• Report: Rick Barnes not expected to return as head coach

    Texas head coach Rick Barnes isn’t expected to return to the Longhorns next season, according to a report from 247 Sports.

    Multiple reports surfaced Thursday that athletic director Steve Patterson wants Barnes to make significant changes to the program or risk losing his spot. However, a source told 247 Sports that the veteran head coach is not expected to consent those requests.

    Barnes’ job security has been in talks this season after once again failing to produce a deep postseason run. Last season, the Longhorns lost in the round of 32 before falling to Butler in their first game of the tournament last week.

    Through his 17-year tenure, Barnes, the winningest head coach at Texas, has tallied 402 wins with the Longhorns, but hasn’t appeared in Sweet 16 or beyond since 2008.

    Barnes’ contract, which runs through March 2019, is currently worth $2.5 million per year. After his recent contract extension at the end of last season, he is due $1.75 million if he is fired before. But after that date will be due $1.5 million.

  • Thoughts from Texas' first spring practice

    With the first spring practice in the books, it’s officially football season.

    The first practice was telling in regards to the Longhorns’ attitude and direction. The changes that Longhorn fans have been craving after a disappointing 6-7 season are already present, with both offensive and defensive scheme shifts on display early.

    The Longhorns new-look offense can best be described with one word-- tempo. The teams’ conditioning was tested early with the offense running to the line after each snap and getting set without a huddle. It’s clear that head coach Charlie Strong and his staff want the offense to play fast this year, similar to the up-tempo offense ran by former offensive coordinator Major Applewhite during the final years of the Mack Brown era. 

    Texas also seems to be getting more creative with offensive formations. The Longhorns displayed a primarily shotgun and pistol offense, which is something quite different from last season where the Longhorns often preferred to be under center.

    Texas lined up in a variety of shotgun and pistol formations, including sets using full backs and tight ends in the backfield, as well as multiple spread formations with three-to-four wide receivers. Creativity was also present in play calling with junior receiver Daje Johnson taking end-around handoffs out of shotgun formations.

    Though Strong said Monday that rising junior quarterback Tyrone Swoopes and redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard would be taking equal reps, it seemed that Swoopes had the early advantage in Texas’ quarterback battle.

    Swoopes looked confident and sharp when throwing the ball and made a number of nice throws in traffic. Heard had his moments, but he struggled with his accuracy at times and limited himself to shorter range throws. Though they received about an even number of total plays, Swoopes took all of the major reps with the first-team offense.

    Other offensive standouts include rising sophomore receiver Lorenzo Joe who was impressive in using his six-foot-two height to box-out defenders and make grabs in traffic. Junior receiver Marcus Johnson also made noise using his speed to gain separation on several different route types.

    Defensively, the Longhorns showed a different look from last year’s 4-3 defense, with three linebackers, three linemen and five defensive backs on the field at almost all times. The new defensive look may be an attempt to get faster in a conference that features up-tempo passing offenses.

    Though it’s very early in spring play, the Longhorns showed they are making strides in addressing last season’s shortcomings.  There is still a lot of work to do before the spring game, but with already noticeable changes on both sides of the ball, Longhorns fans have something to hang their hat on.

  • In the hunt: Stars making late playoff push behind Lehtonen’s recent surge

    The Dallas Stars have won eight of their last 10 games and are currently riding a three game winning streak. They are undoubtedly playing their best hockey of the season at just the right time.

    Yet, the Stars (34-28-10) still remain 6 points behind the Calgary Flames for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference.

    The late run has been sparked by the stellar net minding of goalie Kari Lehtonen, who has a 1.98 goals against average (GAA) and a save percentage of .925 in the month of March.

    It’s no secret that things haven’t gone to plan for Lehtonen and the Stars this year. Pre-season, the Stars were a hot pick to not only make the playoffs, but to have a decent chance of advancing into the deeper rounds come spring.

    “Luck hasn’t been on my side too much this year, so maybe now it’s turned” Lehtonen said after a recent 33-save shutout of the Chicago Blackhawks.

    There have been times in which the 31-year-old Finnish goaltender has played well, but the puck still managed to find its way over the wrong side of the goal line.

    Other times, Lehtonen’s performance has simply outraged fans and team members alike.

    Just last month, Stars’ head coach Lindy Ruff was clearly frustrated with Lehtonen’s play. 

    “The goaltending performance doesn’t match the effort of the team,” Ruff remarked after a 5-4 loss to the Colorado Avalanche. “Our goaltending has been tough on our team, and I think that’s where the frustration is.”

    While Ruff is right in saying that Lehtonen has struggled mightily at times this year it is unfair to place the entire blame for the Stars’ lack of achievement on the goalie.

    Furthermore, the blame in no way should be put on the offense. The Stars are currently second in the entire NHL with 3.1 goals scored per game.

    Rather, it is the Stars’ defensive efforts that have been subpar all season long. The team currently ranks 26th in goals allowed per game at 3.2. While it might be true that the goalie plays a significant part this statistic, so does a team’s defense.

    The return of big defenseman Patrick Nemeth from an arm laceration injury that had him out for over 4 months has helped the Stars revamp their depleted blue line.

    Nemeth returned on March 3, a 3-2-overtime victory over the New York Islanders. In the 10 games that Nemeth has played since returning, the Stars are only giving up an average of 2.3 goals per game, almost an entire goal lower than their season long average of 3.2.

    More experience for defensive rookies John Klingberg and Jyrki Jokipakka has also been instrumental to the Stars’ improved play recently. The duo has been playing far better of late than they did early on in the year.

    With little surprise, Lehtonen attributes his recent success to a total team effort. “We’ve been working a little bit on being more aggressive when there’s traffic,” Lehtonen said. “That’s been working pretty good.” 

    When the team plays better defensively in front of Lehtonen, it is easier for the big Fin to see the puck more clearly. And when Lehtonen is seeing the puck well, it leads to the superb play we have seen from him of late.

    With only nine games left in the season and no control over what the teams in front of them in the standings accomplish, the Stars certainly need to help Lehtonen continue his exceptional performance.

    If they don’t, expect to see the Stars watching at home during the playoffs for the sixth time in the last seven years. 

  • Longhorns take first two games in Arkansas

    After defeating Arkansas, 87, in extra innings Saturday, the Longhorns drifted past the Razorbacks, 112, in the second game of the three-game series Sunday.

    Senior Gabby Smith showed no sign of soreness from the mound as she struck out three and allowed just one earned run over six innings.

    “The biggest thing about Gabby is she can do so many things for us,” head coach Connie Clark said in a media availability Thursday. “For us right now, she is probably the single most key to our success as we go down the stretch.”

    Texas' offense has been solid in the first two games of the series with a .350 overall batting average and 19 runs. The Longhorns tallied 13 hits alone Sunday.

    Texas plays Arkansas for the final game of the sequence at 8 p.m. Monday.

  • MLS Touchline- Week One

    Friday marks the start of the 20th season for Major League Soccer.

    Or at least it should.

    Currently, there is still no CBA, Collective Bargaining Agreement, between MLS and the players, which, if unresolved by Friday, could result in a player’s strike and games not being played.

    But we’re going to  go on the assumption that the games will be played as scheduled this weekend.

    This season should be an exciting and intriguing year for MLS as soccer is at an all-time high in the U.S. after a tremendous showing in television ratings for the World Cup last year and heightened popularity of the English Premiere League.

    Attendance last year for MLS was up across the league, if you take away the stats from now-defunct Chivas U.S.A. The average attendance for the league was just over 19,000, which is roughly near capacity for most of the teams’ stadiums (CenturyLink Field obviously notwithstanding).

    There are a number of key storylines going into this year that should keep things intriguing from March to Decemeber. (We’re going to hold off on the CBA issue here.)

    First, there are the two new teams coming into this season: New York City F.C., a joint venture between Manchester City and the New York Yankees, and Orlando City F.C. The intrigue here is both on and off the pitch. Both teams ought to do well with their solid rosters and the fact that they’re both in the weaker Eastern Conference. And then there’s the attendance watch for both teams in their first years. Orlando has already announced that their first match on Sunday, coincidently enough against New York City, at the Citrus Bowl is sold out. Whether that keeps up and whether New York City can put up good numbers at Yankee Stadium will be something to keep an eye on.

    Then there’s the Western Conference that, much like it’s NBA counterpart, is absolutely stacked with competitors. Last year the conference produced about six or seven teams that would have made the postseason had they been in the Eastern Conference. That goes off both points and the fact they would have had an easier schedule. This year it only gets stronger with the addition of Houston and Sporting Kansas City, though MLS has added an extra playoff slot for each conference which helps. It’s still a long season, but I’d venture a guess that there are four to five teams in the conference with a legitimate shot to win the MLS Cup and another two that could be contenders.

    Within that conference are two teams are the biggest contenders to win it all, each with its own big storyline.

    First, the Los Angeles Galaxy are going to have to figure out a way to play without Landon Donovan, who retired after last year. The Galaxy are in a good spot, however, with Robbie Keane and Gyasi Zardes up front on the attack. Still, it’s worth watching to see how the defending champs without the league’s best player.

    And then there’s the Seattle Sounders who, despite their regular season success, find their trophy cabinet MLS Cup-less. Last year the Sounders were one round away from making it to the MLS Cup final, but fell short to the Galaxy. Seattle returns the same basic squad, minus defender Deandre Yedlin, so expect them to be contenders this season.

    These storylines, along with a host of others, will (hopefully) be answered this year in what will likely be the best season in the history of the league.

    That season has to start without a strike, but hopefully those differences are settled before the season begins or without a work stoppage. But that’s another story for another day.

    Predictions

    ·      Supporters’ Shield – Seattle

    ·      Western Conference playoff teams – Seattle, Los Angeles, Sporting Kansas City, Real Salt Lake, FC Dallas, Houston

    ·      Eastern Conference playoff teams – D.C. United, Orlando City, New York City F.C., New England, Columbus Crew, New York Red Bulls

    ·      MLS Cup matchup – Seattle vs. Orlando City

    ·      MLS Cup Winner – Seattle

    Power Rankings

    1.    Seattle – The Seattle Sounders were the best team in the regular season last year, taking home the Supporter’s Shield and winning the U.S. Open Cup. But the Sounders couldn’t quite catch that elusive MLS Cup title that has dogged them the past few years. This year they’re set up once again to be favorites to take the title with forwards midfielder, and Texan, Clint Dempsey and forward Obafemi Martins, as well as a talented supporting cast. With the experience and passionate fan base, Seattle has to be considered a top team in MLS, if only for the start of the season.

    2.    Los Angeles – The Galaxy will take a hit in their chance to repeat with U.S. legend Landon Donovan retiring, but there’s more to this team than Donovan. Forwards Robbie Keane and Gyasi Zardes made a significant impact up front for Los Angeles last year and will again team up to be a potent attacking duo. Add in Steven Gerrard at the summer transfer window and the Galaxy are in a great spot to repeat as champs once again.

    3.    Orlando City – Of the two expansion teams joining the league this season, Orlando City is the most likely to make some noise and potentially find itself in a position to make it to the MLS Cup. Of course, everyone knows about Brazilian forward Kaka, but City features more than that. Orlando should set in goal with Jamaican national team goalie Donovan Rickets. And if midfielder Brek Shea can find the same success he had a few years ago with FC Dallas, City might have a solid attack.

    4.    New York City F.C. – Of course, the biggest name team coming into this year is New York City F.C. under the combined ownership of Manchester City and the New York Yankees. While some uncertainty still looms over whether or not midfielder Frank Lampard will make the transfer from Manchester, City have a solid team in place anyway with forward David Villa, midfielder Mix Diskerud and defender George John. With a relatively weak Eastern Conference, NYC F.C. will certainly be contenders to make it to the MLS Cup.

    5.    Sporting Kansas City – Last year was a disappointment for Sporting K.C., dropping out of the postseason in the wild card round a year after making it to the MLS Cup. And things won’t get much easier for them this season either as Kansas City, along with Houston, make the jump to the stacked Western Conference. Still, SKC boasts of U.S. national team players midfielder Graham Zusi and defender Matt Besler, and forward Dom Dwyer became a force to be reckoned with last year. It won’t be easy in the Western Conference, but Sporting will not be an easier out for anybody this season.

    The Bench – 6. Real Salt Lake, 7. New York Red Bulls, 8. D.C. United, 9. Houston, 10. FC Dallas

    Games to Watch

    ·      New York City F.C. at Orlando City, 4 p.m. Sunday, ESPN2
    Great scheduling from the MLS scheduling crew resulted in the two expansion teams facing off against each other to start off the season. But while it seems like a gimmick, this should still be a great match. Both teams come is as contenders right off the bat to top the Eastern Conference. Both teams also feature big names such as Kaka and Villa. This game should be the best game of the weekend.

    ·      New England at Seattle, 8:30 p.m. Sunday, Fox Sports 1
    Of the teams we know about and are returning, this should be the best match of the weekend. New England was oh so close to coming away with the MLS Cup last year, falling in the final minutes to Los Angeles. The Revolution have a bright star in midfielder Lee Nguyen and also feature U.S. national team defender Jermaine Jones. Seattle, as mentioned earlier, have been close to getting to the MLS Cup, but have yet to fulfill that goal. With the great Seattle fans providing the backdrop, this should be a fun one.

    Rest of the Schedule

    ·      Chicago at Los Angeles – 9 p.m., Friday, MLS Live, UniMas

    ·      Montreal at D.C. United – 2 p.m., Saturday, MLS Live

    ·      Colorado at Philadelphia – 3 p.m., Saturday, MLS Live

    ·      Toronto F.C. at Vancouver – 5 p.m., Satuday, MLS Live

    ·      San Jose at FC Dallas – 7:30 p.m., Saturday, MLS Live

    ·      Columbus at Houston – 7:30 p.m., Saturday, MLS Live

    ·      Real Salt Lake at Portland – 9:30 p.m., Saturday, MLS Live

    ·      New York Red Bulls at Sporting Kansas City – 6:00 p.m., Fox Sports 1

Pages