Matthews: Good Try By The Orange But Zion Williamson Was Too Much

GOOD TRY BY THE ORANGE BUT ZION WILLIAMSON WAS TOO MUCH

Overmatched Syracuse put up a good battle Thursday night in an 84-72 loss to Duke but the Orange had no answer for Zion Williamson, who returned from a six-game absence to score 29 points and dominate the Atlantic Coast Conference quarterfinal game.

Mount Zion connected on all 13 of his shots and had 14 rebounds and 5 steals. He showed why he’ll be college basketball’s Player of the Year as a freshman and surely will be the No. 1 overall pick in this spring’s NBA draft. He’s a rare blend of size (at least 6-foot-7 and 285 pounds), awesome power, quickness and energy. And he loves to play. Why shouldn’t he?

After the game, SU coach Jim Boeheim summed up Williamson pretty well: “I’ve been in this game over 50 years, and I’ve seen some great players. I’m not saying he’s better than those guys, but he can do things nobody has done in this game. He’s crazy (good). He’s a different type of player. There’s not guys like him.”

Tyus Battle, SU’s best player, sat out his second straight game with a badly bruised tailbone. But the Orange probably wouldn’t have won even if he had played. With Battle on the sidelines, teammates Frank Howard and Buddy Boeheim got more playing time and combined for 43 points. 7-foot-2 center Paschal Chukwu was overpowered and played seven minutes before fouling out.

SU will make the NCAA Tournament and could win a game or two. The inconsistent Orange have no shortage of talent but seldom have all of their players in top form in the same game.

With the return of Williamson – the Blue Devils were 3-3 in the games he missed -- Duke is my pick to go all the way.

BASEBALL’S 100 BEST PLAYERS...LET THE DEBATES BEGIN

If you like baseball a lot – like I do – you might look forward to one of ESPN’s annual rites of spring –ranking the 100 best players.

ESPN asks 50-or-so network-affiliated reporters and contributors to project and rank the 100 best players based on expectations for the upcoming season.

The results are interesting and always inspire debate.

Here are the rankings for the 2019 season. The players are grouped by team – from the most players in the top 100 to the fewest:

Yankees (9 players)Aaron Judge (11th-best player)...Luis Severino (23)...Giancarlo Stanton (31)...James Paxton (43)...Aroldis Chapman (47)...Gary Sanchez (67)...Glyber Torres (78)...Miguel Andujar (84)...Aaron Hicks (88).

Red Sox (7) – Mookie Betts (2)...Chris Sale (9)...J. D. Martinez (17)...Andrew Benintendi (50)...Xander Bogaerts (57)...David Price (69)...Nathan Eovalidi (98).

Astros (7) – Alex Bregman (6)...Jose Altuve (10)...Justin Verlander (22)...Carlos Correa (27)...Gerrit Cole (30)...George Springer (37)...Roberto Osuna (95).

Indians (6) – Francisco Lindor (8)...Jose Ramirez (14)...Corey Kluber (16)...Trevor Bauer (39)...Carlos Carrasco (44)...Brad Hand (73).

Nationals (6) – Max Scherzer (3)...Anthony Rondon (32)...Juan Soto (35)...Stephen Strasburg (46)...Patrick Corbin (52)...Trea Turner (54).

Mets (6) – Jacob deGrom (4)...Noah Syndergaard (25)...Edwin Diaz (36)...Robinson Cano (82)...Zach Wheeler (83)...Michael Conforto (99).

Dodgers (6) – Clayton Kershaw (41)...Walker Buehler (42)...Corey Seager (49)...Justin Turner (53)...Kenley Jansen (60)...Cody Bellinger (61).

Brewers (5) – Christian Yelich (7)...Josh Hader (33)...Lorenzo Cain (56)...Yasmani Grandal (80).

Cubs (5) – Kris Bryant (21)...Javier Baez (29)...Anthony Rizzo (38)...Willson Contreras (92)...Jon Lester (97).

Phillies (5) – Bryce Harper (15)...Aaron Nola (24)...J.T. Realmuto (28)...Rhys Hoskins (45)...Jean Segura (79).

Reds (5) – Joey Votto (26)...Eugenio Suarez (77)... Raisel Iglesias (85)...Yasiel Puig (93)...Scooter Gennett (94).

Rockies (5) – Nolan Arenado (5)...Trevor Story (48)...Charlie Blackmon (55)...German Marquez (81)...Kyle Freeland (91).

Athletics (4) – Matt Chapman (34)...Blake Treinen (51)...Khris Davis(63)...Matt Olson (87).

Braves (4) – Freddie Freeman (18)...Ramon Acuna Jr. (20)...Ozzie Albies (58)...Josh Donaldson (90).

Cardinals (4) – Paul Goldschmidt (13)...Matt Carpenter (40)...Miles Mikolas (76)...Marcell Ozuna (96).

Angels (3) – Mike Trout (1)...Andrelton Simmons (64)...Shohei Ohtani (74).

Giants (2) – Buster Posey (62)...Madison Bumgarner (71).

Pirates (2) – Jameson Taillon (66)...Starling Marte (100).

Blue Jays (1) – Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (68).

Diamondbacks (1) – Zack Greinke (65).

Mariners (1) – Mitch Haniger (70).

Padres (1) – Manny Machado (19).

Rays – Blake Snell (12).

Royals (1) – Whit Merrifield (75).

Twins (1) – Jose Berrios (72).

White Sox (1) – Jose Abreu (89).

Un-signed free agents (2) – Craig Kimbrel (59)...Dallas Keuchel (86).

Bob’s reaction – The biggest surprise is Bryce Harper ranked a mere 15 (but I don’t disagree with it)..Am I unfair regarding Yasmani Grandal? I don’t like his bat or catcher’s glove. I’d rate him closer to 180 than 80...I like Alex Bregman, but ranked 6 seems generous at this early stage of his career...I’d rank Joey Votto better than 26 and Khris Davis better than 63...I think Trea Turner will be at least top 20 next year...Twins young outfielders Eddie Rosario and/or Byron Buxton would make my top 100.

BILLS, BROWNS AND JETS ALL LOOKING BETTER

Free agency officially began Wednesday and the NFL draft won’t be until April 25-26-27, but early returns suggest that the Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns and New York Jets all figure to be stronger than they were last season.

The biggest reason to expect improvement is that the three young quarterbacks – Josh Allen (Bills), Sam Darnold (Jets) and Baker Mayfield (Browns) – figure to be better after paying their dues as rookies last season. And they’ll be complemented by more offensive talent.

The three teams have done well so far with free agents and trades. The Bills added two veteran wide receivers (John Brown and Cole Beasley), a veteran tight end (Tyler Croft), an old running back who still can play (Frank Gore), a productive kick returner (Andre Roberts) and four new linemen (Mitch Morse, Spencer Long, Ty Nsekhe and Jon Feliciano.) The Browns should be an offensive powerhouse with the additions of wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., and running back Kareem Hunt...Running back Le’Veon Bell could improve the Jets by two games all by himself.

The 2019 schedules for the three teams appear manageable:

Buffalo: Home Miami, New England, Jets, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Denver Philadelphia, Washington...Road Miami, New England, Jets, Cleveland, Dallas, NY Giants, Pittsburgh, Tennessee.

Cleveland : Home Baltimore, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, LA Rams, Miami, Seattle, Tennessee...Road Baltimore, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Arizona, Denver, New England, NY Jets, San Francisco.

NY Jets: Home Buffalo, Miami, New England, Cleveland, Dallas, NY Giants, Oakland, Pittsburgh...Road Buffalo, Miami, New England, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Jacksonville, Philadelphia, Washington.

2018 records – Buffalo 6-10...Cleveland 7-8-1 (0-16 in 2017)...NY Jets 4-12.

Bob’s way-too-early predicted records for 2019 – Buffalo 9-7...Cleveland 10-6...NY Jets 8-8.

GOALIE SCOTT WEDGEWOOD IN TOP FORM FOR THE AMERKS

The Rochester Amerks will be among the favorites to win the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup this spring. Goalie Scott Wedgewood will be a big reason.

Rochester has won the Calder Cup six times. Each time, stellar play in goal was a huge factor: Gerry Cheevers in 1965...Bobby Perreault/Gary Smith in 1966...Bobby Perreault in 1968...Jacques Cloutier in 1983 (Phil Myre was Rochester’s primary goalie in the regular season but he was recalled by Buffalo for the playoffs)...Daren Puppa in 1987...Steve Shields in 1996 (OK in the regular season but great in the playoffs).

Wedgewood’s performance line this season after Wednesday’s 3-0 home win over Utica: 25-10-2 record; 2.48 goals-against average; .912 save percentage; 5 shutouts.

The best regular season ever by a goalie for the Amerks probably was Ryan Miller in the 2004-05 season: 63 games; 2.45 goals-against average; .922 save percentage; team-record 8 shutouts.

THE BEAT(INGS) GO ON FOR THE SABRES

The Buffalo Sabres lost 5-0 at home Thursday night to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Sadly, the Sabres are playing like penguins (no offense to penguins, they’re not supposed to be good at hockey).

Here’s another sad breakdown for the Sabres:

17-6-2 record after their 10th straight victory November 27 (36 of 50 possible points in the standings).

13-25-7 record since (33 of 90 possible points in the standings).

ANTONIO BROWN NOT LIKELY TO TOP JERRY RICE’S RECORDS

New Oakland Raiders wide receiver Antonio Brown’s ego is bigger than his football talent – and that’s saying a lot.

At his introductory press conference Wednesday, Brown said his “ultimate goal” is to pass Jerry Rice as the NFL’s all-time leading receiver.

Brown will turn 31 on July 10. Through nine seasons, he has more catches for more yards and TDs than Rice had in his first nine seasons.

But here’s the catch: Rice played until he was 42.

Brown is a workout warrior but even he isn’t likely to last long enough to catch Rice in the major categories for wide receivers: receptions, yards receiving and TD catches. Rice leads them all by wide margins:

Receptions – Rice 1,325...2nd Tony Gonzalez 1,325...3rd Larry Fitzgerald 1,303...28th Antonio Brown 837.

Yards receiving – Rice 22,895...2nd Larry Fitzgerald 16,279...3rd Terrell Owens 15,934...34th Antonio Brown 11,207.

TD catches – Rice 197...2nd Randy Moss 156...3rd Terrell Owens 153...t35th Antonio Brown 74.

Brown needs 713 catches for 11,689 yards and 124 TD catches to top Rice. Extremely unlikely.

BOB’S DREAM 2019 HOME RUN DERBY FIELD IS...

This season Home Run Derby the night before the All-Star Game will be the first with a $1 million prize to the winner. The total pot for the participants will be $2.5 million.

The idea of course is to attract the best possible field of sluggers.

Since the Home Run Derby began in 1985, the quality of the field has gradually slipped.

Last season’s eight-player field – Bryce Harper, Max Muncy, Jesus Aguilar, Javier Baez, Rhys Hoskins, Alex Bregman, Kyle Schwarber, Freddie Freeman.

Bob’s preferred eight sluggers for the 2019 Home Run Derby (subject to change but it lo0ks good now) – Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Khris Davis, Mike Trout, Nolan Arenado, Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, Francisco Lindor.

OF COURSE FRANK GORE IS A FUTURE HALL OF FAMER

I heard a TV sports talking head this week wonder aloud if new Bills running back Frank Gore is a future Pro Football Hall of Famer.

Of course he is.

Gore has the fourth-most rushing yards in NFL history (14,748). He trails only Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders. That’s fast company. He has nine 1,000-yard rushing seasons.

His career performance line: 3,382 carries for 14,748 yards; 77 rushing TDs; 455 catches for 3,796 yards and 18 TDs. He’ll turn 36 on May 14 but he still can play and loves to play.

SHORT SHOTS

Major League Baseball’s decision to expand rosters by one player (from 25 to 26) starting next season will dilute the talent at Triple-A and every other level.

Most of the veteran Rochester Knighthawks traded by owner/GM Curt Styres in recent weeks didn’t care to play in Halifax next season. And most of them will be participating in this season’s National Lacrosse League playoffs for their new teams.

Are the 18th-ranked Buffalo Bulls underrated? They were favored by 10 ½ points over Akron in Thursday’s MAC quarterfinals and won by 36 points. The Zips did a nice impression of Zippy Chippy.

The 22nd horse to be put down after breaking down at Santa Anita in California since December 26 was three-year-old filly Princess Lili who broke both front legs at the end of a workout on the dirt track Thursday morning. Racing remains indefinitely suspended but limited workouts (jogging and galloping) resumed Monday.

Cheers to former Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor for his free-agent signing with the Los Angeles Chargers but he probably won’t get a start as long as Philip Rivers is healthy.

HAPPY SPORTS BIRTHDAY TO...

Friday, Match 15

Jabari Parker 24...Michael Fulmer 26...Xavier Henry 28...Eric Decker 32...Jon Jay 34...Kevin Youkilis 40...Harold Baines 60...Terry Cummings 60...Stump Mitchell 60. Eva Longoria 44 and Ruth Bader Ginsburg 86 are invited to the birthday party.

Saturday, March 16

Joel Embiid 25...Tim Hardaway Jr. 27...Blake Griffin 30...Levi Brown 35...Curtis Granderson 38...Todd Heap 39...Pat Harlow 50...Rodney Peete 53...Mel Gray 58...Duane Sutter 59...Ozzie Newsome 63...Hollis Stacy 65...Sammy White 65...Al MacAdam 67...Joe DeLamielleure 68.

Sunday, March 17

Katie Ladecky 22...Terry Rozier 25...Rhys Hoskins 26...Jean Segura 29...Juan Lagares 30...Emmanuel Sanders 32...Chris Davis 33...Kyle Korver 38...Samoa Joe 40...Mia Hamm 47...Bill Mueller 48...Chris Luongo 52...Danny Ainge 60...Chuck Muncie 66...Stan Weir 67...Craig Ramsay 68...Cito Gaston 75. Rob Lowe 55, Gary Sinise 64 and Kurt Russell 68 are invited to the birthday party.

ON THIS DATE IN SPORTS...

March 15

150 years ago (1869), the Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first professional baseball team...61 years ago (1958), star center Maurice Stokes of the Cincinnati Royals collapsed during a playoff game with encephalitis. He went into a coma and was permanently disabled...51 years ago (1968), Bob Beamon set the indoor long jump world record (27 feet, 2 ¾ inches)...31 years ago (1988), the NFL St. Louis Cardinals officially moved to Phoenix...28 years ago (1991), Sergei Bubka pole vaulted a world record 20 feet, 1 ¾ inches.

March 16

119 years ago (1900), baseball’s American League was formed...34 years ago (1985), Denny McLain was convicted of racketeering and sentenced to 25 years...1996 (23 years ago), Mike Tyson KOd Frank Bruno in the third round for the heavyweight title.

March 17

64 years ago (1955), there were riots in Montreal after Canadiens star Maurice Richard was suspended for the remainder of the season...25 years ago (1994), it was announced that so smoking would be allowed in the new stadium for the Cleveland Indians.

Bob Matthews' Column

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