Take 5: This is March


Hector Amezcua/Sacramento Bee/TNS

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) makes a pass against the Oakland Raiders on Dec. 9, 2018, at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, California.

By Staff

It’s officially March, which means there’s no shortage of sports news. March Madness is so close you can almost feel it, but make sure you don’t overlook the conference tournaments as you wait for Selection Sunday. The NFL Draft is just a month away and no one knows for sure whose name will get called first — but Josh Allen deserves just as much consideration as the rest of them. And finally, baseball. It’s right around the corner and the Pittsburgh Pirates will once again compete for the title of World Series Champion, but that won’t happen until they start to spend some money.

This is March

As the old nursery tale goes, March comes like a lion and leaves like a lamb, illustrating the wild weather of the year’s third month. But when it comes to college basketball — what March is truly known for — the old tale is flipped. March comes in like a lamb, as regular season and conference play come to an end, and then it leaves like a lion as tournaments across the country begin. College basketball in March is different. It isn’t the endless slates of college basketball fans see each week in January and February — March brings with it games that matter.

As the last days of regular season conference play fade, they give way to conference tournaments. Conference tournaments give teams that would not have made it otherwise their last chance at the Big Dance. For these teams, their dreams of dancing rely on an automatic bid that they will only receive from winning their conference tournament. Last season’s Cinderella, UMBC, became famous when it became the first No. 16 seed to upset a No. 1 seed, toppling the Cavaliers. But the Golden Retrievers may never have gotten to that peak without their lesser-known stunner — a buzzer-beater to knock off Vermont, then the top seed of the American East tournament.

So strap in. The fun is just beginning. Start paying attention to the smaller conferences and the teams that aren’t leading SportsCenter each night, because this is March. And in March, anything can happen.

-Ben Bobeck, Staff Writer

Aim for Allen, Arizona

With the NFL Combine coming to an end this Monday, the dust is beginning to settle on teams’ final college prospect rankings. For the team with the No. 1 overall pick, the Arizona Cardinals, either Heisman-winning Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray or Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa sit atop the big board and will be the first name called during the NFL Draft.

Even though many believe the top pick should be Murray or Bosa, the real number-one selection should be Josh Allen.

Murray, a fantastic collegiate quarterback, is not worthy of being the number-one pick due to his lack of size and his questionable passion for the game. Murray measured 5-feet-10 at the NFL Combine, which would make him the smallest starting quarterback in the NFL. In addition, Murray only committed to playing football two months ago.

Bosa tore his ACL in high school and injured his core muscles last year, causing him to miss most of his final season. Bosa sitting out reflects either a lack of competitiveness to return and help his teammates or a lack of durability, either of which should concern NFL teams.

Unlike Murray or Bosa, Kentucky outside linebacker and defensive end Josh Allen has no glaring weaknesses and possesses the right character to be a very successful pro. Allen was a two-star recruit coming out of high school and had to grind his way to winning this year’s Chuck Bednarik Award. Additionally, despite pressure not to, Allen decided to play football his senior year, where he amassed 17 sacks, including three in the bowl game against Penn State.

While Bosa and Murray may end up as fine pros, it’s clear Allen should be the first overall pick.

-Peter Bosco, for The Pitt News

Souring Steelers

The Steelers have had a tumultuous offseason already and free agency hasn’t even begun yet. The team is geared to lose at least one — possibly two — of the top position players in the NFL with running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown.

Blame has been placed on a variety of people, from head coach Mike Tomlin and his inability to keep his players focused and humble to the overestimated value Brown and Bell place on their own talent.

Unfortunately for the Steelers, it seems as if the issue has far deeper roots than poor leadership or greedy stars. A few weeks ago, general manager Kevin Colbert went on record and effectively gave quarterback Ben Roethlisberger full control of the team.

“Ben is the unquestioned leader of this group,” Colbert said. “He has 52 kids under him.”

Although it’s not Colbert’s job to massage the egos of disgruntled stars, saying that Roethlisberger is the only man in a locker room of 53 professional adults is egregious. Respected veterans like Cam Heyward, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro have every right to be upset at such an unfair statement.

Colbert is correct that Roethlisberger is the only Steeler currently on the roster to have won a championship, but when it comes to leadership, the quarterback has a less-than-stellar record. Roethlisberger is credited with running former offensive coordinator Todd Haley out of Pittsburgh based on personal differences, as well as taking blame for losses in post-game interviews and then slinking away to his personal radio show to call out teammates.

The issues with the Steelers begin at the top and trickle all the way down. The locker room desperately needs accountability, but how can they have it if they are just a bunch of kids with a deeply flawed leader?

-Griffin Floyd, Staff Writer

A premature goodbye to finals LeBron

This summer, NBA superstar LeBron James departed from the Cleveland Cavaliers for the second time in his career, this time in favor of the bright lights and glamour of the Los Angeles Lakers. James left the Eastern Conference that he had dominated with eight straight finals appearances for the more competitive West, which has been controlled by dynasties like the Spurs and Warriors for more than a decade.

When James bid a final farewell to the team that had drafted him — to a city that had suffered a 52-year championship drought until the kid from Akron brought it back from a 3-1 series deficit against the record-breaking 73-9 Warriors — fans said goodbye to something, too.

With James’ move to LA and what has became a disastrous season, it’s becoming clear that it’s unlikely fans will ever see another NBA Finals featuring James.

The West is just too good. The Warriors will still be great, even if Kevin Durant departs this offseason. The Nuggets are young and have yet to reach their full potential. Paul George looks to be reaching his apex after signing a deal with the Thunder last summer. On top of all that, the Lakers just don’t look very good.

So, a thank-you for all James’ memorable finals moments is in order — for his Game 6 triple-double against the Spurs in 2013, for his chase-down block of Andre Iguodala that had its image made onto T-shirts and for averaging a triple-double in an entire Finals series in 2017.

Despite James only notching a 3-5 finals record at this point in his career, NBA Finals history is bursting with great James moments. Performances like his may not be seen again for quite some time. Although his finals appearances may have come to a close, sports fans will never forget seeing No. 6 and No. 23 put on a show in June.

-Nick Carlisano

Profits over payroll

The Pittsburgh Pirates accumulated a 280-206 record after a great stretch of baseball from 2013-15, and it seemed baseball had finally returned to the Steel City. Unfortunately for the fans, it now seems as though the Pirates of old have returned. After their first successful years in two decades, the front office decided to scale things back and look to the future.

After its fourth winning season since 1992, the Pittsburgh Pirates are poised to enter the 2019 season with a payroll sitting at roughly $60 million — the second-lowest payroll in the league. After watching Manny Machado sign for $300 million over 10 years and Bryce Harper sign for $330 million over 13 years, it’s acceptable to see how a small-market team like the Pirates can’t compete with the big names.

What is unacceptable is the Pirates’ front office stating that their goal is to win the World Series while fielding a team whose payroll is less than half of the league average. It is bewildering to find anyone who defends how parsimonious the Pirates organization really is.

It is sad for the City of Pittsburgh to see such a historic franchise, led by owner Bob Nutting, as it appears yet again that profit is more important than continued success. If the Pirates are really serious about competing for a world series, they need to open the bank and up their spending to battle with the best.

-Sami Abu-Obaid