March 25, 2014

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Sweet 16 Preview

By: Joe Williams

What a weekend that was! The first couple rounds of the NCAA Tournament had it all….upsets, overtimes, controversy….it was everything we hope for. Sadly, the tournament is already 75 percent over, but at least we’ll have some really good match-ups before it is all said and done. What’s going to happen this weekend? I can’t wait to find out.

Can the Huskies pull off yet another upset and make it to the Elite 8?

Best game

I know a lot of people are excited about Louisville vs Kentucky, but to me the best game is Virginia vs Michigan State. Has there ever been a #4 seed get as much love from the media as the Spartans have this year? Has there ever been a less talked about #1 than Virginia? If I didn’t know any better, I’d think Michigan State was the #1 seed. This game, more than any other, will make-or-break a lot of brackets out there.

Worst game

Sorry. There are only eight games. They can’t all be a hype-machine. Especially, Wisconsin vs Baylor. Both of these teams have conference rivals that are still alive and getting all the attention so there is still plenty of room on the bandwagons here even though the Badgers and Bears have been two of the most impressive teams so far and the winner has a great shot to reach the Final 4.

Upset special

Connecticut over Iowa State. The Huskies have played a lot of games in Madison Square Garden over the years and should have the crowd on their side. And they’ve got Shabazz Napier, the best name in the tournament and the kind of player that can put a team on his back and get to the Elite 8. It also helps that Iowa State will be without Georges Niang.

Bold prediction

Two #11 seeds will reach the Elite 8. It could happen. Why not? Dayton has already knocked off Ohio State and Syracuse without playing its best. It won’t be afraid of Stanford and if the Flyers get hot from 3-point range, the Cardinal will be in trouble. Tennessee is as hot as anybody after cruising by Iowa, Massachusetts and Mercer but that’s also about as easy as it gets to reach the Sweet 16. The Tennessee big men will need to dominate inside against the Wolverines.

Player to watch

Arizona’s Aaron Gordon. If you watched Gordon and the Wildcats beat Gonzaga, you know what I’m talking about. How many massive dunks did he have in that game? He may or may not be the best player in the tournament, but he provides some of the best highlights for sure. Arizona will need some of those plays against San Diego State to quiet that Anaheim crowd.

Final 4 picks

Florida, Virginia, San Diego State, Michigan

December 10, 2013

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Remaining Undefeated NCAA Men’s Basketball Teams

By: Joe Williams

Don’t look now, but the college basketball season is already about a third of the way complete. Who knew? With bowl season and the NFL playoffs closing in, college basketball doesn’t get much attention, but it is shaping up to be a great season. Kentucky, Michigan St., and Arizona have all been ranked No. 1. The defending champions in Louisville have just one loss and are at No. 6. And there are still 15(????) teams that haven’t lost. How long will that last? Let’s take a look.

Louisville Cardinals

The defending champion Cardinals are currently 6th in the standings.

No. 1 Arizona (9-0) – The Wildcats will be tested Saturday at Michigan but I think they survive that one. They may not be so lucky on Jan . 9 at UCLA.

No. 2 Syracuse (9-0) – The Orange should have no trouble in the next two and ought to be 11-0 heading into a showdown with No. 10 Villanova. The Wildcats will probably also be undefeated heading into that game. One streak will end.

No. 3 Ohio State (8-0) - The Buckeyes have a bunch of wins against schools that I have not heard of. So I’m not impressed. But they did hold a ranked Marquette team to 35 points. That is impressive. If they beat Michigan State on Jan. 7 then I’ll really be impressed.

No. 4 Wisconsin (10-0) – The Badgers don’t leave home until 2014 when they face Northwestern. But it will be the Jan. 14 game at Indiana that really gives them trouble.

No. 9 Connecticut (9-0) – The Huskies have three wins by one point and another win by just two. They could get to 16-0, but they won’t make it to 18-0. With games against No. 16 Memphis and No. 6 Louisville coming in a three day span, at least one loss is coming.

No. 10 Villanova (9-0) – Same story here as with Syracuse. If the Wildcats can beat Syracuse, they could go for a long run. There are no other ranked teams left on the schedule.

No. 12 Wichita State (9-0) – The Shockers have only been tested on a couple of occasions. There are no ranked teams on their schedule so they should finish the season with just a couple losses. And the first one will come at Alabama on Dec. 17.

No. 15 Oregon (8-0) – The Ducks have only played one close game and escaped with a win in overtime at Mississippi. They’ll be tested in two of the next three games when they play Illinios and BYU. My gut says they lose one of them.

No. 17 Iowa State (7-0) – The Cyclones are ranked in the top four in the nation in points, rebounds and assists. No wonder they haven’t lost. But they are about to. In-state rival Iowa (ranked in the top nine in the nation in points, rebounds and assists) comes to town on Friday and will give the Cyclones their first L of the season.

No. 22 Massachusetts (8-0) – The Minutemen have an impressive list of wins already. Boston College, LSU, New Mexico, Clemson and BYU gives them a pretty nice early season resume. I’ll be really impressed if they make it to 11-0 because that will require a win over Florida Sate on Dec. 21.

No. 24 Missouri (9-0) – The Tigers are coming off of an impressive win over UCLA. They might not lose until they visit Vanderbilt on Jan. 16.

No. 28 Pittsburgh (9-0) – The Panthers haven’t even played a close game yet. And they might not until 2014. But they start the year on Jan. 4 at North Carolina State and that will be a tough one.

No. 29 Boise State (8-0) – Could Chris Peterson have left Boise State because he didn’t even have the highest ranked team at his own school? When was the last time the basketball team was ranked higher than the football team? The Broncos have the top scoring team in the country. Can they pull the upset at Kentucky tonight?

No. 35 St. Mary’s (7-0) – They don’t have any great wins yet, but St. Mary’s has a shot to pick one up against Boise State on Saturday.

Toledo (8-0) – The Rockets do not even have a vote to be in the top 25 right now. But they can shoot (6th in the country)  and have put up at least 90 points five times already.  A couple more wins should get some people’s attention. Then we’ll see what they can do when they visit No. 13 Kansas on Dec. 30.

March 12, 2013

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Wooden Award Watch

By: Tyler Vespa

College basketball’s player of the year race is starting to heat up. In this wide open season where we’ve seen top 5 teams go down almost every week, the Wooden Award Watch has also been sent into a frenzy. We’ve seen so many teams picked to finish in the middle or the bottom of their conference rise above expectations. This parity has put names on the Wooden Award Watch that nobody saw coming.

Will Indiana's Victor Oladipo win the Wooden Award?

With that, here are my top 5 players (in order) that could take home player of the year honors:

Victor Oladipo- Indiana

His incredible quickness helps him do so many different things for the Hoosiers. Oladipo is one of the best I’ve seen at turning defense into offense. He averages 14.0 ppg, 2.1 assists, 6 rebounds and 2.3 steals and to top it off, he is shooting 63% from the floor. His play has been so consistent it’s hard to put anyone ahead of him at this point.

Otto Porter- Georgetown

The Hoyas swingman rises to the occasion in big games. Porter scored 33 points in a win at Syracuse, and scored 21 of his 22 points in the second half of a double-overtime win against Connecticut. Porter shoots 51% from the floor and averages 16.6 points. 2.5 assists, 7.6 rebounds, 2 steals and 1 block. The Hoyas have won 11 in a row, and Porter is averaging 19.2 ppg in the last 13 games. In other words, he single handedly took the Hoyas to the top of the Big East.

Rodney McGruder- Kansas St.

The Kansas State senior guard is averaging 14.9 ppg and 5.3 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1.3 steals. This play by McGruder has helped the Wildcats win 5 in a row and take over 1st in the Big 12.

Deshaun Thomas- Ohio St.

In the toughest conference in the country, the junior forward has averaged 19.8 ppg, 1.3 assists, and 6.1 rebounds.  This consistency, along with Thomas’ 84.5 free throw shooting has helped the Buckeyes win 4 of their last 5, putting them 2nd in the Big Ten.

Marcus Smart- Oklahoma St.

The freshman guard is averaging 14.6 ppg, 5.6 rebounds, and 4.3 assists and 2.9 steals. Smart does it all for the Cowboys, who have now won 10 of their past 11, with their only loss coming against Kansas in double overtime. They now sit just one game behind Kansas and Kansas St. in the Big 12.

I would be in shock if one of these 5 didn’t win player of the year. Even with the conference tournaments and the NCAA Tournament right around the corner, these are the top guys in the top conferences in the nation. I can’t wait to see how these guys perform down the stretch in the race for a national championship.

January 11, 2013

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NCAA Men’s Basketball Weekend Watch List

By: Tyler Vespa

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

Michigan State, a perennial Big Ten power, fell earlier this season to Minnesota.

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.

November 8, 2012

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NCAA Men’s Basketball Preview: 10 Teams That Could Win It All

By: Tyler Vespa

With the 2012-2013 college basketball season set to begin on Friday, this could be one of the most wide-open seasons in recent memory. I don’t believe there are one or two teams loaded with all the NBA talent as in past years with Kentucky.  To me, you see the result of that parity evident near the top of all the preseason polls with teams like Indiana, Michigan, and North Carolina State, who is picked to beat North Carolina in the ACC. Let the madness begin.

Will Louisville keep the National Championship in Kentucky?

With that I give you 10 teams that could win it all this season:

Indiana

Cody Zeller might be the best player in the country. Put that on top of key returners Christian Watford, Will Sheehey, and Victor Oladipo and an experienced coach in Tom Crean and the Hoosiers have arrived.

Louisville

Coach Rick Pitino has one of the best backcourts in the country with the trio of Peyton Siva, Wayne Blackshear and Russ Smith. The Louisville frontcourt is also extremely talented with Chane Behanen and Gorgui Dieng. With the additions of transfer Luke Hancock (George Mason) and 4-star recruit Montrezl Harrell, a national title might be “in the cards”.

Kentucky

With no returning starters, coach John Calipari has once again brought a fountain of youth with NBA talent. Top recruits Nerlens Noel, Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, and Archie Goodwin may not win a title, but a Final 4 is a strong possibility.

Michigan

Ann Arbor please welcome “The Next 5”. Coach John Beilein returns 3 starters with one of the best point guards in the country in Trey Burke, junior guard Tim Hardaway Jr. and center Jordan Morgan. The final two that make up “The Next 5” are 5-star recruit Glenn Robinson III on the wing and 4-star recruit Mitch McGary at power forward. The bench for the Wolverines adds great depth with senior Matt Vogrich and redshirt sophomore Jon Horford. With this combination of experience and young talent all may HAIL to the maize and blue.

Kansas

The Jayhawks lost their top 2 players in Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor. Coach Bill Self returns 3 seniors that started a year ago starting with pre-season All-American Jeff Withey at center, who at 7 feet is his own “block party” in the post. Experienced guards Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford complete the trio of returning starters. The key will be the adjustment of freshman Jamari Traylor, Perry Ellis and Ben McLemore. If that happens it will be “Rock Chalk” time in Lawrence.

North Carolina State

With the return of star forward C.J. Leslie, the Wolfpack now have 4 starters back from a season ago. The other 3 being guard Lorenzo Brown, and forwards Scott Wood and Richard Howell. If McDonald’s All-Americans’ Rodney Purvis, Tyler Lewis and T.J. Warren live up to the hype, this pack could go the distance for Coach Gottfried.

Syracuse

Although the Orange lost 4 of their 5 starters, the four replacements all gained great experience as role players last season. The lone returner, guard Brandon Triche has a lot of talent around him with backcourt partner Michael Carter-Williams, and forwards Rakeem Christmas, C.J. Fair and James Sutherland. Top recruits Jerami Grant and Dajuan Coleman must be ready to contribute for Coach Boeheim.

Florida

Billy Donovan’s Gators return 3 starters from last season’s Elite 8 team in point guard Kenny Boynton, center Patric Young and forward Eric Murphy. If role players Casey Prather, Will Yeguete, and Scottie Wilbekin can step into the spotlight and offer major contributions, they will “swamp” the competition come tournament time.

Michigan State

Losing a player like Draymond Green was always going to be a tall order. However, Tom Izzo still has a key core returning in point guard Keith Appling, forwards Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne and sophomore Branden Dawson who was on track to have a stellar year last season before his season-ending ACL injury. Top recruit Gary Harris will bring some key depth to a Spartans backcourt that is not as loaded as Izzo has had in past seasons.

San Diego State

I really like the Aztecs. Coach Steve Fisher returns 3 double-digit scorers from last season in Jamaal Franklin, Chase Tapley and Xavier Thomas. Sophomore transfers James Johnson (Virginia), JJ O’Brien (Utah) and Dwayne Polee II (St. John’s) bring incredible depth and size to an already fast team. 4-star recruit Winston Shepard (Findlay Prep) will be in the running for freshman of the year. This “tribe” may rule come April.