Who Run the ‘Burg? Girls.

March Madness is one of the greatest sporting events in America. It pits some of the finest young athletes from all over the country against each other, while some of the finest fans (young and old) wager on their performances.

By the end of week one, brackets are broken and dreams are shattered. Life goes on.

The men receive the majority of the month’s fanfare, but not here in Harrisonburg, Virginia. The Dukes failed to reach the big dance for the second year in a row and will have to watch from their couches as the women march on to their second consecutive NCAA tournament.

The 12th-seeded women’s team will head down to Chapel Hill, North Carolina on Saturday to face 5th-seeded Ohio State. JMU finished the season 29-3, won their second CAA title in a row, and watched coach Kenny Brooks set the program’s all-time win record. Now it’s time to make some waves on the national stage.

Despite losing hometown heroes Kirby Burkholder and Nikki Newman from last season, the lady Dukes have plenty of experience to accompany their undeniable talent. Seniors Toia Giggetts and Lauren Okafor provide leadership and quality minutes, with Okafor just a tick shy in rebounds from averaging a double-double. Junior Precious Hall is an offensive force. Averaging over 20 points per game and over 36 percent from deep; the undeniable star of the quad. Not to be outdone, junior guard Angela Mickens dishes out 7.5 assists per game and is just the type of player the lady Dukes need in this type of tournament.

Knocking off Ohio State won’t be an easy task. The lady Dukes are winless in their five previous match-ups against the Buckeyes. But JMU did knock off Pittsburgh this season, a team Ohio State fell to. Both teams lost to Maryland, their only other mutual opponent.

The Dukes will have to look out for Kelsey Mitchell. She leads the Buckeyes in scoring, 3 point shooting, as well as assists. If she’s contained, JMU’s chances will vastly improve. It’s just as critical to control Alexa Hart and Shayla Cooper on the boards. Each averages over 8 per game. After Okafor’s 9.8 per game, JMU doesn’t have a player with over 5 rebounds per game. Also going against the ladies in purple and gold is an underlying feeling among experts that Ohio State is a potential Cinderella.

Don’t rule out the Dukes just yet.

Who knows? After Saturday they could be the ones wearing the glass slipper.

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Every Rose has its Thorn…

…for Derrick, it’s the inability to stay on the court.

Since his 2010-11 MVP campaign it’s as if Rose’s knees have disappeared. Maybe it’s wear and tear after years of exploding to the rim. Maybe it’s bad luck from the basketball gods above. Regardless, the days of marveling at what he was have given way to the days of wondering what he could have been.

Severity unknown, a torn right meniscus is the culprit this time. The same one that put an end to his 2013 season. While an athlete’s least favorite two words, “season ending,” haven’t officially been uttered, it’s all but inevitable.

It feels like a cheap joke. Like déjà vu all over again. But as I got home from work late on Tuesday night, reality sank in. My phone sat next to my bed illuminating every few seconds as app after app notified me of the catastrophe in Chicago.

The Bulls aren’t dead in the water just yet, though it feels that way. They sit third in the underwhelming Eastern Conference. Budding superstar Jimmy Butler has emerged into a true leader. Pau Gasol has been stellar since the move to the Windy City, averaging a double-double and swatting over 2 blocks per game. Role players like Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Aaron Brooks will see extra looks to help carry the load. Hell, Rose had been good this season but far from outstanding.

It doesn’t matter. Chicago is devastated. They’ve gone from a favorite to win the East to a saddened squad looking for hope. Their golden boy relegated to the bench one again.

It’s unfair. Unfair to the fans. Unfair to the Bulls and the city of Chicago. Most importantly, unfair to Rose.

Alas, the season goes on. Feel better, Derrick.

Welcome to the Bigs, Yoan

Yoan Moncada joins fellow countryman Rusney Castillo in Boston as the Red Sox won the sweepstakes for Cuba’s latest sensation.

Moncada is reported to have signed for over $30 million, with the total investment reaching $63 million after taxes. The 19-year-old infielder played two seasons in Cuba’s top league, Serie Nacional. Over the two years he batted .277 with an on-base percentage of .388 and a .768 OPS. Widely considered a top prospect, Boston edged out several other teams including arch-rival New York Yankees.

After having gone from worst to first the season before, the Red Sox found themselves back in the cellar of the AL East in 2014. Eager to find themselves back on top, Boston was a headliner of an exciting, often hectic off-season. Moncada is joined by free agent signees Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval and Justin Masterson. Among others, starters Wade Miley and Rick Porcello were acquired via trade to help fill additional roster gaps.

It’ll be interesting to see if Boston’s acquisitions can bring them to their second consecutive worst-to-first performance. Particularly interesting is Moncada. A second basemen by trade, it’s likely Moncada will make a switch. Dustin Pedroia has that spot locked up until he succumbs to retirement. Youngster Xander Bogaerts is touted as the shortstop of the future, and newcomer Sandoval will man the hot corner. The jammed infield has led to talks of Moncada becoming an outfielder. But with Ramirez, Castillo, Shane Victorino, Allen Craig, Brock Holt and Daniel Nava still around space is limited.

All signs point to a minor league stint to begin Moncada’s career, the length of which to be determined. Will he blast onto the seen like Jose Abreu did last year? Unlikely. With two years of professional ball under his belt, does he need to prove himself in the minors? To an extent. It’s hard to imagine Boston keeping their shiny new toy bouncing around from Portland to Pawtucket. To prevent that they’ll need to find a place to put him.

As the hype fades and the results emerge more will be clear. For now, we wait.

Russell Westbrook: Superhero

For the first time all season the Barclays Center was graced with presence of elite basketball. The mediocre Nets lent their home to the NBA’s brightest stars for what was perhaps the most entertaining All-Star Weekend in recent memory. On Friday, Kevin Hart nabbed his 4th consecutive Celebrity Game MVP. On Saturday, Zach LaVine soared and Steph Curry swooshed. On Sunday, Russell Westbrook took over the world.

His turbo-speed, reckless assault on the rim was quintessential Russ. It was everything his supporters love about him and everything his haters hate. On the biggest stage he cemented his superstar status, dropping 41 points just one shy of Wilt Chamberlain’s all-time mark set back in 1962. He came off the bench scorching hot, with 27 points in just 11 minutes in first half. Not be cooled off by the halftime break, Russ drilled there consecutive 3’s to start the second half.

His display was brilliant by all accounts. MVP title. Western Conference victory. Game Over. Russ wins. It was an aggressive, cathartic release from an Energizer bunny with something to prove.

Granted none of this matters beyond sheer entertainment value. The Thunder sit in 9th in a loaded Western Conference and are far from guaranteed to climb back into the upper echelon. A litany of injuries ravaged the first half of their season, but Russ’s Sunday night display left a simple message: watch out.

All-Star Game Westbrook paired with newly cynical Kevin Durant may be the scariest duo to hit the hardwood and it will be a joy to watch. While none of the Phoenix/San Antonio/Los Angeles trio deserves to miss the playoffs, the world deserves to see the Thunder back where they belong.

Keep doing you Russ, you hyper-speed freak you.

Your New Favorite Podcast

BREAKING NEWS: Live from Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Beginning today, the Undrafted Free Agent will be rolling out a weekly podcast in collaboration with 22807 magazine. The show will focus primarily on James Madison University athletics and D.C. sports, providing insight to national stories when we see fit.

Hosted by Mike Ferrante, each week we’ll delve into a new topic from a non-traditional angle. If you can find the story on ESPN’s bottom line, you won’t hear it on Sunday afternoons with us. Our goal is to blend sports with media and pop culture into unique stories for you all to enjoy.

With national signing day in the rearview mirror, our first show takes a look at each of JMU’s 21 signees. Alongside co-host Griffin Harrington, Mike discusses each player’s presence on Twitter and loosely relates it back to how they’ll perform on the field.

Bear with us, it’s the first attempt at a podcast by two guys who’ve never done so before. While we can’t guarantee it’s perfect, we can guarantee we had fun with it–and we think you will too.

Give it a listen, and keep an eye out for the weeks to come!

The Call Heard ‘Round the World

It’s second-and-goal from the one yard line, 26 seconds left on the clock, and with one timeout remaining, the Seattle Seahawks appear to have locked up back-to-back Super Bowl victories. After Jermaine Kearse channeled his inner David Tyree, Seattle is one Marshawn Lynch crotch grab away from thwarting Tom Brady’s comeback and sending New England home with its third consecutive Super Bowl loss.

And then Pete Carroll makes arguably the worst play call in postseason history. Russell Wilson drops back, throws a slant toward the unrivaled Ricardo Lockette which is quickly picked off by Malcolm Butler, an undrafted rookie out of West Alabama. Patriots win, Carroll condemned.

It was supposed to be the beginning of a new era. Back-to-back championships would spark a mini-dynasty in Seattle. The fun-loving Pete Carroll would be revered for taking down the mighty Bill Belichick. Richard Sherman and Co. would be the face of the NFL. Lynch was sure to deliver a press conference to remember.

Instead, Brady and Belichick leave Arizona with their fourth Lombardi trophy, further cementing their legacy thanks to the hands of an unassuming rookie and a call that left even the most casual of fans baffled. Granted, if that ball lands in Lockette’s palms rather than Butler’s, Wilson and Carroll would be lauded and this whole conversation wouldn’t be happening. But, it didn’t so here we are.

Following the loss, Carroll took the blame but failed to admit that just maybe, it was the wrong call. Seattle’s lovably loyal fan base will forgive, but they’ll never forget.

On a field full of stars, Belichick was supposed to be the villain, Lynch the hero. Yet it’s Seattle’s coach who finds himself the enemy, and the 24-year-old, teary-eyed Butler the hero.

In a game riddled with story lines and concluded by two valiant comeback drives, a snap decision decided it all.

Congratulations New England, don’t forget to thank Pete Carroll on your way out.

O Captain, My Captain

Before Derek Jeter ascends into the baseball heavens, he’ll play the final game of his storied career this afternoon at Fenway Park. Home of the rival Boston Red Sox. While they’ll hate to admit it, Boston fans will pay tribute to the focal point of sport’s greatest rivalry for the past 20 years. Cue the waterworks, we’re saying farewell to a legend.

I don’t know baseball without Derek Jeter. Growing up in Ramsey, New Jersey, 35 minutes outside of the Bronx, I was raised a New York Yankee fan from day one. Baseball has always been my passion, and I’m privileged to have grown up during a nearly two-decade long stretch of supremacy by my beloved Yankees. Gone are the days of Joe Torre, Jorge Posada, Paul O’Neill, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, the list goes on. Come this evening, gone too will be the days of Derek Jeter.

They made him the 13th captain in franchise history. Whenever number 14 comes along, they’ll have big shoes to fill. The kid from Kalamazoo, Michigan made the jump to the world’s biggest stage and handled it with ease. On the field, he exemplified consistency. He played every game of his career for the Yankees. He’ll finish sixth overall on the all-time hits list, and first–by a mile–in the postseason. He never won an MVP, yet he finished in the top-10 seven times. He played in 14 All-Star Games. He won 5 World Series. He gave us the flip, he dove into the stands. He was never ejected from the game.

Off the field, he epitomized class. Jeter handled reporters like a tactician. His name was never found in the tabloids, making it through the New York media unscathed. He was a gentleman to the fans. His Turn 2 Foundation has raised over $19 million in motivation for youths to turn to a healthy lifestyle. He wasn’t just the face of the franchise. He was the face of Major League Baseball.

There aren’t enough words to express my gratitude toward the Captain. He’s an idol that I am blessed to have had. The New York Yankees and Major League Baseball will never be the same. He should be the first to enter Cooperstown unanimously. He will always remain in the pantheon of baseball greats.

It’s with teary eyes that I say goodbye to Mr. Derek Sanderson Jeter. Thank you for the memories. You’ll be greatly missed.