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.
September 19, 2011
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Blaine Gabbert – QB – Missouri
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.
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.
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.
Peterson has been compared to Champ Bailey and Deion Sanders. The 49ers are thrilled he is still on the board.
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.
Tyron Smith – OT – USC
The Cowboys have to protect Tony Romo. Smith will help them do that.
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.
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.
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.
J.J. Watt – DE – Wisconsin
The Buccaneers move up to get the pass-rushing defensive end before San Diego can.
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.
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.
Corey Liuget – DT – Illinois
Liuget will be a big, physical presence in the middle of the Kansas City defense.
Nate Solder – OT – Colorado
The Colts take the best offensive lineman left on the board.
Jimmy Smith – CB- Colorado
The Eagles need a solid corner to play opposite Asante Samuel.
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.
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.
Brandon Harris – CB – Miami
Mark Ingram – RB – Alabama
The Super Bowl champions have a lot of help returning from injury so they make a luxury pick.
April 20, 2011
The NBA Playoffs are a proving ground for young NBA players. The new kids on the block can look great at times during the regular season, showing flashes of greatness, but the greats show what they’re made of in the postseason. Aside from Wilt Chamberlain type stat lines, fans don’t remember your regular season performance. In the grand scheme, it doesn’t matter. The playoffs do. It’s where great NBA players become Hall of Famers, and great teams become dynasties.
A fantastically exciting regular season has led us to high expectations for these 2011 NBA Playoffs, sure not to disappoint, with a few rising stars you need to keep an eye on. Of course, we have Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, but their thrones may be in jeopardy if these NBA players live up to their hype.
It’s hard to put into words how much Derrick Rose progressed through the season, but I will. Picked as one of the top three NBA teams in the Eastern Conference early on, the Chicago Bulls suffered various injuries to their frontline. Carlos Boozer, their prize free agent signing, was lost for six weeks with a broken thumb before the first game. Then, defensive stalwart Joakim Noah tore a ligament in his thumb and was lost for six weeks.
Not a problem for Rose. He carried the team through the rough patch nearly single handedly (not to diminish the performance of the rest of the team, a series of perfect role players for Coach Tom Thibodeau’s system). And when Boozer and Noah came back, the Bulls went full steam ahead to the number one overall seed. It’s laughable to think that NBA experts suggested Michael Beasley be drafted number one overall instead of Rose.
But as I said, his regular season performance pales in comparison to what he needs to do in the playoffs to begin his legacy. Rose has big shoes to fill in Chicago, where a guy name Michael Jordan dominated the league for the better part of the 1990s. While there will never be another MJ, Rose has shown he’s more than ready to take the Bulls back to dynasty status. Rose scored 39 points in Game 1 against the Indiana Pacers, with a key drive and kick out to Kyle Korver to ice the game, and another 36 points in Game 2. The first round is supposed to be a warm up for the top seeds. If tradition remains true, I can’t wait to see what D-Rose does the rest of the NBA Playoffs.
Touted as an amazing pure scorer coming out of Texas, Durant has lived up to the hype. A wet jump shot, ability to twist his way to the rim, and a great system have helped propel KD to NBA superstardom. But playoff success has eluded him so far.
Last season, Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder pushed the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers to the sixth game of the first round. A correct box out by Serge Ibaka would have most likely sent the series to seven. That’s an incredible leap for such a young team. But although Durant’s team had a good series, his performance was not up to his regular season numbers.
Fast forward to this year, and OKC has secured a fourth seed and become a trendy pick to make it to, and even win, the NBA Championship. Durant knows his performance the previous postseason was not acceptable for legacy building and is making up for it by starting with 41 points and 9 rebounds in a win over the Denver Nuggets.
As a sophomore, Westbrook’s performances mostly fell into the shadow of Kevin Durant. There were flashes of what would be – a diesel train into the paint, much like Derrick Rose – but it took the 2011 NBA season for fans to see what Westbrook is capable of. The UCLA product has become a solid second option behind Durant and one of the top five point guards in the league. Some analysts say Westbrook still has a lot of room to improve, that he still makes a lot of “rookie mistakes” a Hall of Fame point guard shouldn’t make (true), but he’s only in his third year. I’d argue that Westbrook is nearly as important to the Thunder as Durant, and Durant’s star would not be shining as bright with another point running the offense. Batman’s Robin added 31 points and 7 assists to help push the team to a Game 1 win. In all likelihood, Durant and Westbrook will rise together – each as important as the other.
So while you’re watching the NBA Playoffs and marveling at Kobe Bryant’s campaign for a sixth championship, or the Miami Heat’s big three’s attempt to justify their offseason decisions, remember the young guys. I’ve heard stories of fans watching MJ, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird rise from stars to legends. Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant, and Russell Westbrook offer the younger fans a chance to enjoy the transformation themselves.