March 19, 2013
NCAA March Madness is officially upon us as our minds, and our desks, are now cluttered with a plethora of brackets.
With bragging rights on the line for the next year, selecting the perfect upsets along the way play a huge factor in the end result.
Everyone loves an underdog and this year the field of 68 is as wide open as it’s ever been. Say what you want in regards to the way the NCAA governs college athletics, the NCAA basketball tournament is the cat’s meow.
The parity in men’s college basketball is gorgeous and the look of Cinderella has now changed. No longer does a Cinderella have to have a lower seed or be from a small conference. In fact, it’s just the opposite.
This article highlights one Cinderella in each region and the results may surprise. No, as a No. 1 seed Gonzaga is not one of them. They have graduated from the Cinderella ranks over the past decade. So too has Butler, so don’t be confused when they don’t make the list. These two schools are the exemplary models of what is right in college basketball.
With that being said, let’s find out just which schools look to become the darlings of the college basketball world.
The South Region: Minnesota Golden Gophers
Surprise, surprise, a team from the Big Ten, which was the best conference in the country, ends up as a Cinderella in the tournament. Don’t be.
After a strong start to their season and a favorable ranking in the national polls, the Minnesota Golden Gophers stumbled to a 20-12 record. Their biggest win of the season against then No. 1 Indiana is what punched their ticket to the dance.
Even with an 11 seed, the Golden Gophers aren’t to be taken lightly in the tournament. They have a skilled big man in Trevor Mbakwe, a talented point guard in Andre Hollins and an all-world flyer in Rodney Williams. When they are focused on the task at hand, they are as difficult to beat as any team in the country.
Their first game is up against UCLA, and with a victory they would most likely face the Florida Gators. This isn’t putting the horse before the cart, but the Golden Gophers are capable of beating both of these teams.
Remember, a trip to the Sweet 16 and a Cinderella is born. Think twice before you write-off Minnesota.
The East Region: UNLV Runnin’ Rebels
Yes, the UNLV Rebels are ranked a No. 5 seed, but everyone will be rooting for them in less than a week.
They finished the season third in a Mountain West Conference that received five nods from the committee this March. The conference is a prime example of why college basketball is tough across the board. The respect earned by the Mountain West this season is phenomenal.
UNLV is a scrappy team that has one of the best freshmen in the land. Anthony Bennett is a name that fans from sea to shining sea will be talking about soon enough. He averaged 16.1 points/game this season to go along with 8.1 rebounds.
Long forgotten on the college hoops scene no more, UNLV will be rolling.
The West Region: Wichita State Shockers
That means that they’ll be the most rested team in the tournament. Another bonus, foul trouble doesn’t affect them like it would many others. That kind of depth gives the advantage to the Shockers, especially in a situation where overtime may occur.
They’re a true team where every kid on the team is an intricate piece to the puzzle. They’re a team that outsiders can easily become fond of quickly.
The Midwest Region: St. Louis Billikens
Though they may be a No. 4 seed, the St. Louis Billikens are a real Cinderella. They took the A-10 Conference over the likes of Virginia Commonwealth and Butler this season.
How did they do so when it seems they just came into the national spotlight?
Well, for starters they won 15-of-16 to end the season, which earned them such a pleasant seed. They beat ranked VCU and Butler all four times they played them this season.
They also beat New Mexico, who just so happens to be the No. 3 seed in the West Region this season.
To put it lightly—they fear none. A Sweet 16 victory over the No. 1 overall seed Louisville Cardinals would prove that last statement. Don’t be surprised when that happens.
February 12, 2013
Right now, the entire state of Indiana is once again thriving as the basketball capital of the world. Sure, basketball may not have been born in Indiana, but the state is the heart and soul of the game.
It’s not that basketball ever left the state, but the attention did for quite some time. After Reggie Miller retired from the Indiana Pacers and Bobby Knight was removed as head coach of the University of Indiana Hoosiers, the correlation of Indiana and the game of basketball became seemingly forgotten about. For what seems to be a lifetime in basketball years, Indiana was a second-class citizen
Then, the small school of Butler forged their way into the national spotlight. The Bulldogs became the Cinderella team for two consecutive years in 2010-11, making the Final Four, but coming up just short in the national final in both years.
Butler missed out on the Madness last season, but is currently ranked No. 11 in the country with a 20-4 record and will undoubtedly be dancing once again this season.
Notre Dame is also ranked at the moment and the University of Purdue is around .500, but considering they play in the ultra-tough B1G Conference a strong finish to the season could mean a ticket to the dance.
While these teams are definitely on the college basketball radar, it’s the Hoosiers who bring the state such recognition. While it’s been tough for any college team to solidify themselves as the No. 1 overall team, the Hoosiers are as good as any team in the country.
Head coach Tom Crean has officially put the Hoosiers and the state of Indiana back on the map. It took Crean four years to bring the school back to prominence, but now they are a favorite to win it all.
Regardless of who wins it all this season, there’s a great chance that a team from the state of Indiana will be around late in the tournament.
On the NBA front, the Indiana Pacers are an up-and-coming superpower too
Heading into this season, the Pacers were in the discussion for playoff contention. Now, with the All Star Game just around the corner, they have positioned themselves as legitimate title contenders.
The Pacers may be near the bottom of the entire NBA in scoring at 92.8 points/game, but it’s their stingy defense that makes them tough to topple. The only allow 90.2 points/game and are the league’s best rebounding team. A similar historical team to compare them to is the Detroit Pistons of a decade ago. The Pistons didn’t have the best offense, but they won with defense. The Pacers could be that team of this generation.
What’s most impressive about the Pacers is that they’ve been winning without Danny Granger, their best player who is sidelined with a knee injury for the entire season to this point.
Their current record of 31-21 is third best in the Eastern Conference. Granger is set to come back soon which should boost their scoring. All young NBA teams need to learn to win on the road and the Pacers are only 11-16 thus far, but that means they only have 14 road games left. A realistic goal would be to go 7-7 in those games and give them some road confidence heading into the playoffs.
In any event, they aren’t to be taken lightly and have made themselves a factor.
In total, the state of Indiana is thriving because of their favorite pastime of basketball. Regardless of where you’re from, this is great to see. In short, it simply brings the best out of the game.
January 11, 2013
Just about halfway through the college basketball season, we are beginning to find out who’s for real and who’s a pretender. After Arizona’s loss Thursday night to Oregon, there are only two more teams left undefeated; Duke and Michigan. Now were going to party like it’s 1992. Yes it’s been a little over 20 years since Duke played Michigan for the national title, with the “Fab 5” as freshmen. For Duke, almost nothing has changed, Mike Krzyzewski is still the head coach, and Duke is number 1 in the country. However, in Ann Arbor, pretty much everything has changed. The only slight similarity is the youth movement that features a starting 5 with 2 freshmen and 1 sophomore. The Big Ten has officially dethroned the Big East as college basketball’s top conference, and the ACC is having a down year without Florida State and North Carolina in the top 25. That being said, the Blue Devils will have to beat themselves to lose the ACC.
With that I give you the marquee matchups this weekend in college hoops:
1. Duke (15-0) (2-0 ACC) at 20. North Carolina State (13-2) (2-0 ACC) Saturday 12 noon (ESPN)
The Blue Devils are without starting senior forward Ryan Kelly who is out indefinitely with a foot injury. The Blue Devils don’t have the depth to replace a guy who averages 13.4 PPG and 5.4 RPG. The Wolfpack are balanced with 6 guys averaging double figures in scoring. Mark Gottfried’s club also ranks 1st in field goal percentage. Duke will have no answer for C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell on the interior. Prediction: Duke-69 NC State- 73
8. Minnesota (15-1) (3-0 Big Ten) at 5. Indiana (14-1) (2-0 Big Ten) Saturday 12 noon (BTN)
Since their lone loss to Duke on November 22nd, Tubby Smith’s Golden Gophers have won 11 in a row including two big conference wins against Michigan State and Illinois. Indiana has won their last 5 since losing to Butler. The Gopher’s Andre Hollins may be the best point guard in the country. That in combination with Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams in the post is too much for the Hoosiers. The Gophers will do it by committee to pull the upset at Assembly Hall. Prediction: Minnesota-67 Indiana-63
2. Michigan (16-0) (3-0 Big Ten) at 15. Ohio State (12-3) (2-1 Big Ten) Sunday 1:30 (CBS)
There hasn’t been this much excitement in Ann Arbor since the “Fab 5”. The Wolverines have 4 guys averaging over 12 points per game. Their backcourt is the best in nation with Wooden Award candidate Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. Big Blue’s frontcourt is also scary with two fabulous freshmen in Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III. This balance will be too much for the Buckeyes. The Buckeyes are 12th in turnovers per game while the Wolverines are 2nd. The Buckeyes will struggle to find high percentage shots and Michigan’s depth will dominate from start to finish. Prediction: Michigan-66 Ohio State-58.
September 26, 2011
College football just got a whole lot more interesting with the recent moves of Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the ACC. The two schools may have inadvertently set off a future exodus of teams heading to other football conferences. Things actually got underway with the news that Texas A&M was headed to the SEC, but that was hardly the move that could cause a mass migration of NCAA teams leaving for greener pastures. However, that coupled with these two recent defections is. That said, if it were up to me, here’s how it would all shake out in ten simple moves:
10. Texas and Oklahoma realize they can save the Big 12: At some point, the Longhorns and Sooners figure out that it makes no sense to head west to the NCAA’s Pac-12. The Midwest rejoices as both schools announce they’re staying in the Big 12 and things start to get crazy.
9. TCU joins the Big 12: Texas’ and Oklahoma’s first call is to TCU, who’s utterly confused at this point. Getting ready to join the Big East in 2012, they’re convinced by the Longhorns and Sooners that they should come to the Big 12 because, you know, they should actually be in the East to play in a conference called the Big East. The Horned Frogs concur and cancel their flights to New York for their introductory Big East press conference. Big East commissioner John Marinatto just finds out minutes before the conference is scheduled to begin when he receives a text from CBS Sports’ Brett McMurphy.
8. Connecticut to the ACC: With the Big East on verge of collapse, UConn heads to the ACC to form the most dominant basketball conference with the likes of Duke, North Carolina, Pitt, and Syracuse. The Huskies mention something about having an NCAA football program, too, but no one actually pays attention.
7. Notre Dame to the ACC: The Irish, not wanting to be upstaged, surprise everyone by agreeing to join the ACC. Notre Dame explains the move by saying they don’t want to be left out of the NCAA football national championship picture … even though they’ve not won enough games to compete for one in nearly 20 years.
6. West Virginia to the SEC: Marinatto, now in a desperate panic to keep the conference together, informs fans they’re actively looking to expand – even with only six teams left. The Mountaineers aren’t convinced and apply to the SEC for a second time. This time, they get in and couches are promptly burnt to a crisp in Morgantown.
5. Big East Basketball Schools Jump Ship: Realizing the football side is nearly dead, the Big East basketball-only schools (DePaul, Georgetown, Villanova, Marquette, St. John’s, Providence, and Seton Hall) leave to start their own conference. An ugly lawsuit ensues over the naming rights and the basketball side wins, allowing them to continue as the Big East. They promptly add Xavier and Butler while giving the boot to DePaul because they’re, well, DePaul.
4. Louisville and Cincinnati to the Big 12: Marinatto officially announces the end of the Big East after extending invitations to Navy, Army, and Air Force and never having his calls returned. Louisville and Cincinnati find a good fit in the Midwest.
3. Houston to the Big 12: The Cougars join the Big 12 and Houston brings one of the top ten TV markets along with it. Texas and Oklahoma shake hands as they’ve officially survived expansion. They then turn heel and revoke the membership of Missouri for threatening to leave earlier.
2. Rutgers to Big Ten: The Scarlet Knights and South Florida flip a coin to decide who can join the Big Ten. Wanting the NY/NJ market, conference officials pull the ‘Heads Rutgers wins, tails South Florida loses’ routine to perfection as USF goes independent.
1. BYU Joins Pac-12: Not wanting to be left out, the Pac-12 adds a team merely to keep up. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany immediately issues a press release saying it makes no sense for a conference with 13 teams to call itself the Pac-12.
June 27, 2011
This past week’s NBA Draft wasn’t very star-studded according to most experts. Unlike the 1996 Draft, which was one of the best in recent memory producing future Hall of Famers such as Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Ray Allen, and Allen Iverson, this year’s class isn’t expected to have as many stars.
That said, as always, some teams still found a way to draft wisely while others left us scratching our heads.
Washington Wizards – I know all about Enes Kanter taken by the Utah Jazz at No. 3, but Jan Vesely could end up being the best international player in this field. Vesely is a true athlete that has an NBA-type game and will be a perfect fit for John Wall and the Wizards’ young team. At 6’11”, he has three-point range and could cause huge mismatches for opposing teams’ frontcourts. Washington also landed Chris Singleton at No. 18, a great defensive weapon, and Butler’s Shelvin Mack in the second round. Mack was listed as a late first-round pick in many mock drafts and the Wizards could have gotten a bit of a steal.
Detroit Pistons – The Pistons picked up a relative steal in getting Brandon Knight at No. 8. Knight is the second-best point guard in the draft and averaged more than 17 points a game as a true freshman – something virtually unheard of. Getting him that late (especially when there’s a premium on point guards in the NBA these days) was a big coup for General Manager Joe Dumars. The Pistons also ended up with Kyle Singler, who played a big role on some winning teams at Duke and as a second-rounder, was a smart pick. And while Vernon Macklin (No. 52) isn’t a star, he shot more than 60% during his entire collegiate career and has a chance to be a serviceable backup center.
Sacramento Kings – Sacramento reeled in the draft’s most prolific scorer in BYU’s Jimmer Fredette. Even better for the Kings is that he should be an excellent fit for their team. Fredette will fit right in alongside Tyreke Evans and give the Kings a great backcourt for years to come. He’s not a stellar defender and will need to improve if he wants to play 30 minutes a game, but he knows how to score – and that’s the primary function for a shooting guard. Tyler Honeycutt was a solid second-round selection and, unlike some other teams to be named later, the Pistons secured a good proven talent in guard Isaiah Thomas with the last pick in the draft instead of going for an unknown international player.
Los Angeles Clippers – Man, the Clippers’ just can’t catch a break. They were so desperate to unload Baron Davis’ huge contract that they traded him away with an unprotected first-round pick back at the trade deadline in February. Little did they know that pick would turn out to be the No. 1 overall selection. So to recap, the Clippers traded away Davis (a former All-Star) and the No. 1 overall pick for Jamario Moon and Mo Williams? Yeah, how’s that one working out? Look, I understand the desire to move that contract, but the fact is that Davis is still a solid NBA player. Instead of having Kyrie Irving or Derrick Williams to pair along with Blake Griffin, the Clips are still a few players away from being able to compete. The bottom line is that trading unprotected lottery picks away simply to dump large contracts is a very bad idea and this is why the Clippers are the Clippers.
Los Angeles Lakers – Even without a first-round pick, the Lakers still had a chance to make an impact in the draft. Unfortunately, even with four second-round selections, Los Angeles failed to add much substance to their team. Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock were reasonable picks, but that’s when things got a bit crazy. With talented players like Scotty Hopson and Ben Hansbrough still on the board, L.A. somehow decided it was a good idea to draft Ater Majok (a player who averaged less than a point per game in the NBDL) and Chukwudiebere Maduabum, an international project with no discernable talent. In their defense, Maduabum was later shipped to Denver, but with some solid players still available, the Lakers had the chance to add two quality prospects instead.
Philadelphia 76ers – Philadelphia took a huge gamble by taking big man Nikola Vucevic at No. 16. Nothing about him screams superstar and the 76ers could have done much better with more of a proven commodity. At No. 50, Lavoy Allen out of Temple was a solid, but unspectacular player in college. What strikes me the most about him is that he didn’t seem to improve much during his time there. His stats over the past three seasons remained virtually unchanged and his shooting percentage actually dropped the last two. It can be sometimes hard to find real value that late in the draft, but Allen had undrafted free agent written all over him. This move reeks of drafting a hometown kid just for the sake of a nice story. And a team needing as much help as the 76ers can’t afford to make those types of picks.