2014-15 Chicago Bulls: So far, so good

In his contract year, 4th-year SG Jimmy Butler (with ball) has been the Bulls' best offensive player to date. Pay the man, GarPax.  Tom Szczerbowski -- USA Today Sports

In his contract year, 4th-year SG Jimmy Butler (with ball) has been the Bulls’ best offensive player to date. Pay the man, GarPax. Tom Szczerbowski — USA Today Sports

At 17-9, the Chicago Bulls currently sit in first place in the NBA’s Central Division, three-and-a-half games behind the Toronto Raptors (yes, the freaking Toronto Raptors) for the top overall seed in the Eastern Conference. With an expected win-loss record of 16-10, it appears the Bulls are about where they should be in terms of play. One-and-a-half games behind the Bulls in the Central are the reloaded Cleveland Cavaliers (15-10), and once again, the East looks fairly weak, especially when compared to the West.

Backcourt.

Obviously, the most compelling story behind the 14-15 Bulls has been, and will be, the return of PG Derrick Rose. Even those who resided under a rock this past summer were most likely made aware of Rose’s each move on the basketball court, whether it was for Team USA during the FIBA Basketball World Cup or Bulls, during the preseason and regular season. Before missing the last two games due to illness, Rose had started and finished ten straight games. In 16 games, playing just over 27 minutes a night, Rose has posted this line:

16.8 PPG, 3.3 TRB, 5.1 AST, .421 FG%, .281 3P%, .776 FT%, 3.3 TOV, .522 TS%, 17.1 PER

While 17/3/5 in just 27 minutes a night would be wonderful for just about anyone, Rose isn’t just

Derrick Rose, doing Derrick Rose stuff.

Derrick Rose, doing Derrick Rose stuff.

about anyone. A career 46% shooter from the field and 31% from long distance, Rose has never been a sharpshooter, although he’s improved as a shooter since entering the league in 2008. Factoring into Rose’s paltry shooting numbers this season is his shot selection. So far, Rose has attempted a career-low 38.6% of his shots from ten feet and closer. What makes this number so frustrating is that he’s shooting just over 59% in that space on the floor, a career-high mark. From deep, Rose has put up more shots (nearly 6 a game) than any other time since his second year in the league and this season. Not only is this problematic because Rose is shooting terribly from three-point territory, but also because the Bulls are currently second in the league in free throws per field goal attempt. When Rose chucks from deep, he misses nearly 75% of the time, creating easier opportunities for the opponent to get into their transition offense and score quick, efficient baskets. Rose is still knocking the rust off of his game, but he’s been well above-average thus far and should find production at a higher level easier as the season goes on.

Twenty-five year-old shooting guard Jimmy Butler entered the 14-15 season needing to improve on a disappointing 13-14 campaign that saw his value plummet and questions arise whether or not Butler could be the Bulls’ off guard of the future. Through 24 games (all starts), Butler has been pretty damn good, and the dreaded “m” word may get thrown around when/if contract negotiations come up this offseason. Averaging a shade under 22 points per night while shooting a very respectable 49% from the field and 33% from deep, Butler has also maintained his status as one of the league’s better defenders. With a VORP that has already reached 5.1, Butler seems on track for an All-NBA caliber season.

I never expected Kirk Hinrich to do much when he was re-signed this offseason. And, you know what, he certainly hasn’t on the offensive end. On the defensive end, however, he’s been surprisingly average and dare I say, on most nights, above-average. This still doesn’t negate the fact that he’s shooting 36% from the field (actually down from last year’s 39% and 12-13’s 38%) and has posted a PER of 8.2 and VORP of -0.1, making him damn near valueless in the 28 minutes a night he’s playing. The man who should be most angered by the Bulls’ loyalty to Hinrich besides myself is fellow backup point man, Aaron Brooks. The 6’1″ Oregon product can be added to the list of smaller, backup point guards (Nate Robinson, DJ Augustin) who found a home, and success, with the Bulls. While playing nearly 20 minutes a night, Brooks has averaged almost 11 points a night and just over 3 assists. With a shooting line of (FG%/3P%/FT%) .470/.446/.857 to boot, Brooks has proved to be a wise investment, although he does average 4 turnovers per 36 minutes.

Tony Snell probably doesn’t have much of a future with the Bulls, and his performance in limited time this season has not changed that opinion. After a strong summer performance, Snell has apparently fallen out of the rotation and has posted a PER of a measly 5. Backup point guard E’Twaun Moore was signed to essentially fill out the roster and has done just that, picking up some minutes occasionally.

Frontcourt.

Reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year and 1st-Team All-NBA center Joakim Noah has been slowed by injuries thus far, but has still managed to post (PPG/RPG/APG) 8.7/9.9/4.3 a night and produce at a high level on the defensive end. His field goal percentage and True Shooting percentage have both dropped for the fifth consecutive season, however. Fellow starting big Pau Gasol has been nothing short of spectacular in his first season with the Bulls, averaging 18.2/11.7/2.3 a night. Gasol is also averaging 2 blocks per game and has been much more of an interior defensive presence than I was willing to give him credit for when he signed as a free agent in July. Playing nearly 36 minutes a night, though, could spell doom for the 34 year-old big when April rolls around.

Sixth-year power forward Taj Gibson appeared set to be the Bulls’ starting power forward once Carlos Boozer was amnestied, but Gasol signed and Gibson was once again relegated to the bench when Gasol and Noah are healthy. Despite another season of limited opportunities and lack of appreciation, Gibson has been great this season, averaging 12.6 & 7.2 in just over 30 minutes a contest. Still an excellent defender down low and on the perimeter, Gibson has in addition become more aggressive on the offensive end, attempting well over half of his shots at the rim and making 67% of them. Small forward Mike Dunleavy has appeared and started in all 26 games and while he never really gives me cause for excitement, he also never really disappoints me, either. You could probably put Dunleavy on any NBA roster and he’d manage to average 10 points and 5 rebounds a night while shooting close to 40% from three-point territory. Eerie.

Nikola Mirotic will inevitably become my favorite NBA player. Of this, I’m sure. Yes, I am fully aware that Mirotic is not yet Dirk Nowitzki, or even Toni Kukoc. However, dare I say that Mirotic will wind up being better than the two? Saving that opinion for later… Mirotic’s line so far:

8.1 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 1.2 AST, .441 FG%, .400 3P%, .809 FT%, .603 TS%, 17.7 PER

That’s not a line we usually see from Rookie of the Year winners, but generally, rookies who contend for the award aren’t playing for teams that are legitimate title contenders. Head coach Tom Thibodeau seems to have an aversion to rookies, but most of his rookies weren’t “Niko.” Already a competent defender and very good rebounder, all Niko needs to do is become more aggressive on the offensive side (almost half of his field goal attempts have come from three-point territory), giving the Bulls another weapon on that end.

I’m still holding out hope that rookie small forward Doug McDermott will eventually become a productive NBA player. The problem is that I’m not quite sure he will ever be a productive player for the Bulls. Marquis Teague, “McD” is not, even on his worst day. Yet, it’s not a stretch to predict that as a Bull, McD may not give the team much more than Teague did. Out for another 5 to 7 weeks after arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, McDermott had limited opportunities before he was felled by injury, but even in those chances (11.6 minutes per), he was pretty awful:

3.2 PPG, 1.6 RPG, .423 FG%, .231 3P%, .500 FT%, .488 TS%, 4.1 PER

Now, I don’t believe McD is as bad as that line shows. However, when he returns later this season, he’s going to have to contribute on the offensive end, because I simply don’t see him providing much in the way of meaningful value on defense.

Nazr Mohammed, a CPS and Kenwood Academy product, can do no wrong in my eyes, so long

Cameron Bairstow, NBA player. No, seriously.

Cameron Bairstow, NBA player. No, seriously.

as he doesn’t have to play more than a few minutes per game. As for rookie big man Cameron Bairstow, I don’t know much else about him except that he makes rookie-year Carmelo Anthony look absolutely svelte, and that he needs to ditch that headbandthing and tube socks.

A semi-outlook.

Presently, the Bulls are 15th in scoring (102.2 per game), 11th in scoring defense (98.4), 10th in Offensive Rating (108.4) and 9th in Defensive Rating (104.3). There are still some kinks that need to be ironed out, but most of those kinks have been related to injuries, which in my opinion is a better obstacle to have to clear than inept play. With 56 games left to play, there is still plenty of time for the Bulls to find out just what they are, which I hope is a legitimate contender for an NBA title.

Advertisements

Game 9 recap: #14 OSU dashes #8 MSU’s playoff hopes in E. Lansing, 49-37

J.T. Barrett does not care about your alleged elite defense, people.

OSU QB J.T. Barrett beats MSU LB Ed Davis to the end zone during the first quarter of yesterday's OSU 49-37 win over MSU in E. Lansing.  Andrew Weber -- USA Today Sports

OSU QB J.T. Barrett beats MSU LB Ed Davis to the end zone during the first quarter of yesterday’s OSU 49-37 win over MSU in E. Lansing. Andrew Weber — USA Today Sports

Okay, so maybe that’s somewhat of a stretch. While the Ohio St. freshman has been very impressive in place of injured QB Braxton Miller, he hasn’t been gunning down top-10, top-20, or even top-50 teams every week. However, all a player can do is execute against the competition and so far, Barrett has done that and then some.

I gave the 14th-ranked Buckeyes (8-1, 5-0 Big Ten East) a bit less than a puncher’s chance to escape East Lansing with a victory, and naturally, they went into East Lansing and pretty much trounced my 8th-ranked Michigan St. Spartans (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten East), 49-37. There were 86 points and over 1,100 yards of total offense between arguably the Big Ten’s two best teams, in a nationally televised night game, no less. There are those who will call this win an upset for Ohio St., but that’s really based on ranking, only. Clearly, the gap, if there is one, is not large at all.

Offense: You’d think that if the Spartans racked up 536 yards of total offense, in any game, that they’d come away the victor. Right? The problem is that while it appears Sparty’s offense was wildly effective, it actually wasn’t. Jeremy Langford had a great day (18 CAR, 145 YDS, 3 TD), but seemingly wasn’t utilized enough, especially considering MSU was somewhat in the game until early in the fourth quarter. QB Connor Cook (25-45, 358 YDS, 2 TD) continued to struggle with his accuracy, never really getting into a solid rhythm despite posting impressive game numbers. WR Tony Lippett was injured early, and was limited to just 5 catches for 64 yards. Fellow WR Macgarett Kings, Jr. and TE Josiah Price both hauled in 5 passes for a combined 136 yards, with Price hauling in a 16-yard TD catch after the game was pretty much well in hand. The offense did not turn the ball over, but went nearly an entire quarter in the second half without scoring a point, while the Buckeyes scored 14 in that time frame. As a result, the score jumped from 28-24 to 42-24. Cook was sacked only once, but faced good pressure at times. One of the more frustrating moments of this season came late in the second quarter, after the Buckeyes lost a fumble during a kick return. Sparty recovered and three plays later, Langford had a rushing touchdown negated because of a holding penalty. Two plays later, K Michael Geiger missed a 39-yard field goal and on the first play of the ensuing OSU possession, Barrett threw a 79-yard TD pass to WR Michael Thomas to knot the score at 21. Little did I know, the game was basically over at that point.

Defense: The defense was absolutely terrible. While I knew Barrett was no slouch, I had no clue he would have the type of game he had, against this MSU D, in what I believe can be a very raucous environment (especially when Sparty is, you know, good). All Barrett did against what was believed to be one of the nation’s top defenses was pile up 408 yards of total offense and 5 touchdowns, two of them coming on the ground. Barrett completed 16 of 26 passes for 300 yards and carried the ball 14 times for 108 yards. Similar to the Oregon game, whenever MSU’s opponent needed a play to be made, it seemed they could just dial up their QB’s number and get the necessary yardage or score. Buckeyes RB Ezekiel Elliott (23 CAR, 159 YDS, 2 TD) was a problem for Sparty, too, as was one of OSU’s top receivers in school history, Devin Smith (6 REC, 129 YDS, TD). Safeties Kurtis Drummond and RJ Williamson led Sparty with 11 tackles each; it’s never a good sign when your safeties lead the team in tackling. DE Shilique Calhoun was relatively quiet, but did manage to register 1.5 TFL and half a sack. My favorite defensive series: In the beginning of the second quarter, OSU faced a daunting 3rd and 23 from its own 36. Barrett completed a 43 yard-pass to Smith. Five plays later, on fourth and goal, Barrett powered it in from one yard away for six.

Special Teams: Nothing to report here, except that maybe it’s time for a new kicker?

What’s Next: At Maryland (6-3, 3-2 Big Ten East), 8 PM ET. Big Ten newcomer Maryland is just one game behind Sparty in the divisional standings and would love to have its first signature win as a conference member this upcoming Saturday night. Senior Terps QB C.J. Brown has been mostly serviceable as a dual-threat QB of sorts and offensively, there isn’t much behind him in the way of an actual threat. Maryland’s D is not very good, but is probably gleaming after allowing only 19 points in a trip to Penn State. Then again, they did allow 52 the week before in Camp Randall, so it’s possible Maryland is prime to give up another huge offensive output to its opponent. If Sparty doesn’t show up in College Park, MD, seething mad and ready to absolutely obliterate the Terrapins, I’ll be dumbfounded. Sparty’s chances of making the playoffs are over unless something absurdly miraculous happens, but head coach Mark Dantonio will make sure his squad finishes 2014 on a strong note.

GO GREEN. GO WHITE.

The 2014-15 Chicago Bulls

From left: Forward Pau Gasol, guard Derrick Rose and center Joakim Noah will be counted on to lead the 2014-15 Chicago Bulls to the promised land.  Charles Rex Arbogast -- AP Photo

From left: Forward Pau Gasol, guard Derrick Rose and center Joakim Noah will be counted on to lead the 2014-15 Chicago Bulls to the promised land.  Charles Rex Arbogast — AP Photo

Tomorrow night, the Chicago Bulls will begin their 2014-15 campaign against the New York Knicks. All eyes will initially be on every move of point guard Derrick Rose, who is looking to play his first full, healthy season since his 2010-11 MVP year. When he crashes to the floor, makes a cut, takes a bump, or simply glances at one of his knees, there will be looks of worry on the faces of many fans of both the Bulls and NBA. After the feelings of unease subside, we will be able to see a Bulls team that arguably did more to improve its roster than any other NBA team this offseason except the Cleveland Cavaliers, who signed all-everything LeBron James in free agency and traded away players and picks to the Minnesota Timberwolves for forward Kevin Love.

After the Bulls were ousted in the first round of the playoffs by an upstart Washington Wizards squad while playing without Rose and Luol Deng (traded to the Cavs), it was clearer than ever that the Bulls were going to need to add players with offensive firepower. Defensively, the Bulls were and are are the league’s best, but when it was time for a bucket and Rose was unavailable, the Bulls were practically lost as all hell. During this past offseason, it was assumed that forward Carmelo Anthony would sign with the Bulls as a free agent, giving them the scoring punch they desperately needed. “Melo” decided to re-sign with the Knicks (thank God), and the Bulls turned their attention elsewhere.

AdditionsPau Gasol, Aaron Brooks, Doug McDermott, Cameron Baristow, Nikola Mirotic, E’Twaun Moore (statistics are from 13-14 season)

C/PF Pau Gasol (17.4 PPG, 9.7 TRB, 3.4 APG, 1.5 BLK, .480 FG%,.286 3P%, .736 FT%, 102 ORtg, 108 DRtg, .522 TS%, .482 eFG%). The 34 year-old Spaniard signed with the Bulls this offseason after six and a half mostly successful seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers. A key part of two Lakers’ title teams, Gasol’s addition to the Bulls gives them a legitimate 7-footer who can score inside and out, as well as pass the ball proficiently from the low or high post. Gasol represents a significant upgrade over the departed Carlos Boozer, so expect fans to cheer for him just because of that fact.

PG Aaron Brooks (9 PPG, 1.9 TRB, 3.2 APG, .7 STL, .401 FG%, .387 3P%, .874 FT%, 105 ORtg, 110 DRtg, .518 TS%, .484 eFG%). Brooks, a former first-round pick of the Houston Rockets, spent 13-14 as a member of both the Rockets and Denver Nuggets, the latter of which he was traded to for forward Jordan Hamilton. The 6′, 160-lb point guard has played most of his career as a backup and will fill that very role for the Bulls. Brooks will have problems on the defensive end, but if he can offensively provide close to what he did for the Nuggets (11.9 PPG, 5.2 APG in 29 minutes per game), the signing will have been a very good one.

G/F Doug McDermott (For Creighton: 26.7 PPG, 7 TRB, 1.6 APG, .2 STL, .526 FG%, .449 3P%, .864 FT%, 127.4 ORtg, 106 DRtg, .644 TS%, .603 eFG%) Even though those numbers are from McDermott’s senior season at Creighton, they’re still wildly impressive. He won’t come close to matching them in the NBA, but with an added emphasis on the three-point shot over the years, players like McDermott will almost always have a spot on a roster. If he can use his “sneaky athleticism” to score easy buckets, he could become a viable offensive weapon for the Bulls.

Cameron Bairstow (For New Mexico: 20.4 PPG, 7.4 TRB, 1.6 APG, 1.5 BLK, .556 FG%, .333 FG%, .735 FT%, 122.9 ORtg, 99.6 DRtg, .611 TS%, .558 eFG%) It took three years for Bairstow to become a force at the University of New Mexico, and his senior season put him on the college basketball map. Although he is a bit undersized at 6’9″, 240, Bairstow is a very tough scrapper who will likely need to show defensive prowess to crack Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau’s rotation.

Nikola Mirotic (For Real Madrid: 12.4 PPG, 4.6 TRB, 1.2 APG, 1.1 STL, .508 FG%, .461 3P%, .811 FT%) Mirotic has created a buzz since his draft rights were traded from the Minnesota Timberwolves to the Bulls on the draft night of 2011. Widely regarded as one of the best players outside of the NBA before signing with the Bulls, Mirotic has developed into a legitimate “stretch four,” more than capable of putting the ball on the floor and driving to the basket. Mirotic showed some positive flashes this preseason (posted team’s second-highest DRtg at 94.3), but will need to add bulk and become a more competent defender in order to reach “Toni Kukoc status.”

G E’Twaun Moore (6.3 PPG, 1.7 TRB, 1.4 APG, .8 STL, .428 FG%, .354 3P%, .765 FT%, 102 ORtg, 109 DRtg, .513 TS%, .490 eFG%) The Purdue product was signed to give the team guard depth, but hopefully, he won’t be counted on, as that would mean that Rose, Hinrich, and Brooks are out of the mix.

Returning: Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Mike Dunleavy, Kirk Hinrich, Jimmy Butler, Tony Snell, Nazr Mohammed

Derrick Rose (15.9 PPG, 3.2 TRB, 4.3 APG, .5 STL, .354 FG%, .340 3P%, .844 FT%, 88 ORtg, 105 DRtg, .446 TS%, .402 eFG%) DERRICK ROSE IS BACK!!! Seriously, he is. After tearing the meniscus in his right knee last season, Rose sat out the team’s final 71 games, electing to let the injury heal as close to completely as possible. He returned this summer to play for Team USA in the FIBA World Cup, where he backed up Kyrie Irving. The US won gold, but Rose did not shoot the ball even remotely well. However, he did seem to play very much under control, showed the burst that made him the league’s most explosive point guard at one time, and most importantly (to me), was an absolute hound on defense. In addition, he dealt with an incredibly grueling schedule without showing signs of wear and tear. With more offensive weaponry to play with, Rose won’t have to offensively bail the Bulls out nearly as much as he did in 10-11, and he should be a much better player for it.

C/PF Joakim Noah (12.6 PPG, 11.3 TRB, 5.4 APG, 1.5 BPG, 1.2 STL, .475 FG%, .737 FT%, 111 ORtg, 96 DRtg, .531 TS%, .475 eFG%) Last year’s Defensive Player of the Year (and first-time 1st-team All-NBA member) will have a new starting frontcourt mate in Gasol, which should make his life a hell of a lot easier. Noah put up very good numbers (10.4 PPG, 12.8 TRB, 4.6 APG, .536 TS%) against the Wizards in last year’s playoffs, but on the other end, C Nene Hilario had his way with him. With Noah guarding him most, Hilario went for (points/rebounds/assists) 17.8/6.5/3.25 while shooting 55% from the field as the Wizards won the series in five games. Noah likely won’t match his numbers from last year, but expect him to be a better player on both ends of the floor.

PF Taj Gibson (13 PPG, 6.8 TRB, 1.1 APG, 1.4 BPG, .479 FG%, .751 FT%, 102 ORtg, 100 DRtg, .524 TS%, .479 eFG%) Before Gasol signed with the Bulls, it seemed as if Taj would begin the 14-15 season as the team’s starting power forward. Things have changed with the Gasol signing, but Gibson will still be a huge piece to the puzzle. Easily one of the league’s better defenders since he entered the league in 2009, Gibson has also worked to improve his low post and mid-range game. Many of his buckets will come from putbacks and alley-oops, but he is slowly becoming a solid threat from 10-16 feet and his ability to run the floor as a big is unmatched by most.

G/F Mike Dunleavy (11.3 PPG, 4.2 TRB, 2.3 APG, .8 STL, .430 FG%, .380 3P%, .854 FT%, 108 ORtg, 102 DRtg, .549 TS%, .510 eFG%) There are certainly Bulls fans who feel McDermott should be starting over Dunleavy at the 3, and for all we know, Thibs may actually start McD over Mike. I’m guessing it won’t happen though, mainly because Dunleavy, while not a good defender, is much more familiar with what Thibs wants on that end of the floor. And what Thibs wants on defense, he gets, or you ride the pine. Although he isn’t a good defender, Dunleavy is a serviceable one, and he is offensively skilled enough to keep even a good defense honest.

G Kirk Hinrich (9.1 PPG, 2.6 TRB, 3.9 APG, 1.1 STL, .393 FG%, .351 3P%, .768 FT%, 100 ORtg, 102 DRtg, .494 TS%, .461 eFG%) Hinrich isn’t a bad guy. I don’t dislike him. I’m pretty sure he’s well-respected among his family, friends, and peers. But, damn, there wasn’t another backup guard available? Does Hinrich have incriminating photos of Gar Forman or John Paxson? Both? There was a time when Hinrich was an above-average player, but those days are long gone. Let’s just hope that Hinrich gets in the way of opposing ball-handlers and shoots at least 40% from the floor.

G/F Jimmy Butler (13.1 PPG, 4.9 TRB, 2.6 APG, 1.9 STL, .397 FG%, .280 3P%, .769 FT%, 108 ORtg, 100 DRtg, .522 TS%, .446 eFG%) Make no mistake about it: Butler couldn’t hit a shot to save his life during the 13-14 season. With Rose out due to injury, more of the onus to score fell on Butler’s shoulders than should have, and the result was a paltry 39.7% from the floor and sub-30% from deep. Despite his shooting woes, Butler still made the NBA’s All-Defense Second Team and for the second straight postseason, averaged more than 17 points per game. If Butler becomes even a league-average shooter from the floor and three, the Bulls’ offense will be even more potent.

G Tony Snell (4.5 PPG, 1.6 TRB, .9 APG, .384 FG%, .320 3P%, .756 FT%, 97 ORtg, 104 DRtg, .489 TS%, .469 eFG%) Snell had a great summer and must be looking to carry that play over into the regular season, because he shot the ball terribly this preseason. At 16 minutes per game, Snell played more as a rookie than I predicted, and if given the same playing time, could prove to be a very effective scorer. He and McDermott will make the reserves a good offensive unit if they’re knocking down shots and slashing to the basket. Also, Snell has the length and athleticism to be a good defender in the Bulls’ system, provided he realizes that when on the defensive end, one’s focus should be on defense.

C/F Nazr Mohammed (1.6 PPG, 2.2 TRB, .3 APG. .4 BPG, .429 FG%, .533 FT%, 90 ORtg, 97 DRtg, .445 TS%, .429 eFG%) Chicago Public Schools (Kenwood Academy) product Nazr Mohammed returns for his 17th NBA season. At the age of 36, he will be counted on to give Jo, Pau and Taj breathers whenever necessary. Nazr can’t be counted on to do too much, but he is long and an adequate rim defender.

Outlook: Despite the fact that many “pundits” and “experts” are picking the new-look Cavaliers to win the Central Division and Eastern Conference, I firmly believe the Bulls will come away with those titles. While the Cavs look impressive on paper, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love still seem allergic to defense and outside of LeBron, Shawn Marion, and Anderson Varejao, there doesn’t seem to be a player on the roster who is even an okay defender. The Bulls team that reached the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals was one that had only one real offensive threat, and that was Derrick Rose. This Bulls team has Rose, Gasol, McDermott, Mirotic, Brooks, and don’t forget Noah, a big capable of dishing out five assists a night. All of those players are at least fairly capable of creating for themselves, and all of them except McDermott are more than equipped to create for others. Combine the newfound offense with a staunch defensive mentality and I believe we have a Bulls team that could prove itself better than the Cavs when all is said and done. Obviously, the games must be played, but it shouldn’t take long to figure out that when healthy, this Bulls team should be considered one of the favorites to win it all.

Game 1 recap: #8 Sparty embarrasses Jacksonville St, 45-7. That is all.

Michigan St. QB Connor Cook eludes Jacksonville St. DE LaMichael Fanning in the first half of yesterday's 2014 season opener at Spartan Stadium. MSU would go on to win, 45-7.  Mike Carter - USA Today

Michigan St. QB Connor Cook eludes Jacksonville St. DE LaMichael Fanning in the first half of yesterday’s 2014 season opener at Spartan Stadium. MSU would go on to win, 45-7. Mike Carter – USA Today

Yesterday evening was great, and not just because my 8th-ranked Michigan State Spartans began their 2014 football season against the Ohio Valley Conference’s Jacksonville State Gamecocks in East Lansing’s Spartan Stadium. It was delectable because I knew I was watching the defending Big Ten Legends Division Champions. The defending Big Ten Champions. And most importantly, the defending Rose Bowl Champions. MSU won 42 games from 2010-13 and I knew that unlike in 2011, 2012, or 2013, this team entered the season with a huge target on its back. It feels beyond awesome to be a fan of the hunted, rather than of the hunter.

Sparty came into yesterday’s game returning 13 starters–7 offensive, 4 defensive, and 1 special teams–from last year’s squad, but against a foe like JSU, they probably could have started all redshirt freshmen and seen somewhere around the same final result.

Offense: MSU (1-0, 0-0 Big Ten) fans got a scare early as QB Connor Cook (12-13, 285 YDS, 3 TD) took a late hit to his left leg after making a great throw on the run to WR Tony Lippett (4 REC, 167 YDS, 2 TD), who completed the 64-yard scoring play. Cook returned to the game, completing his first 9 passes for 257 yards, before sitting out the entire second half as the Spartans had already built a 38-0 first half lead. Eleven different Spartans finished with a reception, and outside of Cook and the other two quarterbacks who played, seven different Spartans notched a carry. Lead backs Jeremy Langford and Nick Hill combined for 99 yards on 24 carries, with Hill scoring two touchdowns. Junior WR AJ Troup (3 REC, 38 YDS, TD) also hauled in a touchdown pass, the first of his college career.

Defense: Really, MSU’s defense didn’t have to do much, despite some offseason worrying about their loss of personnel to either graduation or the NFL Draft. JSU (0-1, 0-0 Ohio Valley Conference) tallied only 89 yards of total offense in the first half and finished with a scant 244. Gamecocks senior RB DaMarcus James, who ran for nearly 1,500 yards and scored 29 touchdowns last year, finished the game with 17 yards on 3 carries. JSU ran out three quarterbacks and none of them fared all that well, although Minnesota transfer Max Shortell (10-18, 117 YDS, TD) helped JSU score its only points of the contest. Safety Kurtis Drummond and cornerbacks Darian Hicks and Nick Tompkins, the latter a converted running back, each picked off a pass.

Special TeamsSparty’s punt return unit was pretty busy, as JSU punter Hamish MacInnes punted seven times. Spartan WR Macgarrett Kings, Jr. returned two of them for only 11 yards. MSU’s Mike Sadler, the best damn punter in the land, punted four times for a gross average of 32.8 yards per punt. Sophomore kicker Michael Geiger, in his first year on the job, connected on just one of two field goal attempts.

What’s Next: 9/6. OREGON. AT Oregon. AT night. The third-ranked Oregon Ducks will begin their 2014 season tonight against the South Dakota Coyotes in Eugene, OR. Look for them to aim to get far ahead of SD early so they can rest their starters in the second half. Ducks head coach Mark Helfrich has to be aware that his team will play a Spartan unit that physically dominated a very tough Stanford Cardinal team in the 2014 Rose Bowl, and will want all hands on deck for next week’s matchup. Oregon QB Marcus Mariota is arguably the country’s best and most exciting player, and I guarantee Helfrich will do everything in his power to keep him out of harm’s way.

GO GREEN. GO WHITE.