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Who Are the Players of the Year in Every NCAA D-1 Conference?

From espn services

you think the race for the 2020 Wooden Award is a toss-up, wait until you see the competition for conference Player of the Year honors in each league.

It’s early February, so all of this could change, but we made an attempt to handicap the Player of the Year races in all 32 Division I conferences.

Here’s the criteria we tried to emphasize:

  • With at least a month of data to evaluate in most cases, we thought emphasizing individual impact in league play made sense.
  • In most cases, good players on good teams are the top candidates for these awards. So please save the tweets about our exclusion of the volume shooter from the bottom-feeder in your favorite conference.
  • In most cases, there were more than two top candidates for the award. But we picked two because … that’s what we decided to do.
  • Some leagues lack an obvious front-runner and top contender, but we did our best. Sorry, SEC. Things are weird right now. (And yes, we think Kansas has the top two candidates for Big 12 Player of the Year. Deal with it.)

Without further ado:

American Athletic Conference

Front-runner: Jarron CumberlandCincinnati Bearcats

Cincinnati’s veteran has averaged 20.0 PPG during his team’s current four-game win streak. He has also made 44 percent of his 3-point attempts, hit 52 percent of his shots inside the arc and anchored the No. 2 defense in the American.

Top competition: Precious AchiuwaMemphis Tigers

Memphis has gone from top-10 program to potentially sliding off the bubble and missing the NCAA tournament. But the only reason the Tigers — who benefited from the contributions of projected lottery pick James Wiseman for just three games — remain in contention for a postseason slot is because Achiuwa (16.1 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 2.3 BPG in AAC play) has been a dominant athlete.


Atlantic Coast Conference

Front-runner: Vernon Carey Jr.Duke Blue Devils

At one point in Duke’s 97-88 win at Syracuse on Saturday night, Jim Boeheim smirked at Mike Krzyzewski after Carey finished an easy bucket, as if to say, “How the hell are we supposed to stop this?” Carey’s performance (26 points and 17 rebounds) extended the streak of dominance we’ve witnessed all year from the freshman (Duke has averaged 109 points per 100 possessions with Carey on the floor this season, according to hooplens.com).

Top competition: Jordan NworaLouisville Cardinals

The Louisville standout certainly has a strong case for ACC top honors after making 49 percent of his 3-point attempts and 85 percent of his free throw attempts in league play. But he’s a step behind Carey based on his inconsistency since the start of league play (3-for-12 in a Jan. 18 win at Duke; 3-for-13 in Saturday’s win over NC State; 3-for-11 in a Jan. 22 win over Georgia Tech), even though Nwora has the slight edge with 18.5 PPG versus Carey’s 16.2 PPG in ACC action.Get the best of ESPN sent to your inboxThe ESPN Daily delivers the biggest sports news and moments every weekday.Sign me up!Privacy PolicyRead the Latest


America East Conference

Front-runner: Anthony LambVermont Catamounts

The reigning America East Player of the Year isn’t competing with the same efficiency he enjoyed a year ago. But he has made 45 percent of his 3-point attempts in league play and 87 percent of his free throw attempts while also averaging 17.3 PPG for a Vermont team that entered the week atop the league at 7-1.

Top competition: Elijah OlaniyiStony Brook Seawolves

Stony Brook’s star led the program to a 6-2 start in league play by averaging 19.6 PPG and connecting on 55 percent of his shots inside the arc. He has earned three America East player of the week honors.


Atlantic 10 Conference

Front-runner: Obi ToppinDayton Flyers

Toppin, a projected first-round pick in the NBA draft who commands the most efficient offense in America, is not only the favorite in this Player of the Year race, he might be the front-runner in the Wooden Award chase, too. He has put together eye-popping numbers for a Dayton team that’s undefeated in the Atlantic 10, but his 71 percent clip inside the 3-point line in A-10 play, along with 19.7 PPG and 8.0 RPG, top the list.

Top competition: Fatts RussellRhode Island Rams

He has steered Rhode Island’s eight-game winning streak (its last loss was Jan. 5). Russell entered the week averaging 20.0 PPG, an assist every five possessions and a 42 percent success rate from the 3-point line in A-10 action.


Atlantic Sun Conference

Front-runner: Garrett SamsNorth Florida Ospreys

In the nonconference season, Sams scored 20 points in North Florida’s loss to Florida State. The 6-foot-7 wing has put together impressive efforts (17.3 PPG, 53 percent clip from beyond the arc) comparable to that outing against Leonard Hamilton’s program for a North Florida team that boasts the best offense in the league and shares a slice of the top spot in the standings.

Top competition: Rob PerryStetson Hatters

Stetson’s 6-3 star is a talented guard who is listed as a “very good” offensive player in half-court sets and defensive player in man-to-man schemes, per Synergy Sports data. His 17.2 PPG and 47 percent clip from beyond the arc have helped Stetson remain in the hunt for the conference crown.


Big East Conference

Front-runner: Markus HowardMarquette Golden Eagles

The Marquette star is somewhat a victim of his own success from a year ago. He hasn’t enjoyed the same national buzz, yet he’s averaging 29.7 PPG in Big East play, although his 33 percent clip from the 3-point line is a drop from his 2018-19 numbers.

Top competition: Myles PowellSeton Hall Pirates

His 3-for-14 outing in his team’s 74-62 home loss to Xavier on Saturday was a surprising and rare stumble for a stellar competitor and national Player of the Year contender. He has scored 23 points or more in six of his nine Big East games and registered a top-10 steals percentage in league play.


Big Sky Conference

Front-runner: Jonah RadebaughNorthern Colorado Bears

The league leader in assists (7.1 APG) is also averaging 16.2 PPG. The 6-3 guard has made 39 percent of his 3-pointers in Big Sky play while leading a Northern Colorado squad that’s 7-2 since New Year’s Day.

Top competition: Sayeed PridgettMontana Grizzlies

Montana’s star is top 10 in the Big Sky in scoring (18.9 PPG), rebounding (6.7 RPG), field goal percentage (45.3) and assists (4.0 APG). The 6-5 combo forward has also made 71 percent of his free throws.


Big South Conference

Front-runner: Phlandrous Fleming Jr.Charleston Southern Buccaneers

The 6-4 standout has recorded 10 games with 20 points or more since Dec. 21. Fleming’s Big South stat line — 22.1 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 4.8 APG, 1.2 BPG — is nothing short of impressive.

Top competition: Ben StanleyHampton Pirates

Hampton’s star is an efficient performer who is ranked fifth in Ken Pomeroy’s conference Player of the Year rankings in the Big South. Stanley deserves that nod after averaging 23.9 PPG (55 percent clip overall), 8.0 RPG and 2.6 BPG through his first eight games in Big South games.


Big 12 Conference

Front-runner: Devon DotsonKansas Jayhawks

The dynamic Kansas guard entered the weekend as the Big 12’s leader in scoring (16.6 PPG) and steals (2.1 SPG), just part of the case for a sophomore guard who has played with poise in some of the biggest moments in college basketball this season. Then he finished with 21 points (9-for-16) in 40 minutes in KU’s 78-75 win over Texas Tech on Saturday.

Top competition: Udoka Azubuike, Kansas Jayhawks

No disrespect to Freddie GillespieJared ButlerJahmi’us Ramsey or the other standouts in the league, but Dotson’s teammate is clearly his greatest threat in the Big 12 player of the year race. With the league leader in rebounding (10.1 RPG) and blocks (3.4 BPG) on the floor, opposing Big 12 teams have made fewer than 40 percent of their shots inside the arc, according to hooplen


Big Ten Conference

Front-runner: Luka GarzaIowa Hawkeyes

Iowa’s big man might be the favorite to win the Wooden Award right now after anchoring his team’s 7-4 start in the Big Ten and extending his campaign for postseason accolades with averages of 26.5 PPG and 10.5 PPG through his first 11 Big Ten games. He has made 55 percent of his attempts in post-up situations, according to Synergy Sports data.

Top competition: Cassius WinstonMichigan State Spartans

Michigan State’s veteran leader (19.6 PPG in league play) is carrying the Spartans, who entered the week tied with Illinois for first place in the conference. With Winston on the floor, Michigan State is a different team in league play: 38.1 percent from the 3-point line versus 31.3 percent with Winston on the bench; 0.83 PPP allowed versus 1.06 PPP allowed with Winston on the bench.

1:54

Winston records career high in win vs. Michigan

Cassius Winston scores a career-high 32 points on 11-of-19 shooting as he leads the Spartans to an 87-69 win over the Wolverines.


Big West Conference

Front-runner: Lamine DianeCal State Northridge

CSUN’s star has made more than 50 percent of his shots inside the arc for a program that leads the conference with a 40.4 percent mark from beyond the arc. He’s also the conference leader in scoring (26.0 PPG) and rebounding (9.5 RPG) to go along with 1.5 BPG and 1.6 SPG.

Top competition: Collin WelpUC Irvine Anteaters

The UC Irvine standout is a rare 6-9 athlete who has been a threat everywhere on the floor in Big West play. Welp (13.1 PPG, 6.3 RPG) is 18-for-20 from the free throw line while also committing turnovers on just 9.5 percent of his possessions.


Colonial Athletic Association

Front-runner: Grant RillerCharleston Cougars

With his strong performances, the Charleston star continues to support the idea that he has a future at the next level. He’s averaging 23.6 PPG and a ridiculous 49 percent clip from the 3-point line in CAA play, while also adding 4.5 APG.

Top competition: Nathan KnightWilliam & Mary Tribe

Opposing teams can’t use the Hack-a-Shaq strategy against William & Mary’s 6-10 star, who has made 57 percent of his shots inside the arc and 89 percent of his free throw attempts. He’s also averaging 20.8 PPG and 11.5 RPG.


Conference USA

Front-runner: Jhivvan JacksonUTSA Roadrunners

The UTSA star has won three of C-USA’s player of the week awards while averaging 26.4 PPG and 39 percent of his 3-point attempts in league play. His team’s 4-6 start in C-USA action could hurt his cause, but his numbers are definitively accolade-worthy.

Top competition: Bryson WilliamsUTEP Miners

Another star for a sub-.500 team in league play. Williams’ numbers (19.2 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 1.1 BPG, 56 percent clip inside the arc) are solid and he’s ranked second behind Jackson in KenPom’s C-USA Player of the Year rankings.


Horizon League

Front-runner: Antoine DavisDetroit Mercy Titans

Davis, the son of Detroit head coach Mike Davis, entered the week ranked third in the country in scoring (23.4 PPG) and is trying to pull his team to the top half of the league standings. He’s also averaging 1.6 SPG and connecting on 90 percent of his free throw attempts.

Top competition: Loudon LoveWright State Raiders

The 6-8 forward has fueled Wright State’s ascent to the top of the Horizon League’s standings after averaging 15.5 PPG, 10.1 RPG and 1.4 BPG (2.0 BPG in Horizon League play). He also leads the league in offensive rebounding percentage.


Ivy League

Front-runner: Paul AtkinsonYale Bulldogs

Yale is off to an undefeated start in league play and a top-50 spot in the NCAA’s NET rankings with Atkinson leading the way. The conference’s No. 1 scorer (18.5 PPG) is also averaging 10.0 RPG and connecting on 62 percent of his field goal attempts in league play.

Top competition: Mike SmithColumbia Lions

Columbia’s standout guard is not only making an impact on offense (17.5 PPG, an Ivy League-high of 5.5 APG), but also on defense, where he leads the conference with 2.8 SPG. In conference play, opposing teams have made just 32 percent of their 3-point attempts with Smith on the floor for Columbia.


MAAC

Front-runner: Rich KellyQuinnipiac Bobcats

Quinnipiac’s lead guard has made 39 percent of his 3-pointers for a team that has taken a higher percentage of its shots from beyond the arc (50.4) than any team in America not named North Florida. He has also made a wild 96 percent of his free throw attempts in MAAC play, while averaging 17.1 PPG amid a 6-4 start in the league.

Top competition: Jalen PickettSiena Saints

The Siena sophomore is listed as an “excellent” performer in half-court sets with a 45.2 percent clip in those situations, per Synergy Sports data. He’s also averaging 6.2 APG in league play.


MAC

Front-runner: Loren Cristian JacksonAkron Zips

Akron’s top player is the maestro of a team that’s ranked in the top 40 in adjusted offensive efficiency, per KenPom. He has averaged 23.5 PPG and 4.9 APG, while also connecting on 59 percent of his 58 attempts from beyond the arc in MAC play.

Top competition: Tahjai TeagueBall State Cardinals

The Ball State standout is averaging 15.4 PPG, 9.0 RPG and 1.6 BPG. The success runs in the family for the 6-8 forward who is the cousin of NBA guard Jeff Teague (Atlanta Hawks) and former Kentucky star Marquis Teague, who won a title with Anthony Davis and the Wildcats in 2012.


MEAC

Front-runner: Jibri BlountNorth Carolina Central Eagles

Last week, Blount — the son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Mel Blount — collected his fourth MEAC player of the week award. The 6-7 forward, who says he might make a run at a football career after basketball, led the conference with a 26.8 PPG average in league play entering the week.

Top competition: Ronald JacksonNorth Carolina A&T Aggies

The 6-7 center has recorded six double-doubles in MEAC games. His averages of 17.2 PPG and 12.2 RPG are unrivaled in league play for North Carolina A&T, which entered the week atop the MEAC standings.


Missouri Valley Conference

Front-runner: AJ GreenNorthern Iowa Panthers

As the catalyst of the top offense in the Missouri Valley Conference, Northern Iowa’s star has led the league in scoring (22.7 PPG) and connected on 49 percent of his 3-point attempts. Northern Iowa has made 54.4 percent of its shots inside the arc with the 6-4 guard on the floor.

Top competition: Cameron KrutwigLoyola Chicago Ramblers

Two years ago, the Loyola Chicago star was a freshman who helped the program reach the Final Four. This season, he’s one of the best players in the Missouri Valley Conference, proven by marks of 14.2 PPG, 8.6 RPG and 1.7 SPG in league play.


Mountain West Conference

Front-runner: Malachi FlynnSan Diego State Aztecs

San Diego State, the last undefeated team in college basketball at 23-0, is led by the Wooden Award candidate who has 21 assists and two turnovers in his team’s past four games. He has made 48.2 percent of his shots as a pick-and-roll ball handler, per Synergy Sports data.

Top competition: Sam MerrillUtah State Aggies

At this pace, the reigning Mountain West Conference Player of the Year will have a strong case to repeat. He’s averaging 18.1 PPG and 3.8 APG for a Utah State squad that has won three of its past four.


Northeast Conference

Front-runner: Isaiah BlackmonSt. Francis (PA) Red Flash

With Blackmon (21.6 PPG in NEC games, the top mark in the league) on the floor this season, St. Francis has connected on 51.1 percent of its shots inside the arc and 37.4 percent of its 3-pointers, according to hooplens.com. Blackmon has made 46 percent of his 3-point attempts in league play and he boasts the NEC’s top offensive rating, per KenPom.

Top competition: Raiquan ClarkLong Island Sharks

The Northeast Conference leader in minutes per game (38.5) is also second in scoring through the first stages of the conference season at 20.7 PPG. Long Island’s forward has also made 57 percent of his shots inside the arc and averaged 23.6 PPG over his past three outings.


Ohio Valley Conference

Front-runner: Terry TaylorAustin Peay Governors

The 6-5 forward is averaging 20.9 PPG and 10.8 RPG while connecting on 80 percent of his free throw attempts for an Austin Peay squad that has won its first 10 games in the OVC. Per OVC media relations, he’s one of six active Division I players who’ve registered at least 1,700 career points and 800 career rebounds.

Top competition: Tevin BrownMurray State Racers

A year ago, the Murray State star was Ja Morant‘s sidekick and he scored 19 points in the program’s 83-64 victory over Marquette in the first round of the NCAA tournament. This year, Brown has emerged as a leader for the undefeated Racers (10-0 in OVC play) by averaging 20.9 PPG in MVC games.


Pac-12 Conference

Front-runner: Payton PritchardOregon Ducks

If anyone has sealed a conference Player of the Year award after the first month of his league’s slate, it’s Pritchard, who has made 40 percent of his 3-point attempts. He has also averaged one assist for every three possessions and made 86 percent of his free throw attempts for an Oregon team that entered the week in first place at 7-3.

Top competition: Oscar da SilvaStanford Cardinal

In Stanford’s 70-60 win over Oregon on Saturday, the Cardinal star collected 27 points, 15 rebounds and three assists, enhancing his shot at securing multiple postseason accolades for a program that’s chasing its first NCAA tournament berth since 2014. The 6-9 junior has made 67 percent of his shots inside the arc since the start of Pac-12 play.


Patriot League

Front-runner: Tommy FunkArmy Black Knights

The player with the best name in the Patriot League is also one of its top players, signaled by the 22.1 PPG average he has amassed during Army’s current six-game winning streak. He’s also the Patriot League leader in assists (7.2 APG).

Top competition: Max MahoneyBoston University Terriers

Mahoney is the ace for a Boston University squad that has made 53.8 percent of its shots inside the arc, a top-30 mark nationally. In the Patriot League, he’s top 10 in scoring (15.4 PPG), rebounding (8.1 RPG), assists (3.7 APG), field goal percentage (64 percent) and steals (1.4 SPG).


SEC

Front-runner: Anthony EdwardsGeorgia Bulldogs

Yes, Georgia has been one of the worst teams in the SEC, which goes against the norm for creating candidates for postseason accolades, but the conference doesn’t exactly have its typical amount of elite players. That should elevate the candidacy of Edwards, a projected top-five pick in June’s NBA draft. He’s averaging 20.8 PPG in league play, which includes a 19.0 PPG clip in three losses to Kentucky (two games) and Auburn.

0:26

Edwards throws down big windmill jam

Anthony Edwards steals and breaks away to throw down a thunderous windmill dunk.

Top competition: Mason JonesArkansas Razorbacks

He has averaged 25.7 PPG in the Razorbacks’ last four contests. He has also recorded assists on more than one-quarter of his team’s possessions, which is why it’s about time folks start talking about Jones, the reigning SEC Player of the Week, as an SEC Player of the Year candidate.


Southern Conference

Front-runner: Isaiah MillerUNC Greensboro Spartans

The UNC Greensboro star made noise in November when he registered 19 points in 24 minutes in a 74-62 loss at Kansas. He has averaged 22.4 PPG and 3.7 SPG, both top marks in the SoCon.

Top competition: Mason FaulknerWestern Carolina Catamounts

The Western Carolina junior has scored 18 points or more in seven SoCon games. The Northern Kentucky transfer also is averaging 18.9 PPG and 6.0 APG, the top mark in the conference.


Southland Conference

Front-runner: Kevon HarrisStephen F. Austin Lumberjacks

In an upset win at Duke, Harris finished with 26 points and four assists. He has taken that momentum into the Southland, where he’s averaging 18.5 PPG and connecting on 45 percent of his 3-point attempts.

Top competition: Sha’markus KennedyMcNeese State Cowboys

McNeese State has surged into contention in the Southland with Kennedy as its leader. The 6-8 forward is averaging 18.6 PPG and 11.3 RPG in conference play, while connecting on 69 percent of his attempts inside the arc.


Summit League

Front-runner: Tyler HagedornSouth Dakota Coyotes

The 6-10 force is set to replace Mike Daum, the former South Dakota State star who won three Summit League player of the year awards, as the biggest star in the conference. Hagedorn is the nation’s best 3-point shooter (57 percent on 101 attempts) and one of its top free throw shooters (91 percent), and he’s averaging 19.4 PPG for a team chasing a Summit League title.

Top competition: Douglas WilsonSouth Dakota State Jackrabbits

The best player for the top team in the Summit League has connected on 61 percent of his field goal attempts while averaging 19.1 PPG in conference play. South Dakota State’s standout has added 1.2 BPG for the conference’s No. 2 defense.


Sun Belt Conference

Front-runner: Nijal PearsonTexas State Bobcats

After an 0-3 start in league play, Texas State has won seven of nine. Pearson (20.0 PPG, 38 percent from the 3-point line, 84 percent from the free throw line) has carried this team to the top tier of Sun Belt Conference.

Top competition: Markquis NowellLittle Rock Trojans

He’s No. 1 in assists (5.6 APG) in league play as Little Rock continues to separate from the pack in the Sun Belt Conference race (it entered the week 11-2 in league play). He has also made 41 percent of his 3-point attempts since the start of conference action.


SWAC

Front-runner: Maurice HowardAlcorn State Braves

The Alcorn State standout is averaging 15.9 PPG and 4.6 APG, the top mark in the SWAC. Per Synergy Sports data, he has also been an “excellent” defender whose opponents have made just 30.8 percent of their shot attempts in isolation situations.

Top competition: Roland GriffinJackson State Tigers

Jackson State’s top performer finished with 16 points and seven rebounds in a loss to Baylor in December. The 6-6 forward has averaged 15.8 PPG and 7.3 RPG in SWAC play.


WAC

Front-runner: Terrell BrownSeattle Redhawks

Seattle University’s top player leads the WAC in scoring at 18.1 PPG. In league play, opponents have registered a subpar 93 points per 100 possessions with Brown on the floor.

Top competition: Jabari RiceNew Mexico State Aggies

With teammate Trevelin Queen set to miss up to six weeks with a knee injury, the standout guard has helped his team preserve its unblemished record (8-0) in league play. Rice (46 percent from the 3-point line in league play) has averaged 19.0 PPG over the last two contests.


West Coast Conference

Front-runner: Filip PetrusevGonzaga Bulldogs

With Petrusev acting as one of the most efficient players in the country, Gonzaga has defeated WCC opponents by an average of 23.6 points per game. He’s averaging 16.9 PPG and 7.6 RPG while finishing 68 percent of his shots at the rim, per hoop-math.com.

Top competition: Jordan FordSaint Mary’s Gaels

The spark for a team that’s ranked top 10 in adjusted offensive efficiency, Ford is leading the West Coast Conference with a 21.2 PPG average. He has also made 42 percent of his 3-point attempts in WCC play.

Football Giants New Coach Joe Judge Fills out His Coaching Staff

By Scott Mandel

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Fifty years ago, when Joe Namath and the New York Jets won Super Bowl III, the championship coaching staff consisted of Weeb Ewbank, Walt Michaels, Clive Rush, and Buddy Ryan.

Four coaches. That was it.

Today, the league-worst New York Giants, under their fourth head coach in the past four years, Joe Judge, announced the composition of the team’s 2020 coaching staff. There will be a few more coaches on this staff than the Jets Super Bowl four.

How about 20 coaches on one team? That’s a ratio of about 2.5:1. two and a half players for every coach. That’s a better ratio than a Manhattan private school offers.

Judge’s 20-member staff is comprised of nine coaches who arrived from other NFL teams, including two who were head coaches last season; five who spent the 2019 season coaching collegiate football; and six who were with the Giants last year.

The first-year head coach revealed his three coordinators on January 17. On offense, it is Jason Garrett, 53, who is very familiar with the NFC East after coaching the Dallas Cowboys from 2010-19. The defensive coordinator is Patrick Graham, 41, who held the same position with the Miami Dolphins last season. Graham will also serve as assistant head coach. Thomas McGaughey, 46, returns for his third season as special teams coordinator. He was previously a coordinator for three other teams and was the Giants’ assistant special teams coach from 2007-10.

Freddie Kitchens, who was the head coach last season of the Cleveland Browns and Odell Beckham, Jr., was also brought in to coach the tight ends after just one year at the helm in Cleveland.

Kitchens, 45, spent the last two years in Cleveland, the first as running backs coach/associate head coach for the first eight games and offensive coordinator for the final eight before his season as head coach. He previously coached in Dallas (tight ends, 2006) and Arizona (tight ends, 2007-12; quarterbacks, 2013-16; and running backs in 2017).

“I think any position on offense is good for Freddie,” Judge said. “He’s got a lot of experience at different positions. He’s been head coach, he’s been a coordinator, he’s been a position coach. He sees it through a lot of different perspectives. What I love about Freddie is he brings an element of toughness and discipline to his room. He brings outside the box thinking a lot of times to how he approaches the game from a game plan perspective. I think he’ll be an asset to working with our offensive coaches and developing the game plan throughout the week. But ultimately, I’ve worked with Freddie, I’ve played for Freddie, and I’ve called against Freddie, and I understand what his players are about.” 

Marc Colombo, who played offensive line for the Dallas Cowboys, will be the offensive line coach under Garrett. whom he had worked with in Dallas since 2015.


Asked about the expertise Garrett and Kitchens bring as former NFL head coaches, Judge said, “Everybody brings a different type of experience to the job. I didn’t set out to hire anyone with former head coaching experience. That ended up being a plus of what different guys brought to their area.”


“The first thing I was prioritizing was good coaches who had a deep concern for the players that they were going to coach,” Judge said. “It has to start with the relationship from the coach to the player and understanding that we’re working together. Next thing I was prioritizing was good teachers. We had to find guys who can paint that mental picture for a player and find a way to tap into how they learn and get the most out of them. To me, it’s a big trust factor with the guys I have on the staff. I have a personal relationship with a lot of these guys, professional relationships with nearly all of them. Guys who I have not worked with directly, I’ve competed against, I’ve known for some time. I’ve more than done my research on everybody on this staff, including the guys I’ve worked with. No stone has been unturned. I’m very excited about the group we have in here. I know they’re going to bring a lot to this organization. I know they’re going to be a great asset to the players they’re going to coach.” 

Mets Introduce New Manager, Luis Rojas After Beltran Fiasco

By Scott Mandel

The New York Mets today introduced their second manager of this off-season, Luis Rojas, at an afternoon press conference at Citi Field.

Rojas, the 38-year old son of former major league great, Felipe Alou, has been a member of the Mets organization since 2006, when the Mets signed him to a players’ contract in his native country, the Dominican Republic.

After 13 years in the organization, mostly working in the minor leagues, Luis Rojas realized a dream Friday, when he became the 23rd manager in Mets history — amid unusual circumstances.

“I feel like the most lucky person in the world right now as the manager of the New York Mets,” Rojas said at Citi Field, where the team announced a managerial hiring for the second time this offseason.

Rojas received a two-year contract to replace Carlos Beltran, who departed after only 77 days on the job in the fallout from the Astros’ illegal sign-stealing scheme in 2017. Beltran, a player for that Houston team, was named in an MLB report that outlined the Astros’ use of electronic surveillance to steal catchers’ signs.

Rojas served as the Mets’ quality control coach last season and received multiple interviews for the managerial position following Mickey Callaway’s firing in October. That search yielded Beltran and also included names such as Eduardo Perez, Derek Shelton and Tim Bogar as candidates.

“I felt prepared then and I feel prepared now and I feel pretty good with what we have,” Rojas said. “We have a good team and we have a great staff. The staff is going to help me and we have already collaborated and we’re looking forward to break ground in spring training.

“I will lead this team into success.”

Rojas, whose father, Felipe Alou, managed the Expos and Giants and whose brother, Moises Alou, was an All-Star outfielder, was joined at the news conference by his wife Laura and son Louie, in addition to his mother and two of his brothers. Neither Felipe Alou nor Moises Alou was present.

In introducing the new manager, Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen focused on Rojas’ consistency as a person and professional.

“Last Thursday was a tough day,” Van Wagenen said, referring to the announcement Beltran had parted ways with the Mets. “We had a number of difficult days leading into Thursday’s decision and ultimately the parting of the ways with Carlos, but this is a very good feeling today and we’re excited about that. It’s an unfortunate circumstance for baseball, but today is a good opportunity and it’s an exciting time for the Mets as we continue to charge forward.”

Though managing experience wasn’t a prerequisite when Beltran got hired, Van Wagenen pointed to Rojas’ eight seasons as manager in the minor leagues at various levels for the Mets as a positive.

“In-game decision-making is an important part of the job and when you assess people’s strengths and weaknesses, no two candidates are the same,” Van Wagenen said. “And Carlos had different traits than what Luis has, but in [Rojas’] experience and actually calling the shots and running the game and running the base running, controlling the offense and having to make decisions about which pitchers get warmed up and which pitchers come into the game, I think all of those assets will be evident for us this year.”

Rojas takes over a team expected to compete for the NL East title, led by a potentially dominant starting rotation and last season’s major league home run leader, Pete Alonso. Rojas indicated he already has spoken with Jeff McNeil, Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard, among others.

“It’s according to the team that you have,” Rojas said. “You have a team that can run, you run. You have a team that plays that way, you play that way, so it’s according to what we have. We have a really good roster, we have really good starting pitching, we have a really good bullpen and we can score some runs, so I feel pretty good about it right now.”

Rojas was hired as a coach at the team’s academy in the Dominican Republic in 2006 and later managed in Rookie-ball, Low-A, High-A and Double-A for the Mets before becoming the quality control coach under Callaway last season. As quality control coach, Rojas brought analytical information to the players and field staff. Rojas said his loyalty to the Mets was born when he first started working for the organization.

“When I saw that the Mets were not only developing baseball players, but they were developing men, that right away we had an educational program, back then it was a complex with two fields and we got the job done,” Rojas said of his arrival at the Dominican academy in 2006. “We moved into a bigger complex afterwards and just the love for the organization started growing and then it just kept growing and growing as I went along.”

Brooklyn Talents, Isaiah Whitehead and Shomarie Ponds Released By Pro Teams Without Reasons Offered. We’re On It. (Update on Whitehead)

By Scott Mandel

Two Brooklyn basketball stars, Isaiah Whitehead from Lincoln HS and Seton Hall and Shomarie Ponds from Jefferson HS and St. Johns, have been released by their respective teams.

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Whitehead played well his rookie season for Brooklyn Nets. Now, he is out of basketball

Whitehead had been playing in Russia, averaging about 13 ppg. and Ponds had been on a two-way contract with the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors have not released any reason for ending Ponds’ contract.

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Ponds was released by Raptors, with no reason given

Talented kids. Something doesn’t make sense, in both cases.

Update on Isaiah Whitehead’s career:

Montenegro and Mornar Bar are up next for Seton Hall alumni, Isaiah Whitehead.

Mornar Bar inked Isaiah Whitehead to a contract up to the conclusion of the 2019-20 season, the Montenegrin club announced on Saturday.

The 24-year-old American guard holds European experience through the VTB United League. Previously played in 89 NBA matches with the Brooklyn Nets.

Whitehead was picked 42nd in the 2016 NBA draft out of Seton Hall. A couple of years later made the jump to Europe for Lokomotiv Kuban and tipped off his current campaign with Astana. He averaged 9.6 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists per appearance through five VTB contests.

His new team has a couple of Basketball Champions League games left, before turning full focus to its ABA League run. Already out of contention in BCL, Mihailo Pavicevic’s squad is currently 9-7 in ABA, good enough for fifth place.TAGS ABABasketball Champions LeagueBCL

Scene from Super Bowl I – Len Dawson In Chief’s Locker Room at Halftime

By Scott Mandel

Photo taken at halftime of Super Bowl I, between the Chiefs and the Lombardi Packers. This is legendary Chiefs QB, Len Dawson, getting a smoke, and drinking a bottle of Fresca in the locker room before going out for the second half, which the Packers dominated on their way to a 35-10 win. The famous and hungover Max McGee caught two touchdown passes from Bart Starr.

We wonder if times have changed, all that drastically. Maybe, these days, the cigarette smoke has been replaced by other kinds of smoke, including marijuana. Instead of a sugary soft drink like Fresca, perhaps it is a sugary soft drink like Gatorade.

Mandel’s Musings: Jeter, the Distant Yankee, Should Be Unanimously Elected to Baseball Hall of Fame

By Scott Mandel

I’ve never been a big fan of Derek Jeter, the former New York Yankees shortstop, on a personal level. But, today, Derek Jeter is going to be elected, deservedly so, to the the Baseball Hall of Fame, an acknowledgement of his status as one of the greatest players in the history of the sport.

But, Jeter was not always an easy guy to get along with or get to know, from a media point of view. And, he knew there was no prerequisite for trying to endear himself to the media or even, to the fans. He did his job as the Yankee shortstop, and did it better than anyone in the franchise’s history.

Jeter opted, over the course of his 21-year career, to play it close to the vest with the media and with Yankeee fans, His responses during interviews were filled with sports cliches, but never really offered his deepest feelings about any subject. Jeter was a bright guy and had many opinions to offer, particularly as the Yankee captain, but he chose not to share most of those feelings with his adoring public.

He was self-aware, always, and always tuned-in to saying as little as possible, as non-controversial as possible. Yet, his ego was so enormous, he had no problem with handing out “swag bags” of Jeter memorabilia to his one-night stands as they walked out his apartment door, in the previous night’s dress and makeup.

He left the Yankees, his beloved Yankees, acrimoniously after Brian Cashman refused to make him the highest paid shortstop in the game when he was 37 years old and had lost many of his skills.

Jeter has not been back to the stadium since retiring five years ago, other than one time to honor Mariano Rivera. He also showed up in Cooperstown to watch Rivera get inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Other than that, the great Yankee has been as detached from Yankee tradition and the Yankee organization as any non-Yankee player would be. There are many who feel he has intentionally slighted the Yankees from capitalizing on their relationship with him, ie, profiting from the marketing possibilities of Jeter, the Yankee.

Jeter was indeed a role model for the way he treated kids and umpires in ballparks all across the country. But, as an owner in Miami, Jeter has looked a lot more fallible without the pinstripes on. He deserves a fair shot with the Marlins and enough time to build the organization the way he wants it built. It has never been a good idea to bet against Jeter. He can still turn this second baseball career into a big success.

But the fact that he fired a number of popular Marlins employees — including Hall of Famers Andre Dawson and Tony Perez, and a longtime scout who was in the hospital trying to recover from cancer surgery — and handled various duties (including the Giancarlo Stanton trade) with what appeared to be a less-than-gentle approach, did not shock some who have known Jeter. That includes R.D. Long, the longtime running mate ejected from the shortstop’s inner circle years ago for a reason never explained to him.

“I can’t comment about Derek Jeter today, because I don’t know that person today,” Long, who spent six years in the Yankees system and who coached at Rochester Institute of Technology, said last week by phone. “But as a player, people who doubted him just don’t get it. If some think he’s overrated, that’s ludicrous. I think he might be the most underrated player of all time.

He’s a stranger in his own stadium, the “House that Jeter Built,” where he starred.

That said, Derek Jeter was the greatest shortstop in Yankee history and today, we will find out at 6 o’clock whether his inevitable election to the Baseball Hall of Fame will be unanimous, or not. If there is a voter who does not elect Derek Jeter to the Baseball Hall of Fame on this, Jeter’s first opportunity to get into the hallowed hall, that voter should be stripped of his vote. Jeter was a great player, possibly the greatest shortstop over the past 50 years. Despite his media foibles and his soiled relationship with his Yankee heritage, he deserves to be the second player in baseball history to be voted into the Hall of Fame, unanimously. The first, of course, was Mariano Rivera, last year.

Matt Rhule, Born and Raised New Yorker, Cancels Giants Interview to Take Carolina HC Job

By Scott Mandel

In a shocking development, Matt Rhule, the 44-year old Baylor head coach, former Giants offensive line coach, and born and raised New Yorker, has rejected the Giants, who were scheduled to interview him today for their once-prestigious head coaching position.

Instead, Rhule, who was the Giants clear first choice to be their next coach, never got on the airplane after his interview yesterday with Carolina, who reportedly will name him their next HC later today.

Giants owner John Mara and G.M. Dave Gettleman have some soul-searching to do. There was nobody who didn’t expect Matt Rhule to jump at the chance to coach his childhood team.

Carolina could not have out-spent the Giants for Rhule’s services. For the young coach to not even give the Giants an interview may speak loudly about how far the Giants organization has fallen in esteem in the eyes of the league.

Mike McCarthy interviewed with the Giants last week and took the the Cowboys job, instead.

Tomorrow, the Giants interview Josh McDaniel, the offensive coordinator for the Patriots.

Maybe, McDaniel’s boss, Bill Belichick will become available as well, over the next couple of weeks. He can see the writing on the wall for his Patriots organization, with coaching staff and player personnel undergoing massive changes. At age 67, the only job Belichick has told friends he would leave New England for is the Giants job, with the organization that gave him his professional start as an assistant coach under Bill Parcells.

The allure of the Giants organization and tradition has taken a huge hit, today, for sure, but this may turn out okay for the Giants if McDaniels or his boss still see the job as the apple of their eyes.

Can you imagine McDaniels and Belichick coming to the Giants as a package?

Giants Fire Shurmur, Retain Gettleman. Can Belichick be in the Mix?

by Scott Mandel

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants today announced they have dismissed head coach Pat Shurmur after two seasons of a five-year contract.

Mark this down as another bad deal for the Giants.

The team also confirmed that general manager Dave Gettleman will remain in his position.

Mark that down as a win for John Mara, whose loyalty to Giants personnel is legendary, and a loss for co-owner, Steve Tisch, who reportedly wanted to sweep out the entire hierarchy of football decision-makers.

Looming over the Giants, a franchise that many feel is developing a young core of of talent along with a franchise quarterback in rookie Daniel Jones, could be the imposing figure of the winningest coach in NFL history, Bill Belichick, currently trying to get to his tenth Super Bowl in the past 15 years with the New England Patriots.

Since becoming the Patriots head coach in 2000, Belichick has led them to 16 AFC East division titles, 13 appearances in the AFC Championship Game, and nine Super Bowl appearances, with a record six wins. Belichick has participated in 11 Super Bowls, including two as Bill Parcells’ defensive coordinator in 1986 and 1991, has won eight Super Bowl championships in total from his combined time as an assistant and head coach. And, he’s never gotten rid of his soft spot for the Giants.

No one outside Foxborough knows for sure what his contract status is and there is speculation he could be available in 2020. Whenever given the chance, Belichick waxes poetic about the start of his NFL coaching career with the Giants. It is very likely that the Giants are the only team he would leave New England to take over. He could bring his offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, with him — with McDaniels taking on the challenge of continuing the development of Daniel Jones. This would make sense if the rumblings that Tom Brady’s time with the Patriots is nearing an end.

The Giants were 9-23 in 2018-19 and have not won more than five games in any of the last three seasons.

“Steve and I have had many extensive discussions about the state of the Giants,” Mara said. “This morning, we made the very difficult decision that it would be in the best interest of the franchise that we relieve Pat of his duties. The last three seasons have been extremely disappointing for the organization and our fans. Pat has been a successful and highly-respected NFL coach for 21 years and he is not solely responsible for our record. But we came to the conclusion it is best to have a fresh start with the coaching staff. We very much appreciate how much Pat has done for this franchise. He is a man of character and integrity and the team has conducted itself with pride and professionalism.

“As owners, we take full responsibility for our recent poor record. It is our goal to consistently deliver high-quality football and we will do everything in our power to see that there is a rapid and substantial turnaround.”

Added Tisch, “The last two seasons have been a continuation of what has been a very difficult and disappointing period for our franchise. It is never easy to part with someone the caliber of Pat. But John and I came to the conclusion that we need a new voice in the coach’s office and made the decision to bring in new leadership.

“We understand how frustrated our fans are. They expect more from us and we expect more from ourselves. Our focus now is on developing and improving our football team so that our fans can enjoy the winning team they expect and deserve.”

Mara and Tisch believe that Gettleman is the best general manager for the team. His first draft class included running back Barkley, the No. 2 overall selection who set numerous records in his debut season and was selected the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. In addition, his 2018 draft choices included Will Hernandez, who has started all 32 games in his two seasons at left guard, linebacker Lorenzo Carter and defensive tackle B.J. Hill.

This year, the Giants drafted 10 players, including Jones, who started 12 games and established numerous franchise rookie records, including 24 touchdown passes. Jones is expected to be a fixture at the game’s most important position for many years.

The 2019 draft class also included Darius Slayton, a fifth-round selection whose eight touchdown receptions tied him for first among NFL rookie wideouts; Dexter Lawrence, who started all 16 games; linebackers Oshane Ximines and Ryan Connelly; and defensive backs DeAndre Baker, Julian Love and Corey Ballentine.

“Dave Gettleman is our general manager in 2020 and hopefully for many years after that,” Mara said. “We believe he is the right person to lead us going forward. Dave has a long record of success. We think he’s capable of putting a great team together and he’s going to get that opportunity. To the extent we need to make changes in personnel or the way we do things, we’re going to discuss that.”

“Although our record didn’t reflect it this season, we believe Dave has assembled a strong nucleus of young players that will help us compete for championships in the future,” Tisch said.

Shurmur was named the 18th head coach in Giants history on Jan. 22, 2018.

The Giants finished their first season under Shurmur with a 5-11 record, a two-game improvement over their 2017 record.

Twelve of the Giants’ 16 games that season were decided by seven or fewer points, tying them with Philadelphia and Pittsburgh for the most in the NFL. The Giants were 4-8 in games decided by seven or fewer points. The eight losses in such games were an NFL high. The Giants held a fourth-quarter lead in four of those games.

The Giants began the 2019 season 2-2, with the two victories coming in Jones’ initial starts after Shurmur decided the rookie would replace 16-year veteran Eli Manning as the team’s starting quarterback. But after defeating Washington on Sept. 29, the Giants tied a franchise record by losing nine consecutive games and falling to 2-11. They did not win again until Dec. 15, when they beat the Miami Dolphins. That was the second of two games in which Manning substituted for Jones, who was sidelined by a sprained ankle.

Mara and Tisch said they will immediately begin their search for a new coach. They did not identify any candidates.

“The search will be extensive,” Mara said. “We understand this a very big decision for our franchise. We’ve had three losing years in a row and, quite frankly, we have lost some standing as an organization. When you have three losing years in a row as we have, you face a lot of criticism. A lot of it is deserved. It’s up to us now to turn that around and get back to where I think we should be.”

Mandel’s Musings: Knicks “Interim” Coach, Mike Miller Has Similar Qualities to Another Interim Hire – Red Holzman

By Scott Mandel

The Knicks put up 77 points in the first half against the Hawks, last night at Madison Square Garden. Then, they proceeded to add another 66 points in the second half, completing a 143-120 blowout of the Atlanta Hawks, another struggling NBA team.

The win brought the Knicks’ record under their interim coach, Mike Miller, to 3-3, which includes four west coast road contests. The previous coach, David Fizdale, had compiled a record of 4-18 before he was fired.

I’m not about to compare this new coach, Miller, to the legendary Red Holzman, the former Knicks head coach when the franchise won its only NBA championships in 1969-70 and 1972-73 but he seems to share a lot of the same personality traits and coaching sensibilities the self-effacing, camera-shy Holzman used to impart to his players.

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Interim Knicks coach, Mike Miller, may lose his interim title if team continues to progress

Holzman, an organizational scout who preferred to work behind the scenes in his scouting capacity, was brought in on an interim basis to replace Dick McGuire as Knicks coach in 1967. The Knicks were a putrid team going nowhere in those days but they did have a handful of talented parts on their roster. Today’s version of this franchise has continued a 20-year year run of mostly pitiful basketball, pitiful scouting, pitiful drafting, and pitiful coaching.

In both instances, there was no clamor from legitimate, high profile coaches to become the head coach of a franchise on its way to nowhere, either in 1967 or today. Even Steve Kerr, with no head coaching experience in 2013, turned down the Knicks. Whatever happened to him?

Both Holzman and Miller were organizational men who did what they were asked, which was to finish out the current season and try to get the team back on a path of respectability while a new coaching search began. Holzman did more than that, and has a bust in the NBA Hall of Fame to prove it. So far, Miller is 3-3. Both are superb accomplishments, given certain realities of the organizational history and the rosters they inherited.

At 4-18, it was time to say goodbye to David Fizdale. Enter organization man, Miller, a 55-year old basketball lifer who, like Holzman, worked the back roads of the basketball universe, far from the bright lights of Broadway, before being asked to take over a broken franchise. Miller became something of a last resort.

Like Holzman did, in 1967.

Back then, the team president, Ned Irish, decided to replace McGuire, who, like Fizdale, looked beaten and couldn’t wait to find the exit door. The team was in last place, and Irish decided to reach out to the nearest candidate, which he presumed to be Holzman. Holzman preferred the anonymity of scouting.

But Irish persisted.

”And I realized that if I didn’t take the coaching job,” Holzman, modest as always, said, ”I might not have any job.”

Miller, too, is one of those self-effacing types who doesn’t seek out television cameras or a high profile. He doesn’t make himself the story. Like Holzman, he’s a teacher, first, a disciplinarian, a basketball lifer, an old-school guy who focuses on the fundamentals of the game. Nothing fancy about the suits he wears or about the way he approaches the game.

Like Holzman.

Bill Bradley, who played for Holtzman from 1967 through 1977, once told me Holzman often solicited the players’ opinions on what they thought would work in a given game. The mutual respect sometimes made the process a collaborative one for those great Knicks teams. Of course, Holzman had the benefit of collaborating with basketball geniuses with very high hoops IQs. Bradley, DeBusshere, Frazier, Reed, Barnett, Phil Jackson, Jerry Lucas, Monroe. There wasn’t a Dennis Smith or a Julius Randle among them.

But, if last night’s game is any indication, we watched the youngsters on the Knicks, guys like Mitchell Robinson and Kevin Knox, cutting hard to the hoop off of pick and rolls for easy buckets or finding cutting teammates with slick, but basic passes for easy baskets. Fundamental basketball.

Like Holzman.

And, a quick history lesson. Those terrible 1967 Knicks made the playoffs in the season in which Holzman took over the club. He agreed to stay on as coach. In December of the next season, the team traded for DeBusschere, giving the Knicks a tremendous force around the basket, as a defensive forward and long-range shooter. It was the piece that made the difference and made Holzman a legendary figure in NBA history who never took credit for his success. It was always about the players.

This guy, Miller, a quiet, middle-aged, balding basketball lifer with the interim title seems like an odd fit for this young, hip-hop 2019 team. But, something here is clicking. Any coach who can convince freakishly athletic talents with low understandings of team basketball like Dennis Smith and Julius Randle to play more controlled and within team-oriented concepts on both sides of the floor has somehow figured out how to communicate with this younger generation, despite the 30+ years in age difference with this roster.

Just like Holzman.

Hey Giants Fans, the Future of your 3-11 Team Isn’t as Bad as You Think

By Scott Mandel

NY Giants fans, you may yet have a happy future. Much sooner than you think.

Would you believe a 3-11 team, one with the potential to finish this inglorious 2019 season 3-13, hope to contend for a playoff slot in the near future? Sounds like a silly question, doesn’t it?

But, the answer, in this view is, a resounding yes.

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Giants future isn’t as bad as you think. Young talent is getting better

The Giants roster doesn’t consist of household names, yet. No Lawrence Taylor’s or Phil Simms or Eli Manning’s in that locker room. Well, there is that old guy, #10 still hanging in there but the future core of this team will not include that Jersey number, which will be retired.

But, talent, young emerging talent, is taking shape for Big Blue. And, the more I watch these kids every week, the more improvement I am seeing in technique, confidence, and most importantly, production on the field.

DeAndre Baker, Sam Beal, Cory Ballantine, Julian Love, Markus Golden, Leonard Williams, Dalvin Tomlinson, Oshane Ximines, Lorenzo Carter, Dexter Lawrence, and injured rookie linebacker, Ryan Connelly are mostly in their first or second years on a defense which might add the best defensive football player in the country out of Ohio State, Chase Young, if the Giants hold onto the second pick in the NFL draft by losing their last two games. The addition of young veterans, Leonard Williams (from the Jets) and Markus Golden have been examples of addition by addition. The removal of Janoris “JackRabbit” Jenkins, the veteran cornerback, has been addition by subtraction, especially in that locker room of impressionable youngsters.

From this group on defense will emerge new leaders. Don’t be shocked if names like Connelly, Julian Love, and Dexter Lawrence step up to that mantle.

It says here, next season will offer an athletic, fast, and tough unit on the defensive side of the ball. How do I know that? Because I know it. Take it to the bank.

The question is, will they have the right coach to guide these kids next season? Is the current coaching staff going to be retained to continue the progress?

On offense, the O-Line needs a massive upgrade in talent, particularly at the tackle positions and at center. But, I loved the young guards, Hernandez and Nick Gates, yesterday. Both are big, tough, athletic youngsters who like the game of football. Unfortunately, the stopgap free agents signed in the off-season by the potentially stopgap general manager, Dave Gettleman for the sole purpose of protecting the quarterback from the left and right tackle positions didn’t pan out, making Gettleman’s job tenuous, at best.

The receivers are solid, with Sheppard, Golden Gate, and Darious Slayton while tight ends Evan Engram and the Stanford kid, Kaden Smith are potential pass-catching stars as receivers. But, the key to this unit’s success will always remain with the success of the kid QB, Daniel Jones, and the star running back, Saquan Barkley, who, along with game-breaker Engram need to stay on the field. Until the offensive line becomes solid, though, scoring points will be a challenge, particularly vs. better teams, for Jones and his mates.

After all, you can’t play the Miami Dolphins every week, you know? But the core of this team appears to be very close to being one that will impact on the NFL, as soon as next year.