Call Your Shot

Sports Illustrated cover coming to life?

Sports Illustrated cover coming to life?
George Springer has been an integral player for the Astros' rebuild. Courtesy photo

One of the most controversial Sports Illustrated covers of the last several years is from 2014 with Astros’ centerfielder, George Springer, gracing the cover. What makes this issue unique is the title predicting that the Houston Astros would win the World Series in 2017. This doesn’t seem like an unusual prediction today, but in 2014, it seemed pretty ridiculous. Ben Reiter, the author of the SI article, joined Unfiltered on ESPN 97.5 this week and said that “…people hated the cover… and we got a lot of hate mail, but that turned around when they got off to a good start.”

The Astros had Dallas Keuchel and Jose Altuve on the 2013 team, but Carlos Correa hadn’t made his major league debut and the Astros lost 111 games that year. So predicting the Astros would eventually become a World Series Champion in 2017 after a season like that, seemed pretty unlikely. The Astros did improve in 2014 and for the first time since 2010, the team didn’t finish in last place. Flash forward to 2017 and sure enough, the Astros are in the World Series and George Springer is a big reason why.

Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander are two more reasons why the Astros had so much success this season. In fact, Keuchel made a huge impact without even picking up a baseball. Reiter said on ESPN 97.5 this week that “Keuchel going on the record trying to light a fire under the front office” was a monumental move that led to the Astros acquiring stud pitcher, Justin Verlander. The Astros even went against their typical analytics driven approach, according to Reiter, and bet it all on a 34-year-old pitcher to help lead their playoff push.

Now that the Astros were set with two dominant starters, they went to work on winning the AL pennant led by manager, A.J. Hinch. Reiter is a big proponent of Hinch and believes that “He's kind of the heart of the organization in a lot of ways, and I think they picked the perfect guy.” Hinch did a fantastic job of managing the pitching staff in Game 7 of the ALCS against the Yankees. In a day in age where you could see seven different pitchers from each team in an elimination game, Hinch opted to go with only two pitchers, Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers. Hinch’s ability to balance analytics with the eye test made “Game 7 of the ALCS about as stress-free as I could imagine,” said Reiter.

Ben isn’t a sorcerer, but he’s clearly insightful and Astros fans will love that he’s sticking with his original 2017 World Series prediction. Let’s just hope that SI's, Ben Reiter, had it right all along.

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Coogs beat the Sooners, 87-85. Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images.

Jamal Shead hit a short follow shot with 0.4 seconds left and No. 1 Houston beat Oklahoma 87-85 on Saturday night, giving coach Kelvin Sampson a victory over one of his former schools.

Shead missed a driving layup attempt, but corralled the rebound and put the Cougars back ahead after they blew a 15-point lead. Emanuel Sharp tipped away a desperation pass by Oklahoma’s Milos Uzan as time expired.

“The main thing (on the last shot) was to get it to the rim,” Sampson said. “We weren’t going to shoot anything outside of 5 feet. There were three ways to win that game — a whistle, make the shot or (grab) an offensive rebound and put it in — and we got the third one.”

Sampson credited the result to Houston’s “winning DNA. We had a lot of things go against us tonight. … We were just plugging the holes in the boat up.”

L.J. Cryer led Houston (26-3, 13-3 Big 12) with 23 points, making 5 of 9 3-pointers. J’Wan Roberts added 20 points on 10-of-12 shooting, and Shead scored 14 points. Houston shot 56.7% from the field and Oklahoma was at 52.7%.

Rivaldo Soares had 16 points for Oklahoma (19-10, 7-9). Le’Tre Darthard had 15 points, finishing 5 of 7 from 3-point range.

Sampson coached Oklahoma from 1994 to 2006 and ranks second in program history with 279 wins and first in winning percentage (.719). Before Saturday, he’d never coached against the Sooners, but Houston’s entry into the Big 12 for this basketball season provided that opportunity.

Sampson received a warm welcome as he entered the Lloyd Noble Arena court, with many fans applauding, cheering and standing. Just before player introductions, Sampson and his three assistants with Oklahoma ties — former players Hollis Price, Quannas White and Kellen Sampson, his son — were individually recognized with announcements and pictured on the video board.

“The memories that I will take from here are just amazing,” Kelvin Sampson said. “Oklahoma will always be home in a lot of ways.”

Houston made its first week this season at No. 1 a successful one, with two wins. The Cougars are a game ahead of No. 8 Iowa State in the conference standings with two games left in the regular season and remain in the conversation for the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Houston has won eight of the last nine games it has played as the No. 1-ranked team and is 35-5 overall while atop the AP poll.

Oklahoma dropped its second game of the week against a top-10 opponent, having lost 58-45 at Iowa State on Wednesday night.

The Sooners pushed Houston to the limit. Houston led 67-52 with 12:01 left, but the Sooners methodically closed that gap and Javian McCollum’s layup with 11.8 seconds left tied it at 85. It came after a hustle play by Uzan, who tracked down a rebound off a missed free throw and threw it off the leg of Sharp, allowing it to carom out of bounds.

Oklahoma coach Porter Moser said the vibe in the Sooners’ locker room was “tough. It wasn’t like they were happy to be close. They’re hurting. That’s a good sign. … That’s the elite of the elite and we’ve got to find a way to win that. That’s my job.

“I thought they were resilient battling back. Houston made tough shots, open shots, good shots. They do a lot of good things … but I thought we did too. We played the best team in the country, but we fell short. The margin of error when you play a team that good is small.”

Godwin went 6 of 6 from the field and led Oklahoma with 17 points, missing only the one free throw in six attempts as well. He also had seven rebounds.

BIG PICTURE

Houston: Sampson surely appreciated the warm welcome from fans on his return to Oklahoma, but he’s undoubtedly glad to have the emotional game against the Sooners over with. Now he can push the Cougars to focus on finishing the regular season strong and prepare them for the postseason.

Oklahoma: A win over the nation’s No. 1 team might have pushed the Sooners up a line or two in NCAA tournament seeding, but the loss shouldn’t damage their postseason hopes too much. Oklahoma probably needs at least one win next week — at home against Cincinnati or at Texas — to stay comfortably off the NCAA bubble heading into the Big 12 Tournament.

UP NEXT:

Houston: At Central Florida on Wednesday night.

Oklahoma: Host Cincinnati on Tuesday night.

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