2

Teams (Gonzaga, S.Carolina) making their first appearances in the Final Four

LeSean McCoy rushes for 149 yards as the Eagles play their best game so far this season, a 27-0 shellacking of the visiting Giants, and remain tied with the Cowboys for first place in the NFC East. The defense registers eight sacks.

The news that Saint Joseph’s center C.J. Aiken was turning professional was lost in the frenzy of the NCAA Tournament. But not to Eric Fisher, who first wrote about Aiken when he was a 7-year-old boy battling cancer.

Jeremy Maclin’s health and explosiveness are concerns as he enters training camp as the Eagles’ No. 1 receiver for the first time. We’ve got 10 questions to consider as the Eagles begin their second training camp under Chip Kelly.

Archive for May, 2016

Heel Turns: Evaluating WWE brand split

Posted by Achilles Heel On May - 29 - 2016 ADD COMMENTS

Achilles HeelThe big news in an action-packed week is that the Shane McMahon vs. Stephanie McMahon storyline is going to lead to a brand split in WWE, with RAW and Smackdown having distinct rosters.

WWE split its brands earlier this century. The problem was that fans were disappointed certain stars didn’t appear on shows they attended live or, perhaps more importantly, when top stars didn’t appear on pay-per-views because they were part of the “other” brand.

We don’t know the specifics of the upcoming brand split. We don’t know if WWE is going to alternate brands on “premier events,” with the exception of the WrestleMania, SummerSlam, Survivor Series and the Royal Rumble. Without fans shelling out money for specific pay-per-views, however, it won’t be as big of a deal if a top star or two isn’t on a specific event because fans will have paid for a WWE Network subscription rather than for one specific event.

The brand split will create more opportunities for more wrestlers to shine. The spotlight will shine upon more face. It will be interesting to see if WWE has enough quality depth to pull off a successful brand split.

As you might imagine, the Greek God of Wrestling has some observations and advice for WWE.

  • Have one world champion. Don’t have a WWE champion and a world champion, with one on Smackdown and one on RAW. Let Roman Reigns, or whoever is the WWE World Heavyweight champion, appear on both shows. This will uphold the prestige of the WWE world title. Have the United States and Intercontinental championships be the top titles on the individual shows. This will elevate the importance of these two titles.
  • Are there enough women wrestlers for two shows? If so, split the roster and let the Women’s champion (currently Charlotte) appear on both shows. But it might be better to have all of the women on one show (RAW or Smackdown). Otherwise, the matchups could get repetitive.
  • The same thought on the women’s division applies to tag teams. Are there enough tag teams to sustain two separate brands (with the WWE Tag Team champions defending the belts on both shows)?
  • Some crossover is OK, particularly with the Stephanie vs. Shane storyline. The crossover could mostly surround the major events (WrestleMania, SummerSlam, Royal Rumble, Survivor Series). For example, there should be a Smackdown vs. RAW traditional Survivor Series 10-man tag team elimination match. Otherwise, keep the brands separate. One problem during the last brand split is there was too much crossover in the end, in effect diluting the talent and making the brand split almost irrelevant.
  • Make the draft a big deal. Achilles Heel loved the old WWE draft shows, with statistics and picks running along the crawl as if it were the NFL Draft. It was a lot of fun.
  • Keep the rosters balanced. There should not be an impression that RAW is the “A” show and Smackdown is the “B” show. Make sure there the biggest stars are divided equally between the brands.
  • It helps that Mauro Ranallo gives Smackdown a credible lead broadcaster on the same level, if not better, than RAW’s Michael Cole. Broadcasters matter. When Jim Ross was around, his presence on RAW was one of the factors that gave the impression that RAW was the more important show.

The Greek God of Wrestling will have more on the brand split as more details become available. But I am intrigued by the idea.

One of the benefits of splitting the brands, particularly if it leads to alternating pay-per-views (premier events), is it will allow for more time to develop storylines. Feuds will be given more time to develop, allowing fans to invest in the stories and care about the outcome of matches.

The brand split also will give fans more incentive to watch both RAW and Smackdown, which, I’m guessing, is the major motivation behind the brand split.

*****

SMACKDOWN SWITCH: Almost lost in the brand split story is that Smackdown will begin airing live on Tuesday nights, starting on July 19. This isn’t a huge logistical change for WWE. Smackdown is already taped on Tuesday nights.

The larger impact, if you’ll pardon the expression, may be for TNA. Impact Wrestling is broadcast on Tuesday night. Going head-to-head with Smackdown would likely have a negative impact on TNA’s ratings.

*****

GOING EXTREME: WWE’s Extreme Rule featured two outstanding matches. Roman Reigns defeated challenger A.J. Styles to retain the WWE World Heavyweight Championship in a terrific encounter. That match may have been topped, though, by the action-packed Intercontinental Championship match, which ended with The Miz retaining against Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn and Cesaro.

The Asylum match (steel cage with weapons) between Dean Ambrose and Chris Jericho didn’t rise to the level of the two matches mentioned in the preceding paragraph, but it was good. The same could be said of the Women’s Championship submission match between Charlotte and Natalya, which Charlotte won after a distraction by Dana Brooke (dressed in a Ric Flair robe).

The only title to change hands at Extreme Rules was the United States Championship. Rusev defeated an “injured” Kalisto. It’s nice to see Rusev’s career take a step in the right direction after the League of Nations mess.

In a pair of tag team matches, The New Day (Big E and Xavier Woods) retained the WWE Tag Team Championship by defeat the Vaudevillains (Aiden English and Simon Gotch) and Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson beat Jimmy and Jey Uso. In the preshow match, Baron Corbin used a low blow to beat Dolph Ziggler in a no-disqualification battle.

*****

ROLLINS RETURNS: Extreme Rules marked the return of Seth Rollins, who came to the ring after Roman Reigns defeated A.J. Styles and delivered a pedigree to Reigns. Rollins’ return was cheered by WWE fans, but, as he made clear during interviews on RAW and Smackdown, he’s returning as a heel rather that turning into a fan favorite. Either way, it’s wonderful to have the talented and determined Rollins back in action.

*****

CODY BITES THE DUST: Achilles Heel feels bad placing Cody Rhodes’ departure from WWE this far down in Heel Turns. I always felt that Rhodes was underappreciated and underutilized. Apparently, Rhodes felt the same way.

Frustrated at his inability to convince the lead writers for RAW and Smackdown to allow him to ditch the Stardust character and return to being Cody Rhodes, and with an apparent belief that Vince McMahon and Triple H did not believe that he should have a more prominent role, Rhodes requested – and was granted – his release from WWE.

One of the ironies is that Rhodes may have hurt his chances of putting Stardust to rest by doing such a good job with the character. It’s clear that Rhodes did his best to get the oddball character over with fans. It’s obvious that he worked incredibly hard to make the character work.

Another irony is that the upcoming brand split may have given Rhodes more opportunities. But he apparently felt he was going to remain as a borderline enhancement talent instead of as a potential star.

Rhodes never quite matched the success he had with Randy Orton and Ted DiBiase Jr. in The Legacy. But he always competed hard and competed well, producing the best he could with whatever role he was assigned. The Greek God of Wrestling wishes Cody Rhodes success – and is certain he’ll attain it – in wherever his career takes him next.

*****

MEET WWE STARS IN PHILLY: Do you want to meet Seth Rollins? John Cena?  Rollins and Cena, along with other WWE stars, are coming to the Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con at the Pennsylvania Convention Center next week.

Rollins will be signing autographs Thursday at 4 p.m., posing for photos at 5 p.m. and taking part in a Q & A session at 7:30 p.m. Sheamus and Sasha Banks will be appearing on Friday, with Sheamus’ (in order) Q&A, photo and autograph sessions lasting from 3:15-6 p.m., and Banks’ activities (in order: photos, autographs, Q&A) lasting from 4-7 p.m. .

Cena will be at the Convention Center on Sunday from 11 a.m.-3 p.m., with photos from 11 a.m.-p.m. and autographs from 1-3 p.m. Cena’s session overlaps with the Bella Twins’ session, which lasts from noon-4 p.m. Brie and Nikki Bella will pose for photos from noon-1:30 p.m., sign autographs from 1:30-3:30 p.m. and take part in a Q&A session from 3:30-4 p.m.

Tickets are required for admission, autographs and photo opportunities. Advanced purchase is strongly suggested. Here is the link for the tickets to see Rollins.

*****

CHIKARA OVERSEAS: CHIKARA is in the midst of a four-night Anniversario run in the United Kingdom. Princess KimberLee is a feature performer on all four cards, including Monday’s defense of the Grand Championship against Hallowicked in Glasgow, Scotland.

On Friday in Manchester, Mike Quackenbush came out of retirement to face 60-year-old Johnny Kidd in his retirement match. In an eight-round match, Quackenbush and Kidd wrestled to a draw in what was likely a technical masterpiece.

CHIKARA will return to Philadelphia on June 11 for “Tightrope” at The Wrestle Factory at 4711 Wingate Street. The announced matches feature “Mr. Touchdown” Mark Angelosetti vs. Juan Francisco De Coronado, Eddie Kingston vs. Jaka, Missile Assault Man vs. Icarus, and Hallowicked and The Batiri against Fire Ant and N_R_G in a six-man tag team match.

*****

TOURNAMENT OF DEATH: Combat Zone Wrestling (CZW) has released the first-round pairings for Tournament of Death 15 at the Ultraviolent Underground in Townsend, Del., on June 11 (2 p.m.). Danny Havoc will battle Alex Colon in a light tubes match, CZW champion Matt Tremont faces Jeff Cannonball in a home run derby match, Rickey Shane Page squares off with Tim Donst in a “Donst’s choice” match, and Masada faces Conor Claxton in a Barbed Wire Madness match.

*****

FAMILY BREAKUP: Charlotte and Ric Flair were awesome during their family breakup Monday during RAW. Flair’s reactions enhanced the impact of Charlotte’s nasty comments as she kicked her dad to the curb, telling him that she didn’t need him and that he should get out of her ring.

*****

HBK LINE: Shawn Michael attended Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals in Pittsburgh after finding out that the Penguins’ second line of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel has been deemed the “HBK line.” The Penguins lost that game, so the Greek God of Wrestling is uncertain if the superstitious hockey players will want Michaels back for their Stanley Cup Finals series against the Sharks.

*****

TAKEOVER ADDITIONS: In addition to the two title rematches – Finn Balor vs. Samoa Joe for the NXT Championship inside a steel cage and American Alpha (Jason Jordan and Chad Gable) defending the tag team championship against The Revival (Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder) – at “NXT Takeover: The End” I told you about in the last Heel Turns, two new matches have been added. Asuka will defend the NXT Women’s Championship against Nixa Jax. In a highly anticipated match, Austin Aries will battle Shinsuke Nakamura.

*****

BANK STATEMENTS: The main event for WWE’s Money in the Bank on June 19 will feature Roman Reigns defending the WWE World Heavyweight Championship against the returning Seth Rollins, who lost the title due to a severe knee injury. Rollins and Reigns broke into WWE as members of The Shield.

There were qualifying matches on RAW and Smackdown for six of the seven spots in the Money in the Bank ladder match. The qualifiers were Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Dean Ambrose, Cesaro, Chris Jericho and Alberto Del Rio. There is one spot remaining in this match.

*****

CENA RETURNS: After being sidelined by injury since last year, John Cena will return to WWE on the Memorial Day edition of RAW. WWE could use a ratings boost from Cena’s presence as it goes up against Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals and Game 7 of the NBA’s Western Conference Finals on a holiday.

Stanley Cup Finals: The old and the new

Posted by Eric Fisher On May - 29 - 2016 ADD COMMENTS

The simple narrative for the Stanley Cup Finals is that the Penguins, with a wealth of championship playoff experience, are facing the upstart Sharks, who have reached the finals for the first time in franchise history.

The Sharks part of the equation is accurate. Not only haven’t the Sharks reached the finals before, but they only have two players, goalie Martin Jones and forward Dainius Zubrus, who have been to the finals. Jones was a backup to Jonathan Quick two years ago when the Kings won their second Stanley Cup. Zubrus was a rookie when the Flyers were swept by the Red Wings in the 1997 finals, and went to the finals with the Devils in 2012, when they lost to the Kings in six games.

The Penguins have championship experience, but that championship came seven years ago. Since reaching the finals in 2008 and ’09, the Penguins have not returned to the championship round until this year. The Penguins are usually expected to be a Cup contender, which may be why there’s a perception that they have more finals experience than they actually possess.

The coaches are also relative newcomers, both to their teams and the finals. Peter DeBoer, who guided the Devils to the finals in 2012, is in his first season as Sharks head coach. Mike Sullivan took over the Penguins a little more than a third of the way through this season and guided the Penguins to a 33-16-5 mark the rest of the way.

The following is a preview of the Stanley Cup Finals, including analysis and predictions.

PENGUINS vs. SHARKS

PENGUINS

How they got here: The Penguins dispatched the Rangers in five games in the first round, eliminated the Capitals in six games and then outlasted the Lightning in seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Forwards: The Penguins’ leading scorer during the playoffs is not named Crosby or Malkin. Phil Kessel, acquired from the Maple Leafs last summer, leads the Penguins in postseason points with 18 (9 goals, 9 assists). The production of Kessel’s line with Carl Hagelin (5 goals, 7 assists) and Nick Bonino (12 assists) has taken some of the pressure off Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Rookie Bryan Rust, who scored a key insurance goal in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals and both of the Penguins’ goals during their 2-1 Game 7 triumph, also has blossomed into an important asset. Rust will probably be on a line with Malkin and Chris Kunitz. Patrick Hornqvist has seven goals this postseason. The bottom line is that the Penguins have speed and depth on their forward lines. The days of shutting down the Penguins by bottling up Crosby and Malkin are over.

Defense: Not only did the offense improve dramatically after Mike Sullivan took over as head coach, but the defense also got better. There are questions, however, regarding whether the Penguins can handle the Sharks’ potent offense. Defenseman Kris Letang has 10 points this postseason, but the test for the Penguins will be in their own end. Unheralded stay-at-home defensemen such as Brian Dumolin and Ben Lovejoy will be crucial to the Penguins’ fate. The Penguins may miss veteran Trevor Daley, who broke his ankle during Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals

Goalie: Mike Sullivan went back to rookie goalie Matt Murray in the nick of time after making a mistake by replacing him in the middle of the Eastern Conference Finals with veteran Marc-Andre Fleury, who was returning from a long concussion-related absence. Murray is 11-4 during the postseason, with a 2.21 goals-against average and .924 save percentage.

SHARKS

How they got here: The Sharks knocked off the Kings in five games in the first round, survived a stiff challenge from the Predators in seven games and then ousted the Blues in six games in the Western Conference Finals.

Forwards: Joe Pavelski, the first-year captain, is one of the leaders to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player during the playoffs. The center has 13 goals, including four-game-winners. Pavelski has an incredible ability to deflect in shots from the point, which are the type of goals that get past goalies during tight playoff games. Logan Couture leads all postseason scorers with 24 points (8 goals, 16 assists). Veteran Joe Thornton has 15 assists. That trio is a major reason why the Sharks’ power play is clicking at a 27 percent rate during the playoffs, 4.5 percentage points higher than their terrific regular-season power play. Left wing Tomas Hertl (5 goals, 5 assists) completes a terrific top line with Thornton and Pavelski. Couture’s second line includes Patrick Marleau, the No. 2 pick in the 1997 draft who has spent his entire NHL career with the Sharks. Veteran forward Joel Ward, signed as a free agent last summer, scored two goals in the Western Conference Finals-clinching Game 6 win over the Blues. Former Flyer Dainius Zubrus helps solidify the fourth line. A wild card could be forward Matt Nieto, who may return for the finals after missing the entire Western Conference Finals with an “upper-body” injury.

Defense: The Sharks’ defense is deep, talented and physical. Brent Burns has followed up an exceptional regular season (28 goals, 47 assists) with six goals and 14 assists during the playoffs. His defensive partner is Paul Martin, who spent five seasons with the Penguins before signing with the Sharks last summer. But the true shutdown pairing for the Sharks is Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun. Roman Polak, acquired from the Maple Leafs before the trade deadline, brings a physical presence, as does Brenden Dillon.

Goalie: Martin Jones has a 12-6 record, with a 2.12 goals-against average and .919 save percentage. He has held his own during the playoffs in matchups with the Kings’ Jonathan Quick and the Predators’ Pekka Rinne, two of the NHL’s best goalies. The Sharks are very glad they acquired Jones last summer.

Analysis: The Penguins have the firepower to win another Stanley Cup. They had speed, talent and depth on their forward line. Rookie goalie Matt Murray has been terrific for most of the postseason. The only potential Achilles’ heel is whether the defense can handle the Sharks’ attack. Everything seems to be coming together for the Sharks. Veterans and newcomers alike are rising to the occasion. Their power play is tremendous. Assuming nothing strange happens to one of the goalie, the crucial matchup in this series could be the deep and talented Sharks defense against the Penguins’ speedy and talented forwards. Patrick Marleau and long-time Shark Joe Thornton are the sentimental favorites to win the Stanley Cup, but sentimentality doesn’t win championships. Given my dislike of the Penguins, I don’t want to jinx the Sharks by picking them to win after picking against them in every round thus far. Penguins in 7

 

 

Jenkins' 3-pointer wins national title