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 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!

September 19, 2011

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NCAA Football Conference Realignment: Selecting the Top 64 Schools

By: Anson Whaley

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about NCAA Football Conference allignment and how superconferences could be good for college football. My point was that if six such conferences existed, the BCS would be more accessible to a greater number of teams. But with the Big 12 possibly on the verge of an epic collapse, the more likely scenario is a sport with only four of those 16-team conferences.

That got me to thinking – if it did happen, who would likely be included? Rivals/Yahoo had some writers discuss the issue with each one coming up with their list of NCAA teams. It’s safe to say there were some notable omissions – Duke, UConn, and Indiana all were left off some of the rosters.NCAA football rules college athletics, but is it really fair to leave out such NCAA basketball powerhouses?

Well, I’ll get to that in a bit. But for the record, basketball programs that don’t play FBS football were left out of consideration. So Villanova, Georgetown, Xavier, Marquette, Gonzaga, et al? No dice.

So here’s my list of 64 teams:

The Absolute Locks– There’s absolutely no discussion on these guys. The fact that I even have to list them is borderline insulting. Call them first-ballot Hall of Famers, if you will. If there was only one superconference, these guys would be the first ones in: Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, LSU, Michigan, Miami, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Stanford, Tennessee, Texas, USC

Next In Line- These schools aren’t the cream of the crop, but they’d definitely get in without any question. Any NCAA conference would be glad to have them and there’s as much of a chance of Oddibe McDowell getting into the Hall of Fame as there is of these schools being left out: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Kansas, Kansas State, Michigan State, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Penn State, Pittsburgh, UCLA, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Wisconsin

Still In With Little Question – This is the third tier…NCAA schools that no sane conference would leave out. There could be some trivial questions about a few of them, but these institutions would certainly all be in as well. Arizona State, Boston College, Cincinnati, Clemson, Colorado, Georgia Tech, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisville, Mississippi, Mississippi State, North Carolina State, Purdue, Oregon State, Syracuse, Texas A&M, Virginia, Washington

The “Basketball” Schools– Personally, I don’t see how you have superconferences without including some of the most storied basketball programs around. Sure, we all get that despite March Madness, in terms of money, NCAA basketball takes a back seat to football. But as the second biggest college sport, these schools have got to be in. After all, are you really going to turn down these schools that not only each have won multiple basketball championships for someone like Baylor? Didn’t think so: UConn, Duke, Indiana

The “Non-BCS Football Schools”– These guys have all had incredible success without being in a BCS automatic qualifying conference. I can listen to the argument of not moving them to the front of the line for various reasons such as market size, but they’ve all been ranked in the top ten in recent years on the gridiron and are too good to leave out: Boise State, BYU, TCU, Utah

The Final Five In

Minnesota – Mediocre football and basketball programs, but has had respectable years in each.

Northwestern– Here mostly for their academics and market (Chicago). Oh yeah, and Michael Wilbon.

Rutgers – One of oldest universities and recent football success with average of nine wins from 2006 – 2009.

South Carolina – Are you gonna be the one to tell Steve Spurrier he’s not invited?

South Florida– Football program on the rise after only being in Division I for ten years and brings the Tampa market.

Left Out – Can’t find room for everybody and these would be the unlucky schools if I were putting the conferences together. Would they be on someone’s list? Absolutely. But on mine, they just miss the cut: Vanderbilt, Baylor, Iowa State, Washington State, Wake Forest

June 9, 2011

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Top Nicknames in the NBA

By: Rick Jarrell

Shaq was arguably one of the most animated NBA players of all time. Throughout his 19 year career, the dominating center was rarely shy with media, offering up various analogies and nicknames for himself and others. He named himself “Shaq Diesel”, the “Big Aristotle,” and the “Big Deporter,” and named Dwayne Wade “Flash.”

Now that the “Big Shamrock” has decided to call it quits, one may suspect the large exit to include an evacuation of hilariously awesome nicknames. Not true. They may not be contained within one large man anymore, instead scattered around the league, but they’re still there. You just have to look.

The Beard

A rising star in his sophomore season with the Oklahoma City Thunder, James Harden has a nickname that fits. “The Beard,” given due to Harden’s monstrously profuse beard, has an old school flavor that matches his old school game. Harden never seems to be moving as quick as the other NBA players, but still finds a way to make plays and get to the rim. Much like his nickname, “The Beard” wreaks of simple confidence, conjuring up images of Earl “The Pearl” Washington. He provided a spark plug off the bench for the Thunder in the second half of the season and during their playoff run. Was it because of the beard? I can confidently say, yes.

Boom Dizzle

Baron Davis earned his much more modern nickname during his early career, with menacing open court vision and thunderous dunks – his UCLA highlight reel is especially tantalizing. Boom Dizzle has had an up down career, reaching All-Star teams but suffering lows at every stop – clashing with Byron Scott in New Orleans, leaving Golden State after a rift with the front office, not performing up to par with the Clippers (although that’s not his fault), and landing with the rebuilding Cleveland Cavaliers. As a fan, I’ve been impressed with the Boom Dizzle that arrived at the trading deadline, and as a longtime fan, I’m excited for his expectedly short tenure with the team. If Dan Gilbert is willing to pay him the next few years to give me the ability to scream “BOOM DIZZLE” a few times a game, I’m a happy man.

Photo courtesy of Salvatore Vuono

The Human Victory Cigar

 The few players before this one may have had somewhat obvious nicknames. But this one is rarity. Awesome on many levels. First, because it’s long. Second, because it is well thought out and creative. Third, it exemplifies winning. And fourth, because it almost seems like it belongs to the wrong player. You’d think it would be one of the greats, like Robert Horry—but no, he’s Big Shot Bob. Or Michael Jordan even, due to his affinity for dominating and cigars, but no. Who owns it you say? The infamous former number two overall pick, Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Darko Milicic.

Of course, Milicic was branded this way because in his first few NBA seasons he was only inserted into the game when his team, the Pistons, had already locked up the win.  His 40 seconds of playing time meant that Detroit was up by 20 points and there was absolutely no chance of its opponent coming back.   Since those first years in the league, “The Human Victory Cigar” has garnered his fair share of negative media attention, and somehow managed to simultaneously become a sort of counter culture hero. And that counter culture is the likely source of one of the best nicknames in the NBA. Cheers to you, underground back up power forward fan club.

April 27, 2011

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NFL Mock Draft

By: Joe Williams

The NFL Draft is just a couple days away. It seems like everyone is doing mock drafts these days so I decided to join the party. I’ve made sure to include some trades to ensure that I don’t go 32 for 32. I’d feel bad if all these picks are correct. I’m not doing this to take Mel Kiper’s job.

1. Carolina Panthers

Marcell Dareus – DT – Alabama  

The Panthers have a ton of holes to fill. They cannot afford to miss on this pick so they go with a safe pick in Dareus to be an anchor for the defense. This gives Jimmy Clausen one more year to develop and if he doesn’t, Carolina could get “Lucky” in 2012.

2. Cincinnati Bengals

Cam Newton – QB – Auburn

Things are uglier than usual in Cincinnati. Carson Palmer says he will not play in a Bengal uniform again. The Bengals say they aren’t trading him. Someone has to play quarterback and Newton’s controversial history seems to fit the Cincinnati mold. When the Panthers pass on Newton, the Bengals trade up two spots to grab him.

3. Buffalo Bills

Blaine Gabbert – QB – Missouri

Some say Gabbert is the best quarterback in the draft. The Bills are going to have to find a great quarterback to compete with the Patriots and Jets. They hope Gabbert is their guy.

4. Denver Broncos

Von Miller – OLB – Texas A&M

Miller could be the best player in the draft. The return of Elvis Dumerville and the addition of Miller will go a long way toward fixing the Denver defense. They move back two spots to pick up an extra pick from the Bengals.

5. Arizona Cardinals

A.J. Green – WR Georgia

Arizona nearly won the Super Bowl with a high-flying passing attack. If the Cardinals can pull off a trade for Kevin Kolb and pair A.J. Green with Larry Fitzgerald they can be dangerous in the weak NFC West.

6. Cleveland Browns

Robert Quinn – DE – North Carolina

Cleveland needs to rebuild its defense. Dick Jauron is taking over the defense and could use a pass-rushing end. 

7. San Fransisco 49ers

Patrick Peterson – CB – LSU

Peterson has been compared to Champ Bailey and Deion Sanders. The 49ers are thrilled he is still on the board.

8. Tennessee Titans

Nick Fairley – DT – Auburn

Tennessee needs a quarterback but Newton and Gabbert are off the board so the Titans go after their next Albert Haynesworth.

9. Dallas Cowboys

Tyron Smith – OT – USC

The Cowboys have to protect Tony Romo. Smith will help them do that.

10. Washington Redskins

Julio Jones – WR – Alabama

Whoever ends up playing quarterback for the Redskins in 2011 is going to need someone to throw to. Jones would give him a big, physical target.

11. Houston Texans

Prince Amukamara – CB – Nebraska

The Texans have the offense to keep up with Peyton Manning but they don’t have the defense to slow him down. Adding a Prince to the secondary should give Houston a better shot at taking down the king of the AFC South.

12. Minnesota Vikings

Jake Locker – QB – Washington

Minnesota can finally move on from the Brett Frave era. The Vikings hope Locker will be their quarterback of the future.

13. Detroit Lions

Anthony Castonzo – OT – Boston College

Detroit’s future is riding on Matthew Stafford. The top priority is to keep Stafford on the field.

14. New England Patriots

Mike Pouncey – OL – Florida

New England usually trades down for more picks. This time the Patriots move up to add some youth to the aging offensive line.

15. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

J.J. Watt – DE – Wisconsin

The Buccaneers move up to get the pass-rushing defensive end before San Diego can.

16. Jacksonville Jaguars

Ryan Kerrigan – DE – Purdue

Aaron Kampman has been injury-prone. Kerrigan could be his replacement.

17. St. Louis Rams

Kyle Rudolf – TE – Notre Dame

St. Louis has the foundation in place. It’s time to give Sam Bradford some weapons.

18. San Diego Chargers

Cameron Jordan – DE – Cal

The Chargers add one of the top pass rushers in the draft.

19. New York Giants

Gabe Carimi – OT – Wisconsin

Carimi is a solid tackle that fills the Giants biggest need.

20. Miami Dolphins

Andy Dalton – QB – TCU

Miami has not gotten good enough play at the most important position on the field so they take a shot on Dalton.

21. Kansas City Chiefs

Corey Liuget – DT – Illinois

Liuget will be a big, physical presence in the middle of the Kansas City defense.

22. Indianapolis Colts

Nate Solder – OT – Colorado

The Colts take the best offensive lineman left on the board.

23. Philadelphia Eagles

Jimmy Smith – CB- Colorado

The Eagles need a solid corner to play opposite Asante Samuel.

24. New Orleans Saints

Da’Quan Bowers – DE – Clemson

The Saints get one of the better players in the draft, but he comes with injury concerns.

25. Seattle Seahawks

Danny Watkins – OL – Baylor

Seattle will try to upgrade its interior offensive line.

26. Baltimore Ravens

Torrey Smith – WR – Maryland

The Ravens could use another speedy receiver.

27. Atlanta Falcons

Aldon Smith – DE – Missouri

Atlanta scores a pass-rusher to pair with John Abraham.

28. New England Patriots

Akeem Ayers – OLB – UCLA

The Patriots would like another outside pass-rusher.

29. Chicago Bears

Derek Sherrod – OT – Mississippi

Jay Cutler was hit a lot in 2010. The Bears need to find someone to prevent some of those hits.

30. New York Jets

Cameron Heyward – DE – Ohio State

Rex Ryan loves his defense. He loves it even more when Heyward is still on the board.

31. Pittsburgh Steelers

Brandon Harris – CB – Miami

Aaron Rodgers and the Packers exploited the Steelers’ secondary in the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh gets some reinforcements in Harris.

32. Green Bay Packers

Mark Ingram – RB – Alabama

The Super Bowl champions have a lot of help returning from injury so they make a luxury pick.

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