Take 5 | Gerrit Cole’s potential turnaround, NBA Playoffs and more


AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

New York Yankees’ Gerrit Cole pitches to a Toronto Blue Jays batter during Wednesday’s game in New York.

By The Pitt News Staff

In this week’s edition of the Take 5, The Pitt News Sports Desk takes a look at the Grizzlies’ NBA title chances, how Cale Makar is revolutionizing hockey and more. 

Cale Makar is changing the game of hockey // Zack Gibney, Senior Staff Writer

Good young players are common. They excite fan bases across the sports landscape, giving them hope for the future of their favorite team.

Something that’s not as common? A 23-year-old revolutionizing the way an entire position is viewed by the sport. That’s exactly what Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar is doing in just his third professional season.

The early 2010s brought on a league-wide shift from big, physical defensemen to more skilled and quick blueliners who can move the puck and provide some secondary scoring.

Makar has exemplified that shift to the extreme.

Not only is Makar excellent in the defensive zone, he is one of the league’s top scorers — out of a list that includes forwards. The 23-year old has accumulated 81 points in just 69 games this season — a ludicrous total for the current era of hockey. 

Makar has somehow improved in every season since his rookie year — when he won the Norris Trophy recognizing the NHL’s best defensemen. 

At just 23, Makar already has a reasonable case for the best scoring defenseman since Hall of Famer Paul Coffey.

If he can stay healthy, the young Avs blueliner has a chance to rewrite the record books and change everything we know about NHL defensemen.

Are the Memphis Grizzlies real title contenders? // Will McGlynn, Staff Writer

The 2021-22 NBA season has been anything but predictable. The Lakers and Nets both fell short of preseason expectations, going from title favorites to out of, or almost out of, the playoffs altogether. Demar Derozan found unprecedented stardom with the Bulls, and the underdog Grizzlies put together an amazing season. 

The young Grizzlies find themselves sitting second in the Western Conference, suggesting a chance at an NBA championship — but is it a realistic expectation?

Memphis, led by star point guard Ja Morant, had an electric offense all season and have been all over highlight reels. This Grizzlies team had a couple of signature wins, including an early-season overtime win against the Warriors on Oct. 28, as well as a recent win against the Suns on April 1. The Grizzlies proved they could hang with the best in the West throughout the regular season. 

With very little veteran leadership, young players such as Desmond Bane and Dillon Brooks will have to perform well to give the Grizzlies a real shot at the title. The few veterans they have with playoff experience like Steven Adams will also be crucial as a guiding presence during the playoffs. If they can make these things happen, there is no reason the Grizzlies can’t compete for a title.

Gerrit Cole will pull it together // Jermaine Sykes, Staff Writer

The start of the season has been rocky for New York Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole.

After being named Opening Day starter, Cole gave up three earned runs with only three strikeouts in four innings in his 2022 debut. While the Yankees were able to pull out the extra-inning win versus their rival the Boston Red Sox, the victory had more to do with their bullpen than their $324 million ace. Cole attributed the performance to Opening Day theatrics, but the same cannot be said about his second outing. 

In Cole’s second start, Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Vladamir Guerrero Jr. homered off of him twice. This time the bullpen wasn’t able to clean up for Cole, and the Yankees lost 6-4. Cole has an alarming 5.59 ERA and just nine strikeouts in his two outings.

Coming off of a lackluster AL wildcard performance, performances like these have already soured fans’ perspective on the Yankees ace. 

For fans doubting Cole’s ability to return to stardom, he is among the MLB’s highest-paid pitchers for a reason. Cole saw a similar drop-off in production after the “sticky stuff” ban in 2021 but was able to recover and even received a vote for the AL Cy Young award

The Yankees front office and their fans shouldn’t be worried about Cole in the long run. He will show why the team paid him so much, and will re-enter the AL Cy Young conversation.

The Carolina Hurricanes can win the Stanley Cup // Richie Smiechowski, Senior Staff Writer

It’s been 16 years since former Carolina Hurricanes center and captain Rod Brind’Amour lifted Lord Stanley’s Cup, exuberantly celebrating his team’s first ever championship.

Since that storied 2006 campaign, the Hurricanes have gone almost completely under the NHL’s radar, jaded by years of poor performance and just one playoff berth from 2007-17. Brind’Amour returned to Raleigh in 2018, this time as head coach, and the team hasn’t looked back since, making the playoffs in each of his first three seasons with Carolina.

This season hasn’t been any different for Brind’Amour and the Hurricanes — they sit atop the Eastern Division and have already secured a spot in the 2022 NHL Playoffs. His squad exemplifies hard-nosed, tough defensive hockey, and they have the stats to back up their play style, leading the league in lowest goals against per game and in penalty kill percentage.

Defenseman Jacob Slavin and goaltender Freddie Andersen sit at the helm of Carolina’s stellar defense and have been integral factors in the team’s success this season, stifling the league’s most prolific scorers.

Former NFL coach Bear Bryant famously said, “defense wins championships.” Look for Carolina to ride that age-old adage all the way to their second Stanley Cup.

The NBA Play-In Tournament Is Here To Stay // Kyle Saxon, Senior Staff Writer 

When the NBA first introduced a Play-In Tournament for the 2020-21 season, some of the league’s most influential voices criticized the new changes, namely LeBron James. Despite its doubters, the new twist to the postseason continues to make a positive impact on the NBA in just its second year of existence.

To get a sense for the positive impact of the tournament, look no further than the Minnesota Timberwolves’ jubilant postgame celebration after their win on Monday night. Minnesota’s play-in game brought a playoff environment to the city for the first time in several years, and gave their young core of players a first glimpse of the intensity associated with the NBA postseason.

Not only does the tournament foster more intense games for the entertainment of all basketball fans, it also keeps more teams competitive late in the regular season. Without the play-in, the New Orleans Pelicans would currently be six full games out of the playoff picture with nothing to play for. With their win on Wednesday night, they are now one win away from securing a playoff spot. 

Many people may still find the new format confusing and unnecessary, and label teams like the Pelicans as undeserving of their opportunity. But for a league that is persistently criticized for its declining competitive balance, the play-in tournament is a brilliant addition for basketball players and fans alike.