WHY HAVE BILLS PASSED ON FREE-AGENT RECEIVERS?
ORANGE NEED MORE FROM CHRISTMAS AND COONEY
COLABELLO IS STILL HITTING
SABRES DESERVE NO. 1 OVERALL PICK
Buffalo Bills general manager Doug Whaley has done a good job improving the team’s depth in the first week of free agency but I wonder why he has done nothing to upgrade the receivers for second-year quarterback EJ Manuel.
Buffalo showed some encouraging signs last season but the passing attack was not one of them. The NFL is more than ever a passing league and the 2013 Bills were way below par.
The list of free-agent wide receivers who changed teams last week includes big names Eric Decker (to the Jets), Steve Smith (to Baltimore), Golden Tate (to Detroit) and Hakeem Nicks (to Indianapolis). Plus Brandon LaFell (to New England) and Emmanuel Sanders (to Denver). Kenny Britt (Tennessee) could be next.
Any of those players would’ve helped Buffalo.
Wide receiver is among the deepest positions in the 2014 NFL draft and the Bills figure to tap that talent lode at least once, but if they had landed a proven No. 1-type receiver in free agency, they would’ve made it easier to use the No. 9 overall pick on the offensive tackle (Jake Matthews or Greg Robinson or Taylor Lewan) the team needs so badly to protect Manuel and bolster the run blocking up the middle.
For the record, here are the top wide receivers in the draft: Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Marquise Lee, Kelvin Benjamin, Allen Robinson, Odell Beckham Jr., Brandin Cooks, Jordan Matthews, Jarvis Landry, Donte Moncrief, Paul Richardson.
CHRISTMAS AND COONEY NEED TO STEP UP – AND QUICKLY
Syracuse U. coach Jim Boeheim says he has a dangerous team entering the NCAA tournament. I believe he’s at least 60 percent correct – the C.J. Fair, Jerami Grant and Tyler Ennis part. That trio gets the job done almost every game.
But how far the Orange go in this tournament is up to the two other starters -- Rakeem Christmas and Trevor Cooney.
Christmas is a decent college center but has the talent to be better. He has an encouraging performance approximately once in every three or four games. He has the size, strength and coordination to be an offensive threat but seldom tries to assert himself in the scoring zone. Ditto reserve center Baye-Moussa Keita. They both appear programmed to get offensive rebounds and then think pass first and go-back-up second. That’s too bad, because they’re both decent foul shooters for their size.
Cooney, SU’s top scoring threat from the perimeter, has been in a bad shooting slump. Here are his numbers since he hit nine 3-point field goals and scored a career-high 33 points against Notre Dame:
First 22 games – 101x219 (.461 field-goal percentage)...68x156 (.435 3-point FG percentage)
Last 10 games – 27-for-97 (.278 field-goal percentage)...18x72 (.250 3-point FG percentage).
Can Christmas get a nose for the basket and can Cooney regain his shooting touch in time to help take SU to the Final Four? Maybe. This Orange team has the basic ingredients – barely – to do deep into this tournament. But if Christmas and Cooney continue to struggle, a trip to the Sweet 16 is no lock.
A QUICK GLANCE AT THE WESTERN MICHIGAN BRONCOS
Syracuse, the No. 4 seed in the South, will open against No. 14 seed Western Michigan Thursday, 2:45 p.m., in Buffalo’s First Niagara Center. Obviously, the crowd will be mainly pro-SU.
The Broncos are a hot team. They were 11-8 after an 84-63 loss at the University of Buffalo on Jan. 29. Since then, Western Michigan is on a 12-1 roll. The only loss during that span was 96-85 in overtime at Toledo March 1. The Broncos later at home avenged that loss.
Western Michigan averaged 72.5 points (124th in the nation) this season, with a solid .466 field-goal-goal percentage (61st). Syracuse, against tougher competition (ACC compared to the Mid-American Conference), averaged 68.2 points (253rd) and had a .437 field-goal percentage (206th).
One plus for SU is that Western Michigan is not a great 3-point shooting team (.332 compared to SU’s .335). Long-range shooting is one way outclassed teams can pull off early-round NCAA upsets.
David Brown, who leads the Broncos with 19.4 points per game, also is the team’s top 3-point threat (78-for-237). Austin Richie is 42-for-102 from long range. Shane Whittington averages 16.3 points and 9.1 rebounds.
SU’s Rakeem Christmas figures to have his hands full against 6-foot-11, 245-pound senior center Shayne Whittington, who averaged 16.3 points and 9.1 rebounds this season.
COLABELLO MAKING STRONG BID TO STICK WITH TWINS
Chris Colabello, the 2013 International League MVP and Rookie of the Year with the Rochester Red Wings, passed up a lucrative offer to play in South Korea this season in favor of a chance to stick with the Minnesota Twins. His gutsy gamble could pay off.
Colabello is hitting .385 (10-for-26), with 3 doubles, 1 HR and 7 RBi for Minnesota in spring training. He appears to have a good chance to break camp with the Twins. Left-handed hitting Joe Mauer is Minnesota’s new starting first baseman. The right-handed hitting Colabello could help the Twins as sub first baseman and right fielder, DH and pinch-hitter.
Colabello lneeded only 89 games last season became the 12th Rochester Red Wings player to be selected IL MVP since the award began in 1932. His numbers measured up nicely to the previous MVPs from Rochester:
1940 – Mike Ryba (pitcher) 24-8 record; 2.92 ERA
1943 – Red Schoendienst, 136 games; .337; 21 doubles; 5 triples; 37 RBI; 20 steals
1950 – Tom Poholsky (pitcher) 18-6 record; 2.17 ERA
1966 – Mike Epstein, 141 games; .309; 25 doubles; 5 triples; 29 HRs; 102 RBI
1968 – Merv Rettenmund, 114 games; .331; 25 doubles; 5 triples; 22 HRs; 59 RBI
1970 – Roger Freed, 138 games; .334; 30 doubles; 6 triples; 24 HRs; 130 RBI
1971 – Bobby Grich,... 130 games; .336; 26 doubles; 9 triples; 32 HRs; 83 RBI
1973 – Jim Fuller, 144 games; .247; 25 doubles; 39 HRs; 108 RBI; 197 strikeouts
1976 – Rich Dauer, 132 games; 26 doubles; 11 HRs; 78 RBI
1988 – Craig Worthington, 121 games; .244; 25 doubles; 16 HRs; 73 RBI
1994 – Jeff Manto, 131 games; .297; 31 doubles; 31 HRs; 100 RBI
2013 – Chris Colabello, 89 games; 25 doubles; 24 HRs; 76 RBI; 1.065 OPS.
SABRES DESERVE NO. 1 OVERALL DRAFT PICK
If poor performance determined the No. 1 overall pick in the NHL entry draft, the Buffalo Sabres deserve it. Unfortunately, due to the current lottery formula, the team with the worst record in the regular season has only a 25 percent chance to win the right to select No. 1. It can get no worse than the No. 2 overall pick.
Here is how the Sabres rank in the 30-team NHL after a 2-0 home loss to Montreal Sunday and entering a five-game trip:
Wins – 19 (30th)
Points percentage -- .338 (30th)
Goals scored – 1.85 per game (30th)
Fewest goals allowed – 2.91 per game (24th)
Goal differential -- -70 (30th)
Shots per game – 26.4 (30th)
Fewest shots allowed per game – 34.8 (29th)
Shot differential per game -- -8.4 (30th)
Power play percerntage – 14.2 (28th)
Penalty killing percentage – 82.0 (15th).
The Tennessee Titans signed journeyman quarterback Charlie Whitehurst before releasing former Buffalo Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. That doesn’t mean the Titans thought Whitehurst is better than Fitzpatrick. It just means that the Titans found Fitz wanting as a starting QB and wanted to save the $500,000 roster bonus and $2.75 million base salary he had coming for this season. Fitzpatrick will have a new team soon because he is a far above average No. 2 quarterback. In fact, he’d be an upgrade in Buffalo as EJ Manuel’s backup.
Toronto’s BMO Field, home of the Major League Soccer Toronto FC, is getting a $120 million upgrade and will expand seating capacity from 20,000 to 30,000 for soccer and 25,000 for football. The Canadian Football League Argonauts are expected to move from Rogers Centre to MMO Field in a few years.
The Buffalo Bandits drew 15,455 for Saturday night’s National Lacrosse League 12-9 home victory over the Colorado Mammoth (John Grant Jr. had 4 goals and 2 assists and the Toronto Rock drew 10,832 for a 17-12 home loss to Rochester. ... A crowd of 10,691 in Calgary Friday night saw the Roughnecks lose to the Edmonton Rush 15-7. Edmonton now is 10-0. The Rush play at Rochester Saturday, March 29.
Fun factoid for New York Yankees fans: Four of the team’s outfielders have led the American League in stolen bases (Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Alfonso Soriano and Ichiro Suzuki).
Josh McCown will be 35 when he starts at quarterback for Tampa Bay this season. After signing a two-year, $10-million contract as a free agent, McCown was quickly named starter over second –year QB Mike Glennon by new Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith. That wouldn’t have happened in Buffalo, where second-year QB EJ Manuel appears a lock to start. Tampa Bay was 4-12 last season and is making serious moves to improve.
Phil Jackson isn’t likely to turn around the New York Knicks and he’s way too smart to name himself coach. He’s always coached with a loaded deck and the current Knicks mostly play like they’re loaded.
Can the Edmonton Rush at Rochester Knighthawks showdown Saturday, March 239, sell out Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial? The teams have earned it. Edmonton is off to the first 10-0 start in National Lacrosse League history. Rochester is 9-3 after a weekend sweep of Toronto and Philadelphia. All three losses were on the road (including Edmonton) by one goal. The Rush have an NLL-best +40 goal differential and Rochester is second-best at +34. If you’ve never seem a K-hawks game, this would be a golden opportunity.
Have you noticed how little exposure baseball gets on ESPN? It’s more proof that football rules. It’s a good thing Major League Baseball has its own network.