Year in Review: Top 10 Teams of 2011

Alex Wilson@@A_Wil9Contributor IDecember 2, 2011

Year in Review: Top 10 Teams of 2011

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    As 2011 draws to a close, it's time to rank the top teams of the year.

    There's no criteria here, but teams that won championships in their respective sport are heavily favored over top regular-season teams that didn't get it done in the postseason. 

    Here we go, the Top 10 teams of 2011, in descending order:

10. Philadelphia Phillies

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    The heavy preseason favorites to at least represent the National League in the World Series were considered to be untouchable heading into the 2011 season—and until October, they pretty much lived up to that billing.

    Led by a formidable rotation featuring Roy Halladay (19-6, 2.35 ERA), Cliff Lee (17-8, 2.40 ERA) and Cole Hamels (14-9, 2.79 ERA), the Phillies cruised through the regular season, winning 102 games and positioning themselves for a deep postseason run. 

    However, in the NLDS, they ran into the red-hot St. Louis Cardinals, who stunned the baseball world by beating the Phillies in five games.

    It was an unceremonious end to an otherwise dominant season for Philadelphia.

9. Vancouver Canucks

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    The Canucks were clearly the best team in the NHL during the regular season, amassing a league-high 117 points and a 54-19-9 record on their way to their first Presidents Trophy.

    Led by the Sedin brothers, Vancouver reached the Stanley Cup finals, where they jumped out to an early 2-0 series lead against the Boston Bruins.

    But the Bruins fought back, and although the Canucks had two chances to earn win number four and take the Stanley Cup (including game 7 at home), Boston wouldn't have it and won the series.

8. Butler Bulldogs

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    Butler played the role of Cinderella once again in 2011, making another improbable run throughout the Men's NCAA Basketball Tournament en route to reaching the National Championship game for the second consecutive year. 

    Following a solid but not overwhelming 21-9 regular season record, the eighth-seeded Bulldogs, led by Brad Stevens, came alive again in March, beating Old Dominion, Pittsburgh, Wisconsin, Florida and VCU to reach the National Championship game against UConn. 

    The Huskies crushed Butler 53-41 in one of the sloppier championship games in recent memory, but the Bulldogs succeeded in capturing the hearts of basketball fans throughout the country. 

7. Boston Bruins

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    The Bruins, who finished 46-25-11 in the regular season, gritted their way through the playoffs to capture their sixth Stanley Cup and first since 1972.

    Led by Tim Thomas in goal, the Bruins were the comeback kids of the NHL throughout the playoffs, overcoming early 2-0 series deficits twice (to Montreal in the first round and Vancouver in the Stanley Cup) en route to the title.

    Thomas put together a particularly memorable postseason performance, setting records for most saves during the playoffs (798) and in the Stanley Cup (238). Thomas also set the record for highest save percentage in regular-season history (.938).

    The Bruins beat the favored Vancouver Canucks in a thrilling seven-game series.

6. Texas A&M Aggies

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    The Aggies, led by Gary Blair, finished the regular season 33-5 and earned a 2-seed in the Women's NCAA Basketball Tournament.

    While experts were busy debating who among UConn, Stanford or Baylor would take the title, Texas A&M barreled through each round en route to earning a Final Four matchup with Big 12 rival Baylor Lady Bears and Brittney Griner. 

    The Aggies trounced them 58-46 and promptly defeated Notre Dame 76-70 in the National Championship game to win their first title in program history.

5. St. Louis Cardinals

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    Out of the 10 teams on this list, the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals may best represent resiliency in a team.

    On Aug. 24, the Atlanta Braves had a commanding 10.5 game lead over the Cardinals for the NL Wild Card. The Cards swept the Braves at Busch Stadium in the middle of September, and on the final day of the season, St. Louis overtook the lead and won the Wild Card with a 90-72 record. 

    The Cards went 23-9 over their final 32 games, despite major deficits in both the NL Central and Wild Card. That's just the beginning of their resilient run.

    In the first round of the postseason, they shocked the heavily favored Philadelphia Phillies, who won 102 games in the regular season, in five games.

    In the NLCS, they beat the Milwaukee Brewers in six games, winners of the NL Central.

    And in one of the greatest World Series of all-time, which included a comeback for the ages in Game 6 with the Cardinals down to their final strike of the World Series in both the ninth and 10th innings, the Cardinals beat the two-time reigning American League Champions' Texas Rangers in seven games. 

    From a double-digit deficit in late-August to World Series Champs after being down to their final strike twice. That's resiliency.

4. UConn Huskies

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    This team knows a thing or two about resiliency, too.

    The 2010-2011 Connecticut Huskies, led by Oscar Robertson Trophy (best college player in the nation) runner-up Kemba Walker, were a strong 21-9 on March 5.

    They never lost another game.

    The Huskies ran the table in the Big East tournament, winning five games in five days to capture the Big East title.

    UConn earned a 3-seed in the NCAA tournament, where they proceeded to knock through Bucknell, Cincinnati, San Diego State, Arizona and Kentucky en route to their championship game showdown with Butler, which they won 53-41.

    Walker was named the NCAA Tournament's Most Outstanding Player as Jim Calhoun's Huskies captured their third title in 13 years.

3. LSU Tigers

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    LSU hasn't won anything yet, but since their championship aspirations won't be decided until early 2012, they deserve their due for what they've accomplished so far.

    The Tigers are currently 12-0 and sitting atop all three polls. They're also the first unanimous No. 1 in the Associated Press Poll since 2008. 

    LSU has beaten seven Top-25 teams so far, including three teams that, at the time of their matchup, were ranked inside the Top 3 (No. 3 Oregon on Sept. 6 at a neutral site, at No. 2 Alabama on Nov. 5, and No. 3 Arkansas on Nov. 25 at home). 

    Their defense is touted as one of the best in college football in recent memory, currently ranking second in the nation with just 10.6 points allowed per game. Only Alabama has allowed fewer (8.8), but the Crimson Tide have played two less ranked opponents. 

    If the Tigers can get by 14th-ranked Georgia in the SEC title game, they'll be primed for a rematch with the second-ranked Crimson Tide, whom LSU beat 9-6 in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 5. 

2. Dallas Mavericks

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    The Dallas Mavericks finally captured their first NBA Championship in 2011, defeating the much-maligned Miami Heat in six games. 

    Dallas finished 57-25 in the regular season, third in the Western Conference, and beat the Portland Trail Blazers, swept the Los Angeles Lakers and silenced the up-and-coming Oklahoma City Thunder in five games to reach the NBA finals for the first time since 2006.

    The Mavs' victory is especially sweet considering it came against Miami, the franchise that Dirk and the Mavericks lost to in six games in 2006 after squandering a 2-0 series lead.

    The Mavericks 15-point comeback in Game 2 of the Finals in Miami was the biggest Finals comeback since the Bulls did it in 1992. 

    Dirk Nowitzki earned Finals MVP honors. He averaged 27.7 points-per-game throughout their playoff run, coming up with clutch shots time and time again.  

1. Green Bay Packers

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    Considering the Packers haven't lost a game yet in 2011, this comes as no surprise. 

    Green Bay clinched the sixth and final seed in the playoffs last season after finishing 10-6, and then proceeded to beat the Philadelphia Eagles, Atlanta Falcons and archrival Chicago Bears (all in road games) to reach Super Bowl XLV versus the Pittsburgh Steelers, which the Packers won 31-25.

    Aaron Rodgers was named MVP of the Super Bowl after throwing for 304 yards and 3 TDs, and he continues his dominance today, currently leading the NFL in passing touchdowns (33), fewest interceptions (4) and QB rating (127.7). 

    The Packers are currently undefeated and look primed to make a serious run at repeating as Super Bowl champs.