THE PALLILOG

Advancing in the tournament could come down to this for Coogs

Attacking the offensive glass will be critical. Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images.

Looking forward to the big Syracuse game Saturday night? Yes, I'm an Orangeman, so I will be ardently rooting for my alma mater as it plays the University of Houston in a Sweet 16 NCAA Tournament game in Indianapolis. With a win the stupendous job Kelvin Sampson has done with the UH program ascends another level. Two tournaments ago it was the Coogs' first NCAA win in 34 years. The following season the Sweet 16. Last season, no tourney. This year a spot in the Elite Eight is within grasp.

To advance the Cougars will almost certainly have to play better than they did in surviving Rutgers last Sunday. Rutgers beat Syracuse early in the season, which means absolutely nothing. If possible, it would be less than nothing since first weekend tourney superstar Buddy Boeheim missed that game recuperating from coronavirus.

One big advantage for the Cougars

In a best of one format you never know what will play out how, but the one massive advantage UH has is attacking the offensive boards against a defensive rebounding challenged 2-3 zone playing SU. Strength of schedule played a role, but UH is the number one offensive rebounding percentage team in the nation. Syracuse in defensive rebounding percentage, number 331.

Meanwhile, no stunner if it doesn't happen, but Baylor should beat Villanova and then the winner of Arkansas-Oral Roberts(Oral Roberts!) to put the Bears in the Final Four for the first time since 1950.

Rebuilding Rockets

The NBA trade deadline passed Thursday afternoon with the Rockets trading Victor Oladipo to Miami for very little. It's not like he was worth much but from the Heat Avery Bradley and Kelly Olynyk are meaningless to the Rockets other than that their contracts are up after this season. The Rockets may gain a few spots in the 2022 Draft with the right to swap either theirs or Brooklyn's first round pick (part of the James Harden trade) for Miami's number one. The Rockets have repeatedly cheaped out over the last three years. After their long run of sustained quality, it could be longer than three years before they really matter again in the NBA.

Astros baseball is almost here!

With the state of the Rockets and the ongoing sordid Deshaun Watson mess, even more thankfully we're less than a week from the Astros starting their 2021 season. The other 29 Major League Baseball teams are scheduled to launch Thursday as well. The Astros have the makings of another good team. A team absolutely capable of reaching a third World Series in five years, though they start this season with more question marks than they've had since their run of excellence began in 2017. One of those question marks hit a personal jackpot Wednesday as Lance McCullers accepted a five-year 85 million dollar contract extension beyond the six and a half million he'll pull down this year.

If McCullers has a huge 2021 he would have been able to command more than 85 million as a free agent after the season, but he's wise to lock in guaranteed generational financial security because the "ifs" with him are gigantic. McCullers got to the big leagues in 2015. He still has zero seasons on his resume in which he both pitched well and stayed healthy. Prior to the blown out elbow and Tommy John surgery that caused him to miss the whole 2019 season, McCullers has injured list stints with shoulder and back issues. It's not enough that "all McCullers has to do is stay healthy." When healthy McCullers home at Minute Maid Park overall has been spectacular. On the road overall he's been lousy. Career earned run average at MMP: 2.51. Career ERA everywhere else: 4.99. We assume the new contract will require him to pitch road games. And while McCullers is cemented in Astros' lore for his brilliant lockdown relief in 2017 American League Series Game Seven against the Yankees, his postseason record is spotty. As the starter in game seven of the World Series against the Dodgers he didn't make it out of the third inning. Last fall in ALCS game seven against the Rays he didn't last four innings.

McCullers is a fierce competitor and a solid guy involved in numerous good works away from the ballpark. In part because of his character the Astros place a big bet on how he'll hold up and how he'll pitch. With more than 67 million dollars in Verlander/Greinke salaries off the books after this season, they can afford it.

Yet to sign a contract extension is Carlos Correa. He arrived in "The Show" three weeks after McCullers and his career timeline makes him the obvious everyday player comp to Lance. Two guys who exploded onto the scene and have had phenomenal high points, but because of both injury and performance issues, overall their careers have been less than their flat out talent projected. Correa has had the clearly better career to this point, so barring a calamitous meltdown in 2021 the floor for a Correa deal is well north of 5/85. He reportedly rejected 6/120.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. Let's Go Orange! But if isn't to be Syracuse in the Final Four, Eat 'Em Up Coogs!

2. Four #11 seeds have reached the Final Four (LSU, George Mason, VCU, Loyola-Chicago), no seed lower than 11 ever has. 12 Oregon St. and 15 Oral Roberts (Oral Roberts!) take their shots this weekend.

3. Greatest Houston Sports Sampsons, order changes if Coogs win Saturday and Monday: Bronze-Greg Silver-Kelvin Gold-Ralph

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Jeremy Pena could have some big shoes to fill. Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images.

MLB and the MLBPA are embroiled in yet another labor dispute. The owners and players have both dug in their heels and refuse to budge. No end is in site for the lockout as Spring Training is drawing more and more near each passing day. So what does that mean for our 2022 Astros' season?

One sigh of relief came when Justin Verlander signed his new deal. Two years for $50 million dollars isn't bad at all. Factor in he's closer to my age than my son (coming off Tommy John surgery), and some may worry. Not me. He's the closest thing to Tom Brady MLB has seen since Nolan Ryan. Jim Crane and James Click did a great job bringing him back. His spot as the ace with the rest of the staff they have should help shore up the bullpen if one or two starters can make that transition. I know I said I didn't want him back a few months ago, but time has passed, and wounds have been healed.

When it comes to Carlos Correa, I'm growing more and more comfortable with the thought that he may not be back. I talked about his potential replacement months ago. Maybe the reason being is that the club loves Jeremy Peña at that same position, and Pedro Leon could also factor in. Plus, Peña is tearing the cover off the ball in the winter leagues.

At 24 years old, turning 25 in September, he'll be under team control for the foreseeable future. That truly depends on the new labor agreement. So does Correa's new contract. His contract will be largely based on the parameters set in the new labor agreement, since he didn't sign before the lockout took place. And now we know that contact will be negotiated by Correa's new agent, Scott Boras.

I'm all for the doom and gloom when it comes to an MLB labor issue because they've historically screwed over fans. The most notable and egregious was the '94 World Series being canceled. However, there's way too much money at stake right now. More money than ever to be exact. That said, it's precisely why there's a dispute. That, and the fact that the owners have always gotten over on fans and players, and the players are poised to get their just due.

When the season starts, the Astros should be contenders yet again. Don't look for them to come out the gate firing on all cylinders as this team may look a bit different. Guys may not be fully ready after a lockout and there will be some roster turnover. The bulk of the core will be here, ready, and healthy. Whether Correa is a part of that group remains to be seen. Am I concerned? Hell no! This team has enough to fill that void at least partially and will have either guy under team control for a while. Think about this upcoming season as the time you fixed up your older car. New tires, headlights restored, rims polished, inside made over, and a fresh coat of paint after the transmission rebuild. It still has over 150,000 miles on it, but you wouldn't trade it in for anything because it still runs well and has sentimental value. You know one day it'll give out and need to be put out to pasture, but you're holding on and riding until the wheels fall off. Enjoy Astro fans, because the ride will be over one day. Hopefully much later than sooner.

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