ten games (six of which were non-conference games) before this Saturday. Hopefully for the Hoosiers, Saturday was the day he found his shooting touch again.
  3. Yogi Ferrell Deserves More Attention In “Player Of The Year” Discussions: There are a lot of deserving candidates for not only the Wooden Award but also Big Ten Player Of The Year, but Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell should at least be acknowledged for both. Ferrell’s stats against Minnesota (20 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, and 2 steals) tells just how pivotal he was for the Hoosiers to be able to win, but the amazing thing is that these stats are becoming a common occurrence. Since the loss of Blackmon Jr, Ferrell has averaged a ridiculous 19.8 points, 4.0 rebounds, 5.8 assists, and 1.8 steals as he has led the Hoosiers to a 5-0 conference start. He’s also made most of his big plays in the second half when his team has needed a big play. Sure the turnovers are a little high (2.8 per game on the season and 3.8 during the last five games without JBJ), but there are few players in college basketball that mean more to their teams and he should start getting recognized for it.

Hoosiers In The NBA: Playing On Struggling Teams

NOTE: Hello everyone and welcome to a new edition of Hoosiers In The NBA on its new site! Please try to spread the word by liking it on Facebook or retweeting this on Twitter if you enjoyed it. Of course this is completely optional but it is greatly appreciated. Otherwise I hope you enjoy this latest edition and for more coverage follow me on twitter at @QTipsForSports or just look for the hashtag #HoosiersInTheNBA:

During my previous two seasons of covering former Hoosiers in the NBA, I was rewarded with covering someone who ended up making the NBA playoffs (Cody Zeller and the Charlotte Bobcats in 2013-2014, Eric Gordon and the New Orleans Pelicans in 2014-2015). While the season is only around its midpoint, all four former Hoosiers currently see their teams outside of the playoff picture and trending downward. So for this week, I’m going to go over which Hoosiers have the best chance of seeing the postseason and what each of them can do to help their team:

Eric Gordon: Guard, New Orleans Pelicans:

@ Los Angeles Lakers (L 95-91): 14 points (6-9 FG)(1-1 FT), 2 rebounds, assist, block, turnover, 3 personal fouls, 27 minutes.

@ Sacramento (W 109-97): 24 points (9-19 FG), 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals, block, turnover, 2 personal fouls, 43 minutes.

Vs Charlotte (W 109-107): 10 points (4-12 FG), rebound, 2 assists, steal, turnover, 32 minutes.

At the beginning of the season Eric Gordon was thought to have the best shot of making the postseason out of any former Hoosier, and that statement probably still holds true but for a different reason. The expectations heading into this season were that the New Orleans Pelicans were going to make a big jump as Anthony Davis transformed into a MVP-caliber player. Injuries all over the roster have stunted any growth and chemistry as the Pelicans have hobbled to a 13-26 record so far this season, 4.5 games back of the eighth spot in the Western Conference. Despite the sizable gap, the Pelicans are far and away the best of the teams fighting for that final spot, that is when New Orleans is healthy. However, Gordon also has another option. With the trade deadline about a month away, teams trying to make a playoff run usually go shopping for an extra veteran who can help the team strengthen a weakness. Usually those teams prefer grabbing players on expiring contracts so they aren’t stuck with the player after this season if they don’t want them. Well not only is Gordon a great three-point shooter (something many playoff teams love to add) but he’s also in the last year of his contract. It will depend upon whether or not the Pelicans are buyers or sellers at the trade deadline, but either scenario is a good scenario for Gordon.

Victor Oladipo: Guard, Orlando Magic:

Vs Toronto (L 106-103 OT): 27 points (10-20 FG)(2-2 FT), 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, 3 turnovers, 3 personal fouls, 45 minutes.

After years of wait-and-see, the Orlando Magic surprised everyone to start the season as it looked like the rebuild was finally over. Yet a record of 20-19, one game behind the Boston Celtics for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, actually seems like a disappointment. The reason it feels that way is because the Magic , who were 19-13 over the first two months of the season, are only 1-6 since the calendar switched to 2016. It’s not like the Magic aren’t trying to fix things as they have tried all kinds of strategies, some of which include moving Victor Oladipo to the bench and then later making him the starting point guard. It’s hard to discount the only above-.500 NBA team with a Hoosier on it to not be the favorite to make the playoffs but you can get a sense that maybe the early success was the Magic catching everyone off guard and now the Association has caught on and adjusted. The only thing that gives the Magic a really good chance of grabbing a playoff spot is if one of the players takes over as the team’s alpha dog. We’ve seen Oladipo become the Magic’s alpha dog during quite a few games over his career but if he really is the leader of this team, he’s needs to show it on a nightly basis.

Noah Vonleh: Forward, Portland Trail Blazers:

Vs Utah (W 99-85): 4 points (2-7 FG), 5 rebounds, assist, 19 minutes.

@ Brooklyn (W 116-104): 6 points (3-8 FG), 4 rebounds, personal foul, 16 minutes.

@ Philadelphia (L 114-89): 9 points (3-5 FG)(3-4 FT), 5 rebounds, assist, steal, turnover, 5 personal fouls, 21 minutes.

Just like the Pelicans, Noah Vonleh and the Portland Trail Blazers are very much in the running for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference despite not being a very good team. Yet even though the Trail Blazers are 18-25 and just 1.5 games back of the eighth seed, they seem like the team least likely to make the playoffs. Right from the beginning this season was meant to be a rebuilding year after the team lost key players from their last few playoff teams like Nic Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge. Many of the decisions, including the one to continue to start Vonleh to help him develop, was with the purpose of tanking. Now if the Trail Blazers were in a position to fight for a playoff seed in the 4-6 range that would be worth pursuing, but trying to grab the last seed only to get swept by either the Golden State Warriors or the San Antonio Spurs would be a waste of a season considering they wouldn’t get a lottery pick in that situation. Vonleh and crew are talented and well-coached enough to make the playoffs but, as their blowout loss to the Philadelphia 76ers showed, they probably don’t want to go to the playoffs.

Cody Zeller: Forward, Charlotte Hornets:

Vs Atlanta (W 107-84): 19 points (6-10 FG)(7-8 FT), 10 rebounds, assist, steal, 3 blocks, turnover, 2 personal fouls, 27 minutes.

@ New Orleans (L 109-107): 5 points (2-7 FG)(1-1 FT), 8 rebounds, assist, turnover, 3 personal fouls, 23 minutes.

Vs Milwaukee (L 105-92): 6 points (2-6 FG)(2-2 FT), 2 rebounds, assist, 5 personal fouls, 23 minutes.

The Pelicans aren’t the only team that has seen their progress stunted by injuries. The Charlotte Hornets have also seen their record take a huge hit because of the injury bug. However, injuries have hurt the Hornets far worse when you consider that the team made a lot of personnel changes to speed up the offensive tempo during the offseason. Not only has the team had to change their lineup so many times, but even when the Hornets had their preferred starting five they haven’t been able to generate chemistry. As a result the Hornets are 18-22, 3.5 games out of the eighth seed,  and have lost nine of their last ten. However, like the Pelicans, the Hornets are a very talented team when healthy. Also, the injuries have a silver lining as it has forced extra playing time and more responsibilities for Cody Zeller and Frank Kaminsky. As a result, Zeller is finally living up to his potential as a franchise starting center and Kaminsky has seen his performance drastically improve over the course of the season. As long as those two continue to improve and other players are able to stay healthy, the Hornets should eventually generate some chemistry and will have a chance to make a late-season playoff push.

Season averages:

Eric Gordon: 15.1ppg, 2.2rpg, 2.7apg, 0.95spg, 0.31bpg, 1.5tpg, 2.2fpg, 41.1% FG, 37.4% 3FG, 88.1% FT, 33.5mpg.

Victor Oladipo: 13.5ppg, 4.9rpg, 4.0apg, 1.30spg, 0.65bpg, 2.2tpg, 2.2fpg, 40.5% FG, 34.5% 3FG, 81.3% FT, 30.0mpg.

Noah Vonleh: 3.3ppg, 3.8rpg, 0.5apg, 0.47spg, 0.23bpg, 0.6tpg, 1.9fpg, 39.6% FG, 15.0% 3FG, 83.3% FT, 15.6mpg.

Cody Zeller: 9.0ppg, 6.0rpg, 0.9apg, 0.89spg, 0.71bpg, 0.9tpg, 2.9fpg, 50.4% FG, 0.0% 3FG, 73.4% FT, 24.6mpg.