UnionRed Bull Derby at PPL

UnionRed Bull Derby at PPL

Last week the Union hit the road and played
the MLS west coast glamour franchise (LA Galaxy). This week it's the
east coast MLS glamour franchise, the New York Red Bulls, at home at PPL
Park (7PM/ESPN2).

In last week's game preview
I mentioned that the Union likely would not face a more talented
offensive trio than the Donovan, Beckham, Angel triumverate put together
by Bruce Arena and the Galaxy. This week I feel confident in saying
that the U will not face a more star-studded group than the one Red
Bulls coach Hans Backe puts out there this evening.

From back to front the New York lineup is littered with talent. The Red
Bull back four is anchored by former Barcelona man Rafa Marquez and
budding U.S. centerback Tim Ream. Look, as a USMNT fan I cannot stand
Marquez, and wish nothing but the worst for him, but even I have to
begrudgingly admit that he's had quite a career.

Dwayne De Rosario, who was just acquired from Toronto, is a five time
MLS Best XI selection, who has won four MLS Cups and is a threat to
strike from just about anywhere. Up front the Red Bulls feature Thierry
Henry (who has won every single major team trophy a player could ever
dream of - Premiere League, La Liga, Champions League, World Cup) and
sudden USMNT teenage scoring sensation Juan Agudelo.

They may be trophy-less, but on paper their lineup is incredibly impressive.

The Union, who have had trouble scoring goals thus far (just two in
three games), need to get things sorted out offensively. They've
developed this terrible habit of completely bypassing the midfield as
they transition from defense to offense. There has been no link
whatsoever between the back four and the midfield. Too often the backs
are simply pounding speculative long passes into space and hoping Carlos
Ruiz can catch up to it.

The lone playmaking midfielder who has had any impact this season is
Roger Tores. He's come off the subs bench the last two weeks and
injected some much needed life and creativity into the Union attack.
Stefani Miglioranzi and Brian Carroll have combined to clamp things down
defensively in the center of the field, but perhaps Peter Nowak should
consider introducing a more offensive minded player into his lineup?

Justin Mapp, who has missed the last two games due to injury, is not
listed on the injury report. If fit he'd provide some sorely needed wide
play. Perhaps Nowak will ease him back into the mix by utilizing him
off the bench. Lord knows they need his speed and service from the
flanks.

Defensively the Union don't need to change much. Perhaps better
marking on set pieces, as last week the Galaxy scored the decisive goal
off of a Beckham free kick. Aside from that Faryd Mondragon, Sheannon
Williams, Danny Califf, Carlos Valdes, and Jordan Harvey have been
stellar.

I mentioned the marquee names the Red Bulls boast, but for some
reason the player that worries me most is Dane Richards. His speed may
present a serious problem for the Union. We saw how much they struggled
to contain Brad Davis against Houston. Richards, although not as class a
player as Davis, could cause the Union some problems.

One final note...the Union are coming off a 120-minute mid-week US
Open Cup loss to DC United. Nowak played the bulk of his starters
Wednesday night. We'll have to see how much, if at all, the energy they
expended against United hampers them tonight.

Final Score Prediction: The combination of the mid-week loss and the NYRB having superior talent dooms the Union tonight. Red Bulls win it 2-0.

The Toni Stahl Memorial Union Player Most Likely To See Red: Danny Califf, who is playing with a bum knee, may struggle all night to keep up with the pace and creativity of Agudelo.

With Kings' unprotected 2019 pick, Sixers' future assets the envy of the NBA

With Kings' unprotected 2019 pick, Sixers' future assets the envy of the NBA

It's difficult to understate how sweet the Sixers smell after the Kings' trade of DeMarcus Cousins to the Pelicans.

Yes, it removed another suitor from Jahlil Okafor trade talks, but that's not nearly as important as how much the Sacramento-New Orleans trade benefitted the Sixers moving forward.

And while many Sixers fans are rightfully jumping for joy today about the pick swap the Sixers have with the Kings in the 2017 draft, let's not forget about the 2019 pick.

Because no matter what happens with pick swaps, the Sixers own the Kings' unprotected 2019 first-round pick, which could legitimately be first overall given Sacramento's direction.

That 2019 pick now has immense value for several reasons:

Stripped-down Kings roster
Without Cousins, the Kings are right now probably one of the three worst teams in the NBA.

Their core is Darren Collison, Buddy Hield, Arron Afflalo, Garrett Temple, Kosta Koufos, Willie Cauley-Stein, Tyreke Evans, Ben McLemore, Anthony Tolliver. This team has 25 games left. How many can it win? Five?

Collison is their best remaining player, and he's a free agent after the season. This is going to be an incredibly challenging rebuild for the Kings, unless Hield and Cauley-Stein turn into stars.

Who is signing in Sac'to?
Sacramento is one of the league's smallest markets, and there has been front office discord there for years, along with a coaching carousel. Aside from Brooklyn, you can't find a worse free-agent destination. You can't find a tougher sell. 

Divac repeatedly said he'd never trade Cousins. Then he traded him. You tell me if agents and star players are going to trust the Kings enough to sign there without a no-trade clause.

And really, why would a free agent even want to sign there? The Kings have a bad core, a bad environment, and a bad draft pick situation moving forward. There is little upside.

Sure, Sacramento will be able to lure mid-tier free agents like the Lakers did with Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov. But that isn't going to make them substantially better.

Sixers' remarkable collection of picks
The result of all this is the Sixers' future becomes even brighter. Basketball fans routinely look at the Celtics as having the best assets moving forward because of their pick swaps with cellar-dwelling Brooklyn. But the Sixers' assets now are arguably better because in addition to the pick swaps, they have the unprotected Sacramento pick.

And they have the Lakers' pick, which becomes fully unprotected next year if it doesn't convey this year.

And they have their own picks in 2018 and 2019.

And they have the Thunder's 2020 pick. 

And they have Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Dario Saric.

Today's a good day in Sixers land.

Here's a round-up of their future draft picks:

2017
• Pick swap with Kings

• Lakers pick (top-3 protected; becomes unprotected in 2018 if it doesn't convey)

• Two second-round picks

2018
• Their own first-round pick

• The Lakers' unprotected first-round pick if L.A. finishes 2017 with a bottom-three record

• Second-round pick from Cleveland or Brooklyn (whichever is higher)

• Second-round pick from Clippers or Knicks (whichever is higher)

2019
• Unprotected first-round pick from Kings

• Their own first-round pick

• Second-round pick from Knicks

• Second-round pick from Bucks or Kings (whichever is higher)

2020
• Their own first-round pick

• Thunder's first-round pick (top-20 protected in 2020, 2021 and 2022)

• Second-round pick from Nets

• Second-round pick from Knicks

Woah.

Villanova stays put at No. 2 for the 3rd straight week

Villanova stays put at No. 2 for the 3rd straight week

Villanova stayed put in the national rankings this week.

The defending champion Wildcats remained the No. 2 overall team in the Associated Press top-25 poll behind 24-0 Gonzaga. The Bulldogs received 59 first-place votes while Villanova received five votes. Kansas, which came in at No. 3, received the other No. 1 vote.

Villanova stayed where they were in the rankings after holding their own with two comfortable road wins, in large part thanks to sophomore point guard Jalen Brunson. Brunson was the big man on campus this week, beginning with a team-high 18 points in a 75-62 win at DePaul on Monday. He followed it up with his first career double-double as he put together a 22-point, 10-assist effort in a blowout win over Seton Hall in Newark on Saturday.

The win over the Pirates meant the Wildcats clinched a share of the Big East regular-season title for the fourth straight year. One win in their last three regular season games or one loss each by Butler and Creighton would hand Villanova sole possession of the Big East crown. 

Therefore, it's only fitting that the Wildcats' next two games are against none other than Butler and Creighton. Butler handed Villanova its first loss of the season back on Jan. 4 at Hinkle Fieldhouse, but the No. 22 Bulldogs now have to travel to Philadelphia for the rematch on Wednesday. The No. 23 Blue Jays then head to the Pavillion for a Saturday afternoon duel. The Wildcats beat Creighton, 80-70, on New Year's Eve in Omaha, Neb. 

At this point last season, Villanova had four losses (two in conference) and had just a one-game lead in the conference. This year, they have much more room for comfort, albeit with a tough week with two ranked opponents ahead of them. 

Behind the top three, which remained static this week, the Pac 12 had three teams ranked 4-6 – Arizona, UCLA and Oregon – in the poll this week. The ACC had six teams in the top 25, including No. 7 Louisville, No. 8 North Carolina and No. 10 Duke. Baylor, which lost to Kansas on Saturday, fell from No. 4 to No. 9.