March 19, 2013

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Highlighting This Year’s Biggest Cinderellas

By: Matt Bowen

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.

Should #1 seed Louisville fear a matchup with the Saint Louis Billikens?

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.

UNLV has already beaten their first opponent California this year and will burst into the limelight by beating a topsy-turvy Syracuse squad in the round of 32.

Long forgotten on the college hoops scene no more, UNLV will be rolling.

The West Region: Wichita State Shockers

Coming in as a No. 9 seed, the Wichita State Shockers look to make quick work of the Pitt Panthers before a third-round match-up puts them up against No. 1 seed Gonzaga.

The Shockers have wins against tournament teams like Virginia Commonwealth and Creighton this season. They’re a team that has 11 players, yes 11 that averaged more than 10 minutes a game this season.

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.

Enjoy!

March 18, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

The NCAA Tournament is here: It’s NCAA Tournament time. The NCAA released its tournament bracket yesterday and while the field is generally wide open, that’s even more so the case this year. In case you missed it, the four No. 1 seeds were Louisville, Indiana, Kansas, and Gonzaga. There’s been no truly dominant team in college basketball with the No. 1 spot changing hands nearly every week. I haven’t hashed out my bracket yet, but my early pick to win it all might be Louisville. The Cardinals fell a bit off the radar in the middle of the season after three straight losses to Syracuse, Villanova, and Georgetown, but they lost two of those games by a total of four points. And as we found out, those are three pretty good teams. Louisville went on to win 13 of their last 14 games and the one loss was a five overtime thriller to Notre Dame.

Should the Cowboys move to the NFC South?

Team USA bows out of World Baseball Classic: Team USA lost games to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico and was knocked out of the World Baseball Classic. Most amusing was the attitude by some players on Team USA who were none too pleased with the way the Dominican Republic celebrated after their victory. First things first – the tournament means much more in general to the other countries playing. Team USA’s players want the World Series, not the World Baseball Classic title. I’ve got no problem with the enthusiastic celebration by the Dominican Republic.  It’s not only a big deal to them, but it was a dramatic victory as they scored two runs to snap a ninth-inning tie. Team USA being upset about the celebration is akin to a ranked college basketball team losing on the road and then being angry that the home team’s fans storm the court. Want to know the best way to avoid opposing teams celebrating? Win.

Tony Gonzalez Un-retires: The NFL season has barely ended, but Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez couldn’t wait to get back onto the field, despite saying he was retiring during last season. Gonzalez is expected to now return for 2013 and his coming back isn’t really that much of a surprise. He’s still in great shape and with 93 catches for 930 yards and eight touchdowns in 2012, he not only was productive but had one of the best years of his career. What is surprising, though, was that Gonzalez made the announcement to come back so quickly. It’s only March and training camp isn’t any time soon. By making his decision so soon, it only shows he was never all that convinced that retirement was for him. You could make the argument that the team was pushing him for a decision in order to figure out what path they might need to take in free agency. But Gonzalez is a future Hall of Famer who’s still producing, so they would have given him a bit of leeway.

NHL Realignment for 2013-14: In a move that’s gone somewhat under the radar, the NHL will undergo some realignment for next season. The Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets will move into the Eastern Conference while Winnipeg will head to the west. Simply put, the move makes a ton of sense and the only hope is that other professional leagues will follow suit. Don’t hold your breath, though. While it would make far more sense for the Dallas Cowboys to be playing in the NFC South and the Carolina Panthers to move to the NFC East, things like that aren’t likely to happen for one big reason: rivalries. Unlike the NHL, with a limited schedule, the NFL can’t have all of its teams face each other every year. And Cowboys fans wouldn’t be all that thrilled with losing annual games against the Giants, Eagles, and Redskins.

The Miami Heat keep winning: In case you’ve not noticed, the Miami Heat are pretty good at basketball. The Heat have been winning, and winning … and winning. The team won their 22nd straight game on Sunday and is a threat to challenge the Los Angeles Lakers’ 33-game record streak set in 1971-72. Can the Heat break the record? Sure. But even though they’re steamrolling the rest of the league right now, there are a few things that will stand in their way. The Heat have many road games coming up in the next couple of weeks including some that should be tough. Among those stops are trips to Boston, Chicago, and San Antonio. The Heat have had several near losses during their streak. Four of their wins have been by five points or fewer and one has gone to overtime. If that’s not enough to convince you, consider this – the Heat have already clinched a playoff spot and have a large lead on the rest of the Eastern Conference for home court advantage throughout the playoffs. At some point, you’ve got to imagine the team will try to rest some players and that could bring an end to the streak.

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.

February 26, 2013

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NBA Playoff Races To Watch

By: Joe Williams

With about 25 games to go in the NBA regular season, we’ve got a pretty clear picture of the teams that will make the playoffs and the ones that will be in the lottery. What we don’t know is who will face who once the playoffs get started. And that will go a long way toward determining what happens in the NBA playoffs. Here are a few races I’ll be keeping my eye on as we inch towards the final game of the regular season.

Will the Lakers make the NBA Playoffs?

The Heat will be the top seed in the East. We know that. But the second and third seeds could go to Indiana, New York, Brooklyn, Chicago or Atlanta. These teams ought to be desperate to finish second or third. That will get them home-court advantage in the first round, but that doesn’t really matter too much. The important thing for these teams is to get on the other side of the bracket and avoid a second round meeting with the Heat. You don’t want to face the defending champs any sooner than you have to.

Speaking of avoiding the Heat…Boston and Milwaukee shouldn’t be too worried about anyone below them stealing a playoff spot. But they will be battling to get the seventh seed and avoid the Heat in the first round.

In the West, the final playoff spot is getting all the attention. Can the Lakers squeak into the playoffs? That’s what all the talk is about, but I’m not counting out Dallas or Portland yet. All three teams are tied with 30 losses at the moment and are going to have to get red-hot to catch Houston or Utah. On second thought, after looking at the Blazers schedule, I’m counting them out. Their final 16 games are against teams in the playoff race. If they find a way to get in, nobody will be able to say they didn’t earn it.

Of course, whoever does get that final spot is going to be facing the team with the best record in the NBA, San Antonio. It would be quite the series if the Lakers do end up as the eighth seed.

The Clippers and Memphis must keep winning to stay in the top four and get home-court in round one. With so many good teams in the West, home-court will be important.

One more race that is a little bit interesting will be to see which team finishes with the worst record and gets the most ping pong balls in the lottery. It looks like this will come down to Charlotte and Orlando.

February 12, 2013

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The State of Indiana is Back on Top of the Basketball World

By: Matt Bowen

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.

Purdue is one of the many teams in Indiana that could be heading to the NCAA Tournament.

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.

Believe it!

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.