Philadelphia 76ers Guard Ben Simmons (Photo via Getty Images)
Watch the second Tar Takes broadcast with Ryan Lipton and David Matlock below! Tar Takes is presented by The JR Report and the brand new app Relevnt!
We discuss the latest in the sports world with debate segments of the hottest NBA/NFL topics of the week as well as the North Carolina Tar Heels.
Today, we take a look at LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ struggles against the Indiana Pacers, who we think the favorites are in the Eastern Conference, what we think of Luke Maye, Joel Berry, Theo Pinson and the NBA Draft, and the top storylines for the 2018 NFL draft.
Victor Oladipo vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers (Photo via David Richard-USA TODAY Sports)
Watch the first Tar Takes broadcast with Ryan Lipton and David Matlock below. Tar Takes is presented by The JR Report and the brand new app Relevnt!
We discuss the latest in the sports world. We have one take segment along with four debate segments. Three of those segments are on anything in the sports world and one of them, to keep in touch with our Tar Heel background involves North Carolina news.
(NFL football player after head collides with ground, AP Photo)
In 2018, it is hard to talk about football without bringing up concussions. After a study was released correlating football with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy as 110 out of 111 NFL players’ brains were diagnosed with CTE, football has been heavily linked with long-term brain damage and concussions (Daneshvar, Kiernan, Abdolmohammadi, et al 2017).
So what’s the issue?
Football is America’s most popular sport. So if the aforementioned data accurately reflects the damage someone’s brain takes during football, the future of those who play football would be in jeopardy.
In 2016, close to two million kids, ages 6-12, played tackle or flag football regularly in America, per the Aspen Institute.
The NFL had $13 billion in revenue in 2016. $3.5 billion more than the MLB (plays more than 10 times as many games) and $8 billion more than the NBA of which plays more than 5 times as many games as the NFL, via Market Watch. Despite the concussion and CTE risk and the lower number of games, the NFL reigns supreme in popularity among Americans.
In what was briefly mentioned in the introduction, a study was released in the summer of 2017 suggesting CTE is related to prior football participation (Daneshvar, Kiernan, Abdolmohammadi, et al 2017).
202 deceased brains, all of which played football at some level, were donated to the research. Each brain was then tested for CTE (see fig. 1 above), something that currently can only be done once someone is deceased. After the testing, they found that 177 out of the 202 players were diagnosed with CTE. And the different groups of results are below in fig. 2 (Daneshvar, Kiernan, Abdolmohammadi, et al 2017).
Note the exact numbers are as follows: 0 out of 2 preschoolers, 3 out of 14 high school players, 48 of 53 college football players, 7 of 8 Canadian Football League Players, and 110 out of 111 NFL football players.
The majority of players who had college experience or higher suffered from severe pathology while the majority of those who did not make to the college level with CTE suffered from mild pathology (Daneshvar, Kiernan, Abdolmohammadi, et al 2017).
It should be noted that each one of these brains was donated to the research, meaning the brains were not selected at random.
UNC’s Zachary Kerr
The University of North Carolina’s Zachary Kerr found a correlation between prior concussions, depression and increased aggression.
In Kerr’s study, 797 questionnaires were answered by former college athletes. Based upon those questionnaires, a player who reported three or more concussions was 2.6 times more likely to exhibit symptoms of depression compared to a player who did not report a concussion (Kerr 2014).
The Journal of Neurology’s Alan Carson
The aforementioned studies do not provide a promising outlook for those who are fans of football as the research has some strong evidence supporting the connection between poor brain health (CTE, depression, aggression) in the future and football.
With that being said, Alan Carson, from the Journal of Neurology, isn’t ready to jump the gun.
Carson is preaching less conversation and more science as he believes the debate has been taking place among the mainstream media instead of scientific journals.
“If football were viewed as a drug, it saved 296 lives but at the cost of 17 deaths.”
– Alan Carson
The movie ‘Concussion’ was based on former NFL player Mike Webster (see fig. 3 above) who died at 50 years old due to a heart attack and was diagnosed with cognitive dysfunction.
However, it wasn’t touched on that Webster had addiction problems with opiates, amphetamine, drugs, and alcohol. He also was treated for lymphoma, would electrocute himself to aid his sleep and was rumored to use performance-enhancing drugs during his playing days. This information creates multiple confounding factors that would cloud the suggestion that football led to his demise (Carson 2017).
In addition, Carson discusses another study that looked at 334 deceased NFL players. Among those 334, 17 died with neurodegenerative disorders. The all-cause mortality rate for these NFL players was half of the national average (Carson 2017). As such, “if football were viewed as a drug, it saved 296 lives but at the cost of 17 deaths,” said Carson.
In opposition to Kerr’s research, the University of Michigan conducted a study that showed lower rates of irritability and the same rate of depression compared to the average US population (Carson 2017).
Too many unknowns still exist
In the end, Carson points to the multitude of confounding factors that are yet to be unraveled in concussion and neurodegenerative disease research.
For football players specifically, it is tough to point to collisions or concussions when they are constantly given pain medication to just be able to play each Sunday. Who knows what impact those drugs have? Also, it would be naive to think that some athletes haven’t been using performance-enhancing drugs, and again, the long-term side effects from PEDs on brain health are not certain.
It also goes to show that there has been research refuting the idea that concussions are related to neurodegenerative diseases and vice versa. This research involves so many subtleties that are yet to be studied. Not to mention, it might take a full lifetime to better understand considering the fact that no one can test for CTE, at the moment, until someone is dead and that the symptoms go unnoticed for decades.
Yes, there might a correlation, but what is the causation of these neurodegenerative diseases. That is yet to be discovered.
(Figure 4, United Neuroscience via Youtube)
United Neuroscience: CTE Vaccination
In response to the concern, United Neuroscience from Dublin, Ireland, is researching a CTE vaccination in hopes to have it in human clinical testing in 2019 (see fig. 4 above).
A plan to develop a vaccine for CTE was announced by United Neuroscience in January (PR Newswire 2018). It was discovered that the protein tau builds up in the brain after repeated collisions leading to chronic brain disease. United Neuroscience’s hope is to create a vaccine that will inhibit the buildup of tau in an athlete’s brain and therefore negate CTE (PR Newswire 2018).
If the CTE vaccination can successfully be made, physical sports will be revolutionized. Kids who quit due to long-term brain health concerns would return to football. For example, a vaccination in the state of North Carolina would help preserve the futures of more than 30,000 high school football players per year which doesn’t take into account the thousands of youth, college and professional football players.
And the millions of high school football players across the United States.
(figure 5, Columbia Medicine via Youtube )
NoMo Diagnostics: Concussion Diagnosing Helmets
NoMo Diagnostics is creating a new football helmet equipped with sensors. The hope is that it will develop a helmet that can diagnose concussions immediately after contact by monitoring the brain waves of a person. If a concussion occurs, football teams would be able to know immediately as the technology would send a signal to the sideline.
The technology of how the sensors can detect concussions are discussed above (Fig. 5).
While this does not prevent concussions, it would help diagnose them and protect players’ health considering many concussions go unreported.
Overall, concussion research is still in its infancy with so many unknowns surrounding the long-term impacts of concussions. Nonetheless, there seems to be a bright future ahead thanks to United Neuroscience’s research involving the CTE vaccination and NoMo Diagnostics building a helmet to immediately notify football sidelines of a concussion if it takes place.
Football, without a doubt, is a physical and dangerous sport. But the future of the game seems to be in the right hands thanks to the wonderful research being accomplished by those mentioned above.
[Anonymous]. 2018. United neuroscience announces development plans for vaccine to prevent CTE. PR Newswire;
Carson A. 2017. Concussion, dementia and CTE: Are we getting it very wrong? Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry. 88(6):462.
Kerr ZY. 2014. The association of concussion history and mental health in former collegiate athletes. Ann Arbor: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Mez J, Daneshvar DH, Kiernan PT, Abdolmohammadi B, Alvarez VE, Huber BR, Alosco ML, Solomon TM, Nowinski CJ, McHale L, Cormier KA, Kubilus CA, Martin BM, Murphy L, Baugh CM, Montenigro PH, Chaisson CE, Tripodis Y, Kowall NW, Weuve J, McClean MD, Cantu RC, Goldstein LE, Katz DI, Stern RA, Stein TD, McKee AC. Clinicopathological Evaluation of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in Players of American Football. JAMA. 2017;318(4):360–370. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.8334
NCHSAA. 2014. Athletic participation numbers. North Carolina High School Athletic Association.
With the College Football season past the halfway point, it is time to rank the Power 5 conferences from best to worst.
No. 1, Big 10
The Big 10 has three teams in the Top 10 and five total in the Top 25. There is no doubt that it will get at least one team in the playoff. If Penn St. and Wisconsin are both undefeated going into the Big 10 championship, then it has a very good chance at getting 2 teams.
The elite coaches set the Big 10 apart from the rest as Meyer and Harbaugh are probably among the top five coaches in the game. Behind them, they have James Franklin who is proving to be capable of building a championship contender now that scholarship restrictions are lifted.
The conference has also established consistent winners in Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz and Michigan State’s Mike Dantonio.
Finally, the Big Ten has young up and coming coaches in Minnesota’s P.J Fleck and Purdue’s Jeff Brohm. With great coaches across the board, the Big Ten has the potential to dominate the college football landscape for the foreseeable future.
No. 2, SEC
After ruling the college football world for the entirety of the 2000s, the SEC has taken a step back.
Alabama is still by far the most dominant program in College Football, yet other traditional powerhouses such as LSU, Florida and Auburn have gone from perennial top 10 programs to very beatable teams typically ranked between 15 and 25. These teams still have unbelievable talent on their defensive lines and receiving cores, however, none of them have been able to find a reliable quarterback. Whether this is on the coaches or simply bad luck is unknown.
Until the majority of the SEC teams get championship caliber playmakers at the quarterback position, it will be difficult for them to re-establish themselves as college football’s unrivaled top conference.
No. 3, Big 12
The Big 12 will always struggle to be a great conference with only 10 teams and no conference championship game.
They have earned the No. 3 ranking because they have three teams with a legitimate chance at making the playoff in TCU, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State pending an undefeated finish. The same cannot be said for the ACC or the Pac 12.
The Big 12 has always seemed like the playground of college football, a cute place where everyone throws touchdowns, plays no defense and everyone is happy.
If Tom Herman can turn around Texas, then the Big 12 can return to the feared conference it once was when Michael Crabtree, Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy held dominion over the college football’s top five.
Until then, the Big 12 will be limited by being somewhat top heavy and not having the potential resume builder that a conference championship game provides.
No. 4, ACC
The ACC is still a very formidable football conference, but it took a major step back in 2017.
The Atlantic Division, arguably the most feared sub-conference last year, has regressed mightily as Florida State and Louisville have fallen entirely out of the top 25.
Clemson is still a national title contender but, with a first-year starting quarterback, they appear much more beatable than they were last year.
On the Coastal Side, North Carolina went from a top 20 team to perhaps the worst team in the ACC after quarterback Mitch Trubisky left for the NFL.
Heading the Coastal is undefeated Miami and Virginia Tech with one loss. Any team in the ACC is not really a threat in the national championship race.
Although it is a down year for the ACC, it should improve when its teams and quarterbacks gain more experience.
No. 5, Pac 12
Rounding out the Power 5 conferences is the Pac 12, who has had an extremely disappointing year.
Unlike the ACC, the Pac 12 does not have the excuse of having inexperience as USC, Washington and Washington State all returned veteran quarterbacks with legitimate National Championship hopes.
USC’s Sam Darnold, the most exciting player since Matt Leinart and Mark Sanchez has been an immense disappointment throwing countless interceptions and suffering an embarrassing defeat against arch-rival Notre Dame.
Washington’s Jake Browning has been uninspiring this year, crushing their National Championship in a humiliating loss to lowly Arizona State in which they only put up a measly 7 points.
Stanford has been the same team they have been since Andrew Luck left, consistent, and might get a cute bid to the Rose Bowl, but they still lack the all-around skill and speed to dominate a season from start to finish.
In order for the Pac 12 to return to the respected conference they once were, they must establish a dominant team capable of consistently competing with the likes of Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State.
Until then, the Pac 12 will continue to occasionally submit apathetic teams to the playoff that are not truly taken seriously.
The North Carolina football team travels to Georgia Tech this weekend with a chance to win its first ACC game.
The 1-3 Tar Heels have been plagued by injuries and outscored 54-20 in the fourth quarter this season. It will only get tougher on Saturday against a strong Yellow Jackets team. Here are three things to keep an eye on heading into the matchup in Atlanta.
Head coach Larry Fedora hasn’t been in a tougher position at UNC than he is now.
The ACC was unanimously considered the best conference in all of college basketball. Some dare said that this might be the best conference season of all-time.
People were saying the ACC was a shoe-in for ten tournament teams, and it looked like they would be until Syracuse, who probably got gypped, didn’t make the cut. Nine teams made the tournament from the ACC, still an impressive feat for a conference, making it the premier conference this season.
However, the tournament proved otherwise. After just two rounds, the ACC is down to just one contestant, the University of North Carolina.
Not only did the teams lose, they were embarrassed. The average margin of defeat for the ACC was 13.9 points per game. Most of the games were never even a contest. Florida State lost to an 11 seed by 25, Virginia lost to Florida by 26, and Miami lost to Michigan State by 20. The ACC lost almost every game they were in, and when they lost, they lost by a large margin.
Even UNC was minutes away from not advancing to the Sweet 16. They should have been eliminated but got lucky with a 12-0 run and a few good calls from the refs to barely beat out Arkansas.
2. The referees have been horrible
The referees have had an impact in too many games this weekend.
Northwestern’s cinderella story was cut short by the refs. A horrible miscall of goaltending cost NU two points, momentum, and a technical foul leading to more points the opposite way.
With 49 seconds left in the North Carolina Arkansas game, Joel Berry, up by one point, was driving and obviously traveled. The refs didn’t blow their whistles and let Berry throw up an errant shot that was then tipped in by center Kennedy Meeks. The lead extended to three and essentially wrapped up the game.
March Madness is always filled with “teams of destiny”. Teams that lack the talent to be elite, but seem to make an improbable tournament run.
This year, Northwestern, South Carolina and Michigan are making their cases for this year’s team of destiny.
Sadly, Northwestern’s case ended this weekend because of the poor call mentioned above.
However, Michigan and South Carolina are still alive with a ton of momentum and confidence.
South Carolina knocked off no. 2 Duke by scoring 65 points in the second half in an impressive 88-81 win. They are led by underrated coach Frank Martin and have a realistic chance to continue their run of destiny. With the no. 1 seed also knocked out from their region, their road to a Final Four is that much easier.
They take on the no. 3 Baylor on Friday.
Michigan has also continued their improbable run. It all started with an almost plane crash, to winning the Big-10 tournament and now an appearance in the Sweet 16. It is going to get much tougher with no. 3 seed Oregon on Thursday, but with the feeling of destiny attached to this Michigan team, it wouldn’t surprise me if they upset Oregon.
Our team and everyone in our travel party is safe. Update on today's travel accident.
UCLA’s Lonzo Ball is a stud. Ball played 38 minutes, scored 18 points, had 9 assists and 7 rebounds against Cincinnati. He seems to be the closest thing to LeBron James we have seen in a while, minus the once in a generation athleticism.
Lonzo, who is a better shooter than James, has a very similar play style. He isn’t going to will his team to victory by scoring 35 points on 30 shots. Rather, he is going to fill out the stat sheet like he did against Cincinnati. He is a 6-6 point guard, who can also lead his team in rebounds (averages 6.1 per game), can score when he wants (14.7 ppg), but most importantly, sets up his teammates (7.6 assists per game).
No matter where Lonzo goes he wins. He has turned UCLA back into the big-time program they once were with his arrival. As a member of Chino Hills, his high school, he went undefeated with his two younger brothers and won the California Open Division State Championship. He expects to win every time he steps on the court and it is rare that doesn’t happen.
UNC, Kentucky and Butler better watch out. This man is no joke and he is coming for them.
5. Worst first-round of March Madness followed up by best second-round ever
The first two days of March Madness had barely any upsets. The upsets that occurred were upsets based on seeding. If the number next to their name was taken away, no one would be surprised by the results of those so-called “upsets”.
Nevertheless, it has been worth these first two boring days for one of the best weekends in college basketball history.
We saw powerhouses like Duke, Notre Dame, Villanova, Virginia, Louisville and Michigan State go down, while other top-tier programs, UNC, Kentucky, Gonzaga, Baylor and Oregon, hardly survived near-death experiences to advance.
The last two days were amazing to watch with almost every game coming down to the last few minutes with many resulting in major upsets of the most recognizable college basketball programs.
Once again the Duke-UNC rivalry lived up to the hype. The game was at Cameron Indoor Stadium in front of what seemed to be the loudest Duke crowd in recent memory. The recent struggles, suspension of Grayson Allen, and Coach K’s leave of absence seemed to add fuel to the already loud Cameron Crazies making life very difficult for the Tar Heels.
The game was what everyone expected. Both teams getting out to a quick pace early. Duke is going to shoot the 3 ball well behind Allen, Kennard, and Tatum. There will be many runs, by both UNC and Duke, which will either quiet the crowd or transform it into a jet engine. UNC will look to use their size to their advantage by playing through Meeks, Hicks (was out last night with an ankle injury) and Bradley. And as always, even though it is just one game, it carries the weight of both student bodies and alumnae that will make or break their week, possibly their season.
It was high-scoring, uptempo, and neck to neck going into the halftime with Duke up 40-39. The game then went down to the wire, but Duke’s star power, Grayson Allen and Jason Tatum, overwhelmed the Tar Heels, led by Justin Jackson and Joel Berry.
The main difference in the game was Duke’s top players. Grayson Allen played out of his mind. That shouldn’t come as a shock because everyone knew Allen was going to come in laser focused with the recent struggles as a team and the controversies regarding his foul play. Allen was the best player on the floor the entire night. He scored 25 points on 7-12 shooting from distance despite his limited minutes because of foul trouble. In these big games, 3’s are often worth more than the 3 points on the scoreboard because of the momentum gained by the crowd’s eruption every time Duke cashed in from deep. Allen started the game strong by hitting a few deeps threes, but also closed the game off with a big dunk to go up by 6 with just a few minutes left. Allen was the star from the tip to when he fouled out and was much better than any other player on the court last night.
In addition, Kennard had a quiet 20 points, only making 2 three pointers, but was efficient the entire game. Jason Tatum also had a huge night making highlight plays with his dunk on Kennedy Meeks and a game-clinching three to go along with his 19 points.
For North Carolina, they were led by Justin Jackson, who had the tough task of guarding Grayson Allen for the whole night, and Joel Berry, who put up nice numbers, but his impact was barely noticed. It should be noted that UNC was without their big man Isaiah Hicks. Hicks would have given UNC a big advantage inside that might have been the difference in the game. However, he wasn’t able to go and the pressure shifted to Tony Bradley, a freshman, and senior, Kennedy Meeks. Over the past few years, UNC has dominated Duke inside, but Meeks and Bradley struggled mightily to do anything against Duke’s frontcourt. Meeks had only 9 points, and more importantly, only 5 rebounds, whereas Bradley contributed 8 points off the bench, but only hauled in 3 rebounds. UNC, without Hicks, couldn’t take advantage of the glass greatly diminishing their chances of winning Thursday night.
Justin Jackson needs to be commended for his incredible game last night. He guarded Grayson Allen the entire night, and because of the lack of offensive firepower, had to carry the team offensively by scoring 21 points. However, this ended up being very detrimental to the outcome of the game. While Allen and the rest of the Duke stars had a lighter workload, Jackson had to carry the team for most of the game, making it difficult to preserve the energy needed to hit clutch shots down the stretch. Therefore, Duke took advantage and won the game with clutch plays from Allen, Kennard, and Tatum.
In the end, Duke has more star power than UNC. Berry and Jackson are great players, but they haven’t shown the ability to take over games like Grayson Allen, mostly because they are good shooters, not great. They can’t create any shot they want and knock it down like we saw last night with Grayson Allen. However, UNC has much more depth than Duke (UNC played 10 players, whereas Duke only played 8) and that should only improve once Pinson gets healthier and Hicks returns from his ankle injury.
After Duke’s rough start to the ACC season, they are still in a tough position to compete for an ACC regular season title. However, if they play like they did last night, it will be tough for any team to beat them. UNC is still sitting in the driver’s seat of the ACC and shouldn’t feel down about last night’s lost. They lost on the road in the toughest environment in sports to their number one rival. It happens to almost every UNC team that plays in Cameron. They have a tough schedule coming up, opening the possibility for a Duke-UNC showdown March 4th for the ACC title. It is unlikely, but possible if Duke wins out and UNC drops a few games because of their brutal remaining schedule (without including their game against Duke, 3 of their next 5 games are against top 15 teams.)