March 19, 2014

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2014 NCAA Tournament Cinderellas

By: Matt Bowen

The table for the 2014 NCAA Men’s Basketball Division I Championship is now set. March Madness is ubiquitous. The greatest annual sporting event in the world has finally arrived and Fathead can help you do your homework in regards to selecting Cinderellas.

Questioning our credentials? Last year we picked the Wichita State Shockers to make a deep run and they didn’t disappoint. A trip to the 2013 Final Four followed by a clean 34-0 2014 regular season record legitimizes our picking prowess.

The landscape of college basketball has changed recently. No longer are little-known schools like Wichita State perennial Cinderellas. A true tournament sleeper can be nearly any seed these days. Cinderella can be a lower seeded team from a major conference. They can also be a mid-major squad with a healthy seed. These mid-majors can easily be overlooked in your local brackets because of lack of face time in the national spotlight.

This article highlights one sleeper from every region of the tournament.

Let’s dance!

UCLA Bruins

Will UCLA play cinderella in 2014?

The South Region: UCLA Bruins

You may be scratching your head and wondering how one of the most storied teams in college basketball history is a Cinderella.

True, the UCLA Bruins are a No. 4 seed, but they are the forgotten No. 4 seed in this year’s tournament. The other No. 4 seeds are the Louisville Cardinals, San Diego State Aztecs and Michigan State Spartans. These teams all are unhappy with their seeding for one reason or another.

Not UCLA in the South Region. They were the only non-ranked No. 4 seed at the end of the season. The Bruins got hot in the Pac 12 Tournament and stole the show from Arizona in the championship game.

UCLA is a deep team with eight solid contributors playing 17-plus minutes a game. They also have four players averaging 10-plus points. This time of year depth like that trumps most.

Starting point guard Kyle Anderson is a matchup nightmare. At 6’9”, 230 lbs. he’s a dynamic specimen and a true triple-double threat. With the ball in his hands and momentum on their side the Bruins won’t stop dancing until the clock strikes midnight.

The West Region: Baylor Bears

The Baylor Bears are a legitimate Cinderella out of the West Region as the No. 6 seed.

They mirror the previously mentioned UCLA Bruins in terms of depth and scoring. Eight guys play at least 14-plus minutes per game and four average 10-plus points.

They’ve won 10 of their last 12 games and have overcome a rough patch of their season where they lost 7-of-8.  They rebound well and share the rock so look out for the Bears on the fast break.

They have a sharpshooter in Brady Heslip who shoots 47.3 percent beyond the arc. These team attributes combined with Heslip’s range makes them a true contender. An Elite 8 run isn’t out of the question.

The Midwest Region: Iowa Hawkeyes

The Midwest Region is by far the deepest in the tourney and the Iowa Hawkeyes will have to make it through the Tennessee Volunteers in Round 1 to truly put their dancing shoes on.

They’ll be up to the challenge despite losing 6-of-7 to close the season. For that reason alone they’ll be written off by many and left by the roadside on the way to the Final Four.

Think twice before making this mistake on this No. 11 seed. The Hawkeyes are as talented as they come with a unique blend of athleticism. Truth be told, they’re one of the deepest teams in the nation.

They have 10 players who average double-digit minutes and depend on scoring contributions from all. Nine, yes nine Hawkeyes score at least five points per contest. That might not seem like a jaw-dropping stat but every coach in the country desires that type of balance.

The team can score in bunches too. Scoring an impressive 82 points/game and led by senior Roy Devyn Marble they do everything well in every facet of the game. Don’t pass on this well-wounded bunch.

The East Region: Providence Friars

Come this time next week the Providence Friars will be the water cooler kings of college basketball.  Everybody will be talking about them. That’s what wins over admired North Carolina and Iowa State will do for you in the first weekend of the tournament.

On paper they may not be the sexiest car on the lot but they have heart and soul.

They did beat highly respected Creighton twice during the season and point guard Bryce Cotton is one of the best playmakers in the country. Remember his name because he averaged 21.4 points per game this season. Any time a kid averages 20-plus in college means he’s a star. Cotton is no different.

The Friars shoot 78.1 percent from the free throw line which is arguably the most valuable asset this time of year. Something about them screams Cinderella.

Good luck and enjoy the pageantry of the Madness.

March 4, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Magic Johnson offers $1 million dunk challenge offer to Lebron James: Each year, nearly all of the NBA’s biggest stars forgo the league’s slam dunk contest held during All-Star Weekend. Once a marquee event that featured some of basketball’s biggest stars such as Michael Jordan and Julius Erving, the dunk contest now showcases some smaller, and even obscure, names. Magic Johnson is the latest person to challenge Lebron James to partake in the event … but he’s backing it up with his wallet. Magic offered James $1 million to participate in next year’s dunk contest. More specifically, he’s willing to put the money up as a prize to the winner and LBJ is reportedly thinking about the offer. Here’s the thing – while it would be cool to see the best player in the league show up, only doing so after a significant purse is put up makes James look bad. The dunk contest is supposed to be about the fans, but if Lebron participates now, it looks like it’s all about the money. One way James can dunk next season and not look greedy? Donate the money to charity.

Joe Flacco is now the highest paid player in the NFL.

Joe Flacco becomes highest paid player in NFL: Funny what a Super Bowl win can do for you. First, wide receiver Jacoby Jones gets a Dancing with the Stars invite, and now Joe Flacco is in the news. Heading into this season, Baltimore Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco was widely regarded as a solid, but unspectacular, player. He had the always-popular ‘Can’t win the big one’ tag and no one knew that he’d ever shake it. But this season, Flacco took a fairly unheralded Ravens’ team and not only bulldozed their way through the AFC, but knocked off the favored San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl. Flacco parlayed that into a record NFL contract and is now the highest paid player in the league. Does he really deserve it? Probably not. There are many players more valuable to their respective teams and Flacco may never again reach another Super Bowl. But kudos to the Ravens for stepping up and paying their franchise quarterback. He’s still young and should have a lot of seasons ahead of him.

Mike Trout to make near minimum after historic season: By most accounts, Mike Trout had one of the most astounding rookie seasons in baseball history. It was so historic, that he nearly won the American League’s Most Valuable Player award. But if you think Trout was due for a big raise, think again. The Angels could have renewed his contract for a significant amount, but chose to give him only slightly more than the league minimum. The club is perfectly within its rights to pay Trout what they want since he’s not yet eligible for arbitration, but low-balling him after he proved he’s one of the game’s top players could come back to bite them when it comes time to re-sign him. Trout hasn’t openly complained, but I can’t imagine he’s too happy right now.

Randy Moss could leave San Francisco 49ers: Randy Moss didn’t have one of his biggest seasons, but he fit in with the 49ers this past season, helping the team reach the Super Bowl. It seemed like a good fit, but the wide receiver tweeted this past week that he wished the team good luck, indicating he may be moving on. If Moss does leave, it will be interesting to see what teams want to pick him up. He just turned 36 this month and is surely on the downside of his career. There just may not be many suitors for his services.

Catholic Seven to keep Big East name: The Catholic Seven, otherwise known as the non-football members of the Big East, decided recently to leave to create their own conference. The schools aren’t only leaving, but they’re reportedly taking the Big East name with them, according to ESPN. Assuming that happens, that’s the right move. When you think of the Big East, you think of schools like Georgetown, Providence, and St. John’s – not SMU, Houston, and Tulane. And frankly, the Big East name just wouldn’t fit the conference anymore once new members join since so many of them are away from the east coast.

December 17, 2012

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Josh Hamilton joins Los Angeles Angels: The balance of power could be shifting in the AL West as the Los Angeles Angels have signed Josh Hamilton, formerly of the Texas Rangers. Hamilton’s deal is a reportedly $125 million over five years. Give the Angels credit for making such a splash yet again in the offseason. Over the past two winters, they’ve had the biggest signings in baseball with Hamilton this year and slugger Albert Pujols last year. One thing’s for certain, though – if L.A. somehow misses the playoffs again, ownership won’t be happy after investing a boatload of money for the next several seasons.

Josh Hamilton going to the Angels was the biggest story of the week.

Andrea Bargnani bashes team: Toronto Raptors forward/center Andrea Bargnani recently spoke to an Italian newspaper, reportedly calling his team ‘pretty much the worst team in the NBA.’ Few would dispute that with the Raptors and Washington Wizards battling it out for rights to shack up in the league’s basement. Bargnani’s honesty should be lauded as far too often, players dance around questions. Unfortunately for him, though, making the comments while he collects dusts on the bench recovering from an injury looks bad. The franchise needs him healthy to even have a chance at respectability and calling the team he’s not able to help right now among the worst in the league implies that his teammates aren’t all that good.

High school girls’ basketball team wins 107-2: No, 107-2 isn’t a team’s record over several seasons. Rather, 107-2 was the score of an actual, singular game. Indiana’s Bloomington South High School defeated Arlington by that ginormous amount, drawing the criticism of many. There are two sides to the argument, of course. If you’re Bloomington, do you continue to play as hard as you can or take your foot off the pedal a bit? I don’t necessarily have a problem with either approach in college or the pros, but in a high school contest, that’s probably a bit ridiculous. To his credit, the Bloomington coach played all nine of his players. Hopefully, the reserves logged a ton of minutes in the game.

NHL lockout gets uglier: If you were hoping for a timely end to the NHL lockout as an early Christmas gift, you’re probably out of luck. Word broke last week that the players could break up their own union and things could go downhill from there. According to ESPN, by voting to disband the group, players could be protected by antitrust laws, which prohibit companies from locking out employees not a part of the union. If they are locked out, laws require said companies to pay triple the amount of wages owed to employees … er, players in this case. The NHL quickly reacted, filing a class-action complaint in federal court and an Unfair Labor Practice Charge with the National Labor Relations Board. Eventually, things will still end up with Sidney Crosby scoring goals and owners entertaining clients in their private suites since there’s simply too much money to be made. But when that happens remains a big question mark.

Enter … Pokertox: Okay, so we could debate for hours if poker is really a sport, but just go with it for now – I promise, it’ll be fun. Dr. Jack Berdy in New York is introducing Pokertox to the world. Pokertox, essentially is Botox for poker players. The procedure would ideally reduce telltale facial reaction players might make in certain situations while playing the game to give them a better poker face. Sounds a bit strange, but when you think about it, it would have to help, right?

Non-FBS Schools reportedly leaving Big East: For years, the Big East has endured a bit of a power struggle. The schools that played football have wanted to improve that side of the conference, but there were many members that either didn’t play football or didn’t participate in the FBS. With the recent defections from the conference, reports are now that the Big East’s non-FBS football members (that’s Georgetown, DePaul, Villanova, Marquette, Seton Hall, St. John’s, and Providence if you’re scoring at home) plan to leave. Reports have the seven potentially ending up in the Atlantic 10 to create a new basketball super-conference. Others say that the seven schools could join forces with other Catholic basketball-focused colleges and create a new league. Either move really makes significantly more sense than remaining in the Big East since each member would have the same goals. They would also be less prone to being affected by the recent realignment nightmare since the other conferences are heavily football-focused and wouldn’t be as interested in adding a non-FBS football member.